Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING ROUND 1....Here it is: realtime thoughts on the first Bush-Kerry debate of 2004. Feel free to add your own fact checking in comments. I'll try to add them to the main commentary stream as I go.

Wrapup: I don't really have anything very creative to say. Neither candidate made any huge mistakes.

Bush's performance was mediocre, I thought. He was smirking too much during the cutaways, he alternated between defensiveness and an unattractive belligerence, and he repeated the same phrases a little too much. Staying on message is fine, but sounding like you've been hypnotized isn't.

Kerry did pretty well. He explained himself lucidly, he stayed on message, and he was clear and firm. He didn't have any killer lines, but he did have a few good ones. Overall, it seems to me that for an undecided voter who's just now starting to pay attention, Kerry won on points.

Liveblogging, on the other hand, didn't work out so great. The combination of frequent posting, high traffic, and lots of comments pretty much brought our server to its knees. The commentary below isn't sparse because I wasn't paying attention, it's sparse because that was about all I was able to get in while waiting for Movable Type to come back to life in between posts.....

A complete transcript of the debate is here.

10:16 Kerry: "You can be certain and be wrong." Yep.

10:14 Bush's stock phrases so far:

Saddam was a threat.
We must spread liberty.
My opponent keeps changing his position
You can't say "wrong war at the wrong time."
Central part of the war on terror.
Solemn duty to protect the American people.
You can't send mixed messages.

I've heard each of these at least half a dozen times so far. It's like a robot talking.

10:06 Moo-laws?

10:02 Bush just tried to make some hay out of Kerry's phrase about pre-emptive action having to "pass a global test." That was poor wording from Kerry, but Bush couldn't manage to do much with it. I'm surprised. That was sort of a softball.

9:55 Bush: "I never wanted to commit troops." Give me a break.

9:49 Kerry: "The president's plan is four words: 'More of the same.'" That's a good line.

9:44 Bush is just relentlessly on message. The same phrases over and over and over....

9:37 Bush: "You forgot Poland." That line could end up as fodder for Leno and Letterman.

9:35 Overall, Bush seems more defensive than usual tonight....

9:34 Bush: "Of course the UN was invited in." Please. Tell that to Hans Blix.

9:26 Bush seemed a little unnerved by Kerry's accusation that he wasn't doing everything he could to protect America.

9:24 Bush actually has the nerve to complain about a "tax gap"? Yes he does.

9:20 Kerry really needs to stop nodding when Bush is saying stuff he disagrees with.

9:06 I dunno, Kerry's face doesn't look orange to me. Bush looks a little bronzed, though....

9:03 There will be green, yellow, and red lights, plus flashing red lights and a backup buzzer! Sheesh.

9:00 Jeff Greenfield on CNN: what's important is "who controls the room." Um, OK.

Kevin Drum 9:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S NERO ON LINE 1, HUGH....Earnest commentators around the country have been urging the press to focus on substance tonight instead of obsessing over facial tics, body language, hairstyles, and other trivia. In the face of this tsunami of conventional wisdom, I'm glad to see that one man has the guts to call a spade a spade and demand that the media pay more attention to makeup and juvenile theme songs.

A grateful nation salutes you, Hugh Hewitt.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW WEST BANK....A private email from Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi about conditions in Baghdad has been getting a lot of attention today, and it's not hard to see why. Here's some of what she has to say:

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

....America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

It's well worth clicking the link to read the whole thing.

It is more and more obvious that George Bush has only one overriding concern right now: to keep a lid on this until November 3. Somehow somehow keep the American public from learning that Iraq has turned into America's very own version of the West Bank until he's safely reelected.

After that, he'll have a choice to make: pull out or put in more troops. Which is it going to be?

Kevin Drum 6:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE FACT CHECKING....Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post wants bloggers to form a gigantic decentralized fact checking consortium for tonight's debate.

Sounds good to me. I'll be liveblogging the debate tonight starting at 9 pm Eastern, so come on by and join the fact checking army in the comment thread. It's a little hard to liveblog and keep up with comments at the same time, but I'll do my best to follow along and fact check in real time. Should be fun.

Kevin Drum 6:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

THE QUESTION... Are we safer now than we were four years ago? That's the question this ad poses. It's the one question that could change the dynamics of the race. I hope someone asks it tonight.

Paul Glastris 4:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GREETINGS!....If George Bush is reelected, will he reinstate the draft? Merely asking the question has raised such howls of indignation from conservatives that it's pretty clear this question is hitting pretty close to the warblogger bone.

And why shouldn't it? After all, Bush has made his military stance clear: he will take the fight to the terrorists. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Iran will not be allowed to build nuclear weapons.

But everyone knows this is meaningless rhetoric given our current military strength. In Iraq alone, there's virtually unanimous agreement that we're too undermanned to successfully fight the growing insurgency there, which means there are only two realistic options: pull out or increase troop levels. "Staying the course" is a recipe for defeat.

So what's going to happen? Bush says he won't pull out, and it's also clear that as long as he's in the White House (and maybe even if he isn't) we won't get any serious assistance from other countries. What's more, as this Defense Science Board report makes clear, there are no more Army troops available right now, and Donald Rumsfeld knows perfectly well that his "modularity" initiative won't change that. So where will the additional troops come from? Not from the National Guard, that's for sure.

Basically, then, the troop strength question boils down to this:

  • Bush will not pull out of Iraq, but he also cannot afford to lose there. And while he doesn't have the political courage to say this before the election, there's clearly only one way to turn things around: more troops. More American troops. All the fatuous Rumsfeldian "by gollys" in the world won't change that simple reality.

  • There's no reason to think that Bush will change his philosophy of preventive war in a second term. Neither the neocons nor the garden variety hawks that control his administration will allow that. Unless you're an incurable optimist, this means more wars in the Middle East.

  • Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Does anyone truly doubt this? There are only two ways to prevent this: serious negotiations, including concessions from the United States, or military action. But Bush has refused to negotiate with Iran, and there's no reason to think this will change in a second term. That means it's either military action or a nuclear Iran. And if it's military action, that means more troops. A lot more troops.

The conclusion to all this is pretty obvious: either George Bush dramatically changes his military policy in a second term or else we're going to need a lot more teenage boots in the Middle East. A suprising number of moderates seem to be desperately pinning their hopes on the former based on some wishful thinking that I have a hard time grasping while conservatives are loudly blustering that the latter is just laughable although they don't present any particular evidence for this. In the end, they like sounding tough, but as long as an election is on the line they aren't prepared to level with the country about the logical consequences of that toughness.

It's easy for me to be philosophical about this: I'm 45 and I have a bad back. No tours of duty in the Khyber Pass for me. But if I were 18, or if I were the father of a 16-year-old, I'd be taking a much closer look at the plain realities of George Bush's policies and setting aside the pre-election happy talk. It's naive to think he's suddenly going to become a new man in his second term, and it's foolish to think his current policies won't lead to further wars. After all, that's what a lot of his supporters are actively rooting for. As this Zogby poll shows, it looks like draft-age men are finally starting to realize this.

Bottom line: You can vote for Texas bluster and a draft, or you can vote for real-world common sense and a volunteer army. It's naive to think you can get one without the other.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

BEATING THE DRUM... The Washington Post has nominated Political Animal for a best blog award in the "outside the Beltway" category. Congratulations, Kevin! Our Washington Monthly colleague Joshua Micah Marshall's site Talking Points Memo has also been nominated in two categories, including best "inside the Beltway" blog. It's a readers choice award, so if you want to vote for Kevin and Josh, go here .

Paul Glastris 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DEBATE BOUNCE....The LA Times has an interesting chart today that showed the size of the post-debate poll bounce since 1960 (as measured by Gallup). Here's the change in the approval rating spread between the major party candidates over the years:

  • 1960: 4% (Kennedy)

  • 1976: 4% (Ford)

  • 1980: 6% (Reagan)

  • 1984: 3% (Reagan)

  • 1988: 3% (Dukakis)

  • 1992: 3% (Bush)

  • 1996: 1% (Clinton)

  • 2000: 15% (Bush)

There are some real surprises here. Gerald Ford, despite his famous gaffe about Poland in 1976, gained ground on Carter after their debate. Ditto for Dukakis, who is widely held to have destroyed his candidacy by his bloodless response to a question about his wife being raped. And the real winner of both the 1992 and 1996 debates was Ross Perot. In those years, both the major party candidates lost ground after the debate while Perot gained ground.

But the real shocker is 2000: George W. Bush picked up 15 points on Al Gore. This is like hitting a hundred home runs in a season: it's not just a record, it's an almost inhuman blowout. No one in history has ever even come close.

According to Gallup, Bush went into the first debate in 2000 with an 8-point deficit and came out with a 7-point lead. And despite conventional wisdom, this is not because Gore was an awful debater. He's actually pretty good. But Bush was apparently much, much better.

I sure hope he's not that good this year especially since a major gaffe (as I speculated about yesterday) probably won't actually hurt him that much. At any rate, the famous debate gaffes of yesteryear sure don't seem to have done as much damage as people think.

Bottom line: George Bush is the intergalactic champion of presidential debates. John Kerry has his work cut out for him.

UPDATE: A reader emails to tell me that both Ford's Poland gaffe and Dukakis' rape gaffe came in their second debates. The Gallup numbers above refer to changes after the first debate of the year.

So: gaffe watch continues! A major league stumble from Bush could still cost him the election. Keep your eyes peeled!

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LA TIMES EDITORIAL PAGE UPDATE....Win one, lose one. Adding Jon Chait to the op-ed page was a good idea, but this week we learn about the latest addition to the Times' stable: Margaret Carlson.

Sigh. And her first column is every bit as vapid as you'd expect.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NORQUIST THE SCHMUCK....Conservative ber-geek Grover Norquist talks about the generation of Americans who enacted the New Deal and fought World War II:

This is an age cohort that voted for a draft before the war started, and allowed the draft to continue for 25 years after the war was over. Their idea of the legitimate role of the state is radically different than anything previous generations knew, or subsequent generations.

Before that generation, whenever you put a draft in, there were draft riots. After that generation, there were draft riots. This generation? No problem. Why not? Of course the government moves people around like pawns on a chessboard. One side spits off labor law, one side spits off Social Security. We will all work until we're 65 and have the same pension. You know, some Bismark, German thing, okay? Very un-American.

So Grover Norquist thinks that the Depression-era generation and the World War II vets who voted for increased labor protection, Social Security, and the WWII draft were "un-American." As Timothy Noah says, "Can you believe this schmuck?"

Unfortunately, yes I can.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GAFFE WATCH....Pre-debate coverage is blanketing the media right now, but for my money the best article I've read on the subject is "When George Meets John," James Fallows' take in the Atlantic a couple of months ago. Fallows didn't just find a bunch of tired campaign hacks to provide dueling quotes, he actually watched dozens of hours of Bush and Kerry debating in the past, looking for clues to how they'll perform this year.

His most interesting observation, I thought, was about the vast difference between the George Bush of today and the George Bush of 1994, when he was debating Ann Richards during the Texas gubernatorial race:

This Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant "billion"; "stole" when he meant "sold"), but fewer than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles.

....Obviously, Bush doesn't sound this way as President, and there is no one conclusive explanation for the change. I have read and listened to speculations that there must be some organic basis for the President's peculiar mode of speecha learning disability, a reading problem, dyslexia or some other disorder that makes him so uncomfortable when speaking off the cuff. The main problem with these theories is that through his forties Bush was perfectly articulate. George Lakoff tried to convince me that the change was intentional. As a way of showing deep-down NASCAR-type manliness, according to Lakoff, Bush has deliberately made himself sound as clipped and tough as John Wayne. Moreover, in Lakoff's view, the authenticity of this stance depends on Bush's consistency in presenting it. So even if he is still capable of speaking with easy eloquence, he can't afford to let the mask slip.

I say: Maybe. Clearly Bush has been content to let his opponents, including the press, think him a numbskull. Even his unfortunate puzzled-chimp expression when trying to answer questions may be useful: his friends don't mind, and his enemies continue to underestimate him.

The whole article is well worth reading, but this, to me, is its single most interesting question: what happened to George Bush? Is it deliberate? Is it getting worse? And how will it affect him on Thursday?

I think it's unlikely that Kerry will make any major mistakes, but judging from his recent performances it's just possible that Bush could suffer a sudden brain freeze and make a huge gaffe in front of 40 million people. It's going to be like watching a famous but aging tightrope walker and wondering: will he manage to hang on one more time or is this the day when he'll finally make a tiny misstep and end up as political street pizza?

Other interesting debate commentary comes from Paul Krugman and Howard Kurtz, who make the same point in slightly different ways: the thing to watch is less the debate itself than the post-debate spin war. In 2000, for example, most viewers thought Al Gore did fine, but over the following week, as more and more journalists jumped on board the spin bandwagon, opinion finally morphed and Gore's performance was officially declared dismal. Expect more of the same this year as reporters start talking to each other after the show and adopting each others' views out of fear that they've missed the crucial storyline that everyone else picked up on.

Of course, this blog is a no-spin zone you knew that, didn't you? and to make sure there's no spin I'll be liveblogging the debate, producing realtime commentary long before the spinmeisters get their licks in. It starts on Thursday at 9 pm Eastern time, so come on by and join the fun in comments.

Kevin Drum 5:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PORSCHE'S LATEST TOY....Pulitzer prize winner Dan Neil writes today about the new 2005 Porsche 911. It, um, sounds like a pretty nice car, except for that sluggish 4.6 second 0-60 performance. But the built-in stopwatch is nice.

Kevin Drum 3:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE GENIUSES....Sigh. For the 24th consecutive year, I have failed to win a MacArthur "genius" grant. However, my mother will be pleased to learn that a high school debate coach won one this year.

I wonder how long it will be before a blogger wins one of these things? Forever?

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FUNDRAISING FOR MORONS....Wow. The Republican party has done something so stupid that Stephen Bainbridge is threatening to protest by donating $50 to the Democrats.

I can't say that I blame him, either. This has got to be the dumbest fundraising idea I've ever heard of. Pissing off your most loyal supporters is really not a good idea.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION....Over at Obsidian Wings, Katherine has a guest post about a proposal from Dennis Hastert to ease up on those annoying UN conventions against torture. In particular, he wants to allow the federal government to suspend UN torture protections for anyone they define as a suspected terrorist. This would allow the feds to take people picked up in their terror sweeps and ship them to foreign countries with a known history of torturing prisoners unless they could prove "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured."

Please note: suspected terrorists. And it's now up to the defendent to prove he would be tortured an obvious sham since this is clearly an impossible task.

The technical term for this is "extraordinary rendition," one of those lovely CIA phrases from the 60s designed to protect tender suburban sensibilities from the reality of what the United States government is proposing to do: ship terrorist suspects overseas so that someone else can torture them for us.

Go read the whole post. And then call your congressman.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RANSOM....James Joyner brings together a couple of stories today that suggest western countries are paying ransoms to terrorists who kidnap their citizens in Iraq. Italy is widely believed to have paid $1 million for the release of "the two Simonas" (with an assist from Jordan's King Abdullah) and France is apparently making concessions to terrorists who have kidnapped a pair of French journalists with the possibility of money changing hands still open.

If this is true it's almost staggeringly stupid. What are they thinking?

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM....A couple of weeks ago I received a copy of The Bomb in My Garden, a memoir written by Mahdi Obeidi, "Saddam's Bombmaker." I wasn't inclined to read it at first, but when I flipped it over I found enthusiastic cover blurbs from Fareed Zakaria, James Fallows, and David Kay. It doesn't get much better than that, so I tucked into it.

As it turns out, it's a short, breezily told story, thanks to co-author Kurt Pitzer, and it only took a couple of hours to read. And while I don't really feel like writing a full-blown review of the book, I do have a few comments about it:

  • Making weapons-grade uranium is really hard. Sure, we all knew that already, but if you're interested in a user-friendly but technically detailed discussion of why it's so hard and what's involved, this is a pretty good place to start.

  • Saddam didn't have a bomb program in place after 1991. But that's not all: not only didn't he have an active program, but Mahdi makes it clear that he couldn't have had a program. There are half a dozen extremely advanced technologies involved that Iraq could get only from foreign sources, and even with a porous embargo in place it was just laughable to think they could get their hands on them.

    In other words, all the prewar nonsense about a "smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud" was just that: nonsense. And not just nonsense, but stuff the Bushies obviously knew was nonsense. It's impossible to read this book and not come to that conclusion.

  • Mahdi himself comes across as a bit of an enigma. The portrait he paints of himself alternates between nerdy scientist swept up by doing science for its own sake and terrified underling doing his job solely for fear of retribution from Saddam and his henchmen.

    And yet, it doesn't quite add up. Over and over he describes himself closing surreptitious deals and managing extremely tricky technologies in ways that could have been subtly slowed down with no effort at all and with no chance of being caught. And yet, in each case he seems to have played his role with relish. Mahdi is vouched for by no less than David Albright, but I can't help but wonder if he was a more enthusiastic proponent of an Iraqi bomb than he makes himself out to be.

Overall, an interesting read. I'm not sure it's worth buying in hardback, but I'm glad I had a chance to read it.

Kevin Drum 12:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CLUELESS....Here's the PowerPoint version of Dana Priest and Thomas Ricks' survey of opinion in the intelligence community regarding Iraq:

  • A former intelligence officer who maintains contact with CIA officials: "There's no obvious way to fix it. The best we can hope for is a semi-failed state hobbling along with terrorists and a succession of weak governments."

  • A U.S. government official who reads the intelligence analyses on Iraq: "Things are definitely not improving."

  • An Army staff officer who served in Iraq and stays in touch with comrades in Baghdad through e-mail: "There are things going on that are unbelievable to me. They have infiltrators conducting attacks in the Green Zone. That was not the case a year ago."

  • An intelligence expert with contacts at the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon: "There's a real war going on here that's not just the [CIA against the administration on Iraq] but the State Department and the military."

So the war against the happy talk from the administration is coming from the CIA, the State Department, and the military. Is there anyone else who counts?

In other words, is there anyone outside the White House who thinks that Bush has the slightest clue what to do in Iraq?

Kevin Drum 11:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEAN GIRLS....I saw Mean Girls on DVD last night. Recommended. Sure, the ending was predictably sappy, but it was pretty funny throughout.

Plus, my inner nerd couldn't help but be thrilled with a teen movie whose ending hangs on the heroine solving this problem:

But how the hell did she figure out the answer off the top of her head in 20 seconds? I sure couldn't do that.

Yeah, I know. It's a movie.

Kevin Drum 8:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY I HATE BALLOT INITIATIVES....I got a fair amount of email taking me to task for my stance of voting no on all ballot initiatives, so I thought I'd expand on the subject a bit and explain myself. There are three basic reasons I'm opposed to the initiative process:

  1. In California, ballot initiatives were originally a progressive-era reform designed to provide a way for grass roots movements to bypass a frequently corrupt legislature. Today, however, it costs millions of dollars to qualify and pass a ballot initiative, and this means that they are now overwhelmingly the handmaiden of well-funded corporate interests, not ordinary citizens. That's the unfortunate reality, and I really don't think that wealthy special interests need yet another outlet for influencing the political process. Since the original intent of ballot initiatives has all but disappeared, I don't see the point of keeping them around.

  2. Initiatives are constitutional amendments, which means that once passed they are almost impossible to change regardless of changes in the outside word. Even if I'm in favor of reforming bilingual education, for example, I don't think it belongs in the constitution. It belongs in the legislature, where it can be changed in reaction to new facts, new demographics, and the normal give and take of the political world.

  3. Initiatives increasingly are used to mandate specific expenditures. The result of this is that today the legislature has control over only a fraction of the state budget. (And when you add in federal mandates, contractual obligations, and court-ordered spending, the California legislature has practical control of perhaps 15-20% of the entire budget.) This is a horrible way of implementing budget policy.

The bottom line is that I think ballot initiatives do more harm than good these days. The process is mostly limited to use by wealthy interests that can afford expensive signature gathering campaigns and million-dollar ad buys, the results locked in stone for all time are increasingly reactionary, and they contribute to keeping the California legislature in a permanent state of infantilism since they control fewer and fewer important issues as time goes by.

The only real answer to this on my end is to vote no on everything and urge everyone else to do the same. My hope undoubtedly vain is that if enough people feel this way it will become almost impossible to get anything passed. And when that happens, special interests will give up and go back to bribing legislators, just like in the old days.

That said, I'll admit that my prohibition isn't absolute. Occasionally I vote yes on something, it's just that the bar is very high.

And with that in mind, Chris Nolan and Chris Mooney both have arguments for why they think the stem cell initiative ought to cross my threshold and get my vote. They haven't convinced me yet, especially since this initiative so clearly violates principle #3, but you never know. My mind isn't set in stone yet.

Kevin Drum 5:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OCTOBER SURPRISE....In honor of Christopher Hitchens' despair over Teresa Heinz Kerry's remarks that she "wouldn't be surprised" if the Bushies suddenly sprung a freshly captured Osama bin Laden on an awed world a few weeks before the election, I dedicate this post to the subject of October Surprises.

See, I actually wrote a piece about October Surprises for the Monthly, but in the end I couldn't find the right balance between snarkiness and seriousness and it never found its way into print. But Mark Green is running a "Name the October Surprise" contest, so what better time to resurrect it?

Not the whole gruesome thing, of course. Instead, here's the barebones top ten eight list of possible October Surprises (note that this was originally written in April):

  1. Saddam goes on trial televised live on Fox!

  2. Osama is captured (or defrosted or whatever)

  3. Karl Rove kills Ronald Reagan

  4. The long lost WMD is finally found

  5. John Kerry gums up progress at the UN

  6. Bush makes a deal with North Korea

  7. George Soros crashes the U.S. economy

  8. Donald Rumsfeld resigns

As you can see, #3 was overtaken by events, so it's really a top seven list. (And no, I don't think Karl Rove was responsible. At least, um, I don't think so.)

It's worth noting, too, that there are two famous examples of October Surprises in recent American history. The first was allegedly carried off by Richard Nixon, who derailed Vietnamese peace talks that he was afraid might help Hubert Humphrey's campaign. This one actually appears to be true. The second was the supposed handiwork of Ronald Reagan, who supposedly made a deal with the Iranian mullahs to supply them with high tech weaponry if they'd hold onto their hostages until after the election. This one appears to be bogus.

Note, though, that in both cases the surprise came from a challenger, not a sitting president. But hey, there's a first time for everything!

In any case, feel free to expand on one of mine or make up one of your own for Mark's contest. The winner gets a book, some Air America trinkets, and a live appearance on Air America to "bask in the gratitude of a skeptical nation." What more could you want?

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DICKING AROUND....Really, there are times when you have to admire Christopher Hitchens. In Slate, speaking about the war, he says:

What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around?

And get this: he's talking about the left! That's chutzpah!

After all, Hitchens has chosen to ally himself with the most unserious group of war leaders this country has ever seen. They treated the runup to war like a marketing blitz for a new soft drink; they have trivialized critical issues of national security because doing so made them into better partisan cudgels for congressional campaigns; they have ignored the advice of military professionals because it was electorally inconvenient; they have repeatedly misled the American public even though they surely know that this is disastrous for long term support of the war; and they have refused to seriously address the exploding guerrilla war in Iraq for months because they're afraid it might hurt their reelection chances.

Needless to say, Hitchens acknowledges none of this. In fact, later in the piece, he opines that "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a far more ruthless and dangerous jihadist" than Osama bin Laden without so much as a nod to the fact that we might have captured or killed Zarqawi two years ago but for Bush's fear that doing so might interfere with his Iraq war marketing campaign.

So what is the real danger to the war effort? Apparently it's DC scuttlebutt about whether the Bush administration will suddenly capture Osama next month as part of an "October Surprise." That's important.

In a sense, Hitchens' pieces encapsulates everything that's wrong with so many pro-war hawks. They've defined a new kind of political correctness in which every rhetorical slip is immediately seized on as a sign of deep moral corruption, while actual issues of national security are hastily swept under the carpet because it's somehow better to have an incompetent fellow traveler in the White House than a liberal who might actually get something done. In this world, writing a column about Teresa Heinz Kerry's Osama-baiting is more important than writing about the almost unbroken string of real-world failures by the Bush administration failures that are almost certain to continue for another four years if he's reelected.

That's important. But that's not what they want to talk about. Can you blame them?

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KOS AT THE COURT OF ST. JAMES....Hey, it looks like Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos has landed a job writing a weekly column for the Guardian. Good luck explaining the American right to a British audience, Kos!

Now then, can we get back to talking about the increasing professionalization of the blogosphere....?

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Adam Liptak has a story in the New York Times tonight about all the reporters who have been subpoenaed to testify in the Valerie Plame case. Most of the story is only moderately interesting, but it does confirm that no one knows what's going on with the reporter at the very center of the case: Robert Novak.

The real mystery in the investigation, lawyers involved in it say, is what Mr. Novak has done. Mr. Novak's lawyer, James Hamilton, declined to comment. There are four essential possibilities.

Mr. Novak may not have been subpoenaed, which would be curious. He may have asserted the reporter's privilege, but there is no reason to think that Judge Hogan would have ruled in his favor.

He may have asserted his rights under the Fifth Amendment. But Mr. Novak faces no real peril under the 1982 law, and Mr. Fitzgerald could in any event require him to testify by offering him immunity. Or Mr. Novak may have testified.

It's peculiar that we know all about the subpoenas issued to Walter Pincus and Matt Cooper and Judith Miller and several others, but apparently not one single reporter has any idea what's going on with Novak. You'd think one of these guys could find an anonymous source somewhere willing to tell them....

Kevin Drum 10:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EMINENT DOMAIN....Via Avedon, Dwight Meredith writes about the increasingly questionable practice of local governments condemning land not for roads or schools or parks, but so they can turn it over to a private developer who wants to build a shopping center or an office building or a bunch of condos. This technique is commonly used in urban renewal schemes, sometimes for the best of reasons, but the common thread is nearly always the same: the new development, whatever it is, will produce more tax income for the city than the old one.

(Although there are exceptions. George Bush, for example, was the beneficiary of one prominent example of eminent domain used for private purposes when the city of Arlington spent $200 million to build him a baseball stadium. Bush undoubtedly fared a lot better in this deal than the city did.)

