Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS....In comments to a previous post, Tacitus praises conservative Republican George Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative. The Washington Post describes it thusly:

It calls for the United States and Europe to press for and assist free elections, foster new independent media, help create a "literate generation"....[promote] freedom, knowledge and women's empowerment....increase funding of democracy, human rights, media, women's and other groups....assistance in civic education, the creation of independent election commissions, and voter registration, particularly of women....with special emphasis on providing computer technology to schools and on teacher-training institutes to target women....It also suggests that providing $500 million in micro-loans -- of about $400 each -- would spur 1.2 million small entrepreneurs out of poverty.

In the meantime, liberal Democrat John Kerry proposes that we need to make the CIA stronger and add 40,000 active duty troops to the Army.

Am I living in Bizarro world, or what? George Bush is proposing a fuzzy, multinational, feel-good initiative and conservatives are applauding, while John Kerry wants more spooks and a bigger military and conservatives are skeptical.

What's wrong with this picture?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, it's sort of amusing that practically every sentence in the Greater Middle East Initiative seems to mentions women, isn't it? Who knew George Bush was such a feminist?

Kevin Drum 5:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THREE CARD MONTE WITH ALAN GREENSPAN....Alan Greenspan's comments a few days ago about the necessity of cutting Social Security benefits struck me as disingenuous, but I didn't realize quite how disingenuous until a couple of things came through my inbox today:

Does Alan Greenspan have amnesia? More than 20 years ago he co-chaired a commission to ensure the solvency of Social Security. That commission recommended stiff increases in the payroll tax to create a surplus that would help fund the retirement of baby boomers down the road. The higher payroll taxes, which put a heavy burden on lower-to-middle income taxpayers, were signed into law and remain in effect to this day.

But in 2001 Mr. Greenspan endorsed a fiscally irresponsible income tax cut that effectively gives away the Social Security surplus he created primarily to high-income taxpayers. Now he suggests that those tax cuts be made permanent, while we reduce the enormous deficits that they've created only through cuts in spending, especially on Social Security.

I hadn't remembered that Greenspan was part of the 1983 Social Security commission that raised payroll taxes. (It's one of several Ronald Reagan tax increases that his fans conveniently forget about when they're extolling the virtues of supply side economics.) Here's the Greenspan timeline:

  • 1983: Recommended raising payroll taxes far above the amount required to fund Social Security. Since payroll taxes are capped (at $87,000 currently), this was, by definition, an increase that primarily hit the poor and middle class.

  • 2001: Enthusiastically endorsed a tax cut aimed primarily at people who earn over $200,000.

  • 2003: Ditto.

  • 2004: Told Congress that due to persistent deficits Social Security benefits need to be cut.

So: raise payroll taxes on the middle class to create a surplus, then cut taxes on the rich to wipe out the surplus and create a deficit, and then sorrowfully announce that the resulting deficits mean that the Social Security benefits already paid for by the middle class need to be cut.

A normal person would at least be embarrassed by all this. But Alan Greenspan has never been a mere mortal, has he?

POSTSCRIPT: Billmon has a Lou Dobbs interview with David Cay Johnston that spells out the whole shell game in illuminating detail.

Kevin Drum 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

40,000 TROOPS....Yesterday I linked to the speech on terrorism that John Kerry presented at UCLA on Friday and said that I thought it was pretty good. But I want to highlight one part of it.

First, though, I want to acknowledge how hard it is to evaluate policy proposals like this, primarily because most of them from both Democrats and Republicans are little more than motherhood and apple pie. Kerry, for example, supports better intelligence, stronger international alliances, cutting off of terrorist funding, stronger nonproliferation efforts, more money for homeland security, and so forth. There isn't much to argue with here aside from picking nits about individual phrases who's opposed to straight talk about "radical Madrassas" after all? so how can you tell if he's really tough on terrorism or not?

But there was at least one very concrete proposal in his speech: we have a "solemn obligation" to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at the same time our military is dangerously overextended. Therefore, we need a temporary addition of 40,000 active-duty Army troops, "likely to last the remainder of the decade." That's two divisions.

Is this a new proposal on Kerry's part? If it is, I'm surprised it didn't get more attention. It's absolutely concrete, it's a clear demonstration of increased commitment to fighting terrorism, and it's a direct criticism of the Rumsfeld/Bush insistence that we don't need more troops.

Surely this is the kind of thing that war supporters are looking for when they ask for firm evidence that Democrats are serious about national security? So far, though, I haven't see any reaction.

UPDATE: Commenter Mischa points out that Kerry first talked about expanding the size of the Army at least as far back as December 2003 in this speech in Des Moines.

By the way, I agree with everyone in comments who said that increasing the size of the Army isn't necessarily a sign of being tough on terrorism. It depends on what you do with the troops and on whether you think a larger military is a good way of fighting terrorism in the first place. But even so, this proposal seems like enough of a concrete differentiator between Kerry and Bush and between Kerry and the rest of the Democrats that I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more attention.

And Tacitus: you must be kidding. Liberals who talk about "root causes" are routinely mocked by conservatives. The Greater Middle East Initiative is, ironically, exactly the kind of thing most Democrats favor, and exactly the kind of thing that would be an object of scorn if a Democrat had proposed it. More here.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FREE LUNCH....Math professors are frequent recipients of proofs that circles can be squared and angles trisected. Physics professors receive packages purporting to show how to build perpetual motion machines.

These proofs and demonstrations are often ingenious and it's not always obvious exactly what mistake the author has made. However, since all of these things are known to be impossible, the recipients of these packages just discard them anyway. Why bother reading through a hundred pages of turgid demonstration when you know beforehand that somewhere, somehow, there's a mistake?

This is about how I felt reading through Brad DeLong's recent critiques of a "free lunch" method of funding Social Security privatization. It started here, where Brad provided a lengthy examination of the plan, and ended up here, where we got the short version. Here it is:

The government should issue treasury bonds paying, say, 3% interest. It should then use the money to invest in the stock market, earning, say, a 5% return. Eventually the government will be rich!

But what's the point of bothering to examine this? Like "proofs" from folks who don't understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics or the nature of transcendental numbers, there's obviously a flaw here. If there weren't, we could simply fund the entire government for free by doing this.

The free lunch is the economic equivalent of squared circles and perpetual motion, a favorite of cranks through the ages. The only real question here is how a supposedly serious economist in government service can propose something like this, and why people like Brad have to fritter away their time tracking down the flaws in it. What a waste.

Kevin Drum 10:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROPOSITION 57....The LA Times supports Proposition 57, Arnold's $15 billion bond measure. I don't. That's fine. But this paragraph in their editorial today is little short of childish:

The most prominent critic is Democratic state Treasurer Phil Angelides. He says it's bad fiscal policy to burden future Californians with debt payoff. But because Angelides is likely to run for governor in 2006, and because fellow Democrat Westly is in the opposite camp, his criticisms come at a discount.

Why the airy dismissal of Angelides alone? Surely the Times isn't under the impression that Arnold and all the other politicians who favor 57 are doing it for purely altruistic reasons?

On a more substantive note, the Times' position is baffling. They claim that the answer to California's deficit problem was "obvious" a year ago:

A combination of budget cuts, about $10 billion in borrowing and some temporary tax increases. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers rejected any tax increase and Democrats balked at deeper cuts.

But what makes them think this is going to change? Prop 57 simply provides ex post facto approval funded by bonds! of Arnold's tax decrease immediately upon taking office; it provides enough cushion that Democrats can once again put off thinking seriously about budget cuts for another year; and it allows Republicans to continue their insane opposition to even moderate and temporary tax increases.

When will we learn? What ought to be obvious to the Times is that the only thing that will get Sacramento's attention is a gun to their head. Prop 57 lets everyone off the hook yet again and promises little more than another year of political posturing. It's time to just say no.

Kevin Drum 10:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE, ABORTION, AND THE COURTS....When San Francisco's mayor started performing same-sex marriages a couple of weeks ago, conservatives blew a fuse. It was a clear violation of the law, and liberals who heaped scorn on Judge Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument were hypocrites for supporting him.

Yesterday, the South Dakota legislature passed and the governor is expected to sign a bill that essentially outlaws abortion. It is quite clearly in defiance of settled constitutional law, something its authors pretty much admit. Conservatives, oddly enough, have not risen up in wrath at this act of legislative civil disobedience.

Nor should they. To be sure, in one case it's a legislature and in the other it's an arm of the executive, but the fact is that these two cases have a lot in common. They are both publicity stunts, they are both designed to force a court challenge, and neither one has much chance of being upheld. The real question at hand is the same in both cases: will the South Dakota legislature back down if a court tells them to? Will San Francisco's mayor back down if a court tells him to?

Roy Moore didn't. That's the difference.

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE AND LOCAL ACTIVISM....The Hudson River town of New Paltz became the latest front in the gay marriage movement when its mayor starting marrying gay couples yesterday. Over at The Blogging of the President, Justin Krebs has some interesting background about how New Paltz happens to have a mayor who's doing this.

By the way, one of the people who got married in New Paltz is the New York Times stringer who was recently fired because he belonged to a gay activist group ten years ago.

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SERIOUS ABOUT OSAMA....Speaking of Osama, this is the second time recently that I've seen a story like this:

President Bush has approved a plan to intensify the effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, senior administration and military officials say, as a combination of better intelligence, improving weather and a refocusing of resources away from Iraq has reinvigorated the hunt along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The plan will apply both new forces and new tactics to the task, said senior officials in Washington and Afghanistan who were interviewed in recent days. The group at the center of the effort is Task Force 121, the covert commando team of Special Operations forces and Central Intelligence Agency officers. The team was involved in Saddam Hussein's capture and is gradually shifting its forces to Afghanistan to step up the search for Mr. bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar, the former Taliban leader.

To the extent that this is a result of Pervez Musharraf finally deciding to get more serious about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it's good news. But to the extent that it's the result of the United States finally getting more serious and "refocusing" on Osama, all I can say is, what the hell?

One of the things that war skeptics have been saying for a long time is that Iraq distracted us from Job 1: capturing Osama, wiping out al-Qaeda, and putting the Taliban firmly out of business. The Bushies deny it. But the denials really don't wash. There's just too much evidence that resources were pulled out of Afghanistan as early as spring 2002, that our commitment to Afghanistan has been weak and our ongoing operations have been starved for funding and manpower, and that the administration has been suspiciously unwilling to lean hard on Musharraf. They were just too damn obsessed with Iraq.

I don't know how long it will be before we really know everything that happened after 9/11, but I suspect that history's judgment of the Bush administration will not be kind. In fact, Dennis Hastert's admission that they don't want the findings of the 9/11 commission to be released during the campaign is a tacit admission that they already know the facts won't reflect well on them.

The Bush administration's record on terror has been amazingly flimsy, all bluster and very little genuine progress. John Kerry has shown a bit more willingness lately to go beyond the defensive and demonstrate ways that he would be tougher on terrorism than Bush and I hope he keeps it up. It's not a subject we should dodge, it's a subject in which we should show how we can do better than the Republicans. Getting serious about al-Qaeda would be a good start.

UPDATE: In comments, Chris Conroy asks what Kerry has been saying lately that I like so much. Here's the terrorism speech that he delivered at UCLA yesterday. I thought it was pretty good.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SO MANY QUESTIONS....Matt Yglesias suggests today that (a) good sex is ipso facto a good thing and the government should encourage it, (b) Christians would probably be happier about church-state separation if Christians were a minority, and (c) if we had 100% taxation on incomes over $400,000 then no one would bother paying anyone more than $400,000.

To which I say, (a) if Christians were a minority maybe we'd have more good sex in this country, (b) you can't tax sex, and (c) how come no one cares about people with incomes of $400,000 having too much sex? Confused? Read this paragraph again very carefully and you will see a solution to all of Matt's problems.

Matt is also confused about the President's "policy" on Social Security reform:

Is Larry Lindsey really incapable of doing math? Is the president really unable to sit through a proper briefing on this subject? Or is someone else trying to keep key players in the dark, lest they propose a politically damaging but mathematically sound policy?

These are good questions. To understand why he's asking them, you really need to read this Brad DeLong post, which is both frightening and enlightening all at once. I know that we liberals have sort of given up on the "Bush is a moron" theme, but we might just have to dredge it up again....

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SKYWATCHING....Kieran Healy writes today that due to Ireland's cloudy nature, he didn't really appreciate that the Milky Way truly existed until he moved to Arizona. He links to the picture at right as proof of what the Arizona night sky can do to restore your faith in astronomy.

That's a familiar story for me too, though light pollution was the cause, not clouds. As a child I was fascinated by constellations (as are most children) and often asked my father to point them out. But I just never got it. Those three stars are Orion's belt? OK, but where's the rest of Orion? I think I spent most of my childhood under the impression that I just wasn't trying hard enough, or that perhaps my vision was somehow defective.

Then when I was about ten or eleven we took a camping trip to Yosemite. And guess what? The sky was chock full of stars! I finally got it.

That was pretty much the end of it, though. I'm not much for camping, and I continue to live in light polluted Orange County, so I've never learned much of anything about the constellations. It doesn't take much light to ruin things, either. A few years ago I tried some skywatching in a cruise ship out at sea, but even then I couldn't find a spot on deck light-free enough to really make a difference. (We were in Tahiti and I was trying to spy the Southern Cross. I think I did.)

But if you like pretty pictures (and I do), I highly recommend The Invisible Universe, by David Malin. Used copies are suprisingly inexpensive and the photos are stunning.

Kevin Drum 9:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OSAMA IN CHAINS?....Al Jazeera and a bunch of other Middle Eastern news outlets are carrying a report that Osama bin Laden has been captured:

The report on Saturday by the external Pashto-language service of Iranian state radio quoted an "informed source" as saying the alleged arrest took place "some time ago", but gave no further details.

It went on to claim that US officials were keeping news of the arrest secret and were likely to announce it later in the year - in order to help US President George Bush's re-election chances in November polls.

The idea that the Bush administration is somehow keeping Osama under wraps in order to spring an "October Surprise" that will guarantee their reelection is a common topic of gossip, but not something that anyone (yet) has been willing to broach in serious news pages and for pretty obvious reasons.

So instead here's a different angle to chat about. This is the second time that Iranian radio has made this charge (the first time was apparently about a year ago). Why? Do they genuinely have sources that believe this? Or is there some other angle to it? What's in it for them to have people believe that Osama has already been captured?

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STACKING THE DECK....Apparently George Bush's Council on Bioethics still has a few members who actually disagree with him about stem cells and cloning.

Can't have that, can we? As of today, they're gone. It's good to know that scientists with opposing viewpoints are being sent packing back to the liberal universities where they belong.

On a related note, the Washington Post reports that one of the new members, Benjamin Carson, laments that "we live in a nation where we can't talk about God in public." I wonder exactly what nation he lives in? Surely I'm not the only one who's noticed that talking about God is hardly in short supply here in the United States?

Kevin Drum 8:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HASTERT CAVES....Hastert has caved on extending the 9/11 commission by 60 days. Just thought everyone would like to know.

Still hard to figure out what this little puppet show was all about.

Kevin Drum 3:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAIT FOR 2008?....A few days ago, in the spirit of mentioning the unmentionable, John Quiggin asked, "Are there any circumstances under which we should hope for, promote, or even passively assist, the re-election of George W. Bush as against either of the remaining Democrat contenders?"

The case....rests primarily on arguments about fiscal policy. Bush's policies have set the United States on a path to national bankruptcy, a fact that is likely to become apparent some time between now and 2008. Assuming that actual or effective bankruptcy (repudiation of debt or deliberate resort to inflation) is unthinkable, this is going to entail some painful decisions for the next President and Congress, almost certainly involving both increases in taxation and cuts in expenditure. On the expenditure side, this will mean a lot more than the obvious targets of corporate welfare and [fraud, duplication, and waste]. Either significant cuts in the big entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare) or deep cuts in everything else the government does will be needed, even with substantial increases in taxes.

In other words, Bush has dug such a big hole that trying to get out of it, especially in the face of a Republican congress, is going to be a disaster for whoever tries it. Better to let Bush himself keep shoveling until his policies become so obviously catastrophic that the Republican party is sidelined for decades.

His post immediately brought to mind this passage from Conrad Black's FDR biography. This is right after Roosevelt (running for vice president) has lost the 1920 election:

Since the opposition were going to win with a program he was convinced would be proved mistaken, they might as well have a clear mandate to implement that program. "The whole responsibility will be theirs," he wrote. This was a prescient perception and not just the usual glib Roosevelt ex post facto rationalization. His greatest concern was that the Republicans would prove so reactionary that they would transform Democratic moderates and liberals into radicals and extremists.

Kinda reminds you of Paul Krugman, doesn't it?

Still, it's an interesting thought and one that I have to admit I've had myself down in the dark recesses of my mind. If a Democrat wins in 2004, will he be blamed for the almost inevitable economic collapse later this decade? Is there any way to convince Americans that our current economic policy is unsustainable aside from an almost nuclear demonstration of how bad it is?

I don't know. I guess it depends on my mood. But like John, I have to confess that sometimes "I look forward to a Democratic victory with trepidation rather than the unalloyed enthusiasm I ought to feel."

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Jasmine used to prefer curling up between our pillows at night, but for the last few weeks she's preferred finding a few spare inches on Marian's pillow instead. Needless to say, she takes no heed of human breathing requirements when she does this and last night she plopped herself smack in front of Marian's face, making me wonder if Marian was going to suffocate in the process. Sort of a grownup version of all those urban legends about cats suffocating babies. However, everyone was hale and hearty this morning, so no harm done, and as you can see Jasmine remained contentedly on the pillow long after Marian had vacated it.

Inkblot spent his morning on our new entryway rug, which instantly became a huge favorite with both cats almost as soon as we unrolled it a couple of days ago. In fact, it's such a favorite that they practically fight over it now. We really can't figure out quite what the attraction is.

Anyway, as you can see Inkblot and Jasmine are both in fine health and are happily frolicking in the backyard as I type this. So with that I have some bad news: I've been faithfully doing catblogging every Friday for a year now (here's the post that started the whole thing) and I'm afraid I need a rest. My bottomless supply of pictures has turned out to have a bottom after all, and taking new pictures on schedule has become a bit of a chore. So this is the final edition of catblogging Friday.

My usual keen insight into human nature tells me that everyone will simply be thankful for a year's worth of catblogging and will refrain from wailing and moaning about my lack of continuing dedication to feline exhibitionism. That's how it usually works, right?

Right. Well, that's what comments are for, I guess. Let the wailing and moaning begin!

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH, SUPERSTAR?....Via The Filibuster, Albert Eisele and Jeff Dufour of The Hill report on GOP plans for their national convention:

The entire format and actual physical setup could be radically different, one GOP insider commented. They might not even have a podium, or maybe a rotating podium or even a stage that comes up from underground. It would be like a theater in the round, with off-site events that are part of the convention.

The source, a veteran official of past GOP conventions, said the 50,000 delegates, dignitaries and guests would watch off-site events on giant TV screens. Now, well go to the deck of the USS Intrepid as the U.S. Marine Corps Band plays the National Anthem, he said, pretending that he was playing the part of the convention chairman.

Or, and this is a real possibility, we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero, he added. Its clearly a venue theyre considering.

They can't be seriously considering this, can they? Maybe my instincts are way off, but I think the backlash from using the WTC site as the backdrop for a partisan speech would be enormous.

Then again, who knows? As I mentioned in the previous post, the GOP seems to have lost its previously sure footing for these kinds of things ever since the carrier landing last year. Maybe they really are thinking of doing this.

Note to Karl: a fog machine would be good too. It goes great with stages that rise up from underground. A guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"IF I'VE LOST AARON, I'VE LOST MIDDLE AMERICA"....Even mild-mannered Aaron Brown is disgusted at the partisan hackery so obvious in Dennis Hastert's decision to prevent the 9/11 commission from doing its job:

We admit we don't do causes very well on the program. And I don't do outrage well at all, yet, tonight, a cause and an outrage. The decision by the speaker of the House to deny the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attack on America a 60-day extension -- that's all, 60 days -- to complete its work is unconscionable and indefensible, which, no doubt, explains why neither the speaker, nor any member of the House leadership, nor none of their press secretaries would come on the program to talk about it, despite repeated requests.

The commission itself has gone about its work quietly. It's had to fight tooth and nail to get necessary information. And now this, an arbitrary decision to deny not just the commission -- that's the least of it -- but the country the chance to know all of what happened, how it happened, and how best to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps, the speaker and his team assume you do not care. I hope they're wrong. I hope you care enough to write them and e-mail them and call them until they relent. Do that. Do it for the victims and their families. Do it for the country that was attacked and for history.

Hastert may have made a serious mistake if even Aaron Brown is blowing a stack over this. Is this yet another panicky miscalculation from the same Republican establishment that seemed almost invincible only a year ago? Ever since the carrier landing backfired on them they just can't seem to find their footing.

UPDATE: Sorry, I realize my headline for this post may have been a little too cute. Reference here.

Kevin Drum 8:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR....We haven't had a Survivor thread for a while, so let's have one tonight.

Today's topic: is it just me, or has Survivor All-Stars turned out to be pretty flat? I mean, it sounded like a good idea, but it just hasn't panned out. Why do you suppose that is?

Kevin Drum 10:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE AMENDMENT: DEAD ON ARRIVAL....Ah, I see that Josh Chafetz (as of 7:00 PM here in California) now tallies a total of 41 senators opposed to a gay marriage amendment. That means that even if he has a few of them wrong the amendment has no chance of passing.

Good. I'm glad it's official.

Kevin Drum 7:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HEALTHCARE IN AMERICA....It's official. The grocery strike has been settled:

The stores accomplished such goals as installing a two-tier system of employee compensation, under which new hires would earn considerably less in wages and benefits than current employees, the sources said.

There also would be a cap on how much the supermarkets contribute to their employees' healthcare coverage, a change the stores aggressively sought in order to combat rising healthcare costs, they said. Until now, all of the workers' healthcare costs have been borne by the stores.

I wonder if conservatives realize that it's this kind of thing that's bringing national healthcare closer and closer to reality? The healthcare debate always seems to be focused on the 43 million Americans who don't have health insurance, but let's be brutally honest: those 43 million people are mostly at the bottom rungs of the income ladder and most people don't care that much about them.

What they do care about is their own healthcare. And while most Americans don't know any poor people, they do have neighbors who are seeing their health benefits slowly deteriorate. Across the street is a guy whose company has eliminated dental and vision coverage. Next door is a single mother whose copay has doubled in the past five years and is set to increase again next month. At soccer practice is a guy who just had to switch his longtime doctor because his company changed to a cheaper plan. At church on Sunday is a woman who can't get an operation to relieve her bursitis because her company's plan no longer covers that.

It's not the 43 million Americans who completely lack health insurance that scares most people, it's the steady deterioration in their own benefits, and every time they or a friend lose a little chunk of those benefits it adds to their fear of a future personal health crisis. When that fear becomes widespread enough when the implicit contract of healthcare via employers deteriorates past a certain point then people will start demanding government action.

Conservatives love to extol the virtues of an unregulated free market and castigate unions for interfering with it. But as unions lose influence, the unrestrained free market is slowly but inexorably reducing health benefits for workers beyond what they'll tolerate. And in the end that's going to eliminate the free market's role in healthcare entirely. Ironic, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN KERRY, COMMUNIST DUPE....Back in the 50s and 60s a favorite trope of conservatives was the charge that some poor sad sack was an unwitting commie dupe. The charge was usually laid out in the most melodramatic way possible and conveniently required no proof, merely a vague nexus of associations demonstrating that the dupe's actions were surely approved of by the gray suited men in the Kremlin who were plotting world domination. Evidence to support the charges was inevitably labyrinthine, sinister, and based on the testimony of ex-commies who explained to a credulous audience how the movement really worked, most likely in their own neighborhood!

Besides being easier and more fun, it was in many ways actually more effective than accusing someone of genuine communist activity. Aside from being impossible to defend against, it also suggested that the chosen liberal was not just a traitor to American values, but also impossibly weak, stupid, and naive. What's more, the conspiratorial tone and "can it be possible?" flavor of these charges appealed mightily to the conspiracy theorists who were already convinced that there was a commie under every bedsheet.

This kind of thing went out of favor about the same time that Mickey Spillane novels did, largely because everyone eventually realized that Harry Truman and George Marshall weren't commie dupes after all, and neither were all the other liberals routinely accused of treachery. It scratched out a precarious existence for a few more years within groups of true believers like the John Birch Society but had pretty much died out by the 70s.

Why the pop culture history lesson? Because apparently the genre has made a comeback: today National Review digs up an actual commie spy master (!) to write a classic updating of the story aimed at none other than John Kerry. And I have to tell you, his renditions of Soviet disinformation tactics, counterfeit documents, gullible reporters lapping up the party line, and grandiose pronouncements of his own importance ("As far as I'm concerned, the KGB gave birth to the antiwar movement in America") really bring back memories. It's like reliving air raid drills, fallout shelters, COINTELPRO, and the Army-McCarthy hearings. It's great stuff, it really is.

So go read the article and enjoy. It's a real stroll down the dark recesses of memory lane.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TV ROMANCE....So we were watching the finale of The Bachelorette last night I'm using "we" in a pretty loose sense here and once again I found myself wondering about the attraction of these shows. I'm not thinking of how they're arguably sexist, classist, racist, just plain offensive, or any of that. I'm just wondering how they succeed even on their own terms.

The draw of these shows is obviously their romantic lure: we get to watch in astonishing detail while a couple falls in love. But doesn't the format of the show make it a little too obvious just how mechanical the whole affair is? After all, on every single one of these shows all you have to do is give the guy/gal 25 members of the opposite sex for a few weeks and bingo! With almost computerlike precision they fall deeply in love with at least one of the contestants and usually with two or three of them.

How is it possible to retain our fantasies about the ineffable and mysterious qualities of love under these circumstances? Or our common notion that the people we choose as our mates are one in a million? Why does this all-too-obvious refutation of romance nonetheless seem romantic?

I know, I know, I'm overanalyzing. But I still wonder about this.

Kevin Drum 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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APOLOGIZE, PLEASE....OK, count me in as a Democrat who thinks Corrine Brown was out of line yesterday:

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown verbally attacked a top Bush administration official during a briefing on the Haiti crisis Wednesday, calling the President's policy on the beleaguered nation "racist" and his representatives "a bunch of white men."

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America.

....Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.

Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.

Calling our policy racist is OK it's not my style, but it's within the bounds of common polemical language but the rest isn't. It's offensive, and it's still offensive regardless of whether Brown is black, white, or Martian. She needs to apologize, and she needs to mean it.

Via OxBlog.

Kevin Drum 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A REAL UN ARMY....Am I just being suckered by a pretty face, or is Max Boot genuinely a neocon worth listening to? Maybe a little of both, but it's hard not to pay attention when he writes seriously about the problems of peacekeeping and nation building in the 21st century:

Nationally, the United States needs to create a standing agency devoted to nation-building; it should have a director with the authority to force disparate departments in the U.S. government to work together, something that didn't happen before the invasion of Iraq....There are also international organizations that can assist. NATO is creating a 21,000-strong Response Force. The European Union wants to follow suit.

....Don't forget the United Nations. It currently deploys more than 45,000 peacekeepers, but their effectiveness is severely limited because they are supposed to enforce existing peace accords and stay strictly neutral even if one party is clearly at fault.

....The U.N. needs a tough, professional force like the French Foreign Legion that would not quail before Haitian gang leaders or Serbian ethnic-cleansers. Members of such an outfit would have to be recruited on merit and trained together; it could not be cobbled together at the last minute from the military riffraff of Third World dictatorships.

Boot himself admits that these ideas are currently "wishful thinking" both because of problems with the UN itself and with the deep animus toward the UN within the United States. But even so it's nice to hear a conservative voice willing to face the obvious: we can't police the world by ourselves, and that means having to rethink our willingness to cooperate with multinational institutions if we want to achieve our goals.

Needless to say, that kind of cooperation inevitably requires genuine concessions on both sides. We simply won't get everything we want and we have to accept that up front. Would Boot be willing to accept these restrictions on our freedom of action when push came to shove?

I don't know. But it's good that he puts the issue on the table. Democrats and liberals ought to pick up this peace offering and run with it.

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUPERMARKET STRIKE ABOUT TO END?....The LA Times reports that the supermarket strike may be close to an end:

The deal on the table would trim supermarket employees' health benefits and create a second tier of new workers who would earn less than those hired before the dispute began, according to sources who know the rough details of the proposed contract.

It's hard not to have mixed feelings about this. The strike has been brutally hard on the supermarket workers, and for their sake I'm happy that they may be going back to work soon. On the other hand, it sounds like management is going to get away with fairly substantial cutbacks in both pay and benefits.

It's just heartbreaking. I don't support every union demand in every case, but it's hard to believe we've come to this: instead of bargaining for increased pay and benefits, the UFCW is reduced to merely begging for pay and benefits to be cut a little less than management would like.

When did the land of opportunity become a country where the only thing that modestly paid service workers have to look forward to is even lower pay in the future?

Kevin Drum 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LIFE AT THE TOP....I saw this story earlier today about how well senators did in the stock market but didn't pay much attention to it. Sure, they did way better than us ordinary schmoes. And yeah, they even did a lot better than top corporate executives, beating the market by 12% compared to the execs' 5%.

But who knows? Senators are probably able to hire pretty good financial planners, aren't they? Maybe it's all completely innocent. But then there was this:

The Ziobrowski study notes that the politicians' timing of transactions is uncanny. Most stocks bought by senators had shown little movement before the purchase. But after the stock was bought, it outperformed the market by 28.6 per cent on average in the following calender year.

Returns on sell transactions are equally intriguing. Stocks sold by senators performed in line with the market the year following the sale.

Uncanny indeed! Maybe somebody should bring a class action suit against the entire senate. And quickly, before they pass some kind of tort reform bill that makes it impossible....

UPDATE: Mark Schmitt expresses some doubts about this study here.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND THE CONSTITUTION....Interesting tidbit on ABC News tonight. In the past few years George Bush has expressed support for no fewer than five constitutional amendments:

He really seems to think the constitution is just a rough draft, doesn't he?

On the other hand, he apparently opposed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. I guess there are a few things too trivial to justify mucking with the constitution after all.

Kevin Drum 8:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPUBLICANS AND NATIONAL SECURITY....House Speaker Dennis Hastert has decided not to extend the May 27 deadline for the 9/11 commission to finish its work. The commission had previously asked for a 60-day extension because they were having trouble getting the documents and interviews they needed from the Bush administration.

Here's the explanation from Hastert's spokesman:

He thinks the report is overdue and we need to get the recommendations as soon as possible. He is also concerned it will become a political football if this thing is extended and it is released in the middle of the presidential campaign.

Aren't you supposed to at least pretend that you're motivated solely by what's best for the country? But here we have Hastert's spokesman blithely admitting in public that he doesn't want to let the commission do its job properly because it might be politically inconvenient for the president.

They don't even have the good grace to lie about this stuff anymore. Jeebus.

UPDATE: There were actually two ridiculous things about this story and I decided to limit my post to this one. Josh Marshall regales us with the other.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YEAH, THAT ABOUT COVERS IT....Via Sully:

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GAY MARRIAGE HEADCOUNT....Over at OxBlog, Josh Chafetz is making use of the distributed nature of the blogosphere to try and figure out how much support a gay marriage amendment would have in the Senate. So far (as of 8:00 PM here on the west coast) he's collected data on 56 senators and it looks like Republicans are in favor 27-5 while Democrats are opposed 22-1 (plus one independent opposed).

Now, there's no telling how these votes might change once the arm twisting starts, but it sure looks like an amendment has practically no chance of passing Congress, let alone getting approval from the states. In other words, like the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was also a foregone conclusion before the voting even started, it's just political theater, not a serious attempt at legislation.

It's a funny bit of calculation, too. Obviously Karl Rove has read the tea leaves and thinks this is a good issue to energize Bush's Christian conservative base, but at the same time presidents need to look like winners and being on the losing end of an important vote shortly before the election is hardly the way to do that. All in all, the more I think about this the more I think that there are some pretty serious political downsides here for Bush:

  • It turns off centrist voters.

  • It takes the focus off national security, Bush's signature issue.

  • It's likely to make look Bush look weak since he'll almost certainly be on the losing end of a vote on an issue he's staked some personal mojo on.

  • It energizes gays, at least a few of whom were likely to give him the benefit of the doubt before this (see Sullivan, Andrew). How many gays are going to vote for Bush now? And how many are going to work hard to defeat him even if they were relatively apathetic before?

I'm no Karl Rove or James Carville, but put all this together and I wonder if the White House has made a serious political miscalculation here? I'm starting to think maybe so.

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TAXES, TAXES, TAXES....Alan Greenspan, testifying as an individual, not as chairman of the Fed and what's up with that? is worried about the size of federal deficit. However, he

admitted that the size of the deficit made it unlikely that spending cuts alone would be sufficient to accomplish the task. And he said it was unlikely that the United States could "grow its way" out of its budget deficits solely with an expanding economy, a solution often promoted by conservatives.

Hmmm, let's see. Spending cuts won't do it. Economic growth won't do it. So what's left?

Oh yeah, repealing Bush's tax cuts. Funny how he just hates to admit that even though he's left no other mathematical alternative, isn't it?

There are times when I wonder if there are any adults left in Washington. As it happens, I agree with Greenspan that some minor tweaks to retirement ages and cost-of-living calculations could go a long way toward reducing the future cost of Social Security, but why is it so hard to admit that taxes are going to have to go up too? What's with these guys?

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DICK CHENEY: NO AUDIE MURPHY?....I'm saddened, of course, that my preoccupation with George Bush's National Guard record has been brought to a halt by the lack of any solid evidence that he did anything wrong. Sigh. Needless to say, I keep hoping that our intrepid corps of investigative journalists is busily digging away and will eventually come up with something juicy.

In the meantime, the conservative Byron York has been talking to his conservative friends and says that Dick Cheney may be next on the chopping block:

"There's going to be a massive attack on Dick Cheney soon," says one source who keeps up with such matters. "The Cheney story of deferments makes Bush look like Audie Murphy."

I'll bet it does. I eagerly await the details.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you don't get the Audie Murphy reference, click here.

Kevin Drum 11:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROPOSITION 57....Enough about gay marriage. How about those deficit bonds that Arnold wants us Californians to approve next Tuesday? I know that 90% of you don't care about this, so consider this a bit of pandering to my fellow inmates here in the Golden State.

Here's the deal: last year the legislature passed about $10 billion in bonds to help cover the deficit for 2003-04. Needless to say, 2003-04 is nearly over, and the money has been spent, so it's too late to fix this problem either by raising taxes or lowering spending. What's more, since there's a chance that the courts might overturn these bonds, our only choice is to approve Arnold's bonds via a constitutional initiative. It's either that or default.

Up until now, anyway, that's been my vague understanding. However, thanks to a reader I finally located a genuinely readable explanation of the whole issue from the unlikely source of E.J. De La Rosa & Co., an investment banking firm. It's only four pages long, so go ahead and read it if you're interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of the deficit.

The bottom line is this: it's not true that the money has already been spent and that's why we have to approve Arnold's bonds. Rather, California has $14 billion in short term debt that we have to pay off in June. That's what the bonds are for.

But if the bond measure doesn't pass (and if the legislature's bonds get overturned in court), what can we do? Answer: we can issue more short term debt.

Now, there are indeed problems with this. The short term debt would be issued at a higher interest rate, it would put a pretty tight straitjacket on state spending, and it would have to be paid back fairly quickly.

However, it wouldn't be fiscal Armageddon. What it would be is a firm order to the legislature to raise taxes and cut spending in order to pay off the short term debt. This is what should have happened years ago, and painful as it may be, it's now obvious to me that this is still an option.

Arnold wants to have it both ways: he wants to have a tax cut and he wants a bond measure to help finance it. This is almost Kafka-esque irresponsibility and I think it's time to cut the crap. The only way to get ourselves out of the mess we're in is via both spending cuts and tax increases.

