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Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK....Since I've written a couple of posts about Joe Wilson recently, I decided a few days ago to read the entire Niger section of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report to make sure I knew everything they had said about him. As it turns out, there are only a couple of paragraphs about discrepancies in Wilson's testimony, and since those paragraphs have already been reproduced a thousand times in the mainstream media I didn't learn anything new.

However, it turns out that there is a pretty good story buried in there about how CIA analysis works — or doesn't. It takes a while to get to the punch line, but it's worth it. The timeline begins just four weeks after 9/11:

  • October 15, 2001: The CIA receives a report from a "foreign government service" — the Italians — saying that Niger had signed a deal to ship several tons of uranium to Iraq.

  • February 5, 2002: The CIA receives a second report from the Italians. This report claims to contain the "verbatim text" of the agreement, which calls for Niger to ship 500 tons of yellowcake per year to Iraq.

Time passes. Dick Cheney learns about the report and asks for more information. The CIA sends Joe Wilson to Niger to check things out. He reports back that a deal between Niger and Iraq is very unlikely. The Italians continue to say that their source is reliable. The State Department is skeptical.

The CIA publishes a National Intelligence Estimate saying that there are "reports" of Iraq trying to procure uranium. The State Department objects, but due to a weird drafting snafu their dissent ends up in the wrong section of the NIE.

The deputy director of the CIA, testifying before Congress, is asked about British reports of Iraqi uranium procurement from Africa and says "we don't think they are very credible." The president plans to give a speech in Cincinnati mentioning the African uranium, but the CIA suggests the passage be removed. George Tenet personally calls the White House to tell them the "reporting is weak." Despite this, references to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium continue to show up in CIA documents.

We now move on to....

  • October 11, 2002: An Italian journalist provides the U.S. embassy in Rome with copies of the actual documents showing a deal between Niger and Iraq. The embassy sends the documents to both the CIA and INR (the State Department's intelligence arm).

  • October 15, 2002: The INR Iraq nuclear analyst immediately emails other intelligence analysts offering to provide copies of the documents at a meeting already scheduled for the next day. The INR analyst is suspicious of the purported agreement because "it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp" and because a companion document mentions a military campaign against major world powers that includes both Iran and Iraq and is being orchestrated through the Nigerien embassy in Rome.

    The INR analyst dryly suggests that this is "completely implausible."

  • October 16, 2002: The intelligence folks have their scheduled meeting. The documents are handed out to everyone. The CIA rep takes a copy, files it away, and promptly forgets it exists.

And now for the punch line. Why did the CIA analysts not even bother to look at these documents? Because "they believed that the foreign government service reporting was verbatim text and did not think it would advance the story on the alleged uranium deal."

Got that? They just assumed that the original report was a verbatim transcript so they didn't bother looking at the documents themselves — despite the fact that INR had already alerted them that the text and formatting of the source documents made them suspect.

That's some high quality analysis there. And we all know the rest of the story: three months later George Bush included the uranium story in his State of the Union address despite the fact that (a) INR had said two weeks previously in an email that the documents were "clearly a forgery," (b) the CIA didn't think British reporting on this issue was "credible," and (c) the uranium reporting from elsewhere in Africa was both old and "fragmentary."

Remember this the next time you hear about a CIA report. This is the same agency that decided not to bother looking at original source documents in the Niger uranium fiasco because they just assumed there wouldn't be anything new in them. And it turns out that without the evidence of those documents, the conclusion of the CIA (five months after the State of the Union address) was that "we no longer believe...that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad."

Your tax dollars at work.

Kevin Drum 5:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNDUE INFLUENCE....The White House says it opposes the creation of an intelligence czar because President Bush "wants to protect intelligence agencies from any undue influence."

The chutzpah of these people is just breathtaking, isn't it? How do they find people willing to say stuff like this with a straight face?

Still, as much as I hate to admit it, I think this anonymous official has a point — and I think John Kerry is being too hasty in suggesting that we should simply implement 100% of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations ASAP. I continue to fear that the commission was predisposed to finding a bureaucratic solution to a problem that might not be fundamentally one of bureaucracy, and that centralization of responsibility won't necessarily produce a better intelligence product.

However, one part of their recommendations that I do like is their proposal for more robust congressional oversight of the intelligence community. I don't know if they got all the details right, and there's no question that finding the right balance is a tricky task, but independent oversight is a good idea for practically any agency, and especially important for one that by definition works mostly in secret.

Regardless of what we end up with, though, I definitely don't want Congress rushing to approve the complex legislation required to implement all this. The 9/11 commissioners are doing their best to pressure them into hasty action by manufacturing public panic over the idea that terrorists are "trying to attack us sooner rather than later," but that's how we got the PATRIOT Act three years ago. These are long term recommendations, not short term fixes, and I'd prefer a serious and thoughtful debate this time around.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DARFUR....The UN Security Council has finally agreed to a watered down resolution threatening to impose sanctions if the government of Sudan does not stop atrocities in Darfur.

This has hardly been the UN's finest moment, and China and supposed-American-ally Pakistan abstained on even the milquetoast resolution that the United States eventually compromised on. But I suppose it's a start.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STABILITY AND DEMOCRACY....I'm with Matt on this:

Look, look, it is fun to get all upset about Democrats who'll accept a "stable" Iraq rather than a "democratic" one, but you've got to ask yourself a thing or two. Would I rather have a stable Iraq or would I rather have a failed state Iraq that the president of the United States calls a democracy? This is your choice. If you like what's behind door number two (i.e., Afghanistan) then you really ought to vote for George W. Bush. He's really good at talking about democracy-promotion. Way better than John Kerry. The only Democrat who even gets the text in the right neighborhood is Joe Biden and his delivery is nothing compared to Bush's. And not only is Bush good at talking about democracy promotion, he's really good at calling Afghanistan a democracy, and really, really good at pretending that Baathist hitman Iyad Allawi is an emerging liberal democrat.

I'll confess that I don't entirely know what to think of all this, but I do know that trash talking John Kerry over the fact that his speeches aren't as dishonest as Bush's in the area of democracy promotion is just frivolous.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: assuming that it's possible to impose democracy by military force in the first place, it strikes me that this is a task that (a) requires stability as a first step and (b) probably requires a military presence for at least a decade and quite possibly more like 40-50 years. In the real world, though, the Bush administration has shown neither the inclination nor the talent to accomplish (a) and the American public almost certainly won't stand for (b). In other words, it's quite likely an impossible dream.

Now, I don't know this for sure. I don't suppose anyone does. And I'll admit that there are times when the neocon fascination with a "reverse domino theory" appeals to me. Maybe we can install democracy in Iraq! And maybe this really will become a shining example for other Arab states! That would be very cool.

But the neocons don't have an especially good track record on these grand ideas of theirs, and if they want the American public to buy into this they need to make a serious case that it can work at a cost that's acceptable. Basically, anyone who thinks that America should accept nothing less than full-on democracy in Iraq needs to provide several things:

  • Some compelling historical evidence that this has a chance of working. Examples from the last two or three decades would be preferable.

  • An acknowledgement of how long this will take, how much it will cost, and how many American lives will be lost in the process.

  • A believable plan that explains how we're going to end up with a democratic Iraq. It needs to be something that persuades not just the wonks, but average Americans and average foreigners as well. Because unless public opinion buys into this, it's not going to happen.

In the meantime, let's not mock stability. I suspect the citizens of Iraq wouldn't.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

CLOSING CONVENTION COMMENTS....Apologies for the late de-briefing on the final night of the Convention. When I finally got to a computer in the wee hours of Friday morning, our server was down, and it was still down when I got up to drive back to D.C. Now, after a fun drive through weekend traffic down I-95, I have a few closing comments to offer and then a longer post specifically on Kerry's speech. In no particular order:

I stand by my concern about potential problems with Cleland's introduction of Kerry, but as it turns out, the former Georgia senator did a fine, fine job and set just the right tone for Kerry's entrance. The Bush/Cheney campaign may continue to take hits at Kerry's military service, but they do so at their peril with Cleland and the Band of Brothers onstage with Kerry. There simply is no more stark contrast to Bush in his flight suit than the figure of Max Cleland, triple amputee and proud veteran.

If you didn't know much about the history of Boston or the founding of the United States before the Democratic Convention, you certainly heard enough history lessons throughout four days of speeches to pass a U.S. History AP Test. I'm an admitted history geek and even I was getting tired of references to "238 years ago...", "Boston Tea Party...", "Boston Massacre...", and so on. But I have to admit that the emphasis on Boston colonial history was a brilliant way to counter all of the GOP rhetoric about the Convention being held in "liberal Boston." To listen to Ed Gillespie and Marc Racicot, you'd think the Convention was in Berkeley. But it's hard to knock the birthplace of the Revolution.

Throughout the four days of the Convention, I don't think there was a single time when the words "stem cell" were uttered without being followed by applause and cheers. If you remember back to three years ago next week — when Bush gave a primetime Oval Office address announcing his executive order regarding federal stem cell policy — both Republicans and Democrats alike thought that stem cell would be a wedge issue that would cut Republicans' way. It turns out that it is indeed a wedge issue, but not in the way that the GOP had hoped. Stem cell isn't a partisan issue. It's an issue that pits hard-core pro-lifers against basically everyone else, particularly those who know someone with Alzheimers or Parkinsons or another potentially cureable disease.

Larry Summers may have been stuck with the rest of us on the first floor of the FleetCenter after the Boston P.D. (citing overcrowding) closed off access around 8pm on Thursday, but the original Clinton Treasury Secretary — Robert Rubin — had one of the best seats in the house, right next to Teresa Heinz Kerry. That wasn't an accident. I doubt many Americans recognize Rubin on sight, but I have no doubt that the helpful television commentators pointed him out and the implication of his presence in such a prominent spot couldn't have been lost on many. Remember this guy? The one who shepherded our economy through the boom years of the '90s? Wouldn't you like to see him running the economy again? Maybe as Treasury Secretary again, or even Chairman of the Federal Reserve? Sure you do.

In fact, that subtle theme ran throughout the evening. Look at the line-up of speakers: Max Cleland — future Secretary of Veteran Affairs; Wesley Clark — future Secretary of Defense or State; Joe Biden — future National Security Advisor or Secretary of State. You know them, you trust them, and you sure as heck like them better than Rumsfeld and Cheney and Ashcroft. That's what the Kerry/Edwards campaign is hoping.

Amy Sullivan 12:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GREAT BRITONS....Commenting on a new piece of sculpture, Patrick Barkham writes this in the Guardian:

Is it a sheep pen, a set of stairs or a scaled-up children's puzzle?

No, this tower of 20 slabs of English oak heartwood is, of course, the greatest Briton of all time: Winston Churchill.

Mr. Barkham is writing about a country that has produced Isaac Newton, Henry VIII, Adam Smith, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Charles Darwin, James Watt, and Elizabeth I — not to mention Byron, Keats, Hume, Locke, Burke, Bacon, Cromwell, Chaucer, Disraeli, Austen, Dickens, Hobbes, Keynes, Maxwell, and a whole bunch of others who will probably occur to me in due time.

I don't care what the British public thinks — and I especially don't care what they think in a poll that ranks Princess Diana as the third greatest Briton of all time — but as undoubtedly great as he was, you have to stretch even to put Churchill in the top ten. #1 is just a joke.

Kevin Drum 11:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SLOGANEERING....That was then, this is now:

Herbert Hoover, 1932: "Prosperity is just around the corner."

George W. Bush, 2004: "We've turned a corner, and we're not turning back."

I know that Democrats have been trying to pin the Hoover tag on Bush for a while now, but does he really think it's a good idea to help them along?

And speaking of that, I have a contest in mind. We all know that Bush is likely to be the first president since you-know-who to suffer a net loss of jobs during his term in office, but there are probably some other comparisons we can make to poor old Herbert Hoover too. So here's the contest: complete the sentence "George Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to ________ ."

Factual comparisons preferred. Cheap shots encouraged.

UPDATE: Winner so far is Paul: ". . . be succeeded by five consecutive Democratic administrations."

Kevin Drum 3:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLICY....Paul Krugman complains today that TV news flatly refuses to cover the actual policy proposals of the candidates for president:

I've been reading 60 days' worth of transcripts from the places four out of five Americans cite as where they usually get their news: the major cable and broadcast TV networks. Never mind the details — I couldn't even find a clear statement that Mr. Kerry wants to roll back recent high-income tax cuts and use the money to cover most of the uninsured. When reports mentioned the Kerry plan at all, it was usually horse race analysis — how it's playing, not what's in it.

Here's a tip for the television newshounds: read Bradford Plumer's short-but-sweet blog post at Mother Jones explaining a few of John Kerry's most important policy proposals — including one of my personal favorites, his proposal to have the feds insure catastrophic illness. (Which, oddly enough, got no play in his speech last night and is buried three links deep on his website. Go figure.)

It's a good read. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 2:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WORSE THAN SADDAM?....I had lunch with a friend yesterday who bemoaned the chaos in Iraq and suggested that Iraqis were worse off than they were before the war. "You can't really get much worse than Saddam Hussein," I argued, but he just shook his head. He wasn't convinced.

When I got home, though, I saw that the British Foreign Affairs Select Committee pretty much agrees with him. The culprit, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is that despite lots of high-minded talk coming out of Washington and London, nobody seems to genuinely care enough about democracy and nation building to produce both a workable plan and the resources to pull it off:

"There is a real danger if these resources are not provided soon that Afghanistan -- a fragile state in one of the most sensitive and volatile regions of the world -- could implode, with terrible consequences," the committee says in its report.

....On Iraq, the committee concluded that Al Qaeda had turned Iraq into a "battleground" with appalling consequences for the country's people.

[Committee chairman Donald Anderson] warned that the consequences of not ensuring peace and normality in Iraq "may be a failed state and regional instability."

Which is worse, a rogue state or a failed state? That gets deep into the heart of foreign policy wonkery, but it's certainly not obvious that my friend is wrong. If Iraq does turn into a failed state, it would most likely be a lot more dangerous to the U.S. than it was when Saddam was in charge.

Which is why, regardless of whether or not you opposed the war, it's critically important to succeed — or at least not fail utterly — in Iraq now that we're there. If Iraq turns into another Sudan, we really are in big trouble.

Of course, this begs the question: can John Kerry's multilateralist view of how to handle Iraq succeed? Juan Cole breaks it down and suggests a way that it might. Take a look.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMIC NEWS....Economic growth in the second quarter was worse than expected:

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of just 3 percent in the spring, a dramatic slowdown from the rapid pace of the past year....The size of the slowdown caught economists by surprise. Many had been looking for GDP growth to come in around 3.8 percent in the second quarter.

In addition, retail sales are down, factory orders are declining, housing starts are down, and the stock market is flat.

On the other hand, consumer confidence is up — although I wonder for how long? — and inflation is in good shape.

Overall, my take on the economy has been that it's good enough to keep Bush's hopes alive and bad enough to keep Kerry's hopes alive. On balance, though, the most recent news has been mildly but consistently weaker. That's bad news for Bush.

Too bad he didn't use his term in office to genuinely try to improve the economy. Instead he used it to pursue ideological tax cuts for his corporate pals and a hodgepodge of little initiatives aimed at every interest group he could think of in key states — all the while hoping the economy would recover on its own and his policies wouldn't matter. Unfortunately for Bush — and for all of us who have to suffer through it — it's not looking as if his gamble will pay off.

UPDATE: Hmmm, it turns out that consumer confidence is up for some, but not for all. The Talent Show has the details.

Kevin Drum 1:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BERGER UPDATE....Sandy Berger may have foolishly removed copies of some classified documents during his trips to the National Archives last year, but that's all they were: copies. The originals are still safe and sound and the 9/11 Commission has "seen everything that the archives saw."

Tapped has the story, or you can go straight to the Wall Street Journal if you have a subscription.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONVENTION RATINGS....About 20 million households watched John Kerry's speech last night. I don't know how that compares to four years ago, but apparently ratings for the convention have been down 10-20% on each of the previous nights.

I'm surprised. I know that interest in the conventions has been declining steadily pretty much forever, but I really thought that ratings would buck that trend this year because the race is so tight and so important. But no: CSI is the ratings winner as usual.

Why the lack of interest even though people seem more engaged than normal this year? Maybe it's because the true believers on both sides don't really need to watch. The number of undecided voters is smaller than it's ever been at this point in a race, and maybe those are the voters who drive big ratings?

Or maybe people actually aren't nearly as engaged as we think. I mean, it seems like they are to me, but maybe I'm confusing lots of trash talking with actual widespread interest. At any rate, it's hard to square "the most important election of our lifetimes" with a 20% drop in ratings.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY SPEECH THREAD....Here's an open thread to chat about John Kerry's speech. My take: not bad, but not a slam dunk killer either. Some of the notes it hit were pretty good, a few were oddly off key, and the second half had a bit of a laundry list quality to it. Overall, though, it was at the high end of workmanlike and did what it had to do.

....By the way, I thought Wes Clark's speech was terrific. Best of the night.

Kevin Drum 11:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON THE DNC SURPRISE....The al-Qaeda fugitive who was captured in Pakistan a few days ago is named Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and was involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Here's more about his capture:

Another U.S. counterterrorism official said Ghailani's capture would have been even more significant if not publicized so quickly.

"He's been on the run since 1998 so you have five years of critical intelligence that can be mined: where he has been, who he has been with, how his operations worked," said the counterterrorism official.

"Now, anything that he was involved in is being shredded, burned and, thrown in a river. Those things are all going away as we speak," the official added. "We have to assume anyone affiliated with this guy is on the run . . . when usually, we can get great stuff as long as we can keep it quiet."

Several U.S. officials said it was unclear why Pakistan publicized the arrest....

See the previous post for the answer that seems to have eluded "several U.S. officials."

UPDATE: In fairness, here's the Washington Post's take on the timing of the announcement:

Pakistani officials have rejected allegations that they delayed the announcement for four days to obtain maximum publicity. Hayat said the delay was a result of "double checks and even triple checks in such cases."

But in the arrests of other high-profile al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, including Abu Zubayida, Khalid Sheik Mohammad and Ramzi Bin al Shibh, the news media received word almost immediately.

So was the announcement delayed too long or made too soon? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DNC SURPRISE....Four weeks ago, John Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari reported in The New Republic that the administration was turning the screws on the Pakistanis to round up an al-Qaeda bigshot before the election. That seemed plausible to me, but the additional specification that they had been told the capture should be announced on "the first three days of the Democratic National Convention" seemed like a bit of a stretch.

Silly me. The Pakistanis, apparently eager to please, have done their part right on time.

Scary, isn't it? Maybe it's time to get measured for a tinfoil hat after all.

UPDATE: More here.

Kevin Drum 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON EDWARDS SPEECH....It's quite possible that Convention fatigue set in a bit early and I just wasn't primed to enjoy Edwards' speech on Wednesday night. Or maybe the fact that the woman next to me spent the speech listening (not watching, mind you) to her portable tv (with an irritating two-second delay), EVEN THOUGH WE WERE SITTING NOT 100 FEET FROM EDWARDS, distracted me somewhat. But I just didn't like it much.

To be fair, it's not the easiest task of Convention Week. The running mate has to introduce the candidate — whose life story most Americans know by heart at this point; he has to fill the role of attack dog and take down the opposition; and he has the unenviable job of laying out the campaign's policy agenda in all its wonky glory while also weaving in broader themes and inspirational ideas.

By those standards, Edwards was fine. He is particularly good at humanizing Kerry by consistently referring to him simply as "John." That's a nice touch. But despite the riff about "Hope Is On The Way," I came away feeling dispirited. He's right — I do worry about my health coverage and I don't make enough money to pay my bills and I do know people who have been out of work for a while now. And now I suddenly feel the need to go lie down in a dark room with a cool cloth on my forehead.

Yet I understand why things have gotten worse instead of better over the past few years. But that's because I'm a political geek and live inside the Beltway echo chamber. Many Americans, on the other hand, might find it helpful if someone told them who was responsible for the situation we're in right now. Too often, it seems, both the media and Democratic party leaders assume that everyone around the country has been following the ins and outs of Washington politics as closely as they have.

If Edwards is going to implore Americans to "reject the tired, old, hateful, negative, politics of the past," he needs to make clear who is responsible for the hateful politics, he needs to give examples of how Republicans have changed the rules of the game, of how they have slandered and attacked. Similarly, if he's going to remind us that life just basically sucks right now, he should tell us who we should hold accountable for that. It's implied that because the message is to vote for Democrats, Republicans must be the ones to blame. But without knowing that for sure, too many Americans may continue to lump together Republicans and Democrats as being equally responsible for all things bad in politics.

I don't necessarily disagree with the decision to keep this Convention civil. But there is a difference between hateful attacks on the opposition and simply putting the truth in front of voters. The failure to name names may not hurt the Kerry/Edwards ticket. I can't help thinking, however, that the near-total absence of references to the Republican Congress during the Convention will hurt candidates further down the ticket. Again, we've heard a lot about unjust and irresponsible policies this week -- but while they haven't been portrayed as victimless crimes, they often sound like perpetrator-less crimes.

Amy Sullivan 5:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FEAR OF HELL....This is a mega-wonky post on a subject of no importance, but what the hell. Feel free to ignore it if you want.

Dan Drezner links today to a report from the St. Louis Fed and concludes that it's "pretty weak." I read the same report last night, and it turns out that "pretty weak" is being altogether too polite.

Basically, two economists decided to test the hypothesis that fear of hell is good for economic growth. Now, it turns out that they actually have raw data on this: a column of numbers showing the percent of people in each country who believe in hell, and another column of numbers showing GDP per capita for each country. (Why GDP per capita when it's economic growth they're concerned about? Beats me. But let's move on anyway.)

So what's the correlation? It turns out to be -.21. However, the number you care about is the square of the correlation, which is .04, or 4%. This means that even if you assume the raw data is both correct and robust — a fairly heroic assumption — belief in hell explains only 4% of the variance in GDP per capita between different countries. In other words, it hardly explains a thing.

But the authors weren't satisfied with that, so they did two things. First, instead of using raw data they ranked each country and computed a rank correlation. (Is that legit? Maybe. Hard to say. And did they even do a rank correlation, which is a specialized statistic? Doesn't look like it. But let's keep moving.)

Second, they chose to break the correlation into two correlations:

  • Belief in hell vs. amount of corruption

  • Amount of corruption vs. GDP per capita

Having done all that, they computed the first correlation and got a value of -.34. Square that and you get .11, or 11%, which is a lot better than 4%. Hurrah!

However, you can also compute the rank correlation directly: belief in hell vs. GDP per capita. If you do, the correlation is .15. Square it and you get 2%. That's even worse than the 4% that Dan got using the raw data, and is so low as to be completely worthless.

This strikes me as worthy of John Lott:

  • Run a correlation on the raw data. Hmmm. 4%. Not so good.

  • Try a rank correlation instead. Hmmm. 2%. Even worse.

  • I know! Do a rank correlation and break the correlation into two stages. Bingo! As long as you don't look too hard.

How does stuff like this get past peer review?

And speaking of John Lott, what's he up to these days? It turns out he's interested in electronic voting, and guess which side he's on? Tim Lambert has the details here and here.

UPDATE: After I published this post I clicked all the links to make sure they were correct (as I always do). And guess what? The Fed article now has an editor's note:

Below is a new version of this article, which discusses recent research in economics regarding a possible relationship between economic growth and religion. It is the second revision that has been posted. In both the original version and the first revision, the article ended with a discussion of simple correlations between countries’ religiosity, levels of corruption and per capita incomes. The purpose of these discussions was to use a very simple framework to illustrate the results found in the literature. Because the discussion did not go any deeper than simple correlations, it was never intended to be a substitute for serious statistical analysis.

Thanks to the keen eyes of a number of readers, however, we have discovered that the charts used in both of these versions of the article contained errors. Consequently, the version below does not include discussions of the correlations between religiosity, corruption and per capita income. It is important to note that this has no bearing on the results in the literature that are discussed in the article. It is not uncommon, for example, for simple correlations between two variables to provide different answers from regressions that control for a longer list of variables.

I would like to apologize to any of our readers who have been inconvenienced by this series of corrections. In addition, I would like to thank all of those who picked up on the errors and let us know about them.

In other words: this was just simplistic crap and it wasn't even computed correctly at that, so we're deleting the whole thing except for the literature review that was formerly just an introduction to the data. Glad to see that the St. Louis Fed holds itself to such high standards.

Kevin Drum 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

CLELAND CURIOSITY....I agree with Michael Crowley -- when I first heard that former Georgia Senator Max Cleland was going to introduce John Kerry on this last night of the convention, I didn't think it was such a good idea. The man's incredible personal sacrifice and public service aside, he's not a terribly good speaker. He is by nature quite shy, and while I'm certainly not one to knock that, it doesn't necessarily make for good political communication skills. Cleland tends to withdraw and have a hard time connecting with individuals and audiences, or he overcompensates and affects a blustery, hot-headed persona. I'm not sure either one is what you really want when introducing the Democratic presidential nominee.

But I could be completely and totally wrong. We'll know soon enough.

Amy Sullivan 4:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

STRIKE UP THE BAND....Any guesses and/or suggestions for the official John Kerry theme song? My informal survey of folks in the media section reveals that a large number of them are hoping for a Bruce Springsteen tune. (This may have something to do with the fact that approximately 80 percent of the media types are men. Not that women can't appreciate The Boss...I'm just saying.) Having listened to "Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits" over and over on the drive to Boston, I was pleased to hear "Sir Duke" blasting after Edwards' speech. Okay, so maybe it doesn't make that much sense when you listen to it. But it is upbeat and always makes me smile. Sorta like John Edwards.

What can the Kerry campaign pick to top it?

Amy Sullivan 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHITE HOUSE vs. CONGRESS....I'm curious about something. Which would you prefer?

  • Kerry wins the presidency but the House and Senate stay in Republican hands.

  • Kerry loses, but Democrats win control of both House and Senate.

This is mainly a question for liberals, but I suppose conservatives can play too. No cheating, though: these are your only two choices. What's your preference?

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FOREIGN POLICY....David Adesnik is unhappy with the lack of foreign policy detail on display at the Democratic Convention:

If you look at the speeches given by the Democrats' three most experienced foreign policymakers — Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter — you won't find any common message about how America's interests and ideals should shape its foreign policy.

I'm not above the occasional criticism of Democratic foreign policy myself, but I wonder just what people like David are expecting? Some kind of lockstep agreement about the mathematical formula we're going to use to decide on foreign interventions? A bulleted PowerPoint slide signed in blood by every top Democrat in the country?

And really, any student of history can tell you that campaign rhetoric doesn't mean much anyway. LBJ based his 1964 campaign on letting South Vietnamese kids fight their own war and then shipped half a million American kids to Vietnam within a year of winning the election. Richard Nixon had a secret plan to end the war and promptly expanded to war to Cambodia and Laos as soon as he took office. (He was also a famous red-baiter who opened relations with Red China.) Jimmy Carter was all about human rights, but he supported the Shah until the bitter end — with disastrous consequences. George Bush talked about being a "humble nation" during the campaign, but after 9/11 he tossed that into the dustbin of history and invaded two countries in three years.

Now, it's true that sometimes you get what you voted for. Ike said he'd end the Korean War and he did. Reagan said he'd be tough on communism and he was. But frankly, that seems more the exception than the rule.

Besides, if you want to complain about consistency, why pick on the Democrats? After all, you can't seriously suggest that George Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz have a common message, can you? Hell, if their message were any less common the Bush administration would explode like some kind of political warp core breach. Even after four years, I don't really have a clue what their second term policy toward North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, NATO, Pakistan, or Russia might be.

You won't find an American politician of any era or any party who doesn't extol the virtues of democracy. But talk is cheap, and while George Bush may have some good scriptwriters, in the real world he's shown only the tiniest and most fleeting interest in genuine democracy building. Isn't it time to look behind the curtain and admit it?

UPDATE: David takes up the foreign policy challenge here.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

MAN THE FLAG-WAVING STATIONS....I don't quite yet know what I think of John Edwards' speech and I need to dash off for a few more hours, so I'll just leave you with this bit of trivia.

If you watched wall-to-wall coverage on C-SPAN last night, you probably saw at least seven different kinds of signs waved in unison across the hall at different points in the evening, not to mention flags and other convention props. And instead of seeing all seven at the same time -- in a sea of colors -- you saw the disciplined raising of particular signs at key applause lines. If Democrats are as unruly as a herd of cats, how the heck did they coordinate that?

The Boiler Room, that's how. On the upper levels of the Fleet Center is an operations room filled with Kerry campaign staff and DNC types who closely monitor the evening's proceedings and coordinate the delegations' participation in camera-friendly activities. And on the floor, each of the delegations has a contact person with a walkie-talkie linked up to the Boilerroom. They're in charge of keeping track of those piles of different signs, passing them out throughout the delegation, and -- when the Boiler Room says "Go!" -- giving the cue to delegates to raise those signs and go crazy.

