Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PLAYING THE GAME....I forgot to mention this yesterday, but John Ashcroft has continued to declassify documents that were written by 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick back in the mid-90s. Needless to say, his gleeful reaction when he released the first of those documents a couple of weeks ago made it clear that the sole purpose of these declassifications is to try to embarrass Gorelick, not to shed any light on counterterrorism efforts prior to 9/11.

Yesterday we learned that the president was "disappointed" in Ashcroft's actions. He doesn't like finger pointing, you see, and his disappointment has been clearly conveyed to the Justice Department.

Isn't that elegant? By playing it this way the documents themselves are still made public, thus accomplishing the aim of embarrassing a Democratic member of the 9/11 panel, but Bush himself gets to look mature and presidential by condemning Ashcroft's childish political gamesmanship. Nicely played, Mr. President, nicely played....

Kevin Drum 9:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR DEATHS....War supporters are betraying more than they realize by their panicky reaction to recent media portrayals of Americans who have died in the Iraqi war. Some examples:

  • Robert Alt writes at NRO about the four contractors whose charred bodies were hung from a bridge in Fallujah last month. He objects to the New York Times running a picture of this because, although he believes their editors intended for it to enrage, "the Times meant this rage to be directed not primarily toward the terrorists, but toward those politicians who brought us to this inhospitable land."

    I wonder why he's so convinced of that? I ran the same picture when I wrote a post about the events in Fallujah, and I remember doing it for exactly the opposite reason. I was afraid that a graphic portrayal of what the Fallujah insurgents did to American citizens might fan the war flames, but figured that people ought to see it anyway. After all, that's what we're up against.

  • Conservative pundits were rabidly opposed to releasing pictures of military coffins being delivered to Dover, and I even semi-debated one of them on a radio program a few days ago. He thought it showed a lack of sensitivity. But as I wrote last week, I just don't get it: "It's almost impossible not to be moved by these photos, and impossible not to recognize from them how much care is taken with the bodies and how seriously these deaths are taken."

  • Ted Koppel plans to read the names of all the soldiers killed to date in Iraq on tonight's Nightline, and the folks at Sinclair Broadcast Group have decided not to air the show on their stations. As Keith Berry points out, Sinclair's loyalties are pretty obviously with the Bush administration, and they have apparently decided that honoring our war dead in this way is a political statement aimed at undermining support for the war.

    But Washington Monthly editor Ben Wallace-Wells emails to say he discussed Nightline on a radio show in a deeply Republican area of North Carolina recently and got a different reaction:

    The host and his sidekick (whose brother was KIA in Vietnam) opposed Koppel on the established conservative line: it's politically opportunistic, it's a cynical ratings-grab, it's unpatriotic to drum up opposition to a war president. But we heard from 6 or 7 callers, all but one conservative (and even the Democrat was a military wife), and to a person they disagreed with the hosts, thought the reading was noble and honorable, a proper way to honor our dead. Some still agreed that the timing was opportunistic, politically motivated, but nevertheless they said they supported the name-reading.

    Maybe the Sinclair executives need to get out more.

All this leads me to believe that war supporters need to get a grip. In a popular war, battlefield losses serve to redouble public commitment to the fight, and honoring the dead is viewed as a solemn and patriotic gesture. It's only in unpopular wars that combat deaths cause public support to decline.

Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to weaken support for the war. This is partly a result of their paranoid conviction that the sole purpose of the media is to undermine conservative causes, but it's also a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration's handling of it, they'd show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel's gesture of respect tonight. Instead they're acting as if they're ashamed we're over there.

Kevin Drum 8:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ABU GHRAIB....What happened at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad was horrific:

According to sealed charging papers that were provided to The Washington Post, soldiers forced prisoners to lie in "a pyramid of naked detainees" and jumped on their prone bodies, while other detainees were ordered to strip and perform or simulate sex acts. In one case, a hooded man allegedly was made to stand on a box of MREs, or meals ready to eat, and told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off. In another example, the papers allege, a soldier unzipped a body bag and took snapshots of a detainee's frozen corpse inside. Several times, soldiers were photographed and videotaped posing in front of humiliated inmates, according to the charges. One gave a thumbs-up sign in front of the human pyramid.

You don't have to read Arabic to see how this is playing in the Middle East, either. At Al Jazeera's English-language site it's just one small story among many, but at their main Arabic-language site it's front and center. And while I can't read the text, my guess is that the Arabic version is more inflammatory than the relatively straightforward English version.

I hope the folks responsible for this get what they deserve. Maybe we should let an Iraqi court do the honors.

UPDATE: The Memory Hole has a complete set of pictures.

Kevin Drum 4:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI WATCH....Matt Yglesias writes that "Plans for fixing the mess in Iraq are spreading like kudzu through the circles of punditry." Indeed they are. Barbara Lerner, for example, believes that the root of our problems is not that Donald Rumsfeld stubbornly refused to listen to his own Army Chief of Staff, but that the president did not listen enough to Donald Rumsfeld:

Rumsfeld's plan was to train and equip and then transport to Iraq some 10,000 Shia and Sunni freedom fighters led by Shia exile leader Ahmed Chalabi and his cohorts in the INC, the multi-ethnic anti-Saddam coalition he created.

This never happened, of course, thanks to Colin Powell, George Tenet, and "State Department Arabists." But there's still hope:

It is not yet too late for us to recognize these facts and act on them by dismissing Brahimi, putting Secretary Rumsfeld and our Iraqi friends fully in charge at last, and unleashing our Marines to make an example of Fallujah. And when al Jazeera screams "massacre," instead of cringing and apologizing, we need to stand tall and proud and tell the world: Lynch mobs like the one that slaughtered four Americans will not be tolerated.

Indeed. What we really need in Iraq is more Chalabi. These folks just never give up, do they?

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WILSON AND NOVAK....Tim Dunlop is reading Joe Wilson's book for us. What a stand up guy!

Today's he's got an interesting excerpt: it turns out Wilson talked to Robert Novak several days before Novak's infamous July 14 column in which he outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, and told him that speculating on his wife's CIA connections was dangerous and irresponsible. In other words, writing what he did in his column that day wasn't a momentary lapse in judgment on Novak's part. He knew very well he was doing someting dishonorable and he went ahead and did it anyway.

Details are here.

Kevin Drum 2:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AT LEAST IT'S NOT A DRIVE-BY SHOOTING....Problems in paradise:

Two big-rig trucks are blocking all northbound lanes of the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway north of Washington Boulevard in Commerce, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Fox 11 is reporting that the trucks were stopped intentionally by the drivers in a protest over the high cost of fuel and that truckers intend to block other freeways as well.

That should get them some sympathy, eh? I wonder who, exactly, they think they're protesting against?

Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND IRAQ....Several people have written to take me to task for criticizing John Kerry's foreign policy flabbiness (here and here) without offering something constructive to take its place. This is a fair point, so let's offer something constructive.

First, though, a question: does Kerry's national security policy really matter that much? I think it does for a couple of reasons:

  • We liberals would like to think that the election is going to turn (or can be made to turn) on the state of the economy, or perhaps on favored social issues like education or healthcare. This is dreamland. The economy is going to do whatever the economy does, and right now it looks like it will be bad enough that Kerry has a chance to win but good enough that it won't hurt Bush too badly. Relying on that to win the election would be foolish.

    Whether we like it or not, this just isn't the year for social issues to take center stage. The president has far more ability to control the agenda than the challenger, and Bush's campaign message is already clear: the world is a dangerous place and John Kerry can't be trusted to keep you safe.

    This is not to say that the economy and social issues won't play a role. Of course they will, and Kerry should take advantage of his strengths in these areas. But the key issue is going to be terrorism and especially the war in Iraq. I think liberals need to face up to this squarely even if we don't like it.

  • Survey results for the past several months have been clear: Bush's approval ratings for handling the war have gone down, people increasingly believe it was a mistake to invade Iraq, and sentiment is moving in the direction of bringing the troops home. But this hasn't helped Kerry. It does give him an opening, but by itself it's not enough for people to have doubts about Bush; they also have to believe that Kerry is likely to do a better job.

What to do? Dan Drezner summarizes Kerry's problem pretty well: (a) when things go badly overseas even if people blame the president they tend to rally around him; (b) as a Democrat, Kerry can't afford to look weak if he wants to win moderates to his side, but he can't seem too aggressive or else he'll lose his liberal base; and (c) it's hard to figure out a way to really distinguish his Iraq policy from Bush's.

To a certain extent, this is OK for the moment. One of the advantages that challengers have is that they can wait before they lay their policies in stone. After all, facts on the ground in Iraq could change dramatically in the next few weeks, so why shouldn't Kerry let Bush stew in his own juices a while longer before committing himself to a policy that he won't be able to execute until next year anyway?

These are good points, and waiting until after the June 30 handover in Iraq might not hurt Kerry. But to win the election Kerry has to convince the fence sitters that he can do better than Bush, and I think he needs to do it by July at the latest, before Bush has had a chance to irrevocably define him as untrustworthy on national security. What's more, this is a case where policy wonkishness and 20-page position papers won't do the job for him. Max Boot may come at this from a different perspective, but he's right when he says that Kerry needs a "compelling alternative." To distinguish himself, he needs to have two or three very clear, very simple, and very persuasive proposals that he knows Bush can't endorse. And he needs to hammer on them.

Here are some examples of the kind of things I'm talking about:

  • Break Iraq into three parts. Peter Galbraith made the case for this a few days ago and I was skeptical of it, but it's nonetheless a compelling and worthwhile idea. It's easy to understand and explain, it cuts through a lot of problems at once, and it's not something Bush is proposing.

  • Significantly expand the Army, especially its peacekeeping functions. You could put a humanitarian spin on this too. Or maybe a new branch of the military dedicated to special ops. No more arguments between the CIA and the Air Force about who's in charge of Predator drones.

  • Propose killing a major weapons system. Maybe the F-35, or something to do with missile defense. Recommend a major new program for technology better suited to asymmetrical warfare against terrorists. A military that's oriented toward fighting terrorism, not the Cold War, is badly needed, and Bush has done little to get us there. He's vulnerable on this issue, and it's an area where Kerry could really score some points.

I'm not necessarily advocating any of these specific ideas, but you get the idea. Kerry needs to pick something he believes in and then hone it into a proposal that's easy to understand, that provokes a serious debate, and that makes him look like the guy with new ideas compared to a hidebound administration that refuses to face up to the requirements of a new kind of warfare. And don't get hung up on the details.

And one more thing: as Mark Schmitt observed a few days ago, this is something where the usual Democratic pressure groups need to give Kerry some breathing room. Some of them undoubtedly think he should just declare the Iraq war unwinnable and propose that we withdraw. But in the America we actually live in, as opposed to the one in our imaginations, that would be suicidal. George McGovern is still alive and can confirm this.

So let Kerry make proposals like these without attacking him from the left, especially since there's no telling what the actual situation in going to be next January 20 anyway. There will be plenty of opportunity to start pressuring him after he's comfortably ensconced in the Oval Office.

Kevin Drum 1:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI RECONSTRUCTION....The CPA's inspector general has delivered a progress report on Iraqi reconstruction:

Seven months after Congress approved the largest foreign aid package in history to rebuild Iraq, less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion has been spent and occupation officials have begun shifting more than $300 million earmarked for reconstruction projects to administrative and security expenses.

That's about a billion dollars, the bulk of which has gone to big ticket projects like the electric grid and getting the oil flowing.

The real shame of this is that we've insisted that all this money be spent through normal channels. Needless to say, there are good reasons for maintaining oversight over federal funds, but it's hard not to think that loosening the normal requirements would have been a good idea for at least a piece of this funding.

Think about it: give or take a bit, we have about 200 battalions in Iraq. Each battalion has four to six companies. Give each company captain $20,000 a week to spend on local projects staffed by Iraqis. Total cost: around a billion dollars a year.

My arithmetic may be off for a variety of reasons, but you get the idea: put some money into the hands of the folks closest to the action and let them spend it with only minimal oversight. Probably half of it would have ended up wasted, but even at that it would have been a bargain.

It's probably too late to do this now, but it might have worked a year ago. Another missed opportunity.

Kevin Drum 12:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....Who leaked Valerie Plame's name to the press? Joe Wilson is naming names:

The guessing game continues. Those hoping to solve the mystery of who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak -- a matter under investigation by a grand jury and a special prosecutor -- won't find a clear answer in the new book by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame's husband. But in "The Politics of Truth," set for release tomorrow, Wilson points to Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as "quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity."

There are other suspects in Wilson's closely held book, a copy of which was obtained by The Post's Linton Weeks. Citing unnamed sources, Wilson writes that a "workup" on his background was done by the White House in March 2003 after his public criticism of Iraq policy. "The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal during the first Bush administration." (Abrams is on the staff of the National Security Council.)

But Wilson hasn't given up entirely on his first suspect, Karl Rove, whom he said last summer should be "frog-marched" out of the White House in handcuffs. "The workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles," Wilson alleges.

No surprises here, but apparently it's still just guesswork. There's no indication (yet) that Wilson has any hard evidence to back him up.

Kevin Drum 6:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DECLASSIFICATION GAMES....Sorry, this post was a complete cock-up. I've deleted it. Apologies.

Kevin Drum 6:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ABORTION AND TERRORISM....A few days ago Karen Hughes made this remark about abortion:

I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life....The fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life.

So supporters of abortion are like terrorists? Not quite, says Ramesh Ponnuru in NRO today:

The most that can fairly be said is that by implication she was likening abortionists to terrorists, and supporters of abortion to supporters of terrorism....In no way is she saying that abortion is just like terrorism, or that abortionists are as evil as terrorists, or that support for abortion is as inexcusable as support for terrorism.

Let me get this straight: Hughes wasn't comparing abortion supporters to terrorists, she was just comparing abortion supporters to supporters of terrorism. So that's OK!

I wonder if it ever occurs to these guys that it's possible to make your arguments a little too clever? Especially when he goes on to say this:

Hughes and Bush should probably not have said what they said, because such comments could undermine both the campaign against abortion and the war on terrorism. But what they said was true, and I hope they stand up to the pressure.

This is typical of the pro-life crowd: most of them are plainly unwilling to face up to the logical consequences of their beliefs and too cowardly to make their real case to the American public.

Ponnuru is right: if abortion is murder, then anyone who gets an abortion should be jailed. Anybody who performs an abortion should be put on death row. Anybody who supports abortion rights is little better than a mobster or a terrorist.

But if that's what they believe and they do why does he think it's unwise to admit it in public? The question answers itself, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FALLUJAH....Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Fred Barbash of the Washington Post seem to have the best account of the decision to withdraw U.S. Marines from the siege of Fallujah and replace them with a newly created all-Iraqi army:

The former general who would likely be supervising Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, Salah Aboud, was the army's deputy chief of staff following the 1991 Gulf War and had close ties to Hussein. He participated in the cease-fire talks with U.S. officers that ended that war.

Before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Hussein named Aboud military adviser to Ali Hassan Majeed, better known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s. Majeed was the commander responsible for all forces in southern Iraq during the most recent war.

....The generals said they would assemble and command a force of 900 to 1,000 trained Iraqi soldiers, Sunni Muslims, so that it could replace the Americans on the front lines of the fighting.

This new "Fallujah Protection Army," Byrne said, would be a subordinate command reporting to Lt. Gen. James P. Conway, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which is in charge of Western Iraq, including Fallujah.

....Some U.S. commanders had previously believed such proposals to be dicey propositions in part because the Iraqi troops have been inactive for more than a year and might not be a fit fighting force. In addition, some of them have been battling U.S. troops.

A Marine officer familiar with the arrangement said the force would be made up largely of Iraqis with prior military experience. But it was not clear how much vetting, if any, would be done, given the pressure to form the force within days. The officer acknowledged that some former insurgents may well be part of it, creating the potential situation of U.S. troops having to work with people who have very recently been shooting at them.

I suppose there's no choice but to trust the commanders on the ground to take this risk, especially since a full-scale assault seems like the only alternative, but it still fills me with foreboding. There are at least 2,000 heavily armed insurgents in Fallujah, and this new army will be poorly trained, half the size of the forces they're fighting against, commanded by a former Saddam loyalist, and possibly infiltrated by insurgents.

I sure hope they know what they're doing. It seems a rather desperate gamble.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUGBYGATE....Slacktivist tells us today that George Bush apparently has a habit of exaggerating his college sports career in the presence of foreign leaders:

Now, okay, this isn't that big a deal. I'm not even sure it's a little deal. But the fact is the guy played a bit of intercollegiate intramurals and he likes to tell people that it was more than that -- that he played Ivy League varsity.

That's kind of smarmy and less than admirable, but whatever.

Still, consider the kind of treatment this story would be getting if it were John Kerry, rather than George W. Bush, who was caught lying about his athletic resume.

Mickey Kaus would latch onto the story for at least a week, interpreting it as a deeply meaningful and revealing metaphor -- maybe even a "synecdoche." Mickey would begin referring to it through some semi-clever nickname -- "Rugbygate" -- and Slate would publish day after day of his explorations of all the deplorable things such a story might indicate about the senator's character. (All of which would be more substantial than the confused trivialities Kaus has recently been peddling on Microsoft's dime.)

That sounds about right. I don't happen to be either part of Mickey Kaus' fan club or part of the Mickey Kaus death squad, but his unending armchair psychoanalytic bashing of John Kerry with virtually no grounding in actual events is a wonder of the modern world. I wish he could think up something about Kerry that was actually worth saying. Either that or explain what childhood trauma it was that led to his pathological Kerryphobia.

POSTSCRIPT: This also reminds me that some magazine the Weekly Standard? devoted an entire cover story sometime in the 90s to allegations that Bill Clinton took a few too many mulligans during his golf outings. I eagerly await a similar cover story on George Bush's athletic exaggerations.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COMPARE AND CONTRAST....Some poll results:

  1. How much confidence do you have in George W. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the ongoing conflict in Iraq -- a lot, some, not much, or none at all?

    28% A lot
    30% Some
    18% Not much
    24% None at all

  1. In his statements about the war in Iraq, do you think George W. Bush is telling the entire truth, is mostly telling the truth but is hiding something, or is mostly lying?

    20% Entire truth
    56% Hiding something
    20% Mostly lying

  1. When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?

    24% Telling truth
    56% Hiding something
    16% Mostly lying

  1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?

    41% Approve
    52% Disapprove


Kevin Drum 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

4%....This year, about 50% of the voting age population will vote in the presidential election.

However, only 30% of the population lives in contested states.

And according to the latest New York Times poll, only 25% of the people they surveyed are still undecided about who they're going to vote for.

Do the arithmetic and that adds up to 4% of the electorate. Everything you see for the next six months from George Bush and John Kerry every ad, every dollar, every speech, every prerecorded telephone call is aimed at trying to convert about 4% of the total voting age population. The other 96% of us are basically spectators either we're not going to vote, we live in states that are foregone conclusions, or we've already made up our minds.

Do you know anyone who's part of the 4%? If you do, get to work on them.

Kevin Drum 12:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS....Can you say "suck" on the radio? As in, say, "George Bush sucks" (just to pull an example from a hat)?

Perhaps once upon a time you could, but no longer. NPR's lawyers believe that the FCC's new "zero tolerance" rule prevents use of the word. The Simpsons will never be the same.

Kevin Drum 11:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REGISTRATION....I'm really tired of registering with online newspapers. Apparently Knight Ridder recently decided to require registration, and you have to register separately with every single one of their papers. What's more, a slew of other newspapers have also decided to require registration within the past week or two. Is it something in the water?

Can charging for content be far behind? I hope not. It would be the end of the blogosphere.

Kevin Drum 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLEANING UP AFTER GEORGE....I had lunch today with a longtime friend. He's a Bush supporter and strongly favored invading Iraq.

At least he used to. Today, though, before I could even get a few words out of my mouth, he started shaking his head. There's nothing more we can do in Iraq, he said. Bush's planning was hopelessly bungled. It's a complete mess. We should have finished off Afghanistan first. The Iraqis haven't shown a bit of gratitude for all the aid we've given them. We're screwed if we attack Najaf, we're screwed if we don't. We just need to leave and let them sort it out for themselves. If it turns into an Islamic theocracy well, that's the way it goes.

Wow. And did he think this would affect Bush?

Well, he said, you can't change horses in midstream. He should be reelected.

Even though you think he's bungled the war completely? Why not vote for Kerry?

Oh no, there was no way he could do that. Maybe he wouldn't vote for either one of them. You know, cast a protest vote or something, maybe for whoever the Libertarian candidate is. But Kerry? No way.

And this, in a nutshell, illuminates John Kerry's problem. My friend is conservative, but not hardline conservative, and he has more reasons than just Iraq to be disappointed in Bush. But even so, voting for Kerry is beyond the pale. There's no reason to think he could do any better, you see.

And that's the key, isn't it? It may be too late for Kerry to win my friend's vote, but he's going to need the votes of lots of people similar to him not hardline conservatives, but moderate conservatives who might change their votes if they're given a good enough reason. But to move those voters into his column, he's got to convince them he can fix George Bush's mess.

So far, he hasn't done that.

UPDATE: Penultimate paragraph modified to clear up some unfortunate confusion about what I meant.

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KINSLEY MOVES TO LA TIMES....This is good news for Southern Californians:

Michael Kinsley, the founding editor of the online magazine Slate, was named editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times, John Carroll, editor of The Times, announced today.

....Kinsley, who also has been the editor of the New Republic and Harper's magazines, will be responsible for The Times' daily editorial and letters page, the Commentary page and the Sunday Opinion section.

Like many people, I've long found the LA Times' editorial and op-ed pages to be considerably flabbier than they should be for a paper of the Times' stature. If anyone can turn that around, Kinsley's the guy.

And here's Job 1 for you, Michael: get rid of the juvenile, jokey, 3rd-position editorials that show up like a bad penny every few days. They aren't funny, they aren't even witty, and if you can't find three legitimate subjects to have an opinion about every day then you shouldn't be running an editorial page. Don't disappoint me on this, OK?

Kevin Drum 4:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MUQTADA AL-SADR....Who is Muqtada al-Sadr? He seems to have popped up out of nowhere to most Americans, but his roots in Iraqi politics run as deep as George Bush's in American politics. Juan Cole recommends this very good profile of the Sadrist movement in the Christian Science Monitor:

While Moqtada's religious credentials are weak, his family's political standing is as deep as the modern history of Iraq. His grandfather was the prime minister in 1932. And this young, militant cleric didn't spontaneously emerge after the fall of Saddam Hussein. US forces now entering the city of Najaf, are up against a man who has donned the well-cultivated mantle of his father (Sadek al-Sadr), the leading Shiite thorn in the side of the Hussein regime in the 1990s.

....By 1999, Sadek al-Sadr was openly attacking Hussein's rule. He called for Shiites to stop making direct donations to the Shiite clergy, since he said some of the money was being diverted to the regime for use on "women and liquor."

....This all proved too much for the regime. On Feb.18, 1999, the car carrying Sadek al-Sadr home to Najaf was riddled with bullets in an ambush, and he was killed along with two of his four sons. Most of his supporters believe Sadr survived the initial attack and was later finished off at a Najaf hospital.

....Sadek al-Sadr had left instructions for his followers to take religious instruction from Kazim al-Hairi, a cleric based in the Iranian shrine city of Qom. But on April 8, 2003, Hairi issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, calling on his followers to listen to Moqtada and to ignore the US occupation, urging the Shiites to take power for themselves.

The whole story is well worth reading.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CIRCUS DAY....Tim Dunlop has a pretty good summary of President Bush's relationship with the 9/11 commission....

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPECTER vs. HOEFFEL....Kathryn Jean Lopez in The Corner earlier today:

That's an easy one, K-Lo: of course not. Arlen Specter is far more dangerous to conservatives due to his greater seniority and well-known radical leftist tendencies. I recommend that all good conservatives vote for Joe Hoeffel, especially since this year's election won't be very close and the Senate leadership is therefore not likely to be up for grabs.

No, really, I mean it. I'm pretty sure Atrios has a donation button, too....

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUTSOURCING....Dan Drezner, aka Outsourcing-R-Us, links to a New York Times article today suggesting that outsourcing of software development might be harder than it looks:

Another Indian executive in the United States who has soured on outsourcing is Dev Ittycheria, the chief executive of Bladelogic, a designer of network management software with 70 workers, also in Waltham. Bladelogic, whose client list includes General Electric and Sprint, outsourced work to India within months of going into business in 2001. But it concluded that projects it farmed out one to install an operating system across a network, another to keep tabs on changes done to the system could be done faster and at a lower cost in the United States.

That was true even though programmers in India cost Bladelogic $3,500 a month versus a monthly cost of $10,000 for programmers in the United States. "The cost savings in India were three to one," Mr. Ittycheria said . "But the difference in productivity was six to one."

This fits with my own experience. Several years ago, the company I worked for was acquired by a Swiss company that had offices around the world, including one in Kuala Lumpur. This made it very easy to experiment with contracting some work out to Malaysia, but the experiment turned out to be more expensive than we had thought. In the end, my conclusion was that the raw cost needed to be about one-fourth the cost of doing the job in California in order to be worthwhile. The Malaysians only charged about half what it cost to do it at home, and eventually we gave up.

(The problems are the obvious ones. You have to spend a lot more time writing very detailed and clear specs if the work is done overseas. The coding takes longer because communication is more difficult. The overseas programmers ideally should set up the exact same coding environment as headquarters, but they can't always do it. Management overhead is greater. Etc.)

I'm no longer there, but after I left they tried again, this time with programmers in Vietnam. I had lunch with one of the company's manager last week, and she told me that it's worked out better this time because the raw cost is about 20% the cost of U.S. programmers. Even after the usual markups, it still saves the company money.

Of course, this varies from company to company and project to project. IT departments building internal systems are usually able to make more efficient use of overseas programmers than companies building consumer software. And certain types of projects (ones that are more easily broken into modules) lend themselves better to outsourcing than others.

But overall, my guess is that outsourcing isn't quite the bogeyman in the software industry that it's made out to be. It definitely exists, and it will certainly grow in the future, but people who try it often find that in the end it doesn't save nearly as much money as they hoped. My rule of thumb remains the same: the raw cost needs to be in the neighborhood of one-fourth what it would cost to do the same job at home in order for the cost savings to be worthwhile. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIST vs. DASCHLE....Bill Frist really wants to get rid of Tom Daschle:

In the latest indication that Frist will personally campaign against his Democratic counterpart, the Republican leader signed a two-page fundraising letter last week for Thune that was sent to thousands of potential donors. The letter was a clear call to arms on behalf of the former three-term House Member who is trying to oust Daschle, a three-term Democrat.

If you can only make one more contribution to one of our Republican Senate candidates this election cycle ... you should make that gift to John Thune, Frist proclaimed in the letter. To add emphasis, that phrase was set in bold-faced capital letters, accompanied by an exclamation point.

Am I the only one who thinks this could backfire? State politicians can usually make a lot of hay over accusations of "outsiders" trying to influence their elections, and I wonder if Daschle can turn something like this into a positive?

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that Daschle testified as a character witness for South Dakota congressman Bill Janklow in his vehicular manslaughter trial last year. Janklow, of course, is a Republican. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRANIAN BOMBS....Is Iran accelerating its bombmaking too?

An Iranian opposition group with sources inside Iran's military is making public a list of the senior military personnel and military units it says are involved in Iran's secret nuclear weapons programs.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) says in a summary of its findings that Iran is rushing to complete a first nuclear bomb in "between one and two years."

....The Iranian opposition group's summary says the view of Iran's government is that "because of its problems in Iraq, the United States has no choice but to go soft on Iran."

Based on other reports, it's hard to say whether NCRI is really reporting anything new here, although U.S. sources seem to be taking it seriously. But that last paragraph caught my eye.

I'm not sure I buy it something about it just doesn't click but NCRI is supposed to release a more complete report later Wednesday. I'll be curious to see how Iran experts react to it.

Kevin Drum 2:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH? OR LOUIS XIV?....YOU MAKE THE CALL....The Campaign Desk summarizes Allan Murray's theory (in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal) about why George Bush likes Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack even though it paints a pretty unflattering picture of his administration:

How can this be? Well, Murray explains, if read with neither liberal nor conservative blinders on, the book paints a flattering portrait of Bush -- and of no one else. Secretary of State Colin Powell is painted as "Hamlet on the Potomac," forever out of the loop. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comes off as a schemer who refuses to take a clear stand on much of anything. CIA chief George Tenet is blamed for monumental intelligence failures. Vice President Cheney is feverish with dreams of war. Only Bush, the steadfast figure at the core of this collection of flawed climbers, is portrayed almost admiringly, says Murray, a former Washington Bureau Chief of the Journal, who now performs that role for CNBC.

So Bush is fine with the fact that everyone around him looks like an idiot just as long as he looks OK. Jeebus. Did we elect a president or the Sun King? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Kevin Drum 11:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREAN BOMBS....The Washington Post reports that U.S. intelligence agencies now believe North Korea has at least eight working nuclear bombs. "Among the evidence used in making the assessment is a detailed analysis of plutonium byproducts found on clothing worn by members of an unofficial U.S. delegation that was allowed to visit North Korean nuclear facilities several months ago."

It's comforting that George Bush's muscular attitude toward North Korean bombmaking is producing so much better results than Bill Cinton's feckless approach, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 11:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH'S MILITARY RECORD....Like many people, I'm puzzled that the Bushies have decided to unleash the attack dogs on the issue of John Kerry's Vietnam service. It's possible, of course, that they know something I don't and have some devious trick up their sleeves that I can't figure out, but the most obvious consequence of doing this is that it gives the press an excuse to revive the issue of George Bush's military service, which until now had been allowed to die a conveniently quiet death. For example, here is James Moore in Salon today:

The president and his staff are doing a very good job of convincing the public he has released all of his National Guard records and that they prove he was responsible during his time in Alabama and Texas. But the critical documents have still not been seen. The mandatory written report about Bush's grounding is mysteriously not in the released file, nor is any other disciplinary evidence. A document showing a "roll-up," or the accumulation of his total retirement points, is also absent, and so are his actual pay stubs.

