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Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY'S CABINET....Via Dan Drezner, here's an interesting National Journal article by Carl Cannon about who might be in John Kerry's cabinet if he wins the election. Worth reading if you're interested in this kind of stuff. It's also worth reading if you just want to be able to sound knowledgable when Kerry announces his choices.

Kevin Drum 11:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FLORIDA REDUX?....What are the odds of another Florida this year? There are really only two conditions that have to be met: (1) a close electoral college vote and (2) at least one state with a very close popular vote margin. (Other conditions, such as both sides being mad as hell, we'll take as a given.)

Condition 1 seems like a reasonable bet, but how about condition 2? If you define "very close" as a Florida-like margin of less than a thousand votes, then the odds are against it. But if you define it more reasonably as, say, less than one-half of one percent of a state's total vote, then the odds are very much in favor. You don't need any fancy math to see this, you just need to look at the vote results for 2000 to see how many close states there were. Here's the list:




Vote Margin

% Margin






New Mexico















The only reason the bottom three states weren't litigated was because Bush didn't need them. This year, my guess is that everything will be in play.

Now, 2000 was an unusually close election, and this year might not be quite as tight. But the odds are good that at least three or four states will have vote margins of only a few tenths of a percent, and if that's the case — and if the electoral college is close — it's hard to see what could possibly keep us from having a repeat of Bush v. Gore.

So here's my off-the-cuff guess: the chance of the electoral college being very close (within 10-20 votes) is about 30%. The chance of having at least one very close state is about 80%. Therefore, the probability of a repeat of Florida is about 25%. Yuck.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ: WORSE THAN YOU THINK....Newsweek tells us today the Iraq is a really, really big mess:

The truth is, neither [Bush nor Kerry] is fully reckoning with the reality of Iraq — which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, Newsweek has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out. "Things are getting really bad," a senior Iraqi official in interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government told Newsweek last week. "The initiative is in [the insurgents'] hands right now. This approach of being lenient and accommodating has really backfired. They see this as weakness."

....Just as worrisome, the insurgents have managed to infiltrate Iraqi forces, enabling them to gain key intelligence. "The infiltration is all over, from the top to the bottom, from decision making to the lower levels," says the senior Iraqi official. In the Kirkush incident, the insurgents almost certainly had inside information about the departure time and route of the buses. Iraqi Ministry of Defense sources told Newseeek the Iraqi recruits had not been allowed to leave the base with their weapons because American trainers were worried that some of them might defect.

The rest of the story tells us that Bush is counting on the upcoming assault of Fallujah to contain the insurgency and turn the tide in America's favor. Unfortunately — as usual with Bush's team — there doesn't appear to be a Plan B if this fails to pan out.

Kevin Drum 7:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM....After the election, I'm sure we'll all spend plenty of time navel gazing about what it all means. But even now, I have a feeling we should all be able to agree on one thing: that whole McCain-Feingold deal didn't work out so well, did it?

The Center for Responsive Politics released their final spending projections for this campaign cycle a couple of days ago, and this year's grand total is — drumroll please — $4 billion. That's up 30% from an already astronomical $3 billion in 2000, an increase that's just a wee bit higher than the inflation rate.

When you cut through the trivia, here's what happened:

  • McCain-Feingold raised the maximum personal contribution from $1,000 to $2,000, and sure enough, everyone who contributed a grand in the last election cycle contributed two grand this one. The total amount of personal contributions sloshing around in the system increased by a billion dollars.

  • There was about $500 million in soft money spending in 2000, and it went away completely. However, it was replaced by $400 million in spending by 527 groups.

  • However, CRP says its estimate for 527 spending is " very conservative," and they didn't include spending by 501c groups at all. Reading between the lines, I wouldn't be surprised if total 527/501c spending this year was upwards of a billion dollars.

So: a billion dollars of additional hard money, and probably half a billion dollars more in advocacy group money. In other words, even though soft money is gone, the campaigns have more money, the parties have more money, and advocacy groups have more money.

That wasn't exactly the plan, was it?

Kevin Drum 1:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A QUESTION....It's one thing to argue that things are going better in Iraq than you might think from watching the evening news every night. It's a tough nut, but I guess you can make the case.

But "masterfully planned and executed"? And the massive insurgency that has over 100,000 American troops pinned down in Iraq for the foreseeable future is "astoundingly good news"?

Crikey. Do you think Bush supporters have actually convinced themselves this is true? Or do they know better but figure it's OK because they're lying for the greater good?

And which is scarier?

Kevin Drum 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

BACK TO OHIO... Pundits have long argued that Ohio is the new Florida, the state most likely to decide the 2004 election. You hear less of that talk right now, with so many other states surprisingly in flux. But Ohio is clearly one of the top battlegrounds. And it remains hard (for me at least) to firmly predict where it's headed.

On the one hand, several of the most recent polls, including Mason-Dixon, Zogby, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer have Bush leading in Ohio. Bad news for Kerry. On the other hand, according to the Plain Dealer, Bush's lead in Ohio is shrinking, and ARG has moved Ohio into the Kerry column. Good news for Kerry. And mattb25 at Daily Kos, who's been tracking the tracking polls carefully, makes a decent case that Kerry is in general leading in Ohio.

Then there's the Ohio court's decision yesterday to limit political parties to one pollwatcher per precinct. That's a big blow to the Republican plan to flood minority-heavy polling places with GOP operatives, the better to bring challenges, create long lines, and ultimately depress Democratic votes. Add to that the fact--which I read somewhere but can't now find--that far more new voters have been registered in Democratic areas of the state than Republican ones, and the fact that Nader isn't on the ballot there, and Kerry's chances in Ohio brighten even more. But, we shall see.

Paul Glastris 5:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

FUN FACTS... From two Boston Globe columnists, two interesting poll numbers I'd not seen on which groups are predisposed to believe falsehoods about Iraq. There's this from Ellen Goodman:

As recently as two weeks ago, the Harris Poll showed that 41 percent of Americans still link Saddam Hussein with the hijackers. What's more disheartening is the gender gap of misinformation: 51 percent of women compared with 29 percent of men connect Iraq and al Qaeda.

And this from Dan Payne:

Nonpartisan, academic poll found 72 percent of Bush supporters still believe Iraq had WMD. 75 percent think Iraq gave substantial support to Al Qaeda. Some 63 percent believe evidence of this support has been found. Should US have gone to war if our intelligence concluded Iraq was not making WMD or supporting Al Qaeda? 58 percent said no.

Paul Glastris 4:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHECKING IN ON DOWNING STREET....So what's going on over in Great Britain with only three days left before the American election? Let's check the news and find out.

Hmmm. According to the Guardian, the queen has decided this is a good moment to bend Tony Blair's ear about her "grave concerns over the White House's stance on global warming." Their conversation should have been confidential, but somehow word slipped out to the media.

From the Independent comes word that Blair himself "has sent one of his closest advisers on a secret peace mission to mend relations with John Kerry." Apparently his polling guru, Philip Gould, met with Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, ten days ago. This meeting was meant to be confidential, but again, word somehow slipped out.

And the BBC reports that Blair's wife, Cherie, criticized Bush administration policies a few days ago during a United States lecture tour. She was, of course, speaking strictly in a private capacity and didn't intend for her comments to become public. Somehow, though — well you get the message.

It sounds like Bush's pal Tony has decided to start hedging his bets. Or perhaps it's more like a rat deserting a sinking ship?

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 30, 2004
By: Paul Glastris

STAN THE MAN... An email from Kerry campaign pollster Stan Greenberg that came my way today. It's got an obvious buck-it-up spin to it, but I also think it's basically right. Here's an excerpt:

The stability in this poll reflects the overall stability of the race for president. This past week, George Bush polled 47.9 percent as the average of the public polls. That represents only a .5 point change compared to the prior week. Indeed, if one looks at the polls released Saturday and including polling after the release of the Bin Laden tape, Bush’s vote stands at 48 percent in one (Newsweek), 47 percent in one (Fox), and 46 percent in two (Zogby/Reuters and TIPP). That is a weaker result than for the polls released earlier in the week and prior to last weekend.

(These results are based on the results for registered, when available, as that is consistent across polls and has been a better predictor of the final outcome.)

Kerry’s vote was also stable at 46.4 percent on average, up .1 percent compared to the previous week. That is a dead-even race, where the undecided will play the final role, as they almost always break heavily against the incumbent.

The undecided in the race is also stable. During this week, the average of the public polls was 4.4 percent. The polls completed for Saturday have an average undecided of 6 points. There is no evidence of undecided narrowing on this weekend or as result of recent events.

The Democracy Corps combined polls as of Friday showed that the undecided (prior to being pushed to a preference) leaned toward the Democrats by two-to-one and favored a significant change in direction over continuing Bush’s direction by 58 to 29 percent, also two-to-one.

The tracking for the Kerry campaign, conducted for the whole battleground and in key battleground states at the end of the week, including Friday night, show Kerry with a clear and stable lead.

Bottom line, amidst the intensity of campaign’s final days, it is important to keep one’s eye on the stability and structure of this race, with Bush still short of what he needs to win.

Paul Glastris 8:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....Don't forget to set your clocks back tonight! Around here, my main job is restraining Marian, who normally starts resetting our clocks shortly after breakfast on Der Tag.

Sigh. I hate it when Daylight Saving Time ends. As far as I'm concerned, we ought to change our clocks every couple of months or so in order to keep sunset at a steady 8 pm. Who cares if it doesn't get light until 10 in the morning?

Kevin Drum 7:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY BUSH LET ZARQAWI GET AWAY....What's the real reason that the Bush administration failed to go after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi back in 2002 when it had the chance? We may never know for sure, but Daniel Benjamin, author of The Age of Sacred Terror, suggests that it's yet another example of the Bush circle's outmoded and dangerously blinkered fixation on state-sponsored terrorism:

What seems evident is that the administration viewed Zarqawi as a lower-tier concern, despite his well-known history of running an Afghan terrorist training camp and conducting terrorist operations in Europe. The White House was unwilling to divert any effort from the buildup for war in Iraq to this kind of threat.

The idea that states are the real issue and terrorists and their organizations are of secondary concern has been present throughout the Bush presidency....After 9/11, senior officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, simply refused to believe the assessment of the intelligence community that Iraq had no hand in the attack and that al-Qaida operated independently of state support. In the Pentagon's conduct of operations in Afghanistan, the overwhelming focus was on unseating the Taliban, the effective state power, while less attention was paid to pursuing al-Qaida, which had just killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil.

....Similarly, the relentless focus on Saddam Hussein has led to the removal from Afghanistan of key intelligence and special operations assets, including much of the elite commando unit Task Force 5. This, like the case of the pulled punch against Zarqawi, suggests that the Bush team continued to believe that states were the key threats in the post-9/11 world; terrorist groups could easily be swept up after the rogue nations had been dispatched.

9/11 woke everyone up, but that's not enough. It's hard to see how we're going to make serious progress in the war on terror until we have an administration that understands not just that the world has changed, but how it's changed. The Bush team seems peculiarly unable to get its arms around that.

Kevin Drum 7:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN EFFLUVIA....I guess every presidential campaign has 'em: the last minute bizarro issues that suddenly become life or death campaign fodder. This year, we've had no fewer than three in the final month of the campaign:

  1. Flu vaccine shortage.

  2. 380 tons of missing explosives.

  3. The Osama videotape.

Isn't that amazing? Ultimately, these are all trivial issues that will be entirely forgotten within a few months, but they just might be the things that decide who will be president for the next four years. Sometimes I feel like we should just flip a coin and save ourselves the trouble.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STAYING ON MESSAGE....Are you curious about what the Kerry campaign talking points are supposed to be over the weekend? Me neither. But via email, here they are anyway:

  • We are confident that John Kerry will be elected the next President of the United States on Election Day.

  • We believe Americans will turn out next Tuesday in historic numbers — and America is best when every American votes.

  • A record number — millions of Americans — have already voted successfully, either in person or by mail. This process has gone extremely well. People are excited and enthusiasm is high.

  • The largest GOTV effort in Democratic Party history is reaching out to neighbors and friends — more than 100,000 volunteers door knocking and making phone calls to encourage voting.

  • Our goal on Election Day is ensuring that every single eligible American gets to vote and that their ballot is counted. We are working to promote and protect the vote with a message of hope and empowerment.

  • We expect that Election Day will run smoothly. There will be election rights attorneys at precincts around the nation to help eligible voters know their rights and participate in our democracy. We are doing everything we can to make voting accessible and easy for eligible voters. That’s the American way.

  • And we expect to know who our President is on election night.

  • The Republicans have a different approach. They are hoping for a low turnout election. They want to discourage voting. They want people to believe that Election Day will be chaotic.

  • They apparently have more confidence in elections in Afghanistan and Iraq than they do in the United States. We don’t think we should be talking down the American democratic process.

  • We are proud to be the party that encourages voting and is working to ensure that Election Day comes off without a hitch. That’s what the American people expect.

There you have it. Expect to hear these points almost verbatim on every news show in the galaxy over the next couple of days.

And how about the Republicans? Does anyone have their canned talking points available for our perusal?

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE OSAMA TAPE....OK, here's my opinion about the bin Laden tape: it's not going to affect the election one way or another. Given everything that's happened over the past three years, I don't think a new tape is really all that scary (so no rally-around-the-flag effect for the president), but I also think everyone is already well aware that Osama is still on the loose (so no Bush-blew-it-at-Tora-Bora effect for Kerry).

Net effect: pretty much zero.

As for who Osama prefers to see win the election, I doubt that he really cares. And I know for sure that I don't care. And neither should anyone else.

Kevin Drum 1:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IN DEFENSE OF PSEUDO-SOPHISTICATED IRONIC DETACHMENT....The gang at Slate has taken a lot of abuse from the liberal blogosphere for their insistence on telling us how little they think of John Kerry even as they're penning their endorsements of him. And hell, maybe they deserve it. I don't know.

But the flip side of this is the inexplicably cultlike devotion that George Bush receives from many of his supporters. I mean, sure, he's a conservative and he's a Republican, so conservatives and Republicans are going to support him, but let's face it: he's basically a pretty mediocre guy. So how does he end up getting described as "magnificent," being compared to Abraham Lincoln, and convincing a quarter of the country that he was chosen by God? It's kind of scary, really. Here is Slate's Chris Suellentrop to demonstrate for us:

"I want you to stand, raise your right hands," and recite "the Bush Pledge," said Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt. The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: "I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."

I know the Bush-Cheney campaign occasionally requires the people who attend its events to sign loyalty oaths, but this was the first time I have ever seen an audience actually stand and utter one. Maybe they've replaced the written oath with a verbal one.

Like a lot of Democrats, Kerry wasn't my first choice during the primaries, but even so I think he deserves better treatment than he gets from most of the liberal punditocracy. On the other hand, if it's a choice between pseudo-sophisticated ironic detachment and glassy-eyed mobs of oath-taking true believers — well, ironic detachment is looking better all the time, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI YET AGAIN....Via Digby, a Knight Ridder story today about al-Qaqaa contains the following priceless nugget:

Al Qaqaa was on a classified list of Iraqi weapons facilities that the CIA provided to Pentagon and military officials before the invasion, said the U.S. intelligence official.

But when the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command produced their own list of sites that a limited number of U.S. "exploitation teams" should search, priority was given to those identified by exiled Iraqi opposition groups, he said. Al Qaqaa wasn't one of them.

"The top of the list was dominated by nuclear facilities and places where we expected to find chemical and biological weapons," he said. "Iraqi exiles had a very heavy hand in determining which places got looked at first."

There is, it seems, literally no end to the damage that Ahmed Chalabi has done to American security. No end.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS WATCH....Patrick Hughes is the top intelligence official in the Department of Homeland Security. He was appointed by the White House eight months ago. Here's what Hughes had to say about our constitutional traditions back in 2003:

Set aside what the mass of people think. Some things are so bad for them that you cannot allow them to have them....Therefore, we have to abridge individual rights, change the societal conditions, and act in ways that heretofore were not in accordance with our values and traditions, like giving a police officer or security official the right to search you without a judicial finding of probable cause.

Now, maybe this is just me, but I find it disturbing that George Bush would appoint someone as a top ranking intelligence officer who thinks we ought to do away with the Fourth Amendment. I like the Fourth Amendment.

But then, I'm just part of the mass of people. Who cares what I think?

POSTSCRIPT: I happen to agree with civil liberties watchers that the Clinton administration was no great shakes on this score. But for those who continue to believe that there's really no difference between the parties, ask yourself if you can even conceive of a Democrat saying something like this or appointing someone who had said it. I can't.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

STUFF....There are lots of serious issues floating around the ether these days. Too many serious issues, in fact. My brain is about the consistency of tapioca pudding right now.

Still, here's how I feel about what's going on. I'm not going to pretend this is based on any kind of detailed research, it's just my overall impression of a few different things:

  • Al-Qaqaa. The evidence so far seems to indicate that the explosives were indeed looted after the invasion. But does it matter? Is 380 tons of this stuff really important in the grand scheme of things?

    I still don't have much of a sense for that, but I don't think it's really the issue anyway. Rather, it's yet more proof that despite the administration's supposed concerns with WMD, they fought the war and its aftermath as if they had never really cared about WMD in the first place — with too few troops and no real plan for postwar security. Even now I don't quite understand that, but whatever the reason behind it, al-Qaqaa is a pretty good metaphor for both the Bush administration's pervasive incompetence and their lack of concern for anything farther away than the next election.

  • Election fraud. Elections always produce both fraud and legitimate error. In a country of 100 million voters, even 99.9% accuracy will produce 100,000 honest mistakes.

    So far, I haven't seen anything to make me think that this year is worse than any other. Problems are certainly being scrutinized a lot more closely than in the past — as they should be — but that doesn't mean the actual number of problems is any greater than in previous elections. It just means we're all paying more attention.

  • Minority voter intimidation. This, on the other hand, really does look like a carefully planned part of the GOP strategy for election day. I suspect that internal Republican polling shows President Bush losing ground in swing states, and they know now that keeping the minority vote down is their only remaining hope.

    This could get very, very ugly if it really turns out to be a widespread operation to challenge voters on election day and cause chaos in minority-heavy neighborhoods. Very ugly.

  • November 3. Is American really more polarized than it's been anytime in the past century? I don't know. The New Deal was pretty polarizing. The Vietnam War was pretty polarizing. But it's hard to shake the feeling that the conventional wisdom is right, and the mood today really is worse than even in the 30s and 60s.

    So what happens if Kerry wins? All out war from a Republican Congress, the same kind they waged against Clinton? And what if Bush wins and tries to pack the Supreme Court with Scalia lookalikes?

    I don't know. But it sure doesn't look pretty either way.

On the other hand, there's always catblogging. Speaking of which, have I mentioned that my cats were featured in the New York Times today?

Kevin Drum 10:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MIRROR, MIRROR....The Bush team has a — what's the right word? — truly Orwellian talent for saying and doing ghastly things and then turning right around and claiming that it's really John Kerry who's guilty of saying and doing those same ghastly things. A few examples:

You almost have to admire the chutzpah behind this campaign strategy, don't you? Almost.

Kevin Drum 6:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SUCCESS IN IRAQ....Brad Plumer emails to recommend his analysis at Mother Jones of why John Kerry is more likely to succeed in Iraq than George Bush. So I read it. And it's good. It's not a partisan stemwinder, but it's a solid look at a very difficult problem.

Plumer acknowledges up front that (a) Iraq is a mess and there aren't very many good options left at this point, and (b) Kerry is highly unlikely to have much success at "internationalizing" the occupation. I agree on both points. Starting from that realistic assessment, though, he argues that Kerry has several modest but important advantages over Bush that could make all the difference between success and failure in Iraq:

  • First and foremost, he's almost certain to be more competent than Bush, who is unwilling to hold people to account or fire them for incompetence. Kerry's advisors, people like Richard Holbrooke, are fundamentally more grounded than Bush's in facts rather than ideology.

  • Kerry has a better understanding than Bush of how to deal with the Iraq's various ethnic and political factions. "You can't impose [democracy] on people. You have to bring them to it. You have to invite them to it. You have to nurture the process." It's a lower key approach, but it's more likely to lead to genuine democracy than Bush's.

  • Although internationalizing the occupation itself is probably a nonstarter, Kerry can make considerable progress by internationalizing the reconstruction in ways that Bush is unwilling to consider. And if there's any chance at all of getting foreign troops into Iraq, it's going to take UN auspices to do it. Kerry is far more likely to get this than Bush.

  • The Bush administration has been obsessed with economic privatization to the exclusion of practical, short-term job creation strategies. Military commanders, by contrast, understand the necessity of simply creating jobs as quickly as possible. Kerry will listen to them.

  • Both Iran and the Kurdish north are problems that Bush has almost completely ignored. These are both painfully difficult situations to deal with, but Kerry's willingness to try diplomacy holds out at least a hope of making progress on these fronts.

The whole thing is worth a read. Given the hole we're in, Iraq is going to be a long, grueling slog no matter who's president. But Kerry is far more likely to eventually come out the other end successfully than Bush.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTORAL PREDICTION...I guess it's time to put up or shut up. A few days ago I mentioned that I thought John Kerry would win 272 electoral votes, and here's how I think they're going to split. Florida will end up breaking for Bush — one way or another — but Ohio and Pennsylvania will vote for Kerry. Colorado and Iowa will end up being Bush country, but New Hampshire and — crucially — Wisconsin will give their electoral votes to Kerry.

On the other hand, it's also possible that the battlegrounds will almost all break for Kerry by a couple of points or so, in which case Kerry would end up with more than 300 electoral votes. It's awfully hard to see the reverse happening, though.

If Kerry does end up taking all the battleground states, unprecedented cooperation among the political left is likely to be a big part of the reason. Harold Meyerson explains here.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"ANGER AND RESENTMENT ARE HIGH"....I don't really know what to make of this, since it doesn't seem to jibe with survey data, but Steve Clemons sat next to a soldier from the 82nd Airborne on a flight back from Europe the other day and reports that he wasn't a happy camper:

This guy I met is not one prone to talk; he was very serious, very mellow — and comes from a family of enlisted military men. His dad was in Vietnam.

He has had one rotation in Afghanistan, one in Iraq. He is now in Germany but will soon be transfered back to Iraq. He was at Tora Bora and has seen a lot of Iraq, Afghan, and American dead.

According to him, 75% of all soldiers want Bush defeated in the election and don't care who defeats him; anger and resentment are high. He says that 90% of the officers remain far out of harm's way, from lietenants all the way up — and that only about 10% of the officer corps has some reasonable concern for the troops. There is general understanding that the officers are hiding in holes, or holding back in well-defended buildings and quite cavalier about sending troops out for assignments and errands that are frequently stupid, poorly planned, and dangerous.

Is this a peek at a truth that no one else is reporting, or is it just the griping of a disgruntled GI? I don't know. But read the whole thing and judge for yourself.

Kevin Drum 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNREALITY-BASED....Out of the blue the other day I heard from an old high school friend who apparently discovered my blog and wrote to say hi. Turns out he's now a professor of geology at an Ivy League university, and after a bit of chatting the conversation (of course) turned to politics. "I'm finding the election to be a colossal distraction from work," he said. "Scientists, particularly environmental scientists, see this election as the most important of their lives. I can't recall any previous election in which professors in conversations have been so blunt about the stakes."

I've heard all that before, of course, but it hits home a little harder when it comes from someone you know personally. He also told me to watch out for a speech from NASA's director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Here it is:

"In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now," James E. Hansen told a University of Iowa audience.

....Hansen said the administration wants to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions." Evidence that would raise concerns about the dangers of climate change is often dismissed as not being of sufficient interest to the public.

....Hansen said such warnings are consistently suppressed, while studies that cast doubt on such interpretations receive favorable treatment from the administration.

Just consider that a message from the ultimate reality-based community.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TROOPS DID IT....Via Atrios, this is truly revolting. A mere one day after George Bush tried to pretend that John Kerry's criticism of him was actually denigration of U.S. troops, Bush campaigner Rudy Giuliani blames the al-Qaqaa fiasco on....the troops:

No matter how you try to blame it on the president the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough? Didn't they search carefully enough?

Do these guys have any shame left at all?

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF FRIDAY THURSDAY CAT BLOGGING....No, I'm not bringing back regular cat blogging, but today is a special exception: Inkblot (he's the one on the right, remember?) has now joined the pantheon of the world's most famous felines. What else can you say about a cat who has his picture splashed all over the New York Times?

As you can see, he's pretty pleased with himself. Jasmine, however, is obviously wondering why her picture isn't in the Times too. (Answer: because she ran under the bed when the Times' photographer came over.)

And me? This is clearly the pinnacle of my blogging career. I can now die happy.

Kevin Drum 12:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 27, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

WIMPING OUT....According to this Howard Kurtz story, some 36 newspapers that endorsed Bush in 2000 have decided to lend their stamp of approval to Kerry this time around. That's well and good and all. But what caught my attention was the comment a few paragraphs in that a number of prominent papers have declined to endorse either candidate for the White House. "We have decided not to add one more potentially polarizing voice to a poisoned debate," wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer in their lame, weasely editorial.

Is the Bushification of public discourse so complete that people actually believe it's somehow polarizing or wrong to express a judgment about two candidates for the highest office in the country? Last time I checked, democratic elections were all about assessing the records and potential of candidates and then making a determination about who would be the best. There's plenty of poisoned debate to go around, yes. But reasoned newspaper endorsements can and should be on an entirely different plane.

The distinctions between Bush and Kerry could not be more clear and the failure to provide readers with a thoughtful analysis of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility. I don't care if it sounds like I'm on my high horse. This is ridiculous.

Amy Sullivan 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLLING PLACES....Here's a great idea: People for the American Way has a butt simple website that tells you where your polling place is. Just enter your address and ZIP code and it tells you where to vote. Here's the website address:


If you or anyone you know has any doubt about where your polling place is, check it out. As usual with MapQuest, I'd probably double check the map location before I headed out, but otherwise this is a great tool. Thanks to both PFAW and Andrew and Deborah Rappaport for funding this project.

Kevin Drum 3:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"BENEATH CONTEMPT"....George Bush is trying to suggest that John Kerry's criticism of the policies that led to the Al-qaqaa explosives debacle is actually a veiled denigration of the American troops in Iraq. Via email from the Kerry campaign, here's what General Merrill McPeak, former chief of staff of the Air Force, has to say about this:

The President seems to think Senator Kerry could not possibly be criticizing him since the President thinks he has never made a mistake. Let’s be perfectly clear: it is the President who dropped the ball. Senator Kerry is being critical of George Bush, not the troops. By embarking on the line of attack, George Bush is deflecting blame from him over to the military. This is beneath contempt.

He's right. It's the Bush campaign pushing the line that criticism of the president's policies is criticism of the troops. It really is beneath contempt.

Kevin Drum 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MINORITY VOTE....Hmmm. Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio has just finished a survey of 12 battleground states and finds Bush and Kerry tied with 47% of the vote apiece. But when he weights for minority turnout based on the 2000 exit polls, Kerry is ahead 49.2%-45.7%. And when he further updates the weighting to take into account the most recent census results, Kerry is ahead 49.9%-44.7%.

As Fabrizio blandly puts it, "It is clear that minority turnout is a wildcard in this race and represents a huge upside for Sen. Kerry and a considerable challenge for the President's campaign." More accurately, if Fabrizio is right — that Kerry is ahead by 5% overall in the battleground states — Kerry is a sure winner on November 2.

Suddenly the Bush campaign's obsession with challenging voters in minority neighborhoods makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Their own internal polling is probably telling them the same thing that Fabrizio's poll says: unless they somehow manage to keep the minority vote down, they're doomed.

NOTE: The press release with the poll results is here. However, it's a PDF file that blew up my computer when I tried to open it. I eventually had to download it to my hard drive and reboot my PC in order to read it. Fair warning.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO KIDDING....A reader emails to say that he just heard the following from George Bush on CNN:

A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not who you want as commander in chief.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FLIP FLOP....Via Atrios, I see that Christopher Hitchens appears to have changed his presidential preference within just the last week. Here he is in The Nation on October 21:

Should the electors decide for the President, as I would slightly prefer....

And here he is in Slate five days later:

Endorsement: John Kerry. Why? "Bush deserves to be sacked...."

Does he really think that no one reads both magazines?

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"DISAPPEARING" PRISONERS....You know, this is the kind of stuff we used to scare our kids with back when the Soviet Union was an evil empire. How sad is it that we're now doing the same thing?

I think Laura Rozen has the right idea about this. And no, this is not the way to convince moderate Muslims that we're a shining beacon of tolerance and democracy.

Kevin Drum 12:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

META-PARODY....Honestly, I don't know how important the story about those 380 tons of missing Iraqi explosives is. (That is, I don't know how important it is in fact, as opposed to important as a campaign issue. Although I don't know that either.) But whether there's anything to it or not, conservative response to the news seems almost designed to prove that conservatives really are as bad as Michael Moore says they are.

In a mass email, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie mutters darkly that what's really going on is that liberals are trying to suggest that "U.S. troops were derelict in their duty" — and over at The Corner the party line has already congealed in enthusiastic concurrence. Maybe the stuff was gone before the war, the Cornerites agree. But even if it wasn't, it was just a screwup by the 101st Airborne anyway. "And count me astonished that if the 101st didn’t know what they were doing that should be an issue from which one candidate would dare attempt to take partisan advantage," thunders Cliff May in full-blown mock outrage mode — even though he's the first to have actually suggested that. "High-ranking Bush-Cheney officials/surrogates, if not Bush himself have to ask: Does John Kerry trust the U.N. bureaucracy...more than the U.S. armed forces?" adds Kathryn Jean Lopez apocalyptically.

Got that? We don't really care if the stuff is gone or what policy decisions led to it not being locked down in the first place. And anyone who criticizes those policy decisions is an unpatriotic opportunist who's vilifying the U.S. military and cozying up to the UN.

I swear, it's almost a parody. Any criticism of Bush's war policy is actually a criticism of our brave soldiers. And any mention of the IAEA is tantamount to ceding U.S. sovereignty to UN bureaucrats.

If they weren't so serious, it would be funny. Unfortunately, they're serious.

Kevin Drum 12:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SLATE ROUNDUP....It's not a surprise that the staff and contributors of Slate lean heavily toward John Kerry, but 45-4? (Plus one Canadian who'd vote for Kerry if she could, a Libertarian voting for Badnarik just because he always votes that way, and one vote for David Cobb.) Virtually everyone from the office manager to the editor-in-chief is voting for Kerry. Some highlights:

Most Unexpected Endorsement: Christopher Hitchens for Kerry. WTF? But despite three years of relentless haranguing about liberal fecklessness vs. Bushian moral clarity regarding our confrontation with radical Islam, in the end he decides that "Bush deserves to be sacked for his flabbergasting failure to prepare for such an essential confrontation."

Most Unexpectedly Correct Endorsement: Mickey Kaus, "because I think Bush is prosecuting the fight against terrorism in a way that will make us dramatically less safe unless we have a conspicuous change at the top." Domestic considerations aside, that's exactly the right reason.

Most Galactically Incomprehensible Endorsement: Steven Landsburg, who is voting for Bush because "the xenophobe John Edwards" is morally equivalent to the racist David Duke. Where do they find these guys?

Most Likely To Be Disappointed: Gretchen Evanson, who says, "I'm voting for Kerry/Edwards because I'd like a change from all the meaningless rhetoric and lack of plans for the future." I guess we can hope.

Least Enthusiastic Endorsement: This one is a tough call, but I give it to Timothy Noah: "Sen. John Kerry is the least appealing candidate the Democrats have nominated for president in my lifetime. I'm 46, so that covers Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore." Still, he says, "a C-minus beats an F."

Why was this such a tough call? Consider this collage of Kerry endorsements from the rest of the staff:

I'm voting for Kerry, with no great belief that he will be a first-rate president....If he wins I'll skip the victory party....Sen. Kerry hasn't fully shown that he will improve on all these fronts....It's like being forced to decide whether The Matrix: Reloaded or The Matrix: Revolutions is the better movie....I don't expect Kerry to be a successful president in any other respect....Is he a strong candidate? No....Kerry's election-year straddles have left me cold....I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry....He's a long way from being the Messiah....