So despite the undoubted problems it's going to cause, I think Californians ought to vote No on 57. Combined with a Yes vote on 56, which allows the legislature to raise taxes, and the line item veto, which allows every California governor to cut spending to his heart's content, we have all the tools we need to bring the budget into balance.

It's time for everyone to grow up. If the credit card is a bad idea next year, it's a bad idea this year too. Let's go ahead and tear it up.

UPDATE: Armed Liberal has a different take: we need to restore liquidity first and then fix the budget. It's a reasonable point. But after three years of this crisis, my feeling is that the legislature (and the governor) have proven that they won't act responsibly unless there's a gun to their head. If we ease up the pressure, we're just going to see more smoke and mirrors, more posturing, and more flights from reality.

So while I might have voted for the Prop 57/58 combo three years ago, I'm not willing to do it now. I flatly don't believe them when they say that if we give them one more chance they'll do the right thing this time.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPECIAL RIGHTS?....Does this even make sense? After bringing up the tired bogeyman of third graders being recruited to the gay cause, John McIntyre says this:

It's not surprising that many people are uncomfortable at seeing homosexuality actively promoted in schools, glorified by the media, and now sanctioned by the state.

In fact, most Americans want the government out of the business of casting moral judgments and would be fine with the government remaining agnostic on the issue of homosexuality. That means the state should not punish or discriminate against gays and lesbians, nor should the government cede special rights to them.

Special rights? The whole point of the fight for gay marriage is that it's not a special right. It's simply allowing gays and lesbians to have the same legal rights as everyone else. What's so hard to understand about this?

(And on a related note, what's with the common belief among social conservatives that homosexuality is being "actively promoted" in our schools? It's true that I haven't been in school for nearly 30 years now, but this still seems rather unlikely to me. Is this just a code phrase for schools suggesting that gays shouldn't be routinely mocked and beaten up, or what?)

Kevin Drum 9:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY ON GAY MARRIAGE....I've had a number of people email to say that I was unfair to John Kerry yesterday when I suggested that his opposition to a gay marriage amendment was less than inspiring. I based that on a news clip in which he said this:

I believe, as a matter of belief, that marriage is between a man and a woman....If the amendment provides for partnership and civil union, which I believe is the appropriate way to extend rights, that would be a good amendment.

Several people have pointed out that the clip failed to provide the context of Kerry's reply: he wasn't talking about approval of a differently worded federal amendment, he was talking about possible state amendments. His official statement says he opposes a federal amendment, will vote against one, and thinks marriage should continue to be a state issue.

Fair enough. I'm sticking with my initial reaction that Kerry's response was fairly flat, but as a factual matter it appears that he wasn't endorsing any kind of federal amendment, only possible state amendments, something the video clip didn't make clear. Correction so noted.

Kevin Drum 8:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LEAD PIPE CINCH....The Washington DC water district is finally getting serious about lead:

D.C. health officials plan to announce today that all pregnant women and children younger than 6 who live in homes with lead service lines should immediately stop drinking unfiltered tap water and have their blood tested, a rare safety measure they say is necessary to safeguard the city's most vulnerable population.

....WASA conducted tests last summer on tap water at 6,118 residences, and most of them, 4,075 homes, had water that exceeded the lead limit set by the EPA in 1991. This is the first time the city's water has shown significant lead contamination since the late 1980s, officials said.

It's about damn time. There's compelling evidence that lead levels even well below the federal standards cause large IQ drops in small children, and there's just no reason we should be taking chances with this stuff anymore. If DC can replace all its lead pipes for eight bucks a month on local water bills, they should do it.

Right now.

Kevin Drum 10:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON GAY MARRIAGE....Some miscellanous thoughts on a gay marriage amendment:

  • One of the reasons I think this is purely political posturing on Bush's part is that a constitutional amendment on gay marriage has almost no chance of passing. The polls I've seen show roughly 55-60% in favor (some higher, some lower) and that's probably not nearly enough. After all, the ERA had upwards of 90% support when it was first proposed, but it stalled at 35 states even though it also had the advantage of being on the right side of social trends. FMA has much lower levels of support, is clearly on the wrong side of long-term trends toward greater tolerance of gays, and is a highly partisan issue. It's a loser.

  • The text of the leading amendment proposal is this:

    Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

    Is the intent of the second sentence merely to prevent courts from forcing gay marriage on states without legislative approval, or is it to ban both gay marriage and civil unions entirely?

    Eugene Volokh and Ramesh Ponnuru have long and learned opinions about this, but I have a short and simple one: it's designed to ban everything. Why do I say this? Because it would be quite easy to construct wording that made their intent clear if the amendment's drafters wanted to. The fact that they've chosen deliberately confusing language indicates that they're hoping to ban everything but are also hoping to fool people into thinking otherwise.

  • It's hard to pretend to be a "compassionate conservative" when you've so publicly allied yourself with a group that's almost certain to be publicly frothing at the mouth over this before long. Maybe the whole compassionate conservative thing is a dead letter anyway, but I have to think that some people continue to believe it. They probably won't for much longer.

Finally, I have to say that John Kerry's response to Bush's statement wasn't very impressive. He's for civil unions, which is fine, but also said he'd support an amendment as long as it allowed for that. I wish he were willing to take a stronger stand against any kind of constitutional amendment instead of indulging in this kind of all-too-typical fence straddling.

UPDATE: It appears that I was fooled by a video clip that failed to include the context of Kerry's remarks. He was talking about possible state amendments, not expressing support for a differently worded federal amendment. More here.

Kevin Drum 4:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRIVATIZE MARRIAGE?....Libertarians frequently suggest that the state should get out of the marriage business entirely. Just make it a private contractual affair.

This sounds good, but it's impossible: the state is heavily involved whether we like it or not, and in ways that simply can't be privatized. Atrios explains.

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HOORAY FOR DENTISTS!....Dental technology sure seems to have improved lately. I just had two fillings replaced and (a) it took about 20 minutes, (b) I didn't even feel the novocaine (or whatever) going in, (c) the novocaine (or whatever) worked absolutely perfectly and I didn't feel a thing during the whole procedure, and (d) I had only a very minor numbing left over when it was done. No drooling!

This is excellent. Toothbrush technology, on the other hand, is positively annoying these days. Note to Virginia Postrel: sometimes concern with aesthetic factors can become excessive. I think the toothbrush manufacturers of the world might have crossed that line.

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REIGNITING THE CULTURE WARS....It's official: George Bush has now endorsed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. This has obviously been in the works since at least the State of the Union address and comes as no great surprise.

But while there are plenty of things to say about this you can head over to Andrew Sullivan's site if you want to dive into the detail the thing that strikes me most about today's announcement is that it's so blatantly political. I don't think that Bush himself is especially anti-gay, and I'm willing to bet that most of his advisors aren't either. This decision isn't one of principle but of careful political calculation.

And that calculation is this: the culture wars are good for Republicans. And not just in the background, but front and center, waved around like a bloody sheet. There are some pretty obvious risks to this strategy why risk losing votes in the center, after all? which means that Bush and his advisors must have made the calculation that they have no choice: they can't win unless the hardcore culture warriors are fighting mad and on their side.

I haven't thought through all the implications of this but wanted to toss it out half formed anyway while it was on my mind. Is reigniting the culture wars really a winning strategy for Bush? And why did he feel like he had to do it? I'll probably have more thoughts on this later.

UPDATE: I thought this was clear in my post, but maybe not. All I'm saying is that I suspect that Bush is not personally especially homophobic. Rather, he's supporting FMA mainly because he thinks it will help him win votes.

What's more, this is actually more despicable than if he were acting out of genuine conviction. To me, it looks like he's willing screw an entire class of people that he doesn't really care about just in order to win a few more votes. That's contemptible.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SEARCHING ALABAMA....Lead times for comic strips being what they are, I suspect that Garry Trudeau has missed the boat on this. Still, you never know. The National Guard story may have quieted down after the document dump a couple of weeks ago, but something new might come up to put it back on the front page at any moment. It's worth a try.

Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAITI....I don't really have a strong opinion about whether military action in Haiti is justified, but Phil Carter puts some perspective on Colin Powell's surprisingly firm insistence that we don't want to intervene there:

However, one has to wonder just what is on the table in the way of U.S. contingency plans for [Haiti]. This is not 1994 -- we can't load the XVIII Airborne Corps onto planes to back up any sort of diplomatic initiative in Haiti. At most, we could probably muster a MEU to send to Haiti on short notice, or perhaps a piece of a unit that's already redeployed from Iraq. But doing so would have tremendously difficult secondary and tertiary consequences for America's military that's already stretched to its breaking point. Our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan now constrain our foreign policy to the point that we cannot consider the deployment of troops to a place like Haiti as a viable option -- there just ain't any more to give.

Phil's general point all our troops are currently tied down in Iraq is a commonplace one, but this example really drives the point home. Haiti is a small place, after all, and is it really the case that our military is stretched so thin that we don't even have the troops necessary for this kind of relatively small intervention?

If we are literally stretched so thin that even intervening in Haiti causes problems, it means our freedom of action is now practically nonexistent. Not a comforting thought, is it?

Kevin Drum 11:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DECLINE OF PUPPETRY....Jeez, they don't make puppets like they used to, do they? Last November, the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi exile puppet, Ahmed Chalabi, displayed a rare moment of honesty while commenting on the Bush administration's insistence that power had to be handed over to Iraqis on June 30 no matter what:

The whole thing was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on.

Then, last week, responding to criticism that pretty much every piece of intelligence Chalabi provided on Iraqi WMD during the 90s has turned out to be fabricated, he said this:

What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if he wants.

How to say this nicely? You're supposed to stay loyal to the people you've duped into spending billions of dollars and hundred of lives to liberate your country. And you're definitely not supposed to admit that the entire thing has been driven by crass political considerations and outright lies on both sides.

Is this part of some even deeper scheming on Chalabi's part that isn't apparent on the surface? Is he unable to control his fury that the U.S. didn't simply install him as ruler of Iraq last summer? Or is he just not very bright as puppets go?

Take your pick.

Kevin Drum 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLL RESULTS....According to a new Los Angeles Times poll, Kerry leads Edwards in California by 56% to 24%.

They also claim that 51% of voters approve of Proposition 57 Arnold's $15 billion bond "once the measure was explained to them." What the hell is that supposed to mean? Lots of opinions change once the issues are explained, but most voters aren't going to hear the Times' explanation before they vote. Wouldn't it be better to tell us what people think before the measure was explained to them?

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALIFORNIA INITIATIVES....I sort of promised last week to try and make some sense out of the initiatives on the California ballot. After all, I am Calpundit, right?

And I tried, I really did. But I failed. At least, I failed on the hard stuff. But before we get to that, let's go through the easy stuff:

  • Proposition 55 is a school bond, just a run-of-the-mill bond for repairing schools, fixing infrastructure, etc. My take: sure, go ahead and vote for it. On the other hand, if you hate bonds, vote against it. In any case, it's pretty straightforward and hardly requires any deep analysis.

  • Proposition 56 lowers the threshold for approving a budget from two-thirds to 55% and does the same for raising taxes. It's also got a few other minor goodies that its supporters are trying to pass off as reasons to vote for it ("legislators don't get to take bathroom breaks until a budget is passed!"), but don't believe it. Lowering the budget/tax threshold from two-thirds to 55% is what Prop 56 is all about.

    Personally, I've always felt that supermajorities were appropriate only for extraordinary actions such as amending the constitution, things that are supposed to be hard to do. But passing a budget and changing tax law is routine stuff, and I just don't see the point of requiring a two-thirds majority.

    Now it's true that there's a huge political subtext to this in California right now: Democrats control about 60% of the legislature, which means they can pass a budget all by themselves if they only need 55% but have to bargain with the Republicans if they need two-thirds. And Republicans haven't been in much of a bargaining mood lately.

    But you know what? That's how it works in nearly every other state already. What's more, the California governor has a line item veto, which means the Dems still need to negotiate with Arnold to get a budget passed.

    Bottom line: I'm going to vote Yes on this one. It makes sense.

  • Proposition 58 allegedly requires the legislature to pass a balanced budget and prevents them from ever again issuing bonds to cover an operating deficit. I have my doubts that it actually has any teeth, but I suppose it's worth a try. I'll vote Yes on this one.

And that brings us to Prop 57, Arnold's $15 billion bond measure. It's primarily meant to cover past debt (although a portion of it would be used for next year's budget), and since that past debt has already been incurred it seems like this bond really needs to be approved, even if you generally dislike the idea of using bonds to cover operating expenses.

But it's not clear to me what happens if this measure fails. (Actually, Prop 57 is just a safety measure, since the legislature already approved bonds last year to cover this debt. However, those bonds are being challenged in court. So what I really mean here is that it's not clear what happens if Prop 57 fails and the court overturns the existing bonds.)

Supposedly, fiscal disaster awaits us if Prop 57 fails, but even after a fair amount of searching I've been unable to verify this. So I don't know what to say about this one.

But I'll keep looking, and if I come up with a suitable answer I'll let everyone know. Deal?

Kevin Drum 9:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BUSH ECONOMY....I've never been able to work up much interest in watching the Sunday morning chat shows, but a friend of mine who was surfing around yesterday says that the phrase "Clinton recession" was all over the place. It's the Bushies' latest talking point.

This Orwellian phrase is based on an absurd attempt to retroactively declare that the recession started in December 2000 (Clinton) instead of March 2001 (Bush), a 12-week change that obviously makes no difference to anything. But the interesting thing here isn't so much the technical arguments over the starting date of the recession as the fact that Republicans are now tacitly acknowledging that the economy isn't in great shape and are flinging some mud against the wall to see if they can blame it on somebody else.

Up until now, you see, their favored storyline has been to deny that there's really anything wrong. For months conservative commenters have been peddling an endless supply of theories designed to demonstrate that the official employment figures are wrong and the economy is really doing much better than anyone thinks. The official numbers, they said, don't pick up job gains from small firms; don't pick up job gains from the self-employed; don't pick up job gains from outsourcing; don't pick up job gains from aesthetic professions; don't pick up something. Two themes are common to most of these explanations: (a) goverment statisticians are idiots who haven't thought of any of this and (b) the authors provide exactly zero evidence for their pet theories aside from a bit of surface plausibility and a few anecdotes.

Folks like Brad DeLong and the EPI have been doing yeoman work demonstrating that none of these explanations hold water, and even Alan Greenspan, who has previously shown a convincing willingness to shill for the Bush administration, has thrown cold water on the notion that official statistics aren't picking up the wonders of a tax-cut driven Bush recovery. Even after trying to take into account every possible explanation, he said, what remained was that the standard government statistics are the best indicators we have. There just aren't very many new jobs being created.

And so it appears that the Bush apologists may finally be giving up on this line of attack. After all, if even Alan Greenspan won't back them up, it's pretty hopeless, isn't it?

Instead, they're going to blame it on Clinton. But this is truly a desperation tactic. It means they're admitting that the economy is pretty weak, it means they're admitting that three years of tax cuts haven't helped things much, and it means they're admitting that things aren't going to get much better between now and the election.

That's the subtext of trying to pin the blame on a guy who hasn't been president for over three years: they're running scared. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOD AND THE COURTS....Christian conservatives are having a field day with the constitution lately. They want an amendment to ban gay marriage, of course, but they also have a piece of legislation pending that would would legalize public displays of the Ten Commandments and another that would pretty much forbid the courts from ruling in cases of separation of church and state.

Both pieces of legislation are based on Article III, Section 2 of the constitution, a longtime hobbyhorse of wingnuts everywhere since it allows Congress to specify which issues the Supreme Court is allowed to rule on. I generally don't pay much attention to this stuff since Article III Section 2 legislation is introduced constantly but virtually never passes.

On the other hand, if you prefer a longer and more alarmist perspective on this, David Neiwert has it right here. Read it and weep.

Kevin Drum 11:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VOLUNTEERING FOR VIETNAM....I've gotten a couple of emails claiming that RNC chairman Marc Racicot was on NPR this morning and said (paraphrasing), "President Bush volunteered for duty in Vietnam, but wasn't chosen."

Did anyone else hear this? Did Racicot really have to gall to say this?

You know, I'm fine with Bush's supporters saying his National Guard duty was finished honorably, and I'm fine with them attacking John Kerry's record on national security. That's what they're supposed to do.

But claiming that Bush volunteered to go to Vietnam? When he specifically declined to volunteer for overseas duty when he joined the Guard in 1968? Give me a break.

UPDATE: Yep, he said it. Josh Marshall has more here.

Kevin Drum 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POVERTY....David Shipler had an interesting op-ed in the New York Times yesterday about our disjointed approach to fighting poverty in America. The problem, he says, is that we have dozens of individual programs that fight bits and pieces of the "ecology of poverty," but we don't put them together:

One remedy, tried by community action centers created by the War on Poverty, put a variety of specialists under one roof. Their effectiveness unsettled politicians. "Mayors didn't like them because they were doing something that was very good," recalls Frances Fox Piven, a professor of political science and sociology at City University of New York. "They were badgering municipal agencies to provide services." The money for the centers eventually dried up.

Decades later we are still testing this idea, now called "one-stop shopping," as if it were some dubious proposition. Since last July in five California school districts, applications for subsidized lunches have been used as applications for Medicaid as well. What has to be proven for the rest of the state to follow?

I wonder if there's any kind of consensus about this? Poverty has pretty much fallen off the radar screen of American liberalism these days, and it's easy to see why. Like peace in the Middle East, it seems like we've been trying everything we can think of for decades and the problem just stubbornly refuses to go away. Under those circumstances, it's hard not to simply decide that the problem is intractable and give up.

The problem, of course, is that it seems almost impossible to make progress in the face of so many competing interest groups. Liberals don't like anything that addresses cultural issues ("blaming the victim"), conservatives don't like anything that increases spending ("throwing money at the problem"), and in many cases an entrenched bureaucracy simply doesn't want to bother trying anything new. After all, there are inevitably winners and losers whenever you try something new.

No answers here, of course. But I'll say one little bitsy thing: Shipler mentions in passing one of my favorite hobbyhorses, the lead content of paint and pipes in slum housing. There's considerable evidence that lead exposure causes significant IQ drops in children, and it's simply a crime that we haven't yet exterminated even this rather straightforward problem. It's a project that a real compassionate conservative could take on wholeheartedly and that no liberal worth the name would oppose. It is, if you'll pardon the pun, a no-brainer.

UPDATE: Jeanne d'Arc adds a personal perspective.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAPPINESS....I haven't commented on Gregg Easterbrook's new book The Progress Paradox because I haven't read it. (Seems fair, doesn't it?) But he has a related op-ed in the LA Times today where he repeats the main theme of the book:

By practically every objective measure, American life has been getting better for decades.

Standards of living keep rising....crime has dropped spectacularly....discrimination is down substantially. Yet despite all these positive indicators, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as "happy" has not increased since the early 1950s, while incidence of depression keeps rising and was doing so long before the morning of Sept. 11.

This is the progress paradox: Life gets better while people feel worse....Today, tens of millions of Americans have things their parents or grandparents could only dream of nice houses, college educations. Though that is obviously good, Americans are finding that merely possessing the good life does not ensure happiness.

I just don't understand this thesis. After all, you hardly have to be a committed Buddhist to realize that material progress doesn't bring happiness.

Think of it in reverse. If material progress did make us happier, then pretty much every previous generation would have been less happy than the following one. On average, then, our parents would be a little less happy than us, our grandparents a little less happy still, all the way back to our pyramid-building ancestors in Egypt a few hundred generations ago, who ought to have been so unhappy that they all committed mass suicide.

But they didn't. In fact, not only are we no happier than our parents' generation, but we don't really seem to be any happier than any previous generation. Surely this indicates that happiness is only tangentially related to material gain?

Given this, why write an entire book expressing puzzlement at the fact that material gain doesn't bring happiness? Shouldn't that have been pretty obvious in the first place?

Kevin Drum 9:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOW DID HE DO IT?....Why do I dislike George Bush? Because of his policies, obviously, and also because of temperament and personality characteristics that rub me the wrong way. But there's more. Whenever I think about this, one of the things that always settles into my mind is that he just doesn't deserve to be president. He never paid his dues.

It's not just that he got the job based partly on his family name. You could say the same thing about FDR, JFK, Bush Sr, and Al Gore, and it doesn't especially bother me about any of them. It's more that I just can't figure out how he managed to become a consensus party choice for president after a mere single term as governor of Texas.

Compare this to every other president since FDR. Here are the number of years of political experience each one had before he became president: 22, 23, 0, 14, 26, 18, 26, 14, 14, 22, 16.

With the specialized exception of Eisenhower, every single other president has had at least 14 years between first winning political office and becoming president. George Bush had six.

I just don't get it. Sure, he's a Bush, but even so how did he manage to convince the vast majority of the Republican party apparatus that he should be their favored candidate? After all, he had minimal experience, he obviously didn't have any special intellectual or personality characteristics that make you sit up and take notice, and his father wasn't even that popular with most Republicans after his dismal loss in 1992.

So how did he do it? It remains, to me, the most mysterious of questions.

Kevin Drum 9:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONSERVATIVE DOVES?....If a liberal hawk is a liberal who nonetheless supports George Bush and the war in Iraq, what do you call a conservative who nonetheless has given up on Bush and turned against the war? A conservative dove?

While sharing a sandwich at the stylish Beachwood Mall in this Cleveland suburb, one older couple a judge and a teacher reluctantly divulged their secret: though they are stalwarts in the local Republican Party, they are planning to vote Democratic this year.

"I feel like a complete traitor, and if you'd asked me four months ago, the answer would have been different," said the judge, after assurances of anonymity. "But we are really disgusted. It's the lies, the war, the economy. We have very good friends who are staunch Republicans, who don't even want to hear the name George Bush anymore."

....Many of those interviewed said that they had experienced a growing disenchantment with the conflict in Iraq over many months, but that only recently had they decided to change their votes.

A number said they had been deeply disturbed by recent statements of David A. Kay, the former United Nations weapons inspector, who said he was skeptical about administration claims that Iraq possessed unconventional weapons.

...."I voted for him, but it seems like he's just taking care of his rich buddies now," said Mike Cross, a farmer from Londonderry, N.H., adding, "I'm not a great fan of John Kerry, but I've had enough of President Bush."

The story also quotes poll numbers showing that 11% of former Bush supporters now plan to vote Democratic while only 5% of former Gore supporters now plan to vote for Bush.

The standard caveat applies here, of course: it's too early to know if this means anything. But it's still music to my ears. It sounds like at least a few conservatives are finally waking up and realizing just how shallow and unprincipled a man Bush really is.

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MAKING OUR KIDS PAY....In the past, one of the standard arguments against deficit spending was that it saddled our kids with enormous debts. This was obviously bad and irresponsible behavior.

But has anyone else noticed that it's becoming common to see conservatives turn this on its head and argue instead that deficit spending is OK because, after all, it's only fair that future generations should help pay for things that they are going to benefit from too? For example, our kids will benefit from a terror free world, so it's well and good that they pick up part of the tab for our current fight against terrorism. Ditto for building roads, procuring new military goodies, fighting AIDS, etc.

Oh, and our children will be richer than us anyway and thus better able to afford paying for this stuff. (Although I note that conservatives are notoriously unsympathetic to the "better able to afford" argument when it comes to higher tax rates on the super rich.)

Anyway, the upshot is that deficits aren't just a necessarily evil, they are positively virtuous since they spread costs between generations. I did a double take when I first saw someone propose this obviously self-serving and specious argument seriously, but since then I've seen it several more times. Do you suppose it's on its way to becoming a standard conservative talking point?

Kevin Drum 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GERRYMANDERING....I had dinner last night with a bunch of fellow bloggers. Our host was Ann Salisbury sadly, an ex-blogger now and we were joined by Martin Devon of Patio Pundit, Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind, Matt Welch of, um, Matt Welch, and Henry Jenkins of Modern Middle Manager.

So here's an interesting thing. Our little group spanned the gamut from pretty conservative to pretty liberal, and while we disagreed about almost everything, there was one thing we all agreed on pretty enthusiastically: gerrymandering is bad. And it's gotten a lot worse.

Gerrymandering has been with us for a long time, of course, but in the past it had some natural limits due to its inherent complexity. Here in California, for example, Phil Burton was an acknowledged master of the art, but legislators of his peculiar genius do not come along in every state or every generation. For mere mortals, even pretty savvy ones, there was always a natural limit to just how unfairly you could draw the lines and still stay within the bounds of the law.

Today that's all changed. Specially designed software allows even the most thickheaded legislative leader to instantly create a districting plan that meets all the requirements of the law but still maximizes the party's share of the vote to within microns of its theoretical limit. And in states like Colorado and Texas they've added the extra little fillip of proposing new redistricting plans whenever they want, instead of waiting every ten years as we've always done in the past.

Not only is this self-evidently bad, but it's one of those odd issues in which, as near as I can tell, virtually everyone is in favor of making the system fairer and less partisan. The only people against change are professional politicians. But they're the ones who pass the laws, so nothing gets done.

It's also an issue that almost certainly needs to be dealt with at a national level. At a state level, there will always be opposition from whichever party happens to be in power at the moment (and therefore gets to perform the next redistricting), whereas a federal level solution that created a level playing field would likely affect both parties fairly equally. What's more, a big part of current redistricting law is controlled by the federal Voting Rights Act, which means that any serious reform also has to be done at the federal level.

Computer optimized gerrymandering has taken us to the point where no more than about 5% of House seats are seriously competitive in each election. The rest are mere shams, not much more real than elections in Iran or the old Soviet Union. What's more, this lack of true elections has contributed heavily to the increasing polarization of politics, since there's little need for legislators to compromise on anything if they know that their seat is completely safe. In this respect, unfortunately, I suspect that California is once again acting as a bellwether for the nation and trust me, as bad as national politics is, you do not want it to become as bad as California politics.

It's hard not to believe that if more people understood this there would be a groundswell of support to fix the whole mess. But they don't, and there's no one to make an issue of it. Too bad.

UPDATE: Legal Fiction makes a similar argument and adds a few other points as well. He also has some depressing statistics. Note that California is in the forefront, which means that things in the rest of the country can indeed get worse....

Kevin Drum 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PHONE MAIL....In a column about outsourcing, Thomas Friedman writes:

Economists are surely right: the biggest factor eliminating old jobs and churning new ones is technological change the phone mail system that eliminated your secretary.

Friedman's broad point technological change causes a lot of job churning is quite correct, but I'm feeling nitpicky today and want to point out that his example isn't. In fact, it's 180 degrees wrong.

What really happened was that for many decades offices employed vastly overqualified women to be secretaries, paying them a fraction of what they were worth. Women took these jobs because they had no choice. Then the 60s rolled around and all these overqualified women started going to college and getting jobs as lawyers and managers and programmers.

Being a good secretary is a surprisingly high skill job, and by the time the 80s were upon us it had become very, very hard to hire someone for $20K a year who was smart enough to answer phones, figure out a good filing system, and plan meetings without more supervision than it was worth. The supply of good secretaries went down and prices naturally went way up.

And that's when phone mail became popular. In this case it was cultural change that generated job churning, which in turn made technological change cost effective. Just the opposite of what Friedman suggests.

On the other hand, I like this summary of why outsourcing is suddenly such a big issue even though it's been happening in blue collar industries for decades:

At a minimum, some very educated Americans used to high salaries people who vote and know how to write op-ed pieces will either lose their jobs, or have to accept lower pay or become part-timers without health insurance.

Quite so.

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NADER RUNS....I know that the mainstream press has to cover the fact that Ralph Nader has decided to run for president. After all, it's news.

But can the rest of us make a pact to just ignore him? He's not even worth criticizing or mocking anymore, and we've all got more important things to do than giving him the attention he craves. Like unelecting our current president, for example.

OK?

Kevin Drum 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MASSACHUSETTS LIBERALS....Matt Yglesias wonders why being a "Massachusetts liberal" is any worse than being a "Texas conservative." After all, Texas is more conservative than Massachusetts is liberal, and judging from the Texas Republican state platform their wingnut contingent is way scarier.

This is a good point, but then Matt goes on to say this:

The commentariat, however, sees things differently based, or so it would appear, entirely on the fact that Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election. Obviously, though, you can't base your theories on a data set of one.

But here's the thing: replace "Massachusetts liberal" with "northern liberal" and you've got a much more robust set of data. Hubert Humphrey (Minnesota) lost in 1968, McGovern (South Dakota) in 1972, Mondale (Minnesota) in 1984, and Dukakis (Massachusetts) in 1988. In the other years since 1960 no northerner has even been able to win the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency. Texas, on the other hand, has produced two winners for the Republicans during that same period.

So while Texas may indeed be farther outside the mainstream than those northern states, the fact is that it just doesn't seem to be the same kind of electoral albatross. That doesn't mean John Kerry is going to lose this year, but it does mean that concern over his chances based on regional baggage is perfectly reasonable. In fact, I'd say it's an unpleasant reality that any good campaign needs to face up to squarely instead of pretending it doesn't exist.

Kevin Drum 9:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLIMATE CHANGE, BABY, CLIMATE CHANGE....I genuinely don't know what to think of this. The headline in the Observer screams "Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us," and it's followed by this story:

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

Hmmm, that sounds bad.

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.

....The fact that [Andrew] Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid [John] Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.

A bullet list of the key findings of the report is here.

Now, I have to assume that the report is real and the Observer reporters didn't just make it up. On the other hand, the language is so apocalyptic that surely it must be part of a section labeled "absolutely positively really really worst case and not at all likely scenarios -- but we thought we'd include them anyway since that's the kind of thing we do around here."

But this is what we love about the British press, isn't it? There's really no way to tell. Perhaps they'll be kind enough to put the entire report up on their website someday so we can see for ourselves what it's really all about.

In the meantime, a note to the trolls: yes, rising seas and a "Siberian" climate in Britain are compatible with each other. One long term scenario for climate change is that overall warming causes the shutdown of the "Atlantic conveyer," an underwater current that warms northern Europe. If the conveyer stops, Britain would indeed get a lot colder even as other parts of the world warmed up.

On the other hand, I have my doubts that the Netherlands will be uninhabitable by 2007.

UPDATE: The full report is here. I haven't read the whole thing, but here's the disclaimer at the beginning:

We have interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several iterations of the scenario with these experts. The scientists support this project, but caution that the scenario depicted is extreme in two fundamental ways. First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than on globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller.

We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.

As disclaimers go this is actually fairly mild, especially considering the extreme nature of the projections.

Kevin Drum 6:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAPTURING BIN LADEN....Andrew Sullivan shakes his head in mock weariness today at the news that Bill Clinton actually tried to obey the law during his attempts to assassinate Osama bin Laden in the late 90s:

The Clinton administration's feckless attempts to get Osama are, to my mind, a huge neon warning about what might happen if John Kerry becomes president.

The reason for the difference between the Clinton and Bush approaches to killing or capturing Bin Laden should be obvious to everyone: 9/11. A full-scale military solution simply wasn't on the table before 9/11 and would have had no public support. So Clinton did what he could: he authorized covert CIA action against Bin Laden, but he did so within the legal restrictions against assassination that existed at the time. What's more, as the Washington Post article Sullivan cites makes clear, the legal roadblocks against CIA assassination attempts were put there by Ronald Reagan, not by some lefty Democratic administration.

Conservatives are fond of claiming that liberals just don't understand that 9/11 changed everything. But if they understand it so well themselves, why do they keep pretending that Bill Clinton was some kind of fainthearted poltroon for not taking the actions that George Bush took after 9/11?

The act has gotten old, especially since 2 years after 9/11 George Bush still hasn't authorized the actions necessary to capture Bin Laden either. Shouldn't Sullivan be complaining about Bush's feckless behavior in not authorizing an invasion of Pakistan?

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BOUNDERS AND CADS REVISITED....My post yesterday about bounders and cads provoked a torrent of commentary and email, so I thought I'd share it with everyone. What is the difference between a bounder and a cad?

  • First things first. Commenter Mischa provides the official answer courtesy of the OED. A cad is "a fellow of low vulgar manners and behaviour" while a bounder is "a person of objectionable manners or anti-social behaviour; a cad."

    We still have the problem of a bounder being defined as a cad (not helpful), but we also have the distinction between "low vulgar manners" and "objectionable manners." Onward then.

  • Turbonium was one of several people who suggested that the two words are used together not so much because they truly have different meanings, but simply because "a bounder and a cad" is idiomatic usage, like "vim and vigor" or "high and mighty." John Mattson points out that the phrase was often used by Bugs Bunny, usually addressed to Elmer Fudd on occasions when Bugs was in drag.

  • On the other hand Bernard Yomtov suggests that bounder is a general term while cad is specifically associated with poor behavior toward women. Thus, cad is a subset of bounder.

    Nancy Irving, though cheerfully admitting she might be full of shit on this, agrees: "I had always understood 'bounder' as encompassing a class-based (as well as an ethics-based) sneer; someone like Lord Lucan, for example, would have been called a cad but not a bounder (being an aristocrat). 'Bounder' is a word that upperclass people use about people whose class status they find dubious, whereas 'cad' applies to cads irrespective of class."

    Tony Shifflett quotes a former professor of his saying approximately the same thing: "He defined it thus: Society has norms of behavior. Some behaviors are 'out of bounds'. Those people are bounders, they cross over the boundaries of society."

    Paul Breslin via email: "About 'cad' and 'bounder': the second word has also the meaning of 'parvenu,' someone who is attempting to leap (or bound) above his class origins. 'Cad' simply identifies an unscrupulous man (especially in his behavior toward women), but a bounder is also a social climber."

    Eli Brennan, also via email: "My handy desktop Websters suggests that cads are particularly bad in their relations with women while bounders are more generally of bad stock."

    Andrew Todd: "A cad cheats at cards. A bounder talks too loud in pubs."

  • J. Hart acknowledges that the lack of an OED reference hurts the case for this, but nonetheless thinks "bounder" might originate from Charles Dickens' Mr. Bounderby from Hard Times: "A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of a coarse material, which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him....A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his old ignorance and his old poverty."

  • Perhaps the definitive answer could be found in the book A Bounder and a Cad, by George Ashley?

  • British commenter Al suggests that "a cad is more conscious of his actions and that they almost inevitably involve some form of sexual misconduct - cf James Hewitt / Princess Diana. Somewhere in there is also the possibility of the accused taking pride in his actions over a brandy in male company at a later date. A bounder is more someone who offends common sensibilities by being unaware of the alternatives."

    He then offers up a possible definition perfectly tailored to the Calpundit readership:

    Clinton: cad
    Bush: bounder

Yeah, that works. In fact, I think Al deserves to have the last word on this.

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WHAT DOES EPA STAND FOR?....Over at Obsidian Wings, Edward Winkleman suggests that the goal of the EPA should be, you know, environmental protection. That is, they should be in favor of making the environment better, not rolling back regulations that are inconvenient to industrial polluters.

Sounds right to me. What's more, among other policymaking branches of the executive, I think the Defense Department should be in favor of making our military stronger, the State Department should be in favor of improving relations with the rest of the world, and the Treasury Department should be in favor of a strong economy. They won't always get what they want, but they should at least try.

But that's the problem: the EPA is hardly even trying these days. Edward promises more on this later.

Kevin Drum 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PRICE OF SUCCESS....In retrospect, it turns out that the State Department's intelligence operation made a pretty good threat assessment of Iraq's prewar capability. They were more accurate than the CIA, more accurate than the DIA, and way more accurate than the Pentagon's boutique shop, the Office of Special Plans.

Their reward? Republicans don't want to hear from them anymore:

The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research was not invited by Republican leaders to testify at the annual threat hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee being held Tuesday, even though the bureau has participated in the hearing every year since it began in the early 1990s, congressional and administration officials said.

It's conservative postmodernism at its finest. We don't want accurate threat assessments, we want scary threat assessments. Anyone who insists on bringing actual facts to the table is no longer welcome.

Kevin Drum 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE EVERYWHERE!....Vermont has civil unions, of course, and we all know that the Massachussetts Supreme Court recently ruled that gay marriage was legal there too. Now it's snowballing.

