Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

BRING 'EM ON....From Foreign Policy Watch:

Judy [Shalom, wife of the Israeli foreign minister], speaking on a television show about the recent bombings in London: "As long as I hold no official position, I can say it's not all bad for the English to find out what it's like."

Lovely. I hope none of the victims' families were watching.

UPDATE: From Haggai in comments, a correction. The quote comes from Judy Shalom, wife of the Israeli foreign minister, not from the wife of Ariel Sharon. I've corrected this in the text as well as here in the update. Link here.

UPDATE 2: I've shut down comments on this post. Oddly enough, it's not for the usual reason with posts dealing with Israel. Rather, it's because this post is the target of a massive Japanese comment spam attack. Sorry about that.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGHER WRAPUP....Due to a technology meltdown of spectacular proportions spectacular in terms of raising my already dangerously high blood pressure, anyway there was no blogging from the BlogHer conference yesterday which was all for the best, probably, since I've never been a big fan of liveblogging anyway. I realize that blogging is all about being live, unedited, and in the moment, but surely there's something to be said for taking at least a couple of minutes to gather your thoughts before beaming them out to the masses?

But first things first. Was I really there? Despite the lack of liveblogging proof, yes I was, and I have conference goodies to prove it. Pictorial evidence is on the right. In addition, I got one of those plastic slinky doodads and a copy of Red Herring. Boy did that take me back.

Here are some miscellaneous takeaways:

  • First and foremost: wow! There were over 300 attendees, and more than half were from outside the Bay Area. Especially considering that this was v1.0 of this conference, that's really astonishing. I talked to people who had come from Baltimore, DC, New York, Great Britain, Atlanta, Seattle, Montreal, and a dozen other cities.

    Note to people who are interested in making money from bloggers: there is a definite business opportunity here.

  • I met frequent commenter Spacebaby, which was cool. It's always nice to meet people who read the blog. Oddly enough, it turns out she's not from space. She's from Boston. How about that?

  • There were about a dozen small breakout sessions in the late morning, and I chose to sit in on the group talking about politics and feminism. I figured, wtf, might as well get right into the belly of the beast, right? Besides, it was either that or a group talking about why the mainstream media sucks, and I really didn't think I could stand another round of that.

    Anyway, the first question out of the gate came from Liza Sabater and was directed at me: why did I have trouble finding women bloggers, anyway? You could see that one coming a mile away, couldn't you? The answer, of course, is that I've never had any trouble finding women bloggers and never said so, but like Al Gore and the internet, I suppose I'll be stuck with that tag forever, so I might as well learn to joke about it. In any case, I certainly have a lot less trouble finding them these days.

  • Note to Ogged: Dude. Please. You're embarrassing us.

  • Surprisingly (to me), a considerable part of the main morning session ended up getting devoted to the question of whether you should care about getting links from other bloggers, and particularly whether you should care about links from A-list bloggers and the mainstream media. Technorati is apparently something of an obsession with a lot of people, even the ones who supposedly don't care about links.

    This struck me as a peculiarly arcane discussion because the answer seems so obvious. For some bloggers, links from high traffic blogs are worthwhile because their goal is to influence public discourse in a broad way. For others, links from specific blogs are worthwhile because they want to be part of a specific conversation. For others, who blog for other reasons, links don't really matter. What's so hard about that?

  • On the other hand, if your goal is to influence public discourse, then links and traffic matter whether you like it or not and I think it's important not to kid ourselves about this, especially among people who are having trouble making their voices heard. It does matter whether there are women in Congress, women on the Supreme Court, and women writing op-eds in the New York Times. After all, a necessary part of changing the world is engaging with the world that currently exists.

  • I met two women at BlogHer who were working on PhD dissertations. Coincidence?

  • As near as I could tell, the conclusion of the "Political Blogging Grows Up" session was that political blogging hasn't grown up. You can read liveblogging of the session from Donna Mills and Jill Fallon.

  • As it turned out, though, BlogHer attendees were largely uninterested in standard issue political/current events blogging. The vast majority of the sessions were on other topics, and while I didn't look in on every session, the most popular room seemed to be "How to Get Naked," a session about "identity blogging." This was a new term for me, and apparently refers to blogs that are specifically about the blogger's personal life and personal issues. The session was liveblogged by Ellon and Melissa Gira.

    Unlike all the other sessions I looked in on, this one actually produced some consensus from the panelists: they pretty much agreed with the common sense notion that if you're going to blog about your private life on the web, you ought to give some thought to who might be reading it. Sure, it can be a liberating thing to do, but you can also cause yourself a considerable amount of pain when you let the entire world know exactly what you think of your mother, your boss, your friends, and your husband. So before you write something, pretend these people are sitting in front of you and decide if you'd say it anyway. Wise words. (Or, as Koan Bremner put it, "think of the worst possible person who could read your post, and then assume they're probably going to read it.")

  • I know that we're supposed to avoid broad generalizations about sex and gender differences, but jeez, there sure were a lot of Macs at this conference.

  • "Suffragette Journalists: Op-Ed Pages of Our Own" (liveblogged by Cathy Kirkman) largely turned into a discussion of whether bloggers are journalists. Personally, I find this so tedious I could scream, but luckily I probably don't have to: Jay Rosen was at the session, and I imagine he'll find something of Rosen-esque length to say about it. So we can just wait for that.

    On the other hand, I will say this: for a group of people whose contempt for mainstream journalism is so furious you'd think they'd all been abused as children by Dan Rather, bloggers sure do spend a lot of time kvetching about not being considered journalists. Here's a hint, though: if you've never picked up the telephone to call some newsworthy figure and ask a question, you're probably not a journalist. Just a thought.

  • Pamela Sellers of CNN told me that CNN's "Inside the Blogs" is due for some changes. I don't think you can do any worse than sticking a camera in front of a computer screen and reading text from a bunch of blogs, so I guess this is bound to be good news.

  • It turns out that Chris Nolan and I share an affection for Carey McWilliams. So with that in mind, here's a book recommendation: Fool's Paradise, a collection of McWilliams essays written mostly between 1940 and 1970. They're organized so that the book becomes a short, impressionistic history of California from the late 1800s through the early postwar era, and you can hardly do better. McWilliams writes with tremendous depth, an elegant style, a genuine sense of humor, and a real understanding of the soul of California, which is both more complex and more interesting than the usual stereotypes.

Thirsty for more? Click here for a list of BlogHer sessions and follow the links to the session posts and the livebloggers. Then follow those links to even more stuff. In addition, some of the attendees and their blogs are listed here. Go meet some new people!

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 29, 2005
By: Paul Glastris

FRIDAY GREEK QUOTING... In his latest Salon piece on how the Bush administration is silently signaling defeat by dropping the slogan "global war on terrorism" in favor of "global struggle against violent extremism," the eminent Hellenist Sid Blumenthal reminds me of this passage from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War":

The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man.

Paul Glastris 8:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....I'm leaving in a couple of hours for the BlogHer Conference, so this is my last post for the day. In fact, it might be my last post for a couple of days, depending on whether I decide to try to liveblog any of the conference happenings tomorrow. I'm taking Marian's laptop with me, but conference blogging will depend on a combination of my mood, the cooperation of the technology gods, and whether or not something happens that's just too good not to blog.

But I'm not leaving you high and dry. In my absence, here's some garden fresh Friday Catblogging, offloaded from my camera mere minutes ago. As you can see, I interrupted Inkblot's beauty sleep in our backyard jungle to get these pictures, while Jasmine, as usual, came trotting up to see what was happening as soon as she heard the click of the shutter. She's a real camera fiend, that cat.

Have a good weekend, everyone. I'll be back either Saturday or Sunday.

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOWERING THE BAR...Civil war in Iraq? Hey maybe that's not so bad after all! Spencer Ackerman explains.

Kevin Drum 2:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RADOVAN KARADZIC....Ljiljana Karadzic, the wife of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, pleaded on Friday for him to give himself up:

She told the Associated Press that the Karadzic family had had enough and he should surrender. "Our family is under constant pressure from all over. Our life and existence is jeopardised," she said at her home in the hardline Serbian village of Pale outside Sarajevo.

...."In hope that you are alive and that you can make decisions by yourself, I'm begging you to make this decision," she said. "Between loyalty to you and to the children and grandchildren, I had to choose and I have chosen ... It will be your sacrifice for us, for the sake of your family."

Karadzic, who is accused of genocide over the killing of about 8,000 Muslim men during the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, has been wanted by NATO ever since to answer war crimes charges at the Hague.

Russ Baker has been instrumental in stepping up the pressure on Karadzic, starting with this article in the Washington Monthly last year. Check it out to get the straight dope on why, even though we have a pretty good idea of where Karadzic is and how to get to him, we still haven't located him despite a decade of trying. It's not a pretty story.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE CONSERVATIVE WEIRDNESS....I noticed the Corner's peculiar fixation yesterday with "Commander-in-Chief," the new ABC show starring Geena Davis as a VP who becomes president, but I just wrote it off as evidence of a slow news day. However, the Carpetbagger reports that it's not just the Cornerites:

James Dobson's Focus on the Family, in its daily alert to supporters, said yesterday that Geena Davis's character name, Mackenzie Allen, "sounds remarkably, poetically like" Hillary Clinton, which apparently is proof that the show is conspiring to help HRC in 2008.

Are these people weird, or what? They go on endlessly about about how gender doesn't matter no indeedy! but then they can't help gossiping in horror when some TV network decides to air a banal political drama about a female president. They claim they aren't really obsessed with Hillary, and then turn around and make the otherworldly claim that "Mackenzie Allen" sounds like "Hillary Clinton."

Is it something in the water?

UPDATE: I guess some liberals are none too happy with the show either.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WORRYING ABOUT THE BOTTOM LINE....Researcher Michael Lynn got sued by Cisco a couple of days ago. Why? Because he told a conference of security experts about serious flaws in Cisco's routers:

Since January he has been studying how hackers could seize control of routers made by Cisco devices that are used around the world to direct Internet traffic.

The research showed that a series of previously disclosed flaws were far more critical than had been believed, jeopardizing computers that had not received recent software updates, Lynn told attendees Wednesday.

"You could own portions of the Internet. It's pretty scary," said Ero Carrera, a researcher with the Finnish security software company F-Secure Corp. who attended the talk.

Lynn didn't just spring this on Cisco out of nowhere. He shared his findings with them months ago, and in his talk he deliberately restricted what he said so that hackers couldn't exploit the vulnerabilities he had discovered. Cisco sued anyway.

Lynn is remarkably understanding about the whole affair, though. The attempt to stop his talk, he said, was "probably good for their bottom line and bad for the country." That sounds about right.

Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLOCK WARS....The Wall Street Journal asks a question of vital importance today:

Should the convenience of lazy computer programmers triumph over the rising of the sun?

Hell, if you put it that way, I'll put my money on the lazy programmers every time. I've got way too much experience with lazy programmers to ever bet against them.

To find out what the fuss is about, click the link. It's a rollicking tale of American arrogance, Belgian astronomers, British pride, Russian GPS systems, the United Nations, and leap seconds vs. leap hours. Somebody should write a book.

Kevin Drum 2:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 28, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL....Brad DeLong has prompted me to wonder once again why so many people share a specific and entirely unjustified criticism of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.

First, a recap: GG&S is an investigation of why Eurasians ended up ruling the world. Diamond's answer, in a nutshell, is that for excellent reasons having to do with geography, agriculture, and the availability of domesticable animals, complex crop-based civilization started first in the fertile crescent area of the Middle East around 8,000 BC and then spread throughout the Eurasian continent. By the time Eurasians and Europeans in particular had matured to the point where they were crossing the seas, they were far more advanced than the civilizations they encountered in Africa, Australia, and the Americas, which were only a couple of millennia old. Europeans went on to dominate them because they were like teenagers beating up on a child.

As interesting and compelling as this thesis is, however, a lot of readers come away dissatisfied because it doesn't go far enough. After all, it's a nice explanation for why Eurasia ended up dominating the world, but it doesn't explain why Europe ended up dominating the world. Why not the Muslims, the Hindus, or the Chinese, all of whom were also Eurasians and would have been long odds favorites over the Europeans if space aliens had been placing bets around 1,000 AD?

What's especially peculiar about this dissatisfaction with GG&S and I shared it when I first read the book is that it's completely unjustified. GG&S is about Eurasian civilization from around 8,000 BC to 1,000 AD, which is a plenty broad and demanding topic all by itself, and Diamond simply doesn't address the question of why Europe turned out to be top dog among the various Eurasian contenders. What's more, he even has a chapter at the end of GG&S where he specifically says this isn't the subject of his book and then lays out a bit of speculation on the question.

As it happens, Brad links to a particularly intense version of this reaction in which the critic specifically claims that this is the subject of GG&S despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. It's quite odd. Still, in less virulent form it's a common reaction, and I wonder why. It is Diamond's fault? Perhaps GG&S is written in a way that makes it easy to misunderstand his point. Or is it simply that the question of why Europe took over the world is so interesting that everyone really, really wants that to be the subject of the book, and is disappointed when it turns out not to be?

I suspect it's mostly the latter, although there's at least a smidgen of the former as well. When the question is "Why did the winners win?" it's just natural to want a complete answer. Stopping at 1,000 AD and not taking on the question of Europe seems so much like cheating that it's probably natural to think that Diamond is avoiding the real question.

But he's not. He's just answering a different question. Perhaps someday someone will offer a similarly compelling thesis for why the primitive and ignorant Europeans of 1,000 AD suddenly blossomed into the world conquering Europeans of 1,500 AD, leaving their erstwhile Eurasian betters in the dust. Until then, we'll have to make do with Diamond.

Kevin Drum 8:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SULLY A CENTRIST?....Why do the folks at Hotline keep referring to Andrew Sullivan as a "centrist"? As far as I know, he considers himself a conservative, liberals consider him a conservative, and even conservatives consider him a conservative even if he does go off the reservation now and again. Am I missing something?

Kevin Drum 7:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW SAVVY ARE YOU?....Which groups have the highest IQ? The answer may surprise you. It turns out that women are smarter than men, the young are smarter than the middle aged, and the middle class are smarter than the rich.

Of course, we're talking about "shopping IQ" here, not the more controversial Stanford Binet sort. The test is much easier and shorter than an ordinary IQ test, too, which is a big bonus. I took it and scored a seemingly lame 98, but I guess that's not so bad considering my gender, class, and age.

Kevin Drum 6:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GWOT vs. GSAVE....Over at Democracy Arsenal, Lorelei Kelly has an interesting critique of the DLC that's a little more substantive than the pie throwing that's absorbed the blogosphere for the past few days. Specifically, she's not too impressed with their take on national security:

The overall problem with the DLC's ideas is that there's not much new in them. In the security sections, they still rely on the military to solve all our problems for us. Knowing this is the furthest thing from being "anti-military". Civilians need to grow up. Indeed, at the Marine's Irregular Warfare conference a few weeks back, one of the sessions inspired a lively Q and A. It was about the military's ability to foster conditions leading to stability and IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield). Because Marines generally don't worry about manhood issues during policy discussions (unlike Karl Rove) it became clear that paying attention to psychological and societal aspects of a culture is vital as is institution building. The military is in a process of learning backward. One marine said "if we had done the planning for phase four (rebuilding) we would not have fought this war."

It was the smartest thing I've heard in a long, long time.

I've got much the same complaint as Lorelei. I'm sympathetic to the DLC's proposal that we need more troops after all, undermanning has obviously been our biggest problem in Iraq from the very start. At the same time, Iraq is a done deal one way or the other, and a commitment to additional troops in the future won't help us in Iraq now. At this point, the only reason to increase troop strength is if you think we're going to be fighting more conventional wars in the future, and, like Lorelei, I'm far from convinced that conventional wars have much to do with winning the Global War on Terror.

What's more, even the hawks in the Bush administration now seem to have tacitly accepted this, abandoning the GWOT metaphor entirely in favor of GSAVE: the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. As Juan Cole says:

I take it this is because they have finally realized that if they are fighting a war on terror, the enemy is four guys in a gym in Leeds. It isn't going to take very long for people to realize that a) you don't actually need to pay the Pentagon $400 billion a year if that is the problem and b) whoever is in charge of such a war isn't actually doing a very good job at stopping the bombs from going off.

....It is not a war. It is counter-insurgency. Gen. Anthony Zinni tells the story about how he had been away from the Pentagon for a while and then was (as I remember) brought back to give a backgrounder. And a young soldier saluted and said he was there to fight the G-WOT. And Zinni said, "Come again?" The soldier looked puzzled and say, "Why, the Global War on Terror, sir."

If the DLC really wants to produce some fresh thinking on national security, perhaps there are smarter ways of doing it than proposing that we need more of what we have already. If this is truly a new kind of war, surely we need a new kind of military to go along with it?

Kevin Drum 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PAKISTAN AND THE TALIBAN....In the LA Times, Paul Watson reports that Pakistan's military is actively engaged in training Taliban insurgents who are crossing the border to fight in Afghanistan:

Afghan officials allege that Taliban and allied fighters who fled to Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 are learning new, more lethal tactics from the Pakistani military at numerous training bases.

"Pakistan is lying," said Lt. Sayed Anwar, acting head of Afghanistan's counter-terrorism department. "We have very correct reports from their areas. We have our intelligence agents inside Pakistan's border as well.

....Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani journalist who freelances for the Los Angeles Times, recently reported that at least some training camps that were closed on [President Pervez] Musharraf's orders have been reopened.

The government denies that there are training camps. But Ali, who also writes for the Pakistani magazine the Herald, visited one camp and found armed militants with fresh recruits as young as 13 undergoing 18-day "ideological orientation" and weapons training. Several sources said 13 militant camps had been reactivated in the Mansehra region alone in the first week of May.

In one sense, this is dog-bites-man stuff. Pakistan's military helped build the Taliban in the 90s and has long had a fundamentalist core sympathetic to the Islamist cause. What's more, for obvious reasons, Watson's report is fairly thinly sourced. It's not like he can take a tour of North Waziristan himself and conduct a census of military camps in the area.

Still, he connects some dots here that are worth connecting. It's worth a read to get a sense of what we continue to be up against four years after Musharraf pledged his support to the U.S. fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAFTA....I see that CAFTA passed the House last night 217-215, squeaking to victory in a midnight vote that was held open for over an hour. Just another day at the office for Tom DeLay.

On a substantive level CAFTA seems like a mixed bag to me, probably a bit more good than bad, but in any case nothing to get too wildly upset about. But on a procedural level, I'm curious about something: what's up with all the midnight votes on bills like this?

The obvious answer is that Republican leaders think it helps them pass their bills because opponents will drift off or go home or something. But that's obviously not the case. 432 congressmen voted on CAFTA, virtually the entire chamber.

That being the case, why not just schedule the vote for normal business hours? What do they gain from the whole midnight schtick?

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias emails to explain that the midnight vote wasn't aimed at getting the Democratic opposition to throw in the towel, it was aimed at giving Republican holdouts a convenient excuse to avoid voting:

There were two Republican non-voters, Charles Taylor and Jo Ann Davis. And the vote passed 217-215. The game isn't to hope that serious opponents get tired and go home. Instead, it gives awkward Republicans an excuse for not casting "no" votes.

So Taylor and Davis get to tell their constituents that they opposed CAFTA but just, you know, missed the actual vote because it was held so late and they couldn't stick around. Family commitments, you know.

That's pretty impressive. DeLay did all this just to help out two two! Republicans who are in pretty safe seats anyway. No wonder his colleagues appreciate him so much.

UPDATE 2: Jesse Lee has more detail about Taylor. Apparently he's now claiming that he really did vote against CAFTA but did so using a "deactivated voting card." D'oh!

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Today's Plame tidbits:

  • Arianna Huffington says that hallway gossip at the New York Times places Judith Miller at the center of Plamegate. Her story: after Joe Wilson's op-ed appeared on July 6, Miller went ballistic, checked out Wilson with her CIA contacts, found out about his wife, and then passed along the information to Scooter Libby in the White House.

  • Douglas Jehl, in a confusing New York Times article, suggests that there's a third Bush administration official in addition to Karl Rove and Scooter Libby who was actively pushing the Plame story to reporters after Wilson's July 6 op-ed appeared.

That's about it. Both stories are speculative, so take them for what they're worth.

Kevin Drum 2:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PAT ROBERTS UPDATE....There's been a bit of skepticism in the online community about my theory that Kansas Senator Pat Roberts isn't planning an honest inquiry into how best to protect covert CIA agents. How do I know what Roberts is up to? What do I think I am, a mind reader?

Nope. Just a blogger trying to figure out why Pat Roberts is suddenly interested in the issue of covert CIA operatives at this particular moment in time. Is it because there's been a rash of exposures of undercover agents? Not that I've heard. Is it because he's concerned about the outing of Valerie Plame? That happened two years ago.

No, the only thing that's happened recently has been the disclosure that Karl Rove did indeed mention Plame's CIA status to two different reporters in 2003. That has the Republican party engaged in a panic stricken frenzy to convince the world that Plame wasn't really covert and therefore Rove did nothing wrong even if he did expose her identity.

This gives us two options to choose from. First, Roberts is genuinely offended both by Rove's actions and his fellow Republicans' defense of it, and intends to use his hearings to hold the Bush administration's feet to the fire over it. I realize opinions may differ on this, but since Roberts has never held this administration's feet to the fire over anything, I have my doubts that he's suddenly gotten religion in the past couple of weeks. The second option is that he intends to use the hearings to help the administration cover its tracks. This is the theory I favor.

Still, this is just speculation. So let's go to the tape. Alan Bjerga of the Wichita Eagle caught up with Roberts on Wednesday and asked him what he had in mind. Here's what he said:

"We need to look at the role of cover, and how to best protect people who are operating in a covert fashion," he said.

Hmmm. That doesn't sound so bad. Maybe I'm being too harsh on Roberts. But wait there's also this:

Roberts said that Plame, along with several other cases, points to problems related to how the intelligence community protects its officers and to ambiguities in the definition of who has cover and what levels of cover exist.

Ah. So apparently Roberts is mainly concerned with disparaging the intelligence community after all. According to Bjerga, Roberts thinks there's a "problem" with the way they protect their officers. What's more, there are "ambiguities" in how they define who's undercover and who isn't. And keep in mind that this comes after Roberts' Late Edition comment that although outing a covert agent is "generically" a serious matter, he personally doubts that Valerie Plame was really covert. "From a common sense standpoint," he said, "driving back and forth to work to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert."

Roberts could hardly be more transparent in his intentions if he hired a skywriter to advertise them. If the CIA isn't protecting its officers very well, and if they do a lousy job of defining who's undercover and who's merely "undercover" well, then, poor old Karl Rove can hardly be blamed for accidentally stepping over the line, can he?

When one speculates, one always runs the risk of being wrong. So maybe I'm wrong. But let's face it: the dots are all pointing in the same direction here. Roberts is a loyal water carrier for the Bush administration and that's what he's doing here: carrying their water. His goal is to protect the White House, not to mount serious hearings about protecting the CIA's covert agents.

Kevin Drum 1:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 27, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ NEWS....Oh hell, let's give some props to the Bush administration. God knows they don't deserve it, but here are three related pieces of encouraging news:

Sure, a lot of this is politically motivated, and I have little doubt that the planned spring withdrawal is being timed to coincide with next year's midterm elections and probably being timed to avoid a manpower meltdown as well. But politics is part of life. A timetable for withdrawal that's linked to the political process and combined with pressure to protect minority and gender rights, is the best course of action regardless of the motivation. If the Bushies keep it up, kudos to them.

Kevin Drum 8:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH vs. THE MILITARY....Over at Balkinization, Marty Lederman has a long post describing how the military reacted to George Bush's decision to overturn decades of adherence to the "legal and moral 'high-road' in the conduct of our military operations" as it applies to interrogation of prisoners. Six memos written by the Judge Advocate Generals of the Armed Forces in 2003 were recently released into the Congressional Record, and they show that the military JAGs were distinctly unhappy with what was happening:

It is fair to say that these accounts reflected sustained, uniform and passionate opposition to the OLC legal theories that were being foisted upon the military. Indeed, the tone of the memos is one of barely concealed incredulity, and outragedisbeliefthat a young legal academic from DOJ could sweep right in and so quickly overturn decades of carefully wrought military policy, using legal analysis that almost certainly would not withstand scrutiny outside the Administration and around the world.

Lindsey Graham, one of the few Republican senators who still retains the capacity to be outraged by torture and abuse of prisoners, noted that "the JAGs were telling the policymakers: If you go down this road, you are going to get your own people in trouble. You are on a slippery slope. You are going to lose the moral high ground. This was 2003. And they were absolutely right."

As we now know, the JAG recommendations were indeed ignored wholesale in favor of a theory put forth by John Yoo of the Department of Justice, which essentially suggested that the president's commander-in-chief power allowed him to do anything he wanted. Yoo's memo remains classified, and the Bush administration remains adamantly opposed to legislation that would codify standards for interrogation of prisoners.

Read the whole post. Marty also has links to the JAG memos themselves, so you can read their words for yourself. I don't think anyone who knows military culture will be surprised to learn the depth of their commitment to high standards of conduct even or perhaps especially in wartime, but it's still nice to see it in black and white.

Kevin Drum 7:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OPEN SEASON ON THE CIA....On Tuesday I argued that the latest Republican PR strategy in the Plamegate affair is to plant seeds suggesting that even if Karl Rove did expose the identity of a covert CIA agent, perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing to do after all. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Roberts appeared to be taking the lead in this strategy by ominously opening hearings on the "use of covert protections for CIA agents" hearings that I suspect are designed mainly to ridicule the CIA for overusing the label "covert" as it pertains to, say, agents like Valerie Plame.

In response, Pejman Yousefzadeh touchingly defended his fellow Republican's honor, claiming that perhaps Roberts wanted nothing more than to augment the use of covert protection for CIA operatives. D'oh! How could I have missed that obvious interpretation? The fact that Roberts has suddenly become interested in this subject at the exact same time that Karl Rove has been accused of exposing an undercover agent is, I guess, just a coincidence. In fact, perhaps Karl is in for a stern talking to from the senator from Kansas?

Maybe. But I wouldn't bet the corner office on it. In fact, at about the same time I was writing my post, Christopher Hitchens was in another of those surprising coincidences writing an entire column contending that....we should repeal the law that makes it illegal to expose the identity of a CIA operative!

Now, perhaps this law is indeed a bad idea. But why the sudden interest after 23 years on the books? Hitchens, who seems increasingly unable to construct actual arguments these days, suggests that the law is unfair to the Pentagon. Attend closely here. The problem, he says, is that the CIA can leak stuff about the military, but if the military tries to leak back they're breaking the law. How unfair! Clearly this "leak gap," if I can coin a phrase, needs to be addressed urgently.

And so the meme spreads. Never mind that IIPA, the law in question, is almost certainly irrelevent to the case at hand, since the bar for prosecution under IIPA is extremely high. Never mind that Hitchens & Co. studiously ignore the common sense notion that government officials shouldn't expose the identity of CIA officials whether it's actually against the law or not. Never mind that Hitchens knows perfectly well that the White House could have easily defended itself against Joe Wilson's charges without ever mentioning Valerie Plame, and did so merely to add a little fillip of revenge to their PR campaign. Never mind that Hitchens as much as admits that the real issue here is that conservatives are at war with the CIA. And never mind that Hitchens brazenly lies when he suggests that Iraq really was trying to buy uranium from Niger but the CIA refused to believe it for merely institutional reasons. He's wrong on both counts: The ISG report makes it clear that Iraq wasn't trying to buy uranium from abroad, and the SSCI report makes it clear that the CIA did believe Saddam was reconstituting nuclear weapons but just didn't think the evidence for the African uranium story was very convincing. The CIA may not have been as gung ho for regime change as the Bush White House, but even at that they were still far more hawkish on Iraq's WMD than they should have been.

But never mind all that. The important thing is that the meme spreads: outing a CIA officer isn't that big a deal. That way, if it turns out that someone in the White House really did expose Valerie Plame's identity, the ground will be nicely prepared to claim that it's just a tempest in a teapot.

Alternatively, maybe it's just a coincidence that so many conservatives are making this surprisingly unconservative argument at just this moment in time. Just a coincidence.

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GRAND THEFT AUTO....What effect has the videogame "Grand Theft Auto" had on actual thefts of autos? "The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially," reports Steven Johnson in the LA Times today.

Johnson, of course, believes that videogames are a net positive influence on kids, and on the whole I've long suspected this might be right. Hillary Clinton, however, doesn't agree. Or says she doesn't, anyway, which is, perhaps, not quite the same thing.

It strikes me as a bit degrading, actually, that Hillary has to pretend to oppose violent videogames as a means of gaining heartland social values cred, but I suppose that's the world we live in. If I were running for president I might do the same. And I guess the upside is that a few speeches denouncing the evils of "Grand Theft Auto" is unlikely to do any real damage. We should be grateful that at least she doesn't feel compelled to argue for tougher drug laws or bombing Mecca or something.

I do wonder, though, what she's up to. After she finishes her supposed "move to the center," which appears to consist of little more than a few harmless rhetorical flourishes, will she then produce some genuinely big ideas to base her notional 2008 candidacy on? If so, what will they be? After more than a decade in the national spotlight, I still couldn't even begin to guess. When will the real Hillary emerge from her cocoon?

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAS VALERIE PLAME UNDERCOVER?....The Washington Post reports today that Patrick Fitzgerald is casting a pretty wide net in his Plamegate investigation, which is sort of interesting. Maybe he'll find a blue dress somewhere.

In terms of new information there's not much, although there's this semi-new nugget about whether or not Robert Novak knew that Plame was undercover when he wrote the column that started this whole mess:

[CIA spokesman Bill Harlow] said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

Murray Waas reported the same thing over a year ago, but the Post version has a slightly different emphasis and a bit more detail.

On a related subject, one of the most basic mysteries of this affair remains one of its most enduring: who gave Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak? I don't mean "Joe Wilson's wife," I mean "Valerie Plame." Since she normally went by her married name, how did Novak know to use her maiden name, which she used only on Agency business? After all, nobody refers to a married woman by her maiden name unless that's the name she normally uses or unless someone specifically suggests it to you. So who suggested it to Novak?

Since we now know that Novak has testified to the grand jury, Patrick Fitzgerald knows the answer to this question. I'll bet that it's a key to understanding what really happened here.

Kevin Drum 2:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW....This is the ultimate in trivia, but I'm curious about something. When I was in journalism school I was taught never to use "yesterday" or "tomorrow" in news stories, since those words could be misconstrued depending on when the reader happened to be reading the story. ("Today" was OK, though.) Thus, instead of "The president said yesterday that Karl Rove is a fine human being," it should be "The president said on Tuesday that Karl Rove is a fine human being."

This always seemed like a sound rule to me, and it seems even sounder today given that stories are often published on the web on the day before they appear in print. For example, if a story is dated tomorrow, but refers to "yesterday" in the text, it's actually referring to the same day that I'm reading it. Pretty confusing, no?

Despite this, I see "yesterday" and "tomorrow" used all the time in news stories these days (although you might notice that I almost never do old training dies hard), and I'm wondering what happened to the old rule? Is it dead and gone? Are copy editors just being sloppy? Or what?

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 26, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

HARRY POTTER THREAD....I forgot about this before I went on vacation, but I have a question about Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Since it involves a massive spoiler, it's below the fold.

