Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CAT BLOGGING FRIDAY....REMOTE EDITION....Actually, if I felt like going to the trouble, I could do catblogging with Inkblot and Jasmine today. But accessing my desktop remotely is just too much trouble, and I&J have had their furry mugs displayed often enough anyway. A break would do their swollen feline egos some good.

Instead, I'll do remote catblogging today:

  • Mary Kay Kare agrees that Inkblot and Jasmine are overexposed and urges everyone to come take a look at Loki and Dominic. Looks like it's still Christmas at MK's house.

  • Chris Tweney's cat Zoom looks a lot like Inkblot. You can see him here and here.

  • John Farr finally got pushed over the edge last week and decided to join the catblogging craze sweeping the nation. Hobbes and Sherlock are here.

There you go. If you're not too lazy to click a few links you've got a full Friday's worth of catblogging right there. Use it wisely.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION DEPARTMENT....One of the great unreported stories of our time is how conservatives have made it almost impossible for liberals to make jokes anymore. Consider my previous post. After complaining about yet another attempt to remove evolution from state teaching guidelines I said:

Next up: parents dislike the proposition that white people used to enslave black people, so the word "slavery" will be removed from the Georgia curriculum. After all, it's just a buzzword!

I guess I missed it, but in comments Dave Morgen points out that Georgia has a new high school history curriculum proposal too:

In the proposed changes, teachers will spend two or three weeks discussing the foundation of our country, with the remaining time devoted to studying events from 1876 to the present.

....Search in vain for discussion of the Civil War; that topic is off limits. In a course entitled "American History," students will not study our most devastating war. There is no mention of Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee or anything else associated with those years.

Dammit, I was joking! Or trying to, anyway. But how can you make a joke when conservatives continually manage to make real life stranger than fiction?

Anyway, it's probably just a coincidence that the period from 1800 to 1876 is the one that got dropped. We liberals tend to get awfully paranoid about these coincidences, don't we?

Kevin Drum 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EVOLUTION AND MEDICARE....I just have time for a couple of quick hits:

  • Via Crooked Timber, Georgia's state school superintendent has proposed removing the word "evolution" from the state curriculum:

    [Kathy] Cox repeatedly referred to evolution as a "buzzword" Thursday and said the ban was proposed, in part, to alleviate pressure on teachers in socially conservative areas where parents object to its teaching.

    "If teachers across this state, parents across this state say, 'This is not what we want,' then we'll change it," said Cox, a Republican elected in 2002.

    It's just a buzzword! And if parents don't like it, we'll remove it!

    At least Cox deserves points for honesty. No prattling about how evolution is "just a theory" or some such juvenile nonsense. No, it's just that parents don't like it. Next up: parents dislike the proposition that white people used to enslave black people, so the word "slavery" will be removed from the Georgia curriculum. After all, it's just a buzzword!

  • In what will come as a shock to literally dozens of people, it turns out the Bush administration lowballed the cost of its Medicare legislation and now believes that its Medicare bill will cost $530 billion instead of $400 billion. This comes a mere two months after the legislation was passed.

    Why the suddenly higher estimate? The official answer is "Give us a break, this stuff is really hard," but the experts interviewed by the New York Times suggest that it's because the law encourages participation in private plans. That's funny, isn't it? I thought that the wonders of the free market were supposed to make those private plans less expensive than government plans. I guess it didn't work out that way.

That's it for now, although I do have a question for my readers. I'm in our nation's capital right now, and outside on the streets there is some peculiar white substance all over the place. It's very cold to the touch, but if you pick it up it melts and becomes some kind of colorless, odorless liquid. Is this the long-awaited al-Qaeda WMD attack we've been worried about for so long? If so, the natives seem to be taking it very calmly.

Kevin Drum 8:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SULLIVAN CORRECTS HIMSELF....This is peculiar. Andrew Sullivan has published a correction of his criticism of Paul Krugman yesterday, but here's what it says:

In tackling Krugman, I committed an error of hyperbole. I wrote that he had said that the "entire reason" for the deficit was tax cuts. He said the "main reason." He did, however, omit any reference to the vast increase in discretionary domestic spending under Bush.

Good for Sully for correcting himself (honest!), but what's the point of doing it if he continues to screw up what Krugman said? In fact, Krugman specifically mentioned increases in defense and homeland security spending, which are the bulk of the discretionary increases we've seen from Bush.

Weird.

Kevin Drum 10:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOM DELAY WATCH....Hey, the Long Beach airport has free WiFi access, at least for JetBlue customers anyway. That's pretty nice. Who cares if they turned over a few records to the feds as long as they do cool stuff like that?

Hmmm, so what to blog about until my flight boards? Choices, choices....

I know, how about this from Tom DeLay yesterday:

[Tax relief] helps us in our deficit problem. We are getting more revenue now into the government than if we had not cut taxes.

I guess my only question at this point is this: do you think he really believes this stuff? Or does he know he's just making it up? And which choice is scarier?

Of course, it goes without saying that Lou Dobbs didn't bother to challenge him on this....

(Thanks to KR in comments for the pointer.)

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ON THE ROAD....I'll be out of town for the next few days. I'm taking the notebook with me and will try to get some posts in if I can find some WiFi hotspots to work with, but we all know what a crapshoot that is.

In any case, if blogging is light, that's why.

Kevin Drum 7:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EXIT POLLS....Washington Post exit poll results for the New Hampshire primary are here. Discuss.

Kevin Drum 7:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HUTTON REPORT FINALE....Tony Blair is having a good week. First he won a battle over university fees that he had been expected to lose, and today the final report of the Hutton inquiry cleared him completely of any wrongdoing in the death of David Kelly. He didn't expose Kelly's name, he didn't have any responsibility for Kelly's suicide, and he didn't "sex up" the WMD dossier issued in 2002.

The BBC, on the other hand, doesn't fare so well. Their editorial system was "defective" and they allowed pique to keep them from properly investigating claims that their reporter's notes didn't back up his story.

The full report is here (warning: large PDF file).

I'm in a hurry this morning and this is all I have time to post. It's been a while since I wrote about this, but off the top of my head I have these comments: (a) Hutton's criticism of the BBC is probably about right; (b) his conclusion that the government is not really responsible for exposing Kelly or causing his death is also right; but (c) the evidence that Blair wanted a punchier dossier seems stronger to me than it did to Hutton. There was some fairly damning testimony that at least a couple of very senior people doubted some of the claims in the dossier.

However, what's really remarkable about this whole thing is that the investigation happened at all. Whatever Blair's government did, their "sexing up" of the dossier was small beer indeed compared to what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld did in the U.S. The fact that the British conducted an investigation over such relatively restrained meddling with intelligence conclusions is to their credit. Too bad we can't have one of our own.

Kevin Drum 7:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS....It looks the (more or less) final New Hampshire results are:

  • Kerry: 39%

  • Dean: 26%

  • Clark: 13%

  • Edwards: 12%

  • Lieberman: 9%

Presumably Lieberman will now drop out, and for Clark and Edwards the next two weeks in the South and Midwest are make or break.

As for Kerry, I've never really warmed to him but I also don't have anything against him. In fact, the only thing I'm really worried about is that if he wins we'll be forced to listen to Kaus whining about his eyebrows or something for the next nine months. The thought just makes me shudder.

Kevin Drum 7:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW ECONOMY....One of the downsides of being an enthusiastic participant in the high tech world for the past 20 years is that I have heard just about all the blather about the New Economy that I ever want to hear. It's not that computers and the internet and all that aren't genuinely revolutionary, it's just that....well....it's just that the blather during the late 90s became simply too much to bear. Those of you who were there know what I'm talking about; the rest of you should count your blessings that you don't.

Anyway, apparently Doug Henwood has written a rather good book, After the New Economy, skewering the worst of the high tech blather, and Kieran Healy has a nice review here. The rest of the Timberites have promised to chime in with their own thoughts, but Brad DeLong got impatient waiting around for them and added a review of his own here. More to come at Crooked Timber later this week, I presume.

As for me, I haven't read the book. But it sounds like I ought to.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm not going to try and make the whole case here, but I'll add my not my two cents, perhaps, it's not worth that much I'll add my one cent to a particular facet of the debate. I do believe that advances in computer technology are revolutionary and are likely to become even more revolutionary over the next few decades as increased computing power finally makes artificial intelligence genuinely feasible. Unfortunately, I also think that one of the results of this will be to increasingly marginalize unskilled and semiskilled workers in a way that has never happened before: they will be permanently marginalized. There will be no new industries for them to move to.

This will happen over the next 50 years or so, and while the endpoint may be well worth it, the transition is going to be brutal. Buckle up.

Kevin Drum 7:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTION RESULTS....Polls are closed. CNN's continually updated numbers are here. So far they match the exit poll numbers fairly closely.

Kevin Drum 5:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SULLIVAN ON KRUGMAN....Andrew Sullivan today:

KRUGMAN BLAMES TAX CUTS: That's the entire reason for the deficit. Yeah, right. But how can he ignore the obvious place of exploding domestic discretionary spending under Bush? Well, we have long learned about the fragility of his intellectual honesty.

Here's what Krugman actually said:

A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does the math. While overall government spending has risen rapidly since 2001, the great bulk of that increase can be attributed either to outlays on defense and homeland security, or to types of government spending, like unemployment insurance, that automatically rise when the economy is depressed.

Why, then, do we face the prospect of huge deficits as far as the eye can see? Part of the answer is the surge in defense and homeland security spending. The main reason for deficits, however, is that revenues have plunged.

(Italics mine throughout.)

Did Sullivan read the same column as the rest of us? Krugman very clearly states that spending has "risen rapidly" and that revenue shortfalls are only the "main reason" for the growing deficit, not the entire reason. Was he just hoping that no one would click the link to see what Krugman actually wrote?

If you're interested, the CBPP report that Krugman relies on provides the following numbers (all are expressed as % of GDP):

  • Spending increases: 1.6%

  • Revenue decreases: 5.0%

  • Total change: 6.6%

Thus, spending increases are responsible for 24% of the deficit and revenue decreases are responsible for 76%. What's more, Krugman is right to say that the "great bulk" of the discretionary increases are for defense and homeland security, things that Sullivan has enthusiastically supported. Since 2001, military/homeland security spending has increased about 16% per year while all other spending has increased only 5% annually.

If Sullivan really wanted to criticize Krugman, he could have pointed out that "revenues have plunged" is fairly slippery language. It's technically correct, of course, but at the same time it rather deliberately avoids making the distinction between how much revenues have fallen because of the recession vs. how much revenues have fallen because of the Bush tax cuts. Both are factors.

But I guess Sully prefers a lazy, cheap shot, even if it's wrong. Pitiful.

Kevin Drum 4:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXIT POLLS....Ah, what the hell. Here are the New Hampshire exit poll numbers so far:

  1. Source: AP
    Kerry - 36
    Dean - 31
    Edwards - 12
    Clark - 12
    Lieberman - 6

  2. Source: Not sure
    Kerry - 36
    Dean - 30
    Edwards - 16
    Clark - 10
    Lieberman - 6

  3. Source: Probably ABC
    Kerry- 37
    Dean - 31
    Edwards - 12
    Clark - 12
    Lieberman - 7

  4. Source: LA Times
    Kerry - 33
    Dean - 34
    Edwards - 12
    Clark - 11
    Lieberman - 9

  5. Source: CBS
    Kerry - 37
    Dean - 30
    Edwards - 12
    Clark - 12
    Lieberman - 4

  6. Source: 2:30pm exit numbers from who knows where, supposedly a network...
    Kerry - 35.7
    Dean - 30.6
    Edwards - 11.9
    Clark - 12.1
    Lieberman - 6.9

Take these for what they're worth, although I have to say that they're remarkably close. Here's the average of all six:

Kerry - 35.7
Dean - 31.1
Edwards - 12.6
Clark - 11.5
Lieberman - 6.4

Kevin Drum 2:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DON'T MESS WITH AL....I guess Al Franken is Howard Dean's new bodyguard.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE SCREAM....It's really, really hard to keep up with the conventional wisdom about Howard Dean's infamous post-Iowa screamfest.

The initial CW was: what a loon.

Then The Scream hit the big time, repeated by every talk radio host and late night comic in the country. Revised CW: he's insane, unelectable, doomed, and unfit to be president.

Then people like me, who hadn't seen The Scream live, finally got around to watching it. Our CW: it didn't seem all that bad. Loud room, raucous crowd, plenty of energy. Sure, it might have been a little over the top, but not really worth all the attention it got.

Then the CW shifted again: Dean isn't doomed. In fact, a new, more serious Dean is now quietly gaining back support in New Hampshire.

Today, though, Matt Yglesias says we're all wrong: "I watched the thing live on television and it really was weird and frightening -- the initial CW was totally correct."

I'm so confused.

Kevin Drum 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUDGET MAGIC....A budget question from a reader:

After the SOTU, you ran a post on Bush's claim that by holding discretionary spending increases to 4 percent, the deficit will be cut in half in 5 years, showing this is highly unlikely.

Last night on the Newshour Margaret Warner asked [CBO Director] Douglas Holtz-Eakin about this claim and he said (approximately) "in 2009 the deficit will be 2% of GDP, it is now 4%, so it is cut in half". So apparently it boils down to what the definition of "half" is.

Many Bush supporters cite "percent of GDP" as a meaningful statistic in assessing the deficit, but is it?

Answer: Yes. In fact, percentage of GDP is probably the best way of looking at this.

But wait! A better question is, "Will Bush's policies actually lead to the deficit being reduced to 2% of GDP?" Answer: No. Not even close. Here are the numbers from the latest CBO report:

  • This year's deficit: $477 billion.
    As percent of GDP: 4.2%

  • 2009 "baseline" deficit: $268 billion.
    As percent of GDP: 1.8%

  • 2009 real deficit: $552 billion.
    As percent of GDP: 3.8%

So using real numbers the deficit is reduced by a whopping .4% even when calculated as a percentage of GDP. This number is based on the CBO's own estimates of three things: (1) making the tax cuts permanent, a stated Bush policy, (2) reform of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and (3) discretionary spending rising at 4% per year.

(Note: the CBO report itself includes one deficit projection based on 2.5% growth in discretionary spending and another based on 4.8% growth in discretionary spending. My figure above is an interpolation that estimates the deficit if we assume Bush's goal of 4% growth.)

This is a far more realistic estimate. In fact, even keeping discretionary spending to 4% is pretty unlikely, and if you use the growth rate of the past few years instead (6.9%), you can tack on another 1% or so to the deficit number.

(Fairness alert: the Bushies say the CBO number is too high because it assumes we're going to spend $87 billion on Iraq every year. If you take that out it reduces the deficit a bit.)

Coming soon, of course, is the White House budget proposal, which will have its own deficit projections. You should expect the following smoke and mirrors:

  • Projections of higher economic growth thanks to the magic power of tax cuts.

  • Wildly unrealistic assumptions about spending restraint.

  • No mention of AMT reform.

  • Assumptions that military spending in Iraq drops to nothing in 2006 and beyond.

Whatever the assumptions, though, I predict that the deficit projection for 2009 will come in at precisely 2.1%. Amazing!

And of course the White House projections will stop at 2009, which is also mighty convenient since the real deficit problems don't start coming until the years after that. Moral of the story: keep your hands on your wallet whenever someone from the Bush administration opens his mouth. Under any remotely realistic scenario, their policies are sending the budget deficit on a permanent trip to the moon.

POSTSCRIPT: Max has more, including a pretty chart. His conclusions, however, are not so pretty.

Kevin Drum 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WMD IN IRAQ....A FOLLOWUP....On Saturday I asked whether anyone besides Scott Ritter had publicly suggested that Iraq had no WMD back in September of 2002 (before the UN inspections began). My recollection was that back then everyone, even anti-war liberals, accepted the fact that Saddam had WMD stocks even if they disagreed about how important they were.

I got lots of comments, emails, and other blog posts about this, so I thought I'd follow up today with a summary of what everyone said. But before I do, a quick note on what questions I'm not asking. I'm not asking whether Iraq had delivery capability; I'm not asking whether Iraq posed a serious threat to anyone; I'm not asking if the administration exaggerated the CIA evidence; and I'm not asking whether any of this was a good reason to go to war. All I'm asking is a very narrow technical question: were there any serious analysts who publicly doubted the actual existence of WMD in Iraq?

On with the show:

  • Via Tim Dunlop, here is British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in his resignation speech:

    Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of that term - namely, a credible device capable of being delivered against strategic city targets. It probably does still have biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions. But it has had them since the 1980s when the US sold Saddam the anthrax agents and the then British government built his chemical and munitions factories.

    Comment: Actually, Cook says here that Iraq does have WMD, and this was as late as March 2003. He merely doubts that they present much of a threat.

  • Also from Tim, here is Australian intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie:

    Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program is, I believe, genuinely contained. There is no doubt they have chemical and biological weapons, but their program now is disjointed and limited. It's not a national WMD program like they used to have.

    Comment: Like Cook, Wilkie says Iraq does have WMD, it's just not very dangerous. And once again, this was in March 2003.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin:

    Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data that supports the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we have not received any such information from our partners as yet. This fact has also been supported by the information sent by the CIA to the US Congress.

    Comment: This is pretty good, especially since it's from October 2002. However, note that Putin followed by saying "We have apprehensions that such weapons might exist in Iraq."

  • Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill:

    In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction. There were allegations and assertions by people....To me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else.

    Comment: This isn't bad, but it fails on two counts: (a) it's recent, not from 2002, and (b) he doesn't clearly say he thought there was no WMD at the time. He says only that he didn't see convincing evidence.

  • Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern:

    Until last week many Americans were inclined to take your top aides at their word that the looming war with Iraq is not about oil or vengeance but rather about Iraqs continuing pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Now all but the most unquestioning loyalists are having serious second thoughts.

    Comment: This isn't from 2002, it's from late January 2003, by which time the UN inspections had proceeded far enough that a lot of people were starting to get skeptical. What's more, even at that point all he said was that many people were "having serious second thoughts." That's hardly a definitive repudiation.

  • Secretary of State Colin Powell:

    He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors

    And:

    And even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear -- I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful. There's no question that they have some stockpiles of some of these sorts of weapons still under their control, but they have not been able to break out, they have not been able to come out with the capacity to deliver these kinds of systems or to actually have these kinds of systems that is much beyond where they were 10 years ago.

    Comment: This is from early 2001 and is of course especially damning coming from George Bush's own Secretary of State. At the same time, Powell does make it clear that he thinks Iraq still has "some stockpiles" of WMD. He just doesn't think they're much of a threat.

  • Former UN inspector Rolf Ekeus:

    For me, I think it's a high probability that he has tried to strengthen his capabilities, especially production capability -- not so much to produce for storage, it's no idea to have large stocks of chemicals -- but production capabilities, and both with regard first to chemical weapons, but also with regard to biological warfare agents.

    Comment: I only included this because someone mentioned it in comments. It's from November 2002, and although Ekeus says prior to this that Iraq had very little left after the 1998 bombings, he obviously believes that they have likely restarted their programs.

  • General Anthony Zinni, from a profile in the Washington Post:

    As chief of the Central Command, Zinni had been immersed in U.S. intelligence about Iraq. He was all too familiar with the intelligence analysts' doubts about Iraq's programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, or WMD. "In my time at Centcom, I watched the intelligence, and never -- not once -- did it say, 'He has WMD.' "

    Though retired for nearly two years, Zinni says, he remained current on the intelligence through his consulting with the CIA and the military. "I did consulting work for the agency, right up to the beginning of the war. I never saw anything. I'd say to analysts, 'Where's the threat?' " Their response, he recalls, was, "Silence."

    Comment: this article was written recently but says that Zinni had doubts about Iraq's WMD in September 2002 and before. However, he doesn't appear to have stated those doubts publicly (although he did publicly state that he didn't think Iraq was a serious threat.)

This isn't exhaustive, but it covers most of the bases. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to send email or leave comments to the original post.

Conclusions: The CIA's estimate of Iraqi WMD in September 2002 was pretty clear. With high confidence they concluded that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions" and with moderate confidence they concluded that Iraq did not have the material to build a nuclear weapon. So while it's pretty clear that the OSP stovepiped questionable data directly to the White House and that the Bush administration exaggerated the CIA conclusions in some areas, notably with respect to Iraq's nuclear program, it's also clear that the CIA really did believe that Saddam had stockpiles of WMD and active WMD programs.

So who stood up at the time and said the CIA was wrong, that Iraq didn't have WMD stocks and programs? Only one: Vladimir Putin, and even he qualified his doubts. In addition, Zinni says now that he had doubts back in 2002 and O'Neill says now that he never saw anything convincing.

These quotes also show at least two additional things: (a) even among analysts who agreed that Saddam had WMD there were plenty of people who doubted that it was a serious threat, and (b) skepticism about Saddam's WMD programs grew considerably when the UN inspections turned up emptyhanded in January and February of 2003. My skepticism certainly grew considerably.

And with that, I think I'll call it quits on this topic. Just remember to keep it civil in comments, OK?

Kevin Drum 9:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY BY A LANDSLIDE?....Kos has the final tracking polls for New Hampshire, and if you just average the numbers together which we will consider good enough for the usual sloppy blog coverage you expect here this is how things shape up:

  • Kerry: 35%

  • Dean: 22%

  • Clark: 13%

  • Edwards: 12%

  • Lieberman: 8%

Of course, everyone says the New Hampshire polls are notoriously unreliable, New Hampshirites themselves are notoriously contrarian, and anyway look at what happened in Iowa. Which is quite right. Still, this is probably the closest we're going to get to the conventional wisdom, so I thought I'd share it.

As for personal predictions, forget it. In fact, around here New Hampshire is already yesterday's news and we're looking forward to Oklahoma, Arizona, South Carolina, Missouri, New Mexico, and Delaware. It ain't over yet.

Kevin Drum 4:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLARK AND MOORE....Was Wesley Clark wrong not to directly repudiate Michael Moore's comment about George Bush being a deserter? Jonathan Chait has about the right take on it today at The New Republic.

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONNECTIONS....I've come across several snippets of economic data/analysis recently that provide a surprisingly connected view of what's going on in the economy these days. This might get a little long apologies in advance but here are four data points to ponder:

  1. Over in the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer joins the legions of conservative economists who have discovered a newfound interest in judging employment by means of the government's Household Survey (phone calls to households asking if people are working) instead of the more traditional Payroll Survey (phone calls to businesses asking how many people they employ). Why? As near as I can tell, it's because the Household Survey shows a fairly rosy employment picture, and that's what they want to believe.

    Of course, one can't just come out and say that, so some kind of plausible explanation needs to be offered up instead. But what? Stelzer suggests that firms are outsourcing jobs (say, at the company cafeteria) and that the Payroll Survey counts the job lost by the original firm but not the job gained by the outsourcing firm. So statistically it looks like a job loss, but in fact net employment stays the same.

    Ignore for the moment that Stelzer provides no evidence that this is actually happening. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead, ask yourself this question: do you think the outsourcing firm pays the same wages as the original company did? After all, this is a company that presumably won the cafeteria contract by demonstrating that they could save the company money, and labor costs are surely a large component of saving money. Keep this in the back of your mind for a moment and let's move on.

    (Background on the two different employment surveys is here if you're interested.)

  2. The Los Angeles Times reports that California is suffering from a "shift of jobs from high-paying industries to lower-paying sectors such as retail sales and tourism." They are quoting a report issued by Comrade Max's employer, and as you can see from the map on the right it's a nationwide problem: every state except Nevada and Nebraska is seeing a shift from high paying industries, which are losing jobs, to low paying industries, which are gaining them.

  3. Also in the LA Times, business columnist Michael Hiltzik has an excellent and insightful piece on the Southern California supermarket strike. Bottom line: the unions have stayed regional while the supermarket chains have become national behemoths. As a result, say union leaders, they are "surprised at the absence of the collegial we-can-work-it-out atmosphere that prevailed at negotiations in past contract cycles. Yet that's what happens when labor policy is made not by executives who live in the same communities where they've provoked a labor war, but by corporate bureaucrats ensconced thousands of miles away."

    The unions have done a poor job of telling their side of the story, but the fact is that the supermarket chains aren't just asking for a $5/week copay for health insurance, as their newspaper ads suggest. Rather, they are trying to substantially cut both wages and benefits across the board. And when stalled talks resumed last month, the chains actually produced a new offer than was even worse than their original one.

  4. And finally, of course, there's Wal-Mart, rampaging through the countryside driving all before them. If you want to keep up, you have to match Wal-Mart's subsistence wages and benefits, and that means the race to the bottom is in full swing everywhere Wal-Mart has a store. Which means everywhere.

These anecdotes all point to the thing that bothers me the most about the direction of our economy: there are too many trends that are squeezing the wages of traditional working-class and middle-class workers. During the past 30 years workers in the bottom half of the distribution have seen their hourly wages increase only 10%, and among male wage earners during the same period the median income has barely budged at all. The problem isn't economic growth per se per capita GDP has grown about 60% during this period but rather that virtually all that additional wealth has gone to the already well off. Those in the middle and at the bottom aren't getting any better off despite economic growth, and as a result, instead of a growing middle class that's optimistic about its future, we have a middle class that's slowly but steadily stagnating and increasingly worried about its survival.

The typical conservative response to this is a collective shrug: things really aren't that bad, are they, in this age of Nintendos and big screen TVs for all? And there's some truth to this: living standards are still high for most people and there are no mobs with pitchforks roaming the streets in American cities. But what about tomorrow?

The sign of of a healthy economy is not so much that living standards are high for the middle class, but that they are getting higher that people believe their children will be better off than they are. But as income inequality increases and income mobility decreases that's increasingly not the case, and the question at hand is whether we ever plan on doing anything about it. How long does the middle class have to stagnate in the midst of ever more stratospheric wealth for the rich before even conservatives finally admit that we have a problem?

The problem is not just one of social justice, either. One of the counterintuitive facets of the U.S. economy that various pundits and researchers keep independently "discovering" usually with a tone of dismayed wonder is that nearly all economic indicators in the past half century have been stronger under Democrats than Republicans. The data is hardly conclusive, but it is suggestive, and it shows that economic growth, stock market growth, budget deficits, unemployment, and inflation all tend to be better under Democrats. But why? Given the fact that the economic policies of the two parties have been so inconsistent over the years, is there anything that can account for this?

I think there is, and it's simple: Democrats care about middle class job growth. They always have. Conversely, at various periods Republicans have concerned themselves not directly with jobs but instead with inflation, or with balanced budgets, or most recently with obsessive tax cuts.

But there's no evidence that tax cuts increase economic growth at least not at the levels that we have in the United States. Ditto for balanced budgets and low inflation. But robust middle class employment is a different matter: if you take direct aim at that you're almost guaranteed that the economy is going to do well as a result. How could it not? If you have a large, growing, well-paid middle class that's spending ever larger sums of money without going into ruinous debt, the economy will be humming along almost by definition. Call it trickle-up economics.