If the president truly wanted to end the conjecture about his time in the Guard, he would allow an examination of his pay stubs and any IRS W-2 forms from his Guard years. These can be pieced together to determine when he was paid and whether he earned enough to have met his sworn obligations.

This is exactly right, and there are other documents that are missing from Bush's file too. Why is Bush giving the media an excuse to start pressing him on this question again?

As Moore points out, Bush never actually released his complete records. All he did was release a pile of documents that he said were complete. The only way to know if anything was left out is for Bush to sign a release form that allows the relevant archives to release his files directly to reporters. And here's a guess: if he agreed to do it, Kerry would probably follow suit.

Then there's the testimony of Bill Burkett, who claims that Bush's military files in Austin were "cleansed" after he became governor of Texas. If Bush signed a release form that allowed a direct release to reporters of the archived version of his files, it would clear up the question of whether the Austin files have been tampered with.

Nobody has ever pressed Bush on this. He dumped a big pile of paper on the White House press corps, who accepted that the pile was complete because he said it was. But if it really is, why not sign the release forms and allow reporters to get direct access to the archived files on microfiche?

More to the point, why is Bush providing an excuse to bring all this up again? Is his brain trust convinced that it's worth it just to get lots of 1971 photos of a shaggy-haired John Kerry protesting the war in print? Beats me.

POSTSCRIPT: I may follow up with some further details about this, depending on how they pan out. In the meantime, this post from February summarizes everything I know about Bill Burkett's file cleansing claim. I spoke with George Conn, one of Burkett's witnesses, about this, and a transcript of the interview is included in the post. Conn doesn't support Burkett's charges, but as I wrote at the time, "Conn's story doesn't hold up." I explain why in the post.

Kevin Drum 7:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PACKER ON BLOGS, PART 2....Mother Jones has gotten the message: George Packer's ruminations about blogs in the May/June issue is now online in its entirety. It includes this paragraph:

This is potentially the most radical innovation of the form: It opens up political journalism to a vast marketplace of competitors, reminiscent of earlier ages of pamphleteering. It also restores unvarnished opinion, for better and worse, to a central place in political writing. Insult and invective were the stock-in-trade of the English political essayists of the 18th century, and of their American counterparts during the early years of the republic (when bimbo eruptions made their first appearance in press coverage of presidential campaigns). The explosion of blogs has blown a needed hole in the sealed rooms of the major editorial pages and the Sunday talk shows.

Now see? That's not so bad, is it?

On the other hand, there's also this odd pronouncement about the limitations of blogs:

Above all, they didn't grasp the intensity of feeling among Democratic primary voters the resentments still glowing hot from Florida 2000, the overwhelming interest in economic and domestic issues, the personal antipathy toward Bush, the resurgence of activism, the longing for a win.

This is truly peculiar. If there was any medium anywhere that did capture the "personal antipathy" toward Bush and the "longing for a win," it was blogs. This really seems to pop out of nowhere.

Overall, though, I liked the piece for pointing out both the good and the bad about blogs. In fact, Packer comes close to making a point that I've been planning to write about for a while: the question isn't whether blogs are good or bad, it's what they're good at and what they're not:

Blogs, by contrast, are atomized, fragmentary, and of the instant. They lack the continuity, reach, and depth to turn an election into a story. When one of the best of the bloggers, Joshua Micah Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com, brought his laptop to New Hampshire and tried to cover the race in the more traditional manner, the results were less than satisfying....But the failure wasn't personal; this particular branch of the Fourth Estate just doesn't lend itself to sustained narrative and analysis.

I think that's exactly right. In the same way that TV is good at images and magazines are good at in-depth analysis, blogs are very good at some things and ill-suited to others. It's all about strengths and weaknesses, not good and bad. More on that later.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, did you know that among English words of more than a few letters, "strengths" has the highest percentage of consonants? Just thought I'd mention that.

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GOOGLE: A NAME OR A VALUATION?....Google is expected to go public shortly at a valuation of about $25 billion. John Quiggin looks at Google's economic fundamentals and concludes, "I find it hard to draw a plausible earnings path that would yield a present value of $25 billion at any reasonable discount rate."

Well, duh. It's an internet company, John. Its valuation is based on the following: (a) it will never have any substantial competition, (b) earnings will increase 100% per year for the next century, (c) earnings growth is a discredited way of valuing companies anyway, and (d) you just don't get it, do you?

And they let this man have a blog?

Kevin Drum 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JOHN KERRY'S MEDALS....I know that I'm hardly in a position to complain about political minutiae, but is this whole John Kerry flap really about (a) whether he threw ribbons over a fence in 1971 or the actual medals themselves, and (b) whether or not soldiers routinely refer to their uniform ribbons as "medals"?

(Answer: (a) ribbons, (b) yes.)

Even by the admittedly low standards of Campaign 2004, isn't this a fairly desperate line of attack?

Anyway, Thomas Oliphant was there when it happened, and he tells the story in the Boston Globe today.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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INHOFE TO RECEIVE TD LYSENKO MEMORIAL AWARD....Chris Mooney reports that senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma will be receiving a prize for "supporting rational, science-based thinking and policy-making." Inhofe has called the EPA "a Gestapo bureaucracy," he's believes global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," and he thinks 9/11 was God's punishment for our inadequate support of Israel.

OK, OK, that last one doesn't have anything to do with science. But you get the picture anyway: as far as Inhofe is concerned, it's only "rational" if it doesn't discomfort his energy industry buddies. It's nice that conservatives even have their very own science these days, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GUEST POSTS....When we were first putting together the blueprint for Political Animal back in February, one of our ideas was to invite some regular guests to contribute occasional posts. Today we have our first one. Our inaugural guest post is from Bruce Reed, Bill Clinton's chief domestic policy advisor for eight years and now president of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Bruce attended the abortion rights rally on Sunday and noticed something missing. His thoughts are below.

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Bruce Reed

After sharing the Mall with a million choice supporters yesterday, I don't see how anyone could say that our side lacks religious fervor. People made pilgrimages from thousands of miles to stand up for their convictions, flocking to the capital of compassionate conservatism to demand more compassion from their leaders.

At the same time, I couldn't help noticing that the one thing we seem to have no religious fervor for is religion.

Don't get me wrong I'm no fan of the Christian Right. It's only a matter of time before someone runs separated-at-birth photos of me with Ralph Reed, and I'm still recovering from a story a decade ago that mentioned "Bruce Reed's Christian Coalition."

But I'd feel a lot better if our side spent less time running down the religious right, and more time building a religious center-left. After all, those who fought for civil rights in the '60s saw standing up for their political convictions as a natural extension of their religious convictions. Reverend Martin Luther King filled the Mall with a sermon.

My parents, whose lives have been one long march for justice, came out from Idaho to pass the torch to our daughter and son. While my parents arent particularly religious people, doing-the-right-thing has always been their church, with the environment, civil rights, and choice their favorite denominations.

I was willing to overlook the symbolic irony that marches now always seem to take place on Sundays, when much of America is in church. If our 8-year-old asked me about the Idahomos for Choice sign, I had my cop-out answer ready: Ask your mother! (No wonder women feel oppressed.)

Still, the Mall could have used more sermons on Sunday, and fewer celebrities. Its not fair to compare a Sunday spent listening to well-meaning activists with that day Martin Luther King called all Gods children to join hands and sing the words of the old spiritual, Free at last. But as we helped our children count the number of dogs at the march so they wouldnt count the number of obscenities one entertainer was shouting from onstage, I couldn't help thinking about what has been lost along the way.

And how much longer it will take to get where we want to go without it.

Bruce Reed 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING UP IRAQ....Several people have recommended Peter Galbraith's piece in Sunday's New York Review of Books called "How to Get Out of Iraq." So I read it.

Galbraith provides a long summary of what's gone right and what's gone wrong in Iraq, and after a couple of warnings that we may be completely screwed no matter what we do he spends the final third of his article suggesting a possible solution. This turns out to be a fleshed-out version of Leslie Gelb's suggestion from last year to divide Iraq into three parts. The Kurds get the area in the north that they occupy now, the Sunnis get the central area, and the Shiites get the south.

Iraq, Galbraith believes, "is not salvageable as a unitary state" and as a former ambassador to Croatia he knows something about trying to salvage unitary states. Unfortunately, he also believes that "the problem of Iraq is that a breakup of the country is not a realistic possibility for the present." His solution, therefore, is a sort of loose federation, where the three territories are about 90% autonomous, with a weak central government in charge of foreign affairs, monetary policy, and not much else.

I was skeptical of this idea when Gelb proposed it in a stronger form, mainly because there's no oil in the central Sunni region:

Giving the Sunni state a permanent claim on oil wealth from two other countries just isn't realistic in the long term, while forced destitution would create an insanely enraged anti-American state smack in the middle of present-day Iraq. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

It's not clear how Galbraith's loose federation makes this any more workable: he acknowledges that "some sharing of oil revenues would be essential," but doesn't suggest how to make that happen. After all, with a weak central government and no U.S. presence to force the issue, how long would it be before the Kurds and the Shiites simply cut the Sunnis off? Unfortunately, this kind of hazy thinking then becomes a pattern.

Under his plan, the Kurds are "more likely" to see advantages if they feel secure. Shiites, however, "strongly support the idea that petroleum should be owned by the respective regions," a problem that is mentioned but then goes unaddressed. "We can hope" that the Sunnis will become more moderate if they are offered semi-autonomy. If U.S. troops disengage from the south, this "may mean" the south would be less overtly anti-American.

In the Sunni triangle, "one hope" is for elections to produce a set of leaders who can restore order and end the insurrection. What's more, "with skilled diplomacy" the United States or the United Nations might be able to arrange for a more liberal regime in Baghdad than would exist in the south.

You get the idea: there's a lot of things in this plan that seem to be backed up by little more than hope. In fact, Galbraith himself pretty much admits this, and further admits that even if his plan works it won't exactly be a dream come true. Essentially, he seems to believe that it's just the least worst of a bad bunch of options.

Unfortunately, he may be right, and for that reason my skepticism toward his proposal may be unfair. After all, I suspect the real question is whether it's possible for us to impose any kind of political structure on Iraq that's likely to stick once we leave. I doubt it. Which means we really have only two choices: stay in Iraq for a long time five or ten years or else get out and let a civil war sort things out. Galbraith's plan is probably little more than a fig leaf for the latter option, but maybe that's the only choice we have left.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YET ANOTHER FAMOUS WRITER ADMITS HE IS ADDICTED TO BLOGS....Gotta disagree with Matt: George Packer's ode to blogs in Mother Jones isn't "dripping with condescension." After admitting that he's addicted to blogs and spends uncounted hours reading them, his judgment is surprisingly accurate:

There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere -- every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) -- is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another. They are also nearly without exception men (this form of combat seems too naked for more than a very few women). I imagine them in neat blue shirts, the glow from the screen reflected in their glasses as they sit up at 3:48 a.m. triumphantly tapping out their third rejoinder to the WaPo's press commentary on Tim Russert's on-air recap of the Wisconsin primary.

OK, I take it back. Maybe it is dripping with condescension, although, as Matt notes, I'll never know for sure unless (a) I buy a copy of the magazine or (b) they print the entire piece online, not just the first few paragraphs.

However, based solely on the thousand words that are online, I'd say Packer has blogs pegged pretty well. While it may be true that mainstream journalists are sometimes more contemptuous than they should be toward blogs, Packer is dead right when he says that we more than return the favor. In fact, practically the only place that liberal and conservative bloggers find common ground these days is their apparent belief that the New York Times ranks just below Richard Nixon's White House on the list of trustworthy American institutions.

Can that be true? Off the top of my head, here's how I'd rank the most common sources of news, counting only those with large audiences. Starting with the worst:

  1. Supermarket tabloids

  2. Talk radio

  3. Local TV news

  4. Small local newspapers

  5. Chain newspapers

  6. Network newscasts

  7. Major national dailies, including the New York Times

  8. The very best of the glossy magazines

In other words, with the exception of a small number of top-notch magazines, which pay well, allow lots of time to report stories, and provide lots of space to tell them, the New York Times is about as good as it gets. If you think the Times sucks, then, it mostly means that you're just unhappy with the current human capacity to report events. It's like complaining that the Yankees suck because no one on their team has ever hit a hundred home runs in a season.

And now for the most important question of all: how did this post somehow turn into a defense of the New York Times? Honestly, I don't know. But maybe Packer can add that to the list of blogdom's charms: like that proverbial box of chocolates, you just never know what you're going to get. Sometimes, neither do the bloggers themselves.

UPDATE: The whole article is now available here. Further commentary on Packer's observations is here.

Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS AND THE LEFT....Virginia Postrel reports on the LA Times Book Festival:

The problem isn't that conservatives or libertarians are missing (though they mostly are) but that liberals--the non-socialist, non-Marxist people who make up the mainstream of the Democratic Party and, for that matter, American journalism--are so dramatically underrepresented. While you can find exceptions, the LAT Book Festival, like the LAT Book Review, represents the world according to David Horowitz, in which there are no liberals, only the left and a few token anti-leftists for "balance."


Kevin Drum 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOREIGN POLICY....John Kerry's foreign policy vs. George Bush's foreign policy:

''I think there is a fundamental difference here in terms of their approach to the world," said Samuel L. Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, who now advises Kerry. ''I think this administration believes you go it alone and you use allies when necessary, and I think John believes that you use allies whenever possible and go it alone when necessary."

Does that seem a little....abstract for a presidential campaign? It does to me.

Berger's quote is from an article by Farah Stockman in the Boston Globe today that highlights a key Kerry problem: as Kerry moves rightward after the primaries, and as Bush becomes more receptive to ideas that Kerry has long championed giving the United Nations a far greater role in Iraq, emphasizing the importance of welcoming NATO to Iraq, and beefing up the number of US troops in Iraq Kerry loses any chance of distinguishing himself from Bush over foreign policy.

This strikes me as a serious problem. National security is almost certain to be the defining issue of the campaign, and there's just no way for Kerry to get any traction there if his positions aren't clearly distinguishable from Bush's. And despite the pro-war partisans' continuing fantasy that George Bush is dedicated to the same kind of vast war of civilizations they are, the fact is that Bush has adopted an awful lot of Democratic positions in the past year. Aside from rhetorical tone, it's getting harder and harder for Kerry to find points of disagreement that are more than just nitpicking.

Unfortunately, that leaves only a charge of incompetence: Bush is prosecuting the war poorly and getting American soldiers needlessly killed. But that's a charge that's unlikely to stick. As John F. Kennedy said when his popularity rating shot up after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, "The worse I do, the more popular I get!"

I think that's exactly right. If the war goes poorly, a lot of people are likely to rally around Bush, not toss him out of office. And that means that if John Kerry wants to win, he has to figure out some genuinely bold and popular foreign policy initiative to identify himself with. But what?

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NUTS? OR JUST PLAIN CRAZY?....Eric Alterman writes about Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack in his Nation column this week. Here is the second of his six observations:

  1. That's too bad, because unfortunately Cheney is nuts. As Powell puts it, Cheney was in the grip of a "fever," no longer the "steady, unemotional rock that he had witnessed a dozen years earlier during the run-up to the Gulf War. The vice president was beyond hell-bent for action against Saddam. It was as if nothing else existed." Woodward gives us the backstory: Cheney, confirmed by his equally fevered aide "Scooter" Libby, repeatedly pitched--as he does today--the apparently imaginary meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague. Powell/Woodward aptly term this contention "worse than ridiculous." It goes on. "Cheney would take an intercept and say it shows something was happening. No, no, no, Powell or another would say, it shows that somebody talked to somebody else who said something might be happening. A conversation would suggest something might be happening, and Cheney would convert that into a 'We know.'"

This will now be the third time that I've done this, but Eric's column brings to mind an essay about Dick Cheney written by John Perry Barlow last year. Turns out Barlow knew Cheney pretty well back in the day and thinks that "nuts" might be exactly the right description for him. But with a catch.

Not everyone agrees with me, but Barlow's essay struck me as eerily plausible. Here it is.

Kevin Drum 12:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BAIT AND SWITCH....Glenn Reynolds links today to a Fox News piece about a student writer at Oregon State who was fired for writing a racially insensitive column. Fox suggests there's a "double standard" at work.

Maybe. Fox claims that David Williams, who is white, was fired for writing, "I think blacks should be more careful in deciding whom they choose to support. They need to grow beyond the automatic reaction of defending someone because he or she shares the same skin color and is in a dilemma."

They chose to highlight that paragraph because it's similar to plagiarized from, actually a paragraph written by Pulitzer-Prize winning African-American columnist Leonard Pitts a few weeks ago. Hey, nobody at OSU protested his column. What gives?

The problem is that Williams wrote more than just that one paragraph. How about this instead?

One would think that with the strong presence of talented blacks in government, sports and entertainment, this minority base would have a slew of noble and moral leaders. However, especially as of late, this has not been the case.

[Robert Kelly and OJ Simpson are hauled out as examples.]

My point, however, is this: There is a lack of morality in the black community because African American leaders, whether Jesse Jackson or the NAACP, choose to rally around minorities who seem to have little quality characteristics about them.

Personally, I'd fire the guy just for being a crappy writer. However, even taking into account the hypersensitive atmosphere common at universities, it's also egregiously ignorant and insensitive.

Is it a firing offense for a 20-year-old kid? Reasonable people can disagree, and the campus groups who protested the column apparently weren't asking for Williams to be fired in any case. (Pitts agrees. He thinks Williams mostly displayed ignorance, not racism.) But there's not much question that Fox pulled a bait-and-switch, deliberately leaving the genuinely offensive portion of the column out of their report. Maybe somebody on their staff needs to be fired.

Or more likely given a medal for race baiting above and beyond the call of duty.

Kevin Drum 10:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RELIGION UPDATE.... Earlier today I said that although we liberals should be more accomodating toward religion, it was still perfectly OK to blast away at folks who use religion as a thin cover for "their own little liberal-hate cults." Well, this is the guy I was talking about. Feel free to spare no invective against cretins like this. Better yet, demand that if conservatives don't loudly denounce him then they obviously support what he's saying.

This fellow was at the big abortion rally today, and speaking of abortion, here's what Karen Hughes had to say about it today:

I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life....Really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life.

So if you get an abortion, you're no better than Osama.

Ten minutes from normal, my ass. Try 23 hours.

UPDATE: Apparently the New York Times dumped the Karen Hughes quote in favor of some different ones for the final version of the story. That's why the quote doesn't show up in the linked article.

Kevin Drum 7:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DOUBLE STANDARDS?....Leonard Pitts:

When a white person screws up, it ignites a debate on the screw up. When a black person screws up, it ignites a debate on race.

The subject, of course, is Jack Kelley vs. Jayson Blair, and Pitts' point is precisely on target. Don't the folks who loudly insisted that affirmative action was to blame for Jayson Blair's transgressions owe us an explantion for their relative silence about the far worse journalistic fabrications of Jack Kelley? Has it given them any second thoughts at all?

Kevin Drum 5:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY....Does the Bush administration ever get tired of trying to exert almost Stalinesque levels of control over the news cycle? Apparently not:

"Urgent: HQ Direction," began a message e-mailed on April 1 to dozens of scientists and officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

It was not an alert about an incoming asteroid, a problem with the space station or a solar storm. It was a warning about a movie.

In "The Day After Tomorrow," a $125 million disaster film set to open on May 28, global warming from accumulating smokestack and tailpipe gases disrupts warm ocean currents and sets off an instant ice age.

Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely, especially in the near future. But the prospect that moviegoers will be alarmed enough to blame the Bush administration for inattention to climate change has stirred alarm at the space agency, scientists there say.

"No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard's top press officer. "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."

Jeebus, guys, it's....a....movie. Lighten up. NBC is planning to wreck Los Angeles and bring down the Space Needle in an upcoming earthquake extravaganza called 10.5, and my guess is that the poor schmoes at Caltech are going to get a lot of calls when it airs. Are you going to try and shut them up too out of fear that the populace will blame Bush for inattention to catastrophic earthquakes?

Crikey. If they spent as much time trying to solve actual problems as they did trying to spin the media, we'd be living in a golden age.

POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, it sounds like it's a really bad movie, even if it is amusing that "the vice president, who scoffs at warnings even as chaos erupts, resembles Dick Cheney."

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ON RELIGION....Patrick Nielsen Hayden pretty much sums up my feelings about the great progressive religion debate:

I am by temperament a promoter of coalitions and alliances, and in that persona I wince when I see potential allies grinding their heels into one anothers toes.

Like Patrick, I couldn't care less whether we offend the right or not and that includes cretins like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who use religion as the basis of their own little liberal-hate cults. We all have various tolerances for offending our opponents, of course, but these guys aren't going to vote for our causes anyway. Have at 'em.

Nor does it bother me if religion takes its lumps in popular culture, everywhere from The Simpsons to Monty Python. Everything else takes its lumps in popular culture, so why not religion?

Furthermore, I understand the annoyance (or worse) felt by atheists and other nonreligious types, who really are a minority in America and are essentially locked out of the political process. How many professed atheists are there in Congress?

Still, we're talking politics here, and why buy trouble you don't need? Coalitions are tenuous these days and victory margins are thin, and if you're going to be snotty about religion well, go right ahead, but you should at least trouble yourself to be aware of how potential allies are likely to react to your snottiness and whether it reduces your chances of bringing them over to your side. After all politics isn't all (or even mostly) about policy. It's about feeling comfortable with the group you're being asked to vote with.

It may be fun to be snotty, but fun is for children. If your goal is to win, then you build coalitions wherever you can find people who mostly agree with you, and you do your best to keep from driving them away. After all, it's really not very hard to fight the political efforts of the religious right without dissing religion itself.

UPDATE: I should add that regardless of what everyone has to say, I think it's great that liberal blogs are talking about this. It's a subject well worth getting out in the open. More here:

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CONFUSION....Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh have both finished Neal Stephenson's latest novel, The Confusion. I haven't.

I bought a copy a couple of days ago, read about a hundred pages, and the spine collapsed. Yesterday I took it back and got a new copy. After about 50 more pages the spine semi-collapsed. I'm continuing to read it, but with much more care than I usually give to books.

Did my local bookstore just get a bad batch? Maybe. But the weird thing is that I can't figure out how the book is put together. It's bound in signatures, but the signatures aren't stitched together, just glued in some fashion that I can't quite fathom. The only way to figure it out, I suppose, would be to tear the book to pieces, and while that may end up happening in the course of reading it anyway, I'm not willing to do it deliberately.

Yet more evidence that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

UPDATE: A blue ribbon task force to recommend minimum federal standards for book binding? Yeah, I might be able to sign up for that....

Kevin Drum 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

OP-EDS....Via Priorities & Frivolities, William Adler has an entertaining op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about....op-eds.

Specifically, it's about astroturf op-eds. It turns out that that op-ed in your local paper by a respected local academic may have actually been written by none other than an industry flack.

Note also that Adler's piece is more interesting than most because he actually tells the story of how he discovered this was happening and how he went about reporting it. It's almost bloglike....

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By: Kevin Drum

FOLLOW THE MONEY....Guess what? The Texas legislature passed some "tort reform" legislation last year but malpractice insurance companies haven't responded by lowering rates. Instead they're just making more money.

Isn't that shocking? Charles Kuffner has the details.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF PRAGMATISM?....Are moderates an endangered species? I almost skipped this article in Sunday's Washington Post because I really didn't want to read yet another bout of handwringing about Red vs. Blue America. But once I started in I kept reading, and in the end it turned out to be pretty interesting and, unfortunately, pretty persuasive:

Hans Noel, a political scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, is the author of a paper called "The Road to Red and Blue America." In an interview, he said, "Most people say they are 'moderate,' but in fact the country is polarized around strong conservative and liberal positions."

....As it becomes more difficult to reach across the party line, campaigns are devoting more energy to firing up their hard-core supporters. For voters in the middle, this election may aggravate their feeling that politics no longer speaks to them, that it has become a dialogue of the deaf, a rant of uncompromising extremes.

....The notion of two tribes unhappily sharing a country is gaining strength among analysts, however. "It's huge," Noel said. "People in these two countries don't even see each other." And that's partly because of political segregation.

It's a vicious circle. As people become more polarized, they seek out their soulmates and this polarizes them even further. This in turn causes politicians to realize that they need to appeal to the poles in order to win, so they ratchet up the rhetoric. In the end, voters force politicians to extremes, and politicians eagerly feed the beast to get elected and the circle is completed.

I have long believed that there's a fair-sized majority of people in the center who are not represented by the increasingly strident leadership of either party, but after reading this article it's a little bit harder to maintain that faith. If the analysts are right it's depressing news for moderates.

I keep thinking there's an answer to this, but I can't quite verbalize what I think it is. And hell, it's probably wrong anyway. After all, how many moderate blogs are there?

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIME TO GO HOME?....I'm with Jesse: if Bill Frist wants to shut down the Senate, he should go right ahead. Outside the circle of political junkies who do things like read this blog, voters don't have a clue about judicial filibusters or House-Senate reconciliation bills, Tom Daschle's procedural roadblocks of choice. But if the leader of the Senate stands up on national TV and says he's shutting down for the year because he's tired of trying to work with Democrats well, can you spell Newt Gingrich?

Normally I'd figure Frist was way too smart to pull something like this and that's still my guess but after his spectacular meltdown over Dick Clarke's testimony I'm not so sure anymore. Needless to say, if Frist decides to try this then Tom Daschle will stand in front of the cameras and remark sadly that he's been trying hard all year to sort out differences with Republicans and it's really unfortunate that they've decided to pick up their ball and go home. Jeez, even with total control of Congress and the presidency apparently Republicans can't get anything done.

It would be a fine performance indeed....

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO'S HOT?....WHO'S NOT?....It looks like the administration has decided to make some changes to the in-group in Iraq:

At the top of the list of those likely to be jettisoned is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite politician who for years was a favorite of the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney, and who was once expected to assume a powerful role after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials acknowledged.

Chalabi has increasingly alienated the Bush administration, including President Bush, in recent months, U.S. officials said. He generated anger in Washington yesterday when he said a new U.S. plan to allow some former officials of Hussein's ruling Baath Party and military to return to office is the equivalent of returning Nazis to power in Germany after World War II.

....Washington is also seriously considering cutting off the $340,000 monthly stipend to Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions. This would be a major change, because the INC has received millions of dollars in U.S. aid over the past decade as the primary vehicle for supporting the Iraqi opposition.

It's too bad this is only happening because Chalabi has criticized the administration lately, but any port in a storm, I suppose and we all know what happens to people who don't provide complete and undying fealty to the House of Bush. In any case, it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

A more substantive analysis is available from Chalabi stalker-in-chief Josh Marshall.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PAGING TOM FRIEDMAN....Yet another example of globalization: a hometown crime story brought to my attention by a website based in Denver. I live about ten miles from the crime scene in question, I used to drop off Radio Shack deposits at that bank, and I've eaten in that restaurant.

What's more, it's a funny hometown crime story....

Kevin Drum 7:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTERNET SHOPPING....Virginia Postrel muses about shopping on the internet:

[MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson's] early research found that prices on the Internet were 6 percent to 16 percent lower than prices off-line.

But when he thought about how people actually shop online, and what they find valuable, he realized that low prices are not the big story. Selection is. The Internet offers variety that is simply impossible in traditional stores.

I am living proof of this. Yes, I sometimes shop on the internet because prices are lower. But here are the first four items I ever bought on the internet. This is circa 1997:

  • A pink flamingo lawn ornament. I wanted one as a housewarming gift for a friend who likes this kind of 50s kitsch, but was told by my local Home Depot that pink flamingos are "seasonal items." Seasonal! My first thought was to try www.pinkflamingo.com, but that, um, turned out to be something quite different. However, a quick Google AltaVista search turned up www.thepinkflamingo.com and they shipped me a pink flamingo within two business days.

  • Some old wooden tennis rackets. Like all tennis players, I had last played with a wooden racket in the early 80s and I had gotten curious: what would my old racket feel like if I played with it today? My needs were specific: a Dunlop Maxply and a Davis Imperial, both with 4 5/8 grips. Within a couple of weeks I found what I wanted on eBay: a Maxply with a 4 1/2 grip, a Maxply McEnroe (pretty much the same thing) with a 4 5/8 grip, and a Davis Classic with a 4 5/8 grip. The Classic was a screwup (the seller had claimed it was an Imperial), but I kept it anyway. Each of these cost me about $20 and all three were in mint condition. It would have been almost impossible to find these exact models anywhere else.

  • A copy of Across Realtime, by Vernor Vinge. I have access to several large used bookstores within a few miles of my house, but none of them had it. Via Amazon's used book service (I think), I found a copy and had it in my hands within a week.

  • A copy of The Marriage of the Living Dark, by David Wingrove. I had been waiting for the entire 7-part Chung Kuo series to be available before I started in on it, but when I finally got going and read the first couple of books I suddenly discovered it was an 8-part series. Part 8 was then available only in England, but I was able to get it via a UK online bookshop. It cost a fortune, of course, and turned out to be a lousy book, so I guess internet shopping has its downsides too. I should have just waited for the American paperback.

eBay is the prototype for trying to find oddball stuff, of course, and I think it's also just about the purest internet business there is since it takes advantage of almost all of the internet's fundamental advantages: network effects, huge audience, disintermediation, and a highly effective database-driven search capability.

So: low prices? Sure, but broad selection, easy comparison, and the ability to buy hard-to-find items are equally important. I'm a believer, anyway.

Kevin Drum 7:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PERLE AND CHALABI....Juan Cole writes about Ahmed Chalabi and Richard Perle:

It would be really interesting to know the list of secret promises Chalabi has given Perle (and presumably the Israelis through Perle) that would explain this Neocon fervor for the man.

Yes it would. It really would. The depth and intensity of neocon loyalty to an obvious fraud like Ahmed Chalabi is hard to explain if you limit yourself solely to benign and altruistic motivations.

Click the link for more.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ECONOMIC WEIRDNESS....This is weird. There are two measures of employment the Household Survey and the Payroll Survey and they have been oddly divergent for the past few years. No one really seems to know why they don't track each other very closely anymore.

