Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

A PECULIAR KIND OF DISAGREEMENT....Armed Liberal disagrees with the post just below this one. Go read his response and then come back.

Here's the funny thing: aside from rhetorical emphasis and some details here and there, it doesn't look to me like we disagree much at all. We both agree we're not in a war of civilizations (although he adds "yet"), we both have some problems with how Bush has handled things, we both think we need to stick it out in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to reduce our dependence on Mideast oil, etc. etc.

I'd argue a few points here and there, but probably nothing really major. So where's the disagreement? What's more, aside from his third point, which is a good idea but would be suicidal for a Democratic candidate to endorse, his platform sounds an awful lot like Wesley Clark's to me.

Via email, AL says it was mostly the tone of the post he disliked I think maybe I used a code word that I wasn't aware of. Frankly, though, the general tone that Michael and Roger and other posters at Winds of Change use regularly is so dismissive and condescending that I'm not really sure what they expect from the rest of us.


Kevin Drum 9:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL HAWKS....Michael Totten, noting that Zell Miller, Roger Simon, and Cara Remal have endorsed President Bush, says this:

Democrats: You had better snap out of denial and get your act together fast. You are in so much trouble and you have no idea.

A DINO senator and two bloggers have endorsed Bush. I'm sure the DNC is quaking in its boots over this, Michael.

Seriously, though, my readers know that I'm moderately hawkish myself certainly more hawkish than most of my commenters, as near as I can tell. But if you want to know why I don't have much time for the Christopher-Hitchens-disaffected-liberal schtick, here's the above mentioned Roger Simon talking about the Democratic candidates for president:

...here's why I think they're dangerousthey're acting like we're still in Vietnam when we're in a real war of civilizations.

Look, guys: if you think we ought to use military force to fight terrorism, I'm with you. But if you think we ought to use that same military force as part of a war of civilizations, count me out. Way, way out. That's not any kind of liberalism I'm familiar with.

And if you want to know why George Bush scares me despite the fact that I wasn't wildly opposed to invading Iraq and very much hope that we can make the reconstruction work it's because I'm afraid he agrees with Roger. He's too smart to say it, but I'm afraid it's there anyway.

And that's a brand of Kool-Aid I'm not drinking. You'll have to find yourselves another sucker for that particular poison.

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....I didn't let the cats outside for a few days because of the smoke and ash from the fires, so they were especially thrilled when I finally let them out yesterday. Jasmine immediately crawled up the wall to the patio cover and spent the morning rolling around and demanding attention from on high whenever I went outside. Earlier in the week, Inkblot amused himself as an indoor cat by jumping in and out of a handy cardboard box before figuring out that it really wasn't quite big enough for a cat of his magnificence.

BONUS CATS: Over at Mona Charen Watch, aside from watching Mona Charen, they're also showing off their cats, Smokey and Tiger. Check 'em out.

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

QUESTIONS FOR THE DEMS....A regular Calpundit reader has been chosen to ask a question at Tuesday's Democratic debate in Boston. Apparently the questions have to be submitted in advance, so he needs one fast and wants our help.

So here's your chance: suggest a question in comments and he promises to choose the best one. No money, just fame and glory.

Here's mine: name one specific policy for postwar Iraq reconstruction that you would change immediately if you became president tomorrow.

(Yes, yes, I know the idea that any of the candidates would actually respond with one specific policy is laughable, but I'm an eternal optimist.)

Kevin Drum 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INFLATION: GOOD OR BAD?....John Quiggin notes, along with Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman, that last quarter's impressive economic growth is unlikely to continue unless employment grows. True enough. But he also has another concern:

A second problem is that it's hard to see how an economy with all levers set to maximum stimulus (near-zero interest rates, large and permanent budget deficits, depreciating currency) can avoid inflation indefinitely.

I don't get it. For the past two years I've been hearing nothing but caterwauling over the fact that the U.S. economy is dangerously close to deflation, which would be a disaster on a whole bunch of different levels. Persistent high inflation is unwelcome, of course, but in the near term wouldn't some inflationary stimulus actually be a good thing?

In other economic news, Brad notes that consumer spending, which drove a lot of last quarter's spectacular growth, was actually down .3% in September, which means that the third quarter was already showing signs of weakness before it even ended. Looks like holiday shopping is going to be even more important than usual this year.

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TESTY TIMES BACK AT THE RANCH....Even his allies are finally getting tired of President Bush's "my way or the highway" approach to both the Iraq war and just about everything else as well:

"I don't think there is any one of us that hasn't been frustrated," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of the most powerful members of Congress, who complained that he had been stood up by a senior administration official the day he was to begin writing the final version of the Iraq funding bill.

"They have treated us like a nuisance and appendage," said Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

....Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's brusque manner leaves some lawmakers feeling disrespected. "He is so disdainful of members of Congress for daring to ask a question," said one Republican senator who asked not to be named. "It is like we are a pesky fly."

And there's this:

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday sent angry letters to top officials in the Bush administration, demanding access to records and witnesses as part of the panel's inquiry into the prewar intelligence on Iraq.

...."By co-signing these letters, [Pat] Roberts has done what he has spent the last two months saying he wouldn't extending this into the White House," said one congressional source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This is hardly the first time in history that there's been tension between Congress and the president, but this kind of stuff is being played out in public more and more these days and there's a real edge to it. I can't help but think that even his admirers are starting to see the side of Bush that people like me and virtually all non-Americans have always seen: a mean-spirited, bullying personality that reacts with defensive fury to the slightest hint of challenge.

(In fact, the Times quote an anonymous White House source as pretty much admitting this: "...the official expressed frustration at Republicans who praise Bush in general for being a blunt and principled leader then protest when he is blunt and uncompromising with them.")

With an election year coming up, I imagine that Republicans will all put their differences aside before long, but even so this has to hurt Bush. You just don't campaign quite as hard for someone who treats you badly as you do for someone who has inspired a lot of personal loyalty. With any luck, Bush will learn this lesson the hard way next November.

Kevin Drum 8:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

YES, THERE ARE MULTIPLE TYPES OF PDF FILES....A couple of weeks ago the Justice Department, after finally acceding to a Freedom of Information request, posted a study on "workforce diversity." However, it was heavily redacted: nearly half of the report was blacked out.

But in yet another example of utter cluelessness about how computers work, the report was posted on the web in PDF format. More specifically, it was posted in a PDF format called Image+Text, so while the viewable image was redacted, the underlying text (which allows you to search the document) was still there, buried in the innards of the file.

Not buried for long, of course. The good folks at the Memory Hole helpfully restored the text, and even highlighted the redacted parts so we can all see what it was that DOJ wanted to hide. Both versions are here for your viewing pleasure.

You know, I sure hope the guys working on terrorism are a little more clueful about computer protocols and file formats than these guys. This is pitiful.

Kevin Drum 9:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR....I got an email earlier today asking if I'd do a Survivor thread if Jonnie Fairplay got the boot tonight. I agreed, but said that I was plumping for Osten to get dumped myself.

Well, thanks to one those famous Survivor twists, we almost got to see both of them shipped home tonight. In the end, though, Jon eked out another few days of life and it was Shawn and Osten who got kicked off the island. I enjoyed seeing Osten get what he so richly deserved, and was amused to see that Jeff was so obviously disgusted with the guy.

Anyway, the obvious topic for discussion is: which two outcasts are going to get voted back into the game? Let's hear it.

(Survivor bashing is welcome too, especially if wittily done. And feel free to work in some 24 commentary too if you like. The whole "Jack is a drug addict" thing seems pretty lame to me, I'm afraid....)

AMUSING SIDENOTE: As I was preparing the links for this post I read Osten's bio for the first time: "He feels he's ready for Survivor because of his mental stability, patience, wisdom, resourcefulness and God's blessing." I don't know how God feels about Osten, but otherwise this has to be one of the all-time champions in the self-delusion sweepstakes, wouldn't you say?

Kevin Drum 9:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRAMING....On Tuesday Digby wrote a post about George Lakoff's view that conservatives are really good at framing issues to favor themselves while liberals are really bad at it. Matt Yglesias linked to Digby's piece and I posted this comment at Matt's site:

Maybe I just don't know enough about Lakoff, but my main problem with him is that he doesn't seem to have much concrete advice. It's all very well to say that we need to do a better job of framing issues -- and I agree -- but then you need to step up to the plate and come up with some good ideas. I'm not sure I've seen him do that.

In response I've gotten half a dozen emails pointing me to this interview with Lakoff and wondering what I thought of it. The thing is, it was that interview that inspired my comment in the first place. Here are a few excerpts:

  • On taxes: "There's actually a whole other way to think about it. Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there's an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers."

  • On the California energy debacle: "The so-called energy crisis in California should have been called Grand Theft. It was theft, it was the result of deregulation by Pete Wilson, and Davis should have said so from the beginning."

  • On gay marriage: "'Marriage' is about sex. When you say 'gay marriage,' it becomes about gay sex, and approving of gay marriage becomes implicitly about approving of gay sex. And while a lot of Americans don't approve of gay sex, that doesn't mean they want to discriminate against gay people. Perfectly rational position. Framed in that way, the issue of gay marriage will get a lot of negative reaction. But what if you make the issue 'freedom to marry,' or even better, 'the right to marry'? That's a whole different story."

I'm not trying to rag on Lakoff, but these ideas sound surprisingly naive for a guy who specializes in this topic. It's not that I disagree with the importance of framing, or with Lakoff's contention that Democrats tend to run campaigns based on a laundry list of programs instead of on general values, it's just that his framing examples don't seem very realistic to me. They just won't work. (Like some other commenters, I'm not a fan of his "strict father/nurturant parent" metaphor either, but that's a different subject entirely.)

Now, from my own work as a marketing guy I'm well aware that this kind of thing is really hard and has a helluva long lead time, so Lakoff is doing everyone a favor just by raising our awareness that we have to think harder about this stuff. Still, after everyone's gotten the message we're still going to need some concrete ideas, and if your notion of a concrete idea is to convince Americans that they should be happy to pay taxes well, it just isn't going to work.

I do agree that Democrats should spend more time developing a core set of values to talk about and then figuring out good ways to frame and promote those values. But the framing needs to be based on a brutally honest examination of what people respond to, not on a fuzzy notion of what liberals wish people responded to.

Humans respond best to fundamental appeals to:

  • Fairness everyone should be treated equally

  • Territoriality it's my property to do with as I please

  • Group identity us vs. them

  • Aversion to being taken advantage of punish the cheaters

  • Family protect the kids at all costs

Republicans appeal to these basic motivations in their stands on (respectively) affirmative action, taxes, national defense, welfare, and inheritance taxes. Regardless of our differing policy positions, and regardless of our appeals to our better natures, Democrats better make sure we also cover our bases on appealing to these basic human desires. If we don't, it's going to be an uphill battle every time.

Kevin Drum 6:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MEMO....I shoulda paid more attention to former Fox News producer Charlie Reina's letter to Romenesko yesterday. In order that you don't make the same mistake, here's the key paragraph:

But the roots of FNC's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo distributed electronically each morning, addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered. To the newsroom personnel responsible for the channel's daytime programming, The Memo is the bible. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it.

If Howell Raines had done something like this at the New York Times, that memo would have been leaked to the outside world every single day and dissected within an inch of its life by the "liberal media" mafia. So how come nobody's ever seen one of Fox's memos before? There must be a few liberal moles toiling anonymously inside Fox News who can smuggle these things to the outside world, right?

Anyway, read Reina's whole letter. And then go read Nick Confessore's comparison of memos at Fox News to memos from the liberal media. Fair and balanced indeed.

UPDATE: Attention liberal moles at Fox News! Send a few of those daily memos my way, OK? My email address is right below my picture....

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....Via Arthur Silber and Mark Kleiman, there have been a couple of small developments in the Valerie Plame investigation recently. First, in what the New York Times describes as an "unusual step," the director of the FBI's Washington office has been removed from the list of officials with access to the case:

The official, Michael A. Mason, one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most senior managers, was taken off the list in an effort to restrict information about the case, the officials said.

Customarily, a senior official like Mr. Mason would have full access to details of the case, which is being investigated mainly by agents from his office, although it is being supervised by F.B.I. headquarters.

....The decision to drop Mr. Mason and other officials from the list was made after Mr. Ashcroft emphasized to subordinates the importance of avoiding leaks in the case, one of the most politically delicate investigations of his tenure.

I've been agnostic on the idea of whether a special prosecutor should be appointed in this case, but this nudges me in the direction of thinking it would be a good idea. Ashcroft simply shouldn't be a part of this case in any way, and he certainly shouldn't be providing direction that affects who's involved in the case and who isn't.

Second, the Village Voice reports that the investigation is widening to include activity after the original leak:

Of particular interest, the two sources said, were contacts between White House officials and the Republican National Committee during the burgeoning scandal. Probers are interested in how the Bush administration and party officials strategized to stymie negative press and to counter public criticism by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV of the leak of his wife's status as a CIA officer.

The administration sources said, however, that they don't think the investigators are probing the efforts to discredit Wilson and Plame as potential criminal conduct but rather as a way of determining who leaked her identity to conservative columnist Robert Novak.

"I guess their thinking is that if you were involved in efforts to damage their reputations or discredit them since the leak, you might have been the one to have leaked the name," said one of the administration officials. "And if you are someone managing the press response . . . you might have also been in contact with the leakeror know who it is."

As always, stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL MEANING OF CHRISTMAS....I note that over at The Corner today their happiness over the good economic news seems to be limited to two things: (1) it will help George Bush get reelected and (2) it will annoy Paul Krugman. Way to keep your eyes on the ball, folks.

Kevin Drum 10:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS....Wow. The economy grew 7.2% last quarter, a blistering pace. And possibly even better news is how it grew:

The major contributors to the increase in real GDP in the third quarter were personal consumption expenditures (PCE), equipment and software, residential fixed investment, and exports. The contributions of these components were partly offset by a negative contribution from private inventory investment.

Consumer demand (including cars), capital equipment, and higher exports are all great fundamentals, unlike last quarter when a big fraction of GDP growth was due to war expenses. The residential investment boom is unsustainable, I think, but even if you discount that the growth number is still terrific.

And although I'm completely unqualified to express an opinion on the subject of productivity and unemployment, I'm going to anyway based strictly on anecdotal evidence from friends in the local high tech industry. As Brad DeLong points out, the Labor Department will shortly announce that total hours worked dropped during the third quarter. If you produce more stuff with fewer people, that means the productivity of the people who are working must have skyrocketed. Is this for real?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's not: companies have been afraid to hire and have been squeezing more and more work out of their white collar employees, which for some reason hasn't shown up properly in the official statistics. Today's growth number might be the thing that finally gets them off the dime and raises confidence enough to start hiring again. The result will be that productivity numbers will come back down to earth, but employment will start rising steadily.

That's a pretty good tradeoff. There are still some things to be nervous about over the long term, but I hope I'm right about the short term. We could use a few more jobs.

Kevin Drum 9:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 29, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

QUICKSILVER....I'm reading Quicksilver right now. I'm only a few hundred pages into it, but as a big Neal Stephenson fan I'm sorry to say that it's rapidly becoming to coin a phrase a long, hard slog.

Someone somewhere described it as less a novel than a "core dump," and that's about right. Stephenson obviously did a ton of historical research for the book, and he seems bound and determined to use every last bit of it which still wouldn't be that bad if it weren't for the fact that at least half of it is completely pointless and advances neither the plot, the characters, the theme, nor anything else. In fact, a discouraging percentage of it just gets in the way.

Stephenson is such a good writer that the book is still pretty readable in patches, but as the pages go by and it gets harder and harder to discern any purpose or ultimate goal to the writing, my concentration is flagging.

And here's what might be the worst part: the first third of the book takes place mostly in Britain in the late 17th century and is a fictional reconstruction of Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, the Royal Society, and the invention of calculus. There is no other period of history or cast of characters that entrances me more, but even at that I'm fading. If this period doesn't have such a special pull for you, the book is likely to be even less rewarding than it is for me.

There is this nice passage, though:

Sitting in the gaudy radiance of those windows hearing the organ play and the choir sing, his mind pleasantly intoxicated from exhaustion, Daniel experienced a faint echo of what it must be like, all the time, to be Isaac Newton: a permanent ongoing epiphany, an endless immersion in lurid radiance, a drowning in light, a ringing of cosmic harmonies in the ears.

That explains what I find so entrancing: the uniquely powerful mind of Isaac Newton and what he did with it. I just wish Stephenson captured more of it.

Kevin Drum 9:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LUSKIN GOES COMPLETELY OFF THE DEEP END....Unbelievable. Pathological Paul Krugman hater Donald Luskin is threatening to sue Atrios because some of his commenters said nasty things about him. Threatening letter from attorney is here. Followup is here and here. Luskin must be taking lessons in macho-sounding bluster from Bill O'Reilly.

Sorry, Atrios, I'd delink him if I could, but you know how that goes. Will moral support do? And if Luskin actually follows through on this childishness, I'll be happy to serve as chief fundraiser for your legal defense fund.

Note to NRO: how about it? Are you ready to get rid of Luskin now? If not, what does it take to convince you that you're providing a soapbox to an unstable lunatic?

Kevin Drum 3:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING, COOLING, NO WARMING....Just a quick update on that global warming chart that supposedly got shot to pieces by a couple of amateurs ("M&M") who discovered errors in the raw data: the original authors say that M&M screwed up their data. Somebody it's not entirely clear who exported the original raw data to Excel but somehow exported 159 columns of data into a 112-column spreadsheet. M&M failed to compare the spreadsheet to the original data and thus produced a "correction" that was riddled with errors.

David Appell has the story here and here.

There may be more to come on this, but so far it looks like the score is Experts 1, Amateurs 0.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IDS IS CONFIDENT!....BUT IDS LOSES ANYWAY....The Tories finally officially revolted yesterday and called for a vote of confidence in their leader, Iain Duncan Smith. So how did today's voting go?

Arriving at the meeting, Mr Duncan Smith told reporters: "Confident? I have never been anything else. It's like a sort of gladiatorial thing, isn't it?"

Mr Duncan Smith himself went to vote at 3.43pm. Emerging from committee room 14, he declared: "I did vote for myself."

The shadow chancellor, Michael Howard, favourite to succeed Mr Duncan Smith if he is ousted, said: "I voted for Iain."

The shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, who followed him out, said: "I voted for IDS, you will be amazed to hear."

The shadow deputy prime minister, David Davis, also said he had voted for the Tory leader.

Wow! It sounds like everyone voted for IDS!

Nope: it was 90-75 against. And that means you won't have to read any more IDS posts from me.

On the other hand, there's now the contest to see who the fourth Conservative leader in eight years will be. The excitement is mounting....

Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A MARCH SURPRISE?....This is a little bit of an open thread. Yesterday Megan McArdle wrote a column in which she said this:

There are actually rumors that the White House is contemplating accelerating our departure, which seems lunatic to even discuss when the country doesn't appear to have a functioning anything.

That sounded odd to me. I'm hardly one to give this administration the benefit of the doubt, but I haven't heard anything from either Bush or his advisors that makes me think they're planning on pulling out of Iraq. So what's up?

Just to make my thoughts crystal clear: it wouldn't surprise me if the Bushies declared victory and started pulling out early next year. Unlike Bush's admirers, I view him as a strongly poll-driven man who undertakes only policies that he thinks are widely popular and risk free. If public support for Iraq goes in the tank, I think he's the kind of person who would indeed cut and run.

But that's just psychoanalysis. I don't have any evidence that they're really thinking along these lines.

But then this morning, almost like magic, I came across this story in The Hill, which makes it sound like Republicans are getting very nervous indeed about the war, and this post by Josh Marshall in which he says that fear of an early withdrawal is widespread among both Democrats and hawkish conservatives. So obviously something is going on, and the idea of an early pullback from Iraq is Topic A among Washington insiders at the moment.

I'm still not sure myself. There are certainly a lot of reasons to suspect that the administration is thinking of withdrawing: declining public support, increasing fatalities, growing fear that we can't win a long-term guerrilla war, and mounting strain on the military, especially around March of next year when troop rotations will reduce our strength in Iraq whether we like it or not.

Is there more to it than that? I haven't seen any evidence either in the form of statements or leaks from administration officials or leaks of secret plans for an early withdrawal. What does everyone in Washington think they know that I don't?

Kevin Drum 9:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"JUST MOW THE WHOLE PLACE DOWN"....Trent Lott on our problems in Iraq:

Honestly, its a little tougher than I thought it was going to be, Lott said. In a sign of frustration, he offered an unorthodox military solution: If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. Youre dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people, and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.

Um, yeah, I guess that's unorthodox.

But at least it takes care of Wesley Clark's complaint that the Republicans don't have a plan. Now they do.

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BEATLES WERE PRETTY GOOD TOO....Tyler Cowen comments on Charles Murray's new book that ranks the 4,000 most important artists and scientists in human history:

The very best parts are the pages that show just how concentrated in space and time European high culture has been. Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands account for an astonishing percent of the total. Throw in Vienna, if you wish.

Aren't we missing a country here? Here's a Q&A with Murray:

Q. Who came out on top of big categories like Western Literature, Western Art, Western Philosophy, and Combined Sciences?

A. Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Aristotle, and Newton -- the people you'd expect.

Hmmm, two Brits are #1 in their categories....

Kevin Drum 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY?....By now everyone and his dog has heard about President Bush's claim that his staff had nothing to do with the "Mission Accomplished" sign aboard the aircraft carrier last May:

The "Mission Accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way.

He deserves every bit of snark he gets for this ridiculous contention, but I still have a question: why?

Bush knows perfectly well that his staff managed every last detail of the carrier speech, and he knows perfectly well that every reporter at the press conference yesterday also knows it. So why engage in such a trivial and obvious lie? He must have realized that the only result would be a barrage of sarcastic stories saying that he was fibbing once again.

So what was the point? Or do you think it's possible that he really doesn't know what his own communications staff does?

Kevin Drum 8:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 28, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PREWAR INTELLIGENCE....Was prewar Iraq an intelligence failure? Or did the White House spin the intelligence data until it was unrecognizable?

Carl Ford, the newly retired head of the State Department's intelligence arm, says it was an intelligence failure:

Contrary to charges by some critics that the Bush administration politicized the intelligence, Ford argued that the intelligence community a collection of agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and Ford's bureau at the State Department cannot blame its failure on pressure from the administration.

For now, I'm sticking with my sense that the answer is "both," but I imagine we're going to be hearing a lot more opinions about this over the next few months. This battle is just heating up.

Kevin Drum 10:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GREAT MOMENTS IN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CONFERENCES....A couple of excerpts from today's show:

Q Mr. President, your policies on the Middle East seem, so far, to have produced pretty meager results as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians --

THE PRESIDENT: Major or meager?

Q Meager.


Q Meager.


And we also got to hear about how Condi Rice was doing in her new role:

THE PRESIDENT: ....her job is also to deal interagency and to help unstick things that may get stuck, is the best way to put it. She's an unsticker. And -- is she listening? Okay, well, she's doing a fine job.

Just thought I'd share.

Kevin Drum 6:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MEMORY HOLE REVISITED....Yesterday I posted about the White House blocking access to parts of their site from search engines like Google. Was it an effort to prevent Google from caching pages that they might later want to change behind our backs?

Probably not. Ryan at the Dead Parrot Society says that 2600 magazine looked into this via the sneaky ruse of actually talking to someone at the White House and received an explanation that seems pretty innocent. I guess there might be more to this, but unless someone with more technical mojo than me can poke a hole in their explanation I'd judge it to be pretty reasonable too. Looks like they're probably off the hook for this one.

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CRIME WATCH....From the department of interesting stories:

In 1934, the Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek was facing a twin threat - from the invading Japanese and from the Communist rebels of Mao Tse-tung. For safekeeping, his supporters sent 125,000 tons of Chinese gold to America and, in a covert deal with the president Franklin D Roosevelt, were given US bonds in return. The sum was so large that it led to the creation of Fort Knox and paved the way for America to abandon the gold standard.

But the bonds never reached China. The B-29 plane carrying them crashed shortly after stopping to refuel at Clark Air Base in the Philippines....

Is this true? Killjoys in the British criminal justice system say no:

[Graham Halksworth] and Slamaj, the man who had ostensibly received the bonds from the Mindanao tribesmen, claimed that Chiang Kai-Shek had given the Americans 125,000 tons of gold in the 1940s. But police inquiries on the London Bullion Market revealed that the cumulative total of all the gold mined in recorded history was only 63,500 tons by 1950. Even more damning, the documents contained zip codes which the US postal service introduced only in 1963 - and a Treasury Seal which was too modern. Furthermore, analysis showed that some of bonds had been produced on an inkjet printer.

That doesn't look good, does it? And who is this Halksworth fellow who was behind this?

He cut a sorry figure when he shambled to answer the door this week. A fat man, with a belt tied tight around his middle as though he were a sack of oats, balding, with a hearing aid behind his ear, wearing an incongruous sports top and slacks, he looked like someone who would not thrive in prison.


Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S TIME FOR LUSKIN TO GO....Donald Luskin, like a too-clever adolescent who can't let go of an idea that he's convinced no one has ever thought of before, decides today to compound his inexcusable charge that Paul Krugman condones anti-semitism:

I'm pinpointing the fact that Krugman wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine in 1998, publicly supporting Mahathir's claims that "Jewish speculators" were responsible for the currency crisis a statement so vile that Krugman has remained entirely silent about it in his recent web posting and in today's Times column.

Here is what Krugman wrote in 1998:

When the occasional accusation of financial conspiracy is heard - when, for example, Malaysia's Prime Minster blames his country's problems on the machinations of Jewish speculators - the reaction of most observers is skepticism, even ridicule.

But even the paranoid have people out to get them. Little by little, over the past few years, the figure of the evil speculator has reemerged. George Soros played a definite role - though probably not a decisive one - in the forced devaluation of Britain's pound sterling in 1992. In 1996, it was revealed that a Sumitomo executive had been rigging the whole world copper market, with considerable initial success....

Krugman then goes on to talk about possible stock market manipulation in Hong Kong.

Luskin hangs his odious allegation on the fact that Krugman thought at the time that currency manipulation was a genuine problem and that one of his examples George Soros is Jewish. That happens to be true, and it also happens to be true that Soros is rather famously linked with the run on the pound in 1992. However, using this celebrated example in no way supports Mahathir's comments about the alleged Jewishness of the speculators in his currency, and there is no way for a reasonable observer to conclude from Krugman's article or any of his others that he supported Mahathir's claims that Jews were responsible for Malaysia's woes.

It's no secret that NRO and I are on different sides of the ideological fence, but even so I have to ask: why do they continue to publish this guy? Hasn't he finally descended to the point where common decency requires them to ship him back to the hole he came from, free to bay at the moon where no one will pay attention to him?

Enough's enough, guys.

UPDATE: Jon Gradowski has more on Luskin's adolescent ravings. And uggabugga has a chart!

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SO SORRY, MR. SULLIVAN....Amy Sullivan's father is no longer allowed to teach history in Michigan schools. Yet another unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind Act.

It just sounds better all the time, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CEO PAY....A picture is worth a thousand words. This graph from the Economist demonstrates brilliantly the central problem with skyrocketing CEO pay: it's not based on performance in any defensible way.

If today's CEOs got paid more because they ran their companies better than CEOs of the 60s and 70s, you might make a case that they deserved the extra loot. But they don't. As the chart shows, during the 80s CEO pay nearly doubled for a given level of corporate profitability, and during the 90s it increased again almost 4x. Overall, a CEO who generates $10 million in net profits today is paid about 7x what a CEO who generated exactly the same amount was paid in 1980.

Why? Because they can. When you cut through all the BS, there's not much more to it than that.

Now: tell me again why those unionized grocery clerks are just a bunch of greedy bastards for thinking that their pay and benefits ought to rise too? Just curious.

Kevin Drum 9:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE JOYS OF BLOGGING....The joys of unedited blogging, that is. First, Mickey Kaus:

How do the risks of blogging compare with other types of speech? How about talking? Even Serious Thinkers talk. Why isn't blogging like talking, except that you are talking to (potentially) the whole world? That isn't so innovative. Talking on television is talking to (potentially) the whole world, without an editor in sight. I've even seen Leon Wieseltier on TV on occasion. Talking on television is actually more dangerous than blogging, because on the Web there's an opportunity to revise in a way that will actually perform a corrective function.

Yep. One of the ways in which I think blogs really are superior to print journalism is that bloggers talk in the first person, just like people do on television. Compare this to writing an op-ed, where even the best writers are forced into an artificial essay-ish sort of tone that just doesn't allow them to get their point across in quite the same way.

(By the way, the television analogy is the best one I've heard for allowing unedited blogging. If a newspaper is willing to allow its reporters to appear on TV with the newspaper's logo prominently displayed in the background, why are they afraid to let them blog unedited? This is a pretty powerful argument.)

Next up is Matt Yglesias, who swings both ways:

Take the whole Easterbrook situation, for example. The offending post did not actually cause me -- or any other Jewish person -- any sort of harm. The fact that he wrote it actually made my day quite a bit better. I think I got a funny post off the item, it lead to some good brief conversations around the office, and all-in-all witnessing the temporary meltdown of the thought-processes of a writer I like was an enjoyable experience. That said, from the P.O.V. of a publisher, it's probably not a good idea to let your writers screw up in public for the greater enjoyment of the audience.

This may not be the most honorable of thoughts, but it's true, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 27, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING....In a weird sort of echo of the Bellesiles/Lott gun disputes, David Appell reports on a couple of amateurs who have audited the raw data that produced this famous chart of historical global warming trends and claim to have found "collation errors, unjustifiable truncation or extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location errors, incorrect calculation of principal components and other quality control defects." When they corrected the errors, they say, the graph looks quite different.

The guys who did the analysis are not climatologists, and David says that the journal they published in is well known for favoring papers that are skeptical of global warming. Still, the authors say their data set and methodology are public and they "welcome" scrutiny.

I don't know how important this graph is to the overall climate debate these days, and in any case the authors may have found some genuine errors or they may turn out to be entirely full of hot air (so to speak). David has some additional background about this on his site and promises to follow up as responses come in from the climate community, so check back at his place periodically if you're interested in the latest updates.

UPDATE: Probably a false alarm. More here.

Kevin Drum 10:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SURGICAL FIRE....Atrios is right: this picture is pretty creepy.

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By: Kevin Drum

CYBERSEX ADDICTION....My friend Professor Marc sent me a clipping today from Monitor on Psychology with the scrawled question "Do these numbers sound high to to you?" in the margin. Here's the paragraph in question:

Overall, about 6 percent of Internet users are compulsive in their online behavior, and about half of those are sexually compulsive, Greenfield said. Men and women engage in cybersex about equally, he added. [No kidding. --ed]

Well, let's break those numbers down:

High? Yeah, that sounds like it might be a teensy bit high. Either that or else cybersex addiction is sneaking up on old standbys like booze and drugs mighty fast.

