Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

TAXING CAPITAL....Max Sawicky ripped off his blogging cape today and adopted the guise of mild mannered serious economist in order to hold a debate with Tyler Cowen about the recommendations of the president's tax reform panel. Very quickly, though, the debate turned to the subject of capital gains taxes specifically whether Max was willing to raise his hand and say: "I want to in essence double the real rate of taxation on capital income. I don't think the growth rate will fall." Here's how Tyler put it:

Max, are you willing to raise your hand and say: "I want to in essence double the real rate of taxation on capital income. I don't think the growth rate will fall"?

Sadly, the results were unedifying. I demand a rematch.

Basically, I'm on Max's side: I think taxation of capital should be at roughly the same level as taxation of labor income. However, I believe this mostly for reasons of social justice, and it would certainly be handy to have some rigorous economic evidence to back up my noneconomic instincts on this matter. Something juicy and simple for winning lunchtime debates with conservative friends would be best. Unfortunately, Max punts, saying only, "As you know, empirical research seldom settles arguments."

Tyler then accuses of Max of obscurantism and asserts without evidence that "I am asking you to believe that low rates of capital taxation are good for an economy; this accords with most empirics and with most theory."

Perhaps so. But on a question this messy I have little faith in theory. I'd like to hear more about those empirics. Max makes the point that U.S. tax rates on capital are higher than in most countries, and yet our economy is one of the best performing in the world. What's more, we've had higher rates in the past, and have had booming economies regardless. These are good points.

And yet, surely there is some serious comparative research on this matter? Perhaps a consensus within the economics profession? Or not? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 11:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WIKIPEDIA....I use Wikipedia a lot, and I've noticed lately that when I Google something the Wikipedia entry is often one of the top four or five results. It's a genuinely valuable resource.

But don't believe everything you read there. John Seigenthaler tells you why.

(Via Cliopatria.)

Kevin Drum 8:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DON'T BOMB US....In the ever expanding blogosphere, the latest entry is a blog from several Al Jazeera staffers titled, appropriately, "Don't Bomb Us." Here are five things they would like you to know:

  1. Al Jazeera was the first Arab station to ever broadcast interviews with Israeli officials.

  2. Al Jazeera has never broadcast a beheading.

  3. George W. Bush has recieved approximately 500 hours of airtime, while Bin Laden has received about 5 hours of airtime.

  4. Over 50 million people across the world watch Al Jazeera.

  5. The Al Jazeera websites are http://www.aljazeera.net (Arabic) and http://english.aljazeera.net (English). AlJazeera.com, AlJazeerah.info and all other variations have nothing to do with us.

For what it's worth, item #4 is really the only one that matters. After all, whatever war it is that we're fighting, it's obvious that it's primarily a war of ideas and the only way to win that war is via persuasion. Al Jazeera's 50 million viewers are our core audience for our ideas, and bombing their headquarters sure isn't going to do anything to get those viewers on our side.

In any case, "Don't Bomb Us" is your one stop shop for all news about George Bush's alleged desire to reduce Al Jazeera's headquarters to rubble. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Zachary Roth

PRO-CHOICE AT THE FCC....That was quick. Just weeks after the publication of this piece in support of an a la carte cable system (which would require cable companies to let customers select individual channels, instead of being forced to pay for entire packages), FCC chair Kevin Martin has officially come out in favor of a la carte.

Actually, Martin has been inching this way for a while thanks largely to pressure from social conservatives, who, understandably, don't see why they have to pay for MTV to get the Disney Channel but it's still significant that he's made it official, since it adds to the pressure on Congress to act. Looks like more and more people are recognizing that the best way to give parents control over what their kids see not to mention giving everyone a break from skyrocketing cable bills is to actually give consumers the power of choice.

And yes, I think I can survive without the Oxygen Network.

Zachary Roth 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FOXES AND HEDGEHOGS....In a New Yorker piece put online a few days ago, Louis Menand reviews Philip Tetlock's new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? His conclusion:

People who make prediction their business people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables are no better than the rest of us....Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an experts predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote.

Still, some people score higher when it comes to predicting the political future and some score lower. What accounts for the difference? According to Tetlock:

Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who know one big thing, aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who do not get it, and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible ad hocery that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.

Menand points out that Tetlock's hedgehogs are wrong more often than his foxes, but that's not the end of the story. "The upside of being a hedgehog, though, is that when youre right you can be really and spectacularly right." Which explains why Time magazine named Power Line their blog of the year for 2004.

So there's your lesson for the day. Avoid ideologues on both left and right. Stay away from people who have unshakable faith in their convictions. The more confident someone sounds, the more likely they are to be wrong. Steer clear of cranks with big theories. Pay more attention to statistical and actuarial formulas than to expert opinion. And ignore the folks at Power Line. They aren't due to be right again for a long time.

Kevin Drum 2:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MARCH OF THE BLOGOSPHERE....Instapundit on politicians and the hawkosphere:

THE WHITE HOUSE has released its Iraq strategy document. I think it owes a bit of a debt to Steven Den Beste.

Jim Henley on the same subject:

I felt safer when the freelance shills took their cues from our rulers than I do now that our rulers have started taking their cues from the shills.

I think I'm with Henley on this. Though only barely.

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUR BOOMING ECONOMY....Ann Althouse takes the New York Times to task for suggesting that there might be a gray lining to today's news of healthy economic growth. Her commenters heartily agree. The droopy old Times is just trying to bring us all down even though the economy is obviously in dandy shape.

But that depends on who you are, doesn't it? Here's the LA Times on Tuesday:

For the second year in a row, wage and salary increases will average around 3.5% in 2006, several compensation experts predict.

The good news is that the average paycheck in theory should keep up with inflation, which is expected to be about 3% next year.

The bad news is that most employees will get less than 3.5%. That average is driven up by very high raises as much as 9% expected in a few fields with acute staff shortages, including nursing and financial services.

"If you're not in a high-demand position or covered by a union agreement, maybe you'll get 1% or 2%, if anything at all," said John Putzier, president of FirStep Inc., a Pittsburgh-area human resources firm. "It's going to be spotty."

So in an economy that's allegedly in terrific shape, workers will see an average pay increase that....barely matches inflation. And that's the good news! Most of them will actually see a decrease compared to inflation. Hooray!

A good economy is one in which lots of people make lots of money, not one in which Donald Trump's investments do better than last year. Guess which kind of economy we're in right now?

Kevin Drum 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RUMSFELD AND PACE....Via Tim Dunlop, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports on a recent exchange between Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The subject was torture:

When UPI's Pam Hess asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld replied that "obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility" other than to voice disapproval.

But Pace had a different view. "It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it," the general said.

Rumsfeld interjected: "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."

But Pace meant what he said. "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," he said, firmly.

This is why Abu Ghraib happened: because of people like Rumsfeld, who insisted on cutting corners, using clever circumlocutions in place of plain language, and refusing to take a firm stand on doing the right thing. Pace is having none of it, and good for him.

The military may not always live up to its ideals, but at least they insist on having some. Rumsfeld should have been fired long ago for not understanding this.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FEAR OF FLYING....Via Talkleft, we learn that Air New Zealand and Qantas have official policies that ban men from occupying seats next to unaccompanied children.

Question: who should be more offended by this? Men or women?

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLANNING FOR WITHDRAWAL....With all the scuttlebutt pointing toward a presidential announcement that we'll start withdrawing troops from Iraq soon, Fred Kaplan asks the right questions:

President Bush is going to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. That no longer seems in doubt. The question is: How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do?

....More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this?

If Bush is serious about starting a phased withdrawal from Iraq, then good for him whatever his reasons. But given the history of this war, I hope his political team is kept far, far away from both the planning and the timing of the withdrawal. For that matter, I hope Donald Rumsfeld keeps his opinions to himself too. This time, let's set some serious military goals and then let the military figure out the rest, midterms be damned. Karl Rove and his pollsters should not be invited to this party.

Kevin Drum 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SCISSORS ON AIRPLANES....The Washington Post reports that TSA is considering new rules that would allow passengers to carry small knives and scissors on board airplanes. This sounds fine to me, and TSA's reasoning also sounds fine: they want screeners to spend less time searching for scissors and more time looking for explosives, and hardened cockpit doors prevent terrorists from taking over an airplane with small knives anyway.

Still, even though I recognize that reasonable people can disagree about this, surely this assessment from Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, is a wee bit over the top:

When weapons are allowed back on board an aircraft, the pilots will be able to land the plane safety but the aisles will be running with blood.

Well, no, they won't. Without the possibility of hijacking the airplane, there's not much point in threatening passengers, is there? And in a post-9/11 world, a pair of scissors or a small knife really won't get you very far anyway.

Let's leave the histrionic fearmongering to local new anchors, where it belongs, shall we?

Kevin Drum 12:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 29, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE TIMES AND THE LAPTOP....A couple of weeks ago the New York Times ran an article about a stolen Iranian laptop that it said contained "more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments [that] showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead." Surprisingly, though, readers learned very little about what was on the laptop. In fact, in a 3,000 word article there were exactly three actual facts about the contents of the laptop, summarized in a single paragraph:

One major revelation was work done on a sphere of detonators meant to ignite conventional explosives that, in turn, compress the radioactive fuel to start the nuclear chain reaction. The documents also wrestled with how to position a heavy ball presumably of nuclear fuel inside the warhead to ensure stability and accuracy during the fiery plunge toward a target. And a bomb exploding at a height of about 2,000 feet, as envisioned by the documents, suggests a nuclear weapon, analysts said, since that altitude is unsuitable for conventional, chemical or biological arms.

Question: was it accurate to refer to this as a "nuclear warhead," as the Times article does repeatedly? Or should the reporters have said that Iranian missile engineers appeared to be "modifying or designing a reentry vehicle able to hold a spherical object that looks to be a nuclear warhead"?

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security says that this is not merely a trivial distinction. And there's more. In a series of emails to the Times, he argues that the story was misleading in at least three different ways:

  • To a layman, "nuclear warhead" is loaded language that implies an actual design for an atomic bomb. In fact, the laptop contains no evidence of a bomb program.

  • Using this language obscures the importance of an obvious question: does Iran really have a bomb program, or did these plans come from an overenthusiastic missile engineering team unconnected with the political leadership of the country? As it stands, the Times story mentions this possibility only in passing.

  • The Times article quotes no one from outside the Bush administration who is skeptical about whether the information on the laptop represents a genuinely sophisticated program, despite the fact that a number of technical reservations exist. See the email exchange for more. (The Times quotes several people who question whether the entire thing was faked or not, but no one who questions the laptop's information on a technical basis.)

Taken together, all of these things serve to paint a grimmer picture than the evidence supports, and via email, Albright says the New York Times, of all papers, should have taken extra pains not to hype intelligence from the Bush administration:

The NYT should have not used loaded language in order to avoid hyping the Iranian nuclear threat. Such language belies the Times commitment to be more careful about its reporting and the use of its sources after its faulty reporting on Iraqs presumed reconstituted nuclear weapon program.

....I do not want to give the impression that I am trying to downplay the significance of the information on the laptop. I believe this information is very troubling and should be fully assessed and investigated. However, I believe that the best party to conduct an independent, credible investigation is the IAEA. It has started its own investigation. However, the IAEA will need more time, and it will need more information declassified by the United States.

I think Albright has a good point. Unfortunately, given the Bush administration's track record, there's good reason to be skeptical that they're telling us the whole story here. The Times should have been more careful.

Kevin Drum 10:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

INTERESTING...."Virginia Governor Commutes Death Sentence." Seems someone else will be the lucky one to oversee the 1000th execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. This could be seen as Warner's last significant action as governor or first as presidential candidate. Compare with Bill Clinton and the execution of mentally ill Ricky Ray Rector. Something may be changing in American politics.

Amy Sullivan 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOB WOODWARD'S REPORTING....Franklin Foer passes on the following anecdote about Bob Woodward's reporting style:

This is what I'm reliably told: Colin Powell has been aggressively jockeying to manage Woodward's current book project on the Iraq War. He has been especially irate that Cheney the Newman to his Seinfeld has managed to successfully outmaneuver him by currying favor with Woodward. But has Cheney really secured Woodward's ear? Or is he just making it seem that way, so that Powell preemptively gives him all the goods? We can be sure that Woodward's footnotes will never tell.

And thus the great mystery of Bob Woodward. After all, the whipsawing technique he uses is itself morally neutral. It can be a force for good or a force for evil. But which is it in Woodward's case?

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS...Last week I met Henry Farrell during a trip to Washington DC and learned, among other things, what an IPA is, drinkwise. (India Pale Ale, for those of you as ignorant of alcohol as I am.) Today he proves his worth again by praising Charles Palliser's "wonderful historical novel," The Quincunx. This comes as a passing reference in a long colloquium about the even greater wonderfulness of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I haven't read. Sounds like they'd both be great Christmas presents.

Just thought I'd pass that along, this being the shopping season and all.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONGRESSIONAL CORRUPTION....Jeffrey Birnbaum has a story in today's Washington Post about the growing wave of corruption in Congress. Over at Josh's place, reader TC cries foul.

TC's complaint is that Birnbaum makes the recent corruption scandals sound like a bipartisan affair, when in fact it's almost exclusively Republicans who are under investigation. However, although TC is technically acurate, I think his criticism of Birnbaum is fundamentally misplaced.

Here's the thing: the evidence indicates that Birnbaum is basically right: most voters don't pay much attention to politics and don't understand that it's mostly Republicans who have been gaming the system in unprecedented numbers in recent years. Hell, most people don't even know that Republicans control Congress. [UPDATE: Apparently that's not true. See below.]

Now, it's fair to say that this is partly due to reporting like Birnbaum's in the first place, but it's naive to think that's the whole story. Take a look at this instructive chart from the Wall Street Journal, which shows approval ratings for various people and institutions over the past four years:

Sure, George Bush's approval ratings are at record lows, and Dick Cheney's are even lower. But guess what? The lowest approval ratings of all are for Democrats in Congress.

Unfair? Sure. The fault of pathologically "balanced" reporters like Birnbaum? Partially. But if you play in the big leagues, you have to learn to play in the big leagues. If Democrats want to get credit for being a cleaner party than Republicans, they need to make some splashy proposals that make their differences crystal clear.

A couple of months ago I suggested a list of items Democrats could all sign up to on the subject of congressional "accountability," but that's a dry subject. Norm Ornstein is interested, but probably not too many other people. So maybe instead the focus should be purely on graft and corruption and K Street largesse. But not just criticism of Republicans. It has to be accompanied by a set of firm pledges from Democrats about how they're going to clean the place up. And the pledges better be simple and compelling.

If Dems don't do this, they have no one to blame but themselves. Birnbaum isn't the true villain here. He's merely a symptom of how the world works.

UPDATE: Hmmm. According to the latest polling from Democracy Corps, 81% of Americans correctly identified Republicans as the party in control of Congress. It seems like I've seen much lower figures for this before, but I guess I was imagining it. Another factoid bites the dust.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHIITE DEATH SQUADS?....It looks like everyone is now reporting that Iraq's security forces have been heavily infiltrated by Shiite "death squads" that are carrying out hundreds of executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods. The New York Times version of this story is here. A longer and more detailed Los Angeles Times story is here. Here's an excerpt from the LAT story by Solomon Moore:

An Aug. 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the [Shiite] Badr militia, listed the names of 14 Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep in the Baghdad neighborhood of Iskaan.

Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed. All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.

A Western diplomat in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity said that "we hear repeated stories" of police raids on houses and indiscriminate arrests of Iraqi civilians many of them Sunni Arab Muslims.

"And they disappear, but the bodies show up maybe two or three governorates away," the diplomat said.

As you may recall, Knight Ridder's Tom Lasseter reported the same thing over a month ago, suggesting that crack units within the Iraqi army have essentially become Shiite militias that take orders from local Shiite clerics. In other words, "infiltrated" probably isn't really the right word. It's been the plan all along.

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LATEST PLAME GOSSIP....As we all know, Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, had a meeting with Patrick Fitzgerald shortly before Fitzgerald announced the indictment of Scooter Libby last month. Scuttlebutt at the time suggested that Fitzgerald had been ready to indict Rove, but got information at the meeting that made him hold off.

What kind of information? Nobody knows, but apparently it had something to do with a conversation between Luskin and Time reporter Viveca Novak (no relation to Robert Novak). From the Washington Post:

It's not clear why Luskin believes [Viveca] Novak's deposition could help Rove, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, who remains under investigation into whether he provided false statements in the case. But a person familiar with the matter said Luskin cited his conversations with Novak in persuading Fitzgerald not to indict Rove in late October.

....It could not be learned what Luskin and Novak, who are friends, discussed that could help prove Rove did nothing illegal in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to reporters and the subsequent investigation of it.

In other news, Raw Story reports that Fitzgerald has reinterviewed Rove's assistant, Susan Ralston, who testified last August about Rove's conversation with Time reporter Matt Cooper, in which Plame was discussed. (This is the famous conversation that ended with Rove murmuring, "I've already said too much.") Ralston didn't log the call, and told Fitzgerald it was because it came in through the White House switchboard:

But those close to the probe tell Raw Story that Fitzgerald obtained documentary evidence showing that other unrelated calls transferred to Roves office by the switchboard were logged. He then called Ralston back to testify.

Earlier this month, attorneys say Fitzgerald received additional testimony from Ralston who said that Rove instructed her not to log a phone call Rove had with Cooper about Plame in July 2003.

Ralston also provided Fitzgerald with more information and clarification about several telephone calls Rove allegedly made to a few reporters, including syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the lawyers said.

I'm not even going to try to speculate about what all this means. There's just not enough data. But one thing is clear: whatever's going on here, it sure doesn't appear to be good news for Karl Rove.

Kevin Drum 1:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 28, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

REPEAT ABORTIONS....Garance Franke-Ruta writes in the New Republic about Amy, a woman who had an abortion at age 18 and then had a second one at age 24:

"Oh well, that's over," she recalls thinking immediately afterward. "And then I didn't think about it very much." She didn't talk about it very much either, and, even today, she is loath to reveal it. "I rarely talk about the second abortion because of society's judgments about women who have a second abortion," she says. "It's like, 'Oh, you're allowed one mistake.'" But not two.

....Despite its prevalence, repeat abortion is the least discussed or researched aspect of abortion in the United States....Yet the reluctance of liberals and pro-choice advocates to shine a spotlight on the troubling repeat-abortion phenomenon has obscured a growing public health issue. Studies suggest that women having repeat abortions as compared with those having first-time abortions are more likely to be minorities, poor, and victims of sexual abuse in short, among society's most vulnerable.

It doesn't really surprise me to learn that women who get multiple abortions tend on average to be the poor and vulnerable. As Garance notes, there have been tremendous advances in contraception over the past three decades, and it's not surprising that those at the bottom of society's heap are the least likely to take advantage of them.

But I was surprised to learn that the subject of repeat abortions is apparently so taboo that NARAL refuses to even comment on it. Garance's main policy proposal is that "post-abortion care and counseling services ought to be made available domestically as a routine part of women's health care," and this sure doesn't sound very controversial to me. Is NARAL really unwilling to even discuss this in public?

Liberals are in favor of safe access to abortion, but surely we're also in favor of helping people get control over their lives too. If the evidence shows that post-abortion counseling helps poor women, cuts down on sexual abuse, and reduces the rate of abortion, what's not to like?

Kevin Drum 7:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IS PRESIDENT BUSH CLUELESS?....Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy notes that conservative bloggers were predictably scathing toward Joe Biden's op-ed in the Washington Post calling for "specific goals and a timetable for achieving each one" in Iraq. Comments ranged from "clueless" to "fundamentally wrong" to bits of random kindergarten name calling (from Hugh, natch).

But then, surprise! The White House released a statement saying that "Sen. Biden described a plan remarkably similar to the administration's plan to fight and win the war on terror."

Does this mean that President Bush is also "clueless" and "fundamentally wrong"? There is a strange silence from the conservo-sphere. Just goes to show how dangerous it is when you blog before you know the talking points.

Kevin Drum 6:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

READING BOOKS....In the LA Times today, Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University, complains that Google and the internet are undermining the printed word:

Much as automobiles discourage walking, with undeniable consequences for our health and girth, textual snippets-on-demand threaten our need for the larger works from which they are extracted. Why read "Bowling Alone" or even the shorter article upon which it builds when you can lift a page that contains some key words?

....Will effortless random access erode our collective respect for writing as a logical, linear process? Such respect matters because it undergirds modern education, which is premised on thought, evidence and analysis rather than memorization and dogma. Reading successive pages and chapters teaches us how to follow a sustained line of reasoning.

Now, Baron clearly gets at least one thing wrong in her op-ed, when she suggests that old-school library stack browsing promoted serendipity while "today's snippet literacy efficiently keeps us on the straight and narrow path, with little opportunity for fortuitous side trips." No one who has browsed the internet and followed a long string of hyperlinks just out of curiosity can possibly believe this.

And yet, I suspect that Baron's main point has something to it. As Jeanne d'Arc writes today:

I find that the more I read online, the less I read off. I don't think it's even a matter of using up my reading time. It actually destroys brain cells or something, because if I've been doing too much online reading, I lose the patience for following a sustained or subtle argument, or reading a complex novel.

The same is true of me. It's not just that I spend less time reading books, it's that I find my mind wandering when I do read. After a few paragraphs, or maybe a page or two, I'll run into a sentence that suddenly reminds me of something and then spend the next minute staring into space thinking of something entirely unrelated to the book at hand. Eventually I snap back, but obviously this behavior reduces both my reading rate and my reading comprehension.

Is this really because of blogging? I don't know for sure, but it feels like it's related to blogging, and it's a real problem. As wonderful as blogs, magazines, and newspapers are, there's simply no way to really learn about a subject except by reading a book and the less I do that, the less I understand about the broader, deeper issues that go beyond merely the outrage of the day.

Then again, maybe it's just Jeanne and me. Anyone else feel this way?

Kevin Drum 2:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ART BLOGGING....This is kind of cool. Kriston Capps is now the official blogger for the Smithsonian American Art Museum's new blog, Eye Level:

So what's this museum blog all about? Here's the short version: Eye Level investigates American artits history, evolution, and currents. The hope is that this blog hosts a vital conversation among artists, curators, collectors, and enthusiasts on a broad range of subjects related to American art.

Not bad for a UT fan! Check it out.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

COLUMN FODDER....From The Corner:

CLARK NEWS NETWORK [Jonah Goldberg]
CNN is giving Ramsey Clark a lot of play from Baghdad. It annoys me.

It annoys you? Hell, Ramsey Clark is a godsend for conservative writers looking for column fodder. I'm the one who ought to be annoyed.

Kevin Drum 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SHARON AND BARGHOUTI....Over at Democracy Arsenal, Suzanne Nossel reminds us that Iraq isn't the only place in the Middle East that has an election coming up. On January 25, Palestinians will vote in parliamentary elections, and the winner may be the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah party:

In an interesting wrinkle, in Fatah primaries held in Ramallah over the weekend, the overwhelming victor was Marwan Barghouti, a long-time leader who is currently serving five successive life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement in terrorist activities.

The results have fueled speculation that a (long-discussed) pardon for Barghouti may be in the works. Barghouti, 46 years old, represents a new generation of Palestinian leadership who commands the loyalty of radical youths to a degree Abbas never has. A former leader of the notorious al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, Barghouti has "street cred" among Palestinians who believe they have no choice but to stand up to Israel through any means possible.

Suzanne speculates that this has the potential to be a "Nixon in China" moment: "For both the Israelis and the Palestinians it's become clear that at this point, with hopes dashed so often, only tested, trusted hard-liners will be given a mandate to compromise." Perhaps Sharon on one side and Barghouti on the other could be the pair of Nixons to make this happen?

I don't have any real expertise of my own to bring to bear here, but it's an interesting thought. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IDENTITY THEFT....Since I wrote an article about identity theft in the latest issue of the Monthly, I was interested in Saturday's Wall Street Journal article about the latest attempts to pass identity theft legislation. It turns out that even in the wake of the ChoicePoint debacle earlier this year, in which personal data on 145,000 people was sold to criminals, Congress still can't manage to pass even weak new regulations:

Many privacy advocates, casting a suspicious eye on companies that fail to secure personal information, want legislative language in federal legislation similar to the seminal California law that requires disclosure of security lapses regardless of the potential for harm. Businesses say that poses too big a cost burden for them and say notification should be limited to breaches that threaten a "significant risk" of identity theft.

Companies say notification is expensive and so is replacing debit and credit cards. America's Community Bankers, a trade association representing community banks, told a House panel this month that legislation should require those responsible for a data breach to pick up the tab for notifying customers and reissuing cards. It figured that reissuing debit or credit cards can cost as much as $15 each.

....The conflict over consumer notification isn't the only one stalling legislation. Three Senate committees are divided over a provision in a bill approved by the Commerce Committee during the summer that would let consumers "freeze" their credit reports, blocking access and preventing criminals from opening new accounts under their names.

Several states already allow consumers to do just that, and proponents view the freeze as a main weapon in the fight against identity theft. But credit bureaus, banks and other financial institutions argue that freezes slow down electronic commerce and hurt consumers when they really do need credit.

This is pathetic. There are some genuinely tricky regulatory issues when it comes to identity theft, but requiring disclosure of lost data is a no-brainer. The fact that the credit industry is fighting even a feeble measure like this just shows how unseriously they take the whole issue of identity theft.

The same is true of credit freezes. Basically, a credit freeze prevents credit reporting agencies from revealing your credit history without first getting your express permission. This makes it nearly impossible for thieves to acquire phony credit cards in your name, since card issuers won't issue new cards without first requesting your credit score from a credit reporting agency. If you've frozen your report, you'll be notified when the request is made and can shut it down immediately.

The downside is that if you apply for new credit, you can't get it until the credit reporting agency has contacted you first. In other words, no more same-day credit. It might take two or three days instead.

That's not much of a downside, is it? In fact, for my money, all credit reports ought to be frozen by default. If you prefer to have your report unfrozen that is, you're willing to run the risk of ID theft in return for slightly faster approval of your credit applications then you can unfreeze it.

There's simply no reason for consumers not to have this choice, and the credit industry opposes it solely because the slight delay it introduces might make people think twice about applying for new credit and that's bad for business. Who cares about identity theft when there's same-day credit to be extended?

The fact is, both of these measures should be no-brainers. The cost is low and the benefit is high. But the credit industry opposes them because they simply don't care about identity theft. After all, they don't pay the price when your credit report is wrecked. You do.

That's why the credit industry should be made responsible for identity theft. If they had to pay damages whenever they lost personal data or falsely issued credit to ID thieves, they wouldn't be opposing measures like this. They'd be begging for them.

Kevin Drum 1:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 27, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

ROUTE IRISH....For the time being, I think I'm going to assume that this isn't true. I don't have any good reason for disbelieving it, but I really need a break from news of depraved behavior, and for now that's a good enough motive.

Besides, I suppose it's possible that it really isn't true. You never know.

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MISCELLANEOUS EZRA BLOGGING....I've always pronounced "banal" so that it rhymes with "anal." Thus I'm crushed to find out from Ezra that I'm in the minority: among the experts on the American Heritage Usage Panel, only 38% prefer that pronunciation, compared to 46% who prefer the pronunciation that rhymes with "canal." I've always considered that hopelessly pretentious. I wonder if it's an East coast/West coast thing?

But I still have a question for Ezra: how could you and a friend have gotten into even a "meaningless dispute" over this? It only takes a few seconds to look it up.

On a related Ezra note, sign me up as a Christmas carol lover. Actually, that's an unrelated note, isn't it? Either way, I love Christmas carols, especially classic tunes anything written after 1900 is suspect in my book. For the perfect rendition of a classic carol, check out Amy Grant's version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Great stuff.

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IMMIGRATION....In a few days I'll go to the polls to vote in a special election for the congressional seat vacated by Chris Cox, who was confirmed as head of the SEC last July. We've got the usual Republican and Democratic candidates on the ballot, of course, but we've also got an American Independent candidate: Jim Gilchrist, founder of The Minutemen, a group that became briefly famous earlier this year by heading down to the Arizona border with lawn chairs in tow to prevent the United States from being "devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens."