Here it is. As you know, at the end of the book Snape kills Dumbledore. However, it seems obvious that the whole thing was a charade and Snape will turn out to be a good guy when the series ends. Question: is this in fact as obvious as I think it is? Or are there alternate interpretations out there?

I hasten to add that I have no idea what kind of charade Rowling has in store. Perhaps the whole thing was a fake and Dumbledore isn't really dead. Or maybe he's "dead," but he's going to be revived later la Gandalf or Obi-Wan Kenobi perhaps via a horcrux of his own. Or maybe he's honest-to-goodness dead, but this was somehow necessary to eventually defeat Voldemort. Who knows?

Still, there's no way Snape turns out to be a bad guy, right? The whole dramatic arc of the series demands otherwise. And Dumbledore's "pleading" with Snape is so artfully contrived that it's plain he's begging Snape to kill him, not begging him to spare his life.


Kevin Drum 10:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUTING PLAME....Two years ago, when the Valerie Plame affair first surfaced, the conservative response was largely one of yawning silence. Still, the conservatives who did speak up mostly conceded that, yes, if someone in the White House exposed the identity of a CIA agent, it was a bad thing to do. And if it was done as part of a political campaign to discredit a critic, it was an especially bad thing to do.

During the past month, however, the growing evidence that someone in the White House really did expose Plame has caused more than a bit of panic and a change of heart. We've already heard from Fox's John Gibson, who not only thinks it was OK to expose the identity of a covert CIA agent to the press, but apparently thinks it was a positive social good. Valerie Plame "should have been outed by somebody," he said, and Karl Rove deserves a medal for being the only guy with the guts to do it.

Since then, the proposition that it wasn't a big deal even if the White House did out Plame, has become a routine talking point. Over at QandO, Jon Henke nicely summarizes the now standard conservative position:

If a White House official 1) consciously knew that Valerie Plame was a covert agent 2) whose identity ought to have been protected, and 3) that White House official initiated a leak of her name to the press 4) in order to disclose her identity, then he ought to be removed from his position and prosecuted.

In other words, if Rove's failure was merely that he didn't care enough to check on Plame's status, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew she was covert but didn't realize that the CIA prefers its covert agents to stay covert, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew that too, but outed Plame in a conversation that someone else initiated, then he did nothing wrong. And finally, even if he knew all those things, but his motivation was merely to score points against Joe Wilson, rather than to ruin Valerie Plame's career, then he did nothing wrong. These criteria essentially justify in advance virtually anything that Rove might plausibly have done.

Nearly every conservative blog now follows this line. Plame wasn't really all that covert. Rove was merely engaged in a longrunning turf battle with the CIA. Hell, somebody had to smear Joe Wilson. The guy had it coming. If that required the exposure of Plame, her front company, and potentially every source she's ever worked with, that's the way it goes. After all, we don't know for sure that anything bad came of this, do we?

The moral bankruptcy at the core of this argument is truly stunning, but this weekend it got even worse. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, announced that he "intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities."

Let that sink in. Does it sound like Roberts is concerned about CIA agents being exposed in the press? Of course not. Instead, Roberts is preemptively defending Rove by implying that perhaps the real problem is that the CIA overuses clandestine cover for its agents. The gall is almost beyond belief, especially coming from the party that keeps telling us they're the ones who are serious about national security.

Until Patrick Fitzgerald finishes his investigation, we won't know everything that really happened here. In fact, we still might not know even then. But we've learned one thing already: when presented with even a hint of evidence that someone on their team has treated national security with cavalier disdain, conservative concern with national security gets thrown overboard without a second thought. Dealing with Plamegate as a factual matter did someone in the White House expose Valerie Plame's identity to reporters? is no longer acceptable, because, after all, when facts are involved, there's a chance they can turn against you.

Instead, for most conservatives, Plamegate has now turned into the public relations task of convincing the public that even if Rove did out Plame, outing a covert CIA agent is a perfectly acceptable thing for a White House aide to do.

Welcome to the modern Republican Party.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ....Abu Aardvark passes along some disturbing goings-on in Iraq:

Al-Arabiya reports, based on a story in the Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah, that the permanent Iraqi constitution will declare Islam the official religion of Iraq and the fundamental source [al-masdar al-issasi] of legislation. That seems stronger than the latest version I had heard, which would have had it "a source", not "the fundamental source".

Al-Hayat reports that the draft constitution will not allow Jews of Iraqi origin to reclaim their citizenship, contrary to a widespread rumour dating back to the TAL.

Elaph and al-Hayat both report the Iraqi Defense Minister lashing out against Kuwait, warning it against "unwise actions" along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. Iraqi-Kuwaiti border disputes! Is this 1990?

I'm not sure what to make of this, but added to the recent rumblings about sharp curbs on women's rights in the new constitution, it doesn't sound especially encouraging, does it?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PAYING FOR CONTRACEPTIVES....A victory for common sense from the heartland:

In a sharply critical ruling, a Nebraska federal district judge said Union Pacific Corp. illegally discriminated against female employees by barring prescription contraceptive coverage from its health plans even as it underwrote the cost of Viagra and drugs for male-pattern baldness.

....In its briefs, the railroad justified its decision to exclude birth control coverage by arguing that "because fertility is 'normal,' contraception is not 'medically necessary.'" Company health plans do cover contraceptives if prescribed for a "non-contraceptive purpose," such as the treatment of skin diseases or menstrual disorders.

In a 16-page decision granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the judge agreed that pregnancy is normal, but noted, "There is also no doubt that pregnancy is a condition that has a profound impact on a woman's health."

Why yes, it does. Good for Judge Laurie Smith Camp for telling them so.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 25, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

GUEST BLOGGERS....Many, many thanks to Lindsay Beyerstein and Michael Hiltzik, my guest bloggers while I was on vacation for the past week. They were both terrific. You can continue to read Lindsay on her own blog, Majikthise, and you can read Michael's columns twice a week at the LA Times.

I'll be back full-time starting Tuesday morning, as soon as I catch up on everything that happened while I was gone. See you then.

Kevin Drum 11:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

Ciao.With this post I close my guest tenure this week on Political Animal. As a long time reader, first time blogger, I found the experience a blast, a grind, and a rush. Certainly I acquired deeper respect for the sheer toilsomeness of the effort and for those who do it, day after day. I return now to the comparatively easy task of turning out two columns a week for the Los Angeles Times.

My thanks to this blogs loyal and energetic cadre of readers and commenters, who generated a tide of instant response unlike anything Ive experienced in my career and that includes my first job covering town and village boards, where you get feedback on everything. The response on a comment-rich blog like this one is truly bracing, and I appreciated those who posted compliments as well as those who posted curses. (Special appreciation to those who responded to my literary challenge with lists of their own favorite authors, some of whom are new to me and will go on my reading list.) And thanks too to Kevin Drum, who is responsible for creating the readership and reputation of Political Animal on which I merely freeloaded. Message: Feel free to invite me back any time.

Im off now to San Diego, where I am scheduled to speak on my book, The Plot Against Social Security: How the Bush Plan is Endangering Our Financial Future. (Third and final book plug of the week.) For those of you in the San Diego area, the talk is at 7 p.m. at Book Works in the Flowerhill Center, 2670 Via De La Valle, Del Mar. A book-signing follows. Stop by if you can, and if you do, come over and say hello.

Michael Hiltzik 5:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS SOURCES....A COUNTERPOINT....Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that overuse of anonymous sources by the DC press corps wasn't really anything new. In fact, if anything, it was more endemic in the 50s and 60s, but the big difference today is that greater press transparency has made the problem more obvious to news consumers.

A reader wrote in with a different perspective on this that I thought was worth sharing: namely, that while the use of anonymous sources isn't necessarily more widespread today, it's fueled by a different dynamic. Ironically, he wants his commentary to stay anonymous, but irony abounds these days, doesn't it? Here it is.

I think there's a different nuance to the issue of journos and anonymous sources over the years. In the middle third of the century, WWII and the Cold War ethos found journos, their MSM bosses and their government sources on the same side on the big issues of the day. Today this isn't what causes the problem; rather, it's more competition for stature driving the business. The underpinning of the cable news-led 24 hour cycle when a wrong story is forgotten a day later gives journos more impetus to suck up to any insider source and eat up the bits that he gets. It isn't that the journos are on the administration's side; they just feel they can't afford career-wise to be left out of "anonymous briefings" (involving 50 reporters) much less the "private and personal" phone call leaks that are made to 6 or 7 journos. The success of Fox shows why this works. Certainly some of that was present before. But especially on national security issues, there wasn't the drive to challenge among the press corps overall in the 1940s-60s. And they anyway had a full day to check stories before running them. Today, this Bush administration has perfected the mastery of the 24 hour news cycle and this competition more than any before them, making beggars our of journalists, and giving them no time to check. That makes the press as corrupt if not more today. I'm a pretty experienced journo (mostly outside the country), now with a not so meaningful job in the capital, but colleagues and myself have been disgusted by the White House press corps' behavior, its refusal to spread the word via bloggers would be best who the anonymous sources are for all kinds of news, and the inability of the big print media WP, NYT, LAT, Time and Newsweek to get together and start drawing lines on how much this convention will be allowed. Kevin Drum 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

The Next Social Security Meme.As the privatization campaign starts gearing up for what may be its last great push this fall, we should expect expect to hear more about domestic private-account schemes that are supposedly working better than Social Security. Prime among them will be a program created in 1979 for municipal employees in Galveston, Texas.

Galveston is the sort of privatization stalking horse that the right loves, like Chiles overpraised program. It seems to provide better benefits than Social Security, it seems to produce a superior rate of return, it seems to give workers control over their retirement investments. Those are claims its creators make, in any case.

Conservative talk radio hosts promote Galveston constantly as the logical alternative to Social Security; I first heard about the plan on just such a program, on which I was appearing to promote my Social Security book. President Bush talked it up at a staged event in Galveston back in May. As a House subcommittee hearing this summer, Texas GOP Congressman Pete Sessions called it an alternative an alternative to the Social Security system that gives retirees control of their own money at virtually no risk to the beneficiary.

Well...no. As with all such claims, the devils in the buts, and the buts in Galvestons program are sobering. Heres a short list, courtesy of a researcher at the Wharton School of Business who examined the plan in 1999:

Under the Galveston Plan, contribution rates (payroll taxes) are higher than under Social Security; there is a risk of outliving ones benefits under certain pay-out options (lump-sum or fixed annuity); there are no additional spousal or dependent benefits (benefits are based entirely on contributions); benefits are paid to a named beneficiary and there is no guarantee that benefits will be provided to a spouse/divorced spouse or dependent child; benefits are not portable to future employers; benefits are not adjusted for inflation; and, in general, benefits are lower for those with lower earnings and/or a greater number of dependents who qualify under Social Security.

The absence of inflation indexing is key here, because it gives context to the favorite claim made by the purveyors of the Galveston model: that its retirement benefits are higher than Social Securitys. Workers making $51,000 a year will get $3,103 instead of $1,368 is a typical statement.

But thats the initial benefit, which instantly starts getting eroded by inflation, and its for single wage-earners. For unmarried employees, assuming a 3% annual inflation rate, Wharton calculated, the Galveston benefit falls below Social Security within 15 years for all but the very highest single wage-earners (the top 10%); for those in the lowest wage category, it falls short of Social Security at the 15-year mark by nearly 40%.

For married workers the figures are even more dire, because employees wishing to protect their spouses and dependents have to take a huge cut in their own benefits to do so. (Social Security, of course, provides an independent benefit for spouses and minor children of covered workers, even if the worker dies before retirement.) Benefits for married workers, except for the very high earners, are lower than Social Security from the start, averaging as little as 59% of Social Security retirement stipends upon retirement and falling to as little as 33% at the 20-year mark.

The Galveston gangs claim of a rate of return superior to Social Securitys also needs a caveat. The figure is pumped up because Galveston doesnt provide benefits that are routinely provided under Social Security, but arent normally calculated as part of its return to individual retirees. In Galveston, spouses and dependents may get a lump-sum distribution after the breadwinners death, but making the money last a lifetime and protecting it from inflation is their problem. Social Security, of course, provides a guaranteed lifetime benefit for spouses and guaranteed stipends for children up to the age of 18 (or 19 if theyre still in secondary school).

There are lots of other shortcomings in the Galveston plan, but that wont keep Bush or the right from pushing it forward as the Great Alternative. Keep an eye out for this one: forewarned is forearmed.

Michael Hiltzik 10:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LABOR CRACKUP....Unless I'm misreading this, it looks like a breakup of the AFL-CIO is now a done deal. I suspect this is for the best, since the two halves have genuinely different goals and a breakup will allow them to pursue those goals as aggressively as they want. Still, I sure hope Andy Stern knows what he's doing....

Kevin Drum 1:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THIS IS A SCANDAL?....Look, I'm always up for a spirited round of conservative scandal-mongering, but this is about the lamest excuse for a nano-scandal that I've seen in a long time. Why is the Washington Post wasting its time with this?

Kevin Drum 1:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 24, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

TRANSLATION REQUEST....From BBC Sport, reporting on the lone cricket heroics of Kevin Pietersen in today's Ashes Test against Australia:

In what proved to be the last show of home defiance, he slog-swept the leg-spinner for six and smashed another delivery to the long-off boundary.

He slog-what the who? Is there anybody out there who can translate this into Americanese for me?

Kevin Drum 8:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Another Bird Flu Warning?

The Washington Post reports that a mystery illness has killed nine farmers and sickened others in Sichuan, China. These deaths may be linked to the deadly strain of influenza that has killed nearly 60 people in Southeast Asia.

Disturbingly, the Chinese authorities may not be cooperating fully with global public health authorities.

U.N. officials and independent researchers have complained that the Chinese government has not fully responded to urgent requests by the World Health Organization and other international health groups for information about the three outbreaks, including samples of the virus found, analyses of its genetic makeup and details about the extent of the infection and efforts to contain it.

It's not like global public health authorities are being models of "proactivity," either.

If you're interested in the bird flu issue, The Flu Wiki is an invaluable resource.

Lindsay Beyerstein 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

John Carroll and the L.A. Times.The news industry is wrongly convinced that the world is fascinated by such inside developments as executive comings and goings. That said, as staff member of the Los Angeles Times for more than 20 years, I feel obliged to contribute my own take on the voluminously-reported announcement that John Carroll will be departing the job as editor of The Times next month.

Its hard to overstate the positive impact that Johns arrival in 2000 had on the newsroom. The staff was deeply demoralized. His predecessors included one extremely polarizing and self-involved newsroom boss, and another who was intelligent, earnest, well-meaning, and (unfortunately) inexperienced. They had both been unfit, in different ways, to deal with a corporate management ignorant of how to run a newspaper.

This is a business in which potholes invariably open under your feet as you stumble along. Our corporate and newsroom managers alike displayed an unerring ability to step into every pothole up to the kneecap. Their innocence of a newspapers unique role in the community, as much more than a business enterprise, led them into the most frightful public errors of judgment.

An appointee of our new owners, Tribune Co., Carrolls difference from his predecessors was instantaneously apparent. Much has been written about his courtliness, wisdom, and gravitas, but too little about his breadth of experience. He had been a newsroom executive for so long that there was scarcely a pothole that he hadnt seen before. People who have worked more closely with him than I attest to his remarkable sureness of judgment, his ability to analyze a challenge and render a firm and well-reasoned ruling.

Not everybody on the floor agreed with all his decisions, but thats hardly the goal. They were invariably sound, defensible, and derived from consistent principles of management and news judgment. After a period when decision-making at the paper had been alarmingly random, he brought stability to the operation.

Further, he restored pride. The 13 Pulitzers won under his leadership were part of the boilerplate of every article published about his retirement last week. Critics have been ridiculing this factoid, as though it conceals some darker truth, such as that the papers supposed liberalism has contributed to a circulation decline. Leaving aside the fact that this latter assertion is nothing but an ignorant partisan trope, most commentary about the Pulitzers misses the point.

No decent reporter or institution should base its self-esteem on its Pulitzer
statistics. Piles of superb and important work are overlooked by the prize system, and plenty of lousy, mendacious, or mediocre work is rewarded. Whether Carroll led The Times to 13 Pulitzers or not, the fact would still remain that, along with his managing editor and successor Dean Baquet, he markedly improved the reporting and writing of The Times.

Its proper to revisit two projects he supervised directly. One is the 2003 report on Arnold Schwarzeneggers history of groping women. Mass quantities of ludicrous claptrap have been written about the content and timing of this story, which ran a few days before the election. One freelance columnist, whose efforts to tell it like it is are frequently hampered by lack of knowledge, went so far as to allege that Carroll deliberately held the story until the last minute for maximum political effect. From second-hand knowledge of the episode and first-hand knowledge of the newsroom, I can say that this allegation is simply wrong.

The important thing is that no one has ever effectively challenged the veracity of the report; in fact, Schwarzenegger eventually acknowledged its truth. Furthermore, although Schwarzenegger appears to have kept his hands to himself as governor (as far as we know), the 2003 article illuminated flaws in his character that have become all too relevant to the sad course of his governorshiphis arrogance, crudeness, and sense of entitlement among them.

The second project, one of the 13 Pulitzers, is last years investigative series about King/Drew Medical Center, an inner-city institution that deteriorated into a charnel house while a cadre of local politicians protected it from scrutiny and action. Newspaper series are often cursed for their tendentiousness and bloat. This one was different: an astonishing, infuriating, and lucid indictment in which every word told.

It was a crystalline example of how to Do It Right, it belongs on the credit side of Carrolls ledger, and it explains why he will be missed. Ive worked under six editors over my career, and he was unquestionably, and by a wide margin, the best of them.

Michael Hiltzik 3:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS SOURCES....In the Washington Post today, Mark Feldstein makes the right point about the overuse of anonymous sources by the Washington press corps:

Despite the widespread fixation on this political scandal, there is also an important journalistic one: the conflict of interest that reporters routinely have with high-level sources who leak sensitive information. It is the dirty little secret of the Washington press corps, a kind of unspoken conspiracy in which reporters conceal not only their sources' identities but more importantly the underlying motives for the leaks.

....The problem is that by deliberately omitting the essential explanation of how the source is attempting to manipulate the agenda, the journalist often becomes a virtual accomplice hiding the ongoing but subterranean bureaucratic or ideological conflict at the heart of the story.

Italics mine.

It's worth noting that Feldstein's "unspoken conspiracy" is nothing new. Although my knowledge of journalism prior to the 70s comes strictly from books, my very strong impression is that the cozy press-source relationship he describes was far more prevelant in the middle third of the last century than it is today. In a benign way, it was what kept FDR's wheelchair out of news photographs and JFK's womanizing off the front page; in a less benign way, it was what made Joe McCarthy into a media superstar and allowed the country to slip quietly into the Vietnam War with hardly a peep of warning. Say what you will about the media's current lame-osity quotient, none of these four events would play out today the way they did then.

Blogospheric conventional wisdom to the contrary, the reality is that the press is far more transparent today than it used to be. In decades past, the symbiotic relationship between reporters and anonymous sources was so ingrained in the system that it was barely even acknowledged, and when it was, the acknowledgment was little more than a breezy "sources say" or "we have learned." The fact that sources were spinning was nearly invisible to all but the most astute reader.

Today sources are nowhere near so invisible. They have names: "senior administration official," "a source close to the president," "a lawyer who has been briefed on the case." In a way this is a praiseworthy development, but in reality all it's done is make the news audience hungry for the rest of the curtain to be pulled aside. Given attributions like these, even non-astute readers figure out pretty quickly that these are real people who probably have a real axe to grind, and once they know that much they want to know what axe they have to grind as well.

Anonymous sources will always be with us. Both politicians and reporters find them too useful to give up. What would make them more palatable, however, is not merely an effort to explain why a particular source has demanded anonymity the excuses are usually so lame as to be more insulting than revealing but an effort to explain why they're saying what they're saying. If a source has a clear stake in the story, let the reader know. After all, there's nearly always a way to do this without revealing who the source is, and any source who refuses to allow even this much identification deserves to be ignored.

So sign me up for what I'm going to call the Feldstein Plan: accept the reality of anonymous sourcing in political journalism, but demand that attributions at least make it clear which side sources are on. It's only with that information in hand that readers can judge for themselves whether an anonymous source is worth the newsprint he's printed on.

UPDATE: A reader provides a different perspective here.

Kevin Drum 2:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 23, 2005
By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Boom Town...*

The reality-based community is expanding rapidly:

Poll: Many Fear Iraq Hurting Terror Fight

WASHINGTON -- A growing number of Americans fear the war in Iraq is undermining the fight against terrorism and raising the risk of terrorist attacks in this country, a poll found.

Almost half, 47 percent, say the war in Iraq has hurt the fight against terrorism -- the highest number to say that since the war began in March 2003, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

And about the same number, 45 percent, said soon after the first round of subway bombings in London that the war in Iraq was raising the risk of terrorism in this country. That's up from 36 percent last fall. [AP]

*All applicable puns intended.

Lindsay Beyerstein 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein


The History Channel is doing a series on human evolution. I wish I could find a picture of the ads they've been running on buses in my neighborhood. The art is a parody of a famous detail from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the ad the hand of God has been replaced by a monkey's arm. The headline says something like "Has evolution made a monkey out of you?"

For me, the ad sparked a mixture of respect and visceral irritation. As a copywriter, I enjoyed the visual pun and admired the ad's stopping power. As a defender of evolutionary biology, I was irritated to see the conjunction of two such misleading and inflammatory memes: evolution is usurping religion, and humans descended from monkeys. Both of these ideas can be elaborated and qualified into interesting points, but neither is true as it stands.

Luckily, DarkSyde has a powerful contextualizing antidote to the "men from monkeys" meme.

Lindsay Beyerstein 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE REPORTERS IN TROUBLE?....A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that the Cleveland Plain Dealer was withholding two stories of "profound importance" because they were based on illegally leaked documents. After watching what happened to Matt Cooper and Judith Miller, editor Doug Clifton figured there was a good chance that a judge would haul his reporters into court and demand to know the source of the documents, and the newspaper's lawyers didn't want to take the chance of being held in contempt over this.

Guess what? A couple of days ago an alt-weekly competitor ran the story. With the documents public there was no longer any reason to stay quiet, so the next day the Plain Dealer ran its own version of the story, which was based on a 115-page FBI affadavit alleging that Cleveland Mayor Michael White was at the center of "widespread corruption" at Cleveland City Hall. You can guess what happened next:

U.S. Attorney Gregory White said in the filing Thursday that it appeared from stories in Thursday's Plain Dealer and this week's Scene magazine that at least three documents a federal judge sealed were improperly disclosed.

Attorney White said Thursday night that the disclosure "has the potential for compromising an ongoing investigation."

"Clearly somebody violated a court order here," he said. "We have to address that in one way or another. We're not just willing to walk away from it."

Editor Clifton is now sorry he ever said anything about this. I don't blame him. White hasn't issued any subpoenas yet, but if he does let's hope Ohio's shield law is strong enought to protect reporters at both the Plain Dealer and the Scene.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Thank You For Riding the MTA, Your Submission is Appreciated...

The AP reports that New York subway riders "submitted calmly" to the first day of random bag and briefcase searches. So, the plan is working. People are acquiescing and feeling good about it:

And Amy Wilson, 28, said the officers' work "makes me feel safer. I like knowing they're here."

How nice.

The AP reporter goes on to emphasize that the minority of dissenters included a Muslim guy, but that even he didn't really object on principle:

Richard Collins, 48, a black man with a beard and a white knitted skullcap, said he didn't think he was tapped because he looked Muslim, but he was "a little perturbed."

"Not because of the religion thing," he said. "They're taking two minutes out of my time."

New Yorker Steve Gilliard looks ahead to Act II of security theater during Monday morning rush hour.

Update: Security consultant Bruce Schneier explains why random subway searches are ineffectual counterterrorism. His bottom line appraisal:

"It's another "movie plot threat." It's another "public relations security system." It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer."

Thanks to commenter KCinDC for the tip.

Lindsay Beyerstein 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Democratic Senators Skip Hughes' Confirmation Hearing...

Not a single Democratic Senator showed up for Karen Hughes' confirmation hearing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Senate Dems had "plans" to grill Karen Hughes on her potential role in the Rove/Libby/Plame scandal. But somehow those plans never materialized. Hughes has been called by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to testify before the grand jury investigating the leak, but not a single Democratic senator made time to ask Karen Hughes about her role in the scandal. You'd think such questions would be pressing: Hughes is up for undersecretary of State for public diplomacy. You'd think the public would like the know exactly how public Hughes' diplomacy is likely to be.

So, what do you think? Is this a strategy, or just ineptitude? (Note that the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Lindsay Beyerstein 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD SLOWLY....Has the conservative blogosphere finally gone clinically insane? Fontana Labs says yes, and he marshals some pretty good evidence to make his case.

Click the link to see what's going on. You won't be sorry. And just for the record, I'll note that the Charmaine Yoest post that started this latest round of nutbaggery had two dozen trackbacks as of Friday night. Two dozen! And that includes one from those shrewd political analysts at Power Line, Time's 2004 "Blog of the Year."

Somebody needs to alert Krauthammer pronto.

Kevin Drum 2:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BIRTHDAY PARTY....Has it really been three years already? To me, it seems like it happened almost yesterday. Shakespeare's Sister explains.

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 22, 2005
By: Michael Hiltzik

Weekend Literary Blogging (A Personal Experiment)Most of us, I suspect, harbor a great fondness for an author or two who we believe deserve a much larger fan basea personal favorite who we promote to all our friends yet who never quite breaks through to the general audience. Im not talking about authors like Wodehouse who are the focus of a cult of hundreds of millions of readers; Im talking about talents who consistently reach enough readers to justify the effort of turning out more books, but do seem to bump along with an unjustifiably modest readership.

Heres your chance to introduce your favorite to a larger audience. This project isnt necessarily restricted to living authors, but theyre preferableafter all, isnt it better to do ones part for someone who can still reap the material benefits?

To start, and as an illustration, I nominate T.R. Pearson.

Pearson broke into the somewhat-big time in 1985 with A Short History of a Small Place, a knock-down hilarious and deeply humane novel set in his mythical Yoknapatawpha-like town of Neely, N.C. Its a true work of art. Since Im in California, the pitch memo goes: Think Faulkner crossed with Welty crossed with Charles Portis.

This year Pearson came out with a 20-years-after sequel, entitled Glad News of the Natural World, which adds a mature element of pathos to the fine qualities of the earlier work. In between hes had one or two misfires but many more successes (in literary terms); among the latter Id recommend Blue Ridge and Polar. But hes never written a book that isnt worth reading. Id stand on line at midnight to get his next work on publication day, but then, hes not a writer for whose new books one has to fight the crowds. The crowds are missing something good.

Any takers?

Michael Hiltzik 5:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

A boondoggle grows in San Francisco.The initial euphoria inspired by Californias passage of a $3-billion bond program for embryonic stem cell research last November has already faded, replaced by mounting questions about where the money is, whether it will be spent openly and honestly, and whether the program will yield any real benefits for the investors behind the programi.e., the taxpayers of California.

Since voters approved what was known as Proposition 71, the moneys been tied up by lawsuits, the stem cell institute created by the measure has been fending off legislative demands that it enact transparent conflict-of-interest rules, and doubts have emerged about whether the real beneficiaries of the public largesse will be private venture capitalists. You want a lesson in why its a bad idea to enact multi-billion-dollar research programs after multi-million-dollar television ad campaigns? Come examine the stem cell program.

Much of what the electorate has learned since writing its big check has fallen into the now they tell us category. The program was sold as an investmentCalifornians would get cheap medicines, reduced health care bills, and a windfall from patents and licenses in return for their money.

Since the election, weve learned that all those claims (which were embodied in glossy economic reports issued by the Prop 71 promoters) were so much flapdoodle. The institute now says theres no way it can guarantee any particular share of patent and license revenuethat would be unfair to its academic and commercial partners. And the truth about the state of stem cell science that was systematically concealed by the promotersthat cures would be decades away, if they arrived at allis now routinely acknowledged by the institute. (The website for the Prop 71 campaign was entitled, shamelessly, curesforcalifornia.com.)

Whos responsible for the stumble? Fingers are being pointed at the institutes chairman, Robert Klein II, a Palo Alto real estate developer whose son suffers from juvenile diabetes. Klein supervised the drafting of the stem cell initiative, ran the emotion-mongering electoral campaign, and then politicked himself into the chairmanship (assisted by a job definition written into the law and reducing the field to pretty much one candidate: Bob Klein).

Not satisfied with keeping quiet as an honored figurehead, Klein has picked fights with the legislature, insulted honest critics, spent money with abandon, and started to make his fellow committee members very nervous. As was reported by Dave Jensen, a former Sacramento Bee editor whose California Stem Cell Report is the indispensable source on the web for info on the program, some of the members have recently put their feet down.

He recently wrote:

Irritated by the lack of consultation and information on the agency's budget and spending, they restricted the size of personal service contracts to $100,000 that can be let by Klein and agency employees without board approval. The Oversight Committee also created a governance committee to deal with how the agency does its business.

The agency has spent $2 million so far this year, including more than $1 million in contracts with outside firms or agencies. Earlier some Oversight Committee members expressed displeasure about learning first about the contracts from non-agency sources.

There are two underlying causes of the California programs false start. One is the Bush stem cell policy, which was based on deception, misunderstanding, and luddism. The Bush restrictions caused a panic over whether American science would be left out of the stem cell race, a panic that was skillfully exploited by the Proposition 71 promoters. Manifestly, the proper source for scientific funding on this scale isnt a state with myriad other problems crying out for shares of its scanty resources, but the federal government.

The second cause is the states initiative process itself, a crude electoral tool that invariably produces crude legislation and is available for manipulation by whoevers got the biggest war chest. In this case it was the Proposition 71 promoters, much of whose cash came fromsurprise!venture investment firms.

Michael Hiltzik 10:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Paul Krassner on Scientology...

I don't know how much of Paul Krassner's latest NY Press article is true, but I can attest that it's 100% funny.

In 1971, I announced in an ad the features that would be included in the 13th-anniversary issue of The Realist. Among them, "The Rise of Sirhan Sirhan in the Scientology Hierarchy." The Church of Scientology proceeded to sue me for libel; they wanted $750,000 for those nine words, the title of an article that I had not yet written.

What's relevant here is the paranoid mindset of Scientology, as revealed in this excerpt from their complaint:

"...Defendants have conspired between themselves and with other established religions, medical and political organizations and persons presently unknown to plaintiff. By subtle covert and pernicious techniques involving unscrupulous manipulation of all public communication media, defendants and their co-conspirators have conspired to deny plaintiff its right to exercise religious beliefs on an equal basis with the established religious organizations of this country."

Read the whole thing. I'm inclined to believe every word of it, especially the part about attempting to force The Realist to publish an article by Chick Corea, but Krassner is a satirist.

Lindsay Beyerstein 6:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

GerbilsFriday gerbil-blogging...

Mass gerbil rescue: Group takes 550 gerbils from small house. [AP]

No, it isn't true what they say about gerbils.

Lindsay Beyerstein 6:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REDISTRICTING IN CALIFORNIA....The big news in California today is that Proposition 77, Arnold's plan to turn redistricting over to a panel of retired judges, has been pulled from the ballot. It turns out that the backers of the initiative submitted one version of the initiative to the attorney general's office and then circulated a different version for signatures, and a state judge ruled that this was enough to disqualify the measure.