Amy Sullivan 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI'S LATEST....You remember Muqtada al-Sadr, right? Firebrand cleric, wanted for the murder of a rival cleric, took over Najaf and Sadr City, led a huge uprising that caused the deaths of thousands.

And Ahmed Chalabi, you remember him too, don't you? Iraqi exile, darling of the neocons, received millions of dollars from the U.S., then fed us bad intel to promote the war.

I guess I've already given away the punch line, but guess who's partnering up in the new Iraq?

Chalabi is a survivor. Snubbed by the Bush administration neoconservatives who once embraced him, and excluded from the interim government, he is building a grass-roots coalition of Shiite Muslim groups who lack a voice in the new Iraq.

At the same time, he's reaching out to Iraq's most prominent anti-American Shiite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, whose followers come mainly from Baghdad's urban underclass and the impoverished south of the country. Political analysts here believe that the new approach will eventually win support from a significant segment of Sadr's followers if Chalabi chooses to run for office — and, as expected, Sadr chooses to wield his power from the pulpit instead.

Can the administration's hawks pick em, or can they pick em? Short of a teamup with Osama, it's hard to image how Chalabi's betrayal of his longtime benefactors could be more complete.

Kevin Drum 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GET OFF BACK ON YOUR BUTT....Jon Chait tells a story and ends with this observation:

Indeed, I see this incident as a case study in the need for reporters to avoid human contact unless absolutely necessary.

He's not joking, either, and I think he has a point. In fact, I've been meaning to blog about this one of these days but haven't ever gotten my thoughts organized enough to do it. In the meantime, read Jon's piece.

Kevin Drum 12:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EDWARDS REACTION....It turns out that even my wife is tired of hearing the electrifying news that John Kerry volunteered to go to Vietnam after he finished college. I know why it's being done, and I'm sure it's a good idea and all, but I have to admit that they've been laying it on pretty thick tonight.

In other spousal news, Marian wasn't buying John Edwards' "Two Americas" schtick either, even though she likes Edwards. Sure, she's just one person (sort of my own personal version of the immigrant cabbie, I guess), but I'm always curious to see what she thinks of the speakers since most of them are new to her. This was the first time she'd actually seen Edwards in action.

I've always liked this speech myself, although I don't think this was his best performance. He's got some good lines about rewarding work that he only touched on in tonight's version, and I've always thought that was one of the strongest parts of his message.

Tomorrow: Wes Clark and the Swift boat lieutenant himself. I'm looking forward to it. And after that, I'm really looking forward to the convention being over....

Kevin Drum 11:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGITY BLOG BLOGGINESS....Fafblog is blogging the convention. I think they're doing a better job than most.

Kevin Drum 9:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUTSOURCING NEWS....Gotta agree with Angry Bear. Starting salaries for Computer Science majors are up 4.8%, IS is up 8.2%, and MIS is up 2.9%. All those outsourced programmers in Bangalore must not be sucking up too many jobs.

But what's up with psychology majors? Even English lit majors do better.

Kevin Drum 8:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WELL, SOMEONE'S ON DRUGS....Need a laugh? Capitol Hill Blue is better than the National Enquirer. Today they break the story that George Bush is scarfing down "powerful anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia":

[White House physician Richard] Tubb prescribed the anti-depressants after a clearly-upset Bush stormed off stage on July 8, refusing to answer reporters' questions about his relationship with indicted Enron executive Kenneth J. Lay.

“Keep those motherfuckers away from me,” he screamed at an aide backstage. “If you can’t, I’ll find someone who can.”

....The White House did not return phone calls seeking comment on this article.

Gee, I'm surprised they didn't respond. Must have been a busy day in the press office.

Maybe they'll call back tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT: I periodically get emails from people who want to know if Capitol Hill Blue is a reliable source. I think this story should give you a clue.

Kevin Drum 7:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEXT FOUR YEARS....The Economist's John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write in the LA Times today that some conservatives might be secretly hoping that George Bush loses the election this year.

No, that's not quite right, actually. Despite the headline writer's liberties, what they really said was merely that "in a few years, some on the right might look on a John Kerry victory as a blessing in disguise."

Why? They've got a laundry list of reasons: Bush has expanded government, he's already won his foreign policy point anyway, conservatives like gridlock, Republicans need a timeout to rethink the party, and a Kerry presidency would bring them roaring back like nobody's business in 2008.

This list is, to say the least, unconvincing. But they might be right anyway for a reason that they only fleetingly allude to in their fifth bullet: Bush has dug the country into such a godawful hole that the next four years are going to be hell no matter who's president.

The economy is the most obvious example. The fiscal reality is that we can't keep running enormous deficits forever, and the only way to get rid of the deficit is to raise taxes. Wouldn't it be nice if it were a Democrat who was forced to do that? And Social Security and Medicare need reforming, but any real reform is almost certain to enrage a significant number of people. How about letting a Democrat catch some of that grief?

And foreign affairs? Iraq is pretty much a no-win proposition at this point. We can either pull American soldiers out next year and watch the country spiral into chaos, or else we can stay the course and watch them get killed at the rate of a hundred a month or so. All the time knowing that leaving them there prevents us from credibly threatening force anywhere else in the world — and that our enemies know it.

Bottom line: during sleepless nights there's a small voice in my head that agrees with Micklethwait and Wooldridge — but in mirror image. What happens if Kerry wins and has to take over the economic and foreign policy mess that Bush has bequeathed him? Is it a poisoned chalice no matter who takes it up?

Maybe Bush should be required to clean up his own mess — and suffer the consequences that go along with it.

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOVE THEM TAXI DRIVERS....Kerryphobe Mickey Kaus talks to a taxi driver in Boston:

Passenger: "Fleet Center, please."

Boston cab driver (an immigrant): "You like John Kerry, eh?"

Passenger: "Well, I'm a Democrat but I don't really like Kerry that much."

Cab driver: "I hear that all day. All day. 'I don't like Kerry.' Why you pick him if you don't like him?"

Democrat hater and war supporter Neal Boortz talks to a taxi driver in Boston:

Had a Boston taxi driver yesterday from Iraq. He's going back home to visit his parents in a few weeks. He was none-too-pleased with the Democrats. He believes that Democrats hate his country and want Saddam to be back in power. He was adamant that things are much better in Iraq than the media is saying ... and he's at a loss as to why all of these media types won't tell the truth.

I'm happy to see that immigrant taxi drivers are continuing their longtime habit of providing journalists with exactly the opinions that they themselves happen to have. Kinda brings a tear to my eye.

Both conversations via the cab-loving conservatives at The Corner.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA'S NAPOLEON....After being forced through the humiliating process of actually having to compromise with the legislature in order to get a budget passed, the Governator is pissed:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing an assault on the institutional power of California legislators after a month of contorted state budget negotiations in which his clout was questioned and his ideas were rejected.

The Republican governor may call a special election next year asking voters to, among other things, convert the Legislature to part-time status, strip legislators of their power to draw their own districts and restrict campaign contributions, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said this month's contentious budget negotiations hardened the governor's resolve to move forward with all or part of this plan....

In substantive terms this is laughable, since as near as I can tell the budget deadlock was almost entirely Schwarzenegger's fault. He screwed up his negotiations with local governments and had to backpedal, and then went to the mat over two trivial items that no one would even have noticed if he hadn't suddenly brought them up out of the blue.

More to the point, though, I can't help but think that he's finally overreaching anyway. After winning the election, winning his bond measure, and enjoying sky high popularity ratings, he may think California is ready to crown him king. I doubt it, though, and if he goes through with this my guess is that it will just make him look like a power mad Napoleon who throws a tantrum when he doesn't get his way. As a historical parallel, I'm reminded of FDR's court packing scheme after his landslide win in 1936. That didn't work out so well.

Of course, as the story notes, these threats may be nothing but leverage for use in future negotiations with the legislature, which wouldn't be out of character for him. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

DECIPHERING THE EVANGO-SPEAK....I'm putting all of my religion commentary about Obama's speech in one post so that readers who don't like this stuff can just skip over it instead of complaining incessently. I've heard from a lot of you who appreciate knowing what those code phrases are, so we're going to continue this little feature as long as I feel like it.

"We worship an awesome God" The moment that phrase came out of Obama's mouth, a praise song I sang at countless Baptist services and camps in my childhood immediately went through my head. "Our God is an awesome God...He reigns from heaven above...with wisdom, power and love...our God is an awsome God." Given the popularity of the song in evangelical churches, I can guarantee that millions of other viewers had the same reaction. Brilliant use of a phrase, along the lines of Bush's "wonder working power" in the 2003 State of the Union address.

"I am my brother's keeper It got somewhat lost in the ovation following Obama's reference to civil liberties, but the line "It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work," was an allusion to the story in Genesis in which Cain asks God, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"Belief in things not seen" It's a measure of how good Obama is that he could give us a riff on hope without conjuring up memories of Clinton's "a place called Hope". At the end of an excellent section about the politics of optimism, Obama had a stirring line about "the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too" that had the audience soaring along with him. And then he moved directly into a larger political point by way of a Biblical allusion. "In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead." The reference to "belief in things not seen" comes from Hebrews 11:1, a classic rumination on the meaning of faith: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Fun with Ad Libs Obama went off text near the end to riff on the Democrats' momentum, referring to "a wind at our backs" and then upping that to "a righteous wind at our backs." It's not biblical, but it sounds cool, so I'll give him points for sounding spiritual and whipping people up without Bible-thumping. And that, really, is my point in highlighting all of these references from various speakers. Professions of personal piety often ring false with voters and are inappropriate unless the candidate intends to tell us how that relates to their ability to serve as public officials. Using powerful religious rhetoric to establish connections between secular political concerns and faith-based beliefs and priorities, however, is simply an effective strategy that helps Democrats more than it hurts them.

Amy Sullivan 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT...Okay, maybe that's a little premature, but standing there listening to the roar of the crowd (only Clinton has received a louder ovation at this convention) after Obama brought down the house with his keynote address, with "Obama" signs blanketing the hall, I said to myself, "You're looking at our first black president." Along with many of my colleagues I had wondered whether Obama could possibly live up to the hope -- it's impossible to overemphasize the extent to which Democratic Party leaders have placed their dreams of the future on his shoulders -- and to the hype -- I've lost track of the number of times he has popped up on the network dais next to us for interviews with BrianWilliamsCandyCrowleyChrisWallace.

But, people? He rocked.

It didn't hurt that practically every speaker before and after him on Tuesday evening flopped. And that's not just my subjective opinion. With the exception of Howard Dean -- who received an incredibly warm welcome from the crowd, including the most evidence so far of genuine feeling, homemade signs, etc. -- no one else captured the attention of the usually polite and attentive delegate audience. It was downright embarrassing at some points. Ted Kennedy entered the hall to a raucous reception and by the time he concluded his speech, the Kennedy clan only had time for a painfully brief wave at the crowd before the applause died completely. The only applause line in Tom Daschle's speech that actually achieved the desired effect was when he referred to his position as "Majority Leader" in the next Senate. (And while I know everyone is complaining about the music selection, who selected "Mr. Big Stuff...oooh, oooh...Who do you think you are?" as Daschle's song? Was that a joke?) All order was lost by the time Christie Vilsack took the stage and sped through her speech to an audience that was mostly ignoring her.

So by the time Obama appeared, the crowd was hungry for an eloquent, confident address. In order to deliver a broader appeal on behalf of Kerry, Obama had to limit the best part of his stump speech to a single paragraph. But even that bit -- about how the people he meets "don’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. " -- went over well. His riff about race is reportedly even better, but was also sacrificed in the interest of a streamlined speech.

The first early roar during the speech rose over the line, "If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties." The threat to civil liberties -- embodied in the Patriot Act -- is not only a good energizing issue for Democratic voters, but it taps anger and suspicion among conservatives and swing voters as well. It's also important to note that the line came during the "We are all one people" theme of Obama's speech. That matches closely with Clinton's "more perfect union" theme of Monday night. It's telling that while conventions are usually all about rallying the base, Democrats this year are using the convention to appeal to all Americans. They know their base is with them. They're making an argument that goes beyond politics by setting up a crucial distinction between the parties -- you can choose unity or you can choose division.

Obama really captured the crowd with the blue state/red state litany. "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States." Reading it again this morning, I like the speech even more than I did last night. It was beautifully crafted and couldn't have been better delivered. If this is the new voice of the Democratic Party, we're in for a fun ride.

UPDATE: A Daschle staffer writes in to correct me on my identification of Daschle's convention theme music. It was not, as I mistakenly thought, "Mr. Big Stuff" but instead the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself." I have to agree with Tapped's Ayelish McGarvey -- there is good soul music out there; use some of it.

Amy Sullivan 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING....It's worth stepping outside all-things-Convention for a moment to note that Tom Coburn just won the Republican nod for the Oklahoma Senate race this fall, a very good development for Democrats who want to take back that seat and have an excellent chance of doing so now. Campaign observers widely believed that Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who was one of two Republicans challenging Coburn for the spot, has much broader appeal for swing voters and would have been a formidable opponent in November. Coburn, on the other hand, has the backing and financial resources of a number of conservative groups, but also the baggage of a right-wing reputation. He only made things worse for himself a few weeks ago when he remarked that doctors who perform abortions should get the death penalty. And then clarified that while there isn't yet a law that would allow capital punishment for such doctors, he would support the passage of one. Nice.

This may sound par for the course for conservative Republicans, but Coburn's extremism doesn't match the direction in which his state is moving. After years of being led by a Republican governor, Oklahoma now has a Democrat living in the Governor's Mansion and both the state Senate and House are controlled by Democrats. The Democratic candidate for the Senate, Rep. Brad Carson, won 80 percent of the vote in his primary and is a popular political figure in the state. If you'd told me two years ago that Oklahoma would not only be in play but maybe even a "likely Dem" state for the Senate this year, I would never have believed you. Maybe Tom Daschle is right about that whole "Senate Majority Leader" thing...

Amy Sullivan 9:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NOTES FROM THE FLOOR....In no particular order, here are some random Convention observations:

Michael Moore groupies are still everywhere, blocking every escalator, hallway, or entrance the man approaches and moving with him, sort of like the cloud of dust that surrounds Pigpen at all times. He's "edgy" and that qualifies as cool here.

Also qualifying as cool, in an odd twist, are conservative commentators, who project a "we're just here because it's our job" air that apparently puts them above getting excited about the various political celebrities milling about. They seem to travel in packs -- it's possible that Bill Kristol, David Brooks, and Fred Barnes have formed a gang -- although Jonah Goldberg was all on his defenseless lonesome next to me in line for food in the media tent (which, I feel obligated to point out, is significantly smaller than the media convention center we enjoyed in LA four years ago.)

I spotted Gray Davis wandering around the third floor of the Fleet Center this evening without any noticeable entourage and without being stopped by gawkers. Oh cruel, cruel world of fickle political celebrity.

Amy Sullivan 2:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTING PROBLEMS IN FLORIDA....I know this is about the last thing anyone wants to hear, but apparently Florida had some voting machine problems in the 2002 election:

Almost all the electronic records from the first widespread use of touch-screen voting in Miami-Dade County have been lost, stoking concerns that the machines are unreliable as the presidential election draws near.

The records disappeared after two computer system crashes last year, county elections officials said, leaving no audit trail for the 2002 gubernatorial primary. A citizen's group uncovered the loss this month after requesting all audit data from that election.

Hoo boy.

UPDATE: Hey, they found the votes after all! They were on a computer disk in a folder among "books and bookcases and old reports" in a conference room. Whew.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA....Hey, that Obama guy is pretty good! The actual content of his speech was pretty close to zero, but that's fine for a convention keynote. He had lots of good lines, great delivery, and worked the crowd well.

Biggest applause line (as near as I could tell): "If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties."

At least, I think that was the line that got the biggest applause. But I'm not sure if C-SPAN switches the mikes to pick up crowd noise at certain points, or if the noise coming out of my TV set is really a consistent indicator of what it sounds like on the floor. Does anyone happen to know?

UPDATE: A bunch of people in the comment thread didn't get this, so let me just clear something up: by "content" all I meant was policy content. And like I said, that's fine in a speech like this.

And while a single good speech may not automatically make someone a star, this was a pretty damn good speech, tugging all the right heartstrings and getting deep into the core values that liberals hold dear. At this point, political superstardom is his to lose.

UPDATE 2: OK, OK, I give in. It was the best Democratic speech since FDR's first inaugural address. Can we stop the pummelling now? Pretty please?

In return, for your pummelling pleasure, here is Roger Clegg's galactically condescending review of Obama's speech in The Corner:

Barack Obama gave a fine speech, but it was not a speech that reflects the current Democratic Party. It celebrated America as "a magical place"; it did not bemoan our racism and imperialism. It professed that this black man "owe[d] a debt to those who came before" him; it did not call for reparations. It spoke of an "awesome God"; it did not banish Him from public discourse. It admitted that black parents, and black culture, need to change the way black children are raised; it did not blame or even mention racism. It quoted "E pluribus unum" and translated it correctly as "Out of many, one"; it did not misquote it, as Al Gore infamously did, as "Many out of one." Most of all, the speech celebrated one America, "one people," and rejected the notion of a black America, a white America, a Latino America, and an Asian America--a notion completely foreign to the multiculturalism that now dominates the Democratic Party.

Boy, Clegg is a real hack, isn't he? So, um, maybe we can all start picking on him instead? Yeah, that's the ticket....

Kevin Drum 10:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN....This is bizarre. Joe Trippi can't get a credential to get into the convention? How many Democratic presidential campaigns has this guy managed? Five? Six? And the DNC won't give him a damn badge?

Kevin Drum 9:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOWING THE LOVE....I don't know what he's going to say yet, but Howard Dean sure has gotten the loudest welcome that I've seen so far. Louder than Carter, louder than Kennedy, louder than Clinton....

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

PREACHER IN CHIEF....Faith and values have become buzzwords of the Kerry-Edwards campaign as of late, but until about 10pm on Monday night, you didn't hear a peep about them. Not from Gore -- whose lone foray into religion-speak in 2000 was to comment somewhat stiffly that he often asks himself, "What Would Jesus Do?" Not from the myriad of small-potato speakers. And, surprisingly, not from Jimmy Carter, who has committed much of his post-presidency attention to faith-based initiatives like Habitat for Humanity.

And then Rev. David Alston, Baptist minister and former crewmate of John Kerry, took the stage. In the middle of a moving testimonial about Kerry's wartime service, Alston stepped it up a notch, referring to the Senator as a man "who has always had the courage to speak truth to power," quoting from my favorite Psalm (27 -- "Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear"), and declaring that "Almighty God gave us a brave and decisive leader named John Kerry." With every religious reference, the crowd roared a little more.

Sure, you say, but black preachers are adept at energizing audiences -- why is this anything special? I'm not sure if I can articulate it, but there was a shift in the type of energy in the room when Alston hit those key notes, the emotion seemed to swell in a way that it did not throughout the rest of his remarks. I note this not by way of arguing that all Democrats should start praising the Almighty in their speeches but to point out that what is often characterized as a mostly secular crowd -- Democratic delegates -- was not only open to a bit of religion-speak but seemed to respond positively to it.

Hillary Clinton -- who has been working behind-the-scenes in the Senate for the past year to convince her colleagues to "take back" the concepts of religion and values and morality from Republicans -- gave a fairly dry speech that failed to touch on any of those issues. Her only ad lib of the night, however, was to praise the "witnessing" of Rev. Alston.

The star of the night, Bill Clinton, proved once again that he can match the Republican strategy of using religious code words and phrases to reach out to moderate people of faith and then do them one better by using the tactic not to pander to those same listeners, but instead to challenge them to reflect on which set of political ideals best matches their religious principles.

Early in his speech, Clinton made a broad generalization -- "all Americans honor freedom and faith and family" -- that's not entirely true (some 10 to 15 percent of Americans describe themselves as not religious), but that set the tone for his speech, which was really an appeal to those voters in the middle. You're not a bad person if you supported Bush before, he told them. We're not splitting the country into good voters and bad voters. It's not that Democrats love the poor and Republicans hate them. It's a question of how best to go about helping the poor, how best to go about being a good global neighbor, how best to act as stewards for the environment. He made very clear what some would prefer to gloss over for simplicity's sake: This election does not boil down to a choice between a party of values and a party of none. It is a choice about which values voters align themselves with.

What were the religious code words and phrases that framed Clinton speech? There were three separate ideas:

"Send Me" Clinton began with this passage -- "During the Vietnam War, many young men--including the current president, the vice president, and me--could have gone to Vietnam but didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it, too. Instead, he said, 'send me.'" He continued on, outlining Kerry's lifetime of public service by noting that everytime his country has asked something of him, John Kerry has replied, "Send me." It was a nice little phrase for the audience to yell back at Clinton, but it comes from the prophet Isaiah (6:8) -- "Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Using the Talents In a short section promoting John Edwards, Clinton described the vice presidential nominee as a man "who has used his talents to improve the lives of people." That's a reference to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) and a subtle dig at Bush, a man who has been given much and of whom nothing much has been expected. In the parable, the servant who uses his talents is praised by God ("Well done, my good and faithful servant"), but the one who hides his talents away for himself is shamed.

A Time to Choose This last was Clinton's most subtle use of religious rhetoric, echoing Ecclesiastes 3, which begins "There is a time for everything" and then lists choices in pairs. For the most part, the poet begins with more destructive choices -- "a time to tear" or "a time for war" -- and ends with hopeful ones -- "a time to mend" or "a time for peace". There is time to disagree, Clinton said, and we've tried it your way, but now it's time to come together.

Amy Sullivan 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

FORMER MAYORS-TURNED TV HOSTS AND THE EX-PRESIDENTS THEY LOVE....Although I didn't see television coverage of the speeches last night, I have no doubt that during the inevitable vamping that takes place, the cameras focused in on Jerry Springer working the floor and commentators reminded the home viewers that Springer used to have quite a political career in local Ohio politics. I wasn't surprised to see Springer embraced in bear hugs by various Ohio delegates. But I did smile when I caught sight of him rummaging around in the middle of Clinton's speech for a free "America's Future" sign and then jumping up to wave it enthusiastically during each of the applause lines.

If you find yourself drifting away during this week's gavel-to-gavel coverage and want to learn about how Springer went from being a rising political star whose skills were compared to the Kennedys to a trashy daytime talk show host, you can always listen to this fascinating "This American Life" segment on his career.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned this earlier, but I was writing at 3 in the morning so was perhaps a bit fuzzy-headed. I didn't watch televised coverage of the speeches because I was in the Fleet Center, sitting in the press gallery next to the podium, totally mesmerized by the spectacle (in a hard-nosed journalist kind of way, of course). So I'm depending on others to give the "here's what the media people were saying" take on the Convention since I'll be reporting courtside.

Amy Sullivan 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NUCLEAR IRAN....Iran's game of nuclear chicken continues apace:

Iran has broken the seals on nuclear equipment monitored by United Nations inspectors and is once again building and testing machines that could make fissile material for nuclear weapons.

....Angered by the IAEA's condemnation last month of repeated failures to reveal all about its nuclear programme, Hassan Rowhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, wrote to the EU-3 saying his country would resume manufacture, assembly and testing of centrifuges.

Hmmm. I wonder if we're going to see a repeat of the Osirak raid anytime soon?

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LABOR CONFUSION....I'm confused. Nathan Newman, who I certainly trust to give me the labor side on labor issues, headlines a post today "Labor Triumphant" and says:

The power of organized labor is highlighted most by how little they've needed to talk about it, but how much of their agenda has been almost automatically included in the Democratic Party's platform.

He links to a Harold Meyerson article that practically glows about Democratic support for key labor issues this year, including nearly unanimous House support for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that allows unions to organize a workplace based on "card checks." This is a longtime labor goal that certifies unions if a majority of workers sign authorization cards, rather than requiring a lengthy election process in which employers can (and do) bring to bear a steady stream of intimidation, harassment and retaliation against workers and organizers.

What's more, as Robert Novak noted a couple of days ago, both Kerry and Edwards have also come out in support of card checks instead of elections. This is an issue that's of prime importance to, say, a service union that's trying to organize a ruthlessly hostile employer like Wal-Mart.

So why then is Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union, telling reporters that, all things considered, maybe it would be better for labor if George Bush got elected?

Breaking sharply with the enforced harmony of the Democratic National Convention, the president of the largest AFL-CIO union said Monday that both organized labor and the Democratic Party might be better off in the long run if Sen. John F. Kerry loses the election.

....Speaking of the effort to create new political and union organizations, Stern said, "I don't know if it would survive with a Democratic president," because Kerry, like former president Bill Clinton, would use the party for his own political benefit and labor leaders would become partners of the new establishment.

"It is a hollow party," Stern said, adding that "if John Kerry becomes president, it hurts" chances of reforming the Democrats and organized labor.

What's the deal? Is Kerry-Edwards the best ticket for labor in a generation, or would their election prove fatal to union goals? And if Stern really feels the way he says he does, why did he write on his blog a couple of weeks ago, "I am excited! Go Kerry-Edwards!" after a virtual paean to Kerry's choice of John Edwards as his vice president?

I'm confused.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY....Hillary is getting a pretty tepid response to her speech last night. There was nothing really wrong with it, the general reaction goes, but it was hardly a tub thumper. Why does everyone think she's such a crowd pleaser?

For what it's worth, my take on Hillary is that she's really quite good one-on-one. When she's on Larry King or Meet the Press or whatnot, I think she comes across pretty well: very human, more responsive than a lot of politicians, knowledgable, not condescending, and basically likeable if you don't already loathe her. Plus, of course, she's Hillary!!!

But yeah, as a public speaker she's fairly average. And of course it didn't help last night that her speech came right before her husband's, who is probably the best political speaker in the entire country. Tough break, that.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

AMERICA'S PAST AND FUTURE....It has surely not escaped the attention of every other political commentator that while the signs held by delegates inside the Fleet Center this evening read "America's Future," the stars on display are very much associated with America's Recent Past. Al Gore took the stage to what can only be described as a warm reception -- no other modern politician has quite gone through what he experienced over the last four years and everyone seemed aware that his return to the Convention must have involved a bittersweet sense of deja vu. You could almost hear him thinking, "This all seems so familiar...but those signs don't have my name on them."

And indeed, although the crowd responded to his first big applause line by wildly waving the "Kerry-Edwards" signs that had been distributed throughout the day, by the time Gore swung into the meat of his speech, the delegates put down their placards and offered sign-free standing ovations.

While Gore didn't use what I like to think of as his Monster Truck Voice that really works the crowd, he presented a compelling and, well, mature case for the Democrats. A number of writers (particularly at those other political magazines that seem to have twenty-two people providing 'round-the-clock convention blogging) have complained that the Democrats are going too far out of their way to avoid attacking Bush. I simply don't agree that civility has weakened the Democrats' case at all. Plus, it's worth remembering that while convention-goers may be rabid partisans, the folks at home tend to be in the middle. And even though their opposition to Bush's policies and politics continues to grow, they like the guy personally. Attacking the man won't necessarily have the desired effect with voters who think he's generally a good guy who just shouldn't be president.

As for the Clintons, if you were in the Fleet Center and heard "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" blasting and watched Clinton take command of the stage and didn't get a little geeked up...then you probably didn't vote for him. Love him or hate him, the man is a rock star. As I rode home tonight, the cabdriver asked me, "Why do you Americans have this rule about not electing a president more than twice? If the people would vote for him, why not let him run? I'd be the first one in line!" He liked Kerry, he told me, but thought Clinton was just on a whole different level. Similarly, the woman from Southie who cut my hair this afternoon said she'd only recently warmed to Kerry after listening to him instead of the Bush/Cheney commercials about him. But she loved Clinton.

Will Clinton overshadow Kerry? Who cares? He has a way of talking about Democratic principles that reminds people why they're proud to be Democrats. You can't buy that kind of campaign magic. Kerry will never be Clinton, it's true, but neither will any other Democrat. The former president is much more likely to be an asset on the campaign trail than a liability in the polling booth.

I'll comment later on Clinton's use of religious code throughout his speech, as well as the fairly electric effect of Rev. Alston's remarks. For now, this correspondent needs to nab a few hours of sleep before heading back out.

Amy Sullivan 3:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

UNINTENTIONAL HUMOR....On the schedule listing the speaker line-up for this evening, the entry for "Terry McAuliffe" was followed by the listing "Gavel to Order" before the entry for "Bill Richardson." It turns out that the gaveling is part of Richardson's official duties as the chair of the Convention. But it amused this correspondent to think that perhaps the Convention planners had assumed that McAuliffe's speech would whip the crowd into such an excited frenzy that they would have to be brought back to order. Although Terry did receive a somewhat-undeserved warm reception, his too-long remarks were followed by tepid applause. No actual gaveling necessary.