UPDATE: On a slightly more serious note, I see that these figures were garnered from an online survey done in 1998, which means they are essentially worthless. Why is this guy continuing to present trash like this at an academic conference five years later?

And on a slightly less serious note, here's a test to find out if you have a problem with internet use.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ONE OF THE GREAT PROBLEMS OF OUR TIMES....Thanks to Calblog for pointing out a new product that I've been waiting years for:

[Ira] Goldman invented the Knee Defender, a beeper-sized block of plastic that lets passengers prevent the seat in front of them from reclining.

The gadget, which went on sale about a month ago on the Internet for $10, has sparked heated debate in online chat rooms, and aviation officials worry about the disagreements that will be generated at 30,000 feet.

"Disagreements"? Yeah, this device might cause a few little disagreements.

Personally, I think all airline seats should have a built-in switch that prevents seats from reclining. Of course, I also think that all sports cars should be required by international treaty to have a minimum of 40" of headroom, so I'm not exactly an unbiased observer here.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A NEW USE FOR THE PATRIOT ACT....TalkLeft points to this Newsday column by Sam Dash suggesting that leaking Valerie Plame's name was an act of domestic terrorism that could be prosecuted under the Patriot Act.

That would be a delicious irony, wouldn't it? Sadly, like so many things that are too good to be true, it probably isn't, although using the Patriot Act to prosecute the Plame leakers would certainly be as legitimate as using it against drug dealers....

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROGRESS?....Look, I'm not one who proclaims every attack in Iraq as proof that the administration is incompetent, but what can you make of George Bush's remarks after this weekend's alarmingly sophisticated attacks, first on the hotel Paul Wolfowitz was staying at and then on the Red Cross headquarters and four police stations?

President Bush this morning said the increasing attacks on U.S. personnel and supporters in Iraq are a sign of progress because the attacks indicate Iraqi opponents are getting increasingly desperate.

And just in case you thought Bush was merely speaking carelessly, Scott McClellan repeated the theme:

"We've always said the more progress we make, the more desperate the killers will become," the spokesman said. Asked how it could be determined that the attacks signaled desperation rather than sophistication, McClellan repeated: "The more progress we make toward a free and prosperous Iraq, the more desperate they will become.

If this is "progress," what would count as a setback?

The conventional wisdom from the 1992 election is that Bush I lost not so much because the economy was lousy, but because he was perceived as not being engaged enough to acknowedge that the economy was lousy and then do something about it. Unfair, maybe, but there you go.

Bush II, of course, learned a lesson from this: he's been a beehive of tax-cutting activity from the day he took office. But I wonder if he realizes that there's a general lesson to be learned from his father's failure that applies to more than just the economy? If his reaction to ever increasing attacks in Iraq is that, basically, everything is OK and victory is right around the corner, he runs the risk of seeming just as detached from reality as his father.

The lesson he needs to learn isn't from 1992, it's from 1968. The public didn't turn against the Vietnam War because we lost the Tet Offensive in fact, it was a considerable military victory but because Tet made it obvious that our leaders had been lying about how much progress we were making. Americans may not mind a "long, hard slog," but they do mind a president who seems willfully out of touch with reality.

Bush and his advisors risk the same fate as LBJ unless they publicly acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is serious and then provide some sense that they have a realistic plan for turning things around. I don't doubt that internally they understand this, but their happy talk PR campaign gives no sign of it, and they're going to pay a price if they keep it up.

POSTSCRIPT: Phil Carter has some good analysis of the seriousness and sophistication of these attacks.

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARE THEY GOING TO FIRE PEDRO TOO?....You come within a game of winning the American League pennant and a week later you're fired. Boston is one tough town....

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLUE SLIP BLUES....Bill Frist was on Fox News Sunday yesterday chatting sympathetically with Tony Snow and Brit Hume about the Democratic strategy of filibustering judicial nominees they don't like. It was "unprecedented," Frist said, "inexcusable." Tony Snow piped up that we should go back to the old filibuster rules and make 'em "stay in all night." Brit Hume added sadly that the Democrats seemed to be paying "no discernible political price" for this perfidy.

But what if, in an alternate universe, there had been an actual Democrat on the show to provide the other side of the story? Perhaps the blue slip rule might have been mentioned.

Blue slips? Yes, yes, I know, that's boring. Senate procedures and all that. But it's at the bottom of the Republican hypocrisy that started this whole mess, so it's worth understanding. Here's a handy table that explains the whole thing.

Time Period


What It Means


Two blue slips needed to kill a nominee.

This was the default "Senatorial courtesy" tradition followed by both parties regardless of who was president. If both senators from the judge's home state "blue slipped" a nominee, he was out.


Only one blue slip needed to kill a nominee.

Republicans take control of the Senate and decide that the old rule is archaic. Only one blue slip should be required to block a nominee, thus making it easier for them kill Clinton nominees.


Back to two slips.

With George Bush in the White House, their shiny new rule suddenly no longer seems like such a good idea: why, it makes it easier for Democrats to block George Bush's nominees! Republicans change the rule back to two blue slips and Democrats threaten to filibuster over this transparent piece of hypocrisy.


Democrats reinstate one blue slip rule.

Republicans never really got a chance to enact their power play before Jim Jeffords defected. With Democrats in power, they keep the one blue slip rule.


Two blue slips.

Republicans now control the Senate again and make good on their earlier promise to move to a two-blue-slip rule. Democrats cry foul and threaten to filibuster. They do.

It was the Republicans who decided back in 1995 to unilaterally change the blue slip rule because they wanted to put roadblocks in the way of Bill Clinton's judges. But suddenly, when they had their own president in the White House, they didn't like the roadblock idea so much.

Are there any Republicans who can seriously defend their party's switch from two blue slips to one and then back to two as anything other than a naked and unprincipled power grap? If you want "unprecedented" and "inexcusable," that's where to look.

My guess is that Senate Democrats would be willing to give up filibustering in exchange for settling on the one-blue-slip rule that the Republicans themselves put in place in 1995. Any takers?

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE WHITE HOUSE MEMORY HOLE....Yesterday Atrios reported an odd thing: someone at the White House had modified their website so that items related to Iraq were no longer indexed by search engines such as Google. You could still get to these items by going to the White House site and searching for them there, but you couldn't get to them by searching via Google.

I scratched my head. What's the point of that? And didn't they do some fudging around with their website a couple of months ago too? What's going on?

Today, Jesse Berney puts the pieces together. It does make sense and it is related to their earlier shenanigans: they want to make it harder to get caught if they do something like that again.

The word "Orwellian" gets tossed around too often, but this really fits. These guys are a real piece of work.

UPDATE: Apparently there's an innocent explanation for this. More here.

Kevin Drum 8:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRES....In case anyone's wondering, I'm nowhere near all the fires. The LA Times has a map here, and Irvine is about 40 miles north of Camp Pendleton and 40 miles south of the big fire they call Old fire/Grand Prix.

In fact, the worst that we've seen here is reddish skies and a thin layer of ash covering our patio furniture. Basically, brush fires aren't an issue unless you're near some brush, and here in central Orange Country we cleared away all traces of nature long ago.

Looking out the window I note that the sky is a lot clearer than it was over the weekend. I wish I could say that's good news, but I have a feeling all it really means is that the winds have shifted.

Kevin Drum 8:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON IDS....OK, I know that most American readers don't really care about the travails of Iain Duncan Smith, but it looks like he's going to get the axe this week and I really liked this quote in the Guardian today:

Said one frontbencher: "I'm a supporter of the guy, as loyal as you can get and I've stood back for two years, but everyone now judges that, love him or hate him, the irretrievable deed has to be done. We have to say: 'I'm sorry mate. You're a nice chap but you just don't cut it'."

At least he's polite about it.

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING NORTH KOREA....Does North Korea really want to cut a deal with the U.S.? Frank Gibney, in an LA Times op-ed published today but written a few days ago, says yes:

Most U.S. Korea-watchers believe Kim, despite his bluster, fears his days are numbered. North Korea's repeated overtures for one-on-one talks with the U.S. were thus not just posturing. To these observers, Pyongyang's announced intention to demobilize some troops, Kim's admission of past government-sponsored kidnappings in Japan, even North Korea's confirmation that it has a secret highly enriched uranium program, seemed more like bargaining chips than belligerence.

Today the Times reports that Gibney seems to have been prophetic:

In its first concession after months of hostility, North Korea on Saturday signaled that it would consider President Bush's offer of written security assurances in return for dismantling its nuclear program.

....U.S. allies in the region particularly South Korea believe that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is using the threats out of fear that he could become the target of a preemptive attack such as the one that took place in Iraq this year, and that the United States must offer security guarantees in order for the North Koreans to disarm.

Generally speaking, Americans have a hard time believing that other countries might genuinely be afraid of us. After all, we're the good guys.

But why do we have such a hard time believing it in this case? Not only have we spent the last 50 years staring across the DMZ at North Korea, but since 9/11 we've developed policies deliberately designed to make preemptive action on our part credible, policies designed to make bad actors afraid of us. So why are we so oddly reluctant to believe that a paranoid country like North Korea might be taking us seriously?

We shouldn't be. I suspect that the North Koreans really are afraid of us, and that their combination of bluster and weird semi-concessions are a result of frightened leaders who don't really have a clue about how other countries are likely to react to their actions. It's never wise to take anything the North Koreans say at face value, but Gibney is probably right: they really do want to cut a deal.

One last note: the North Korean statement said they were willing to work on the "principle of simultaneous actions," which is diplo-speak for a situation in which both sides pretend that they aren't giving in before the other guy. It's actually the only feasible way out of this mess, so it's a promising sign.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW BLOG....Unlearned Hand has organized a new group blog called En Banc. It's at the following address:


Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT DID HE KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?....As long as we're on the subject of "closely held" information, it looks like moderate Republican Thomas Kean and his compatriots on the 9/11 commission are finally getting pissed off:

"Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach," Mr. Kean said on Friday....

"I will not stand for it," Mr. Kean said in the interview in his offices here at Drew University, where he has been president since 1990.

....Interviews with several other members of the commission show that Mr. Kean's concerns are widely shared on the panel, and that the concern is bipartisan.

Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the panel who served in the Senate from Washington from 1982 to 2000, said that he was startled by the "indifference" of some executive branch agencies in making material available to the commission.

....Timothy J. Roemer, president of the Center for National Policy in Washington and a former Democratic member of the House from Indiana, said that "our May deadline may, in fact, be jeopardized many of us are frustrated that we're still dealing with questions about document access when we should be sinking our teeth into hearings and to making recommendations for the future."

It's been obvious for a long time that the Bush administration knew more prior to 9/11 than it's let on, but so far they've been successful at stonewalling every request for potentially sensitive material. Here's hoping that Thomas Kean can finally force a showdown.

Kevin Drum 10:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALUMINUM TUBES....It's not as if there's really any doubt about this anymore, but the Washington Post has a pretty definitive story today about the nonexistence of Iraq's nuclear weapons programs:

Although Hussein did not relinquish his nuclear ambitions or technical records, investigators said, it is now clear he had no active program to build a weapon, produce its key materials or obtain the technology he needed for either.

Among the closely held internal judgments of the Iraq Survey Group, overseen by David Kay as special representative of CIA Director George J. Tenet, are that Iraq's nuclear weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign, and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use.

("Closely held" indeed. There's an awful lot information that's being closely held by the Bush administration these days, isn't there?)

What's more important than whether we know now that Saddam had no nuclear program, however, is whether we knew this back in February when Colin Powell was addressing the UN about the infamous aluminum tubes. These were supposedly for use in reconstituting the work of Mahdi Obeidi, chief of the pre-1991 centrifuge program to enrich uranium, a program that we were intimately familar with. Here's what the Post says:

The physics of a centrifuge would not permit a simple substitution of aluminum tubes for the maraging steel and carbon fiber designs used by Obeidi. The tubes in Obeidi's design were also specified at 145mm in diameter; the aluminum tubes measured 81mm.

....Tim McCarthy, an experienced U.N. inspector who returned to Iraq late last month to join Kay's team, said in an interview before departing that the Iraqi rocket program based on 81mm tubes had been known to Western analysts "well before 1996." McCarthy said inspectors gave the tubes "maybe three minutes out of 100 hours" of attention because they did not appear to be important.

[Australian Brig. Gen. Stephen] Meekin said the Nasr 81 rocket "appeared in a public arms show in 1999" at which Iraqi munitions were displayed for sale. Such sales would have been illegal under U.N. Security Council sanctions, but hardly secret. Meekin said trade magazines covered the show.

Trade magazines covered the show. That's some good intel work there, guys.

It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry over stuff like this, but it's worth pointing out that in this case it appears to have been the CIA that was pushing the aluminum tube story, not White House hawks.

So was our poor prewar intelligence mostly due to CIA incompetence or to White House pressure to fit facts to preconceived theories? That's how the intelligence battle is usually portrayed these days, but it's the wrong way to look at it. Why can't it be both?

Kevin Drum 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL MELTDOWN DONE RIGHT....Democrats and Republicans have their ups and downs, but for real political theater you need to go to Britain. Over there, when a party takes a fall, it takes a fall.

During the 80s and early 90s, of course, the Labor Party practically imploded in a display of incompetence and infighting of astonishing proportions. Lately though, as if to prove that nice, normal opposition parties are now completely impossible in British politics, it's the Conservatives that have decided to commit a very long and very public political suicide. You'd think that being reduced to 25% of the seats in Parliament would be enough to focus their minds, but no. Apparently things haven't yet gotten bad enough.

Long story short, IDS (that's the FDR-ish nickname of Iain Duncan Smith, leader of the Conservatives) got the leadership job a couple of years ago because skipping lightly over some of the tedious background no one else really wanted it after a decade of bruising internal warfare. Now, however, the party is in open revolt against him. Or perhaps not-so-open revolt, since everything is happening behind the scenes but with copious leaks to friendly reporters. I especially like this from the BBC:

On Friday Tory whips took the rare step of issuing a statement stressing their "total loyalty" to the leader....Tory chief whip David Maclean said: "I have spoken personally to all the whips and they are unanimous in their support for the leader of the party."

Compared to this from the Times:

The Tory party chief whip is understood to be ready to tell Iain Duncan Smith that he has lost the support of the majority of the parliamentary party and should "fall on his sword."

That's total loyalty for you! According to the Telegraph, if it comes to a vote IDS can count on only 21 out of 166 votes.

On a personal basis, IDS seems to have few friends either. The Economist, which describes the current battle as "vicious even by the standards of Tory politics," has this to say about him:

At a more junior level, stories are rife at Westminster about his habit of leaving his clothes around his office and then barking at his female staff: Get those cleaned. Donors to the party have complained bitterly about his reluctance to show any gratitude. One complained that when he flew the leader to a meeting in his helicopter, Mr Duncan Smith addressed barely a word to him. After his request for a cup of tea fell on deaf ears, by way of protest, he is reported to have sent a cross letter to Central Office with a tea bag attached.

And to top it all off, he's also under investigation on charges that he used party funds to pay his wife for work she didn't do. His defense sounds positively Nixonian.

Anyway, I don't have any point to make except that this is theater of the highest order. Compared to these guys, the Democratic Party is a political juggernaut.

Kevin Drum 10:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPONDYLOLYSIS....Is AP serious? In an article about the presidential candidates and their service records in Vietnam, reporter Nedra Pickler reports that Howard Dean was rejected because of a medical condition:

In an interview with the AP, Dean said he had known since he was in high school that he had an unfused vertebra, a condition called spondylolysis.

Dean tried to spell the condition during the interview, but got it wrong after three tries, even though he is a medical doctor and worked as an internist before entering politics. He laughed over his difficulty and defended himself by saying he is not a bone specialist.

WTF? Someone actually wrote a paragraph criticizing Dean because he can't spell spondylolysis "even though he is a medical doctor"? Am I the only one who thinks someone is trying a little too hard to look tough and feisty?

Kevin Drum 4:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum



I was just checking out your blog and thought this might be something of interest for you...

My company represents a number of leading conservatives like Sean Hannity, Dick Armey, Ann Coulter, Oliver North, Laura Ingraham, and Michael Reagan. We started a web linking program for conservative websites about a month ago. We will send you free autographed books from some of these leading conservatives just for linking to our website at premierespeakers.com.

Um, maybe some other time, guys....

Kevin Drum 3:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOOK SEARCHING....So has everyone heard the news that Amazon has introduced a feature that allows you to do a full-text search of the books they sell? This is incredibly cool. I am now willing to worship the ground that Jeff Bezos walks on and (more important to him, I assume) buy all my books from Amazon in the future.

This is something that I've been pining away for pretty much forever but never thought would happen. I am constantly looking for things in books I own, and just as constantly wishing that I could search them electronically instead of flipping pages endlessly to find the passage I want. This lets me do it, and it's a boon to mankind.

However, at the risk of seeming churlish about this gift from the gods, it turns out there are a couple of hiccups. First, Amazon has available only 120,000 books so far. This sounds like a lot, but when I started experimenting by typing in random titles from my bookshelf, it took me nearly a dozen tries to finally find one that was searchable. When they get up to a million books or so, it will probably be more useful.

Second, it turns out the Author's Guild has some problems with this. I can certainly understand their concern, but I sure hope they find a way to live with this. I suspect that the danger is small for the vast majority of books, and Amazon has taken measures to make it difficult (or impossible) to browse or print out large sections of books. In general, I'm pretty supportive of authors' rights, but I've been concerned for a while that the AG's hardline stance on royalty issues is a real threat to enormously valuable services that the internet makes possible. (Then again, I'm not an author. Opposing viewpoints are welcome!)

In any case, this is all very cool and I hope Amazon is able to expand it.

UPDATE: Cooler and cooler. If you just go to the Book tab and type a phrase within double quotes in the regular search box, you get a list of all the books that contain that phrase. Type in "Kevin Drum," for example, and you'll see that my name is not mentioned once in all those 120,000 books. How sad.

Kevin Drum 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TEST SCORES UP!....STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT STILL SUCKS!....It's time to review our annual school testing results. I'll let you be the judge of how we're doing in California based on the following two quotes from the LA Times story about it:

  • "67% of high schools met the state goals, compared with 30% last year."

  • "Just 33% of 10th-graders and 32% of 11th-graders were deemed proficient in English this year."

Riddle me this: how can 67% of high schools be meeting state goals if only 32% of their students are proficient in English?

The answer appears to be that the state goals emphasize progress: 67% of our high schools improved a bit compared to last year, even if their absolute performance still wasn't very good. The problem is that the LA Times doesn't mention this until the 13th paragraph of its story, which comes after a virtual hailstorm of miscellaneous statistics that have probably long since caused most of its readers to flee to the comics page.

So here's some advice to Duke Helfand and Cara Mia DiMassa. Instead of this lead:

More than two-thirds of high school campuses met test score goals set by the state, twice as many schools as last year, the new statistics showed.

How about this one?

More than two-thirds of high school campuses showed a 5% improvement in their test scores, twice as many as last year, but despite this progress a large majority of students were still deemed nonproficient in English.

See? It's not so hard to tell the whole story in a small number of words.

(Complete test results are here if you want to dig through them to see how your school did.)

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE....Have we been outsmarted by Republicans again?

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are making plans to turn gay marriage into a major issue in next year's elections, with some Christian groups saying that banning same-sex unions is a higher immediate priority for them than restricting abortion.

Party strategists said the issue could be a bonanza for mobilizing conservatives to fund campaigns and turn out to vote, particularly in the South....

I've been promoting gay rights as a good campaign issue for a long time, with the caveat that there was still one issue that could work against Democrats: gay marriage. So naturally that's the issue that's front and center. Sigh.

(As an aside, why are conservatives so damn good at slippery slope arguments? And why can't we get better at them?)

But back to the issue at hand. Although gay marriage is probably not where Democrats want to wage battle, the fact is that it's not necessarily good for Bush either, regardless of what his activist compatriots may think. The question for Democrats, then, is how best to address it.

As I wrote a few months ago, I think it's gong to take some careful framing. At the same time, of course, I'm well aware that careful framing and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee, so after all the careful framing is over we also need a snappy one-liner that makes us look good and makes the Republican activists look like neanderthals.

How about one of those Reaganesque fables about someone who wasn't allowed to visit his longtime gay partner in the hospital because he wasn't "related" and then his partner died before anyone could step in?

That's just to get the ball rolling. One liners, quips, stories, fables, etc., they're all good, so let's start collecting them. And remember, bonus points if they're actually true.

Kevin Drum 11:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUT I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT....Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ruminating over the DoS attacks that haven taken down several blogs over the past week, takes a crack at defining terrorism:

I may not have a precise and bulletproof definition of terrorism in my hip pocket, but I do know this: a disruption that does not require me to get out of my chair isnt terrorism, its an annoyance. Buildings being blown up, people being killed: definitely terrorism. Weblog inaccessible for a few hours, hobbyists cranky about it: not terrorism.

I guess that covers the extremes, now all we have to do is work on the middle ground. I also liked this:

I wish I didn't have the uneasy feeling that there's more to this story, but I get that feeling from most stories like this, these days.

Boy howdy, ain't that the truth? I feel like that about once an hour or so these days.

Kevin Drum 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 24, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CIA PRANKS....I just got around to reading Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker about faulty prewar intelligence. The basic story about how the intelligence was spun by Cheney/Rumsfeld/etc. to validate their preconceived notions is pretty familiar by now, but there was one interesting little nugget that caught my eye.

Remember those forged documents showing that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger? Well, who forged them? Hersh tells us that while no one knows for sure, the scuttlebutt around the CIA is that it was just a prank that went too far:

[A former senior C.I.A. officer] had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, Somebody deliberately let something false get in there. He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney, the former officer said. They said, O.K, were going to put the bite on these guys. My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. Everyone was bragging about itHeres what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.

....They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to goto nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence, my source said. They thought itd be bought at lower levelsa big bluff. The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. It got out of control.

The idea is that CIA analysts were finally fed up with White House hawks glomming onto primary data and then drawing unwarranted conclusions because they were unfamiliar with serious intelligence analysis. The pranksters figured the same thing would happen this time, and when the obvious forgery was exposed it would demonstrate the value of sending intelligence through channels instead of having unfiltered raw data sent directly to the White House. But then things got out of hand when it turned out that everyone was fooled.

Is this true? Who knows. But as Hersh says, just the fact that it's believed is "an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration."

It's quite a fight we have brewing here.

Kevin Drum 6:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ADDING UP THE MONEY....The Madrid donor conference is over. So how much money did we get?

  • Washington Post: "$9 billion in loans and credits and as much as $4 billion in grants for Iraq's reconstruction during the next five years."

  • New York Times: "at least $13 billion over five years."

  • Associated Press: "around $37.5bn (23bn) in aid and loans."

Compare that to the individual numbers I added up by reading these three stories.





$3.5 billion

$1.5 billion


$4.2 billion

World Bank

$3-5 billion

Saudi Arabia

$1.5 billion

European Union

$.8 billion


$.5 billion

United Arab Emirates

$.2 billion


$13-15 billion

$2.3 billion

This is ridiculous. Sure, the numbers are probably in flux right now, but the figures from their own stories don't add up to either $13 billion or $37 billion, and the grant money doesn't come close to $4 billion. Can't they even do simple arithmetic?

In any case, it looks like the conference did slightly better than expected but was still sort of a bust: the money is almost all in loans, with only a few billion in outright grants regardless of whose numbers turn out to be right. And that's even after getting a UN resolution and agreeing that all foreign donations would be under the control of an international agency.

Maybe this will get the ball rolling and there will be more donations later. But considering the lack of success we've had even getting Iraq's external debt forgiven, it's hard to be optimistic. It's looking increasingly like we're on our own here.

UPDATE: The LA Times hasn't weighed in yet, but yesterday they predicted that the conference would stump up $20-30 billion. Sheesh.

And one other thing: this was sort of buried, but there were a couple of warnings in these stories that the aid money promised in Madrid isn't all new. Rather, much of it was simply taken away from foreign aid that would have gone to other countries, some of them worse off than Iraq. When all the details are in, I wonder how much incremental money this whole conference will really turn out to have raised?

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY ROMAN CAT BLOGGING....I'm giving Inkblot and Jasmine the week off. Today's cat blogging is inspired by "The Cats of Rome," a 1993 essay by Pamela Sargent:

Rome is full of narrow streets, some so narrow that you can reach out your arms and touch the walls on either side. You quickly discover why Romans drive such small cars. The street leading to the Pantheon was both narrow and treacherous, with uneven cobblestones that could easily trip or twist the ankles of passers-by. I was creeping along this street when I came to a broad stone staircase between apartment buildings, and looked up to see an old woman carrying three large bowls.

Then I saw the cats. They streamed onto the steps and surrounded the woman before she had even set down the bowls. I later found out from Alberto that this particular old woman had been feeding stray cats for years, and that people in other parts of the city often set out food for the animals. There were a lot of stray cats in Rome. Presumably there were plenty of domestic cats, too, but I hadn't seen any of those yet. Given the habits of Rome's drivers, I guessed that anyone owning a cat would ensure a long life for his pet only by keeping the cat inside at all times.

Rome is indeed a cat-centric city, which is one of the reasons I like visiting there. And we all know what happens when you combine a camera, some cats, and me, don't we?

The top left picture was taken in the Protestant Cemetery, final resting place of John Keats. It's a beautiful, relaxing place, swarming with cats. This one was grooming himself on a sunny gravestone whose owner no longer minds the intrusion.

The next three were taken at the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary in central Rome. Cats roam around the ruins, and at the far end is the actual shelter itself, which cares for over 1000 cats and adopts out about 300 of them each year.

The last picture needs no introduction: it's a young cat sitting outside the Colosseum looking for entertainment. A moment after this picture was taken, he apparently found it and scampered up the tree to get a better look.

A full report of my trip to Rome is on my old blog.

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INTELLIGENCE BASHING....Now that the war is over and we've all calmed down a bit, it looks like everyone wants to get in on the intelligence-bashing act. Here's the lastest from the Senate:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is preparing a blistering report on prewar intelligence on Iraq that is critical of CIA Director George J. Tenet and other intelligence officials for overstating the weapons and terrorism case against Saddam Hussein, according to congressional officials.

The committee staff was surprised by the amount of circumstantial evidence and single-source or disputed information used to write key intelligence documents -- in particular the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate -- summarizing Iraq's capabilities and intentions, according to Republican and Democratic sources.

I don't have a problem with this as far as it goes. It's entirely possible that the CIA did a lousy job of assessing the situation in Iraq.

But at the same time it's almost beyond belief that Republicans, faced with a mountain of evidence they can no longer ignore, are trying to dig their way out of it by pretending that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were just innocent dupes of a CIA gone wrong. "The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," says Pat Roberts, chairman of the committee.

Is he serious? Do these guys really have the chutzpah to try and claim that Bush was genuinely unsure about Iraq and only decided on war after an agonizing session in which George Tenet convinced him he had to do it? There isn't a single soul in all of Washington DC who believes that.

On another note, I wonder how long Tenet can hold out? The pressure on him has been increasing steadily, and it seems pretty obvious that the White House continues to back him because they're afraid of what he might say if the pressure finally gets too intense. After all, if he gets bashed hard enough he might eventually cave in and tell the truth and that wouldn't a pretty sight, would it?

Kevin Drum 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 23, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION UM, HOLD ON A SECOND....Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday on a visit to Sacramento:

"Action, action, action, action that's what people have voted me into this office for," Schwarzenegger told reporters as he began a late-afternoon meeting with the top two party leaders from both houses of the Legislature. "They wanted to have a governor that is filled with action, that performs and that represents the people, and that's what I'm here to do."

Arnold Schwarzenegger today:

On his second day of meetings with state officials, the incoming governor emerged sobered from a 35-minute morning tutorial with state Treasurer Phil Angelides....

"The problem was created over the last five years, and so you can't expect that -- even though I've played very, very heroic characters in the movies, but you can't expect me to walk into his office and all of a sudden come out with the answers," said the governor-elect, whose usual ebullience was dampened after the meeting. "It will take a while to resolve those problems. They are very difficult problems, and we are really in a disastrous situation financially."

So much for action, action, action, and that was after a single 35-minute meeting. I wonder how he's going to feel after a whole week?

Kevin Drum 10:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RSS FEED....I've put a link for my RSS feed over on my blogroll. At least, I think it's my RSS feed. Hopefully somebody smarter than me can take a look at it and tell me if it's right.

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....God is pissed at Mel Gibson. Just thought you'd all like to know.

Kevin Drum 6:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CD VS. RADIO....Matt Yglesias informs the New York Review of Books about the difference between Eminem lyrics on the CD and Eminem lyrics on the radio. I'll confess I didn't realize how much his stuff got bowdlerized for the airwaves.

Anyway, doesn't caving in to the radio gods like this hurt his street cred? Or is it already shredded because he makes Wal-Mart versions of his CDs and shills for Coca Cola on TV?

It's hard to keep up with this stuff.

Kevin Drum 4:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOCIAL INSECURITY, PART 2....Every once in a while I feel like writing a post titled "Myths of Social Security." Unfortunately, it would be about 10,000 words long, it would be really boring, and no one would read it anyway.

But sometimes I just can't help myself. Last week Megan McArdle wrote a column about Social Security that basically said it was underfunded and we ought to do something about it. No argument there. I don't have much patience for lengthy arguments about the "solvency" of the trust fund, but I certainly agree that over the long term Social Security needs to be properly funded.

On Tuesday, however, Megan followed up with a column that rehashes possibly the most tiresome conservative trope about Social Security ever invented: it's a Ponzi scheme. Unless we have a continuing influx of youngsters to fund all the old people, the system is doomed.

Megan quite correctly says that the basic problem with Social Security is that as the baby boomers retire they will suck up a larger and larger portion of our national wealth, but then mysteriously suggests that this trend will continue forever until finally Social Security falls "off the cliff into insolvency."

But here's the truth. The graph on the right is straight from the 2003 report of the Social Security trustees and it shows how much Social Security is projected to cost for the next 75 years. The answer is simple: today Social Security allocates about 4% of the total output of the country to retirees, this increases to about 7% over the next 30 years, and then it flattens out.

4% of GDP is not a huge sum, and neither is 7%. As a country, we could afford to spend 7% of GDP on our retirees today if we needed to, and in 30 years we'll be able to afford it even more easily. And if you prefer to think of it in terms of taxes, it means nothing more than gradually increasing the income cap on Social Security taxes from today's $80,000 to about $300,000 by 2035 (adjusted for inflation, of course). It's just not that big a deal.

I'm genuinely mystified by the legions of people who insist on perpetuating the myth of Social Security disaster. What's the point? They can read graphs as well as I can, and they must know perfectly well that long term funding of Social Security is not that difficult a problem. So why the apocalyptic rhetoric?