Now, via Nathan Newman, I see that the Economist is proposing yet another divergence, this time in statistics that measure economic growth. In the past, GDP (for goods only, not services) tracked pretty closely with another measure called Industrial Production. But the two diverged in 2001 and have diverged even further since then. If you use GDP numbers (again, for goods only), the economy grew 8% in the fourth quarter of 2003. If you use the IP number, economic growth was only about 2%.

Until now, the usual explanation for GDP growing so fast while job growth has been sluggish is that we've seen an explosive growth in productivity. If workers are hugely more productive than in the past, then the economy can grow even if the number of workers stays the same (or drops).

My gut feeling, based solely on following this issue at a layman's level, is that I've never quite bought into this supposedly stratospheric increase in productivity. Jan Hatzius, the economist who has pointed out this latest divergence in economic statistics, seems to agree, and suggests that the headline GDP number is overstated for technical reasons having to do with how we count imports. Bottom line: he thinks jobs have been slow to pick up because the economy isn't actually recovering as strongly as official figures suggest.

I imagine some of the blogospheric economists will chime in on this at some point. Until then, it's just a point to ponder.

Kevin Drum 2:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND KERRY IN THE POLLS....Ruy Teixeira thinks George Bush may not be doing as well as the headline poll numbers suggest:

Instead of getting more votes where he needs them--in the battleground states--his posturing is mostly driving up his support in the hardcore red states, where he doesn't need them. If that's true, Democrats should definitely not be intimidated by recent poll results. Bush is preaching to the converted--which can make him look better in a national poll--but he's not winning many new converts where it counts.

I try as hard as I can to be rigorously nonpartisan about poll results, since putting the rosiest possible spin on facts on the ground is a recipe for disaster. If there's bad news out there, it's better to know it, understand it, and then do something about it.

But this analysis strikes me as sound. The usual "early days" caveat applies as ever, but I suspect that Bush's usual Texas macho act combined with Karl Rove's plan to energize the base isn't going down that well with independents. These guys aren't such fervent supporters that they believe Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney can win the war just because they say they can. Instead, they want some actual evidence that we can win and that B/R/C have some clue about how to do it.

But they aren't getting it, and Bush's support among these voters is slowly bleeding away. Hopefully the Bush brain trust never figures this out.

Of course, the question for liberals is whether they're smart enough to capitalize on this. As Mark Schmitt says, if the usual liberal pressure groups do nothing except demand ideological purity and public obeisance from John Kerry before the election, instead of actively supporting him and then pressuring him after the election, it might not matter. After all, Bush may have given up on the middle, but that doesn't do the Dems any good unless they take advantage of it.

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AMAZON GROWS UP....Amazon.com announced yesterday that it posted a profit for the third straight quarter. Several other internet companies have also announced good results.

This is good news for the internet sector, of course, but I think the real lesson from these results is a little less good: despite the hype, it shows just how ordinary the internet industry is. After all, it took a massive initial investment, nearly a decade, and an annual sales rate of $6 billion for Amazon to become profitable. How is that different from startups in any of a dozen other sectors?

So this is good news in a way but bad in another. It's always exhilarating to watch a child grow into adulthood and move away from home, but at the same time there's also a twinge of regret when she joins the workaday 9-to-5 world instead of becoming the ballerina she always dreamed of.

Welcome to the real world, Amazon. You've finally become just another SIC code.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FLYNT MEETS FRIEDMAN....Larry Flynt on HIV testing in the porn industry:

Employers like me require that every performer in the business be tested every 30 days, not just for HIV but for gonorrhea and chlamydia as well. It's because of such aggressive testing that this HIV outbreak in the adult industry has been caught early and can be controlled. In other words, the industry's approach to HIV safety is working. I believe that additional regulation would not only be unnecessary, it would be counterproductive.

....Those of us who are in the business want to protect our investment; we are not going to do anything that is stupid or shortsighted. We are most certainly not going to do anything that we believe will harm another human being. The safeguards are already in place. They have worked for the last five years. Leave them alone, and they will continue to work.

I should note that I have no opinion on the substantive issue here. But it was still sort of jarring to open up a major metro daily and see an op-ed by the publisher of Hustler that makes him sound like just another industry flack arguing that government regulation is unnecessary and will simply hurt an important $14 billion industry run by responsible businessmen who would never do anything that might harm the public good.

Just jarring, that's all.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COFFINS....My political judgment and I'm talking here about my judgment of what's politically smart, not my judgment about policy is so obviously at odds with the Bush administration that I've pretty much given up even trying to figure it out. Today's events are a perfect example.

As most of you know, the Bush administration has been adamant about keeping photographs of coffins returning from Iraq out of the press. On Thursday, though, Russ Kick of The Memory Hole forced the release of about 350 photos via a Freedom of Information Act request, and as a result the photos are now available on the web here (or on a mirror site here).

And I just don't get it. I don't even support the war, but if anything these pictures might push me in that direction, not the opposite. It's almost impossible not to be moved by these photos, and impossible not to recognize from them how much care is taken with the bodies and how seriously these deaths are taken.

The Bush administration's political judgment is obvious: pictures of dead soldiers on the front pages of newspapers will turn people against the war. And maybe they're right. But my guess is different: seeing these pictures would make most Americans feel pride in their country and determined that these lives not be lost in vain. On the other hand, hiding the pictures just makes it look like the administration is ashamed of its war.

The administration's judgment, I suspect, is not just the judgment of civilians with little military experience, it's also the judgment of people who have learned the lessons of Vietnam too well. The irony is rich.

UPDATE: Apparently the top photo is actually the crew remains of the Space Shuttle Columbia arriving at Dover in February 2003. It doesn't affect the overall point of the post, but it's worth pointing out for the sake of accuracy.

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MOVE ALONG, NOTHING TO SEE HERE....This isn't exactly new news, but here goes anyway:

A new poll shows that 57 percent of Americans continue to believe that Saddam Hussein gave "substantial support" to al-Qaida terrorists before the war with Iraq, despite a lack of evidence of that relationship.

In addition, 45 percent of Americans have the impression that "clear evidence" was found that Iraq worked closely with Osama bin Laden's network, and a majority believe that before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38 percent) or a major program for developing them (22 percent).

There's no known evidence to date that these statements are true.

Conservative response: this just just goes to show that the American public sees a higher truth. Sigh.

Kevin Drum 12:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DAMN STATISTICS....Via Suburban Guerrilla, the Boston Phoenix reports that the Bush administration is playing games with revisions to household income reports:

The reworked numbers, which will show that median after-tax household income declined far more in 2002 than the bureau reported, have been ready since January, according to sources in the agency. All that remained was to work out a "release strategy," according to one manager in the Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division. A follow-up call in March to find out when the new numbers would be made public yielded this information from Dan Weinberg, chief of the division: the bureau still needs to establish a "release strategy." Its starting to look an awful lot like the "release strategy" is to not release the new numbers at all.

I've been in charge of "release strategies" for entire product families that were done in less than three months. I wonder what the release strategy would be if the revision showed that household income had increased more than originally reported?

Kevin Drum 9:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH vs. KERRY....I have been goaded into writing another post about George Bush's National Guard service. Via email, LT Smash objects to my post this morning, saying my arguments "ring just a bit hollow" given my obsession with GWB's service record earlier this year. Meanwhile, Bryan Keefer at The Campaign Desk wonders why no one is writing about the National Guard story anymore. "Why, exactly, did the media drop the matter?" he asks.

Addressing these questions is an ugly job, I suppose, but someone has to do it. Conveniently, though, I can address them both in a single post.

First, John Kerry. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam; he won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts; he displayed conspicuous bravery under fire; he served his country honorably in combat; and he left the Navy when his term of enlistment was up.

Is there any reason to suspect any problem with his service record? No. Absolutely none, and he's busily releasing his military records on his website to prove it.

But how about George Bush? Is it fair to suspect problems with his service record just because there are gaps in his military file? In a word, yes, and not because of gaps in his files. We have his files, and it's those very files that raise questions. Let's review:

That's a considerable amount of documentary evidence to arouse legitimate suspicion about Bush's record. But there's more: the "complete release" of documents from the White House in February seemed to be missing some records.

Where was his final Officer Efficiency Report? His pay stubs? The Flight Inquiry Board report after he was grounded for missing his physical? Even Albert Lloyd, who helped the Bush campaign make sense of his records during the 2000 election, expressed suspicion about the lack of original documentation in the file, which would have placed Bush's whereabouts with more precision.

So: suspicion about Bush's service record really is legitimate because there's plenty of good reason to be suspicious about it. That's what makes Bush's case different from Kerry's.

At the same time, suspicion is all there is, and that's why the press corps (and I) eventually dropped the story. There's no smoking gun, and without that there just isn't much further to take things. There's no firm proof of anything aside from missing some drills during 1972, and reporters can't just keep writing stories raising the same lingering questions over and over.

It's possible that some investigative reporter somewhere is continuing to work on this story. But if not, there's nothing new to report. For now, that's where things stand.

Kevin Drum 7:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ON THE GROUND IN IRAQ....It's a little embarrassing that I have to rely on a guy in Hong Kong for a link to an LA Times article, but that's globalization for you. Here's the lead:

U.S. forces have stepped back from massive military action in the turbulent cities of Fallouja and Najaf, but the overwhelming sense here is that across much of Iraq, the ground is giving way beneath the Americans.

A culture of impunity has taken hold in Iraq. There are few limits to who can be taken hostage or how a hostage might be killed. In this environment, virtually any level of violence is acceptable if it is aimed at the occupation.

Compare that to this from the Christian Science Monitor's blog:

Sitting with a group of friends here a few nights ago, I realized how blas we'd become about the new conditions. None of us had eaten out in the evening for at least a month. We agreed that the two-hour drive south to Najaf had become too dangerous to attempt. The journalists among us agreed that our work increasingly relied on phone calls to Iraqis on the scene, rather than real reportage of what we could see and touch. And everyone nodded knowingly when two NGO workers said they'd be leaving the country because it has become too dangerous to conduct their reconstruction work here.

In essence, I feel we've become boiled frogs....

I won't pretend that I'm anything but hugely conflicted about what we should do in Iraq now that it's come down to this, but I sure wish we had an administration that did more than just intone "stay the course" and then refuse to propose anything even remotely credible for turning the situation around. Almost anything would be better than just doing what we're doing now.

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I LOVE THE BRITISH MEDIA, PART 57....It looks like somebody didn't get his afternoon nap today:

"Don't you tell me to sit down, you miserable little piece of shit," Mr Desmond said, before he launched what witnesses described as "a stream of foul-mouthed abuse, both personal and general".

"After three years dealing with a bunch of crooks I'm starting to enjoy this," Mr Desmond said, adding, "You sat down with that fucking fat crook and did nothing," in an apparent reference to Lord Black. He also called the Telegraph directors "fucking cunts" and "fucking wankers" among other names in an expletive-ridden tirade.

When Mr Deedes said he didn't think the discussion - a monthly meeting of West Ferry's finance committee - was going to be productive, Mr Desmond paused before launching a fresh assault.

I have to agree: it doesn't sound like that meeting was destined for productivity, does it? Click the link to find out what brought all this on plus important details about the "fresh assault."

POSTSCRIPT: I really do love the British media because of stories like this. When someone jumps the shark like this, I want to hear what they said, not some mealy-mouthed American newspaper account that's too fainthearted to do anything more than refer obliquely to an "insulting stream of invective." I want the dirt!

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: And where was Wonkette while all this was going down? Isn't this her beat?

Kevin Drum 5:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AFFIRMATIVE ACTION....Jack O'Toole links today to a New York Times article that says top universities are admitting more and more high-income students and fewer and fewer middle-income and lower-income students.

This makes me wonder. I've been willing for quite a while to consider abolishing race-based affirmative action in favor of income-based affirmative action, something that conservatives have championed for a long time. I'm not sure it would be as effective, but it's a compromise that might work and that might eliminate much of the stigma and vitriol surrounding race policy in this country.

So maybe it's worth a try. But here's what I wonder: if liberals and ethnic interest groups actually agreed to try this, what would conservative reaction really be? I'm not talking just about scholarships for poor kids, but about active preference. Would they truly be willing to endorse policies deliberately aimed at increasing opportunity for lower-income students at the expense of the rich?

Would they? And would they be willing to put their money where their mouth is?

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ZERO SUM GAME?....Does being pro-Israel mean that you also have to be anti-Palestinian? That's an interesting framing of the question, and when you put it that way the answer is pretty obviously no. So why, then, does the Bush administration insist on doing nothing for Palestinians?

Walter Russell Mead poses this question in the New York Times today and suggests that this posture is buying us unnecessary trouble. Dan Drezner and Greg Djerejian seem to agree.

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JOHN KERRY IN VIETNAM....Speaking of non-print mediums, I was listening to Hugh Hewitt's show for a few minutes last night (Matt Yglesias was on) and the whole segment was just appalling. LT Smash was also a guest and they were talking about John Kerry's war record.

Now, here's a guy who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts, consistently showed bravery under fire, and received glowing evaluations from his superiors while serving our country in combat.

So what did Hugh and Smash do? They spent the segment serving up dark innuendos about how maybe Kerry wasn't injured all that badly, then followed up with observations about how grade inflation meant that maybe his evaluations weren't all that good, and finally finished up with shadowy suggestions that since it's taken him all of three days to get his military records up on the web, maybe it means he has something to hide.

It was unbelievable. These guys pretend to honor military virtues and then spend their airtime trashing a guy who volunteered for duty in Vietnam and was genuinely heroic under fire while he was there. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that at least on the subject of Kerry's fitness reports, Phil Carter sets the record straight today. I hope Hugh and Smash read it.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FACING THE TRUTH....Bill O'Reilly is sure pissed off at Don Rumsfeld. I caught a few minutes of his show last night and he was laying into Rumsfeld for being stubborn (quite a compliment coming from O'Reilly, I suppose), wrong on the facts, and unwilling to talk openly to the American public. Bill Kristol pretty much agreed, and some poor schlub who used to work for Rumsfeld sat there gape jawed, trying feebly to suggest that, um, it was a bad idea to change horses in midstream, so maybe we shouldn't fire Rumsfeld. Yet.

What's really amazing, though, was that as near as I could tell their eagerness to find a scapegoat was really motivated by only one thing: a desperate desire to avoid putting the blame where it belongs. With George Bush.

Consider: back in early 2003 Bush got two conflicting pieces of advice. Donald Rumsfeld, eager to prove that he was right (dammit!) about military transformation, insisted we could invade Iraq on the cheap. Evidence presented: laughable assertions that Iraqis were a peaceloving people with no history of ethnic strife.

Conversely, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and the rest of the uniformed military advised that we would need perhaps 300,000 troops or more. Evidence presented: detailed internal studies plus years of peacekeeping experience in Kosovo and elsewhere.

Whose advice did Bush take? Rumsfeld's. Whose advice did he continue to take throughout 2003? Rumsfeld's. Whose advice is he still taking today even in the face of massive evidence that Rumsfeld was wrong? Rumsfeld's.

So sure, Rumsfeld is obviously more interested in proving himself right than in winning the war. But why did George Bush take his advice in the face of convincing evidence that it was wrong? Why let him off the hook?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CANADIAN DRUGS....Apparently bipartisan support is growing for allowing Americans to import cheap drugs from Canada and beyond:

"We're now well beyond the question of the necessity to allow for safe, regulated drug importation," said Sen Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a sponsor of the new bill. "A drug can be safe and effective, but what good is it if you can't afford to take it? It is simply unconscionable that American consumers are subjected to price discrimination."

....Senate sponsors and staffers predicted that the bill introduced Wednesday or some variation of it had broad enough support that it probably would come up for a vote this year, despite opposition by the Bush administration and Senate GOP leaders.

....The bipartisan legislation would immediately permit individuals to import up to a 90-day supply of a prescription drug from Canada for personal use. It also would allow Americans traveling to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland or any current member of the European Union to bring back a 90-day supply of medicine.

There's something surreal about this whole debate. Foreign methods for lowering drug prices are apparently too Stalinistic for Republicans to consider, but it's OK to let other countries use these methods and then import the drugs from them. That's nuts.

Other countries use both legal measures and massive buying power to negotiate lower drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies go along with it because presumably the business is still profitable for them even at these lower prices. So take your pick: (a) these methods are efficient and toughminded, in which case the United States government ought to follow suit, or (b) these methods are unfair and oppressive, in which case the United States government should neither tolerate them nor tacitly approve of them.

But Republicans can't have it both ways. It's like sermonizing endlessly about family values but then glorifying divorcees and philanderers as party icons.

Oh, wait a second....

TROLL NOTE: This bill has bipartisan support, so why am I only picking on Republicans? Because Democrats are already in favor of having the government negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare patients. It's only Republicans who oppose this (on principle, of course!) but then turn around and pander to their constituents by suggesting that it's OK to buy drugs from other people who have negotiated lower prices.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORDECHAI VANUNU....Chris Bertram notes that Mordechai Vanunu, who blew the whistle on Israel's secret nuclear bomb program in 1986, was released today to surprisingly little blog commentary. Daniel Ellsberg, who is predictably sympathetic to people who expose government secrets, describes what happened to Vanunu in an LA Times op-ed today:

For that act revealing that his country's program and stockpile were much larger than the CIA or others had estimated Vanunu was kidnapped from the Rome airport by agents of the Israeli Mossad and secretly transported back for a closed trial in which he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

He spent the first 11 1/2 years in solitary confinement in a 6-by-9-foot cell, an unprecedented term of solitary under conditions that Amnesty International called "cruel, inhuman and degrading."

Now, after serving his full term, he is due to be released today. But his "unfreedom" is to be continued by restrictions on his movements and his contacts: He cannot leave Israel, he will be confined to a single town, he cannot communicate with foreigners face to face or by phone, fax or e-mail (purely punitive conditions because any classified information that he may have possessed is by now nearly two decades old).

I'll let others debate whether Vanunu is a traitor or a hero, but I'm curious about something else. Ellsberg correctly states that "to this day [Israel] does not acknowledge" that it possesses nuclear weapons, and this puzzles me. Why? It's obviously common knowledge, so what's the point of officially denying it?

Is it related to automatic U.S. sanctions if a country declares itself a nuclear power? Or something else?

Kevin Drum 8:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A TALE OF TWO SOLDIERS....Our story so far:

George Bush, fresh out of Yale, uses family connections to join the Air National Guard in order to avoid serving in Vietnam. After four years of a six-year term he decides to skip his annual physical, is grounded, and heads off to Alabama, where he blows off even the minimal annoyance of monthly drills for over six months.

Conservative reaction: why are you impugning the patriotism of this brave man? He got an honorable discharge and that's as much as anyone needs to know.

John Kerry, fresh out of Yale, enlists in the Navy and subsequently requests duty in Vietnam. While there, according to the Boston Globe, he wins a Purple Heart and then follows that up with more than two dozen missions in which he often faced enemy fire, a Silver Star for an action in which he killed an enemy soldier who carried a loaded rocket launcher that could have destroyed his six-man patrol boat, a Bronze Star for rescuing an Army lieutenant who was thrown overboard and under fire, and two more Purple Hearts.

Conservative reaction: Hmmm, that first injury wasn't very serious. This is something that deserves careful and drawn-out investigation, and it would certainly be unfair to impugn "craven or partisan motives" to those doing the impugning.

Are these guys a piece of work, or what?

POSTSCRIPT: Kerry's military records are here.

Kevin Drum 7:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAL-MART....This is worth a link: a group blog dedicated solely to stories about Wal-Mart, good and bad. Their disclaimer:

No author owns shares of WM directly or works for WM.

The opinions of ALP contributors are their own.

In fact, most of us don't even shop at WM.

They do guest posts too if you have a fascinating Wal-Mart experience to share.

Here's one, for example. I think you could classify it as "bad."

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GAY MARRIAGE....The Judiciary Committee of the California Assembly approved a bill yesterday to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. It was a straight party line vote, of course.

For now, it's mostly symbolic, but still nice to see.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESS CONFERENCE UPDATE....Do reporters submit questions in advance for presidential press conferences? Reader Ken D followed up with the New York Times public editor, whose assistant wrote:

I spoke with an editor in the Washington Bureau who said the administration may plan beforehand which reporters or organizations will be called on to ask questions but that Times reporters do not submit their questions in advance. The editor said he would be surprised if any news organization submitted questions in advance.

See also here and here and the update here.

I don't know what's up with Ron Suskind's quote. Maybe the USC reporter mangled what he said or took it out of context or something. In any case, this really strikes me as just an urban legend. There's no there there.

UPDATE: Ken D has now received a response from Dan Okrent, the public editor himself, who says this:

I recently learned that you wrote to this office concerning the protocols of White House press conferences. I cannot speak for other news organizations, but I can assure you categorically that the New York Times does not -- ever -- submit press conference questions in advance.

OK then.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOW PRIORITY?....It seems no one has bothered to activate the .iq domain for Iraq. As in, say, www.thingsaregoinggreatiniraq.iq.

But Afghanistan is up and running!

UPDATE: This is old, but here's what The Register wrote about Iraq's top level domain a year ago:

The .iq domain is currently run an individual a man called Saud Alani who gives a Baghdad telephone number yet is based in George Bush's home state of Texas. His company "the Alani corporation" is part of a group of companies all run from the same address in Richardson, Texas, including InfoCom and Valnet. All of these companies and the .iq domain have as their technical contact and/or owner one Bayan Elashi. Unfortunately, Mr Elashi is in federal custory in Seagoville jail, Texas, awaiting trial for allegedly funding anti-Israeli group Hamas. If found guilty he faces a crippling fine and most of the rest of his life in jail.

The rest of the article has much more background on this fascinating subject.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEFENDING THE TROOPS....The war in Iraq is chewing up money faster than expected, and at least one Republican is outraged that the administration is refusing to admit it:

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, charged that the president is playing political games by postponing further funding requests until after the election, to try to avoid reopening debate on the war's cost and future.

Weldon described the administration's current defense budget request as "outrageous" and "immoral" and said that at least $10 billion is needed for Iraqi operations over the next five months.

"There needs to be a supplemental, whether it's a presidential election year or not," he said. "The support of our troops has to be the number one priority of this country....Somebody's got to get serious about this."

Like I've been saying, President Bush talks a big game, but when it comes to concrete realities he's oddly reluctant to show any political courage, isn't he?

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

USA TODAY EDITOR RESIGNS....Via TalkLeft, the editor of USA Today has resigned over the Jack Kelley fabrication affair.

Lots of other good stuff over there as well. You do have it bookmarked, don't you?

Kevin Drum 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS AND RELIGION....Allen Brill, who's been banging this drum pretty much forever, wonders why liberals insist on losing votes for their cause by constantly deriding religion. Today, he links to this review of Air American by David Shaw in the LA Times:

In a country in which 64% of the public say they attend weekend worship services at least once a month, mocking religion might not be the most effective way to win converts and yet, on Good Friday no less, that's exactly what the various Air America hosts repeatedly did.

Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they're Jewish, and one Marc Maron of the network's "Morning Sedition" program went on to make fun of Easter and Christmas rituals. Then, in a segment he called "morning devotional," Maron began his prayer for divine guidance on behalf of President Bush by saying, "Dear Lord, what the hell is going on up there?"

Another host I think it was Rachel Maddow on "Unfiltered," though I couldn't always distinguish her voice from that of co-host Lizz Winstead called Easter "an odd celebration" and said that a taxi driver had told her that "someone in a Jesus suit" would carry a cross along 42nd Street in New York in a reenactment of the events of Good Friday, "but in this case, he'll stop to buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag."

I too find this puzzling. I'm about as nonreligious as you can get, but even I understand the basics of in-group comedy: only blacks get to make fun of blacks, only Jews get to make fun of Jews, and only religious folks get to mock religion. That's both common sense and common courtesy.

This doesn't mean you can't fight religious groups on substantive grounds, of course, any more than strictures against mocking blacks mean you can't oppose affirmative action. I'll never give an inch to the creationism/Intelligent Design crowd, for example, but you can do it without ridiculing anybody's actual religious beliefs something that will win neither arguments nor friends in any case. My advice: the next time you're tempted to mock somebody or something on religious grounds, just substitute "Hispanic," or perhaps "Hindu," and see how it sounds. If it sounds like something you probably shouldn't say, then you probably shouldn't say it.

And if that still doesn't convince you, remember Amy Sullivan's advice: just think of 'em as an interest group and pander to them. We libs know how to do that, don't we?

Kevin Drum 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROBLEMS IN IRAQ....A much-hyped story by Jason Vest about the Iraq occupation is now online at an alternative weekly near you (here's the Village Voice version). It's based on a memo written by "a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he'd made in the field for a senior CPA director."

My initial take on the story was that I was really, really annoyed that it didn't include a link to the memo itself. In fact, I was so annoyed that I erased a post I wrote about it this morning and didn't link to it at all. Apparently, though, I wasn't the only one ticked off about this, and the full memo is now online.

It's hard to know what to make of this memo since we don't know who wrote it, but it's an interesting assessment from someone on the ground about what our problems are. I'm not sure there's an awful lot in it that we haven't heard before (CPA folks spend too much time spent in the Green Zone, the Iraqis are afraid of civil war, border security is bad, cronyism and nepotism are rampant), but we haven't heard it all from government sources before. Worth reading.

Kevin Drum 8:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SCRIPTED PRESS CONFERENCES?....This is pretty weird. Here's an email exchange with the New York Times' public editor that was just forwarded to me from reader Tony W:

To: NYT Public Editor

According to Ron Suskind, "For each press conference, the White House press secretary asks the reporters for their questions, selects six or seven of the questions to answer and those reporters are the only ones called upon to ask their questions during the press conference."

Can you confirm or deny this practice? If it is true, do you feel that the press should inform the public that the press conferences are scripted? This would appear to be a betrayal of the public's trust.

To: Tony W

Dear Mr. W---,

I'm fairly certain that two reporters at the press conference asked unscripted questions.

Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Edtior

To: NYT Public Editor

Thank you for your quick reply.

Only two? Was the NYT reporter's question scripted?

To: Tony W

Dear Mr. W---,

I am uncertain if Ms. Bumiller's question was submitted to the president before-hand.

Perhaps you might write to the president if you are unhappy with this system.

Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor

I've said before that I doubted the questions were submitted beforehand, because if they were Bush would have had better answers on tap. But this makes you wonder, doesn't it?

And why is Arthur Bovino uncertain/fairly certain about Elisabeth Bumiller's question? Why doesn't he just ask her?

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MASSIVE RETALIATION....Recent events in Fallujah and Najaf have prompted two very different reactions in most observers. There are no surprises here, either: the two reactions are (a) Iraq is a mess and more violence will just make them hate us even more, and (b) we need to teach the bastards a lesson they'll never forget.

It's not surprising that it's come down to this since American liberals and conservatives have split along these lines on an endless succession of subjects before. But in the past couple of days I've noticed an interesting twist on option B. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Asla Aydintasbas, in NRO:

    In the heady days soon after the collapse of the Saddam regime in Baghdad, I visited an ambassador from a formal imperial power in one of the few open embassies. Having just survived weeks of looting, "I just don't understand how Americans think they can take over a city without declaring marshal law or even a curfew" the diplomat said. Ah, I thought, this man just doesn't get it curfews are all about the Old Middle East. This was the New Middle East where Iraq was to serve as a bastion of democracy and freedoms.

    A few months later, I understood exactly the point he was making. You cannot do a half-occupation, he meant, being squeamish about projecting power and reluctant to assume responsibility. Since the beginning of the U.S. experiment in Iraq, one of problems with the American presence there has been the half-hearted half-responsible nature of its authority. There might have been a noble reason behind this. Americans are reluctant empire builders (as the president expressed Tuesday night); most Americans would rather let Iraqis run their country, and official U.S. policies in Iraq are aimed at creating a stable Arab democracy, not the colonization of new territories.

  • Niall Ferguson, in the New York Times:

    To understand what is going on in Iraq today, Americans need to go back to 1920, not 1970....In 1920, the British eventually ended [a rebellion in Iraq] through a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions. It was not pretty. Even Winston Churchill, then the minister responsible for the air force, was shocked by the actions of some trigger-happy pilots and vengeful ground troops. And despite their overwhelming technological superiority, British forces still suffered more than 2,000 dead and wounded.

    Is the United States willing or able to strike back with comparable ruthlessness? Unlikely if last week's gambit of unconditional cease-fires is any indication. Washington seems intent on reining in the Marines and pinning all hope on the handover of power scheduled apparently irrevocably for June 30.

Do you see the contradiction that both writers obviously understand but seem oddly unwilling to face squarely? In a place like Iraq, the only way to gain control is to make it clear that you are not to be trifled with with overwhelming force if necessary. But on the other hand, we've come a long way since 1920, and that kind of occupation, which was only barely acceptable to western public opinion even then, is certainly not today. What's more, it's even less acceptable when George Bush has been claiming for over a year that Iraqis are not our enemy, but rather a grateful populace eager for liberation.

Like it or not, this contradiction probably makes large-scale foreign interventions almost impossible today, especially in the Middle East. It might very well be true that the only way to hold a country like Iraq together is to have huge troop levels and a willingness to crush opposition ruthlessly if necessary. But the fact is that we don't have huge numbers of troops, and American public opinion thankfully won't tolerate massive retaliation of the kind the British got away with in 1920. That's simply not the kind of society any of us want to be.

This presents a problem for war supporters. If they really believe that overwhelming force is necessary to beat down the Iraq insurgencies, as many of them seem to, who do they think is going to do it? The commanders on the ground seem well aware of the kind of conflagration they'd set off if they tried this, and are likewise well aware that public opinion in 21st century America simply won't put up with tactics more often associated with police states than with liberal democracies.

So what's the answer? Or is there one?

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GHOST WARS....Speaking of book reviews, I mentioned Steve Coll's Ghost Wars in passing yesterday but didn't say anything about the book itself. And while I don't feel like posting a full-blown review, I will say this: if you're interested in Afghanistan, the rise of al-Qaeda, and the American response to it through four administrations, it's the go-to book. It's detailed, it's nonpartisan, it gives a terrific sense of what the real obstacles are to getting good intelligence in a place like Central Asia, and it's a great primer on the politics of the region before 9/11.

