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Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

"IT SICKENS ME TO BE A REPUBLICAN TO SEE THIS"....Thanks to zhermit in comments to this post, here are some excerpts from tonight's NewsHour about the Valerie Plame affair. The comments are from Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and counterterrorism official at the State Department:

TERENCE SMITH: Larry Johnson, explain what the dangers are that are inherent in identifying an undercover operator. What is the worry here?

LARRY JOHNSON: Let's be very clear about what happened. This is not an alleged abuse. This is a confirmed abuse. I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been undercover for three decades, she is not as Bob Novak suggested a CIA analyst. But given that, I was a CIA analyst for four years. I was undercover. I could not divulge to my family outside of my wife that I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency until I left the agency on September 30, 1989. At that point I could admit it.

So the fact that she's been undercover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous because she was put undercover for certain reasons. One, she works in an area where people she meets with overseas could be compromised. When you start tracing back who she met with, even people who innocently met with her, who are not involved in CIA operations, could be compromised. For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal and if I hear another Republican operative suggesting that well, this was just an analyst fine, let them go undercover. Let's put them overseas and let's out them and then see how they like it. They won't be able to stand the heat.

....TERENCE SMITH: We should point out for the record that we invited Bob Novak to join this discussion. He told me this afternoon that he had said all he had to say on this. Your reaction, Larry?

LARRY JOHNSON: I say this as a registered Republican. I'm on record giving contributions to the George Bush campaign. This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear of an individual with no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it. His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted: to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend that it's something else and to get into this parsing of words, I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.

....TERENCE SMITH: Is there any evidence so far that any damage to national security or individuals has resulted from this?

LARRY JOHNSON: No, not to my knowledge but that's not the issue. It is the principle. You do not -- it is not up to the journalists to decide which officer they are going to out. We saw this in the 70s with Marchetti and others and Philip Agee who outed officers and they were killed. I don't want to wait until we get a body count. The principle's established: do not divulge the names of these people. In my own career trainee class I did not know Joe's wife last name; we went by our first initials.

TERENCE SMITH: You were in the same class with her?

LARRY JOHNSON: I was in the same class with her. I was Larry J. In fact, when I first saw her last name I didn't recognize her until one of other my classmates who's out now called me up and said, hey. To realize this is a terrific woman, she's a woman of great integrity and other people that don't know her were trying to suggest that she is the one that initiated that. That is such nonsense. This is a woman who is very solid, very low key and not about show boating.

Boy, do you think he's pissed or anything? I wish all the Republicans were acting this outraged.

UPDATE: Or you can watch the video clip here and see Larry Johnson get pissed off.

Kevin Drum 8:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD FOR THE GOOSE....Andrew Stuttaford over at The Corner tonight:

Tuesday morning: 'White House officials' under attack for releasing the name of someone who may or not have been a covert CIA agent.

Tuesday afternoon: White House announces that it will not declassify those 28 mysterious (Saudi! Saudi!) pages in the 9/11 report.

Hopefully, the Plame blame game will not uncover any wrongdoing, but if it does, it will be difficult for the administration to resist the complaint that it discloses what it shouldn't and doesn't disclose what it should.

Yes, it will be hard to resist that complaint, won't it?

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TAXING MICHAEL NOVAK....Michael Novak has a very peculiar screed in NRO today. Among other things, he complains that liberals claim to "possess a superior degree of virtue," and that this is annoying. I agree: that surely would be annoying, wouldn't it?

But then I thought about this for a moment, and it struck me that Novak has it exactly backward: after all, it wasn't a liberal who wrote The Book of Virtues, was it? In fact, it seems to me that we are being forever lectured by conservatives about loose morals, lack of patriotism, insufficient work ethic, and disrespect for traditional family values. It is, in fact, conservatives who seem to think they possess superior virtue these days.

But let's dig deeper. What does he really mean?

And in what exactly does liberal virtue consist? In taxing other people, not oneself, people for whom one has contempt, in order to transfer their money to "the poor and needy."

Ah, it always comes down to that, doesn't it? Taxing the rich. And yet, just moments before Novak had shattered the myth that liberals are all a bunch of starving artists and ragamuffin academics: "As it happens, the political campaigns of the Left depend far more on high earners and big givers than the campaigns of the right."

So which is it? Are we merely in favor of taxing other people? Or are liberals themselves among the rich we are in favor of taxing? I'm confused.

Perhaps Novak would be better off with this simple thought: of course we want to tax "other people" to help the poor. And that includes ourselves. After all, who else can help the poor besides other people? Other people have all the money.

It's revealing, I think, that the subject that gets conservatives most apoplectic is the idea of taxing the rich and the implied suggestion that the tax-phobic rich are being just a wee bit selfish. Surely that can't really be the case, can it?

Conservatives have gotten a lot of mileage from the tired tropes that liberals hate the rich and don't truly care about the poor things that they know perfectly well aren't true. It's time to find something new.

Kevin Drum 8:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY THE PLAME AFFAIR IS IMPORTANT....Over at Priorities and Frivolities, Robert Tagorda reminds me to keep my eyes on the ball in the Plame affair:

If we want to focus on the possible hypocritical move by the administration -- proclaiming the people's safety to be its top priority, yet allowing vengeful leaks potentially to endanger lives -- that's fine. We should point it out.

But let's not stop there. This isn't just about the alleged hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, or ineptitude of the administration; it's about the alleged damage to CIA operations that are important to national security. In other words, let's move beyond the political aspects and focus on the policy implications.

Quite right. The fact that administration officials took it upon themselves to expose a CIA agent shows appalling judgment. They didn't know whether or not that endangered any CIA operations, which is why you just don't do this. And the fact that they did it for such base (and trivial) reasons says a lot about the kind of people they are.

But beyond that, of course the fundamental issue here is that especially in a post-9/11 world you don't play games with national security. Regardless of whether blowing Plame's network caused any serious problems, this is the reason the CIA is fighting back so hard on this: because they want to make sure no one ever does it again. Next time it might get a city full of people killed.

So: this affair exposes bad character and high school freshman levels of poor judgment among allegedly senior officials. But it also betrays a lack of seriousness about national security at a time when national security should be the most important thing they're thinking about.

Which is worse? Take your pick.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARIANNA BOWS OUT....This was already reported this morning, but now it's official: Arianna Huffington is on Larry King withdrawing from the recall race. I guess this probably helps Cruz Bustamante a bit, but probably not much. After all, Arianna was only garnering about 3% of the vote in the first place.

UPDATE: Hell, she's not even endorsing Cruz. "Vote strategically," she says, whatever that's supposed to mean. Just do whatever it takes to defeat Arnold.

Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIME FOR SOME NEW WEAPONS?....Whatever else you think of him, Gregg Easterbrook is an engaging writer when it comes to explaining fancy new weapons systems. Basically, he says we need some new ones:

Pentagon spending is reaching the end of a "procurement holiday." There hasn't been a major new aircraft or helicopter acquisition program in a decade. The "futuristic" F117 stealth fighter is 15 years old; the design of the Army's M1 Abrams main tank is 20 years old; the B52 bombers that did yeoman work in the Iraq war are 40 years old; Air Force fighters average almost two decades in age; the primary United States tanker plane is 45 years old; it goes on.

So which new systems do we need? Yesterday he trained his eye on the F-22 Raptor (he says thumbs down, we should buy the F-35 instead) and today he takes on the Littoral Combat Ship (thumbs up, but only if we fess up to its real purpose). He'll examine one new weapons system a day for the remainder of the week.

I can't judge myself whether Easterbrook is right about this stuff, but it's interesting reading anyway.

Kevin Drum 4:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS HOMELAND SECURITY BEING SHORTCHANGED?....Juan Cole has a disturbing report from a source he considers "impeccable" that funding for some important homeland security programs has been diverted to the war in Iraq:

The Department of Homeland Defense allocated half a billion dollars to a project called the Tri-Lab Initiative, which offered grants to teams at Los Alamos, Sandia, and White Sands for homeland defense research. Proposals were made, ranked, and granted funds....but the money never came, and the responsible Homeland Defense officials stopped replying to calls and emails.

....Clearly, what has happened is that funds intended for other purposes have been diverted to pay for the Iraq war. None of this is classified, but government scientists are prohibited from using government resources--i.e., their computers or their email account--to make it public.

What kind of funding, you ask? Research to better detect hidden nuclear weapons, for one.

Now, this is just one guy who's obviously putting some pieces together on his own, so there may be more here (or less) than meets the eye. But Juan is right: it seems like a good story for an enterprising journalist to check out.

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LEAKEES ARE NOW THE LEAKERS....Via Atrios, the Guardian's Julian Borger gives us the word on the street about who leaked Valerie Plame's name to reporters (via an audio report):

Several of the journalists are saying privately, yes it was Karl Rove who I talked to. Now, the thing is that the journalists are not going to name Karl Rove publicly because you don't name your sources, and to do so would discredit them as journalists. So the White House is safe for the time being, but Karl Rove's name is very much out there.

But Rove says it wasn't him:

Rove curtly denied any role in leaking Wilson's wife's name. Asked by an ABC News reporter Monday outside his home in Washington whether he was Novak's source, the top White House aide replied, "No."

The same story quotes a political pro "close to the White House" saying he doesn't think anyone senior in the White House was behind this leak: "It's not how anybody leaks," the strategist said. "You know us. We're pros. If you want to leak, you call one reporter."

We'll see. Political sophisticates have done stupider things than this before.

In any case, if it's true that reporters are privately telling each other who it was that called them back in July, this isn't going to stay a secret for much longer. That's especially true if the White House really did call six or more reporters with this leak, since that means that if the names come out there's no way of knowing which reporter ratted.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE CONSERVATIVE REACTION....Since I ripped into conservative reaction to the Plame scandal last night, it's only fair to note that there are some conservatives who get it:

  • RealClear Politics: I do think this is a serious matter that requires urgent attention from the White House. If the charges are true then the guillotine needs to come out quickly - even if the head that eventually rolls out the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an indispensable asset to the administration like Karl Rove.

    ....So my advice to the administration is this: get to the bottom of it quickly and get on with business. If the charges are true, take your medicine and put an end to the matter as a political issue. There's a political silver lining in taking swift action.

  • Dan Drezner: As I've said previously, what I would like to see is a strong denunciation by President Bush about what took place....Let me repeat -- this is a serious allegation, and I want to see the President address it directly and publicly.

  • Tacitus: Whatever else this ends up being, it will certainly be a test of the politicization of the Executive branch at the Cabinet level and below. And if someone did purposefully blow Valerie Plame's cover, that person richly deserves jailing. Whomever he may be.

    And this: ....as for the subject of the press conference in question: it just gives me a bad feeling. I don't see this ending well. Best possible case for the Administration now is that there's a public furor, at least in some quarters, and months of nagging questions, strange manuverings, and accusations. And that's not a very good best case at all. Unfortunately, if there was nothing to this, I can't help but believe that the White House would have quashed it already.

Holding your own people to account isn't easy for any of us, either liberal or conservative. These folks have shown they're willing to do it, so kudos to them.

To everyone else: Waiting for all the facts to come out is fine (although some of us are waiting a little more, um, aggressively than others....) However, minimal decency requires at least a simple agreement that this episode, if true, is deeply wrong and should be dealt with harshly.

UPDATE: John Brothers feels the same way.

Jay Caruso too, who also thinks I should back off my criticism of conservatives over this. Just to make this clear: my criticism is reserved for those who are desperately trying to minimize the importance of leaks like this. Anyone who agrees that this is important but is just waiting for more facts is off the hook. (Off my hook, anyway.)

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO WILL BE THE FIRST TO RAT?....The Nation's David Corn, who was the first to break the Plame story back in July, writes today about yesterday's White House press briefing:

This was a weird situation. Here was McClellan telling the press corps that he and the White House had absolutely no information of their own on the Wilson leak, yet several reporters--including Novak--know exactly who called them to pass on the information on Wilson's wife. These reporters, though, can only reveal the truth by ratting out a confidential source. As of yet, none of them have done so. In fact, several White House reporters with whom I spoke--who were not contacted by the leakers--had only guesses as to which White House aides might have orchestrated the Wilson leak. That is, the identity of the leakers has not yet become out-in-the-open scuttlebutt. But there are journalists--NBC's Andrea Mitchell appears to be one--who can say definitively whether the White House was behind the leak.

Who will be the first?

Kevin Drum 11:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAS PLAME COVERT?....Was Valerie Plame really a covert operative? The main line of defense that's emerged among administration apologists is that Plame was just a "desk jockey" and that her identity as a CIA agent was common knowledge anyway. In fact, Robert Novak stated flatly yesterday that Plame was "an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives."

The facts aren't all in yet, but even so there's considerable evidence that Plame was, in fact, a pretty serious undercover agent. Here's what we know:

  • MSNBC reports that CIA lawyers answered a series of 11 questions from the Justice Department "affirming that the woman's identity was classified, that whoever released it was not authorized to do so and that the news media would not have been able to guess her identity without the leak."

  • CNN reporter David Ensor reports that his sources at the CIA say Plame is an employee of the operations side of the agency. "This is a person who did run agents," Ensor said. "This is a person who was out there in the world collecting information."

  • The White House email notifying staffers of the Justice Department investigation characterized it as "an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee." And White House spokesman Scott McClellan already acknowledged yesterday that "leaking classified information, particularly of this nature, is a very serious matter."

  • From William Pitt: "Ray McGovern, who was for 27-years a senior analyst for the CIA, further confirms the status of Plame within the CIA. 'I know Joseph Wilson well enough to know,' said McGovern in a telephone conversation we had today, 'that his wife was in fact a deep cover operative running a network of informants on what is supposedly this administrations first-priority issue: Weapons of mass destruction.'"

    Note: McGovern works with Joseph Wilson at Truthout.org and definitely has his own agenda, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, he's also someone who clearly has the background to know what he's talking about.

  • Former CIA Director James Woolsey, a neocon and hardly a Bush basher, agrees that this was a serious leak: "You can endanger intelligence and people's lives by revealing the identities of CIA case officers, so it's a serious matter."

So was Valerie Plame just an agency desk jockey whose identity was no big deal? On the contrary, the evidence so far rather strongly suggests that her cover was real, she ran a network of informants specializing in WMD proliferation issues (either currently or in the past), and that her network has now been blown for the sake of petty political payback.

Decide for yourself just how bad this is.

Kevin Drum 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE PLAME REACTION....Allen Brill rounds up the "Christian hawk" reaction to the Plame scandal. He's not too impressed.

The general reaction seems to be to ignore it, to sit on the fence, or to try and distract everyone's attention by wildly impugning Joseph Wilson's integrity, despite the fact that Wilson is no longer central to the story.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"PRESERVE ALL MATERIALS"....For the record, here's the full text of an email from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to White House staff regarding the Justice Department's investigation of the Plame affair:

PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel's Office

We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee.

The department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you.

In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department's investigation.

Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the counsel to the president's office.

The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation.

At least it's official now.

Kevin Drum 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A CHRISTIAN NATION?....John Stoos is Tom McClintock's deputy campaign manager and, until recently, his top legislative analyst. But in his off hours he writes for the Chalcedon Report, which promotes the view that the Word of God should be applied to "the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere," and not just metaphorically either. When he's writing for Chalcedon, Stoos lets his hair down and tells us what he really thinks:

I dream of the day when a strong Christian majority is elected to a city council somewhere in America. This council could then pass a resolution declaring that abortion is now illegal in their city.

Of course, the city attorney would quickly tell them that they cannot do this, at which point he should be fired and a good pro-life attorney should be hired to replace him. Next up would be the police chief, who would likely say he could not enforce such a law. Again, the council should accept his letter of resignation and hire someone who would.

McClintock, to his credit, says he didn't know Stoos held these beliefs and told the LA Times that "I completely disagree....That disturbs me greatly."

Unfortunately, the fact that McClintock is probably telling the truth is more disturbing than if he weren't. After all, he's allowed this guy to be his top legislative advisor for years without any idea that he thinks it would be great if people didn't actually obey the legislation he's writing. Do you think maybe this influenced his advice?

Kevin Drum 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE PLAME AFFAIR: DAMAGE CONTROL ROUNDUP....I don't know whether to be surprised at conservative reaction to the Plame affair or not. They've definitely circled the wagons, and their main lines of defense seem to be these:

All in all, this is a pretty disappointing performance from people who claim to take national security seriously.

The bottom line remains pretty much the same: A couple of top Bush administration officials blabbed about a clandestine CIA operative to the press in order to try to discredit her husband, and now they're covering it up. Either you think that's OK or you don't. I don't.

POSTSCRIPT: So what remains? Two main things: understanding Plame's real role at the CIA, and figuring out who the two leakers were.

Based on some emails I've gotten, I suspect that Plame was a pretty serious undercover operator, although perhaps some years in the past. And there are too many people who know the names of the leakers for that to stay secret very much longer.

It might be a couple of days or a couple of weeks, but both of these questions are going to be answered. When they are, the Bush loyalists peddling the excuses above are going to have to put up or shut up.

Kevin Drum 10:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"GREETED AS LIBERATORS"....Another tidbit today from Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace. First, here is Dick Cheney on March 16:

I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

And here is Max on Woodrow Wilson's 1914 invasion of Mexico:

Wilson had counted on a peaceful occupation; he assumed that the Mexican people"the submerged 85 per cent of the people of that Republic who are now struggling toward liberty"would welcome American intervention to topple their dictator. This view turned out to be dangerously naive.

So, um, how did it turn out?

What did this seven-month occupation accomplish? It did nothing to stop the delivery of arms to the Huerista regime....The occupation also did nothing to resolve the incident at Tampico that started the whole affair....Instead [there was] anti-gringo rioting. The anti-American reaction was not limited to Mexico; the events of 1914 stirred up rioting across Latin America.

Still, he says Wilson was satisfied because the intervention "more or less achieved its purpose."

And what purpose did that turn out to be? To install democracy? No, the end result was the replacement of a brutal thug with a less brutal but just as anti-democratic "First Chief of the Constitutionalist Movement." I sure hope the parallels with Iraq stop there.

Kevin Drum 9:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY DID THEY DO IT?....Andrew Sullivan tries to crack a joke about the Plame affair, but then repeats a rather tired objection to the whole thing:

What was the motive of the two "administration officials" who allegedly leaked the name of Wilson's wife? The Washington Post suggests revenge for the trouble Wilson caused Bush. But how is this revenge? Were they hoping to get her killed? That strikes me as far-fetched. Or fired? Why would leaking her name lead to her firing?

For chrissake, what's the point of so many Bush defenders pretending to be this naive? Joe Wilson himself has already made it clear what the point of this exercise was, a point that's obvious to anyone who's spent even a few minutes around Washington: the leak was designed to intimidate anyone else who might cross the administration. This is what happened to Joe Wilson's wife; don't let it happen to yours.

It's all part of the mafia don approach to politics that Karl Rove practices. Remember, this is Rove's reaction to people who displease him: "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!"

So please, stop pretending that the motivations for this are inexplicable. They aren't. Stupid, yes. Petty, yes again. But perfectly explicable.

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NOVAK: DON'T BLAME ME....Drudge has a statement from Robert Novak about his original Valerie Plame column:

Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador Wilson's report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. As a professional journalist with 46 years experience in Washington I do not reveal confidential sources. When I called the CIA in July to confirm Mrs. Wilson's involvement in the mission for her husband -- he is a former Clinton administration official -- they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives.

Nothing new here, really. He confirms that it was a "senior administration official" who told him about Plame, and that another senior official told him the same thing independently. In other words, it wasn't just a chance remark. And we already know that these "senior administration officials" called six other journalists, so obviously somebody consciously decided to spread this story and then did so.

As for Plame, the CIA asked Novak not to use her name, but didn't ask quite hard enough. That also fits what we know. Plame was clandestine, but probably wasn't exactly working under the deepest cover around.

None of this matters, though. Novak is trying to get himself off the hook for bad behavior which is fine, since it's the leakers who are at fault here, not the journalist who reported the leak but the basic facts remain the same. Multiple people in high places exposed a covert CIA analyst and did it for crass and truly idiotic reasons of political intimidation. Dumb. Very dumb.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has more on "operator" vs. "analyst." I'm not sure what to make of this.

It's also worth noting that the administration officials who spread this story were apparently careful to expose "Valerie Plame," the maiden name she uses overseas, not "Valerie Wilson," the name she uses in her daily life. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this either, but it seems to indicate a deliberate desire to expose her overseas work in some way. Hopefully someone will explain the significance of this before too much longer.

Kevin Drum 2:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YOU THINK YOU'RE SO SMART, DON'T YOU?....James Joyner expresses mild surprise that Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have "won" the recall debate last week:

What this...demonstrates is the differences between the mindset of average voters versus intellectuals and political junkies. While I was impressed with Bustamante's cool demeanor and seeming grasp of the issues--even though I disagreed with most of his policy prescriptions--most viewers just thought he was uninspiring. While I thought Arnold was charming, I thought he lacked substance; most viewers apparently thought he exuded leadership. Thankfully, the mass public and I agree on one thing: Huffington is an annoying idiot.

I think this is about right. Policy positions aside, Bustamante seemed mostly pretty calm and knowledgable to me, while Arnold was a buffoon who was constantly scrapping with Arianna and tossing out Hollywood one liners.

But that's not how most people saw it. What they saw was that Bustamante was "condescending" and Schwarzenegger was "engaging." It's a complete flip flop.

What this shows once again is that in American politics there is no greater sin than looking like you think you're smarter than the other guy. It killed Al Gore in 2000 and probably did the same to Bustamante last week. You'd think big time politicians would eventually learn this lesson.

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NRO KNOWS WHO'S TO BLAME FOR THE PLAME AFFAIR!....Clifford May has a pretty pathetic piece in NRO today saying that the Valerie Plame affair is no big deal because, honestly darling, everybody who was anybody in Washington knew she was a CIA agent already. This is followed by 500 words saying that the real issue isn't that political operatives in the White House jeopardized national security by exposing the identity of an undercover CIA agent in order to gain petty revenge. No, the real issue is that her husband is a Bush basher and therefore entirely untrustworthy.

Anyway, I thought that was pretty pathetic until I read Mark Levin's piece in the same issue. He writes that gasp! Joe Wilson "voluntarily drew attention to himself", and therefore his wife got what she deserved:

While I'm all in favor of investigating national-security-related leaks, we'll never know if foreign-intelligence agencies, among others, had already learned of Plame's position thanks to the attention her husband drew to himself by taking the Niger fact-finding assignment in the first place. Like it or not, Wilson bears some responsibility for his wife's predicament.

It's not the White House's fault at all! It's Joe Wilson's fault!

You have to admire the chutzpah if nothing else. But hey, unlike May, at least Levin makes a pro forma nod toward being "all in favor" of investigating national security related leaks. Glad to hear it, Mark.

What a disgrace. Between the two of them there's not even a whisper, not even the barest nod, that perhaps the White House shouldn't have done what it did. And we're supposed to believe that these berhawks actually care a fig about national security?

A note to conservatives about the Plame affair: I know you don't want to hear this from me, but stonewalling just isn't going to work here, and it's going to make you look like dronish partisan hacks when the full truth comes out as it will. This is not partisan sniping, it's the real deal, and you should at least pretend that you think it's a bad thing.

Just don't say I didn't warn you, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GET TO WORK!....After writing three posts in two hours, Eugene Volokh's next post is this:

Even more swamped than usual, sorry to say. Will probably be unable to respond to virtually all the messages I've been getting; my apologies, as always.

Nineteen minutes later he has a post up about someone being sentenced to home confinement for illegally posting a movie online.

Heh heh. Maybe you'd be a little less swamped, Eugene, if you were actually doing your work instead of blogging all morning....

(Just kidding, of course, since there are always a few people who take these jokey posts seriously. It just struck me as kind of funny, that's all.)

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAS VALERIE PLAME REALLY AN UNDERCOVER CIA AGENT?....Via Mark Kleiman, the Washington Post which owns the Plame story so far tells me that at least one aspect of this story is even more disturbing than I originally thought. I've been vaguely assuming all along that Plame was most likely someone who worked in the private sector but who occasionally did jobs for the CIA or perhaps simply briefed them on her business dealings periodically. Nope:

She is a case officer in the CIA's clandestine service and works as an analyst on weapons of mass destruction. Novak published her maiden name, Plame, which she had used overseas and has not been using publicly. Intelligence sources said top officials at the agency were very concerned about the disclosure because it could allow foreign intelligence services to track down some of her former contacts and lead to the exposure of agents.

So, to recap:

  • Plame really was an undercover analyst working on WMD issues.

  • Two top White House officials blew her cover.

  • They seem to have done it in a weird attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson ("He doesn't really know anything about Africa, they just sent him there because his wife called in some favors....")

  • The CIA claims that exposing her could endanger other agents.

  • The President of the United States doesn't seem to care much about this.

On the positive side of things, at least the press is finally on top of this. It's the top story on Google News at the moment, and I assume that there are now enough people working on this that the truth will come out fairly quickly. Maybe by tomorrow, almost certainly by the end of the week. In any case, I'm certainly a lot more encouraged that we'll get to the bottom of this than I was on Friday.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TODAY WE LEARN THE MEANING OF "FULL COOPERATION"....Dan Drezner asks the appropriate question today: why doesn't President Bush seem to be showing any personal interest in the fact that a couple of his staffers leaked the name of a CIA agent?

And Josh Marshall has a long excerpt from this morning's press briefing. Scott McClellan took heavy enemy fire but manfully defended the position that it would be practically an obstruction of justice for the president to show any concern over this.

Fellow Orange Countian Pejman Yousefzadeh who, I should say, represents consensus OC political views a lot better than I do says the idea is silly anyway. This isn't a Perry Mason movie, after all.

But this isn't the typical kind of Washington leak from someone simply trying to push their own agenda in the press. This is a leak from a couple of Bush's top aides who were engaged in pushing the White House's own line. An "officially approved" leak, if you will.

Oh, and it was an illegal leak too, not merely an annoying one. I almost forgot about that.

This is not a needle in a haystack. There are probably fewer than a dozen real suspects, and lying about it will do no good. There are too many people who know the truth.

So how about it, Mr. President? Why have the FBI waste time and energy that should be spent fighting terrorism instead? As a good citizen, why not do your bit and see if you can move the ball a bit on this one?

Kevin Drum 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DO FROGS MARCH?....Just in case we need it sometime in the near future, Slacktivist has the complete etymology of "frog-march" for us today.

Kevin Drum 9:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

REMINDER....If any journalists, columnists, commentators, producers, or editors for newspapers, magazines, or television stations are reading this....

Just a reminder that Dan Drezner of the University of Chicago and Henry Farrell of the University of Toronto are co-writing an academic paper on the power and politics of blogs. If you haven't already contacted them, hop over to Dan's blog and take a quick (and confidential) survey. It's for a good cause.

Kevin Drum 10:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED....Time magazine is ripping into the postwar planning with both barrels too. Plus they have a pretty unfriendly cover:

The Administration's leading members, said Democratic Senator Joseph Biden last week, "believed we would find an oil-rich, functioning country, that we'd be met by cheering crowds, that all we had to do was sweep out the top Baathist layers, implant our favorite exiles and watch democracy take root as the bulk of the troops returned home by Christmas." Allowing for Bidenesque hyperbole, that is not far off the mark. Bureaucratic infighting, wishful thinking andat least according to his many rivalsan undue influence in Washington exerted by Ahmed Chalabi, the exile leader who is the darling of the neoconservative faction in Washington, contributed to a process by which the Bush Administration got Iraq wrong.

Something tells me the next few weeks are going to be pretty rough for the Bushies.

Kevin Drum 4:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THESE ARE THE ADULTS?....Newsweek on the management of postwar Iraq:

Last February, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner was trying to put together a team of experts to rebuild Iraq after the war was over, and his list included 20 State Department officials. The day before he was supposed to leave for the region, Garner got a call from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who ordered him to cut 16 of the 20 State officials from his roster. It seems that the State Department people were deemed to be Arabist apologists, or squishy about the United Nations, or in some way politically incorrect to the right-wing ideologues at the White House or the neocons in the office of the Secretary of Defense. The vetting process got so bad that even doctors sent to restore medical services had to be anti-abortion, recalled one of Garners team.

....The ideological intrigue reached into the upper levels of the Bush administration. Rumsfeld ordered General Garner to drop a State Department official named Thomas Warrick from his reconstruction team. Garner protested, his aides recall; he needed Warrick, who had been the author of a $5 million, yearlong study called The Future of Iraq. Rumsfelds reply, as relayed by Garner to his aides, was: Im sorry, but I just got off a phone call from a level that is sufficiently high that I cant argue with him. Sources tell NEWSWEEK that Rumsfeld was taking his orders from Vice President Cheney.

....On May 16, five days after he arrived in Baghdad, Bremer assembled the top American officials in Baghdad and announced that all ministries would be de-Baath-ized by removing roughly the top six layers of bureaucracy. The CIAs Baghdad station chief demurred. Well, thats 30,000 to 50,000 pissed-off Baathists youre driving underground, said the senior spook. Bremer went on: the Army would be formally disbanded and not paid. Thats another 350,000 Iraqis youre pissing off, and theyve got guns, said the CIA man. Said Bremer: Those are my instructions.

....Some astute foreign observers think that time is running out. We are losing the consent of the Iraqi people, warned John Sawers, British Prime Minister Tony Blairs emissary in Baghdad. We have until Ramadan [Oct. 27-Nov. 25] to turn it around, Sawers told American officials in Washington two weeks ago. After that it will be too late. At least one old Middle East hand is a pessimist. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently passed a message to Rumsfeld. It ran roughly: Theres a 5 percent chance you get Saddam tomorrow, the energy goes out of the resistance and things get dramatically better. Theres a 5 percent chance a car bomb takes out the entire Governing Council, and things go to hell. In between those, it will get better over time, or worse over time. Right now, I say its twice as likely that it gets worse. Its not known how Rumsfeld responded.

There's too much good stuff in the article to excerpt, but taken as a whole it's a damning indictment of the neocon true believers and their withering contempt for anyone who didn't buy their liberation fantasies wholesale. Just go read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FAITH BASED INTELLIGENCE....I've been too busy venting about the Valerie Plame affair to write about a second story from the Washington Post today that also deserves attention. The House intelligence committee has been combing through classified data for four months to try and figure out whether or not our intelligence on Iraq before the war was sound. They aren't impressed:

Top members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence...found "significant deficiencies" in the community's ability to collect fresh intelligence on Iraq, and said it had to rely on "past assessments" dating to when U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and on "some new 'piecemeal' intelligence," both of which "were not challenged as a routine matter."

"The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs had been destroyed was considered proof that they continued to exist," the two committee members said in a letter Thursday to CIA Director George J. Tenet. The Washington Post obtained a copy this weekend.

....The committee's letter said the buildup to the war in Iraq amounted to "a case study" of the CIA's and other agencies' inability to gather credible intelligence from informants in Iraq or to employ technologies to detect weapons programs.

There's more, and it's a pretty damning assessment. But even after all that, partisan differences remain:

The letter acknowledges one sharp difference between the two committee leaders. [Ranking Democrat Jane] Harman, the letter indicated, believes the NIE judgments "were deficient with regard to the analysis and presentation." [Republican chairman Porter] Goss believes the judgments were not deficient and were properly couched to reflect the incomplete nature of the intelligence. A congressional source said Goss "does not believe that [the intelligence] community's judgments were inaccurate."

So they basically agree that (a) our information was old, (b) we had almost no recent intel, (c) absence of proof of destruction was taken as proof that WMD still existed, (d) iffy intelligence was given the same weight as more credible information, and (e) the overall quality of information was "relatively fragile."

But despite this, Goss still thinks the final judgments were correct. I wonder what exactly he bases this on?

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BETRAYED....Dan Drezner says well something that I haven't quite found the exact words to express. Exposing Valerie Plame was dumb, he says, a serious crime for what seems like a trivial benefit. But:

If it is nevertheless true, however -- an important "if" -- then a Pandora's box gets opened by asking this question: if the White House was willing to commit an overtly illegal act in dealing with such a piddling matter, what lines have they crossed on not-so-piddling matters? In other words, if this turns out to be true, then suddenly do all of the crazy conspiracy theories acquire a thin veneer of surface plausibility?

Exactly. If they're willing to do something like this, you have to figure that (a) it's not the only time they've done it, (b) they're willing to do it for big things as well as small things, and (c) it's part of an institutional culture at the very top of the White House.

And this comes from a guy who was an unpaid advisor to the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2000. He's still willing to wait for the final shoe to drop, but if it does, he feels appropriately betrayed, as should anyone who supported these guys.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOO COMPLICATED?....The Valerie Plame story is "too complicated" for Glenn Reynolds to understand? Give me a break. That was the same excuse he used with John Lott.

There's nothing complicated in either of these cases. Lott fudged his data and tried to cover it up, pure and simple. Someone in the White House deliberately exposed a CIA operative for political gain, pure and simple.

Look, guys, here was Tacitus this morning:

Still mostly unnamed sources in WaPo this morning, but I think there's no denying that there's something to the Plame affair at this point....and it means trouble for the Administration.

That's the absolute minimum anyone should say about this. If you insist that the evidence isn't clear yet and you're still waiting for confirmation, fine. But at least tell us that, yes, if this is true, it stinks and heads should roll.

Again: this isn't just normal partisan sniping. This is serious stuff, and loyalty to George Bush shouldn't prevent anyone from saying so. From a bunch of folks who have been bleating about moral clarity for over a year, that's the least we can expect.

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STEEL TARIFFS AND YOU....If arid economic theory isn't your cup of tea, read this LA Times story to get a good idea of why protective tariffs are a bad idea:

Before President Bush decides what to do about steel tariffs, he might want to square things with the 2 million metal-benders of America.

....[Mike] Chubb, an industrial engineer let go in March by a truck part maker, just wants another job. Any job. And a new president.

"Yes, I was a casualty of steel tariffs. Yes, I feel a great deal of bitterness," said Chubb, who survived previous rounds of industry contractions but senses that this loss is permanent. "Basically, my job went to Korea. It's not coming back."

The tariffs, put in place to protect companies and workers in steel-producing states such as Pennsylvania, have cost jobs in steel-consuming states such as Michigan. While the administration expected that the tariffs would not be well-received in international markets, it did not fully anticipate the backlash at home.

....Things didn't proceed quite according to plan.

Spot market prices for some types of steel soared after tariffs took effect. Metal-bending operations such as Tindall's found that customers were not willing to absorb the higher costs. The tariffs were ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization, and the European Union is threatening $2 billion in retaliatory sanctions.