Did it work? As a PR exercise it worked great, and although the Minutemen themselves didn't accomplish much, the pressure they've put on the Border Patrol for the past year seems to have paid off: vegetable growers say they're likely to get only 22,000 workers for their fields this year, compared to the 54,000 they need. Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association, explains why:

"There are just some jobs people don't want to do," Nassif said. "It's the most developed nation in the world using a foreign workforce, and people need to recognize that. We need to make them legal."

Jack Vessey [who runs a vegetable farm near El Centro] said he listed openings for 300 laborers at the state office of employment last week to prepare the lettuce fields for harvest. "We got one person," he said. "He showed up and said, 'I'm not going to do that.' "

Now that's an odd thing, isn't it? Immigration foes like Gilchrist insist that if we only cut down on the supply of Mexican farm workers, wages and benefits would go up and plenty of Americans would be available for harvesting our leafy greens. And yet, despite this year's severe shortage of Mexican labor, Vessey is apparently offering the same backbreaking work, brutal conditions, low pay, and nonexistent benefits that he always has. Likewise, Ed Curry, a chili farmer who has given up on employing legal workers because the H2A program has "too many snafus," says only that he would be willing to pay legal workers "a bit more" than he does now.

Is this reluctance to increase wages caused by a fear that higher labor costs would make their produce too expensive to sell? On its face, that seems unlikely. Even a whopping 40% increase in farm wages would increase the wholesale cost of produce by only about 10%. But a shortage caused by letting crops go unharvested would surely have the same effect and supermarkets would continue to buy.

That's not to say that foreign competition isn't a real issue for California farmers. It is. Still, the lesson from this natural experiment along the Arizona border seems pretty clear: farmers are flatly unwilling to pay their workers more. Whether that's because it would price their produce out of the market or because even a big wage increase wouldn't attract enough legal workers hardly matters. The evidence indicates that farmers would rather let their crops rot in the field than pay ten bucks an hour.

In other words, Gilchrist and his nativist ilk are barking up the wrong tree. What we need isn't a bunch of yahoos dotting the border with their lawn chairs and cell phones. Instead, we need to recognize that like it or not Americans very clearly want and rely on immigrant labor. The key, then, is not to eliminate it, but to figure out a rational way of limiting illegal immigration without simultaneously demonizing immigrants themselves. This might include programs that make it harder to cross the border illegally, but only if we also provide legal status to many more immigrants than we do now.

This combination easier legal immigration paired with tougher illegal immigration would provide immigrants with a greater incentive to try the legal route instead of the all-too-deadly "season of death" route. It would also provide us with the pool of immigrant labor we obviously want, increase immigrant wages, and cut down on the abuse they suffer from employers who know how easily they can be blackmailed.

Seems like it would be worth a try.

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COMPARE AND CONTRAST....So how are things going in Iraq? First up, let's hear from Ayad Allawi, formerly prime minister in the interim government:

In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said.

....'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'

He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.

Next up is Abdul Aziz Hakim, one of the "fellow Shias" Allawi was warning about. Hakim, who heads the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the current government, oversees the party's widely feared Badr Brigade, ground zero for "death squads and secret torture centres." However, not only does Hakim flatly deny Allawi's allegations, he suggests the real problem is exactly the opposite:

The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.

....Hakim gave few details of what getting tough would entail, other than making clear it would require more weapons, with more firepower, than the United States is currently supplying.

....In Iraq, "there are plans to confront terrorists, approved by security agencies, but the Americans reject that," Hakim said. "Because of that mistaken policy, we have lost a lot. One of the victims was my brother Mohammad Bakir, because of American policies."

"For instance, the ministries of Interior and Defense want to carry out some operations to clean out some areas" in Baghdad and around the country, including volatile Anbar province, in the west, he said.

There is domestic politics involved in all this, of course, but the bottom line is that Ayad Allawi, who is no shrinking violet, is already horrified by the activities of the current Iraqi government. The most powerful unofficial member of the current government, however, says you ain't seen nothing yet.

This does not sound good.

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November 26, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

VOCABULARY QUIZ....Bret Chenkin, a social studies and English teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School in Vermont, is in hot water for giving his students a politically loaded vocabulary quiz. AP's much-quoted story provides this example:

I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes.

Well, that seems funny enough to me. But let's test this. Suppose Chenkin were a conservative and had asked this question instead:

I wish Kerry would be (forthright, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his interminable nuance charms the pretentious mind, hence insuring him Democratic votes.

Hmmm. It still seems kind of funny. I say, leave the poor guy alone. After all, if you can't make jokes about George Bush's diction even in Vermont, the terrorists have won.

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BLACK FRIDAY....This morning's breakfast table conversation:

MARIAN: Did you hear about all those people who got trampled at a Wal-Mart?

ME: Ah, the annual Christmas trampling story.

Lance Mannion has the goods, so to speak. On a related note, Digby airs a different pet peeve about "Black Friday Kabuki" here.

For myself, I note that a Nexis search shows that in the four days prior to Friday the nation's news outlets ran 348 stories that mentioned "Black Friday." Last year the count was 185 over the same Monday-Thursday period. If there's a growth industry in America, that's it.

UPDATE: In comments, Mike suggests that the news media started referring to the Friday after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday" only a few years ago. Is this true? I did a Nexis search for the final ten days of November (search term = "black friday" and thanksgiving) and here's what I got:

  • 1985: 0 references

  • 1990: 6 references

  • 1995: 31 references

  • 2000: 216 references

  • 2005: 630 references and counting

Sophisticated readers will recognize that Nexis has added new clients to its news database over the years, which makes this data useless for serious analysis. But it's perfect for blog analysis! "Black Friday" stories are indeed a growth industry.

On a related note, the first reference I found to the term "Black Friday" was in a World News Tonight segment by Dan Cordtz from November 26, 1982: "Some merchants label the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday because business today can mean the difference betweeen red ink and black on the ledgers."

The news media then went into silence on the subject until a Washington Post story dated November 20, 1987, which provided the following advice: "Do not shop next weekend (unless you're into S&M or S&Ls). The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year store workers call it 'Black Friday.'"

This suggests that the phrase was invented by retail workers peering apprehensively out their windows at the post-holiday mobs waiting to shop. However, a story in the Post eight days later confirms that it is "the day when the surge of holiday buying and profit is supposed to put [retailers] into the black." But this same story also includes the following explanation: "'We call it Black Friday because it's the busiest shopping day of the year,' said Andria Tedesco, 19, who was waiting on customers at Bailey Banks & Biddle jewelry store."

Take your pick.

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November 25, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

ABRAMOFF'S FRIENDS....A few days ago Jack Abramoff's partner, Michael Scanlon, finalized a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to a single bribery charge in return for his cooperation in the wide-ranging influence peddling case against Abramoff. How wide ranging? Scanlon's lawyer that the "investigation is much broader and Mr. Scanlon's cooperation in it will be much more extensive" than merely what was set out in the indictment against Scanlon. Here's what the Wall Street Journal has to say:

A Justice Department investigation into possible influence-peddling by prominent Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is examining his dealings with four lawmakers, [at least 17] current and former congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials.

....Prosecutors in the department's public integrity and fraud divisions...are looking into Mr. Abramoff's interactions with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney (R., Ohio), Rep. John Doolittle (R., Calif.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), according to several people close to the investigation.

....The Justice Department also is looking into Mr. Abramoff's dealings with Steven Griles, a former deputy secretary at the Interior Department, and David Safavian, a former head of the government's procurement office, according to lawyers and others close to the investigation.

With Scanlon squealing and a couple dozen other officials getting nervous, there's no telling how far this could go. Once these guys start ratting each other out, the sky's the limit.

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TAKING TERRORISM SERIOUSLY....After noting that the most dramatic charges against Jose Padilla dirty bomber, apartment bomber, terrorist mastermind have now evaporated, just as they did with Yaser Hamdi, Zacarias Moussaoui, John Walker Lindh and (though he's not on her list) Chaplain James Yee, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick makes a key point:

Had Padilla been charged and tried back in the summer of 2002, rather than touted as some Bond villain the Prince of Radiological Dispersion his case would have stood for a simple legal proposition: that if you are a terrorist, a supporter of terrorism, or a would-be terrorist, the government will hunt you down and punish you. Had the government waited, tested its facts, kept expectations low, then delivered a series of convictions of even small-time al-Qaida foot soldiers, we in this country would feel safer and we would doubtless be safer.

Instead Padilla, like Hamdi, was used as fodder for big speeches. They became the justification for Bush's position that some people are so evil that the law does not deter them, that new legal systems must be invented new systems that bear a striking resemblance to those discredited around the time of Torquemada.

Exactly. The corrosion of civil liberties highlighted by these cases is bad enough, but it's not the only problem they've caused. Every time a dramatic set of charges turns out to be baseless, it sends a very public message that the war against terrorism is just a sham, a campaign of partisan fearmongering being used as little more than a political club. This is the same message sent by the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, the lack of WMD in Iraq, the politically motivated orange alerts, the strategically timed marketing campaigns, and the transparent political stunts played by congressional Republicans last week in response to John Murtha's speech.

The American public can hardly be expected to take terrorism seriously if it's obvious that the Bush administration itself views al-Qaeda as primarily a political opportunity rather than a real problem. Sooner or later, we're going to pay the price for this feckless and irresponsible approach.

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By: Kevin Drum

DECEMBER 31st CAN'T COME SOON ENOUGH....In an apparent effort to prove that he can always write a column more obtuse and witless than the last, David Gelernter takes on the question today of why college kids are so obsessed with their careers. After a bit of preliminary throat clearing about the wide ranging brilliance and intellectual curiosity of his own generation, he begins his explanation with this sentence: "In those long-ago days, more college women used to plan on staying home to rear children."

I am not making this up. I recommend that you not click the link and read the rest.

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November 24, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THANKSGIVING CAT BLOGGING....The cats were not being photographically cooperative this morning, so I'm afraid this was the best I could do. Still, I'm sure they are both feeling thankful today. Inkblot is thankful that I finally put the camera down and left him alone so he could take a well earned nap, and Jasmine is thankful for the catnip plant she is eyeing greedily. And both will be thankful this evening for their half-can each of Sliced Turkey & Giblets Feast In Gravy.

From both the two-legged and four-legged residents of Political Animal World Headquarters here in sunny suburban Irvine, thanks for reading the blog all year. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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CROSSWALK TIMERS....In Washington DC, all the crosswalks have countdown timers that tell you exactly how much time you have left to cross the street. As Jim Henley suggested after we had dinner Monday night, this is very cool and I give him credit for admitting that a government agency has made a positive contribution to the welfare of mankind.

But there's something awfully strange about these timers: counting down to zero means different things at different intersections. At some intersections, when the timer hits zero the light immediately turns red and cross traffic starts barreling toward you. At other intersections, the light turns yellow and you still have a few seconds to hustle across the street. And at yet other intersections, it seems to mean....nothing. There's no cross traffic, no left turn traffic, no nothing. You can continue on your way for some unspecified time until suddenly a light somewhere turns green and traffic starts rolling again.

The countdown timers are indeed cool. In fact, they're a fine, small-bore example of the "New Progressivism" that we're trumpeting on this month's cover: a way of giving the regular guy (DC's pedestrians) more control and more choice when dealing with both government bureaucracies (DC's Dept. of Transportation) and the corporate sector (DC's taxicabs). But they could be even better if they meant the same thing at every intersection.

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By: Kevin Drum

DENNIS HOPPER....I saw an episode of E-Ring tonight, and it prompted me to wonder again how it is that Dennis Hopper continues to be employed in prominent roles. I mean, on a purely technical basis, the guy is a horrible actor. Just horrible. Does he have a file cabinet full of incriminating photos of famous Hollywood producers, or what?

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November 23, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

MANIPULATING INTELLIGENCE....AN UPDATE....Last week I posted a list of five specific cases in which the Bush administration deliberately suppressed dissenting views on some of the most important pieces of evidence that they used to bolster their case for war. I've since added two new items to the list and appended some additional information to item #2.

The added information is below. The complete list is here.

  1. The Claim: An Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" was the source of reporting that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of mobile biowarfare labs. Curveball's claims of mobile bio labs were repeated by many administration figures during the runup to war.

    What We Know Now: The German intelligence officials who handled Curveball told the CIA that he was not "psychologically stable" and that his allegations of mobile bio labs were second hand and unverified. Link. The only American agent to actually meet with Curveball before the war warned that he appeared to be an alcoholic and was unreliable. However, his superior in the CIA told him it was best to keep quiet about this: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about." Link. This dissent was not made public until 2004, in a response to the SSCI report that was written by Senator Dianne Feinstein. Link.

  1. The Claim: Administration officials repeatedly suggested that Saddam Hussein had substantial connections to al-Qaeda. Even after the war, George Bush said, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Dick Cheney said the evidence of a relationship was "overwhelming."

    What We Know Now: As early as September 21, 2001, President Bush was told by the CIA that there was "scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda." In fact, according to Murray Waas, "Bush was told during the briefing that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime." Link.

  2. The Claim: Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, an Iraqi defector, told the CIA that he had secretly helped Saddam Hussein's men bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. After this information was passed to the New York Times by Ahmed Chalabi, it was cited in "A Decade of Deception and Defiance" as evidence of Iraq's continued WMD programs.

    What We Know Now: Al-Haideri told his story while strapped to a polygraph. He failed. The CIA knew from the start that he had made up the entire account, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa. Link.

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THE MORAL ARGUMENT AGAINST TORTURE....Over at Unfogged, Ogged picks up on my biggest frustration with the current state of the torture debate: namely that it's almost impossible to convincingly make the moral case against torture to anyone who's not already predisposed to think it's immoral. Stripped to its core, I realize that the only real argument I have against torture is "But don't you see that it's wrong? Don't you?" And that's just immensely frustrating, because if you don't see it then I have no ammunition left.

I wish I could do better. In the end, though, the strongest argument I can make is the one Dick Durbin made: if you didn't know better when you hear about U.S. practices in the war on terror, you'd think we were talking about Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union and a big part of the reason that we judge those regimes to have been immoral was because of their use of routine, state sanctioned torture. Is that really the company we want to keep?

I supposed it's best not to feel too frustrated, though. Changing public opinion takes a long time, and continual repetition of the simple assertion that torture is morally repugnant along with public disclosure of how commonplace it's become might eventually do the trick even if movement in the right direction often seems imperceptible.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CUTTING AND RUNNING....A couple of days ago the Arab League and the Iraqi Interior Minister called for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. That's surprising enough, but Juan Cole passes along some even more suprising news from al-Hayat:

Sources at the conference....said that the withdrawal would be completed over a period of two years (i.e. November 2007). This timetable, al-Hayat says, appears actually to have been put forward by the Americans themselves. If that is true, we finally know exactly what George W. Bush means by "staying the course." It is a course that takes us to withdrawal.

Since I'm roughly in favor of both a benchmark-based withdrawal plan as well as the approximate timeline outlined here, I don't have a problem with the Bush administration putting forward this proposal. Still, if this really is their plan, isn't it about time for Republicans to stop demonizing liberals who make the exact same proposal as a bunch of cut-and-run cowards? This is going to come back to bite them very firmly in the ass if they don't change their tune pronto.

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THE PENTAGON'S WITHDRAWAL PLANS....In the Washington Post, Bradley Graham and Robin Wright report that the Pentagon plans to start reducing the American troop presence in Iraq after the December elections. They say that all the officers they spoke to "described the moves as likely":

Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades....Pentagon authorities also have set a series of "decision points" during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a "moderately optimistic" scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.

....To help gauge the particular impact that growth of Iraq's security forces might have on the pace of a U.S. drawdown, military planners in Baghdad have devised a simple formula what one general called a "rough rule of thumb."

The formula estimates that for every three Iraqi battalions and one Iraqi brigade headquarters achieving a readiness rating of level two, a U.S. battalion can be dropped. A level two rating, on a scale of one to four, indicates that a unit is able to take the lead in operations but still requires some U.S. military support.

They can call this a "rough rule of thumb" if they want, but it sure sounds like the Pentagon is adopting a set of measurable benchmarks for a phased withdrawal. This is almost precisely what John Kerry proposed last month, and what an RNC spokesman immediately slammed as a plan that would "endanger American forces on the ground."

But politics aside, I sure hope they're serious about this. If it's done right, it's probably the best hope we have for a non-catastrophic outcome in Iraq.

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TROOP LEVELS IN IRAQ....Last week, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to bypass the generals and ask a group of battalion commanders directly whether or not we had enough troops in Iraq. Their answer was blunt:

According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting....the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told Time that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.

....The battalion commanders, according to sources close to last week's meeting, said that because there are not enough troops, they have to "leapfrog" around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out. The officers also stressed that the lack of manpower rather than of protective armor or signal jammers posed one of the biggest obstacles in dealing with roadside bombs, which have caused the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Frankly, I'm too lazy to dig up one of the hundreds of statements from Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney/etc. telling us with a straight face that everyone in the military is happy with the current troop levels and no one has ever asked for more. Can someone else please do it for me?

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BACK IN THE SADDLE....Many, many thanks to Mr. Steve Benen and Ms. Avedon Carol for guest blogging here while I was ambling through the corridors of power in our nation's capital earlier this week. If you liked what you read, you can read Steve's regular blogging at The Carpetbagger and Avedon's at The Sideshow. They're both worth bookmarking and visiting regularly.

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BOMBING AL-JAZEERA....This goes right to the top of the "seriously weird" pile:

President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

....A Government official suggested that the Bush threat had been "humorous, not serious". But another source declared: "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men."

....Bush disclosed his plan to target al-Jazeera, a civilian station with a huge Mid-East following, at a White House face-to-face with Mr Blair on April 16 last year. At the time, the US was launching an all-out assault on insurgents in the Iraqi town of Fallujah.

At first this sounded like just another bizarre British tabloid fantasy, but apparently it's quite real. That is, the conversation was real; the transcript is real; it was leaked to a guy who is now being prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act; and the Daily Mirror, which published the story on Tuesday, has been ordered not to publish any further details about the memo. In a story on Wednesday they said they have "essentially agreed to comply," but then immediately provided a bit of additional detail:

The five-page memo stamped "Top Secret" records a threat by Bush to unleash "military action" against the TV station.

Needless to say, both the White House and Downing Street have declined to comment.

So take your pick. Either Bush seriously tossed out the idea of bombing a TV station in a friendly country because he didn't like their coverage of the war, or else this was his equivalent of Ronald Reagan's "The bombing will begin in five minutes." There's no way to know which unless someone leaks the transcript itself. I'd sure like to see whether Tony Blair treated it like a joke when Bush proposed it.

UPDATE: I don't have a link for this, but a reader emails to tell me that this was the subject of Tuesday's "Quickvote Poll" on CNN. The question was:

Do you believe President Bush talked about bombing the HQ of Arabic-language TV network al-Jazeera?

71% of the respondents said yes. Even if this story turns out not to be true, that's quite a statement.

Kevin Drum 1:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Avedon Carol

Peace

Wouldn't it be cool if the Iraqis all just got together and made peace with each other? And then we could just leave and declare victory.

Except that's apparently not what the Bush administration wants, either. Check out Robert Dreyfuss at The American Prospect on just this subject, Peace Talk.

And it's after four in the morning here, so I'm going to bed. It's been fun, but Kevin should be back tomorrow and I need to tend my own garden.

I just have one question: How come after two days the right-wingers still think I'm a boy? Well, I'm not.

Avedon Carol 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 22, 2005
By: Avedon Carol

GUILTY, GUILTY, GULTY... Murray Waas has just posted this at The National Journal:

Key Bush Intelligence Briefing Kept From Hill Panel

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
[...]
One of the more intriguing things that Bush was told during the briefing was that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime. At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks of Al Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or even Iraqi intelligence operatives to learn more about its inner workings, according to records and sources.

Waas will be discussing this tonight on Air America during its Majority Report show, already on the air. (Listen online using RealPlayer or WMP.)

Avedon Carol 8:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ABOUT THAT PAY RAISE....Just a month ago, it looked like lawmakers were making a welcome gesture about their salaries. On a 92-6 vote, the Senate agreed to forgo the annual cost-of-living increase to their salary, with lawmakers saying all the right things about doing their part to save a little extra money in the federal budget.

That was last month. Last week, according to Roll Call, lawmakers saw their pay raise may a startling comeback.

Friday's passage of the $65.9 billion Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development conference report included a provision that earmarked some $2 million for Members' annual pay hike.

Despite near-unanimous Senate support to forgo the fiscal 2006 cost of living adjustment, the conference report included House language that gives Members an additional $3,100 beginning next January, bringing pay for rank-and-file lawmakers to $165,200 from the current $162,100. Members of the elected leadership are paid slightly more.

Truth be told, we're not talking about a lot of money. With today's fiscal outlook, the savings associated with congressional salaries aren't even a rounding error.

There is, however, a symbolic significance. Lawmakers emphasized a sense of "sacrifice" when they cut funding on food stamps, low-income health care, and child care assistance. But when it comes to a personal sacrifice from members of Congress, they're still quietly giving themselves a raise.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who, along with Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) helps lead the drive to freeze congressional salaries, hopes to make this a political issue in the future.

"People will find it hard to understand that Members of Congress will be getting a substantial pay raise at a time of enormous budget deficits and mounting debt, a costly, open-ended war in Iraq, and growing expenses for hurricane relief," he said in a statement.

And what's the flip side? According to Tom DeLay, lawmakers aren't boosting their own pay. "It's not a pay raise," DeLay said. "It's an adjustment so that they're not losing their purchasing power."

The campaign ads write themselves, don't they?

Steve Benen 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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'FAIR AND BALANCED' ALITO ADS....No one familiar with Fox News will find this surprising, but it's still disappointing for a purported news network to pull a stunt like this.

Fox News is refusing to air an ad critical of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, citing its lawyers' contention that the spot is factually incorrect.

A spokesman for the groups sponsoring the ad said the network's decision reflects the political right's effort to shield President Bush's choice for the high court.

The ad says that as an appellate court judge, Alito has "ruled to make it easier for corporations to discriminate ... even voted to approve strip search of a 10-year-old girl." Referring to a document Alito wrote in 1985 while seeking a job in the Reagan administration, it quotes him as saying that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

On the substantive point about the Alito ad, it's a pretty hard-hitting spot, but it's hardly "inaccurate." There are matters of opinion and perspective, but FNC suggested the ad is patently false. It's not. Alito does have a controversial record on discrimination; his ruling on the strip search continues to be a point of contention, and on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General, Alito really did state his opposition to a constitutional right to an abortion.

Put it this way -- if Fox News was willing to run Bush-Cheney 2004 ads, this Alito spot should have cleared the network's fact-checking process with flying colors.

On a side note, is it me or has the last year been awful for progressive voices seeking paid air time on TV? In January, MoveOn.org raised enough money to buy an ad during the Super Bowl, but CBS rejected it, noting its "long-term policy not to air issue ads anywhere on the network." Just a few weeks prior, CBS and NBC refused advertising from the United Church of Christ because the church's open, tolerant message of inclusion was labeled "too controversial." More recently, a Utah television station (owned by Clear Channel) refused to air an anti-war ad featuring Cindy Sheehan.

I guess access to the "public's airwaves" can be a real challenge sometimes.

Steve Benen 4:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT'S NOT THE STAFF....The New Republic has a tongue-in-cheek item in the current issue about whom the president can bring in to "save" his White House. Most of the piece is humorous, but the point of the TNR article is worth considering in more detail.

Ever since the venerable Washington fixer Clark Clifford came to the rescue of a White House imperiled by Vietnam in 1968, presidents in trouble have turned to a unique political breed: the wise man. The wise man is a consummate Washington insider, a redwood towering above the daily political fray -- a weathered veteran of past administrations and myriad crises, with a reputation for high integrity and deep sagacity. He is a revered elder who emerges from the sidelines (often a white-shoe law or lobbying firm) when the going gets tough to pen op-eds and appear on "Meet the Press," holding together the vital center and dispensing bromides about governance and the national interest. With pundits calling for a shake-up at the White House, The New Republic has surveyed the field of political elders who might yet save George W. Bush's beleaguered administration.

The TNR field includes some of the Republicans' old guard (James Baker and Howard Baker), a couple of highly capable Dems (Leon Panetta and Sam Nunn), a controversial journalist (Bob Woodward), and even Deepak Chopra, whom TNR touts as someone who could give Bush "a new life-giving paradigm of mind-body-spirit healing." Chances are, none of them will be taking over the West Wing anytime soon.

But the notion that sweeping staff changes are needed to "save" Bush's presidency is a common sentiment. Joe Klein recently made the argument in Time, three former White House chiefs of staff said the same thing on Meet the Press a few weeks ago, and talking heads routinely repeat the suggestion, especially after the Scooter Libby indictment.

It's not this is bad advice; it's that the guidance fails to appreciate the real problem. I don't doubt that Bush could use a wise and steady hand right about now, but I doubt very much the president would appreciate the counsel.

Shortly after the Hurricane Katrina debacle, we began to understand the atmosphere of ignorance that dominates the White House.

It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States.... Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty.

It doesn't matter whom Bush hires if he only listens to those who tell him what he wants to hear.

A couple of months ago, Time talked to a "youngish" White House aide, described as a Bush favorite, who talked a bit about the president's attitude.

"The first time I told him he was wrong, he started yelling at me," the aide recalled about a session during the first term. "Then I showed him where he was wrong, and he said, 'All right. I understand. Good job.' He patted me on the shoulder. I went and had dry heaves in the bathroom."

This is exactly why I think all this talk about "a fresh team" is off-base. If Rove, Card, and Bartlett were replaced, what, exactly, would change with a 21st century version of Baker, Duberstein, and Carlucci if the president insists on uniform agreement?

It was Bush's choice to surround himself with yes-men. It was Bush's choice to tell those around him to tell shield him from news he may not like. It was Bush's choice to embrace "Bubble Boy" policies that expose him to pre-screened sycophants at public events.

I like the idea of a new team, but the need for "new leadership" starts with the one White House staffer who can't be fired -- the one in the Oval Office.

Steve Benen 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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QUOTE OF THE DAY....In the latest sign that Antonin Scalia has completely given up on the reality-based community, the Supreme Court justice suggested yesterday that the high court did not inject itself into the 2000 presidential election.

Speaking at the Time Warner Center last night, Scalia said: "The election was dragged into the courts by the Gore people. We did not go looking for trouble."

There was no indication that Scalia was kidding.

It's Gore's fault the Bush campaign asked the Supreme Court to override a state court on a state ballot issue? The Supreme Court had to take the case? Is Scalia serious?

For that matter, Scalia added his belief that studies showed that Bush still would have won a Florida recount. It's a tangent from Scalia's point -- that it's Gore's fault the Supreme Court heard the case -- but the most thorough analysis of the election showed Gore would have won Florida had there been a statewide recount.

Not to rehash the 2000 race over again or anything....

Steve Benen 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A NEW 'TARGET' FOR THE AFA....As religious right groups go, the American Family Association doesn't the kind of money, members, or influence some of its better known competitors have, but when it comes to boycotts, nobody comes close to the AFA.

The AFA's targets have included Disney, Ford, Crest toothpaste, Volkswagen, Tide detergent, Clorox bleach, Pampers, MTV, Abercrombie & Fitch, K-Mart, Burger King, American Airlines and S.C. Johnson & Son, makers of Windex, Ziploc, Pledge, Glade, and Edge, usually because of some perceived "anti-family" animus. Late last year, the AFA also went after the movie "Shark Tale," because the group believed the movie was designed to brainwash children into accepting gay rights. This year, it was American Girl dolls. Not a single AFA target has ever caved to the group's demands, but it doesn't seem to matter.

And according to an alert issued yesterday by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the AFA is worked up about another alleged injustice. This time, it's Target and its holiday-celebrating ways.

Target stores have continued to ban Salvation Army kettles from storefronts and the phrase "Merry Christmas" from advertising, which has prompted the American Family Association (AFA) to launch a boycott of the retail giant.

In just three days, more than 300,000 people pledged to steer clear of Target during the biggest shopping weekend of the year -- the days following Thanksgiving.

Randy Sharp, director of special projects for AFA, said, on average, more than 4,000 people are signing on to the boycott every hour.

"Shoppers are growing disgruntled by companies that are choosing to do away with a simple greeting like 'Merry Christmas,'" he said, "and they are showing it with their pocketbooks."