Apparently it's to scare everyone into thinking that we should scrap the whole idea of Social Security and move to private accounts. Megan makes a brave effort to wave her hands and claim that somehow it's OK to allocate 7% of GDP to retirees as long as it comes from mandatory investments in private accounts instead of from federal taxes, but this is nonsense. We can either afford to divert that much of our output to nonworking retirees or we can't. It doesn't really matter where it comes from.

(And her claim that mandatory accounts increase national savings is purest moonshine. Trading a $200 billion deficit for an extra $200 billion invested in the stock market does us no good at all. If it did, then we could have a real Ponzi scheme in which the feds crank up the printing presses and give us all a bunch of money to invest. By and by, we'd all be rich!)

Bottom line: starting around 2010 or so we need to begin raising the income cap on Social Security taxes. In addition, we may want to raise retirement ages and cut back modestly on benefits in other ways. But we don't need to do anything dramatic, and private accounts are mostly a matter of taste, not something that's likely to change this dynamic in any serious way. After all, once the system got cranked up you'd have workers putting money into private accounts and retirees all withdrawing from private accounts. Net investment: about zero.

The chart above is as simple and clear as it can be. Social Security funding is not that big a problem, expenditures flatten out rather than going off a cliff, and the entire system can be maintained with modest benefit cuts and a gradual increase in the income cap. The folks who pretend otherwise are just trying to scare you.

NOTE: Medicare is a different issue entirely, and a discussion for another day.

Kevin Drum 3:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOBBY-HORSE....Our ancestors had much more imaginative uses of the word "hobby-horse" than we do. Reading through some old documents, I find the usage "hobby-horsery" (a room in which one practices one's hobbies) and "hobby-horsicality" (the indulgence of one's hobby-horses).

These are good words, and I shall be on the lookout for excuses to use them in the future.

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MUSLIMS AND MORMONS: COMPARE AND CONTRAST....Since I can't play tennis anymore I've been trying to walk a few miles every day. My biggest problem with walking is that it's boring, so for my birthday Marian bought me a little radio that I could take with me and listen to the news or something. Today I used it for the first time and decided to listen to Rush Limbaugh.

Rush is in rehab, of course, so Tony Snow was sitting in and he took a call from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The guy is going on about the madrassas that Rumsfeld mentioned in his memo the other day, and says the real problem is, are we killing these folks faster than the schools can make them?

Hmmm, says Tony Snow.

Yeah, says the caller. Basically, Rumsfeld is a pussy, and what we ought to be doing is bombing the madrassas, not bribing them or working with them.

Hmmm, says Tony Snow.

It's like the Mormons back in 1840, says Grand Rapids. They refused to accept the American way of life, they each wanted like 25 wives or something, so we took care of them.

Um, well, says Tony Snow, but bombing schools is really not the American way, is it? We, um, need to break for a commercial.

Charming choice of topics by Rush's screeners, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STUDENTS FOR BUSH....Tom Bevan has an interesting post about support for President Bush among college students. Bottom line: it's pretty high.

Normally I'd have something to say about this, but my brain isn't working right now, so I don't. Maybe some college students will comment on this.

Besides, I need to walk up to the drugstore and get some of those zinc lozenges. I've been meaning to try them for years, but (assuming they work at all) they only work if you take them right away and I always forget about them until I've had a cold for a few days. This one is only a few hours old, so it's perfect timing.

(So why haven't I ever bought some and just kept them at home so they're at the ready for my next cold? I dunno. I guess that would have been a pretty good idea. It just goes to show one of the failings of the just-in-time inventory system that I use to run my life.)

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NON-INTERNET VIRUSES....I've been working at home for over a year now, and a few weeks ago it occurred to me that I hadn't gotten a single cold during that time. Virus-wise, my health has been perfect.

Yesterday I got back from my first business trip since September of last year, and this morning I woke up with a cold. Blah.

Yet another good argument for being a hermit (With a fast internet connection, of course.)

POSTSCRIPT: I didn't have a chance to try out any of the famous Cincinnati chili. Maybe next time.

Kevin Drum 8:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 20, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ON THE ROAD AGAIN....I'm off to Cincinnati. I'll be back Wednesday night.

I'm not taking a laptop with me, so I don't know if I'll do any blogging on the road. It probably depends on whether the hotel I'm staying at has a business center or a Kinko's nearby.

Kevin Drum 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SKIPPING IOWA....Just a quick note on this New York Times story saying that Lieberman and Clark are planning to skip Iowa: I think it's a smart move, particularly for Clark. The retail politics required to do well in Iowa requires a ton of planning, and he's just too late to get in the game. The money and energy spent there can be put to much better use elsewhere.

There's also a broader level at which I think this is a good idea. The Iowa caucuses have gained more and more importance over the last couple of decades, to the point where I think their influence is now ludicrously outsized. It's just one long pander to ethanol and farm state interests, and I think Democratic candidates often end up taking positions in a desperate effort to look good in Iowa that end up hurting them later on. It's past time for Iowa to go back to being a nice kickoff, but not the center of attention for six months of campaigning.

(Of course, that might just be the bitter voice of a lifelong Californian who has never once voted in a primary that made a whit of difference. Maybe we should skip the fixed primary calendar entirely and rotate them so that everyone gets a chance to be first once in a while. Yeah, that's the ticket!)

Kevin Drum 11:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW ARE WE DOING IN IRAQ?....PART 2....I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but yesterday I argued that if you want to know how things are going in Iraq you should try to figure out what the administration itself thinks. To do that, you need to take a look at the administration's own actions, and I think those actions indicate that they're pretty worried.

This article in the New York Times today reminded me of that:

Under pressure from potential donors, the Bush administration will allow a new agency to determine how to spend billions of dollars in reconstruction assistance for Iraq, administration and international aid officials say.

...."We had to act because the international community was stonewalling us on aid," said an administration official. According to the official, Mr. Bremer said, "'I need the money so bad we have to move off our principled opposition to the international community being in charge.'"

Bremer already knows he's going to get $20 billion from Congress, and the fact that he's so desperate for even more money that he literally doesn't care who controls it is telling. Just think of it as one more data point in watching what they do, not what they say.

UPDATE: Again, note that I'm not criticizing the Bush administration for changing gears here. That's admirable, actually. But admirable or not, I think they must be feeling a real sense of emergency to be willing to give up control over donor money. In this case, actions speak louder than words.

Kevin Drum 9:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LEFT BEHIND....Yesterday the Slacktivist reviewed pages 1-3 of Left Behind:

Note that Tim LaHaye's wife is something of a professional misogynist. She runs the 500,000-member "Concerned Women for America" -- jokingly referred to by its critics as "Ladies Against Women." For years, while Beverly LaHaye's husband pastored a church in San Diego, Mrs. L. spent most of her time 3,000 miles away, in Washington, D.C., running a large organization committed to, among other things, telling women they should stay at home and sacrifice their careers for their husbands. She is not an ironic woman and doesn't seem to find any of this inconsistent. (Nor, as I found out firsthand, does she appreciate jokes about the Freudian implications of the view from her L'Enfante Plaza office window. Sometimes the Washington Monument is just a cigar.)

Yeah, I know, that excerpt has nothing to do with the book. So sue me.

Anyway, today he reviews page 4-5. At this rate, this is going to be the longest book review in history. And he's still got something like 9 or 10 volumes to go, right?

I'm betting he doesn't make it past page 20.

Kevin Drum 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE PLAME AFFAIR: HOW MUCH DAMAGE?....Time magazine keeps us up to date on the potential damage from the exposure of Valerie Plame:

Officials with two foreign governments told Time that their spy catchers are quietly checking on whether Plame had worked on their soil and, if so, what she had done there. Which means if one theme of the Administration leak scandal concerns political vengeance did the White House reveal Plame's identity in order to punish Wilson for his public criticism of the case for war with Iraq? another theme is about damage. What has been lost, and who has been compromised because of the leak of one spy's name? And who, if anyone, will pay for that disclosure?

And how secret was Plame's CIA role? Apparently she was an undercover NOC (non-official cover), but not a deep undercover NOC:

Fred Rustmann, a former CIA official who put in 24 years as a spymaster and was Plame's boss for a few years, says Plame worked under official cover in Europe in the early 1990s say, as a U.S. embassy attache before switching to nonofficial cover a few years later. Mostly Plame posed as a business analyst or a student in what Rustmann describes as a "nice European city." Plame was never a so-called deep-cover NOC, he said, meaning the agency did not create a complex cover story about her education, background, job, personal life and even hobbies and habits that would stand up to intense scrutiny by foreign governments.

....Though Plame's cover is now blown, it probably began to unravel years ago when Wilson first asked her out. Rustmann describes Plame as an "exceptional officer" but says her ability to remain under cover was jeopardized by her marriage in 1998 to the higher-profile American diplomat.

It's hard to know where the truth lies. If her cover began to unravel years ago, why are foreign governments only now checking to see if Plame ever visited them? As usual, stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UNIONS AND THE ECONOMY....Via Jeanne d'Arc, here's a pretty good article in the San Diego Union-Tribune about what the grocery strike really symbolizes:

"In the last 20 years, there has been a polarization of jobs into low wage and high wage jobs," said [Ruth] Milkman. "In Southern California it has been extreme. This is an attack on the remaining middle."

...."This is a strike about whether supermarket workers will be part of the middle class or the working poor," said Harley Shaiken, a University of California Berkeley professor who specializes in labor issues.

It's a short article, but it does a good job of explaining what's really going on with the American economy. If you want to know why this kind of stuff bothers me so much, read the article and then use your imagination to project current trends for another 20 or 30 years. If "Latin America" is what comes to mind, then you understand.

Free market economies depend on competition, which in turn depends on the ability of parties to bargain freely. But while all bargains have a stronger party and a weaker one, genuine bargaining requires that the strength of both sides is in most cases and most of the time at least roughly similar.

However, if corporations or entire industries are routinely allowed to bargain on behalf of a large number of owners and shareholders while workers are allowed to represent only themselves, no honest bargain is possible. Individual workers have no leverage in such a situation, and wages are inexorably pushed to subsistence levels.

Maximizing economic growth and minimizing subsistence labor should be the twin goals of any rich, modern society. That's why unions are important, both to the workers who belong to them and to the health of society as a whole: they keep workers out of poverty and, as we saw during the middle part of the 20th century, are perfectly compatible with strong economic growth.

Unionized workers won't always make fair demands, and they won't always get what they want. You take the good with the bad. But at least they have a fair chance to bargain, and that's all we owe them. The end result genuine free market capitalism with all parties bargaining from a position of strength is better for them, and better for all of us.

Kevin Drum 9:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW BLOG....Longtime conservative commenter Sebastian Holsclaw, who has shown great fortitude in continuing to argue civilly with the Calpundit legions who insist (correctly!) that his views are misguided, now has his own blog:


Go pay him a visit.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY!....At 8:03 pm tonight I'll turn 45. Happy birthday to me!

As an extra special birthday present, tomorrow I get to fly to Cincinnati to visit a customer site. And just to add a little extra excitement to the trip, I'm going to be advising them about some software that I've never used before and know nothing about! Doesn't that make you wish that I were advising your company?

Anyway, that's why God invented long airplane trips, so that people like me can pretend to study up for consulting engagements. Now all I have to do is figure out what there is to do in Cincinnati on a weekday evening....

POSTSCRIPT: Trivia question for longtime readers: what was the very first song I heard after I was born? The shocking answer is here.

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HOW ARE WE DOING IN IRAQ?....I've been wanting to write a post for a while about how things are going in Iraq. The problem is....I don't really know how things are going in Iraq. But even so, I think it's useful to look at this question from two different angles.

The most common angle is to look at the facts on the ground in Iraq, but that doesn't get you very far. The media generally reports that although some progress is being made, things are still pretty bad: people are getting killed, tensions are high, and troop morale is low.

Scoffers suggest that this is just media bias. Why, touring musicians and federal judges, having spent short times there under heavy guard, have returned to tell us that things aren't so bad! Iraqis are definitely better off than they were under Saddam.

This gets us nowhere. Media bias is generally the last refuge of a scoundrel who has no evidence of his own, but the fact is that I've never been to Iraq, the critics have never been to Iraq, and none of us would be qualified to assess the situation even if we did go there. So it's impossible to judge if the press is doing a good job.

Instead let's look at it from a different angle. Presumably the Bush administration does have some idea of how things are going in Iraq, so how have they reacted to events?

  • Before the war they expected to draw down troop levels to around 30,000 by now. This hasn't happened, so obviously events on the ground have turned out to be a lot worse than they originally expected.

  • In fact, as I mentioned last month, we've seen the following actions recently: (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, and (d) extending the tours of reservists. Now apparently leaves are being shortened. These are risky moves, and the Army wouldn't be making them unless the reality on the ground continued to be grim.

  • The White House has shuffled responsibility for Iraqi reconstruction three times, first to Jay Garner, then to Jerry Bremer, and finally giving Condoleezza Rice a bigger role, the last move provoking a furious response from Donald Rumsfeld, who apparently learned about it via memo and media reports.

  • Last month Bush shocked everyone by requesting an additional $87 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. He wouldn't have requested a sum this large if he could have gotten by with less.

  • Finally, there's the UN. Regardless of what his apologists say now, it's pretty obvious that Bush didn't want to fight for another UN resolution. He wouldn't have done this unless he'd been convinced that he had no other choice.

This is not a knock on the Bush administration. The fact that they're willing to change track when events call for it is fine. Nevertheless, their reaction doesn't strike me as the reaction of an administration that thinks things are going according to plan.

Bottom line: I'm still not sure how things are going in Iraq, but based on the evidence I lean pretty negative. The fact that progress is being made is encouraging, but hardly conclusive. With 130,000 troops in the country and billions of dollars being spent, of course some progress is being made.

But the Sunni triangle still seems to be a war zone, ambushes are taking place at an alarming rate, oil production is not ramping up very quickly, NGOs (and the UN) have pulled out because conditions are so unsafe, unemployment is over 50%, and Saddam is still loose. Compared to this, it's hard to take seriously the evidence of a few miscellaneous visitors who proclaim that everything looks safe to them while refusing to go anywhere without a heavy armed guard.

When you combine these facts on the ground with the fact that the administration isn't acting like things are going well, it's hard to be very optimistic. I'm not well informed enough to draw any firm conclusions I have a feeling that no one is but color me skeptical that Iraq is on its way to being a success story. The evidence seems to point in the other direction.

Kevin Drum 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPERMARKETS AND THE FUTURE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS....This whole grocery store strike had me kind of depressed last night. Why, I wondered, do liberals seem so lukewarm toward supporting working class unions these days? Why do so many of them seem unsympathetic to the fact that yet another industry is trying to cut wages and reduce health benefits for their middle class workers?

But I felt better when I read this today:

A spot check of major markets revealed near-empty aisles and parking lots. Meanwhile, UFCW members rallied with other union members and supporters around Southern California.

"It's a tremendous morale booster," Ellen Anreder, a UFCW spokeswoman, said from a rally attended by hundreds in La Habra. "And what's really interesting is that this is happening all over Southern California. I can't get to the rallies quickly enough."

....A Vons in Montebello seemed practically deserted Saturday morning, with fewer than a half-dozen customers and workers. One check stand was open. A large portion of the deli section was empty, and the produce department had several empty bins.

Kevin Murphy, who describes himself as libertarian-right, says he nonetheless thinks "the union is dead right on this one," and examines management's offer here. In short, it sucks.

But read the comments to his post too. One commenter basically says unskilled labor doesn't deserve to make much money, and they're just being greedy. Another says that she has to pay for health coverage, so why shouldn't they?

I can hardly express how destructive I think these attitudes are. The American dream was built on the back of a decently paid middle class, and that middle class largely worked in unionized manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are declining, and today's working class high school graduates are far more likely to work for Safeway than they are to work for General Motors. So if we decide that these kinds of jobs don't deserve more than $20-30,000 a year, we can just wave goodbye to the American middle class.

Safeway got itself into this mess through bad management and ill-advised acquisitions, but instead of firing their CEO they've decided to take it out on their workers instead. Don't let it work.

Don't cross the picket line.

UPDATE: As Atrios correctly notes, it's worth pointing out that only Vons is being struck. In a show of management solidarity, Albertsons and Ralphs responded by locking out union workers.

Since these three chains control most of the Southern California grocery market, this has the effect of making the strike far more inconvenient for shoppers and thus makes the union look far more militant than it really is. It also makes the strike much more expensive for the union to maintain.

Don't fall for it. If they can show solidarity, so can we. Don't cross the picket line.

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANGRY MODERATES....One of the things that mainstream pundits have missed in the great "Why Do Democrats Hate Bush?" debate is the nature of so many of the Democrats who hate Bush: they're moderates.

Angry liberal writers Paul Krugman and Al Franken? Much closer to Bill Clinton and the DLC than to the left wing of the party. Angry liberal candidate Howard Dean? As many commentators have pointed out, his policy positions are pretty centrist. Angry liberal bloggers Atrios and, um, me? In both cases, rhetoric aside, our underlying positions are not wildly liberal.

If the only people who loathed Bush were fringe Greens like Ralph Nader, it would be easy to dismiss them. But shouldn't serious conservatives be asking themselves why longtime moderates feel such antipathy toward George Bush and what he's doing? That maybe there's a little more to it than just an emotional reaction to his personality?

The answer is pretty simple: personalities aside, it has become obvious since he took office that, far from being a "uniter not a divider," George Bush is in fact (a) radically conservative and (b) does everything he can to hide the fact.

For more on this, moderate environmentalist Rick Bass explains Bush's environmental program and center-leftist Jack O'Toole explains the difference between substance and sleight of hand to Howard Kurtz. They both speak for me as well.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOCKYER DEFECTS....Bill Lockyer, the (Democratic) attorney general of California, announced on Saturday that he had voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. So why couldn't he vote for Bustamante?

"You know the people in your profession really well," Lockyer said, explaining why he couldn't bring himself to vote for Bustamante. "You know who works hard and who doesn't and you know who is honest and who isn't. Cops know that about cops. Doctors know that about doctors. I know that about politicians."

Cute. He must be taking lessons from Hugh Shelton.

So: was this clever and farsighted? Or really dumb and disloyal? Frankly, I'm too confused and close to having my head explode these days to know anymore. You make the call.

UPDATE: Robert Tagorda isn't sure either, but leans toward dumb.

Ezra Klein, on the other hand, votes strongly for clever and farsighted.

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUNDAY CAT BLOGGING....Come on Max, if you're going to challenge the Calpundit cats, at least pick something hard. This is almost insulting.

As you can see, all Inkblot needs is a bottle of beer and he's ready for some NFL action. Plus, he can lick his own butt if the spirit takes him. Can you do that?

And as long we're doing some bonus cat blogging, today is cat duet day. First, The Little Professor offers a photo of an extremely handsome pair named Disraeli and Victoria. (I might try to make sport of such extravagant names if my parents hadn't named a pair of pet rats Beatrice and Benedick when I was a kid....) And although Elayne Riggs' cats made an appearance here just a couple of weeks ago, this picture really shows them in all their whale/minnow glory. Check 'em out. And Elayne points us to Trish's latest cat pics as well.

Naturally I'm pleased that Friday Cat Blogging has caught on, but where are all the dog owners? Shouldn't they be striking back with Wednesday Dog Blogging or something?

Kevin Drum 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 18, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ESPN AND EASTERBROOK....This Easterbrook firing thing really bugs me. Look, what he said was stupid and repugnant, and he owes us a better explanation of what he meant, but he did apologize and firing him is just insane overreaction.

And I know I'm going to get a lot of shit for agreeing with Jonah Goldberg, but I think he explains pretty well exactly why it bugs me:

Indeed, creating a climate where offending Jews automatically results in your termination will do far more to hurt Jews in this country than anything which might have resulted from Easterbrook's original comments.

I agree. Easterbrook deserved to get smacked down pretty hard, but unlike Trent Lott he's not majority leader of the Senate, and unlike Rush Limbaugh he didn't refuse to apologize. (And unlike both of them, he doesn't have a past history that makes us suspicious in the first place.)

Maybe there's a backstory here that we don't know about, but I sure think ESPN owes us an explanation for their heavy-handed reaction. I haven't seen anything yet, despite the fact that, as I understand it, sports networks are pretty fully staffed on weekends.

UPDATE: Was this instead a reaction to the fact that Easterbrook took a shot at Disney and Michael Eisner, which owns ESPN? I sure hope not. Sure, normally you expect employees not to criticize the boss, but journalism is different. If Easterbrook got fired for that, it's not much different than firing Peter Jennings for airing a news story critical of Disney. In other words, it would be even worse than getting fired for what he said about Jews.

Kevin Drum 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CELL PHONE PHUN....Is your cell phone company bombarding you with special offers if you renew your contract right now? James Joyner reminds us that you ought to wait until November 24, even if the special offers do mysteriously disappear on that date....

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By: Kevin Drum

LET'S JUST PRIVATIZE THE BLUE STATES, OK?....From the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

House Aviation panel chairman [John] Mica, scrambling to pass a proposal allowing privatization of some air-traffic control towers, tells Republicans he would exempt those in their states in exchange for votes. "I have a bill to pass," he says; the proposal is in a larger bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. Democrats aren't given the same offer: "They want to scuttle the bill," a Mica aide says.

It's good to see that the party of honor and integrity is back in charge.

Kevin Drum 4:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ESPN STRIKES BACK....This is really weird. I mentioned below that Gregg Easterbrook says ESPN has fired him (he wrote a column called "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" for their website), and based on a comment in that thread I hopped over to the ESPN site.

Try typing "Easterbrook" into their search engine. They haven't just deleted his columns, they've actually written some special code to intercept the word "Easterbrook" and refuse to perform the search. You don't get the normal "did not return any results" message, you get redirected back to their home page. (So, for example, if you were looking for this mention of actress Leslie Easterbrook, you'd never find it.)

I gotta say, regardless of what you think about Easterbrook or this particular controversy, this is positively Stalinesque. It's one thing to fire a guy, it's quite another to erase him from history.

This kind of technical response requires some very specific effort that doesn't usually happen unless somone explicitly orders it, which makes it smack of some highly personal revenge. Easterbrook probably needs to explain himself further, but I have a feeling ESPN needs to as well.

Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BROADBAND CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM CONVERT....I just got back from my mother's house, where the Time Warner folks spent part of the morning installing a shiny new cable modem. They did a great job, everything works, and mom is happy.

But I discovered a problem after the technician left and it's driving me crackers: there's a popup ad that pops up every 20 minutes or so. It's not your normal site dependent popup, since it appears no matter what site you're visiting, and it shows no signs of going away. I can only guess that it has something to do with a channel that Time Warner keeps open for advertising, although that somehow seems unlikely. But what else can it be? And how do I find out?

I just hate this kind of stuff. It drives me up a wall.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPECIAL APOLOGY ISSUE....Speaking of apologies, our Islam-baiting general has issued one too:

Boykin spent much of Friday with Pentagon lawyers and public relations officials fashioning his statement. One official said he had seen five versions of the statement, which was released in Washington at 6:45 p.m.

Five versions! (And late on Friday, natch.) So what did he come up with?

Boykin said Friday that he had been misunderstood. When he spoke of the Somali warlord, he did not mean that the Somali's god was Islam, but rather "his worship of money and power idolatry." Boykin said he did believe that "radical extremists have sought to use Islam as a cause of attacks on America."

As for his statement that God had installed Bush in the White House, Boykin said he meant that God had done the same for "Bill Clinton and other presidents."

Everyone who believes this, please raise your hand. On the other hand, at least the Pentagon media honchos managed to figure out something no matter how unlikely that allowed everyone to save some face, and Boykin has agreed to stop speaking in front of religious groups. Good thinking.

And while we're on the subject, how about another round of discussion about Gregg Easterbrook? Not his apology, really, but instead an effort to figure out what his original point was supposed to be. Aside from the "worship money above all else" stuff, which he addressed directly in his apology, here's my paraphrase:

Since Jews have been the victims of so much violence over the ages, including the Holocaust, you'd think they might be a little more sensitive to concerns over glorifying the killing of the helpless.

Does everyone agree that this was more or less his point? Or was it something more subtle?

Easterbrook says "I'm ready to defend all the thoughts in that paragraph." I wonder when he's going to do that?

UPDATE: Roger Simon reports that Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN because of his remarks.

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY INITIATIVES SUCK....This is why I hate initiatives:

A little more than a week after angry Californians tossed out their sitting governor, a grass-roots campaign is gaining ground in a push to reverse a new law granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

A group of Republicans who were active in the recall effort said they had collected nearly 40,000 signatures in the two weeks since they began circulating petitions for the proposed ballot initiative. If volunteers can gather 375,000 signatures of registered voters by Dec. 7, the law will be suspended and voters will decide its fate in the March election.

I don't really care about the driver's license issue. What I do care about is the fact that every time some idiot group gets exercised about some idiot issue it ends up as part of the California constitution, immutable for all time unless some subsequent idiot group finally gets exercised enough to get rid of it. (Which happens approximately never.)

Capping property taxes at 1% or requiring a two-thirds vote to raise taxes regardless of whether I agree with them are big enough issues to deserve a place in the constitution. Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and after school programs aren't. It's time for an initiative to end initiatives.

Kevin Drum 9:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BOTULISM IN IRAQ....Remember that vial of botulism that David Kay's team found in Iraq? Almost immediately we heard from experts who told us to watch out: botulism bacteria is found in nature and is essentially harmless, while botulism toxin is a deadly weapon. Which was it?

Answer: it was the bacteria. Matt Yglesias finds this suspicious:

Long story short: There's no threat here. This raises the question of why, exactly, Kay's team and the gang at the White House are trying to convince people that there is. Politically speaking, obfuscation is an effective strategy on this subject, since it's easy to get confused between the botulinum B bacteria (not dangerous, found in Iraq) and the botulinum A neurotoxin (dangerous, not found in Iraq). I myself made this mistake, but I'm not a biologist and I'm certainly not a biowarfare expert. This tactic -- saying things that are true in such a way as to get people to believe things that are false -- has become a prominent feature of the administration's public relations strategy on a number of fronts and, frankly, it stinks.

Yep. This is the "technical lie" that I talked about a few weeks ago, and it's the reason you can't take anything this administration says at face value.

As for why they did this, the answer is obvious: they just wanted to get the word "botulism" into the news reports. Even if the media reported the story 100% accurately with all the appropriate hedges and cautions, it's still a win for the administration. All that mattered is that 300 million Americans heard the word "botulism," and 90% of them didn't hear anything else.

But they didn't lie, did they? I wonder if St. Peter would agree?

Kevin Drum 6:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EASTERBROOK'S APOLOGY....I just got done surfing around the blogosphere a bit and reading reaction to Gregg Easterbrook's belated apology for seeming to blame greedy Jews for movie violence (see previous post). The reaction is mostly pretty negative.

I don't really want to open a long comment thread about Easterbrook's specific apology although I guess that's exactly what I'm doing here but it got me thinking about apologies in general. I just read Roger Simon's post about this, along with all the comments, and they mostly broke down into these objections:

  • The original statement was obviously what he really thought. An apology doesn't change that.

  • His apology wasn't abject enough. He needed to address all the issues that his critics brought up.

  • He only did it because he was forced to.

Now, I don't especially like or dislike Easterbrook, and I agree that his apology should have come sooner, but overall it seemed pretty genuine to me, not the kind surly non-apology apology you so often see. So my question is this: if this is the attitude you get when you apologize, what's the point of ever apologizing publicy for anything? I've apologized once or twice for hasty remarks on my blog, and between the critics who said it wasn't enough and the cynics who mocked me for giving in to the critics in the first place, it hardly seemed worth it. What's the point?

As for Easterbrook, my take on him is that he writes as if he's talking in a bar: a mile a minute and without thinking through half the stuff he commits to print. It's a pretty bad combination for a blogger, and he may find that unedited blogging is really not his medium.

Still, whether you like the guy or not, I've never read anything of his in the past that leads me to think he's anti-semitic. It seems to me that while his apology might not have been perfect, it was sufficient. We should give the guy a break, and in the process send a message that a sincere apology is something that's worth making, not something that's more trouble than it's worth.

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS EVERYONE NUTS?....Sometimes there's just so much stuff going on that you end up sort of frozen. You can't blog about all of it, so you just give up. For example:

  • Why is the South Carolina Democratic Party thinking about selling advertising space on their primary ballot? Are they nuts?

    Apparently not. A bit panicked, perhaps, but not completely loony. Sheesh.

  • Why do we have a deputy undersecretary of defense who says about defeating a Muslim warlord in 1993, "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol"? Is he nuts?

    Apparently so. And his boss says it's no biggie.

  • Why, during a screed about movie violence, did Gregg Easterbrook decide to blame greedy Jews?

    Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?

    Is he nuts?

    I guess not. His apology today, even if it did take too long in coming, seemed genuine enough. But don't let it happen again. (And put a link to the apology in your original post, OK?)

  • Madeline Albright is in France promoting her new book and gave an interview on French radio that was critical of U.S. foreign policy. Tacitus (the blog, not the person) thinks she's nuts. Is she?

    Actually, I don't know. Since she's already said all this stuff in her book, what's she supposed to say when she's interviewed in a foreign country? I didn't really mean it? Or is she never supposed to leave the United States?

    I'm a little confused about this business of former administration officials who aren't supposed to criticize the current administration, especially when overseas. I'm not sure if this tradition has ever really been followed all that closely, and I certainly have my doubts that anyone has paid serious attention to it in the past two decades. Comments?

  • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently made some anti-semitic remarks. Yawn. Dog bites man. But when the EU decided to formally condemn the statement, French President Jacques Chirac blocked it.

    Is he nuts? Or what? Jacques, baby, you sure make it hard for your friends to denounce mindless France bashing when you pull stuff like this. Get a grip.

So is everyone nuts? Apparently the answer is no; yes; not really; maybe; and yes.

Why am I not reassured?

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTERNET WOES....Tough times here at Calpundit. A week ago we had a site meltdown, on Sunday we got hit by a spam robot, last night our hosting service was the victim of some scumbags who mounted a Denial of Service attack on them, and today response time is glacial due to a problem with SiteMeter. (The script that pings SiteMeter waits about 20 seconds before it finally realizes it's not going to get a response and decides to allow the rest of the site to display.)

I dunno. Maybe this whole Internet thing isn't all it's cracked up to be.

UPDATE: OK, I moved the SiteMeter code out of the main table and into its very own little table. It's a kludge, but at least the page loads normally now.

(Yeah, I know, CSS is better. I chose to use tables a long time ago for compatibility reasons, and I don't feel like learning CSS and reworking my entire template at this point. It's just not worth it.)