I wouldn't normally mention this except for an odd coincidence: on Sunday I was at a conference of conservative bloggers and heard a presentation from Ted Costa, the guy behind Prop 77. I can offer two firsthand observations.

First, Costa is kind of a weird dude. He was dressed in sneakers, robin's egg blue socks, ratty running shorts, and an old t-shirt about a size too small, and rambled and mumbled his way through a talk that I couldn't really even follow. It was a peculiar experience.

Second, he sure seemed mighty shifty about the whole thing, even though the room was full of people who fully sympathized with him and supported Prop 77. A couple of people asked for his side of the story, and in response he produced a disjointed tale about submitting the ballot measure to the AG, then making a change, then telling the AG to ignore the change, but the change got in anyway. Or something. I couldn't really follow it.

How about the actual wording, though? Why weren't both versions of the initiative up on Costa's website so that people could compare them to see just how trivial the differences really were? At first Costa said he thought they were on the website, but maybe you had to click a bunch of links to get to them. That didn't really fly, though, and eventually he said he'd get right on this, and the text would be up by the next day. That doesn't seem to have happened, although I have to admit that I haven't scoured the site closely enough to say for sure.

Anyway, the whole thing was passing strange. Costa was talking to a very friendly group, but even so they seemed more than a tad suspicious that he wasn't more forthcoming about what actually happened. I don't really know what to make of it all, but I thought I'd pass it along anyway. After all, vaguely remembered original reporting is what the blogosphere is all about, right?

Kevin Drum 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 21, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Plamegate continues to unfold in almost microscopic increments. Today, Richard Keil of Bloomberg reports that there's been some conflicting testimony in the grand jury investigation:

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheneys chief of staff, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he first learned from NBC News reporter Tim Russert of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, the wife of former ambassador and Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson. Russert has testified before a federal grand jury that he didnt tell Libby of Plames identity.

Keil also reports that Karl Rove has provided a "somewhat different version" of his conversation with Bob Novak than Novak provided.

Somebody's lying, no? Or perhaps it's all due to faulty memory. After all, that defense worked for Bill Gates, so why not Rove and Libby?

In any case, these discrepancies make it easy to see why the July 7 State Department memo about Joe Wilson's Niger trip seems to have taken on a central role in the investigation. After all, if Rove and Libby didn't learn about Valerie Plame's CIA identity from reporters, where did they learn about it? If the answer is the State Department memo, then they obviously knew they shouldn't be talking about it to the media, since the passage related to Plame was clearly marked "Secret." If they did so anyway, it means they knowingly disclosed classified information, and that means they're in big trouble.

At this point, this is still speculation. Even with this latest leak there are still too few dots to connect into a clear narrative. At the same time, it does seem that the dots are at least starting to point in the direction of two different conclusions. The first is that Fitzgerald thinks Rove and Libby are lying and that they learned about Plame's identity from the State Department memo or from someone else who learned it from the State Department memo.

Second, it's hard not to think that some of these leaks are coming from Fitzgerald's office. I may be off base here, but I can't help but think that someone maybe not Fitzgerald himself, but someone on his team is leaking tidbits of information to the press in hopes of stirring up some additional information. It wouldn't be the first time a special prosecutor has done that, would it?

Kevin Drum 11:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

Zero tolerance reconsidered....Its probably a mistake to make too much of the french fries case as part of the John Roberts brief; no doubt there will be more substantive grist arriving at the mill for an up or down vote on his qualifications for the Court. And of course my esteemed co-guest blogger, Lindsay Beyerstein, has already weighed in on the topic.

But the praise Roberts has been receiving from the Right for what is supposed to be a highly principled ruling in Hedgepeth v. WMATA seems a little feverish, as if they know full well the case is an embarrassment. Heres Hugh Hewitt on the matter.

Hugh is one of those right-wing bloggers who always seems to be living in an alternate universe, but even so, calling this superb opinion writing seems to be overreaching just a tad, no?

The truth is that this is precisely kind of case that makes the legal profession a hissing and a byword, as a P.G. Wodehouse character might put it. The problem lies in its acceptance of zero tolerance programs, which are certainly among the leading governmental scourges of our time.

Zero tolerance is almost always an hysterical response to a social condition, but its dirty little secret is that its usually aimed less at violators than at law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges. The whole idea is to eliminate their discretion on the ground and in court, so that EVERY case is treated as an offense warranting the nuclear option. Generally the perpetrators of these policies hope that the wrongdoers will get the message, and figure out that if they infringe, theres no hope of throwing themselves on the mercy of the court; the court, theyre to understand, has no mercy at its disposal. The subtext is that the reason we have school violence, street crime, dirty subways, etc., is that soft-hearted cops give some offenders a pass and soft-minded judges let others off easy.

The principle all these programs violate is that life is infinitely variable and individual circumstances are infinitely, well, individual. So whats the harvest? An eight-year-old frog-marched to the police station for forgetting that a butter knife was nestled in the bottom of the knapsack he brought to school. A 12-year-old handcuffed and tossed into the back of police cruiser for eating a french fry. On a larger scale, the prisons fill up with petty drug offenders because theres no give in the drug sentencing rules.

In California we have a three-strikes law with all its attendant absurdities of street persons given life sentences for the theft of a slice of pizza, etc. That law looked to be on its way to a major reform by ballot, until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped in and threw his photogenic torso in the way of the measure.

Its always cheaper, in the short run, to withdraw discretion from employees in any system rather than provide the training necessary to allow them to make fine judgments. Theres not much harm in that choice when the employee is a telemarketing caller or a supermarket cashier, who wouldnt make many fine judgments anyway. But when its a police officer or a judge, the potential for ludicrous outcomes is horrifically magnified.

Its worth remembering that the policy at the heart of the Hedgepeth case was so absurd that it was canceled by DC transit officials before the case even reached Robertss bench. (For one thing, adults were given citations for eating in the Metro, but minors were arrested.) All Hedgepeth was asking was that her arrest be expunged, so she didnt go through life, as Roberts observed, answering Yes to the question, Have you ever been arrested?

Somehow, Roberts and his fellow jurists couldnt find a legal principle in their books to rationalize the childs request. Well, Im not a lawyer, so perhaps their ruling is the exemplary application of settled law that Robertss fans would have us believe. And as I said, its probably wise not to make TOO much of this case. But as Dickenss Mr. Bumble told us, the law is a ass. And people who think this is the kind of reasoning that belongs on the Supreme Court are bigger asses.

Michael Hiltzik 4:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Hysterical Infringements....

The New York Times reports that New York City police officers will begin random searches of passengers' bags.

Random searches are totally unacceptable. If these searches are truly random, they are unlikely to detect suicide bombers, let alone deter them. How many million riders are there on the MTA on any given day? How many transit cops would have to be diverted from more pressing duties to search the bags of random subway riders? What happens when we remember that many suicide bombers strap explosives to their bodies? Maybe the next step will be random frisks or even random strip searches.

Do we really think that these searches will be random? Mayor Bloomberg insists that the police will make every effort to avoid racial profiling. I'm willing to take him at his word as far as official policy is concerned. But we all know how this policy will play out underground--harassment and traffic jams.

"The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect is trying to bring explosives into the subway," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "However, random police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values. This is a very troubling announcement." [NYT]

This is not a serious counter-terrorism effort. This is a public relations move by Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA. They want to convince the public that they're doing something to prevent terrorism on the subways. Random searches are much more telegenic than long term plans to safeguard the subway's underwater tunnels.

It might also be a good idea to increase the number of K-9 officers and explosive-sniffing dogs, but that would cost money. Authorizing the regular transit cops to search passengers at will is basically free but you get what you pay for.

As a New York City subway rider, I'm outraged that the City intends to waste resources on such an intrusive PR stunt.

Lindsay Beyerstein 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Thursday Science and Policy Roundup....

Revere of Effect Measure promotes naturalized epistemology specifically, a special supplement to the American Journal of Public Health about scientific evidence and public policy:

This is the first full scale attempt by scientists and science scholars to come to terms with the new rules on scientific evidence spawned by the 1993 Daubert decision which requires federal trial courts to make a preliminary determination whether evidence presented by scientists is "relevant and reliable." In making the trial judge the "gatekeeper," Daubert places a burden on the judiciary to make judgments about science they may or not be better equipped to make than a jury. In two subsequent Supreme Court decisions the trial court's judgment has been made difficult or impossible to reverse on appeal and the procedure extended to include testimony by all manner of experts, not just scientists.

Contributors to this volume include epidemologists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, and legal scholars. Many of the papers from the supplement are also available for free through the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP).

Orac hosts the 13th Skeptics Circle at Respectful Insolence.

Jordan of Confined Space offers helpful hints for differentiating between your friendly local OSHA inspector and ICE impostors.

Chris of Mixing Memory on gender, math, stereotype threat, and testosterone.

Clive of Collision Detection on the Octodog, a clever kitchen gadget to reduce the risk of hot dog-induced choking in small children (the 4th leading cause of accidental death in children under 5).

Lindsay Beyerstein 2:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

SpecdeinoRIP, John H. Ostrom.... John H. Ostrom, the Yale Paleontologist who advanced the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs died yesterday at the age of 77.

Ostrom also discovered Deinonychus antirrhopus, a "spectacular, but fairly small dinosaur" whose name means counterbalancing fearsome claw.

Lindsay Beyerstein 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

How to read Ansche Hedgepeths French Fry...

Kim Lane Scheppele has an outstanding analysis of John Roberts' opinion in the case of Ansche Hedgepeth. Although the Hedgepeth case was doctrinally straightforward, the details of Roberts' opinion shed considerable light on his attitudes towards civil liberties and the differences between himself and and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Lindsay Beyerstein 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

Die Arnolddammerung.Karl Rove wasnt the only one to get a reprieve from media scrutiny thanks to the Supreme Court nomination frenzy. Arnold Schwarzenegger can thank President Bush for knocking his latest outbreak of cluelessness out of the national newspapers, too.

Im talking about the discovery that Schwarzenegger was the beneficiary (more or less) of an $8-million contract tied to two muscle magazines sales of ad pages to dietary supplement makers, an industry that happened to be the target of regulatory legislation he happened to have vetoed last year. He didnt see anything wrong with the arrangement, and still doesnt, although hes canceled it (but he's keeping the money he already earned). His popularity ratings in California, already rock-bottom, wont be helped by the affair.

For Californians, none of this was surprising. For the non-California press, which has spent the last two years singing his praises, talking him up as a Presidential contender, and making pilgrimages west to conduct inane interviews, smoke cigars, and motorcycle up the Pacific Coast Highway with him, his plummeting reputation must come as a shock.

What the national press has never understood (or reported) is what an underachieving governor Schwarzenegger has been almost from the start. They painted him as a political natural and took him at his word that he loved the job of governor. But in terms of traditional politics and traditional governancethe hard work that requires having a political vision and a taste and talent for compromise--theres no evidence he enjoys the work and hes certainly not good at it. Theres a reason he loves governing through ballot initiativesin California, initiative elections are conducted by remote control, through multi-million-dollar TV campaigns, not by canvassing voters or horse-trading with legislators.

Let the national media enjoy speculating about whether he will or wont run for re-election next year. Its plain that he wont. For one thing, all the issues that hes put off for the last two years will land with a thud on the next governor. These include balancing the budget, which will certainly require raising taxes on the higher brackets (the same taxpayers who received a lavish cut from President Bush) to balance the fee increases and program cutbacks that have hit the middle class and poor. Then there's energy and water policy, which Schwarzenegger has shown no interest in or grasp of whatsoever. My prediction: Watch for him to set up some national foundation or other political action entity, name himself chairman, and declare that his work in California is done.

The Schwarzenegger Syndrome is related to the larger phenomenon of celebrity politics. You know how it works: somebody lands on the political stage thanks to his achievement in another prominent walk of life, such as warfare or entertainment. His popularity ratings are through the roof, and hes talked up as a national leader. Think Colin Powellhe was being pressed to run for President while people were still wondering whether he was a Republican or Democrat.

These luminaries are lionized (for a time) precisely because theyre ciphers, upon whom every voter is free to project his or her desires and expectations. Reality sets in slowlywe discover that the hero is maladroit on the stump, or thin-skinned, or just stupid, and before you know it the hastily anointed national star is an also-ran. Or, worse, the paragon is actually elected and turns out to be just a bozo. (Insert Jesse Venturas name here.)

Schwarzenegger was slightly different because his Hollywood experience allowed him to project the illusion of ability and leadership for the whole length of a campaign. But the campaign he won was a truncated one, so the bloom didn't have a chance to wear off before election day. And the electorate was desperate for any change. But virtually all the policy initiatives hes proposed have gone down in flames, because they were all ill-planned and ineptly managed. Hes picked pointless fights with popular targets (nurses and teachers) and proposed vacuous solutions to genuine problems. He wasnt a better governor than Gray Davis, the man he replaced; he just played one better on TV. And now he doesnt even do that.

The talk of a constitutional amendment to allow him to run for President hasnt been heard for a while now. The fact that it was ever heard in the first place is a cosmic joke.

Michael Hiltzik 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LYING SOURCES....Atrios raises a serious question. I wasn't paying much attention to the news yesterday, but even to me it's obvious that a "confidential but persuasive source" systematically called a bunch of reporters and deliberately misled them about who George Bush was planning to nominate to the Supreme Court. In fact, the calls were so systematic and deliberate that it was obviously part of a White House plan. (A fairly clever and effective one, I might add.)

There are two options here: either (1) the source was honestly misled by the White House or else (2) the source was a knowing part of the misinformation plan. This means that every reporter who heard from this source should call back and give the source two choices: if it's (1), give up the White House informant. If it's (2), forfeit their anonymity.

Sources who risk their jobs to provide information to the press deserve every protection a reporter can give them. Even a source who spins deserves protection. But a source who lies ought to be unmasked by any honest reporter. Who will be the first to do it?

Kevin Drum 1:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....The Washington Post follows up today on the infamous State Department memo about Joe Wilson's trip to Niger. It's pretty similar to the Wall Street Journal's Tuesday story on the memo, but it's a little clearer about what the memo said and who saw it:

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.

....The memo was delivered to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on July 7, 2003, as he headed to Africa for a trip with President Bush aboard Air Force One. Plame was unmasked in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak seven days later.

....Several other administration officials were on the trip to Africa, including senior adviser Dan Bartlett, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and others. Bartlett's attorney has refused to discuss the case, citing requests by the special counsel. Fleischer could not be reach for comment yesterday.

As a sidelight, it turns out that even the State Department thought Wilson's trip to Niger was a dumb idea. They had a slightly different objection than the hawks, though. They opposed the trip because their own investigations "already had disproved the allegation that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger."

That was February 2002. Even then the State Department knew that the whole uranium business was bogus, and for the next year they kept repeating that to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, no one wanted to listen.

Kevin Drum 12:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 20, 2005
By: Michael Hiltzik

You didnt think the culture wars were over, did you?.One thing that distinguishes todays breed of (conservative) Republican is their conviction that the whole world lives up their street. If they dont like your political views, taste in clothing or music, or the subtext of your movies, then you're the depraved one; they're the ones who've cornered the market on normality, or patriotism, or taste, or morality.

In the latest mainfestation of such tunnel vision, the California Republican Party is throwing a conniption over (what else?) the public display of a mildly provocative work of art in the state Attorney Generals building in Sacramento. This one is a painting depicting the continental United States going down the toilet, accompanied by the legend Tanks to Mr. Bush.

Many thoughtful persons might consider this an unexceptionable work of political commentary. To the spokeswoman of the state GOP, it's the cheap artwork of a gadfly with a world view that is so offensive to a majority of the people. She didnt cite the poll results that led her to this conclusion, but her reading of public sentiment doesnt correspond to that of the people who email me regularly. In any case, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, has indicated the painting will stay until the show its a part of ends on August 31.

The tempest brings back pleasant memories of public-art fits of the past over Robert Mapplethorpe (exploiter: Jesse Helms), Andres Serrano and Piss Christ (Helms, again, and the extremely moral Al DAmato, haranguing the National Endowment for the Arts) and Chris Ofili and the elephant dung-bedecked Holy Virgin Mary. (In the last case, Rudy Giuliani, then running for the U.S. Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, before his apotheosis as a paragon of crisis leadership and temporary sponsor of Bernard Keriks career, tried to withdraw municipal funding for the Brooklyn Museum over the piece.)

The cheap headlines generated by these campaigns blow over all too quickly, leaving nothing in their wake but huge crowds attracted to the exhibition space by the manufactured brouhaha and a string of court rulings slapping down the complaining hacks for attempting censorship in violation of the First Amendment. Props to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for goading another gang of blue-noses into apoplexy. Lets cross our fingers that he doesnt back down.

Michael Hiltzik 6:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Step right up! Step right up!

The Carnival of the unCapitalists has evolved from itinerant road show to glitzy themepark. A free community themepark, of course.

The unCapitalist journal features commentary on international economy, trade, corporations, labor, poverty, and social justice.

Attractions include, the the blog (complete with newswire), the community carnival, and the readers' forums.

As a unCJ team member, I want to thank Charles Todd of Freheit und Wissen and all the other bloggers who worked so hard to launch this exciting new community.

Lindsay Beyerstein 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Whip_hand_cover_copy1Discipline and punish....The Democrats should have one priority going into the Supreme Court nominations process: party discipline.

The Republicans are trying to convince the public that the president has the right to have his nominees confirmed. That's absolutely ridiculous. Regardless of what you think about the judicial filibuster, the fact remains that every senator is responsible for evaluating and critiquing the nominees (adivsing) and approving only those she deems worthy (consenting). Consent implies the choice between assent and dissent. You can't exercise consent when "consent" is your only option.

The Republicans are setting up certain expectations about the upcoming fight. They pretend that a senator is obliged to support the President's choice unless they can cite an egregious violation of ethics or jurisprudence.

As Bush said on July 18, 2005:

We've consulted with the Senate. We will continue to consult with the Senate. I, of course, am the person that picks the nominee, and they get to decide whether or not the nominee gets confirmed. That's the way it has worked in the past. That's the way it's going to work in this administration.

Republicans are trying to encourage the misconception that a nominee's views are irrelevant. As convenient as that assumption is for the side that picks the nominees, it's still wrong. The standard line is that what matters is the soundness of the nominee's legal reasoning, not his substantive conclusions. The logical rejoinder is that nominations are political decisions within a system of checks and balances.

Like most jobs, there number of minimally qualified applicants for the Supreme Court vastly exceed the number of vacancies. Obviously, it would be wrong to nominate or confirm a candidate for political reasons if they were unqualified, but let's assume we're dealing with applicants whose qualifications are minimally acceptable. There's no other position where minimal qualification guarantees you the job. Other considerations always come into play in the final selection process.

Senators are entitled to ask the same questions that the President asks in choosing the nominee in the first place: Where does he stand on the issues I care about? Would his legacy be positive or negative?

Democrats have to shake off Bush's manufactured sense of entitlement. The first step is to identify John Roberts' values and qualifications. Are they consistent with the values of the Democratic party? In a word, no.

We all know that Bush chose Roberts because he is a dependable Republican partisan. So, the Democrats shouldn't be afraid to ask the obvious normative questions. What would Roberts confirmation mean for progressives in America?

Even more importantly: What would Roberts' confirmation by the narrowest possible margin mean for Bush and future nominees?

Roberts is a compromise candidate. It goes against the Republican core brand idea to admit to compromise, but there you have it. Don't assume that "compromise" means acceptable, let alone moderate. But do recognize that Bush is feeling the constraints of public opinion.

Some analysts are calling this choice as a savvy political ploy to undercut Democratic opposition. That's a nice way of describing what might otherwise be called showing weakness. Roberts is not the pick of a president who feels sure of his ground. He's trying to back away from the fight.

At this point, Democrats should demand strict party line discipline from all our senators. The right demands no less of the Republicans:

Insist that the administration and Senate leadership enforce party discipline. That means letting the squishes like Arlen Specter and John McCain know in no uncertain terms that if they dont support the president here (including voting for the constitutional option to derail a filibuster), they will get nothing for the next 3 years including validation of their parking tickets.--David Horowitz

As Ezra points out, Bush will confirm a conservative judge. Barring some shocking revelation about Roberts, I don't think it would be worthwhile to filibuster him. The next nominee would probably be equally bad. It's far wiser to stiffen up our own discipline. First, we use the confirmation process to draw attention to critical issues. Second, we send a message to Bush: this far and no further.

A unified Democratic party will send a powerful message. There will probably be at least one more confirmation battle during this administration. If we aren't strong now, the Republicans will be emboldened to nominate an even more extreme candidate next time.

In the weeks to come, let's not get bogged down in obscure arguments about whether position A on issue B is indicative of fatal logical defect C within constitutional interpretive theory D. We're entitled to our litmus tests. If we don't like a candidate's views on abortion, let's say so straight out. Forget trying to argue that anyone who opposes abortion must have made a catastrophic error in legal reasoning about twenty steps back. Even if it's true, it's not our burden to discharge.

It's really very simple. If you're a Democratic senator, you don't vote for the John Roberts because he's not the kind of person you want on the Supreme Court. You use the confirmation process as it was meant to be used, as an opportunity to delve into the qualifications and values of the nominee. The public deserves to know exactly where this potential lifetime appointee stands on the issues. Then you vote. Then, after the smoke clears, you look around to see who else stood by your party. Then you act accordingly.

Lindsay Beyerstein 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

Reflections on a tattered shield (law).Cervantes depicted Don Quixotes ancient leather shield as an object whose protective capacity was a jokeindeed, its unceremoniously lopped in two within the first few pages of the great novel. This image occurs to me as I contemplate Sen. Chris Dodds proposed federal shield law, the subject of a Senate hearing today.

I believe Im in the minority among my circle of respected journalist friends in being extremely ambivalent about reporter shield laws. Its certainly true that there are many cases in which a collar needs to be put on an overzealous prosecutor or discovery-minded civil lawyer. (Im not saying whether Patrick Fitzgerald falls into this category.) But almost invariably, shield laws establish an elite category of protected persons--normally employees or agents of established newspapers, broadcasters, or press associations. Yet, sound journalism is the antithesis of elitism.

Some of the finest journalism in our history was performed by citizens who might well fall outside the definition of covered person in the Dodd bill, which also requires that the protected person have the intent, at the beginning of the process of gathering news or information, to disseminate the news or information to the public.

This would exclude found journalism such as, say, the Pulitzer-winning expose of Synanon by the Point Reyes Light, which originated with a local sociologist who realized what he was onto only belatedly. What about the citizens who chronicled the recent London bombings from within smoky subway tunnels, cellphone-cameras in hand? They performed journalism, all right, but not by the Dodd definition.

And where does this leave bloggers? In recent months theres been a lot of foolishness written about whether bloggers are journalists, much of it written from behind desks in air conditioned newspaper and magazine offices. The answer, of course, is that it depends on what they actually do: some are and some arent, a filter we might apply to members of the reporting staffs of some major newspapers and correspondents for the networks. (Isnt it interesting that the latest version of the Dodd bill excludes bloggers?)

It should be obvious that the only proper subject of a shield law is process, not persons: the gathering of information of public interest, not the status, pay grade, or employment of the gatherer. This touches on the topic of one of my earlier posts in this spacethe widening gulf between the news profession and the public, which certainly explains much of our loss of credibility. I dont begrudge anyone, including myself, the trappings of status weve acquired in recent decades; theyre what enable me to own a house in a rising market and will allow me to send the kids to the university of their choice (kineahora). But theyve also allowed us to consider ourselves co-equal participants in a big game with the people we cover; were just taking opposing viewpoints during the working day, like lawyers who oppose each other in court but share a companionable golf cart on Sunday. When I was in journalism school in the 70s, my class was shown a clip of Tom Brokaw (I believe) playing tennis with Ron Ziegler (I believe). We all gasped in dismay. Were a class to be shown an equivalent clip today of Tom Friedman playing tennis with Condoleeza Rice, no doubt the prevailing sentiment would be not dismay, but envy.

Shield laws like Dodds are going to provide judges with innumerable opportunities to anoint individuals as shielded journalists or eject them from the shelter, and to parse definitions of news that we journalists prefer to keep to ourselves. Manifestly, this process isnt always going to come out as we wish.

If you want to see how ugly it can get, the place to go is Apple v. Doe, the California court case in which Apple Computer is suing three fansite operators over their advance tips on upcoming Apple products. Back in March, a state judge took it upon himself to ruminate over whether the site operators were sufficiently legitimate to be considered journalists under the California shield law. He also concluded that their published material was too trivial to qualify as news. The decision, which is under appeal, is here. One point of interest occurs on page 8 (Movants contend they are journalists), but the part that really ticked off the local media bar is on page 12: Of course the public is interested in Applebut an interested public is not the same as the public interest. (Emphasis in the original.)

So heres a judge, working with one of the more respected shield laws in the country, taking it upon himself to decide whether published items were sufficiently distinguished in subject and tone to be protected. The Dodd bill grants its protection specifically to published material concerning local, national, or worldwide events, and while it adds, and other matters, I foresee battles waged in federal courts all over the country over just how dignified those other matters have to be. Debates over Guantanamo Bay, sure. But what happens when the news at issue is the color of Britney Spearss underdrawers? In the real world, the latter should qualify as news just as much as the former (to some consumers, much more so). Will it look that way to a judge?

Michael Hiltzik 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

1-2-3, what are we fighting for?

Iraqi Constitution May Curb Women's Rights [NYT]

Predictably*, the progressive features of the interim Iraqi constitution are being systematically expunged. The latest working draft of the new Iraqi constitution guarantees equal rights for women, except when equality conflicts with Islamic law.

Article 14 of the draft constitution would require that family law cases be tried according to the family's sect or religion. That provision would forbid Shiite women of all ages from marrying without their families' permission. Presumably, the new constitution would require the family courts to defer to sects whose interpretation of Sharia includes the proviso that a man divorce his wife by simply announcing his intention three times in her presence. (I'm sure that many families believe with equal fervor that Sharia requires gender equality, but somehow I doubt that their religious convictions will get equally zealous enforcement in from the new religious courts.)

Article 14 would replace a body of Iraqi law that has for decades been considered one of the most progressive in the Middle East in protecting the rights of women, giving them the freedom to choose a husband and requiring divorce cases to be decided by a judge.

[...]women's groups are incensed by Article 14, which would repeal a relatively liberal personal status law enacted in 1959 after the British-backed monarchy was overthrown by secular military officers. That law remained in effect through the decades of Mr. Hussein's rule.

Allegedly, American troops are in Iraq to stabilize this regime. In other words Americans are dying to impose theocracy and second-class citizenship on half the Iraqi people.

*Update: Abbas points to Peter Galbraith's NYRB essay, Bush's Islamic Republic. Recommended reading.

Lindsay Beyerstein 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Rove and Roberts....Looks like Bush expedited John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination to deflect attention from the Karl Rove scandal.

Sources said the timing of an announcement had been moved up in part to deflect attention away from a CIA leak controversy that has engulfed Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove.

"It helps take Rove off the front pages for a week," one Republican strategist said. [Reuters]

Bush will have to produce something more compelling than a partisan hack like Roberts if he wants to distract us from the leaking elephant in the room and the ever-deepening puddle forming around its ankles--especially if it turns out that Rove lied to the FBI.

Lindsay Beyerstein 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....I know I'm supposed to be on vacation, but we can't allow the Valerie Plame content of this blog drop completely to zero, can we? There were two new tidbits released on Monday.

Tidbit #1: Remember the State Department memo about Joe Wilson's Niger trip that was being passed around Air Force One a few days before Novak's column first appeared? The Wall Street Journal reports that the passage discussing Plame's role was specifically designated as sensitive:

The paragraph in the memo discussing Ms. Wilson's involvement in her husband's trip is marked at the beginning with a letter designation in brackets to indicate the information shouldn't be shared, according to the person familiar with the memo. Such a designation would indicate to a reader that the information was sensitive. The memo, though, doesn't specifically describe Ms. Wilson as an undercover agent, the person familiar with the memo said.

Josh Marshall has some additional speculation about the State Department memo here, but the bottom line is that it probably got seen by a lot of people, and anyone who read it would have a pretty good idea that talking about Plame to reporters was a no-no.

Of course, Karl Rove says he never saw this memo. Should we believe him? Tidbit #2 is in the American Prospect, where Murray Waas says that investigators have reason to believe that Rove has been less than forthcoming:

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove did not disclose that he had ever discussed CIA officer Valerie Plame with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper during Roves first interview with the FBI, according to legal sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The omission by Rove created doubt for federal investigators, almost from the inception of their criminal probe into who leaked Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak, as to whether Rove was withholding crucial information from them, and perhaps even misleading or lying to them, the sources said.

I guess Rove must have forgotten all about Cooper. For a guy with a reputation for having a steel trap mind, he sure does seem forgetful lately, doesn't he?

That's your Plamegate update for the day. You may now return to speculation about John Roberts, a person I know nothing about which makes it pretty lucky that I'm on vacation this week. However, I'm sure Lindsay and Michael will be all over Roberts in the morning....

Kevin Drum 12:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 19, 2005
By: Lindsay Beyerstein

Von of Obsidian Wings notices an interesting exchange at Red State.org:

Over on RedHot, Adam C., Mark Kilmer, and Augustine are debating ways to counter the impression that the repeal of Roe v. Wade means the repeal of legalized abortion.

So, here we have a group of pro-lifers brainstorming about how to market the demise of Roe.

It's like the foxes trying to sell the hens on the demise of chicken wire: Don't worry. Tearing down that unsightly and, might I add, poorly constructed fence wouldn't automatically install a fox in your coop. Each fox would still have to find his own way in.

Sounds like Adam C is channelling Scott Lemieux, doesn't it?

RE: Roe [Adam C]
Unfortunately (and somewhat non-sensical), there is a large segment of pro-life voters who tell pollsters that they don't want Roe overturned. That is why polls show 60-66% of respondants support Roe, although only 45-50% are pro-choice. The pro-life movement is doing a great job, but they need to link overturning Roe with mild restrictions instead of an outright ban.
Posted at 07/18/2005 12:20:59 AM EST - #
Lindsay Beyerstein 7:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

On the continuing search for new definitions of obscene, HP division....Word is out today on the long-awaited Hewlett-Packard layoff plan: 14,500 jobs cut, or 10 percent of the workforce. My friend and colleague JP writes:

This is one of those days when I think business really stinks...HP gives Carly millions in severance for doing a lousy job and then today cuts 14,500 jobs to try and fix the goddamn mess. 14,500 livelihoods!

Indeed, this is another example of how the rank and file pays the price of management derelictions and blunders, while the guilty get off scot-free.

To place JPs allusions in perspective, HPs ex-CEO, Carly Fiorina, resigned in February after a few rather checkered years as the companys boss. She left with a severance package of $21 million, including a bonus (!) of $7 million, and another $23.5 million in pension and other benefit payouts.

The Fiorina reign was a hard one for HP, although, to be fair, conditions werent all her fault. Her response, however, was fairly consistently underwhelming. It included the merger with Compaq combining one big PC company facing a vicious contraction in PC margins with another big PC company facing a vicious contraction in PC margins. Between July 1999, when she took over, and February 2005, when she left, the companys stock price was cut roughly in half.

CEOs keep claiming that they deserve their big bucks because theyre on the firing line when things go south, but if part of the deal in getting fired is that they keep the big bucks, this argument begins to look a teensy bit threadbare.