Genuinely enthusiastic Kerry endorsements were hard to find, but there were a few desultory efforts. Fred Kaplan says that he "generally admires Kerry," Mike Steinberger seems almost surprised that "I actually like Kerry," and Dana Stevens says, "he's won me over." Laurie Snyder at first appears to be the most enthusiastic of all ("Kerry, Kerry, Kerry!"), but then admits that she's mostly just terrified about another four years of Bush.

Hey, good enough for me.

Kevin Drum 11:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ALLAWI ENDORSEMENT?....For some reason, the Iraqi government decided just two weeks ago to finally come clean and tell the IAEA — which in 2003 had warned that "terrorists might be helping 'themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history'" — that 380 tons of high explosives had gone missing. This weekend the Iraqi minister of science and technology confirmed the story.

Then, today, Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said that the recent massacre of 49 Iraqi National Guard recruits was due to the "gross negligence" of foreign troops — i.e., Americans.

Am I the only one wondering why the Iraqi government suddenly seems to be so eager to release information that's obviously harmful to George Bush's reelection prospects? Has Ayad Allawi had a sudden change of heart about who he'd like to see in the White House next year?

Kevin Drum 6:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

RECESS APPOINTMENT?....Just when you thought the various post-election legal nightmare scenarios couldn't get worse. U.S. News & World Report is emailing around some reporting that indicates the Bush White House may be considering a recess appointment (requiring no Senate approval, remember) to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist if he steps down for health reasons:

"Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said Chief Justice William Rehnquist will return to the bench following cancer surgery, administration officials are quietly considering candidates to replace him and even the possibility of making a recess appointment. The officials said that they do not want to talk about the process publicly in the last week of the presidential campaign. However, one insider said that the West Wing is considering what would happen if the judge left the bench soon and if a close election next Tuesday meant an evenly split 4-4 court was to decide the winner. Such a situation would likely mean that a lower court's ruling on an outcome would be final and officials are worried that it would go against the President."
Who says we're a banana republic?

Amy Sullivan 6:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER....Justin Logan excerpts an interesting piece today by Philip Giraldi in the print edition of The American Conservative. Giraldi claims that when the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center provided Dick Cheney with a special briefing on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's prewar ties with Saddam Hussein last month, Cheney was a wee bit unhappy with their conclusions:

The CTC concluded that Saddam Hussein had not materially supported Zarqawi before the U.S.-led invasion and that Zarqawi's infrastructure in Iraq before the war was confined to the northern no-fly zones of Kurdistan, beyond Baghdad's reach. Cheney reacted with fury, screaming at the briefer that CIA was trying to get John Kerry elected by contradicting the president's stance that Saddam had supported terrorism and therefore needed to be overthrown. The hapless briefer was shaken by the vice president's outburst, and the incident was reported back to [newly appointed CIA director Porter] Goss, who indicated that he was reluctant to confront the vice president's staff regarding it.

I don't know who Giraldi's source for this was, but it's a sadly familiar MO for this administration: shoot the messenger, refuse to believe anything you don't want to believe, and treat everything first and foremost as an excuse for partisan bludgeoning, not as a serious problem that requires serious analysis and a serious solution.

You can't excise a cancer if you spend your time screaming at the lab because the biopsy report isn't what you expected. Why would anyone think that Bush and Cheney can successfully fight terrorism if they willfully refuse to understand the true nature of the threat?

Kevin Drum 6:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WORST CASE SCENARIO....My friend Armed Liberal announced a few days ago that he has made up his mind: he will vote for George Bush this year. That wasn't really a big surprise, but it got me curious anyway.

What I was wondering was this: AL is (duh) a liberal. Bush is the most conservative president in 50 years. Does he really think Bush is that much better on terrorism compared to Kerry that he's willing to vote for the guy?

So I asked him to rate the two candidates on their likely handling of terrorism over the next four years. His answer: on a scale of 1-10, he rates Bush a 6 and Kerry a 4. That hardly seems like it should be enough to swing a confirmed liberal into the Bush camp, but it turns out there's a twist.

AL actually provided three ratings: Best/Most Likely/Worst. And he gave Bush a score of 8/6/3 and Kerry a score of 9/4/1. The deciding factor, he said, was Kerry's "Worst" score. He just couldn't take the chance that Kerry would screw things up completely. Via email:

[For Kerry,] the worst outcome is that we a) don't break isolationist, but break hard 'America, Fuck Yeah!', or b) that we break isolationalist and then get attacked again (in which case, see 'America, Fuck Yeah!').

....[For Bush,] the worst is that a) the Arab street really does rise up; or b) he gets locked in an internal culture war in the US, which paralyzes him.

Obviously I disagree with AL, but the weird thing is that aside from thinking Kerry a better choice to handle the foreign policy issues we're most likely to face over the next four years (not a shooting war, but nation building, nuclear proliferation, alliance building, Mideast diplomacy, and making terrorism a bipartisan issue), I'd score it exactly the opposite on the risk axis. Kerry strikes me as a hard worker who will make some headway in reorienting our approach to terrorism, but who is probably too cautious and grounded to make either big mistakes or big breakthroughs. Conversely, although Bush's go-for-broke style arguably has a chance of fundamentally changing the nature of the game, it also runs a significant risk of digging us into a very deep hole indeed if he allows his gut to make a disastrous decision at just the wrong time. Here's how I view Bush's downsides:

  1. Bush has a well-known penchant for relying on instinct instead of real-world evidence and for refusing to admit error. That might be tolerable if his instincts were always sound, but as the events of the past four years have demonstrated, that's not the case.

  2. Bush surrounds himself with advisors who either share his deficiencies (Cheney, Rumsfeld) or who decline to seriously challenge him when he's wrong (Rice, Powell). This amplifies the potential for disaster inherent in #1.

  3. The abysmal postwar planning in Iraq was not merely bad luck, it was a result of one of Bush's fundamental character weaknesses: he believes what he wants to believe and disdains dissenting views. He allowed himself to be convinced that Iraq would be a cakewalk mostly because he wanted to believe it and brushed off naysayers who suggested otherwise. This has produced disaster in Iraq, and since it's such a core weakness in Bush's character, is likely to produce disaster again.

  4. On a substantive level, Bush and his team are too obsessed with a late 20th century view of state-sponsored terrorism as our primary problem. It's not. Non-state terrorism and failed states — along with nuclear proliferation — are the primary problems of the 21st century. Bush's failure to recognize this makes him far more likely to make a disastrous miscalculation than Kerry.

  5. Kerry may place too much faith in multilateral diplomacy, but Bush's instinctive aversion to taking other countries seriously is at least equally dangerous. If diplomacy breaks down, you can always switch to other options. If you refuse to take it seriously in the first place, it removes one of our key levers of international influence and places the country on a hair trigger.

Put all this together, and it points in one direction: the mistakes Bush has made in his first term are likely to be amplified in a second, not reined in. In a crisis, it's likely that he will rely on his gut, refuse to recognize ground truth from dissenters, ignore foreign leaders, and fatally fail to recognize the real sources of danger.

It may be that none of this will happen. But it might — and the worst case scenario for Bush is not merely that the Arab street rises up, but that his instincts continue to rule him and he finishes the job he's already started of convincing the rest of the world that America is the problem, not radical Islamic terrorism. That would be a disaster.

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum


I hope.

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION HANKY PANKY....I'm not sure how much to make of this, but the Economist had a remarkable poll result in this week's issue. The question at hand was whether the upcoming election will be fair.

As you can see from the chart on the right, 90% of Republicans figure the election is pretty likely to be fair. For Democrats, exactly the opposite is true: nearly two-thirds have very little confidence in the election.

I'm not sure what to think of this. Maybe it doesn't mean a thing, and if Bush had lost the Florida recount in 2000 the roles would be reversed. But it's disturbingly banana-republic-like when a large majority of the opposition party is convinced that the election mechanics are rigged against them. Has there been any other presidential election in recent history where that was true?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

TORTURED LOGIC.. It's hard to know which of the many, many cases of Bush administration incompetence is the most mind-bendingly awful. Ignoring eight months of warnings about al Qaeda until September 11? Actively misreading and misrepresenting the intel on Iraq's WMD? Failing to plan for the aftermath of the invasion? Trusting Ahmed Chalabi?

Worthy candidates all. But Phil Carter thinks that the most scandalous screw-up, the one most likely to weaken our security and endanger our troops in the long run, is Abu Ghraib. He makes his case in a brilliant piece in the November issue of The Washington Monthly, a sneak preview of which you can read here.

Carter makes several important points. First, despite relentless attempts by the Bush administration and its allies to portray the torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere as merely the misbehavior of a handful of low-ranking soldiers, the truth is that this misbehavior was the direct and predictable result of policy decisions made at the very top, including by President Bush.

Second, even if you grant--as Phil does--that any president in Bush's shoes would have been compelled to countenance a certain amount of extra-Geneva "smacky-face" to extract information from terrorists and insurgents, there were other easier-to-control methods of allowing such treatment in certain cases available to Bush than the disastrous course he chose--which was to essentially throw out the Geneva Conventions and delegate the decision of how to treat prisoners to front-line troops.

Third, for all the damage Bush's decision has caused--including, most probably, encouraging average Iraqis to join or at least support the insurgents who are currently killing our soldiers--the name "Abu Ghraib" has hardly been mentioned in the last weeks of the presidential campaign. No one asked about it in the debates. The ever-cautious Kerry has never, as far as I know, brought it up himself on the stump. Amazing when you think about it. And sad, especially when you consider that every third day seems to bring a fresh new hook. Indeed, there's this front-page revelation in today's New York Times about more legal loopholes that the administration has created in order to deny Geneva protections to certain prisoners in Iraq. The Washington Post has been on the story, too. But politically I guess we're just going to let this one slide until after the election. As I said, sad.

Paul Glastris 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

MOTIVATIONAL SEMINAR... The modest shift towards Kerry in several recent national polls is certainly a hopeful sign for Democrats. But fundamentally, the race is still tied, as today's LA Times poll shows. So the big question remains the same as it has been for weeks, even months: which side is more motivated? Which group of voters will brave hailstorms and locust swarms to vote for their man, and which side is so disgusted with their's that they'll stay home?

Pollsters have a notoriously tough time measuring such voter "intensity." Further muddling the picture is the difficulty of assessing which party has done a better job registering new voters and organizing efforts to get their voters to the polls. But going in, I think it's fair to say that most observers presumed that the Democratic side would have a significant motivational edge. That's certainly what I've been (nervously) assuming.

Well, apparently, we're right, according to a couple of indirect measures. One comes from a Newsweek poll that E.J. Dionne quotes in his column today. According to the poll, "Kerry’s supporters view this race as more vital than the presi­dent’s, suggesting they are likely to turnout in large numbers come Election Day. In the new poll, fully 77 percent of Kerry voters say Nov. 2 is the “single most important election” of their lifetime (37 percent), or more important than most other elections (40 percent). In comparison, 27 percent of Bush supporters view this as the single most important elec­tion of their lifetime, while 35 percent view it as more important than most other elec­tions. Thirty-five percent of Bush support­ers and 21 percent of Kerry supporters say this election is about as important as any other."

Another indication that turnout may be different than than the current even-Steven numbers suggest comes from a poll in yesterday's Washington Post, as noted by Andrew Sullivan. While respondents to the poll in general split about evenly on the question of whether President Bush deserves to be reelected, first time voters "oppose reelection by 58 percent to 37 percent." If this statistic is any indication of what the millions of newly-registered voters, in swing states like Ohio and Nevada, are really thinking, Bush is in trouble.

Paul Glastris 9:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL MAGIC....Wow. I don't make a habit of following all the polls on a daily basis, but since I just got back from a (mostly) news-less weekend I thought I'd take a look to see how everyone's doing.

The LA Times shows a dead heat, 48%-48%. The Washington Post tracking poll has Kerry ahead 49%-48%. Rasmussen has Kerry ahead 48%-46%. I haven't looked at every poll out there, and I'm sure they aren't all this friendly toward Kerry, but it's staring to look like Kerry is finally starting to pull ahead after a couple of weeks of no gains.

In other words, it looks like the undecided voters are swinging toward Kerry by the 2:1 margin the conventional wisdom said they would. I have to admit I've been wondering whether things might be different this year thanks to terrorism worries, which might cause undecideds to break for the "safe" incumbent instead of the challenger, but apparently not. As usual, conventional wisdom really is the best bet.

Kevin Drum 1:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ZARQAWI....The Wall Street Journal has un update today on the infamous NBC story about the Bush administration's unwillingness to take out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's camp in Iraq in 2002. The NBC story claimed that the Pentagon had come up with three separate plans to take out Zarqawi's camp but was turned down for political reasons.

I haven't seen the Journal story, but Tapped has a summary and reports that they apparently confirmed the original NBC account: the Pentagon drew up several detailed options, they wanted to go after the camp, they thought an attack would succeed, but the administration turned them down.

Why? According to the Journal, the official excuse is that they couldn't be sure Zarqawi was in the camp, but no less a source than Tommy Franks — a George Bush supporter, remember — says that's not true. And even if it were, why not take out the camp anyway?

So far, the only answer left is the one from the original NBC report: Bush was afraid that eliminating a terrorist camp in Iraq would weaken his case for war. PR was more important than destroying a camp known to be a source of chemical weapons and global terrorist training.

This is far worse than the "weakness" that hawks like to ascribe to Bill Clinton. They're fond of mocking Clinton's pre-9/11 penchant for "lobbing a few cruise missiles at some tents," but it appears Bush wasn't even willing to go that far. And the end result is that the one guy in Iraq who really was trying to produce WMD for use in global terrorism got away. And the last I looked, Zarqawi's death toll since 2002 was up to nearly a thousand.

Shouldn't someone ask Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush a few pointed questions about this whole affair?

UPDATE: Laura Rozen has an excerpt from the Journal story.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

DRAFT ANIMAL... News that the U.S. military failed to guard stockpiles of very high explosives in Iraq is only the latest example of the consequences of the Bush administration's insane decision to occupy that country with insufficient numbers of troops. The administration hasn't deployed more troops in large part because we don't have many more available, given our other commitments around the world. And that fact, in turn, has led to rampant speculation that the president, should he win reelection, will reinstate the draft. The Kerry campaign has fed that speculation; the Bush campaign has denied it.

It makes sense for Kerry to exploit the draft issue if it helps him win. And at least Kerry, unlike Bush, has offered an alternative plan for increasing the size of the military by 40,000 troops, via increasing pay and bonuses for new recruits. But the Kerry people must know that there's a limit to how many young people you can lure into the all-volunteer force without seriously lowering your standards. And from various sources--including news stories of recruiters pursuing kids with criminal records or who can barely pass their GEDs--one senses that we've about reached that limit.

So what happens if Iraq gets worse, or North Korea implodes, or any one of a dozen other scenarios happens that might require further commitments of U.S. troops? How, short of garnering significant military help from allies, are we going to handle our manpower needs?

The answer is we probably can't, short of a draft. Which is why we at The Washington Monthly have put forth our plan for a new kind of draft. You can read about it here and here. It's a plan that guards against the kind of injustices we saw in Vietnam, while not undermining the many advantages of today's all-volunteer military. In a nutshell, we propose that every young person headed for a four-year college be required, as a condition of admittance, to serve his or her country for a year or two in some capacity--as an AmeriCorps member, in some homeland security role, or in the military. All who complete their service would receive G.I.-Bill-type college scholarships, with the largest grants going to those who serve the longest and choose the most dangerous duty. No one, then, would be required to join the military. But even if only, say, five percent of the million-plus young people who enter four-year colleges a year were to choose the military option, the U.S. military would be getting 50,000 additional college-grade volunteers to deploy as needed (probably as MPs and truck drivers in places like Kosovo and South Korea, but possibly in Iraq).

It's fashionable in Washington to dismiss the idea of bringing back the draft as a political nonstarter. Not only is this attitude irresponsible; I don't even think it's necessarily true. Last week, I laid out our draft idea to about 200 college students and professors in Twin Falls, Idaho--deep Bush country. In a show of hands, more than half favored the idea; only two opposed it. I've had similar reactions all over the country. Maybe, after the elections, someone in authority will at least float the idea.

Paul Glastris 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

CACHE & CARRY... More nightmarish Bush administration incompetence. According to today's New York Times, 380 tons of very high explosives, of a kind favored by terrorists and insurgents, has gone missing in Iraq. The IAEA, which once monitored the site where the explosives were stored, repeatedly warned the Americans to keep watch over it, but apparently we didn't (not enough troops). Now, sources tell Josh Marshall, those explosives are probably being used in IEDs (improvised explosive devices) against our own troops.

Paul Glastris 8:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 24, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

LOVELY....This is a pretty shameful development in the South Dakota Senate race. It appears that someone--exactly who is a matter of heated dispute right now--has been sending out stickers that read, "Vote for Daschle & Vote for SODOMY."

Gotta say, I see an outside chance that this little stunt hurts John Thune instead of the intended target. After all, the Thune campaign has been not-so-subtly whispering about Daschle's position on gay marriage for a while now, to little or no effect. One reason is doesn't stick is that in the 1990s, Daschle voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Although those two stands bothered some of us who worked for him at the time, they make it pretty darn hard to paint him as a liberal on gay rights issues. And South Dakotans don't react well to dirty politics. So far the race has been dead-even in large part because people genuinely like both of the guys--they're just "Tom" and "John" to everyone. If one of them is seen as getting a little too Karl Rove-ish, that could hurt.

It's worth pointing out that this latest mailing is just one reason why the Log Cabin Republicans are refusing to endorse John Thune. As my sister asked me last night, isn't it time they changed their organization's name to "Fiscally Conservative Gays"? And then took a look at the economic policies and records of the past ten years and discovered that there's no good reason to stay in the Republican Party? Just asking.

Amy Sullivan 5:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND THE CIA....I'm out of town this weekend, so I've been a little out of the loop, but I'm glad to see that the Bush campaign is living up to expectations. When I first saw their new "Wolves" ad, I thought it was kind of derivative and amateurish, but basically within the normal bounds of political truth stretching. But via Fred Kaplan, I see that I wasn't paying nearly enough attention:

  • John Kerry voted to reduce intelligence spending after our "first terrorist attack"? Sure, as long as you realize that this refers to 1993, not 9/11. Needless to say, the admakers do their best not to make this clear.

  • Kerry was actually trying to get the National Reconnaissance Office to return money it had fraudulently failed to spend. That's not a cut, it's good governance. Good conservative governance, in fact.

  • Another Kerry bill did propose overall spending cuts as part of a deficit reduction package, including about a billion dollars a year in intelligence spending. It never went anywhere, though, and in any case Republican Porter Goss proposed bigger and more specific cuts the very next year. But that apparently didn't make Goss too wishy washy on terror to be President Bush's nominee to head the CIA this year, so it's a little hard to see why it speaks poorly of Kerry.

If Kerry were genuinely weak in the war against terrorism, the Bush campaign would be able to come up with something a lot better than this. The fact that this is the best they can do probably says more about Kerry's strength than anything the Democrats could say for themselves.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DEPARTMENT OF RANDOM WHINING....I have a few observations I'd like to bring to everyone's attention:

  • If you're chattering with a friend in a hotel corridor at 2 am, the people inside the rooms can hear you. Honest.

  • When you step through a door (or exit an escalator or get off an airplane), you will block traffic if you immediately stop to ponder your next move. You should take a few steps first.

  • Always use your turn signal. Oddly enough, it's for people ahead of you and off to your side, not just for people behind you.

That is all. You may continue to go about your business.

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

STATE vs. NON-STATE TERRORISM....There's all sorts of interesting stuff in Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer's Washington Post article about the Bush record in the war on terror today, but running through it all is a thread that I've mentioned before: George Bush's outmoded focus on state sponsors of terror (the "axis of evil") vs. John Kerry's focus on al-Qaeda and other non-state terrorist groups as the real problem of the 21st century.

Again: it's not that they aren't both important. But we're not fighting World War II and we're not fighting the Cold War. Radical Islamic terrorism is a fundamentally different problem than either of these previous enemies, and it's not, at its core, state-centric. This is the key blind spot that prevents Bush from effectively prosecuting the war, and it's the key piece of understanding that suggests Kerry could do better.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Charles Peters

PUBLIC PERCEPTION....According to the latest Washington Post poll, 92% of Americans for whom terrorism is their major concern plan to vote for George Bush. What greater proof could there be of widespread public ignorance of the myriad ways Bush has screwed up the war against the perpetrators of 9/11, and increased rather than decreased the danger of terrorism? When I mentioned this problem to an editor of a major publication, he said, "you can't blame us, we and all the other media" — I assumed he meant to except FOX — "have done articles about each of the missteps."

Earlier, when I made a similar point about the fact that more people thought Kerry had behaved shamefully in regard to service in Vietnam than had Bush, he also said "It's not our fault; we reported the facts." And of course his defense was true in each case. But is it an adequate defense? Most of us think this election is crucial. Shouldn't that mean the media has an obligation to do everything it can to make sure that major errors in public perception about the candidates are corrected? To me, the answer is a clear yes. Yet I'm sure most of my friends in the media would respond today the same way they did in 2000 when I pointed out that they had made Gore’s exaggerations the big story while putting Bush's lies on page nine: they shrugged their shoulders and asked "What can we do? We've already reported the facts."

In the meantime, this does mean that the Kerry campaign must make a major effort to do what the media won't do. I urge Kerry to stop his foolish attempt to exploit each day's news — I'm sure that if he thought the next day's headline was going to be "Flowers Wilt," Shrum would have the Senator take a bold stand in favor of fresh flowers.

Kerry has been at his strongest when he has attacked Bush's incompetence on Iraq and terrorism. In his best speech on the subject, at NYU in September, the Senator itemized each way Bush had been wrong — in counting on Chalabi to build political legitimacy, in failing to provide enough troops to secure the country, in promising we'd be greeted as liberators, and in downplaying the importance of looting, and overestimating the state of Iraq's sorry infrastructure. Returning to this set of simple charges would also make it possible for Kerry to undermine Bush's main asset in the eyes of the insecure, his certainty, by repeating again and again Kerry's great point that "it's no good being certain if you're wrong."

Charles Peters 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MONTHLY ZARQAWI POST....From Rick Perlstein's latest in the Village Voice:

Highly placed D.C. Democrats accept Bush's public image [as a down-home decent man] as a fait accompli — a kind of semiotic unilateral disarmament. So they don't even bother to case the weapons in their arsenal. I remind [Democratic consultant Jeff] Shesol of the NBC report last spring — never effectively rebutted by the White House — that revealed the most Orwellian face of the administration imaginable: that "before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out" the terrorist operations of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but didn't because it "feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam."

"Wow," Shesol responds, with a breath of surprise. George Bush sold out our security in order to pull off a sales job; that, certainly, is not an "elite" message. That's not a "process" story. So why don't we hear it?

"I—don't—know," Jeff Shesol answers. He sounds defeated, as if Republican traducing of democratic deliberation was something like the weather, beyond anyone's power to change. "How is it that a month's worth of airtime is sucked up by the Swift Boat Veterans?" he asks, bewilderment in his voice. "How is it that a month of our national attention is consumed by this, and not some of these other questions, is a very difficult thing to explain. And until we can really understand how that happens, I don't know that we can effectively respond to it."

That reminds me. It's probably been a month since I last linked to this, so it's time to do it again: did you know that George Bush had a chance to take out terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi back in 2002 but didn't do it because he was afraid it might weaken the case for invading Iraq?

Now you do.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OLD SCHOOL....Former Kentucky senator and staunch Republican Marlow Cook: "I am not enamored with John Kerry, but I am frightened to death of George Bush."

It's remarkable the number of Nixon-era Republicans who feel the same way. I guess that's what comes from having seen all this happen before.

Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TNR ENDORSES KERRY....If you happen to be a liberal who's nonetheless planning to vote for George Bush based on his hawkish foreign policy, go read the hawkish New Republic's endorsement of John Kerry first.

Bottom line: Bush simply doesn't understand the true nature of our war against radical Islamic terrorism, and his approach over the past three years has largely made things worse, not better. He has lost the support of our allies, he has made us hated in the Muslim world, he has polarized the American public, he has hideously mismanaged the war in Iraq, and he has done virtually nothing to genuinely promote democracy in the Middle East.

In John Kerry, conversely, we have a man who understands the nature of al-Qaeda and understands how best to defeat it. It's not possible to know how effective he'll be, of course, but at least he knows what we're up against. As TNR says, George Bush "has failed the challenge of these momentous times. John Kerry deserves a chance to do better."

Kevin Drum 3:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OK vs. NOT OK....Apparently the last two weeks of the campaign are going to be devoted to ever shriller and more ridiculous scare tactics. There seems to be some kind of law that requires presidential campaigns to become asymptotically more trivial as election day approaches.

However, some scare tactics are OK — just part of big league politics — and some aren't. Here's my personal scorecard of the scare stories making the rounds over the past few days:

  • Suggesting that terrorists are likely to attack us if John Kerry is elected is not OK. It's an outrageous fabrication with no basis in reality.

  • Suggesting that Kerry's anti-terror policies are weak — even though he says otherwise — is OK.

  • Claiming that George Bush is planning to cut Social Security checks by $500 is not OK. There's no reason to think that's true. (If he gets his private account scheme through Congress, he won't finance it with higher taxes or lower benefits. He'll finance it the same way he finances everything: by running a bigger deficit.)

  • Claiming that Bush policies make a draft more likely — even though Bush says he opposes a draft — is OK. It's perfectly arguable that his aggressive foreign policy instincts make further wars — and therefore a draft — more probable than they would otherwise be.

  • Mock outrage at Teresa Heinz Kerry's gaffe about Laura Bush is not OK. It wasn't that big a deal, she apologized immediately, and Laura Bush says she wasn't offended.

  • Blaming Bush for the flu vaccine shortage is OK. There have been repeated warnings from experts since 2001 that this could happen and Bush did nothing about them. He's the president, he gets the blame. That's the way it goes.

I'm sure we'll have a brand new list to deal with after the weekend. And I imagine they'll be incrementally even more trivial than these.

Kevin Drum 1:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TENET: IRAQ WAR "WRONG"....Hmmm. George Tenet is (barely) beginning to speak out about the Iraq war. The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan, reports that he thinks it was a mistake:

Tenet called the war on Iraq "wrong" in a speech Wednesday night to 2,000 members of The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. He did not elaborate.

....He did add that he doesn't think the Iraq war was wholly bad. "When I look at the regime (Saddam Hussein) ran, and the elaborate depth he took to deny us the ability to build our intelligence, I can't say it was a waste," Tenet said.

It would sure be nice to get him to elaborate on this sometime before the election, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 8:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH AND HIS SUPPORTERS....The good folks at PIPA have yet another interesting report out. The primary gist of the report is that when it comes to foreign policy, Bush supporters have a much worse grasp of factual matters than Kerry supporters. It's worth reading, and yes, it's sort of scary, but I have a sneaking hunch that exactly the opposite might be true on some domestic issues. So I'm going to leave that alone for now.

Instead, take a look at this table that deals not with factual matters, but with whether Bush and Kerry supporters even understand their own candidate's positions:

That's pretty remarkable. There are only two issues on which even a majority of Bush supporters know Bush's actual position. As the PIPA report blandly puts it, "Apparently in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Bush supporters assume Bush feels as they do."

That's true, and it's been the essence of George Bush since 2000. He won the primary and the election that year by being the friendly face of movement conservatism, a guy who seemed much more moderate than he really was. And now, even four years later, he still looks to his supporters much more moderate than he really is. If the electorate understood just how conservative Bush really is, he wouldn't have a snowball's chance of winning the election this year.

What's more, this goes beyond George Bush: it's actually one of conservatism's greatest weaknesses. On a wide range of issues — the environment, Social Security, Medicare, abortion, and so forth — conservatives are unable to get support for their actual positions, so they're forced to couch their conservative policies in surprisingly liberal terms. We're environmentalists! We want to save Social Security! We're tolerant of gays!

In the long term, though, this is disastrous, since eventually they'll either have to surrender and adopt genuine liberal policies or else come clean about their conservatism and get swamped at the polls.

But that's for the future. In the meantime, the compassionate conservative schtick is working pretty well. I wonder how much longer they can pull it off?

Kevin Drum 7:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERTARIANS SOUND OFF....Reason magazine has a survey of which candidates famous libertarians are voting for. I don't really care much about libertarians, so the most interesting part of the survey for me was discovering for the first time a number of famous people who turn out to be libertarians. Maybe I just haven't been playing attention, but I didn't know that Drew Carey was libertarian. Or Penn Jillette. Or Steven Pinker. Or Scientific American editor John Rennie. (Hmmm. Does this explain why Scientific American has gotten so bad under his editorship?)

Best quote: although he's not a citizen and therefore can't vote for president, Andrew Sullivan, asked about his most embarrassing past choice, answered "I'm unembarrassed by all my choices." I guess that figures.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ISAAC NEWTON....I see that the New York Public Library has mounted what looks to be a fascinating exhibit dedicated to Isaac Newton. This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I lived in New York. I could spend all day at something like this.

Unfortunately, if James Gleick is right — and he seems to be — it sounds like it does a pretty poor job of portraying Newton himself, who was, to put it bluntly, something of a ruthless, misanthropic bastard. True, he's also the most influential human being yet to walk the earth, but he was still a shithead. It seems odd to avoid that in a major exhibit, even if Newton the man isn't its major focus.

Kevin Drum 6:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MOCKING MICKEY....Unlike many of my lefty comrades, I don't really hate Mickey Kaus or anything. Mostly I just find him intermittently annoying because I doubt that his studiously developed online contrarianism reflects who he really is.

This pretty much nails what I have in mind. Plus it's really funny. Go read.

Kevin Drum 5:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO CASUALTIES?....So did George Bush really think there would be no casualties in the Iraq war — as he allegedly told Pat Robertson? Last night I suggested that Robertson had actually been talking about civilian casualties in American cities, and that's what Bush — not unreasonably — was brushing off.

Today, though, Juan Cole makes a plausible argument that I'm wrong:

A lot of Bush supporters were proclaiming that the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk" and Iraqis would greet the US soldiers with garlands....Bush would have been thinking about the war itself, and would have known that many Iraqi officers had already made a deal with the CIA to just leave the barracks and go home, ordering their men to do the same. And plus Bush knew about the US military's overwhelming air superiority, and ability to make mincemeat of the Iraqi tank corps from the air.

Maybe. On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that (a) Bush may live in a cocoon, but it's a stretch to think that even he thought we'd fight the war with no casualties, (b) Robertson was opposed to the war and may just be trying to toot his own horn here, and (c) Robertson and Bush have a bit of bad blood between them, even if Robertson does (barely) support Bush in this election.

I suppose the most likely answer is simply that Bush thought the war would be fairly painless and there would be very few casualties. Robertson then rhetorically blew that up into "no casualties." That fits pretty well with what we know about both Bush and Robertson.

One final note: I do think that Kerry has the right approach to this. He suggests Bush deserves the benefit of the doubt, but also wants him to address Robertson's accusation directly. Did he actually say there would be no casualties? Or is Robertson lying? Either answer would be a campaign gift for Kerry.

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE WARS?....In explaining why he's going to vote for John Kerry even though he thinks Kerry is insufficiently hawkish and insufficiently dedicated to democracy promotion, OxBlog's Josh Chafetz makes an underappreciated point:

I can envision a situation in which I think the United States ought to take military action and in which President Bush would agree, whereas President Kerry, because of his inordinate faith in the legitimizing power of international institutions, might not. But, first, let me note that, in any situation in which military force is clearly called for (e.g., another attack, leading to another Afghanistan), I have complete confidence that Kerry will make the right call. But what about another close call where I think we ought to send troops? It's true, Kerry might not make my preferred decision. But I am also convinced that Bush — even a reelected Bush — would lack the political capital to send American troops into battle again in a close call. In other words, in the primary situation in which Bush's advantage in grand strategy would be an issue, I don't think Bush would be able to put his preferred policy in place, anyway.