Here in Orange County, the city of Cypress recently got itself in trouble when it learned that a church had bought some nearby property and hastily decided it would rather have a CostCo there instead. Big box retailers bring in considerably more tax dollars than a church, you see. Unfortunately for Cypress, picking on a church makes the fundamental issues a lot clearer for most people, since it's pretty obvious that tax revenue is the real driver in the deal. You might be able to convince people that a CostCo is a genuine civic improvement compared to a bunch of low-income housing and some old warehouses, but it's a lot harder to sell them on the idea that it's a step up from a church.

I have mixed feelings about the whole issue, since this kind of eminent domain is often used by redevelopment agencies for genuinely worthy urban renewal projects. Still, worthy or not, I have a hard time convincing myself that it's a legitimate use of government power. What's more, once you decide that private development is a legitimate use of eminent domain, it's hard to figure out where the line gets drawn. Can a city condemn private land for anything that it thinks serves a higher purpose of some sort? What's to stop it?

Read Dwight's post for more about this. And be sure to read to the end for the punch line. He's got a question for Texas home builders.

Kevin Drum 10:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTER FRAUD IN FLORIDA, PART CXXVI....Publius at Legal Fiction decided today to revisit a story he's written about before, and in the process uncovered some damn good reporting from Chris Davis and Matthew Doig of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Short version: Felons are not allowed to vote in Florida, and last July, after a protracted battle by the state, a federal judge forced Florida election officials to make their newly created felon list public. Surprise! It turned out the list had lots of blacks (who mostly vote Democratic) but virtually no Hispanics (who mostly vote Republican). After a public outcry, the list was scrapped.

Fine. But why were there no Hispanics on the list? Was it just an unforeseen computer glitch or was it deliberate hanky panky? Publius has the full story, and the bottom line is that the evidence seems to indicate that it probably wasn't just a glitch. Go read it.

I'll add one comment of my own. The technical reason that Hispanics were excluded from the list is that Florida officials insisted that no one be purged from voting rolls unless their voter registration record matched perfectly with a prison record. This is a good idea, but it turns out that Hispanics are listed as "white" in the prison database and as "Hispanic" in the voter registration database. Thus, none of them matched perfectly.

Davis and Doig present several pieces of evidence that suggest everyone knew perfectly well this would happen, and all of it makes sense to me. I've been involved in database projects like this before, and they all the work the same way, especially when they're done by a big consulting company like Accenture. The database schemas are all carefully compared with each other, test runs are performed, data conversions are done, and sample data is run and matched against hand-checked data to make sure all the code is working properly. This and more is done multiple times by multiple people (and billed out at $200 per hour). That's just how it works, and an obvious data mismatch like this would leap out almost immediately and set off all sorts of alarms.

In other words, of course they knew. In a project of this size, it's just inconceivable that they didn't. And if CNN and several local newspapers hadn't sued to open up the database, no one would ever have been the wiser.

Disgusting. But hardly unexpected, is it?

Kevin Drum 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS SOURCES....Both the New York Times and the Washington Post put rules in place a few months ago barring the use of anonymous sources unless there was a good (and stated) reason for them to be anonymous. Since then, one of my personal sources of amusement has been observing the contortions their reporters go through to explain why their anonymous sources want to stay anonymous.

Needless to say, the actual reason is always the same: the source is anonymous because he/she is afraid of getting in trouble for talking to the press. However, there seems to be an unwritten rule or perhaps it's just a point of personal pride against using the exact same excuse more than once, which means that this basic reason gets recycled in dozens of different contorted ways. Today, however, in a story about Dan Rather's future, Jacques Steinberg just gives up:

[Blah blah blah] said the executive, who requested anonymity out of fear of being fired at a time of turmoil at CBS News.

Attaboy, Jacques. He's anonymous because he'll get fired if his boss finds out he talked to you. That's telling it like it is.

Anyway, I think that's the end of the contest, and everyone should now give up trying to find different ways of justifying their blind quotes. After all, thinking up ever newer and more creative ways to say the same thing is just taking up brain cells that could be better used writing the actual stories.

Kevin Drum 4:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Rush to Judgment... On those days (and they are not infrequent) when I'm late to work, I try to catch a few minutes of Rush Limbaugh's show on the drive in. I'm convinced it's good for me; it's a way to get my heartrate up without having to exercise. Anyway, I missed him today, but am told Rush was raving about the piece we ran by Grover Norquist in the current issue of The Washington Monthly. You can read the piece here.

Update: I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Rush did not gush about, nor even mention, Kevin Drum's piece in the same issue, in which Kevin predicts that in a second Bush term, should he win one, President Bush will be engulfed in scandal.

Paul Glastris 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTIONS IN IRAQ, PART 2....President Bush says 100,000 "fully trained and equipped" Iraqi soldiers are at work and more than $9 billion will be spent on reconstruction contracts in Iraq over the next several months. Reuters, however, reports that "many of these assertions have met with skepticism from key lawmakers." In plainer English, they think he's lying.

Then there's this:

The status of election planning in Iraq is also in question. Of the $232 million in Iraqi funds set aside for the Iraqi electoral commission, it has received a mere $7 million, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.

....According to a one-page election planning "time line," registration materials are supposed to be distributed in early October and initial voter lists to go out by the end of October, which is during the holy month of Ramadan.

So far, the United Nations has been reluctant to send staff back into the battle zone. It only has 30 to 35 people now in Baghdad, no more than eight working on the elections.

"The framework for it (free and fair elections) hasn't even been set up. The voter registration lists aren't set. There have to be hundreds of polling places, hundreds of trained monitors and poll watchers. None of that has happened," Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State for President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, told ABC's "This Week."

"Early October" is only a week away. I guess that's when the rubber starts meeting the proverbial road.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTIONS IN IRAQ....I missed this when it happened I guess everyone was too wrapped up in Rathergate to give it much attention but Tim Dunlop points out today that there was an election recently in Iraq that might be a foretaste of the countrywide elections scheduled for January.

Earlier this month, the Iraqi National Council elected four vice-chairs. Over at Foreign Policy In Focus, Frank Smyth summarizes the results:

In the September balloting, the delegate from the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Jawad al-Maliki, came in first with 56 votes. This is a Shiite group that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld lambasted as a tool of Iran during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Another Iraqi even less attractive to Washington, the Secretary General of the Iraqi Communist Party (www.iraqcp.org), Hamid Majid Moussa, came in second with 55 votes.

Meanwhile, Rasim al-Awadi, the delegate from the Iraqi National Accord the group once backed by the CIA and whose leader, Iyad Allawi, who was supported by the Bush administration to become the Iraqi prime minister came in third with 53 votes. Nasir A`if al-Ani the delegate from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, sympathetic to the Baathist-based, anti-American resistance operating both west and north of Baghdad came in fourth with 48 votes.

Juan Cole, who did notice this at the time, quipped, "So, this list is further evidence that the US invaded Iraq to install in power a coalition of Communists, Islamists and ex-Baathist nationalists. If you had said such a thing 3 years ago you would have been laughed at."

No one's laughing now. After all, if this reflects the likely results of January's elections, what are the odds that Iraq 2.0 is going to be friendly toward the United States?

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTE FOR US OR DIE....Mark Kleiman complains today that while there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the debate about drug importation from Canada, there's a distinct difference between the debaters themselves: supporters of drug reimportation are at least making legitimate arguments and being truthful about their goals, while opponents are just making stuff up in order to scare people.

Color me something less than shocked. After all, using scare tactics about terrorism in every imaginable situation has become practically a fetish among Republicans since 9/11. Consider:

  • Canadian drugs: In an interview in August, FDA commissioner Lester Crawford tells an AP reporter that re-importing Canadian drugs is a bad idea because "cues from chatter" indicate that terrorists might target imported drugs.

  • Civil service protection: During the debate on the creation of the Homeland Security Department, George Bush insisted that he would veto any bill that included normal civil service protections for workers in the department. Spokesman Ari Fleischer explained: "The president will be effectively prevented from making decisions based on national security no matter how urgent a crisis we find ourselves in."

  • Refugees from Haiti: A Haitian refugee named David Joseph has been imprisoned for two years. He has an uncle in Brooklyn and nobody suggests he is anything but harmless. John Ashcroft refuses to release him, claiming that it might encourage terrorists to use Haiti as a staging area.

  • Taxes: On the eve of the Iraq war, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay explains that "Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes."

I wonder how they expect the rest of us to take terrorism seriously when they themselves so transparently think it's nothing more than a trivial debating point?

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PROPOSITION 71....Given my general policy of voting no on all ballot initiatives, Chris Mooney wonders how I'm planning to vote on Proposition 71, a $3 billion bond measure that would fund stem cell research.

Sadly, the answer is that I'm probably going to vote no. I generally support taxpayer funded basic research, and I really, really support the symbolism of sticking it to George Bush and the Christian right zealots who were responsible for cutting off federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research in 2001.

But one of the reasons I'm opposed to the initiative process in general is that it's lousy public policy for the electorate to continually lock in long-term funding for pet projects via constitutional amendments or (as in this case) bond measures. This is one of the reasons California's finances are in such bad shape: we've spent the last couple of decades allocating about 80% of state spending via constitutional amendment and then griping loudly when the legislature and the governor don't have the maneuvering room to fix things during economic downturns.

If the legislature wanted to allocate money for embryonic stem cell research, I'd evaluate it on its merits. (Although since California is bankrupt at the moment, the timing wouldn't exactly be favorable.) But adding yet another spending mandate via the initiative process is a bad idea, and the fact that this particular spending is something I support doesn't change that.

Bottom line: I'm probably voting no on 71 unless I hear some awfully good arguments in favor. Feel free to make them in comments.

Kevin Drum 9:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NIGHTMARE IN IRAQ....I'm pretty tired of blogging about the wretched situation in Iraq, but it's hard not to. Here's the latest, from a confidential report about insurgent attacks written by a private security firm for the government:

A sampling of daily reports produced [over the past two weeks] by Kroll Security International for the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that such attacks typically number about 70 each day. In contrast, 40 to 50 hostile incidents occurred daily during the weeks preceding the handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government on June 28, according to military officials.

....In number and scope, the attacks compiled in the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence that contrasts sharply with assessments by Bush administration officials and Iraq's interim prime minister that the instability is contained to small pockets of the country.

This stuff just keeps coming and coming, and virtually no one except those paid to do so even disputes it anymore. Iraq is a nightmare.

And the worst part isn't the question of whether elections can be held everywhere next January. Despite his usual belligerent phrasing, Donald Rumsfeld is basically right when he says that elections in 80% of the country are better than no elections at all. The worst part, assuming the elections go off in some semblence of order, is that there's really no reason to think they will change anything. And when the elections have been held but the attacks continue to increase, what's next? What's the plan then?

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOG NAVEL GAZING....Whiskey Bar's Billmon breaks his blogging silence in the LA Times today to mourn the taming of the blogosphere:

Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.

In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy is gaining larger audiences and greater influence. But the passion and energy that made blogging such a potent alternative to the corporate-owned media are in danger of being lost, or driven back to the outer fringes of the Internet.

....I should have seen the writing on the wall earlier this year when the World Economic Forum, the ferociously trend-following CEO club, sponsored a panel session on blogging at its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland....At the time, the idea of buying a blog struck me as funny, like trying to buy a conversation. Now, having seen blogs I admired mutate into glorified billboards, and having witnessed the emergence of the "sponsored" blog (in which the blogger is literally an employee of, or contractor to, a corporate owner), I can see who's likely to have the last laugh.

This is something that's been in the back of my mind for quite a while too despite the rather obvious irony that (a) I myself was one of the first sponsored bloggers, and (b) Billmon undoubtedly considers me to be precisely one of those who's "glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy."

But despite (or perhaps because of) my role in this phenomenon, it's hard for me to get my arms fully around what's really happening. Just for starters, there's a fairly large taxonomy of ways in which the political blogosphere is becoming "professionalized":

  • Amateur bloggers becoming pros. This is the most obvious path, but it's not all that common. Matt Yglesias and I have done it by getting hired by political magazines, and folks like Kos and Atrios have done it by raising enough money on their sites to live on, but it's still pretty rare.

  • More professionals taking up blogging. Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall were the first, but since then there's been an explosion of professional reporters writing blogs. In addition, there's the growing phenomenon of serious policy analysts Steve Clemons, Mark Schmitt, Ruy Teixeira taking up blogs. There have always been expert bloggers around (Brad DeLong and Eugene Volokh, for example), but the DC-based policy blog is a relative newcomer, and one that subtly but noticeably changes the amateur, conversational tone of the blogosphere.

  • Highly promoted blog empires. Despite the plural, there's really only one of these: Nick Denton's stable of snarkmeisters, including Gawker, Defamer, and Wonkette. Still, Wonkette's Madonna-like dedication to self-promotion is so conspicuous that I sometimes think she's single-handedly responsible for about 50% of the attention the blogosphere gets.

  • BlogAds. This is a way for amateurs to make a few bucks and still remain amateurs, but as Billmon points out, it's almost impossible to accept advertising and not have it affect your writing at least a little bit.

  • Outside organizations aggressively using the blogosphere. This is underappreciated, I think. It started with the success of Howard Dean's blog, but it was probably inevitable regardless: the spectacular growth of political and policy organizations working hard to get the blogosphere on their side. The DNC and RNC are obvious examples, but there are plenty of others as well, inundating us with press releases, requests for links, and conference calls to "get everyone on board." Unlike professional reporters, who are used to this, bloggers have fewer defenses (especially toward organizations they agree with) and are often flattered to be getting the attention. This is a potentially toxic combination.

And there's one more thing that might be the most important of all: the sense that bloggers are having an impact. When you have an audience of a few thousand, you can just write what you want without giving it much thought. But once the idea takes hold that maybe just maybe serious people are taking blogs seriously, it changes how you write. There's just no way around that.

All of this affects you whether you want it to or not. The Washington Monthly editors, for example, don't influence my writing at all, either directly or indirectly, and yet somehow they still do. My audience affects me, my commenters affect me, all the press releases and phone calls affect me, the ads affect me everything affects me, even if I don't quite know how. That's just the way life is, and there's no reason to think the blogosphere should be immune from the ordinary pressures of human existence.

But despite the handwringing over professionalization, it's also notable how little the political blogosphere has changed. Take a look at the top 30 spots in NZ Bear's blogosphere ecosystem and you don't really see that much change from two years ago: the blogs that are popular today are the same ones that were popular back in the supposed golden age of amateur punditry. And of course, the fact that there are some new entries in the list just shows that increasing professionalization hasn't made it impossible for newcomers to break into the top ranks. Not yet, anyway.

Still, I miss the old blogosphere too, and I hope perhaps vainly that when the election is over some of it returns. I hope Atrios becomes funnier again, I hope I blog more on nonpolitical topics, I hope Kos becomes less of a pure fundraising site, and I hope Sullivan returns to the amusingly incandescent liberal hatred of his early blogging days.

As they say, though, hope is not a plan. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ORAL HYGIENE UPDATE....Brushing your teeth left handed turns out to be harder than you'd think. Assuming you're right handed, that is. Which I am.

UPDATE: In comments, Matthew Longo points out that you can take a test to find out how right-handed (or left-handed) you are. The most well known is the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory, a 10-question test that asks which hand you use for writing, throwing, opening a box, and, yes, brushing your teeth. I scored 100% right-handed. In fact, there were only two categories where I considered ever using my left hand (using a knife and opening a box).

For comparison, here's another test, which includes a few different questions. Once again, I scored 100% right-handed.

You can also go here to test your footedness (I'm "mixed right footed"), eyedness (I'm left eyed), and earedness (I'm left eared). It turns out that being strongly left-eyed and left-eared is pretty uncommon, which perhaps makes up for my garden variety right-handedness.

You learn something new every day, don't you? Not necessarily anything useful, mind you, but at least new.

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DO THE RIGHT THING....From Laura Rozen, after reprinting a piece about the popularity of beheading DVDs amid the ever growing chaos and anarchy in Baghdad:

This is almost unspeakably grim. Bush has turned Iraq into Lebanon, and he's running his election on this masking-taped Potemkin village of a liberated Iraq heading joyfully for elections that's all coming apart at the edges.

....You should hear the total condemnation of Bush's national security team I am hearing from Republican foreign policy hands I am interviewing for a forthcoming piece.

I'm looking forward to Laura's piece, of course, but why do I have to wait? Why aren't these Republicans loudly and publicly condemning George Bush's national security team now if that's the way they feel?

Criticizing your own side isn't easy, but I think there are an awful of Republicans who are going to have a hard time living with themselves a few years down the road if they don't speak up now. Time is running out to do the right thing.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CBS BENDS OVER....When CBS rushed the infamous Killian memo story to air two weeks ago, they bumped a story about the forged Niger documents to make room for it. Via Corrente, I just learned that CBS has released a statement saying it has now spiked the story entirely because it would be "inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election":

The CBS statement followed a report in the online edition of Newsweek that described the frustration of CBS News reporters and producers who said the network had concluded that it could not legitimately criticize the president because of the questions about the National Guard report.

According to the Newsweek report, the "60 Minutes" segment was to have detailed how the administration relied on false documents when it said Iraq had tried to buy a lightly processed form of uranium, known as yellowcake, from Niger. The administration later acknowledged that the information was incorrect and that the documents were most likely fake.

The Newsweek article said the segment was to have included the first on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who was given the fake documents and who provided them to a United States Embassy for verification. The documents were sent to Washington, where some officials embraced them as firm evidence that Iraq was aggressively trying to make nuclear weapons.

So not only was Dan Rather (with an assist from Bill Burkett) responsible for effectively killing the National Guard story for all time, but the resulting debacle has now convinced CBS that they shouldn't air any negative stories about George Bush for the next six weeks even if they're true. That's some courageous journalism for you.

If this is the liberal media, conservatives can have it.

Kevin Drum 1:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SHRILLNESS....Today, thanks to the fiendish intervention of Dana Milbank, Publius descends into shrillness. Can I be far behind?

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By: Kevin Drum

FAUX FAIRNESS....Peter Beinart writes a frustrating column about democracy promotion in the New Republic today. As he points out, in four of the countries most important to our anti-terror effort Russia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia George Bush hasn't merely ignored their anti-democratic tendencies, he's practically given them his blessing. But then, just when Beinart ought to be delivering the punch line, the piece peters out feebly, ending only with an airy complaint that Bush and his advisors are "inconsistent" and unwilling to "grapple with the intellectual contradiction underlying their war on terrorism." That's some hard hitting column writing!

Instead, why not simply go where the evidence leads? It's plain that democracy promotion is just a rhetorical device for Bush, one that shows up in speeches about places he doesn't like Iraq, Iran, Syria but not something that he genuinely cares about. As Beinart himself ably points out, it's not just that Bush doesn't push as hard as he could, it's that he doesn't push at all. Why not call a spade a spade?

And it's not just Beinart. In the Washington Post today, David Ignatius writes a column about the economic train wreck coming our way that makes plenty of good points. But then, after 600 words of smart writing about the recklessness of George Bush's economic program, he suddenly switches gears and wraps up with the suggestion that John Kerry is probably as much to blame as George Bush. This despite four years of unprecedented fiscal profligacy on Bush's part and over a decade of relative fiscal hawkishness from Kerry. Why is Ignatius so reluctant to state the obvious simply because the obvious happens to put one side in a worse light than the other?

I'm all for being fair, and there are reasonable arguments to be made in favor of Bush's overall policies and against Kerry's. The problem is that even in the cases where the evidence rather clearly points in only one direction, too many columnists are afraid to let the evidence speak for itself and lay the blame directly where it lies. Why?

Read more about it here.

Kevin Drum 5:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INDEFENSIBLE....Today, Jon Chait discusses a tax bill so grotesque that even the corporate lobbyists who were responsible for larding it up in the first place seem to be feeling a little guilty over the whole thing. He thinks it's a metaphor for what's really wrong with Bush and his cronies:

A normal administration would have some smart policy geeks in a position to prevail on the president to veto such a bill. That's what's so uniquely awful about this administration. It would never occur to anybody in power to veto a bill simply because it was indefensible.

Indeed it wouldn't. In fact, my guess is that Bush could probably sue someone for trademark infringement for using the word "indefensible" without permission.

Elsewhere on the LA Times op-ed page, Juan Cole's Wednesday blog post about conditions in Iraq was picked up and printed right next to Chait's column. It's nice to see op-ed editors mining the best of the blogosphere for compelling pieces.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHICH COUNTRY IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS?.... Via Laura Rozen, here's a blast from the fairly recent past: a November 2001 map from the State Department showing where al-Qaeda is active. I've cropped it down to the Middle East, and as you can see, virtually the entire area is awash in al-Qaeda activity.

With one prominent exception. Can you name the one major country in the entire Middle East that al-Qaeda was unable to operate in?

Kevin Drum 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAYPAL BLUES....Proving that idiocy knows no ideological boundaries, PayPal has suspended the accounts of both the liberal Jeralyn Merritt and the conservative Bill Quick. Jeralyn's offense was apparently linking to a video of the beheading of Eugene Armstrong, while Bill's offense, Kafka-like, is left entirely to the imagination.

As James Joyner points out, the real problem here is that PayPal is a de facto monopoly for internet payments at the moment. What's more, when one of their clerks decides he doesn't like the content of someone's site, PayPal doesn't just revoke the offending account, they frequently also freeze it.

But PayPal is a bank (regardless of what they actually call themselves), and banks should be in the business of providing financial services as long as they're legal. They shouldn't be in the business of deciding what's appropriate speech and what isn't, especially when their guidelines are unclear and capriciously applied. Isn't it about time for someone to create a payment service that's a genuine payment service, not a thinly disguised website nanny? And isn't it about time for someone with more clout than a blog to expose this practice and give PayPal the bad publicity they so richly deserve? Maybe Dan Rather could do it to atone for his sins.

For more about this, go to the appropriately named PayPalSucks.com and read all about it (and more).

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EMBOLDEN....Mark Kleiman raises a question I was too lazy to raise myself yesterday: who gave the marching orders to use the obscure word "embolden" in Republican speeches? Enquiring minds want to know.

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAN E....Is George Bush in "fantasyland" regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I realize that's the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it's honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days.

We all know the wildly erratic background. In the beginning, administration ideologues were convinced we'd be welcomed with flowers. Within a few months we'd install Ahmed Chalabi as president of a liberated Iraq, draw down the occupation force to about 30,000 troops, and declare victory.

That really was fantasy, but when that plan almost immediately fell apart there was no Plan B on the shelf. So the administration ginned one up posthaste: disband the Iraqi army and stay around for a while. Jay Garner objected, so he was fired and Jerry Bremer was called in to be our new proconsul.

But that plan didn't work out too well either. By November scattered attacks had grown into a full-blown insurgency and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, apparently tired of Bremer's strongman act, insisted on quick elections. After some panicky discussions back home and a call to the UN, Plan C was unveiled: we would turn over power on June 30 and hold elections seven months after that.

But that still didn't work. The turnover proceeded on schedule, but security didn't get any better. Fallujah and Najaf became rebel strongholds, hamhanded planning turned Muqtada al-Sadr into a Shiite hero, and a dangerous insurgency became a full-blown guerrilla war.

So now we're on Plan D, a feebly disguised version of Plan C: the elections will proceed as scheduled and that will fix everything. It's unlikely that anyone below the level of cabinet secretary actually believes this, but it's impossible to say so because there's an election coming up. An American election, that is.

That election, and the political considerations that go along with it, have been driving our military strategy for the past two years. Before the war, we passed up a chance to take out terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi for political reasons. We invaded with too few troops for political reasons. We lowballed the cost of the war for political reasons. We ignored the UN and then turned around and pleaded for their help for political reasons. Then we installed Iyad Allawi as president behind the UN's back for political reasons.

And just recently we've learned that the Marines were yo-yoed in and out of Fallujah for political reasons. The president has bizarrely dismissed his own intelligence agencies' analysis of Iraq as "guessing" for political reasons. He's ignored the advice of his own generals about troop requirements for the upcoming elections for political reasons. And assaults on Baathist enclaves have been postponed until December for fairly obvious political reasons.

And Thursday's press conference was just scary. It's no longer clear if George Bush is merely a cynical, calculating politician which would be bad enough or if he actually believes all the happy talk about Iraq that his speechwriters produce for him. Increasingly, though, it seems like the latter: he genuinely doesn't have a clue about what's going on. What's more, his staff is keeping him in a sort of Nixonian bubble, afraid to tell him the truth and afraid to take any positive action for fear that it might affect the election.

So things will just get worse, since no one is willing to admit the truth and no one is willing to propose serious action to keep things from deteriorating further at least not until after November 2nd. But by then it will be too late. And when the Iraqi elections fail, what happens then?

What's Plan E?

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TINA BROWN NAILS RATHERGATE....I hate to say this, but Tina Brown (yeah, yeah) gets it exactly right in her dissection of Rathergate today in the Washington Post. She gets the motivation right, she gets the blogosphere's role mostly right, and she gets the bigger picture right. It's the best thousand words I've read yet on the whole affair.

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DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....I'm glad to learn that I'm not the only one who was confused by today's New York Times article about election problems in Iraq. It seems that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani a person we should be listening to, if recent history is any guide is unhappy at the prospect of January's elections being postponed due to violence, but also unhappy at the prospect of Shiites not getting the representation they deserve. The first concern is self-explanatory, but not so much the second. So Matt Yglesias explains:

The election is supposed to be held under a party list system, where voters pick not candidates but political parties. Then each party will get a number of seats in the National Assembly proportional to its share of the vote. Rather than compete in an election, however, the leaders (mostly exiles) of the major parties -- INA, SCIRI, PUK, KDP, INC, and al-Dawa -- seem inclined to negotiate the outcome in advance and then run a consolidated list which is all-but-guaranteed to sweep the board, denying the Iraqi people an effective choice and freezing independent voices out of the government.

Sistani doesn't like this plan, at least in part because he thinks it will wind up under-representing Shiites relative to what they could secure in open elections. If what he's after is a simple renegotiation of the current formula under which exiles agree that Shiite Arabs are 55 percent of the population, then he stands a reasonable chance of getting his way. But if he wants to see a genuine election where the parties run against each other instead of colluding to lock out independents, then we're likely to see a serious conflict.

That's encouraging, isn't it? If Sistani is OK with the smoke-filled room approach but just wants a better deal, then hey, we can talk. But if it turns out he wants real elections, the kind in which actual people from actual parties run against other actual people from actual parties, then he's probably out of luck.