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....These are fresh new pictures taken mere minutes ago! On the left, Inkblot is staring up a tree at the birds who are chirping away at him in his very own backyard. He has plans for these birds, yes he does, but sadly for him they will come to nought. Since he has gained his, ahem, full adult weight, he has never made it more than about three or four feet up a tree before giving in to reality and turning around.

Jasmine is also staring up a tree, and although her bird catching skills are about what you'd expect from a coddled suburban housecat, she can certainly give them a run for their money. A minute after this picture was taken she was 20 feet off the ground and sneaking along a branch with bloody violence topmost in her mind. The birds, needless to say, are merely bemused by this.

BONUS CATS: Today the Non-Expert tackles a vexing question: how do you know if your cat is insane?

And on a more serious note, a reader sends in several links to organizations trying to save feral cats (or spay/neuter those that are unadoptable). There's Alley Cat Allies, the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance, and Alley Cat Rescue, which has links to organizations all over the country.

Kevin Drum 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HELPING IRAQ....Max says that when it comes to the Iraq aid package, Democrats are wrong about well, about nearly everything. We shouldn't make the aid into a loan, we shouldn't try to tie it to domestic spending, and we shouldn't parcel out oil funds directly to every Iraqi citizen.

I don't agree with Max's odd position that Iraqis shouldn't pay for any reconstruction at all after all, we didn't cause all of the damage but I think he's got it right on the other stuff, and the loan idea is surely the worst of them all. Iraq already has something like $300 billion in external debt, which it has about as much chance of paying off as Weimar Germany after World War I. And we all know how that turned out, don't we?

With any luck, it's forgiveness of debt that will be the most concrete outcome of the UN resolution yesterday. It doesn't sound like we're going to get a whole lot of troops out of the deal, and not much money either, but having a UN imprimatur might help with the debt negotiations. If it does, that alone will make it worth the trouble.

UPDATE: I forgot to include a paragraph that I meant to add to this post. Reading the comments reminded me of it.

I don't have a problem with Congress trying to gain some control over how the Iraq aid money is spent, and I don't really have a problem with (for example) John Edwards' position that he'll vote against the aid unless the administration presents a postwar plan more to his liking. These are perfectly good bargaining positions. What's more, as one commenter pointed out, the loan provision is designed to be forgiven as long as other countries also forgive their Iraqi debt, so maybe that's a good bargaining tool too.

As always, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between genuine positions and bargaining positions. I guess we'll have to stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 10:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHUT UP!....The chancellor of UC Berkeley is in a fight with the UC Board of Regents. The subject of the fight is university admissions policies and whether or not Berkeley is trying to trying to weasel its way around California's ban on affirmative action.

You can read the whole story here if you're interested in the details, but check out this quote from everyone's favorite regent after the chancellor sent a heated letter to the chairman of the regents:

Regent Ward Connerly, a key proponent of the state initiative banning affirmative action in public institutions, called the letter "impertinent." The Berkeley chancellor "should be grateful he works for a university," where he is protected by academic freedom, Connerly said.

Very smooth, Ward! Translation: we'd fire anybody who disagrees with us if we could. Unfortunately, that pesky academic freedom stuff gets in our way.

And how does a guy like this get to be a regent of the greatest public university system in the country? By having Arnold's pal Pete Wilson appoint him, that's how. Let's hope that appointing UC regents is one area where Arnold doesn't take any of Wilson's advice in the future.

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE CLASS WARFARE....Following in the footsteps of our supermarket chains, California restaurant owners are trying to cut the wages of yet another coddled segment of our society: waiters.

It's the usual story: waiters make such a gold mine in tips that they don't deserve $6.75 an hour. Why, some waiters make as much as $30 an hour in tips!

Now, set aside the fact that the $30 an hour waiter is sort of like the welfare queen getting eight separate checks from the federal government: sure, there are some, but the overwhelming majority of waiters make only a few bucks an hour in tips. Instead, ask yourself why restaurants need to cut costs so badly. After all, it's not like they're competing with China. Hell, they're not even competing with Arizona.

Here's explanation #1:

Some restaurant owners contend that if they didn't have to pay $6.75 to tipped employees, there would be more money in the pot to give raises to cooks and other nontipped employees.

After you've picked yourself up from the floor and stopped guffawing over the idea of all these kindhearted restaurant owners wanting nothing more than to redistribute a little income to the kitchen staff, check out explanation #2:

At California Pizza Kitchen Inc., labor costs as a percentage of sales run about 2% higher in California and other states without the tip credit, said Greg Levin, chief financial officer. The company has 165 restaurants in 27 states.

"If a tip credit were to pass, you'd see a 2% reduction in labor costs" in California and other states where waiters are paid the minimum wage, Levin said. "It would increase our earnings, which would help increase the value of the stock."

Ah, that's more like it. It's not competition, it's not concern for the cooks, and it's not a desire to reduce prices. They just want to increase earnings so they can pay their long suffering executives higher salaries.

It never ceases to amaze me that businessmen are continually so outraged over the possibility that any decent paying non-executive jobs are left in our country. But they are. If you're just an ordinary schlub working in an ordinary job, you don't deserve a decent wage, you don't deserve decent healthcare, and you don't deserve any job security. And don't you forget it.

So the next time some idiot in a suit starts prattling on about liberals and class warfare, take a minute to remind him who started it. And don't bother being polite about it.

Kevin Drum 9:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

RUSH SINGS!....This probably counts as some of the gloating that Jonah Goldberg was talking about a few days ago, but I almost busted a gut listening to "Rush Sings I'm a Nazi," posted over at Atrios earlier today.


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By: Kevin Drum

INDIAN GAMING....Jacob Levy today:

During the California recall, candidate Schwarzenegger and his team repeatedly attacked Indian groups for lavishing casino-generated campaign contributions on Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamente. Then, after the election, Governor-elect Schwarzenegger made taxing Indian casinos one of the centerpieces of his deficit-reduction plan, apparently oblivious to the conflict between this and his pledge not to raise taxes, and to the legal and constitutional issues involved.

Ha ha ha. Did I say no new taxes? I meant no new taxes unless you're an Indian.

Which reminds me: as I was waiting in line yesterday to get my driver license renewed, I listened in on a typically abysmal political conversation that happened to be about Indian gaming. My fellow line-waiters were appalled that Gray Davis "allowed" the tribes to get away without paying taxes and were delighted that Arnold was in town to kick some ass.

These guys were clueless. In case you're interested in actual facts, here's the real story:

  • The states have no power to tax Indian tribes. Period.

  • However, although federal law guarantees tribes the right to run casinos, states are allowed to limit their operation in certain ways. Pete Wilson took a hard line on limiting Indian gaming in California, but the main result of his hardball tactics was the passage of Proposition 5 in 1998, which gave the tribes expansive rights with no obligation to pay state taxes. Thanks, Pete!

  • Prop 5 provided Gray Davis also elected in 1998 with virtually no leverage in negotiating with the tribes. So the deal he eventually brokered was probably about as good as possible under the circumstances.

  • Prop 5 was eventually overturned by the courts and replaced by Prop 1A a couple of years later. However, the bottom line remained the same: the passage of Prop 1A combined with the tribes' demonstrated ability to get propositions passed gave Davis a very weak hand in dealing with the tribes. There really wasn't that much he could do to squeeze higher taxes out of them.

So did Gray Davis give the tribes a "free ride"? Who knows. But the fact is that he didn't "allow" anything: the state has no direct authority to tax the tribes and can only squeeze money out of them through a negotiating process in which it has a pretty weak hand to play.

Can the Terminator do better? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet the lunch money on it yet. There's an awful lot of reality waiting for Arnold up in Sacramento.

Kevin Drum 3:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR WARNING....Don't forget: tonight is Survivor night!

Why watch Survivor? Because it so perfectly represents the zeitgeist, that's why. It is to George Bush's brand of conservatism what Dallas and Dynasty were to Reagan's.

But if that's the case, what TV show encapsulates the Clinton presidency? Any nominations?

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UN RESOLUTION PASSES UNANIMOUSLY....The Security Council has voted 15-0 to support the U.S. resolution on Iraq. It doesn't sound like it's going to make too much difference on the ground at least, not immediately but I thought this part was interesting:

On Tuesday evening as many as five countries had indicated they were likely to abstain....The dynamic shifted overnight, diplomats said on Wednesday, when China agreed to support the measure, and its diplomats began calling their counterparts on the Security Council seeking to bridge the final impasse, which left the United States, Britain and Spain refusing to include in the resolution any timetable for a transfer of power to the Iraqis, while Russia, France and Germany were insisting on just such a timetable.

China? They don't usually get involved in stuff like this. I wonder what the backstory to this is?

Kevin Drum 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE LIKE THIS, PLEASE....Ricky West says that Haley Barbour is either a liar or an idiot. He's just not sure which yet, although he seems to be leaning toward "liar."

Kevin Drum 10:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL HEALTHCARE....Southern California supermarkets say they have to freeze wages and cut back on healthcare benefits because of competition from Wal-Mart. LA Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik is skeptical:

Although Wal-Mart has announced plans to create 40 California "supercenters," the behemoths that include grocery departments, none has been built in the state and the schedule for a rollout is murky.

There's some question of how deeply 40 supercenters could cut into the market shares of three chains that operate 1,546 California supermarkets among them. [Mark Husson, a supermarket analyst for Merrill Lynch] estimates that Wal-Mart's plans might gain it a 1% share of the state market over the next four years.

Goodness. One whole percent. That does sound like it calls for drastic measures.

Of course, the ostensible issue here is that Wal-Mart pays its employees crap wages and offers miserable healthcare, which allows them to operate with lower costs. But as Hiltzik points out, "the unions do raise a reasonable issue in asking why, when a competitive playing field is tilted one way or another, it's always necessary to grade the field down to the lowest level." That's an especially salient question these days, when CEO salaries are routinely graded up to the highest level.

Still, it's a fact that healthcare costs do continue to spiral in the United States, and it makes life miserable for businesses that have to deal with it. These guys don't want to be in the healthcare business, don't want to have to compete with other businesses that have lower healthcare costs than them (here or overseas), and don't want to be in a constant war with their employees over day-to-day healthcare issues.

Which is why I continue to be surprised that the business community hasn't come out in favor of national health insurance yet. Sure, I know business leaders tend to be conservative, but you'd think a pocketbook issue like this would bring them to their senses. Individual businesses have virtually no leverage to reduce healthcare costs, and the only way to remove this albatross from around their necks is to hand it off to the feds.

In the end, I suspect that this is what will finally lead the United States to a single-payer healthcare model. At some point, business leaders will finally have had enough and will insist that the Republican party change its tune and support national healthcare. By all odds, this day is probably no more than a decade off.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHERE'S VALERIE?....I am going through Valerie Plame withdrawals. I blame laziness at the Washington Post.

UPDATE: Arthur Silber sends in this Robert Novak sighting from the Palm Beach Post. Novak says he has no regrets and is thinking of voting for Al Sharpton.

And Ogged (of Unfogged) sends in a genuine Valerie Plame sighting from Newsday. She says the whole experience has been "surreal."

UPDATE 2: The New York Times has an enormously padded story telling us that some officials within the FBI are upset that John Ashcroft hasn't appointed a special prosecutor to take over the case.

And the Washington Post has the same Plame sighting as Newsday, reporting that "she sat quietly, wiping away a tear," as her husband gave a speech after accepting an award.

OK, I feel better now.

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF WORK?....I almost forgot, but Marshall Brain (of this website) had an op-ed in the LA Times this morning on a subject that I've been meaning to blog about one of these days: what happens when semi-intelligent robots become available on a wide enough scale that they put lots of people permanently out of work?

This isn't a crazy idea, and it's probably not all that far off a few decades at most. And unlike previous mechanical revolutions, this one will leave the displaced workers with no other industry to go to. What then?

I'm probably still going to blog more about this someday, but in the meantime go read the article to get a flavor for the scope of the problem and the scope of the opportunity. It's not going to be science fiction for much longer.

POSTSCRIPT: And by the way, this is one (among many) reasons that I never worry about things like Social Security bankruptcy beyond a 40-50 year time scale. The world will be so fundamentally different by 2050 that it's pretty pointless to speculate that far out.

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TOUCHSCREEN VOTING....I've posted now and again about the electronic voting controversy, and although I've generally tried to avoid the wilder conspiracy theory aspects of it I still find the whole thing disturbing. Even if you discount overt corruption, anybody who's worked in the software industry has to be horrified at even the garden variety problems that are likely to crop up with touchscreen voting machines that have no paper trail.

If you want to catch up on the whole controversy, the Independent has a long but very good article about the whole thing. Highly recommended. (But why do I have to go to England to find this story, anyway?)

What really bugs me about the whole thing is that touchscreens are so unnecessary. I've spent the last decade in the scanning industry, and optical scanning technology is fast, mature, and reliable; it allows you to print highly legible ballots; it's easy to use; and it automatically provides a paper trail in case you want to do an audit or a recount. You may have noticed that there aren't a heckuva lot of topics that Glenn Reynolds and I agree on, but this is one of them. Optical scanning is the way to go.

Kevin Drum 9:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

I FEEL THE NEED FOR SPEED....Can I have this internet connection? Please?

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY FOR PRESIDENT!....Fox News says breathlessly, "Clock Ticking For a Hillary Presidential Bid," and Josh Chafetz has exactly the right response:

Guys, she's not running. She's said all along she's not running. It doesn't make political sense for her to run this year. She may -- may -- accept a Vice-Presidential nomination, if one were offered and if she thought the Dem nominee really had a chance of winning. But she's not running for the top spot. She's just not.

My only disagreement with Josh is that I don't think he was quite emphatic enough. (Oh, and she's not running for veep either.)

I swear, conservatives are just obsessed with Hillary. Can't they find someone else to fantasize about?

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PANDERING TO RACISTS....In case you're wondering what the Haley Barbour flap is about, I figure a picture is worth a thousand words. So here's the picture.

The smiling guy in the middle is Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican party from 1993-1997 and currently a candidate for governor of Mississippi. And where was Barbour when this picture was taken? Why, at the Black Hawk Barbecue and Political Rally, held on July 19 to raise money for wink wink, nudge nudge "private academy" school buses.

Still not clear on what the problem is? The BHBPR is sponsored by the fine gentlemen of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a bunch of well-known racist neanderthals based out of Missouri. I think most of my readers are probably aware of the CCC's handiwork, but in case you aren't you might want to visit their website and browse around. You can start with "In Defense of Racism," and then head over to "the TRUTH about Martin Luther King," and then finish up with "Angry White Female" and a report from the Mississippi chapter about how Abraham Lincoln was an imperialist warmonger.

You get the picture. As they themselves put it, "The C of CC recognizes that European Christian heritage is essential for the survival of our standard of living and way of life. There is no acceptable substitute for the civilization that has evolved through the Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Anglo-Saxons."

And yet, as ArchPundit points out, Barbour is pretending that he is shocked shocked! to find out the CCC was behind this shindig and doesn't even know who these CCC characters are. Give me a break.

I am well aware that most Republicans aren't racist and are sick and tired of hearing from Democrats about the Southern Strategy and "codewords" and how their party panders to racists. I don't blame them. But here's the deal: if you want us to stop accusing the GOP of pandering to racists then stop pandering to racists, dammit. Send a loud message that a guy who represented your entire party for four years has no business hanging around with the human effluvia who make up organizations like the CCC and then pretending he has no idea what they're all about.

It won't wash, and it's time to knock it off.

Kevin Drum 5:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL INSECURITY....Megan McArdle has a long TechCentralStation column today about the accounting intricacies of Social Security and Medicare. However, since this is a sure fire way to become completely confused about something that is essentially a simple issue, I'd advise skipping straight to the meat of the argument.

Unless you're a trustee of the system, here's the only fact you really need to know: Social Security and Medicare aren't investment programs, they are pay-as-you-go programs, which means the taxes you pay this year are turned around and immediately sent to recipients. In other words, current taxes and current outlays have to balance. Megan summarizes our options this way:

[The government] can cut benefits so that outlays for Social Security and Medicare don't exceed what's collected in payroll taxes; it can raise taxes; it can cut other spending; or it can borrow the money.

I'll make it even simpler: there isn't enough other spending to cut to make up for projected increases in Social Security and Medicare, and we can't keep borrowing forever, no matter what George Bush thinks. So there are only two choices in the long term: cut benefits or raise taxes.

Gradually increasing the income cap on Social Security taxes (currently around $80,000) and applying it to all income would probably do the trick and wouldn't be too painful. Alternatively, if we don't want to raise the cap, we would need to cut benefits approximately in half or maybe a bit more.

Take your pick.

POSTSCRIPT: Megan's got a nice new picture gracing her column too. But wasn't her hair blonde when I saw her on Media Matters last year? No?

POSTSCRIPT 2: Ah, just backlit, not blonde. OK then.

Kevin Drum 10:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TEXAS GOP LOSES ITS NERVE....Gregg Easterbrook, a longtime critic of the space shuttle, says the only reason it's still around is good 'ol pork barrel politics:

What's really happening is that today's NASA exists to pander to the aerospace contractors (mainly Boeing and Lockheed Martin) and congressional districts (mainly in Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Texas) with significant stakes in manned-space funding.

Hmmm, Texas? Last night I spent some time on the phone with my mother convincing her that the Texas Republican party platform I wrote about last week was not a joke. It really was their platform. And they really do want to do away with the income tax, Social Security, welfare, the EPA, the Department of Commerce, and most of the rest of the federal government.

"Well, what we ought to do is move NASA out of Texas," she said. "They get a lot of money from NASA." True enough, they do. So how do these radical small government Texans feel about getting rid of NASA, anyway? I looked it up:

NASA The party supports appropriate funding for the National Aeronautics and Space (NASA) and the Texas Aerospace Commission. The party strongly urges the utilization of private research and design for the purpose of replacing or supplementing the current shuttle system with a completely reusable vehicle, which would be more cost effective in getting to and from space; for the purpose of maintaining and establishing space stations, communications and surveillance satellites, solar-generating system; and enhancing national defense.

A brand new replacement for the shuttle? Establishing space stations? A solar generating system? And of course NASA already uses "private research and design," so that phrase is nothing more than a magician's sleight of hand. Far from being a cutback, this is actually a call for expanding NASA.

It's funny how your radicalism stops short when it's your own federal pork on the line, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW MEANING FOR "PUBLICLY FINANCED" CAMPAIGNS....The EPA is running ads in Spanish-language media touting the benefits of George Bush's Orwellian-named "Clear Skies" legislation. Does that sound to you suspiciously like a campaign commercial aimed at a likely swing group of voters? Does it also sound like it might be illegal? Give yourself a gold star:

Congress's appropriations measure for the EPA prohibits the agency from using government funds for publicity purposes or to prepare or distribute TV or radio presentations designed to support or defeat legislation. A federal statute also prohibits federal officials from engaging in campaigns on pending legislative matters.

....[EPA spokeswoman Lisa] Harrison said EPA officials, including the general counsel, believe the public service announcements are appropriate because "they inform public opinion on Clear Skies legislation," but that "they do not expressly request members of the public to contact Congress in support of Clear Skies."

So anything goes as long as they don't "expressly request" the public's support? That's pathetic.

The Bush/Cheney '04 campaign is going to raise what? $200 million? $300 million? But they still feel like they have to siphon off public funds for thinly diguised campaign commercials funded by taxpayers. Do these guys have any limit to their avarice at all?

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 14, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BIG BLOG DEBATE AT DAN'S PLACE....GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!....In a remarkable demonstration of the power of the blog medium or, um, a remarkable demonstration of something, anyway, Dan Drezner is refereeing a debate between two of my frequent commenters. The question to be considered is:

"It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

I personally doubt that there is a sensible resolution of this although "complete fabrication" certainly puts a heavy burden of proof on the affirmative side so it will be interesting to see what Dan's undoubtedly Solomon-like decision will be. $100 is at stake.

And in case anyone is wondering, I think Dan is nuts to do this. Don't even think of ever asking me to referee something like this.

Kevin Drum 10:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARMY ASTROTURF....I haven't really been following the "phony letters from Iraq" kerfuffle because it didn't seem all that serious, but for what it's worth this USA Today article seems to have the final word on what really happened. Apparently an overenthusiastic battalion commander, Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, wrote the letter and gave it to 500 of his troops to sign and mail off, which most of them did.

Anyway, an army spokesman said no one was forced to sign the letters, which was a pretty dumb thing to say (if my battalion commander "suggested" I sign a letter, I'd sign pronto), but it doesn't look like it was anything other than a garden variety stupid idea. Back now to our regular programming.

Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RICH LOWRY TRIES HIS BEST....This is really pretty hilarious. NRO is hawking Rich Lowry's new book, Legacy: Paying the Price of the Clinton Years, so I clicked the link to see what it was about.

Now, I'm not going to pick on NRO for lying about misstating the number of ex-Clinton aides that Lowry quotes, because that would be trivial and nitpicky and I'm above that kind of thing. Still, there were really only 14, even though they tried to make it look like 15. And of course the Lanny Davis quote isn't even about Clinton at all (the giveaway is the phrase "in the 1980s"). So, really, 13. But who's counting?

No, what I really love is what Lowry says about the ex-Clinton aides that he interviewed:

....there were flashes of real forthrightness. If you think Clinton is a weak person, who made excuses for himself, and defeated Al Gore, and couldn't make a decision, and brought out-of-their-depth rank amateurs to the making of foreign policy, and had a pointless second term, and fundamentally misunderstood how to respond to the terror threat and so on: You get the idea you might be surprised that former Clinton officials agree with you.

So I read on, expecting to hear a litany of horror stories about Slick Willie. Instead, I found nothing. In fact, with only a couple of exceptions, after talking to "as many as would talk, in any way that would win their cooperation," all Lowry could dig up were the most mildly critical comments you could imagine, and some of them weren't even that. Check this one out:

  • Howard Paster, former Clinton congressional lobbyist, on Clinton's lack of a guiding philosophy in decision-making: "I don't think the decisions were consistently ideological, because there were different players in every decision."

So apparently the Clinton administration didn't make every single decision based on a partisan litmus test, but instead brought in different people and listened to what they said. Only in NRO's world would this be considered a failing.

Most of the others are mildly regretful about some strategy or another or honestly self-critical about a mistake, and the rest mostly lament the fact that they couldn't do even more than they did or else offer up some observation about Clinton's personality.

All I can say is that if these quotes are the worst Lowry could dredge up, Clinton's people must have liked him a lot. Hell, nothing in that list compares to what John DiIulio has already said about his experience in the Bush administration, and that was less than two years into it. Better keep digging, Rich.

Kevin Drum 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EDWARDS STEPS UP....John Edwards says he plans to vote against President Bush's $87 billion budget request for postwar Iraq:

In a conference call with reporters, Edwards said that Bush's policy there had failed and that he would oppose the aid request to pressure Bush to change course.

....Edwards said he did not want the United States to withdraw from Iraq, but believed that a congressional vote denying Bush the funds would compel the administration to develop a new reconstruction plan that provided a larger role to the United Nations and ensured that the rebuilding "will not be exploited as a means to give sweetheart deals to [the president's] friends."


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By: Kevin Drum

REVERSE ENGINEERING....I just saw School of Rock, and it stars (among others) Jack Black, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Rebecca Brown, Jordan-Claire Green, and Heather Goldenhersh. Do you think they did that on purpose?

The movie had some good laughs, but the best part of the show was the preview for Paycheck, Ben Affleck's latest movie. It turns out Affleck plays a "reverse engineer," and he's the hottest reverse engineer on the planet. "So what's it going to be?" he asks the bad guys. "Optics," they answer. "Cool."

I just love this stuff. Hey, we need a reverse engineer pronto and Ben's our man! Software, rocketry, optics, whatever. He can reverse engineer any of that technical buzzword stuff!

OK, OK, the non-techies aren't going to get the joke, but the engineers out there will. It's almost as good as Sandra Bullock playing "the best beta tester in the world" in The Net a few years ago.

Kevin Drum 3:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT PUSH BACK....Jack O'Toole, responding to the new White House PR juggernaut on Iraq everything is great, there are no problems, and everyone is getting along fine has this to say:

Here's a quick prediction that's undoubtedly worth every penny you're paying for it: By January of next year, just about every GOP smart guy who doesn't collect his paycheck at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will be calling this whole push back strategy an ill-conceived PR disaster, and at least privately questioning whether George Bush's political team is really the right one to lead their party into the 2004 elections.

Now, I might have disagreed with Jack about this. Sure, the media would see it for what it was, but a rock-em-sock-em approach could end up playing pretty well with the hometown crowds. Shows leadership, you know.

Except for one one thing: who was the idiot who admitted that the whole campaign was a PR offensive? Whoever it was, they should be hogtied, publicly humiliated, and banned for life from the PR community. Jeez, guys, you're supposed to at least pretend that your boss is showing heroic leadership.

So, anyway, Jack is right, and in a few months this is probably going to be right up there with the carrier landing in the annals of things that seemed like a good idea at the time. Confidence is a fine thing, but sounding like Pollyanna can make you look mighty detached from reality the first time there's some real trouble. It's a fine line, and I suspect the Bushies are on the wrong side of it.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUSH'S "MISFORTUNE"....Jonah Goldberg wants to write a column about how the left is whooping it up over Rush Limbaugh's drug addiction:

I want to write my syndicated column on the drug-problem hooplah. If you've seen particularly nasty celebrating about the guy's misfortunes, please send examples (as always, preferably with URL, dates etc) to GFilecorrections@aol.com by noon. Thanks.

For crying out loud Jonah, if the left is really making a big deal out of this it shouldn't be too hard to find examples on your own. You've even got access to Google and Nexis, don't you?

The folks over at NRO do this kind of thing constantly, and it bespeaks not only an unflattering laziness but an especially egregious form of political hackdom. The question here isn't whether the left has been unfair to Limbaugh a guy who practically begs for unfair treatment, after all the question is how to prove it even if you don't have any special reason to think it's really true in the first place.

I suppose everyone does this occasionally, but you're at least supposed to keep it to yourself. After all, if you've already given away the fact that lefty gloating over Limbaugh isn't widespread enough to provide you with plenty of good examples on your own, maybe it's not a point worth making?

But I'll help you out anyway, Jonah. Here's the best gloating I've seen yet from the left, er, right, er, left. Well, from somewhere. In any case, it's pretty good gloating.

UPDATE: Oh, and you did catch ber-lefty Robert Scheer's take, didn't you?

ANOTHER UPDATE: More gloating from the left, Jonah!

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CIA IN IRAQ....James Joyner points to an article in this week's issue of Time magazine about our intelligence operations in Iraq before the war. The timing of the article suggests to me that it's primarily an effort by the CIA to hit back against critics who claim they lacked sufficient human intelligence in Iraq, but even so it contains some interesting nuggets.

However, I have a feeling the article prompted a different question in me than it did in James. Before we get to that, though, here are a few excerpts:

Before the war last spring, says a former colonel in the Iraqi intelligence service, Saddam's analysts presented him with classified reports predicting a decisive U.S. victory. The documents described how the Iraqi security forces, already outmatched, had been undermined by Washington's success in recruiting Iraqi spies and double agents.

....Before a shot was fired, the U.S. recruited and dispatched Iraqi collaborators to uncover Saddam's plans and capabilities, and hobble them. Deals were done; psychological warfare was waged; money was paid; and even blackmail was used.

....Faced with the task of scouting the locations Ahmed had listed, al-Jaburi turned to an old friend and contact, A. Mashadani. Al-Jaburi had recruited Mashadani, a major in the mukhabarat, Iraq's main intelligence agency, soon after joining the I.N.A. For two years Mashadani, who had access to some of the mukhabarat's best secrets, had been feeding the CIAthrough al-Jaburiinformation on Iraqi missiles, antiaircraft systems and troop movements.

....The operations chief for the I.N.C. goes by the name of Abu Ranin. His job before the war was to crack the mukhabarat. His tactics were hardball. The I.N.C. had done surveillance on Iraqi missions around the world, making educated guesses about who was an intelligence agent.

....Over ensuing weeks, Abu Ranin called the names in the address book and concluded that he had the identities of 65 agentseither Iraqis based abroad or their contacts in foreign intelligence services, particularly Syrian and Palestinian. He then traipsed around the Middle East, arranging meetings with the Iraqi agents on various pretenses.

As you can see, lots of cloak and dagger stuff, and while you need to read the Time article to get all the context, the basic message is that we had seriously infiltrated the Iraqi army, the Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization, and the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service.

So here's my question: if all this stuff is actually true, it seems hardly believable that we didn't know the true extent of Iraq's WMD programs and stockpiles, does it? Which means that we're left with an unappealing menu of choices:

  • The CIA is blowing smoke. Their infiltration was actually pretty ineffective.

  • Their infiltration was as good as they say it was. This implies that they knew perfectly well that the administration's WMD claims were vastly overblown, but didn't say anything.

  • Their infiltration was good, they had solid intelligence about the existence of WMD, but despite all this the WMD somehow got moved out of Iraq without them knowing about it.

I'm not sure which of these choices scares me more.

Kevin Drum 10:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

READING THE TEA LEAVES....Armed Liberal examines the map of Saudi Arabia on the State Department web site today and notes with disgust that Israel is not labeled.

Far be it from me to go easy on the craven, striped-pants Saudi-loving weasels in our State Department as opposed to the craven, denim-clad Saudi-loving weasel in the White House but I notice that this map of Iran fails to label Turkey and this map of Egypt fails to label Syria. Contrariwise, this map of China does label Taiwan, and we all know how our mainland Chinese friends feel about that.

I dunno. I guess it might be part of some nefarious plot on the part of the State Department cartographic division, but it looks to me like they just didn't have room. It would have taken about 3 point type to successfully label Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, which, needless to say, is exactly what they do on their primary map of the region right here. Let's face it, guys: I really don't think that United States policy toward Israel is in much doubt these days.

Of course, if you really want to do some Freudian analysis of the boys in the State Department, check out the fine map of Iraq on their main Iraq country page. I sure hope this isn't some subtle sign of their future plans....

Kevin Drum 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 13, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

PLEDGE BREAK....Go give Atrios a few bucks. His description of his computer is about the saddest thing I've heard in a long while.

UPDATE: OK, you can stop now. He's been successful beyond his wildest dreams.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EDUCATION MUSINGS....By coincidence, I've come across a bunch of stuff about education today. Or is it coincidence?

In the Washington Post, William Raspberry suggests reluctantly that conservative critics may have a point when they say that black underachievement is largely due not to racism, but to black cultural attitudes toward education itself. I'm reluctant myself to provide aid and comfort to people who spend so much energy pretending that racism is a figment of our collective imaginations, but he may have a point.

Elsewhere in the Post, we learn that the No Child Left Behind Act is already making people restless. In West Virginia, 45% of the schools have already been deemed failures, and people there are upset that after all his big talk George Bush has been unwilling to push for full funding of the act. Apparently labeling schools as failures is OK, but coming through with the promised help to improve them isn't. (But does it matter? In 11 years 100% of our schools will be labeled as official failures and all the money in the world won't change that. Soon we will all be in West Virginia's shoes.)