For further perspective, here is a portion of what I wrote in my Los Angeles Times column (reg., alas, req, but isn't it worth it?) upon Carlys defenestration:

I was contemplating last week's ouster of Carly Fiorina as chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co., while my HP desktop personal computer booted up and my HP laptop recharged from the wall socket, and the following thought occurred to me: Why is HP still in the PC business?

This is not an idle question. The profit margin on HP's personal computers is close to zero despite its ranking as No. 2 in sales, after Dell Inc. The main reason is that its PCs are, inside the box, virtually identical to everyone else's. Consumers today choose a PC by price, the same way they pick a private-label cola. (I certainly did.)

The commoditization of computing has only picked up speed with the spread of broadband Internet connections because much more of what we do with computers is driven by the network, not by the resources inside the desktop box.


Fiorina was intent on building up (or rather, shoring up) HP's personal computer business because she felt that consumers and businesses would be miserable unless each piece of their information technology network bore the same nameplate.

As modern strategies go, this one-stop shopping is very 1960s. Back then, every component of a technology system had to be the same brand because every individual provider designed their hardware and software as a closed system, incompatible with anyone else's products.

But broadly speaking, that hasn't been the case for at least two decades, ever since the integrated circuit and IBM Corp.'s PC brought standardization to computing. Huge corporate clients may still prefer to deal with a single vendor because they value consistent servicing, but most other enterprises and consumers are looking for price and performance, the nameplate be damned.

One would think that this lesson had become ingrained in HP's DNA, for it inherited two companies that had been overrun by the trend. Digital Equipment Corp., which once dominated the minicomputer business, couldn't adjust to the PC age and got acquired for its technology by Compaq Computer Corp. in 1998. Compaq merged with HP in 2002.

Fiorina boasted of HP's superior innovation, even though that's an empty claim in a technologically mature industry. "If you are a technology company, you must innovate," she told my colleague Terrill Yue Jones last month, thus proving she had completed her transformation from master salesperson to smoke-blowing machine.

Fiorina's big consumer idea was a hybrid computer/home-theater-in-a-box. But it looks like a showcase of everyone else's innovation not HP's. The operating system of the z545 Digital Entertainment Center is the Windows XP media center edition, a product of Microsoft Corp.; it uses a Pentium chip, a product of Intel Corp.; and its music file storage and retrieval platform is iTunes, a product of Apple.

Beyond those elements, the z545 bundles together a TiVo-style personal video recorder, a DVD/CD recorder and player, two TV tuners ("Record up to two TV channels simultaneously!"), two hard drives totaling 360 gigabytes in capacity and some other hardware.

Out of curiosity, I spent a few minutes on the Web to see what I'd pay for all these components separately, without the assistance of HP's innovative brain trust. The bill came to a little more than $900. HP sells the thing for $1,899.99, which puts the implicit value of having one remote control to operate a "sleek, black brushed aluminum" housing that "blends with your home theater equipment" at $1,000.

Etc., etc.

The question facing HP today is still: What now?

Michael Hiltzik 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

FindLaw is assembling official documents pertaining to Karl Rove and the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Hat tip to Digby.

Lindsay Beyerstein 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

Social Security, not quite the back burner....U.S. News & World Report takes advantage of a slow news week (?) to give White House budget director Josh Bolten a long leash to talk up what passes for fiscal policy in this administration. Along the way, it lets him repeat the usual canards about Social Security. This is a subject dear to my heart, thanks to the recent publication of my book, The Plot Against Social Security: How the Bush Plan is Endangering our Financial Future.

The pertinent portion of the Q&A is this:

The president doesn't seem to be getting much traction on his Social Security proposal.

[Bolten:]The president's plan, which includes personal accounts, is a pretty big challenge politically because it's a problem that will only be fully visible or tangible to people a decade or two from now, at which point it will be enormously harder to fix. The president has made a great deal of progress in educating the American people about a problem that, to many people, seems to be on the other side of the horizon.

And yet private accounts won't shore up the system.

Private accounts are an essential part of a comprehensive solution. In and of themselves, they don't have a major effect on the overall solvency of the system. But they do provide an opportunity for younger workers to get a better deal out of the system.

Ever since the Social Security privateers were forced to acknowledge that private accounts wouldnt improve the systems fiscal balance, but would actually harm it, this has been the fall-back position: In effect, we have to cut benefits sharply no matter what, and private accounts are the only way for younger workers to make up the losses. The reply to this argument is in my Chapter 9 (The Ownership Scam 1: Risk or Reward?). The point is that younger workers may get a better deal out of the system by investing privately, but then they may not. The variable is risk. As the Government Accountability Office has shown, millions of account holders may well do much worse. Some will do poorly, some will do superbly, and some will get what we call at the blackjack tables a push.

If we could know in advance which category wed fall into and plan accordingly, this would be a terrific plan. But as the late economist Herbert Stein, who was nobodys fantasy of a liberal, once wrote, if youre talking about a bedrock secure retirement benefit, its obvious that subjecting it to market risk is inappropriate.

In introducing its Bolten interview, U.S. News commits one of the familiar solecisms about the coming generational fiscal crunch by treating Social Security and Medicare as programs on parallel fiscal paths. (The real fiscal trouble begins three years from now when the baby boomers start retiring and stretching Social Security and Medicare to their breaking points...)

Well, no. First of all, no fiscal trouble is facing Social Security in three years; even the standard projection (which I show in my book has been historically overpessimistic) doesnt posit a crisis until the 2020s. Second, Medicare is a whole nother thing. As I tell my lecture audiences when the question comes up (which is always), the reason the Bush Administration is focusing on Social Security even though Medicare is in a much more dire condition is because, unlike Social Security, you cant adjust Medicares balance sheet by working strictly within its own parametersyou have to make changes in the entire U.S. health care delivery and financing system, which is the real driver of Medicare costs.

And we know how hard this administration has worked to fix health care.

Michael Hiltzik 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Michael Hiltzik

The Rove Affair, a Non-Beltway Perspective.It has become increasingly clear that theres no way the press in general, and the Washington press corps in particular, can come out of this fiasco looking good. What is the average news consumer supposed to make of a case that remains so thoroughly murky even though two major news organizations are at the center of it, and presumably privy to a lot more than theyve reported (and I dont mean the names of their confidential sources, if any are still confidential)? What is the average ordinary (non-journalist) individual to make of pitiful displays like the July 11 gaggle, which were supposed to think showed a suddenly-energized White House press corps making Scott McClellan pay for his months of subterfuge and persiflage but featured such fatuous questions as: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?

Nor is it pretty for the sheer promiscuity with which the Washington press hands out promises of confidentiality to stand exposed. If youre a White House reporter, Karl Rove is your subject No. 2 (or perhaps even No. 1). Whats the case for offering the subject of news coverage blanket anonymity to discuss his own actions and motivations? Shouldnt it be presumed that he will seize the opportunity to spin, insulated from the consequences, rather than to provide you with useful information (i.e., news)?

Matt Cooper wrote over the weekend that one reason he made his fateful call to Rove was to learn why the administration (i.e., Rove) was smearing Wilson. Under the cover of anonymity, Rove then proceeded to smear Wilson. What did Cooper gain from this conversation that warranted bestowing the journalists most precious gift, the promise of confidentiality? (He certainly didnt get an answer to his question.) Sure, if not for double super secret backround Rove would not have taken the call. With all we know now, we can ask, So what? Rove used the gift to point Cooper down a road that led, inevitably, to a lie.

Many in the press are talking as though the Cooper-Miller mess destroys their ability to recruit and exploit confidential sources, but plainly theyre not talking about confidential sources the way we think about them in the investigative journalism biz. Investigative reporters strive never to hang a story directly on quotes or commentary from confidential sources; they use the sources to guide them to privileged material such as documents, in black and white. That protects the story, and in all but the rare case, it protects the source, too.

Washington confidentiality in the modern era is all about maintaining access, even if that access yields scarcely anything worth publishing. If you have a confidential chat with Karl Rove, and he leads you down the garden path, do you end up with anything worthwhile other than DC cocktail party chatter about your last conversation with Karl Rove? And should we be appalled and surprised that Rove used the occasion to mislead? To paraphrase George Orwell, you cant blame Rove for taking such an opportunity to further his own interests, any more than you can blame a skunk for stinking.

This episode is part and parcel of the debasement of the confidential sources role in American journalism. Taking sources at their own level of self-interest is what has given us Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, and Iraqi WMDs. In Washington, theyre used as social currency; when anonymous senior administration officials give their briefings, their identities are known to everyone in the system except the reader. Its another expression of the elitism that has opened a yawning gap between the practitioners of journalism and the public. Even Hollywood is onto us now; this sign of the zeitgeist is only the beginning.

Michael Hiltzik 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Lindsay Beyerstein

John Tierney has a good column in today's New York Times called Punishing Pain.

It's about Richard Paey of Zephyrhills, Florida, who suffers from crippling nerve pain and multiple sclerosis. He is currently serving a 25-year minimum sentence for forging Percocet prescriptions, an accusation he denies. The prosecutors admits the sentence is harsh for a 46-year-old family man with no criminal record, but he intimates that Paey's lengthy sentence is his own fault for refusing to plead to a lesser charge.

As Tierney explains, Mr. Paey attracted the attention of authorities because of his high consumption of prescription opiates:

The problem was getting the medicine from doctors who are afraid of the federal and local crusades against painkillers. Mr. Paey managed to find a doctor willing to give him some relief, but it was a "vegetative dose," in his wife's words.

"It was enough for him to lay in bed," Mrs. Paey said. "But if he tried to sit through dinner or use the computer or go to the kids' recital, it would set off a crisis, and we'd be in the emergency room.

We kept going back for more medicine because he wasn't getting enough."As he took more pills, Mr. Paey came under surveillance by police officers who had been monitoring the prescriptions. Although they found no evidence that he'd sold any of the drugs, they raided his home and arrested him.

What followed was a legal saga pitting Mr. Paey against his longtime doctor (and a former friend of the Paeys), who denied at the trial that he had given Mr. Paey some of the prescriptions. Mr. Paey maintains that the doctor did approve the disputed prescriptions, and several pharmacists backed him up at the trial. Mr. Paey was convicted of forging prescriptions.

He was subject to a 25-year minimum penalty because he illegally possessed Percocet and other pills weighing more than 28 grams, enough to classify him as a drug trafficker under Florida's draconian law (which treats even a few dozen pain pills as the equivalent of a large stash of cocaine).

Patients aren't the only victims of draconian anti-diversion efforts. Last year I wrote about how overzealous enforcement of narcotic regulations is undermining doctors' ability to practice evidence-based medice, i.e., to relieve the suffering of their patients according to prevailing scientific and ethical standards of care.

I hope to blog more about the War on Some Drugs during my stint at the Washington Monthly.

Lindsay Beyerstein 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

VACATION NOTE....As I mentioned below, I'll be on vacation for the next week. But fear not: I'm leaving you in good hands while I'm gone.

Two guest bloggers will be filling in for the next seven day. The first is Lindsay Beyerstein, who blogs over at Majikthise, a site that I hope you're all reading already. Lindsay blogs pretty eclectically and was runner-up for "Most Deserving of Wider Recongition" in last year's Koufax Awards. You can learn more about Lindsay here, and if you want to learn even more about her, a few weeks ago she posted a thorough psychological inventory of herself here. Nickel version: well adjusted but not always agreeable. So you better watch yourselves.

Her co-guest blogger is Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Michael has never blogged before, but he throws some sharp elbows in his columns and should fit in here just fine. He won half a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for exposing sleazy doings in the entertainment industry, and while I know that cuts no mustard in the blogosphere, I figure it probably means he has some potential in the writing biz. Plus he's been a Nairobi bureau chief, Moscow correspondent, financial writer, yada yada yada, all the usual MSM stuff.

Should be fun, no? We've got young vs. not-so-young, male vs. female, blogger vs. MSM, East Coast vs. West Coast, and Colgate vs. Tufts. When the week is over, which blogger will reign supreme?

I'll be back in a week to find out. See you then.

Kevin Drum 1:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WEDDING CRASHERS....I'm about to go on vacation for a week, and in the spirit of winding down before I do here's a quickie review of The Wedding Crashers.

First impression: This is a gut bustingly funny movie for about 45 minutes. Really. I laughed about as hard as I have in any movie for the past couple of years. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are terrific.

Second impression: Unfortunately, as in so many movies like this, the filmmakers then decide that they have to slow down the comedy and inject some supposedly genuine emotion into the love stories at the heart of the plot. There are still a few good jokes throughout the rest of the movie, but for the most part it just turns into cliched pap. I have no idea why Hollywood insists on doing this. What's wrong with just making a flat out comedy?

So: go see it for the first 45 minutes and then use the rest of the time to take a nap. It's a twofer!

Kevin Drum 12:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 18, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR WANTED....Some of you have probably noticed that the Washington Monthly site crashes pretty reliably a couple of times a day. We're not really sure why this happens, but it appears to be a database management issue related to Movable Type.

We'd like to fix this, which means that we need to hire a part-time system administrator who has experience dealing with high-volume Movable Type installations. There's some other stuff we'd like done to the site as well, some of it related to MT and some not.

This is a paying position, although opinion magazine economics being what they are, it won't exactly make you wealthy. If you're interested anyway and have the requisite technical chops, please send an email to our associate publisher, Carl Iseli, at carl.iseli@washingtonmonthly.com. He can provide more details about exactly what we're looking for.

Since the site always seems to go down just when I want to write something juicy, fixing it will definitely improve my mental health. Many thanks in advance to anyone who's able to help out.

Kevin Drum 8:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIVE BY THE POLLS, DIE BY THE POLLS....Garance Franke-Ruta reports that a new ABC News poll shows plummeting support for the White House's handling of Plamegate. Only 25% of the respondents felt that the administration was cooperating with the investigation and that was before both Time and Newsweek splashed Karl Rove's picture all over their covers this week. At that level, it means that even some true believers are starting to doubt George Bush's sincerity in the matter.

Why? Probably because a lot of Bush's supporters genuinely believe that exposing the identity of a CIA agent is a bad thing to do even if you're mad at her husband. They might be running out of patience with Bush on this.

Kevin Drum 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

THERE'S A WORD FOR THAT....This just in:

President Bush changed his stance today on his close adviser Karl Rove, stopping well short of promising that anyone in his administration who helped to unmask a C.I.A. officer would be fired. "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," Mr. Bush said in response to a question, after declaring, "I don't know all the facts; I want to know all the facts." [emphasis mine]

Say it with me: Flippety Flop.

Amy Sullivan 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NUKES AND THE BASE....Step back from Plamegate for a moment and ask yourself a broader question: why did the White House react so violently to Joe Wilson's suggestion that the story about Saddam Hussein trying to procure uranium from Niger was false? After all, as conservative apologists never tire of pointing out, Wilson didn't really debunk George Bush's words in the 2003 State of the Union address. Bush said only that Saddam "sought" uranium from Africa, while Wilson merely provided evidence that no uranium ever changed hands. The fact is, Wilson's report didn't invalidate Bush's statement.

So why did the White House go nuts? What were they so scared of that they went into full-blown smear-and-destroy mode?

One of the advantages of living in Orange County is that I have plenty of centrist and conservative acquaintances, and one thing I've learned from them is that even among Bush's own supporters it was the possibility of Saddam getting hold of nukes that really scared them. Chemical and biological weapons were a bit of a yawn. Without nukes, even Bush sympathizers were skeptical about the whole Iraq adventure.

Since Karl Rove has much more sophisticated means of gauging public opinion than my occasional lunches with friends, he obviously knew this full well. And that means that he was hellbent on making a case in the SOTU that Saddam had an active nuke program. The problem is that even after sifting through every available rumor, analysis, and unconfirmed report, they were only able to come up with two meager pieces of evidence:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

That's it. Uranium from Africa and aluminum tubes. It was pretty thin stuff.

But it turned out to be even thinner. Although conservatives insist with bilious disdain that the CIA was staffed by do-nothing bureaucrats afraid to follow the Iraqi WMD evidence where it led, the exact opposite was true. Although it's unclear how much of this was due to CIA culture and how much to White House pressure, the reality is that the CIA was far more bullish about Saddam's WMD programs than it should have been. They continued to report the uranium connection long after State Department analysts had made it clear that it was based on forged documents, and they continued to insist that the aluminum tubes were designed for centrifuges long after Department of Energy experts had conclusively debunked it.

Without those two things, there was no evidence left that Iraq was reconsituting its nuclear program aside from the procurement of a bit of dual use equipment and some hazy reporting of personnel movements. As the SSCI report concluded last year, "the judgment...that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, was not supported by the intelligence."

In other words, the White House political operation wasn't lashing out just because of Joe Wilson. They were lashing out because they believed their political lives depended on their own supporters continuing to believe that Saddam had been actively working on a nuke program. Without that belief, they'd lose support within their own base even if they eventually found evidence of chem and bio programs.

In Karl Rove's world, the base is sacred, and nukes were the key to their support. Joe Wilson threatened to open a crack in that support, and that's why he had to be destroyed.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND TERROR....In the Boston Globe on Sunday, Bryan Bender explored the question of why there are so many suicide bombers in Iraq:

Interrogations of nearly 300 Saudis captured while trying to sneak into Iraq and case studies of more than three dozen others who blew themselves up in suicide attacks show that most were heeding the calls from clerics and activists to drive infidels out of Arab land, according to a study by Saudi investigator Nawaf Obaid, a US-trained analyst who was commissioned by the Saudi government and given access to Saudi officials and intelligence.

A separate Israeli analysis of 154 foreign fighters compiled by a leading terrorism researcher found that despite the presence of some senior Al Qaeda operatives who are organizing the volunteers, ''the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq."

....American intelligence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and terrorism specialists paint a similar portrait of the suicide bombers wreaking havoc in Iraq: Prior to the Iraq war, they were not Islamic extremists seeking to attack the United States, as Al Qaeda did four years ago, but are part of a new generation of terrorists responding to calls to defend their fellow Muslims from ''crusaders" and ''infidels."

Since this is exactly what happened in Afghanistan in the 80s, a phenomenon which had our blessing at the time, this should hardly come as a surprise. It's also one more argument in favor of a plan for a phased, methodical American withdrawal from Iraq. Like this one, for example.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNABLE OR UNWILLING?....I don't think today's LA Times story about Joe Wilson and Karl Rove really has any new information in it, but it does include a classic Rove-ism:

Prosecutors investigating whether White House officials illegally leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, a CIA officer who had worked undercover, have been told that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, were especially intent on undercutting Wilson's credibility, according to a person familiar with the inquiry.

....A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove responded: "He's a Democrat."

That's our Karl!

On a more serious note, there's a part of the meta-story here that I can't quite figure out. This anecdote hasn't been previously reported, which means this is yet another leak from someone close to the case. But it's a tiny, inconsequential leak. Sure, it makes Rove look petty, but that's hardly very noteworthy since a quick Google search would turn up a dozen anecdotes about Rove that expose him as far worse than merely petty.

This is what's been happening for several days now. We've been treated to a succession of teensy little leaks, which means that multiple people close to this case apparently want to keep the story alive in the press. At the same time, despite the fact that the leakers are presumably privy to some or all of the grand jury testimony so far, they're either unable or unwilling to provide any genuinely juicy leaks.

But which is it? Unable or unwilling? Or is there a third possibility? The answer says a lot about how strong a case Patrick Fitzgerald is putting together and what kind of media game the principals in the case are playing.

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STEYN: CIA AGENT = HOME DEPOT CLERK....Mark Steyn who appears to have been driven around the bend by the fact that liberals think it's wrong for the White House to casually blow the cover of a clandestine CIA agent in order to discredit her husband passes along the latest conservative meme:

As her weirdly self-obsesssed husband Joseph C. Wilson IV conceded on CNN the other day, she wasn't a "clandestine officer" and, indeed, hadn't been one for six years. So one can only "leak" her name in the sense that one can "leak" the name of the checkout clerk at Home Depot.

Let's roll the tape. Here's Wilson on CNN last Thursday:

BLITZER: But the other argument that's been made against you is that you've sought to capitalize on this extravaganza, having that photo shoot with your wife, who was a clandestine officer of the CIA....

WILSON: My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity.

Wilson is obviously saying that his wife stopped being clandestine as soon as Novak wrote about her, not that she was never clandestine. Can't these guys do any better than that?

Steyn, along with most of the right these days, spends nearly the entire column flinging mud at Joe Wilson, and I suppose I might do the same if I found myself in Steyn's increasingly uncomfortable shoes. After all, it's been obvious for some time, and is even more obvious now, that multiple people in the White House spoke to multiple reporters about Valerie Plame's CIA status even though that information compromised a potentially important covert operation. There's really no honorable way to claim that this is an OK thing to do, so the only option left is to try and divert attention away from that basic fact.

It's pretty sad when conservatives become so obsessed with protecting their own that they're reduced to claiming that outing a CIA agent is no worse than outing a Home Depot clerk. That's some heavy duty moral clarity for you, folks.

Kevin Drum 12:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 17, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

DOUBLE SUPER SECRET MISSION TO THE DARK SIDE....I'll be spending the rest of the day up in Pasadena at a get-together of local bloggers. It's a pretty conservative bunch, so perhaps when I get back I'll have harrowing tales of my penetration deep into enemy territory.

Or not. In any case, I'll do my best to uphold the honor of liberal blogdom. Back tonight.

Kevin Drum 2:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROVE AT WAR....Howard Fineman gets it about right in Newsweek:

It's unlikely that any White House officials considered that they were doing anything illegal in going after Joe Wilson. Indeed, the line between national security and politics had long since been all but erased by the Bush administration.


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By: Kevin Drum

"I'VE ALREADY SAID TOO MUCH"....As I suspected, there was nothing really new in Matt Cooper's account of his grand jury testimony last week. After all, Cooper's role was small, and as he puts it, "Like the blindfolded man and the elephant, all I know is what seems to be in front of me." Here are the key paragraphs:

As for Wilson's wife, I told the grand jury I was certain that Rove never used her name and that, indeed, I did not learn her name until the following week, when I either saw it in Robert Novak's column or Googled her, I can't recall which. Rove did, however, clearly indicate that she worked at the "agency" by that, I told the grand jury, I inferred that he obviously meant the CIA and not, say, the Environmental Protection Agency. Rove added that she worked on "WMD" (the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction) issues and that she was responsible for sending Wilson. This was the first time I had heard anything about Wilson's wife.

Rove never once indicated to me that she had any kind of covert status. I told the grand jury something else about my conversation with Rove. Although it's not reflected in my notes or subsequent e-mails, I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, "I've already said too much." This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting or something else. I don't know, but that sign-off has been in my memory for two years.

....So did Rove leak Plame's name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the "agency" on "WMD"? Yes. When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don't know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me. At this point, I'm as curious as anyone else to see what Patrick Fitzgerald has.

I don't know what Rove's cryptic admission that "I've already said too much" means although the standard interpretation certainly seems most likely but Cooper also writes that "Rove told me material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and his findings." Perhaps Rove and others in the White House were actively seeking to get Valerie Plame's status declassified so they could make their smears publicly instead of on deep background? If that's the case, it would mean they knew full well they were leaking classified information.

Then again, maybe not. It's all just speculation at this point.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COOPER AND THE GRAND JURY....Matt Cooper's story in today's Time magazine, "What I Told the Grand Jury," is behind a subscription wall, so I can't read it. I suspect there are no bombshells in it, but if anyone could email me a copy I'd appreciate it.

UPDATE: I have it now. Thanks.

UPDATE 2: Doh! As Mimiru points out in comments, anyone can log in and read the story by going to bugmenot.com and getting a login name and password.

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 16, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

TIME'S SOURCES....Time magazine's reporters are saying that editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine's decision to turn over Matt Cooper's notes and emails in the Valerie Plame case is souring their sources on cooperating with them:

On Monday, two Time correspondents, upset about Pearlstine's decision to release Cooper's notes, showed top company officials e-mails from sources who said they would now have trouble trusting the magazine. The tense meeting in the Washington bureau with Pearlstine, Time Inc. Editorial Director John Huey and Managing Editor Jim Kelly was "angry" and filled with "bile," said several participants who requested anonymity because the meeting was confidential.

One reporter, Mark Thompson, circulated copies of an e-mail from a woman who deals regularly with whistle-blowers, saying that she would not turn over a confidential source to Time and that the magazine had slid to the bottom of her media list. He told Pearlstine the Cooper decision had "made our job a heck of a lot tougher." Another, Brian Bennett, displayed a similar note from a source with the name blacked out.

It's hard to know how seriously to take this, but one thing it demonstrates is that Time's corporate decision in this case was a lot more important that Matt Cooper's personal decision. The worst-case result of Cooper's decision was damage to his own career, but the worst-case result of Pearlstine's decision is damage to every single reporter who works for Time.

It may be, as Pearlstine argues, that the Plame case is unique, but that strikes me as a thin reed. The last few years have seen an increasing trend toward intimidation of reporters and their sources, and I suspect we're going to see even more of this now that Patrick Fitzgerald has so publicly shown the way. The answer is a federal shield law, and Christopher Dodd's Free Speech Protection Act of 2005 is short and easily understood. It's time to get serious about passing it.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNCIVIL WAR....A few weeks ago, David Von Drehle of the Washington Post invited (liberal) Barbara O'Brien and (conservative) Betsy Newmark to tour Washington D.C. for a day and do in person what they usually do only on their blogs: argue with each other. The resulting article for the Post magazine is here, and Von Drehle puts the two bloggers in pretty august company:

A case could be made that the Federalist Papers were the greatest blog ever. Like many blogs, this was the creation of a group of like-minded activists (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay) and posted under a pseudonym (Publius). Short-lived but intense, Publius produced 85 blog items in defense of the new Constitution over a fervent half-year.

....Nor is there much new in the bitter tone of today's discourse. Benjamin Franklin Bache, whose given names honored his famous grandfather, started an anti-Federalist paleo-blog in Philadelphia known as the Aurora. A favorite target of his invective was the sainted George Washington. "If you read the Aurora," the great man complained, "you cannot but have perceived with what malignant industry and persevering falsehoods I am assailed in order to weaken, if not destroy, the confidence of the Public."

Barbara's take on the article is here. Betsy's is here.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

UNDERCOVER...Greg Miller has a decent backgrounder in the LA Times today about the various types of CIA cover notional cover, official cover, nonofficial cover, etc. and where Valerie Plame fits into this heirarchy. There's no partisan red meat here, but it's a good primer that helps fit the Plame case into a larger picture.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE PLAME LEAKS....The New York Times reports another tiny morsel in the Valerie Plame case today. Apparently Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to figure out who in the White House had access to a State Department memo about Joseph Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger that included Plame's name:

The memorandum was sent to Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, just before or as he traveled with President Bush and other senior officials to Africa starting on July 7, 2003....Mr. Powell was seen walking around Air Force One during the trip with the memorandum in hand, said a person involved in the case who also requested anonymity because of the prosecutor's admonitions about talking about the investigation.

....The memorandum was dated June 10, 2003, nearly four weeks before Mr. Wilson wrote an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in which he recounted his mission and accused the administration of twisting intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraq.

....When Mr. Wilson's Op-Ed article appeared on July 6, 2003, a Sunday, Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, called Carl W. Ford Jr., the assistant secretary for intelligence and research, at home, a former State Department official said. Mr. Armitage asked Mr. Ford to send a copy of the memorandum to Mr. Powell, who was preparing to leave for Africa with Mr. Bush, the former official said. Mr. Ford sent it to the White House for transmission to Mr. Powell.

So: the was memo written June 10, Wilson's op-ed appeared on July 6, and Powell got a copy of the memo on Air Force One on July 7. Karl Rove spoke to Robert Novak about Plame on July 8 and to Matt Cooper on July 11. Did Rove or someone else in the White house who then passed it on to Rove learn about Plame from the memo? Maybe.

As with yesterday's leaks, there's not really an awful lot here. In fact, the most interesting part of this isn't the content of the leak so much as its very existence. We now appear to be caught in a cycle of competing leaks from the various sides in the Plame case, with this anti-White House tidbit seemingly being leaked in response to yesterday's pro-White House leak.

Still, while it's true that so far the competing leaks have been pretty puny, small acorns like these can sometimes produce mighty oaks. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 3:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE AMNESIA....The thought of Karl Rove being frog marched out of the White House has apparently robbed the conservative blogosphere of its last meager dregs of rational thought. Today's big news in the conservosphere is a six-year old ABC News segment that's been heroically rescued from the "memory hole" and is now being trumpeted as proof proof, dammit! that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden used to be best buddies and Democrats have known it all along. It's only when George Bush became president that we started denying it.

The etymology is a little murky here, but as near as I can tell the damning video first got dredged up by a radio show called The War Room With Quinn & Rose. From there it got picked up by Roger L. Simon and then by Michael Totten. The trail diverges a bit from there, with Power Line getting it from a reader and then linking to a video clip from Media Research Center, which was then picked up by Instapundit, who sniffed, "Yeah, we heard a lot of that stuff before Bush was President, but now it's all supposed to be something he just made up."

And indeed, the ABC segment reports that Osama's people and Saddam's people had contacts in 1994 in Sudan and in late 1998 in Afghanistan. There's only one problem: this is nothing new. Nor was it new a year ago, the last time that Instapundit "discovered" this.

So once more, for those with short memories, here's what the 9/11 Commission concluded:

Around [March 1997] Bin Ladin sent out a number of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported to have received a significant response.

....In March 1998, after Bin Ladins public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin....Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban.

....But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.

And that's it. Both Saddam and Osama hated the United States. They had a couple of tentative conversations that never led anywhere. The last ones were in late 1998 or early 1999, and by the time the war started, the fundamentalist Sunnis of al-Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Iraq hadn't so much as exchanged notes for four years. More details here, if you're interested.

The only people who keep forgetting and then rediscovering all this are amnesiac conservatives. I wish somebody would buy one of them a subscription to Nexis.

Kevin Drum 2:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 15, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

HARRY POTTER....For all of you planning to wait in line for the latest installment of Harry Potter tonight, the Wall Street Journal provides this handy graphic that measures the rise of Potter-mania over the years.

Obviously 2000 was the year that Harry Potter really took off, which seems about right to me. I recall that Marian got me a copy of Sorcerer's Stone for Christmas that year, and eventually we picked up the rest of the series too. I liked the first few books pretty well, though eventually I got a little weary of their length. There's just not enough action to sustain 800 pages, after all, and it's not as if there's a lot of heavy duty character development that demands that kind of word count either. If L. Frank Baum didn't need 800 pages, I don't know why J.K. Rowling does.

On the bright side, at least Rowling apparently learned a lesson that Tom Clancy never figured out. The chart on the right, exclusive to this blog, demonstrates the steadily increasing page count of the Potter books, which peaked with the opthomologically disastrous Order of the Phoenix and has now finally begun receding. Perhaps the seventh and last installment can be kept to a svelte 500 pages?

Maybe. But what happens after the final book is published, anyway? As the Journal laconically notes, Scholastic Books "will need to seek alternate revenue sources after the seventh and final book in the series is released." Good luck with that.

Kevin Drum 7:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGS AND DEMOCRATS....Here's a remarkable thing. Over in the Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett argues today that the Democratic party is in big trouble. Normally that wouldn't raise any eyebrows, since you could hardly argue otherwise for a party that controls exactly zero branches of the federal government. What's remarkable, though, is why Barnett thinks Democrats are in trouble. It's because of blogs.