First, as a factual matter, Target insists it has no policy against using the phrase "Merry Christmas." Second, as a financial matter, Target shouldn't worry too much about the AFA; the group's targeted companies usually find their bottom line going up during an AFA boycott.

Regardless, the right's perceived "war against Christmas" is getting pretty tiresome. Fox News' John Gibson has a bizarre book out, while Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krauthammer, and the truly silly Committee to Save Merry Christmas will probably enjoy the holiday season by whining a lot.

And what's truly annoying is to hear complainers lose sight of those who really suffer. Last year, armed police broke up a Christmas Mass at an underground Catholic church in eastern China, arresting the priest, demolishing a makeshift pulpit and scattering two thousand worshippers. Around the same time, some seasonal temp at the mall wished Bill O'Reilly a generic "Happy Holidays" and he felt like a victim.

A little perspective, people.

Steve Benen 1:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SUING SONY....One of the joys of traveling is that the newspaper of choice at hotels around the country is USA Today, which frequently highlights stories that others bury. Today, they provided me with a ray of sunshine in the otherwise gloomy weather here in Washington DC:

The crisis at Sony BMG Entertainment worsened Monday when the Texas attorney general sued the record label, saying it violated the state's new anti-spyware law.

....The lawsuits follow Sony's recall of nearly 5 million copy-protected CDs that contain a hidden file susceptible to viruses when played on a Windows-equipped computer. The company has asked retailers to remove more than 50 CD titles from store shelves and to replace them with non-copy-protected versions expected in stores by the end of the week.

Attorney General Greg Abbott says that despite the recall, his staff found CDs with XCP copy-protection created by British firm First4Internet on store shelves Monday. He estimates that as many as tens of thousands of Texas consumers have bought the CDs, and notes that Texas' spyware law calls for fines of $100,000 per violation. "Our message to Sony," he says: "Don't mess with Texas computers."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing Sony too, and good for them. I hope all the other states with anti-spyware laws join in the fun and make Sony's life as miserable as they possibly can. Corporations should never be allowed to install software on your computer without your express permission, and they sure as hell shouldn't be allowed to do it to people who think they're doing nothing more than playing a few tunes while surfing their favorite blogs. My Christmas wish is that the discovery phase of this lawsuit is long and painful and uncovers a lengthy catalog of embarrassing and incriminating emails among Sony's suits explaining just why they thought it was OK to secretly install a virus magnet on their customers' computers.

Well, that's one of my Christmas wishes, anyway.

If you're hearing about this for the first time, background details are here.

Kevin Drum 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUST A BUBP IN THE ROAD....Last week, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) lashed out at Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) on the House floor, and relayed remarks she claimed to have received from Marine Colonel Danny Bubp: "[He] asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

As Avedon noted yesterday, Col. Bubp's background suggests he's a fairly predictable right-wing activist, a point which seemed to have been lost in the shuffle. But the story gets even more entertaining today -- Bubp is hanging Schmidt out to dry.

[A] spokeswoman for the colonel, Danny R. Bubp, said Ms. Schmidt had misconstrued their conversation.

While Mr. Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives, opposes a quick withdrawal for forces, "he did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha," said Karen Tabor, his spokeswoman. "He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation."

In fact, he also told reporters that there was "no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward."

Apparently, everyone on the right is in full retreat from their Murtha attacks. Is it possible that some folks just can't be Swift-Boated?

And speaking of last week's floor theatrics, some House Republicans seem anxious to do the whole thing all over again.

The Republican who initiated last week's overwhelming House vote to keep U.S. troops in Iraq said he will do it again if Democrats don't cease their calls for withdrawal.

"If they start this again, we'll call the vote again," said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, whom members credited with suggesting holding a vote. "As far as I'm concerned, if they haven't learned from this, if they go back to this cheap talk, I would be more than happy to call for another vote."

Something to look forward to.

Steve Benen 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE GOP'S SCANLON NIGHTMARE....Uber-activist Paul Weyrich told the LA Times a few weeks ago, "I've been talking to some [Republican] members who are scared to death" by the Abramoff affair. Weyrich added, "That one has the potential for blowing into something far larger." With this in mind, it's difficult to overstate just how much Michael Scanlon's plea deal strikes fear into the heart of Congress.

A onetime congressional staffer who became a top partner to lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials and agreed to pay back more than $19 million he fraudulently charged Indian tribal clients.

The plea agreement between prosecutors and Michael Scanlon, a former press secretary to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), provided fresh detail about the alleged bribes. The document also indicated the nature of testimony Scanlon is prepared to offer against a congressman it calls "Representative #1" -- who has been identified by attorneys in the case as Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio). [...]

Investigators are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues, according to sources familiar with the probe who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Because of his central role in much of Abramoff's business, Scanlon could be a key witness in any trials that arise from the case.

To be sure, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney clearly has the most to worry about. As subscription-only Roll Call recently reported, federal prosecutors' case against Scanlon alleges that Ney agreed to "perform a series of official acts" that benefited Scanlon and Abramoff's clients in return for a series of favors, including a golf junket to Scotland, tickets to sporting events, and free meals.

And, unfortunately for Ney, the "series of official acts" were plentiful. There's already evidence that Ney pressured a casino owner to sell a fleet of ships to benefit one of Abramoff's clients, received one of those luxurious Scottish golf trips that Abramoff is famous for, promised to use his role on the House Administration Committee to help reopen a casino for an Abramoff client, and placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff's purchase of a Florida gambling company. In all, prosecutors have found 11 instances in which the lawmaker used his office to help Scanlon, Abramoff, or their clients.

Ney claims Abramoff duped him. We'll see how that defense works out for him.

As for broader panic on the Hill, Plato Cacheris, Scanlon's lawyer, was asked at a news conference yesterday whether other lawmakers will be caught up in this fiasco. He said, "I would rather not comment on that."

Republicans shuddered when the Plame scandal captured the political world's attention, but that was a White House affair -- it's the Abramoff/Scanlon controversy that threatens lawmakers on the Hill directly. Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional specialist at the Brookings Institution, said, "I think this has the potential to be the biggest scandal in Congress in over a century. I've been around Washington for 35 years, watching Congress, and I've never seen anything approaching Abramoff for cynicism and chutzpah in proposing quid pro quos to members of Congress."

Steve Benen 10:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Avedon Carol

AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE...

The Daily Howler reported recently that the WaPo finally printed an article pointing out that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is no raving liberal, regardless of the spin. This is just the sort of thing that makes Bob Somerby so useful - if anyone was listening:

Several thoughts about this matter: First, we again note the failure of Dems to run an effective message machine. Over the past five months, pseudo-con spinners have endlessly claimed that Republicans voted to confirm Ginsburg despite her wild-eyed, kooky ways. (In her column, Marcus debunks specific claims they have repeatedly made.) On cable, voters have heard these claims again and again-but libs and Dems have rarely offered the countervailing evidence. At present, the Democratic Party is simply unable, for whatever reason, to run a capable message machine. For that reason, we badly need leadership from the liberal web. We need to find a way to publish and push elementary info-information of the kind Marcus offers this week.
I've been thinking for a long time that there has to be some way to put pressure on the party leadership to read the damned weblogs!

Really, it's shameful to see them going on television and falling for - and even repeating - RNC spin and falsehoods. They need to study-up, and it's just plain stupid to ignore the fact that the information is available gratis and easy to find.

It's pretty obvious that the level of discourse at places like Liberal Oasis, Daily Kos, MyDD et al. is significantly higher than the stuff that comes out of the party itself, and it's about time they acquainted themselves with what's really going on. A rep could do worse than to check The Daily Howler, Media Matters, and Eschaton every day just to get a handle on what kind of bull is being spit out by the right-wingers and that it really is just lies.

And it wouldn't hurt them to check out Nathan Newman regularly to see what these monsters in the GOP are doing to us while the Democratic leaders waste time - because these are the things that really concern Americans, that affect our lives and the country's future.

On a related subject, I see that the Oreo story is breaking out, with Media Matters and Somerby both covering it:

How will Dems and liberals handle this matter? Again, Ehrlich - a consummate phony, and we rarely dislike pols - seems to be playing the public for complete, total fools. For years, we have made a simple suggestion; we have suggested that Dems and liberals tell the public that the pseudo-con empire does this routinely. But Dems and libs have tended to gambol and play while pseudo-cons work - work on their completely inane but highly effective stories.
If Democrats would spend more time reading The Left Coaster and Political Animal and less time listening to the tediously bland fraidy-cats they use as political consultants, they would know more, have plenty of verbal karate at their fingertips, and be prepared for all the lies that come out of the RNC. They should at least be ready to point out that Steel and Ehrlich want to talk about Oreos instead of the issues that are of vital importance for the people of the State of Maryland.

We've been offering Democrats, for free, better advice than they've been paying for over the last several years, and their response has been to let the GOP convince them that anyone who disagrees with rabid right-wing talking points is some kind of loony. They can dismiss us as mere bloggers even while the Republicans make terrific use of their own "mere" bloggers. They use their resources while convincing Democrats to shun their own. And Democrats fall for it.

Democratic politicians are just too easily embarrassed about all the wrong things. If you compare me with Michael Moore, I'm not embarrassed - I just say, "Michael Moore was right about the invasion, and you were wrong." I can say this because I've actually paid attention to what Michael Moore has said and what the facts behind it are. No one should be ashamed to be compared with Moore; they should be ashamed to be backed down by people who think saying, "Now you're in Michael Moore territory," makes a worthwhile point. They should be able to retort with, at the very least, "Now you're in FOX News territory."

And if the GOP wants to smear left-wing bloggers, well, hell, tell 'em to look at their own. No decent human being should be proud to be repeating the mendacious and hateful trash that can easily be found on the leading right-wing blogs.

Look, the right-wing lies about liberals and about issues, pure and simple. They spin and fabricate and spread hate. You don't defeat that by cowering in the corner, you defeat it by shining the bright lights on it. They lie. We have the issues, we have the facts, and the American people agree with us. All we have to do is say it out loud.

Update: I have been remiss in not also recommending the excellent Digby on that list, for a moral dimension that the Democratic leadership has clearly forgotten. (And then, of course, there's The Sideshow....)

Avedon Carol 8:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 21, 2005

WOODWARD SPEAKS....A day after the Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, smacked Bob Woodward around in a very public way, Woodward hopes to redeem himself, starting tonight with an interview with CNN's Larry King. (9pm eastern, check local listings)

By way of Think Progress, CNN has offered a sneak preview of what we can expect from the interview, including this comment from Woodward:

"The day of the indictment, I read the charges against Libby, and looked at the press conference by the special counsel and he said the first disclosure on all of this was on June 23rd, 2003 by Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff to New York Times reporter Judy Miller. I went whoa whoa, because I knew I learned about this in mid-June, a week, ten days before. Then I say something's up. There's a piece that the special counsel does not have in all of this. Then I went into incredibly aggressive reporting mode..."

We'll see the full context of the quote in about an hour, but it's hard to disagree with Faiz's version of events:

Let's recap. First, Woodward told a fellow colleague about his information on Plame but instructed him not to share; then, he failed to disclose this information to his editors at the Post in order to -- in his words -- avoid a subpoena; then, he criticized Fitzgerald's investigation; and finally, after failing to disclose his knowledge and realizing Fitzgerald was not aware of it, he sniffed a great story and went into "aggressive reporting mode."

Sounds about right, doesn't it? Hopefully, for the sake of Woodward's credibility, the rest of his Larry King interview is more forthcoming.

It's a taped discussion, but if you had the chance to call in with a question, what would you ask?

Steve Benen 9:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHENEY'S PRIDE OF OWNERSHIP....Slate's Fred Kaplan wrote a compelling piece last week about the White House's defense of the war in Iraq. Kaplan's point made sense at the time, but I don't think Bush and Cheney are sticking to the original script.

President George W. Bush has suddenly shifted rhetoric on the war in Iraq. Until recently, the administration's line was basically, "Everything we are saying and doing is right." It was a line that held him in good stead, especially with his base, which admired his constancy above all else. Now, though, as his policies are failing and even his base has begun to abandon him, a new line is being trotted out: "Yes, we were wrong about some things, but everybody else was wrong, too, so get over it."

This "I was wrong, but so were you" tack is, to be sure, underpinning most of the new White House talking points, including the mistaken notion that Democrats in Congress saw the same intelligence as the president.

But the entire line of argument has become less and less applicable over the last week. If the White House was really arguing that everyone was wrong at the same time about the same things for same reason, then the "I was wrong, but so were you" approach would make sense. But what we're seeing instead is, "I was wrong, but so were you ... and by the way, I was right all along."

Consider Dick Cheney's speech this afternoon (text, video).

"In a post-9/11 world, the President and Congress of the United States declined to trust the word of a dictator who had a history of weapons of mass destruction programs, who actually used weapons of mass destruction against innocent civilians in his own country, who tried to assassinate a former President of the United States, who was routinely shooting at allied pilots trying to enforce no fly zones, who had excluded weapons inspectors, who had defied the demands of the international community, whose regime had been designated an official state sponsor of terror, and who had committed mass murder."

Cheney isn't trying to share responsibility for a war most Americans believe was a mistake; he's back to where he was in 2002, arguing that the invasion, war, and occupation of Iraq were not only the right call, but were absolutely necessary.

This isn't an easy needle to thread. The Bush gang will grudgingly concede that Iraq had no WMD, or nuclear program, or ties to 9/11, and in their weaker moments, admit that Saddam Hussein did not pose an imminent threat to the United States. Simultaneously they'll argue that the war was essential from the beginning. The White House wants to have its yellowcake and eat it too.

Will this persuade anyone who disapproves of the war and Bush's handling of it to change their mind? It's hard to see how.

Steve Benen 4:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Avedon Carol

WHO PUT THE BUBP... Max Blumenthal has a nice little post on Mean Jean's Marine and why he thinks Murtha is a coward:

"A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course," Schmidt declared from her lectern. "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

By employing Bubp, a Marine reservist, as her surrogate attack dog, Schmidt sought to give the impression that the military rank-and-file overwhelmingly deplored Murtha's resolution. Murtha may have been a Marine a long, long time ago, but he doesn't understand the harsh realities of the post-9/11 world. But that tough-talking paragon of the modern warrior, Colonel Danny Bubp, whoever he is, sure as hell does. Or so Schmidt would have us believe.

A quick glance at Bubp's background reveals him to be a low-level right-wing operative who has spent more time in the past ten years engaged in symbolic Christian right crusades than he has battling terrorist evil-doers. And throughout his career, Bubp's destiny has been inextricably linked with Schmidt's. Bubp may be a Marine, but his view of Murtha as a "coward" is colored by naked political ambition. He is nothing more than cheap camouflage cover for the GOP's latest Swift-Boat campaign.

I haven't seen a lot about this, even in the blogosphere, but I found it frankly astonishing that Schmidt actually quoted a political operative this way, as if he wasn't just another hack.

Avedon Carol 4:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OBAMA'S FUTURE....For a man with only 11 months in the Senate under his belt, Barack Obama has a knack for impressing people.

The sage of money and finance, America's second-richest man, seldom becomes invested in politicians. But [Warren Buffett] has made an exception for the junior senator from Illinois, which is precisely why Obama has arrived here on a frosty fall morning, without an overcoat or an entourage.

No television cameras record the moment. No oversize crowds gather. Rather, a mere 16 people -- most of whom Obama was meeting for the first time -- finish a breakfast of eggs and fresh fruit in the home of Warren Buffett's daughter, Susie Buffett.

"I've got a conviction about him that I don't get very often," Warren Buffett explained later in an interview. "He has as much potential as anyone I've seen to have an important impact over his lifetime on the course that America takes. [...] "If he can do an ounce better with me," Buffett added, "fine."

Needless to say, Buffett is hardly the only one who's impressed. Obama's legislative record after a year is limited, but his potential is not. The Chicago Tribune noted that Obama has built "a coast-to-coast army of backers," and given his willingness to campaign with other Democrats, it's a fair description.

Just this year, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was struggling to raise money, so he turned to Obama. (It worked; Byrd raised nearly $1 million through online donations.) In Virginia, Gov.-elect Tim Kaine relied on Obama repeatedly. In New Jersey, Gov.-elect Jon Corzine brought Obama in shortly before Election Day for a last-minute push. Looking ahead, one has to assume that Obama's frequent-flier miles will flourish in 2006.

At times, the pressure the political world is putting on this guy is over the top. Obama's barely unpacked and he's already asked, a little too often, about his presidential plans. That said, Obama has collected a lot of favors over the last year or so, making a very positive impression along the way. It's the kind of network that might come in handy.

Steve Benen 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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QUOTE OF THE DAY....I imagine it's difficult for adamant supporters of the war in Iraq to understand when people change their mind about the value of the war, but when faced with grieving parents, who've lost sons or daughters in Iraq, members of Congress should probably avoid questioning the parents' sanity.

"You'll have a parent or two here, as you know, whose tragic grief from the tragic loss of a loved one, of a child, causes their mental thinking to be a little destabilized. That's understandable." -- Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) at a news conference Thursday, discussing parents of slain soldiers who turned antiwar.

Yes, if you've decided the war was a mistake, the logical conclusion for at least one Republican member of Congress is that you've temporarily lost control of your faculties. It's gracious of him to describe the phenomenon as "understandable."

Of course, by Rep. Gohmert's standards, there sure are a lot of Americans with "destabilized mental thinking." (per comments, updated link)

Steve Benen 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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AN INNOCENT MAN?....Discussions over the death penalty can include a variety of compelling angles, but one argument that's tough get around is the fact that it's one of the only forms of punishment that can't be undone. It's something to keep in mind when considering what happened in Texas to Ruben Cantu.

Texas executed its fifth teenage offender at 22 minutes after midnight on Aug. 24, 1993, after his last request for bubble gum had been refused and his final claim of innocence had been forever silenced.

Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness -- a man who barely survived to testify.

Four days after a Bexar County jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."

A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth.

The story chronicles what appears to be a criminal-justice tragedy. For supporters of the death penalty who insist that there are no documented incidents of an innocent person being executed, the Cantu example should, at a minimum, give them pause.

In this case, Cantu's co-defendant, David Garza, who'd been reluctant to talk about the murder-robbery since his trial, has now signed a sworn affidavit saying he allowed Cantu to be falsely accused. What's more, the man who survived the shooting -- the only eyewitness -- has recanted and told the Chronicle that he felt pressured by police to finger Cantu as the killer.

It gets worse.

[K]ey players in Cantu's death -- including the judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney -- now acknowledge that his conviction seems to have been built on omissions and lies.

"We did the best we could with the information we had, but with a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information," said Miriam Ward, forewoman of the jury that convicted Cantu. "The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that."

Sam Millsap Jr., the former Bexar County district attorney who made the decision to charge Cantu with capital murder, says he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on the testimony of an eyewitness who identified Cantu only after police officers showed him Cantu's photo three separate times. [...]

The Chronicle found other problems with Cantu's case as well. Police reports have unexplained omissions and irregularities. Witnesses who could have provided an alibi for Cantu that night were never interviewed. And no physical evidence -- not even a fingerprint or a bullet -- tied Cantu to the crime.

Worse, some think Cantu's arrest was instigated by police officers because Cantu shot and wounded an off-duty officer during an unrelated bar fight. That case against Cantu was dropped in part because officers overreacted and apparently tainted the evidence, according to records and interviews.

Before anyone jumps to accuse Bush of shirking his gubernatorial duties, his penchant for executions in Texas doesn't apply in this case -- Cantu's death sentence was carried out a year before Bush became governor.

Politics aside, the Cantu execution offers a tragic example of a system gone terribly awry. Any discussion of capital-punishment moratoriums should start here.

Steve Benen 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Paul Glastris

LIVE ON C-SPAN... Want to know why the president's "Ownership Society" has been such a bust, and what alternative ideas progressives can offer to give Americans the power and options they really want? Then turn on C-SPAN between 2:30 PM and 4:00 PM EST today, and check out the conference we're co-hosting with the Center for American Progress. It's all about the cover package on "The New Progressivism" in the latest issue of The Washington Monthly. Kevin Drum and I will be on the panel, along with others, and E.J. Dionne will be the moderator.

Kevin flew in to DC last night for today's event. I told him I'd pick him up at the airport and we'd have dinner together. I figured, just from talking to him and reading his site, that he's a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, so I took him to a downtown steakhouse. Turned out my guess was right. He had a rib eye, medium rare from the looks of it, with a baked potato, washed down with DC's finest tap water. Just thought I'd share that.

Paul Glastris 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE DENVER THREE....The Bush White House's "Bubble Boy" policies -- which, for years, have excluded anyone from presidential events that isn't a pre-screened sycophant -- have become the stuff of legend. But there's always been something a little different about the Denver Three.

In March, Denver residents Alex Young, Karen Bauer, and Leslie Weise obtained tickets from their Republican congressman to a public town hall meeting on the president's Social Security plan. Someone working at the event noticed an anti-war bumper sticker ("No Blood For Oil") on their car, which prompted staffers to forcibly remove the three from the presidential event, despite the fact that they hadn't done anything wrong.

Even for a White House known for shielding the president from potential critics, this was bizarre. There are plenty of examples of people being excluded from presidential events for being Democrats. Others, because their shirts or lapel stickers were deemed ideologically unacceptable. But this was an example of American citizens getting escorted out of a public event, dealing with a public policy issue, on public property, featuring public officials, because someone didn't like their bumper sticker.

Young, Bauer, and Weise, who quickly became known as the "Denver Three," left the event quietly, but have been anything but silent since. The Secret Service launched an investigation of the incident, exploring whether someone impersonated an agent, but concluded the probe in July without explanation. The Denver Three have filed FOIA requests with the White House, but they were ignored.

Today, two of the Denver Three, with assistance from the ACLU, are taking the next logical step. They're taking the matter to court.

White House event staffers unlawfully removed two Denver residents from a town hall discussion with President Bush because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, charged the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal lawsuit filed today.

"The government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions," said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who is the lead counsel in this case. "The president should be willing to be in the same room with people who might disagree with him, especially at a public, taxpayer-funded town hall."

It's a lawsuit that could raise a variety of interesting, and potentially damaging, questions for the Bush White House.

For example, does the White House have a formal policy for evicting law-abiding ticket-holders from public events? Who gives directions to event staffers about their responsibilities? How are people working at these events recruited and trained? Are they specifically told to engage in viewpoint discrimination? Does the White House encourage this approach?

In June, Sen. Wayne Allard's (R-Colo.) chief staff said, the Denver Three are "entitled to some answers." If this lawsuit is successful, they'll get them.

Post Script: It's probably worth taking a moment to debunk the White House's likely response. Asked about the controversy a few months ago, Scott McClellan said the Denver Three were ejected out of concern "that these three individuals were coming to the event solely for the purpose of disrupting it." The three admit that they had considered creating an incident during Bush's speech, but decided against it.

Regardless, whatever plans the Denver Three may or may not have made beforehand, the argument about concern for disruption is silly. These three were given free tickets to see the president. There was nothing wrong with their attire, they hadn't said a discouraging word to anyone, and there was no disturbance. In this case, the Bush White House lowered the bar so far that someone didn't even need to disrupt the event to get thrown out; staffers merely had to believe someone might cause trouble based on a bumper sticker. In a nation that takes free expression seriously, this is absurd.

Steve Benen 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WHO'S THE BOSS?....Votes on symbolic resolutions are so common in Congress, they hardly ever spark any controversy at all. Lawmakers from both parties, in both chambers, honor someone from their district or state, they give a laudatory speech, and their resolution passes unanimously. It couldn't be any more routine.

Unless, that is, the resolution is honoring an entertainer who happened to campaign for John Kerry last year.

Bruce Springsteen famously was "born in the USA," but he's getting scorned in the U.S. Senate.

An effort by New Jersey's senators, both Democrats, to honor the veteran rocker was shot down yesterday by Republicans who apparently are still miffed a year after the Boss lent his voice to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

The chamber's GOP leaders refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, that honored Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album "Born to Run."

Asked why the resolution was blocked, Senate Republicans wouldn't say. The Springsteen line about "a town full of losers" comes to mind.

But it's also worth noting that congressional Republicans seem to be taking these inconsequential votes more and more seriously. About two months ago, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wanted to name a post office in Berkeley after a 94-year-old former city councilwoman. Rep. Steve King of Iowa accused the woman, Maudelle Shirek, of having communist ties and he led a fight to defeat Lee's measure. Accused of engaging in blatant McCarthyism, King said, "If [Lee] studied her history, she'd recognize Joe McCarthy was a great American hero."

If anyone's looking for hints as to why the political atmosphere on Capitol Hill has become so toxic, votes like these might offer some insight.

Steve Benen 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Avedon Carol

Don't waste your respect on Tony Blair

I've written before about the Tony Blair conundrum, but I'd like to take the opportunity Kevin has offered to tell my progressive friends back home in the States that their strange belief that Blair is a good and principled statesman who just happened to get pushed into joining Bush's war is at best wishful thinking.

My friends think Blair is some kind of a statesman because he can talk better than Bush, but he's more Ralph Reed than Al Gore. He exploits his alleged belief in God, knows how to get the support of the powerful, and keeps trying to "modernize" things that already worked just fine.

Leaving aside Blair's background as an admirer of oligarchy and an agent of corruption, there is the small fact that he has been a nightmare for civil liberties.

It's unclear whether his attempts to impose a costly and unworkable plan for biometric ID cards and a national identity register is part of another kick-back scheme, but it is certainly consistent with his continual assault on freedom. His recent push to legitimize long detentions without due process was so appalling that his own party rebelled (although not as much as they should have).

Many people mistakenly believe that all of this is just part of an overreaction to the War on Terrorism or even some sort of deal-making with George Bush, but the truth is that Blair's authoritarianism has always been a part of his program.

The only thing that is protecting what is left of Britain's civil liberties at the moment is the fact that the Tories are performing as an opposition party, despite the fact that much of this repressive legislation is also consistent with the policies that previous Conservative governments tried to push through themselves - but failed because they were so unpopular and the opposition parties in those days acted as something like an opposition. Recently, the Tories have been smart enough to seize on the unpopularity of these same policies to attack the Labour leadership.

Not a surprise, then, that he's already set to join the Carlyle Group....

Avedon Carol 9:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 20, 2005

GOOD COP, BAD COP....Responding to a reporter's question today in Beijing, the president seemed anxious to tone down the rhetoric.

"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq. I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's patriot [sic] and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."

At this risk of sounding ungracious, isn't it a little late in the game for Bush to express tolerance for dissent?

After all, only a week ago it was the president who said criticisms from Democrats "send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." It was also his White House that issued a formal statement in response to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), comparing him to Michael Moore -- for the Bush gang, a serious insult -- and suggesting that Murtha's position purports to "surrender to the terrorists." And it was the Vice President who offered similar rhetoric, lashing out at "a few opportunists" he believes are undermining the troops.

Indeed, at a press conference in Korea last week, a reporter told Bush that Dick Cheney called it "reprehensible" for critics to question how the administration took the country to war, while Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said it's patriotic to ask those kinds of questions. Asked who he thinks is right, Bush said, "The Vice President."

But now the president wants everyone to know that we're having an "honest, open debate" and he "totally rejects" calling others' patriotism into question. Looks like he was for demagogic attacks before he was against them.

Steve Benen 4:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OUT OF TOWN....I'll be in Washington DC for the next couple of days in order to appear on Monday's "New Progressivism" panel at the Center for American Progress. If you're in the area and want to attend, details are here.

While I'm gone two terrific guest bloggers will be handling the site: Avedon Carol of The Sideshow and Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger. Avedon blogs from Britain and Steve blogs from the East Coast, so posts will probably be appearing here at different hours than you're used to seeing from me.

I'll be back on Wednesday. See you then.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CURVEBALL....The LA Times reports today that the Bush administration publicly repeated information from a source known as Curveball despite warnings from his German handlers that the information was unreliable:

Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

...."This was not substantial evidence," said a senior German intelligence official. "We made clear we could not verify the things he said."

The German authorities, speaking about the case for the first time, also said that their informant suffered from emotional and mental problems. "He is not a stable, psychologically stable guy," said a BND official who supervised the case. "He is not a completely normal person," agreed a BND analyst.

....The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball's case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball's claims as a justification for war.

"We were shocked," the official said. "Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven....It was not hard intelligence."

There's much more, so read the whole thing.