So even if you don't think that economic equality is any concern of the government, you should still be concerned about our ever more squeezed middle class. They are the engine of economic growth, and if we continue to pursue policies that ignore them the entire economy will pay the price. We need to start paying attention before it's too late.

Kevin Drum 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHENEY vs. THE TRUTH....Dick Cheney, two days ago:

We've found a couple of semi-trailers at this point which we believe were in fact part of [a WMD] program. I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction.

David Kay, today:

Dr. Kay added that there was now a consensus within the United States intelligence community that mobile trailers found in Iraq and initially thought to be laboratories for biological weapons were actually designed to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, or perhaps to produce rocket fuel.

I'm sure Cheney will issue a retraction any day now.

By the way, I highly recommend reading the entire text of the Kay interview along with Ken Pollack's recent Atlantic article. Taken together, I think they provide a fairly coherent summary of what actually happened in Iraq and within the intelligence community over the past decade. (Note, however, that they disagree about the extent to which the Bushies corrupted the intelligence process. On this, I think Pollack is more believable.)

Kevin Drum 9:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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2003 KOUFAX AWARDS....The Koufax Awards for best lefty blogs (plus one non-lefty this year!) are now open for voting. Scroll down and vote for all the categories.

Kevin Drum 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE WMD HUNT....A REAL EXPLANATION AT LAST?....Now that he's back home David Kay is turning into a veritable font of useful information. Today, he advances the first new theory I've heard in a while about why Saddam acted the way he did if there were no weapons to hide in the first place:

David A. Kay, who led the government's efforts to find evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs until he resigned on Friday, said the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Mr. Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes.

....After [about 1998], Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state.

You know what? This is a winner. I think is the real explanation for what happened.

Partly I believe this because Kay is obviously basing this on things he's learned via interviews with high-level Iraqi officials, but partly I believe it because it just makes sense. Everything falls into place.

An increasingly out-of-touch Saddam makes sense. High-level scientists faking programs in order to get money for their own pet causes makes sense. Saddam's attitude toward the inspections makes sense because he thought there really were active WMD programs in place that would take time to dismantle. And it may be that even some of the exiles were telling the truth when they reported that Iraq still had active large-scale WMD programs. They might have been scammed the same way Saddam was.

This is the first theory I've heard that holds together on all levels. It explains how the CIA got fooled, it explains why Saddam acted the way he did, and it explains why we haven't found much of anything. And it does it all without making any weird and heroic assumptions about human nature.

I think this is the real deal.

UPDATE: Just to clear up a possible misconception, I don't think this absolves the Bush administration of anything. The CIA was indeed fooled, they issued guarded reports saying that Iraq had WMD, and the Bushies then cherry picked the reports and removed the qualifiers when they made public statements. This is pretty much what we knew happened anyway. There's plenty of blame for everyone in this fiasco.

Kevin Drum 8:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AT WAR....Armed Liberal asks today, Are we at war? Good question. So let me take this chance to follow up on my earlier post and toss off a few reasons that regardless of whether we actually are at war, I don't think George Bush considers us to be (seriously) at war.

This is not a garden variety partisan policy dispute. It's war, and if George Bush considered it to be truly serious he would have done everything he could to build a bipartisan consensus and wide public support for his actions. But he didn't. Off the top of my head, here are five examples of the kinds of things he would have done if he really thought terrorism was a threat on the level of World War II or the Cold War:

  • As many war supporters have pointed out (for example, Glenn Reynolds here and here), Bill Clinton has been rather supportive of the war on terror and of muscular national security in general. If Bush were serious about the war, he would have enlisted Bill Clinton's active support wherever he could, regardless of his personal feelings toward the guy. He's an ex-president and the most prominent Democrat and internationalist around, and his backing would have helped build support both domestically and internationally.

  • He would have worked with Democrats from the beginning on the idea of creating a Department of Homeland Security. And he wouldn't have held things up by insisting on union busting activities that he knew perfectly well would spark outrage among Democrats.

  • After his UN speech, he would have floated proposals designed to demonstrate that our goals in Iraq were not motivated strictly by oil. For instance, he might have agreed beforehand to allow the UN to control all oil contracts and civil rebuilding contracts. These demonstrations of goodwill might not have gotten France on board (though who knows), but they might have gotten many other countries on board and certainly would have muted suspicions about our motives abroad. Remember, in the end it wasn't just France that opposed us. We couldn't even get a majority of the Security Council on our side.

  • He could have helped garner additional Arab support by placing increased public pressure on Israel over the settlements and the wall. This is something Bush could have gotten away with since his position as a supporter of Israel is rock solid.

  • He might have made a serious call to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil by, for example, proposing a steep increase in the gasoline tax or higher CAFE standards.

There's a common thread to all of these: they are things that normally George Bush wouldn't want to do. And that's exactly the point, since one way to show seriousness is to demonstrate concretely that you're willing to sacrifice other lesser goals in order to gain support for your higher goals. This is, for example, what FDR did when he said that "Dr. Win the War" had replaced "Dr. New Deal." On the other hand, if your actions are confined solely to things that you've always wanted to do anyway, the natural conclusion is that you're using the war simply as an excuse to press forward with politics as usual.

Despite the fact that this is a global war that requires broad support over long timescales, George Bush has not tried to gain Democratic support; he has not engaged seriously with the international community; he has not asked the American public for any kind of sacrifice; he has continued to push a divisive domestic agenda; he has shown little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts; he has declined to put adequate resources into Afghanistan; he has done nothing to fix an intelligence operation that's quite obvously broken; and he has stonewalled every investigation into the failures that allowed 9/11 to happen.

In light of this, just how seriously do you think George Bush takes the fight against terrorism? I'd say, not very.

Kevin Drum 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MARY JOHN WRITES A LETTER....I was dismayed at lunch today to discover that the editors of the Economist saw fit to run a letter from John Lott in this week's issue. Surely someone with honest credentials or even no credentials at all could have been found in the mailbag to make the same point?

Kevin Drum 4:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALLING UP THE RESERVES....Apropos of nothing in particular, I note that Phil Carter has a post up about problems with readiness and morale in the reserves. In it, he relates a familiar bit of history:

Much of this problem traces to the overreliance of America's military on the reserve components. A generation ago, Gen. Creighton Abrams removed a great deal of support capability from the active force and put it into the reserves, as a mechanism to prevent any future wars like Vietnam where the President chose to fought without the mobilization of the reserves -- and without popular support. As I wrote in an op-ed last year, this concept has run into serious problems since Sept. 11, with so many reserve units being called up for long-term deployments.

Now, this is all true: a lot of our military capability is now invested in reserve forces, and the idea behind this was that any serious war would require us to call up the reserves, and this in turn would be politically impossible unless the war commanded widespread public support.

But whenever someone brings this up, the subtext is that, in hindsight, this has turned out to be an error. But is it? After all, surely the war on terror doesn't change the fact that securing public support for any kind of lengthy military engagement really is critically important. And if our reserve-heavy force structure compels a president to rally public support or prevents him from prosecuting further wars due to lack of support isn't that a good thing?

I certainly agree with Phil that reserve forces shouldn't be treated shabbily, but on the larger question it appears that Creighton Abrams' long shadow is doing its job rather well. There should be constraints on a president's ability to wage war, and I suspect our current constraints are probably a pretty good reflection of the actual level of public support out there. It's the public support that's the root cause here; reserve morale is merely a symptom.

Kevin Drum 3:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PONDERING THE INFINITE....I finished reading Everything and More today, David Foster Wallace's first new book since Infinite Jest in 1996. It's not a novel, though, it's a survey of the mathematical problems that ultimately led to Georg Cantor's development of modern set theory and transfinite analysis. Some miscellaneous comments:

  • No index. That's a real bummer for a work of nonfiction.

  • Karl Weierstrass, a heavy-duty 19th century mathematician, did not allow his students to take notes in class.

  • Odd factoid according to Wallace: "Almost all history's great philosophers never married. Heidegger's the only real exception. The great mathematicians are nuptially split about 50/50, still way below the civilian average. No cogent explanation on record; feel free to hypothesize."

  • I continue to not really get Cantor's diagonal proof. It seems like (a) it could be applied just as well to the rationals as to the reals, which is obviously wrong, and (b) it doesn't really work anyway since the diagonal number can be made arbitrarily close to one of the numbers already on the list although I admit that this second objection is a little slippery. I don't know if my lack of understanding is due to relying on popular explications rather than the actual technical proof itself, or is simply because I'm missing something.

    I realize this paragraph is probably meaningless to nearly everyone reading it. Apologies.

    UPDATE: Ah, the power of Google! The answer to my first objection is here, and my second objection is probably just logical thumbsucking anyway. I guess that Cantor fellow was a pretty smart cookie.

  • Wallace attended Urbana University Sr. High School in Urbana, and the text of the book makes it clear that his math classes there covered calculus all the way through partial differential equations plus discussion of set theory and transfinite arithmetic. Even granting that these were AP classes, holy cow. Do they really teach this kind of stuff in high school these days?

  • Typically for Wallace, Everything and More is filled with footnotes. Unfortunately, due to a quirk of typography, they seemed to blend in with the text so much that I kept missing them. Then I had to go back and try to figure out where the footnote was before I turned the page. Annoying.

  • Wallace insists in several places that you really don't need any kind of college math background to understand his book. He's lying. It's actually surprisingly technical for a popular account, but that also means it's symbol-laden enough to scare off anyone who finds the routine use of capital Greek letters offputting.

Transfinite numbers, of course, are merely the 19th century's contribution to the menagerie of numbers that no one believed in at first but then eventually did, following in the rich tradition of irrationals, zero, negative numbers, imaginary numbers, and transcendentals. Eventually all of these things came to be widely accepted, putatively because they were finally put on a rigorous basis but really because the old guys died off and everyone else just clapped their hands and decided to believe. After all, it's quite a coincidence that every type of number that's actually useful has eventually found a supposedly rigorous treatment, isn't it? One might be excused for thinking that usefulness itself is the only thing that anyone really cares about.

Hell, after a thousand years we still can't divide by zero. How rigorous is that?

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUDICIAL NON-ACTIVISM....Do we live under a benign but capricious dictatorship? Matt Yglesias thinks we might.

About time this country was run by a woman, don't you think?

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TERRORISM AND ELECTIONS....Apparently George Bush is now almost panicky in his desire to disengage from Iraq and get the UN in. The Washington Post reports today that at this point virtually any proposal from the UN will be entertained, but only under one condition:

"The United States told us that as long as the timetable is respected, they are ready to listen to any suggestion," a senior U.N. official said.

In other words, anything goes as long as we're out by June 30. The occupation has to officially end before next year's elections.

There are, of course, many reasons that liberals generally didn't support the war in Iraq, but certainly one of them was the overwhelming partisan cynicism that the Bush administration brought to the task. Karl Rove made it clear that the war would be a perfect wedge issue for Republicans, Andy Card admitted that the "marketing" of the war resolution was deliberately timed, and now we discover that they really don't care much what happens to Iraq as long as we are officially out and can claim victory before November:

In private conversations with the United Nations and its coalition partners, the administration has begun to discuss the viability of abandoning the complex caucuses outlined in the agreement and even holding partial elections or simply handing over power to an expanded Iraqi Governing Council, an old proposal now back on the table, U.S. and U.N. officials say.

Even simply handing power over to the IGC is now on the table. Anything, as long as it gets us out.

After 9/11 George Bush had a chance to build a bipartisan consensus about terrorism and how to respond to it. But he didn't just fail to do that, he deliberately tried to prevent it, and by transparently treating terrorism as little more than a chance to boost the prospects of his own party he has convinced everyone who's not a Republican that it's not really a serious threat. After all, if he quite obviously treats it as simply a political opportunity, it's hardly reasonable to expect anyone else to take it seriously either.

Treating Medicare or abortion as a partisan issue is one thing, but treating war the same way is quite another, and in the end it's George Bush who is largely responsible for convincing half the United States and most of the world that terrorism is little more than a GOP talking point. It's likely that someday we will pay a heavy price for this.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE DAVID KAY....David Kay is giving a lot of interviews these days. A couple of days ago he told Reuters that he now believes that Iraqi WMD never existed in the first place, and in today's Telegraph he says that a lot of material was transported from Iraq to Syria before the war "including some components of Saddam's WMD programme."

Now Jim Miller points to an interview aired this morning on NPR in which Kay says a few more interesting things. Regarding the movement of material to Syria he backs down a bit, saying "We simply don't know what was moved." But then he makes the rather striking assertion that based on what he found, he thinks that Iraq might have been more dangerous than we thought before the war.

As Jim notes, it's bizarre that interviewer Liane Hansen didn't follow up on this. If the WMD didn't exist, and even the WMD programs were in rudimentary form, what could possibly make him think that we underestimated the danger from Iraq before the war? And how could Hansen possibly be so obtuse as not to follow up on this?

Kay seems to be making the interview circuit right now, so I suppose we'll find out what he was thinking eventually. In the meantime, you can listen to the interview here, at least until NPR, as part of its ongoing campaign to make linking to its shows as difficult as it can possibly be, changes the URL

Kevin Drum 10:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGERS SPEAK!....The Blogging of the President will be on public radio on Sunday with a program designed to "air out the internet effects that the political campaign has suddenly made obvious." Guests will include Atrios, Andrew Sullivan, Josh Marshall, Kevin Phillips, and others.

The show runs from 9-11 PM Eastern time, although your local station may choose to air it at a different time. A list of participating stations, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and others, is here. Or you can hear it streamed over the web here.

Kevin Drum 9:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEOCONS....Via David Adesnik, who has some comments of his own, I see that Max Boot's Foreign Policy article about neocons is now online. As these folks go, I generally find Boot to be one of the more readable of the neocons, and I recommend this article. It's short, it's breezy, and I think it's reasonably accurate too, even if grains of salt are required here and there since Boot is, after all, sympathetic to the cause.

But the main reason I'm recommending it is simply to do away with the nonsense about "liberal conspiracy theories" regarding neocons. Sure, there are some lefties who go overboard in blaming all the world's ills on neocons, but the fact is that they are not simply liberal bogeymen. They really do exist. Boot sensibly admits this, and then acknowledges that they do have some influence although here he is perhaps a bit overmodest that they have a more-or-less coherent view of the world, and that they would like to nuke Iran and North Korea off the map see regime change in Iran in North Korea.

As his finale, he suggests that things might be going better in Iraq if the neocons really had been in charge of things, since they've been arguing all along for more troops, better planning, etc. There might actually be a smidgen of justice in this, although it's worth pointing out that leading administration neocon Paul Wolfowitz certainly did his best to ridicule the idea in front of Congress last February.

Boot's ending rhetorical flourish, delivered with perhaps a bit more self-pity than is truly wise, is a suggestion that life is mighty unfair if you're a neocon:

If neocons had been in control, they would have done far more, far earlier, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly averting some of the postwar problems. But fairly or not, neocons will doubtless be held responsible for the outcome in both countries; their numerous enemies, on both the left and the right, will see to that.

All things considered, I'll vote for "fairly" if this is indeed what happens.

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WIRELESS UPDATE....I met up this morning with one my readers, T, who very nicely agreed to meet and show me his wireless setup. We met at Wired for Coffee, a local place that offers free wireless access plus all your other basic coffee amenities. It's also Marian's favorite coffee shop.

Anyway, I'm not sure how much interest there is in this geek stuff, but here it is anyway:

  • T uses (appropriately) T-Mobile and says it works pretty well. It costs him 20 bucks a month on top of his phone bill and provides about the same performance as a dial-up connection.

  • When I went through my security blitz a few weeks ago, one of the things I did was disable DHCP. Turns out that this makes WiFi unusable at public access points, something that I guess is pretty obvious once you've figured it out. (It's funny how many things are like that, isn't it?) I don't think DHCP is actually much of a security risk anyway, so leave it on if you plan to roam around with your laptop.

  • Last night I downloaded some WiFi sniffing software, so after we were done I did some war driving around my neighborhood to see if I could steal some bandwidth. Sure enough, there were loads of home networks, but apparently connecting to them isn't quite as automatic as I thought. I managed to get one to work, although I don't quite remember how, but after that one success I never connected again.

    I'm not sure what the deal is with that. Windows seemed to acquire networks here and there, but I couldn't make my browser work. Eventually I went into Control Panel and manually connected, but even that only worked once (I think) and I couldn't get it to work again. In fact, once I got home I couldn't even connect to my home network until I rebooted although I suppose that might have been because of the whole DHCP thing.

  • My WiFi sniffing software, NetStumbler, was pretty rudimentary. It seems like the world needs a much better version of this software that gives more info on which networks are around and allows you to decide which ones to connect to. In fact, I'll bet something better does exist. All I have to do is find it.

Overall, I think I'm missing some crucial (but no doubt trivial) aspect of this whole WiFi thing. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know.

Kevin Drum 4:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRITOS ARE GOOD FOR YOU!....Somebody left a link to this in comments, and the chutzpah was so magnificent that I felt like I had to share it: Frito-Lay has taken the USDA's famous food pyramid and replaced the "Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta" group with logos of tasty, carbo-loaded Frito-Lay snacks. Why, you'd almost think this stuff was good for you!

And apparently it is:

If you make the decision to use the Food Guide Pyramid as an aid in making the best food choices, you will discover you have the freedom to consume 6-11 servings of grain products daily. This makes it easy to fit many Frito-Lay snacks into your diet. Frito-Lay is proud to help you meet your nutrition goals by offering a variety of snacks that are not only great-tasting, but are 3 grams of fat or less per serving. So, forget the guilt and make Frito-Lay a part of your healthy diet today!

This all comes from the Frito-Lay Nutrition Center ("We are making a healthy diet so much fun!"), which seems like an oxymoron but apparently isn't. In fact, it contains advice on how Frito-Lay goodies can be part of a weight-loss plan, tackles some commonly asked questions ("Does Frito-Lay irradiate any of its products?"), and busts some common myths about dietary fat.

I sure feel better now. Isn't America great?

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW PEACE PLAN FROM THE SAUDIS....David Bernstein points us to this Haaretz account of a new peace initiative in the Middle East:

According to a new peace initiative being prepared by Arab states, Israel will negotiate a peace agreement with all the Arab states, and not just with the Palestinians, and Arab states would absorb Palestinian refugees.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyasa reported Saturday that the initiative, led by Saudi Arabia, would include "declarations of peace agreements between all Arab states," which will bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. The states would declare a normalization in their ties with Israel, including the appointment of ambassadors.

....Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and probably Qatar are the main supporters of the plan.

I don't follow the intricacies of Middle East peace plans closely enough to know for sure, but this sounds like good news, doesn't it? I know the Saudis have tried this before, but this time they've basically conceded the right of return, and as David says, it's hard to believe they wouldn't also be willing to concede some minor and mutually agreed land swaps near the 1967 border. That's considerable progress.

Or so it seems. Unfortunately, this whole policy area is so Byzantine that I can't pretend to know whether this is really new or just more of the same. But David is considerably more hawkish about Israel than I am, and he seems to think it's "worth taking seriously." So maybe it is.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WMD IN IRAQ....Atrios says today that maybe the administration really did believe there was WMD in Iraq before the war. Fine.

But, at the time, there were also plenty of reasonable people running around saying that this whole WMD stuff was nonsense. Remember how they were treated by our media? They were treated like escapees from an insane asylum who needed to up their Thorazine dose. Remember how radical and controversial it was to even suggest such a thing?

Actually, I think the administration did believe there was WMD in Iraq before the war. What's more, the CIA and MI6 thought the same thing and the yawning silence from both Republicans and Democrats about how our intelligence services could have been so wildly off the mark is a scandal of the first order. Is anyone serious about this stuff?

But I'm not really trying to start an argument about that. Mostly I just want a history lesson. I don't personally recall any first-rank analysts except Scott Ritter who claimed that the WMD evidence was seriously faulty around, say, the time of the UN speech (although obviously more people became skeptical later on as the inspections came up emptyhanded). Were there others? Who?

Like I said, I don't have any real argument here. I'm just curious.

UPDATE: Two things. First, as Atrios says in comments, he was just saying this for the sake of argument. In fact, he says, "I don't actually believe the administration believed that Iraq had any kind of WMDs which posed a real threat to the US or anyone else."

Second, I note that so far no one in comments has named a name, so let me make myself clear here: yes, the CIA hedged its estimates, and yes, the Bush administration clearly exaggerated what the CIA told them. No argument there. However, it is also abundantly clear that the CIA did in fact believe that Saddam had both WMD and active WMD programs.

So here's my question. Forget about threat assessments. Forget about whether their evidence was any good (obviously it wasn't). All I want to know is this: In September 2002, aside from Scott Ritter, were there any serious analysts (not Sean Penn, not bloggers, not Noam Chomsky) who were publicly saying that the intelligence was wrong and Iraq didn't have WMD? Are there any serious analysts today who have publicly said that back in September 2002 they doubted the existence of WMD but just couldn't say so at the time?

I'm not trying to restart the old fight about whether the evidence of WMD was any good. I just want some names of serious analysts who publicly questioned the intelligence back in September 2002. Does anybody have one?

Kevin Drum 9:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CYNICISM....David Adesnik thinks it's a little hard to swallow the Pakistani government's contention that they are shocked shocked! that some of their leading scientists may have sold nuclear secrets to Iran. That's sad. How does the youth of America get so cynical at such a young age?

On the other hand, sometimes a little cynicism goes a long way:

The top story right now on CNN.com is that Ahmad Chalabi has come out in favor of direct elections in Iraq. Until I found that out, I was leaning towards elections. But if Chalabi is for them, something's gotta be wrong.

I think he may be on to something here....

Kevin Drum 9:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IMAGE PROBLEMS....Wal-Mart is running some ads in an effort to spruce up its image:

The TV commercial opens with a young couple on a sofa smiling at their toddler son. As the boy nuzzles a stuffed animal and hugs his mother, his father explains that the youngster was born with liver disease and underwent two major surgeries by the time he was 7 months old.

"It's nice to know that I work for a company that would take care of everything we went through," the man says. The ad cuts to the man at work, wearing a familiar blue vest with white logo, as he says: "I don't think people know how great the benefits are at Wal-Mart. Without Wal-Mart, he wouldn't -- I don't know that he'd have made it. I don't know that we would have made it."

....In a multi-pronged counterattack, the world's biggest company -- the most feared and powerful competitor in global retail -- is seeking to hang onto its image as America's friendly hometown merchant.

It is stepping up its slate of feel-good television ads in 2004, with more spots featuring happy employees as well as examples of Wal-Mart's community involvement. Wal-Mart has also sharply increased its political donations, becoming the second-biggest giver to candidates in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Wall Street Journal provides a different picture:

Wal-Mart makes new hourly workers wait six months to sign up for its benefits plan and doesn't cover retirees at all. Its deductibles range as high as $1,000, triple the norm. It refuses to pay for flu shots, eye exams, child vaccinations, chiropractic services and numerous other treatments allowed by many other companies. In many cases, it won't pay for treatment of pre-existing conditions in the first year of coverage.

What's more, Wal-Mart charges its workers a lot for healthcare coverage as much as 10-15% of their wages and has increased premiums by 200% since 1993, far higher than the rate of medical inflation. Result: many workers can't afford to sign up for coverage and some of them end up getting healthcare via Medicaid. In other words, via tax dollars.

For better or worse, part of the social contract in America since World War II has been that large corporations provide decent healthcare for their workers. Refusing to do so is a core part of Wal-Mart's strategy for squeezing every last nickel out of its workforce, and they deserve all the scorn they get for their efforts to force an entire industry down to their subterranean level.

This ad campaign is revolting. Truly their shame knows no limits.

Kevin Drum 10:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WMD HUNT SEMI-FINALE....David Kay gives a valedictory interview upon stepping down as chief U.S. arms hunter in Iraq:

Q: You came away from the hunt that you have done believing that they did not have any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the country?

A: "That is correct."

Q. Is that from the interviews and documentation?

A. "Well the interviews, the documentation, and the physical evidence of looking at, as hard as it was because they were dealing with looted sites, but you just could not find any physical evidence that supported a larger program."

Q: Do you think they destroyed it?

A: "No, I don't think they existed."

Q. Even though in the mid-1980s people said they used it on Halabja?

A. "They had stockpiles, they fought the Iranians with it, and they certainly did use it on the Kurds. But what everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s."

Now, it's worth noting that Kay was careful to say "large-scale" throughout this interview. But even so, the takeaway from his remarks is fairly stunning:

  • He's stepping down because, essentially, he feels the administration is not really serious about looking for WMD at this point. This is basically an admission that no one in the administration thinks there's anything to be found. If they did, there's no way they would allow the inspection program to wind down like this.

  • There was no nuclear program to speak of. "There had been some restart of activities, but they were rudimentary."

  • There was no serious chemical or biological weapons development in the 90s. Not just after 1995, not just after 2001, but at no time in the entire last decade. And yet the world's intelligence services were apparently fooled for that entire time.

  • The search is pretty much complete and there's not much chance we're going to find anything more. "I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we're going to find."

Can someone please tell Dick Cheney about this?

Kevin Drum 3:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WIRELESS INTERNET....Question for my readers: does anyone out there have personal experience with wireless internet plans from Verizon, Sprint, or one of the other phone companies? I'm looking for something that allows me to use my laptop via a cell connection when there's no other alternative.

If anyone has used one of these services and can tell me how well they work, I'd appreciate it.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, Jasmine displays her libertarian instincts by proclaiming her properties rights to our catnip plant. On the right, Inkblot displays his disdain for the metric system by showing off his usefulness as an emergency yardstick substitute.

BONUS CATS: Over at Begging to Differ, Steve Dunn joins the catblogging community with a picture of his brother's cat. Hmmm. Does that count? And here's a gallery of cute photos of a cat named Nexus.

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CHEETOS OF MASS DESTRUCTION....The Slacktivist compares George Bush's State of the Union address to Cheetos. Well, part of it, anyway.

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ARNOLD AND THE PRISON GUARDS....Why would the California prison guard union be voluntarily discussing pay cuts with Governor Schwarzenegger? Apparently in return for an agreement to cut "waste" in the prison system.

And just what do they consider "waste"? Nathan Newman explains.

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WES CLARK WATCH....Did Wes Clark "guarantee" that he would prevent any future terrorist attacks? No, that was just a headline written by the Concord Monitor copy desk but now it's taken on a life of its own. The Campaign Desk unspins the spin.

Did Wes Clark insult junior officers and "obliquely" question John Kerry's war heroism? No he didn't. Mark Kleiman explains.

Did Wes Clark contradict himself last night when he said, "I would not have voted for the [September war] resolution"? As it turns out, yes. Last September he told the New York Times, "On balance, I probably would have voted for it."

And in the latest ARG tracking poll for New Hampshire, Clark is now in second place. Kerry leads with 31%, followed by Clark at 20%, Dean at 18%, and Edwards at 11%.

