Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AMBASSADOR WOLFOWITZ?....Juan Cole retails a rumor "flying around official Washington" today that on July 1 Paul Wolfowitz will become the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, effectively replacing Paul Bremer. I had two immediate thoughts:

Now, Juan thinks that having a Likudnik running Iraq would be a disaster, but I have to admit that my thoughts weren't even that sophisticated. Having a prominent Jewish neocon of any kind running a conquered Muslim country sounds like a disaster to me. I somehow doubt that the thugs in Fallujah, the Baathist remnants, and the al-Qaeda insurgents care all that much about the various intellectual and partisan subtleties of modern Judaism.

Anyway, this strikes me as either (a) a meatheaded idea unparalleled in recent history, (b) a move so brilliant I can't get my head around it, or (c) another one of those dumb Washington rumors that's completely baseless. (After all, you don't really think Kerry is planning to pick Gephardt as his VP, do you?)

Other possibilities are welcome.

Kevin Drum 9:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FALLUJAH....The violence in Fallujah today was truly horrifying. An enraged mob killed four American civilians in the most barbaric way imaginable:

The attack began when insurgents fired assault rifles at two SUVs in a busy commercial area. Then, hundreds of people, young and old, gathered around the burning vehicles and shouted anti-American slogans.

Video footage showed the charred bodies on the streets, having been dragged from the vehicles and beaten with shovels. At least three bodies were seen hanging from a bridge in Fallujah afterwards.

They were then cut down, attached to donkey carts, and dragged a mile and a half through the city, witnesses told The Washington Post.

More pictures are here. I hope this isn't a sign of worse things to come.

Kevin Drum 4:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE SELECTIVE RELEASE....David Kay's replacement, Charles Duelfer, testified in front of Congress yesterday about the ongoing search for Iraqi WMD. The declassified portion of his testimony is here, and it prompted a flurry of news reports like this one:

U.S. weapons hunters in Iraq have found more evidence that ousted President Saddam Hussein's regime had civilian factories able to quickly produce biological and chemical weapons, the CIA's top weapons inspector told senators Tuesday. But searchers still have not found any weapons.

....In a closed session with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer said the Iraq Survey Group has found new evidence that Iraqi scientists flight-tested long-range ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

And the survey group has new information indicating the regime engaged in ongoing research to produce chemical or biological weapons on short notice, using civilian, or dual-use, facilities.

Hmmm, maybe Kay jumped the gun? Sounds like Duelfer still thinks he might end up finding something.

Not quite. Carl Levin was one of the senators who heard the entire testimony, not just the parts the CIA released:

The public statement, in a number of instances, contains material that, when compared to the contents of the underlying classified status report from Mr. Duelfer that was submitted to the Armed Services Committee for the hearing this morning, includes material that suggests that Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program while leaving out information that would lead one to doubt that it did.

....Mr. Duelfers public statement is written to express the authors suspicions as to Iraqs activities relating to possible weapons of mass destruction programs or activities while leaving out information in the classified report which points away from his suspicions.

The chutzpah is really amazing, isn't it? They just keep doing the same thing over and over and over no matter how many times they get caught. It's really pathological.

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CORPORATE RESEARCH....Max is annoyed that anyone would take seriously a research report from, say, Global Insight or McKinsey. I'll tentatively agree.

I spent the last 20 years of my life in the software industry reading reports like these, which are generally written for corporate clients (who either subscribe to a service or buy them one off) and are often commissioned by trade associations. I wouldn't go as far as to say they're completely useless, but I would sure recommend taking them with a big grain of salt unless you have a very good reason to think the methodology is unusually accurate. When you read them carefully, it usually turns out they've spun a very small amount of actual data into a very impressive looking report.

It's not that these firms don't do genuine research. They do, and their market research arms in particular spend a lot of money on large phone banks that do a lot of box counting. The problem is that raw numbers can usually be sliced and diced to get any result you want based on which assumptions you use, and my experience is that these firms are not very sophisticated about picking assumptions. Sometimes this is deliberate, especially with commissioned reports, and sometimes it isn't, but it's reason for skepticism in either case.

Also (again, from personal experience only), the lead analysts at these places are incredibly harried trying to crank out reports while still taking calls from clients and touring the country with the sales guys trying to drum up new business. Turnover is also high. And the "analysts" who do a lot of the quantitative work are very often low-paid 22-year-olds fresh out of college with tools no more sophisticated than an Excel spreadsheet.

I was constantly under pressure to subscribe to some of these services, and I did on occasion if only to stay on their good side so they'd write favorably about our company. But I usually dropped the subscriptions pretty quickly because the data simply wasn't very good. Everyone loves having precise numbers in black and white from an authoritative source (it's especially good for reports to the board of directors), but the fact is that most of the numbers aren't much better than stuff you can get with a few minutes of Googling.

Max says, "You might as well put credence in the email you got this morning on how to make your balls bigger." I wouldn't go that far, but it's a fair point. You probably shouldn't take these kinds of reports very seriously unless someone you trust gives you a good reason, and you should never take them seriously based only on their press release. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOUND SCIENCE....If you want to play the game, you have to know the lingo. And you do know what "sound science" means, don't you? Don't you?

Short answer: Anything that "sounds like science."

Slightly longer answer: The latest in a long line of Orwellian phrases from the right. It basically means accepting only science favorable to industrial polluters and corporations in general, and holding everything else up to impossibly high standards, especially if it comes from an actual impartial university researcher.

Sample usage: "We're holding off on those cigarette warning labels until there's some sound science to back up all that cancer scare stuff."

Etymology: Still being debated by experts. Chris Mooney takes a shot at it today. Most likely suspect: Newt Gingrich.

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AIR AMERICA RADIO....The new liberal talk radio network, Air America Radio, is supposed to start up in a few minutes, beginning with Al Franken's show at noon Eastern time. Here's the lineup so far:

  • New York: WLIB 1190 AM

  • Chicago: WNTD 950 AM

  • Los Angeles: KBLA 1580 AM

  • Portland, OR: KPOJ 620 AM

  • Inland Empire, CA: KCAA 1050 AM

  • XM Radio: Channel 167

I just tuned in to KBLA and couldn't even get reception, which means I'll probably miss the whole thing unless Air America's website has streaming audio the way they promise. No sign of it yet, though. I sure hope their other stations have a little more reach than KBLA.

So will Air America succeed? In the LA Times today a couple of conservatives say no. Why? Apparently because they agree that liberals "have this Y chromosome that looks for balance and dignity and decency." What's more, Franken himself is a "nuanced liberal."

Maybe they're right. But if "balance and dignity and decency" are the hallmarks of the left, I think I'll stick with my side regardless. There are more important things than having a popular radio show.

UPDATE: OK, streaming audio seems to be up now. Here it is.

UPDATE 2: I thought maybe my radio was just too close to all my computer gear, but I just went out to my car and tuned into WBLA and all I got was a staticy version of "Hotel California." Nice song and all, but not what I was after. I guess OC is just out of range. I did manage to catch a few moments of streaming audio, but after a few seconds it went out too. Teething pains.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DICK CLARKE: ONE YEAR AGO....I mentioned this story in a previous post, but it's worth a post of its own. It's a profile of Dick Clarke written by Barton Gellman of the Washington Post a year ago, right after Clarke left the Bush administration and just before the Iraq war started.

Note the timing: this is a year ago, long before his book came out and long before anyone had an axe to grind one way or the other about him. There's no reason to think that Gellman is doing anything except telling the story straight, and the story matches Clarke's own pretty well. Here are a few excerpts:

Clarke, 52, reached the peak of his influence under President Bill Clinton, after serving presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as deputy assistant and assistant secretary of state. The present commander-in-chief is said to like Clarke -- he sent him a warm, handwritten note and invited him to the Oval Office on Feb. 19 for a goodbye chat -- but Clarke's bulldozing style did not fit as well with the quiet consensus that the White House looks for now.

He submitted his resignation two months after White House foes blocked his selection as deputy secretary, under Tom Ridge, of the new Homeland Security Department. Clarke had made it clear he would not accept a lesser position.

....Clarke was the government's first counterterrorism czar -- formally from 1998 to 2002, but in practice beginning in 1995. Security officials, friends and foes alike, said no one rivaled him as a spur to action. He was the first to draw effective attention to the risk that terrorists would acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the first to force concrete steps to protect critical information networks from cyberattack, and a dominant voice for spending money and covert resources against terrorists at a time when government was inclined to perceive them as a minor threat.

....Under Clinton, Clarke had carte blanche from national security advisers Anthony Lake and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger to blow past bureaucratic turf lines and assume operating and budgetary powers that were nowhere specified by statute or executive order. Berger said he regularly turned down demands that he fire Clarke.

Clarke had the political cover to roll two Treasury secretaries on funding for a terrorist-asset tracking center -- Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers both opposed it, but Clarke pushed the money through Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. When the FBI and State Department clashed in Yemen after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, it was Clarke who brought together the secretary of state and the attorney general to decide lines of command.

His biggest loss came when a technology he championed, the armed Predator drone, proved five months before the Sept. 11 attacks that it could find and kill individuals. Clarke wanted to set it loose on Osama bin Laden. "Usually the CIA supported him, but on this one the directorate of operations resisted," said Michael Sheehan, State's former counterterrorism coordinator.

....The Bush White House works differently, valuing consensus and rewarding longtime loyalists. Clarke earned the confidence of Ridge and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but neither encouraged him to break crockery if his proposals stalled. Some Bush partisans suspected him as a Clinton holdover. And Clarke had uneven relationships with Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and Lawrence B. Lindsey, Bush's former top economic adviser.

....Among friends, Clarke is skeptical that the coming war with Iraq is integral to the war on terrorism, as the White House maintains. He describes it as a diversion of scarce resources and a wedge between Washington and critical allies in destroying al Qaeda. Until late last year, he has said, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would not have been among the top suspects should al Qaeda manage to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. Now, with Hussein's regime on the brink of falling, he will.

Note the description of the Bush White House: sure, stopping terrorism is important, but "valuing consensus" is apparently more important. And if the bureaucracy gets in the way of getting the job done, well, that's the way it goes. No need to "break crockery" over it, is there? It's just terrorism, after all.

No wonder he doesn't think very highly of them.

Kevin Drum 2:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THAT SINKING FEELING....Via Crooked Timber, this graph was produced by political scientist Nasi Lemak and shows a 10-poll average of George Bush's approval ratings. There are three spikes, but the secular trend is pretty obvious: down, down, down. Do you think the White House is a wee bit worried by this?

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GEPHARDT FOR VEEP?....Rumors appear to be flying among knowledgable Democrats and Kerry insiders that Dick Gephardt currently has the inside track to be Kerry's pick for vice president.

If it's true this is inexplicable. Gephardt obviously doesn't have much resonance with voters (he's run for president twice and done poorly both times), he doesn't really help Kerry much regionally, his record as House majority leader is pretty uninspiring, and he's yet another longtime Washington insider. What exactly does he have going for him?

Well, I guess the soundbite version is that he's an economic nationalist with a strong record on national defense. Maybe that sounds good to some of the people around Kerry, since it helps him with the working class and shores up his national security credentials.

Maybe, but color me unconvinced. Democrats are simply sticking their heads in the sand if they don't believe that this entire campaign is going to be about national security first last and always, regardless of whether or not that's what they wish it were about. What Kerry needs is a veep who gives him the maximum possible national security oomph.

John McCain? Wes Clark? William Perry? Beats me, but national security chops should be the only thing that matters. Eyes on the prize.

Kevin Drum 8:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLARKE AND THE WAR....I sometimes think Gregg Easterbrook must have a secret stash of the same stuff that turned Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Today, in his Dr. Jekyll guise, he writes a perfect little post about why stock options should be expensed and why corporate executives are fighting like crazed weasels to prevent it. (Short answer: they should be expensed because, um, they're an expense. See Easterbrook for the slightly longer answer.)

Then, a mere hour and 13 minutes later, he's Mr. Hyde, writing a surreal post that bashes Dick Clarke because, based on no evidence at all, he thinks Clarke is lying when he says he opposed the Iraq war. After all, why didn't he mount his bully pulpit and say so at the time?

But maybe in the month before the Iraq war, Clarke had decided to hold his tongue and say nothing about his former job? Um, not exactly. As New Republic super-intern Anne O'Donnell points out, on resigning from the National Security Council in February 2003, one month prior to the attack on Iraq, Clarke quickly signed as an on-air consultant to ABC News. During the month before the war, Clarke made several appearances....And yet by the most amazing and astonishing coincidence, Clarke apparently didn't mention any of the strongly-held antiwar views he has now suddenly remembered!

Well, gee, I can use Nexis too. Here's Clarke in the New York Daily News on March 17, 2003:

Clarke, who recently retired after working for three U.S. Presidents, said "tens of thousands" of terrorists have trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and are spread all over the world. "There will be new recruits . . . probably because of the war that's about to happen," he said.

Hmmm, he doesn't sound very excited about the upcoming war, does he? Now let's listen in on NPR on March 22:

SCOTT SIMON: And has there been a diversion from the concentration of talent and power and skill and intelligence and, for that matter, money away from the fight against terrorism that's been invested into this campaign in Iraq?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, the administration's spokesman's saying that there has not been a diversion, but I think there obviously has been. And we should rather be talking about the degree and whether or not it makes sense. For one thing, there are tens of thousands of police and firemen who have been taken off the streets in the United States and put in National Guard units and mobilized and sent out of the country. That diminishes our homeland security. And all you need to do is talk to police chiefs and fire chiefs to hear about that.

....I think US intelligence assets have clearly been taken away from Yemen, Afghanistan, the various places where we think al-Qaeda remains and shifted onto the war. So, yes, there's been a diversion. The real debate should be about whether or not it's worth it.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Well, why don't you pick up that debate?

Mr. CLARKE: Well, I don't think we know the answer to that yet. The president says he is diminishing future terrorism, potentially future nuclear terrorism, by engaging in this war. Now all of us shudder at the thought of Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons, and clearly by engaging in this war we're preventing that. But there is a real debate, I think, as to whether or not Saddam Hussein or his regime would ever have transferred weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. After all, they've had weapons of mass destruction now for about 20 years, and there's no evidence that they've ever transferred them so far.

ABC News hired him to analyze the war, and that's what he did. But in these other two appearances in mid-March Clarke says that (a) al-Qaeda recruitment will increase because of the war, (b) counterterrorism resources have been diverted because of the war, and (c) there's no evidence that Iraq has ever transferred WMD to terrorists.

This is only a few weeks after he left the Bush administration, and apparently at that point he didn't feel comfortable doing a Michael Moore impersonation, especially on the eve of a war. What's more, it's possible that Clarke's anti-war views did indeed grow stronger as Iraq continued month after month to suck resources away from attacking al-Qaeda. Still, his basic position is pretty obvious: he was skeptical about the war from the start and preferred instead to keep our guns trained on al-Qaeda. And that's still his position today.

UPDATE: In comments, Ott points to this Washington Post story from March 13:

Among friends, Clarke is skeptical that the coming war with Iraq is integral to the war on terrorism, as the White House maintains. He describes it as a diversion of scarce resources and a wedge between Washington and critical allies in destroying al Qaeda. Until late last year, he has said, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would not have been among the top suspects should al Qaeda manage to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. Now, with Hussein's regime on the brink of falling, he will.

The rest of the article is quite revealing as well. Be sure to read it.

Kevin Drum 8:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AND NATIONAL SECURITY....Robert Tagorda, who grew up in the Philippines, is annoyed that the National Republican Congressional Committee is so ignorant of basic national security issues that it lists the Philippines as a country that "harbors and aids terrorists." Keep it up, guys! Apparently they've also pissed off the Thai vote while they were at it.

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DICK CLARKE'S WHITE WHALE....Dan Drezner has a good summary of what kind of person Dick Clarke is:

Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it's clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

I think that's about right: he's a true believer, and his religion is counterterrorism something that he himself acknowledges. "Maybe I'm becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale," he quotes himself telling Condi Rice in May 2001.

This explains a lot of what's happened. He didn't find a home in the Bush administration because his monomania was different from Bush's and that made him an intolerable pain in the ass. (Clinton was genuinely more interested in terrorism than Bush, but I suspect the main difference was simply that Clinton had a gift for making it seem like he cared deeply about your issues even if they weren't truly at the top of his agenda.) It also explains why he wrote the book: when a true believer is ignored, he's likely to feel contempt and scorn toward nonbelievers and to lash out accordingly.

Clarke's monomania also illuminates what I felt was probably his biggest weakness: he's willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who "gets it" even if they aren't very effective. He's scathing toward FBI Director Louis Freeh, for example, who simply didn't take counterterrorism seriously, but is rather more complimentary toward CIA Director George Tenet. CIA didn't really get much more done than FBI, but he felt that at least Tenet understood the problem and was doing his best.

As Dan points out, the irony in all this is that Bush's terrorism policies turned out to be largely identical to Clinton's. It's just flatly false to pretend that Bush was planning a broader, more serious attack on al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. In fact, Clarke's real problem with Bush wasn't so much his policies, but rather that from where he stood Bush spent more time on stem cells than he did on terrorism. To him, this made Bush a lightweight. If Bush had had his priorities straight, maybe just maybe he would have kicked some bureaucratic ass in the summer of 2001 and 9/11 would never have happened.

And one more note: Clarke says that in early September he told Condi Rice to "put herself in her own shoes when in the very near future al Qaeda had killed hundreds of Americans: 'What will you wish then that you had already done?'" If that's really what he said, it sure explains why she didn't want him around any longer. Who wants to share an office with their very own personal Cassandra?

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHARACTER ASSASSINATION....Here's a tidbit from Krugman's latest column that I hadn't seen before:

That's why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassination....On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."

They're a real bunch of sweethearts, aren't they? I wonder what "weird aspects" these cowards are whispering about behind his back?

UPDATE: My bad. Wonkette reports that the "weirdness" is pretty much what you might think it is from this gang. I must have been out of the loop yesterday.

What a disgusting gang of thugs and cretins. Hell, I hope they do go public with this, just to show the country their true colors.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RICE TO TESTIFY....Well, that was quick. Condi Rice is going to testify in public under oath after all:

In a letter to the commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales said the commission must agree in writing that Rice's appearance would not set a precedent for testimony by White House staff -- and that the commission "will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice."

Jeez, why didn't they do this a week ago? My guess is that Rice will do just fine in front of the cameras, it puts the controversy to rest, and the White House gets an agreement that the commission won't demand further testimony.

Sometimes these guys just seem like masochists.

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TELLING THE TRUTH AS AN INNOVATIVE POLITICAL STRATEGY....I'm always afraid that if I suggest that politicians should just tell the truth it tags me as terminally naive, but I really wonder why the Bush administration hasn't done exactly that in the case of Dick Clarke. Take a look at Clarke's two major charges:

  1. The Bushies didn't take terrorism seriously enough when they first took office.

  2. After 9/11, they were too obsessed with Iraq, which has been a distraction from the war on terror.

Why the furious barrage of personal smears and frenzied counterattacks? Why not just tell the truth?

  1. In retrospect, of course we wish we had paid more attention to terrorism. Everybody in the U.S. government does. After all, 3000 people died. It was a terrible misjudgment and a wakeup call for all of us. (I'm sure they could figure out a better way to say it, but you get the idea.)

  2. Yes, we did focus on Iraq, and for good reasons. (Proceed to give reasons, which hopefully they can do by now without a second thought.)

Would anyone have held it against them if they admitted that they, like everyone else, underestimated terrorism prior to 9/11? I don't think so. And the Iraq war as a response to terrorism is a longstanding policy dispute. Surely they could just acknowledge it and then lay out the usual arguments.

The Bush administration has always had only one gear, full speed ahead with all guns blazing, but this is a case where that's probably hurt them. I suspect that if they had taken a different approach they could have defused Clarke's allegations quickly and the whole thing would have died down by now. Somehow, though, I doubt they've learned any lessons from this.

Kevin Drum 1:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WILL SHE OR WON'T SHE?....This is getting ridiculous. CBS News reports that Condi may testify after all:

Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts...tells CBSNews.com the change in policy is being discussed at the highest levels in the White House. Rice reportedly believes that it might be positive for her to appear. But President Bush makes the final decision, and is thus far against it, says Roberts.

But here's what the Washington Post says:

The leading possibility is for Rice to submit to another private session with the commissioners and allow them to release a transcript, the aides said. The aides said they believe no consideration is being given to yielding to the commission's request that she testify under oath and in public.

....The White House did not allow a recording to be made of what Rice said when she met privately with the commissioners for four hours in February, the aides said

The executive privilege issue has always been a crock since no one is compelling her to testify and therefore no precedent would be set. But regardless, what's the difference between testifying in private and then releasing a transcript vs. simply testifying in public in the first place? If they aren't afraid of making the content of her testimony public, what are they afraid of? Her facial expressions? Her tone of voice?

Weird.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has more transcript shenanigans. And as long as you're over there, he's also asking exactly the right question about why we're still treating Ahmed Chalabi with kid gloves.

Kevin Drum 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DAVID BROOKS vs. THE WORLD....Oh hell, someone has to defend David Brooks. Why not me? Here's an excerpt from Sasha Issenberg's much blogged Philadelphia magazine takedown on Brooks:

Brooks, however, does more than popularize inaccessible academic work; he distorts it....Brooks takes their findings and, regardless of origin, applies to them what one might call the Brooks Consumer Taste Fallacy, which suggests that people are best understood by where they shop and what they buy.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Brooks is hardly alone in thinking this. In fact, it's practically gospel among anyone who markets products of any kind to consumers of any kind. "You Are Where You Live" is the slogan of Claritas' widely-used PRIZM market segmentation system, and it's no joke. People spend billions of dollars based on the results of market segmentation like this, and they do it because it works. Your intuition (and Brooks' thesis) are correct: people in different parts of the country really are different.

(Care to find out what kind person you probably are? Go here and type in your ZIP code. Yeah, yeah, I know, they sure have you pegged wrong, don't they? Sure they do. Then go ahead and type in the ZIP code of your aunt in Peoria and see the difference.)

Look, I don't know if Brooks played fast and loose with the facts in Franklin County, PA, or not. But surely it's noncontroversial that, say, the average resident of the midwest really does have different values and different interests than urban coastal dwellers? And that popular magazine writers frequently overplay those differences in an effort to write engaging copy? This strikes me as something less than shocking.

So while it may be true that Brooks sometimes strains too hard to make his points, I suspect Issenberg is straining just as hard. After all, even in strongly Red counties you'll find plenty of liberals and and in strongly Blue counties you'll find plenty of conservatives. (Go to a party here in heavily Republican Orange County, for example, and four out of ten people you meet will nonetheless be Democrats. And every one of us will make the same lame joke about how happy we are to finally meet another one.)

If Brooks' generalizations are wrong, that's fine. Skewer away. But finding exceptions to Brooks' generalizations is both trivial and pedantic, especially when Issenberg admits multiple times that Brooks really does have a point. I've been pretty unimpressed with Brooks' New York Times columns so far, but this time I have a feeling I'm on his side: Issenberg just didn't get the joke. Lighten up.

Kevin Drum 4:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONSERVATIVES AND THEIR BOOKS....Jonah Goldberg thinks liberals don't read enough:

One thing that really does fascinate me...is the generalized ignorance or silence of mainstream liberals about their own intellectual history. Obviously this is a sweeping -- and therefore unfair -- generalization. But I read a lot of liberal stuff and have attended more than a few college confabs with liberal speakers speaking on the subject of liberalism itself. And it seems to me that liberals are intellectually deracinated. Read conservative publications or attend conservative conferences and there will almost always be at least some mention of our intellectual forefathers and often a spirited debate about them. The same goes for Libertarians, at least that branch which can be called a part or partner of the conservative movement.

But isn't the answer to this pretty obvious? Conservatives, almost by definition, are absorbed by the past. What's more, their message doesn't change much over time (tradition is good, stable society is good, the masses should get back to work and stop complaining) so it makes perfect sense to keep reading them. In fact, if you take the conservative reverence for tradition seriously, it almost demands that you have considerable respect for your forebears.

Liberalism is precisely the opposite. We don't wonder what Charles Beard would think of something? Of course not. The whole point of liberalism is change, so who cares what Beard would have thought? By now he's just an old fuddy duddy.

Those with a reverence for the past read long dead authors and feel at home. Those who disdain the past and relish cultural change won't give them the time of day. Right?

UPDATE: Last paragraph modified slightly based on comments.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHY THE SOCIALISTS WON....PART FOUR....I promise not to belabor this forever, but yesterday I asked about polling data on the Spanish election and one of my readers translated the following and emailed it to me:

  • Over 90% of the populace had decided their vote before the attacks.

  • 8% decided after the attacks.

  • 60% believe the government incorrectly informed the people about the authors of the attacks, and didn't share all available information.

  • 60% believe information was manipulated and hidden.

  • 30% believe the government told the truth.

  • 25% of PP (Conservative Party) voters believe the government mishandled the information. 65% of PP voters believe the government told the truth.

The original is here, and another poll about troop withdrawl is here. My correspondent says that both polls are from the "very respected liberal radio" Cadena Ser on March 22.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND TERRORISM....Dick Clarke complains in his book that before 9/11 the Bush administration did not take terrorism as seriously as the Clinton administration had. Is he right? Let's go to the tape:

  • General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff: the Bush administration pushed terrorism "farther to the back burner."

  • Bush administration terrorism report, April 2001, via CNN: When asked why the Administration had reduced the focus on Osama bin Laden, "a senior Bush State Department official told CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden."

  • Thomas Maertens, NSC nonproliferation director for Clinton and Bush: "[Clarke] was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S." But Maertens said the Bush White House was reluctant to believe a holdover from the previous administration. "They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration," he said. "So anything they did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it."

  • Lieutenant General Don Kerrick, Clinton deputy NSA who was held over for several months by Bush, comparing Bush's sense of urgency regarding terrorism to Clinton's: "Candidly speaking, I didnt detect that kind of focus." And this: "I don't think it was above the waterline. They were gambling nothing would happen."

  • President Bush himself, quoted by Bob Woodward: "I didnt feel a sense of urgency about al Qaeda. It was not my focus; it was not the focus of my team."

That's a lot of backup for Clarke's position. Frankly, a lot of us didn't take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11, so I'm not sure there's any great shame in all this. Still, the Bush White House should quit smearing Clarke and own up to the truth: terrorism wasn't a top priority during their first few months in office. 9/11 was a wakeup call for them, just as it was for the rest of the country.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE EDUCATION OF RICHARD CLARKE....Having finished Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies I now find myself almost afraid to comment on it. With the battle lines already drawn along the predictable lines, it almost seems pointless. If you're a liberal he's a heroic truthteller and if you're a conservative he's a bitter Bush hater. Is anyone going to change their mind at this point?

Maybe not, but let's try to sort out what Clarke actually says and why he says it anyway, because I don't think it's entirely obvious just from the snippets we've seen on TV over the past week. The story is a little more complicated than it appears.

To begin with, the bulk of the book is a fairly straightforward description of terrorism during the 90s: what happened, how we responded, how we eventually put the al-Qaeda pieces together, and what kinds of institutional problems prevented a more effective response. It is largely concerned with Clarke's efforts to get official Washington to take terrorism seriously he is scathing toward the FBI and the military, and only slightly less so toward the CIA and there's not much question that during this period Clarke was fundamentally nonpartisan, mostly just a bulldog who was obsessed with terrorism and frequently upset that the rest of the world didn't share his obsession.

So what was it that seemingly turned him into a Democratic partisan? Oddly enough, it appears that the turning point came in August 1998 and was a combination of two things: the Monica Lewinsky scandal and al-Qaeda's attacks on two American embassies. It was only a couple of years earlier that the CIA had finally connected the dots and figured out that the al-Qaeda organization even existed, and the embassy bombings were their first major attack since then. Unfortunately, Republican opportunism made it hard to fight back. Although Clarke says he was "beyond mad" at Clinton for failing to keep his zipper shut, he became flatly infuriated with the recklessness of his conservative opposition:

I was angrier, almost incredulous, that the bitterness of Clinton's enemies knew no bounds, that they intended to hurt not just Clinton but the country by turning the President's personal problem into a global, public circus for their own political ends. Now I feared that the timing of the President's interrogation about the scandal, August 17, would get in the way of our hitting the al Qaeda meeting.

....Our response to two deadly terroist attacks was an attempt to wipe out al Qaeda leadership, yet it quickly became grist for the right-wing talk radio mill and part of the Get Clinton campaign. That reaction made it more difficult to get approval for follow-up attacks on al Qaeda, such as my later attempts to persuade the Principals to forget about finding bin Laden and just bomb the training camps.

For a true believer like Clarke, the partisan posturing in response to what he thought was the most important problem facing our country must have convinced him that many Republicans simply didn't take national security seriously. And what he saw when Bush took office must have convinced him even further:

  • Although neither administration ended up hitting back as hard as Clarke wanted, he makes it clear that at least the Clinton team considered it a high priority. The Bush team was more interested in missile defense and relations with China.

  • Even though the Clinton and Bush policies ended up being largely the same prior to 9/11 Condi Rice's denials notwithstanding Clarke believes the Clinton team was better at execution. Several terrorist plots were foiled in December 1999 due to a heightened alert status approved by Clinton, and he thinks 9/11 could have been foiled too if the Bush team had adopted the same approach in the summer of 2001.

  • Finally, there was Bush's post-9/11 response. Clarke believes that the Bush team failed to understand that al-Qaeda was something fundamentally new. "You give bin Laden too much credit," Paul Wolfowitz said in an April 2000 meeting. "He could not do all these things...without a state sponsor." As a result of this belief, after 9/11 the Bush team wanted to go after Iraq while Clarke wanted to go directly after al-Qaeda.

This last point is a critical one, of course, and goes to the heart of many of the post-9/11 differences between Bush and his critics. Here's how Clarke describes what he learned when the intelligence community first discovered the existence of al-Qaeda in 1996:

The ingredients al Qaeda dreamed of for propagating its movement were a Christian government attacking a weaker Muslim region, allowing the new terrorist group to rally jihadists from many countries to come to the aid of the religious brethren. After the success of the jihad, the Muslim region would become a radical Islamic state, a breeding ground for more terrorists, a part of the eventual network of Islamic states that would make up the great new Caliphate, or Muslim empire.

From his point of view, then, Bush's post-9/11 obsession with attacking states was simply playing into al-Qaeda's hands. "It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.'"