In other news about hyped intelligence, James Bamford reports in Rolling Stone that the same thing happened in the case of an informant named Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who insisted that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam Hussein's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. He failed a CIA polygraph test, but his claims were nonetheless leaked to Judith Miller at the New York Times and then trumpeted repeatedly by hawks both inside and outside the administration.

Nope, no manipulation of intelligence here.....

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAS HADLEY WOODWARD'S SOURCE?....The London Times says Stephen Hadley was Bob Woodward's secret source:

The mysterious source who gave Americas foremost journalist, Bob Woodward, a tip-off about the CIA agent at the centre of one of Washingtons biggest political storms was Stephen Hadley, the White House national security adviser, according to lawyers close to the investigation.

....A White House official said the national security advisers ambiguity [about his denial] was unintentional and repeated that Hadley was not Woodwards source. But others close to the investigation insisted that he was.

I don't remember if this has been definitively reported before, but Hadley has almost certainly testified in this case previously. He was much too close to the action for Fitzgerald to have ignored him before now.

If the Times account is true, Hadley could be in serious trouble. It would mean he failed to testify accurately when asked about press contacts before, and that he did so despite the fact that (according to Woodward), Woodward reminded him of their conversation on two previous occasions, once in 2004 and once this year. So "I forgot" won't be a credible defense.

Or else the Times might be wrong. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 19, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....In a heavily conservative district in Missouri, a Democrat recently won a surprising victory over Republican Moira Byrd in a special election for the state legislature. Was it because of Bush fatigue? Negative campaigning? Growing irritation with GOP governor Matt Blunt?

All of those things, I suppose. But John Pohlmann, a political science professor at a local community college, probably nailed the biggest reason:

"I think Byrd had a number of things going against her," said Pohlmann. "It's hard to talk about family values, and then to have your campaign treasurer busted in a drug sting."

Yeah, that would hurt.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

"CAREFUL, ACCURATE, AND FAIR"?....A Washington Post editorial today says that the editor of the Post is right to describe Bob Woodward as "one of the most careful, accurate and fair journalists I have ever worked with." But the editorial then goes on to say this:

Much of the public finds the media's extensive use of confidential sources objectionable, and understandably so. Their use should be as limited as possible. When they are relied upon, reporters should impart as much information as possible about the sources' motives. Those guidelines are accepted but too often ignored by the press.

Sorry guys, but you can't have it both ways. Bob Woodward's signature journalistic method is to seek out interviews with dozens upon dozens of movers and shakers, grant them all anonymity, and then repeat their often self-serving words to his readers without providing any clue about who's saying what or why they're saying it. If the extensive and uncritical use of confidential sources is indeed objectionable, then Woodward is the high priest of objectionable.

For a better take, here is Tim Rutten in the LA Times today:

There is something singularly appropriate about the fact that the Plame affair should involve Woodward, whose skillful and courageous use of the ur-voice among confidential sources virtually created a whole genre of Washington reporting. It's a journalistic strategy style dependent on the cultivation of access to well-placed officials greased by promises of "confidentiality." It's a way of doing journalism that still serves its practitioners' career interests, but less and less often their readers or viewers because it's a game the powerful and well-connected have learned to play to their own advantage.

....The [Bush] administration has adroitly availed itself of the cultural complicity that prevails in a fin de sicle Washington press corps living out the decadence of an increasingly discredited reporting style. As the Valerie Plame scandal and its spreading taint have made all too clear, the trade in confidentiality and access that has made stars of reporters like Bob Woodward and Judy Miller now is utterly bankrupt.

It still may call itself investigative journalism and so it once was but now it's really just a glittering and carefully choreographed waltz in which all the dancers share the unspoken agreement that the one unpardonable faux pas is to ask who's calling the tune.

I've long been a supporter of a federal shield law for reporters because I think the value of protecting whistleblowers outweighs the risk of abuse from reporters and sources who use confidentiality for more venal purposes. But I have to say, between the Wen Ho Lee case, the WMD case, and the Valerie Plame case, America's journalistic community sure is making it hard for me to stick to my guns on this.

Kevin Drum 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SONY SPYWARE....A few days ago Michael Hiltzik blogged about a piece of spyware on Sony music CDs that gets secretly installed on your PC if you play one of their disks on your computer. I didn't link to it at the time, but it's a pretty unbelievable story that's worth a click. Go take a look.

Today, Michael O'Hare follows up the story, and it's now so bad that he thinks we have to make up a whole new word just to describe it:

We need a new, short pithy word for "unbelievable! no, it's really, completely unbelievable!" I'm tired of saying the phrase and others like it, but it seems lately I have to every time I look at a newspaper. UNOIRCU? Unwarkoo...

This story is too good to try to summarize, so go read both links to see what's going on. It's a train wreck of epic proportion.

But maybe there's a silver lining, because if there's any justice in the world admittedly an iffy proposition Sony will get hit by a class action lawsuit so big it will make even tobacco company executives blink. And this might might! persuade other music/movie/television/etc. companies to try to avoid their own extinction by calling a truce in their increasingly desperate war against their own consumers.

Then again, maybe not, especially in an industry in which "new business model" seems to be a more feared concept than "extinction." Sony shareholders take note.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ILLUSION AND REALITY....In an episode scheduled to air sometime this spring, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 on Lost are going to find the manuscript of "Bad Twin," a book written by one of the passengers who died in the crash. At the same time, bookstores around the country are going to offer eager customers the very same book, supposedly written by a Lost character and carrying cover blurbs from fictional reviewers.

All harmless fun, perhaps, but David Ulin, the book editor of the LA Times, is disturbed:

There's something creepy about the nudge-nudge, wink-wink insistence that "Bad Twin" was found instead of manufactured, and it goes beyond the idea of writing as a commodity, a gimmick, a ploy. In fact, the marketing of the novel suggests something far more insidious that we, the audience, exist not only to be manipulated but to participate in our manipulation by seeing it as cool. This is the kind of thing that literature has traditionally stood against.

Help me out, literature mavens. It strikes me that this is exactly backward: far from standing against this kind of thing, literature has always depended on readers who not only agree to be manipulated but actively revel in it. Occasionally this is overt (clapping our hands for Tinkerbell, David Foster Wallace telling us to make up our own ending for Infinite Jest), but more often it's simply part and parcel of the willing suspension of disbelief that's required to enjoy fiction in the first place.

The phony Lost novel obviously belongs in the "overt" category (as well as the "marketing gimmick" category, of course), but if David Foster Wallace can do it, then why not the producers of Lost? In fact, perhaps they're just exploring the all-too-often uninterrogated and subtextual boundaries between art and modern marketing in an attempt to playfully subvert our lazy and unquestioned acceptance of the traditional classist hermenuetics of TV drama?

Or else they're just trying to make a buck and it's nothing to worry about. Your call.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 18, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE SMEAR MACHINE CRANKS UP AGAIN....I guess John Murtha's call for withdrawal from Iraq really has Republicans scared and we know what that means. Today, congressional Republicans cranked up their all-too-familiar smear machine by suggesting that Murtha has violated House ethics rules. This is based on an LA Times article from last June which revealed that last year's defense spending bill included $20 million that went to companies represented by KSA Consulting, a firm that employs Murtha's brother.

You can read the story for yourself, but all I have to say is this: if the best that KSA could do for its clients was $20 million out of a $417 billion appropriations bill, Murtha must not like his brother very much. That's a rounding error.

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING WOODWARD....OK, based on a couple of comments from the previous post, here's a possible scenario that explains why Woodward and his source (Mr. X) came forward only after they had listened in on Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference announcing the indictment of Scooter Libby:

  1. Woodward hears Fitzgerald say on TV that Libby was the first administration official known to have talked about Valerie Plame's CIA status to a reporter.

  2. However, Woodward knows that isn't true: Mr. X blabbed to a reporter (Woodward) before Libby did. What's more, Woodward knows that Mr. X has testified previously.

  3. Woodward concludes that Mr. X must have failed to tell Fitzgerald about this conversation. He is shocked!

  4. He immediately calls Mr. X and tells him that his previous testimony was faulty. Mr. X is shocked too! Woodward is right! Honest soul that he is, he agrees that he needs to immediately call Fitzgerald and tell him that he had, um, forgotten about his conversation with the most famous reporter in Christendom during his initial testimony.

  5. Mr. X calls Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald calls Woodward, and the rest is history.

Then there's the more cynical version of this: Woodward realized that his pal lied under oath and that there was a good chance Fitzgerald might find out about it. So, the way any good friend would, he called Mr. X and told him he ought to refresh his memory pronto before he got hit with a perjury charge too.

Take your pick. I'm not sure that either of these scenarios sounds very plausible, but they're the best I've heard so far. Take 'em for what they're worth.

Kevin Drum 7:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WOODWARD'S SOURCE....Why did Bob Woodward's source suddenly decide to come forward earlier this month and tell Patrick Fitzgerald that he had revealed Valerie Plame's CIA status to Woodward in mid-June 2003? Because Woodward himself suggested it:

In his press conference announcing Libbys indictment, Fitzgerald noted that, "Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson." Woodward realized, given that the indictment stated Libby disclosed the information to New York Times reporter Miller on June 23, that Libby was not the first official to talk about Wilson's wife to a reporter. Woodward himself had received the information earlier.

According to Woodward, that triggered a call to his source. "I said it was clear to me that the source had told me [about Wilson's wife] in mid-June," says Woodward, "and this person could check his or her records and see that it was mid-June. My source said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor. I said, 'If you do, am I released?'", referring to the confidentiality agreement between the two. The source said yes, but only for purposes of discussing it with Fitzgerald, not for publication.

I'm struggling to make sense of this. Why did Mr. X have no alternative after he got Woodward's call? Had he completely forgotten about all this until Woodward reminded him? That doesn't seem likely.

Regardless, the implication here is that it really is important news that Libby wasn't the first person to reveal Plame's status to a reporter. But why? That has nothing to do with the perjury charges Fitzgerald brought against Libby.

And yet, somehow it was important enough that both Woodward and Mr. X immediately decided that it needed to be revealed to Fitzgerald. For two years neither of them felt they needed to come forward to Fitzgerald, but as soon as Libby was indicted they did.

Why? What possibilities are there for this? Think, dammit, think!

Kevin Drum 5:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PEAK OIL UPDATE....Suart Staniford has an interesting followup to his summary of the peak oil discussion at last week's meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. Basically, there's good news and bad news:

  • The bad news is increasing evidence that the decline rate for existing oil fields might be close to 8% per year, not the 3-6% per year everyone's been assuming. If that's the case, then new discoveries won't come close to matching the decline from existing fields, and oil production will peak in the very near future.

  • The good news comes from Henry Groppe. He believes that oil production is near peak, but points out that about 25% of the world's oil production is currently used for heat and power generation, mostly in developing countries. The U.S. and Europe switched almost all their heat and power generation to coal and natural gas (and nuclear) in the 70s, and it's probable that developing countries will do the same if oil prices stay high. This gives the world a bit of headroom on the demand side, even if oil production does peak in the near future.

That's all. I just wanted to pass along the latest news on the peak oil front.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

KEEPING DOWN THE BLACK VOTE....Earlier this year Georgia passed a law requiring residents to present ID at polling places before they vote. If you don't have a driver's license, as many poor and elderly people don't, you have to pay $20 to get a state ID card.

The purpose? To prevent fraud, of course. What kind of fraud? Let's listen in:

The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter identification law told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the new law, it is only because it would end such voting fraud.

....[Rep. Sue] Burmeister said Thursday that the memo's record of what she said "was more accurate than not," but added: "That sounds pretty harsh. I don't remember saying those exact words."

I'm trying to think of what to say about this, but words fail me. I guess I'll let Burmeister's explanation speak for itself.

But remember this: the Bush Justice Department approved Georgia's law even though they had Burmeister's statement on record. In their view, this was not sufficient evidence of any kind of racial animus in the bill. One wonders just what kind of evidence Alberto Gonzales requires.

Via The Carpetbagger.

UPDATE: More on the subject here from Legal Fiction.

Kevin Drum 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LEAK UPDATE....Patrick Fitzgerald says the Plame leak investigation is continuing and "will involve proceedings before a different grand jury." I'm guessing that there are at least a few people in the White House who are feeling pretty nervous about that announcement.

In other news, People magazine named Fitzgerald one of this year's sexiest men alive.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AND EDUCATION....In the past couple of weeks universities around the country have announced huge tuition increases. In California, for example, UC just raised tuition and fees for undergraduates by 8%, the fifth increase in the past five years.

The Republican response in Congress has been predictable: a massive reduction in student assistance in order to help finance their $70 billion corporate tax cut:

The budget bill would reverse a previous law capping the interest rates for student loans....would also increase the cap on parent loans....would also raise taxes on student loans, raise interest rates on consolidation loans and reduce subsidies paid to student lenders, totaling $20.5 billion in cuts over a 10-year period, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

You can watch George Miller's impassioned floor speech about these cuts here. Be sure to keep watching after they try to gavel him into silence.

But here's another related tidbit. Not only did congressional Republicans raise interest rates on working class and middle class students no big surprise, really but these supposed free market zealots also declined to change a rule that prevents students from refinancing their loans if interest rates go down. Here's Dick Morris:

While homeowners can refinance their mortgages as often as they want and relieve themselves of high-interest debt when rates cycle downward, student and former-student debtors are only permitted to refinance once for the lifetime of the loan! And now the House is considering legislation that would stop students who are in school from keeping their current interest rate of 4.75 percent and would instead force them to pay 7.9 percent, creating a lifetime burden entirely unjustified by the lending market.

....Frequently, students use their once-only refinancing option shortly after graduation and find themselves helpless as the market interest rates drop ever lower....But student loan refinancing beyond the one shot now permitted is blocked by special-interest regulation and legislation.

Get the picture? Republicans are raising fees and interest rates for middle class students, cutting taxes on corporations and the rich, and allowing special interests to keep a special privilege that allows them to lock in higher rates on kids for years regardless of what the market does. That's a pretty sweet deal. For someone.

Kevin Drum 12:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RIGHT TO REQUEST....Of all the articles in our "New Progressivism" package, Karen Kornbluh's "The Joy of Flex" was the one I found the most fascinating. It describes a British program that allows working parents to request flex time:

The policy, which went into effect in 2003, works like this: Any parent with one or more children under the age of six, who has worked at least 26 consecutive weeks, has the right to file a written request with his or her employer for a change in working hoursbe that in the form of compressed hours, flex-time, telecommuting, job-sharing, shift-working, or staggered hours.

The employee must explain exactly how the proposed schedule would work and offer solutions to any inconvenience that might be caused to the employer. For their part, employers are required to meet with any worker who has filed such a request within four weeks to discuss the proposed plan, and they must notify the employee of a decision within two weeks of that meeting.

The part I found most interesting is that the program doesn't rely on bureaucratic coercion. Employees have the right to request flex time, but employers aren't required to give it to them. The only requirement is that employers meet with workers who have requested flex time and give them a good reason if they turn them down.

And apparently that's all it takes at least in Britain. 86% of workers who request flex time have gotten it, amounting to nearly one-quarter of all workers who are eligible for the program. Workers like it, businesses report no real problems adapting, and it's been a big success for Tony Blair's government.

Sounds like something that ought to be on the Democratic Party agenda.

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 17, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WOODWARD'S SOURCE....The Wall Street Journal says that all of the following people have either been ruled out as Bob Woodward's source or have denied it:

  • Dick Cheney ("Isn't believed to have talked to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald since last year, nor has he given a waiver to Mr. Woodward. That removes him as Mr. Woodward's source.")

  • George Bush

  • Dan Bartlett

  • Doug Feith

  • Carl Ford

  • George Tenet

  • John McLaughlin

  • Colin Powell

  • Steven Hadley

  • Condoleezza Rice

  • John Bolton

  • Karl Rove

Marc Grossman and Rich Armitage couldn't be reached for comment.

Needless to say, any of these people could be lying. But for what it's worth, they're all now on the record saying it wasn't them.

Kevin Drum 10:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LIBBY SMOKESCREEN....Yesterday Bob Woodward admitted that someone in the Bush administration had told him about Valerie Plame in mid-June 2003, a few days prior to the date that Scooter Libby leaked Plame's CIA status to Judith Miller. Media Matters has an exhaustive rundown of media figures who have now repeated the notion that this somehow hurts Patrick Fitzgerald's case against Libby. I sure don't see how.

Fitzgerald didn't indict Libby for being the first person to tell a reporter about Plame. In fact, he didn't indict Libby for leaking Plame's status at all. He was indicted for lying about how he found out about Plame. Libby testified to the grand jury that Tim Russert had told him about Plame in July, when in fact he found out about her in June from CIA and State Department sources.

I don't blame Libby's lawyer for trying to throw up some smoke over this. That's his job. But the facts in the indictment are pretty straightforward, and I don't really understand why anyone not connected with Libby is falling for the smokescreen. It's pretty thin stuff.

Kevin Drum 8:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REVENGE OF THE CENTRISTS....Are congressional Republicans imploding? Are the fabled GOP moderates in open revolt? Michael Crowley suggests that it sure looks that way.

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By: Kevin Drum

SHIFTING GROUND?....I don't know if this is a Walter Cronkite moment or anything, but conservative Democrat John Murtha has decided that things are going so badly in Iraq that we need to withdraw now. Not on a timetable. Now.

I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won "militarily." I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.

....My plan calls:

  • To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.

  • To create a quick reaction force in the region.

  • To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines.

  • To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

....Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.

Over at The Corner, even Rod Dreher was impressed:

As I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he's a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party....From where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.

My prediction: we've already started to see this, but I think Republicans are about to crumble. Pressure is going to mount on the White House to use the December elections as an excuse to declare victory and go home, fueled by equal parts disgust over Dick Cheney's lobbying for the right to torture; unease even among Republicans that the president wasn't honest during the marketing of the war; lack of progress on the ground in Iraq; Congress reasserting its independence of the executive; a genuine belief that the American presence has become counterproductive; and raw electoral fear, what with midterm elections looming in less than a year.

I also think the Rove/Cheney/Bush counterattack is going to backfire. Congressional Republicans are looking for cover right now, and I don't think they believe that a ferocious partisan attack from the White House is what they need right now. The public is looking for answers, not administration attack dogs on the evening news every day, but this particular White House doesn't know any other way. It's going to cost them.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OSM LAUNCH....Open Source Media formerly Pajamas Media had its big rollout yesterday, and it was an odd affair. I never really understood what OSM was about, but I figured they'd explain themselves at their launch party and then I'd get it. Except that they didn't. The main site is here bankrolled by $3.5 million in venture capital money! but all it contains is a couple of posts, some newsfeeds, and an explanation (as of noon on Thursday) that they are actually OSM, not Open Source Media, so no worries over Chris Lydon's trademark of "Open Source."

Everyone else is as befuddled as me, which is an odd reaction to a product launch, but perhaps OSM is just running behind schedule and decided not to put off the party just because there was no actual product yet. It wouldn't be the first time in the high tech biz.

In any case, James Joyner did a bit of asking around and has a long post about OSM here. Jeff Jarvis continues to be confused here. And Dennis the Peasant is your one stop shop for insanely bitter former partner who was tossed into the gutter by the current management.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LET THE SELLER BEWARE....Jonah Goldberg is taking some abuse for pointing out today in his maiden column for the LA Times that FDR lied about World War II. I don't think that defending Jonah will become a regular feature here, but there's actually nothing much objectionable about saying this. FDR, after all, was a pretty consummate smooth talker.

In fact, as Eric Alterman pointed out in When Presidents Lie, FDR also lied about the end of WWII, JFK lied about the Cuban Missile Crisis, LBJ lied about the Vietnam War, and Ronald Reagan lied about Iran-Contra. Nixon lied too, but I gather that Eric left him out of the book because he was just too easy a target. And as long as we're at it, Truman continued FDR's lies, Eisenhower lied about U-2 flights and other things, Bush Sr. told a few whoppers about Gulf War I, and Clinton certainly knew he was lying when he said we'd be in and out of Kosovo in a year.

Of course, Jonah's point is that lying is OK as long as the cause is just about which we should check back with him in a couple of decades while Eric's point was that lying is wrong and we shouldn't put up with it. In fact, Eric's conclusion, which is one that Jonah should probably take note of, is that in most cases lying about national security leads to horrible consequences, a lesson that George Bush is relearning to his misfortune. As it turns out, most lies eventually get unmasked, and with rare exceptions the American public is not amused. In a democracy, you need public support to sustain a war, and that support usually can't survive if the public thinks it's been duped. Caveat venditor.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A BOY'S GAME?....Ann Althouse says today that the usual vitriolic tone of the blogosphere gets even worse when women are the targets:

Blogosphere-strength fighting with a woman takes on an outrageous sexual tone, aggressively declaring that that this is a boy's game. Are there any feminists around to see when it's happening and say a little something?

I'm pretty sure the answer is "yes" to both parts of that question.

As it happens, Ann's specific complaint is about a comment thread at LGF, and Matt Welch does a public service by providing a sample of the comments so you don't have to wade through the muck yourself to see what Ann is talking about. Basically, it's LGF being LGF, and therefore perhaps not worth wasting much energy on. On the other hand, the same is true elsewhere, including here from time to time, which does make it worth pointing out. Comments?

Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 16, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WHO WAS BOB WOODWARD'S SOURCE?....A group of New York Times reporters is trying to figure out who Bob Woodward's source was:

A senior administration official said that neither President Bush himself, nor his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., nor his counselor, Dan Bartlett, was Mr. Woodward's source. So did spokesmen for former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former C.I.A. Director George J. Tenet and his deputy John E. McLaughlin.

....Vice President Cheney did not join the parade of denials. A spokeswoman said he would have no comment on an ongoing investigation. Several other officials could not be reached for comment.

....Only a small group of officials at the White House, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency are believed to have known by early June 2003 about Ms. Wilson's ties to the C.I.A. They included Secretary Powell, Mr. Tenet, Mr. McLaughlin, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby; Marc Grossman, then the under secretary of state for political affairs; Carl Ford, then the head of the State Department's intelligence bureau; and Richard L. Armitage, then deputy secretary of state.

OK, let's check off each member of this "small group" of officials:

  • Powell denied

  • Tenet denied

  • McLaughlin denied

  • Cheney declined to comment

  • Libby Woodward says he's not the source

  • Grossman not reached for comment

  • Ford not reached for comment

  • Armitage not reached for comment

It's not clear to me that this is actually an exhaustive list where are Fleitz and Wurmser and Hannah? but Todd Purdum, David Johnston and Douglas Jehl certainly seem to be implying that they have reason to believe Woodward's source has to be on this list.

So: either Dick Cheney or else someone in the State Department. And no one in the State Department really seems to be a likely candidate to stick his neck out on Libby's behalf at this late date.

In other words, they think it's Cheney, but they can't just say so. Hmmm.

POSTSCRIPT: Tom Maguire suggests that even if Cheney's the leaker, he didn't do anything wrong:

I strongly suspect that Cheney would not be guilty of anything the Vice President may have an implicit authority to declassify information....

Now that's an intriguing variation on the White House's apparent belief that Congress has no right to limit the president's actions in any way during wartime. After all, Cheney's only a heartbeat away!

Kevin Drum 11:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POWER OF SNARK....In a stellar demonstration that sustained snark can sometimes be an effective agent for change, the comment section here at Political Animal has successfully shamed provoked Praktike into changing the name of "Liberals Against Terrorism" into "American Footprints." Congratulations on a job well done!

Kevin Drum 8:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RATING THE BLOGS....The Hotline rates the blogs from potential 2008 presidential candidates. Thumbs up go to John Edwards and Wes Clark. Thumbs down to Mark Warner and Bill Frist. No thumb at all to the blogless John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

In other bloggy news, the Wall Street Journal lists the must-read blogs in a variety of industries. If you work in real estate, advertising, publishing, finance, or half a dozen other industries or just want to pretend you do they clue you in to the blogs all the insiders are reading.

UPDATE: And yet more! The Guardian profiles British blogs here.

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME SCORECARD....I'm trying to keep score here, but I'm not sure my memory is complete. So help me out. We now know the names of at least five reporters who were told by administration officials that "Joe Wilson's wife" worked at the CIA:

  1. Bob Woodward ("In mid-June 2003 [an administration official] told me Wilson's wife worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction as a WMD analyst.")

  2. Judith Miller ("On the afternoon of June 23, 2003...Mr. Libby raised the subject of Mr. Wilson's wife for the first time. I told Mr. Fitzgerald that I believed this was the first time I had been told that Mr. Wilson's wife might work for the C.I.A.")

  3. Matt Cooper ("I told the grand jurors that I was curious about Wilson when I called Karl Rove on Friday, July 11....As for Wilson's wife, I told the grand jury I was certain that Rove never used her name....Rove did, however, clearly indicate that she worked at the "agency"....I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, 'I've already said too much.'")

  4. Walter Pincus ("On July 12, 2003, an administration official...veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that [Joe Wilson's trip to Niger] was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction.")

  5. Robert Novak (July 14, 2003: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report.")

And we know there were at least four administration officials involved in leaking this information:

  1. Scooter Libby

  2. Karl Rove

  3. Bob Woodward's "senior administration official"

  4. Robert Novak's original source

(It's possible that #3 and #4 are the same person, but I suspect they're not. Woodward's source mentioned only "Joe Wilson's wife" while Novak's source actually gave him the name "Valerie Plame.")

Am I missing anyone? Every one of these reporters has testified that the mention of Wilson's wife was "casual," not part of a calculated effort to spread this information. But four officials and five reporters sure sounds like some planning went into this, doesn't it? And of course, two years ago the Washington Post reported that White House officials called "at least six Washington journalists" to spread this information.

So: Just a coincidental series of offhand remarks about the exact same information all off the record or a calculated campaign to leak Plame's status? You make the call.

UPDATE: Lots of comments on this. A few notes:

  • I added Walter Pincus to the list of reporters. I'd forgotten about him.

  • Tim Russert and Glenn Kessler have specifically denied being told about Plame. Karl Rove famously told Chris Matthews that Plame was "fair game," but this was after Novak's column appeared.

  • Tom Maguire's list of people who allegedly knew about Plame via the DC gossip circuit includes Andrea Mitchell, High Sidey, Martin Peretz, and Cliff May. However, none of them has claimed that administration officials specifically told them about Plame, only that it was supposedly common knowledge among the cognoscenti.

Kevin Drum 2:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PARTISANSHIP AND WAR....Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican and an occasional critic of the war, gave a powerful speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday:

The Iraq war should not be debated in the United States on a partisan political platform. This debases our country, trivializes the seriousness of war and cheapens the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform....The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.

Ivo Daalder has the rest of the highlights over at TPMCafe. As I wrote last year, Hagel's words encapsulate the thing that's been my single biggest source of disgust with the Bush/Rove machine for the past four years. They could have viewed 9/11 as a means to genuinely unite the country, but they deliberately chose not to:

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

And it worked: Republicans won the election. And Democrats finally woke up and realized that George Bush was more interested in using the war as a partisan club than he was in actually fighting terrorists.

And that's not all. Unlike his father, Bush deliberately timed the vote on the war declaration for maximum impact on the 2002 midterms; he delayed progress on the UN declaration in order to maintain that as hot button for his base; and the Downing Street Memos make clear that the timing of "spikes of activity" against Iraq were related to the midterm elections as well.

The rest of the world sees this too and asks the obvious question: If Bush himself treats the war on terrorism as just another partisan club, like tort reform or tax cuts, why should anyone else take it any more seriously? It's a hard question to answer.

Kevin Drum 1:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW PROGRESSIVISM....Have you ever wondered what I'm like in person? If you live in Washington DC, now's your chance to find out. On Monday the 21st I'll be joining a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress about the cover package on "The New Progressivism" in our latest issue. Here are the details:

Who: An All-Star lineup!

Kevin Drum, Editor, Political Animal blog
Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief, The Washington Monthly
Robert Gordon, Senior VP for Economic Policy, Center for American Progress
Karen Kornbluh, Policy Director, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Moderated by: E.J. Dionne, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Columnist, Washington Post

Where: Center for American Progress, 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor, Washington DC. The nearest Metro is the Blue/Orange Line to McPherson Square or the Red Line to Metro Center. Click here for a map and directions.

When: Monday, November 21, 2:30-4:00 pm.

RSVP: Click here to RSVP or call 202-741-6246

Everyone is welcome. It should be a fun discussion.