Amy Sullivan 3:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NOW THAT WAS BRIGHT....With all of the headlines and commotion about strict security at this year's political conventions you would think that someone would have thought twice about the decision to place boxes of Gillette razors in each of the welcome bags handed out with credentials to delegates and press types in Boston. Boston-based Gillette reportedly spent over a million dollars on the product placement, only to have: a) their products unused as all of the razors were confiscated when convention-goers attempted to pass through security; and b) their name taken in vain repeatedly because the already-long security lines became even more backed-up due to the razor snafu. Might we suggest substituting a nice moisturizer instead next time?

Amy Sullivan 3:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CONVENTION — NIGHT 1....So, um, I guess I should do some convention blogging. Let's see....

I missed Carter and Gore, but I read Carter's speech and watched Gore on streaming video. Gore was good — "But you know the old saying: you win some, you lose some. And then there's that little-known third category" — and was the first speaker to really get everyone cheering.

And Clinton — what can you say about Clinton? He knows how to make the wonky interesting, he knows how to personalize stuff, and he knows how to make my wife laugh. And he kept his speech to under half an hour! If the Kerry team doesn't work the hell out of him during the campaign they're idiots.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking about TV coverage of the conventions. I've long thought that there was no point to network coverage anymore since they're nothing but long commercials for the candidates these days. But lately I've been feeling swayed by the argument that that's the whole point: they are long commercials for the candidates, and once every four years the networks ought to suck it up and let the candidates make their pitch to us raw and unedited.

Maybe so. On the other hand, of course, anyone who wants to see the whole thing raw and unedited can always tune in to C-SPAN and watch to their heart's content.

On the third hand, not everyone gets C-SPAN. And network coverage is different: for a lot of people it defines what's really news and what isn't.

So I guess I'm not sure anymore. But I'll say one thing: I'll bet ratings for the convention coverage will be higher than expected this year. In 2000 the talking heads all talked about how crucial the election was, but no one believed them. Gore vs. Bush in an era with no truly defining differences didn't seem like such a big deal. This year, though, everyone believes. And I'll bet a lot of them are watching.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is practically a one-man cheering squad for the first night of the convention. Weird. He sounds like a guy who very desperately wants to believe in Kerry.

Kevin Drum 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ATRIOS GOES PUBLIC....Jeralyn at TalkLeft has a picture of the no-longer-reclusive Atrios at her site....

UPDATE: Here's another view at Radio Free Blogistan, along with a few other bloggers.

And if you want to read one of his scholarly papers, here it is.

Kevin Drum 9:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GETTING THEIR ACT TOGETHER....From Atrios, blogging from the convention:

...the DNC has a serious problem here — the media facilities for most members of the media, and I don't just meen the Sheboygan Weekly Reader, I mean the New York Times, really really really really suck. There are a shortage of power outlets. A shortage of ethernet connections. Print/radio media have to trade off small numbers of floor passes between them. Air America is stuck in the radio ghetto, instead of having one of the few cushy real radio booths.

As a friend in radio just told me, (quoting roughly), "We spent weeks trying to get a table here. Two weeks ago someone from the RNC sent us an email to set everything up, asked us for list of desired guests so they could schedule them for us, etc..."

What is the deal with this? We hear variations on this observation every four years, and it just boggles the mind. Various bloggers, for example, are reporting that the wireless internet access in the convention hall is pretty sucky too.

I know, I know, I don't belong to an organized political party, I'm a Democrat, yada, yada, yada. But seriously, is there really still such a big gap in basic organizational chops between the parties? Why?

Kevin Drum 8:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW DEMOCRATS....A bunch of people have emailed me to recommend yesterday's Matt Bai article in the New York Times magazine about the rise of independent liberal groups that operate outside of the traditional apparatus of the Democratic party. The centerpiece of Bai's narrative is a PowerPoint presentation put together by Rob Stein, a former aide to Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, that's apparently become famous in liberal fundraising circles:

The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda.

The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said.

I guess I'm a little surprised that the story of how movement conservatism and its associated money machine rose from the ashes of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign is still news to anyone, but I guess it is. And apparently Stein has put the the story together in a uniquely understandable way that makes light bulbs go off for a lot of potential activists.

But what really surprised me is that in an 8,000-word story about these people, there wasn't so much as a single sentence about what they believe in. It's all about the infrastructure and the fundraising and the message machine — but nothing about the message itself. What are they doing all this work for?

I'm not the only one wondering. Peter Beinart has a short blog post today comparing these New Democrats to the policy wonkish DLC:

NDN is riding high these days, having been featured in a cover story in this week's New York Times Magazine, and it's hosting a blizzard of events all week. Unlike the DLC, there are no policy forums--the briefings are about political strategy. If NDN has an ideology, it seems to be that ideology is secondary; that Democrats need to embrace whatever and whoever can win.

....NDN probably better represents this convention's utilitarian spirit. And there's no question that, at least in the short term, that spirit is paying political dividends. But in the long run, it's the DLC's message that the party needs to remember. Ideas have consequences, and so do their absence.

Well, yeah. But the thing is, the NDN folks say that an obsession with just the next election is precisely what they're opposed to. They think liberals need to spend more time trying to change long-term public opinion, and in this they're absolutely correct. It's the primary area in which conservatives have stomped all over liberals in the past few decades.

But what opinions do they want to change? And what do they want to change them to? Does someone have a PowerPoint presentation for that?

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE ENVIRONMENT....Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall writes today about the environment and the Bush administration:

From 1961 to 1981, every president — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter — gave his unwavering support to environmental reforms. Richard Nixon set a high goal by declaring that the 1970s should be the "environmental decade." He created the Environmental Protection Agency and approved laws to protect endangered species.

As the country moved rightward with Reagan, the rhetoric may have been negative, but in the end no effort was made to repeal important environmental laws. George H.W. Bush had a positive record, and although Bill Clinton was stymied by a hostile Congress, he used his executive powers to achieve positive results.

Overall, it's a record that bolsters my thesis that this administration is rowing against the tide of American history....Bush and company have not put forward a single positive new conservation concept. They have systematically lowered pollution regulations to please favored industries. They have allowed park and forest maintenance to be neglected and under-funded. I view these events and developments with dismay. This is a time for straight talk, for those who love the land to make their voices heard before more damage is done to the resources we all own.

Bush has the worst environmental record of any president in history. The only silver lining is that America is a big place and there's only so much damage that can be done in four years.

Assuming, of course, that four years is all he gets....

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOVE IT....Drudge is hyping a story from Channel 4 in Pittsburgh that says Teresa Heinz Kerry had a brief confrontation with a reporter Sunday evening that ended when she told him to "shove it" and walked off.

The "reporter" in question was Colin McNickle, the editorial page editor of the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. If you want to know why Mrs. Kerry might have a beef with Mr. McNickle, you can read part of the answer here: the Tribune-Review editorial page has been on a disgusting and dishonest jihad against the Heinz Endowments for nearly a year. He's lucky that a fleeting tonguelashing is all he got.

Kevin Drum 1:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION COVERAGE....Will the Washington Monthly be covering the Democratic convention? Sure! In fact, new WM editor Amy Sullivan will be in Boston this week along with other WM staffers, and if everything goes according to plan they will be guest posting here throughout the convention. My job is to "anchor" our coverage, which basically means that my butt will be anchored to my chair watching the convention on TV, just the way the blog gods intended it. As with pro football games, I suspect mine is the best seat in the house.

Here are a few miscellaneous links for convention junkies:

And here's the prime time speaking schedule, in case you want to make sure to tune in for only your favorite Democrats. Note that "prime time" appears to mean 4 pm - 11 pm Eastern time.

Monday, July 26
The Kerry-Edwards Plan for America's Future

David Alston, Vietnam Swift Boat Crewmate of John Kerry
Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Representative from Wisconsin
Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States
Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator from New York
Al Gore, Former Vice-President of the United States
Steny Hoyer, U.S. Representative from Maryland, Democratic Whip
Terry McAuliffe, Chairman of the Democratic Party
Kendrick Meek, U.S. Representative from Florida
Robert Menendez, U.S. Representative from New Jersey
Thomas Menino, Mayor of Boston
Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator from Maryland (joined by all Women Senators)
Stephanie Tubbs Jones, U.S. Representative from Ohio
Jim Turner, U.S. Representative from Texas

Tuesday, July 27
A Lifetime of Strength & Service

Tom Daschle, U.S. Senator from South Dakota, Democratic Leader
Howard Dean, Former Governor of Vermont, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Richard Durbin, U.S. Senator from Illinois
James Forbes, Senior Minister at Riverside Church, New York City
Richard Gephardt, U.S. Representative from Missouri, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Chris Heinz, Stepson of John Kerry
Teresa Heinz Kerry, Wife of John Kerry
Mike Honda, U.S. Representative from California
Ted Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
Jim Langevin, U.S. Representative from Rhode Island
Carol Moseley-Braun, Former U.S. Senator from Illinois, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Barack Obama, State Senator from Illinois, U.S. Senate Candidate
Ron Reagan, Son of former President Ronald Reagan
Christie Vilsack, First Lady of Iowa
Ilana Wexler, 13-Year-Old Founder of Kids for Kerry

Wednesday, July 28
A Stronger More Secure America

Steve Brozak, Ret. Lt. Col., USMC, Candidate for U.S. Representative from New Jersey
Elijah Cummings, U.S. Representative from Maryland
Cate Edwards, Daughter of John Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards, Wife of John Edwards
John Edwards, Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee
Bob Graham, U.S. Senator from Florida, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan
Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Representative from Ohio, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Greg Meeks, U.S. Representative from New York
Martin O’Malley, Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland
Harry Reid, U.S. Senator from Nevada
Ed Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania
Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico
Al Sharpton, 2004 Presidential Candidate

Thursday, July 29
Stronger at Home, Respected in the World

Madeline Albright, Former Secretary of State
Joe Biden, U.S. Senator from Delaware
Wesley Clark, Four Star General, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Max Cleland, Former U.S. Senator from Georgia
James Clyburn, U.S. Representative from South Carolina
Alexandra Kerry, Daughter of John Kerry
John Kerry, 2004 Democratic Presidential Nominee
Vanessa Kerry, Daughter of John Kerry
Joe Lieberman, U.S. Senator from Connecticut, 2004 Presidential Candidate
Ed Markey, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts
Juanita Millender-McDonald, U.S. Representative from California
Eleanor Holmes Norton, U.S. Representative from the District of Columbia
Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Representative from California, Democratic Leader
Jim Rassman, Green Beret rescued by John Kerry in Vietnam
Louise Slaughter, U.S. Representative from New York (joined by Congressional Women)
John Sweeney, President of AFL-CIO
Mark Warner, Governor of Virginia

Kevin Drum 12:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 25, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

LIVE FROM BOSTON....While Kevin anchors our "as seen on tv" coverage of the Democratic National Convention, I'm the on-site blogger who will bring you the sights, sounds, and smells of events in and around the Fleet Center. It's my first official duty as an incoming editor at The Monthly and I can't complain, as my direct instructions were: "Go to lots of parties and write about them." Consider it done.

A few opening observations before the festivities really get started tomorrow. I arrived in Boston via a brief weekend trip to Maine and along the drive south down I-95, I passed an overpass where at least ten Kerry-Edwards supporters waved campaign signs and displayed a huge "John Kerry for President" banner to greet southbound traffic. I've spent my fair share of time on similar activities on Election morning or in the lead-up to key primary dates, but I can't say I've ever seen such enthusiasm three months before an election.

Here in Boston, convention-goers are all obsessed with one thing: Getting into parties. And not just any parties — there are plenty of wanna-be bashes to attend for the undiscerning — but the choicest events. One problem for would-be party-goers is that what qualifies as the "It" gathering of the evening changes from moment to moment, making it very hard to keep up. Case in point: Just a few nights ago, everyone was buzzing about a reception for the Clintons this evening. But then people got to talking about the Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway tonight and within a few hours, the tide had shifted and it became The Event, even though it is not in any way affiliated with Convention activities.

If this sounds a bit like high school to you, you're not far off.

Personally, I'm waiting to jump in with both feet tomorrow, starting with an 11 a.m. appearance on NPR's "The Connection," on which we'll be discussing the presence of bloggers at the Convention and how their coverage might differ from that of the other 14,985 media types wandering around.

Stay tuned.

Amy Sullivan 9:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

URANIUM FROM AFRICA, PART 2....Yesterday, writing about the period just before and after the war last year, I speculated that Joe Wilson might have decided to write his famous July 6 New York Times op-ed only after seeing (or hearing about) an internal CIA memorandum dated June 17 that conclusively debunked the uranium from Africa story. The full post is here.

Today, Wilson emails to say, "I never knew about the June 17 document you cite in the blog....I did not know about it then and only your blog brought it to my attention."

So that's that.

Kevin Drum 7:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOME LINKS....I don't usually do linkfests, but here are a couple of interesting links anyway:

  • A long Guardian story about ASBOs — Anti-Social Behaviour Orders — legal injunctions used in Britain against minors accused of anti-social behavior. In January, for example, a 14-year-old boy was banned from saying the word "grass" anywhere in England or Wales until 2010. Read both Part 1 and Part 2.

  • Rivka writes about abortion and birth defects.

These aren't related in any way, and I don't have any particular comment on them. They're just interesting reading.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S THE ANIMAL?....A British animal rights activist has called for the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research:

I don't think you'd have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.

Charming as always, those animal rights folks....

Kevin Drum 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL JOHN KERRY....Here's the final paragraph of Tom Oliphant's highly personal profile of John Kerry in the American Prospect:

John Kerry is a good, tough man. He is curious, grounded after a public and personal life that has not always been pleasant, a fan of ideas whose practical side has usually kept him from policy wonkery, a natural progressive with the added fixation on what works that made FDR and JFK so interesting. I know it is chic to be disdainful, but the modern Democratic neurosis gets in the way of a solid case for affection. Without embarrassment, and after a very long journey, I really like this guy. As one of his top campaign officials, himself a convert since the primaries ended, told me recently, this is pure Merle Haggard. It’s not love, but it’s not bad.

This is a genuinely interesting article from a guy who's known Kerry for more than 30 years, but he's right: there's no real love there. In fact, here's another version of his piece:

....slow climb up the public-service ladder....could be a successful, even excellent, president....well-prepared....likely to be a tough grind....contemplative, serious person....iron butt for grunt work....patience and tough negotiating that are Kerry attributes....sober yet imaginative person....quiet leadership....pretty good, ambitious local prosecutor....true expert....passionate and authoritative advocate....leading spokesman....worked like a dog....always listened to criticism....listened and responded....difficult path to success....careful vetting....vintage Kerry: part traditional....part new thinking....worker as well as a thinker....not by instinct a visionary....grubby, central task of coalition building.

Compare that to this take on the Bush administration from John Lewis Gaddis, who's basically sympathetic to their worldview:

They violated a really fundamental principle. It's the dog-and-car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about and chasing cars. But they don't know what to do with a car when they actually catch one. It seems to me this, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the Bush administration in Iraq.

Yep. After four years of almost breathtaking unwillingness to face up to the hard work of how to really deal with 9/11, an "iron butt for grunt work" strikes me as a welcome change. The question is, will the American public agree? Will they interpret this kind of traditional work ethic as more Thomas Edison or more Jimmy Carter?

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING MILESTONE....The LA Times opinion section uses almost all its back page today for a piece about bloggers going to the Democratic convention. It's a fun little quiz of ten blogs to see if you can identify which ones were credentialed vs. those that were credentialed but later had their credentials revoked. (The link is here, although the online version doesn't do justice to the print version, which included nice little graphics for each blog.)

Anyway, the only reason I'm pointing it out is that I think it's a milestone: a story related to blogging that's not about the phenomenon of blogging itself and just assumes you know what a blog is. This might be the first time I've seen anything like that in the mainstream press.

For the record, the featured blogs are:

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLITICS AND PSYCHOLOGY....This is what happens when social science meets politics. A team of psychology researchers asked subjects to rate George Bush and John Kerry after being asked questions about death and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

Subjects asked about death had more confidence in Bush and admiration for him, while those questioned about intense pain rated Kerry more highly in those categories

....[Jamie] Arndt concluded that images from Sept. 11 could gin up support, even subconsciously, for Bush and the government's anti-terrorism policies.

"He may benefit from keeping it in people's minds," Arndt said in a statement.

So let me get this straight: Bush would probably do well to keep reminding people of 9/11? Hmmm. That's....very....interesting.

I wonder if anyone's told him?

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PERSONAL HYDRATION....Let's turn to medical matters, shall we?

I've long been flabbergasted by the volume of liquid that most people drink. "Drink eight glasses a day!" our doctors recommend, for no apparent reason (I've asked) — and we do. In fact, judging by the Bunyanesque size of fast food cups these days, most people consider eight glasses to be a lower limit.

And me? I could probably make it from morning through dinnertime on one glass of water and barely notice that I was thirsty. A couple of months ago I tried drinking a glass of water every hour (for reasons I won't go into) and almost exploded. I was peeing every 30 minutes.

So, since the eight-glasses-a-day rule seems to exist for no particular reason (I've checked), I pay no attention to it. I drink when I'm thirsty, and if my urine is a nice healthy color I figure I'm doing fine.

And today I got happy news. My friend Dr. Marc (PhD, that is, not MD) sent me word that the Institute of Medicine has undertaken some vast new research on this issue and confirmed my belief: most people "meet their daily hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide." Hallelujah!

But wait — there's more. It turns out that they also set some "general recommendations" for water consumption, and long story short, the midpoint of those recommendations for men is.....

100 ounces per day. That's over 12 cups per day. 50% more than the old-wives-tale version from our childhood.

What to think? I must be at about the 99th percentile of water requirements. Judging by these recommendations, I'm a human camel or something.

Kind of a drag, though. I finally find something I'm at the 99th percentile of, and it turns out to be personal hydration needs. That's just great. I'm sure there's loads of money in that....

FURTHER FUN FACT: In case you're interested, the Consumer Reports summary of the IOM study that Dr. Marc sent me says this about the old eight-glasses-a-day advice:

The origin of the eight-glasses-a-day rule is most likely government guidelines from the 1940s that recommended "1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food," or roughly 64 to 80 ounces per day. However, "water" referred to the total fluid intake from all beverages and food.

We get about 20% of our fluid from the food we eat, so this means that the actual recommendation was for about 6-8 cups a day.

Isn't that typical? The whole eight-glasses-a-day thing came from some prehistoric government study based on God-knows-what that's been handed down through the generations like the Dead Sea scrolls, and even at that everyone misunderstood it in the first place. It's practically a microcosm of all of human history, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 8:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IDEOLOGY....David Brooks is getting some attention for his latest column, in which he agrees with the 9/11 commission that we're not engaged in a war on terror. Rather, "we are in the midst of an ideological conflict":

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be military. The rest will be ideological.

Question 1: is there anyone who disagrees with the idea that this is primarily an ideological conflict? It seems to me that both left and right pretty much already agree on this, although there's hardly 100% agreement on exactly what ideology we're fighting.

Question 2: do the hawks agree with the notion that only a very small part of our future efforts will be military? And if so, what exactly do they think is the primary difference between George Bush and John Kerry on national security?

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

9/11 RECOMMENDATIONS....You know, it strikes me that the 9/11 report puts John Kerry in a tight spot: should he push to have its recommendation adopted quickly or not?

Let's assume he mostly agrees with them. In that case, pushing to have them adopted is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do, since it gets Kerry out in front on this issue and puts pressure on Bush to get in line.

On the other hand, if I thought I was going to be elected president in three months, I'd want to be the one who crafted all this legislation. And presidential nominee or not, the junior senator from Massachusetts in the minority party just won't have that much say over how the legislation is put together.

Decisions, decisions. In any case, the more I think about it the more I wonder whether this intelligence czar idea is the right way to go anyway. The problem is that in addition to budget authority, the commission also envisioned him as having hiring and firing authority over the intelligence chiefs at the Pentagon and the FBI, both of whom would presumably also report up through their normal chain of command since the commission doesn't envision their entire agencies being moved (the way various agencies were moved when the Homeland Security department was created, for example). In other words, matrix management.

This isn't automatically a bad idea, mind you, but it is a tricky one. I'd want to be very sure of myself before I decided that a matrix reporting structure was the best possible answer to our intelligence woes.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FLIPPING AND FLOPPING....Maura Reynolds writes in the LA Times today about the 9/11 report and George Bush's flip-floppy ways:

He resisted a congressional push to establish a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. He resisted calls to come down on corporate malfeasance. He even resisted forming the Sept. 11 commission, and, once its work was underway, White House staff dragged their feet on providing documents and approving testimony by presidential advisors.

...."What Bush would like to do is say nice things about how constructive this report is and hope that it goes away," said Norman Ornstein, an observer of relations between the White House and Congress affiliated with the predominantly conservative American Enterprise Institute.

If it doesn't go away, the president's usual pattern is to quietly shift course, claiming the idea as his own and proceeding as if he hadn't resisted it in the first place. Aides insist that the president hasn't flip-flopped and that his policy has been consistent throughout.

In the past, that reversal has taken weeks and months. It wasn't until February, nearly a year after the Iraq war had begun, that Bush agreed to let an independent commission examine the intelligence failures that led to false claims about Iraq's weapons programs.

Glad to see someone's paying attention, since this is indeed Bush's standard MO. But there's a sad note too: the 9/11 report is likely to "cast a pall" over Bush's vacation plans. His usual month in Crawford has already been cut down to six days, and to add insult to injury, he's now feeling pressure to use his time at the ranch to read the report. Maybe he should enter himself in Keith Berry's "How Many Pages of the Report Will the President Read?" contest?

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By: Kevin Drum

URANIUM FROM AFRICA....Here's an interesting piece of speculation about the Senate Intelligence report that I've forgotten to blog about until now. It's about Joe Wilson and the unfolding of the African uranium story in 2003.

Here's the question: the first time that Wilson directly charged that the African uranium story was false — and that George Bush had known it when he delivered his State of the Union address — was in anonymous comments to Nick Kristof published on May 6. Why did he wait until then? And why did he wait until July 6 to talk openly about it (in an op-ed in the New York Times)?

After all, Bush had delivered the speech in January and Wilson had taken his trip to Niger the previous year. Why not go public right after the speech? Or why not in early March, when the forged Niger documents became public? In other words, why not go public with his concerns before the war instead of after?

Here's a frankly speculative guess: it was because he didn't know until May that the CIA had concluded that the African uranium story was false. He knew that his own trip had produced no evidence, and he also knew there were other negative pieces of reporting, especially at the State Department, but he didn't know for sure what other evidence the CIA had. So he wasn't completely certain that the Africa uranium story had been conclusively debunked.

But according to the Senate report, the CIA issued an internal memorandum on June 17 that said:

....since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.

(This is the final paragraph of the Niger section of the Senate report. It's at the bottom of page 71.)

This CIA memorandum is a key document (and one that's never been publicly released). After taking into account all the bits and pieces of data floating around, the CIA's final judgment was that there was no good evidence that Iraq had sought uranium "from abroad" — not from Niger and more generally not from Africa either. And since Wilson's wife worked in the WMD section of the CIA, it's possible that she saw a draft of this memo in May and mentioned its conclusion to Wilson — or perhaps some other inside source did. This in turn might have convinced him that it was safe to flatly tell Kristof that the uranium story was bogus.

Then, when the final draft of the memo was issued on June 17, that might have convinced him that it was safe to make his allegations publicly under his own name. Three weeks later he did so in the New York Times. And if he was indeed aware of the CIA memo, he made his allegations knowing full well that the CIA director would have no choice — based on his own agency's findings — but to admit that the African uranium story was false. This is exactly what happened three days later.

This is just guesswork, of course, but it might explain why Wilson was so vehement about the African uranium story being flatly wrong even though he himself had been involved only in a single trip to Niger and wasn't personally aware of what other reporting the CIA had at its disposal. It might also explain the timing of why he went public when he did. (For the record: he says in The Politics of Truth that he made the decision to write the NYT op-ed on June 22, when things started "spinning out of control" after a story in the Independent made it clear that his identity would soon become public.)

Like I said, this is all speculation — although it does seem to explain some things. Take it for what it's worth.

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PREPARING FOR THE WORST?....Swopa notes that the Washington Times has a piece today about the Plame investigation. It's written by Bill Gertz, a national security reporter with pretty reliable links to the Bush administration, and peddles the suggestion that outing Plame's name was no big deal because her identity had already been exposed before:

Mrs. Plame's identity as an undercover CIA officer was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. [Note: this was reported last year by Nick Kristof. The CIA has suspected for a long time that Aldrich Ames gave Plame's name to the Russians sometime before 1994.]

In a second compromise, officials said a more recent inadvertent disclosure resulted in references to Mrs. Plame in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana.

Gertz's source suggests that outing an undercover agent is a crime only if the CIA was seriously trying to protect her cover, and these disclosures show that the CIA wasn't taking the whole thing seriously in the first place.

Since this story appeared out of nowhere and has no obvious hook, Swopa theorizes that it's a sign that indictments are coming down the pike soon and the administration is trying to "prepare the media battlefield" in advance. After all, why else would someone call Gertz out of the blue to explain why outing an agent isn't really outing an agent? If the prosecutor was planning to close up shop and announce that he hadn't been able to collect enough evidence for indictments you'd probably just leave well enough alone.

Sounds plausible to me, so I thought I'd pass it along. Based on previous scuttlebutt, it sounds like we'll know for sure within a couple of weeks or so.

UPDATE: In comments, fellow Plame enthusiast Tom Maguire suggests that maybe this leak actually came from the prosecutor as a way of laying the groundwork for a forthcoming announcement that no indictments will be forthcoming. Could be, except that (a) Gertz is a national security reporter and it's more likely his source is in the Bush administration, (b) the prosecutor's team has been remarkably leak free so far, and (c) why would the prosecutor need to lay any groundwork anyway? He's not running for office or anything, so he's more likely to just announce his decision whenever he announces it.

On the other hand, I confess that it's a little hard to see how this really lays any groundwork anyway. I mean, if the prosecutor ends up announcing that, say, Karl Rove leaked Plame's name but that he's decided it's not technically a violation and Karl will therefore be avoiding Martha Stewart's fate, what's the difference? It's still a big scandal and he'd still have to resign, right?

In other words, it's all a little murky. But we'll find out what's going on soon enough.

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SLATE FOR SALE....The Washington Post reports today that the Washington Post may be interested in buying Slate from Microsoft.

That would be too bad, I think. The Post would bring enormous resources to the table, of course, and might even produce something that's objectively better than what Slate is now. But is more media consolidation really what we need right now?

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BUSH RECORDS UPDATE....Two weeks ago the White House announced that George Bush's National Guard payroll records from the third quarter of 1972 could not be found because of the "inadvertent destruction" of certain rolls of microfilm.

Today, the White House announced that their previous announcement of "inadvertant destruction" was actually an "inadvertent oversight." The records have been found after all.

That's a lot of inadvertent-ness. The result, however, is the same as always: Bush didn't show up for drills of any kind during that period. There's still no evidence one way or the other about what he was doing from May-October of 1972.

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MEANS vs. ENDS, PART 2....Jeanne d'Arc responds today to Jack O'Toole's challenge from a few days ago: "How, exactly, would a liberal Democratic administration differ from the [centrist] Clinton model with regard to its policies and initiatives?"

Jeanne writes that the most popular response in her comment section was "universal healthcare," but concedes that this is an ironic choice since Clinton tried awfully hard to implement a more modest healthcare plan and couldn't even get that passed. Then she switches gears and proposes a different defense of full-throated liberalism:

Rhetoric is important. What leaders choose to call attention to is important. What they ask us to see is important.

....That may be one of my biggest gripes about centrist Democrats. They act as if amelioration -- both economic and social -- is embarrassing and has to be handled under cover. Let's not talk about poverty. Let's pretend racism is now confined to the kind of white trash that dragged James Byrd to his death, but that drug wars and disenfranchising African-American voters have nothing to do with it. Let's not talk about gay rights because it makes some voters squirm. (Could all you gay people just try to blend it and shut up, so no one notices you're here?) Just trust us that we'll do whatever is politically feasible to make things better, but let's keep it quiet so we don't offend anyone.

This is cheating a bit, of course, since Jack asked about policy, not rhetoric. What's more, I'd suggest that Clinton was awfully good at the kind of rhetoric she's talking about.

Still, I think there's a good point here, and one that meshes neatly with the means vs. ends argument. I'd suggest that rhetoric is primarily about ends, and that inspiring rhetoric is important — but that policy, conversely, is about means, and that implies figuring out what works, not what feels good.

This is one of the things that a lot of us like about John Edwards, I think: he combines an inspirational speaking style with a moderate policy agenda focused on programs that work. It's also at the heart of my (admittedly halfhearted) defense of Barbara Ehrenreich. I figure she's not going to be in charge of policy anytime soon, and having a voice that reminds us of what liberals stand for is worth having even if I don't always agree with her.

Like Jack, then, I'd defend centrist policymaking as the best way to actually accomplish our goals. But like Jeanne, I think we liberals could also do with a bit more no-holds-barred rhetoric — it's rhetoric that molds public opinion, after all, and in the end it's public opinion that allows you to get things done in a democracy.