Clarke surely knows that it would have helped his credibility if he had treated the Clinton and Bush administrations more evenhandedly, but he obviously thought the differences between them ran too deep to do that. During the Clinton years the problem was one of turning a battleship, but he felt that at least everyone took it seriously and helped to push. Then in January 2001 he suddenly found himself working for an administration that didn't take terrorism seriously, didn't execute well even when they did acknowledge the problem, and then after 9/11 remained so stubbornly ignorant of al-Qaeda's aims that they played directly into its hands.

Is it any wonder he has little good to say about them?

Kevin Drum 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POT, KETTLE, ETC....Hmmm, do you think the Bush team has become a little oversensitive lately?

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but doesn't have works," [John] Kerry said, quoting James 2:14. "When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?"

The Bush-Cheney camp cited that quote as an improper use of the Christian scriptures to take a veiled slap at Bush, a conservative Christian, and his claim to being a compassionate conservative.

"John Kerry's comment at New Northside Baptist Church was beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse, and a sad exploitation of scripture for a political attack," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

Quoting scripture and then criticizing your opponent is "beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse" in a presidential campaign? Who makes up this stuff?

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RELIGION AND THE PRESIDENCY....Is America ready for a Catholic president? You'd think that question was settled half a century ago, but Karen Tumulty and Perry Bacon Jr. make an interesting point in Time today:

Still, when Kennedy ran for President in 1960, a candidate could go through an entire campaign without ever having to declare his position on abortionmuch less stem cells, cloning or gay marriage. It was before Roe v. Wade, bioethics, school vouchers, gay rights and a host of other social issues became the ideological fault lines that divide the two political parties and also divide some Catholics from their church.

There's clearly something to this. In an odd twist, at the same time that Americans have gotten over their anti-Catholic bigotry of days past the Catholic Church itself has become far more politicized. If Kerry ends up having any problems because of his faith, it's less likely to be caused by lingering prejudice than by the church itself turning on one of its own.

Ironic, isn't it?

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WHY THE SOCIALISTS WON....PART THREE....A week ago I suggested several reasons why the Socialists came from behind to win the election in Spain after the Madrid bombings. But I admitted there was really no way to know until somebody went out and did some polling.

Today, courtesy of Tacitus, the Washington Post provides an answer. Sort of:

Interviews and polling research suggest that voters who ousted the pro-American government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar after the Madrid bombings did so at least in part because they believed Spain's participation in the Iraq war had provoked the attacks. Polls in Britain and Italy, whose governments have also been high-profile supporters of the war, suggest voters there fear their countries have also joined al Qaeda's hit list.

This is maddeningly vague, especially since it doesn't indicate what other reasons people gave for voting Socialist. Still, it's a data point.

Does anybody out there read the Spanish press? Are there any more details available on this poll?

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TANKER WAR....Back when the Air Force was looking for a new fleet of tankers, it turned out that Boeing's 767 wasn't really all that well suited for the job. What to do? Let Boeing rewrite the specs:

In the process, Boeing eliminated 19 of the 26 capabilities the Air Force originally wanted, and the Air Force acquiesced in order to keep the price down.

The Air Force then gave Boeing competitor Airbus 12 days to bid on the project and awarded the contract to Boeing even though Airbus met more than 20 of the original 26 specifications and offered a price that was $10 billion less than Boeing's.

....Among the original Air Force requirements Boeing eliminated was that the new tanker be equipped to refuel all the military services' aircraft, refuel multiple aircraft simultaneously, and carry passengers, wounded troops and cargo. Boeing also eliminated an Air Force requirement that the new tankers be at least as effective and efficient as the 40-year-old KC-135 tankers they would replace.

Hey, I'll give 'em a pass on the whole Airbus thing. After all, they're made in France, aren't they? Can't have that.

But it sure would be nice if the shiny new tankers were at least as good as the ancient rattletraps they were replacing. And maybe they could shave $10 billion off their price while they're at it.

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"CURVEBALL"....Even for those of us who already accept that our prewar intelligence was wildly wrong and that Ahmed Chalabi bears a lot of the blame, this story in Sunday's LA Times is still incredibly disheartening:

The Bush administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of trucks and railroad cars to produce anthrax and other deadly germs were based chiefly on information from a now-discredited Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," according to current and former intelligence officials.

....U.N. weapons inspectors hypothesized that such trucks might exist, officials said. They then asked former exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, a bitter enemy of Hussein, to help search for intelligence supporting their theory.

Soon after, a young chemical engineer emerged in a German refugee camp and claimed that he had been hired out of Baghdad University to design and build biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army.

....Only later, U.S. officials said, did the CIA learn that the defector was the brother of one of Chalabi's top aides, and begin to suspect that he might have been coached to provide false information. In part because of that, some U.S. intelligence officials and congressional investigators fear that the CIA may have inadvertently conjured up and then chased a phantom weapons system.

It's actually even worse than it sounds just from this excerpt. You really need the read the whole story to appreciate the full magnitude of what happened here. David Kay is the only person who comes out of it looking good.

Ahmed Chalabi deserves to be strung up by his thumbs and left for the vultures to feast on. It is simply unbelievable that we still have anything to do with him.

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HOORAY FOR BROADBAND!....Another bold policy initiative from President Bush:

"We ought to have universal, affordable access to broadband technology by the year 2007," Bush said. "And then we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter consumers have plenty of choices."

"It's important that we stay on the cutting edge of technological change, and one way to do so is to have a bold plan for broadband," he said. Bush did not elaborate on how he would accomplish the 2007 goal.

I'll just bet he didn't elaborate, especially since somebody in the White House obviously pulled that date out of their ass without even bothering to pick up the phone and find out if it was possible. Hell, South Korea's been working toward this goal for nearly a decade and they still aren't quite there yet. And that's in a country 1% our size.

These guys really don't even pretend to care about whether stuff is possible before they start yapping about it, do they? Besides, I thought Republicans were in favor of the free market handling this kind of stuff. What's with the "bold plan"?

On the other hand, it is bold. Did I mention that?

POSTSCRIPT: I should make clear that I actually think having universal broadband access is a worthy goal. Maybe it requires a government program, maybe it doesn't, but it sure isn't going to happen by 2007. And frankly, with this gang in charge, I'd just as soon keep the free market in charge in any case.

Kevin Drum 2:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUBBLE, BUBBLE....A couple of days ago Brad DeLong wrote about the need for the Fed to keep interest rates low, and who can disagree? With the job market as flabby as it is, the last thing we need is to slow down the economy by raising interest rates.

At the same time, though, Brad quotes Gerard Baker at length about interest rates, and Baker is scathing toward those who are apprehensive about the effect that continuing low interest rates have on, for example, housing prices. "Sado-monetarists," he says, "should be restrained before they do us all needless harm."

Now, perhaps living in Southern California makes me oversensitive to this, but it really does seem as though the housing market is pretty frothy at the moment. And if there is a housing bubble right now, and if it eventually gets pricked, as bubbles eventually always do, that could have a catastrophic effect on already weak economy, right? Just like the dotcom bust, except that the economy already sucks to begin with.

Or maybe not. But the nice thing about being a blogger is that I don't have to just sit around and wonder about this. I know Brad reads this blog, so maybe he'll take pity on my obvious bewilderment and offer us his ideas on this:

  • Is it your thought that there actually isn't a housing bubble right now?

  • Or is there indeed a housing bubble, but it's going to last a long time so it's nothing to worry about?

  • Or is the housing bubble both real and likely to burst in the near future, but for some reason you believe it won't really do that much harm?

  • Or is all of the above true, but there's nothing much we can do about it?

  • Or something else?

Basically, my question is this: there's plenty of controversy over whether the Fed should pay attention to asset bubbles in the first place. Alan Greenspan apparently thinks not. However, assuming that the problem is real but that we don't want to raise interest rates just to cool down a bubbly housing market, is there anything else that can be done? What kind of leverage is available to slow down a housing bubble aside from raising interest rates? And should we use it?

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I QUIT....Mark Schmitt is writing about the conventions of resignation letters over at The Decembrist, which reminds me of my personal favorite resignation letter of all time:

I have cleaned out my desk and will not be back.

This was scrawled on a piece of greenbar paper ripped from a nearby printer. I can't say that we were exactly surprised that this person decided to quit, but the way she did it sure provided us with some welcome comic relief.

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U.S. INTELLIGENCE....In a story so suffused with anonymous "Western diplomats," unnamed "Bush administration officials," and mysterious "intelligence reports" as to be almost completely useless, LA Times reporters Douglas Frantz and Sonni Efron accidentally provide a one-sentence summary of how the rest of the world sees us these days:

"The report is being viewed seriously because it originates from outside U.S. intelligence sources," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Even an American official admits that this report allegedly about Iranian nuclear activities is being taken seriously only because it's not from the U.S. If it were, presumably foreign governments would just assume it was the usual BS.

This is a heavy price to pay for the cynical and exaggerated way the Bush administration treated intelligence before the war.

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RECESS APPOINTMENTS....Speaking of judicial appointments....

I wonder what the strict constructionist folks think about Bush's recess appointments of those two judges recently? On one side, the text of the constitution is quite clear: "The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate..." So no problem.

On the other hand, the intent of that clause is also quite clear: the framers orginally thought that Congress would meet infrequently, and the president needed the recess appointment power to keep important posts filled while waiting for Congress to return. Today, with Congress rarely out of session for more than a few weeks, that's no longer an issue.

So the text of the constitution is pretty clear, but at the same time the intent behind that text is also pretty clear and 180 degrees contradictory. What's the right opinion for a dedicated strict constructionist?

POSTSCRIPT: And as long as we're musing about such things, the recess appointment flap is a result of Democrats filibustering Bush's nominees, which is another pretty remarkable constitutional oversight. Did you know that the constitution nowhere says that Congress has to pass laws by majority rule? As near as I can tell, they could decide that all laws need 80% approval and all congressmen whose names begin with "K" get a double vote if they felt like it.

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JUDICIARY WARS....An awful of people have been wishing for an awful long time that nice guy Tom Daschle would start playing hardball, and I guess we've now gotten our wish:

Senate Democrats, turning up the heat in their long-simmering feud with President Bush over judicial nominations, vowed on Friday to block all new federal court appointments unless the White House promises to stop installing judges while Congress is in recess.

"We will be clear," the Democratic leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, told his colleagues Friday morning in a pointed speech on the Senate floor. "We will continue to cooperate in the confirmation of federal judges, but only if the White House gives the assurance that it will no longer abuse the process."

Yep, that's all new federal judges. Basically, it's sort of like a sit-down strike that promises to bring the entire Judiciary Committee to a grinding halt.

The origin of this controversy sometimes seems lost in the mists of time, but if memory serves, here's the timeline:

  • Democrats bring all judicial hearings to a halt in retaliation for....

  • President Bush making recess appointments of two judges, thus bypassing the normal Senate confirmation process. This was in retailiation for....

  • Senate Democrats filibustering a half dozen judges in retaliation for....

  • Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch playing partisan games with the blue slip rule, changing it depending on whether a Democrat or a Republican happened to be in the White House. (This is important even though it's obscure. A handy summary chart is here.)

With this history in mind, I will once again propose the Great Blue Slip Truce of 2004 (formerly the GBST of 2003): if one blue slip was good enough for Orrin Hatch when he first took control of the Judiciary Committee in 1995, it's good enough now. So: Hatch returns to the 1995 status quo and the Democrats agree to stop filibustering. Bush then has no need to do recess appointments and the Dems can let the Judiciary Committee continue with its business.

Whaddaya think? Is that a good plan or what? Does anyone have Orrin Hatch's phone number handy?

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CHALABI FACTOR....Economists for Dean which, peculiarly, failed to change its name to Economists for Kerry or Economists Against Bush and keep up the good fight has been abandoned and founding member Lerxst is now blogging over at Kautilayn. Yesterday he pointed to a fine piece of public service from Knight Ridder:

The former Iraqi exile group that gave the Bush administration exaggerated and fabricated intelligence on Iraq also fed much of the same information to leading newspapers, news agencies and magazines in the United States, Britain and Australia.

A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.

....Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden.

Indeed it did. And while this probably won't do you much good unless you have access to Lexis/Nexis, they also obtained the list of 108 INC-planted stories, which included such august publications as Time, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and, of course, the New York Times.

Here's the list in all its glory.

POSTSCRIPT: And yes, even though INC head Ahmed Chalabi has admitted that he's willing to say pretty much anything to string the United States along, we're still paying these guys several million dollars a year for "intelligence" assistance.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SMEAR, SMEAR, SMEAR....The campaign to smear Dick Clarke reached Olympian heights today as Bill Frist released a blast of manufactured outrage rarely seen since the halcyon days of Joe McCarthy and the hunt for communist dentists in the Army:

It is awesomely self-serving for Mr. Clarke to assert that the United States could have stopped terrorism if only the three Presidents he served had better listened to his advice....The only common denominator throughout these 10 years of unanswered attacks was Mr. Clarke himself, a consideration that is clearly driving his effort to point fingers and shift blame.

....Mr. President, I do not know if Mr. Clarke's motive for theses charges is partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush Administration....Mr. Clarke was clearly consumed by the desire to dodge any blame for the 9-11 attacks while at that same moment rescuers were still searching the rubble of the World Trade Center for survivors....A loyal Administration official?....If, in the summer of 2001, he saw the threat from al Qaeda as grave as he now says it was, and if he found the response of the Administration as inadequate as he now says it was, why did he wait until Sunday, March 21, 2004 to make his concerns known?

....Mr. President, if Mr. Clarke held his tongue because he was loyal, then shame on him for putting politics above principle. But if he has manufactured these charges for profit and political gain, he is a shame to this government.

....Mr. President, it is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter....it is also clear that Mr. Clarke and his publishers adjusted the release date of his book in order to make maximum gain from the publicity around the 9-11 hearings....I find this to be an appalling act of profiteering, trading on his insider access to highly classified information and capitalizing upon the tragedy that befell this nation on September 11, 2001. Mr. Clarke must renounce any plan to personally profit from this book.

....In his appearance before the 9-11 Commission, Mr. Clarke's theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility. In my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation. Mr Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct but that is all.

Wow. Clarke is greedy, egocentric, resentful, and angry that's four of the seven deadly sins right there but also disloyal (or is it just the opposite?), deceitful, insincere, incompetent, uncaring, partisan, cowardly, shifty, arrogant, and manipulative. That's quite an indictment.

I wonder if Frist will have time over the weekend to pause a bit and wonder if he might have gone a bit over the top here? After all, in the same speech in which he decries "finger pointing, blame shifting or political score settling," he more or less accuses Clarke of being personally responsible for every major terrorist attack in the world between 1993 and 2000. Glass houses and all that, Mr. Frist....

UPDATE: Plus they're actually going to try and declassify some of his earlier testimony in an effort to bring perjury charges? What an insane bluff and just another indication that classified information doesn't mean much to these guys as long as it's stuff that can help them. But if they do declassify this material, I'm with Bob Graham: declassify it all, not just the parts they think help their case. Let's see everything and then we can decide who's telling the truth and who's covering up.

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FREE TRADE AND PROSPECT THEORY....Matt Yglesias (here and here) wants some concrete ideas about how to rebuild support for free trade. For some reason, his post reminded me of a basic problem that underlies an economic model called Prospect Theory, something I've written about before.

The problem discovered by the prospect theorists is this: the emotional drop from a monetary loss is considerably greater than the emotional lift from the exact same monetary gain, and in real-life situations (as opposed, say, to casinos), the difference is about 2:1. That is, the negative emotional reaction to losing $100 is about equal to the positive emotional reaction to winning $200.

In the case of free trade, this causes an obvious problem. Take NAFTA for example. Roughly speaking, one person losing a job due to NAFTA generates about the same emotional energy as two people gaining a job. Thus, if 1 million jobs are lost due to NAFTA and 2 million are gained, the emotional energy on both sides is about equal and I'd expect about 50% support in the population at large.

However, if the number of jobs lost is about the same as the number of jobs gained, the emotional energy of the losers is twice that of the winners. Support for NAFTA would then drop to about 30-40% even though there's actually no net job loss due to the treaty. In fact, even if NAFTA produces a net increase in jobs it still won't be popular. The increase has to be at least twice the decrease.

In other words, I'm not sure there's really an answer to Matt's question. We're dealing with a fundamental property of human nature here, and overall support for free trade will only reach 50% or higher if it's creating a lot more jobs than it's destroying. Right now I doubt that the gain:loss ratio is higher than 2:1, which means the emotional tide is going to be negative regardless of what kind of PR campaign you start up.

There's more to it than just this, of course, but I think you get the general picture. The simple answer is that we need a better economy that's generating more jobs or else the country's emotional energy is going to be fundamentally opposed to free trade. But that's really the right answer anyway, isn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: Needless to say, anyone who knows more about Prospect Theory than I do is welcome to chime in. If my amateur analysis is wrong, I'll be happy to post rebuttals.

UPDATE: Bonassus has more.

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MORE ON CLARKE....One of the unfortunate side effects of all the controversy over Dick Clarke's charges against the Bush White House and its approach to terrorism is that the rest of his book probably won't get any attention at all. That's too bad, because the bulk of it is a pretty interesting (and nonpartisan) account of the growth of terrorism during the 90s and how we responded to it.

For example, one of the recurring problems he brings up is that of trying to snatch suspected terrorists out of foreign countries. The problem, as Clarke tells it, is that while the CIA often didn't have the resources for proposed missions, the Pentagon just flatly didn't want to do them. And to make sure they wouldn't have to do them when they were asked, the plans they submitted looked more like plans for a full declaration of war than plans for a quick snatch.

But there's more. Here's an interesting anecdote about how the Pentagon played the game during the 90s. This happened in 1996 after the Clinton White House had asked the military to snatch an al-Qaeda terrorist in Khartoum:

To the complete frutration of Berger, Albright, and me, the CIA finally admitted it could do nothing to effect a snatch in Khartoum. DOD was only able to generate options, once again, that looked like going to war with Sudan.

Two years later [Colonel Mike] Sheehan was visiting the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command (which includes Delta Force) at Fort Bragg. He struck up a conversation with two fellow Green Berets. They told each other stories about operations they had done and about "the ones that got away," missions planned but not carried out. The two told Sheehan about the plan they had to snatch an al Qaeda leader in a Khartoum hotel. "Woulda been so sweet. Six guys. Two cars. In and out. Easy egress across the border and fly out, low risk."

"Really?" Sheehan asked, pretending not to know about the proposed snatch. "What happened? Why didn't you get to do it?"

"Fuckin' White House," the Green Beret said in disgust. "Clinton said no."

"How do you know that?" Mike innocently inquired.

"Pentagon told us."

The White House wanted to do it. The plan was feasible. The team itself was eager to go. But it didn't happen.

But at least the military bureaucracy once again got to demonstrate their contempt for their commander in chief. It really shows a charming dedication to defending the interests of the United States, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLARKE ROUNDUP....Here are a few miscellaneous items about Dick Clarke that I haven't had time to mention yet:

  • Clarke says that Donald Rumsfeld was at a terrorism meeting a few days before 9/11 and looked "distracted." Rumsfeld says he wasn't even at the meeting, which shows that Clarke is full of it. Aren't there minutes of this meeting somewhere? I doubt the attendee list is classified, so shouldn't we be able to sort this out pretty quickly?

  • The White House apparently saw Clarke's finished book three months ago when he submitted it for a security review, which makes the administration's Keystone Cops response to Clarke all the harder to understand. As the Washington Post puts it:

    Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage contradicted Rice's claim that the White House had a strategy before 9/11 for military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban; the CIA contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist threats; and Rice's assertion this week that Bush told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side" appeared to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.

    Rice, in turn, has contradicted Vice President Cheney's assertion that Clarke was "out of the loop" and his intimation that Clarke had been demoted. Rice has also given various conflicting accounts. She criticized Clarke for being the architect of failed Clinton administration policies, but also said she retained Clarke so the Bush administration could continue to pursue Clinton's terrorism policies.

  • Condoleezza Rice, upset over Clarke's attacks on her, wants to meet with the 9/11 commission again, but only in private and not under oath. The problem with refusing to testify under oath is pretty obvious, but the issue of privacy is a little more subtle.

    If sensitive national security issues are being discussed, a private session is obviously appropriate, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on here. Rather, much like a source who wants to talk off the record, it's an opportunity to slam Clarke and create doubt about his credibility without giving him a chance to respond. After all, how can you respond to charges that are made secretly and can't be divulged by anyone there?

    This is the real problem with an awful lot of off-the-record sourcing as well. It gives someone a chance to plant doubt about someone else's credibility, but it prevents the victim from responding since the reporter is not allowed use the material directly. Rice is playing the same game.

There's too much to keep up with on the Clarke story without driving yourself mad, so that's it for now. As usual, The Progress Report has more, much more....

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S NEXT?....Who's going to be the next administration turncoat to go ballistic on George Bush? David Kay said he wasn't the kiss and tell type, but he's sure beginning to sound like he might be ready to change his mind:

"The cost of our mistakes . . . with regard to the explanation of why we went to war in Iraq are far greater than Iraq itself," David Kay said in a speech at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard to warning about future events," he said. "The answer is to admit you were wrong, and what I find most disturbing around Washington . . . is the belief . . . you can never admit you're wrong."

That sounds pretty personal. He might have some interesting things to say if he gets good and peeved enough.

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RICE TO RESIGN AT END OF YEAR?....I'm with Josh Marshall. This is the first I've heard of this:

As she prepares to leave her job at the end of the year, Ms. Rice, the president's national security adviser, now finds herself at the center of a political storm, furiously defending both the White House and her own reputation.

This seems like a peculiar way of announcing your resignation. It's not like I blame her for wanting to get out, mind you, but I haven't heard before this that she was definitely slated to leave.

Unless, of course, this just means she's given up hope that Bush will win reelection....

Kevin Drum 12:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IRONY ALERT....The New York Daily News explains today why the conservative counterattack on Dick Clarke has been a bit, um, scattershot:

One aide said the White House was further blindsided because they never expected 9/11 to be politicized.

Uh huh.

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TODAY'S WINNER....Here's my award for the most laughable effort (so far!) to discredit Dick Clarke. Romesh Ratnesar, in a piece highlighted on their home page, writes in Time that Clarke's performance on TV seems rather more dramatic than what he wrote in his book a potentially defensible point but then dives straight down a spider hole and never returns.

The scene is the White House the day after 9/11 and President Bush is asking repeatedly about possible Iraqi involvement. Here is Ratnesar's take on things:

....interviewed on PBS' The NewsHour, Clarke sexed up the story even more. "What happened was the President, with his finger in my face, saying, 'Iraq, a memo on Iraq and al-Qaeda, a memo on Iraq and the attacks.' Very vigorous, very intimidating."

....The Bush in [the book] sounds more ruminative than intimidating: "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way." When Clarke responds by saying that "al-Qaeda did this," Bush says, "I know, I know, but see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred....." Again Clarke protests, after which Bush says "testily," "Look into Iraq, Saddam."

Nowhere do we see the President pointing fingers at or even sounding particularly "vigorous" toward Clarke and his deputies. Despite Clarke's contention that Bush wanted proof of Iraqi involvement at any cost, it's just as possible that Bush wanted Clark to find disculpatory evidence in order to discredit the idea peddled by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Baghdad had a hand in 9/11.

So: on TV Bush is "vigorous" but in the book he is merely "testy." Good catch!

But the best part comes next: Bush wasn't trying to blame 9/11 on Iraq, he was hoping Clarke would come up with evidence that Iraq wasn't involved! Why? Because he knew that Rummy and Wolfowitz were sure to start peddling that nonsense and he wanted to be ready to bat it down.

Who comes up with this stuff? And why is Time publishing such obvious flimflam?

Kevin Drum 6:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LEAKY....Several other people have already mentioned this in passing today some more directly than others but it's something that's worth saying plainly: what is the Bush administration's policy about leaking/releasing classified information? They seem to have no problem with routinely leaking or releasing selected portions of classified data if it helps them or hurts their opponents. Just off the top of my head, here's what they've done recently:

I'm sure I've missed some examples, so feel free to fill them in in comments.

Now, I know that Washington is a leaky town and that people who play there are playing in the big leagues. But it still seems as though the Bush White House plays this game a little more aggressively than most, releasing or leaking all manner of classified information if it's helpful to their cause but holding it back for "national security reasons" if it isn't. Does this remind you of anyone?

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THE COST OF WAR....Phil Carter highlights some surprising (to me) news about British military readiness reported by the Telegraph:

Gen Sir Michael Walker told the Commons defence committee that the Army in particular would not be able to recover from operations in Iraq until 2008 or 2009.

"I think we have already accepted that we cannot do another large-scale operation now," he said. "We are unlikely to be able to get to large-scale much before the end of the decade, somewhere around 08 or 09."

....The problems have already affected the deployment of extra troops to Afghanistan to back up the American-led hunt for Osama bin Laden. Defence chiefs have been considering sending 1,400 commandos and paratroopers to support the SAS and US special forces' operation in Afghanistan.

Phil thinks this testimony is credible and then asks the obvious question:

We know what the British are saying about their future capacity to conduct major combat operations -- what are the American projections on this issue? Assuming we can eventually leave Iraq, how much time will the U.S. military need to consolidate, reorganize and reconstitute before it's ready to fight again? My hunch is that it will take less time, because of the rotational readiness systems being adopted in the Army and the pressure to get redeployed units ready for the next OEF/OIF rotation. But the question remains -- what will the long-term readiness cost be of Operation Iraqi Freedom?

Good question. If it becomes common knowledge that Britain, and to some extent the United States as well, can't fight another major war in the near term, doesn't that take an awful lot of pressure off of states like Iran, Syria, and North Korea?

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THE LOOP....Was Dick Clarke an integral part of the White House's counterterrorism team or wasn't he? Let's go to the tape:

  • Dick Cheney, Monday: "Well, he wasn't -- he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff....It was as though he clearly missed a lot of what was going on."

  • Condoleezza Rice, Wednesday: "I would not use the word 'out of the loop'....He was in every meeting that was held on terrorism. All the deputies' meetings, the principals' meeting that was held and so forth, the early meetings after Sept. 11."

  • A "senior official," later Wednesday: A senior official also said Rice twice complained directly to Clarke about his rare appearances at her senior staff meetings. In one e-mail, Clarke responded he was "too busy" and that after he missed another meeting Rice responded that he would have a "problem" if he did not start attending.

Which is it? Was he in all the meetings or wasn't he?

Of course, it's still possible that he was in "every meeting that was held on terrorism" and yet still missed lots of meetings, isn't it? It's possible, that is, if there weren't very many meetings about terrorism.

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CONDI AND CLARKE....I was in Pasadena last night having a very pleasant dinner with Crooked Timberite Kieran Healy and his wife Laurie, which means I missed Richard Clarke's evening visit to Larry King:

Clarke said the Clinton administration's approach to a similar threat before the turn of the millennium -- on which top officials held daily interagency meetings and actively sought information from within their own agencies -- shows that a similar approach might have worked to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks.

He said that prior to 9/11, people within the FBI knew that two of the 19 hijackers were in the country, but that information never made its way up to the highest levels of power.

"If Condi Rice had been doing her job and holding those daily meetings the way Sandy Berger did, if she had a hands-on attitude to being national security adviser when she had information that there was a threat against the United States ... [the information] would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001," Clarke told King.

Wow. I certainly understand why Rice has been looking so pissed lately. There have been vague accusations in the past that the administration could have done more to prevent 9/11, but this is the first time that someone credible has flat out said that Rice's negligence is responsible for failing to stop it. Not "might have" or "could have," but rather that information about the al-Qaeda plot "would have been shaken out" if Rice had been doing her job.

Rice's rebuttal to Clarke's "scurrilous allegation" appears to consist mainly of two parts: (a) on July 5 she did indeed tell domestic agencies that they needed to be on alert for the possibility of a terror strike, and (b) Clarke didn't show up at her staff meetings often enough.

Ouch.

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DELAY TO STEP DOWN?....Could it be? From Roll Call (subscription only):

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has begun quiet discussions with a handful of colleagues about the possibility that he will have to step down from his leadership post temporarily if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating alleged campaign finance abuses.

...Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post.

I actually like George Bush compared to Tom DeLay. Few things would make me happier than to see the former bug exterminator get squashed himself.

Please, please, please make this happen. Ple-e-e-e-ease!

Kevin Drum 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SAMUEL?....Does anyone know why all the news reports about today's congressional testimony refer to Bill Clinton's national security advisor as "Samuel" Berger? I don't remember ever seeing a news account before today that called him anything but "Sandy."

As for the substance of the hearings, here is Shorter Congressional Testimony: we all tried really hard and paid oodles of attention to terrorism before 9/11. Really.

UPDATE: As several commenters have pointed out, Clarke is the exception to this rule. He admitted that both he and the governments he worked for hadn't done enough.

And why the snark? Two reasons:

  • Terrorists hijacked a bunch of planes and killed 3000 people on 9/11. In retrospect, of course we didn't do enough before then to stop al-Qaeda, and it's hardly shameful to say so. But none of these guys have the self-respect to admit it.

  • I'm all for point scoring, but I just don't think all this blather about whether we took al-Qaeda seriously before 9/11 is meaningful. See the first point above. It's what happened after 9/11 that should be getting more attention.

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INTELLIGENT DESIGN....A couple of weeks ago, while I was out of town, Brian Leiter unleashed a furious broadside against a student who wrote a note for the Harvard Law Review praising a book that defended the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools:

The author of this incompetent book note, according to this site, is one Lawrence VanDyke, a student editor of the Review. Mr. VanDyke may yet have a fine career as a lawyer, but I trust he has no intention of entering law teaching: scholarly fraud is, I fear, an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher. And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.

There was more along the same lines. My initial thought was (a) good for him, and (b) I'm sure glad Leiter doesn't have a jones for me. Better to keep him on my good side.

Anyway, entertaining though it was, I was on vacation and didn't post about it. But the story continued without me: a couple of days later NRO published a response to Leiter, who then revealed that the response had actually been written by the author's teaching assistant. Considerable merriment has since ensued.

I've been following the whole thing with one eye, and while I have no sympathy for the ID jihadists I admit that all along I've had a sneaking feeling that, in fact, maybe it really was a bit inappropriate for an influential, tenured law professor to write such a blistering attack on a lowly student. Positions of power and all that, you understand.