San Francisco has issued thousands of marriage certificates to gay couples and is challenging California's law against gay marriage in court. Then Chicago Mayor Richard Daley suggested that Cook County ought to perform a few gay marriages, and now, via Atrios, it looks like a county clerk in New Mexico plans to issue a few licenses as well.

Amazing how this stuff becomes a firestorm so quickly, isn't it? All it takes is one county clerk in each state and pretty soon we'll have legal battles going in every state in the union. Should be fun.

And speaking of gay marriage, how are things going in Canada? Has the institution of marriage completely disintegrated yet? Just wondering.

UPDATE: Looks like New Mexico is doing more than planning: licenses have now been issued and marriages performed. Let the court case commence!

UPDATE 2: And here are some pictures of the happy couples courtesy of The Coyote's Bark, a New Mexico blog.

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BOUNDERS AND CADS....I've just started reading Conrad Black's biography of FDR a book so thick and heavy that it's literally a pain to read and in an aside early on about Stanford White, the celebrated turn-of-the-century architect, he says:

White was a compulsive womanizer, both a bounder and a cad.

A bounder and a cad! And Black was careful to say that he was both a bounder and a cad, which got me wondering what the difference was. So I Googled it:

  • This site suggests that bounder is merely the British form of cad.

  • This site makes the same point more directly: "Bounder is old British slang for a morally reprehensible person; a cad." That's not much help either, and the hyperlink leads only to a definition of Computer Aided Design.

  • The presumably more authoritative Collins English Dictionary defines bounder as "a morally reprehensible person; cad." Hmmm.....

  • Finally, this guy gives the following definition of bounder: "This is a very antiquated word used to describe someone who's generally no good - a 'bad egg'. It's very old-fashioned - I suspect even Rudyard Kipling would have used it in jest." Black's biography, needless to say, has a 2003 copyright.

Now, there's no question that Stanford White was not the kind of man you'd want hanging around your daughter, and his bounderosity and cadishness eventually led him to a bad end indeed.

But I'm still left mystified: why did Conrad Black insist on calling him both a bounder and a cad? What's the difference? And why use a word that even Rudyard Kipling would have used only in jest?

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Jasmine likes to snooze behind the curtains, which act as a nice sunshine collector even on gray days like today. Inkblot, meanwhile, prefers the great outdoors, even if his magnificent bulk doesn't always quite fit on his preferred perch. But he hasn't fallen off yet!

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ATTITUDE PROBLEMS....James Joyner today:

Surely, the right to have a bad attitude about government employees is among our more fundamental liberties.

That sounds about right to me.

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WESLEY CLARK....A number of people have noted that although Howard Dean may have failed to win the Democratic primary this year, he nonetheless had an outsized impact on the race. Unlike ordinary losers who just fade away without making any real impact, Dean can claim to have affected the race in two big ways: first, by revolutionizing fundraising via the internet, and second, by providing a welcome injection of backbone into the campaign. He demonstrated that voters wanted someone who would go on the offensive, stay on the offensive, and make no apologies for it.

Today, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris makes the same point about Wesley Clark. He's not just an ordinary loser, he's one who made a difference despite his loss:

Before he entered the race, Democrats were suffering from a peculiar cognitive dissonance on national security....This unwillingness to confront the issue of national security made it possible for Democrats to convince themselves that Howard Dean could beat President Bush.

As soon as General Clark entered the race, however, Democrats could no longer avoid the issue. General Clark leapt to the top of most national polls of likely Democratic voters even though he had no experience in elective office, little name recognition and no staff or money beyond what he was provided by a handful of amateur organizers. And this wasn't just a momentary bump; he stayed near the top of the polls for weeks.

Glastris makes a similar point about religion, which I'm not sure I buy, but I think he's right about national security. It's not all Clark's doing, but I do think Clark demonstrated that serious talk about national security was something Democrats both could and should do. That changed the dynamic of the race and will likely change the dynamic of the general election too.

When I decided to support Clark last year I did so knowing that it was a risky proposition. I liked his background and his policy ideas, especially on national security, but I also knew he was an untested campaigner and didn't have much time to learn on the job. And sure enough, he had a hard time finding his footing and avoiding the organizational problems and minor gaffes that can keep a campaign from ever catching fire.

But I don't regret it. He may not have won, but I do think he had an impact. If the Democrats win in November, I think that Clark, like Howard Dean, can take at least a small measure of credit for the victory.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VOTER FATIGUE IN CALIFORNIA?....The California primary is now less than two weeks away and I just noticed something odd: it's as quiet as a tomb around here. I don't know if it's just a result of voter fatigue after putting up with the whole recall circus just a few months ago, but the upcoming election is getting virtually no attention:

  • There's the Democratic primary, of course, but I've seen virtually nothing about it. No polls, no coverage, no nothing. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, it might as well not be happening.

  • There's also a Republican primary for the Senate seat currently occupied by Barbara Boxer. Because Boxer is so liberal, this is a seat that Republicans at least have a shot of picking up, but the primary has been nearly invisible. In fact, I had practically forgotten there was a Republican primary until I happened to read an article about it today that was buried in the local section of the paper.

  • We also have to vote on a couple of bond and budget measures that are pretty critical to solving our deficit problems. I've seen a few TV ads on both sides, but that's it. I went looking for poll results on these measures the other day and could barely find anything. I finally found a single 3-week-old poll showing that the main bond measure had only 33% support. Since failure is supposedly disastrous for our fiscal health, you'd think this would be getting a bit more attention.

    (Just today another poll was released showing 38% support. Still pretty miserable.)

Anyway, this lack of attention seems odd since there are actually three separate races on the ballot and all of them are both important and fairly competitive. It's curious that nobody seems to care much about it.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, eagle-eyed readers will note that this is pretty much the first time I've mentioned the upcoming election too....

Kevin Drum 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CIA PROBLEMS IN IRAQ....Interesting article in the LA Times today about ongoing problems gathering intelligence in both Iraq and Afghanistan despite massive CIA personnel increases in both countries. The CIA's Baghdad bureau is now its biggest ever, eclipsing the previous record held by its Saigon bureau during the Vietnam War, but turnover is rapid because they are having trouble finding qualified people who are willing to spend more than a few months there. It's next to impossible to recruit a spy network in 60-90 days.

I don't especially have any comment to make on this, but thought the article made some striking points that were worth reading about. It's worthwhile background that sheds some light on some of the other problems we're having in those countries.

Kevin Drum 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SPUTTER, SPUTTER....As we flew over Denver on my last cross-country flight the pilot told us, "I'm pleased by the fact that in the past five hours we've covered nearly 1000 miles."

Pandemonium broke loose. We were only over Denver? After five hours we should have been on approach to LaGuardia. What the hell was going on? The plane was full of reporters and they were demanding to know what kind of crappy pilot we had.

Ahem. Just a bad dream there. Sorry.

And my point? Just this: maybe if Washington reporters knew as much about economics as they do about how fast airplanes fly which isn't really that much, actually they'd realize what a boatload of swill they get fed every day by the White House. Josh Marshall has the wretchedly complex mathematical details.

But you'll still end up wondering what kind of crappy pilot would actually be proud of this kind of performance.

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE....I agree with Atrios: gay marriage may not be the issue I would have picked to fight the 2004 election (although it's close), but it's going to be an issue anyway. So we ought to fight on the side of right.

But while I agree that our candidate should forthrightly come out against a constitutional amendment, the big question is how to frame this opposition. The last thing we need is to fan the flames of the culture war, and there ought to be a good way of doing the right thing but doing it in a way that calms people down and helps defuse the tension rather than making it worse.

I know we won't convince everyone, but what's the best way of convincing fence-sitters that gay marriage just isn't that threatening? "Live and let live" is the idea I have in mind, but how best to say it? I'm not sure.

Kevin Drum 5:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FILE REQUEST....I've gotten several emails asking the same question about George Bush's National Guard records: if we want to know what a complete file should look like, why not get a complete file from some other guardsman and compare it to Bush's? Just for fun, you understand.

Ideally, we'd want the file from a Texas Air National Guard pilot who served from 1968-1974, but I imagine anything relatively close would at least be instructive. Do I have any readers who fit the profile and have a copy of their file? Or would be willing to submit a request and get it?

Kevin Drum 5:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEMOCRACY CUTTING AND RUNNING IN IRAQ....It looks like the reports this morning about Iraq are now confirmed: the UN agrees that elections can't be held by June 30, but at the same time we are continuing to insist on handing over power by then anyway. Putting off the transfer is just not up for discussion.

I really, really don't know what to think of this. At this point the administration of Iraq by the CPA is such a disaster that it may well be pointless to continue the charade, but the obviously political nature of the whole thing just leaves me cold. All along the June 30 date has been the administration's only core requirement, the only thing they've refused to compromise on, and it's so obviously timed to be safely before the elections in November that it's hard to believe that the entire postwar plan was ever anything other than a purely political exercise.

Yeah, I know Bush's supporters don't see it that way. I'm just not sure what excuse they give themselves to explain his way too obvious reluctance to really follow through on democracy promotion in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Given what's happening on the ground in both places, how can they continue to believe that this was ever an important goal of the administration?

Kevin Drum 4:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE TRUTH ABOUT LIBERALS?....Bill Sjostrom quotes Tom Smith at The Right Coast on the real reason all the tree huggers hate SUVs:

The real reason SUV haters hate SUV's is they can't stand the symbolism of it. 5000 pound Mercedes are fine. Have you ever heard anyone say, oh, those movie stars' cars are so long. Nope, limousines are fine. But if it's boxy or you can actually haul something in it, oh, dear, the masses are getting above themselves. Too many children. Why can't they just have one or two like Nigel and I. And those big dogs! What's wrong with a Bichon?

This is an unoriginal observation, but why are so many conservatives convinced that they and only they! have a direct pipeline to the internal psychodramas that truly drive liberals? We hate SUVs because we don't want regular folks to have big cars. Europeans hate Americans because they are insanely jealousy of our economic success. We favor progressive tax schemes because we hate the rich and want to pauperize them.

The angst! The self-loathing! Freud would have a field day.

I dunno, though. I can't speak for all liberals, but I don't really have any deep hatred of SUVs (except perhaps in the same way that Stephen Bainbridge does). On the other hand, I do think there are a bunch of good reasons for reducing our use of fossil fuels, so I favor public policies that encourage that. Sure, big SUVs get caught up in this, but so do Porsches and 5000-pound Mercedes.

And I've talked to an awful lot of Europeans over the years and they've never struck me as being especially jealous of our two-week vacations and nutball politics. They mainly just seem to wish that we'd calm down a bit, stop thinking that someone is always out to get us, and show a greater willingness to translate our software into their local languages.

As for progressive taxation, I'm a fan of that, but mainly because the rich have all the money. If the top 20% of the population has half the income then those are the guys you have to tax. Even aside from moral concerns, trying to get a bunch of tax revenue out of the poor schmoes making $30,000 a year is like getting blood from a stone. It's just not going to work.

Then again, maybe I'm just kidding myself. Is it time for some therapy?

Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URL UPDATE....John Quiggin has moved to a new address:

http://johnquiggin.com

Update your bookmarks.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONSERVATIVE LYSENKOISM....THE DEFINITIVE REPORT....Chris Mooney emailed me yesterday to draw my attention to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists about how deeply the ideological tentacles of the Bush administration have extended into the process of scientific research in America. I was planning to write about this myself but I wanted to look at the actual report first. Unfortunately, the UCS website was down when I tried to read it. Today it's back up.

Regular readers will know that I've blogged about individual aspects of this in the past, and in a lot of ways it represents one of the most chilling aspects of the Bush administration: they just don't care about facts. They want to do what they want to do regardless of whether it will work or whether it makes sense, and this extends to economic policymaking, war planning, and now even scientific studies. "Conservative Lysenkoism" is the term I've coined for it.

The UCS report describes several specific examples of the Bush administration deliberately ignoring or distorting scientific results for purely ideological purposes:

  • A flat refusal to believe the (by now) almost unanimous scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming. In one case, the EPA had to scrap an entire section on climate change because the White Hous simply wouldn't accept any form of wording that was even remotely true to the scientific evidence.

  • The White House suppressed data on mercury emissions not because the science was wrong, but because it interfered with their plans to reduce regulation of coal-fired power plants. They also suppressed an EPA report on a bipartisan Senate alternative to their "Clear Skies" proposal because it concluded that the Senate version would do a better job of cutting pollution.

  • The Bush administration has interfered with CDC research on teen pregnancy that doesn't support its position on abstinence-only sex education programs. It has replaced condom information on government websites with questionable data emphasizing condom failure rates. And it has tried to push a link between abortion and breast cancer that is supported by no reputable scientific data.

  • A USDA researcher was prohibited from publishing his findings on health hazards posed by airborne bacteria resulting from farm waste. In addition, "a directive issued in February 2002 instructed USDA staff scientists to seek prior approval before publishing any research or speaking publicly on 'sensitive issues'...."

  • The administration ignored scientific analysis of Iraq's aluminum tubes that suggested they had nothing to do with uranium enrichment. We know all about that, don't we?

  • A team of scientists who drew peer-reviewed conclusions about the management of the Missouri River that was at odds with what the Bush administration wanted to hear was swiftly replaced with a "SWAT team" that could be trusted to say what they did want to hear.

  • A new Bush administration rule on peer-review would essentially require that all government research be vetted by industry reviewers before it was published. Tobacco research, for example, could not be reviewed by anyone else who received government funding, but only by industry funded "researchers."

The report also talks about the litmus tests that are widely in place for appointment to scientific panels. Rather than picking the best scientists, the White House instead chooses people who are most likely to agree with their own ideological preferences. As the report puts it, "the current administration has repeatedly allowed political considerations to trump scientific qualifications in the appointment process."

The UCS report, which is endorsed by 20 Nobel prize winners, makes clear that it has no problem with arguments over policy. After all, there are usually plenty of facts and arguments on both sides of any policy question. It's perfectly valid, for example, to argue for a wide variety of policy responses to global warming, including doing nothing.

But putting your head in the sand and refusing to accept the actual research itself is another thing entirely. It's hard to think of anything more corrosive to the scientific process, and the extent to which the Bush administration does this is unprecedented. Nixon didn't do it, Reagan didn't do it, and Bush Sr. and Clinton didn't do it. Only the current administration has done this on a regular and sustained basis.

As John Quiggin pointed out last year, there is now virtually no academic discipline acceptable to orthodox Republicans. They don't want to hear about facts and they don't want to hear about research. Rather, they seem to think that somehow the world will conform to their views regardless of what the reality actually is, and anyone who says that the reality is different is simply a political enemy to be ignored or smeared as circumstances require. It's scary.

The full UCS report is here.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOBS....Brad DeLong has been all over this, but Matt Yglesias at Tapped has a good quickie roundup of the ridiculousness of the administration's job forecast, issued a mere week ago and already abandoned by virtually everyone in the administration, including the president himself ("I'm not a statistician," he complained. "I'm not a predictor.")

But can I suggest a next step? It's one thing to mock the president's lousy handling of the economy, but someone needs to step up to the plate and explain in nice clear language exactly why Bush's tax cuts were ill-suited as job creation tools and exactly what we ought to be doing instead. (Yes, I'm looking at you, John Kerry and John Edwards.) I'm willing to cut them a lot of slack and accept that anything they say will contain a high proportion of political hot air, but they still need to say it. What should have been done two years ago and what should be done now? What would a middle class, job-friendly Democratic administration do about our jobless recovery?

Perhaps Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, and Max Sawicky can give them some advice on what to say?

Kevin Drum 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CALIFORNIA'S DEFICIT....California's legislative analyst, Elizabeth Hill, is nonpartisan and widely respected. Unfortunately, her efforts to capture Californians' attention with talk of "structural imbalances" and aging infrastructure is usually met with glassy-eyed indifference. So her most recent report on Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget plan does its best to hit 'em where it hurts: cut the budget in the wrong places, she says, and lines at the DMV will get longer and longer. The LA Times even has a helpful chart.

That's telling 'em. She also has some more substantive concerns:

  • California has the second worst roads in the nation, so we shouldn't be cutting back on the transportation budget. Her preferred solution is an increase in the gas tax.

  • The economy isn't growing as fast as projected. This blows another $1 billion hole in the budget.

  • We should stop raiding local governments whenever the state gets in trouble. That $1.3 billion.

  • Arnold's budget figures are extremely optimistic. Even if everything he's counting on comes true, we'll still have a $1 billion deficit this year and $7 billion next year. And if things don't all go 100% perfectly, we'll be several billion dollars in the hole.

And here's an interesting statistic. Increased taxes may sound bad, but Hill claims that Californians pay $700 more than they should in car repairs each year because of bad roads. I'm not sure what her backup for that is, but it's a pretty good way of framing the issue and demonstrating that increased taxes aren't necessarily always a bad thing.

On another note, a few people have asked me what I think about our $15 billion deficit bond that's on the March 2 ballot. Answer: I don't know. I really ought to look into the pros and cons, I suppose, but the whole California budget situation is such an ungodly mess that it just makes me tired. Still, unlike most of you, I actually have to vote on this in a couple of weeks, so I suppose I ought to make an effort. Maybe this weekend I'll dive into it.

Kevin Drum 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DIAMOND LANE FOR HYBRIDS?....An op-ed in the LA Times this morning suggests that we should open up carpool lanes to gasoline-friendly hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius. Normally I would probably consider this a bad idea for a variety of reasons (do we really want highway patrol officers to have to memorize makes and models of hybrids before they pull someone over?), but my mother is about to buy a used Prius and I'm a loyal son (and she reads this site), so I say: great idea! It's clearly an important way of encouraging fuel conservation in California and deserves wide support.

Besides, I might want to borrow her car someday.

UPDATE: Mom emails to say that she appreciates the loyalty but she doesn't even approve of carpool lanes in the first place. Oh well.

Kevin Drum 9:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE FROM THE MEMPHIS FLYER....Who would have guessed that the weekly Memphis Flyer would keep breaking new ground in the National Guard story? Last week Flyer senior editor Jackson Baker wrote about two pilots in George Bush's Alabama unit who had no recollection of ever seeing him there, and on Monday he was back with an update.

It turns out that both of his original sources knew John "Bill" Calhoun, the guy who claims Bush really did show up at Dannelly Air Base in 1972 and that he spent his time in Calhoun's office reading magazines. I think you could say they're skeptical about Calhoun's story:

Im not saying it wasnt possible, but I cant imagine Bill not introducing him around, Mintz said. Unless he [Bush] was an introvert back then, which I dont think he was, hed have spent some time out in the mainstream, in the dining hall or wherever. Hed have spent some time with us. Unless he was trying to avoid publicity. But he wasnt well known at all then. It all seems a bit unusual.

Bishop was even more explicit. Im glad he [Calhoun] remembered being with Lt. Bush and Lt. Bushs eating sandwiches and looking at manuals. It seems a little strange that one man saw an individual, and all the rest of them did not. Because it was such a small organization. Usually, we all had lunch together.

Usually, we all had lunch together. Yes, that makes sense, doesn't it? Bush really doesn't seem like the studious wallflower type, does he?

Another former member of the unit, Wayne Rambo, also has some questions about the 15 "gratuitous" points that Bush supposedly got credited with on his retirement summary. Those 15 points were indeed routine, he says, but only if you otherwise met the normal requirements for a year:

The 50-point minimum has always been taken very seriously, especially for pilots, says Rambo. The reason is that it takes a lot of taxpayer money to train a pilot, and you dont want to see it wasted.

For whatever reason, the elusive Lt. George W. Bush was awarded 41 actual points for his service in both Texas and Alabama during 1972 though he apparently was given 15 gratuitous points -- presumably by his original Texas command -- enough to bring him up from substandard. That would have been a decided violation of the norm, according to Rambo, who stresses that the awarding of gratuitous points was clearly meant only as a reward to reservists for meeting their bottom line

You had to get to 50 to get the gratuitous points, which applied toward your retirement benefits, the former chief administrative officer recalls. If you were 49, you stayed at 49; if you were 50, you got up to 65.

If Rambo is right, Bush didn't meet the 50 point minimum i.e., "fulfull his obligation" in either of his final two years. He only made it by adding in his gratuitous points, and Rambo says that shouldn't have happened unless special favors were being done.

But then, it wouldn't have been the first time, would it?

Kevin Drum 10:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NATIONAL GUARD FINALE?....I haven't had any National Guard posts for a few days, but that's mainly because there hasn't been any fresh news to report. The "full release" of documents last Friday seems to have shut everyone up.

(But admit it: it's kind of nice that the wingnut commenter population around here has dropped off, isn't it? It's the Guard stuff that brings them around, you know.)

At any rate, this is probably a good time to summarize what we know. The following is relatively non-controversial:

  1. George Bush joined the Guard in 1968 for a six-year term. It's not clear if he actually needed much help getting into a fighter unit (which required a much greater time commitment than most Guard postings), but there's no question that he did, in fact, benefit from some high-level string pulling. Texas ber-politico Ben Barnes admitted as much under oath in 1999.

  2. For four years he served faithfully and compiled a good record.

  3. In 1971-72 he apparently started losing interest in the Guard. He attended drills much less often than before and flew for the last time on April 16, 1972.

  4. In May 1972 he moved to Alabama to work on a senatorial campaign. For the next six months he did not show up at any drills at all and missed his annual physical. Even by the loose standards of the 70s-era Guard, this was pretty unusual.

  5. On October 28, while still in Alabama, he began getting paid for drills again. However, it's not clear where he showed up or what he was doing. A large number of witnesses say they can't remember ever seeing him at Dannelly Air Base in Montgomery, including some who were on the lookout for him, and the only witness with a clear memory of seeing Bush has turned out to be non-credible.

  6. During Bush's final two years he performed the minimal duties needed to fulfill his commitment. He was transferred to the Reserves six months before his commitment was up and discharged from the Reserves a year after that.

So far, all this shows is that Bush cut a few corners and was less than zealous about finishing his 6-year commitment. Given Bush's age, the tenor of the times, and the winding down of the Vietnam War, this is hardly noteworthy.

What is noteworthy, however, is the suspicion that there's more to the story. My email inbox is full to bursting with queries about whether I've heard of some theory or another to explain Bush's six-month absence in 1972 (answer: yes), and if these theories were confined to the tinfoil hat crowd we could just move on. But they aren't, and there are some pretty good reasons for that:

In other words, there are a lot of unanswered questions that make it perfectly reasonable to suspect that there's more to this story than meets the eye. Unfortunately, questions are all they are.

So what's next? At the moment, nothing, unless someone digs up some new evidence. It's possible that the Bushies aren't really releasing his entire file, but someone would need to come up with evidence for that. It's possible that documents were purged from his file, but we would need further evidence beyond Burkett's word to keep that story alive. It's possible that something happened in mid-1972 to explain the odd discrepancies in the documents, but there's no hard evidence of that either.

So the story is stuck in an endless speculation loop unless some enterprising reporter comes up with actual new evidence. Until then, we wait. And if no new evidence appears, the story dies.

Kevin Drum 6:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAN EDWARDS WIN?....Over at Slate, William Saletan has some intriguing amateur statistical analysis about John Edwards' chances against John Kerry in the upcoming primaries. I was all ready to blow it off, but as I kept reading I realized that his numbers actually made a bit of sense (although he presents them in the wrong order, which made it harder to follow his argument).

Here's the short version: exit polls indicate that a large number of people are picking a candidate not on the basis of the issues, but simply on the basis of who's most likely to beat Bush. So far, these people have voted very heavily for Kerry.

But if you look at exit poll results for independents and crossover Republicans, it turns out that Edwards is running stronger than Kerry among these groups. Since these people are likely to make the difference in the general election, you can make a pretty good argument that Edwards is actually more likely to beat Bush than Kerry.

So Saletan's question is this: what happens if the voters who care only about beating Bush figure out that it's actually Edwards who is better positioned to do this? Will they abandon Kerry and go for the more electable Edwards?

I don't know, especially since most voters don't pay attention to the minutiae of exit polls. But it's an intriguing thought. And since I happen to like John Edwards a lot (he was my second choice candidate after Clark), it's a comforting thought too. The race isn't over yet.

Kevin Drum 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REMEMBERING HARRY TRUMAN....I have to laugh at this sentence from David Brooks' latest column:

Now, in the midst of the war against Islamic totalitarianism, the crucial question is this: Is the Democratic Party truly set to reclaim the legacy of Truman and Kennedy, or is it still living in the shadow of Vietnam?

Does anyone else get a kick out of the fact that conservatives practically worship Harry Truman these days as a symbol of what the Democratic party ought to be? They nearly swoon as they remind us that he was tough-minded, fiercely anti-communist, and not afraid of using American power to do what was right.

But that's only what they say now. At the time, as even a quick skim of a history book will tell you, conservatives tarred Truman as the next best thing to a ravening Bolshevik. Joe McCarthy labelled both Truman and George Marshall as communist dupes, Richard Nixon led the charge against a State Department that Truman had allegedly stocked with pinko symps, conservatives were apoplectic over his firing of Douglas MacArthur, and he was accused both of losing China and failing to nuke the Soviet Union when we had the chance. (Yes, nuking the Reds really was a policy choice advocated by a number of conservatives at the time. Containment, now hailed as an example of tough-minded anti-communism, was considered by some conservatives at the time to be the worst kind of weak-kneed appeasement.)

So here's my question. Given that conservatives then thought Truman was a commie dupe but conservatives now think he was a great American, why should we care what conservatives are saying today about people like John Kerry? My guess is that he'll take a non-panicky course in the war on terrorism that will be denounced as appeasement by today's conservatives, but that 50 years from now they'll honor him as the best of American liberalism. So why not just cut out the middleman and vote for the guy right now?

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IN DEFENSE OF JIMMY CARTER....David Adesnik is defending Jimmy Carter. I think this is well worth doing since right wing loathing of Carter long ago entered a shadow universe completely unhinged from reality. I have plenty of disagreements with the guy myself, and didn't vote for him when he ran for reelection in 1980, but I've never been able to figure out why conservatives have jumped the shark on Carter in such spectacular fashion.

It's true that he was a firm noninterventionist, at least for his first three years, but soft on communism? As David points out, Carter was the guy who abandoned the Nixon/Kissinger policy of realpolitik and genuinely hammered the Soviets on human rights a policy picked up by Ronald Reagan and used to great effect in the 80s. Carter also approved major new weapons programs during his single term, brokered an important peace agreement in the Middle East, stuck by the Shah longer than even a conservative administration probably would have, and in 1979 approved the most wide ranging covert operation against the Soviets in the history of the CIA. If the Desert One rescue mission hadn't failed, he might have been reelected in 1980.

This isn't any kind of fiery defense of Carter, just a plea for a bit of balance. Unfortunately, the mere fact that he tries to broker peace agreements seems to be enough to send conservatives screaming for their thesauri. I suspect this tells us more about conservatives than it does about Carter.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PIGEONHOLING....I'm not sure why I care, but I was intrigued by a post from Glenn Reynolds complaining yet again about someone labeling him a conservative. And he's got a point. After all, as near as I can tell he has pretty liberal-minded positions on civil liberties, drug laws, abortion, and gay marriage, to name a few.

On the other hand, he has loud and extremely strident conservative positions on the war and on gun control, and these get far more attention on his blog than anything else. What's more, he seems to have generally conservative positions on affirmative action and social programs, supports George Bush, hates those damn socialist Europeans, and complains regularly about the dearth of conservatives on university faculties.

On the actual issues, then, his views are mixed. But on the evidence of what he actually spends his time blogging about, he's conservative. Does that make it fair to label him a conservative?

I'm not sure, but I think I'd argue that it does. Politics is all about emphasis, and even if you have ten liberal views and ten conservative ones, if you spend 90% of your time talking about the conservative issues it's reasonable to conclude that the conservative stuff is also 90% of what you really care about. So until we get better labels not likely anytime in the near future he's a conservative whether he likes it or not. A bit unfair, perhaps, but part of the normal sloppiness of public life.

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEAN BOWS OUT....Earlier this morning I read in the LA Times that Howard Dean was quitting the race. Sort of:

A top aide said early this morning that while Dean was going to halt campaigning, he would keep his name on the ballot to allow supporters to vote for him in upcoming primaries and to have a say at the Democratic National Convention in July.

I was all ready to write a post about what a bad decision this was, but luckily I had to go off to the dentist instead. When I got back the news had been updated. Apparently he's not actively trying to remove his name from upcoming ballots, but he is definitely quitting :

In a speech that was posted on his campaign Web site before scheduled delivery in front of supporters in Burlington, Dean said, "Today my candidacy may come to an end -- but our campaign for change is not over."

After thanking supporters for helping to build "the greatest grassroots campaign presidential politics has ever seen," Dean announced: "In the coming weeks, we will be launching a new initiative to continue the campaign you helped begin....There is much work still to be done, and today is not an end -- it is just the beginning."

Good for him. I was never very enthused by Dean's candidacy, but there's no question that he played a huge role in putting some backbone into the Democratic field, and I honor him for that.

On a personal level, of course, it must be devastating to come from nowhere the way he did, become the undisputed frontrunner, and then suddenly collapse. I hope he recovers from that and that his "new initiative" is as big a contribution to the upcoming campaign as his own candidacy was to the primaries. Ditto for Wesley Clark, who I hope stays active in Democratic politics and becomes a real force.

So the bottom line is this: Thanks, Howard. You weren't my candidate, but I sure appreciate everything you did. If we win in November, a big part of the victory will be yours.

Kevin Drum 10:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

COURTROOM NEWS....An appeals court has upheld the Do-Not-Call registry. Hurrah!

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a semicolon is holding up a ruling on gay marriage:

Superior Court Judge James Warren told plaintiffs late this afternoon that they would likely succeed on the merits of their case but said he would not issue a court order until they corrected a punctuation error in their legal filing.

"I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal. That semicolon is a big deal," Warren told attorneys, according to an account by Associated Press.

My high school teachers always warned me that grammar and punctuation would turn out to be more important than I thought someday....

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GUNS AND BUTTER....Over at Tapped, Matt Yglesias points to this Fareed Zakaria column about problems with sustaining our foreign policy:

The greatest threat to America's primacy in the world comes not from its overseas commitments, explains the historian Niall Ferguson in his smart forthcoming book "Colossus": "It is the result of America's chronically unbalanced domestic finances." The mounting federal budget deficits that now stretch out as far as the eye can see will mean--if history is any guide--sharp cutbacks in American military and foreign-affairs spending. We will see a forced retreat of America's foreign policy similar to the years after the Vietnam War--only the cuts this time are likely to be much, much deeper and the resulting chaos far greater.

Matt has a quibble with this our finances have been "chronically" unbalanced only for the past three years of the George Bush administration but I have more than that. Zakaria's argument is completely nonsensical.

First, as even Zakaria points out, our overseas spending (primarily the defense budget) is actually fairly small in historical terms. It's about 4% of GDP right now, half what it was 50 years ago, and we certainly have the capacity to keep it there for as long as we want.

Second, although problems with Social Security and Medicare funding are serious, especially given George Bush's insane economic policies, they aren't that serious. Social Security can be fixed with a modest combination of cost-of-living reform, slightly increased retirement ages, and raising the cap on payroll taxes. On the healthcare side, even if we decided to move to a full-blown single-payer system it would probably cost us only about an extra 5% of GDP. (And of course "cost" isn't the right word anyway since we'd also save the 5% of GDP currently being spent on private healthcare.)

Put it all together and it means that total federal spending would rise from today's 20% of GDP to around 25-30% of GDP. That's a lot, but it's hardly a sign of the apocalypse. Despite what Zakaria says, not only can we afford all this if we want to, we can actually afford it rather easily.

Finally, who is he comparing us to? Even if our overseas budget does decline due to increased domestic requirements, the rest of the world is likely to be in even worse shape. Europe and Japan have demographic time bombs that make ours look like a mere firecracker, Russia is practically crumbling away as its population ages and its health infrastructure disintegrates, and China's average age will exceed America's within a couple of decades. No matter what happens in America, it's almost a dead certainty that for pure demographic reasons we will be more powerful relative to the rest of the world 50 years from now than we are today.

Despite Zakaria's solemn "if history is any guide" formulation, the fact is that America has never cut back on defense because of domestic spending. We cut back after World War II because the war was over. We cut back after Vietnam because the war was over. We cut back after the Cold War because the war was over. Domestic spending had nothing to do with it.

It's true that our finances are in a parlous state right now, and it's true that significant tax increases are inevitable over the next decade. It's also true that these tax increases will be much more painful than they otherwise would have been thanks to George Bush's reckless economic policies.

But in the end, there's not really much doubt that eventually either George Bush or somebody else will fess up to this and go ahead and increase taxes. If it's really what we want, America has plenty of money for both guns and butter.

Kevin Drum 5:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KOUFAX AWARDS....The Koufax Awards are in! Congrats to Atrios (twice), Billmon (thrice!), Orcinus, TalkLeft, Daily Kos (twice), TBogg, South Knox Bubba, Kicking Ass, Juan Cole, Zizka, Tacitus, and Uggabugga.

And of course many thanks to Dwight and Mary Beth for hosting the awards. And be sure to vote for Mary Beth for the state legislature if you happen to live in her district in Portland, Maine!

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WHERE THERE'S SMOKE....Balta nominates this as perhaps the most egregious use of state money ever in the midst of a fiscal meltdown:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's cigar-smoking governor, is to tear a roof off the state capitol so that smokers can enjoy their vice inside the legislature.

The Austrian-born actor, elected governor last November, is facing protests for deciding to turn a courtyard in the building into a "smoking plaza". It will include a drinking area. Part of the roof will be removed to get round a California law banning smoking in offices, bars and restaurants.

He's right. Consider me suitably outraged.

But in reality this post is dedicated to my cigar-smoking friend Professor Marc, who hates every aspect of Arnold except for his cigar smoking. Maybe he can get an invite to the new smoking plaza someday and lobby the Governator about the value to society of highly paid university professors. (And lower cigar taxes too!)

UPDATE: Less here than meets the eye, apparently. I have to admit I thought it was odd that when I Googled this story the references were almost all from foreign newspapers, but when I found a CNN article I decided it was probably genuine. Live and learn.

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WORD QUIZ....What common four-letter word has made the most meteoric rise in linguistic history? Hint: among Canadian (and probably American) 16-year-olds, it now accounts for one of every 20 spoken words and is used 60% of the time that quoted material is introduced.

Answer here.

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SUVs....Gregg Easterbrook, as part of his ongoing scorched earth campaign against SUVs, summarizes the latest findings:

So the Godzilla SUV and its new cousin, the mega-pickup, emit more pollution than regular cars, burn more gasoline, and cause more road fatalities than would otherwise occur.

Well, sure, but look on the bright side: they also block your view if you get stuck behind one, take up too much space in parking lots, and cost a fortune. In the interest of fairness, shouldn't he have mentioned this stuff too?

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ABORTION IN WICHITA....The LA Times has an interesting feature today about Troy Newman, one of the country's most aggressive and obsessive abortion activists. He's recently turned his sights on Wichita:

Over the next 12 months, Newman and his followers will point their arrows at everyone who works for Women's Health Care Services, from the chief physician to the armed security guards.

Photos of the mangled heads of fetuses will greet the receptionist at her favorite restaurant. Protesters will point out the nurse as she walks into the mall, the office manager as she heads into church. Every clinic employee can expect pickets at home, yellow arrows pointed at their front doors.

Newman will pick through clinic workers' trash to figure out where they do business; he'll trail them at a distance to learn their routines.

His goal is not just to make their lives uncomfortable. He wants to unsettle and disgust their friends and associates, so their hairstylists and their pharmacists, even their neighbors, make it clear they're not welcome in Wichita.

Charming, isn't it? Apparently invasion of privacy is not a crime in Kansas, so Newman's tactics are all legal.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE....I hate to pick on a guest blogger, even a spousal one, but Calblog Husband is upset at the idea of gay marriage:

Now, under the guise of it being a "civil rights issue", we are supposed to overturn 5,000 years of human history--and if you are against it, you are somehow a bigot, like George Wallace standing on the schoolhouse steps in the early '60s. What will be the next step? If gays are allowed to marry because they have made a lifestyle choice, what about polygamy? What about group marriages? What about "marriage" being whatever I subjectively decide it is?