Kevin Drum 10:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EXPLAINING CHENEY....Dick Cheney is once again claiming we have "conclusive evidence" of Iraqi WMD and "overwhelming evidence" of ties to al-Qaeda. Brad DeLong asks:

Is he off in a private little world all his own, surrounded by aides who don't dare tell him that he believes things that are not true? Is he mentally unbalanced? Or is he too old for the job?

No, no, and no. Cheney may be a true believer who allows himself to ignore evidence he doesn't like, but he's not stupid, he's not unhinged, and he's not very old. It is a grave mistake to think otherwise.

What he is is a vice president. And a smart politician. And he knows perfectly well that most people pay only vague attention to the news reports they hear and pay no attention at all to the followups from serious reporters. Millions of people turned on the radio and heard Cheney say that we've found both WMD and al-Qaeda links, but only thousands read the LA Times and discovered that he's pretty much the only person who thinks so.

Net result: millions more people believe the WMD and al-Qaeda fantasies. Cheney's boss, of course, will never say anything this direct even though he had a chance just three days ago and if this heats up the White House will simply issue a low-key "explanation" of Cheney's remarks that will be published on page 23 of most major metro dailies.

This is a very smart, very deliberate strategy. Don't ever believe otherwise.

Kevin Drum 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE NEW NEW CONVENTIONAL WISDOM....Headlines (and subheads) from last night's New Hampshire debate:

The conventional wisdom sure can change with spine crunching speed, can't it? All it took was one over-the-top speech from Howard Dean, amplified by every talk show host and late night comic in the country, and suddenly the entire field has decided that attacks are out and cool professionalism is in. I hope they haven't learned that lesson too well, though.

(And for the record, when I finally viewed the video of Dean's Iowa speech, it didn't really seem all that bad to me in context. I can see where all the jokes are coming from, but really, it's pretty obvious that Dean is just trying to yell above a raucous crowd and is actually in a pretty jovial mood.)

Kevin Drum 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....There's a real live grand jury that's hearing real live evidence in the case of the Valerie Plame outing. That's about all this Time magazine article says, but it's progress.

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REALTIME DEBATE BLOGGING....I don't often even watch political debates, but tonight's seems more important than usual and it was kind of fun blogging the State of the Union address on Tuesday. So let's do it again.

Overall impressions Nothing much, really; the whole thing was pretty subdued with no big moments or big fumbles. I thought Edwards sounded strong, Kerry and Dean were OK, and Clark might have bobbled a bit. Still, if there's anything I've learned while watching these things, it's that my gut reactions are often light years away from other people's. Overall, my guess is that the debate neither helped nor hurt anyone very much.

6:48 Transcript of the debate is here.

6:47 Huh? That's it?

6:45 Pretty punchy criticism of Bush from Kerry: He's run "the most arrogant, most inept foreign policy in history."

6:35 More charts from Kucinich. Doing it on TV is an improvement, but he needs to learn how to use PowerPoint better....

6:32 Clark: "I would not have voted for the [September war] resolution." Hmmm, a couple of months ago he really did say he "probably" would have voted for it, didn't he?

6:29 Brit Hume is asking Clark whether he's really a Democrat. The question's already been asked. Clark is now answering. And he's saying the same thing he said the first time. Sheesh.

6:27 Huh? Asking the candidates to pledge to protect New Hampshire's status as the first primary?

6:21 I have to admit that it occasionally occurs to me just how much of an idiot I'd look like if I had to stand on a stage and answer questions like this....

6:18 Clark: the ACLU should have been brought in to "pre-approve" the CAPPS II passenger screening program for privacy violations.

6:12 It always sets my teeth on edge when a candidate launches into a story about some ordinary voter he allegedly met a few days ago. I wonder how this goes over with other people?

6:10 You know, I kinda feel sorry for Joe Lieberman. I mean, he's earnest and sincere and all that, and when he speaks he seems like he really means what he says. Still, whenever he starts speaking the only thing I can think of is: how long will it be after the polls close before he drops out?

6:03 Sharpton isn't good for much, but at least he usually provides some comic relief. Not tonight, though. He's really off his game for some reason.

6:00 Question to Kucinich: Is the Democratic party divided on the war? Answer: Yes. But there are occasional points of agreement: "The one thing that John Edwards and I agreed on in Iowa was that we both wanted more delegates."

5:57 Lieberman: "Nice try, Peter." Well, at least he's honest about not being willing to answer the question.

5:52 Dean: "You can't trust right wing Republicans with your money." That's a good line.

5:48 Dean is emphasizing that we should repeal "every dime of the Bush tax cuts." Aside from whether that's good policy, I wonder if it's good politics? I'm not sure. Dean seems to be pushing a "We need to be adults" strategy, which I guess might work if he keeps at it.

5:44 Question to John Edwards: John Kerry voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Was that right or wrong? Why is Peter Jennings asking Edwards about Kerry's position on the issue? Why not ask about President Bush's semi-endorsement of a marriage amendment instead?

5:40 Pandagon is doing real-time blogging too if you want to surf back and forth.

5:36 Scanning the other blogs, Josh Marshall says that Wesley Clark has gotten a bunch of Dick Gephardt's staffers from Iowa to sign on for his campaign. Now if he can only get some of his supporters as well, most of whom seem to have switched their allegiance to Kerry.

5:34 I hope somebody says something interesting or makes some huge mistake soon. This is really boring so far. Say what you will about the stage management of the Rock the Vote debate, at least it held our attention a little better.

5:32 Peter Jennings, after Sharpton has droned on about the IMF for a while: "Um, Reverend Sharpton, the question was actually about the Federal Reserve Board..."

5:25 Clark sounds a little strident....

5:16 The Sharpton Doctrine?

5:15 Pretty good answer from Edwards about voting no on the Iraq funding resolution. He made his case forcefully and clearly and even managed to sound tough doing it.

5:09 Are reporters simply incapable of asking short, simple questions?

5:01 Sheesh, the cameraman couldn't even figure out which candidates were which while Brit Hume introduced them. Bad start.

Kevin Drum 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POWERPOINT HUMOR....Matt Yglesias is right: this PowerPoint Anthology of Literature is pretty funny. And from commenter Keith on Matt's site, this PowerPoint version of the Gettysburg Address is also a giggle.

Just don't anyone tell Edward Tufte, OK?

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IT'S KERRY, KERRY, KERRY....This is just stunning. John Kerry now leads in the 2-day Rasmussen national tracking poll and Dean has dropped to third. On the day of the Iowa caucuses Kerry was polling only 11%.

It's pretty obvious that there's an awful lot of shallow support out there. Even Dean's loyal supporters are apparently more interested in beating Bush than in electing Howard Dean, and when he stopped looking invincible they dropped like flies.

And in the same way that currency traders all stock up on nice safe dollars when world events get hairy, apparently Kerry is the nice safe haven for Democratic voters who think election events have suddenly gotten hairy. I guess that makes sense long-time politician, solid Democrat, looks presidential but it surprises me that there's apparently such a large wellspring of desire for someone like that.

I'm not sure how the campaign polling operations work, but results like this make me wonder why tracking polls don't try to measure depth of support a little better. If Rasmussen had asked voters early this week how strong their support of Dean/Kerry/etc. was (say, on a scale of 1-10), I wonder if we wouldn't have been a little more prepared for this?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the ARG New Hampshire 1-day tracking poll has Kerry at 29%, Clark at 21%, and Dean in third at 17%. Ouch.

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DIRTY TRICKS....Via Atrios, the Boston Globe has more about Republican pilfering of Democratic memos:

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

....As the extent to which Democratic communications were monitored came into sharper focus, Republicans yesterday offered a new defense. They said that in the summer of 2002, their computer technician informed his Democratic counterpart of the glitch, but Democrats did nothing to fix the problem.

Other staffers, however, denied that the Democrats were told anything about it before November 2003.

So they read hundreds of memos over the course of a year and their defense is that they supposedly warned the Democrats they could do this? That's pathetic.

And even if it's true, try this on for size instead: "My window cleaner told your gardener a year ago that you had a loose window in your backyard. You didn't do anything about it, so we figured it was OK to sneak in and take your stuff."

Don't you just love those law-and-order Republicans? And when do we learn just what this "glitch" was, anyway?

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQI DEBT....Buried on the inside pages today:

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait signaled they would forgive some of the billions of dollars owed to them by Iraq as President Bush's envoy pressed Arab nations to reduce Iraq's debt.

But both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait said they would only reach debt reduction deals with a sovereign Iraqi government. Neither country said how much debt they would forgive.

Iraq owed $9 billion to the Saudi government and around $15 billion to Kuwait, a debt accumulated before Saddam Hussein invaded the small oil-rich Persian Gulf emirate in August 1990.

This is good news, even with the rhetoric about dealing only with a sovereign government, since getting rid of this debt is critical to any kind of success in rebuilding postwar Iraq. Qatar and the Emirates also agreed in principle to forgive substantial amounts of debt.

On the other other hand, there's this from Al-Jazeera:

Kuwait will discuss cutting Iraqi debt but billions of dollars in reparations dating from Iraq's 1990-91 occupation of its neighbour are not negotiable.

"The issue of Iraqi debt is essentially different from that of war reparations. For that, Kuwait totally rejected to discuss the issue," Kuwait Foreign Minister, Shaikh Muhammad was quoted as saying by newspapers on Thursday.

This is less-good news since reparations payments exceed ordinary debt by a substantial margin. Still, it's welcome progress.

I sure didn't like James Baker much when he was leading the Bush junta in Florida in 2000, but he sure knows how to get results, doesn't he? I like him a lot better when he's on my side.

Kevin Drum 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE WHITE HOUSE'S TRUTH DEFICIT....One of the most remarkable statements in yesterday's State of the Union address was this one:

In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent....By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Now, Max will tell you that the budget the president submits is little more than a dog and pony show anyway, but let's give Bush the benefit of the doubt and assume that Congress passes his 4% budget intact. What happens?

  • The deficit this year is projected to be about $480 billion. That means Bush is claiming that his budget austerity will reduce the deficit to $240 billion by 2009.

  • Now take a look at the chart on the right, which shows deficit estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. The baseline estimate for 2009 (heavy blue line at the top) is a deficit of $170 billion.

  • However, in the SOTU Bush also asked for his existing tax cuts to be made permanent. That's represented by the light blue area in the chart, and changes the estimated 2009 deficit to about $280 billion.

  • The Medicare bill has already been passed. This is the dark blue area on the chart, and when you account for that the CBO deficit estimate deteriorates to about $330 billion.

  • The gray area on the chart represents reform of the Alternative Minimum Tax. It's a no-brainer that this is going to happen, and that takes the 2009 deficit projection to $390 billion.

  • This is bad enough already, but now comes the fun part. The CBO figures assume that discretionary spending rises only by the inflation rate, which they estimate at 2.7% per year. But Bush wants to increase discretionary spending by 4%, a growth rate that's 50% higher than the CBO's estimate. The blue-gray area in the chart overstates this a bit, but even so Bush's 4% pledge still increases the 2009 deficit considerably over the baseline estimate. Once you factor in higher interest costs, we're up to about $500 billion.

So: Bush's own publicly stated policies along with AMT reform that everyone knows is inevitable will increase the deficit to $500 billion by 2009, yet he claims these policies will reduce the deficit to $240 billion. Every single budget analyst in the White House knows this perfectly well. President Bush knows this perfectly well.

Explain to me again why I'm not allowed to call this a lie?

Kevin Drum 10:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW HAMPSHIRE POLL RESULTS....I don't know reliable this is, but here's a Boston Herald poll of New Hampshire voters done in the two days following the Iowa caucuses:

  • Kerry: 31%

  • Dean: 21%

  • Clark: 16%

  • Edwards: 11%

Wow.

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NEWS REPORTING, PART 2....OK, one more example of what I was talking about in the previous post. Here's the lead of a CNN story today:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday deflected a call for an independent inquiry into his country's role in the Iraq war, saying there was "absolutely no doubt" about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

After 200 miscellaneous words that add nothing to the story, we finally get Blair's full quote:

There can be no doubt at all that those weapons existed, absolutely no doubt because that is said not just by this government or the United States government, it was set out in detail over 12 years by the United Nations and by United Nations inspectors.

In other words, nothing. All he said was that the weapons "existed," past tense, a fact that nobody denies.

Maybe this was just a really badly written story. Certainly the fact that the lead seems to deliberately mischaracterize what Blair actually said suggests so. But in order to fulfill the conventions of news reporting the full quote was left until the very end and a story that deserved at most a couple of paragraphs (if that) was padded to several hundred words. What's the point?

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BLOGS vs. NEWSPAPERS....Via Robert Tagorda comes this story about Wesley Clark from the Manchester Union Leader:

Retired General Wesley Clark yesterday noted he stayed with the U.S. Army through the Vietnam War, setting up a contrast with White House foe John Kerry, who left the military and became a war critic.

I stayed with the military all the way through, Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters. I stayed with the United States Army through Vietnam. I was company commander there. I fought and I was hit by four rounds.

Kerry, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-69 and won Mondays Iowa caucuses, has climbed slightly ahead of Clark in some New Hampshire polls leading up to Tuesdays Democratic Presidential primary.

Im only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. Im proud I did. Lots of us did, said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerrys military service.

I was just talking with my mother about blogging vs. mainstream journalism and I was having a hard time verbalizing something that I think is a real problem with straight news reporting. Let's see if it makes more sense if I use this story as an example of what I'm talking about.

One of the problems with print journalism is that there are certain stylistic constraints on how stories are written, and this one is a good example: in order to sound like professional writing, it weaves around the story in an oddly circuitous way, starting with a quote fragment, then an opinion, then a longer version of the quote, then an aside about Kerry's Vietnam service, then another piece of Clark's statement, and then finally a passing reference to the question that this was a response to.

This is typical of news writing, in which it is somehow forbidden to just flatly get to the point and explain exactly what happened (a problem, by the way, that is especially acute in any story with numbers in it). If this had been a blog post, it would have gone something like this:

We were talking to Clark after a house party and someone asked him [fill in text of question here]. Here's what he said:

Complete text of Clark's response here.

Then one of the reporters followed up and asked [fill in text of question] and Clark said blah blah blah.

The difference is pretty obvious. This kind of writing seems perfectly natural in a blog post but is completely out of place in a professionally produced piece of newspaper writing. And yet it's the blog style that actually does a better job of giving you the context for the quote.

Does this make sense? I'm not sure it does, so consider this v1.0 of my thesis. I'll keep thinking about it and see if I can nail it down a little more precisely.

In the meantime, though, I want to know what Clark was asked, I want to know what the context was, and I want to know what his full answer was. Blogs, partly because of stylistic differences and partly because of mundane typographical advantages, seem better able to provide this. More later.

UPDATE: Just a quick note: don't interpret this as some kind of blog triumphalism. Bloggers wouldn't exist without mainstream journalists who do original reporting and I'm emphatically not trying to say that blogging is an inherently superior medium for disseminating news. Still, there's something about the standard style of news reporting that seems almost designed to confuse otherwise straightforward stories, and it's independent of inverted pyramids or specific editorial policies or anything like that. But I haven't quite put my finger on it yet....

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MISCELLANEOUS SOTU FOLLOWUP....I missed this when I was listening to the SOTU last night, so it's a good thing it's become a widespread target of mockery in the blogosphere today. Here, apparently, is the evolution of Iraq's WMD program:

March 2003: Weapons of mass destruction.
June 2003: Weapons of mass destruction programs.
October 2003: Weapons of mass destruction-related programs.
January 2004: Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.

Isn't that great? "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." Brad DeLong speculates here about how this particular phrase got constructed.

(UPDATE: But Atrios seems to have the real story on this.)

Also via Brad, here's a USA Today article that unlike those by the infamous Nedra Pickler does fact checking right. I haven't gone through it line by line to see if every single thing it says is accurate, but the general tone seems right and the idea of adding missing context is fine. I'd be happy to see this kind of thing applied to major addresses from both sides of the aisle.

Finally, here is Al Franken's webcast commentary on the SOTU last night. I hate to say it, but it's pretty flat. I hope he does better than this on his new radio show.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MAHER ARAR....Over at Obsidian Wings, Katherine has put together a 14-part series examing what happened in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was seized while changing planes in New York and then sent to Syria to be tortured, a practice that goes by the charming euphemism of "extraordinary rendition."

As Katherine puts it in her summary:

We don't know all the details or explanations, but we know that something terrible happened. Our government took a man from an airport in New York City and handed him over to Syria, where he was tortured for 10 months. I think I've made a decent case that he was probably innocent; that this was done with the knowledge and approval of fairly important government officials; and that this was not some freak accident or isolated occurrence. This happened, and there is no reason to believe it will not happen again.

The war on terror should not make us into terrorists ourselves but that's very close to what's happened here. To learn the whole story, here's a link to Katherine's entire series. Read from the bottom up.

Kevin Drum 8:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANALYSIS, BABY....There's analysis, and then there's analysis:

* Analysis of speech: If the amount of time given over to a single idea reflects its relative importance in the State of the Union speech (a reasonable assumption), then the most important themes in tonight's speech, in descending order, are: the need to commit adequate resources to the military for the war on terror (87 seconds); that government will act against single-sex marriage (84 seconds); the administration's commitment to strengthening families and religious communities, and to combat juvenile use of drugs (78 seconds); the government's commitment to education and excellence for each child in America (72 seconds); that the world without Saddam is a better and safer place (69 seconds). The closing matter took 78 seconds, centered around the idea that we are living in historic times.

Incidentally, the average amount of continuous speech between applause lines was 29.28 seconds. In addition, if by speech units we mean a period of continuous speech without intended applause, the speech was constructed of:

16 units of 10 seconds or under
14 units of 11 to 20 seconds
12 units of 21 to 30 seconds
5 units of 31 to 40 seconds
1 unit of 41 to 50 seconds
3 units of 51 to 60 seconds
4 units of 61 to 70 seconds
and 3 units of 71 to 80 seconds. (Disclaimer: this excludes the introductory matter.)

I can't even begin to think of anything to say about this, but thought I would offer it up to the greater glory of anal retentiveness in all its myriad and glorious forms.

But hell, did that same-sex marriage stuff really take up 84 seconds?

UPDATE: Uggabugga offers a similar analysis. But his is more detailed and includes a pie chart.

UPDATE 2: Textual analysis is everywhere! Emma offers her take here.

Kevin Drum 8:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SOME ADVICE FOR THE DEMOCRATS....24 is a repeat this week, undoubtedly due to State of the Union counter-programming strategery by Fox, so that gives me time for one more post tonight.

And what I feel like posting about is the crappy Democratic response to the SOTU. Why was it so crappy?

To be sure, part of it was the speakers themselves. And the speech itself wasn't so hot either. Plus the decision to have both Pelosi and Daschle speak probably wasn't very smart. But I think there's an even bigger problem.

When the president speaks, he does it in a big room full of people. He's addressing those people, they clap and cheer, and there's a lot of natural energy surrounding the whole thing. This is what the response needs.

Now, back in my marketing days I used to enjoy talking to groups. I don't know why, I just did. But practicing speeches was entirely different. I almost never did it, and when I did I was horrible: wooden, stuttery, and joyless. Much like tonight's performance. But put me up on a stage with real people in front of me and I was fine.

I think that's what the response needs. The Democrats should have rented a ballroom or something, invited a few hundred party stalwarts (at 500 bucks a pop!), and delivered a real speech to a real audience. Instead of a deathly quite soundstage and an unblinking camera, they could have used the energy of the room the way any good speaker does.

So that's my advice: pick a good speaker, write him/her a good speech, and then deliver the speech to a real audience. I personally guarantee results.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WATER....Damn, I missed it. Did Bush knock over Cheney's water or something after he finished the SOTU? What happened?

And boy, Tacitus is sure peeved at Bush. Well hey, I didn't vote for him....

Kevin Drum 8:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STATE OF THE UNION 2004 LIVEBLOGGING....Real-time thoughts on the State of the Union address....

Overall impressions of the Democratic response Jeez, that was just horrible. I don't think they said a single memorable thing, their delivery was stiff (though Daschle was better than Pelosi), they didn't really offer any kind of competing vision, and I don't think they drew any blood at all. What a missed opportunity.

7:30 Why is it that "response" speeches are always so bad? Is it bad speechwriters? Lack of preparation? Or what?

7:29 Uh oh. A nurse in Sioux Falls with cancer....

7:26 Come on, guys. Now some tedious arithmetic about job losses? Sheesh.

7:25 Ah, something about paying for Bush's plans with your Social Security money. Good point. Too bad he didn't follow up on it.

7:23 OK, it's Daschle's turn. He agrees that the state of our union really is strong.

7:21 Some good stuff about increased funding for homeland security and loose nukes. Still badly delivered, but decent points.

7:20 This is about the fourth or fifth miscue from Pelosi. Has she never read from a TelePrompter before?

7:17 Wow, Pelosi is a really bad speaker, isn't she? Totally wooden.

7:15 Hey there's more! Now we get to hear from Tom and Nancy! But why aren't they standing up? It's awfully hard to give a good speech sitting down.

Overall impressions Very light on substance, but also very optimistic and inspirational. And very much aimed at the base, with talk of drugs and marriage and faith-based charities. I have a feeling it's a speech that won't go over too well with the punditocracy but probably played pretty well at home.

7:06 That's it? Wow. That was surely one of the shortest and least substantive SOTUs ever. And commenter Frugal Liberal wins a prize: Bush didn't mention the Mars mission. I thought he would.

7:05 On the other hand, I have to admit that he's able to pull off this kind of heart-tugging stuff pretty well.

7:03 Oh no, not a letter from a child from the heartland....

6:59 So does he want a marriage amendment or not? It would be nice if he'd give us a straight answer on this one of these days.

6:57 Get rid of steroids in professional sports? What the heck is that doing in the SOTU?

6:55 Lots of retrospective stuff so far: the war was great, the Medicare bill was great, NCLB was great, etc. etc. But really, not much in the way of new policy proposals.

6:54 This is the second time he's talked about eliminating frivolous lawsuits. But what's his proposal for doing this?

6:51 Any attempt to take away Medicare prescription benefits will "meet...my...veto." Huh? Who's proposing that? Especially given that Republicans control both houses of Congress?

6:48 We can cut the deficit in half in five years, apparently by limiting the growth in discretionary spending to 4%. This simply defies all reason. That won't even come close to cutting the deficit in half.

6:45 Lots of good words about energy policy. Too bad none of that stuff is actually in the energy bill he's trying to get through Congress.

6:44 A standing O for increased support for community colleges?

6:40 The people are spending their tax money better than the government could have? But isn't the government still spending all that money too?

6:35 So far the entire SOTU has just been platitudes about Iraq and the war on terror. That's fine, but when do we get something concrete?

6:25 Did he really have the gall to pretend that the Kay report vindicated all the prewar WMD allegations?

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POST-IOWA MUSINGS....I know it's hard to fairly evaluate the fortunes of candidates you favor, but even so I want to offer a contrarian take on how Wes Clark's chances were affected by the Iowa caucus results.

(Besides, he's the only one that it's fun to talk about. Kerry and Edwards obviously got a boost and Dean obviously got whacked. Clark is the only major candidate whose fortunes are murky enough to be worth speculating about.)

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Clark suffered badly: he needed a Dean/Clark matchup in New Hampshire, and now he's got to compete with Kerry and Edwards for the anti-Dean vote.

But there were only two possibilities to begin with: (a) Dean wins Iowa, in which case he comes into New Hampshire with huge momentum, or (b) he loses Iowa. I think scenario A would have been deadly, especially given Dean's organizational and fundraising lead, but mathematically there's no way for Scenario B to happen without other candidates gaining ground.

So which would you rather have, an unbeatable looking Howard Dean or a group of three candidates who are all formidable but not unstoppable? I have to go with Scenario B.

Besides, it's worth noting that Kerry and Edwards have big problems ahead: they have limited fundraising ability compared to Dean and Clark and they have very little support in the primaries following New Hampshire. As you can see at this graphically engaging site, both Edwards and Kerry are polling around 5% or so in the half dozen primaries after New Hampshire.

All this could change, of course, and let's face it: nobody really knows what's going on this year. Still, the primaries are scheduled so thick and fast that even with a boost from Iowa it's going to be hard for Kerry and Edwards to turn those poll numbers around in time to make a difference.

One more note: if you're a believer in conventional wisdom, here's an apropos piece: except for Bill Clinton, no Democrat in the last 30 years has won the nomination without first winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. If that holds true this year, the race is now between Kerry and whoever wins New Hampshire.

Kevin Drum 4:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SITE RECOMMENDATION....Here's a genuinely interesting new site: Memeorandum, an automated collection of blog reaction to various stories. It's sort of like Google News for blogs.

The basic idea is that you can go there to get a quick roundup of blog reaction to various stories in the mainstream media. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CENSUS PRIVACY....Genealogy is a hobby of mine, and among genealogists the main gripe about census information is that it's too private. The damn Census Bureau doesn't release census records for 70 long years, and us genealogists don't want to wait that long.

Just kidding, of course. We really do understand the need to keep this stuff private and we're glad the government is serious about it.

Except that they aren't. Via David Appell, who's really serious about hassling those poor revenoo-ers who show up at his door every few years, it turns out the government has been using census information. They've been using it along with airline passenger records to build their new CAPPS II passenger screening program.

Now, I have to say that I kinda sympathize with the airlines who turned over passenger information to the feds for this program. Sure, they shouldn't have done it, but after 9/11 you have to figure that a lot of people wanted to cut government security programs a lot of slack and understandably so. So maybe the airlines deserve some abuse, but also a bit of understanding for the position they were in.

The Census Bureau is a whole different story. Black helicopter conspiracy theorists have been screeching for years that census information isn't really private, and of course the census folks have responded by swearing on stacks of Bibles that yes it is private. Every bit of it. Absolutely.

But they were lying. Someone needs to be fired if this report turns out to be true.

UPDATE: I've gotten a couple of emails from people who seem knowledgable about this stuff, and they suggest that the census data being used is probably not individual level records. Its usage for this project might still be improper, but it's only a misdemeanor (so to speak), not a felony.

As one piece of compelling evidence for this, note that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained the documents describing the CAPPS II study in the first place, is not making a big deal out of this. If it were a serious problem, they would be.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICS IN THE NEWSROOM....On Sunday Howard Kurtz wrote an article for the Washington Post with this lead:

More than 100 journalists and executives at major media companies, from NBC's top executive to a Fox News anchor to reporters or editors for the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, CBS and ABC, have made political contributions in recent years.

On Monday, Slate's Jack Shafer says Kurtz blew it: the real story is that most of the contributions were to Democrats.

Today, Atrios says they both blew it: Kurtz's list isn't exhaustive, and the examples he chooses for his story are thus cherry picked from an already cherry picked list. It doesn't mean a thing, and both Kurtz and Shafer are hacks.