Today, though, I finally got around to reading VanDyke's note (warning: large, slow-loading file) and I immediately changed my mind: Leiter probably went too easy on this cretin. Here's the damning sentence:

...while lumping ID with creationism may be a good rhetorical strategy for ID's opponents, it only detracts from an independent and rigorous evaluation of the merits of ID's claims against those of naturalistic evolution.

This sentence could be written only by someone entirely ignorant of both the history and substance of ID (which VanDyke surely isn't) or someone who is simply a shill for creationism.

First, the history. For years, creationists have been trying to get their ideas into high school textbooks but judges consistently knocked them down because they were obviously just transparent attempts to smuggle religion into public schools. So they'd water things down a bit ("Look, we didn't mention God!") and try again, but the judges weren't fooled. They just kept knocking them down. After several decades, the result of this was Intelligent Design, an attempt to make a sort of "clean room" case for creationism: it's exactly the same as creationism but pretends to be based solely on scientific grounds. Naturally the ID proponents have to deny that ID is reverse engineered from creationism, but anybody who studies the issue for more than five minutes knows otherwise. So does VanDyke.

And then there's the substance. What are the actual arguments in favor of ID? The primary one is to accept that science classes are indeed supposed to teach science, but that ID is science. Sadly, though, the scientific community has already passed unanimous judgment on this claim: it's horseshit.

VanDyke (and Francis Beckwith, whose book he is reviewing) therefore try an end run: the very paradigms of science itself are deficient, they say. Well, perhaps they are? Who knows? But if so, then they'd better also start attacking the hegemony in our science classes of general relativity, plate tectonics, and quantum mechanics except that if they tried it the Harvard Law Review would reject it as the obvious crankery it is.

I expected that VanDyke's book note (and Beckwith's book) would claim that schools should be allowed to teach ID on the basis of some kind of abstract legal or philosophical basis, which might be a perfectly publishable argument. Not so. Instead they argue on the obviously specious grounds that (a) ID isn't creationism and (b) ID is perfectly plausible science.

Leiter was right both on the facts and in the tone he took: it was scholarly fraud. The Harvard Law Review should be ashamed of itself.

POSTSCRIPT: It turns out there's one silver lining to this whole dark cloud: it has apparently inspired a group of scientists to start a blog called The Panda's Thumb, dedicated to debunking the daily assaults on evolution from the ID zealots and the religious right. It's only a day old but already appears to be a terrific source. Check it out.

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PINING AWAY FOR THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF NETSCAPE....Brad DeLong makes the case that Microsoft really has harmed him by including a web browser integrated into Windows:

Remember the days when there was not one single dominant browser that came preinstalled on 95% of PCs sold? Back then there was ferocious competition in the browser market, as first a number of competitors and then Netscape and Microsoft worked furiously to upgrade their browsers and add new features to them. Most of these new features turned out to be idiotic. Some turned out to be very useful. Progress in making better browsers was rapid, because browser-makers wanted to make a better product and any new idea about what a browser should be was rapidly deployed to a large enough user base to make it worthwhile for web designers to try to use the new feature.

And now? There is no progress in browsers at all. Why should anyone (besides crazed open sourcies) write a new browser? Why should Microsoft spend any money improving its browser? The point of giving Internet Explorer away for free is to protect Windows's market, after all.

That's absolutely right, and the same case can be made for the other de facto monopolies Microsoft has, even if they're not tied to preinstallation on Windows. The most notable examples are Word and Excel, which have shown very little serious improvement in years, but also noteworthy is their virtual monopoly on compilers and development systems, something that most people don't understand but that has a clear and insidious effect on what gets supported and what doesn't.

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell and Kieran Healy have some scholarly thoughts to add, but basically agree with Brad. And so do I.

And yet there's a critical piece that's missing here. It's an argument Microsoft makes all the time, but that doesn't necessarily make it wrong (although it's surely tempting to think so): should judges be the ones to decide which components should be core pieces of an operating system and which ones shouldn't?

There's a minimalist view that an operating system should basically serve up files and not do much of anything else. Virtually no one holds that view anymore, though, and modern operating systems all include sophisticated UIs, loads of network functionality, drivers for a vast array of devices, email, backup utilities, etc. etc. etc. The list grows at a dizzying rate.

So: is it reasonable for a web browser to be a core part of an operating system? How about a media player? Both, after all, can be thought of merely as ways of controlling and viewing files, albeit rather sophisticated files served up via the internet.

I don't really have a good answer for this, but it's definitely a question worth taking seriously. Regulating general business practices (bundling, for example) is one thing, but directly regulating what can and cannot be part of an operating system is quite another. It's a real headscratcher.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that I'm only addressing the general question here. In the case of browsers, for example, it's pretty clear from Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's finding of fact in 1999 that Microsoft also engaged in egregious monopolistic behavior that went far beyond simply including a browser in the operating system. They got off awfully lightly in that case, due partly to Jackson's idiotic behavior after he issued his finding, but that's a separate issue.

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ANOTHER VIEW FROM RICHARD CLARKE....Since I was in the bookstore yesterday and I had a gift card in my pocket, I bought a copy of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies. I haven't gotten too far into it, though, so I don't know exactly what he says about the Clinton approach to al-Qaeda in late 2000 vs. the Bush approach in early 2001.

I continue to maintain that how those administrations handled al-Qaeda before 9/11 isn't all that interesting, since it was perfectly reasonable at that time to consider al-Qaeda merely one among many important foreign policy questions. Even so, though, I can certainly see why the White House was eager to authorize publication of the following background briefing that Clarke gave to reporters in August 2002:

[Clarke starts with a general briefing on seven points about the Clinton/Bush approach to al-Qaeda before 9/11.]

JIM ANGLE: You're saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold. Is that correct?

CLARKE: All of that's correct.

....QUESTION: Were all of those issues part of [the alleged Clinton administration anti-al-Qaeda plan that] the Clinton team decided not to pursue because it was too close to ...

CLARKE: There was never a plan, Andrea. What there was was these two things: One, a description of the existing strategy, which included a description of the threat. And two, those things which had been looked at over the course of two years, and which were still on the table.

....CLARKE: What happened at the end of December was that the Clinton administration NSC principals committee met and once again looked at the strategy, and once again looked at the issues that they had brought, decided in the past to add to the strategy. But they did not at that point make any recommendations.

QUESTIONS: Had those issues evolved at all from October of '98 'til December of 2000?

CLARKE: Had they evolved? Um, not appreciably.

....ANGLE: So, just to finish up if we could then, so what you're saying is that there was no one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of '98 were made in the spring months just after the administration came into office?

CLARKE: You got it. That's right.

....ANGLE: Now the five-fold increase for the money in covert operations against Al Qaeda did that actually go into effect when it was decided or was that a decision that happened in the next budget year or something?

CLARKE: Well, it was gonna go into effect in October, which was the next budget year, so it was a month away.

Like I said, I haven't gotten to the part of the book where Clarke talks about this. What's more, it's true that since he was part of the administration in August 2002 he was obligated to put the best possible spin on their actions when he talked to reporters.

Still, there's not much question that the tone of this briefing sure doesn't sound much like the tone of the book. More later.

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CLINTON AND 9/11....Yesterday Madeleine Albright made the obvious point that we didn't take military action against the Taliban during the Clinton administration because there wasn't any public support for it. All that changed after 9/11, of course, but Peter Feaver writing in the Washington Post isn't convinced:

Even if President Clinton wanted to conduct military operations against al Qaeda, he was simply too weak a commander in chief to prevail over a military that wanted nothing to do with a war in Afghanistan.

....Albright is correct that Operation Enduring Freedom, the campaign to topple the Taliban, was not possible with a commander in chief who was afraid to lead the public to accept the human costs of war.

This suggests, however, that the critical event was not simply Sept. 11, 2001, which changed the public's perceptions, but also the 2000 election, which changed the commander in chief. President Bush came into office convinced that the casualty phobia of his predecessor had made America a tempting target, a paper tiger. When terrorists struck the twin towers and the Pentagon, Bush interpreted it as proof that America looked weak.

It's hard to overstate just how bitter, blinkered, and insulting this is. The military would have refused to invade Afganistan because they hated Clinton so much? Clinton would have been too cowardly to lead the public to war after a massive attack on American soil? Bush came into office determined to project American force abroad and not worry so much about casualties?

There is zero evidence for any of this. Of course the military would have gone into Afghanistan with all guns blazing if that's what Clinton had ordered. Hell, they probably would have mutinied if he hadn't. Of course Clinton would have ordered an invasion after 9/11, especially given that every one of our allies actively supported the idea along with 90% of the American public, who, pace Feaver, were mostly critical only of the fact that it was taking all of four weeks to launch the bombing runs. And there is no reason at all to think that Bush came into office determined to worry less about military casualties. Just the opposite, in fact. Prior to 9/11 he had been generally critical of Clinton's interventions abroad.

Clinton supported both the Afghanistan invasion and the Iraq war. Why? Because of 9/11.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who insist that 9/11 changed everything but then turn right around and insist that, really, 9/11 didn't change anything: Clinton probably would have just lobbed a few cruise missiles into Tora Bora and gone about rebuilding Ground Zero.

Which is it?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GRAND STRATEGY....Instapundit quotes a reader asking a question today:

Anybody notice how many people are, almost simultaneously, berating George Bush for not taking out bin Laden, and berating Sharon for taking out Ahmed Yassin?

Snark aside, this is a reasonable observation. But you have to flip it on its head to see the whole picture:

Anybody notice how many people are, almost simultaneously, praising George Bush for seeing the big picture and not merely engaging in a bin Laden hunt, and praising Sharon for simply killing Ahmed Yassin without any hint of a broader strategy?

For anyone who's serious about this stuff, these questions deserve an answer:

  • Is it enough to simply build up homeland defenses and hunt down terrorist leaders? This is essentially what Sharon is doing.

  • Or is it necessary to also have a grander strategy of engaging the hearts and minds of the Arab world and spreading democracy? This is (allegedly) the strategy of the Bush administration.

I'm not sure you can have it both ways. If hunting down terrorists is enough, then Sharon is doing the right thing and Bush deserves criticism for wasting time in an unnecessary Iraqi adventure. But if long term success requires a serious effort to spread democracy and change local attitudes, then Bush's approach is defensible while Sharon is doomed to failure.

The United States is bigger than Israel, so the scope of our operations will naturally be bigger. But within our respective spheres, I have to believe that we're dealing with roughly the same problem and roughly the same kind of people. So what's the right strategy? Who's doing it right and who's doing it wrong?

POSTSCRIPT: If your goal is not to really think about the problem, but merely to demonstrate that both Bush and Sharon are right (or wrong), I don't have any doubt that you can do it. The English language provides great scope for this kind of thing. But rhetorical tricks won't change the reality on the ground and won't get the job done.

POSTSCRIPT #2: My opinion? I believe in the grander strategy, although of course it has to be done right. That, however, is a discussion for another time.

Kevin Drum 11:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VANITY FAIR LOOKS AT THE BLOGOSPHERE....James Wolcott's Vanity Fair article about blogs hasn't gotten an awful lot of attention in the blogosphere, something that I initially chalked up to the iron law of blogging: if it doesn't exist on the web, it doesn't exist. And Vanity Fair very decidedly doesn't exist on the web.

But it turns out there's more to it than just that. I shelled out five bucks for a copy of the April issue today and discovered that there's one half of the blogosphere that definitely wouldn't be linking to his piece even if it were on the web. Here is Wolcott explaining the radio spat that Andrew Sullivan started with Atrios in January:

That Sullivan...felt impelled to pick a fight with a lesser-known blogger was a sign of insecurity shaky status. It signifies the shift of influence and punch-power from the right to the left. It is Atrios, not Andrew Sullivan, who is in ascendance in the blogosphere. Only a few years ago the energy and passion were largely the property of the right hemisphere, where Sullivan, Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, and NRO's Victor Davis Hanson fired up the neurons against the defeatism, anti-Americanism, and death's-head specter of Islamic terrorism billowing from the ruins of Ground Zero.

....But I parted sympathies with the bugle boys when they repositioned their bombsights for Iraq....It was the ugly rhetoric, fathead hubris, and might-makes-right triumphalism that repulsed. Warbloggers hunkered into B-grade versions of the ideological buccaneers in the neoconservative camp. Punk-ass laptop Richard Perles, they excoriated dissenters as wimps, appeasers, and traitors.

....When I stray into these sites now, it's like entering the visitors' center of a historical landmark. The rhododendrons need dusting, and the tour guide isn't listening to himself, having done his spiel endless times before.

Have you guessed which half of the blogosphere probably won't think much of Wolcott's take? And yes, there's more like it.

That aside, this is a very personal article about the blogosphere, and aside from a woeful lack of attention to me it's a pretty engaging one. It's not your standard "In the beginning...." history of blogs, and it's written by someone who actually reads and likes blogs, not someone who treats his assignment as an anthropological mission to darkest Africa. That alone is a refreshing change.

To be honest, it's not worth five dollars. But if you see a copy of Vanity Fair in your local library you might want to check it out. Or if you're a fast reader, do it at Barnes & Noble.

Kevin Drum 8:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MY WISH....Madeleine Albright, testifying before Congress today, says the Clinton administration "did everything we could, everything we could think of" to fight al-Qaeda during their time in office.

This, of course, is the party line for everyone, but you know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see just one person fess up and admit that, in retrospect, we obviously didn't take them seriously enough.

Coming next: porcine flight!

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DIVERSITY....Do Americans hate welfare because they think all the money goes to blacks? Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser don't put it quite that baldly, but that's their basic thesis. Robert Tagorda says this argument is "a bit hard to swallow" but quotes a couple of other economists who say there's something to it:

Over the last five years, at least 15 different empirical economic papers have studied the consequences of community heterogeneity, and all of these studies have the same punch line: heterogeneity reduces civic engagement. In more diverse communities, people participate less as measured by how they allocate their time, their money, their voting, and their willingness to take risks to help others.

I don't really find this very hard to believe at all. It's certainly not the entire explanation for varying attitudes toward welfare between America and Europe, but I imagine it accounts for some of it.

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge has more.

Kevin Drum 3:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FUN WITH POLITICS....A few weeks ago someone emailed me to ask how they could make a political donation anonymously. Wanted to avoid getting put on a mailing list or a telemarketing list, you see.

I sympathize, I really do, but my answer was not reassuring: federal law prohibits anonymous contributions. You just can't do it.

In fact, thanks to the web, political donations are not merely public, they are practically displayed in neon for the world to see. All you have to do is go here, type in a name, and up comes a complete donation history.

But what use to make of this? I tried typing in my address, for example, and found that not one single other person in my neighborhood has made a political contribution this year to a presidential campaign. (Irvinites in general, however, show a distressing tendency to make $2000 donations to George Bush.)

What else? How about bloggers? I tried entering the names of various well known bloggers but came up blank. The only top blogger to donate anything so far this year was Eugene Volokh, who is partial to Bush. (Although who knows about the mysterious Atrios, who would of course have to donate under his mysterious real name?)

You can also have fun with famous names. Rush Limbaugh hasn't donated anything (probably saving up for his legal defense fund). Howard Stern gave $1000 to Joe Lieber oops, no, that's a different Howard Stern. The real one doesn't live in Brooklyn, does he? Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ponied up $2000 to Bob Graham. Donald Trump wouldn't you just guess this? has donated two grand to both Kerry and Bush.

Lotsa fun. Try it out yourself!

UPDATE: Mark Schmitt has some thoughts about the privacy implications of all this. In fact, it was his post that reminded me to write about this subject, and then I forgot to link back to him. D'oh!

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HEARTBREAKING....From the Sydney Morning Herald this morning:

Israel will try to kill the entire Hamas leadership, striking whenever an opportunity presents itself, a security official said today.

The decision was made secretly by the Israeli Cabinet last week, in response to a double suicide bombing at an Israeli seaport, the official said on condition of anonymity.

....Israel will not wait for the next Hamas attack to take action, but strike whenever an opportunity presents itself, he said.

I don't generally write much about Israel, but I guess I'll join the chorus wondering not if this is justifiable, but if it's wise. If merely killing all the terrorists were really a way of ending terrorism, I might not have a problem with it. But it really doesn't seem likely to work unless you're willing to annihilate the entire population along with it.

And while I know this is banal, it's just indescribably sad to see this happening. The future of Israel now appears to be that of a state hiding behind a wall and showing its face only to launch occasional massive strikes against its enemies, while the future of the Palestinians is to fester rancorously outside and plot ever more inventive ways of destroying its own youth and killing innocent civilians in a vain hope that this will somehow force the Israelis to give up.

The Bush administration finds this "troubling." So do I.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CROUTON WARS....Via OxBlog, this is too good to pass up:

Operations were cancelled yesterday at one of Britain's leading centres for neurosurgery after it suspended [Terence Hope, 57, one of Britain's leading experts in vascular neurosurgery].

....According to a report in the Daily Mail yesterday, Mr Hope was accused of taking an extra helping of soup at the staff canteen without paying. But he told colleagues he was only getting some extra croutons.

The hospital refused to comment on the grounds that disciplinary procedures were confidential.

I'd refuse to comment too.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"JUST SPELL GET MY NAME RIGHT" DEPARTMENT....Aw, come on, Howie, it's Kevin Drum. Richard was that devious medieval king or that tricky Watergate era president. We Kevins have an illustrious history.....

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PANIC MODE....There's no telling if Richard Clarke's charges will end up making much difference in the long run, but the White House is sure acting like they have the potential to do some serious damage:

President Bush's top aides launched a ferocious assault on the former White House counterterrorism official who accused Bush of failing to act on the al Qaeda threat before Sept. 11, 2001, and strengthening terrorists by pursuing a misguided focus on Iraq.

....Half a dozen top White House officials, departing from their policy of ignoring such criticism, took to the airwaves to denounce Clarke as a disgruntled former colleague and a Democratic partisan.

The Post article suggests that the White House normally ignores stuff like this, but I think that observation is out of date. It was true up until mid-2003 or so, but starting around the time of the yellowcake affair they seem to have lost their confidence and began to feel like they had to fight back on stuff like this. And they have.

In this case, I imagine that part of the strategy is not just to rebut Clarke, but to throw up enough smoke to convince everyone that this is just another partisan beltway slugfest and hope they tune the whole thing out. It might work, too, although they seem to be in enough of a panic mode that they might end up doing something stupid. We can always hope.

In any case, we've now seen books from both Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke, but are there any others coming down the pike? Who else has resigned from the Bush administration in the last year or two?

Kevin Drum 2:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DEATH OF THE STRAIGHT DOPE....Via Matt Welch, Scott MacMillan bemoans the difficulty of getting the straight dope these days:

There's a hell of a lot going on in the world right now. Know what bothers me? What bothers me is that I don't know of a single blog-type news/commentary source that devotes itself to international news events -- not Beltway bullshit -- without some huge ideological axe to grind. I'd buy a beer for anybody that could recommend, for instance, some interesting commentary about the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin or the non-capture of Ayman Al-Zawahiri or the non-killing of Herat's Ismail Khan. I'd buy a whole dinner for somebody who can link it all to the Peace of Westphalia.

I can't tell you have often I've thought the same thing. Everthing is so politicized these days that it's practically impossible to find simple, straightforward information on much of anything anymore.

But despite my sympathy, this lament is misguided on a bunch of different levels:

  • Anybody who has studied a subject long enough to become an expert is bound to have a point of view. Given the current state of the art in human nature, consistent objectivity just isn't a reasonable goal.

  • But if you insist on looking for it anyway, blogs are the last place you should look. I mean, the whole point of the blogosphere is to be partisan and opinionated or else it's no fun. Complaining that it's hard to find objective information in the blogosphere is like complaining that talk radio hosts are loud and superficial.

  • Having said that, there are places to go for this kind of information. There are serious foreign affairs magazines that post articles on the web, there are think tanks that are relatively nonideological, and there's the mainstream press, which (contrary to blog mythology) tends to be fairly evenhanded, especially if you read accounts from multiple sources.

  • Finally, and not to get all postmodern on y'all, in a situation of any complexity there just isn't always a clean, straightforward objective truth. Nobody knows for sure what's really going on because everyone has different sources, documentation is vague, and the principals aren't talking.

As for Westphalia, I think they're still at peace. It took 'em a hell of a long time, though.

UPDATE: On a more serious note, the Economist is a pretty good source for international news (don't let the title fool you). It's not quite as breezy as a blog post, mind you, but it is readable, fairly authoritative, not wildly ideological, they update their site every day, and most of the content is (a) free and (b) neither overlong nor mere blurbs. Caveat emptor and all that, but you could do a lot worse. Especially if you're not willing to spend any money.

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MONEY FROM THE SKY....I just got a check in the mail from Citibank for 33 cents. It says it's "a refund of the Schwartz credit that appeared on your December statement."

I wonder what that's all about?

UPDATE: Ah, I see. Serious answer here. Witty and nongermane answers are spread elsewhere in the comment thread.

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BUSH'S SECRET PLAN....Why didn't the Bush administration pay more attention to Richard Clarke and his dire warnings of the terrorist threat before 9/11? The answer seems pretty simple to me: most people before 9/11 thought of terrorism as simply one among many foreign policy problems. There wasn't really any compelling reason to develop a crash program to deal with it.

That's good enough for me, but because the Bush administration and its supporters apparently don't consider that a politically tenable answer they are instead insisting on one that even a five year old would have trouble believing: not only did they take terrorism seriously before 9/11, they took it far more seriously than anyone had before. For example, here is Macallan over at Tacitus:

If one assumes that the Bush Administration was taken by surprise or didn't take the Islamist threat seriously prior to 9-11, so much of what Mr. Clarke says makes sense. However, if one assumes that the Bush Administration came into office determined to stop making the same shortsighted miscalculations of the prior 50 years and to actively shuffle the deck; Clarke's observations are all trees no forest. Clarke thinks it's shameful that he wasn't listened to, while I'm grateful that he wasn't. He wants to go after Al Qaeda more intently, while I'd rather go after the basis for why Al Qaeda exists in the first place while we're at it. Clarke sees tumors, I see cancer.

And here is Dick Cheney making the point more directly on Rush Limbaugh's show this morning:

Well, he wasn't he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff....For example, just three weeks after the after we got here, there was communication, for example, with the President of Pakistan, laying out our concerns about Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and the importance of going after the Taliban and getting them to end their support for the al Qaeda. This was, say, within three weeks of our arrival here.

Look, every bit of evidence indicates that the Bush foreign policy team didn't see foreign terrorism as a top priority before 9/11. What's more, it's hardly plausible that the administration's top counterterrorism guy was "out of the loop" on what was supposedly the administration's biggest counterterrorism initiative. And given his background and his known intensity toward fighting terrorism, it's also unlikely to the point of lunacy to think that if the Bushies had been planning a bigger and far more extensive anti-terrorism program than Clinton's no more "swatting flies"! that Clarke would have opposed it. He probably would have been dancing in the streets.

But the Bush apologists can't be happy with simply suggesting that maybe Clarke misinterpreted what he heard, and in any case 9/11 was a wakeup call for all of us, wasn't it? That would be too subtle, too honest, too nuanced for them. Instead, they have to open up the throttle all the way and insist against all evidence that in reality they were working on the mother of all counterterrorism plans before 9/11 but their chief counterterrorism guy wasn't in the loop.

It's really a pretty pathetic performance. The only thing they know how to do is attack and then attack even harder, and look where it gets them: a pile of federal investigations and stories that are spun so ludicrously that even their supporters are probably having trouble swallowing them. You'd think they'd learn eventually.

Kevin Drum 8:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CHILD TAX CREDIT....TIME TO PAY THE PIPER....Since I don't follow the minutiae of tax law and I don't have kids, the following email that I received this morning was news to me:

This past Friday I got a letter from the IRS. Uh-oh; never a good thing. I open it to find that they've corrected my tax refund by $800 because of an "advance child tax credit" I received in 2003. So instead of an $864 refund, I'm getting only $64.

My initial reaction was, what the hell? I didn't receive any advance child tax credit. Then it occurred to me: oh, yeah, I got that $800 check from the government last year. I called the IRS (who, by the way, was actually efficient and helpful) and they confirmed this for me. That check, sent out as part of Bush's "tax cuts," was really just an advance on tax monies I would have received anyway. I had forgotten about that check; I thought I had received it in 2002.

The thing is, Kevin, I knew the $800 check worked that way; there was a letter sent with it that said so. But, as I say, I had forgotten about it. I just wonder if there aren't a lot of people out there who are going to get a similar letter from the IRS and who didn't know about the fine print that came with the check (the attached letter notwithstanding). It's going to be a rude awakening for people who, like me, forgot about that little "payday loan" and who are now learning that instead of getting a $400 refund, they owe Uncle Sam $400.

Just think: all that happened here was that his refund got cut. He'd probably really be pissed if, say, his $200 refund magically turned into a $600 payment.

As I recall, this advance tax credit was generally thought responsible for some portion of last year's economic growth. If that's the case, that should turn into a negative effect this year, right?

Even worse for the party in power, it's just bad PR for lots of people to get IRS letters telling them they owe more taxes than they thought. It doesn't seem like a good thing to be happening a few months before an election.

I wonder why the Bushies did it?

NOTE: I'm not saying this is bad policy, I'm just saying it doesn't seem politically savvy. Even if it's unfair, you don't want taxpayers getting pissed off in an election year.

However, in comments BRussell says this was a Democratic idea. If that's the case, who knows? Maybe it was a brilliant piece of opposition party jiu jitsu.

Kevin Drum 7:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLARKE CORROBORATION....Is Clarke right that the Bush administration's first instinct after 9/11 was to attack Iraq, not Afghanistan? Katherine R at Obsidian Wings, on hiatus from her hiatus (translation: yes, I'm addicted to blogging after all), reminds us that Clarke isn't the only one who's told this story. Britain's ambassador to Washington said the same thing over a year ago.

Details here.

UPDATE: But why were so many people in the Bush administration convinced that Iraq was behind 9/11? As Peter Bergen asked in a Washington Monthly article a few months ago, "Where did this faith come from?"

Luckily, as Matt Yglesias reminds us, Peter Bergen also answered the question in that same article. It's a pretty interesting answer, too.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tim Dunlop has excerpts from The Age of Sacred Terror that provide more background on Clarke, terrorism, counterterrorism, and Iraq. It's here, here, and here.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK....So how is the right going to respond to Richard Clarke? I figured National Review would be a bellwether, but apparently they were caught off guard over the weekend and failed to get anything up except the official White House response. Their main page just has the usual Kerry bashing and paeans to how well things are going in Iraq.

Off to the Corner then:

  • Kathryn Jean Lopez (from last night): CBS is really hyping 60 Minutes. Apparently they want people to watch it, especially basketball fans.

  • Mark Levin: "Clinton had several clear shots at taking out bin Laden, but refused. He treated the entire matter as one for law enforcement to handle....And I don't buy the premise that Bush was so occupied with Saddam Hussein that he failed to see al-Qaeda. Where's the evidence other than some unsubstantiated comments by self-promoting authors who are hardly unencumbered by political taint?"

  • Tim Graham: "My overwhelming first impression is that it's a little odd to let a guy who sat for many years in the White House while the Clintons did zippy claiming that the Bushies did "nothing" before 9-11. The nets are playing down the fact that he was a Clinton aide...."

  • Jonah Goldberg: "It seems to me that Clarke cannot simply be dismissed as a jerk with an agenda (as I am perfectly comfortable doing with Joe Wilson). That said, that doesn't mean we have to buy everything Clarke says without skepticism....But it's sounds like Clarke was an embittered holdover from the Clinton administration who was kept on out of an admirable desire for continuity."

  • Tim Graham: Lesley Stahl can't be trusted.

  • Jim Geraghty: It's a little hard to say what the point of Geraghty's comment is. Bush is Churchillian and Clarke should be pleased with his actions in Iraq? Or something. Sounds like he thought there was a point there but it never quite jelled before he pushed the Publish button. Hey, I understand, I've been there myself....

  • Kathryn Jean Lopez: "Dick Clarke and Kerry adviser Rand Beers are teaching a Harvard class together this semester."

Bottom line: confusion. The problem is that Clarke has been banging the drum to get terrorism taken more seriously for so long that it's hard to really impeach his credentials. If anyone's to blame for not going after al-Qaeda strongly enough, it's not Clarke.

It looks to me like the primary line of attack so far is to paint Clarke as an embittered partisan: Clinton aide, demoted by Bush, and still friendly with (gasp!) other former Clinton aides.

In other words, it's still all Clinton's fault. (Or "the Clintons," as Tim Graham charmingly puts it.) We'll see how this develops.

UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes managed to bang out a short piece that's up this morning. Quick summary: Clarke's no counterterrorism bulldog. In fact, he's kind of a loon.

OK then.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAGIOGRAPHY....Via Atrios, the Wall Street Journal has a lengthy article about how the president and his staff responded to events on 9/11. These parts are typical:

With smoke spreading into the cavernous room, [Gen. Richard Myers] ordered the officer in charge, Maj. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, to raise the military's alert status to Defcon III, the highest state of readiness since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

That account is based on interviews with Gen. Winfield and a former White House official. In the months after Sept. 11, President Bush had a different public explanation about who put the military on high alert. The president said publicly at least twice that he gave the order.

....Just after 9 a.m., Mr. Bush took a seat in front of students, most of them from a poor neighborhood. He listened as teacher Sandra K. Daniels pointed to an easel, and the second-graders read aloud lists of words....In a CNBC television interview almost a year later, Mr. Card said that after he alerted Mr. Bush, "I pulled away from the president, and not that many seconds later, the president excused himself from the classroom, and we gathered in the holding room and talked about the situation."

But uncut videotape of the classroom visit obtained from the local cable-TV station director who shot it, and interviews with the teacher and principal, show that Mr. Bush remained in the classroom not for mere seconds, but for at least seven additional minutes.

The proposition that things were chaotic that day, that information was flying back and forth, and that memories differ is something I'm OK with. I really don't expect a Swiss watch kind of operation on a day like that.

What I do mind is the post hoc attempt at hagiography on the part of the Bush administration. I'm just really tired of these guys lying to us about everything. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's something big or something small, it just never ends.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLARKE ON 60 MINUTES....Well, I saw the Richard Clarke interview on 60 Minutes and it seemed fairly devastating. Still, his main criticism was that Bush immediately focused on Iraq instead of al-Qaeda after 9/11, and I have a feeling this may turn out not to resonate all that much with the average guy. After all, the whole controversy over whether Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda or ties to terrorism in general has been hashed to death, and it's not clear if fresh evidence on this score is going to have a big impact.