But that's exactly what marriage is: it's whatever we as a society decide it is. Unless you have a specifically Bible-centric view of what marriage is, you need to accept this simple reality: marriage is not a natural law, it is a human institution that's defined by humans and subject to change by humans.

Slavery was a human tradition for 5,000 years too. So was child labor, the subjugation of women, and the divine right of kings. All of these are venerable human institutions that we recently decided to change. So why not marriage? Why shouldn't we change it if that's what we collectively decide to do?

As for polygamy and group marriages, the answer is simple: those will become legal if there's ever enough collective pressure to make them so. So far there's no sign of that.

What the City of San Francisco is doing is a publicity stunt. They are peacefully challenging the law in an effort to change public opinion, something that's a rich tradition in American politics from both liberals and conservatives. When a court rules against them, as it almost certainly will, they'll stop. So what's the problem?

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BAD POLICY?....OR NO POLICY?....Brad DeLong, normally a clear-eyed observer of the Bush administration's self-delusion and electoral cynicism, finds himself surprised today at the extent of the Bush administration's self-delusion and electoral cynicism:

But we would take comfort from one thing. The fact that Glenn Hubbard was so very careful with his language in response to direct questions....meant that at least internal administration decision making was not being fed misinformation. The misleading was confined to reporters. On the inside, we were sure, Hubbard was telling his political masters and the High Politicians the straight story.

....But now it turns out that we were wrong....it was not just reporters who were being misled by Glenn Hubbard's giving the short-term deficit answer when he was asked the long-term deficit question. It was George W. Bush and the rest of the White House senior political staff as well.

Things inside the Bush White House are indeed much, much worse than I could possibly have imagined.

I'm surprised at Brad. One of the most telling characteristics of the Bush administration is its almost chilling disdain for policy realities. In the best case they simply ignore policy and in the worst case they act on policy advice that's obviously wrong and that they plainly know is wrong. Actual problem solving is simply not on their radar.

It may be a little unusual to see the kind of firm documentary evidence of this that Brad has dug up here, but that's the extent of it. The Bush White House cares only about ideology and reelection. Their political calculus goes no further.

Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REPUBLICANS RUNNING SCARED?....Fred Barnes has an article in the Weekly Standard suggesting that John Kerry should be easy pickings for Republicans:

But if Kerry is a target-rich environment, why are Republicans and conservatives despairing over Bush's chances of defeating him? The answer is they've succumbed to panic. Sure, Bush has had a bad month. His State of the Union address was flat. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (yet) is embarrassing. The National Guard flap is a distraction. The deficit is nothing to brag about.

Is this really true? Are Republicans actually in a lather over Bush's chances in November? Barnes is obviously more plugged into conservatives circles than I am, and he sure seems to think so:

Nothing is more pathetic in the Washington political community these days than tremulous Republicans and conservatives who whine about how Bush may lose to Kerry. Well, he might, but don't bet on it.

"Well, he might"? That's cheery news for us Dems, isn't it? And many thanks to Barnes for pointing out all the good reasons why Bush ought to be running scared.

Of course, he forgot one: the Valerie Plame investigation looks set to bust open fairly soon and may take the Vice President's office down with it. Another cheery thought.

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KERRY AFFAIR....FINAL EDITION....Did John Kerry have an affair with an intern? Drudge says yes. Kerry says no. The intern says no. And her parents, who thought Kerry was a "sleazeball" a few days ago, now say they plan to vote for him for president.

I guess we can stick a fork in this one....

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLOG ADVERTISING....Boy, there sure a lot of congressional candidates advertising here all of a sudden, aren't there?

Kevin Drum 9:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FREE TRADE....Max Sawicky takes liberal economists to task for their too-enthusiastic support of free trade:

Liberal economists oddly uphold the sanctity of unregulated markets when trade is involved, but readily accept intervention in domestic markets. We can have a minimum wage in the U.S., but we can't preclude the import of goods produced under sub-human conditions.

I'm not sure I agree, but then again I'm also not sure that I know enough about trade economics to have an informed opinion. In any case, his question seems at least valid: why is economic intervention OK domestically but not internationally?

Kevin Drum 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MODEST REQUESTS....As long as I'm being cranky this morning, I have a couple of modest requests for the blogosphere at large.

First, please check your links when you publish your posts. That is, load up your blog and actually click on the links in your post to make sure they work. It only takes a few seconds.

Second, links to the New York Times disappear behind their archive wall within 14 days unless you use the magic formula. I posted about this a few months ago, but unfortunately the magic formula was kind of clumsy and tedious to use. But it turns out there's actually a really easy way to generate permanent New York Times links:

  1. Right click on the link below and add it to your Favorites:

    NYT Auto Link Generator

  2. When you're reading a Times article on the web, just click on the link. It will automatically generate a permanent URL. (This method doesn't work 100% of the time, but it does seem to work most of the time.)

This is just one small way of fighting linkrot and helping to keep the blogosphere in touch with the original source material that we all link to.

Kevin Drum 9:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MINDLESS MEDIA CRITICISM....OK, this bugs me. I know it's trivial, but it's the kind of petty and deliberately misleading "media criticism" that consumes way too much oxygen in the blogosphere.

Instapundit notes today and The Campaign Desk links approvingly that AP's Scott Lindlaw wrote the following in a color piece on the Daytona 500:

With his wife, Laura, trailing him, Bush walked the pit, mingling with drivers, shaking hands with fans. He peered into car No. 16, sponsored by the National Guard, and if the car reminded him of the tempest swirling around his own service in the Texas Air National Guard, he didn't show it.

Shocking! These guys can't even cover a NASCAR race without obsessing about politics!

But then I clicked the link to read the story. Here's what Bush told NBC in an interview just before the race:

I flew fighters when I was in the Guard, and I like speed. It would've been fun to drive up on these banks....I'd like to, but I'm afraid the agents wouldn't let me.

Give me a break. Bush's appearance was obviously a full-blown campaign appearance, complete with Air Force One flyby, and he's the one who brought up his fighter jock background in the first place. What's more, this wasn't AP's main coverage of the race, it was a sidebar feature meant to spotlight the political aspects of Bush's visit. Given that, what's wrong with a couple of sentences tying Bush's visit and his own remarks into a controversy that everyone this side of Mars knows is front and center right now? Only a journalistic puritan could object.

I expect this kind of stuff from Glenn, but The Campaign Desk should know better than to join in with this brand of mindless media nitpicking.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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END OF THE ROAD FOR DEAN?....The Democratic primary campaign has been so weird that I'm loathe to make any predictions at all anymore, even the rather obvious one that Kerry has it wrapped up. But what to make of this?

"If Howard Dean does not win the Wisconsin primary, I will reach out to John Kerry unless he reaches out to me first," said [Dean's campaign] chairman, Steven Grossman, who was chairman of Mr. Kerry's 1996 Senate race. "I will make it clear that I will do anything and everything I can to help him become the next president, and I will do anything and everything I can to build bridges with the Dean organization."

My memory of these things isn't that hot, but has a campaign chairman ever publicly announced that he was about to endorse another candidate without first quitting the campaign? Jumping a sinking ship is one thing, but aren't you supposed to officially resign first?

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February 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ADVENTURES IN FORENSIC JOURNALISM....Former Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett says that members of George Bush's staff, along with senior officers at Texas National Guard Headquarters, purged Bush's National Guard files of potentially embarrassing material back in 1997. Is his story true?

First, let's review his claims:

  • He accidentally overheard a telephone conversation in 1997 between Joe Allbaugh, Bush's chief of staff, and General Daniel James, Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard. Allbaugh told James that Karen Hughes was preparing a biography and needed information on Bush's military service, and then added, "We certainly don't want anything that is embarrassing in there."

  • The next day he heard a similar hallway conversation. General James told General John Scribner that Bush's people were coming out, and General Wayne Marty added, "and make sure there's nothing in there that'll embarrass the governor."

  • Ten days later, Burkett's friend and fellow guardsman, George Conn, led him to the base museum, which was run by General Scribner. Once there, Burkett saw a trashcan sitting on a table, and when he looked in he saw 20 to 40 pages of documents with George Bush's name on them.

  • At the time all this happened he mentioned his concerns to three fellow guardsmen: George Conn, Harvey Gough, and Dennis Adams.

Unlike the basic National Guard story, which has been fuelled largely by odd discrepencies in the documentary evidence, there is no documentary evidence regarding Burkett's story. We just have his word for it, and needless to say, all the people he has accused of cleaning up Bush's records vigorously deny it.

To judge the truth of Burkett's story, then, all we can do is ask certain questions: Is Burkett's story internally consistent? Has it stayed consistent over time? Do other people corroborate it? Does Burkett have a track record of telling the truth? Does he have any axes to grind?

The short answer is that I think Burkett is probably telling the truth. The long answer is well, long.

So apologies in advance for the extreme length of this post it's going to be a long slog, but if you're really interested in this story you should read through the whole thing. At the end I've appended the full text of several interviews I've done so that you can see for yourself exactly what people said in their own words.

Is Bill Burkett's story internally consistent?

Burkett's full story is here, and as far as I can tell it's internally consistent. No part of his story seems to be directly contradicted by any other part.

Has his story stayed consistent over time?

Mostly yes, although the story here is mixed. Here's the timeline:

  • In 1997 Burkett told three people about the overheard conversation and about finding the documents in the trashcan. All three of them have corroborated this. (Although this part of the story is a bit complicated and will get more detail below.)

  • In 1998 he wrote a letter to Texas State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos outlining the same story. Dave Moniz of USA Today confirmed to me that he has seen a copy of the letter.

  • In November 2000 Burkett repeated the story to Linda Starr of Online Journal.

  • In 2002 he repeated his story again in a teleconference with the DOD's Inspector General's Office (although no transcript of this interview is available).

  • In 2003 he told the same story to Greg Palast.

  • And this year, of course, he has repeated it again on multiple occasions.

However, there's also this:

I'll talk more about the "retaliation" stuff below, but the bottom line is that it's pretty clear that Burkett has been under considerable stress from time to time and has both backed down or become overheated occasionally depending on his mood. This is obviously unhelpful to his credibility, but only at the fringes since the core outline of his story has stayed the same. Overall, I think the evidence shows that he has been telling pretty much the same story for seven years now.

Do other people corroborate Burkett's story? Other evidence?

Generally yes:

  • Harvey Gough told me on Friday that Burkett told him in 1997 "that folks from downtown had been over to Mabry, they came over and the word I used is "cleansed" the files, the word he uses is, you know, they cleaned 'em up he said they threw some of them in the trash, the ones they didn't like. Says they were trying to cover up something for later...."

  • Dennis Adams confirmed to both the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle that Burkett told him about the files in 1997. In addition, he told the Chronicle, "I have no doubt he is telling the truth."

  • George Conn is a more complicated case. He confirms that Burkett expressed general concerns about Bush's files to him, and also confirms that he visited the base museum with Burkett, but told the Boston Globe last week that he doesn't remember ever seeing anyone discard files. I talked to Conn on Friday and he said the same thing: Burkett didn't specifically tell him about overheard phone conversations or the documents in trashcans.

    But Conn's story doesn't hold up. In 2002 he told Dave Moniz of USA Today that Burkett had told him about overhearing the conversation in General James' office. Moniz confirmed this to me on Saturday morning.

    What's more, Conn has a distinct memory of visiting the base museum with Burkett, but when I asked him the purpose of the visit he said, "it wasn't an anything visit." It's hardly plausible, however, that he would have such a specific memory of a "nothing" meeting seven years later. He'd only remember it if something noteworthy happened there.

    So why is Conn declining to back up Burkett even though he thinks Burkett is "honest and forthright"? Harvey Gough told me that he spoke to Conn in Germany last week and that Conn was afraid of causing trouble: "He's running scared, because he doesn't want to lose his job over there."

    In other words, despite Scott McClellan's assertion on Friday that the Boston Globe story demolished Burkett's credibility, it didn't. In fact, the evidence very strongly suggests that Burkett did indeed discuss his story with Conn in 1997 but that Conn simply doesn't want to be involved any longer.

Bottom line: all three of Burkett's sources have confirmed his story.

In addition, there's a bit of outside corroboration too: Moniz's story quotes an anonymous source as saying that he "was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968." In other words, Burkett is not the only person who has expressed concern about how Bush's files were handled.

Finally, there's the fact that Bush's file really does seem to be pretty thin. There just isn't a lot there, especially after May 1972. Even Albert Lloyd, who was hired by the Bush campaign to validate his National Guard records four years ago, now thinks they're probably incomplete:


Albert C. Lloyd, a retired personnel officer in the Texas Air National Guard -- who helped the White House review Bush's file both in 2000 and recently -- said "original documentation" would have been filed when Bush performed his duties stating exactly where they were performed and what he did. "The document goes to the payroll office and shows he performed at X place for X hours on X dates," Lloyd said from his home in Austin.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Burkett thinks was purged from Bush's files.

Does Burkett have a track record of telling the truth?

In 1997 Burkett discovered that there were "ghost soldiers" in the Texas Guard, soldiers who were still carried on the rolls even though they never showed up for drill and weren't being paid. He tried unsuccessfully to blow the whistle on this and stop the practice.

In late 2001, Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard of USA Today finished a lengthy investigation into the problem of ghost soldiers nationwide and published a 3-part story about it. Moniz told me that everything Burkett had told him had checked out and that several other people with no axe to grind find Burkett to be believable as well.

In addition to Moniz, Jim Moore, a longtime Texas reporter who has interviewed Burkett extensively for a forthcoming book, emailed me that he found Burkett "immensely credible."

Does Burkett have an axe to grind?

This is the weakest link in Burkett's story: he has a huge axe to grind, and so do the people who have corroborated his story.

Here's what seems to have happened. Burkett uncovered the "ghost soldiers" problem in 1997 and tried unsuccessfully to get anyone to take it seriously. Then, in January 1998, after a trip to Panama for the Army, he collapsed in the Abilene airport and became seriously ill. For several months he was denied medical attention by the military and he blames this on retaliation from Bush aides who thought he was a troublemaker for pushing the ghost soldiers investigation.

All three people who have corroborated Burkett's story are also people who got involved in trying to get him medical care, and all three were eventually either court martialed or otherwise removed from the Guard possibly because of their parts in this. So they potentially have axes to grind as well.

And it gets worse. Burkett's illness seemed life threatening at the time and he was apparently panicked by it. In an effort to get the medical attention he wanted, he says he called Bush's office and talked to Dan Bartlett. During that conversation he came very close to threatening extortion over Bush's file cleansing unless he got the medical help he needed. Burkett says now, "I was probably out of line in a way and yet I will tell you now that I was begging for what I at that point considered life saving help."

According to Burkett, Conn was part of this as well. He was removed from the Guard in 1998 after officials discovered he had sent an email to Burkett advising him that in order to get medical help he might have to "play the card at the governor's office." In other words, threaten to go public with the file cleansing charges.

Needless to say, this provides plenty of evidence that Burkett might simply be a disgruntled guy who didn't get some medical attention he thought he deserved and blamed it on retaliation from Bush. And it doesn't help that he's virtually admitted to extorting Dan Bartlett over this.

Conclusion

In summary, Burkett's story is consistent; it has mostly stayed consistent over time; it's been corroborated by his witnesses; it's been corroborated by outside sources; his previous story about "ghost soldiers" has been found to be true; and he's apparently considered pretty reliable by several people not associated with him.

On the other hand, he also has a big axe to grind. But whistleblowers often do, and while it's important to keep motives in mind it's more important to consider the actual evidence at hand. In this case, it supports his story.

Bottom line: I provisionally think the evidence supports Burkett. He's telling the truth.

Postscript

At the same time, it's not clear to me that this story is going anywhere. Even if it's true, Burkett is the only person making the charge. The others are merely corroborating that he told them about it back in 1997. They didn't see it themselves.

Unless other actual eyewitnesses come forward to confirm Burkett's account, it's just his word against everyone else.

Note on sources

This has been incredibly longwinded. Sorry about that. But I thought it was worthwhile to spell out in detail precisely what the evidence for and against Burkett is so that readers who are interested can judge for themselves what to believe.

As an aside, I'd also like to point out that it's an example of the kind of forensic journalism practiced routinely by mainstream reporters. I see a little more mockery of journalists than I'd like in the blogosphere, and I think a lot of it is because too many people don't realize how much reporting and how much judgment are behind the small snippets of writing that end up on newsprint or on the air. All I did was make a few phone calls for this post, and far from "breaking new ground," this is life as usual for reporters except that they have to boil down everything I've written here to a few sentences and there's no way for readers to know what those sentences are based on.

But that's one of the nice things about blogs: if I feel like spending a lot of time on a single topic I can do it, and if I feel like posting all the detailed background information I can do that too. I hope you found it an interesting exercise.

Transcripts of the relevant sections of my interviews with Burkett, Gough, and Conn are below.

Interview with Bill Burkett, 11 February 2004

I got a phone call from Harvey Gough this morning, it's the first time I've talked to Harvey Gough in a series of eight to ten months.

The purpose of Harvey's call was to tell me that he had just gotten a phone call from George Conn and I want you to understand this, and I will not point an accusing finger, but I will tell you lots of strange things have happened here in the past ten to eleven days.

[Digression about computer problems, death threats....]

Harvey Gough called me this morning and told me that George Conn had called him this morning and told him he was scared to death, he had everybody falling off the walls trying to reach him, and that he wasn't going to talk to anybody. Now, he is in Germany, he has a contract military position with the DOD, and he feels that it's in jeopardy. The only way that I have to reach him is an email address and I really don't feel comfortable in sharing it, but if you do talk to Harvey Gough I would suggest that you ask him if he knows how to reach George Conn.


Interview with Harvey Gough, 13 February 2004

Bill told me sometime in '97, I can't tell you exactly when, I couldn't tell anybody exactly when, that folks from downtown had been over to Mabry, they came over and the word I used is "cleansed" the files, the word he uses is, you know, they cleaned 'em up he said they threw some of them in the trash, the ones they didn't like. Says they were trying to cover up something for later, and that's about what he had to say.

So he told you specifically that he had seen them throw files in the trash?

Yes, I mean, at that time he said that he saw them destroying the files, not throw 'em in the trash.

[Digression about rumors from other sources that Allbaugh, James, and Scribner had cleaned up Bush's files.]

What did George Conn tell you?

George says, "I ain't sayin nothing. I ain't talking. It's Bill's problem, let Bill solve his own problem, but I'm not talkin to anybody, and since then Conn's gotten on my case for giving out his cell phone number.

Why did Conn say he wouldn't talk?

Well, because he doesn't want to get involved. He's running scared, because he doesn't want to lose his job over there.


Interview with George Conn, 13 February 2004

What parts of [Jim Moore's] book are right and what parts are wrong?

That was the comment about the Boston Globe, I believe, it was relating to the book, not any conversation particularly with Burkett.

[Some digressions, followed by a question about whether he took Burkett to the base museum back in 1997.]

Took him is a bad word. He and I left the building, Building 8, and walked over to Building 6, which is not too far, maybe less than a hundred yards, and it's directly across the road. The Texas Military History Museum...we went over for him to initially meet General Scribner. I'd known him for a number of years. Colonel Burkett did not know him.

Now why did you go there? Was it your idea? Bill's idea?

No, no, we had talked about it sometime before that to get some Colonel Burkett was working on some visions, he did a Visions book, he was working for the Adjutant General, General James, and I was just assisting him and meeting Scribner because he had been around the National Guard for a number of years and Burkett was a relatively new insider to the Guard because his military service had been in New Mexico. So he did not know a lot of the older people that I knew, so it was just an introduction visit, or if Burkett needed anything he could know and say, hey, he would know who General Scribner was and he would be able to get the information if he needed any for his research, organizational type research.

So it was a, it wasn't an anything visit.

OK, now Bill says he had talked to you previous to this about his concerns that things were going on with the files. Is that true? Did he talk to you about that?

He, um, mentioned a concern over dinner. We had dinner frequently, we were both geographical bachelors down at Camp Mabry, down in Austin. I'm from the Dallas area and he was from Abilene, so we stayed there, he stayed in one building and I was in another building. We had dinner quite frequently, several nights a week. And it just in passing it kind of came up, and we talked about a lot of the hypothetical stuff relating maybe, uh, the conversation was very varied as to things that we talked about, and it came up that he just sort of in passing, you know, a "what if" type thing. Nothing, other than that.

You mean, what if, what if what....?

Was it possible for Governor Bush's records to be purged, would they be tampering with them, how could they be accessed, did I, you know, that type stuff.

Asking what? If you'd ever heard about this, or if you knew it could be done, or what?

No, not that I and I had not heard about it and I may have shared that with him, I don't know. I don't recall the this was a very minor conversation at the time.

And did he mention anything about why he was asking?

No he did not. I did not, I was not aware until I heard in the, that something in this book that he had stood outside the Adjutant General's door, had overheard a conversation that was on the speakerphone between the Adjutant General and supposedly someone downtown in the governor's office. He never shared that with me.

So even after this visit to the museum and so forth he never mentioned that?

No, not before or after, I never recall him telling me that.

The conversations you talked about where he mentioned it in passing after that did he ever talk about it again?

I don't recall.

I talked to Bill for a couple of hours on Wednesday and to me he's just a voice on the phone. You've known him, what do you think about him? He's making these charges, they're obviously very, very serious, what do you think of his character? Do you think he's telling the truth? Should I believe him?

I'm going to let you be the judge of that, and I'm not even going there. I'm sure in the course of the discussion with Colonel Burkett he talked about his health problem

Oh yeah, sure, sure....

OK. That may, it by no means makes him unbalanced or anything else, and I would never say anything derogatory about him. We had a very good relationship, we talked, our cubicles were very near one another, in fact across an aisle, and we went through, you know, some stuff together, the military end of it. And I would, you'll have to make up your mind if he's telling you the truth or what his, what he wants to gain by this. I don't know. I am not, I have never in my entire life seen an Air National Guard record, piece of paper, file, or anything else with the name of Bush on it. Any of the Bushes, I don't even care which one it is, any of them. I never saw that.

You said you never talked to Jim Moore about his book, but have you talked to Harvey, to Bill, to anybody recently about this?

I have not talked to Burkett, uh, maybe I, uh, email, I sent him a Christmas card, my wife and I did. I haven't talked to him in a couple of years I'd imagine.

So after that initial conversation all the way back in '97 in passing....

I don't think I've had a conversation, well, I transferred from the Texas Army National Guard to the United States Army Reserve in '98, I believe it was, I've slipped since then. I doubt if I've talked to Burkett since then. I don't recall it.

OK.

It's been several years.

Kevin Drum 10:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOVING AND HATING GOOGLE....The Washington Post has an interesting story about Google today that contains this interesting (and, I might add, completely unsourced) factoid:

The stacks of a university library can be a rather lonely place these days. Library circulation dropped about 20 percent at major universities in the first five years after Internet search engines became popular. For most students, Google is where all research begins (and, for the frat boys, ends).

I am constantly reminded of just how good and bad Google is. I can't count the number of times that I've located obscure information starting with nothing more than the vaguest wisp of a remembered phrase, which led to something that jogged my memory, which in turn led to something else, which in turn finally led to exactly what I was looking for. And for all that it's frustrating when I'm in the middle of one of these searches, they usually don't actually last more than a few minutes. It's remarkable.

On the other hand, without that initial wisp I never would have gotten anything. A decently broad general knowledge of events is still necessary in order to get much out of Google in the first place, and it's also necessary in order to filter all the crud out and figure out whether Google has led you to a reasonable site or a crackpot spider hole. In fact, one of the worst problems with Google, I think, is that it makes research too easy. You can quickly find obscure information (hooray!) and then make an idiot out of yourself by not doing a further bit of Googling in order to understand the context around that information (boo hiss!). Google is great for finding specific facts in short chunks, but lousy at providing larger context and meaning.

In a way, Google is an intellectual amplifier: it makes smart people smarter, but it also makes dumb people dumber, since a naive Google search can easily lead you to information that's actually less useful than knowing nothing. In other words, don't throw out your books quite yet.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUNNI AND SHIITE....Juan Cole has an interesting first-person account from an "educated Sunni Arab" about a recent meeting between Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Kurdish and Sunni Arab clan leaders (Sistani, of course, is Shiite). The basic theme is that Sistani was trying to convince the others that the difference between Shiite and Sunni was relatively minor and that the important thing was to stay united and stick up for Iraq:

"Give my regards to your tribes and to the Sunna clergy and tell them that Sistani "kisses their hands" and begs them to unite with all Iraqis, Shia, Kurds, Christian, Turkmen. You just unite, and count on me to stand up to the Americans! The worst that could happen is that I die! That doesn't worry me!"

Is this good or bad? I can't tell, and unfortunately Prof. Cole doesn't offer any interpretation.

He also has a few thoughts on the Zarqawi letter here.

Kevin Drum 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY ON THE WAR....Via OxBlog, the Washington Post has an editorial today bemoaning John Kerry's contradictory stances on a number of important issues. But here's the nut:

The most important confusion surrounds Mr. Kerry's position on Iraq. In 1991 he voted against the first Persian Gulf War, saying more support was needed from Americans for a war that he believed would prove costly. In 1998, when President Clinton was considering military steps against Iraq, he strenuously argued for action, with or without allies. Four years later he voted for a resolution authorizing invasion but criticized Mr. Bush for not recruiting allies. Last fall he voted against funding for Iraqi reconstruction, but argued that the United States must support the establishment of a democratic government.

As it happens, one of the things that has long bothered me about Kerry is the fact that he seems to take such deliberately calculated positions on so many issues. This is a gut reaction on my part, not something I have documentary evidence of, but he often seems to be trying just a little too hard to simply come up with a position any position that won't piss off anyone on either side too badly.

But even having said that, I can't help but think that the Post's criticism of his war support is misplaced. The implication seems to be that either you support all wars or you don't. If you support some and not others, you're obviously inconsistent.

That doesn't hold water. The Post is right that Kerry should spell out why he has supported or opposed various military actions, and should also explain the general principles he's used to come up with his positions. But it's wrong to imply that Kerry is inconsistent simply for taking different stands on different wars. Frankly, I'd be pretty unhappy with any presidential candidate who was either for or against every war in his lifetime.

UPDATE: In comments, spc67 points out that the Post is criticizing Kerry's stance on military action against Iraq, not "all wars at all times." Point taken.

My real issue with the Post editorial, I think, is that they don't spend even a sentence explaining what Kerry's rationale for his votes is. They just briefly say it is "unconvincing" and then move on. But that's the heart of the issue, and if they're going to criticize him for it they should discuss their misgivings in more detail.

UPDATE 2: Matt Yglesias defends Kerry here.

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NATIONAL GUARD ROUNDUP....Just a couple of quick notes on the National Guard story:

  • As near as I can tell, the full release of documents on Friday has produced nothing new, either good or bad. It's just routine stuff.

    USA Today has a PDF containing a bunch of new (or semi-new) documents here, so you can look at them yourself. One document from 1970 has a list of all the pilots from Bush's unit at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, which I suppose may give reporters another list of names to call, but that's about it.

  • I've gotten a bunch of emails about a post at Daily Kos that parses some language on Bush's official 1973 transfer to the Reserves and suggests that maybe he was actually kicked out due to some kind of bad behavior.

    I posted some speculation along these lines a week ago, based largely on the fact that Bush's Texas records stop abruptly in mid-1972 and a different set of records starts up a few months later. In addition, it's also common knowledge that in some cases officers in the National Guard are transferred to the Reserves as part of some kind of disciplinary action. (Although this is decidedly not the primary purpose of the Reserves.)

    However, it's worth pointing out that this is strictly speculation. It's worth following up if anyone can think of a way to do it, but there is, as far as I know, no documentary evidence at all to back up this theory.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Kevin Drum 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

QUIZ OF THE DAY....All 24 fans know that each segment ends with four loud beeps of a ticking clock: dink dink dink dink.

Question: how many ticks are there at the beginning of each segment?

Answer: Usually 6, but occasionally 5 or 7.

Yes, I'm currently watching the DVD version of Season 1. Only six more hours to go!

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ANOTHER BUSH SIGHTING IN ALABAMA....This doesn't seem to have gotten much attention anywhere even though it appeared on Wednesday in the Birmingham News:

Joe LeFevers, a member of the 187th in 1972, said he remembers seeing Bush in unit offices and being told that Bush was in Montgomery to work on Blount's campaign.

"I was going in the orderly room over there one day, and they said, 'This is Lt. Bush,'" LeFevers said Tuesday. "They pointed him out to me ... the reason I remember it is because I associate him with Red Blount."

So that's another witness who says he saw Bush at Dannelly Air Base. Too bad there's not a little more detail.

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ATHEISM IN BRITAIN....You learn something new about obscure foreign cultures all the time:

Children will be taught about atheism during religious education classes under official plans being drawn up to reflect the decline in churchgoing in Britain.

Non-religious beliefs such as humanism, agnosticism and atheism would be covered alongside major faiths such as Christianity or Islam under draft guidelines being prepared by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which regulates what is taught in schools in England.

Although some schools already cover non-religious beliefs, there is currently no national guidance for what is taught, even though all schools must provide religious education.

I know, I know, I'm just showing my ignorance when I say I had no idea that all schools in Britain were required to provide religious education. Now I know.

I guess it just goes to show how cloistered we Americans are that this never occurred to me. I mean, can you even imagine this happening here? I don't think there's anything unconstitutional about teaching a "History of Religion" class or something like it in an American high school, but it just wouldn't happen. And then a proposal to add atheism as one of the highlighted religions? Kaboom!

I wonder what they teach in these religious education classes? Are there any British commenters out there who can tell us?

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NATIONAL GUARD ROUNDUP....In typical sloppy blog style, I won't have much on this today. I'm spending the day in Los Angeles with my mother and I've only had time to quickly skim the stories about the White House document dump last night. As near as I can tell, the document collection seems to cover mostly 1968-1971 and is rather more skimpy than you'd think it should be, but you can read the first takes from the mainstream media in the Washington Post and CNN and decide for yourself. (The Post also has a few graphics here.)

In the meantime, I know that yesterday I promised I was going to have a followup on the story of Bill Burkett, the guy who says that Bush's Texas records were "cleansed" back in 1997, but it took me longer to put everything together than I thought it would. Sorry about that. However, the material I've gathered turns out to be quite interesting and should be worth the wait. Bottom line is that Burkett's story is looking pretty credible. I'll have the whole thing up tomorrow night, complete with the full text of the interviews I did, and you can judge for yourself.

Finally, remember Bill Calhoun, the guy who came forward yesterday saying that not only does he remember Bush pulling duty in Alabama, but that he pulled duty mostly by sitting in Calhoun's office all day? Does this sound to you like a guy who's trying a little too hard to make his story sound good? Me too. Billmon has the definitive take.

In the meantime, Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Kevin Drum 8:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE IN CALIFORNIA....You know, I'm all in favor of the city of San Francisco issuing marriage certificates to gay couples. It's a wonderful symbolic act of civil defiance and I think it's great.

But this is peculiar:

[San Francisco Mayor Gavin] Newsom's victory came when a Superior Court judge denied a request by a conservative group for an injunction that would have stopped San Francisco officials from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

...."There's a great deal of emotional energy involved in whether same-sex marriage should be allowed," said Judge James L. Warren. The request for a court order to block the marriages "requires careful and thoughtful consideration," he said as he scheduled another hearing for Tuesday.

Granted, all he did was postpone issuing an injunction for a few days, so it's probably no big deal, but this is a case where the law seems (unfortunately) crystal clear. Here is the full text of Proposition 22, passed with a 63% margin of victory in 2000 by the voters of California:

SECTION 1. This act may be cited as the "California Defense of Marriage Act."

SECTION 2. Section 308.5 is added to the Family Code, to read:

308.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

This really doesn't seem to leave much wiggle room to me, especially since it was passed only four years ago and therefore takes precedence over older and more generic "equal protection" provisions in the constitution. I'll be curious to see what the judge says when he issues a full ruling next week.

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FROM THE MAILBAG....I don't usually print crank email, but every once in a while I get one too good not to share:

From: xxx
To: calpundit@cox.net
Sent: Thursday, February 12, 2004 7:42 PM
Subject: Melicious Rumors About Our President

Dear Mr. Cal:

I want to be very clear about these incredibbly melicious rumors that are sweeping the country like a bad cold or flew. I cannot beleive that any Americans are so Un-Patriotic to repeat them, and they are giving AID AND COMFORT to out enemies around the world. The latest rumor is President Bush was told to leave the Texas Air National Guard and to get treated for alcohol problems and that they would not let him fly until he was treated. This is just entirly and completley untrue. He did not have no drinking problem then and he does not have one now. And he never flied any jets after he was drinking. It is outrageis for this kind of compleet BULL...T to repeeted by your stupid pathetic outfit and also by newspapers!

ALL YOU FRENCH loving assholes who repeat this lies are hurting our country. You should all move to Frnace where you belong.

Ted R
A Loyal American

So noted.

Kevin Drum 8:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BAD CHILDHOOD RESPONSIBLE FOR 9/11?....Over at Cliopatria, KC Johnson introduces us to congressional wannabe Wayland Smalley, who tells us why Osama turned out to be such a bad sort: it's all because of polygamy. "A 47th son, such as Osama Bin Laden, rarely gets the quality time he needs with a father," Smalley says, by way of a weird non sequitur following a passage that extols the virtues of marriage between men and women (and only between men and women, dammit).

KC assures us that Smalley has no chance of winning, so no need to get alarmed. Contribute your nickels to Ben Chandler and John Barrow instead, OK?

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I'd just like to point out that it's precisely this kind of mocking attitude toward traditional values by coastal elites like me that keeps the Republican party strong. Sorry about that.

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FULL RELEASE AT LAST?....Ah, Associated Press is reporting that the White House will shortly release George Bush's entire service record. Hopefully this will include even the DD-214 separation report that everyone keeps saying should be able to settle everything.

I also hope that they will issue an authorization to all of the relevant archives to release Bush's files directly to reporters. If he does that, it should put this issue to bed for good.

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JOHN KERRY FOLLOWUP....Should the media report unsubstantiated rumors from Matt Drudge about John Kerry's supposed extramarital affair with an intern? Um, I guess not. Irresponsible and all that, after all. Should bloggers? Um, er, maybe. Who's asking?

But since the mainstream media is too responsible to report this stuff, what choice do we have except to turn to the less responsible but more fun blogosphere? Answer: talk radio and the British media.

First up to bat, then, is the flower of the British press, the Sun, which claims to have identified the intern in question and talked to her parents. (The intern herself is supposedly still avoiding public scrutiny in deepest Africa.) Verdict: the parents have no evidence of an affair but think that Kerry is a "sleazeball." I guess that's a couple of lost votes.

Next up is an example of the British press passing on reports from American talk radio, a combination that would surely vaporize the galaxy if these were subatomic particles. Verdict: Kerry says "There is nothing to report, nothing to talk about. There's nothing there. There's no story."

(And this is a blog reporting on the British press reporting on American talk radio. The mind reels.)

OK then. Score so far: no evidence for this whatsoever. Perhaps this weekend we will learn that Kerry and George Bush had a gay affair in 1972 in Alabama. And then we'll spend the rest of the week discussing which candidate is hurt the worst by this.

Kevin Drum 2:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Marian wanted to see how well her camera did at closeup shots, and this is what we got: gigantic pictures of Inkblot's and Jasmine's nasal magnificence.

However, since I was afraid that might not satisfy the insatiable desire of Calpundit readers for real cat blogging pictures, I've also included a bonus shot at the right: really real cat blogging. Now you know who actually writes this site.

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BUSH IN ALABAMA....A witness has come forward who remembers George Bush showing up for National Guard drills in Alabama:

A retired Alabama Air National Guard officer said Friday that he remembers George W. Bush showing up for duty in Alabama in 1972, reading safety magazines and flight manuals in an office as he performed his weekend obligations.

"I saw him each drill period," retired Lt. Col. John "Bill" Calhoun said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Daytona Beach, Fla., where he is preparing to watch this weekend's big NASCAR race.