If it has any faults, it may be that it's too detailed. I generally like long books, but there were times in Ghost Wars where I started to feel like I was losing the forest for the trees. Still, better that than the comic book version. Highly recommended.

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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STRETCHING THE TRUTH....The latest from Woodward. Here is the CIA's first crack at a presentation about Iraqi WMD that might be convincing to the general public:

"Nice try," Bush said. "I don't think this is quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."

Card was also underwhelmed. The presentation was a flop. In terms of marketing, the examples didn't work, the charts didn't work, the photos were not gripping, the intercepts were less than compelling.

...."Needs a lot more work," Bush told Card and Rice. "Let's get some people who've actually put together a case for a jury." He wanted some lawyers, prosecutors if need be. They were going to have to go public with something.

The president told Tenet several times, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."

Right. No stretching. That sounds like the Bush we know, doesn't it?

Of course, considering that this presentation was made in late December 2002, it was a little late for that warning, wasn't it?

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOOK REVIEWS....Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Tyler and David are wondering why book publishers don't send review copies of books to bloggers. I've wondered the same thing myself.

After all, bloggers have very focused readerships with great demographics. If you've written a political book with a liberal bent, sending review copies to the top ten or twenty liberal political blogs seems like a cheap and targeted way of getting a bit of publicity from people who are naturally inclined to like your book. And how much can it cost?

(Good question. How much can it cost, Patrick?)

What brought this to mind recently is that at least one writer has figured this out: Arianna Huffington, a person who's long been on the frontlines of self-promotion. She sent copies of her new book, Fanatics and Fools, to a bunch of bloggers, and even included a cover letter specifically aimed at us. Will it do any good? Who knows. I haven't read the book yet.

And if I do, will I like it? Hard to say. Here's a paragraph from the cover letter:

That's where bloggers come in. Every time the party hacks advise "triangulation," "running to the middle," and focusing on swing voters the failed strategies of 2000 and 2002 bloggers can highlight this alternative big vision strategy....

Well. Seems to me that that strategy worked pretty well in 1992 and 1996, and I've been known to recommend it myself a time or three. But who knows? Maybe Arianna will convince me I'm wrong. In any case, she's got a lot better chance of doing it by sending me a book than she does if she didn't.

POSTSCRIPT: She describes the leadership of the Democratic party as a bunch of "dithering poltroons." A nice phrase, no? Marian read this and asked, "What's a poltroon? Does it have anything to do with poultry?"

Ha ha. But where does it come from? From Webster's New World Dictionary:

pol troon (pl troon') n. [Fr. poltron < It. poltrone, coward < poltro, colt < VL. *pulliter, prob. < pullus, young animal, chick: see POULTRY] a thorough coward.

So it's related to poultry after all. You learn something new every day.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AIR QUALITY....The subject is "new source review." Stone Phillips at Dateline NBC asks former EPA official Bruce Buckheit about it:

Phillips: What's the biggest enforcement challenge right now when it comes to air pollution?

Buckheit: The Bush Administration. An opportunity to reduce pollution just as we saw in Tampa is being foregone.

Phillips: Are you saying this administration just doesn't care about air pollution?

Buckheit: Yes. I'm saying this administration has decided to put the economic interests of the coal fired power plants ahead of the public interests in reducing air pollution.

Phillips: That's a pretty serious allegation.

Buckheit: Well, I was the head of the air enforcement division up until a couple weeks ago and I watched it happen.

Read the entire transcript (or watch the video) to see exactly what he's talking about.

Kevin Drum 10:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRESS CONFERENCE PREP?....Atrios quotes Ron Suskind today alleging that George Bush preselects the questions to answer at his press conferences.

I just can't believe this. Aside from the fact that an awful lot of people would have to keep this secret, there's just no way that he could see the questions in advance and still fumble them so badly, is there? I mean, it's just not possible.


Unless it's all just an act. He does get the questions in advance and then carefully practices giving clumsy, groping answers because he thinks this appeals to Middle America. That would explain a lot, wouldn't it?


Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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REFORMING THE LEGISLATURE....Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks California should go back to having a part-time legislature ("Spending so much time in Sacramento, without anything to do, then out of that comes strange bills"). The Los Angeles Times thinks we need to make term limits longer. And everyone (in theory) opposes gerrymandering.

I smell a winner here! I don't really think a part-time legislature is appropriate for a state the size of California, but I'm open to compromise. How about a ballot initiative that reduces the legislative session, doubles the length of term limits, and puts redistricting in the hands of some kind of nonpartisan commission? Call it the Legislative Reform Package of 2004.

I don't like initiatives much to begin with, but even I'd be tempted to vote for something like this as long as a bunch of miscellaneous crap weren't tacked on to it. And since Schwarzenegger is a fan of the initiative process, it's a perfect vehicle for him. How about it, Arnold?

Kevin Drum 8:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NEW POLL RESULTS....The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows George Bush leading John Kerry 47% to 42%, which goes to show that either (a) those television ads were pretty effective, (b) the worse things get in Iraq the more people rally around him, or (c) something else.

As always with polls there's plenty of interesting data to play around with, but here are a couple of things that stood out:

  • Ralph Nader currently has about 7% of the vote. Of that, about 1.5% would vote for Bush if Nader isn't on the ballot and 4.5% would vote for Kerry. So let's not hear any more nonsense about how Nader's candidacy doesn't really hurt Kerry.

    Overall, though, this is good news for Kerry since Nader's support will certainly drop as the campaign continues, and most of the defectors will vote for Kerry.

  • About 40% of respondents say they "strongly" support Bush while less than 30% say they strongly support Kerry. This sounds about right to me. I think Bush has a rock solid base of about 40%, which means Kerry is going to have to win a lot of the independents in order to have a chance. But will the party activists let him?

Taken as a whole, the poll results strike me as bad news for Kerry. Aside from the obvious drop in headline support, Kerry also has surprisingly small margins over Bush in traditional Democratic areas such as jobs, the economy, and Social Security, while Bush retains his whopping lead in his traditionally strong areas of terrorism and Iraq.

As usual, there are also wildly contradictory views on Iraq, with majorities believing that "considering the costs" the war was worth fighting, but at the same time believing the number of casualties has been "unacceptable." Likewise, a majority think the war has contributed to long-term U.S. security, but at the same time believe it's left the U.S. position in the world weaker and has destabilized the Middle East. It's possible to come up with reasons why these views are actually consistent, but they mostly strike me as special pleading. A large chunk of the American public is obviously very conflicted about whether the war was worthwhile.

The Post's writeup, along with links to the poll data, is here.

Kevin Drum 7:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOURNALISM 101 AND THE WASHINGTON TIMES....I'm with Nick: it's hard to believe that a major metro daily that's been in business for over 20 years would need to send out an email like this to its staff:

To: Everyone in the newsroom
From: The Managing Editor
Re: Corrections in the newspaper

This newspaper has an obligation to its reader to run corrections when we make a mistake. We need to hold ourselves to the same high standards that we expect of those we cover. I thought this point was made very clear by the senior editors at our last editorial retreat, but apparently I was mistaken.

Now our newspaper is the subject of ridicule in this week's City Paper for failure to correct some very obvious mistakes we made.

....All mistakes require corrections. If you have a question about what constitutes a correction, ask your desk editor or ask me or ask the senior editor in charge at that particular time.

But you have to scroll down for the kicker:

Desk editors, to repeat what you were told at the retreat: You must keep a record of all corrections, including the reporter and editor involved, and how the mistake was made. This log should be used in preparing annual personnel reviews....Too many corrections from any reporter or editor will have employment consequences.

Management 101 hint: telling your staff that they will be fired if they fess up to too many mistakes is not the best way of getting them to fess up to mistakes. Not in the very same memo, anyway.

Unless that was the whole point, of course.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SYNONYMS....I am, sadly, one of those writers who is good enough to care about using the right word, but not good enough that I have an enormous vocabulary resident in brain RAM at all times. (A problem that's getting worse with every passing year, I might add.) That means that I spend a lot of time with a thesaurus.

So much time, in fact, that I recently reorganized my library so that my reference books are all in the bookshelf that's within arm's reach of my computer. This bookshelf used to contain my programming books, and the reorganization therefore reflects my life itself. In the past, most of my computer time was spent programming. Today it's mostly spent blogging.

I use Microsoft Word as a quick and dirty thesaurus fairly often, but if you really care about word choice I highly recommend getting used to using a real thesaurus. I used to use a dictionary style thesaurus, in which you simply look up words and are given a list of synonyms. Simple. A friend of mine gave me a serious thesaurus years ago, but because it's harder to use I ignored his advice about its superior power until about a year ago.

But he was right. Since words are organized by category, rather than alphabetically, it requires two steps: look up the word in the index and then turn to the right section. But once you get to the section you need, your choice of synonyms is both far greater and far broader than a dictionary-style thesaurus. You're far more likely to find the word you need, and in the end it probably takes less time than the superficially easier methods of either a dictionary-style thesaurus or Microsoft Word.

Personally, I find using a thesaurus so frequently to be a real pain. But if you're going to do it, do it right. Get a standard Roget's category-based thesaurus and force yourself to use it. Sections 929.14 and 981.3, among many others, are pretty handy if you find yoursef frequently writing about George Bush.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AT LEAST SHE DOESN'T HAVE ANY NATIONAL GUARD PROBLEMS....Karen Hughes for governor of Texas? Charles Kuffner deconstructs the rumors.

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ARIEL SHARON, PEACENIK?....One of the (many) reasons I don't blog much about the Israel-Palestine mess is that Israeli politics are so byzantine that I can't begin to follow them. Not with the amount of time I'm willing to put into it, anyway.

Example: over at Aspasia, Judah Ariel suggests that Bush was right to support Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Why? Because if Sharon loses the upcoming referendum on his plan he will be forced to resign and the Likud party will shift even further to the right:

This reality has been accepted by the Israeli left, including the Yahad (Meretz) party and Peace Now, even if it was missed by the Washington Post and New York Times. Rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, I hope that President Bush takes this opportunity to make disengagement work by rehabilitating the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and making sure this is a step towards more withdrawals and future negotiations. Its pretty clear that Israel cant take another failure in the guise of either a Hamas-run Gaza or a settler-run Israel.

Hmmm, is this a reasonable analysis? It's scary to think of Ariel Sharon as our bulwark against right-wing extremism in Israel, but the fact that it's scary doesn't mean it's not true.

So, commenters, what do you say? Is this common knowledge among sophisticated consumers of Israeli politics? Or is Judah just doing a good job peddling an improbable scenario to a gullible Orange County goy?

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHEAP GAS....Remember the flap a couple of weeks ago about "foreign leaders" supporting John Kerry? Kerry wouldn't name names, but there was much glee on the RNC website over the fact that North Korea's Kim Jong-il was apparently one of them.

That was just a joke, of course, but on the other side of the aisle we know at least one foreign country that's seriously eager for George Bush to be reelected: Saudi Arabia. Yes, the same Saudi Arabia that was home to 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and the same Saudi Arabia that has shown disturbingly little recognition that this is a problem. Acccording to Bob Woodward, Saudi Arabia is so eager for Bush to be reelected that they're planning to help out his campaign by lowering oil prices a few months before the election.

Now, if you want to take the position that Bob Woodward is full of shit, fine. But I sure wasn't expecting a substantive defense of this from conservatives. But here's Michael Graham over at The Corner:

If the Democrats want to argue that having President Bush in office means oil-rich nations will try to help out the American economy, go right ahead. If these nations were driving gas prices up in order to punish Bush, you can bet Teresa Heinz Kerry's dead husband's last dollar that the Democrats would be holding Bush responsible.

Instead, theyre helping a brother out. What's the prob?

And James Joyner:

A couple weeks ago, John Kerry was blaming the president for high gas prices: "This administration has done nothing with OPEC to reduce gas prices. Not only would this be a meaningful rebutal to that charge, but it would show that the administration was thinking about this issue months ago and planning ahead for the increase in prices. Moreover, this puts to rest the notion that Bush cant work with our allies to get things done.

Yep, it's just the president working with our allies in the best interests of our country. What's the prob?

Elsewhere in the conservative blogosphere this revelation seems to have merited simple silence. Maybe they just don't believe Woodward. But surely the fact that Saudi Arabia a country that has been demonized regularly by conservatives is now said to be actively aiding George Bush's reelection is at least worthy of comment, isn't it? What would be the reaction if Woodward reported that Jacques Chirac had agreed to hold up a new UN resolution until November, just to make Bush look bad?

UPDATE: James says he was just kidding. Haven't heard from Michael.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE....Matt Yglesias was listening to the talking heads on CNN read some viewer mail this morning:

One common trope was that the unspecified "they" we're fighting in Iraq "knows only violence" or else "only understands force." I know it's a strange comment for a blogger to make, but I wonder where all these instant experts on the psychology of the Iraqi insurgency came from. America's intelligence services don't seem quite sure who "they" are, much less what the full scope of their knowledge is.

CNN's armchair sociologists aren't the only ones who believe this. Steve Coll, in Ghost Wars, reports the following from Osama bin Laden's mentor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in 1998:

Like bin Laden, al-Zawahiri believed that it was time for jihadists to carry the war to "the distant enemy"....A key war-fighting principle, al-Zawahiri believed, was "the need to inflict the maximum casualties against the opponent, for this is the language understood by the West, no matter how much time and effort such operations take."

That's why they attacked the Twin Towers. Because everyone knows the only language westerners understand is force.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BLOOD FOR OIL?....I'm listening to the 60 Minutes segment about Woodward's book right now and just heard something I haven't seen in any of the press reports so far: the Saudis promised Bush they would lower oil prices before the election so that the U.S. economy would be in good shape in November.


And then there's the obvious question: it's April already and they haven't done it yet. What are they waiting for? Or were they just yanking Bush's chain all along?

Kevin Drum 10:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS....Via Matt Yglesias, this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pretty much tells the story of the Bush tax cuts. The red line is the number of jobs he said his tax cuts would produce. The blue line is the number of jobs his tax cuts have actually produced.

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LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES....Mark Kleiman was musing yesterday about what he thinks is the common thread that holds the conservative movement together, but today he prints an email he got from his friend Steve Teles, a political science professor at Brandeis, who says he's barking up the wrong tree:

What holds all those folks on the conservative side together, fundamentally (along with a few substantive issue) is hatred of liberals. Disgust, on a very deep, gut level, and a sense that conservatives are marginalized in the institutions liberals control and a sense that they manipulate language and procedure to control those institutions and to keep conservatives out.

Whether they are libertarians or Christian conservatives, they usually have some combination of anecdotes that reinforce this perception, and they're not always wrong. The sense that liberals control "everything" is obviously stupid but it's a sense of local injustice and mariginalization that usually motivates people, and in the mainstream media and universities, there's probably something to it.

So I think looking for the glue on the positive side of overlapping ideology is probably the wrong way to look at it the negative side of shared resentment is the better way to go about it.

I think there's a lot to be said for this, especially when you consider that modern day movement conservatism got its start in the mid-60s. Two things leap out at me when I think about that timing:

  • First, by the mid-60s liberals (and liberal thought in general) really had been ascendent for over 30 years, ever since since the beginning of the New Deal. Even the eight years of Eisenhower's presidency hadn't done much to change that, since Ike was a moderate Republican who deliberately chose not to pick fights by trying to roll back New Deal programs.

    Then there were the 60s themselves. In 1964 Barry Goldwater was not just defeated, he was vilified and then crushed in a landslide of historic proportions. The rest of the decade, as we all know, was a triumph of social liberalism so great that by 1971 even Richard Nixon was in favor of universal healthcare and minimum income guarantees. Since there really was virtually no one in power who spoke for their views by that point, a feeling of marginalization by social conservatives is pretty understandable.

  • Second, it was in the 1950s and 60s when television started beaming all this liberalism directly into everyone's living rooms. Before then it had been fairly easy to ignore, especially in smaller communities, but by the mid-60s that was no longer true. It's one thing to know something abstractly, but it's quite another to see it day in and day out, and the fact that social liberalism was forced down people's throats nightly in living color surely contributed to a sense of helplessness and anger among conservatives.

Obviously there's more to it than just this, but I too have been struck by how often social conservatives continue to act as though they belong to a beleaguered little band desperately fighting off the tyranny of omnipresent liberalism despite the fact that liberals haven't consistently controlled any branch of government for a quarter century. There's little question that it's a common thread, and one that they find tremendously motivating. Just go to your local bookstore to see what I mean.

But there's a bigger problem at work here than just a conservative sense of paranoia that has long since lost its moorings with reality. The problem is that recently liberals have begun to share it.

It's a common complaint (on both right and left) that liberals no longer have any real grand motivating vision, and I think there's a lot of truth to it. But despite lots of highminded talk, neither do conservatives. Their only real vision appears to be to fight liberalism. Again, go to your local bookstore to see what I mean.

So what we're left with is little more than conservatives who are appalled with liberalism and liberals who are appalled by conservatism. There's really not much of a vision on either side, unless you consider tearing down the last 60 years of social progress a vision. Our current political deadlock will probably remain until one side or the other comes up with one.

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANALYZING THE ANALYSTS....Mark Schmitt on the Treasury Department's analysis of John Kerry's tax plan:

  1. Treasury didn't use the standard categories that would go into a distributional analysis, such as income quintiles or households with income in certain ranges. Instead, they used a category of their own devising: "Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples."

  2. And what's the definition of the new population category called "Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples"? To me, it brings to mind the guy who guts chickens for a living ten hours a day and his wife who works at Wal-Mart. But I must have too bleak a view. Apparently this category refers to people who earn more than $200,000 and get much of their income from dividends and capital gains. I don't want to engage in class warfare, and I'm sure some of these people are very hardworking, but that just doesn't seem like the appropriate term.

And in other news from our hardworking and nonpolitical Treasury Department, Mark reports that they've also taken to including the following boilerplate at the end of their press releases:

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's policies are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.

Bad enough that they append this twaddle to all their announcements, but apparently they don't realize that this new internet thingie makes it pretty easy to figure out where it came from. Demagogue traces its nonpolitical origins for us.

Apparently even political hacks are just a bunch of lazy, plagiarizing sods these days. Don't they have any pride in their work?

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IRAQ....This morning's bad news roundup. From the Telegraph:

The commander of British troops in southern Iraq, Brig Nick Carter, admitted that he would be powerless to prevent the overthrow of Coalition forces if the Shia majority in Basra rose up in rebellion. Brig Carter, of the 20 Armoured Brigade, who has been in Iraq for four months, said British forces would stay in Basra with the consent of local Shia leaders, or not at all.

...."A crowd of 150,000 people at the gates of this barracks would be the end of this, as far as I'm concerned," Brig Carter said. "There would be absolutely nothing I could do about that."

"Mr. X," a former noncom now working as a private security contractor in Iraq (via an email newsletter):

In Baghdad, where we work, I've never seen the city this dangerous. It wasn't even this bad last spring, during the actual war.

....The Army recently extended the tour lengths another 4 months for a lot of their guys who have already been in the Middle East a year now. Their morale and motivation was already non-existent before the extension; now these guys, tens of thousands of them, are just taking up space over here.

....The Army is just making things worse for the coalition. The Army is intent on having its presence seen and felt in Iraq because they think that will make everyone think they are in charge. What they dont seem to realize is that a large military presence is the one thing, pretty much the only thing, the Iraqis can't tolerate. Despite reports by the news media to the contrary, Iraqis don't resent the humanitarian projects, or the rebuilding effort, or even the U.S. being in control of the government until the transition. Sure the Iraqis want to be in charge, but the majority can tolerate the situation until a transition happens, even if it's months down the road. But what they can NOT tolerate is waking up every day and seeing army tanks and Bradleys rolling through their towns and villages. And they can't tolerate being stopped by endless Army checkpoints on the highways, which were set up by commanding officers who think terrorists and insurgents haven't figured out a way yet to avoid those checkpoints. That's what the Iraqis resent and can't tolerate, along with a thousand other ways the Army makes its presence felt (and I didn't even mention having your door kicked in at 2 am because of some "hot Army intel").

The New York Times:

The chief spokesman for the American military said five American marines were killed on Saturday in a prolonged gunbattle that started when they came under mortar and small arms fire in Qusaybah, near the Syrian border.

The spokesman, Brig. Gen Mark Kimmit, said Iraqi anti-coalition forces and marines fought for about 14 hours in the battle, unusual for its duration and far from the area where marines have been fighting an offensive in Falluja, the Sunni Muslim town west of Baghdad.

"This is the first time we have lost five marines" in that area, General Kimmitt said by telephone.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

STAYING THE COURSE....Sunday's Washington Post has a very sobering assessment of the situation in Iraq:

"The Fallujah problem and the Sadr problem are having a wider impact than we expected," a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy said. In Baghdad and Washington, officials had initially concluded that addressing those problems would not engender much anger among ordinary Iraqis. "Sadr's people and the people of Fallujah were seen as isolated and lacking broad support among Iraqis," the official added.

Instead, the official said, "The effect has been profound."

....The crises have helped boost the standing of more radical Shiite and Sunni political leaders. Abdul Karim Muhammadawi, a Shiite tribal chief who led guerrilla attacks on Hussein's army in the 1980s and '90s in the southern marshes, gained stature in many Shiite neighborhoods after he suspended his membership in the council because of a disagreement with U.S. policy. Although U.S. officials selected Muhammadawi to sit on the council last summer, they have soured on him in recent months because of his support for an armed militia in southeastern Iraq.

Mohsen Abdul Hamid, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, has emerged as the council's most influential Sunni member because of his attempts to broker a peace deal in Fallujah. But Abdul Hamid had also been written off months ago by U.S. officials -- for alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Sunni movement that is banned in several Arab nations.

"The politicians the Americans wanted to become popular have lost out to the guys the Americans didn't want to become popular," said an Iraqi adviser to the occupation authority. "It was exactly the outcome they did not want."

It's nice to see that at least one "senior U.S. official" understands the gravity of what's going on, but it would be even nicer to hear some plan for doing more than simply "staying the course." Right now, staying the course is the worst strategy imaginable.

NOTE: I realize that that last sentence is ambiguous. All I meant by it is that we have three basic options:

  1. Declare victory and pull out. This would likely lead to civil war and an unpredicable but bad outcome, but at least no more Americans would die.

  2. Stay the course. This will probably also lead to some version of civil war and a bad outcome, and many more Americans will die in the process.

  3. Increase both the resources and the time frame devoted to Iraq. Americans will continue to die, but at least there's the possibility of a (moderately) good outcome.

Doves prefer option #1 and hawks prefer option #3, but surely everyone agrees that option #2 is the worst of the lot?

Kevin Drum 11:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ROY MOORE SUPPORTERS SPEAK UP....So what do supporters of Judge Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore think of George Bush? The Talent Show has the scoop.

Hint: Among other things, they think Bush is insufficiently Christian.

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NAJAF UPDATE....I haven't seen much confirmation of this, but apparently talks in Najaf have broken down and Al-Arabia television is reporting that "armed clashes and exchange of fire between the coalition forces and the Mehdi army were reported in and around Najaf."

I'm not sure if these "armed clashes" are the same ones reported here (and a few other places), which are all outside Najaf at a Spanish base, or if Al-Arabia is reporting something more serious inside the city itself.

Stay tuned.

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MAGIC WORDS....It's one thing not to understand the rudiments of human interaction that most of us learn by third grade, but why would someone go to the trouble of writing over 2,000 words including an email exchange! that documents for the entire world that they do not, in fact, understand the rudiments of human interaction?

The 2,000-word part I understand, of course. Just goes with the SDB territory. But why reprint an email exchange that does nothing except make you look like a jerk?

Beats me. I guess that since it eventually set the stage for yet another cranky rant about "the powerless Left in the US, and 'allies' in Europe" he must have figured it was worth it.

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LOSING THE WAR....Could the news out of Iraq be any more discouraging than it is? Muqtada al-Sadr says he won't back down and won't dissolve his militia. "We shall never permit these forces to enter this city of Najaf or the holy sites, for they are forbidden to them," he railed in a sermon on Friday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a supposed moderate, is supporting Muqtada, and Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon's favorite exile, is supporting Sistani. "Najaf must not be touched," he says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has tacitly admitted its powerlessness by relying on UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi to come up with a political solution. "I don't see anything at this point in what he's proposing that would be of concern to us," Condi Rice said blandly, despite the fact that Brahimi's solution bears no resemblance to anything we've proposed before.

Of course, we have little choice in all this. Despite what the Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz axis credulously maintained a year ago, there are an awful lot of Iraqis who don't want us there and we have neither the manpower nor the stomach to fight them all off. The RCW axis has never had the guts to make realistic proposals for winning the war they started, and even now, when the reality on the ground has been painfully clear for months, Rumsfeld is still not willing to consider increasing troop strength. In fact, he's only grudgingly agreed to postpone a planned troop reduction, and even that, apparently, was little more than a concession to fight off a near mutiny in the ranks of the generals.

The most likely endpoint is this: in the short term a UN-brokered political settlement, and in the longer term an Islamic theocracy headed in the background by Sistani, with Chalabi pulling strings at his side and Muqtada (or his clones) keeping anti-American sentiment burning in the foreground. Chalabi will sell us out in a second if he needs to, Sistani will gradually lose influence, and before long Iraq will probably bear more resemblance to Iran than to Egypt. Or perhaps the West Bank if American troops remain.

And the United States will end up in a worse position than when we started, our foreign policy in hock to the UN and a group of Islamic theocrats.

Maybe that would have happened no matter what. I don't know. But there's not much question that in this universe we ended up where we did because George Bush wasn't willing to take the political risks needed to win this war. And he still isn't.

So I'll end this post with my usual question to the hawks: why are you supporting this guy? Sure, he talks a good game, but in the real world he's betrayed everything you wanted out of simple political cowardice. Why does he retain your loyalty when he's made it so plain that he has neither a realistic plan to win the war nor the political will to see it through?

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KARL'S REGRETS....Mission not accomplished?

President Bush's top political adviser said this week he regretted the use of a "Mission Accomplished" banner as a backdrop for the president's landing on an aircraft carrier last May to mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

"I wish the banner was not up there," said White House political strategist Karl Rove. "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."

Pathetic. No acknowledgment that anything in the real world has gone wrong, only that a bit of symbolism didn't pan out the way he hoped.

Karl Rove and Karen Hughes never had any idea what the war was all about. To them it was apparently just an opportunity to put up some bunting and shoot some campaign videos, and Karl's only regret is that the campaign videos haven't worked out.

America deserves better than these puerile hacks. We really, really do.

Kevin Drum 7:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FLAT EARTH, FLAT TAX....Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, you can count on April 15 bringing a flurry of proposals from conservatives for a flat tax. Here is Daniel Mitchell in National Review:

There is little doubt that our tax code is grossly unfair. We have no idea whether people like Bill Gates and Shaquille ONeal pay too much or too little.

....This is why the flat tax makes so much sense. Every household would get a deduction based on family size, but then every dollar of income above that level would be subject to tax. Such a system would ensure that the rich paid their fair share, but it would avoid the punitive tax rates that have caused so much economic misery in Europe. If you make twice as much as your neighbor, you pay twice as much tax.

It's an amazing coincidence, isn't it, that conservative tax proposals always seem to result in the rich paying less tax? I wonder if Mitchell is equally in favor of converting the Social Security tax into a flat tax?

But what really gets me is how they always present these things as if we need a flat tax because the tax code is too damn complex. Well, the tax code is too damn complex, but the least complex thing about it is the part where you look up your adjusted gross income in the tax table to figure out how much you owe. The complex part is figuring out your adjusted gross income in the first place, something that has nothing to do with whether the tax rate for millionaires is higher than the tax rate for those at the poverty line.

It is columns like this that cause me to lose patience with the tax jihadists on the right. It is dishonest to pretend that flattening tax rates has any connection to simplifying the tax code. It is dishonest to pretend that a flat income tax is "fair" while conveniently forgetting to suggest the same for Social Security taxes. It is dishonest to pretend that "income" is the same for everyone while failing to even mention capital gains, tax shelters, corporate perks, deferred compensation, pension contributions, stock options, or the thousand other options the wealthy have for making money that doesn't quite count as "income." It is dishonest not to mention that simple arithmetic guarantees that any flat income tax proposal would raise taxes for practically every middle class family in the country.

It's not, as Mitchell suggests, "IRS agents and tax lawyers" who would suffer under his proposal. It's every working stiff in the country who would end up paying higher taxes in order to fund a break for the wealthy. But I guess that's the whole point, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TALKIN' ABOUT GOD....Is Ronald Klain, Al Gore's former chief of staff, right about this?

Beware the temptation to snicker, because therein lies defeat.

That is an important warning for those Democrats who have spent the days since President Bush's press conference making light of his invocation of "the Almighty" in the defense of his Iraq policy. Specifically, they've been snickering over the president's contention that "freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world."

Some critics have called the president's message "missionary." Some have said that it suggests a case for "religious war" by U.S. armed forces. Others have simply waved it about as evidence of a president who is intellectually or strategically shallow.

Is this right? Newsprint has always gotten ink all over your hands, but these days it has another deficiency: no hyperlinks. So I don't know which Democrats allegedly said these things.

But I hope it's not true. In fact, my initial reaction was that this was the strongest part of Bush's entire performance. For about a full minute he seemed animated and sure of himself, not grasping for words or ducking for cover.

Bill Clinton talked about God. Jimmy Carter talked about God. So did LBJ, JFK, Harry Truman, and FDR. Every Democratic president has talked about God. I sure hope Democrats aren't going off the rails now just because Bush mentioned God once in a one-hour press conference.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DISSING THE YOUTH VOTE....Via Jack O'Toole, student journalists in Iowa are unhappy with the president:

The Iowa State Daily; the Daily Iowan, the student newspaper at the University of Iowa; and the DMACC Chronicle, the student newspaper of the Ankeny campus of Des Moines Area Community College, were all left off the approved list to cover the presidential visit.

....Mike Allsup, reporter for the Chronicle...said he was later contacted by the White House press office and told the president didn't want students covering the event in Des Moines.

Why do you suppose the White House objects to student newspapers covering a presidential visit?