Still, it's going to have some impact and the attack machine is certain to start a smear campaign fairly quickly, just as it did with Joe Wilson and Paul O'Neill. Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice's deputy, was on 60 Minutes to present the Bush administration side of the story, and he was pretty ineffective, mostly reduced to little more than insisting that Clarke was wrong and Bush was too focused on al-Qaeda. He wisely avoided any implication that Clarke was incompetent or grinding an axe.

Others will do that, of course, but I'm not sure what tack they'll take. Clarke's primary reputation prior to 9/11, after all, was that he was too obsessed with terror, a veritable Chicken Little constantly warning that an attack was imminent. Under other circumstances there might be some mileage there, but not now. In fact, if you read his old speeches he sounds an awful lot like a hardline Bush administration neocon.

Perhaps they'll whisper that he's bitter over being demoted? I guess they might try it, but it will be a mighty quiet whisper. After all, they really don't want to remind people that counterterrorism was a cabinet level position under Clinton and was downgraded by Bush immediately upon taking office.

OK then, how about suggesting that he's just a partisan hack who worked for the Clinton administration? Sure, but he also worked for Reagan, Bush Sr., and then GW Bush. It's going to be hard to hang a partisan hat on him, as this AP report from last year indicates:

Clarke was "a bulldog of a bureaucrat," wrote former national security adviser Anthony Lake in a book two years ago. He said Clarke has "a bluntness toward those at his level that has not earned him universal affection."

....Clarke managed largely to avoid Washington's finger-pointing over failures to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, even though he was the top counterterrorism adviser and he was replaced by the White House in that role less than one month later.

"Dick in both the Clinton and Bush administrations was the voice pushing this forward, calling out about the dangers," said William Wechsler, a former director for transnational threats on the National Security Council.

"There's an easy reason why no one is pointing the finger at him."

Hmmm, maybe something about his cyberterrorism hobbyhorse? That's a possibility, since he spent a lot of time banging that particular drum and often seemed guilty of exaggeration and undue fearmongering especially since he never really turned out to be right about it. What's more, there are plenty of people in the high tech world who got tired of his Chicken Little act and probably have some less than flattering stories to tell. We might hear some of them in the days to come.

Perhaps there are some specific missteps in his career that hurt his credibility? He's been working for the government for 30 years, so there are bound to be some. Expect to hear a lot about sonic booms over Libya, for example.

For now, wait and see.

UPDATE: Billmon has some good background on Clarke here.

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND TERRORISM....The whole Richard Clarke affair has been illuminating, and I think it's fair for Democrats to beat up on George Bush for being inattentive to the threat of terrorism prior to 9/11. The evidence is pretty clear from multiple sources that the bombing of the USS Cole in late 2000 finally got the Clinton team revved up for serious military action against al-Qaeda but that the Bush team showed little interest in their plans. So little, in fact, that not only didn't they do anything, but they actually did less than nothing. John Ashcroft declined to endorse FBI requests for additional counterterrorism spending and even recommended cuts in the counterterrorism budget submitted on (embarrassingly) September 10, 2001.

Like I said, I think this is fair game. Still, let's be fair: very few people were screaming about global terrorism as a top priority in early 2001. The plain fact is that without a casus belli like 9/11 there just wasn't enough public support to make possible substantial military operations against foreign terrorists. That applies as much to Clinton as it does to Bush.

So while paying too little attention to al-Qaeda before 9/11 may be a legitimate grievance against the Bush administration, I think Josh Marshall nails the real issue brought to light by Clarke's testimony here and here: the Bush administration's actions immediately after 9/11. Instead of looking at the evidence and formulating a plan to go after al-Qaeda, their first reaction was to figure out a way to use 9/11 as a way of going after Iraq, even though there was no connection between the two. To them, 9/11 was simply an excuse to haul out all their old Cold War theories, none of which really applied in a post-9/11 world, and try to force fit them into the new reality.

That's what the Bushies really deserve to get beat up for.

And with that, I'm off to watch Clarke on 60 Minutes. It may say Washington Monthly up there at the top, but the Drum residence and the Drum TV set is still in California.

Kevin Drum 10:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DRINKING LICENSE?....Here's a coincidence. A few days ago I read a post somewhere wondering why people object to national ID cards. Aside from vaguely libertarianish worries about Big Government intrusion, what concrete damage could they do?

(UPDATE: Here it is, over at Asymmetrical Information. I didn't even look there because I figured this question would never have come up at a libertarianish site.)

Now, I myself have never entirely understood the Big Brotherish revulsion that many people have for national ID cards, but in America it certainly goes back at least to the New Deal, when people worried that Social Security numbers would become national IDs which, in practice, they have, of course. But really, what's the harm?

Then last night I ran across just such an example. Mark Kleiman, musing about the problem of drunk driving, suggests that instead of revoking a person's driving license, why not revoke their drinking license instead?

How would it work?....California, for the convenience of alcohol sellers, issues to those over 21 drivers' licenses with the bearer's photo in full-face, and issues to those under 21 drivers' licenses with the bearer's photo in profile. Similarly, someone who loses his drinking license for some period of time as a result of an alcohol-related conviction could have his existing driver's license taken away and receive a new license, with some marking showing that it is not also a drinker's license.

There are many advantages to this proposal, as well as a number of problems that Mark enumerates. But there's one that he doesn't: when a driver's license starts becoming overtly more than just a driver's license, where does it end? Once people get the idea that it can be used to regulate more than just driving, why not use the same card to regulate and track sex offenders? Or resident aliens? Or handgun licensing? Or criminal records? It would be mighty handy to have all that stuff in one place, wouldn't it?

Would this happen? Who knows? Does it count as "concrete" harm? I guess it depends on your outlook. I'm not normally much of a fan of slippery slope arguments, but I suspect that if Mark's idea were ever implemented, drinking wouldn't be the last thing that ended up getting regulated by your driver's license. Ditto for a national ID card.

POSTSCRIPT: I have to say that I'm a little more skeptical than Mark that this would work anyway. If junkies can get heroin, surely an alcoholic could pretty easily get liquor even without a license?

UPDATE: Atrios says that a driver's license is already an effective "drinking license" for anyone under 30 anyway, so what the heck. But I think that misses a couple of points.

First is the slippery slope argument I made above. Drinking is one thing, but would we mind if this opened the door to adding lots of other prohibited activities to driver's licenses?

Second, there's nothing prejudicial about being under 30, which is all that a driver's license tells you right now. But do you really want your driver's license, which you have to display in public all the time, to indicate that you've been convicted of drunk driving? Or that you're a paroled sex offender? Or a felon? Or not allowed to carry a handgun? Etc.

Maybe you think that's fine, but I'm not so sanguine about having a public piece of identification that can potentially reveal so much private information about you to strangers.

Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT BUSH SAYS vs. WHAT BUSH DOES....FIRST IN A SERIES....For those few people left who still wonder why some of us think that you can't trust what George Bush says, a good example presents itself today. At issue is Bush's position on the patients' bill of rights, a piece of legislation that allows people to sue HMOs when they screw up, thus holding HMOs as accountable for their mistakes as anyone else. Is Bush for this or against this? Let's take a look:

  • 1995: The Texas legislature passes PBOR legislation. Bush vetoes it.

  • 1997: PBOR comes up again, but Bush declines to support it. "The governor is concerned about opening a Pandora's box of new lawsuits," says Karen Hughes. The Texas legislature passes it anyway by a veto-proof majority. It doesn't really matter at this point, but Bush specifically refuses to sign the right-to-sue portion of the law anyway.

Got it? Bush is against PBOR. It's bad for business. Now let's fast forward.

  • 2000: Bush ads declare, "While Washington was deadlocked, he passed a patients' bill of rights. Under Gov. Bush, Texas enacted some of the most comprehensive patient protection laws in the nation." Bush himself brags, "We are one of the first states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage."

Hey, suddenly Bush loves PBOR, especially the part about suing HMOs! In fact he showed leadership on the issue while he was governor. Now let's fast forward again.

  • 2004: Gregg Bloche writes today that Bush has apparently changed his mind yet again:

    The Texas law he championed is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and this week the administration will ask that the justices strike it down. More broadly, the administration will ask the court to abandon a body of recent precedents that expose the managed-care industry in many states to negligence suits for withholding of coverage and care. Legal accountability for denying coverage, it contends, could prevent the creation of "innovative health plans."

Hmmm, bad for business again. Bush is once again opposed to PBOR.

So what does Bush say about PBOR? Whatever will get him elected, apparently. What does Bush do about PBOR? Opposes it every chance he gets.

Kevin Drum 6:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AL FRANKEN....Russell Shorto's profile of Al Franken in the New York Times magazine today is pretty good. I don't usually have the patience to read pieces this long online, but I made it all the way to the end of this one. Interesting stuff.

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IDEOLOGICAL PURITY....There's a new progressive web magazine out called The Gadflyer. You should put it on your bookmark list.

Amy Sullivan has moved her blog to the Gadflyer site, which is one good reason to head over there daily, and she also had a pretty good column there on Wednesday, which is another reason to check it out. In it, Amy suggests that liberals need to relax a little bit on the ideological purity front, and in order to make sure she gets plenty of hate mail she names names: labor, teachers unions, the black community, and pro-choice groups. Of the latter she says:

Ladies, say it with me: Abortion is not good. (Yes, it's sometimes necessary; yes, we need to protect the rights of women and doctors to use the last resort of abortion when they absolutely need to.) But no one wants to raise abortion rates in this country.

Yet if you listen to the rhetoric of choice groups and if you watch the way that some of them threaten Democratic lawmakers who dare to consider policies that would restrict abortion you might be mistaken in thinking that any drop in the abortion rate is bad thing.

The funny thing is that in one sense I guess I'm actually stronger on the pro-choice front than Amy, since I frankly don't care if the abortion rate goes up or down. In fact, I get a little tired of having to maintain the "necessary evil" pretense in order to demonstrate my moderate bona fides. As far as I'm concerned, early term abortions aren't any more a necessary evil than getting your tonsils removed.

On the other hand, the flap a couple of weeks ago in Utah over Melissa Ann Rowland, the woman charged with murder because she refused a caesarian section that would have saved the life of her twins, demonstrates the kind of thing Amy is talking about. As pro-choice law professor Jonathan Turley says today:

When it comes to reproductive rights, NOW and other groups reject even the most basic limitations leaving reproductive rights so sacrosanct that even the most depraved acts by a mother cannot limit her "right to choose."

Though authorities' decision to charge [Rowland] with first-degree murder (rather than manslaughter) seems excessive, I see no reason why Rowland should not be charged criminally. These twins were not immature fetuses at an early stage of development but were at full term and completely viable outside the womb, yet she knowingly withheld a common, safe surgical procedure while the life drained out of them.

No one would disagree that, if they had been delivered, Rowland could be charged criminally for any physical abuse. However, NOW is insisting that the babies had no rights until delivery, and that a mother can feed them cocaine, refuse pleas to save them and potentially cause the death of two fully developed babies at any time until birth a position that has little legal support and even less basis in morality.

It is almost certainly true that Rowland is mentally disturbed and has been sadly neglected by a system that should have been able to help her. Still, that hardly makes her a poster child for abortion rights.

I don't pay much attention to militant pro-life groups because I think that equating a tiny clump of cells the size of a pinhead to a living, breathing human being demonstrates an appalling disregard for human life. At the same time, though, equating a nearly full-term baby to a tiny clump of cells the size of a pinhead also shows an appalling disregard for human life.

Recognizing this would be the right thing to do for pro-choice groups, it would help their cause among moderates whose support we need, and it would make their complaints about truly objectionable laws more credible. A little bit of compromise, rather than a knee jerk reaction to any issue regarding abortion no matter how outrageous, could go a long way here.

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WARNING SIGNS ON KELLEY....Over at Romenesko they're having fun with Jack Kelley. I especially like this letter from Kathryn Quigley:

Here is the part of the series that struck me the most, the quote in the sidebar that reads: "In at least 10 cases, Kelley wrote that he watched someone die." WHAT? Didn't that raise red flags to anyone? I was a daily reporter for 12 years. I saw my share of dead bodies (from car accidents, etc., covered in sheets) but no one ever died RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. TEN TIMES. If this were true, Kelley would be the Grim Reaper or something.I certainly wouldn't invite him to parties!

....I am adviser to a high school newspaper and these scandals are causing me to keep an eye on ALL my student writers - good and sloppy - instead of just giving the "good" writers a pass and thinking, "No, they could never plagiarize." Because it turns out, maybe they could!

It's true that it's mostly star reporters who get caught up in these high profile scandals, but that actually makes sense, doesn't it? Perhaps that's how some of them became star reporters in the first place? John McCloskey writes something along similar line:

I think it's high time everyone stopped spinning in circles, pointing fingers at the journalists who got caught in ethical lapses. As a regular civilian I've been close enough to a handful of stories to know first hand that reporters, no matter what publication they represent, regularly concoct quotations and conversations, imply that they witnessed events that they could not possibly have witnessed and plain ole make stuff up. I have seen gross errors that went uncorrected in The Times (of course), The NY Post, The Boston Globe and even (heaven forbid) The New Yorker magazine.

....This has been going on since the invention of writing. I would bet every cent I have in the world that if every reporter at every major paper was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that has been focused on Kelley and Blair, a ghastly amount of errors and gross fabrications would be discovered.

I was a journalism major in college, and I have long suspected this is true, sometimes in minor ways and sometimes more seriously. As McCloskey says, the only way to know for sure would be to subject other reporters to the same kind of investigation Kelley and Blair got, and like him I'll bet that if you did this more than one well known reporter would end up without a career when it was over.

(For some reason Romenesko has never put permalinks on his letters, so these may have disappeared into the abyss by the time you click the link. Just keep scrolling if you really want to read the whole thing.)

Kevin Drum 7:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY THE SOCIALISTS WON....PART TWO....Why did the Socialists win the Spanish election last Sunday? Or, to put it more accurately, why did they suddenly come from behind when the PP party was ahead up until the bombings? As near as I can tell, there were four major reasons:

  • Polls show that the Socialists were catching up anyway. They might have won even without the bombings.

  • The bombings simply caused an upsurge in interest in the elections, which in turn caused a higher turnout (63% vs. 55% in 2000). This benefited the Socialists, who usually do better when the turnout is better.

  • The populace was enraged at Aznar for lying about ETA being responsible for the bombings and took it out on him at the polls.

  • Voters thought Spain had been targeted because of its support for the Iraq war and voted for the party that had promised to withdraw Spain's troops.

In addition, of course, the number of people who actually changed their vote was quite small, probably no more than 5% of the electorate.

More than likely, all four of these things had some impact, but when you put them all together and then stir in the approximately 5% who actually changed their vote, what do you get? At most 1-2% of voters switched their votes because they hoped it would appease the terrorists and prevent future attacks. So sure, appeasement might have been a factor in the vote, but if so it was almost certainly a very, very small one.

Of course, this is one of those times that I wish I could read other languages, because the only way to know for sure is to read the local press and get the results of exit polls and later surveys. I haven't seen any in the American press, and since I can't read Spanish I don't know if any such surveys have been done since the election.

Still, I do wonder why American conservatives were so quick to loudly blame the result on cowardly appeasement. Not only is it both very unlikely and enormously insulting, but it's hard to see how it helps their cause. Wouldn't they be better off trying to downplay it?

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DELINQUENT TAXES....You may all remember that several years ago the IRS came under a lot of criticism, some of it justified, for the highhanded way it handled audits and collections. Congress subsequently ordered the IRS to shift its focus from enforcement to taxpayer service, and since then both the number of audits and the rate of collection have dropped dramatically. Here's the result:

Struggling with rising workloads and stagnant staff levels, the Internal Revenue Service walked away from more than 2 million delinquent tax accounts last year, totaling nearly $16.5 billion, according to the Treasury Department.

....The median size of the delinquent accounts was $14,000. The largest account not being pursued involved more than $50 million.

Rules that restrict the behavior of IRS agents are fine. But failing to collect taxes that are known to be delinquent is just dumb. It costs money and it erodes faith in the fairness of the system.

The IRS wants to add 35,000 enforcement officers. At a guess, that would cost around $2 billion and they'd collect maybe half of that $16 billion. That's a $6 billion win for the government.

Sounds like a no brainer. But of course Republicans hate taxes and they hate government programs even more, so George Bush's suggestion is just what you'd expect: outsource it. Never mind that this didn't work the last time we tried it, and never mind that it wouldn't collect that much money anyway. The Bush White House, after all, is famous for not really caring if its policies actually work.

Then again, if they really think outsourcing will do the job better at a lower cost, why not go whole hog? Outsource it to a call center in India. If it works for Dell, why not the IRS?

Kevin Drum 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RED TAPE....What a disappointment. The headline on CNN said "Man stopped at airport with seal's head in luggage," but the story turned out to be disappointing indeed. Just a marine biologist who didn't have the paperwork necessary to carry a seal's head in his luggage.

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March 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"AL QAEDA IS IN AFGHANISTAN"....We've all heard the story about how Donald Rumsfeld and the gang wanted to start bombing Iraq practically before the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, haven't we? It's one of those things that's almost beyond belief, but they actually had to be convinced to go after Afghanistan instead.

Today, via Josh Marshall, we learn that former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has told 60 Minutes how it happened:

"Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq....We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan," recounts Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the September 11 attacks].'"

Attaboy, Donald, look where the light is good, not where you're actually going to find anything.

The 60 Minutes appearance is part of a promotional campaign for Clarke's forthcoming book, Against All Enemies. There sure are a lot of books coming out these days, aren't there?

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JACK KELLEY vs. JAYSON BLAIR....Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter Jack Kelley of USA Today turns out to have fabricated a whole bunch of stories:

"The evidence strongly contradicted Kelley's published accounts that he spent a night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997; met a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001; watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, 'This one is mine,' in 2001; visited a suspected terrorist crossing point on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2002; interviewed the daughter of an Iraqi general in 2003; or went on a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003."

The paper said that "significant parts" of a purported eyewitness account of a suicide bombing, that made him a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize, "are untrue.

....In an effort to cover up his work, the paper reported, "Kelley wrote scripts to help at least three people mislead USA Today reporters trying to verify his work."

I know that everyone and I mean everyone is probably tired of this comparison even before it's made, but, um, Kelley's fabrications are actually a lot worse than Jayson Blair's, right? And they went on for a much longer time, right? And there are a lot more of them, right?

But, er, um, Kelley is white, isn't he?

I really don't think it's unfair to ask Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan when they're planning to start their 24/7 coverage of this affair. Surely, at the very least, they should start baying for editor Karen Jurgensen's resignation, shouldn't they?

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GEORGE BUSH AS A WAR PRESIDENT....Even if you already know something well, reading about it again sometimes has a salutary effect. So it is with Conrad Black's biography of FDR.

Consider President Bush's words today at the White House:

The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation. The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies -- they are offended by our existence as free nations. No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands.

....In this contest of will and purpose, not every nation joins every mission, or participates in the same way. Yet, every nation makes a vital contribution, and America is proud to stand with all of you as we pursue a broad strategy in the war against terror.

Now, that's not bad. Really. When Bush and his speechwriters are in the mood, they can do good work.

The problem is that this speech sounds unconvincing to an awful lot of people, many of my readers among them. They just don't believe him.

Compare this to FDR. The difference isn't just that Roosevelt was a better speaker, it's that FDR used oratory for a purpose: to mold public opinion, slowly and carefully, so that by the time we went to war the American public was solidly behind him, ready to make the kind of sacrifices needed to wage total war. His leadership was genuine: he understood American public opinion, he understood the dangers posed by Hitler and his allies, and he was willing to spend the time it took to make this danger clear.

Bush has done no such thing. In fact, he has been entirely unwilling to try and shape public opinion. Not only has he convinced no one, he actually seems to lose support every time he opens his mouth or announces a new policy. And he really doesn't seem to care.

This is the big difference. FDR understood that public support was the most important part of going to war. You work on that first and foremost or else failure is almost guaranteed.

Bush disdains public opinion and talks only to his base, so he's naturally viewed not as a leader, but as a mere politician. If he has failed to convince the nation and the world of the dangers of terrorism and he has that's why. It's because he failed as a leader. And that's something we really can't afford right now.

Kevin Drum 4:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DOMINO EFFECT...Spain says they will pull their troops out of Iraq unless control is turned over to the UN. Poland says it was "deceived" about the weapons of mass destruction. South Korea is delaying sending troops to Iraq because it's too dangerous.

This really isn't a good trend....

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SQUABBLING CONSERVATIVES....Andrew Sullivan today:

Here's a question worth asking: whatever John Kerry's record, could he afford in office to be weak on terror? Wouldn't he be obliged to continue Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and even, as he has already promised, actually increase troop levels in those countries? I don't think it's out of the question. John McCain knows Kerry and says he doesn't believe he'd be "weak on defense." Sometimes, a Democrat has to be tougher than a Republican in this area - if only to credentialize himself. I can certainly conceive of Richard Holbrooke being a tougher secretary of state than Colin Powell. I'm not yet convinced and want to hear much more from Kerry. But I'm persuadable. Four more years of religious-right social policy and Nixonian fiscal policy is not something I really want to support.

Kathryn Jean Lopez responds: "I do wish Sullivan would save time and come out for Kerry now. In just a matter of time he will come up with the rationalizations, but it's taking him painfully long to get on with it. I'm betting all Kerry will have to do is say that he's against terrorism."

Isn't this fun? Too bad Hitchens isn't gay or he might be following Sullivan's lead.

On the other hand, my guess is that Sullivan will get an absolute shitload of email about this that should keep him on board for a while. But in the end I suspect KJL is right. There's only just so much of this you can take before you finally bail out.

Kevin Drum 3:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BOMBING DECEPTION EVEN WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT?....It's pretty well established by now that Jos Mara Aznar's PP party did its best to mislead the Spanish people about who was responsible for last Thursday's bombing because they thought blaming ETA would help them politically. They have since gotten their reward at the polling booth for this deception.

But it turns out it's even worse. Here's what the Financial Times reports from German authorities:

Its federal criminal bureau said the Spanish authorities intentionally withheld information and misled German officials over the explosives used in the Madrid bombings. The Spanish conservative government had insisted the Goma 2 Eco dynamite for the explosives had been frequently used by Eta, the Basque separatist movement. On Monday, it admitted that was not the case.

They didn't just mislead their own people, they also endangered the investigation itself by misleading other crime agencies. Since the group behind the bombings was spread throughout Europe, cooperation with other police forces was essential to quickly cracking the case. Playing games in a case like this really did have the potential to let the bombers get away.

I'd say Aznar and the PP have gotten exactly what they deserved.

UPDATE: Aznar tries to defend himself here. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan isn't buying it.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY'S FAN CLUB....John Kerry may not want any endorsements from foreign leaders, but he got one today anyway: the newly elected prime minister of Spain, Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero. And my sister pointed me to a Guardian article from a couple of weeks ago making the case that there's yet another prominent leader who may be quietly rooting for a Kerry victory: Tony Blair.

Kevin Drum 1:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WELL, SOMEONE'S FROM MARS, ANYWAY....Here's a little break from nonstop political blogging. You all know Dr. John Gray, don't you? The author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus? Sure you do.

Well, it turns out that Dr. Gray is a bit, um, thin skinned. Gavin Sheridan, who runs a blog that gets about 500 hits a day, wrote a post last November in which he opined that Dr. Gray was a "fraud." Why? Because according to a post on buzz.weblogs, "The relationship guru who constantly promotes himself as 'Dr. John Gray' and lists a 'Ph.D.' has only one accredited degree, a high school diploma. Neither his BA nor his MA is from an accredited institution of higher education."

As with all blog posts, this one soon slipped into the archives never to be seen again. Except by Dr. John Gray, that is, who a few days ago had his lawyer send Gavin an email demanding a correction. "Dr. Gray received his Ph.D. from Columbia Pacific University ("CPU") in 1982. The school then, and continued to be for the next 15 years, a State of California-approved university."

Indeed. Do you see the bait and switch? Gavin's post says none of his degrees are from accredited universities. The lawyer's letter says only that Columbia Pacific was an approved university.

This is a considerable difference, since until 1989 pretty much anyone who felt like it could call themselves a university in the state of California. A few years after this changed, Columbia Pacific was shut down when it was found to be what is colloquially referred to as a diploma mill.

So then, was Columbia Pacific ever accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting body for western universities? And what about the Maharishi European Research University in Switzerland, where Gray got his BA and MA?

Nope. As the producers of Inside Edition verified in a show aired last November, none of these are accredited universities.

So what we have is Gavin Sheridan saying that Gray has no accredited degrees, which appears to be factually true. He believes this makes Gray a fraud, a vigorous opinion to be sure, but one that he seems entitled to hold under the circumstances. So why is Gray, a best-selling author worth millions of dollars, wasting his time trying to bully a little known blogger into "correcting" his post? Good question.

Gavin has two items up about this, here and here. Perhaps there's an attorney out in the crowd who can give him some good advice on how best to handle this. This business of threatening bloggers with specious complaints and hoping they can't fight back is getting a little old. As the warbloggers like to say, appeasement is just an invitation for more.

Kevin Drum 10:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT....Here's an open thread to register any complaints about the appearance or operation of the new blog. I expect there are some glitches here and there that we'll have to work out over the next few days.

Warning: I can't promise we'll deliver everything you ask for. But I do want to hear about any problems you're having with font size, loading time, browser incompatibilty etc. etc. We'll do our best to address as much of it as we can.

UPDATE: Here are a few responses to the comments so far:

  • As you can imagine, the requests for wider margins, less cramped layout, and ability to fit on an 800x600 screen are mutually exclusive. I made a bit of a nuisance of myself by insisting on a wide text column because I need it when I post graphics, and the rest of the team wanted to try and keep the site readable on lower resolution screens. In the end we compromised: I got a slightly smaller text column than I had at Calpundit, while the entire site ended up a little wider than 800 pixels.

    I agree that a wider margin on the left is probably a good idea, but overall this is just a tough problem to solve.

  • Opinions about logos, colors, etc. vary widely, of course. Those aren't likely to change.

  • The blogroll is at the bottom in a dropdown box. Ditto for the search box. I prefer a standard blogroll over on the left myself, but this was another compromise based on lack of space.

  • There's no "Next" and "Previous" links on archive posts, but do people really use those much anyway? To get back to the main page, just click on the logo at the top.

  • In general, opinion about opening links in a new window vs. opening them in the same window seems to favor opening them in the same window, so we'll probably keep them the way they are. (And for anyone who doesn't know this, you can force a link to open in a new window by holding down the Shift key when you click the link.)

  • On my PC the font size actually seems like it's larger than the font I used on Calpundit. If the font seems small to you, can you please let us know what browser and platform you're using?

  • The comments are all separated by a dashed line above and below each post, so it should be clear which text goes with which comment. Posts on the main page are separated by a solid line. Do the lines not show up on some PCs?

  • My email address is hyperlinked to the byline below each post.

  • In general, if you have a serious problem with fonts, posts running together, giant purple lines, or other major defects, send me a screen shot along with the browser/platform info if you can. That's usually pretty helpful.

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRONY....Spencer Ackerman has the winner of today's Bush Administration Irony Sweepstakes, courtesy of Paul Bremer. Where do these guys come up with this stuff?

UPDATE: Tim Dunlop has a close second place contender. It's at the bottom of this post.

Kevin Drum 6:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLOSING IN ON OSAMA....From Associated Press:

Pakistani officials said Thursday they believe al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri is surrounded near the Afghan border.

No other details were available.

I don't have any further details either. But that's him next to Osama bin Laden in a "recently released video." Perhaps we're close to the al-Qaeda No. 1 as well?

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LATE NIGHT BLOGGING?....Just a quick note on something that may look a little odd here at the new site: no, I'm not chugging caffeine and staying up until 3 am to write the blog. It's just that since it's the Washington Monthly the time zone within Movable Type is set to Eastern time. What's more, MT seems to have some kind of glitch and thinks that EST extends about a thousand miles into the Atlantic, thus adding an extra hour to the timestamps.

In reality, all those early morning posts were written last night at around 10 pm here in California. Just thought you'd all like to know.

Kevin Drum 2:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHENEY ON TERRORISM....Dick Cheney, the guy whose grasp of intelligence findings is so weak that George Tenet last week promised to have a little talk with him, explains the "new" strategy put in place by the Bush administration to fight and win a global campaign against the terror network:

Our strategy has several key elements. We have strengthened our defenses here at home, organizing the government to protect the homeland. But a good defense is not enough. The terrorist enemy holds no territory, defends no population, is unconstrained by rules of warfare, and respects no law of morality. Such an enemy cannot be deterred, contained, appeased or negotiated with. It can only be destroyed--and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the business at hand.

We are dismantling the financial networks that have funded terror; we are going after the terrorists themselves wherever they plot and plan. Of those known to be directly involved in organizing the attacks of 9/11, most are now in custody or confirmed dead. The leadership of al Qaeda has sustained heavy losses, and they will sustain more.

America is also working closely with intelligence services all over the globe. The best intelligence is necessary--not just to win the war on terror, but also to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So we have enhanced our intelligence capabilities, in order to trace dangerous weapons activity. We have organized a proliferation security initiative, to interdict lethal materials and technologies in transit. We are aggressively pursuing another dangerous source of proliferation: black-market operatives who sell equipment and expertise related to weapons of mass destruction.

....And we are applying the Bush doctrine: Any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and will be held to account.

I don't get it. What's new here? Everyone agrees that we should strengthen homeland defense, dismantle terrorist funding, capture or kill the 9/11 terrorists and the leaders of al-Qaeda, work with intelligence services around the world, and fight weapons proliferation. None of that is either new or controversial.

And the idea that the current administration is applying the "Bush doctrine" is palpably untrue. Aside from toppling the Taliban, an action supported by enormous majorities worldwide, we haven't gone after a single country that "supports, protects, or harbors" terrorists. Iraq had probably the most tenuous ties to terrorism of any state in the Middle East, while Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria have remained untouched. There may be very good reasons for this, mind you, but the Bush doctrine is nonetheless little more than hot air.

I'll ask again: exactly what has Bush done to fight actual terrorists that anyone else wouldn't have done? And what is it that John Kerry would do that might plausibly be construed as weakening our commitment to fighting terrorism?