He's right. Because of the political capital deficit that Josh cites as well as practical problems related to military overstretch, there just isn't going to be a preventive war in the next four years. If a nuke goes off in downtown Atlanta, we'll do what we have to do, but in any kind of close call neither Bush nor Kerry will go to war.

But if that's the case, what's the hawkish foreign policy argument for voting for Bush? Democracy promotion? Bush may talk about democracy more than Kerry, but given his sanguine acceptance of an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, it's hard to believe he really takes it all that seriously. That leaves only a few pretty arcane issues on the table, like bilateral vs. multilateral talks with the North Koreans or the exact structure of possible sanctions against Iran. Those are hardly election deal breakers.

In fact, once you accept that additional large-scale military action is off the table except in extreme cases, the most relevant question, even for hawks, is simple: who's best able to handle the diplomatic, educational, and multilateral foreign policy tasks that are likely to be the highlights of the next four years no matter who wins? Even his supporters acknowledge that these aren't George Bush's strong points, and I think Spencer Ackerman has made a pretty compelling case that they are Kerry's — and that Kerry can succeed at a lot of these critical tasks where Bush simply can't. Andrew Sullivan provides a pretty good example here.

For hawks, the best argument in favor of Kerry is that the Iraq war is a done deal, and there isn't likely to be a followup. So even if Bush was the right bull in a china shop for the past four years, is he also the best guy to put the china shop back together over the next four? Probably not.

POSTSCRIPT: As an aside, it's worth asking if another war is really as unlikely as I'm making it out to be. In fact, I don't consider it farfetched to suppose that Bush and his team will do their best to gin up a foreign policy crisis of some kind in order to justify further military action in a second term. However, (a) I don't think such an effort would succeed, and (b) you'd have to be a stone mega-hawk to consider that a reason to vote for him anyway, wouldn't you?

UPDATE: Atrios suggests that "gin up" isn't quite the right verb.....

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A CLOSE ELECTION?....Megan McArdle says today:

Leery though I am of predictions, I'm going to make one anyway: we aren't going to have vote trouble in Florida. We've worried about it so extensively and publicly that I feel it's inevitable that our much hyped fears will fizzle on election day.

I think she's right, but not for the cited reason. In fact, Florida seems to be in remarkably messy shape right now, especially for a state that knows it's under a microscope.

Still, every state has election snafus, which go on to become world famous only if they happen to tip an important election. And what are the odds that Florida's vote is going to be within 0.01% for two elections is a row? Or that the electoral vote will be so close that one state decides the election in the first place?

As to the first: pretty slim. But as to the second, I have definitely not bought into the theory that the election this year is going to be a landslide. (Chuck Todd makes the case that it will be in the May issue of the Monthly.) In fact, at the moment my prediction — worth every penny you pay for it, of course — is that Kerry will win with 272 electoral votes. In other words, every single state will decide the election. And whichever one has the closest result will likely be the site of yet another Armageddon-like fight to the finish.

So which will it be? Iowa? New Mexico? The hardy individualists of New Hampshire? Beats me. And I hope I'm wrong. But somehow I won't be surprised if I wake up November 3rd to learn that Des Moines or Santa Fe is the new media capital of the universe.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESIDENTIAL PROMISES....Here's an interesting factoid from Knight Ridder:

President Bush will end his four-year term having fulfilled about 46 percent of the promises he made during the 2000 presidential campaign, according to an analysis by Knight Ridder.

.... A similar Knight Ridder analysis found that, during his first term, President Clinton had fulfilled about 66 percent of the 160 commitments that he made during his first presidential campaign.

I realize this number is a bit meaningless on its own, but even so it's sort of remarkable that Bush has only managed to get to 46%. KR counts a broken promise as anything that fails to happen, regardless of reason, and in most cases the reason for failure was that a presidential proposal got blocked or stalled in Congress. But Bush has had a Republican House for his full term and a Republican Senate for all but 18 months, compared to Clinton, who faced a uniformly hostile Congress for two out of his first four years.

But at least Bush got his tax cuts. A Republican Congress is good for at least that much.

Kevin Drum 1:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND WALL STREET....So what does Wall Street think of President Bush?

For financial professionals, the Nov. 2 election presents a quandary: Although the Bush White House has been good for their pocketbooks, some worry that the administration's policies will hurt the economy and markets over the long term and ravage their clients' nest eggs.

Indeed, some Wall Street Democrats accuse their Republican counterparts of focusing on short-term personal gain in backing Bush, while overlooking the risks inherent in the ballooning budget and trade deficits.

"The average Wall Street firm is run by extraordinarily avaricious, greedy people who don't know their own interests," said Seth Glickenhaus, who at age 91 continues to oversee $1 billion at Glickenhaus & Co., a money management company he founded in New York.

I'd say that about covers it. If there's any single trait the best describes most professional money managers and investment bankers, it's an extraordinary ability to assume that the future never comes, bubbles never burst, and the piper never needs to be paid.

So naturally they support George Bush. After all, they're getting theirs while the getting is good, and if Bush runs the economy into the ground — well, that's off somewhere in the future, isn't it? Of course, if they really had their clients' best interests at heart, they'd read this and this and this — and take a look at this chart — and then think again.

Kevin Drum 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NO CASUALTIES?....So did Pat Robertson really warn George Bush before the Iraq war that he should prepare the American people for casualties? Lis Riba digs up this transcript from CNN dated February 27, 2003:

Connie, I have, over the last year or so, been quite concerned about entering into this war. We should have gone in after him in the Gulf War I.

This thing is fraught with danger. And I think we need to understand that. I told the president that just recently, that we have got to prepare the American people for civilian casualties, for possibly our casualties, for gassing, for various chemical weapons against them.

So if Bush really did say "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties," what was he referring to? It's not entirely clear from this transcript, but it sounds like Robertson was talking about chemical weapons being used against civilians in American cities, and if that's the case it was probably pretty reasonable for Bush to brush it off.

At least, that's my guess. Any other guesses?

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPORTS QUIZ....The Red Sox have come from 0-3 down to tie the ALCS at three games apiece. If they win tonight, they will be first team in baseball history to win a playoff series after being down 0-3.

Quiz question: has any team ever done this in another sport? Who and when?

Answer: in 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup after losing the first three games.

But how about the NBA? Does anyone know?

UPDATE: From comments, it appears the New York Islanders beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a hockey playoff series in 1975 after losing the first three games. So it's happened twice in the NHL.

Kevin Drum 7:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ORGAN HARVESTING....As regular readers know, I don't usually find much common ground with the folks at National Review. On the issue of killing people to harvest their organs, though, I think they have the right position:

If confidence is to be maintained in the organ-procurement system, we need to establish a binding, uniform national standard of testing for determining death by neurological criteria....Most importantly, these uniform standards must reiterate the irrevocable requirement that vital, non-paired whole organ donors be really and truly dead before their body parts are procured.

Yes. Organ donors should be really and truly dead before we cut out their organs. Finally, something NR and I can agree on.

So what brought this on, anyway? Apparently a coroner and an enterprising district attorney in Colorado think that several organs were recently removed from a guy in their jurisdiction who was pretty-close-but-not-quite-dead at the time his organs were removed. Maybe. The author then rather alarmingly suggests that we are currently on a dangerous slippery slope regarding deadness by quoting a couple of doctors who have proposed that "dead" should be defined a bit differently than it is now.

Unfortunately, he follows this with a reference to Terri Schiavo, which in this context I would normally take as a Godwin's Law violation, thus bringing the whole article into terminal disrepute. But maybe not. The evidence seems awfully thin, but perhaps an organ donor expert could step in and let us know if there really are serious moves afoot to redefine "death" in order to expedite organ harvesting.

How about it, Kieran?

UPDATE: Answer here.

Kevin Drum 6:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

SUCH A GOOD ALTAR BOY....There are a lot of interesting polls floating around right now. But take a minute to check out today's latest from the Pew Research Center. If you scroll down to the second page, you'll see the trend in support for Bush and Kerry by religious affiliation. Between the first debate and now, Kerry has picked up 12 to 17 points (depending on the poll you look at) among white Catholics.

In the second debate, you may remember, he stated simply, "I am a Catholic." He also talked about his experience as an altar boy (a phrase that was reportedly the subject of debate within the Kerry camp--should he mention it or not?), and he expressed respect for those who hold pro-life views. I was always surprised that his Catholic numbers were so low, so I'm not shocked to see this change, but it is certainly remarkable.

p.s. Oh, and other interesting, non-related-to-religion findings can be found in the poll report.

Amy Sullivan 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW GEORGE BUSH IS LIKE JIMMY CARTER....For a long time I've thought — or perhaps "hoped" is the better word — that serious Republicans would start to view George Bush this year the same way a lot of serious Democrats viewed Jimmy Carter in 1980. Yes, he was one of us. Yes, he'd done some good things. And yes, we wanted a Democrat to be president.

But in the end, no. He just wouldn't do. Enough was enough. Even if it meant turning over the White House to a guy we couldn't stand, it was time to suck in our guts and cast a vote in favor of reforming our own party.

I was one of them. I voted for John Anderson in 1980, the only Republican I've voted for in my entire life. And while I think Carter gets too little credit for some of the good work he did, I don't regret my vote — most of the time, anyway. It just had to be done.

I suspect the Republican party is at about the same point this year. George Bush is leading them slowly but inexorably over a cliff, and if serious Republicans don't stand up this year and — reluctantly, sadly — vote him out of office, he's going to take his party with him.

Of course, voting against Carter was easier for me in 1980 because I had Anderson to vote for. Even though I knew the result was the same, I'm not sure I could have brought myself to mark my ballot for Reagan, and I don't doubt that a lot of Republicans feel the same way about John Kerry this year. Still: it needs to be done.

Ben Wallace-Wells has a terrific cover story in the current issue of the Washington Monthly on exactly this subject. The similarities between the Republican party of 2004 and the Democratic party of 1980 are both eerie and surprisingly broad, and he lays out the case for Republican reform of their own house with relentless precision. If you haven't read it yet, it's well worth spending a few minutes on. And pass it on to a few friends while you're at it.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

MORE THAN WORDS....Everyone is still buzzing about Ron Suskind's frightening description of Bush's decision-making process (if that's what it can be called.) But as Ayelish McGarvey points out in a must-read piece over at The American Prospect, Suskind makes the same mistake that countless other reporters and critics of the President have: he takes Bush's faith seriously.

McGarvey goes slightly further than I am willing to in raising the question of whether Bush can even be called Christian. But she presents some compelling arguments along the way, highlighting the fact that Bush's mantle, "man of faith," is based on flimsy evidence of his true convictions. Noting the rash of spiritual hagiographies that have been released in book or film form over the past year, McGarvey writes:

Though these accounts ramble on for hundreds of pages about his steadfast leadership and prayerfulness, they all curiously rely on one single event to confirm that Bush is a man transformed by a deep Christian faith: He quit drinking and took up running instead....But Christianity is more than teetotalism and physical fitness. Conservative believers liken a Christian conversion to a spiritual heart transplant -- one that completely transfigures a person’s motivations, sensibilities, relationships, and actions....Judging him on his record, George W. Bush’s spiritual transformation seems to have consisted of little more than staying on the wagon, with Jesus as a sort of talismanic Alcoholics Anonymous counselor.
Both supporters and critics of the president point to his stirring religious rhetoric as proof of his faith--whether they believe his religious convictions are reassuring or disturbing. And yet those often eloquent and powerful words come from the pen of his head speechwriter, Wheaton College graduate Mike Gerson, not necessarily from Bush's inner soul. As McGarvey writes:
Far too often, though, the press confuses Gerson’s words with Bush’s beliefs. The distinction is critical, as the press, as well as many of Bush’s most ardent supporters, curiously points to the president’s words, not his deeds, as evidence of his deep Christian faith. In Alan Cooperman’s recent Washington Post article, David Frum, a (Jewish) former Bush speechwriter, said of the president’s religious beliefs, “If you want to know what George Bush really thinks, look at what he says.”
That religious standard turns two thousand years of Christianity on its head. Every young Sunday School student knows it's not what you say, it's what you do. And on that score, George W. Bush has failed to act according to Christian principles and values. That shouldn't necessarily matter--that shouldn't be a requirement for our country's leader. But it's simply a fact that many voters cast their lot with the guy they believe is led by a moral power greater than himself. I've heard countless voters say they disagree with Bush on the war, the economy, his environmental record, his education agenda, you name it--but they're voting for him "because he's a good Christian man." The press has accepted uncritically that this is so. Maybe that was a mistake.

Amy Sullivan 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LA TIMES OP-ED WATCH....Should reporters have an immunity against testifying in the Valerie Plame case? New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and LA Times editorial page editor have a polite disagreement today.

Elsewhere on the LA Times op-ed page, we have your daily shrill, courtesy of spy novelist John le Carrι. He puts Americans who think they're shrill to shame.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO CASUALTIES?....How bizarre is this?

Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, said he had [a] conversation with the president in Nashville, Tennessee, before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He described Bush in the meeting as "the most self-assured man I've ever met in my life."

...."And I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, 'Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.' "

Robertson said the president then told him, "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

If this is true, it's scarier than the entire 10,000 words of Suskind's article last Sunday. And you know what? A year ago I probably wouldn't have believed it. It's just too bizarre, even for someone who despises Bush as much as I do. Today, though, I find it sadly believable.

On another note, it appears that God told Robertson the war was a bad idea. I wish He'd make up His mind....

UPDATE: More here. Robertson may have been shading the truth a wee bit about his presidential conversation....

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FLU VACCINE FOR VETS....I got an email today from a Vietnam vet who said that his local VA hospital had no flu vaccine this year, even for high risk cases who really need it. Has anyone else heard anything like this?

Kevin Drum 1:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL DICK CHENEY....So how evil is Dick Cheney? Bob Harris thinks he's discovered the answer.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 19, 2004
By: Paul Glastris

CASE AGAINST SHRUM #273... I've never understood why the Kerry campaign hasn't made more of the candidate's record in the Senate of holding tough, thankless, let-the-chips-fall-as-they-may investigations of the rich and powerful. Especially impressive was his pursuit of BCCI, the Arab-owned international bank which turned out to be a massive criminal enterprise that enabled terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, to finance their activities--until it was shut down, largely thanks to Kerry's relentless efforts. The campaign's weird refusal to talk about achievements like the BCCI hearings has allowed Bush to paint Kerry as a do-nothing legislator with no record of achievement during 20 years in the Senate.

But now, thanks to Newsweek, we have an explanation for the Kerry campaign's insane strategy. It seems that Bob Shrum thinks the American people are too stupid to understand what it means that Kerry shut down BCCI. "You can't talk about that because people think you're talking about the BBC," Bob Shrum, Kerry's top adviser, told one senior staffer. "Why were you investigating British TV?"

Should we string up Shrum after Kerry loses, or beat the rush and do it now?

Paul Glastris 11:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COUNTERINSURGENCY....Via Ken Layne, John Perry Barlow reminds me of something I was going to write about a few weeks ago but then forgot about. It seems that on a recent airplane flight Barlow was sitting next to the CEO of a firm that does private security work in Iraq, and this guy was pretty pessimistic about our chances of success in Iraq. He listed all the usual reasons, but then added this:

Finally he pointed out that history provides a gloomy prognosis. "I can't think of a single case where a popular local guerrilla movement failed to defeat a conventional foreign occupying force," he said. "From the American Revolution through Viet Nam, the guerrillas always win. Usually, it takes them a long time and they suffer most of the casualties, but they win."

Is this right? A little while back there was a list of insurgencies making the rounds of conservative blogs, the point being that in a number of cases the insurgents had lost. So Iraq wasn't hopeless at all, you see.

Now, I don't doubt that, but my first question was: what if we limit ourselves to counterinsurgencies fought by big foreign powers? How have they done?

Off the top of my head, I can think of three large-scale examples since World War II: the French in Algeria, the United States in Vietnam, and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Needless to say, the big foreign powers didn't do well in any of these.

Other, smaller examples of big-power counterinsurgencies include the British in Northern Ireland, Israel in the West Bank, and the British in Malaysia. The closest to success of the three is Northern Ireland, but it's also the least similar to Iraq since it's a stretch to call Britain a "big foreign power" in that case.

There are other examples, but no good ones come to mind where the foreign power has been successful. But I might be missing one, since military history isn't my strongest suit. Here are the requirements:

  • Involves a foreign power fighting against local insurgents. I'm thinking here of genuine foreign powers, not things like Russia in Chechnya or China in Tibet.

  • Just to be clear on this, we're looking for a case where a foreign power actually committed significant troops and did the fighting, not one where they merely provided support and a few advisors to a local government.

  • Happened sometime after World War II.

  • The foreign power clearly won.

What's the best example? Kosovo? That wasn't counterinsurgency, it was a bombing campaign. The U.S. in Afghanistan? That was a fairly ordinary short war, not an insurgency. Can anyone think of a better example?

UPDATE: Several further examples have been offered in comments:

  • The British in Malaysia. The communist insurgency was defeated, but I think it was done primarily by the Malays themselves, who contributed many more troops than the British did and were fighting against an insurgency that had little popular support in the first place. Still, it's more of a success than I gave it credit for.

  • Oman. I don't think this meets the criteria I laid out. The British provided plenty of help, but this was still mostly a local government suppressing a local insurgency.

  • Stalin against Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Hmmm. Need some help on this one. Was there really much of a military (as opposed to political) insurgency in either country? Of course, I'm not sure Stalin's methods are available to us in any case....

  • Greek communists. There was a short insurgency that was put down with British help in 1944, but it only lasted a few weeks. The 1947-49 insurgency was put down by Greek troops (with American support).

  • Cuba/Soviet Union in Angola. This is an interesting example, and one I hadn't thought of. Seems more like a traditional civil war fought with help on both sides, but it might be a good case that meets my criteria. Comments?

  • The Philippines after WWII (not the one in 1910). Yeah, the Huk rebellion fits reasonably well.

  • Vietnam against the Khmer Rouge. I was trying to avoid next door neighbors, but this isn't a bad example. The Khmer Rouge clearly lost, and Vietnam eventually pulled out.

So there appear to be four cases that might meet my criteria, depending on how tightly you construe them: the British in Malaysia, the Cubans in Angola, the Huk rebellion, and Vietnam against the Khmer Rouge. Any comments pro or con on these four? Any lessons to be learned about why they succeeded and others didn't?

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE STONEWALLING....In a craven attempt to win back the admiration of all those readers who were upset when I wrote about my distaste for Robert Scheer a few weeks ago, today I'm going to link to a Scheer column worth quoting:

The Bush administration is suppressing a CIA report on 9/11 until after the election, and this one names names. Although the report by the inspector general's office of the CIA was completed in June, it has not been made available to the congressional intelligence committees that mandated the study almost two years ago.

....According to [an intelligence official who has read the report], who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been "stalled." First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.

...."What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that," said the intelligence official. "The report found very senior-level officials responsible."

...."The agency directorate is basically sitting on the report until after the election," the official continued. "No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress."

Jane Harman, who's a Democrat but also a pretty straight shooter, said she is "very concerned" about the CIA's unwillingness to deliver the report — as well she should be, since there's not much chance it would be getting held back if it were critical of Democrats, is there?

Sounds like it's time for a leak....

Kevin Drum 5:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

THAT DOESN'T BODE WELL FOR DEMOCRATS....Reader D.S. emailed this morning to share a theory linking the two major battles between good and evil that are currently playing out on the national stage:

The Red Sox / Yankees series is a lot like the election, really. You’ve got a formidable but basically evil incumbent machine, that clearly represents big money interests and has zillions of dollars to try to buy victory, which it has been quite successful at doing ever since the mid-90s. You’ve got a challenger from Massachusetts, who fell behind early and has made a variety of missteps that hurt its/his chances. Now, in a series of highly-watched contests on national television, the challenger has managed to climb back into it, though still trailing narrowly.
This might explain the recent election pessmism of some diehard Red Sox fans I know. I say, let's focus on the good news. The Sox have some mo going into tonight's Game 6, and--as Ed Kilgore reminds us--at this point in 2000, the polls had Bush up by thirteen points, which was hardly the final tally on Election Day. Chin up.

Amy Sullivan 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTORAL COLLEGE UDPATE....As a birthday present, Slate has updated their electoral college projection and now shows Kerry ahead of Bush 284-254. In addition, Pollkatz and Votemaster both had Kerry ahead last week and now show him even further ahead. RealClear Politics and Rasmussen both continue to show Bush ahead, but by much slimmer margins than a week ago.

The key here seems to be Florida, which appears to be moving (barely) into the Kerry column. I'll confess to some doubts on this score, though: I've always figured that somehow, some way, Bush is going to win Florida. On the other hand, I think Kerry will win Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, even if the polls there are pretty tight at the moment. In other words, Kerry wins in a squeaker, 272-266.

But how about Congress? The latest New York Times poll has the Democrats ahead by 8 points (46%-38%) in a generic congressional ballot, about the same as several polls back in June. As I mentioned then, there are historical reasons to think that Republicans always outperform congressional polls, but even if you subtract 4 points the Dems are still ahead by 3-4% — and this lead has been pretty steady for months. If this holds up, it could translate into a sizable Democratic gain in the House.

Yeah, yeah, I know: that's impossible. Maybe so. I'm just saying....

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ENDORSEMENT WATCH....No, not editorial page endorsements. The latest game is to see which candidate has snagged the most endorsements from hideous political figures around the world. Today, James Joyner groans over Yasser Arafat's semi-endorsement of Kerry here, while Matt Yglesias is suitably appalled over Vladimir Putin's semi-endorsement of Bush here.

And of course there's been fierce competition for the coveted al-Qaeda endorsement for months. Back in March the Madrid train bombers said, "We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections," while in September House Speaker Dennis Hastert insisted that, in fact, al-Qaeda much preferred a Kerry victory. So it's still up in the air, I guess.

I wonder who Castro will endorse?

UPDATE: I just checked comments. You do all understand that I was just joking, don't you?

UPDATE 2: It looks like Bush just bagged the Iranian theocrat endorsement!

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANOTHER YEAR OLDER.....Happy Birthday to me! Click here to learn the surprising truth about my birthday theme song. I think this must be responsible for my well known love for Texas and all its residents....

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ON POSTWAR PLANNING....It's sort of masochistic to continue linking to article after article about the lack of postwar planning in Iraq by the Bush administration, but it truly defies belief. Here's the latest from the New York Times:

On April 15, 2003, Mr. Bush convened his National Security Council and discussed soliciting peacekeeping forces from other countries so the United States could begin to pull out troops. Even though there had been widespread opposition to the invasion, administration officials thought that some governments would put aside their objections once victory was at hand and the Iraqis began to form a new government.

Pentagon officials briefed the president on a plan to enlist four divisions: one made up of NATO troops; another from the Gulf Cooperative Council, an association of Persian Gulf states; one led by Poland; and another by Britain. The thinking was that the United States would leave no more than a division or two in Iraq.

The next day, General Franks flew to Baghdad and instructed his commanders to draw up plans to begin pulling out. At that palace meeting with his commanders, he noted that it was possible for the United States to wear out its welcome and keep too many troops in Iraq too long. A functioning interim Iraqi government was expected within 30 to 60 days, he said. He told his commanders to be prepared to take as much risk going out as they did coming in.

This isn't really new reporting, but it bears repeating anyway. These guys honestly thought the rest of the world would hop on board as soon as we had won the war. They figured they could get an interim government up and running in a month or two. And they never seriously considered the possibility of a sustained insurgency.

It just boggles the mind. It really does.

Kevin Drum 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PTI 961....Thanks partly to our good friend Dan Rather, I figure the Bush National Guard story is pretty much a dead letter. Still, every once in a while something new and tantalizing appears, and today Paul Lukasiak presents us with yet another mystery: what does separation code PTI 961 mean?

To start with, here's the relevant snip from George Bush's discharge from the Texas Air National Guard to the Air Force Reserves:

PTI stands for "Personnel Transaction Identifier," and Paul reports that a transfer to a different command would normally be a PTI 201.

However, when an "action is reported by the 9xx PTIs" it represents a "loss to the Air Force strength." In other words, despite the fact that Bush had almost eight months left on his six year Military Service Obligation at the time, Texas Air National Guard officers were signaling that Bush was essentially worthless to the Air Force, and should not even be retained in the "Ready Reserves" for call up in the event of a national emergency.

Is this right? It's hard to say for sure because although we know the general intent of the 9xx series PTIs, we don't know precisely what PTI 961 means. Apparently it's been lost in the mists of time.

But who knows? There's bound to be someone out there who remembers what PTI 961 means. Maybe one of them will read this and let us know.

UPDATE: False alarm. Apparently PTI 961 merely means "change of residence."

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TEXAS REDISTRICTING UPDATE....Good news: the Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision upholding Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan.

Bad news: it won't affect the 2004 election regardless.

Oh well. Half a loaf and all that....

Kevin Drum 7:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN KERRY AND THE WAR ON TERROR....Dan Drezner, still trying to make up his mind who to vote for, has received lots of pro-Bush comments and says they've had an effect:

So where am I now? I'm unpersuaded by arguments saying that Bush's foreign policy has been a greater success than commonly thought, and I'm not convinced that he would ever be able to recognize the need for policy change.

However, the responses to the previous post have fed my doubts about Kerry's bad foreign policy instincts — enough to slightly lower my probability of voting for Kerry to 70%. So it's now up to Kerry's supporters to make their case — how can I trust that John Kerry gets the post-9/11 world? How can I be sure that Kerry's policymaking process will be sufficiently good so as to overwhelm Kerry's instinctual miscues?

I'll take a crack at that. I think the answer encompasses three main points:

  • First, obsessing over Kerry's entire 30-year public history is probably unproductive. After all, before 9/11 George Bush and his advisors had little concern for terrorism and expressed frequent contempt for things like nation building and democracy promotion. Does that affect how we feel about Bush today?

    It shouldn't, because we accept that 9/11 fundamentally changed his view of the world. We judge Bush by how he's reacted after 9/11, not by his advisors' long records before taking office — and I'd argue that we should do the same with Kerry rather than raking over nuclear freeze minutiae and Gulf War votes from over a decade ago. Obviously Kerry's past illuminates his character to some degree, but a lot changed on 9/11 and I suspect that ancient history is a poor guide to his view of how to react to the post-9/11 world.

  • Second, Kerry has a reputation for taking his cues from his advisors, so it's worth looking at who his top foreign policy advisors are likely to be. The most frequently mentioned are Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke, Rand Beers, William Perry, and a few others, and this strikes me as a pretty strong, competent, and toughminded team.

  • Finally, and most important: what is Kerry's view of the post-9/11 world and the war on terrorism? Here is Spencer Ackerman in The New Republic, contrasting George Bush's fixation on states as central actors to Kerry's more realistic understanding of what we're up against:

    Far from imposing democracy from the top down, Kerry told a Los Angeles audience in February, "We must support human rights groups, independent media, and labor unions dedicated to building a democratic culture from the grassroots up."

    ....In addition to communicating U.S. policy more persuasively, Kerry is likely to return the United States to a visible and active role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    ....Kerry is also proposing a frontal assault on what Rand Beers, the former Bush counterterrorism czar now serving as Kerry's national security adviser, terms "a way of indoctrination" for the next generation of potential terrorists. "We need an international effort to compete with radical madrassas," Kerry said in his Los Angeles speech.

    ....Nor does Kerry intend to shy away from a cardinal source of funding for the madrassas — Saudi Arabia. Biden in particular is prepared to confront the Saudis over their troublesome ideological adventures. "Our policy should be: Cease and desist, or we've got to figure out new relationships here," he says. "Am I going to invade your country? Hell no. Are we going to depose you? Hell no. But let me tell you: Are we going to supply the physical security for your continued existence? I don't know."

    ....Ever since his September 20, 2001, address to Congress, and especially in his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush has emphasized the need to attack state sponsors of terrorism at least as much as actual terrorists....Kerry, by contrast, understands that the threat from Al Qaeda is not state-centric. Asked where the "center" of the war on terrorism is, Beers immediately replies, "There isn't one." He explains, "What Al Qaeda did during its Afghan period was to create a jihadist movement on a global basis. While Al Qaeda certainly has the financial wherewithal, the organizational skills, the tactical wherewithal to conduct significant operations ΰ la the dual embassy bombing in Africa in 1998 or the World Trade Center-Pentagon attack in 2001, the fact that the major events since then have been conducted by organizations which were able to operate at a distance from and, to at least some degree, independent of central direction from Osama bin Laden is an indication. I wouldn't say that it's Al Qaeda 2.0, I'd say it's Global Terrorism 2.0. That means we're going to have to have a much broader and a much more comprehensive campaign that goes beyond the decapitation strategy that seems to excite George Bush."

    Kerry and his advisers intend to refocus the nation's military and intelligence efforts on eliminating Al Qaeda directly. To achieve that, Kerry has endorsed the 9/11 Commission's plans for intelligence reform and has proposed enlarging the regular Army by 40,000 soldiers and doubling the Army's Special Forces capacity. Presently, Army Special Forces units — which include agile and innovative forces best trained and equipped to operate deep behind enemy lines and in nontraditional combat situations — total about 26,000 active and reserve personnel, or only 2 percent of the entire Army. Expanding Special Forces would expand the range of military options available when confronting jihadists in nations where large or conspicuous U.S. incursions are politically impossible — i.e., most of the approximately 60 countries where Al Qaeda operates.

    Unlike Bush, Kerry appears to have a firm understanding of all three components of a successful war on global terror: (1) the military effort to kill the terrorists themselves, (2) the cultural and ideological effort to undermine radical Islam, and (3) the diplomatic effort to address ground-level grievances that weaken our ability to pursue #1 and #2.

So: we should look primarily at John Kerry after 9/11, not before. We should look at the people likely to be the top foreign policy advisors in a Kerry administration. And we should look at his concretely expressed views about how best to fight and win the war on terror. It combines a serious, realistic view of global terror with a willingness to adapt to events that's sadly lacking in George Bush's worldview. It may not be perfect — what is, after all? — but it's better than what's on offer from the current team.

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SOCIAL SECURITY NON-CRISIS REVISITED....So is President Bush planning a "January Surprise" to privatize Social Security, as John Kerry says? His spokesmen say that's nonsense:

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for Bush, said Kerry lifted a "made-up" quote from a reporter hostile to Bush "to make a false, baseless attack." Schmidt said the president never used the word "privatized" because his plan would not privatize the system.

The president has only endorsed allowing younger Americans to put a small percentage of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts...Experts say this would, in essence, partially privatize the system.

I get it. He's not going to privatize the system. He's just going to partially privatize the system. That makes me feel better.

It's a remarkable thing. Out of all the possible problems to address in America, Social Security is probably not even in the top ten. It's solvent for at least the next 40 years, and possibly the next 50, even if we do absolutely nothing. Some very minor adjustments on either the tax or benefit side would keep it solvent forever. (For example, the Social Security Advisory Board says that even if you addressed the problem solely by tax increases, you'd only have to raise the current payroll tax from 6.2% to 7.1%. That's not exactly Armageddon, but of course you don't learn that until page 21 of this report, which on page 3 talks about Social Security's "looming financial shortfall.")

So why do Republicans waste time pushing private accounts? Because lots of people — especially young people — are convinced Social Security won't be around by the time they retire. But why are they afraid it won't be around? Because Republicans keep peddling scare stories about how Social Security is heading toward bankruptcy.

It's a neat circle. It's also untrue. Republicans want private accounts for purely ideological reasons, not because they actually solve a problem. If Democrats and Republicans really wanted to "fix" Social Security, they could do it in about a week of good faith effort — and then move on to other, more real, problems. Now that would be a campaign promise worth listening to.

Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POSTWAR IRAQ....EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK.....Over the weekend, Knight Ridder's Warren Strobel and John Walcott continued their top notch reporting on Iraq with a long story about the Bush administration's lack of planning for postwar rebuilding. It opens with an anecdote about a presentation given shortly before the war started:

Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material — and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."