And no worries about the blog: I'll be leaving it in the capable hands of two very good guest bloggers. The show will go on.

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLAME UPDATE....This is just bizarre. According to the Washington Post, a "senior administration official" talked to Bob Woodward in mid-June 2003 about Valerie Plame. That's prior to Scooter Libby's conversations with Judith Miller, and therefore marks the earliest date that anyone in the administration talked about Plame to a reporter.

So who is this mysterious Mr. X that blabbed to Woodward? We don't know. It's not Libby, and Karl Rove's spokesman says it's not Rove. No other names were mentioned.

And why do we suddenly know all this? Because Woodward testified about it on Monday to Patrick Fitzgerald.

Why did he do that? Because Mr. X fessed up to Fitzgerald about the conversation a couple of weeks ago, and Fitzgerald subsequently asked Woodward to testify about it.

And why did Mr. X suddenly confess? No one knows.

Did Woodward tell anyone about this conversation back when it happened? He didn't tell his editor, but he says he did tell fellow Post reporter Walter Pincus. Pincus, however, says Woodward is delusional: "Are you kidding?" he says. "I certainly would have remembered that."

I can't begin to make sense of this. The only thing that's clear is that Mr. X must have had some reason to suddenly come clean, and that reason must have had something to do with Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation. Perhaps Mr. X is a cooperating witness, or perhaps he's someone who started to feel some heat and decided to come forward because he got scared. Who knows?

But what this does tell us is that the Plame investigation is alive and well and continuing to make progress. Fasten your seatbelts.

Woodward's statement is here.

Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 15, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

PRESIDENTS ACTING BADLY....What's going on with the George Bush rumor mill?

Last year Capitol Hill Blue reported that Bush was taking anti-depressant drugs to control his erratic behavior, depression and paranoia. "Bush's mental stability has become the topic of Washington whispers in recent months. Capitol Hill Blue first reported on June 4 about increasing concern among White House aides over the Presidents wide mood swings and obscene outbursts." That was entertaining stuff, but it was just CHB being CHB. Good for some laughs, but that's all.

Then this year the National Enquirer reported that Bush was drinking again. "Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster. His worried wife yelled at him: 'Stop, George.'" Hmmm. The National Enquirer. A step up from CHB, perhaps, but not exactly the most trusted name in news.

But in October, Tom DeFrank reported in the New York Daily News that Bush was frustrated, angry, and bitter. "Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy." DeFrank is a legitimate reporter with genuine sources. Maybe there's something to this after all?

Today, Insight on the News, a Washington Times outlet with close ties to conservatives, reports that Bush has become isolated and feels betrayed by key members of his staff. "The sources said Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions."

Needless to say, all of these stories are sourced anonymously and there's no telling if there's any truth to any of them. But who are these sources? At the very least, there seem to be a fair number of people who can be plausibly labeled "insiders" and who are gleefully passing along rumors of serious presidential angst. What's going on?

Kevin Drum 11:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PRAGMATIC CASE AGAINST TORTURE....I've long been leery of staking too much on the "pragmatic" case against torture namely that it doesn't work because it implies that if it did work then I'd be OK with it. Matt Yglesias makes a good argument in its defense:

Some people don't like to bring up "pragmatic" worries about torture because they think this obscures the "real" reason torture is wrong it's depraved. That seems a little wrongheaded to me. A big part of the reason we know torture to be a depraved practice is precisely that it's not useful only depraved people become professional torturers and only depraved leaders order its systematic use as a policy tool. If torture were a vital and useful investigative tool, you'd be able to point to big piles of non-depraved torturers, but you really can't.

I'm still a little leery of this argument, because I'm afraid that eventually it will lead to dueling talking heads on Hardball arguing about whether torture works or not. I'm not sure I could take that. But still, Matt makes a good point.

Kevin Drum 3:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

ETHIOPIA...WHO KNEW?....Thought I should mention that right now, a few thousand Ethiopians are conducting a protest march around the White House (and, consequently, under our windows as well), pretty much shutting down traffic for six or seven blocks. The consensus here in the office is that it's nice to see a focused march for once. No twenty-seven different signs for various causes here. Just lots of green, yellow, and red flags and signs that read, "USA, Condemn the Massacre in Ethiopia." Also, some very catchy music blasting so loud that you should probably not trying calling our offices for a little while.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some internet research to do, as I'm apparently shamefully uninformed about the situation in Ethiopia. Job well done, Ethiopian protesters. President Bush may be hanging out in Asia, and Condi Rice is in the Middle East. But you've made it impossible for The Washington Monthly to ignore you!

Amy Sullivan 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PROGRESS IN GAZA....Condoleezza Rice has successfully concluded a deal between Israel and the Palestinian government that gives Gaza better access to the outside world:

The deal sets out the terms of operation for Gaza border crossings used to move cargo and people, resolving a deadlock that has frustrated a team of international negotiators for weeks. It also establishes a system of bus convoys to shuttle Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, the two territorial components of what is envisioned as a future Palestinian state.

The agreement allows the Palestinians to begin work on Gaza's seaport, and assures donors that Israel will not interfere with its operation....The deal says discussions on renovating and reopening Gaza's international airport will continue.

As NSC director Rice was a disaster, but as Secretary of State she's been surprisingly effective. Credit where it's due. Over at Liberals Against Terrorism, Nadezhda provides some of the backstory, including props for James Wolfensohn, who negotiated the deal in the first place. As she says, "This demonstrates the benefits of actually working the issues multilaterally rather than use the Quartet as either a fig leaf for US positions or an excuse not to act."

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HARRIS POLL....With a re-elect number below 40% Bill Nelson might not be the most popular guy in Florida, but in a show of remarkable electoral wisdom it appears that Katherine Harris is 20 points less popular still. What's more, her campaign manager just quit. What a shame.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LESS OF A SOAPBOX, MORE OF A CONVERSATION....Via Pandagon, Stephanie Schorow writes about women bloggers today at SadieMAG, including interviews with many of my favorites:

While a significant number of female bloggers exist, they often don't receive the credit given to male bloggers, explains [Amanda] Marcotte. "It's out-and-out sexism. That comes from my experience switching to Pandagon. For a certain percentage of the audience, there was nothing I could do to make them happy. There was nonstop sniping obviously coming from resentment that a woman was blogging."

....Women often run up against the attitude, Marcotte remarks, that "guys make the rules and they get to decide the impact of a woman's issue. Women, for obvious reasons, are going to write about women's issues more." Kathy cites the example of abortion. "Women bloggers on both sides will post long and emotional and detailed essays. Male bloggers throw a few sentences at it."

....And yet blogging seems peculiarly suited for women. Less of a soapbox and more of a conversation, blogs comprise a "talk amongst yourselves" quality. Says [Lindsay] Beyerstein, "You get to know the people in your blog community; you get to know the bloggers. You feel like you're having a discussion with people you know."

I don't know if the "talk amongst yourselves" quality of blogs is peculiarly suited for women or not, but it's certainly one of the blogosphere's greatest attractions. If blogs didn't have comment sections and didn't routinely interact with each other, I don't think I'd bother reading them. It's what sets them apart from op-ed pages and opinion magazines.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TICKING TIME BOMBS....The "ticking time bomb" case for torture is so depraved and transparently dishonest that I've never mustered up the emotional calm to blog about it. Luckily, Alex Tabarrok does it for me today:

It does not follow from the "ticking time bomb" argument that torture should be legal. The problem with making torture legal is that the government will abuse its powers. I do not trust the government, any government, to use this power responsibly. Leviathan must be heavily restrained, especially when it comes to torture.

Here is where economics can make a contribution. By making torture illegal we are raising the price of torture but we are not raising the price to infinity. If the President or the head of the CIA thinks that torture is required to stop the ticking time bomb then they ought to approve it knowing full well that they face possible prosecution. Only if the price of torture is very high can we expect that it will be used only in the most absolutely urgent of circumstances.

This is exactly right, although I'm not sure it really takes an economist to figure this out. Torture should be flatly illegal because that's the message we want to send both to our own people and to the rest of the world. Legal torture should be reserved for regimes like Cuba and North Korea, not the United States of America.

However, in the fantastically unlikely 24-esque event that we capture a terrorist who knows the location of a ticking atomic bomb, he's going to get tortured regardless. The torturer will immediately get pardoned by the president for doing so, and would be unanimously acquitted by a jury even if he weren't. And I'm fine with that.

So please. Enough with the idiotic ticking time bomb already. If we're going to talk about torture, let's talk about how it's used in the real world.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FIRING ROBERT SCHEER....Today, LA Times editorial page editor Andrs Martinez takes a stab at explaining why Robert Scheer is no longer writing for them:

Scheer's impassioned prose has graced these pages for 13 years....Assessing the merits of a column, like assessing the merits of a movie, is a subjective exercise, so readers can agree to disagree over the wisdom of our decision. It's inaccurate, however, to ascribe ideological motives to our decision to stop running Scheer's column.

Some readers have complained that The Times is conspiring to silence liberal voices on the Op-Ed page. Others have gone so far as to suggest that Scheer is being punished for opposing the war in Iraq.

I'm pretty easygoing about stuff like this, but even I find this vaguely insulting. We're given several reasons Scheer wasn't fired Not too liberal! Not because of ideology! Not for opposing the war! Not because his prose was too passionate! but never given a reason why he was fired.

If they want to fire the guy, then fire away. If they want to keep quiet about the reasons, I guess that's fine too. But if you write a special box solely to tell your readers why he was let go, shouldn't you actually tell your readers why he was let go?

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ROE v. ALITO....After a bit of routine brown nosing in a 1985 letter seeking a promotion in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, Samuel Alito said this:

It has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly. I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued...that the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that the constitution does indeed protect a woman's right to an abortion. It's a qualified protection, but a protection nonetheless, and Alito said he believed "very strongly" that this was incorrect not just as a personal matter, but as a "legal position."

Question: In theory, the reason that Supreme Court nominees won't comment on specific cases is because it might "prejudge" future decisions in related cases before arguments have been heard. However, having stated in 1985 that he believed Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, Alito has already prejudged his view in future cases testing Roe. So: is it OK to ask him if he still holds this view? If not, why not?

Kevin Drum 1:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TODAY'S WAR NEWS....Hmmm. Very interesting news on the war front tonight. First, we've apparently reached a compromise on Lindsey Graham's legislation that would eliminate the right of habeas corpus to military detainees:

The compromise links legislation written by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), which would deny detainees broad access to federal courts, with a new measure authored by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) that would grant detainees the right to appeal the verdict of a military tribunal to a federal appeals court. The deal will come to a vote today, and the authors say they are confident it will pass.

Graham and Levin indicated they would then demand that House and Senate negotiators link their measure with the effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to clearly ban torture and abuse of terrorism suspects being held in U.S. facilities.

"McCain's amendment needs to be part of the overall package, because it deals with standardizing interrogation techniques and will reestablish moral high ground for the United States," Graham said.

I'm cautiously optimistic about this. The details of this "right to appeal" are important, but it sounds like it might be a reasonable compromise. And if it's linked to McCain's anti-torture amendment, all the better.

On another front, it looks like Democratic pressure to figure out an eventual withdrawal plan from Iraq has actually had an effect:

In a sign of increasing unease among Congressional Republicans over the war in Iraq, the Senate is to consider on Tuesday a Republican proposal that calls for Iraqi forces to take the lead next year in securing the nation and for the Bush administration to lay out its strategy for ending the war.

....The proposal on the Iraq war, from Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, and Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, would require the administration to provide extensive new quarterly reports to Congress on subjects like progress in bringing in other countries to help stabilize Iraq.

....The plan...is built upon the Democratic approach and makes it clear that senators of both parties are increasingly eager for Iraqis to take control of their country in coming months and open the door to removing American troops.

In fact, it appears to be nearly identical to the Democratic approach. Kudos to Harry Reid & Co. for producing a positive plan for Iraq that's forced a Republican response.

But will it work? Again, the devil is in the details, namely just how detailed these "extensive new quarterly reports" will be. They could turn out to be window dressing that's easily fobbed off by Donald Rumsfeld, or they could be serious instruments that force the administration to set meaningful benchmarks and report on them. With midterm elections coming up, my guess is that they'll be at least moderately serious. We'll see.

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 14, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

ABUSE OF POWER....Last night I provided five examples of intelligence experts who had dissented from mainstream views about Iraq's WMD but whose dissents had been kept classified by the Bush administration until after the war. These five examples are only a small part of the case that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but I think they're the most important part of the case. Here's why.

Earlier this year we went through a long (and often tedious) debate about Social Security. George Bush and his supporters said a lot of things that liberals found outrageous, and we said so loudly and persistently. If we thought conservatives were leaving important facts out of their arguments, we pointed it out. They did the same to us. In the end, it was a loud but fair debate.

This could happen only because all the relevant facts were available to everyone. The Social Security Administration publishes annual reports for all to see. Its economists publish detailed actuarial models. The CBO publishes reports, OMB publishes reports, and third parties publish reports. Everything was out in the open. That's the way most public debates work.

But there's one area where this isn't true: national security. On this single topic, the president has absolute control over which information is made public and which isn't. This gives him a much greater responsibility to present the facts fairly than it does in other debates, where his spin, no matter how outrageous, can be spun right back by opponents who know everything he does.

In the debate on Iraq, Bush acted as both prosecutor and judge. He made his case as strongly as he could which is fine but he also withheld crucial information that would have allowed his opponents to make their case as strongly as they could which isn't. In short, in order to further his own political aims, he abused his power to decide what information remains classified and what doesn't.

In a democracy, this is unacceptable. It's unacceptable for the president to decide that only information favorable to his own case can be part of the public discourse. But all too often, that's what happened in the runup to the Iraq war.

Arguing the case for war passionately was fine. Exercising the executive's classification power to suppress information solely because it was inconvenient to his argument wasn't. George Bush should be held accountable for this abuse of power.

Kevin Drum 11:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HABEAS CORPUS....P. Sabin Willett, a lawyer who represents Guantanamo Bay prisoners on a pro bono basis, writes in the Washington Post today about the Senate's decision to eliminate habeas corpus rights for prisoners suspected of being enemy combatants:

As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.

Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.

The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.

Eliminating habeas corpus is a disgrace. It's a statement that our courts are not to be trusted, that people should be judged guilty solely on Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush's say so, and that the United States cannot survive unless its most important principles are tossed in the ash heap.

For more, go read Katherine and Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. There's a lot there, but you might start with this one and this one, just to get an idea of Lindsey Graham's duplicitousness on this whole matter. He should be ashamed.

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WINNING THE WAR....Mickey Kaus writes today that Bob Krumm has a surefire strategy for Democrats: "The strategy is this: Win the war in Iraq."

But wait. I clicked over to Krumm's site and it turns out that Mickey has subtly Dowdified his advice. Here's what he actually said: "I offer Democrats a sure-fire, absolutely guaranteed way to win the Presidency in 2008: Let Bush win the war in Iraq."

Now, I have my doubts that there are any Democrats who know how to win the war, which makes Mickey's version problematic as strategy. But Krumm's actual version is worse. After all, so far Bush has been allowed to do every single thing he's wanted. Democrats have denied him nothing. He's gotten every dollar, every weapon, and every body he's asked for. He has maintained absolute control over the strategy on the ground, which has produced anarchy, followed by insurgency, followed by Abu Ghraib. When John Kerry suggested expanding the size of the military, Bush scoffed. When Wes Clark proposed a detailed diplomatic strategy, nobody listened. A chorus of voices have suggested that the Army needs to take counterinsurgency more seriously, but Donald Rumsfeld has other ideas.

It's obvious to anyone even remotely paying attention that Bush doesn't know how to win the war regardless of which definition of "win" you favor but doesn't want to hear suggestions from anyone else either. So what exactly is it that Democrats are supposed to do to help him?

On the bright side, perhaps Bob Krumm can join the law firm I've been thinking of setting up with David Frum and Bob Shrum. With the four of us, it would be Frum, Shrum, Drum, and Krumm. I wonder if any of us are lawyers?

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PAYING THE PRICE....One of the most depressing stories of the weekend was William Broad and David Sanger's piece in the New York Times about a laptop computer captured last year that shows that Iran is actively trying to figure out how to design and build a nuclear warhead. It's depressing because a nuclear-armed Iran isn't exactly a comforting notion to begin with, and doubly depressing because after the Iraq fiasco the Bush administration is having trouble convincing our allies that the laptop isn't a fake:

"I can fabricate that data," a senior European diplomat said of the documents. "It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."

....The Bush administration, seeming to understand the depth of its credibility problem, is only talking about the laptop computer and its contents in secret briefings, more than a dozen so far.

....As a measure of the skepticism the Bush administration faces, officials said the American ambassador to the international atomic agency, Gregory L. Schulte, was urging other countries to consult with his French counterpart. "On Iraq we disagreed, and on Iran we completely agree," a senior State Department official said. "That gets attention."

....Without revealing the source of the computer, American intelligence officials insisted that it had not come from any Iranian resistance groups.

This is what it's come to. A European diplomat talks openly about the possibility that the entire thing is a U.S. fraud. The Bush administration is forced to lean on France to establish its own credibility. And the Chalabi fiasco in Iraq combined with the dubious track record of Iranian resistance groups makes the provenance of the laptop about as iffy as Dan Rather's National Guard memos.

As recently as five years ago, none of this would have even occurred to anyone. Today it's the first thing that comes to mind.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PEAK OIL UPDATE....The Association for the Study of Peak Oil had its annual meeting in Denver last week, and The Oil Drum has the news. Stuart Staniford has wrapups of both Thursday and Friday, as well as a few other miscellaneous posts if you click around the site a bit. There's both gloomy and hopeful news within the various presentations, so read the whole thing for a balanced look at what the peak oil community is thinking these days.

Kevin Drum 1:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LINSE'S LAW....Patriotism or jingoism? Brian Linse reports, you decide.

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MANIPULATING INTELLIGENCE....Did the Bush administration mislead the country during the runup to the Iraq war? It's true that they turned out to be wrong about a great many things, but that doesn't answer the question. It merely begs it. Were they sincerely wrong, or did they intentionally manipulate the intelligence they presented to the public in order to mask known weaknesses in their case?

The case for manipulation is pretty strong. It relies on several things, but I think the most important of them has been the discovery that the administration deliberately suppressed dissenting views on some of the most important pieces of evidence that they used to bolster their case for war. For future reference, here's a list of seven key dissents about administration claims, all of which were circulated before the war but kept under wraps until after the war:

  1. The Claim: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured in 2001, was the source of intelligence that Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons. This information was used extensively by Colin Powell in his February 2003 speech to the UN.

    What We Know Now: As early as February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency circulated a report, labeled DITSUM No. 044-02, saying that it was "likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers." Link. This assessment was hidden from the public until after the war. Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, says "We never heard about" the DIA assessment prior to Powell's UN speech. Link.

  2. The Claim: An Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" was the source of reporting that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of mobile biowarfare labs. Curveball's claims of mobile bio labs were repeated by many administration figures during the runup to war.

    What We Know Now: The German intelligence officials who handled Curveball told the CIA that he was not "psychologically stable" and that his allegations of mobile bio labs were second hand and unverified. Link. The only American agent to actually meet with Curveball before the war warned that he appeared to be an alcoholic and was unreliable. However, his superior in the CIA told him it was best to keep quiet about this: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about." Link. This dissent was not made public until 2004, in a response to the SSCI report that was written by Senator Dianne Feinstein. Link.

  3. The Claim: Iraq had purchased thousands of aluminum tubes to act as centrifuges for the creation of bomb grade uranium. Dick Cheney said they were "irrefutable evidence" of an Iraqi nuclear program and George Bush cited them in his 2003 State of the Union address.

    What We Know Now: Centrifuge experts at the Oak Ridge Office of the Department of Energy had concluded long before the war that the tubes were unsuitable for centrifuge work and were probably meant for use in artillery rockets. The State Department concurred. Link. Both of these dissents were omitted from the CIA's declassified National Intelligence Estimate, released on October 4, 2002. Link. They were subsequently made public after the war, on July 18, 2003. Link.

  4. The Claim: Saddam Hussein attempted to purchase uranium yellowcake from Africa as part of his attempt to reconstitute his nuclear program. President Bush cited this publicly in his 2003 State of the Union address.

    What We Know Now: The primary piece of evidence for this claim was a document showing that Iraq had signed a contract to buy yellowcake from Niger. However, the CIA specifically told the White House in October 2002 that the "reporting was weak" and that they disagreed with the British about the reliability of this intelligence. Link. At the same time, the State Department wrote that the documents were "completely implausible." Link.

    Three months later, in January 2003, Alan Foley, head of the CIA's counterproliferation effort, tried to persuade the White House not to include the claim in the SOTU because the information wasn't solid enough, but was overruled. Link. Five weeks later, the documents were conclusively shown to be forgeries. Link. In July 2003, after the war had ended, CIA Director George Tenet admitted publicly that that the claim should never have been made. Link.

  5. The Claim: Saddam Hussein was developing long range aerial drones capable of attacking the continental United States with chemical or biological weapons. President Bush made this claim in a speech in October 2002 and Colin Powell repeated it during his speech to the UN in February 2003.

    What We Know Now: The Iraqi drones had nowhere near the range to reach the United States, and Air Force experts also doubted that they were designed to deliver WMD. However, their dissent was left out of the October 2002 NIE and wasn't made public until July 2003. Link.

  6. The Claim: Administration officials repeatedly suggested that Saddam Hussein had substantial connections to al-Qaeda. Even after the war, George Bush said, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Dick Cheney said the evidence of a relationship was "overwhelming."

    What We Know Now: As early as September 21, 2001, President Bush was told by the CIA that there was "scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda." In fact, according to Murray Waas, "Bush was told during the briefing that the few credible reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group. Saddam viewed Al Qaeda as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime." Link.

  7. The Claim: Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, an Iraqi defector, told the CIA that he had secretly helped Saddam Hussein's men bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. After this information was passed to the New York Times by Ahmed Chalabi, it was cited in "A Decade of Deception and Defiance" as evidence of Iraq's continued WMD programs.

    What We Know Now: Al-Haideri told his story while strapped to a polygraph. He failed. The CIA knew from the start that he had made up the entire account, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa. Link.

  8. The Claim: Trailers found in Iraq after the war were mobile bioweapons labs. President Bush flatly declared in May 2003 that the trailers were firm evidence of WMD production. "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories....For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them." Link.

    What We Know Now: Two days before Bush made his unequivocal statement, a DIA team had unanimously concluded that the trailers had no connection to biological weapons production. Bush made no mention of this in his public statements. Link.

This is not a comprehensive list, so feel free to add other specific examples of suppressed intelligence in comments.

One final word on this: the issue here is not who was right and who was wrong, or even whether the overall weight of the evidence was sufficient to justify the war. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the White House to present all the evidence pro and con and then use that evidence to make the strongest possible case for war. But that's not what they did. Instead, they suppressed any evidence that might have thrown doubt on their arguments, making it impossible for the public to evaluate what they were saying. In fact, by abusing the classification process to keep these dissents secret, they even made it impossible for senators who knew the truth to say anything about it in public.

This is not the way to market a war. It's certainly not the way to market a war that requires long term support from citizens in a democracy. But that's how they marketed it anyway.

UPDATE: I've removed a note from the first item about al-Libi providing his false information under torture. The linked Newsweek article (here) doesn't unambiguously support that notion, and it's not really germane to the topic of this post anyway.

UPDATE 2: Additional information regarding German doubts about Curveball has been appended to item #2. Items #6 and #7 have been added to the list.

UPDATE 3: Item #8 added to the list.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 13, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

BEDTIMES....Sleep researchers say that sleep is important for kids:

Staying up an hour or two past bedtime makes it far harder for kids to learn, say scientists who deprived youngsters of sleep and tested whether their teachers could tell the difference.

....The teachers reported significantly more academic problems during the week of sleep deprivation, the study, which will be published in the journal Sleep in December, concluded.

Students who got eight hours of sleep or less a night were more forgetful, had the most trouble learning new lessons, and had the most problems paying attention.

So here's my question: do kids get less sleep today than they used to? When I was in third grade, my bedtime was 7:30. In fourth grade it was 8:00. In retrospect, that sure seems like an awful lot of sleep. But as near as I can tell, practically no one goes to bed that early anymore. Parents I know with kids that age typically don't put them to bed until 9:00 or 9:30 or even a bit later depending on what else is going on.

Is this common? I'm mostly asking the parents in the crowd. When your kids were in fourth grade, what was their bedtime? Did they stay up later than you did when you were that age? Does this even matter?

Kevin Drum 6:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HOLDING THE DOOR....Ezra Klein says he holds doors open for both men and women:

In fact, I basically hold open the door for anyone entering it less than five feet behind me....I'm clearly holding the door out of some odd motivation internal to me, not a deep-seated belief in womanly wimpitude.

Question: is this really the result of some "odd motivation"? Doesn't everyone do this, just because it's rude to let a door slam in someone's face? Or have I spent too much of my life in polite, laid back California?

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ETIQUETTE QUESTION....Every once in a while I correct obvious typos when I quote something from another blog. Is this wrong? Or is it the equivalent of eliminating ums and ers and mispronunciations when you're quoting spoken text?

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November 12, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

DECLARATION OF WAR....On Friday, George Bush said that, based on the intelligence known at the time, "more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate...voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power." In tomorrow's Washington Post, one of those Democrats, John Edwards, says this:

It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002....The information the American people were hearing from the president and that I was being given by our intelligence community wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.

The question of whether intelligence was manipulated is important, but I think the fact that we're arguing about it exposes an even more fundamental issue: did Edwards really vote for the war in the first place?

Article I, Section 8 of the constitution says flatly that "The Congress shall have Power...To declare War," but no Congress has declared war for the past 60 years. They've passed resolutions, they've passed authorizations, and they've passed budget authorities, but they haven't declared war. The 108th Congress certainly never declared war on Iraq.

There are several problems with this. For starters, it makes a mockery of the constitution. It's legitimate to draw a line beneath which the president can commit troops on his own authority, but there's little question that we've gone well over that line repeatedly in the past decade and a half. By anybody's definition, Gulf I was a war, Kosovo was a war, Afghanistan was a war, and Gulf II was a war. None of them required either secrecy or an instant response that couldn't wait on Congress. In other words, if a declaration of war wasn't required for these conflicts, then Congress's constitutional authority is meaningless. That clause of the constitution might as well not exist.

Second, it gives the president a blank check. Once troops are in the field, no Congress can afford to withhold its support. The reality is that if presidents are allowed to commit large numbers of troops on their own authority, there are essentially no limits to what they can do.

Third, and worst, it allows Congress to evade its own responsibility for war. Did John Edwards really vote for war? Or did he merely vote to authorize coercive inspections? Would he still have voted for the war on March 20 based on what he knew then? Or would the lack of WMD and failed diplomacy have changed his mind?

There's no reason we should have to guess about this. If the president wants to go to war, he should get a declaration of war. Not an "authorization of force" six months before the fact, but a declaration of war a few days before the invasion. Not only is that what the constitution requires, but it also means that members of Congress can no longer play games about what their vote really meant. After all, a declaration of war can hardly be misinterpreted.

Kevin Drum 6:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IR AND TERRORISM....Abu Aardvark says that his field, International Relations, has been sadly missing in action in the post-9/11 debate over al-Qaeda and terrorism:

Realism, with its emphasis on the balance of power among self-interested nation-states, had little to say about a non-state actor motivated by religion. Liberalism, with its various arguments about international institutions, trade, and democracy, similarly offered little traction. Rationalist approaches seemed initially stymied by an organization defined by intense religious convictions, and by individual suicide terrorism....Constructivism seemed to be the best placed to account for such a religious, transnational movement. But constructivist analyses of al-Qaeda were few and far between.

Has IR really been so feeble over the past few years? The Aardvark took a look at the seven leading IR journals to find out:

All told, these seven journals published 796 articles between 2002-2005. I found a total of 25 articles dealing even loosely with al-Qaeda, Islamism, or terrorism. That's just over 3% of the articles. Now, there's lots of important stuff out there in the world, and there's no reason for the whole field to be following the headlines, but still... 3%?

Read the whole thing for more.

I don't have anything to add to this, but thought it was interesting enough to highlight. I know it takes a while for people to change gears, but you'd sure think terrorism might have captured just a little more attention among IR types by now, wouldn't you?

Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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LA TIMES OP-ED SHAKEUP....A bunch of commenters on Thursday wondered what I thought about the recently announced overhaul of the LA Times op-ed page. Basically, Robert Scheer (hard lefty columnist), Michael Ramirez (hard right cartoonist), and David Gelernter (bizarro right wing columnist) have been dropped and Jonah Goldberg (no introduction needed) has been added.

Overall, you'd think I'd be pleased. After all, I've never been a fan of Scheer; Ramirez does nothing but raise my blood pressure every morning; and Gelernter is an embarrassment. I don't quite get the point of bringing on Goldberg, who's already syndicated, but whatever.

And yet....I don't like it. My objection to Scheer was never his politics, but the fact that I thought his writing was ineffective. But ineffective or not, his departure leaves no one on the op-ed page to represent his end of the political spectrum. What's more, I actually think his writing has improved over the past year. Or maybe events have just made it seem that way. In any case, I'm less pleased to see him go than I would have thought.

That's especially so when you pair it up with the firing of Ramirez . Sure, Ramirez raised my blood pressure, but that's what a cartoonist is supposed to do. Like him or not, he was a very sharp cartoonist. (What's more, apparently the plan is to replace Ramirez with the kind of graphical pap the Times has been running on Sunday. Yuck.)

Scheer and Ramirez were the highest profile firings, and when you put them together it's impossible to escape the conclusion that the goal is to turn the op-ed page into a nice, sedate knitting club. As Kristi Golden put it, "By eliminating some of the tension on the editorial pages, The Times is becoming metaphorically more like Muzak than like an original composition."

On the other hand, replacing Gelernter with Goldberg is a positive move. Gelernter isn't provocative, he's an idiot who's somehow convinced himself he's the heir to William F. Buckley. Goldberg usually leaves me kind of flat, primarily because I don't think he puts enough thought into his writing, but he's a step up from Gelernter.

The Times has also added a couple of new columnists: Gregrory Rodriguez, who will write mostly about immigration and race, and Erin Aubry Kaplan, who, I guess, will join Patt Morrison as a "local" columnist. Here's the new lineup:

  • Sunday: Gregory Rodriguez, Jon Chait

  • Monday: Niall Ferguson

  • Tuesday: Joel Stein

  • Wednesday: Max Boot, Erin Aubry Kaplan

  • Thursday: Jonah Goldberg, Patt Morrison

  • Friday: Rosa Brooks

  • Saturday: Meghan Daum

If you're keeping score at home, we have Brooks on the left, Chait on the center left, Ferguson as a kind of maverick Tory, Goldberg on the right, and Boot on the hawkish neocon right. I don't really know how Rodriguez is going to turn out. The others focus on either local issues or lifestyle-ish things.

So we'll see. It looks to me more like a move toward the mushy, penny pinching middle than a move to the right, but it's probably that too. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SUNLIGHT = DISINFECTANT....Barney Frank has introduced a piece of legislation that I like. Executive compensation has been taking a bigger and bigger bite out of corporate profits over the past decade (up from 4.8% of profit in 1993 to 10.3% in 2003 just for the top five executives at the average company), and he thinks that companies ought to be a wee bit more open about who's getting all this dough.

To that end, he's proposed a bill that does nothing at all to tell corporations how much they can pay their executives, but does force them to be open with shareholders about how much they're shelling out. His bill would require publicly traded companies to:

Provide all details about how much executives earn in cash, incentives and perks each year....Disclose the full market value of company-paid perks....Publicly report the specific criteria by which executives earn incentive pay....Tell shareholders "in a clear and simple form" how much the executive officers stand to make on a proposed takeover or acquisition that requires shareholder consent.

There's also a provision that would allow shareholders to block pay plans they don't like, but it's the disclosure provisions that I think are the most important. It's another example of the empowerment theme from the current issue of the Monthly that aims to "shift power from corporations to individuals." In some cases, merely forcing companies to provide more information is enough to make a dent in a problem. On the executive pay front, which is a national scandal, Frank's bill is a good start.

Kevin Drum 1:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 11, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

PRETENTIOUSNESS....Aside from the usual scattering of curmudgeons who get upset whenever I post about anything other than politics (BUSH IS TURNING US INTO A FASCIST STATE AND YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT EXPENSIVE RESTAURANTS!?!?!), this afternoon's comment thread about expensive restaurants is really good. And unusually civilized. Everyone's having a lot of fun, so go join in if you feel like chatting about food.

However, this thread is for something different. Loyal commenter franklyO says:

I'm waiting for the day Kevin starts a thread about the most annoying pretensions we have known.

Today's the day! I'll have to mull that over a bit myself since I tend to think of most pretensions as just harmless idiosyncrasies, but feel free to vent. What's your most annoying pretension?

Kevin Drum 7:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE KILLIAN MEMOS....Over at the Washington Post, Mary Mapes just finished up a Q&A with readers. Mapes was the producer of the 60 Minutes segment last year that aired those National Guard documents everyone thinks were forged, but Mapes still isn't buying the forgery rap:

Tempe, Ariz.: In the months since your termination at CBS, have you continued to follow up on the credibility of the 60 Minutes II Texas National Guard story, and if so, have you found concrete evidence either supporting or negating the claims made by your source, Bill Burkett?

Mary Mapes: I have followed up on the story and actually have obtained a new cache of duments from the Texas Air National Guard archives in Austin Texas. Some of these newly discovered documents contain proportional spacing, right hand signature blocks, odd abbreviations and other elements that were used to criticize the memos Bill Burkett gave me. I also talked with a person who worked with the Texas Guard and recounted a file scrubbing incident in 1997 that aligns with what Bill Burkett recounted to me. Some of the new docs also reference long waiting lists to get into the Guard in 1968-72. They are in the process of being made available on the website for my book truthandduty.com.

....St. Petersburg, Fla.: Do you believe the documents on which the 60 Minutes report was based are forgeries?

Mary Mapes: I do not.

Sadly, I blew it. I intended to ask Mapes a few questions, but forgot all about the session until it was nearly over. Some journalist I am. I did manage to submit one question just before the Q&A ended, though. It was about the provenance of the memos, which were supposedly written in 1972 by Jerry Killian, George Bush's superior officer in the Texas Air Guard:

Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox, says that the typewriters in Killian's office in 1972 were an Olympia and a Selectric. Neither had proportional fonts and neither was capable of creating the documents you aired on 60 Minutes.

Given that, where do you think the documents were created? Do you really think it's plausible that all of them were typed somewhere other than Killian's office? Knox said categorically that she typed all of Killian's memos.

I was too late to get an answer, though. Bummer. If I'd gotten there in time, I would have had a few other questions too.

Kevin Drum 3:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THREE STARS....In Slate today, Mike Steinberger says it's a scandal that the new Michelin guide for New York gave its highest rating of three stars to four different restaurants. The truth, he says, is that New York eateries just aren't that good:

Having eaten in all three of Ducasse's three-stars, for instance, I can say without hesitation that the New York branch is a weak imitation of his Paris and Monte Carlo restaurants the service is just as attentive, but the food is a clear step down, and I suspect that if Ducasse were plied with enough Krug, he might admit as much.

First things first: I'm not disagreeing with Steinberger here. I'm the last person in the world to have an opinion about high-end restaurant quality.

But his piece certainly arouses my curiosity. Why is Ducasse's New York branch a clear step down? Why can't the New York branch, run by the same guy and presumably making similar dishes, create food as tasty and satisfying to discriminating palates as the branches in Paris and Monte Carlo? Is it simply impossible to get ingredients as good? Is good kitchen staff impossible to find? Or what? I know that opening a branch of Ducasse isn't like opening a branch of Mickey D's, but Steinberger didn't just think the New York outlet was a little worse, he thought it was flatly, unarguably, worse.

And it wasn't just something specific to Ducasse, either. He thought all the three-star New York restaurants were undeserving.

What's the scoop here? Why is it that even with lots of money and chefs who clearly know how to produce three-star food, American restaurants still can't measure up to their French counterparts?

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JUDGING ALITO....Just how conservative is Samuel Alito? Over at TNR, Jeffrey Rosen has one of the better articles on this subject that I've read. He also suggests some questions senators could ask that would help to clear up whether he's another Thomas or another Roberts.

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LAST REFUGE....Glenn Reynolds on Democrats who claim that George Bush misled us into war:

And yes, he should question their patriotism. Because they're acting unpatriotically.

Glad we got that out in open.

UPDATE: This is peculiar. Glenn thinks I quoted him unfairly because I left out his preliminary throat clearing that "this is all about Democratic politicans pandering to the antiwar base." I don't quite get why this pro forma puffery is germane, though, especially since he explains himself this way in a subsequent post:

I didn't say (and don't think) that anyone who opposes the war is unpatriotic....But the Democratic politicans who are pushing the "Bush Lied" meme are, I think, playing politics with the war in a way that is, in fact, unpatriotic.

Unless I'm missing something, this means just what I thought it meant: Democrats who claim that George Bush misled us into war are being unpatriotic. However, there's been steadily growing evidence that the Bush administration suppressed official dissents about the WMD evidence before the war, and the fact that we now know this seems like a pretty good reason for even the most patriotic among us to suspect that Bush did, in fact, mislead the American public. There's undoubtedly political calculation going on as well, but that happens on both sides of the street and is hardly evidence of non-patriotism.

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE AND LIFE EXPECTANCY....Should we have a national healthcare plan? Tyler Cowen says no, but in the course of his argument suggests that increased spending on healthcare has no net effect on actual health. Matt Yglesias made the same claim yesterday.

In both cases, it turns out that the actual claim is that higher aggregate spending on healthcare doesn't do much to increase aggregate life expectancy. This may well be true, and I think it's a useful thing to know. If I remember the data correctly, for example, Americans spend wildly more than the French do in the final six months of life, and this spending is almost entirely useless. A more rational approach to end-of-life spending would probably cut down our healthcare bill a lot.

But there's more to healthcare spending than life expectancy. In a paper Tyler links to, which summarizes the results of a famous RAND study from the 70s, we learn that "Those with free care consumed on average about 25-30% more health care, as measured by spending, obtained more eyeglasses, and had more teeth filled." None of that increased anyone's life expectancy, but it's still a good thing to be able to see properly and to be able to chew hard food.

Or take my torn meniscus. I'm sure glad I got that repaired. It wouldn't have killed me, but it certainly hurt a lot. Likewise, a few years ago I injured my back, and I really wish there were something I could do about it. This isn't going to kill me either, but it hurts, it keeps me from participating in a wide variety of sports, and it's limited my lifting capacity to approximately the weight of one large cat.

As it happens, end-of-life healthcare is already nationalized in the United States via Medicare, so a broader national health plan would almost certainly have only a tiny effect on life expectancy. Tyler is therefore right that liberals shouldn't obsess about that. But that doesn't mean that national healthcare wouldn't have plenty of other important health benefits not to mention a wide variety of tangential benefits and efficiencies as well. If we can get all that and spend no more than we do now, as seems likely, why shouldn't we do it?

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TOM DELAY, IDIOT....As you'll recall, in Texas it's illegal for corporations to contribute money to election campaigns. The reason Tom DeLay is in hot water these days is because his political action committee, TRMPAC, evaded that law by collecting $190,000 from corporations, sending it to the Republican National Committee, and then having the RNC send the same amount back to its favored candidates in local races. It was a pretty transparent attempt at money laundering.

The million-dollar question, though, is whether DeLay himself knew about and approved of this plan. Back when prosecutor Ronnie Earle first brought charges against DeLay, I wondered aloud what kind of witnesses Earle had. Did someone at TRMPAC squeal on DeLay? Did one of the corporate contributors involved in the plan knuckle under?

It turns out the answer is none of the above. Apparently, DeLay himself made the admission during a conversation with Earle:

DeLay said he was also generally aware of a plan to shift money between Texas and Washington. It called for pulling together $190,000, sending it up to Washington and getting the same amount sent back to Texas for state election campaigns.

According to matching accounts provided separately by the sources, DeLay was asked whether such a deal happened and responded yes. Asked if he knew beforehand that the deal was going to happen, DeLay said yes. Asked how he knew, DeLay said that his longtime political adviser, [James] Ellis, came into his office, told him it was planned and asked DeLay what he thought. DeLay told Earle that he recalled saying, "Fine." He added that he knew it was corporate money but said it was fine because he thought it was legal.

This is bizarre. DeLay knew that Earle believed the plan to be illegal. Even if he disagreed, why would he admit to knowing anything about it? What good could that possibly do him?

Anyway, it turns out that DeLay's admission is the only evidence Earle has against him. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I sure hope DeLay has fired whatever lawyer told him it was OK to chat about this stuff with a guy who's been trying to put him in jail for the past three years.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PRAGMATIC CASE AGAINST TORTURE....Knight Ridder reports that many current and former CIA officers are actively opposed to allowing the agency an exemption that permits them to torture prisoners:

Robert Baer, a former CIA covert officer who worked in Iraq and elsewhere, said he recently spent time in an Israeli prison, talking with detainees from the radical Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas for a British documentary about suicide bombers.

The Israelis, Baer said, have learned that they can gain valuable information by establishing personal relationships with the inmates and gaining their trust.

"They found that torture, abusive tactics, made things overall worse for them politically," Baer said. "The Israelis are friendly with their prisoners. They play cards with them and allow them to contact their families. They are getting in their minds to determine what makes up a suicide bomber."

.... Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations and analysis in the CIA Counterterrorist Center, said detainees would say virtually anything to end their torment.

Baer agreed, citing intelligence reports from Arab security services that yielded useless information. "The Saudis and Egyptians torture people all the time, but I have yet to see anything that helped us on the jihad movement and (Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al) Zawahri," he said.

This is the "pragmatic" argument against torture, one that I generally avoid using because it implies that if torture did work then I'd be OK with it. I wouldn't be. Still, it's worth spreading the truth about how poorly torture works, since there's probably a sizable number of people who are on the fence about torture but might be persuaded to oppose it if they only understand how ineffective it is.

The more that people are forced to squarely face the issue of torture what it is, what it says about us, and what company we're keeping by refusing to ban its use the more likely it is that their basic human decency will assert itself. The pragmatic case against torture isn't the one I consider the most compelling, but if it helps reach some of these people then it's a case worth making.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 10, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

EDUCATION BLOGGING....You know what the world needs? A good education blog. I read both Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs, and although they're both decent reads, neither one of them really offers much in the way of analysis. They're mostly just links with a little bit of connective tissue. At the other end of the spectrum, Bob Somerby is morphing the Daily Howler into an education blog, and I'm following along to see how that goes. However, in his first few posts he's gone pretty far in the other direction, offering commentary so detailed that it's all too easy to get lost in the weeds.

I'll keep reading all three, but I'd still like to find something in the middle: authoritative enough to give me a real sense of what the issues are and how to think about them, but not as exhaustive as a Brookings white paper. Any suggestions?

Kevin Drum 10:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLACK SITES....Bill Frist on the existence of overseas "black sites" where the Bush administration secretly holds detainees in the war on terror:

I am not concerned about what goes on and I'm not going to comment about the nature of that.

At least he's honest. He doesn't care. If it's good enough for Dick Cheney, it's good enough for him.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WAGE INSURANCE....So how should we help workers who are hurt by trade agreements? In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Gene Sperling says, first of all, that the answer is to help all workers, not just those hurt by trade agreements. Second, here's how to do it:

The most promising way to accomplish this is wage insurance. Under a basic 50-percent wage-insurance program, dislocated workers who find new work would receive 50 percent of the difference between their new wage and the wage in the job they lost if it paid more. If a worker took a one-third pay cut say, from $30 to $20 an hour wage insurance would bring their hourly earnings up to $25, recovering half of the $10 gap between their old and new pay.

This design empowers workers directly and encourages work....In 2002, Congress created a small wage insurance pilot program....But the program is too limited. Only the few workers who can prove they lost their job because of trade are eligible and even amongst that small group, only those over the age of 50 and making less than $50,000 can receive the insurance benefit. In 2003, only 42 workers even used the program.

Sperling has a few suggestions that would make wage insurance more effective, but the basic idea remains the same: a limited-time helping hand to workers who are displaced from their jobs for reasons outside their control, including outsourcing, layoffs, or plant closures.

This is an idea worth considering, even more so because it's a genuinely work-friendly and family-friendly proprosal. If you recall this post from a couple of months ago, you'll remember that not only do workers who lose their jobs to a plant closure suffer a permanent income decline, but 20 years later the children of these families suffered lower incomes too. Surely those of us who benefit from free trade and an information age economy ought to be willing to forego a small part of that benefit in order to avoid the kind of multi-generational poverty that's caused by the things that benefit us in the first place?

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL HEALTHCARE....Tyler Cowen writes:

Since single-payer national health insurance violates every economic law known to mankind, I am again unsure how I could leap on the Democratic bandwagon.

But every developed country except the United States has a national health insurance plan, right? And they mostly seem to work pretty well, don't they?

So either they don't violate every economic law known to mankind, or else economists are doing a pretty dismal job of adducing economic laws. Which is it?

Kevin Drum 12:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FREE TRADE....Since I've gotten several emails about this, it's probably worth pointing out that I didn't intend the previous post to imply that trade agreements are bad things. I don't think they are.

Rather, I just wanted to point out that they have their downsides as well as their upsides. This is something that's obvious to anyone who wasn't comatose during the trade debates of the 90s, but I found Josh Bivens's post about the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem interesting because I hadn't realized there was such unanimity that semi-skilled workers always suffer from trade agreements. That seemed worth a link, since I figure my readers are mostly non-economists like me and might well not know this.

The solution to this problem is much harder than merely pointing it out, of course. Should we accept certain restrictions on trade? Plow money into education for displaced workers? Pair up trade agreements with legislation on labor standards that helps out the working class?

This is the argument currently taking place at TPMCafe over Gene Sperling's new book, The Pro-Growth Progressive, and various people are taking various sides in this debate. If you're interested, check it out. The point isn't that trade is bad per se, the point is that politicians frequently make promises to help out those who are hurt by trade agreements, but then quickly lose interest in those promises once the agreement passes. That inevitably produces public opposition to future trade agreements, and in the end this hurts everyone. That's something worth paying attention to.

UPDATE: Atrios is right. Opposition to trade agreements doesn't hurt everyone. That was sloppy wording. I just meant that free trade is broadly positive for the economy, so we'd all be better off if we can retain public support for free trade by promising to help out those who are harmed by it. See this post for more.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 9, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE STOLPER-SAMUELSON THEOREM....Over at Max's place, Josh Bivens tells us about something called the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem, which predicts that workers without a college degree always get screwed by expanded trade:

There was a big debate about this in the economics profession in the early 1990s. Not one single economist argued about the direction of trade's effect it was universally agreed that it was negative for these workers. Some said that trade's effect was small, even very small. Some said it was large. But again, there was absolute unanimity that the net effect of trade on these workers was negative, and that trade had exacerbated inequality.

Obviously it matters a lot whether the effect is large or small or very small, but I didn't know there was unanimity among economists that, regardless of the size of the effect, it's always negative "in absolute (not just relative) terms, and permanently (not just through tough 'transitions')."

That certainly puts a different spin on the standard thesis that free trade agreements are good for growth, doesn't it? If "growth" mean GDP growth, it's probably true. But if "growth" means growth in median wages, as I think it should, then it might not be. You learn something new every day.

UPDATE: I didn't mean to imply in this post that free trade is bad. In general, it isn't. More on that here.

Kevin Drum 11:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BASKETBLOG...I just want to thank Kevin's LA Lakers for taking Kwame Brown off our hands over the summer. To be perfectly honest, after four years of Kwame's excellent attitude and dedication, the Wizards probably would have traded him in exchange for a piece of stale bread. So getting Caron Butler in the deal was just icing on the cake.

We would, however, like to give you back Chucky Atkins. We've tried him out for four games and we might have been willing to keep him for a bit longer, but then he took that ill-advised and unncessary three-point shot tonight with 23 seconds still left on the shot clock, ruining our undefeated season with a loss to the Clippers and, well, we just can't excuse that. So what do you say? Take him back? You can even keep Kwame.

Amy Sullivan 11:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI SPEAKS!....Kris Lofgren attended Ahmed Chalabi's homecoming speech at the AEI this afternoon and came away unimpressed. Or, more accurately, impressed but in the wrong way. His notes are here.

Actually, though, the part of his post I found most intriguing was a conversation Kris had with Christopher Hitchens after the speech. He wasn't taking notes, but says it went roughly like this:

I asked him if he thought Chalabi had been passing American intelligence to the Iranians. "No," he insisted. "It's possible that with his training, you know, at [The University of] Chicago that with his own ability he was able to crack the codes. He is a mathematical genius. His expertise is cryptology. It is possible that he broke the codes himself."

Hitchens can't possibly believe that, can he?

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE HEALTHCARE....Over at the Weekly Standard, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam offer up a grand new vision of big government conservatism, and one of the planks in their platform is a new conservative approach to healthcare. They start off by noting that the commonly cited figure of 45 million uninsured in America actually understates the problem. If you look at any given 2-year period (instead of taking a single snapshot in time), there are 80 million people who are normally insured but lack insurance for at least a few months during that period. Then they get to their sales pitch:

Instead of approaching health care reform as the left does, as a problem for the uninsured a matter of charity for those less fortunate conservatives should cast the health care crisis as what it really is: a problem for the insured, for people whose insurance plans will lapse if they lose or shift jobs, whose plans don't cover expensive crises, and who must pay extra, in the form of higher premiums, to cover the medical bills of the permanently uninsured.

....All these reforms would have salutary effects on family life. If your coverage were portable, you'd feel more secure in moving your family to a community with a lower cost of living, or where you're more likely to find remunerative employment. At the same time, making health care more universal and affordable would reduce the costs of child rearing, encouraging family formation and offering a sense of security to parents debating whether to have a second (or third, or fourth) child.

This is 100% right. Unfortunately, because they're conservatives, Ross and Reihan are unwilling to take the obvious next step and endorse some kind of sensible national healthcare plan, even though they provide a synopsis of the issues involved that would do justice to The Nation. In fact, I was unable to discern any real plan at all. They apparently feel that the answer is to somehow increase competition in the healthcare market, which will drive costs down so much that it will be feasible to simply mandate that everyone in America purchase their own private insurance. This is a fantasy.

Still, their PR idea is spot on. If liberals want to sell the idea of national healthcare, we should quit marketing it as a welfare plan for the uninsured. Instead, we should be focused on the healthcare complaints of those who already have insurance but are dissatisfied anyway: Lack of choice in physicians. HMOs that make it hard to see a specialist. High copayments. Fear of losing coverage if you lose your job. Long waits for non-urgent care. New (and usually worse) healthcare coverage every time your HR department is told to find a cheaper plan. Fear that preexisting conditions won't be covered if you take a new job. The risk of financial ruin if someone in your family has a truly catastrophic illness.

That's the way to sell universal healthcare. After all, the uninsured mostly vote for Democrats anyway, and the rest of the country views programs aimed at the uninsured as a mere welfare program to be actively avoided. Expand your marketing to the 80 million who are occasionally uninsured, however, and you're starting to make real progress. Expand it even further to those who are insured but unhappy, and you've hit electoral gold.

So forget the uninsured for now. Liberals should concentrate instead on making sure that ordinary middle class workers understand just how bad and how expensive their current healthcare is, and how much better it could be under a decent national plan. I don't think conservatives will ever follow Ross and Reihan's marketing advice, but that doesn't mean we can't.

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARKETING THE WAR....Ah. I see that Norman Podhoretz has an essay in Commentary purporting to show that George Bush didn't lie about Iraqi WMD before the war. His basic case is that lots of people including some liberals believed that Iraq had WMD, so obviously the president did nothing wrong.

Fair enough. Lots of people did believe that Iraq had WMD before the war. The problem Podhoretz doesn't bother wrestling with, however, is that after the war concluded we discovered that there were also a fair number of people who had been skeptical about Iraqi WMD. INR, for example, thought the African uranium was bogus. DIA thought our prime witness for Iraqi-al-Qaeda WMD collaboration was lying. The Air Force found the evidence on drones to be laughable. DOE didn't believe in the aluminum tubes. None of these dissents was acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Nor does Podhoretz apply himself to the entire period before the war. He stops his investigation at the end of 2002. But that's not when we went to war. We went to war in March 2003, and by that time UN inspectors had been combing Iraq for months with the help of U.S. intelligence. They found nothing, and an increasing chorus of informed minds was starting to wonder if perhaps there was nothing there. In response, President Bush and his supporters merely amped up their certainty that Saddam was hiding something.

And of course there's the nukes. As Podhoretz surely knows, the evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program was always weak, and once the inspections started the evidence rapidly fell to zero. That kind of thing is just too hard to hide. The warnings of mushroom clouds, however, continued unabated.

Unless you think that going to war is no more serious than planning a marketing campaign for a new brand of toothpaste, all of this contrary evidence should have been publicized and acknowledged along with all the evidence that went in the other direction. It wasn't. Given this, the fact that so many people believed that Saddam had an active WMD program simply doesn't perform the analytic heavy lifting that Podhoretz thinks it does.

In any case, if it's really true that the Bush administration did nothing to spin, exaggerate, or lie about WMD before the war, why are war supporters so relentlessly trying to suppress any congressional investigation into this? You'd think they'd welcome it instead. For a bunch of innocent bystanders, they sure are acting awfully guilty.

Kevin Drum 3:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BUSH'S WAR ON FAITH, PART 2....For more on All Saints, the church that's being targeted by the Bush IRS, go to the church's website, where you can read the sermon that supposedly prompted the IRS action, and all of the documentation involved in the investigation.

There is no blanket ban on political speech in houses of worship. Instead, there are a number of rules that regulate what kind of political activity and speech is appropriate for a church or other institution that wishes to maintain tax-exempt status. For instance, houses of worship--and religious leaders of those institutions--cannot endorse political candidates or parties, nor can they coordinate with political campaigns. Churches that violate this rule can and should be investigated. But this sermon was not in the same league as the various conservative politicking efforts I outlined earlier and shouldn't fall in the category of prohibited speech. For a useful Q&A on restrictions houses of worship face for their political activity, check out this guide.

From what I can tell, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson--though certainly a Republican--does not appear to be a hack. I highly doubt this was something he decided to pursue all on his own. There's a story to be uncovered about where the directive for this investigation originated and who issued it. Could be a juicy story for one of our friends in the daily or weekly news biz.

Note: My earlier explanation of the difference between acceptable and prohibited kinds of political speech by religious organizations was utterly confusing and unhelpful, so I've rewritten it.

Amy Sullivan 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLAN C....Via Pandagon, I see that the FDA once again says it will need many additional months to determine the safety of the Plan B "morning after" pill. There's no serious scientific debate about Plan B's safety, of course, but FDA deputy commissioner Scott Gottlieb says they need to carefully review the 10,000 public comments they've received anyway. Some budding young Pasteur might have come up with something that the scientific community has overlooked.

Is there anything political about this? Of course not. The FDA is just adopting the Kansas model of scientific inquiry, that's all.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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EVERYTHING'S A JOKE....Lead poisoning: serious public health issue or fodder for late night humor? I'd say it's the former, but apparently the National Association of Manufacturers doesn't agree. Yuck yuck.

If the business community ever wonders why so many people are successful at winning those hated multi-million dollar lawsuits against them, here's the reason. When the idiots who represent you plainly don't give a damn about whether children are being seriously harmed or not, juries tend not to have much sympathy. Write that down for future reference, OK?

UPDATE: David Roberts reports on Barack Obama's dedication to the lead poisoning cause. Good for him. Too few people pay attention to this.

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By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA WRAPUP....Here's my take on what happened in California yesterday. Note: This is strictly a gut feel, not backed up by even a whit of research or special knowledge.

Arnold lost big time on Tuesday, and he lost because he turned out not to be the Arnold he marketed himself as in 2003. That Arnold a genuinely moderate Republican was a very salable commodity even in liberal California, which is not nearly as flakey as its reputation once you tear your attention away from the famously liberal enclaves of Marin County, Berkeley, and the Westside. In fact, the rest of California is either flat out conservative or else pragmatically liberal. California's midwestern roots still run deep.