No, really. Specifically, the problem is that several Democratic senators have hold on to your hats here recently written diaries on Daily Kos. That's it. Hard as it is to believe in a 2,000-word article, that's all there is to his argument unless you count the risible assertion that Ted Kennedy has adopted Kos' "hysterically shrill style" because he used the word "accountability" in his diary reference to Iraq.

Oh, and Dick Durbin held a conference call with several bloggers a couple of weeks ago. When will the madness end?

Now, it's true that Kos encourages a....how to put this?....passionate approach to politics. But as Barnett himself points out, the only reason you don't see the same thing on the right is that most conservative blogs are comment-free "virtual op-ed columns." The only big exception, Little Green Footballs, is not exactly famous as a source of calm and thoughtful discourse.

This is pretty silly stuff. When conservative politicians stop reaching out to James Dobson and Grover Norquist, let me know. Until then, I'll take my chances with the lefty blogosphere.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MOTHERS IN THE WORKPLACE....Via MoJo, here's a fascinating piece of recent social science. A couple of researchers tried to estimate the effect of being a mother on your likelihood of getting hired for a high-paying management job. So they created a bunch of identical resumes for men, women, whites, and blacks, and then paired them up so that each resume in the pair was identical except that one applicant in each pair was a parent and the other wasn't.

The manipulation was fairly subtle. On the resumes, one member of each pair listed PTA membership while the other listed a neighborhood fundraising affiliation. In addition, the covering memo for parents included the phrase "Mother/Father to Tom and Emily. Married to John/Karen." The non-parent was described as simply "married to John/Karen."

Results are shown on the right. The reviewers rated mothers as less competent and less committed to their careers, proposed lower starting salaries for them, and consistently recommended them at lower rates both for initial hiring and for likelihood of promotion. They also demanded higher exam scores from mothers and were less tolerant of them being late to work. The researchers concluded that all of these effects derived primarily from the first two:

To a large extent, mothers are rated as less hirable, less suitable for promotion and deserving of lower salaries because they are believed to be less competent and less committed to paid work.

The opposite was true as well. The highest scores for competence and commitment also went to women but in this case it was those with no children. Apparently, the reviewers felt that a woman who had sacrificed the chance to have children must be ultra-committed to work. Here's how the competence/commitment rankings fell out:

  • Female non-parents

  • Male parents

  • Male non-parents

  • Female parents

The differences were smaller for men, but worked in the opposite direction. Apparently men without children are viewed as less competent and committed than "normal" men who choose to have kids.

It's just a single study, and there are lots of interactions that are hard to control for here, so take it with a grain of salt. Still, the results are surprisingly robust considering the minuscule changes that were made to the resumes and covering notes. Food for thought, no?

Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAITING FOR FITZGERALD....The latest meme emerging in the conservo-sphere is that liberals have been suckered once again. The case against Karl Rove is thin, they say, and when the truth eventually comes out in the Plamegate case, lefty obsession over Rove is going to look pretty foolish.

Oddly enough, I sort of half agree with this. I don't really doubt that Rove was involved in Plamegate in some way, but it's worth keeping in mind that the public evidence in the case so far is just the tippy-tip of the iceberg: a single, short email from Matt Cooper to his editor that says he spoke with Rove briefly. And the only reason we know about that email is because Cooper wisely decided that protecting Rove wasn't worth rotting in jail like Judith Miller. It's nothing more than an odd coincidence that this happens to be the only piece of evidence currently in the public domain.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, however, has boatloads more evidence than just Cooper's, which means that trying to figure out what's going on based on this one email is like trying to predict a presidential election based on a poll in one state. It's impossible.

I'd love nothing more than to see Rove frog marched off to wherever it is that people get frog marched off to, but it's wise not to get too obsessed over trying to hyper-parse a single email and a couple of carefully phrased leaks from lawyers who obviously have their own agendas. One way or another, Fitzgerald will wrap this case up fairly soon, and then we'll know. And I don't think it's going to be one guy talking to Karl Rove for two minutes. There's much more to it.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KRUGMAN....I guess I'll make an exception to my New York Times op-ed boycott tonight. Paul Krugman says exactly what needs to be said.

If there's any single thing that I hold against George Bush more than any other, it's the way that, with almost animal instinct, he decided within days of 9/11 to use it as nothing more than a routine opportunity to destroy his domestic enemies, rather than as a unique and fleeting chance to unite the country and destroy our foreign enemies. That tawdry instinct came from Karl Rove and people like him, and it's that instinct that is destroying the modern Republican party. Someday the few remaining grownup conservatives will figure that out.

Kevin Drum 2:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROVE AND NOVAK....Here's the latest spin from the White House: a lawyer involved in the Plame case says that Karl Rove did talk to Robert Novak about Valerie Plame, but only after Novak brought it up first! Today's rather carefully orchestrated story claims that Novak called Rove and told him about Plame, after which Rove is alleged to have said innocently, "I heard that, too."

And how is it that Rove was able to confirm Novak's story? The Washington Post, working from the same source, says Rove heard it from a reporter. "I don't think that he has a clear recollection," the lawyer said. "He's told [investigators] that he believes he may have heard it from a journalist."

Well, maybe so. Maybe he heard it from Judith Miller. Who knows?

I'm pretty much just blogging this for the record. This story has obviously been so carefully leaked that it's hard to know if there's any actual truth value to it. You can make up your own mind about that, I suppose. But in any case, that's the latest.

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DOUG FEITH'S SWAN SONG....Via Suburban Guerrilla, you really have to admire the chutzpah of senior Bush administration staffers sometimes. Here is Doug Feith, the outgoing #3 guy at the Pentagon:

"Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error, as to the stockpiles" of weapons it assured President Bush existed in 2003, Feith said. Thus that part of the administration's argument for why war was necessary was overdone, he said, adding, "Anything we said at all about stockpiles was overemphasis, given that we didn't find them."

Our intelligence community made, apparently, an error. Yep, it was all the CIA's fault! Damn their hides!

This really takes some balls considering that it comes from the guy who was ultimately in charge of the Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon outfit charged with ferreting out evidence of WMD and al-Qaeda connections in Iraq that the squishy analysts at the CIA were too reality based to acknowledge. The OSP was practically created to find WMD whether it was there or not. If the CIA did screw up, Feith's shop made them look like pikers.

Ballsy indeed. Of course, Feith is also the guy that Gen. Tommy Franks memorably called "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Perhaps that's the perfect combination for this administration: ballsy and stupid.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 14, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SUICIDE BOMBING....The Pew Research Center has released its latest survey of international attitudes toward terrorism, and as usual it contains some interesting results. Most dramatically, as shown on the right, is the fact that support for both suicide bombing and Osama bin Laden are generally down in the Muslim world.

The most interesting result, though, comes in the details. Take a look at the three Muslim countries that have been hit with major al-Qaeda bombing attacks since 2002 Morocco, Indonesia, and Turkey. Support for suicide bombing is down to 15% or less in all three countries and, even more dramatically, confidence in Osama bin Laden has been cut nearly in half. Attacking Muslim countries appears to have backfired badly on al-Qaeda.

On a less cheery note, the populations of Jordan and more worryingly Pakistan both have more confidence in Osama bin Laden than they did two years ago. Given the difficulty of conducting these polls, the results are probably within the margin of error, but at a minimum you can probably say that things haven't gotten any better in those two countries.

On the other hand, Lebanon appears to be a big success story. Support for Osama is negligible, and support for suicide bombing, though still high, has nearly halved.

There are lots of other interesting results in the full report. The press release is here.

Kevin Drum 7:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BECAUSE IT WENT OVER SO WELL THE FIRST TIME....If you didn't get enough of Justice Sunday, hold onto your hats, because Justice Sunday II is on the way. Seriously. Crazy Zell Miller is already signed up to headline no word on whether Bill Frist will make a return appearance.

I have to admit, I'm torn about the proper response. Do we make a big fuss all over again, or just ignore it the whole thing, denying Tony Perkins & crew the publicity and hyped-up culture war they crave so much?

Amy Sullivan 6:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SCHMIDT REPORT....Andrew Sullivan summarizes the latest report about all the non-torture going on at U.S. detention facilities around the world:

One great merit of the Schmidt report which is otherwise riddled with worrying euphemisms, dismissal of troubling facts, exoneration of almost all commanders is that we now know that almost every one of the Abu Ghraib techniques was practised and innovated at Guantanamo. These were not improvised out of nowhere. They were what the report calls "the creative application of authorized interrogation techniques," and the interrogators "believed they were acting within existing guidance." Here's a list of techniques used at Gitmo.

Click the link to get the list. More pictures are on their way too.

George Bush and the Pentagon apparently have no clue about the true nature of the war we're fighting. Do they think we're fighting massed columns of Nazi armor? How many new recruits does al-Qaeda have to sign up before they figure out what we're up against?

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROVE vs. NIXON....The current spin from desperate Republicans about Plamegate is that when Karl Rove outed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters, he was merely trying to correct the erroneous impression in the press that Dick Cheney had sent Joe Wilson to Niger to check up on the Iraq/yellowcake story. Not so! It was really the peaceniks in the CIA who sent Wilson, and Rove was just conscientiously trying to set the record straight.

Tim Noah knows this is ridiculous, but today he manfully shoulders the task of pretending to take it seriously so he can explain why it doesn't make sense:

Let's suppose that Wilson did indeed claim, falsely, that Cheney personally selected him to go to Niger (Go get 'em, tiger!). To blow the whistle on this lie, Rove still would have no logical need to expose Wilson's wife as a CIA employee. He could merely tell Time's Cooper, "Cheney did not select Wilson for the trip. Cheney has never met or spoken to Wilson in his life. Some faceless bureaucrat at the CIA picked Wilson."

....What Rove told Cooper was that Joe Wilson was married to a woman who worked for the CIA. He said this apparently without checking as any minimally responsible person would do whether this was information that needed to be kept secret....Rove behaved in a way that was unacceptably heedless of national security concerns. He revealed a secret not to expose the truth, but to smear a political enemy. And, if Cooper's e-mail is precisely accurate, the smear wasn't even true. Some whistle-blower.

To understand just how reckless and venomous Rove's actions were, let's take a trip down memory lane. The year is 1960. John F. Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon for the presidency and making much electoral hay over the "missile gap," a supposed disparity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the quantity and quality of ballistic missiles at our disposal. The Reds, Kennedy claimed, were kicking our butts, and he promised to fix this pronto if he was elected president.

Except for one thing: there was no missile gap. What's more, Kennedy had received top secret briefings from the Pentagon and knew this. Did that stop him from talking about it? Not at all. It was one of the big issues of the campaign.

Richard Nixon lost that election by a hair, and public perception of the missile gap was probably one of the reasons. Despite that, he never revealed either publicly or privately the classified information about Soviet capabilities that could have saved his campaign.

Think about that. This is Richard Nixon we're talking about. His opponent was spreading clear misinformation that he knew to be untrue. And there was a presidential election at stake!

Even so, he kept classified information classified and went down to defeat. Maybe this was because he took national security seriously or maybe it was just because he was too smart to use classified information in a pissing match. Who knows? By contrast, when Karl Rove was faced with a trivial piece of unfriendly spin that had no major consequences for anyone, his first instinct was to systematically call half a dozen reporters and peddle classified information to them even though he didn't need to. With no apparent qualms at all, he did something that even Richard Nixon with an election on the line wasn't willing to do.

Welcome to the leadership of the modern Republican party. Who would have thought that one day the White House would be run by someone who made Richard Nixon look responsible and forbearing?

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THREE MILES....Here's a fascinating question. Suppose you wanted to employ a bunch of people, both Americans and foreigners, and you wanted to employ them in America. At the same time, suppose you didn't want the hassle of dealing with American labor law? What would you do? Hmmm?

Fiat Lux has the creative and appalling answer.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY IN 2008?....Yesterday I noodled a little bit about Hillary Clinton's presidential chances in 2008 in response to Carl Cannon and Amy Sullivan's debate in the current issue of the Monthly. Here's one more take.

Most arguments about presidential contenders focus on what the political landscape looks like right now. Can Hillary appeal to married white women? Will her voting record help or hurt her? How will the media treat her?

These are all good points, and they matter. But if there's any advantage to considering this stuff so far ahead of time, it's the chance to think about how the political landscape might change over the next three years. After all, as Harold Macmillan famously told a reporter who wanted to know what can most easily steer a government off course, the answer is "Events, dear boy, events."

The same is true of presidential elections. Jimmy Carter won because America was looking for an honest man after Watergate, and Carter seemed to best fit the bill. Four years later, after Iranian students had taken 53 American hostage in Tehran, a no-nonsense hawk suddenly looked good and Ronald Reagan rode that to victory.

Obviously, events like these are unforseeable, but it's still possible to consider the range of events that might happen and think about how they might affect Hillary's chances. Here are three possibilities:

  • The economy tanks. Needless to say, a seriously bad recession would help any Democrat. Would it help Hillary more than, say, John Edwards or Wes Clark? Maybe. After all, she's the only one who can plausibly associate herself in the public mind with the prosperity of the Clinton 90s. It doesn't really matter whether she deserves any credit, after all, it only matters that voters think she might be able to work the same magic.

  • Iraq turns into a quagmire. My guess is that this would hurt Hillary. After all, she voted for the war and has consistently been a moderate hawk in the Senate. If the public is really restless over Iraq in 2008, it would be more likely to turn to either a candidate like Edwards, who is less associated with hawkery, or someone like Clark, who has the military cred to persuade the public that he can figure out an honorable way to get us out much as Eisenhower used the stalled Korean War to his benefit in the 1952 election.

  • A large-scale terrorist attack in the United States. This is much harder to predict. Hillary's hawkishness and reputation for ruthlessness would probably help her if the public were jittery over a terrorist attack. But would it be enough to overcome hesitation about having a woman as commander-in-chief? Hard to say. Still, if Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir could both fight successful wars and get themselves nicknamed the "Iron Lady," why not Hillary too?

So can Hillary win in 2008? In true DC pundit style, the answer has to be....it depends.

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KIDS AND MATCHES....Mickey Kaus directs our attention today to a 2003 Newsweek column by Howard Fineman in which he outlines the whole war-between-the-CIA-and-the-White-House background to Plamegate. It was a decent article then and it still is today in fact, it's a better article now, because sometime in the past two years a copy editor finally decided to correct "Victoria" Plame's name to Valerie.

Anyway, here's the passage Mickey highlights:

I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilsons wife to several reporters. But the motive wasnt revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasnt a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIAs leave-Saddam-in-place team.

Can I just point out that this doesn't matter? Hell, it might even be worse than the revenge explanation. At least revenge is understandable, if odious. But to just casually expose a covert agent and wreck her career for no better reason than to explain a bit of background in a turf war? What secrets will Karl Rove and his pals expose next on double super secret background just because it's slightly convenient to do so?

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MATT COOPER MUST DIE....Is Matt Cooper now administration enemy #1? Apparently so. The Carpetbagger rounds up the quotes.

Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 13, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

COOPER'S STORY....Matt Cooper, speaking to reporters after his grand jury testimony today, said he's going to tell his whole story soon:

What took place in the grand jury room, all these kinds of questions, I'm going to address as a journalist, which is what I'd like to get back to being and go back and write that up and tell that story in my voice and hopefully in the pages of Time magazine soon.

But I'm going to save it for that. I'm not going to scoop myself today.

....I fully plan to write about my experience in the grand jury session and lay all that out.

I hope he does exactly that. At the same time, it's really too bad that Cooper has become the center of attention in this case. As near as I can tell, his involvement is tangential at best and it allows conservatives to argue that Karl Rove did nothing wrong: It was just a casual remark at the end of a conversation on welfare reform. Karl was only trying to keep his buddy Matt from reporting bad information.

But of course it wasn't casual. Rove and at least one other White House official were systematically telling every reporter they could about Valerie Plame, and Cooper just happened to be one of them. It was a deliberate plan, not an offhand remark.

In any case, it's a lame defense and will probably come back to haunt Rove's defenders. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is sure acting like a guy who has the goods on this whole affair, and if he starts delivering indictments it's going to make the Greek chorus singing Rove's praises look pretty silly. Oh, it was six reporters? Over the course of three days? And some of the calls were from Air Force One? Um....

Frankly, smart Republicans would be well advised to hedge their bets. As Mark Kleiman explains, the legal case against the leakers is probably stronger than most people believe, and if Fitzgerald decides any of these guys lied to his investigators he's going to throw that into the mix as well. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Kevin Drum 9:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JOE WILSON, PEACENIK?....I understand that it's often worse than useless to respond to the worst depths of wingnuttery. People like Ann Coulter and David Horowitz, for example, say outrageous things solely to get a rise out of liberals, so why oblige them?

Fox News' John Gibson is pretty obviously part of this crowd, so it's with trepidation that I waste time responding to his on air rants about how Karl Rove deserves a medal for outing the identity of Joe Wilson's wife, better known to us today as covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Via Ted Barlow, here's what Gibson said:

Despite her husbands repeated denials, even in the face of a pile of evidence, and conclusions of a joint investigation of Congress, it appears that all evidence points to Joe Wilsons wife, the spy Valerie Plame, as the one who recommended him to the job of going to Niger to discover Saddam was trying to buy nuke bomb material.

Why is this important? Because Wilson was opposed to the war in Iraq, opposed to Bush policy, and pointedly and loudly said so. Consequently, there was some interest in how he got chosen for the sensitive job, which people at the time might have thought would be a fulcrum point in the decision about the war. You wouldnt send a peacenik to see if we should go to war, if we need to go to war, now would you?

This is yet another moldy charge that's being resurrected by the right in defense of Karl Rove's increasingly shaky right to a security clearance, and since it's an old charge I'm going to rerun an old post I wrote back when it first oozed up out of the fever swamps. Was Joe Wilson a radical Bush-hating peacenik when the CIA sent him to Niger to investigate charges that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire uranium there? As Robert Tagorda wrote at the time, his campaign contributions sure weren't those of a radical lefty, but judge for yourself. The rest of this post was originally written on October 5, 2003. It's been lightly edited.

Since the Valerie Plame affair broke open last weekend, the most popular meme that's emerged among the "slime and defend" crowd has been that the outing of a CIA agent isn't the real scandal. Rather, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "The real intelligence scandal is how an open opponent of the U.S. war on terror such as Mr. Wilson was allowed to become one of that policy's investigators."

How indeed? Why on earth did the CIA pick a guy like Joseph Wilson to visit Niger to check up on possible uranium sales to Iraq? Were they crazy?

The obvious answer, of course, is to look at his qualifications: 23 years in the diplomatic service, most of it in African countries such as Togo, South Africa, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, and, of course, Niger. He was well respected by George Bush Sr. and had served as our last ambassador to Iraq before the Gulf War. So as one of the very few people in the world with expertise in Africa and a firsthand knowledge of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime, he must have seemed like an ideal choice.

Still, he's an outspoken opponent of the war. Why would the CIA send such a person on a sensitive mission? Were they deliberately trying to undermine the president?

Good question. But although Wilson is certainly an outspoken opponent of the war now, was he one back in February 2002, when he took his trip to Niger? Here's how he described his attitude at the time in a radio interview from late 2002 long before any of this became a public issue:

[At the beginning of 2002] I spent a lot of time talking to people who I fought the Gulf War with, that team, the people around the president's father, about this phenomenon of a fringe part of the policy debate, i.e. regime change as a rationale for military intervention, suddenly moving to occupy the center of the debate, and I was told then not to worry, that they just weren't going to get there, it was going to fizzle out. In June or July some people that I have a lot of respect for got nervous themselves about this, some of the same people I'd been talking to for six months, and started writing their op-eds. I wrote a piece that did not get published but that got circulated broadly within the administration....

So he was basically a Bush Sr. foreign policy realist. He thought military intervention was a bad idea, but he was just beginning to be concerned about it in early 2002 and didn't say anything publicly until mid-year. He was not an opponent of the president at the time the CIA sent him to Niger.

In fact, as late as December 2002, he said about President Bush, "I think that the president is probably still keeping his options open. He has certainly made it apparent over the past several months that he doesn't mind tacking as necessary, he doesn't get so locked into a position that he's unable to move out of it." Those are hardly the words of a diehard critic.

Finally, when he did start getting more worried about our Iraq policy, what did he say about it? It turns out that, just as you'd expect from someone who spent time in Iraq, he was pretty realistic about Saddam Hussein and advocated something he called "muscular disarmament." Here's an interview he gave just before the war started:

WILSON: I supported the effort to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And I understood fully that in order to get him out of Kuwait you had to have the credible threat of force. And in order for that force to be credible, you had to be prepared to use it.

....MOYERS: What is the trip wire in your opinion for the use of force? What is your trip wire?

WILSON: Well, I've always said it's the first time he poses an obstacle to your conducting an inspection then you go in and you use force against that particular site. But you keep the use of force focused on disarmament.

....MOYERS: You are calling for coercive inspections.

WILSON: That's right. Muscular disarmament, coercive inspections, coercive containment, whatever you want to call it. I don't think containment's the right word because we're really talking about disarmament.

....MOYERS: President Bush's recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute, he said, let me quote it to you. "The danger posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons cannot be ignored or wished away." You agree with that?

WILSON: I agree with that. Sure. I

MOYERS: "The danger must be confronted." You agree with that? "We would hope that the Iraqi regime will meet the demands of the United Nations and disarm fully and peacefully. If it does not, we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed. The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat." You agree with that?

WILSON: I agree with that. Sure. The President goes on to say in that speech as he did in the State of the Union Address is we will liberate Iraq from a brutal dictator. All of which is true.

By this time a year after the CIA had sent him to Niger Wilson had become seriously concerned about the neoconservative influence on our Iraq policy, but even then he still expressed mostly a principled disagreement on means. He was under no illusions about the danger that Saddam Hussein presented and had no aversion to the use of force per se.

Several things are clear from this:

  • Wilson had considerable expertise to undertake the Niger trip and had the respect of many people in the Republican foreign policy establishment. That's the main reason the CIA chose him for the Niger investigation in February 2002, not his wife's concurrence that he was qualified to take the trip.

  • At the time of the trip Wilson was only barely beginning to be concerned about military intervention in Iraq, and was being told by his friends that it really wasn't something to worry about. He was not an opponent of the president at that time.

  • It was only around the middle of 2002 that he began speaking publicly about the war, and even then he was an advocate of using limited force to achieve disarmament. He had supported the invasion of Afghanistan and was certainly no pacifist.

  • Finally, around early 2003, when it was finally clear in his mind that a radical neocon agenda had taken control of the administration's Mideast policy, he became an outspoken opponent of both the president and the neocon establishment itself.

So was sending Joe Wilson to Niger as one part of the CIA investigation of uranium sales a scandal? Hardly unless you think that hiring a guy who voted for Al Gore is ipso facto a scandal. Rather, it's just a trumped up smokescreen from the folks who want to divert your attention from the real scandal: one of the president's top aides exposed a covert CIA agent in order to gain revenge on someone who had become a political nuisance to them.

That's a scandal.

Kevin Drum 7:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MEDICAL CARE IN AMERICA....The United States spends about $6,000 per person on healthcare each year. Could we reduce this figure if we adopted the tort reform laws President Bush is touting? Let's roll the tape:

Malpractice awards in the United States amounted to only $16 per capita in 2001, compared with $12 in Britain and $10 in Australia, [a] team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.

Hmmm. $16. So if it's not malpractice awards, why does American healthcare cost so much more than in other countries? Mark Eisenberg, head of cardiovascular epidemiology at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, has just released a study on heart bypass surgery, an area in which American medicine excels:

The research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that heart bypass surgery, a common procedure, costs an average of $10,373 in Canada, compared with $20,673 in the United States.

....Despite the significantly higher costs in the United States (they are essentially double those in Canada), the rate of complications and death after bypass surgery was similar in both countries.

"All this extra technology, all this extra spending, does not lead to improved survival," Dr. Eisenberg said.

Instead of obsessing over the reason we spend $16 per person on malpractice awards, wouldn't it make more sense to focus on the reason we spend an extra $10,000 on heart bypass surgery? It might not produce the answer that conservative ideologues want to hear, but it might produce an answer that actually leads to solving the problem.

Kevin Drum 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TOSSING MUD....You know what's really discouraging about the recent revelations in the Valerie Plame case? The way they've united the right in wingnuttery yet again.

Looking around the blogosphere, I see that the right is now engaged in tossing out vast amounts of highly coordinated chaff on points that were debated to death and wrapped up nearly two years ago. Was Valerie Plame really a covert agent? That was a hot topic for a week or two back in 2003, but the answer turned out to be clearly yes. Was dropping her name to Robert Novak just a casual slip of the tongue? No. It was plainly part of a concerted effort to spin the press. The Left Coaster has a more complete list of the junk being trial ballooned this week, along with links to rebuttals.

What's more, back in 2003 there was at least a small group of conservatives who were outraged by the whole thing. Even Glenn Reynolds managed to limit his disingenuousness to a claim that Plamegate was "too complicated" for him.

But today, now that an actual name has been named, conservative outrage has vanished. Tacitus and Dan Drezner were pretty upset two years ago but now seem to have lost interest. Glenn has gone from faux ignorance to aggressively linking to absurd arguments from bloggers who obviously haven't followed the case at all. And as Hunter points out, what does former RNC chief Ed Gillespie have to say about all this now that Rove has been implicated? "Abhorrent" was his description in 2003.

When you cut through the crap, this case is simple: a couple of political officials in the Bush White House decided to deliberately and systematically release the name of a covert CIA operative to the press solely in order to score some minor debating points against her husband, a man who had recently embarrassed them in the pages of the New York Times. The rest is just fluff. Either you're outraged by such a casual attitude toward national security or you aren't.

I wish more Republicans were acquitting themselves honorably on this question. So far the score on their side is pretty poor.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL WOMEN....LA Times columnist Rosa Brooks attacks the venerable question of women on the op-ed page today. After ticking off the usual possibilities for their absence, she suggests there's an additional dynamic at work:

Could politics be the culprit, as much as gender?

As the right's mythmakers continue their assault on the so-called "left-wing media" the attack on public broadcasting being only the most recent example many media outlets have caved in to the pressure and redoubled their efforts to avoid that liberal taint....And if adopting protective conservative coloring is the media's goal, then women might as well toss their keyboards out the window.

....On issues from domestic policy to foreign policy, any cross-section of American women will prove significantly more liberal than a similar cross-section of American men. As a result, short of looking under every rock for another Ann Coulter, it could be hard for the male-dominated media to showcase more women columnists without eek! showcasing more liberals.

So if you're wondering why women columnists are thin on the ground, save a little condemnation for the media's craven fear of looking too liberal.

I think she's got a point, and it applies to the blogosphere as well. This may be hard to believe in a medium dominated by voices like Atrios and Kos on the left, but overall, the women I read are considerably more liberal and considerably more anti-Bush than the guys. If that makes it hard to find an audience even in the Wild West atmosphere of the blogosphere, you have to figure it's a death sentence for the staid pages of the country's op-ed pages.

In any case, it's all additional fodder for the BlogHer conference! It's being held on July 30 in Santa Clara and you can register here if you're interested in attending.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

MINDS MADE UP....In recent American political history, we've seen exactly one instance of a national figure successfully pulling off an image transformation. That was Richard Nixon, between 1960 (possibly, 1964) and 1968, when he won the presidency. He did it in large part by dropping out of the public eye for a number of years.

Yes, other politicians have managed to change people's assumptions about them, but none of them started out with such a prominent and established national profile. If Hillary Clinton is going to accomplish this feat, she'll have to do it in full view. And that's a tough task.

It's political gospel that a candidate's chances of success turn on their ability to control how they are presented to the public. That's hard enough when large numbers of voters are undecided just one month before the 2004 primaries and less than a year before the election, 66 percent of voters didn't know what they thought of John Kerry. Compare that to Clinton: Only seven percent of voters say they don't have an opinion about her. Kevin says, just wait until those TV viewers get their first look at her in nearly a decade...they just might like her.

First of all, I find it hard to believe that Hillary Clinton has dropped off of people's radar screens and they'll think they're getting a "fresh look" at here in 2008. But more importantly, how many times did we hear that last year about Kerry? He performed admirably well in the debates, gave what was at the time (even if many liberals are now retroactively revising their assessments) hailed as a successful acceptance speech, and yet his public image was crafted by none of these things so much as by conservative attacks, ads, and talking points.

As I make clear in the article, I'm a Hillary fan, and I think the party would do well to listen to her strategic advice and to put her out front on issues from immigration to abortion to foreign policy. But it's very possible that somewhere out there is a stronger nominee, someone who can combine the politically viable centrism and appeal of Clinton without the attendant vulnerabilities. If Democrats close ranks around her this soon in the 2008 cycle, however, that candidate will never get the chance to emerge.

Amy Sullivan 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CAN HILLARY WIN?....In the current issue of the Monthly, Amy Sullivan and Carl Cannon debate whether or not Hillary Clinton can win if she runs for president in 2008. Carl says yes and Amy says no.

As it turns out, they actually agree on a lot. For example, they agree that it's way too early to be talking seriously about this stuff but what the heck. It's summer. They agree that Hillary's poll numbers are pretty decent. They agree that she can win the Democratic nomination but it's the general election that will give her trouble. They agree that the big unknown is whether she can appeal to married white women. And they agree that there's a big chunk of the electorate that won't vote for her no matter what.

I mostly agree with all that too, although I think there's one big thing missing from this analysis. More on that later. For now, though, I want to respond to Amy's suggestion that Hillary's big problem is that she has a limited number of options for changing the media-fueled perception of her as a ball-busting radical leftist:

Of course, there is one proven way that Hillary Clinton has changed voters' perceptions. In her first Senate race, the strategy was simple: Meet as many voters as possible, and ignore the scandal-focused press.

....The strategy...succeeded because many voters weaned on a diet of conservative talking points during the 1990s expected Clinton to be a liberal of the bluest sort, to the left of Ted Kennedy and unable to understand their concerns. What they found was that her positions on welfare, crime, and foreign policy, among other issues, were far more centrist than liberal. In addition, while most professional political observers dismissed her Listening Tour as a stunt, Clinton actually used it to query New Yorkers about their problems and obsessively study up on local issues.

The problem, Amy says, is that in a national election there's just no way to meet lots of voters face to face. You have no choice but to rely on media coverage and paid campaign commercials.

But here's the thing: I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. I don't have any particular axe to grind when it comes to Hillary. There are things I like about her and things I don't. But one thing that's struck me during the past few years is that she's gotten way better at dealing with the press. When I see her giving interviews or responding to questions from reporters, she comes across as moderate, genuine, funny, and knowledgable. I think her media persona these days is actually pretty good.

What this means is that the public perception of her could be changed quite a bit during a presidential campaign in which TV watchers get their first look at her in nearly a decade. What they'll see is very much the same woman that those New Yorkers saw in person, and it may come as a surprise to them.

Is an improved media persona enough for her to win? I'm not sure. But if it really is the biggest thing standing in her way, she might very well be the next president of the United States.

Kevin Drum 12:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 12, 2005
By: Kevin Drum


The Valerie Plame story has finally and undeniably hit the big-time with White House chief political strategist Karl Rove now a central figure, press secretary Scott McClellan's stonewalling recalling the darkest moments of previous administrations, and Democrats calling for blood.

Washington scandals sometimes flame out pretty fast. But signs thus far suggest that the White House's say-nothing strategy is only feeding the conflagration, rather than starving it.

Reporters do not like being stonewalled after being handed a smoking gun. Smoking guns are sacred in Washington D.C. Do not screw around with smoking guns.