Can I play too? As near as I can tell, the real story is that there's no story at all. Ponder this paragraph from Kurtz's story if you will:

For this story, the Post reviewed federal election records for the last five years in which donors identified themselves as working for one of 12 prominent news organizations. While no one who directly covers campaigns was listed in the records, some donors report on political issues occasionally or indirectly, or have in the past.

Since Kurtz identified 100 contributors over five years, that means there were about 20 contributors per year from 12 large news organizations. That's about one or two per year from organizations that employ hundreds of people. In other words, nada.

And even then, the worst he could come up with were reporters who cover politics "occasionally or indirectly." Presumably Kurtz picked the best examples he could find from his list of 100, and they included such gems as sportswriters, food writers, arts writers, consumer reporters, travel writers, opinion writers, a couple of people who donated to their brothers, and spouses who mistakenly contributed under the wrong name. Once you work through all that, there's really not much left.

And how does it all add up? Of the contributions Kurtz specifically mentions in his article, $43,050 went to Republicans and $24,083 went to Democrats.

It may well be true that a majority of news reporters are Democrats or Democratic leaners, but the actual evidence here is that media employees contribute virtually nothing to political campaigns, and the remaining wisp of a secondary story is that among the few who do, donations to Republicans are nearly twice the donations to Democrats. That's a pretty meager hook for a front page story.

Shafer got it wrong: we didn't need rewrite for this article. We needed a sharper spike.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth adding that the headline for Kurtz's article may be one of the worst ever: "Journalists Not Loath to Donate To Politicians." Aside from just being a plain lousy headline, the evidence of the story is that journalists hardly ever contribute at all. But you can hardly blame the headline writer for not figuring that out from Kurtz's copy.

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IOWA RESULTS....A few interesting tidbits from the Iowa entrance polls:

  • Howard Dean showed weakness amongs seniors, non-college graduates, and late deciders.

  • Unsurprisingly, Dick Gephardt did much better among union households than non-union households, but even so he got only 22% of the union vote.

  • Gephardt and Dean combined got 41% of the union vote. I'm not sure how this compares to past elections, but these two had pretty much all the important union endorsements and it's surprising that not only did union support not help them much, it didn't even get them a majority of the vote from union members themselves.

  • John Edwards did very well among late deciders.

  • John Kerry showed strength across the board. You really can't point to a single group where he did badly.

And finally, what's up with the LA Times' choice of this picture of Howard Dean for today's paper? Are they trying to make him look like Hitler? I browsed through Yahoo's collection of Iowa election photos (several hundred of them), and every single other picture of Dean is a perfectly good one. This is the only picture that makes him look like a frothing, Nuremburg-ish nutball, and it's the one they chose for their page 10 photo roundup. Who made that call?

UPDATE: The winner of the Republican caucuses was George W. Bush. Just thought I'd let you know.

Kevin Drum 8:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTIONS IN IRAQ....Our coalition partner appears to be off the reservation:

British officials in Basra no longer oppose early elections in Iraq, saying security and procedural obstacles to polls could be surmounted before the transfer to civilian control on June 30.

"We have a working hypothesis that you could manage an electoral process within the timeframe and the security available," said Dominic D'Angelo, British spokesman for the UK-led southern zone of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Basra.

The "working hypothesis" is that although creating election rolls using ration cards wouldn't work, a mixture of ration, health and identity cards probably would.

The technical question here is of interest to technicians, but the bigger and more interesting question is, Why? Why are the British deliberately undermining our position that elections in June aren't feasible? Juan Cole suggests two possibilities: (a) payback for the way Bush/Bremer have treated them and (b) "pure fear" over the size of Shiite protests in Basra.

Panic over the protests seems an unlikely explanation to me although they are unquestionably cause for serious concern but there have been hints over the past few months that the British are not entirely happy with the state of the partnership. Fareed Zakaria wrote a few months ago that "with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by [U.S. treatment]." Are we now down to just Israel?

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January 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CAUCUS REPORT....Curious about how that caucus stuff really works? Tung Yin attended his and tells us about the experience. But he doesn't tell us who he voted for....

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IOWA RESULTS....Holy cow. The Iowa caucus results are so wild that even my resolute non-prediction has turned out to be wrong:

It strikes me that barring something genuinely bizarre, we pretty much already know the results: Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards are all going to do fairly well. I wonder how much the exact numbers matter at this point?

Well, with 90% 97% of the precincts reporting, here are the results:

  • Kerry: 38%

  • Edwards: 32%

  • Dean: 18%

  • Gephardt: 11%

Gephardt is obviously toast, but Kerry and Edwards both get huge boosts from this and Dean looks seriously wounded. But he's still got tons of money, a 50-state strategy, and that famous grass roots support.

Basically, this means that Dean, Clark, Kerry, and Edwards remain serious candidates, which in turn means that we're in for a stemwinder of a primary season. And while I should be chastened by being wrong even when not making a prediction, this result makes me think that my semi-brokered convention scenario is now more likely than not.

Oh yeah, this is going to be fun....

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TWO BULLETS....Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated 35 years ago. What if they hadn't been?

If both had lived, perhaps Kennedy would have won the 1968 election and with his help King would have kept the civil rights movement from going off the rails. No Nixon, no Southern Strategy, no Watergate, no Jimmy Carter, no neocon defection from the Democratic party, and no Ronald Reagan.

Then again, maybe not. But for sure the world would have been a better place one way or another.

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SULLIVAN ON CLARK....Andrew Sullivan says he's completely fed up with George Bush and the only reason he's still supporting him is his strong stand on national security. Then there's this:

Looking forward, there's a big opening for a Democrat who wants to say the following: "I want to do more to improve homeland security, put more emphasis on securing loose nukes in Russia and around the world, stay the course on Iraq - but also move to mend fences with old Europe and our other allies. Domestically, I'm going to improve our finances by raising taxes on the very rich, but cutting taxes on the middle class. And, above all, I'll be a check on one-party government in the Congress, and prevent Bush from appointing extremists to the Supreme Court."

I don't get it. Wesley Clark talked about loose nukes in one of the New Hampshire debates, and the rest of Sullivan's points sound like they're taken almost verbatim from Clark's website. Scanning though the "Issues" page we've got support for tighter airline security, we've got determination to see things through in Iraq, we've got a commitment to America having the strongest military in the world, and we've got a clear dedication to mending fences with Europe.

Domestically, Clark has proposed higher taxes on millionaires along with a middle class tax cut, he's obviously in favor of being a check on a Republican congress, and Sullivan should certainly be happy with his stand on gay rights.

But even so, he can't support him. Why? Because he's been endorsed by Michael Moore.

Does this make any sense at all?

UPDATE: Text changed to reflect Clark's position on loose nukes. Thanks, commenters!

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KUCINICH-EDWARDS DEAL IN IOWA....In the Iowa caucuses, if a candidate doesn't get 15% of the vote in the first round his supporters have to switch their support to another candidate in the second round. This rule applies to each individual caucus.

Apparently Dennis Kucinich has told his supporters that if they don't reach the 15% minimum he wants them to support John Edwards as their second choice. Since Kucinich is likely to miss the 15% mark in virtually every caucus, this is likely to give Edwards a solid 2-3% boost.

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PAYPAL SCAM....Many of you are probably aware of the PayPal scam that's going around: you get an email that appears to be from accounts@paypal.com telling you that there have been security problems and would you please click this link to verify all your account information. And don't forget your password!

However, some of you probably aren't, so I thought I'd share the latest email along these lines that I've gotten both as a public service to warn you not to fall for this scam and as an excuse to mock the people who wrote it. Question for the audience: was this written by (a) a 12-year-old, (b) a Nigerian, (c) a moron, or (d) a dyslexic?

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NEW HAMPSHIRE UPDATE....Some Wesley Clark campaign news:

Wesley Clark, seeking a bipartisan flavor for his presidential campaign, has hired a former adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain to be his senior strategist.

....[John] Weaver was one of a handful of aides who helped McCain upset Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary on the strength of broad support among independent voters, who are allowed to cast ballots in Republican and Democratic primaries.

This is good news for Clark on a couple of levels. First, as the article points out, McCain's surprise New Hampshire victory in 2000 was largely due to turnout among independents, a group that I think Clark can appeal to. Weaver's experience should be a big help here. (Mark Schmitt has some additional observations about Clark and New Hampshire's independents here.) Downside: this gives Dean another chance to make cracks about how Clark is really a Republican. He's hiring a Republican and appealing to non-Democrats!

Second, I continue to think that "bipartisan flavor" is important for victory in November. Bush bashing is emotionally satisfying, but it can take you only so far and Clark is smart not to play the game too strongly. Clark definitely has his work cut out for him now that Iowa is nearly over and the entire field is about to descend on New Hampshire, which he's had almost to himself for the past couple of weeks. Weaver's hiring could provide the kind of boost he needs.

UPDATE: It looks like AP jumped the gun here. Apparently Clark and Weaver are "in negotiations" but nothing has been finalized yet.

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PILGRIMAGE TO PLAINS....Howard Dean spent yesterday in Plains with Jimmy Carter:

Dr. Dean said last week that he was skipping 20 of the last 48 hours in the Iowa campaign because "when the former president of the United States asks you to go to church with him on the Sunday before caucuses, I think you probably take that up." But Mr. Carter said today that the visit had actually been Dr. Dean's idea and that he hoped all the Democratic candidates would make the pilgrimage to Plains "to kind of heal wounds and show that we can all worship together."

"I didn't invite him," the former president, wearing a bolo tie, told reporters and parishioners as he entered the church this morning. "He called me on the phone and said he'd like to come worship with me."

This isn't that big a deal, but I wonder why Dean tried to imply that he'd been invited? And I wonder why he went? Offhand, it doesn't seem as if being seen in the presence of Jimmy Carter would necessarily be that big a boost in the Iowa caucuses.

At any rate, Carter didn't offer an endorsement and of course neither has Bill Clinton. On the other hand, George McGovern (for Clark) and Al Gore (for Dean) have. That leaves Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis left among losing Democratic candidates whose endorsement is still up for grabs. My guess is that Dukakis is radioactive, but I imagine Mondale's endorsement would be worth something.

In other former president news, James Joyner reports that no less a hawk than Ralph Peters was blown away by Bill Clinton's latest Sister Souljah moment in front of the Emir of Qatar:

Our former president gave the most perfectly pitched, precisely targeted speech I've ever heard to a hall filled with Muslim intellectuals and officials. And they listened.

....He didn't pander. He made America's case and made it well. Beginning with a sometimes-rueful look at the progress his administration had failed to make and noting that the wars that plague the world are begun by men his own age or older, but paid for in blood by the young, he refused to direct one syllable of blame at the Bush administration. Accepted as a citizen of the world, he spoke as a convinced American.

....With art and ardor, he scolded the crowd that blaming others for their own failings was useless and destructive - warning that even when others truly are at fault for our misfortunes, wallowing in blame only paralyzes us. Actions, not accusations, change the world.

Sounds like a good speech. But then, aside from that unfortunate zipper problem, he was a pretty good president.

UPDATE: Commenter Matt Stevens reminds me that Dukakis has endorsed John Kerry, although not with what you'd exactly call a blaze of publicity. So I guess Mondale is the only fence-sitter left.

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CHALLENGING CHENEY....Dick Cheney speaks:

Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually.

I'll bet it is.

This comes from a profile in the LA Times today that says the White House plans to use the reclusive Cheney more often in the coming months and that his "lack of political flair" is actually an advantage with many audiences. For now, though, I'm going to stick with my suggestion that the Democrats could gain some traction by making Cheney a bigger issue in the campaign than vice presidents usually are. It would require a subtle touch, of course, but let's face it: nobody likes an evil genius operating out of a hole. There ought to be something there we can take advantage of.

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January 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GOOGLE WATCH....If you type a UPC code into Google, it

will look up the product's full name, then generate a list of Web sites selling the item or providing other information about it. This can spare shoppers from trying to guess which search keywords would bring up the same information.

Sheesh.

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TIMING IS EVERYTHING....Good 'ol Karl, he never misses a trick:

The winner of the Iowa caucuses on Monday night will have an unexpected competitor waiting right around the corner, and he is not one of the Democrats running for president.

The opponent is President Bush and his State of the Union address, which White House officials scheduled for Tuesday night, only 24 hours after Iowa, to draw attention from the Democratic victor, a Republican close to the Bush campaign said.

"Was it planned?" the Republican said. "Yes. The fact that the Iowa caucus was going to be held on a certain date was not unknown to people in the White House."

My guess is that this really doesn't matter a bit, and might even backfire in terms of the attention the State of the Union gets. But it just goes to show: do these guys do anything without first weighing the political damage they can do?

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SOME POLL MUSINGS....I've seen this graphic from the New York Times on a couple of blogs today, and what most people seem to be taking away from it is that George Bush's disapproval rating is remarkably high by historical standards.

But I'm not sure that's what's most interesting. If you look at the difference between the approval and disapproval scores, every incumbent has been positive at this point in their administration. What's more, two of them had big deltas (Carter = 18%, Reagan = 26%), and one of them won and one lost. Contrariwise, two had low deltas (Bush Sr. = 9%, Clinton = 7%), and one of them won and one lost.

So while Bush's delta is only 5%, it's hard to draw any conclusions from this since it's happened before and produced different results. But what is different is the historically unprecedented decline in "Not Sure" voters: in the four previous polls they numbered 14%, 10%, 13%, and 13% while this year it's a puny 5%.

To me, this is yet more evidence of the increasing polarization of the electorate: everybody has a firm opinion about George Bush. I'm not quite sure what this means, but I suspect it's not good news for Bush since incumbents probably benefit from a fair number of mushy middle voters who end up giving them the benefit of the doubt when they finally walk into the polling booth in November.

Some other interesting results from the poll that should cheer up Democrats:

  • An awful lot of people are unimpressed with Bush's concern for the average Joe: 58% think he cares more about large corporations than ordinary Americans; 57% think his policies favor the rich; 64% think big business has too much influence on his administration; and 45% think his policies have decreased the number of jobs (vs. only 19% who think he's increased the number of jobs).

  • 32% think Bush's policies have made their taxes go up (vs. 19% who think he's reduced their taxes). This is a very strange result.

  • 47% of respondents think of themselves as "closer" to the Democratic party vs. only 34% for Republicans. This is about average for the Democrats but a 12-year low for the Republicans.

Still, Bush's ratings on most of the questions related to terrorism and "leadership" remain pretty high, and this is likely to be the main battlefield of the election. However, considering Democratic strength in other areas, we have a pretty good chance of winning in November as long as we neutralize that advantage by nominating someone who's strong on national security and who's viewed that way. Hint hint.

Complete poll results are here.

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAXING QUESTIONS....Glenn Reynolds is apparently collecting stories from people who are doing their taxes and discovering that they've saved lots of money due to the Bush tax cut. Hooray for George!

I'll refrain from the usual tedious analysis of deficits and marginal rates and so forth and just ask a couple of questions:

  • Who the heck are these weirdos who have their taxes finished by the middle of January?

  • How do they know how much they've saved? Do they save their old tax worksheets and do the calculations twice? Does tax software these days have popups that extol the virtues of the tax cut? Do the IRS worksheets themselves have a line item for amount saved?

What's going on here, anyway?

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TRADE SHOWS FOR IRAQ....Hey, it turns out the Iraqi reconstruction effort has its own trade show! And it comes complete with its own military/technical-ish capital letter thrown into the middle of the name: ReBuilding Iraq 2. Naomi Klein covered it for the Guardian:

Microsoft is determined to get in on the ground floor. In fact, it is so tight with Iraq's governing council that one Microsoft executive, Haythum Auda, was the official translator for the council's minister of labour and social affairs, Sami Azara al-Ma'jun, at the conference. "There is no hatred against the coalition forces at all," al-Ma'jun says, via Auda. "The destructive forces are very minor and these will end shortly ... Feel confident in rebuilding Iraq!"

Anyway, it turns out that the biggest problem for the private sector, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that insurance companies are a wee bit reluctant to offer coverage for work in Iraq these days. To the rescue rides Opic, a U.S. government agency willing to go where no private insurance firm is willing to go:

For the non-US firms in the room, Opic's announcement is anything but reassuring: since only US companies are eligible for its insurance, and the private insurers are sitting it out, how can they compete? The answer is that they likely cannot. Some countries may decide to match Opic's Iraq programme. But, in the short term, not only has the US government barred companies from non-"coalition partners" from competing for contracts against US firms, it has made sure that the foreign firms that are allowed to compete will do so at a serious disadvantage.

The reconstruction of Iraq has emerged as a vast protectionist racket, a neo-con New Deal that transfers limitless public funds - in contracts, loans and insurance - to private firms, and even gets rid of the foreign competition to boot, under the guise of "national security". Ironically, these firms are being handed this corporate welfare so they can take full advantage of CPA-imposed laws that systematically strip Iraqi industry of all its protections, from import tariffs to limits on foreign ownership. Michael Fleisher, head of private-sector development for the CPA, recently explained to a group of Iraqi businesspeople why these protections had to be removed. "Protected businesses never, never become competitive," he said. Quick, somebody tell Opic and US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz.

This is Naomi Klein writing, so take the rhetoric with a grain of salt. But it does go to show once again how foolish it was to publicly announce that non-coalition companies couldn't bid for contracts in Iraq. After all, we have plenty of other levers to pull to make sure that Americans get the bulk of the contracts.

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IOWA NON-PREDICTION....I won't even try to predict the results of the Iowa caucuses tomorrow, especially since loads of people are already doing it over on this thread at Daily Kos. What's more, it strikes me that barring something genuinely bizarre, we pretty much already know the results: Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards are all going to do fairly well. I wonder how much the exact numbers matter at this point?

The funny thing about all this is that it doesn't surprise me that Dean might be weakening a little, but it does surprise me to see the others getting stronger. Of course, one logically implies the other, so why do I feel surprised? It makes no sense.

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INITIALS....At the end of a moderately unconvincing diatribe against the SAT I'm pretty sure that all regional and ethnic groups would conclude that "baleful" weather means you should eat indoors we learn this:

Asked what the acronym "SAT" stands for, most of us would have selected "Scholastic Aptitude Test" as the correct answer. But in fact, "none of the above" is the right answer choice. According to the College Board, which owns and administrates the exam, SAT officially stands for nothing.

Hmmm. And AARP is just AARP now, KBR no longer stands for Kellogg Brown & Root, and KFC has no relation to tasty, artery-clogging fried chicken.

Is a vogue for allegedly meaningless initials an unstoppable trend? Will Calpundit abandon its roots someday and simply become CP? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGERS IN IOWA....Since my guy isn't running in Iowa, I can afford to be magnanimous and point to Bloggerstorm, the Dean campaign's roundup of blog posts written by people who are actually on the ground in Iowa. And they aren't even all posts about Dean!

Elsewhere, the Washington Post has a video of the breakfast that the Dean campaign hosted for bloggers. To be honest, it's not especially interesting, but if you want to see what a room full of hungry bloggers looks like, this is your chance.

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REALITY vs. FANTASY....I just finished reading Charlie Wilson's War, a terrific book about the covert CIA war against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s that I'll have more to say about later. For now, though, I just want to share an excerpt from the book that's both timely and enlightening.

First some background. Richard Perle is one of the most hawkish neocons around, part of the group that seemed to think that we could waltz into Iraq, be greeted as liberators, and then turn the whole thing over to their favorite exiles within a few months.

It's a crazy idea on its face, and it makes you wonder what kind of people could believe something so transparently out of touch with reality. Well, here's a hint: they believe stuff like this because they are out of touch with reality.

As you read this anecdote, keep in mind that it's being told by a guy who is a very hardline, hardass anti-communist. His idea of fun is to figure out new and better ways to kill Russians, and at the time this is happening he's in charge of an incredibly creative, brutal, and effective buildup of arms to kill those Russians in ever greater numbers. But even he thinks Perle and his pals are loons.

Here's the story:

Their idea was to encourage Soviet officers and soldiers to defect to the mujahideen. As [CIA chief Gust] Avrakotos derisively describes it, "The muj were supposed to set up loudspeakers in the mountains announcing such things as 'Lay down your arms, there is a passage to the West and to freedom.'" Once news of the program made its way through the Red Army, it was argued, there would be a flood of defectors.

....Avrakotos thought [Oliver] North and Perle were "cuckoos of the Far Right"...."What Russian in his right mind would defect to those fuckers all armed to the teeth?" Avrakotos said in frustration. "To begin with, anyone defecting to the Dushman would have to be a crook, a thief, or someone who wanted to get cornholed every day, because nine out of ten prisoners were dead within twenty-four hours and they were always turned into concubines by the mujahideen. I felt so sorry for them I wanted to have them all shot."

The meeting went very badly indeed. Gust accused North and Perle of being idiots....Avrakotos thought that would be the end of the...idea, but he greatly underestimated the political power and determination of this group, who went directly to Bill Casey.

....In spite of the angry complaints, Clair George and everyone else on the seventh floor agreed with Avrakotos' position. He says that Director Casey even privately told him, "I think your point is quite valid. What asshole would want to defect to these animals?"

But the issue wouldn't go away. Perle, [Walt] Raymond, and the others continued to insist that the Agency find and send back to the United States the many Russian defectors they seemed to believe...the mujahideen were harboring. They had visions of a great publicity campaign once these men reached America.

....Avrakotos describes what happened next with the kind of pleasure he feels only upon achieving revenge. It had been almost impossible to locate two prisoners, much less two defectors. The CIA found itself in the preposterous position of having to pony up $50,000 to bribe the Afghans to deliver two live ones. "These two guys were basket cases," says Avrakotos. "One had been fucked so many times he didn't know what was going on. The other was an alcoholic."

....At that point, Avrakotos says, he went to Perle to announce the good news that the Agency had twelve more willing to come over. "I turned the tables on them and demanded they take them all. And they didn't want to....In all I think we brought three or four more over. One guy ended up robbing a 7-Eleven in Vienna, Virgina."

How can you trust the judgment of someone who not only proposed an idea like this, but fought long and hard for it in the face of massive ground level evidence that it was absurd? Is it any surprise that someone who thought Russian soldiers would defect if we just set up loudspeakers in the mountains of Afghanistan might also think that governing postwar Iraq would be simple and easy?

Remember this the next time you hear Richard Perle say anything. And then give his opinions all the consideration they deserve.

Kevin Drum 4:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TAX CUT FEVER....Via Max Sawicky, it seems that Howard Dean is floating the idea of a cut in Social Security taxes, to be made up by money from the general fund. Grover "I Never Met A Tax Cut I Didn't Like" Norquist, however, has apparently finally met a tax cut he doesn't like:

The idea of financing tax relief to the middle class through general revenues was promptly ridiculed by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative Republican strategist who has close ties to the White House. "There is no money in the general fund. You are talking about bankrupting Social Security," Norquist said.

Ha! We can't have a tax cut because because we're running a huge deficit and we don't have the money? We'll all remember that the next time George Bush proposes a tax cut despite the fact that we have deficits in the general fund as far as the eye can see.

It's funny that the tax cut jihadists never seem interested in cutting Social Security taxes, isn't it? And that's despite the fact that Social Security is currently running large surpluses.

Of course, a cut in Social Security taxes wouldn't benefit the rich, would it?

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WATCHING THE PRESS....The Columbia Journalism Review has started up a new blog called Campaign Desk with the avowed purpose of critiquing press coverage of the 2004 campaign. It's a site worth bookmarking, although I'd give them a mixed grade for their work so far.

On the plus side, they picked up on the ridiculousness of both the Wes Clark congressional testimony story I mentioned in the previous post as well as the lame Howard Dean trooper story. What's more, the posts seem generally punchy and well written.

On the down side, there's not much coverage of non-print media. This requires a lot more work (someone has to sit and watch all those TV shows), but since far more people get their campaign coverage via TV and radio than via print, I hope they try. I also hope there won't be too many posts like this one, which is nothing more than the author disagreeing with the analysis in a piece clearly labeled as analysis. It's not bad journalism to have an opinion that differs from yours.

At any rate, it's early days and I'm sure they'll improve as they get their sea legs. So far, it looks like a site worth watching.

UPDATE: You might also want to check out FactCheck.org, a campaign watch site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Kevin Drum 11:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLARK AND CONSISTENCY....There has been a minor internet storm recently over some of Wesley Clark's pronouncements on the war during 2002 and early 2003, but it's been so ridiculous that I just haven't had the heart to post about it. The nickel version is that Clark testified before Congress in 2002 that Saddam was a dangerous guy and it was appropriate to put a lot pressure on him. Then after the war was over he wrote an op-ed for the London Times congratulating everyone involved for having fought a brilliant campaign.

(For more on the congressional testimony "controversy," read Mark Kleiman here and Josh Marshall here and here. Mark discusses the London Times op-ed here.)

Even by normal campaign standards this little teapot tempest is almost Kafka-esque. It's painfully obvious that Clark could have agreed with the idea of passing the September war resolution as a way of pressuring Saddam, but that six months later he believed that the pressure was working and we shouldn't have gone to war. This, in turn, is also consistent with a belief that once we went to war he really wanted to see us win.

(What's more, this is consistent with everything we know about Clark. He's obviously no pacifist, but equally obviously he believes in multilateral military action used as a last resort. And he believes that once you've decided to fight, you fight to win. This is exactly how the Kosovo campaign went down.)

But the part I don't understand is why conservatives are crowing over this. Are they under the impression that having a moderate position on the war is an electoral loser? It seems just the opposite to me, even among Democrats.

But Mark brings up another point that I think is equally important: what this shows is simply that Clark has some intellectual integrity. He's willing to acknowledge that there are good arguments even for positions he opposes. Frankly, we could use more of that instead of the scorched earth tactics in which every possible argument from your opposites is deemed both absurd and fraudulent.

On balance, I support affirmative action even though I acknowledge that it has some ill effects. I just happen to think that the good outweighs the bad. Does that make me inconsistent? I hope not. And neither is Clark.

Kevin Drum 11:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND MLK....So I see that President Bush has installed Charles Pickering on the 5th Circuit Court via a recess appointment. Pickering, of course, has been filibustered by Democrats largely because of his lamentable record on civil rights.

But why do it today? After all, Congress has been in recess for over a month.

Let's see: last year Bush decided to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday by announcing his opposition to affirmative action at the University of Michigan. This year he decided to appoint a judge universally reviled by civil rights groups.

Quite a coincidence, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 10:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BASE vs. THE MIDDLE....John Emerson emailed me with a comment related to my previous post that I think is worth sharing. Basically, he feels that a strategy to appeal to the middle inevitably pulls the Democratic party ever rightward, and instead of simply accepting this we should be fighting to move the electorate leftward.

I think he's right: we do need to have a long-term strategy to promote liberal values and policies. Although I think the rightward drift of American politics is often exaggerated, it is real and Republicans have outplayed us in this arena. Fixing this is, to coin a phrase, a long, hard slog.