But the bipartisan Arnold barely even lasted out the campaign, quickly replaced by a guy who made an occasional symbolic nod to moderation a hydrogen-powered Hummer, a refusal to demonize abortion while spending the bulk of his time as a standard issue business-pandering Republican. By backing a large slate of initiatives that "just happened" to favor Republicans, instead of limiting himself to just one or two, Arnold made it inescapably clear that his agenda was harshly partisan. His "reform" agenda was aimed like a laser not at punishing bad government, but merely at punishing Democrats and anyone else who disagreed with Arnold and his $1,000-a-plate corporate pals.

To me, the most obvious example of this was Proposition 77, the redistricting initiative. There are plenty of liberal, good government groups who would have eagerly supported a decent redistricting initiative, but instead Arnold supported a plan that was not only poorly thought out, thus losing the goo-goo vote, but also fairly obviously partisan, which lost some of the liberal vote. If Arnold (and Prop 77 creator Ted Costa) had been willing to work on a genuinely bipartisan basis to come up with a decent redistricting plan, I'll bet it would have passed.

Who knows? Maybe Arnold will get the message: Californians really are sick of the mess in Sacramento, but they don't want to replace a Democratic mess with a Republican mess. I suspect he still has a slim chance to resuscitate his reputation, but only if he stops being a poodle for rich business interests and finds a few centrist Democrats to form a genuinely moderate, bipartisan, fiscally sensible coalition with. The problem is that after Tuesday's debacle, it's not clear there are any Democrats who are even willing to be seen in public with him, let alone work out a real bipartisan agenda. 2006 is going to be a very tough year for the Governator.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NOT SO FAST....The big intelligent design story in the news today is the Kansas State Board of Education's decision to approve statewide science standards that cast doubt on evolution. More important, however, was what happened at the polls in Dover, Pennsylvania.

In that small, relatively conservative Pennsylvania town, voters booted all eight Republican pro-intelligent design school board members who were up for re-election and replaced them with Democrats who oppose the curriculum policy. Dover is not some bastion of liberal politics; it's more like Kansas than parts of Kansas are. If I had to make a prediction, I'd say that's a better indication of where the intelligent design fight is going than the Kansas decision. It's not a court striking down intelligent design, but voters taking matters into their own hands and deciding enough is enough.

Amy Sullivan 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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FAITH INDEED....The post-mortems of yesterday's elections will continue, but already one of the conclusions forming about Tim Kaine's victory in Virginia is that it shows how a religious Democrat can neutralize the recent Republican advantage on cultural issues and character.

Kaine talked about his faith consistently, starting from the very beginning of his campaign. He didn't throw it out as an honor badge for which he should get instant credit, but explained how his work as a Catholic missionary in Central America formed his commitment to public service. And although Kaine relied on his Catholicism to explain his personal opposition to both abortion and the death penalty, his insistence that as governor he should not impose his religious beliefs on others by blocking either one was an argument voters--if not pundits--understood and supported.

For those who say this is just a cute way to have it both ways, consider this: That might be true if Kaine just wanted to cultivate support with social conservatives while reassuring pro-choice voters that nothing would really change. But opposition to capital punishment isn't terribly popular in Virginia. If he's going to go ahead and allow executions to take place, he could have just shut up and kept his personal feelings quiet. Instead, Kaine chose to take an unpopular stand and explain his decision to voters.

I want to be very clear: I don't think Kaine won because of his faith. But he was able to use it to neutralize attacks that too often do in Democrats running in culturally conservative spots. That means he got to compete on actual issues--whether immigration or education or sprawl or health care. And that's good news for Democrats.

Amy Sullivan 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION RESULTS....It looks like George Bush is now officially an electoral albatross. He parachuted into Virginia to stump for Jerry Kilgore Monday night, but all he did was make things worse: final returns show that Democrat Tim Kaine beat Kilgore by a surprisingly robust 6 percentage points.

In New Jersey, Jon Corzine walloped Doug Forrester as expected.

In California, with about half the precincts reporting, every proposition but one was headed for defeat and even that one was teetering on the edge. Arnold can't be a very happy guy at the moment.

EARLY MORNING UPDATE: With 85% of precincts reporting, it looks like all eight propositions are going to lose. My fellow Californians appear to be suffering from a rare outbreak of good sense.

FINAL UPDATE: Yep. With 99.5% of precincts reporting, every single initiative has lost. That was a helluva lot of money for nothing.

Kevin Drum 2:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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ECONOMIC GROWTH....Over at TPMCafe, Gene Sperling is defending his new book, The Pro-Growth Progressive, from a determined onslaught led by the redoubtable David Sirota. Unfortunately, amid all the fireworks over the meaning of fair trade, the meaning of progressive, and the meaning of straw man, there hasn't been time yet to discuss the meaning of the most important word of all: growth.

If I could have one wish in arguments about the economy, it would be for the default definition of "growth" to be changed. Normally, it's taken to mean overall GDP growth, and it's certainly true that steady GDP growth is a good thing. But really, what's the point of economic growth if all the extra money is going to Donald Trump and the average guy is just treading water? What's the value of growth like that?

If I had to choose one single thing as the most important determinant of a genuinely strong economy, it would be median wage growth. After all, if median wages are increasing smartly, it's a sure bet that the economy as a whole is growing too and everyone including Donald Trump is doing well. It's quite possible to have strong GDP growth that still leaves two-thirds of the country stagnant which is roughly what's happened for the past 30 years but it's almost impossible to have strong median wage growth and not also have a booming economy.

I'd argue that headline writers should stop paying so much attention to inflation rates, GDP growth rates, and unemployment rates as important as they are and spend more time highlighting median wage growth. That's the single biggest sign of a healthy economy.

Kevin Drum 1:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

BUSH'S WAR ON PEOPLE OF FAITH....Today we learn that Bush's IRS is investigating a prominent liberal Episcopal church because of a sermon last fall in which the minister condemned Bush's policy in Iraq. (No word on whether the agency is also going after the Baptist church that kicked out members who voted for John Kerry. Or the churches that helped out the Bush/Cheney campaign last year by sending in their membership directories. Or the Catholic priests who told parishioners it would be a sin to vote for Kerry.)

Don't cry for the Episcopalians, though. They had an out. The IRS offered them a sweet deal: Admit that you violated the law, never do it again, and we'll drop the investigation.

That kind of "deal" is usually called "intimidation."

If a Democratic administration went after a conservative church and threatened its tax-exempt status over statements made during a sermon, it's safe to assume all hell would break loose. You wouldn't be able to turn on a cable channel without hearing some host intoning, "Is there a Democratic war on faith?" Conservatives would fill the airwaves, newsprint, and blog pages with condemnations of "liberal bigots who hate religion." Can we expect a similar response from the left now?

Amy Sullivan 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 8, 2005
By: Kevin Drum


BLOWOUT IN 2006?....Brendan Nyhan has a few graphs showing the correlation between presidential approval ratings and midterm election losses, and the results aren't pretty:

A naive model in which the relationship between presidential approval and seat swings remains constant over time projects that the Republicans will lose approximately 47 House seats in 2006. And under a few different specifications I've tested, the predicted loss is always at least 36 seats, and usually much more.

In other words, even accounting for the fact that congressional seats don't change hands very frequently these days, George Bush's abysmal approval ratings could still cause the GOP to lose a few dozen seats. Can you say "Speaker Pelosi"?

All the usual caveats apply, especially the one about midterm elections still being a year away. Who knows? Martians might have invaded by then. In the meantime, though, Brendan suggests there's good reason for Republicans to be running scared right now.

Kevin Drum 8:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL JIU JITSU GONE BAD....I was over at my mother's house rescuing her computer this afternoon, and it sounds like I missed some fun. Apparently Republican leaders Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, in an unusually amateurish (even for them) attempt at revenge for the Valerie Plame leak investigation, decided to demand an investigation into the leak of information about CIA "black sites" to the Washington Post last week. Former Republican leader Trent Lott decided to help the investigation along:

Lott told reporters the information in the Post story was the same as that given to Republican senators in a closed-door briefing by Vice President Dick Cheney last week.

"Every word that was said in there went right to the newspaper," he said. "We can't keep our mouths shut."

....He said the investigation Frist and Hastert want may result in an ethics probe of a Senate member.

So, um, Cheney told a bunch of Republican senators about the CIA's black sites? How did they respond to that? And who was in that meeting, anyway? Was Frist there?

Don't leave us hanging, Trent. If you're going to tell us part of the story, tell us the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 7:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHICKENFEED....Do companies have to pay workers for time spent donning and doffing protective gear? Yes they do. The Supreme Court said so in 1946.

In response, Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act in 1947. It stated that companies were not required to pay employees for traveling to or from their place of work, or for activities that were "preliminary or postliminary" to work.

So how about that protective gear? Does putting it on count as preliminary? Nope. The Supreme Court decided in 1956 that it was a "principal activity" that still needed to be compensated.

Damn. But perhaps....if we look hard enough....there's still a thin sliver of something in there that shouldn't be compensated. After all, a few minutes a day times thousands of workers can really add up. But what?

How about this: the time spent walking to the assembly line after donning protective gear but before the first piece of work comes down the line. How about if we deduct that from worker paychecks?

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that this claim was idiotic ("unpersusasive" was the more restrained term used by the court). Good for them. After all, both common sense and statutory law suggest that if donning protective gear is work, and if dressing meat on the assembly line is work, then the time required by the company to get from one to the other is also work.

But the real story here is that IBP Inc., a meatpacker owned by Tyson Foods, litigated this all the way to the Supreme Court. They tried their best, using thousands of billable hours from the finest legal talent they could buy, to screw their workers out of the few minutes a day it took them to walk from the locker room to the assembly line and back. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: "Postliminary"? WTF? Labor law sure does have some weird terms.

Kevin Drum 3:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MORAL RELATIVISM....Mark Kleiman on the torture apologists:

Isn't it extraordinary how it's the people who reject moral relativism and insist on the black-and-white difference between good and evil who argue for making exceptions when it comes to torture?

Yes it is.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HARSHING ON WAL-MART....Christopher Hayes has seen Robert Greenwald's new documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and writes today about Wal-Mart's brass knuckle anti-union tactics:

Theres little secret to Wal-Marts success. The company will simply do whatever it takes to keep workers from organizing. Staying union free is a full-time commitment, reads one of the companys training manuals. [F]rom the Chairperson of the Board down to the front-line manager [t]he entire management staff should fully comprehend and appreciate exactly what is expected of their individual efforts to meet the union free objective.

....Former managers, like Stan Fortune, who worked for Wal-Mart for 17 years and then went to work for UFCW, say the store also illegally follows union sympathizers and spies on its employees with cameras in break rooms. One of their favorite tactics is to say, We need to freeze all raises in the store because it cant appear that were bribing anybody, Fortune says in the film.

And then Wal-Mart will find a way to get rid of troublemakers. Thats what spelled the end of Fortunes career as a manager at the company. In 2001 Fortune was managing a Wal-Mart in Weatherford, Texas, when his boss instructed him to fire an employee suspected of talking to the union. I told him Im not firing him, Fortune says. Thats illegal He got in my face and said, You fire him or Im going to fire you. A week later, Fortune was gone. I filed for unemployment and the state found I was fired without cause. Thats when I found out that means nothing in the real world.

Chris' article is part of an "unprecedented journalistic collaboration" among liberal magazines to highlight themes from the film. AlterNet has a complete list here, including pieces from Liza Featherstone on the Walton family's charitable donations and Harold Meyerson on barbaric conditions at Wal-Mart factories in Latin America. Read 'em all!

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE NEW PROGRESSIVISM....E.J. Dionne ponders the mission of the Democratic Party today and offers up this quote from Franklin Roosevelt:

"The issue of government has always been whether individual men and women will have to serve some system of government of economics or whether a system of government and economics exists to serve individual men and women."

....Government's task, Roosevelt argued, was to intervene "not to hamper individualism but to protect it" by helping the less powerful confront economic difficulties and abuses of the system by the powerful.

Whatever message Democrats come up with, they will continue to lose ground and be untrue to what's best in their tradition if they fail to stand up for this affirmative government role in enhancing both individual liberty and self-sufficiency.

Dionne's inspiration for this idea is a package of stories in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly. Its theme is simple: protecting people against corporate abuse is a longtime progressive mission, but Democrats need to figure out ways to do this that empower individuals to fight back, rather than relying solely on centralized federal agencies and ever increasing government regulation.

The basic idea is outlined by editor Paul Glastris, and there are four companion pieces that offer specific examples of what we're talking about:

  • Robert Gordon and Derek Douglas propose a few simple rules that could allow consumers to get their household debt under control and prevent credit card companies from ripping them off.

  • Zachary Roth says that parents who want ESPN but don't want MTV shouldn't be forced to get them both. The answer is to force cable companies to offer every customer the right to choose and pay for only the channels they want.

  • Karen Kornbluh takes a page from one of Tony Blair's most successful programs and recommends a simple way to give working parents a better way of managing both work and family.

  • Yours truly suggests that since banks and credit card issuers are the ones responsible for most identity theft, why is it that the victims are the ones who usually pay the price? Why not force the credit industry to pay instead?

The point of this package of articles isn't to offer some sort of grand vision for liberals. Rather, it's to re-introduce a thread of progressivism that's been largely overlooked in recent years: namely that although using government agencies to protect people is both worthy and necessary, sometimes it's more effective to give ordinary people the means to protect themselves.

A link to the entire package is here. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 1:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 7, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

CRIMINALIZING POLITICS....A FOLLOWUP....A few days ago I wrote a post wondering who had first coined the term "criminalizing politics," and I'm sure that since then you've all been waiting on the edge of your collective seats for the answer. So here it is. It turns out that the winner is Lt. Col. Oliver North, who said the following in his opening statement to Congress during the Iran-Contra affair:

It is also difficult to comprehend that my work at the NSC all of which was approved and carried out in the best interests of our country has led to two massive parallel investigations staffed by more than 200 people.

It is mind-boggling to me that one of those investigations is criminal and that you have attempted to criminalize policy differences between co-equal branches of government and the executive's conduct of foreign affairs.

The date of origin of this phrase is still slightly fuzzy, however. North's first day of testimony was July 8, 1987, and that's when he submitted his opening statement, but the committee refused to let him read his statement until July 10. So take your pick.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it was Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal who morphed Ollie's creation into the "criminalization of politics" in a 1989 paper although, oddly enough, the very first reference to it actually seems to have come from Gordon Jones of the Heritage Foundation, who used the phrase while introducing Crovitz during a seminar in 1988.

So that's that. Thanks to Peter Brimelow and James Fulford of VDARE for helping to clear this up.

Kevin Drum 11:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALL ABOUT CHENEY....Over at Slate, Daniel Benjamin regales us with yet another tale about Douglas "fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth" Feith and his approach to marketing the Iraq war:

Larry Wilkerson recounted the story of a meeting in the White House situation room during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq when policymakers met with top intelligence officials from a number of agencies. After the intelligence officials made their presentations, Douglas Feith "leapt to his feet, pointed to a certain National Intelligence Officer and declared 'You people don't know what you're talking about.'"

....After that outburst, Feith held up a piece of paper and read aloud an account of al-Qaida's ties with Iraq in the early 1990s. Then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a man well-known and well-liked in Washington for his gentlemanly manners, looked on, aghast at the scene. Wilkerson told me that after the end of the meeting, he got a copy of the paper and determined it was a newspaper clipping that had been retyped in the vice president's office to be presented as "intelligence."

As Benjamin points out, when you follow stuff like this back to its origin you invariably end up at the same place: Dick Cheney. Feith may have been the guy in charge of the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which produced much of the dodgy intelligence that made its way into public speeches from administration officials, but "Dick Cheney was CTEG's patron."

As a wise man said back in January 2003 regarding Cheney and his curiously enduring reputation for competence even in the face of mountains of contrary evidence, "his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see." Looking back, perhaps historians will say that November 2005 was when they finally saw it.

Kevin Drum 9:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LEVIN ON IRAQ....Over at TPMCafe, Ivo Daalder says that Senator Carl Levin has been "more right on Iraq for a longer period than just about anyone else." So what does Levin think our plan should be? In the Washington Post today, he argues that we should make use of the one thing that all three of the main groups in Iraq Shiite, Kurd, and Sunni fear: an American withdrawal.

The Shiites want us to stay until Iraqi security forces are strong enough to deal with the insurgency on their own. The Kurds want us to remain for the impending future. And the Sunni Arab leaders want us to stay as a deterrent to those who might seek revenge against them for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

We must use that leverage the possibility of an American withdrawal to achieve the broad-based political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency.

I believe that if the Iraqis fail to reach a political solution by the end of the year we must consider a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. This does not mean setting a date now for departure. It simply means conveying clearly and forcefully to Iraqis that the presence of our forces is not indefinite and that our staying there requires them to come together politically, since Iraqi unity offers the only hope of defeating the insurgency.

....The administration should tell Iraqis that if they do not reach a political settlement by year's end, we will consider a timetable for our withdrawal. Making that clear to them will insert a healthy dose of mind-focusing reality that is their best hope for defeating the insurgents and becoming a nation.

I dunno. This sure sounds like it depends an awful lot on the dubious proposition that everyone in Iraq really wants us to stay. In reality, I'm not sure the Kurds care that much, since they probably figure their militias can hold their own in the north and might even make some territorial gains if American troops left. AP reported last week that Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani is considering issuing a fatwa demanding a U.S. withdrawal after the December elections, and Muqtada al-Sadr would probably be pretty happy to see our backs too. As for the Sunnis, a majority of them appear to support the insurgency and are itching to start a civil war just as soon as they think they can get away with it.

I'm all for a withdrawal plan, and I agree in general that a publicly announced set of benchmarks would help motivate Iraqi leaders to take the training of their own troops more seriously. What's more, if Levin is right that everyone is afraid of a U.S. withdrawal, then his plan would work.

But if even one group decides they'd be better off with us gone, it gives them every reason in the world to harden their demands and refuse to compromise. In other words, I have a feeling the leverage in Levin's plan works in exactly the opposite direction of what he thinks: instead of promoting a political settlement, it gives extremist groups a positive incentive to oppose a political settlement. I'd be interested in hearing from others about this, though.

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PROPOSITION 77....As regular readers know, I routinely vote No on all California ballot initiatives unless they strike me as overwhelmingly positive. I'm not sure that I'd vote for any of the initiatives in tomorrow's special election even under a looser standard, but they definitely don't qualify under the "overwhelmingly positive" standard, so I'm voting No on all of them.

However, for those of you interested in further argument, Kash examines Prop 77 (the redistricting initiative) over at Angry Bear and suggests that it might not be such a bad deal for Democrats. The current districting, he thinks, concentrates Democratic votes so strongly that it's unlikely Dems could do any worse under an independent redistricting plan.

As it happens, I'm pretty unexcited about Prop 77 on substantive grounds it just isn't a very good way to handle redistricting but I certainly understand anyone who thinks I'm letting the best be the enemy of the good here. I'm still voting No, but if partisan concerns are important to you, take a look at Kash's argument.

See you at the polls tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"WE DO NOT TORTURE"....President Bush today:

Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.

Fine. Then shut down the black sites, tell Dick Cheney to stop lobbying against the McCain amendment, and allow the Red Cross unfettered access to prisoners in our custody. After all, if the events of the past four years had happened in any other country in the world the abuse, the memos, the photos, the relentless opposition to independent inspections isn't that the least it would take for any of us to believe it when that country's head of state declared "We do not torture"?

It's not going to be easy for the United States to regain its credibility as a country dedicated to combatting barbarism and supporting human rights. That's all the more reason we should start now.

UPDATE: As usual on this subject, Andrew Sullivan says it better.

UPDATE 2: Read Fareed Zakaria too: "I have a suggestion that might improve Bush's image abroad....It's simple: end the administration's disastrous experiment with officially sanctioned torture."

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE AND THE VICE PRESIDENT....PART 2....Dana Priest and Robin Wright report today that Dick Cheney is rapidly finding himself isolated on the issue of government sponsored torture of prisoners:

Cheney's camp is a "shrinking island," said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.

That's good news, I guess, and it's nice to know that Condoleezza Rice opposes torture although I wish it were because she thought torture was wrong, not simply to "get out of the detainee mess."

Even more, I wish that George Bush opposed state sanctioned torture and told his vice president so in no uncertain terms. So far, though, he has declined to do this. On the contrary, his reaction to last week's Washington Post expose about overseas "black sites," where torture of prisoners is apparently routine, has not been to express shock and dismay or even to feign it but rather to order an internal inquiry into how Dana Priest found out about it.

As for Cheney, Laura Rozen has the right idea:

If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell. The same support for torture. The same naked contempt for democratic processes. The same contempt for law. The same contempt for their people.

If it's wrong for Serbia or China or Iran or the Soviet Union to do this, it's wrong for us. It's long past time for George Bush to restore America's moral compass and state publicly and unequivocally that we don't permit prisoners under our control to be tortured or abused. We're supposed to be better than this.

Kevin Drum 12:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 6, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS....This comes under the heading of "too much time on my hands," but I feel like sharing this. Do you know how many constitutional amendments have been proposed in just the past year? According to Thomas, there have been 47. The full list is below the fold.

Republican amendments are in normal type, Democratic amendments are in italics, and bipartisan amendments are in bold. Jesse Jackson Jr., who is apparently extremely fond of making statements via submission of constitutional amendments, has his own special section.

  • Repeal the 22nd amendment (would allow presidents to serve more than two terms) (2 versions)

  • Repeal the 16th amendment (would outlaw the income tax)

  • Allow God in the Pledge of Allegiance

  • Flag desecration (3 versions)

  • Line item veto (5 versions)

  • Gay marriage (3 versions)

  • School prayer (2 versions)

  • Eminent domain

  • Allow naturalized citizens to become president (3 versions)

  • Limit use of personal funds in campaigns

  • Balanced budget

  • Allow residents of U.S. territories to vote for president

  • Allocate House seats by number of citizens, not number of residents

  • Maintenance of Social Security

  • Declare English the official language of the United States

  • Equal rights for women

  • Make the filibuster part of the constitution

  • Term limits (2 versions)

  • Right to life

  • Repeal birthright citizenship (2 versions)

  • Continuity of operations in case 25% of Congress is killed (2 versions)

  • Abolish income, estate, and gift taxes

  • Term limits for judges

Special Jesse Jackson Jr. section:

  • Right to a home

  • Progressive taxation

  • Right to a clean environment

  • Right to full employment

  • Right to decent housing

  • Right to healthcare

  • Equal rights for women, reproductive rights

  • Right to public education

  • Abolish the electoral college

Kevin Drum 7:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

INTROVERTS AND EXTROVERTS....Ann Althouse informs us that the most emailed article at The Atlantic's website this week was Jonathan Rauch's "Caring for Your Introvert," written two years ago. The title is a bit of a misnomer, though, since Rauch's advice, basically, is "Don't." His conclusion makes this pretty clear:

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either.

The comments at Ann's place mostly seem to be about the Meyers-Briggs typology (is it junk science?), aging (do you get more introverted as you get older?), and Arkansas (friendlier than you think!).

I would guess that the blog community tends toward introversion, since my experience is that extroverts tend to have limited patience with reading and even less with writing. On the other hand, perhaps blogs, which specialize in tiny chunks of polemic, are actually the perfect medium for extroverts. It's not quite as good as an actual conversation, but it's pretty close for something that uses the printed word.

Kevin Drum 3:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NSLs....Since the Washington Post was nice enough to create an excellent graphical summary of Barton Gellman's front page story about the skyrocketing use of "National Security Letters," I'm going to reproduce it here instead of writing my own summary. When you're done reading it, be sure to read the whole story.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE PARIS RIOTS....Over at the European Tribune, Jrme Paris writes that the Paris rioting has hit his aunt's neighborhood, and he has something he wants to clear up:

One thing to note is that these neighboroods are not ghettos. My aunt lived there most of her life, she was a teacher in a nearby pre-school and has a mostly normal middle class life. There are lots of minorities, lots of kids with dysfunctional families, an obvious lack of jobs, and decrepit buildings, but it's not a rundown place, it's not cut off from the rest of the country, and there is a lot of solidarity between the inhabitants.

....What is real is that France made a choice 30 years ago to preserve the jobs of those already integrated, and made it difficult to join that core. Thus unemployment, or unstable employment (temping, short term contracts, internships) touches only those that are not yet in the system the young and the immigrants, or those that are kicked out the older and less educated blue collar workers in dying industries. So in neighboroods where you have a lot of young immigrants, the problems are exacerbated.

Right wingers mostly blame the riots on Muslim separatism. Lefties mostly see callous social welfare policies at work. I don't pretend to have an informed opinion of my own, but I think it's at least important to understand that there's more going on here than just the conservatives' simplistic "clash of civilizations" storyline. Read Jrme's post for the other side of the story.

Kevin Drum 1:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE AND THE VICE PRESIDENT....As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday's New York Times carries a story about Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda prisoner captured shortly after 9/11. According to a newly declassified memo, not only did al-Libi provide us with false information suggesting that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda to use WMD, but U.S. intelligence had a pretty good idea the information was false as early as 2002. Colin Powell nonetheless presented this to the UN as credible evidence of Iraqi WMD programs in February 2003, shortly before we invaded Iraq.

Via Atrios, it turns out that we had excellent reasons to be skeptical of al-Libi's testimony. As Newsweek reported last year, al-Libi was one of the first test cases for Dick Cheney's campaign to introduce torture as a standard interrogation technique overseas, replacing the FBI's more mainstream methods:

Al-Libi's capture, some sources say, was an early turning point in the government's internal debates over interrogation methods...."They duct-taped his mouth, cinched him up and sent him to Cairo" for more-fearsome Egyptian interrogations, says the ex-FBI official. "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f--- her.' So we lost that fight."

No wonder DIA was skeptical of al-Libi's information. Not only did the details of his testimony seem inconsistent with known facts, but DIA knew perfectly well he had given up this information only under torture and was probably just saying anything that came to mind in order to get it to stop.

As Mark Kleiman points out, this is the pragmatic case against torture: not only is it wrong, but it doesn't even provide reliable information anyway and it makes Cheney's relentless moral cretinism on the subject all the worse. Larry Wilkerson, who investigated this back when he was Colin Powell's chief of staff, confirms that "there was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office" that authorized the practices that led to the abuse of detainees, and Cheney continues to vigorously support the use of torture to this day, pressuring Congress behind closed doors not to pass John McCain's anti-torture legislation. As Andrew Sullivan says:

A man who avoided service in Vietnam is lecturing John McCain on the legitimacy of torturing military detainees. But notice he won't even make his argument before Senate aides, let alone the public. Why not? If he really believes that the U.S. has not condoned torture but wants to reserve it for exceptional cases, why not make his argument in the full light of day? You know: where democratically elected politicians operate.

If conservatives dislike Dick Durbin's comparison of American practices to those of Hitler and Stalin, they should make clear to Dick Cheney that America doesn't condone the practices of Hitler and Stalin. Because apparently, the vice president of the United States does condone them. Vigorously. It's enough to make any decent human being puke.

Kevin Drum 2:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 5, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

MISUNDERSTOOD PHRASES....In a comment to a previous post, James E. Powell says the following about Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase, "The medium is the message":

The phrase, and the analytical thought behind it, is second only to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in the number of times it has been referred to by people who have no understanding of what the author was talking about.

I'm not sure which misunderstanding of Heisenberg James is thinking of maybe he has in mind a superposition of all of them but that sounds about right to me.

It also provokes an interesting thought: what other famous phrases and concepts would be on a list of Top Ten Most Misunderstood Ideas of All Time? In the spirit of Heisenberg, I'd put Gdel's Incompleteness Theorem on the list, although so few people have even heard of it that I'm not sure it really counts as widely misunderstood.

On a less exalted plane, I might nominate "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," which means exactly the opposite of what most people think it means.

What else? Make it a Top 100 list, provide some nice, breezy explanations, and it could be a fine little gift book kind of thing. Just the project for a polymath with a light touch and a few free weekends.

Kevin Drum 7:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MOVIE REVIEW-ETTES....I saw a couple of movies last week:

  • In Her Shoes was terrific, one of the best films I've seen this year. Toni Collette did an outstanding job as Cameron Diaz's good girl sister and, unlike so many movies in this genre, their dysfunctional relationship and its evolution over the course of the movie was both believable and sharply portrayed.