And back here in California, Diane Patterson reviews Diane Ravitch's The Language Police, a book I've been intending to read. Her conclusion seems to be that the result of the fight between Texas Bible Belt Republicans and California multi-culti Democrats has been to leave us with the worst of both worlds. Great. Sounds like a barrel of laughs.

As for me, I remain entirely confused about how well our schools are doing. As Megan McArdle points out, every generation since the beginning of time has complained that educational standards are dropping. This is true, and I even have my own anecdote about this.

Last year I visited the town of Cerro Gordo, Illinois, where my grandfather was born, and spent some time leafing through old copies of the local newspaper. In one of them I found a copy of the high school senior exam from about 1890. So I read it.

Now, I'm older, a helluva lot smarter, and way better educated than the scruffy 18-year-olds who were graduating from Piatt County High School back then, but I would have scored about 20% on that test. It's not that standards have gone down, but that the content of education has changed. In rural Piatt County in 1890 it was considered important to be able to figure the payments on a seasonal crop loan and to understand the changes to the civil service system introduced by Chester Alan Arthur. A knowledge of the parts of speech that would make a professor of English wince was also considered de rigeur.

Today? Nobody cares about that stuff anymore. Does that mean my grandfather got a better education than I did? Not a chance.

So while I have no doubts at all that there are some serious problems to be addressed in our educational system, I also suspect that they aren't nearly as overpowering as conservatives want us to believe. Education is not necessarily worse than it was in the 50s, it's just different. After all, the benighted individuals who graduated from our laughable high schools in the 70s and 80s are now busily running American businesses, and judging from the sky high salaries we're paying them, they must be doing OK.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PROBLEM WITH WESLEY....I've been sort of watching and waiting to see how Wesley Clark handles the reality of being a presidential candidate, and so far the criticisms of him seem to be of two varieties: (a) he's never been so much as a city councilman, so he's got a helluva nerve thinking he can be president, or (b) he's a cunning, ambitious guy who worked just a little too hard to get himself promoted in the Army.

Neither one of these strikes me as especially noteworthy, but last week in Slate the normally rational Michael Kinsley decided to lob up another trial balloon: isn't it really childish, he asks, that people are supporting Clark even though they don't know very much about him? Now, having been around politics for two decades, and having just watched Arnold Schwarzenegger win a landslide victory in California, I'm not quite sure if Kinsley is genuinely naive or if he's just pretending to be, but I think he makes two big mistakes here.

First, he mocks Clark for not having fully thought-out positions on every possible topic after having been in the race for three weeks. Then, without even seeming to notice that he's done it, he makes a hard U-turn and admits that that's a dumb way to evaluate a candidate. "Anyway, a fully stocked larder of policies and positions on issues is a vapid measure of a political candidate," he says.

That's right: reams of white papers on every conceivable topic are just fluff. What matters is that a candidate has the right instincts, the same broad views on policy that you do, and that he shows good judgment. So Kinsley's basic complaint that Clark is a blank slate doesn't hold water, and he obviously realizes this himself.

But there's a far more basic mistake he makes in his column: talking only about domestic policy. What he inexplicably misses is the fact that national security and foreign policy are more important to a lot of people and likely to be more important in next year's election than domestic policy.

And in this area, Clark has policy ideas to spare. He's already written a whole book about the Kosovo war, complete with loads of policy recommendations, and he's got a new one coming out shortly. And this is what has so far attracted me to him.

Clark seems to understand and have genuine experience with the central foreign policy truth that the Bush administration lacks: a global war requires lots of strong allies. This was true in World War II, it was true in the Cold War, and it's going to be equally true in the War on Terrorism. The United States could not have won either of those previous wars on its own, and it can't do it this time either.

The Bushies have spurned international cooperation at every turn. Oh, they occasionally mumble some platitudes about it, but their rhetoric and their action have turned virtually the whole world against us, they have shown nothing but contempt for multilateral institutions, and in the end this means that even sympathetic allies will have a hard time continuing to support us for long. There are limits to what even Tony Blair can do when two-thirds of his constituents think he's wrong.

On the other side of the aisle, the rest of the Democratic candidates make the right noises on this subject, but it's obvious that Clark is the only one who truly understands the complexity and importance of this issue. He has experience building multilateral support for war, he understands just how hard and how frustrating it is trying to hold that support together in the face of differing political agendas, but he also realizes that it's absolutely necessary to do it anyway. It may be maddening and occasionally humiliating to watch this particular sausage getting made, but real leaders hold their tempers and get their hands dirty in the sausage factory anyway because in the long run it's the only way we're going to win.

And that's what we need. Republican/neocon plans for fighting the war on terror are based on a fantasy of American hyper-puissance that is almost certain to lead to ultimate failure. U.S. military power is strong, but it is not omnipotent, and without a broad range of strong allies who agree on broad goals and are with us for the long haul, we will eventually retire from the field defeated and exhausted.

So no matter how much you despise the UN and NATO and the cheese eating surrender monkeys and all that, if you're serious about winning this war then you'll swallow your pride and figure out how to work with them. Wesley Clark appears to understand that ground level reality better than any other candidate, and that makes him very much not a blank slate. In fact, it might make him the best qualified candidate out there.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME AFFAIR CHRONOLOGY....For everyone following the Plame affair, Alex Parker has put together a comprehensive list of primary source material related to Plame in chronological order. He's got links to Joseph Wilson's original New York Times op-ed, Robert Novak's July 14 column, and all the significant reporting since then from the Washington Post and others.

If you're interested in some detail or other of the Plame affair but don't remember where you saw it, Alex's list is a great place to start.

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN LOTT....I've thought for a while that someone ought to write an article about John Lott for a popular magazine after all, his story combines a hot issue with intrigue, allegations of lying, internet sock puppets, and scientific misconduct and Chris Mooney has finally given this idea a push in the right direction. He has an article in Mother Jones today that outlines the charges against Lott and gives him a chance to respond. It isn't pretty.

UPDATE: Chris has more here, including transcripts of his interviews with Lott.

Kevin Drum 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 12, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME OR VALERIE WILSON?....This post is sort of an open thread. I have a question I'm curious to get feedback on.

Here's the thing: the Washington Post article I blogged about this morning said, among other things, that a Post reporter was one of the targets of the White House leakers back in July. However, the reporter says that his source didn't mention Valerie Plame's name, only that "Joseph Wilson's wife" worked for the CIA. This supports the theory that perhaps no one was really trying to expose Plame's covert activities, but instead did it inadvertantly.

But Robert Novak did use the name Valerie Plame in his original July 14 column. Now, it's certainly possible that Novak discovered her maiden name himself (it was publicly available), but I can't think of any reason that he would actually use it unless the name was deliberately given to him by his White House source. After all, wives all have maiden names, but if they go by their married name (which she did), that's the name it's natural to use. It would be bizarre, for example, if someone looked up my wife's maiden name and then referred to her as "Kevin Drum's wife, Marian Riegel," even though she doesn't go by that name.

So here's the question. The only way to get the White House off the hook for deliberately spilling the name that Plame used on her covert assignments is to posit that Novak decided to use it on his own for some reason. Can anyone come up with some plausible scenario in which he'd do this?

And let's try to keep the flame wars and jokes to a minimum, OK? I'm genuinely curious to know if anyone can think of a reasonably innocent explanation for this.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPAM....Much spam talk today....

Apparently there is a widespread spam attack on blog comment threads. The spammers use robots to leave links to some unusually nasty porn sites on dozens of comment threads at a time, and sign the comments "Lolita" or "Preteen."

According to TalkLeft, which, like me, is hosted by Hosting Matters, they are on top of the situation and have banned the IP addresses that have been sending the spam. In addition, I've also personally banned the IP addresses on my site. I mention this mostly because it's possible that a legitimate user could get banned if their IP address happens to fall into the same range as the spammer. If this happens to you, I apologize, but I'm afraid this is a ban that's going to have to stay in place.

And as long as we're on the subject of spam, Mark Kleiman suggests today that spammers who use return addresses like "sysadmin@microsoft.com" or somesuch, and therefore force you to look at the message in case it's something real, are guilty of defrauding us of our time. Perhaps federal law ought to be changed to make that a crime?

Fine by me, and to help him make his point I'm going to quibble with something else he said:

Spam is annoying. But a spam filter will cut down on the volume substantially, and deleting what gets through the filter is usually not an outrageous burden....Maybe there needs to be a legally enforceable do-not-spam list, or some non-legal approach managed by the consumers' ISPs (e.g., a tiny per-message charge) to discourage bulk spamming, but it's a reasonably manageable problem most of the time.

Au contraire. My poor mother, who wants nothing more from her computer than to send and receive an occasional email to her friends, has gotten to the point where her email account is nearly useless. She's on a dial-up link and she gets about 200 spams a day, so if she misses a couple of days and then checks for email, she has to wait for 600 messages to download and then sort through them to find the one or two genuine ones. (I was there one day when she came home from vacation and it took over an hour to get rid of a week's worth of spam.) At some point this makes it impossible in practice to use email, and since she's charged for connect time it also costs her real money.

So while spam might be tolerable for those of us on broadband connections hosted by ISPs who have at least some minimal spam filters in place, for many others it makes their email practically unusable. My mother's ISP, Concentric, confirms that spam is a real problem (thanks, guys!) and says that they're "working on a plan." Great.

So in the end, the only solution is a new email address, which mom will be getting next week when Time Warner installs a shiny new cable modem. That should take care of the problem.

For a while.

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POST STRIKES BACK....Last week Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball suggested that perhaps the Washington Post's source misled them in a story a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps the Plame leakers didn't contact six journalists to leak Plame's name after all. Maybe they only contacted those journalists after Robert Novak's original column. In other words, they were guilty of fanning the flames, but not of jeopardizing national security.

Well, maybe, but today the Post reports that it went back to its source and gave him a chance to reconsider. No dice:

That same week, two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to least six Washington journalists, an administration official told The Post for an article published Sept. 28. The source elaborated on the conversations last week, saying that officials brought up Plame as part of their broader case against Wilson.

"It was unsolicited," the source said. "They were pushing back. They used everything they had."

So the Post's source might be wrong, but he's not backing down. "That same week" refers to the week prior to Novak's column.

(And yes, this is really annoying wording. The authors don't specifically say that they asked again about the leak timing and their source reconfirmed, but only strongly imply it. I have no idea why they were this sloppy in their phrasing, especially when they know perfectly well that this is a point of contention. Why did the Post's editors let this escape without being cleared up?)

There's also another new tidbit in the article: an unnamed Post reporter who claims to be one of the six leakees. He talked to an administration official on July 12, two days before Novak's column, and was given the whole story about Wilson being sent to Niger as a "boondoggle" set up by his wife, who worked at the CIA. (Some boondoggle! An unpaid trip to Niger, the vacation spot of Africa!)

Interestingly, the Post reporter said the name Valerie Plame wasn't mentioned to him. Obviously the name was mentioned to Robert Novak, since otherwise he would have naturally referred to her as Valerie Wilson or simply Mrs. Wilson. Maybe the Post reporter and Novak got spun by different sources, and they told the story a little differently. Hard to say at this point.

(By the way, I suspect this Post reporter is the same person already mentioned in this September 30 story, so we still have only one reporter besides Novak who's come forward and fessed up to being on the receiving end of this leak.)

Josh Marshall makes pretty much the same points today, and also mentions that the New York Times has been curiously AWOL on this story. In a way, that's unfair: everyone has been AWOL in actually advancing the story except for the Post. Still, it's hard not to wonder if the Times even has someone assigned to this story. It seems like Bill Keller might be well advised to kick a little investigative ass down in the newsroom sometime soon.

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOG PARTY....I'm a little groggy this morning. Last night I drove up to Laurel Canyon for a party at Brian Linse's place in honor of Perry deHavilland and Adriana Cronin, who were in town visiting.

In addition to Brian, I got to reconnect with several people I've met before, including Armed Liberal, Ann Salisbury, and Martin Devon, and met several local bloggers for the first time, including Matt Welch, Bill Whittle, Steve Smith, Howard Owens, and (ever so briefly) Cathy Seipp.

Here's a news flash: bloggers sure can talk. And argue. About anything.

But you knew that. I watched a couple of guys almost come to blows over the question of whether the media is biased (conclusion: either yes or no, depending), and then joined a conversation with some folks who really know California politics. This stuff always amazes me. Before I started blogging, I kept up with things the usual way: I read the paper, skimmed some magazines, watched occasional TV news, etc. But these guys really keep up with policies, with personalities, and with unbelievable levels of minutiae. I just listened. The only real conclusion seemed to be that Phil Angelides is a comer. You heard it here first.

And that Matt Welch fellow is sure a pretty interesting guy. I was wondering how he ended up in Prague in the early 90s, and the answer turned out to be, more or less, that he had a dead end job at the time and just decided that Prague was a happening place. So he saved up some money and flew over, thinking maybe something would turn up.

That's either really dumb or really fascinating, and I vote for the latter. Besides, he also got a wife out of the deal.

Unfortunately, my hearing isn't so great, and after an hour or two at loud parties I have a hard time following conversations, which means I only followed bits and pieces after about 11:00. However, the others picked up the slack, and unlike me, they have the foghorn voices to cut through the din, so I guess it all worked out.

And I learned that even at 2:00 am there's a fair amount of traffic on I-5. It just never ends.

Kevin Drum 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

INSERT KEY BLUES....I'm really tired of accidentally hitting the Insert key when I'm really aiming for the Home, End, or Delete key.

Since I never actually use the Insert key, does anyone know a simple way of disabling it? I'm looking for something that doesn't require me to run some dorky DOS process or other similar kludge. And in case it matters, I'm running Windows XP.

A solution will undoubtedly lower my annoyance level and therefore lead to higher quality blogging. Just thought I'd throw that in....

UPDATE: Thanks, Kenneth! The remapkey utility doesn't allow me to disable the Insert key, but remapping it instead works fine. Problem solved.

UPDATE 2: Jeebus, folks, does everything incite a flame war these days? One puny little question about how to solve a problem on my PC and I end up with a couple of dozen long screeds on Macs vs. PCs. Give it a rest. I'm not an idiot (honest), and I use a PC for a reason. You're not going to talk me into selling my car just because its dome light switch isn't where I want it, either.

Now, for the people who asked how I could not use an Insert key, I'm not sure how to answer. Its primary purpose is to switch from insert mode to overstrike mode during text editing, and I never use overstrike mode. So when I hit the key by accident and keep typing merrily away, I end up erasing a dozen letters or so before I notice.

I do use the Insert key to paste text (Shift-Insert), but I'm just going to have to retrain myself to use Ctrl-V instead. I assume it will take only a day or two to change my habits.

Kevin Drum 3:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GROPING-GATE EXPLAINED....I don't think this is going to change anybody's mind, but LA Times editor John Carroll has a piece in the Sunday paper explaining his decision to publish the Arnold-groping story five days before the recall election. His main points:

  • Arnold has had this reputation for years, and when he announced his candidacy it became news.

  • Investigating a story like this is enormously time consuming.

  • They published it as soon as they could given the extremely compressed timeframe of the election.

  • They investigated similar stories about Gray Davis but found them wanting.

Carroll is obviously pretty peeved at the accusations hurled at the Times, and it shows. I suspect that the most quoted part of his explanation will be this one, where he hits back at reports that the Times acted maliciously:

In days past, such misleading stories tended to make a brief splash and then sink into richly deserved oblivion, but we're living in changing times.

Today, if a story has potential to stir resentment among large numbers of people, it is seized like gold by the talk shows. Whether true or false, it is cynically packaged as the inside story "they" don't want you to know.

Early in its electronic life cycle, such a story bounces around the talk shows and the Internet, often presented breathlessly as a revelation. Later, intoned on TV by people in dark suits, it acquires the solemnity of established truth.

The electronic revolution has brought us many blessings, but it has also blindsided us with a tidal wave of pornography. In similar fashion, we are now getting a faceful of rotten journalism journalistic pornography, actually in which ratings are everything and truth is nothing.

For what it's worth, (a) he's probably right, and (b) he probably shouldn't have written this. Under the circumstances, it sounds a little too close to Bill O'Reilly petulance for his own good.

POSTSCRIPT: Carroll also tells us that the story was too graphic for some people. "My wife informed me that I'd strayed far over the line in publishing one of the anecdotes," he says. At a wild guess, click on the story and search for "coffee" to find the anecdote he's talking about.

A complete list of all the groping stories is here.

Kevin Drum 3:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STREET SMART....This business about the bugging of Philadelphia mayor John Street's office is really kind of weird. Today we learn that the FBI wasn't really going after the mayor himself:

Street, 59, elected mayor in 1999 after 20 years in public service, is a "subject" of a two-year, federal investigation into allegations of public corruption, federal government sources have told CNN, although the focus of the investigation is unclear.

....According to the Justice Department, a "target" is someone whom prosecutors have evidence linking to a crime, while a "subject" is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation.

I'm not sure that really clears things up a lot, so I shall remain confused about the whole affair.

However, I do have one comment: I'm deeply disappointed that the FBI doesn't have access to bugs that are invisible to sweeps by local cops. Where's that technological knowhow that we always see in Tom Clancy novels?

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AMERICA THE RISKY?....I've mentioned before that although I think George Bush's foreign policy is misguided and ineffective, it's at least an arguable issue. His economic polices, on the other hand, are as stupefyingly wrong and dangerous as it's possible for an economic policy to be. Misguided tax cuts, out of control spending (and bad spending, at that), politically motivated tariff policies, long-term deficits as far as the eye can see all of this and more have combined into a genuine threat to our long-term well-being.

How bad is it? Last week's Economist reported on a computer model from Lehman Brothers called Damocles. Damocles is designed to predict the riskiness of emerging market economies, and a score of 75 or above indicates a one-third chance of a crisis within 12 months. Most of the world has seen their riskiness scores drop over the past few years, but there's an exception:

When Lehman ran America's economic numbers through Damocles, the outcome was striking. With its rapidly climbing current-account deficit and foreign debt, among other worries, America's Damocles index is just shy of 75. There are, points out Russell Jones, the bank's international economist, problems applying Damocles to America, which enjoys the luxury of having the world's reserve currency. Granted. Poorer countries tend to owe dollars, and therefore suffer when their currencies fall. Lucky America, of course, owes its own currency.

America is big enough and rich enough that we are unlikely to face the kind of crisis that a smaller third-world economy would face if they followed our policies. But that's not exactly inspiring news.

Bad policies are bad policies, and Damocles simply tells us what practically every economist already knows: we may not fall off a cliff anytime soon, but we are nonetheless in very serious trouble. And George Bush and his advisors simply don't seem to care. To them, economics is just another effete academic discipline to be shoved aside whenever it disagrees with their favored conservative ideology.

The problem is that this really matters. The 90s were a decade of American economic triumphalism, and it became conventional wisdom that the American brand of capitalism was a juggernaut that couldn't be stopped. The rest of the world just needed to shut up and follow our lead.

But what everyone forgot was that it was only one decade. During the 80s it was Japan that everyone wanted to copy, and in the 70s it was Germany. There is no iron law that says America's growth of the 90s has to last forever, and bad policies really can derail it. That's what's happening now, and the bill is going to come due sometime soon.

The only question left is, how soon?

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME'S CAREER....Today's Nick Kristof column on Valerie Plame actually contains some new information:

First, the C.I.A. suspected that Aldrich Ames had given Mrs. Wilson's name (along with those of other spies) to the Russians before his espionage arrest in 1994. So her undercover security was undermined at that time, and she was brought back to Washington for safety reasons.

Second, as Mrs. Wilson rose in the agency, she was already in transition away from undercover work to management, and to liaison roles with other intelligence agencies. So this year, even before she was outed, she was moving away from "noc" which means non-official cover, like pretending to be a business executive. After passing as an energy analyst for Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a C.I.A. front company, she was switching to a new cover as a State Department official, affording her diplomatic protection without having "C.I.A." stamped on her forehead.

The first part is an interesting tidbit, and the second part, while not really surprising, also adds a piece to the puzzle.

Kristof's conclusions about this are all sound. I agree that while the Plame affair is indeed very serious, it's unlikely that her life has been endangered or her career destroyed (although in fairness, those haven't really been the major talking points from the critics in any case). And I'm also skeptical that a special counsel should be appointed, although I'm more open to the idea than Kristof.

On the opposite side, however, it's unquestionably true that "Republicans have inexcusably tried to whitewash it." What matters, after all, is not so much the actual damage done by this exposure, but the potential damage. Senior White House officials are supposed to have the good sense to know that you treat information like this seriously because you don't know what kind of damage exposing it might cause. And you sure as hell don't leak it as part of a petty partisan smear campaign.

And finally, Kristof thinks journalists should shun Robert Novak for being a party to this smear. He's probably right about that too.

UPDATE: One more thing, though: Kristof really ought to tell us in general terms who his source for this column is. Someone in the CIA? Someone in the White House trying to downplay the damage? Plame's next door neighbor? Since this story has been all about spin and counterspin from the very beginning, knowing where the spin is coming from is a crucial part of any story.

Kevin Drum 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 10, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

AIR RAGE....President Bush on the virtues of flying in your own plane:

"Not much air rage on Air Force One," Bush jokingly told a fund-raising audience as he offered a ride on the presidential plane to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. The audience seemed baffled by the off-the-cuff remark about angry outbursts on planes.

I can well imagine.

Kevin Drum 7:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPERMARKET STRIKE....Supermarket workers are getting ready to strike here in Southern California. The supermarkets themselves have declined to talk about the deal they have on the table, so our only source of information is the unions:

Clerks and stockers earn as much as $17.90 an hour with fully paid family medical insurance. Many noted that they worked only part time and were lucky to put in as many as 30 hours a week.

"I can barely survive now," said Peter Morgan, who celebrated his 10th anniversary with Vons at a strike rally Thursday outside the Federation of Labor near downtown Los Angeles. Morgan, who manages a liquor department at a West Los Angeles store, said he worked 24 hours a week and earned about $12 an hour. "I have to borrow money from my friends sometimes just to make the rent," he said. "If they go through with this, I don't know what I'll do."

According to the union, proposed cuts in benefits could force workers to pay as much as 50% of the cost of medical visits, prescription drugs and hospital stays. The contract offer also would freeze wages for the first two years of the agreement, with a raise of as much as 30 cents an hour for the third year, and cut premium pay for nights, Sundays and holidays.

Note the phrasing: "as much as" $17.90 an hour, as if that was a king's ransom. But that's the absolute maximum, and even if you work full time that only comes to $37,000 a year. It's not exactly high living if you're trying to support a family, and most supermarket workers make much less.

These jobs, of course, are not under pressure from overseas. What they are under pressure from is Wal-Mart. Too bad federal law makes it virtually impossible to unionize a company that doesn't want to be unionized, isn't it?

And one more thing, even though you're probably tired of hearing me say it. Management apparently wants to freeze wages and cut healthcare benefits because of the tough economy they're facing. One question: is management planning to treat itself the same way?

Kevin Drum 7:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TELEMARKING UPDATE....The Do Not Call list has been in effect for a week now, so how's it going? Justene Adamec says she got two calls yesterday.

Since I blog um, I mean work from home, I answer every call we get, and our junk phone calls have definitely gone down. We used to get about five or six a day, but this week it's been more like one per day.

Not bad! And to think it only took Congress 20 years to pass this law....

Kevin Drum 6:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVIOR....So, how about a Survivor thread? Is anyone watching this season?

I'm enjoying it more than I did last season. The boys vs. girls thing didn't do much for me, but watching the utter futility of the Morgan tribe this year is vastly entertaining. It's like watching the '62 Mets.

And when are they going to catch on and get rid of Osten? Sure, the guy's a bodybuilder and has a lot of strength, but he's obviously not much of an athlete and doesn't add a lot even to the physical challenges. And mentally he's a basket case. I mean, why the hell did he swim out to one of the puzzle pieces last night if he knows he's not a good swimmer? What a nitwit. Here's a tip: when someone starts whining about wanting to be voted out, vote him out! Sheesh.

And how about Rupert? I know he's a big guy, but damn, he must be strong as an ox. One thing Osten does have going for him is raw strength, but last week's challenge relied solely on strength and Rupert just blew him away. He barely even looked winded when it was over.

And he sews! And fishes! And he's pretty shrewd too! He's an interesting character, an adult trapped in a frat boy game. Should be fun to watch.

And I'm glad they got some chocolate last night. Everybody needs a little chocolate once in a while.

Kevin Drum 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TODAY'S PLAME UPDATE....I'm always amused when some Washington player who's been around for decades claims that some embarrassing statement or other was, in retrospect, just an off-the-cuff lapse. It always sounds so plausible we all make mistakes, don't we? but it's usually completely bogus. After all, if you had spent your entire life writing about American literature, do you think that one day you would just absentmindedly refer to Mark Twain as a playwright?

Anyway, that was Robert Novak's excuse for using the word "operative" to describe Valerie Plame in his original July 14 column, and it never really passed the laugh test. As Novak keeps reminding us, he's been a Washington reporter for 46 years, he's written about the CIA hundreds of times, and he knows precisely what an "operative" is. There's no way he would carelessly use the word to refer to a desk analyst.

But just in case you still don't buy this, Josh Marshall hauls out the heavy artillery: a Nexis search that lists every single time Novak has ever used the word "operative" in connection with the CIA. And every single time it's referred to a covert agent.

So: Novak knew perfectly well Plame was covert, he described her using the word he always uses to describe covert operators, and he's just desperately trying to save some face now by pretending he wasn't paying attention when he first wrote the column. Nice try, Bob.

Josh also read the transcript of today's White House press briefing and is now pretty convinced that their statement that Rove and Libby "were not involved in leaking classified information" is nothing more than a precisely worded legal dodge. When asked directly if that meant Rove and Libby had ever told a reporter that Plame worked for the CIA, spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer directly. "They were not involved in this" was as specific as he was willing to get, and when someone asked what "this" referred to, he fell back to "the leaking of classified information."

There's a lotta word parsing going on in Washington these days. And we all know that when words start getting hyper-parsed, it usually means something is going on....

Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the right, Jasmine is trying to imitate one of our garden rabbits. On the left, Inkblot would rather just snooze.

BONUS CATS: Over at The Megs Channel, there are many, many picture of (duh) Megs. And there are many, many more here.

Elayne Riggs shows off Datsa and Amy looking unbearably smug here. And Elayne is also looking for a job, so if you know of any executive secretary or administrative assistant positions in New York City, let her know.

And finally, here is this week's Mazal update from Bill Sjostrom. Mazal appears to be 100% healthy and is right at the stage where kittens are at their peak of saccharine cuteness.

(And politics be damned. Anyone who rescues an abandoned kitten and then moves to a new house because his landlord doesn't allow cats is a wonderful human being in my book. Hell, he only gets one vote anyway. And he's in Ireland.)

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TEXAS REPUBLICANS REDUX....Based on a few emails I've gotten, I want to make one additional comment about my Texas Republican platform post from yesterday.

The Texas GOP represents a radical movement that has no place in American politics. Their goal, if they are allowed to reach it, is to completely dismantle the social safety net and impose a harsh and unrelenting theocratic regime regarding abortion, gender, divorce, and other social issues.

Most Republicans don't share these goals. In fact, the real point of yesterday's post was that while a large majority of Republicans find these attitudes absurd, most of them are in denial about what's happening in their party and pretend that this is nothing more than a weird little fringe group to be ignored. They have somehow convinced themselves that Tom DeLay a man who rather clearly endorses the views of the Texas Republican party is some obscure backbencher, not the House majority leader and a man with real power and real influence.

Every party has extremist elements. I can live with that, especially since most extremist elements have little actual power. But some political movements are so odious that decent people need to take active measures to shun them. In the same way that Democrats purged their party of communists in the 40s and Jim Crow racists in the 60s, and the Republicans purged their party of the Buchananites in the 90s, Republicans need to purge the Texas strain of messianic intolerance currently growing on their right wing. It is not harmless, it is not small, and it is not a joke.

Consider this. Suppose that very serious, very miltant communists took over the New York State Democratic party and wrote a platform advocating, say, nationalization of key industries and confiscatory taxation of all income over $50,000. And suppose that one of these New York Democrats had enough support in the party to become House majority leader. And then, finally, suppose that as communist influence spread throughout New England and beyond, Democrats pretended that nothing was amiss. A few communists here and there are harmless. Most of them don't really believe that stuff anyway, and we're just compromising with them on a few minor issues. Honest.

Republicans would rightly be aghast and would refuse to accept bland assurances that nothing serious was going on. And what I want is for the vast majority of decent mainstream Republicans to understand that something very similar is happening to them, and to insist that their party marginalize and repudiate the Texas strain of social destruction currently growing like a cancer on their right wing. It's been done before, and it can be done again.

Kevin Drum 10:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE ETIQUETTE....Jack O'Toole comments on yesterday's Democratic debate:

Unlike many (most?) bloggers, I'm not much of a press basher, but Judy Woodruff's performance at last night's Democratic debate was, to put it mildly, unfortunate.

Over and over she interrupted the candidates as they offered their negative assessments of the current administration with the admonition that the voters needed to know where they differed with each other, not President Bush. Did it really never occur to Ms. Woodruff that one of the most important differences among the candidates is how they go about critiquing the man one of them will be running against next year?

I already commented about this at Jack's site, but I'm curious what other people think about this.

I watched about five minutes of the debate, and in that short time I actually found Woodruff somewhat refreshing. Instead of letting the candidates wander off into their usual campaign speeches, she interrupted and forced them to actually address the questions she was asking.

Now, I admit that this might have gotten annoying for a full 90 minutes, which is why I'm curious to know what other people who watched the whole debate thought of this. Personally, I've always found campaign debates pretty uninteresting because the candidates simply ignore the questions and fire off their usual tiresome applause lines. Maybe Woodruff strayed too far in the other direction, but surely there's a happy medium somewhere?

Kevin Drum 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 9, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

FISCAL CONSERVATISM....Daniel Henninger is nothing short of laughable in the Wall Street Journal today:

Arnold is not your Republican father's "moderate." Those traditional Republican moderates have long been accepted into polite political circles only if they understand that their proper place in Sacramento, Albany or Washington is to serve as pliant small-town lending officers to the dominant Democratic leadership. Say a Democrat wants to spend $4 billion; the GOP "moderate" will counter with $3.5 billion--and then they'll compromise at $3.95 billion. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran against this theory of a moderate Republicanism that is complicit in a long liberal legacy of tax, spend and tax again.

I'm not sure which is more risible: the idea of proclaiming Arnold a true conservative before he's made so much as a single decision in the governor's chair, or the idea that all those fiscal conservatives currently running the country are somehow more averse to spending money than Democrats are.