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE FOREIGN VOTE....Do foreign leaders really want John Kerry to win the election? Of course they do. Take a look at this comment from foreign-policy expert Ivo Daalder:

Does being closely associated with the Bush administration mean you can lose an election?

This is the third election of a major ally in which the party running against George Bush won. Look at Germany in '02, South Korea in '03, and now Spain. The message is: If you want to get re-elected, don't go to Crawford. Bush is a political liability -- in Europe, in particular. His foreign policy has trampled on the European views and it's now resulting in the election of governments that do not support his approach.

It barely even matters if they like the guy or if they like his policies. What matters is that foreign leaders know that as long as Bush is president they're in an impossible position: support him and lose reelection (Spain 2004) or oppose him and earn the wrath of the United States (Germany 2002). If Kerry gets elected they can breathe a sign of relief and go back to supporting the United States and winning reelection.

Of course they want Kerry to win.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPANISH APPEASERS?....Speaking of Warmongers vs. Appeasers, Tom Friedman's latest column is simply revolting:

The new Spanish government's decision to respond to the attack by Al Qaeda by going ahead with plans to pull its troops from Iraq constitutes the most dangerous moment we've faced since 9/11. It's what happens when the Axis of Evil intersects with the Axis of Appeasement and the Axis of Incompetence.

....I understand that many Spanish voters felt lied to by their rightist government over who was responsible for the Madrid bombings, and therefore voted it out of office. But they should now follow that up by vowing to keep their troops in Iraq to make clear that in cleaning up their own democracy, they do not want to subvert the Iraqis' attempt to build one of their own. Otherwise, the Spanish vote will not be remembered as an act of cleansing, but of appeasement.

So even though the Spanish voters elected the Socialists for perfectly good reasons completely unrelated to appeasement, and even though the Socialists were planning to withdraw from Iraq all along, and even though the Spanish populace never believed the war in Iraq had anything to do with fighting terrorism in the first place, and even though Friedman acknowledges that the Bush administration has shown demonstrable incompetence and a transparent lack of dedication to really building democracy in Iraq despite all that the Spaniards should change their minds and do what Tom Friedman wanted them to do all along simply because al-Qaeda committed a horrible terrorist act on their soil. If they don't follow Tom Friedman's advice, they are appeasers.

This is both preceded and followed by a steaming mound of wishful thinking unmatched since LBJ saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

This kind of stuff belongs on the pages of a third tier warblogger, not the op-ed page of the New York Times. It's juvenile and disgusting.

Kevin Drum 3:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY vs. BUSH....After spending a day catching up with everything, I now realize that the Spanish elections were just another round of Warmongers vs. Appeasers, the blogosphere favorite that reached a fever pitch before the Iraq war. As I understand things, the blogospheric right instantly declared the results a victory for cowardice and appeasement and we were off to the races. The tedious details are probably pretty familiar to everyone, so I'll skip them.

But reading all the posts about Spain has caused something to bubble back into my brain that I can't quite put my finger on. I sort of can, but not completely, if you know what I mean. Let's see if I can make any sense of this.

  • Is Bush tough on terrorism? Regular readers all know that I don't really buy this. I don't doubt that he thinks he's tough on terrorism, and he certainly sounds tough on terrorism, but in reality it's not clear to me that he's done anything that anyone else wouldn't have done. What's more, there are plenty of things he should have done that he hasn't. Matt Yglesias summarizes this argument pretty well here.

  • Of course, there's that whole Iraq war thing, isn't there? That's certainly something that probably wouldn't have happened if a Democrat had been in office.

  • And there's also the whole law enforcement argument. John Kerry says that fighting terrorism is primarily a matter of law enforcement and intelligence, something that seems little more than a simple statement of fact. Nonetheless, it infuriates conservatives who believe that this is the crucial distinction between people who are serious about terrorism and those who aren't. Serious people believe that we are in a war that requires a military response.

  • But what kind of military response? Other than Iraq, that is. Even aside from the fact that our military is too overstretched to mount a major campaign at the moment, I don't really hear a serious drumbeat for an invasion of, say, Iran or North Korea, let alone Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, from either Kerry or Bush.

  • On the other hand, at least Kerry is in favor of increasing the size of the Army. Bush isn't even in favor of that.

  • Then there's rhetoric. Sure, substance is more important, but what you say is important too and there's no question that Bush talks very, very tough on terrorism. John Kerry, I think, is probably every bit as anti-terror as Bush, but like most Democrats he seems too afraid of sounding jingoistic to really make a full-throated "terrorists are bastards and we will never surrender to them" speech. Why is that?

I'm not sure what's really on my mind here. I guess I'm trying to puzzle out what the real differences are between Bush and Kerry aside from tone and emphasis and all the small details that loom large in elections but aren't really that important in the long run. And the more I think about it the less sure I am that I know. I'm hoping that putting my thoughts into words will eventually help me figure out what's bothering me.

There's got to be more to it than just whether we should have attacked Iraq. Right?

Kevin Drum 2:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CORRUPTION....Let's see. We're now investigating (a) the outing of Valerie Plame by senior Republican officials in the White House, (b) a possible bribery offer by the House Republican leadership to congressman Nick Smith, (c) the pilfering of memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee by a Republican staffer, (d) possible illegal use of funds by the Republican majority leader's PAC, and now (e) the deliberate withholding of information about the cost of the administration's Medicare bill by a senior Republican HHS appointee.

Did I miss anything? I know it's common for parties that take power to eventually become corrupt and get thrown out, but doesn't it usually take longer than three years?

Kevin Drum 1:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

RSS FEED....I've gotten several emails asking if Political Animal has an RSS feed. Indeed it does:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/index.rdf

You can also find it at the very bottom of the page, just below the archives, the blogroll, and the search box.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MALPRACTICE AWARD....Hey, it's only my first day here and I already have an opportunity to shill for my new employers! The American Society of Magazine Editors has announced the nominees for the 39th annual National Magazine Awards and one of them is Stephanie Mencimer for her terrific article in the October issue of the Washington Monthly, "Malpractice Makes Perfect." Here's an excerpt that tells the story of Dr. Fred Payne:

Payne had been sued a dozen times over the past decade, and had paid out settlements of at least $7.3 million, according to the Charleston Gazette. In 1998, Payne operated to repair a minor spine injury on a spry 76-year-old World War II veteran who had fallen out of a tree. On his way to the operating room, he ran into a medical-equipment salesman who encouraged him to try out a new type of clamp. The patient hadn't consented to the procedure, nor had Payne ever even seen the tool used or studied its use; but he tried it out anyway. After Payne left the hospital, a nurse paged him to let him know that the patient wasn't doing well in recovery. An examination found that the clamp had slipped into the spinal canal and paralyzed the man from the neck down--a hideously worse injury than he had initially sustained. He died a year later. A lawsuit over the case, which charged that the man didn't even need surgery in the first place, was settled for $4.6 million.

The Ohio Valley Medical Center agreed to pay $3.5 million of the settlement, but insisted that Payne was responsible for the rest. But Payne's minimal insurance didn't cover the balance, so the judge on the case, Fred Risovich II, insisted that he use his personal assets to pay his share of the settlement, a rare move in a malpractice case. "The negligence was so gross, and the injury so bad that justice required that he pay something," says Risovich. Payne has not practiced medicine since.

Doctors in Wheeling had not been particularly politically active before this, but they were outraged by the case--not by Payne's behavior, but by Risovich's.

Yes, you read it right. They were upset not at Payne, but at Risovich. Unfortunately, this is par for the course. As the article goes on to say, "Despite evidence of insurance company shenanigans, though, doctors put the blame for their insurance woes on trial lawyers, malpractice suits, and juries." In truth, frivolous lawsuits and runaway juries are only tiny contributors to the genuinely troubling issue of rising malpractice premiums. The real problems lie elsewhere.

"Malpractice Makes Perfect" was a great article last October and it's still a great article. Read the whole thing if you want to understand that there's more to the malpractice "crisis" than urban legends about frivolous lawsuits and greedy lawyers. A lot more.

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NOW, ABOUT THOSE WMDs....At the White House yesterday:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Candidate Kerry has suggested he has support of world leaders. Do you think he should -- that should be a factor in the campaign? Was that an appropriate thing for him to say?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think it's -- if you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.

Next up: President Bush advises John Kerry on the proper pronunciation of "nuclear."

The Dutch prime minister, who was sitting next to Bush, wisely declined comment.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEMOGATE UPDATE....The Senate's sergeant at arms, Bill Pickle, has decided to refer his report about memo pilfering to the Justice Department for a possible criminal prosecution. The ringleader of the pilfering, Manuel Miranda, has insisted all along that he didn't do anything illegal, but Pickle's report suggests that he might be guilty of making false statements to investigators.

Isn't that the charge that Martha Stewart is about to do hard time for? I hope Miranda has a better lawyer than she did.....

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAS IRAN READY TO DEAL?....Via Dan Drezner, the Financial Times reports that Iran wanted to open talks with us nearly a year ago but nobody in the Bush administration wanted to follow up:

What has become known in diplomatic circles as Iran's "grand bargain" was first communicated to the US State Department through the "Swiss channel" on May 4 last year.

....Under the plan, Iran would address US concerns over nuclear weapons and terrorism, co-ordinate policy on Iraq and consider a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In return, Iran expected a lifting of sanctions, recognition of its security interests, dropping of "regime change" from the official US lexicon and eventual re-establishment of relations. "There was a lot of detail to be worked out," said one American familiar with the proposal. "They proposed concrete steps on how to work on this. The substance of the agenda was pretty reasonable."

However, Washington has given no formal response to the offer. Instead, the Swiss foreign ministry received a rebuke from the US for "overstepping" its mandate.

This is inexplicable, at least from any sane point of view. Why wouldn't you talk? The talks might not work out, of course, but there's no harm in trying.

Unless, of course, you don't really want a deal. In Iraq, Hans Blix says "he couldn't escape the feeling that the inspectors' work was meant to merely fill time until the U.S. military was ready." In North Korea, several people I've talked to recently say that it's almost a certainty that the Koreans are willing to make a reasonable deal if we're willing on our side. And now it turns out that the Iranians might very well have been willing to deal too.

Negotiation doesn't mean appeasement. It means negotiation. It's only appeasement if you give up something you shouldn't and don't get anything in return. What part of this doesn't the Bush administration understand?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK....The irrepressible Henry Waxman has a new website available for your perusal: Iraq on the Record, a compilation of public statements from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice about the war in Iraq. According to an email:

The report and database identify 237 lies specific misleading statements made by these officials in 125 separate public appearances.

You can search the database by person and type of statement. I tried "Cheney" and "Urgent Threat," for example, and up popped this from August 26, 2002: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."

If you prefer to see all the lies specific misleading statements in one place, they're collected in the accompanying report, complete with handy charts about the frequency of lies per month (September 2002 was the high point) and the most popular subjects for lying (chemical and biological weapons).

Every once in a while, of course, they get caught lying red handed. This is a few days old, but in case you didn't see Donald Rumsfeld's latest brush with the truth, Iraq'd has the play-by-play.

UPDATE: Video of the Rumsfeld interview is here.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WELCOME....Welcome to Political Animal, the new weblog of the Washington Monthly. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Kevin Drum and until yesterday I wrote a blog called Calpundit. Starting today I'll be writing this blog.

Why is the Washington Monthly hosting a blog? And why am I writing it? I'll answer those and other questions later, but for now I just want to welcome everyone to the new digs. Make yourself at home.

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE TIMES BACKS OFF....I'm a little late on this, but I blogged on Saturday about Robert Cox's New York Times parody and the heavyhanded response from the Times, which ordered him to take it down and threatened to have his entire site shut down via a DMCA complaint. Yesterday the Times withdrew its objection and sent Cox the following email:

Thank you for responding to our complaint. By adding the bold-faced disclaimer at the top of the faux Columnist Corrections Page, you are no longer confusing readers and as a result of this change, we agree that the page is now a parody which is protected under the First Amendment. We are copying Verio on this e-mail in order to inform them that we no longer have any objections to your site.

Good for them. It's the right thing to do on a whole bunch of different levels.

What's also interesting is that I got an email from their new Public Editor (or, rather, from "The Office of the Public Editor") telling me about their change of heart. Presumably they sent this email to anyone who blogged about this, which means they were eager to get the word out that they had backed off. That's also the right thing to do, once again on a whole bunch of different levels.

Kevin Drum 8:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHY THE SOCIALISTS WON....I haven't been following the news or reading blogs much for the past couple of days, and I now realize that my Spain post on Sunday night attracted so much attention because I was wading into one of those issues that had already become a blogosphere free-for-all.

Since I still haven't caught up with the minutiae of the appeasement charges and the warmonger countercharges, I guess I should just keep quiet. But I don't feel like it. Into the breach!

Randy Paul at Beautiful Horizons has an email today from a Spanish friend that fairly convincingly makes the case that the vote turned against Aznar and the PP not because of any sense of appeasement decidedly not, in fact but because it had become so transparently clear that Aznar was playing an unusually cynical game of politics with the bombings:

The PP knew that their antiterrorist policy (against ETA) was one of its main winning cards, and they didn't hesitate to blatantly manipulate the 11-M attack, suppressing information, calling people to demonstrate against ETA, knowing all the while that the Antiterrorist Information Brigade had as good as discarded ETA authorship a few hours after the attack. The antiterrorist police heads even threatened to resign at the madness of it all, and this was leaked to the opposition and the press.

And all the while the state TVE showing documentaries about ETA activities right until late Saturday night, on the eve of the election, and failing to report live on Minister Acebes informing about the Al-Q line of investigation which he had been forced to acknowledge forced by his own angered police heads and by the media which had all the information but was withholding it just long enough for the Minister to do the decent thing. This heartless manipulation of the dead for political gain clinched it....

Yesterday I wrote that I thought this explanation probably accounted for most of the change in sentiment among the Spanish electorate. Today I'm getting steadily more willing to discard the "probably" and the "most" from that sentence.

As Randy's correspondent puts it, "we will only put up with so much lying and manipulation." This is a salutary lesson for certain other world leaders, I think: if (if!)the Spanish vote really did represent any kind of victory for al-Qaeda, the fault lies with those leaders who lost the trust of their electorate through sustained and cynical deceit. It is a warning they should not ignore.

Kevin Drum 6:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISCELLANEOUS NOTES....My internet access is still inconvenient enough that I don't feel like blogging very much, but here are a few quick comments:

  • That post last night about Spain sure attracted a lot of attention, didn't it? Who knew? Without going into a boatload of detail on this, here are a couple of suggestions: (a) don't read more into the post than is really there, and (b) keep in mind that lots of people connect support for the Iraq war with support for strong anti-terrorist policies. Some people do this for good reasons and some do it for bad reasons, but a lot of people do it. This presents a political reality that's independent of whether this connection is actually true.

  • A lot of people have emailed me a link to this story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review about George Bush's National Buard record. It describes something called the Human Reliability Program, a military program that screened military personnel before they were allowed access to nuclear weapons and delivery systems. National Guard pilots were covered by HRP rules, but there are no HRP documents in Bush's record. Why?

    At first glance, I'm not sure this tells us anything new. We don't know for sure that Bush was covered by HRP rules, and in any case it's just one more among many documents that seem to be missing from his file. I'll read the Spokesman-Review article more closely when I get home, but my tentative opinion is that while it adds yet another reason to be suspicious of Bush's record, more definitive documentation is needed for this to be very meaningful.

  • Wolf Blitzer asked Donald Rumsfeld last night if we should have given the UN inspectors more time. Rumsfeld answered, "Well, the U.N. inspectors were not in there. The U.N. inspectors were out."

    Huh? Can't these guys even be bothered to make up decent lies anymore? They were only out because we told them to leave so that we could start the war.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE SPANISH ELECTIONS....Just time for a quick note on the Spanish elections. Although Jose Maria Aznar's PP party was ahead until recently, it looks like the Socialists have come from behind to win. Why?

  1. If it was simply a show of displeasure with Aznar's support of the Iraq war, it doesn't mean much except that the voters threw him out because they didn't like his policies. Not a big deal, really. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem likely since PP was ahead until just a few days ago and the Socialists only surged ahead after Thursday's bombings.

  2. Evidence has also been piling up that it really was al-Qaeda behind the bombings, not ETA. So another possibility is that the voters (or at least some of them) were upset that Aznar's support for the Iraq war was responsible for al-Qaeda targeting Spain, which seems to be the theme of this Washington Post story. This would be a considerable victory for al-Qaeda and would reflect very poorly indeed on the Spanish electorate. It also doesn't smell right to me.

  3. The third possibility is that the electorate was upset with Aznar because they thought he was playing politics with the bombings by insisting ETA was responsible even as the evidence mounted that al-Qaeda was behind it. If it turns out that Aznar was indeed doing this, then he simply got what he deserved.

For now, my suspicion is that there's a little bit of #2 and a lot of #3. I don't have any special evidence for this, but it's my gut feeling at the moment.

UPDATE: In comments, lots of people are asking why I think #2 would be a victory for al-Qaeda. Sorry, I thought that was obvious.

The goal of terrorism is to affect public opinion and to scare people into not opposing the terrorists' aims. If (if!) the Spanish electorate was punishing Aznar solely because they perceived his actions as being anti-terrorist enough to provoke an al-Qaeda attack, the terrorists have accomplished their goal: the Spanish public has shown that if they are attacked they will vote against a politician who strongly opposed the terrorists.

Remember, this is all about perceptions and it's all hypothetical. But if (if!) it's true it gives al-Qaeda reason to think that they can affect elections simply by committing a terrorist attack. Sounds like a victory to me.

Kevin Drum 8:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MADRID BOMBING UPDATE....Is the Spanish government deliberately covering up Islamic involvement in Thursday's bombings because they think it would hurt them at the polls? Apparently suspicion is growing. Maria Farrell has the story.

UPDATE: More from CNN.

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March 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

OUT OF TOWN....I'm going out of town today to visit friends in Northern California, so I'll be posting infrequently for the next few days or possibly not at all, depending on the state of their broadband connection. If the technology gods smile on us, we'll make the long awaited transition of Calpundit to the Washington Monthly site when I get back.

See you then.

Kevin Drum 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SOCIAL SECURITY NON-CRISIS....At my soon-to-be new home, Phillip Longman argues this month that Social Security is in big trouble due to the aging of America. It's a familiar argument, and one that provokes a lot of peculiar thinking among otherwise rational people. Over on the political right, for example, Larry Lindsey suggests a "free lunch" approach that assumes that big returns on stock market investments can fix things up. On the left, Robert Gordon says that if we assume higher economic growth the problem magically disappears.

Of course, lots of problems go away if you simply make convenient growth assumptions, a favorite tactic of forecasters everywhere. On other fronts, private accounts are all the rage, or perhaps swinging cuts in benefits. After all, we all know that Social Security is going bankrupt soon, right? Gotta do something fast.

This is a tiresome refrain. The numbers are actually pretty straightforward and the facts are simple: Social Security is not in crisis, and fixing it isn't really that hard or that painful.

The chart on the right, adapted from this report from the Social Security trustees, shows plainly what's happening. Right now Social Security is in fine shape. In 2010 costs begin to rise sharply due to the baby boomers retiring. In 2018 the system begins running deficits. The sharp rise in costs ends around 2035, followed by very modest increases for the next 50 years.

The chart shows income and outgo as a percentage of national income, and as you can see, the shortfall is just under five percentage points in 2050. So starting in 2018 we need to phase in a combination of revenue increases and cost decreases that add up to about five percentage points. This document from the Social Security Advisory Board shows how to do it:

  1. Today, the payroll tax applies only to earnings up to $87,000. If you phase in a removal of this cap beginning in 2018 and make the payroll tax into a flat tax, revenues increase by 2.13 percentage points.

  2. Under current law, you can retire at age 62, 65, or 67 (the longer you wait, the higher your benefits). If you phase in a change to 65, 67, and 70, costs are reduced by .59 percentage points.

  3. Means testing, which reduces retirement benefits for high earners, reduces costs by 1.65 percentage points.

These three reforms pretty much fix the problem. "Pretty much" because there's too much uncertainty in long-term financial estimates to allow us to solve this problem with perfect precision 50 years in the future. Economic growth might be slightly higher or lower than we think, demographic changes might not match our predictions, and technological changes could make the whole thing moot. Social Security is an issue that needs to be revisited every 20 or 30 years, not one that can be solved permanently.

Note that my point here is not to suggest that these three reforms are the only way to go. You may have a different basket of changes you prefer check out the table on page 25 of the SSAB document if you want to put together your own plan. Nor is it to fire up the endless debate about the Social Security trust fund and whether it's "real" or not. All I'm demonstrating here is that even if you assume the trust fund is meaningless, Social Security can still be fixed with relatively minor and fairly painless adjustments.

Bottom line: Social Security is not going to crumble away before our children retire. It is not only possible to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century, it's not even that hard. If legislators were willing to get together like adults and simply address the problem, it could be solved quickly and easily. The numbers don't lie.

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE THIN-SKINNED TIMES....In case you haven't been following this, a guy named Robert Cox produced a parody version of a New York Times correction page a few days ago and was promptly served with legal notice from the Times to take it down because of copyright violation. Parody is a well known fair use exception to the copyright rules, but whether Cox exceeded fair use or not is something I can't judge.

(Cox took the parody down after the Times asked him to, but some other bloggers have picked it up in the meantime. You can see it here.)

The Times also made a DMCA complaint to Cox's ISP asking them to take his site down, which he received a copy of yesterday. Now, their first action was moronic enough, providing vast amounts of publicity to a site that otherwise wouldn't have gotten much, but this action is almost beyond belief. The complaint includes a bunch of screen captures of Cox's site, and as near as I can tell there's nothing there that even remotely infringes on the Times' copyright.

This goes beyond mere bullying and descends into paranoid and hypocritical lunacy. The Times certainly has the right to protect its copyright, but at the same time you'd think the publisher of the Pentagon Papers would show a little more respect for free speech and a little more tolerance for criticism.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

UPDATE: I also see that on Thursday Cox contacted his ISP, who told him that "under the terms of the DMCA their hands are tied. They were willing to give me a one-day extension but until The New York Times withdrew their complaint to Verio my site would be shut down for 10-14 days pending a review of my counter-claim."

I never liked DMCA much in the first place, but is this really true? All you have to do is make a complaint and a website is shut down for 10-14 days?

Especially in cases of free speech, shouldn't the burden be on the plaintiff to prove infringement? Does DMCA really allow a corporation to shut down a website merely on their say so, without so much as an injunction or a public hearing?

UPDATE: The Times has backed off. Details here.

Kevin Drum 8:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CORLEONE FAMILY UPDATE....Remember the Medicare actuary who was ordered to shut up about his cost estimate for the administration's Medicare bill? Knight Ridder finally managed to talk to him directly today and he confirmed the whole story:

Richard Foster, the chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Friday night that he received a handwritten note from [Thomas] Scully, then the centers' administrator, in early June ordering him to ignore information requests from members of Congress who were drafting the drug bill.

....The note was Scully's first threat in writing, Foster said, and came after at least three less formal threats. They "came in different forms," he said. "Sometimes he would make a comment that 'I think I need another chief actuary,' or 'If you want to work for the Ways and Means Committee (which was drafting the bill) I can arrange it.' It was that sort of thing."

Bill Frist's spokesman said, "If an individual's job was threatened and if they were trying to shield information from Congress, that could be an issue of concern."

Ah, yes, an "issue of concern." I suppose it would be at that, wouldn't it?

UPDATE: In comments, dbc points to this AP story that ran last year while all this was happening. Apparently the higher cost estimate wasn't the only reason Scully didn't want Foster's analysis released. It was the reason for the higher estimate:

An earlier analysis [by Foster] suggested that a Republican plan to inject market forces into Medicare could increase premiums for those who stay in traditional programs by as much as 25 percent. If that's still the case, it could help Democrats who argue that the GOP plan is risky for those who want to stay in traditional Medicare, where they can pick any doctor, rather than move to a managed care plan.

...."The administration is resisting the release of it because it's not good news for the Republican House plan," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

No, not good news at all. But we wouldn't want to let the facts get in the way of ideology, would we?

Kevin Drum 8:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ETA OR AL-QAEDA?....The Spanish Interior Minister thinks the evidence is mounting that ETA was reponsible for Thursday's bombing, not al-Qaeda:

[Angel] Acebes said the bombs consisted of satchels filled with 20 to 30 pounds of dynamite, set off by a cell phone. He said the dynamite chemically matched 1,100 pounds of explosives seized in February from an ETA van heading toward Madrid, and that the satchel and cell phone setup matched that found on two ETA members when they were arrested at a northern Madrid commuter rail station on Christmas Eve.

....Asa Hutchinson, the [U.S.] Homeland Security Department's undersecretary of borders and transportation, said American intelligence agencies had detected no spike in "chatter" among al-Qaida-related groups before the attacks. Other U.S. officials stressed that the group that claimed responsibility for the bombings, the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades, is thought to exist in name only and has made implausible claims of responsibility before.

....Interior Minister Acebes was adamant that the evidence pointed to ETA. He noted that ETA has a history of creating havoc in the days before a national election.

He also said the explosives used - Goma II Eco - were made in Spain and that ETA had used the same brand in previous attacks.

But the same article also summarizes the evidence favoring al-Qaeda involvement:

A caller claiming to represent ETA denied that the group had been involved in the attack. Journalists here said ETA never had rejected responsibility for an attack before.

....Many Spaniards, particularly those who support the Socialist Party in Sunday's elections, suggested that Aznar's government might not be willing to disclose an al-Qaida link until after the vote, for fear of hurting the chances of Aznar's Populist Party holding on to power.

"Listen, ETA has never done a bombing like this without calling and warning the government beforehand," said Olga Gonzalez, a 32-year-old secretary. "Ninety percent of Spaniards were against the war in Iraq. If al-Qaida is involved and not ETA, this changes everything for the elections. It will only help to elect the Socialist Party."

In other words, we still don't know.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more here, including a statement from a Spanish antiterrorism official that Goma II has been linked to ETA "only rarely" since the 1980s.

Kevin Drum 8:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OCTOBER SURPRISE?....This is pretty remarkable. Channel 4 in Pittsburgh is running an AP dispatch suggesting that Tom Ridge "didn't answer the question directly" when asked if Osama bin Laden was already hemmed in and ready to be captured, and next to it they're running one of those ever popular reader poll.

Now, I'm assuming this poll hasn't been deliberately targeted by a blog or talk show host trying to sandbag the results, but instead is an honest reflection of the opinion of Channel 4's viewers. And 56% of them think that either Osama has already been captured or that the Bush administration will deliberately time his capture for close to the election.

This is ridiculous. I can't stand the guy, but even I don't think that. Let's get a grip folks.

I mean, they'll obviously do this right before the Republican convention, right? Great visuals, gives them something newsworthy to talk about, reminds everyone of 9/11 without seeming crass about it. It's perfect.

But right before the election? Nah. That's wingnut territory.

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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QUORN....The latest target of the food police is apparently something called Quorn: "good enough to eat, won't taste of anything, very bland." Yum!

I don't actually have any comment about this, but I found today's LA Times article about the great Quorn battle pretty entertaining. Personally, though, I think I'll remain faithful to food that sticks to your arteries.

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW PENTAGON PAPERS?....I guess I might as well get this out of the way. I've gotten a deluge of email pointing me to this piece in Salon and asking why I haven't commented on it.

In a nutshell, the article is about the neocons who ran the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and how they hijacked the intelligence process before the Iraq war. It's mostly stuff we've all heard before, but what makes it noteworthy is that it was written by someone who is presumably a disinterested military professional: an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was on the inside and actually saw all this stuff as it was unfolding.

Unfortunately, that's also one of the reasons I didn't link to it: the lieutenant colonel in question is Karen Kwiatkowski, a hardcore libertarian opponent of the Bush administration who has since retired and taken to writing endless screeds about the neocons for LewRockwell.com and Pat Buchanan's magazine, among others. (In fact, the Salon piece is a light rewrite of her American Conservative article from earlier this year.) Needless to say, none of this makes her wrong. But it does at least give you pause for thought.

The other reason I didn't link to it is that despite Kwiatkowski's insider status, the article contains almost no firsthand reporting at all. If you read it carefully it turns out that about 99% of it is stuff that I could have written myself. There are one or two direct quotes ("don't say anything positive about Palestinians," "Anthony Zinni is a traitor") and a few suspicions and rumors, but that's about it. The rest mostly revolves around her disdain for the neocons on both a personal and policy level and her conviction that they were wrong about going to war.

As it happens, I agree with many of her views on this. Still, the question is whether her story deserves special attention because of her insider status, and after reading the article and failing to see much evidence of actual insider reporting I had my doubts. You can, of course, judge for yourself. Just click on the link.

Kevin Drum 3:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSHWORLD....Dick Meyer is the editorial director of CBSNews.com. He's not too impressed with "Bushworld":

All presidents, all administrations, all politicians, all columnists and, indeed, all people selectively pick and chose facts and figures to win arguments.

What's different is that the Bush administration stands accused of politicizing and bullying processes of the government that are designed to be above the fray of partisanship and ideology, such as intelligence gathering and science policy-making. Put bluntly: they don't much care about facts, science and truth.

This will not come as a surprise to Calpundit readers, especially those who also follow Chris Mooney's blog, but no they don't.

Kevin Drum 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROBLEMS IN THE RANKS....Via Altercation, it looks like Dennis Hastert is none too pleased with the White House these days. First there was that little Kabuki dance over the 9/11 commission where they hung him out to dry, and now there's a bit of a tiff over the highway bill:

Q You met with the administration yesterday. Did they say they would support the target number [for highway funding]?

Speaker Hastert. We need to go forward, we need to go to conference with the Senate, and then if they want to be involved in that conference, they certainly will be able to be involved in it.

Q But did they say they would sign?

Speaker Hastert. They didn't make a commitment.

Q Did they say they would veto it?

Speaker Hastert. They didn't say they would veto it.

Q Is that with the President or with the people?

Speaker Hastert. That is with the President. I don't deal with his people anymore.

.....

Q Sir, what did you mean by that last comment: That was with the President; I don't deal with his people anymore?

Speaker Hastert. Well, we weren't getting straight numbers from his people, and they changed their mind in the middle of the process. So we are going to do what we feel we need to do.

Q Just on this issue or on

Speaker Hastert. On this issue.

Q Or in general?

Speaker Hastert. On this issue.