That's not much more than a mockery of democracy, but unfortunately I can't really complain too loudly. Roughly speaking, it would be as if Democrats and Republicans agreed to team up and decide in advance who was going to win each district in elections for the House, thus preventing any real choice. Which, of course, is pretty much exactly how it works these days, with both sides collaborating in gerrymandering schemes designed primarily to protect each other's incumbents.

In other words, Sistani is getting a democracy considered state-of-the-art by his occupiers. What more does he want?

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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COLE ON CAT....Feeling sorry for Cat Stevens? Juan Cole suggests you not bother:

To steal from Bill Maher:

NEW RULES: If you advocate the execution of novelists for writing novels, you and John Ashcroft deserve one another.

It hardly needs saying that DHS's statement that they are "extremely confident" about the information that prompted them to reroute the flight doesn't butter much toast these days. Still, Prof. Cole is probably right: perhaps there are bigger and better things to worry about at the moment.

UPDATE: Chris Bertram makes the obvious (and appropriate) rejoinder. But it's worth noting that DHS's actions might have been perfectly appropriate. We don't know (and probably never will). If it were clear that this was completely capricious, I wouldn't defend it, but given the uncertainty, I'm just not sure the former Cat Stevens is worth my time crying over.

Of course, a better analogy wouldn't have been a hypothetical case with Eric Hobsbawm, it would have been the very real case of barring Charlie Chaplin from re-entering the United States in 1952 because of his left-wing views.

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COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM....How do you screw the poor without looking like you're screwing the poor? Easy: insist that income requirements for child tax credits increase with inflation even though the incomes of the poor have stagnated or even dropped in the past few years. Jack O'Toole has the dismal details.

Needless to say, fine distinctions like this didn't get in the way of extending $13 billion in "last minute" corporate tax breaks. After all, corporations are reliable contributors to Republican campaigns.

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INTERNET FAME: A MODEST PROPOSAL....Edward_ at Obsidian Wings laments that a Google search for "Obsidian Wings" nets only 33,000 hits compared to 127,000 for David Brooks. Actually, though, that strikes me as pretty decent, considering how long Brooks has been around and how many high-profile outlets he has for his writing.

But that made me curious, so I entered "Kevin Drum." Result: 143,000 hits. Not bad!

And that in turn gave me an idea: I propose that we formalize this as a measure of Internet Fame (IF): 127,000 Google hits is equal to one "brooksie." By that measure, here's how various people rate:

  • Obsidian Wings: .26 brooksies

  • Daniel Drezner: .69 brooksies

  • Kevin Drum: 1.13 brooksies

  • Paul Krugman: 1.15 brooksies

  • Atrios: 2.06 brooksies

  • Instapundit: 4.35 brooksies

  • George Bush: 25.51 brooksies

  • Britney Spears: 34.25 brooksies

People with very low internet presences would have to measure their IF in millibrooksies. My mother, for example, has an IF of 2.7 mb.

So: what ISO committee do I need to talk to in order to get this officially adopted? After all, there are bound to be a few minor technical details to be worked out....

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ENRON ON THE POTOMAC?....There are problems at Fannie Mae. But who gets the blame?

Chief executive Franklin D. Raines and the board of directors were not singled out for blame, but the report criticized "a culture and environment that made these problems possible." It did name W. Timothy Howard, the company's vice chairman and chief financial officer, saying he "failed to provide adequate oversight" of key control and reporting functions and had jobs in which he both set earnings targets and then the accounting polices that could be used to meet them.

I'm really tired of this charade. With only the very rarest of exceptions (which usually involve obvious embezzlement of some kind), CEOs always know what the CFO is doing when it comes to broad accounting models. That goes for Ken Lay, Dick Cheney, Franklin Raines, and every other CEO. They know. One of these days, CFOs are going to have to form a union or something to keep them from being the sole fall guy in these cases.

On another note, if you're interested in the problems at both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you might want to check out Ben Wallace-Wells' cover story in the April issue of the Washington Monthly. Anyone who read that article five months ago won't be even slightly surprised by today's news.

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CALIFORNIA TO BUSH: DROP DEAD....Polling models may be in trouble, but ARG and the LA Times agree on one thing: Kerry is going to kick George Bush's butt in California.

On a personal level, that means local TV will stay blessedly free of campaign ads, which is a good thing since there's probably no room left in between the wall-to-wall commercials for the 16 separate initiatives on the ballot this year. We even have Propositions 60 and 60A, a numbering snafu that I've never seen before.

Needless to say, I will be voting no on all of them.

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PROBLEMS WITH POLLING....ARG has finished their massive nationwide poll of 600 people in each state (plus DC), a total of 30,600 respondents. Here are the basic results:

  • Nationwide, Bush leads Kerry 47% to 46%.

  • Kerry has the lead in 20 states with 270 electoral votes.

  • Bush has the lead in 29 states with 253 electoral votes.

  • Two states are tied (Wisconsin and West Virginia).

In a poll this large, there's essentially no margin of error in the national number, which leads Robert Waldman to wonder why other pollsters don't also use larger samples to eliminate (almost all) sampling error:

I think pollsters use small samples only partly to save money, and also to give themselves an excuse if their numbers are off. With a huge sample, a difference between the poll and the election would imply a more worrisome problem, either a biased sample, a faulty likely voter filter or a psychological difference between talking to a pollster and actually voting. It is clear that some or all sampling techniques give biased samples, because the spread of polls is too large to explain with sampling error alone. Polling agencies certainly don't want to spend money to prove that they are one of the agencies with a defective sampling technique.

He may be right. Sampling error is real, but it's not what's at fault for the huge disparities we're seeing lately, with polls taken on the same day sometimes varying by as much as 10 points or more. The real problem is the weighting formulas used by the different polling firms.

And as near as I can tell, it's only going to get worse. I've been reading for years that truly random telephone polling is getting harder and harder for a variety of reasons: cell phone proliferation, caller ID, fewer people willing to talk to pollsters, etc. This makes raw calling samples more and more distorted and puts an increasing burden on weighting models that correct the sample to more accurately reflect the actual electorate.

And that's not all. Add to this various formulas for deciding who's a likely voter and who's not, and what gets reported in the daily paper is becoming more algorithm than it is real data. What's more, calling more people won't help. If there's a systematic bias in the sample, it's going to be there regardless of the sample size.

What we're seeing this year may be the Cheynes-Stokes breathing of traditional polling models, and by 2008 the whole enterprise may either be dead or changed beyond recognition. In the meantime, though, we have the worst of all worlds: we're still relying on traditional polls even though the sample distortion is too large to be massaged away with fancy software, but we don't have new polling models to replace them yet.

In other words, we don't really know who's winning. Election day may turn out to be a real surprise.

Kevin Drum 12:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PARTISANSHIP AND WAR....It's kind of fun watching Andrew Sullivan and the NRO gang take potshots at each other they're almost acting like Democrats! and while I don't want to take sides in this grudge match, I have to say that I found Jonah Goldberg's latest rhetorical volley intriguing. Responding to Sully's complaint that George Bush didn't try to unite the country in the aftermath of 9/11, he says:

First, the Democrats made the deliberate and cynical decision to make dividing the country a priority. Perhaps not that much or not uniformly before the 2002 elections. But afterwards, and most especially once the WMDs didn't materialize....

To use the historical analogy in contention here, isn't this a bit like blaming Churchill for World War II because Britain started fighting back in 1940 most especially after all that Blitz unpleasantness?

Remember, 2002 was quite a year. After a calculated display of bipartisan mourning for public consumption, the Bush administration thereafter refused to consult with or even take notice of the existence of an opposition party. Republican consultants advised their clients to use the war as a wedge issue in reelection campaigns and the Republican leadership declared rhetorical war on mild-mannered Tom Daschle. Andy Card talked about marketing plans for the Iraq invasion. The White House cynically proposed a union-busting plan for the Department of Homeland Security designed solely to arouse Democratic opposition. The President told cheering audiences that Senate Democrats didn't care about the security of the country and campaigned tirelessly even against congressmen who had supported him. In Georgia, Max Cleland was likened to Osama bin Laden.

And it worked: Republicans won the election. And Democrats finally woke up and realized that George Bush was more interested in using the war as a partisan club than he was in actually fighting terrorists. So they started fighting back. If the Republicans were intent on making it a partisan issue, after all, what choice was there?

So yeah: "not that much" before the 2002 elections. Conversely, from the very beginning, it's been clear that Bush wasn't trying to build bipartisan support, the normal course for a president embarking on a foreign war, but was instead using the war as a partisan club and a campaign issue, a way of dividing the Democrats and making them look weak on national security.

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

So if you're going to talk about a "deliberate and cynical decision to make dividing the country a priority," let's be honest about who made that decision. I'll give you a hint: he's not a Democrat.

Kevin Drum 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DEAL HUDSON UPDATE....You may recall that I wrote last month about Deal Hudson, editor of the ber-moralist Catholic publication Crisis who, it turned out, had led a somewhat less than moral life before taking the reins of the magazine.

Well, it turns out that Hudson has apparently led a somewhat less than moral life after taking the reins of the magazine too:

In addition, specific accusations of more recent sexual misconduct had come to the board's attention, one scholar said.

"This was not about one incident 10 years ago," he said. "It's surprising it was held down as long as it was. I haven't gone out of my way to track Deal Hudson's improprieties I could be doing nothing else. But you began to wonder after a while if they are true."

"I could be doing nothing else." That's a lot of improprieties!

Anyway, long story short, it looks like Hudson will be, um, spending more time with his family in the future. Which, when you think about it, is sort of an appropriate punishment, isn't it?

But while he may be gone, he won't be forgotten: although he's no longer publisher of Crisis, he'll still be working on book deals and fundraising for the magazine's parent. After all, we can't let fussy moralism get in the way of fundraising, can we? I guess there's such a thing as going overboard on moral values after all.

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WORKPLACE STRESS....Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin is complaining about this Daniel Akst column in the New York Times today that suggests workers are better off today than they were during the Great Depression. That seems fairly uncontroversial, and on the substance of the CT post I'll confine myself to saying that while John may have a point, I think I basically agree with commenter Steve Carr. You'll have to click the link to find out what I'm talking about.

What really caught my eye is this one sentence from Akst's piece:

Excluding homicide, workplace fatalities have fallen from 37 per 100,000 in 1933 to 18 in 1970 to roughly 4 today.

Um, is there some reason he had to exclude homicides for this comparison? Or am I out of touch with the real issues of the modern workplace?

Just wondering.

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THANKS!....I just heard from our associate publisher that our subscription drive last week has brought in over 400 new subscriptions so far and more are coming in every day. That's great news, and I know that all you new subscribers are going to enjoy the magazine. Many thanks from me and from everyone else at the Monthly.

And remember, if you haven't subscribed already, it's not too late! To subscribe or donate, just click one of the links on the top right under the magazine cover.

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TIME FOR A NEW AG?....Attorney General John Ashcroft is 0 for 5,000: that is, 0 anti-terror convictions for 5,000 anti-terror detentions. TalkLeft has the details.

On the other hand, we prevented Cat Stevens from entering the country. Onward!

UPDATE: OK, let's clear up what's really going on here. This is what David Cole says in The Nation about Ashcroft's conviction record now that a federal judge has tossed out his terrorism case in Detroit:

Until that reversal, the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in anti-terrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the Attorney General was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists.

Defining whether a "terror" conviction is really a terror conviction is surprisingly hard, and Ashcroft, of course, takes an expansive view of this, routinely counting even minor visa violations as "terror" convictions. But that's not what Cole is talking about. What he's talking about is the number of convictions resulting from anti-terrorism sweeps and preventive detentions following 9/11. Among the 5,000 who were detained, so far none have been convicted of terror-related offenses.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TORT REFORM....Do you live in Texas? You might want to think twice before buying a house. For all practical purposes, the Republican party there has eliminated the right to get home defects repaired unless the building industry itself agrees to do it. If they don't feel like it, you have no recourse.

There's no question that the civil justice system can be abused, and curbing those abuses is a legitimate topic for legislatures to address. But exempting entire industries from being sued is a plain and simple fraud on consumers. And remember: what George Bush did in Texas is the same thing he'd like to do for the entire country. If he gets his way, you may soon find that you have no recourse against corporate negligence either.

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MORE IRAQS....Noam Scheiber gets it exactly right today over at &c.:

Robin Wright's analysis of Kerry's Iraq plan in today's Washington Post has a weirdly disembodied feel to it. She writes as though Kerry and Bush were participating in an essay contest about the future of some hypothetical war zone called "Iraq," proclaiming Kerry's proposals marginally better but really no different than Bush's. (Kerry gets a B+, Bush a B-.)

But the point isn't that Kerry's proposals only have a slightly better chance of success. It's that Bush's poor judgment and total incompetence have arranged it so that no proposal has a very good chance of success. Assessing the two candidate's positions outside that context is a totally useless exercise.

Pundits have been kvetching for months now that Kerry hasn't produced a gift-wrapped miracle that definitively solves all our problems in Iraq. But that's just not in the cards anymore. Iraq is such a mess that there's nothing left except choosing the least worst of a bunch of bad choices.

In any case, Kerry has now said what he'd do in Iraq, and while it might not be a slam dunk, it's surely better than George Bush's apparent plan to keep doing what he's been doing all along ("stay the course"). What Bush has been doing all along is exactly what got us where we are today, and practically anything would be better than that.

And that's really what this is all about. Iraq is going to be a big problem no matter who's president next year, but the real question is: what happens next? There are certainly going to be serious, unforeseen foreign policy problems during the next four years, and who do you trust to handle them best? The team that brought you Iraq and continues to believe that they've handled it just fine, or someone else?

I'd prefer not to see any more foreign policy crises handled the way Iraq was handled. Unfortunately, common sense tells us that's exactly what we'll get if George Bush is reelected: more Iraqs.

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KILLIAN MEMO UPDATE....In a story this morning in USA Today, Dave Moniz, Kevin Johnson and Jim Drinkard report that their copies of the Killian documents also came from Bill Burkett. Then there's this:

In earlier conversations with USA TODAY, Burkett had identified the source of the documents as George Conn, a former Texas National Guard colleague who works for the U.S. Army in Europe. Burkett now says he made up the story about Conn's involvement to divert attention from himself and the woman he now says provided him with the documents. He told USA TODAY that he also lied to CBS.

Burkett now maintains that the source of the papers was Lucy Ramirez, who he says phoned him from Houston in March to offer the documents. USA TODAY has been unable to locate Ramirez.

They sure didn't report that on CBS News last night. Something tells me that Lucy Ramirez is suddenly going to be getting a lot of attention.

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ROBERT SCHEER....At the risk of pissing off a devoted cadre of my readers yet again, I'm going to answer a question they asked last week: why don't I like Robert Scheer? Here's the answer, contained in the first few sentences of his column today:

If they were true to their principles, moderate Republicans and consistent conservatives would be supporting John Kerry. Instead, their acquiescence to the reckless whims of George W. Bush marks a descent into that political abyss of opportunism where partisanship is everything and principle nothing.

How else to explain their cynical support for this shallow adventurer, a phony lightweight who has bled the Treasury dry while incompetently squandering the lives of young Americans in a needless imperial campaign?

If this were written for a liberal blog or The Nation it would be fine. But it's not. It's a column written for the mainstream press, and I doubt that even one single LA Times reader and certainly not one single conservative will change their vote this year based on this kind of juvenile shreekiness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

That's why I don't like Scheer. He's a smart guy and a talented writer, but he's too self-indulgent to modulate his tone based on his audience. He's got valuable op-ed real estate at his disposal, and the purpose of valuable op-ed real estate is to persuade doubters, not drive them into the hands of your enemies by confirming their worst fears about your own side.

Until he figures that out, he needs to be confined to writing flyers for anti-globo rallies and polemics for CounterPunch. In the meantime, I don't feel like losing any elections because of him.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AT WAR....E.J. Dionne has a question:

Am I the only person exasperated by a double standard that treated everything Bill Clinton ever did in his life ("I didn't inhale") as fair game but now insists that we shouldn't sully ourselves with any inconvenient questions about Bush's past?

Dammit, E.J., we're at war now. Don't you understand that?

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PROGRESSIVE BLOG DIRECTORY....Kevin Hayden at The American Street has put together a pretty exhaustive list of progressive blogs sorted by state. It felt kind of funny to see this blog listed in the Washington DC section instead of the California section, but I guess that makes sense, doesn't it?

If you're looking for new blogs to try out, go take a look.

Kevin Drum 11:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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URBAN vs. RURAL....Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman, continuing his series of stories about the changing demographics of the American electorate, gets to the heart of things this weekend:

The nation has gone through a big sort, a sifting of people and politics into what is becoming two Americas. One is urban and Democratic, the other Republican, suburban and rural.

....In the 1980 presidential race, Democratic and Republican counties on average had about the same number of voters. By 2000, however, the average Democratic county had three times as many voters as the average Republican county, according to study of election results by Statesman statistical consultant Robert Cushing.

In the country's most partisan counties those where one party wins by more than 20 percentage points the split is overwhelming. In 2000, the average landslide Democratic county was eight times larger than the average landslide Republican county. In 1980, the average landslide Republican county was more populous than the average partisan Democratic county.

Urban rural, urban rural, urban rural: say it over and over. That's the big split in American politics, and as Bishop points out, the difference is becoming starker every year.

And if you're curious, the Statesman also has a list of the 100 most Democratic counties (in 2000) and the 100 most Republican counties. It's sort of scary to find out that my home, famously conservative Orange County, doesn't even come close to making the "most Republican" list. I guess I'm just lucky I don't live in Glasscock County, Texas.

Kevin Drum 9:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DIFFERENCE OF OPINION....Dan Rather says Hurricane Karl is "not expected to pose a threat to the American mainland." I beg to differ.

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REDISTRICTING....Aside from our almost-but-not-quite-identical taste in cars, I was pretty sure until now that Stephen Bainbridge and I disagreed about approximately everything. As it turns out, though, not so! We both think congressional redistricting needs to be reformed, and we both agree that it needs to be done on a national basis:

Reform is possible. Look at how Iowa, for example, uses a nonpartisan commission to set Congressional districts. To be politically feasible, however, redistricting reform probably has to be done on a national basis. Why should the Democrats permit redistricting reform in, say, California if the GOP continues to manipulate the process in places like, say, Texas? National redistricting reform might be a nice legacy project for a second Bush administration a legacy of good government rather than partisan rent-seeking. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

He's right. Reform of the redistricting process is a hot button of mine, but I wouldn't vote for an initiative that reformed the process here in California even if I thought it was the most brilliant piece of legislation I'd ever laid eyes on. About the last thing I want to see is a bunch of goo-goo Democrats supporting reform in their states while Tom DeLay and his cronies laugh their asses off and go about their God-given task of re-gerrymandering their states every two years for the greater good of the Republican party.

My own wacky idea is to give up on the whole idea of congressmen representing communities and mandate that districts be formed by drawing straight lines across each state. In Southern California, for example, this would produce several districts a few hundred yards high by two hundred miles wide, but what the hell. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a foolproof way of creating random collections of citizens for voting purposes.

Needless to say, I don't expect this idea to get widespread support, so I'm willing to listen to more conventional proposals. But I do have a question about all this: what would it take to get a nationwide reform? At the least it would take congressional action, including major reform of the Voting Rights Act, but would it also take a constitutional amendment? Or does Congress have the power to set redistricting standards already? Are there any legal bloggers out there with an opinion?

Kevin Drum 5:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY ON TERRORISM....John Kerry today at New York University:

....our most important task is to fight...and to win...the war on terrorism.

....In fighting the war on terrorism, my principles are straight forward. The terrorists are beyond reason. We must destroy them.

....Today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is no because a Commander-in-Chiefs first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe.

....I would have concentrated our power and resources on defeating global terrorism and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. I would have tightened the noose and continued to pressure and isolate Saddam Hussein who was weak and getting weaker so that he would pose no threat to the region or America.

Yep. He needs to keep hammering away at this. Kerry wins or loses based on whether he can convince the American public that Bush has botched the war on terrorism and will continue botching it if he's reelected.

The rest of the speech is pretty good too. Read it all.

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KILLIAN MEMO UPDATE....CBS has now acknowledged that Bill Burkett was the source of the Killian memos. They released the following statement today:

Bill Burkett, in a weekend interview with CBS News Anchor and Correspondent Dan Rather, has acknowledged that he provided the now-disputed documents used in the Sept. 8 "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on President Bushs service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Burkett, a retired National Guard lieutenant colonel, also admits that he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source.

Burkett originally said he obtained the documents from another former Guardsman. Now he says he got them from a different source whose connection to the documents and identity CBS News has been unable to verify to this point.

The interview with Burkett will be aired on the CBS Evening News tonight.

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READING THE TEA LEAVES....Bob Novak, a conservative who who opposed the Iraq war, says "well placed sources" in the administration believe that George Bush will hastily retreat from Iraq if he wins reelection:

They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.

The end product would be an imperfect Iraq....

Yes, an "imperfect" Iraq. That's one way of putting it.

But let's not get distracted here. Reader Tim F. wants to know what I think about Novak's column, and that's a hard question to answer. You see, it's a choice between two implicit lies:

  • Option 1: Because there's a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming he'll stay the course. Gotta look resolute, after all. But Novak is right: it's just a sham, and as soon as some travesty of an election gives him an excuse, he'll leave and let Iraq turn into chaos.

  • Option 2: Because there's a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming to have a plan to stabilize Iraq and withdraw. Can't look like a warmonger, after all. But in reality he considers Iraq a strategic beachhead in the Middle East and has no intention of ever leaving, come what may.

You see my problem? There are people who want to believe both these things, and Bush's team has every incentive to make sure each faction believes that Bush agrees with them. He's lying to one of them, but which one?

Tough call.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

1964....Andrew Sullivan is worried about George Bush's continuing denial about how badly things are going in Iraq:

We have to flush out at least Fallujah and Ramadi soon or lose the ability to hold national elections in January (if we haven't already). And the mayhem that maneuver will unleash is not one we can easily stabilize without more troops and resources or a miracle in the capabilities of the Iraqi police and military. Before too long, a draft may become a very big topic on Capitol Hill. Big increases in military spending over and above what we are already planning will become necessary. What I worry about is a country that re-elects a president on the basis of denial about Iraq, and then turns on him with a vengeance when things get far worse.

A president unwilling to come to terms with reality. Re-election based on lies about future escalation. After the election an incident that forces the callup of more reserves and possibly a general draft. A massive backlash.

I can't be the only one who thinks this is starting to sound an awful lot like 1964, can I?

Kevin Drum 1:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

END OF THE LINE?....It looks like Dan Rather may be about to surrender. After over a week of expressing confidence in the provenance of the Killian memos, the New York Times reports that unnamed network officials....

....decided yesterday that they would most likely have to declare that they had been misled about the records' origin after Mr. Rather and a top network executive, Betsy West, met in Texas with a man who was said to have helped the news division obtain the memos, a former Guard officer named Bill Burkett.

Mr. Rather interviewed Mr. Burkett on camera this weekend, and several people close to the reporting process said his answers to Mr. Rather's questions led officials to conclude that their initial confidence that the memos had come from Mr. Killian's own files was not warranted. These people indicated that Mr. Burkett had previously led the producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, to have the utmost confidence in the material.

It was unclear last night if Mr. Burkett had told Mr. Rather that he had been misled about the documents' provenance or that he had been the one who did the misleading.

I really want to hear this story. I talked with Burkett at length back in February, and speaking as someone who believes his story about Bush's files being purged, I still wouldn't trust him for a second if he suddenly produced a bunch of never-before-seen memos out of nowhere. If he really is CBS's "unimpeachable source," they've got some very serious problems with their news judgment.

Kevin Drum 1:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS SOURCES....Still wondering if the Killian memos are fake? Check out this Washington Post graphic. It's about the most devastating single indictment I've seen yet.

Why do I mention this? To bring up a bit of navel gazing. You see, most bloggers seem to agree that if an anonymous source burns you, it's OK to name the source. In fact, you should name the source, as a warning to future sources that their anonymity is contingent on them not lying to you.

That sounds fine in theory, but sometimes theory comes home to roost. Last Thursday someone called me for the sole purpose of assuring me that CBS's source for the Killian memos was absolutely rock solid and had been vetted nine ways to Sunday. I should, I was told, feel comfortable blogging my heart out about the content of the memos without worrying about their authenticity.

As it happens, I declined to take that advice, but that's not what matters. What does matter is that my caller clearly knew that CBS's vetting was a judgment call, not a slam dunk, but was spinning very hard to convince me otherwise.

Now, this is a trivial example of anonymous sourcing that won't shed any new light on the overall story no matter what I do, but it does make the theoretical case for revealing anonymous sources a little more concrete, doesn't it? Was what happened to me just ordinary spin, or was it deceitful enough that it deserves being outed? And is the case against the memos now strong enough to justify breaking an agreement to talk off the record?

Hmmm....

Kevin Drum 10:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH'S APPROVAL RATINGS....Daniel Davies has an interesting polling observation over at Crooked Timber. It's far too easy, he says, to cherry pick poll data based on what makes you happy, so if you're interested in what's really happening it's better to discipline yourself to pick a single indicator that you think is reliable and then stick with it, regardless of whether or not it produces good news.

With that in mind, his reliable indicator of choice is George Bush's approval rating, and he notes that it's been going up lately. As Professor Pollkatz's latest summary chart shows, Bush's approval rating has spiked three times before (9/11, Iraq war, Saddam's capture) and now appears to be rebounding for a fourth time. It's a small rebound, but (a) it shows up in many different polls and (b) it appears to have been in progress for about two months.

It's hard to say what's responsible for this, but there's not much question that it coincides with Kerry's recent poll difficulties. The lesson, I suspect, is that the old conventional wisdom is correct: reelection campaigns are fundamentally referendums on the incumbent. To beat Bush, Kerry has to knock those approval ratings down.

How? Negative campaigning, of course. When? The sooner the better. It's time for the closer to close.

Kevin Drum 8:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PACE OF CHANGE....Chad Orzel was ruminating the other day about something that's been in the back of my mind for years:

One of the Big Ideas in modern SF is the idea of a "Singularity," a term coined by Vernor Vinge (I'm not sure if he originated the concept, but I'm pretty sure the term is his). The idea is based on the observation that the pace of technological change has increased dramatically in the last several decades, and if anything appears to be accelerating. Extrapolating out from this, Vinge (and others working with the idea) predict that there will come a point in the near future when changes occur so rapidly that humans (or our post-human descendents) will become essentially unrecognizable. The complexity of our technology is growing exponentially, so humans of the relatively near future will be so far beyond the humans of the past, or today, as to be utterly incomprehensible.