FDR was the premier liberal of the 20th century, and he was both an inspiring speaker and a policy pragmatist. (And a sneaky son of a bitch who wasn't afraid to make his opponents mad, too.) We won't see his like again in the near future, but that doesn't mean we can't try to emulate him. Liberals have been outgunned by conservatives in the arena of public opinion over the past couple of decades, and some good old fashioned speechifying might be the best way to turn that around.

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TRADITION....A year ago I noted the odd tradition that since 1949 every Treasurer of the United States has been a woman. What's more, most of the recent ones have been Hispanic women.

I have no clue why this is so, but today President Bush carried on that tradition in this announcement:

The President intends to nominate Anna Escobedo Cabral, of Virginia, to be Treasurer of the United States. Ms. Cabral currently serves as Director of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives. She previously served as President and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Earlier in her career, she worked on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary as Deputy Staff Director. Ms. Cabral earned her bachelor's degree from University of California, Davis and her master's degree from Harvard University.

I look forward to seeing her signature on newly minted dollar bills soon.

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SADDAM AND OSAMA....Spencer Ackerman reads the 9/11 report so you don't have to. Today's question: Did Saddam Hussein have any serious relationship with al-Qaeda?

....the options left available to those who argue for a link are few. They can successfully argue that the Commission reaffirms contacts, conversations and points of mutual interest between Iraq and Al Qaeda throughout the 1990s. (The CIA has done so all along through this debate.) What they can't successfully do is make the jump to say that those contacts, conversations and points of mutual interest had much significance.

Read the whole post (it's not very long) to see why he says that. Basically, Saddam and Osama had a few tentative contacts, the most recent of which was in 1998/99 when Osama's relationship with the Taliban was undergoing some strain and Saddam had just been bombed by U.S./British forces. But even at that, the evidence for some of those contacts turned out to be third-hand, recanted, denied by other al-Qaeda prisoners, or contradicted by known facts. The supposed meeting of Mohamed Atta with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, for example, now appears to be thoroughly debunked. It just didn't happen.

We'll never conclude that there were absolutely no contacts between Saddam and al-Qaeda, of course. This is the Middle East: everyone has connections of some kind with al-Qaeda. But Iraq seems to have had fewer contacts than virtually every other regime in the area.

Bottom line: the CIA, The Senate Intelligence Committee report, the Butler Report, and now the 9/11 report all conclude the same thing: there was no serious relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Time to move on.

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PANIC IN THE SKIES....Via Armed Liberal, local radio station KFI has yet more about the Annie Jacobsen "Terror in the Skies" story today:

Undercover federal air marshals on board a June 29 Northwest airlines flight from Detroit to LAX identified themselves after a passenger, “overreacted,” to a group of middle-eastern men on board, federal officials and sources have told KFI NEWS.

The passenger, later identified as Annie Jacobsen, was in danger of panicking other passengers and creating a larger problem on the plane, according to a source close to the secretive federal protective service.

....“The lady was overreacting,” said the source. “A flight attendant was told to tell the passenger to calm down; that there were air marshals on the plane.”

....Federal agents later verified the musicians’ story.

“We followed up with the casino,” Adams said. A supervisor verified they were playing a concert. A second federal law enforcement source said the concert itself was monitored by an agent.

“We also went to the hotel, determined they had checked into the hotel,” Adams said. Each of the men were checked through a series of databases and watch-lists with negative results, he said.

Bottom line: the Syrians were searched in Boston before they boarded the plane, the flight crew was not concerned about their behavior, air marshals were aboard and checked the lavatory after the Syrians used it, there was more concern over Jacobsen's panic than over anything the Syrians did, and their story was thoroughly checked out after the plane landed. There was no reason to kick the Syrians out the emergency exit without a parachute and no reason for the plane to land before it reached Los Angeles.

The sad part is that I'll bet none of this satisfies Jacobsen. Her memory of her panic will keep her convinced that she was right no matter what the evidence says, and there will be plenty of people out there to egg her on. As Barry Glassner says, we live in a culture of fear — and as this episode shows, law enforcement probably spends as much time fighting fear itself as it does fighting actual terrorism.

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WINGNUTS UNITE!....Article 3, Section 2 of the United States constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court:

....In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

This section of the constitution is beloved of wingnuts everywhere who dream of stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over a wide range of pet issues: abortion, Jim Crow, school prayer, you name it. Pass a law that includes an Article 3, Section 2 exemption, and bingo! The Supreme Court can't declare it unconstitutional. At any given time, there are usually at least half a dozen Article 3, Section 2 bills languishing in various committees.

Normally that's exactly where they stay, because cooler heads — even those who basically agree with the wingnuts — realize that opening this particular Pandora's Box is a very, very bad idea. After all, once you exempt one thing, where will it stop? You'd be starting a Niagara sized pissing contest.

(Plus there's no telling if the Supreme Court would recognize such an exemption anyway, since it would effectively do away with judicial review.)

Still, the wingnuts keep dreaming, and on Thursday their dream came slightly closer to reality: by a vote of 233-194 the House voted to strip all federal courts of jurisdiction over gay marriage.

Yep, they can't pass a constitutional amendment, so now they're on to the next best thing: their beloved Article 3, Section 2. Andrew Sullivan is already on it.

UPDATE: The roll call vote is here. How did your representative vote?

Kevin Drum 12:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

9/11 COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS....I would rather stick bamboo shoots under my toenails than actually read the entire 9/11 report, but I am curious about what their recommendations are. Since most of the media accounts seem to be focused instead on gathering reaction quotes from various public figures or showing videotape of security checkpoints, that means I have no choice but to go to the document itself. But at least I can confine myself to the summary.

Basically there are two sets of recommendations, organized as "What To Do" and "How To Do It." Here are the highlights.

What To Do

  • Attack the terrorists where they live: We need "realistic" strategies for dealing with terrorist sanctuaries as well as long-term commitments to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, we need to go "beyond oil" and confront our problems with Saudi Arabia.

  • Prevent the growth of terrorism: This is mostly some yammering about setting a good example, offering an agenda of opportunity, etc. etc. Also: we need more focus on WMD nonproliferation and a change in the way we track terrorist financing.

  • Protect against terrorist attacks: This is a laundry list of specific programs like biometric entry/exit programs, non-aviation security, more radio spectrum for public safety communication, and so forth. Also: quit spending money on Wyoming and focus on New York and Washington DC.

How To Do It

"Unity of Effort" is the watchword: we need more centralization of responsibility and more information sharing. In particular:

  • Counterterrorism: A unified National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) modeled on the joint unified command adopted by the military after the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the 80s.

  • Intelligence: A national intelligence director, working out of the White House with cabinet level authority, but not a member of the cabinet. Reporting to this person would be the head of the NCTC, the CIA director, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and the assistant director for intelligence at the FBI.

  • Sharing information: Less stuff should be classified, more stuff should be shared. We also need to reform our back office operations, "turning a mainframe system into a decentralized network," whatever that means.

  • Congress: Congress needs a joint committee that combines both authorization and appropriation. Overall, congressional oversight of intelligence should be much stronger.

  • Homeland defenses: This is mostly fluff: we should "regularly assess" how good a job we're doing, blah blah blah. Unlike in foreign intelligence, no major reforms are needed in domestic intelligence, which should stay with the FBI but be rejiggered a little bit.

For now, I'm just going to summarize and leave it at that. Other smarter people will likely analyze this to death in the days to come.

UPDATE: The full report is here (from the New York Times) or here (from the 9/11 Commission website).

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THE SYRIAN WAYNE NEWTON....National Review clears up the mystery of Annie Jacobsen's terrifying flight full of suspcious Syrians today: it turns they really were a band (led by Nour Mehana, "the Syrian Wayne Newton"), they were booked by James Cullen of Anthem Artists, and they played at the Sycuan Casino & Resort near San Diego. The full investigative report is here, including pictures and entertaining video clips.

So that's that, I guess, although there's still one question I'm curious about. Lurking in the background of everything I've read about this incident (sometimes mentioned, sometimes merely implied) is that TSA dropped the ball on Mahana and his band. Why weren't they searched? Why were they simply let on the plane even though they come from an official state sponsor of terrorism? What if they had been putting together pieces for a bomb?

Which would be perfectly legitimate concerns if, in fact, TSA had never searched them. But is there any actual evidence for this? I haven't seen any, and my first guess would be that anyone traveling on a Syrian passport would automatically be subjected to a special search. Does anyone know if I missed anything about this?

UPDATE: Dan Drezner emails:

I heard the MSNBC show that Jacobsen was on. The one thing gov't sources told the network was that Jacobsen was wrong about TSA. [The Syrians] were just connecting at Detroit -- they'd been searched by TSA when they boarded their initial flight (in Boston, I believe).

OK then.

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WORKING CLASS WOES — PART 3....Tax cut legislation is important. But only if it benefits the rich so blatantly that it doesn't get any support from Democrats:

The White House helped to block a Republican-brokered deal on Wednesday to extend several middle-class tax cuts, fearful of a bill that could draw Democratic votes and dilute a Republican campaign theme, Republican negotiators said.

....Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, had already said he would retain most of Mr. Bush's middle-class tax cuts, and many Democratic lawmakers said they would vote for a modest extension of the tax cuts even if the extension was not paid for.

"If the Democrats had been on the same side, it would have taken a lot of arrows out of the quiver,'' said one Republican staff member.

It's good to see that tax cutting is a principled position for the Republican party, not merely a cynical wedge issue designed to enrich likely contributors and make production of anti-Democrat campaign ads easier.

Don't worry, though, the session isn't a total loss:

Perhaps in a bid to reduce tensions with Republican lawmakers, the White House offered a concession in another battle with Congress over a major highway spending bill. The administration had been threatening to veto any bill costing more than $256 billion, over six years, while the Senate had passed a bill that would spend $318 billion. On Wednesday, the White House said it would accept a bill that cost as much as $284 billion.

Though the impasse remained unresolved, the concession raised the possibility that lawmakers would be able to go back to their districts at the end of this week with a bill that includes scores of pet projects in almost every state.

Willingness to compromise over tax cuts that would help middle-class workers: none. Willingness to compromise over higher spending on pork projects: boundless.

Your Republican White House at work.

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SHOOTOUT AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES....According to this odd story in the Washington Post — attributed to "government sources" and denied by Sandy Berger's lawyer — Berger removed copies of some documents from the National Archives during a visit in September, was caught, and subsequently returned them. However, employees were suspicious he might try to do it a second time, so they set up a special sting operation to catch him if he showed up again. And he did:

The government source said the Archives employees were deferential toward Berger, given his prominence, but were worried when he returned to view more documents on Oct. 2. They devised a coding system and marked the documents they knew Berger was interested in canvassing, and watched him carefully. They knew he was interested in all the versions of the millennium review, some of which bore handwritten notes from Clinton-era officials who had reviewed them. At one point an Archives employee even handed Berger a coded draft and asked whether he was sure he had seen it.

At the end of the day, Archives employees determined that that draft and all four or five other versions of the millennium memo had disappeared from the files, this source said.

This source and another government official said that archivists gave Berger use of a special room for reviewing the documents....Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said that employees closely monitor anyone cleared to review classified presidential materials.

Let me get this straight: (a) he had already been caught removing documents on a previous visit, (b) Archives employees set up a special coding system for his second visit, (c) they were watching him like a hawk the whole time — and he must have known it since they had caught him once before, (d) they saw him taking dozens of pages of notes and didn't stop him, (e) they saw him put those notes into his pockets, and (f) they must have also seen him put some documents in his portfolio as well.

But they let him walk out the door without challenging him. Why?

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW....Tom Davis is the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Among other things, this means he's the point man for congressional investigations of governmental misdeeds.

Here is Tom Davis on his plans to open an investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, which was first exposed by David Corn on July 16, 2003:

July 17, 2003: Nothing.

October 3, 2003: "I know [John] Ashcroft very well, and I'm sure he'll go by the book." Um, OK. Nonetheless, he also said he was "gearing up" to lead an investigation of the matter. "It's our obligation to do so. This is something we can't tolerate."

January 23, 2004: "If they don't find it, we will. It will be looked at and second-guessed. It's a troubling and serious violation." But we'll still wait on gearing up that investigation.

July 21, 2004: Still gearing up. No investigation yet.

Two days ago, on July 19, 2004, AP reported that former NSA Sandy Berger had removed some classified documents from the National Archives and is the subject of an active FBI investigation. How does Davis feel about this?

July 21, 2004: Congress has "a constitutional responsibility to find out what happened and why. At best, we're looking at tremendously irresponsible handling of highly classified information." An investigation is underway.

Hey! Tom Davis can move mighty quickly when he puts his mind to it! I wonder what the difference between these two cases is?

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who has been equally sanguine about the FBI's ability to investigate the Plame case, is also deeply concerned.

Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DID JOHN KERRY VOTE IN FAVOR CANNIBALISM?....I know you're going to think I'm making this up, but I'm not. Today, the esteemed oppo research squad at the National Review posted a damning expose of Howard Dean accusing him of being in favor of.....

Incest.

Honest. They really did. Here's the link to "Howard Dean’s Incest Vote," the sordid Reagan-era tale of a 65-year-old woman who wanted to marry her 86-year-old uncle, the Republican legislator who wanted to let them, and how a young Howard Dean didn't think it would do any harm. You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll wonder why you bothered clicking the link!

Man, these guys are really getting desperate. They must know something about the poll numbers that we don't.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I note that this highly sophisticated piece of political analysis is an "NR Comment" and is therefore bylined "By NRO Staff." That really won't do. Whoever wrote this should proudly step up to the plate and take credit for it. Enquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEANS AND ENDS....What's more important, liberal means or liberal ends? Jack O'Toole discusses, and it's worth reading.

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JOE WAS RIGHT....For all the frothing and fulminating about the minutiae of Joe Wilson's op-eds, speeches, and books over the past year, it's worth remembering that his central claim continues to be supported by everyone who looks into it. At the tail end of a USA Today column on the subject, John Diamond remembers to mention this:

Did Iraq, in fact, try to buy uranium in Niger? The Senate Intelligence Committee report accepted the CIA's ultimate assessment — not reached until after the war — that there was little if any credible evidence available to U.S. intelligence to support the charge that Iraq sought, let alone bought, uranium from Niger.

Has the White House changed its position on Bush's January 2003 charge? The White House has not withdrawn or amended its statement last July that the intelligence behind the charge "did not rise to the level of inclusion in a presidential speech."

Wilson's central claim was that there was virtually no evidence to back up the idea that Saddam had sought uranium from Niger. The CIA agreed with that assessment before the war, it agreed with it after the war, and it still agrees with it — and the Senate Intelligence report backs them up.

Bottom line: on his primary point, the one he's been flogging for over a year now, Wilson has been vindicated.

Of course, the British continue to stand behind their contention that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Africa, but they refuse to explain why they think this. And since British intelligence on Iraq hasn't been notably more accurate than American intelligence, it's hard to think of any good reason to believe them unless they provide us all with a little more evidence.

Wilson may be guilty of overembellishing his case on several minor points, but on the central question he brought up — should the president have made those claims about African uranium in his State of the Union address? — he was right. The CIA admits it, the White House admits it, and the Senate Intelligence committee admits it. Republicans ought to keep this in mind.

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VOTER REGISTRATION, FLORIDA STYLE....Via Pandagon, it looks like Florida Republicans have hit on a charming new way to swell their ranks: wait outside the naturalization ceremony for new citizens and offer to register them to vote. But check off the Republican box before you give them the form.

Hmmm, maybe the laws are different in Florida. I spent some time registering voters for the local Democratic party when I was in high school, and the Dems who trained us told us in no uncertain terms that we had to register anyone who wanted to register. When we knocked on doors we should identify ourselves as Democrats, but if someone wanted to register Republican then we should let them go right ahead. It sure would have been a lot easier if I could have just checked off the party affiliation box for them ahead of time.

(But you know what? I don't think a single Republican registered with me the entire summer. In fact, they were generally very encouraging, telling me I was part of of what made this country great and to keep at it. Of course, since Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2:1 in Orange County at the time, I guess they could afford to feel that way. Somehow, I have a feeling that door-to-door voter registration might not be quite so pleasant these days as it was 30 years ago.)

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ARNOLD WATCHING....LA Times columnist Steve Lopez has a few Arnold-related statistics he'd like to share with us:

Total dollar amount of the 2003-04 budget signed by ex-Gov. Gray Davis: $99.1 billion.

Total amount of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first budget after promising to shrink government: $103 billion.

....Number of employees on Gov. Schwarzenegger's staff who make $100,000 or more: 14.

Number of employees on Gov. Davis' staff who made $100,000 or more: 8.

....Schwarzenegger's whereabouts just hours after vowing to stay in Sacramento and fight like a warrior to end the budget stalemate: Beverly Hills fund-raiser.

Amount raised at Beverly Hills fund-raiser by Schwarzenegger, who earlier promised to end fund-raising during budget season: Roughly $400,000.

....Number of the top 100 donations to Schwarzenegger that came from businesses or their executives: 87.

....Number of people at Stockton mall food court who cheered Schwarzenegger's criticism of legislators beholden to special interests: Hundreds.

Schwarzenegger sure does have a handle on the marketing part of politics, though. So far he's:

  • Borrowed his way to a balanced budget after repeatedly promising to stop the "crazy deficit spending" during his campaign.

  • Passed a flabby workers' comp bill that did virtually nothing to reduce insurance premiums.

  • Caved in to the prison guards so cravenly that a federal judge is now threatening to take over the entire California prison system.

  • Cut a "$1 billion deal" with tribal casinos that's actually worth at most $200 million even if you crunch the numbers with a tailwind.

  • Deliberately sabotaged a nearly complete budget deal for no apparent reason, leaving California in its usual July chaos.

And yet, as Lopez points out, he's more popular as governor than Ronald Reagan at his peak. I predict that the backlash, when it inevitably comes, is going to be fierce.

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RUMORS AND REPORTS OF RUMORS....The LA Times has an interesting take on the story from last week about Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi shooting some prisoners in a Baghdad jail. Apparently it's only one of several similar stories circulating among Iraqis about their new leader:

In one, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is driving through downtown Baghdad and sees a frail old man being confronted by three armed men attempting to steal his vehicle. The prime minister leaps out of his car and shoots dead the would-be carjackers.

In another, Allawi is in a Baghdad jail where he interviews suspects, hears their confessions, declares that "they deserve to die" and shoots them on the spot.

A third version sets the scene of his armed retribution in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf, which has been racked by violence in recent months.

The "Baghdad jail" version of the story was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday, but the Times says that versions of it were circulating in the streets of Baghdad "well before" the story appeared. However, in interviews "in Baghdad tea shops and Internet cafes and on street corners" the most common view was this was just a "rumor that people want to believe."

So I guess we should take this with a large grain of salt. Still, the SMH article named names and dates, so it really shouldn't be that hard to investigate. Were the three named prisoners ever in custody? And where are they now? Surely it shouldn't be too hard for the Interior Ministry to track this down?

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BREAKFAST....Just in case eating donuts is too much hassle, you can now drink your donuts. God bless America.

In other news, Jenna Bush stuck out her tongue at a photographer, a drunken flight attendant attacked a passenger, Michael Jackson denied he's the father of quadruplets, and Britney Spears' fiance had another baby with his former girlfriend.

Welcome to summer.

Kevin Drum 11:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SHAKING UP INTELLIGENCE....Over at the Prospect, Matt Yglesias suggests it would be a good idea to create a new cabinet level position in charge of all our intelligence agencies:

That the community's work should be coordinated, rather than confused and riven by interagency rivalries, is obvious. Indeed, it's so obvious that the legislation setting up the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and other key pillars of the American national security apparatus in the wake of World War II envisioned just that.

....There's no reason to think the controversy should take a particularly partisan cast, as witnessed by the bipartisan 9-11 Commission's recent embrace of the idea; indeed, a previous bipartisan congressional inquiry into September 11 also reached the same conclusion. According to all reports, meanwhile, a special presidential advisory panel set up several years ago under former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft recommended something very similar.

I don't have any personal axe to grind about how the American intelligence community should be organized, but I'm suspicious of this argument for a few reasons.

First, investigations tend to find what they set out to find. Investigate NASA after a shuttle crash and guess what? They weren't cautious enough. Investigate the CIA after they failed to stop 9/11 and guess what? They weren't aggressive enough. (Then investigate them again after no WMD is found in Iraq, and guess what? Yep: they weren't cautious enough.) Overly obvious recommendations like these should be taken with a grain of salt.

Second, it's not immediately clear to me that centralizing a $40 billion bureacracy necessarily makes it more responsive. It might, and I'll keep my mind open on this, but it's hardly an open and shut case. Feith's little fantasy shop in the Pentagon obviously got out of control before the war, but overall it's not clear that our problems over the past few years were caused by the fact that, say, the NSA and DIA are under DoD control.

Third, the military has a legitimate need for its own intelligence arms. Placing them under an outsider's control might genuinely restrict their ability to do their jobs.

Fourth, one effect of centralization is that the president would hear only one interpretation of intelligence. Is that necessarily good? Having competing sources of information can be a considerable benefit to a president who knows how to make use of this, and I'm not sure we should rearchitect the intelligence community just because George Bush doesn't seem to be such a president. Electing a better president seems the better option.

Generally speaking, when bureacracies have problems, investigators have a bias toward recommending big organizational changes because they're easy and dramatic. If the bureacracy is tightly controlled from the top, they suggest this is stifling innovation and that more control should be devolved downward. If the bureacracy is loosely controlled, they suggest that stronger management from the top will provide better coordination and a stronger sense of purpose. These recommendations are so preordained that they should always be treated with a fair amount of skepticism.

Like I said, I'll keep an open mind on this. But I want to hear some pretty good reasons why an intelligence czar is the answer, and I also want to be convinced that the folks recommending this understand all the drawbacks of centralization and are sure they don't outweigh the benefits. Caveat emptor.

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SANDY BERGER....Sandy Berger continues to be the top story on CNN:

Law enforcement sources said archive staff told FBI agents they saw Berger placing items in his jacket and pants, and one archive staffer told agents that Berger also placed something in his socks.

That latter allegation drew a sharp response from Berger associate and former White House lawyer Lanny Davis, who challenged any unnamed official who makes such an accusation to come forward publicly.

"I suggest that person is lying," he said. "And if that person has the guts, let's see who it is who made the comment that Sandy Berger stuffed something into his socks."

I too want this ruffian to come forward. Socks indeed. What kind of weirdo does he think Sandy Berger is?

Beyond that, though, I can't really think of anything else to say about this bizarre story except the obvious: what on God's green earth was he thinking? Crikey.

Oh, and this: despite dark allegations that the investigation into Berger was leaked by Republicans to take attention off the upcoming 9/11 report, I think it must have actually been a Democrat who leaked it. Frankly, if I were a Republican, I would have waited until around the last week of October or so. My guess is that some sharp Democratic operative figured out that this wasn't going to stay a secret forever and decided (correctly) that it was better to get it into the open now rather than later.

UPDATE: So this all happened in October 2003, the FBI searched Berger's home and offices in January, but they still haven't interviewed Berger or concluded their investigation. Does that make sense? What's taking so long?

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"SELECTIVE REDUCTION"....Hmmm, sort of a slow day today. What should I write about? I know: how about abortion?

The New York Times magazine ran a short piece this weekend by Amy Richards, a woman who got pregnant with triplets and decided to abort two of the three fetuses. Here's the paragraph that got everyone hopping:

Having felt physically fine up to this point, I got on the subway afterward, and all of a sudden, I felt ill. I didn't want to eat anything. What I was going through seemed like a very unnatural experience. On the subway, Peter asked, ''Shouldn't we consider having triplets?'' And I had this adverse reaction: ''This is why they say it's the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That's easy for you to say, but I'd have to give up my life.'' Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks.

When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It's not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it.

Over at Unfogged, Unf says, "I haven't suddenly concluded that life begins at conception, but I do start to think that motives ought to matter. And in particular, when you have the motives expressed in this article, you ought to be sent to jail." And that's from a pro-choice liberal! Professor Bainbridge, a pro-life conservative, goes predictably further: "It is hard to see how any one with normal human values could find common ground with the author of this essay, whose morality differs but little from Hitler's executioners or the Rwandan genocidal killers."

This is what happens when you print an article that's not actually written by the author but "told to" someone else. It's got a stream of consciousness feel to it, and let's face it: most of us wouldn't look much better than Richards if we got suckered by a national magazine into revealing what we're really thinking when we're under stress. The thoughts that leap unbidden into our heads are often not very pretty.

(In fact, to read the whole piece correctly, I suspect you have to mentally insert lots of long pauses, several sighs of resignation, some staring at the ceiling, and a bit of stuttering and backtracking. Just my guess.)

But the criticism sure seems overwrought anyway, regardless of where you fall on the abortion question. If you're pro-life, and you think abortion is an abomination anyway, why is aborting two out of three fetuses any worse than aborting them all, as people do all the time? Both emotionally and intellectually, I don't get it.

And if you're pro-choice, why the sudden concern with motive? It's unfair anyway, since the "Staten Island" crack is what most people are focusing on, even though that's obviously just a metaphor: Richards says pretty clearly that she's concerned that triplets would prevent her from working and make her into a full-time housewife, and that's not what she wants. What's wrong with that?

I'll confess I was surprised to learn that you could selectively abort multiple fetuses — apparently it's called "selective reduction." I had never heard of that before. But whatever your immediate emotional reaction to this, a moment's thought tells you that it's morally no different from any other abortion. No better, no worse. And since the whole point of human intelligence is that it frees us from relying merely on immediate emotional reaction, surely it's not too much to ask that we do it in this case too.

I'll end with two questions. First, why do you think this article produced such an emotional reaction? Second, can you suggest any serious moral argument for why selective reduction is worse than any other abortion?

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I, ROBOT....Last night I saw I, Robot after all, and it turned out to be a pretty decent shoot-em-up. Sort of Robots and Empire meets Man Plus — which I'm pretty sure isn't a spoiler even if you've read both books.

And how about that Will Smith, huh? He sure is buff for a guy who seems to subsist mostly on eating entire pies for breakfast.

Spoiler below.

OK, why do I think the movie is Robots and Empire meets Man Plus? Because Robots and Empire revolves around the Zeroth Law of Robotics, which places the welfare of humanity above the welfare of any single human being. This is exactly what VIKI does in the movie. And Man Plus because in that book it turns out that it's a machine intelligence that's been behind everything that happened, just as VIKI turns out to be behind the events of I, Robot.

VIKI sure is incompetent, though, isn't she? Sheesh.

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ARNOLD WATCHING....For Arnold watchers, the LA Times has a pretty good summary of the latest meltdown from California's governor:

In a matter of days, a budget agreement thought to be within reach has devolved into a shouting match and a national spectacle over the "girlie men" comments. And a central Schwarzenegger goal — an on-time budget without the "summer slam-fest"— has eluded him amid a tone more combative and partisan than at any point in his eight-month tenure.

....A political aide said the governor was preparing a mass mailing targeting swing districts represented by Democrats that would grade lawmakers based on their allegiance to Schwarzenegger's legislative agenda. An anti-Schwarzenegger lawmaker would be given a failing grade. The mailings would include pictures of individual lawmakers. Sample report cards have already been drawn up.

I'm just flabbergasted by this whole debacle. As the article notes, the biggest feather in Arnold's cap — by far — would have been a decent budget deal delivered on time and without the usual annual dramafest. It would have proven once and for all that he was different from Gray Davis and could actually get results from California's famously fractured legislature.

Instead, he actually seems to be trying to prevent a deal. The original sticking point was a disagreement over local funding, but really, the two sides weren't all that far apart. A deal wouldn't have been that hard. But then, out of nowhere, Arnold suddenly began pushing two anti-labor measures that aren't related to the budget and aren't even all that important to his base. (One of them, in fact, is mostly a giveaway to a single special interest, Laidlaw, a school bus operator.) Both of these measures seem to have been chosen for their ability to enrage Democrats more than anything else.

And all followed up with his juvenile "girlie men" comments and threats to campaign against any Democrat who doesn't toe the governor's line. It's hard to draw any conclusion except that he wants budget talks to fail and is hoping to use that for partisan gains in November.

Which might very well be the answer. Arnold might be playing a longer and riskier game than anyone thinks, mostly designed to make his future easier — especially since next year's budget is going to make this year's look like a stroll in the park. And by waving a red flag in front of the Democratic bulls, he might be hoping to get them to lose their tempers and seal their own doom.

Will they fall for it? Or will they hold their fire and serve up their revenge this November Klingon style — cold and tasty?

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July 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

OUTFOXED....So has anyone out there seen Outfoxed? What did you think of it?