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLAIR AND BUSH....Was Tony Blair consulted about President Bush's new policy on Israel? It depends on the meaning of "consult":

It emerged yesterday Britain was consulted in general terms by the White House before Wednesday's announcement. Downing Street's influence appeared to be negligible as attempts to rein in Mr Bush were ignored.

(Italics mine.)

I realize that Blair no longer has much choice except to stick close to Bush no matter what, but I wonder what he's really feeling these days? He obviously believes strongly in the war, but at the same time he also took a very considerable political risk in supporting Bush, defying both his own party and the majority of the British people. And what's he gotten in return? As near as I can tell Bush has stiffed him on every single tangible thing he's asked for since the war ended. Does he scream at the television set in private? Does he just grin and bear it? Or what?

And how come there are no books to tell us? In America, Paul O'Neill has written a book, Karen Hughes has written a book, and Bob Woodward has written two books. Has anyone close to Blair written a book?

Kevin Drum 12:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH BASHING....I try to keep a relatively sober tone around here, but sometimes you just need some good old fashioned sophomoric Bush bashing, don't you? I sure do. So here, courtesy of one of my readers, is the Daily Mirror's take on our president's Tuesday night press conference. Enjoy!

UPDATE: The text of the article is here if you want even more tabloid fun.

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HUH?....This has nothing to do with the point of his post, but today Stephen Bainbridge quotes Coca-Cola director Herbert Allen saying:

I was always sorry that I missed the Salem witch trials....

What kind of person is sorry he missed the Salem witch trials?

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PARTISANSHIP vs. PATRIOTISM....Tom Bevan has a question for us lefties:

When your interest as a patriot (making changes for the better) and your interest as a partisan (making Bush look bad) conflict, which interest do you put first?

The 9/11 Commission should generate exactly such a conflict among liberals because the more partisan the Commission becomes, the less likely they are to find the truth and the less likely the Commission's final report will have legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Sadly, however, many on the left don't seem able to either recognize the conflict in the first place or resist the temptation of putting partisanship above patriotism.

It's funny that conservatives only started complaining about partisanship when the 9/11 commission started producing testimony damaging to George Bush, isn't it? But where were they when he resisted setting up any kind of commission in the first place? Or when he then tried to make a joke out of it by appointing Henry Kissinger as its head? Or on the repeated occasions when he stonewalled the commission when it requested needed documentation and testimony?

Histrionics are not the only sign of partisanship. On the contrary: although preventing an investigation because it might damage you politically is more subtle, it's every bit as partisan. What's more, it's probably more dangerous in the long run, especially when it comes from a commander-in-chief whose party controls every branch of government.

So tell me again who's putting partisanship above patriotism. And his middle initial better be W.

Kevin Drum 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BUSH AIR QUALITY RECORD....Can someone please tell me why Gregg Easterbrook continues to claim that the Bush administration is dedicated to improving air quality? His writing on the subject has gotten pathological.

Today, he first makes a claim he's made repeatedly before:

But then again, Bush has already imposed much stricter antipollution standards for diesel fuel and diesel engines...and the media simply pretend these advances don't exist, in order to sustain the preferred script of Bush "undoing" clean-air policy.

But as Easterbrook must well know, these "stricter antipollution standards for diesel fuel and diesel engines" were implemented by the Clinton administration. Bush's only contribution was that he didn't overturn them.

Today's news, which he calls "yet another clean-air achievement for the Bush administration," is that the EPA has finally released a list of counties that are out of compliance with new, stricter, air quality regulations. But once again, as even Easterbrook admits, the regulations themselves were written by the Clinton administration. Bush's only contribution was that he didn't overturn them.

Easterbrook is right that air quality has been getting better for the past 30 years, and he at least has a defensible argument when he complains that the media doesn't always make this clear. (Although I'm not sure why he specifically picks on this New York Times article, which makes exactly that point: "Since passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, the country's air is significantly cleaner, but scientific research continues to ratchet down the amount of pollution that is considered healthy to breathe.")

But when he pretends that the Bush administration can claim credit for any of this, it just defies belief. Bush's record includes keeping the new source rules for power plants as loose as possible, support for ANWR drilling, weaker enforcement of existing regulations, a proposed cap-and-trade scheme for mercury emissions, and no action whatsoever on greenhouse gases action he promised to take during the 2000 campaign.

Why does Easterbrook continue to claim that Bush has a sterling clean air record without telling his readers that he's done virtually nothing except leave Clinton's rules in place? Is it the soft bigotry of low expectations? Or something else?

Kevin Drum 2:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JAMES YEE....Andrew Sullivan is right to be outraged over the military's conduct in the James Yee case:

Very few incidents have made me as angry as the disgraceful, foul and malicious attempt by the U.S. military to accuse Captain James J. Yee, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, of treason and espionage. They had no solid evidence, but, at the time, I worried that the story might be true. I feel terrible for leaping to that tentative conclusion. But it got worse. When the espionage charges fell apart, the military then tried to frame Yee for adultery and for downloading porn from the Internet, dragging his family into the entire affair.

It recalled to me the way the military trashes and defames the lives of honorable gay servicemembers. Yesterday, all the charges were dropped. You might not have noticed because the story was buried in most newspapers, unlike the original charges. What I want to know is: who is going to be discharged for this horrendous miscarriage of justice? Who in the military will be held responsible? This incident is particularly noxious at a time when we need to reassure patriotic Muslim-Americans that they are not going to come under clouds of suspicion for their faith or their identity - especially Muslims who are actually serving this country in uniform. This story is a travesty of justice and fairness. And no one really seems to give a damn.

I wish Andrew's outrage wasn't limited to abuses that remind him of mistreatment of gays, but hey. It's a start. And he's absolutely right that this case is an outrage.

I might add that it's not fair to characterize this as a military weakness, either: it's a prosecutorial weakness. I've read any number of cases where federal prosecutors have spent lots of time investigating someone they were certain was dirty, found out they were wrong, and then, in an apparent fit of pique, proceeded to prosecute the poor schmoe anyway for some entirely incidental and trivial offense. Wen Ho Lee is the most famous recent victim of this kind of treatment. My guess is that in their hearts, the prosecutors in the Yee case are still convinced he's guilty even though the evidence clearly indicates otherwise. It's a common human failing, and one the justice system both military and civilian doesn't do enough to rein in.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FINAL WORD ON THE PROSE STYLE OF PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFINGS....A few days ago I commented that I was surprised the infamous August 6 PDB was so short and badly written. The next day Patrick Belton suggested I was wrong: the PDB was actually quite clear and concise. Today Fred Kaplan informs me that I was really, really wrong:

Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and the State Department's counterterrorism chief from 1989-93, explained on MSNBC this afternoon, during a break in the hearings, why the PDBlet alone the Moussaoui findingshould have compelled everyone to rush back to Washington.

In his CIA days, Johnson wrote "about 40" PDBs. They're usually dispassionate in tone, a mere paragraph or two. The PDB of Aug. 6 was a page and a half. "That's the intelligence-community equivalent of writing War and Peace," Johnson said. And the title"Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US"was clearly designed to set off alarm bells. Johnson told his interviewer that when he read the declassified document, "I said 'Holy smoke!' This is such a dead-on 'Mr. President, you've got to do something!' "

So not only was the August 6 PDB unusually long, it was also unusually punchy. I hereby apologize profusely to the CIA analyst who wrote it.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH'S PRESS CONFERENCE PERFORMANCE....The most consistent complaint I've gotten in email about Bush's Tuesday night press conference is that the press said nothing about his delivery: halting, unsure, fumbling, and insubstantial.

Granted, my emailers are all a bunch of Bush-hating liberals, but I think that even a neutral observer would concede the point: his delivery really was horrible whenever he was off his familiar talking points. Over and over he found himself grasping for words and unsure of how to respond. Why did the press not mention this? Some possibilities:

  • Remarking on a politician's delivery is considered below the belt, no matter how obvious it is.

  • Bush is always like this. It didn't seem worth noting.

  • Ronald Reagan did teach us a lesson, and it's not that deficits don't matter. It's that you can have a noticeably fumbling and forgetful delivery on national TV and it doesn't matter. You can still win 49 states.

  • If they complain about this in print the White House will no longer return their calls.

  • The press did mention it but I didn't notice.

Any other possibilities? Even with my partisan blinders off, I have to say that his delivery seemed so obviously nervous and shaky as to almost demand comment. Why didn't it get any?

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DEATH SQUAD OUTRAGE....Matt "Death Squad" Yglesias wonders why there hasn't been more outrage among liberals about the rumored appointment of John Negroponte as Iraq's new ambassador cum viceroy beginning July 1. A brief explanation of Negroponte's unfitness is here.

So why no outrage from this corner? Aside from the fact that it's still just a rumor, the answer is.....weariness. I mean, there are only so many hours in a day and only so many things to be outraged about.

After all, Bush already appointed Negroponte as ambassador to the UN, so we know he doesn't have any problem with his background. And he originally appointed Henry Kissinger as head of the 9/11 commission, so we know he has no shame. And he's also appointed Elliot Abrams and John Poindexter to positions in his administration, so we know he's not worried about associating with Iran-Contra almost-but-not-quite felons. And the original rumor was that Paul Wolfowitz would be the new ambassador to Iraq, so we know that irony is lost on him.

Basically, then, Bush is just doing what you expect from Bush. Still, it is outrageous, isn't it? So here goes: this is a bad choice. Really bad. Bush should back off and pick someone else. Negroponte is bad news.

Sure, that's pathetic. Sorry. But there's another thing to keep in mind here anyway: who the hell would want this job? Bush's shortlist is probably really short. A weakness for death squads may be the least of his concerns.

Kevin Drum 5:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY AS A POLITICAL GAME....Frankly, I don't really have an opinion about whether Jamie Gorelick should resign from the 9/11 panel. After all, she's had a conflict of interest for a long time and so has the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow. If the commission decides to get rid of either or both of them, it's fine with me.

But can I ask another question? Yesterday's conflict-of-interest charges were based on a 1995 memo by Gorelick about the wall between criminal investigations and counterintelligence. Here's how John Ashcroft presented it to the commission:

The basic architecture for the wall in the 1995 guidelines was contained in a classified memorandum entitled "Instructions for Separation of Certain Foreign Counterintelligence and Criminal Investigations."

....Although you understand the debilitating impact of the wall, I cannot imagine that the commission knew about this memorandum. So I have had it declassified for you and the public to review.

Full disclosure compels me to inform you that the author of this memorandum is a member of the commission.

You can just feel the cleverness oozing from Ashcroft's pores as he felt "compelled" to mention that Gorelick was the author of the memo, can't you? It's like watching a high school student council meeting.

But there's a serious question here. The fact that Ashcroft was so pleased with himself makes it obvious that he declassified this memo for the sole purpose of embarrassing Gorelick, an action that continues a Bush administration pattern of casually declassifying anything that helps their political cause but refusing to declassify anything that might hurt them. The classic case occurred in 2001 when Bush actually declassified part of a conversation between Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that reflected poorly on Clinton but refused to declassify the rest of the conversation even when Clinton requested it.

Doesn't this deserve more attention? The executive branch has the sole authority to declassify documents, and when they use that authority selectively to bait their political opponents it's not much different from using the IRS or the FBI to harrass them. Where's a wall when you need it?

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review apparently agrees.

Kevin Drum 3:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OFF THE AIR....Air America Radio is off the air in Los Angeles and Chicago. Drudge says it's because they bounced a check. Air America says they were "in the middle of discussions" and plan to take the station owner to court.

No further news at this time.

UPDATE: More here. Not much more, though.

Kevin Drum 3:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NAJAF UPDATE....The Guardian reports that negotiations with Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf are making progress:

Mr Sadr has relinquished his demands for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraqi cities and the release of captured Shia insurgents, according to a close aide.

....[One of Muqtada's representatives, Abdelkarim al-Anzi] said he could not disclose the details of Mr Sadr's latest proposal, but added that the cleric "realises that an armed confrontation is not in anybody's interest".

The development came as an official Iranian delegation arrived in Baghdad to mediate between US officials and Mr Sadr, who is wanted by coalition authorities in connection with the murder of a rival Shia cleric last year.

I confess I'm having a hard time following this. I thought we were refusing to negotiate with Muqtada? And if we are negotiating with him, why are we willing to rely on Iranians as intermediaries?

Juan Cole has more. He suggests that Paul Bremer and the generals disagree on how to handle the situation. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DNA TESTING....CNN has a story this morning about Timothy Longo, the police chief of Charlottesville, who has been collecting DNA samples from black men to try and identify a serial rapist:

As of Monday, Longo said, 690 men have been eliminated from the list of possible suspects and 10 have refused to submit to a swab test, in which DNA is collected from a potential suspect's cheek.

One woman in the audience asked if the police would conduct widespread testing of white men if the rapist were white.

"Absolutely," Longo said, adding that he'd do the same if a criminal suspect were Asian or a woman. "I will do them all."

This is not the first time this has happened. In 2000 police in Australia tested the entire adult male population of Wee Waa in an effort to catch a rapist, and similar mass testings have occurred in Britain and New Zealand.

I'm not normally a big fan of slippery slope arguments, but this seems like a case where extreme caution is called for. It's true that DNA serves a useful purpose both in clearing innocent suspects and convicting guilty ones, but mass testing is troublesome. After all, do you think those 10 men in Charlottesville who refused to provide a sample are under increased suspicion now? It would be naive to think otherwise. But should they be?

DNA databases are all the rage these days, and it's not a subject I've given a lot of thought to. Maybe I should start.

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE PRESS CONFERENCE AWARDS....Over at Tapped, Michael Tomasky has an award of his own for Most Revealing Answer:

[Edwin] Chen asked Bush exactly the right, on-point question: What, if anything, did you do in response to the PDB? Here's the salient portion of Bush's answer:

Now in the, what's called the P.D.B. there was a warning about bin Laden's desires on America. Frankly, I didn't think that was anything new. I mean major newspapers had talked about bin Laden's desires on hurting America. What was interesting in there was that there was a report that the F.B.I. was conducting field investigations. And that was good news that they were doing their job.

So now we have an answer to an important question: He did nothing. The FBI was on the case, and he was satisfied.

Michael also notes that the tenor of Bush press conferences is different from that of past presidents because no one asks followup questions:

The follow-up question was always when Dan Rather or Sam Donaldson or whomever really bore in; the questioner had the crucial opportunity to press the point after the first evasion. This second pass created press conferences that were entirely different in tenor from what we saw last night. But with Bush, the first evasion is all we get.

I too am mystified about why reporters don't do more followups. Bush's evasion about why he insisted on testifying before the 9/11 commission with Dick Cheney holding his hand practically cried out for a followup. But no one took the bait.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESS CONFERENCE AWARDS....There wasn't any genuine news at the press conference last night, but there are awards to be given out. Here were the highlights and lowlights.

Best performance: The second to last question. "I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world." He was genuinely animated and seemingly full of conviction on this one.

Worst performance: His answer to the question "After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?" Warning: the transcript doesn't do his answer justice. You have to watch the video to see him stumbling and stuck for words for nearly a full 30 seconds.

Question he most didn't want to answer: "Why are you and the vice president insisting on appearing together before the 9-11 commission?" He really, really didn't want to hear that.

Most perplexing answer: The second part of the question above: "Who will we be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?" Answer: "We'll find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing."

Huh? Bush has no idea? He's just waiting for the UN negotiator to figure it out for us?

Least reassuring answer: "I expect to get valid information. I can't make good decisions unless I get valid information." Bush's tone indicated that he figured that whatever information crossed his desk was all he needed. There didn't seem to be any recognition that he should ever push back and ask for more.

Most memorable answer: "50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm." This seems like the line most likely to turn into a late night routine on Letterman.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK?....Back in 1988 George Bush Sr. famously described a TV encounter with Dan Rather as "tension city."

Today, responding to a routine press conference question, George Bush Jr. froze like a deer in headlights. He excused himself by saying it was really hard to come up with an answer under the "pressure" of a press conference.

Like father, like son?

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REALTIME PRESS CONFERENCE BLOGGING....These primetime press conferences don't usually show off either George Bush or the press at their best. But maybe this one will be different. Maybe the reporters will ask short, specific questions instead of long rambling ones that allow Bush to respond any way he wants. Maybe they'll hold off on the self-important introductory remarks. Maybe they'll follow up on each others' questions. And maybe Bush will actually say something substantive instead of just mouthing talking points and inanities.

Maybe. On with the show.

Final impressions Up until the very last question the press was a little better than in the past: less preening than usual and more pointed questions than usual.

Bush was relentlessly on message, but even more than normal he seemed like he wasn't sure what to say. Lots of hesitations, lots of grasping for words, and absolutely no specifics.

I honestly don't know how this kind of thing goes over with most people. Bush was, as usual, clear about staying the course in Iraq and clear about the threat of terrorism, but there was nothing new to announce, no real acknowledgment of serious problems, and no change of strategy. I wonder if he risks looking out of touch with what the public is seeing on the evening news every day?

9:25 "What's the biggest mistake you made after 9/11?" Bush just froze. He couldn't answer for literally 30 seconds. "I can't come up with something under the pressure of the press conference." Huh?

....Now he's finally segued into the usual talking points about how bad Saddam was.

9:21 "I've got a plan to win the war on terror." But what?

9:19 I don't remember what the question was, but now he's delivering a remarkably rambling reply about A.Q. Khan and Libya and how bad terror is.

Oh yeah, the question was something about preemptive war. His reply must have just been some talking points that he wanted to get in somewhere.

9:17 Bush sounds really hesitant and unsure of his words. Marian just got home and said he sounds even worse on radio.

9:15 Why are he and Cheney insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 commission? Absolutely evaded the question. He very clearly did not want to address this.

9:12 "We're not going to leave. We're going to do the job." But how?

9:09 "Is there anything we could have done to stop the attacks?" Apparently not.

9:07 Edwin Chen just asked Bush if he took any action after seeing the August 6 PDB. Amazingly, he answered by mentioning that he was concerned about possible attacks after attending the Genoa G-8 conference. But that was the conference where the security people were concerned about a possible air attack by Osama bin Laden.

9:04 I know Bush isn't a great speaker, but he's really searching for words tonight. He seems very unsure of himself.

9:02 Softball question: is it a fair criticism that you never admit a mistake? Give me a break. What does he expect Bush to say?

8:55 A specific question about mistaken prewar assumptions: we'd be greeted as liberators, we knew where the WMD was, Iraqi oil would pay for the occupation. Absolutely no response at all. Just a rote speech about how dangerous Saddam was.

....Wait a second, now he's sort of addressing the question. Maybe WMD is still there. (Huh?) And oil revenues are pretty good, really. And the Iraqi people are awfully glad we got rid of Saddam. No real acknowledgment of any mistaken assumptions.

8:53 If the generals in Iraq want more troops, they'll get them. Whatever they want. He sounds very casual about it, though. The overall tone seems to be that we'll just try a bunch of stuff until we get it right.

8:50 Opening statement over. "Consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable." But absolutely nothing specific at all, no acknowledgment that we need to do anything differently there, no acknowledgment that any additional resources are needed. Just the usual talk-talk about how resolute we are. Amazing.

8:45 Same old stuff about how Iraq is central to the war on terror. Is he planning to say anything new at all?

8:39 Still vague. If additional resources are needed, we'll supply them. June 30 is still the deadline for turning over control. Surely he knows by now that additional resources are indeed needed?

8:34 Opening statement. There's violence in Iraq this week, with an emphasis on "certain parts" of Iraq. Repudiated by most Iraqi clerics. Apparently he's still trying to play it down.

Kevin Drum 8:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CRUNCH TIME....Matt Yglesias appears to be on the same page as me:

Under the circumstances, a simplistic debate between staying the course and bringing the boys home is unenlightening. If a broadly supported interim government can be found, then staying in force to support it against extreme elements is preferable to allowing the situation to devolve into chaos. If not, however, then the aims of the occupation -- however laudable -- are simply infeasible, and we should look for a way to extricate ourselves from a futile enterprise undertaken on dubious pretenses. The approach offered thus far by the Bush administration -- long on bravado, but short on actual plans to improve the situation -- threatens to bring the worst of both worlds.

This seems sadly accurate. If the situation is impossible, we should pull out. Alternatively, if the situation is salvagable but the Bush administration doesn't have the political courage to take the steps necessary for the salvaging, we might as well pull out.

It's hard to come to any other conclusion. Bush either needs to put political considerations aside, admit past mistakes, and produce a serious plan for winning in Iraq, or else he needs to get out and quit wasting American lives in an enterprise he doesn't have the stomach for. It's well past time for him to make up his mind.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WARNING: LONG POST ON THE WAR....Via Instapundit, Ed Cone says:

The issue for the Democrats should be that Bush has mismanaged Iraq, not that we shouldn't have invaded in the first place.

I'm game for that. Let's leave aside the issue of the invasion itself. Instead I'll tell my own personal story of how I switched from supporting the war to opposing it.

Let's start at the beginning. A few weeks before the war started, based on well known experience in Kosovo and other wars, the Army chief of staff warned that a successful occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand" troops. George Bush ignored that advice and accepted Donald Rumsfeld's view that the job could be done with only 150,000.

A couple of days later Pentagon #2 Paul Wolfowitz defended the lower troop estimate. There was, he said, no history of ethnic strife in Iraq and Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force. At the same time, the Pentagon was downplaying the cost of the war, suggesting that estimates of $100 billion were far too high.

This was all happening in late February 2003, and two things were becoming increasingly obvious even to war supporters. First, despite confident statements that Saddam Hussein had WMD and we knew exactly where it was, the UN inspectors couldn't find it. Even when we sent them to specific sites based on our own intelligence they couldn't find anything. Obviously something was fishy.

Second, the president and his advisors seemed delusional in suggesting that a Christian superpower could invade a Muslim country and be greeted as liberators. Ethnic and religious strife was inevitable, and the administration's estimates of 150,000 troops and $100 billion were simply ludicrous.

That's when I turned against the war. It seemed plain at that point that Bush wasn't serious about the war, serious about democratization, or serious about preparing the American public for what it would take to succeed in Iraq.

But the mismanagement didn't stop there. Jay Garner, the first proconsul of Iraq, tried to bring in a team of genuine Iraq experts. The experts were blackballed by the Pentagon and Garner was fired. He wasn't ideologically pure enough.

A month later, Garner's replacement, Paul Bremer, disbanded the Iraqi army. There was no need for them. In June the former Secretary of the Army said publicly that the administration was "unwilling to come to grips" with what it would take to succeed in Iraq. He was ignored.

In November, after the Ramadan carnage, the story on troop strength stayed the same. In fact, rather than admit to a problem, Bremer and the administration decided to speed up the training of homegrown Iraqi police in a slapdash way and accelerate the handover of authority to Iraqis. Getting out seemed more important than succeeding.

And today, even after weeks of bloody uprisings have given the lie to practically everything they've said, the June 30 handover date is still sacrosanct and Rumsfeld is still unwilling to increase troop strength by more than a few thousand. Compare that to General Barry McCaffrey:

There are no more U.S. troops to send to Iraq. That's why we need 80,000 or more troops added to the U.S. Army....The key would be to activate nine National Guard brigades in the next 18 months and convert them into active-duty soldiers.

....We need to invest two to 10 years in Iraq, and we'll have a good outcome. But if we think we're dumping this responsibility in the coming year, we're going to end up with a mess on our hands that will severely impair our international role for the coming 20 years.

80,000 more troops and two to ten years.

Question to the war supporters: Do you think George Bush will ever find the cojones to say this to the American public? Or will he "redefine success and announce a quicker exit strategy," as Morton Abramowitz suggests?

And so we get back to Instapundit. He seemingly agrees that postwar mismanagement is a fruitful topic for Democrats, but then sneers, "except that then they'd have to come up with a plan."

But shouldn't that question be turned around? We all know that George Bush talks a lot about doing whatever it takes to win in Iraq, but what's his plan? Compare his words to his deeds and you find that every single action he's taken belies any serious plan to rebuild a stable, democratic Iraq. Not only has he been consistently afraid to prepare the public for what it would take at least 80,000 more troops and two to ten years he publicly downplays it. Why the cowardice in asking support for something he claims to believe is our nation's #1 priority?

War supporters need to ask themselves why Bush's actions have invariably been those that are least likely to bring the results he claims to want. Is it because he's incompetent, or because he's been misleading us all along about his real goals? If the latter, what are his real goals?

I don't know. But rather than harping on Democrats for not having a silver bullet to fix George Bush's war, shouldn't they be asking George Bush what he's planning to do? I'm baffled that war supporters continue to think that Bush is serious about the same things they are just because he says he is. I wonder how long it will be before substantial numbers of them finally become disillusioned with their all-hat-no-cattle president?

Kevin Drum 3:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RENO NOT FOCUSED ON AL-QAEDA....I haven't been watching today's testimony, but CNN reports that Janet Reno told the commission, "I never focused on al Qaeda, because I stood there and watched the Murrah Building (in Oklahoma City) in rubble."

I'm not sure what the context of that statement was, but it seems like a reasonably frank admission of an obvious truth. It's too late now, of course, but I still think Bush and Rice would have been better off saying something along these lines all along.

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TROUBLE IN PARADISE....For anyone who thinks liberal Californians have only a distant and skewed view of the Christian right, think again:

A board majority in a small Orange County school district on Monday risked millions of dollars in funding and a possible state takeover by voting to hold firm to its view that a California antidiscrimination policy violates Christian principles.

In a series of votes over recent months, the three-trustee majority on the five-member board has made the Westminster School District the only one of 1,056 in California to resist a state law that lets students and staff define their own gender. Such a policy, the trustees say, could lead to promotion of a transsexual agenda in the classroom, cross-dressing on campus and boys and girls mixing in school bathrooms.

...."My kids are going to suffer because of the three village idiots," said parent Louise Morley before Monday's vote. "You can't bring religious beliefs into public education."

Westminster is hardly the only school district in Orange County to engage in this kind of nonsense, but it's special for me because I grew up right next door. This little soap opera has been in progress for three months now, and the board majority has stayed firm despite the fact that (a) their position is unquestionably illegal, (b) they are risking a state takeover of the district, (c) the community is against them, (d) the PTA is against them, (e) the mayor, a born-again Christian, is against them, (f) they are playing games with millions of dollars in state and federal funding that might be cut off, and (g) even the Bank of America is concerned. They have halted a $16-million loan until they evaluate how the board's stance might affect the district's financial security.

And here's a historical note for you. Contrary to popular belief Jim Crow wasn't limited just to the South. Guess which California school district forced its segregation policy all the way to the Supreme Court?

Westminster has had its share of decisive moments, when residents have had to decide whether to accept change or draw the line. In 1946, for example, the Mendez family won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended the Westminster School District's policy of sending whites and Latinos to separate high schools.

The case resulted in a court order that desegregated all schools in Orange County, which in turn energized a statewide movement and lead to the eventual prohibition of segregation in California.

Westminster is leading the way again.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSING BUBBLE....Housing prices in LA continue to rise meteorically:

Home values in Los Angeles County posted the biggest year-over-year increase in at least 15 years in March as frenetic buying activity pushed the median sale price up 29%, to a record $375,000, according to data released Monday.

Confounding predictions by the experts, sales were surprisingly strong, jumping 12% from a year ago to 10,875 new and resold houses and condos. Analysts and brokers said the heavy demand was driven by anxious consumers, many of whom are paying more than the asking price to get in the housing market before interest rates rise and supplies thin further.

(Italics mine.)

I don't care what anyone says, including the happy talk analysts quoted farther down in the story: this kind of panic buying is a sign of a late-stage bubble. It's true that bubbles usually last longer than skeptics think they will, but this one has been firing on all cylinders for a while now. I doubt there's more than a few months or a year left before it bursts.

And for all the people who claim that it's impossible for prices to go down because California's population is increasing and demand keeps going up, it ain't true. I bought a house in Irvine in 1989 for $170,000 and sold it in 1994 for $130,000. That's despite the fact that population was increasing back then too and Irvine was a very desirable location. Housing bubbles have burst before, and they can again.

On the other hand, the early 90s housing bubble is also good news in a way. We have had a housing bubble in Southern California before, and when it burst the sky didn't fall. It was no fun (especially for me), but the economy picked up anyway and there was no lasting effect. Whether the same will be true if there's a nationwide bursting of the bubble remains to be seen.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HE SAID, SHE SAID....Brian Weatherson of Crooked Timber draws our attention to a genuinely hilarious example of journalistic "objectivity." The subject is household income and whether it's "miserable," as John Kerry suggests or "improving" as George Bush suggests. Here's how the story goes:

  • Kerry says middle class families are worse off and the rich are better off under George Bush.

  • George Bush says that's not so: average income has gone up 5.9% in the past three years. Not bad!

  • Oops, wait a second. That's "average" income. The right measure is "median" income, since the average is skewed upward by.....the rich being better off.

  • Median household income has decreased 3.3% since 2000.

  • But wait! If you take into account tax cuts and increased entitlement income, median household income has.....declined 0.6%.

Even flat income for three straight years is disastrous, of course, something the writer of the article seems not to understand. So no matter how you measure it, middle class families are worse off and the rich are better off under George Bush. Just like Kerry said.

It's worth noting that the article is non-bylined. I can understand why.

Kevin Drum 8:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BEYOND THE PDB....Via Dave Neiwert, this 2003 column from Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball has an interesting paragraph near the end:

Some sources who have read the still-secret congressional report say some sections would not play quite so neatly into White House plans. One portion deals extensively with the stream of U.S. intelligence-agency reports in the summer of 2001 suggesting that Al Qaeda was planning an upcoming attack against the United Statesand implicitly raises questions about how Bush and his top aides responded.

One such CIA briefing, in July 2001, was particularly chilling and prophetic. It predicted that Osama bin Laden was about to launch a terrorist strike in the coming weeks, the congressional investigators found. The intelligence briefing went on to say: The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.

Granted, it still doesn't say airplanes, box cutters, World Trade Center, and 9/11, but it does seem like the kind of thing that ought to have grabbed President Bush's attention, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FIXING THE WAR....Fareed Zakaria:

The Bush administration went into Iraq with a series of prejudices about Iraq, rogue states, nation-building, the Clinton administration, multilateralism and the U.N. It believed Iraq was going to vindicate these ideological positions. As events unfolded the administration proved stubbornly unwilling to look at facts on the ground, new evidence and the need for shifts in its basic approach. It was more important to prove that it was right than to get Iraq right.