The whole story is pretty good, and explains both the appeal and the danger inherent in tariffs. It's worth reading.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO DID IT?....Based on emails and some surfing around the blogosphere, here are some guesses about who's involved in the Plame scandal. The whistleblower in the Post story seems likely to be CIA Director George Tenet. The two White House leakers probably come from this list:

  1. Dick Cheney Vice President

  2. Karl Rove Senior Advisor to the President

  3. Condi Rice National Security Advisor

  4. Steve Hadley Deputy National Security Advisor

  5. Andy Card White House Chief of Staff

  6. Dan Bartlett Assistant to the President for Communications

  7. John Gordon Homeland Security Advisor

  8. Scooter Libby Vice Presidents Chief of Staff

Maybe Rove and Libby? Your guess is as good as mine.

And for anyone inclined to defend the president in this affair, here are a few points not to lose sight of:

  • This is not just some rogue official somewhere in the bowels of the White House bureacracy. This is someone at the very top, and there are two of them.

  • There are people in the administration who know who the culprits are, and who have probably known for months. Why haven't they done anything? Bush could find out who the leakers are in five minutes and have their resignations on his desk in another five. Why hasn't he made the phone call? Why does he tolerate having people like this on his staff and perhaps even as his friends?

  • This is not trivial stuff, and it wasn't an innocent mistake. Someone who is very senior, very experienced, and who is trusted with the highest levels of national security information, exposed a CIA agent. They knew what they were doing, and they shopped it around systematically to make sure someone took the bait.

This should not be a partisan affair. This kind of stuff is wrong, full stop, and both Democrats and Republicans should be demanding that Bush address it immediately. These are not the kind of people we want occupying offices in the West Wing.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLAME AND CLARK....Here's an interesting political idea that occurred to me while I was mulling over the Valerie Plame scandal: it's going to help Wesley Clark.

First, this exposes an obviously casual attitude at very high levels of the Bush administration toward military (or at least military-like) secrets. This is going to make Clark look good by comparison. With his background, he's obviously a guy who knows the value of keeping operational secrets.

Second, I think there are plenty of moderate independents and conservatives who are wavering in their support for Bush right now but who have stuck with him because they just don't trust any of the original nine Democratic candidates. The Plame scandal will push them even farther from the Bush camp, and I suspect that many of them will find Clark an acceptable alternative.

Just guessing here....

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY I HATE BUSH....A PLEA TO CONSERVATIVES....A good night's sleep hasn't made me any less angry about the Valerie Plame bombshell from last night. The more I think about it, the more pissed I get.

But there's a lesson here too: this episode crystallizes the real reason why I dislike George Bush and his administration so intensely. Sure, I dislike his policies, and I don't care much for his phony macho Texas act either, but that's not really it.

The real reason I despise him is the feeling I've had from the beginning that Bush doesn't really believe in anything. Bill Clinton, to be sure, was a smooth talker who was more than willing to say different things to different audiences, but he was also willing to take risks for things he believed in. NAFTA and welfare reform pissed off his base, while healthcare and tax increases were widely unpopular with the country at large. But he pushed them anyway because he believed in them.

Bush doesn't seem to have anything like this. As former Bush advisor John DiIulio said, "What youve got is everythingand I mean everythingbeing run by the political arm." Tax cuts are good for the base. War in Iraq is good for the base. Steel tariffs might help us in West Virginia. But talking about the long term costs of the war isn't good for the base, so it gets soft pedaled. Ditto for Social Security and Medicare reform, which require genuine leadership and hard choices.

I don't like the hard right agenda, but I dislike the hard right temperament even more and George Bush's Texas is ground zero for the hard right of today. Bill Clinton had Vince Foster murdered? Fine. He ran drugs while he was governor? Great stuff. We might be able to smear an opponent by publicly unmasking a CIA operative? Let's do it.

Say what you will about Clinton and his disaster of a personal life. And there's no question that he fought to win quite skillfully and not always fairly. But he didn't do anything like this. In fact, I can't think of an administration since World War II that would have done something like this. It would have given pause even to Nixon's henchmen.

I doubt that blowing Valerie Plame's cover actually did much harm in the end. But that doesn't matter. This episode exposes the viciousness and amorality at the very heart of the Bush administration, and I hope it opens some conservative eyes about the nature of the administration they support. These guys are not who you think they are and they aren't pursuing their policies for the principled reasons you think they are. After all, if they went to war with Iraq because of a genuine commitment to humanitarian relief and Middle East democracy, don't you think they would have paid a little more attention to postwar planning? What does it tell you that they didn't?

Remember: this is not just some run of the mill political dirty trick. It's perilously close to treason. No truly principled conservative administration would do a thing like this, and the fact that they've been trying to dodge it for two months tells you everything you need to know about them.

There are plenty of honorable conservatives out there who deserve conservative support, but not the ones running this administration. So for God's sake, take a good hard look at these guys and get clear of them while your conscience is still intact. This is going to get ugly.

Kevin Drum 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ONE MORE THING....I just have to add something to the post below.

Now that this story has been confirmed, it really makes you face up to the true contemptibility of the whole affair. Think about it: two top White House officials, the ones who run this country and are supposed to guard the security of our country, blew the cover of a CIA agent solely to gain some petty revenge on a minor political opponent.

I just don't know how much worse it gets than that. As much as I despise the team in the White House, I always thought that in their own way they were doing what they thought was best for America. I never thought they would betray their own country just out of spite. I really didn't.

But if they'll do something like this, they'll do anything. I guess Krugman was right all along: these are radical ideologues who care about nothing except staying in power and will do anything, no matter how craven and malevolent, to get what they want.

It's enough to make you sick. I just needed to get that off my chest.

Kevin Drum 10:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CUE THE FROGMARCH ORCHESTRA....Holy shit. Here's the Washington Post today on the Valerie Plame scandal:

A senior administration official said two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. That was shortly after Wilson revealed in July that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account eventually touched off a controversy over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

Let's recap:

  • This involves two top White House officials who blew the cover of a CIA agent solely for payback against a minor political enemy.

  • They systematically called six different journalists.

  • Only Robert Novak went with the story. (Which, by the way, actually speaks pretty well of the rest of the Washington press corps.)

  • There are a whole bunch of people, including Mike Allen and Dana Priest, who know who the White House officials are.

So much for my thought that the Justice Department would mount a desultory investigation and then give up. This baby is just heating up and there's no way to keep these names secret now. It's only a matter of time.

Stay tuned. Stay very tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BRAD WONDERS YET AGAIN WHY OUR PRESS CORPS IS SO INNUMERATE....Brad DeLong wonders why Dan Weintraub can't keep his story straight between Wednesday and today.

I don't know, but maybe that's why the Bee thinks he needs an editor now?

POSTSCRIPT: The weird ability of McClintock supporters to buy his proposition that he could have balanced the California budget despite the fact that his proposals are patently ridiculous is nothing short of remarkable. But this is always the case when it comes to political proposals related to money.

Why is that? I mean, I know that people want to believe in miracles, and that most people are also pretty clueless about numbers. But still. All you need is the ability to do simple addition and subtraction to see through most of this stuff. Why can't people do that, and why doesn't the press corps help them out by savaging fuzzy math when they see it? It's an eternal mystery.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOLLOW THE MONEY....Here's the deal: Edison Schools, the brainchild of Chris Whittle, is in the business of taking over public schools and running them with the efficiency and accountability that are the hallmarks of the free market. Unfortunately, it turns out they have been running schools with, ahem, the efficiency and accountability that are the hallmarks of the free market.

Basically, Whittle is a slick talker who's run every company he's ever managed into the ground (see amusing takedown here). Edison followed his usual pattern: it never made money, was able to do the usual bubble-era IPO anyway, and then saw its stock tank two years later when a rash of bad publicity and a setback in Philadelphia caused several analysts to take off their blinders, realize that the company was going nowhere, and downgrade its stock. Edison currently trades under $2, has a ton of debt, and has reportedly been losing contracts.

Sounds like a company to stay away from, doesn't it? So why would Liberty Partners, an investment fund, provide funding to allow Whittle to take the company private, in the process giving himself a salary boost to over $600,000 per year? Why do they have such confidence in Edison's rather bleak future?

For the answer, check out Josh Marshall today and find out whose money Liberty is actually investing. But don't do it unless you have a strong stomach.

Kevin Drum 5:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MODERN TIMES....Earlier today at Calpundit HQ:

ME: I'm going to the movies. I'll be back in time for the game.

THE MISSUS: OK. What time is it?

ME: 3:30. And I know you'll have some divided loyalties here, but I expect you to fully support your husband's team.

MISSUS: Oh. Are they playing Cal?

ME: Yeah. But look, that's how it goes when you get married. You leave your parents behind and adopt your husband's football loyalties.

MISSUS: Wait a second. How come you don't adopt my football loyalties?

Can you believe anything so ridiculous? Where's the Moral Majority when you need them?

Kevin Drum 3:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICS AND WAR....Matt Yglesias says that George Bush has done a lousy job of preparing the American public for the difficulty, cost, and length of the job we have to do in postwar Iraq:

Elizabeth Bumiller writes that the president needs to do a better job of selling the American people on the need to get the job done in Iraq. I agree. But let's note that I don't think this is a failure per se on the part of the administration. Rather, it's a result of the fact that the administration is working at cross-purposes with itself.

On the one hand they need to convince the American people that success in Iraq is very important, and that succeeding will require the expenditure of a very large sum of money. On the other hand, for political purposes they want to convince the American people that everything is fine in Iraq and that the administration made no significant mistakes in its pre-war planning and calculation.

I think that's true, and I think it's the White House's incessant political calculation that's at the heart of this problem. I've said several times that one of my problems with Bush is that he's never willing to take a political risk for something he believes in, and the reply from conservatives is usually along the lines of, "Invading Iraq was incredibly risky! Al Gore wouldn't have had the guts to do it."

But that misses the point. Starting the war wasn't actually risky at all. War is usually popular, and no recent president has gotten in trouble for starting a war. The American public has been in favor of invading Iraq for years, and Bush just took advantage of that.

But what he wasn't willing to do was risk his popularity by telling some hard truths: the occupation would be long, it would be hard, it would be messy, it would be costly, and we would probably do it pretty much alone. His lack of courage in this regard was one of the reasons I turned against the war after all, even if you think Saddam Hussein needed to be removed, what's the point of doing it if you're not willing to expend the political capital to do the job right? and he's still stuck in the same rut. Karl Rove tried to play this game a little too close to the vest, and I think he blew it. Honesty would have been a better policy from the start.

On another subject, Matt seems to imply here that perhaps Tom DeLay would have been a better president than Bush. Or at least a more competent one. Matt, can I please just beg that you never say something like that again? I'm probably going to have nightmares tonight....

Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS WES CLARK A DEMOCRAT?....There are plenty of legitimate questions about Wesley Clark and whether he'd make a good president, but the question of whether he's really a Democrat is surely one of the lamest. Here's all you need to know about it:

The Republican National Committee on Friday circulated a transcript and videotape of Clark's May 11, 2001, speech before the Pulaski County Republican Party. Clark had gained attention as NATO supreme commander in the late 1990s, but his party affiliation was unknown at the time of his speech.

Here's the easy formula: if the RNC is pushing this, Democrats should stay away from it. Yes, that means you, Joe Lieberman. Find something else to attack him about.

This is really one of the silliest things I've heard since well, since the recall debate a couple of days ago. I mean, Clark was talking to a Republican Party gathering. Of course he said nice things about Republicans and didn't say anything about Clinton. If I were giving a speech to the Cato Institute I'd probably skip lightly over my admiration for Franklin Roosevelt.

If this is the best the RNC can do, Clark is in great shape especially since this kind of stuff probably helps him in the long run. But even if they can do better, let's not help them out, OK?

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YES, VIRGINIA, REGULATIONS DO HAVE BENEFITS....ABOUT 150 BILLION OF THEM....There are two parts to the following story, and I'm not sure which is the more remarkable. So read the whole thing.

First, the OMB has issued a report officially changing its mind about the impact of environmental regulations over the past decade:

The report, issued this month by the Office of Management and Budget, concludes that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002.

That's a big turnaround: the last OMB report estimated benefits at about $25 billion. Maybe they ought to take another look at greenhouse gases, eh?

But here's part two:

This year's report provided cost-benefit analysis on 107 major federal rules approved during the past decade dealing with agriculture, education, energy, health and human services, housing, labor, transportation and the environment. In all cases, the benefits far exceeded the costs of implementing the rule.

Did you get that? The regulations fall into eight major categories, and the benefits far exceeded the costs in every single category. This analysis includes every major federal rule enacted since around the beginning of the Clinton administration, and even given the fact that cost-benefit analysis is a very imperfect science, that's a remarkable finding. I can hear the libertarians going nuts already.

Republicans have been screeching loudly ever since Reagan took office that liberals are killing American business by burdening it with an endless stream of inane regulations while blithely ignoring the costs of this regulatory zeal. Well guess what? They were wrong, and the Bush White House has now tacitly admitted it.

Not only have we apparently been pretty careful in enacting regulations, but we have considered the costs of new regulation as well as the benefits. And we're eight for eight.

Pretty good batting average, isn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: The full report is here.

UPDATE: I misread the Post story. The full report doesn't break down all 107 rules, but it does break them down by category. Benefits exceeded costs in every single category, but there are a small number of specific regulations in which costs exceeded benefit. The text of the post has been changed to reflect this.

Kevin Drum 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....It looks like we finally have some action on the Valerie Plame story. You remember her, don't you? She's Joseph Wilson's wife, and someone at the White House allegedly outed her to columnist Robert Novak as a CIA spook a couple of months ago. Needless to say, that kind of thing is both very bad for national security and, for obvious reasons, very illegal too. The CIA really doesn't like having its spies publicly named as part of political games by the party in power.

The big question, of course, is: is it true? Did someone in the White House out her? Last we heard, the CIA was investigating this, and it now appears that the internal investigation is finished and it's time for some official action:

NBC News Andrea Mitchell reported Friday night that the CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether White House officials blew Plames cover in retaliation against Wilson. Revealing the identities of covert officials is a violation of two laws, the National Agents Identity Act and the Unauthorized Release of Classified Information Act.

This is an important step. The CIA, you see, can do all sorts of nasty covert things in foreign countries, but the Justice Department can do even nastier things: it can issue subpoenas. In America.

Stay tuned. I have my doubts that this investigation will go anywhere after all, as long as Novak doesn't squeal, the folks in the White House just have to deny everything and let the investigation die. And with Republicans in control of Congress, the special prosecutor act dead, and John Ashcroft running the Justice Department, investigatory zeal is likely to be somewhat below Ken Starrish proportions.

Still, you never know. The CIA must have come up with something or else they would have just dropped the whole thing. Maybe we'll see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House after all.

It's a pleasant thought, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WELL, MY CAREER IS MORE LIKE AN AUTOBAHN....Denis Boyles in NRO today:

I'm eat up in metaphors. They're everywhere, part of a life built on a solid bedrock of clutter and confusion. For example, consider a map of I-70. It starts, with great promise, in a parking lot at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, runs for many, many miles then ends, without fanfare, near a tiny hamlet in a remote corner of Utah called Sulphurdale, a destination I have yet to reach. I-70 is my "career."

Huh? Can anyone tell me WTF this means? "I-70 is my 'career'"?

(The rest of the essay strangely enough is just a standard riff about why we should ignore elitist Europeans and their terrorist appeasing ways. Pay it no mind.)

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HUH? WHAT WAR?....From The Savage Wars of Peace, which I'm reading right now. Lieutenant Jack Myers, in command of the USS Charleston, is on his way to the Philippines in 1898:

Along the way the cruiser stopped at Guam, a Spanish possession. The ship fired a dozen shots at the ancient Spanish fort guarding the capital. There was no return fire. Instead a Spanish officer came out to the cruiser to apologize for not having any powder; otherwise, he declared politely, the fort would respond to the Charleston's "salute." When the poor fellow heard that Spain and America were at war, he promptly surrendered. Myers led a landing party that disarmed the Spanish garrison and secured Guam for the United States.

Ah, the good old days of empire building....

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....It's sleepy time. Inkblot sleeps wherever the spirit moves him, although a pile of clothes in front of the dresser mirror is always a favorite, but Jasmine can always be found in exactly the same spot every evening: curled up in between our pillows, where she stays until morning.

BONUS CATS: Trish Wilson has pictures of her three-week old kittens at the aptly named Trish Wilson's Blog. I sure hope these kittens grow some real ears eventually.

Across the Atlantic, Mazal is doing well and has apparently grown quite fond of Bill. The entire Sjostrom pet family is snoozing along with Bill in this picture.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BILL O'ATRIOS....I read on somebody's blog a few days ago (sorry, can't remember where) something along the lines of "I can't stand Al Franken and I don't think he's funny, but I have to admit he was pretty funny tonight taking on Bill O'Reilly."

So if you hate those shrill liberals who are always demonizing conservatives, but kinda like shrill liberals when they're shrilly demonizing O'Reilly, sneak over to Atrios and take a look. He's Bill O'Atrios today, and a good time is being had by all.

UPDATE: Ah, it was John Cole who said that about Franken, and I even paraphrased him pretty much correctly. Whew.

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE RICH REALLY ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME....Compare and contrast. From Forbes last week:

After two years of declining values, the rich finally got richer. On this, Forbes' 21st annual edition of The Forbes 400, the aggregate net worth of the nation's wealthiest 400 citizens leapt 10% in the past year, to $955 billion.

From the census bureau today:

The nation's official poverty rate rose from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.1 percent in 2002 and median household money income declined 1.1 percent in real terms from 2001 to $42,409 in 2002, according to reports released today by the U.S. Census Bureau

Obviously the Bush tax cuts have kicked in for some people, but not for others. I guess it takes a while for the trickle down effects to trickle.

But how long? Well, for full-time male workers, how about never? The chart below from the full census report shows median earnings over the past few decades, and while women have made significant gains, men haven't moved an inch for 30 years. So if you're one of the many working class households where daddy goes off to work and mommy stays home with the kids i.e., the traditional sort of household that Republicans like George Bush claim to care so much about your income hasn't changed one dollar in 30 years.

And the hyper rich? According to Forbes, "Adjusted for inflation, the average net worth of The Forbes 400 has increased 423% since 1982." Sweet.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

QUAGMIRE?....If you're a fan or a detractor of the quagmire theory (i.e., Iraq is another Vietnam), who better to argue for the prosecution than Stanley Karnow, Mr. Vietnam himself? He makes the case for quagmire today in the LA Times.

I don't especially endorse or reject this argument, but I think it's worth pointing out that the quagmire analogy doesn't really apply to the military struggles themselves, even if guerrillas figure prominently in both. Rather, as Karnow correctly points out, it applies to the similar political situations. Karnow makes two points:

  • The domino theory as an overarching geopolitical justification: "As they oozed into the region, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson each justified his commitment by expounding the "domino theory"....Similarly, Bush permeated with evangelical fervor has portrayed himself as a crusader and Saddam Hussein as the evil genius behind international terrorism....But just as his precursors in the White House failed to prove their case that Vietnam was indispensable to U.S. security, Bush has produced no solid evidence to back his allegations."

  • Lack of candor about progress and goals: "Perhaps the most striking similarity is this: Those of us who covered Vietnam were regularly inundated by civilian and military bureaucrats with piles of glowing details, charts and statistics devised to show progress....Today, as I listen to Bush and his spokesmen deliver euphoric accounts of the headway being made in Iraq, they remind me of the bulletins from Vietnam that reassured us that "victory is just around the corner" and that "we see the light at the end of the tunnel." As the war escalated in Vietnam, members of Congress privately began to oppose what increasingly seemed to be a futile enterprise. But they never failed to vote funds for the venture on the grounds that "we can't let down our boys." For the same reason, they will grant Bush the $87 billion he has requested."

Friends and foes may now fire away.

Kevin Drum 9:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE CHURROS BATTLE HAS FINALLY BEEN WON....Who says the California legislature is useless? Not me. First they ban spam, and now they've passed a bill to allow street vendors to sell delicious, piping hot churros. No more reheated churros for us!

That good eating, my friends, mighty good eating....

Kevin Drum 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO IS EDWARD W. NOTTINGHAM?...AND WHY DO 51 MILLION PEOPLE NOW HATE HIM?....Judicial activism must be stopped! Conservatives are playing mind games with me, and it's obvious now that resistance is futile. They win. Judges must be restrained from overruling the will of the people:

A federal judge in Denver late today ruled that the government's plan to curb unsolicited telemarketing calls was unconstitutional, another blow to plans to implement a national do-not-call list next week.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham was announced late today after Congress, in a rare display of speed and bipartisanship, voted to overturn another federal judge's decision this week to halt the government's plan to allow Americans to block telemarketing calls to their homes.

...."There is no doubt that unwanted calls seeking charitable contributions are as invasive to the privacy of someone sitting down to dinner at home as unwanted calls from commercial telemarketers," Nottingham wrote. But by exempting charitable solicitations, the FTC "has imposed a content-based limitation on what the consumer may ban from his home . . . thereby entangling the government in deciding what speech consumers should hear."

I recommend that Edward W. Nottingham be subjected to the same abuse that greeted Lee R. West this morning:

Egged on by talk show hosts and angry Web sites, people have flooded West's office and home with calls and faxes, apparently trying to show him why they wanted to ban unsolicited sales calls.

"They are just calling to tie up our lines," said Rick Wade, operations manager at the district clerk's office. "They just keep calling to harass us, like the telemarketers harass them, I guess."

Yeah, you guessed right.

You know, if telemarketers thought they were hated before, they haven't seen anything yet. There are going to be mobs with torches and pitchforks outside the DMA's headquarters before long.

Kevin Drum 6:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DEBATE....I don't usually watch candidate debates, but I watched today's show since it was in the middle of the day and I was curious to see how the new kid did.

I don't really have much to say aside from a few top-of-the-head reactions:

  • Kerry sure seems like he could do better. But the fact is that at the end of the debate, I really couldn't have told you where he stood on much of anything.

  • Dean spent a little too much time complaining about everyone else attacking him.

  • On the other hand, the others did spend a lot of time attacking him.

  • Clark did OK. He seemed like he was giving high school level answers to the questions, but he didn't screw up anywhere and came across OK. He'll probably get better as time goes on.

  • Edwards was the same as ever. He's got a really good speaking style, and says some good stuff, but just can't quite elevate himself above the crowd. The one-minute-per-answer format definitely doesn't suit him.

  • Graham needs to get out of the race. Now.

  • Gephardt just sounded like a politician. Lieberman seemed better than usual, but his big accomplishment was not being booed. Yippee.

At this point, there's nothing to make me question the conventional wisdom: the race is Dean vs. Clark. I wish the rest of them would drop out soon so we could get down to business.

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DO-NOT-CALL IS BACK!....Jeez, yesterday a judge killed the Do-Not-Call list because the FCC had handed it off to the FTC, and by noon today the House had voted to fix the legislation and put it back on track. The Senate is expected to concur by 6 pm.

These guys can really move when they're motivated, can't they?

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By: Kevin Drum

BAGHDAD BROADCASTING COMPANY?....Mick Fealty points today to an analysis prepared by David Steven and Mark Weston of whether or not the BBC was biased against the Iraq war. It's based on an analysis of the BBC Reporters' Log, a running commentary hosted by the BBC between March 19 and April 17 and containing 1,343 postings by 141 correspondents. Their primary conclusion:

A quantitative analysis of entries in the Reporters Log indicates that most reports are factual in nature, and do not contain comment or speculation on the nature and progress of the war.

Reports that do include comment and speculation, however, are likely to be critical of Coalition strategy and to report Coalition setbacks. Reporters are also more likely to be sceptical about Coalition claims than Iraqi claims. This provides some evidence of bias.

My initial thought whenever I see reports like this is that they don't really show much in the way of bias at least not the kind of bias the critics usually mean. The main bias of the press is that it reports crises, drama, and bad news. So the fact that the BBC reported more often on coalition setbacks compared to coalition successes probably doesn't mean anything more than the fact that the LA Times reports more often on gang shootings than it does on successful after-school programs.

But then I flipped to the end of the report and noticed an odd thing. Although the individual statistics that the authors choose to highlight are all correct, they don't quite add up.

For starters, when they say that "most" reports are simply factual, they aren't kidding. The total number of "commentary" posts is 249, which means 81% of the posts were factual. The entire universe of commentary encompassed only 19% of the total.

But there's worse. They broke the posts into eight categories, and three of these categories are related to Iraqi strategy and Iraqi claims. These three categories contain a grand total of 15 posts, of which 10 are critical or skeptical. That's 67%.

The other five categories are related to coalition strategy, coalition claims, and coalition setbacks and successes. There are 234 of these posts, and 146 are negative or skeptical. That's 62%.

If you aggregate everything together you find that the BBC is simply a skeptical organization, regardless of who they're reporting about. And if you insist on drawing any conclusion at all from this data setting aside the fact that 15 posts is far too few to be meaningful on the Iraqi side the conclusion would be that the BBC was actually a bit more skeptical of Iraqi claims than of coalition claims.

When you deliver the volume of news that the BBC delivers, it's easy to cherry pick plenty of individual items that are critical or in retrospect just plain wrong. String 'em together and they look pretty damning. But when you actually look at the whole picture, things come into focus a little better. I think serious charges of BBC bias will need something more than what Steven and Weston provide here.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WESLEY CLARK AND THE WAR ON TERROR....Here's an excerpt from Wesley Clark's new book, as printed in Newsweek:

I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, and one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.

Seven countries? There were people who seriously thought and perhaps still do that we could occupy seven separate countries in a single five-year period, necessarily implying that at least some of these occupations would be simultaneous? And that we should?

What's more, as Juan Cole points out, not a single one of these countries has anything to do with al-Qaeda. Clark agrees, and offers his own ideas:

What a mistake! I reflectedas though the terrorism were simply coming from these states. Well, that might be true for Iran, which still supported Hezbollah, and Syria, complicit in aiding Hamas and Hezbollah. But neither Hezbollah nor Hamas were targeting Americans. Why not build international power against Al Qaeda? But if we prioritized the threat against us from any state, surely Iran was at the top of the list, with ongoing chemical and biological warfare programs, clear nuclear aspirations, and an organized, global terrorist arm.

And what about the real sources of terroristsU.S. allies in the region like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Wasn't it the repressive policies of the first, and the corruption and poverty of the second, that were generating many of the angry young men who became terrorists? And what of the radical ideology and direct funding spewing from Saudi Arabia? Wasnt that what was holding the radical Islamic movement together? What about our NATO allies, whose cities were being used as staging bases and planning headquarters? Why weren't we putting greater effort into broader preventive measures?

The way to beat terrorists was to take away their popular support. Target their leaders individually, demonstrate their powerlessness, roll up the organizations from the bottom. I thought it would be better to drive them back into one or two states that had given them support, and then focus our efforts there.

For a variety of reasons, I still haven't made up my mind about Clark. But I will say one thing: this is the kind of debate we need. A real debate that takes terrorism seriously on all sides and offers up competing visions of how best to fight it. Fair or not, Clark is ideally positioned to do this, and I think his entrance into the race will be good for the country regardless of whether he wins.

We need to have this conversation, and we need to take it seriously, not just as a series of soundbites and jingoistic speeches. Right now is a good time to start.

Kevin Drum 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AT THE UN....Clifford May argues in NRO that Bush's speech to the UN was just fine. He "stuck to his guns," you see. Jonathan Gradowski isn't impressed:

To fully grasp just how stupid May's advice is, try to imagine what would happen if you applied May's dictum -- "stick to your guns" and speak with unchecked candor -- on your next job interview. It might serve you well to point out the simple truth (don't be afraid, stick to your guns): Mr. CEO, your company faces irrelevance if it fails to hire me.

And throw in a firm Harrumph for good measure. That'll show him who's boss.

But of course, you'll still be unemployed....

Indeed, there's the rub. But then, I don't think George Bush has ever really had to interview for a job in quite the same way as the rest of us. Maybe that's the difference.

Kevin Drum 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VOUCHER-PHOBIA....Matt Miller says liberals need to get over voucher-phobia:

It is time to reject the political orthodoxy that says you must either be "for" improving public schools or "for" vouchers that help people escape them. This is a false choice. It says less about the logic of reform than about the poverty of a debate that's strangled by interest groups and ideology on both sides.

The better view is that bigger tests of vouchers designed in progressive ways are perfectly consistent with major new public school initiatives.

If voucher trials are designed to give a voucher to every poor child in a district, and if they're funded in ways that raise per-pupil spending toward the levels enjoyed in nearby affluent suburbs, then liberals should be open to seeing what might result.

But here's the thing, Matt: I could be convinced of this. Choice is good. Competition might provide a better product. Kids might benefit.

But public shools that receive federal funds are required to test students under the No Child Left Behind Act. That testing, we are told, is crucial to demonstrating "accountability," but for some reason private schools that receive voucher money don't need to show this same level of accountability. Why?

Under NCLB public schools that receive federal funds are also required to employ certified teachers. Private schools that receive voucher money aren't. Why?

And then, of course, there's the real nub of the whole thing: public schools pay their teachers a lot more than private schools because they have to negotiate pay scales with teachers' unions. I'm going to take a wild guess here and suggest that teacher union opposition to vouchers and liberal opposition generally might fade away if voucher funded schools were required to pay union scale.

One of the cornerstones of our country is the proposition that every child is entitled to a good education. If public money is used for this, the public naturally wants some oversight over the job: they want to know that qualified teachers are hired and paid a fair salary, that facilities are decent, that special ed kids are taken care of, and that everyone is treated fairly and given an equal chance even the kids with big time discipline problems.

Sure, this oversight costs money, but conservatives are usually eager to have greater oversight of government funded programs. Don't want to waste public funds, after all. So why are vouchers any different? Put in place the right funding and the right oversight of a voucher program, and you might get my vote. But if it's just a transparent ploy to bust a union and cut teacher salaries in half, you can forget it.

So let's take conservatives at their word: the reason they want vouchers is because it helps poor kids break out of the cycle of poverty. Then what's more important: helping our nation's kids or busting a union?

What's it going to be?

Kevin Drum 9:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ROYAL DANISH BABIES ARE ON THE WAY....Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark is finally getting married, and not a moment too soon for those of us concerned about the Danish royal succession.

Hearty congratulations to Australia for finally marrying someone into a European royal house, of course, but really, in the end, what does it all mean? Why, just this:

The Danish Tourist Board is hoping to see "a healthy increase" in the number of Australian visitors as result of next month's marriage between Denmark's Crown Prince Frederick and Tasmanian Mary Elizabeth Donaldson.

It's great for tourism! Hooray for the happy couple!

Kevin Drum 9:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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McNAMARA'S WAR?....JOHNSON'S WAR?....NIXON'S WAR?....Sometimes the Cornerites get so weird I don't even know how to react. Here is John Derbyshire today:

An excellent point from a reader: "All of the Dems' words about Vietnam, Kissinger, Nixon etc. have one purpose: to Republicanize the war. Keep howling about Nixon and Kissinger and there is no space to write the word: Johnson. Most young people never hear the name Johnson in connection with that war, yet he signed my draft notice. In fact I call Johnson the invisible president. Every hear his name mentioned? Ever? The Dems' record on Vietnam is not in the consciousness of today's young people. The war as taught in schools today is strictly a Nixon/Republican war."

OK, it's not really Derbyshire, it's Derbyshire quoting some reader. But still. Even granted that I haven't been in school for over two decades, the idea that LBJ is never mentioned in connection with Vietnam still strikes me as a bit....um, eccentric.

Are they drinking an ever weirder brand of Kool-Aid than usual in The Corner these days, or is the history of Vietnam really taught sans Johnson in modern classrooms? Anybody with recent schooling care to chime in?

Kevin Drum 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAIR! THE SEQUEL....Certain members of the electorate who shall remain nameless like to check out a candidate's spouse's hair before they decide what they think of them. If you're one of them, here's a picture of Gertrude Clark to help you make up your mind what you think of the General.

The Unnamed One is also eager to see the General and his pals when they address the American public tomorrow. The debate is on at 1 pm PST on CNBC and will be repeated at 6 pm PST on MSNBC. The subject is the economy.

Kevin Drum 8:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHELTON ON CLARK....Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Kosovo war, had this to say about Wesley Clark recently:

I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote.

If Shelton wants to say why he doesn't like Clark, fine. Go ahead and say it. But to make a weasely accusation like this and then pretend to a faux nobility by not going into details is just plain cowardly, and Shelton should be ashamed of himself.

Either shut up or spill the beans. There's no middle road.

Kevin Drum 8:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLACK BOX VOTING....You know, I haven't gotten hugely excited about the Diebold voting machine story. You know, the one about how it's easy to hack into their code and maybe tamper with it to rig an election. Sure, it seems like a problem, but I didn't want to get too tinfoil hattish about the whole thing.

Well, break out the Reynolds Wrap! Apparently it's serious enough that Diebold has managed to shut down blackboxvoting.org, Bev Harris' site devoted to exposing Diebold's problems, by bullying her ISP. Note to Diebold: nobody really took the problems with the Corvair all that seriously until GM hired a couple of goons to hassle Ralph Nader. It's the coverups that get you.

Oh, and blockboxvoting.com is still up. It's really hard to shut down the whole web, guys....

Kevin Drum 5:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WMD EXPECTATIONS MANAGEMENT WATCH....Warning! Do not necessarily believe this story from the BBC:

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq by the group looking for them, according to a Bush administration source who has spoken to the BBC.

This will be the conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group's interim report, the source told the presenter of BBC television's Daily Politics show, Andrew Neil.

....Mr Neil said the draft report which the source said is due to be published next month concludes that it is highly unlikely that weapons of mass destruction were shipped out of the country to places like Syria before the US-led war on Iraq.

....Mr Neil said that according to the source, the report will say its inspectors have not even unearthed "minute amounts of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons material".

Maybe this is all true. Maybe.

But the Bush administration has a history of leaking information that makes things appear far worse than they are. Then, when things end up being merely bad, instead of horrific, the punditry breathes a sigh of relief and suggests that we got off easy.

(We saw this most recently with the UN speech, where the pre-speech buzz was, essentially, that Bush would tell the entire world to completely fuck off. When he instead gave a speech of merely ordinary Bushian pugnacity no talk of irrelevancy at all! he mostly escaped serious criticism although the overall response was still pretty stony. And while we're on the subject, note that Bill Clinton also used this technique to excellent effect right before the transcripts of his Monica deposition were released.)

So I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: David Kay will release a report next month as suggested, and it won't have much to say. But it will have a little bit to say: a few suspicious documents, some snatches of open-to-interpretation dialog from the interrogations, and a couple of tantalizing clues of one kind or another. But because we have been led to believe that the report has uncovered absolutely nothing, this miniscule amount of evidence will be taken to mean that the subject is still alive despite "expectations" that it would put a final nail in the WMD coffin. And the American public will therefore remain confused about whether Saddam had WMD after all.

If it goes down this way, just remember where those expectations came from, OK?