Q Sir

Q What kind of numbers were you getting from them?

Speaker Hastert. Different numbers.

Q Different from?

Speaker Hastert. Where they added up.

Moments later, by the way, Hastert expressed his dismay at John Kerry's statement that Republicans were "crooked"....

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DRESS-UP DEFENSE....It's been increasingly obvious for a while that deployment of our first missile defense system is being timed to coincide with the election. After all, it's a good photo-op and a good chance for the president to declare that he's working hard to keep America safe from terrorists with ICBMs.

By now, in fact, the election-driven schedule is so transparently obvious that even the guy who was in charge of the Pentagon's operational test and evaluation office until 2001 knows it:

"Ever since the president made his decision, the priority of the program has been on deployment, not on understanding whether the system works," said Mr. Coyle, now a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information, a private research group. "Most people don't appreciate how complicated this system is, nor how much all of the tests so far have been artificially scripted to be successful."

Bill Clinton was eager to deploy the system too during the 2000 election, but he listened to the science and realized that it just wasn't ready. It still isn't, but George Bush doesn't care. As far as he's concerned, a pretend defense is just as good as the real thing as long as it looks good in a campaign brochure.

Kevin Drum 10:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARTISAN POLITICS....Here in the United States, a president can nearly get impeached for being indiscreet about his sexual life. In retrospect, many of us think things might have gotten a little out of hand during that episode.

In South Korea the president has just been impeached really impeached for saying "I want to do everything within legal boundaries to support the Uri Party."

Presidents are supposed to stay neutral in South Korea and the National Electoral Commission deemed this to be a minor infraction. But when the opposition asked Roh to apologize, he refused. They asked again, he still refused. On Friday he finally did, but it was too late:

With the decorum of a kindergarten class, some of the nation's leading politicians mostly middle-aged men in somber suits pushed and shoved and threw paper and furniture. Roh supporters screamed that the assembly was staging a "coup d'etat."

One legislator fainted. Others burst into tears. Pro-Roh legislators joined hands and sang the national anthem as they were dragged out.

Later, the Uri Party issued a statement saying that all of its 42 members in the assembly were resigning.

Remember this the next time you think politics in America has gotten too partisan and bitter.

Kevin Drum 8:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CONTRARIAN ECONOMICS....Here's an odd thought: is it possible that the economy is about to get better? The Law of Economic Conventional Wisdom says it might be.

Let me explain. Usually, you can tell that a trend has hit its peak when it becomes the conventional wisdom that the trend is permanent. For example, in the late 90s, after a few years of high growth, it became conventional wisdom that this wasn't merely cyclic, but was the result of structural changes in the economy (better inventory control, IT investment finally paying off, the internet) that meant high growth would continue forever and the stock market would continue to rise. Sure enough, shortly thereafter the economy tanked and the stock market bubble burst.

The same thing happens to real estate markets after several good years in a row, commodity markets, fine art markets, and pretty much every other market. People have short memories, and after things have gone well for a few years they find ways to convince themselves that what's happening isn't cyclical, but rather a reflection of some new and permanent underlying change in the laws of economics. What's more, they usually manage to produce remarkably sophisticated and genuinely persuasive rationales for their new theories.

The same thing happens in reverse, too. After a few years of bad times, people start to get overly pessimistic and the conventional wisdom turns. This downturn isn't merely cyclical, it's a reflection of a permanent underlying change in the laws of economics.

By happenstance, in the past couple of days I've run across three separate articles that make this case for our current sluggish job market:

I don't take this seriously enough that I'd be willing to put money on it or anything, but when lots of people start to become convinced that an economic cycle has become permanent, that often means the cycle has reached its limit and is about to turn. Is it possible that's what's happening right now?

Kevin Drum 10:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHANGING THE TONE, BABY, CHANGING THE TONE....Question: who wrote this email and when did he write it?

This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish. I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons.

Answer: Richard Foster, the chief Medicare actuary, on June 26 of last year.

Ah, but why did Foster feel he was in danger of being fired? Because his estimate of the cost of the administration's "$400 billion" Medicare bill was $551 billion an estimate that the administration now admits is correct. However, revealing it back then would have endangered their bill.

Is Foster telling the truth? Was he really pressured? Here's what the various actors say in Knight-Ridder's account of this story:

  • Cybele Bjorklund, Democratic staff director for the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, says: Foster's boss, Thomas Scully, admitted to her that he ordered Foster to withhold information.

  • Scully says: That's a bunch of crap, and Liz Fowler, the chief health lawyer for the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, can back him up.

  • Fowler fails to back him up: "He's a liar."

  • Tommy Thompson, Scully's boss, says: "I may have been derelict in allowing my administrator, Tom Scully, to have more control over it than I should have...."

And what does Foster have to say about all this? Nobody knows. "Health and Human Services Department officials turned down repeated requests to interview Foster."

These guys really do act like Vito Corleone, don't they? They knew their estimates were bogus five months before the bill was passed, they refused to let their chief actuary tell anyone about it, and one of their stooges basically told him to either shut up or sleep with the fishes. Then, a mere few weeks after the bill is passed, they fess up to the higher cost and pretend they didn't know about it before.

Are these guys a piece of work or what?

Kevin Drum 7:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MADRID BOMBINGS....Robert Tagorda has a pretty good roundup of the evidence that today's horrific terror bombings in Madrid were the work of al-Qaeda (or an affiliated group) rather than ETA, the obvious suspect.

The facts are still murky, of course, but I have to admit that the more I think about it the more reasonable it seems that possibly the ETA was not at fault after all. Not only was this bombing far bigger and more coordinated than anything they've done before, but you'd think that even fanatical Basque terrorists would realize that four days before an election is not a good time to do something like this.

Then again, I'm not a fanatical terrorist, so what do I know about how they think?

In any case, if it does turn out to be al-Qaeda, I wonder how that will change things? It's been something of an article of faith in America that if 9/11 had happened in Europe there wouldn't have been so much resistance there to the Iraq war. These train bombings aren't 9/11, of course, but they're plenty bad. Will it affect European opinion much about America's approach to fighting terrorism?

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NATURAL GAS CARS: A REPORT FROM THE FIELD....Ann Salisbury, who has given up her blog for a real life, emails to extol the virtues of alternative fuel driving:

My CNG powered Honda Civic was delivered last week and I picked it up on Saturday. In the few days that I've had it, I can say that I really like it. There are the obvious reasons: less air pollution, no reliance on petroleum, and solo use of the car pool lane. An extra special bonus is that I'm currently paying only $1.64 or $1.79 (depending on who owns the station) for the equivalent of one gallon of petrol. The downsides are fewer gas stations and needing to fuel up a little more often (about 1.5 round trips to/from work vs. 2 round trips in the VW). Fortunately, there are several gas stations on my way to and from work.

The other bonus I just discovered? CNG is primarily (90%) methane, so not only can you tap natural gas reserves to obtain it, methane is a by-product of landfills and water and sewage treatment. Call me crazy, but doesn't that seem to be pretty ideal for areas with an expanding population? Take our castoff and recycle it into clean burning power. Seems pretty good to me.

And there's more! Here's a followup email:

I forgot to mention a couple of things. One, the State of California gave me a $3,000 rebate for buying the car. The feds will allow me a $4,500 deduction this year (the difference between a Civic LX and the GX). A Canadian company is developing a product that will allow home fueling from your home gas line. It will fill the tank slower than the pumps at the CNG stations, but it will be more convenient.

If you're interested in joining Ann and Arnold (who claims he is planning to convert his Hummer to natural gas), here are a few links: federal and state incentives, alternative fuels FAQs, and a fuel station locator (which may be a bit out of date).

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE CHEESEBURGER BILL....I'm not sure what to think of this bill that bans suits against the food industry on the grounds that it encourages obesity. There seem to be two important and competing principles at work here.

On the one hand, I don't think much of using civil damage suits aimed at a specific industry as a way of changing social policy. Down that road lies madness.

But at the same time, I also don't think much of Congress exempting specific industries from the civil justice system. That can lead to some madness of its own.

Unfortunately, these two principles seem pretty well balanced, so I can't figure out which one is more important. Tentatively, I think I'm opposed to Congress fiddling in such a specific manner with the civil justice system. I'd rather have them propose general reforms that would broadly affect the ability to bring lawsuits like this. Once that's done, let the system work equally for every industry.

But I'm open to argument on this.

Kevin Drum 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BACKGROUND CHECK HELL....Last year George Bush promised to appoint a manufacturing czar who would focus attention on the problem of manufacturing jobs moving overseas. Six months later Bush has finally found his man, Anthony Raimondo:

Kerry's campaign, tipped off about the impending nomination several hours earlier, hastened to distribute news reports that Raimondo's firm, Behlen Manufacturing Co. of Columbus, Neb., had laid off 75 U.S. workers in 2002, four months after announcing plans for a $3 million factory in northwest Beijing.

Well, that focused attention, didn't it? But maybe Bush is a fan of the Joe Kennedy theory of political appointments. Joe Kennedy (JFK's father) was a notorious Wall Street stock speculator who was nonetheless nominated by FDR to be the first head of the SEC. "It takes a thief to catch a thief," Roosevelt explained, and he was right. Kennedy did a pretty good job.

But this whole thing still has to be a little embarrassing anyway, doesn't it? Bush now has a choice: drop Raimondo like a hot potato because he doesn't need the grief, or demonstrate his iron willed loyalty by refusing to let vile partisan politics get in the way of protecting our nation's manufacturing base. Which do you think it will be?

Kevin Drum 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DUCK HUNTING AND FEMINISM....Aside from a couple of passing jokes I didn't comment on last month's LA Times story about Antonin Scalia and Dick Cheney going duck hunting together. To be sure, there are limits to the amount of socializing justices should do with people who have cases in front of them, but when you're a Supreme Court justice practically everyone in government (and a big chunk of the rest of the world too) has an interest in at least one or two of the dozens of annual cases you hear. What's more, other high government officials are your natural social circle. If you can't go duck hunting with any of them, who can you go duck hunting with?

Today the Times follows up with a story about Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has lent her name and presence to a lecture series cosponsored by the liberal NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, an advocacy group that often argues before the high court in support of women's rights that the justice embraces.

In January, Ginsburg gave opening remarks for the fourth installment in the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture Series on Women and the Law. Two weeks earlier, she had voted in a medical screening case and taken the side promoted by the legal defense fund in its friend-of-the-court brief.

As it happens, I think we do ourselves a disservice by trying to pretend that Supreme Court justices are hermit automatons who have no interaction with the outside world. It's inevitable that they have lots of friends who have an interest in the kind of broad cases they decide, and it's also well known that they bring opinions of their own about social issues to the bench. Frankly, I'd rather know about it than pretend they don't exist.

A personal stake in a case is one thing, but I'm unconvinced that social friendships or light participation in advocacy groups ought to be grounds for recusal.

In any case, the Times has now fingered one conservative judge and one liberal judge, so I think they've fulfilled their obligation to be evenhanded. It might be time to move on to something more important.

Kevin Drum 8:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AND THE WINNER IS....Ryan Lizza catches the Bush campaign being a little slippery in its use of ellipses. Perhaps Andrew Sullivan should give Bush a Maureen Dowd award for creative use of quotation manufacturing?

Kevin Drum 9:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FREE TRADE....How can George Bush keep a straight face while condemning unnamed "politicians in Washington" who don't understand the glories of free trade?

"They don't explain how closing off markets ... would help the millions of Americans who produce goods for exports or work for foreign companies right here in the United States."

Well, I'll name one of those unnamed politicians: George W. Bush. Is he pretending already to have forgotten about the $173 billion farm subsidy bill and the nakedly political steel tariffs that he so eagerly endorsed in 2002?

Listening to George Bush is like the sound of a pair of slippers on a wooden floor. Flip flop, flip flop.

UPDATE: Plus there were the Chinese bra quotas. How could I have forgotten about those?

As conservative economist Bruce Bartlett says about Bush, "From the point of view of trade, it is the worst administration since Herbert Hoover helped bring on the Great Depression by signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff in 1930."

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CORNER OFFICES....The Washington Post published a map of the West Wing today that I thought was kind of cool. You can click here for the full version that matches up names with numbers, but here's an abbreviated version just for the corner offices:

1. George W. Bush
7. Condoleezza Rice
12. Andy Card
13. Dan Bartlett
22. Margaret Spellings
26. Alberto Gonzales

There are a couple of surprises here. First, how is it that Karl Rove doesn't get a corner office? And second, who the heck is Margaret Spellings? As near as I can tell she has the largest non-oval corner office in the building.


Kevin Drum 6:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MCCAIN FOR VEEP?....Some days are kind of slow and dull. Other days I have trouble keeping up with all the weirdness:

[John] McCain said he would consider the unorthodox step of running for vice president on the Democratic ticket -- in the unlikely event he received such an offer from the presidential candidate.

"John Kerry is a close friend of mine. We have been friends for years," McCain said Wednesday when pressed to squelch speculation about a Kerry-McCain ticket. "Obviously I would entertain it."

McCain has developed a favorable rep among Democrats because he's such an honest, straight talking guy, but keep in mind that Barry Goldwater was too. And guess who won Goldwater's seat in the Senate after he retired?

Yeah, John McCain, the "early foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution." He may be a nice guy to have a beer with, but he's really conservative, and the fact that he has an occasional spat with George Bush doesn't really change that.

Of course, McCain knows that perfectly well: "It's impossible to imagine the Democratic Party seeking a pro-life, free-trading, non-protectionist, deficit hawk," he said. "They'd have to be taking some steroids, I think, in order to let that happen."

For now, I think I'll keep my money on John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Bill Nelson, and all the other conventional possibilities. Besides, wouldn't McCain first have to give up his position as a leader of Bush's re-election campaign in Arizona....?

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AIDS WALK DONATIONS....My sister called this morning and asked me to thank everyone who has contributed to her AIDS walk so far. The last time I checked she had raised $1,800 from Calpundit readers and was well on her way to breaking her $2,000 goal.

So thanks, everyone! Not only is the money for a good cause, but Karen gets a free pair of shoes for raising more than $500. What's more, we've finally demonstrated that her geeky little brother who was such an embarrassment to her in high school can actually be useful for something. :)

And of course if you haven't contributed yet, you can still do so any time. Click here to donate over the web.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO WILL INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS?....The latest on Memogate, from The Hill:

As a result, the sergeant at arms is facing the oddly postmodern task of investigating a Senate leak of a report on the investigation of a Senate leak.

Confused? Click the link for the latest twists and turns!

Kevin Drum 10:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHANGING THE TONE....OR AT LEAST THE SHEETS, ANYWAY....You know, I always thought the "scandal" about Bill Clinton inviting supporters to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom was a crock. Who cares? Political supporters of all stripes get special treatment from politicians of both parties and always have.

Still, it was talked to death by the Republican Talking Points Death Squad in the 90s, and the Bush campaign did make it into an issue four years ago:

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush sanctimoniously accused Clinton of "virtually renting out the Lincoln bedroom to big campaign donors." He condemned the use of the "hallowed" chamber for political payoffs.

Sigh. You know where this story is going already, don't you? CrockMeister has the sordid details.

Kevin Drum 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHAT DID TENET SAY?....This is a little inside-baseballish, but yesterday's coverage of CIA Director George Tenet's congressional testimony struck me as an unusually interesting example of editorial judgment. Tenet's testimony was pretty varied, which meant that reporters had a lot of different options for their leads. And it turns out they all picked different things:

  • New York Times: Tenet has intervened several times to correct public misstatements by Dick Cheney.

  • Washington Post: Tenet does not think the administration misrepresented intelligence before going to war.

  • Los Angeles Times: A special Pentagon intelligence unit briefed the White House directly without the knowledge of the CIA.

  • Knight-Ridder: Dick Cheney was wrong to say that Iraq had ties with al-Qaeda and that Iraq had a bioweapons program.

  • USA Today: The CIA was "wildly inconsistent" about vetting White House statements last year, and this allowed exaggerations about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to go unchallenged.

  • Washington Times: The threat of al-Qaeda acquiring weapons of mass destruction is growing.

OK, that last one was just for giggles. But it's pretty remarkable that the news judgment of the five national dailies about which part of Tenet's testimony was most important was almost completely different. At least we didn't get any pack journalism on this story.

(I'd include the Wall Street Journal in this too, but I don't subscribe so I don't know how they played it.)

Kevin Drum 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A UNITER, NOT A DIVIDER....Here's a headline you don't see every day:

Democratic, GOP Groups Target Bush in New TV Ads

GOP groups?

Yep, the Log Cabin Republicans have finally had enough and are planning to spend $1 million on ads opposing Bush's decision to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Good for them.

Howard Kurtz has more details here.

Kevin Drum 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AIDS DONATION....Are you in the mood to do a good deed? My sister is part of an AIDS fundraising walk and I told her I would see if the power of Calpundit could help her not just meet her goal, but crash right through it.

It's a good cause and you can donate via the web here. Let's show her that her little brother's blogging thing really is good for something!

Kevin Drum 9:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"DOESN'T UNIQUELY COMPORT"....George Tenet is not happy with Dick Cheney. And after today's congressional testimony, I imagine Dick Cheney is not especially happy with George Tenet either. First, we have this account from the New York Times:

George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told a Senate committee today that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Vice President Dick Cheney and others, and that he would do so again.

"When I believed that someone was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it," Mr. Tenet said.

He identified three instances in which he had already corrected a public statement by President Bush or Mr. Cheney or would do so, but left the impression that there had been more.

One of those instances was the "uranium from Africa" reference in the 2003 State of the Union speech and the second was Cheney's continuing insistence that we've found evidence of mobile weapons labs in Iraq. Then Ted Kennedy asked him about the infamous Doug Feith memo that Cheney cited a few weeks ago regarding the "connection" between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Here is Knight-Ritter's report:

"Senator, we did not clear the document," replied Tenet. "We did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document."

Tenet, who pointed out that the Pentagon, too, had disavowed the document, said he learned of the article Monday night, and he planned to speak with Cheney about the CIA's view of the Feith document.

And finally, although Tenet at first said that he didn't think the administration had misrepresented the intelligence on Iraq, he then added a bit of, um, nuance to that assertion:

Tenet added that sometimes language used by policymakers in public "doesn't uniquely comport" word for word, with the complex, more nuanced intelligence community language. "....I lived up to my responsibility," he said.

Doesn't uniquely comport. I like that. I'll have to remember it the next time I'm testifying under oath or giving a major address to the American people or something.

UPDATE: By the way, read the last seven paragraphs of the Knight-Ridder piece. Those are unusually bald assertions for a straight news piece, especially since they don't include the usual "according to sources" or "some critics say" pretense. Someone's been eating his Wheaties....

Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SULLIVAN vs. SULLIVAN....Andrew Sullivan on John Kerry two days ago: "Life isn't simple. But it doesn't have to be as subtly, preternaturally, systematically complex as John Kerry makes it out to be."

Complex is bad!

Andrew Sullivan on George Bush four days ago: "Don't blame Bush for the dismal job situation. It's far more complicated than Kerry would have you believe."

Complicated is OK!

That was fun, wasn't it? Let's try it again.

Andrew Sullivan on John Kerry two days ago: "Read this foreign policy discussion. Now imagine 9/11 had never happened. It isn't hard. Al Qaeda is mentioned once. I repeat: al Qaeda is mentioned once."

A single mention of al-Qaeda is bad!

President Bush in a talk on homeland security a week ago: "Some two-thirds of al Qaeda's key leaders have been captured or killed." This is the only reference to al-Qaeda in the speech.

A single mention of al-Qaeda is OK! And I guess not mentioning Osama bin Laden's name for, what, 15 straight months is OK too?

Moral of the story: if Bush does it, it's OK. If Kerry does it, it's a sign of weakness and moral degeneracy.

But we knew that already, didn't we?

Kevin Drum 3:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEMOGATE ROUNDUP....Last night I finished reading the Pickle report about those Republican staffers who pilfered Democratic memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it turns out there's not much more there. Here are a few final comments:

  • Jason Lundell was the guy who actually pilfered the memos, but Manuel Miranda was the ringleader of the affair. Miranda knew that Lundell had already been told not to use Democratic material, but:

    Mr. Miranda's response, according to Mr. Lundell, was that everyone knew about the open access and that he did not have to follow the directions given to him by [his boss]. Furthermore, Mr. Lundell recalled that Mr. Miranda told him that Senator Hatch wanted the staff to use any means necessary to support President Bush's nominees.

    What a sweetheart. He seems to have mistaken Orrin Hatch's version of "any means necessary" with Tony Soprano's.

  • In fact, no one knew about the open access and there was no negligence on the part of the Democrats. They assumed their files were safe and they had every reason to think so. It was sloppiness on the part of the system administrator that left the files open. (And contrary to Miranda's obviously self-serving statement, nobody ever warned the sysadmin of this problem.)

  • Miranda's behavior was not only deceitful and unethical, but it was also potentially damaging to his own party. In a statement, he said, "Although I came to learn how to access two or three of those files easily enough, I did so few times and initially to ascertain that Democrats could access Republican files as well."

    In other words, he knew perfectly well that it was possible that Democrats were pilfering Republican files but didn't tell anyone about it. Would you want someone working for you who knew about a huge security hole in your own operation but didn't tell you about it?

And finally, although Miranda claims that everything he was doing was above board and morally benign, he seems to have harbored a few internal doubts about this. For your amusement, here's an email he sent to his mole:

From: Miranda, Manuel (Frist)
Sent: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:48 AM
To: Lundell, Jason (Judiciary)
Subject: Am Ex
Importance: High

Jason,

Can I ask you to undertake a discreet mission. Sean Rushton should get a complete relpcate of the Ame Ex binder. He needs to get up to speed with outr best info as he build relationship with the press.

Let me know how soon....assuming you accept, Mr. Phelps.

The Pickle report helpfully reminds us that "The reference to 'Mr. Phelps' refers to the secret agent who received his instructions via audioptape in the Mission Impossible TV series."

Here is Lundell's response: "Of course I would be happy to assist in this covert action. The question is: exactly how much should I provide? You know, we have loads on information."

Bottom line: Manual Miranda may have been kicked out of the Senate, but he should have no trouble landing a job at the American Enterprise Institute. He'll fit right in.

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SEARCHING FOR GOOD NEWS....Gallup may have Kerry beating Bush 50% to 44%, but that clever Byron York at NRO thinks he's found a nugget of gold amongst the Gallup dross:

Gallup asked, "Would you say that George W. Bush and the Republican party have or have not attacked John Kerry unfairly?" Twenty-one percent said yes....

Then Gallup asked, "Would you say that John Kerry and the Democratic party have or have not attacked George W. Bush unfairly?" Thirty-five percent said yes....

To summarize: 21% of voters think Bush has engaged in unfair attacks, while 35% think Kerry has engaged in unfair attacks. Voters don't like Kerry!

But wait a second: the poll was conducted March 5-7. So even after months of brutal primary campaigning and endless debating, only 35% of voters think Kerry has been unfair.

But before Bush had even started to campaign, already 21% of voters thought he'd been unfair to Kerry.

And this is supposed to be good news for conservatives? If this is the best NRO can do, it's going to be a very long campaign indeed for Republicans....

Kevin Drum 10:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOUGH CAMPAIGN SEASON AHEAD....Is this going to be a tough race or what? It was only last Tuesday that John Kerry clinched the nomination and:

I'm sure I've missed some stuff, but I'm tired. And this was only the first week.

Eight more months to go.

Kevin Drum 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTRONIC VOTING UPDATE....The perils of electronic voting have hit home. Literally:

Poll workers struggling with a new electronic voting system in last week's election gave thousands of Orange County voters the wrong ballots, according to a Times analysis of election records. In 21 precincts where the problem was most acute, there were more ballots cast than registered voters.

....David Hart, chairman of Texas-based Hart InterCivic, which manufactured Orange County's voting system, said it would be impossible to identify which voters cast ballots in the wrong precincts because of steps the company had taken to ensure voter secrecy. For this reason, an exact account of miscast ballots is impossible.

Recount? We don't need no stinking recount. After all, there were no close races!

Kevin Drum 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST ON PLAME....Over at The American Prospect, Murray Waas reports some new information about the Valerie Plame investigation. Sort of new, anyway:

President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, told the FBI in an interview last October that he circulated and discussed damaging information regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame with others in the White House, outside political consultants, and journalists, according to a government official and an attorney familiar with the ongoing special counsel's investigation of the matter.

But Rove also adamantly insisted to the FBI that he was not the administration official who leaked the information that Plame was a covert CIA operative to conservative columnist Robert Novak last July. Rather, Rove insisted, he had only circulated information about Plame after it had appeared in Novak's column.

As Waas notes later in the article, we kinda sorta knew this already. But it's nice to have the details.

Still, someone leaked this information before Novak's column appeared. Who do you think it was?

Kevin Drum 4:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUT DID GOD CHOOSE GEORGE BUSH TO BE PRESIDENT?....Does God exist? Bayesian analysis says the odds are 2:1 in favor!

But the bookies still aren't willing to take bets:

Graham Sharp, media relations director at William Hill, said there were technical problems with giving odds on the existence of God. "The problem is how you confirm the existence of God. With the Loch Ness monster we require confirmation from the Natural History Museum to pay out, but who are we going to ask about God? The church would definitely confirm his existence."

Mr Sharp said William Hill does take bets on the second coming, which currently stand at 1,000/1. For this confirmation is needed from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Yeah, it's true, it's a bit of a slow day today....

Kevin Drum 2:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TESTIMONY....When President Bush finally gets around to providing the 9/11 commission with his promised one hour of testimony, what will it be like? Ted Barlow speculates.

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POLITICAL ANIMAL?....Since the word is already out, I guess I might as well confirm it: Yes, I have sold out to The Man and will soon be blogging for cold, hard cash.

Which is pretty cool, isn't it? What's even better is that I'll be blogging for the Washington Monthly, a magazine I've admired for 20 years, ever since a conservative friend of mine introduced me to it right after I graduated from college. (He's even more conservative these days, though, so I guess it didn't have much effect on him.)

Not much is going to change, though. There will be a new URL, but it's still going to be me blogging about whatever I feel like, although hopefully with more opportunity to do a bit of reporting here and there and to make a few contacts I otherwise couldn't.

The switch will happen sometime in the next day or two. I'll have more later as soon as all the technical details are worked out.

Kevin Drum 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEMOGATE....So how did Republicans get access to those Democratic files on the Senate Judiciary Committee? The Pickle report is now available and makes everything clear. The full report is here (warning: large PDF file), but here's the geek summary.

Basically, every member of the Judiciary Committee has an account that includes a home directory on the committee's main server. Until August 2001 those accounts had strict permissions that enabled only the owner of the directory to access it. But then the committee got a new system administrator, Brian Wikner, who had, shall we say, geekitis:

Like some other Senate offices, the Judiciary Committee has historically been staffed with Systems Administrators who preferred to perform most computer-related tasks themselves. This has been true even if they had only minimal technical experience before becoming the Committee's System Administrator.

Yeah, been there, done that. Wikner, even though he was fresh out of college, declined to ask for help and apparently was sloppy with permissions. When he set up new accounts he just accepted the default "open" permission, which allows anyone access to the directory.

So that answers that: it was sloppiness on the part of the sysadmin. But did anyone ever warn Wikner that the new accounts he created both Democratic and Republican were vulnerable? The previous sysadmin says no:

Mr Davis does not recall ever notifying Mr. Wikner of the fact that he was able to access folders that should have been closed...."I could only have deemed him as being sloppy with some permissions and not some problem that of which others would take advantage. What I can remember is leaving him a message to call me about a concern and he didn't return my call."

And what happened the first time Republican staffer Jason Lundell figured out he could exploit this vulnerability? He found a bunch of files and gave them to his boss, Rena Comisac:

He printed approximately 100-200 pages of documents pertaining to Judge Pickering's nomination and gave them to Ms. Comisac in an attempt to get on good terms with her....He reported that two days later Mr. [Alex] Dahl and Ms. Comisac admonished him not to use the Democratic documents and Ms. Comisac shredded the materials he had given her.

It's also clear that Comisac didn't realize Lundell had free access to other people's files. She thought he had gotten the documents simply because he had inherited someone else's PC and the previous owner's documents hadn't been completely erased.

So here's the summary:

  • The pilfered documents were accessible due to sloppiness on the part of the sysadmin.

  • It wasn't just Democratic files. Every account created after August 2001 was wide open.

  • No one ever told the sysadmin about this problem.

  • The first time that Lundell showed some files to his Republican boss, she shredded the files and told him to knock it off. "This is not the way they do things here," she said.

I'll probably have more later after I've read the full report. In the meantime, Josh Marshall has a few pointed questions.

Kevin Drum 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL AL GORE....Eric Slater has an interesting profile of Al Gore in the LA Times today:

What has gone mostly unnoticed, however, is a change in the man's voice. It is often now that of an unapologetic populist more like that of his father, the late Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore; more like it was when the younger Gore won a House seat in the 1970s, before his failed 1988 bid for the White House and before he followed Bill Clinton up the center of the party's ideological spectrum to the vice presidency in 1992.

His Boise speech offered vintage examples of his ramped-up rhetoric. "The right wing...has now intimidated the formerly moderate Republicans," Gore told the crowd. "The right wing has taken over the Republican Party....In order to win their victories, the right wing relies on the politics of fear...and the repetition of big lies."

Sounds like he's been taking lessons from the liberal blogosphere. Perhaps Gore and Howard Dean will fill the attack dog role usually played by the vice presidential candidate this year.

Kevin Drum 8:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

INTELLECTUAL DIVERSITY....I'm getting pretty tired of incessant snarky comments from conservatives about the lack of "intellectual diversity" on university campuses:

Here's more on the flap over Duke's diversity problem. "Whats clear is that the present administration has pledged a commitment to racial, gender, and intellectual diversity, but actual resources are only dedicated toward the first two components."

Duke and other institutions devote resources to the first two because America has a long and often ugly history of discrimination against ethnic minorities and women. America decidedly does not have a long and ugly history of discrimination against conservatives.

Really, is that so hard to understand?

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SPAM....Jim Henley is not happy with Bill Gates' proposal to solve the spam problem by forcing people to pay for email by buying virtual "stamps." Not happy at all:

Bill Gates and others have suggested that "we" start "buying" e-mail "stamps" as a possible remedy for the problem of spam.