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DOES "PERSONALLY MASTERMINDED" MEAN THE SAME THING AS "SEXED UP"?....In Britain, anyone who is criticized in an inquiry apparently has the right to see an advance draft and provide a response before it's published. So, since the Butler inquiry criticized Tony Blair, Tony Blair got to see it ten days before it was released. And according to the Telegraph, changes were obligingly made:

In the original draft a passage on page 114 contained stronger criticism of Mr Blair's Commons statement of September 24, 2002. The report as published stated...."The Prime Minister's description, in his statement to the House of Commons on the day of publication of the dossier, of the picture painted by the intelligence services in the dossier as 'extensive, detailed and authoritative', may have reinforced this impression [that the intelligence was better than it was]."

In the original draft this last sentence was much stronger, expressing the opinion that Mr Blair personally masterminded the misleading impression left by the dossier. The passage is important because Downing Street maintained last week that the report at no point questions Mr Blair's "good faith".

The Telegraph's source also reports that Lord Butler was not exactly planning to stand foursquare behind Blair during his post-publication press conference if anyone asked if he thought Blair should resign:

"It was not his job to bring down the Government," the inquiry member said. "But he was not going to back Blair either."

The deliberately equivocal answer Lord Butler had prepared — which in the end he did not have to deliver because the question was not asked — would have stood in conspicuous contrast to his explicit request in his report that John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, should not have to step down from his new post as head of MI6.

You'd think someone would have thought to ask that, wouldn't you?

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DECONSTRUCTING JOE WILSON....I decided to try and spend a few minutes this weekend making sense out of the whole Joe Wilson affair, but I'm not sure I really succeeded. There's so much frothing in the pro-war blogosphere that it's hard to separate the genuine complaints from the merely generic loathing of the man.

However, I think I did at least manage to scrape away enough barnacles to figure out what specific lies Wilson is alleged to have told, which seems to be a useful exercise since all the other frothing flows from this source. As near as I can tell, after reading Tom Maguire and Josh Marshall and Matthew Continetti and Joe Wilson himself (here and here), there are three main charges against Wilson's credibility. First, though, a quick timeline to refresh everyone's memory:

February 2002: Wilson takes a trip to Niger. He reports back to the CIA that he didn't find any evidence that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from them.

January 2003: George Bush includes the infamous "16 words" in his State of the Union Address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

March 2003: A memorandum that purported to show that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Niger turns out to be a forgery.

July 2003: Wilson publishes an op-ed in the New York Times in which he recounts his trip to Niger. All hell breaks loose.

Here, then, are the three lies:

  1. Back in the days before he wrote his op-ed, Wilson was an anonymous source for a couple of Nick Kristof columns. In those columns, Wilson (via Kristof) claimed that he had seen the Niger memorandum and had reported to the CIA that it was forged. In fact, Wilson had not seen the memorandum back in February 2002 (he had only heard about it) and had no idea if it was a forgery.

    Wilson's response: None, really. Wilson does some hemming and hawing about other press acounts, but for some reason nobody has asked him about the Kristof columns.

    Possible mitigation: In his NYT op-ed, Wilson wrote, "as for the actual memorandum, I never saw it." So while Wilson pretty clearly misspoke to Kristof, he corrected himself on this point over a year ago.

  2. Wilson claimed he had "debunked" the uranium story and that Dick Cheney knew this. In fact, his report was only one piece of evidence, not a conclusive debunking, and it was never shown to Cheney.

    Wilson's response: He claims that he never said he had singlehandedly debunked the story. What's more, although he believes that the 16 words were "a deliberate attempt to deceive," he bases this conclusion on more than just his own trip to Niger.

    Possible mitigation: The best defense of Wilson's claims is that ten days after his op-ed was published CIA Director George Tenet publicly admitted that the evidence for the uranium claims was weak and should not have been included in the State of the Union Address. That's pretty strong confirmation that whether or not it was Wilson who did the debunking, the intelligence community pretty much agreed with him.

    Beyond that, this is obviously a matter of opinion. There's not much question that Wilson has been outspoken in his opposition to the Bush administration, but trying to gauge exactly how categorical his claims have been is a mug's game. As for Cheney, Wilson says that he really did think Cheney had seen his report and is surprised to learn that he didn't.

  3. Wilson claimed that his wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame, was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger. However, although the evidence is contradictory about whether Plame recommended him in the first place, she did write a memo to her superiors telling them that Wilson was well qualified for the trip they had in mind.

    Wilson's response: He says that his wife had nothing to do with the trip and deliberately recused herself from meetings related to it. Her memo was written in response to her boss, and was limited to a recitation of his qualifications.

    Possible mitigation: None. Wilson said flatly that "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," and apparently that's just not true. It's especially unclear why he said this when the truth would have been perfectly adequate.

There's a lot more to the story, of course, but it mostly seems to be related to Wilson's general flamboyance and spotlight hogging. I don't really blame his critics for jumping on this — I'd probably do the same in their shoes — but the evidence of outright falsehoods is fairly limited. He pretty clearly lied to Kristof, but corrected himself quite a long time ago, and he also lied about his wife's involvement in his trip — although it's hard to say by how much. Overall, I'd say his credibility as a source is definitely tattered, but perhaps not quite as thoroughly demolished as his enemies are claiming. It's hardly a Page 1 blockbuster.

And two final points:

  • As I've mentioned before, Wilson doesn't really matter much anymore except as political sport. The only real issue on the table right now is whether anyone in the Bush administration outed his wife as a CIA agent, and that's a matter under investigation by the FBI. Whether or not Wilson lied to the press about other matters doesn't really affect the legal case.

  • Why didn't Dick Cheney see Wilson's report? Just because it was negative? This certainly seems to support the proposition that the administration willfully ignored any evidence that didn't agree with their preconceived notions, doesn't it?

I'll have more later if anything interesting pops up. In the meantime, on the general topic of Iraq's alleged interest in African uranium and the forged documents — mostly unrelated to Joe Wilson — read Josh Marshall and Laura Rozen. They're working this issue pretty hard.

Kevin Drum 7:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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UNDECIDED....Conventional wisdom suggests that undecided voters usually break for the challenger in a presidential race. As Ryan Lizza puts it:

If these voters haven't decided to support the guy they know best, the theory goes, there must be a reason they are holding out and will therefore end up supporting the challenger if he or she is an acceptable alternative.

Ryan then goes on to report on a recent poll suggesting that this is true in spades this year: undecided voters in battleground states are very unhappy with George Bush and seem likely to break decisively for Kerry over the next couple of months. Go read.

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MASS GRAVES....Does this matter?

Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves.

In that publication — Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves produced by USAID, the US government aid distribution agency, Blair is quoted from 20 November last year: 'We've already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.'

On 14 December Blair repeated the claim in a statement issued by Downing Street in response to the arrest of Saddam Hussein and posted on the Labour party website that: 'The remains of 400,000 human beings [have] already [been] found in mass graves.'

I suppose the politically correct stance is that murder is murder, and quibbling over numbers doesn't change the fact that Saddam was a monster. Which is true enough.

But the fact is that, yes, it does matter, in at least two ways. First, it matters because part of the humanitarian case against Saddam was that he was not merely a garden variety nasty dictator, he was arguably the #1 nastiest dictator on the planet. If he wasn't, it does weaken the emotional case for intervention, just as very high numbers strengthen the case for intervention in the proto-genocide currently taking place in Darfur.

Second, and perhaps more important, is the question of whether Tony Blair (and apparently the U.S. government as well) flatly lied about this. This was not a case of intelligence estimates, after all, it was a categorical statement that 400,000 bodies had actually been found by actual troops digging up actual graves. How could he have been off by a factor of 80x?

Needless to say, this wouldn't matter if it were the only exaggeration surrounding the war. But it's not. There was no WMD, no collaboration with al-Qaeda, no 45-minute missiles, no mobile bioweapons labs, no regional military threat, and now it turns out that even the humanitarian case wasn't as clear cut as they suggested.

Is there anything left that these guys told the truth about?

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WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS SOUTH CAROLINA?....Jack O'Toole writes about some problems his rural in-laws had on their farm a few months ago:

The septic tank was a total loss; got to put in a new one, sir -- the gummint, you know? The electrical problem wasn't really a big deal in and of itself -- but the wiring throughout the house had to be expensively "brought up to code" before they could fix it. And the termite people, God bless 'em, they couldn't even begin to treat his daddy's old place until the existing well, which was too close to the "living area" that no one has lived in for many years, was sealed, and a new one -- one that met all the current regs, of course -- had been sunk.

....Okay, so here's the punch line: As a good Democrat, I know why all this makes sense. We don't want people contaminating the environment with their septic tanks or burning to death in poorly wired houses or guzzling gallon after gallon of termiticide-tainted water. Clearly, those are not good things, and I think the government has an obligation to try to keep them from happening.

That said, Mr. Sonny, as the old man is known, is the one being asked to pay the check for my idea of what constitutes good government here. And while that may just be one of those facts of life that country people like him will eventually have to learn to live with, I would never insult those folks by implying that they're too stupid to know which side their bread is buttered on just because most of them vote for the guy who says he wants to get the government off their backs. Fact is, the government is on their backs, and it's on them in ways that most city dwellers don't even begin to comprehend.

This is in response to Thomas Frank's thesis in What's the Matter with Kansas? that rural folks are getting snookered into voting against their own interests. Dumb rubes!

But I'm not sure if I buy Jack's response. After all, the stuff he describes happens to us city folks too, and we get pretty annoyed as well. Small town residents may be more annoyed by all this than us urbanites, but it's not at all clear to me that it's because government interferes with them in wholly different ways that we can't understand. In fact, it might well be because they're surrounded by a drumbeat of Republican propaganda telling them that they should be annoyed by all this.

Or maybe it's something else entirely. Who knows? At any rate, there's a sudden boomlet in Thomas Frank commentary in the blogosphere. In addition to Jack, Max Sawicky has a full review of his book today, while Matt Yglesias suggests that Frank is wrong to say that Democrats have a working class problem. It's really more of a white guy problem. OxBlog's Josh Chafetz had a predictably unsympathetic review in the NYT Book Review last month, while Matt Stoller weighs in at BOPNews, complaining that the book is "more impressionistic than explanatory." Read 'em all!

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July 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WORKING CLASS WOES — PART 2....Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, writes in the LA Times today that one of the reasons the working class is doing so poorly these days is that no one stands up for them anymore:

[Moderate DLC] Democrats explicitly rule out what they deride as "class warfare" and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness to business interests....The Republicans, meanwhile, were industriously fabricating their own class-based language of the right, and while they made their populist appeal to blue-collar voters, Democrats were giving those same voters — their traditional base — the big brushoff, ousting their representatives from positions within the party and consigning their issues, with a laugh and a sneer, to the dustbin of history. A more ruinous strategy for Democrats would be difficult to invent. And the ruination just keeps on coming.

Frank's thesis is that Republicans have successfully wooed blue collar workers via social wedge issues, while at the same time Democrats have decided to move upscale. The result is that neither party cares much about the economic issues of the working class:

Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all....when two female pop stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas runs to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those pop stars' taxes.

As a social system, the backlash works. The two adversaries feed off each other in a kind of inverted symbiosis: One mocks the other, and the other heaps even more power on the mocker. This arrangement should be the envy of every ruling class in the world. Not only can it be pushed much, much further, but it is fairly certain that it will be so pushed. All the incentives point that way, as do the never-examined cultural requirements of modern capitalism.

Why shouldn't our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?

I'm not quite as pessimistic as Frank that this vicious cycle is inevitable — in fact, I'm one of those DLC Dems who think that the Republican embrace of neanderthal social issues will eventually ruin them. At the same time, though, he's right about the working class: their wages have stagnated over the past 30 years even though the economy has grown tremendously, and the Democratic party hasn't done nearly enough to address this. It's no wonder the Republicans have been so successful at picking off blue collar workers via social issues.

I only wish Frank had a bit more room in his op-ed to tell us what he thinks the Democrats ought to be doing about this. I guess you have to buy the book if you want to know that.

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SAFER?....President Bush, in remarks at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on July 12:

America is safer....the American people are safer....the American people are safer....the American people are safer....the American people are safer....the American people are safer....the American people are safer....America and the world are safer.

The Pentagon, July 15:

Ever since a hijacked jetliner crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, parents whose children attend day care there have been assured their kids were safe. But last week, Defense Department officials told them the center would close in the fall because they could no longer ensure the children's safety.

...."The threat assessments have determined it would be imprudent to continue," said Glenn Flood, a spokesman for the Defense Department.

I guess the Pentagon forgot to tell the White House speechwriters about this.

(Via Tim Dunlop.)

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WORKING CLASS WOES — PART 1....The New York Times reports that the working class isn't doing too well these days:

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hourly earnings of production workers - nonmanagement workers ranging from nurses and teachers to hamburger flippers and assembly-line workers - fell 1.1 percent in June, after accounting for inflation....In June, production workers took home $525.84 a week, on average. After accounting for inflation, this is about $8 less than they were pocketing last January, and is the lowest level of weekly pay since October 2001.

...."There's a bit of a dichotomy," said Ethan S. Harris, chief economist at Lehman Brothers. "Joe Six-Pack is under a lot of pressure. He got a lousy raise; he's paying more for gasoline and milk. He's not doing that great. But proprietors' income is up. Profits are up. Home values are up. Middle-income and upper-income people are looking pretty good."

....Their woes are a product of supply and demand for labor. From 1996 through 2000 when employers were hiring hand over fist, real hourly wages of ordinary workers rose by 7.5 percent.

Supply and demand. Yes indeed. The labor market is a slave to supply and demand just like any other market, right?

Odd, then, that CEO pay rose 27% in 2003, isn't it? Did the supply of CEOs shrink last year? Did demand skyrocket?

What's more, compared to average workers, who remain stuck in the invisible grip of Adam Smith, CEO pay has increased about 3x since 1990 and about 7x since 1980.

Is this the free market at work? That's what I'm told. So I have a contest in mind: a prize for the least laughable explanation for why CEO pay has gone up 7x since 1980 based on supply and demand. At a minimum, winning entries should explain the following:

  • Why the supply of CEOs has decreased.

  • Why the demand for CEOs has increased.

  • Why the elasticity of the CEO demand curve is apparently steeper than for any other commodity on the planet.

Please keep your entries under 100,000 words, and restrict your econometrics to fields no more complex than differential topology.

Grand prize to be announced at a future date.

UPDATE: Angry Bear's submission is here. Sadly, he doesn't even try to defend the supply/demand theory, so the judges have been forced to disqualify him.

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FITZGERALD NEARLY FINISHED?....Buried at the bottom of a New York Times article about Joe Wilson and uranium from Niger:

Beyond that, Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor examining the leak of Ms. Plame's identity, is expected to announce in a matter of weeks whether he will prosecute anyone.

Tick tick tick....

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ARNOLD GETS A STAMP....That's it. I'm going to bed. Western civilization is now officially over.

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July 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ASIMOV'S ROBOTS....You know, I might have taken Chris Suellentrop's article about I, Robot more seriously except for this phrase, which opened the third paragraph:

Asimov's novel I, Robot....

Actually, it's a collection of loosely connected short stories, not a novel, a mistake that doesn't inspire much confidence in the rest of what Suellentrop has to say about Asimov's elevation of reason over feeling and the betrayal of that ethos in the movie.

As it happens, in Asimov's real novels about robots — as opposed to his short stories — emotion and prejudice play a leading role. In The Caves of Steel, for example, Asimov displays a fair dollop of sympathy, if not approval, about human suspicion of robots, and in all his robot novels the humans inevitably provide a spark of intuition and emotion that proves crucial to the resolution. What's more, by the end of the robot cycle, after the robot novels have merged with the Foundation novels, there's even a sense that Asimov is beginning to understand the perils of robotic reason taken to extremes.

So while Suellentrop's dichotomy — robotic reason good, human feeling bad — may be the conventional wisdom about Asimov's view of the world, I don't think it's quite as cut and dried as he makes it out to be. None of which is to say that the movie I, Robot isn't a travesty of Asimov's robot writing, of course. It probably is, at least based on the ads I've seen. I mean, hordes of killer robots? Please.

And one more thing: any article that talks about bad Asimov movie adaptations and doesn't mention Nightfall is clearly missing a bet. That was a bad movie....

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45 MINUTES....The Independent's breathless prose makes it a little hard to make out the real story here, but it appears that the British government has been, um, a little less than totally forthcoming about some of its prewar intelligence. Here are (I think) the key points of what the Independent is reporting:

So a key piece of evidence was withdrawn a year ago, and Tony Blair says he didn't know about it until last week? Either he's lying or else his control of his own intelligence services is monumentally sloppy. I wonder which?

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INVADE IRAN?....The 9/11 commission is expected to release a report next week indicating that Iran has substantial connections with al-Qaeda. Glenn Reynolds comments:

Will those who said that it was wrong to invade Iraq because there wasn't enough evidence of such a connection now weigh in in favor of invading Iran?

Let's turn that around. In Iran we have a country that (a) has clear connections with al-Qaeda and apparently even with 9/11, (b) has a genuine and well advanced WMD program, (c) supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah far more than Iraq ever did, (d) has fought wars against its neighbors, (e) is a medieval theocracy, and (f) is determinedly hostile toward the United States.

Question: that's a much more convincing case than we had against Iraq, so should we invade Iran and attempt to install a democratic government in Tehran? If not, why not? After all, those student protests don't seem to be making much progress.

I vote no. How about getting everyone else on the record?

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THE WAR ON TERROR....Greg Djerejian thinks I'm asking the wrong questions, but aside from some silly rhetorical jousting about the meaning of the word "war" he doesn't really make much of a case for why he doesn't trust John Kerry with the war on terror. After all, I don't think any of us are really surprised that Robert Kagan doesn't like Kerry.

Nor, as Laura Rozen points out, does he make much of a case for why he does trust George Bush. After all, here is Bush's record since 9/11:

  • By dedicating too few troops to Afghanistan in 2002, he allowed Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda to escape. They are still on the run, and al-Qaeda is by all accounts larger and more dangerous now than they were on 9/11.

  • In the past three years he has done nothing to reform an intelligence community that is widely agreed to be fatally broken.

  • Postwar planning for Iraq was criminally negligent. The result has been chaos, troop overstretch, a violent and growing insurgency, and an increasingly safe haven for terrorist camps.

  • He has refused to negotiate with North Korea, despite their clear desire to do a deal. As a result, North Korea is close to being able to mass produce atomic weapons.

  • Domestic security is a joke. Bush has shown little interest in funding serious port security, hardening of chemical and nuclear plants, or improving local police and fire response.

So I'll ask again: aside from actually invading other countries, which I really don't think Bush is planning to do more of either, what is it about Kerry's national security policy that Greg doesn't like? The additional 40,000 troops in Iraq? The doubling of the intelligence budget? The willingness to criticize Saudi Arabia?

And aside from tough talk, what is it about Bush that he does like? Postwar Iraq has been a debacle, but even assuming you're willing to overlook that, is Iraq really so important that it overshadows every single other thing that Bush has failed to do?

I'm willing to give Bush partial points for Libya, but beyond that it's awfully hard to figure out what his successes in the war on terror are supposed to be. What am I missing?

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July 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

JEB AND THE FELONS....Publius at Legal Fiction has a post from yesterday that so perfectly summarizes my own feelings that I'm just going to draft him into service as a guest poster:


I fear I've become too jaded to get outraged anymore, but if I weren't, I would surely be outraged by this. Billmon has an excellent post on the recent schemings of Jeb Bush's Florida machine. As Billmon explains, Florida refined its list of felons who could not vote (in light of the abuses in 2000), but refused to submit copies of that list to the press. CNN sued and eventually obtained the copies of the list, which lo and behold, had a bunch of African-Americans but almost no Latinos. Here's the article that Billmon links to:

The state had tried to keep the list a secret. It fought a lawsuit aimed at opening the records to the public. A series of errors emerged once a Tallahassee judge rejected the state's arguments and released the records on July 1. The error that proved final — and garnered national attention — was that Hispanics were largely overlooked because of glitches ["glitches" would be more appropriate] in how the state records information about race and ethnicity. The list was created by cross-checking voter registration and criminal records. Of the more than 47,000 voters on the potential felon list, Hispanics made up one tenth of 1 percent — this in a state where nearly 1 in 5 residents is Hispanic. Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood issued a written statement Saturday saying the exclusion of Hispanics was "unintentional and unforeseen." "We are deeply concerned and disappointed that this has occurred," Hood said. . . . Many Hispanic voters vote Republican.

The Cuban population votes overwhelmingly Republican. And I suspect that's why only 50 — yes, 50 — Latinos were on a list of 47,000 names.


It's really true, isn't it? Sometimes your outrage meter just redlines and then stalls — and then you stare blankly at your computer screen for a while and finally decide to go watch People's Court instead of blogging about anything for a while.

I'm just kidding about that People's Court thing, of course, but I'm glad Legal Fiction prompted me to post about this. I mean, really, think about what happened: we're in Florida, site of the biggest election meltdown in the country's history. An inaccurate list of felons is a big part of the meltdown. The state, headed by the president's brother, promises to do better in 2004. The eyes of the nation are on them. The state produces a new list. But....

It won't show the list to anyone. In fact, it resists showing the list with all the power at its disposal. Finally, when it no longer has any choice due to a lawsuit and a judge's order, it gives up the list. And....

It's wrong again! In a way that just happens to favor Republicans! Again! But it was just a mistake, honest! We are deeply concerned and disappointed! Honest!

Sometimes it's just more than you can stand.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, if you aren't reading Legal Fiction, you should be. Publius is "a law clerk in the South" and writes consistently good, thought provoking stuff. It deserves a place on your bookmark list.

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END OF THE ROAD....We've finally apprehended Bobby Fischer. Thank God our long national nightmare is finally over.

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TOUGH TALK....Who said this?

I will stay here until 2006. I will stay here, and I will fight like a warrior for the people. And there is no one that can stop me. If anyone pushes me around, I will push back, including the Democrats and the special interests. Trust me.

Yep, it was Arnold. As usual, the California budget is overdue (June 30 is the deadline) and everyone is bickering.

The kicker is that no one's even arguing about the budget at this point. We've actually got agreement on the budget document itself, but Arnold refuses to consider it unless Democrats agree to also toss in two completely unrelated anti-labor measures. And if they don't agree, he's threatening to campaign against a "target list" of vulnerable Democrats this fall.

So to summarize: everyone agrees on the budget. The only holdup is that Arnold is demanding some extra goodies on the side to please his corporate contributors, and if the Dems don't give it to him he's going to campaign against them.

And Arnold's characterization of this? Democrats are being narrowly partisan and kowtowing to special interests. Talk about your pots and kettles....

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THE NEW IRAQ?....The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that Iraq's new prime minister has an old school view of keeping the peace in Baghdad:

Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

....the informants told the Herald that Dr Allawi shot each young man in the head as about a dozen Iraqi policemen and four Americans from the Prime Minister's personal security team watched in stunned silence.

....The Herald has established the names of three of the prisoners alleged to have been killed....The three names were provided to the Interior Ministry, where senior adviser Sabah Khadum undertook to provide a status report on each. He was asked if they were prisoners, were they alive or had they died in custody.

But the next day he cut short an interview by hanging up the phone, saying only: "I have no information — I don't want to comment on that specific matter."

Both Allawi and the American embassy deny the account. The informants, however, don't think of themselves as whistleblowers: in fact, they heartily approve of summary executions like these.

The Herald story provides enough detail to make this story credible. I'll be surprised if we don't hear more about this.

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CORPORATE PORK....Good editorial in the New York Times today about the egregious tobacco deal struck in the Senate on Thursday. If anything, they're a little too easy on the almost parodic corporate tax bill this is all attached to, but they basically make all the right points. It's hard to think of anything Congress could have done to make this tax bill even worse than it already was, but they have. Between the Medicare bill, the energy bill, and this bill, the 108th Congress has surely distinguished itself as one of the most debased in recent history.

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July 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TALES FROM REAL LIFE....A lesson in capitalism, in which Blockbuster Inc. figures out how to suck a larger portion of our paycheck out of our wallets for something we never knew we needed:

"So, do you think we should sign up for this Blockbuster deal where you can rent as many movies as you want for 25 bucks a month?"

"Um, how many movies do we rent a month?"

"Beats me. But we've been renting more than usual lately."

"Yeah, but still, it can't be more than — what? Four a month?"

"But maybe we'd rent more if they were free."

"Well, there are a few movies I wouldn't mind seeing...."

"Exactly."

"I still haven't seen the last Lord of the Rings movie. And I wouldn't mind seeing Spiderman again."

"But you probably wouldn't bother renting them if you actually had to pay for them, would you?"

"Hmmm. It is rerun season."

"Yeah!"

"Maybe we should try it for a couple of months and see how it goes."

And thus does the fabulous free market march ever onward....

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THAT LIBERAL MEDIA....Over at Red State, Pejman Yousefzadeh repeats a familiar conservative complaint: why are conservative sources labeled "conservative" but liberal sources aren't labeled "liberal"? Responding to a previous post, he says this:

It is telling that the story that prompted [the] post has the Heritage Foundation — which was labeled "[t]he conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation" — as the only source backing up the Labor Department's arguments. Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute, which accused the Bush Administration of failing to protect overtime pay, was described as an institute "which studies issues affecting middle- and lower-income workers and receives funding from some labor groups."

....The Heritage Foundation is "conservative"....but it is noteworthy that CNN didn't refer to EPI as "the liberal Economic Policy Institute," isn't it?

Well now. Perhaps the real secret behind this is that this is how these groups label themselves. Here's Heritage:

The Heritage Foundation is a research and educational institute — a think tank — whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies....

That seems clear enough. Here's EPI:

EPI was established in 1986 to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers.

So what's the problem? The reporter just described these groups the way they describe themselves, and then stuck on a gratuitous qualifer about EPI's funding (something he didn't do for Heritage, which was rather generous since the appropriate phrase would have been something like "receives funding from a variety of far-right nutcase foundations.")

It is upon evidence like this that conservatives keep themselves convinced that they are under siege from the media. A peculiar bunch, conservatives....

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LIBERTARIAN LOONIES....Via Hit & Run, R. W. Bradford writes in Liberty magazine about Michael Badnarik, the dark horse winner of the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination:

Badnarik believes that the federal income tax has no legal authority and that people are justified in refusing to file a tax return until such time as the IRS provides them with an explanation of its authority to collect the tax. He hadn't filed income tax returns for several years. He moved from California to Texas because of Texas' more liberal gun laws, but he refused to obtain a Texas driver's license because the state requires drivers to provide their fingerprints and Social Security numbers. He has been ticketed several times for driving without a license; sometimes he has gotten off for various technical legal reasons, but on three occasions he has been convicted and paid a fine. He also refused to use postal ZIP codes, seeing them as "federal territories."

He has written a book on the Constitution for students in his one-day, $50 seminar on the Constitution, but it is available elsewhere, including on Amazon.com. It features an introduction by Congressman Ron Paul and Badnarik's theory about taxes. His campaign website included a potpourri of right-wing constitutional positions, as well as some very unorthodox views on various issues. He proposed that convicted felons serve the first month of their sentence in bed so that their muscles would atrophy and they'd be less trouble for prison guards and to blow up the U.N. building on the eighth day of his administration, after giving the building's occupants a chance to evacuate. In one especially picturesque proposal, he wrote:

I would announce a special one-week session of Congress where all 535 members would be required to sit through a special version of my Constitution class. Once I was convinced that every member of Congress understood my interpretation of their very limited powers, I would insist that they restate their oath of office while being videotaped.

One assumes, although one cannot prove, that none of this is an exercise in irony. At any rate, these opinions were removed from the website shortly after he won the nomination, and they didn't come up when he visited state party conventions. Nor did his refusal to file tax returns, thereby risking federal indictment and felony arrest. While many of his closest supporters were aware of these issues, they were unknown to most LP members.

Man, that's some crazy stuff. He refuses to use ZIP codes?

Read the whole story when you have a few spare minutes and need a laugh. And a note to libertarians: this is why everyone thinks you're a bunch of loons. What else would you expect them to think?

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RED AND BLUE....Anne Kornblut says in Slate today that "Red and blue are states of mind," and she has a quiz to prove it. I'm skeptical, though: so far everyone who's taken it seems to have ended up in the middle. As you can see, that's where I ended up too — actually, a bit pinkish, even, which is how I like my steaks, not my politics. In reality, I'm a lifelong blue stater with blue state parents and blue state sensibilities.

Unfortunately, general knowledge seems to be the quiz's downfall. Yeah, I know who wrote the Book of Revelation, I know who Laura Schlesinger is, and I know how many hours a day Rush Limbaugh broadcasts. That doesn't mean I'm religious, that I'm homophobic, or that I'm a dittohead. I know those things the same way that I know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day — and with about as much emotional attachment.

And two questions about Wal-Mart? Come on.

But what the hell. Take the quiz anyway. Quizzes are always fun, right? And arguing about them is more fun still.