Kevin Drum 5:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO IS LEE R. WEST?....AND WHY DO 51 MILLION PEOPLE HATE HIM?....Judicial activism has finally gone too far:

A government plan to allow millions of Americans to block telemarketing calls to their homes was stalled yesterday by a federal judge who said Federal Trade Commission overstepped its authority to create a national do-not-call list.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Lee R.West in Oklahoma City threw a large question mark over the federal government's plan that was to go into effect next week.

....The ruling, handed down late Monday, caught government officials by surprise and today FTC officials and key congressmen were scrambling to try to make sure the list goes into effect as planned next Wednesday.

I am now ready to become a Republican. Unless this Lee R. West guy is a Republican, of course, in which case I will register myself a second time as a Democrat.

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URL UPDATE....Chris Mooney has redesigned his site and moved to a new address:

http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp

Update your bookmarks.

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GONE FOR THE DAY....I'll be spending the day in lovely El Segundo today. Blogging will resume this evening.

UPDATE: 24 comments to a post saying I'll be gone for the day? You guys are weird....

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POLITICS AND BLOGS....Dan Drezner of the University of Chicago and Henry Farrell of the University of Toronto are co-writing an academic paper on the power and politics of blogs. They are looking for input from journalists, so if you're reading this and are a journalist, columnist, commentator, producer, or editor for a newspaper, magazine, or television station, head over to Dan's blog and take a quick (and confidential) survey.

And if you're interested, Dan also has a little more background on the project here.

Kevin Drum 6:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE POSTMODERN WHITE HOUSE....Remember a few months ago there was a minor storm because the EPA had deleted a section on climate change from its Report on the Environment (ROE) before releasing it? The section was eliminated because the White House had tried to force changes contrary to accepted science and the EPA eventually decided to quit fighting and just delete the whole thing.

David Appell has a copy of the internal "Issue Paper" in which the EPA outlined its options for responding to the White House, as well as some good background information, but since not everyone is going to click the link and read the PDF file, I'm going to reproduce the most important part here.

At the time the memo was written, the White House had made "major edits" to the climate change section and then indicated that "no further changes may be made." Here are the options the EPA considered:

OPTION 1: Accept CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] edits.

Pro: This option is easiest in terms of EPA-White House relations. It ends a multi-month negotiating process that has regressed substantially with the last round of comments.

Con: EPA will take responsibility and severe criticism from the science and environmental communities for poorly representing the science. EPA will have to decide who will respond and how to questions. This will undermine the ROE and the EPA for an extended period. It also undercuts key science assessments, such as by the National Research Council and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This option also provides specific text to attack and the potential to extend the period of criticism. Early review drafts were circulated to other agencies, States and Regions, and can be expected to surface for comparison.

OPTION 2: Remove climate change section from the ROE.

Pro: This provides little "meat" for attacks on EPA's science. It may be the only way to meet both White House and EPA needs. It does not expend more EPA resources on the product. EPA can explain the omission by pointing to the scientific disagreements and explaining that it is inappropriate for EPA to create its own version of the science.

OPTION 3: Do not accept "no further changes" and try to reach compromise.

Pro: This is the only approach that could produce a credible climate change section in the ROE. It may antagonize the White House more than the other two options.

Con: It is likely not feasible to negotiate agreeable text. It will expend more resources on the section and possibly delay the ROE further.

This, I think, displays the Bush White House at its most typical. Genuine problems simply don't matter to them. The only thing that counts is advancing their political agenda, and anything that doesn't fit that agenda is vigorously brushed under the carpet and ignored in the apparent belief that problems genuinely don't exist if they are inconvenient to the administration's goals.

As the memo says, the only approach that could produce a "credible" climate change section was also "not feasible." That tells you everything you need to know about the Bush White House's approach to the real world.

Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPAM IS HISTORY....California has banned spam!

"The time has come for unscrupulous spammers to stop feeding our e-mail inboxes a daily diet of unwanted e-mail," said [Governor Gray] Davis in a statement. "California is sending a clear message to Internet spammers: We will not allow you to litter the information superhighway with e-mail trash."

Excellent! And no sissy thousand dollar fines, either: violators can be fined up to a million bucks. Sadly, there's a catch:

However, the offenders would have to be tracked down first, a potentially challenging assignment because spammers often operate from other states and countries.

That's quite true, isn't it? Oh well, at least we have ourselves a shiny new law.

On the other hand, there's this from the New York Times report:

The burden of complying with the state law, moreover, could well affect nearly all e-mail marketing.

"California represents up to 20 percent of the e-mail that is sent or received," said J. Trevor Hughes, the executive director, of the Network Advertising Initiative, a group of technology companies that send e-mail for marketers. "Instead of trying to segregate the California e-mail addresses, many of our members are going to make the California standard the lowest common denominator."

You mean they might actually take it seriously? Well, you can all thank us later.

But what I really want to know is why California gets 20% of the spam with only 10% of the population? Are we twice as gullible as the average American?

Kevin Drum 4:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AT WAR....As I was writing the post below, I began musing once again about whether Bush and his advisors are in trouble over Iraq these days simply because they miscalculated about making the case for war way back in 2002. The reason I wonder about this is that there was a perfectly sensible case for war. In its most stripped down version, it goes like this:

  • We can't keep up sanctions forever, and they're hurting the Iraqi people anyway.

  • Saddam's past history is pretty unambiguous, and if we lift sanctions there's not much doubt that he will begin developing WMDs again and might very well use them in a regional war.

  • Therefore, the only reasonable course of action is to forcibly remove him from power.

This says nothing about current WMD programs, nothing about al-Qaeda or 9/11 connections, and nothing about grand neocon plans for remaking the Arab world even if that remained around as a whispered subtext.

So what I wonder is, would it have worked? Would the UN eventually have come on board? Would the American public have supported it?

I can't say for sure, of course, but I can't help but think that the UN might have supported this (eventually...) and the American public definitely would have. After all, I think most Americans supported the war simply because they realized Saddam was a brutal and untrustworthy thug and trusted Bush's judgment in the matter. What's more, it wouldn't have turned off people (like me) who eventually ended up opposing the war simply because the ever shifting reasons for it became less and less tenable over time.

So in the end, things would have ended up no worse than they did, and probably a lot better. In the worst case (from Bush's perspective), we still would have gone to war, and we still would have won, but there wouldn't now be so much questioning about why we went to war.

Still, who knows? It's possible that this wouldn't have been enough to gain public support for the war.

But I suspect it would have been. Perhaps this time the Bushies were just a little too smart for their own good.

Kevin Drum 4:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE MISSING WMD....IS STILL MISSING....What to think about all this? I got an email this morning alerting me to a story headlined "Journo claims proof of WMD lies," which says this:

Australian investigative journalist John Pilger says he has evidence the war against Iraq was based on a lie that could cost George W. Bush and Tony Blair their jobs and bring Prime Minister John Howard down with them.

A television report by Pilger aired on British screens overnight said US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice confirmed in early 2001 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been disarmed and was no threat.

Did Colin Powell really say that Saddam didn't have WMDs? In a word, yes. Following a trip to Egypt in early 2001 that included a fair amount of acrimony over U.S. sanctions against Iraq, Powell was asked this question at a press conference:

QUESTION: The Egyptian press editorial commentary that we have seen here has been bitterly aggressive in denouncing the U.S. role and not welcoming you. I am wondering whether you believe you accomplished anything during your meetings to assuage concerns about the air strikes against Iraq and the continuing sanctions?

SECRETARY POWELL:.... We had a good discussion, the Foreign Minister and I and the President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions -- the fact that the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction....And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors....

Was Powell lying? And more to the point, when was he lying? In Egypt in 2001, or during the buildup to the war?

I can't quite figure this out yet, but in any case it's hardly plausible that an honest person could draw the exact opposite conclusion two years apart even though the evidence itself hadn't changed. And everything we know suggests that the evidence in January 2003 was exactly the same evidence we had in January 2001.

So Powell's credibility takes yet another shot. If he's questioned about this, and eventually he will be, I imagine he'll suggest either (a) the evidence really did change between 2001 and 2003, or (b) the old standby, we re-evaluated the evidence in light of 9/11.

I think he'll have a hard time providing convincing backup for (a), and (b) is definitely getting a little long in the tooth. It's one thing to start looking for clues you might have missed after an event like 9/11, but it's quite another to make a 180 degree turn on a factual matter like Saddam's WMD programs.

So think of it as one more nail in the coffin. From Andy Card's "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," to Paul Wolfowitz's admission that WMD was the focus of prewar rhetoric for reasons of "U.S. government bureaucracy," to the fact that no WMD has been found and even Condoleezza Rice has confirmed that we shouldn't count on David Kay producing any new evidence well, between all that, it kinda looks like there might not have been any WMD all along, doesn't it?

Which all Bush bashing aside is a genuinely surprising conclusion. But eventually you have to accept the evidence on its own terms, and right now the evidence says there wasn't any WMD before the war and there wasn't any WMD in 2001. The only question left seems to be whether the Bush administration knew this all along and lied outright, or whether they were merely unsure and wildly exaggerated the evidence in order to start a war.

It's hardly an appealing choice.

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RECALL UPDATE....Well, the recall election is back on. Huzzah!

The en banc ruling was unanimous, which is a real kick in the teeth to the three judges who postponed it. I doubt very much that the Supreme Court will choose to review a unanimous decision like this, so we're off to the races.

In other recall news, Darrell Issa, the car alarm mogul who bankrolled the recall in the first place, is now having second thoughts:

"As someone who some people call the godfather of the recall, nobody should be more determined to remove Gray Davis from office," Issa said.

But, he said, "When you vote, if there are still two major Republicans on the ballot, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock, then I advise you to vote no on the recall."

Kinda brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it? Why, who could ever have guessed that more than one Republican might decide to run in the election?

But here's a cheery thought: regardless of how the recall turns out, at least Darrell Issa will be $1.7 million poorer when it's over. There is some justice in the world after all.

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IRAQ'S BIGGEST PROBLEM: MEDIA BIAS....Virginia Postrel says she doesn't know what the real situation in Iraq is, and Glenn Reynolds responds with this:

And neither do I, of course. But what has been obvious from here is that the bad news has been consistently overplayed and the good news consistently underplayed....

Really? From where I sit, Glenn opines rather endlessly about the situation in Iraq. You don't have to look far, either: just read the sentence right after "And neither do I."

The proximate cause of all this is a USA Today story about media coverage of Iraq, which actually says nothing about slanted coverage at all. What it says is that some reporters think things are better than reported while others think things are actually worse. And presumably everyone agrees with Time magazine's Brian Bennett that this really has nothing to do with bias: dramatic events are what the media reports everywhere, not just in Iraq. Their behavior in Baghdad is no different from their behavior in Los Angeles.

In any case, there's no way of knowing whether news from Iraq is slanted unless you yourself happen to know how things are going. And considering the fact that our soldiers continue to get killed, buildings and pipelines are being bombed, the president wants 87 billion additional dollars, and reserve tours have been extended well, how good can things be? We wouldn't be extending our troops' stay in Iraq and begging other countries for help if things were going better than planned, would we?

To update Samuel Johnson, media bias is the last refuge of a scoundrel. When the news is bad and you can't actually marshal any particular facts to prove otherwise aside from a few cherry picked positive reports and the descriptions of some casual visitors just yell "media bias" and pretend that "bad news has been consistently overplayed" even if most of the evidence belies that.

I have no doubt that there's good news in Iraq Saddam is gone, infrastructure is being slowly rebuilt, daily life may possibly be returning to something close to normal but it's pretty obvious that there's plenty of bad news too. That doesn't mean we have to give up, but the war party, which was so enthusiastic about this adventure beforehand, ought to be willing to face up to it. So quit shooting the messengers, guys, it's unbecoming.

Kevin Drum 9:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 22, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FLYPAPER REVISITED....Needlenose has found the origin of the "flypaper theory": it's from John Steinbeck's 1942 novel, The Moon is Down.

He's posted some excerpts, and they're actually sort of eerie. Check it out.

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A MODEST REQUEST....According to Newsweek, a few months ago Wesley Clark told two Colorado Republicans that, following 9/11, "I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls." Clark says he was just kidding, but Newsweek reported it seriously.

However, even if Clark was serious, he was obviously speaking metaphorically here, since the very first paragraph of Newsweek's story had already told us that "when GOP friends inquired [about Clark joining the Bush team], they were told: forget it." So Clark himself didn't call Karl Rove, his friends did.

Matthew Continetti, writing in the Weekly Standard, doesn't much care about this. He just wants to prove that Clark is a lying, lying, liar:

Unfortunately for Clark, the White House has logged every incoming phone call since the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001. At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove. The general hadn't. What's more, Rove says he doesn't remember ever talking to Clark, either.

Obviously this doesn't prove anything one way or the other, but what caught my eye is that the White House is apparently willing to search Karl Rove's phone logs upon request by reporters. So I've got a request of my own: will you please search Rove's phone logs to find out if Robert Novak called him on or about July 14? Thanks!

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HOWARD DEAN AND PARTY LOYALTY....Jack O'Toole writes:

My biggest surprise during the short, happy life of the Joe Biden for President website wasn't the number of snarky e-mails I got from Republicans (just a handful, actually); it was the jaw-dropping volume of truly mean-spirited stuff that came pouring in from purported supporters of Howard Dean. And while most of it wasn't nearly as polite as the letter Josh Marshall posted yesterday, it tended to carry the same basic message: You are part of an evil cabal that's trying to destroy my candidate, and if your dastardly plot succeeds, I'm not going to vote in November. So there!

Now, I know the Dean campaign isn't responsible for this stuff, and that most Dean supporters don't like it any more than I do. Still, it's really dumb, and the Dean movement should be doing more to put a stop to it.

Yes, they should put a stop to this, but unfortunately Howard Dean himself seems to be doing just the opposite. Check out this excerpt from an LA Weekly story about Dean, where he's musing about how hard it will be for Wesley Clark to enter the race so late:

"It's going to be incredibly hard. I mean, we've already got 39,000 people working for us all around the country . . . I really do believe and I think about this I want to get this nomination, and if I don't . . . these kids are not transferrable. I can't just go out and say, 'Okay, so I didn't win the nomination, so go ahead and vote for the Democrats.' They're not going to suddenly just go away. That's not gonna happen."

He can't tell them to just "go ahead and vote for the Democrats"? I thought this was the guy who came from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party?

I haven't made up my mind who to support yet, and I've got nothing against either Dean or Clark or anyone else. But while I realize that candidates often play footsie with the idea of supporting whoever wins the nomination the usual response is something like "I'm not even thinking about that now because I fully expect to win" isn't it going a little too far to directly say that you're not going to ask your supporters to support the Democrats in November?

Jack, who has decided to support Dean, has some additional thoughts on this, and they sound right to me. The Dean folks ought to be paying more attention to this stuff.

UPDATE: In comments, several people have mentioned that Dean has previously stated that he will support the eventual nominee. I still find his comments here a little less supportive of the party than I'd like, but that's a fair point. Consider my criticism partially retracted.

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RECRUITING PROBLEMS?....OR NOT?....Tapped is right that it's good news that the Army is meeting its recruiting goals. However, while I'm not trying to be unnecessarily gloomy, it's not all good news. The New York Times story they link to points out a few areas of concern:

  • The Army attributes some of its success to the flagging economy. Obviously, this won't keep up forever (he said hopefully....)

  • The National Guard said it would fall short of its goals. Since it's the Guard and Reserve that are the real worries, this could be a sign of trouble ahead.

  • Spending on recruiting has increased from $146 million to $321 million in the past ten years. We're spending a lot of money to get new recruits these days.

  • The Army has raised the age limit for new recruits from 34 to 40. Are standards for new recruits dropping?

None of this is necessarily serious stuff, and there are good reasons for some of it. Still, I wouldn't breathe a sigh of relief quite yet. There's plenty of simmering anger in the Guard and Reserve these days, and all the signs seem to indicate that we're having increasing trouble recruiting there. Stay tuned.

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TELEMARKETING BLUES....James Joyner reminds me of this New York Times article from a few days ago about impending doom in the telemarketing industry:

"It's D-Day," said Lisa Scheuerman, who operates a telemarketing center in Baltimore, with 17 callers selling mortgage refinancings in seven states, including Florida and Connecticut. "I could lose my whole business."

The industry says some two million phone-solicitation jobs could be lost within months.

It's true that the number of people who registered with the Do-Not-Call list 42 million was pretty staggering, although it's worth keeping in mind that about a third of those people were already on state Do-Not-Call lists. Still, it's a lot.

But even so, that 2 million number (sourced rather mysteriously from "the industry") sounds to me mostly like the usual kind of Chicken Little stuff you get from industry flacks whenever any new regulation is put in place. The invariable result is always supposed to be mass unemployment, industry collapse, and economic meltdown until someone points out reality. For example:

Federal labor statistics indicate about 450,000 people work in telemarketing, but the industry says that figure does not include most callers employed directly by larger companies like banks and insurers.

But the thing is that those "larger companies" are largely calling their own customers, which is still allowed. So the 2 million number is almost certainly completely bogus, the fevered imaginings of some industry lobbyist armed with a copy of Excel. (2 million! That's nearly a full 1.5% of all employment in the country!)

More to the point, however, is that I used to run a marketing department and I've done some telemarketing. There are a couple of things to keep in mind.

Speaking generally, the marketing budget is the marketing budget. If it turns out that telemarketing gets cut, the money will be spent somewhere else. So even in the worst case, there will be some job losses in telemarketing but they'll be made up elsewhere.

More specifically, this same point applies to telemarketing itself. Things may be different at very large companies (so don't take this to the bank), but when I did telemarketing we always worked backwards: if we wanted to generate, say, 100 new sales per month, we'd then figure we needed 1,000 serious prospects, and thus 5,000 connected calls, and thus 15,000 raw calls per month. (I'm just making those numbers up, but you get the idea.)

Basically, it doesn't really matter how big the pool of prospects is unless that math gets you to a number bigger than the 60 million people who still aren't on the Do-Not-Call list (or whichever subset of those people you happen to be interested in). There isn't a company in the world big enough to need a pool bigger than that.

Bottom line: state level Do-Not-Call registries have been around for a while and haven't had any impact on the industry. The national registry might have some impact, but I'd be surprised if it were more than few thousand job losses. And even at that, the marketing dollars will still get spent, so those few jobs will move to other areas fairly effortlessly.

In other words, hold your tears for the telemarketing industry. They aren't going the way of the buggy whip quite yet.

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LOOKING OUT FOR #1....I'm just copying this from Atrios, but it's really too good to pass up.

Alaska congressman Don Young, who supports efforts to privatize air traffic control, got two Alaska airports struck from the privatization hit list. Why the concern?

"Of course the criticism of myself," he said, "is that I exempted the state of Alaska." But there were ample reasons for that, he said, ticking off a number of them.

"Lastly," Young said, "my hotel room is on the top floor of the Sheraton, and the airplanes take right off towards my hotel room. Every morning I look out and there's one coming right at me. It's an interesting experience and I want to make sure everything is done right in that field."

I assure you that we all feel the same way, Don.

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HYDROGEN POWERED ARNOLD....This week's award for the most spineless and craven display of special interest pandering goes to....Arnold Schwarzenegger!

As an actor, Schwarzenegger publicly embraced the Hummer, a gas-guzzling military vehicle, as part of his larger-than-life image, and helped transform it into a popular civilian vehicle. But as a candidate, he argued Sunday, he would be an environmentally friendly governor, opposing off-shore oil drilling, calling for more aggressive enforcement of environmental laws and even retrofitting his Hummer to run on hydrogen instead of gasoline.

As he pledged to sign an executive order to build a network of hydrogen fueling stations along the state's highways by 2010, about two dozen protesters chanted, "A Hummer Isn't Green," so loud that it was difficult to hear Schwarzenegger's speech.

....Pressed by reporters about why he had not converted his Hummer to cleaner fuel before he became a candidate, Schwarzenegger said: "Because I'm not perfect."

A hydrogen powered Hummer! That'll show 'em your green credentials!

Kevin Drum 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 21, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

AUTUMN ALREADY?....Goodbye, summer....

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FRANCE BOWS OUT....After all the jawboning recently about the difficulty we're having getting a new UN resolution on Iraq thanks to the legendary intransigence of the French, of course imagine my surprise at reading this:

Mr. Chirac made clear that he did not intend to veto that resolution, unless it became "provocative." He explained, "We don't have the intention to oppose. If we oppose it, that would mean voting 'no,' that is to say, to use the veto. I am not in that mind-set at all."

But he said France would vote for the resolution only if it included a deadline for the transfer of sovereignty and a timetable for the transfer of power, as well as a "key role" for the United Nations. Otherwise, he said, France will abstain.

Granted, I don't know what Chirac's definition of "provocative" is, but even so, isn't this a pretty plain statement that France is going to stay out of the way? And really, that's all anyone has ever wanted from them.

If Chirac is serious and there's no reason to think he's not it doesn't really matter anymore whether the current French proposal is brilliant or utterly idiotic. As long as they don't veto whatever proposal we work out with the rest of the Security Council, we're fine.

Of course, there is still the rest of the pesky UN to deal with, and if the Bush administration decides to rely on its usual strategy of petulance and threats of "irrelevence" do these guys have any other notes when they're trying to win friends and influence people? we're going to be sent packing regardless. The only difference is that this time we won't be able to blame the French.

Kevin Drum 10:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NO SCHOOL LEFT SUCCESSFUL....Speaking on matters educational, Diane Patterson sayeth:

The entire mission of "No Child Left Behind" is to eventually label every single school in this nation as "failing"it's a backdoor way of forcing vouchers or privatization or whatever the hell they want this time.

Now, there are at least a couple of reasons for thinking Diane has this pegged exactly right. The first has to do with the nature of the program itself. For starters, it mandates that each state has to set standards for student achievement, and by 2014 every single student must meet those standards. Any school with less than 100% success is deemed to be failing. What's more, even in the period between now and 2014, while pass rates are "only" 80 or 90 percent and we're still working our way toward the El Dorado of 100%, there's an absurd concoction of thinly sliced categories mandated by the act, and failure in any one category marks the offending school as a failure. It's pretty obvious that there are a suspiciously large number of ways to fail, and as the years go by the number of "failing" schools will slowly increase to 100%.

Second, it's the kind of devious thing the Bushies would do, isn't it?

But on the other hand, wasn't Teddy Kennedy one of the sponsors of the bill? And a bunch of other Democrats too? I know that they've since taken issue with the lack of funding for NCLB, but they must have agreed with the basic testing regime in the first place, right? And no amount of funding in the world would ever have allowed schools to meet the kinds of targets it mandates.

So what's the deal here? It certainly sounds like a voucher-fueled Trojan horse to me, but then why did Teddy co-sponsor it? Was he just figuring it would provide a nice pot of money in the here-and-now and the standards would eventually end up being rejiggered anyway? Did he get snookered?

Or what?

UPDATE: Oh yeah, and even though I've written about the "Texas Miracle" before, this Village Voice article that Diane points to is a nice summary of the chicanery that went into it. Read it.

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THE DEMS OF TEXAS....Democrats in Texas are a beleaguered group these days, and once Tom DeLay's redistricting scheme goes through they are likely to be even more beleaguered than ever.

So what's the answer? Charles Kuffner invited a bunch of Texas bloggers to figure out what to do next, and today they've responded. Check it out.

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ROGUE COURTS....I keep hearing that the Ninth Circuit court is a "rogue" liberal court because it's constantly being overturned by the Supreme Court. So I'm curious: there must also be a circuit court that's the least overturned, right? So does that make it a rogue conservative court?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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THE PROFIT TAX....While I was doing some Googling for the post below, I ran into this wonderful paragraph from a 1998 copy of the conservative American Enterprise magazine. The question is whether unionized firms can overcome high union wages via automation:

Buying more machines has an intuitive appeal. Since unions increase wages, unionized firms could, in theory, automate their way to lower costs and thereby at least partly overcome the higher costs of union wages. [But it turns out that] when more efficient machines increase a firms profits, unions increase their wage demands commensurately, in effect taxing away the profits from the machines. Because of this union "profit tax," unionized firms are in practice less willing to purchase new machines than nonunionized firms.

I just love it. Why, if corporations increase their profits, unions think their workers should participate in the company's growth. How dare they!

I can't wait to hear someone call CEO pay, which is often based (rather too loosely, I'm afraid) on corporate profitability, a "profit tax." Jeez, why bother running the company more efficiently if the additional profit is just going to be siphoned off by the executives?

This is the kind of double standard that drives me nuts. Apparently CEOs are unwilling to increase efficiency if they have to give some of the resulting extra profits to unionized workers, but they are willing to increase efficiency if they can be sure that the bulk of the extra profits will end up in their own pockets.

This is hardly surprising, but it's hardly praiseworthy either. Leaving potential government action out of this completely, isn't this an attitude that shareholders should fight, not one they should reward?

UPDATE: I probably shouldn't have to say this, but I want to add a ritual disclaimer. Unions are not perfect. Sometimes they strike over outrageous demands. They frequently seem to be too wedded to archaic work rules. And they often shelter incompetent employees who richly deserve to be fired.

But those are simply problems to be addressed, not reasons to bash unions. Unions also provide millions of workers with decent pay, decent healthcare, and decent treatment. They deserve our support.

Kevin Drum 11:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UNIONS AND CEOs....Jake Rosenfeld read this New York Times article on unions and wasn't impressed. Me neither:

Corporations have often complained that union demands are so outlandish that labor seems ready to drive them out of business. Companies like Bethlehem Steel, Pan Am and Studebaker attributed their demises largely to overambitious union demands.

But this week, amid a burst of major contract agreements, even corporate executives are acknowledging that labor's first concern has changed from demanding more and more to making sure that companies and jobs survive.

....[But] even when unions do moderate their demands, some industrial experts argue, unions are still not giving up enough to make their employers truly competitive in a global market.

Jake has his own take on this, pointing out that Wal-Mart, for example, which faces no international competition at all, stubbornly refuses to treat its workers as anything other than pack mules anyway.

But I have a different question. Apparently "some industrial experts" have suggested that "unions are still not giving up enough to make their employers truly competitive in a global market." So my question is: can the Times find "some executive compensation experts" to tell us that "top executives are still far too highly paid to make their companies truly competitive in a global market"?

Because while the real pay of unionized workers has indeed increased over the past 20 years, it hasn't increased much. Executive pay, on the other hand, has skyrocketed, increasing as much as 10x despite the fact that companies are not generally any better run today than they were in 1980, when CEOs earned about 40x the average wage compared to today's 500x.

So if staying competitive in a global market is so critical and who can argue with that? how about if CEOs start limiting their pay increases to the rate of inflation? How can we possibly expect American business to compete in a global market when our executive class continues to make outlandish demands that make them far more expensive to employ than their counterparts in Germany and Japan?

It's a mystery.

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THE LIBRARIANS GO TO COURT....Did you know that libraries have to pay for the right to use the Dewey Decimal System? (Yes, yes, I know that all you librarians out there knew it. But how about the rest of you?) But what if you aren't a library?

The nonprofit library cooperative that owns the Dewey Decimal System has filed suit against a library-themed luxury hotel in Manhattan, claiming trademark infringement.

The Library Hotel, which overlooks the New York Public Library, is divided according to the classification system, with each floor dedicated to one of Dewey's 10 categories.

Room 700.003 includes books on the performing arts, for example, while room 800.001 has a collection of erotic literature.

....The center charges libraries that use the system at least $500 per year.

I think the hotel better either settle or else switch to the Library of Congress cataloging system. Librarians, I hear, can be a pretty rough crowd.

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY MANIA....I'm just curious: am I the only one who's completely bewildered by the endless stream of of Hillary conjecturing from both left and right? Will she get in the race? Does she want someone else in the race? Does she want to be VP? How about being a losing VP so she's positioned for 2008? Or does she really just want the Democrats to lose completely next year so that she will be nominated by acclamation in '08?

Oh, and is she the spawn of Satan or merely a conniving and devious bitch?

Now, I don't have the slightest idea what her motivations really are, and I'm not actually much of a political junkie. But my gut feeling ever since well, ever since forever, is that there is no chance in hell that she would ever get either nominated or elected. Regardless of what anyone thinks of her personally, she's a wildly divisive figure and has absolutely no chance of ever becoming president short of Jesus himself descending from heaven and telling people to vote for her. And even that might not do it.

What am I missing here?

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CLARK LEAPS INTO THE LEAD....Daily Kos has the latest national poll results taken after Wesley Clark announced his candidacy:

Clark 14%
Dean 12%
Lieberman 12%
Kerry 10%
Gephardt 8%
Sharpton 7%
Edwards 6%
Graham 4%
Braun 2%
Kucinich 2%
Don't Know 19%

Kos is a little perplexed about where Clark's support is coming from, but otherwise seemingly unimpressed. "So what does this tell us?" he asks. "Not much, I don't think."

Man, I couldn't disagree more. We news junkies sometimes forget just how little most people are following this stuff, and the fact that Clark has jumped into first place so quickly says something important. After all, Clark is no Eisenhower, and probably the only thing most people know about him is that he was one of the endless stream of ex-officers who did talking head stints on the cable networks during the war.

This strikes me as a very impressive start for Clark. I fully realize there are a ton of practical considerations still in front of him fundraising, endorsements, organization, etc. but he obviously brings something to the race that appeals to a lot of people.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you missed it below, let me recommend again Tung Yin's account of his lunch with Clark, which really shows the best of what a blog can do. It's not so much that Clark is more candid in such a setting although there's probably a bit of that but that Yin's account doesn't have to be homogenized into a "story." The lunch group just asked Clark questions and got some answers, and Yin passes it along with whatever personal observations cross his mind.

Of course, I also had to smile at the thought of a tableful of law professors grilling Clark on the details of Bush v. Gore....

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CREATIVE DESTRUCTION....Some good news from the much maligned California legislature:

Gov. Gray Davis on Friday signed a bill that will give domestic partners in California many of the legal rights and obligations of married couples in matters involving children, money and property a measure that gays and lesbians hailed as a historic step toward equal rights.

The new law, while stopping short of recognizing gay and lesbian marriage, positions California as a national leader in the rights and obligations it affords gays and lesbians, experts said.

....But minority Republicans, who also rejected the bill in both the Assembly and the Senate, said it undermines marriage...."This is a bill that looks at the people of California and says we don't care what you think," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) during a debate in the 80-member Assembly, where the law barely passed by a 41-32 vote with all 32 Republicans voting no.

A couple of days ago I implied that perhaps liberal metropolitan values were associated with dynamic, prosperous, moneymaking states (like California). I don't have any special proof of this, but think about a bill like this one. If you were a smart, hardworking, and mobile gay couple, would legislation like this make you more likely to move to California? You betcha, and we welcome these people.

On the other hand, intolerant, xenophobic societies that are obsessed with tradition aren't likely to embrace the change, chaos, and diversity associated with, say, Silicon Valley or Wall Street. On the contrary, they're rather more likely to drive out smart, hardworking gays who have the wherewithal and guts to pack up and move. Their loss.

"Creative destruction" isn't just a feature of successful capitalism, it's also a feature of successful cultures. And cultures that are open enough and dynamic enough to engage in creative destruction of social mores in favor of better ones are more likely to do the same thing when it comes to business and industry. As with capitalism, of course, there's always the risk of carrying things too far now and again, but the inevitable mistakes are trivial compared to the long-term rewards of being openminded about cultural change in the first place.

That's why California is rich and Mississippi isn't. It's the people, stupid.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SAUDI BASHING....Maybe this is non-news, but it's the first time I've seen it. Wesley Clark spent some time yesterday clarifying his position on the Iraq war which is what got the headlines but then said this after calling the war a "distraction":

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, Egypt, those are the central fronts in the war on terror.

Maybe this isn't a big deal, just the normal kind of rabble rousing that goes away after the election sort of the post-9/11 equivalent of the ritual China bashing that we used to get before every election. On the other hand, considering that all three of these countries are nominal allies, it seems a little provocative, doesn't it? I could imagine Michael Ledeen saying something pretty similar.

I guess the question is, what was his next sentence right after that? Unfortunately, Reuters doesn't tell us.

UPDATE: Oops, I wrote in haste. I certainly didn't mean to imply that Clark thinks we ought to invade these countries. Nothing in his history or his character suggests that. Still, it is provocative, and when he says something like this it inevitably makes me wonder what actions he's proposing. That's all.

UPDATE THE SECOND: Tung Yin, a law professor at the University of Iowa, attended Clark's speech and sat at the same table as Clark at a luncheon beforehand. He had a chance to talk pretty extensively with Clark during lunch and has a detailed report at his blog. Overall he came away impressed.

Kevin Drum 9:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MISSING MONEY....File this under "Hmmm...." Teddy Kennedy thinks Bush lied about the war:

The case for going to war against Iraq was a fraud "made up in Texas" to give Republicans a political boost, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said today.

...."There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud," Kennedy said.

That's about what you'd expect Teddy to say, so no big deal. But then there was this:

Kennedy also said the Bush administration has failed to account for nearly half of the $4 billion the war is costing each month. He said he believes much of the unaccounted-for money is being used to bribe foreign leaders to send in troops.

....Kennedy said a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office showed that only about $2.5 billion of the $4 billion being spent monthly on the war can be accounted for by the administration. "My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," he said.

Kennedy's disdain for Bush is neither surprising nor unexpected he is the Senate's leading liberal, after all but he doesn't have a reputation for shooting off his mouth with weird conspiracy theories. If he thinks money is being parceled out clandestinely to foreign leaders, he probably has at least some reason to think so.

I wonder if we'll hear any more about this?

Kevin Drum 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BRITISH INTELLIGENCE....Whaddaya know, Andrew Sullivan actually has something interesting to say today about the BBC/Gilligan/Kelly/Blair affair:

An insider in London I trust tells me I've misjudged why this story has been such a big deal in Britain, and could still damage Blair. In Britain, the tradition has always been an extremely bright line between politics and intelligence agencies. Whereas in the U.S.. there's competition and rivalry among various spy agencies, and an understanding that presidents and Congress may use different pieces of evidence to make their case, in Britain, this has historically not been the case. Intelligence is generally presented to the public straight from the agencies themselves or never presented at all.

Blair's "dossier" was therefore unique and unusual in British history. It didn't doctor intelligence reports, but it sure did spin them to make the strongest case for war possible. In the U.S., that's not exactly news. In Britain, it was and is, and has come to symbolize for many the obsessive concern with news management that has been a hallmark of the Blair premiership. That - and the fact that they didn't experience 9/11 directly - helps explain why Blair has had to endure far worse Monday morning quarterbacking than Bush.

This doesn't surprise me, but it's not something I knew and not something I've read previously.