The cynic immediately doubts that Bill Gates and said cynic constitute a meaningful "we," that Gates' proposal can be translated to mean that "they" should start "selling" e-mail "stamps," that Bill Gates has in mind being more of a "they" than a "we," and that somewhere down the road he's wanting the government to make us buy "stamps" for e-mail, and that this is pretty classic rent-seeking behavior on Bill Gates' part.

I can see why Jim might think this. And certainly no one more richly deserves this level of cynicism than Bill Gates. If a proposal like this ever became reality I would enthusiastically support a constitutional amendment that banned Microsoft or any company remotely connected to Microsoft from ever participating in this market.

But with that out of the way, what about the merits of the idea? As a libertarian, I'm surprised that Jim doesn't look more kindly on this proposal. After all, it's just a way of enforcing property rights on our collective time and bandwidth. Why not let the market sort the whole thing out?

But no. In an odd reversal of roles, it's the big government liberal who thinks that using market mechanisms to solve this problem has a lot of merit. In fact, I suspect that in the end there's no other solution. The only possible way of reducing spam to tolerable levels is to find some way of making it economically infeasible.

I admit, though, that it's still not clear to me what kind of technical mechanism could enforce this. But assuming there is some way of doing it, here are a few thoughts:

  • "Stamps" wouldn't have to cost very much. Even a tenth of a cent would probably be enough to get rid of most spam, and this wouldn't be a large enough amount to cause serious problems for private users or even for most businesses.

  • I wonder if there's a way to get credited for all received emails? For most people (and businesses), this means that the charges would come close to balancing out. Only very heavy mailers would end up paying anything.

  • Maybe money isn't the way to do this. Assuming there's a way to enforce this in the first place, how about preventing email from being sent more often than once every ten seconds? There's no charging, no "stamps," no micro-payment system to set up, just an enforced delay. But it would probably make large scale spamming impossible.

I now receive about 100 spam emails a day on my main email account, and since I know that spam grows exponentially I suspect that this means the account will be useless within six months, regardless of what kind of spam filtering I implement. Since I'd prefer not to have to change my email address every year or two, I am eager for some bright young geek somewhere to figure out a solution to this.

Kevin Drum 7:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY AND EDWARDS AGAIN....This is just some offhand weekend musing, so don't take it too seriously. But I've been thinking about whether John Edwards is likely to be John Kerry's vice presidential choice.

A couple of days ago I suggested that presidential candidates didn't usually choose one of their losing primary opponents as a running mate. Mark Schmitt sort of agreed, but noted that unlike most primary losers, who come out of the campaign looking bruised and defeated, Edwards has come out looking great. So he's a more attractive choice than most.

Oddly, though, I think that might actually make Edwards less likely to get chosen. Let's follow this argument down the rabbit hole and see where it leads.

One of the persistent press memes during the primary campaign was that Edwards was actually running for vice president. I think he got asked this question at least as often as Hillary got asked if she was running for president, and in both cases it just didn't matter how often or in how many different ways they said no.

But I never believed this for a second. Nobody runs for vice president. The vice presidency may not be quite as worthless as a bucket of warm spit, but there's no way that anyone covets it so much that they're willing to go through the tremendously long and grueling slog of a presidential campaign just to get it.

No, what I always figured was that Edwards was indeed running for president in 2008. Consider the conventional wisdom on Edwards: great on the stump, good money raiser, personally appealing, a Southerner, and a nice blend of populist/liberal. Only one drawback: not ready for prime time.

In 2008, however, he retains all those qualities but adds the gray hairs he needs to make him a truly great candidate. 2004 was just a test run, a way of getting some experience and some name recognition.

So: would Edwards even want to be Kerry's vice president? Only if it helps him become president in 2008. If Kerry wins, of course, it doesn't, but if Kerry loses it might not help either. Sure, it would add to his name recognition, but it also makes him damaged goods. After all, when was the last time a losing VP candidate went on to become president? Never in modern history.

And then there's the flip side: would Kerry want Edwards? Obviously Edwards has a lot going for him, but aside from conventional calculations about whether Edwards would help him in important states, you have to figure that Kerry might harbor a few doubts about Edwards' dedication to the cause. Would Edwards really want Kerry to win? Or would he be just as happy to see him lose and leave the field wide open for another Edwards run in 2008?

Now, none of this may have any truth to it. Who knows? But true or not, you have to figure that it leaves some gnawing doubts in Kerry's mind. He wants someone who's with him 100%, not someone who deep in his heart might be just as happy to lose.

And this might also explain the more general case: presidential candidates don't really want running mates who are too obviously interested in the top job. And who's more obviously interested in the top job than all the guys you just beat?

POSTSCRIPT: For what it's worth, there's only been one losing VP candidate who's gone on to win the presidency in the past century: FDR. And it's worth noting that while he (of course) campaigned vigorously, it was pretty obvious afterward that he wasn't really very broken up about losing....

Kevin Drum 3:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOW LIBERAL IS JOHN KERRY?....Is John Kerry really the most liberal Democrat in the Senate? Dan Drezner points today to an op-ed by Northwestern political science professor Jeffery A. Jenkins that suggests he isn't even close.

Using methodology developed by Keith Poole of the University of Houston, he compares Kerry to past Democratic presidents and gets the following rank order:

  1. John F. Kennedy (most liberal)

  2. Bill Clinton

  3. Jimmy Carter

  4. John Kerry

  5. Lyndon Johnson (most conservative)

So Kerry is well toward the middle compared to past Democratic presidents. How about George Bush?

  1. Ronald Reagan (most conservative)

  2. George W. Bush

  3. George Bush Sr.

  4. Richard Nixon

  5. Dwight Eisenhower

  6. Gerald Ford (most liberal)

Bush is the second most extreme Republican president since World War II.

In the case of Kerry, however, we really don't have to make guesses compared to past presidents. Poole has used his methodology to rank all senators in the 108th Congress based on their roll calls, and the results are here: out of 49 Democratic senators (including Jim Jeffords), Kerry is ranked 23rd. For better or worse, he's right smack in the middle.

POSTSCRIPT: Want to know how your congressperson ranks? Poole ranks House members here.

And in case you're curious, Poole's method (called Optimal Classification) doesn't depend on knowing anything at all about the content of the bills that legislators vote on. His program simply orders them based on how often their votes agree with each other, and essentially shuffles various orderings until it finds the one that's most consistent. It's actually a pretty good method that avoids endless arguments about whether particular bills are "liberal" or "conservative" and just how liberal or conservative they are. Interesting stuff.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOOKING OUT FOR #1....This still hasn't gotten much attention in the U.S. press or the world press, as near as I can tell:

In other developments, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided not to withdraw troops from the Gaza Strip before U.S. presidential elections in November and will brief U.S. officials on his position during a trip to Washington next week, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

....Earlier this week, Dov Weisglass, a senior Sharon aide, discussed the proposed withdrawal with top U.S. officials. The Maariv daily said Friday that Weisglass was told the Bush administration would not like to see a withdrawal before the U.S. election because of concerns of growing instability in Gaza. However, Sharon adviser Assaf Shariv said Friday that no dates for a possible withdrawal were raised during the meetings with U.S. officials.

I did a search through Google News and found fewer than half a dozen references to this. Doesn't it seem like it deserves a little more attention?

It's true that presidents always try to time events to elections. Making sure the economy is humming along in an election year is a time honored practice, for example. But isn't George Bush carrying this a little farther than most?

We already know that, ready or not, he wants a missile defense prototype up and running in October. We already know that his push for war in 2002 was timed to coincide with congressional elections. We already know that he decided against a serious assault against Osama bin Laden's hideouts in both 2002 and 2003 and then suddenly decided to get serious in 2004. We already know that his friend Dennis Hastert tried to prevent the 9/11 commission from doing its job because he was afraid its report might contain bad news that could become a campaign issue. And now he wants to postpone Israeli action in Gaza because it might produce unrest that would look bad during election season.

Like I said, this kind of political calculation is pretty routine for domestic issues, but national security is supposed to be different. At least it used to be. How many more examples like this will it take until people realize just how much our war president is playing politics with the war?

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOUGH ON TERROR?....A year ago Dan Drezner asked a question: since we knew at the time that (a) Abu Musab Zarqawi and the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam was connected to al-Qaeda, (b) they had camps in the Halabja Valley in northern Iraq, and (c) the area in question was in the American-patrolled no-fly zone and not under Saddam Hussein's control, why not mount an attack on it?

Given the obvious link between achieving this objective and the war on terror, and given the assertions by France and others that credible evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda would justify use of force, would the Security Council be willing to approve U.S. military action in this area?....This would be an excellent test of where exactly the French and Germans stand. Is their opposition to Iraq based on a blind determination to counter U.S. power, or is there some nuance to their stance?

Unfortunately, it turns out it wasn't France and Germany we had to worry about. It was George Bush:

In June 2002...the Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp [but]....the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it....The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawis operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

Unlike Saddam, Zarqawi really was developing poisons such as ricin and cyanide for use in terrorist attacks in the West and elsewhere. But we hesitated to take action because destroying the Ansar al-Islam camps might have been inconvenient for George Bush's speechwriters.

Zarqawi has reportedly killed at least 700 people since then. But it might be many more. We will probably never know for sure how many people died at his hands because of George Bush's uncertainty in the face of danger.

Kevin Drum 9:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SAND AND SNOW....Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a guy who really knows how to take care of his home state, inserted a provision into the $18 billion Iraqi reconstruction bill last year that allowed Alaska Native corporations to win contracts with no competitive bidding. Janet Reiser, president of Nana Pacific, explains why this makes sense:

If you exchange snow for sand, work in Iraq is similar to the work we've done in Alaska.

Um, yeah.

Kevin Drum 8:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RETURN OF JAYSON BLAIR....Remember Jayson Blair? Sure you do: he's the guy who wrote all those fake stories for the New York Times that eventually led to Howell Raines departing the paper in disgrace.

As promised (or perhaps threatened), Blair has now written a book about his misdeeds, Burning Down My Masters' House, and the Guardian has a long excerpt:

No sooner had I got back to New York than I received a telephone call from the national desk....They wanted me to write a story and then get back to Washington to get the dateline. Given the deadline, I knew this was going to be a toe-touch. A toe-touch was a popular and sanctioned way at the newspaper to get a dateline on a story by reporting and writing it in one location, and then flying in simply so you could put the name of the city where the news was happening at the top of the story.

....I began working my sources, and my best one once again delivered. I was able to cobble together a 600-word story, then dash off to Pennsylvania Station in a cab. I arrived well past midnight in Washington. At Union Station, I promptly turned around and headed back to New York on the next train.

Toe-touches were not acceptable under the newsroom policy on datelines, but they were widely sanctioned and often ordered by editors on the national desk. Datelines, under Howell Raines's "flood the zone" philosophy, were almost more important to national desk editors than the content of the stories. Howell wanted the paper to read as if the Times had been everywhere imaginable on any given day.

According to Blair, this is how it all started. One evening he missed his train, then another, and then another, and couldn't get a toe-touch he was supposed to get. So he just lied about it and got the dateline anyway. Pretty harmless.

From there it was all downhill and eventually he was concocting an entire fantasy life about his travels. The rest of the Guardian's excerpt is a fairly histrionic account of his eventual descent into madness: "I had begun to smell, hear and see things that did not actually exist, I could not complete everyday tasks like taking a bath without a crisis arising....I relapsed, not into drinking or doing drugs, but into psychosis, with its similar effects the blurriness, the vague recollections...."

That's about all there is, though. As Greg Mitchell complains in Editor & Publisher, only a very few pages at the end of the book are actually dedicated to the fabrications that made Blair famous:

Still, this is more than enough space for Blair to blame his misbehavior on: toothaches, backaches, his girlfriend not fully committing to their relationship, his obsession with Lee Malvo, the death of a Times colleague, a bipolar disorder, psychosis, not getting enough sleep, lingering psychic pain from 9/11, pressure from editors to get more scoops, feeling unfulfilled, seeing/smelling/hearing things that did not actually exist, dizziness, and being assigned to write too many stories on the road, among other things.

Quite a list.

Kevin Drum 5:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE KERRY CAMPAIGN....What should be the central themes of John Kerry's campaign? I'd say he should concentrate on three things:

  • You can't trust George Bush. He says one thing and does another.

  • George Bush is losing the war on terrorism.

  • We can't afford to lose yet more jobs under George Bush.

These all have the virtue of (a) being true and (b) taking direct aim at the "I'm a leader/I'm tough on terror/tax cuts are good for the economy" sophistry that his courtiers have spent so much time spoon feeding to the public. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to fill in the details.

UPDATE: Bullet points modified based on feedback in comments. I like these better.

And yes, as a few commenters pointed out, these are all negative points and Kerry also needs a positive vision for the future. I agree, but it's just the flip side of the negative stuff: (a) you can trust me, (b) I'll be genuinely tough on terror, and (c) I'll bring back jobs. Pretty simple, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE EMPLOYMENT NEWS....New blogger Smithers points out that although the 21,000 jobs created in February may seem plenty meager already, it's actually even worse than that: they were all government jobs.

Yep, private sector job growth was exactly zero while government employment rose by 21,000. Probably not what all those Bush supporters had in mind when they pulled the lever for the GOP in 2000.

Oh, and remember the Household Employment Survey, the one that conservatives have all been claiming we should pay more attention to? (Not for any special reason, mind you although they've invented a thousand and one ingenious theories to explain why we should but simply because it shows a rosier job picture.) Well, according to the Household Survey we didn't even gain 21,000 jobs. Instead we lost 265,000. What's more, 588,000 more people dropped out of the labor force completely. Something tells me we're not going to be hearing much about the Household Survey for a while.

But on the good news front, average wages increased three cents in February. America is turning the corner, folks!

Kevin Drum 11:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RETURN OF THE SUN KING....Henry Farrell rightly points out that David Brooks' paean to primate heirarchy in the New York Times today is pretty ridiculous on its face:

We're so full of it. We pretend to be a middle-class, democratic nation, but in reality we love our blue bloods

....We don't actually want to be governed by people like ourselves. We want the bloodlines. The anthropologist Lionel Tiger points out that in many primate communities, the offspring of high-status females are immediately accorded membership in the troop's elite.

Tiger points out that politics is a visceral business. It's a tremendous advantage to have been instilled with the habit of self-assertion since infancy. If you can project a physiological comfort with power, others around you will begin to accept your sense of self-worth.

This doesn't go a long way toward explaining Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, or LBJ, does it?

But I'm willing to forgive Brooks his strained pop sociobiology. He's obviously just having some fun, and this paragraph was worth the price of admission:

So you have one party, the Republican Party, the so-called party of the heartland, which won't nominate a guy unless he has a ranch the size of Oklahoma. Republicans don't think you're fit to govern unless you're on the north 40 every summer clearing brush. And then you have the Democrats, the so-called party of the people, who won't nominate a guy unless his family had an upper-deck berth on the Mayflower.

Even if it's wrong, at least it's funny.

Kevin Drum 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOBS ROUNDUP....So what's the reaction in Washington to February's anemic job growth? Here's a sample:

John Feehery, spokesman for Dennis Hastert: "No one should be happy about these numbers."

Gregory Mankiw, chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers: "We're not satisfied. The labor market has started to turn it just hasn't turned enough."

Glen Bolger, part of the Bush campaign's polling team: "Clearly, you'd like to see the job growth a little more robust than 21,000. The president is realistic when he says, 'We're not done yet, there's lots more to do.' "

Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary: "There are still people who are hurting'' and more needs to be done.

John Snow, Treasury Secretary: "This administration is not satisfied with today's job-creation numbers."

George W. Bush, President of the United States: "Simply not satisfied" with the pace at which jobs are being created.

And that's just the Republicans.....

Kevin Drum 10:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AH, THE LIBERTARIAN UTOPIA....Brad DeLong and Belle Waring have some pointed comments about libertarian wishfulness and detachment from reality that have the twin virtues of matching my own view of libertarianism and being amusing to read. I suspect that most libertarians would change their tune pronto if they ever had the chance to actually live in a truly libertarian society.

And what would that society be like? Robert Heinlein did a pretty good job of describing it in his quite readable short story Coventry, written in the days before he himself became a libertarian and therefore had a somewhat clearer view of such things. Go read it, especially if you're a hardcore libertarian.

Kevin Drum 9:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND LEAD....Since I've been writing about lead lately, here's a timely excerpt from Eric Alterman and Mark Green's The Book on Bush:

In one revealing case, Bush & Co. intervened at the precise moment that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention was set to consider once again lowering acceptable blood-lead levels in response to new scientific evidence. The Administration rejected nominee Bruce Lanphear and dumped panel member Michael Weitzman, both of whom previously advocated lowering the legal limit. Instead, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson appointed William Banner--who had testified on behalf of lead companies in poison-related litigation--and Joyce Tsuji, who had worked for a consulting firm whose clients include a lead smelter. (She later withdrew.) Banner and another appointee, Sergio Piomelli, were first contacted about serving on the committee not by a member of the Administration but by lead-industry representatives who appeared to be recruiting favorable committee members with the blessing of HHS officials.

That's some "sound science" for you.

What's so maddening is that lead is not like so many other environmental battles where there really can be reasonable disagreement about what the proper level of regulation is. Lead is just bad stuff, period, and at this point I don't think there's really much disagreement that current regulations are too lenient and that the effects of lead contamination are genuinely widespread and horrible, both for the victims themselves and for society as a whole.

Unfortunately, the Bush approach seems to be that if it's environmental, and it's a regulation, it must be bad. And don't bother us with tedious facts, OK?

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLAIR AND IRAQ....I just read Tony Blair's speech on terrorism, and all I can say is: damn. I wish we had a president like that. And believe me, I say this with my eyes wide open to his plentiful shortcomings and almost maddening obsession with style and spin.

For starters, read this:

The real point is that those who disagree with the war, disagree fundamentally with the judgement that led to war. What is more, their alternative judgement is both entirely rational and arguable. Kosovo, with ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians, was not a hard decision for most people; nor was Afghanistan after the shock of September 11; nor was Sierra Leone.

Iraq in March 2003 was an immensely difficult judgement. It was divisive because it was difficult. I have never disrespected those who disagreed with the decision. Sure, some were anti-American; some against all wars. But there was a core of sensible people who faced with this decision would have gone the other way, for sensible reasons. Their argument is one I understand totally. It is that Iraq posed no direct, immediate threat to Britain; and that Iraq's WMD, even on our own case, was not serious enough to warrant war, certainly without a specific UN resolution mandating military action. And they argue: Saddam could, in any event, be contained.

I can hardly begin to tell you how much I crave hearing something like that here in America. I understand that reasonable people can differ on this, but....

I don't think George Bush has ever said anything like that in his life. There are times when I feel like I'm never going to hear words like that again.

Then this:

For me, before September 11th, I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648; namely that a country's internal affairs are for it and you don't interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance. I did not consider Iraq fitted into this philosophy, though I could see the horrible injustice done to its people by Saddam.

....September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together. The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people. But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Moslems and the West that a religious jihad became reality; and the world engulfed by it.

....Which brings me to the final point. It may well be that under international law as presently constituted, a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people and there is nothing anyone can do, when dialogue, diplomacy and even sanctions fail, unless it comes within the definition of a humanitarian catastrophe (though the 300,000 remains in mass graves already found in Iraq might be thought by some to be something of a catastrophe). This may be the law, but should it be?

We know now, if we didn't before, that our own self interest is ultimately bound up with the fate of other nations. The doctrine of international community is no longer a vision of idealism. It is a practical recognition that just as within a country, citizens who are free, well educated and prosperous tend to be responsible, to feel solidarity with a society in which they have a stake; so do nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress, tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind. The best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values.

This is just an excerpt or two; there's lots more and it's worth reading. It's convincing in a way that George Bush can only dream of, and what's more, it oozes sincerity. I don't think anyone doubts that he truly believes all this.

By now I suspect that my British readers may be smirking a bit at all this. They are, after all, far more sensitive than I am to those shortcomings of Blair's that I mentioned above. All I can say to them is this: if you had spent the last three years listening to George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld every day, your guy would seem like a dream come true.

Then again, I suppose just about anyone else would too.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THEN AND NOW....Hugh Hewitt apparently thinks that anyone who disagrees with him is silly. It is only the sober, rock jawed, clear-eyed realists like himself who have a direct pipeline to the realities of the dangerous world we live in.

That's what conservative hawks always think, of course. Here's what Richard Nixon had to say during the 1952 election:

He accused Secretary of State Dean Acheson of suffering from "color blindness, a form of pink eye toward the communist threat in United States." He said Democratic presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson got a "PhD from Dean Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment," and in language that was bitterly resented by President Harry S. Truman, Nixon said that Truman, Acheson and Stevenson were "traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation's Democrats believe."

Sound familiar? Today, of course, even conservatives recognize that Truman was actually a staunch anti-communist and that containment was exactly the right strategy. In other words, the superhawks were dead wrong.

But they were too blinkered to understand that at the time, so why take them seriously when they repeat exactly the same tedious charges against today's Democrats? The fact is that conservative superhawks have spent decades accusing liberals of not taking foreign enemies seriously enough, with only the name of the enemy changing during that time. It's a kindergarten view of the world that was wrong 50 years ago and is equally wrong today.

I'm afraid an accusation of "You're silly" from the superhawk crowd is hardly something to be taken seriously among adults especially given its spotty past. Hugh is going to have to do better than that if he wants to graduate from the wading pool.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NAVEL GAZING....Are blogs influencing the outside world? Absolutely. The Guardian reports today that its most popular story of the past week was loaded ten times as much as its #2 story. Blogs accounted for the difference:

The page loaded 456,671 times was a story, originally published by the Observer, about a secret Pentagon report which warned the Bush administration that global warming could destroy the American way of life as they knew it.

....Every liberal with a weblog linked to the story, and when a story is trawled by the blogs traffic goes up; exponentially. Jane Perrone, Guardian Unlimited's weblog editor explains. "The key to a story's popularity amongst bloggers is if it's picked up by one of the dozen or so big hitters. These celebrity bloggers include Glenn Reynolds, Joshua Micah Marshall and Doc Searls. A lot of bloggers will take their lead from these names, or from aggregators like Popdex and Blogdex."

But what about me? I linked to that story, not those other guys.

Sigh. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Perhaps James Joyner inadvertantly provides the explanation by pointing to a study that claims that lots of bloggers get their ideas from other blogs without attributing them. Bastards. I immediately went to the Blog Epidemic Analyzer and typed in my URL, and sure enough, people are stealing my ideas! Between May 1-21 of 2003, Calpundit was referenced 96 times explicitly and 67 times implicitly i.e., without attribution. Clearly, something must be done.

Suitable punishments should be submitted in comments.

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

9/11 IMAGERY....You know, I've been trying to work up some outrage over the use of 9/11 imagery in the new Bush ads, but it's just not happening. I really don't see anything wrong with it.

Granted, there's a thin line between legitimate symbolism and outright exploitation, and if Bush ends up, say, laying a cornerstone for a new skyscraper at Ground Zero during the Republican convention, he will have gone way over the line. But alluding to 9/11 and trying to take credit for his response? That seems like pretty standard issue politics.

In fact, what I really wish is that Democrats weren't so queasy about this kind of stuff. Frankly, I'd like to see John Kerry run an ad using the same kind of imagery and hitting Bush hard on his foreign policy failures. After all, there's plenty to criticize in Bush's reaction to 9/11, and there's nothing wrong with Democrats using imagery that shows they're as serious about it as Bush is.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....Newsday has reports of further action in the Valerie Plame investigation:

The federal grand jury probing the leak of a covert CIA officer's identity has subpoenaed records of Air Force One telephone calls in the week before the officer's name was published in a column in July, according to documents obtained by Newsday.

Also sought in the wide-ranging document requests contained in three grand jury subpoenas to the Executive Office of President George W. Bush are records created in July by the White House Iraq Group, a little-known internal task force established in August 2002 to create a strategy to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

And the subpoenas asked for a transcript of a White House spokesman's press briefing in Nigeria, a list of those attending a birthday reception for a former president, and, casting a much wider net than previously reported, records of White House contacts with more than two dozen journalists and news media outlets.

Nigeria? A birthday reception? The White House Iraq Group?

And Josh Marshall points out that the White House Iraq Group has a very interesting set of regular participants....

UPDATE: And speaking of oddities, that "former president" thing slipped right by me at first. Which former president? I guess Bush Sr. is the most likely, right?

Kevin Drum 9:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEMOGATE....I've been waiting for the final report about those Republican staffers who pilfered a bunch of Democratic memos from the Senate Judiciary Committee server, but even though the report was released to the committee today Orrin Hatch hasn't decided exactly how much to make public yet. In the meantime, here's the Washington Post summary:

[Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William] Pickle and his investigators said forensics analyses indicated that 4,670 files had been downloaded between November 2001 and spring 2003 by [two GOP aides]....

The report identified the two former staffers as Jason Lundell, a nominations clerk who originally accessed the files, and Manuel Miranda, a more senior staff member....

In addition to faulting the two aides, Pickle's report noted the "systemic flaws" in the Senate Judiciary Committee's computer security practices and recommended steps to improve them. But the report said the flaws did not contribute to the downloading and dissemination of the Democratic files by the two GOP aides.

....According to Pickle's report, Lundell learned how to access the files by watching a systems administrator work on his computer. Miranda guided Lundell in his accessing endeavors, the report said. In addition, the probe found "a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence implicating him," the report said.

Is that a tease, or what?

  • There were systemic security flaws.

  • But those flaws had nothing to do with the pilfering.

  • Rather, Lundell figured out how to access the files by "watching a systems administrator."

The party line from conservative apologists so far has been that the stupid Democrats left their files wide open, so there was nothing wrong with Republican staffers taking a peek. It was just like leaving some papers on a table somewhere.

But apparently not. If the Post summary is correct, boneheaded security flaws weren't at fault after all, and whatever method Lundell used couldn't have been all that obvious if he had to watch a computer tech in order to figure it out. You don't need a tech to show you the way if it's just a matter of double clicking on My Computer.

Still, for a semi-geek like me this explanation is profoundly inadequate. What method did Lundell use? What security flaws if any were to blame? Were the Democrats warned of this flaw before Lundell and Miranda backed up the tractor and started hauling away boxes of documents?

Hopefully we'll learn more details tomorrow.

UPDATE: Regardless of how he got the files, Miranda is unrepentant:

Miranda, in an interview, dismissed what he called the 69-year-old Hatch's "antique and anachronistic" belief that "gentlemen don't read gentlemen's mail."

...."The problem," Miranda said, "is with senators who do not understand that there is nothing unethical with accessing anything on your computer."

Aren't those movement conservatives charming? "There is nothing unethical with accessing anything on your computer." Why not just hire Kevin Mitnick and be done with it?

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NUKES FOR NIGERIA....Is Pakistan still peddling nukes?

Pakistan yesterday offered to share military assistance, including "nuclear power" with Nigeria, in defiance of President George Bush's new counter-proliferation initiative.

...."Speaking at the opening of the discussions, the Pakistani chairman of joint chiefs of staff ... said that his country is working out the dynamics of how they can assist Nigeria's armed forces to strengthen its military capability and to acquire nuclear power," the Nigerian press release said. Neither the Pakistani nor the Nigerian governments clarified what Gen Khan had in mind.

Today the two countries decided a clarification might be in order after all: it was a "typographical error."

They said Gen Aziz Khan had boasted of Pakistan's nuclear capability...and, separately, had offered to help Nigeria produce defence equipment. "But somewhere, these two things seem to have got mixed up. All you people from India and Pakistan speak too fast."

So noted.

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA PROGRESS REPORT....George Bush sent a message to North Korea last weekend saying that his patience was wearing thin:

Bush, after consultation with Vice President Cheney and other senior aides, sent the curt directive after China sought to include in the statement a reference to North Korea's demand that the United States change its "hostile policy."

....For months, Bush had said publicly he had no intention of attacking North Korea. Now, according to U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, Bush instructed the delegation to say the administration's continued support of the six-party process rested on North Korea's commitment to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its programs. In diplomatic terms, the message was not subtle: The administration's goodwill could run out, and all options were still on the table.

....But after Chinese officials suggested the United States would be isolated because North Korea appeared ready to agree to the statement -- and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell received Bush's approval to scale back the U.S. goals -- Pyongyang pulled its own surprise, officials said.

A foreign policy analyst I talked to today says that what happened is that Dick Cheney had another one of his chats with Bush and got him good and riled up. Off went a nastygram to the North Koreans.

Powell then stepped in and reminded everyone that "or else" doesn't mean much unless you can answer the question "or else what?" Bush then backed down. Progress made: zero.

I continue to believe that Dick Cheney, who is not a stupid man, is convinced that simply acting crazy is good policy. He knows perfectly well we don't have any military options with North Korea but believes we can scare them into thinking we do if we act like we're nuts and might just push the button in a fit of pique.

This hasn't been notably productive so far although, in fairness, it's not clear if any other policy would have produced notable success either. Still, the wildly shifting Bush policy toward North Korea is becoming comical. At some point he really needs to decide whether he prefers the Cheney approach or the Powell approach and stick with it. Switching between the two depending on who's the last person to have talked to him is a guaranteed loser.

Kevin Drum 3:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY AND EDWARDS?....Is it true that sitting senators don't often win presidential elections? Yes it is, but it's just a meaningless factoid.

I agree. But since I like meaningless factoids, let's turn our attention to the second spot on the ticket and ask the question that's on everyone's mind: will John Kerry pick John Edwards to be his vice president? What do the factoids tell us?

Just this: presidential candidates don't usually pick primary opponents to be their running mate. It's only happened three times since World War II and only once in the past 40 years. Here's the complete rundown, excluding incumbents:

Year

Candidate

Running Mate

Ran for President?

1948

R: Thomas Dewey

Earl Warren

No

1952

R: Dwight Eisenhower
D: Adlai Stevenson

Richard Nixon
John Sparkman

No
No

1956

D: Adlai Stevenson

Estes Kefauver

Yes

1960

R: Richard Nixon
D: John F. Kennedy

Henry Cabot Lodge
Lyndon Johnson

No
Yes

1964

R: Barry Goldwater

William Miller

No

1968

R: Richard Nixon
D: Hubert Humphrey

Spiro Agnew
Edmund Muskie

No
No

1972

D: George McGovern

Tom Eagleton

No

1976

D: Jimmy Carter

Walter Mondale

No

1980

R: Ronald Reagan

George Bush

Yes

1984

D: Walter Mondale

Geraldine Ferraro

No

1988

R: George Bush
D: Michael Dukakis

Dan Quayle
Lloyd Bentsen

No
No

1992

D: Bill Clinton

Al Gore

No

1996

R: Bob Dole

Jack Kemp

No

2000

R: George W. Bush
D: Al Gore

Dick Cheney
Joe Lieberman

No
No


This is a funny result, isn't it? It may seem like primary opponents are the obvious choices for running mate, but for some reason the winners seldom agree. Or it could be the other way around: maybe the kind of people who run for president aren't very excited about settling for second place.