But at the same time there's also a short term reality, which is that when elections roll around we have to compete seriously for centrist voters. That's just a fact of life.

So by all means, let's work on the long term task of moving the political discourse in our direction. That's one of the things this blog is for. But when elections come along let's not let ideological purity cause us to commit suicide. To activists, I urge you not to express contempt for those who are basically on our side but don't feel as strongly as you do. Make them feel welcome instead. To moderates, I urge you to relax a bit if the campaign rhetoric gets a little more strident than you're comfortable with. It's just politics.

OK?

Kevin Drum 9:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW VOTERS....Nick Confessore writes today that Howard Dean is basing his campaign on the idea that he can attract new voters, rather than enlarging his share among people who already vote. He's not impresed:

Let's recap. Democrats not registered to vote are slightly more pro-Dean, but the non-voting masses are not -- in part, it would seem, because they are actually more pro-war than registered voters. So that doesn't exactly net out to Dean's benefit. And although you see a lot of media coverage about Dean's capacity to excite young voters, that group isn't exactly coming out in droves for the guy -- again, probably in part because they are relatively pro-war.

This should not inspire hope among Deaniacs

Not sure you agree? Ask yourself this question: when was the last time a presidential candidate won office primarily by rousing the base and running a red meat ideological campaign? Goldwater and McGovern rather famously got trounced trying this, and among recent winners Reagan appealed to disaffected Democrats, Bush Sr. was a moderate Republican to begin with, Clinton won with "third way" politics, and Bush Jr. presented himself as a compassionate conservative.

And it's pretty obvious that Bush is doing the same thing for 2004. Sure, Karl Rove is trying to get the Christian right revved up for November, but take a look at how Bush himself is preparing for the election. A Medicare bill to attract the senior vote. An immigration proposal to appeal to Latinos. A Mars mission to make him look visionary. And all of them designed to take the hard edge off of 2003's divisive war rhetoric and emphasize the "compassionate" side of his conservatism. He understands that he has to appeal to the middle in order to win.

Any winning candidate will try to both energize the base and appeal to the middle, and it would be foolish to abandon either of these. Still, while an energetic base helps by contributing time, money, and passion to a campaign, the hard truth is that in the end it doesn't bring many genuinely new voters to the polls (a far different proposition than simply getting your natural base to turn out in larger numbers). Bush is smart enough to know this and tack toward the center for 2004, and we should expect our candidate to do the same.

Bottom line: let's not eat our babies. The hard fact is that fervent liberals and Bush haters just don't make up 50% of the electorate, least of all among those disaffected enough that they don't usually vote in the first place. This means we have to win support from a good chunk of the middle that does vote.

Unless you want four more years of George W. Bush.

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STONEWALLING....Dwight Meredith reports that two of the commissioners on the 9/11 commission have also been called as witnesses for the 9/11 commission. They will then be responsible for assessing the evidence including their own testimony and writing up the final report. Dwight thinks there's a wee conflict of interest here.

Something tells me the White House won't agree. After all, here was the response a couple of days ago to the commission's request for more time to finish the report:

The push for an extension has created new friction between the panel and the Bush administration, which is concerned that a delay could lead to the release of damaging information about its counterterrorism efforts as the presidential campaign is heating up in late summer.

Why does the commission need more time? Largely because they've had such a hard time gathering documents and evidence from an administration that's been manifestly reluctant to cooperate.

And who can blame them? We wouldn't want national security concerns to interfere with a presidential campaign, would we?

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PRETTY, OH SO PRETTY....Quiz of the day: to whom did George Bush address this recent remark?

Well, you got a pretty face.

Don't bother guessing, it's not someone you've ever heard of. Just click here to read about what it's like to meet the President of the United States for the first time.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....It's a warm winter day here in paradise and Jasmine is exploring the patio cover looking for a nice cat-sized patch of sunshine. Walk around underneath with a camera, however, and she trots right over to see what's going on. Inkblot, meanwhile, does what he usually does, sunny day or not.

BONUS CATS: Here's some video of Annie performing typical catlike tricks. And Frederick Rhine has cat, dog, and pony blogging.

Elsewhere, Frick and Frack pose for the camera, while Charles Kuffner makes good use of his new digital camera by showing us his dog Harry in what is apparently a typical pose. Over in Ireland, Mazal the kitten is no longer a kitten and pretty clearly has the rest of the household firmly in hand.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HANDICAPPING....I don't do a lot of minute-by-minute tracking of poll results here partly because I think you lose perspective by paying too much attention to this stuff and partly because other people do it better than me anyway but if you're interested in politics it's hard not to be pretty riveted by what's going on right now.

In Iowa, Zogby claims that Dean's lead has evaporated and that Kerry is leading with 24% of the vote. Dean and Gephardt each have 19% and Edwards has 17%.

And in New Hampshire the ARG tracking poll has Dean's lead narrowed to 28% vs. 23% for Clark (Kerry is third with 16%).

So is Dean really in trouble? I think he might be, especially since my instinct has long been that Dean doesn't wear very well among non-true believers and that his support would start to falter as he got more exposure. (On the other hand, I never thought that Kerry would manage to do very well either, so take my instincts with a grain of salt.)

At a broad level, fundraising prowess and national poll results still make me think this is a Dean/Clark race, but it might eventually get trickier than that. I hate to bring this up again, since even I admit it's an old chestnut that never pans out, but these poll results sure make a brokered convention look more likely, don't they?

Regardless of how he does in Iowa and New Hampshire, Dean has a ton of money and isn't going away. There's no way he ends up the primary season with less than 30-40% of the delegates. But if Kerry and Gephardt get enough votes in Iowa to stay alive and keep the money rolling in, they could each easily end up with 10-15% of the delegates even if they basically end up doing poorly. And Clark, who has a lot of appeal in places where Dean doesn't, along with proven fundraising prowess, is very likely to either beat Dean outright or else stay very close on his heels. Here's what I could very easily see happening:

  • Dean: 35%

  • Clark: 30%

  • Kerry: 15%

  • Gephardt: 10%

  • Others: 10%

This still doesn't necessarily mean a literally brokered convention, but it could mean that in the end the difference comes from who Kerry and Gephardt throw their endorsement to when they eventually drop out of the race. There's enough bad blood between those two and Dean that it's hard to see them endorsing him, but I don't know how they feel about Clark either.

This is turning into quite a thrill ride.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WOMEN IN SCIENCE....Am I the only one who doesn't understand this?

Women are severely underrepresented on university faculties in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to a study released Thursday.

....The findings are of particular concern because they come on the heels of President Bush's initiative to expand the nation's space program, said the authors of the study....

That women are underrepresented in the sciences is hardly a surprise, but why is this a "particular concern" because of George Bush's newfound interest in the space program?

Kevin Drum 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BROADENING THE BASE....Brad DeLong has some good advice about the tax system: eliminate loopholes for the affluent and raise top marginal rates and uncap FICA. Works for me!

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BLOG NEWS....Some miscellaneous news about the blogosphere:

  • The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice feature today about Daily Kos. Quote: "The blogosphere is going to play a huge role in this election," Moulitsas said. "A lot of bloggers say we're not that important. I say we're that important." He might be right.

  • Congrats to Josh Marshall for being named Blogger of the Year by The Week magazine. He has a nice story about meeting legendary historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. at the awards ceremony, and although he jokes about the difficulty he had describing what a blog is, it's a real problem. What's the best way to describe a blog to someone who doesn't even understand the web all that well? This won't matter in a couple of years, but it's an annoyance today.

  • Kevin Hayden has started up yet another group blog, this one called The American Street. It's got lots of good contributors, so check it out.

And here's a final bit of blog navel gazing and California triumphalism that occurred to me today: if you take a look at the TTLB ecosystem, 6 of the top 11 blogs are from California. If Kaus were in there it would be 7 of the top 12. Not bad for a state with 10% of the nation's population, eh?

(And it makes it even more embarrassing that the reason I originally named this blog Calpundit was because I had read only five or six blogs at the time and they were all from the east of the Mississippi. I figured being from California was a real differentiator! What makes it even worse is that Kaus was one of the six, but I didn't realize he lived in Los Angeles. Live and learn.)

Kevin Drum 9:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAR AND PEACE....From Slate's liberal hawkathon, here is Paul Berman on Monday:

Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies.

....But Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guyit was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwisemostly otherwise.

....But I haven't responded to what everyone else has said, or said anything about non-military ways to go about this. I promise to do so tomorrow.

Paul Berman on Tuesday:

The goal [of the war] is to cause people all over the Muslim world to abandon the cult of mass death and suicide. What would be a complete victory? The rise of liberal societies and liberal ideas. That is because the opposite of totalitarianism is liberalism. And so, our goal has had to be: to damage and discourage the Muslim totalitarians and to hearten and aid the Muslim liberals.

....Why don't people understand these goals and accomplishments?...The blame, a lot of it, does fall on Bush, who, in addition to his other errors, has given a very muddy picture of the reasons for war and its goals, sometimes making one argument, sometimes a contradictory argument. Really, the man has a lot to answer for.

Paul Berman on Wednesday:

But, yes, totalitarian movements can ultimately be defeated only in the realm of ideas. Millions of people have to be persuaded to change their ideas. Not forcedpersuaded. Which is to say, someone has to go out there and try to persuade people.

On this point, which happens to be the most important point of all, Bush has failed us almost totally. It is pretty outrageous. His failure to take up these matters ought to be seen as a calamity. But then, who has been making up for this terrible failure of his? Who has taken up the burden to wage a really extensive war of ideas, a war of TV networks, radio programs, lectures, books, magazines, and everything else? I don't mean something smallI mean a massive campaign.

I think the political right is incapable of waging such a war, by virtue of its own militaristic and isolationist instincts. The neocons do sometimes talk about a war of ideas, but, on these matters, neoconservatism is all talk, no action. So, then, this should be the business of people on the left side of the spectrum. But where are the Democrats, on these matters? The left? This is truly a problem, and nobody seems to be doing very much about it, not on a grand scale, anyway.

Paul Berman on Thursday:

Nothing.

Apologies for the lengthy excerpting here, but do you think he's ever going to talk about the non-military ways to wage this war that he promised on Monday? There's only one day left.

I don't mean to be petty, but I'm bringing this up because basically I think Berman is right: it's important to talk about the lack of WMD, it's important to talk about the Bush administration's mendacity in leading us to war in Iraq, and it's important to talk about the execrable job Bush has done in explaining what the war was about and what needs to be done in the future. For those reasons and more, Bush should be voted out of office in November.

But even more important is to do what Berman said he was going to do on Monday: explain what needs to be done to win this contest of ideologies. I agree that military force won't get the job done, no matter how good it makes some people feel, but what will?

That's important. I hope he gets around to providing his views on this on Friday. I'd sure like to hear a muscular, liberal alternative to Bush's incompetent blustering.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DID TONY LIE?....The final report of the Hutton inquiry will be released on January 28. Can you feel the tension building?

Tony Blair has said he would have to resign if Hutton concluded that he lied or words to that effect, anyway so perhaps he's feeling a bit nervous at that. My guess, however, is that Hutton will conclude that all sides acted poorly but nobody engaged in deliberate deception. And then everyone will declare victory and go home.

At least that's what the bookies think. They put the odds on Blair resigning after publication of the report at 20:1.

Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE SUPER BOWL IS FOR BEER, NOT BUSH....CBS says they won't run the winning MoveOn ad during the Super Bowl:

A CBS spokesman said the decision against broadcasting the spot had nothing to do with either the Super Bowl or the ad's specific issue but was because the network has had a long-term policy not to air issue ads anywhere on the network.

A MoveOn spokesperson said the group hopes to appeal the decision within CBS.

If that's their policy, then that's their policy. But do the other networks have similar policies? And if that's the case, then where do all these PACs and 527s air their issue ads? Only on cable TV?

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THE PRICE OF MARS....I'm sorry. I really don't want to get obsessed with the whole moon/Mars thing, but then I run across stuff like this from Jonah Goldberg and I just can't help myself:

I am very, very gung ho about going to Mars, space, etc. But I really do think we need to pay off some credit card debt first, put Osama's head on a pike, etc first. But maybe we can get this done in a more fiscally responsible way. Remember Salvage 1? That was the show where Andy Griffith built a rocket ship from scrap metal and garbage. Maybe -- and I am kind of serious -- we could create, say, a $10 billion lottery for anyone in the private sector who comes up with a way to get there for less than, I dunno, $75 billion. Explorers have often been rewarded and encouraged by such prizes. In fact, maybe could come up with a series of lesser prizes. Fix the osteoporosis problem: $1 billion. Fix the cosmic rays problem: $2 billion. Whatever. Obviously this idea needs some work. But pouring tons of shmundo on NASA right now doesn't seem to be the answer.

An Andy Griffith movie? Why not base it instead on Rocket Ship Galileo, Robert Heinlein's teen romp from the 40s in which a gadget-happy professor and some boy scouts build a rocket to the moon and find Nazis waiting for them when they get there? Wouldn't that be even better?

I thought conservatives were supposed to be the rock ribbed practical types? The Apollo program alone cost $100 billion in today's dollars (maybe more depending on how you count), so there's no way we're going to Mars for less than $75 billion. Besides, how many private sector companies have the wherewithal to compete in this kind of lottery? Two?

Later on we get yet another proposal from one of Jonah's readers:

Zubrin proposes a reward of $1 billion for the first company to bring a sample of Martian soil back to Earth; $2 billion for the first company to gently put a payload of 10 metric tons on the Martian surface; $3 billion for the first company to demonstrate a system that can put 50 metric tons onto a trajectory toward Mars, and so on. If I recall correctly, Zubrin actually developed that plan at the behest of Newt Gingrich, back in the 1990s.

I thought conservatives were supposed to understand private enterprise too. Why would someone put a ten-ton payload on Mars for $2 billion, a project that would surely cost a minimum of tens of billions?

Look, I don't support this proposal but there are people out there who do. Fine. But can we at least be honest about the costs and not pretend there's some magic bullet that will get us to Mars on the cheap? We're talking roughly a trillion dollars over 20-30 years, which means an annual outlay of around $40 billion or so. If you seriously support doing this, then come out and say that you support spending $40 billion a year on it.

But let's quit with the fantasyland stuff.

Kevin Drum 3:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A THEOCRACY IN IRAQ?....The Iraqi Governing Council has decided to approve the use of Islamic religious law Sharia instead of the existing civil law in domestic matters:

Women's groups say the new law will abolish the previous civil law on families, which had been applied since 1959, and devolve family law to sectarian religious courts. [IGC spokesman Hamid] Kifa'i countered that the new law simply offered Iraqis the option of using religious courts voluntarily, and that the civil law would remain in effect.

"We cannot force people to apply other laws outside their [religious] rites," he said. "The family law would enable every Iraqi to resolve all their differences on the basis of the doctrine that they believe."

Kifa'i is trying to downplay this by saying (a) it's not official because Paul Bremer hasn't countersigned it and (b) it's completely voluntary. The old courts are still available for anyone who wants to use them.

Juan Cole doesn't buy this and I don't think I do either. Who decides which court to use? What's the point of giving people an option that they already have? And even if Bremer doesn't sign off, it just means that official enforcement is put off until June 30, when sovereignty is due to be transferred to an Iraqi provisional government.

This is probably a foreshadowing of the tension between democracy and liberalism in Iraq that's been inevitable from the start: if it's truly the kind of democracy the neocons originally envisioned, it's likely that Iraqis will vote to implement an Islamic theocracy of some kind. It may not be as fundamentalist as, say, Iran, but that's liable to be small comfort once they decide they've had enough and start warming up the clan leaders to kick us out.

Not exactly what we had in mind when we invaded, I think.

Kevin Drum 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BILL SCHNEIDER UPDATE....I already blogged about this yesterday, but now that the transcript is available it's even worse than I thought. Here's what CNN's Bill Schneider said yesterday about Howard Dean's stance on the war:

President Bush can claim consistency. Does Governor Dean's support for Bosnia and Kosovo, and his opposition to Iraq, make him a hypocrite? No. It makes him a Democrat.

Of course, Dean supported the Afghanistan war and, as Atrios points out, Bush wasn't exactly a wholehearted supporter of the Kosovo campaign and neither was the Republican party in general.

Casually insinuating that Democrats are just naturally hypocrites is disgusting. Schneider and CNN should be ashamed of themselves.

Kevin Drum 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A REQUEST....You know what I'd like? I'd like to be able to do a Google search that included only the websites that I have bookmarked. That would be very cool.

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DIRTY AIR....Does it ever end? The Bush administration is challenging yet another Southern California attempt to clean up our air. It's not even a new regulation that applies to carmakers or any other manufacturer, it's just a mandate that applies to our own cities and counties telling them they have to buy cleaner burning vehicles.

Whether you happen to approve of this or not, don't we have the right to decide what kinds of vehicles we ourselves are going to buy? It's just a mystery why the Bush administration insists on joining in on frivolous lawsuits like this. Do they just reflexively oppose anything that might reduce emissions?

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GREEN CHEESE....I don't really want to get into a longwinded post about the whole moon/Mars intiative, but I guess the thing that really bugs me about it is that it's absolutely dripping with cynicism and political opportunism. If George Bush genuinely had a burning interest in space exploration it would be one thing, but it's pretty obvious he doesn't. He was just casting about for something visionary and inspirational, and this was it.

You want cynical? How about an initial funding proposal of $12 billion? When Bush Sr. costed out a similar program in 1989 it came to $500 billion. If you adjust for inflation and add in the usual cost overruns that means we're looking at a price tag of around a trillion bucks or so. Funny that Jr. took such pains to avoid saying that.

"Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy and thus far less cost"? Give me a break. How does all this stuff get to the moon to be assembled in the first place? (Hint: it comes from a nearby planet with a famously large gravity well.)

The moon "contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air"? Sigh.

In the end I guess David Appell expresses my thoughts pretty well:

This administration also reveals its inevitable link to the past....This administration fails utterly fails to understand that the frontier of science is not on some cold orb, but in nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy, climate, and information technology and in the confluence of these interdisciplinary sciences. That's where scientific advances are to be found, not on some dusty ball of insignificance.

If we're going to spend a trillion dollars on big science something I could easily be persuaded to support there are loads of better places for it than this. What a wasted opportunity.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, remember this post a month ago about how Bush is always proposing legislation that doesn't really have an impact until he's safely out of office? Add this one to the list.

Kevin Drum 8:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOT AIR ON SOCIAL SECURITY....In a display of almost breathtaking chutzpah over at NRO, Michael Tanner takes the Democratic candidates to task for not clearly stating what they will do about our Social Security "crisis." By contrast, George Bush is a paragon of forthrightness:

George Bush has made his position clear: He would allow younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes privately through individual accounts. White House sources have spent the last several weeks telling reporters that support for Social Security changes will be a central domestic plank in Bush's reelection bid. Whether you support his proposal or not, at least you know where he stands.

But there's a part of his plan that Citizen Bush doesn't like to mention: the several trillion dollar hole it will bust in the budget by diverting current Social Security revenue into private accounts. He is strangely reluctant to talk about that, but let's face it: anyone can solve the Social Security funding shortfall if they're allowed to just open up ever larger deficits.

As soon as Bush fesses up to the real cost of his plan, and does it using the same arithmetic that I learned in grade school, I'll know where he stands. Until then, let's cut the nonsense.

POSTSCRIPT: Not clear what I'm talking about? Here's the nickel version:

  • If workers are allowed to divert some of their SS taxes to private accounts, that means that revenue flowing into the system decreases.

  • However, we have to continue paying benefits to current retirees. After all, it's not fair to cut their benefits at this point.

  • Today's revenue pays for today's retirees, so if SS revenue decreases while benefits stay the same, we get a deficit. Or, to put it more accurately, we get an even bigger deficit than the one we'd have anyway. This would continue for several decades until the transition period was over.

It's not a plan until Bush explains how he's going to deal with the enormous deficit it creates. He hasn't done that yet.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS....Apparently

some people are unhappy about Brazil's new requirement that Americans be photographed and fingerprinted before entering the country:

The pilot of an American Airlines jet was detained Wednesday after making an obscene gesture when being photographed at the airport as part of a newly imposed entry requirement for U.S. citizens, federal police said.

American Airlines is in full grovel mode:

"The company apologizes to the Brazilian government, the airport authorities, the police or anyone else who may have perceived anything they believe to have been disrespectful," [American Airlines spokeswoman Martha] Pantin said.

Did she leave anyone out?

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Mimir, here's the obscene gesture as published in Folha Online, a Brazilian newspaper. I don't read Portuguese, but via Babel Fish here's approximately what happened:

The others ten members of the crew of the flight, originating in Miami, were isolated in an American Airlines room in the airport. They were prohibited entry into the country after scoffing at the identification procedure and the gesture of the captain.

"The crew followed the gesture of its commander and started to behave in a jocular way, in a way that discredits the attitude of the federal policemen and the Brazilian system of identification," affirmed Castilho.

Although they laughed and joked, they did not commit a crime and will return to the United States this Wednesday.

Or something like that.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SAY WHAT?....Bill Schneider just did a segment on CNN about the fact that Howard Dean supported wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, but not in Iraq. He concluded with this:

Does it make him a hypocrite? No. It makes him a Democrat.

WTF?

Kevin Drum 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS HOWARD DEAN A WARMONGER?....Robert Tagorda points out today that Howard Dean wrote a letter to Bill Clinton in 1995 saying that we should take unilateral action in Bosnia:

Since it is clearly no longer possible to take action in conjunction with NATO and the United Nations, I have reluctantly concluded that we must take unilateral action.

He wonders how Dean can square this with his opposition to unilateral action in Iraq, and then offers a few possibilities. But I'll offer one more. I clicked over to read the text of the letter, and here's what it says:

While I completely agree with you that no ground troops should be committed for other than humanitarian purposes in Bosnia, I would ask that you take the following steps in Bosnia. First, lift the arms embargo as it applies to the Bosnian government. Second, enforce a full embargo of the sort that is now in effect in Iraq on the Bosnian Serbs and upon Yugoslavia. Third, break off diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia. Fourth, commit American air power to support the Bosnian government until the situation is stabilized and the civilian murders and atrocities by the Bosnian Serbs have been stopped.

I'll let the Dean supporters do the heavy lifting of supporting their guy, but in his defense I have to point out that he probably supported the same kinds of actions in Iraq. As in Bosnia, though, he didn't support a full scale invasion.

Maybe he was right both times, maybe he was wrong both times. But I'm not really sure there's very much inconsistency here.

(It's also worth pointing out that it's not really inconsistent to support one war and oppose another anyway. In fact, one of Dean's points all along about Iraq has been that he opposed this war at this time, not that he opposes the use of military force in general.)

Kevin Drum 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQI WMD WATCH....Turns out those mortar shells the Danes found in southern Iraq didn't have any blister agent in them after all. What a surprise.

What is a surprise about this episode is that nobody really believed it from the start: it got only minor play and even war supporters decided to wait for conclusive results before saying anything. We've finally cried wolf one time too many.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. Everybody who's anybody knows that (a) WMD didn't matter in the first place, and (b) it's all in Syria anyway, driven across the border in a cunningly disguised fleet of ambulances. I guess Paris taxi drivers weren't available.

Kevin Drum 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A VICTORY FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY....During its final days in office, the Clinton administration finished a new set of rules mandating a 30% improvement in energy efficiency for home air conditioners. The Bush administration, as part of its neverending battle to show its contempt for energy conservation and make sure that we stay as dependent as possible on foreign oil, decided to cut that to 20%.

Fortunately, rolling back energy efficiency standards is illegal once they've been established, so a court tossed out the lowered standards yesterday. Good for them.

My prediction: as usual, the yelping from industry will prove to be 100% specious. They will implement the standards without increasing the price of air conditioners one penny, and if they don't the Japanese and Koreans will. Just wait and see.

POSTSCRIPT: This is a pretty common scenario, by the way. When new standards are unveiled, foreign companies just get to work and implement them, usually pretty painlessly. American companies, by contrast, spend several years lobbying and suing and generally raising holy hell, and by the time the dust settles the foreign companies are already in compliance. If American companies spent as much time doing the damn engineering work as they do whining about it, American manufacturing just might be a little more competitive than it is.

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: This is only barely on topic, but I can personally attest that this energy efficiency stuff really works. We bought a new refrigerator last year and I think we vaguely figured that all the energy efficiency stickers pasted on the showroom doors were just marketing hype. But after it was installed we found that our electricity bill really did go down substantially about $30 per month. Imagine that! At this rate it's going to pay for itself within a few years.

Kevin Drum 10:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE IMPORTANCE OF RETURNING PHONE CALLS....The Clark campaign bags an endorsement:

Vermont's Abenaki Nation Indian tribe which clashed with [former governor Howard Dean] over official state recognition announced its support of Clark at an event in Concord, N.H. The 6,000-member tribe tossed its endorsement to Clark because he isn't Dean, tribal leaders said, and because the Clark campaign was the only one to return their calls and messages.

On to victory!

Kevin Drum 9:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOUSING BUBBLE....Do we have a housing bubble here in Southern California? It sure looks like it: housing prices in Los Angeles increased 22% in 2002 and 24% in 2003. That's a 50% increase in 24 months.

But it's trickier than that: maybe all that's happening is that prices are finally moving up to levels they should have been at years ago. After all, if you look at the last eight years, prices have risen 97%, or about 9% per year. Still frothy, but not wildly out of line.

But wait. It turns out that housing prices actually declined during the early 90s, so if you look at the past 15 years of data prices have gone up exactly 100%. That's an increase of less than 5% per year.

Everyone accepts that 5% annual growth in a housing market like Southern California is both reasonable and expected, and if you charted straight line 5% growth for the past 15 years you would have concluded in 1999 that housing prices were way too low and were set to rise. And they have.

So is Southern California housing a bubble? Or just making up for poor performance in the past? For a variety of reasons I still tend toward thinking it's a bubble, but I'm less sure than in the past. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 9:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"IRRESPONSIBLE"....Brad DeLong is tearing through the Paul O'Neill book and providing a public service by excerpting all the good parts for us. This evening's excerpt is revolting:

p. 162: May 22 [2001]... Greenspan arrived at the Treasury for breakfast with O'Neill. Their secret trigger pact had come up one vote short.... "We did what we could on conditionality," O'Neill said with momentary resignation.... "The first big battle is over, really. I think we fought well, we made our points vigorously." Greenspan said that wasn't enough. "Without the triggers, that tax cut is irreponsible fiscal policy," he said in his deepest funereal tone. "Eventually, I think that will be the consensus view."

Greenspan didn't get the triggers he wanted, which would have linked the tax cuts to continuing surpluses, but he maintained his support for the legislation anyway and then supported yet another big tax cut a year later even though this was "irresponsible."

Unbelievable.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOG OF WAR....This afternoon I saw Fog of War, Errol Morris' documentary about Robert McNamara, and it was terrific. Fascinating stuff, especially if you're fascinated by the character of Robert McNamara.