(Vinge explores this idea in considerable detail in Marooned in Realtime.)

Chad's problem with this idea is that exponential growth never stays exponential forever. Eventually technological progress will flatten out and the Singularity will never occur. But when?

I'd take that a step further: is technology even progressing exponentially now? Or has it already started to plateau? Consider the truly decisive technological developments of the past 50 years:

  1. Digital computers (includes transistors, ICs, and the internet)

  2. New prescription drugs (and medical/biotech advances in general)

  3. Spaceflight

Now look at the major inventions of the 75 years before that:

  1. Electrification (includes a wide variety of electrical appliances)

  2. Automobile

  3. Radio

  4. Penicillin

  5. Telephone

  6. Nuclear weapons

  7. Airplanes

  8. Television

I'm limiting myself to genuinely new inventions that substantially changed our lives. Cell phones are great, but they're still phones. Everything else on the second list has also gotten a lot better during the past 50 years, but they don't fundamentally do things that couldn't be done before. They're improvements, not brand new things.

So here's my observation: the second list seems a lot more impressive than the first. It's possible that the digital computer alone will turn out to be more important than every other invention in the history of humanity in fact, I think it will but for now it isn't. It's a great invention, but no more so than the electrification of the world or the development of the steam engine.

In other words, I'm wondering if scientific progress has already begun slowing down. Creating these lists is a judgment call, of course, and there are plenty of things you could add to either one, especially if you're actively trying to argue a case. But when you consider that the 747 was invented in the 60s and has only been incrementally improved on since, or that spaceflight hasn't really improved much since the 70s, it's hard not to be skeptical about the idea that technological change has continued to accelerate unabated. In fact, it's hard not to wonder if it's even kept pace with the century from about 1850 to 1950.

It's a good thing computers will probably take over the scientific progress biz in a few decades. It looks to me like homo sapiens is starting to run out of steam.

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUCH....Joe Klein today: "Scott McClellan is beginning to sound like Baghdad Bob."

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LOOSE NUKES....The LA Times editorial page has apparently decided to start using National Enquirer style headlines to lure people into reading their articles. You know the kind I'm talking about: "Oprah Fighting Cancer!" screams the headline, but it turns out that it just means that Oprah is spearheading a fundraising drive for the American Cancer Society.

Today the Times has an article by Graham Allison about nuclear proliferation called "Preventable Nightmare." The headline says this:

Al Qaeda wants to nuke a U.S. city. There are simple ways to stop it

That got me genuinely curious. Nuclear bombs in terrorist hands really are an enormous threat, but most of us think it's also an enormously tricky problem. What are the simple ways to stop it?

Well, here are Allison's "three no's":

  • "No loose nukes" requires securing all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material, on the fastest possible timetable, to a new gold standard.

  • "No new nascent nukes" means no new national capabilities to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium.

  • "No new nuclear weapons states" draws a bright line under the current recognized nuclear powers and says unambiguously, "no more."

These are all good ideas, but simple they aren't. I doubt that it helps the cause to pretend otherwise.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

JUST WONDERING....The mainstream media has been busy the past week interviewing pretty much anyone they could find related to Jerry Killian, Bill Burkett, or the Texas Air National Guard in general. But they've missed someone.

Back in February, when I interviewed Burkett, he alleged that George Bush's Guard files were "cleansed" in 1997 on the orders of General Daniel James, the adjutant general of the Texas Guard at the time. James, who was promoted to run the entire Air National Guard by Bush in 2002, denies any involvement, of course. But Burkett mentioned that James' secretary was a woman named Henrietta Valderes, and that's a voice we haven't heard from. If anyone would know what was going on in the office at the time, she would.

I wonder if anyone has tried to talk to her?

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By: Kevin Drum

MORAL RELATIVISM....Matt Yglesias notes today that Eugene Volokh has decided that charges of "moral relativism" against liberals are unfounded. However, it's not clear to me if either of them is talking about the term correctly. For his part, Eugene suggests that moral relativism is related to cultural relativism and situational ethics (both longtime conservative bugaboos), while Matt thinks it's mostly used as a synonym for atheism (the old "secular humanism" schtick).

Is this right? I'm not referring to its technical philosophical meaning here, but rather to its common meaning, especially in the conservative blogosphere. My impression has always been that "moral relativism" refers to a (notionally invalid) comparison between two people or movements: for example, that the Israelis are as bad as the Palestinians or that al-Qaeda's terrorism is no worse than America's military actions in Vietnam. In other words, a moral relativist is one who is unable to properly distinguish good motives from bad and makes false comparisons based solely on surface similarities between actors.

I don't want to argue about whether there's anything to this or not, I'm just curious whether or not I understand correctly the way the term is normally used by hawkish conservatives. Comments?

UPDATE: In comments, Matt suggests that I'm confusing moral relativism with moral equivalence. Could be. It is hard to keep track of all the conservative buzzwords sometimes....

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By: Kevin Drum

BIBLE BANNING....Here's the latest news from the Republican National Committee:

Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn't aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. "It wouldn't surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage," Gillespie said.

This is pretty much what we've come to expect from the RNC, but I've actually got a serious question about this. I'm pretty sure my audience isn't the right one to answer it, but here it is anyway.

I've heard this business about liberals trying to ban Bibles over and over but have never figured out where it comes from. I know, for example, where complaints about same-sex marriage or handgun bans come from, and I know that liberals have worked to keep prayer out of public schools and strengthen separation of church and state. But banning Bibles is a very specific complaint from conservative Christians and one that's been around for a long time.

I know the charge isn't true, and that's not what I'm asking about. What I'm asking is what the origin of this complaint is. As with all persecution myths, this one must have its hazy beginnings somewhere, and I'm curious what it is. Does anyone know?

UPDATE: Emailer Marc S. suggests the source of the myth may be the infamous RS-2493, a 1974 petition to the FCC that Christian groups misinterpreted (maybe honestly, maybe not) as a proposed ban on Christian broadcasting. The FCC turned down the petition in 1975 but has nonetheless received over 30 million letters about it since then. Now that's an urban legend!

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A NEW FRONT?....Vladimir Putin says preventive strikes against terrorists are on the way:

Speaking to a meeting of world mayors in Moscow, Putin also made a veiled attack on the West, saying that double standards in dealing with terrorism are "disastrous for global security."

Putin didn't name any specific countries, but his comments appeared to be aimed against European and U.S. officials who have urged Moscow to conduct peace talks with Chechen rebels.

"There continue to be attempts to divide terrorists into 'ours and others,' into 'moderates and radicals,'" Putin said in televised remarks. "All this is a condescending, justifying attitude to murderers, which amounts to being an accomplice to terrorism."

That sounds suspiciously like, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists." I sure hope Putin's definition of terrorist turns out to be the same as ours.

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUCKHEAD UNVEILED....The Los Angeles Times has uncovered the name of the Free Republic poster who first drew attention to the Killian memo forgeries:

....it did not come from an expert in typography or typewriter history as some first thought. Instead, it was the work of Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes who helped draft the petition urging the Arkansas Supreme Court to disbar President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Times has found.

The identity of "Buckhead," a blogger known previously only by his screen name on the site freerepublic.com and lifted to folk hero status in the conservative blogosphere since last week's posting, is likely to fuel speculation among Democrats that the efforts to discredit the CBS memos were engineered by Republicans eager to undermine reports that Bush received preferential treatment in the National Guard more than 30 years ago.

MacDougald sounds like a real piece of work from the Times' description, but there's no special evidence that suggests he knew anything about the memos before they were aired on 60 Minutes. We'll have to wait and see if the Times comes up with anything more.

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY MEDAL UPDATE.....Surprisingly, it turns out that the Navy inspector general actually responded to Judicial Watch's nutball request to investigate whether John Kerry's Vietnam medals were properly awarded. Unsurprisingly, it turns out they were.

Next.

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September 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL STORY....If I've counted correctly, Instapundit has posted 65 separate items about Dan Rather this week and that's not counting either the endless updates or the fact that he slowed down today in order to get some dental work done. Over at National Review Online, snarky Dan Rather references have taken over their entire home page today, which includes six full-length articles about Rather in addition to uncounted references on The Corner and the Kerry Spot.

What's going on? Do these guys really think the Rather affair is that big a deal? NRO says they do, even going so far as to suggest that Bob Schieffer should be blackballed from hosting a presidential debate merely for working at the same company as Rather:

Schieffer should be replaced by someone from some other organization. This is not to say that Schieffer himself is not a decent guy or a professional, nor it is to suggest that he personally had any role in the National Guard story. But the CBS controversy is about more than one stubborn icon, Dan Rather. The credibility of the entirety of CBS News is at stake. If outsiders are being stonewalled, it is up to insiders who care about the reputation of CBS to step up insiders like Schieffer.

I think it's worth pointing out that this is why the right wing is paying so much attention to Rather, just as they did to Jayson Blair and the BBC's Andrew Gilligan but not to Judith Miller or Robert Novak. It's not about the fact that the mainstream media makes mistakes of course they do it's about keeping alive the persecution myth so central to American conservatism: that the liberal media is a corrupt and malign institution intent on crushing conservative dissent at every opportunity.

Sure, it's an absurd argument, but that doesn't mean it won't work. After all, yelling loudly enough got the heads of both the New York Times and the BBC fired last year, both of them for journalistic misdeeds that were actually fairly modest. Meanwhile, Judith Miller, who plied patent falsehoods from Ahmed Chalabi on the front page of the New York Times, and Robert Novak, who cheerfully outed a CIA agent in his syndicated column, continue to ply their trade unhindered.

This game has been ongoing for a long time, of course, but conservative bullying and intimidation of the media has real-world consequences quite aside from personnel shuffling at the New York Times or the BBC. Just as Rathergate has helped bury bad news from Iraq this week, persistent complaining from conservatives has kept the overall coverage from Iraq relatively benign for over a year, despite a nearly unanimous belief among reporters on the ground that events there are even worse than they look. Within the past few weeks some of those reporters have finally begun saying that on front pages and the evening news, but it's a year late and several billion dollars short.

Dan Rather can handle his own problems, but preventing conservatives from intimidating the press into manufacturing a phony balance regardless of where the truth lies affects us all. That's what's really at stake here.

Kevin Drum 7:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FREE PRESS IN IRAQ....Should soldiers in Iraq have access to websites that list the number of casualties suffered in the war so far? The Pentagon doesn't think so and blocks access to all such sites. Eric Umansky has the details.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE OWNERSHIP SOCIETY....The New York Times writes today about the aftermath of the crash of California Charter Academy, a chain of publicly financed charter schools:

It had been a month since one of the nation's largest charter school operators collapsed, leaving 6,000 students with no school to attend this fall. The businessman who used $100 million in state financing to build an empire of 60 mostly storefront schools had simply abandoned his headquarters as bankruptcy loomed, refusing to take phone calls. That left [Ken] Larson, a school superintendent whose district licensed dozens of the schools, to clean up the mess.

"Hysterical parents are calling us, swearing and shouting," Mr. Larson said in an interview in Oro Grande last week. "People are walking off with assets all over the state. We're absolutely sinking."

Now, this is not an argument against charter schools. It's a mess, to be sure, but plenty of public schools are a mess too. A few years ago, for example, the Compton School District was in such disastrous shape that the state finally took over control and didn't hand it back to local authorities for a decade.

What it is, though, is a cautionary tale about the "ownership society." The problem with privatizing public services is that, in the end, it's the government that picks up the pieces if the private sector fails. If you invest a piece of your Social Security in private mutual funds and your mutual fund collapses when you're 64, what happens? In theory, it's just tough luck and you're screwed, but we all know perfectly well that's not what would really happen. As with the S&L disaster in the 80s or the LTCM collapse in the 90s, if enough people are affected the government will step in and make them whole.

There's no way to avoid this kind of moral hazard completely, but you can reduce it considerably with fairly intrusive regulation. Unfortunately, the cure may be worse than the disease. To reduce the moral hazard sufficiently often requires a level of regulation that effectively converts a private enterprise into a de facto public enterprise. So what's the point?

This is one of my biggest problems with Social Security privatization. It's not really clear to me that it benefits anyone except the well-off to begin with, and I'm certain that if private returns collapsed the government would rush in to make up the shortfall anyway. That's just the political reality. But if the government is essentially guaranteeing a minimum rate of return, why bother with privatization in the first place? Just let the feds fund Social Security out of current revenues the way they do now.

Privatization implies private sector levels of risk, but as the charter school story shows, the public is not willing to accept that kind of risk for things they think of as public services. They may like the idea of school choice, but when the charter schools fail it's the local school district that has to put up with the outraged parents.

There's no free lunch. The free market absolutists who are so enamored of privatization ought to know this. But they don't seem to.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LA TIMES UPDATE....Jon Chait now has a weekly column in the LA Times. He's a great choice to be a columnist, and I say that even though his maiden effort is yet another tedious rant about what a poor candidate John Kerry is. Crikey. That's not exactly an inventive hook for an op-ed.

Michael Kinsley's tenure as editorial page editor is now about three months old, and the weekly columnist lineup looks like this so far:

  • Two centrist liberals: Chait and Kinsley himself.

  • One embarrassing lefty: Robert Scheer.

  • One appealing neocon: Max Boot. (As near as I can tell, Boot is the neocons' best ambassador to the real world. He's a good writer and smart enough to stay away from the more Strangelovian aspects of neocon looniness.)

  • One local color columnist: Patt Morrison.

Overall, this isn't bad. I'd like to see Kinsley get rid of Scheer and replace him with someone who's more persuasive, but who knows? Maybe that's in the works. And how about a weekly blog column? Maybe pick a couple of good blog posts from the previous week and run them side by side or something.

Still, things are looking up. Another few months and the LA Times op-ed page might actually be competitive with its more famous East Coast competitors.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Here's the latest in the Plame case:

A federal judge, in an order released yesterday, ruled that New York Times reporter Judith Miller cannot avoid a subpoena to testify about her private conversations with news sources before a grand jury investigating whether senior administration officials leaked the identity of a covert CIA officer to the media.

Hmmm, that's quite a choice. On the one hand, Miller could cave in and we'd learn more about who outed Plame. On the other hand, she could stick to her guns and end up in jail. Which would I prefer? Choices, choices....

In other news, it looks like we might see more of George Bush's National Guard records soon:

A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to find and make public by next week any unreleased files about President Bush's Vietnam-era Air National Guard service to resolve a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.

....Pentagon officials told [U.S. District Judge Harold] Baer they plan to have their search complete by Monday. Baer ordered the Pentagon to hand over the records to the AP by Sept. 24 and provide a written statement by Sept. 29 detailing the search for more records.

The federal courts sure are busy these days, aren't they?




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By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR VANUATU....Newer readers may not know this, but Survivor blogging is a longtime tradition here. It's clearly the best show on TV, and just as Cosby was the signature show of the Reagan era, Survivor is the signature show of the Bush era: a travesty of real life in which being deceitful, underhanded, nasty, devious, and needlessly aggressive is actually encouraged.

It's also the perfect show to complement a presidential campaign because it puts all the standard electoral divisions front and center. You've got red vs. blue, young vs. old, hardworking vs. lazy, boys vs. girls, urban vs. rural, and, once again, not a single damn person with enough actual horse sense to learn how to make fire before the game starts even though they all know perfectly well they need to know this. (In fairness, one guy did at least make an effort to learn how to create fire before he arrived, but he did a half-assed job and couldn't start a fire anyway.)

As you've guessed by now, tonight was the season premier of Survivor Vanuatu. The producers seem to be going for an even younger, more laddish group than usual (at least on the XY chromosome side of things), and they've also made it harder than usual for me to pick a favorite to root for. At first I thought I might adopt Brook, since he was described as a document manager and I spent the last decade in the document management business. But he got voted off immediately, and the Survivor website describes him as a project manager anyway. So scratch Brook.

Another possible choice was Brady, the lantern-jawed FBI agent who shinnied up a pig-fat covered pole at the beginning of the show. I wonder if the Bureau taught him that? Brady hails from Huntington Beach, a neighboring city of Garden Grove, where I grew up, so we're practically neighbors.

There are also a couple of contestants from Los Angeles: John the mechanical bull rider and John the sales manager. But I think my final choice has to be Twila, the highway repair person from Marshall, Missouri. I've learned via my genealogy hobby that Marshall is the ancestral home of the maternal half of my mother's family, and ever since visiting Marshall a couple of years ago I've had a soft spot in my heart for it. So Twila is now my official Survivor mascot. We'll see how long she lasts.

Only 16 tribal councils to go!

NOTE TO SOME OF MY MORE ENTHUSIASTIC READERS: Yes, I know that this year's election is the most important event in the history of the free world. Despite that, I occasionally write posts unrelated to politics. The commenting rules for Survivor blogging are similar to the old rules for catblogging: no vitriol, no yelling, and no insults unless they're really funny.

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH, CLOSET MODERATE....Alan Cooperman has a peculiar article in the Washington Post today about George Bush's religious beliefs. The nut of the piece is that Bush isn't really the religious fundie he's often made out to be:

Current and former White House aides, as well as religious leaders close to the president, maintain that underneath Bush's religious references is a no-frills set of classical Christian beliefs that he holds firmly but voices softly. While some of his opponents portray him as a closet fundamentalist, some of his allies cast him as a closet moderate whose differences of opinion and style with the most vociferous elements of the religious right have been played down by his political advisers and underreported by the media.

(Italics mine.)

Why is this peculiar? Because a few days ago I read an article (which I can't place at the moment) whose main point was that George Bush is really a mainstream, conventional Christian. Nothing scary about him at all.

Now, one article along these lines doesn't necessarily mean anything, but two articles making the exact same counterintuitive point within the space of a few days does. It means that the White House is deliberately trying to spoon feed this risible new storyline to the public and the press corps is lapping it up. Don't they ever learn?

Kevin Drum 7:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

He's Got Issues... The American Prospect's Michael Tomasky has a smart piece which he dubs "a unified theory of everything that explains why Democrats always get outfoxed." His basic argument is that because polls show most voters prefer Democratic positions on most issues (say, health care), Democratic consultants naturally advise candidates to run issue-reliant campaigns. Republicans, on the other hand, know their policies aren't that popular, but rather than run away from them, they turn them into illustrations of the candidate's personal character. This helps explain why Bush's resolute support of the Iraq war makes him popular even with people who don't necessarily support the war.

Over at The Decembrist, Mark Schmitt uses Tomasky's insight to analyze a key flaw in the Kerry campaign: the lack of connection between Kerry the person (his character, political philosophy etc.) and the issues he talks about. Schmitt writes:

If I were running the issues department of the Kerry campaign, or any campaign, the sign above my desk would not be James Carville's "It's the Economy Stupid": my sign would say, "It's not what you say about the issues, it's what the issues say about you." That is, as a candidate, you must choose to emphasize issues not because they poll well or are objectively our biggest problems, but because they best show the kind of person you are, and not just how you would deal with that particular issue, but others yet to rear their heads. The best illustration of that is John McCain. The most admired political figure achieved his status in large part by his crusade for campaign finance reform. I've seen all the polls on this for seven or eight years, and "campaign finance reform," as an issue, is of interest to at most 5% of the public. I'd like for it to be otherwise, but it's not. And yet, for McCain, campaign finance reform is the perfect issue. It's tells a story about his independence, and his persistence, and it gives him a populist message without having to embrace more liberal economic policies. Clinton's much-derided "micro-initiatives" of the mid-1990s likewise sent a message about who he was: responsible, not extreme, neither a lover of government for its own sake nor a nihilist like Newt Gingrich. The insignificance of his gestures was a potent message in itself, and saved his presidency....

I don't think the problem with Kerry is that he talks about issues when he should be talking about character. That was Al Gore's problem. I think the problem is that the Kerry brain has split into an issues half, and a character half, and the two sides aren't communicating. The character half controlled the convention, and focused on Vietnam. Fine, but what did that say about how he would deal with Iraq? And the issues half has plans -- entirely good ones, even for Iraq. But those proposals don't reinforce any sense of the kind of person Kerry is, and how he would cope in a crisis....

The issues and scheduling side of the campaign has to stop picking an issue of the day, based on the polls. It has to start trying to choose some issues that really emphasize whatever it is that they want to say about Kerry as a person that contrasts him to Bush (honest, brave, forward-seeing, smart, common-sense, independent, cares-about-ordinary-people -- pick one and reinforce it) and then use those issues to tell that story over a period of a week or more. And where they want to attack Bush on either character or issues, pick a point that best emphasizes a single point that they want to emphasize to draw the contrast with Kerry. That means, among other things, saying no to all the issue-advocacy groups that are besieging the campaign, brandishing polls and begging Kerry to devote a day to their cause.

Paul Glastris 6:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW NICKELS.... So it looks like we're getting yet another new nickel in 2005, this time with a new portrait of Jefferson and two new reverse designs, including a revival of the old buffalo nickel design that was replaced by the Jefferson nickel in 1938.

I like the new portrait, designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Don Everhart. I'm still making up my mind about the reverse designs.

What do the rest of you think?

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY PROMOTION....Which comes first, democracy or economic development? Max Boot writes today that the answer is democracy:

In fact, many poor countries have freely elected governments (think India, Poland and Brazil) while some rich ones (think Saudi Arabia and Singapore) do not. Far from economic development being necessary for democracy, they argue that democracy promotes economic development. Free countries grow faster than their more repressive neighbors. They also perform better on social measures such as life expectancy, literacy rates, clean drinking water and healthcare. And they are less prone to armed conflict.

"They" are Joseph Siegle, Michael Weinstein, and Morton Halperin, whose new book, The Democracy Advantage, is previewed in Foreign Affairs here. It strikes me that their argument (or Boot's summary of it, anyway) overreaches a bit, since Singapore is a well known oddity and Saudi Arabia is hardly rich despite its oil wealth, but it's a reasonable one nonetheless, based largely on the idea correct, I think that democracies are fundamentally more stable than autocracies and therefore provide a better environment for economic growth.

Similarly, based on a 2003 study by Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, Boot reports that terrorism is rooted not in poverty or lack of education, but in lack of basic freedoms. I suspect his argument overreaches here too, but even dialed back a notch it still makes sense.

So: take Boot's column with a grain of salt, but read it anyway to get a pretty good summary of the neocon case for democracy promotion as a primary imperative of U.S. foreign policy. My only real beef is with his final sentence: "President Bush is on the right track because he recognizes the democracy imperative that too many of his critics unfairly dismiss as neocon nuttiness."

Just exactly what is Bush doing that makes Boot think he really cares about democracy promotion? Iraq is the only serious demonstration of Bush's democracy promotion bona fides, and I think you'd have to be naive in the extreme to think that it actually had much to do with his decision to invade. It's hard to think of any other significant action Bush has taken to promote democracy and easy to think of plenty where he hasn't. The neocons really need to find themselves a new hero.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GREEN ZONE BLUES....Dan Drezner links to a piece in the Financial Times today that says even the Green Zone in Baghdad isn't safe anymore:

At a briefing earlier this month, a high-ranking US officer in charge of the zone's perimeter said he had insufficient soldiers to prevent intruders penetrating the compound's defences.

The US major said it was possible weapons or explosives had already been stashed in the zone, and warned people to move in pairs for their own safety. The Green Zone, in Baghdad's centre, is one of the most fortified US installations in Iraq. Until now, militants have not been able to penetrate it.

Worse and worse. If the Green Zone goes, you can write off the whole country.

UPDATE: The intelligence community is pretty pessimistic too:

A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday.

The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.

....Its pessimistic conclusions were reached even before the recent worsening of the security situation in Iraq, which has included a sharp increase in attacks on American troops and in deaths of Iraqi civilians as well as resistance fighters.

Nobody's predictions have been all that great when it comes to Iraq, but in hindsight it turns out that the intelligence community did better than most. October could turn out to be a very grim month.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....From the Associated Press:

A Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper, was subpoenaed Tuesday for a second time in an inquiry into the disclosure of the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert C.I.A. officer. After Mr. Cooper was ordered jailed last month for failing to name his sources, he gave testimony limited to his contacts with I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and the court withdrew its order. Time said Mr. Cooper testified with Mr. Libby's consent.

The new subpoena apparently concerns information from other officials. Yesterday a Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus, also testified. Mr. Pincus said he would not identify an official who discussed Ms. Plame's identity with him in July 2003, but agreed to recount the substance of his conversation with the official.

The LA Times adds this: "People familiar with the case said that Fitzgerald now wants to investigate other sources used by Cooper but that the prosecutor has not specified whom."

I've got an idea about how to get to the bottom of this: subpoena Cooper over and over, but each time name a different White House official. When you find the one who refuses to release Cooper from his confidentiality agreement, you have your man!

Of course, this could take a while, but that's probably fine with the White House. At the rate Fitzgerald seems to be moving, I'm guessing we'll see indictments on approximately November 3rd.

UPDATE: The Washington Post adds this:

A Washington Post reporter's confidential source has revealed his or her identity to the special prosecutor conducting the CIA leak inquiry, a development that provides investigators with a fact they have been pursuing in the nearly year-long probe.

Post reporter Walter Pincus, who had been subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury in the case, instead gave a deposition yesterday in which he recounted his conversation with the source, whom he has previously identified as an "administration official." Pincus said he did not name the source and agreed to be questioned only with the source's approval.

That sounds like progress. But is this "administration official" the one who leaked Plame's name, or merely a source for something else? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE DOCUMENTS?....At the bottom of a Washington Post story that's primarily about whether Bill Burkett is the source of CBS's Killian memos (short answer: maybe), we get this:

In a related development, White House press secretary Scott McClellan hinted that more documents regarding Bush's National Guard service may soon be released. Asked whether officials in the White House have seen unreleased documents, McClellan called that "a very real possibility." Other officials with knowledge of the situation said more documents had indeed been uncovered and would be released in the coming days.

New documents just keep showing up everywhere, don't they? I wonder what their excuse for not finding them earlier is going to be this time?

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

IT JUST SEEMS LIKE IT'S $20....I think what Kevin meant to say in his enthusiasm is that when you subscribe to The Washington Monthly, it seems like you only spent twenty dollars--instead of the $29.95 actual sticker price (which is still quite a deal)--because of all the astounding investigative pieces, insightful analysis, and witty commentaries jam-packed into one magazine. "How can they possibly do all this on my $29.95?" you ask yourself.