Naturally, this doesn't mean that Kerry won't pick Edwards. Still, it might be wise to start looking at the pool of candidates outside this year's crop of primary wannabes.

Coming next: when was the last time a nominee chose a running mate with the same first name?

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND THE VISION THING....Josh Chafetz suggests that President Bush needs to make a "long and thoughtful" speech about

About what? Matt Yglesias interrupts at this point to laugh at the very idea and then departs the scene.

To continue: a "long and thoughtful" speech about Iraq and the war on terror and the underlying philosophy behind what we're doing there: where the danger comes from, the Bush Doctrine, root causes, draining the swamp, democratization, etc. etc. Says Josh:

That -- written by Michael Gerson, of course, who is an incredible speechwriter -- is the speech I want to hear.

Hell, who wouldn't like to hear a speech like that? The problem is that while Josh and his fellow war supporters all love this kind of visionary stuff, it's not clear to me what makes them think that Bush himself shares this vision.

I can't help but think that there's an awful lot of wishful thinking going on here. Sure, Gerson could write a lovely speech on these topics, but we all know what Bush sounds like when he's forced by political expediency to talk about stuff he doesn't care about: he's dull, drab, and practically monotonic. You can practically see him fidgeting to get out the door and quit talking about this airy, high-minded nonsense.

So: I'd love to hear the speech too, but what I'd really like is some concrete evidence that Bush actually believes this stuff. I haven't seen it yet.

And a quick note on Josh's point #2: Better be careful. I know it sounds good, but if you really believe it you'd better have a pretty good explanation in hand for why Pakistan has so far managed to avoid the same treatment that Haiti got.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong has more.

Kevin Drum 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY = HITLER....Ah, those cute 'n cuddly Republicans:

Republican Congressman Tom Cole claims a vote against the re-election of President Bush is like supporting Adolph Hitler during World War Two.

...."If George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election," Cole is quoted in this week's edition of the Yukon Review....Cole is quoted as asking what Hitler might have thought had Franklin Roosevelt not been re-elected in 1944.

I demand that all bloggers who condemned Corinne Brown's remarks last week also condemn Cole. Anything less than his immediate ouster from the House of Representatives and permanent exile from the Republican party just proves that all Republicans are bigots and hypocrites.

That's the right patter for this kind of thing, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LEAD IN WASHINGTON....The federal limit for lead contamination in drinking water is 15 parts per billion, a standard that recent research indicates is almost certainly far too lenient. In Washington DC recently a test at one house showed a reading of 24,000 ppb and another house had a reading of 48,000 ppb.

The city did nothing more than send out a routine form letter with test results. If any small children had lived in those houses, they would likely have IQs of about 70 by now.

Pardon me for harping on lead, but this kind of stuff is just outrageous. There is simply no excuse for lead contamination even half as high as 15 ppb anywhere in a country as rich as the United States, and there sure as hell is no excuse for not reacting to test levels of 48,000 ppb with anything less than the urgency you'd use for a fire alarm.

There are lots of problems in our country that seem nearly intractable these days, but lead isn't one of them. The effects of lead in small in children are widespread and ruinous, and unlike so many other problems it really could be eliminated by simply throwing money at it. It would probably cost about $5 billion a year for a decade or so.

It is simply unconscionable that we don't spend it.

Kevin Drum 11:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MAGIC ASTERISK....Brad DeLong is pleased that Roger Altman will be putting together John Kerry's budget priorities document:

Roger Altman is very good people: highly competent, steeped in the issues, allergic to the magic asterisk. Moreover, he has the right values--fear of an inefficient and incentive-incompatible tax system, attachment to fiscal prudence as a way of accelerating economic growth, and an understanding of the good that well-designed government spending can do.

Can I be inexcusably cynical for a moment? Thanks.

I (and Brad) live in a state which last October was facing a $10 billion budget hole. We responded by electing a governor who promised to "stop the crazy deficit spending." As soon as he took office he increased the deficit by $4 billion by cutting vehicle license fees. Then in December he proposed to finance this tax cut by issuing an extra $4 billion* in bonds. Yesterday my fellow citizens eagerly approved this bond issue by a wide margin. At the same time they made it clear in no uncertain terms that they will not put up with any tax increases whatsoever as a means of addressing the deficit.

My point? What makes us think that the people of America are interested in someone who is competent, steeped in the issues, and allergic to the magic asterisk? As near as I can tell, they are far more likely to vote for people who (a) lie to them, (b) cut their taxes, and (c) pretend that a magic asterisk really will make the deficits caused by their tax cuts go away. The American public is practically addicted to the magic asterisk.

I have a nasty suspicion that Roger Altman's budget document will not inspire very many people to vote for John Kerry.

UPDATE: John Quiggin is thinking along the same lines, and he's about as cynical as me even though he doesn't quite admit it. For what it's worth, I vote for option 2, although I admit that Paul Krugman's relentless exposure of George Bush's bogus budget numbers makes it more difficult than usual. Still, anyone with a little style can pull it off. And it's such a golden oldie that it hardly even counts as a lie anymore. Plus John's description of it is both unusually amusing and absolutely dead accurate.


*Last year the California legislature approved approximately $10 billion in bonds that are in danger of being overturned in court. Arnold's bond measure doesn't just replace the legislature's bonds, it approves an extra $5 billion. This additional borrowing will mostly go toward financing the tax cut. Kevin Drum 9:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A LOOK BACK AT THE PRIMARIES....After the 2000 election the leaders of the Democratic party decided to shorten the primary season in 2004. The idea was to try and decide on a candidate early instead of having the Dems pummel each other senseless on national TV for six mind numbing months.

So how did it work out? In a word, brilliantly:

  • Needless to say, the abbreviated primary season accomplished its goal: today is March 3rd and we have a candidate. Instead of spending several more grueling months on the rubber chicken circuit, John Kerry can now spend them raising money, plotting strategy, resting up a bit, and thinking about a VP.

  • But there's more: it also forced all the candidates (except Wes Clark) to start campaigning extremely early. This meant that by January, when most people started paying attention, their messages were well honed, they knew what they were doing, and they weren't getting tripped up in lots of stupid mistakes. Result: all the candidates looked serious and professional and there were no huge gaffes. This was nothing but good news for the party image.

  • Finally, the condensed season made for a great show. It was intense, something new happened weekly, the press loved it, there was loads of coverage, and it was short enough that the public didn't get bored with it. All in all, it allowed the Democrats to steal the spotlight from Bush and instead shine it 24/7 on attacks on Bush. Result: Bush's poll numbers are down, he's feeling a little staggered, and his campaign is spending money earlier than it wanted on TV ads to resuscitate his image.

Bush's current problems are partly the result of external events, of course, but even so I think the intense media spotlight on the Democrats provided them far more opportunity to frame those events negatively than they normally could have.

There's no guarantee that things will work out this well next time, and there's certainly no guarantee of having an ideal pacesetter like Howard Dean in the future either. But it sure worked great this time.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COMING CLEAN....David Kay isn't very happy with George Bush's continuing nonresponse to the news that Iraq never had stockpiles of WMD after all. He says it's time to quit shilly shallying:

Mr Kay, who was formerly a UN weapons inspector, called for the president to go further. "It's about confronting and coming clean with the American people. He should say we were mistaken and I am determined to find out why," he said.

....Mr Kay said that continued evasion would create public cynicism about the administration's motives, which he believes reflected a genuine fear of WMD falling into the hands of terrorists. He also said that if the administration did not confront the Iraq intelligence fiasco head-on it would undermine its credibility with its allies in future crises "for a generation".

Kay seems to be getting a little more annoyed with every passing week. Give him another couple of months and he'll be making television commercials for John Kerry.

Kevin Drum 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUST AROUND THE CORNER....President Bush's new TV ads are here. Josh Marshall thinks the campaign's main theme is "It's not my fault," but I'm not so sure.

Take a look at ad #1 in particular. Could "Today America is turning the corner" be any closer to "It's morning again in America" without triggering a copyright infringement suit? Hell, even the music of the two commercials is similar. Don't believe me? Here's the Bush ad and here's the Reagan ad. Compare for yourself.

The other Bush ads are pretty standard issue stuff, also very Reaganesque in theme if not quite so obviously ripped off. Lots of flags being raised, images of Middle America, paeans to small business owners, "strong leadership," etc.

Will it work? Hard to say. The big difference between the Bush ads and "Morning in America" is that Reagan could genuinely cite some good statistics: inflation down, employment up, interest rates down, and so forth. Bush is limited to vague statements that, um, prosperity is just around the corner.

Hmmm, come to think of it, that old Hoover wheeze is mighty close to "America is turning the corner," isn't it? Maybe those endless comparisons of Bush to Hoover have paid off after all. Even the Bush campaign seems to have it stuck in its collective unconscious.

Kevin Drum 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ONLINE vs. PRINT....Thomas Lang at The Campaign Desk has a genuinely interesting piece today about the difference between the print and online editions of major newspapers. I already knew that online editors have a fair amount of autonomy in deciding what kind of play to give stories I've noticed in particular that the New York Times web edition seems to play up exactly the kinds of stories that bloggers and politics junkies are most interested in but it turns out there's a lot more to it than that:

The Web operations of most major papers represent worlds unto themselves. Just as newspapers have foreign news desks and sports desks, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times now have quasi-autonomous "continuous news desks" (called the extended news desk at the Los Angeles Times), staffed with editors and reporters dedicated to providing up-to-the-minute news coverage on the Web.

The editors of these continuous news desks start off their mornings by identifying the major stories of the day and contacting the print reporters assigned to those stories. Ideally the print reporter agrees to cover the event for the continuous news desk....Robert McCartney, assistant managing editor of WashingtonPost.com, says this is the "first choice always" because it brings the Website "credibility, knowledge, context, and sources that readers trust."

....These continuous news stories go up on the various Websites and are identified with time stamps and special URLs....The various newspapers identify the difference between continuous news stories and print editions various ways -- but the sites offer no clear guidance to help the reader make that distinction. The presumption seems to be that readers will figure it out for themselves.

Read the whole thing. It turns out that even reporters themselves are not always sure how things work at their newspapers, and the editors of the online versions are woefully mistaken about whether TV and radio personalities rely on the print edition or the online edition. It's an enlightening article.

Kevin Drum 10:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RADIO WARS....The New York Post claims to have the scoop on the long-awaited liberal talk show network. The Post says the network has signed up the aptly named WLIB in New York City, which "broadcasts a strong signal over New York City, Westchester and a nice chunk of eastern New Jersey," and could be up and running by April.

The lineup is Al Franken at noon going up against Rush Limbaugh; Randi Rhodes against Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly; and Janeane Garofalo in the 8-11 pm slot.

Sounds like fun.

Kevin Drum 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RATING THE WAR PRESIDENT....Instapundit makes a good point today or rather, one of his "war base" readers does:

To my mind, continued support of a president who has many objectionable policies in other areas of interest to me is dependent upon confidence in his future leadership on the war. I for one need to hear much more from him about the war objectives for his second term.

This "pandering" political strategy works only when voters such as myself sacrifice less-important principles in favor of the most important, the war. However, if I come to believe that a Democratic candidate can be as effective on the war as President Bush, or - worse - that President Bush in a second term will be as ineffective on the war as the likely Democratic candidates, then my heretofore solid support for the President will be far less certain this fall.

Glenn and I part ways on the right interpretation of this, though. Glenn thinks the problem is that Bush has done such a good job with the war that people don't care about it much anymore. After all, who needs a war president if the war is pretty much won?

But I think his reader actually has the right take on this: the problem isn't that Bush is doing well, but rather that he never really had a serious plan for fighting terrorism in the first place. Invading Iraq was pretty much it. And while we can argue about how well things are going in Iraq, the combination of continually caving in to Sistani, going to the UN for help, Iran and North Korea thumbing their noses at us, Osama still on the run, Tenet still running the CIA, stonewalling the 9/11 investigations, and no real visible action from the White House aside from tough sounding speeches and eventually even hardcore supporters of the war are going to see through the emperor's clothes and realize that Bush may indeed not be any more effective against terrorism than gasp! a Democrat.

Sure, Bush got a tremendous amount of support from the war party by invading Iraq, but you can't keep invading countries forever. They want to know what's next, and it's not clear what Bush has in mind. A lot of his supporters seem to have projected their own views onto Bush and convinced themselves that he bought into the same "clash of civilizations" argument that they did, but I suspect he never did. He just wanted to kick Saddam's butt. The only question is, how long will it be before his erstwhile fans figure this out?

Kevin Drum 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

COMMISSION TO BUSH: STOP PLAYING GAMES....The 9/11 commission has officially decided to tell the White House to knock off the crap and do what's right for the country:

The panel members, interviewed after a private meeting on Tuesday, said the commission had decided for now to reject a White House request that the interview with Mr. Bush be limited to one hour and that the questioners be only the panel's chairman and vice chairman.

...."We have held firm in saying that the conditions set by the president and vice president and Dr. Rice are not good enough," said Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman who is one of five Democrats on the 10-member commission.

Bill Clinton is willing to meet with the full commission and meet for as long as they need him. Why isn't George Bush willing to do the same? What's he afraid of?

Kevin Drum 8:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IS CHENEY IS TROUBLE?....Robert Tagorda summarizes the reasons that George Bush might decide to dump Dick Cheney from the ticket:

Here's my tentative observation: Cheney represents two related problems. First, he has a bad image. Second, he gives Democrats a good target for criticism. Rudy and Condi can help fix the first, but they wouldn't necessarily solve the second. For instance, though they're significant improvements from a public-relations standpoint, they wouldn't really slow down the attacks on the jobless recovery.

On national security and foreign policy, they could do both: Rudy's post-9/11 performance still resonates with the public, while Condi has the professional qualifications. But how much would they add overall to the campaign? Bush is already strong on these fronts, and unless he can gain notably more voters by subtracting Cheney's Halliburton ties and WMD remarks (among others), I don't see how Republicans truly benefit from the change.

The "dump Cheney" rumors have been inexplicably strong for several weeks now, but I just don't buy it. Cheney is very popular with Bush's conservative base, his "bad" image is only bad among liberals like me, and it's awfully hard to get much traction in a campaign by attacking the vice president although it's certainly a possibility I find attractive.

What's more, the socially liberal, messily divorced Giuliani strikes me as an impossible fit for Bush, and Condi Rice hasn't exactly set the world on fire with her performance as national security adviser.

Then there's the damage it would cause. Unless they came up with a rock solid alibi, it would be a horrible admission of weakness as well as a tacit admission that Cheney's policies had been wrong, something that's just not in Bush's character. What is in Bush's character is almost Mafia-like loyalty, and there's no question that Cheney has been nothing if not loyal. Bush won't turn on him.

Finally, when was the last time a president running for reelection dumped his vice president? There was Ford in 1976, but that was more like Rockefeller dumping him than the other way around. Let's face it: if Dan Quayle managed to stay on the ticket, anybody can.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see this happening. Cheney is here to stay unless we vote his boss out of office in November.

Kevin Drum 7:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DISTRACTED BY IRAQ?....As far as I know, we still don't know for sure whether the Zarqawi memo is real. But one thing everyone agrees on is that Abu Musab Zarqawi is a nasty character indeed, the mastermind behind a long series of terrorist attacks possibly including today's bloody attacks on Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala.

Today, in an ironic reprise of all those urban legends about how Clinton could have taken out Osama bin Laden if only he'd been serious about terrorism, NBC reports that we've passed up several chances to kill Zarqawi:

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

....Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.

The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it. By then the administration had set its course for war with Iraq.

People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the presidents policy of preemption against terrorists, according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.

In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.

The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Odd behavior from an administration supposedly focused like a laser on removing terrorist threats, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY ROMPS....As usual, Jack Shafer at Slate has the early exit poll numbers, and unsurprisingly Kerry is way ahead just about everywhere. The margin is 2:1 or more in every state except Georgia, and even there Kerry is ahead 50% to 39%. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Democratic nominee.

Oh, and Howard Dean is winning Vermont!

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ELECTRONIC VOTING....A REPORT FROM THE FIELD....I have just gotten aboard the touchscreen voting freight train and I proclaim it....kind of weird.

You sign in as usual and they give you some kind of computer generated code. Go over to the voting machine and enter your code.

Oops, it's not a touchscreen after all. There's some kind of funky wheel and you turn the wheel until the first digit of your code lights up. Press enter. Do it again for the second digit, etc. Then the ballot comes up. Use the wheel to highlight the person you want to vote for.

This wheel doohickey would not work well on a ballot with 135 candidates, but luckily this is a garden variety Democratic primary in Orange Country, which means that most races have only one candidate and we're lucky to even get that many civic minded folks willing to take it on the chin for the good of the party. (They will all lose in November by wide margins.)

When you're done, press the red "Cast Ballot" button and then go home. No paper receipt, of course.

Luckily I didn't make any mistakes, but I'm not sure what would happen if I did. What if I pressed the "Cast Ballot" button by mistake? Can I get my ballot back? I imagine this happens with paper ballots too, and the answer in both cases is "tough luck," but it seems a little different with an electronic system. After all, handing in a paper ballot and then rushing back to inform the pollworkers that you've changed your mind is one thing, but accidentally voting for the wrong person is quite another. Not sure how they handle that.

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HAITI ROUNDUP....Do I have this right?

Aristide is no poster boy for human rights, but he was elected fair and (mostly) square. The rebels, by unanimous consent, really are just a gang of thugs, but it's possible they're better than Aristide. Or maybe not. What's more, the United States might have been backing them with arms and support. Or maybe not.

Whose fault was the breakdown in Haiti? Was Aristide just reaping what he sowed? Maybe. And did Aristide leave of his own (sort of) free will, or was he forced at gunpoint by U.S. troops. Who knows?

As a matter of policy, should the United States always back democratically elected leaders? Or is it OK to sometimes back the opposition, even armed opposition, if the elected leaders have clearly failed?

I've gotten a bunch of email about Haiti, so hopefully this post explains why I haven't commented on it before now. I have no idea what's going on, who to believe, or what the right policy should have been, and there's not much point in pretending otherwise.

For what it's worth, The Progress Report has lots of links and Randy Paul at Beautiful Horizons is generally reliable on Latin American affairs. Jeanne d'Arc has also been following events.

If I come across anything especially interesting, I'll link to it. Until then, I'm planning to keep my trap shut.

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE OSCAR CHARADE REVISITED....This is weird. Yesterday I was complaining about the annual charade of pretending that the Academy Awards are supposed to last three hours, and today I see this in the LA Times:

Nielsen estimates that at least 73.4 million viewers saw some part of the show, which ran slightly over its scheduled 3 1/2 hours. It ended at 9:17 p.m. PST.

Say what? It was scheduled for 3 hours?

Off to the TV Guide. Answer: no, it was scheduled from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM. That's three hours.

Hmmm. Has the Academy brainwashed reporters and critics into thinking the show is actually scheduled for 3 hours? Or do insiders get a special schedule the rest of us don't? Are they all part of the game?

Hmmm....

Kevin Drum 10:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOD AND AMERICA....I read about this yesterday but just idly surfed on by (sorry, Amy). Today, Brian Montopoli jerks me back into reality and asks: what the hell was Elisabeth Bumiller doing in Sunday's debate posing an idiotic question like "Is God on America's side"?

Brian is right. What kind of answer can you possibly give to that? This is not a question a real reporter would ask, it's the question a too-clever-by-half high school sophomore would ask with a satisfied smirk on her face. Let's see you answer that!

On the other hand, John Kerry said God was on our side "most" of the time and I can think of lots of good answers for James Lileks' followup question, "Well, Senator Kerry, when wasn't He?" Um, when we were busy exterminating native Americans? When we were importing Africans into slavery? When we sat around and did nothing about genocide in Rwanda? I'm going to take a wild guess and say that God might want us to think twice about a few episodes like that in our history.

Sheesh.

UPDATE: Matt Welch has a few more questions for future Bumiller wannabes.

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ BOMBING....The news from Iraq seemed promising yesterday, but today we're back to bad news: 143 are dead in suicide bombings at Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala, and it might have been worse except that a third plot in Basra was preempted.

There really is some hopeful news coming out of Iraq these days, but there's also plenty of bad news. Folks on both sides should keep some perspective.

Kevin Drum 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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March 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A DEAL WITH PAKISTAN?....A few weeks ago Pakistan's "Father of the Bomb," A.Q. Khan, confessed on TV that he had sold nuclear technology to foreign countries. He was immediately pardoned by Pervez Musharraf, Pakistans president, and the White House proclaimed itself satisfied with Pakistan's dedication to ferreting out the truth.

At the time, one of the biggest mysteries about the whole affair was why the Bush administration was so eager to play along with the charade. Today, Seymour Hersh suggests there was a quid pro quo:

According to past and present military and intelligence officials, however, Washingtons support for the pardon of Khan was predicated on what Musharraf has agreed to do next: look the other way as the U.S. hunts for Osama bin Laden in a tribal area of northwest Pakistan dominated by the forbidding Hindu Kush mountain range, where he is believed to be operating. American commanders have been eager for permission to conduct major sweeps in the Hindu Kush for some time, and Musharraf has repeatedly refused them. Now, with Musharrafs agreement, the Administration has authorized a major spring offensive that will involve the movement of thousands of American troops.

But not everyone in Pakistan buys this:

One of Musharrafs most vocal critics inside Pakistan is retired Army Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, a fundamentalist Muslim who directed the I.S.I. from 1987 to 1989, at the height of the Afghan war with the Soviets. If American troops start operating from Pakistan, there will be a rupture in the relationship, Gul told me. Americans think others are slaves to them. Referring to the furor over A. Q. Khan, he added, We may be in a jam, but we are a very honorable nation. We will not allow the American troops to come here. This will be the breaking point. If Musharraf has made an agreement about letting American troops operate in Pakistan, Gul said, hes lying to you.

It's possible that we have indeed made a deal with Pakistan, but I wonder. Our relationship with Pakistan has run hot and cold for decades, and at the moment our biggest nightmare bigger than Iran, bigger than North Korea has to be the possibility of Musharraf getting overthrown and replaced with a distinctly less friendly regime, potentially one that's as unfriendly as the Taliban was.

That has to be avoided at all costs, because an unfriendly, nuclear-armed Pakistan is clearly the biggest threat we can imagine, and one that we'd be helpless to do anything about. If allowing U.S. troops into Pakistan elevates that risk even slightly, it's not clear that we'd even want to do it, let alone pressure Musharraf over it.

Or so it seems. But of course there are wheels within wheels, and who knows which way they're turning? For now, we watch and wait.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO OUTED VALERIE PLAME?....Joe Wilson is writing a book, and according to Publishers Weekly he'll be naming names:

Sources say the embargoed title, The Politics of Truth, from Carroll & Graf, will reveal who tipped off syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA--a felony punishable by as many as ten years in prison--and the larger circumstances around the leak. The matter is the subject of a grand-jury investigation that has seen Novak, Wilson and a number of high-profile administration members questioned.

It's not really clear from the blurb whether Wilson knows who the leaker is or if he merely "sketches out a scenario of events that is convincing and plausible and very personal." In any case, presumably he's already told everything he knows to the FBI and the grand jury, so if really knows who did it then so does the FBI.

The book is due out May 20.

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ....I was planning to write a post about the good news coming out of Iraq recently, but David Adesnik beat me to it. He hit all the points I was going to make, so go read his post and just pretend that I wrote it.

If all this stuff is true, it's good news indeed. My only quibble is with the approval of an interim constitution. It's true that the document the IGC signed off on is pretty liberal, but as Juan Cole points out, that just means no one wanted to jeopardize the June 30 handover by holding things up, so instead they decided to save the real fight for the constitutional convention next year.

Still, once something gets written down it tends to become the baseline for further negotiation, so the interim constitution probably represents some real progress anyway. And getting the oil pumping and cutting down on coalition casualties is definitely progress.

It could all still go to hell, of course. But it's still nice to hear something positive coming out of Iraq.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ANNUAL OSCAR CHARADE....Writing about the Academy Awards last night, Tom Shales complains about the show's length:

Insanely, even as the clock approached midnight and the show had passed its assigned closing time of 11:30, the producers and the network still inserted padding that prolonged the production, like a replay of the announcement that Charlize Theron had won the Oscar for Best Actress and a protracted tease for the upcoming Best Actor prize.

It's nuts for Shales to pretend to be shocked at the length of the telecast. Let me repeat what I said last year:

It's pretty obvious that the show lasts exactly as long as the producers want it to. Consider: (a) it runs long every year, (b) every other award show ends within a few nanoseconds of the scheduled time, (c) the networks sell advertising time based on the length of the show, and (d) these guys are pros and know exactly how to time a show like this.

So since it's obvious that they know how long it will go, my question is this: why pretend it's a 3-hour show? Why not just schedule it for 3 or 4 hours or whatever? What cachet do they think it gives them to have the show run long every year? Inquiring minds want to know.

I'm still wondering. If you give it even a moment's thought it's obvious that the producers know exactly how long the show will run. So why the charade? And why does everyone play along?

POSTSCRIPT: No, really, think about it for a minute before you comment. Of course they know how long the telecast will last. Was there any part of the show just one part that went unexpectedly long? Is there any doubt that the producers know how to time each segment to within a few seconds? Is it just a coincidence that every year the show runs almost exactly the same length (3 hours)?

It's funny, though: despite the compelling evidence to the contrary, I'm surprised at how few people I mention this to are willing to believe that the length of the show is deliberate. It's just a 30-year long coincidence, I guess....

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By: Kevin Drum

ARE SENATORS HONEST?....Do senators perform unusually well when they trade in the stock market? Maybe so, according to a study I wrote about last week.

Mark Schmitt has his doubts. After reading the study in question, he suspects problems with a small sample size and wonders exactly what advantage senators are supposed to have anyway. And if they do have an advantage (advance knowledge of legislation, tips from friends, etc.) surely that advantage would be greater the more seniority you have. But the study found that new senators did better.

Beats me. But I thought it would be worthwhile to link to an opposing view since I linked to the original study.

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING STATISTICS....Via Matt Yglesias, the Pew Internet Project has released a new survey about internet use, including some interesting and not always believable statistics about blogs:

  • As of August 2003, 2% of internet users were writing blogs. If you figure about 130 million internet users, that works out to 2.6 million bloggers. 40% say they update their blogs at least once a week, which means there are about 1 million active bloggers. I can buy that.

  • However, a "follow-up check" in early 2004 indicated that between 2% and 7% of internet users are bloggers. Huh? Aside from the fact that the high end of that range is hard to believe, does anyone believe that the number of bloggers might have tripled in six months?

  • 11% of internet users read blogs and third of those have commented on blogs. Even cutting that number in half to include only those who read blogs outside their circle of friends, that suggests that 5% of internet users read blogs.

    Maybe, although that sounds high to me based on personal experience. What's more, I would guess that only about 1% of Calpundit readers ever leave comments. That may not be representative (commenting rates may be higher on smaller blogs), but it still seems like a stretch to get to a third.

However, even if you take into account my skepticism about some of the numbers, this survey really does seem to indicate that blogs are remarkably popular and getting more so at a rapid clip.

On a different note, the survey also asked about general content creation (websites, blogs, newsgroups, etc.) and the results indicated surprisingly little in the way of a "digital divide." About the same percentage of men and women create web content; the same percentage of whites, blacks, and Hispanics; the same percentage of age groups (except for 65+); and roughly the same percentage of all income groups and education levels. There was a modest bump in content creation from those at the highest income level and those with college degrees, although even there the difference was modest.

Kevin Drum 9:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRAGILE REFINERIES....Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, gasoline prices are increasing in California due to unexpected refinery problems:

In the last week, the price of self-serve regular jumped more than 20 cents to an average of $2.152 per gallon....This year's increase 51 cents per gallon so far is being blamed on a spate of malfunctions that reduced gasoline output at several of the state's refineries.

This year's increase? I did a quick check of the Los Angeles Times for the last five years:

  • June 11, 2003: Technical troubles have shut down parts of three California refineries....Traders have reacted to the refinery glitches by sending gasoline prices up 16 cents a gallon -- to $1.165 -- since Friday on the so-called spot market, said Mark Mahoney, markets editor for the Oil Price Information Service.

  • March 8, 2002: California drivers should brace for a new surge in gasoline prices brought about by refinery problems, higher oil prices and increased demand....The wholesale market is being roiled by outages at the Valero Energy Corp. refinery in Wilmington and the ChevronTexaco Corp. refinery in Richmond, in northern California.

  • September 1, 2001: Wholesale gasoline prices in California rose again Friday on reports of another refinery problem in the state, keeping upward pressure on pump prices as the busy Labor Day driving weekend gets underway....The wholesale price of regular self-serve gasoline in the Los Angeles area reached as high as $1.28 a gallon Friday.

  • September 6, 2000: California drivers are paying nearly a dime more at the pump than they were a week ago, the Energy Department said Tuesday. Gasoline station operators blamed the big oil companies, which in turn blamed stubbornly high oil prices, minor refinery headaches and heavy end-of-summer demand.

  • July 20, 1999: The state's average gasoline price zoomed 8 cents a gallon higher in the last week, as rising oil prices and continuing refinery problems crashed into record fuel demand....The average price of regular unleaded self-serve gasoline was....up 8.2 cents a gallon from the previous week and 13.6 cents more a gallon than the average price two weeks ago, the U.S. Energy Department reported Monday.

I'm not the suspicious type, but it sure seems like we have an awful lot of refinery problems here in California, don't we?

"When everything's running right and the demand isn't too high, we have enough capacity, but that doesn't happen very often," said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute. "Usually something goes wrong."

Yes, that does seem to be the case, doesn't it? Maybe we need more refinery capacity?

There are no plans for new refineries or major expansions. In fact, this fall, Royal Dutch/Shell Group will close its Bakersfield plant.

Hey, that should help keep supplies tight and profits high!

Kevin Drum 9:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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