It's funny, though: there's no question at all that Blair and his staff did make changes to the dossier in order to "egg it up," as Brian Jones put it. In fact, they haven't even tried to deny this. So if Sullivan's friend is right, the surprising thing isn't that Blair has been hurt, but that he hasn't been hurt even worse.

Any British readers out there who can confirm or deny this aspect of British political culture?

Kevin Drum 8:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RICH AND POOR....I'm curious about something: is there any kind of rough consensus about what income it takes to reasonably label someone as "rich" or "poor" or "middle class"? Here are some top-of-the-head household income cutoffs just to trigger discussion:

  • Poor: $0-$15,000

  • Working poor: $15,000 - $25,000

  • Lower middle class: $25,000 - $35,000

  • Middle class: $35,000 - $65,000

  • Upper middle class: $65,000 - $90,000

  • Well off: $90,000 - $150,000

  • Very well off: $150,000 - $350,000

  • Rich: $350,000+

Obviously this doesn't take into account size of family, region, type of income, etc. etc. Nor are these technical definitions. I'm just looking for the most general kind of consensus about what's in people's heads when these words are used.

Comments?

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TAXING AND SPENDING....Jacob Levy responds today to my outrage annoyance over his defense of the Wall Street Journal and their odious "lucky duckies" editorial. His response is too complex to try and summarize, but basically he seems to agree that the WSJ's editorial was deceptive. However, he also says they did have one good point to make, and that happened to be the point he felt like addressing.

Fair enough. And he might be surprised to know that I agree with much of his post. I think taxes should be transparent, so that people know how much they're paying; that everyone should pay taxes; that there should be both federal and local taxes; and that it's generally a good thing to make taxes nondistorting (although that's a subject so complex as to be nearly impenetrable).

What's more, I also agree that Social Security should be viewed as simply a program to fund old age pensions, not some special quasi-investment vehicle. We should get rid of the hideously regressive payroll tax and simply fund Social Security and Medicare out of the general fund.

One place where I pretty clearly disagree with Jacob is his preference for a consumption tax rather than an income tax. In the interests of nondistortion (and fundamental fairness), I think that all income should be treated roughly equally, and that includes wages, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritances, etc. I very much doubt that this adds all that much complexity to the tax system. (Although I should point out that despite what Jacob says, it's actually perfectly easy to have a progressive consumption tax. In fact, we're getting very close to that in the United States these days.)

So how about if we put this all together into the magical Calpundit impossible-but-very-cool tax plan? Here it is:

There is only one tax in the entire country, the federal income tax. However, all localities are allowed to specify their own percentage to be added to the tax returns of people who live there. Thus, Irvine might decide that the tax rate here will be 1.2%, and this would then be added to my taxes and disbursed directly to the city of Irvine with no federal oversight. Ditto for the County of Orange, the state of California, and any other miscellaneous localities I might belong to.

This would prevent local authorities from creating their own specialized tax regimes based on local conditions, but maybe that's a good thing. And it would certainly make taxes far more transparent and far easier to administer: I'd only pay one tax, and once a year I'd get a statement telling me just how much I'd paid, something that I can only vaguely guess at today.

Once that's done, we can then argue about what the tax brackets ought to be, what the lower cutoff for paying taxes is, and other genuinely interesting and substantive questions. And of course we still have corporate taxes to think about, which are a whole different question.

Anyway, there's nothing really serious here, and there are a million reasons why a single taxing authority would cause problems, but it seemed like a pleasant diversion for a Friday afternoon. After all, don't you like mulling over tax policy as a bracing little end-of-the-week stimulant?

Kevin Drum 3:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EVERYONE THINKS I'M A DICK....Via Uncertain Principles, this piece of art news certainly deserves wider attention:

[The Ashmolean museum in Oxford] has paid 240,000 pounds for a Renaissance plate which shows a male head made up entirely of phalluses.

The Italian plate is thought to have been made by ceramicist Francesco Urbini in the 16th century.

....The head is framed by a garland carrying the inscription: "Ogni homo me guarda come fosse una testa de cazi" (Every man looks at me as if I were a dickhead).

The phrase is still a common term of abuse in Italy and elsewhere.

Why, yes it is! It is indeed. But why is a plate of uncertain provenance worth 400 large?

"This magnificent piece made us sit up and take notice," said the museum's director, David Barrie.

Ha ha ha. I'll just bet it did. Those British and their droll sense of humor, they slay me. They really do.

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QUID PRO QUO....Here's a peculiar report from Reuters. First there's this:

Britain, Germany and France defied the United States last month by offering Iran the prospect of sharing technology if it stops its disputed nuclear fuel enrichment program and accepts tougher U.N. inspections.

Interesting. So what was the offer?

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could confirm a letter had been sent to Iran, calling on it to sign the Additional Protocol. But he said it did not include any offer to cooperate on other issues. "There was no offer in return," he said. "There has been no quid pro quo."

Ah, so there was no offer after all?

But a diplomat from one of the European states stressed that the joint British, French and German initiative remained valid. "The offer still stands," he said.

What offer still stands? I thought the French guy said there wasn't any offer?

Sheesh. These guys are as screwed up as the Bush administration, although I suppose they have a better excuse, what with actually representing different countries and all.

Anyway, I imagine that the United States wouldn't have objected to the letter if it was nothing more than a demand to shape up, so you have to figure there really was an offer there and the French just need to take some lessons in how to lie more effectively. Perhaps we could offer them some advice?

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....I don't know what Inkblot is peering at. Probably a dust mote or something. Jasmine is most likely staring at a hummingbird about to make a strafing pass.

BONUS CATS: Alan Schussman, who expresses some doubts about the whole pet blogging thing, and who doesn't even own a cat anyway, nonetheless brings us his own Cat Blogging: Frijole Negro, proud wearer of a cat-sized ten-gallon hat. Really.

Bill Sjostrom has the latest photo updates of Mazal, who's looking healthy and happy these days. Healthy enough to take ownership of the dog's doghouse, anyway.

And finally, courtesy of John Bailey, we have some cat poetry, "The helping of cats":

Today we have the helping of the cats.
Yesterday we had the small upchuck on the carpet
and noisy fur-ball production on the path, but today,
today we have the helping of the cats.

Helping to photograph roses in the garden,
identifying the best angle by sitting on it.

Helping to clean the table, moving dust with a furry tail
from there to another place, where a duster won't reach.

Helping to trim the evening casserole meat
with such eager eyes, watching every knife-snick,
questioning the suitability of each piece for the pot,
each piece that would surely be better inside a cat.

Yesterday, we had a hindrance of cats but today,
happily, today we have the helping of the cats.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A TAXONOMY OF LIES....The Bush administration tells a lot of different kinds of lies....um, untruths. What kinds are there?

Paul Krugman likes to focus on the brazen lie, the kind favored by Dick Cheney this weekend that finally got the press up in arms. As Krugman points out, this is the kind of lie where Bush says (during the 2000 election) that he's going to take a trillion dollars out of Social Security and this will make the system stronger. It's completely outrageous, but if you say it loudly enough and with enough confidence, people believe it. After all, no one would make up something that crazy unless it were actually true, right?

Josh Marshall thinks Bush's specialty is "the confidently expressed, but currently undisprovable assertion." For example, the idea that his 2003 tax cut proposal would spur job growth was almost universally scorned by mainstream economists, but you couldn't prove it wouldn't work, so he got away with it.

But I think the real hallmark of the Bush administration is the technical lie, a statement that's very carefully constructed to leave an incorrect impression but that turns out to be technically true if you parse it closely enough. Here are a few examples from different policy areas to show what I'm talking about:

  • Stem cells. Back in 2001 George Bush said "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines already exist....and they have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating ongoing opportunities for research."

    If you look at the words very carefully, this is technically true. The reality, however, is that at the time of of his speech there was only one genuinely usable stem cell line something Bush's team knew perfectly well. (And even today there are less than a dozen usable lines.) But everybody watching his speech came away with the clear impression that there were plenty of promising stem cell lines available for scientists to play around with.

  • The 16 words. In his State of the Union speech, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

    Again, this is technically true: British intelligence did say this (and they still do). But American intelligence didn't believe it and Bush knew this very well. His words were very carefully chosen to leave the clear impression that we had proof of this activity while still leaving him an out if questioned about it.

  • The dividend tax cut. Hawking Bush's dividend tax cut earlier this year, the White House said "More than 40 percent of people who receive dividends make under $50,000 per year...."

    Again, this is technically true: 40% of people who receive dividends make under $50,000 a year. However, this is clearly designed to make it sound like 40% of dividend income goes to these people, which is not true. The vast, vast majority of dividend income goes to the rich, and people who make under $50,000 generally own no more than a few shares of stock apiece (often in the company they work for). The average tax cut on these few shares of stock averaged less than $30 per year for those making under $50,000.

The brazen lie and the "nondisprovable" lie are bad enough but I guess they don't bother me as much as they should because I feel like all politicians do this. But the fact that you have to parse the Bush administration's words so ultra-finely in order to get to their meaning strikes me as something new. It's as if they listened to Bill Clinton talking about the meaning of the word "is" and suddenly got a brainstorm that this technique could be applied to everything.

And this is why the president's fans can pretend to be outraged when he's called on his lying. "It's not a lie!" they scream, and they're right in a hyper-technical sense. But in every other sense, they're dead wrong. What else do you call a deliberate but very carefully crafted attempt to deceive?

Kevin Drum 10:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LABOR LOSES IN BRENT EAST....The big news in England today is that for the first time in 15 years the Labor Party has lost a by-election. Labor's Paul Daisley won the Brent East district by a huge majority of 13,000 votes in 2001, but in yesterday's election, following Daisley's death, the Liberal Democratic candidate won by over a thousand votes. (The Conservative candidate came in a dismal third.)

What with disquiet over the war combined with the revelations of the Hutton inquiry, this was bound to be a bad time for Labor, but even so that's a mighty big turnaround. It would be sort of like a Democrat winning Tom DeLay's district these days.

The next parliamentary election doesn't need to be held until 2006, so it's best not to make too much of this. After all, Iraq will have faded by then. Still, this certainly isn't good news for either Tony Blair or the war crowd.

Kevin Drum 9:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

I WONDER WHAT HE'LL TRY NEXT?....In a nakedly political move designed solely to pander to voters in key electoral states, President Bush imposed heavy tariffs on imported steel last year. So how's it going?

Eighteen months later, key administration officials have concluded that Bush's order has turned into a debacle. Some economists say the tariffs may have cost more jobs than they saved, by driving up costs for automakers and other steel users. Politically, the strategy failed to produce union endorsements and appears to have hurt Bush with workers in Michigan and Tennessee -- also states at the heart of his 2004 strategy.

"They tried to play politics, and it looked like it was working for a while," said Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist with ties to the administration. "But now it's fallen apart."

Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

Kevin Drum 9:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LET IT BE....I happen to be listening to the Beatles in my car at the moment, and when I stick a CD in I tend to lazily let it run through half a dozen repetitions before I move on. So I've been hearing a lot of Beatles lately.

Which makes me more than usually interested in this report that in November Apple will re-release "Let It Be" in the original stripped down version in which it was recorded, before Phil Spector took it over and added his trademark production effects. Apparently it now sounds the way Paul McCartney originally conceived it before the band broke up.

Sounds like a good Christmas present.

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RED AND BLUE REVISITED....Responding to my rant about blue states subsidizing red states, Megan McArdle makes a couple of points, one of them reasonable and one of them...um, not.

The reasonable point is that much of the disparity between the givers and takers is simply due to the fact that blue states are generally richer than red states, and a progressive tax system means their tax burden is naturally going to be higher too. Fair enough: it's quite true that urban Democratic blue states trend richer and more prosperous than rural Republican red states. I'll leave it up to my readers to decide if there's a connection there.

But then, after suggesting that it's all too easy to move in the direction of transferring income to poor red states just write a check to the charity of your choice if the spirit moves you she suggests that it doesn't work so well in the other direction:

It's rather less easy for red-staters to shut off the largesse of others when it often comes in the form of military bases and federal land management agencies.

My goodness. Apparently the red states are simply being overwhelmed with federal goodies that they don't know how to give back. But rather than try to come up with my own snarky response to this risible statement, how about if I let Joe Conason do it instead? Here he is in Big Lies:

During negotiations over the 2003 budget after years of listening to spokesmen for the Republican Study Committee complain about wasteful spending items while the group's members privately clamored for pork their Republican colleagues finally had enough....These legislators were sick of conservatives who held up passage of crucial budget bills, supposedly because of concerns about excess spending, while those very same conservatives approached them privately asking for special multimillion-dollar earmarks.

....The case of Robert Aderholt, an ultraconservative Republican from Alabama, illustrates this amusing facet of right wing fakery. During 2002, as he prepared to run for reelection, Aderholt sent out press releases boasting of more than forty-two special projects in his district, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $25 million. The federal government was even paying to repair the sidewalk outside a local school, normally a local function paid for by local taxpayers. But as The Hill reported, with deadpan irony, Aderholt had also received a "Hero of the Taxpayer" award in April 2002 from Americans for Tax Reform, a "nonpartisan" organization headed by Grover Norquist, one of the leading Republican operatives in the capital.

What Aderholt did in his district, the Republican leadership does all over the country. An exhaustive Associated Press study of federal spending in 2002 showed that....in the average district, the additional bounty for having a Republican congressman comes to about $612 million. The Democrats were never so bold. When they still controlled the House in 1994, the average Democratic district received only $35 million more than the average Republican district.

So perhaps red states are more than just innocent bystanders when it comes to hoovering up the "largesse of others" after all? Sounds more like aggravated assault to me.

And that completes my trifecta of excerpts from recent books focused on the propensity of the Bush administration and the radical right in general for lying. Conason even refers to me in the acknowledgements as an "astute blogger," so he gets double thanks for yeoman duty in the trenches this year. Thanks, Joe!

Kevin Drum 3:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FIGHTING THE FROGS....Loads of people have been linking to Tom Friedman's latest column, the one headlined "Our War With France," in which he says flatly, "France is becoming our enemy."

You'd think this would be enough for the Europhobes, but no. Glenn Reynolds tsk tsks Friedman for his "mild tone" (!) and then makes a suggestion of his own:

For a start, we should start encouraging pro-democracy movements in Francophone Africa. And arming them. But that's just a start.

I wish I could think of something appropriate to say about the idea that we should encourage and support shooting wars against France, but words fail me. What's next?

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SURVIVOR IS BACK....Our long summer drought is over: Survivor Pearl Islands begins tonight at 8 pm and it's an extra super duper special 90-minute premier! Don't miss it!

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DAMN SHAME....Andrew Sullivan is a peculiar person, isn't he? Or is it that he just assumes his readers don't know how to click a hyperlink? Here he is today on the BBC/Kelly/Gilligan/Hutton inquiry affair:

Check out this devastating analysis of the BBC's fabrications about the Blair government. It's all the more damning for appearing in the ultra-left newspaper, the Independent. Blair won't be undamaged by this whole affair. But the credibility of the BBC is in tatters.

Now, it's true that Andrew Gilligan isn't looking too good these days, although, as Sullivan notes, neither are Blair and his advisors. But is the Independent's analysis "damning"?

In a word, no. They rightly take Gilligan to task for some specific exaggerations and errors, but then say this:

The 45-minute claim "was included in the dossier against our wishes, because it wasn't reliable. Most things in the dossier were double source, but that was single source, and we believed that the source was wrong"

This, the guts of the Gilligan claim, has been vindicated by the inquiry evidence. The inquiry heard this week that a memo was written on behalf of the DIS by Dr Brian Jones, head of its WMD section, objecting to the claim as it appeared in the dossier. Dr Jones and his chemical expert wrote further formal complaints.

"The guts of the Gilligan claim has been vindicated by the inquiry evidence."

This is damning?

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUSTICE DELAYED....I agree with Dan Drezner that Dahlia Lithwick has exactly the right take on the 9th Circuit Court opinion halting the California recall. In fact, this thought has been on my mind since Monday, but Lithwick expresses it both brutally and entertainingly. Basically, it's just payback for Bush v. Gore:

The real problem with [most media analysis of the decision] is that the high court expressly disallowed this kind of application of Bush v. Gore as precedent. With its now-famous disclaimer, "our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities," the court explicitly limited the reach of the equal protection application to the 2000 election. The Supreme Court, seeking to wade into a political catfight yet indemnify itself from ever having to do so again, insisted that their holding was good for one ride only.

....Reading the opinion, you can almost hear the panel saying: "Hey, let's not just halt this recall, let's have a little fun with the thing!"

....And theby my count12 references to Bush v. Gore often carry the deliberate leadup: "Hey! It's just like the Supreme Court said in Bush v. Gore." Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the judges on the 9th Circuit haven't been lying awake at night, wondering when they might finally have revenge on the high court for years of abuse and disrespect.

....But none of these explanations really offers the satisfaction inherent in my hypothesis: that the panel stuck it to the Supremes because it could. Just like the Supremes threw the 2000 election because it could.

I think this is exactly right. The Supreme Court's egregious use of the equal protection argument in Bush v. Gore, and that fact that the majority obviously knew it was egregious since they tried to prevent anyone else from ever using it again, is the most obviously cynical part of the entire opinion. My guess is that the three-judge panel that wrote the recall decision wants the case to get appealed to the Supreme Court and wants to force those same justices to explicitly admit that their equal protection argument in 2000 was horse manure.

It won't happen, of course. Even if the case does go to the Supreme Court, they'll find a way to overrule without addressing the Bush v. Gore precedent. On the other hand, it will allow the minority on the court to say "I told you so" one more time....

Kevin Drum 10:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HEALTHCARE IN AMERICA....Nathan Newman has a post today about the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on healthcare coverage. In the past ten years, the number of workers receiving healthcare coverage from their employers has plummeted from 63% to 45%.

That's a big drop, and I think it's a symptom of the fact that employer-provided healthcare coverage, an odd historical anomaly of the postwar 50s, isn't going to survive much longer. Employers are simply getting less willing to provide it, and we're reaching the point where a critical mass of people is going to start demanding that something be done. Relying on free clinics and emergency rooms is a fantastically inefficient way of providing healthcare to the poor (and, increasingly, the lower middle class), and I think the system is likely to break down completely in the next decade or two.

(Side note: when you hear about income inequality statistics, keep in mind that they usually include only cash compensation. The fact that the poor have no medical coverage actually makes income inequality in America even worse than it seems at first glance.)

And here's one more statistic from the BLS report: only 22% of people in service occupations get healthcare coverage from their employers, and only 35% of those who make less than $30,000 a year get it. Those are scary numbers if you happen to be in one of those groups.

Kevin Drum 9:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE ARAB BOMB....Via Atrios, the Guardian is reporting that Saudi Arabia is considering the acquisition of nuclear weapons:

A strategy paper being considered at the highest levels in Riyadh sets out three options:

  • To acquire a nuclear capability as a deterrent;

  • To maintain or enter into an alliance with an existing nuclear power that would offer protection;

  • To try to reach a regional agreement on having a nuclear-free Middle East.

....United Nations officials and nuclear arms analysts said the Saudi review reflected profound insecurities generated by the volatility in the Middle East, Riyadh's estrangement with Washington and the weakening of its reliance on the US nuclear umbrella.

....Arab countries yesterday urged the International Atomic Energy Authority, the UN nuclear watchdog, to get tough with Israel to let inspectors assess its nuclear programme in line with similar pressure on Iran.

Saudi Arabia may have sound reasons for feeling that their relationship with the U.S. is on shaky ground, but something tells me the final paragraph tells the real story here. After all, the only likely sellers of nuclear warheads are Pakistan and China, and it's hard to believe that either one would risk obliterating their relationship with the U.S. by talking to the Saudis about this.

On the other hand, given the worsening of the Israeli/Palestinian war in recent months, this leak may seem to the Saudis like a sensible way of firing a shot across the bow about U.S. support for Ariel Sharon. After all, the Arab states have always been annoyed that Washington pressures them endlessly about WMDs while winking at Israel's well known stock of nuclear weapons. Perhaps they've decided to become a little more vocal about it.

Anyway, I'm in an optimistic mood this morning so that's what I think. Tomorrow might be another story. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOO BIG FOR HER BRITCHES?....The Bolshoi has fired Anastasia Volochkova, its star ballerina:

In an announcement that rocked the ballet world, Bolshoi officials announced that they have fired Volochkova. Officially, it was because the 5-foot-6, 110-pound dancer was too heavy for her male partners one had to be hospitalized recently with an injury after lifting her, company officials told her, and one by one, the company's men refused to dance with her.

Needless to say, not everyone is buying this excuse....

Kevin Drum 8:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT WE'RE SPENDING OUR TIME ON....Why are CD sales really down? Piracy? Kazaa? Crappy musicians and a corrupt industry culture?

Perhaps it's none of the above. BusinessPundit suggests that listening to music has just been replaced by other stuff: namely, video games, home video, and the internet.

Maybe so, maybe so....

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THE REAL LUCKY DUCKIES....Speaking of lucky duckies, New York Stock Exchange head Dick Grasso has resigned:

Alan G. Hevesi, the comptroller of New York State and the manager of the country's second-largest pension fund, said Mr. Grasso could no longer be effective. "Mr. Grasso is a regulator among other things,'' Mr. Hevesi said Tuesday. ''You create the perception of a conflict of interest when those that you regulate pay you $200 million over time."

Ya think?

Still, save your tears. It's not as if Grasso is planning to give back the $140 million plus he's already been paid. His retirement years ought to be fairly tolerable.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's a point that sometimes gets lost in conversations about growing income inequality in America as represented by gargantuan pay packages like Grasso's. Although liberals like me generally support limited government actions like progressive taxation as a way to ameliorate income inequality, most of us understand that there's a limit to how much government can and should do about this.

However, even if you don't believe the government should be involved in arguments over executive pay, there's nothing to prevent shareholders and public figures from trying to shame our nation's plutocrats into more responsible behavior. That's largely what happened here and I applaud it. Incestuous compensation committees will continue to expand executive paychecks far beyond anything that a free market would ever deliver until society simply makes this unacceptable. If people like Grasso are shunned and embarrassed over this kind of legalized thievery often enough, maybe we can put an end to it and redirect some of that money back to shareholders, to whom it properly belongs in the first place.

Kevin Drum 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAXING THE POOR....Jacob Levy, in an apparent effort to be contrarian, has for some reason decided to use his space in The New Republic this month to defend the Wall Street Journal's infamous "Lucky Duckies" editorial from last year. You remember, that was the one where they complained that the poor don't pay enough income tax, and suggested that if only we taxed them more maybe they'd become a rich source for new recruits in the Republican war for endless tax cuts.

Jacob argues that the Journal has a point:

The general form of these arguments ("lucky duckies" as well as the arguments from the left) is: If we subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable. If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the overall desirable outcome.

But in making this rather rarified argument, Jacob completely misses the real criticism that liberals have of the "lucky duckies" thesis, and I can't tell if this is deliberate on his part or if he genuinely doesn't understand it. Here it is:

The poor already pay a lot of taxes. The Wall Street Journal is completely full of shit.

Between sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, and payroll taxes, the poorest 20% of Americans pay about 18% of their income in taxes. You can quibble with the exact numbers, but it's plain to everyone that the poor, in fact, are already pretty heavily taxed.

That's the reason for liberal outrage against the Journal's egregiously dishonest argument, and it's a very down to earth one. The WSJ editorial page is written by very smart, very well informed people, and since they know the real tax burden on the poor perfectly well, it is only their distinctively radical brand of intellectual dishonesty that allows them to pretend otherwise.

Low (or nonexistent) federal income taxes on the poor are the only thing that keeps the American tax system from being downright regressive, let alone flat. I suspect the Journal might not mind changing that, but surely Jacob doesn't agree?

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DECONSTRUCTING CLARK....I promised a little bit about Wesley Clark yesterday, so I guess I'd better deliver. I'm afraid it's going to be anticlimactic, but here goes.

On the positive side, Clark demonstrates in Waging Modern War an obvious appreciation of the fact that since the United States can't do everything by itself, it's imperative to work well with other nations even though it's a real pain in the ass to do so. You can practically feel the frustration oozing out of his pores when he describes the convoluted command structure of NATO and the difficulty of holding the alliance together in the face of domestic political considerations coming from a dozen countries. Despite that, he takes the grownup attitude that since there's really no other alternative, we'd better accept multinational campaigns as the future of warfare and figure out the best way of dealing with them.

On the negative side, he describes continual conflicts with his boss, the Secretary of Defense, and with his peers and superiors in the Army. He is frequently uninvited to meetings he thinks he should be at, and even though the book gives only his side of the story it's pretty obvious that there's a reason for this. We don't know what it is, of course, but it clearly involves something more than just disagreements over military strategy. The lesson Clark seems to have taken from this is that since he obviously knew more than anyone else, he should have had more autonomy and access to the White House, a conclusion that I'm not sure I find comforting.

Finally, on the both the positive and negative side, Clark seems have been surprised about how difficult it was to deal with the press in a high profile situation like a war. This surprise is a little inexplicable, but on the other hand, having learned this lesson under fire it's likely that he's now successfully absorbed it and will work well with the press during his campaign. Time will tell on this.

Disclaimer: I literally know almost nothing about Clark except what I read in his book, which gives only his side of the story. Nothing in this post should be construed as a final judgment on either Clark or his candidacy. I'll be as interested as any of you to see how he does over the next few months.

I'm also pretty agnostic about his disagreements with fellow Army officers. This fractiousness is similar to what Donald Rumsfeld is going through right now, and I think it's practically impossible for a layman to judge these things. Was Clark an arrogant twit convinced he knew better than anyone else, or were his opponents representatives of an ossified and change-phobic bureaucracy? Beats me.

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AOL TIME WARNER....This isn't really unexpected, but still:

AOL Time Warner plans to drop "AOL" from its name, symbolizing the giant media company's effort to put the failings of the biggest merger in history behind it and begin a new phase of its corporate identity, company executives said yesterday.

Unfortunately, trying to think of something snarky to say about this is pointless. It sort of snarks itself.

In any case, it's now official: Steve Case is the most brilliant moneymaker of the last decade. Who else comes close?

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WES AND HILLARY....Naw (yes, that's the name of a blog) links to a Washington Times report that Hillary Clinton will be co-chair of Wesley Clark's presidential campaign.

I don't know if this is really true or if it's just some breathless conspiracy mongering from the Times, but this would sure accomplish a couple of things fast. First, although Bill Clinton can't endorse a primary candidate himself, this would certainly send a crystal clear message that he does, in fact, endorse Clark. That would be an enormous boost. Second, it would provide instant fundraising muscle that no one else could match.

But really, none of that matters. What really matters is that it would send the radical right into uncontrollable wild-eyed sputtering fountains of rage and indignation, and that would be fun to watch. For that reason, I hope the report is true.

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POT, KETTLE, ETC....Am I the only one who thinks that having Charles Krauthammer of all people psychoanalyze Democratic hatred of George Bush shows just a teensy bit of poor editorial judgment from Time magazine?

What's next? Commissioning one of my cats to explain why dogs are such vicious, treacherous creatures?

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September 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHO FLEW WHERE, AND WHEN DID THEY FLY THERE?....Spinsanity takes the press to task today for their handling of the story about members of the bin Laden family being allowed to fly out of the United States while other air traffic was locked down after 9/11.

Did they fly out of the U.S. during that period? Or just within the U.S.? Was it 140 family members or some other number? And did the FBI have a chance to question them before they left the country, or didn't they?

Fine. I think the press should accurately report this stuff too. But surely the bigger issue here is that, like so many other mysteries surrounding 9/11, these questions could be quickly and precisely answered at any time by the Bush administration. Why haven't they been?

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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS....Jonathan Gradowski points out an oddity about our mission to the UN: the French are pushing for an ultra-fast transfer of civilian power and one of their chief supporters is good old Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile.

Jonathan has some thoughts on this, none of them comforting. I can't really makes heads or tails of this situation, aside from the fact that Chalabi is obviously unhappy that he lost out in the internal administration power struggle over who would control postwar Iraq, and figures this is now his best chance to get back in the game.

He better be careful, though. Maybe he figures he has nothing to lose at this point, but if he has any allies left among the administration's hawks at all, buddying up with the French is probably a fast way to lose them.

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ROMANCE NOVELS....Jim Henley suspects that writing a cheap romance novel is harder than it looks:

I don't like romance novels. Not my thing. But when non-writers baldly assert that "I could do better than that," or muse that they should knock off a romance or two to make some easy money, I'm always skeptical. Firstly, the sheer endurance required to finish writing even a bad novel is rare and impressive. Anyone who actually gets that 50,000th or 100,000th word down on the page has my respect, even if every one of those words suck. Secondly, I suspect that, almost without exception, to produce a romance that romance fans will like, you have to have a certain affection for the genre yourself - to sustain your interest and theirs.

Why, I do believe he's right. How do I know? Because I myself tried writing one a couple of decades ago. I finished it too, a fine 70,000 word tale of romance and intrigue on the Amazon.

And it sucked. The only good thing about it was that it didn't take very long to write.

But even so, it sucked.

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SMALL GOVERNMENT....John Hawkins has an interview with Milton Friedman today over at Right Wing News. There's some interesting stuff there, but one exchange in particular reminded me of something I've been meaning to blog about:

John Hawkins: So would you favor for example a 3/5th's majority to raise taxes like they suggested in the "Contract with America"?

Milton Friedman: Yes. But the example that comes to mind really is the Colorado Tax And Expenditure Limitation Amendment that requires the spending to increase no more from year to year than population and inflation.

That got me to thinking: what if the United States had enacted a spending limitation like this in the year I was born? What would the U.S. budget look like today? Let's see:

Let's multiply this out: 82 * 5.19 * 1.68 = $715 billion. This compares to an actual budget for 2003 of about $2,140 billion.

Now, I don't know about Friedman himself, but the small government conservatives who applaud this kind of proposal are usually the same people who favor a robust defense budget. In round numbers, defense requests in 2003 amounted to about $380 billion plus another $100 billion or so for military retirements and veterans programs.

So that leaves $235 billion for everything else. We can hardly do without courts or prisons or roads (a few of them, anyway) or embassies, and those things plus a few other necessities would eat up $235 billion pretty quickly.

So: no Social Security, no Medicare, no EPA, no NASA, no foreign aid, no National Institutes of Health, no national parks, no disaster assistance, no housing aid, no FDA, no OSHA, no unemployment insurance, no nothing. Just a big military, some courts, a penal system, and a few other minor symbols of government.

Although they usually won't admit that this is what they're proposing, simple arithmetic tells us that this is the world that Friedman and his small government acolytes would like us to live in. It sounds remarkably similar to North Korea Victorian England America during the robber baron era, doesn't it?

UPDATE: A couple of commenters objected to my North Korea jibe. Sorry. I didn't mean to imply that small government radicals are in favor of totalitarianism. The problem is that I can't think of a single liberal democracy anywhere in the world with the spending priorities I outlined above. Somehow I don't think that's a coincidence.

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THE RED AND THE BLUE....I got to thinking about the recall the other day, and that got me to thinking about budgets and taxes, and that in turn got me to thinking about why the California budget is so out of whack.

Now, part of the reason is that spending went up too much in the late 90s, and part of it was the dotcom bust, and part of it is just the general creakiness of our tax regime. That's all true. But there's something else too, something that chafes just an itty bitty little bit.

Here's the deal. Give or take a bit, Californians pay a total of about $135 billion in state and local taxes. This is roughly 12% of total state income and makes California a fairly high tax state. Why are taxes so high here?

Well, one reason is that Californians pay about $255 billion in total taxes to the federal government but receive back only $195 billion in services. That's a difference of $60 billion.

In other words, California subsidizes other states to the tune of $60 billion a year. If even half that money were used here instead for California roads, California schools, and California cops we could have wiped out our deficit and lowered taxes at the same time.

So who's getting all our dough? Why, all those hard working, salt of the earth, traditionally valued red states, that's who. The same ones who tell us they represent "real" America and complain endlessly about our elitist values, our anti-business attitudes, and our socialistic tax system. In fact, it turns out that with only 12 exceptions the net contributors to the federal budget are blue states and the net sucker-uppers are red states.

How many different ways is this infuriating? Let's count:

  • The red staters complain endlessly about high taxes, but they sure don't seem to mind sticking other people with high tax bills.

  • The red staters are the ones on a crusade to shrink the evil federal government, but they seem plenty happy with that government as long as they're getting more than their fair share of it.

  • Red state politicians are sworn foes of the welfare state, but they sure seem eager enough to hoover up other people's hard earned tax dollars.

  • Red staters rant continually about how us socialists in the blue states are driving business away because of our high taxes. Well, maybe we could cut some of those taxes if the red states gave us back some of our money, eh? And in the meantime, even with our profligate business taxes we seem to have enough business left to subsidize their economies, don't we?

  • Income redistribution? Why, that's communism! Unless we're redistributing from blue to red, that is.

Basically, red America is living on welfare, and the payments are coming from us commie symps in blue America. And being the progressive sort that I am, I wouldn't even mind that so much if they'd just take our money and shut up, instead of taking our money and then venting endlessly about the corrupt, liberal, anti-American values of the people who make it possible.

But these guys don't want to cut taxes or shrink government, they just want to cut their taxes and shrink our government. Pretty nice scam, isn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I know this rant doesn't apply to all red staters. But you know who I'm talking about....


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AND CLARK MAKES IT TEN....I see that apparently Wesley Clark is going to officially enter the Democratic presidential race tomorrow. I suppose that means I ought to write a post about my reaction to his book, which I finally finished last week. Although it was something of a slog, it does shed some interesting light on both positive and negative aspects of his personality.

I'll try to put some thoughts together either later today or tomorrow.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KRUGMAN....You probably think you know Paul Krugman, the liberal New York Times columnist with never a kind word for George Bush. Think again.

Is Krugman merely someone who dislikes Bush and thinks his policies are horribly misguided? Oh no. In fact, in his most recent book, The Great Unraveling, he makes it clear that he thinks it's much, much worse than that. Here's a set of excerpts from the introduction in which he spells out exactly how he feels. Be sure not to skip past this if you want the interview that follows to make sense:

Most people have been slow to realize just how awesome a sea change has taken place in the domestic political scene....The public still has little sense of how radical our leading politicians really are....Just before putting this book to bed, I discovered a volume that describes the situation almost perfectly....an old book by, of all people, Henry Kissinger....

In the first few pages, Kissinger describes the problems confronting a heretofore stable diplomatic system when it is faced with a "revolutionary power" a power that does not accept that system's legitimacy....It seems clear to me that one should regard America's right-wing movement...as a revolutionary power in Kissinger's sense....

In fact, there's ample evidence that key elements of the coalition that now runs the country believe that some long-established American political and social institutions should not, in principle, exist....Consider, for example....New Deal programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, Great Society programs like Medicare....Or consider foreign policy....separation of church and state....The goal would seem to be something like this: a country that basically has no social safety net at home, which relies mainly on military force to enforce its will abroad, in which schools don't teach evolution but do teach religion and possibly in which elections are only a formality....