(Italics mine.)

This pretty much defines the Bush administration on practically everything, doesn't it? Unfortunately, having bolloxed up practically every phase of the war except for the "major combat operations" part, what can we do now? Zakaria's suggestions aren't very convincing:

  • More troops. But Zakaria suggests that the right number is 500,000, and even with international support this is simply not realistic. Even in the best case I doubt we could put more than 250,000 boots on the ground in Iraq right now, and if the best we can do is half what we need, what are the odds of success?

  • Disarm the militias. Fine, but how?

  • More civilian authorities. The country watched a couple of weeks ago as four civilian contractors were shot, incinerated, and then hung from a bridge. If we can't do a better job of guaranteeing security, how can we possibly get more civilians willing to go to Iraq?

  • More UN involvement. I'm not sure this would do much good at this point, but it might. However, it would require a big climbdown for Bush.

  • Give in to Grand Ayatollah Sistani's demands for organizing the government. This is still feasible, I suppose, although as Zakaria notes, it would require turning over substantial authority to the UN.

  • "Bribe, cajole and co-opt" various Sunni leaders. This is also still feasible, and the broader idea of getting more money into Iraqi hands is a good one.

There are two problems with all this. First, too many of these items simply don't seem possible. Second, even if we could do them all, we're essentially conceding any possibility of democracy in Iraq. Rather, we would be endorsing a policy of doing whatever it takes to stabilize the country regardless of who's actually in charge. This isn't exactly an inspiring vision.

A few months ago I asked a war supporter (Armed Liberal?) a question: From his point of view, which is worse: not going to war at all, or going to war and screwing it up? I suspect we're about to get some spectacular confirmation that the latter is indeed worse. Thanks to the Bush administration's arrogance and unwillingness to make realistic plans on the ground, America's ability to credibly project power will probably be lower next year than it has been since the end of Vietnam and that's not due to ANSWER protests or speeches by Ted Kennedy. This is George Bush's national security legacy to the nation.

Thanks a lot.

Kevin Drum 5:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AGAINST BUSH....On Saturday I mentioned that I had seen an uptick in my mail from Republicans who have finally had enough and no longer support George Bush. As a followup, I thought I'd share some of the comments to that post. You can decide for yourself how seriously to take them:

  • Roxanne: "My bartender, Scuba Steve, who has never voted for a Dem in his life, ditched Bush on the day he announced his new foreign guest-worker program."

  • Lucienc: "My 81 year old mother and my 81 year old godmother, both native Texans still living there, and both of whom voted for Bush in 2000, are hopping mad at him and plan to vote against him in '04....They are furious with Bush over Iraq....My Mom is also livid over the Bush's kowtowing to Big Pharma - she is one of the legion of people who have to order her prescription drugs from Canada in order to afford them."

  • William J. England: "I am a life long member of the Republican Party (73 now), have been a candidate for office with the party, city chairman, county chairman, and a member of the state committee. I have worked on number campaigns and intended doing so this year, for Maine type Republicans. I must confess that I am an 'anybody but George W. Republican' also."

  • Ryan_B: "A good friend's brother, young but lifelong Republican, just got back from Iraq. His family had just moved from NY to NJ, and one of the first things he did was to register to vote in NJ, specifically to 'vote against George W. Bush.' His argument: 'we've GOT to get Rumsfeld out of there.'"

  • Ev: "My profoundly Catholic, conservative father-in-law told me he will not be voting for Bush this time, and it's because of Iraq. He says he likes Bush, but the problem is the 'bunch he brought in with him.'"

  • Ya Think: "A republican friend decided against voting for Bush after reading Ron Suskind's book about Paul O'Neill. Said it was 'disturbing.'"

  • Aaron: "Add me to the list of Kerry-supporting Republicans. Well, technically, I'm not one anymore, as I switched my party affiliation this year for the purpose of voting for Joe Lieberman and against Kerry. But we can't take four more years of Bush.

    ....The worst part is, he could have had me. After September 11, I thought he was great. When he went after terrorists, when he told Arafat to shove it, when he attacked Iraq, I said, if the Democrats can't nominate someone who takes the war on terrorist Islam seriously, I have to vote for Bush. But it turns out Bush doesn't take it seriously either. We're at war, and the man is on vacation. We're at war, and the justice department is going after pornography. We're at war, and nobody is asked to sacrifice. We're at war, and we're still buddy buddy with the absolute worst country in the world Saudi Arabia."

"Republicans Against Bush"? Sounds like a good campaign theme for someone....

Kevin Drum 5:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SMOKING GUNS....Michael Tomasky makes a good point about the clamor surrounding Condi Rice and the August 6 PDB:

There's a paradoxical logic that takes hold in situations like this by which [an accretion of details], while damning, also lead toward a desire on the part of the media to find "the smoking gun" that will seal the case definitively. In this instance, the smoking gun would probably be nothing short of a secret document that said something like, "al-Qaeda to attack skyscraper; preventive action not recommended."

A side effect of this is that the press plays up any situation, no matter how minor, in which they do find a smoking gun, and plays down those where they don't. So relatively trivial matters get blown out of proportion, but important ones like this, even after it becomes plain to anyone paying attention that Bush did virtually nothing to respond to the PDB, get very little.

I don't know that there's any answer to this, but it's unquestionably an institutional weakness of the press.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY THE PDB IS SO SHORT....Just a quick note: I've gotten a pile of email asking if there's something fishy about the August 6 PDB. Why is it only 1 pages long when this story in Die Zeit indicates it was 11 pages long? And why are the page numbers at the bottom redacted? Are we seeing the whole document?

My understanding is that the al-Qaeda stuff was an addendum to the normal daily briefing, which was several pages longer. I'm not quite sure why the page numbers had to be redacted, but all that's missing is the rest of the routine daily briefing. If there's any genuine funny business, I'm sure the members of the 9/11 commssion who have seen the entire thing will raise a flag. So far they haven't.

On another topic, the LA Times today brings up the most important point about the PDB, which so far has gotten lost in the shuffle:

How did the president respond? And what did the FBI do?

....Largely lost in the charges and countercharges was how the president and the FBI, the agency principally responsible for protecting Americans from terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, reacted to the information in the CIA-drafted report, which was declassified and released Saturday.

But that is about to change. The bipartisan commission investigating the events leading up to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is expected to make the once-classified document and the Bush administration's reaction to it a prime focus of its hearings Tuesday and Wednesday. Top FBI and Justice Department officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations, along with CIA director George J. Tenet, are scheduled to testify.

"The 9/11 commission is going to want to know what was the White House's reaction to the analysis and judgment of the CIA and the FBI about the threats," said Roger W. Cressey, who served as a deputy White House counterterrorism official in both administrations and now heads a security consulting firm.

If Dick Clarke is correct, it's the FBI that will get the most heat. His book may be critical of Bush, but it is scorching in its attitude toward Louis Freeh and the FBI. Expect fireworks.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN FOR VEEP!....John McCain on Sunday:

"No, no and no. I will not leave the Republican Party. I cherish the ideals and principles of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan," he said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

"I will not be vice president of the United States under any circumstances. I feel that I can be far more effective in helping shape policy in the future of this country as a United States senator."

But that's just for 2004, right? Do you think maybe he'll consider becoming Hillary's running mate in 2008?

Kevin Drum 1:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEATH AND TAXES....These numbers on IRS audits are really pretty remarkable:

Only 0.73 percent of business tax returns were audited in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, down from 0.88 percent in the previous year, TRAC found. In 1997, 2.62 percent of business tax filers could expect to be audited.

That's a 70% decrease in the audit rate on business tax returns in only seven years. Why, you'd almost think Republicans didn't want businesses to pay their taxes.

Hmmm. I think I better read David Cay Johnston's Perfectly Legal.....

Kevin Drum 12:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLASSIFIED....One more note about the August 6 PDB. It's true that presidential briefings are routinely classified, and rightly so. After all, PDBs sometimes contain genuinely sensitive information. What's more, as Ari Fleischer pointed out two years ago, if PDBs are at risk of routine public release the CIA "will be inclined to give [the president] less, rather than more, because they fear it will get made public and that could compromise sources or methods."

These are legitimate reasons not to routinely release presidential briefing documents. But this particular briefing was far from routine. In fact, after 9/11 it was of uncommon interest, and yet the White House has been resisting calls to declassify it for nearly two years. Up until a few months ago it was supposedly so sensitive that they wouldn't even allow the 9/11 commission to see it in private.

Now that we've all seen it, though, the national security excuse has been exposed as a sham. I've included an image of the entire document below, and aside from the redactions there isn't a single sentence that couldn't have been freely released on 9/12/2001 without doing any damage whatsoever to national security.

Too often national security seems to be just a game to this administration. They habitually engage in selective release of classified information when it suits their political purpose, and it's obvious now that national security likewise had nothing to do with holding back release of the August 6 PDB. Their motivation, as usual, was nothing more than a desire to keep something secret that might have proven embarrassing to a president running for reelection.

Nobody wants the president to release every document in his possession, nor does anyone want him to release documents that are genuinely sensitive. But specific documents should be judged on their own merits, and it's now clear that the merit-above-all-else in this White House is boosting their own political fortunes. How many other documents do you think they've held back not because they would cause even the slightest damage to national security, but simply because they might cause some damage to George Bush's reelection campaign?

Kevin Drum 7:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PROSE STYLE OF PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFINGS....Patrick Belton disagrees with me. Having read lots of presidential briefing documents, he thinks the August 6 PDB compares pretty favorably: "it's clear, concisely written, and packs a good deal of information into a short memo."

Point taken. Whether this is good news or bad for the president is another question, of course. If it was that unusually clear and punchy, why didn't he react more strongly to it?

UPDATE: Of course, there's another side to this whole issue of how short the memo was, namely that this was apparently the sum total of what we knew about al-Qaeda's operations in the United States as of August 6, 2001. It really doesn't speak well for our intelligence gathering, does it?

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By: Kevin Drum

AN EASTER BUSHISM....President Bush this morning: the August 6 PDB said "nothing about an attack on America."

Huh? How about the title, "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"?

How about "After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington"?

How about "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York"?

How about "The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related"?

Look, I know there's a perfectly good case to be made that the PDB merely states generalities and doesn't warn of a specific, impending attack. That's fine as far as it goes, and it's the spin I'd expect the White House to put on it.

But "nothing about an attack on America"? The whole document was about al-Qaeda's desire to attack America. How does he get away with saying stuff like this?

UPDATE: By the way, my guess is that the entire reason the White House has been so reluctant to release the PDB can be summed up in two words: "New York." The fact that the document specifically talks about al-Qaeda interest in "buildings in New York" probably hit a little too close to home for comfort.

Kevin Drum 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE UN IN IRAQ....I didn't see Face the Nation this morning, but one of my readers did and emailed this summary, which I thought was interesting enough to post in its entirety:

On Face the Nation today Joe Biden said he spoke with the President of France, who offered to commit troops to Iraq if the US would get the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council to agree to a plan to put the UN in charge of the political handover in Iraq (something the Bush admin is begging the UN to do anyway) and maintain control until it happens. That last bit is something the Bushies don't want. They want Bremer and then our new as-yet-unnamed ambassador to remain in charge.

Biden's plan would get us anywhere from 2,000 to 25,000 more foreign troops in Iraq, and more importantly, directly give the rest of the world a stake in the effort. Pat Roberts, the Republican chair of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was stunned by this announcement.

Only last week Powell was in Europe trying to work something out to get 1,500 troops to protect the UN commissioner in Baghdad. He came back with a lot of "we'll get back to you" and from the French "our plate is pretty full in Haiti, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, etc."

This is too big to get lost in the cacophony. Please write this up and give it some legs. The Germans, Russians and French need to be brought into his effort. They have as much responsibility for the Iraq mess over the years as we do. Let's put Bush's feet to the fire to get them on board.

Consider it written up.

It seems to me that there's come kind of Logan Act problem with Biden talking to the president of France about the UN taking over in Iraq, but I guess we can put that off to the side for the moment. If it's real, this proposal is genuinely interesting, not least because it might take Iraq off Bush's plate before the election, something he seems desperate to do.

Would it actually work, though? Beats me. Comments are open.

Kevin Drum 1:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH'S PEARL HARBOR?....James Pinkerton today:

If you knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received a memo a month before Pearl Harbor entitled, "Japanese Determined to Attack the United States in the Pacific," and that he had done nothing about that information, would that knowledge change your perception of FDR as a wise war leader?

Actually, the analogy is remarkably close. FDR and his staff did know the Japanese were planning an attack. In fact, they spoke about it in a cabinet meeting exactly one month before Pearl Harbor, and in late November sent warnings to military units in the Pacific warning them of the possibility of war. Unfortunately, they thought the most likely targets for the Japanese attack were the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, or Borneo.

Of course, where the analogy breaks down is that FDR did do something about that information. He knew exactly how serious the threat was, had begun a military buildup years before, had reinstated the draft in 1940, and had methodically worked on public opinion the entire time. By December 7 the United States was uncommonly well prepared in both military and psychological terms for a long, bloody war.

George Bush didn't have several years to prepare for 9/11, of course, but even so the contrast is instructive. He seemingly had no idea how serious the threat was, paid scant attention to warnings during the summer of 2001, and even after 9/11 did very little to prepare public opinion for anything more than business as usual. Likewise, on the military side, nothing changed either. Instead, 9/11 was simply an excuse to invade Iraq, something he had wanted to do all along anyway.

It is hardly a coincidence that World War II had broad bipartisan support and the Iraq war didn't. The reason is that, unlike FDR, George Bush cynically began using 9/11 as a partisan cudgel almost from the very beginning. If, instead, he had genuinely reached out to his opponents and treated 9/11 as an opportunity to unite the entire nation, things today would be very different indeed.

Treating 9/11 as just another way to hammer his political opponents was an act of unsurpassed callowness, the response of a man who is congenitally unable to view anything except in terms of smallminded partisan advantage. Instead of using 9/11 as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unite the nation, George Bush viewed it as a way to pick up a few seats in the House. It is this, more than any other single thing, that I most hold against him.

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CONNECTING THE DOTS....Here's another thought about the August 6 PDB. As I mentioned in the previous post, Condi Rice said the PDB "did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles," which is technically true. But take a look at the following two items:

  • BBC, July 18, 2001, reporting on preparations for the G8 summit in Genoa: "The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present."

  • Presidential Daily Brief, August 6, 2001: "FBI information since [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York."

Even giving them every benefit of the doubt, don't you think they could have connected these dots beforehand? They were afraid of an al-Qaeda air attack in Genoa and an al-Qaeda airplane hijacking in America. Doesn't it make sense to put the two together and wonder if Osama might also be contemplating air attacks in America?

Just something to think about. It makes me wonder what kind of questions Bush asked when the PDB was presented to him and what kind of actions he authorized. Maybe the commission will ask about that when he and Dick meet with them.

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE AUGUST 6 PDB REVEALED....The White House has finally declassified the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief. Here's an excerpt:

Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US

After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a ...(redacted portion) ... service.

....Al-Qa'ida members -- including some who are US citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qa'ida members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our Embassies in East Africa were US citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.

....Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

This is merely "historical"? I guess it depends on what the meaning of "recent" is.

On a similar note, Condi Rice's testimony on Thursday turns out to have been very carefully phrased indeed. She said the PDB "did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles," which is technically true, but it did raise the possibility that (a) al-Qaeda was interested in hijacking airplanes and (b) it was interested in buildings in New York. I guess that didn't raise any eyebrows in the West Wing.

Aside from that, what really struck me was that the whole thing was so short considerably shorter than your average op-ed column, in fact and written at about a high school level. This is an intelligence briefing prepared at the request of the president of the United States and he was apparently satisfied with it? Eleven paragraphs of pabulum considerably less authoritative than an average article in Foreign Affairs? Sheesh.

UPDATE: Here's a PDF of the actual document.

MORE: CNN's Bill Schneider: "I think [this memo] could be seriously damaging. What this says is, the White House knew what bin Laden was capable of planning, where he intended to do it, which was New York or Washington, D.C., how he was going to do it. There was only one thing missing, which was exactly when he was going to do it, which turns out to be September 11."

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BAD NEWS DEPARTMENT....If you feel like reading some really pessimistic views of Iraq, check out Juan Cole ("This looks to me like an incipient collapse of the US government of Iraq") and Josh Marshall, who has an email from a security contractor working in Iraq ("The boldness and sophistication of the attacks is staggering").

On a related note, as near as I can tell the analogy-thon has now barreled completely past Vietnam and is trying to make up its mind between Lebanon and the West Bank. My money is on Iraq turning into the West Bank writ large.

UPDATE: For a cheerier view, of course, check out David Brooks' much blogged column today. Note, however, that even he says, "If people like Sistani are forced to declare war on the U.S., the gates of hell will open up." We'll be watching, David.

Kevin Drum 6:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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END OF THE LINE?....There's been a noticeable uptick in my email recently from people who are Republicans (or belong to Republican families) and report that they (or their families) are increasingly disgusted with George Bush.

I just thought I'd pass that along.

UPDATE: I should probably make clear that by "recently" I mean the past month or two, not the past few days.

Kevin Drum 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BLACKLIST....Via Daily Kos, this is pretty hilarious:

A Republican campaign committee is accusing U.S. Rep. Brad Carson of promoting radical, anti-President Bush Web sites while claiming to be a conservative Oklahoma Democrat.

....[Dan] Allen based his criticism of Carson on entries the lawmaker has made on his campaign's official weblog, encouraging supporters to read other Web sites.

He said one Web site by a California university professor, Brad DeLong, suggests that Bush should be impeached, and another, the Daily Kos, attracts users who post rants against the war in Iraq along with claims that Americans, including Republicans and the media, do not care about the troops dying in battle.

Nice try, Dan. Recommending that people "read other Web sites" is downright dangerous, though I notice that Carson also includes on his daily reading list RealClear Politics and Dan Drezner, not exactly part of the VLWC.

Congratulations to Brad and Kos for making it onto the National Republican Senatorial Committee blacklist.

UPDATE: Brad Carson responds. Aside from liking rabblerousers like Brad and Kos, he apparently has a sense of humor too.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A QUESTION....Here's a question for the evolutionary psychology folks: what's the deal with handedness? It's pretty clear that being right-handed or left-handed is innate, not learned, and therefore ought to be the result of some kind of evolutionary pressure. But what? My cats, for example, seem to be equally dextrous with both paws, but I'm not. So what happened to us?

(My real guess is that it's just a (fairly) benign side effect of some other brain development that's genuinely useful, but that's cheating by ev psych rules. You need to come up with some plausible story. So let's hear it.)

(And yes, I'm making fun of the ev psych folks even though I basically support their enterprise. So sue me.)

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WEIRD SCIENCE....This story is so weird it defies belief:

The Department of Agriculture refused yesterday to allow a Kansas beef producer to test all of its cattle for mad cow disease, saying such sweeping tests were not scientifically warranted.

The producer, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wanted to use recently approved rapid tests so it could resume selling its fat-marbled black Angus beef to Japan, which banned American beef after a cow slaughtered in Washington State last December tested positive for mad cow. The company has complained that the ban is costing it $40,000 a day and forced it to lay off 50 employees.

....Gary Weber of the cattlemen's association called 100 percent testing misleading to consumers because it would create a false impression that untested beef was not safe. He compared it to demanding that all cars be crash tested to prove they are safe.

....Asked if beef producers did not want to be pressured to imitate Creekstone and pay for more tests, Mr. Weber said it was "absolutely not about the money."

Let me get this straight:

  • Creekstone wanted to voluntarily test all its own cattle.

  • They were doing this to respond to demand for tested beef in Japan, a market they wanted to sell into.

  • The federal government, supposed champion of the free market, refused to allow Creekstone to take this voluntary action.

And the beef spokesman then has the gall to say that this has nothing to do with money. They are just righteous advocates of sound science.

Since when have federal safety regulations prevented someone from voluntarily adopting more stringent measures of their own? Will we be banning Volvos next?

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A HINT OF CANDOR....Here's an interesting contrast. Listen to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw talking about events in Iraq:

Mr Straw said "the lid of the pressure cooker has come off," but he blamed events on the Saddam regime's legacy.

"Some of the tensions and pressures which were there, and would have come out in any event, have to a degree been directed towards the coalition."

Mr Straw was asked on BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme whether he imagined a year ago that things would get as bad in Iraq as they have been over the last week.

"No I didn't. I thought that they would go from some good days and some bad days. There is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced."

Don't get me wrong: it's not like Tony Blair and his crew went out of their way to tell everyone what it would really take to succeed in Iraq. On the other hand, neither did they go out of their way to minimize it, and they seem at least willing to publicly admit that (a) the current uprising in Iraq is really bad and (b) it's worse than they expected. Note that this is not inconsistent with staying the course, which Straw vigorously endorsed in the same interview.

I wish we could get at least this same minimal level of candor from top U.S. officials. Perhaps Blair will recommend it to Bush when they meet next Friday.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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YET MORE PROBLEMS....More resignations in Iraq:

The US-led administration in Baghdad was on Friday night fighting to keep Iraq's Governing Council intact after two ministers quit in protest at the US crackdown on Shia and Sunni unrest.

...."There will be many resignations," said Haider Abbadi, communications minister.

....Adnan Pachachi, hitherto touted as a future president, condemned the siege as "illegal, ferocious and completely unacceptable", and described it as mass punishment of its 200,000 residents.

...."It's as if the US army is out of control," said Mr Abbas, the communications minister. "Iraqis can no longer afford to been seen siding with the Americans."

This, unfortunately, is becoming the key point. If Iraqi leaders loudly condemn the Americans it just serves to encourage the insurgents, but if they don't, they lose all credibility with Iraqis and become useless as leaders.

In a funny way, Iraq is now the extreme version of the partisan hardening mentioned in the Austin American-Statesman article I linked to yesterday. In a charged partisan atmosphere, you simply can't criticize someone on your own side no matter what the provocation for fear of getting shunned by your own group. This causes a continuing downward spiral of partisanship, and in Iraq we're seeing the pathological endpoint of this.

My guess is that in the end we'll put down this particular uprising, but it won't do any good. Even if we capture or kill Muqtada al-Sadr, someone will simply take his place and we'll end up fighting this battle all over again. To make it worse, the "don't worry be happy" crowd will continue to insist that nothing is fundamentally wrong, which makes it doubly impossible that we'll ever broker a real solution. If you don't think the problem is real, how can you fix it?

I wonder. If President Bush had faced the problem squarely a year ago and been honest about what needed to be done several hundred thousand troops for the better part of a decade would he have gotten the popular support he needed for the war? Maybe not. But by not doing it he's guaranteed an even worse outcome: going to war and losing popular support afterward.

Which inevitably leads to the eternal question: were Bush (and Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Cheney) lying when they told us all about how easy this would be? (Official congressional testimony here.) Or did they really believe it? And which is worse?

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CONDI RICE POSTMORTEM....Shorter Condi Rice:

"By no means did he ask me to act on a plan....I don't remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about....The responsibility for the FBI to do what it was asked was the FBI's responsibility.....If there was any reason to believe that I needed to do something or that Andy Card needed to do something, I would have been expected to be asked to do it....There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them."

This is courtesy of Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped, who nicely sums up the consensus about Rice's performance: she claimed that she took the threat of terrorism very seriously indeed, but to explain her inaction in the face of such a serious threat she was forced to paint a picture of herself as someone who just passively waited around for other people to make recommendations. As Fred Kaplan puts it in Slate:

Why did she need a recommendation to do something? Couldn't she make recommendations herself? Wasn't that her job? Given the huge spike of traffic about a possible attack (several officials have used the phrase "hair on fire" to describe the demeanor of those issuing the warnings), should she have been satisfied with the lack of any sign that the FBI wasn't tracking down the cells? Shouldn't she have asked for positive evidence that it was tracking them down?

This comes out most clearly in this exchange from Rice's testimony, in which she explains that the president had everyone at "battle stations" after the increase in chatter in July 2001:

RICE: He expected his Secretary of State to be locking down embassies. He expected his Secretary of Defense to be providing force protection. He expected his F.B.I. director to be tasking his agents and getting people out there. He expected his director of central intelligence to be out and doing what needed to be done in terms of disruption.

....GORELICK: I'd like to pick up where Fred Fielding and you left off....First of all while it may be that Dick Clarke was informing you, many of the other people at the C.S.G. level and the people who were brought to the table from the domestic agencies were not telling their principals. Secretary Mineta, the secretary of transportation, had no idea of the threat. The administrator of the F.A.A. responsible for security on our airlines had no idea. Yes, the attorney general was briefed, but there is no evidence of any activity by him about this.

You indicate in your statement that the F.B.I. tasked its field offices to find out what was going on out there. We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings, they were not asked to come to the table and shake those trees. S.A.C.'s, special agents in charge around the country, Miami in particular, no knowledge of this.

....RICE: These were people who had been together in numerous crises before, and it was their responsibility to develop plans for how to respond to a threat.

In other words, maybe Rice told everyone there was a problem, but she didn't bother to shake up the bureaucracy and make sure that everyone was actually following up. She was just a passive observer who called meetings and then assumed everyone else would do their jobs.

Is this fair? Hard to say. But it's pretty clearly the impression her testimony left. Whatever else comes out of this, Rice doesn't come out of it looking very good.

Kevin Drum 9:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HE'S WHAT?....Wonkette publishes a scholarly and thoughtful email exchange about sexual orientation and media bias. Be sure to read to the very end for the punch line.

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MORE TESTIMONY....With all the fuss over Condoleezza Rice's testimony yesterday, it slipped through the cracks that Bill Clinton was up right after her. How did he do?

"A lot of what we talked to him about was actually the inner workings of presidency as well as many of the classified briefings we've been able to read," [commission chairman Tom] Kean said in an appearance on Thursday evening on "Newshour" with Jim Lehrer. "We asked him some pretty detailed questions on those. And he was just totally frank totally frank, totally honest, and forthcoming."

Isn't that a refreshing change of pace? And he did it all without Al Gore there to help him along.

Kevin Drum 4:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PERSONNEL PROBLEMS IN THE ARMY....The Pentagon seems to be having trouble finding someone to be Secretary of the Army....

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PUPPETRY....Brad DeLong ponders Karen Hughes' explanation for why George Bush has to have Dick Cheney in the room before he'll testify in front of the 9/11 commission:

Shorter Karen Hughes: "I can't think up a convincing lie, and nobody else has thought up a convincing lie either."

Which is pretty damning, really, since we all know that Karen Hughes is not just an ordinary liar, she's a world class liar....

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW....Can the state of Virginia prosecute someone merely because they sent some email (OK, OK, a lot of email) and it happened to pass through an internet hub in Virginia? Henry Farrell ponders the consequences of this.

As much as I'm happy to see someone going after spammers, this strikes me as a very dangerous precedent. I really don't want to be subject to Virginia law or Alabama law or French law simply because I send an email that happens to pass through there on its way to its destination.

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PERSPECTIVE INDEED....I know that war supporters need to support the war. But what's the point of pretending that things are hunky dory, the Marines have everything well in hand, the current uprising isn't really a big deal, and we shouldn't get too worked up over 12 deaths?

Really, what's the point?

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By: Kevin Drum

URGENCY....John "Zizka" Emerson makes a good point about Condoleezza Rice's testimony on Thursday:

Rice spoke repeatedly about "structural and legal impediments", "structural problems", "structural inability", etc., etc. The basic idea is that the failure to respond to warnings about terrorism was because of problems in the bureaucracy, and that the Bush administration was working on these problems when 9/11 hit.

Richard Clarke knew all about structural problems. When Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger "convened the Principals [Cabinet-level officials] in crisis mode", he was taking steps to get all of the top people in the Clinton Administration to work at overcoming the structural problems of the system.

This really does get to the heart of Clarke's critique: when "chatter" increased in December of 1999, Clinton pulled out all the stops and made sure the bureaucracy understood the urgency of the problem. The result was several millennium plots foiled.

But when the chatter increased in July of 2001, President Bush didn't see it as an urgent issue. Instead of sounding the alarm, he went on vacation.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a couple of pictures. On the left is Fallujah yesterday, the center of a week-old uprising that threatens our entire mission in Iraq. On the right is our war president, George Bush, demonstrating his sense of urgency over this problem by, yes, taking yet another vacation. In case you're curious, he was leading a nature tour of his ranch in Crawford.

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DECLASSIFYING THE BRIEF....The White House is "actively" working to declassify the August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing the one titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S" and plans to make it available to the public.

Fine. But why oh why did it take so long? And why do they keep shooting themselves in the foot by stonewalling so long on this kind of stuff? My guess is that, as usual, there really won't be anything especially damaging there. But by holding out so long they sure make it look like they're afraid to let people see it.

Despite their constant intonations on the subject, I suspect they still don't understand that 9/11 really was different. The American public wants to see their president cooperate with the investigation into this extraordinary tragedy, not skulk around like a guilty schoolboy who forgot to do his homework the previous night.

What they should be doing is making a special effort to declassify more than usual as much as they can without genuinely harming national security. Instead they're doing just the opposite. And like Saddam with his WMD, everyone is wondering why they're acting guilty if they have nothing to hide. I suspect the answer is the same in both cases.

UPDATE: Brian Balta points out that it's really even worse than I'm painting it. Well, of course it is. There are limits to my command of English, after all.

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INGLEWOOD vs. AMERICA....Guess what I got with my corn flakes this morning? An LA Times op-ed by Jay Nordlinger scolding the people of Inglewood for turning down the chance to have a Wal-Mart plopped down in the middle of their city. Here's the highlight:

Wal-Mart is gloriously, unashamedly, star-spangledly American. I hope it's not too McCarthyite to suggest that those who despise Wal-Mart are the very ones who may not be so crazy about the United States tout court.

Don't you just love conservatives? Singing the praises of Wal-Mart is apparently a bit of stretch even for Nordlinger it's nonunionized! its investors have made tidy sums! so instead he resorts to the conservatives' favorite trope: anyone who hates Wal-Mart hates America.