Well, one thing you can be sure of is that when you subscribe to The Washington Monthly, your hard-earned dollars are not going to subsidize the extravagant salaries of overpaid elite journalists. It's all substance, my friends. How do we do it? Frankly, we basically live on nothing but popcorn. But we do it for you, the readers. You're not going to find that kind of dedication at one of those namby-pamby political magazines with fancy "designers" and "travel budgets" and "desks."

So go ahead and press that button. You'll have our thanks, our gratitude, and one damn fine magazine.

Amy Sullivan 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE PLEDGE WEEK NAGGING....You already know that I like the Washington Monthly, so today I thought I'd branch out and try to get some endorsements from the brain trust currently running the country. And guess what? They all agreed to give me blurbs!

  • Donald Rumsfeld: Like me, the Washington Monthly doesn't screw around with known knowns. They go straight for the jugular: known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns.

  • George Bush: The articles are kinda long, but Laura tells me they're pretty good. You should probably subscribe.

  • Dick Cheney: If you don't buy a subscription to Washington Monthly, terrorists will kill you.

  • India the Cat: Meow!

OK, OK, so I'm not much of a comedian. But hey: it's a great magazine and a subscription is only thirty bucks. So go ahead and subscribe. It only takes a minute or two.




Kevin Drum 12:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PRESIDENTIAL CHARACTER....This is from Margolit Fox's obituary today for James Barber, a Duke University political scientist who wrote a book called The Presidential Character:

Analyzing presidential character, Dr. Barber focused on two criteria: whether a president was active or passive, and whether he viewed his job in positive or negative terms.

In combination, the criteria formed four distinct personality types. Active-positive presidents, who brought energy and enjoyment to their work, included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Dr. Barber wrote. Passive-positives, like William Howard Taft, were compliant and superficially cheerful. Passive-negatives, like Calvin Coolidge and Dwight D. Eisenhower, were sullen and withdrawn, viewing the office as a burden.

The most dangerous type, Dr. Barber wrote, was the active-negative. Though energetic, such men were also joyless, inflexible, compulsive and domineering, with "a strong bent for digging their own graves." In this category he listed Lyndon B. Johnson and [Richard] Nixon.

Hmmm. Care to take a guess which personality type George Bush falls into?

Kevin Drum 8:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Killer Ad... Now that's a message! A new 527 called the Fight Back Campaign is going to start airing ads in Wisconsin and West Virginia on Monday that take on the Bush administration's incompetent execution of the war in Iraq. The ads are very good: spare, elegant, and outrage-inspiring. It's about time someone started talking about the war we're actually in now, as opposed to the one that ended 30 years ago. You can view them here.

Paul Glastris 7:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE MEMOS....One of the reasons I'm annoyed by the whole Killian memo fiasco is that even if they're real they don't really add much to the story. After all, here's what we already know:

  1. Former Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes pulled strings in 1968 to get George Bush into the National Guard so that he could avoid the draft. This isn't something Barnes just cooked up recently for Dan Rather, either. He testified under oath about it five years ago.

  2. In early 1972, with two years still left on Bush's Guard commitment, something happened. Nobody knows what happened, but for some reason he started flying again in training jets that he had graduated from two years previously; he began putting in simulator time; he had trouble making landings; and in April 1972 he made his last flight. He then refused to take his required annual physical and was subsequently grounded.

  3. In May 1972, Bush left for Alabama and disappeared from the Guard. He showed up for no drills for the next five months, and, contrary to White House statements, he never made up these missed drills.

  4. Bush returned to Texas in late 1972, but in May 1973 his superior officers in Houston (one of whom was the now famous Jerry Killian) refused to rate Bush, saying he "has not been observed at this unit" for the past 12 months.

    Oddly, though, official payroll records show that Bush was getting paid for attending drills during this period. The problem is that the payroll records documenting his attendance are completely screwy: Bush is credited for the wrong kind of attendance on some dates, he's given the wrong number of points for others, and weekday duty is frequently confused with weekend duty. What's more, even when you add it all up, Bush's attendance still didn't meet minimum National Guard standards.

    The combination of these two things bears all the marks of someone backdating payroll records but doing a sloppy job. The likeliest explanation is that in mid-1973, after his superiors refused to rate him, someone pulled some strings and a bunch of payroll records were submitted for the previous year. However, the person who did it just checked off a few days for each month, instead of carefully making sure that the dates and duty types actually matched up the way they would if they were real.

  5. In October 1973 Bush was discharged from the Texas ANG and moved to Boston to attend Harvard Business School. Although the Bush campaign said in 1999 that Bush transferred to a unit in Boston to finish up his service, they now admit that isn't true. Bush never signed up with a unit in Boston and never again attended drills.

There are plenty more reasons to be skeptical about Bush's National Guard service, but leave those aside for the moment. What we know for sure is that Bush began having problems flying in 1972; refused his physical; was grounded; disappeared for five months; probably disappeared for an entire year; failed to sign up with a unit in Boston for his final year of service; and got an honorable discharge anyway.

And he's never come clean about it. We don't need CBS's memos to remind us of that. We already knew it.

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ'D....I haven't been able to read it for the past couple of days (some kind of server problem), but Spencer Ackerman has several recent posts over at Iraq'd that are well worth reading. Go take a look.

The bad news out of Iraq just seems to get worse and worse....

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RATHER vs. HANNITY....Telis Demos makes a point in the New Republic today that can't be made often enough. Even if you believe that Dan Rather got duped into airing a lie (that the Killian memos were real), he's got plenty of company:

If this last offense sounds familiar, it's because the right-wing media does it all the time. In February 2004, for instance, Fox News broadcasters Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, and John Gibson all showed a photo of John Kerry standing next to Jane Fonda on a podium at an anti-Vietnam War rally in the 1970s. It turns out the photo was fake. Did hordes of media critics demand retractions from Hume, Hannity, and Gibson? Of course not.

It's perfectly correct for the mainstream media to hold Dan Rather to high standards, but why don't they do the same for Fox's parade of serial liars? Opinion journalist or not, fake is fake. There's no reason Hannity & Co. should have been allowed to get away with this.

UPDATE: Stuart Buck says Fox never claimed the photo of Kerry and Fonda at the podium was genuine, only that a different photo was genuine. I don't really have any way to independently fact-check this, but Stuart makes a good case.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE BUSH DOCS?....The tireless Paul Lukasiak has posted another new document related to George Bush's National Guard service: an agreement Bush signed in 1968 stating that he would serve for a minium of five years after completion of undergraduate pilot training. It appears to be genuine, although Paul doesn't name his source for it.

So what does this mean? A copy of Form AF-475 in Bush's files indicates that Bush completed a 53-week course titled "Undergraduate Pilot Training T-41/T-37/T-38" on November 26, 1969, which implies that his five-year commitment ended on November 26, 1974. He was discharged from the Texas ANG in October 1973 and from ORS on November 21, 1974.

There's nothing obviously wrong with that, although the analysis can get a bit byzantine if you dig more deeply into it. The real question is: why isn't this agreement in the document dump that the White House released last February?

Wasn't that supposed to include everything? Is anything else missing?

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BILL BURKETT....One of the hot rumors at the moment is that a former Texas guardsman named Bill Burkett is the source of the Killian memos that Dan Rather aired on 60 Minutes last week although neither Burkett nor Burkett's lawyer will confirm this. Burkett is a retired Lt. Colonel with the Texas Air National Guard who has claimed for years that damaging documents were purged from George Bush's National Guard files in 1997.

Since his name is in the news, I thought it might be worth linking to several posts about Burkett that I did at my old site back in February:

  • February 11: My first post about Burkett, in which I express some initial doubts about his story.

  • February 12: An extended interview with Burkett in which he tells his entire story in considerable detail.

  • February 15: A long summarizing post about Burkett's claims, including interviews with two men that Burkett says can verify his story (Harvey Gough and George Conn). My bottom line at the time: "I provisionally think the evidence supports Burkett." I still do.

I've tried several times to call Burkett in the past couple of days, but he hasn't picked up the phone or returned my calls so I don't have any inside information on whether he's involved with the Killian memos. Still, who knows? This old material might be relevant again.

If you want more, just search my old site for "Burkett" and you'll get every post I ever wrote about the guy.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Crony Imperialism... Iraqi insurgents murdered another 47 of their fellow citizens yesterday. As usual, the victims were men standing in line waiting for jobs in the new Iraqi government security forces. Despite 700 such killings of Iraqi policemen and prospective recruits since April, 2003, Iraqi men continue to line up by the thousands for such jobs. It would perhaps be heartening if this were a sign of a burgeoning willingness on the part of average Iraqis to fight the insurgents and free their country. Alas, it appears instead to be the desperation of unemployed men looking for some way, any way, to feed their families. "There are no other jobs," one of them told the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Said another: "I hated this job before I even started it."

Think about that last comment. Is this typical of the level of morale among the new Iraqi security forces that we're now training? And aren't those forces, by the Bush administration's own admission, the best hope we have of turning the situation in Iraq around?

Yeah, it's depressing. Equally depressing, to me anyway, is the staggering incompetence that got us here. In the latest New York Review of Books, Peter Galbraith puts his finger on one underappreciated source of that incompetence: the degree to which the administration staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority with inexperienced political hacks instead of seasoned experts. Remember the new interim Iraqi constitution, called the TAL, that Paul Bremer and his staff slaved over, the one unveiled in March with great fanfare, that was supposed to be a model for the entire Middle East? The one the administration quietly dumped a couple of months later when they handed over power to Iyad Allawi? Asks Galbraith:

How did the Bush administration invest so much in the TAL and then find itself forced to abandon it? It appears that Bremer never realized that his decrees would not legally outlast the occupation. It was a rookie's mistake caused, as with so many other CPA failures, by the lack of expertise on the part of his staff. The TAL was largely the responsibility of two of Bremer's assistants (dubbed "the west wingers"), one an extremely capable but relatively junior Foreign Service officer and the other a young political appointee from the Pentagon's stable of neoconservative nation-builders. Imbued with grand ideas such as remaking the Iraqi judiciary with a US-style Supreme Court, they apparently neglected to consult an international lawyer.

It turns out that for the interim constitution to have legal force in the new Iraqi government, it needed approval from the U.N., approval the U.S. did not get.

Galbraith continues:

The Bush administration's recruitment of staff for the CPA is one of the great scandals of the American occupation, although it has so far received little attention from the press. Republican political connections counted for far more than professional competence, relevant international experience, or knowledge of Iraq....In some cases, the quest for political loyalists meant dismissing qualified professionals who had already been recruited. In the June 20 Chicago Tribune, the reporter Andy Zajac described how, in April of 2003, the Bush administration replaced the chief CPA health official, Dr. Frederick Burkle, a medical doctor with close working relationships with humanitarian organizations and long experience in conflict zones, with James Haveman, a political crony of Michigan's Republican former governor. Unlike Dr. Burkle, who for months had been planning the restoration of Iraq's health care system and who was ready to put a program in action as soon as Baghdad fell, Haveman did not arrive in Iraq until June 7, 2003. Although he had never worked in a post-conflict environment, Haveman strongly denied that he lacked international experience, apparently considering his travel to twenty-six foreign countries (as he told the Chicago Tribune) a relevant qualification.

The privatizing of Iraq's economy was handled at first by Thomas Foley, a top Bush fund-raiser, and then by Michael Fleisher, brother of President Bush's first press secretary. After explaining that he had got the job in Iraq through his brother Ari, he told the Chicago Tribunewithout any apparent sense of ironythat the Americans were going to teach the Iraqis a new way of doing business. "The only paradigm they know is cronyism."

Haveman, according to the Tribune, ignored Iraq's private health care system (which meets half the country's needs) and wasted huge amounts of money by refusing to collect data on the existing clinics. It is probably just as well that Iraq's privatization program has not worked out, since the CPA could not, as the agent of an occupying power, lawfully sell any Iraqi assets, although it is unlikely that Fleisher or Foley knew this.

It's hard to know how much these and other similar screwups, rooted in the Bush administration's insane policy of putting well-meaning, brave, but inexperienced political loyalists into key positions in Iraq, contributed to the catastrophe we're now faced with in Iraq. But clearly they did.

And being as this is "pledge week" at Political Animal, I should point out who broke the story about this crony imperialism at the CPA: it was Joshua Micah Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Colin Soloway last December in The Washington Monthly. The story took months of effort and thousands of dollars in expenses to crack because of the Bush administration's tight control over information. But it's pretty typical of what this magazine does, month after month. So if you appreciate this kind of journalism and want to support it, please click one of the buttons below.





Paul Glastris 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY IN RUSSIA....Robert Kagan (naturally) is calling Bush's bluff on democracy promotion:

The question now: Does President Bush care about the fate of democracy in Russia? Ever since Sept. 11 he has proclaimed a grand strategy of promoting democracy worldwide. He has rightly made this his goal in Iraq, and despite the faulty performance of his Pentagon advisers, it remains his primary objective. Bush has also trumpeted plans for promoting democracy in the greater Middle East.

....Failure to take sides with democratic forces in Russia will cast doubt on Bush's commitment to worldwide democracy. A White House official commented to the New York Times that Putin's actions are "a domestic matter for the Russian people." Really? If so, then the same holds for all other peoples whose rights are taken away by tyrants. If the Bush administration holds to that line, then those hostile to democracy in the Middle East will point to the glaring U.S. double standard; those who favor democracy in the Middle East will be discredited. That will be a severe blow to what Bush regards as a central element of his war on terrorism.

Even if our substantive leverage with Putin is fairly small, we all know that Bush is fond of the bully pulpit. Why isn't he using it now?

Kevin Drum 1:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KILLIAN FINALE?....Last Friday I said that I was skeptical that the Killian memos were genuine, and boy did I hear from y'all about that. My inbox is still creaking under the weight of charges of liberal disloyalty.

I haven't said much about it since then because I haven't seen anything to change my mind, but I think it's worth linking to the final nail in the coffin:

Marian Carr Knox, who worked from 1957 to 1979 at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, said she prided herself on meticulous typing, and the memos first disclosed by CBS News last week were not her work.

These are not real, she told The Dallas Morning News after examining copies of the disputed memos for the first time. Theyre not what I typed, and I would have typed them for him.

....She said the typeface on the documents did not match either of the two typewriters that she used during her time at the Guard. She identified those machines as a mechanical Olympia, which was replaced by an IBM Selectric in the early 1970s.

....Mrs. Knox said she did all of Lt. Col. Killians typing, including memos for a personal cover his back file he kept in a locked drawer of his desk.

Knox is a loyal Bush-hater, so she's certainly got no reason to lie about this.

I think it's time for everyone to give up on this. The memos are almost certainly fakes, they're sucking up media bandwidth that could be better used elsewhere, and Dan Rather is toast. Besides, there was really nothing in them that told us anything new.

Time to move on.

Kevin Drum 12:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE....Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru thinks it's unfair for the Washington Post to say that George Bush's plan to create private accounts for Social Security would cost $2 trillion:

It is important to remember that the "cost" of private accounts is a matter of moving some of the Social Security system's obligations forward in time....If private accounts are part of a deal in which workers accept a lower guaranteed benefit, the long-term costs of Social Security go down. And since those long-term costs are the chief good reason to be worried about deficits in the first place, the apparent price tag should not keep us from going forward with the accounts.

Now that's a deal. In exchange for an extra $2 trillion in costs today, workers will get lower guaranteed benefits tomorrow! Who could say no to that?

I've read dozens of articles and white papers about private accounts for Social Security and I've yet to read one that provides even a single reason to think they're a good idea in a practical (as opposed to an ideological) sense. What's more, I say this in the most neutral, nonpartisan sense I can muster: I've genuinely tried to follow the arguments, but none of them make any sense.

Despite the best efforts of conservatives to scare everyone under 30 into thinking that Social Security is doomed, it's actually in fine shape. It's going to need some modest tax increases and some modest benefit reductions starting in about a decade (details here), but that's it. People who suggest otherwise are either ignorant of the underlying numbers or else motivated by an ideological dislike of government programs for its own sake. A concern with providing stable pensions for the elderly doesn't seem to play a role.

Kevin Drum 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ: DISASTER, OR JUST REALLY, REALLY BAD?....Iraq expert Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has apparently given up on the possibility of success in Iraq. At least, that's the only conclusion I can draw from this quote:

If we can keep it as one of the two or three most violent places in the Middle East but at least on a long-term trajectory toward stability, that's acceptable.

It's clear now that (a) George Bush had no idea what he was getting himself into, (b) his initial plan for rebuilding Iraq was a fantasy, (c) each of his succeeding plans has failed within months, and (d) he's just flailing now, desperately hoping to keep things from completely falling apart before the election.

This is George Bush's idea of fighting terrorism. If this is your idea of fighting terrorism too, he should get your vote on November 2nd. If it's not, well.....

UPDATE: There used to be an update here wondering whether O'Hanlon really said that. It turns out he did, so the update is now gone.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ISSUES vs. CHARACTER, PART 2....I don't want to hack this to death, but after reading through the comments to my post yesterday about issues vs. character I'd like to extend and revise a bit.

My point yesterday was that pace Michael Tomasky Republicans aren't ignoring issues and running solely on character, they're just being smart about which issues to emphasize. National security is the defining issue of this campaign, and it's the one Republicans are running on.

However, there's a second point to add to that: namely that there's nothing wrong with running on character anyway. As Mark Schmitt points out today:

....the problems we don't know about are still a bigger deal than the ones we do....9/11 was a vivid demonstration that how a president reacts to that, or any other, crisis is of far greater concern than the exact legislative specifics of his health care plan.

I think this is exactly right. I care about policy a lot more than most people, but even I don't really vote for candidates based on the details of their platforms. I want them to be in the right general ballpark, of course, but beyond that there's no way of telling which campaign promises they'll be able to keep or what their programs will look like once they get through the legislative meatgrinder. Because of that, my vote (especially in the primaries) is much more about picking someone who has the judgment to make the right compromises, set the right priorities, and take the right actions when confronted by the unexpected.

The kind of smear campaign that Republicans are so good at exemplified this year by the Swift Boat crowd is vile. But in general, there's nothing wrong with attacking your opponent's character and judgment. George Bush, for example, has shown disastrously poor judgment in practically every area of his life and every area of his politics, and I'd very much like to see John Kerry make more hay out of this. After all, we're voting for a person, not a white paper.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Pledge Week II... As Kevin noted in a previous post, this is "Pledge Week" at Political Animal. We're asking you to support the great work Kevin does by clicking one of the buttons below, which take you to a page where you can subscribe to the magazine that sponsors Kevin's site, and that I edit, The Washington Monthly. If you haven't read our magazine, or don't know much about us, then click any of the various buttons on the upper left side of the screen. They'll take you to some of the pieces in our latest issue (you can read select stories from past issues by clicking the "print archive" button). If you like what you read, please support us by subscribing.

I can see from the comments to Kevin's previous post that a lot of you are wondering if an electronic version is available. The answer is, no not yet, but we're working on it. It's part of a major reconfiguration of our on-line subscription service that is underway and that will (fingers crossed) make all kinds of stuff, like change of address, much easier. The bad news is I don't know when it'll be ready. The good news is that if you subscribe now, you'll recieve the paper version of the magazine in the meantime and you'll get the e-version for free when it's available. So, help us keep this site going by subscribing. Thanks.

P.S. We only post online a portion of the stories from each month's issue, for obvious reasons. But I thought I'd share this piece because it's so timely given the appearance today of Porter Goss on Capital Hill. The piece argues that when critics say that the CIA is filled with risk averse careerists who kowtow to the White House, they're right--and Porter Goss is exhibit A.




Paul Glastris 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A NEW BUSH v. GORE?....On November 2, Coloradans will vote on Amendment 36. If it passes, Colorado's electoral votes for the 2004 election will be split proportionally between the candidates, which means, say, that if George Bush wins Colorado in a squeaker he'll get 5 electoral votes and Kerry will get 4, instead of Bush getting all 9.

Election law expert Rick Hasen has an interesting little op-ed in the LA Times today in which he speculates about the problems that Amendment 36 could cause if the election is close:

We can start with the simplest way that things can go wrong: The vote on Amendment 36 could be very close, and there might need to be a recount of votes, throwing the entire national election into dispute.

Second, opponents of Amendment 36 could go to court claiming that it is unfair and unlawful to apply Amendment 36 retroactively to this election. This argument seems doubtful because there is no unfair surprise here.

The most interesting and trickiest legal question has to do with Article II of the Constitution, which allows each state Legislature to set the rules under which electors are chosen and allocated.....

I guess there's no point in looking for trouble, but Hasen is right: if the election is close, a court fight over Amendment 36 could be this year's Bush v. Gore. Wouldn't that be fun?

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FACT vs. FICTION....The following is fiction. It takes place on board the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie:

GRAND MOFF TARKIN: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

COMMANDER TAGGE: That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line.

The following is fact. It is currently taking place in Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation:

President Vladimir Putin outlined plans Monday to "radically" change the Russian political system in a way that would increase his own power, portraying the moves as a means of combating terrorism in the aftermath of this month's deadly school seizure.

Putin's plan would eliminate the popular election of governors and individual members of parliament. The president would appoint governors, subject to the confirmation of regional legislatures. All members of the lower house of parliament, known as the State Duma, would be drawn from party lists rather than elected in individual districts.

Elimination of the elected legislature. Direct control of regional governors. A tightening grip from the center. This does not sound much like democracy promotion to me.

George Bush had a meeting with Vladimir Putin three years ago and said, "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." I wonder if he still feels the same way?

Kevin Drum 5:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLEDGE WEEK....One of the reasons I agreed to move my blog to the Washington Monthly site back in April was because I've been an admirer of the magazine for over 20 years. I read my first issue in 1981 and I've been a fan ever since.

A few days ago the Monthly management suggested that we have a pledge week here at Political Animal. I thought it sounded like a great idea. But pledge week here is a little different from your standard issue public television pledge week. See, we don't just want your money. We want your subscriptions.

I'm all for that. The Monthly is not the place to go for breaking news. That's what they have me for. But it is the place to go for razor sharp articles that highlight political trends and skewer the oh-so-skewerable months before the mainstream press picks up on them. Dick Cheney as a disaster in the making? Right here. William Bennett's embarrassing slot machine habit? We broke the story. The neocon fantasy driving the Iraq war? The Monthly had the scoop over two years ago.

Like most political magazines, the Monthly is not run for profit. It's run to get ideas into people's minds. These ideas won't always make you comfortable, but they will make you think. So take out a subscription now and get all the content each month. It's cheap! Just click the button below or call the toll-free number. And get a couple of gift subscriptions for your friends (especially conservative friends who could use some enlightenment) while you're at it. You must know somebody who has a birthday coming up, right?




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By: Kevin Drum

ISSUES vs. CHARACTER....Over at the Prospect, Michael Tomasky suggests that Democrats fight campaigns on issues while Republicans fight them on character. Republican positions on most issues are basically unpopular, so their only hope of winning is a relentless assault on the character of their Democratic opponent. As Tomasky puts it:

The problem begins with the fact that majorities of the public tend to agree with Democrats on the issues. This isn't universally true, of course, but it's true with regard to more issues (perhaps many more issues) than not. On health care, the environment, investment, education, just about everything except national defense, majorities lean toward the Democratic position.

Hmmm. "Everything except national defense." Does that suggest something?

It should. Yes, Bill Clinton was unusually articulate and charismatic, but he also ran in a pair of elections in which national defense wasn't an issue. During the 80s, when the Cold War was uppermost in people's minds, Republican candidates won three elections in a row. And in 2000, George Bush won a squeaker only by convincing people he was a compassionate centrist who was practically a Democrat himself.

Now, I happen to agree with Tomasky that Republicans generally go for the jugular more effectively than Democrats, but it's a big mistake for us liberals to kid ourselves into thinking that Republicans win elections solely because they fool people into voting for them. It's not just that this is a debilitating mental attitude although it is but it's also not true. Our main problem isn't that this year's campaign has ignored the issues, our main problem is that the #1 issue in this campaign is national defense, and on that issue like it or not the majority of Americans favor the Republican position. If John Kerry wants to win, he should focus on the issues, but he has to focus on the issues that matter most in this campaign cycle.

It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.

Bottom line: Republicans aren't avoiding the issues. It's just that their signature issue happens to be the one people care most about this year. Democrats had better figure that out pronto.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FLAG BURNING....Still no budget? Who cares? As promised, it appears that the Republican leadership in the Senate plans to waste time this session bringing up a cynical flag burning amendment whose sole purpose is to make Democrats fidget.

Maybe some bright Democrat should propose an amendment that creates a new entitlement requiring the federal government to provide a new flag once a year to every family in America. Not only is it the patriotic thing to do, but it would help small, family-owned, American flag-making businesses. Do I hear a motion?

Kevin Drum 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"ONE VERSION OF THE TRUTH"....Knight Ridder ran a very good story this weekend about the genesis of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and its founder, retired Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann. Here are the key paragraphs:

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was registered with the IRS on April 23. Its early expenditures included money for a Dallas-area private investigator, Tom Rupprath. Hoffmann said Rupprath's job was to find vets and collect their stories so that a single account could be presented to the public.

"If everyone was saying something different it could be confusing. We wanted one version of the truth," Hoffmann said.

....In a defining moment, on July 9 and 10, dozens of veterans, the group's top advisers and a film-making crew descended on a Marriott hotel in Rosslyn, Va., to film raw material for later commercials.

Swift boat veteran Larry Thurlow flew in from Bogue, Kan., after the group offered to pay his and his wife's expenses. Thurlow said he was hesitant to become involved but Hoffmann kept asking him to join the group.

"The admiral helped me to see in hindsight what was really going on with Kerry," Thurlow said.

Amazing. It's practically an admission that they just made this stuff up. "One version of the truth" sounds like something Stalin might brag about, and "helped me to see in hindsight what was really going on" is a remarkably bald acknowledgment that Thurlow's own memories were rather different until Hoffman coached him a bit.

But so what if their stories are inventions that have been thoroughly discredited? They've made a name for themselves, they've raised nearly $7 million, and they're busily moving on to greener pastures. The fact that they're serial fabricators is yesterday's news.

It's a work of high art if political assassination can be called high art. The only question is how these guys can still bear to look at themselves in the mirror when they wake up every morning.