I confess that I still find it almost impossible to believe that the administration did such a lousy job of postwar planning. Did they really think they'd be greeted with rose petals and then triumphantly exit a happy and democratic Iraq within a few months? It beggars the imagination to think so, but it appears to be true — and certainly gives the lie to hawks who think George Bush truly understands the nature of the threat we're up against. Obviously he doesn't.

Here's the heart of the KR story:

The U.S. intelligence community had been divided about the state of Saddam's weapons programs, but there was little disagreement among experts throughout the government that winning the peace in Iraq could be much harder than winning a war.

"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," warned an Army War College report that was completed in February 2003, a month before the invasion. Without an "overwhelming" effort to prepare for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the report warned: "The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."

A half-dozen intelligence reports also warned that American troops could face significant postwar resistance. This foot-high stack of material was distributed at White House meetings of Bush's top foreign policy advisers, but there's no evidence that anyone ever acted on it.

"It was disseminated. And ignored," said a former senior intelligence official.

The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam's plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.

Similar warnings came from the Pentagon's Joint Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq."

Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, "they are now defending their country," said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff's warnings. "You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed."

The Army War College. A half dozen intelligence reports. The DIA. The Pentagon. The State Department. There was plenty of warning. The Bushies just chose not to believe it because....why? Because they just didn't want to, apparently.

Reality based community indeed.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CRYING WOLF....Ready for a shocker? The telemarketing industry estimated that the federal Do-Not-Call list would cost 2 million jobs, but it turns out that the real number is actually a wee bit lower:

The telemarketing industry appears to have weathered the creation of the list, which more than 63 million Americans have signed up for. A year after it went into effect, fears of massive layoffs and failures among telemarketing companies haven't been borne out.

....A recent study by London-based market analysis firm Datamonitor suggested that the do-not-call list would play a relatively small role in telemarketing layoffs when compared with technology advances and the outsourcing of jobs to countries such as India that have lower labor costs.

Estimating that there are about 4.3 million telemarketing jobs in 50,600 call centers of 10 workers or more, Datamonitor concluded that some 7,500 to 15,000 jobs could be lost by 2008 because of the do-not-call list.

Virtually every business regulation ever proposed, from gas mileage standards to workplace safety guidelines to clean air rules, has prompted cries from industry that they'll be crippled. And while there are a few horror story exceptions here and there, in virtually every case the industries in question have not only done fine, they've prospered.

Of course, the business community isn't the only offender. Environmental groups, labor unions, social conservatives, gun lobbies, and every other special interest group you can think of routinely predict a collapse of one kind or another if some hated regulation is passed or modified in some way. But it almost never happens.

Overregulation certainly has both an economic and a social cost, and it's worthwhile to overhaul regulatory regimes periodically for a variety of reasons. But a surprising amount of regulation accomplishes almost exactly what it was designed to accomplish, and with relatively little damage in the process. Remember that the next time you hear a cry of impending doom from someone with an axe to grind.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FLU VACCINE UPDATE....Two companies say they may jump into the U.S. flu vaccine market next year:

GlaxoSmithKline, the largest vaccine maker in the world, and ID Biomedical, a small Canadian company, have announced plans to sell flu shots in the U.S. ID Biomedical could enter the market as soon as next year.

....The competitive interest in making flu vaccines could dispel the notion that there is no money to be made in the business. In fact, over the last five to six years, the wholesale price of a flu shot has jumped to more than $8 from less than $2, far outpacing increases in production costs. What's more, the market is growing...."It is a very attractive business," said Anthony Holler, ID Biomedical's chief executive.

....U.S. public health officials have said they are unsure the FDA could move swiftly enough to approve the shots. The FDA will clear a drug only if the manufacturer can demonstrate that the product is safe and effective, a process that typically takes years.

So: demand is high and growing; prices have quadrupled recently, which means government price caps aren't an issue; and it's an "attractive business," which mean liability lawsuits must not be scaring anyone too badly.

However, FDA approval could be a problem. This leads me to think that my tentative conclusion yesterday was probably correct: out of all the reasons on offer to explain why the United States relies on only two main suppliers for its flu vaccine supply (small market, low price, risky business, lawsuit worries), it's probably FDA regulatory hurdles that explain the most.

Are those hurdles reasonable? I don't know. But it does seem as if they're the most likely reason that the United States, with a huge market, has only two approved suppliers, while Britain, with a market 10% the size, has half a dozen.

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE ABYSS....Matt Yglesias voices his concern today about....

the creeping Putinization of American life (the Sinclair incident, the threatening letter to Rock The Vote, the specter of the top official in the House of Representatives making totally baseless charges of criminal conduct against a major financier of the political opposition [shades of Mikhail Khodorovsky], the increasing evidence that the 'terror alert' system is nothing more than a political prop, the 'torture memo' asserting that the president is above the law, the imposition of rigid discipline on the congress, the abuse of the conference committee procedure, the ability of the administration to lie to congress without penalty, the exclusion of non-supporters from Bush's public appearances, etc.)

That's a pretty convincing list. And a nice piece of sloganeering, too: "The Putinization of American Life." I like it.

You know, in one paragraph Matt managed to level a more persuasive indictment of the Bush administration than Arthur Schlesinger Jr. did in an entire book. That's some good work.

Kevin Drum 7:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ON THE MEDIA....Judging from some emails I just received, my appearance on NPR's On the Media has now aired. Bob Garfield and I were talking about my quantitative review of Bush's lies vs. Kerry's in the second debate. Kinda fun.

So how'd I do? Did anyone else hear the segment? It's here if you want to listen online.

(And yes, Bob Garfield already told me that I need to get a better telephone. My end of the conversation is indeed a bit muffled.)

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHADING THE TRUTH, PART 3....Michael Getler, the Washington Post's ombudsman, today tackles one of the key issues of this year's campaign coverage: is it OK to merely say that both candidates are less than truthful if one of them is clearly less truthful than the other?

Immediately after the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Sen. John Edwards, The Post, on Oct. 6, produced a solid "For the Record" fact-checking story that was headlined "Misleading Assertions Cover Iraq War and Voting Records." Yet you could argue fairly, as I thought some did, that the largest and most important part of this story was the job it did challenging Cheney's statement before a huge television audience that "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11." But the headline and first paragraph gave no powerful clue about that, or about the fact that when you read through the piece most of it is spent challenging statements by Cheney.

The next day, a fact-checking story carried the headline "Halliburton Charges Jumbled by Edwards and Denied by Cheney." This was also solid reporting, but the thrust of the article essentially backed up and explained most of Edwards's charges. Yet the one instance of a "jumbled" reference by Edwards to two contracts got the second paragraph of the story and the headline.

It's good to see reporters starting to wake up to this. Exaggeration and oversimplification are the stock in trade of all politicians, but the Bush/Cheney campaign has relied on outright deception far more than the Kerry/Edwards campaign, and it's time to say so. It's not enough to simply write a laundry list article that points out, say, five serious lies by Bush in a debate and two moderate ones from Kerry (with 90% of it unread anyway because it's on the jump on page 23). If that's what the story says, the headline and the lead should clearly say it too.

The media is allowing its own conventions to be used against it, and this won't stop unless politicians pay a price for doing so. Nor is this a merely partisan issue. After all, if the Bush administration's disdain for the truth and more general disdain for the press works — and so far it's worked pretty well — do they really think a President Kerry won't learn a few lessons from it?

Kevin Drum 6:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND FAITH....I finally read the Suskind article in the New York Times magazine that everyone is talking about, and I was a bit disappointed. I don't doubt for a minute that George Bush really is isolated in a world that relies primarily on instinct and faith and is practically phobic about inconvenient facts, but Suskind's case is pretty thin. In fact, out of nearly 10,000 words, there's really only one genuinely supporting quote from someone who has worked closely with Bush (Christine Todd Whitman: "In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!").

What's more, I think the paragraph that's getting the most attention is being badly misinterpreted. Here it is:

[A senior Bush advisor] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors....and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

This doesn't strike me as an admission that Bush ignores reality, it strikes me as a boast that Bush is a man of action who changes the world around him while blue state elitists like Suskind and his fellow Times readers are fussily engaged in studying multiple sides of every issue. Bush is a doer, not an analyzer.

But who knows? Maybe it amounts to much the same thing, and the record of the past four years doesn't leave much doubt that Bush has little use for inconvenient data and patent disdain for anyone who fails to immediately see the things that seem so obvious to him — often with disastrous results. More interesting, though, is why Bush acts this way, and to understand that you have to read Suskind's piece pretty carefully.

At first glance, Suskind seems to be saying that Bush's character is driven by an almost unnatural, faith-based confidence in his own instincts — a sort of Mao-like faith, as Juan Cole puts it. But he's actually saying just the opposite: that Bush's actions over the past four years are those of a person with a startling lack of self confidence, someone who's afraid that even a fleeting contact with an opposing idea will deflate him completely. Deep down Bush knows perfectly well that the facts don't always back up his instincts, and that's why he avoids them. He's afraid he might change his mind.

Why is he afraid to change his mind? I don't know. But he sure does go to nearly neurotic lengths to avoid hearing anything that might cause him to doubt his own beliefs. That's hardly the sign of a man with genuine confidence in himself, is it?

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT FLU VACCINE SHORTAGE....As everyone knows by now, the proximate cause of the flu vaccine shortage was contamination at a plant in England owned by Chiron, one of only two companies that manufacture flu vaccine for the U.S. market (the other is Aventis Pasteur). But why are there only two manufacturers of flu vaccine in the first place? After reading a slew of articles, here's a rundown of all the explanations on offer:

  1. For starters, it's a pretty small market. The total vaccine market (for all vaccines, that is) is about $6 billion out of a market of $340 billion for drugs of all kinds.

  2. The flu vaccine business is risky: some years you sell out, but other years you make 50 million doses and only sell 20 million. That makes it fairly unattractive, especially since....

  3. It's a commodity market, so profit margins are thin to begin with.

  4. What's more, the biggest buyer is the government, which buys in bulk at a very low price. So profit margins are even thinner than they might be.

  5. FDA regulations have gotten tighter over the years, and vaccine makers have had an increasingly hard time meeting them because it requires expensive plant upgrades.

  6. But nobody wants to invest a lot of money to upgrade their flu vaccine plants because there's new technology coming down the road in a few years that will render the current manufacturing technique (which uses chicken eggs) obsolete.

  7. Finally, huge awards in liability lawsuits have scared vaccine makers out of the market. About 50-70% of the cost of most vaccines is taken up by the cost of liability insurance.

I got all this from reading about half a dozen different stories purporting to tell the story of the flu vaccine shortage. But something important was missing from all of them: with two exceptions, all of these explanations apply to every country in the world — but the United States is the only one with a problem. So most of them don't actually explain anything.

That leaves the two exceptions, and only one of them seems to hold water. Explanation #7, liability costs, is certainly something that could be unique to the United States, but liability costs wouldn't drive companies out of the flu vaccine market unless liability insurance were unavailable, and this must not be the case since both Chiron and Aventis presumably have liability insurance. It might be expensive, and therefore drive prices up, but it wouldn't force companies out of the market. (It would — potentially — be a big problem if the price of the vaccine were capped, but while that's the case for some vaccines, flu vaccine is not price capped.)

That leaves explanation #5, and at first glance it seems the most likely to be the real deal. The FDA has a famously tight regulatory regime, made even tighter in the late 90s, and as a result the United States has only two approved manufacturers of flu vaccine while Britain has half a dozen. (Although, ironically, it's worth noting that a breakdown of the regulatory regime seems to be a more likely explanation for Chiron's immediate problem.) The bottom line is that there are other flu vaccine manufacturers besides Chiron and Aventis, but they don't sell into the U.S. market because the cost of complying with FDA regulations is higher than the narrow profits they could expect to make from selling flu vaccine.

Anyway, that's my best guess, although it's practically impossible to be sure since not a single article I read even attempted to make an international comparison even though it's the most obvious question to ask. If anybody can point me toward a more authoritative report that explains what makes the U.S. market so much different from every other country's, leave a link in comments.

Kevin Drum 2:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FRANKS: BAD WAR DECISIONS NOT BUSH'S FAULT....I missed this a couple of days ago, but on Wednesday Phil Carter linked to this rather remarkable bit of blame shifting from General Tommy Franks, who apparently agrees that it was a bad idea to disband the Iraqi army:

Franks, who oversaw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, told reporters it may have taken "a couple billion dollars," but that he would have liked to have put Iraqi troops "back on the payroll right quick."

....Neither Bush nor Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should be blamed because Congress never appropriated money for that purpose and no other country offered to pay for it, Franks said.

Huh? Jay Garner says that money to pay the Iraqi army was budgeted, but that Paul Bremer made the decision to disband the army when he took over from Garner in May 2003. What's more, Bremer has said that the order to disband came directly from the Bush White House. They surely could have issued different orders and gotten the appropriations to carry them out if they had wanted to, but they didn't.

And yet Franks somehow thinks that Congress and Europe are to blame for this, not Bush and Rumsfeld? That's as pathetic an attempt to avoid command reponsibility as I've ever heard. They sure don't make generals like they used to, do they?

Kevin Drum 5:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NGUYEN VAN KHOAI....In their story about John Kerry's Silver Star on Thursday, Nightline interviewed a Vietnamese man who said this wasn't the first time he'd been asked about Kerry's medals:

Back in Tran Thoi, villager Nguyen Van Khoai said that about six months ago he was visited by an American who described himself as a Swift boat veteran and told him another American from the Swift boats was running for president of the United States. Nguyen said the man was accompanied by a cameraman.

When I initially wrote about this, my assumption was that the "Swift boat veteran" in question was probably someone from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, trying to dig up dirt on Kerry. However, it turns out there are two pieces of evidence that suggest SBVT wasn't involved in this.

First, there's a dispatch from AP reporter Margie Mason, who took a trip up the Bay Hap river in August. Apparently she interviewed the same guy:

"I think it's American politics," said Nguyen Van Khoai, 61, a former Viet Cong who fought American troops in the area but never attacked the Swift boats. "On any side, a soldier who made an outstanding feat is given a medal, but maybe some people try to think otherwise."

Second, a few minutes ago I spoke with a Vietnam vet named Doug Reese, who works with Vietnam's official tourist agency and has visited the country frequently. In particular, Reese visited Tran Thoi in March and spoke with several villagers who were witnesses to the Silver Star incident. He identified himself as a journalist, not a Swift boat vet, and he didn't have a cameraman with him, but he thinks it's likely that Khoai confused his visit (March) with Mason's visit (Swift boat related) to come up with the quote he gave Nightline. Reese is a Kerry supporter and no fan of SBVT, but even so, he says, "I'm confident the Swift boat guys didn't go there."

It's impossible to say for sure who Khoai spoke to in March (Reese doesn't know if Khoai was one of the villagers he talked to), but it appears it probably wasn't someone from SBVT. My apologies for jumping to conclusions about this.

Kevin Drum 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN UPDATE....OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent has some good news and a warning. First the good news:

The electoral process was extraordinarily popular. When all is said and done, with a mere 43 purported irregularities under investigation by the joint UN-Afghan panel (from over 5,000 polling stations) and all the major opposition candidates committed to accepting the panel’s findings, it is hard to imagine the delible-ink scandal leaving an indelible blot on the Karzai presidency. The best news of all, of course, was the remarkably limited violence....

And now the warning:

But America’s larger failure in Afghanistan remains: we have not committed enough troops to secure the country, nor managed to convince other countries to commit their troops.

....This election is not a vindication of that policy. It would be an understandable but grave error to mistake the lack of violence surrounding this poll for a stable security situation in Afghanistan....As most commentators on Afghanistan recognize, the coming parliamentary poll will be far more precarious than the recently concluded elections. Without major improvements between now and then, the enthusiasm and success attending Afghanistan’s first election will be matched by the disillusionment and failure of its second.

If you're interested in Afghanistan, go read the whole thing. It's an interesting account, with some lessons for both nation building optimists and pessimists.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE FOREIGN POLICY CHOICE....Dan Drezner is still mulling things over, but his p-value is now at 80%. That is, he's now 80% sure he'll vote for John Kerry this year.

Why the 20% doubt? In a generally interesting post about his foreign policy concerns, Dan explains that "I remain unconvinced that Kerry understands the limits of multilateral diplomacy."

If the Senator from Massachusetts thinks that improved style, greater diplomatic efforts, concerted multilateral coordination, and even copious amounts of American aid can get India and Pakistan to sign on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or create a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, then, well, he's drunk too much of the multilateral Kool-Aid. Bill Clinton — who epitomizes the kind of diplomatic style Kerry could only hope to achieve — invested a fair amount of diplomatic capital on both of these flash points, during a time when America's global prestige was greater than today — and in the end achieved very little of consequence.

This is the flip side of the Bush team's seeming inability to understand the limits of threats, bluffs, and military action, which looks to my eyes every bit as naive as Kerry's rose-colored view of diplomacy. I frankly doubt, for example, that Kerry has much chance of ever getting any serious multilateral support for Iraq given the mess Bush has made of things — but at the same time I don't think that Bush even understands that Iraq is a mess. What's more, neither he nor his advisors appear to have learned any lessons at all from the Iraq debacle, and Donald Rumsfeld in particular seems to remain astonishingly blind to the importance of peacekeeping and nation building in a post-9/11 world. There are blind spots on both sides.

In the end, though, I think Dan's ultimate take is about right:

Given the foreign policy stakes in this election, I prefer a leader who has a good decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I don't like, over a leader who has a bad decision-making process, even if his foreign policy instincts are skewed in a direction I do like.

Bush has simply made too many mistakes, and he's made them because of a deeply ingrained tunnel vision combined with a disastrously poor decision-making process. Neither of these things is going to change, and at some point you have to face up to the fact that this means he's almost certain to continue making disastrous decisions throughout a second term.

Kerry will certainly make mistakes, and he will likely learn the limits of diplomacy as well, but the alternative is far worse. Bush, after all, neither admits nor learns from his mistakes. Kerry does.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOLDING POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE....William Saletan, not exactly a reflexive Kerry supporter, ends his column in Slate today with this:

I know I've been hard on the president lately. I'd like to say something nice about him. I'd like to be "fair and balanced." But my first responsibility as a reporter is to the truth. When one candidate tells half the truth, and the other says the truth doesn't matter, it becomes irresponsible for me or any other journalist not to report that by that standard — the standard of respecting the truth standard — one candidate is head and shoulders above the other.

More and more reporters are finally getting as fed up about this as Saletan and they're starting to go public. None of them want to look like they favor one candidate over the other — in fact, many of them bend over backwards to be too fair to Bush — but eventually they don't have a choice. Although every politician stretches the truth here and there, George Bush has gone so far beyond normal political puffery that it's impossible not to call him on it anymore.

As several people have noted, the Bush campaign has taken very deliberate advantage of the media's effort to be objective, knowing that no matter what they say it will probably be reported as a mere partisan difference of opinion. That needs to stop, and the only way to stop it is for the press to hold politicians clearly accountable when they step as far over the line as Bush has.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH BULGE....I know that this whole "Bush Bulge" thing seems like a bit of a joke, and I suppose in a way it is. But I've got a dead serious question anyway: what the hell is it?

After the bulge initially appeared in the first debate (top photo), the White House simply denied anything was there. "There was nothing under his suit jacket," Nicolle Devenish, the Bush campaign's communications director, told the New York Times. His tailor was trotted out to say it was just a seam pucker.

But in the second debate (middle photo), the bulge was still there, and it was no seam pucker. It was clearly a square about six inches on a side. Salon wrote about it and included a picture that indicates Bush wears the device when he's dressed casually too.

Then, in the third debate, it was still there (bottom photo). Same deal, a square about six inches on a side — and drawing a pretty quizzical look from Vanessa Kerry.

Look, I don't think it's a transmitter beaming secret prompts into Bush's ear. But as these pictures from each of the three debates shows, there's very clearly something there. The White House can't just blandly write it off as a weird internet rumor when photos from three separate debates all show it.

So what's going on? The Bush campaign has denied it's a bulletproof vest but hasn't otherwise commented. Is it a back brace? A medical contraption? A secret security device of some kind? (If so, it's not a secret anymore.) Why hasn't the White House press corps asked Scott McClellan about this and demanded a straight answer? How can they allow themselves to be blown off about something this peculiar?

Shouldn't someone get a serious answer to this question? He is the president of the United States, after all.

UPDATE: More bulge pictures here. Lots more.

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DISHONESTY LYING....Jon Chait today:

The Bush philosophy seems to be: Why level an honest accusation when a dishonest one is nearer to hand?

The rest of the piece is about the 98 times John Kerry has raised taxes. Did you know that Dick Cheney voted to raise taxes 144 times when he was in Congress?

Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SWIFT BOAT LIES....Like most bloggers, I have my beefs with the mainstream media. But you know what? They produce an awful lot of damn fine original reporting.

Case in point. In August the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth charged that John Kerry had lied about the events that led to his Silver Star. In order to figure out if the SBVT account was true, Nightline sent a crew to Vietnam, where they visited the hamlets of Tran Thoi and Nha Vi and interviewed the local villagers to get their recollections of what really happened 35 years ago. You can read the resulting story yourself, but it's summarized pretty easily: Kerry was right and SBVT honcho John O'Neill wasn't.

But there was also this:

Back in Tran Thoi, villager Nguyen Van Khoai said that about six months ago he was visited by an American who described himself as a Swift boat veteran and told him another American from the Swift boats was running for president of the United States. Nguyen said the man was accompanied by a cameraman.

"They say he didn't do anything to deserve the medal," Nguyen said. "The other day, they came and asked me the questions and I said that the recognition for the medal is up to the U.S.A."

He said that, after they met, the Swift Boat veteran and the cameraman turned around and went back down the river. Nightline has not been able to identify the men.

NOTE: the rest of this post was originally speculation (and outrage) based on the assumption that the "Swift boat veteran" in question was a member of SBVT, visiting Vietnam to dig up dirt on Kerry.

However, I've deleted this since it now appears that SBVT had nothing to do with this. Details here.

Kevin Drum 12:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE BOOK ON KARL ROVE....I don't like to link to stories that are available only to subscribers, but Josh Green's Atlantic piece about Karl Rove is finally available online for free. Read it. Now.

The most repellent anecdote is toward the end. It concerns Mark Kennedy, a Democratic judge in Alabama who went up against Rove in 1994:

Kennedy had spent years on the bench as a juvenile and family-court judge, during which time he had developed a strong interest in aiding abused children....At the time of the race he had just served a term as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect. One of Rove's signature tactics is to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable. Kennedy was no exception.

Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on...."What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."

Now, what was that again about Mary Cheney?

Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARY CHENEY....Are all three of the major national newspapers (NYT, LAT, Post) seriously writing stories about Dick and Lynne Cheney being upset that Kerry referred to their daughter Mary as a lesbian at last night's debate? And doing it without asking either of them exactly what they're upset about?

So I'll ask: what are they angry about? Shouldn't someone find out?

Kevin Drum 6:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESIDENTIAL HEALTH....Curious about President Bush's complete — and I mean complete — medical history? Dr. Zebra has it right here.

Nothing about John Kerry, apparently, but this page has medical histories for every president since George Washington. Among recent presidents, Jimmy Carter appears to have been the healthiest.

Kevin Drum 6:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MINIMUM WAGE TAP DANCE....One of George Bush's lamest answers last night was his reponse to John Kerry's charge that he opposed raising the minimum wage:

Actually, Mitch McConnell had a minimum-wage plan that I supported that would have increased the minimum wage.

My initial reaction was pretty simple: "Mitch McConnell is a Republican. You're a Republican. The Republican party controls both the House and Senate. So if you supported McConnell's bill, why didn't it pass?"

The answer, of course, is that there was no such plan and no such bill. In April, led by McConnell, Republicans were said to be "crafting" a minimum wage proposal. In June McConnell was "rumored to be backing" a minimum wage bill. In September, "published reports" had McConnell "preparing legislation."

But apparently raising the minimum wage is more complex than you might think. Senators "straggled out of town" today and no McConnell bill ever saw the light of day. Too bad. If only he'd known that Bush was so fervently behind him, he might have worked up the energy to write some actual legislation.

But he didn't. So I guess we'll never know exactly what it was the president supported. But hey, whatever it was he supported, he would have supported it if only he could have supported it. Right?

Sheesh. And they complain about Kerry waffling?

Kevin Drum 5:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

DOMESTIC POLICY IS FUN....I keep trying to compose the perfect response to last night's debate--particularly on the religion questions--but it's just not coming. So here are my imperfect belated thoughts instead.

First of all, kudos to the Interfaith Alliance, which held a press conference on Tuesday morning, imploring Bob Schieffer to ask the candidates: "What role should and does your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?" Schieffer kind of muffed up the delivery, but he basically asked that exact same question. Who knew it was that easy? Ask and ye shall receive, indeed.

Secondly, I know I'm a policy geek, but I thought the debate was fascinating. Any undecided voter who continues to mouth off with "I just haven't heard any specifics from the candidates" or "I still don't know what John Kerry stands for" ought to be bound and tossed into a pit with snarling raccoons. Or Bob Novak. Either one. Seriously, people, what exactly are you waiting to hear?

A few observations:

  • Both the substance and style of Kerry's answers were more down-to-earth than anything I've seen from him so far. A number of times, he talked about a values gut-check--either for himself or speaking about what "most Americans know in their gut"--that references the sense of conviction the Bushies think is their guy's greatest asset. Yet Kerry was the one talking in terms of what matters most to Americans and sounding convincing. His answer on the homosexuality question--"We're all God's children, Bob" and then bringing it down to a personal level--sounded much more human than Bush's odd reply about participatory democracy.

  • Sometime in mid-summer, thankfully Kerry stopped using the phrase "separation of church and state." (Calm down...I'm not saying separation of church and state is bad--far from it--but the phrase sounds antiseptic compared to the improved way in which he's talking about it.) In its place, Kerry talks about not imposing his "articles of faith" on others. That has the benefit of defending the separation principle while also pointing out that his life is guided by faith. He's also chosen several different Kennedy quotes to use that are just perfect: "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own" and "I'm not running to be a Catholic president; I'm running to be a president who happens to be Catholic."

    A number of people have questioned whether Kerry's references to "faith without works" will offend Protestants, whose theology holds that they are saved by faith alone. The easy answer is, No. Those who are hardcore enough to think that Kerry is making a theological argument weren't voting for him anyway. Most people understand that he's making the point that it's not enough to just talk about your faith--particularly if you're, say, a candidate for the presidency. If you just talk and don't actually try to help people, it's all just words, words, words.

    Before the specific question about connecting faith to policy came up, Kerry did the right thing, explaining exactly how his faith motivates his public service: "That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice." We should demand that when candidates bring their faith into politics, they explain why it's relevant. Kerry did just that, and without prompting.

  • Kerry's home runs: 1) Minimum Wage (it's criminal that the wage hasn't been raised since I worked in the Senate over seven years ago...), 2) post-9/11 Unity (finally, Kerry laid blame at the feet of the Republican congressional leadership, which is essential since 40% of Americans have no idea which party runs Congress), and 3) Jobs (the mere fact that he didn't change the subject every time it came up--four times, by my count--put him ahead of Bush).

  • Signs that the winds are of the campaign are a'changin': 1) Bush finally started referring to Kerry as "Senator" or "the Senator" instead of the rather lame and oddly distant "my opponent", 2) Kerry is confident enough to finally refer to the Big Dog--near the end of the debate, he mentioned "President Clinton" and then the "Clinton Administration", the first time he's talked about Clinton in any of the debates or his acceptance speech, and 3) He's sure enough of his own position to take a moment to help out a struggling colleague--I'm sure Tom Daschle appreciates the shout-out to South Dakotans, reminding them of Daschle's high-minded support of Bush following the 9/11 attacks.

Lots more to say on the religion stuff, but I'm going to think it over and maybe write an op-ed. Stay tuned.

Amy Sullivan 5:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROGUE STATES vs. FAILED STATES....Last night I wondered why George Bush denied on national TV that he had ever said he was "not that concerned" about Osama bin Laden, thus handing an early Christmas gift to John Kerry, who will get to watch split-screen video of Bush saying exactly that for the next 24 hours on every news channel in the country.

But although last night's gaffe is the one that will get all the attention, Matt Yglesias and Chris Suellentrop point out that it's equally interesting — and, ultimately, more important — to investigate a different question: why did Bush say that in the first place? Why would anyone, let alone the president of the United States, say he was no longer concerned with Osama bin Laden? As Suellentrop says, this question goes straight to the heart of one of the key differences between conservatives and liberals about fighting the war on terror:

The president's philosophy toward the war on terror could not be clearer: It is a war against nation-states, not against "nonstate actors" like al-Qaida. Bin Laden was dangerous because he controlled a state, not because he controls a terrorist network. When the Bush campaign talks about "going on the offense," this is what they mean....The subtext of the initial exchange between Bush and Kerry was more illuminating than the entire first debate.

Generally speaking, conservatives believe that our biggest danger comes from rogue states, those who support international terrorism. Thus the "axis of evil" and the obsession with Saddam Hussein.

Liberal analysts, by contrast, tend to believe that the bigger danger comes from failed states, those that are so chaotic that non-state terrorist groups like al-Qaeda can flourish simply because there's nobody around to keep them under control. Afghanistan and Sudan in the late 90s are good examples. Peter Beinart discusses this in a bit more detail bit here.

There's no question that rogue states are dangerous, and it's unnerving to consider a future world in which a nuclear-armed Pakistan is under the control of radical Islamists and both Iran and North Korea have dozens of nuclear bombs each.

But as dangerous as they are, they're still states, and they still have an interest in continuing to exist — which means they're unlikely to directly threaten the United States. What's more, since central governments dislike competing power centers, they have a fundamental interest in preventing terrorist groups from amassing too much influence within their borders.

Failed states, by contrast, don't, which is why terrorist groups seek them out. And since terrorist groups like al-Qaeda do directly threaten us, it's failed states and non-state terrorist groups themselves who pose a much greater danger to the security of the United States. John Kerry understands this. George Bush and his advisors don't.

It's unfortunate that this debate never makes an appearance during the campaign. It's not really that abstract, and it's absolutely at the core of who's better able to defeat radical Islamic terrorism. We should be all be talking about it a lot more than we are.

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NEWS OF THE WEIRD, CONTINUED....I forgot to mention this last night, but there was something odd about the right corner of George Bush's mouth last night, wasn't there? James Bennet of the New York Times noticed:

Yet even his smile was askew for about half the debate, marred by a glistening light dot at the right corner of his mouth. Viewers could be forgiven for losing track of his answers and imagining Laura Bush in the front row in frantic semaphore, wiping furiously at the corner of her own mouth.

(That's Bush's left side as seen by TV viewers, of course.)

But it couldn't have been just a random bit of spittle, not if it was there for nearly an hour. So what was it? And that wasn't the only curiosity of the evening. Over at the Kerry blog, a lip reader named Boult said this:

at the end of debate where Kerry and Bush shook hands.. Bush was asking Kerry, Can I talk to you later tonight? Kerry said sure then Bush said where would you be? I missed what Kerry said.

I wondered what Bush wanted to talk to Kerry about??

Um, what's going on here? This is some serious weirdness.

I haven't seen any photos of the Bush bulge, though. Was it still there last night?

UPDATE: Yep, the bulge is still there. Salon is on it.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIE PATROL....I think that all the criticism — muted though it was — that President Bush got for his misstatements in the second debate must have had an effect. None of the five worst errors from the second debate, which I identified yesterday, were repeated Wednesday night. Instead, they were replaced with other, vaguer, statements that were sometimes misleading but not flat out falsehoods.

In fact, aside from Bush's infamous Osama statement, which almost belongs more to the world of the bizarre than to the world of ordinary lies, my quickie review (subject to later refinement) suggests there were only two serious new errors:

  • Bush said he had "expanded trade adjustment assistance," but in fact this was expanded only over strenuous objections by Republicans in order to get Democratic votes for a 2002 trade bill. Still, it did happen on his watch, and trade adjustment assistance is hardly a big campaign issue anyway.