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NOODLING....I'm going to break the Prime Directive of Blogging and write a post about two completely unrelated topics. There's no special reason for this, I just happen to have a couple of things I've been noodling about and they aren't really worth separate posts:

  • Is it possible that Bush played the gay marriage amendment issue perfectly? Maybe. By making a few phone calls and a radio speech he was able to look like a hero to his social neanderthal base, but by otherwise paying little attention to it (and getting it off the agenda quickly) he doesn't look too scary to moderate Republicans. Overall, he probably played this pretty well.

  • War supporters insist that John Kerry can't be trusted with our post-9/11 foreign policy. But I'm a little puzzled about exactly what it is that they're afraid he won't do.

    It's true that Kerry would not have gone to war with Iraq, and that's certainly a big difference between him and Bush. But does anyone think there are any more wars coming up in the near future?

    If not, what are the hawks afraid of? What do they think Kerry will be too wimpy to do? Or is it that they do have a war in mind that they're afraid Kerry might not start? If so, I think we'd all like to hear about it.

Noodling now over.

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ROBERTS ON BUSH....Josh Marshall links today to this New York Times interview with Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Roberts supported the war, but suggests here that in hindsight it wasn't such a good idea:

But in an hourlong interview on Wednesday morning in his office, Mr. Roberts said he was "not too sure" that the administration would have invaded if it had known how flimsy the intelligence was on Iraq and illicit weapons. Instead, the senator said, Mr. Bush might well have advocated efforts to maintain sanctions against Iraq and to continue to try to unearth the truth through the work of United Nations inspectors. "I don't think the president would have said that military action is justified right now," Mr. Roberts said. If the administration had been given "accurate intelligence," he said, Mr. Bush "might have said, 'Saddam's a bad guy, and we've got to continue with the no-fly zones and with inspections.' "

This is crazy. Bush made it as clear as possible before the war, during the war, and after the war that he intended to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein no matter what. Roberts can't possibly believe that Bush would have changed his mind if only he'd known the intel was skimpy, can he?

I wonder why he said this. Is Roberts just desperately trying to convince himself that his president isn't completely nuts? Or what?

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JOE WILSON'S CREDIBILITY....Call me dense, but I'm still a bit confused about why the warbloggers are all so excited about Joe Wilson's possible loss of credibility. Even assuming that everything he's said for the past year is a complete fabrication, that doesn't make it OK for administration officials to blow the cover of a covert CIA operative who happens to be his wife, does it? What am I missing here?

What's more, Wilson's credibility is still an open issue anyway. He long ago admitted that he exaggerated his knowledge of the forged Niger documents, so the current round of gloating is centered entirely on the fairly minor issue of whether his wife Valerie Plame recommended him for his Niger trip. Doyle McManus of the LA Times asked him about this yesterday:

"That's just false," Wilson said in a telephone interview Wednesday. He said he was preparing a written rebuttal to the Senate report.

A senior intelligence official said the CIA supports Wilson's version: "Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going…. They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes," the official said.

Wilson's credibility does matter — most of all to Wilson — but the jury is still out on this and it's hard to see how it affects the Plame affair anyway.

As for me, I'm still planning to wait for Fitzgerald's report. I'm not wildly optimistic that he'll come up with anything, but he's still the guy to watch, not Joe Wilson.

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July 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN HACKERY....This is weird. If you clicked on www.bushcheney04.com last week, it took you to the George Bush campaign site. If you did the same thing this morning, it took you to the John Kerry campaign site. (Honest. I tried it, and it did. Here's the Google cache.) But if you do it now, it once again takes you to the George Bush site.

I wonder who pulled off this little bit of hackery?

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GAY MARRIAGE AMENDMENT GOES DOWN TO SMOKING DEFEAT....Today's "Whistling Past the Graveyard" award winner:

"Ultimately, we will win this fight," said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas. "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman."

Sure, Sam. The gay marriage amendment failed 48-50, and since John Kerry and John Edwards would have voted against it if they hadn't been campaigning, the real vote was 48-52. FMA supporters couldn't even get a majority, let alone two-thirds.

What's more, this was their best shot. We all know that tolerance of gays increases steadily every year, which means that if FMA didn't pass this year, it's never going to pass. It's just plain dead.

I'm a little sorry this couldn't have been drawn out a bit more, since I continue to think that on balance it's a loser issue for Republicans, but a solid defeat is good enough for now. Within a few years, we might actually be ready to advance gay rights, instead of merely fighting to keep them from losing ground.

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JOE WILSON....I'm always happy to be thought of as sensible, but before my (no doubt) equally sensible right-wing friends get too carrried away crowing about Joe Wilson's weatherbeaten credibility, I'd like to remind them of one thing: it doesn't matter.

See, here's the deal: it was indeed Wilson who originally got the ball rolling on the whole yellowcake affair, but there have been two major charges to come out of this and in neither one has Wilson's testimony really meant anything.

  • First, there was the "16 words" fiasco, in which President Bush said that Saddam had been trying to get yellowcake uranium from Africa. Wilson's op-ed in the New York Times brought this to light, but his evidence was never conclusive. What was conclusive was George Tenet's public statement: "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president....and CIA should have ensured that it was removed."

    Wilson's credibility doesn't matter. Tenet has long since admitted that he was right.

  • Second, there's the Valerie Plame outing case. Once again, this is something Wilson has talked extensively about, but nothing he says matters very much to the legal case currently under investigation. Administration officials either outed Plame to Robert Novak or they didn't, and it's either a federal offense or it's not. At this point, it's all in the hands of Plame prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Bottom line: Joe Wilson could be the biggest liar since Baron Munchausen, but who cares? Having gotten things started, he's now out of the picture. Fitzgerald is all that matters now.

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A TIME FOR HEALING....Over in London, Lord Butler has released yet another investigation of prewar Iraq intelligence, and he comes to the following conclusions:

  • British intelligence reports were "seriously flawed."

  • The 45-minute claim went to the "outer limits" of the available intelligence — i.e., it was wrong.

  • There was not, it turns out, even enough evidence to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions, let alone anything more.

  • Tony Blair was one among several people who fooled the public into thinking the evidence was considerably stronger than it really was.

But hey — that was all in the past! There was no "deliberate distortion," perish the thought, and neither Blair nor incoming intelligence chief John Scarlett, who was responsible for much of the reporting, should be held accountable. They've learned their lesson, right?

Sheesh.

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HEALTHCARE.... Courtesy of Kieran Healy, the chart on the right shows relative spending on healthcare among a bunch of advanced capitalist economies. Basically it shows that the United States has (a) much less public involvement in healthcare than the other countries and (b) much higher healthcare costs.

My contribution to this debate is the big red arrow pointing to the United States, just in case you miss it way up there in the corner. Note that the chart doesn't really demonstrate any special trend, but it does show that conservatives who insist that national healthcare systems are nothing more than vast boondoggles that inevitably produce huge amounts of waste and higher costs just aren't looking at the evidence. As near as I can tell, France has a better healthcare system than the United States on practically every measure, and does it at half the cost.

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CLEMENS SUCKS....Sheesh. I tune in a few minutes late to the All-Star Game and Roger Clemens has put the NL down 6-0. I guess that'll teach me to be more punctual.

Oh well, at least Seth Stevenson should be happy....

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July 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SLOW NEWS DAY....From the annals of superfluous research:

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that a decade of "ratings creep" has allowed more violent and sexually explicit content into films, suggesting that movie raters have grown more lenient in their standards.

....The study, which was issued on Tuesday, quantified what children's advocates and critics of the ratings system have said anecdotally for years: that a movie rated PG or PG-13 today has more sexual or violent content than a similarly rated movie in the past.

I'm shocked. Coming next: study shows bloggers have strong opinions, too much free time in which to express them.

There's good news, though: at least no taxpayer money was spent on this project.

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WHOSE MISTAKE?....Michael O'Hanlon, in the course of an op-ed suggesting that the CIA didn't screw up quite as badly as the Senate Intelligence Committee says it did, points out that, after all, before the war it sure looked like Saddam was hiding something:

Let's face it, it would have taken an overwhelming body of evidence for any reasonable person in 2002 to think that Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of chemical and biological agents

....The United Nations and most European and Middle Eastern intelligence outfits had the same incorrect beliefs as our agencies, for the same understandable reasons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons in war and against his own people in the 1980's. For more than a decade after the Persian Gulf war, he obstructed international inspectors' efforts to find and destroy such weapons, ensuring that United Nations sanctions that cost his country more than $100 billion would remain in place. He had his underlings confront the inspectors on several occasions in ways that led to military strikes against his security organizations. It certainly looked as if he valued chemical and biological agents a great deal, and was prepared to do a lot to hold onto them.

This may — or may not — get the CIA off the hook, but the drumbeat repetition of this argument (mostly by war supporters) deliberately obscures a far more important point: by the time we invaded Iraq none of this mattered.

Remember, UN inspectors re-entered Iraq three months before the invasion and found nothing there except a handful of missiles that violated UN limits by a few miles. Saddam destroyed them.

The United States provided the inspectors with detailed intel on where to find Iraq's WMD stockpiles. No dice: every single followup turned out to be a wild goose chase.

Hans Blix's team searched everywhere, including Saddam's palaces. Nothing.

Before the invasion, France and several other countries made proposals for even more intrusive inspections: thousand of inspectors backed up by military units. George Bush turned them all down.

The fact is that by March 2003 we didn't have to rely on CIA estimates or on the estimates of any other intelligence agency. We had been on the ground in Iraq for months and there was nothing there. There was nothing there and we knew it.

Did the CIA screw up? Probably. Did it matter? No. George Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 not because he was convinced Iraq had WMD, but because he was becoming scared that Iraq didn't have WMD and that further inspections would prove it beyond any doubt. Facts on the ground have never been allowed to interfere with George Bush's worldview, and he wasn't about to take the chance that they might interfere with his war.

Whatever faults the CIA has, let's not blame them for the war in Iraq. We all know exactly whose mistake it was.

Kevin Drum 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTIONS....My inbox is full of messages from people telling me I'm not nearly scared enough about the possibility of Bush ginning up an excuse to cancel elections in November. Well, maybe I'm not. But before you start seeing black helicopters circling your house, at least consider the mechanics of the whole thing:

  • The only body that can change the date of federal elections is Congress.

  • Assuming the Supreme Court agreed, Congress could delegate this power to a federal commission if it so desired.

  • However, in a couple of weeks everyone goes home for the summer. They come back on September 3rd.

  • The current target for adjournment of the current congressional session is October 1st.

  • In other words, supposing that the Justice Department actually decided (suicidally, in my opinion) to propose legislation to create an election commission with the power to reschedule elections, Congress would have a grand total of four weeks to debate and pass it.

This is impossible, of course, unless the bill had essentially unanimous bipartisan support. Which it wouldn't.

Bottom line: short of a nuclear attack on Washington DC nothing is going to happen and elections will proceed as scheduled. Convinced?

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SCAMMING THE SCAMMERS....Have you ever wished you could turn the tables on those Nigerian spam scammers? The BBC reports today on a guy named "Mike" who does more than wish, and he has the pictures to prove it. The full story is here.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOW LIBERAL IS JOHN KERRY?....Did you know that John McEnroe has his own talk show on CNBC? Of course you did; you're sophisticated people after all. Well, it turns out that Marian is sort of morbidly fascinated by the prospect of McEnroe crashing and burning yet again on TV (remember The Chair?), so we tuned in tonight to see how he was doing and caught him chatting with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.

The conversation was so unmemorable that I don't remember much of anything about it, although there was one odd exchange where McEnroe asked her if she thought Bill Clinton was a liberal and she got obviously uncomfortable and bobbed and weaved and utlimately declined to answer. I'm not quite sure why, really.

Oh, and then there was the part when vanden Heuvel said that George Bush was trying to turn America into a theocracy, which sounds completely loony and tinfoil hattish to the average TV viewer, and then didn't offer even a shred of evidence to back up this assertion. Nada. Hey, that makes us all look good, doesn't it?

Oh yes, and then there was one more thing. In fact, it's the actual point of this post (which you might have been wondering when I would get to). McEnroe said something about John Kerry being the #1 most liberal member of the Senate and John Edwards being #4, and wondered if America was ready for such strong brew. Vanden Heuvel said something or other, I don't remember what, but didn't even bother to knock down this idiotic urban legend. So since she wouldn't do it, I will. Courtesy of one of Andrew Sullivan's correspondents, here are the rankings for the past five years:

2003: Kerry - 1st (96.5) Edwards - 4th (94.5)
2002: Kerry - 9th (87.3) Edwards - 31st (63.0)
2001: Kerry - 11th (87.7) Edwards - 35th (68.2)
2000: Kerry - 20th (77) Edwards - 19th (80.8)
1999: Kerry - 16th (80.8) Edwards - 31st (72.2)

Average: Kerry - 12th (85.9) Edwards - 24th (75.7)

The rankings for 2003 are skewed by the campaign season, and a longer look shows that Kerry is liberal, but hardly a Paul Wellstone liberal, and Edwards is smack in the middle of the Democratic pack.

You may not get invited onto a talk show like editors of political magazines do, but you can do your part anyway. So the next time someone brings this up, let 'em know the facts. After all, that's the whole point of being an advocate for the left, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 11:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE....LITERALLY....What do you do if the chief of the U.S. Park Police actually tells reporters the truth about reductions in police patrols in parks and on parkways around Washington DC? Fire her, of course.

Tim Noah has the whole story.

Kevin Drum 5:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUMMER MOVIE REVIEW-ETTES....I've seen a bunch of movies lately, and even though no one's asked and there's no special reason anyone should care, here's what I thought of the summer movie blockbuster season so far:

  • Fahrenheit 9/11. Yeah, yeah, Michael Moore is a big fat liar. Go see it anyway.

  • Dodgeball. The commercials made it look dismally stupid, and I'm not a huge Ben Stiller fan in any case. But surprise! Lots of good jokes, lots of dumb gags that work, and good, fast pacing all around. Definitely a winner if you have a taste for this kind of slapstick comedy.

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. When a movie feels like it has to end with a tacit acknowledgment that "nothing happened," you know you're in trouble. I'm afraid this installment in the franchise felt more like a series of disconnected scenes than an actual story to me.

  • The Terminal. Dammit, why do I keep seeing Steven Spielberg movies? It's not like The Terminal is horrible, it's more that it's just a gussied up TV movie that I got suckered into paying for, entirely predictable and saccharine from beginning to end. You can always trust Spielberg to use a sledgehammer when a scalpel would have done just as well.

    And really, did anyone believe that Stanley Tucci's parody of Inspector Javert only earns $19 an hour? Where the hell did that come from?

  • Spiderman 2. No, it wasn't the best superhero movie yet made: the first Batman movie still takes top honors. But Spiderman 2 is close!

    I'm not much for philosphical reviews of comic book characters, so I'll leave that to others. Instead I'll just say that even if you don't like this kind of movie, you should see it anyway just to marvel at the Doc Ock special effects. His mechanical arms are the real star of the show and worth the price of admission by themselves. Oh yeah, and Alfred Molina as the actual character is terrific too.

I also rented The Triplets of Belleville over the weekend. I still don't have any idea what it was about, but as my wife said, it's mesmerizing anyway. Definitely worth a look.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BOX TURTLES?....I thought that David Gelernter's comparison of John Edwards to an under-ripe bunch of bananas yesterday was a serious nominee for awkward simile of the year honors, but I guess I was wrong. Via Andrew Sullivan, here is Texas Senator John Cornyn:

It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right....Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife.

First bananas, now box turtles. There must be a name for this syndrome....

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THE END OF ELECTIONS?....People have been emailing me for — How long? At least a year, anyway — to suggest that George Bush would try to cancel elections this year and install himself as dictator for life. And for the last year, I've been filing these emails exactly where they belong.

Today, though, my paranoid friends are having the last laugh based on a story in Newsweek saying that the Department of Justice is reviewing proposals to reschedule elections in case of a terrorist attack:

Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election."

Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously—along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.

I still don't think this is part of any nefarious plot to turn America into Amerika, but there's not really much point in arguing about it. If you believe this, nothing I say is going to change your mind.

What's intriguing, though, is that the paranoia is so thick that no one is bothering to talk about whether this is a good idea on a substantive level. Should a nationwide election be cancelled in the event of a major terrorist attack? And if so, should a federal commission be allowed to make the call?

My initial noodling is equivocal: I suppose it's always a good idea to be prepared, but we didn't feel like we needed the power to reschedule elections in 1864 and we didn't feel like we needed it in the 1950s when we were worried about nuclear holocaust. Why do we need it now?

And even if we do need it, should it be in the hands of a commission? There's not really any other choice, since Congress isn't in session during elections, but if we do create such a commission I'd want it to be nice and big and incredibly multi-partisan. And I'd want any decision to reschedule an election to be unanimous.

Or, I suppose the president could just declare martial law and be done with it. Isn't that better suited for conspiracy theories anyway?

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LOYAL OPPOSITION....The Republican answer to Daily Kos is now up and running. Red State, the brainchild of Tacitus and several cobloggers, appears to be dedicated to defending the indefensible and promoting the unpromotable — but that's just my skewed liberal view, of course. Here's theirs:

The Left has proven that blogs can thrive on the fringe, in a petri dish of pessimism and protest. We intend to make blogs a voice for mainstream America, and articulate the deeply held ideals of a free and virtuous nation.

A "petri dish of pessimism and protest"! Take that, you nattering nabobs of negativity!

Welcome to the blogosphere, Red State.

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TOM DELAY UPDATE....Is Tom DeLay in trouble?

In May 2001, Enron's top lobbyists in Washington advised the company chairman that then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was pressing for a $100,000 contribution to his political action committee....

DeLay requested that the new donation come from "a combination of corporate and personal money from Enron's executives," with the understanding that it would be partly spent on "the redistricting effort in Texas," said the e-mail to Kenneth L. Lay from lobbyists Rick Shapiro and Linda Robertson.

The e-mail, which surfaced in a subsequent federal probe of Houston-based Enron, is one of at least a dozen documents obtained by The Washington Post that show DeLay and his associates directed money from corporations and Washington lobbyists to Republican campaign coffers in Texas in 2001 and 2002 as part of a plan to redraw the state's congressional districts.

Texas statute bars corporate financing of state legislature campaigns, and the key question appears to be whether a redistricting effort counts as a "legislative campaign." Read the whole story for more.

Kevin Drum 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SERIOUSNESS....Charles Krauthammer, I am told by conservatives, is a serious person. Unlike squishy liberals, he is a person who understands the dangers facing us today.

On Friday, Krauthammer unleashed a broadside against Hans Blix — a man owed a thousand apologies by vituperative war supporters — and then explained his view of the dangers facing us today:

Blix is not deranged. He is merely in denial, discounting the uniqueness of the WMD-terrorism issue by comparing it to global warming and hunger. Yes, hunger is an existential issue to the people suffering it. As are car accidents, heart disease and earthquakes. But they hardly threaten to destroy civilization. Hunger is a scourge that has always been with us and that has not been a threat to humanity's existence for at least 1,000 years. Global warming might one day be, but not for decades, or even centuries, and with a gradualness that will leave years for countermeasures.

There is no gradualness and there are no countermeasures to a dozen nuclear warheads detonating simultaneously in U.S. cities. Think of what just two envelopes of anthrax did to paralyze the capital of the world's greatest superpower. A serious, coordinated attack on the United States using weapons of mass destruction could so shatter America as a functioning, advanced society that it would take generations to rebuild.

....It is a new world and exceedingly dangerous. Everything is at stake.

I am perfectly capable of dismay when liberals occasionally seem to take the danger of WMD-based terrorism too lightly. It's not a joke and it's not science fiction. It's a deadly serious problem.

But this is Strangelovian lunacy. To Krauthammer, terrorism (unlike car accidents) "threatens to destroy civilization." It is (unlike hunger) a "threat to humanity's existence." A serious attack could destroy the country so badly that "it would take generations to rebuild."

Is this what it takes to be considered serious by conservatives? To be so divorced from reality as to think that Osama bin Laden is a threat to humanity's existence?

People as frightened as Krauthammer are liable to make serious mistakes with serious consequences — but of course Krauthammer is just a columnist for the Washington Post and is therefore limited in the damage he can do. What I really want to know is whether there are people in the White House who agree with him. And do they have their fingers on any dangerous buttons?

Kevin Drum 11:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A DEFENSE OF BARBARA EHRENREICH....Brad DeLong is unhappy with Barbara Ehrenreich and thinks that "it will in all probability be a waste of ink and paper to put her on the [New York] Times op-ed page":

I agree that Barbara Ehrenreich is a very smart and graceful writer, a keen analyst of American culture and society--she is worth, say, ten of David Brooks. But her brand of left-wing politics is an infantile disorder. Left-wing politics is, for her, primarily a means of self-expression. The point is not to actually do anything to make the United States or the world a better place--not to actually help people make better lives for themselves by improving the enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act or to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit or to raise the minimum wage or to improve Medicaid coverage.

Ehrenreich's politics are not mine either, but I think she deserves a defense from this attack. What Brad surely realizes, but does not say, is that in politics both policy and persuasion are necessary. Brad has policy in abundance, but Ehrenreich would probably think it bloodless and, in the long run, ineffective, because it does not change people's minds. Likewise, Ehrenreich has polemics and persuasion in abundance, but without good policy this simply produces a mess.

In other words, like it or not, they need each other. Exhorting us to do better, even if not always in sensible ways, is a valuable service. Harnessing the public sentiment thus produced with policies that actually accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish is, equally, a valuable service.

A truce is needed here. Fiery rhetoric is not likely to lead to barricades in the streets these days, and there are powerful forces arrayed against Ehrenreich's brand of lefty populism — not least of which the fact that people like her rarely get space in, say, the New York Times. She is thus not likely to do too much damage.

At the same time, a simple (and frustrating) truth is that it is not people like Brad or me who change the world, it is people like Barbara Ehrenreich. Policy wonks then sigh, pick up the pieces, and try to convert the Ehrenreichian emotion of the moment into lasting programs. But without that emotion, we never get the chance.

So, sure, I disagree with Ehrenreich on many things and will likely say so during the remainder of her tenure at the Times. Sometimes she even makes me cringe. But her voice is still one that we should listen to, and surely a short summer vacation of Barbara Ehrenreich is not too much to ask?

Besides, remember that she is temporarily replacing Tom Friedman. We should, perhaps, simply think of this as the "infantile disorders" space in the Times and be grateful that at least the current resident is a smart and graceful writer....

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BA-NA-NA....I would like to nominate the following for awkward simile of the year honors. It's from the Weekly Standard's David Gelernter:

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina seems like a decent and likable man, the political equivalent of a handsome, slightly under-ripe bunch of bananas, just the thing if you are looking for bananas and can't find any ripe ones, or don't know the difference.

Is this what they teach in conservative writing school these days?

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TWO CULTURES....Our little DNS meltdown spared Harold Bloom from feeling my wrath yesterday, but since I'm still annoyed at him today I guess he doesn't get off the hook after all.

The cause of my annoyance is a garden variety op-ed in the LA Times moaning about the decline of reading in the United States. Our country, Bloom says without any particular evidence, "has been split into two cultures for many years...we've always been divisible into readers and nonreaders." And thanks to television and video games, our kids are reading less than ever. The ranks of the nonreaders are growing like a cancer.

Now, this is a bit tedious since we've been hearing much the same doomsday scenario about today's youth for the past few millennia or so — usually because today's youth declines to read the exact same things their elders used to read. But this isn't what annoyed me. I'm a lot less concerned than Bloom about exactly what people read, but I too wish people read more than they do.

No, I was annoyed by Bloom's all too typical display of a different kind of blinkered ignorance in his final paragraph:

It's going to be very difficult to change this; perhaps it will never be changed. But I do wish we could keep computers out of their secondary and primary education, and out of their libraries. It would be so much better for them and for all of us.

Look, pal, if you're going to divide the country into two neat halves, at least do yourself the favor of not using the phrase "two cultures" followed almost immediately by a contemptuous reference to computers in libraries. The irony is just a little too rich.

Extolling the value of literature is surely God's work. But if the only way to do it is via a cranky and crabbed dismissal of science and technology as mere obstacles to learning, count me out. I can't think of anything since the printing press that has more potential to spread learning and literacy than computers and the internet, and any literature professor who doesn't get that is demonstrating the same kind of philistinism he abhors in those who don't appreciate his field of study.

So get thee to an internet cafe, Harold Bloom! It is a rich and exciting world that awaits you.

Kevin Drum 6:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WATCH WHAT YOU WRITE, BUDDY....What does it take to get put on Homeland Security's watch list? Apparently, nothing.

No, really: absolutely nothing. Click the link and be either amazed, frightened, or depressed, depending on your temperament.

Via Body and Soul.

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THE REAL HEADLINES....The big headline from yesterday's release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report is "CIA Screwed Up." Fine. But I want to remind everyone of the other big headlines:

  • Iraq didn't have any WMD or even any serious WMD programs.

  • Iraq didn't have any serious relationship with al-Qaeda.

Both David Kay and the Senate Intelligence Committee agree on the first point, and common sense supports it since we've found virtually nothing in over a year of looking.

And both the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee agree on the second. There were a few contacts here and there in the 90s, but nothing came of them and they had stopped completely nearly half a decade before we invaded.

I pointed this out in a wordier way yesterday, but I wanted to repeat it more directly today. Remember, this is what Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview last year about the reasons for going to war with Iraq:

....there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people....The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it.

So #1 turned out to be wrong, #2 turned out to be wrong, and #3 wasn't a good enough reason by itself. Even by their own standards, there just wasn't a good reason to fight this war, and this is something that shouldn't get lost amid the ongoing and self-serving effort to pretend that it was really George Tenet who led us to war. Even a child can see that for the hokum that it is.

UPDATE: And add one more headline to the list: Saddam Hussein's military posed no threat to either regional stability or American interests.

Really, Democrats should stop whining about Jay Rockefeller signing off on this report and get to work publicizing what it actually says. Taken as a whole, it's fatally damning toward practically everything Bush said about Iraq before the war. It's Republicans who should be upset about this report, not Dems.

Thanks to Melanie Mattson for pointing this out.

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CURVEBALL....Remember Curveball, the Iraqi exile who claimed that he had built biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army — but later turned out to be the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides? It turns out that the only American agent who met Curveball didn't believe him, but he was told by his CIA supervisor to shut up:

"As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about," the CIA official wrote, according to information released Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support the Senate Intelligence Committee's blistering, 511-page critique of America's prewar intelligence.

"However, in the interest of truth," the e-mail continued, "we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations."

No evidence suggests such a warning was given, however. And Curveball — the chief source of repeated U.S. assessments that Iraq had a mobile biological weapons program — turned out to be a fraud.

Nope, no one was feeling any pressure from the Bush administration to provide only the information they wanted to hear. None at all.

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JOSEPH WILSON....Sue Schmidt of the Washington Post reports today that — not to put too fine a point on it — Joseph Wilson is full of shit. We've known for a long time that British intelligence stands by its assertion that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa, and we've also known for a long time that the CIA didn't agree. That's all old news. But then there's this:

Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

Huh? Is she saying that Tenet never warned anybody to back off the Africa claims in speeches in 2002? There was an awful lot of reliable reporting that he did exactly that.

Moving on:

The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, recommended him.

....The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame "offered up" Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her husband "has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.

Wilson has asserted that his wife was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger [and] stood by his assertion in an interview yesterday, saying Plame was not the person who made the decision to send him. Of her memo, he said: "I don't see it as a recommendation to send me."

....The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong."

None of this really seems to have any impact on the legal question of whether someone in the administration leaked Plame's name to the press, but it sure has an impact on Wilson's credibility. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has more about whether the CIA had qualms about the Africa intelligence that ended up in the State of the Union address. Short answer: yes they did.

On the Plame thing, he agrees that it's probably irrelevant legally. However, he doesn't mention whether he thinks it hurts Wilson's overall credibility. Seems like it does to me.

Kevin Drum 1:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

YELLOWCAKE, YELLOWCAKE....Hey, are you wondering what the Senate Intelligence Committee report has to say about the British intel that led President Bush to claim that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"? Me too. Here it is:

And there are plenty more redactions where that came from!

(Idea stolen shamelessly from Spencer Ackerman, who's heading off to the Middle East and will never know that I ripped this off from him.)

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STATUS REPORT....Quick note: the Washington Monthly site has been up and down for the past few hours. Some people can get to it and some people can't. For me, it was down this morning and then came back up around 11 o'clock. Other people report that they haven't been able to bring up the site since last night.

It probably doesn't do much good to post about this, since the people who can't reach the site aren't going to see it, but, um, I'm doing it anyway. This is probably all caused by some kind of DNS problem out in the vast reaches of the internet, and hopefully our host will resolve it shortly.

UPDATE: Yeah, it was a DNS problem. Apparently our DNS provider decided to stop providing DNS to us, but we didn't get the message and last night they pulled the plug. We're back on the air now, just waiting for everything to propagate fully. Everything should be OK by Saturday.