To use Henninger's own phrase, here's how conservative Republicans operate these days:

Say the president wants to spend $4 billion; the GOP "conservative" will counter with $5 billion--and then they'll compromise at $5.5 billion.

This is the dangerous joke that fiscally conservative Republicanism has become. Henninger sure better hope he's wrong about Arnold, because if he takes after these guys California is going to be reduced to selling off the Capitol dome to the Bank of China around June of next year.

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LESSONS IN CIVILITY....Remember that David Brooks column in the New York Times a few weeks ago suggesting that all the Bush haters ought to calm down a bit? Sure, conservatives were kinda rough on Clinton, but haven't we all learned a lesson from that?

At the time, several people suggested that his column was aimed directly at fellow Times columnist and prototypical angry liberal Paul Krugman, but I didn't buy it. It seemed like everyone was reading a little too much into his words.

Well, it looks like I was wrong, because Krugman himself certainly seems to think it was a shot across the bow. He replies today, and you don't have to dig very far below the surface to see that, reduced to words of one syllable, he's telling Brooks to go fuck himself.

The Times sandbox is getting a little testy.

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME IN PICTURES....Good cartoon about the Plame affair from Jack Ohman of The Oregonian yesterday.

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CALPUNDIT BACK UP....Yeah, I'm back. What a mess. A combination of host problems and Movable Type fragility wiped out my site for the entire day. I'd bore you with all the details, but I'm too pissed off right now to write about it.

Anyway, all the posts and archives are back online, although all comments have been lost for the previous dozen or so posts.

Also, all my permalinks changed during the reconstruction process, so if you have ever linked to anything at all here, your links now point to the wrong post. It's not quite the classic version of linkrot, but it's close.

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW PLAME THEORY....A few people have emailed to ask what I thought of Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball's article in Newsweek that proposed a new theory about one aspect of the Plame affair. I ignored it yesterday because I didn't think there was much to it, but since I've obviously dedicated myself to 24/7 Plame blogging, I guess I should at least link to it.

Basically, the article suggests that contrary to what the Washington Post's source told them, the Plame leaker didn't contact six journalists to try and spread the story. Rather, only Robert Novak was contacted, and the other six were contacted after Novak's column was printed.

I'm not sure it matters that much, but in any case their only evidence for this is that Joseph Wilson was not contacted by any reporters until after Novak's column ran. That strikes them as odd. But since those six reporters apparently decided not to pursue the story, the lack of calls to Wilson strikes me as not only not odd, but exactly what you'd expect. Why contact Wilson for a story you're not interested in?

(Isikoff and Hosenball also imply that there's lots of high level gossip that backs up their theory. Maybe so, but that's hard to evaluate, and in any case, as Atrios points out, there's at least one other journalist who was contacted before Novak's column ran. For now I'm going to stay agnostic on this.)

But this is also a good excuse to write about something I've been wondering about for a while: if there really are six journalists who were contacted about this, why haven't they come forward? I don't mean come forward to reveal their source, I just mean come forward to write a piece saying that they were contacted about this. It would be a good story, it's clearly news, and it's not breaking any confidentiality agreements. After all, their source wanted them to write about this.

It seems like there are a few possibilities:

  • There aren't six other journalists. The Post's source just got it wrong.

  • The journalists are all reliable conservatives, and now that the scandal has broken open they are staying quiet because they don't want to undermine the administration.

  • For some reason, they feel that even identifying themselves as leakees would violate source confidentiality in some way. Or else they're just chicken and don't want to run the risk of being served a subpoena.

Just wondering.

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THE BROOKLYN LOS ANGELES DODGERS....This isn't the most important story in the world, but I just read in the LA Times that Walter O'Malley, the guy who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 and served as president of the Dodgers from 1950-1970, will probably never be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Here's a guy who was part of breaking the color barrier by hiring Jackie Robinson, who won eight National League pennants and four World Series, was part of the original migration of the league west of the Mississippi, and built one of the beautiful ballparks in the country. He was a class act and one of the most influential baseball owners ever. But there's this:

"Walter did a lot of great things for baseball," said Hal Lebovitz, Hall of Fame writer from Ohio. "But I can't vote for him the way I could never vote for Art Modell for the football Hall of Fame. In a way, they were traitors to their cities."

Damn, are there really people still holding a grudge over this? And we wonder why we can't make peace in the Middle East?

Anyway, today is O'Malley's 100th birthday, so his son Peter, who followed his father and served as Dodger president for over two decades, has launched a website dedicated to Walter and the Dodgers. Check it out if you're a baseball fan (even if you are from New York....).

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THE NEW MODEL REPUBLICAN PARTY....Earlier this week I had lunch with my mother. We got to talking about politics and she asked, "What's happened to the Republican party? They used to just be the party of rich people."

That's actually a penetrating question, and I want to try and answer it. In fact, I mainly want to try and answer it for conservatives who wonder why liberals treat them like lepers.

The Republican party, of course, still is the party of rich people, but if that's all it was then liberals like me would simply treat it as an ordinary opposition party to be fought civilly and compromised with when necessary. But it's become much more than that over the past couple of decades. It has become completely unhinged. Try this on for size:

Republicans won't rest until abortion is completely outlawed, Social Security is abolished, the welfare state is completely rolled back, the book of Genesis is taught in science classes, and the federal income tax is abolished.

When I occasionally repeat (milder) versions of this here, my conservative commenters think I'm nuts. "Every party has a few wingnuts," they say. "These guys don't have any real influence."

And the thing is, I think they're telling the truth. With a couple of exceptions, I think the kind of conservatives who visit here don't believe this. It's absurd. It's a caricature.

But the problem is that I'm not sure they realize what their party is becoming. The heart and soul of Republican grass roots activism can be found pretty easily: it's in Texas. The New Model radical right took over the Texas Republican party a decade ago and elected George Bush governor. They have since taken over the entire state and propelled one of their own to the presidency and another to leadership of the House of Representatives. They bring a messianic fervor to their task, and after successfully taking over the second biggest state in the union their sights are now set on the entire country. This is not a fringe group. It is the biggest, most active, most energetic, and most determined segment of the Republican party today.

So it's fair to ask, what do they really want? Not what their public face is, and not what's politically feasible at the moment, but what are their goals? What kind of America do they want?

The answer is easy to come by if you really want to know, because the Texas Republican party regularly publishes a party platform. And like all true believers, they are very clear about what they want. So here it is: selected excerpts from the Texas Republican Party Platform of 2000. At the end of six years with George W. Bush at their helm, this was and largely remains their vision for America.

The Texas Republican Party Platform for 2000

Texas GOP Platform

Short Translation

The Party calls for the United States monetary system to be returned to the gold standard. Since the Federal Reserve System is a private corporation, has no reserves, and is not subject to taxation or audit, we call on Congress to abolish this institution and reassume its authority, enumerated by Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, for the coinage of money.

The United States should return to the gold standard and abolish the Federal Reserve.

Congress should be urged to exercise its authority under Article III, Sections 1 and 2 of the United States Constitution, and should withhold appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in such cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and all rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.

The Supreme Court should not be allowed to decide the constitutionality of laws regarding abortion, religion, or anything else related to the Bill of Rights. In these areas, Congress should be allowed to pass any laws it wishes.

Our Party pledges to do everything within its power to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States and the concept of the separation of Church and State and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State.

We should completely do away with separation of church and state.

The party opposes the decriminalization of sodomy....We publicly rebuke judges Chief Justice Murphy and John Anderson, who ruled that the 100 year-old Texas sodomy law is unconstitutional, and ask that all members of the Republican Party of Texas oppose their re-election.

Gay sex should be a criminal offense.

The Party affirms its support for a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse making clear that the Fourteenth Amendments protection applies to unborn children.

All abortion of all kinds should be permanently outlawed by constitutional amendment.

No homosexual or any individual convicted of child abuse or molestation should have the right to custody or adoption of a minor child, and that visitation with minor children by such persons should be limited to supervised periods.

Gays should be treated like child molesters and should not be allowed to visit children unsupervised.

The Party believes that scientific topics, such as the question of universe and life origins and environmental theories, should not be constrained to one opinion or viewpoint. We support the teaching equally of scientific strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories--as Texas now requires (but has yet to enforce) in public school science course standards. We urge revising all environmental education standards to require this also. We support individual teachers right to teach creation science in Texas public schools.

The Biblical story of creation should be taught in science classes.

The Party supports an orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.

Social Security should be abolished.

We urge that the IRS be abolished and the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution be repealed. A constitutional tax, collected and controlled by the States, must generate sufficient revenue for the legitimate tasks of the national government.

The federal income tax should be abolished.

The Party believes the minimum wage law should be repealed.

The federal minimum wage should be abolished.

We further support the abolition of federal agencies involved in activities not delegated to the federal government under the original intent of the Constitution including, but not limited to, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the position of Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce and Labor.

The EPA, HUD, HHS, the Department of Education, and several other federal agencies should be eliminated. Since these departments supervise all federal welfare programs for the poor and sick, they are presumably advocating the complete abolishment of the federal welfare state.

The Party believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.

Get the United States out of the UN.

The Party urges Congress to support HJR 77, the Panama and America Security Act, which declare the Carter-Torrijos Treaty null and void. We support re-establishing United States control over the Canal in order to retain our military bases in Panama, to preserve our right to transit through the Canal, and to prevent the establishment of Chinese missile bases in Panama.

Take back the Panama Canal.

This plank remains in the 2002 platform. Since Panama presumably would object to this, they appear to be endorsing military action to retake the canal zone.

Any person filing as a Republican candidate for a public or Party office shall be provided a current copy of the Party platform at the time of filing. The candidate shall be asked to read and initial each page of the platform and sign a statement affirming he/she has read the entire platform.

We are dead serious about all this.

These are not the words of sane people. This is not "reform," this is not "common sense," and this is not "restraining government growth." This is plain and simple madness and the people behind it have real influence.

California is probably the most liberal state in the country, so for comparison you can take a look at the California Democratic Party Platform for 2000 to see what the other end of the spectrum looks like. By comparison it's pretty feeble liberal fare: affirmative action, commitment to education, opposition to global warming, etc. etc. You may find many things you disagree with strongly and a few that you think are just goofy, but nothing remotely close to the Texas GOP. Nothing to compare with the obsessive militant lunacy of abolishing Social Security or seizing the Panama Canal.

If this were just a lunatic fringe we could all have a good laugh over their manifesto and then go out for a beer. But you can't dismiss it so easily. Texas-style conservatism has already put George Bush, Tom DeLay, and Karl Rove in charge of the country, and it is very much the future of the Republican party. And for all the conservatives reading this: I know this doesn't necessarily represent what you believe. But whether you like it or not, this kind of thinking does represent a very strong, very fast growing segment of the leadership of your party, and this is why liberals think the Republican party is just plain scary these days. We know that this is their agenda, we know that they really truly want to do this stuff, and we know that they are steadily gaining influence.

And to liberals: this is what we're fighting. Republicans may be smart enough to make soothing noises and put friendly faces like George Bush's in front of their agenda, but behind the facade this is what they want and they won't rest until they get it. It's our job to make sure everyone knows this.

UPDATE: More here.

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October 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD NIXES T4....Arnold has decided to switch careers:

The people of California want me to be their governor and I will do that and nothing else. There will be no time for movies, or anything else. I will pay full attention to this job.

Well, I'm glad he cleared that up. Was there really any uncertainty about whether he would continue making movies while governor of California?

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THE WHEELS OF JUSTICE GRIND SLOW....I just heard on CNN that the Justice Department expects the Plame investigation to take at least until the end of the year.

As Atrios would say, oy.

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CAT UPDATE....I continue to betray my cats' trust. Today I stuffed Jasmine into a box, drove her to that strange antiseptic room she hates so much, and then paid some people to stick needles into her. She's not happy about it, although she seems to have forgiven me.

She also has a fairly strong heart murmur. There's not really anything we can do about it, and that being the case I sort of wish they hadn't even told me. Why worry over something that you can't change?

And don't anybody tell Inkblot, but he's next. The only difference is that he gets a bigger box.

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By: Kevin Drum

TEXAS REDISTRICTING....Well, I was hoping the Texas Republicans would just keep hitting each over the head forever, but no such luck:

Texas House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement in principle Wednesday to redraw the state's congressional boundaries, settling a dispute among Republican lawmakers, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said.

After days of closed-door meetings, legislators reached a deal after U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay met with state officials in the Capitol for three straight days this week. The final sticking point was over how to draw districts in West Texas.

"It is my hope that we can have a final map that we can show you tomorrow morning," Dewhurst said.

More about Texas Republicans later tonight.

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By: Kevin Drum

URL UPDATE....Mark Kleiman has joined the vast migration away from Blogger and now has a new address:


Update your bookmarks.

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BUSH'S RHETORIC....Just in case this post from yesterday "noted without comment" needed a note after all, Jack O'Toole provides it. Thanks, Jack.

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FINAL RECALL WORDS....I don't have a whole lot to say about how the recall is going to shake out, but I do have a few things to say about it.

First, some good news: both Proposition 53 and Proposition 54 failed by big margins. Prop 54 was the latest in a string of race baiting initiatives here in California, and I hope this is a sign that people are tired of them. Prop 53 would have required a certain percentage of the budget to be allocated to infrastructure projects, but regardless of whether or not we should be spending more on infrastructure, the last thing California needs is yet another voter-mandated spending requirement. That's part of what's gotten us into this mess.

As for Arnold, I suspect that he won't do any harm and may even do some good. I didn't vote for the guy, and I thought he ran a dishonest and deceptive campaign, but at the same time he's not an ideologue and he's not a crusader. For the good of the state, I'm willing to give him a chance. We'll deliver a verdict on his performance in 2006.

One reason that Schwarzenegger isn't likely to do a lot of harm or a lot of good is that it was never the governor's office that was the real problem anyway. The LA Times explains the reality here, and while their editorial has an "eat your vegetables" tone to it, it's also dead on. Californians continue to live in a dreamland when it comes to taxes and governance, but this detachment from reality is now so entrenched in the state constitution (thanks to our addiction to ballot initiatives) that it's hard to see how we're ever going to dig our way out. Maybe Arnold has the oomph to do some good here. We'll see.

(As for national implications, I don't think there are any. The recall was a one-off, an opportunistic power grab fueled by a unique combination of a huge budget mess, a weird state constitution, and a universally reviled governor. It doesn't mean California is turning Republican, and it doesn't mean George Bush has a chance of carrying the state in 2004. On the downside, though, CNN's John Mercurio writes that "we predict that he'll match, if not outpace, George W. Bush as the most coveted GOP fund-raiser ever to walk the Earth." That's a real problem.)

So what's next? The California recall is just the latest in a lengthening string of naked power grabs that reveal the cankered soul at the top of the Republican party these days. Even leaving aside Florida 2000, we've seen unprecedented mid-decade redistrictings in both Colorado and Texas; campaigns that compare Democrats directly to Osama bin Laden; an indecent and truly morally bereft performance following Paul Wellstone's death; the end of the traditional blue slip rule for judicial nominees in the Senate because control of both houses of Congress and the White House and most of the judiciary isn't enough for them; and the Valerie Plame affair, a scandal that, I think, is truly an "At long last sir, have you no decency?" moment.

And now this. Fighting Arnold or trying to recall him is hopeless, and we should forget about it. A recall would fail, it would engender a big backlash among California voters who are tired of the circus, and it would make the Democratic party look like obstructionists and crybabies.

But this has got to stop. We should be mad as hell over what's happening, and we do need to be willing to fight every bit as nasty as the Republican leadership is obviously willing to fight. It's pretty obvious they simply don't understand any other language.

But we don't just want to get mad, we also want to get even. And that means picking our battles. State and local action is important, and we should fight hard for every governorship and every congressional seat, all the way down to every city council seat. But to kill a snake you cut off its head.

Texas-style Republicanism is the engine of the radical right today, and George Bush is its leader. He should be our target, not Arnold Schwarzenegger. So stay mad, stay mad as hell, but stay smart too. November 2004 is the next battleground, and evicting George Bush from the White House is our goal. Don't forget it.

UPDATE: I imagine there's going to be a ton of reaction to the recall all over the blogosphere, and I'm not going to try and keep up with all of it. But John Scalzi has a few, um, considered thoughts on the matter:

At this moment conservative Republicans are the people who are apparently the most inclined to piss on the election process, which is a culmination of a couple of decades of incestuous intellectual fermentation resulting in an insensate desire for power at nearly any cost.

Word, Brother John. And there's more where that came from.

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October 7, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD WINS....So it looks like the recall has passed and Arnold is the new governor. Kos comments:

In the end, it doesn't look like it was close. Arnold is the new governor of California.

For six months.

With all due respect, can I beg everyone to please not go there? Trying to mount a recall against Arnold would be bad for California, bad for the Democratic party, and only distracts attention from the bigger task at hand: electing a Democrat to the White House in 2004. It's time for the circus to stop.

This is one time that we should accept defeat graciously and turn our attention to more important things. Remember, anger is only useful if it's focused and channeled on something worthwhile, and recalling Arnold isn't it. Let's not blow it.

UPDATE: Well, so far the comments are running pretty strongly in favor of all-out war. I don't actually have a big problem with that, but I'd prefer that the war be fought on a national stage, not here in California. Trying to recall Arnold would be doomed to failure anyway, and I'd rather see all this rage focused on the guy who really deserves it: George W. Bush.

Eyes on the prize, folks, eyes on the prize. I don't actually care all that much who the governor of California is and I live here! but nothing in this world would give me more pleasure than to see George Bush sent packing back to Crawford next November, never to be heard from again. That's the goal to keep front and center.

UPDATE 2: Plus, to be honest, I really don't want California to be a continual war zone. We really do have some problems to solve here, and running two recall campaigns a year isn't going to help us do it.

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THE REAL VALERIE PLAME....The Washington Post has a good profile of Valerie Plame today. Obviously there's a limited amount of information available about her, but Dana Priest and Richard Leiby seem to have dug up a fair amount of interesting background. She sure as hell was no desk jockey.

Honors for best line goes to Plame's mother:

"They spoiled it. They more than spoiled it -- they brought a lot of harm," Diane Plame said, referring to the leakers and to Novak. "For people to come out and say this would cause no harm, what kind of IQs do they have?"

I'm not sure that IQ is actually the relevant personality characteristic here, but point taken.

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FIRST JIMMY CARTER, AND NOW....I'll hop on the bandwagon hoping that this is true. Not because I actually have any opinion on the merits of the case, but just because it would cause so much wailing and moaning from the conservative wingnut crowd, and that would be fun.

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"FLAT FALSE"....The head of the nonpartisan General Accounting Office is speaking out:

Comptroller General David M. Walker on Monday disputed as "flat false" President Bush's forecast that economic growth spurred by tax cuts will help shrink the federal government's annual deficits.

...."The idea that this is manageable or that we are going to grow our way out of the problem is just flat false," Walker said. "Even if we repeal all the tax cuts, you are still going to have to make tough choices."

You know, we can quarrel about the war and foreign policy and all that, but that stuff is at least arguable. After all, despite a lot of pretty confident rhetoric on both sides, none of us really knows for sure the best way to fight terrorism and help bring the Arab world into the 21st century.

But as Walker says, Bush's economic policies are as flatly wrong as it's possible for an economic policy to be. Outside of the administration, there are virtually no serious economists left who are willing to defend them.

But the tax cut jihad continues, with disaster looming ever closer with every year we close our eyes and pretend that this can keep up forever. I've had friends before who were so incapable of rational thought that they figured they could keep running up credit card debt forever and somehow it would never catch up. That produced tragedies on a personal level, but the thing is, I never thought someone that detached from reality would ever be running the country.

It's scary.

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CLARK'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER QUITS....Donnie Fowler, Wesley Clark's campaign manager, has quit:

Fowler has complained that while the Internet-based draft-Clark supporters have been integrated into the campaign, their views are not taken seriously by Fabiani, Klain and other top advisers, many of them based in Washington. He has warned Clark's team that the campaign is threatening to be overly focused on Washington, a charge leveled against Gore's campaign in 2000.

Early stumbles like this aren't necessarily ruinous, but they sure look bad. Clark better get control of his campaign forthwith, especially considering how little time he has.

UPDATE: Nothing about this on Clark's blog. I guess they deserve a couple of minutes but no more! to get their story straight, but they ought to address it there.

UPDATE 2: OK, they've got something now, but jeez, it took them a full two hours to react. Come on, this is internet time here! There's no room for slackers!

UPDATE 3: Clark is still pulling down $30,000 for giving speeches even though he's an announced presidential candidate? Even if this isn't an election law violation, it seems really dumb.

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JUST STOP IT....Tacitus notes here that apparently some lefty fans of Calpundit have taken to spamming him with copies of my posts, typically adding only the closing comment, "But you're too f

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RECALL MADNESS....I just got back from voting, and despite the fact that I actually wrote a post two months ago explaining exactly how the candidates' names were ordered on the ballot, I was still brought up short. I was under the vague impression that while the starting point was random in each county (my ballot started with S), names were alphabetical after that.

Nope. As I myself wrote, the order of names is completely random, so you literally have to search through all 135 names to find the person you want to vote for. My choice, of course, was the 134th person listed. Sheesh.

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BUSH GETS SERIOUS....PART 2....George Bush briefs reporters on his ongoing efforts to find out who leaked Valerie Plame's name:

"I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official," Bush said. "I don't have any idea. I'd like to. I want to know the truth."

But, Bush said, "This is a large administration and there's a lot of senior officials."

Noted without comment. It just takes your breath away, doesn't it?

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HANDICAPPING THE RECALL....FINAL EDITION....In a display of pundit machismo, I am going to link to my recall predictions from two months ago. Here's the summary:

  • "I think the recall with succeed. My prediction is that it will get 55-60% of the vote and Gray Davis will get tossed out."

  • "I don't think the courts will stop the election."

  • Schwarzenegger will get only 25% of the vote and lose to Bustamante, but "If Schwarzenegger and McClintock end up as the only serious Republicans, Schwarzenegger wins."

Tomorrow we'll see how I do at this stuff.

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HOW MANY BLOGGERS?....Via Road to Surfdom, here's an interesting little survey about the nature of the blogosphere. The methodology is less than perfect, since it doesn't include blogs that people host themselves (which includes most of the big name blogs), but even so there's some interesting data:

  • Total number of blogs: 4.12 million.

  • Number of blogs that lasted only one day: 1.09 million.

  • Number of blogs that have been abandoned: 2.72 million

  • Of the 1.4 million remaining "active" blogs, only 106,000 are updated at least weekly.

  • Only about 50,000 are updated daily.

You should take all this with a grain of salt, but it's still interesting. When I think of a blog I think of something that's updated more or less daily, and it turns out there's only about 50,000 of those, not the millions we usually hear about.

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UNIONS AND PROGRESSIVISM....What's the best way to create lots of new progressive voters? Nathan Newman says, "More unions!"

And he's got the charts and the numbers to prove it. So how about asking Wesley Clark if he's in favor of repealing the Taft-Hartley Act?

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BUSH GETS A BLOG....Over at his blog, George Bush says....

Ahem. His blog?

Yes, it's true. George Bush now has an official campaign blog, complete with nifty logo. The postings are apparently all done by some fellow named GeorgeWBush.com, who tells us that we've found loads of WMD in Iraq, the jobs picture is looking good, and President Bush was scheduled to meet with his cabinet yesterday at 10:45 am. Plus we learn that there are 392 days left until Bush gets booted out of the White House the November election. You can also sign up for email InstantNewsALERTS as well as an official news feed for your website.

Oddly, though, there's no news about the progress of the investigation into the Plame affair. Just an oversight, I'm sure.

UPDATE: So, anyway, while I was over there I clicked on the tab called "Compassion," because, really, who puts a tab on their website called "Compassion"? And then I clicked on "Compassion Photos," because what the heck is a compassion photo?

The "Compassion Photo Gallery" is here, and it turns out that "compassion" is a code word for "black people." This is where you go if you want pictures of Bush with blacks and Hispanics.

Jeez, I guess I should have known. I note that no such care was taken with the "Homeland Security Photo Gallery" or the "National Security Photo Gallery," which are pretty much a sea of white faces except for the odd photo of Colin and Condi. Just a coincidence, I suppose.

Someone else will have to look through the other photo galleries. That's enough for me.

Kevin Drum 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARNOLD UPDATE....A couple of days ago I joked that before long it would be easier to make a list of women who hadn't been groped by Arnold than it would be to make a list of those who had. Columnist Steve Lopez reports today that at least one person seems to have taken me seriously:

Hi Steve,

I felt it is important to speak up after all the terrible accusations in the L.A. Times, a paper that I read faithfully even when I am abroad at film festivals like Cannes.

If 15 or 16 women have come forth with accusations, then I can give you a list of at least 50 who regard Arnold Schwarzenegger as a total gentleman....

Well, that's comforting, isn't it?

(And for the record, one more woman came forward on Monday, so as of election day the total number of accusers stands at sweet 16. That's enough for a tennis tournament!)

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH GETS SERIOUS....President Bush says the Plame affair is a serious matter:

President Bush said on Monday that the unauthorized disclosure of an undercover C.I.A. officer's identity was a "very serious matter" and "a criminal action"....

The announcement and Mr. Bush's adamant words reflected a tougher public approach by the White House to the leak, which has been attributed to senior administration officials. Democrats have criticized the administration for not treating the disclosure of the classified information more forcefully.

But as Mark Kleiman points out, his deeds don't seem to match his rhetoric:

White House lawyers will review phone logs and other records supplied by presidential aides before turning the documents over to the Justice Department officials conducting the investigation into who leaked a CIA undercover operative's identity, officials said Monday.

....Administration officials said the White House counsel's office may need up to two weeks to organize documents that some 2,000 employees are required to submit by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

So the White House is going to spend two weeks combing through the evidence before they turn it over to investigators. Just to "organize" it and "check" for national security concerns.

It looks like Bush is serious all right. Unfortunately, we forgot to ask him exactly what he's serious about: catching the leaker or protecting his staff. Now we know.

Mark spells this out more plainly, just in case I didn't

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YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW....Here's a trivial but curious observation triggered by this post over at Atrios. The gist is that the Washington Post had a story on Saturday that said "Yesterday, a senior administration official..." and then on Sunday they had a story that placed the same event on Saturday.

As Atrios points out, there's no mystery: the first story was on the web on Saturday but was written for the Sunday print edition, so "yesterday" meant Saturday.

But here's the thing: when I was in journalism school I was taught never to use "today," "tomorrow," or "yesterday" in a news story. This was long before the web, of course, but even then you didn't know for sure when someone would be reading the story. Proper style, I was told, was always to use a specific day: "On Friday officials told the Gazette...."

So what gives? News stories these days constantly use "yesterday" and "tomorrow," so when did the rule change? And why? Given the vagaries of the web, I would think that this rule would be more important than ever, and I recommend that all proper newsrooms resurrect it.

That is all.

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I'M BACK....Well, that was only moderately painful. I convinced my mother to buy a shiny new 17" flat panel to go with the computer, and after filling out the voluminous rebate paperwork the whole package is going to run her less than $1000. Not bad. We even got a free bubble jet printer that we didn't want because buying it lowered the cost of the whole system.

Anyway, between the bigger monitor and a high-speed internet connection, Mom should become an internet junkie in no time. And Calpundit is so much easier to read on a big screen!

We even accidentally ended up with a good deal on Microsoft Office. The store offered to install Small Business Edition for $180, but then it turned out they were out of stock and couldn't give us the deal after all. Then, after we'd finished the purchase, I wandered back into the software section just to see how much Office costs, and found that they had a whole stack of Office packages for $150 for teachers and students only. Well, Mom is a teacher, not that the clerk seemed to care that much, so we bought it. It's probably not as cheap as it would be if Microsoft actually had some competition in this market, but hey, we'll take what we can get. (And now Mom has Excel too! Whole new vistas of software to get annoyed at!)

As I learned when I bought my first flat panel, they work properly only at their native resolution, which is normally their highest resolution. As near as I can tell, no manufacturer ever tells you this, so it's something that simply gets passed down orally like ancient druidic traditions or something. In this case, though, not only did I have to reset the resolution, but I also had to fiddle endlessly with two controls called "Clock" and "Phase" to get the display sharp. I was just about ready to throw the monitor through a window when I accidentally hit on just the right combination.

Oh, and we decided to go with Road Runner. Thanks for all the advice, it's much appreciated, and I hope it works out. The good news is that Time Warner claims they will do the installation free, including running a new cable outlet into Mom's bedroom.

Now, wasn't that fascinating? Don't you wish I'd told you all the unabridged version instead?

Kevin Drum 8:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOX WIN....Hmmm, looks like David Adesnik is going to have to decide whether to root for the Red Sox after all. Congratulations, Boston fans!

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NEEDED: INTERNET ADVICE....I'm off to buy a new computer for my mother. Wish me luck.

Actually, this is all part of a massive IT infrastructure upgrade over at the CalMom's house. And you can help!

We're going to replace her old dial-up internet connection with a shiny new cable modem courtesy of Time Warner Cable. However, Time Warner offers three services: Road Runner, AOL, or Earthlink. Which one should we choose?

If any of you have personal experience with Time Warner and any of these services, please drop us a comment and let us know what you think. Thanks!

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GEORGE BUSH'S CHARACTER....Tom Bevan, one of the solid Republicans over at RealClear Politics, has a very clearheaded summary of the Plame affair and what the president should do about it. Here's part of it:

Obviously, the worse case scenario is that Bush knows who leaked the information and has taken no action against them thus far. This seems absolutely insane to me and would shatter assumptions that many people (including myself) have and respect about the President.

Another equally damaging iteration of this scenario is that the President has some indication of who the leaker is but doesn't "technically" know because he hasn't or won't confront that person directly. Again, this doesn't seem rational to me given what we know about this President's character.

Needless to say, I suspect that the president's character isn't quite what Tom thinks it is, but at least we're in broad agreement that this episode gives us a chance to find out. If Bush were to get aggressive about finding out who leaked Valerie Plame's name even at this late date I would give him credit for having more character than I suspected. If he doesn't, people like Tom are in for a rude shock.

Kevin Drum 10:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO'S IN CHARGE TODAY?....As near as I can tell, our postwar Iraq timeline looks something like this:

So we've tried the Pentagon, we've tried the State Department, and now we're going to try the White House. What's next if that doesn't work?

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SECOND CLASS TREATMENT FOR CATS?....Should we dislike the French? James Joyner finally comes up with a reason I can agree with.

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SCIENCE AND POLITICS....Chris Mooney has a good article in yesterday's Boston Globe about the demise of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment at the hands of Newt Gingrich and what it's meant for Congress' ability to understand scientific issues. Despite its low cost and high quality work, OTA produced some reports (especially on missile defense) that angered Republicans, and because of that it's not likely to make a return:

Those hoping to revive OTA face a political bind. Most advocates believe the most sensible option would be to create a new office modeled closely on its predecessor. But Michigan congressman Vernon Ehlers, another pro-OTA Republican and a physicist, says that as long as his party retains control of Congress, "reconstructing OTA as it was has zero chance of becoming law."