  • Bush said, "Most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans." According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bottom 80% of taxpayers got one-third of the total tax cut. The Tax Policy Center, which is a little more generous to Bush, says that only 42% of the tax cuts went to families making less than $100,000 per year.

    There are reasonable ways of defending this distribution (top earners have most of the income, so they get most of the tax cut), but factually speaking, you just can't say that low- and middle income families got "most" of the tax cut.

Overall, though, despite the blizzard of facts and figures, both candidates generally limited themselves to modest exaggerations and standard issue political puffery. Considering what I'd expected, that's not bad.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH COCOON....One more quick note on Bush's Osama bin Laden gaffe. I think the most interesting question about it is: why? Why did he say it?

It's inexplicable at first glance. After all, he could have easily ignored Kerry's barb and moved on, or at worst just made a generic statement about how Osama is a top priority and always has been. Why did he specifically deny saying something that the whole world knows he's on videotape saying?

I suspect the answer lies in the cocoon Bush lives in. Not only has he convinced himself that he never really said that he wasn't concerned about Osama, but he has no idea that the outside world believes otherwise. He doesn't realize that not only is his Osama statement well known, it's actually quite a popular target of mockery. What's more, nobody on his staff has ever clued him in.

It's a pretty good metaphor for Bush's biggest problem: his staff spoon feeds him a rosy view of the outside world and he honestly believes that this rosy world is the real world — and that's why he makes so many disastrous decisions. After all, you can't solve real world problems if you refuse to understand the real world in the first place.

Kevin Drum 2:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO WON?....The post-debate polls are solidly in Kerry's favor:

That's by far the biggest win for Kerry of the three debates. By next week I'll bet Kerry is 3-4 points ahead of Bush in nearly every poll.

Needless to say, this means that Karl Rove's October Surprise will be unveiled soon. But what will it be?

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum


Kerry looked way more presidential and won where it mattered. Bush telling people that they're unemployed because they're stupid and then talking about NCLB as if it's going to help unemployed 45 year olds wasn't good.

Atrios is referring to a comment Bush made about education being the best answer for outsourcing. At the time he made it, it struck me as nothing more than a routine politician-speak answer, basically not a big deal. But it got the biggest reaction of the night from my wife: she felt insulted. "Jobs aren't going overseas because they're better educated," she said, "they're going overseas because labor costs half as much." She was steamed.

That surprised me, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. I wonder how many other people felt the same way?

Kevin Drum 12:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GAFFE WATCH....I have to believe the biggest gaffe of the night was Bush's when he said:

Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those ex-a-gger-ations.

Of course, two years ago he said exactly that:

I don’t know where he is. Nor — you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I....I truly am not that concerned about him.

Bush's statement was obviously a lie, and it lends itself so well to a video comparison that it's probably going to get played over and over and over. It was a big mistake to give news and talk shows such a good excuse to play that old video again.

Kevin Drum 11:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING ROUND 4....Finally. It's almost over. Liveblogging the debates is more tiring than I thought it would be, although I don't really know why. Whatever the reason, though, I'm glad this is the last one.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends....

Wrapup: Bush came out hitting pretty hard at first, but after about 20 minutes he settled down a lot. In the end, nobody landed any serious punches this time.

I think domestic policy is a pretty tough subject for both of them. Both guys were so consumed with laundry lists and buzzwords and facts and figures that I doubt very much that most people really followed a lot of what they were saying.

Both of them did a good job talking about their wives. I think Kerry did a good job talking about abortion. (And why did Bush duck that question, stopping after about 30 seconds?) No clear winner on Social Security or healthcare. Kerry did well hammering on Bush's lack of fiscal discipline, although he could have done even better. Kerry also won on the minimum wage, I think, especially given Bush's peculiar response about Mitch McConnell's minimum wage proposal.

Ending score: Kerry by more than a nose, mainly on substance. He had the advantage of having positions supported by a majority of the country, after all. The Monthly's hosting company, however, clearly needs a new plan for the future....

A full transcript of the debate is here.

10:30 — Hey, the debate ended right on time! Good time management, Bob!

10:24 — For a domestic policy debate, Iraq sure has come up an awful lot.

10:20 — Twice now Kerry has criticized "faith without works." Maybe this isn't a big deal, but I wonder how many Protestants out there take that as a rebuke to their theology?

10:17 — Oops, it looks like Bush has met with the Black Congressional Caucus twice, although apparently the second meeting was just a quick visit while they were meeting with Condi Rice. Still, point to Bush.

10:14 — Let me guess, Bush met with the Black Congressional Caucus for a couple of minutes back in 2001....

10:10 — Bush is finally bringing up Kerry's opposition to the 1991 Gulf War. I'm surprised it's taken so long.

10:05 — I thought Kerry's Roe v. Wade answer was pretty good. And this about education funding: "You don't measure it by a percentage increase. Mr. President, you measure it by whether you're getting the job done." That was a good line.

9:53 — Bush: "Actually, Mitch McConnell had a minimum wage proposal that I supported." Huh? Then why didn't you get it passed?

9:53 — Bob Schieffer got more email about immigration than any other issue? Wow.

9:47 — Jeez, another question that assumes Social Security is in disastrous shape. It's not. It needs some minor tweaks, but that's about it.

9:44 — Kerry: "I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield...."

9:42 — You know, this site is hosted by one of the biggest hosting companies in the world, but they seem unable to handle a few thousand extra visits in an hour. I'm completely unable to access the site or update posts. Sheesh.

9:37 — The "buggy and horse" days?

9:36 — So far, Bush's main attack line seems to be that Kerry is "outside the mainstream" and that he's a serial exaggerator. The latter, of course, shows remarkable chutzpah.

9:33 — So was Kerry's response to the religion/abortion question good? I really can't tell.

9:26 — You know, this domestic policy stuff is pretty eye glazing from both sides. I mean, I actually understand most of this stuff, and I still don't really care much about most of what they're saying.

9:22 — Kerry's Tony Soprano joke was a little better than Bush's PAYGO joke, but only slightly.

9:18 — Bush's PAYGO joke was pretty lame.

9:17 — Good 'ol Bush, still on the "increased taxes 98 times" kick.

9:14 — Ah, here's the Osama quote, from March 13, 2002: "You know, I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I...I truly am not that concerned about him." It took about a minute to come across the wire from the Kerry campaign.

9:13 — Hmmm, Kerry is being a little too obvious about not even pretending to respond to the flu question.

9:10 — Bush: "I never said I wasn't concerned about Osama bin Laden. That's one of those exaggerations...." Um, yes you did. I have a feeling the exact quote will be arriving in my email in a few seconds.

9:07 — Bush: "Three quarters of al-Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice." That's a little better than last time. Still not quite right, but closer.

9:05 — Huh? Will we ever be as safe and secure as we used to be? Isn't this supposed to be a domestic policy debate?

9:03 — Come on, let's get a nice close shot of Bush's back....

9:01 — That's quite a patriotic looking tie Bob Schieffer is wearing.

8:59 — Our moderator tonight will be Tom Schieffer's brother Bob. Tom, as we all know, worked for George Bush in the early 90s as president of the Texas Rangers and was later appointed by Bush as ambassador to Australia. Bob reports that George Bush is a great guy and he very much enjoyed attending ballgames with him.

Kevin Drum 9:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TORT REFORM....If tonight's debate runs true to form, Bob Schieffer will read a question about "skyrocketing" medical malpractice awards and then ask what each candidate plans to do about it. And if the candidates run true to form, George Bush will talk about capping large awards — something that helps insurance companies — while John Kerry will talk about curbing frivolous lawsuits — something that helps doctors. Despite that, Bush will somehow end up seeming like he's the one on the side of beleaguered doctors everywhere.

To prepare us for this onslaught of insurance industry spin, Stephanie Mencimer has yet another terrific article about medical malpractice and tort reform in the current issue of the Washington Monthly. What's more, the picture that goes with the article is worth a thousand words of its own: it's from a 1953 insurance industry advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. Did you know that the insurance industry has been sounding alarm bells about "out of control" juries for over 50 years?

The industry also successfully planted articles in national magazines and TV shows that were designed to look like investigative reporting. In 1962, CBS broadcast "Smash-Up," a fictionalized docudrama that portrayed sleazy lawyers faking auto accident cases. The Insurance Information Institute, the industry's public relations arm, helped write the script. In 1977, the venerable insurance company Crum & Forester sponsored one of the first print ads that included what would become a staple of anti-lawsuit rhetoric: the fictional lawsuit horror story. The ad told the story of a guy who collected a $500,000 jury verdict after he was injured using a lawnmower as a hedge clipper. The agency later conceded that it had no factual basis for the story, but that didn't keep it from circulating widely in the media and in conservative political speeches.

The industry knew what it was doing. In 1979, Elizabeth Loftus, the famous memory researcher and University of California psychologist, tested the effects of this kind of advertising on potential jurors and their decision making in the jury box. At the time, the industry was spending $10 million on a series of ads in a host of national magazines. In an article in The American Bar Association Journal, Loftus reported that potential jurors who were exposed to even one insurance ad awarded much less for pain and suffering than those who weren't.

It's a terrific piece, well worth reading all the way through. Tort reform is a worthwhile subject and there are legitimate criticisms to be made of our current system — as well as substantive proposals for fixing it. Unfortunately, conservative demagoguing of trial lawyers produces more heat than light, and tonight probably won't be any exception. Be prepared.

Kevin Drum 6:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LYING ABOUT STATISTICS....Maria Farrell has a question:

Why are all required statistics courses essentially the same? They start off with bland assurances from the instructor that no knowledge of maths is required and that the concepts involved are pretty easy to grasp — all you need to do is turn up in class and do lots of practice questions. Oh, and have a positive attitude. Yeah, right.

As it happens, the only statistics courses I ever took were at Caltech, and needless to say no one there gave any bland assurances about needing no special knowledge of math. So I've never personally run into that particular problem.

But Maria does bring up a puzzling issue: why do stats classes aimed at non-mathematicians so often pretend that statistics is just a lark, requiring nothing more than a bit of high school algebra and some common sense? As much as I wish that more people understood a bit of statistics, that just isn't true.

In fact, not only does even basic statistics require a fair amount of abstract mathematical ability, but it also requires a considerable amount of rather tricky intuition. Which test is the appropriate one to use? Why? Is the problem like sampling with replacement or without? Are those two variables you're looking at dependent or independent? In theory those are all simple questions, but in practice they're anything but.

In fact, I've had conversations with professional statisticians about problems that are relatively straightforward, and even they had trouble figuring out the right approach to solving it. The arithmetic itself usually turns out to be fairly simple, but figuring out how to tackle the problem in the first place often turns on some surprisingly subtle reasoning.

None of this is a big surprise. After all, statistics is a branch of mathematics, and abstract mathematical thought is something that most people find difficult. But Maria's right: why do so many statistics professors pretend otherwise? Wouldn't they do everyone a favor by just admitting up front that it's a tricky subject and telling their students they'd best be prepared to work hard at it?

Kevin Drum 6:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SEMI-BREAKING NEWS....Republicans are pretending to be part of a liberal voter registration group and then secretly destroying voter registration cards for anyone who registers as a Democrat.

George Bush has apparently given up on Pennsylvania.

And Bill O'Reilly is being sued for sexual harassment. The conversations involved are, um, pretty graphic.

And that's just what happened while I was off to lunch....

Kevin Drum 5:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRE-DEBATE PREP....In my debate scorecard on Monday, five of George Bush's worst deceptions were related to domestic policies, which means we can probably expect to see them crop up again in tonight's domestic policy debate. Here they are:

  1. Kerry's healthcare plan amounts to a federal takeover. Flatly untrue. Factcheck.org says it's not true, the nonpartisan Lewin group says it's not true, and an all-star team of health policy analysts say it's not true. Jonathan Cohn examines — and dismisses — each of Bush's false charges here.

    Kerry's plan would cover more people, it would expand Medicaid, it would reinsure catastrophic health coverage, and it would cost a bunch of money. Those would be fair comments. But trying to pretend it's a government takeover of healthcare is a lie.

  2. The deficit is solely the result of recession and war. Flatly untrue. It's also the result of tax cuts and spending increases. George Bush just doesn't like to admit it.

  3. Kerry's tax plan will increase taxes on 900,000 small businesses. Flatly untrue. The 900,000 number (actually 995,000) refers to individuals with any amount of business income, not to small businesses themselves. The correct number for actual small businesses is about 500,000, less than 3% of the total. What's more, over 90% of small businesses will get tax cuts under Kerry's plan.

  4. Kerry opposes middle class tax cuts. Flatly untrue. Kerry's tax plan taxes only those with incomes over $200,000, he has pledged not to increase taxes on those under $200,000, and he has clearly stated his support for last month's bill extending middle class tax cuts.

  5. Bush has reduced the growth of nondefense discretionary spending. Flatly untrue. Bush has increased nondefense discretionary spending during his first term faster than any president since LBJ.

Of course, it's one thing for these things to be untrue, but it's quite another to convince people they're untrue. But since they're sure to come up, Kerry ought to have plenty of time to prepare clever responses. We'll see.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BUSH BULGE....The White House flatly denies it, and I guess I don't believe it either. Salon thinks this picture is proof positive that Bush was wired during the second debate, but that's a little too far out there for me.

But if it's not a transmitter hidden under Bush's jacket, what the hell is it? It's no suit pucker, that's for sure. There's something there, and it's a square about six inches on a side.

Some kind of back brace? Doesn't seem like it. A medical thingamajig of some kind? Could be, I guess. Is that why Bush decided to skip his annual physical this year? So he doesn't have to fess up to some kind of health problem during the campaign?

Beats me. But this is very strange.

UPDATE: On the other hand, I don't see anything at all in this picture. I'm really not sure what's going on here.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DRED SCOTT UPDATE....So was "Dred Scott" really code for "Roe v. Wade" in last Friday's debate? Peter Wallsten of the LA Times tracks down the answer:

"It was a poignant moment, a very special gourmet, filet mignon dinner," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a prominent conservative advocacy group based in Washington. "Everyone knows the Dred Scott decision and you don't have to stretch your mind at all. When he said that, it made it very clear that the '73 decision was faulty because what it said was that unborn persons in a legal sense have no civil rights."

Sheldon, who said he confers frequently with Bush and his senior campaign advisors on outreach to religious conservatives, though not in this instance, credited the use of Dred Scott with raising the abortion issue to "a very high level" and "back to the front burner."

"It didn't just slip out by accident," Sheldon said.

Read the whole thing to learn more about George Bush's use of red state code words. Sometimes I feel like that poor schmoe in Airplane who needs a jive interpreter....

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

IN DEFENSE OF KERRY'S ABORTION ANSWER....John Kerry's answer to the rigged question about abortion in Friday night's debate struck me as almost perfect (he really should have ignored the specific question--about government funding of abortion--and stuck to the general issue of abortion). And I'm not just saying that because he used the opportunity to remind everyone that he's a Catholic...give me a little credit. What was more important in terms of picking up those moderate Catholics who are still not in the Democratic camp yet is that for the first time in recent memory, the Democratic candidate expressed respect for pro-life views and acknowledged them as legitimate in a political forum.

More on this over at TomPaine.com today. And before you send messages denouncing me as a traitor-to-the-pro-choice-cause/baby-killing-sinner (take your pick), please read the entire piece. What I'm advocating makes strategic sense, but it also happens to be the right way to conduct political dialogue about difficult issues.

I, for one, hope Kerry sticks with it.

Amy Sullivan 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH vs. BUSH....Ever since I read James Fallows' Atlantic article comparing George Bush's 1994 debating skills with his debating skills today, I've wanted to see a videotape of his 1994 debate. Is the difference really as vivid as Fallows says it is?

Here's the answer: a video showing clips of his 1994 performance compared to a typical performance today. The last time I tried to view it, the server was overwhelmed with requests and I couldn't get to it, but it seems to be back up now. (You'll need QuickTime to view it.)

Go take a look. Bush's clear and lucid speaking style from ten years ago really is a remarkable sight to those of us who saw him for the first time in 2000. I can't explain the change, but there's sure as heck something going on....

Kevin Drum 12:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLICY vs. CHARACTER....Jon Chait has an interesting piece in The New Republic today. Ostensibly it's about flip-flopping (bottom line: Kerry does it less than you think, Bush does it more), but about halfway through he switches to media criticism:

One of the curiosities of political journalism is that reporters tend to be assiduously even-handed about matters of policy (which can revolve around disputes over objective fact) but ruthlessly judgmental on questions of character (which are inherently subjective). In fact, most reporters don't know or care much about policy. They see politics primarily through the lens of the candidates' personal traits.

Now, this is hardly an original observation — in fact, it's downright pedestrian to anyone who reads Somerby regularly — but Chait does a good job of teasing it out and explaining how an increasing fixation on "character" has made political life almost impossible for moderates from either party — but especially for Democrats. It's worth a read.

Kevin Drum 7:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE SCORECARD CORRECTION....When I posted my debate fact checking scorecard yesterday, I decided ahead of time not to make any changes to it unless they were clearly fact-based. After all, I expected lots of arguments over the subjective importance of one thing vs. another, and I figured it was best to leave my initial impressions alone.

However, a liberal economist wrote today and convinced me that I had gotten one item badly wrong. In the debate, Kerry said:

The president gave the top 1 percent of income-earners in America, got $89 billion last year, more than the 80 percent of people who earn $100,000 or less all put together.

I said:

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1% got 24% of the total tax cut in 2004. The bottom 80% got 30% of the tax cut and those under $100K goes 42%. Kerry obviously got his numbers mixed up, but they're substantially wrong either way.

However, it appears that Kerry was using numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency whose figures are widely respected. If you multiply the change in tax rates from this report with income data from this report, here's the total 2004 tax savings for various income groups:

  • 1st quintile: $4.9 billion

  • 2nd quintile: $15.1 billion

  • 3rd quintile: $21.1 billion

  • 4th quintile: $34.1 billion

  • 5th quintile: $156.2 billion

  • Total tax cut: $231.4 billion

Using the same reports, the top 1% got a tax cut of $77.3 billion, or 33.4% of the total. The bottom 80% (the first four quintiles) got a tax cut of $75.3 billion, or 32.5% of the total. So according to the CBO, Kerry is right: the top 1% got a bigger aggregate tax cut than the bottom 80%.

Kerry's equivalence of "bottom 80%" with "people who earn less than $100,000 per year" is slightly wrong, and the $89 billion figure also seems to be off a bit (or it may be that Kerry's team used a slightly different calculation than I did). But those are just small nitpicks. The core argument was that the top 1% received a bigger tax cut than the bottom 80%, and on that Kerry was both technically and substantively right about what he said.

I've updated the scorecard to reflect this.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DICK CHENEY vs. THE TRUTH....Juan Cole points out an interesting tidbit in a recent Telegraph article about infighting between the CIA and the White House:

In the latest clash, a senior former CIA agent revealed that Mr Cheney "blew up" when a report into links between the Saddam regime and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist behind the kidnappings and beheadings of hostages in Iraq, including the Briton Kenneth Bigley, proved inconclusive.

Same old, same old. When Cheney says he wants answers, he wants the right answer. And the right answer is whichever one helps the Bush/Cheney reelection effort.

Unfortunately, this stuff makes a real difference. Aside from campaign politics, it doesn't matter much anymore whether Zarqawi had links to Saddam Hussein two years ago, but Cheney's more general refusal to accept anything he doesn't want to believe does. We can't fight wars effectively if we refuse to accept the reality of what's happening on the ground, and Cheney quite obviously refuses to do this. It's a recipe for disaster.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SINCLAIR UPDATE....The folks who run Sinclair Broadcast are a charming bunch of folks. Not only are they forcing all their stations to run a prime-time smear on John Kerry a week before the election, they're now comparing their critics to white supremacist nutjobs:

The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They are acting like Holocaust deniers, pretending these men don't exist.

Holocaust deniers. Lovely. So what to do? One of Josh Marshall's readers has the right approach:

I’ve worked in the media business for 30 years and I guarantee you that sales is what these local TV stations are all about. They don’t care about license renewal or overwhelming public outrage. They care about sales only, so only local advertisers can affect their decisions.

Here's how to have an impact on the local Sinclair stations: first, watch the station and make a list of all of the local advertisers. Then, write to the sales manager -- not the general manager, but the sales manager -- and tell him that you're going to contact all of the local advertisers to register a protest about the station airing this program. Be specific -- mention the names of those local advertisers. Then, actually contact them (if you write or email, cc the sales manager). These stations make most of their income (around 60%) from local advertisers and will NOT want to have that income threatened.

This has worked numerous times. A recent example was when a local radio morning show host in North Carolina told his listeners to aim for bicyclists on the road (he was ranting about how cyclists have no right to share the roadways). The station defended him for several days amidst public outcry, until the advertisers, under pressure from outraged cyclists, began to make noise. Suddenly, the station reversed itself, suspended the host for several days, and made him do public service announcements for weeks about sharing the road with cyclists.

This can work! I plan to start tonight!

Another reader tried this and says it worked:

As suggested in a post you have further down, I just called the Cincinatti station's sales mgr. He was really concerned when I read him a list of local adverstisers and said I'd be calling their advertising managers to express my displeasure that they choose to advertise on a Sinclair station. He practically begged me not to, saying "this involves people's livelihoods." And then I did call the local advertisers.

So you are correct. Local stations -- SALES MANAGERS and local advertisers AD MANAGERS are the pressure point.

Please do what you can to get the word out.

You know what to do now. Go do it.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NUKE MATERIAL GONE MISSING....Sites in Iraq that contain equipment and material helpful for making nuclear weapons have apparently disappeared without a trace:

Satellite imagery shows that entire buildings in Iraq have been dismantled. They once housed high-precision equipment that could help a government or terror group make nuclear bombs, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.

Equipment and materials helpful in making bombs also have been removed from open storage areas in Iraq and disappeared without a trace, according to the satellite pictures, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said.

....The equipment — including high-precision milling and turning machines and electron-beam welders — and materials — such as high-strength aluminum — were tagged by the IAEA years ago, as part of the watchdog agency's shutdown of Iraq's nuclear program. U.N. inspectors then monitored the sites until their evacuation from Iraq just before the war.

The United States barred the inspectors' return after the war, preventing the IAEA from keeping tabs on the equipment and materials up to the present day.

It's really hard to know how to comment on a story like this. It's bad enough to exaggerate Saddam's WMD programs as a pretext for war, but it's even worse to show that you never really gave a damn about it in the first place. Apparently thumbing our nose at the UN was more important than keeping tabs on this stuff.

Kevin Drum 1:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OIL PRICES CONTINUE TO RISE....Here's your chart for the day: it shows crude oil prices for the past year. Can you spot the trend?

Today the price of oil hit yet another new high: $53.70. And while I keep hearing that high oil prices are just an artifact of jitters over Iraq and that "fundamentals" suggest the price should be more like $35 or $40, I'm having an increasingly hard time buying this. Oil prices have been rising steadily for three consecutive years now, oil production capacity is barely increasing, and global supply is now a microscopic 1% above global demand.

So what happens when global supply is 1% below global demand, which will probably happen sometime in late 2005 — or sooner if OPEC decides to start playing games or riots break out in Venezuela? That chart will stop increasing smoothly and will suddenly spike upward, that's what. And we'll look back fondly on the days of $50 oil.

There's no way we can do without oil. But it's too bad we've had an administration for the past four years that treats with contempt the idea that we should figure out ways to use less. Maybe the next one can do better.

Kevin Drum 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMISTS FOR KERRY....A random selection of economists say that George Bush's economic policies stink. Really. The Economist has a nice graphic and everything.

Bottom line: except for trade policy, they rate Kerry superior on everything: fiscal discipline, preparing for the baby boom retirement, healthcare costs, job creation, energy policy, and economic growth. Sounds about right to me.

Kevin Drum 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH LIES MORE THAN KERRY....FILM AT 11....Here's a poser: do both candidates rely on deceit and distortion equally? Debate fact checking articles don't usually take sides on this question, but ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin does, telling his reporters in an internal memo last week that "the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done."

Halperin's message to his troops was plain: report what's really happening. If one side lies more than the other, feel free to report that instead of creating a fake balance that doesn't exist.

But is Halperin right? I decided to score last Friday's debate and find out. Who distorted more? And how big were the distortions?

Here's what I did. I read five fact checking articles (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Factcheck.org) and copied down each error they reported. Then I scored each one on three different measures:

  • Technical inaccuracy. Was the statement factually inaccurate? Was a number incorrect or a position misstated? And was it wrong by a little bit or by a lot?

    This was scored from 0-3.

  • Intent to Deceive. Regardless of technical accuracy, was there an intent to mislead? Was the statement just an exaggeration of something that's basically true, or was it flatly designed to project the opposite of the truth? Could the same point even have been made at all if it were stated correctly?

    This was scored from 0-3.

  • Importance. Some subjects are more important than others. Wetlands protection is just not a major campaign issue, while the conduct of the war in Iraq is.

    This was scored from 1-3.

To get the final score, I added the first two scores together and then multiplied by importance. The lowest possible score is 1, the highest possible score is 18. (UPDATE: Anything with a score of 0 is a true statement — i.e., it was neither technically inaccurate nor meant to deceive. That's why the minimum score is 1. If something scores a 0, it's not on this list.)

Now, before anyone goes rushing off to leave a comment about this, let me say that I know this formula is sort of dumb and simpleminded and I know there's no way to truly quantify deception. But this is a way to force yourself to give some thought to how serious each individual deception was, and anyway, if you can't do something dumb and simpleminded in a blog, where can you do it?

The details are all below the fold, but here are the results:

  • Bush: 18 lies, total score of 118.

  • Kerry: 10 lies, total score of 51.

Perhaps more important than the total score, though, is the number of serious lies. Bush had 7 serious lies (those with a score of 9 or above) while Kerry had none.

In other words, Bush rather clearly lied more than Kerry and lied more seriously than Kerry. I did my best to apply the same rigor to both candidates, but even with a different formula and different scoring, it's hard to see how Bush wouldn't come out as seriously more deceptive than Kerry. As Halperin said, deception seems to be central to George Bush's campaign while it's basically peripheral to John Kerry's.

Click the link below for all the details.

George Bush's Inaccuracies:



Intent to



"He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now he said it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Kerry has never specifically said it was mistake to depose Saddam Hussein.

This is mainly a rhetorical exaggeration. Kerry has said it was a mistake to fight the war how and when it was fought, which amounts to much the same thing.

Whether or not to invade Iraq is a key issue in the campaign.


"I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying, 'Do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes?'.... And they looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, sir, Mr. President.'"

Eric Shinseki and several other generals expressed doubts about troop levels

This kind of decision is never without dissenters, but it's still a pretty clear intent to suggest the military was 100% on board with Rumsfeld's plan to invade with a small number of troops.

This is a core issue in the conduct of the war.


About blocking the reimportation of Canadian drugs: "I haven't yet. Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you."

Bush has blocked attempts by Congress to allow drug reimportation. But, yes, he might change his mind later.

He's clearly trying to imply that he's not opposed to drug reimportation, despite his consistent past opposition to it.

This is a moderately important issue in the campaign.


"The National Journal named Senator Kennedy [i.e., Kerry] the most liberal senator of all."

Technically, this is true for the year 2003.

His lifetime rating ranks him the 11th most liberal senator, and even the editor of National Journal says the "most liberal senator" label is wrong. However, it's an exaggeration, not an outright lie. Kerry is a liberal senator, after all.

Liberal vs. conservative is about as fundamental as it gets.


"He says that medical liability costs only cause a 1 percent increase. That shows a lack of understanding. Doctors practice defensive medicine because of all the frivolous lawsuits that cost our government $28 billion a year."

This is obviously a contentious issue, but most recent research backs up Kerry's 1% figure.

The research in this area is too ambiguous to give this a score.

It's a moderately important campaign issue.


"He said he's going to have a novel health care plan. You know what it is? The federal government is going to run it."

This is a serious deception. Kerry's plan relies primarily on private insurers and is not nationalized healthcare.

The intent here is every bit as bad as the technical inaccuracy.

This is a fairly important campaign issue.


"We have a deficit because this country went into a recession....Secondly, we're at war...."

Recession and war are partially responsible for large deficits, but so are tax cuts and large nondefense spending increases.

The question was about spending and taxes, and Bush is trying to deny they have anything to do with the deficit. This is a serious effort to mislead.

Taxes and spending are major issues.


"He voted 98 times to raise taxes. I mean, these aren't make-up figures."

This is based on lots of double counting, as well as bills that didn't raise taxes at all.

It's an exaggeration, but Kerry has voted to raise taxes in the past.

Taxes are an important campaign issue.


"I've got a plan to increase the wetlands by 3 million."

Maybe he does have a plan....

There's a serious intent to deceive, though. In the past three years the Bush administration has substantially relaxed wetlands protection.

Wetlands are not a major campaign issue.


"He says he's only going to tax the rich. Do you realize, 900,000 small businesses will be taxed under his plan...."

Bush is counting anyone who receives any business income at all as a "small business."

Bush is trying to say that Kerry's plan will substantially hit ordinary middle class taxpayers, and this just isn't true.

Taxes are an important campaign issue.


"I own a timber company?"

Bush does in fact have part ownership of a timber company.

It was mostly a joke.

Nobody cares very much about either Bush's timber holdings or the broader issue of whether he personally receives any business income.


"We increased that child credit by $1,000, reduced the marriage penalty, created a 10 percent tax bracket for the lower-income Americans. That's right at the middle class. He voted against it."

Kerry didn't vote against this last month. He missed the vote. He did vote against the entire 2001 tax bill, but not because of those provisions, which he's clearly stated he's in favor of.

The intent is clearly to suggest that Kerry is opposed to these particular tax cuts, despite his consistent and longstanding statements to the contrary.

Taxes are a major campaign issue.


"We've already caught 75 percent of [Osama bin Laden's] people."

The real figure is closer to two-thirds, and applies only to al-Qaeda leaders, not the entire organization, which has grown substantially since 9/11. What's more, of al-Qaeda's top leaders, virtually none have been captured.

There's certainly an intent on Bush's part to exaggerate his success at rolling up al-Qaeda, but the real figures are too ambiguous to say he's being flatly deceptive here.

Terrorism and al-Qaeda are obviously prime issues in the campaign.


"He keeps talking about, 'Let the inspectors do their job.' It's naive and dangerous to say that. That's what the Duelfer report showed."

Actually, the Duelfer report was ambiguous. It said that Saddam had no WMD and a declining ability to produce it, but also that he had the desire to restart WMD programs if sanctions had been lifted.

This is mostly rhetorical exaggeration, and both candidates did it.

Saddam's WMD and the Iraq war in general are central to this election.


"Another is to pass -- to get our seniors to sign up to these drug discount cards, and they're working."

Actually, there are a lot of problems with the drug discount cards.

Overall, this is fairly harmless and normal political puffery.

It's not really a major campaign issue


"We increased that child credit by $1,000...."

He increased the child credit to $1,000. The size of the increase was $500.

It was probably just a miscue.

Not a huge issue.


"Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control."

This is true only by cherry-picking two specific years out of the past 12.

This was a very serious effort to deceive people into thinking he's been reducing spending. By nearly every possible measure, Bush has increased spending faster than any president for the past 30 years.

Taxes and spending are major campaign issues.


"My opponent said that America must pass a global test before we used force to protect ourselves."

Kerry did use the phrase "global test," although Bush is misconstruing what he meant.

Bush is clearly trying to twist what Kerry said in the first debate ("No president...has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America"). On the other hand, Kerry has made clear that he thinks consultation with allies before we use force is important.

The use of force is a key issue in the campaign.




John Kerry's Inaccuracies:



Intent to



"No Child Left Behind Act, I voted for it. I support it. I support the goals. But the president has underfunded it by $28 billion."

Funding for NCLB has been less than the maximum originally authorized, but it's a matter of opinion whether this constitutes "underfunding."