It's a good sign of a bankrupt argument and a bankrupt movement when even a disagreement over payscales in a retail store descends into rote accusations of anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, this has become so commonplace that it's no longer fair to call this kind of demagoguery McCarthyism. That's unfair to McCarthyites.

Welcome to the modern face of American conservatism.

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PARTISANSHIP AND GEOGRAPHY....Via The Campaign Desk, the Austin American-Statesman has an interesting two-part story about increasing partisanship in America. Their analysis points to geographic clustering as one of the culprits:

In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford by only two percentage points, 26.8 percent of American voters lived in counties with landslide presidential election results, where one party had 60 percent or more of the vote.

Twenty-four years and six presidential elections later, when George Bush and Al Gore were virtually tied nationally, 45.3 percent of voters lived in a landslide county. And now the nation enters a new election year divided both ideologically and geographically in ways few can remember.

The second part of the story suggests that this has an amplifying effect on extreme partisanship:

Groups also become more extreme, social scientists say, because of the most basic of human emotions: People want to be liked and accepted.

....[Robert] Baron describes a subtle competition within groups, as individuals seek to gain favor by being slightly more Republican (or Democratic or Christian) than the group average, setting off a snowball of opinion that gradually moves the group to more extreme positions.

"It's hard to be a moderate Republican or a moderate Democrat, in other words," Baron said.

Well, I can attest to that. As groups become more partisan, it becomes harder and harder to hold independent positions and still remain part of the group. Even small heresies risk getting you shunned by your fellows.

The AAS analysis, of course, can't tease apart whether this geographical clustering is caused by increasing partisanship or is a result of it, but strongly suggests it's both. Likeminded people have a tendency to move to places where they're comfortable, and at the same time communities tend to reinforce their dominant beliefs in their residents.

As it turns out, I have several quibbles and doubts about some of the story's conclusions, but it's nonetheless worth reading. If America's partisanship is truly becoming ever more hardened and ever more institutionalized, that's bad news.

POSTSCRIPT: One interesting note. Whenever I read a story like this I immediately wonder if it takes into account the Great Southern Shift. That is, is there really a national change, or is the entire change actually accounted for by the fact that party loyalty in the South has changed dramatically over the past several decades?

This, however, turns out to be a case where changes in the South probably minimize the overall effect. In the 60s and before, nearly every county in the South was probably a landslide county (for the Democrats), whereas today, as party loyalties continue their shift toward the Republicans, the number of such counties has almost certainly decreased. So if you remove the South, the increase in landslide counties is probably actually even larger than the AAS analysis suggests.


UPDATE: More landslide counties implies more landslide states, so it's not surprising that landslide states have also been on the increase. And as Tom Schaller pointed out on Sunday in the Washington Post, that means we might have electoral college trouble again in 2004....

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April 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOSTAGES IN IRAQ....I've been wondering for a long time when this would happen. One of the militias in Iraq is now holding several Japanese civilians as hostages:

The three civilians were snatched by a group called the Mujahideen Brigades and Arab al-Jazeera TV showed them being held at knife-point.

Elsewhere, two Arab Israelis were also kidnapped, but seven abducted South Korean missionaries were released.

Our Baghdad correspondent says this is the first use of kidnappings for political ends in the conflict.

The gunmen holding the Japanese say they will burn their captives alive unless Japanese troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

We all know the usual drill here no negotiation with terrorists, we'll never back down, etc. but there's really nothing to stop the various militias from taking more and more foreigners as hostages if they want to. No matter how well guarded they are, there are just too many of them.

And what then? Long, tedious parleys? Massive assaults that risk killing both the hostages and our own people if they go wrong? Current mythology to the contrary, Jimmy Carter was well ahead of Ronald Reagan in 1980 until the Iranian hostage crisis dragged on and on and the Desert One fiasco made him look weak and incompetent. The same thing could easily happen here and could have the same effect on George Bush who has shown time and time again that reelection is the only thing he truly holds dear. If hostage taking starts doing real damage to him at the polls, I wonder what his reaction will be?

As this BBC video says, "This is the nightmare of every foreign national in Iraq." Hopefully it will all turn out all right in the end, but what happens if the militia fighters discover that this, rather than endless street fighting, is the real way to damage us politically?

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VIDEOTAPING THE POLICE....The LA Times has a pretty interesting feature article today about the growing use of videotape in police interviews. I thought the most interesting part was that although it requires police to be more careful in how they conduct interviews, many of them say they like it once they they get used to it:

"It's done nothing but help us in getting back the credibility of police," said Capt. Jim Stover of the Police Department in O'Fallon, Ill., which has begun taping more than a year ahead of the state requirement.

"Any detective who doesn't do it is crazy," said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Donovan Nickerson, who routinely tapes his interrogations, although the LAPD does not require it.

And apparently cameras have other uses too:

Most law-enforcement agencies do not require officers to tell a suspect he's being taped. Hidden in a clock or a light fixture, the pinhole-size camera lenses have recorded suspects scrambling to get their alibis straight even using their cellphones to make sure evidence has been destroyed as they wait for their interrogator to arrive.

In Hennepin County, Minn., authorities recall a suspect who told police he couldn't possibly have dismembered a corpse, because he was blind. When the officer left the room, he started reading a paper.

In Broward County, Fla., the suspect in a hatchet murder case stymied detectives with his steadfast denials. Frustrated, the interviewer walked out, saying he was going to get a DNA expert to scrape under the suspect's fingernails for traces of blood. As soon as the door closed, the suspect began sucking his nails furiously.

I'd like to see videotaping required for all police interviews, and in return I'd suggest that the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination be discarded. If police interviews are all recorded and trials are all held in public, it's not at all clear to me what value the 5th Amendment right to silence has anymore.

Sure, it'll never happen. But with Star Chambers a thing of the past and videotaping preventing coerced confessions, I really do wonder if the self-incrimination clause of the 5th Amendment has enough value left to make it worth the problems it causes. I suspect it doesn't.

UPDATE: Well, that suggestion didn't go over very well, did it?

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IRAQ UPDATE....Christopher Allbritton has a rough translation of a flyer being distributed in Baghdad that's supposedly from Muqtada al-Sadr and calls for an end to violence. Good news if it's true.

On the other hand, the New York Times essentially reports today that Sadr doesn't really matter that much anymore:

United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.

That assertion contradicts repeated statements by the Bush administration and American officials in Iraq....Administration officials have portrayed Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces, as the catalyst of the rising violence within the Shiite community of Iraq.

But intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising.

Stay tuned.

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9/11 WARNINGS....I didn't know this either, but Billmon points out that the infamous August 6 Presidential Daily Brief the subject of much of this morning's hearing does have a title:

"Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S"

And that wasn't a warning? What would it take?

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MERCS IN IRAQ....Phil Carter emails to direct my attention to this story in the Washington Post about private contractors in Iraq:

Under assault by insurgents and unable to rely on U.S. and coalition troops for intelligence or help under duress, private security firms in Iraq have begun to band together in the past 48 hours, organizing what may effectively be the largest private army in the world, with its own rescue teams and pooled, sensitive intelligence.

...."There is no formal arrangement for intelligence-sharing," Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, said in an e-mail in response to questions. "However, ad hoc relationships are in place so that contractors can learn of dangerous areas or situations."

....While U.S. and coalition military forces fought rebellions in a half-dozen cities yesterday, the body of a contract worker, employed to guard the power lines of the Iraqi ministry of electricity, was extracted from a rooftop in Kut by his firm's Iraqi interpreter after he bled to death, according to government and industry officials...."We were holding out, hoping to get direct military support that never came," said Nick Edmunds, Iraq coordinator for Hart, whose employees were operating in an area under Ukrainian military control. Other sources said Hart employees called U.S. and Ukrainian military forces so many times during the siege that the battery on their mobile phone ran out.

As Phil points out, having the "largest private army in the world" is troubling by itself, but feeding them "ad hoc" intel on the side hardly even seems legal, regardless of whether it's wise. We might also wonder how it is that we seem to be using these people as an extension of the military but they apparently have no backup MEDEVAC or support assets. What's more, there seems to be virtually no formal oversight of contractors and no formal rules of engagement that they act under.

If these guys really are a "virtual army," how is it that Rumsfeld can keep telling us the real Army has all the troops it needs in Iraq? If we have all the troops we need, why do we need such an unprecedented number of contractors?

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RICE UNDER THE LIGHTS....I don't wake up at 6 am even to watch Wimbledon, so you can bet that I didn't do it just to listen to Condoleezza Rice's testimony this morning either. However, I just tuned in to the hearings a few minutes ago and caught Bob Kerrey ripping into Rice pretty hard. She was definitely having a hard time keeping up with his aggressive and plainly skeptical questioning.

She's having a seemingly easier time with Republican John Lehman right now, but I don't quite understand the point of his interrogation. It's a long series of questions starting with "Were you aware...?" and her answers are mostly "No." I guess I was expecting him to have a more sympathetic line of questions, but she sure looks pretty lame and incompetent saying "No....no....no...." to dozens of questions in a row about what our policies were before 9/11.

She also strikes me as nervous and hesitant, which is a little surprising this far into the session. But that's just a quickie response after a few minutes of watching. Like everyone, I'll be curious to see what the general verdict on her performance is.

Kevin Drum 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE CONDI....Sid Blumenthal interviews yet another White House staffer who left because Condi Rice wasn't competent enough to ride herd on the president and get something done. This time it's the Middle East peace process:

In January 2002, Rice launched a serious effort to restart the Middle East peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. She hired Flynt Leverett, who was a professional foreign service officer on the policy planning staff of the State Department, as director of the initiative on the National Security Council.

...."[George Bush] said that Condi would ride herd on this process. She never even saddled up," said Leverett. Six months earlier, Rice had appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams as her Middle East coordinator on the NSC, and he threw up obstacles to prevent the road map from going forward. Bush, for his part, never followed up on his own rhetoric and was utterly absent from the policymaking.

So Leverett decided [in 2003] he must quit. "When they wouldn't put the road map out in 2002 and brought in someone like Abrams, that meant they weren't going to be serious. I didn't want to stick around for a charade. I say this as someone who voted for Bush in 2000 and was genuinely committed to see him succeed."

Maybe Leverett can get a book out of this too. Shall we go for a baker's dozen before November 2?

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MR. RAT, MEET MR. SINKING SHIP....Conservatives are starting to jump ship:

The war has become the long slog that some Republicans feared. Since Sunday, 32 Americans have been killed in fighting across Iraq. American body bags are on the front page of major U.S. newspapers.

...."How do you know, come June 30, that a civil war will not occur?" [Senator Richard] Lugar said on Voice of America radio. "After all, the coalition has not disarmed all of these militia that these religious groups have in various places. They still are armed and apparently ready to fight."

Usually loyal pundits are speaking out, too. Conservative columnist George Will wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday, "U.S. forces in Iraq are insufficient."

...."I'm not buying this 'Iraqis are on the American side' right now," Fox News Bill OReilly said on the Tuesday night broadcast of "The OReilly Factor." The leading conservative commentator repeatedly called the current conflict a "second war in Iraq."

....[Joe] Scarborough: "Do we need more troops in Iraq? Hell, yes, we do. ... Should June 30 handover date to the Iraqis be extended? You can bet your life on it ... because creating this false deadline in time for a presidential election is no way to win a war."

....Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told CNN Tuesday that the Bush administration has "few good options" left regarding Iraq. The implication: the White House has dug a ditch that it possibly cannot get out of without getting its hands dirty.

I agree with Hagel: I frankly don't see what we can do at this point. War supporters can cover their ears and chant "electric grid" all day long, but it won't change the reality on the ground. If we back off, we're doomed, and if we start blowing up mosques right and left we're also doomed. Either way Iraq becomes the West Bank except with a lot more people and plenty of porous borders.

And despite the ineffectual protests from the antiwar crowd, George Bush has planned the entire Iraq war from beginning to end and has gotten everything from Congress he's asked for. If it had worked out he would have gotten all the credit, but now that it's going to hell there's no one else to blame.

Although I have a funny feeling that won't keep his supporters from trying.

POSTSCRIPT: It's all such a damn shame, it really is. I honestly don't know if anyone could have made it work, but it was Bush's Pollyanna view toward the postwar rebuilding that turned me against the war in the first place, and it's become more obvious with every passing month that this was indeed his Achilles' heel. I think Paul Wolfowitz's testimony last February tells the story better than anything:

In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

....Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high....Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.

It's just unbelievable.

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LYING? OR JUST DOING HIS JOB?....Misleading? One-sided? Lacking context? Just how close to a lie does something have to get before we're willing to just go ahead and say it's a lie? You make the call.

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April 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY ON SPENDING....Unfortunately, I have to agree that promising to enforce spending caps "except in the areas of security, education, health care and Social Security" doesn't exactly inspire visions of tightfisted fiscal rectitude. At a rough guess, those four areas account for about 80% of the federal budget, so capping the little that remains is a bit like cutting your fingernails as a way to lose weight.

So why did John Kerry say something so transparently silly? Beats me, although I suppose it sounds good on the evening news since most people probably think these four areas are a mere drop in the budget bucket and Kerry is planning to cap great huge swathes of spending. As near as I can tell, the average joe thinks "welfare" accounts for about a quarter of the budget, foreign aid for a quarter, waste and fraud for another quarter, and all the worthwhile stuff competes for the tiny sliver left over.

As policy, then, there's nothing much here. But at a gossip level there was this:

He also pointed out that he has been working with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, on legislation that would "end corporate welfare as we know it."

...."John McCain can't get anyone in the Bush White House to listen to our proposal," he said. "If I'm president, John McCain will get the first pen when I sign this bill into law."

Hmmm, I wonder why he'd go out of his way to give props to John McCain that way....?

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CONDI RICE: 20 YEARS AGO TODAY....Condoleezza Rice's first book, written in 1984, was called The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983: Uncertain Allegiance. It turns out that it was met with immediate skepticism from at least one scholar of Czechoslovakian history who seemed to think that she, um, had an unfortunate tendency to formulate opinions without regard for the actual facts on the ground.

Joseph Kalvoda, a history professor at St. Joseph College, apparently had a bit of trouble of his own figuring out whether Rice was male or female, but otherwise his criticism of Rice's methods in the American Historical Review still rings eerily true two decades later:

Rice's selection of sources raises questions, since he frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation. He passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of facts. It does not add to his credibility when he uses a source written by Josef Hodic; Rice fails to notice that this "former military scientist" (p. 99) was a communist agent who returned to Czechoslovakia several years ago.

....Rice's generalizations reflect his lack of knowledge about history and the nationality problem in Czechoslovakia. For example....Rice's discussion of the "Czechoslovak Legion" that was "born during the chaotic period preceding the fall of the Russian empire" (pp. 44-46) is ridiculous. (It was "born" on September 28, 1914.) He is clearly ignorant of the history of the military unit as well as of the geography of the area on which it fought.

Let's review: Problems distinguishing facts from propaganda. Too quick to pass judgment without adequate knowledge. Failure to properly assess sources who have an obvious axe to grind. Ignorance of regional history.

Does any of this sound familiar?

(Thanks to Washington Monthly intern Jason Stevenson for digging this up.)

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SADDAM MOVED TO QATAR?....According to Robert Fisk, Saddam Hussein is no longer being held in Iraq:

The United States has secretly flown Saddam Hussein out of Iraq and imprisoned him under high security in a Gulf Arab state.

After his capture in December, he was initially taken by helicopter to a US aircraft carrier in Gulf waters for extensive interrogation.

After lengthy questioning, he was transferred to an American air base in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, although the emirate's royal family was not even told of his presence.

American news sources haven't picked up on this for some reason, but it's all over the world press. The presumption is that he was moved because Iraq was no longer a safe place to keep him, although that doesn't really make much sense to me. Surely the United States has plenty of bases that are still perfectly secure?

There's no confirmation of this yet, and it's not even clear if it means much of anything. For now, I'm just passing it along.

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INSTAPUNDIT WATCH....Mark Kleiman managed to write a couple of posts for me this morning. That makes blogging a lot easier, doesn't it?

First, I too was scratching my head over this post from Glenn Reynolds, in which he snarkily derides Air America Radio but does so by quoting the kind of loony left material he usually has nothing but scorn for. As Mark points out, though, it's worse than that: in his eagerness to find something bad to say about Air America, Glenn is passing along criticism from a "notorious black racist and anti-Semite." I think Glenn might want to reconsider this post.

Earlier, Glenn joined a parade of others in denouncing Ted Kennedy's speech because Kennedy said "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam." Mark points out that Glenn missed the context: Kennedy wasn't making a military comparison, he was criticizing George Bush's endlessly deceitful and misleading statements about the war. This was LBJ's downfall, and it may be Bush's too.

(Glenn updates: yeah, but Kennedy should have known that his enemies would deliberately take it out of context in order to unfairly criticize him. Huh?)

As it happens, I've made the same comparison myself. Iraq may or may not turn out well, but in a democracy you can't maintain popular support for a war unless you're honest about why you went to war, honest about the goals of the war, and honest about how well the war is going. George Bush hasn't been, and that's why Iraq may very well be his Vietnam.

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WAL-MART UPDATE....Wal-Mart's plans to open 40 Supercenters in Southern California got off to a slow start yesterday: voters in Inglewood (former home of the Lakers) told them to get lost. By a huge margin they voted down an initiative that would have allowed Wal-Mart to open a "colossal retail and grocery center" without an environmental review or public hearings. Hey, why would anyone object to that?

Meanwhile, up in Sacramento, Democrats have introduced a couple of bills aimed at stores "larger than 75,000 square feet that devote a portion of their space to selling groceries" SL7SFTDPSSG for short. Or Wal-Mart, for even shorter. One bill would require SL7SFTDPSSGs to reimburse government for the cost of providing public healthcare to workers. Another would require the stores to pay for studies on whether they harm local economies by crushing competition and offering inadequate benefits to workers. Hmmm, I wonder what conclusion those studies would come to?

While all this was going on, Arnold was in Wailea, where he's vacationing after a brutal 19 weeks without a break. Speaking to reporters, he suggested that the California legislature has too much time on its hands. "I want to make the Legislature a part-time Legislature," Schwarzenegger said. "Spending so much time in Sacramento, without anything to do, then out of that comes strange bills."

I wonder what he had in mind?

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN....Via Hesiod, even Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf thinks Iraq is a distraction from the fight against al-Qaeda:

In an interview to be broadcast on Monday night on Australian public television SBS, Musharraf said his government was receiving "very minimal" assistance as it tried to pacify tribal areas along the Afghan border where leaders of Al Qaeda and the former Afghan Taleban regime are believed hiding.

Asked if the US-led Iraq war has been a distraction from the battle against Al Qaeda and Taleban remnants by diverting resources from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Musharraf replied: "Yes indeed".

Sure, maybe Musharraf is playing games just to shake loose more money from Uncle Sam. On the other hand, he's the one on the front lines in this war, and Rumsfeld keeps saying that our front line commanders in Iraq can get whatever they want just by asking. How about the front line commanders in the fight against al-Qaeda?

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April 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TOUGH SLEDDING....A Political Action Committee set up to help Republican minority candidates has spent only 8.9% of its funds actually helping minority candidates. What's their excuse? Henry Bonilla, the PAC's founder, explains:

"We did the best we could." In all, 27 minority office-seekers, predominantly Hispanic American, received money, mostly small donations. But Bonilla said it was sometimes difficult to find "good, solid minority candidates to expend the funds on."

You know, I think he's probably telling the truth. The supply of good, solid minority candidates willing to run as Republicans even if you pay them is probably pretty limited.

Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MARKET RESEARCH....Today at NRO Byron York spends about a thousand words and apparently all the keys on his calculator to tell us that after a grand total of seven days of operation Air America Radio probably doesn't have a very big audience yet.

Honest, he really does.

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"JUST DON'T HUG ME"....Our president seems to be making a real habit of saying stuff that's just plain weird. Today, after inadvertently insulting an audience member at a campaign appearance....

Bush moved quickly to end the session. He turned to Bob Watson, superintendent of the El Dorado Public Schools who had opened the meeting by inadvertently insulting Bush.

"Governor excuse me, President," Watson said.

Bush muttered, "How quickly they forget."

When Watson offered to shake Bush's hand, the president shot back: "Just don't hug me."


UPDATE: QandO provides some context that ABC News left out. Makes more sense now.

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RUMSFELD vs. POWELL....Juan Cole speculates that the violence spreading through Iraq right now was partly the result of an internal power struggle within the Bush administration that has paralyzed decisionmaking:

If so, it may be that certain forces within the administration took advantage of the lack of a clear reporting line to launch the assault on Muqtada al-Sadr, hoping to effect a fait accompli and forestalling any later State Department attempt to treat with him. If this interpretation is correct, the retreating Department of Defense may sow a lot of land mines for hapless State before June 30.

Rumsfeld is deliberately trying to reduce State's freedom of action after the turnover? Hmmm.....

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By: Kevin Drum

TROOP STRENGTH IN IRAQ....I've seen this a bunch of times before, but here is Donald Rumsfeld yet again on the subject of troop strength in Iraq:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that there were no immediate plans to increase the number of United States troops in Iraq. But he said that the American commanders there would get more soldiers if they asked for them.

"They will decide what they need, and they will get what they need," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "At the present time, they've announced no change in their plans. But they could make such a request at any time."

Does anyone actually believe this? I mean, it was only a year ago that the Army Chief of Staff, presumably reflecting the view of top Army brass, said we would need "several hundred thousand" troops to successfully occupy Iraq. Today we have only 135,000. (Plus a few, um, contractors, of course.)

So: a year ago the top brass thought we needed several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, and since the events of the past nine months have not exactly gone smoothly it seems likely that the top brass have maintained that belief all along. Yet Rumsfeld continues to propagate this fiction that current troop strength is exactly what the Army wants and all they have to do is pipe up if they want more. Why does the press let him get away with this stuff?

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BAD NEWS FROM IRAQ....War supporters are forever complaining that things are going great in Iraq and the only reason we don't know about it is because of media bias. You know, that nasty SCLM wants us to lose in Iraq.

A few months ago I called media bias "the last refuge of a scoundrel who has no evidence of his own" and went on the explain why I thought things were going badly in Iraq regardless of what the media said.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago I mentioned that there was also some good news emanating from Baghdad. "It could all still go to hell," I said, "But it's still nice to hear something positive coming out of Iraq."

So here's my question: it's pretty clear that things have, in fact, gone to hell. We may eventually clean up Fallujah, arrest Muqtada al-Sadr, end the riots in Sadr City, and retake Najaf. But even if we do, it's pretty obvious that Iraq is close to meltdown, we don't have enough troops to keep order, and media reporting about all this has been perfectly accurate.

So how about it, guys (and you know who you are)? Are you going to step up to the plate and admit that the media has been pretty much right all along and things really do look pretty bleak? Or are you going to continue to complain that reporters are just ignoring all the good news about school openings and electric grid repair?

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BACKGROUND BRIEFINGS....Amy Sullivan, who now has the most peculiar permalinks I've ever seen, points us to Dana Milbank's column in the Washington Post today in which he asks a good question: what's the point of all these White House "background" briefings? In a past age, officials spoke on background because it allowed them to speak more candidly, but as Amy puts it, "Lately, however, backgrounders seem to be extended spin sessions, not so different from your average White House press briefing." If that's the case, why not just put them on the record?

The answer is probably pretty obvious: it's an attempt to make spin look more like the straight dope. And it probably worked for a while. But as Milbank points out, the jig is up: "I'm just wondering what possible reason there is why all this isn't on the record?" asked one reporter recently. Must be time for a new schtick.

And as long as you're reading Milbank, be sure to go all the way to the end and learn about President Bush's obsession with potholes.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLINTON ON TERRORISM....Via James Joyner, I see that the Washington Times has a story today trumpeting the news that Bill Clinton's final policy paper on national security "makes no mention of al Qaeda and refers to Osama bin Laden by name just four times." James says this belies "Richard Clarkes argument that it was somehow THE focus of Clinton foreign policy."

A couple of comments:

  • The full report is here. If you're looking for the four references, note that OBL's name is spelled "Usama bin Ladin." Sure enough, he's mentioned four times.

  • On the other hand, "terrorism" is mentioned seven times in the introduction alone and 58 times in the main section on "Implementing the Strategy." What's more, in the major section titled "Protecting the Homeland" there are seven primary issues discussed. Two of them are "Combating Terrorism" and "Domestic Preparedness Against Weapons of Mass Destruction."

  • It's also worth noting that far from considering terrorism a mere law enforcement activity, terrorism gets an entire paragraph in the section titled "Military Activities":

    We must continue to improve our program to combat terrorism in the areas of antiterrorism, counterterrorism, consequence management, and intelligence support to deter terrorism. We will deter terrorism through the increased antiterrorism readiness of our installations and forward forces, enhanced training and awareness of military personnel, and the development of comprehensive theater engagement plans. In counterterrorism, because terrorist organizations may not be deterred by traditional means, we must ensure a robust capability to accurately attribute the source of attacks against the United States or its citizens, and to respond effectively and decisively to protect our national interests. U.S. armed forces possess a tailored range of options to respond to terrorism directed at U.S. citizens, interests, and property. In the event of a terrorist incident, our consequence management ability to significantly mitigate injury and damage may likely deter future attacks. Finally, we will continue to improve the timeliness and accuracy of intelligence support to commanders, which will also enhance our ability to deter terrorism.

  • As far as I know, Clarke never suggested that counterterrorism was the Clinton administration's highest priority, merely one of several high priorities. His complaint isn't that Bush didn't make it Job 1, but that he didn't give it even as much attention as Clinton did.

I sorta doubt it was worth my time to go through all this, but there you have it.

Kevin Drum 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE IRAQI ARMY....I haven't been very critical of Paul Bremer during the past year because the guy pretty clearly has an impossible job and it seemed best to cut him some slack. And yet, looking back, I wonder if history will decide that his appointment was the turning point in Iraq.

Originally, remember, Jay Garner planned to keep the Iraqi army in place, purging it of its worst Baathist elements and holding on to the rest. It was only when Bremer took over that the decision was made to disband the army, and that decision seems to have been the key mistake that's prevented us from keeping order in the most volatile areas in Baghdad and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle. This Washington Post story from last November is a good refresher on this issue if it's disappeared down your memory banks and you no longer remember what it was all about.

It's possible, of course, that nothing we could have done would have made a success of Iraq and Garner probably had his faults too. But from where I sit, the hasty decision to disband the army seems like it was the one big mistake from which all the others have followed. Just another indication that the Bushies only seem to have two kinds of plans: bad ones and nonexistent ones. There are times when it's hard to say which is worse.

UPDATE: Lerxst suggests that Bremer really wasn't at fault for this. Bush was.

Kevin Drum 10:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PULITZERS FOR THE LA TIMES....My hometown paper gets an awful lot of (often undeserved) grief from local critics for the quality of its news coverage, but today they won five Pulitzer prizes, including the national reporting prize for their series on Wal-Mart; the breaking news award for their coverage of last year's wildfires; an editorial writing prize for analysis of the California budget crisis; a feature photography award for pictures of Liberia; and a criticism award for automobile reviews.

Congratulations to the LA Times for a job well done. Now get back to work, OK?

Kevin Drum 6:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW SOURCE REVIEW....Ah, more of the open mindedness I've come to expect from the Cornerites over at NRO:

I just couldn't bring myself to read the cover story of the New York Times Magazine yesterday. It's about how Bush is poisoning the air for his corporate friends. So here's a request to Jonathan Adler or Steve Hayward: Can you go through what's wrong with the article so I--and NRO readers everywhere--don't have to read it?

Indeed, it's best just to read the rebuttals, not the original sources themselves. Keeps your mind clear.

You know, this whole "new source review" thing that's the subject of the NYT magazine story is really pretty easy to understand. That is, the results are pretty easy to understand: if the current law were enforced properly, air pollution would go down x%. If Bush's proposals are enacted, air pollution will go down about half that much, meaning that they leave a lot more pollution in the air than if we just left things alone and enforced the laws we have now.

Here's why. Under the old rules, power companies were required to install pollution control equipment whenever they made substantial modifications to a plant. The idea was simple: plants would still be allowed to perform routine maintenance, but eventually all plants require a substantial overhaul of one kind or another, so over time every plant would come into compliance with the law.

The Bushies' counterattack was equally simple. Since they couldn't get their changes through even a Republican congress, they decided instead to simply redefine "routine maintenance" by administrative order. Instead of defining it as, say, anything that doesn't exceed .75% of the value of the plant, they decided to use a number that was just a teensy bit bigger:

The new formula would not adopt Lowrance's suggested threshold of 0.75 percent. Instead, Horinko said, utilities would be allowed to spend up to 20 percent of a generating unit's replacement cost, per year, without tripping the N.S.R. threshold.

In other words, a company that operated a coal-fired power plant could do just about anything it wanted to a $1 billion generating unit as long as the company didn't spend more than $200 million a year on the unit. To E.P.A. officials who had worked on N.S.R. enforcement, who had pored over documents and knew what it cost to repair a generator, the new threshold was absurd. "What I don't understand is why they were so greedy," said Eric Schaeffer, the former E.P.A. official. "Five percent would have been too high, but 20? I don't think the industry expected that in its wildest dreams."

The framework of new-source review would remain, but the new rules set thresholds so high that pollution-control requirements would almost never come into effect. "It's a moron test for power companies," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group. "It's such a huge loophole that only a moron would trip over it and become subject to N.S.R. requirements."

So that's it. By simply changing a number the new source review requirements are essentially gutted. But don't worry: I'm sure NRO will shortly tell us how the free market will somehow get all these plants to clean up their act anyway. I can't wait to hear about it.

Kevin Drum 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TV, THE GREAT SATAN....In news that will come as no surprise to third grade teachers everywhere, researchers have concluded that allowing young children to watch television reduces their attention span. Imagine that.

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By: Kevin Drum

JUNE 30....Despite the horrifically bad news out of Iraq we now have major problems with the Sunnis and the Shiites, and the Kurds sure as hell aren't going to want a piece of this one thing is staying constant: "The deadline remains firm."