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EITC vs. MINIMUM WAGE....Which is a better way of increasing the incomes of the working poor, the minimum wage or the Earned Income Tax Credit? Brad DeLong says it's both:

The right solution, of course, is balance: use the minimum wage as one part of your program of boosting the incomes of the working poor, and use the EITC as the other part. Try not to push either one to the point where its drawbacks (disemployment on the one hand, and administrative error on the other) grow large. Balance things at the margin.

I think this is exactly right. There are plenty of good wonkish reasons why the EITC is a good thing, but at the same time Brad is right that it's hard to administer and doesn't apply to everyone. I'd add that, in the end, it also amounts to writing a check to poor people, and for a variety of reasons there's a limit to how much we should do that.

The minimum wage, on the other hand, wields a broader brush than the EITC and puts money directly in workers' pockets without any taint of being a handout. What's more, as Brad says, the evidence indicates that a moderate minimum wage has very little effect on employment and the cost of the minimum wage is spread pretty widely among customers of firms that employ minimum-wage workers — which is pretty much all of us.

Programs to help the poor are tricky things, and I'd take it as a general rule that we're usually better off with lots of little (or moderate size) programs than we are with a few large ones, which almost inevitably produce serious social problems of some kind when they're scaled too large. I like the EITC, but I'm also in favor of John Kerry's proposal to increase the minimum wage — and I'd index it to inflation in some way while I was at it. It's good, Christian stuff.

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LITTLE INFORMATION, BIG STORIES....In other intelligence news, Muhammad al-Zubaidi, an Iraqi exile who worked with Iraqi defectors before the war, says that the defectors' stories were pumped up by — surprise! — Ahmed Chalabi and the INC:

Mr. Zubaidi contends that the men altered their stories after they met with senior figures in the Iraqi National Congress. Mr. Zubaidi, who acknowledged that he had a bitter split with the I.N.C. in April 2003, said officials of the group prepped the defectors before allowing them to meet with the American intelligence agents and journalists.

"They intentionally exaggerated all the information so they would drag the United States into war," Mr. Zubaidi said. "We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories."

The INC's reaction is their usual one: don't blame us, we just turned them over to the CIA. It's not our fault if they believed all this tripe.

We sure know how to pick our friends, don't we?

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By: Kevin Drum

SENATE INTELLIGENCE REPORT....The Senate Intelligence Committee report on prewar intelligence is out, and it presents a real problem for war supporters. Before I get into that, though, here's a summary of what the report says. Here's the New York Times:

The Central Intelligence Agency greatly overestimated the danger presented by deadly unconventional weapons in Iraq because of runaway assumptions that were never sufficiently challenged, the Senate Intelligence Committee said today.

In a long-awaited report that goes to the heart of President Bush's rationale for going to war against Iraq, the committee said that prewar assessments of Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and his desire to have nuclear weapons, were wildly off the mark.

....On one important point, the committee found the C.I.A.'s conclusions reasonable — that there had been no significant ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists.

And this from the Washington Post:

Asked if he believed Congress would have authorized the use of force against Iraq had it known the weakness of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, [Republican chairman Pat] Roberts said, "I do not know."...."I think it would have been argued differently," he said. "I think perhaps the battle plan would have been different."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va), the committee's vice chairman, said categorically that Congress would have rejected going to war in Iraq if not for the faulty intelligence.

So here's the problem: the committee report lays the blame for bad intel squarely on the CIA, and war supporters are all in favor of this. Not only have they been berating the CIA for years anyway, but it also gets Bush off the hook for hyping the WMD intelligence. That's good.

What's not so good is that they've been saying the CIA is too cautious, not too aggressive. What's more, the report also says there was no WMD and no ties to al-Qaeda, which basically knocks the props out from under the entire case for war. The only rationales for war they're left with are either humanitarian grounds or else the neoconnish grounds that a free Iraq will promote a wave of democracy in the Middle East. But even Paul Wolfowitz doesn't pretend that the former was sufficient reason, and the American public has shown no inclination to accept the latter.

So: the CIA screwed up, Bush was duped, there was no WMD, no ties to al-Qaeda, and a good chance that Congress wouldn't have authorized the war if they had known all this at the time. Overall, my guess is that war supporters pretty much have to reject the committee's findings. Either that or play a tricky game of claiming that they got it right on some stuff and wrong on other stuff.

Expect mud to be slung soon. Pat Roberts is not likely to be a very popular Republican for the next few weeks.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLACK AND WHITE....Last week Bill Cosby got up on his soapbox — again — and told blacks that they should take more responsibility for their own problems:

"For me there is a time ... when we have to turn the mirror around," he said. "Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in."

...."You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, because you didn't want to get an education and now you're (earning) minimum wage," Cosby said. "You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity."

Barbara Ehrenreich begs to disagree:

If Cosby's worried about poor grammar and so forth, why isn't he ranting about the Bush 2005 budget, which would end a slew of programs for dropout prevention, recreation and school counseling?

Or, if he's looking for tantrum fodder, what about the fact that a black baby has a 40 percent chance of being born into poverty? You can blame adults for their poverty — if you're mean-spirited enough — but you cannot blame babies, and that's, in effect, what we're talking about here.

As the sociologist Michael Males, who monitors youth-bashing outbreaks, told me: "Younger black America today is struggling admirably against massive disinvestments in schools, terrible unemployment, harsh policing and degrading prejudices, and they're succeeding amazingly well. They deserve respect, not grown-up tantrums."

I like Barbara Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed was a great book, one that everyone should read whether they agree with her or not.

And hell, I like Bill Cosby too. I haven't seen anything of his for years, mind you, but my family owned half a dozen of his records when I was growing up. I like people who can make me laugh, even if I was only 10 at the time.

But it's awfully hard to have much sympathy for either of them in this argument. After all, Cosby surely isn't dense enough to believe that black poverty is merely the result of laziness and bad grammar, is he? So why not talk about the very real problems of lousy schools, lack of affordable childcare, and racial profiling as well?

At the same time, Ehrenreich and Males must be smart enough to know that increased government spending alone isn't the answer either. I'm strongly in favor of subsidized childcare, after-school programs, and better job training too — but by itself it's not enough. Cosby has a point: culture counts too.

But instead of acknowledging that both sides have something to say in this debate, they just talk past each other. One side blithely insists that young blacks are "succeeding amazingly well" — a remarkable proposition given that 20% of black men end up in prison at some point in their lives — and sloughs off Cosby's comments with a casual contempt they don't deserve. For his part, Cosby's contempt seems to be aimed at the very idea that there's anything more to black problems than blacks themselves. Just suck it up and everything will be OK.

How tedious. But I wonder what you'd get if you locked Ehrenreich and Cosby in a room together for a few hours? If they listened to each other, they might come out with something interesting to say.

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CULTURAL QUIZ....The latest little internet quiz is a series of 100 cultural preference courtesy of Terry Teachout. I'm sort of a sucker for this kind of thing, so my answers are below.

It's kind of an intimidating list, though. It's a little embarrassing how many of them I had no preference for because I didn't really know much of anything about either choice. I had to leave over a third of the questions blank....

1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly? Gene Kelly.
2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises? Gatsby. I've never really warmed to Hemingway.
3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington? Pass.
4. Cats or dogs? Cats, of course.
5. Matisse or Picasso? Picasso, I suppose. Not a huge fan of either, though.
6. Yeats or Eliot? Pass.
7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? Chaplin. My father the film professor was a big Keaton fan, though.
8. Flannery O’Connor or John Updike? Pass.
9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca? Casablanca.
10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning? Pollock.
11. The Who or the Stones? The Who. Strange as it sounds, there's hardly a single Stones song that I like.
12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath? Pass.
13. Trollope or Dickens? Dickens, although I haven't read enough Trollope to really be certain.
14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald? Pass.
15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? I've never read any Tolstoy, but I really like Dostoyevsky. So Dostoyevsky it is.
16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair? Pass.
17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham? Pass.
18. Hot dogs or hamburgers? Hamburgers.
19. Letterman or Leno? Letterman.
20. Wilco or Cat Power? Huh?
21. Verdi or Wagner? Wagner.
22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe? Kelly.
23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash? Pass.
24. Kingsley or Martin Amis? Pass.
25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando? Neither.
26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp? Pass.
27. Vermeer or Rembrandt? Rembrandt by a hair.
28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin? Tchaikovsky.
29. Red wine or white? Red.
30. Noλl Coward or Oscar Wilde? Wilde. Coward's plays have always struck me as too forced and artificial to really be funny.
31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity? Grosse Pointe Blank.
32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev? Pass.
33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev? Pass.
34. Constable or Turner? Turner.
35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo? Pass.
36. Comedy or tragedy? Comedy. But only because really good comedy is so much rarer than really good tragedy.
37. Fall or spring? Spring. Even in Southern California, it's nice for winter to be over.
38. Manet or Monet? Monet.
39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons? Simpsons.
40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin? Pass.
41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James? Hmmm, Conrad I suppose.
42. Sunset or sunrise? Sunset. I'm not a morning person.
43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter? Pass.
44. Mac or PC? PC.
45. New York or Los Angeles? Oddly enough, New York.
46. Partisan Review or Horizon? Pass.
47. Stax or Motown? Pass.
48. Van Gogh or Gauguin? Van Gogh, although I'm not really a big fan of either.
49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello? Steely Dan.
50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine? In theory, magazines, but in practice, blogs.
51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier? Gielgud.
52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin’ Lovers? Pass.
53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde? Chinatown.
54. Ghost World or Election? Election.
55. Minimalism or conceptual art? Minimalism, although conceptual art is good for its comic value.
56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny? Bugs.
57. Modernism or postmodernism? Modernism.
58. Batman or Spider-Man? Batman. I was a DC kid.
59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams? Pass.
60. Johnson or Boswell? Pass.
61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf? Pass.
62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show? Honeymooners.
63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table? Pass.
64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity? Double Indemnity.
65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni? Pass.
66. Blue or green? Blue.
67. A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It? MND is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays, so As You Like It.
68. Ballet or opera? Opera.
69. Film or live theater? Film. It's cheaper, more convenient, more comfortable, allows a greater range of storytelling techniques, and has great special effects.
70. Acoustic or electric? Acoustic.
71. North by Northwest or Vertigo? Pass.
72. Sargent or Whistler? Sargent.
73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera? Pass.
74. The Music Man or Oklahoma? Pass.
75. Sushi, yes or no? No, no, no.
76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn? Pass. Give me a break.
77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee? Williams.
78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove? Pass.
79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham? Pass.
80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe? Wright.
81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones? Pass.
82. Watercolor or pastel? Watercolor.
83. Bus or subway? Subway. I love subways.
84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg? Pass.
85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter? Neither. I don't like peanut butter. I like peanuts, though.
86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser? Pass.
87. Schubert or Mozart? Schubert. No, Mozart. Wait, no....Schubert.
88. The Fifties or the Twenties? The Fifties. Flagpole sitting never did much for me.
89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick? Finn. I got bored about halfway though Moby-Dick and never got around to finishing it.
90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce? Neither.
91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins? Pass.
92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman? Pass.
93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill? Lincoln. They were both great war leaders, but Lincoln was also a pretty good commander in chief.
94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann? Pass.
95. Italian or French cooking? Italian.
96. Bach on piano or harpsichord? Harpsichord. I like harpsichords.
97. Anchovies, yes or no? No.
98. Short novels or long ones? Long ones. But only good ones, although I suppose that goes without saying.
99. Swing or bebop? Pass.
100. "The Last Judgment" or "The Last Supper"? Pass.

Kevin Drum 1:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE....The Defense Department says that a bunch of George Bush's National Guard records were accidentally destroyed eight years ago during a project to try to "salvage deteriorating microfilm." Among the records destroyed were payroll records from the third quarter of 1972, the period in which Bush was in Alabama working on a Senate campaign.

This sounds suspicious, and it might be, but it's worth noting that we pretty much already know that Bush didn't show up for drills during this period and didn't get paid, so it's not likely that these payroll records would have told us anything new. Why tamper with records that don't tell us anything we don't already know?

On the other hand, these three months (July-September 1972) are the crucial three months in the whole Bush National Guard saga, since this is when he skipped his physical, was grounded, and then disappeared from sight for six months. It's definitely fishy that of all possible periods, this is the one that went missing. (Note also that the 3Q72 payroll records were missing in the original document dump in February, as I noted in this post, and that the 4Q72 and 1Q73 records don't seem to agree with each other. As always with this stuff, it's hard to make sense of it.)

Of course, it's the Flight Inquiry Board report on why he was grounded after skipping his physical that we'd really like to take a look at. That would be interesting to see — assuming it wasn't also "inadvertantly destroyed," of course....

Kevin Drum 12:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOG COMMENTS....There's more online pondering about blog comments today over at Crooked Timber. Eszter Hargittai, who is doing actual scholarly research on the subject, wants to know why some blogs don't have comments. For what it's worth, here are the reasons I hear most often:

  1. On big blogs, they just turn into a chatroom, and there's not much point to that. (Note, however, that there are probably only about 20 blogs in the whole world big enough that this is a reasonable excuse.)

  2. Fear that vicious and stupid commenters will drag down the tone of the whole blog.

  3. Unwillingness to take the time to moderate a comment section.

There are probably others, including laziness, but these are the three that seem to come up most often.

All of these seem like valid reasons to me, although I occasionally wonder if fear of being contradicted or insulted isn't part of it as well. For my own part, I just choose not to worry too much about #1 and #2, and I take care of #3 by not moderating at all. (I participate in the comment section a bit, but not a lot. And I don't monitor or delete comments at all.)

There are also a few interesting comments in Eszter's post related to comments here. As I've mentioned before, I agree that comments become less enlightening as the quantity of comments gets high, but on the other hand it's not as if it hurts anyone either. After all, if you don't like the comments, just don't read them. That's what I do.

On the other hand, for every blog with comments that I don't bother reading, there are probably two or three blogs without comments that I wish had them. For some reason, professors and (former) students at UCLA seem to be among the most egregious offenders in this regard....

Kevin Drum 12:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PORK FOR ALL!....BUT ESPECIALLY FOR ALASKA!....Hmmm. $500,000 for Disneyland buses in the district of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California)? Hey, that's my mother's district! Sounds like a good use of taxpayer dough to me!

OK, OK, I guess not. And as Patrick Belton points out, there's $22.9 billion more where that came from. Or $9 billion or $3.1 billion — I can't quite tell. In any case, oink oink.

Kevin Drum 11:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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I GUESS IT DEPENDS ON WHAT "MAJOR" MEANS....Claiming that the removal of a bunch of uranium from Iraq's Tuwaitha site is a "major achievement" is just bizarre. As Laura Rozen says:

Only this administration could claim a major achievement out of failing to have the competence to secure the nuclear facility in the first place.

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations....

Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE....I agree with both Nick Confessore and Matt Yglesias: Senate Democrats should go ahead and allow a vote on George Bush's gay marriage amendment. Reasons:

  • As long as the Dems can keep their own troops in line, it will probably fail on a straight up-or-down vote. My guess is that there are 5-10 Republicans who won't vote to mess with the constitution over gay marriage.

  • There's political danger for both parties in this, but I continue to think that this is actually a bigger wedge issue for Republicans than Democrats. Based on the polls I've seen, independent voters mostly oppose the amendement, and among partisan voters I suspect there are more Republicans against it than there are Democrats in favor of it.

  • It's the right thing to do. Let's put it on the table and see where everyone stands.

I think Rove and Bush have screwed the pooch on this one (um, so to speak). In the end, it hasn't really energized their evangelical base all that much, but as it takes center stage during a vote it will turn off a lot of live-and-let-live moderates. And when it loses, it will also expose Bush as a weak leader who can't even keep his own party in line.

And a note to John Kerry: people like strong leadership even if they don't always agree with the particulars. Opposing FMA is fine — but people will only truly respond if you take a strong stand against it without waffling or straddling. You could start by actually mentioning it on the LGBT page of your website. It's not going to win the election or anything, but it will make a difference.

Kevin Drum 6:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RED LIGHTS IN BAGHDAD....Here's a funny thing. Just yesterday I was noodling about the rule of law (or lack thereof) in Iraq and thought to myself, Hell, they don't even obey traffic laws in Baghdad. If you can't get them to stop for a red light, how can you get them to stop shooting people in the street?

Today, as if someone was reading my mind, James Joyner links to this article from USA Today:

Inspector Adnan Kadhum of the Baghdad traffic police says he noticed the change about 10 days ago: The city's notoriously unruly drivers suddenly started obeying his commands. They stopped when he signaled for them to stop; they went when he signaled for them to go.

"Before, you found hardly anyone listening to you," the 27-year police force veteran says. Kadhum, 48, spent his days flailing around in 105-degree heat, sometimes waving his pistol in a futile attempt to make motorists follow his commands. "Now, by barely moving my hand, I get respect."

As James points out, the same article also mentions some of the drawbacks of this newfound law and order, but basically I agree with him that this is a good sign: obeying traffic laws may sound trivial, but it requires a societal consensus that's genuinely meaningful.

Yeah, it's just an anecdote, and I generally try to pay more attention to broad trends than to anecdotes either good or bad. But still — good news is good news. I'll take what I can get.

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LA'S CROSS....I don't know if this story ever made it out of Southern California, but for those who haven't heard, the ACLU recently sued the county of Los Angeles to get it to remove a Christian cross from its official seal.

Now, as it happens, I think the ACLU has better things to do and should let stuff like this go. At the same time, though, I also get a little tired of revisionist "history" like this from Joel Kotkin in the LA Times today:

The whole battle smacks of a kind of amnesia about the roots of urban places....The earliest cities of Mesopotamia, for example, were themselves largely directed by priests, who established coherent rules for the community.

Kotkin goes on to invoke Peru, China, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Baghdad, Cairo, and, of course, the California missions. Unfortunately, there's one thing he doesn't tell you: LA County's cross is in no way a part of any long-rooted local tradition at all.

Rather, just like "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Confederate battle flag motif used in Southern state flags, it was a belated addition of the Eisenhower era. Both the cross and "under God" were added as part of a wave of religious iconography that swept the nation in the 1950s in response to fears of "godless communism," while the Confederate flag was added to demonstrate contempt for the growing civil rights movement — and to rally local support for continued enforcement of Jim Crow laws.

That's the historical backdrop for LA County's cross, not some mystical attachment to religion's place in urban history or even a celebration of the Catholic church missionaries who founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Seρora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciϊncula in 1781.

Like I said, I think the ACLU is wasting its time with stuff like this, but I'm also tired of hearing patently absurd implications that these icons have been around practically since our country was founded and therefore form a core part of our historical tradition. The fact is that they were added 50 years ago for specific reasons, and they're no more a "tradition" than the stucco house in Garden Grove that I grew up in.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, this is also what distinguishes these things from equally religious symbols like "In God We Trust" on our coins or the name of Los Angeles itself. Those things really are rooted in longstanding historical tradition and deserve their place as genuine reminders of our heritage. Johnny-come-latelies from the 50s just aren't in the same league.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BAND PLAYS ON....Among the 5,000 reservists called up for duty last week are two trumpeters, one trombonist, four clarinetists, three saxophone players, an electric bass player and a euphonium player:

"Is there not a way to do without the euphonium player?" [Representative Vic] Snyder asked Gen. Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff. "Do we need to really draft an electric bass player, to pull them back in? Is there not a way that we can't let that kind of thing slide?"

After a laugh in the hearing room, Cody answered with a straight face that the bands have been busy, tending to services and funerals. These days, Cody said, "our bands are being stressed quite a bit."

No comment.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH vs. HOOVER....George Bush will probably be the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs during his first term in office. Guess what else he has in common with Hoover?

President Bush declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP's annual convention, the group said.

....NAACP spokesman John White said Wednesday that Bush has declined invitations in each year of his presidency — becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover not to attend an NAACP convention.

But at least Hoover had a distinguished pre-presidential career, including yeoman work feeding starving Belgians. At the same point in his career, Bush was being bailed out of failed businesses by dad's Saudi pals.

Quite a guy, our 43rd president.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OCTOBER JULY SURPRISE....Is George Bush planning to announce the capture of Osama bin Laden just in time for the election? It's a pretty common rumor around the watercoolers of Washington DC, but The New Republic thinks it has credible evidence that the rumor is actually fact.

John Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari have been talking to various Pakistani officials who tell them that the United States is strongly insisting that they produce either Osama or some other HVT (High Value Target) soon — as in before the election. To get what he wants from the Pakistanis, Bush is using both a carrot and a stick:

The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats. During his March visit to Islamabad, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of U.S. weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan--who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya — declaring Khan's transgressions an "internal" Pakistani issue. In addition, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country's proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform.

But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don't produce an HVT, they won't get the planes. Equally, they fear that, if they don't deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan's security establishment in facilitating Khan's illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, "If we don't find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole."

TNR has three separate sources who all say the same thing, and the authors believe them to be credible. And generally speaking, my guess is that the Bushies are indeed hot to produce an al-Qaeda bigshot in the next few weeks and are turning the screws on the Pakistanis to deliver.

But there's also a niggling note of caution. The article quotes one official saying that the White House told them "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" — the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. This quote has the ring of being a little too perfect to me, and makes me wonder what axe the Pakistani sources have to grind in all this.

But hey — the Democratic convention isn't that far away, so we'll know soon enough. If the administration announces a dramatic capture in the hills of Pakistan at the end of July, remember that you — unlike most of your friends — read about it three weeks ago.

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONDI FOR VEEP?....The latest buzz in Republican circles — apparently — is that George Bush is going to dump Dick Cheney as his running mate. The scenario, I assume, would involve a medical report saying that Cheney isn't up to a second term, leaving Bush free to make a dramatic announcement of a new vice presidential candidate at the convention.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the basic argument in the Washington Times today: Cheney is a polarizing figure, his approval ratings are low, and he can't run for president in 2008. So how about Condi Rice instead?

Personally, I think these rumors are nuts. Cheney is perfectly fit to serve a second term, Bush prizes loyalty far too much to replace him, and dumping him would be viewed as a desperate attempt to distance himself from Cheney's warmongering ways. On all counts, it would be a disaster.

But just like the morbid fascination with Hillary — She's going to run! She's waiting to be drafted! She's going to be Kerry's veep! She's going to sabotage the ticket so her path is clear in 2008! — this seems to be another conservative fetish that won't go away. I don't believe it for a second, but I will say one thing: the fact that it stays alive sure means that there are a lot of Republicans who are awfully nervous about the election this year.

As well they should be with a guy like Cheney on their ticket....

Kevin Drum 12:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TRIAL LAWYERS....We will be hearing a lot about the fact that John Edwards is a trial lawyer in the days to come, and most of it is captured in a nutshell by this email to Jonah Goldberg from a trial lawyer eager to set the record straight:

Dear Jonah - When you say "trial lawyers," I think you mean "plaintiffs' attorneys." Or more specifically, "contingent fee plaintiffs' attorneys." I'm a "trial lawyer," but I hardly think you'd object to what I do all day long — defend corporate clients from malicious and baseless lawsuits filed by overzealous plaintiffs' attorneys. So, when you say "trial lawyers," be careful — you may be alienating an innocent sector of your NRO readership.

You gotta love this. Corporate lawyers: doing God's work. Plaintiff's lawyers: filing malicious and baseless lawsuits. The world would surely be a better place if Fortune 500 corporations and their $500/hour legal staff were left in peace without the constant annoyance of being held responsible for their actions, wouldn't it? That would be Republican Nirvana indeed.

Anyway, shouldn't the GOP show a little more respect for trial lawyers? As Slacktivist points out, the founder of their party was a trial lawyer, wasn't he?

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WHERE ARE THE REAL REPUBLICANS?....Hey, Andrew Sullivan has to be right once in a while, doesn't he? Today he links to Kate O'Beirne in National Review wondering why the Republican party is so desperate to hide its true face from the American public:

The lineup of primetime speakers at the Republican Convention predictably reflects its New York location by giving prominent spots to the hosts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki....Joining the hosts will be other mavericks and dissidents who represent a minority in Ronald Reagan's GOP. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona's Senator John McCain, and California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will all be at the primetime podium. The only announced speaker who actually agrees with President Bush on major issues is Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georigia.

....Conservative Republicans should be asking why senators like Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback aren't enjoying the same public embrace as the New York Times' favorite Republican.

Whenever you hear anyone — and you hear it from both liberals and conservatives — crowing about how conservative the country has become in the past couple of decades, just remember this: if America is so damn conservative, why is the Republican party afraid to put any red-blooded conservatives on prime time TV shortly before the election? Why are they so afraid of the social conservatives who make up the heart and soul of their party?

I'm with Kate on this: Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum deserves a prominent speaking slot at the convention — and he should be encouraged to speak his mind. Let's find out just how conservative America really is, shall we?

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH AND DEMOCRACY....One of the talking points of the Bush administration is that democracy promotion is a major part of their post-9/11 foreign policy strategy. Basically, the theory is that democracies don't attack other democracies, so the more democracies we help create the safer we are.

But is democratization really a goal of the Bush administration? Josh Marshall makes the case today that aside from talking about it occasionally, the Bush administration has done exactly zero to genuinely promote democracy abroad.

I think he's basically right. Bush talks about democracy occasionally, he's announced a few desultory programs that he's rather obviously uninterested in, and he's kinda sorta tried to install some semblance of democracy in the two countries we've invaded recently — something that any U.S. president would have done. (What, you think Clinton would have advocated a military dictatorship?)

In reality, Bush seems less interested in democracy than Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton. Even his father took a risk in bringing democracy to Panama.

But has Bush done a single thing to promote democracy that was even slightly risky, slightly dramatic, or slightly out of the ordinary? Not that I can think of.

UPDATE: Dan Drezner and Robert Tagorda provide two counterexamples. Dan points to Bush's pressure on Egypt to release democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, while Robert reminds us that Bush told the leader of Tunisia to his face about the importance of "a press corps that is vibrant and free."

Fair enough, although I wonder if these examples don't actually make Josh's point for him. If that's all Bush has done in three years in office, it's a little hard to claim that democracy promotion is one of his top priorities, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BAD TECH NEWS?....This makes me nervous. Apparently the floor is falling out from under tech stocks:

Technology stocks pulled Wall Street down Tuesday amid corporate profit warnings and another economic report indicating that U.S. growth was slowing.

....Those worries have been deepened by last week's government report that job growth slowed sharply in June, and by a stream of downbeat reports in recent days from mostly mid-size tech companies.

At my July 4th barbecue a friend of mine from a local (mid-size) tech company told me that they had missed their second quarter targets by 20% — an enormous shortfall. What's worse, this is a company that sells stuff to other tech companies, which means all these other tech companies probably aren't doing so well either.

I know that one conversation with a friend doesn't make the overall numbers either better or worse than they really are, but it certainly makes them more concrete. I hope the tech sector isn't about to drag the U.S. economy into the doldrums yet again.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMES ON EDWARDS....Did the LA Times assign their John Edwards editorial today to someone from the Bush campaign? A wee sample:

Kerry's choice of Edwards for No. 2 on his ticket...reflecting Kerry's caution and, some might say, his lack of vision...a lack of core beliefs could be a significant problem. The more frightening possibility, though, is that Edwards does have core beliefs.

Edwards...nearly insane ambition...tougher issue...is whether he has garnered enough experience for the world's biggest job. A short answer to that is: No....In recent elections, voters have shown a clear and probably wise preference for governors over members of Congress....Republicans can brag that their ticket not only has a former governor and current president on the top but has as No. 2 the former chief executive of a company....

One more thing. Edwards is handsome.

Yeesh. And it's actually worse if you read the whole thing. Did someone on the Times' editorial staff get sued by John Edwards once?

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEDICARE FOLLIES....Remember Richard Foster, the chief Medicare actuary who calculated — correctly — that Bush's prescription drug bill would cost $500-600 billion, not the $400 billion estimated by the administration? His estimate never made it to Congress, and the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Inspector General has been on the case trying to figure out what happened. Today they issued their findings:

The new report...found that on five occasions between June and October 2003, [Foster's boss Thomas] Scully blocked the efforts of his chief actuary, Richard Foster, to comply with congressional Democrats' requests for information about the cost of the Medicare drug bill.

Five times! These guys were dead serious about making sure that Congress was kept in the dark.

The bottom line, though, is that the HHS report says that no law was violated. An earlier report by the Congressional Research Service disagreed. The General Accounting Office will make the final determination in a few weeks. I can't wait.

And Foster's opinion? "My perception remains that Mr. Scully withheld that information for political purposes," he said. Gee, I wonder what led him to that conclusion?

Kevin Drum 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE VALUE OF PI....Warren Buffett writes today in the Washington Post that the United States House of Representatives is about to commit an act of lunacy. It is prepared to pass a bill mandating that stock options should be counted as an expense — basically a good idea since they are, after all, an expense — but that they should be counted as an expense only for the top five executives of a company. For some reason, options that count as an expense for the top five are mysteriously not an expense for anyone else.