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY'S CASE....John Kerry makes his case for the presidency to Time magazine:

America is not as safe as we ought to be after 9/11. We can do a better job at homeland security. I can fight a more effective war on terror. The standard of living for the average American has gone down. People's incomes have dropped. Five million Americans have lost their health insurance. The deficit is the largest it's been in the history of this country. They're taking money from Social Security and transferring it to the wealthiest people in America to drive us into debt. They're shredding alliances around the world with people we have traditionally been able to rely on. That's what bothers me.

It bothers me too.

Kevin Drum 12:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE KILLIAN MEMOS....This is weird. I haven't seen this reported anywhere else, but an emailer just pointed out that USA Today's story last Thursday about the Killian memos says that they also obtained copies of the memos. What's more, even though their story doesn't mention it, the PDF on their site contains two new memos. One is dated February 2, 1972, and asks for an update on Bush's flight certification, and the other is dated June 24, 1973, and asks for advice on how to handle Bush's year-end evaluation since Bush hadn't been training in Houston since April 1972.

The authors of the USA Today piece are Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard, who have been following the National Guard story for years and have pretty good sources. I spoke to Moniz a few minutes ago and he confirmed that he obtained the documents from his own sources after CBS initially aired them. (Although note that his source may be the same as CBS's. There's no way to know at this point.)

For the moment, I have no comment on this. I really don't know what it all means.

Kevin Drum 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NO HEART?....Look, I know this is just a juvenile little cheap shot which is why I saved it for today but really, what's going on here?

Is George Bush buttoning his jacket? Is he suffering from a touch of indigestion? Did he forget to look at Laura for his cue before the 9/11 ceremony started?

Lord knows I don't mind the cheap shot aspect of this whole thing, but I really am curious. What does Bush think he's doing?

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TRICKY DICK....Should a children's book with a picture of Richard Nixon be ripped off of library shelves for being "vulgar" and "obscene"? Simpsons writer Mike Reiss has an amusing column in the LA Times today about his most recent book and its reception by the morality watchdog crowd.

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September 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

"FUCKING CRAZIES"....Oh boy! Another new book! This one, called The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency, says that Colin Powell had some unkind things to say last year about his colleagues in the Bush administration:

A furious row has broken out over claims in a new book by BBC broadcaster James Naughtie that US Secretary of State Colin Powell described neo-conservatives in the Bush administration as 'fucking crazies' during the build-up to war in Iraq.

Powell's extraordinary outburst is alleged to have taken place during a telephone conversation with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The two became close friends during the intense negotiations in the summer of 2002 to build an international coalition for intervention via the United Nations. The 'crazies' are said to be Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

Needless to say, Powell and Straw both deny the conversation. The book is scheduled for release next week.

Kevin Drum 11:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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9/11....I'm not much for memorials, but even I don't think that an amateur discussion of typewriter fonts of the early 70s is a great choice of blogging topics today. Instead, here is Juan Cole's reminder of what Osama bin Laden was trying to accomplish with his attacks three years ago:

Bin Laden hoped the US would timidly withdraw from the Middle East. But he appears to have been aware that an aggressive US response to 9/11 was entirely possible. In that case, he had a Plan B: al-Qaeda hoped to draw the US into a debilitating guerrilla war in Afghanistan and do to the US military what they had earlier done to the Soviets. Al-Zawahiri's recent message shows that he still has faith in that strategy.

The US cleverly outfoxed al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, using air power and local Afghan allies (the Northern Alliance) to destroy the Taliban without many American boots on the ground.

Ironically, however, the Bush administration then went on to invade Iraq for no good reason, where Americans faced the kind of wearing guerrilla war they had avoided in Afghanistan.

....It remains to be seen whether the US will be forced out of Iraq the way it was forced out of Iran in 1979. If so, as al-Zawahiri says, that will be a huge victory. A recent opinion poll did find that over 80 percent of Iraqis want an Islamic state. If Iraq goes Islamist, that will be the biggest victory the movement has had since the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. An Islamist Iraq might well be able ultimately to form a joint state with Syria, starting the process of the formation of the Islamic superstate of which Bin Laden dreams.

You should read the whole thing, but the bottom line is pretty simple: if we stay in Iraq and fight a long, grinding, unwinnable guerrilla war against Islamic militants, bin Laden is delighted. If we give up and leave Iraq, bin Laden is delighted.

It didn't have to be this way, of course. We could have spent our military energies on smashing al-Qaeda and our diplomatic energies on gaining allies in the Middle East demonstrating that Osama bin Laden's murderous vision was neither the best nor the only path for the Muslim world. Instead, thanks to George Bush's obsession with Iraq, America is the Great Satan, bin Laden is the most popular public figure in every Arab country in the world, al-Qaeda is bigger and more broad-based than ever, a thousand American soldiers are dead, and Iran and North Korea pursue their nuclear plans with impunity.

We are where we are because of George Bush. Never forget that.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FIASCO IN FALLUJAH....Remember the decision back in April to withdraw U.S. forces from Fallujah and replace them with an all-Iraqi "Fallujah Protection Army"? Unsurprisingly, it didn't work:

"The Fallujah Brigade is done, over," said Marine Col. Jerry L. Durrant, who oversees the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit's involvement with Iraqi security forces. "The whole Fallujah Brigade thing was a fiasco. Initially it worked out OK, but it wasn't a good idea for very long."

....With the demise of the Fallujah Brigade, the Marines are left with no attractive options for rooting out Fallujah's entrenched insurgency, a movement that has spread to surrounding villages and left the interim Iraqi government without control of the nation's largest cities west of Baghdad, the capital. Thousands of Marines remain based as close as two miles from Fallujah, but the insurgents -- local and foreign fighters backed by firebrand Sunni Muslim clerics -- have had several months to dig in and make it more difficult for American or Iraqi government forces to launch a ground attack.

It's increasingly clear that President Bush has no idea what to do in Iraq. He'd like to turn it into a democratic beacon for the Middle East, but he doesn't know how. So all he can do is chant "stay the course" and hope that no one catches on to how bad things are on the ground before November 2.

Israel has infinitely better intelligence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than we do in Iraq, and even so they haven't been able to halt the guerrilla warfare and suicide bombings there in 30 years of trying. Increasingly, it looks like my worst fears are coming true and Iraq is becoming America's version of the West Bank: intractable, deadly, and accomplishing little except acting as a breeding ground for ever more terrorists.

Wrong war at the wrong time indeed.

Kevin Drum 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A QUESTION FOR BOBBY HODGES....In the Killian memo dated August 18, 1973, Killian says this:

Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush....Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush's OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it.

Forget for a moment whether the memos are genuine or not and just ask this: did Walter Staudt pressure Bobby Hodges about Bush back in 1973? Both men are still alive, and when CBS read the memos to Hodges over the phone he agreed that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."

But why ask Hodges about Killian's state of mind in 1973? Why not ask him instead if he himself got pressure from his superiors to go easy on Bush? It's a simple question, and Hodges ought to have a simple answer. If he values the integrity of the military, he should tell his story instead of hiding from reporters.

UPDATE: From ABC News:

Retired Maj. General Hodges, Killian's supervisor at the Grd, tells ABC News that he feels CBS misled him about the documents they uncovered. According to Hodges, CBS told him the documents were "handwritten" and after CBS read him excerpts he said, "well if he wrote them that's what he felt."

Hodges also said he did not see the documents in the 70's and he cannot authenticate the documents or the contents. His personal belief is that the documents have been "computer generated" and are a "fraud".

I don't know who's scamming who here, but this sure isn't good news for CBS.

Kevin Drum 6:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ UDPATE....We're apparently making a big push to regain control of rebel strongholds in Iraq, but so far the story is more depressing than anything else:

"This is a significant step forward where the good people of Samarra are taking control of their destiny," said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. His troops entered the city for less than 24 hours, oversaw the selection of new civic leaders, and declared the military's intention to return to help staff checkpoints in coming days.

...."We will never give up our right to maneuver in any of our areas," said Maj. Neal O'Brien of the 1st Infantry Division, which patrols four provinces north of Baghdad.

....U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the day for lack of a secure base at which to spend the night.

Even to a military non-expert like me this seems ridiculous. We're not going to win a guerrilla war by bombing cities and then hopping in for a few hours to put on a show of electing new civic leaders. If this is the plan, we're in big trouble.

Put this together with the recent CSIS report, which appears to be pretty authoritative, and the situation in Iraq just looks grimmer and grimmer. It's not so much that things are bad in iraq, it's that things are getting worse. CSIS measured five different areas and produced charts that look like the one on the right, all of which show that things are moving in the direction of more danger, not less.

(The vertical axis is "public perception" and the horizontal axis is "events." The Viable Zone is where things are in good shape and the Iraqi public perceives them to be in good shape. The Danger Zone is where things are in bad shape and the Iraqi public perceives them to be in bad shape.)

In all five areas they studied security, governance, economic opportunity, services, and social well-being the trend was negative in both directions. That is, the reality is getting worse and public perception is getting worse.

So why is President Bush still ahead in the polls? Two reasons: first, most people don't yet understand how bad things are in Iraq. Second, because John Kerry hasn't said anything to make people believe he can handle the situation any better. I really wish he'd get a handle on this.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLL MADNESS....The latest Fox News poll puts Bush ahead of Kerry 47%-45%. The latest Washington Post poll puts Bush ahead of Kerry 52%-43%. That's a mighty big difference.

And of course, we all know what happened last weekend, when both Time and Newsweek released polls showing double-digit leads for Bush while Zogby and Rasmussen showed leads of only a few points.

I'm not sure why this year's polls are so wildly out of sync, but I suspect what we're seeing these days is less a clash of polling and more a clash of polling models. The variance seems to be mostly a product of different algorithms for identifying "likely" voters, which means the most accurate poll is whichever one has the best algorithm.

So who has the best algorithm? And why have the various algorithms suddenly started producing such divergent results?

I wish I knew, but there sure seems to be something funny in the air. For now, I think the most we can say is that Bush seems to be a few points ahead. How many is a "few"? Your mileage may vary.

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KILLIAN MEMO UPDATE....The Killian memo story has spun way out of control, but since I'm getting so much mail about it I'd like to make a few comments:

  • Yes, IBM (and others) made typewriters with proportional fonts in 1972. In fact, my 8th grade teacher had one and showed me how to use it. They were a bit unusual, but they weren't wildly uncommon and they weren't wildly expensive.

  • IBM also made typewriters with interchangable fonts. This would have allowed Killian to use the superscript "th" that's gotten so much attention.

  • However, it does not appear that IBM made a typewriter with both proportional type and the capability to make a superscripted "th."

But: note that "appears" does not mean "didn't." There are legitimate questions about what kind of machine created those memos, but so far nobody has proven anything one way or the other.

However, although the font used in the memos is worth investigating, my own concerns are more related to the provenance and appearance of the memos:

  • It seems odd that the memos were simply typed on blank sheets of paper instead of some kind of letterhead.

  • It seems odd that no other document we've seen from George Bush's military file looks anything like this or was typed using this machine.

  • It seems odd that one of the memos uses a different font from the other three. Did Killian's office have two executive typewriters with different fonts?

  • Where did they come from? Killian has been dead for 20 years. Did someone with a lot of foresight decide to keep copies of just those four memos 20 years ago? Why?

  • Are there copies of any other Killian memos around that we can compare these to? Or are these the only four memos of his still in existence?

  • Has anyone looked through the microfilm records of the 111th F.I.S. to see if there are other examples of documents that look similar to these?

Bottom line: these memos might be 100% genuine. But there are lots of legitimate questions about their origin and authenticity, and at a minimum CBS ought to make its own copies available for inspection and also ought to disclose the names of the typographic experts it consulted. Better yet would be convincing their source to either go public, allow inspection of the original memos, or at least allow a more thorough discussion of exactly where the documents came from.

Until then, I'm afraid skepticism is warranted. I hope CBS hasn't gotten burned by crude forgeries, but like they say, hope is not a plan.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EVENING WRAPUP....The Washington Monthly site has once again slowed down to such a degree that I can barely add new posts. So instead of writing separate posts, I'm going to write about a bunch of things all at once:

  • The Killian memos: The Washington Post reports that a "senior CBS official" named one of their sources as Killian's immediate superior, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges. (I was told the same thing by my source.) The memos were read to Hodges over the phone and he confirmed that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time." And: "The senior CBS official said the network had talked to four typewriting and handwriting experts 'who put our concerns to rest' and confirmed the authenticity of Killian's signature."

    However, CBS refused to say who their experts were, and Killian's widow scoffed at their story:

    "I don't think there were any documents. He was not a paper person," she said, adding that she was "livid" at CBS. A CBS reporter contacted her briefly before Wednesday night's broadcasts, she said, but did not ask her to authenticate the records.

    In other words, things are still up in the air. At this point, there are enough legitimate questions about these memos that I really think CBS is going to have to provide additional information if they want them to be taken seriously.

  • Cheney on al-Qaeda: Dick Cheney is still claiming that Saddam Hussein gave safe haven to al-Qaeda. I guess there's literally nothing that's going to shut him up on this point.

    He also said correctly that "the ultimate threat we face today" is the possibility of a nuclear attack on an American city by a terrorist group. However, I'd take this more seriously from Cheney if the Bush administration had actually shown much interest in nuclear nonproliferation over the past four years.

  • Ghost detainees: Finally, the Army admitted today that they didn't hide just a few Iraqi prisoners from the Red Cross, they hid "dozens, to perhaps up to 100."

    And why did they hide these prisoners? Because the CIA asked them to. And what did the CIA do with them? We don't know. And were the prisoners ever returned to normal military custody? We don't know that either. Lovely.

With that, I'm going to call it a night and hope the site is behaving better by tomorrow morning.

Kevin Drum 11:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ARE THE KILLIAN MEMOS REAL?....The big question swirling around the blogosphere at the moment is whether the "Killian memos" that CBS aired last night on 60 Minutes are real or not. Powerline appears to be the central clearinghouse for amateur discussion of typefaces, terminology, signatures, etc.

For what it's worth, I spoke to someone a few minutes ago who's familiar with how the documents were vetted, and the bottom line is that CBS is very, very confident that the memos are genuine. They believe that (a) their sources are rock solid, (b) the provenance of the documents is well established, and (c) the appearance of the documents matches the appearance of other documents created at the same place and time. In addition, people who knew Killian well have confirmed that the memos are genuine.

This won't stop the arguments, of course, since CBS's sources are anonymous and are apparently going to stay that way. But while caveat emptor is always good advice, I thought it was worth passing on the fact that CBS is pretty sure of itself on this.

Kevin Drum 5:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CONVENTION BOUNCE....On August 30, before the Republican convention, Rasmussen had Bush ahead of Kerry 47%-46%.

Today, Rasmussen has Bush ahead of Kerry 47.5%-46.8%. In other words, Bush's convention bounce appears to be....

Zero.

Kevin Drum 5:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SO HOW'S THE ECONOMY DOING?....George Bush is not responsible for the recession that began in 2001. What he is responsible for is the fact that our recovery from that recession has been the worst in the last 30 years.

Over at Angry Bear, Kash tells the story in three simple graphs. The Bush team preferred ideology and partisanship ("It's our due") to sound economic policy, and the entire country is now paying the price. The simple fact is that boring policy debates really are important, and we'd be in much better shape today if we had a president who paid more attention to facts on the ground than he did to crank economic theories.

POSTSCRIPT: Oops, my bad. Did I say the "entire" country? Silly me. I meant "the entire country except for the millionaires," of course.

Kevin Drum 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH CAMPAIGN IN CHAOS?....A few days ago Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt told a group of young Republicans that reporters were "the scum of the earth."

Today, Holt has a new job. The Bush campaign has given him his walking papers and kicked him sideways to a job at the RNC.

Wow! Does this shakeup indicate a campaign that's about to implode? You know, like Kerry's after he hired a couple of new guys? No, really, does it? Let's discuss ad nauseum, OK?

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KILLIAN MEMO CORRECTION....Based on news reports, I wrote last night that the White House had released its own copies of the Killian memos that first appeared on 60 Minutes. "Obviously they've had these sitting around for a while," I said.

However, I now have copies of the memos the White House released, and they are just versions that CBS faxed to the White House the day before the 60 Minutes segment aired. There's no indication that the White House had its own copies of these memos and had been sitting on them.

Apologies all around.

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GENOCIDE IN DARFUR....Colin Powell testified today that the Janjaweed massacres in Sudan constitute genocide. Good for him.

Now the question is: what should we do about it? But that's always the hard question, isn't it?

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WHO LOST TURKEY?....After Mao's communists won China's civil war in 1949 and forced Chiang Kai Shek to flee to Taiwan, the cry from U.S. conservatives was "Who Lost China?" (Answer: Democrats, of course.) Via Matt Yglesias, Soner Cagaptay asks in the New Republic today, "Who's Losing Turkey?" and then suggests that the answer is George Bush:

The [Iraq] war has angered every significant political group in Turkey, from Islamists to leftists to nationalists. The most leftist Turks, harkening back to the 1970s, see the war as a neocolonial effort to achieve U.S. hegemony in the region, and Iran and Syria as a balance to that hegemony. The Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, a vocal proponent of socialism in the '70s and social democracy later, runs regular articles criticizing the U.S. campaign as an attempt to rule the Middle East.

....Over the past few years, Washington has failed to use the kind of diplomacy that worked for years in Turkey, such as visits by high-level American statesmen involving interaction with ordinary citizens, which Turks love. Washington cannot afford to let Iraq devolve further into chaos, a development that would alienate Ankara even more.

Now, as it happens Islamic parties have been gaining strength in Turkey for years, so there's more going on here than just the war. And in fairness to the Bush administration, they've been pretty steadfast in urging the European Union to admit Turkey to their club.

Still, Turkey's drift away from secularism and its budding friendships with Syria and Iran make it all the more inexcusable that Bush has not paid more attention to American relations with Ankara. In the end, if we gain a chaotic but slightly more friendly Iraq but lose Turkey in the process, it's not at all clear we'd be ahead in the deal.

Time will tell how this works out. But it's a very concrete example of a potential downside of the Iraq war and the hamhanded way the Bush administration handled prewar diplomacy. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NOT DYSLEXIA?....Warning! Potential cheap shot ahead! This is from a letter to the editor in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly:

James Fallows's description of John Kerry's debating skills ("When George Meets John," July/August Atlantic) was interesting, but what was most remarkable was Fallows's documentation of President Bush's mostly overlooked changes over the past decade-specifically, "the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills." Fallows points to "speculations that there must be some organic basis for the President's peculiar mode of speech-a learning disability, a reading problem, dyslexia or some other disorder," but correctly oncludes, "The main problem with these theories is that through his forties Bush was perfectly articulate."

I, too, felt that something organic was wrong with President Bush, most probably dyslexia. But I was unaware of what Fallows pointed out so clearly: that Bush's problems have been developing slowly, and that just a decade ago he was an articulate debater, "artful indeed in steering questions and challenges to his desired subjects," who "did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones." Consider, in contrast, the present: "the informal Q&As he has tried to avoid," "Bush's recent faltering performances," "his unfortunate puzzled-chimp expression when trying to answer questions," "his stalling, defensive pose when put on the spot," "speaking more slowly and less gracefully."

Not being a professional medical researcher and clinician, Fallows cannot be faulted for not putting two and two together. But he was 100 percent correct in suggesting that Bush's problem cannot be "a learning disability, a reading problem, [or] dyslexia," because patients with those problems have always had them. Slowly developing cognitive deficits, as demonstrated so clearly by the President, can represent only one diagnosis, and that is "presenile dementia"! Presenile dementia is best described to nonmedical persons as a fairly typical Alzheimer's situation that develops significantly earlier in life, well before what is usually considered old age. It runs about the same course as typical senile dementias, such as classical Alzheimer's to incapacitation and, eventually, death, as with President Ronald Reagan, but at a relatively earlier age. President Bush's "mangled" words are a demonstration of what physicians call "confabulation," and are almost specific to the diagnosis of a true dementia. Bush should immediately be given the advantage of a considered professional diagnosis, and started on drugs that offer the possibility of retarding the slow but inexorable course of the disease.

Joseph M. Price, M.D.
Carsonville, Mich.

Yes, please get the man the drugs he so desperately needs. Christian love requires no less from us.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SMOKING GUN UPDATE: WHAT ELSE IS THE WHITE HOUSE HIDING?....CBS has posted copies of the four documents from George Bush's National Guard squadron commander that they made public on 60 Minutes this evening. Here they are:

Full confession: my first reaction when I saw these memos (and heard Dan Rather's cagey refusal to say where they came from) was skepticism. Were they for real?

Apparently so. In fact, the White House has now released their own copies of two of the memos and doesn't dispute their authenticity. So if I had to guess, I'd say that these are copies taken from the microfilm archives of the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. How else would the White House have its own copies?

[UPDATE: Because CBS faxed the memos to them, that's how. See below.]

But that's just fluff. The real question now is: what other documents does the White House have? Obviously they've had these sitting around for a while, and just as obviously they've held them back even though they claimed in February that they had made available every known document related to Bush's National Guard record.

So what else are they hiding? And when are they going to approve AP's FOIA request to view all relevant microfilm records directly?

UPDATE: I now have copies of the memos the White House released, and they are just versions that CBS faxed to the White House the day before the 60 Minutes segment aired. There's no indication that the White House had its own copies of these memos and had been sitting on them.

Apologies.

Kevin Drum 1:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL GUARD SMOKING GUN?....As you know, 60 Minutes is running a segment tonight that features Ben Barnes explaining how he pulled strings to get George Bush into the National Guard in 1968. But the segment also features something else: new documents from the personal files of Col. Jerry Killian, Bush's squadron commander. According to CBS News, here's a summary of the four new documents they've uncovered:

  • A direct order to Bush to take a physical examination in 1972. Physical exams are an annual requirement for pilots.

  • A 1972 memo that refers to a phone call from Bush in which he and Killian "discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November" because "he may not have time." This was presumably in preparation for Bush's departure for Alabama that year, but is nonetheless damning since there's no reason that working on a Senate campaign should have prevented him from showing up for drills one weekend per month.

  • A 1972 order grounding Bush. This order refers not just to Bush's failure to take a physical, but also to "failure to perform to (USAF/TexANG) standards."

  • A 1973 memo titled "CYA" in which Killian talks about being pressured to give Bush a favorable yearly evaluation. He refuses, saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job."

This story is a perfect demonstration of the difference between the Swift Boat controversy and the National Guard controversy. Both are tales from long ago and both are related to Vietnam, but the documentary evidence in the two cases is like night and day. In the Swift Boat case, practically every new piece of documentary evidence indicates that Kerry's accusers are lying. Conversely, in the National Guard case, practically every new piece of documentary evidence provides additional confirmation that the charges against Bush are true.

In fact, these four memos are pretty close to a smoking gun, since it's now clear that (a) Bush was directly ordered to take a physical in 1972 and refused, and (b) he plainly failed to perform up to National Guard standards, but that (c) he was nonetheless saved from a failing evaluation thanks to high-level pressure.

So why did Bush refuse to take a physical that year? And why did he blow off drills for at least the next five months and possibly for a lot longer than that?

And finally, why did he get an honorable discharge anyway?

Kevin Drum 7:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEDIA BIAS....One of the staples of Instapundit you can usually find two or three examples a day is a breathless attack on supposed liberal media bias accompanied by the kind of "proof" that disappears in a cloud of smoke if you trouble yourself to click the link and actually read the story in question. (Needless to say, most of his readers don't.) But while I expect that kind of thing from Glenn, I don't expect it from OxBlog's David Adesnik, who is normally much more thoughtful about this stuff.

Unfortunately, attending a presentation by the undoubtedly liberal Hendrik Hertzberg seems to have been too much for him. Today he writes about Hertzberg's contention that the media's coverage of the Swift Boat controversy hurt Kerry:

I wonder what newspapers Hertzberg has been reading. Certainly not the NYT or LAT or even the WaPo. As Jonathan Last has pointed out, all of the major media outlets, both print and broadcast, ignored the Swift Vets' story until Kerry himself counterrattacked.

This is wildly misleading. Kerry's first pushback on the charges from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was on August 19. The Los Angeles Times ran a major story on August 17, the New York Times on August 20, and the Washington Post on August 22. All of these stories were clearly the result of in-depth reporting that had been started weeks before, at the time the charges were first aired. The reason the stories didn't appear until mid-August is that the reporters involved were trying to do their jobs and figure out what the actual facts were.

David continues with this:

Then they provided coverage sympathetic to Kerry.

In whose universe? In every single case in which documentation exists, the SBVT allegations have been shown to be false. Despite that, all three newspapers ran stories that treated the SBVT folks as serious (though partisan) critics and left the distinct impression that there was really no telling where the truth lay. If they thought this would be helpful to Kerry, I sure hope the liberal media never extends a helping hand to me.

And finally this:

Moreover, the [mainstream media] still seems constitutionally unable to provide any reasonable coverage of Kerry's fantasies about spending Christmas Eve in Cambodia.

That's because Kerry hasn't repeated this story for over a decade and the only discrepency appears to be that he had the date wrong: he was in Cambodia in January, not December. There is exactly zero evidence that Kerry's trip to Cambodia is a "fantasy," and certainly no reason why a reputable newspaper should give it more than passing notice.

If you're going to complain about liberal media bias, it would help not to pick cases where even superficial analysis demonstrates exactly the opposite. As Hertzberg says, the Swift Boat story is pretty clearly a case where the media (consciously or not) aided and abetted the conservative story line, not the liberal one.

Kevin Drum 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FOIA AND THE WHITE HOUSE....ABC's The Note has a cryptic reference today to "a strange transfer of FOIA authority to the White House." This item is apparently related to Freedom of Information requests made as part of the National Guard story, but it's not clear how. Neither a Google search nor a Lexis search turned up anything relevant.

Does anyone have any idea what they're talking about?

Kevin Drum 4:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BAD DAY ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE....Dan Froomkin surveys the news outlook for President Bush:

The news has been kind to the White House for a few weeks, with media attention largely focused on the Republican convention and the attacks on John Kerry's war record.

But today is looking pretty tough.

Headlines blare the news that the death toll in Iraq has crossed the 1,000 milestone.

There are also big headlines about Bush's record $422 billion budget deficit and the multi-trillion-dollar deficit projections for the future.

Then there are all the stories about Vice President Cheney's jaw-dropping statement yesterday that a Kerry victory would result in more terrorist attacks. Even his own staff is qualifying it.

Bush's spotty National Guard record during the Vietnam War is turning into a full-fledged media conflagration, with more stories out today and "60 Minutes" weighing in tonight.