This should not come as a surprise. In November 2001, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a lengthy article on "the waning influence of scientists on national policy." The Chronicle cited the already dramatic rifts between the Bush administration and the majority of scientists on stem cells, climate change, and missile defense.

Over at his blog, Chris adds a few points that didn't make it into the article. Not only did the rest of world follow our lead in creating OTA-like offices and then watch in amazement as we shut down ours, but OTA was likely a money saver:

In terms of OTA saving taxpayer money, the thinking goes like this. OTA's budget when it was shut down was only $ 22 million a year -- small potatoes, really. Indeed, a bill introduced by New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt would revive OTA to the tune of $ 20 million a year. But by rigidly evaluating our government's investments in science and technology, single OTA studies could save far more money than this. According to Guston and Margolis, one particular OTA report helped save $ 368 million on computer procurements for the Social Security Administration.

Unfortunately, science is all about facts, which are sometimes inconvenient. And we all know how the Bush administration feels about inconvenient facts.

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 5, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

BASEBALL SADISM....David Adesnik has some agonizing and sadistic thoughts about who to root for in the playoffs. Since I'm not a Yankees fan, my decision tree is a little simpler than his, but I have to admit that a Cubs-Red Sox World Series would be a winner.

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THE REAL SCANDAL....Warning: there's a bit of a long post ahead. Sorry, but I couldn't manage to cut it down to a more manageable size.

Since the Valerie Plame affair broke open last weekend, the most popular meme that's emerged among the "slime and defend" crowd has been that the outing of a CIA agent isn't the real scandal. Rather, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "The real intelligence scandal is how an open opponent of the U.S. war on terror such as Mr. Wilson was allowed to become one of that policy's investigators."

How indeed? Why on earth did the CIA pick a guy like Joseph Wilson to visit Niger to check up on possible uranium sales to Iraq? Were they crazy?

The obvious answer, of course, is to look at his qualifications: 23 years in the diplomatic service, most of it in African countries such as Togo, South Africa, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, and, of course, Niger. He was well respected by George Bush Sr. and had served as our last ambassador to Iraq before the Gulf War. So as one of the very few people in the world with expertise in Africa and a firsthand knowledge of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime, he must have seemed like an ideal choice.

Still, he was an outspoken opponent of the war. Why would the CIA send such a person on a sensitive mission? Were they deliberately trying to undermine the president?

Good question. But although Wilson is certainly an outspoken opponent of the war now, was he one back in February 2002, when he took his trip to Niger? Here's how he describes his attitude then:

A year ago [i.e., the beginning of 2002] I spent a lot of time talking to people who I fought the Gulf War with, that team, the people around the president's father, about this phenomenon of a fringe part of the policy debate, i.e. regime change as a rationale for military intervention, suddenly moving to occupy the center of the debate, and I was told then not to worry, that they just weren't going to get there, it was going to fizzle out. In June or July some people that I have a lot of respect for got nervous themselves about this, some of the same people I'd been talking to for six months, and started writing their op-eds. I wrote a piece that did not get published but that got circulated broadly within the administration....

So he was basically a Bush Sr. foreign policy realist. He thought military intervention was a bad idea, but he was just beginning to be concerned about it in early 2002 and didn't say anything publicly until mid-year. He was not an opponent of the president at the time the CIA sent him to Niger.

And even when he did start getting more worried about our Iraqi policy, what did he say about it? It turns out that, just as you'd expect from someone who spent time in Iraq, he was pretty realistic about Saddam Hussein and advocated something he called "muscular disarmament." Here's an interview he gave just before the war started:

WILSON: I supported the effort to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And I understood fully that in order to get him out of Kuwait you had to have the credible threat of force. And in order for that force to be credible, you had to be prepared to use it.

....MOYERS: What is the trip wire in your opinion for the use of force? What is your trip wire?

WILSON: Well, I've always said it's the first time he poses an obstacle to your conducting an inspection then you go in and you use force against that particular site. But you keep the use of force focused on disarmament.

....MOYERS: You are calling for coercive inspections.

WILSON: That's right. Muscular disarmament, coercive inspections, coercive containment, whatever you want to call it. I don't think containment's the right word because we're really talking about disarmament.

....MOYERS: President Bush's recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute, he said, let me quote it to you. "The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away." You agree with that?

WILSON: I agree with that. Sure. I

MOYERS: "The danger must be confronted." You agree with that? "We would hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed. The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat." You agree with that?

WILSON: I agree with that. Sure. The President goes on to say in that speech as he did in the State of the Union Address is we will liberate Iraq from a brutal dictator. All of which is true.

By this time a year after the CIA had sent him to Niger Wilson had become seriously concerned about the neoconservative influence on our Iraq policy, but even then he still expressed mostly a principled disagreement on means. He was under no illusions about the danger that Saddam Hussein presented and had no aversion to the use of force per se.

Several things are clear from this:

  • Wilson had considerable expertise to undertake the Niger trip and had the respect of many people in the Republican foreign policy establishment. That's why the CIA chose him for the Niger trip in February 2002.

  • At the time of the trip Wilson was only barely beginning to be concerned about military intervention in Iraq, and was being told by his friends that it really wasn't something to worry about. He was not an opponent of the president at that time.

  • It was only around the middle of 2002 that he began speaking publicly about the war, and even then and throughout 2003 as well he was an advocate of using limited force to achieve disarmament. He had supported the invasion of Afghanistan and was certainly no pacifist.

  • As late as December 2002, he said about President Bush, "I think that the president is probably still keeping his options open. He has certainly made it apparent over the past several months that he doesn't mind tacking as necessary, he doesn't get so locked into a position that he's unable to move out of it." Those are hardly the words of a diehard critic.

  • Finally, around early 2003, when it was finally clear in his mind that a radical neocon agenda had taken control of the administration's Mideast policy, he became an outspoken opponent of both the president and the neocon establishment itself.

So was sending Joe Wilson to Niger as one part of the CIA investigation of uranium sales a scandal? Hardly unless you think that hiring a guy who voted for Al Gore is ipso facto a scandal. Rather, it's just a trumped up smokescreen from the folks who want to divert your attention from the real scandal: one of the president's top aides exposed a covert CIA agent in order to gain revenge on someone who had become a political nuisance to them.

That's a scandal.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COVERUP ADVICE....Last night I read this post and sort of wondered why Glenn Reynolds was giving the White House advice on how best to deflect attention from something that's both a threat to national security and probably a serious crime as well. (You know, being a law professor and all.) But life's too short, so I just shook my head and moved on.

Today, though, Mark Kleiman writes my post for me. He's exactly right.

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IRAQI OIL REVENUE....A bunch of people have emailed pointing me to this New York Times article about how the administration overstated the amount of oil revenue we could expect from Iraq. Why haven't I commented on it?

The reason is simple: it's just a horribly written story and it made my head hurt. The hook is supposedly a Pentagon study done before the war that the administration ignored because it was too pessimistic about oil revenue projections. Unfortunately, in a 2000-word article that lurches back and forth between a confusingly large number of different sources, here's the sum total of what it says about the numbers in the report itself:

....a book-length report that described the Iraqi oil industry as so badly damaged by a decade of trade embargoes that its production capacity had fallen by more than 25 percent

....The task force concluded that although Iraq's stated production capacity was just over 3 million barrels per day, the system was only producing 2.1 million to 2.4 million barrels, panel members said.

....According to the Pentagon official who served on the task force, its projections for yearly oil revenues were $25 billion to $30 billion "in the very best case, no sabotage and little or no battle damage," and about $16 billion in the "worse than best case."

Dick Cheney's estimate in April was $20 billion, and the article admits that administration estimates before the war "were in line with the very top range of projections made by the Pentagon task force."

Now, I have no doubt at all that the administration overestimated Iraqi oil revenue, and I don't really have any doubt that they knew better. At best they were criminally overoptimistic, and at worst they simply lied about things they knew perfectly well.

Unfortunately, according to what little the NYT article tells us, the Pentagon report focused primarily on current (i.e., prewar) Iraqi oil capacity, while administration officials were talking about their hopes and dreams for postwar capacity after we had gone in and fixed everything up. And even at that, all they did was choose the high end estimates.

And frankly, I'm not even sure of that. The story is so badly written that I would literally have to pick it apart paragraph by paragraph to figure out who said what and when they said it. There's probably a good story here, but it needs someone else to tell it.

UPDATE: Here's an example. Cheney estimated 2.5-3 million barrels a day by the end of 2003. About a thousand words later in the story, we're told that the real number (as of July) is 650,000 barrels a day.

Likewise, Cheney estimated 2003 revenues of $20 billion, while much farther down in the story we learn that the reality is likely to be $2 billion this year. Those are pretty big miscalculations.

Now, there's no telling if this has anything to do with the report, which made a range of projections and seems to have been wrong too. Still, it's a fairly damning indictment of prewar planning if you see those figures right next to each other. But when you separate them by a thousand words and a dozen other estimates, it sort of loses its impact.

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QUICK UPDATE....I almost forgot, but since I mentioned it yesterday here's what happened on Meet the Press: nothing much. Wilson was fine, pretty much repeating what we already knew, and Novak didn't say anything he hadn't already said in his columns. They were interviewed separately, so no fights broke out.

Russert asked Dana Priest about her original article, which quoted a "senior administration official" accusing two "top White House officials" of leaking the story. Was that distinction important? Did it indicate that the "senior administration official" was someone in the CIA? Priest said something along the lines of "Well, people always speculate about that stuff, but people are usually wrong," which might be taken as a hint that her source wasn't from the CIA. My guess, though, is that it means nothing at all, and was simply her way of saying that idle speculation is just idle speculation.

(She did do a good job of keeping the real story front and center, though: sure, Washington is a leaky town, but a lot of people felt that this leak "crossed a line," which it certainly did. Two lines in fact: a national security line and a dirty tricks line. Outing a covert agent crossed the first, and using Joe Wilson's wife in a war against him crossed the second. This is not business as usual.)

And as long as I'm udpating, here's the Newsweek story that David Corn mentioned yesterday. Aside from the mention of Chris Matthews, it doesn't really have anything new.

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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15 AND COUNTING....In case you're keeping count, we're now up to 15 women who say Arnold "fondled, spanked or touched them" between 1979 and 2000. I guess before long it's going to be easier just to list the women who aren't on Arnold's list.

Kevin Drum 9:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 4, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IS THE CIA TO BLAME?....I wish I knew what to think about the role of the CIA in hyping the WMD threat before the war. Here's the latest from the Washington Post:

Senior administration officials, some of whom were never fans of the CIA's work on Iraq, have begun to blame the intelligence community for the mismatch between prewar claims and postwar findings.

....Another former intelligence official said the grumbling "comes because the president and others exaggerated the intelligence, and Tenet did not or could not control that."

On the one hand, it's true that the CIA did produce an NIE that now seems to have been entirely mistaken. What's more, it's also true that our intelligence assets in Iraq seem to have been negligible, something that the CIA is responsible for.

But at the same time, we also know that it was the CIA and the DIA who were counseling caution all along, much to the disgust of the administration hawks. Cheney and Rumsfeld pushed hard to get CIA analysts to beef up their reports, and it was the Pentagon that was responsible for taking seriously information from Ahmad Chalabi that has turned out to be almost entirely bogus.

So who's really to blame? Sure, maybe Tenet should have been able to rein in the hardliners, but shouldn't most of the blame fall on the hardliners themselves? After all, you might hold the sheriff accountable if crime goes up, but it's still the crooks you toss in jail.

(And who are these senior administration officials who were "never fans of the CIA's work on Iraq"? State department folks?)

Very confusing. And I imagine it will stay that way for a while.

UPDATE: I can't vouch for this article, but Asia Times has a fun piece with some anonymous quotes from DIA analysts who basically say that everyone sucked. Chalabi, CIA, Pentagon, State all a bunch of goofballs.

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NEWSWEEK FINGERS MATTHEWS....Joseph Wilson has said several times that although Karl Rove might not be the person who originally leaked his wife's name, he thinks Rove was definitely involved in pushing the story. Here's how he put it to Ted Koppel last Wednesday:

What I have confidence in based upon what respectable press people in this town have told me is that a week after the Novak article came out, Karl Rove was still calling around and talking to press people, saying Wilson's wife is fair game.

The gist of the message, as it was reported back to me right after the phone call, was "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He tells me your wife is fair game."

Who was the reporter who said this to Wilson? According to David Corn, Newsweek will report tomorrow that it was Chris Matthews.

Needless to say, Matthews isn't commenting, and this doesn't really move the story forward much. Still, it's one more name to add to the list.

Kevin Drum 9:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIBBY AND ABRAMS SAY THEY DIDN'T DO IT....Via Atrios, this is quite the fascinating little AP dispatch. Apparently the White House says that Scooter Libby and Elliot Abrams didn't leak Valerie Plame's name:

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said that Mr. Libby "neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it."

Later in the day, the White House issued a statement saying Mr. Abrams had denied being the source.

The White House statements, an official said, were in response to questions from journalists and were based on the aides' declarations.

So what's the deal here? Reporters brought up a couple of names and the White House just went ahead and got statements from them? That's nice, but if they can do it for those two, couldn't they do the same thing for all of the president's senior advisors? You know, just to speed things up.

Oh, and I'm curious about one other thing: did they ask Libby and Abrams whether they had leaked Plame's name to Robert Novak, or did they ask if they had ever leaked it to anyone? Remember, precise wording is everything with these guys.

Kevin Drum 6:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NOVAK VS. WILSON....Apparently Meet the Press will have both Robert Novak and Joseph Wilson on their show tomorrow. Now that should be a good cage match, don't you think?

I hope this isn't one of those bait-and-switch deals and it turns out they're both coming on but at separate times....

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HARDBALL, OCTOBER 7, 2003....I'll be honest: I don't really know what to think about all the Arnold revelations that have hit the news in the past couple of days. Are they an organized smear campaign or legitimate news? Do they matter, or are they too far in the past? Does this kind of stuff get a pass in this post-Clinton era?

Beats me. I'll leave it up to Dan Weintraub and Mickey Kaus to somehow spin this as Howell Raines' fault something they should have no trouble doing. On the question of whether it will actually hurt Arnold's teflon candidacy, however, I think Keith Berry pretty much nails it here.

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SO, HOW ARE BUSH AND TENET GETTING ALONG THESE DAYS?....Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times tomorrow today:

Although the leak investigation that is consuming Washington's political class has not, by all accounts, affected the chummy personal ties between the president and the director, it has still taken its toll on Mr. Tenet.

....As the former C.I.A. official summed up Mr. Tenet: "He's not liked by everybody in the administration, but the president loves him."

If this is really true, it's remarkable. The CIA is engaged in thermonuclear bureaucratic war with the White House and has just started a leak investigation that has the potential to lead to jail time for some of George Bush's top aides, and yet Bush and Tenet are still good buddies.


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NATIONAL SECURITY VS. PETTY POLITICS....Matt Welch writes about the Plame affair for his Canadian readers:

But even the most generous possible interpretation of events -- minimizing Plame's covertness, maximizing Wilson's partisan motives and assuming the leakers acted alone -- still provides more evidence of the Bush administration's most alarming pathologies. These are people who all too frequently confuse themselves with the U.S. government, see their enormous power as a tempting means to an end, and treat their critics like enemies of the state.

....President George W. Bush has known for more than two months that someone in his White House uncovered a CIA source during a week when his administration was overtly tarnishing the source's husband. Dealing with this rancid fact promptly, and seriously, will be an important sign that national security and public morality are more important than the petty politics of any given day.

Well said.

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JUST A LEAK?....CNN did an hour long piece about the Plame affair last night (you knew I couldn't stay away for long, didn't you?), and while it was basically fairly unilluminating, it was Howard Kurtz's segment that really exposed why it was unilluminating.

Kurtz basically said, hey, it's just another leak. What's the big deal?

Judging from all the noise about this CIA leak, you would think that leaks were some kind of a shockingly rare occurrence in Washington.

....Just in recent days, a "New York Times" piece on President Bush meeting Vladimir Putin quoted a senior administration official, "The Washington Post" on Bush's U.N. speech, a senior administration official, "The Los Angeles Times," "Newsweek," "U.S. News," senior administration officials everywhere you look.

This is a pretty transparent attempt to parrot the administration line that this is nothing more than another beltway tempest in a teapot. Democrats vs. Republicans, charges and countercharges, leaks and more leaks.

It's not. Background briefings aren't leaks. And even most genuine leaks aren't that big a deal. Just someone trying to push their policy agenda into the press.

But this was a deliberate leak that exposed an undercover CIA agent. And far from being common, this has never happened before. Never.

The job of the press is to make that clear, not do just the opposite by burying the story in a bunch of inside baseball spin fresh from the RNC fax machine. Kurtz should be ashamed of himself.

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FREE THE WALL STREET JOURNAL!....Brad DeLong takes on a patently misleading assertion from Allan Meltzer on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page on Friday. You can go read Brad's specific comments for yourself, but here's his conclusion:

When reading anything by Allan Meltzer--or, indeed, anybody who writes anything published on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the only rule to follow is "verify, and even then still don't trust it."

The Journal's editorial page is by far the most damaging organ of conservative falsehoods in the country today. Here's why:

  • It has a much larger circulation than, say, National Review or the Washington Times.

  • It is read by the absolute elite of the business community, the most powerful men and women in the country.

  • It is very sophisticated. Unless you know a lot about economic statistics and are pretty good at crunching numbers yourself, the Journal's misrepresentations sound extremely convincing.

  • It is not available online to nonsubscribers. Thus, it is not generally available to the rough and tumble fact checking of the blogosphere.

Conservative bloggers are forever going on about the service to humanity they collectively do by fact checking the New York Times and its socialist brethren. In the spirit of fairness, therefore, I'd like to suggest that they start up a campaign to get the Journal to post its entire opinion page for everyone to see not just the occasional piece they publish on OpinionJournal. They can keep the news pages behind a subscription wall, but how about letting the world see and expose the absolute dreck that their editorial page publishes routinely?

The WSJ editorial page is extremely influential, but it rarely gets called to account. If they had the courage of their convictions, they'd open it up.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND WMD....My obsession with Valerie Plame has kept me from commenting on the Kay report, which is probably OK since I don't have much to say. Basically, he found no WMD, but he did find just enough in the way of isolated clues and tantalizing documents to indicate that Saddam Hussein sure wished he had WMD.

As I've mentioned before, I don't doubt that. If we had ended the sanctions, Saddam probably would have started up his weapons programs again. The problem is, that wasn't the Bush administration's argument, despite what Andrew Sullivan says:

The administration claimed that Saddam had used WMDs in the past, had hidden materials from the United Nations, was hiding a continued program for weapons of mass destruction, and that we should act before the threat was imminent.

Sullivan is conveniently forgetting a little something here, isn't he? The administration also claimed that Iraq had large quantities of existing WMD ready for battlefield use. Not programs, but actual weapons.

But since Sullivan's memory has failed him, the Beltway Bandit digs into the memory hole to remind him of what Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice actually said before the war. Sully ought to read it before he comments again on complicated issues like this.

Kevin Drum 11:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NOVAK AGAIN?....Robert Novak opens his yap again and tells the world about one of the CIA's front companies:

The name of the CIA front company was broadcast yesterday by Novak, the syndicated journalist who originally identified Plame. Novak, highlighting Wilson's ties to Democrats, said on CNN that Wilson's "wife, the CIA employee, gave $1,000 to Gore and she listed herself as an employee of Brewster-Jennings & Associates."

"There is no such firm, I'm convinced," he continued. "CIA people are not supposed to list themselves with fictitious firms if they're under a deep cover -- they're supposed to be real firms, or so I'm told. Sort of adds to the little mystery."

Great job, Bob. Now, rather than simply searching their databases for any visits by Valerie Plame, foreign countries can search for anyone who says they worked for Brewster-Jennings. That ought to open things up a bit.

Look, I wouldn't be surprised if exposing this company does no harm. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if it did. What do I know?

But it might. And if the only reason for bringing it up is to let everyone know that Valerie Plame gave money to Al Gore well, words fail me.

You know, a lot of conservatives are resisting the idea that the Plame affair is for real because it's just so far-fetched. Why would smart people like Karl Rove or Scooter Libby expose a CIA agent over something as trivial as Joe Wilson writing a New York Times op-ed? Especially when doing so didn't really do much to discredit him anyway?

Well, why would anyone feed Robert Novak information about a CIA front company just so that he can make the point on national TV that Valerie Plame is a Democrat? Is it really worth doing that just to add minutely to the Republican meme that this is all a partisan feud rather than a genuine national security matter?

Why indeed. The bottom line, I think, is that these guys just don't care. When it comes to dealing with enemies, they lash out with everything they've got no matter how trivial it is and no matter what collateral damage it might cause. There's just no sense of proportion at all.

I wonder what's going to be next from them?

Kevin Drum 11:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVES WEIGH IN....The Weekly Standard weighed in today on the Valerie Plame affair, which means we now have reaction to this episode from the four main conservative voices in the media. The good news: 50% of them think outing a CIA agent for partisan purposes is a bad thing. The bad news: 50% of them don't.

So: the Washington Times and Weekly Standard each receive kudos, while National Review and the Wall Street Journal each receive special "Partisanship ber Alles" awards for disgracing themselves by pretending that betrayal of national security is OK as long as Republicans are doing it.

And a very special oak leaf cluster to the WSJ for conduct above and beyond the call of duty by arguing not just that outing a CIA agent is OK, but that it's actually part of the "public's right to know." Congratulations, guys!

  • Washington Times: Traitors Shouldn't Be Tolerated. As former President Bush said in 1999 of those who expose intelligence agents, they are "the most insidious of traitors." We fully agree. While we do not yet know most of the facts, what is beyond doubt is that "two senior administration officials" did the deed....The president should personally make it known to the public that it is his highest priority to get to the bottom of the matter. There may be traitors in his midst even if the actors may not have appreciated the nature of their conduct.

  • Weekly Standard: Fire 'em And Then Apologize.
    The president has, as the Washington Times suggested last week, taken "too passive a stance" toward this misdeed by one or more of his employees. Surely he should do his utmost to restore the White House's reputation for honor and integrity by calling together the dozens of more-or-less "senior" administration officials and asking whoever spoke with Novak to come forward and explain themselves. Presumably the relevant officials--absent some remarkable explanation that's hard to conceive--should be fired, and their names given to the Justice Department. The president might also want to call Mrs. Wilson, who is after all a government official serving her country, and apologize for the damage done to her by his subordinate's action.

  • National Review: Exposing Agents Is No Big Deal.
    The flap about the putative outing of Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA employee is not the important story in this affair as far as I am concerned. The only reason this incident has any legs is the eagerness of the press to set themselves on scandal autopilot....So we are left with a leak that wasn't a leak, about a secret agent who was evidently neither secret nor an agent....In my opinion, the only scandal here is the lack of sophistication with which the Niger uranium question was addressed. This was amateur hour. It is no way to run a war.

  • Wall Street Journal: Exposing CIA Agents Who Oppose the President is a Moral Duty
    An avowed opponent of war with Iraq, Mr. Wilson was somehow hired as a consultant by the CIA to investigate a claim made by British intelligence about yellowcake uranium sought in Niger by Iraqi agents. Though we assume he signed the routine CIA confidentiality agreement, Mr. Wilson blew his own cover to denounce the war and attack the Bush Administration for lying. Never mind that the British still stand by their intelligence, and that the CIA's own October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, since partly declassified, lent some credence to the evidence.

    This is the context in which Mr. Novak was told that Mr. Wilson had been hired at the recommendation of his wife, a CIA employee. This is hardly blowing a state secret but is something the public had a right to know. When an intelligence operative essentially claims that a U.S. President sent American soldiers off to die for a lie, certainly that operative's own motives and history ought to be on the table. In any event, Mrs. Wilson was not an agent in the field but is ensconced at Langley headquarters. It remains far from clear that any law was violated.

Kevin Drum 5:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEEDED: ONLINE EDITOR....Howard Fineman in Newsweek yesterday:

I'll stipulate that it is a felony to disclose the name of an undercover CIA operative who has been posted overseas in recent years. That's what the statute says. But the now infamous outing of Victoria Plame isn't primarily an issue of law. It's about a lot of other things....

Um, anyone notice the problem here? And it's repeated three more times. Maybe Newsweek needs to hire Dan Weintraub's editor.

(The story itself isn't bad, though. I was just on the phone with my mother this morning explaining all the deep background behind the Plame affair neocons, state vs. Defense, CIA vs. White House, etc. and Fineman does a pretty good job of summarizing the whole thing.)

Kevin Drum 3:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Was Valerie Plame really an undercover agent for the CIA? Was she outed as an act of political revenge? My cats are on the fence about the whole thing.

Ha ha ha. Yes, that's what passes for humor around here. Sorry. In any case, our cats do like roaming around on our fence for some reason, and you can find them up there almost every day. And if you're wondering why Jasmine is licking her chops in the picture on the right, I don't know. Perhaps she has just spied a hummingbird that she (wrongly) thinks she can catch for lunch.

BONUS CATS: Over at Cogicophony, Kenneth Cavness has pictures of his cats, Tybalt the Fat and Cordelia the Demonic. And Ted Barlow sends along a link to Cat Town, a peculiar site dedicated to, um, cats and towns.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KEEP IT SIMPLE....Buzzflash interviews David Corn today, who reminds us that there's a good reason for the "slime and defend" campaign against Joseph Wilson:

The strategic point here -- and there is one -- is for the GOP'ers to make this scandal look like another one of those nasty partisan mud-wrestles that the public never likes. Turn it into a political controversy, not a criminal one. Then it all comes out blurry and muddy in the wash. (Bad metaphor, I know.) But that is the intent: to fuzzy up the picture and cause people to shrug their shoulders and say, "it's just politics."

That's also the goal of people who pretend that the whole thing is just "too complicated." Make it look like a "he said, she said" story and eventually everyone nods off because they can't keep up.

But the story is actually pretty simple. Top White officials blew the identity of an undercover CIA agent, potentially endangering both lives and intelligence operations, solely to gain political payback against a guy who had risen to the top of their enemies list.

That's not so complicated, is it?

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VALERIE PLAME'S REAL JOB....What does Valerie Plame actually do for the CIA? That's one of the $64,000 questions (the other is who the leakers are), so this might be a good time to gather together all the evidence in one place. Here's what various news reports have said so far:

  • Robert Novak's original column, July 14:
    Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.

  • David Corn in the Nation, July 16:
    ....a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what's known as "nonofficial cover" and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material....a woman known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm.

  • Newsday, July 21:
    Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday Monday that Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity -- at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.

    ....A senior intelligence official confirmed that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked "alongside" the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger.

  • Washington Post, September 29:
    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.

  • MSNBC, September 30:
    CIA lawyers answered a series of 11 questions "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."

  • Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst, September 30:
    I know Joseph Wilson well enough to know 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.

  • Larry Johnson, former CIA analyst on NewsHour, September 30:
    I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been undercover for three decades....she works in an area where people she meets with overseas could be compromised.... she's a woman of great integrity....This is a woman who is very solid, very low key and not about show boating.

  • CNN, October 1:
    Sources told CNN that Plame works in the CIA's Directorate of Operations -- the part of the agency in charge of spying -- and worked in the field for many years as an undercover officer. "If she were only an analyst, not an operative, we would not have filed a crimes report" with the Justice Department, a senior intelligence official said.

    (An earlier version of this story quoted CNN reporter David Ensor saying, "This is a person who did run agents. This is a person who was out there in the world collecting information.")

  • Mel Goodman, former CIA analyst, Washington Post online Q&A, October 1:
    ....I've worked in Washington for the past 38 years, including 24 years at the CIA...and I know Ambassador Wilson....and I did not know that his wife was an agency employee. Let's face it....this was targetted information as part of a political vendetta....a pure act of revenge.

  • Jim Marcinkowski, former CIA case officer, LA Times, Ocotber 1:
    The exposure of Valerie Plame who I have reason to believe operated undercover apparently by a senior administration official, is nothing less than a despicable act for which someone should be held accountable. This case is especially upsetting to me because she was my agency classmate as well as my friend.

  • New York Times, October 2:
    Valerie Plame was among the small subset of Central Intelligence Agency officers who could not disguise their profession by telling friends that they worked for the United States government.

    That cover story, standard for American operatives who pretend to be diplomats or other federal employees, was not an option for Ms. Plame, people who knew her said on Wednesday. As a covert operative who specialized in nonconventional weapons and sometimes worked abroad, she passed herself off as a private energy expert, what the agency calls nonofficial cover.

  • New York Daily News, October 2:
    Two former senior intelligence officials confirmed that Valerie Plame, 40, is an operations officer in the spy agency's directorate of operations - the clandestine service.

    Plame "ran intelligence operations overseas," said Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA counterterrorism operations chief.

    Her specialty in the agency's nonproliferation center was biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and "recruiting agents, sending them to areas where they could access information about proliferation matters, weapons of mass destruction," Cannistraro said.

Four separate ex-CIA employees are now on the record saying Plame was undercover and ran a network of informants, and a fifth who knew Wilson and had 24 years at the Agency says he didn't know Plame worked there which means her status was hardly common knowledge.

Against this, we have Robert Novak's increasingly lonely assertion that Plame was "an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operator, and not in charge of undercover operatives" and "It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA."

Who do you believe?

Kevin Drum 10:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FOX SUCKS....Finally! We have scientific proof that Fox News does, indeed, suck. According to a new survey from the Program on International Policy Attitudes, people who watch Fox News are significantly more poorly informed about the Iraq war than other news consumers:

The extent of Americans' misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions. Those who receive most of their news from NPR or PBS are less likely to have misperceptions. These variations cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because these variations can also be found when comparing the demographic subgroups of each audience.

I'm glad we got that cleared up!

PIPA studied three "misperceptions": that Iraq had substantial links to al-Qaeda, that world opinion was generally in favor of the war, and that WMD had been found in Iraq. And what I think is more important than the Fox bashing (not that I'm against Fox bashing, mind you) is the substantial and persistent difference between those who rely on television news vs. those who rely on print media. With the exception of the NPR crowd, which is both small and unsurprisingly liberal, people who rely on print media were substantially better informed on specific war issues than people who relied on any of the TV newscasts.

Unfortunately, the report limited itself to reporting results for people who relied on just a single source of news. It would be interesting to know how this group overall compares to people who rely on multiple sources of news. Still, there's a bunch of interesting stuff in the report, including some demographic results (the results hold across demographic groups, which indicates that news reporting really does influence beliefs) and results based on party affiliation and support for the president. It's good reading.