Buffett is right that this is crazy, but the real provocation for posting about this is his comparison of this bill to an act of the Indiana House in 1897 mandating that pi be equal to 3.2. This is very close to correct, but since this is such a common story I thought I'd take this opportunity to set the record straight on what really happened. Here's the complete story:

  • A bill written by a crank named Edwin Goodman was introduced into the Indiana legislature in 1897 by Goodman's representative, Taylor I. Record. The bill specified that "the circular area is to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference, as the area of an equilateral rectangle is to the square on one side."

    Assuming that this was just a transcription error for "equilateral triangle," this mandates a value for pi of 9.23. In another section of the bill the value for pi appears to be 3.2, and in yet another section the author offers as "a gift to the State of Indiana" solutions to the trisection of the angle, duplication of the cube, and the squaring of the circle.

  • The bill was referred to the Committee on Swamp Lands, which passed it to the Committee on Education, which recommended passage. The House passed the bill 67-0.

  • In the Senate the bill was referred to the Committee on Temperance, which recommended passage. It was passed through a first reading without comment.

  • By chance, a Purdue mathematics professor named C.A. Waldo was visiting the State Capitol on other business while all this was going on. Upon learning what was in the text of the bill, Waldo did a little mathematical coaching and the Senate voted to postpone further consideration of the bill indefinitely. It hasn't been heard of since.

It's also worth noting that Goodman's original intent was to coax Indiana into passing the bill by offering his discoveries for use within Indiana royalty free. Everyone else would have to pay.

This all comes from a very well documented chapter in Petr Beckmann's excellent A History of Pi. Now you know.

UPDATE: Just to make something clear, there are many urban legends about some legislature somewhere mandating pi equal to 3 — usually for Biblical reasons, not crank reasons as in this case. However, as far as I know (and as far as Petr Beckmann knows, which is more important), the 1897 Indiana bill is the only documented case of it actually (almost) happening in the United States.

UPDATE 2: Fixed the transcription in the first bullet. The handwritten copy of the bill (included in Beckmann's book) does not match his transcription. He left out the underlined portion.

Kevin Drum 10:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BEST EDWARDS ATTACK SO FAR....Just how desperate will conservative attacks on John Edwards get? It's early days still, but here's the winner so far, courtesy of The Corner (natch). It seems that Edwards favors having translators available at big-city hospitals, and Jim Boulet smells blood:

Why all this interest in translation mandates by a trial lawyer? Professional translators make mistakes. According to the January 2003 Pediatics study, “Errors in Medical Interpretation,” [warning: PDF file], 53% of the translations by professional interpreters contain at least one error “with potential clinical consequences.”

Every translation error by a hospital-paid employee can become grounds for a costly lawsuit -- something unlikely to happen if the “translator” is also a friend or family member. Here’s a slogan for their campaign: “If you think medical costs are too low, vote Kerry-Edwards in 2004.”

Yep, that's right: Edwards favors having translators available not because it would cut down on medical errors, but precisely because it would increase medical errors and thus provide more work for his trial lawyer buddies! What a sly dog that John Edwards is.

Will this become a Republican talking point? I can hear it now: John Edwards: he's in favor of increasing deaths and injuries in hospitals so that lawyers can make a better living. Coming soon to a TV commercial near you!

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LIBERTARIANS FOR KERRY....Now that John Kerry has chosen someone other than Dick Gephardt as his running mate, libertarian supporter Jacob Levy plans to vote for a Democrat for president for the first time in his life:

I've had leanings in previous races, but they were uncertain, and typically mitigated by a sense that both major-party candidates had crossed some threshold of unacceptability. This time, it seems very clear to me that the Bush Administration has failed basic tests of competence in policymaking and execution, and of trusteeship of long-term interests like alliances and trade negotiations and moral credibility. I expect to dislike an awful lot of John Kerry's policies. But I don't expect that kind of failure of the basic responsibilities of the office. Four or eight or twelve years ago, I guess I wouldn't have known how important I found those considerations, as I hadn't seen a president who had failed along those dimensions. Now I have, and I do.

I don't imagine that this kind of "competence" argument is going to sway many voters, but Jacob is dead right: it's not just his ideology that makes Bush a bad president, it's his seemingly utter contempt for policymaking of any kind. He just doesn't care whether specific facts are true or false or whether specific policies will work or not.

It's something that's frankly hard to get your arms around, this idea that Bush apparently doesn't think that policy analysis is even a valid field of study. And yet it seems to be true: he has about the same respect for policy that creationists do for, say, carbon dating, and with the same disastrous results for his ability to understand and influence the real world.

We've never really had a president before — at least in recent history — who thought this way. The resulting mess is going to take someone a long time to clean up.

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE VEEP SELECTION....Over at the New Republic they've got a bloglike roundtable going on about Kerry's choice of John Edwards for vice president. Participants include Jonathan Cohn, Jonathan Chait, Franklin Foer, and Joe Trippi (though Trippi hasn't weighed in yet). So far, everyone seems pretty pleased with the choice.

I am too. Edwards was my personal second choice in the primaries, so obviously I think he's qualified to be president — which certainly ought to be the uppermost consideration. What's more, he's a good speaker, he has generally good policy instincts, he's a Southerner, and while he may not be an attack dog, he can throw some pretty good barbs on the campaign trail when necessary.

The fact that Kerry was willing to choose someone who's a more charismatic speaker than himself — and will inevitably take some of his spotlight away — speaks well for him. Like they say, first rate people hire other first rate people. Second rate people hire third rate people. This was a first rate choice.

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By: Kevin Drum

COMMENTS....A few days ago Billmon decided to turn off comments at Whiskey Bar ("I'm seeing more and more stuff on the threads that strikes me as marginal at best — people who seem to get their main kick out of insulting or picking fights with the other patrons..."). Today, the proprietors of The Command Post have done the same ("Frankly, I've had it with the disrespectful and un-civil commentary ... from the left and the right.")

We can add these to the many blogs that don't have comments in the first place, such as Instapundit ("the worst part isn't the flaming by people who don't agree with you, it's the nasty comments by people who generally agree with you") and the Volokh Conspiracy ("Rightly or wrongly, consciously or not, some people's perception of the blog and its bloggers will be molded by what the commenters post as well as by what the bloggers post.")

I get questions about the vitriolic tone of the comment section here with some regularity, and my answer is usually the same: there's just not much that I can do about it. True, I can ban people, but that works only if they have a fixed IP address, which these days most people don't. What's more, if the ban fails, the recipient is often pissed off enough to try even harder to make a pain in the ass out of himself.

It's also true that the problem is exponential. A year ago I got 10-20 comments on each post and had no trolls. As a result, the conversation was relatively civil. Today I get 100+ comments per post and the site has at least half a dozen trolls whose only love in life (as near as I can tell) is to start flame wars. The result is a melee.

What to do? Some bloggers spend a lot of time moderating comments, but that's a task I've never been willing to take on. Not only is it tedious and time consuming, but it also makes me responsible in some sense for what's left over. If a comment isn't deleted, that means I've made a tacit decision that it's a reasonable viewpoint — which would probably just lead to more posts like this, except without the disclaimer about whether or not I'm responsible.

Long story short, I don't have any plans to either get rid of comments or to moderate them, at least for now. But as more and more blogs cross the 10-20,000 reader mark, which is where comment sections seem to break down, I wonder if comments will increasingly become a thing of the past in the upper reaches of the blogosphere. Ask me again a year from now, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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VICE PRESIDENT....According to scuttlebutt being reported in every major newspaper, John Kerry will have announced his running mate by the time I wake up on Tuesday. Since I'll be sleeping through this announcement, consider this an open thread to predict, cheer, boo, or just generally kvetch about the future vice president of the United States.

UPDATE: It's John Edwards! Good choice.

UPDATE 2: The New York Post apparently disagrees. Or used to, anyway. They really need to watch this jumping-the-gun business....

Kevin Drum 12:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COUNTERINSURGENCY....The LA Times reports that the Pentagon is under mounting criticism for its inability to counter the Iraqi insurgency:

"We're going to have the same cast of characters in Washington and the same commander [Abizaid] in the field," said Andrew Krepinevich of the Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. "What gives you a sense of confidence we're going to become a lot more competent at something we haven't shown a great deal of competence at doing for a year?"

....Military experts point out that a counterinsurgency is the most difficult type of war to wage. With the exception of the successful British effort in Malaya in the 1950s, history is littered with examples of unsuccessful counterinsurgency strategies carried out by great powers. As the French learned in Algeria in the 1950s, the United States in Vietnam a decade later and the British in Northern Ireland, the most difficult part of any such operation is to separate the insurgents from the civilians from whom they draw strength. This, some top Pentagon officials say, has been one of the U.S. military's difficulties in Iraq.

I've read over and over from military analysts of various sorts that we could have won in Vietnam. The basic principles of counterinsurgency are well known, they say, and we were beginning to apply them successfully when Nixon made the decision to pull out. If he had stayed the course, we could have won.

Maybe. But if those principles are so well known, why do we never seem to learn them? Instead, three decades after Vietnam, I keep reading stuff like this:

U.S. jets dropped six bombs Monday on a residence believed to be a safehouse used by terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the U.S. military said. At least 10 people and possibly as many as 15 were killed, witnesses and doctors said.

Four 500-pound bombs and two 1,000-pound bombs were dropped in an operation designed to underscore the resolve of coalition and Iraqi forces....

This just scares the shit out of me. My greatest fear in Iraq is that it turns into the West Bank writ large, an endless, slow motion slaughter that demonstrates undoubted resolve but sucks the soul out of both sides in the process.

The West Bank and Gaza have been among the least successful counterinsurgencies ever, but our tactics in places like Fallujah and Sadr City sound more like West Bank tactics every day. I sure hope there's more — a lot more — than meets the eye here.

Kevin Drum 12:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MICHAEL MOORE HOLDS UP A MIRROR....I'm beginning to think that the real value of Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it serves as a pointedly political Rorschach test: you see in it primarily a reflection of yourself.

For example, here is Randy Barnett at the Volokh Conspiracy:

I was struck by the sheer cunningness of Moore's film....notice the film's meticulousness in saying only (or mostly) "true" or defensible things in support of a completely misleading impression....a genuinely impressive accomplishment in a perverse sort of way (the way an ingenious crime is impressive) — a case study in how to convert elements that are mainly true into an impression that is entirely false.

There isn't a trace of irony in this description, no acknowledgment that George Bush and modern conservatives use precisely this same technique as practically their entire stock in trade.

Then there's Andrew Sullivan, who makes the same point in Time magazine but then adds this comparison to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:

The truth is that both movies are different but equally potent forms of cultural toxin — poisonous to debate, to reason and to civility. And the antidote is in shorter and shorter supply.

Excuse me? This is Andrew Sullivan complaining about a movie being "poisonous to debate, to reason and to civility"? This from the same guy who referred to the left as a "fifth column" five days after 9/11 and followed that up with endlessly poisonous vituperation against anyone who questioned George Bush's steadfastness and virtue in the war against terror?

What's next? Noam Chomsky complaining that Moore is too one sided? Tom Friedman suggesting that he relies too heavily on anecdotes? Glenn Reynolds noting his reliance on snark and contempt instead of reasoned argument?

And what about me complaining that it was "a bit mediocre even as polemic"? I'll leave it to my readers to decide what that says about me.

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY FOURTH!....So how did Private Eli Drum, my great-grandfather, celebrate the Fourth of July in 1863? According to his diary he was assigned an exciting morning of camp guard in Glasgow — where he and the Illinois 107th were waiting for Burnside to get off his butt and start marching for Knoxville — followed by the news that General Grant had taken Vicksburg. Thanks to the telegraph station in his camp, he heard the news before Lincoln did.

(Oddly, there's no mention of Gettysburg in the July 3 entry. Then again, there isn't a July 3 entry, perhaps explained by the June 30th entry that "news is scarce and I will write no more until I hear of something to write." This is advice that many of us bloggers could profit by, although it strikes me that the Battle of Gettysburg really should have qualified as news.)

Anyway, have a great Fourth of July, everyone — even all you foreigners who beat the American contingent at Wimbledon. And remember, if you don't overeat the terrorists have won!

UPDATE: And here's some classic catblogging action for you: patriotic cats on Independence Day 2003!

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE CONSERVATIVE WAR ON THE TRUTH....As I was catching up on a few things this morning I ran across this Knight-Ridder story about the latest right-wing action program:

Conservatives across the country decry news coverage of the war as relentlessly and unfairly negative. Last week Brent Bozell, a conservative activist, launched a $2.8 million advertising and talk-radio campaign to discredit the "liberal news media."

Wow. These guys have $2.8 million to spend solely to convince people that they shouldn't believe anything they read in the papers? That's remarkable.

Of course, it's just one small cog in the conservative program to discredit anyone with enough independent expertise to pose a threat to conservative ideology. Scientists? They manipulate the evidence to favor their liberal agenda. University professors who have actually studied an area deeply? Just a bunch of wild-eyed socialists. Reporters? Enough said.

As Franklin Foer points out in this week's New Republic cover story, this attitude is pervasive in the Bush administration:

The most common explanation for this animus is that the White House overflows with political hacks uninterested in the nitty-gritty of policy. But the administration's expert-bashing also has deep roots in ideology. Since its inception, modern American conservatism has harbored a suspicion of experts, who, through adherence to inductive reasoning and academic methodologies, claim to provide objective research and analysis.

To be sure, this social-scientific approach has its limits. Conservatives have raised genuinely troubling questions about its predilection for downplaying the role of "culture" and "values" in shaping human behavior. But the Bush administration has adopted a far more extreme version of this critique: It takes the radically postmodern view that "science," "objectivity," and "truth" are guises for an ulterior, leftist agenda; that experts are so incapable of dispassionate and disinterested analysis that their work doesn't even merit a hearing. And the results have been disastrous.

Conservative distrust of liberal social science — sometimes justified — has metastasized in the past few decades into a distrust of any fact-based research program that reaches non-favored conclusions. Thus the distrust of the CIA when it initially resisted neocon beliefs about Saddam's WMD and the contempt for Arabists and State Department experts who warned that occupying Iraq required real planning and real knowledge.

The disaster this has caused is obvious and immediate. Less immediate, but no less disastrous, is the administration's refusal to acknowledge the CBO's economic projections or the scientific establishment's consensus on global warming. In this administration, if the facts don't fit their agenda, all the worse for the facts.

Foer has much more on this, and his full article is well worth reading. For a final word on conservative animus toward the "liberal" media, though, here's Nick Kristof today:

As U.S. Lt. Josh Rushing astutely notes in "Control Room," Al Jazeera is the Arab version of the Fox News Channel: "It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like Fox plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason — American nationalism — because that's their demographic audience and that's what they want to see."

That's about right. Conservatives who don't like the message these days either shoot the messenger or else hire their own more compliant messenger. It doesn't change the facts, mind you, but for a short while it makes them feel better.

Eventually, though, that "short while" will pass. What do they do then?

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DOGS AND BRATS....Wondering what brand of hot dog to serve at tomorrow's barbecue? Slate has the rankings for you.

Nathan's and Hebrew National are indeed pretty good dogs, but a few years ago I bought a few bratwursts on a whim and my plate of hot dogs went practically untouched. I've continued grilling a few dogs ever since, mainly for the kids, but most of the local kids are now teenagers and I probably won't bother this year. It'll just be hamburgers and brats.

Good stuff, grilled bratwurst. And very American, too, if you just look at it the right way.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A WEE OUTSOURCING QUESTION....Dan Drezner points today to a Washington Post article about outsourcing. The story quotes a Boston Consulting Group report that says American companies should get off their duffs and outsource more:

That is partly because the potential savings are so vast, but the report also cites a view among U.S. executives that the quality of American workers is deteriorating...."More than 40 percent of the companies we talked with expressed significant concerns about the erosion of skills in the work force," the report states....Midlevel engineers in low-cost countries, the report adds, "tend to be more motivated than midlevel engineers in the West."

Now, this may be quite true. But I have a question: did 40% of the executives they interviewed also express concerns about the high cost and low skills of American executives?

No? I wonder why? How much do you suppose General Motors could save by firing everyone above the level of vice president and replacing them with hardworking, highly talented, and incredibly well educated executives from India willing to work for $100,000 a year?

Kevin Drum 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

READING THE LOBBYIST TEA LEAVES....Matt Yglesias suggests today that shifts in the hiring patterns of Washington lobbysists may signal good news for Democrats in November. Here's the relevant stat from the Washington Post:

According to a review of job listings in Influence.biz, a lobbying newsletter, more than 40 percent of lobbyists with identifiable party backgrounds hired in the past six months have been Democrats. During the same period a year earlier, Democrats constituted only 30 percent of those hired.

That is interesting, given Republican efforts over the past decade to bludgeon K Street into hiring only Republicans or else suffer the consequences, but what really struck me was the, um, candid reaction from K Street Project enforcer Grover Norquist:

K Street Project spokesman Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, fumed that the Glickman hiring was "a mistake. It's goofy. It's a studied insult." The Motion Picture Association's "ability to work with the House and Senate is greatly reduced because they've decided to hire a guy whose claim to fame is that he is a retired Clinton hire," Norquist said.

....Beier's move to Amgen in December angered K Street Project spokesman Norquist. "That's not very wise on their part," he said. Speaking of key Republican leaders, Norquist added ominously, "People are aware that this has happened. It's going to be treated seriously."

Grover's not exactly subtle, is he? But he fits in nicely with Karl "We Will Fuck Him" Rove and Dick "Go Fuck Yourself" Cheney, doesn't he?

And while we're on the subject, let me recommend the definitive article about the K Street Project: "Welcome to the Machine," written last year by Washington Monthly editor Nick Confessore. It's must reading for anyone interested in how ruthlessly Republicans play the power game in Washington DC these days.

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTELLIGENCE FAILURE....So it appears the CIA is now going to get the blame for screwing up the prewar intelligence and convincing everyone that Iraq had WMD. Just as they got the blame two years ago for refusing to acknowledge the obvious fact that of course Iraq had WMD.

Brad DeLong shows us an unusually egregious example of this two-faced approach today by laying out a Jim Hoagland column from 2002 (Langley has obdurately refused to get on the WMD train) next to a 2004 column (Langley pushed us into war by panicking over WMD). It's a work of art.

But here's the most puzzling thing about the forthcoming release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's indictment of the CIA: chairman Pat Roberts says that "intelligence agencies did not rely enough on 'human intelligence' gathering after 1998," and this is what caused most of our problems.

But surely this misses a very large elephant in the room? It's not that we failed to rely on human intelligence, it's that we relied on the wrong human intelligence. Namely, Ahmed Chalabi's human intelligence.

As Bob Drogin and others have reported, Chalabi and the INC methodically delivered Iraqi exiles to the CIA and other intelligence services around the world over the course of many years, all of them apparently coached to provide similar (and false) information about the extent of Saddam's WMD information. This explains the "worldwide" intelligence failure that Roberts talks about.

Granted, it's the job of the CIA to decide if these exiles are worth paying attention to, but the fact remains that they were the victims of an extensive and sophisticated disinformation campaign that was backed by a very powerful coterie of hawks within the administration, including the vice president and the Secretary of Defense. To ignore this is to make a mockery of the investigation.

So here's the nut: when the Senate report finally comes out, count the number of times "Chalabi" or "INC" are mentioned — along with their backers in the Bush administration. If it's less than several dozen, it's not worth the paper it's printed on.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIFE IN JOHN ASHCROFT'S AMERICA....Freedom of Information Act? What Freedom of Information Act?

The Bush administration is offering a novel reason for denying a request seeking the Justice Department's database on foreign lobbyists: Copying the information would bring down the computer system.

"Implementing such a request risks a crash that cannot be fixed and could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating," wrote Thomas J. McIntyre, chief in the Justice Department's office for information requests.

...."This was a new one on us. We weren't aware there were databases that could be destroyed just by copying them," Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity said Tuesday.

Coming next: we can't fulfill your request because the dog ate all our floppy disks and we can't get more until the next fiscal year starts.

They're not even pretending to be serious anymore, are they?

Kevin Drum 1:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TEXAS EDUCATION "MIRACLE"....George Bush became governor of Texas in 1994 and reforming education was one of his major campaign promises. So how did he do?

A U.S. Census Bureau study shows that Texas again ranks last in the percentage of high school graduates.

The study released Tuesday shows that 77 percent of Texans age 25 and older had a high school degree in 2003, the same percentage as a decade earlier, when Texas ranked 39th in the country. Meanwhile, graduation rates in other states have improved and a record 85 percent of Americans have high school degrees.

So Bush's programs apparently had no effect at all, while other states showed consistent improvement. The result is that Texas now ranks dead last.

But there's good news for Texans: both George Bush and Rod Paige, the superintendent of the Houston school district and the man most closely associated with the "Texas Miracle," are gone. The bad news is that George Bush is now president of the United States and Rod Paige is his Secretary of Education.

Oops.

(Via Suburban Guerrilla.)

Kevin Drum 1:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PROBLEM WITH (MEN'S) TENNIS....Let's change the subject. Nick Schulz writes in Slate today about how racket technology is ruining tennis:

This year's men's draw at Wimbledon is more a serving contest than a tennis tournament. Defending champion Roger Federer, who has won 106 of his last 107 service games at the All England Club, will likely face Andy Roddick and his 153 mph serve in Sunday's final. Expect a lot of short points.

Nick thinks men's tennis is being ruined by ever-improving racket technology, and he's not alone in thinking this. The thing is, though, it's not the serve that's the problem.

The fact is that points at Wimbledon have always been short. With the exception of the almost inhuman Bjorn Borg in the late 70s, Wimbledon's fast grass surface has always been the private domain of serve-and-volleyers, players who rush the net after the serve and put the point away immediately (assuming they haven't won it already with an ace). What's more, new rackets haven't really changed this very much. Service speeds today are only slightly faster than they were in the wooden racket era.

Rather, it's the groundstrokes that have changed most dramatically. Modern rackets are so light and powerful that players can flick forehands and backhands on the run with spin and power that were unheard of with heavier wooden rackets. This helps the return of serve much more than the serve, which means that Wimbledon may actually be the one tournament that's benefited from newer rackets. Sure, there may be a few more aces than in the past, but a lot more balls are put back into play too. Overall, it may actually be a net plus for a server's paradise like Wimbledon.

It's on other surfaces — which is to say, every other tournament in the world — that the problems arise. In the past, the serve and return of serve were fairly evenly matched, which in turn meant that serve-and-volleyers and groundstrokers were fairly evenly matched. This made for interesting tennis.

But newer rackets have given enough of an advantage to the return of serve that virtually no one plays the serve-and-volley game anymore. What's left is a monotonous world in which nearly everyone plays exactly the same kind of tennis: big, powerful, looping groundstrokes that almost never miss. In fact, this "power ground" style is nearly the only game taught to youngsters these days.

Nick lists several possible rule changes that could change this, and correctly dismisses nearly all of them as infeasible. But as long as we're talking about infeasible rule changes, here's the one that would really improve the game: standardize the surface. Aside from Wimbledon, which is an anachronistic freak, major tournaments today are all played on two vastly different surfaces: clay and hard courts. There are two problems with this.

First, clay is such a slow surface that even in the wooden racket era it favored groundstrokers heavily. Today, with the advantage of modern rackets, it's laughable to even try and play any other kind of game. Pete Sampras may have been the best male tennis player in history, but he never even made the finals of the clay court French Open, let alone won it. That's ridiculous.

Second, even among groundstrokers play has become so specialized that the clay season and the hardcourt season might as well be different tours. You're either trained as a clay player or a hardcourt player these days, and there are very few top players who do consistently well on both.

The answer — if it weren't impossible — is to standardize the surface for the pro tour. The Australian Open is widely considered to be the best of the four grand slam tournaments, and one reason is that it's played on a fast hardcourt surface that evenly matches both groundstrokers and serve-and-volleyers. Pete Sampras and Boris Becker both won the Australian Open, but so did Jim Courier and Andre Agassi. Anyone can win, and it's the matchup of contrasting styles that makes it such a fun tournament.

So forget the different sized balls or raising the net or going back to wooden rackets, and stop obsessing about the serve, which is the least of modern tennis' problems. Instead, mandate a reasonable range of surface speeds, rip out all those clay courts, and turn tennis into a single sport again. If not for ourselves, let's do it for the children. Please?

(And as for Roger Federer, the reason he's won 106 of his last 107 service games at Wimbledon isn't because he uses a wicked racket. It's because he's such a damn good player it's almost scary. Look for him to take home the trophy on Sunday — rain permitting, of course.)

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KRUGMAN ON MOORE....Paul Krugman takes on Fahrenheit 9/11:

There has been much tut-tutting by pundits who complain that the movie, though it has yet to be caught in any major factual errors, uses association and innuendo to create false impressions. Many of these same pundits consider it bad form to make a big fuss about the Bush administration's use of association and innuendo to link the Iraq war to 9/11. Why hold a self-proclaimed polemicist to a higher standard than you hold the president of the United States?

That just about covers it.

Kevin Drum 11:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HITLER vs. "A METER"....Today, Nick Anderson of the LA Times decides to play evenhanded reporter and compare the "bare knuckles" advertising used on the internet by the major parties. Let's see what he comes up with. First, the Republicans:

Last week, the Bush campaign e-mailed a 78-second video to millions of supporters that included images of Adolf Hitler amid a stream of Democrats inveighing against the president.

Ensuing protests over the video's use of images of the Nazi dictator led Bush aides to add a 20-second disclaimer saying the Hitler clips had first been used against him by liberal opponents.

This, of course, is a lie, although Anderson does not bother to point it out. The clips are from an ad that was submitted to a MoveOn contest and then specifically rejected and denounced by MoveOn, so the Hitler images were first used by "liberal opponents" only if "liberal opponents" means "some guy with access to the internet."

The ad is still on the Bush website and Bush aides defend it as "a call to arms for Republican loyalists."

And what kind of skullduggery does the Kerry campaign have to compare to this? Here it is:

Likewise, Kerry has used Internet videos to attack Bush, even as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee claims to be taking the high road with positive television advertising.

One 50-second video, "Time's Up," says Bush broke promises on healthcare and uses a meter to count the days until the end of his term. Another, the 57-second "Very First Bush Budget," uses computer animation to mock the president's spending plans as the failed exercise of a schoolboy who struggled with elementary mathematics.

"Likewise" indeed. Kerry's ads use "a meter" and some computer animation. That's just shocking, isn't it?

A story about internet advertising is a good idea, especially for newspaper readers who probably haven't seen much of it. But how can Nick Anderson keep a straight face while pretending there's some kind of equivalence between (a) using images of Hitler to smear Democrats and (b) using computer animation to suggest that Bush's budget plans don't add up? Surely the plain facts of his own reporting should have suggested a rather different story to him?

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLINTON vs. BUSH....A few days ago conservative economist Bruce Bartlett predicted that taxes would have to go up in the next couple of years and coyly left open the possibility that Democrats might do it more responsibly than Republicans.

Today he emails to say that I should be interested in his latest op-ed, which turns out to be yet another small step toward the dark side:

Conservatives should rethink the Clinton presidency....Bringing the federal budget into surplus is obviously an achievement....More important, from a conservative point of view, Mr. Clinton achieved his surplus in large part by curtailing spending....He even reduced the capital gains tax...entitlement spending also fell....Mr. Clinton signed welfare reform into law in 1996, the only time in American history when an entitlement program was abolished....Mr. Clinton was also steadfast in his support for free trade....On monetary policy, he reappointed Alan Greenspan....

By contrast, Mr. Clinton's Republican successor has caused the surplus to evaporate, raised total federal spending by 1.6 percent of G.D.P., established a new entitlement program for prescription drugs and adopted the most protectionist trade policy since Herbert Hoover.

This is either (a) one very disillusioned conservative, or (b) a clever ploy to make sure there's a Democrat in the White House when taxes are (inevitably) raised around 2006 or so. Or maybe a bit of both.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong also comments.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOBS UP, HEALTH INSURANCE DOWN....The number of people suffering from a chronic lack of health insurance jumped more than 10% in 2003:

An additional 2.6 million people ages 18 to 64 were uninsured for more than a year, raising the total to 24.5 million, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

....The increase in the number of long-term uninsured, which Robin A. Cohen of the statistics center called "quite a significant jump," underscored the chronic nature of the problem and the decreasing likelihood that a job guaranteed access to health insurance, analysts said.

And this was in 2003, a year in which the economy grew 4% and we were supposedly recovering nicely from the 2001 recession. Another few years of a "recovery" like this and we'll be a third world nation.

But hey, I'm sure I'm just overreacting. The Heritage Foundation and Cato should be along soon with some rapid response cards for Republican congressmen and assorted talking heads to explain why (a) this isn't Bush's fault, (b) even if it were, the numbers are wrong, (c) even if the numbers are right it's actually a good thing, and (d) the statisticians at the CDC are just a bunch of agenda-driven lefties who hate President Bush anyway.

I can't wait.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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