Kerry is trying to give the impression that Bush has slighted education funding, but that's hard to defend. Federal education funding has increased substantially over the past three years.

Education funding is a moderately important campaign issue.


"The president has presided over an economy where we've lost 1.6 million jobs. The first president in 72 years to lose jobs."

Kerry is referring private sector jobs but didn't say so. The actual total number is under a million.

This is only a modest exaggeration. Kerry's main point, that total employment has decreased, is correct.

Employment and the economy are key election issues.


"And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq."

The cost of the war so far is actually $120 billion. Kerry's number is a projection.

The war will eventually cost far more than $200 billion. Kerry isn't really trying to mislead anyone here.

The precise cost of the war is a minor issue, but it's part of a big issue.


"General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him he was going to need several hundred thousand. And guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that."

Shinseki wasn't "retired," he filled out his full term as Army Chief of Staff.

Donald Rumsfeld clearly tried to get Shinseki to retire, and certainly sidelined him for over a year. Part of the reason for this was indeed Shinseki's troop estimates for the Iraq war.

The conduct of the war is a key issue.


"The president gave the top 1 percent of income-earners in America, got $89 billion last year, more than the 80 percent of people who earn $100,000 or less all put together."

I originally scored this higher, but it appears that Kerry's numbers are correct according to the CBO. Details here. Kerry's only real error is suggesting that "bottom 80%" is equal to "people who earn less than $100,000," and this is a fairly trivial mistake.

Kerry got one number slightly wrong, but there's nothing seriously misleading here.

Tax policy is a key campaign issue.


"Every part of my program I've shown how I'm going to pay for it."

It's not clear if Kerry's numbers really add up.

This is fairly ordinary political puffery.

Taxes and the deficit are important campaign issues.


Referring to the PATRIOT Act: "They've got sneak-and-peek searches that are allowed."

Sneak and peek searches long predate the PATRIOT Act.

The PATRIOT Act does make them easier to perform. This is an exaggeration, but not entirely wrong.

The PATRIOT act and fighting terrorism in general are important issues.


"He put $139 billion of windfall profit into the pockets of the drug companies right out of your pockets."

This is based on a single study and has been disputed.

The precise number may be hard to pin down, but the Medicare bill was definitely friendly to pharmaceutical companies.

Medicare is a moderately important topic.


"The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein, it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President, just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they worked."

Actually, the Duelfer report was ambiguous. It said that Saddam had no WMD and a declining ability to produce it, but also that he had the desire to restart WMD programs if sanctions had been lifted.

This is mostly rhetorical exaggeration, and both candidates did it.

Saddam's WMD and the Iraq war in general are central to this election.


"I have a plan to provide health care to all Americans."

No he doesn't.

Kerry does have a plan to provide coverage to a lot more Americans, but not to all. This is a fairly substantial exaggeration.

Healthcare is a major issue.




Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RANKING THE FACT CHECKERS....I'm working on a debate fact checking post that's — how to put this? — extremely long and probably a huge waste of time. But hey, it's my time, right?

As part of this project, however, I've read five separate fact checking pieces, and I thought it might be worthwhile to tell you what I thought of each of them. Here's how the fact checkers rank:

  • Excellent: the Washington Post. Their "debate referee," an annotated transcript of the debate, is top notch, with tons of detail and multiple links for every claim. In addition, they ran a separate article summarizing the major inaccuracies.

  • Pretty Good: the LA Times and Factcheck.org. The LA Times article was detailed and well written, and Factcheck.org's piece did a nice job of teasing out the facts and providing lots of good links.

  • OK: CNN. Their summary was less detailed than the others but still hit most of the high points. The writing was clear and concise.

  • Horrible: the New York Times. I'm not generally a Times basher, but David Rosenbaum's piece was almost worthless, a toothless, meandering article that offered nothing but differing "interpretations" without really calling anybody on anything. Shockingly bad.

I continue to think that all the fact checking articles made too much of an effort to be evenhanded in the face of Bush's clearly stronger reliance on deception to make his points. But that's an issue for a different post.

And props to Liz Cox Barrett at The Campaign Desk, who noted the vast difference between the Times' and the Post's fact checking today. Her post reminded me to write about this.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A TALE OF TWO ELECTIONS....Despite some initial problems, it looks like the Afghan elections basically came off pretty well:

Controversy clouding Afghanistan's historic first presidential election eased Sunday when several major opposition candidates backed off from assertions that voter fraud and errors at polling places had rendered Saturday's vote meaningless and illegitimate.

.... Officials also emphasized that despite dire predictions of attacks at the polls by the Taliban militia and other armed groups, no serious attacks had occurred Saturday. Afghan and international security forces had discovered and successfully thwarted a number of possible bombing plots and other attacks, officials said.

....Robert Barry, who headed the European delegation monitoring the election, said the opposition candidates' demands to nullify the vote were "unjustified" and would "put into question the expressed will of millions of citizens." He called for a "thorough and transparent investigation" of the polling complaints and said they should be "dealt with as the law provides."

That's good news. Iraq, on the other hand, is still looking pretty dicey:

Leaders of Iraq's crucial Sunni Arab minority say they have failed to generate any enthusiasm for nationwide elections scheduled for January, and are so fearful of insurgent violence and threats that they can meet only in private to talk about how - or even whether - to take part.

....Although several Sunni-based political parties have taken root here, their leaders say their attempts to rally constituents are failing to resonate in the face of cynicism and violence. Many of those who want to take part in the elections say they can do so only in secret, lest they risk assassination by Sunni insurgents.

"What we think is that people ought to vote," said Dhari al-Samarrai, a senior leader of the Islamic Party, a largely Sunni group. "But people are telling us, we won't take part in the elections. What is the use, with all these bombings? The big tribes, Dulaimi and Jabouri, all of them are telling us this."

We'll see. When voter registration actually starts, Sunni enthusiasm may turn out to be higher than expected. But it might be higher still if George Bush were willing clean up enclaves of Sunni insurgency now, instead of waiting until his own election is over.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR AND POLITICS....Isn't this lovely? The Los Angeles Times reports that President Bush is perhaps not quite as interested as winning the war in Iraq as he'd have you believe:

The Bush administration will delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November, say administration officials, mindful that large-scale military offensives could affect the U.S. presidential race.

...."When this election's over, you'll see us move very vigorously," said one senior administration official involved in strategic planning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

....Any delay in pacifying Iraq's most troublesome cities, however, could alter the dynamics of a different election -- the one in January, when Iraqis are to elect members of a national assembly.

With only four months remaining, U.S. commanders are scrambling to enable voting in as many Iraqi cities as possible to shore up the poll's legitimacy.

U.S. officials point out that there have been no direct orders to commanders in the field to pause operations in the weeks before the Nov. 2 election. Top administration officials in Washington are simply reluctant to sign off on a major offensive in Iraq at the height of the political season.

What was it Bush said during last Friday's debate? Oh yeah: "I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics."


Kevin Drum 1:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLL UPDATE....So how's the electoral college looking these days? Here are six projections that have been updated this weekend with the latest state-level polling numbers:

If you have any friends in Ohio or Florida, now's the time to start lobbying them for the candidate of your choice....

Kevin Drum 8:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS vs. DEMOCRATS....The Boston Globe ran an excellent 3-part series earlier this week about how Republicans have abused their majority position in Congress to rule the legislative process in the House with an increasingly iron — and often corrupt — fist. Backroom deals, closed debates, abuse of legislative traditions, and procedural skullduggery are now the rule rather than the exception.

Needless to say, these are all things that Democrats were guilty of when they were in power too. But are Republicans just returning Democratic favors or are they really worse than the Democrats ever were? You should read the whole story to get the true flavor of what's happened, but to me the real strength of the Globe analysis is that they dug up hard numbers to answer that question. Here they are:

  • For the entire 108th Congress, just 28 percent of total bills have been open to amendment — barely more than half of what Democrats allowed in their last session in power in 1993-94.

  • Congressional conference committees, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

  • The Houe Rules Committee frequently decides bills in hastily called, late-night "emergency" sessions, despite House rules requiring that the panel convene during regular business hours and give panel members 48 hours notice. So far in the current Congress, 54 percent of bills have been drawn up in "emergency" sessions, according to committee staff members.

  • Historically, bills have been given a three-day delay in between the time the Rules Committee reports them out and the House takes them up; that requirement has been waived on numerous occasions in recent years.

  • While the House typically meets for 140 or more legislative days each year — reaching a recent historical high of 167 days in 1995, the first year of the Newt Gingrich-led GOP majority — it has met for legislative business just 97 days this year, with only five more days of work scheduled for the year. If no additional days are scheduled, the 102 days would be the lowest in decades.

And we can add to that the Republican habit of keeping House votes open long past the normal 15-minute maximum. Democrats did this once in 1987 and Republicans screamed foul, even though that vote was held open for a mere extra 20 minutes and was due to an odd mixup, not a desire to bludgeon holdouts into changing their votes. Since the Republicans took over in 1994, they've held votes open past the 15-minute limit over a dozen times, climaxing in the infamous 3-hour vote at 3 am on the Medicare bill last year.

So: are Republicans (a) just giving Democrats a taste of their own medicine? Or are they (b) genuinely more corrupt, more secretive, more bullying, and more power hungry than Democrats ever were?

Answer: B. And it only took them ten years, rather than the 40 it took the Democrats.

POSTSCRIPT: Conservative policy analyst Bruce Bartlett — who still has three weeks to change his mind about voting for George Bush! — is only willing to go so far as to say "Republicans have become the Democrats they overthrew in 1994," but he's pretty disgusted nonetheless.

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL INSECURITY....Peter Gosselin of the LA Times has a piece in today's paper that's must reading. It's very long, and sometimes fairly complicated, but he's tackling a subject that I think is central to understanding what's happening in America today. As the headline puts it, "If America Is Richer, Why Are Its Families So Much Less Secure?"

As Gosselin points out, although average incomes today are higher than than they were 30 years ago, income growth has slowed dramatically in recent years while income volatility has skyrocketed:

During the 1970s, families in the economic middle enjoyed a comparatively favorable run. Although their incomes generally swung up or down as much as 16% a year, they ended each year an average of 2% ahead of where they began. The result by the decade's close was that the reward of extra annual income had more than covered the potential loss from a single year's sudden plunge.

But the story during the 1980s and early 1990s was basically the reverse. The volatility of families' income nearly doubled to as much as 30% a year. But now, instead of growing amid all the ups and downs, average family income dropped at an annual rate of 0.3% in the 1980s and an even steeper 2.3% in the early '90s. The bottom line: more risk for less reward.

Although volatility remained high in the late 1990s, with typical annual swings of as much as 27%, incomes finally began to grow again, improving families' odds of being able to get ahead. But the good times didn't last. Since 2000, incomes have reversed course and fallen about 1% a year, according to recently released census figures. In other words, things are back to the unattractive equation of more risk for less reward.

Gosselin's story alternates profiles of two struggling families (one high income and one middle income) with explanations of what's happening and — more important — why. And while his take is fundamentally nonpartisan, it's pretty easy to see how George Bush's "ownership society," far from helping to address this problem, will merely exacerbate it.

Is increased volatility a price worth paying for an arguably more vibrant economy? Maybe. But you need to know the entire story before you decide, so take a few minutes and read this piece. It's important.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND SHINSEKI....A few commenters took me to task in this post for referring to John Kerry's "misleading statement about General Shinseki," and after a bit of checking around I think they've got a point. Kerry did exaggerate, but it turns out I was mistaken about some of the details of this affair too. Here's the whole story — plus some bonus snark if you read to the end!

First, here's what Kerry said:

General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him [i.e., George Bush] he was going to need several hundred thousand [troops in Iraq]. And guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that.

What really happened is that in April 2002, 14 months before the end of Shinseki's term as Army Chief of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld leaked the name of Shinseki's successor to the Washington Post — effectively making Shinseki a lame duck. But while Rumsfeld was probably hoping Shinseki would take the hint and choose to retire early, he didn't force him out — and in fact Shinseki ended up serving out his full term. What's more, Rumsfeld did this nearly a year before Shinseki's congressional testimony about needing "several hundred thousand" troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld disliked Shinseki, but it was mainly because of disagreements over weapons systems and Rumsfeld's view of "transformation," not troop strength for the Iraq war.

Or so I thought. But I wasn't aware that Shinseki had been privately challenging Rumsfeld's troop estimates for the war as far back as late 2001. Rumsfeld may have had other disputes with Shinseki as well, but the troop strength issue really was one of the reasons that Rumsfeld announced Shinseki's replacement so far ahead of time.

However, Kerry still shouldn't have said Shinseki was "retired." He wasn't. (He was "castrated," as one Pentagon official put it, but I imagine Kerry probably ought to avoid using that word too.)

So that's that. And now, here's the bonus snark I promised. While I was googling around, I found this article by NRO's Jed Babbin from March 2003:

On February 25, Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Levin asked him to "give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq...." Any general officer — especially one as political as Shinseki — would have corrected the question before answering it, because the very premise of an extended "occupation" is antithetical to President Bush's policy of liberation....Instead of correcting Levin, Shinseki answered that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be required.

Yep, the very idea of an extended "occupation" was just delusional. After all, President Bush said we were going to liberate Iraq, not occupy it — so why would anyone want to plan for anything else?

I wonder if Babbin has apologized yet to Shinseki?

POSTSCRIPT: I should note that I'm entirely agnostic on the general question of whether Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation was and is a good one. I'm also agnostic about whether Rumsfeld was justified in thinking Shinseki was a barrier to implementing his vision.

However, one of their core disagreements was Shinseki's view that peacekeeping was one of the military's fundamental jobs. Rumsfeld, by contrast, was disdainful of Clinton-era peacekeeping missions, and that's one of the reasons he was so obsessed with building a small, light Army. After all, who needs lots of troops if your plan is to overwhelm your enemies in weeks with superior firepower and tactics and then get out fast to get ready for the next war?

Needless to say, history has proven Rumsfeld very, very wrong on that score. If anything, peacekeeping and nation building are more important in the war on terror than they have been in the past. Rumsfeld still doesn't seem to get that.

Kevin Drum 8:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DRED SCOTT EXPLAINED....Huh? "Dred Scott" is code for "Roe v. Wade"? That flew right over this blue-stater's head, but it does explain one of the more bizarro aspects of last night's debate.

Damn. It's really hard to keep up with these guys.

Kevin Drum 6:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHADING THE TRUTH, PART 2....ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin explains the obvious to his troops on Friday:

The New York Times (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.

Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win.

We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

Good for him. If one side lies more than the other, say so. It's fake "objectivity" to pretend that ten big lies are the same thing as a couple of minor distortions. The media should be reporting what's really going on, not inventing a false balance that doesn't exist.

Kevin Drum 4:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTERNETS....Why did George Bush mysteriously refer to multiple "internets" last night? Has he never used a computer before in his life?

Au contraire! In fact, it turns out that Bush has a private internet of his very own — which explains why he sometimes seems to live in a private little fantasyland that none of the rest of us have access to.

Anyway, after Bush let this secret slip Lance McCord managed to grab a quick screenshot before getting booted off. Here's what George Bush's private world looks like.

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BIG LIE....I know that budget numbers are b-o-o-o-o-ring, but did anyone notice Bush repeating one of his great whoppers of all time last night?

Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control.

The folks at Cato probably burst a collective vein last night when they heard this. (You can see what they think of Bush's spending record here.)

Looking at the whole record, rather than just a couple of cherry-picked years, here's the truth about increases in non-defense discretionary spending over the past six administrations:

  • Nixon/Ford: 6.8% per year

  • Carter: 2.0% per year

  • Reagan: -1.3% per year

  • Bush 1: 4.0% per year

  • Clinton: 2.5% per year

  • Bush Jr: 8.2% per year

All percentages are adjusted for inflation. The chart on the right shows raw figures for the past three administrations (from the Congressional Budget Office).

Outside of the personal fantasyland Bush seems to inhabit, the truth is simple: spending of all kinds has skyrocketed under his administration — with help from a Republican Congress, of course. Non-defense discretionary spending in particular has increased twice as fast as under Bush 1, three times as fast as Clinton, and four times as fast as Carter. And remember: this doesn't include defense spending, entitlement spending, or homeland security. 9/11 and Medicare have nothing to do with it.

It's laughable for Bush to pretend to be a frugal spender, working his tail off to bring an out-of-control Clinton budget down to earth. He's spending our children's money as fast as he can print it, and debate fact checkers shouldn't let him get away with pretending otherwise.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE POLL RESULTS....Last night's two insta-polls showed a modest debate win for Kerry, but neither one told us how Kerry fared among independents, which is really the most important question.

Today, via Mark Kleiman, I see that Gallup has broken down their results: among independents, Kerry won decisively, 53%-37%.

ABC has also updated their results. In their poll, independents thought Kerry won 44%-34%.

I guess the foaming-at-the-mouth act didn't play so well in the heartland after all.

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHADING THE TRUTH....I realize that we all have our complaints about the press, and that those complaints are heavily conditioned by our own partisan views. But even so, I'm getting pretty tired of the debate "fact checking" being done by most of the mainstream media this election cycle.

For example, here's the LA Times headline today:

Kerry, Bush Beat Around the Truth in Debate

Although the president mischaracterized the senator's voting record and positions, both candidates shaded the truth in their favor.

As usual with these stories, the headline makes it sound like both guys were equally at fault. But if you read Warren Vieth and Janet Hook's story, here's their scorecard:

  • Bush: 11 inaccuracies (8 serious, 3 primarily differences of opinion), 1,021 words of copy

  • Kerry: 4 inaccuracies (1 serious, 3 primarily differences of opinion), 251 words of copy

I'm not making any judgments about whether Vieth and Hook caught everything, or even about whether their conclusions are fair. (In fact, they failed to call Kerry on his misleading statement about General Shinseki and failed to call Bush on his outright lie about the growth of nondefense spending.)

All I'm saying is that their own analysis clearly showed that Bush was far more deceptive than Kerry. Why don't the headline and the lead have the guts to more clearly state that?

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRIME TIME KERRY BASHING....Remember Sinclair, the conservative TV chain that refused to air the Nightline segment in which Ted Koppel recited the names of the war dead in Iraq? Guess what they're up to now?

Sinclair has told its stations — many of them in political swing states such as Ohio and Florida — to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," sources said. The film, funded by Pennsylvania veterans and produced by a veteran and former Washington Times reporter, features former POWs accusing Kerry — a decorated Navy veteran turned war protester — of worsening their ordeal by prolonging the war. Sinclair will preempt regular prime-time programming from the networks to show the film, which may be classified as news programming, according to TV executives familiar with the plan.

....Station and network sources said they have been told the Sinclair stations — which include affiliates of Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as WB and UPN — will be preempting regular programming for one hour between Oct. 21 and Oct. 24, depending on the city.

They aren't just going to make this anti-Kerry film available for airing. They aren't going to recommend their affiliates show it. And they aren't going to put it on late at night.

They're going to preempt prime time network programming on 62 stations that reach 25% of the country's viewers. You're going to watch this Kerry-bashing agitprop whether you want to or not.

Of course, Sinclair will likely lose all or most of their advertising for this block of time, something that could be a real problem for a company whose stock has already dropped by 50% since January. And it might make it harder to sign up new stations too. If I were an investor, I wouldn't be very happy about this. In fact, if I were a Sinclair stockholder, I'd call them and let them know exactly what I thought of this:

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
10706 Beaver Dam Road
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
Phone: (410) 568-1500
Fax: (410) 568-1533
Email: investor@sbgi.net

A complete list of Sinclair affiliates is here. If you don't like what's going on here, give your local station a call and put pressure on them to put pressure on Sinclair. This kind of thing really needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE POLL UDPATE....I can only find one instant poll: ABC says Kerry won the debate 44%-41%. However, there's no indication of how independents scored it, which is probably the only number that really counts.

....OK, there's a second poll after all. CNN/USA Today/Gallup says Kerry won 47%-45%.

Basically, a modest win for Kerry. I'll stick with my guess that he picks up a point or two in the national polling next week.

Kevin Drum 12:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FOREIGN vs. DOMESTIC....Here's a funny thing: my guess is that Kerry is generally stronger than Bush when the debate questions focus on foreign policy, but more vulnerable when the subject is domestic policy.

I know this doesn't jibe with the conventional wisdom, but after listening to two debates it strikes me that both men are strongest when they have a record to attack. In the case of the war, Kerry gets to bang on Bush's record, and there's a lot to bang on. In the case of domestic issues, Bush gets to bang on Kerry's record, and it's not hard to find specific votes or alleged flip-flops to attack in a 20-year Senate voting record.

As a sort of tiebreaker, though, my guess is that Kerry comes out ahead again on social issues. This is an area where it's awfully hard to divorce your own views from your judgment of how the candidates did, but even so I think that Kerry has the better of it here. Generally speaking, I think a majority of Americans prefer a nuanced, tolerant approach to social issues and are turned off by Bush's "simple answers." What's more, a majority of Americans probably agree with Kerry on the substance of most social issues.

What all this means is that debate #3 on domestic issues could turn out to be trouble for Kerry. Bush didn't take advantage of Kerry's record as much as he could have tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if he cranks it up a notch next week.

Kevin Drum 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

OFF HIS MEDS?....I've been surfing around TV a little bit, and the one thing that surprises me is that there's very little comment about George Bush's demeanor, especially during the first half hour. His voice was several notches above presidential, he was interrupting both Charlie Gibson and the questioners, he was leaping to his feet, he was jabbing the air with Ross Perot-like abandon, and there were at least a couple of times when he looked like he was about to leap into the audience and throttle someone. It's one thing to be passionate, but it's quite another to look like you're off your meds and need to be restrained.

I'm not the only one who noticed this, am I?

However, in an effort be evenhanded, I have to admit that even I'm a little tired of hearing John Kerry say "I have a plan that...." I have a feeling the average joe might not be quite as excited about plans as Kerry thinks he is.

UPDATE: Atrios' take:

Bush is like a bad American tourist in a foreign country. If only he SCREAMS A LITTLE BIT LOUDER people will understand it.


Kevin Drum 11:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING ROUND 3....It's Friday night. That means it's date night. It's Twins vs. Yankees night. It's high school football night. So is anyone going to bother watching tonight's debate?

A.C. Nielsen Nielsen Media Research will answer that question tomorrow, but I fully expect the hardy band of Political Animal readers to put aside lesser pleasures and tune in despite these petty distractions. Onward.

Wrapup: this one was closer than the first debate, but what was up with Bush, especially in the first half hour? He was jabbing the air, hectoring the audience, interrupting Charlie Gibson, leaping to his feet, and barely allowing the questioners to finish before he started bellowing. He seemed like he just couldn't understand why these people continued to disagree with him. Why? Why?

Kerry had a few miscues, but nothing serious. Overall, he was calmer, more direct, and more sincere sounding than Bush, who often sounded like he was just repeating bullet points. Kerry didn't land any killer blows, but he did get under Bush's skin, and that might be more important in the end.

My guess is that Kerry picks up another couple of points in the polls based on this appearance.

A complete transcript of the debate is here.

10:30 — Three examples of bad decisions for President Bush. There's not a chance he'll actually answer this. After all, he's never made one, has he...?

10:21 — We now know that George Bush thinks the Dred Scott decision was wrong. See, he's against slavery. Glad to hear it.

10:16 — Kerry's answer on stem cells was pretty good on substance, although he was oddly tongue-tied trying to figure out how to express himself.

10:11 — OK, that $84 timber thing was kind of weird. I don't think anyone understood what Kerry was talking about. Bush's response was pretty weird, too.

10:08 — Bush has calmed down a little bit since we got onto domestic issues. Still using a pretty hectoring tone of voice, though.

No bulge in the back of his jacket, though.

10:06 — Hey, Kerry remembered Nicky from the very beginning of the debate! Good job, John!

10:04 — Why is Kerry responding with a weird diatribe about labels?

....OK, now he's talking about the environment. He's not very effective either. Too wonky. I doubt that very many people really understood what either guy was talking about.

10:02 — Wow. Bush the wonk takes over when he's asked about his environmental policy. It's not a very effective answer, but it is wonky.

9:59 — Bush: "Of course he's going to raise your taxes." Hmmm. Then: "Is my time up?" Huh? Can't he see the lights?

9:56 — Can I just say that the audience questions have been pretty good so far? Better than the pros.

9:51 — Bush: "We have a deficit." Why? The Clinton bubble. The war. Followed by an obvious lie about the rise in nondefense spending. Will Kerry call him on it?

9:43 — Kerry just kicked Bush's ass on the Canadian drug issue. Absolutely kicked his ass.

9:41 — Bush practically jumped down the throat of the poor guy who asked him why he had banned re-importation of Canadian drugs. "I'm not doing that yet!" But he's got to make sure Canadian drugs don't kill you first.

9:34 — Holy cow. Bush is coming unhinged. He just started yelling at Charlie Gibson, who was trying to ask him a question, and then looked like he was about to jump in the audience when he responded to Kerry's charge that he acted unilaterally.

9:32 — The internets? How many does Bush think there are?

9:28 — Kerry really seems to be getting under Bush's skin. "Of course I'm paying attention," "Of course I know that."

9:25 — Kerry's response about the military being responsible for winning the war but the president being responsible for winning the peace was pretty good.

9:23 — That rant from Bush about popularity was just bizarre.

9:21 — Am I the only one who thinks that Bush is practically yelling at the audience?

9:19 — Bush is really getting peeved about not finding WMD.

9:18 — Bush: "Our plan is working." Huh?

9:17 — Bush: "I know how these people think." He really likes that line for some reason.

9:15 — Ah, the "global test." We knew that was coming, didn't we?

9:14 — Kerry's seems kind of hot too.

9:12 — Bush seems awfully loud and aggressive for a town hall format....

9:03 — Hmmm, it's red tie vs. blue tie. I think Kerry is ahead already.

8:59 — Oh, right, the debate. Sorry about that. So, um, what's up with Paul Begala's bright purple tie?

8:50 — I've just learned that Spinal Tap's Harry Shearer likes my blog. Our new tagline: Political Animal goes to 11! Take that, Wolf Blitzer!

Kevin Drum 9:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSHONOMICS....Kash at Angry Bear has a nice table that summarizes the economic performance of the Bush administration compared to every administration since 1968. Bottom line: on practically every measure, Bush's performance is either the worst of the past three decades or in the bottom three.

And this handy chart, which I hope Kash doesn't mind my ripping off, shows just how anemic job creation has been under Bush compared to job creation after the last recession. Dismal hardly begins to describe it.

The most frustrating part of all this is that I suspect an awful lot of people don't really blame Bush for any of this. They don't truly believe that wonky economic policy has much to do with real world results, and they figure that arguments about it are just so much partisan blather. Conservatives have long encouraged this kind of thinking by persuading people that government mucks up everything, and George Bush encourages it more specifically by inventing excuse after excuse for why the poor economic performance of the past four years isn't his responsibility. It was Clinton's fault, it was 9/11, it was the Iraq war, it was hurricanes in Florida, it was something. It was anybody's fault but his.

But the fact is that we could have done better. Nearly any reasonable economic policy — including reasonable conservative economic policies — would have done better. It's too bad more people don't understand that.

Kevin Drum 6:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL UPDATE....Time magazine reports that their latest poll has Bush and Kerry deadlocked, 45%-45%. That's a change of 6% from just before last Thursday's debate.

Can Kerry add another six points with a strong performance tonight? Probably not. But a boy can hope, can't he?

Kevin Drum 5:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WILD WEST....I know I shouldn't bother, but sometimes I can't help myself. Here's an Instapundit post today:

FLIT(TM) HAS AN INTERESTING BLOG-INTERVIEW with Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon's New Map. "The historical analogy we need to remember is taming the Wild West, not the British Empire."

We already know that Glenn apparently thinks the genocide of the American Indians was the fault of — yep — the American Indians (infamous post here for curiosity seekers — he thinks it was "justifiable murder"), and it looks like he's still enamored of the Indian/Muslim comparison he made two years ago. What's more, it's even worse if we look at Barnett's full quote:

The historical analogy we need to remember is taming the Wild West, not the British Empire. It's not about extending our political control over others, but inviting them into the club--even into our multinational economic, political, and security union known as the United States.

Inviting them into the club? Don't get me wrong: that's a good idea and I appreciate the thought. But do these guys seriously think that's what happened in the Wild West?

If the Muslim world ever gets the idea that we plan to treat them the way we treated Native Americans, we're in big trouble. There isn't a group on the planet that wouldn't fight to the death if they thought that was what we had in mind.

Kevin Drum 5:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

LANDSLIDE?... Andrew Sullivan makes the case that whichever candidate wins this election--and he thinks it's going to be Kerry--will do so in an electoral landslide. He's got a strong historical argument behind him--the same argument Chuck Todd made five months ago.

Paul Glastris 4:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

S&M IN THE WHITE HOUSE....Presidential spanking was the topic of Dr. Phil's recent interviews with the Bushes and Kerrys. Tom Frank has the gruesome details, but bewarned: you have to read all the way to the end before he reveals who spanked whom. The answer may surprise you!

Kevin Drum 3:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE HAMMER....A few years ago Tom Delay got rapped by the House Ethics Committee for sending a Sopranos-like "message" to an industry group by holding up legislation they supported. Their sin? They had hired a Democrat as their chief lobbyist. Tom DeLay doesn't like it when industry groups hire Democrats.

That was six years ago, but DeLay hasn't changed much. Fresh off of two separate ethics admonishments and looking at a possible indictment for a third, DeLay has just killed provisions in a tax bill supported by Hollywood studios. Why? Because they hired Democrat Dan Glickman to replace Jack Valenti as their chief lobbyist.

Sam Rosenfeld at Tapped has the story.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NOT COMPASSIONATE, NOT EVEN CONSERVATIVE....WHAT'S LEFT?....The DLC's Progressive Policy Institute released a pretty devastating report today that examines the promises of Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda and finds nothing there. It's worth a read.

It fits nicely with my article in our October issue on the political sham that is Bush's faith-based initiative. It's a pretty safe bet that Bush will toss out a reference to this policy in tonight's debate, but very few viewers will understand that this "compassionate conservative" program doesn't work and, in fact, wasn't even set up to work:

Bush alone is responsible for supporting the distribution of taxpayer dollars without requiring proof that the funding produces results, for establishing a new government bureaucracy to give special help to a "discriminated" community that has always been on equal footing with everyone else, and for encouraging religious organizations to rely on government funding instead of encouraging private donations.

The main purpose of the faith-based initiative has been to beef up a rhetorical strategy that Bush has used to great effect with evangelicals. Ignoring the fact that the White House, Department of Justice, House of Representatives--just to name a few--are all headed by evangelicals, he appeals to the community as a persecuted minority that has been discriminated against by government. Take a look at his acceptance speech. The only time he mentioned the faith-based initiative was in this context: "Because religious charities provide a safety net of mercy and compassion, our government must never discriminate against them."

The government never did, but that's beside the point. Bush is their hero, he saved from from persecution. Uniter, not a divider? This is the ultimate "It's us versus them" rhetoric. And it's the main reason the White House inserted a provision into their faith-based bill that would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring. A majority of senators and representatives support allowing religious organizations to apply for social service grants, provided they abide by the laws that govern all other providers. The White House knew this provision would destroy that consensus, but that hardly mattered. Because the fight over hiring fit into the narrative, it allowed Bush once again to say, "See? They want to be able to tell you what to do."

Now, it's tempting to respond to all of this with a yawn and a "So the Bush administration is promoting a misleading political sham. What's new?" Don't let outrage fatigue get you down. Things like this matter. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard someone tick off the list of things on which they disagree with Bush before concluding, "But I'm going to vote for him anyway because he's a good religious man." As John Kerry (or the New Testament writer James) might say: What good is it if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?

Amy Sullivan 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOUSY JOB NUMBERS....It looks like there isn't going to be a last-minute reprieve for President Bush. The September job figures are out, and only 96,000 jobs were created, far fewer than the 150,000 needed just to stay even:

"I wouldn't want to be in President Bush's shoes," Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics told the Associated Press. "He had better prepare himself for an onslaught....The reality is that a 96,000 increase in a work force of a 131 million base is an anemic rise, and is in no way a satisfactory increase."