Plus, Sen.Bob Graham (D-Fla.) is all over the media charging Bush with covering up evidence that might have linked Saudi Arabia to the Sept. 11 hijackers.

And while the mainstream press is not putting stock in unauthorized biographer Kitty Kelley's hazily sourced allegations of past drug use by Bush, everybody -- at least everybody on the Internet -- seems to be talking about it.

Click the link for all the details.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PREVENTIVE WAR....Here's the latest from Russia:

Russia is prepared to make pre-emptive strikes on "terrorist bases" anywhere in the world, the Interfax news agency cited the country's chief of staff as saying.

"With regard to preventive strikes on terrorist bases, we will take any action to eliminate terrorist bases in any region of the world. But this does not mean we will carry out nuclear strikes," General Yuri Baluyevsky said Wednesday.

(Italics mine.)

So....how do we feel about this? The Bush administration is both anti-terrorist and pro-preventive war, so we're on board with this, right?

Right?

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SWIFT BOAT UPDATE....Are the Swift Boat guys serial prevaricators? Media Matters thinks so, and they have the goods to prove it.

You know, if I had been a Swift boat crewmember during Vietnam, I'd be pretty pissed that these guys are rapidly making "Swift boat" synonymous with "liar"....

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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POLL UPDATE....The Rasmussen poll is performed daily but reported as a 3-day moving average. A couple of days ago Scott Rasmussen said that he thought Saturday's poll was an outlier that made Kerry look stronger than he really was, so the reported results should be taken with a grain of salt until Saturday's figures dropped out.

Today is the day, and the (now presumably accurate) results show Bush leading 48.2%-46.5%. Two comments:

  • Bush's lead of 1.7% is very small. This is definitely a dogfight.

  • Rasmussen reported that Bush had 47% of the vote before the convention. If this is accurate, it means that Bush's convention bounce was only about 1 point. That's pretty pathetic.

All the usual poll caveats apply, so don't take this too seriously. Overall, though, it's pretty good news for Kerry.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DICK CHENEY....T.D. Allman has a piece in the current Rolling Stone that gives Dick Cheney the old school pounding he so richly deserves. A few excerpts:

Both [Bruce] Bradley and Cheney were Republicans, but they differed on Watergate. Bradley recognized that Nixon had violated fundamental American values; Cheney saw Watergate as a power struggle. They even debated each other, in a forum arranged for Bradley's clients.

"He claimed it was just a political ploy by the president's enemies," says Bradley. "Cheney saw politics as a game where you never stop pushing. He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls. If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back."

...."I don't believe he is an ideologue," says former Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado. "But he is the most partisan politician I've ever met."

....By the end of the first Bush administration, others had come to the conclusion that Cheney and his followers were dangerous. "They were referred to collectively as the crazies," recalls Ray McGovern, a CIA professional who interpreted intelligence for presidents going back to Kennedy. Around the same time, McGovern remembers, Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft counseled the elder President Bush, "Keep these guys at arm's length."

After you've read Allman's piece, be sure to follow it up by reading Josh Marshall's 2003 evisceration of Cheney in the Washington Monthly. The two of them together tell you everything you need to know about him.

POSTSCRIPT: Oh hell, as long as I'm at it I'll also plug (again) John Perry Barlow's look at his old friend Cheney. I think his analysis is pretty insightful.

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE....The National Guard story has suddenly burst back on the scene. Here's the latest:

What goes around comes around. As I mentioned before, I doubt that this debate is good for the country, but apparently a lot of people figure that if the Swift Boat group can make up smear stories about John Kerry's military service with impunity, then it's fair to retaliate with true stories about Bush's. I can't say that I blame them.

Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 7, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

Well, That's a Relief....Good news, Dad. You can vote for Kerry without fear of eternal damnation. So says Cardinal "The Inquisition Wasn't So Bad" Ratzinger. You probably won't hear this fact trumpeted from pulpits (or the Catholic League's press office) anytime soon. But it would be nice if just a few of those journalists who wrote breathless "Is it a sin to vote for Kerry?" stories would close the loop by reporting this new announcement.

Also, some enterprising young Catholics have put together a website (VotingCatholic.org) that offers, among other resources, a quiz you can take to see how your political views match up with the presidential candidates and the Catholic church. There might be a few nasty surprises in store for some people who think they're "better" Catholics than John Kerry.

Amy Sullivan 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BAD MEDICINE....And speaking of Matt, read this post at Tapped called "Alabamas Everywhere!" It's exactly right. States with low taxes, minimal public services, and low wages are precisely the same states that have historically had the worst economies. So why does the Republican party think this is the right economic formula for the entire country?

Kevin Drum 6:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION....This is ridiculous. This week's issue of the Economist quotes Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association about the reasons that the Bush administration has suddenly decided to oppose the verification provisions of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Kimball says that one of the Bush administration's reasons is:

  • the worries of Israel and Pakistan, two allies that want to keep the option of adding to their stockpiles....

Matt Yglesias was appropriate appalled: "We scuttled a treaty that will keep bombs out of the hands of terrorists so that Israel and Pakistan (!) can build bigger arsenals?"

But Tom Maguire says the Economist blew it. Here's how Kimball phrased the administration's thinking in a column written earlier this month:

  • It also reflects the Bush administrations insufficient regard for the effect of Israels and Pakistans unregulated nuclear weapons programs on regional security and nonproliferation objectives.

That looks bad for the Economist. "Insufficient regard" may be a bad thing, but it's a far cry from opposing verification because you're actively abetting the desires of Israel and Pakistan to surreptitiously continue building larger nuclear arsenals.

Of course, it's possible that the Economist wasn't relying on the piece that Tom quotes. Maybe they actually talked to Kimball and got a further clarification from him. So Matt called Kimball himself, who said the correct interpretation was somewhere between Matt's and Tom's whatever that means and then made matters worse by pointing to yet another article as the "official" ACA take:

  • The concern is that negotiating a verification regime would prolong the talks by years, allowing countries currently producing fissile material without any restraints to continue to do so until a final agreement is reached.

    India and Pakistan are believed still to be churning out fissile material for arms, while the status of Israels production activities is unclear.

This is now a third interpretation: the Bush administration's real concern is that verification would prolong negotiations, and far from torpedoing the treaty, they're trying to hurry it up. They'd rather get an imperfect treaty in place quickly so that countries like Israel and Pakistan are required to quit producing fissile material immediately.

So what do Daryl Kimball and the ACA really think? Beats me. And since Matt reports that "Kimball seemed to resent being drawn into a blogospheric back-and-forth," I guess there's not much point in my calling him to see if I can tease a firm answer out of him. If it were me, I guess I'd want to make sure that people knew what I really thought, but apparently the ACA feels differently. Mighty peculiar.

Kevin Drum 6:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PRIORITIES....American casualties are mounting daily in Iraq, Afghanistan is close to melting down, and the 9/11 Commission has proposed a total revamp of our intelligence infrastructure. So what do Republicans have in mind for the upcoming legislative session? Let's listen in:

The pace of legislative action is likely to quicken in the next several weeks, said Patrick Basham, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, but "most of it will be carefully packaged, focus-group-tested, window-dressing stuff designed to appeal to swing voters in closely contested congressional races, such as they exist."

He predicted that the Republican leadership would bring bills to the floor "for the sole purpose of embarrassing or flushing out the Democrats on emotive or wedge issues. Between now and election day, the action on Capitol Hill will be more symbolic than substantive."

Already, House Republicans are planning to bring up the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, according to Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). And one House Republican aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the leadership planned to schedule a bill to keep the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

We're going to get floor fights over same-sex marriage and the Pledge of Allegiance, and the New York Times reports that abortion, tort reform, and flag burning are on the agenda too.

To paraphrase a famous man, I guess the Republican leadership is more interested in gay bashing and special interest demagoguery and not interested in the security of the American people. Maybe they should start getting their priorities straight.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE FREE ADVICE!....Mark Schmitt has a good critique of my suggestion from a few days ago that Democrats can't beat Bush by banging on a theme of incompetence. Since Mark is a lot smarter about this kind of stuff than me, it's worth reading.

Perhaps foolishly, though, I don't think I'm ready to back down. It's not that I don't think Bush is incompetent, it's just that I don't think the folly of his policies is yet clear enough that you can convince people of it. In a couple of years, when the smoke clears, it will be pretty easy, but for now I think competence arguments rely too heavily on technical policy grounds that don't have much resonance with voters.

Needless to say, though, a competence argument is still part of the package, and we may mostly be arguing about emphasis. Should it be the main argument against Bush or should it be a background theme? I still vote for the latter.

Of course, there's also the bigger question of what to talk about: national security or domestic issues? I think this is really the core question, and I'm appalled at the advice of Democratic bigwigs that Kerry should focus on domestic issues. Fundamentally, I think this election is all about national security. It's about convincing people that Bush's vision is dangerous and misguided and that Kerry can do a better job of protecting the country. More on this later if I can get my thoughts in order.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLL WATCH....This is via email from the Kerry campaign, so I don't have a link for it yet, but apparently the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll shows Bush with a 49%-48% lead over Kerry among registered voters.

This poll was conducted over the weekend, and in the immediately previous poll (ending August 25) Kerry led 48%-47%. So according to Gallup, Bush's bounce from the convention was only about two points. Some interesting historical background on convention bounces is here.

I haven't seen the details of this poll yet, so take this with a grain of salt for the moment. However, it looks like this election is still a horse race. Or perhaps a dogfight.

UPDATE: Here's a table showing a history of Gallup polls taken on Labor Day weekend. This year's race is the closest in history, matched only by the 1960 contest between Kennedy and Nixon.

UPDATE 2: Here's the USA Today story. Among "likely" voters, Bush is ahead 52%-45% (a bounce of four points). In other poll news, Rasmussen puts Bush's lead at 4-5 points. That seems about right to me.

Kevin Drum 4:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RICHARD PERLE UPDATE....ber-neocon Richard Perle now says that he was just a poor little dupe in the hands of his ex-friend Conrad Black. He thought he had really earned that $5 million.

That leaves us with two possibilities. Either he really was duped by his longtime friend and business partner, in which case there's no reason to trust his relationship with his other friends and business partners. Or he's lying and he's a crook, in which case he's, um, a liar and a crook.

In either case, is there any reason to trust his judgment any further? Any man who counts both Conrad Black and Ahmed Chalabi among his friends has an awful lot of explaining to do these days.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EVERY SCHOOL A FAILURE....Via Mark Kleiman, the New York Times has a story about some unexpected consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act. It turns out that an awful lot of schools are getting failing grades:

In North Carolina, which pioneered one of the nation's most sophisticated accountability systems, more than 32 schools ranked as excellent by the state failed to meet Washington's criteria for academic progress. In California, 317 schools showed tremendous academic growth on the state's performance index, yet the federal law labeled them low-performing.

....In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush announced that the state had rated more than two-thirds of Florida's 3,100 schools as high-performing. But three-quarters were rated as low-performing under the federal law.

"We have a school down here that is absolutely extraordinary all the kids take Advanced Placement courses,'' said Jane Gallucci, chairwoman of the Pinellas County School Board and a past president of the Florida School Boards Association, "and the feds called it a failing school. Now that's ludicrous."

Later on the story quotes some suburban parents who are concerned that labeling their local school a failure will cause their property values to fall. This might actually be amusing if it weren't for the fact that labeling schools as failures isn't an unexpected consequence of NCLB. In fact, it's precisely the point of NCLB at least for some people.

As I mentioned last year, NCLB mandates that each state has to set standards for student achievement, and by 2014 every single student must meet those standards. Any school with less than 100% success is deemed to be failing. What's more, even in the period between now and 2014, while pass rates are "only" 80 or 90 percent and we're still working our way toward the El Dorado of 100%, there's an absurd concoction of thinly sliced categories mandated by the act, and failure in any one category marks the offending school as a failure. It's pretty obvious that there are a suspiciously large number of ways to fail, and as the years go by the number of "failing" schools will slowly increase to 100%.

I suspect that a lot of people who supported the worthier goals of NCLB simply didn't realize they were getting snookered: the fact is that the Bush administration wants to see lots of public schools labeled as failures. It's basically a long-term plan to erode the public's faith in public schools and thereby increase support for private schools and vouchers.

This is part of a pattern from conservatives, who realize that their domestic agenda is actually pretty unpopular and can be passed only if people don't realize what they're getting. NCLB is an example of this kind of stealth legislation, and both last year's Medicare bill and this year's "ownership society" are additional examples. In the end, though, NCLB may turn out to have been too clever by half, as parents rebel against being labeled failures instead of meekly accepting the verdict of the federal government.

Of course, that's not the only surprise the Bush administration has in store surprises that they're hoping nobody will notice until they're either safely reelected or out of office. As I wrote last December, 2010 should be a helluva year....

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISSING NATIONAL GUARD RECORDS....Several weeks ago the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information request demanding access to the original microfilm of President Bush's National Guard records. Yesterday, AP's Matt Kelley turned up the heat by filing a story that explains exactly why the FOIA request was filed:

Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973, according to regulations and outside experts.

....Records of Bush's service have significant gaps, starting in 1972. Bush has said he left Texas that year to work on the unsuccessful Senate campaign in Alabama of family friend Winton Blount.

This has been a major part of the National Guard story practically since the beginning. There are a large number of documents that should be in Bush's files that aren't, and Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett, who worked at the Austin headquarters of the Texas Air National Guard in the 1990s, has charged that Bush's files were "cleansed" by TANG officers after Bush was elected governor in 1994.

This is a fairly long and convoluted story, but if you want to catch up on the whole thing you can read my lengthy interview with Burkett here and a lengthy analysis of Burkett's credibility here (including interviews with a couple of other participants in this story).

Bottom line: Burkett's story is largely credible (though obviously not proven); the number of missing documents from Bush's file is suspicious; and it's possible that even if some documents were purged from Bush's paper file in Austin they might still be recorded on the microfilm records made in the 70s and 80s. AP's request is a legitimate one, and hopefully the microfilm records will be made available to them before the election. After all, Bush is proud of his service in the Guard, right?

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLL UPDATE....Recent Time and Newsweek polls showed George Bush way ahead of John Kerry, but today there was some more cheerful news for Kerry.

First, Josh Marshall says that he's talked to sources inside each campaign, and both of them say their internal polling had Bush ahead by only 4 points as of Friday.

Second, via Mark Kleiman, the latest Rasmussen robo-poll shows Bush only a point ahead of Kerry. Since Rasmussen reports a 3-day moving average, that means Sunday's polling probably had Kerry slightly ahead.

All the usual caveats apply to these figures, but overall it looks as if the race is most likely still about where it was before either convention, with Bush narrowly ahead in the electoral college race. In other words, it's still a tossup and it's still going to be decided in the next few weeks.

Kevin Drum 10:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEVER MISTAKE A MIRROR FOR A WINDOW....William Arkin uses his final column about military affairs and the war on terrorism in the LA Times today to look back on "Five Big American Blunders." Here's #5:

Fifth: Never mistake a mirror for a window.

With dismaying frequency, Bush, Rumsfeld and senior military leaders have made critical decisions on the basis of what they thought was a clear view of their adversaries looking at the enemy through an open window, so to speak. In reality, they were looking at a mirror and seeing fuzzy images of themselves.

....Senior officials talk about Iraq as part of something fundamentally different from past military challenges. But they fight it like a conventional war: From the beginning, our strategy was to engage the enemy in battle, win a crushing victory and reap the fruits of unconditional success. Thus, field commanders have talked of "victories" in Najaf and "strategic progress" in Fallouja. Meantime, soldiers continue to die by the ones and twos on conventional infantry patrols.

Unfortunately, our adversaries are not interested in engaging us head-on. That's why the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened in the first place.

....What is true militarily in Iraq is also true politically, there and in the rest of the Arab world: We keep thinking that, deep down, our adversaries are really just like us. In reality, for the present and for the foreseeable future, most of the Islamic world is not and does not want to be like us. It has profoundly different values and priorities. Thus our entire strategy is predicated on a mirror-picture that we will someday "defeat" the increasingly angry anti-American mob of Iraqi nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists, with democratic stability miraculously arising from the ashes.

I really don't know how to get this across effectively to ordinary voters, but it strikes me as the critical point in the debate on terror. Bush has surrounded himself with people who fundamentally believe in the use of military power and flatly don't understand that conventional assaults aren't always the answer in a nonconventional war. To them, anything aside from a smashing military victory is simply a sign of weakness.

What's more, although they're downplaying the idea of future military action at the moment (there's a campaign to run!), there's no real indication that Bush's team has learned Arkin's fifth lesson. They've fought two wars so far, they still believe that both have gone swimmingly, and based on everything they've said and done over the past decade there's every reason to believe they still think military action is our primary tool for defeating Islamist zealotry.

In other words, they don't have a clue how to win this war. John Kerry needs to convince the country that he does.

Kevin Drum 2:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE WARS?....This isn't up yet, but it appears that Time magazine is planning to run a story tonight about the Bush administration's plans for a second term. Here's the press release they emailed:

During a private Aug. 19 conference call with Capitol Hill aides from both parties, sources say, senior Pentagon policy official William Luti said there are at least five or six foreign countries with traits that "no responsible leader can allow."

....A Pentagon spokesman declined to release a transcript of the call, saying Luti was stating "well-established official policy," not advocating pre-emptive strikes. The U.S., he added, has many other policy options at its disposal. They would presumably include measures like supporting opposition groups in suspect states, Time reports.

Luti, of course, was largely responsible for the worst of the bad intelligence that supported the Iraq war, so he's in a perfect position to gin up more intelligence to back up whatever war he and the Bush team think we ought to fight next.

And I don't doubt that he will. For all their comforting talk about "other policy options," the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/etc. axis has a long history of advocating military action as the first and best option for dealing with countries they think pose some kind of threat, and they haven't given the slightest indication that our problems in Iraq have caused them to rethink the limits of military power to accomplish their goals. They are every bit the true believers today that they were two years ago.

In other words, anyone who thinks they won't find excuses for further military action in a second term just isn't paying attention. A vote for Bush is a vote for more wars, and with this crew in charge it's unlikely they'll turn out any better than Iraq has.

UPDATE: Commentless Matt Yglesias asks "Bill Luti and what army?" That's a pretty good question, but while it's true that there are no troops available for the next 12-18 months, it's quite possible that some will indeed be available after that. And it wouldn't take a big terrorist attack to convince the American public that we need to occupy, say, Syria. What it would take is some alarming intel about Syria's intention to use WMD. I'd say that Bill Luti is in a pretty good position to supply that.

Of course, this all begs the question anyway. Bush's whole appeal is based on his military toughness, so if he's not planning to use military action in his second term, what's the point of voting for him? It's not like anyone thinks he's a brilliant diplomat or anything.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

M&Ms....I just bought a bag of regular M&Ms, and it feels to me as if they're a smidge smaller than M&Ms used to be. Has anyone else noticed this?

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RIGHTEOUS FAITH....Richard Cohen today:

The Bush campaign knows what it is doing. Bush is a minority president, elected with less than half the votes, and often 50 percent still eludes him in the polls. The campaign is engaged in hand-to-hand combat for just enough votes -- a mandate of one, if need be. It is infused with such a sense of righteousness that, like the Crusaders of old, it can commit atrocity after atrocity on the way to Jerusalem. All that matters is the goal. God understands.

He's right. For all the hatred of Bush among liberals, we still aren't as dedicated to our cause as conservatives are to theirs. After all, they're dedicated enough to figure that fighting fair is just a sign of weakness. For better or worse, we're not quite there yet.

Kevin Drum 4:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MEDICARE PREMIUM HIKES....I think the LA Times gets the headline right for the administration's announcement of next year's Medicare premium increase:

Medicare Premiums to Jump a Record 17%
Bush administration announces the increase for 41.8 million disabled and elderly beneficiaries as the capital empties for the holiday weekend

Something tells me that releasing the news late on the Friday before Labor Day isn't going to work this time. I suspect seniors are going to notice anyway.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL WATCH 2....Newsweek has a new poll out too. Like the Time poll, it shows Bush ahead 52%-41%.

The polling was done on Thursday and Friday. Newsweek did an identical poll on the Thursday and Friday that ended the Democratic convention and found Kerry ahead 49%-42%. The immediately previous poll had shown Kerry ahead 47%-44%.

Basically, in polls with identical timing and methodology, this seems to show that Kerry got about a 4-point bounce from the Democratic convention while Bush has gotten a much larger bounce from his (although this also includes whatever effect the Swift Boat ads have had, of course). That bounce won't be permanent, but it's still real and the Time poll no longer seems like such an outlier.

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL WATCH....I've gotten a few emails from people who are outraged by alleged methodological problems with the Time poll that showed George Bush leading John Kerry 52%-41%. Here are the complaints:

  • The poll includes "leaners," people who were asked to state a preference even if they said they were undecided. The previous poll, taken last week, didn't include leaners.

    I'm not sure why SRBI (the polling firm) excluded leaners in last week's poll, but they've included them in all their previous polls. If you compare their August 3 poll with their most recent poll, it switches from a 48%-44% Kerry lead to a 52%-41% Bush lead. That's a huge change and the methodology is the same both times.

  • The pollers asked for male residents first, and talked to females only if no male was available. I don't know why they do this, but it's apparently a standard part of their methodology and produces about 52% female respondents. What's more, all modern polls are weighted to a fare-thee-well to ensure that the demographics of the poll sample are close to the demographics of the country as a whole. There doesn't seem to be any monkey business here.

  • The poll was taken during the Republican convention, when undecided voters are most likely to be leaning Republican. This is a fair complaint. There's not much question that calling people while the convention is in progress is going to show Bush in the best possible light.

Bottom line: there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this poll except its timing, which clearly shows the Bush bounce at its maximum. In addition, it might just be an outlier, a poll that happened to get a too-heavy Bush sample by random chance.

In other words, there's no need to panic. Other polls show a much closer race, and a Bush bounce during the convention is hardly a surprise anyway. At the same time, though, there doesn't seem to be any obvious problem with the poll's methodology. It is what it is, and it's best not to invent spurious reasons to discard evidence just because you don't like it.

UPDATE: Phil Trounstine, Director of the Survey & Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University, emails an explanation for the "youngest male, oldest female" methodology:

When reputable surveyors do random digit dialing (RDD), they are calling a random selection of households (assuming one phone per household). But once they reach a household, they need a system to randomize whom they speak to within the household. If they just interview the first person to answer the phone, their surveys would be overloaded with female respondents, since women answer the phone first in most households.

There are various different methods for randomizing at the household level. Two methods are most popular. One is the "most recent birthday" method, whereby the pollster asks to speak to the person in the household who has had the most recent birthday. While this maintains randomness, it is often confusing to the respondent and can cause a drop in response rate.

The other popular method is "youngest male, oldest female," whereby the surveyor asks to speak to people in that order. This is not purely random, but is systematic and has been found to introduce no significant bias. The advantage is that it is easier for the respondent to understand and increases the number of male respondents and especially younger males who are normally underrepresented in household sampling because they're harder to reach. This means that when the pollster applies weights to obtain a gender balance, he can apply a smaller weight for gender, which improves the reliability of the data.

Whether there are other methodological issues party distribution, definition of likely voters, assumptions about race and ethnicity of voters, etc.) is another matter. But the "youngest male, oldest female" selection at the household level is a legitimate methodology.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IT'S 9/11, STUPID....Kerry's recent poll weakness doesn't bother me that much. These things go up and down, and there's still plenty of time to make up a few points of lost ground.

Ditto for Kerry's weakness in August. With no money to spend, August was always going to be a tough month for him.

But this has me very discouraged indeed:

John Kerry, seeking to shift the presidential campaign focus to the economy, pledges to "stand up for the middle class" and suggests President Bush "sides with the special interests" in new ads that are part of a $50 million post-Labor Day blitz starting in seven key states.

....The ads focus on the economy as the Kerry campaign seeks to move the focus of the campaign from questions about the Massachusetts senator's decorated Vietnam service and subsequent anti-war activities some 30 years ago.

It's fine to hammer away on domestic issues with specific target groups. It's fine for John Edwards to focus on the two Americas. But anyone who thinks the primary message of Kerry's campaign should be anything other than national security is just deluding themselves. To paraphrase James Carville, "It's 9/11, stupid."

In fact, it's a no-brainer: somehow Kerry has to convince people that he can be trusted with national security and Bush can't and if he doesn't, he's going to lose. But I guess he still doesn't get that.

I'm finally beginning to think Mickey Kaus might be right: Kerry has spent too much time inside the liberal cocoon. It's going to cost him the election if he keeps it up.

Kevin Drum 9:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN BASE....Charming:

President Bush on Friday wished Bill Clinton "best wishes for a swift and speedy recovery."

"He's is in our thoughts and prayers," Bush said at a campaign rally.

Bush's audience of thousands in West Allis, Wis., booed. Bush did nothing to stop them.

That's our big-hearted president for you.

UPDATE: Hmmm, maybe not. Sound clip here. I guess there might be a few boos there, but it doesn't sound like very many.

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BEATING BUSH....I've been noodling lately about the best way to make the case against George W. Bush. For starters, there's the consensus criticism among mainstream analysts: not so much that Bush is a captive of extremist ideology as that he's simply incompetent. As William Saletan puts it:

The case against President Bush is simple. He sold us his tax cuts as a boon for the economy, but more than three years later, he has driven the economy into the ground. He sold us a war in Iraq as a necessity to protect the United States against weapons of mass destruction, but after spending $200 billion and nearly 1,000 American lives, and after searching the country for more than a year, we've found no such weapons.

But that doesn't really work, does it? Most people still don't realize how sluggish the economy really is, and the lack of WMD doesn't faze a lot of people either. This just isn't going to win a lot of votes.

Andrew Tobias tries a similar tack, with a table showing the change in median household income during the past three administrations:

Bush II

$1,535

Clinton

+$5,489

Bush I

$1,314

But that doesn't work either, mainly, I think, because most Americans don't truly believe that economic policies have much effect on the economy. Sure, Clinton had restrained, prudent policies, but does that really have anything to do with the fact that the economy did well on his watch? I suspect that most people think it's just a coincidence, and that anyone who says otherwise is just shilling for their party.

Now, there's still nothing wrong with hammering away at this stuff, but in the end these are arguments about competence, and if you're not a policy wonk this kind of argument is just too arid and intellectual to be compelling. Michael Dukakis tried running on competence and got his head handed to him.