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NOVAK AND PLAME....Speaking of Plamegate, one of the enduring mysteries of the whole affair has been whether or not Robert Novak was subpoenaed and whether or not he cooperated with the special prosecutor. Murray Waas, blogging from a public library, claims that he was and he did:

Columnist Robert Novak provided detailed accounts to federal prosecutors of his conversations with Bush administration officials who were sources for his controversial July 11, 2003 column identifying Valerie Plame as a clandestine CIA officer, according to attorneys familiar with the matter.

....Novak had claimed to the investigators that the Bush administration officials with whom he spoke did not identify Plame as a covert operative, and that use of the word "operative" was his formulation and not theirs, according to those familiar with Novak's accounts to the investigators.

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and at least two other Bush administration officials have told federal investigators that they had spoken to reporters about Plame, but that they did not know at the time that she was a covert operative with the CIA, the same sources told me.

....Federal investigators have been skeptical of Novak's assertions that he referred to Plame as a CIA "operative" due to his own error, instead of having been explicitly told that was the case by his sources, according to attorneys familiar with the criminal probe.

....Also of interest to investigators have been a series of telephone contacts between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days just after press reports first disclosed the existence of a federal criminal investigation as to who leaked Plame's identity. Investigators have been concerned that Novak and his sources might have conceived or co-ordinated a cover story to disguise the nature of their conversations.

Karl Rove and at least two other Bush administration officials? In other words, at least three White House officials were involved in the campaign to out Plame? That's the first time I've heard that.

Via TalkLeft.

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BACK TO BASICS....Having written 145 posts (and counting!) about Valerie Plame since my initial post on July 16, 2003, I find that I have a diminished capacity for churning out closely reasoned thousand-word analyses of ten-word sentences uttered by participants in the case. I'm not Michael Brub, after all.

However, it might be worthwhile to revisit some basics in response to the ferocious Republican spin hitting the airwaves now that Karl Rove has been caught redhanded as one of the Plame leakers. As longtime fans will remember, the story that first gave Plamegate real legs appeared in the Washington Post about two months after the original Robert Novak column that mentioned Plame and the David Corn column that called attention to it. Here's what it said:

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife...."Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

Got that? Two White House officials. Phone calls to at least six reporters. This wasn't just a single offhand comment at the end of a phone call with Matt Cooper about welfare reform. It was Karl Rove and someone else systematically making sure they mentioned Plame to every reporter they talked to.

And since we're getting back to basics here, here's a question to ponder: who is the "senior administration official" quoted in this story? He obviously seems to know who the leakers were. Has he been subpoenaed? Dana Priest and Mike Allen, who wrote the Post story, know who he is. Have they been subpoenaed? They don't seem to have been. How come?

So many mysteries on memory lane, so many mysteries....

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DON'T CROSS THE CUBANS....A few weeks ago I met Ann Louise Bardach, and as often happens after you meet someone, I suddenly started noticing her byline here and there. She's apparently quite the go-to person for news about the both the Cuban exile community and the Cuban opposition generally.

So yesterday I noticed it when she had an article in Slate about Alberto Coll, a conservative Republican who made a fatal mistake:

Coll committed the unforgivable by coming to believe in the late '90s that the U.S. embargo of Cuba was a doomed policy. Once he made those views public, marginalizing Coll was not enough; he had to be destroyed.

The opportunity came in January 2004, six months after his 18-year-old daughter, Celia, was killed in a car accident, which by all accounts left Coll devastated. Around the same time Coll's father became terminally ill. One colleague at the State Department described him as "catatonic"; another recalled Coll saying "the color has drained from my life."

Perhaps seeking consolation, Coll decided to visit Cuba, which he was legally allowed to do for either research or to visit relatives. He noted on his visa that he would be visiting an aunt, which he did. But he also had a romantic liaison with a childhood girlfriend and did not note the rendezvous on his visa.

Click the link to find out what happened next.

Kevin Drum 5:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ON KNOWING AND NOT KNOWING....Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, on Sunday:

Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information."

The LA Times today:

Luskin declined to say whether Rove knew that Plame was a covert agent....

But this is a logical identity, isn't it? We know Rove outed Plame to Matt Cooper, and the only possible way for this to be an unknowing disclosure of classified information is if Rove didn't know she was covert. If Luskin was telling the truth on Sunday, it logically has to be the case that Rove didn't know. So why is Luskin suddenly reluctant to say so?

Via Jesse.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BIAS AT NPR....So how is Ken Tomlinson's witch hunt against NPR going? Via BTD, it appears that interim results are now in from both moderately-conservative ombusdman Ken Bode as well as the guy picked to balance him, even-more-conservative ombudsman William Schulz. Here's the scoop:

Bode and Schulz have been positively glowing in their assessments of the journalism heard on NPR and seen on news shows distributed by PBS. So glowing, in fact, that Schulz and Bode's reports, which are posted on CPB's Web site could easily be excerpted in the shorthand style of a movie ad quoting favorable reviews.

....Neither ombudsman mentions a lack of "balance" a frequent Tomlinson criticism in the programs reviewed. Indeed, neither comments one way or the other about the political leanings of the few programs that were reviewed.

It must be time to fire them both and find someone who gets it, don't you think? Surely their inability to arrive at the correct conclusion can't be tolerated much longer.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ROVE SYSTEM....Mark Schmitt says the real problem is not Karl Rove himself, but the "Rove system":

Whatever happens to Rove, though, the Rove system has had not just a bad week, but a bad year. The Plame smear was very much in keeping with the Rove system, which is as much as anything else a sort of postmodern way of managing beliefs: vague possibilities can be asserted as absolute certainties; things known to be false such as the Niger-uranium story can be maintained as at least possibilities.

Is there a Democratic version of Karl Rove? Republicans seem to have steady supply of ruthless, thuggish hatchet men Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, and Rove are the most famous but what about the Dems? Chris Lehane is the closest I can think of, but he's not really in the same league, at least by reputation anyway.

Am I missing someone? And why the difference? After all, speaking historically anyway, it's not as if Democrats are innocent babes unwilling to engage in political trench warfare.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGOMETER....The Hotline, Washington's best known insider newsletter, has been testing a new feature called the "Blogometer" for the past couple of months. On Monday it debuted officially and is now available to all, subscribers and nonsubscribers alike. If you're looking for a quick way to take the pulse of the entire political blogosphere in just a few minutes, check it out.

Kevin Drum 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY THEY HATE US....Via Preemptive Karma, The American Conservative has a fascinating interview this month with Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who has constructed a database of every suicide terrorist attack since 1980. Some excerpts:

RP: This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

....TAC: So if Islamic fundamentalism is not necessarily a key variable behind these groups, what is?

RP: The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign over 95 percent of all the incidents has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

....TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?

RP: The evidence shows that the presence of American troops is clearly the pivotal factor driving suicide terrorism.

If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.

....TAC: Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders also talked about the Crusaders-Zionist alliance, and I wonder if that, even if we werent in Iraq, would not foster suicide terrorism. Even if the policy had helped bring about a Palestinian state, I dont think that would appease the more hardcore opponents of Israel.

RP: I not only study the patterns of where suicide terrorism has occurred but also where it hasnt occurred. Not every foreign occupation has produced suicide terrorism. Why do some and not others? Here is where religion matters, but not quite in the way most people think. In virtually every instance where an occupation has produced a suicide-terrorist campaign, there has been a religious difference between the occupier and the occupied community.

....TAC: Has the next generation of anti-American suicide terrorists already been created? Is it too late to wind this down, even assuming your analysis is correct and we could de-occupy Iraq?

RP: Many people worry that once a large number of suicide terrorists have acted that it is impossible to wind it down. The history of the last 20 years, however, shows the opposite. Once the occupying forces withdraw from the homeland territory of the terrorists, they often stop and often on a dime.

Dan Drezner has more on Pape, including a link to the 2003 paper that was a precursor to his recently published book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Michael Scheuer has a review of the book here.

Kevin Drum 1:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS BLOGGING....Yesterday I wrote a post about the potential risks of blogging under your real name. Tom Spencer responds today with a personal story about how his blog very definitely affected his job and, possibly, his ability to get a new one.

I'm not trying to scare anyone away from blogging under their own name. But being a little bit paranoid isn't always a bad thing.

POSTSCRIPT: Ogged has a bit of technical advice on this front. It's not exactly bulletproof, but it might be better than nothing.

Kevin Drum 12:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 11, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WHO SAID THIS?....Physicists everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief to learn that quantum mechanics is no longer part of their domain:

When we say, "a physical basis for consciousness" we are forgetting that everything physical is at the most fundamental quantum mechanical level really non-physical.

In other news, a Mexican woman says she's found Leon Trotsky's ice pick.

Kevin Drum 9:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SQUANDERED VICTORY....Praktike is reading Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory:

One story that really got me was the tale of former ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine suggesting to Rumsfeld in March of 2003 that it would behoove the Bush administration to develop a plan to pay Iraqi civil servants. Rumsfeld replied that American taxpayers would never go for it and that he was not concerned if they were paid for several weeks or even months; if they rioted in the streets in protest, he said, the US could use such an eventuality as leverage to get the Europeans to pick up the tab.

No matter how many stories of Bush administration incompetence you hear, there's always one more that's even worse, isn't there?

Kevin Drum 7:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH vs. THE PRESS....Wow. I leave the house for a few hours to take in a movie and what do I find when I get back? The press corps is finally seriously pissed off that Karl Rove has been implicated in Plamegate. Thorough coverage is pretty much everywhere (head over to Atrios, Josh, or Billmon depending on your taste in blogs), but I think Garance Franke-Ruta has the best take on why the press corps finally woke up:

If there is one thing that reporters hate, it's being played for patsies. McClellan has publicly humiliated some of the most prominent reporters in the country by persistently feeding them information that has now been revealed to be false, and I'm pretty darn sure that they are not going to grant him any favors and extend him the benefit of the doubt in the future.

We can hope, can't we? Sunday's Newsweek story combined with the subsequent non-denial of Rove's lawyer is the smoking gun that's done it, and I suspect Bush and Rove are now going to get the treatment Bill Clinton got in 1998. The Washington press corps was never Clinton's friend, but they really turned on him after they felt he had personally lied to them over Monica and with any luck the same thing is now going to happen to Rove. Expect him to discover an urgent need to spend more time with his family soon.

And after that? Perhaps my prediction from last September will come true. Let's hope.

Kevin Drum 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROBLEMS AT THE NATIONAL GUARD....Here's the serious news:

The Army is running perilously low on its Reserve and National Guard soldiers who largely fill certain critical support jobs, like military police and civil affairs officers and truck drivers. Marine Corps reservists are facing similar constraints.

...."By next fall, we'll have expended our ability to use National Guard brigades as one of the principal forces," said Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army commander who was dispatched to Iraq last month to assess the operation. "We're reaching the bottom of the barrel."

On the right, courtesy of reader Bryrock from Murfreesboro, is the not-so-serious news. It's one of those pictures that's too funny not to post.

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COHEN AND WAR....Neocon military historian Eliot Cohen says he supported the Iraq war but now wishes he'd paid more attention to the incompetence of the people who proposed invading in the first place:

A pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg.

I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq brave, honorable and committed though they were would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless.

I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

Atrios responds with what seems like an odd comment to me:

There were many reasons to oppose this war (and few reasons to support it), but I find it rather odd that the reason which was probably the most derided at the time the "this gang can't shoot straight" reason appears to be the one which, over 2 years later, seems to be the most frequently cited "I should have known" reason.

There are two reasons this strikes me as off kilter. First and I admit my memory might be faulty here I don't think this was anything close to the "most derided" reason for opposing the war at the time. In fact, aside from a generic contention that George Bush was a dope, I don't recall liberals even making this argument other than occasionally. By far, the most common criticisms were principled variants of "it won't work" and "he's exaggerating/lying about the threat Saddam poses," and these in turn were the arguments that hawks disparaged as clueless and craven.

Second, it's worth noting that the Cohen argument is a bit of a fudge: it allows him to admit that he was wrong, thus gaining points as a non-hack, without having to come to grips with the fundamental belief system that drove his support for the war in the first place. That's awfully convenient.

I say this with some experience. When I changed my mind about the war shortly before it started, it was partly because I decided the Bush administration wasn't truly serious about democratization. This isn't quite the same as Cohen's competence argument, but it's close: it allowed me to change my mind without coming to grips with a more fundamental question: if Bush had been serious about democratization and had done everything right, would the war have been a good idea? That's the question that really matters.

Today I think not although, to be honest, I'm still not quite 100% sure of that position. But that's the question people like Cohen need to address. Are they still convinced the neocon domino theory is correct and merely requires more competent execution? Or have they finally figured out that military invasion really isn't the ultimate answer to the problem of global terrorism?

Kevin Drum 2:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT ROVE KNEW AND WHEN HE KNEW IT....Over at Tapped, Matt Yglesias ponders Karl Rove's legal responsibility for having outed a CIA agent:

The much more likely legal out is that Rove may not have known that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA in a covert capacity. Maybe somebody else in the office who read the relevant file mentioned to Rove that she worked at the CIA, didn't mention that she was covert, and Rove passed on what he knew to reporters.

This is pretty much the standard defense for Rove's actions, and legally it might work. Who knows? But really, don't you think Rove's first instinct upon hearing that Joe Wilson's wife "works for the CIA" would be to wonder what she does and whether it's OK to pass this along to other people? After all, the guy's a senior White House aide, not a ten year old. Perhaps the president should ask him to be a wee bit more careful in the future?

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD NEWS AND BAD FROM LONDON....On Sunday, the London Times featured a "leaked" dossier from the British government that drew attention to the not-very-startling news that extremist Muslims are actively recruiting members in Britain. The number "engaged in" or "supporting" terrorist activity "is extremely small and estimated at less than 1%." However, the dossier also highlighted the following warning:

A network of extremist recruiters is circulating on campuses targeting people with technical and professional qualifications, particularly engineering and IT degrees.

....The confidential assessment, covering more than 100 pages of letters, papers and other documents, forms the basis of the governments counter-terrorism strategy, codenamed Operation Contest.

....The plan behind Operation Contest has been to win over Muslim hearts and minds with policy initiatives including anti-religious discrimination laws. A meeting of Contest officials this week is expected to consider a radical overhaul of the strategy following the London attacks.

Fareed Zakaria, conversely, doesn't seem to think the British need to radically overhaul their strategy at all. Quite the contrary. After noting that the London stock market barely even responded to last week's attack and that major Muslim groups throughout Britain, even fundamentalist groups, "unambiguously denounced the bombings," he praises the British response:

There will always be some number of unconverted jihadists, who either out of depravity or conviction seek to do evil. If 99.99 percent of the Arab world rejects terrorism, that still leaves 20,000 people to worry about. If 99.9 percent of the Muslim world is against the terrorists, there's 1 million people out there who are dangerous. And the technologies of destruction ensure that they will, on occasion, be successful.

....Real victory is not about preventing all attacks everywhere. No one can guarantee that. It's really about preventing the worst kinds of attacks, and responding well to others. And on this score, America remains woefully unprepared. "The British attacks failed because Britain has excellent response systems and its people are well prepared on how to respond. America has neither advantage today," says Stephen Flynn, a homeland-security expert and author of America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism. "We need good education and training for transit workers and citizens, good communication mechanisms among government agencies and the people, and most important, a good public-health infrastructure." We have little of this today. In the years after 9/11 we have wasted much time, effort and money on other priorities rather than engaging in the massive investment in the systems of response that we need. Our leaders remain unwilling to speak honestly about the world we live in and to help people develop the mentality of response that is essential to prevailing.

We'll never eliminate terrorism completely from the world, but we can come close by reducing its support in the Muslim world, learning how to respond better when attacks do happen, and concentrating on counterproliferation programs to keep the worst weapons out of terrorist hands. It's too bad that the Bush administration doesn't seem very interested in any of these things.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MATT COOPER'S WAIVER....Did Matt Cooper really get a personal waiver from Karl Rove to testify before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame case? This story is so weird that I'm not even going to try to summarize it, but apparently the answer is murkier than we've been led to believe.

UPDATE: Atrios has an interesting theory about what really happened here. I'm not entirely sure I buy it, but he might be right.

Kevin Drum 1:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE RISKS OF BLOGGING....Via Dan Drezner, the Chronicle of Higher Education has an essay by Ivan Tribble (a pseudonym) warning graduate students about the dangers of blogging. Here he recounts what happened when a search committee started reading applicants' blogs:

Professor Turbo Geek's blog...quickly revealed that the true passion of said blogger's life was not academe at all, but the minutiae of software systems, server hardware, and other tech exotica. It's one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can't afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

Professor Shrill ran a strictly personal blog....It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about...what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

Finally we come to Professor Bagged Cat....We were irritated to find out, late in the process, that he had misrepresented his research, ostensibly to make it seem more relevant to a hot issue in the news lately....In this case, it was not the candidate's own blog, but that of a boasting friend, that revealed the truth.

Unsurprisingly, as Dan notes, blogger reaction to this essay has been caustic. But it's hard to know if the criticism is valid or not because Tribble is frustratingly vague about the real content of the blogs he writes about.

Was Professor Turbo Geek just a computer hobbyist? Or did PTG reveal that a typical day included 14 hours a day coding HTML followed by exclamations like "Christ, I wish I never had to read another Victorian poem again"?

Did Professor Shrill just vent about daily life? Or are we talking about dark and detailed confessions of homicidal urges aimed at close colleagues?

As for Bagged Cat, I'd venture to say that by boasting to a blogger about his illicit puffery, he failed not just the integrity test for a faculty position, but the IQ test as well.

However, perhaps because I'm neither a graduate student nor an aspiring member of the academy, what struck me was that Tribble's piece is actually more a cautionary tale for the rest of us than it is for prospective university professors. After all, universities at least claim to value creativity, free speech, and academic freedom even if Tribble's essay confirms that they do this more in the breach than in the observance. But what about the rest of us?

A garden variety commercial enterprise doesn't even pretend to value these things, and if you think HR departments don't google prospective applicants, I suspect you're sorely mistaken. As a result, if you write a blog under your own name it might well spell trouble on a whole variety of levels. A liberal boss might not want to hire a conservative. A straitlaced boss might decide not to hire a lesbian. A prudish boss might not hire someone who brags regularly about their sexual conquests. And fair or not, any boss is likely to be at least slightly hesitant about hiring someone who has a habit of telling the world about every little detail of their personal life. Some of this discrimination might be legal and some might not, but it hardly matters. You'll never know it happened.

Atrios wrote about this last week although he focused on a somewhat different aspect of public blogging and recommended that new bloggers think carefully before starting a blog under their real names. I suspect that's good advice. You may not be looking for a job now, but you probably will be someday and you might not be helped by having a widely known and easily googled public persona. And keep in mind that the Google cache is forever. Even deleting a blog doesn't necessarily erase every trace of it.

This advice may seem a bit overwrought, and maybe it is. But blogging is now a far more widely known phenomenon than it was when I started doing it three years ago, and even a harried suburban assistant bank manager is likely to have heard about it these days. If you decide to go ahead with it anyway, that's fine, but at least do it with your eyes wide open.

Kevin Drum 12:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 10, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

TROOP WITHDRAWALS IN 2006?....According to a British document leaked to the Mail on Sunday, the Bush administration is seriously considering a major troop drawdown in Iraq. Glenn Frankel and Josh White of the Washington Post summarize:

The paper, which is marked "Secret UK Eyes Only," said "emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006," allowing a reduction in overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The current troop level is about 160,000.

....The memo notes a debate between U.S. officials at the Pentagon and military leaders in Iraq, saying that officials in Washington favor "a relatively bold reduction in force numbers," differing with battlefield commanders, "whose approach is more cautious." There are more than 135,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.

That's funny. Bush and Rumsfeld keep telling us that they just provide the commanders on the ground with whatever troop levels they ask for. Peculiar that there's a disagreement over this, isn't it?

Plus, the drawdown would be just in time for midterm elections! What a coincidence!

POSTSCRIPT: The original Mail on Sunday story is here. The text of the memo is here. Here's what it says about British troop deployments:

Looking further ahead, we have a clear UK military aspiration to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces in October 2005 and in the other two Multinational Division South East provinces, Dhi Qar and Basra in April 2006. [In other words, all four of the provinces currently under British control would be handed over to Iraqis by April 2006.]

This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale, by mid 2006.

That's not a "ministerially endorsed" position, but it's a "clear aspiration." Looks like they're pretty anxious to go home.

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMIC POPULISM....So what's the matter with Kansas? Brad Plumer answers: nothing, really. It's just that they're too well off to respond all that strongly to populist economic messages from Democratic politicians these days. If there were lines at soup kitchens that would be one thing, but the reality is that there aren't many Kansans or non-Kansans who are all that badly off.

As evidence, Brad links to a Steve Rose essay that hauls out a bunch of statistics:

  • Only about 11% of Americans qualify for safety net programs (aside from retirement programs).

  • Another 12% have incomes just above the cutoff for safety net programs.

  • The number of good jobs has increased a lot in the past 50 years. Today, only 34% of male workers and 10% percent of female workers are part of the traditional "industrial proletariat."

It's easy to misunderstand the point of all this. Neither Plumer nor Rose are arguing that liberals should abandon a liberal economic message. Far from it. But they are arguing that the days are long gone when an economic message by itself had enough power to energize a mass movement.

It's a worthwhile point to make, and I think it applies equally to the rights revolution that powered the 60s. Obviously there's still plenty of progress to be made on gender equality, race equality, and so forth, but at the same time we've come a long way since Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. Liberals need to keep pushing these issues, but at a tactical level they also need to realize that by themselves they aren't likely to swing a lot of votes.

So what are the problems that large numbers of voters are seriously worried about? Brad echoes a couple of suggestions that Matt Yglesias made a few days ago income instability, the two-income trap, work/family stress that I continue to be skeptical about. However, I think my skepticism isn't so much over the salience of the issues themselves as it is over my doubt that any Democratic politician would be willing to press for policies that were bold enough and simple enough to convince people they'd actually work.

Still, it's an extremely worthwhile conversation to have. I'd like to hear suggestions for tackling these kinds of problems that involves big ideas, not merely a laundry list of wonkishness. But in a country where even proposing federally funded daycare is pretty much out of bounds, I don't hold out much hope.

UPDATE: Max has a few thoughts about this too.

Kevin Drum 4:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUNDAY PRIMER....It's not like anyone asked me, but since the LA Times is trying to figure out what to do with their Sunday Opinion Current section, here's an idea.

First, dump the op-ed page. Five days a week is enough. Give Nick Goldberg Sundays off and run Kinsley's column on Monday.

In its place, run a weekly "Primer" page, a full page feature about some subject currently in the news. Haven't been following the Valerie Plame case and can't make heads or tails out of all these recent stories about Miller and Cooper and Rove? Here's the whole story from Day 1. Don't know a trust fund from a sinking fund? Here's the deal on how Social Security works. Ditto for the Downing Street Memos, bankruptcy, how the war in Iraq is going, aid to Africa, etc.

Don't make it an idiot's guide. Assign each week's piece to a staff writer or some outside expert and produce intelligent pieces with a point of view not straight news aimed at smart people who need a refresher. There's plenty of room for chronologies, maps, illustrations, charts, tables, and all the other graphic doodads that everyone loves.

In fact, why not ditch the Sunday editorial page while you're at it and make this feature a double truck? I'll bet your writers would love it, and your graphics people would salivate for the chance to lay out two full ad-free pages. Even your readers might like it! Hell, I follow the news pretty closely, and even at that I often wish there were somplace I could turn to in order to refresh my memory about stories that suddenly re-explode on the news pages.

Oh, and it would mean that Ramirez gets another day off too. Have I sold you yet?

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOLD. NEW. LOOK....The LA Times Sunday opinion section now sports a bold new look that features breathtakingly contemporary elements such as thick black lines and, um....more thick black lines. Bold thick black lines. I think the bylines are bigger too.

It's also got a bold new name, Current. Or maybe not so bold. Says Times Sunday opinion editor Bob Sipchen: "Current, while bland in an Al Gore sort of way, was the only name that seemed not to give anyone fits."

Roger that. But how about the content? Here's the rundown: this week's section features a piece about how Jews really are the chosen people and only idiot atheists think otherwise; a piece about the idiocy of being an adult Harry Potter fan; a piece about the campaign by idiot Hollywood liberals to keep patriotic movies out of our multiplexes (written by the film columnist for Newsmax!); and a piece complaining about the idiotic recent changes to the Times editorial section. Average age of authors: about 14, by all appearances.

But don't get confused! Current also includes two pages of editorials and op-eds that aren't part of Current even though they sport thick black lines and are numbered M4 and M5. They're edited by the usual weekday crew and have nothing to do with the bold new direction of the other four pages. OK?

In fairness, even the Current section of Current features a couple of old-fashioned articles that don't depend for their hook on calling people idiots, but I suspect that's just a mistake. As near as I can tell, the goal here is to turn the Sunday section into a printed version of Crossfire. Somebody call Jon Stewart.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST ON PLAME....The promised Newsweek story about Matt Cooper, Karl Rove and Valerie Plame is now up. It's from Michael Isikoff, and here's the guts of it:

It was 11:07 on a Friday morning, July 11, 2003, and Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper was tapping out an e-mail to his bureau chief, Michael Duffy. "Subject: Rove/P&C," (for personal and confidential), Cooper began. "Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation ..."

....Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a "big warning" not to "get too far out on Wilson." Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA" CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, "it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip." Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division.

This is progress. Cooper's email makes it clear that Rove did tell Cooper that "wilson's wife" worked at the CIA, that he did it before Robert Novak's original column about the affair appeared on July 14, and that he did it as part of a pushback against Wilson's New York Times op-ed a few days before.

However, much is still murky. It's not clear if Rove ever mentioned the name "Valerie Plame" and it's not clear that Rove knew Plame worked undercover. I doubt that it's useful to try and hyper-parse Cooper's email any further at this point, so for now we'll just have to wait for more clues. If only Patrick Fitzgerald's office leaked as much as Ken Starr's did, eh?

Kevin Drum 10:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FROG MARCH?....David Corn:

Tonight I received this as-solid-as-it-gets tip: on Sunday Newsweek is posting a story that nails [Karl] Rove. The newsmagazine has obtained documentary evidence that Rove was indeed a key source for Time magazine's Matt Cooper and that Rove prior to the publication of the Bob Novak column that first publicly disclosed Valerie Wilson/Plame as a CIA official told Cooper that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife apparently worked at the CIA and was involved in Joseph Wilson's now-controversial trip to Niger.

....This new evidence could place Rove in serious political, if not legal, jeopardy (or, at least it should). If what I am told is true, this is proof that the Bush White House was using any information it could gather on Joseph Wilson even classified information related to national security to pursue a vendetta against Wilson, a White House critic. Even if it turns out Rove did not break the law regarding the naming of intelligence officials, this new disclosure could prove Rove guilty of leaking a national security secret to a reporter for political ends. What would George W. Bush do about that?

Newsweek sure does have lousy newsroom security, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPINNING THE MYTH....Remember all those poor heartland families who were supposedly being forced to sell the family farm when dear old dad died? The Congressional Budget Office went looking for them, but came up emptyhanded:

The number of farms on which estate tax is owed when the owners die has fallen by 82 percent since 2000, to just 300 farms, as Congress has more than doubled the threshold at which the tax applies, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report released last week.

All but 27 farmers left enough liquid assets to pay taxes owed, the budget office found, although it hinted that the actual number might be zero.

....President Bush, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have asserted that the estate tax is destroying family farms. None, however, have cited a case of a farm lost to estate taxes, although in June 2001 Mr. Bush said he had talked to such farmers.

June 2001 was four years ago. If there were even one single family farm that had been lost to the estate tax during that time, I'm pretty sure Bush would have found it by now. As an expert quoted by the Times said, "this is a myth that has been well spun."

The CBO report is here if you want to peruse it yourself.

Kevin Drum 12:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 9, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

DOOFUS DAD SYNDROME....Glenn Reynolds periodically blogs about the "Doofus Dad" syndrome on TV sitcoms, which is apparently a conspiracy of some kind by Hollywood elitists to make men look dumb. However, since I pay little attention to TV sitcoms and even less to Glenn's cultural analysis, the whole issue always dropped off my radar as just another one of his odd fixations.

Today, though, Amanda Marcotte has a long post on the subject that starts like this:

If there is any one issue that anti-feminists and feminists seem to agree on, then it is how exasperating the ongoing media stereotype of the Doofus Dad is. The Doofus Dad stems from the belief that when it comes to "women's work" domestic duties and all the emotional work that it take to build and create familial relationships men are completely helpless and childish and therefore should be spared from those labors much as we don't force children to clean rain gutters.

How about that? I guess the Doofus Dad syndrome is real after all. What's more, after reading through both the post and the comments, there are apparently quite a few theories to account for DD syndrome. Here are the main contenders:

  1. It's an evil feminist plot to make men look stupid.

  2. White men are the only people left you're allowed to make fun of.

  3. It's a ploy by men to make themselves look helpless and therefore unable to do housework.

  4. For comedians, being a doofus is a better role than being a straight man. Since men control Hollywood, they write the doofus roles for themselves.

  5. Hollywood producers are slaves to successful formulas. All it takes is one successful Doofus Dad show, and suddenly there are a dozen imitators.

Vote for your favorite explanation in comments. Or suggest a new one of your own!

On a related note, what was the original Doofus Dad show? Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond are the obvious modern contenders. Both are predated by The Simpsons, though.

Going back before that, how about All in the Family? Archie was a semi-doofus. Gilligan's Island would be a good bet except that Gilligan was a bachelor. Perhaps Darrin on Bewitched? Wasn't he sort of a doofus? What else?

Kevin Drum 7:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

URBAN vs. RURAL....Over at the Carpetbagger, substitute blogger Ed Stephan has a couple of good posts up and both come with handy charts! The first discusses the "era of incarceration" that started in the United States around 1975 and has now reached a point where one out of 200 people is in prison. The second tackles one of my favorite subjects, the proposition that the most useful lens for looking at American politics isn't red/blue or liberal/conservative, but urban/rural. Read 'em both.

And speaking of urban vs. rural, the second post reminds me of a question that popped into my head a couple of weeks ago: How many U.S. presidents have been born and raised in a big city? By "big" I mean a city that was in the top ten or twenty during the period in question, and by "city" I mean a city, not suburbs or outskirts.

As near as I can tell without diving really deeply into this, the only urban president we've had was Theodore Roosevelt. I wonder why we haven't had more, especially given the explosion of urban growth in the 20th century?

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND IRAN....FRIENDS AGAIN....I read about this a couple of days ago but then lost track of it after hearing about the London bombings. Luckily, Needlenose reminds me: Iraq and Iran have signed a military cooperation agreement.

In one sense this is unsurprising given the success that Iraq's Shiite parties enjoyed in the January elections. Still, $1 billion in aid and Iranian help training Iraqi troops is....disturbing. This is something to stay tuned to.

Kevin Drum 3:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RESPONDING TO LONDON....This is a very weird exchange of views about how to respond to Thursday's bombings in London:

Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman of the Heritage Foundation: "There must be immediate retaliation by the U.S. and UK the war must be taken to the terrorists. Whoever has harbored, funded, aided, or abetted these terrorists must be held to account."