Surely, says the conventional wisdom, we should discount this rhetoric: the goals of the right are more limited than this picture suggests. Or are they?

Back to Kissinger. His description of the baffled response of established powers in the face of a revolutionary challenge works equally well as an account of how the American political and media establishment has responded to the radicalism of the Bush administration over the past two years:...."they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertions of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework"....this passage sent chills down my spine....

There's a pattern...within the Bush admin-istration....which should suggest that the administration itself has radical goals. But in each case the administration has reassured moderates by pretending otherwise by offering rationales for its policy that don't seem all that radical. And in each case moderates have followed a strategy of appeasement....this is hard for journalists to deal with: they don't want to sound like crazy conspiracy theorists. But there's nothing crazy about ferreting out the real goals of the right wing; on the contrary, it's unrealistic to pretend that there isn't a sort of conspiracy here, albeit one whose organization and goals are pretty much out in the open....

Here's a bit more from Kissinger: "The distinguishing feature of a revolutionary power is not that it feels threatened...but that absolutely nothing can reassure it (Kissinger's emphasis). Only absolute security the neutralization of the opponent is considered a sufficient guarantee"....I don't know where the right's agenda stops, but I have learned never to assume that it can be appeased through limited concessions. Pundits who predict moderation on the part of the Bush administration, on any issue, have been consistently wrong....

I have a vision maybe just a hope of a great revulsion: a moment in which the American people look at what is happening, realize how their good will and patriotism have been abused, and put a stop to this drive to destroy much of what is best in our country. How and when this moment will come, I don't know. But one thing is clear: it cannot happen unless we all make an effort to see and report the truth about what is happening.

Whew. Alarming enough for you?

What more can I say after all that? A couple of things: first, in person Krugman hardly fits his image of a fire breathing demon of the left. In fact, he's got a hint of the geeky air you might expect from a Princeton professor of economics: slightly harrassed, stuff in his shirt pocket, a bit of a nervous speaking style.

Second, although there's some repetition in the book an occupational hazard of column collections it's a great read (currently ranked #12 on Amazon and likely to soon join the five other liberal books currently dominating the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.) And you really do have to read it to truly understand where Krugman is coming from. It's one thing to hear him say that the Bush administration lies continually, it's another to read column after column in which he documents it. The lies are relentless, brazen, and indisputable.

When I caught up with Krugman he had flown into town to appear on Bill Maher's show the previous night "with Jesse Ventura, if you can imagine that" and had just driven from Hollywood down to Del Mar to appear at a book signing at a local independent bookstore. I got to speak with him for about 25 minutes before making way for a reporter from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Here's the interview.

The main theme of The Great Unraveling is how much Bush lies. But Reagan lied, Clinton lied, Johnson lied, all presidents lie. What's the difference between them and Bush?

Actually, I miss Reagan. I never thought I'd say that, but....

Reagan lied a little bit, and his policies were often crazy, but they wouldn't do 2 -1 = 4. They'd say, if we have our tax cut we'll have this wonderful supply side thing and the economy will boom and it will pay for itself, which was a crazy theory, but it wasn't a blatant lie about the actual content of the policy.

Bush says, I've got a tax cut that's aimed at working people, ordinary working people, and then you just take a look at it and discover that most of it's coming from elimination of the estate tax and a cut in the top bracket, so it's heavily tilted toward just a handful of people at the top. It's just a flat lie about what the tax cut is.

So this is different, this is really more extreme. We're not talking about disagreements about policy at this point, we're talking about people who insist that things that are flatly not true are true, that black is white, up is down.

One of the points in your book is that "reasonable" liberals aren't taking this seriously enough, that they just don't see the things you do. But doesn't that make you sound like a crank? How do you

Well, you just keep on hammering it, and you try to document it.

During the 2000 campaign I was inspired to get radicalized. You know, this was not your ordinary average slightly misleading campaign, this was something off the scale, but most people just wouldn't go at it. And that's when I started saying that if Bush said the Earth was flat, the resulting article would say "Shape of the Earth: Views Differ." And then after September 11th it was really impossible, because people wanted to believe good things that just weren't true.

So you just keep on hammering, and I think it's actually changed a lot. In fact, when I wrote the intro to the book the guys at Norton were worried, they were saying, that's pretty tough stuff. But at this point it doesn't seem that far out anymore, there are a fair number of people saying the same thing. In fact, I almost felt as if we missed the window when this stuff would still be shocking, because a lot of people are starting to see it. The scales are falling from people's eyes.

The introduction to your book was tough. It almost sounded like, just in case you still haven't figured out how Paul Krugman feels about things....

Well, I wanted a context. I was having a little trouble with the editors who kept on pushing the book to be about the bubble and its aftermath. And while there's a fair bit about that, that's not actually the central theme. The central theme is, we're being lied to by our leaders, and I just felt I really needed to put that very strongly in context.

If you look at what the introduction is about a lot, it's partly about what these guys are doing, but it's partly about why reasonable people have such a hard time facing up to what they're doing. The Kissinger quote is not about what the France of Robespierre was doing, it's about why the diplomats of Austria couldn't handle what the France of Robespierre was doing, and that's why they just couldn't understand that such a thing was really possible. And that's what it's addressed to, the intro is really addressed to the liberal or moderate who just can't believe that Bush isn't another Reagan, that this is something really much more radical even than that.

What do you think is the difference with Bush? The movement conservatives, the Grover Norquists of the world, they've been around for 20 years plus....

They're much more organized and the funding has increased to a level that wasn't there before. Basically there's a lot more money behind it, there's a lot more organized fanaticism. The strength of the hard religious right even though the numbers are probably smaller than they were in the 80s is higher because the fanaticism of those who remain is much greater.

And of course September 11th, which gave them the ability to turn national security into a club with which to dash down opposition to this radical agenda, has made it much more severe than it was. Basically, they just got better at it. The "compassionate conservative" front is something that they learned their lessons about. They learned not to run people like Steve Forbes, but to run people who could talk a better game while actually doing the same stuff.

What do you think are their underlying motives?

If you think that income inequality is one of the things that drives this and I do believe it's part of the story then you have to look at the self-reinforcing process in which growing concentration of wealth at the top feeds into the political power of the people who serve that class's interest. I don't want to sound like a Marxist here, but there's some of that going on. What we thought was an explosion of inequality in the Reagan years was nothing compared to where we are now.

Of course, that happened all through the Clinton years too.

That's right, income inequality was going up the whole time, because Clinton was actually a very moderate president. Clinton was not really doing anything to lean against it except for that one fairly significant tax increase at the beginning, but the underlying trends were still going. So, in 1975 CEOs earned about 40 times the average wage, by the end of the Reagan era they were earning 130 times the average wage, and we thought that was a wildly unequal society, but now it's 500 times. So whatever it is that was going on in the 80s is now much more powerful.

But they're still pissed off.

Well, that's what I don't understand. It's odd that the better things get if you are rich or a fundamentalist Christian, the more angry they get. That's the nice thing about the Kissinger quote. I'm not sure he understands it either, but this notion that if you have this kind of revolutionary power you don't feel secure unless you have a complete monopoly of power, that seems to be the way it's playing out.

Purely on an economic basis, what's wrong with income inequality? Does it hurt? And why?

Well, I think you can't do it on a pure economic basis, you have to think how it plays through the social system and the political process

Suppose it keeps going up. What happens?

One thing that happens is you have an adversarial kind of society, you have a society in which people don't share the same lives at all, don't share the same values. Politically, it leads to erosion of the support for public institutions that we need.

Take this catastrophe in Alabama just now. It was a dispute about taxes, but what's ultimately at stake is, are they going to do anything to improve that dismal primary education system in Alabama or is it going to get even worse because of the budget crisis? And the answer is, it's going to get even worse.

It's funny, some of the businesses in Alabama were supporting Riley's tax plan because they actually are starting to understand that a decent education level is more important to them than a couple of points off their taxes. But it gets harder to have that sort of enlightened social policy when you have a society that's so radically differentiated. Think of Latin America. The characteristic thing in Latin America is that they have lousy infrastructure and lousy education systems because they're so polarized on income, and in turn that leads to low development and polarized income. You get this kind of downward spiral. And there's something like that happening here.

But despite 20 years of this, starting in the early 80s, there's actually remarkably little class envy among the working class in America.

Yeah, and that's partly because people don't know. There's a funny thing that happened when I had that piece on inequality from the Times magazine a year ago. I had no control over the artwork and didn't see it until everyone else saw it, and they had this big picture of what they thought was a mansion. But it wasn't a mansion, it wasn't what the really rich are building now, it was a roughly $3 million house of about 7,000 square feet, and there are a few of those in Princeton just down the road from me. The people doing the Times magazine artwork just don't realize how rich the rich are these days, what the real excesses look like, and I think that's the general thing. I think most people are not well informed, and after all who is going to inform them? It's the power of propaganda: 49% of the public thinks that most people end up paying the estate tax.

Why is the Bush administration doing what they're doing economically? Obviously they want to get reelected, and they know a strong economy is important to getting reelected. So why deliberately follow policies that aren't going to help?

I think they were betting that the economy would spontaneously strengthen. They were betting that they would get their recovery and they might still be right, though I think it's almost impossible that Bush will end this term with more jobs than when he came in but in any case the trend might be up enough that they can still pull it off.

But they've been shocked by this, they expected that it would turn out OK, and their strategy has been to play to the base. They've just thought that that's what maximizes reelection chances. God knows. After all, on what issue have they actually said, here's a problem and we have to solve it? There have been none of those, there have just been, here's a problem and how can we use it to advance the base's agenda? And it's still better than even odds that they will get reelected regardless.

Beyond that, obviously Grover Norquist and the Heritage Foundation see all this as a way to radically downsize government by creating so much red ink that it becomes politically possible to chip away at Social Security and Medicare. I doubt that Bush understands that that's where it's going, but in effect he's allowing himself to be used by people who have those sorts of goals.

And they honestly think they can do that? I don't think politically you can cut those programs.

Train wreck is a way overused metaphor, but we're headed for some kind of collision, and there are three things that can happen. Just by the arithmetic, you can either have big tax increases, roll back the whole Bush program plus some; or you can sharply cut Medicare and Social Security, because that's where the money is; or the U.S. just tootles along until we actually have a financial crisis where the marginal buyer of U.S. treasury bills, which is actually the Reserve Bank of China, says, we don't trust these guys anymore and we turn into Argentina. All three of those are clearly impossible, and yet one of them has to happen, so, your choice. Which one?

Well, how about your choice? What's your best guess?

I think financial crisis, and then how it falls out is 50-50, either New New Deal or back to McKinley, and I think it's anybody's guess which one of those it is. It's crazy stuff, but think about where I am on this. My take on the numbers is no different from Brad DeLong's, it's no different from CBO's now, and we all look at this and we all see this curve that marches steadily upwards and then heads for the sky after the baby boomers start retiring. I don't know what Brad thinks, I think he's open-minded [actually, it turns out he's optimistic that voters will eventually come to their senses and raise taxes on the rich. ed.], but the general view is: yes, but this is America, it can't happen, so something will come up. And I'm just willing to say I don't see any noncatastrophic solution to this, I don't see an incremental stepwise resolution. I think something drastic is really going to happen.

How does all this feed in to the current account deficit? Will China keep financing that forever?

They're financing both the current account deficit, and, as it turns out, directly financing the government deficit. We were running a big current account deficit that accelerated through the late 90s, but there you could say that it was due to the strength of the U.S. economy, it was all this investment demand, technological revolution, and after all, the government was in surplus.

Now, we're back in twin deficits territory, and there are two related issues, the solvency of the federal government and the solvency of the United States per se, and both of them are now somewhat in question.

Maybe I'm a captive of my own model, but I think that what happens when the world loses faith in the U.S. as a place to invest is that the dollar plunges, but that in itself is not so bad because the lucky thing is our foreign debts are in dollars, so we don't do an Indonesia or an Argentina. But the federal government's solvency is a much more critical thing because it needs to keep on borrowing more and more just to pay its bills.

What happens if these foreign countries do stop buying U.S. bonds? Is this a real concern, or a tinfoil hat kind of thing?

Oh, I don't think China is going to do it to pressure us. You can just barely conceive of a situation where they're mad at us because we're keeping them from invading Taiwan or something, but more likely they just start to wonder if this is really a good place to be putting their money.

So what happens is a plunge in the dollar when they decide to stop buying and start cashing in, and a spike in U.S. interest rates. But you might also get in a situation where the interest rates the government has to pay to roll over its debt become so high that you get an accelerating problem, which is what happened in Argentina. What happened was that suddenly no one would buy Argentine debt unless they paid a twenty something percent interest rate, and everybody says, but if they have to roll over their debt at a twenty percent interest rate, there's no way they can pay that back. So the whole thing grinds to a halt and the cash flow just dries up.

And do you think that's a serious possibility for the United States?

Yeah, just take the numbers as they now look, and that's where it heads. And you might say, OK, we can easily handle it. U.S. taxes are 26 percent of GDP in the U.S., in Canada they're 38 percent of GDP. If you raise U.S. taxes to Canadian levels there's plenty of money to cope with all of this. But politically we've got a deadlock, and it's hard to imagine that happening.

So you say, but this can't happen, this is America, and I guess my answer is, is it? Is this the same country that we had in 1970? I think we have a much more polarized political system, a much more polarized social climate. We certainly aren't the country of Franklin Roosevelt, and we're probably not the country of Richard Nixon either, so I think we have to take seriously the possibility that things won't work out this time.

If you were king of the economy, what's the Krugman plan?

A phased elimination of all the Bush tax cuts, plus some additional taxes. I'd probably look first at some way to make the corporate profits tax actually effective again the nominal rate is 35% but the effective rate is only 15% or so. Look at some cuts, maybe you start to talk about retirement age, and possibly some means testing of Medicare, and that's enough to bring the budget under control. And meanwhile you have to manage the economy, you have to talk about what we can do to actually get demand going faster, and there are lots of things you can do.

Are there? We're running a $500 billion deficit, interest rates are at one percent

We're running the wrong kind of deficit. We need aid to state and local government, more checks to lower and middle income people. We need some WPA type of projects, and as it happens the homeland security stuff would be a perfect candidate. I just looked to find out how much of that $20 billion New York has actually gotten so far, and the answer is $5.6 billion. Two years after September 11th New York has gotten less than $6 billion in aid, so how about a little bit more on all of that?

In terms of a classic Keynesian stimulus, homeland security is a perfect fit.

Yeah, but they don't want to do it. Partly because they don't like government, partly because a lot of it would be going to New York and they don't like New York. It's pretty amazing.

Let me switch gears. One of the things you notice when you read a whole bunch of your columns in just a few hours is how short they are, and how little you actually get to say in each one. Is that a frustrating thing?

I've sort of disciplined myself, I have 750-word thoughts now. I started writing nontechnical stuff as 5,000 word pieces for Foreign Affairs, and then I disciplined myself down to writing 1300 word pieces for Slate, and then 900 word pieces for Fortune, and now I get 750 words. There's a lot of things you can't do, and you can't count on readers having read the last two columns in sequence, so yes, it's hard. But that's what people read.

How do you work? Where do you get your information? From people, from the web, from Lexis, from...?

I read seven newspapers every morning. I get four delivered, I read the Washington Post online, and I look at a couple of the British papers, not always the same two. I'm on the web, I read Josh Marshall regularly, and Atrios regularly, and I read you occasionally, once every couple of days so I know what's going on. People email me stuff, or tell me things I should read. I'm constantly monitoring and often talking with or corresponding with the good think tanks and research institutes and yes, there is a tiny conspiracy between me and Bob Greenstein at CBPP. As Tom Friedman says, it's a target rich environment, there are so many things out there, there are at least six outrages a week that you ought to be poking on.

Let's finish with some quickies. What are your three favorite Bush lies?

On economics, the one that got me going was Social Security during the 2000 campaign, when Bush basically said, I'm going to take a trillion dollars away and it's going to strengthen the system. Another one is the distributional stuff, just the raw lie that this is a middle class tax cut. I could come up with another economic one, but obviously I'm really exercised about the Iraq war. Even if you think the war was worth fighting, and I think that's a diminishing perception among people, we were lied into it, and that's scary, that's never happened before.

What are the three biggest problems the United States faces right now?

The budget deficit, joblessness, and, ultimately, what really, really scares me, even though I can't write about it all the time, is the environment. That's more important than anything.

Kevin Drum 7:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SOMETHING IN THE AIR....Reading about George Bush's speeches these days is a surreal experience. His constant refrain now is "jobs, jobs, jobs," and this might lead the unwary to think that he's going to propose some kind of program to actually boost employment. Nope:

"When we talk about environmental policy in this Bush administration, we don't just talk about clean air, we also talk about jobs. We can do both," the president told cheering workers at the Monroe Edison coal-fired power plant about 40 miles south of Detroit.

...."The old regulations on the books made it difficult to either protect the ... environment or grow the economy," the president said. "Therefore, I wanted to get rid of them. I'm interested in job creation and clean air, and I believe we can do both."

Do you laugh or cry at stuff like this? The economy is losing jobs, and instead of actually trying to do something about it Bush's answer is to pretend that employment will be increased by wait for it relieving power plants of the requirement to install pollution controls on new equipment! I guess the whole dirty plants/plentiful jobs thing worked so well in Eastern Europe that Bush wants to give it a try here.

But then it gets even worse:

Bush said air pollution data released Monday demonstrated that the country was making good progress in cleaning the air. He said the new EPA figures showed that since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, emissions of six major pollutants had fallen by 48 percent while economic output had increased 164 percent.

"Since 1974, the power generated from here has increased by 22 percent ... and yet the particulate matter emissions have fallen by 80 to 81 percent," Bush said. "You're good stewards of the quality of the air."

Let's recap here: the Clean Air Act is passed in 1970, and as a result air pollution has gotten better. Bush's conclusion: the plant owners are good stewards of the air. Nothing to do with regulation at all.

Does he actually believe this stuff, or does he just make shit up because he knows no one's going to bother calling him on it? Sheesh.

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WMD HUNT FOLLOWUP....Yesterday I reported that the London Times said there would be no WMD report from David Kay's group in Iraq, while Dick Cheney said that Kay's group would indeed find evidence of WMD programs. Who was telling the truth, I wondered?

If this latest report from CBS News is to be believed and I don't know if it is the answer is neither:

An interim report on the search for Iraqi weapons is due soon, but there are indications the reports findings might be inconclusive.

The Times of London reported this weekend that the report had been postponed because of lack of evidence. But CBS News has learned there is no delay.

So there will be a report, but it won't have any evidence of WMD programs.

Maybe. At this point I guess it's best just to wait for the report and see what it says.

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THE MEDIA AND IRAQ....It's not very often that I agree with both Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, but if New York Times reporter John Burns' account of the media in Iraq before the war is accurate, it certainly paints a pretty disturbing portrait:

Terror, totalitarian states, and their ways are nothing new to me, but I felt from the start that this was in a category by itself, with the possible exception in the present world of North Korea. I felt that that was the central truth that has to be told about this place. It was also the essential truth that was untold by the vast majority of correspondents here. Why? Because they judged that the only way they could keep themselves in play here was to pretend that it was okay.

There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.

....In February I was denied a visa. Then I found there were visas available. I was in Amman. Some of my rivals who had omitted to notice that Iraq was a terror state were busy here sucking up. They were very pleased with themselves....

When the whole Eason Jordan thing erupted a few months ago I wondered if CNN's coverage of Iraq was really very different from anyone else's, or if they were just the only ones to admit the compromises they had made. If Burns is right, it was apparently the latter.

So I guess I'll ask again: I wonder how long it's going to be if ever before anyone else is honest enough to print a mea culpa like Jordan's?

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YET MORE LIES....David Corn today:

September is back-to-school time, and Bush hit the road to promote his education policies. During a speech at a Nashville elementary school, he hailed his education record by noting that "the budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. That's a 26-percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problems."

A few things were untrue in these remarks. Bush's proposed elementary and secondary education budget for next year is $34.9 billion, not $53.1 billion, according to his own Department of Education. It's his total proposed education budget that is $53.1 billion. More importantly, there is no next-year "boost" in this budget. Elementary and secondary education received $35.8 billion in 2003. Bush's 2004 budget cuts that back nearly a billion dollars, and the overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level.

Keep in mind that this was a prepared speech, not some off the cuff remarks, so this was a deliberate lie, not a casual mistake.

At long last, the anti-Bush forces seem to have finally settled on a single theme: He lies. His advisors lie. A lot. About everything.

And this is true. In some sense, the remarkable thing about the Bush administration is not what they do after all, other administrations have cut taxes, busted unions, and gone to war but the fact that they tell so many baldfaced lies about what they do. Thanks to yeoman work from the likes of Al Franken, Joe Conason, Paul Krugman, David Corn, and others, this storyline is starting to become conventional wisdom, and I think the Democratic candidates should start picking up on it and hammering it home. If they repeat it often enough, the Bushies are going to end up on the ropes. Americans don't like liars.

Oh, and one more thing: aside from plain old, ordinary, garden variety lies of which they have plenty I've noticed that the Bushies have a real specialty in one particular kind of lie. More on that some other time.

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K STREET....Kriston Capps saw the premier episode of K Street on HBO last night and was....impressed? Shocked? Bemused?

I don't get HBO and didn't see it, so I'm clueless about the whole Howard Dean/Paul Begala/James Carville thing. Did anyone else see the show? Opinions?

UPDATE: Mary Lynn F. Jones at Tapped has more.

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IS THE TIDE TURNING?....I've been mildly surprised that reaction to President Bush's speech last Sunday was so negative, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. After all, I never bought into one of the primary themes of the hawkish blogosphere, namely that Bush has been saying all along that this would be a long, hard struggle and everyone knew it. Like the devil quoting scripture, they could pull out individual quotes here and there to back themselves up, but it always struck me that the overall impression that Bush and his advisors gave the country was that this would be a short war, the troops would be greeted as liberators, and we would be able to pull out fairly quickly.

Of course, it's impossible to say for sure what the "impression" of the public is (or was), but it sure looks like the public was taken by surprise by Bush's request for $87 billion, an amount that's worth little more than a yawn by the standards of modern government:

A majority of Americans disapprove of President Bush's request to Congress for an additional $87 billion to fund military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year, amid growing doubts about the administration's policies at home and abroad, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Six in 10 Americans said they do not support the proposal, which the president announced in his nationally televised address last Sunday night. That marks the most significant public rejection of a Bush initiative on national security or terrorism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In a funny way, this answers another question I've been mulling over for some time: why did the Bush administration sell the war the way they did? The fact is that they exaggerated the threat, they oversold the WMD, they lied about al-Qaeda connections, and it all seemed so pointless to me. I figured the American public would have supported the war even if the case had been made honestly, so why the PR job? Was it just to keep in practice?

This starts to answer the question: the Bushies are smarter than me. In fact, the public probably wouldn't have supported the war if the case had been more honest and restrained, so their instincts were right. They wanted this war, and if they had told the truth about what it would cost and how long it would take, they probably wouldn't have gotten it.

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RECALL HALTED....Via Rick Hasen, the Ninth Circuit Court has just issued an injunction halting the recall election. From the opinion:

The inherent defects in the system are such that approximately 40,000 voters who travel to the polls and cast their ballot will not have their vote counted at all. Compounding the problem is the fact that approximately a quarter of the states polling places will not be operational because election officials have insufficient time to get them ready for the special election, and that the sheer number of gubernatorial candidates will make the antiquated voting system far more difficult to use.

Plaintiffs allege that the use of the obsolete voting systems in some counties rather than others will deny voters equal protection of the laws in violation of the United States Constitution. They seek to postpone the vote until the next regularly scheduled statewide election six months from now, when the Secretary of State has assured that all counties will be using acceptable voting equipment, and all the polls will be open. We agree that the issuance of a preliminary injunction is warranted and reverse the order of the district court.

Will it get appealed to the Supreme Court? Stay tuned....

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September 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

STILL HUNTING FOR THE WMD....From the London Times today:

After failing to get any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the US and Britain have decided to delay indefinitely the publication of a full report on the controversial issue, media reported today.

Efforts by the Iraq Survey Group, an Anglo-American team of 1,400 scientists, military and intelligence experts, to scour Iraq for the past four months to uncover evidence of chemical or biological weapons have so far ended in failure, The Sunday Times claimed in its report.

From Dick Cheney this morning:

US Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that he has "no doubt" that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction and that more evidence of the programs will be found.

....Cheney said a team led by David Kay, a former UN arms inspector currently in Iraq hunting for evidence of Saddam's weapons programs, would find proof of Iraqi efforts to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

So who's telling the truth? And don't you wish that your automatic answer was "the vice president of the United States, of course"?

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MISSPEAKING? EXAGGERATION? DISSEMBLING? INNOCENT MISTAKES?....Guess today's theme:

  • Paul Krugman: "I don't think there's been anything like this before. We're not talking about disagreements about policy at this point, we're just talking about people who insist that things that are flatly not true are true, that black is white, up is down."

  • Josh Marshall: "Even applying so low a standard as that by which we judge incidents with four-year-olds and cookie jars, [Dick] Cheney's statement that "we just don't know" whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks is a lie.

    "Why do 69% of Americans continue to believe that Iraq may have been involved in 9/11? Many reasons. But one of the most important is that their leaders keep lying to them."

  • Tucker Carlson: "I've obviously been lied to a lot by campaign operatives, but the striking thing about the way [Karen Hughes] lied was she knew I knew she was lying, and she did it anyway. There is no word in English that captures that. It almost crosses over from bravado into mental illness."

  • Al Franken: "'By far, the vast majority...goes to the people at the bottom.' That is what George W. Bush told America. The truth is that the bottom 60 percent got 14.7 percent. Gee, that's a pretty significant misstatement, don't you think?

    "....We have to fight back....And we have to do it in a straightforward, plainspoken way. Let's call them what they are: liars. Lying, lying liars."

Did you guess "George Bush and his advisors lie a lot"? Congratulations!

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WHY PAUL KRUGMAN IS DEPRESSING....So why did I say yesterday that Paul Krugman is depressing in person? Here's an excerpt from my interview, where he talks about what he thinks is going to happen to the U.S. economy:

Were headed for some kind of collision, and there are three things that can happen. Just by the arithmetic, you can either have

  • big tax increases, roll back the whole Bush program plus,

  • or you can sharply cut Medicare and Social Security, because thats where the money is,

  • or the U.S. just tootles along until we actually have a financial crisis....and we turn into Argentina.

Which one of those is most likely? Whats your best guess?

I think financial crisis....

Really? A financial crisis in the United States? Like in Argentina? Krugman admits that conventional wisdom says this is impossible, so I ask him again:

And do you think thats a serious possibility for the United States?

Yeah, I mean, you just take the numbers as they now look, and thats where it heads....I think we have to take seriously the possibility that things wont work out this time.

Oh.

Here's the thing. In person you can tell that he's dead serious. And whatever you think of Krugman's politics, he's a top flight, world renowned economist whose professional specialty is international economic disasters.

And when a top flight, world renowned economist tells me that an Argentina-like financial collapse is a serious possibility in America, that's just really damn depressing.

You'll see the entire context of his remarks when I finish transcribing the interview, and it's quite true that his opinion is based on the idea that we're politically gridlocked and incapable of handling grownup economic facts right now. And obviously he could be wrong about that.

But still....

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RELIGION AND LIBERALS....Today in the LA Times, John Bunzel joins Amy Sullivan in wondering whether we atheist types are good for the Democratic party:

Millions of Americans do not believe in God. They do not invest moral authority in a transcendent source such as the Bible, or deal in absolutes of right and wrong, or divide the world into simplistic categories of good and evil.

Such people, and I include myself among them, have tended to find themselves more comfortable in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party, where a marked strain of Christian fundamentalism runs strong.

I sometimes wonder, though, whether we nonbelievers are good for the party.

Except in weak moments, I agree with him. There are some issues, such as decent treatment of gays or the teaching of evolution, that are important in their own right and should be pursued regardless of whether they hurt the party. But on the other side of that coin are the many, many other issues that while generating an enormous amount of heat and light are simply not very important.

I include here things such as Ten Commandments monuments, the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, creche scenes at city hall, Bible study classes on public property, prayers at graduation ceremonies, and on and on and on, world without end.

If I were a judge and one of these cases came before me, I'd rule against the religious display if that's what the law directed me to do. And there's nothing we can do to stop individuals from bringing suits on these matters.

But the rest of us don't have to support them. We don't have to encourage the idea that liberals are flatly opposed to any public religious display, even those that we know in our hearts are basically innocuous. And let's face it: a big rock with the Ten Commandments on it is basically innocuous unless you're just aching for a fight.

And there's more. If we had all just left Judge Roy Moore alone when he hung his original handcarved Ten Commandments plaque in his Etowah County courtroom, he never would have been elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in the first place. And who knows: if Alabamians hadn't already been pumped full of righteous fury over Roy's Rock last month, maybe Bob Riley would have had a better chance of appealing to the better side of Christianity and getting his tax plan passed. That would have been a real gain for liberal principles.

If a bailiff asks me to place my hand on a Bible, or my city councilman votes to spend a thousand bucks on a Christmas display you know what? It's just not that big a deal. Fighting trivia like this really does nothing for any important liberal principle, but it does have one important consequence: it makes a lot of religious Americans mad as hell at liberals and determined to fight us to the death.

Fighting genuine religious intolerance is a fight worth fighting, but fighting the day-to-day symbolism just isn't. We should knock it off.

POSTSCRIPT: Elsewhere in the LA Times, Alan Dershowitz disagrees, spending his valuable time writing an op-ed that asks, "Can anything be more un-American" than the Ten Commandments? In a technical academic sense, maybe he's right and we liberals can all cackle to ourselves over his witticisms and trenchant social commentary. He really showed them! But honestly, what's the point of shoving this kind of stuff in people's faces? Don't we have bigger battles to fight?

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September 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ONE MORE THING TO BLAME ON REPUBLICANS....According to this article, blue state kids are getting better at math and red state kids are getting worse. I guess that explains why the red staters bought into Bush's tax plan.

(OK, OK, that's not really what the article says. Although, actually, it sort of does. Maybe.)

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KRUGMAN MEETUP....I'm off to Del Mar. Back in a while.

UPDATE: I'm back. The interview was a bit rushed because of some scheduling confusion, and it turned out there wasn't anyplace quiet to talk, but it looks like the tape recorder picked up everything he said anyway.

More later, but I can tell you one thing right now: Krugman in print might seem angry at times and appalled at others, but Krugman in person is just downright depressing. Is it too late to learn Swedish?

(I'll explain later.)

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VOODOO....NO, SOMETHING MUCH, MUCH WORSE THAN VOODOO ECONOMICS....David Firestone writes in the New York Times today about the collision of George Bush's manic spending desires with his manic tax cutting desires:

The Bush administration says it can do all of the above, once the tax cuts inaugurate a burst of economic growth. Democrats and virtually every mainstream economist say that something will have to give, very possibly the government's retirement promises to millions of aging baby boomers.

So if "virtually every mainstream economist" sides with the Democrats, who's siding with the Republicans? Donald Luskin?

The mind boggles.

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JOHN LOTT: THE EXCUSES GROW EVER THINNER....You almost have to feel sorry for John Lott at this point. Instead of even pretending to address Tim Lambert's latest exposition of his obvious lying and clumsy coverup, he pathetically tries to claim that he's innocent because he uses a Mac.

Honest, I'm not making that up. I'm sure Steve Jobs will be pleased.

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THE PUSH....As long as we're on the subject of parents, Diane Patterson over at Nobody Knows Anything has a long, but typically readable and compelling post about schools and parenting in the 21st century.

She starts off with an excerpt from School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American High School, by Edward Humes (reviewed here):

School of Dreams is the story of kids at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California (a suburb near Los Angeles) and their struggles to not only be high achievers but ridiculously high over-achievers so that they can get into the "right" college (Harvard, Stanford, Princeton) and then get the "right" job, et cetera. I'm only one chapter in and already I'm depressed out of my mind: is this what my kids have to look forward to? The title of Part I says it all: "Four is the Magic Number: Four Hours Sleep, Four Caff Lattes, 4.0."

Before you say, Well, it's always been like this... permit me to cut you off with No it hasn't. Thanks. I went to a top prep school in San Francisco, where I was ranked #1 in the class (though I wasn't valedictorian for some reason I can't figure out), took four or five AP tests and got 5 on all of them, and attended Stanford University. I know about being a high-achieving student. And there was no question of my sleeping only four hours a night.

I think about education and school a lot these days. It's a huge part of my children's future: how could I not?

Diane's question is one that niggles at me all the time. I don't quite have her academic pedigree, but I was a very good student and knew kids from around the country who were also very good students and school just wasn't like this 30 years ago. Even run-of-the-mill bright kids here in Irvine have a far more intense academic experience than I or my friends did, and that's on top of a mind boggling assortment of after school activities that keeps them on the run 24/7.

I can't explain it. Public schools, I hear incessantly, are failing, but aside from the 10% of schools in inner city hellholes, that really doesn't seem to be the case. My mother's high school a very good one in Los Angeles in the 40s didn't offer calculus. Everyone knew that was a college subject. By the 70s calculus, if not exactly universal, was commonly available to the brightest kids. Today, practically all suburban high schools have one or two full classes of calculus.

Diane has much more. Five hour kindergarten classes with only one short break. Homework for preschoolers. Wondering if your kid is backward if she's not reading by age three. The whole Push Mentality and the peer pressure that maintains it.

There are no answers here at Calpundit, and I know perfectly well that anecdotal stories about Palo Alto schools don't mean much about the general state of education in America. But still, something is screwy in the standard storyline about Education in America and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe someday I'll figure it out.

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ONCE UPON A TIME....Children's author Nancy Smiler Levinson offers up three fables about parents and cell phones. Unfortunately, they're all true, so I suppose they aren't really fables, are they?

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September 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

QUESTIONS ABOUT 9/11....Via Unfogged, this is a genuinely interesting list of 20 questions about 9/11 that we don't have answers to. I can't say that every one of the items is genuinely mysterious, but several of them dealt with things that I had never heard of. Here's #2:

On July 26, 2001 - 47 days before the Sept. 11 attacks - CBS News reported that Ashcroft was flying expensive charters rather than commercial flights because of a "threat assessment" by the FBI. CBS said, "Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term." Newsweek later reported that on Sept. 10, 2001, "a group of top Pentagon officials suddenly canceled travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns."

Did either Ashcroft or the Pentagon have advance information about a 9/11-style attack and, if so, why wasn't this shared with the American public?

Read the rest. I especially recommend #3, #7, #12, and #16. And while #1 is hardly news, I'd sure like to know the answer anyway. It would be easy for George Bush to let us know.