Which I am. I was born a bit too late to actually remember him myself, which means he's merely a historical figure to me and doesn't prompt the kind of instinctive revulsion that he does in many people who lived through the Vietnam era. In fact, he's so obviously tortured by what happened in Vietnam and his role in it that I have a hard time even thinking poorly of him. After all, how many other major figures from that era have renounced their part in it, no matter how late?

Another part of my fascination, I suppose, is that I can so easily see myself in the same role as McNamara: basically liberal, but at the same time rational, analytical, emotionally distant, and loyal to my boss. Would I have done the same things he did if I had been in his position? I'd like to believe not, of course, but I can't help but think that I might have, and this gives me some natural sympathy for his position. We are all more forgiving of our own weaknesses than of others'.

The film does a good job of bringing out a fundamental tension in his character, too: he knows he was wrong, and at an intellectual level he even knows that his very method of decisionmaking was wrong, yet it's pretty obvious that emotionally he's still tied to the same hyper-rational way of viewing the world as ever. He says otherwise ("rationality won't save us"), but I don't think he really believes it.

In many ways, a very tragic human being. And a highly recommended movie.

(And with a very nice score by Philip Glass.)

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLACK IS WHITE, UP IS DOWN....Via Chris Mooney, I see that the Bush administration assault on science is alive and well. Here's the story: Congress mandates that HHS produce an annual report on healthcare disparities related to race and poverty. The most recent version was released a month ago, but it turns out that the final version released by the political troops was dramatically different from the initial draft written by HHS scientists. Upon learning of this, Bush heckler-in chief Henry Waxman commissioned a report comparing the scientists' draft with the final draft. Here's my favorite part:

The scientists draft concluded that disparities come at a personal and societal price, including lost productivity, needless disability, and early death. The final version drops this conclusion and replaces it with the finding that some priority populations do as well or better than the general population in some aspects of health care. As an example, the executive summary highlights that American Indians/Alaska Natives have a lower death rate from all cancers.

You gotta love it. Amid all the bad data they were able to find a few examples where minority groups did better than others, so they highlighted that instead. This is sort of like commissioning a report on income disparities and highlighting the fact that blacks do very well in the area of professional basketball.

Do these guys have no shame at all?

Kevin Drum 7:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOD FEARING JUDGES....UPDATE....Many commenters wondered what the source was for this post about improper questioning of judicial candidates in Florida. Jeralyn just emailed me the link to the original article at law.com, and here it is. Now you can read it for yourself.

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WEIRD JOURNALISM....This article by Chris Suellentrop in Slate yesterday is just weird. It's a collection of six statements by Wesley Clark that supposedly show that he "has the same propensity [as Howard Dean] for speaking imprecisely off the cuff." In other words, he's sort of a nutcase.

But I don't get it. Whether you agree with them or not, the statements themselves all seem like pretty ordinary campaign rhetoric to me and the only thing that's weird about them are Suellentrop's jokey headlines for each one. Here's what Clark really seems to have said:

  • George Bush didn't pay much attention to al-Qaeda before 9/11 even though he was warned about how dangerous it was.

  • Bush was so obsessed with Iraq that he didn't put enough resources into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden.

  • Iraq wasn't much of a terrorist threat before the war, but it is now.

  • 55 million people have read a book in which the United Nations is portrayed as the Antichrist. This is ill-informed.

  • Angry young men are fertile ground for terrorist recruiters.

  • President Bush still doesn't seem willing to put the effort into Afghanistan that it would take to find Osama.

Am I missing something here? What, really, is Suellentrop's point in mischaracterizing what Clark said?

UPDATE: According to my commenters, Suellentrop says that his "headlines" were supposed to be ironic. They were the kinds of hysterical things that Fox News attaches to practically everything that comes out of Dean's mouth and he was trying to show what would happen if Clark got the same treatment.

Well, that sure didn't come out right, did it? I mean, that's actually sort of a funny idea, if it was really Suellentrop's intention, but you need to actually say that if you want people to get the joke.

Kevin Drum 11:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEFICIT THINKING....Daniel Gross at Slate makes an interesting point about budget deficits:

For Fiscal 2004which began in October 2003if you factor out the $164 billion Social Security surplus, the on-budget deficit will be at least $639 billion, rather close to the modern peak of 6 percent of GDP.

What's interesting is not this actual fact, which is common knowledge, but the fact that there were no Social Security surpluses before 1983 (and only small ones for a decade after that). This means that if you do an apples-to-apples comparison of Bush's deficits to Reagan's, the Bush deficits really are pretty close to historical highs.

As interesting as this is, the more important point is that the modern triumph of the tax cut jihadists means that rational discussion of deficits is practically impossible these days. Even Ronald Reagan unlike Dick Cheney understood that deficits do matter and that supply side economics didn't work, which is why he raised taxes substantially when it became clear that economic growth wasn't enough to get the budget under control.

His heirs, however, simply cover their eyes, chant "latte sipping left wing freak show" over and over, and refuse to face reality. By and by we're all going to be paying the price for their revolutionary zeal.

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE INVISIBLE FIRST LADY....Bloggers have a tendency to rake the press over the coals for writing anything less than detailed 5,000 word investigations of each candidate's policy positions on after-school daycare and marine hatchery protection. But life isn't like that: the vast majority of people are bored by this stuff and want to know what the candidates are like on a personal basis, who their supporters are, whether they're moving up or down in the polls, and so forth. Sure, that means we get occasional stories about Wesley Clark's argyle sweaters, but so what?

(Quick, name the main policy differences between the top five Dem candidates. You have one minute. Hmmm, you can't do it....?)

In this vein, Tacitus' Macallan, hardly a Howard Dean supporter, suggests that today's New York Times story about him was a hit piece. "Frankly, I thought their treatment was a little creepy. One could report the same facts without the wink and the nod."

So I clicked the link and read it, and it turns out to be a story about the fact that Dean's wife is virtually invisible: she doesn't campaign with him, she gives almost no interviews, and apparently she's flatly uninterested in politics. Is that out of bounds?

I don't see how. You can quibble over the exact quotes the reporter used here and there, but basically, as First Lady expert Myra Gutin said, "The whole thing has just struck me as a little odd." And it is. Maybe it shouldn't be in some alternate universe utopia, but in this one it is. And it's something people are interested in hearing about.

This kind of reporting isn't a reflection on the press, it's a reflection on human nature: after all, People magazine outsells The New Republic about 50 to 1. Way more people vote for presidents based on personal qualities than on substantive policy positions, and I don't see any reason why even the New York Times shouldn't acknowledge that. It's all part of the package.

Kevin Drum 9:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GOD FEARING JUDGES....TalkLeft has a summary of what it takes to be a judge in Jeb Bush's Florida. Hint: the insufficiently pious need not apply.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the original source for this.

Kevin Drum 10:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A WAR RETROSPECTIVE....Matt Yglesias calls it a "murk-fest," and it's true that asking a bunch of liberal hawks whether they still think the war was a good idea smacks of serious navel gazing. Still, this Slate con-fab actually has a few interesting points. Here are two of them.

First, Ken Pollack:

I think the war put to rest the fantasies of the neocons that we could simply arm Ahmad Chalabi and a few thousand followers (followers he still has not actually produced), give them air cover, and send them in to spark a rolling revolution. Richard Perle and others argued for that initially, but in the end they had to support a full-scale invasion as the only realistic course.

To take this one step further, one result of the war has been to demonstrate to even the most hawkish war supporters that nation building is really, really hard something they apparently didn't believe beforehand. So in a funny way, the outcome of the war probably makes it less likely that George Bush will do something similar anytime in the near future.

Next is Tom Friedman, who offers several reasons for supporting the war and then explains what he thinks the real reason was:

The real reason for this warwhich was never statedwas to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s....This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash somethingto let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomaticit's not in the rule bookbut everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we couldperiod. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Regardless of whether this is a good reason or not, I think Friedman is exactly correct: this is the real reason we invaded. Unfortunately, it also reveals the biggest problem with the war, one that's obvious if you put Friedman's remark alongside Pollack's: unless we get the postwar rebuilding right we haven't actually demonstrated anything. If what we really end up proving is that this kind of war is so long, hard, and futile that the American public won't support another one, then what's the lesson? I think the answer is pretty obvious.

Still, Slate's liberal hawks are holding firm: even though they largely agree that Bush was dishonest in making his case for war and incompetent in his postwar planning, they all continue to say that it was the right thing to do, and furthermore they all claim that WMD wasn't their primary reason for supporting the war in any case. (Crikey, is there anyone left who's willing to say that they gave a damn about WMD before the war?)

Unanimous agreement doesn't really make for a very stimulating discussion, though, so these guys better find something to fight about. Otherwise the next four days of this exercise are going to be pretty tedious.

Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPORTING IN A WAR ZONE....When war supporters talk about Reuters as "the enemy," I always figured they just meant it metaphorically. Apparently not:

The international news agency Reuters has made a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the "wrongful" arrest and apparent "brutalisation" of three of its staff this month by US troops in Iraq.

....Although Reuters has not commented publicly, it is understood that the journalists were "brutalised and intimidated" by US soldiers, who put bags over their heads, told them they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, and whispered: "Let's have sex."

At one point during the interrogation, according to the family of one of the staff members, a US soldier shoved a shoe into the mouth one of the Iraqis.

The US troops, from the 82nd Airborne Division, based in Falluja, also made the blindfolded journalists stand for hours with their arms raised and their palms pressed against the cell wall.

....A spokeswoman for the US military's coalition press and information centre in Baghdad hung up when the Guardian asked her to comment.

I sure hope this turns out not to be true.

Kevin Drum 9:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SO WHO'S ON THE FAR RIGHT THESE DAYS?....The Washington Post's Laura Blumenfeld had a long profile of ber-conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist today, and I just loved this quote:

"He is an impresario of the center-right," the president's strategist, Karl Rove, said in an interview. Rove said Norquist's activists helped President Bush push trade promotion, tax cuts, judicial nominees and tort reform, among other items.

So Grover is now part of the center-right? And Blumenfeld passed this along with a straight face?

The mind reels.

Kevin Drum 6:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHENEY, ROVE, AND DELAY....Brad DeLong has some additional excerpts from the Paul O'Neill book, ending with this observation:

Interesting how in this telling of the story it is Cheney who shows up as the heavy, uninterested in domestic policies that are good for the country and uninterested in running the kind of honest process that Cheney ran so well for Gerald Ford.

Indeed. So here's a thought: George Bush seems to be personally untouchable. He's an amiable guy who acts tough but talks about compassion, and lots of people seem to like that.

So perhaps the Dem candidates should quit attacking Bush and turn their guns on the scarier guys behind the throne who seem to actually run things. My choices would be Cheney, Karl Rove, and Tom DeLay. These guys definitely don't share any of George Bush's famous charm, and if we put them front and center where they belong maybe more people would start to understand what's really going on behind the happy face that the Republican party uses to front its policies.

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O'NEILL UNDER INVESTIGATION....It took the White House over two months to shake off its apathy and start a probe of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. But when 60 Minutes showed a "secret" document provided by Paul O'Neill on TV last night they moved a bit more quickly: less than 24 hours later the Treasury Department announced that O'Neill was under investigation:

"Based on the '60 Minutes' segment aired Sunday evening, there was a document that was shown that appeared to be classified," said Treasury Department spokesman Rob Nichols. "It was for that reason that it was referred to the U.S. inspector general's office."

....Asked if seeking the probe may look vindictive, Nichols said, "We don't view it in that way," according to Reuters news agency.

Heavens no, of course not. Why would anybody think such a thing?

Perhaps because the document had already been released six months previously in response to a Freedom of Information request from Judicial Watch? That's quite a secret, isn't it?

More generally, I wouldn't bet on any of O'Neill's 19,000 pages of documents being illegal leaks of classified information, as some conservatives are now suggesting. I guess you never know, but usually people who leak classified documents do it secretly, not in a blaze of nationwide publicity to promote a new book. Just a thought.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DUTCH TREAT....Here's an interesting tidbit about school vouchers from Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber:

The Dutch experience is very different most children attend private schools on what is effectively a voucher system, but the State subjects all schools to heavy regulation, and the vouchers are highly progressive (schools get paid much more for low-income kids, kids from homes with low levels of parental education, kids from non-Dutch speaking homes). The Netherlands is consistently a pretty high performer in international comparisons of childrens achievement.

Without getting into the messy details of just what "heavy regulation" means, this is an interesting idea: have the state support private schools via vouchers, but encourage them to take low income kids by paying them to do so. Something like this might put me in the pro-voucher camp experimentally, at least although I'd certainly insist on at least moderate amounts of regulation regardless.

Which would probably end up as a dealbreaker. But it's still an interesting thought.

Kevin Drum 4:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLINTON SUPPORTING CLARK?....The New York Post is reporting that Bill Clinton is personally making fundraising calls for Wesley Clark. The source is one of New York's "best-connected Democratic activists."

Unfortunately, the Clark campaign denies it, and since fundraising appeals can hardly be made in significant numbers without it becoming public very quickly, I suspect that the campaign wouldn't deny it unless it genuinely weren't true.

But you never know. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PEOPLE SPEAK....I was reading this morning about a guy who's trying to get an initiative on the ballot that would require the state to buy Bibles for all K-12 students strictly for its literary value, of course and I got curious about the wording of the initiative. So I hopped over to the Secretary of State's website to see if it was there.

It was, and I read it (the author is apparently under the impression that reading the Bible is useful for the study of science, among other things), but then I noticed all the other initiatives that are circulating. Like the Bible initiative, they mostly have no chance of getting on the ballot, but it's a remarkably motley assortment anyway.

Tax fighter Tom McClintock wants to eliminate the vehicle license fee altogether, and if that doesn't work he's got another initiative to reduce the fee to $1. Lee Olsen wants to ban special treatment of gays. Casey Peters wants us to be able to rank order candidates in elections. Steve Mozena wants state agencies to post "every check, credit card or cash transaction" on its website daily.

We also have petitions circulating that would require parental notification of abortions, establish a state funded system of unregulated private schools, raise the income tax on millionaires by 1%, fund stem cell research, repeal all gun control legislation, a "home rule" inititiative that prevents the state from redistributing property tax revenue (darn, I was hoping it would require us to secede from the union or something), and an initiative that docks legislators' pay anytime they don't vote on a bill.

Fun stuff. Welcome to California.

Kevin Drum 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

INTEREST GROUPS....Here's Mickey Kaus a few days ago talking about how the Democratic party is hostage to its special interests:

Teachers' unions whose elaborate job protections for the semi-competent have turned suburban schools into swamps of mediocrity and inner city schools into nightmares....Affirmative action pressure groups whose efforts guarantee that competent professionals of color must carry around for life the stigma of having received special preferences. Bilingual educators promoting what is by now a proven means of holding Latino students back. Housing lobbyists who push "house the poorest first" rules that turn HUD projects into community-destroying hellholes. A senior lobby that has prevented adjustment of Social Security benefits--including "means-testing" the benefits of the rich--until it may be too late.

But how about Republicans? Let's try it this way instead:

Abortion crusaders whose opposition even to harmless stem cell research condemns millions to the slow-motion mental disintegration of Alzheimer's disease. Corporate interests so amoral they're willing to risk our food supply by insisting on their right to process cows that are too sick to walk to the slaughterhouse under their own power. Right wing gun zealots whose unyielding opposition to even modest gun control efforts keeps parents in constant fear that every day might bring another Columbine. Monomaniacal tax cut jihadists who recklessly mortgage our children's future and our standing in the world so that their millionaire pals can buy a few extra playthings. Oil and gas companies continuing to deny the now proven fact that global warming is a deadly reality -- until it may be too late.

My point here isn't just to mock Mickey's prose although there is that too it's to wonder why it is that Democrats are forever being taken to task for pandering to their "interest goups" but Republicans aren't. After all, if unions are an interest group, so is management. If blacks are an interest group, so are whites. If environmentalists are an interest group, so are industrial polluters.

The fact is that both Democrats and Republicans are growing ever more attached to their respective interest groups and less and less interested in appealing to the middle. And while I'll freely admit that I may be too much of a pragmatic technocrat by nature, it's hard not to be discouraged by how hard it is to find anyone these days who actually cares about facts on the ground and genuine solutions. Firm allegiance to simpleminded ideology combined with ruthless political cynicism seems to be the order of the day, and it's a toxic combination.

But it's late and I'm tired, so I'll spare you the rest of this rant. If anyone's interested in donating a billion dollars to start up a nice sensible party of the center, just leave your email in comments.

POSTSCRIPT: Jeez, writing that sendup of Mickey's paragraph was hard work and mine isn't nearly as good as his. Does he just knock that stuff out effortlessly, or do you think it took him as long as it took me?

Kevin Drum 10:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WMD UPDATE....We found some old mortar shells full of blister gas in southern Iraq on Friday. WMD at last! War supporters must finally feel vindicated, right?

Not quite:

  • Instapundit: "It appears to be genuine, but it's hardly news: Saddam gassed people, after all, so we know he had WMD."

  • Andrew Sullivan: "Of course, we've had stories like this one before and they haven't panned out."

  • The Corner: "Just realized this story has not been mentioned in The Corner yet."

  • Eugene Volokh: "I'll believe it when more thorough tests are done -- in the past, supposed discoveries of chemical weapons haven't panned out."

That's a remarkably restrained reaction, no? Perhaps they've finally learned their lesson.

Kevin Drum 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COMMENT PERMALINKS....A few days ago someone emailed me to say that it would be nice if there were permalinks to individual comments. That did sound nice, but as with so many other good suggestions about my site it required technical knowledge that I didn't have.

Today, though, via Outside the Beltway, who got it from Wizbang, who in turn got it from the agreeably-initialed kd at Hooha, I acquired the minimal knowledge needed to implement this feature. Each individual comment now has a permalink that you can use if you feel like directing your withering scorn toward a specific piece of egregious buffoonery in the comments section.

Technology marches on.

UPDATE: For future reference, here are instructions on how to do this in a Movable Type blog:

  1. In the Comment Listing template, right above the <$MTCommentBody$> tag, add the following tag:

    <a name="<$MTCommentID$>"></a>

  2. Then, right after the "Posted By" text, add the following tag:

    <a href="<$MTEntryLink$>#<$MTCommentID$>" target="new">PERMALINK</a>

  3. Save the Comment Listing template.

  4. Do the same thing in the Individual Entry Archive template. (However, there's no need to include target="new" in the tag. This is done in the Comment Listing template, which controls the popup comment window, so that if you click the link the post appears in a new window, not in the comment window itself.)

  5. The new PERMALINK tag will show up immediately in the comment popup window, but in the individual archives pages it will show up only in new posts. If you want it to appear in all your old posts, you'll have to rebuild your site.

That's it!

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INCONVENIENT FACTS....This is odd. Paul O'Neill, who has many unflattering things to say about the Bush administration, was quoted yesterday as saying he didn't think anyone would take offense at his remarks. "I can't imagine that I am going to be attacked for telling the truth," he said.

How naive, I thought. But today I see this in Time magazine:

"These people are nasty and they have a long memory," he tells Suskind. But he also believes that by speaking out even in the face of inevitable White House wrath, he can demonstrate loyalty to something he prizes: the truth....That goal is worth the price of retribution, O'Neill says. Plus, as he told Suskind, "I'm an old guy, and I'm rich. And there's nothing they can do to hurt me."

That's more like it. I guess he knows what kind of people he's dealing with after all.

Anyway, here's the nut of the book:

According to the book, ideology and electoral politics so dominated the domestic-policy process during his tenure that it was often impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas. The incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top Cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings. Cheney is portrayed as an unstoppable force, unbowed by inconvenient facts as he drives Administration policy toward his goals.

I think that about covers it. Be sure to read the whole thing.

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THE UNEMPLOYMENT PARADOX, PART 2....More on the unemployment paradox. Over at Economists for Dean, Lerxst picks up on a New York Times op-ed that says applications for disability payments skyrocketed by more than a million between 1999 and 2003 after staying stable for several years before. If those people were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would have peaked at around 8%.

There's more there if you want to read the whole argument. The authors aren't arguing that these people don't deserve payments, just that in the past they would have been counted as unemployed and now they're not. The unemployment rate looks lower but it's just a statistical artifact.

The interesting tidbits just keep piling up, don't they?

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January 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

UNEMPLOYMENT....Earlier today I mentioned the employment paradox that Brad DeLong has been blogging about for a while: although unemployment is going down a bit, it's not because more people are working. Rather, it's because more people have given up looking for work, and when you give up looking for work you don't count as unemployed anymore.

So who is it that's dropping out of the labor force? Angry Bear has the answer:

  • Men

  • College graduates

Female labor force participation, conversely, has been pretty steady for the last few years, and the participation rate of high school dropouts has been steadily increasing. Meanwhile, college grads are dropping like flies.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but it's an interesting tidbit.

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BETTER DUCK AND COVER, PAUL....Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill isn't finished with his, um, unkind remarks about George Bush, remarks that we all get to hear and see tomorrow on 60 Minutes. But then there's this:

O'Neill, who was asked to resign because of his opposition to the tax cut, says he doesn't think his tell-all account in this book will be attacked by his former employers as sour grapes. "I will be really disappointed if [the White House] reacts that way," he tells Stahl. "I can't imagine that I am going to be attacked for telling the truth."

He's got to be kidding. After all this time is he really that clueless about the kind of people he's dealing with?

How did a naif like him get so rich, anyway?

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EMAIL APOLOGIES....Just a quick note: I fell way behind on email over Christmas, and a few minutes ago I finally caved in to reality and deleted about a thousand messages. If you wrote to me and never heard back, that's why. Sorry about that.

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SCRAP IT ALL?....Regular readers know that I think dreams of moonbases and manned missions to Mars are quaint and ridiculous. We've been to the moon and there's nothing there. Unmanned missions can do exploration beyond earth orbit better than manned missions, and if we're looking for some big science projects to spend money on something I'm usually in favor of there are plenty of choices that would be more inspirational and more worthwhile than trying to recover the glory of the sixties with yet more manned space missions.

But leave that aside for a moment. Mark Kleiman (and others) are especially upset because it appears that George Bush wants to pay for this boondoggle by gutting the rest of the space program. His concern is based on this paragraph in a UPI story:

Sources said Bush will direct NASA to scale back or scrap all existing programs that do not support the new effort. Further details about the plan and the space agency's revised budget will be announced in NASA briefings next week and when the president delivers his FY 2005 budget to Congress.

If that means scrapping all current manned space programs in favor of new ones, then I'm probably OK with it (aside from my general dislike of shoveling money at manned space programs, of course). But if it means what Mark thinks it means scrapping all other space programs, including unmanned research missions then it's just mind bogglingly stupid and shortsighted. Sadly, given Bush's track record, mind bogglingly stupid and shortsighted is probably the way to bet.

UPDATE: Oh crap. In comments, Hari links to this story quoting one of our local nutbag congressmen:

"Setting up operations on the moon is affordable, as long as it is taken as a primary goal for the American space program and not larded onto all of the other things that NASA does," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), chairman of the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics. As an example, he cited NASA's efforts to assess global warming, saying: "Over the years, we have spent tens of billions of dollars of NASA money proving global warming is occurring, which I think is suspect and debatable."

Jeez, why didn't I think of that? The Republicans get to spend lots of money on their Texas and California aerospace pals and they get to cut back on that pesky research showing that global warming is real.

It's just s-o-o-o-o annoying when scientific research flies in the face of your personal opinions, isn't it? Apparently conservative Lysenkoism is alive and well in Huntington Beach.

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WHAT? STUDENTS CHEATING?....Via Eugene Volokh, here's an embarrassing story:

A survey a judge cited in his decision to move Scott Peterson's capital murder trial out of Modesto contained made-up information, criminal justice students who conducted the survey told a newspaper.

....Not all students said they'd faked their results, which accounted for 20 percent of their grade. But six students all seniors told the paper they had made up all of their answers because they had no time and no money for the dozens of lengthy long-distance phone calls that were required.

Other students said they used answers provided by friends and relatives, or that they completed part of the survey properly, then faked the rest.

Based on my experience, I would advise never taking seriously any polling done by undergraduates as a class assignment unless it's done under the strictest scrutiny. I don't mean to excuse what the students did, but this was entirely predictable and it's simply naive for any professor to say he's "stunned" to hear about it.

As for why a judge in a capital case would accept it as credible research, I have no idea. It defies belief.

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ARNOLD'S BUDGET....On Monday I made some projections about how Arnold would close California's $14 billion budget gap. So how did I do?

In a word, not so well. However, it's also damnably hard to tell exactly what's in his budget plan, despite a fairly thorough reading of his budget document combined with combing through at least a dozen different press accounts. Still, here's my best guess about where the savings are coming from.

Warning: these numbers don't necessarily match what the news reports say. And they might be wrong. Trying to reconcile the various tables is nearly impossible, and I've made a lot of guesses about what's really going on. Take it with a big grain of salt. The entire budget document is here if you feel like diving in yourself.

Area

Projection

Reality

Notes

Higher growth
projections

$3.5 billion

$.1 billion

Despite some press reports to the contrary, Arnold doesn't seem to have made any rosy growth projections. There are three main sources of revenue for California (income tax, sales tax, and corporation tax), and in November the widely respected and trusted Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that these sources would bring in $70.5 billion. Arnold's budget estimates $70.6 billion. If his economic estimates were hyped, the revenue from these sources would be higher than the LAO's estimates.

"Waste and
fraud"

$2 billion

0

At first glance, Arnold seems to have decided not to play this traditional shell game. However, some of his cuts are unspecified and it might turn out later that waste and fraud reduction play a part in some of them. Some of his MediCal cuts, for example, seem to be predicated on increased anti-fraud programs.

Local
government
cutbacks

$2 billion

$1.3 billion

He said he wasn't going to do this, but he did it anyway.

Fee increases
(and other
magic)

$1.5 billion

$1.3 billion

$500 million from tribal casinos, $400 million from higher education fees, $18 million from increased park fees, $50 million from state land royalties, $350 million from the federal government.

Borrowing

0

$4 billion

Even I didn't think he'd have the gall to propose more borrowing after railing against it so consistently, but he did. This includes $3 billion from his $15 billion bond proposal plus $1 billion to pay off pension obligations. The $3 billion part appears to be money taken from this year's bond sales that weren't actually used this year. Or something. I'm a little confused, although the number itself seems clear enough.

Debt service
reduction

0

$1.3 billion

I have no idea where this comes from, but apparently Arnold's team thinks we've saved $1.3 billion by restructuring our debt.

Actual budget
cuts

$4.5 billion

$6.3 billion

This one is hard to figure out. Arnold says spending reductions in his budget total $4.6 billion, but some of this appears to be smoke and mirrors reductions in payments to the federal government, fee increases, etc. My best guess is that the real number is about $3.3 billion.