....The 69-year-old president of an Atlanta insulation company said Bush showed up for work at Dannelly Air National Guard Base for drills on at least six occasions.

This just gets more and more bizarre. "At least" six occasions?

But Bush's own retirement records and pay records show only four drill periods between May 1972 and January 1973, and nobody suggests he was in Alabama anytime outside those dates.

In addition, the dates on both the pay and retirement records don't match up to the known drill periods for the unit Bush and Calhoun were assigned to. If Calhoun saw Bush "each drill period," why wasn't Bush paid for those dates?

And why do these two guys swear that they never saw Bush even though they were looking for him?

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

Kevin Drum 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DRIP, DRIP, DRIP....You may recall the full text of George Bush's answer to Tim Russert on Sunday regarding his National Guard files:

Russert: But you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

President Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.

"We did so in 2000, by the way."

Really? And yet after I posted a copy of Bush's 1972-73 ARF Retirement Credit Summary on Sunday, the White House followed up by releasing the same document on Tuesday, along with a previously unreleased set of payroll records. On Wednesday they released a copy of his dental records. Finally, on Thursday, they showed reporters an unredacted copy of the part of Bush's 1968 National Guard application that asks if he's ever been arrested:

So what's there? Reporters didn't get copies of the document, but the LA Times reports that it was nothing serious:

According to McClellan's unaltered copy, Bush responded: "Misdemeanor, New Haven, Connecticut, December 1966, charge dismissed.

"Two speeding tickets, July '64 and August '64, $10 fine, Houston traffic court.

"Two collisions, July '62 and August '62, $25 fine, Houston traffic court."

I continue to be stupefied by this performance. First, why did Bush say on Sunday that everything had been released in 2000 only to have own staff then release a bunch of previously unreleased documents on Tuesday?

And why-oh-why are they playing "document of the day"? It's as if they're pursuing some bizarre strategy deliberately designed to prove to the world that they have plenty of documents in their possession and they are carefully releasing only the helpful ones after long and careful examination. It's just mind-bogglingly stupid.

There are only two things to do in a situation like this: either stonewall completely or else open up the entire file and take their lumps for what's in it. (Adding a tearful Clintonesque apology would probably work pretty well in the latter case, although I suspect Bush's personality may be a little too Nixonian to pull something like that off.) Instead they seem bound and determined to keep this stuff dripping out in the most transparently self-serving way possible. It's unbelievable.

What do you suppose today's document will be? A hangnail report from 1973?

Kevin Drum 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CLEANSING OF THE PRESIDENT....The main witness to Bill Burkett's story about the "cleansing" of George Bush's National Guard files is a fellow former guardsman named George Conn. Burkett claims that he mentioned his concerns to Conn in mid-1997 and a few days later Conn took him on a stroll over to the the base museum building where Burkett caught a glimpse of Bush's files being tossed away in a trashcan. (My interview with Burkett about this stuff is here.)

On Wednesday Conn declined to comment on Burkett's charges to the New York Times but did say this via email: "I know LTC Bill Burkett and served with him several years ago in the Texas Army National Guard. I believe him to be honest and forthright. He 'calls things like he sees them.'"

Yesterday, though, Conn decided to comment further:

Conn says he never saw anyone combing through the Bush file or discarding records. "I have no recall of that," Conn said. "I have no recall of that whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada."

Conn's recollection also undercuts another of Burkett's central allegations: that he overheard Bush's onetime chief of staff, Joe M. Allbaugh, telling a Texas Guard general to make sure there were no embarrassments in the Bush record.

Burkett says he told Conn, over dinner that same night, what he had overheard. But Conn says that, although Burkett told him he worried that the Bush record would be sanitized, he never mentioned overhearing the conversation between Allbaugh and General Daniel James III.

This is obviously a major blow to Burkett's credibility. What's odd, though, is that it doesn't actually directly contradict what Burkett told me on Wednesday:

  • After overhearing the "cleansing" conversation in General James' office, Burkett says he "brought it up" with Conn and later mentioned it "in passing." Then: "I don't know in what detail we talked about it, but I know we talked."

  • Conn agrees that he took a walk with Burkett over to the museum but says he never saw any records being tossed out. But in Burkett's account to me he was actually pretty clear that Conn never actually said or did anything specific. He just led him in the direction of the trashcan and Burkett looked in and saw some of Bush's files.

  • I asked Burkett if Conn had brought him to the museum deliberately and he said, "I believe so. And that's the reason I traced the path, I don't think there's any doubt about it."

    In other words, Conn never said anything directly about it. Burkett inferred Conn's intent from what he saw there.

Now, this is all very strange. Three people Conn, Dennis Adams, and Harvey Gough are on record as agreeing that Burkett spoke to them in 1997 about his concerns that the Bush record was being sanitized. What's more, Conn agrees that he and Burkett visited the museum together one day. But he denies that Burkett ever mentioned specifically to him what he saw in the trashcan.

So what really happened? I don't know the truth, but I did speak with both Gough and Conn this morning to get their side of the story. (No luck with Adams yet.) I'll have a post about that in a few hours.

Kevin Drum 8:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT PART OF "NO WMD" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?....Even David Kay is now telling the White House that they need to get their heads out of the sand literally:

The Bush administration is hampering efforts to improve intelligence by clinging to the false hope that weapons of mass destruction may be found in Iraq, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector said Thursday.

"My only serious regret about the continued holding on to the hope that eventually we'll find it is that it eventually allows you to avoid the hard steps necessary to reform the process," David Kay said in an interview with The Associated Press.

David Kay is on the side of the angels here and he's also the guy with the most ground level experience in this. They really ought to listen when he tells them to knock off the crap and start getting serious.

Kevin Drum 6:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BAD TIMES....It's been a rough few weeks for President Bush, hasn't it? Let us count the ways.

David Kay says "We were all wrong." The administration's near panic to pull out of Iraq has become almost palpable. The State of the Union speech was met with a combination of yawns and derision. (Steroids?) The 2005 budget was immediately mocked as a new low point in numerical mendacity and/or self-delusion. Democrats are regrettably poised to nominate someone other than Howard Dean. Job growth is sluggish to nonexistent. Indictments at very high levels seem imminent in the Valerie Plame case. The State and Defense departments are close to open warfare. Approval ratings are in free fall.

And to top it all off, we have the National Guard media frenzy, surely a shock to a bunch of political pros who figured that stonewalling had worked just fine in 1994 and 2000 and would work just fine again. When it didn't, they inexplicably decided that releasing a bunch of pay records would shut everyone up and were shocked yet again when it didn't. Then, in an example of self-imposed Chinese water torture unparalleled in modern politics they decided to release a single presidential dental record while admitting that they also had a big pile of other medical records but weren't going to release any of them. Yet.

It almost makes you feel sorry for them, doesn't it? Almost.

Anyway, I was in an artistic mood tonight and decided to finish off the evening by creating a sign that the assembled Washington press corps can carry en masse into the the White House press room every day journalistic decorum be damned to clearly let Scott McClellan know what it's going to take to make the National Guard feeding frenzy go away. It's going to take a president who keeps his word.

Kevin Drum 10:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HIGHWAY ROBBERY....Ya gotta love this:

Defying a presidential veto threat....the Republican-controlled Senate voted 76-21 to pass a six-year, $318 billion highway and mass transit spending bill....But the $318 billion sought far outstrips the $218 billion approved for the current six-year plan and the $256 billion the administration insists should be the ceiling at a time when the government faces record-high budget deficits.

....At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Treasury Secretary John Snow characterized the highway bill as a litmus test for the government's will to cut the deficit. A bill that exceeds the president's request, he said, "would have a very, very very corrosive effect in financial market confidence in all of us."

You have to admire the chutzpah: after three years of disastrous Bush administration economic planning that has produced deficits as far as the eye can see and made world markets increasingly nervous, suddenly this one highway bill is the straw that will have a "very, very, very corrosive" effect on market confidence. All from spending $10 billion per year more than the president wants an increase that could be easily funded by simply re-indexing the gasoline tax for inflation.

And how about political courage? Bush is threatening a veto for the first time in his entire spendthrift administration and he's doing it on a bill that he knows will get passed over his veto anyway. That's the way to demonstrate fiscal toughness!

POSTSCRIPT: On substantive grounds, I don't know what to think of this bill. I'm generally in favor of infrastructure spending, but construction bills typically end up as pork-laden monstrosities and don't have nearly the effect on employment that's usually promised. Plus they voted down an amendment that would have given California more money.

So I guess I don't really care.

Kevin Drum 5:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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QUESTIONING BUSH'S TRUTHFULNESS....We're always happy to pass on bad poll news for President Bush here at Calpundit:

Most Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey results, which also show declining support for the war in Iraq and for Bush's leadership in general, indicate the public is increasingly questioning the president's truthfulness....

Hey, the declining support is even for the right reason: you can't trust a word that comes out of the guy's mouth. Isn't that nice?

On another note, when asked who would do a better job of fighting terrorism, the split was 53% for Bush and 37% for Kerry. That's a 16% spread, which I think is down from about 30 points several months ago. It's too early for this be very meaningful, but considering the importance of national security in this election it's still encouraging news.

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THE PLOT THICKENS....George Bush's story about his National Guard service in Alabama during 1972 is that he missed a lot of drills but later made them up. And both his ARF retirement record and his pay records confirm that he got credited with duty on October 28-29 and November 11-14, periods when he was in Alabama. What's more, the presidential dental records released last night show that he was in Alabama a short time later, on January 6, 1973.

The problem is that William Turnipseed, the retired general who commanded the unit that Bush had transferred to, the 187th Air National Guard Tactical squadron at Dannelly Air National Guard base, says he doesn't remember ever seeing Bush.

Well, maybe he just forgot? He was probably a busy guy, after all. But Bob Mintz, who was a pilot in the 187th during that period, says that Bush's transfer was the subject of considerable scuttlebutt at the time and they were all eager to get a look at him. According to a story in the Memphis Flyer today, they never did:

Recalls Memphian Mintz, now 63: I remember that I heard someone was coming to drill with us from Texas. And it was implied that it was somebody with political influence. I was a young bachelor then. I was looking for somebody to prowl around with. But, says Mintz, that somebody -- better known to the world now as the president of the United States -- never showed up at Dannelly in 1972. Nor in 1973, nor at any time that Mintz, a FedEx pilot now and an Eastern Airlines pilot then, when he was a reserve first lieutenant at Dannelly, can remember.

And I was looking for him, repeated Mintz, who said that he assumed that Bush changed his mind and went somewhere else to do his substitute drill.

Theres no way we wouldnt have noticed a strange rooster in the henhouse, especially since we were looking for him, insists Mintz, who has pored over documents relating to the matter now making their way around the Internet.

....Though some accounts reckon the total personnel component of the 187th as consisting of several hundred, the actual flying squadron that to which Bush was reassigned number only 25 to 30 pilots, Mintz said. Theres no doubt. I would have heard of him, seen him, whatever.

Another member of the 187th, Paul Bishop, says the same thing: "I never saw hide nor hair of Mr. Bush."

So if Bush wasn't at Dannelly Air Base, where was he? And what was he getting paid for?

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT DID ROBERT NOVAK KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?....Writing in The American Prospect today, Murray Waas adds an interesting tidbit to the ongoing saga of Valerie Plame. He says that a pair of sources he's talked to dispute Robert Novak's claim that he believed Plame was just a desk analyst and revealing her name wouldn't cause any harm:

Two government officials have told the FBI that conservative columnist Robert Novak was asked specifically not to publish the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame in his now-famous July 14 newspaper column. The two officials told investigators they warned Novak that by naming Plame he might potentially jeopardize her ability to engage in covert work, stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize sensitive overseas sources.

....One of the sources also asserted that the credibility of the administration officials who spoke to the FBI is enhanced by the fact that the officials made their statement to the federal law enforcement authorities. If the officials were found to be lying to the FBI, they could be potentially prosecuted for making false statements to federal investigators the sources pointed out.

...."When [Novak] says that he was not told that he was 'endangering' someone, that statement might be technically true," this source says. "Nobody directly told him that she was going to be physically hurt. But that was implicit in that he was told what she did for a living."

"At best, he is parsing words," said the other official. "At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think."

This is interesting by itself, but taken as a whole the article also confirms a deeper subtext that we've also learned from other stories recently: the FBI investigation is dead serious, it's casting a surprisingly wide net, and it's making a lot of progress.

And since one of the sources is a "current administration official" it also makes clear that there's at least one current Bush official who's pretty unhappy with the whole Plame situation and is speaking to the press about it. I wonder if it's the same person that the Washington Post quoted all the way back in September in the story that first broke Plame into the big time?

If not, does that mean there are at least two disgruntled Bushies?

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THE BUSHIES GET TESTY....From a Knight-Ridder story on Tuesday:

In one recent high-level meeting, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld looked at Secretary of State Colin Powell and said, "Jerry (Ambassador Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian in Iraq) works for you, right?"

Powell looked as if he'd been struck by lightning. Bremer and every other U.S. official in Iraq reports directly to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Rumsfeld demanded and got complete authority over the military, over the civilian authority in charge of rebuilding the country, over the administration's $87 billion Iraq budget, over every line of every contract let. And suddenly he forgot that Bremer works for him?

That same week, Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were summoned to a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss how the U.S. contracting system is working in Iraq.

When Wolfowitz was asked a tough question about the controversies surrounding the U.S. contracting efforts in Iraq, he turned to Armitage and said: "You can answer that one, right, Rich?" Armitage answered by noting that the Department of Defense and the Office of the Secretary of Defense control every American contract let in Iraq, and that the State Department has authority over none of those contracts.

From the Washington Post today:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star general known for his even temperament, paused yesterday during a congressional hearing to berate a Hill staffer for shaking his head as Powell offered a defense of his prewar statements on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

....Powell was recalling for the panel his review of the prewar intelligence. "I went and lived at the CIA for about four days to make sure that nothing was," he began, when he paused and glared at a staffer seated behind the members of Congress.

"Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there?" Powell asked. "Are you part of these proceedings?"

Things are getting mighty testy in the Bush administration, aren't they? I gather that panic is already running pretty high in the White House over both the Valerie Plame investigation and the National Guard fiasco, so there's probably no one around to even try and broker a peace agreement between State and Defense. Maybe we need a roadmap?

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LATEST JOHN KERRY RUMOR....Sheesh, sleep in for a couple of hours and suddenly John Kerry is at the center of a media frenzy too assuming you count Drudge as a one-man media frenzy, of course. However, Drudge claims the media frenzy is just below the surface:

Intrigue surrounds a woman who recently fled the country, reportedly at the prodding of Kerry, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

....A serious investigation of the woman and the nature of her relationship with Sen. John Kerry has been underway at TIME magazine, ABC NEWS, the WASHINGTON POST, THE HILL and the ASSOCIATED PRESS, where the woman in question once worked.

Go to it, guys. It's hard to believe Kerry would do this since he's been running for president pretty much nonstop ever since 1971, but I guess you never know.

If it does turn out to be true, no one will be even slightly surprised if Chris Lehane is the guy behind it. However, if it turns that Wes Clark was peddling the rumor I'll be pretty disappointed in him.

POSTSCRIPT: Where's the mighty press corps on this? It's been three hours since Drudge posted his little bomb and so far there's not even an official denial. What's going on?

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTIONS IN IRAQ....Ah, it appears the UN has decided that direct elections are feasible in Iraq after all. Or have they?

In a nod to [Grand Ayatollah Ali al] Sistani's rising influence, UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi announced the decision after a two-hour visit to the reclusive cleric's home in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 90 miles south of Baghdad. Mr. Brahimi said that Sistani "is insistent on holding the elections and we are with him on this 100 percent because elections are the best means to enable any people to set up a state that serves their interest."

Brahimi leads a UN team that is in Iraq to assess the feasibility of holding the early direct elections that Sistani has been urging in opposition to the US plan of holding regional "caucuses" to elect an interim government by June 30.

This is peculiar phrasing. Brahimi has apparently decided that direct elections are great things but hasn't yet decided whether they are feasible things. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

UPDATE: CNN reports that a possible compromise is to hold direct elections but postpone them until early 2005. Practically the only American demand left has been to turn over power by June 30, so this would apparently mean simply turning over power to the IGC while waiting for elections to be held. Hmmm....

Kevin Drum 11:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND THE NATIONAL GUARD....I realize this is pretty obvious, but I guess it's worth saying anyway: I don't think anybody truly cares about what George Bush did or didn't do in the National Guard 30 years ago. Yeah, he got in via special favors, he was apparently absent for six months, barely showed up for the year after that, and got an early discharge. Big deal. A lot of people did the same, and in any case he's a different man now than he was then.

No, the reason this is a story isn't because of what Bush did 30 years ago, but because he's continued to this day to cover up what he did 30 years ago. He refused to release his complete service file in 1994, he refused again in 2000, and he's refusing again now despite plainly telling Tim Russert that he would do so just four days ago.

To make this go away all he has to do is authorize the various military archives to release his entire service record. Every other military veteran who runs for president routinely does this. Why won't Bush? What's the reason for the coverup that's now extended for the past ten years?

Kevin Drum 10:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AN INTERVIEW WITH BILL BURKETT....As promised earlier, here's the interview with former Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett regarding his charges that George Bush's National Guard files in Texas were "cleansed" back in 1997. This is not the entire enchilada, but it includes most of the interview directly relevant to the charges.

I'm posting this for two reasons. First, since Burkett's story has already been picked up by the mainstream media I think it's valuable to hear an extended interview with him that allows you to decide for yourself if his charges are credible especially since there are some less than flattering moments that may hurt as well as help his story. As with any verbatim transcript, it can be a little hard to follow in places, but it's worth plowing through the whole thing if you're really interested in all this.

Second, although I said I was skeptical about Burkett yesterday, several things have convinced me that his story is at least believable enough that it deserves wider exposure:

  • I talked to him on the phone for nearly two hours on Wednesday and his story hung together pretty well. In particular, his story of how he overheard the conversation in General James' office and then saw some of Bush's files in a trashcan makes more sense when you hear the details. It's fairly melodramatic, but it does make sense.

    In addition, although I haven't yet transcribed this part of the interview, he explained his "clarification" in 2000 that, as he puts it, seemed to "over-retract": basically, he got scared by the attention and backed down. He now admits it was a mistake.

    And finally, in the interview he provided the names of several fellow guardsmen who can corroborate his story. Although details are lacking this early, various of these people have already been contacted by reporters and have backed up Burkett's story so far.

  • The first (partial) corroboration is from George Conn. According to the New York Times, he declined specific comment on the charges but said via email, "I know LTC Bill Burkett and served with him several years ago in the Texas Army National Guard. I believe him to be honest and forthright. He 'calls things like he sees them.'"

  • Also from the Times is this: "A retired officer, Lt. Col. Dennis Adams, said Mr. Burkett told him of the incidents shortly after they happened. 'We talked about them several different times,' said Mr. Adams, who spent 15 years in the Texas Guard and 12 years on active duty in the Army."

  • A third person, Harvey Gough, was interviewed last year by Sander Hicks. Although the conversation was not specifically about Burkett's charges, Hough did confirm that he believed Bush's records had been scrubbed: "He says that Dan Bartlett and Danny James came to him at Camp Mabry in 1993, right after Bush was inaugurated as Governor, and deleted portions of Bush's TANG file. I asked Gough what he believed was scrubbed? 'I think quite a bit. I think all his time in Alabama.'"

  • Finally, USA Today has a corroborating quote from an anonymous source: "A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said."

  • In addition, Jim Moore, a longtime Texas reporter (and, granted, hardly a fan of Bush), has talked with Burkett extensively for a soon to be published book titled Bush's War For Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People. Moore emailed me that he finds Burkett "immensely credible."

Put all this together and I think that Burkett's story is one worth hearing about from the horse's mouth. Here it is.

First, a bit of background about Burkett's service in the Guard.

I was a traditional guardsman, Vietnam era guardsman, lieutenant colonel, midlevel to senior level in rank and time. I was serving as the Mobilization Plans Officer for the Texas National Guard at the state headquarters, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, Building 8. Within that capacity as a traditional guardsman my primary objective was to assist units in planning and for mobilization and conducting mobilization of units either to training or to active duty mission situations.

How long were you with the Guard?

I was medically retired in 1999 after 28 years.


Burkett worked as a private management consultant, but after business dropped off in 1996 he accepted a full-time job with the Texas National Guard.

When did you go on active duty?

Spring of '96, I believe the actual order dates began in May of '96....That was all approved and I was granted unimpeded access to the Adjutant General's office. I only bring this up to you because this establishes accessibility.

You probably have not been at headquarters building at Camp Mabry?

No.

It's a large structure, two stories, runs north to south with a long hallway, primarily north to south. The Adjutant General's office is in roughly the center of the building, second floor, northwest corner. My office was again second floor.

Within his office, which is the command suite, there are a group of eight or ten offices. There's two entrances to it, which is a horseshoe type thing, and off of that goes into his secretary's office, which is his outer office, roughly eight by ten foot at most in size, with a receptionist type desk and his secretary, Henrietta Valderes. I customarily would go through her and with all due courtesies would see the general.

In some cases when the door was open or slightly ajar I would lightly knock and do the courtesies and I'd ask a quick question and be on my way. I tried not to bother him, but I still tried to maintain constant and continuous contact. We worked very well together for a long time.


Following is the account of how Burkett overheard the conversation about "cleansing" George Bush's National Guard files.

The occurrences here occurred in the early months, the spring months of 1997....I had meant to simply go in and, best I recall....I went in to ask a quick question, it was just a passing question, or maybe pass along some information, I don't remember specifically. I went into General [Daniel] James' outer office, Henrietta Valderes was not there, but the door was slightly ajar, I'd say roughly eight inches, and the reason I say eight inches is only because I wear a size seven and a half hat and I just basically stuck my head inside.

I heard voices, I figured somebody was on the blue couch or in the two wingback chairs that face his desk, and that's not seen unless you slightly stick your head inside the door. I stuck my head inside the door, saw that no one was there, and I was embarrassed. I stepped back and I waited for a second and I overheard this conversation.

And it was a short conversation that I overheard, I only heard a line or two of it, and I stepped out into the hallway because I was uncomfortable at this point.

And what was the conversation?

Well, that's where you really need to get Jim [Moore] because we have made sure that the words, I'm not going to get messed up on that deal. We've tried to make sure that the words were exact. I wish that you could get at least that part of the book faxed to you or something, I think that's very important that the words are exactly right.

I'd sure like to have as much I could here to make sure it's accurate....

I'm taking a look at one of his, and I'm going to have to, I've got a little draft of it, I'm trying to find the location as we speak, and maybe I can come back to that in a moment. Kevin, I'm going to try to help you all I can, and I'm going to trust that you'll at least treat me fairly.

At the end of our conversation Burkett said he would call me back with the correct quote later, but I was being injected with cortisone when he called. We played phone tag for the rest of the day but never got back in touch. However, today's USA Today story fills in the gap:

[Burkett] says he was just outside James' open office door when his boss discussed the records on a speakerphone with Joe Allbaugh, who was then Gov. Bush's chief of staff. In Burkett's account, Allbaugh told James that Bush's press secretary, Karen Hughes, was preparing a biography and needed information on Bush's military service.

In an interview, Burkett said he recalled Allbaugh's words: "We certainly don't want anything that is embarrassing in there."


So what happened next?

I was embarrassed, I know that was an emotion and a reaction, a driver. I was ashamed, my mother and dad didn't raise me that way to eavesdrop on people's conversations. I was troubled.

I don't guess I really realized the extent of being troubled except that that evening at dinner Chief Warrant Officer [George] Conn and I I lived in Abilene and he lived in Dallas or Cedar Hill we both went down during the workweek and stayed in officer's quarters there, so as he called it we were geographical bachelors. So at night, a couple or three days a week, I'd say an average of three days a week, we would have dinner together. And we didn't just casually comment on things, but I brought it up to him, I looked to him, he was also a preacher's kid, and we both had that haunting of sorts, of living right, of doing right, and preparing for the next life, so we talked about it that evening. I brought it up to him, so I must have been troubled.

I told him the next morning, I was again in the command suite, I was in the doorwell of the Quality Coordinator's office, and there was a gathering of people about to go into a meeting in the conference room of the command group. That gathering included General James, General [Wayne] Marty, Colonel Goodwin, and maybe one or two others. And I was standing there and we were talking slightly and an individual walked into that horseshoe hallway. The coffee machine is just in the hallway, is what it is, and anytime there's a group there at the coffeepot they block traffic. And general officers, as people will tell you, block traffic anyway.

Two individuals walked in. I didn't know either one of them personally, but I do know that General James addressed one and said, General [John] Scribner, the folks from downtown are going to come out, Karen Hughes and [Dan] Bartlett are going to come out and they're, and I'm paraphrasing here, are going to come out and they're going to write a book about the governor for use in the reelection campaign or whatever else is going to follow on, and they need you to open access to your files and retained records. And there was a quick addition to that by General Marty, "and make sure there's nothing in there that'll embarrass the governor."

Now these are just matter-of-fact statements, I won't qualify intent necessarily at this point. I'll come back and say some things about intent later if you'll remind me. General Scribner, who is what we call a political general of sorts, he is a Texas state Guard general, not a federal general, and he had the job of running the museum, and still has that job. Scribner just replied, basically in the affirmative, OK or something along that line, and he and the individual who was with him, who I did not know and have not identified, but believe he was the retained records person, left, immediately left. They just, like all of us were prone to do when two or three generals are standing around, the best thing you can do is leave the area. So they left.

I mentioned this again to George in passing at dinner and told him again, renewed that I was troubled about it. I don't know in what detail we talked about it, but I know we talked.


Following is the account of finding Bush's records in a trashcan, ready to be tossed away.

This went approximately ten days or a little bit later and Mr. Conn you'll read all of this, you really, really need this book Mr. Conn came to my desk, he and I, when I was moved to Plans Officer he became the Mobilization Plans Officer, his desk and mine were in cubicles across from each other.

Everybody knew me to be pretty much a workaholic, I'd say the minimum hours that I was at that desk was 12 and more likely 14 to 16 per day, and George sometimes would mother me a little bit, he'd come by and force me to take a break or something like that, so he came by at that occasion and he said, Colonel, get your hat, which implied to me that he wanted to take a break or we were going to go do something, and I probably laced back with him. I do have, even though I'm a preacher's kid, I do have a bad habit with my language, and I probably laced a little profanity back at him, just in banter, and he again repeated that term, get your hat, and I knew he was pretty serious. I knew George was a man of pretty few words, so I got my hat and we took a walk.

This is the second floor of the command building, building 8, long building, primarily laid out north to south. Typically what you do is go to the center of the building and there are a series of elevators and hallways there and you go to the first floor and then you go out and go where you want to go. In fact, very very seldom unless you had a need to go to the north side of that building, which was a low traffic area, would you go to the north side on the second floor. We went on the north side of the second floor to the north edge of the building, down a stairwell, out the north door, across a parking lot and I know you think I'm getting into extreme detail, but I want you to know that obviously this was a path and there was intention to it. I asked him when we got outside, I said, where are we going, George? And he said, Colonel, just walk with me.

This is the day after you overheard the conversation?

No this is about ten days.

OK, ten days after.

And I left out something. George Conn is a smoker. George Conn knew everything that was happening on Camp Mabry, he picked up every rumor, he knew where everybody was, what they were doing, George knew it all. When I asked him where we were going, I believe I asked him three times in our little walk, and once I remember he said, "Trust me." There may have been a little retort at some point, but basically it was a "trust me" response, whether it was one time or three or two or whatever.

We go behind the building, headed toward the academy building, which goes behind a dormitory structure, and then we go over to the museum and we walk into the doors of the museum. The museum is an old armory, World War II-Korean War era vintage armory, which is a large structure. You walk into these doors and there's a concrete floor there with a larger open space than a high school gymnasium.

To the left of that are several offices built in Korean War style with basically little or no top to them, they're basically walled units, and offices are 8 by 12 to 10 by 12, in that size. And at approximately 30 or so feet from that on this concrete floor, or as we call it, the drill hall floor area, was a folding table, just a commercial grade folding table, and what I recognized as a and you may know what I'm talking about. Do you know what a 15-gallon trashcan looks like?

Yeah, sure.

A metal gunbarrel style that we used for years and years in the military, that's what it was, and it was setting at the end of the table. George obviously knew General Scribner extremely well, and he says hello to him and there's little pleasantries and we walk up there, and as soon as we get there he introduces me to General Scribner, who I did not know. I said hello and very little if anything more. General Scribner was very polite, very punctual, very nice, and George carried on a conversation with him, basically asked him, OK, what are you doing, how's it coming? And obviously they had had previous conversations that he was working on files.

At that point I remember General Scribner saying that people downtown were coming out and they were going to do a book, and Bartlett and Hughes were coming out, and he'd been told to get all the files together and go through them and kind of clean them up a bit. And George said, well, what are you finding? And he says, well, he says he's been through it, and I'm paraphrasing all of this, he says, obviously lots of people have been through it, you know, there's just not as much here as I'd expected, mostly old press releases and that sort of stuff.

I'm standing there on one foot and another, very uncomfortable with this situation, I knew I'd been guided here and I knew why at that point. I was standing right next to the trash can. I mention that only for one reason, and that is my own alibi to my own conscience. I believe if I'd been one step away from the trash can I would not have done what I did, I would have been forced to make an obvious decision.

Instead I looked down into the trashcan. Underneath most of the trash the trash level was within two inches of the top I saw that the trash on the bottom was basically packing cartons, I do remember that there were a couple of elastic type straps and that sort of thing, and on top there was a little bit of paper. And on top of that pile of paper, approximately five-eighths of an inch thick, and Jim wanted me to estimate the number of pages and I said probably between 20 and 40 pages of documents that were clearly originals and photocopies. And it wasn't any big deal, I looked at it, it was a glance situation, and it made no sense to me at all except at the top of that top page was Bush, George W., 1LT.

And I look back at it now and I know I was troubled that those documents were in the trashcan. I did ruffle through the top six to eight pages.

And what were they?

Those documents were performance, what I term performance documents, which would include retirement points, [unintelligible] type documents, which would be a record of drill performance or nonperformance, and there was at least one pay document copy within the top six to eight pages of that stack that was in the trash.

Now, George Conn had brought you here deliberately....

I believe so. And that's the reason I traced the path, I don't think there's any doubt about it.

And was there any further conversation with General Scribner?

We were there talking just for a second, and as the conversation went on George and General Scribner moved back to the corner office, so I'm left alone. They talked, the maximum time that we were in the museum, from the time I shook the man's hand until we left, the time of the conversation and everything else could not have been less than five minutes or more than eight minutes.

What did George Conn tell General Scribner about why he'd brought you there?

He didn't.

He just showed up and....

We were just there, we just happened there. Just walking by and visiting. Now, General Scribner did not act, and I still do not believe to this day, that he felt like he was doing anything wrong. Now I'm going a little offline here about intent....

Even though he was throwing away documents from a file?

Well, I'll carry through with that. I do not believe General James at the time felt he was doing any more than taking care of the boss. I do not believe that General Marty or anyone else at the Texas National Guard saw it as anything other you have to understand the culture. If you understand that, in so many cases, especially when there is someone that is somewhat political in nature, and I think it proves itself throughout this whole case even down to a congressman's son in a unit, that when they want to promote somebody, they will oftentimes take full-time personnel and they'll go back and they'll make sure that that personnel file looks better than anyone else's when it goes forward for consideration before promotion boards.

[At this point there was a long digression about routine cleaning up of personnel files for officers up for promotion.]

So I'm telling you that from their intent I do not believe that Major General Daniel James, and I'm not trying to alibi him, I am trying to bend over backwards to be fair, I do not believe General Wayne Marty, Colonel Goodwin, General Scribner, or anybody else thought they were doing anything but taking care of the boss.

OK, what next?

All the way from the museum back I was terribly bothered and I obviously wanted to talk. I slowed down our walk and at one point I stopped our walk and I told George, I said, "God bless, George, what in the hell is going on and who in the hell is in charge?" I was upset, and he obviously, in looking back at it, I don't think he wanted to slow down or be seen, but at that point I wasn't really all that cautious of being seen.


In addition to George Conn, Burkett says he talked about this to four other people: Harvey Gough, Dennis Adams, and two unnamed friends.

So we talked about this again at a time approximately three weeks later. Mr. Harvey Gough, a Chief Warrant Officer, a traditional guardsman who had been the special projects officer under four or five governors and I don't know how many adjutant generals, he was the conduit for trying to gain missions for the Texas National Guard and improve the way we were doing business, and I had developed his role of being out there with the four stars like General Wes Clark and others. He was out there trying to do good things for the Guard and I was doing the strategic plan. We developed this working relationship along with everybody else that was on the same team, we were trying to improve the Guard.

Harvey Gough is very political, extremely political. He runs Goff's, [a restaurant] in Dallas, Texas, which is the old haunt of Governor Bill Clements. Many of the early actions to plan the Bush campaign in 1994 for governor were done right there at Goff's Restaurant. Jim Francis, who's the head of the Bush pioneer program, is Harvey's best friend, as background. I mean, Dan Bartlett got his job by seeing Harvey to get access to Jim Francis, that sort of thing. Highly political, all of this sort of thing. Harvey's a guardsman, I was registered as a Democrat but totally nonpolitical, had made sure that it stayed out of my consulting practice because the first thing you do when you get that into a consulting practice is you cut your own throat.

Anyway, I talked to Harvey about three weeks after the incident at the museum, only because I was very concerned that a very dangerous action had taken place that probably politically endangered Governor Bush, who I considered my ultimate boss. And I didn't know how to get that message through because I really didn't know who I could trust. And I thought the guys at the Guard out there were just, I mean, they were just good 'ol boys and didn't know better. They were just taking care of the boss.

If that was true this had to go direct, you know, get a handle on this darn thing, get it corrected. I did not know, for example, that in 1994 at the debates, didn't know this until November of last year, that in the '94 debates Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, and I believe Jim Moore at that time was either ABC, CBS, or CNN, or something, they asked the question about Bush's military record in the fifth and sixth year in the '94 debates. I didn't know that. I was naive to all this stuff. I was just the wrong guy, wrong place, wrong time. So I mentioned to Harvey, and my objective was pure, you know, somebody get this worked out before it gets worse.

I had mentioned it to Conn, I kept it to myself, kept it under button, there were a couple of people that I did mention it to about the same time I did Harvey, who have told me plain and simple their job is in jeopardy and don't mention them to anyone, and I won't.

I did mention to a fellow that I had worked with, a fellow by the name of Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Adams, and told him also. I told him I was troubled about it. I trusted Dennis to serve maybe a little bit as an ethical advisor, maybe a little bit as a friend. He knew the system since he was a full timer for so many years, he knew the system far better than I. So I asked his counsel and advice on the situation too. So I had told about five or six people within the first three weeks of this occurring.

In all honesty I didn't know what to do. I did not know what to do. It was a moral dilemma for me, it was an ethical dilemma, it was a military uniform dilemma because I had breached the oath and creed of an officer in the United States Army. I was in that dilemma and I didn't know what to do. That's as straight as I can be. I swallowed it and I didn't do anything.


Nine months later, in January 1998, Burkett became ill during a trip to Panama for the Army and collapsed at the Abilene airport when he returned home. He spent the next five months trying to get medical care from the military and believes he was denied this care as a result of retaliation against him for earlier trying to raise the issue of "ghost soldiers" in the National Guard, a story that was eventually reported nationally in USA Today by Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard. He eventually filed a suit against the officers involved but lost the case.

In the process of trying to gain access to medical care, Mr. Conn, who is probably as good a personnel expert as there was at the time, even though he was not assigned in personnel. I relied on his expertise, he'd been in the field for so many years and he'd been on active duty for so many years, and I asked for his advice and counsel.

They downloaded his hard drive off his computer and....found an email that he had sent to me. They brought him in to the Chief of Staff's office where the senior JAG officer was, who read George Conn his rights. They offered him an attorney and began a court martial proceeding against him and showed him the email that he had sent to me. The only thing he was told as far as the reason for the court martial was that he had made derogatory remarks about the governor. What George had actually done in that email was tell me that this might require political leverage to include, and one of the issues was the governor's own military files.