Ivo Daalder at TPMCafe: "But this assumes we know who is behind these attacks or at least who is behind those who are behind these attacked. Problem is, we don't....Like the terrorists who struck in Madrid and elsewhere, the London bombers probably planned and operated on their own rather than under the direction from bin Laden or his organization."

Reed Hundt at TPMCafe: "There is certainly probable cause to believe that Osama and others associated with Al Qaeda are criminally culpable for not only 9/11, Madrid, many other attacks, but also the savage London bombing....Osama is in the group of the culpable and must be hunted down, apprehended, brought to justice, as soon as possible."

What's the point of all this? Even if bin Laden had nothing to do with Thursday's attack, we still want to find him. On the question of whether we should hunt down Osama bin Laden, the London bombings add precisely nothing, right?

And unless I've misunderstood the situation completely, there's only one thing preventing us from doing that right now: the sovereignty of Pakistan. Questions of manpower and international cooperation are moot unless we decide we're willing to invade Pakistan against their wishes. Are the hawks willing to do that?

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROTECTING SOURCES IN CLEVELAND....Here is Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton at the tail end of a column written on June 30:

As I write this, two stories of profound importance languish in our hands. The public would be well served to know them, but both are based on documents leaked to us by people who would face deep trouble for having leaked them.

Publishing the stories would almost certainly lead to a leak investigation and the ultimate choice: talk or go to jail.

Because talking isn't an option and jail is too high a price to pay, these two stories will go untold for now.

Unfortunately, Clifton buried the lead and no one noticed what he had said. Yesterday, Editor & Publisher picked up on it and Clifton elaborated:

Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton says the Cleveland daily is not reporting two major investigative stories of "profound importance" because they are based on illegally leaked documents and the paper fears the consequences faced now by jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

...."The reporters say, 'Well, we're willing to go to jail, and I'm willing to go to jail if it gets laid on me,'" Clifton added, "but the newspaper isn't willing to go to jail. That's what the lawyers have told us. So this is a Time Inc. sort of situation."

....Clifton declined to characterize the two stories, saying only they were based on material that was illegally leaked.

...."Some people might argue that you're being chicken-shit," Clifton said. "Well, I, I can respect that," he said, his voice trailing off.

The Plain Dealer's lawyers apparently feel this way even though Ohio has a reporter shield law on its books. On the other hand, it's worth noting that Ohio newspaper lawyers also have bleak memories of the infamous Cincinnati Enquirer/Chiquita banana fiasco, in which an Enquirer reporter broke into Chiquita's voicemail system and then wrote a sensational expose that subsequently resulted in the Enquirer printing a front page retraction and paying Chiquita a $14 million settlement. That's the kind of thing that focuses a corporate lawyer's mind even if it's not directly relevant to the situation at hand.

In any case, this is a good example of why I support stronger shield laws for reporters. I just don't see any way to distinguish "good" leaks from "bad" leaks, and even though it's arguable that Judith Miller is being jailed for a bad leak, the inevitable result is going to be the loss of plenty of good leaks as well.

And that's a shame, because I for one would like to see the Plain Dealer's documents. On the other hand, I'll bet there are plenty of politicos in Columbus breathing sighs of relief over this.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CELL PHONES....There are now officially more cell phone subscribers than there are land lines in the United States. Just thought you'd like to know.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THEORY....Regular readers will probably have guessed by now that I have pretty much no interest in and no knowledge of critical theory deconstruction, feminism, new historicism, neopragmatism, postcolonial studies, gender theory, and so forth. As long as you stay away from uninformed declarations that imply a role for Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in well, in anything that critical theorists are likely to be interested in, I'm happy to leave you in peace.

All the more remarkable, then, that this lengthy Michael Brub post that's not just about "theory" any modifier is apparently unnecessary these days but about an essay about theory, was quite fascinating. Kept me enthralled the whole way through. I don't know if it will do the same for you, but you never know.

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By: Kevin Drum

TO BLOG OR NOT TO BLOG?....I got an email the other day offering me a press pass to the BlogHer conference on July 30, which is described thusly:

BlogHer Conference '05 will provide an open, inclusive forum to:

1. Discuss the role of women within the larger blog community
2. Examine the developing (and debatable) code of blogging ethics
3. Discover how blogging is shrinking the world and amplifying the voices of women worldwide

Hmmm. Registration information is here. Should I put on my flak jacket and go?

It's too bad it's not in LA. I'd go for sure if it were. Instead it's at the Network Meeting Center in the TechMart in Santa Clara. I remember it well: a functional if somewhat chrome-and-blonde-wood obsessed corporate space. Let's see....when was the last time I was there? Oh yes: early 2001. We were trying to buy a company and scheduled a meeting of their executives and ours at the TechMart in order to perform what is laughingly described in the biz as "due diligence." Tedious stuff, due diligence and of course, in the end the deal failed for the usual reason.

Anyway, it's been a long time since I had to do the whole Silicon Valley routine: wake up at some ungodly predawn hour, leave the house half an hour later, catch the 7:00 flight to San Jose, arrive at 8:10 feeling like you've been hit over the head with a mallet, and then hustle out to the Avis counter in time to drive across town to make a 9:00 meeting at which you spend most of your energy just forcing yourself not to nod off. Damn I hated doing that. I really like the fact that I don't have to anymore.

Still....I wonder what it costs to fly from OC to San Jose these days? I suppose Southwest must still fly there. But how early? And anyway, I've loathed Southwest ever since they pulled me over for secondary screening 14 consecutive times back when I was flying up and back to the Valley twice a week during a 3-day-a-week consulting thing. I finally switched to American and they never hassled me. I never did figure out what glitch in Southwest's computer had me pegged as a potential terrorist.

Right. But enough about that. Should I go?

UPDATE: My mother says I should go. Chris Nolan says I should go. Good enough for me! But I'm flying up the night before....

Kevin Drum 1:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 8, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

DIET COKE....There sure are a lot of different versions of Diet Coke these days, aren't there? There's ordinary Diet Coke (sweetened with aspartame), there's C2 (half aspartame, half sugar), there's a new drink called Coca Cola Zero (primarily a marketing gimmick, as near as I can tell, but sweetened with a combination of aspartame and acesulfame potassium), and now there's Diet Coke sweetened with Splenda.

Anyway, I tried the Splenda stuff today, and it was great. Tastes just like regular Coke and had no aftertaste. Highly recommended if you're a cola drinker who doesn't like diet cola but could do without the calories of regular stuff. Also good for people like my wife who are allergic to aspartame.

DISCLOSURE NOTE: I receive no income or benefits of any kind from The Coca-Cola Company or any of its subsidiaries. In fact, I receive regrettably little income or benefits from anybody aside from the Washington Monthly. However, I'm certainly open to negotiations aimed at changing this situation.

ANOTHER NOTE: Crikey, the Coca-Cola website sucks. What's more, it sucks in only the way that a website can suck that's had millions of dollars poured into it. Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 8:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTERNET WHINING....I am increasingly running into websites that deliberately? inadvertantly? disable the "Back" button on my browser. In a related development, the LA Times, as part of its relentless campaign to be the most annoying news website in the world, now features a new kind of popup ad that (a) doesn't get caught by Firefox's popup filter and (b) disables the scroll bar so you can't read the whole story until you manually close the ad.

As near as I can tell, there are now more people dedicated to making the internet unusable than there are people who actually use the internet. But it was nice while it lasted.

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By: Kevin Drum

FACT CHECKING KARL ROVE....I know this is old news and doesn't really matter much anyway cold, hard facts are no match for incendiary rhetoric but this is worth posting just for the record. Mark Blumenthal, after reading Karl Rove's famous quote from a few days ago....

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

....asked several pollsters what the evidence showed. What was the reaction of liberals and conservatives toward al-Qaeda right after 9/11? Here are the results from an LA Times poll taken two days after the attack:

In a question that forced a choice eerily similar to the rhetorical contrast offered by Rove, 68% of liberals wanted to "retaliate against bin Laden's group through military action," while 29% preferred that the "United States pursue justice by bringing him to trial in the United States?" Conservatives preferred war over a trial by a 72% to 22% margin.

So that's that: 68% of liberals wanted war vs. 72% of conservatives. Some therapy.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NON-LESSONS FROM LONDON....As I was browsing the blogosphere yesterday I was tempted to hand out awards. There would be one for the dumbest reaction to the London bombing, another for the most inappropriate, perhaps one for the most inane, and yet another for most gratuitously venomous.

At the risk of winning a related award myself, here's a very brief history of major Islamist terror attacks over the past five years:

  • 2001: New York City

  • 2002: Bali

  • 2003: Casablanca, Istanbul

  • 2004: Madrid, Taba

  • 2005: London

I only want to make the point that as horrific as the London bombing was, it doesn't "teach" us anything. It doesn't represent a new phase, a new tactic, or a new target for al-Qaeda. Quite the opposite, in fact. We know perfectly well that this is what they do, we can expect similar bombings to happen again, and we need to do everything we can to stop them.

It's perfectly appropriate to discuss loudly, passionately what the best way to deal with al-Qaeda is. But despite the vast amount of windbaggery this attack has spawned, there's no new lesson here just because we feel closer to the British than, perhaps, we did to the Turks or Indonesians or Spaniards. The war we're fighting today is the same one we were fighting on Wednesday.

And one more thing: if I read one more story about Londoners' "stiff upper lip" I'm going to scream. Please, please find a new cliche before you type again.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION....So far this year, Morgan Stanley's pretax profit is down about 6%. To see how this has affected the compensation of senior executives, read this story.

There's nothing unusual about this, of course. That's what makes it so appalling.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Benjamin Wallace-Wells

How to get ahead....There's an interesting story that's generating a little bit of discussion in Washington but doesn't seem to have made much of a dent elsewhere. Here's the nub of it:

Freshman Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) made phone calls to at least two North Carolina College Republicans asking them to change their votes in the recent acrimonious College Republican national election, and the young people McHenry contacted said they felt pressured by the calls.

One operative said that McHenry was a "crucial part" of winning candidate Paul Gourley's campaign.

I think it's telling that a sitting member of Congress would take time out to play goon in an internal election for an organization of college students; it is not the action of a politician, but of someone who is still thinking like a party operative, through and through. The College Republicans are legendarily the organization that gave starts to all the GOP's most influential operatives, its smart kids from nowhere: Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Ralph Reed. The organization is a near-perfect farm team for operatives: It involves its members in constant internal elections (for state CR Treasurer, for delegate to the national CR convention, for national CR Chair) which makes perfect practice for the cut and thrust of for-real electioneering. But the College Republicans have rarely produced elective office holders, at least until now.

McHenry is perhaps the most prominent ex-CR who is now winning elections for himself, and not for other people, but there are others: conservative it-boy Jeff Johnson, running to be Minnesota's Attorney General, touts his CR credentials, as does the group's former national chair, 31-year old Bill Spadea, who's challenging Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) for his Congressional seat. Like Haley Barbour, the former RNC director who became Mississippi's governor, or Tom Cole, the conservative pollster turned Oklahoma congressman, or Ralph Reed, now running to be Georgia's lieutenant governor, these candidates have run largely not on their record of public service, but on their record of service to different aspects of the Republican party.

These are only a few data points, but it looks to me like it may be an emerging pattern of ascent, something like the traditional European parties of the left, where you got to be the guy running for office in your forties by spending your twenties and your thirties working as a party employee, staffing district offices, running local elections. For at least a few Republicans, the model of how to get ahead now seems similar. This seems to me to be something reasonably new, something I can't remember happening much in the last couple of decades, but perhaps readers with longer and sharper memories can help.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FAMOUS LINES....Over at the Huffington Post, Norm Ornstein is hosting a competition for the most memorable lines in political history:

At lunch today, the discussion turned to Marion Barry, and I reminisced about a key element of his enduring legacy: "The bitch set me up." It won't make number one on the list; my first-cut candidate there is "I am not a crook." "It all depends on the meaning of the word is" will be somewhere up there. A new candidate, moving up on the rail is "The insurgency is in its last throes."

That sounds like fun! I'd probably nominate "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore," assuming the trickster can be allowed two entries. Going back a bit further, how about Andrew Jackson's wrongheaded but nonetheless splendidly spiteful "The court has made its decision...now let them enforce it." George Aiken's advice to "declare victory and go home" deserves a spot, as does Jimmy Carter's non-invocation of "malaise" surely the most famous word in political history that was never actually uttered.

I assume we're limiting this to American political history, and excluding phrases from prepared speeches. With that in mind, leave your nominations in comments.

Kevin Drum 12:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 7, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

LONG HOT SUMMER....Melanie Mattson says William Rehnquist will announce his retirement tomorrow. Oh joy.

UPDATE: Stevens too? Somehow I doubt it. But if it turns out to be true, somebody just shoot me, OK?

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON MALPRACTICE....Today comes word of yet another study showing that the rise in medical malpractice premiums has almost nothing to do with an actual increase in malpractice payouts. The study looks at the 15 biggest malpractice insurance companies and concludes that over the past five years payouts have gone up only slightly while premiums have skyrocketed. As a result:

  • Net payouts as a percentage of net premiums has declined from 69% to 33%.

  • Gross payouts as a percentage of gross premiums has declined from 68% to 32%.

  • Projected future payouts as a percentage of earned premiums has declined from 68% to 51%.

So has anything gone up? Of course. Since premiums have risen far faster than both payouts and projected payouts, cash surpluses have increased by a third and stock prices of the public companies have doubled. Life is sweet!

Needless to say, the insurance companies are flailing their arms and insisting that we ignore the man behind the curtain. Don't fall for it. There have been endless studies using all sort of different methodologies, and they all come to the conclusion that malpractice payouts haven't gone up very much while premium rates have. And for all their flailing, the insurance industry has never produced a comprehensive study of their own to rebut this even though they're the ones who ought to have the easiest access to the raw data. Funny, that.

POSTSCRIPT: And a note to doctors: if you want to hate trial lawyers, go ahead. But this study should give you a pretty good idea of who's really responsible for doubling your premiums last year.

Kevin Drum 7:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A WISH....If I could have one small wish for today, it would be for the blogosphere on both left and right to refrain from political point scoring over the London attacks. Just for a day. Isn't tomorrow soon enough to return to our usual arguments?

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By: Kevin Drum

SAUDI OIL....Most analysts think that in order to meet rising oil demand, OPEC will have to increase its production by 20 million barrels per day over the next 15 years. In order to do that, Saudi Arabia will have to increase production by about 10 million bpd. Can they do it?

At today's prices, the world will need the cartel to boost its production from 30m barrels a day to 50m by 2020 to meet rapidly rising demand, according to the International Energy Agency, the energy watchdog for consuming countries.

But senior Saudi energy officials have privately warned US and European counterparts that Opec would have an extremely difficult time meeting that demand. Saudi Arabia calculates there is a 4.5m b/d gap between what the world needs and what the kingdom can provide.

....Saudi Arabia pumps 9.5m b/d and has assured consumer countries that it could reach 12.5m b/d in 2009 and probably 15m b/d eventually. But a senior western energy official said: They said it would be extremely difficult to move above that figure.

This isn't surprising news for anyone who's been paying attention to Saudi oil production. What is surprising is that apparently even the Saudis themselves are now fessing up to it.

The fact that the Saudis are trying to talk down expectations means they must have figured out that Matt Simmons is at least partly right. After all, they claim they have the capacity to produce 11 million bpd today, and if the best they can say is that production "could" increase by a meager 1.5 million bpd over the next four years, finding new oil must already be getting pretty hard. Give the Saudis a few more years to face up to their production difficulties and they might eventually decide that Simmons is completely right.

In either case, it means the western world really, really ought to start getting serious about conservation, increased efficiency, and alternative fuels. ANWR is just a drop in the bucket.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVES AND EVOLUTION....Do conservative thinkers and pundits believe in evolution? Ben Adler at the New Republic decided to find out. Here's a summary:

  • 8 said yes: David Frum, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, William F. Buckley, James Taranto, David Brooks, Richard Brookhiser, and Ramesh Ponnuru.

  • 3 said no: Grover Norquist, Stephen Moore, and Pat Buchanan.

  • 4 waffled or declined to answer: Bill Kristol, John Tierney, Tucker Carlson, and Norman Podhoretz.

There's more detail at the link. The most entertaining quote, oddly enough, comes from David Frum, who's a believer in evolution. Despite that, he said: "Christianity is the faith of nine-tenths of the American public....I don't believe that public schools should embark on teaching anything that offends Christian principle."

That's wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to start.

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By: Kevin Drum


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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Here's a couple of interesting tidbits about New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Judge Thomas Hogan, and the rest of the cast in the Valerie Plame case. First, Mark Kleiman points us toward this paragraph from the Washington Post's account of today's hearings:

"This is not a case of a whistle-blower" revealing secret information to Miller about "dangers at a nuclear power plant," Hogan said. "It's a case in which the information she was given and her potential use of it was a crime....This is very different than a whistle-blower outing government misconduct."

In other words, Hogan thinks the outing of Valerie Plame was a crime. Conservative apologists for Robert Novak should take note.

(This doesn't surprise me, either. I'm not happy with Fitzgerald's overly promiscuous habit of subpoenaing reporters, but he's got a reputation as a straight shooter and I don't think he'd waste two years of his life if he hadn't concluded that a crime was committed. He would have wrapped this up long ago if he didn't think he could make a case.)

Second, Josh Marshall reminds us that this isn't the first time Fitzgerald has tangled with Judith Miller:

A little more than a year ago, I reported [that] Fitzgerald had been investigating three Islamic charities accused of supporting terrorism....But just before his investigators could swoop in with warrants, two of the charities in question got wind of what was coming and, apparently, were able to destroy a good deal of evidence.

What tipped them off were calls from two reporters at the New York Times who'd been leaked information about the investigation by folks at the White House. One of those two reporters was Judy Miller.

Josh has some speculation on what this could mean. "Weird coincidence" is one of the possibilities, but it's not the one at the top of his list.

Kevin Drum 1:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 6, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SHIELDING REPORTERS....With Matt Cooper now agreeing to testify in the Valerie Plame case and Judith Miller now heading off the jail, I guess today is the day to finally answer Mark Kleiman's question: assuming arguendo that Karl Rove outed Valerie Plame, that Rove lied about it to the grand jury, and that Cooper's testimony is the only way to prove it, do I still think there ought to be a reporter-source privilege that protects Cooper from having to testify?

Sigh. Talk about a crappy test case for my belief that a reporter-source privilege is something worth supporting. In addition, my thoughts on this are so hopelessly jumbled now that I'm not even sure what to think anymore. With that caveat, here's a brain dump of reactions to today's events in no particular order of importance:

  • Matt Cooper looked like a broken man on TV. I don't know if this was because of his close call with a jail cell or because he feels like he's betrayed his own beliefs or what, but it was a hard thing to watch.

  • Regardless of that, it's worth reiterating the basic justification for a reporter-source privilege. The only reason for any kind of privilege is because there's some kind of principled reason for thinking that the value of the privileged communication in question outweighs the value of prosecuting criminal activity. That's a judgment we've made in the case of lawyers, doctors, and priests, and I'd argue that it's at least equally justified in the case of reporters.

    Why? Because the press plays a unique role in investigating government corruption and malfeasance. In practice, this role largely stands or falls on the ability of reporters to guarantee anonymity to sources who are afraid of retaliation and in a democracy I think that the value of the media's ability to ferret out the truth far outweighs the government's interest in keeping secrets. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that.

  • It's also worth noting that the reporter-source privilege has a long tradition: most states already have shield laws that provide at least some level of privilege. California has had a shield law on the books since 1935, and it's been part of the state constitution since 1980.

  • That said, I'm not arguing that Judge Hogan did the wrong thing in finding Cooper and Miller in contempt. The fact is, we don't have a federal shield law at the moment, which means there was no legal basis to acknowledge a privilege for either Cooper or Miller. At the same time, as in any other case of conscience or civil disobedience, Cooper and Miller had every right to choose jail time over testifying. There's a long and honorable tradition for this kind of protest.

  • However, while it's one thing for a person to make this kind of decision, it's quite another for a corporation with a duty to its shareholders to follow suit. Thus, it's arguable that Time Inc. did the right thing in turning over Cooper's notes to the prosecutor. Unfortunately, it's also pretty obvious what the result of this is going to be: reporters will no longer reveal their sources to their editors. I'm not sure this does anyone any good.

  • It's important to set personalities aside. The facts of the case are important, but the fact that you like or hate Judith Miller isn't. Ditto for Karl Rove. There's almost nothing on the planet that would make me happier than Rove in handcuffs, but that's irrelevent to the principle at stake here.

    In the end, I don't know if Cooper's testimony will ultimately help make a case against Rove or anyone else. However, it should be obvious to everyone that whistleblowing has already taken a hit. This has been a very high profile case, and I imagine that a lot of potential sources are going to be very reluctant to come forward in the future after seeing what Time Inc. and Cooper did.

  • Contempt for the press, which has infected both left and right far beyond reason these days, shouldn't get in the way of understanding what's at stake here. This affects all reporters and all media outlets, the ones you like every bit as much as the ones you don't.

    And remember: White House abuse of anonymity and the media's supine acceptance of it won't be affected one whit by any of this because trashing your enemies anonymously isn't illegal. Conversely, whistleblowers break the law all the time and presidents are always eager to catch them. There have been a succession of recent cases similar to the Plame investigation, and they paint a grim picture of the government increasingly using its power to force reporters to act as their agents. The lesson for reporters' sources is obvious, and if this trend continues we'll all be the poorer for it.

  • So what's the bottom line? We're not talking about a heroic truthteller in this case, we're talking about a couple of cowardly administration apparatchiks who outed a CIA agent for purposes of grubby partisan revenge. Why should a shield law protect them and the reporters who did their dirty work?

    That's a good point. And yet racist rags are protected by the First Amendment and mobsters by the Fifth. The fact that principles can be abused doesn't mean that principles should be tossed overboard. As far as I'm concerned, anything that gives the press an advantage in its ability to report on the inner workings of government is worth a lot, and if the price is the occasional failure to convict an unscrupulous politician, I'm more than willing to pay it.

All that said, there's at least one thing everyone should agree on: we need a federal shield law. I happen to think reporters need greater protection, and you might think they need less, but in either case we ought to spell it out instead of making reporters and courts guess. Let's argue it out in Congress and then pass something that makes it clear what counts as "journalism," what protection sources can expect, and exactly how far prosecutors can go. If there are exceptions for specific criminal acts, so be it.

But let's at least nail it down. There's no excuse not to.

Kevin Drum 8:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OIL JITTERS....Oil prices are up again today. The Associated Press explains why:

Oil prices climbed nearly 3 percent to finish at a record above $61 a barrel on Wednesday and analysts warned of an imminent spike in the retail cost of gasoline as storm-related power outages disrupted some oil production and refining operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

The refinery snags caused by Tropical Storm Cindy were minor and temporary, and with petroleum producers preparing for another possible hurricane, the flow of oil from the region was reduced by almost 200,000 barrels per day.

In the short term, oil prices can do anything. They may well go down later this year depending on winter weather forecasts and the state of worldwide inventory levels.

Still, this is disturbing news. Oil is already at $60 a barrel, but even so the price is spiking upward because of a trivial supply disruption in the Gulf of Mexico an area where summer hurricanes are hardly a surprise. Spare capacity is now so close to zero that the mere threat of a small and fully predictable disruption is enough to send prices heavenward.

So: what would happen if the market suffered a slightly larger disruption? Nothing enormous, just one of the normal kinds of things that happen periodically but weren't a big deal back when other suppliers could increase production to fill the gap. For example, how about another strike in Venezuela similar to the one that cut off 2 million barrels of oil per day for several months in 2003? Something like this is bound to happen in the next year or so, and if a shortfall of 200,000 barrels can spook markets, a shortfall of a million barrels will scare them out of their skins. $100/barrel oil could look cheap before long.

UPDATE: William Dudley, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs, has the answer: a supply disruption of "a couple of million" barrels a day could send prices to $105. Indeed it could. Elsewhere, Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, a well-known face to anybody who lived through the 1973 oil embargo, says that $100 a barrel oil "isn't far-fetched." And December options priced at $80 have already become disturbingly popular.

To be honest, the recent runup in oil prices smells a little bit like a bubble to me. There are reasons to be concerned in the medium and long term, but $80 by December doesn't seem justified. Still, as Yamani says, it wouldn't take much to make it justified. All it needs is "the help of a political event or a military adventure, like attacking Iraq." Or perhaps another country: "A surprise in the oil market would be if the U.S. attacks Iran." Yes, that would do it, all right.

Kevin Drum 4:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COOPER IS TESTIFYING....Weird, weird, weird. As I mentioned yesterday, Karl Rove's lawyer says that Rove has signed a waiver allowing reporters to testify about their conversations with him in the Valerie Plame case. However, the nature of the waiver was unclear, and Matt Cooper still intended to refuse to testify about his source anyway.

Today, however, Cooper told the judge that "in somewhat dramatic fashion," he got a personal communication from his source this morning telling him it was OK to testify. (Via Fox News, no link.) Judith Miller, on the other hand, appears to be practically eager to go to jail.

So Cooper is testifying. Is his source Rove? Who knows. More later.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OOPS....This is sure an embarrassing editor's note. I sometimes think that op-ed editors don't realize they aren't editing straight news. They should never even have tried to put those words in Phil's mouth, let alone allowed them to accidentally appear in print.

Even now they don't quite have it right. It's true that Phil was "recently called up to active duty," but under the circumstances that still makes it sound like he was called up involuntarily. He wasn't. He volunteered.

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TERRORISM....One of these days I'll get around to writing a longer post on this subject, but for now I just want to highlight some recent remarks from a couple of highly placed military leaders. First, via Eric Umansky, here's Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, currently commander of Marine forces in the Pacific:

This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a war on submarines. Its not just semantics....Words have meaning. And these words are leading us down to the wrong concept.

....The center of gravity, the decisive terrain in this war is the vast majority of people who are not directly involved but whose support, willing or coerced, is necessary to insurgent operations around the world. Hearts and minds are more important than capturing and killing people.

And here's recently retired Army General Jack Keane on the Charlie Rose show, as reported by Suzanne Nossel over at Democracy Arsenal. Is it true, Rose asked, that commanders in Iraq don't believe we need more troops on the ground?

The General explained that what was meant is not that more troops aren't needed: in fact, Keane has seen first-hand that the officers in the theater are badly understaffed and over-tasked.

He went on to say that there is powerful opposition to the American presence, and that our troops are having great difficulty with the cultural and social challenges of combating an urgan Iraqi insurgency that, in his words, has as its sanctuary the Iraqi people. Thus, notwithstanding how overloaded our troops are, General Abizaid and others have concluded that more American forces would make the problems worse, not better.

This is pretty much at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide over Iraq. Is our real battle with terrorists themselves? Or is it with the fact that far too many people are sympathetic with their aims?

George Bush and his advisors appear to believe the former. I believe the latter. Al-Qaeda itself, even if you count all its far flung and loosely affiliated partners, doesn't number more than a few thousand, most of them ill-trained and poorly educated zealots. It's foolish to underestimate them they've proven over and again that they're a deadly enemy that needs to be extinguished but it's equally foolish to compare them to fascism or communism as existential threats.

That might change in the future, but only if they retain the support of substantial segments of the Islamic population. It's popular support that's the real threat, but conservatives seem flatly unwilling to admit this publicly for fear of looking soft. That's squishy liberal pap! Conservatives prefer direct action!

But as Keane implied, military force can sometimes make the long term problem worse and right now, that appears to be pretty much where we're headed. As long as 10-20% of the Islamic world is actively on the side of al-Qaeda, there's not much chance of ever truly defeating them. So far, though, most of our actions in the Middle East have just made this worse. When are we going to get serious about taking on the real enemy?

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUTRAGE....I think lefty bloggers may be missing the point here. The real outrage is not that some Republican politician held an event at an all-white country club and then stonewalled when he was caught. The real outrage is that we still have all-white country clubs in America.

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VACATION TIME....It's summer, which must be why vacation talk is in the air in the blogosphere. Over at TPMCafe, French journalist Pascal Riche informs us today that he gets 10 weeks of vacation a year and then explains how this state of affairs came about:

When the French government, in 1981, decided to reduce the legal work week from 40 hours to 39 hours, our unions bargained for one more week of vacation instead. Following the same rationale, we got 3 more weeks when France passed five years ago from les 39 heures to les 35 heures...

Do you notice the key phrase here? It's "our unions bargained for...." Isn't it a shame that American unions are so weak?

But here's a question for the comment section. One of Riche's sources of wonderment is that increased leisure time has never been a big issue in American politics. "During the last American electoral campaign," he says, "not a single candidate considered proposing a mandatory two- or three- week vacation time in America."

Frankly, in a country where proposing a dollar increase in the minimum wage is considered a brave act of liberalism, this doesn't surprise me at all. But here's my question: could Congress legally mandate increased vacation time for private sector employees? In other words, is leisure time not an issue because no one is willing to take on the corporate interest groups who oppose it, or is it not an issue because candidates know that mandating vacation time would be unconstitutional anyway?

(There's a third option, of course: it's not an issue because voters don't care much. I have a hard time believing that, though.)

Does anyone know?

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OPENING THE CURTAIN....The Republican leadership is desperate to make sure the American public stays in the dark about the true nature of its Christian extremist supporters:

In a series of conference calls on Tuesday and over the last several days, Republican Senate aides encouraged conservative groups to avoid emphasizing the searing cultural issues that social conservatives see at the heart of the court fight, subjects like abortion, public support for religion and same-sex marriage, participants said.

...."Every contact we have with these folks is 'stay on message, stay on purpose,' " said [Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Senator Bill Frist]. "The extremism of language, if there is to be any, should be demonstrably on the other side. The hysteria and the foaming at the mouth ought to come from the left."to the nominees."

One argument that I hear frequently from moderate conservatives is that although they don't like the Christian right much, they continue to support the Republican party because they don't think it has that much influence. Liberals, they say, are just overreacting.

If there's anything good that might come from the impending Supreme Court fight, it's the possibility that these folks might realize that times have changed: the Christian right is no longer just a bunch of marginalized yahoos who get nothing but lip service from cynical Republican leaders. That was arguably the case in the 80s, but it's not anymore. If progressive groups have any brains, they'll do their best to goad the Dobson/Falwell/Bauer faction into revealing their real natures on a national stage once and for all. The more publicity these guys get, the better it is for the liberal cause.

Kevin Drum 12:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 5, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

PERFECT SOLDIERS....A few days ago, LA Times reporter Terry McDermott sent me (or, rather, caused to be sent to me) a copy of Perfect Soldiers, his recently published book about the men who executed the September 11 attacks on the United States. It's a monograph, really, a deeply reported chronology that focuses solely on the hijackers themselves: who they were, where they came from, and why they did what they did. Not everyone will be interested in 300 pages on just this single subject, but if you are, you're unlikely to find a better account than this one.

In a nutshell, then, what's the answer? Who were these guys? McDermott gives us the nickel version in the preface:

They saw themselves as soldiers of God, which prompts the obvious question: What kind of religious belief could empower men to inflict such great harm and deprivation on other men, women, and children? The inquiry that grew from it yields a truly troubling answer: the men of September 11 were, regrettably, I think, fairly ordinary men. I say this is regrettable because it was their ordinariness that makes it much more likely there are a great many more men just like them. In the end, then, this is the story about the power of belief to remake ordinary men.