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WAITING FOR KRUGMAN....To answer a couple of questions from the comments to this post, the other day I noticed that Paul Krugman was coming to Del Mar (about an hour south of Irvine) to do a book signing. I thought it might be interesting to meet him, so I sent an email to his PR firm asking if he had time to do an interview beforehand. A couple of emails later the answer was yes, I could do one right after some guy from the San Diego Union-Tribune. That's all there was to it.

And if anyone has any questions you'd like me to ask him, go ahead and leave them in comments and I'll do my best.

As for me, I figure I ought to actually finish his book before I talk to him, so I'm going to shoo the cats off the chaise lounge and continue my reading.

REPEAT POSTSCRIPT: For Southern California readers who want to meet Krugman, he'll be at The Book Works in Del Mar from 4-6 pm on Saturday. The Book Works is at 2670 Via de la Valle, a few hundred yards east of I-5. They are located on the north side of the street, in the second floor of the Flower Hill Center.

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SADDAM AND WOLFOWITZ....Atrios is puzzled by this story:

The Pentagon's No. 2 official retreated Friday from his assertion that key lieutenants of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are plotting with Saddam Hussein loyalists to kill Americans in Iraq.

...."We know it (Iraq) had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al-Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq," Wolfowitz said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Today he took it all back:

On the subject of bin Laden deputies, Wolfowitz said he was referring to only one man bin Laden supporter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the few names that Bush administration officials previously have cited to assert links between al-Qaeda and Iraq before the war.

...."Zarqawi is actually the guy I was referring to should have been more precise," Wolfowitz said Friday. "It's not a great many it's one of bin Laden's key associates probably better referred to that way than a key lieutenant."

...."I appreciate the chance to say it a little more carefully because this was sort of unanticipated," Wolfowitz told the AP in retracting his statements. "I went ... to talk about Sept. 11."

What's up with that?

The answer should be obvious. Wolfowitz is both a smart guy and a very experienced and media-savvy official, and it's hardly plausible that he was just caught off guard by a morning TV host. Rather, he knows perfectly well that Good Morning America is seen by 6 million people, while his retraction will be read by a few thousand at most.

So he gets the best of both worlds: he spreads the rumor of Iraq-al-Qaeda connections yet again to the hoi polloi, but by retracting it he prevents sophisticated critics from accusing him of lying. It was just an innocent mistake, you see.

What a slimeball.

UPDATE: Then again, Laurie Mylroie thinks Saddam really was tightly linked to al-Qaeda, and presumably Wolfowitz is just too much of a wimp to say so. You make the call!

Kevin Drum 5:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING GEORGE BUSH....Here's what drives me crazy about the Bush administration. Consider this statement from Colin Powell during an interview with al-Jazeera television:

"The United States has no desire to remain [in Iraq]," he said. "Why would we want to? It's costing us a great deal of money, it's tying down a large number of our troops, and we pay a political price as well as an economic price. We want to transfer sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqis as fast as we can."

Is he telling the truth? Or is he lying to al-Jazeera's Arab audience because otherwise there will be rioting in the streets? I can't tell anymore.

See, it doesn't make any sense. There were several possible reasons for going to war with Iraq:

  • For humanitarian reasons, to liberate the Iraqis from a brutal dictatorship. But Paul Wolfowitz has already admitted this was not a sufficient reason, and a minute's thought convinces you he's right. There are lots of regimes as bad as Saddam Hussein's, and most of them we just leave alone.

  • Because Iraq posed a serious threat to the United States or, more broadly, to the stability of the Persian Gulf. But the former has never been plausible, and even the latter is speculative at best.

  • Because we need a large and extended military presence in the heart of the Middle East as a platform to reform the Arab world. This is the neocon plan, and whether you buy it or not, at least there's some logic to it. But if Powell is telling the truth, he's saying that this isn't our plan.

In other words, none of these add up. So why did we really invade Iraq? And I don't mean Christopher Hitchens' reason or Kenneth Pollack's reason, I mean George Bush's reason. There had to be some motive, even if it was a lousy one.

Of course, I suppose there are other possibilities too. It was all about oil. It was because George Bush was avenging his father. It was because the Christian Right is pulling the strings and they want Armageddon in the Middle East.

I just don't know, and it drives me nuts. As Paul Krugman says in The Great Unraveling, the more you look at the Bush administration the more you feel like a "crazy conspiracy theorist." And who wants to be a crazy conspiracy theorist?

Not me, if I can help it. But maybe I should be. Krugman is going to be in the area tomorrow to promote his book, and I'm going to drive down to Del Mar to interview him for the blog. Maybe I'll ask him then.

POSTSCRIPT: For Southern California readers who want to meet Krugman, he'll be at The Book Works in Del Mar from 4-6 pm on Saturday. The Book Works is at 2670 Via de la Valle, a few hundred yards east of I-5. They are located on the north side of the street, in the second floor of the Flower Hill Center.

Kevin Drum 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOULD YOU LIKE A PUPPY TO GO WITH YOUR KITTEN, MR. McGUINTY?....A reader writes: "You think the California election is crazy. You have nothing on the Premier of Ontario...." Alas, he's right, as the Globe and Mail informs us:

The increasingly bitter tone of the Ontario campaign took a surreal turn Friday when a press release from the Tory election machine labelled Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty a pet-eating alien.

A pet-eating alien? Surely this is taken out of context? Here's the press release so you can decide for yourself:

There came a fork in "the high road." The Liberals took it.

[Several quotes of Liberals criticizing Conservatives follow.]

These jolly, positive, "Who-me-fear-monger?" pronouncements beg a simple question:

"Who really speaks for the Ontario Liberal Party?

Dalton McGuinty. He's an evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet. (sorry)

Conservative Leader Ernie Eves declined to apologize, saying only that one of his staffers apparently has a "weird sense of humor."

Your move, Gray.

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....The big news of the week, of course, was the 500-page report from the National Academy of Sciences saying that one out of four pets in the Western world is obese. "Fat deposits on the face, arms or legs and tummy are clear signs of obesity," says this USA Today summary.

So I looked around the house: do we have any obese pets? At first glance, Inkblot might appear to have a fat deposit or two, but I don't think I'd call him obese. Not really. Leonine, perhaps, or Churchillian, but not obese. Sure, he weighs in at a bit over 18 pounds, but it's all muscle.

By contrast, Jasmine is a petite little thing who barely tips the scales at seven pounds. You can see a size comparison on the right, and while it might seem unfair since Inkblot is so much closer to the camera, it's actually remarkably true to life. When they're close together, it really is like seeing an SUV next to a Yugo.

(By the way, I love this advice:

If your cat looks like Garfield, the popular but rotund comic cat, it's time for less food or low-calorie fare. But even fat cats should always have access to a bowl of food, the report says. Cats can eat up to 20 times a day: That's OK, as long as they don't eat too much.

So: leave the food bowl out but make sure they don't eat too much. Sounds like a neat trick.)

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"SCARE" QUOTES....BBC headline this morning:

US troops 'kill Iraqi police'

(As of 10:14 am Pacific time.)

The "scare quotes," as the BBC-o-phobes like to call them, are there to indicate that someone says this has happened but the BBC has not itself been able to verify the matter. The information in question came from "Iraqi sources."

Question: is it OK to use the quotes here? If so, why is it "anti-American" to do the same when the source is the U.S. military, which is also sometimes deliberately, sometimes not known to be less than 100% accurate?

Kevin Drum 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"ODIOUS DRECK"....Jack O'Toole is really, really tired of people like Andrew Sullivan well, Andrew Sullivan trying to pretend that Democrats "by and large" don't even believe in Middle East terrorism and simply want to give up and surrender to al-Qaeda.

Me too.

Kevin Drum 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RATING AMAZON'S RATINGS....Ted Barlow does a little amateur econometrics today regarding Amazon's book ratings. (It is, however the tolerably honest version of econometrics since he promises "I didn't pick books in an effort to get results I wanted.") His conclusion: books almost always have very high ratings on Amazon.

Fair enough, and his numbers are actually quite helpful. For example, if you know that the average rating for general nonfiction books is 4.5 (out of 5), then you know that a book rated 3.9 is probably something of a stinker even though that's actually a pretty good rating.

Ted's got the details of his careful and detailed study over at Crooked Timber, but the Shorter Ted Barlow version seems to be: don't waste your time with anything rated less than 4. Except for political books, which you should read as long as you find their viewpoint agreeable. Words to live by.

Kevin Drum 8:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE RECALL POLLING....The LA Times has yet another recall poll this morning. Here's what it says:

  • Recall: 50% yes, 47% no

  • Bustamante: 30%

  • Schwarzenegger: 25%

  • McClintock: 18%

That's fairly close to the Field poll results from earlier in the week. However, there are a couple of important differences: First, it shows the recall race itself being very tight right now, and Davis could end up beating it. This is something that Republican strategists are pretty worried about. Second, McClintock's numbers continue to rise. There's no way he's going to pull out of the race with healthy polling figures like this.

Kevin Drum 8:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RECALL POLLING....Just to show how hard polling is for the California recall election, Dan Drezner posts the results of a Knowledge Networks poll today that's miles away from the Field poll I mentioned a couple of days ago:

  • Field puts the recall at 55% yes, KN puts it at 62%.

  • Field puts Bustamante at 30%, KN puts him at 28%.

  • Field puts Schwarzenegger at 25%, KN puts him at 42%.

  • Field puts McClintock at 14%, KN puts him at 8%.

Those are pretty big differences, and they mirror the differences already found between some previous polls. Is this a weird race or what?

Kevin Drum 9:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OFFENDED....Jonah Goldberg today:

Look: I'm willing to defend income inequality, sweat shops, child labor, tax cuts and the like, if the merits are there....

Sweat shops? Child labor? Is there anything he won't defend? Yes:

....I'd privatize everything but the army and maybe four other things if I had my way. In other words, I'm no softy on these issues. But am I the only one in the corner offended by Dick Grasso's 9/11 bonus? I mean at a time when everyone was talking about sacrifice and loss, when we were touting the resumption of our normal lives as a patriotic counter-strike to the terrorist menace, Dick Grasso get's a five million dollar bonus on top of his enormous salary because the stock market re-opened? I despise financial populism of any kind, but this just strikes me as galling.

I'm glad we've finally found Jonah's limit: using 9/11 as an excuse for a $5 million bonus is a bridge too far. We've finally found something left and right can agree on.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAS IT ONLY BEEN TWO YEARS?....Regular readers probably won't be surprised to know that my reaction to 9/11 and its aftermath has been profoundly ambivalent. I first learned of the attacks around 7 am, when my sister-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV. After that I was glued to the set, like everyone else, but it wasn't until the first tower collapsed that my jaw truly dropped. And I guess it's stayed dropped since then.

About George Bush's domestic programs I have no ambivalence at all. They are a witches brew of horrible, cynical, deeply poll driven policies that are seemingly divorced from any attempt to solve actual problems. Bush and his advisors seem content to simply let them fester and grow until they are out of office and can foist them onto some future president all the while exploiting them for whatever partisan gain they can extract from them.

There is, of course, no reason to think that Bush's fundamental character is any different in foreign affairs than it is in domestic ones, and this naturally colors my view of his foreign policy. His hamhanded and obviously contemptuous attitude toward our allies while addressing a problem that quite obviously depends on widespread global support to be successful has done nothing to change my mind.

And yet....

As little as I like or trust George Bush, there is still the question of what 9/11 means and how best to respond to it. And the fact that I don't like him doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong. But the eternal question with Bush and his foreign policy is: what is Bush's foreign policy?

Is he a necocon? Does he believe that Iraq is the first domino in a chain that will eventually bring democracy and tolerance to the Middle East?

Is he a realist? Does he want no more than to keep the Middle East reasonably stable and friendly toward American interests?

Or did he simply think that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good idea and didn't really give the matter much thought beyond that?

It's impossible to tell what really motivates him, just as it's impossible to tell how much his policies are driven by genuine conviction vs. how much they are driven simply by crass electoral considerations.

And so I dither. In an age where nuclear weapons are, if not easy to come by, at least possible to come by, an aggressive military posture toward radical Islamic terrorism makes perfect sense if it will work. Keeping a strong American presence in Iraq to ensure security and guide them toward some kind of democracy makes perfect sense if it will work. And insisting on the obliteration of terrorist groups like Hamas as a precursor to a Palestinian state makes perfect sense if it will work.

But will it work? And is George Bush the kind of person who is willing to look at the facts on the ground and change his policies if they aren't working? Or does "firmness" demand that he pursue his policies forever regardless of success or failure?

I don't know for sure that George Bush is wrong. But I sure as hell am scared that he's a little too sure he's right. And I fear that someday the entire world may pay the price for that.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RESTAURANT REVIEW....If you are planning to commemorate 9/11 by eating lunch overlooking Ground Zero, don't.

At least, don't eat at Church & Dey, which yesterday received what is surely one of the worst reviews in the history of restaurant reviews:

....simply unacceptable....a disgrace anywhere....borders on scandal....harrowing hotel fare....disregard for even minimal standards....a blemish on the Millenium Hilton....no possible appeal except to clueless hotel guests....insults the national bounty....Entrees are hideous around the clock....a dark and stormy goo....gluey rice that should be served out of a trough....

Thanks to Alicublog for pointing out this worthy addition to the reviewer's art. I don't link to Roy much, but for people of a certain, um, temperament, he provides a daily dose of reliably cranky and fatalistic prose guaranteed to get your morning off to a chipper start. In a world that has beaten most of us into an insensate acceptance of a bland and mediocre strain of invective, Roy maintains a lonely internet outpost dedicated to the idea that invective as high art is a cause worth preserving.

Well, I like him, anyway.

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YES, JOHN LOTT AGAIN....If you are an econometrician a person who evaluates the real world using complex statistical models there are two basic ways you can go about your job:

  • You can do your best to figure out which statistical model does the best job of mirroring the real world, and then plug in your data and see what pops out. We will call this methodology tolerably honest.

  • You can plug in your data first, and then tweak your model until it provides the results you want. We will call this methodology dishonest bullshit.

The alert reader has probably guessed that I am talking here about the latest sad chapter in the John Lott saga, and indeed I am. The indefatigable Tim Lambert is on the case, and assuming I have been able to put the timeline together correctly, here's what's happened:

  1. Lott and two coauthors produced a statistical model ("Model 1") that showed significant crime decreases when states passed concealed carry gun laws.

  2. Back in April, two critics discovered that there were errors in the data Lott used. When the correct data was plugged into Lott's model, his results went away.

  3. After a long silence, Lott admitted the data errors and posted a table with new results. Oddly, though, his new results were similar to his old ones and continued to show significant drops in crime. So who's right, Lott or his critics?

  4. Answer: his critics. It turns out that since he really had no choice but to use the corrected data, and the corrected data erased his results, he decided to invent a different model ("Model 2") for use in this new table but without disclosing the fact that he had switched to a new model specifically constructed to keep his results intact. Note: In less refined circles this would be called "lying."

  5. When Tim discovered that Lott had surreptitiously changed his model, he emailed Lott. No response.

  6. It turns out Lott was busy covering his tracks. How? By quietly removing the corrected table from his website and replacing it with a new corrected table. This one uses Model 2 but has the old, incorrect data.

  7. Here's where you have to pay attention. Why would Lott do this?

    Answer: this new table claims to be "corrected: April 18, 2003," and it turns out that Lott is trying to pretend that this was the original table he had posted all those months ago. That way, he could claim that he had never changed his model at all. Model 2 is the one he's been using all along!

  8. Unfortunately, when Lott changed the revision date on the document to make it look like it had been created on 4/18/03, he changed it to 1/18/04 instead. What's more, Lott apparently doesn't know that you can check the create date of PDF documents anyway, and this one was created on 9/2/03. That is, it was created in September, not April.

Basically, Lott wants to pretend that Model 2 is the one he's always used. That way, when he corrects the data errors, his results still hold up. Unfortunately for Lott, his attempts to rewrite history were as clumsy as they were dishonest. His original table did use Model 1, his results do go away when the corrected data is plugged in, and he did respond to this by furtively devising a new model that would continue to give him the results he wanted.

If you're not sure you understand what's going on here, reread the timeline. Reread it five or six times. Eventually it will all become clear.

And a note to Glenn Reynolds, who has said he is "not sufficiently knowledgeable to opine on the statistical questions": my timeline deliberately avoids discussing the validity of the competing econometric models, which I'm not competent to judge either. Rather, it simply shows how Lott works, something that anyone is competent to judge. He's a liar and a cheat, and merely being "quite reluctant" to rely on him is far too weak a response.

The evidence is clear. John Lott should be fired from the American Enterprise Institute forthwith and banned from polite society.

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BIN LADEN TAPE....For what it's worth, the new bin Laden tape seems obviously fake to me. It's easy to make a tape that has clearly been shot recently, and this one like all the others is rather artfully edited to make its provenance obscure. There's no reason to go to that trouble unless it's a fake to begin with.

I suspect that all the high powered analysis in the world is less meaningful than that simple fact.

Kevin Drum 9:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DEAN/CLARK IN 2004?....Will Wesley Clark run for president? How about vice president?

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has asked retired Army general Wesley Clark to join his campaign, if the former NATO commander does not jump into the race himself next week, and the two men discussed the vice presidency at a weekend meeting in California, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Clark, in a telephone interview yesterday, said he did not want to comment about the private meeting. Asked about reports that the two men had discussed a wide range of issues, including his endorsing Dean, joining the campaign, possible roles in a Dean administration and the vice presidency, he said only, "It was a complete tour of the horizon."

It turns out there's probably less here than meets the eye, but it's still an intriguing possibility. Just for the sheer drama potential, I'd like to see it happen.

Plus they might actually make a good team and govern the country well. I guess that's important too.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I'm still trudging my way through Clark's Waging Modern War, but I've gotten distracted by other things. This obviously doesn't reflect one way or the other on his fitness for office, but one thing I can tell you is that he sure isn't a very exciting writer. On the other hand, at least he wrote the book himself.

Kevin Drum 10:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URL UPDATE....Tom Maguire has moved to a new address:

http://justoneminute.typepad.com

Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM....Byron York reminds me today that I haven't commented on Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which I read last weekend. I'll get to York in a minute, but first a brief review of the book.

The nickel summary: it's a terrific book, both funny and angry. For bloggers and blog readers it covers pretty familiar territory Coulter, O'Reilly, Fox News, etc. but it has plenty of funny lines and it's convenient to have the entire standard repertoire of conservative lies in one handy volume. A few highlights:

Best chapter: "Operation Ignore," about the Bush administration's lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism prior to 9/11.

Angriest chapter: "'This Was Not a Memorial to Paul Wellstone': A Case Study of Right Wing Lies." There are no jokes here; Franken took this particular smear job pretty personally.

Funniest chapter: "Hannity and Colmes," a top notch hatchet job on one of television's most odious conservative shills.

(But was it really funny? Yes, it's very funny if you're a liberal. If you're a conservative, it's not.)

And now back to our friend Byron York. He wrote a critical piece about Franken's book in NRO today, and what was remarkable was that he apparently couldn't really find anything to complain about. Here's what he came up with:

  • He says Franken states "flatly" and without evidence that George Bush used to use cocaine. What Franken actually says, however, is "it [doesn't] take a genius to figure out that George W. Bush snorted cocaine sometime before 1974," and he bases this on Bush's own replies to questions about his drug use.

  • He complains that Franken used some numbers from a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities press release. I'm not sure what his objection to this is.

  • He complains that Franken said Bill Clinton issued a new environmental regulation "toward the end" of his administration, when in fact it was issued in December 2000. Again, I'm not quite sure what the problem here is.

  • Franken's research team appears to be entirely white.

And that's it, aside from the fact that he just doesn't like Franken's tone one little bit. I'm sure there's more to come, but if that's the best York can do, I figure Franken's research must have been pretty solid.

Unlike, you know, some conservative writers we could name.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS IRAQ A FRONT IN THE WAR ON TERROR?....Here's a peculiar story from last Monday by Knight-Ridder's John Walcott. It's headlined "Analysis: Insiders Slam Bush's Speech," but far from being any kind of real analysis, it's less than 500 words long and it's practically all filler even at that abbreviated length. In fact, although it leads by saying that "some officials" thought Bush's Sunday speech was oversimplified, the real purpose of the article appears to be limited to getting the following paragraph in print:

"The war in Vietnam was not just about communism, and the war in Iraq isn't just about terrorism," one senior administration official said Monday, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because he disagreed with much of what his boss had said. "We lost in Vietnam because we didn't understand that as well as we should have."

In other words, Walcott says, winning in Iraq isn't really likely to have a big impact on the wider war on terrorism.

There's nothing especially unusual about this sentiment aside from the fact that it came from a very senior official in the Bush administration. So who do you think said it?

POSTSCRIPT: "Senior administration official" is a term of art and if I understand this correctly applies to only about 20 people in the entire world. So here's an assignment for Josh Marshall: how about making a list of all "senior administration officials" so that fans at home can play along?

UPDATE: A knowledgable emailer suggests that Richard Armitage is the most likely source for this quote. That sounds like a reasonable guess to me.

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ AND THE UN....Apparently everyone agrees that the military force in Iraq should remain under U.S. control regardless of whether or not other countries agree to send additional troops, but France and Germany are proposing an extremely rapid turnover of civilian authority to Iraq's Governing Council:

France and Germany have called for the United Nations to endorse Iraq's Governing Council and cabinet as the "trustee of Iraqi sovereignty" until an elected government takes over, in a move likely to test the US's avowed commitment to the speedy transfer of authority.

....Diplomats say that the French-German ideas, which come ahead of Saturday's meeting of foreign ministers in Geneva, would not imply an immediate wresting of authority away from the US-led provisional authority, but are intended to signal a "radical" change of pace in ending the occupation.

They call on Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, to report within a fixed period perhaps 45 days, according to one diplomat on the "expeditious and orderly" transfer of "effective and substantial" authority.

....Diplomats in New York insisted the interchange of ideas marked a genuinely constructive attempt to find a workable solution. Nonetheless, it is far from clear that the US will be willing to accept the concessions that France and Germany seek.

The plot thickens....

Kevin Drum 3:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOUSING PROBLEMS....Matt Yglesias makes his bylined debut at The American Prospect today with an article about the high cost of housing an issue that I suspect is newly important to him. In fact another coincidence it's renters in urban areas like, say, Washington D.C., who are the hardest hit!

(Just kidding, Matt. After all, you're supposed to write what you know.)

Anyway, a new report on low-income housing has just come out and it turns out to be timely indeed:

The report comes out just four days after members of the Senate Appropriations Committee joined their House colleagues in endorsing the Bush administration's request to cut funding for the housing vouchers program the federal government's main means of addressing the issue by providing $900 million less than the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be necessary to continue the program at its current level.

As a result, more than 100,000 vouchers authorized by current law will go unfunded in the coming year.

What's more, Matt says this is not just a simple matter of Republicans being hostile to helping poor people. There's more to it:

The housing crisis is largely an issue for the more tightly packed blue states, making it unlikely that the Bush administration will experience a change of heart and come to the rescue with a generous supplemental budget request....Eight of the 10 most expensive [states] went for Al Gore in 2000. Nonvoting and very poor Puerto Rico took the cheapest slot, followed by 19 Bush states in a row.

So they can take a shot at poor people and at Democrats! A twofer!

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ'S OIL WEALTH....The New York Times has an article today about a topic that keeps popping up: an oil trust fund for Iraq that pays a portion of oil revenues directly to the citizens of Iraq. It's loosely based on the trust fund set up in Alaska that pays about $1,500 to each resident these days.

One of the ideas behind this is that the money should be kept out of the hands of the central government, where in the past it's been used for starting wars and building palaces. That seems like sound thinking to me.

But how about another idea? Instead of just doling the money out to individuals, why not make oil revenue a cornerstone of local government financing? I don't know precisely how Iraq is divided into administrative districts (or will be divided, I suppose I should say), but why not give the money to villages, cities, and provinces instead? This would give them a stable funding base, provide them with some level of autonomy from the central government, allow them to spend the money on local needs, and promote cooperation between provinces that want to pool money for projects. It also gets us away from just writing checks to individuals, which strikes me as a vaguely bad idea.

Obviously I'm speaking from profound ignorance here hell, that might as well be the name of my blog but I think it's curious that I've never heard this kind of thing proposed before. It fits well with the idea of a federalist Iraq that seems to be popular with a number of experts (though apparently not with the Bush administration), and therefore seems like it has merit. Then again, perhaps there are serious problems with the idea that just haven't occurred to me.

Just a thought.

Kevin Drum 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CORPORATE COMPENSATION....I promised two Easterbrook posts, and here's the second.

Easterbrook is dead right in his contempt for the enormous payouts being given to Richard Grasso, the head of the New York Stock Exchange. After previously fessing up to a $140 million payout, the LA Times this morning greeted me with the news that he actually has another $48 million coming his way. However, good soldier that he is, Grasso said he would forego the extra money because "my leadership, I think, was in many respects being questioned." As Easterbrook says:

The grotesque Grasso overpayment is especially offensive given that the NYSE is a quasi-public institution, supervised by the SEC (whose chief makes $142,000) and operating under a government charter that essentially exempts its management from market risk. Grasso wasn't an "innovative risk-taker," blah, blah, as CEOs like to say in justifying their hauls; he was isolated from many market forces by a government-built barrier. Behind the barrier, he was stuffing his pockets.

I am astonished that shareholders continue to sit still for this kind of abuse. Grasso, I gather, has done a good job as head of the NYSE, but not an exceptional one, and there are surely many others who could have done as well. Despite this, the exchange is paying sums to Grasso and other executives that are a substantial fraction of the earnings of the company.

When are shareholders finally going to figure out that executive compensation in America is no longer just a few people making a little bit more than they should, and therefore not something that really affects the bottom line? The truth is that in most large companies today executive compensation is fantastically higher than it should be, and the overpayments are a serious drag on corporate profits. Reduce the pay of the top 5% of executives at Fortune 500 companies by 50%, and corporate earnings would improve measurably with no loss in the work habits of the top officers.

After all, does anyone seriously think that Grasso would have worked only half as hard if he'd been paid a mere $70 millon? The question answers itself.

Kevin Drum 9:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A FITTING TRIBUTE FOR THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY....After dissing Gregg Easterbrook last night, let me point out a couple of posts on his nameless blog this morning that are right on the money. Literally.

First, the compensation fund for 9/11 victims:

Families who have taken the federal compensation have, so far, received average awards of $1.6 million, tax-free. Families of the United States personnel murdered by Al Qaeda in the Kenya and Tanzania terror attacks of 1998 received, on average, nothing. Families of the several hundred United States military personnel killed in Afghanistan fighting to destroy al Qaeda, and killed in Iraq fighting at least in part against terrorism, received, on average, $9,000, taxable.

Now some 9/11 families are saying $1.6 million isn't enough. Set aside whether they should be receiving anything from taxpayers, given the myriad other circumstances in which Americans die in various horrible events every bit as traumatic and devastating to their families, who receive nothing at all. Assume for the sake of argument that something about 9/11 justifies offering victims' estates a very large special payment. Yet some 9/11 families are saying very large is not large enough. This is greed; it is employing the memory of lost loved ones for gold-digging.

I agree. If 9/11 was an act of war, the United States government (i.e., you and me) isn't obligated to pay the survivors anything. If it wasn't an act of war, then the United States government also doesn't owe the survivors anything. So if they decline the government's rather generous offer and decide to take their chances in court, they should do so without complaining.

And as for court, I frankly have a pretty hard time believing that the landlord of the World Trade Center is actually at fault here. Still, that's a legal question, and who knows? Maybe legally it has merit. But then there's this:

[Lawyer Keith] Franz said that for many victims, money is not the issue. Instead, he explained, they want to litigate to find out more information about what happened on Sept. 11 and why.

"There is no vehicle through the compensation fund that allows them to get those answers," Franz said. "There are moral reasons why a lawsuit is important to these clients."

Raise your hands if you believe this.

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE MEDIA VS. THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT....Gregg Easterbrook complained yesterday about the media's treatment of Alabama's Christians:

Why does the crackpot judge get 24-7 coverage when the noble governor gets almost none? Because the snarling judge and his intolerant followers show Christianity in a bad light; by granting them attention, the media make Christianity look bad. Gov. Riley's crusade to help the poor shows Christianity at its luminous best. Therefore the media ignore Riley.

Needless to say, this is a transparently disingenuous criticism and the media-savvy Easterbrook knows it. The media covered the Ten Commandments story because there was a lot of action, a lot of fast changing news, and lots of photo opportunites. Tax policy, on the other hand, is boring, and there's nothing more guaranteed to kill media coverage then being boring.

Still, let's take Easterbrook at his word and see how Alabama's conservative Christians are doing. Here's the box score:

The Christian Coalition and other Christian right groups in Alabama fought Governor Riley's crusade to help the poor from the first day. So tell me again, which one of these two stories makes Christianity look bad and which one shows it at its luminous best? I'm having a hard time deciding.

Kevin Drum 11:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A CUBAN SPANISH LESSON....I just hate getting sucked back into the whole MEChA thing again, but Brian Linse has a post about it that's just so....outr....that you really have to go read it. Apparently Fidel Castro was a founding inspiration for the group. Or something.

Also, Brian has a very good and very personal remembrance of Warren Zevon.

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LIES, DAMN LIES, AND HYPERLINKS....David Frum, commenting on the CAPPS II airline screening program, writes the following under the unintentionally ironic headline "Get Serious":

Shock, horror: The airlines are set to begin searching passengers - not randomly - but according to the degree of risk their behavior suggests they present. The system is race-neutral and will greatly accelerate the speed with which law-abiding passengers will pass inspection. It makes use of information that passengers freely provide to the airlines (ie, the decision to pay for tickets with cash rather than credit cards) and links it to obviously relevant law-enforcement data (like whether there is an outstanding arrest warrant for the traveler). It is hard to see how anybody could object to this plan but the ACLU predictably does.

To which I reply, "Get real, David."

CAPPS II doesn't link only to "obviously relevant" law enforcement databases, it also links to commercial databases. More importantly, though, the Washington Post story that Frum links to clearly states that the new program doesn't involve merely "searching passengers," it involves prohibiting a fairly large class of passengers from flying at all. So how does Frum think he can get away with not mentioning this since he links to the original story in his piece?

Simple: he links only to the second page of the Post story, apparently hoping his trusting readers won't notice and go back to the first half, which gives you the bad news about the poor schlubs who are coded red and flatly forbidden to board the plane no matter how thoroughly they're searched.

It kinda reminds me of Ann Coulter's footnotes....

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THE NEW TRACKABLE YOU....As long as we're on the subject of privacy rights while traveling, Tyler Cowen points to this story from today's Washington Post:

On a freeway north of Los Angeles, as Ryan Evans's sleek 1998 Honda Accord coupe speeds above 70 mph, the black box tucked under his front passenger seat grumbles a grating noise, warning the 18-year-old that he's going too fast.

....Road Safety International, a Thousand Oaks firm that has sold 10,000 of its professional-grade recorders to paramedic, police and firefighter fleets, designed the cheaper consumer model that Evans is test-driving specifically for parents to install in their teenagers' cars. The modular components record data, such as seat-belt use, speed, hard braking, hard cornering, pedal-to-metal acceleration and throttle position, that can be uploaded to home computers using software that analyzes driving performance.

....But that's only the beginning: In three months, an under-$200 global positioning system accessory will be available to record where the car goes, "like bread crumbs on a road map," says Selditz. Next year, the communications module will allow parents to locate their teen drivers on an online map in real time.

I expect this to be very popular, and not just for teenagers. It will probably also be marketed as a safety device, much like cell phones for emergencies, and before long every car will have one.

And not just cars. A few weeks ago I was at our local computer store and saw a GPS watch on sale. Basically, your kid wears the watch and you can log on to a website that tells you where the child is at all times. The model I saw was a bit bulky (and a bit pricey), but that's bound to change in short order. Given the almost palpable fear that suburban parents have about their children's safety these days, I expect that before long soccer moms will be routinely outfitting their children with these devices so that they can track their kids both in their cars and out of them.

So where does it end? Even if it's designed for teenagers, if you put a black box in a car there's nothing to stop a jealous wife from using it to track her husband too. After all, why would you turn it off unless you had something to hide? GPS-like positioning is also a part of cell phones, and how long will it be before the positioning data is available (for a fee!) to family members?

And needless to say, if the data exists, it can be subpoenaed.

Bottom line: I imagine that within a decade or two, most of us will be trackable 24 hours a day, and that data will be available to law enforcement and maybe to private detectives too. In fact, it will likely be considered suspicious if you don't wear your trackable watch/cell phone/black box at all times. The phrase "18-minute gap" might take on a whole new meaning.

I suppose in the end we'll all adapt to this. We always do. After all, for most of history humans have lived in small tribes or villages where, essentially, their every movement was public knowledge. Perhaps in this case technology will be more a way of recreating the past than of taking us into the future.

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECALL UPDATE....From the LA Times:

Former sports czar Peter V. Ueberroth canceled two morning radio interviews today and scheduled a 1 p.m. press conference at his Costa Mesa headquarters to "discuss the future" of his campaign.

Or should we say "lack of future"?

If Ueberroth does indeed pull out, the race will become even tighter than it is now. The latest Field poll shows Bustamante leading Schwarzenegger by 30% to 25%, and Ueberroth's 5% will probably mostly go to Arnold. Call it 3% to Arnold, 1% to Bustamante, and 1% to McClintock, if I had to guess.

The recall polls are all pretty unreliable apparently the pollsters are having a hard time figuring out the right weighting models and so forth but if we assume the Field poll is the best we have and then redistribute Ueberroth's votes, we get:

  • Bustamante: 31%

  • Schwarzenegger: 28%

  • McClintock: 14%

  • Everyone else: 9%

  • Undecided/No choice: 18%

That undecided vote is still pretty big, and Field doesn't give any indication of how those people are leaning. It's anybody's race.

UPDATE: Ueberroth has confirmed that he is pulling out of the race.

Kevin Drum 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE FRIENDLY SKIES....Via TalkLeft, which has some comments of its own, the Washington Post reports that the CAPPS II airline screening program is ready for testing.

Basically, CAPPS II (a successor to the current airline screening program) uses commercial databases, criminal records, intelligence information, and so forth to determine if a passenger is a security risk. Although on its face this approach may sound reasonable, check this out:

Passengers will be assigned a color code -- green, yellow or red -- based in part on their city of departure, destination, traveling companions and date of ticket purchase.

Most people will be coded green and sail through. But up to 8 percent of passengers who board the nation's 26,000 daily flights will be coded "yellow" and will undergo additional screening at the checkpoint, according to people familiar with the program. An estimated 1 to 2 percent will be labeled "red" and will be prohibited from boarding. These passengers also will face police questioning and may be arrested.