And what would be even more interesting would be for PIPA to do similar reports on other issues. For example, are NPR listeners similarly well informed about, say, abortion issues or gun laws, or does Fox do a better job of bursting liberal misconceptions on those issues? If PIPA did a survey testing misperceptions in a wide variety of policy areas, would any news source come out consistently on top, thus showing genuine objectivity in reporting on controversial subjects? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHALABI UPDATE....Looks like W is pissed at Ahmad Chalabi:

National security advisor Condoleezza Rice confronted Chalabi in a meeting last week in New York with him and two other members of the Iraqi Governing Council, and again Tuesday in Washington, on recent statements calling for greater Iraqi control over both political power and the economic reconstruction, the sources said.

....The White House was particularly angered by Chalabi's position on Iraq's future because it in effect supported France's call to hand over power to a provisional Iraqi government within weeks and hold national elections as soon as December a timetable that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has repeatedly called "unrealistic."

....Some U.S. officials have suggested Chalabi's call for greater immediate control by the Governing Council is a bid to ensure that he gains the top leadership position, since he has emerged as the dominant figure on the council but so far has not rallied enough national support to gain position through elections.

In other words, they've finally decided that Chalabi is a opportunistic, backstabbing hustler who will say and do anything as long as it helps him gain power. That sounds about right.

How long before they figure out that that's what he's been all along? Leopards don't change their spots overnight, after all.

Kevin Drum 8:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WAS IT SCOOTER?....Eric Boehlert in Salon rounds up the evidence that one of the Plame leakers was Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby. It's fairly convincing, though of course there's still nothing solid. It's just a guessing game right now.

I'm a little surprised that more progress hasn't been made yet. In a normal leak, you've got one leaker and one leakee, and as long they both keep their mouths shut the secret is safe. But in this case, not only do you have multiple leakers but there are apparently half a dozen reporters that they leaked to. And you just know that they've privately told friends, who have privately told other friends, so that by now half the journalists in Washington know who the culprits are.

And yet no one has made a definitive accusation. So here's my suggestion: one of the reporters involved needs to stand up and do the right thing. One of you needs to tell us who the leakers are.

Not publicly, of course, heavens no. Death before dishonor and all that. Rather, one of you needs to secretly betray the journalism code of honor and give the names anonymously to some reporter for a small paper that everyone knows wasn't involved in this. Since multiple reporters received the leak, no one will know who ratted, and if you pick some obscure but deserving young reporter to talk to you'll be doing the future of journalism a favor without handing a scoop to a major rival.

Or, failing that, you could just call me. I can keep a secret, and my number is in the book.

Kevin Drum 10:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GRAHAM DROPPING OUT....Bob Graham is apparently dropping out of the presidential race.

Thank goodness. That's one less senate seat to worry about, and he had no chance of winning anyway.

I wonder if he'll endorse anyone?

Kevin Drum 5:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE ORIGIN OF THE PLAME AFFAIR....Nick Confessore muses about how the Plame affair got started:

I have a hard time believing the Plame leak was cooked up at a meeting -- it seems more likely that a couple of top officials cooked it up in the men's room and acted rashly out of the belief that they would never be caught or held accountable.

Nick is a very sharp guy and I'm loathe to disagree with him, but....I'm going to disagree with him on this.

This is rank speculation, of course, but what the hell. Read no further if rank speculation raises your blood pressure.

My guess is that after Wilson's op-ed came out, a few White House folks got together to decide how to react to it. Nothing unusual about that.

And it was a pretty ruthless conversation. Nothing unusual about that either. That's how Washington works.

And someone suggested that they play up the angle that Wilson did nothing more than sit around a hotel pool drinking mint tea. Check. And someone else remarked that no one in the White House had ever seen Wilson's trip report anyway. Check. And there was lots of other evidence for the Niger uranium connection that Wilson didn't know about. Check. And Wilson is just a partisan shill interested in bashing the Bush administration. Check.

And then someone casually mentioned that, hell, did you know Wilson's wife works at the Agency? Some kind of analyst or something. They probably only sent him because she suggested it.

And the response was: Check. When you're talking to reporters about Wilson, be sure to throw that in. Helps to show that he wasn't really qualified for the trip in the first place. Plus it sends the right message to anyone else thinking of ratting on us. Good work guys. Let's wrap this up.

And I suspect that was all the thought they gave it. It didn't really occur to them that Plame was or perhaps used to be covert, and they didn't think to check on it. It was just one of several good talking points.

In other words, there probably wasn't any intention to expose a covert agent, and therefore nobody's broken the law. And that makes it even worse. These guys probably didn't poke around and consciously decide that outing Plame wasn't likely to do any damage. They just didn't even think about it.

And these are the people running our country.

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, maybe I'm still being too generous toward these guys. Maybe they did know she was covert and deliberately decided to go ahead anyway.

But you know what? Even after everything they've done, I still don't want to believe that about them.

UPDATE: In comments below, Shermaclay makes a pretty compelling argument that I'm wrong. The fact that the leakers deliberately used her maiden name is, indeed, telling, and his other points are good too.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSTAMANTE OUT?....The California Political Review is reporting that Cruz Bustamante is under tremendous pressure to withdraw from the recall race. Apparently the thinking here is that there are a certain number of Democrats who are planning to vote for the recall as long as there's a Democrat on the ballot to replace Gray Davis, but they'll vote against the recall if there isn't. So if Bustamante is off the ballot, maybe there will be a 5-10% swing against the recall, and that will do the job.

Maybe. I guess it's worth a shot.

(Although Ezra Klein, who pointed me to this, thinks otherwise. He's afraid it could somehow lead to McClintock winning, which seems pretty unlikely to me. But then, I don't think Arnold is going to be seriously hurt by the groping charges.)

Kevin Drum 4:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NON-OFFICIAL COVER....Via Mark Kleiman, this New York Times story tells us more about Valerie Plame's job at the CIA:

Valerie Plame was among the small subset of Central Intelligence Agency officers who could not disguise their profession by telling friends that they worked for the United States government.

That cover story, standard for American operatives who pretend to be diplomats or other federal employees, was not an option for Ms. Plame, people who knew her said on Wednesday. As a covert operative who specialized in nonconventional weapons and sometimes worked abroad, she passed herself off as a private energy expert, what the agency calls nonofficial cover.

As Mark points out, this is exactly what David Corn reported in his original column that broke this story on July 16.

And as Mark further points out, this kind of "non-official cover" is the deepest cover of all.

Kevin Drum 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE PLAME REACTION....Over at Tapped today, Heidi Pauken says....

(Huh? Who? Tapped does anonymous posts, doesn't it? Nope: as of this morning, all Tapped posts carry their author's name. This is supposedly an attempt to make things "more lively," but I smell an intern revolt here.)

....Ahem. Anyway, Heidi notes that Karl Rove biographer James Moore is pretty convinced that Rove was behind the Plame leak. He has no independent evidence, mind you, but after following Rove's career for a couple of decades, he says, "I know full well, and anybody who knows the way he works, that something of this nature does not happen without Karl checking the yes box."

Sounds about right to me. Whether Rove actually made the calls himself is anyone's guess, but the idea that he didn't know anything about this is a little hard to swallow. After all, by reputation anyway, Rove runs the political operation in the White House with an iron fist.

Elsewhere on Tapped, which is really getting into the Plame swing of things, Matt Yglesias suggests that James Taranto is spinning pretty desperately when he suggests that no law was broken because it's unlikely based on remarkably thin evidence that Plame has worked outside of the country in the past five years.

Maybe she has, maybe she hasn't, but surely the folks who are defending this episode based on whether it was technically illegal are the worst of all the shills out there. Hell, even sliming Joe Wilson at least has a point. But Taranto isn't suggesting that this kind of behavior is excusable as long as it's technically legal, is he? It sure sounds like it.

Kevin Drum 3:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STATE AND DEFENSE GET LETTERS OF THEIR OWN....The Plame investigation is growing:

The investigation into the leak of a CIA operatives name is likely to expand to other Bush administration agencies, including the State and Defense departments, U.S. officials said Thursday.

A senior Justice Department official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that those agencies, and possibly others, could get letters urging them not to delete e-mails and to preserve documents such as telephone logs.

Similar letters have already gone to the White House and CIA. Defense Department officials confirmed Thursday that they had been told to expect such a letter, the AP reported.

Is this a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. Consider this:

Law enforcement experts said the investigators' first task would be to narrow the list of government officials who were aware of the agents identity a number believed to be in the hundreds. That was expected to be a difficult task.

Former Attorney General Janet Reno, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2000, said the pool of potential leakers in any administration was extremely big.

"Almost inevitably, we find that the universe of individuals with authorized access to the disclosed information is so large as to render impracticable further efforts to identify the leaker," Reno said.

Granted, the conceivable universe of possible leakers may number in the hundreds, but surely we have considerable reason to believe that the actual universe of leakers is limited to about a dozen senior people in the White House? I'm all for making sure that every scrap of evidence is preserved, but I hope this isn't the start of a lame effort to drag this out and then pretend that it just wasn't possible to do an exhaustive investigation.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PECULIAR TIMING....Via Mark Kleiman, here's an odd Washington Post story about Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, currently the minister in the Saudi Arabian government who is in charge of its two holy mosques. He came to America to visit on August 20, 2001, and on September 10th he was in Washington DC:

The most intriguing aspect of Hussayen's journey may be entirely coincidental: his brief proximity in a hotel near Dulles International Airport to three of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers the night before they crashed Flight 77 into the Pentagon. On the night of Sept. 10, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi checked into the same hotel, a Marriott Residence Inn.

The FBI has examined hotel videotapes and interviewed employees, but has found no indication that Hussayen and the hijackers interacted, law enforcement sources said. After the attack, an FBI agent interviewed hotel guests, including Hussayen and his wife, but did not get very far.

According to court testimony from FBI agent [Michael] Gneckow earlier this year, the interview was cut short when Hussayen "feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him."

The agent recommended that Hussayen "should not be allowed to leave until a follow-up interview could occur," Gneckow told the court. But "her recommendation, for whatever reason, was not complied with," he said.

On Sept. 19, the day air travel resumed, Hussayen and his wife took off for Saudi Arabia.

For "whatever reason"? It wouldn't be too hard to find out, would it?

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RED LINES....North Korea crosses yet another line:

With nuclear talks expected in weeks, North Korea said today that it had completed reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods and is using the plutonium to make atomic bombs.

But with an eye to a "red line" unofficially drawn by the Bush Administration, a North Korean diplomat said in New York that his impoverished nation would not export its bombs or its bomb-making capacity to other countries.

"We have no intention of transferring any means of that nuclear deterrence to other countries," Choe Su Hon, North Korea's vice foreign minister, told reporters.

Well, that's comforting.

When it comes to North Korea, the Bush administration really has a hard time with red lines, doesn't it? Before long, the "red line" is going to be reduced to nuking anyplace east of the Mississippi.

You know, I realize very well that these guys are brutal dictators, completely untrustworthy, and have broken numerous promises in the past. Honest I do. But even so, don't you think it would have been better to at least talk to them last year instead of practically daring them to keep going? Would it really have done that much harm?

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOSSIP UPDATE....Well, first Arnold denied the LA Times story about groping women, then he said it was just a Democratic smear, but now he's (sort of) fessing up and saying that he did behave badly toward women in the past "on rowdy movie sets," but now recognizes he offended people and he's really sorry.

Well, sometimes a forthright admission, even after a little bit of dancing, can contain the damage. Stay tuned. (Boy, we're saying that a lot these days....)

In other tabloid-ish news, CNN reports that Rush Limbaugh is supposedly addicted to OxyContin and takes up to a hundred pills a day. Hey, that's personal responsibility for you! Rush hasn't exactly denied it, but says he is "unaware" of any investigation and natch will "cooperate fully" if he ever hears about one.

Just how weird are things these days, anyway?

UPDATE: John Hawkins has more on Rush and OxyContin.

Kevin Drum 10:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY OUTING AN AGENT IS BAD: A PRIMER....And while we're on the subject of outing CIA agents, former agent Jim Marcinkowski adds a bit on the subject:

The exposure of Valerie Plame who I have reason to believe operated undercover apparently by a senior administration official, is nothing less than a despicable act for which someone should be held accountable. This case is especially upsetting to me because she was my agency classmate as well as my friend.

....Even if the operative and her agents are able to escape harm, what is the comfort level for other foreign nationals who may want to work with us, knowing that at any time they could be exposed by a political actor in the U.S.? That is why someone guilty of exposing an operative faces severe criminal penalties.

Exactly. Do you think foreigners are going to be harder to recruit as informants after this episode? Sure, they know the normal risks, but they probably weren't counting on the additional risks of having a crew in the White House who take national security so lightly that they're willing to casually endanger them for no special reason.

Max Boot is right about one thing: we do have problems in the intelligence community. And the irresponsibility of one or more members of George Bush's staff have made it a lot worse. Why does he seem to care so little about it?

Kevin Drum 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME: NO HARM, NO FOUL?....Max Boot suggests today that the Valerie Plame affair is a poor excuse for a scandal:

It's true that these kinds of revelations can cost lives, as they did in the 1970s when renegade CIA agent Philip Agee blew the cover of some officers operating abroad. But by all accounts, Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is not operating undercover abroad, at least not at the moment. She seems to work as an analyst at Spook Central in Langley, Va.

I'm sure Max is writing in good faith here, so let's address this tiresome argument once and for all.

Take the best possible case: Plame was technically "clandestine" but not truly doing anything secret. She was a desk analyst, she didn't run a network, and exposing her did no harm to her or to any American assets. So, no harm, no foul?

No, because that's not the point. The point is that it's not up to politicos in the White House to make this decision. They didn't know whether exposing Plame would do any harm, and responsible high level officials are supposed to have the good sense to know that you don't play games with this kind of stuff. You don't do it on the cocktail circuit to prove that you're in the know, and you definitely don't do it in a highly public forum as part of a stupid third-rate attempt to discredit someone who's embarrassed you by writing an op-ed in the New York Times. Leaking classified information may be fairly routine (and often relatively innocuous), but playing games with CIA identities is not.

I hope that's straight, because this particular pretext is disingenuous in the extreme. Especially since Boot then goes on to argue that while naming Plame is wrong, we shouldn't make too big a deal out of it because we have bigger fish to fry these days. Sure, maybe the whole scandal thing was overdone back in the Clinton administration, but we're at war now. Making trouble for the president is a real distraction from the business at hand.

Maybe the politicos in the White House should have thought of that before they switched off their brains and switched on the slime machine back in July.

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IS ARNOLD A LECHER?....YOU MAKE THE CALL!....The LA Times has just completed a "seven-week examination" of whether Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever harassed women on or off the movie set. Answer: yes he has.

The Times got six separate women to go on the record about it, two by name and four anonymously. The whole thing is covered in gruesome detail here.

Although it pains me to say this, I have a feeling it won't hurt him. His supporters probably already know what they're getting, and they either don't care or have just decided to accept it.

In any case, I guess this is the "bomb" that Mickey Kaus has been telling us about for several weeks now. We'll see how it plays out.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAITING FOR LARRY....I understand that the right wing slime machine is gearing up to take shots at Larry Johnson, the ex-CIA analyst who's been venting his outrage over the Plame affair all over TV for the past couple of days. So I was amused to learn that after 9/11 he was hired as an expert commentator on counterterrorism by....the right wing slime machine itself: Fox News.

Here's what they had to say about him:

From 1985 through September 1989 Mr. Johnson worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. During his distinguished career, he received training in paramilitary operations, worked in the Directorate of Operations, served in the CIAs Operations Center, and established himself as a prolific analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence. In his final year with the CIA he received two Exceptional Performance Awards.

Mr. Johnson routinely analyzes terrorist incidents for TV, radio, and print, including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, CNN, National Public Radio, ABCs Nightline, NBC, the New York Times, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management magazine, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

Hmmm, sounds like a pretty standup guy although those BBC and NPR gigs are mighty suspicious, aren't they? I wonder what they'll come up with?

UPDATE: Eric Tam notes that there's already been a fairly idiotic attempt to claim that he's a liar. He swats it down here. Yes, when Johnson said that the 40-year-old Plame had been undercover for "three decades," he just meant the 80s, 90s, and 00s. I believe he already cleared that up today on Buchanan & Press anyway.

But I'm sure the slime machine will have more tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY IS CALIFORNIA BROKE?....The Haas Business school at Berkeley would like to dispel some myths about California:

  • Our business climate is fine. We are not losing jobs at a rate any different than the rest of the country.

  • State government is not bloated. On a per capita basis, the number of state employees is below average for large states.

  • We are not a high tax state. Overall state and local taxation in California is about average.

So why do we have a budget crisis? Because we pretended that the bubble economy would last forever and locked in higher spending.

Well, duh. I figured that out in about 30 minutes back in May. Still, I guess it's nice to set the record straight on that other stuff.

Kevin Drum 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WESLEY CLARK SHOWS OFF SOME BOOK LEARNIN'....Josh Marshall has an interview with Wesley Clark today. Here are the highlights. First, Clark on economics:

No reputable economist stands up and says, "Trickle down economics really works." Because we know the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $100,000 a year and less is much higher than the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $350,000 a year and more.

Hot diggity! He really knows his Keynes buzzwords, doesn't he? And here's Clark on the history of foreign relations:

Lord Palmerston in the 1830s, I think, in the UK, later quoted by Count Gorchakov, the Russian foreign minister in the 1880s, later quoted by Prime Minister Primakov in 1998, it was, at the original saying, "Britain has no permanent friends, only permanent interests."

Wow again! I guess he's afraid of getting the Gore treatment for telling fibs, so he wanted to make sure and get the quote right. Pretty sharp guy.

OK, OK, I apologize. It's really a good interview and Clark has some good stuff to say, and you should go over and read it. It's just that I had a choice between writing a serious post or having some fun with it, and the whole Plame affair has been so dispiriting that I needed to have a little fun.

Normal serious blogging will resume shortly.

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Ah, who am I kidding? We all want the latest on Plame, right?

First, what does she look like? Admit it, you want to know. Here's the Washington Post: "She is 40, slim, blonde and the mother of their 3-year-old twins. In the photos in his office, she has the looks of a film star." Over on the right is the picture of the back of her head that's been running on TV all day. Sure enough, she appears to be slim, 40ish, and definitely blonde.

(And notice the evil Bill Clinton in the background. By God, he's everywhere!)

Other miscellaneous notes:

  • Atrios quotes Nina Totenberg on NPR tonight:

    The White House asked for and got permission earlier this week to wait a day before issuing a directive to preserve all documents and logs which led one seasoned federal prosecutor to wonder why they wanted to wait a day, and who at the Justice Department told them they could do that, and why?

    Crikey, it's nice to have friends in the Justice Department, isn't it? But I sure hope they know that deleting old emails is a little harder than it looks without leaving a trace.

  • TNR points out that the memo to White House staffers on compliance with the Justice Department investigation tells them to preserve all records back to February 2002. Why so far back? Because that's when Wilson originally made his Niger trip, and the White House has been saying all along that they had no idea he had gone there and no idea that he had produced a negative report about the Saddam-Niger connection on his return. The CIA begs to differ. Emails from February 2002 might clear the matter up, and not necessarily in the White House's favor.

  • Mark Kleiman reminds us not to fall for President Bush's attempt to turn this into an issue of merely "too many leaks of classified data." Classified information is leaked all the time by both Democrats and Republicans, and more often than not the public is actually well served by this. Exposing a covert agent's identity is an entirely different thing, and far worse. Not to mention illegal.

It sure looks like things are starting to unravel and the leakers will be named before long. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUSH ON DRUGS....SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?....I think my brain is about to explode. As I was walking home from the market I got to thinking that I should get off the Plame story for a while and blog about something else. But what?

Well, I thought, surely I've been remiss in not piling on Rush Limbaugh for his inane comment about Donovan McNabb being overrated because he's black, right?

I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well ... McNabb got a lot of the credit for the performance of the team that he really didn't deserve.

So I started thinking about what to say, and it occurred to me that this is really a great example of how the conservative blabocracy is simply obssessed with the idea that blacks are just too damn well treated in our society, and it's time someone spoke up about it. Especially in sports, which as we all know is renowned for treating its participants with kid gloves and being unwilling to criticize poor performance.

Yeah, I figured that would be a good thing to say. And I thought the term "blabocracy" was kind of clever and I wanted to get a chance to use it.

But then I figured I would turn around and disagree with Wesley Clark, who thinks that ABC should fire Limbaugh. See, the fact is that Limbaugh and his fellow blabbers say this kind of stuff all the time. But they only say it on the radio, and only dittoheads are listening, and the mainstream media doesn't report it because, you know, it's just radio, and it's just Rush, and that stuff gets a free pass. So most Americans don't actually know what Rush and his pals are like.

So I say, keep him on the air. Let America see what Rush and his fellow right wing bigots are really like. Maybe it will open their eyes.

Yeah, that's what I was going to say. But then I got home and the first thing I saw was this on Drudge:


Huh? Rush is part of a drug ring? His housekeeper wore a wire? Tens of thousands of pills? Did I pop into an alternate universe when I walked across the bridge over the 405?

Anyway, so much for the whole post about McNabb. Old news. I guess I'll have to save it for another time.

UPDATE: Darn. Rush has resigned.

Kevin Drum 6:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum


Larry Johnson told Buchanan and Press that the person who leaked to Novak has an office in the EOB and that he is associated with the Vice Presidents office. He also said that when the name is released, people will recognize the name and that the individual is linked with past scandals.

Did anyone see this? Did it sound credible?

UPDATE: Hmmm, maybe the Marc Rich pardon is the scandal Johnson was talking about? From Newsweek in early 2001:

In private, Bush White House officials worry about a political backlash from Democrats if the pardon investigation drags on much longer. For more than 10 years, Richs chief American lawyer and advocate was Lewis (Scooter) Libby, now Vice President Cheneys chief of staff. Last week Democrats on the Burton committee fired a political warning shot, insisting that Libby, who worked for Rich until last year, be called as a witness.


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By: Kevin Drum

YES, IT'S SERIOUS....A Washington Post poll taken last night indicates that contrary to what our friends at NRO would like to believe, most people take the Plame affair pretty seriously:

  • 68% have heard about it.

  • 81% think it's serious. (I assume that's 81% of those who have heard about it....)

  • 69% think a special counsel should investigate.

  • If the leaker is identified, 91% think he or she should be fired and 82% think criminal charges should be brought.

This is good news. 81% think it's serious, and on the guess that all the Democrats/liberals think it's serious, that still means that at least half of all Republicans/conservatives agree.

The complete poll results are here.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NOT REALLY TRYING?....From a Washington Post online chat today about the Plame affair:

Vernon Loeb: I do not believe anyone will ever be charged in this case, because I do not believe the Justice Department vigorously pursues these investigations. If they did, they would have arrested and prosecuted some leakers by now. The fact that they haven't, after years of trying, suggests to me that they don't try very hard.

Well, that's encouraging.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WAGONS CIRCLE EVER MORE TIGHTLY....The Weekly Standard, perhaps wisely, is keeping quiet about the Plame affair, but not so NRO. I was disappointed that they didn't have anything new yesterday for me to make fun of, but today they make up for it with this James S. Robbins entry in the Karl Rove Talking Points Sweepstakes. Most of it is just the usual pathetic effort to pretend that the real story is Joe Wilson's mint tea drinking habits, but there's a bit more than that. Here are the highlights:

James S. Robbins


[Joseph] Wilson's purported influence has been inflated to the point where otherwise sensible people (and some not-so) are alleging that the inner circles of the White House had to resort to felonious leaking to discredit him.

That's exactly right. And isn't the fact that this whole sordid episode was launched "purely and simply for revenge" against a minor political nuisance pretty revealing about the fundamental ruthlessness of the Bush White House political operation?

The flap about the putative outing of Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA employee is not the important story in this affair as far as I am concerned. The only reason this incident has any legs is the eagerness of the press to set themselves on scandal autopilot. "It seems like the good old days, doesn't it?" CNN's Aaron Brown said, hoping perhaps to bring back the good old ratings.

Look! It's the media's fault!

Although oddly enough, as we'll see, Robbins doesn't seem to actually follow the media very closely.

But the props have been knocked out from under this manufactured conspiracy. Robert Novak clarified that the information about Ms. Plame was not exactly leaked but arose in the natural course of his interview process.

The best way to leak is to make it look natural, isn't it?

In any case, this is old news. Novak admits that a top White House official did volunteer the information about Plame, whether "naturally" or not, and the Washington Post and others have already reported that several other journalists were also contacted. I guess Robbins doesn't read the Post.

It also appears that she was not an "operative" (a term that Novak innocently misused, implying she was a clandestine service officer), but an analyst, which there is no crime in revealing. So we are left with a leak that wasn't a leak, about a secret agent who was evidently neither secret nor an agent.

Not true: see here and here. Apparently Robbins doesn't read MSNBC or CNN or watch PBS either.

As for the explosive charge that Karl Rove was the mischievous mastermind behind the whole affair, the Honorable Mr. Wilson simply flat out lied about that one.

Wilson definitely went too far, but he had reason. As he's mentioned before, and repeated to Ted Koppel last night, a reporter told him back in July, "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He tells me your wife is fair game." And the Guardian's Julian Borger says several reporters have already privately named Rove. We can add Nightline and the Guardian to the growing list of media representatives Robbins seems unaware of.

What a hack. Do guys like Robbins really think that by simply ignoring 90% of the story they can make it go away? This kind of performance may win them brownie points from the RNC, but it will just make them look foolish when the facts finally emerge. Reality awaits, James.

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CRYSTAL BALL GAZING....Daniel Davies makes some predictions for upcoming Republican talking points on the Plame affair. His commenters have some ideas too.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO MORE SOUTHERNERS?....From the "Hmmm" file:

From 1991 to 2001, the number of people living in the South who identified themselves as "Southerners" declined 7.4 percent, from about 78 percent to 70 percent.

The study found that only Republicans, political conservatives and the wealthy bucked this trend, keeping the same percentage of self-described "Southerners."

I have no idea what to make of this.

Kevin Drum 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOE WILSON: RADICAL LEFTIST....The allegations that Joseph Wilson is some kind of wild-eyed leftist radical were always odious, but they don't really matter anymore. He may have gotten the ball rolling on the Plame affair, but since he no longer has anything to do with the emerging facts of the case his political leanings are irrelevant.

Still, smearing Wilson "Why, it's outrageous that the CIA would have sent a liberal to Niger!" is clearly part of the conservative attack plan, so Robert Tagorda decided to do a little sleuthing over at Political Money Line to find out who Wilson has contributed money to. Full details are here, but the bottom line is simple: in the last few years he's contributed $5,250 to Democrats and $2,500 to Republicans, including $1,000 to George W. Bush.

Note to Karl Rove's attack dogs: wild eyed leftists don't usually give money to centrist Dems like John Kerry and Al Gore. Maybe he turned against you not because of some imagined radical ideology, but for good and sound reasons. Like, for example, seeing how his own research was ignored and then twisted simply because it was inconvenient to the administration's war plans. That would do it, wouldn't it?

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a nice profile of Wilson today:

Wilson makes no secret of being a left-leaning Democrat and said yesterday he intends to endorse Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) for president. Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon who served as an Africa expert in the second Clinton administration, has long been friendly with leading Democrats.

In the mid-1980s he worked for then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) as a congressional fellow. He briefed Gore by phone from Baghdad as the senator was preparing to vote to authorize force in the Gulf War. Wilson argued then that force was required.

Wilson said he was a nonpartisan civil servant during his nearly 23 years in government. Yesterday he was sporting a set of presidential-seal cufflinks given to him by either Clinton or the first President Bush -- he couldn't recall which. He wears each set with equal pride.

Sounds like a commie to me.

Kevin Drum 9:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOVERNOR ARNOLD....The CNN/Gallup poll from a couple of days ago showing Schwarzenegger with a big lead over Bustamante was widely ridiculed, but today the LA Times has a new poll showing pretty similar numbers:

  • Recall: 56% yes, 42% no, 2% undecided

  • Schwarzenegger: 40%

  • Bustamante: 32%

  • McClintock: 15%

Compared to previous LA Times polls, support for recall has gone up and support for Schwarzenegger has gone way up. He seems to have picked up virtually all of the undecided vote.

And the fact that only 2% are undecided on the recall makes me think that this is now locked in stone unless an awful lot of people suddenly get the last minute shakes. It may not be the 63% that CNN/Gallup reported, but it's plenty high enough. It looks like next week it'll be Governor Arnold in Sacramento.

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON PLAME....Former (overt) CIA analyst Mel Goodman is doing an online Q&A over at the Washington Post. A few miscellaneous excerpts:

....Novak was not used in the classic sense....he was quite willing to cooperate and was certainly called because the White House knew he would cooperate. At least half a dozen journalists refused to play this terrible game. President George Bush (the father in this case) called such leakers the "most insidious of traitors." Novak was merely what the Bolsheviks used to call a "useful idiot" in this case.

....I'm sure that CIA security is doing a full-scale review of all of the people who have been put at risk but there are few methods of protecting the foreign assets who have been compromised.....and these are the very people needed in any war against terrorism. That is why "reckless" is the only word to describe the performance of the Bush administration on this one.

....There is a great deal of anger and frustration [at the CIA] over the White House pressure tactics on intelligence assessments, the terrible handling of the Iraq-Niger story, Rumsfeld's pressure on Tenet, etc. etc. This is worse, however, because it compromises the careers of CIA officers and the lives of foreign assets. This is extremely serious business, particularly in a world where human intelligence could make all the difference.

....This is a time for bipartisan and select handling of a sensitive national security matter. The posturing must stop immediately and the stonewalling must end as well. An independent investigation is obviously needed.

....This is an issue that goes directly to the character and moral compass of this administration. The anger in the country is real and palpable, and professional Republicans who believe that this is a typical Washington foodfight are missing the point. I hope that it leads to an independent investigation of all intelligence problems that deal with how this country went to war in the first place.

....I've worked in Washington for the past 38 years, including 24 years at the CIA...and I know Ambassador Wilson....and I did not know that his wife was an agency employee. Let's face it....this was targetted information as part of a political vendetta....a pure act of revenge...again, no more and no less.

....We are all waiting for Deep Throat to be announced....there will be a shorter wait to see who gets frog-marched out of the White House, I believe.

More to come, I'm sure. The outrage is growing.

Kevin Drum 8:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum


There was no orchestrated leak, everybody knew about her anyway, she's just an analyst, and it's all part of a smear campaign against President Bush anyway. Oh, and I always ignore facts dug up by other reporters if they are inconvenient to me.

What a tiresome and predictable collection of Republican talking points. After 46 years in Washington, Novak apparently still doesn't realize that an "offhand revelation" isn't always as offhand as it appears.

I'm tempted for the first time ever to fisk a column, but it's not worth the trouble. Just read and marvel.

Kevin Drum 12:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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