For what it's worth, there's at least a sliver of good news in his account as well. As McDermott says, it's probably true that there are thousands of ordinary men who are every bit as susceptible to mass-murderous levels of Islamic fanaticism as the 19 hijackers, but his book also makes clear that there are damn few who have the capability to do anything more dangerous about it than set off a car bomb. In fact, Osama bin Laden and his deputies were barely able to find four men reliable enough to learn the rudiments of aircraft piloting, something that nearly anyone can master with only the self-discipline necessary to take lessons for a few months. Neither great skill nor great intelligence is required, but even the modest amount needed for the 9/11 attacks, it turns out, was enormously difficult to find in al-Qaeda's ranks.

This isn't reason for complacency, but it may be reason for a bit of perspective. McDermott convincingly illustrates something we've already learned over the past four years, namely that religious fanatics are disturbingly easy to create. However, reading between the lines, he also demonstrates something else: the kind of personality most susceptible to fanaticism is also the least likely to have the background and self-discipline to do much about it. Children with matches can be dangerous, but even so, it's hard to read McDermott's account without concluding that this is pretty much what al-Qaeda is.

In any case, it's a good book. Recommended.

Kevin Drum 7:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STEVE MARTIN, ORANGE COUNTY HERO....Sorry, but I cannot let this pass. In a post titled "My favorite things Texan," Tyler Cowen lists:

Comedian: Steve Martin

Technically, yes, Steve Martin was born in Waco, Texas. But at age 5 he moved to California and then at age 10 to my hometown of Garden Grove. He graduated from Garden Grove High School, worked at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, and then attended my alma mater, Cal State Long Beach. Let's hear no more about Steve Martin being a Texan, OK?

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By: Kevin Drum

MILITARY READINESS vs. BASE PANDERING....Hitchens was wondering the other day about liberals and the whole gays in the military thing, so here's a progress report: the Carpetbagger reports that HR 1059, which would end discrimination in the military on the basis of sexual orientation, now has 89 cosponsors. Of course, 86 of them are Democrats. Apparently Republicans continue to believe that gay bashing is more important than military readiness.

But hey at least we know where they stand.

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By: Kevin Drum

FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER....OUTWIT, OUTPLAY, OUTLAST....Tomorrow the IOC decides which city will host the 2012 Olympic Games. Basically, the voting works like Survivor: there are multiple rounds of voting, and after each round the city with the fewest votes gets kicked off the island. Voting continues until one city gets a majority, which probably won't happen until the final round. Delegates from countries with a city in the running aren't allowed to vote as long as their city is still in contention.

So how will the voting go? Here's my guess at the order in which cities get booted off:

5. Madrid
4. Moscow
3. New York City
2. London
1. Paris

They ought to televise this, sort of the way they televise the NFL draft these days. Jeff Probst could host. It's all happening in Singapore, which means the voting rounds will happen in the wee hours, but the 7:46 pm final envelope opening will be just in time for breakfast on the East Coast. Sounds like great television for insomniacs!

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By: Kevin Drum

COURT WATCH....Didn't I say yesterday that I wasn't going to blog much about the Supreme Court until Bush actually nominates someone? Hmmm. I guess I really ought to ditch that charade pronto before someone starts keeping statistics on just what I seem to think the meaning of "much" is.

Anyway, I've been wondering about the whole Alberto Gonzales thing. His name is at the top of almost everybody's list, but it doesn't make any sense to me. After all, liberals hate him because of the torture memos and conservatives hate him because he isn't conservative enough. He may be a personal friend of Bush's, but he still seems like about the least likely candidate on the list. Why buy trouble with both sides of the aisle?

Today, though, Marshall Wittman has an interesting take on Gonzales:

Just consider what one member of the God-squad patronizingly said about the President's pal,

"At the same time, they made it clear that they would not automatically throw their weight behind anyone the president names. Asked, for example, whether the Family Research Council would support Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales for a seat on the high court, Perkins replied acidly: "Our position on Attorney General Gonzales is, he holds great promise as an attorney general."

Back in Crawford, them's fightin' words. What about it, Mr. President? There is some evidence that the right might be getting the President a little hot under the collar in Tuesday's USA Today

"Al Gonzales is a great friend of mine," Bush said in a phone interview. "When a friend gets attacked, I don't like it."

I don't imagine that Bush's advisors will allow him to fall for this transparent Wittmanesque ploy, but we can dream, can't we? Wouldn't it be great if Bush's legendary stubbornness paid off for liberals for once? Just think: He nominates Gonzales. His Christian conservative base goes nuts. Liberals start waving around the torture memos. The White House puts the screws on and Gonzales eventually gets confirmed by a close vote. The Republican party is in tatters and liberals have a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor who's about as moderate as they could have hoped for.

But nah. It'll probably be McConnell. Sigh.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ALL EYES ON ROVE....Time Inc. may have turned over Matt Cooper's emails and notes to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame case, but that doesn't mean Cooper is out of the woods. Fitzgerald may still want Cooper to testify in person tomorrow, and if Cooper refuses to divulge his sources he might be facing jail time regardless of whether the Time Inc. suits have obeyed the court order.

But riddle me this: As we all know, Scooter Libby released Cooper and other journalists from their promises of confidentiality. Go ahead and testify about our conversations, he said. Has Karl Rove done the same thing?

Rove's lawyer has been parsing the English language pretty carefully in his statements to the press. Rove "never knowingly disclosed classified information," he told Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, with a careful stress on knowingly. He followed this by telling him that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA," a delicate statement that doesn't rule out the possibility that he mentioned "Joe Wilson's wife" to a reporter or six.

None of this would be necessary, and Cooper and Judith Miller would likely be in the clear, if Rove would release them from their promise of confidentiality. After all, he's already admitted that he talked to reporters. Why not publicly and privately tell them that he has nothing to fear and they should feel free to testify?

UPDATE: Via email, Bob Somerby points out that Rove's lawyer told Michael Isikoff that Rove "signed a waiver authorizing reporters to testify about their conversations with him." I missed that. If anything, though, it makes the whole situation even weirder. Is "waiver" Isikoff's word or Rove's? Was it a blanket statement or did he specifically tell Cooper and Miller it was OK to testify? And does this mean that Cooper and Miller are being asked to testify about something other than a conversation with Rove?

Beats me. I'm not sure what to make of this.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ DEMOCRACY UPDATE....This sounds like good news:

Several senior clerics of Iraq's disaffected Sunni Muslim minority will soon issue a decree calling on followers of the faith to vote in upcoming elections and help write a new constitution, a prominent Sunni leader said Monday. The step could draw Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency and into a political process they have steadfastly rejected.

....The proposed edict announced Monday would call for Sunni participation in writing the draft constitution, which is meant to be completed by Aug. 15, and for all Iraqis to vote in the next election, which would be held Dec. 15 if the constitution is prepared on time and ratified in an October referendum. The decree would also call for Sunnis to serve on the country's electoral commission.

This stuff never seems to pan out as well as we'd like, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 4, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SPORTS MOMENTS....Steven Taylor asks: What are the ten most memorable sports moments that you yourself have either seen in person or watched live on TV? I'm not really a big time sports junkie, but it got me thinking. So here's my off-the-top-of-my-head list. It's roughly in order of my personal assessment of spectacularness:

  1. Anthony Davis' 102 yard touchdown to open the second half of the 1974 USC-Notre Dame game, sparking a 55-point run that ended in a 55-24 victory and an eventual national championship.

  2. John McEnroe's spectacular 4-set victory over 5-time champ Bjorn Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon finals. (Tennis cognoscenti will argue that the 1980 final was actually a better match, but I was working that day and didn't get to see it.)

  3. Robert Horry's astonishing 3-point shot at the buzzer to win Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.

  4. Kirk Gibson hobbling to the plate for the Dodgers in the ninth inning of the first game of the 1988 World Series and then belting a game winning home run into the right field seats.

  5. The final three seconds of the 1972 Olympic basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union.

  6. The infamous slow rolling ground ball ambling through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

  7. Kerri Strug limping to the line with a sprained ankle in the 1996 Olympics and then sticking her final vault to give the U.S. women's gymnastics squad its first ever team gold medal.

  8. Tiger Woods' 40-foot birdie chip-in on the 16th hole of the 2005 Masters, a shot that sat on the lip of the hole for what seemed like forever before finally, improbably, dropping in.

  9. Mary Decker collapsing on the infield after clipping Zola Budd in the 3,000 meter run at the 1984 Olympic games.

  10. This item deliberately left blank because I've almost certainly forgotten something. For example, I think I saw the Immaculate Reception live, but I'm not sure. And there was Flutie's Hail Mary pass in 1984 against Miami. I think I saw that too, but I don't remember for sure. Besides, at the time I'm not sure I really cared that much about either one of those.

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LOVE THY NEIGHBOR....Question of the day: what TV show can produce joint condemnation from both the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and James Dobson's Family Research Council? Answer: ABC's now cancelled reality show "Welcome to the Neighborhood":

"Welcome to the Neighborhood" followed three families in a comfortable cul-de-sac near Austin, Texas, given the chance to choose who moves in [to] a 3,300-square-foot home on their block. Each family is white, conservative and initially interested in neighbors like them.

Instead, they have a rainbow coalition of choices: a black family; a Hispanic family; an Asian family; two gay white men who've adopted a black boy; a couple covered in tattoos and piercings; a couple who met at the woman's initiation as a witch; and a white family where mom is a stripper.

Sounds like a winner to me! I bet if it'd been a Fox show, they would have kept it on the air.

Kevin Drum 6:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ON NOT WORKING....Since today is one of those rare days off for all most many Americans, I hereby present (in response to this) the following meditation on not working from Andrew Hammel, an American in Dsseldorf.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

I admit, there's enough of the workaholic in me that it took me a while to adapt to the German work ethic. I still do 3 or 4 hours of work on the weekend, just to silence my workaholic conscience. But other than that, I am delighted with the work/life balance here in Europe. Here are some pieces of advice for my fellow Americans who choose to move to Europe:

  • Don't brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say "I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!" you'll get the same reaction you would in America if you said "I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!"

  • Learn your environment. Take into account how much work you can really expect from Europeans. Don't expect anything to get done in August, don't expect a response to your email the same day. If you really need to get in touch with someone while they are on vacation, or on the weekend, you won't be able to. Which means not that they are being irresponsible. It means you don't really need to get in touch with them.

  • Change your standards. Realize that when someone complains about being horribly overworked, even though you know they are working about 40 hours a week, accept it. By their standards, they are working very hard. Helpful thought-experiment: Europeans pay about $5/gallon for gas. Wouldn't you want them to display compassion for you when you complain about paying $2?

But the most important lesson is: enjoy your free time! Pay attention to the people you are with, and you'll notice that they do things with their free time. They spend lots of time with their friends and family, they pursue hobbies much more complex than catching up on all the episodes of Sex & the City, they visit museums, read complex books, drink a whole lot, go to parties, fairs, and circuses, and take lots of vacations. Imitate them. And then decide whether you'd really give that all up to make $5,000 more a year. If the answer is still "gimme the $5,000," move back to the U.S.

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

QUITTING BEFORE THE FIGHT BEGINS....I'm going to try not to blog much about the Supreme Court until Bush actually nominates someone. I figure we're already in for many weeks of unrelieved grimness anyway, so why make it worse?

But this is pretty astonishing. Both Republican and Democratic senators are now saying that no matter how extreme a nominee Bush picks, no filibuster is justified:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the 14 signers [of the filibuster agreement], noted that the accord allowed the confirmation of three Bush appellate court nominees so conservative that Democrats had successfully filibustered them for years: Janice Rogers Brown, William H. Pryor Jr. and Priscilla R. Owen. Because Democrats accepted them under the deal, Graham said on the Fox program, it is clear that ideological differences will not justify a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.

"Based on what we've done in the past with Brown, Pryor and Owen," Graham said, "ideological attacks are not an 'extraordinary circumstance.' To me, it would have to be a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of the person, not an ideological bent."

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a leader of the seven Democratic signers, largely concurred. Nelson "would agree that ideology is not an 'extraordinary circumstance' unless you get to the extreme of either side," his spokesman, David DiMartino, said in an interview.

Sheesh. So the "moderate" Graham says absolutely anything goes, and his Democratic counterpart pretty much agrees in advance: Janice Rogers Brown now represents the acceptable preapproved limit of judicial wingnuttery. That's some sharp strategerizing, Ben.

Kevin Drum 12:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 3, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ALGEBRA....I just can't get enough, can I? However, having uncovered one error in Diane Ravitch's op-ed about math instruction in the Wall Street Journal, I've now learned of two others:

  1. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the "new, new math" as "rainforest algebra."

    This is woefully misleading. The person who coined the term "rainforest algebra" was Marianne Jennings. She isn't a professional mathematician, she's a business professor at Arizona State University and a well known conservative columnist.

  2. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged.

    "Rethinking Mathematics" is not a textbook. It's a collection of articles that provide suggestions for math projects to be used at various grade levels.

    This isn't a pedantic distinction. "Textbook" implies a primary text used to teach mathematics to children, and suggests that it's meant to be the sole text used. A resource book, conversely, is meant for occasional use by teachers who are constructing math units. There's nothing insidious about a math resource book that focuses on social justice, just as there's nothing insidious about a resource book aimed at Christian schools that focuses on math problems taken from the Bible. I Kings 7:23 might make a good geometry unit, for example.

That's three factual errors in the first four paragraphs of Ravitch's op-ed. This is not a good track record.

On a broader note, over the past few days I've accidentally become pretty familiar with the "math wars," a staple of 90s education criticism. The basic outline is pretty simple: reformers, led by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), wanted to put more emphasis on "discovering" math and real-world problem solving , while traditionalists wanted to keep the emphasis squarely on computation skills and "basics."

I'm temperamentally sympathetic to the benefits of teaching basic skills, but at the same time I'm sure we all remember from our own primary and high school math classes that "story problems" were always harder than basic skills. Way harder. Learning computation is important, but surely everyone understands that knowing how to apply math to actual situations is far more important?

Here's an example ironically from a "back to basics" supporter. It was written for the Washington Post in 1998 by Frank Wang. Let's call this Problem A:

I am worried that...only 23 percent of American eighth-graders could solve the following simple proportionality problem on the 1994-95 Third International Mathematics and Science Survey test: "Peter bought 70 items, and Sue bought 90 items. Each item cost the same and the items cost $800 altogether. How much did Sue pay?"

Now let's rephrase this into Problem B:

What is 70 + 90? (A: 160)
What is $800 160? (A: $5)
What is $5 * 90? (A: $450)

Eighth graders ought to be able to solve this problem no matter how it's presented. Still, my guess is that basic computation wasn't the real hangup here. Most of them could probably solve Problem B. What they couldn't do was convert Problem A into Problem B.

So what would make me happier: A student who could convert A to B but then used a calculator to get the numerical answer? Or a student who could solve Problem B in their head but couldn't get there in the first place? If I were forced to choose, I'd choose the former. And if I had to give up some teaching time dedicated to basic skills in order to make kids better at converting A to B, I'd do it. After all, in a real world version of this problem with real numbers that didn't divide nicely, I'd end up using a calculator myself.

Of course, the big question is: does "reform" mathematics actually succeed at teaching kids to apply mathematics better? Or does it stint on basic skills and end up getting nothing in return? Unfortunately, that's an empirical question, and the critics don't seem much interested in empirical evidence.

For example, here's Richard Neill. Neill is a member of the Texas State Board of Education, and this is what he wrote in 1997 about the infamous "Rainforest Algebra" text:

My point is this: Addison-Wesley's watered down algebra destroys the true beauty of mathematics. You see, math helps mold children. It teaches them perseverance, attention to detail, critical thinking skills and discipline.

Here we get to the core issue: not teaching math but fighting moral decay. Neill doesn't seem to care whether this textbook does or doesn't teach kids how to use algebra. What he cares about is molding children via perseverance and discipline. Apparently, if math is tedious and hard to learn, that's a good thing.

Count me out. If math can't be made fun and interesting, that's too bad. Kids have to learn it anyway. But if it can be made fun and interesting, surely we should welcome that. After all, if Texans want to teach their children perseverance and discipline, there's always football.

Kevin Drum 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DAVID FRUM IS NOT REASSURED....I don't know whether to be scared, confused, or both. David Frum, a great admirer of President Bush, nonetheless was unhappy about last week's speech:

The problem is not that his speech Tuesday night failed to quell his critics: No speech could have done that. The problem is that his speech failed to reassure his worried supporters.

....The president could have talked about the capture of weapons caches, the discovery of an insurgent torture chamber with four shackled Iraqi victims, and the rescue of Australian hostage Douglas Wood.

....Americans want to hear a plan for victory....We have a full-scale terrorism war on our hands in Iraq, a bigger war than the administration expected, backed by at least one regional government, Syria's, and abetted by another, Iran's.

On Sept. 20, 2001, the president said: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

Have those words been abandoned? If not, what consequences will these hostile regimes face?

On the one hand, Frum seems to be saying merely that our policies are OK but Bush's speech was bad. He needed to do a better job of explaining what's going right in Iraq.

On the other hand, he also seems to be unhappy that Bush didn't take the opportunity on Tuesday to announce a "plan for victory" that included a declaration of war on Syria and Iran.

This strikes me as a bad thing to be cagey about. I'm used to liberals being hesitant about what to recommend in Iraq, since there don't seem to be any good options left to us, but are even conservatives now unsure of what to do next? Does Frum think we need more troops? A wider war that includes Iran and Syria? Or just better PR? He owes us a little more clarity here.

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN'S PRESIDENT....Here in the United States, the universal descriptive shorthand for Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be "ultraconservative," "hardline," and "fundamentalist." But although this may be the facet of Ahmadinejad's character that fascinates westerners, Reza Aslan reminds us today that it isn't necessarily what Iranians themselves care most about:

Despite the shrill rhetoric coming from Washington, where officials are now wasting their time trying to determine whether the incoming Iranian president was or was not a radical student hostage taker 26 years ago, Ahmadinejad did not win because of widespread fraud or because reform-minded voters boycotted the elections (though both played small roles). He won because most Iranians...saw him as the only candidate willing to talk about what nearly everyone in Iran regardless of class, degree of piety or political affiliation is most concerned about: massive inflation, high unemployment and soaring housing prices.

While Rafsanjani and the other half-dozen or so presidential candidates stumbled over each other with promises of social reform and rapprochement with the West, Ahmadinejad promised to stop corruption in the government, distribute aid to the outlying provinces, promote healthcare, raise the minimum wage and help the young with home and business loans.

For more about Ahmadinejad's focus on poverty and "Iran's growing wealth gap," check out this Guardian profile.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALGEBRA TEXTBOOK FINALE....Thanks to reader MH, we now have a definitive answer to last night's algebra textbook question: it turns out that Contemporary Mathematics in Context does indeed have two indexes, a "topic" index and a "context" index. The "F" section of the topic index is shown on the right, and it appears to have a fairly standard collection of high school math entries. A scanned image of both the topic and context indexes is here (warning: large PDF).

MH also provides a possible explanation for the initial citation of the wrong index by Evers and Clopton:

It is possible that Evers' and Clopton's error was inadvertent. In the book, the context index appears after the mathematical topics index. If they looked for the index in the same way I did namely, open the book to the last page and flip backwards they would encounter the context index first. So, if they assumed that there was only one index, then they may have been only guilty (in this instance, anyway) of shoddy scholarship, not pure hackery.

That could be. In any case, it appears that Evers and Clopton highlighted the index primarily as a substitute for a fair discussion of the books themselves. In fact, their main substantive complaint was about CMiC's lack of emphasis on factoring polynomials, and a reader who has contributed to CMiC emailed to explain that this was deliberate:

[Older texts use] what we would call a theory of equations approach (aka traditional with heavy emphasis on factoring)....That is, everything that you do is directed towards writing x= ______.

....[CMiC] and other NSF funded projects...generally take approaches called the
functions-based approach. The idea there is that you think about functions and analyze the relationship between input and outputs. It is only in the context of functions that you start to ask: where does this function hit the x-axis? Or, how can I make a function that hits the x-axis in these places (we'd call that interpolation)?

So, traditionally, students were exposed to page after page of 'how to factor this specific form' whereas in [CMiC] students are expected to make use of factoring, but it's not a huge focus.

I don't have any independent opinion about which approach is correct, since that's obviously a pretty technical pedagogical question. Regardless, citing the context index as a measure of frivolity while ignoring the topic index is clearly unfair and misleading. Ravitch, Evers, Clopton, and the Wall Street Journal owe their readers a retraction.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 2, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

PLAMEGATE UPDATE....Here's the Newsweek piece about Karl Rove and Plamegate that I mentioned earlier today. There's not really a lot there. Michael Isikoff reports that "one of [Matt] Cooper's sources" was Karl Rove, a factoid that he sources to "two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House." However, he doesn't say what Rove was a source for. Rove's lawyer confirmed to Isikoff that Rove spoke to Cooper, but added that "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA."

Kevin Drum 7:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WIMBLEDON....By the way, that was a pretty good match this morning, wasn't it? Being the late-rising West Coast slacker that I am, I rarely get to see the women's final, but I decided to rouse my ass out of bed for this year's all-Southern California matchup and I'm glad I did. Great stuff.

Can I do it again tomorrow? We'll see. That one should be a pretty good match too.

Kevin Drum 3:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SLACKER FRENCH?....Matt Yglesias points out today that although French GDP per capita is considerably lower than America's, it's mostly because they have "fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations." Higher unemployment is also a factor, but basically Matt is right: the French have simply chosen to work less and have more leisure than Americans do.

I wonder how many Americans would make that choice if they could? I used to hang out with a bunch of Swiss guys (who eventually bought the company I worked for), and although the Swiss have a reputation for being pretty industrious, they basically thought we were insane for taking only two weeks of vacation a year.

I pretty much agreed with them although more in theory than in practice. Like a lot of people, I never even used up my two weeks of vacation a year, and when I left the company I got a big check for unused vacation pay. And I was far from the worst. I had people working for me that I literally had to force out the door because they had accrued 300 hours of unused vacation time and would start losing it unless they took some time off.

Still, I wonder: If you had the option of taking an 8% pay cut in return for getting six weeks of vacation per year instead of two, would you do it? I'll bet a lot of people would.

Kevin Drum 2:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAMEGATE ABOUT TO BREAK?....The big news for today is that Lawrence O'Donnell says he knows who leaked Valerie Plame's name to the press:

I revealed in yesterday's taping of the McLaughlin Group that Time magazine's emails will reveal that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper's source. I have known this for months but didn't want to say it at a time that would risk me getting dragged into the grand jury.

....Since I revealed the big scoop, I have had it reconfirmed by yet another highly authoritative source. Too many people know this. It should break wide open this week. I know Newsweek is working on an 'It's Rove!' story and will probably break it tomorrow.

If this turns out to be true, it wouldn't be a big surprise. We all remember what Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, said two years ago:

At the end of the day, it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.

Based on this and other tidbits of information, Rove and "Scooter" Libby have been the prime suspects for a while. What's more, the White House knows it. So if Newsweek does break this story on Sunday, what do you think their reaction will be? They've had plenty of time to prepare for this day, after all.

My guess would be: furious counterattack. Karl did nothing wrong. Everybody knew about Plame already. Wilson is on a witch hunt. Patrick Fitzgerald is out of control. Liberals are just trying to get even for Clinton. Etc.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

UPDATE: Here's the Newsweek piece. Michael Isikoff reports that "one of Cooper's sources" was Karl Rove, a factoid that he sources to "two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House." Rove's lawyer confirmed to Isikoff that Rove spoke to Cooper, but said "he did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA."

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ON ALGEBRA TEXTBOOKS THROUGH THE AGES....Our story so far: Diane Ravitch wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week in which she bemoaned the "dumbing down" of math textbooks. As an example, she noted that the index for the letter "F" in a classic 1973 algebra textbook included topics such as factoring and functions, while the index for a newer text listed subjects like football and ferris wheels.

An emailer wrote to tell me this was wrong: the text in question has two indexes, and the topic index includes entries for functions, formulas, fractional exponents, and all the other usual topics of introductory algebra. Quoting the context index was just a bit of agit-prop designed to mislead readers about the content of the book.

I emailed Ravitch to ask about this and she pleaded ignorance, saying she was just quoting from a book chapter by Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton. As it turns out, she was quoting from Chapter 8 of Our Schools & Our Future, a 2003 publication of the Hoover Institution. Here's a screen capture of the relevant section of the chapter. I've photoshopped it to bring the text and the table together:

There's not much question about it: Evers and Clopton excerpted only the context index from the newer book, ignoring the topic index. To find out why, I called Evers at the Hoover Institution. However, like Ravitch, he pleaded ignorance and suggested I call his co-author, who had the original source materials they had used.

So I called Clopton on Thursday. Was there a second index in the book? "I don't recall that at all," he said. Then a pause. "I don't believe it." But he said he'd dig through his source material and call me back on Friday.

Friday rolled around and there was no call. So I called and left a message. An hour later I called again. By the end of the day, I still hadn't heard back.

[UPDATE: My mistake. On Saturday I discovered a message from Clopton in my spam folder saying he was still looking for the book.]

This is, to be sure, a minor mystery, but nonetheless it's the kind of minor mystery the blogosphere excels at clearing up. So here's my request. I need to get in touch with someone who has a copy of Contemporary Mathematics in Context, Course One and can check to see if it has two indexes. Even better, if you can scan the "F" section of the topic index and email it to me, I'll post it this weekend so we can make up our own minds. Doesn't that sound exciting?

I should make clear that I'm not entering into a discussion of the merits of this book versus more traditional approaches to math. CMiC is an "integrated" approach to high school math that does away with the old Algebra I/Geometry/Algebra II division and instead covers a little bit of each topic every year. Is this good? Beats me. However, despite the effort to prove otherwise via selective citation of index entries, the books themselves seem to cover roughly the same topics that traditional texts cover, plus a bunch of probability and statistics.

For now, though, all I want is a copy of the "F" section of the topic index. Can anyone help me out?

UPDATE: A final resolution is here. There are indeed two indexes.

Kevin Drum 1:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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July 1, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

REVISIONIST HISTORY....This just cracks me up. (I know, sometimes I'm easily amused.) Today at NRO, Byron York tries to convince us that Democrats should play nice with George Bush's replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor. Why? Because Republicans "cooperated with Democrats to ensure a quick confirmation" back when Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court:

They moved with such speed because Republicans, in particular Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, declined to challenge their records. Ginsburg, in particular, received something of a bye from Republicans despite her former position as general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union; had they chosen to, Republicans could have hung every extreme ACLU position around Ginsburg's neck. Instead, "Sen. Hatch put an orderly and fair process above scoring political points," says one high-ranking staffer involved at the time. "It ensured that the Senate's conduct of the hearings was constructive rather than divisive."

Nice try, Bryon. Here's how Hatch tells the story in his autobiography:

[It] was not a surprise when the President called to talk about the appointment and what he was thinking of doing. President Clinton indicated he was leaning toward nominating Bruce Babbitt....I told him that confirmation would not be easy.

....Our conversation moved to other potential candidates. I asked whether he had considered Judge Stephen Breyer of the First Circuit Court of Appeals or Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals....I knew them both and believed that, while liberal, they were highly honest and capable jurists and their confirmation would not embarrass the President. From my perspective, they were far better than the other likely candidates from a liberal Democrat administration.

In other words, the only reason Hatch decided not to score political points against Clinton's nominees was because Clinton had agreed to nominate the very candidates Hatch wanted him to nominate. So here's my deal for Byron York: if George Bush calls up Patrick Leahy and agrees to nominate the candidate that Leahy recommends, Democrats will guarantee a quick and painless confirmation. I know I don't officially speak for Senate Democrats or anything, but I feel pretty confident about making this promise.

Kevin Drum 9:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FRAMING O'CONNOR....I can't help but think that leading Democrats are setting the bar too low in their statements about Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement. Here's Howard Dean:

Justice O'Connor...has been a voice of moderation whose career was marked by a commitment to placing the law ahead of partisanship and ideology.

....President Bush should follow the example established by President Reagan when he nominated Justice O'Connor. President Reagan had the courage to stand up to the right wing extremists in his party by choosing a moderate, thoughtful jurist.

And here's Harry Reid:

Above all, Justice OConnor has been a voice of reason and moderation on the Court.

It's true that O'Connor has been a swing vote on the court, but statements like these make it sound like she's in the dead center of constitutional jurisprudence. She's not. She's a conservative, and Democrats should make that clear.

Generally speaking I don't have a big problem with O'Connor's tenure on the court, but when even Democrats start calling her a moderate, it moves the goalposts too far. They should be referring to her as a "moderate conservative," a "mainstream conservative," or a "thoughtful conservative." Anything like that is fine. But whatever they call her, they should make it clear that she's a conservative.

After all, if she's really a moderate, then surely a conservative president has the right to appoint someone just a little more conservative than her, right?

UPDATE: In comments, Josh Yelon suggests "Reagan conservative." That works too.

UPDATE 2: Greg Saunders thinks I have it exactly backwards. He makes a good case, though I'm not convinced. I think that if O'Connor gets redefined as the "center," liberals have conceded a battle they shouldn't.

Kevin Drum 2:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SCOTUS CRYSTAL BALL GAZING....My apologies to Brad Plumer for ripping off pretty much his entire post, but here's his prediction of how the Supreme Court fight will go:

Some lunatic winger will get nominated maybe even Jance Rogers Brown the Democrats in the Senate will say, "Oh hell no" and launch a filibuster. So the battle will rage on for a while, Bush's "base" will get riled up and motivated to send in lots and lots of money, conservative judicial activists will blast their opponents with fairly superior firepower, and bobbing heads in the media will start carping on those "obstructionist" Democrats (bonus carping here if the nominee is a woman, minority, and/or Catholic).

Finally Bush will give a very somber speech about withdrawing his nominee, announce that he's very disappointed in the Senate, toss in a few bonus 9/11 references, and nominate some slightly-less-lunatic ultraconservative instead. The new nominee gets treated as the "compromise" candidate, is lauded far and wide as a moderate, and finally gets confirmed after pressure on the Senate Dems to "act like grown-ups" by television pundits who can afford to get their abortions abroad and will have no problem with a Supreme Court hostile to labor and environmental protections.

One would hope not, of course, but is there anyone who finds this scenario wildly implausible?

Not me. Anyone else?

UPDATE: In comments, the focus seems to be on Janice Rogers Brown. Would Bush really nominate her?

I don't think so. Even Bush wouldn't do that. On the other hand, every time I've said "Even Bush wouldn't do that," he's gone ahead and done it. So who knows?

Plus, consider this: May's filibuster compromise pre-qualified her as not being an "extraordinary circumstance" that would provoke a filibuster. She's a freebie!

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THAT LIBERAL MEDIA....The LA Times reports on Kenneth Tomlinson's amateur hour efforts to prove that public broadcasting is too liberal. Here's how guests were categorized:

In one report, he labeled former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) as opposed to the administration for his criticism that the Patriot Act violated civil liberties. Radio host and former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock was listed as "anti-Bush" for saying the military was underpaid. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was tagged "liberal" for an interview with Smiley in which he criticized White House policy in Iraq.

....Half a dozen reporters drew scrutiny as well. Associated Press President Tom Curley was listed in a chart as "liberal/Democrat" and under "oppose administration" for discussing whether there was a need for more government openness on Moyer's program.

This is kindergarten stuff. Coming next: Ted Kennedy is really a conservative because he cosponsored George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPREME COURT NEWS....Sandra Day O'Connor has retired. This is going to be bloody.

Kevin Drum 11:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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