At the same time, he's not giving himself credit for $3 billion in reductions in primary education and transportation spending, referring to it as "cost avoidance" so that he can continue to say he didn't "cut" primary ed.

We're not buying that here at Calpundit, of course. Overall, the cuts appear to be approximately as follows: $900 million from MediCal, $800 million from CalWorks welfare-to-work programs, $.6 billion in other health and human services programs, $400 million from higher education, $2 billion from primary education, $400 million from prisons, $1 billion from transportation projects, and $.2 billion in miscellaneous.

Total

$14 billion

$14.3 billion


It's worth noting that there's still plenty of fun and games in this budget. My favorite (so far) is a savings of $143 million by delaying MediCal checks to doctors by one week. It's a one-time savings, of course, and allegedly it's to give the state some extra time to detect fraudulent invoices. Sure it is....

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ECONOMIC DOLDRUMS....A few days ago Paul Krugman wrote a column in which he suggested that there was "something funny" about recent unemployment data:

An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

A shouting match ensued between Brad DeLong and Dan Drezner over whether Krugman was really interpreting the statistics correctly, but regardless of the specific placement of Krugman's qualifiers, yesterday's job news seems to be on Krugman's side:

The unemployment rate did dip two-tenths of a point to a 14-month low of 5.7%, but that was because more than 300,000 people dropped out of the labor force a sign not of economic strength but of an exodus of discouraged job seekers.

There is something funny about the economy these days, because despite big GDP growth numbers and falling unemployment we're not seeing rising employment, rising incomes, or rises in factory orders. What's more, even the IMF is worried about our budget deficits, the dollar is sliding, and George Bush wants to distract everyone by sending us to Mars.

This isn't the Great Depression, but it's not exactly good times either. There really is something disturbing about this economic "recovery," and it's not something that can be solved with yet another round of tax cuts predicated on wildly phony projections of job growth. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only tool George Bush is willing to consider using.

We really need to get rid of this guy.

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January 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SIMPSONS TRIVIA....I may not have done so well on the BBC's "Who Said It?" quiz, but I did surprisingly well on the Guardian's Simpsons quiz, getting 8 out of 10 right.

Yes, I realize that doesn't really speak very well for my priorities....

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WHY WERE WE SO WRONG?....Ken Pollack, author of the influential pro-war book The Threatening Storm, has a long article in The Atlantic this month that tries to answer the big question: why were we so wrong about Iraq's WMD?

The answer, unfortunately, boils down to a shrug of the shoulders: we really don't know quite how it happened.

Pollack's basic case is that while it's possible something might still turn up, the plain fact is that we've searched everything we're going to search and at this point it's pretty unlikely we're going to find anything more. Sure, there's some evidence that programs were kept alive in a very rudimentary state and that Saddam might have started them back up if he ever got the chance, but basically it's time to face facts: he seems to have given up on WMD around 1995-96, or perhaps 1998 at the latest.

There are plenty of excuses for why we didn't know: Saddam had a very bad record, his lack of cooperation was suspicious in itself, and we relied too much on UNSCOM and didn't have enough intelligence resources of our own after UNSCOM left Iraq in 1998. Plus there was the fact that everybody else agreed with us: Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, everybody. The Clinton administration was as convinced about Saddam's WMD as the Bush administration.

He also rehashes a few old theories about why Saddam acted the way he did if he had nothing to hide, and adds a couple of new ones, but none of it is very convincing. Mostly just the usual speculation that Saddam didn't want the rest of the world to realize how toothless he was.

And that's about it. The rest is common knowledge: the CIA screwed up by overestimating the danger and the Bush administration screwed up by taking the CIA's case and exaggerating it even further:

Throughout the spring and fall of 2002 and well into 2003 I received numerous complaints from friends and colleagues in the intelligence community, and from people in the policy community, about precisely that. According to them, many Administration officials reacted strongly, negatively, and aggressively when presented with information or analysis that contradicted what they already believed about Iraq. Many of these officials believed that Saddam Hussein was the source of virtually all the problems in the Middle East and was an imminent danger to the United States because of his perceived possession of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorism. Many also believed that CIA analysts tended to be left-leaning cultural relativists who consistently downplayed threats to the United States. They believed that the Agency, not the Administration, was biased, and that they were acting simply to correct that bias.

Intelligence officers who presented analyses that were at odds with the pre-existing views of senior Administration officials were subjected to barrages of questions and requests for additional information. They were asked to justify their work sentence by sentence....

In the end Pollack admits that "the case for war with Iraq was considerably weaker than I believed beforehand," although he also spends some time in ass-covering mode, making it clear multiple times that he never supported immediate war the way George Bush did. And that's it.

The most peculiar part of his essay is at the very end. Despite the fact that he really doesn't know what went wrong, he concludes by offering some advice about how to avoid these problems in the future. His primary suggestion is to make the CIA stronger, more independent, and more secretive than it is now, an idea he doesn't back up very persuasively.

The article is worth reading, especially for people like me who were temporarily swayed into the pro-war camp partly on the authority of Pollack's book, but it's ultimately disappointing. Even Pollack, who presumably has lots of sources and a personal interest in finding out how he could have been so wrong, doesn't seem to know what really happened.

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"JUST A MONOLOGUE"....Via Mark Kleiman, here's what one of George Bush's former cabinet members thinks of his "management style":

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened President Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts Friday from a CBS interview.

O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour.

"As I recall it was just a monologue," he told CBS' "60 Minutes," which will broadcast the entire interview Sunday.

In making the blind man analogy, O'Neill told CBS his ex-boss did not encourage a free flow of ideas or open debate.

"There is no discernible connection," CBS quoted O'Neill as saying. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neil said, according to the program.

I'm sure it's the "blind man" quote that's going to get the attention, but it's really the anecdote about their first meeting that's the most telling. An hour-long monologue that demonstrates an obvious lack of interest in anything other than hearing his own voice O'Neill had to say is a bit too Dilbertesque for my taste, I'm afraid. And as a former executive myself, please don't bother trying to feed me the usual crap about how this is just a hands off management style. I'm not buying.

We really have to get rid of this guy.

UPDATE: As Bryan points out in comments, I probably had it backwards: it was O'Neill who did all the talking, not Bush. Either way, it's scary.

UPDATE 2: This also reminds me of Jimmy Carter's experience with Ronald Reagan during their transition. From Keeping Faith, Carter's memoirs:

Reagan listened without comment while I covered each point. Some of them were very sensitive, involving such matters as the management of our nuclear forces....I described some top-secret agreements we had with a few other nations. Again, he did not comment or ask any questions. Some of the information was quite complex, and I did not see how he could possibly retain all of it merely by listening.

This goes on for over an hour. What is it about Republican presidents, anyway?

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AVOCADO LUST....Just got back from having an MRI done on my back. That's quite a little symphony they play for you inside those machines, isn't it?

There was a nice burger place across the street, too. I would have just had a regular burger, but they were having a special on bacon avocado cheeseburgers, and how could I say no?

Not to worry though: I had 'em hold the cheese and washed it down with a diet Coke. Gotta watch those calories....

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Marian is still having fun with her camera, so this week we have more flash-enhanced shots of Inkblot and Jasmine. As you can see, the flash provokes considerable suspicion on their part, which isn't surprising considering their basically Luddite natures. I think housecats go through life consistently amazed at all the bizarre stuff we humans think we need in order to be happy. The camera is just one more example in this parade of human weirdness.

Anyway, Marian says she is trying to get a picture of Inkblot in mid yawn, and won't give up until she gets one. Something to look forward to for some future Friday.

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THE RIGHT TO VOTE....Peter Kirsanow at NRO is suspicious of efforts to give felons the right to vote:

A cynic may be forgiven for suspecting that the motivation behind such support has as much to do with political expediency as principle.

I guess I'll take that seriously just as soon as conservatives support the right of DC voters to elect congressmen and senators. I'm sure their longtime opposition to this is based solely on fundamental principle and has nothing to do with the fact that anyone elected from DC would be reliably Democratic.

In any case, I agree with Jesse: Kirsanow forgot an important qualifier. He's talking about ex-felons. For some reason he just can't bring himself to refer to them that way.

I have to admit that many years ago, when I first learned that ex-cons couldn't vote, I was shocked. I had always figured that once you've paid your debt, you've paid your debt. The right to vote ranks with free speech as one of the absolutely most fundamental rights in a democracy, and I honestly can't think of anything short of certifiable mental incapacity to deny it to any adult.

On a more practical level, it bothers me because so many of these ex-felons were convicted on drug charges. Emotionally, it's easy to see why people might not think that child abusers and murderers are fit to vote, but someone who got caught with a few rocks of crack? That's just indefensible.

And whether intentionally or not, it's also seriously racist. Because of the disparity in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, a much larger percentage of blacks get convicted on drug charges than whites. The net result is that if you use crack you're much more likely to be denied the right to vote for the rest of your life, and that means that a startlingly large proportion of the black population is permanently denied the right to vote.

It's a bad deal. At the very least laws should be changed to restrict voting only for the most heinous crimes. At best, this fundamental right should be allowed to anyone who's served his time and re-entered civil society.

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MEDICARE BRIBERY UPDATE....Remember Nick Smith, the Michigan congressman who said he had been offered $100,000 for his son's campaign if he'd vote for the president's Medicare bill? That was story #1.

Then there was story #2: nobody tried to bribe him. Unfortunately, that didn't really work since he had given an interview to WKZO radio in which he had already admitted that "the first offer was to give him $100,000-plus for his campaign and endorsement by national leadership."

Now, according to Slate, there's story #3: yes, there was talk of money, but it was just an offhand remark by someone who happened to be listening in on the conversation.

Investigators usually perk up their ears when someone keeps changing their story. I hope the DOJ has perked up its ears at this.

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January 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

JUST WONDERING....A moon base? Maybe he thinks that's where Saddam's WMD is.

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HEALTHCARE IN AMERICA....Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, but there's an interesting twist to the statistics:

Health spending accounts for nearly 15 percent of the nation's economy, the largest share on record, the Bush administration said on Thursday.

....Public spending on health care accounts for 45 percent of all health spending in the United States, compared with a 72 percent average in O.E.C.D. countries. But health spending has outpaced economic growth in most of those countries, putting pressure on government budgets.

The government already pays for 45% of healthcare costs in America, which means that public healthcare spending accounts for 45% of 15% of GDP, or 6.75%.

In other western countries healthcare costs are about 10% of GDP, which means that public spending accounts for about 72% of 10%, or 7.2%. That's barely more than we spend in percentage terms and less than we spend in actual dollars per person. And by most conventional measures they deliver care that's as good or better than ours. For everyone.

Now, our higher costs are partly due to the fact that we're richer than most other countries and choose to spend more of our income on healthcare. But that's not the whole story, and these figures suggest that if we had a rational public healthcare system in the United States we could fund it for barely more than we spend now.

Think about that: it wouldn't cost much more than it does now; if it were decently designed it would almost certainly do a better job of holding down costs than the ridiculous patchwork that we have now; corporations could largely get out of the healthcare business; everyone would be covered; and judging by the experience of European systems it would deliver care about as good as we get now. Hell, maybe better if my doctor is anything to go by.

And of course private care would still be available for anyone who wanted to pay extra to get it. So what's not to like?

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's socialism. But wouldn't it be nice if we could put the scary namecalling aside and instead just work together on building a real healthcare system to replace the creaky, dysfunctional, and out of control one we have now?

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CALIFORNIA BUDGET PREVIEW....The LA Times has a preview of Arnold's new budget for tomorrow's paper and it looks like my projections from Monday might not be too far off: $1.3 billion in cuts to local government, some increased fees for universities, and (apparently) about $4 billion in rosier estimates of economic growth. (Although this last isn't clear yet.)

But there's more! He's also proposing an additional $1 billion in borrowing. Even I hadn't thought of that.

Details won't be available until noon tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be able to get a clearer idea of exactly where the cuts and the accounting trickery are coming from then.

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THE TENTH CANDIDATE....Brian Montopoli on hearing Lyndon LaRouche on TV last night:

I felt like I was listening to Grandpa Simpson, only with more historical references. It was kind of a disappointment, actually, though--I was expecting a little more charisma, perhaps a crazy new laser based mail system or maybe something involving aliens and a secret handshake. I mean, LaRouche was strange, don't get me wrong. The magnetic levitation thing was great. I was just hoping he'd go a little further over the edge.

By an odd chance, a good friend of mine has two sisters who have worked for LaRouche for about 20 years, so I periodically hear all kinds of stories about the LaRouche organization. One of the oddest is that he doesn't confine himself to politics and current events, but also has firm opinions on cultural and artistic matters. If you're a dedicated LaRouchie there are certain composers you're supposed to like, certain artists, certain colors, certain nationalities, etc. I suppose it's not much different from any other nutball cult, but it's definitely entertaining.

And don't forget about Queen Elizabeth and the cocaine trade....

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OVERRATED?....OR JUST BAD?....Robert Tagorda is annoyed at RealClear Politics for awarding the Los Angeles Times only second place in their "Most Overrated Editorial Page (Large Market)" competition. He thinks they probably should have come in first.

I disagree. I think it's true that the Times' editorial page is pretty weak, but as near as I can tell practically everyone else thinks it's pretty weak too. So it might be bad, but it's not overrated.

My own pet peeve with the editorial page, in addition to its general flabbiness, is its longtime habit of running three editorials, the third of which is some kind of jokey, Andy Rooney-ish observation about something in the news. They mostly read as if they were written by a third-rate student newspaper and literally make me cringe when I come across them. If they can't think of three subjects a day to write serious editorials about, they really ought to just give up and turn the space over to the letter writers.

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SMART GROWTH....Via Blake Hounshell, this article in USA Today a few days ago is pretty interesting. Apparently the building trade unions are starting to embrace growth controls:

A study released last month by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center in Washington, D.C., found that over a 10-year period, metro areas with growth controls had nearly a third more construction than areas without such policies. Rehabilitating buildings, developing idle urban land and reclaiming toxic sites for building all smart-growth priorities were more labor-intensive than sprawl, the study found.

....Along with arguments that it creates more jobs, smart growth complements other union priorities. Labor fights "big-box" retailers such as Wal-Mart because they're non-union. Labor's smart-growth allies blame those companies for hastening sprawl.

I don't have anything especially insightful to say about this, but it's both interesting and counterintuitive. I wonder how much impact it will have?

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THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM....Yesterday I suggested that liberalism wasn't as dead as conservatives like to pretend it is it just hasn't made much progress in the past couple of decades. Today I want to follow up on that with some speculation about the future of liberalism, something I first wrote about over a year ago.

My guess is that liberalism is due for a resurgence sometime in the next few years, and for the simplest of reasons: the country has been been on conservative cruise control for the past 20 years and it's time for a change. What kind of change? I don't know, but it's a sure bet that it will be something unexpected something that will make today's debates about posting the Ten Commandments in city hall seem as archaic as fin de siecle debates about the free coinage of silver. Here's why.

There have been three big progressive waves of the 20th century and each one has been driven by a different idea. The first, roughly coinciding with Woodrow Wilson's presidency, was heavily driven by labor issues: child labor, safe working conditions, unionization, etc. It ended with the business oriented conservatism of the 20s ("the business of America is business").

The second progressive wave began with FDR's election and was mainly driven by the economic issues of the Depression. The old labor issues were still hot buttons, but labor gains were largely being consolidated during the 30s, with the Wagner Act as its last big legislative hurrah. The real issues of the New Deal related to the social safety net, and the signature legislation was Social Security, unemployment compensation, minimum wage laws, and so forth. This second wave ended after World War II when America, once again, took a breather and turned to business as the focus of day to day life ("What's good for America is good for General Motors, and vice versa").

The third wave began in the early 60s and was driven by yet another set of concerns. By this time the labor movement, now two cycles old, was practically conservative, and the social safety net from the previous cycle was in its consolidation phase (Medicare was its last showpiece program). This time, the driving issue was individual rights: civil rights, women's rights, and sexual rights. Roe v. Wade probably marked the cresting of this era, which was followed by a conservative respite and the usual turn to business during the Reagan years and beyond ("Greed is good," Dow 36,000).

If this cycle continues in its usual way, the next progressive wave is no more than a few years off. The social safety net (two cycles old) will no longer be a contentious issue, and individual rights (one cycle old) will be running out of steam, although it may still be enough of a hot button to inspire at least one major new piece of legislation (maybe something about privacy rights?)

None of this is to say that these issues from previous progressive eras are dead. They aren't: healthcare, for example, is likely to be a significant issue in the coming decade. At the same time, however, they aren't likely to be the enormous drivers of social change that they have been in the past.

But if the big issue of the next progressive era isn't labor, the social safety net, or individual rights, what will it be? Today, in hindsight, we can see Truman's integration of the armed forces and Jackie Robinson's debut with the Dodgers as the first faint stirrings of the great civil rights crusade that drove the 60s, but nobody in 1950 could have predicted that. Likewise, there is probably something simmering below the surface today that will drive the next big progressive era.

But what?

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FACTORY FARMING....Over at Tapped, Tara McKelvey says she's recently turned vegetarian and recommends that you watch The Meatrix, a clever animated takeoff about factory farming. But then there's this:

More than three million people have visited the site. I bet a lot of them are now ordering cheese-only pizza. And if things continue the way they have been, many more will join them.

I'm not trying to make life any more difficult for pizza lovers, but I'm afraid that dairy cows are factory farmed every bit as much as any other cow. If it's factory farming that's turned you into a vegetarian, I'm afraid veganism is really the only way to go. Better order that pizza without cheese either.

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TAX RIDDLE....When is a tax hike not a tax hike? When the money comes from Indian tribes:

The appointment of attorney Daniel Kolkey [to negotiate new gambling deals with the tribes] came a day after the governor reiterated in his State of the State speech that he wanted to extract a significant share of the tribes' gambling revenue to help balance California's budget.

...."Clearly, we think the current compacts do not provide for fair payment to the state in return for what is a monopoly," Kolkey said in a telephone news conference.

During the recall campaign in which he ousted Davis, Schwarzenegger declared that tribes should pay as much as 25% of their revenue to the state which could amount to $1.25 billion a year.

Maybe the tribes ought to pay higher taxes on their revenues, maybe they shouldn't. I don't really have an opinion. But if raising taxes is the wrong way to solve our budget crisis, as Arnold keeps telling us, why should tribal casinos be an exception?

Kevin Drum 10:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SURPRISE!....TNR ENDORSES LIEBERMAN....As Atrios points out, endorsing Joe Lieberman is a real sign of marginalization for The New Republic. On the other hand, if he's really the guy they like, I guess you have to give them points for sticking to their guns even though he doesn't have a snowball's chance of winning the nomination this year.

But that aside, I'd like to point out two parts of their editorial that rang pretty true for me:

Recall for a moment the political climate in the United States in January 2001....The campaign had been fought largely on Democratic terrain--with Bush promising a larger federal role in education and health care, and a multicultural Republican Party. With national security a second-tier political issue, and welfare and crime no longer political issues at all, all that remained of Ronald Reagan's winning formula was tax cuts. And even that had been challenged by John McCain in the primary.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this is more true than conservatives want to admit. Even after the Reagan/Gingrich years, the American public is still largely supportive of liberal goals. But there's also this about the Democratic party after 9/11:

But the Democratic Party has also buried itself. In late 2002, with the Bush administration threatening preemptive war in Iraq, Democratic strategists developed a remarkable plan for the midterm elections: Ignore national security. One year after the bloodiest foreign attack on U.S. soil, and on the eve of one of the most audacious foreign policy gambles in U.S. history, Democratic candidates campaigned on the sluggish economy and prescription drugs. And Bush and Karl Rove ripped them to shreds.

Sadly, this is also largely true. As TNR points out, George Bush decided not to use 9/11 as a chance to forge a bipartisan consensus on fighting terrorism perhaps the single thing I most strongly hold against him but instead used it as a partisan club by going to war in a way ruthlessly and deliberately calculated to drive the largest possible wedge through the Democratic party. Unfortunately, the Democrats let him get away with it by declining to provide serious national security alternatives in tune with what the public obviously wanted.

Unlike TNR, I think Wes Clark does provide serious alternatives. Not because he's a former general, but because he actively promoted an aggressive military posture in Bosnia and was willing to fight hard to put together and keep together the coalition that won the war. It's pretty clear that if military action is needed in the future he won't shy away from using it, but it's equally clear that he wouldn't have used the military to pander to his base in Iraq instead of using it for the less flashy but probably more important job of thoroughly routing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. That's the kind of foreign policy leadership we need, and it's too bad TNR doesn't recognize it.

Kevin Drum 8:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RHETORIC vs. REALITY....I had lunch with Pandagon co-blogger Ezra Klein a few days ago he's a fellow Irvinite when he's not studying amongst the redwoods up at UC Santa Cruz and I mentioned something that's been noodling in my head for a few weeks: we liberals may be feeling pretty beat up lately, but if you listen closely it's pretty clear that we've decisively won virtually the entire public debate with conservatives. The right wing likes to talk a lot of smack about how the country is going their way, but it's really not true even after 20 years of the Reagan/Gingrich/Bush revolution.

To see what I mean, consider the conservative agenda as represented by major Bush administration initiatives. They want to make life easier for big corporations by pushing tort reform and whittling away at environmental standards. They want to promote vouchers and private schools by implementing absurd standards for public schools in the No Child Left Behind Act. They want to reduce and privatize Medicare and Social Security. They invaded Iraq in order to install a friendlier government and give us a base of power in the center of the Middle East.

But that's not what they say. What they say is that tort reform is designed to minimize frivolous lawsuits (though capping payments patently does nothing of the kind). The "Clean Air" and "Healthy Forests" initiatives strengthen our commitment to cleaning up the environment. NCLB will make our public schools better and more accountable. Their Medicare and Social Security proposals are designed to strengthen the system, not scale it back. The Iraq war was for humanitarian reasons and we're going to get out as soon as we can.

To hear George Bush talk, you'd almost think you were listening to the reincarnation of FDR, and the fact that he says this stuff is a tacit admission that talking about conservative goals openly and honestly would be an electoral disaster. Most people want cleaner air and water, they want strong public schools, they like Social Security and Medicare, and even after 9/11 they don't want long wars or messy occupations.

What's more, on a variety of social issues conservatives have either made no real progress abortion and gun control, for example or actually lost ground gay rights and drug laws.

Off the top of my head, the two biggest exceptions to this are race, where conservatives genuinely seem to have increased support for their positions, and taxes, which they've succeeded in making practically taboo. (Wes Clark suggests raising taxes on millionaires to a bit more than half of what it was when Ronald Reagan took office and it's tantamount to Stalinism.) Still, even here time is not on their side: eventually voters are going to have to choose between higher taxes and cutting back on Social Security and Medicare, and there's little doubt that when the crunch comes it's not going to be the entitlement programs that suffer.

When liberals talk about their goals they talk about what they really want. When George Bush talks, he hides his goals behind surprisingly liberal rhetoric. What does that say about which direction the country is really going? And how long do you think conservatives can keep it up before their carefully erected facade disintegrates?

POSTSCRIPT: Ezra has similar thoughts here and here.

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GUILTY PLEASURE....This sendup of the MoveOn anti-Bush ads from Liberal Oasis is pretty funny. Assuming you don't like Bush, anyway.

Kevin Drum 5:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOMORROW WE ASK MARIA WHAT SHE THOUGHT....Gotta agree with Keith Berry. Doing random man-on-the-street interviews about Arnold's State of the State address at a restaurant owned by Arnold himself seems just a bit less than objective, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLASSICAL RECORDINGS....R.I.P....Norman Lebrecht has a disturbing New Year's prediction:

You may wish to jot this in your diaries and upbraid me with it in twelve months' time but I am about to make the rock-solid prediction that the year 2004 will be the last for the classical record industry.

Hyperbole? It sounds like it, except that to my admittedly untrained ears he seems to make a pretty good case:

Major labels which, a decade ago, pumped out 120 new releases a year are now reduced to a trickle of two dozen.....The latest on the dump pile is the tenor Roberto Alagna, once trumpeted as the next Placido Domingo, now a victim of poor sales....It has been, said one vice-president, 'a year from hell'....'I have just signed off the last opera we will ever record,' said another....The lone exception is budget label Naxos, which plans 150 new releases in the coming year, plus 60 historical remasters. 'We are no longer in the same industry as Decca and DG,' laughs its founder, Klaus Heymann. Naxos apart, there is almost no activity left that is coherent enough to be described as 'industry'.

24 releases a year outside of Naxos? Ouch. I had no idea the classical recording industry was in such dire straits. Are things really as bad as he says?

Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REMOTE EMAIL BLATHER....I'll try not to make geeky queries a staple here, but I've got one more question and I figure maybe someone can answer it for me.

I'd like to be able to access email remotely from the new notebook computer. I can't do this by directly running Outlook on the notebook since that moves email from the server to the notebook, and I don't want that to happen. I want email to reside on the desktop machine, just like it does now.

Is there a decent way of using the notebook to remotely access email from my Outlook Express client on the desktop? PCAnywhere and similar programs won't work since I don't want the notebook to control the desktop (I might be working there while Marian is reading email on the notebook). Web-based products can do what I want, but the ones I've looked at have such horrible user interfaces (and spotty performance) that they don't seem worth the trouble.

I found a product called GoPOP that seems to do what I want, but it requires Outlook on the primary PC, not Outlook Express. I'm willing to switch to Outlook if it would really work, but does it? Has anyone used it? I assume that since both desktop and notebook are behind the NAT router, it would work OK.

Sorry for all the blather. But if anyone has any good advice, it would be much appreciated.

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ANOTHER TROJAN HORSE?....I'm not really sure yet what to think of George Bush's proposed immigration reform, but I'll give you my gut reaction: it's a Trojan horse. Bush has proven himself masterful at proposing legislation in which the headline summary is "compassionate":

Under Mr. Bush's proposal, which effectively amounts to an amnesty program for illegal immigrants with jobs in the United States, an undocumented worker could apply for temporary worker status here for an unspecified number of years, with all the employee benefits, like minimum wage and due process, accorded to those legally employed.

But the fine print contains some doozies:

Under Mr. Bush's proposals, an undocumented worker and an employer would have to apply for the guest worker program hand in hand, with the employer serving as the sponsor for the worker. There would also be a fee to register for the program, but officials would not say how much that would be.

....Administration officials acknowledge that the wait for a green card could take up to six years or longer, meaning that some guest workers who apply for green cards but do not receive them before their guest worker status expires would face the prospect of being forced to leave the United States.

For the time being I'll stay on the fence about this, but it's hard not to think of Bush's proposal as just an updated version of the infamous bracero program under which millions of Mexican farm workers provided low-wage labor in U.S. fields for more than two decades after World War II. Overall, I'm not thrilled with the idea of a "guest worker" program that essentially indentures a worker to a particular employer and provides no assurance of permanent residence, so while I'm generally in favor of more liberal immigration laws, I figure we should either let immigrants in or we shouldn't and quit playing games about it.