So this email said exactly what?

This email indicated to me that, well, first it indicated that they had no legal or regulation right to keep me from medical care, that they were obviously blocking that and in order to just get access to medical care I might have to play the card at the governor's office. This is paraphrased, play the card at the governor's office, which might require some political leverage. And included within that information was including the governor's own military files.


Burkett says Conn was fired from the Guard the same day, presumably for advising him to threaten the governor's office with information about the missing files. Next up is Harvey Gough.

At the same time, Chief Harvey Gough, who had helped Colonel Goodwin get his job as Chief of Staff, and had helped Bartlett and all of these other people, was trying to run interference and trying to get me access to medical care. He confronted the Chief of Staff, Colonel Goodwin, and the way it's been told to me by Mr. Gough is that he and Colonel Goodwin had Mr. Gough is a real in-your-face kind of guy, he can sure get rank on you in a hurry that Colonel Goodwin had befriended him and asked for help, and Gough is the political guy, had asked for help to become Chief of Staff for the Texas National Guard, the state Chief of Staff, which he had done. There was a degree of familiarity, they cussed at each other quite normally and in fact Gough changed his clothes in the chief's office every time he came down to Austin. There was a familiarity there, but when Gough confronted Goodwin about my health situation Goodwin got angry, retorted back to him, and Gough called him a name, or referred to him in some manner with profanity, for which he was then submitted for court martial.

Now I want to bring up the background to that for this reason. About ten days or so later, this was not just an inner fight, it did seem it had gotten out of hand, so I called Dan Bartlett in Austin. And he did take my call that time, and I talked to Dan, and I was pleading for common sense on the case of Harvey especially, and on the case of all of this. I was just basically pleading that the whole thing had gotten out of hand, that it was all out of control, and that somebody needed to, well, I said somebody needed to pull their head out of their ass and get control of this deal. And Harvey Gough had served valuably, even though he was very political and we all knew him to be very political, Harvey Gough had done tremendous things for many governors, and for many adjutants general, and he was still being very well [unintelligible] and was bringing great profit to the organization, and he needed to stop this bull.

And Dan didn't respond a lot except he baited me on a couple of questions, and I told him, this is out of control. And he indicated, well, who would you put in charge out there? And he basically I think was asking me who should be the Adjutant General, I don't know, which I don't want to get into that, but there was some side loops in the conversation.

I know Dan was wary of the conversation at the time, but I did tell him, and I look back at this and I know he should have taken it different, I told him, I said Dan, Harvey's political, this whole situation has gotten political, and you know, there's a downside to this. There's some risks, including this personnel readiness issue, the readiness reports, even the governor's own files.

And he should have retorted back to me, "Are you threatening me?" But he did not. I was probably out of line in a way and yet I will tell you now that I was begging for what I at that point considered life saving help. I could not walk at that time. I was poured into a chair. We finished our call, nothing happened, they court martialed Gough, they kicked him out of the Guard....That was the first time that I personally know that the knowledge that the records issue was an issue was passed to Bartlett, Allbaugh, or somebody else.


The "ghost soldiers" story finally broke in late 2001 in USA Today at the time that General James had been nominated to be national head of the Air National Guard. At about this time, Burkett was able to tell his entire story to the DOD Inspector General's Office.

Within that time frame there were several people who submitted letters of concern to the Senate Armed Services Committee, both to the majority staff and minority staff and to individual senators. I was aware of those because I was sent many copies by a lot of people, but I sent one that included the assertions about what I had seen on the governor's record.

I got a telephone call here and they had to have an immediate response. They wanted to do an interview and I wanted my attorney present and they didn't want my attorney present, and we did a basic dance and finally put something together there and responded. And they had five, six, or seven attorneys in the room and my attorney was not allowed to be there, and we did it by teleconference, which, it was not a real fair setting but it didn't make any difference, it went off what I considered fairly. I don't know if anything else was done fairly, I would doubt it, but they took my testimony and I detailed this issue of the governor's military records and what I had seen....

And this is what date now?

January, I think it's going to be either the fifth, sixth, or seventh of 2002. That's the date that that interview took place.

Let me go back and make sure I understand this. This is a teleconference among who and for what purpose?

I submitted a letter of concern to the Senate Armed Services Committee about the appointment of Daniel James as director of the Air National Guard. That prompted the DOD Inspector General's Office to conduct this interview. All of my concerns were brought up in this teleconference.

And during this teleconference one of the things that you mentioned was the George Bush records?

Yes. The entire story. I detailed the entire story. And they asked for corroboration and I gave them names, Gough, I gave them Adams, I gave them Conn, and as requested by those other two individuals I left them out.

Kevin Drum 5:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CIA PROBLEMS....In his Georgetown speech last week George Tenet admitted to only one CIA mistake in the runup to war. Apparently that wasn't quite true, however, and now there are going to be some changes in how field information is passed along to analysts:

The changes were ordered after an internal CIA review revealed several occasions when CIA analysts mistakenly believed that Iraq weapons data had been confirmed by multiple sources, when in fact it had come from a single source, said Jami A. Miscik, deputy director for intelligence, in a speech yesterday to the agency's analysts. The misunderstanding arose because CIA operatives had given analysts ambiguous information.

In other cases, Miscik said, analysts believed they were looking at information that came from a reliable source who had direct knowledge, but subsequent review showed the agent with the good reputation was actually supplying information from other parties "about whom we know little."

In addition, it turns out that the Presidential Daily Brief used to contain helpful graphics but that practice ended when George Bush took office. Now they're thinking about putting them back in.

Kevin Drum 11:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"CLEANSING" THE FILES....Back in late 2001 Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard of USA Today wrote a series of articles about "ghost soldiers," soldiers who were kept on National Guard rolls even though they were no longer attending drills or getting paid. One of their sources for the article was Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, who had investigated this problem in the Texas National Guard several years previously.

Which is just a bit of background to show that Moniz and Drinkard have worked with Burkett before and feel comfortable that he's a reliable source. At any rate, comfortable enough to publish his allegations that George Bush's National Guard records were "cleansed" back in 1997:

As Texas Gov. George W. Bush prepared to run for president in the late 1990s, top-ranking Texas National Guard officers and Bush advisers discussed ways to limit the release of potentially embarrassing details from Bush's military records, a former senior officer of the Texas Guard said Wednesday.

A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said.

Bill Burkett, then a top adviser to the state Guard commander, said he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed "cleansing" the file of damaging information.

There's more.

Kevin Drum 9:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DENTAL RECORDS....This is starting to get comical. Now the White House is releasing Bush's dental records:

Bush's staff provided copies of a one-page record of a dental exam, complete with drawings of the president's teeth, that showed he was at Dannelly Air National Guard base in Montgomery, Ala., on Jan. 6, 1973.

The document is the first definitive evidence that Bush showed up at a base of the Alabama National Guard during a period of about 11 months, from May 1972 to May 1973, for which it was unclear how the president had fulfilled his military service.

So, guys, how about the rest of Bush's file? No dice:

Communications director Dan Bartlett said the White House expects much in the file to already be in the public domain, but added that anything new concerning Bush's attendance in Alabama would be released. But Bartlett -- like McClellan -- was emphatic that the White House had no immediate plans to open Bush's entire file, which would include his Guard medical records.

"These are attempts to troll for personal records for partisan advantage. We're not going to play," Bartlett said. "The goal post is being moved."

The goal post is being moved? From where? I distinctly recall Bartlett's boss telling Tim Russert on Sunday "Yes, absolutely," when asked if he would "authorize the release of everything."

Anyway, what was Bush doing in Alabama in January. I thought he was back in Houston at that time?

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON BILL BURKETT....I've got good news and bad news. I've been trying to reach Bill Burkett for the past couple of days, but after this morning's post about him I decided I should try a little harder. The good news is that I finally got hold of him a little before noon and we talked for nearly two hours about his story.

Basically, he confirmed his account and answered several of my questions about it. He says he accidentally overheard the conversation in General James' office about cleaning up George Bush's National Guard record and then discussed it with a friend who subsequently led him to the building where he saw 30 or 40 Bush documents lying in a trash can. He agrees that his "clarification" in 2000 went too far and says that he got scared by all the attention and backed off more than he should have. And he's quite frank about his run-ins with Dan Bartlett and the medical problems that he blames on retaliation by Bush's staff.

Overall, then, his story hangs together reasonably well but whether his story is true is still a judgment call and I think the only way for people to judge the whole thing is to hear it in his own words. And that's where the bad news comes in.

I have to head out right now to get another cortisone shot, so I can't work on this for another few hours. What's more, the clerical staff here at Calpundit HQ seems to have cleared the base or something, and transcribing even the relevant chunks of our conversation is going to take quite a while. So I don't know when I'll be able to post this stuff.

However, it sounds like Burkett has talked to dozens of reporters in the past few days, so I wouldn't be surprised if his name starts popping up more frequently in news accounts. Keep your eyes peeled.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EXIT POLLS....Over at the Campaign Desk yesterday there was a minor little smackdown over the question of whether it's ethical for blogs to publish early exit poll information. Markos of Daily Kos says there's nothing wrong with it, but Zachary Roth disagrees:

Let's be clear: You have the right to do whatever you want on your blog. If you don't feel like meeting basic standards of journalistic integrity, that is indeed your prerogative. But we get to call it what it is.

When conventional print outlets first became widely read, the concept of "ethics" didn't apply to them either. But it soon became clear that the press exercised an influence on public affairs that was often as great as that exercised by public officials. And so just as public officials were expected to meet certain ethical standards, it was gradually agreed that the press should too.

The mainstream press could have refused to comply. They could have made the same argument that you do: "If our readers don't like the way we do things, they'll stop reading our paper." But most newspapers recognized that it was by agreeing to uphold certain basic ethical standards that they won for themselves the right to play a major role in the national debate -- the right, in short, to be taken seriously. That was a tradeoff they were more than willing to make.

I really don't get this. The mainstream press doesn't hold off on publishing exit polls because of ethical constraints, they hold off because they are contractually required to do so. When this information leaks to someone who isn't contractually bound, why shouldn't they publish it?

The "ethical" issue, I gather, is that releasing this information might affect whether people vote or not. And once again, I really don't get this: the media does stuff all the time that affects whether people will vote. In fact, that's practically all they do.

In Florida in 2000, some of the networks actually called the race for Bush Gore before the polls had closed in parts of the state. I think there's a strong case to be made that declaring a winner while the polls are open has such a large impact that it should be avoided. But in a primary contest, where delegates are handed out proportionally, what's the harm? A vote is a vote, and the fact that your guy is either ahead or behind doesn't really affect whether your vote matters.

So: declaring a winner before the polls close is something I agree is a bad idea. But printing early exit polls is just like providing a halftime score. I don't really see anything wrong with it, especially in primaries.

Comments?

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUPERMARKET STRIKE....The Los Angeles Times has a critical story about the supermarket union in today's paper:

The Wall Street fumble was the latest misstep in a strike that has been criticized as lacking a clear, consistent and forceful strategy. Unlike the three-week-long walkout by Los Angeles janitors in 2000, which is studied by scholars for its innovation and successful outcome, the supermarket strike is likely to be remembered for its miscalculations, academics and other observers said.

....By contrast, tactics hailed by the UFCW as silver bullets have been tried and discarded. The union persuaded the Teamsters to join the strike, but they stuck it out for only 30 days. The AFL-CIO was called in, then told to hold off, then allowed to take over national strategy.

Local UFCW leaders have often been at odds: Two weeks after the strike began, picket lines were removed from Ralphs stores to give consumers shopping options and to shore up the lines outside Vons, Pavilions and Albertsons, but before long that ploy fell apart. Strikers started picketing in front of Ralphs stores in Orange County and behind Ralphs stores in San Diego, while in Los Angeles the picket-line question was left up to each store's picket captain.

How could a venerable union get it so wrong?

I hate to kick the union while it's down, but I have to agree that they did a poor job in getting their message out. In fact, a couple of months ago I tried to research a post about what the real issues were in the strike and it was nearly impossible to gather the information. The UFCW's own website was of virtually no help and their press releases were a mess of conflicting claims.

By contrast, the supermarkets have been consistently running full page ads in the Times claiming that the whole thing is over a $5/week additional copay for health insurance. "Our offer is more than fair," they say.

This is simply untrue, but the union hasn't done a good job of countering it in clear, simple language. Management wants workers to be responsible for large chunks of future increases in healthcare costs, they want to freeze wages for current employees, and they want to substantially cut wages for new employees. This is one of the first cases ever of management fighting to cut worker pay and benefits dramatically, rather than simply trying to rein in increases, and they have been flatly unwilling to negotiate any of this in any meaningful way.

And Wal-Mart? It's just a dodge and everyone knows it. Even if Wal-Mart opens all the stores they want not a good bet they will control less than 1% of the Southern California grocery business. What's more, a new California law is going to require them to increase their normal healthcare benefits. The reality is that Wal-Mart is a very minor threat to local supermarket chains.

As the Times notes, the union's problems go much deeper than just PR, but PR is certainly part of it. They just haven't done a good job of telling their side of the story.

Kevin Drum 10:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WERE BUSH'S NATIONAL GUARD RECORDS "CLEANSED"?....Atrios links today to a Dallas Morning News article that quotes a guy named Bill Burkett as charging that George Bush's National Guard records were tampered with back in 1997. Here's a quick note to explain why I haven't posted about this before.

The reason is simple: I'm not sure Burkett's story hangs together. It started with an article in November 2000 in which Burkett claimed that Bush's files had been "cleansed," followed by a London Times story that interpreted Burkett's remarks as saying that Bush's records had been "doctored." If true, the charges were Watergate-level serious.

However, in a press release the next day clarifying his remarks, Burkett said he was "extremely careful not to point an accusing finger" and then said this:

Did you allege that the Governors staff doctored the records?

No, instead I stated that the way this had been handled by the Bush staff including knowledgeable military officials at the Texas national guard, that it left the implication that the Bush staff had first incompetently provided an incomplete military file for the Governor which was consistent with his autobiography....

In other words, Burkett was saying only that the Bush campaign had been careful to release some files but not others. But then last year he told Greg Palast the following story:

I was in the Generals office, General Daniel James....He gets a telephone call from Joe Albaugh, who was the Governors chief of staff, and Dan Bartlett ....on the voice box....and they wanted General James to assemble all of the Governors files, that [Karen Hughes, Bushs aide] was going to write a book....But Joe told General James, Make sure theres not anything in there thatll embarrass the Governor.

And there wouldnt be. Burkett asked if the generals staff really intended to purge the files; and sure enough, as evidence of the affirmative reply, he was shown the piles of pay and pension records in the garbage pails destined for the shredders.

And today's Dallas Morning News article confirms the Palast version of the story:

Col. Burkett said that a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, he saw Mr. Bush's file and documents from it discarded in a trash can. He said he recognized the documents as retirement point summaries and pay forms.

Obviously I don't have any inside information and I've never spoken to Burkett. But I've got a few problems with his story:

  • It's awfully convenient. He just happened to be in General James' office when Allbaugh called? And despite the fact that Burkett's job was investigating irregularities in recordkeeping, James decided to put this call on the speaker? And then Burkett just happened to see the offending documents in the trash a few days later? This is a remarkably sloppy job on the part of Bush's people.

  • When he clarified his remarks in his press release in 2000, why didn't he tell the story he's telling now? It's pretty sensational, and surely deserved an accusing finger.

  • Burkett said of the scrubbing, "For most soldiers at Camp Mabry, this was a generally known event." If that's true, why hasn't anyone else come forward to confirm his story?

  • Burkett has a big time axe to grind. He was a whistleblower regarding problems in the Texas Guard and was later denied medical treatment for an illness he contracted in Panama, an incident that he blames on retaliation by Bush. He sued the National Guard over this incident but lost the case.

Bottom line: Burkett's story might be absolutely true. I don't know. But there are enough red flags that I'm skeptical of it without further backup. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE....The Washington Post reports that President Bush has decided to try and distract attention from his other problems by publicly endorsing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Apparently he favors the wording proposed by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.):

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Its backers say that this wording is a compromise: it prevents courts from forcing states to accept gay marriage but does not stop state legislatures from allowing civil unions. But if that's really the aim, why not make the language more specific? As it stands, it's not at all clear that that's what the amendment does.

Kevin Drum 8:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"X PLACE FOR X HOURS ON X DATES"....Back in 2000 the Bush campaign hired a guy named Albert Lloyd to "scour" the archives for Bush's National Guard records. Lloyd did so, found some new documentation, and come away satisfied. Here's what he said back then:

Lloyd, who has studied the records extensively, said he is an admirer of the governor and believes "the governor honestly served his country and fulfilled his commitment."

Today, after watching the White House's performance with the payroll records, he's not so sure anymore:

Albert C. Lloyd, a retired personnel officer in the Texas Air National Guard -- who helped the White House review Bush's file both in 2000 and recently -- said "original documentation" would have been filed when Bush performed his duties stating exactly where they were performed and what he did. "The document goes to the payroll office and shows he performed at X place for X hours on X dates," Lloyd said from his home in Austin.

Lloyd said he voted for Bush in 2000 but that he has not decided whether he will vote for the president again. "I'm not happy with him," he said. He declined to elaborate.

Ouch.

Kevin Drum 8:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY WINS BIG....With nearly the entire vote counted, John Kerry has won Tennessee with 41% of the vote (vs. Edwards and Clark at 27% and 23%) and Virginia with 52% of the vote (vs. Edwards and Clark at 27% and 9%).

I never would have guessed that Kerry would skyrocket like this or that Dean, Edwards, and Clark would all tank so badly, but that's what's happened. And while I think it would be good for the Democrats if the contest went on a while longer (lots of free publicity that way), it's pretty clear that Kerry is the winner here. If he can win this big in two Southern states, it's time for the rest of the field to concede.

UPDATE: Clark has withdrawn from the race.

Kevin Drum 8:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH PAYROLL RECORDS....If you're interested in the payroll records the White House released today, National Review has posted the complete file here. If you just want to see the guts of it, it's reproduced below.

I've put together portions of two records into a single image. The top part is a pay record showing activity between January-April 1972, with a final entry on April 16. The bottom part is a pay record showing activity between October-November 1972. The first entry is on October 28.

The dates on the bottom record match the ARF attendance records showing duty on October 28-29 and November 11-14. A couple of comments:

  • The complete file contains seven separate pay records. The later ones seem to match the ARF attendance records.

  • For the first time, the pay records show the exact length of Bush's absence from duty in 1972: April 17 through October 27. That's six months.

To be honest, I can't make sense of all seven records in this file. The format seems to have changed midway through 1972, and the handwritten notations indicate that we're missing the record for the 3rd quarter of 1972. I don't know if that's the way they came from the White House or if it's a mistake on the part of the NRO staffer who placed the documents on the web.

[UPDATE: Nope, that's the way they came from the White House. The Washington Post has exactly the same file here.]

What's more, the two records I spliced together below don't agree with each other. The top one is supposed to be from the fourth quarter of 1972 but shows no activity in October-November. The bottom one is from the first quarter of 1973 and shows the October-November activity.

Somebody who understands this stuff really needs to take a look through these records and explain what they mean. At first glance something seems to have happened in mid-1972, with the records changing format and a chunk of time missing. But only an expert can say for sure.

Kevin Drum 7:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EXIT POLLS....Jack Shafer at Slate provides the following early exit poll numbers:

Tennessee
Kerry: 44
Edwards: 26
Clark: 18
Dean: 6

Virginia
Kerry: 54
Edwards: 25
Clark: 9
Dean: 7

These early numbers have proven pretty accurate in the past couple of weeks, and if they hold up again this week it's all over. Kerry's the nominee.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEORGE BUSH, CAMPAIGN MANAGER....Here's an idea. It's a longshot, but let's see if we can harness the awesome power of the blogosphere for the benefit of mankind.

According to the now complete copy of George Bush's ARF service record for 1972, we know that he supposedly spent the weekend of October 28-29 on drills. On the face of it, this seems unlikely since he was acting as assistant campaign manager for Winton "Red" Blount at the time and this particular weekend was nine days before the election. That's usually a busy time, no? It also fails to match up with the training schedule for the Alabama unit that Bush was supposedly attached to at the time.

So here's the deal: do I have any readers in Alabama who are willing to head to the library and spend a few hours reading through microfilms of local papers to see if they can find any mention of Bush that weekend? The newspaper dates to look for are October 29 and 30, 1972, and the most likely cities are Montgomery and (I assume) Birmingham.

The question is this: are there any news reports indicating that Bush was actually working on Blount's campaign on those days rather than attending drills? If anybody finds anything, let me know.

Extra points if anyone finds a photograph.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, note the following anecdote about the Blount campaign from the Montgomery Advertiser last week:

Bush, then 26, served as assistant campaign manager in a race that featured a doctored audiotape that made it sound like [John] Sparkman supported busing children to integrate schools.

Charming, isn't it? Kinda reminds you of South Carolina in 2000.....

UPDATE: A reader suggests via email that Montgomery residents can also visit the Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington Ave., which has hardbound copies of the Montgomery Advertiser as well as the following on microfiche:

  • Montgomery Advertiser, 1972.10.01-1972.10.31, Order # S1987.2747

  • Alabama Journal, 1972.10.02-1972.10.31, Order # S1991.2484

  • Birmingham Mirror, 1971.01.09-1974.02.23, Reference Call Number micro #326, Order # M1992.2356

Kevin Drum 2:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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O'REILLY APOLOGIZES....Bill O'Reilly, March 18, 2003:

Here's, here's the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world, nobody knows for sure, all right? We don't know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let's see. But there's a doubt on both sides. And I said on my program, if, if the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush Administration again, all right? But I'm giving my government the benefit of the doubt.

Bill O'Reilly, February 10, 2004:

The anchor of his own show on Fox News said he was sorry he gave the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons program poised an imminent threat, the main reason cited for going to war.

"I was wrong. I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this," O'Reilly said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."

....O'Reilly said he was "much more skeptical about the Bush administration now" since former weapons inspector David Kay said he did not think Saddam had any weapons of mass destruction.

Good for him, even if he is still buying into the "it was all Tenet's fault" storyline.

(Link via Pandagon.)

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH PAY RECORDS RELEASED....The White House released George Bush's military pay records for 1972 and 1973 today, as promised. Details are sketchy, but presumably the pay dates match up with the dates in the ARF documents here.

It's still not clear exactly what he was paid for, of course, and there are still no records at all from May-September 1972, so I'm not sure this really moves the story forward much.

To do that, he needs to release his entire record. Every page of it.

Kevin Drum 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NATIONAL GUARD ROUNDUP....Here's a roundup of the latest on the National Guard stuff. I gotta tell you, it's starting to get hard to keep track of everything which may be either a good sign or a bad one. Here we go:

This is all pretty confusing and we'll just have to wait and see how it pans out. In the meantime, I have a few comments.

First, payroll records alone are simply not enough. If Bush wants to put this controversy to rest, he needs to commit to opening up his complete record. So far he appears to hedging mightily on this.

Second, many of these documents have been available for years. It's just that no one ever thought to look for them. Bob Fertik of Democrats.com (not associated with the Democratic Party) got copies of the ARF attendance records back in 2000 via a FOIA request, something that any reporter could have done as well. Bob has a long post about all this here.

Finally, the reason this is all controversial is because the existing record is both fragmentary and contradictory, a toxic combination that inevitably leads to lots of speculation as well as some outright conspiracy theorizing. A little Googling will show you what I mean.

My advice: don't go there. A bit of speculation is OK, but stay away from the wilder stuff. At the same time, there's also no reason to blindly accept whatever White House spin Dan Bartlett places on these documents.

There are at least two good reasons to be skeptical about Bush's story: (1) some of it simply doesn't add up and (2) he has refused to release his entire military record. Considering the trouble it's causing, why would he do that unless there were something awfully embarrassing in there?

Bottom line: if Bush's story is really true, he can put a stop to all this speculation instantly by simply ordering all the relevant archives to release his entire record, warts and all. Why won't he?

Kevin Drum 10:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE....Obviously the Washington Post's Lois Romano doesn't read Calpundit. Writing about George Bush's National Guard attendance record, she says:

The first date in the records for 1973 is May 29, when they indicate he attended drills. The records show he attended drills at least 18 times between May 29 and July 30.

....His official personnel record, obtained by The Post in 2000, does not include a summary of service for the time in Alabama [in 1972]. There is a sheet, where the name has been torn off, that includes dates for that period, but there is no way to confirm it refers to Bush because his Social Security number has been redacted.

No, no, no. The record she's talking about in the first paragraph is this one:

The record in the second paragraph is now available in pristine non-torn condition and it looks like this:

Either you accept these ARF records as evidence of attendance at National Guard Drills or you don't. If you do, then they show Bush attending drills in late 1972 and then all the way from January through July of 1973. If you don't, then they don't show anything.

My guess is the latter: they don't show much of anything related to the National Guard. Rather, they are records of something that counted as drills in the Air Reserve, although it's not clear what.

But whatever they show, both records show the same thing. Even if we're not sure exactly what that is, the mainstream media needs to at least understand what evidence is currently available and what its possible interpretations are.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, the actual point of Romano's story is that the Defense Department is requesting Bush's payroll records from "a DOD archive in Colorado." Why is DOD doing this? And why just payroll records? Very peculiar.

Kevin Drum 11:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....The New York Times has the latest on the Valerie Plame investigation. Apparently prosecutors are making progress:

Armed with handwritten White House notes, detailed cellphone logs and copies of e-mail messages between White House aides and reporters, prosecutors have demanded explanations of conversations between aides and reporters for some of the country's largest news organizations that under ordinary circumstances would never be publicly discussed. So far, no reporter has been questioned or subpoenaed.

One set of documents that prosecutors repeatedly referred to in their meetings with White House aides are extensive notes compiled by I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser. Prosecutors have described the notes as "copious," the lawyers said. In addition, the prosecutors have asked about cellphone calls made last July to and from Catherine J. Martin, a press secretary for Mr. Cheney.

Stay tuned. Gonna get bumpy.

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HONORABLE DISCHARGE....George Bush says that all the fuss over his National Guard records is ridiculous. After all, he got an honorable discharge and that means he must have showed up for all his drills and fulfilled all his obligations.

Is this true? Richard Cohen joined the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam draft and he's not buying:

I did my basic and advanced training (combat engineer) and returned to my unit. I was supposed to attend weekly drills and summer camp, but I found them inconvenient. I "moved" to California and then "moved" back to New York, establishing a confusing paper trail that led, really, nowhere. For two years or so, I played a perfectly legal form of hooky. To show you what a mess the Guard was at the time, I even got paid for all the meetings I missed.

In the end, I wound up in the Army Reserve. I was assigned to units for which I had no training -- tank repairman, for instance. In some units, we sat around with nothing to do and in one we took turns delivering antiwar lectures. The National Guard and the Reserves were something of a joke. Everyone knew it. Books have been written about it. Maybe things changed dramatically by 1972, two years after I got my discharge, but I kind of doubt it.

Read the whole column.

Kevin Drum 10:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AT WAR....Mark Kleiman had exactly the same reaction that I did to part of Bush's Meet the Press interview:

My dislike of the current resident at 1600 Penn. is so intense that I can't use my reactions to things he says and does as any sort of gauge of the likely reactions of normal people.

Take, for example, his reference to himself in the Russert interview as a "war President." I was disgusted by it, but figured that Mr. Bush's supporters wouldn't mind it. So I've been pleasantly surprised, in talking to three pro-Bush friends, to find that they all regarded the comment as reflecting something between creepily bad taste and a humorously inaccurate self-concept. "Would that be anything like a wartime consigliere?" said one.

That remark struck me exactly the same way, but like Mark I brushed it aside since I figured it was just because I don't like Bush. But now that he's mentioned it, I think I'd like to fan the flames a bit.

Who the hell does George Bush think he is, anyway? We haven't had a "wartime president" since FDR, and there's a good reason for that: you're only a wartime president if you act like you're at war. That means placing the country on a wartime footing, putting aside petty politics to forge a bipartisan wartime consensus, and telling the nation in no uncertain terms that sacrifices need to be made. George Bush has done none of those things. In fact, he's done exactly the opposite, sending the message loud and clear that this war is as trivial and inconsequential as it's possible to be, all the time treating it as little more than a partisan club with which to beat his enemies.

George Bush has made it crystal clear that he doesn't truly care about terrorism in any meaningful way. He's playing games with the people who supported him and has betrayed everything they think they see in him. When will they figure it out?

UPDATE: Well, David Brooks seems to have liked the "war president" line. Or, more accurately, he would have liked it if George Bush had said what David Brooks wishes he said. But he didn't, did he?

And yet Brooks apparently still thinks that this is what George Bush really believes. But why? After all this time why are so many conservatives convinced that Bush believes the same things they do despite mountains of evidence to the contrary? There is a willful naivt at work here that's genuinely inexplicable.

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RELEASING THE BUSH RECORDS....So was President Bush serious yesterday when he said he'd be willing to release all his National Guard records? Keith Berry has the response from the White House when reporters pressed the issue at the daily briefing today.

The key point here is not Scott McClellan's polished blather, which is wholly unsurprising, but the fact that reporters didn't press back on his most obvious weak point by asking if Bush would authorize the release of records that are normally held back from FOIA requests because of privacy concerns. That's the natural place to start.

Really, all Bush has to do is contact the various archives the Texas Air National Guard archives at Camp Mabry, the Air Reserve archives in Denver, and the national military archives in St. Louis and tell them to simply assemble every scrap of paper they have regarding his military service and then release it. It's not so hard.

UPDATE: Plus IRS records too!

Kevin Drum 5:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOB GROWTH REVISITED....Brad DeLong, demonstrating once again why he's an economist and I'm not, explains that the latest job growth figures from the White House are actually more peculiar than I suggested this morning.

In particular, the White House is projecting that non-farm payrolls will rise from 130.1 million at the end of 2003 to an average of 132.7 131.9 million for 2004. To me (and to Reuters) that sounded like an increase of 2.6 1.8 million, but Brad notes that to get an average of 132.7 131.9 million jobs we need to end the year at about 135.3 133.6 million This is, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely.

Here is Brad's first post, after which he shakes his head, does a bit of Googling to convince himself that this is really what the White House said, and then explains why this number is, um, unlikely. Then, still bemused by the whole thing, he takes to the keyboard yet again and speculates about how the Bushies pulled this number out of their collective hat.

After that, presumably, his head imploded.

UPDATE: Numbers updated because Brad changed his mind for reasons that are not 100% clear to me. These lowered numbers are, perhaps, no longer extremely unlikely but merely very unlikely.

Kevin Drum 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE IN AMERICA....In the midst of an effort to show that America is too better than other countries, David Bernstein makes this comment about our healthcare system vs. the socialized versions common in the rest of the world:

The U.S. in fact has a quasi-socialized health system, in the sense that the government pays most (yes, most!) of the health care costs (from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration) and is responsible for a good chunk of the remainder (through tax subsidies, mandates to insurance companies, mandates re emergency care, etc.). Indeed, I remember seeing a study noted in the Economist a while ago showing that the private sector in the U.S. doesn't account for a substantially larger share of health care spending than in many European nations, but that the U.S. health care system has just been socialized in a more haphazard and inefficient way, creating greater costs while insuring fewer people.

This, I think, is actually a very pithy way of explaining the whole mess. The United States really doesn't have a free market in healthcare at all; in fact, it's just a bizarre melange of jury rigged policies that seem to provide the worst of all worlds. We don't get the universal coverage and bargaining power of a single-payer system, but we also don't have the competitiveness and price pressure of a true free market system.

I don't have the numbers at hand, but I believe that governments at various levels fund about 50% of all healthcare in the United States, while in Europe it averages around 75%. In other words, as David suggests, the difference isn't really that great.

So what, then, is the big problem with simply trying to rationalize the system? More people would be covered, there would be at least a chance of implementing some kind of cost control, rich people could still get private care if they wanted, and employers could get out of the healthcare biz and turn their attention to their real businesses. Sure, taxes would go up, but private healthcare costs would go down and the net result would probably be a wash. In fact, if the system were well designed never a betting proposition, I admit overall costs might even be a little less.

Where's the downside?

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PAGING MAX....As Max Sawicky has kindly informed us, last year the White House told us that if we passed all their tax cuts the economy would create 1.8 million new jobs in 2003 and 3.7 million in 2004.

Well, even though the tax cut got passed 2003 didn't quite live up to expectations, and today the White House backed down yet again, projecting growth for 2004 of only 2.6 million jobs. That's pretty anemic. I guess tax cuts aren't quite the magic bullet they thought.

Over to you, Max.

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out this isn't really right. More here.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MINIATURIZING EDUCATION....Students at a local middle school here are all being given PDAs. Hell, why not just give them all GameBoys and cut out the middleman? Is this:

a) A sign of the apocolypse?
b) A sign that PDAs have finally come of age?
c) A sign that California is still wasting money it doesn't have?
d) A sign that I'm officially an old coot?

Now, it's true that I never personally became a PDA fan, so maybe it's one of those things I just don't get, but even so, I have to say that I just don't get it:

In Sandy Asper's English class, students already have begun writing essays on their PDAs, using miniature keyboards that plug into them. Their assignment is displayed on the board: write a five-paragraph essay about a favorite book. As students begin writing, the classroom quickly becomes a symphony of clicking and tapping.

Once finished, students beam their completed work to Asper's PDA. The technology is similar to that of a television remote control, in which digital information is carried through an infrared light beam.

"I can't tell you how excited I am," said the 32-year veteran teacher. "It will be infinitely better."

Writing essays on a PDA with a miniature keyboard? I suppose it's a perfect match in this case since the kids are being instructed to write one of those dreaded five paragraph essays.

Frankly, I have a hard time believing that this is really going to improve anyone's education, and the tech support problems seem like a nightmare. And even if it's a great idea, it's truly hard to see why we're spending $700,000 on this with a state budget as strapped as ours. Sacramento moves in mysterious ways.

Kevin Drum 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MTP RECAP....David Adesnik puts his finger on the real problem with Tim Russert's questioning of President Bush on Meet the Press yesterday: it was too predictable.

This is something that continually surprises me. A "tough" interview is not simply an imitation of a barking district attorney hounding a witness in court, it's asking unexpected questions so that you can get some unrehearsed answers. Questions that find out whether your subject actually has any depth of knowledge or principle beyond the standard talking points.

That's what Russert missed. He didn't need to ambush him with silly questions about whether he could name the prime minister of India, but he should have asked a few question that drilled more deeply into Bush's policy beliefs and his personal vision, questions that forced him away from the comfortable climes of the briefing book. It was a missed opportunity.

Kevin Drum 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ARF!....No, this is not the sound that Barney makes when the White House staff is late with dinner. Rather, it's the beginning of yet another intriguing mystery regarding George Bush's service in the Air National Guard. Read on for more.

To begin, you need to recall the original mystery of the "torn document" that purports to show Bush's guard activity in 1972 and 1973 (details here and here if your memory is fuzzy). Question: is the document genuine? Or some kind of clever forgery?

Answer: it's real. Here's the untorn version, as delivered to Bob Fertik in response to a FOIA request in late 2000:

As it turns out, though, we have traded one mystery for another. It's now clear that the document is genuine, but what exactly does it tell us? In particular:

  • The first listed date is October 29, not November 29 as we had theorized before. But George Bush was still in Alabama in October. What exactly was he getting attendance credit for?

  • This is neither a Texas Air National Guard document nor an Alabama document. What is it?

The answer, as you can see from the top line, is that it is an ARF document, as is this record from 1973-74. So what is ARF? I asked Bob Rogers, a retired Air National Guard pilot who's been following this for some time, and what follows is his interpretation of what happened.

ARF is the reserves, and among other things it's where members of the guard are sent for disciplinary reasons. As we all know, Bush failed to show up for his annual physical in July 1972, he was suspended in August, and the suspension was recorded on September 29. He was apparently transferred to ARF at that time and began accumulating ARF points in October.