I don't know what the right base number to use is, but if you figure there are 200 million adults in America that means that TSA is expecting 2-4 million people to be completely barred from air travel.

Can that really be right? That's a helluva lot of people American citizens, presumably who are no longer allowed to fly. Why so many? A TSA spokesman says that in addition to flagging potential terrorists, "we should keep [passengers] from sitting next to wanted ax murderers."

I'm fine with that, actually, but color me skeptical that we have several million wanted murderers in the United States.

The worst part of this is that there doesn't appear to be any system in place to appeal the computer's decision. If you're on the list, you're on the list, and you won't find out until you're ready to board the plane. And if you're coded red, apparently it doesn't matter even if they do a body cavity search and fail to find anything that could pose a danger to the plane. You're grounded regardless.

This doesn't add up. Using a computer-based system to warn of potentially dangerous fliers might make sense even if it is annoying, but frankly, I don't care if Osama bin Laden is sitting next to me as long as he's been checked out thoroughly enough to ensure that he can't hijack the plane. Freedom of movement is one of the touchpoints that distinguishes free societies from police states, and any system that flatly prohibits certain people from traveling just doesn't pass the smell test.

Kevin Drum 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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$221 BILLION FOR IRAQ....The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that President Bush's $87 billion funding request isn't going to do the job. $55 billion more will still be needed for postwar reconstruction.

We already allocated $79 billion a few months ago, and 79 + 87 + 55 = 221. I'm not sure exactly what period these funding requests cover, but at a guess that's $221 billion over the course of perhaps 15 months, or about 2% of GDP. That's a lot of dough.

I'll need some time to wrap my head around this number, but in the meantime here's something that continues to genuinely perplex me. Let's take the hawks at their word that Iraq is a front on the war against terror, and that stabilizing Iraq is a key part of winning the war. You might not believe it, but that's their case.

But if it's true, then surely stabilizing Afghanistan is at least as important? In fact, given the large amount of known al-Qaeda activity in Afghanistan and the continuing Taliban presence there, you could make a pretty good argument that keeping a lid on Afghanistan is more important than Iraq.

But in any case, surely it's not a mere one-tenth as important, as the administration seems to think based on its troop commitments and reconstruction funding there? Especially given the continuing reports that this is the place where the terrorists are regrouping, not Iraq.

It's a little hard to take the administration's rhetoric seriously when they pay so little relative attention to stabilizing a genuine terrorist enclave. What are they thinking?

UPDATE: Dick Morris suggested an answer last night, when he said that, election-wise, the Bush administration was making an error in focusing on Iraq. It's just not a winner, he said. Rather, after blowing it in Afghanistan, they were able to distract everyone by going after Iraq. Likewise, he said, they've blown it in Iraq and the answer is....to go after Iran.

"Not 'Wag the Dog'," he said, "but talk it up." Right: just "talk it up." Where do these people come from who think of war and peace as mere electoral strategies to be used as needed when an election is coming up?

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TROOP STRENGTH BLUES....Tours of duty are being extended for reserve troops:

With U.S. forces stretched thin in Iraq and the Bush administration still searching for additional international peacekeepers, the Army has ordered thousands of National Guard and Army Reserve forces in Iraq to extend their tours in the country to a year, months longer than many of the troops had anticipated, Army officials said yesterday.

....The order comes after months of concern inside and outside the Army that an over-reliance on Guard and Reserve forces by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism could adversely affect retention and recruiting. Some officials have expressed concern that this could break the Guard and Reserve system, which augments the active-duty force with critical engineering, military police, civil affairs and psychological operations specialists.

I don't know if this is entirely rational, but I feel worse for the reserve troops than I do for the regulars. It's hard on the families of both, but at least the families of the regular troops know what they signed up for. The families of the reserve troops, on the other hand, never expected to lose both their spouses and their incomes for periods of over a year. It must be hellishly tough on them.

I also wonder when (if?) we're going to see this have an effect on recruitment and retention. I've been hearing about this for at least six months now, but haven't yet seen any figures to back it up. How often does the Army report on this kind of stuff?

One other note: this has been coming out in dribs and drabs, but so far we've seen the following: (a) keeping the 3rd ID in country after scheduling them to return, (b) rotating officers and senior NCOs out of their units, (c) extending the tours of regular troops, (d) appealing to the UN in order to get more foreign troops, and now (e) extending the tours of reservists. These are all risky moves, and when you put them all together they indicate that there must be a serious sense of panic about troop strength and force protection among the Army brass. I wonder how bad it really is?

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PUNDIT REVIEW....The New York Times reflects on George Bush's character:

Other wrong turns, however, were chosen because of a fundamental flaw in the character of this White House. Despite his tough talk, Mr. Bush seems incapable of choosing a genuinely tough path, of risking his political popularity with the same aggression that he risks the country's economic stability and international credibility. For all the trauma the United States has gone through during his administration, Mr. Bush has never asked the American people to respond to new challenges by making genuine sacrifices.

This unwillingness to take political risks is indeed a key to Bush's character. I can't think of a single major policy initiative he's taken that compares, say, to Bill Clinton's healthcare plan: something that he believes in so deeply that it's worth pushing for even though it runs the risk of being unpopular. This is one of the key differences between Bush and Tony Blair, for example.

Still, the Times and I are both shrill and unreliable liberals. So what does David Brooks, the Times' new conservative voice think?

The Bush administration has the most infuriating way of changing its mind. The leading Bushies almost never admit serious mistakes. They never acknowledge that they are listening to their critics. They never even admit they are shifting course. They don these facial expressions suggesting calm omniscience while down below their legs are doing the fox trot in six different directions.

That's true too. A fundamental part of Bush's personality is to never back down, never admit error, and to compromise only as an absolute last resort. Of course, you could also put it a little more harshly than Brooks:

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.

That's the normally non-shrill Josh Marshall, who's very tired indeed of Bush blaming everyone but himself for everything that goes wrong.

On the other hand, he looks good in a flight suit. That's got to count for something.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne make similar points about "sacrifice," or the lack thereof, in Bush's speech.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EMPLOYEE BLOGGING....Tired of quickie newspaper pieces about blogging that tell you for the hundredth time that (a) they're really cool and (b) Instapundit is the most widely known? Looking for some more meat?

This month's issue of the Harvard Business Review has a pretty good case study about the intersection of blogging and the real world for both good and ill. Names and industries have been changed to protect the guilty.

I don't feel like commenting much about the story except to express some astonishment that two of the four "expert commentators" (at the end of the article) seem blissfully unconcerned about the potential liability problems posed by an employee discussing confidential company information in a public forum and a third mentions it only in passing. I know that information wants to be free and we've all got to get on the cluetrain and all that, but the SEC takes a pretty dim view of that kind of activity even if blogging is the Next Big Thing.

Here's the story:

Oops, it turns out HBR really doesn't want me to post the whole article here, and who can blame them? Here's the executive summary instead, or you can buy a copy online for six bucks.

A Blogger in Their Midst
By Halley Suitt

It was five minutes before show time, and only 15 people had wandered into the conference room to hear Lancaster-Webb CEO Will Somerset introduce the company's latest line of surgical gloves. More important, sales prospect Samuel Taylor, medical director of the Houston Clinic, had failed to show. Will walked out of the ballroom to steady his nerves and noticed a spillover crowd down the hall. He made a "What's up?" gesture to Judy Chen, Lancaster-Webb's communications chief. She came over to him. "It's Glove Girl. You know, the blogger," Judy said, as if this explained anything. "I think she may have stolen your crowd." "Who is she?" Will asked.

Glove Girl was a factory worker at Lancaster-Webb, whose always outspoken, often informative postings on her web log had developed quite a following. Will was new to the world of blogging, but he quickly learned about its power in a briefing with his staff. After Glove Girl had raved about Lancaster-Webb's older SteriTouch disposable gloves, orders had surged. More recently, though, Glove Girl had questioned the Houston Clinic's business practices, posting damaging information at her site about its rate of cesarean deliveries--to Sam Taylor's consternation.

This fictional case study considers the question of whether a highly credible, but sometimes inaccurate and often indiscreet, online diarist is more of a liability than an asset to her employer. What, if anything, should Will do about Glove Girl? Four commentators--David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined; Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law and information management at the University of California, Berkeley; Ray Ozzie, CEO and chairman of Groove Networks; and Erin Motameni, vice-president of human resources at EMC--offer expert advice.

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FACTOID OF THE DAY....Did you know that George Bush's grandmother was a bridesmaid at the wedding of Howard Dean's grandmother? It's a small world, isn't it?

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BUSH'S SPEECH....I actually thought the speech last night was decent. You know, considering that I really can't stand the guy and all.

The morning storyline, of course, is that Bush is changing course and doing the things his critics have wanted him to do all along but denying that he's doing any such thing. And it makes me wonder why he didn't just include a line something like this in his speech:

We always knew this was going to be a long, hard campaign, but the fact is that it's turned out to be even longer and harder than we anticipated. That was a mistake, but it's one we're determined to correct, because this job is too important blah blah blah....

This sort of thing wouldn't cost him anything with his base, and it would basically shut up most of his liberal critics. How can you slam him for changing course if he's admitted he's changing course and is promising to fix his mistakes? You're almost forced to rally around the guy.

A more conciliatory tone toward Europe would have helped too. After all, it really doesn't cost anything. Unfortunately, this kind of thing just doesn't seem to be part of W's give-no-quarter personality, and that's going to cost him.

On a less substantive note, although the text of the speech wasn't too bad, the one thing I can't get over is the vacant look in his eyes whenever he gives one of these addresses. I swear he looks like the Manuchurian candidate when he does these things. Can't they spare a few bucks from the White House press budget to hire a speaking coach for him?

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RECALL ROUNDUP....It is depressing being a Californian these days. I now have to face up to the prospect of an election that includes an incumbent who makes jokes about immigrants who talk funny; a candidate who thinks the state should regulate gasoline prices; a lunatic right wing anti-tax jihadist; a movie star whose big plan is to "audit the books"; and an eccentric newspaper columnist cum TV comedian.

The 90% of you who don't live here can go ahead and laugh. Don't worry, I can take it. But while it's bad enough to have two candidates and not like either one of them, how is it possible that we have 135 and there still isn't anyone worth voting for?

Maybe I'll end up voting for Peter Ueberroth after all. Everyone likes the Olympics, right?

Kevin Drum 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE COST OF THE WAR....I just finished my morning exercises and heard a CNN reporter "crunch some numbers" to put President Bush's $87 billion Iraq request "into perspective."

So up went a graphic showing....wait for it....that Social Security and Medicare cost $8 billion a year! The war is costing 10 times as much!

Of course, at the top of the screen it said this was "discretionary spending," which means the number is technically true. If you want to know what's actually true, however, total spending on Social Security and Medicare is around $700 billion this year, give or take a few billion. In other words, the war actually costs about one-tenth as much. But what's a couple of orders of magnitude among friends?

And so we're left with the question we're always left with: was this deliberately dishonest, or merely incompetent? As usual, it's hard to tell.

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RUMSFELD CHANNELS O'REILLY....Donald Rumsfeld wants his critics to shut their pieholes:

With costs and casualties rising in the war on terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld struck back today at the administration's widening circle of critics, saying they were complicating an already difficult task.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not mention any of the domestic critics by name. But he suggested that those who have been critical of the administration's handling of the war in Iraq and its aftermath might be encouraging American foes to believe that the United States might one day walk away from the effort, as it has in past conflicts.

"We know for a fact that terrorists studied Somalia, and they studied instances that the United States was dealt a blow and tucked in, and persuaded themselves that they could in fact cause us to acquiesce in whatever it is they wanted to do," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

It's probably just as well that he didn't name any names. After all, have any Democratic candidates to the right of Dennis Kucinich called for us to get out? Senators? Congressmen?

There are certainly a small number of people who think we should pull out even the vote to enter World War II wasn't unanimous, after all but the vast majority of even liberals believe we have an obligation to stay in Iraq and rebuild the country. However, we also think that the rebuilding should be done right, not by a guy who rather obviously botched the planning, originally figured on reducing troop strength to 30,000 by September, and bulled his way up, around, and over every "critic," including most of his own service chiefs, who suggested his approach might be a mite too casual.

Most of us don't want to pull out, Don, we just want the job done right. You've got a second chance now. Don't blow it.

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOX VS. CNN....Dan Drezner compares Fox News with CNN and thinks Fox comes out on top for esthetic, not ideological, reasons.

He's got a point. His specific comparison doesn't really hold water Virginia Postrel live with a major anchor vs. Virginia Postrel remote on a morning show but it so happens that I've had a chance to compare the two networks lately and I've come to the same conclusion.

See, I've got about 20 minutes of physical therapy exercises I'm supposed to do twice a day to try and get my back healthy again, and I've gotten in the habit of doing them on the living room floor with the news turned on. What I do is turn the TV onto either CNN or Fox, and then flip back and forth whenever a commercial comes on.

And while it's true that Fox is more overtly ideological than CNN, they are also jazzier and louder. Whether that means Fox is "livelier" or whether it means they are "lowering the bar" I won't venture to guess, but the fact remains that Fox is obviously designed to appeal to the video game generation and CNN is designed to appeal to folks who used to watch Walter Cronkite.

Considering my warnings about trying to appeal to multiple audiences in the post below, I'll refrain from giving CNN any advice about this. But it's something worth remembering when you hear comparisons of the two that concentrate solely on their ideological differences.

Kevin Drum 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE....James Joyner has a question today:

Reading various commentaries on President Bush, there seem to be two mutually exclusive opinions floating around:

  • He's in danger of losing his base because he does not fight hard enough for conservative principles and is willing to compromise on damned near anything.

  • He's energizing his opponents and driving away moderates in droves because he is a right wing ideologue who refuses to make even the slightest concession to achieve consensus.

Which is it? It can't be both, can it?

The funny thing is that the answer is: yes, both of these things can indeed be true.

After all, successful candidates are the ones who manage to walk the very fine line between energizing their base with red meat while at the same time appearing moderate and conciliatory to the vast middle of the electorate. If a good candidate can pull off that trick, surely a bad candidate who tries to do the same thing can manage to screw up both ends of the deal.

(By way of analogy, there are scads of examples in the corporate world of companies trying to broaden their appeal to a new market and managing not just to fail in the attempt, but to lose their original customers as well. In fact, I'd guess that that's actually the most common result of image extension exercises.)

I don't know if this is what's happening to Bush, but I sure hope so. I can't think of a more deserving brand to get crushed by a disappointed customer base.

Kevin Drum 8:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GROUP BLOGS....Patrick Nielsen Hayden reviews the burgeoning new crop of group blogs over at Electrolite. His comments seem pretty much on the mark to me.

Kevin Drum 8:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

EDWARDS DROPS OUT OF SENATE RACE....John Edwards has officially told the North Carolina Democratic Party that he will not run for reelection as senator. Presumably this is supposed to demonstrate that he's committed to following through on his presidential campaign and won't drop out if it looks like he's doing poorly. I assume it also means that his third quarter fundraising is going well.

It also means the Democrats need to find another candidate for his senate seat, so chalk up one more Democratic senate seat that's now in play for 2004.

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FINALLY....AN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PROGRAM CONSERVATIVES CAN SUPPORT....We all know that conservatives are an oppressed minority in academia, but when the subject comes up most of us just shrug our shoulders, get another beer from the fridge, and say, "Sure, but whaddaya gonna do?"

Not so in Colorado, where, giddy with excitement over a successful mid-decade redistricting of their state to favor Republicans, the legislature has consulted with noted academic theoretician David Horowitz in order to produce an "Academic Bill of Rights" that seeks to enshrine an affirmative action program for conservative professors. It's "intellectual diversity," you see.

Quaker in a Basement has the story.

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LAWYER DISCIPLINE....RealityChecker proposes a fine new way to combine blogs with Google's ranking system in order to punish evildoers such as lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits against Al Franken:

I have my own suggestion for better lawyer discipline. It is based on the ideas of leading conservatives like Bill Bennett, who have argued that it is a good thing to publicly humiliate unwed mothers. Their theory is that the fear of shame will reduce the number of illegitimate children. Is this a good theory? I don't know, but I do know that if it works for unwed mothers, it should also work for wayward lawyers--you know, like the ones who bring those frivolous lawsuits, including the one by Fox News against Al Franken.

....Let's make use of the power of hypertext, the World Wide Web and sophisticated search engines like Google to spread the infamy more effectively. According to [James] Grimaldi, Hogan & Hartson LLP was the law firm that represented Fox and the individual lawyers were Dori Ann Hanswirth, Tracey A. Tiska and Katherine M. Bolger, all from Hogan's New York office.

The more of us who link to this, the more likely it is that this page will be the first one people hit if they use Google to check out this law firm or any of these lawyers. Sounds like a worthy effort to me.

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FINAL GRAND SLAM FINAL OF THE YEAR....It's time for tennis, now that the stupid football game is finally over. Both Roddick and Ferrero looked really good in their semifinal matches Ferrero was hitting awesome shot after awesome shot, while Roddick showed really impressive mental strength and it ought to be a great match. I'm going to predict a five-setter, and the patriot in me is picking Roddick to win.

Unfortunately, the realist in me is whispering that Ferrero's game has looked really good for the entire tournament....

UPDATE: Oops. What I meant to say is that Roddick is an overpowering player who has finally found his form and will blow Ferrero off the court in straight sets.

Jeez, what a blowout. That was just plain scary.

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INDIAN GAMING....Atrios makes a good point today:

I'm really getting tired of the phrase "Indian Gaming Interests" being thrown around by the media as if it is some sort of insidious thing. They're just another business interest, like the numerous "old white man business interests" that spend a lot of money financing campaigns.

As it happens, I'm not especially happy about Indian gaming, and I'm not especially happy about the lobbying they do. However, there are plenty of businesses that get unique concessions from the government like, say, billion-dollar no-bid contracts for rebuilding Iraq and who spend their profits by aggressively lobbying for their interests in both Sacramento and Washington D.C.

I don't think gaming should be restricted to tribal interests, but the fact is that the tribes aren't doing anything different than any other industry. So feel free to oppose artificial restrictions on gaming as I do and feel free to oppose the insidious triangle of corporate welfare, insider lobbying, and payola masquerading as campaign contributions as I do but the only reason to get more outraged about Indian gaming than any other cosseted industry is because us white guys aren't getting a piece of the action.

Sadly, whites aren't likely to get over their victimization complex anytime soon. It's a real cultural problem, and one that white leaders ought to be spending more time addressing.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CORNER....Yes, I know that reading The Corner too much is bad for your mental health, and I also know that applies doubly to anything written by Kathryn Jean Lopez surely a bigger beneficiary of affirmative action than Margaret Carlson but what the hell is this post about?

Does K-Lo herself think Saddam was behind 9/11?

Or does she know perfectly well he wasn't, but is proud of the administration and its media minions for convincing America that this was a good reason to invade Iraq since the truth apparently wouldn't have been convincing enough?

In other words, is she stupid, or is she merely a shill? Or both?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, why is it that National Review named their blog after a book about an open air drug market in West Baltimore? It doesn't seem like the right association for them, does it? Plus, it's an unfair association for the book, which is really good....

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NEW 9/11 VIDEO....The New York Times has a story about a just discovered amateur video of the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. Apparently it's only the second video known of the first plane striking the tower.

In addition to the story of how the video was discovered, reporter James Glanz also narrates a slide show with clips from the video. The full tape will be shown on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" at 9 am on Sunday.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EXPEDIA COMMERCIALS....I've been watching the U.S. Open for two weeks congratulations, chocolate makers! and this means that I've seen about a thousand repetitions of the Expedia commercials. And I've noticed something odd: there are three of them, and they all star women.

There's the businesswoman cursed to fly to Cleveland with "Cooper." There's the woman looking for a tropical vacation spot for herself and her husband. And there's a woman trying to set up a family reunion with mom and dad.

As is typical of self-absorbed males, I suppose I wouldn't have noticed anything amiss if all three of these ads had starred men. But in the event, I did notice something, and it made me wonder why. Nothing happens by accident in commercials, and that means the Expedia folks did this deliberately.

Why? Men use computers more than women, they use the internet more than women, and I imagine they watch tennis matches more than women, so you'd think men would be in the sweet spot of Expedia's demographic. Could it be that, despite that, more women than men use Expedia? Or is it just the opposite and the Expedia folks want to widen their appeal?

I know this doesn't matter a bit, but after watching the infamous "Cooper" for two weeks straight, my brain is tired and it just got me to wondering. What's up?

Kevin Drum 9:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTRONIC VOTING....I've written about touchscreen voting machines before: I generally don't like them since they don't provide an auditable paper trail, but on the other hand I'm a little skeptical about the scope for deliberate hanky panky.

But maybe I shouldn't be. Jeanne d'Arc tells the story of what happened in her town last year with an electronic voting system:

In the March 2002 primary election, the vote counts from our absentee and mail-in ballots showed up on Diebold's Web site in the middle of the afternoon -- four and a half hours before the polls closed.

What the hell was Diebold doing looking at our vote counts in the middle of election day? And how did they get those votes?

Unfortunately, our local paper misses the point by focusing on whether the information was "in the public domain on election day" and whether Diebold having the information affected the final vote. The central point really is that it was illegal for Diebold to have that information before the polls were closed....

This didn't affect the vote, and the system in question uses optical scanning machines (my favorites), so it does have a paper trail. But the story is still a bit chilling.

And while you're over there, Jeanne also has an amusing anecdote about Fox News' coverage of the recent Arnold-less debate.

Kevin Drum 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HUTTON INQUIRY WRAPUP....Phase 1 of the Hutton inquiry is over, and a reader has alerted me to this summary in the Guardian. To my surprise, it actually appears to be relatively fairminded, concluding, among other things, that "Andrew Gilligan's story that No 10 wanted to 'sex up' the Iraq dossier has largely been vindicated, but his claim that Downing Street inserted the 45 minute claim knowing it to be wrong has not been substantiated."

That sounds about right to me, and the other nine points they make seem basically correct too.

(However, it's worth noting that the Hutton inquiry focused on the government, not the BBC, so the Guardian summary doesn't have much to say about how the BBC handled the affair.)

The Guardian also has a very nice index to all the evidence and transcripts from the Hutton inquiry here. The evidence is organized only by date on the Hutton inquiry website, but the Guardian has it organized by topic, which, needless to say, is considerably easier to navigate.

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BLOGGER IS BLOGGED....By the way, it appears that Blogspot has been down since early this morning. If you can't get through to Atrios or any of the other Blogger-based sites, that's why.

UPDATE: Blogger is back. See, all it took was for me to write a post about it being down, and like magic it returns. It's the power of Calpundit!

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THE REAL WORLD....I've read this Paul Krugman essay about Glenn Loury before, but Brad DeLong linked to it last night and it reminded me of how much I liked it. Especially this part:

On one hand, we all believe that individuals deserve to be judged on their own merits, not by who their parents were or what group they belong to. On the other hand, anyone who imagines that a child growing up in the South Bronx has the same chance to make it as an equally talented child growing up in Scarsdale is living in a fantasy world. So merely eliminating current racial discrimination might very well fail to eliminate the effects of past discrimination. Indeed, Loury argued persuasively that even a world of "equal opportunity" might "perpetuate into the indefinite future the consequences of ethically unacceptable historical practices." If you find that prospect unacceptable, you must support some form of social engineering--which ultimately, no matter how you package it, means giving some people special consideration based on the color of their skin as well as on the content of their character.

In a better world, Loury would have spent the last 22 years devising policies working with other well-intentioned people to come as close as possible to squaring this circle, finding ways to eliminate the legacy of past racism with as little intrusion as possible on the colorblind ideal. But he has basically never been able to get off square one because at no point over the past two decades has he been able to find allies who are even willing to accept the reality of the dilemma.

This is typical of the polarization of political debate today: there is seldom any recognition that there can be more than one answer to a question.

Phonics or whole language? More prisons or inner city social programs? Kill the terrorists or work on improving their economies?

For almost any problem serious enought to deserve our attention, there are both short term and long term solutions. In the case of racism, for example, affirmative action is a short term solution that's needed to fix an immediate problem but is entirely rejected by the right. Pursuing answers to "the internal social problems of the black community" (Krugman's paraphrase) is a longer term solution but one that is entirely rejected by the left.

In many cases like this, the best answer is to pursue both courses. A common sense combination of phonics and whole language is the best way to teach kids to read. We need to lock up dangerous criminals and we need to give poor inner city kids more hope for the future. We need to kill terrorists who have us in their gunsights and we need to commit ourselves to helping poor countries reform their economies.

It sounds good on paper, doesn't it? Unfortunately, not only is it frequently difficult, since there are conflicts between the short term and long term options, but it requires people of goodwill on both sides who actually want to solve the problem not just win ideological debating points.

Needless to say, it seldom happens in real life, and we all suffer for it.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ NEWS....Two interesting posts from Juan Cole today. First this:

I see a real and alarming change in tone in the usually optimistic al-Zaman newspaper, whose owner, Saad al-Bazzaz, is a member of Adnan Pachachi's Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement. It leads on Saturday with an article that says that the past two weeks have witnessed a collapse of security in Baghdad of a sort not seen since the fall of the previous regime on April 9, with large numbers of assassination attempts against prominent technocrats, bureaucrats, and businessmen, including quietists who had no association with the Baath. That is, they are not targets of reprisal killings--it is something more random and more sinister than that.

It is in this context that al-Zaman reports the wounding of three worshippers at a Sunni mosque in the Shaab Township section of Baghdad. Someone seems to be trying to provoke Sunni-Shiite violence in Iraq of the sort that routinely occurs in Pakistan. (Radical Sunni groups linked to al-Qaeda are behind it in Pakistan, though it also has local roots).

And this:

Quote of the day, from retired US Marine General Anthony Zinni: "There is no strategy or mechanism for putting the pieces together . . . We're in danger of failing . . . My contemporaries, our feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice . . . I ask you, is it happening again?" I've been told in Washington that if you want to know what the Pentagon brass really thinks, listen to Zinni. On this evidence, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith aren't the most popular men in the Pentagon right about now.

An adversarial relationship between the generals and the civilians in the Pentagon is nothing new, but I have a feeling it's getting very, very acute these days. After all, it must have taken a pretty serious threat of mutiny to get Bush to agree to go back to the UN.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEChA....Except in passing, I've resolutely tried to ignore both the idiotic Bustamante MEChA story and the equally idiotic Schwarzenegger Oui interview story. Today, however, Tim Rutten wrote an LA Times column about MEChA so puerile that I just have to comment. Thanks to Al Gore's invention of the hyperlink, you can read Rutten's column here, but here's an executive summary to make the line of his argument clearer:

  • Like practically all Latino politicians in California, Bustamante belonged to MEChA 30 years ago.

  • MEChA performs many good works and is mainly a "conventional self-help group."

  • However, MEChA's founding doucments written in 1969 are "the sorts of things that occurred to people who'd read too much Carlos Casteneda and then smoked too much weed while staring for too long at the Che Guevera poster on their dorm-room wall."

  • If you mistranslate it, one of their slogans is "For the race everything. For those outside the race nothing."

  • No normal person takes any of this seriously, but "neonativist organizations that maintain frenetic Web sites and dog the steps of elected Latino officials like hungry coyotes have long displayed a virtual obsession with MEChA."

  • Although these kooks should be ignored, Mickey Kaus and Dan Weintraub have now taken up their mantle. Mickey and Dan are Serious Journalists.

  • "Nobody in their right mind" thinks that Bustamante believes any of this stuff.

  • And now for the logical conclusion: therefore, the race-baiting of the neonativists should be taken seriously and Bustamante should be forced to publicly renounce all this stuff that everyone knows he doesn't believe anyway.

Here is Rutten's penultimate paragraph:

On one side are the neonativists who have seized on this to justify their racist suspicions of virtually everyone with a Spanish surname; on the other end of the spectrum are the few Latino loonies who believe this stuff and use it to rationalize their anti-Anglo and, increasingly, anti-Semitic, rants.

In other words, nobody cares about this stuff except for a tiny fraction of loons, and paying attention to it does nothing except validate their importance by letting them set the campaign agenda: namely, to create an entirely artificial racial cast to the governor's race where none existed before. Doesn't that sound like a pretty good reason for normal people to ignore it completely?

POSTSCRIPT: For all you non-Californians reading this, I should point out some tremendous irony here that you might not be aware of. You see, Bustamante really does have some racial baggage in this race, but it's exactly the opposite of the "identity politics" that Rutten decries. Bustamante's real problem is that he's actually not all that popular with Hispanics: his Spanish isn't too good and he's never been quite hardline enough on Hispanic issues. Tim Rutten, of course, knows this perfectly well.

Kevin Drum 11:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ABBAS RESIGNS....Mideast news:

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, increasingly unpopular and worn out by a power struggle with Yasser Arafat, resigned today. Within hours, Israel launched a missile strike against top Hamas leaders, including its founder.

I think that one paragraph pretty well encapsulates half a century of Middle East history. Sad.

Kevin Drum 9:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BIG PICTURE GUY....We already know that Arnold thinks "The public doesn't care about figures." Today, we got to hear what Arnold thinks about details:

Everyone is talking about the details. Details, details, details. Sacramento is filled with warehouses of details. But the thing they are lacking is leadership. The thing that Sacramento is lacking is backbone.

Fair enough. But could we have a teensy little bit of detail? Just enough to convince us that you have some idea of what you'll do once you get to Sacramento. Pretty please?

Kevin Drum 10:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON FOREIGN POLICY....Speaking of foreign affairs, Josh Marshall has a pretty good take on Republican foreign policy these days. I think he's got some good advice, too:

  • Don't lie about obvious stuff like claiming that getting the UN involved in Iraq was the plan all along. It's too easy to check up on.

  • Don't bluster if you can't back it up. It makes you look like an idiot and it makes your country (i.e., my country, dammit) look weak.

The Bushies really need to learn these lessons.

Kevin Drum 7:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRATIC FOREIGN POLICY, PART 2....Following up on my post last night about Democratic foreign policy, I have a thought experiment. If Al Gore had become president, how would he have handled national security after 9/11? In other words, what would a Democratic foreign policy have looked like?

There are, of course, hundreds of small things that have been done in the past two years to improve airline security, bulk up port security, rebuild New York, etc. Most of these routine measures would probably have been handled roughly the same under any president, and it's impossible to say who would have done a better job on these kinds of things.

But in the end it's not the little things that really matter, it's the big things, and here I would credit the Bush administration with four major post-9/11 national security initiatives. So what would Gore have done if he had been in charge?

  • Invasion of Afghanistan. There's no question that Gore would have invaded Afghanistan. There are probably no more than a handful of congressmen of either party who wouldn't have.

  • PATRIOT Act. As much as I hate to say it, the record of the Clinton/Gore administration leads me to believe that Gore would have enacted something pretty similar.

  • Homeland Security Department. This was a Democratic idea in the first place, so Gore certainly would have backed it (although he would have skipped the union busting part).

  • Invasion of Iraq. Gore probably wouldn't have done this.

Other significant foreign policy problems include North Korea and the Mideast road map, but I don't think there's any way of knowing what Gore would have done about these situations. In any case, Bush has been pretty ineffective in both of them, so it's hard to see how Gore's policies would have been any worse than Bush's. (And I'm not even bothering to speculate on areas where Gore might have proposed positive national security initiatives that Bush didn't.)

In the end the only substantial difference between the two is that in 2003, anyway Gore probably would not have invaded Iraq, a country that posed no immediate threat to us and had little connection to terrorism outside the Middle East itself. But unless you're a neocon true believer who genuinely thinks that the invasion of Iraq is the initial domino that's going to bring peace and contentment to the Middle East, it's hard to see how Iraq is a make-or-break issue for judging seriousness on national security.

So is this really what the endless incantations of Democratic fecklessness come down to? That we would have done pretty much everything Bush did except for invading Iraq? And because of that Democrats can't be trusted with national security?

Color me unconvinced.

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LEFT WILL RISE AGAIN....Jack O'Toole is back. Among other things, he says he's been watching John Edwards' ads in South Carolina and thinks that Edwards may surprise a few people.

What with Matt Yglesias being assimilated, Max Sawicky going all serious on us, and Dwight Meredith packing it in, it's good to see both Jack and Ted Barlow rejoining the blogosphere. Welcome back, guys.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Everybody's in the bedroom today. Inkblot is his usual adorable self, airing out his stomach as he snoozes at the foot of the bed. Jasmine, who usually prefers sleeping in the garden, today peaks out from her hidey-hole under the bed, normally a spot that she (and Inkblot) inhabit only when the vacuum cleaner is going.

BONUS CATS (AND DOGS): Bill Sjostrom has an update on Mazal, who is now up to a whopping 10 ounces! Via email, he explains the pictures:

Because the kitten is only ten days old, she would normally need her mother to lick her regularly in order to urinate and defecate. Absent that, the kitten can die from constipation. We had stroked the kitten's bottom as a replacement for the mother, but it was not working well, and the vet was concerned. We finally decided to let Asta start licking her, and the problem was solved almost immediately. So, pretty much, the dog saved the cat.

Let's hear it for Asta!

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DNA EVIDENCE....TalkLeft gives us the latest on the preposterous "unidentified co-ejaculator" theory that desperate prosecutors cling to in order to avoid having to admit that they've put an innocent person in jail. I know that nobody likes copping to an error, but it's hard to believe that people can get so wrapped up in their own theories that they refuse to admit the truth even when it's (figuratively) printed in 100 point type right in front of their faces.

But Jeralyn also has some good news for those of us who take the constitution seriously: if your lawyer shows up at the stationhouse, the cops need to let him in. In Indiana, anyway.

UPDATE: And speaking of the criminal justice system, Mark Kleiman wants the movie rights to this case.

Kevin Drum 9:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HEINLEIN FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE....It appears that a Robert Heinlein scholar has located a complete manuscript of Heinlein's first, unpublished novel:

"For Us, the Living" was written by Heinlein about 1938-9, before he wrote his first sf short, "Lifeline." The novel, "For Us, the Living," was deemed unpublishable, mainly for the racy content. So racy is/was the content that in the 1930s the book could not even have been legally shipped through the US mail! For this reason, after a few publisher rejections, the novel was tabled by Heinlein, but the content was mined for his later stories and novels. A fellow named Nehemiah Scudder even appears in "For Us, the Living." It's important to point out that according to those favored few who have thus far read this long lost Heinlein novel, it did not go unpublished because it was bad--they say it's quite good, though clearly a first novel by the author (it has a two and a half page footnote!). It was unpublished because the mores and culture of the time would not allow it.

I have my doubts that the novel is actually very good, but it will surely be better than his final couple. And of course it has indisputable historic value given Heinlein's place in science fiction history.

It's due to be released November 28.