That's George Bush saying that the June 30 deadline for turning over power in Iraq isn't going to change. I honestly don't know if that's right or wrong, but it's frankly hard to see how the IGC is going to be better equipped to handle this stuff than Paul Bremer. It's also curious that as near as I can tell practically everything is negotiable in Iraq these days except for one thing: that June 30 date is sacrosanct. Why is that?

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE EV PSYCH WARS....The Crooked Timberites have a series of posts up about evolutionary psychology (here, here, and here) that are, almost inevitably, critical of the whole idea. As Kieran Healy jokingly notes in the third post, "It seems most of our commenters are more enamored of it than some of our contributors."

I can guess why: it's because practitioners in the various fields related to (or opposed to) ev psych have been engaged in a death match for years in which the goal seems to be the utter annihilation of the opposite side. I've read enough history of the sociobiology/ev psych movement to understand where this comes from, but surely it's time to put a stop to it?

It's pretty obvious by now that human personality and human culture are partly the result of hardwired reactions built into the brain and partly the result of learned reactions to our environment. Both of these things interact with each other in complex ways that are hard to tease apart.

But they both exist, and it's hardly disputable that the hardwired part resides in the brain and is a product of evolution, just like all the other organs in the human body. E.O. Wilson might be the guy who's famous for making this case in recent history, but Charles Darwin believed it as well, so it's hardly a radical new idea.

But the ev psych guys are convinced they're fighting a pitched battle against social science folks who believe the brain is a blank slate and biology has nothing to do with personality and culture. Likewise, the social science crowd locks onto every silly ev psych speculation that comes down the pike and trains their guns on opponents who supposedly think that culture is meaningless and our genes explain everything.

If these straw men ever existed, I doubt they do anymore. But both sides, while unctuously claiming that of course they themselves take a middle course and believe in both genes and culture, seemingly remain convinced that no one on the other side does. And so the Hatfields and McCoys continue fighting for decades over disagreements that no longer exist and most people can't even remember.

Which is too bad. The interaction of genes and culture is a genuinely fruitful field of study with genuine consequences. It really does matter how much and what kind of influence genes and culture have on different kinds of behavior. Can't we all just get along?

(Answer: no, of course not. You see, back on the veldt competition between academic disciplines say, the "run and hide" school vs. the "stay and kick butt" school was extremely adaptive from an evolutionary point of view. Let me explain.....)

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLACE-HOLDING....Brian Montopoli writes in the LA Times today about the practice of "place-holding," in which well-heeled lobbyists pay people to stand in line for congressional hearings. But this isn't a causal affair where they send one of their interns or secretaries out for a few hours anymore. Inevitably, it's now become serious business and people wait in line for as long as 48 hours for important sessions:

Two companies control about 80% of the place-holder market: Congressional Services Co. and the CVK Group, which each maintains a list of on-call place-holders. Congressional Services, which was formed in 1993 by a former CVK employee, charges its clients $32 to $40 per hour for each spot in line, and then passes $10 to $15 an hour on to the place-holders.

"We help maximize the time YOU spend on Capitol Hill, so you can spend your time meeting with the right people and attending the right events, instead of spending your time standing in line," says the Congressional Services website. "But don't just take our word for it: Compare our fees to YOUR billable hours."

Your democracy at work.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

R.I.P. MOBILE WEAPONS LABS....The mobile weapons labs lose another supporter:

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday for the first time that Saddam Hussein's alleged mobile germ factories and labs probably "did not exist," and he sharply criticized prewar U.S. intelligence about Iraq's suspected weapons.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who typically is a strong supporter of the CIA and the Bush White House, said the administration's use of flawed intelligence regarding the alleged mobile bioweapons facilities is "embarrassing for everybody."

That's one more Republican willing to face up to the truth. Do you think Dick Cheney will finally stop talking about them now?

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN FOR VEEP?....Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris has been thinking about John Kerry's search for a running mate, a search being led by longtime Democratic insider Jim Johnson. Paul emailed these thoughts to me earlier today:

It is clear to me, and to at least some people close to Kerry, that the single best thing Kerry could do to win is pick John McCain as his running mate. In fact, this seems so obvious to me as to be nearly beyond debate. With McCain as veep, we win, period.

And yet there's this sort of oh-it'll-never-happen tone to the discussion. Either this is a put-on, or a reflection of the gut difficulty tribal Democrats have with political intermarriage. Maybe Jim Johnson is one of them. Or maybe and this would be my fervent hope, and really the only read that makes political sense Johnson is in charge of the Potemkin search effort, or the fallback search effort, while Kerry is quietly talking to McCain, and McCain is laying out his terms.

If I were McCain, those terms would be stiff. I'd be saying, "Here are my ten issues (balance the budget, campaign finance reform, staying the course in Iraq, whatever). Make them yours. If, once in office, I see you backsliding on these issues, I am warning you now, I WILL stir up trouble. You think Gore and Cheney had power in the West Wing, you ain't seen nothing yet. Yes, I will be a loyal veep, yes I will back you up on the issues important to you, even those I may disagree with. Yes, you will have to make decisions that I may not agree with that I will have to support publicly. But on these 10 issues, my issues, I will be the judge of how tenacious you are in fighting for them, and if you abandon them you will rue the day you picked me as your running mate."

Kos has some thoughts on this as well, and points out that despite McCain's cuddly image he has an awfully conservative voting record to feel comfortable in the Democratic party. Still, he agrees that a Kerry/McCain ticket would be "pretty freakin' powerful."

As for me, I'm not sure. On many of the issues that McCain really cares about he's practically a Democrat already, and on the others either the president has little real power (abortion) or would likely follow a pretty centrist course anyway (Iraq). He's also been pretty critical of the Republican party lately. However, I guess I'd still lay long odds against it happening, since even bipartisan cabinets have mostly gone the way of the dodo bird these days. The only remnant of that tradition left is that one minor cabinet official is normally from the opposite party.

Still, if Clinton could pick William Cohen as his Secretary of Defense, why not? It would sure guarantee plenty of drama, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 8:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"MORAL BLACKMAIL"....Apparently Bill Kristol was just on Fox and accused the 9/11 widows of "moral blackmail." Charming fellow, isn't he?

I wonder what he'd think if some wingnut accused Jews of "moral blackmail" because of all that Holocaust stuff they keep bringing up. Probably not much.

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By: Kevin Drum

EDGE CITY....David Brooks writes today about the new suburbs:

The truly historic migration is from the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs, to the suburbs of suburbia....The geography of work has been turned upside down. Jobs used to be concentrated in downtowns. But the suburbs now account for more rental office space than the cities in most of the major metro areas of the country....

His article, adapted from a forthcoming book, isn't actually very enlightening, but it gives me a chance to recommend a book on this subject that Brooks obviously read as part of his research: Edge City, by Joel Garreau. The difference between an edge city and a suburb is basically the one Brooks makes: edge cities don't just have homes, they also have lots of office space. People live and work in edge cities, they don't commute.

Here, stolen from my review of the book, is my favorite part of Edge City: the appendix, which lists "The Laws," rules of human nature that developers have learned from hard experience despite the best efforts of academics and urban planners to tell them they're wrong. In fact, Garreau says that one of the things that developers find most perplexing is government bureaucrats and planners: "These people, developers believe...have self-evidently preposterous ideas about how human nature works in the real world."

Here are a few of the laws that Garreau offers up:

  • The farthest distance an American will willingly walk before getting into a car: Six hundred feet. For example, sightlines in shopping malls never exceed 600 feet because people won't walk that far.

  • The function of glass elevators: To make women feel safe. Not to offer a view out. Rapes rarely occur in glass elevators.

  • Why elected officials feel they must encourage commercial development or die: For every $1 of tax revenue that comes in from a residential subdivision, as much as $1.22 goes out to provide services, especially schools. By contrast, for every $1 of tax revenue that comes in from commercial development, at most 32 cents is required in expenditures, usually for roads.

  • The maximum desirable commute, throughout human history, regardless of transportation technology: 45 minutes.

  • The prime location consideration when a company moves: The commute of the chief executive officer must always become shorter. [This is not a joke; Garreau cites a genuine study that strongly suggests it's true.]

  • What people who hire commercial real estate salesmen look for in a resume: Background as a jet-fighter pilot. It is an article of faith that the best commercial salesmen are former sky jockeys, although it is the sheerest speculation exactly why that correlation may exist.

And finally, a series of laws that helps explain the lack of mass transit in edge cities and why this will never change. Note that "FAR" stands for "Floor-to-Area Ratio," the ratio of the total floorspace of a building to the area of the land the building is on. It's basically a measure of population density.

  • The level of density at which automobile congestion starts becoming noticeable in edge city: 0.25 FAR.

  • The level of density at which it is necessary to construct parking garages instead of parking lots because you have run out of land: 0.4 FAR.

  • The level of density at which traffic jams become a major political issue in edge city: 1.0 FAR.

  • The level of density beyond which few edge cities ever get: 1.5 FAR.

  • The level of density at which light rail transit starts making economic sense: 2.0 FAR.

  • The level of density of a typical old downtown: 5.0 FAR.

  • The density-gap corollary to the laws of density: Edge cities always develop to the point where they become dense enough to make people crazy with the traffic, but rarely, if ever, do they get dense enough to support the rail alternative to automobile traffic.

It's a good book if you're interested in this stuff. He even explains how it is that the whole edge city phenomenon has been driven by women, and probably not in the way you're thinking....

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH ON THE ENVIRONMENT....Campaign strategery:

The Observer has obtained a remarkable email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressmen advising them what to say when questioned on the environment in the run-up to November's election. The advice: tell them everything's rosy.

It tells them how global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening', oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing', and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people'.

The global warming stuff is just the usual Bushian head-in-the-sand stuff, of course, but the part of his environmental message that I really love is the piece about how air is getting better, water is getting cleaner, etc. etc.

This is basically true, of course, but it's largely thanks to environmental regulations passed over the past 40 years. Bush likes to act as if it just sort of magically happened and we should thank the Lord for our good luck. Oh, and let's gut all those pesky regulations while we're at it since the free market is evidently so good at getting industrial polluters to mend their ways.

Next up: crime is down, so let's get all those pesky drug laws off the books!

UPDATE: Bruce Barcott has more on this subject in the New York Times Magazine today. His article is on the eye-glazing subject of "new source review," but it's worth reading. It's a good example of how the Bushies stealthily managed to gut an important law that was on the verge of requiring power plants to clean up their act.

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ OR BUST....This isn't really news (it was reported a year ago today here), but there's a bit more meat on it now:

President George Bush first asked Tony Blair to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power at a private White House dinner nine days after the terror attacks of 11 September, 2001.

According to Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to Washington, who was at the dinner when Blair became the first foreign leader to visit America after 11 September, Blair told Bush he should not get distracted from the war on terror's initial goal - dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Bush, claims Meyer, replied by saying: 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.' Regime change was already US policy.

There's also this:

Vanity Fair quotes a senior American official from Vice-President Dick Cheney's office who says he read the transcript of a telephone call between Blair and Bush [in July 2002].

'The way it read was that, come what may, Saddam was going to go; they said they were going forward, they were going to take out the regime, and they were doing the right thing. Blair did not need any convincing. There was no, "Come on, Tony, we've got to get you on board". I remember reading it and then thinking, "OK, now I know what we're going to be doing for the next year".'

Before the call, this official says, he had the impression that the probability of invasion was high, but still below 100 per cent. Afterwards, he says, 'it was a done deal'.

There's also some stuff about a French compromise proposal in January 2003 that got turned down.

And here's another funny thing. Call me crazy, but the "senior American official from Vice-President Dick Cheney's office" sounds an awful lot like someone I've heard quoted several times before, once in relation to Valerie Plame and once in relation to something else that I can't remember. I have a feeling that there's someone in Cheney's office who isn't 100% on board with the program. I wonder who?

Kevin Drum 12:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE "HARMLESS" RELIGIOUS RIGHT....Chad Orzel reminds me to link to a comment yesterday from my post about evolution vs. creationism. Chad does the heavy lifting of taking apart the commenter's main claim namely that criticizing creationism is basically just class prejudice which leaves me free to comment on this:

This is not a big issue.

Leftists just love bashing the religious right. The fact that, as a practial matter, these people have no real power or influence never seems to register.

I am really, really tired of hearing this. It's true that Republicans often pander to the religious right with purely symbolic actions, such as constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage that everyone knows will never get adopted. But at levels ranging from school boards all the way to the presidency the religious right has tremendous influence on a wide variety of policy issues in the Republican party, from abortion and gay rights to welfare policy and stem cells.

Evolution in public schools is perhaps the most chilling example of this. It is a big issue, the same as teaching kids that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor rather than the other way around is. And while it's true that creationism and its bastard cousin Intelligent Design haven't gotten far in our public school system, the only reason for that is the unceasing efforts of liberals and scientists to keep them out. It has nothing to do with a lack of influence, but rather to the fact that groups like NCSE fight them hammer and tongs every time they pop up.

So let's knock off the fairy tales about how they're just a bunch of harmless loons that no one pays attention to. Just take a look at our old friend the Texas Republican Party Platform if you don't believe it.

Kevin Drum 7:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TASTE BUDS....Will Baude and Matt Yglesias are both bemoaning their almost total lack of discrimination in the foods they like. It turns out there's practically nothing they won't stuff down their hungry gullets.

My problem is just the opposite. Unlike Will, I continue to dislike olives, coffee, beer, ketchup, anchovies, raw oysters, and hundreds of other items. From his list, in fact, hard boiled eggs are the only item I like.

The problem, apparently, is that both Will and Matt would like the social cachet that comes from disliking certain foods, especially ones that everyone else likes. It turns out that I have that in spades I didn't like peanut butter when I was five, for example, and that was before all that peanut allergy business started up and I can tell you that it's not worth it. Especially when traveling in foreign lands, or in social situations where you don't have much control over the menu, it really makes life a pain in the ass. For example, I dislike all vegetables. All of them. This is really inconvenient.

And alcohol of all kinds it all tastes like diesel fuel to me. That's inconvenient. I can swill down a bit of red wine to be sociable, but that's about it.

I can sympathize with Will and Matt's desire, though. I remember years ago wishing that I wore glasses. I thought they might make me look a little older, give me a bit more gravitas. Then, oddly enough, my distance vision started to go bad when I was about 30, a fairly unusual occurrence. Glasses at last! But it turns out that glasses are just annoying, aren't they? And eventually I'll need bifocals. Hmmph.

So celebrate your taste buds, Will and Matt. They serve you well.

POSTSCRIPT: So what do I like? Among vegetable-ish items, only tomatoes. Among liquids, mostly water with an occasional cola thrown in. Among other foods, mostly anything that's bad for you: chocolate, popcorn, hamburgers, chocolate, grilled meat of most kinds, non-flavored salty snacks (i.e., plain potato chips and fritos, not the weird vinegar flavored stuff or nacho cheese varieties), chocolate, and french fries.

And chocolate. Did I mention that?

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KOS....I'm really uninterested in the game of "which lefty bloggers are going to criticize the latest lefty outrage," but I wish Kos would just step up to the plate and apologize for saying "Screw them" about the deaths of the mercenary/contractors who were burned to death and then strung from a bridge in Fallujah on Thursday. This and especially this aren't sufficient explanations.

I really don't think it matters if they were private contractors in any case. They were burned to death and hung from a bridge. Nor does it matter much that you don't like the war. Some of the wingnuts on the right gloated over the deaths of UN workers in last August's bombing, and that was wrong as well, regardless of what they thought of the UN.

Bottom line: like it or not, Kos is a spokesman for the left these days, and this kind of stuff doesn't help us. His advertisers are pulling out because of course they can't be associated with statements like this. It's a vote killer. And the end result will probably be a million bucks worth of fund raising for conservative causes. Not exactly what we need right now.

Sigh. We all lose our tempers and say dumb things sometimes. I wonder why it's so hard to back down when it happens?

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTES OF THE DAY....Well, quotes of yesterday, anyway:

  • Nancy Pelosi, on George Bush's insistence that he and Dick Cheney will only talk to the 9/11 commission together: "It's embarrassing to the president of the United States that they won't let him go in without holding the hand of the vice president of the United States. I think it reinforces the idea that the president cannot go it alone. The president should stand tall, walk in the room himself and answer the questions."

  • Jamie Gorelick, on the continuing cat and mouse games Bush is playing with the 9/11 commission: "We can't afford to have documents that are relevant to our inquiry being withheld on a technicality. This is not litigation. This is finding facts to help the nation, and we should not treat this as if we're adversarial parties here."

Thanks to Atrios and Josh Marshall. Nominate more QotD in comments!

Kevin Drum 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POWELL BACKS OFF....Colin Powell is having second thoughts about the the quality of our prewar intelligence. Did we really have good intel about those mobile bioweapons labs he talked about in his UN presentation?

"Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid," Powell said yesterday. "But at the time I was preparing that presentation it was presented to me as being solid."

I honestly don't know what to think of this. I mean, it looks like the CIA really was at fault in this particular case, but at the same time there's a pretty obvious campaign these days to shift the blame for our bad intel entirely to the CIA in order to take the spotlight off the White House's own deceit and manipulation. Powell seems to be playing along, and trying to shift blame away from himself at the same time.

At the time, Powell made a big deal out of the fact that he had spent days closeted away with CIA analysts and was presenting only the best, most fully sourced intel we had. But how hard could he have been trying if it turns out that his most dramatic claim was backed up by only a single person in Germany that no American intelligence agency had ever spoken to? His questioning of the analysts must have been a bit less vigorous than he's led us to believe.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CLINTON PAPERS....It looks like the Bush administration is finally learning its lesson: they've agreed to let the 9/11 commission look at all of Bill Clinton's papers rather than just a handpicked selection of them.

And they did it after only one day! Their usual strategy if it can be called that is to categorically deny that they will ever give in on whatever the issue of the day is and then spend two weeks masochistically subjecting themselves to increasing levels of outrage from newspaper front pages, political chat shows, newsmagazine covers, the press gaggle, blogs, the evening news, and late night comedians. Then they finally cave in and it turns out there was never any point in resisting in the first place.

So I guess this is an improvement of sorts. The next step, of course, would be to genuinely cooperate with the 9/11 commission and just give them the information they want without preconditions or endless negotiations. Too much to expect from our war president, I suppose.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ALL NEW AMERICAN PROSPECT....Obviously inspired by the Washington Monthly, our liberal friends over at the American Prospect have completely redesigned their website. It looks pretty sharp, even if they don't have a blog front and center. Check it out.

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By: Kevin Drum

EVOLUTION AND THE NATIONAL REVIEW....I almost forgot about this, but yesterday National Review ran a column from John West, one of the hardworking scientists at the Discovery Institute, who was shocked to find that government dollars were being used to promote religion.

This is not normally something that either the Discovery Institute or National Review would get worked up about quite the contrary, in fact so you might be excused for wondering just what they're complaining about. Just this: it turns out that the feds gave a grant to the University of California Museum of Paleontology to produce a website that helps teachers understand and explain evolution.

You will be unsurprised to learn that "the science presented on the website is rather lopsided" i.e., it takes the stance that evolution is actually true but West claims that his real complaint is that the site "encourages educators to use religion to endorse evolution."

So I took a look, and after digging around quite a bit I finally found the section of the website he was talking about. Here's what it says in its entirety:

Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world.

The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution.

There's also a link to an outside group (the NCSE, which helped design the website) that has statements from various religious leaders saying that evolution is fine and dandy.

So that's it. It's OK to believe in both science and religion. A grand total of 101 words.

National Review, on the other hand, provides over 700 words to one of the cretins from the Discovery Institute to wave his hands hysterically and smirk about the supposed "irony" of the whole thing. "Where's the ACLU when you really need it?" he asks, like a too-clever teenager pestering his Sunday School teacher about who Cain and Abel married.

Now, juvenile antics like this aside, West makes it clear that his real problem is with teaching evolution at all. Not proven, he says. Lots of scientists disagree.

So then, my question to National Review is this: putting aside the obvious red herring of the 101 words on the museum's website, do you agree with this? Is evolution truly not a proven commodity, merely one among many vague hypotheses about how humans developed that should all be presented equally in high school biology classes?

Disagreeing about supply side economics and the invasion of Iraq is one thing. But are they really willing to be on wrong side of the Scopes trial in the year 2004? And if not, why are they using this transparently specious argument about federal grants and religion as an excuse to provide space to a group like the Discovery Institute to peddle its pernicious nonsense?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 6:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE VALERIE PLAME SPECULATION....Here's a bit more on the broadening investigation into the Valerie Plame affair that I blogged about last night. (Yes, I know the timestamp says April 2, but it was really the evening of April 1 here in California. Honest.)

Josh Marshall points out that it's not entirely clear whether the investigation has actually "broadened" or merely changed focus:

The key revelation, which comes in the first graf, is that investigators have "expanded their inquiry to examine whether White House officials lied to investigators or mishandled classified information related to the case."

....Unfortunately, the piece doesn't make clear whether these might be indictments in addition to ones tied to underlying crime or whether the prosecutors are going for this because they can't make a case on that underlying bad act.

That's a good point. This might be like indicting Al Capone for tax evasion: they're only pursuing this because they can't get enough evidence to convict their targets of the real crime.

But here's another possibility. A couple of months ago UPI's Richard Sale wrote a piece suggesting that the FBI's strategy in this case was to get someone to rat out their boss:

"We believe that [John] Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law-enforcement officer said....The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time" as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said.

I wonder if that's what's going on here? In order to convince someone that there's "a real possibility of doing jail time" they need to make prosecution a credible threat, and maybe they figure their best shot is to find some inconsistencies somewhere and then threaten their target with prosecution for lying to a federal official. Post-Martha, this may seem like a credible threat indeed.

I guess we're about to find out just what Dick Cheney's staff has in the way of cojones. So far (apparently) no one has rolled. But how high has the heat been turned up?

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE 9/11 NONSENSE....The Kabuki dance continues. In another painfully clumsy effort to keep trying to convince everyone that al-Qaeda was Job 1 in the Bush administration prior to 9/11, they have declassified the action plan that was in place and ready for Bush's signature when the Twin Towers were hit:

The so-called National Security Presidential Directive envisioned the military action as the last step of a three-to-five year plan. It called for two earlier steps a diplomatic mission to the Taliban and covert action and envisioned military strikes only as a last resort.

In other words, pretty much what Clinton was doing or maybe a bit less. Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone, since Bush's conciliatory attitude toward the Taliban during his first few months in office is already common knowledge.

Elsewhere in the same story, the administration has decided to withhold from the 9/11 commission 75% of the papers collected from Bill Clinton's archives related to terrorism and al-Qaeda. The official line is that they're, um, duplicates, or, um, something. Don't worry, though, it'll all get sorted out. And of course this is completely unrelated to the possibility that those papers would demonstrate that Clinton really was on the ball when it came to fighting terrorism. What makes you think such a thing?

Question: if they have nothing to hide, why is their first instinct in practically every case to look as guilty as possible? Either (a) they really are guilty or (b) they're insane. Take your pick.

UPDATE: My critics are right. The "conciliatory attitude" crack about the Taliban was a cheap shot. The money Scheer is talking about in the linked article was humanitarian aid delivered through the UN.

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By: Kevin Drum

TRANSGRESSING THE BOUNDARIES: THE TRANSFORMATIVE HERMENEUTICS OF BLOGGING....Matt Yglesias asks, "Doing a weekly online column really does raise the question -- if a web article is posted in the wilderness and no one blogs it, does it make a sound?"

Adam Kotsko provides the answer.

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By: Kevin Drum

VALERIE PLAME UPDATE....The Valerie Plame investigation is broadening:

[Patrick] Fitzgerald is said by lawyers involved in the case and government officials to be examining possible discrepancies between documents he has gathered and statements made by current or former White House officials during a three-month preliminary investigation last fall by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department. Some officials spoke to F.B.I. agents with their lawyers present; others met informally with agents in their offices and even at bars near the White House

....The suspicion that someone may have lied to investigators is based on contradictions between statements by various witnesses in F.B.I. interviews, the lawyers and officials said. The conflicts are said to be buttressed by documents, including memos, e-mail messages and phone records turned over by the White House.

In other words, he's not just investigating the leak anymore, he's also investigating a coverup of the leak. What a surprise.

Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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April 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOUSING BUBBLE....I've written about the housing bubble a few times before, most recently a few days ago when I wondered what could be done about it without also crashing the entire economy in the process. In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Benjamin Wallace-Wells says the answer is: not much. We're screwed no matter what:

Given the lateness of the hour, and the near-inevitability of the coming crash, there's really only one thing left for concerned citizens to do. Start assigning blame.

Fortunately, the bad actors responsible for this manic inflation are pretty easy to recognize. They look remarkably like the ones who puffed up the tech bubble in the late 90s. In both cases, the unfettered optimism of the buying public was fueled by a brokerage industry almost wholly concerned with making a sale, independent analysts with an incentive to hype prices, and major accounting fraud.

Accounting fraud? Yep, although it goes beyond that, as Ben explains.

What's really disturbing about the whole thing is that we've seen it all before. Aside from the fact that the industry turned out to be chockablock with crooks, one of the major systemic causes of the savings and loan debacle in the 80s was the fact that the S&L industry was deregulated but federal deposit insurance stayed in place. This removed a lot of the risk from making loans, which in turn caused S&Ls to approve huge numbers of loans that they shouldn't have. After all, if the loan panned out, everyone made money; if it didn't, the feds would cover it. Eventually, of course, it all came crashing down.

It looks like we're singing the same song again, just in a different key. It's funny how the home mortgage industry keeps making this mistake.

Kevin Drum 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WISHFUL THINKING....I forgot to blog this the other day, but here's the latest from Arnold on his pledge to never, ever, raise taxes no matter what:

"I'm going through wishful thinking that I'll never have to go there," Schwarzenegger said. "Because I just don't like it. I try to work around and find ways so we don't have to do that. So that's the stage I'm in right now. Maybe someone else will say it's denial, but I'm at that stage where I say you can't do that."

I wonder what his first clue was?

What's really weird is that, according to the LA Times, Schwarzenegger is currently spending his time on workers' comp proposals and "his attention has not turned in earnest to the 2004-05 state budget." Gee, the state has a multi-billion dollar deficit, Arnold has a huge Democratic majority to negotiate with in the legislature, and the budget is supposed to be passed 12 weeks from now, but he isn't really focused on it yet? What exactly would it take for him to get focused?

California's conservatives, by the way, attuned to reality as always, have promised him the George Bush (Sr.) treatment if he dares to raise taxes even a penny.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE....I guess I must have missed this little detail about the Treasury Department's analysis of John Kerry's campaign proposals:

The Treasury Department directed career employees to analyze tax ideas proposed by presidential candidate John F. Kerry and other Democrats after a request from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), officials said Wednesday.

The Republican National Committee posted an interactive feature on its website that attaches the largest of those cost estimates to Kerry's plan to raise taxes paid by the wealthiest taxpayers.

So let me get this straight. White House healthcare adviser Doug Badger can't testify in front of Congress about Medicare because of executive privilege. But it's OK for the Majority Leader of the House to order up campaign talking points from the Treasury Department. In fact, it's "proper, it's prudent, it's appropriate." Hell, it's their "obligation" to do it!

Right. And of course the Republicans gleefully latch onto the largest of these estimates and plaster it all over their website. Sounds proper and prudent to me.

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI AMBASSADOR....Is Paul Wolfowitz really in line to become ambassador to Iraq on July 1? The LA Times says "maybe," and also discusses a few other possible candidates.

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By: Kevin Drum

RANDOM STUFF....News from other blogs:

  • South Knox Bubba has a short interview with me about my new gig at the Washington Monthly . Check it out if you're curious about how all this came about.

  • Over at Winds of Change there's a guest post from Andrew Lazarus about why the war in Iraq was a bad idea. Armed Liberal is concerned that the usual WoC conservative audience will rip it to shreds, so head over and keep the dogs at bay in the comments. Be sure to demonstrate that "balance and dignity and decency" that we lefties are supposedly famous for.

And over at the Washington Post, Terry Neal thinks George Bush might have a credibility problem. I wonder where he could have gotten that idea? Kevin Drum 11:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS GIGGLE GAGGLE....For some reason, I found Wednesday's White House press briefing even more entertaining than usual. You can read the whole thing here, but I have a feeling you don't have to. You can get a pretty good idea of the comical nature of these things just by reading the questions. And it saves you lots of time.

The subject is OPEC's decision to cut oil production:

Q When he was running for President, the President said that President Clinton should get on the phone with the OPEC cartel and say, we expect you to open up your spigots. But it doesn't appear that he's doing that --

Q Well, excuse me, I was just going to ask, could you tell us what calls the President has made?

Q But he's not making calls, himself?

Q He's not making calls, himself?

Q Scott, our friends in OPEC don't seem to be paying any attention. It seems as if the President has been unpersuasive with our friends in OPEC. Is it fair to conclude that --

Q Well, they're jacking the price on us. Is it fair to conclude that he's not -- what he's doing isn't working?

Q But so far, nothing he's done or the administration has done has had any effect.


Q I'm talking about the way you're dealing with OPEC.

Q How about my question about OPEC?

Q How about my question about OPEC?

Q From the White House perspective, why haven't -- I mean, in assessing the situation, why haven't your discussions been productive?


Q Can I take one more stab at what Jim was, I think, trying to ask? Is there -- are the American people expecting too much if they think that this President or any candidate for President can really impact the price at the pump?

Q Yes, Scott, what happened in Iraq today, in one incident, five Marines were killed; another one --

Q Can we finish up this first? I have another question on this --

Q I'll yield --

Q All right, thanks. I just want to, again, zero in on the short-term --


Q If that's true, then it leads back to Terry's question, which is, whatever the President and the administration seem to be saying to OPEC at the moment isn't working. So what do we do about that? What's the strategy?

Q What expectations can we have that those conversations will produce a different result than they have up to now?

Q Now, getting back to the oil problem, gasoline problem. Even if you were to use the Strategic Reserve, would this not be a short-term fix?

In the meantime, Virginia Postrel wishes the President would forget about oil and just open up the Strategic Diet Coke Reserve.

Kevin Drum 12:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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