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao — apparently with a straight face — tried to blame the lousy numbers on hurricanes in Florida. I really hope that Bush tries this excuse in tonight's debate. I really do.

UPDATE: Max has more. The Household Survey showed a loss of 200,000 jobs.....

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS FOR KERRY....Errol Morris, director of the Robert McNamara documentary Fog of War, has created a bunch of 30-second ad spots with the look and feel of those talking head Apple commercials from a few years ago. Each one features a former Bush supporter explaining why they'll be voting for Kerry this year.

Kinda cute. Now all he has to do is find someone to air them.

You can view them here.

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIREFOX....When I cleaned up the spyware from my mother's computer a couple of days ago, I decided to switch her from Internet Explorer to Firefox when I was finished. With any luck, this will keep her from getting infested again.

Actually, I'd been meaning to give Firefox a try myself for a long time but had never gotten around to it. However, this got me off my butt (gotta be able to provide tech support for mom, after all) and I installed it on my machine too. Here are my pros and cons after using it for a few days.


  • Very easy setup. The download is small, only about 5MB, and it installed in about 30 seconds. It imports all your IE bookmarks when it starts up, which took me about a minute. I ended up fiddling with a few defaults too, but that was optional. From download to surfing was a grand total of about five minutes.

  • The built-in popup blocker works great so far. You can customize to allow popups if it's blocking ones you want, but so far I haven't had to do that. It's just running on its defaults.

  • Tabbed browsing allows you to open new pages in a tab, instead of opening a new browser window. I don't know how useful this is in general, but it's a godsend for a blogger, since I often have five or six windows open at a time when I'm writing a single post. Very slick.

  • It loads pages faster than IE. This may be partly due to the popup blocking. It's not a huge difference, but the LA Times site, for example, is noticably quicker to open.

  • Most of my IE plugins worked fine. PDF displays properly and audio and video works fine. I had to download the Flash plugin, but Firefox notified me, found the plugin automatically, downloaded it, and installed it. It couldn't have been easier.

  • And of course, there's also the original reason I installed it on my mother's machine: since it's not IE, it's not vulnerable to viruses and spyware designed for IE.


  • It renders pages a bit differently than IE. To my eye, the rendering is usually slightly inferior, but not hugely so.

  • Unfortunately, Firefox seems to have a bug that affects the page I use most often: the post entry page for Movable Type. This page has several buttons that allow you to automatically code text for bold, italics, etc., but the buttons don't show up in Firefox.

    By itself, this isn't that big a deal since the buttons are only a modest convenience. But why don't they work? Does Firefox not interpret Javascript properly? (Or is it actually an MT bug? I don't know. However, there's a hack for MT that fixes it if you really want your buttons back.)

  • The text entry cursor is overly fat and covers up part of the text you're typing. A minor annoyance.

  • All your site passwords have to be re-entered. This isn't a Firefox bug, of course, but it's still something that has to be done each time you go to a password-protected site for the first time.

There are other minor differences that take a little getting used to, but that's always the case with a new piece of software — and so far none of them are a big deal. In addition, I imagine there will end up being a few sites that don't render properly, since most sites are built for IE and not always tested on other platforms, but I've always got IE around if I really need it.

Overall, highly recommended. I should have tried it a long time ago. You can download it here.

Kevin Drum 1:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TODAY'S QUIZ....Last year Congress allocated $18.4 billion for Iraqi reconstruction projects. According to a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, how much of this money has actually reached Iraqi hands?

  1. 23%

  2. 14%

  3. 6.4%

  4. 2.7%

  5. 1.5%

You guessed it: the answer is E, or $270 million. The rest of the money has either been left unspent or has been hoovered away by security, corruption, CPA overhead, and foreign salaries. What's left amounts to about $1 per month per Iraqi. Sweet!

Needless to say, this gross mismanagement is courtesy of George Bush, your CEO president. Maybe it's time for the board of directors to take another look at his contract?

Kevin Drum 5:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BAD WEEK....It's been a bad week for the White House. I think it's worth summarizing just how bad:

  • Thursday: George Bush gets his butt kicked by John Kerry in the first presidential debate.

  • Saturday: Partly due to Bush's dismal debate performance, polls indicate that Kerry is catching up. Bush's lead appears to have been reduced to 2-3 points.

  • Monday: Donald Rumsfeld admits that Saddam Hussein didn't have any substantial ties to al-Qaeda. "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two." After his statement is reported, he tries unsucessfully to claim that he was "misunderstood."

  • Later Monday: The CIA agrees with Rumsfeld. The linchpin of the administration's case for collaboration between Saddam and al-Qaeda has been Saddam's alleged "harboring" of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but a CIA report concludes that it probably didn't happen. "The evidence is that Saddam never gave Zarqawi anything," said an official who read the report.

  • Tuesday: Paul Bremer admits that the administration made a big mistake by not having enough troops in Iraq. "The single most important change -- the one thing that would have improved the situation -- would have been having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout" the occupation.

    When his statement becomes public, Bremer complains that his remarks were "off the record." For its part, the Bush administration tries to claim that Bremer was lying, but is forced to backtrack almost immediately when it becomes apparent that Bremer did ask for more troops as far back as July 2003.

  • Later Tuesday: Dick Cheney initially appears to fight John Edwards to a near draw in the vice presidential debate, but before long attention shifts to Cheney's numerous and obvious lies during the debate. This is likely to be the consensus post-debate talking point.

  • Wednesday: Weapons inspector Charles Duelfer releases his final report. He says that Saddam Hussein destroyed all his WMD after 1991, had no WMD programs in place after that, and that his capacity to build WMD was actually deteriorating after 1998, not increasing.

  • Thursday: Polls show that Bush has lost nearly his entire lead. The race is now a dead heat. AP/Ipsos actually shows Kerry ahead.

That's a bad week. I wonder how George Bush will be feeling when he takes the stage tomorrow? A little bit nervous, perhaps?

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI YET AGAIN....Via Tapped, Newsweek has an interesting tidbit today about the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army after Paul Bremer took over from Jay Garner shortly after the end of the war. Who made the decision — and why?

Administration officials said today that this decision was made on the ground in Iraq, rather than in Washington.

....But Bremer and Garner have previously indicated the decision was made in Washington. According to one official who attended a meeting that Bremer had with his staff upon his arrival in Baghdad in mid-May of 2003, Bremer was warned he would cause chaos by demobilizing the army. The CIA station chief told him, "That's another 350,000 Iraqis you're pissing off, and they've got guns."

According to one source who was at the meeting, Garner then asked if they could discuss the matter further in a smaller meeting. Garner then said: “Before you announce this thing let’s do all the pros and cons of this, because we are going to have a hell of a lot of problems with it. There are a hell of a lot more cons than there are pros. Let’s line them all up then get on the phone to [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld.” Bremer replied: “I don’t have any choice. I have to do this.” Garner then protested further, but Bremer cut him off. “The president told me that de-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people.”

When Newsweek put this account to Bremer in a tape-recorded interview at the Pentagon at the end of September of last year, he did not dispute it. A former official with Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority also told Newsweek on Wednesday that “he did this with the full knowledge of the administration.”

Charming. "De-Baathification comes before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people."

Of course, that begs the question: why did de-Baathification come before the immediate needs of the Iraqi people? Sure, George Bush bears ultimate responsibility, but who was it that felt that strongly about de-Baathification and had the influence to get it adopted as official policy?

There's really only one candidate: our old friend Ahmed Chalabi and his neocon friends in the Pentagon. As it stands now, it appears that Chalabi (a) deliberately fed us bad prewar intelligence about Iraqi WMD, (b) convinced us to disband the Iraqi army as part of a personal power play, (c) may have betrayed highly sensitive U.S. secrets to the Iranian government, and (d) is playing footsie with insurgent leader Muqtada al-Sadr. And that's just the highlights.

Has there ever been a single interest group leader more disastrous to U.S. foreign policy and prestige than Ahmed Chalabi? How far back do you have to go to find someone even in the same league? He makes William Randolph Hearst look like a kid in a sandbox.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM AND THE WMD....In a way, the Duelfer report is anticlimactic. Between the Kay report, Mahdi Obeidi's book, and over a year of searching, we already had a pretty good idea that Saddam Hussein had neither WMD nor WMD programs.

However, the report does provide an apparently final answer to the intriguing question of why Saddam didn't come clean with the UN inspectors even though (as the report also makes clear) he knew perfectly well he had nothing to hide. The answer turns out to be Iran:

Hussein often denied U.S. assertions that he possessed banned weapons in defiance of U.N. resolutions, but for years he also persisted in making cryptic public statements to perpetuate the myth that he actually did have them. The Iraq Survey Group believes that he continued making those statements long after he had secretly ordered the destruction of his stockpiles.

Based on the interrogations, it appears that Hussein underestimated how seriously the United States took the weapons issue, and he believed it was vital to his own survival that the outside world — especially Iran — think he still had them.

It was a strategy, Hussein has told his FBI interrogators during the last 10 months, that was aimed primarily at bluffing Iraq's neighbor to the east.

"The Iranian threat was very, very, palpable to him, and he didn't want to be second to Iran, and he felt he had to deter them. So he wanted to create the impression that he had more than he did," Duelfer, the Iraq Survey Group head, told members of the Senate on Wednesday.

Apparently he also felt that it was fear of WMD that caused the U.S. to leave him in power after the 1991 war. Thus, if he remained ambiguous about it, it would deter us again in 2003.

There have been dozens of theories about why Saddam didn't come clean if he really didn't have WMD, but it looks like this one is the winner. Just another in a long line of Saddam's infamous strategic blunders.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOING UPRIVER....Based on Andrew Tobias' enthusiastic recommendation, I went out this afternoon to see Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry. He was right: it's a helluva good film.

Director George Butler describes himself as a close friend of Kerry's, and it shows in the film. It's also what gives the film its strength: Butler has known (and filmed) Kerry for a very long time and has an intimate knowledge of Kerry that few can match. This is a story he knows how to tell.

By now I'm pretty familiar with Kerry's career, but even so I took a couple of new things away from the film. The first was a recognition that Kerry was a leader of the antiwar movement in the most genuine possible sense. Sure, he's the guy who gave speeches and appeared on TV, but he was also the guy who held people together, who kept tempers in check, who boosted morale when times were tough, who never gave up, and who figured out how to get things done. He didn't bully and he didn't yell, but he earned genuine respect from an astonishingly wide variety of people — in exactly the same way a successful president needs to do.

Second, although the film made it clear that Kerry had his eye on public office very early, it also made clear that leading an antiwar group was a huge risk to that ambition. Far from being a steppingstone, it was something likely to prevent him from gaining office (as in fact it initially did). Kerry did what he did out of genuine conviction and he did it despite the risks — and that's something a successful president needs to be willing to do too.

Going Upriver is a film worth seeing on its own merits, but it's also a film worth inviting some undecided friends to see with you. If you know people who are increasingly nervous about Bush but not quite convinced they can vote for Kerry, invite them out for a night at the movies. This one might seal the deal.

Kevin Drum 1:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL UPDATE....In the last few days, the Washington Post poll shows Bush's lead dropping from 5% to 2%.

In the same period, Rasmussen shows Bush's lead dropping from 3.6% to .3%.

My guess is that John Edwards' performance was worth about a point to Kerry. In other words, by the time Bush and Kerry meet on Friday they'll be in a virtual dead heat.

It's going to be tension city for a guy named Bush. Again. I wonder if he responds to pressure any better than his old man?

UPDATE: Zogby has some pretty good news for Kerry in its latest report on battleground states. In particular, he now shows that Kerry has caught up to Bush in Ohio.

Kevin Drum 1:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LIE PATROL....It's easy to get cynical about politicians lying, but last night's debate was remarkable for the number of times Dick Cheney told flat-out fibs. Both candidates stretched the facts here and there, and both of them sometimes left out important context — but Cheney was the only one to brazenly lie in front of a national audience, and he did it at least half a dozen times. Here's a summary:

What He Said

The Actual Truth

"The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."

Cheney has met Edwards at least three times: at a prayer breakfast in 2001, at Elizabeth Dole's swearing-in ceremony in 2003, and backstage at Meet the Press.

"Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you Senator Gone."

Cheney was referring to The Pilot, a small paper in Pinehurst, NC — not Edwards' hometown. What's more, as they themselves put it today, "The Pilot hasn't 'taken to calling him' anything." In fact, they used this term only once in an editorial run 15 months ago.

"The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11..."

Cheney knows perfectly well that he's been one of the administration's biggest boosters of alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. In September 2003 Cheney said "[Iraq is] the geographical base of the terrorists who had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11." What's more, he has suggested that Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11 on numerous other occasions.

"...the 90 percent figure is just dead wrong. When you include the Iraqi security forces that have suffered casualties, as well as the allies, they've taken almost 50 percent of the casualties in operations in Iraq."

Edwards wasn't "dead wrong." He was dead right. Iraq isn't part of the coalition, and as of Tuesday 1,061 American service members had been killed compared to 136 from non-U.S. coalition forces. That's 88% of all coalition casualties.

John Edwards:

While he was CEO of Halliburton, they paid millions of dollars in fines for providing false information on their company, just like Enron and Ken Lay.

They did business with Libya and Iran, two sworn enemies of the United States.

They're now under investigation for having bribed foreign officials during that period of time.

Not only that, they've gotten a $7.5 billion no-bid contract in Iraq, and instead of part of their money being withheld, which is the way it's normally done, because they're under investigation, they've continued to get their money.

Dick Cheney:

They know the charges are false.

They know that if you go, for example, to factcheck.com [sic], an independent Web site sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, you can get the specific details with respect to Halliburton.

Cheney meant to refer to factcheck.org, but it doesn't really matter because they don't have anything that addresses Edwards' accusations anyway. In fact, Edwards' charges are all accurate.

(In a statement released after the debate, factcheck.org said, "In fact, we did post an article pointing out that Cheney hasn't profited personally while in office from Halliburton's Iraq contracts, as falsely implied by a Kerry TV ad. But Edwards was talking about Cheney's responsibility for earlier Halliburton troubles. And in fact, Edwards was mostly right.")

"The Kerry record on taxes is one basically of voting for a large number of tax increases -- 98 times in the United States Senate."

That's a change from the old charge that Kerry has voted to increase taxes 350 times, but it's still false. Factcheck.org — yes, them again — says Cheney's number isn't even close to the truth.

"A great many of our small businesses pay taxes under the personal income taxes rather than the corporate rate. And about 900,000 small businesses will be hit if you do, in fact, do what they want to do with the top bracket."

Cheney's assertion is taken from this report by the Tax Policy Center. However, the 900,000 number (actually 995,000) refers to individuals with any amount of business income, not to small businesses themselves. The correct number for actual businesses with employees is only 72,000. Needless to say, Dick Cheney knows this perfectly well.

(It's also worth pointing out that under Kerry's plan there are 17.2 million individuals with business income who would get tax cuts. On a net basis, therefore, 16.2 million individuals with business income would pay less tax under Kerry's plan. For small businesses, a net of 1.2 million would pay less tax under Kerry's plan.)

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MINIMUM WAGE....Via Max, here's a letter signed by 562 economists arguing for a small increase in the minimum wage.

We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed. In particular, we share the view the Council of Economic Advisers expressed in the 1999 Economic Report of the President that “the weight of the evidence suggests that modest increases in the minimum wage have had very little or no effect on employment.” While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families.

I'm not an economist, but you can put me down as #563 anyway. Raising the minimum wage isn't the only way to help the working poor, but a modest increase would clearly do some good and would do it with very few adverse effects. The equivalent of an $8 minimum wage sure didn't hurt the economy in the 50s and 60s.

Needless to say, John Kerry supports a modest increase in the minimum wage (from $5.15 to $7 over the next three years). George Bush and the Republican party don't. That tells you all you need to know about which party values work and family and which one doesn't.

Kevin Drum 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUTTERFLY BALLOT REDUX....Via Livejournal blogger emperorsargosa, who has the entire thing scanned on his site, comes news of the Michigan absentee ballot. I've cropped just the presidential part of the ballot, and as you can see it's a wee bit misaligned.

Check the box for John Kerry, and it's really a vote for George Bush.

Of course, this is made up for by the fact that Kerry is going to receive all of David Cobb's votes.

Plus the fact that lots of Bush voters are just going to be completely confused.

So is Michigan the new Florida? Will this end up hurting Kerry or Bush the worst? And will whoever approved this ballot get fired?

I did a quick check of the Detroit Free Press and didn't notice any stories about this, so I don't know what the explanation is. (That is, aside from it just being a screwup.) Have any of my Michigan readers received this ballot?

UPDATE: Blue Lemur reports that the ballots are being reprinted. But have they already been sent out? Will Michigan residents all be receiving two separate absentee ballots?

ANOTHER UPDATE: In comments, Michigan resident emptywheel reports receiving a correctly aligned ballot and says that absentee ballots were delayed because of this error. Not sure if that's true everywhere or not, though. Have any Michigan readers received two sets of ballots? Or did the incorrect ballots never get mailed in the first place?

FINAL UPDATE: According to the Michigan Secretary of State, the misprinted ballot was confined to a single precinct in the city of Alma and was sent to only 69 voters. Those voters will get replacement ballots.

In other words, no big deal.

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WMD HUNT: CASE CLOSED....After David Kay came home from Iraq and announced that Saddam Hussein didn't have any WMD and probably never did, the White House said the case wasn't closed yet. Kay was replaced by Charles Duelfer, who continued the WMD hunt.

So what does Duelfer have to say after spending an additional nine months searching for WMD?

The government's most definitive account of Iraq's arms programs, to be released today, will show that Saddam Hussein posed a diminishing threat at the time the United States invaded and did not possess, or have concrete plans to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The officials said that the 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded that Hussein had the desire but not the means to produce unconventional weapons that could threaten his neighbors or the West.

No weapons. No plans. A diminishing threat.

Not a "grave and gathering" threat, a diminishing threat. I know this won't convince Dick Cheney, but for the rest of us I think the case is now officially closed.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MAN OF MYSTERY....Mystery question of the day: who owns factcheck.com? It's not George Soros, and the domain registration record lists only a dummy corporation in the Cayman Islands. But whoever owns the site was obviously watching last night's debate and redirected it to georgesoros.com almost instantly.

But who was it? Enquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE: In comments, Sean posts this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

FactCheck.com is owned by Name Administration Inc., a Cayman Islands company that engages in so-called "domain parking" -- it acquires discarded Web sites and monetizes the traffic with text advertising.

The site had been showing education-related ads, mostly for online-degree programs, when Mr. Cheney mentioned the site during the debate. Suddenly, Name Administration saw a surge in traffic -- about 50,000 unique visitors in the first hour -- which costs the company money for Internet bandwidth, according to John Berryhill, Name Administration's attorney.

....So employees redirected traffic to the Soros site, not because of any request nor payment from Mr. Soros's organization or supporters, but based on their own political viewpoints, Mr. Berryhill said. "Individuals within the company are favorably disposed to George Soros's political point of view," said Mr. Berryhill.

Name Administration said in a statement, "The staff at Name Administration have been through some difficult times lately, due to the impact of hurricane Ivan on Grand Cayman, and they were delighted to have been given this opportunity by Vice President Cheney." Mr. Berryhill said no one was available at the company to comment.

There you have it. Just some patriotic Americans thinking on their feet.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

MSNBC IS ON DRUGS, AND OTHER REACTION....So the debate had just ended and Edwards had pretty much rocked the first hour, even if he fell off a bit during the last thirty minutes thanks to some seriously doofy questions from Gwen Ifill, and MSNBC moved straight to Chris Matthews and his gang of four, who all proceeded to proclaim that the winner, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was...Dick Cheney?

Huh? An argument that the debate ended in a tie might be one thing. But listen to this:
Andrea Mitchell--"I think Dick Cheney did awfully well at, first of all, putting John Edwards in his place, saying that I have been presiding over the Senate and I didn't meet you until tonight. Talking about his not having been on the job was pretty devastating."
Ron Reagan--"This time, I think the chattering classes, and I include all of us among them, will come out on the side of, there was a stature gap there, and it was to Cheney's advantage."
Jon Meacham--"I think that the vice president did very, very well. He turned in a strong and serene performance, compared to Edwards, who I think seemed like Kerry-light."
Joe Scarborough--"I tell you, tonight, no doubt about it. Edwards got obliterated by Dick Cheney."
And, of course, leader of the pack Chris Matthews--"Will the liberal press admit that Cheney won?....The analogy would be a water pistol against a machine gun. Every once in a while, [Edwards] would take a squirt at the vice president, and then he would just -- the vice president would just turn the Howitzer on the guy. It was all the points about attendance record, the tremendous amount of homework the Republican candidate for V.P. did here, the incumbent. I don't think this well-rehearsed and well-briefed senator from North Carolina was ready for the assault."

I don't know what channel they had their dials turned to, but here's the debate I watched.

Edwards, looking--if possible--even younger than usual, answered Democratic naysayers by perfectly filling the role of attack dog. This does two things. It's enormously effective because it makes the Kerry/Edwards case in a more clear and pointed way than we've heard before. The raves about the man's skills as a charming trial lawyer are not misplaced. It also leaves Kerry as the only man in this race who is above the fray, free to play offense. In both debates, the Republicans have consistently been defensive, which--as we've seen--makes them a bit testy. With Edwards taking the brunt of the blows, Kerry seems, well, presidential.

As Kerry did last Thursday, Edwards did miss a couple of opportunities to hit questions out of the park. When asked about the divisions in the country, Edwards started off on the right track, pointing out that this didn't just happen. "The reality is it is not an accident. It's the direct result of the choices they've made and their efforts that have created division in America." But this would have been a perfect place to hammer home the points from this already-classic Boston Globe article on how Republicans have taken political incivility and abuse of power to a whole different level. The issue should be a clear winner for Democrats and would have the added benefit of making the case for a change of power in Congress as well (the Kerry campaign has been surprisingly silent on that point). But Edwards made his short point and moved back to repeat some points about health care.

Similarly, when Ifill set him up with a question about whether changing one's mind is always a bad thing, Edwards chose to hit Bush/Cheney on their flip-flops instead of pressing the much stronger argument that this administration has been consistently wrong, that most Americans believe we are moving in the wrong direction on a whole host of issues and that we should not value leaders who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and re-think policies. A fight about who is the bigger flip-flopper is not a fight the Kerry/Edwards campaign should want to have right now.

That said, Edwards' overall performance was outstanding on both style and substance. And even if that was lost on the folks over at MSNBC, viewers saw it. CNN ran a short segment with their pen of undecided voters and showed the points at which the dial-a-meter ratings were highest for each candidate. But what they didn't note was more interesting. The baselines for Cheney and Edwards weren't the same. Cheney's baseline was pretty consistent at 5 (on a one to ten scale) and he peaked around 8. Edwards, on the other hand, started off with a baseline above 7. That's pretty amazing.

Update: Over at Salon, Eric Boehlert says the exact same thing about MSNBC.

Amy Sullivan 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO WON?...According to ABC, debate viewers judged Cheney the winner 43%-35% (with the rest judging it a tie).

A CBS poll of uncommitted voters shows Edwards winning 41%-28%.

Those are the only two real polls I can find (although there are loads of online pseudo-polls out there as well).

ABC noted that more Republicans watched the debate than Democrats, which mostly explains Cheney's victory in their poll (it was just a straight survey of registered voters who watched the debate). If you correct for that, they show it as a tie. The CBS poll included only uncommitted voters and was sharply favorable to Edwards.

In summary, then, it looks like Edwards won. Not as decisively as Kerry did last Thursday, but a win nonetheless.

Kevin Drum 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FACTCHECK.COM....Heh heh. This is pretty funny.

During the debate, Dick Cheney mentioned that you could go to factcheck.com to get the real scoop on Halliburton. What he meant was factcheck.org, a nonpartisan site run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

But if you click on factcheck.com, as many people probably will, you get redirected to.....

Oh, just go ahead and do it. This is really too rich to give away.

(Props to Bat Guano in comments for pointing this out.)

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE DEBATE THOUGHTS....Dinner's over, but I haven't really changed my mind. I still think the debate was roughly a tie. Here are some miscellaneous comments:

  • I suspect that talking about "the mess in Iraq" is a good line, but Edwards didn't really follow it up as effectively as he could have. Instead of just talking about what people see on their television screens, he should have done a better job of explaining exactly what's wrong and why it's Bush's and Cheney's fault.

  • According to CNN's little reaction meter gizmos, Cheney's best moment came when he talked about gay marriage. But wasn't that the very moment where Cheney came closest to disagreeing with George Bush? After a desultory discussion of state vs. federal control of marriage, he stopped dead and said merely that "[the president] sets the policy for this administration, and I support the president." And he refused to answer the followup question. How much more clearly can you say that you disagree with the boss but really don't want to talk about it?

  • And speaking of his boss, Cheney didn't mention George Bush's name very often. You'd almost think that Cheney feels like he's already the guy in charge. Conversely, Edwards mentioned John Kerry's name about once every 30 seconds.

  • Overall, I think Edwards was on the offensive more than Cheney. He controlled the flow of the debate a bit more than Cheney.

  • Edwards did a lousy job of explaining the $87 billion flip-flop. This is inexplicable. The explanation isn't really very complex, but he barely even touched on it.

  • Cheney lost a lot of steam when it came to domestic issues. He looked like he really didn't give a damn. Edwards, not surprisingly, got stronger. When the subject was Iraq, Cheney was the guy with facts and figures, but when the subject was domestic policy Edwards seemed more the expert.

  • Gwen Ifill didn't help matters by asking some seriously dumb questions in the last half hour. I mean, Cheney was right to be a little puzzled that she expected him to answer a question about whether Edwards was qualified to be VP. Was she really unable to think up more than two or three meaty questions to ask about domestic policy?

  • Cheney was, um, aggressive about repeatedly saying that he was a big fan of an aggressive foreign policy. I have a feeling that didn't help him very much among undecided voters, who probably feel that right now we need a little less aggression and a little more thinking.

  • Edwards started out strong with his criticism of the Afghanistan war, but he never quite punched it home. He did say that we should have gone after al-Qaeda ourselves instead of letting Afghan warlords do it, but why not go the final step and fill in the obvious conclusion: if John Kerry had been president, we would have caught or killed Osama three years ago.

  • Edwards' spiel about healthcare ("they were with the drug companies....they were with the insurance companies") was very good.

  • Cheney was reasonably solid throughout, but there were a few occasions where he seemed a little flustered or caught unawares. And of course, he seemed pretty grim and unfriendly throughout, but that's just Dick. Did you expect anything different?

And now, after taking the time to write all this stuff down, I'm beginning to think Edwards did better than I initially gave him credit for. Basically, he put Cheney on the defensive on Iraq and demonstrated clear superiority on domestic issues. That's not bad.

So score it a modest victory for Edwards, especially since he was the one who had to prove he could hold his own. It probably won't make a big difference in the polls, but even a small difference could be important. The Kerry team is probably pretty happy with how things went tonight, and it definitely puts additional pressure on Bush to perform well on Friday.


Kevin Drum 12:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING ROUND 2....Should I try to liveblog the vice presidential debate? The last time I tried it our server really couldn't keep up with the load, but maybe this time will be different. I guess it's worth a try.

Wrapup: You know what? I wasn't all that impressed with either guy. After about the first 30 minutes the energy level dropped a lot and neither one of them seemed very crisp.

Edwards' theme was pretty clear: Bush and Cheney are liars. But I'm not sure he really got that across. At the same time, Cheney's defenses were surprisingly feeble. So: weak attacks, weak defenses.

Cheney's repeated "I hardly know where to begin" didn't work very well. Does he think that's a catchy line? However, his repeated attacks on Kerry's consistency came through fairly well, and didn't get a very good rebuttal from Edwards.

Bottom line: it seemed like a tie to me. But I'll think about it some more over dinner and see if I change my mind.

A complete transcript of the debate is here.

10:33 — Shorter John Edwards: I don't want to answer your question. I want to talk about healthcare instead.

10:31 — Crocodile tears from Cheney about his inability to reach across the aisle and work better with Democrats. It's his biggest disappointment. Please.

10:23 — Hmmm, things are deterioriating. Ifill's questions are so vague that both candidates are basically using them to toss out every miscellaneous thing they haven't gotten to yet.

10:18 — Gwen Ifill's question about Edwards' lack of experience sure was a dud. Neither one of them wanted to touch it, and who can blame them? Dumb.

10:11 — The energy level has dropped like a stone now that they're on domestic issues. Hell, Cheney looks like he can barely stay awake.

10:02 — Edwards is surprisingly tongue-tied about gay marriage. His position ought to be pretty easy to state: a constitutional amendment would ban civil unions and we're against that. But he never really said that.

Cheney really didn't want to talk about this at all.

9:58 — Cheney just came pretty close to saying he disagrees with Bush about the gay marriage amendment. But Bush makes policy, and he supports Bush....

9:48 — I guess that's it for foreign affairs. A lot more heat than light. Bush and Kerry did better.

9:43 — Halliburton? Halliburton! Cheney: go to factcheck.com for the straight dope. Sorry, Dick, that's factcheck.org.

9:37 — Seems to me that Edwards is hammering too hard on his criticisms of the war effort. I thought Kerry's approach was more effective because he ended his criticisms with "We can do better." That way, it's not just griping. Edwards sounds a little too negative to my ears.

9:34 — Ah, Edwards is picking up on the 50% figure. "90% of the coalition casualties, Mr. Vice President." Cheney is pissed. Iraqis are people too.

9:31 — Is Cheney seriously trying to pretend that it's hard to get more allies on our side because of John Kerry's criticisms of the war?

9:28 — Shorter VP debate: "You're a flip flopper." "You're a liar."

9:27 — Halliburton!

9:21 — Cheney: Americans aren't taking 90% of the casualties in Iraq, we're only taking 50% of the casualties — if you count all the Iraqis who are dying. Something tells me that's not going to fly.

9:19 — Edwards again: "We're going to tell the truth." He's just hammering on this theme.

9:17 — Edwards: "distortion," "regardless of what the vice president and the president want to believe," "rosy scenario."

Yep, it looks like distortion and lying are going to be key to Edwards' attacks on Cheney.

9:12 — John Kerry's standard tagline at the end of each of his answers last Thursday was "We can do better" (or something similar). It sort of looks like John Edwards' is going to be "You're not being straight with the American people" (or something similar).

9:07 — Yada yada yada. There is too a relationship, no matter what anybody says.

John Edwards pretty much ignored the question entirely and just responded with a generic criticism of the war.

9:04 — First question: straight for the jugular. Was there any connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda?

9:01 — Now they're talking about the fact that they're both wearing the same clothes. That's shocking, isn't it?

Both candidates are jotting something on legal pads. I wonder what they're writing?

9:00 — Wolf Blitzer thinks the debate will be "nerve wracking." Personally, I think these guys are both pros and won't make many mistakes.

Kevin Drum 9:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROTESTING TOO MUCH?.... Here's one you just have to love. The latest evidence of the mendacity of the liberal media is this screen shot from Monday's NBC Nightly News. It turns out that George Bush was standing in front of a graphic that spelled out "TAX RELIEF FOR WORKING FAMILIES," but the cropped shot that NBC displayed showed only the letters "ILIE."

Get it? "I Lie." Hah! Those liberal TV news anchors will stop at nothing, will they?

Actually, this is one of those cases where I sort of wish the wingers were right. If NBC had really done this deliberately, it would demonstrate a rare dedication to the truth. As it is, though, the fact that someone even noticed it is probably just evidence that conservatives are a wee bit too sensitive about the whole lying thing. I wonder why?

Kevin Drum 7:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW I SPENT MY AFTERNOON, PART 2....My mother's computer is now a computer again, not a paperweight. Only time will tell if I really got everything, but for now her PC seems to be working fine once again.

Many, many thanks to everyone who left comments or sent email with advice on how to fix her spyware infestation. It's much appreciated.