Kevin Drum 8:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LYING LIARS....Some people, apparently, are simply addicted to lying. There doesn't have to be any reason behind it, and it might not even help their cause. They just can't help themselves.

Consider this peculiar item from Al Kamen's column in the Washington Post today:

We received a very kind request for a correction the other day from American Enterprise Institute scholar John R.Lott Jr., author of the controversial book "More Guns, Less Crime." Lott, Loop Fans might recall, invented a young woman named Mary Rosh -- a former student of his who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 114 pounds -- to defend him against critics of his work. Among other things, she called him "the best professor I ever had."

A Loop item on May 28 accidentally implied that Lott had told our colleague Rich Morin that he used the pseudonym in e-mails. It should have said the pseudonym was used in Internet chat rooms. This is an important distinction for Lott -- and perhaps for Rosh -- so we are delighted to correct the record.

Aside from the fact that this does nothing except make Lott look like an obsessive anal retentive anyway, it's also a baldfaced lie. Lott did use the Mary Rosh pseudonym in emails, including four that he/she sent to me. They're all sitting right here in my Outlook inbox, including his final one on January 22 titled "Sorry," in which he fessed up to his deception.

Why would anyone tell a lie like this that doesn't even do him any good? Is it just habit?

Whatever it is, it's pathetic.

Kevin Drum 8:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATIC FOREIGN POLICY....Just in case my previous post didn't make this point clearly enough, let me put it in neon lights here:

  • Democrats warned all along that we would need the support of the international community and the UN in order to successfully rebuild Iraq. Apparently, the Bush administration now agrees.

  • Democrats warned all along that Iraqi reconstruction would cost far more than we'd recover from Iraqi oil revenues. Apparently, the Bush administration now agrees.

  • Democrats said all along that we should negotiate with North Korea and demonstrate some flexibility in our approach. Apparently, the Bush administration now agrees.

  • Democrats said all along that in order to prevent the re-emergence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in central Asia we needed to pay more attention to Afghanistan and allocate more money to its reconstruction. Apparently, the Bush administration now agrees.

Now, tell me again about how Democrats have no worthwhile foreign policy ideas and can't be trusted with national security?

You know, if you're going to run a Democratic foreign policy anyway, but do it a day late and a dollar short, why not just elect a Democrat to run it in the first place?

Kevin Drum 9:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NORTH KOREA....Some interesting news on the North Korea front. Yesterday we heard from an anonymous Chinese source that China thinks the U.S. ought to back off a bit:

The Chinese official said he believed that the Bush administration would have to consider modifying its demand for a complete and total dismantling of all of North Korea's nuclear programs.

Today, the U.S. indicates that it might be willing to back off a bit:

Showing new flexibility, the United States is prepared to make concessions to North Korea in advance of that country's elimination of nuclear weapons programs, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

North Korea "would not have to do everything" before getting something in return, said the official, who briefed reporters on last week's six-nation meeting in China on the North's nuclear activities.

I'm sticking with my initial prediction on this whole mess: the Bush administration, which really doesn't want this hanging over the election season, will eventually reach an agreement that is virtually indistinguishable from Clinton's 1994 treaty. This will be followed by a colossal blizzard of spin from the conservative punditocracy designed to show that, in fact, it's really very, very different indeed, and it's all thanks to a toughminded man in the White House who actually had this all planned out in advance.

Whatever. But it does make me wonder what went down in Crawford last month. Between this, the UN proposal, and the budget request for Iraq, the Bush administration is showing a surprising amount of post-vacation sensible thinking, which just goes to show that it is possible to pound some sense into these guys. Too bad it takes so damn long, though. After screwing the pooch for the past year, there's no telling if sensible thinking is enough to salvage these situations anymore.

Kevin Drum 8:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FAST DAY....For all those American conservatives who have decided to give Silvio Berlusconi's egregious corruption a pass just because he supported the Iraq war, maybe you'd better take a second look at your guy:

In a newspaper interview published this week, the health minister in Italy's right-of-centre administration, Girolamo Sirchia, announced that he would be doing what he could to reinstate Friday as a day of fasting throughout Italy.

"Apart from being an ancient religious tradition, the weekly fast is a useful health measure," Mr Sirchia told the daily La Stampa. "It has a scientific basis. It helps to purify the system of the effects of an unhealthy diet."

...."In school and works canteens and in the hospitals, we shall take the path of reduced portions and a day of abstinence," Mr Sirchia declared.

A day of fasting in hospitals? Enforced by the government?

Kevin Drum 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BACK TO SCHOOL....I know this isn't a new phenomenon, and I don't really have anything interesting to say about it, but I still thought this Boston Herald story from Sunday about the shrinking number of men on college campuses was interesting:

"There's a lack of diversity of opinions," said BU sophomore Amber Held about her school's overwhelming female majority including the 30 women and one man in her anthropology class last year.

"I'd like to see and hear other perspectives," she said.

But the college outlook nationwide is decidedly female. The U.S. Department of Education reports 128 women for every 100 men at degree-granting institutions. And the feds project the gap will grow into the next decade.

....Exactly why men are disappearing from college campuses is an open question.

Some experts blame the feminist movement for elbowing them out. Others say pop culture sends messages particularly to young men that it's uncool to be in school.

"On college campuses, there are disincentives for boys to be good achievers," said Doug Sears, dean of BU's School of Education. "Men don't know if they are supposed to be high achievers or a kind of great athlete."

Among education experts, Sears said, "the rhetoric is still about how girls are disadvantaged in schools."

And yet, he said, "we're growing an army of underachieving and ordinary guys."

There's one thing that the article doesn't make clear and that I'm not sure how to find out: is the imbalance the result of more women going to college or fewer men? That seems like a crucial distinction.

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COPS AND ID CARDS....From Blue Streak:

Any cops that happen to view this site: answer me a question, please?

What is the point of stopping someone, pedestrian or motorist, asking to see ID, then putting the ID in your pocket and sending the subject on their way?

Fully one-quarter of the clients at my agency who need assistance replacing their Cal ID need it because a uniformed officer asked to see it ... then kept it. That's $6 per ID, and the occasional $12 or $15 if we are able to assist with Driver License replacement (most of the time, we can't - our funding can't really support it). With the money we spend every single day replacing these ID's - imagine how many other people could be assisted if we didn't have to pay for someone else's intimidation tactics.

I don't get it. If they aren't breaking the law & you're not taking them in, why keep their ID?

In comments, Devra says that while she knows some people sell their IDs and may be lying about this, she knows of a number of cases where the IDs really are taken by police officers.

That's a very curious thing, isn't it? She didn't really get a reply on her site, so let's try it here. Do I have any readers who are California police officers or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system and know the answer to this?

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOM McCLINTOCK....Via The Corner, this is what Dan Weintraub had to say about right-wing tax warrior Tom McClintock's performance in yesterday's debate:

Tom McClintocks performance reminded me of the old line that when you tell the truth, you dont have to worry about keeping your stories straight. Whatever you might think of him and his ideas, it cant be said that McClintock trims his sails to match his audience. This is a man who knows what he believes and isnt going to be shaken from it.

You've got to be kidding. McClintock has been involved in California politics for over two decades, he was a state senator during the entire budget fiasco of the past couple of years, and he's running for governor on a platform of fire and brimstone opposition to tax increases of any kind.

In other words, he's an expert, someone who knows the budget and doesn't need an "audit" to tell him which way is up. Despite this, he has consistently refused to give us even a hint of what program cuts he would make to balance the budget. He has just flat out refused.

And this is a guy who doesn't trim his sails? Give me a break. If you want to deserve your reputation for straight talking, you need to have the courage to deliver the bad news along with the good. McClintock won't, and Weintraub should know better than to pretend otherwise.

UPDATE: I see that Virginia Postrel and Brad DeLong are thinking along the same lines.

Kevin Drum 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHEAPER CDs....Universal Music has decided to cut the price of its CDs by about 25% in an attempt to discourage music downloading. Hmmm....

Is this a sign of things to come, or an admission of desperation from a flailing company? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 8:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CUBA....Is the trade embargo on Cuba a good thing? Randy Paul, a liberal who's very knowledgable on Latin American affairs and someone who fully recognizes the loathsomeness of Fidel Castro's regime says it's probably not.

UPDATE: Atrios has more.

Kevin Drum 9:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE COST OF THE WAR....Here's the headline on the Washington Post's home page:

Up to $70B More Sought To Rebuild, Secure Iraq

And here's the headline above the story itself:

Bush to Seek $60 Billion or More for Iraq

So which is it?

The White House has informed congressional leaders that it is preparing a new budget request for between $60 billion and $70 billion to help cover the mounting costs of the reconstruction and military occupation of Iraq, sources on Capitol Hill said last night.

The copy desk at the Post must have been feeling schizophrenic tonight.

I suppose this is good news in one way: combined with yesterday's approach to the UN it indicates that the administration is beginning to realize the true scope of the problem in Iraq. On the other hand, be sure to read the fine print:

Congressional aides said the White House is discussing a variety of breakdowns for the spending. But one proposal would allocate about $55 billion for the Pentagon and $10 billion for reconstruction. Most of the money would be designated for Iraq, and a small part for Afghanistan.

I'm a little unsure of why the Pentagon budget is so high and the reconstruction budget so low, but I guess I'll wait to see more details before I comment any further. One note, though: when you add this to the cost of the war itself plus the postwar costs already incurred, it looks to me like the 12-month cost of Gulf War II is going to net out to about $100 billion. That's 10% of the total amount raised via personal income taxes each year.

I have to wonder how broad support for the war would have been if every household had been asked to pay a 10% income tax surcharge to cover the cost?

Kevin Drum 9:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MAINTAINING GOOD PRESS RELATIONS....Poor Brad DeLong: brain the size of a planet, and he's stuck trying to explain countercyclical fiscal stimulation to innumerate reporters. Try this, Brad:

Deficits are good when you're in a recession, but they're bad if they last forever. George Bush's deficits will last forever, which means they are very, very bad.

See how easy it is?

Kevin Drum 5:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POSTWAR BLUES....A secret report prepared last month for the Pentagon gave the lowest possible grade to two aspects of the Iraq war: postwar planning and searching for WMD. Arthur Silber has the details, accompanied by some fair and balanced commentary.

The lousy postwar planning seems like simple arrogance and incompetence to me they figured they wouldn't need it, so they ignored it but the lackadaisical nature of the WMD search is rather more puzzling. They surely took WMD seriously, so why the negligence? Was it that:

  • They were again incompetent?

  • They believed that WMD would be plentiful and easy to find, thus making extensive planning unnecessary?

  • They knew there was actually no WMD at all, so there was no reason to waste excess planning time on looking for it?

I genuinely don't know which of these is most likely. It's a real mystery.

Kevin Drum 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CULTURE OF SPIN....Following up on the Hutton inquiry post just below, one of the most remarkable things to come out of the inquiry is that apparently everyone including David Kelly thought that the bulk of the "dossier" was pretty good, pretty solid stuff. In other words, telling the plain truth probably would have been sufficient.

So while Alastair Campbell may not have been directly responsible for inserting the doubtful 45-minute claim, there's not much question that the aggressive culture of spin he brought to his job as press secretary was ultimately responsible for the exaggerations in the dossier. They just had to put a few cherries on top, even though they probably didn't have to.

And Tony Blair knows it. Campbell is stepping down from his post, but it's not just Campbell who's leaving, it's the entire culture he brought with him, where the press secretary is responsible for everything that issues forth from the government:

This afternoon's appointments follow this morning overhaul of No 10's media machine, which saw the civil service take back overall control of the government's communications operations following the departure of Tony Blair's all-powerful press chief, Alastair Campbell.

The creation of a new post of permanent secretary with responsibility for "communications across government" is one of the recommendations of the Phillis communications review, that Downing Street today announced it was to implement in full.

As predicted David Hill will become Mr Blair's new communications director, but he will be junior to a civil servant and will not inherit Mr Campbell's powers to direct civil servants.

Billed as a break with "spin", the overhaul follows Friday's announcement of the departure of Mr Campbell, the prime minister's long-serving "spin doctor".

The "Phillis communications review" includes the following observation:

The review group says research and other evidence suggests the way the media have responded to a more proactive government communications strategy has led to a culture of claim and counter claim.

"This adversarial relationship between government and the media has resulted in all information being mistrusted when it is believed to have come from 'political' sources," says its report.

"The public now expects and believes the worst of politicians and government, even where there is strong objective evidence in favour of the government's position."

Exactly. Even though most of the Iraq dossier was a reasonable summary of intelligence agency opinion, the fact that it had been put through the Alastair Campbell wringer gave it less credibility than it would have had otherwise. What's more, David Kelly knew it, and was upset that the credibility of a good report about someone he considered "uniquely evil" had suffered because Campbell just couldn't leave well enough alone.

Alastair Campbell will not be missed.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"OVER-EGG"....Some fine drama today at the Hutton inquiry. For the first time, the inquiry heard evidence via audiolink from a mysterious "Mr. A," who read a couple of email messages that he had sent to David Kelly shortly after the infamous dossier was published last September:

"Mr A" had suggested to his friend and colleague that including claims about Iraq's Al-Qa'qa chemical plant in the dossier was "a pretty stupid mistake".

What's more, the email went on, it was "an example to support our view that you and I should have been more involved in this than the spin merchants of this administration".

Spin merchants? Like, say, Alastair Campbell?

Sadly, Mr. A refused to take the bait, saying only that he and Kelly were making "a general comment from the working level....about perceived interference."

OK, he's not naming names, but it's pretty clear he's talking about someone at No. 10 sexing up the dossier. And he wasn't the only one:

[Brian Jones, a retired branch head of the defence intelligence analysis staff] said they had been particular concerned about the infamous 45-minute claim, which sparked the war of words between Downing Street and the BBC.

....Dr Jones told Lord Hutton that Dr Kelly, who had regular contact with his department and had the security clearance to come and go as he liked, was certainly aware of concerns among staff about the use of intelligence in the dossier.

Dr Jones told the inquiry his department had been concerned about "the tendency ... to, shall we say, over-egg certain assessments, particularly in relation to the production of chemical weapons".

Is "over-egg" the same thing as "sex up"? Methinks this may be yet another of those delightful British expressions that will soon grace headlines worldwide.

There's been other evidence like this already, and when you put it all together the bottom line is pretty clear: several senior intelligence officials did have misgivings about the wording of the dossier, Kelly was well aware of these concerns, the 45-minute claim was one of them, and he passed all of this along to Andrew Gilligan.

It's too bad that Gilligan overplayed his hand, but in the end maybe it's a good thing he did. After all, if it weren't for Alastair Campbell's hysterical reaction to Gilligan's reports the Hutton inquiry never would have been held and we never would have gotten to see all this remarkable evidence about how Tony Blair's team spun the case for war. In death, Dr. David Kelly continues to do a service to his country.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON ARNOLD....I guess I'm not the only one who's given up on Arnold: apparently he's, um, not doing too well in the Taco Bell poll either. He's looking a lot like the loser in an Iraqi election, isn't he?

Actually, it sort of reminds me of student elections at Caltech, where "None of the Above" was always a line on the ballot for all offices. In fact, during my freshman year there, the winner of the vote for student body president barely eked out a victory over both his human opponent and a 37% showing for "No." It's sort of hard to claim a mandate under circumstances like that, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A MODEST REQUEST....A note to all New York based bloggers: Can you please get it to stop raining there? Don't you know we're trying to hold a tennis tournament?

Thanks.

Kevin Drum 10:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ARNOLD UPDATE....Arnold talked about his infamous Oui interview yesterday, and apparently his story has changed yet again. His initial excuse was that he was just a wild and crazy guy back then. Then it morphed into "Interview? What interview?" The latest is that he was just making shit up in order to get headlines.

But hey, who cares about that when we've got substantive issues to talk about, right? Like, say, "special interests":

He also insisted that Davis' and Bustamante's fund-raising from interest groups differed from his own.

"Here's the difference," he said in the Channel 4 interview. "I mean, the other guys are taking money from the Indians and from the unions. And how can you take money from those guys if you sit one day across the table negotiating [with them]?"

Schwarzenegger denied that he would be influenced by contributions from wealthy developers, businessmen and others who have contributed to him.

"No one, no one will influence me about anything," he said. "I want to be influenced only because it's a good idea."

Now it's one thing to just generally say you'll be an independent voice. All politicians say that. But to go out of your way to paint labor unions as "special interests" while implying that corporations aren't is either naive or despicable.

In other Arnold news, I just love his excuse for skipping today's debate:

He also denied he is avoiding debating his opponents although he is skipping a debate today saying his opponents have been trying to use his celebrity to get attention.

"Mention my name, it gives them air time," he said on KFI.

Sure, Arnold, everyone else is running for governor solely to bask in your reflected glory. Sheesh.

(Arnold has agreed to participate in a debate later in the month, of course. But it's a debate where he gets to see the questions first. That should give his scriptwriters plenty of time to come up with some good one-liners.)

You know, I think Gray Davis is a bad enough governor that I was willing to be convinced that Arnold could do a better job of managing the legislature and solving some problems that a Democrat might have a hard time with. But instead of using his celebrity to deliver some much needed straight talk, Arnold's behavior has instead been simply arrogant and cynical. I don't think he's made a single substantive statement in the past four weeks, and apparently he expects to win simply by insisting that he will march into Sacramento and kick some ass. To him, I guess it's just another notch on his career belt.

He had his chance and he blew it. Too bad.

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WORD POWER....Neologism of the day: mumbo-jumbocrat, courtesy of Josh Marshall.

Later in the same post, which is about the wretched job the Bush administration has done in postwar Iraq, he asks:

But the real question is, who gets fired over this mess? And when?

My previous post notwithstanding, hopefully the answer is (a) George W. Bush, and (b) November 2, 2004.

Kevin Drum 9:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS....Via James Joyner comes a very odd assertion about presidential elections. David Broder, writing about a panel discussion at the annual conference of the American Political Science Association, says this:

It remained for David Mayhew, a Yale political scientist and author, to throw cold water on the whole debate. "There is no emerging majority," he said, at least when it comes to electing the president. Despite what happened to Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush, an incumbent president seeking reelection probably starts with a six-point advantage over his challenger. But when no repeat candidate is on the ballot, "the results are essentially like flipping a coin. The result of the previous election gives no clue."

The first part of Mayhew's statement seems reasonable. Since the end of World War II, sitting presidents have run for reelection eight times (Ford doesn't count since he wasn't elected in the first place), and six times they've won. So a 6-point advantage seems reasonable.

But when there's no repeat candidate the results are like flipping a coin? Mayhew apparently bases this on elections going back to Washington, but does anyone believe that 19th century election results are even remotely related to political behavior today? If you look just at post-WWII history instead here's what you get:

  • 1952: Party in power lost.

  • 1960: Party in power lost.

  • 1968: Party in power lost.

  • 1976: Party in power lost.

  • 1988: Power in party won.

  • 2000: Party in power lost.

The results are actually pretty striking: modern Americans don't seem to like keeping a single party in the presidency for more than eight years.

Mayhew seems to think that 2004 will be "a random result," just like 2000, but I think he's missing the boat. The 2000 election, if anything, shows just how strong voting instincts are among Americans: Al Gore was succeeding a popular president, he had a strong economy, and his opponent was inexperienced and considered none too bright. But even at that, all it did was make the election close. After eight years of a Democrat in the White House, Americans wanted a change.

The fates of Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. show that these voting rules are far from infallible, but they are pretty robust. We followed the script in 2000, and I certainly wouldn't be surprised if we did the same in 2004. Doesn't seem random to me.

Kevin Drum 9:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT....Apparently if you own the copyright to something, and someone else is infringing that copyright on their website, you can ask Google to remove the offending site from their search results. Maria Farrell has the details.

This sure seems like something that could get out of hand awfully fast, doesn't it?

UPDATE: More here from CNET.

Kevin Drum 10:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLOG CIVILITY....I've been meaning to say something about my comments section for a while, and a couple of the threads today have convinced me that today is the day.

I don't patrol the comments much, and I don't delete posts. I try to respond now and again, but I don't do it regularly because so many of the threads just get too long too fast. But one thing I'd like, being the idealistic liberal fellow that I am, is a civil discussion that doesn't involve kindergarten levels of invective and personal attacks. More and more, though, that's what the threads are becoming.

There's not really much I can do to force people to be polite other than to ask. So I'm asking. Please try to keep the rants to a minimum, be reasonably civil to conservatives who come here (and vice versa for the conservatives who visit), and avoid all personal attacks. If the trolls piss you off beyond endurance, just ignore them and move on to another post. (Or else head off to one of the many blogs that welcome invective and ad hominem attacks. You know where to find them.)

There are conservative sites where I'm reluctant to bother commenting because there's so little point. No matter what I say, I know I'm just going to get trashed by 30 consecutive commenters, all congratulating themselves on demonstrating what an idiot I am. Unfortunately, the same thing is increasingly happening to conservatives on my blog, and it's hard to see how that adds anything to the general welfare.

So keep it civil, OK?

Kevin Drum 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POSTWAR IRAQ....It seems like every few days for the past month I've heard about yet another administration proposal to "finally" get the UN involved in Iraq. The latest one was announced today, and this time it's apparently being driven by the military:

A senior administration official said that Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently begun lobbying key members of the administration to support a U.N. resolution. The official added that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have become "much more interested in this than before," because they know a new resolution is necessary for them to attract new peacekeeping forces to Iraq.

Yeah, I'll bet they're more interested than before. I wonder why?

I suppose this is good news, since at some point even the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld axis has to listen to the commanders on the ground when they tell them that things aren't going so well. The problem is that it's hard to feel optimistic about the success of this initiative. After the events and bad blood of the past year, there's going to be a ton of resistance to getting the UN involved from several key countries some justified and some just out of pique. It's not easy to see a compromise that will satisfy both the international community's desire for some level of genuine control and the Bush administration's fetish for total control.

And while we're on the subject of postwar Iraq, if you want to know why we were so badly prepared as events unfolded, check out Jason Vest's article in The American Prospect from last week:

As images of the bombed United Nations headquarters in Baghdad appeared on television last week, my thoughts turned to a conversation I had with a very senior national-security official (a political appointee with no military experience, not a career bureaucrat) prior to the invasion of Iraq. He earnestly told me that after Saddam Hussein's fall, Americans would be welcomed in Iraq, and not with a fleeting shower of goodwill but with a "deluge" of "rose water and flowers" that would last in perpetuity. Ahmad Chalabi and American advisers would set up shop to oversee a transition spearheaded by scores of returning Iraqi exiles, who would transform Iraq into a profitable, oil-pumping society. After all, the official said, this wasn't Afghanistan, where there were lots of religious and tribal differences among the local populations. We wouldn't need to stay long, and we certainly wouldn't need the United Nations -- which, as far as this official and his compatriots were concerned, could go screw itself. The United States could handle it all. Within a year, he said, Iraq would be a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing, which explains how the army wrote a report last October that predicted pretty much everything that ended up happening in postwar Iraq, and how the administration's hawks simply scorned and ignored it. Rose water and flowers indeed.

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OPEN SOURCE POLITICS....Kevin Hayden has put together a new group blog, Open Source Politics, which makes its debut today with over a dozen articles on subjects ranging from CEO accountability and teachers' unions to Valerie Plame and Roger and Me.

I can't quite tell whether OSP is the ultimate in group blogs, with over 40 contributors, or if it's really more a Slate-like e-magazine. In any case, there's plenty of good stuff on Day 1, and here's hoping they have a long and happy career as a progressive voice on the web.

Kevin Drum 5:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GILLIGAN/KELLY/BBC UPDATE....I have both a mea culpa and a (probably unoriginal) observation about the Gilligan/Kelly/BBC affair.

First, I've written a couple of posts suggesting that if you look at what Gilligan actually said on BBC radio, it's not nearly as bad as his critics have made it out to be. And while I think most of my specific points are still essentially accurate, I found out today that I haven't been working off a complete transcript. In particular, here's the part I missed:

And what we've been told by one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up that dossier was that, actually the government probably knew that that 45 minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in.

....It didn't - the draft prepared for Mr Blair by the intelligence agencies actually - didn't say very much more than was public knowledge already and Downing Street, our source says, ordered a week before publication, ordered it to be "sexed up", to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be, to be discovered.

....our source says that the dossier, as it was finally published, made the intelligence services unhappy, because, to quote the source, he said, there was basically, that there was, there was, there was unhappiness because it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward - that's a quote from our source - and essentially, the 45 minute point was, was probably the most important thing that was added.

(Italics mine.)

Gilligan's assertion that the government "probably knew that that 45 minute figure was wrong" seems to go much further than anything Kelly told him. Furthermore, saying that the dossier "made the intelligence services unhappy" rather strongly implies that the intelligence chiefs were unhappy, when in fact it was only some members of the intelligence team who were skeptical of the 45-minute claim.

As I said, I don't think this affects any of the specific points I've talked about previously and it certainly doesn't absolve the Blair government of their exaggerations and sloppiness but at a gut level it certainly makes me less sympathetic to Gilligan. Whereas before I criticized him only for "dodgy wording," I now understand that it was rather more than that.

And here's the peculiar part: the reason I never saw this before was because I had been using this transcript of Gilligan's report from the Guardian. But despite the fact that it was billed as a "complete transcript," Gilligan actually spoke twice that morning (May 29) and the Guardian completely left out his first report. I have no idea how they could have done this.

(This wasn't an isolated mistake, either: the Guardian genuinely seems not to have known about this first report. They ran a long article on July 22 explaining the origin of the term "sexed up," saying that "Gilligan never actually uttered the phrase he has become famous for." But he did, and the only reason to write such an article is if you're entirely ignorant of Gilligan's first report.)

And now the observation. It appears that Gilligan used information from a single source that he says he had reason to trust, he tweaked the wording to make it sound a bit more ominous than it was, and in the end it turned out that his specific charges were probably untrue.

But regarding the infamous 45-minute claim, Tony Blair's dossier also used information from a single source that British intelligence says they had reason to trust, they tweaked the wording to make it sound a bit more ominous than it was, and in the end it turned out that their specific charges were untrue.

This leads to a pretty obvious question for both sides: why is it OK for your guy to do this but not the other guy?

Kevin Drum 4:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MALPRACTICE AGAIN....Ah, another study of the malpractice crisis gripping America's insurance companies doctors. This one, done by the General Accounting Office, actually checked up on all the anecdotal stories of malpractice doom to see if they were true, a brilliant technique known to the blogosphere as "fact checking their asses." Let's see what they found out.

First, are doctors leaving their practices or moving out of state because of skyrocketing premiums? Why yes, there were a few! But not many, and it doesn't appear to have actually had any broad effect on service:

In the five states with reported problems, however, we also determined that many of the reported provider actions taken in response to malpractice pressures were not substantiated or did not widely affect access to health care. For example, some reports of physicians relocating to other states, retiring, or closing practices were not accurate or involved relatively few physicians. In these same states, our review of Medicare claims data did not identify any major reductions in the utilization of certain services some physicians reported reducing because they consider the services to be high risk, such as certain orthopedic surgeries and mammograms.

(Italics mine.)

In a table later in the report, they show about 300 claims of physicians moving or retiring due to rising malpractice premiums. It turns out that a considerable number of these claims turned out to be wrong, and in any case that number is for three states with a combined total of about 43,000 doctors. Even if the number were verified, 300 out of 43,000 is not exactly crisis material.

The rest of the report is more of the same. Do doctors practice defensive medicine due to fear of lawsuits? Maybe, but the survey data is unreliable and followup studies indicate that tort reform has at best only a small impact on the practice of defensive medicine. Are premiums higher in states without tort reform? Again, maybe, but the data is pretty uncertain and other factors may be equally important.

In fact, the most remarkable thing about this report was just how little reliable data the GAO was able to find. Malpractice reform has been a hot topic for several decades now, and yet time after time when I read reports on the subject I discover that complete data is nearly impossible to get and there are only a handful of studies available studies that turn out on inspection to be rather limited in scope and doubtful in methodology.

Given the supposedly critical nature of the problem and the broad solutions being proposed, it's inexplicable that Congress hasn't (a) started requiring recordkeeping that would provide researchers with reliable raw data and (b) ponied up some serious cash for a detailed study of malpractice and tort reform. "Serious" in this case probably means only a few million dollars, a pittance compared to the alleged seriousness of the problem.

How is it possible that such a large problem has been on the radar screen for 30 years without once being the subject of a well-funded and genuinely large scale study? It almost makes one think that perhaps the major players in this drama don't really want one.

Now why would that be?

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALPUNDIT GETS RESULTS!....Hey, I write an email to Ted Barlow and a couple of days later he's back to blogging! I wish I could affect the real world that well.

Anyway, Ted has joined the Crooked Timber gang, and his first post there is a long takedown of the absurd MEChA baiting recently invented by desperate right wingers afraid that Cruz Bustamante might win the recall election. Go read it.

I might add that although I never had any dealings with MEChA in college, my high school was about 50% Hispanic and I remember that the MEChA chapter there was absorbed in such subversive activities as holding car washes, running after school programs at the local elementary schools, and raising money for the football team. Pretty tough crowd.

Kevin Drum 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NATURE VS. NURTURE, PART 4,578....Are variations in intelligence primarily due to genes or environment? A new study suggests that the answer is: it depends.

Specifically, it depends on how good your environment is in the first place. If you're middle or upper class, and have a reasonably good environment to begin with, then variations are mostly due to your genes. But if you're at the bottom end of the lower class, your environment is likely to overwhelm genetic differences:

Specifically, the heritability of IQ at the low end of the wealth spectrum was just 0.10 on a scale of zero to one, while it was 0.72 for families of high socioeconomic status. Conversely, the importance of environmental influences on IQ was four times stronger in the poorest families than in the higher status families.

As sensible as this seems, it turns out this is a new result. And it makes sense: at a certain point, improving your surroundings just doesn't make much additional difference, which explains the weak effect of environment for a broad swath of middle class and upper class kids. (And it also ought to be a signal to middle class parents not to worry quite so much about Mozart tapes and preschool assignments.) But a really lousy environment, on the other hand, can make a huge difference. Basically, it's a lot easier to break something than it is to significantly improve it.

If these results hold up always something to be cautious about they are significant both for their scientific value and for the way they address some very important public policy issues. In other words, don't let the Bush administration gut the Head Start program just yet. It might actually be making a difference.

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE LATEST IDIOTIC RECALL GOSSIP....Sorry, but I got distracted by the picture of President Bush and Barney while I was over at Drudge. The story I really meant to link was this one:

ABC NEWS has spiked an interview with a close associate of Arnold Schwarzenegger who went on camera and accused the California gubernatorial candidate of making racist comments back in the 1970s, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

...."If you gave these blacks a country to run, they would run it down the tubes," Schwarzenegger allegedly said.

The interview was taped and set for airing but was spiked, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

Hurrah for the liberal media! They had the sense to spike this nonsense, saving it for the likes of Matt Drudge and the massed ranks of the blogosphere.

I know the recall is a circus and all, but I'm completely worn out by this obviously invented nonsense and after a mere four weeks! In fact, I'd like to propose a new rule for political campaigns, sort of a Geneva Convention of politics: anything that happened more than 20 years ago or before the age of 25 is off limits. That goes double for anything that happened while someone was a university student.

This would hardly put a cap on personal attacks. For example, it wouldn't put Arnold's (alleged) philandering off limits, or W's drunk driving citation, or Clinton's blow jobs. But it would spare us the idiocy of discussing Clinton's Oxford days, W's national guard record, Arnold's bodybuilding exploits, or Cruz Bustamante's MEChA connections.

Despite the blog triumphalism I mentioned yesterday, the fact is that the blogosphere has focused like a laser on precisely the things that don't matter in the recall race: decades-old Oui interviews and silly insinuations that MEChA wants to overthrow the white race in California. Why? Because even more than the mainstream media it so likes to denigrate, the blogosphere focuses on accessible and titillating trivia instead of insisting that the candidates address important issues.

There are two significant initiatives on the ballot in October and a whole slew of genuinely important issues for the candidates to address: workers compensation, balancing the budget, the flimsiness of our tax structure, etc. etc. If California-oriented blogs really wanted to make a difference, they'd be banging on the professional media to spend more time on this stuff, instead of carping at them because they're ignoring whichever piece of trashy innuendo they think has the best chance of derailing their least favored candidate.

I think it's time for the blogosphere to consider the beam in its own eye before we hear any more about the utter uselessness of the traditional media. Barroom gossip on a national basis is hardly the foundation of a coming global media revolution, is it?

UPDATE: I note that Robert Tagorda has some similar thoughts. It's a start.

Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH DROPS HIS DOG....Here is AP's caption for this photo:

President Bush, along with first lady, Laura Bush, and members of the Waco Midway Little League Softball World Series championship team, react as Bush accidentally drops his dog, Barney, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2003, at TSTC Airfield in Waco, Texas. Bush quickly scooped up the dog who was not injured.

I suppose you can all come up with your own captions.

Apologies in advance for the lack of seriousness today. It's a holiday. Normal levels of liberal outrage and keen analytical analysis will return tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 2:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INTERNET QUESTION....As long as I'm blogging anyway, here's a question for any internet gurus in the audience. Last night, for about 15 minutes, I was able to surf the web just fine but my browser wouldn't display graphics. Not a single graphic of any kind, regardless of whether it was a site I had visited before or not. Everything else was fine.

This has now happened to me three or four times, and it never lasts more than a few minutes. Can anyone explain why this happens?

Kevin Drum 1:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DISSING THE PRESIDENT....I was sort of planning to take the day off from blogging, but then, via Eric Zorn's Breaking Views, I ran across the latest concern of the nutball right and just thought I should share it:

Have you noticed the mainstream media has frequently referred to President George W. Bush as "Mr. Bush"? You can hear this language on nearly every television and radio news broadcast which mentions the President.

During Bill Clinton's entire eight years of office, I cannot once remember the press referring to him as "Mr. Clinton." The term "Mr. Bush" is an obvious display of disrespect for the man and the office.

More important, there may be something else at play here. Perhaps the media is questioning the validity of the Bush presidency. The left often claims Bush's election was a fraud perpetrated on the American people. Could the term "Mr. Bush" indicate the press may also harbor these sentiments?....

Eric, an actual reporter with access to actual facts (but, sadly, not actual permalinks), decided to check this out:

I plugged "Mr. Clinton" and "president" into Nexis and got 266 hits in the Chicago Tribune alone from March, 1992 until Clinton left in office in January, 2001. "Mr Bush" and "president" got 91 hits since Jan 1, 2000. The slight edge goes to Clinton in the all-important Misters per Month (MPM) category.

I'm glad we got that straightened out. For the record, I have never referred to our commander in chief as Mr. Bush. I prefer Dubya.

And yes, it's an obvious display of disrespect.

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FOR LABOR DAY....Nathan Newman on unions and human diginity.

Kevin Drum 10:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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