ARF is a "paper unit" based in Denver that requires no drills and no attendance. For active guard members it is disciplinary because ARF members can theoretically be called up for active duty in the regular military, although this obviously never happened to George Bush.

To make a long story short, Bush apparently blew off drills beginning in May 1972, failed to show up for his physical, and was then grounded and transferred to ARF as a disciplinary measure. He didn't return to his original Texas Guard unit and cram in 36 days of active duty in 1973 as Time magazine and others continue to assert based on a mistaken interpretation of Bush's 1973-74 ARF record but rather accumulated only ARF points during that period. In fact, it's unclear even what the points on the ARF record are for, but what is clear is that Bush's official records from Texas show no actual duty after May 1972, as his Form 712 Master Personnel Record from the Texas Air National Guard clearly indicates:

Bush's record shows three years of intense service, followed by a fourth year in which his enthusiasm apparently waned, followed by no service at all in his fifth and sixth years. This is because ARF duty isn't counted as official duty by the Texas guard.

So Bush may indeed have "fulfilled his obligation," as he says, but only because he had essentially been relieved of any further obligation after his transfer to ARF. It's pretty clear that no one in the Texas Air National Guard had much interest in pursuing anything more serious in the way of disciplinary action.

Can we confirm all this? Only if Bush is genuinely willing to release his entire service record, including the disciplinary action that presumably led to his transfer to ARF.

How about it, Mr. Commander-in-Chief? Will you release your full and complete service record, as you promised today on Meet the Press? Or were you just bluffing?

POSTSCRIPT: As always, any corrections, updates, or amplifications are welcome, especially from those with National Guard experience.

UPDATE: I see that I accidentally set off a storm by writing that ARF stands for "Army Reserve Force." This is almost certainly supposed to be "Air Reserve Force" and I've changed the text to remove the army reference. The overall point is to propose the theory that after missing drills and blowing off his physical, Bush was warned that he could be transferred to the reserves for 24 months as a disciplinary measure, the transfer probably happened around October 1972 when he began accumulating ARF points, and ended in November 1974.

The untorn version of the "torn document" is obviously a different copy and was obtained from the ARPC archives in Denver. The original torn document was found in Texas. There's nothing necessarily unusual about this, aside from the fact that the torn document designates Bush's unit as L9CHPY and the Denver version designates it as L9CMPY. I don't know if there's any significance to this.

Kevin Drum 6:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW MATH....Over at Angry Bear, Kash shakes his head in wonderment at George Bush's statement this morning that he has actually reduced spending growth since taking office. "If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch," he told Tim Russert, "in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined."

But how can he say that? After all, as Kash points out, a simple look at CBO numbers shows that discretionary spending in 2001 was 5.5% higher than 2000, not 15%. How can he "get away with lying about things that are so obviously and verifiably untrue"?

Watch and learn. President Bush, who clearly likes colorful charts better than he likes spreadsheets full of numbers, apparently derived his figure from the colorful chart on the right, taken from his own budget document. It indicates that discretionary spending outside of defense and homeland security went up 15% in 2001. Or rather, that discretionary spending authority not actual spending went up 15%. See, he was just speaking in a kind of shorthand, that's all.

But even if that's what he really meant, you may be thinking that it still doesn't make any sense. After all, if total discretionary spending went up only 5.5%, how is it possible for his chart to show all three separate components going up by that much or more? Klingon math?

Hard to say. But really, numbers are such dreary things, aren't they? Let's move on. After all, it's the security of the American people that we really care about, right?

Indeed it is, and later this evening we shall abandon dreary numbers for good and return to yet another installment in the Bush AWOL story, this time clearing up once and for all the mystery of the torn document. Or so it seems....

Kevin Drum 4:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NRO ON BUSH....Holy Hell. It's hardly surprising that I thought Bush's performance on Meet the Press was weak ("labored and uninteresting....like he was addressing a class of sixth graders"), but the fine conservatives over at NRO are piling on in a fashion normally reserved for Jimmy Carter op-eds:

Michael Graham: President Bush looks like he's afraid of Tim Russert. He's stammering and unsteady. For the first time, I've felt a twinge of fear myself about the November election.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Not to pile on here, but I think lots of eyebrows legitimately raise re: the March 2005 commission deadline. Im not sure he sufficiently answered that

Kathryn Jean Lopez: A pundit-type just said to me: "If he loses this year, this will be the day he lost it."

Rod Dreher: I'm afraid I have to side with Michael on the Bush interview. I kept wincing as the president bobbled his answers....He had better get his act together....

John Derbyshire: Just got through watching the President on Meet the Press. I thought it was a pretty dismal performance. I'll be voting for GWB in November, but let's face it, the Great Communicator he ain't. The tongue-tied blather was coming thick and fast. At times, he looked like Al Sharpton on the Federal Reserve.

Russert: "Why didn't you establish the intelligence commission earlier?"
GWB: "Blather blather blather. No answer."

Russert: "Will you yourself testify before the commission?"
GWB: "Blather blather blather. No answer."

Rod Dreher: ....I can't believe that fiscal conservatives were relieved by the president's patently dishonest answer when Russert brought up the spending issue. Russert said to Bush that even conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh are criticizing his spending. The president countered by saying that in times of war, every government spends more money, for the sake of the troops. Which is true, but evades the point of the Right's critique of this administration's fiscal irresponsibility. Nobody in Bush's base is complaining about military spending. It's all the other spending that's got our knickers in a knot. Bush had nothing to say about that.

Lopez did meekly suggest at one point that Bush's performance wasn't a total disaster, and took comfort from the fact that no one watches television on Sunday morning anyway. That's about the best any of them have come up with so far.

I'm sure that by tomorrow they will have rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and decided upon mature reflection that it was actually a magnificent performance, but this is what they're saying now. For once, I find myself in full agreement with National Review....

Kevin Drum 10:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE 2004 CAMPAIGN....Meet the Press was a dull affair. It's not that Russert asked especially bad (or good) questions, just that Bush's responses were uniformly labored and uninteresting. He sounded like he was addressing a class of sixth graders.

But note Bush's answer about what he thought the biggest issue in the upcoming campaign would be:

Who can properly use American power in a way to make the world a better place.

That's it, baby. This campaign is going to be all about terrorism, Iraq, and national security, 24/7. Democrats better be prepared, and better not kid themselves into thinking that a sputtering economy by itself will be enough to win on.

Kevin Drum 9:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH'S SERVICE RECORDS....On Meet the Press this morning President Bush said he'd be delighted to turn over all his service records from his time in the Texas Air National Guard. Good news!

But just as Russert was moving on to the next question, he added, "We did so in 2000, by the way." So the bottom line is: he doesn't plan to release anything he hasn't already released.

Kevin Drum 9:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH, BARNES, AND THE NATIONAL GUARD....Since the whole Bush AWOL thing has popped back onto the radar screen lately, I thought everyone might enjoy a trip into the memory hole. This is from 1999:

In a written statement under oath presented on Monday, Ben Barnes, a former speaker of the Texas state legislature, said that in 1968 he asked the head of the Texan Air National Guard, General James Rose, to give the young Mr Bush a place on a pilot-training programme, automatically excusing him from the draft.

....In his deposition, Mr Barnes said he had been asked to intervene by a Bush family friend, Sid Adger, but he did not know whether George Bush Sr, then a congressman, knew about the request. The former president said recently that he was "almost positive" that he had never discussed the matter with Adger, who died three years ago, and never asked for help. Rose died in 1993.

Ben Barnes was one of the most powerful politicians in Texas in the 60s and 70s "the next LBJ" until an unfortunate scandal derailed his career (although fret not for Barnes: his consolation prize was becoming a garden variety Texas tycoon and political fixit man). Sid Adger was an oil magnate and friend of the Bush family.

So did George W. Bush get some high-level help getting into the Texas Air Guard? Of course he did, and it came from higher up than Adger, who didn't just wake up one morning and decide to call Barnes for no reason. Somebody asked him to. Hell, even the official denials from the Bush camp are obviously just pro forma.

But the thing is that no one cares. Sure he got special treatment, but so did lots of other folks and that was 35 years ago anyway. It's just not that big a deal.

However, what is a big deal is that it makes it rather more plausible that Bush continued to receive special treatment throughout his career in the Guard and for many years after. More on that later.

Kevin Drum 4:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING BY IMPORTANT PEOPLE....Let's face it, even if Tony Blair does decide to write a blog during his next election, it's going to be tedious as hell. And it won't be him writing it anyway.

On the other hand, you can see presidential blogging right now. Well, former presidential blogging, as Jimmy Carter blogs his way across Africa. No hyperlinks or permalinks, though, and the title is the charmingly archaic "Web Log (Blog) Update." Still, I'll bet it really is him writing it.

And I shouldn't make fun anyway. I recall that he wrote his memoirs in 1981 on a word processor, whereas I was still using a typewriter at that point. Of course, he had more money than me back then.

Kevin Drum 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEOCONS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS....Can hardline ideologues really become so consumed with a foreign threat that they find evidence of it everywhere they look regardless of whether it exists? Nick Kristof says sure, it can happen to anyone:

In 1981, we now know, the K.G.B. chairman said at a secret conference that President Ronald Reagan was planning to launch a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union. The Soviets became consumed with the U.S. threat, just as the Bush administration became obsessed with the Iraq threat. The K.G.B. ordered all its offices in NATO countries to seek evidence of Mr. Reagan's plans for a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and they code-named the effort RYAN.

Once K.G.B. officers knew what Moscow wanted, they found "evidence" everywhere of Mr. Reagan's secret plans for a nuclear strike confirming Moscow's worst fears.

Then NATO held a nuclear launching exercise in November 1983, playing into the Soviet alarm. The K.G.B. mistakenly reported to Moscow that NATO was on an actual alert. The Soviets put their own forces on alert and braced for a nuclear attack.

That's an interesting little parallel, isn't it?

And on a different subject entirely, what's the deal with New York-based publications and their weird anachronisms? Why is it "K.G.B." and "C.I.A." instead of KGB and CIA the way every other living human being refers to them? And why "NATO" instead of "N.A.T.O."? Is there some kind of 3-letter maximum for dumb anachronisms? And why do they think this is cute anyway?

UPDATE: Obviously my last paragraph needs some clarification:

  • The Times does what it does because it follows its own internal stylebook. So my real question is: why does their stylebook continue to be so archaic?

  • In the same vein, I did indeed mean "anachronism," not "acronym," although I probably didn't use the word quite correctly. I was referring to the fact that usages like "C.I.A." are kept on long after they have passed from common usage everywhere else.

  • My reference to "New York-based publications" was meant to rope in the New Yorker, which is even more self-consciously quaint than the Times. As several commenters have pointed out, both publications insist on using the diaeresis mark (as in nave, for example) even though it hasn't been in common usage for several decades at least. The New Yorker does much, much more, of course, although they're now so famous for it that they at least have that excuse going for them.

Basically, I object to stylebooks that perpetuate outdated usages for no good reason except to trumpet their attachment to long and glorious institutional histories. It's not quaint or cute or anything else. It's just dumb, and it interrupts the flow of the text by calling attention to itself.

So there.

And I guess I really need to make sure to give these little grammar/style peeves their own posts in the future. Poor Kristof didn't get much attention in comments.....

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A FOREIGN POLICY TEST....David Kay is off the reservation again. Apparently he's not very impressed with the Bush administration's reaction to the pardon of Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's nuclear-proliferator-in-chief:

"I can't think of any[one] who deserves less to be pardoned than A.Q. Khan...," said David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons hunter in Iraq.

In reality, according a "senior administration official," our subdued reaction to Khan's pardon is merely a measure of the nuanced and thoughtful approach to foreign policy that George Bush favors: "It's just another case where you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," he said, apparently while keeping a straight face.

The whole article is worth reading, because beyond the snark it lays bare the divide between the "moral clarity" crowd and the foreign policy realists. The plain fact is that Pakistan is an enormously difficult country to deal with, and it really does require some nuance and subtlety.

But it's a problem for the Andrew Sullivans and Glenn Reynolds of the world, who insist that good is good and evil is evil and anyone with any moral sense like, say, George Bush should refuse to compromise with evil. But here we have an Islamic country whose public is violently anti-U.S.; that has developed and tested nuclear weapons; that has traded nuclear technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea; and that apparently continued to do so until only a few months ago. Surely if any country should be deemed a member of the Axis of Evil, it is Pakistan.

And yet, Pakistan has been an ally off and on for years. They were instrumental in helping our covert war against the Soviets in the 80s and have been helpful in our war against the Taliban since 9/11. Keeping them helpful is surely a strong imperative.

But if you truly believe that it's the compromises of the past that have brought on the problems of today, if you truly believe that the only answer to 9/11 is to stop compromising with terrorist supporters, and if you truly believe that military force is the appropriate weapon for this fight then you should be appalled by the Bush administration's coddling of Pakistan.

If you aren't, then you're a foreign policy realist. It's a pretty simple test.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a nice story on this subject as well.

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE INTERNET AND HOWARD DEAN....The LA Times has a story today about the Howard Dean internet phenomenon, whose failure is prompting "painful self-examination" among supporters who were convinced that the internet was going to change everything.

Well, we've been down that road before, haven't we? But even so, I have to say that the breast beating is impressive:

  • John Perry Barlow: "We may have been too glued to our monitors to remember that while elections get won by money...they are also won by people on the ground."

  • Dave Winer: "Barlow is right about the echo chamber. There were a lot of people who thought it was about dating."

  • Clay Shirky: "The volume of interest that came from rallying the faithful looked, to us, like a surface sign of 10 times the interest underneath. This bubble of belief was staggering."

  • Doc Searls, co-author of dotcom bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto: "We need to make a careful assessment of what we've learned so far. What's going on here is more like tectonics and geology: It's great shifts taking place underneath everything."

Now, although I'm obviously a technophile, I've been in the high tech world my entire life and was an early skeptic of the messianic tone adopted by so many of the mid-90s dotcom folks. I thought The Cluetrain Manifesto was remarkably naive and shallow, that selling cat food via the internet was just dumb, and that market valuations should be based on projections of future earnings no matter what anyone else says.

But here's the funny thing: this time I think the internet enthusiasts are being too hard on themselves. It's a given in my business that the best marketing in the world can't sell a product that people don't want, and in the end I think that's all that happened here. After all, look at what the internet accomplished for Howard Dean: it raised a ton of money and generated loads of activist enthusiasm, which in turn bought a huge ground staff, encouraged endorsements from two of the biggest unions around, allowed the campaign to saturate the airwaves with advertising, boosted him to #1 in the polls, and helped fund a 50-state organization that was the envy of every other candidate.

In other words, the internet was instrumental in helping build all the traditional mechanisms that elect a candidate. The fact that it still didn't work just means that the candidate wasn't good enough. After all, Phil Gramm raised a boatload of money in 1996 and then disappeared without a trace. It happens.

Politics is a funny business and it's hard to know why some people succeed and others don't. But whatever the reason for Dean not succeeding, I don't think the blame can be laid on his internet operation. Without that, he wouldn't have gotten even as far as he did.

POSTSCRIPT: Having said all this, I should add that the basic echo chamber critique is valid, although it's worth keeping in mind that all campaigns suffer from it whether they depend on the internet or not. After all, what else kept a guy like Joe Lieberman in the race so long?

Kevin Drum 9:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO IS JOHN HANNAH?....Who is John Hannah, the guy who works in the VP's office and is apparently the target of FBI suspicions in the Valerie Plame case? Juan Cole:

Hannah had fingers in all three rotten pies from which the worst intel came--Sharon's office in Israel, the Pentagon Office of Special Plans (for which Hannah served as a liaison to Cheney), and fraudster Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Hannah had probably been the one who fed Cheney the Niger uranium story, triggering a Cheney request to the CIA to verify it and thence Joe Wilson's trip to Niamey in spring of 2002, where he found the story to be an absurd falsehood on the face of it.

Dick Cheney's chief of staff, longtime Washington strongman Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is also a target of the investigation, and Josh Marshall noted yesterday that he's talked to plenty of people "who aren't surprised Libby would be involved in this and won't be shedding a tear if he gets brought down by it. But they feel the opposite on both counts about Hannah." Juan Cole again:

In the 90s [Hannah] for a while headed up the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank that represents the interests of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).

....The WINEP crowd takes no prisoners and is very determined, over decades, to get its way. (Josh Marshall notes that they are already trying to protect Hannah with denials he could possibly have been involved, presumably meaning that they would be willing to throw Libby to the dogs.)

Cole says he has talked to Richard Sale, the UPI reporter who broke this story, and that Sale assures him the information about Libby and Hannah is solid and that Sale is continuing to dig. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 7:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TODAY'S ELECTIONS....Two of the biggest states so far Michigan and Washington are having caucuses today. But as near as I can tell, no one really cares because the entire Democratic field has decided to simply give up and concede them to John Kerry.

Weird.

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February 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOWARD DEAN WATCH....Via Not Geniuses, here is Howard Dean after saying that he might accept a VP nomination if he didn't win the presidential race:

Asked whether he would endorse any of his opponents, Dr. Dean said: "Probably not at this point. We are planning on winning, so we're not thinking about endorsing anybody else."

"Probably" not at this point? Wow. Does this sound like a guy who really thinks he still has a chance of winning?

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A QUESTION FOR VDH....This is merely an intriguing triviality, but the Victor Davis Hanson article I blogged about in the previous post contains this paragraph:

Conservatives harp that President Clinton neither went to the U.N. nor the U.S. Senate to bomb Serbia; but their objections to his preemption rightly fell on deaf ears because the real moral question was rather to stop genocide and end the reign of a mass murderer. Most of us did not care a whit about Monica, but appreciated deeply the Clinton effort (way too late) to stop the slaughter in the Balkans and finally to show some displeasure with Saddam Hussein.

"Did not care a whit about Monica"? Exactly which conservatives is he talking about here?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CASE FOR WAR....Over at NRO, Victor Davis Hanson tries manfully to explain why a "careful postbellum anatomy" of the lack of WMD in Iraq actually makes the case for war even stronger than it was before:

The threat of WMDs may have been the centerpiece of the administration's arguments to go to war, but for most of us, there were plenty of other and far more important reasons for prompt action now. Let us for the nth time recite them.

You can click the link if you want to read either the recitation or the full list of eight bullet points on why the war was justified.

But there's really no reason to bother, because Hanson, like virtually all war supporters, simply refuses to grapple with the fundamental issue here: there may indeed have been "plenty of other" reasons besides WMD for going to war. And they might have been good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles in the administration's public case.

According to the director of the CIA, his WMD estimates were always carefully caveated and he never advised the president that Iraq posed a serious threat. Despite that, whether for bureaucratic reasons or otherwise, the administration's case for war was built on an absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had dangerous stockpiles of WMD that posed an urgent and serious threat to the security of the United States.

In a democracy that's simply not acceptable. Regardless of whether history judges the war kindly, the leader of a democracy must be honest about his reasons for going to war. If those honest reasons are not enough to convince his fellow citizens, then the war does not get fought.

War supporters need to face up to this squarely and provide an honest answer to this question: In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

And if their answer is yes, are they willing to provide the same carte blanche to future presidents, even if they are whipping up support for a war they don't happen to like so well?

It is one thing for conservative thinkers to maintain that the Iraq war was a good thing. It is quite another to tacitly or in Hanson's case, openly approve the idea that there is nothing wrong with democratic governments deceiving their citizens about the reasons for war as long as it's a war they like. Are any of them ever going to face up to this?

UPDATE: For what it's worth, I should mention that I'm sincere when I say that all those other reasons for war "might have been good ones." For new readers or for longtime readers who think I should be reminded occasionally about my mistakes I myself wrote about those reasons last February in a post explaining why I supported the war. After a further month of fruitless UN inspections and a realization that no one in the administration was really serious about democracy promotion, I changed my mind here.

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FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....While the rest of you shiver away in environments clearly not meant for either human or feline habitation, the weather is sunny and temperate here at Calpundit Global HQ. Proof can be seen in these photos taken mere minutes ago of Inkblot and Jasmine frolicking happily in our backyard. As for what they're entranced by, I don't know. Perhaps a stray dust mote or some interdimensional creature visible only to cats.

BONUS CATS: Speaking of environments not meant for either human or feline habitation, Jane Finch has 'em right here. Now that's a cat who needs a door into summer....

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THE TORN DOCUMENT....I don't want to go all Grassy Knoll-ish on you guys, but I thought it was worth pointing out a peculiar tidbit about the "torn document" that's been the subject of so much attention lately. You'll remember that this is the piece of paper that was mysteriously located by Bush's campaign in 1999 and supposedly documents his attendance at national guard drills during 1972-73. You get points for drill attendance (2 points for each day of active duty, 1 point for each day of inactive duty), and those points are added up at the bottom of the official record. But on the torn document, no points are added up at the bottom. Why?

Beats me. But it does make you wonder, doesn't it?


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By: Kevin Drum

EXECUTIVE PAY....Credit where credit is due. The LA Times also ran a pretty good op-ed today about job outsourcing. "There is no job that is America's God-given right anymore," Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, recently noted. "We have to compete for jobs." Jesse Kornbluth agrees:

Fair enough. But why limit the competition to those who always take the fall for declining profits people who live from paycheck to paycheck? Why not widen the focus? If budget-busting tax breaks for business and weakened workplace regulations aren't enough to ensure profits, maybe American corporations should consider outsourcing upper-echelon employees that is, CEOs.

....My bet is that Indian or Chinese executives would happily become American CEOs for salaries of $250,000. Would Indian or Chinese CEOs require millions of dollars in sweeteners? Not likely. And it's equally unlikely that they would demand the grotesque going-away payments that are the final prize for departing American CEOs.

Quite right. CEO compensation in America has skyrocketed over the past two decades for no particular reason except that CEOs largely control their own salaries and can get away with it. If they were genuinely paid on performance, they'd make about a tenth of their current pay and independent boards really would be importing bright young executives from India.

I don't have any problem with Fortune 500 executives being paid a lot. But, contra Carly, their attitude that sky high CEO executive pay is God given is sickening. They need to be brought back into the real world.

Kevin Drum 9:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT IS JOHN LOTT DOING IN MY DAILY NEWSPAPER?....Dammit, why is the Los Angeles Times running an op-ed co-authored by John Lott? When are the op-ed editors of the world going to wake up and realize that Lott doesn't deserve the use of their pages? There are plenty of pro-gun folks out there who can write op-eds just as well he can.

In case you care, the op-ed's point was that every leading Democratic candidate has a pretty moderate stand on gun control. A good thing, no? Of course not. Why, at a think-tank breakfast in Washington recently, some of their "representatives" declined to answer questions about proposed handgun control laws in Chicago and DC. Obviously, "their true goals must be as extreme as ever."

Jeebus. If they applied the same standard to every state-level issue that George Bush has declined to take a stand on they'd be comparing him to Idi Amin.

Note to Janet Clayton: give me a call the next time you're considering running a Lott op-ed. I'll fill you in. Or better yet, if your overseas phone budget is up to it, just call Tim Lambert directly. John Lott is really not a guy who deserves space in your newspaper.

Kevin Drum 9:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SING ALONG WITH BILL....Can you make a good song out of "weapons of mass destruction related program activities"? I sure couldn't, but Bill Maher's version is pretty funny.

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THE PAKISTAN FOLLIES....Our story so far: a few weeks ago Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist, was finally fingered for having sold bomb making technology to pretty much anyone willing to pay for it. Iran, Libya, North Korea, whoever. Within a few days the Pakistani government began an investigation.

This turned out to be the fastest investigation in the history of investigations, and last night, Perry Mason-like, Khan apologized and confessed on television to his misdeeds. This morning he presented President Pervez Musharraf with a clemency petition and within hours Musharraf had pardoned him. Here is the official American reaction to this Kabuki dance:

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We think that the process of investigation that's been undertaken by the Pakistani government does indeed demonstrate that President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan take seriously their commitments, their assurances that they were not going to allow their technology to be used to help other nations that might be trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. . . . The way this has been proceeding is evidence that Pakistan, too, is determined to meet those commitments."

Note to everyone involved: the secret of successful stage management is to make it look like things haven't been stage managed. Pathetic.

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EENY MEENY MINY MOE....Being the liberal sort that I am, I'm pretty sympathetic to the commonsensical notion that blacks and other minorities have suffered considerably from both de facto and de jure racism in the past and continue to suffer from de facto racism today. Furthermore, we as a society should be willing to do something concrete about this instead of just conveniently pretending that a faux colorblindness will make it all go away.

At the same time, we need to show a lot less tolerance for manufactured racial outrage from the kind of people who insist on being offended as often and as loudly as possible just on general principle. This kind of thing reduces racism to trivia and actively hurts our chances of making progress in the future toward a genuinely colorblind society. We shouldn't put up with it simply for fear of being attacked ourselves.

David Bernstein has an example today. If anybody knows of extenuating circumstances surrounding this story, let me know.

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GLITCH WATCH....The Republican aide who surreptitiously accessed the computer files of Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee is apparently going to be hung out to dry. Bye bye, Manuel Miranda.

Now, I realize that this is one of the least important aspects of this story, but I'm just enough of a geek that what I really want to know is how Miranda got access to the files. Here's the relevant paragraph:

Miranda admitted to the sergeant at arms that he had read Democratic memos that a Republican staffer on the Judiciary Committee accessed through a glitch on the panel server. But it is unclear what rules if any Miranda broke. His defenders say that the files were openly available to Republicans through their desktop computers and that there is no such thing as a property right to a federal document.

(Yeah, yeah, no such thing as a property right to a federal document. How lame can you get?)

But the real geek tease here is that Miranda got hold of the files via a "glitch on the panel server." What's a "glitch"? And for that matter, what's a "panel server"? Did the reporter just misunderstand a reference to a rack mounted server? Or does this refer to something else entirely?

I actually called the Judiciary Committee a few days ago to see if anyone knew what the "glitch" was, but they wouldn't comment. Bummer. Anybody have any ideas?

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VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....Via Josh Marshall, UPI's Richard Sale claims that the FBI has uncovered "hard evidence" of misconduct in the Valerie Plame case by two people in Dick Cheney's office:

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were the two Cheney employees. "We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law-enforcement officer said. Calls to the vice president's office were not returned, nor did Hannah and Libby return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time" as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said.

Hannah, by the way, was supposedly one of the major players involved in stovepiping INC intelligence directly to Cheney, bypassing the CIA.

And as for "naming superiors," there's really only one superior to name, isn't there? Cheney's duck-hunting friendship with Antonin Scalia might come in pretty handy if Hannah decides to pull a Fastow and start squealing on his boss....

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THE O'NEILL MEMOS....Remember that CD full of 19,000 documents that formed the documentary core of Ron Suskind's book about Paul O'Neill? Suskind has decided to put them online.

This should be good for loads of laughs as new documents get added to Suskind's online collection. I haven't had a chance to browse through everything that's up so far, but I did like this February 2001 memo to O'Neill outlining talking points he should be careful to stick to:

Key background information: the public prefers spending on things like health care and education over cutting taxes. It's crucial that your remarks make clear that there is no trade off here that we will boost education spending and set aside Social Security and Medicare surpluses to address the future of these programs, and still we will have an enormous surplus.

That didn't work out so well, did it? And it's interesting to see the admission that the public prefers spending on social programs to tax cuts.

More later, I'm sure. It's not clear if Suskind is planning to put all 19,000 docs online or only the ones that he used for his book, but in either case there should be lots of interesting stuff as we all start browsing through it. Comments are open.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON THE TORN DOCUMENT....It's probably worth saying a few more words about the torn document that I wrote about yesterday. Read this post for background first if you don't know what I'm referring to.

Warning: this gets pretty complicated. You might have to read it through more than once.

Here's my understanding: Bush's service file originally included attendance records for his entire time in the Texas Air National Guard except for 1972-73. In 1999, the Bush campaign hired Albert Lloyd to search the archives for the missing attendance record, and what he came up with was the torn document. This document has since been inserted into Bush's file and is provided to journalists who file Freedom of Information requests.

The document covers the period May 1972 through May 1973 for Texas only. Since Bush was in Alabama from May-November 1972, it therefore contains records of attendance only from late November 1972 through May 1973. (There are no records at all from Alabama, so most of the May-November 1972 period is a complete black hole.)

Here's the theory: the dates are in a YY-MON-DD format. The fourth entry is the only one that contains part of a month, and it ends in N. The only months that end in N are JUN and JAN, and since the record starts in May and there are at least three months between the first entry and the fourth, it must refer to JAN 10. This gives the following dates as the most likely reconstruction of the document:

72 NOV 29
72 DEC 14
73 JAN 06
73 JAN 10
[Four more dates]
73 MAY 24

Bush claims he was back in Texas by late November, so the NOV 29 entry fits. This document orders Bush to attend three drills, the first of which ends on MAY 24, which fits the last date on the torn document. It also orders Bush to attend two other drills, and those dates correspond with the first two dates on Bush's 1973-74 attendance record. So that fits.

Anyway, that's the theory. But the real question is: is the torn document genuine? I think it probably is, but here are the pros and cons:

Pros

Cons

Albert Lloyd, who found the document, says it's Bush's Social Security number beneath the redaction.

The Texas archives, which contains the non-redacted version of the document, inserted it into Bush's file. If the document isn't genuine, an awful lot of people are helping out with the coverup.

The dates on the document do match up in a plausible way with Bush's claims of drill attendance.

The position of the initial W at the top of the torn document matches exactly the position of the initial W on his 1973-74 record.

What are the odds of finding this document simply by "scouring" the enormous archives of the Texas guard? (Actually, I've done some of this kind of scouring myself, and it's not entirely unlikely. Still, it does require a degree of faith.)

The tear is mighty convenient. You'd have to try hard to produce a tear that good.

There are two versions of the document. Whose handwriting is on the second version? Was it someone adding up service points back in 1973, or is it just some contemporary notes?

If Bush really did show up for drills on nine separate occasions over seven months, why did his superiors say he hadn't been observed during that period and refuse to fill out his annual effectiveness report? They seemed to think he'd been in Alabama the entire time.

Since the SSN is redacted, the only real evidence that the document is genuine is the initial W at the top and the fact that the final date seems to match one of the dates that Bush got called up for drills. However, since his entire unit probably got called to the same drill, any attendance record from a fellow unit member would show that date too. In other words, the document could just be a torn copy of a record from someone else in the unit who also had a middle initial of W.

I might have forgotten something here, but I think those are the high points. You can draw your own conclusions from them, but here are the three basic possibilities:

  • Albert Lloyd simply forged the document. There's really no way of judging how likely this is, although he'd have to be a pretty good forger to get away with it. What's more, why not forge something more convincing if you're going to go to all that trouble in the first place?

  • It's really somebody else's record, disguised by the tear and the SSN redaction. However, since the original unredacted document is in the archives, this seems extremely unlikely. It would require a lot of people to be involved in a very risky coverup.

  • The document is genuine and it just got misfiled in the archives until Lloyd found it.

Take your pick.

NOTE: All of this refers strictly to Bush's attendance in Texas. There are no service records at all for May-November 1972 when he was in Alabama and no evidence that he ever showed up for drills during that period. So even if the torn document is genuine, there's still a pretty high likelihood that he blew off drills for a period of seven months in Alabama.

And needless to say, much of this could be resolved if Bush voluntarily released his entire service file. Why won't he?

Kevin Drum 11:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TENET SPEECH RECAP....George Tenet's speech today turned out to be a bit of a yawner. Basically, he says there's nothing wrong with the CIA and it pretty much got everything right. Here are his "provisional bottom lines" on five key areas:

My provisional bottom line on missiles: We were generally on target.

....My provisional bottom line today: We detected the development of prohibited and undeclared unmanned aerial vehicles. But the jury is still out on whether Iraq intended to use its newer, smaller unmanned aerial vehicle to deliver biological weapons.

....My provisional bottom line today: Saddam did not have a nuclear weapon, he still wanted one, and Iraq intended to reconstitute a nuclear program at some point.

....My provisional bottom line today: Iraq intended to develop biological weapons. Clearly, research and development work was under way that would have permitted a rapid shift to agent production if seed stocks were available. But we do not yet know if production took place. And just as clearly, we have not yet found biological weapons.

....My provisional bottom line today: Saddam had the intent and capability to quickly convert civilian industry to chemical weapons production. However, we have not yet found the weapons we expected.

Also: no one pressured us, we did have plenty of human intelligence, we're nowhere near 85% done, and we never said there was an imminent threat. What's more, our findings also relied on some reports from sources that other people said were trustworthy:

Several sensitive reports crossed my desk [in 2002] from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as established and reliable. The first from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle said Iraq was not in the possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon.

....The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides under the oil-for-food program had been diverted to covert chemical weapons production.

....A stream of reporting from a different sensitive source with access to senior Iraqi officials said he believed production of chemical and biological weapons was taking place, that biological agents were easy to produce and hide, and that prohibited chemicals were also being produced at dual-use facilities.

As near as I can tell, Tenet admitted only one mistake: "we recently discovered that relevant analysts in the community missed the notice that identified a source that we had cited as providing information that in some cases was unreliable and in other cases fabricated."

And that's it. Everything else was good intel, so quite whining.

Kevin Drum 10:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POETRY CORNER....Danziger today:

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February 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TOMORROW'S NEWS TONIGHT....I'm off to bed, but here are some links to stories in tonight's newspapers that will probably get more attention tomorrow:

See you tomorrow.

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THE TORN DOCUMENT....So what's the deal with the George Bush AWOL story? There are a million tedious details, but as near as I can tell here's the nub of the whole thing.

Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 and in May 1972 asked for a transfer to Alabama because he wanted to work on a political campaign there. His transfer was approved and off to Alabama he went. The problem is that he doesn't seem to have actually performed any of his required guard duty either in Alabama or after he returned to Texas. He just blew it off. There are several bits of evidence for this:

Case closed, right? Bush was AWOL. And for normal people at least, this would have been a serious problem, prompting an official investigation and a transfer to active duty, or possibly even a dishonorable discharge.

But wait. Although there are no records showing that he attended drills in Alabama, there is one piece of evidence demonstrating that Bush showed up for drills after he returned to Texas: the infamous "torn document." Here it is:

This document supposedly records Bush's attendance record in Texas from May 1972 to May 1973. However, the astute observer will note several things about this document:

  • It is strategically torn along its left edge.

  • There is no name on the document, only a single letter: W. Does it say "1LT BUSH GEORGE" just before the initial? Maybe, but the page has been torn so there's no way to tell.

  • The Social Security number is blacked out.

  • The tear eliminates the year and month of all the dates. (The date at the bottom right is just a note added by a reporter.)

In other words, there's really no evidence that this document refers to George W. Bush or even that it refers to the period 1972-73. But it's even worse than that: it turns out that this document wasn't even part of Bush's original service file.

Rather, back in 1999 the nascent Bush campaign, which was apparently already worried about his service record, hired Albert Lloyd Jr., a former Texas Air National Guard personnel director, to help make sense of Bush's file. Lloyd "scoured" the archives and found the document above, which he says contains Bush's Social Security number beneath the redaction. It has since been inserted into Bush's file. (In fact, there are two versions of this document. If you're really a masochist, see here for more details.)

So that's the story. The torn document wasn't originally part of Bush's service file and is basically laughable as a piece of evidence since it contains no names or dates. What's more, there's specific evidence that his superiors in Texas say he wasn't around for the entire period from May 1972 through May 1973. (On the other hand, as TomPaine.com points out, the last date on the torn document and the first two dates on Bush's 1973-74 attendance record seem to match up with the dates on this document ordering him to attend drills during May and June of 1973. That's the best evidence there is that the torn document is genuine.)

If the torn document is genuine, it means Bush attended Guard drills when he got back to Texas starting in November 1972. But even Lloyd seems to believe that at the very least he was AWOL while he was in Alabama:

Lloyd said it is possible that since Bush had his sights set on discharge and the unit was beginning to replace the F-102s, Bush's superiors told him he was not "in the flow chart. Maybe George Bush took that as a signal and said, 'Hell, I'm not going to bother going to drills.'