(Yeah, yeah, he had other problems too. I learned at least one thing from his campaign: if I'm ever running for president and someone asks me how I'd react if my wife got raped, I'll avoid responding with a tone deaf discussion of the principles of the American legal system.)

All of which is a windy way of getting around to an obvious point: stump speeches about Bush's poor performance are all well and good, but the events of the past few days and weeks have demonstrated just in case there were any lingering doubts that Bush plans to run an intensely negative campaign. And guess what? For all the whining we do every four years about negative campaigning, it works pretty well.

Fine. But if that's the way the game is going to be played this year, what's the right response from Kerry? Negative, of course, but what specific negatives should he go after? As any marketing person can tell you, ad campaigns can stretch the facts here and there but they still have to be based on a kernel of truth in order to be effective. The charge against Kerry that he's a waffler who's soft on defense may be unfair, but there's still a kernel of truth there that makes it believable.

So: what's the best way to make Bush seem either scary, unlikable, or untrustworthy? Forget about trying to turn his charges around and painting him as a waffler or a weakling. It won't work. His branding in those areas is just too strong.

But Bush does have a couple of core negatives that can probably be exploited:

  • He's a reckless warmonger who's going to get a lot of people killed. This doesn't apply just to Bush, of course, but to all the people around him. It shouldn't be too hard to find a few video clips that make Bush and his supporters look like slavering warmongers Zell Miller provided a good start Wednesday night and there's enough truth in the charge to turn doubts about Bush's judgment into genuine fears. Basically, Kerry should do to Bush what LBJ did to Goldwater: convince the middle of the country that he can hardly wait to get his finger on the button.

  • He operates in secret and doesn't tell the truth. Again, there's enough truth to this that it shouldn't be too hard to convince people that Bush and his administration are fundamentally secretive and manipulative. Maybe a few clips of John Dean talking about how they remind him of Nixon would work well.

Since I don't live in Massachusetts I don't know much about how John Kerry campaigns, but everything I've heard about him suggests that in the closing months of a campaign he can throw mud with the best of them. So maybe we'll see some stuff like this from Kerry (or his surrogates) soon. After all, you don't bring a knife to a gun fight, do you?

Kevin Drum 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW POLL....It's only one poll, but this is definitely bad news for John Kerry: Time has Bush up 52% to 41%. Ouch.

UPDATE: On the other hand, today's Rasmussen poll, which covers about the same period as the Time poll, has Bush up only 49%-45%. Still not exactly good news for Kerry, but not a hole he can't get out of, either.

UPDATE 2: Josh Marshall notes that the Zogby and ARG polls for this period show only a slight lead for Bush. So is the Time poll an outlier or a bellwether? Hard to say.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A 10-YEAR-OLD CHILD....Via Hullabaloo, here's what White House chief of staff Andy Card had to say a couple of days ago about George Bush's governing style:

It struck me as I was speaking to people in Bangor, Maine, that this president sees America as we think about a 10-year-old child.

Every once in a while these guys let down their guard and accidentally tell the truth. I wish they'd do it more often. After all, I suspect most Americans would prefer to have a president who treats them like an adult, not a child.

Kevin Drum 1:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SLOW BLOGGING....I don't know if everyone is having this problem or if it's just me, but the site is very, very slo-o-o-o-o-w at the moment. If blogging is spotty today, that's why.

(In fact, if blogging is spotty this weekend, that's why. There's no telling when I'll be able to get someone to take a look at this.)

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TWO DEBATES?....Apparently Bush is wobbling on whether he's willing to participate in three debates this fall. A couple of his aides are hinting that maybe two debates are enough.

Since Bush wobbles on practically everything except for taxes and Iraq, this is no big surprise. On the other hand, despite the conventional wisdom I think Bush actually does pretty well in debates, so I'm not quite sure why he's thinking of avoiding them this year. Best guess: as the RNC convention confirmed (and as his campaign staff has been saying all along), this year's strategy is to forget the middle and focus like a laser on the base. Debates, by their nature, are aimed at the median voter, and it may be that Bush just doesn't want to be put in a position where he has to moderate his message and take the chance of alienating the red meat crowd.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

Live, From New York, It's 2000....If you took the Iraq and 9/11 stuff out of Bush's speech last night (and I realize that's a big chunk, but stay with me here), you didn't hear much in the way of policy that wasn't omnipresent in Bush's 2000 campaign. No Child Left Behind? Check. Medicare? Check. Tax Cuts (oh, excuse me, Tax Relief)? Check. Rah rah, Small Businesses; Boo hiss, Trial Lawyers? Double check.

It sort of leaves you wondering what the domestic policy of a second Bush administration would really look like. We've known for a while that he's not exactly a big ideas guy, but the apparent lack of a theme to last night's speech still came as something of a surprise. The first three-quarters or so was simple a laundry list constructed by Karen Hughes--lots of non-sequiters, some handy applause lines, and some statements that seemed to confuse the audience. My favorite moment came when Bush noted that "two-thirds of moms now work outside the home" and the crowd hesitated, then offered tepid applause. Conservatives have railed about the evils of women working outside the home for so long that I think the audience wasn't really sure for a moment whether this statistic was something to be cheered or jeered.

The only faintly stirring portion of the speech was the last quarter, which must have been written by chief speechwriter Mike Gerson. Even then, Gerson--who is one of the best speechwriters around, regardless of what you think of his politics--didn't come up with any memorable phrases that will define Bush's address. He even fell back on the Ecclesiastes passage, "There is a time for everything" that ber-Democrat Bill Clinton used in his own convention speech. (I was struck by the use of the phrase "Whatever it takes" to describe what America will do to defend itself. Sounds a bit like "By Any Means Necessary" and I've never really thought of W. as a Malcolm X kind of guy.)

By far, the biggest cheers and ovations came when Bush denounced gay marriage (I couldn't see Cheney from where I was sitting...any television shots of him applauding that line?) and after several of the jingoistic, We-don't-answer-to-no-one statements. The folks around us were whooping and hollering at those, and starting "U.S.A." chants whenever they got the chance. I had a flashback to sitting in the middle of the football stadium at Penn State for a Michigan away game a few years ago--it's a little frightening to be that outnumbered by a rather rabid crowd.

And so, quite possibly the most meanspirited convention in recent memory ended. I realize that 1992 is well-remembered for Buchanan's disturbing speech, but what exactly were people expecting from Pat Buchanan? The hateful rhetoric this time around was launched by the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and Dennis Hastert. These are the supposedly mild guys who are supposed to make the party palatable to independents, but apparently they didn't get the party memo because they were all too busy overcompensating for their moderate leanings. I honestly don't think it would have been any worse to have actual rightwingers like DeLay behind the podium.

Finally, I have one belated note on Cheney's speech and reception. I'm pleased to report that nobody likes Dick Cheney, not even Republicans. By 8:30 on the night of Edwards' speech in Boston, the venue was packed so tight people could hardly move in the aisles. By 8:30 on Wednesday night, hundreds of seats were still empty and attendees seemed in no hurry to secure a spot. Cheney was received with polite, but exceedingly brief, applause. And even his former boss, George H.W. Bush, barely clapped at most of Cheney's applause lines. When Cheney engineered a cheap ovation (something like "stand up to support our troops") George and Barbara Bush remained seated. The man is incredibly lucky to still be on the ticket at this point, but no one--and certainly not Cheney himself--seems to be happy about it.

Update:Almost forgot. Zell Miller was supposed to be a special guest in the Bush family box last night but was reportedly disinvited after the Republican party decided to start distancing itself from his gone-off-his-rocker speech on Wednesday. They're so loyal, those Republicans.

Amy Sullivan 10:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH SPEECH....I don't really have much reaction to Bush's speech. His delivery seemed better than usual (though awfully slow and over-deliberate) and his normal smirk was gone (though replaced only by a slightly more palatable one), so I guess that puts it in the better than average category. A few miscellaneous comments:

  • The "ownership society" sure got passed over mighty quickly. Something tells me that his heart isn't really into Social Security privatization.

  • His biggest applause line of the night came when he took a shot at trial lawyers. I don't quite get this. Sure, he's going to get applause, but the biggest of the night? Weird.

  • He mentioned three former presidents by name: two Democrats and one Republican. Shouldn't he have at least figured out a way to mention his father to even things up?

  • There was no mention in the speech of job creation. Something tells me this means that Friday morning's job numbers aren't going to be so hot.

And for all the talk about the war and terrorism, I still don't really know what he thinks his second term foreign policy would be like. He's against terrorism, but that was about the extent of it. I wonder if he has any clue himself?

Kevin Drum 11:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A WEE OBSERVATION....Note to Glenn: there's a difference between an obscure poet speaking at a NOW rally and a United States senator addressing the Republican National Convention in a keynote speech televised in prime time.

Normally I wouldn't bother pointing this out, but it's a distinction a lot of conservatives seem to have trouble with these days. There's a big difference between lunatic rhetoric that has the stamp of approval of a party's leadership (or that comes from the party leadership) and similar rhetoric that comes from private citizens or backbench politicians. The difference is that the latter aren't running the country.

All clear now?

Kevin Drum 7:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Ezra Klein

SEPTEMBER SURPRISE...This has been a -- what's the adjective I'm looking for? -- surprising convention. We high-falutin media personnel (particularly us intern/bloggers) love our pre-event storylines, it makes covering the convention so much easier. And this time, the storyline was not only obvious, but seemingly based in fact. With McCain and Giuliani headlining the first night, Arnold taking the second, and fair-weather Democrat Zell Miller attaching himself to the third, it seemed clear that the Republicans were going to paint a hopeful, inclusive portrait of their party. But then, between McCain's call-out of Moore and Miller's Emperor Palpatinesque performance, a funny thing happened. It became clear that moderation was not the theme of the week and a new narrative was needed. In the resulting scramble for storylines, two distinct narratives have emerged:

Illusion, the first, has been best expressed by the LA Weekly's Josh Bearman. This launches from the observation that the delegates seem, well, unexcited. Where the Democratic convention offered crushing crowds and enough body heat to render the Fleet Center suitable for baking, the Republican convention seems sparsely attended and unenthusiastic, to the point that Maryland Lt. Governor (and token black guy) William Steele had to go camp-counselor on the delegates, repeatedly exhorting the crowd to turn up the volume for the renomination of the ticket. There's been no attempt to set forth an agenda, little effort to build up Bush and no feeling of security or strength emanating from the stage. Instead, we've seen fear-mongering, a focus on this dangerous world, and an assurance that John Kerry will bring the country to its knees, right before handing Osama (c'mon, you remember him) a key to the gates.

Extremism, the second, has been best explained by TNR's Noam Scheiber. All the Republican moderates featured on the stage are looking for further advancement within the party. More often than not, that means the 2008 nomination for president. And prevailing in that contest requires, as John McCain will tell you, some love from the conservatives who power the primary. So instead of using the convention to showcase their broad appeal, they've used it to showcase their right-wing appeal. Since these guys suffer from a, uh, lack of belief in current conservative extremism, they've resorted to base us-against-themism, requiring full-throated attacks on Kerry. Instead of painting a moderate, kind face on the party, the convention's been hijacked by outcasts trying too hard to show they can be part of the gang, too. One by one, they've lined up to slash, rip, and detonate homemade effigies of the Democrat, appearing for all the world like a surprisingly blood-thirsty mob. Now, that might be effective, but no one on earth is going to mistake it for moderation.

This speaks to a political calculation by the Republicans, a gamble that this election no longer turns on appeals to the center but excitement among the base. The base will vote against, the center will usually vote for. So if you want the middle, you give them a party they'll love; if you want the base, you give them the other party to hate. Tonight, I fully expect Bush to try and make himself loveable. But the Republicans have spent the rest of the convention demonizing the Democrats, and along with Bush's appearances on fishing shows, speeches at Nascar rallies and advertisements in red states, that speaks to a significant uncertainty that moderates are reachable or important in this election.

Ezra Klein 7:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND THE F-14....Did John Kerry really vote to kill every major weapons system for the past 20 years aside from an arsenal of spitballs? Of course not. Fred Kaplan unspins the spin:

This myth took hold last February in a press release put out by the RNC. Those who bothered to look up the fine-print footnotes discovered that they referred to votes on two defense appropriations bills, one in 1990, the other in 1995. Kerry voted against both bills, as did 15 other senators, including five Republicans. The RNC took those bills, cherry-picked some of the weapons systems contained therein, and implied that Kerry voted against those weapons. By the same logic, they could have claimed that Kerry voted to disband the entire U.S. armed forces; but that would have raised suspicions and thus compelled more reporters to read the document more closely.

Nobody who makes a charge like this really cares about the facts, but you never know. Maybe they'll come in handy someday if you're talking to some wavering (but rational) moderate. So go read the whole thing. It's a devastating article.

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AWOL?....Michael Crowley wonders what's going on with the Democratic party response to the Republican convention:

Where are the Democrats? In Boston, the Republicans had a strikingly aggressive rapid-response operation, complete with website, daily press conferences, and a nonstop barrage of obnoxious emails ridiculing the Democrats....The DNC by contrast has had almost no profile here in New York....I've seen little coverage of the DNC's activities here in Boston. And from what I've seen on cable this week, the party hasn't delivered a very impressive lineup of spokesmen to ding the GOP's convention message.

Over at Tapped, Matt Yglesias does some investigative reporting on this by heading over to the DNC's convention response office and reports that Crowley is on target: "While I wouldn't say the office was empty, it was pretty, well, empty."

Look, as a lone blogger sometimes I just wake up in a bad mood and that means I don't post much that day. But what excuse does a big professional organization like the DNC have? This is just bizarre behavior.

UPDATE: Garance Franke-Ruta has the official DNC response here. Count me as unimpressed.

Kevin Drum 5:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ZELL MILLER ROUNDUP....Reaction to Zell Miller's temper tantrum last night has not been pretty:

  • Eric Zorn has transcripts of Miller's just-short-of-clinically-insane interviews on MSNBC and CNN right after his speech.

  • William Saletan goes nuclear: this is no longer just an ordinary election, he says, it's "becoming a referendum on democracy."

  • NewDonkey: "Not since Pat Buchanan's famous 'culture war' speech in 1992 has a major speaker at a national political convention spoken so hatefully, at such length, about the opposition. At the dark heart of the speech was the same old tired litany of lies and mischaracterizations about Kerry's Senate votes on military spending and weapons systems that BC04 has been retailing for many months."

  • From a time machine, Zell Miller himself criticizes his speech. Here's what he had to say in 2001: "John Kerry has fought against government waste and worked hard to bring some accountability to Washington....John has worked to strengthen our military."

  • Andrew Sullivan: "[Miller's] speech tonight was in this vein, a classic Dixiecrat speech, jammed with bald lies, straw men, and hateful rhetoric....The man's speech was not merely crude; it added whole universes to the word crude."

  • Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic: "It was one of the most vile political speeches in recent American history, every bit as offensive as Pat Buchanan's infamous call in 1992 for "religious war" and, perhaps, a little more disturbing. Buchanan's speech, after all, was an assault on decency. Last night Miller declared war on democracy."

  • Matt Yglesias, who was in the hall when Miller spoke: "I don't believe I've ever heard a more disgusting speech delivered in the English language. The fact that I couldn't see a single person on the floor who seemed to feel anything less than the utmost enthusiasm for that lunacy was, well, a bit disturbing."

  • Commenter Thumb, reacting to my pithy comment last night: "Zell's speech reads better in the original German."

At times like this, I wish more people watched the conventions. If more of the country had seen Miller's ranting, cowardly attack last night, the election would probably be as good as over. Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GUANTANAMO TRIBUNALS....Although I enjoy reading op-eds, I almost never bother reading editorials themselves. But the LA Times has a powerful editorial today about the farcical Guantanamo tribunals currently underway by Supreme Court order:

The tribunal's chief officer is a retired Army judge, the only member of the panel with legal training....the five nonlawyers were clearly befuddled last week when asked to define concepts such as due process and reasonable doubt.

The cards are stacked against detainees in other ways too. Government prosecutors got spacious quarters and their own staff to prepare for the hearings. Military defense lawyers were crowded into one room. Midway through the week, the conference table they all shared was removed. The Arab interpreters were so incompetent that the proceedings resembled a game of "telephone," in which the message veered closer to gibberish with each repetition. Yet this game is about men's futures.

Given the confusion, officials must feel justified in limiting reporters to pen and paper, which might as well be quill and parchment. No photographic, video or audio recordings of the hearings will ever be released. From the government's perspective, perhaps the less that Americans know of these bumbling proceedings, the less they'll care.

I wonder if the Supreme Court will take notice of the cavalier way in which the Bush administration is blowing them off?

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL GUARD UDPATE....There have been a couple of interesting new items about George Bush's National Guard record today.

First, Salon reports that George Bush didn't move to Alabama (and quit going to Guard drills) in 1972 because he was offered a job on Winton "Red" Blount's Senate campaign. Rather, Bush's father called an old family friend, Jimmy Allison, who was managing Blount's campaign, and pulled some strings:

In the spring of 1972, George H.W. Bush phoned his friend and asked a favor: Could Allison find a place on the Senate campaign he was managing in Alabama for his troublesome eldest son, the 25-year-old George W. Bush?

"The impression I had was that Georgie was raising a lot of hell in Houston, getting in trouble and embarrassing the family, and they just really wanted to get him out of Houston and under Jimmy's wing," Allison's widow, Linda, told me. "And Jimmy said, 'Sure.' He was so loyal."

This is both interesting and plausible, but probably pretty meaningless. I doubt that this story is going to draw much blood.

However, that's decidedly not true for today's second story: Ben Barnes, former Speaker of the House in Texas, has finally decided to go very public with the news that he was the one who called in some favors and got Bush into the "Champagne Unit" of the Texas Air National Guard in 1968.

Now, this is not actually fresh news: as I've mentioned before, Barnes testified under oath about this in 1999. Overall, though, Barnes has kept a very low profile about this and has studiously avoided bringing it up in public.

But apparently the Swift Vets have gotten him very, very mad, and on Wednesday he'll be on 60 Minutes II with Dan Rather to tell the whole story. The difference between a newspaper article and a 60 Minutes segment is huge, and this is going to bring the whole National Guard story back into circulation for another go around.

Is it good for America to choose our president based on what John Kerry did in 1968 vs. what George Bush did in 1968? Nope. But between the Swift Boat smear artists and tonight's convention speeches, the Republicans have made it very clear that they think this election is going to be won in the gutter. I suspect that by the time it's all over, they're going to rue that decision.

Kevin Drum 12:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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September 1, 2004
By: Ezra Klein

WHOOPS...Bush's advisors will not be sleeping well tonight. Going this negative on national television is always dicey, but tonight, they pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and, finally, fell backwards into backlash. Zell's speech crossed the line and Cheney's sneer sealed the impression. Tonight's theme was "Fuck you, John Kerry", and it's going to end up fucking them.

After Cheney, Zell was up in CNN's booth, and Blitzer, Greenfield and Woodruff brought out the knives, dismembering his various inconsistencies (noting that Zell praised Kerry a few years ago, bringing up the fact that Cheney voted against funding for the same weapons systems he criticized Kerry for opposing and reminding Zell that the president has called Iraq an "occupation" four times) and making him look like a bitter, rigid old man. Greenfield ended the interview wondering about backlash from the speech while Blitzer asked Zell why he was so unreasonably angry. Apparently Chris Matthews eviscerated Zell just minutes later. The media's getting sick of these guys, and swing voters who tuned in tonight -- the voters who don't mind either candidate and just haven't decided who to vote for -- are going to find themselves turned off by the Republican's brutality.

Tomorrow night, I have no doubt Bush will attempt to be positive, hopeful and even uplifting. But tonight, on their last chance to take on Kerry, they roared too loud and I think it hurt everybody's ears. Voters aren't always informed, but they're almost always decent and they well know that no party's candidate is that singularly wrong, exclusively evil, and determined to bring America to its knees. The right insisted on a caricature of Kerry too satanic for any reasonable person to believe, and that dissonance will say all that needs to be said. The media responded with unexpected anger (though they originally planned to respond with almost all right-wing guests) and the moderates (like McCain) condemned the vituperation. The meme is out: tonight, the Republicans went too far.

Ezra Klein 11:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHRIS vs. ZELL....So my wife tells me that Chris Matthews just laid some serious smack on Zell Miller. Did anyone see it? Tell us all about it in comments....

Kevin Drum 11:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING DICK....Amy emailed me to say that her internet connection was dicey tonight and could I please liveblog the convention in her place? So here goes.

Listening to Cheney's speech, the thought that kept running through my mind was that I'm sure glad I'm not a campaign reporter. I mean, if I were, then I'd have to figure out a thousand words of coherent prose to file sometime in the next hour or so, and I'm just not sure I could. After all, it was just Cheney's usual flat, boring, rabidly warmongering and intermittently dishonest stump speech. What is there to say?

But I'll try. For starters, I note that he just couldn't resist using the "sensitive war" nonsense yet again. Classy guy.

I note also that Zell Miller got way louder applause than Cheney. Maybe they should have put him on the ticket instead?

And I was pleased that halfway through the speech the crowd started yelling "Inkblot, Inkblot!" That seemed like a gracious gesture to a famous Democratic cat. That was what they were yelling, wasn't it?

What else? Well, between Zell and Dick, there were so many mentions of FDR that you'd almost think the guy had been a Republican. Who'd have thought Roosevelt was such a GOP hero?

And finally, I note that Cheney ended his speech with a simple "Thank you all," which seems like a breach of etiquette. Isn't the required finale for all convention speeches "God bless you, and God bless America"?

I'd write more, but I think the cat box needs cleaning again. Besides, after hearing Zell and Dick I'll bet Michael Brub thought he'd died and gone to heaven. I imagine his commentary should be up soon.

Kevin Drum 11:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A BRIEF MESSAGE....We're all about civil discourse here at Political Animal, but what else can you say to Zell Miller except....

Fuck you, Zell.

Kevin Drum 10:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Girl trouble... I was wondering out loud this morning whether or to what extent the widely-panned performance of Jenna and Barbara Bush at the GOP convention last night would hurt their father's chances. Our managing editor Christina Larson sent me this reply:

Presumably, the reason we're being treated to more of the twins Bush (as well as to frequent campaign appearances by Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry) is because someone hopes that younger voices on the stump might appeal to the elusive youth vote. Go figure, then, that both pairs of daughters got booed recently on MTV.

The Washington Monthly offices where half the staff consists of young writers and half of wiser (older) editors and business staff with adolescent or young-adult children is a perfect workshop to (unscientifically) test a theory of mine: Young people don't read much into the character of political children, but parents do. Beyond arguing about the "hotness" quotient of the four daughters, the under-30 crowd in the office didn't have much to say about the Bush daughters' stand-up routine last night. The parents in the office, however, gave us an earful comparing the attitude and conduct of the presidential daughters with that of their own children. If you watched the convention last night, I'll leave you to speculate on their conclusions.

I remember, many years ago, my mother arguing with me to brush my hair and "sit like a lady" before we went to church otherwise the other parents might think less of her. I wonder how many parents have thought slightly differently of both candidates when they've met their children.

Paul Glastris 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR WEARINESS....Ryan Lizza:

Last night, I was at the New York Yacht Club sipping mojitos and nibbling seared tuna at a party thrown by liberal bogeyman Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. In the heart of the right-wing conspiracy, I couldn't find a defender of the war. Granted, Norquist's instincts since the end of the Cold War are fairly isolationist, so his gathering attracted many similarly minded Republicans. But it's still surprising to hear how unpopular the war has become among some on the right. One guest assured me that anti-war sentiment among conservatives is "like a virus that is rapidly spreading."

There's a lot of that going around. I wonder how much more of this we'd be hearing from conservatives if we weren't eight weeks away from an election?

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Don't pass the torch... Remarking on the surprising and stunning success of Greece in hosting the Olympics, The New York Times editorial page suggests we consider keeping the Games permanently in Greece, instead of moving them to a different country every four years. Excellent idea!

Paul Glastris 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

Four more years?!... Its understandable that Democrats this week are feeling alarmed and depressed, what with polls drifting towards the president and the Republican convention dominating the airwaves. Josh Marshall argues that Democrats are ill-served by their propensity to freak out at moments like this, and I agree with him. Theres really no reason right now to panic (worry yes, panic no). That said, we at The Washington Monthly figured it's worth asking, for a variety of reasons: what if Bush wins? What would be the likely consequences of a second Bush term?

We asked sixteen dynamic thinkers, writers, and operatives, on both sides of the aisle, for their predictions. The resulting pieces make up our September cover package. Read them sitting down. You might want to start with Kevin Drums very smart contribution.

Also online from the September issue: Ben Wallace-Wells on why Virginia is tilting towards Kerry, Greg Sargent on the Democratic operative running the GOP convention, Jason DeParle on the next step for welfare reform, and James Warren on David Brocks new book about the right wing media.

Update: Only about half the issue is online, so if you like what you read, subscribe!

Paul Glastris 9:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"NO CONCEPTUAL GRASP"....Andrew Sullivan looked at the transcript of George Bush's comment about not being able to win the war on terror, and instead of making the standard "Bushism" kind of cheap shot about it, he gets to the real reason that this matters:

....every time I hear the president talk extemporaneously about the war his interview with Tim Russert last February was a classic he does seem to have almost no conceptual grasp of what he's talking about. Back then, he seemed flummoxed by the very concept of a distinction between a war of choice and a war of necessity. Now he seems to be parroting a Council on Foreign Relations confab on the permanence of terrorism.

Andrew is half right: the real problem with Bush is that he sounds this way on every subject when he's talking without a script. Unless he's been thoroughly coached, it's plainly obvious that he just doesn't understand what he's talking about.

Now, as it happens, I don't think that intelligence per se is that big a deal in a president. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said (or perhaps didn't) about FDR, he had "a second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament," and he did just fine anyway, didn't he?

Still, even though FDR might not have been a policy wonk, he could hold a press conference and make it clear that he understood what he was doing. But with Bush, every time you get past the high school version of his policies, he's just adrift. He's generally shrewd enough to change the subject when he realizes he's at sea, but when he does answer it's scary.

Like I said, I don't think we need Albert Einstein in the Oval Office. But do Republicans really feel comfortable with a guy who so plainly doesn't understand his own policies? Don't they think this might have something to do with the fact that so much of what he's done has turned out badly even from a conservative perspective? When is enough enough?

Kevin Drum 12:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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