Kevin Drum 6:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ADULTS START SPEAKING UP....David Kay says there's no WMD, Jerry Bremer says we didn't have enough troops, John McCain says Bush blew it in Iraq, and Lincoln Chafee says he won't vote for George Bush this year. And those are all Republicans! Who's next?

Answer: Marshall Wittman. I'm not all that familiar with the guy myself, but he's migrated from the Christian Coalition to the Heritage Foundation to John McCain's staff, all the time promoting "national greatness conservatism," a hawkish ideology just a smidge removed from neoconservatism. As an independent and intellectually honest conservative thinker, Josh Marshall says, "I think the world of him."

So what's he doing writing an article for Blueprint, the house organ of the Democratic Leadership Council? Endorsing John Kerry, that's what:

There is no remaining shred of doubt that another four years of a Bush presidency would have a toxic effect on American politics. If George W. Bush is re-elected, unlimited corporate power, cynicism, and division will ride high in the saddle.

....on the key issues of progressive economics and a muscular and smart foreign policy, John Kerry's ideas are far preferable to George W. Bush's. And, with his gesture this summer in approaching McCain about the vice presidency, Kerry demonstrated that he is committed to a new politics of national unity.

Although I had my differences with Kerry during the Cold War, he has demonstrated by his hawkishness on Kosovo and Afghanistan that he is willing to use force to defend American ideas and interests. He advocates increasing the size of the U.S. military. On domestic issues, Kerry has positioned himself in the New Democrat tradition. Kerry has proposed an ambitious national service program. He would retain the tax cuts for the middle class while rolling them back on the super-rich. And he would reform, rather than eliminate, the estate tax.

Wittman has a lot of substantial disagreements with John Kerry and with the Democratic party in general, but given the choice he's decided that the George Bush version of the Republican party is just too horrible to contemplate. I hope he's not alone.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM AND AL-QAEDA, PART 2....Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld admitted that Saddam Hussein never had any strong ties to al-Qaeda. "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two," he said.

Today, he says he was "misunderstood." It's not clear from his statement exactly how he was misunderstood, but he now says he's resolutely agnostic on this and it's up to the CIA to answer questions about Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Fine. So what does the CIA think?

A new CIA assessment undercuts the White House's claim that Saddam Hussein maintained ties to al-Qaida, saying there's no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored Osama bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The CIA review, which U.S. officials said Monday was requested some months ago by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the latest assessment that calls into question one of President Bush's key justifications for last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

I guess that's that. So we won't be hearing anything from Cheney tonight about Saddam and al-Qaeda, right?


Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TERROR ALERTS QUANTIFIED AT LAST....This falls into the category of stuff we already knew, but it's nice to have rigorous confirmation anyway:

When the federal government issues a terrorist warning, presidential approval ratings jump, a Cornell University sociologist finds. Interestingly, terrorist warnings also boost support for the president on issues that are largely irrelevant to terrorism, such as his handling of the economy.

...."Results showed that terror warnings increased presidential approval ratings consistently," says [researcher Robb] Willer. "They also increased support for Bush's handling of the economy. The findings, however, were inconclusive as to how long this halo effect lasts."

The full report is here, and the basic result is simple: a terror warning leads to an average increase in the president's approval rating of 2.75% and the increase lasts for about a week — possibly two weeks at the outside. The results are statistically significant at a very high level and (assuming I read the report correctly) Willer properly controlled for major events like 9/11 and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

That's good to know, isn't it? Until now, we might have lazily guessed that the White House was going to stage some kind of terror alert for, oh, mid-October or so. But with this new data in hand, I think we can confidently expect it on about October 27 instead. After all, the effect only lasts a week.

Kevin Drum 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHAT SHOW REVIEW...."Three conservatives and an idiot," says Matt Yglesias. Click here to read the rest.

I don't actually watch any of the Sunday chat shows, but I've certainly been reading a lot about them lately. I guess there just aren't any telegenic liberals left in America....

Kevin Drum 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UBIQUITOUS SURVEILLANCE....Security expert Bruce Schneier has a new blog about.... security issues. Check it out.

Today, he writes about the U.S. government's effort to advocate a new standard for passports that includes an embedded chip. That's not a bad idea, except that the chip in question is an RFID, a chip that broadcasts its information to a nearby receiver. Why an RFID?

Security is always a trade-off. If the benefits of RFID outweighed the risks, then maybe it would be worth it. Certainly, there isn't a significant benefit when people present their passport to a customs official. If that customs official is going to take the passport and bring it near a reader, why can't he go those extra few centimeters that a contact chip — one the reader must actually touch — would require?

....Unfortunately, there is only one possible reason: The administration wants surreptitious access themselves. It wants to be able to identify people in crowds. It wants to surreptitiously pick out the Americans, and pick out the foreigners. It wants to do the very thing that it insists, despite demonstrations to the contrary, can't be done.

Advocates of RFID passports insist that privacy concerns are groundless. RFIDs come in various shapes and sizes, and the ones designed for passports use encryption to secure the data and can only be read from a few inches away.

As Bruce points out, though, that's pretty meaningless. In reality, RFIDs can be read from farther away than their specs suggest, and any encryption system designed for widespread public use is likely to be cracked before the ink is dry on the ISO document.

And, as he asks, what's the point? Passports are always read by machines, so what possible reason can there be for using RFID technology? The answers — or lack thereof — are not reassuring.

Unfortunately, this is one more sign of the rapidly approaching era of ubiquitous surveillance. Like the proverbial boiling frog, it's happening slowly enough that we hardly notice it, but within a couple of decades current notions of privacy will be all but dead unless we start doing something about it now. More here.

Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

RUMSFELD ON AL-QAEDA....Via Tim Dunlop, it appears that Donald Rumsfeld is a wee bit off the reservation when it comes to the infamous Saddam-al-Qaeda relationship. Here's what he told the Council on Foreign Relations today:

To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.

Goodness gracious!

Still, what are the odds that this will slow down Dick Cheney in tomorrow's debate? Slim and none, I'd guess, since Saddam's terrorist connections are a favorite talking point of his regardless of whether they actually ever existed or not.

For more about this, Tapped has the expected talking points here and a quickie analysis of how deeply misleading they are here. Bottom line:

The fact that Cheney and other Republicans continue to flog the spurious Saddam-al-Qaeda tale is a sign of their deep unseriousness about both Iraq and the war on terror. Serious people could make their case for both without resorting to ghost stories more suitable for children than for leaders of the free world.

Kevin Drum 6:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BILLION DOLLAR BILLS....I'm going to have more to say later about this week's Boston Globe series on how Republicans are running roughshod over the legislative process. It's an important story.

But for now I just want to highlight one statistic: according to a study they did, the total amount spent on lobbying for the recent Medicare and energy bills was nearly $1 billion.

Just for lobbying. I've been reading about this stuff for a long time, but even so my jaw dropped when I read that.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OVERSTRETCH....Conventional wisdom until now has suggested that while the Army and Marine Corps (and their associated Guard/Reserve elements) are stretched nearly to the breaking point, both the Navy and the Air Force are in good shape.

Not so fast. Phil Carter reports today that the Air Force has some growing problems of its own....

Kevin Drum 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING THE WHITE HOUSE....George Bush is a deep, deep mystery to me. There are lots of theories about why he does what he does, but none of them seem quite right to me. Or, maybe, all of them seem right. I don't know. It's baffling.

And what about his top advisors? They aren't idiots. In fact, some of them have very good reputations. Had good reputations, anyway. So why have they seemingly gone insane ever since January 20, 2001?

Truly, I don't know. But while I'm trying to figure it out, Noam Scheiber takes a shot at explaining Bush and Brad DeLong takes a crack at figuring out his staff. Neither one completely succeeds, of course, because the raw data to do so just isn't available yet. But they both make a bit of progress.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

(SLIGHTLY) GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ....There have been a few bits of relatively good news out of Iraq lately. A few weeks ago the standoff at Najaf was settled (fairly) peacefully, and although the status of the city is still murky, open fighting in the streets has been pretty much halted.

Then, a couple of days ago, militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had spearheaded the insurgency in Najaf, signalled that he might be interested in curbing his militia and taking part in the January election. It's hard to say how serious his offer is, but it's a step in a positive direction.

Today, U.S. forces claimed victory in Samarra in an operation that relied heavily on Iraqi forces. As usual, the insurgents "melted away," so it's hard to say just how permanent this victory is, but it's something.

For obvious reasons, it would be foolish to get too excited about all this. As the U.S. commanders admit, holding cities is a lot harder that taking them in the first place. And these bright spots are just that: small spots in an otherwise grim landscape filled with ongoing atrocities.

Still, good news is good news. We can hope it's a start.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A NEW CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT: LEAVE ME ALONE....The Supreme Court decided today that the Do-Not-Call list is constitutional. Hurrah! I'll bet it's because they're all tired of getting telemarketing calls.

(Now there's an interesting question for constitutional scholars: how many of the current Supreme Court justices have signed up for the Do-Not-Call list? Does that constitute conflict of interest? Hmmm....)

I get practically no telemarketing calls these days except from my idiot credit card company. This may be the most successful government program of all time.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

POST HASTE... One of the recurring frustrations of the monthly magazine business--for us but especially for our readers--is that issues arrive late in people's mailboxes. It's often our fault for sending the magazine to the printer too late. For that we apologize and vow to do better. But in many cases we are at the mercy of the U.S. Postal Service and its--how can I say this?--idiosyncratic delivery patterns. So, to help us understand those patterns, and perhaps figure out ways of correcting them, I'd like to ask a favor of our blog readers who are also subscribers. If you've been getting the magazine for more than a couple of months, please let us know when the October issue arrives in your mailbox (we mailed them out two weeks ago tomorrow, so if yours has already arrived, please let us know about when you got it). You can do that by posting a comment to this post or by emailing our extremely able business manager Claire Iseli at claire - at - washingtonmonthly.com. Make sure to tell us what city or town you live in. Thanks!

Update: Many thanks to all you who have posted or emailed on this, but one more quick request (I should have asked this earlier): Can you please tell us your zip code? Feel free to post or email again with that info.

Paul Glastris 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE EARPIECE....The internet is your go-to medium for news of the weird, and this weekend's clear winner in the world of weird speculation was the buzz about George Bush's earpiece.

It all started when Bush looked up halfway though an answer during Thursday's debate and snapped petulantly, "Let me finish." This is a trademark Bush line and normally wouldn't draw any comment except for one thing: no one had interrupted him. He had plenty of time left, Kerry hadn't said anything, and Jim Lehrer hadn't said anything either. So who was he talking to?

The theory making the rounds is that he was wearing an implanted earpiece of some kind and was reacting to advice from whatever handler was on the other end. The hard evidence for this is approximately zero, but it did bring back memories of an odd incident a few months ago: Bush was at a press conference with Jacques Chirac and really was wearing an earpiece, and it appeared that his responses to questions were being fed to him a few moments before the words came out of his mouth. You could hear it on every network that carried the event.

And for even more weirdness, there's the mystery of the strange lump in the back of his jacket. It's been there before at press conferences, and it was there again at the debate (Digby has a picture). What is it?

Weird, weird, weird. But I'm sure there's a good explanation that doesn't involve tinfoil hats. Comments are open.

Kevin Drum 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHAFEE SEES THE LIGHT....Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee says he won't be voting for George Bush in November:

In heavily Democratic Rhode Island, he has been a Republican since birth; his parents named him Lincoln after the first Republican president. He says he is waiting for the moderate wing of the party to rise again; in the meantime, he was asked if he went to bed at night wondering how he could remain a Republican.

"Yes," he said, "I don't deny that."

Hmmm. I wonder if he could be persuaded to have a little chat with the senators from Maine...?

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOW I SPENT MY AFTERNOON....My mother's computer is now a paperweight. It has somehow become massively infected by spyware, to the point where it's virtually unusable. Norton AntiVirus says there's nothing wrong. AdAware can't run because the spyware is smart enough to detect it and shut the computer down. Directories can't be deleted because processes are running. Try to delete the processes, and the computer is forcibly rebooted.

I don't have a clue what to do next. Reformat the drive and reinstall XP? I guess it's going to come down to that before long.

There's a special circle in hell reserved for the people who create this stuff. It's not quite as far down as the one for Hitler and Torquemada and guys like that, but it's within spitting distance.

I really hate these bastards.

UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone who has made suggestions in comments or via email. I now have several possible solutions short of nuclear warfare against my mother's hard drive. Wish me luck.

Kevin Drum 10:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH'S HOT BUTTON....Whenever I watch George Bush talk, I try to figure out what he really cares about by listening to how excited he gets on various topics. That was hard during Thursday's debate because he was so generally peevish throughout, but finally, toward the end, there was one point where he became genuinely animated by something that wasn't just a preformulated talking point. And it was on the oddest, most technical diplomatic subject imaginable: the precise structure of negotiations with North Korea.

Basically, the candidates had descended into the bowels of wonkville, arguing about whether we should have bilateral talks with North Korea or whether we should have six-way talks that also include China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia. I doubt that one viewer in a hundred had the slightest idea what they were talking about, but there was no question that Bush felt strongly about it. Here's the exchange:

KERRY:....I'm going to [secure Russian nukes] in four years, and I'm going to immediately set out to have bilateral talks with North Korea.

LEHRER: Your response to that?

BUSH: Again, I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants.

If you were listening you could tell that Bush felt frustrated beyond endurance at the foolishness of bilateral talks. "I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is," he fumed. But why? Of all things, why did he get so worked up about the possibility of one-on-one talks with North Korea?

It's hard to say, but it probably has something to do with the very next sentence: "It's precisely what Kim Jong Il wants." In other words, Bush just doesn't believe in negotiation at all. If the other guy wants something, that's reason enough to deny it to him, even if it's something that would benefit us too.

More importantly, though, this exchange sheds a light on Bush's almost supernatural ability to judge diplomatic situations incorrectly, consistently following precisely the opposite of whichever strategy would be most effective. Iraq and Iran, for example, cried out for multilateral action because the issues at hand fundamentally affect lots of countries — but in both cases Bush has largely spurned genuine multilateral cooperation. (Although, in fairness, the Europeans haven't exactly gone out of their way to make multilateral action an attractive option.) North Korea is exactly the opposite.

The case for multilateral action with Korea is simple: if we make a deal of our own with North Korea, nobody else has a stake in it. If the North Koreans renege, the rest of the world will shrug and wait for us to fix it.

That's a good argument for getting other countries involved, but it's not a good argument for refusing to also deal with North Korea directly. The reason is simple: although the rest of the world has a stake in a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, North Korea's demands are aimed almost solely at the United States. What they want (and what they've always wanted) is a nonagression treaty with the United States and diplomatic recognition from the United States. Other countries can help with things like economic assistance and monitoring, but we're the only ones who can deal with the primary negotiating points. That's best done in bilateral talks.

Thus, John Kerry has by far the better of the argument here: we should have both multilateral and bilateral talks. What's more, all the other countries involved in the talks agree, because they understand the reality of the situation. But George Bush refuses. After all, that would be giving Kim Jong Il something he wants.

In the meantime, the multilateral talks have ground to a halt, North Korea is busily building nuclear weapons, and we've lost two years in which it's just possible we could have put a stop to it. Sure, maybe bilateral negotiations wouldn't have worked, but we'll never know because Bush stubbornly declined to try based on little more than personal pique.

In this, he's following the path of conservative hawks who have derailed progress with North Korea for the past decade. For the definitive story, read Fred Kaplan's "Rolling Blunder" from the May issue of the Washington Monthly. It's a grim recital of error.

Kevin Drum 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JUSTICE AT LAST?....I can't quite get my hopes up enough to believe this is really true, but it's tantalizing enough to reproduce anyway. Here's Laura Rozen on stomach-churning toad Tom DeLay:

Was at a dinner party last night, with some veteran Hill and Brookings people. And among the notable observations and gossip from folks there, the word on the Hill is that Tom DeLay is finished. A downfall that couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. He's always struck me as an evil character from a David Lynch movie.

Apparently, DeLay is in real life basically every bit as despicable as he appears. Works closely with a lobbyist from Hell who championed a loophole allowing no regulation of sweat shops and virtual slavery for Chinese workers working in horrendous sweat shop conditions on the Marshall Islands. An African lobbyist told me recently about DeLay's other tight associations with another right wing American lobbyist who co-owns a property with a South African apartheid era former defense official, where dogs were set on blacks for sport. May justice be done to these people.

There is the redistricting issue, and that is odious in its own way. But then you get these reports from people who deal with DeLay on a daily basis that describe someone of such moral ugliness, who has the chummiest of ties with those who truly trample on the world's poor and most vulnerable. For me, that sort of ugliness overshadows what a demonic political operator DeLay has been.

DeLay's downfall would be a nice Christmas present. A boy can hope, can't he?

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BUMPER STICKER WARS....In a couple of recent comment threads, people have been chatting about the surprising number of Kerry/Edwards signs and bumper stickers they've been seeing even in relatively conservative neighborhoods. Hmmm. That sounds interesting. But is it true? Here at the Washington Monthly, of course, we refuse to rely on mere anecdotal evidence like this. We prefer something more scientific.

Now, it so happens that I live in a conservative neighborhood. Orange County might not be quite the reactionary monolith that it was back in the glory days of the John Birch Society, but here in my hometown of Irvine you still can't get elected dogcatcher if you advertise yourself as merely a "Republican." If you're not a "conservative Republican," you're out of luck. My neighbors don't like to take chances, you see.

So who's winning the political signage war here in conservative Irvine? The association that runs my neighborhood would never allow anything as tacky as yard signs, but they still don't control our cars, so I decided to go out to a local shopping center with my trusty digital camera and count bumper stickers. I came back with a new toner cartridge, some much needed cat food, and lots of pictures.

Good news! Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers outnumbered Bush/Cheney bumper stickers 11 to 7. Even here in the heart of darkness, occasional rays of sunshine peek through.

POSTSCRIPT: In case you're planning to try this yourself, bewarned that some people get really upset if you take a picture of their car. Even if you turn out to be on the same team. Even if all you do is take a picture of their bumper. Just a word to the wise.

Kevin Drum 12:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT IS POLITICAL ANIMAL?....Via Oxblog, definitive evidence that blogging has finally gone mainstream: "Blogs" was a category on Jeopardy last night.

Kevin Drum 11:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANGEL/DODGER UPDATE....Wow. Pretty good day for Southern California baseball. Freeway Series, here we come!

Kevin Drum 7:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL UPDATE....Campaign polling has been so weird this year that it's hard to know which polls to trust. However, trends are a little easier to pick out: just take a look at the same poll over a period of time. Even if the poll methodology is biased in favor of either Bush or Kerry, the bias should mostly wash out when you look only at the differences from one week to the next.

So how is John Kerry doing after Thursday's debate? According to Newsweek, in a 3-way race he was behind Bush 52%-41% after the Republican convention. Today, he's ahead 47%-45%.

Regardless of whether there's any bias in the absolute numbers, this means that Kerry has made up 13 points on Bush in the past four weeks. Even taking into account the statistical margin of error, Kerry has clearly made up a lot of ground.

Something tells me that Bush is going to be mighty nervous going into next Friday's rematch. He really needs a good performance.

Kevin Drum 6:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

DEBATE BOUNCE... A new Newsweek poll has Kerry leading Bush by two points. Four weeks ago, the magazine had Bush leading Kerry by 11 points.

Paul Glastris 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A QUESTION FOR FOX NEWS....If you haven't been following the Carl Cameron "cuticle" story, head over to Josh Marshall's site to catch up. Start here and then scroll up.

Long story short, FoxNews political correspondent Carl Cameron, who's been covering the Kerry campaign, filed a bogus story on Friday with made-up Kerry quotes like "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!" It was a laugh riot.

Fox now says Cameron has been reprimanded and is "moving on." And I'm willing to move on too. But before we do, I wonder if Fox could tell us just how this story ended up getting posted on their website?

Reporters don't post their own stories, after all. First they go to an editor — this isn't the blogosphere, folks! — and then, presumably, to the copy desk, from whence they get posted.

So who were the editors who greenlighted this story? It's one thing for a reporter to have some private fun, but at a minimum three or four people must have seen this story and decided to pass it along before finally posting it. Who were they? And why didn't any of them stop it?

Josh has a few other questions too.

UPDATE: More Fox News fun here.

Kevin Drum 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESS CORPS OBJECTIVITY....Michael Kinsley on the L word:

BM: What's the biggest problem with campaign journalism right now — particularly what appears on page A1?

MK: The biggest problem is — and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle — is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality. The classic thing is the Swift Boats. If you follow what all the papers say, they inch close to saying what they really think by saying, "it's controversial," or "many have challenged it," euphemisms like that. And then they always need to pair it with something else. "Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever."

Via an interview at Campaign Desk.

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SITE PROBLEMS....For those of you wondering what's going on with the site, our domain name registration expired unexpectedly last night. We're back on the air now, but I think access may still be a little flaky for a few hours in some geographical locations.

Truly, the joys of the internet know no bounds....

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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October 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PORTER GOSS UPDATE....When he was going through his confirmation hearings for the post of CIA director, Republican congressman Porter Goss swore repeatedly that he would never, ever be a partisan hack. Why, as soon as he was confirmed, he'd practically forget he'd ever even been a politician, let alone a Republican politician.

Today, with the annoying formalities of confirmation safely over, Goss has apparently had a change of heart. His first act? He named four congressional aides — all of them Republican political appointees — to key positions within the agency.

And when the tedious formalities of the election are over, which promises do you think George Bush will immediately break if he's reelected? There's a long list to choose from.

Kevin Drum 5:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BUSH, THE UNCHURCHED....Here's a question someone should ask Bush in one of the remaining debates: Why don't you go to church, sir?

Update: Drat. I keep forgetting about the "registration required" thing. Well, hopefully my article will be posted free and clear sometime next week. In the meantime, the gist is that even Bush's conservative defenders don't believe the excuses about why he doesn't go to church. It's ridiculous to think that the Secret Service couldn't handle security at a local church or that a church wouldn't want the president as a parishioner--several in the D.C. area have extended invitations to the Bushes, to no avail. As to the obvious question--"Why should we care?"--we shouldn't, except that Bush has staked his political reputation, and part of his domestic agenda (faith-based initiative), on being a devout man of faith. The fact that he doesn't belong to a congregation is at least worthy of press coverage and yet there has been none.

Yet Another Update: This is Kevin, barging into one of Amy's posts again. I've fixed the link above so that you can get to the article without registration. Enjoy!

Amy Sullivan 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NO, PLEASE, ANYTHING BUT THAT....You kind of have to wonder if the Bush folks were played in the debate negotiations. I just got back from lunch with two individuals who were involved in the discussions for each side and the consensus opinion is that, contrary to the pre-debate CW, the set-up pretty much favored Kerry. And I won't say the Democrats are pleased, but the Kerry guy joked, "We called over to the Bush campaign this morning and said on second thought, we'd be okay with just two debates."

That, of course, was the sticking point of the negotiations. Jim Baker didn't want more than two debates and the Kerry folks were willing to concede almost anything in order to get the full three. Or at least that's what they said. Which led to the perception that they'd given away the farm (and taken hits for their candidate) in order to get three debates. In reality, the "concessions" worked in their favor. The Bush guy admitted today that, in hindsight, insisting on a foreign policy and national security focus for the first debate was a risk for the president (although it's hard to argue that he would have been better off defending his domestic policy record right out of the box either--what this really shows is the extent to which Bush must play defense on all fronts.)

The time limits also worked in Kerry's favor because they forced him to be succinct (much like the rush to get through his acceptance speech before the 11pm network cut-off time gave him momentum at the Convention), while also making clear that he had more to say on almost every topic. Bush, on the other hand, often stopped talking while he still had a green or yellow light and it appeared that he just wanted to get through the debate and off the stage as quickly as possible. Even the Bushie said the president is okay answering questions for a minute and then he starts to flounder for about thirty seconds before trying to toss off a closing line.

And just on a purely shallow level, the podium set-up (which was apparently less of an issue in negotiations than fulfilling Cheney's request to sit across a table from Edwards) made Bush look fidgety and somewhat small, while rendering Kerry in control and presidential. He was there to engage; Bush was there to defend himself.

A few random observations: Although I did get tired of hearing Kerry mention "allies" and "alliances" and "the U.N.", it didn't bother me like it did my debate-watching companion, who was ready to toss the tv out the window. I thought Kerry's constant reference to the fact that America is bearing "90% of the casualties and 90% of the cost" brought home the point that this isn't an academic debate--there are real and devastating consequences to going it alone.

The repetition of "allies" wasn't, as I'd believed, a wonky way of thinking about Iraq. A Stan Greenberg poll that was released last week asked Americans what bothered them most about the situation in Iraq. The idea that it diverts resources from a larger war on terror ranked 12th out of 12 concerns; the thought that it has alienated our allies was third. So maybe Kerry's onto something.

Finally, people are all atwitter about Bush's twitchy and grouchy demeanor while he listened to Kerry. I didn't think it was all that surprising--it's the real George W. Bush. But I think his tendency to become annoyed when challenged has been made much much worse by the bubble he's been kept in for the past four years. No one on his staff talks to him like that. He's just not used to direct verbal pounding. Even his campaign appearances out among "real Americans" are so carefully controlled that if someone gets through the loyalty pledge to actually step up and challenge him, they're tackled and dragged away in a matter of seconds. Bill Clinton--who used to encounter all manner of hecklers on the campaign trail--was a master at sparring with protesters and putting them in their place while defending himself. Maybe that kind of practice would have been good for Bush.

Amy Sullivan 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPINNING THE BLOGOSPHERE....Last night I wrote a post wondering aloud why the press corps spends so much time in "spin alley" when they know perfectly well that every opinion expressed there is completely fake. Do they actively want to be spun?

But I have the same question about the blogosphere. Here's the Republican effort to spin conservative blogs:

The "Debate Feed" will provide the GOP spin in real time to as many as 5,000 conservative Web outlets, according to Wired News. "Our rapid response effort is based on the premise that no attack or no misstatement will go unchallenged," Michael Turk, director of the Internet campaign, told the Web site.

And here's the press release from the DNC that I got yesterday:

Kerry Team Set for Instant Response

170 Pages of Bush Rebuttals * New DVD * Virtual War Room * Blogger Outreach * Grassroots Media

It's not surprising that the campaigns are reaching out to bloggers, of course, but as near as I can tell both sides are eating this up. Bloggers everywhere are basking in the illusion that they're sophisticated media operatives, actively collaborating to figure out the best spin for their guy. Emails are flying around from all parties pleading with fellow bloggers to stay on message.

This is insane. It's bad enough when the mainstream media spends too much time lazily regurgitating talking points, but doesn't the blogosphere supposedly pride itself on being fiercely independent, a small band of brave truthtellers immune to the spin and cant of professional politicos?

Immune? As near as I can tell, bloggers are delighted to find themselves being spun by professionals. It's a real rush.

Kind of boring, though. For what it's worth, I think the blogosphere is made up of some pretty interesting people, and I'm a lot more interested in reading what really pops into their heads than I am in seeing the DNC and RNC discover yet another media outlet. Maybe it's time to divorce ourselves from the spin machine, folks.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NO BROADBAND?....In an effort reminiscent of the ill-fated "push back" strategy of last year, the White House is revving up yet another PR effort to convince everyone that Iraq is in great shape no matter what everyone else says. The Washington Post has the details.

Via John Quiggin, here's the last line of the article, allegedly explaining why the White House wrote Iyad Allawi's speech last week and planned virtually every detail of his conveniently timed U.S. visit:

Administration officials said that the Iraqi Embassy in Washington consists of just a few officials and has only a dial-up Internet connection, so was incapable of preparing for the high-profile tour.

The Iraqi embassy only has a dial-up internet connection? This has got to be lamest excuse I've ever heard. It's like they're not even trying anymore.

Kevin Drum 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLIP CONTEST....If you were the liberal Rush Limbaugh, what clip from last night's debate would you run a dozen times an hour to demonstrate what a chump George Bush is? Here are the nominees:

  1. "He forgot Poland."

  2. "It's like a huge tax gap."

  3. "Let me finish."

  4. "Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that."

  5. "I've got a good relation with Vladimir."

My favorite is A, which has enormous comedic potential. But the others are good too! Plenty for everybody....

UPDATE: Other favorites from comments:

  1. "It's hard work to try to love her as best as I can."

  2. "I'm trying to put a leash on them."

  3. "the Iranian moooooo-laws...."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Via Dan Drezner (and confirmed by Webster's New World Dictionary), the first syllable of "mullah" can indeed be pronounced "moo." Who knew? However, it still ought to be moo-luh, not moo-law....

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE'S GESTURES....This is probably old news by now — it's one of the drawbacks of blogging from the Pacific time zone — but the DNC has a quickie video up on its site that showcases all of George Bush's off camera grimaces and eye rolling during the debate. Go take a look. It's only about a minute long.

It's worth nothing that this was different from Al Gore's infamous sighing in 2000. Gore's performance was quite obviously that: a performance. He made a conscious decision that this was a good way to get across the idea that Bush was a dimwit. Conversely, Bush's gestures this year seemed entirely genuine.

What does it mean? The sense I got from Bush's weird inability to control himself wasn't so much that he was bored or annoyed — although he was obviously irked during some of his responses — but that he just can't stand to wait around while someone else has the stage. He's the guy in charge, and people are supposed to listen to him, not the other way around.

At least, that's how it struck me. Your mileage may vary.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO WON?...According to a quickie ABC poll, debate viewers judged Kerry the winner 45%-36% (with the rest judging it a tie).

CNN/USA Today/Gallup has Kerry the winner 53%-37%.

A CBS poll of uncommitted voters shows Kerry winning 43%-28%.

Kevin Drum 1:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLAND....During the debate John Kerry suggested that the war coalition wasn't really much of a coalition: only the U.S., Britain, and Australia. "We can do better," he said.

Bush, obviously peeved, snapped back, "He forgot Poland." My initial reaction was that this line was going to make pretty good joke fodder on late night TV (insert your own one-liner here), but Julian Sanchez at Hit & Run actually has the best response. Here's what President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland thinks of the coalition today: "They deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride."

Maybe Bush would be better off forgetting Poland too.

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIVEBLOGGING....This is sort of interesting: the New York Times' Katharine Seelye liveblogged the debate. Read it for yourself and decide if she did it better than the amateurs in the blogosphere.

For the record, her main observations seem to be that Bush was repetitive and easily irked. Sounds about right to me.

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DRAFT....By the way, did anyone notice that Bush's closing statement had a gratuitous reference to maintaining a volunteer army? Kerry never even mentioned the possibility of Bush reinstating the draft, but Bush apparently felt like he had to defend himself against it anyway.

It was smart of Kerry not to bring it up, since there's not much he could do with it in a formal debate setting. (What's he going to do? Ask for a promise that Bush will never institute a draft no matter what?) Still, it's obviously a background issue that makes Bush nervous, and one that campaign surrogates are likely to keep quietly pushing in the background.

Kevin Drum 12:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPIN ALLEY....I'm not a big press basher, but I've got a question about debate coverage. I know it's a terminally naive question, but it's also dead serious.

As you know, "spin alley" is the infamous offstage area where all the flacks from both campaigns hang out and deliver opinions to a press corps packed into the room like sardines. There's no subtlety here, either: both sides have the single-minded goal of convincing the press that their guy did better than the other guy.

So here's my question: why does the press spend time there? In fact, why do they even attend the debates in person? The debates are fundamentally designed for TV, so you get a better idea of what really happened if you watch them on TV instead of watching them live.

I'm puzzled that a supposedly cynical, professional, highly knowledgable national press corps actively wants to be spun. They know perfectly well that the opinions expressed in spin alley are completely fake, and yet they go there anyway. Are they really so insecure that they're afraid to just trust their own instincts when they write their stories?

Kevin Drum 12:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LEASH LAW....Sullivan on the debate:

No president who has presided over Abu Ghraib should ever say he wants to put anyone on a leash. That's all.

Credit where it's due. That's the best one-liner I've heard yet about Thursday's festivities.

Kevin Drum 12:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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