"Well, then it comes rating time, and someone says, 'Oh...he hasn't fulfilled his obligation.' I'll bet someone called him up and said, 'George, you're in a pickle. Get your ass down here and perform some duty.' And he did," Lloyd said.

That would explain, Lloyd said, the records showing Bush cramming so many drills into May, June, and July 1973. During those three months, Bush spent 36 days on duty.

Was Bush just a victim of sloppy paperwork? It's hard to say, although Phil Carter has some ideas about ways to track down corroborating evidence for Bush's side of the story. And at least one person thinks there's much worse than bad recordkeeping at work here:

"His records have clearly been cleaned up," says author James Moore, whose upcoming book, "Bush's War for Re-election," will examine the issue of Bush's military service in great detail. Moore says as far back as 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, his political aides "began contacting commanders and roommates and people who would spin and cover up his Guard record. And when my book comes out, people will be on the record testifying to that fact: witnesses who helped clean up Bush's military file."

Of course, much of this controversy could be defused if Bush just voluntarily released his complete service record. If he did that, for example, the Social Security number wouldn't be blacked out on the torn document. Apparently, though, there's something in his record bad enough that it's worth keeping parts of it under wraps (or redacted) despite the problems it's caused. What do you think it is?

POSTSCRIPT: It's hard to keep all the details correct on this story. If I've made any mistakes, however, I'm sure that Bob Somerby and his encyclopedic memory will set me straight.

The complete set of known documents related to Bush's service record is here.

UPDATE: There's more here about the issues surrounding the torn document and whether it's genuine or not.

Kevin Drum 10:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT HAPPENED ON AUGUST 6, 2001?....Hullabaloo commenter Sara reminds us or in my case, tells me for the first time that there's a mighty interesting book scheduled to come out next month:

Richard Clarke, the former NSC counterterrorism expert from Bush I, Clinton and 2 years plus of Bush II is publishing his insider book that takes no prisnors. Word is that Rove is very afraid of what Clarke has to say -- particularly because Clarke was the August 6 2001 briefer of Bush, and there is a good deal about how he got told never to raise such matters again with Bush....The close collaborator with Richard Clarke -- going back to Bush I at NSC was Rand Beers -- who quit last summer in disgust, and walked down the street and volunteered his services to Kerry, where he has been ever since.

That does sound like it might be pretty juicy, doesn't it? I wonder who they're selling the excerpts to?

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THE UN IS OUR FRIEND!....I read this New York Times article last night but then forgot to blog about it. The tone is pretty remarkable:

President Bush pressed Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, on Tuesday to have his aides mediate among quarreling factions in Iraq and forge a consensus behind a plan that would allow the transfer of sovereignty to a government in Baghdad by June 30, administration officials said.

...."We are trying to put this issue in Kofi Annan's lap and let him run with it," one official said. "There's still very much the intention to stick with the date of June 30. But there's a lot of pressure on Kofi Annan to come up with the right solution."

Mr. Annan, for his part, has not wanted to become involved without wielding substantial authority.

The administration seems willing to allow that. Officials said Mr. Annan would have wide latitude to present Washington with a plan for Iraq's future governance including a schedule for elections later this year and that if he can demonstrate that it has broad backing in Iraq, the administration would have little choice but to go along. Some administration officials are now even saying it is possible for the United Nations to take the lead role in guiding the Iraqi political process after the return of self-rule.

The sense of panic is palpable. If you read the whole thing, it's clear that while Cheney and Rumsfeld may not be very happy about this, Bremer and Bush seem to have simply given up hope of accomplishing anything. At this point, they're willing to just shovel the whole thing into the lap of the hated United Nations if that's the only way to forge a pre-election exit strategy.

As a liberal-hawk-turned-dove-turned-confusednik, I hardly know what to think anymore. In the end, I opposed the war partly because I finally concluded that this is exactly what would happen with Bush & Co. in charge, but at the same time I'm just idealistic enough to feel like we have to see things through anyway now that we've invaded Iraq and ripped it apart. On the other hand, it's still Bush & Co. in charge. What are the odds that they'll be able to put aside their internal squabbling and election year cynicism long enough to risk doing the right thing?

Slim and none, as near as I can tell. And if they aren't willing to do that, then we might just as well pull out now and stop pretending. And thus comes to an end another glorious chapter in American democracy promotion.

Sigh.

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNIVERSAL VIDEO SURVEILLANCE?....Eugene Volokh points out that a court has upheld a law in my hometown of Garden Grove that requires video surveillance of all cybercafes. It is, he says, "not a doctrinally easy case."

The proximate cause was gang problems at cybercafes which really is a problem in Garden Grove these days but count me as being on the skeptical side anyway. Requiring uniformed security guards or other appropriate security measures is something I can live with. Voluntarily installing video cameras is also OK. But requiring video surveillance is rather more disturbing, especially at a place that is practically a shrine to the right of free speech.

Is universal surveillance inevitable? Maybe. But I don't think we should go down without a fight.

UPDATE: By the way, a good rule of thumb with things like this is to ask yourself this question: would you trust, say, Richard Nixon or J. Edgar Hoover with this law? If the answer is no, you should think pretty hard about whether it's a good idea.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMING IS EVERYTHING....Both the U.S. and Britain plan to investigate what went wrong with prewar intelligence. Here's the U.S. plan:

Mr. Bush will issue an executive order establishing the group in coming days, but it will not report back until after the November elections and may take a year and a half or more to reach its conclusions, officials said.

And now the Brits:

In contrast to a bipartisan investigating committee announced by Bush on Monday, the British panel is to announce its conclusions by July. That would put any damaging disclosures for Blair's government well in advance of parliamentary elections, expected in 2005.

Quite a coincidence, no? But perhaps the best analysis of all comes from this headline in the New Zealand Herald: British and US spies ready to blame each other.

That sounds about right.

Kevin Drum 10:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE THAN JUST SERVICE RECORDS....Now that's more like it! I said "Release your service record, Mr. Commander in Chief," but Phil Carter takes the next step and tells us exactly which records we ought to be looking for. There's more than just service records that can help resolve what George Bush did or didn't do in the summer of 1972.

Check it out, Washington press corps. And remember, it's the coverup that gets 'em in the end, not the crime itself....

Kevin Drum 10:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AWOL?....Josh Marshall wonders why the issue of George Bush's military service is getting traction this time around, when it didn't in 2000:

But there is something different here. And the difference is that the Democrats have decided to go on the offensive -- and this is a version of preemption that Dems may, and should, warm to. After Clark had some stumbles with the issue, Kerry has been hitting it for a couple weeks. And the recent round of coverage on it would never have emerged had Terry McAullife not forced it into the news cycle over the weekend.

He's right. But there's more to it than that. I know that all these points are painfully obvious, but can I make them anyway? Thanks.

  • Thank you, Michael Moore! Sure, "deserter" was deliberately inflammatory, but that's Moore's schtick, isn't it? And without the controversy about whether Moore had gone too far, this whole thing would have blown over almost immediately.

  • Back in 2000 a bit of youthful rebellion against military discipline wasn't that big a deal. After 9/11 and last year's flight-suited carrier landing, it is. George Bush's own actions have made this into a legitimate issue.

  • Dare I say it? Perhaps blogs have helped to keep this issue simmering along....

  • Finally, there's really only one question here, and it's the one that everyone should be banging on: why won't Bush release his full military record? What's he afraid of?

    All the speculation in the world isn't worth a bucket of warm spit. The battle cry should be, "Release your service record, Mr. Commander in Chief." And we should say it over and over and over and over until it's as famous as Willie Horton or Morning in America or Monica's blue dress.

There's no excuse for not releasing those records in full. Unless, of course, he has something to hide.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY PROMOTION....Can we bring democracy to Iraq at gunpoint? A couple of academics at New York University recently studied 35 U.S. interventions since World War II and came to the unsurprising conclusion that only once (Columbia in 1989) did a genuine democracy emerge within ten years. Then they say this:

Nor can the problems be blamed on the countries in which we chose to intervene. Although it is true that many of these interventions took place in poor countries where the education level was low and where there was little previous experience with democratic institutions, there is scant evidence to suggest that this is why democracy failed to take hold. In fact, neighboring countries generally experienced more progress toward democracy in the ensuing decade than did the states where the intervention occurred.

When I first read this I had exactly the thought that I'm sure the authors intended: not only did we not bring democracy to these places, but we must have actually done more harm than good. After all, a "control group" of similar neighboring countries that we didn't intervene in ended up doing better.

But that's not the only possible conclusion, is it? Perhaps it's true that the chaos of war inevitably hurts the victim, but at the same time maybe it scares the surrounding states into cleaning up their act enough to avoid getting the same treatment. This, after all, is pretty much what the neocons have been claiming all along: namely that democracy in Iraq will act as a spur to the rest of the Middle East to modernize and liberalize in a sort of reverse domino theory.

So maybe they got the democracy in Iraq part wrong, but the reverse domino theory part right. I'm not sure I find this convincing myself, but it seems like a possibility the authors should at least discuss. It also seems like an area ripe for more detailed investigation: forget the countries that we've actually invaded, but instead take a look at their neighbors. Maybe that's where the real action is.

Kevin Drum 9:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION RESULTS....Here are the final finishes in today's primaries:

  • Kerry: 1,1,1,1,1,2,3

  • Clark: 1,2,2,2,4,4,5

  • Edwards: 1,2,2,3,4,4,4

  • Dean: 3,3,3,3,4,5,5

Earlier in the evening it looked like it was going to be a pretty dismal showing for Clark, but in the end he did about as well as Edwards and I imagine that means he'll stay in the race. With Lieberman bowing out, that makes it a four-man race from here on out.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about these results. I'm glad to see that Clark rallied enough to stay in the running, but at the same time I suspect that he and Edwards appeal to many of the same people and are therefore splitting their share of the vote. Since I prefer both Edwards and Clark to the other two, I wish one of them would drop out and let the other give Kerry and Dean a serious run.

But which one? Aye, there's the rub....

Kevin Drum 8:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNQUALIFIED AND UNOFFICIAL....Jim Henley has the last word on the Super Bowl boob controversy.

Kevin Drum 8:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SEXED UP....Before the war, Brian Jones was the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of Britain's Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) that is, he was Britain's leading expert on WMD.

He gave evidence at the Hutton inquiry that he had formally complained about the contents of the infamous September 2002 "dossier," and today in the Independent he discusses at length what happened:

On balance the DIS experts felt it should be recorded that a CW or BW capability at some level was a probability, but argued against its statement in stronger terms....But we were told there was other intelligence that we, the experts, could not see, and that it removed the reservations we were expressing. It was so sensitive it could not be shown to us. It was held within a tight virtual "compartment", available only to a few selected people.

....I considered who might have seen this ultra-sensitive intelligence and reached the conclusion that it was extremely doubtful that anyone with a high degree of CW and BW intelligence expertise was among the exclusive group.

....I eventually found someone who was in the relevant compartment....I explained the reservations that we had about the draft dossier and asked whether the compartmented intelligence resolved any of these concerns. I was advised they did not.

....By the end of the day I was confident of my ground and I sent a memorandum to my director and copied it to the DCDI, who, as a member of the JIC, could still intervene if he chose to do so.

....Neither memo produced a direct response. We could only suppose that the compartmented intelligence seen by the CDI was clear and unambiguous for him to disregard, without discussion, the recorded views of two senior analysts who, although only of middle rank were, like the late Dr Kelly, the UK's foremost experts in their field.

....Events have shown that we in the DIS were right to urge caution. I suggest that now might be a good time to open the box and release from its compartment the intelligence that played such a significant part in formulating a key part of the dossier.

I recognise this could possibly be one of a few exceptional circumstances that means the content of the compartmented intelligence remains sensitive even after the fall of Saddam. If this is the case it should be clearly stated. Otherwise the simple act of opening this box and explaining who had the right to look into it before the war could increase the transparency and hasten the progress of the new inquiry.

So was Tony Blair's dossier indeed "sexed up," as BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan claimed? Jones says that DIS believed Iraq "probably" had some small amounts of chemical and bio stocks; that this was turned into a stronger statement by the intelligence heads; and that this in turn was converted into a certainty in the foreward drafted by the Prime Minister's office.

Does this count as "sexed up"? It sure sounds like it. But as Jones says, the only way to know for sure is for the supposedly ultra-sensitive compartmented intelligence to be made public so that the DIS experts can evaluate it. I think he's right. What's more, there's some intelligence like that from the United States that I think we'd all like to see too.

Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WALKING TO SCHOOL....I've mentioned before my surprise at the number of kids who seem to be driven to school in my neighborhood despite the fact that it's a small and extremely safe place. Well, it turns out that my anecdotal observation is correct: according to the CDC, only 31% of children ages 5-15 who live within a mile of school walk or bike. That's down from 90% in 1969.

But I still can't figure out why. Why do parents ferry their kids around when there's no reason for it? What's the motivation?

I dunno, but apparently the CDC is on the case and considers this to be a serious issue. In fact, October 4-8 this year has been designated International Walk to School Week. It's amazing the things you learn with a bit of random Googling....

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CASUS BELLI....The Washington Post asked Colin Powell yesterday if he would have supported the war if he'd known last year that Iraq had no WMD stocks. His answer:

I don't know. I don't know, because it was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world....The absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus. It changes the answer you get, the formula I laid out.

David Frum is pissed off by this:

Can we recall please that it was Colin Powells insistence on working through the UN process that forced the United States to base its case for action in Iraq so very largely on the WMD issue? In his address to the UN a year ago, Colin Powell could have stressed Iraqs record as a haven for terrorists like Abu Abbas and Abu Nidal....He could have stressed the tyranny and cruelty of Saddams rule....

There were other arguments too that could have been made, if not at the UN, then in other forums: arguments about strategy, about the need to cut the connection between the United States and Saudi Arabia, about the need for political change in the Middle East, about the need to show that anti-American radicalism is a weak and failing force not a strong and growing one.

What kind of drugs is Frum taking? Does he really think the American public would have backed a preemptive war based on "strategy"? Or on vague talk about the need for political change in the Middle East? Or worse yet on the honest truth that this was just a show of force?

David Frum may think those are all sufficient reasons to launch a major war, but it's unlikely very many Americans would have agreed. It's true that Americans are pretty tolerant of preemptive small wars, but we're generally not very tolerant of big ones unless (a) the other guy starts it or (b) in a pinch, we believe the other guy is a serious threat to national security. We didn't have the first although the White House did its best to fudge that and without WMD we didn't have the second.

Frum is living on a different planet if he thinks Americans would have supported this war if they knew Saddam posed no danger to the country or the region. We've shown ourselves more than willing to commit small numbers of troops and a bombing campaign or two in order to get rid of nasty despots in the past, but for big ones we need more than that. Without WMD, this war probably never would have happened.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HALFTIME SCORE....Before anyone asks, I actually have no idea where these exit poll numbers are from, but Taegan Goddard seems trustworthy enough. They show the top three candidates (so far) in five of today's primary states. Take 'em for what they're worth.

Kerry

Edwards

Clark

Dean

Arizona

46%

---

24%

13%

Missouri

52%

23%

---

10%

South Carolina

30%

44%

---

---

Oklahoma

29%

31%

28%

---

Delaware

47%

11%

---

14%


It doesn't look good for Dean or Clark, does it?

(In addition, Sharpton is getting 10% in South Carolina and Lieberman is at 11% in Delaware.)

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PAKISTAN'S SHOW TRIAL....Pakistan's "Father of the Bomb" says that yes, he did provide nuclear help to Iran and North Korea, but that it wasn't exactly a secret:

Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has told investigators that he helped North Korea design and equip facilities for making weapons-grade uranium with the knowledge of senior military commanders, including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, according to a friend of Khan's and a senior Pakistani investigator.

Khan also has told investigators that Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the Pakistani army chief of staff from 1988 to 1991, was aware of assistance Khan was providing to Iran's nuclear program and that two other army chiefs, in addition to Musharraf, knew and approved of his efforts on behalf of North Korea, the same individuals said Monday.

This whole thing is pretty obviously a show trial of some kind, since there's simply no way that Khan did what he did without the knowledge and approval of a long succession of rulers and military chiefs. The question is, why?

Are they holding these "investigations" in order to placate the U.S.? That hardly seems credible since surely we've known all about this for a long time. Is it for internal political reasons? Or perhaps some kind of weird bureaucratic hardball?

I wonder what's really going on?

Kevin Drum 10:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME....The current party line, of course, is that it was massive failures at the CIA that wrongly convinced everyone before the war that Saddam had huge stocks of WMD. The president was merely an innocent bystander. Unfortunately, as Josh Marshall points out, books have long lead times and apparently tinfoil nutcase Laurie Mylroie didn't quite get the new marching orders in time....

Kevin Drum 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CASSIUS WAS WRONG....The pointy-headed intellectuals of the blogosphere may be outraged by this, but I for one think that publishing horoscopes for all the Democratic candidates is a brilliant move. My favorite is John Kerry's:

John Kerry, born on Dec. 11, 1943, is a Sagittarius with four Gemini planets in the public relationship sector of his birth chart.

There's a PR sector in astrological birth charts? Who knew? I wonder how strong Ari Fleischer's PR sector was?

Anyway, lighten up, folks. I thought it was pretty funny, and probably about as accurate as most political reporting. Maybe Erin Sullivan can do charts for prominent bloggers next.

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAKEUP CALL....Yesterday my mother mentioned to me that she had gotten a couple of phone calls in the middle of the night recently. There was no one on the line, and all she heard was a series of beeps. Had I ever gotten a call like that?

Nope, not until now, anyway. Last night around 5 am the phone rang and I let the answering machine pick it up. All I heard was four high pitched beeps, each one about one second long and the entire call about 15 seconds long. Then it hung up.

Has anyone else gotten anything like this? Any idea what it was? Russian spying? Al-Qaeda psy warfare? A computer screwup from SBC?

Kevin Drum 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NONE DARE CALL IT LYING....Over at Slate, Daniel Gross points out that the Bushies have more than just a problem with spending more than they say they will. They also have a problem with being a little, um, optimistic in their revenue forecasts. Here's their track record:

  • 2002 revenue estimate: $2.19 trillion.
    2002 actual revenue: $1.85 trillion
    Error: -15.5%

  • 2003 revenue estimate: $2.05 trillion.
    2003 actual revenue: $1.78 trillion
    Error: -13.2%

  • 2004 revenue estimate: $1.92 trillion.
    2004 actual revenue (latest projection): $1.8 trillion
    Error (so far): -6.3%

  • 2005 revenue estimate: $2.04 trillion.

Not very confidence inspiring, is it? And as Gross points out, $2.04 trillion would be a 13% increase over 2004, a year-to-year increase bigger than any we've seen for the past 20 years.

In other words, given their track record we can probably discount the administration's figure by 5-10% or so, a reduction of $100-200 billion. Which means that even if we accept their spending numbers, next year's deficit is still likely to be bigger than this year's rather than 30% lower as they are projecting.

The answer, I suppose, will be yet another round of tax cuts for the rich in order to boost revenues. It hasn't worked yet and has never worked in the past, but perhaps if we all clap our hands loud enough and chant "Laffer Curve" over and over it will finally work this time. Faith-based budgeting, anyone?

Kevin Drum 9:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED....Question: how does the Bush administration get away with saying the things it says? In particular, how can they get away with saying things about their budget proposal that everyone knows are patently absurd? Aren't they afraid of being called out?

Answer: No. They know that the rules of the game require reporters and headline writers to lead not with the most relevant facts, but rather with a simple description of the administration's side of the story. They don't really care if reporters call them on their bogus figures because they know it won't happen until the end of the story, and virtually no one will see it there. If a million people see the phony numbers and a few thousand see the right ones, it's a win.

Anyway, that's the short answer. Brad DeLong has de long answer.

(Sorry about that. Go read Brad's post anyway.)

UPDATE: On the other hand, the Miami Herald sure manages to pick both the right headline and the right lead for their story about the budget.

Kevin Drum 9:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CORPORATE HEALTHCARE BLUES....Via Automotive news (subscription only):

General Motors intends to be a vocal player in election-year debates over health care reform, GM North America President Gary Cowger said here Friday.

"We need a serious dialogue on this issue between the public and private sector," Cowger said in a speech to the J.D. Power and Associates International Automotive Roundtable. "Those discussions need to start now and the dialogue needs to be a part of the national agenda during this presidential election year."

....Cowger said GM's health care costs put it at a competitive disadvantage with foreign competitors. Those companies have younger workers than the United States and few retirees, he said. And many have some form of national health care system in their home countries.

Cowger went on to say that a government run healthcare system was "a bridge too far," but I'm willing to bet that it's just a matter of time until he and the rest of corporate America realize that there's really no other way to get themselves out of the healthcare business. The fact that someone like Cowger has started talking about this is just the first step.

Kevin Drum 8:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY vs. BUSH....Polls taken nine months before an election are pretty meaningless, and polls taken nine months before an election that also match up a sitting president against a "generic" opponent are super duper meaningless.

Thus, the latest matchup polls are merely garden variety meaningless and therefore perfectly suited to a short blog post:

Just goes to show what a little momentum and some positive press can do for you. And while these might not mean much, there are two of them and Kerry's lead is pretty substantial. On the other hand, once the David Kay stuff settles down and the press starts beating up on Kerry, his numbers will probably come down.

On the third hand....well, you get the point. But overall this is welcome news. Bush is racking up a lot of serious vulnerabilities and the election is likely to be pretty close.

And a note to Prof. Bainbridge: I still like Clark, there just hasn't been much to blog about for the past week. He sure needs to put up some numbers tomorrow, though....

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONSERVATIVE AMERICA....I always figured it would be a warm day in Canada before I agreed with anything David Frum wrote, but Matt Yglesias is right to say that Frum deals honestly with an uncomfortable truth today:

America in 2004 is a less ideologically conservative country than it was in 1984. The partisan map has been trending Democrat for a dozen years: Dick Morris points out that Minnesota is the only state in the Union that has grown more Republican since 1988.

....Bush has earned his political success by understanding these trends and adapting to them. Where he can hold onto traditional conservative principles, he does as he did on taxes. But where he cannot safely uphold conservative principles, he is not prepared to suffer martyrdom for them. On domestic issues, Bush is not a conviction politician of the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher type. He is a managerial politician of the Eisenhower/Ford type a dealmaker, a compromiser, coping with an adverse political climate.

....The question is not, "Is Bush a Conservative?" It is, "How conservative can Bush be?" An honest answer to that second question may be a good deal less reassuring than the answer to the first.

This is something that I mentioned a few weeks ago: despite the supposed rightward drift of America since the early 80s, the fact is that most Americans actually have an increasingly liberal view of most issues: they like Social Security and Medicare, they like strong public schools, they prefer working with the UN to taking action unilaterally, and they are socially pretty tolerant. Taxes excepted, this is why Bush mostly has to advance the conservative agenda by stealth: if he spoke honestly about his goals he'd get very little support. And he knows it.

Overall, I suspect that the conventional wisdom about America becoming ever more conservative is almost certainly wrong. It's a subject that deserves more attention.

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CUTTING AND RUNNING....Tapped points us to yet another (!) blog at The New Republic, Spencer Ackerman's Iraq'd. To start us off, Spencer summarizes the lament of the pro-war liberal who wonders what happened to (a) Iraq's WMD, (b) Iraq's terrorism connections, and (c) Iraq's human rights problems:

Well, it turns out that Saddam didn't have much in the way of WMD, or even ongoing WMD programs. And it also appears that his ties to Al Qaeda were tenuous at best. So all that's left for the war rationale is the human-rights-and-democracy argument, which for liberals is intuitively appealing (or should be). But then along comes the Bush administration's November 15 Agreement to relinquish sovereignty by June 30, which tells the Iraqis that, owing to election-year considerations, the United States can't be bothered right now to midwife a democracy. You might say you've been Iraq'd.

He's right. The terrorism connections were tenuous from the beginning, the WMD connection is now known to be bogus, and the headlong retreat from Baghdad makes it all too clear that the Bushies never took democracy promotion seriously either. As Tacitus says today, responding to news that we are turning over Baghdad to Iraqi forces:

Since there's no real evidence that our troop withdrawal is occuring in any context of tactical or strategic victory (to say nothing of a pause, and to say nothing of adequate Iraqi police levels to step into the breach), one is left to conclude that this is some sort of a pilot program -- the wave of the future, as it were, and a preview of the sovereignty handover in four months. Simply drive away.

Surely it has become too obvious for even conservatives to deny that Bush's strategy is now driven by election-year panic? No matter what it takes, we must turn over control to the Iraqis any Iraqis by June 30. The administration appears to be willing to cut nearly any deal at this point as long as the June 30 date stays in place.

So once again I have a question not for pro-war liberals, but for pro-war conservatives: how much more of this can you take before you finally conclude that you've been duped? Even without WMD or serious terrorist connections, it's been possible to think that at least Bush believed in draining the swamp, in democracy promotion, and in showing rogue regimes that American power is to be feared. But what happens when he cuts and runs and demonstrates that he never really believed in any of that stuff either?

Which is worse, a Democrat who wouldn't have gone to war in the first place or a Republican who went to war so deceitfully and so cynically that he's actually damaged the prospect of future use of force? Because by all appearances that's what George Bush has done.

Kevin Drum 11:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DUMB IDEA OF THE DAY....Via Instapundit, it looks like the South Carolina Democratic Party has come up with a pretty dumb idea:

Voters who appear at their polling places will be asked to sign an oath swearing that I consider myself to be a Democrat before casting their ballots.

....State Democratic Party chairman Joe Erwin, who noted the rule had been on the party books since 1976, stressed the oath doesnt bind voters in any way. He said voters especially independents and disaffected Republicans should feel free to participate in the primary.

Now, this article stretches things by continually calling this a "loyalty oath." What's more, I have mixed feelings about open primaries anyway. Although they generally help produce more moderate candidates something I like I can't help but think that if you're going to vote in a Democratic primary then you ought to be a Democrat.

Still, even with all those caveats, this is a PR disaster. How can Erwin seriously expect "disaffected Republicans" to vote if they have to sign a statement saying that they consider themselves to be Democrats?

Dumb.

UPDATE: Apparently Erwin has decided to drop the voter pledge. Good for him.

Kevin Drum 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS KERRY UNTOUCHABLE?....Ron Brownstein has a question:

Has a frontrunner at the height of the race for a party's presidential nomination ever had an easier two weeks than John F. Kerry since the Iowa caucuses last month?

This has been vaguely in the back of my mind for the past few days too. Brownstein is referring to the other candidates here, who, with the exception of Howard Dean, have all treated Kerry with kid gloves. And as Brownstein notes, over-the-top accusations such as charging a senator with a lifetime ADA score of 93 of being a "Republican" hardly helps Dean's case.

What adds to the weirdness of this is that the press hasn't laid a glove on him either. Just as an example, compare Time's cover treatment of Dean a few weeks ago painting him as just short of a serial liar to this week's almost hagiographic portrait of Kerry. The difference could hardly be more stunning.

I'm not sure what's going on, but Brownstein is right. It's unprecedented for a clear frontrunner to be treated so gingerly by practically everyone. Does Kerry have secret files on all these guys, or what?

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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February 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUDGET PREVIEW....Will George Bush's newfound spending rectitude really cut the deficit in half in five years? Of course not, even if he really were serious about it. The grim details are here if you want to remind yourself of them.

But his budget will certainly claim to cut the deficit in half, and I have a certain morbid curiosity about what kinds of smoke and mirrors he will apply to get there. According to this Washington Post story, here are a few of the tricks we can expect to see:

  • Inflate the current year's deficit from $480 billion to $521 billion. That way you only have to get to $260 billion by 2009 in order to claim victory.

  • Don't count the effect of making the tax cuts permanent. After all, even though it's one of Bush's stated policies it hasn't actually been approved by Congress yet.

  • Instead of a real proposal to reform the Alternative Minimum Tax, offer a one-year "patch" instead. This way you can pretend that it doesn't affect the 2009 numbers.

  • Assume no further spending in Iraq or Afghanistan after 2004.

I'm just guessing here, but these are the early indications. Of course, I imagine there will be a few other ingenious dodges as well, and I look forward to giving them the full admiration they deserve when the budget is officially released.

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SURVIVOR RECAP....Wouldn't you think that since they've all done this once before, there would be at least one of the Survivor All-Stars who would have taken the trouble to figure out how to make fire before the show started? How hard can it be if you actually go out and try to find someone to teach you?

Of course, Hatch says he can do it any time he feels like it. We'll see.

Kevin Drum 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NO "HARD EVIDENCE"....One of the issues addressed by the Hutton report was whether BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan was wrong to accuse the Blair government of "sexing up" its Iraq dossier on the Today program. And if Gilligan's report was flawed, why did the BBC back him up? The Guardian has this tantalizing news to report today:

A second leaked document prepared by the BBC for Hutton also reveals crucial details of why executives stood by its controversial Today report, detailing a lunch between the head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and Kevin Marsh, the editor of the Today programme.

In a witness statement prepared by Marsh and BBC legal representatives, it is claimed that Dearlove suggested that 'hard evidence of WMD in Iraq would never be found'.

This is maddening. When was this document prepared? And when was the lunch held? Was it (a) Before the war? (b) After the war but around the time that Gilligan's report aired? Or (c) sometime after that?

Presumably the answer is either A or B, since it would hardly be big news if Dearlove said this anytime in the past couple of months. But it would be really big news if he said this before the war.

So I suppose the answer is probably B. But doesn't the Guardian think they ought to give us this information? I'd sure be interested in knowing just when the head of MI6 came to this conclusion.

Kevin Drum 6:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEWSWEEKLY WATCH....Having screwed the pooch last week by ignoring John Kerry's stunning Iowa victory in favor of a feature story about high drug prices, Time magazine is forced this week to screw the pooch yet again by putting Kerry on the cover and ignoring the stunning news about David Kay's WMD revelations. Good news judgment, guys.

And to make it worse, they apparently resorted to one of the most annoying campaign tropes around, the black-and-white photo essay designed to demonstrate gritty, photojournalistic integrity. Give me a break. (I say "apparently" because the wizards at Time-Warner recently decided to put their stories behind a subscription barrier, so I can't see the rest of the photos. Or the story.)

Newsweek, on the other hand, has a great cover this week, don't you think? What's more, they also have a story that I can actually read. It includes this interesting tidbit about two panels that were convened in 1998:

The first panel was an independent group of a half-dozen members, most of them distinguished scientists, called the Arms Control & Non-Proliferation Advisory Board. One of ACNAB's pursuits was to examine what was known about Iraq's weapons programs. Panel members got access to CIA materials, and were able to quiz the analysts. What they found, according to three members reached by Newsweek, was that the CIA's intel on Iraqi WMD was largely speculative. "There were suspicions, hints, but nothing hard," says one member. "The agency analysts' basic argument was: 'Saddam must be hiding something, or why would he be putting his people through all this?' " The absence of hard evidence was so striking, in fact, that panel members recall discussing "the Wizard of Oz theory: that the whole Iraq WMD program was smoke-and-mirrors, and Saddam was just a little guy behind a curtain."

Donald Rumsfeld himself led the second such investigation of Iraq's weapons program that year. The brief of his congressionally appointed commission was to assess the potential ballistic-missile threat to the United States from hostile powers. What is not generally known about Rumsfeld's commission is that it also reviewed current intelligence about the WMD various countries might be able to pack in their warheads. "The commission's findings on Iraq's WMD didn't materially differ from what ACNAB had concluded," says a panel member familiar with both reports.

The rest of the story doesn't really have anything new for readers of this site, but it does a good job of summarizing what we know so far and treats both the intelligence deficiencies and the White House's misuse of that intelligence pretty evenhandedly. Worth reading.

Kevin Drum 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TONIGHT'S GAME....It should be a great game tonight. I'm not sure which team I'm going to root for, but when you have the best players in the world giving it everything they've got to win at all costs, you just know it's going to go down to the wire. I know that I'm going to be glued to my set.

Plus I understand that there's also some kind of important football game today.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S THE CIA'S FAULT!....Atrios is right: the nonstop David Kay interview-athon over the past week has provoked a massive sigh of relief from the war party. After months of squirming over the lack of WMD in Iraq, they have finally been handed their definitive talking point: it was all the CIA's fault. The CIA screwed up the intelligence and led a peaceloving president down the garden path to war.

Bollocks. As Matt Yglesias says, if that was the case "then why did Dick Cheney need to create an entire parallel intelligence apparatus under Doug Feith dedicated exclusively to explaining why the CIA was underestimating Iraq's WMD capacity?" Feith's group was known as the Office of Special Plans, and Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article from last May is probably the definitive explanation of how Feith and Cheney used the OSP to hijack the intelligence process. If you haven't read his piece you should do so right now. Here's the nut:

A Pentagon adviser who has worked with Special Plans dismissed any criticism of the operation as little more than bureaucratic whining. Shulsky and Luti won the policy debate, the adviser said. They beat emthey cleaned up against State and the C.I.A. Theres no mystery why they wonbecause they were more effective in making their argument. Luti is smarter than the opposition. Wolfowitz is smarter. They out-argued them. It was a fair fight. They persuaded the President of the need to make a new security policy. Those who lose are so good at trying to undercut those who won. He added, Id love to be the historian who writes the story of how this small group of eight or nine people made the case and won.

Yes, I'd love to be that historian too.

The hell of it is that Republicans might very well get away with blaming the CIA. After all, the CIA did screw up. They really did report that Iraq probably had both WMD stocks and active programs.

But probably wasn't good enough, and Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld quite clearly ran roughshod over the career analysts in order to provide ironclad assurances that all this stuff existed. Hopefully Jay Rockefeller and the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee can follow up on this memo which in retrospect looks positively milquetoastian and demand a real investigation that looks into both the CIA and the White House. The plain fact is that both of them screwed up and both should be held accountable.

The White House has so far sucessfully stonewalled the House, the Senate, the Kean Commission, the folks who want Cheney's energy task force files, and every other serious attempt to find out what happened both before and after 9/11. By all means the CIA's role should be investigated, but unless the rot in the White House is also investigated it will be nothing more than a whitewash. It's time for some hardball, Senator Daschle.

Kevin Drum 10:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MISSILE DEFENSE POLITICS....By the way, the New York Times budget story I linked to in the previous post notes the following spending priorities:

  • Nondefense discretionary: 1% increase

  • Military: 7% increase

  • Counterterrorism: 10% increase

  • FBI: 11% increase

  • Missile defense: 13% increase

Why the enormous increase for missile defense? Because Bush is insistent that the first "test bed" system should be up and running by October 2004.

Hmmm, I wonder what's so special about October 2004? Any guesses?

Kevin Drum 9:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH'S BUDGET....Catching up on things after my flight I see that George Bush hasn't lost his sense of humor:

"To assure that Congress observes spending discipline, now and in the future, I propose making spending limits the law," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. "This simple step would mean that every additional dollar the Congress wants to spend in excess of spending limits must be matched by a dollar in spending cuts elsewhere."

Note the calculated reference to "every additional dollar the Congress wants to spend," making it sound as if he's been a mere bystander for the past three years as Congress has tortured his lean, fiscally austere budgets into the bloated monstrosities they are. Longtime budget fans will remember that Ronald Reagan used the same strategy to good effect.

And at the risk of stating the obvious, why isn't anyone stating the obvious? Namely that this is little more than a cynical election year ploy designed solely to convince the public that Bush is really a small government conservative? He's been tossing cash at everything under the sun for three years, he's going to take a break this year, and then next year it will be business as usual. Surely our eagle-eyed press corps is bright enough to realize this?

POSTSCRIPT: The main point of this story was to report that Bush is planning to cut back on a bunch of stuff. Does this mean that maybe he really can cut the deficit in half in five years?

In a word, no, because he's still sticking to his plan to increase discretionary spending 4% and make his tax breaks permanent. If you're interested in how the deficit breaks down, Max has a detailed analysis here.

On the other hand, if you're the impatient type and who isn't these days? the MTV version complete with a colorful pie chart is here. Bottom line: nondefense discretionary spending just isn't a big factor.

Kevin Drum 9:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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