What's more, this sounds all too typical of a Bush program, and I suspect there will be more bad news as the details are released. The Bushies rarely have the courage to push a genuinely conservative agenda, which they know is unpopular, but instead hide conservative time bombs in legislation that's clothed in the rhetoric of traditional liberalism. I suspect that this is happening yet again with this proposal, so I'll withhold judgment until I hear more about it.

Kevin Drum 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEAN vs. CLARK....Mark Kleiman has the latest polling data on Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. Nationally, Dean has 24% and Clark has 20%, with everyone else way behind. And there's a big gender split, with Dean doing well with women and Clark doing poorly. Don't know why, though: Marian likes Clark just fine. Maybe he needs to get Gert out on the campaign trail more. And that grandkid.

In New Hampshire, Dean retains a huge lead with 36% of the votes, but Clark has finally moved ahead of Kerry for second place, 16% to 13%.

Obviously Dean is still the guy to beat, but this is good news for Clark. Regardless of what the other candidates want to believe, it really does seem to be quickly turning into a two-man race in both votes and money, and I have a feeling that as voters desert the other guys more of the them will switch to Clark than to Dean. This is based on nothing more than my gut, which obviously likes Clark, but I have a feeling that Dean will have a hard time ever getting support from more than 40-50% of the voters. In a two-man race, I like Clark's chances.

In other Clark news, he'll be having an online chat with several bloggers today at 2 pm Pacific time. You can monitor the action here.

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TURKEY AND SYRIA....The invasion of Iraq may very well have played a role in prompting Moammar Gaddafi to give up his WMD programs, and if so that's good news. But the invasion apparently has a downside as well:

Syrian President Bashar Assad began a landmark visit to Turkey on Tuesday, marking a dramatic shift in relations between the two countries that were close to war just five years ago.

....Ties have been steadily improving for several years, but shared concerns over Iraq have accelerated the thaw between Syria and Turkey. Both countries fear that with tacit backing from the Americans, the Kurds of northern Iraq are moving toward independence. The disintegration of Iraq could trigger unrest among Syria's and Turkey's own Kurdish minorities and destabilize the region as a whole.

This isn't necessarily all bad, actually, but at the same time it's part of a pattern of events over the past 12 months in which the war has caused considerable strain between Turkey and the U.S. (and between Turkey and Israel). And it comes at the same time that Egypt and Iran are apparently planning to restore diplomatic ties that were severed 20 years ago.

So will the invasion prompt greater cooperation with the United States out of fear of retribution? Or will it prompt states in the region to band together in order to stand up to us?

Perhaps a bit of both.

Kevin Drum 9:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WEIRDNESS....The jury is still out on whether Halliburton has been overcharging for the fuel it delivers to the Army in Iraq, but either way this is just weird:

The Army has allowed Halliburton to increase the supplies of fuel delivered to Iraq without giving the usual data to justify its cost, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The December action by the Army Corps of Engineers does not exonerate Vice President Dick Cheney's former company in a dispute with the Pentagon over fuel prices, Army corps spokesman Ross Adkins said Tuesday.

But the decision does mean that Halliburton subsidiary KBR does not have to provide price figures for the increased flow of gasoline and kerosene it buys in Kuwait and delivers to Iraqi civilian markets, Adkins said. He said Halliburton's Kuwaiti supplier, the Altanmia Marketing Co., refused to provide the price data required under U.S. contracting regulations.

What does it mean that Altanmia refuses to supply price data? If KBR is buying fuel from Altanmia, they know what price they're paying, right? So why can't they pass along that information to the Pentagon?

Or does this mean that Altanmia refuses to say how much it pays for fuel? And if so, why is it that our faithful allies the Kuwaitis can't help us out here?

This just doesn't make sense.

Kevin Drum 8:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEEK TALK....OK, here's what I spent the last couple of hours doing to secure my wireless network:

  1. Changed the default password on the Linksys admin utility.

  2. Changed the default SSID on the Linksys router.

  3. Disabled SSID broadcast.

  4. Enabled WEP on both router and notebook computer.

  5. Disabled DHCP and assigned static IPs to both desktop and notebook.

  6. Installed ZoneAlarm on notebook.

  7. Configured ZoneAlarm on both machines to treat the other as trusted.

I'd like to set up MAC filtering since the notebook is the only machine that needs to have wireless access, but that didn't seem to work. I tried entering a bogus MAC address, but everything continued to work fine. So, since it didn't seem to be filtering anything, I reset it back to its defaults.

Still, this is probably enough, right? I'm sure someone determined can still get in, but I figure this ought to be enough to discourage anyone who isn't hellbent on singling me out for an attack.

Kevin Drum 6:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A ROOF FOR WIMBLEDON....The folks who run Wimbledon are going to install a retractable roof on Centre Court, which means no more rain delays for tennis' premier tournament. At least, no more rain delays for the big name players who play on Centre Court, anyway. Starting in 2008.

But no lights. Progress can be taken only just so far at the All England Club....

Kevin Drum 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BROOKS AND THE NEOCONS....OK, let's get this out of the way: I was mistaken to ever think that David Brooks was anything other than a hack. I could swear that I've read good stuff by him in the past, but I guess not. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

His column in the New York Times today is the latest offering in a developing conservative meme: neoconservatives, he says, don't really exist, they don't have any influence if they do exist, and "neocon" is just a codeword for "Jew" in any case. This argument is so deeply dishonest and morally offensive that it's hard to even know where to begin with it.

To start, of course neocons exist. Neoconservatism is a well-known and fairly ordinary political faction with a pedigree that goes back about 30-40 years. It's the neocons themselves who coined the term.

And yes, they have considerable influence on foreign policy. Paul Wolfowitz is the best known neocon in the adminstration, and the neocon gang at the Weekly Standard surely wouldn't bother producing their magazine if they didn't think influential people were reading it. George Bush's foreign policy is rather famously fractious, but even so it's pretty clear that neocon thought has enjoyed a renaissance since 9/11. This is hardly controversial.

And last year I got badly stomped for even suggesting that "neocon" and "Jew" might have any connection. They have nothing to do with each other, I was told in no uncertain terms.

So why would Brooks write this stuff? And why is the Wurlitzer being cranked up to pretend that "neocons" (complete with scare quotes) are little more than a figment of liberal imaginations? What's the agenda here?

I'm mystified. Neocons exist, they have a fair amount of influence in current political discourse, and it is not simply another word for "Jew." What's more, this is all out in the open, in the same way that you might say that "DLC Democrats" had some influence in the Clinton White House but are looking kind of ragged lately. Just the normal ups and downs of political factions.

It's pretty obvious that conservatives are nervous about any discussion of the neocon agenda and want to take it off the table by ridiculing it and pretending that it's just coded racism. Why? What are they afraid of?

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out that neocons didn't coin the term "neocon." Jonathan Adler, who interviewed Irving Kristol on this question for his senior essay at Yale, explains:

"Neoconservatism" was coined by Michael Harrington [in the 60s] to smear writers and social scientists, such as Kristol, Daniel Bell, James Wilson and others, who were critical of leftist orthodoxy. He sought to marginalize them within left-liberal intellectual and political circles. Some (Kristol) eventually embraced the term, while others (Bell) rejected it. Yet no neocon generated the label.

There you have it.

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CLARK TAX CUT....Wes Clark unveiled his new tax proposal yesterday and it looks pretty good, both substantively and politically. Roughly speaking, it eliminates federal income tax for all families with incomes under $50,000, reduces taxes for all families with incomes under $100,000, and makes up the difference by increasing the tax rate on income over $1 million per year by 5 percentage points. In addition, it simplifies and expands the current set of tax credits for children. Details are here.

Comments:

  • My sister will hate it. She's constantly kvetching and reasonably so that politicians are forever pandering to families but never offer anything to single people. Clark's plan follows in that rich tradition.

  • It's a clear and straightforward attempt to add some more progressivity to the tax code. I like that. We really need to have a serious public conversation in this country about the value of a progressive tax system and Clark's plan is a good way to do that.

    Keep in mind that the 5% increase is only for income over $1 million, not on the first $1 million itself. The super rich have seen their pay increase by over 5x in the past couple of decades while their marginal tax rates have decreased by about 50%. Surely someone whose income has gone up from $1 million to $5 million can afford to give back a bit of that? This is a case we ought to be able to make.

  • There's another sense, however, in which Clark's plan is profoundly conservative. In today's dollars, the very first income tax was levied only on people who earned over $60,000, with a surcharge on income over $10 million. The federal income tax was originally conceived as a tax on the well off and the wealthy, not the working class.

  • The total amount of money involved is apparently fairly small: $30 billion in savings to middle class families offset by $30 billion in extra taxes on millionaires.

  • The plan is revenue neutral. For a presidential campaign this is the right way to go, but eventually we're going to have to face up to the necessity of either raising taxes or running deficits forever. Big government just isn't going to go away, no matter how loudly conservatives pretend that they want it to.

There's one sense in which I wish that we spent less time obsessing about income tax plans, since it's payroll taxes and sales taxes that actually make up most of the burden on working class and middle class families. What I'd really like to see is a proposal to make the Social Security tax progressive or even just making it flat as a starting point. But that's an argument for another day. For now, Clark's plan is a very good one: simple, easy, and fair. I hope people listen to it.

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLAME UPDATE....Via Needlenose, former White House counsel John Dean surely an expert on leaks and dirty tricks thinks that a special counsel was appointed in the Plame case because a witness has turned:

What explains the timing of Ashcroft's removal? Recall that the removal occurred as a result of events occurring in the same week the Post reported that the FBI had told potential witnesses they might have to face a grand jury.

Some of those witnesses very probably hired lawyers as soon as they heard the news. Especially likely to hire a lawyer would be a middle-level person with knowledge of a leak by a higher-up. And such a lawyer would likely have gone immediately to the prosecutors to make a deal.

Who might the lawyer be? It's pure speculation, but former D.C. United States Attorney Joe diGenova, or his wife and law partner, Victoria Toensing, are likely candidates. Toensing, as chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence worked on one of the laws that may have been violated -- the law protecting the identities of undercover agents. Who better to defend a leaker who might be subject to a law, than the person who drafted the law?

Moreover, Toensing was quoted in a recent Washington Post story explaining that it is possible that any leak "could be embarrassing but not illegal" -- suggesting that a leaker might have a possible defense. (Unfortunately for the leaker, however, as I noted in an earlier column, more than one law may have been broken.)

Speculation indeed. But the Justice Department has recently added investigators to the Plame team, told potential witnesses they might have to testify in front of a grand jury, and then named a special prosecutor. Put it all together and the most likely explanation is not that Ashcroft recused himself because the investigation was going nowhere. The most likely explanation is that something has turned up.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BOMBS R US....I missed this yesterday, but the New York Times reports that there's some embarrassing new evidence implicating Pakistan's government in selling nuclear technology to the highest bidder:

The Pakistani leaders who denied for years that scientists at the country's secret A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories were peddling advanced nuclear technology must have been averting their eyes from a most conspicuous piece of evidence: the laboratory's own sales brochure, quietly circulated to aspiring nuclear weapons states and a network of nuclear middlemen around the world.

The cover bears an official-looking seal that says "Government of Pakistan" and a photograph of the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan. It promotes components that were spinoffs from Pakistan's three-decade-long project to build a nuclear stockpile of enriched uranium, set in a drawing that bears a striking resemblance to a mushroom cloud.

You really have to watch those marketing folks. They'll trip you up every time.

Kevin Drum 4:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ACADEMIC LEFTYISM....Via Pandagon, here's an interesting statistic from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics: political donations from the education industry in the current election cycle have favored the Democrats by a margin of 65% to 34%. Since this segment doesn't include teachers' unions and is "dominated by contributions from college and university professors," it's probably a fairly decent proxy for the political leanings of university professors and administrators.

This suggests that about one-third of university academics lean Republican, which hardly gibes with the conservative notion that universities are hotbeds of lefty radicalism, a conclusion they usually come to by examining the affiliations of women's studies and social ecology departments at a few selected universities and mysteriously ignoring the law schools and engineering departments.

So, yes, universities lean liberal, and some of them lean very liberal. But many of them don't, and overall they are far from monolithic. For that, you need to look at the oil and gas industry, which so far has given 83% of its money to Republicans. I wonder why?

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ORIGINAL INTENT....Eugene Volokh clears up some conservative mythologizing about the First Amendment, including the "activist judge" canard:

This also shows the error of faulting liberal judges for "making up the law" in this area. Unfortunately, the First Amendment is so general that judges have to create legal rules that turn the broad words into concretely applicable law. Judges can't just rely on the text. They can't just rely on the original meaning, which is highly ambiguous. (As I mentioned, the Framers didn't even agree whether the First Amendment applied to subsequent punishments, or only to prior restraints.)

As Eugene points out, there are loads of restrictions on free speech and there have been even more in the past. These include libel law; copyright law; regulations restricting time, place, and manner; advertising restrictions; laws against pornography and wartime sedition; and many others. "No law" has never meant "no law" and never will.

But here's what struck me: Eugene's argument about why judges have to interpret the First Amendment it's too vague and absolute to make sense in the real world seems to me to apply to the entire strict construction school of constitutional law. The entire constitution is deliberately vague and assumes a broad societal consensus about its interpretation that the framers felt it was unnecessary to spell out in the document itself. Relying on black letter text just doesn't work if the text itself has been deliberately left incomplete.

Generally speaking, I've never felt that strict constructionism or original intent made much sense as analytical tools in the area of constitutional law. The constitution simply doesn't address a lot of current problems, and in any case trying to divine the intent of the framers 200 years ago is arguably even harder and more open to interpretation than considering current law and circumstances. Besides, why exalt the intent of the framers anyway? After all, these are the same guys who thought that outlawing blasphemy was perfectly OK regardless of what the Bill of Rights said, and I can't think of any reason why their view on this matter should be given any more weight than our own.

Each generation is responsible for governing itself. I suspect that this was the real original intent of the framers.

Kevin Drum 10:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALIFORNIA BUDGET PROGNOSIS....This week should be fun: it's the week Arnold has to unveil his budget proposal for 2004/05. He's promised not to raise taxes, but legally only about $20-25 billion of the California budget is touchable and the deficit is currently estimated at $14 billion. How do you cut $14 billion out of $20-25 billion?

There are two answers, I suppose. The first is good old fashioned trickery:

  • Assume higher economic growth, even though the $14 billion number already assumes fairly healthy growth.

  • Lop off several billion via programs to identify waste and fraud. This never works, but people fall for it every time.

  • Take it out of the hides of local government. This has worked before, and it can work again.

  • Raise fees. Not taxes, of course. Fees.

The second part of the answer is that you cut back on programs for the poor, which is the only part of the budget that doesn't have a broad and powerful constituency. (Higher education is also certain to get whacked.) Arnold says he doesn't want to do this, and I'm sure his proposals will be accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how hard it is to do it, but he'll do it nonetheless. After all, balancing the budget on the backs of the poor is a rich conservative tradition, and even liberals have lately lost the will to fight back against this. So the poor will get screwed.

However, my guess is that even at that Schwarzenegger's team can't manage to eke out more than $4-5 billion in actual cuts, so here's my projection:

  • Higher growth projections: $3.5 billion.

  • Fighting "waste and fraud" in workers comp, MediCal, etc: $2.5 billion

  • Local government cutbacks: $2 billion.

  • Fee increases: $1.5 billion.

  • Actual budget cuts: $4.5 billion.

I'm not sure how to score this to see how close I come, but on Friday I'll revisit this and try to take a crack at it.

Kevin Drum 9:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CUTTING ENTITLEMENTS....I'm not especially trying to pick on Tacitus, but on Saturday Bird Dog posted this:

Here's the part that makes me want to hit the CAPS LOCK key while typing. When we're running a deficit somewhere around half a trillion, it would sure be nice if the administration would cut something--anything--in exchange for this $5 billion per year spending increase [on foreign aid].

Then on Sunday Tacitus posted this about planned spending cuts for veterans:

The way I see it, you go into battle for your country, or spend a lifetime preparing to do so, and you get your no-cost meds when you're done. It's no gravy train I'm talking about here: the military life can be personally fulfilling, yes, but it's also lousy housing, sub-par pay, long separations from family, miserable postings, and, oh yeah, the horrors of war. So why the increasingly miserly treatment when it comes to medical care once the years of service are over?

I couldn't agree more, but of course I'm a liberal and I like programs like this. The Tacitus crowd are mostly libertarian/conservatives, however, and presumably think that military service is merely a voluntary contract between two consenting parties. The government is obligated to stick to its promises, but beyond that it doesn't owe either vets or current servicemen anything. If they don't like it, they don't have to sign up. And when it comes to budget cutting time, their entitlement programs are on the block just like everyone else's.

So what's the difference? Service to their country? All government employees do that. Risking their lives? Lots of servicemen don't risk their lives and lots of others do, so that can't be it either.

So what is it? Is it just that conservatives support entitlement programs they like and don't support entitlement programs they don't? That's OK, but it would be nice if they'd just fess up to this instead of pretending that opposing social programs is a matter of principle.

Kevin Drum 8:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LORD OF THE RINGS....Congratulations to LSU, etc. etc. I'd say more, but I'm afraid I just can't get my heart into it.

So let's change the subject. I thought Return of the King was pretty good. In fact, I thought it was better than the book. But then, I thought all three movies were better than the books.

It's a funny thing, but despite the fact that science fiction and fantasy are my genre fiction of choice, I never liked Lord of the Rings. I read it once about 25 years ago and found myself bored by it. Then I read it again after Fellowship of the Ring came out in 2001 and I was mildly bored all over again.

Why? I'm not sure, but I think it was the lack of a good villain. Sauron, of course, is just a malevolent spirit of some kind who never speaks and seems to have no reason for existence at all, and the hordes of orcs are likewise flat and uninteresting. Why do any of them do what they do? Merely because they are evil, apparently.

Compare that to similar epics like Star Wars, in which the Darth Vader is far more interesting than the protagonists, or David Eddings' Belgariad, which might be derivative and slight, but does provide genuine motivation and pathos for its various villains. There's just none of that in Lord of the Rings, and one-sided battles really aren't that interesting.

So while I suppose I admire Lord of the Rings for being the father of modern epic fantasy, I wouldn't take it to a desert island with me. And while the films suffer from the same sterile villainy problem how could they not? the direction and special effects were terrific and partly made up for it.

I've always had other questions about the books, of course, chief among them being the rings themselves: Why do they exist? Why did the elves make them? What power do they have? What happened to the dwarves' rings? How was Sauron able to make a single ring more powerful than all the rest of them? What actual power does the One Ring have, anyway? How is it that Sauron was so inept at tracking down his wayward ring? And so on.

But my biggest gripe, I think, is with Gandalf. As a wizard, he really sucks, doesn't he? Sure, he killed a few magical creatures here and there, but basically he displayed virtually no magic power at all and really didn't do an awful lot of sharp thinking either. Was he keeping his magical powers in reserve, or what? It just seems that a wizard ought to have better ways of helping the cause than wading into a sea of orcs with a sword. I'm just saying.

UPDATE: Answers to my questions are in the comments. Apparently the whole backstory is contained in other books, which I think is cheating a bit, but there you have it. If you don't feel like scrolling through the entire thread, SSJPabs at 2:56 AM has a very good summary.

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FACT CHECKING THE FACT CHECKERS....I guess AP has decided to assign a writer to "fact check" each of the Democratic debates. This isn't such a bad idea, really although I'd like to see them do the same thing for presidential addresses but their execution has been mind numbingly juvenile. Other people have already piled onto today's story, but here's my favorite part:

[Kathleen Hall] Jamieson, who has been tracking misstatements in each debate, said Lieberman "is being the most careful about what he's doing with his numbers."

But she faulted him for calling Bush the worst environmental president in history. "Clearly, hyperbole," she said, noting, for example, that America's water quality was so bad 100 years ago that it threatened lives.

You read that right: Bush isn't actually the worst environmental president in history. You can find a few worse ones if you go back to the McKinley administration.

Like I said, this kind of thing could actually be a public service if it were done well and applied to both sides. AP obviously doesn't have any writers capable of doing that, however, so they really ought to just knock it off.

Kevin Drum 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOLIDAY WRAPUP....Houseguests are gone, the holidays are over, and good health has been pretty much restored to all. Today I'm going to go see Return of the King having spent the previous week watching the director's cuts of the first two movies and tonight I understand there's some kind of consolation bowl game to determine the college football runnerup. I guess I ought to watch that.

Normal frenetic blogging should return on Monday.

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FIREWALL NOW OBSOLETE?....Quick question for the tech crowd: now that I have a wireless router installed, does that mean I no longer need my software firewall?

With any luck, this thread will fail dismally to turn into a Mac vs. PC flame....

Kevin Drum 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HARDWARE UPGRADES AT CALPUNDIT....Our computer has long since become a dedicated blogging appliance and Marian finally rebelled a few weeks ago. Yesterday we bought an extension computer, much like people used to casually buy extension phones or second lines, and we now have his and hers computers, just like all 21st century suburban couples.

And it was remarkably cheap and easy. I got an HP notebook for under a thousand dollars that has every feature I could possible want and a Linksys wireless router for fifty bucks. Thirty minutes later everything was done and I was reading Calpundit from the laptop. I don't quite have the file and print sharing stuff working yet, but a friend is coming over to bail me out and it should be up and running soon.

I usually spend a lot of time cursing and shouting whenever I have to set up some new computer gear, but I have to say that the last few things I've done have been remarkably trouble free. The combination of Windows XP and more mature peripheral design really does seem to have made things a lot easier and more foolproof.

And many thanks to the people who have contributed a few bucks to Calpundit over the past couple of weeks. The money is going toward the laptop plus my monthly hosting bills, and it's much appreciated.

Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TERRORISM WATCH UPDATE....Following up on my earlier post about terrorists and airplanes (and the French!), Steve Bainbridge points to a Wall Street Journal article (subscription only) that suggests the French did exactly what they were supposed to do. The real problem, apparently, is that the American "watch list" is woefully out of date.

It does seem as if creating a unified and current terrorism watch list ought to be a little farther along than this two years after 9/11. What's going on?

POSTSCRIPT: And just to make my own position clear, I'm obviously in favor of keeping track of suspected terrorist sympathizers, and the United States certainly has the right to refuse entry to anyone it wants. However, we don't have the right to demand that suspects be arrested just because they're on our list, and that goes double or triple if the list is as crappy as the WSJ article suggests.

And one more thing: I don't quite understand the point of all this. If we (or a foreign intelligence agency) have suspicions about a flight, why cancel it? Why not just search every passenger and all luggage to within a inch of its life, put an air marshal on board, and then take off? Even if there are wannabe hijackers on board, what can they do if they don't have any weapons?

(And I say this as someone who doesn't share the seemingly common blogospheric disdain for orange alerts and a super cautious approach to air travel. That's the world we live in, folks, and it's just shallow and childish to pretend that the people running homeland security don't have some very difficult decisions to make about this stuff. Nonetheless, we still have to operate within the law and we still have a right to expect basic competence. If we keep proving time after time that our intel is wildly unreliable, we're going to pay the price eventually when everyone stops paying attention to it.)

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Ah, the first catblogging of 2004....

Even though I'm a little rushed today I didn't want to disappoint my loyal catblogging fans, so here are a couple of quick snapshots done by Marian with her new camera. Inkblot and Jasmine have wisely decided to snooze away the new year, just as they did last year. They have no opinion about the November election as long as the winner promises to safeguard the nation's cat food supply from mad fish disease.

For camera folks, the new camera is a Nikon 3100, which seems to be quite a nice device. It's very small and light, it uses Compact Flash memory, which is both cheaper and available in larger sizes than the other formats, it takes ordinary AA batteries, it's butt simple to use, and it takes pretty good pictures. I myself am still loyal to my twistable Nikon 995 with its wide angle lens, but it's also pretty bulky and the flash doesn't work very well. For most normal people, the 3100 is a much better camera.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TERRORISM WATCH....Some of the usual suspects were complaining a few days ago about our fair weather "allies" the French, who obviously don't really care about terrorists on airplanes since all they did was question some of the suspects on those Christmas Eve Air France flights and then just let them go. Hell, what do they think the Bastille is for, anyway?

Here is today's news:

Britain canceled two British Airways flights between London and Washington yesterday, and tightened air security also prompted U.S. officials to forbid a New Year's Eve flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles and to question for hours passengers who had arrived at Dulles International Airport on a flight from London.

No arrests were made on any of the flights Wednesday or yesterday....

In other words, we did exactly what the French did: we questioned a bunch of people, found no reason to hold them, and then let them go.

This is quite proper, of course, so I'd like to take this opportunity to point out to some of my more enthusiastic Gitmo admirers on the right that in most western democracies including America you still need to have probable cause and actual evidence in order to arrest and hold someone. Being on a government watch list doesn't count.

So far, the current governments of Britain, Mexico, France, and the United States all seem to agree on this. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Kevin Drum 9:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS vs. THE ENVIRONMENT....Pete McCloskey was a Republican congressman back in the era before Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay decided to declare war on the environment at the behest of their corporate masters. He's not happy about where they've taken his party:

When I served in Congress, conservatives and conservationists worked together in friendship. Something dark and onerous has happened since the Republicans took over the House. It's time for Republicans to stand up and try to keep the party true to its historical concept that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness include the preservation of endangered species.

If we stand back and allow Democrats to be identified as the sole preservers of environmental values, the GOP could soon return to the minority status it occupied for most of the last 70 years. And that, however unfortunate for the party, would be a good thing for eagles, turkeys, ducks and rainbow trout.

The current incarnation of the Republican Party seems to take the position that because the environment is getting better thanks to a bunch of environmental legislation passed in the early 70s we shouldn't worry about the environment anymore. Why, corporate America is so altruistic these days that we could probably repeal the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act entirely and big business would voluntarily continue to reduce emissions just because they're so anxious to be good neighbors.

It's a pretty stunning display of chutzpah, in many cases going so far that they claim it's really market forces that have cleaned up the environment, not hated government regulation. Unfortunately, if we keep electing these guys they'll probably continue their piecemeal assault on the environment and we'll have a chance to find out precisely how effective the free market is at protecting common goods like our air and water. In the most literal sense of the word, it won't be a pretty sight.

Kevin Drum 9:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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January 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY NEW YEAR!....Marian's family has a tradition that even numbered years are good ones, which means that 2004 should be especially good since it's not just even, but all its digits are even. And you know what that means, don't you?

Sure you do: it means George Bush gets the Big Boot back to Crawford in November! Yeah baby!

Happy New Year everyone!

(And we'll start the year with USC kicking Michigan back into the Central effete Eastern Time Zone in the Rose Bowl. Go Trojans!)

UPDATE: What was that about no defense? I guess those cornfed midwesterners aren't as tough as they like to think, are they? On to November!

Kevin Drum 12:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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