    The only false note, I thought, was the retirement home shtick in the second half of the movie. Still, even though some of it was pretty stale, it was done with enough verve and good humor that it didn't matter much. Worth seeing.

  • The Weather Man was just terrible, a collection of thoroughly unlikable people in a thoroughly unlikable story, all of whom remain thoroughly unlikable all the way to the bitter end. Usually there's some redeeming value to movies like this, but not this time. By the time it was over I pretty much felt like slitting my throat. (A feeling that wasn't helped by Nicholas Cage's unusually idiotic summing up, in which he decides that money is cool since, you know, money is so all-American and everything. Sheesh.)

    This is the second Nicholas Cage move in just a few weeks that I've actively disliked. I was looking forward to Lord of War, but although it featured an engaging production and some sharp writing (like The Weather Man), it ultimately led nowhere interesting. And the ending was so adolescently preachy as to be embarrassing in a supposedly grown-up production.

So what's on the agenda for next week? Should I go see Jarhead? The reviews seem to have been mediocre, but I've seen the trailer several times and it makes the movie look great. Unfortunately, the art of trailer-making has gotten so scarily efficient these days that this means nothing. But I'll probably go anyway.

Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARKETING THE WAR....UPDATE....Via Atrios, this is an example of what I was talking about yesterday. It's a preview of an article in Sunday's New York Times by Doug Jehl:

A newly declassified memo...shows that an al-Qaeda official in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to this Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002.

...."The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility," Jehl writes. "Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as 'credible' evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons."

On balance, the CIA genuinely appears to have believed that Saddam Hussein was pursuing WMD programs before the war started, but there were also significant doubts and dissents about some of their evidence. In this case it came from the DIA, while in others it came from INR, DOE, Air Force intelligence, or the CIA itself. In all these cases, the doubts were withheld from the public, and that's the sense in which the Bush administration lied and exaggerated in the runup to war.

Liberals and conservatives alike should have an interest in setting this record straight. Even if you believe the war was justified, and even if you think the balance of the evidence at the time supported the notion that Saddam was actively producing WMD, the fact remains that marketing a war isn't like marketing a soft drink. Citizens of a democracy should demand an honest accounting of the known facts before committing troops overseas, and the Bush administration didn't give it to us.

UPDATE: The full New York Times story is here. In addition to the DIA's skepticism about Libi, the story notes that the CIA itself also harbored some doubts:

At the time of Mr. Powell's speech, an unclassified statement by the C.I.A. described the reporting, now known to have been from Mr. Libi, as "credible." But Mr. Levin said he had learned that a classified C.I.A. assessment at the time went on to state that "the source was not in a position to know if any training had taken place."

Kevin Drum 3:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE....Check this out:

With only days before Tuesday's special election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to jolt the campaign by taking unscripted questions from voters on live television appears to be stumbling....

It's pretty depressing that this is a perfectly sensible lead paragraph for a political story. We've gotten to the point in the United States where answering unscripted questions on live TV is so unusual that it really is pretty jolting.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

AMERICAN POLITICAL FICTION SUCKS....In the current issue of the Monthly, Christopher Lehmann bemoans the fact that Americans can't write political fiction. (Good political fiction, that is.) I'm not literature savvy enough to really have an opinion about his overall thesis, but I was glad to see this:

In 1994, [Christopher] Buckley drew upon his experience as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush to produce Thank You for Smoking, an engaging send-up of the grimly farcical rounds of advocacy for the tobacco industry, as well as of the excesses of its opponents. Since then, however, Buckley's novels have acquired a one-note tetchiness in both tone and subject. They read less like gimlet-eyed parody than gussied-up "O'Reilly Factor" transcripts.

Thank You for Smoking was my introduction to Buckley fils, and it was so good that I bought three other Buckley books after that. I found them all tedious, forced, and unfunny, and wondered for some time if this was because of Buckley or because of me. If Lehmann is right, it was Buckley after all. Phew!

On a broader note, Lehmann's primary theme is that for over a century American political fiction has been trapped in a stultifying Mr. Smith-ian straitjacket from which it's never been able to escape:

From The Gilded Age on, Washington was to be the premier setting of a strikingly continuous American political fable of innocence at risk. This sturdy tale typically pitches a political naif's fateful interest in the machinery of reform against the backdrop of irredeemably fallen, endlessly seductive relations of power in the nation's capital.

....This stubborn moralizing impulse is what makes American political fiction, even today, such watery and unsatisfying literature: It deprives writers of the best material.

I'm afraid my political fiction reading pretty much starts and ends with Advise and Consent and Primary Colors, so I can't really offer up an opinion on whether Lehmann's thesis holds water although it sounds plausible for a lot of reasons related to American culture in general. But I'll bet I have a lot readers who are more well versed in American political fiction than I am. So what do you think? Is Lehmann right?

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

DREZNER MOVING TO BOSTON....Good news today. Dan Drezner, best known as a former guest blogger here at the Washington Monthly, has landed a job at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The University of Chicago is going to regret denying Dan tenure someday, but for now, their loss is Tufts' gain. Congrats, Dan.

Kevin Drum 11:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 4, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

WINKEN, BLINKEN, AND NOD....Michael Hiltzik has the latest example of Bush administration officials insisting on going off the record even though the sole purpose of their briefing was to say laudatory things about their own policies. In this case, it's the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and of course, everyone went along.

Kevin Drum 5:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NO COMMUNION FOR JUDGES, PART 2....Ramesh Ponnuru and Stephen Bainbridge both take umbrage at my suggestion that Catholic judges might be vulnerable to the same sort of pressure that Catholic politicians are. Of course, saying that the two of them disagree with me is about as remarkable as saying that the sky is still blue, but I'd like to respond to a few of their points because they've been gracious enough to assume that I'm a blithering idiot when it comes to knowledge of the Catholic Church and theology.

Ponnuru says that the important difference between politicians and judges is that judges don't cooperate in "willing injustice," they simply respond to what the law is, even if they wish it weren't so. Bainbridge, however, allows for the possibility that a judge could see his participation in a case as "formal cooperation with evil." The remedy in such a situation, Bainbridge says, would be for the judge to recuse himself.

So, if an abortion case came before a Catholic judge, and he determined that the legal precedent for the case was sound and he would have to uphold the legality of abortion, and yet he did not recuse himself, wouldn't that be--in the words of the bishops--a situation in which "a Catholic public official...disregard[ed] church teaching on the inviolability of the human person [and] indirectly collude[d] in the taking of innocent life"?

Perhaps I truly am "simplistic" and "elementary" in my thinking. But according to the explanations of Bainbridge and Ponnuru, Catholic judges could and should be pressured to recuse themselves from cases that would require them to "commit formal cooperation with evil" (at least as determined by Catholic teaching). To overlook their participation in "leading others into serious sin" would put bishops in the position of picking and choosing which Catholic public officials to denounce, a kind of...oh, what's the phrase I'm looking for?..."cafeteria Catholicism," you might say. And we certainly can't have that.

Amy Sullivan 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOSE vs. GANDER....Sam Rosenfeld is upset that the Washington Post described recent Republican budget cuts with a headline that says, "Senate Passes Plan to Cut $35 Billion From Deficit." After all, the budget legislation has been split in half and the second half includes a $70 billion tax cut, which means that the overall package actually increases the deficit by $35 billion.

Sam's point is well taken, but I think the Post can make amends for this pretty easily. When the second half of the budget bill is passed, all they have to do is give it the following headline: "Senate Passes Plan to Add $70 Billion To Deficit."

Do you think they will?

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MARKETING THE WAR....Did the Bush administration lie about WMD before the war? Did they misuse intelligence? This is a subject well worth investigating, but both sides ought to take a deep breath and try to bring a little honesty to the table before we all get buried in our own bloviating.

Liberals, for their part, need to accept the obvious: in 2002, virtually everybody believed Iraq had an active WMD program. The CIA believed it, as their October NIE made clear:

Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons....Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons....has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities.... has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX....most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.

The British believed the same thing. The Germans and French believed it. Former Clinton administration officials believed it. Lots of Democratic members of congress believed it. They were all wrong, it turned out, but they weren't lying. The simple fact is that virtually everyone who had access to the full range of classified intelligence at that point in time thought Iraq had an active WMD program. Scott Ritter is about the only exception.

But that's not the end of the story and that's a very big "but." Conservatives are fond of reminding us that there were lots of reasons for the war, but the plain fact, as Paul Wolfowitz admitted two years ago, is that the war was marketed to the American public on the basis of Saddam and his WMD. On that score, conservatives need to face a few facts too. Here's a sampling:

  • It's true that virtually everyone believed in 2002 that Saddam had an active WMD program or, at the very least, large stockpiles of existing WMD. But the Bush administration was repeating the exact same arguments about Saddam's WMD even in March 2003, when UN inspectors had been combing Iraq with the help of U.S. intelligence for three months and had found nothing. The evidence by that time suggested just the opposite of what we originally believed, but that prompted nothing from Bush supporters except heaps of abuse aimed at Hans Blix. The invasion went off as scheduled.

  • Important areas of dissent were covered up in support of the administration's marketing effort. The most spectacular, of course, involved the existence of nuclear weapons programs, which the administration sold as unequivocal fact. "We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons," Dick Cheney said shortly before the war started. "And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

    But that wasn't true, and Cheney certainly knew it. There was virtually no serious evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program, and what little evidence there was had already been persuasively debunked. Both INR and the CIA knew that the African uranium story was bogus, and DOE experts knew that the infamous aluminum tubes were designed to be used in rockets, not as centrifuge tubes.

  • Administration figures continually made sensationalistic claims in public that went well beyond what they could back up with real evidence. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," Condoleezza Rice told Wolf Blitzer ominously a few days before Bush's UN speech in 2002. "We know where they are," Donald Rumsfeld asserted flatly about Iraqi WMD even after the war. "There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government," Dick Cheney said repeatedly both before and after the war. Colin Powell told the UN that Saddam's bioweapons program was active, advanced, and an absolute certainty. "These are sophisticated facilities," he said. "For example, they can produce anthrax and botulinum toxin. In fact, they can produce enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people."

  • Even among people who believed Saddam had an active WMD program, there was little consensus that it actually posed a danger, something the administration never acknowledged. Even the CIA suspected Saddam would never use WMD unless he was attacked first, and in any case none of Saddam's weapons posed a realistic threat to the United States. The administration's absurd claims that Iraqi drones could attack the continental U.S. were debunked almost immediately by Air Force intelligence. Their dissent didn't make it into the public discourse until after the war, though.

So: Was there a widespread belief in September 2002 that Iraq had an active WMD program? Yes. Did the Bush administration nonetheless lie, exaggerate, and dissemble repeatedly about that program? Yes. Should conservatives be concerned about that? Yes. After all, the next president to market a war this way might not be a Republican. Conservatives should be as interested in learning the truth about this and preventing it from happening again as the rest of us.

POSTSCRIPT: You can find a more extensive description of the marketing of the war in "The First Casualty," written in June 2003 by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman. This was the article that apparently first sent Scooter Libby into hysterics and began the campaign to smear Joe Wilson and expose his wife as a CIA agent.

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Amy Sullivan

NO COMMUNION FOR JUDGES?....It didn't take long after the Alito nomination was announced for people to figure out that his confirmation would lead to a 5-4 Catholic majority on the Supreme Court. I don't think that really matters in terms of how the Court would rule. But it does put the Catholic Church in a tough position.

After all, U.S. Catholic bishops have spent the past two decades developing an argument about why it's their responsibility to pressure Catholic public officials to adhere to Catholic teaching (but only on abortion, of course) and punish those who don't. In the statements they've issued on the subject, there is no distinction between elected representatives and judges. So far, they've chosen to limit their coercion strategy to candidates and politicians (remember John Kerry's Wafer Watch?) If a Ted Kennedy vote against abortion restrictions is so awful, why is an Anthony Kennedy ruling striking down abortion restrictions acceptable?

More on this in my Beliefnet column this week.

Amy Sullivan 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE....You would think that a man who wrote this:

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

Wouldn't have much call to criticize anyone else's command of the English language. But David Gelernter is a conservative, and revising Strunk & White to suggest that male pronouns be avoided just makes his blood boil. If it was good enough for E.B. White in the halcyon days of 1957, he asks, why isn't it good enough for us?

Sex and gender, baby. If you want to push their buttons, that's how to do it. Have I mentioned that before?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TOUGH BUT FAIR....The judge in Scooter Libby's perjury trial will be Reggie Walton of the federal district court in Washington DC. Here's what the New York Times quotes one of his colleagues saying about him:

"You're always going to get a fair trial with him," Judge Lamberth said, "but if you're convicted, he's going to ensure you do adequate time to reflect the crime."

Have you ever read a story in which anyone said anything different about a judge picked for a high profile case? They're always tough (but fairminded!), well versed in the law, run a tight ship, and have earned the respect of defense and prosecution alike. Real paragons. But there must be some lazy, stupid, and widely detested judges on the bench too. How come they never get randomly picked for any of these cases?

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 3, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SUCKITUDE WATCH....The Washington Post reports on record levels of suckitude for George Bush:

On almost every key measure of presidential character and performance, the survey found that Bush has never been less popular with the American people.

58% say he isn't "honest and trustworthy." 67% say his handling of ethics in government is fair or poor. Nearly half think the overall level of ethics and honesty in the federal government has fallen under his watch. Full results here.

UPDATE: A graphical display of Bush vs. Nixon is here. A graphical display of Bush vs. Everybody is here.

Kevin Drum 10:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE HEALTHCARE BLUES....The Washington Post summarizes a survey published in Health Affairs of healthcare around the world:

Nearly a third of U.S. patients reported spending more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for their care, far outpacing all other nations....experienced the most problems getting care after hours....most likely to report problems seeing a doctor the same day they sought one.... more likely to report forgoing needed treatment because of cost....one-third of U.S. patients reported problems with the coordination of their care.

....Americans also reported the greatest number of medical errors. Thirty-four percent reported getting the wrong medication or dose, incorrect test results, a mistake in their treatment or care, or being notified late about abnormal test results.

Best healthcare in the world, baby! Best healthcare in the world.

POSTSCRIPT: In the interest of fairness, it's worth pointing out that this survey included only people who had recently been hospitalized, had surgery, or reported health problems. In other words, sick people. Healthy people probably thought American healthcare was just fine.

The full report is here. If you hunt through it, you'll note that there are a few things we do better than other countries. Not many, though.

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ALITO AND ROE....This is weird. A couple of days ago Samuel Alito told Arlen Specter that he believed in a generalized right of privacy as defined by Griswold v. Connecticut. Today he told Dick Durbin that one of his favorite justices was John Harlan, who wrote a concurring opinion in Griswold. He also told Durbin that he "spent more time worrying and working over" his dissent in Casey v. Planned Parenthood than any other decision in his career, and then reiterated his belief in a constitutional right to privacy.

Now, for some reason it's taboo in American politics for a prospective justice to simply tell us what he thinks of the reasoning in Roe v. Wade, but the next best thing is to tell us what he thinks of the reasoning in Griswold, which is the cornerstone of Roe. As near as I can tell, Alito is going out of his way to signal that he has no interest in overturning Griswold or Roe, and that even his dissent in Casey was a close call.

I wonder how long it's going to be before social conservatives cotton to Alito's coded acceptance of Roe and turn on him the same way they did on Harriet Miers? James Dobson can't be too happy about this.

Kevin Drum 8:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WHITE HOT CENTER....The 9th Circuit Court ruled yesterday that individual parents don't have a constitutional right to prevent schools from teaching things they don't like:

"Schools cannot be expected to accommodate the personal...concerns of every parent," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the panel. "Such an obligation would not only contravene the educational mission of the public schools, but also would be impossible to satisfy."

Well, that seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? The fact that you're a vegetarian doesn't give you a constitutional right to insist that schools not teach your kid that meat is one of the four food groups.

At least, it would be obvious, except for one thing: I left out a couple of words from the quote above. What Reinhardt actually wrote was "personal, moral or religious concerns." And the moral concern here turns out to be sex. As Rod Dreher points out, that changes everything:

It boggles my mind to think that school administrators would arrogate to themselves the right to raise such topics with my seven year old. As a political matter, this is the white-hot center of the culture wars: sex. As Tom Edsall argued in this fascinating 2003 piece from The Atlantic Monthly, you can predict with a high degree of certainty which party an American is likely to vote for based on how they answer particular questions related to sex and sexuality.

Here's what Edsall says:

Early in the 1996 election campaign Dick Morris and Mark Penn, two of Bill Clinton's advisers, discovered a polling technique that proved to be one of the best ways of determining whether a voter was more likely to choose Clinton or Bob Dole for President. Respondents were asked five questions, four of which tested attitudes toward sex: Do you believe homosexuality is morally wrong? Do you ever personally look at pornography? Would you look down on someone who had an affair while married? Do you believe sex before marriage is morally wrong? The fifth question was whether religion was very important in the voter's life.

Respondents who took the "liberal" stand on three of the five questions supported Clinton over Dole by a two-to-one ratio; those who took a liberal stand on four or five questions were, not surprisingly, even more likely to support Clinton....According to Morris and Penn, these questions were better vote predictors and better indicators of partisan inclination than anything else except party affiliation or the race of the voter (black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic).

Yep. As even honest conservatives admit, the "white hot center" of social conservatism is sex and gender roles, and it explains the underlying motivation behind a wide variety of hot button issues. But then, I've mentioned that before, haven't I?

POSTSCRIPT: On an entirely different subject, I note that the LA Times appears to have entirely ignored this story, despite the fact that it's caused an uproar in conservative circles and the school district in question is in Palmdale. Maybe Mickey is right about those guys....

Kevin Drum 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FITZGERALD AND NIGER....A couple of weeks ago, UPI's Martin Walker reported that Patrick Fitzgerald had asked for, and obtained, the full version of an Italian parliamentary inquiry into the forgery of the pre-war documents that claimed Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium yellowcake from Niger. Today, Laura Rozen says Walker was wrong. Not only did Fitzgerald never ask for the report, but the report doesn't even exist in the first place.

So just who were Walker's "NATO sources"? I wonder if he'll revisit this story?

Kevin Drum 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

RATING THE SCANDALS....Via Atrios, Editor & Publisher takes a look at a recent CBS poll and tells us that the public thinks the Valerie Plame scandal is more important than any scandal in the past 30 years. Here are the numbers:

  • Plamegate: 86% important 12% not important

  • Clinton-Lewinsky: 62% important, 37% not important

  • Whitewater: 49% important, 45% not important

  • Iran-Contra: 81% important, 19% not important

  • Watergate: 78% important, 22% not important

E&P has more details on the breakdown.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WAL-MART UPDATE....A few months ago, Wal-Mart agreed to sponsor a conference designed to explore their effect on the U.S. economy and local communities. The conference opens Friday, but some of the papers have already been released:

At least two concluded that Wal-Mart stores' pay practices depressed wages beyond the retail sector. Another found that states on average spent $898 for each Wal-Mart worker in Medicaid expenses.

One study concluded that Wal-Mart's giant grocery and general merchandise Supercenters brought little net gain for local communities in property taxes, sales taxes and employment; instead, the stores merely siphoned sales from existing businesses in the area.

Not all the news was bad for Wal-Mart. Several of the studies noted that its stores led to lower prices throughout a region. Two suggested that Wal-Mart increased a county's total employment, with one pegging that long-term gain at 1% to 2%.

Hmmm. I'd sure like to know whether those reports suggested an employment gain of 1-2 percent or 1-2 percentage points. It's a pretty big difference, and it's a sad commentary on journalistic innumeracy that I don't trust the reporter to have gotten it right.

In other news, Wal-Mart has been caught trying to reduce healthcare costs by refusing to hire anyone who's likely to actually file a healthcare claim; the Labor Department's inspector general has criticized it for concluding a sweetheart deal with Wal-Mart regarding child labor violations; and a Wal-Mart consultant was ejected from a screening of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price for allegedly trying to record the film on his cell phone.

Just another day....

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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GROVER'S FUNERAL....Back in March, we asked "Is Grover Over?" We were, of course, talking about Grover Norquist, the anti-tax jihadist-in-chief whose sole goal in life is to bully politicians into endless tax cuts. But as we reported then, things weren't all going his way:

Poor Grover. Nearly everywhere he looks, it seems, a Republican governor or legislature is finding the seductions of tax hikes too powerful to resist in the face of reduced federal support and soaring education and health-care costs.

....No state demonstrates the rise and wobble of the anti-tax movement better than Colorado. In 1992...Colorado voters passed a referendum known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR which attached an amendment to the state constitution that required any tax increase to be approved by a vote of the people and limits state spending increases to inflation, with adjustments made for population growth.

....Business is the chisel driving a crack between moderate Republicans and the anti-tax fanatics. Although there is no group in Washington more loyal to the GOP's anti-tax doctrine than the Chamber of Commerce, in the states, reality often trumps ideology. For businesses to be successful, you need roads and you need higher education, both of which have gotten worse under TABOR and will continue to get worse, says Tom Clark of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, who notes that higher education has shrunk from 25 percent of the state budget in 1995 to about 10 percent today. I'm a Republican, Clark says, but I made the decision not to give any money to the state party.

And what happened? On Tuesday, Colorado voters passed Referendum C, which gutted TABOR:

The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights is "as good as dead" in Colorado, state Rep. Joe Stengel told conservative leaders from across the country Tuesday.

...."I think we now have become a blue state, frankly," Stengel said, complaining about images of Gov. Bill Owens and state Democratic leaders, who together forged the bipartisan compromise that became Ref. C.

Grover may not be over yet, but if his monomania turns very many other red states into blue ones, he will be soon. I can't say he'll be missed.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has more on this.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ARBITRATION vs. TORT....You may recall that last month I wrote about Thomas Geoghegan's pamphlet, The Law in Shambles. One of Geoghegan's counterintuitive (to me) arguments was that unions, for all their faults, fostered a relatively amicable workplace environment. Arbitration over employment disputes may have been frustrating for everyone involved, but the goal of the union was always to get someone's job back, and both sides knew they had to keep working together regardless of the outcome. This prevented routine disputes from descending into all-out war. Today, with unions in decline, arbitration is no longer available to most workers and has been largely replaced by scorched earth style litigation, in which the goal is compensation, not a job, and both sides are motivated to fight to the death on the most explosive possible grounds.

That struck me as an intriguing argument, so I was interested to see the following from Timothy Burke, whose father represented management in labor disputes:

Even my dad thought some strikes were legitimate, and that unions were an important institution. Near the end of his life, he was sometimes bothered, in fact, by the waning of the union movement: my sense was that he preferred arbitration with many union leaders to some of the kinds of workplace litigation he was increasingly involved in. I once saw a videotape he did for non-union workplaces about how to handle drives to unionize, and he went well beyond explaining what their legal obligations were: the first and last thing he said, I recall, was that any employer who thought that a lack of a union was a license to squeeze his employees was going to get a union and he was going to deserve every consequence that followed from that.

Count that as a vote in favor of Geoghegan's thesis, I guess. If corporations want less tort, perhaps they ought to think about the advantages of working with a union, not just the downsides.

Kevin Drum 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 2, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE LEGAL THOUGHT....Publius makes an effort today to categorize contemporary conservative legal thought:

In the legal context, I believe that a nominee can be too conservative in at least three different senses: (1) she subscribes to the king-in-wartime theory; (2) shes a bible thumper; or (3) shes hostile to the New Deal....So, when you hear that someone is too conservative, the key question is determining what year that person wants to send America back to. For the #3 conservatives, its 1932. For the #2 conservatives, its pre-Enlightenment. For the #1 conservatives, its pre-Magna Carta. So take your pick 1932, 1600, or 1214.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, they're all #3 conservatives, and not very happy ones at the moment. Why? They're afraid that Samuel Alito isn't a real conservative like Clarence Thomas, but instead a toothless liberal-in-sheep's-clothing like....Antonin Scalia.

Yes, Antonin Scalia. Apparently, in Federalist Society circles, the Thomas-Scalia split in Gonzales v. Raich is a big topic of conversation. The issue relates to just how much power Congress has to regulate commerce-related activities via the Commerce Clause, and Randy Barnett writes that "Justice Scalia endorses the Roosevelt New Deal Court's approach to that clause; while Justice Thomas endorses Madison's approach." In other words, 1940 vs. 1789.

David Bernstein follows up with a post agreeing that originalism is "in a state of crisis" thanks to Scalia's weak-kneed unwillingness to suck it up and declare the New Deal unconstitutional:

Scalia's fainthearted originalism begins to look a lot like, "I got into this business to overturn Warren Court decisions, and I'll use originalism as tool to that end, but I'm not especially interested in reconsidering New Deal precedents."

....But simply pulling a Scalia, and begging off from the tough issues as distractions from what I believe he sees as the real task of preventing the liberal elite from enacting its agenda through the judiciary just won't do. Originalism becomes a weapon to be pulled out when convenient, not a consistent theory of interpretation. That's culture war politics, not originalism. [Italics mine.]

This strikes me as a remarkably honest assessment of what originalism is really about for most of its supporters, but unfortunately Bernstein doesn't follow it up. Instead, he talks about whether or not genuine originalists should overturn New Deal opinions from the 40s, which strikes me as sort of like arguing over whether or not Superman could kick Green Lantern's butt: harmless, to be sure, but hardly part of the real world. If Federalist Society members are convinced that even Antonin Scalia is too liberal for their taste, and what's really needed is someone who will vote to repeal the Social Security Act, they're just fantasizing, not discussing real-life issues. What's the point?

Kevin Drum 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DOUBLE NEGATIVE....First we had de-Baathification. Now, apparently, we're in for de-de-Baathification. I hope it works out better than the original.

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By: Kevin Drum

HUSBAND NOTIFICATION....In a post about laws that require women to inform their spouses if they plan to get an abortion, Ampersand makes the following observation:

Until lesbian couples have equal marriage rights, the term is "husband notification." Calling it "spousal" notification is Orwellian; there will never be an instance in which a male "spouse" needs to sign a form swearing he's notified a female "spouse" of his medical decisions.

Is that true? In cases of equal consequence where the notification might go either way, do states still insist on it? Garance Franke-Ruta provides the following example, which suggests the answer is no:

It is worth noting that at the same time the state of Pennsylvania was arguing that the state had a legitimate interest in compelling a woman to inform her husband before she obtained an abortion, the state declined to make the conceptually similar demand that an HIV-infected man inform his wife that he carried a potentially deadly infectious disease that could be sexually transmitted.

....The overwhelmingly male legislators of the state of Pennsylvania thought it perfectly appropriate to intervene in a woman's marriage and deny her the freedom to make reproductive choices without coercion, threats, or worse from her husband. Judge Samuel Alito agreed with those legislators. And yet, should that same husband carry HIV, the state would have left informing his wife of this fact to his discretion, and would require from him no proof or signed affirmation that he had, in fact, informed her.

As I've mentioned before, abortion is just one of a constellation of hot button conservative social issues that have at their core a desire to enforce traditional sex and gender roles, and notification laws are yet another example of that. They aren't about notification, they're about control. In the case of parental notification, there's at least a reasonable argument that this kind of one-sided control is appropriate, but in the case of husbands and wives, there isn't. Not in the 21st century, anyway.

Kevin Drum 2:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING RANKS....Jeffrey Goldberg's New Yorker piece about Brent Scowcroft, "Breaking Ranks," is now online. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but just wanted to pass along the link.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLACK SITES....Dick Cheney, speaking for the Bush administration, is desperately opposed to John McCain's anti-torture amendment unless it permits torture by the CIA. Here's why:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries....The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

....CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

Read the whole thing. This system of "black sites" holds hundreds of prisoners; it has virtually no oversight; it would be illegal under American law; and it depends on torture (and rendition to torture-friendly countries) as routine practices.

It makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MIRROR, MIRROR....The Carpetbagger is unimpressed with faux Republican outrage over Harry Reid's supposed violation of congressional tradition and Senatorial courtesy in calling for a closed session yesterday:

It's more than a little amusing to hear congressional Republicans worrying about such niceties. Which party likes to hold open five-minute votes indefinitely until the get the results they want? Which party prevents the minority from offering amendments (.pdf) to legislation? Which party forbids the minority from participating in conference committees? Which party shuts down committee hearings when they start to become politically inconvenient? Which party decided that the Senate leader of one party could campaign against the Senate leader of the other party for the first time in American political history?

Republicans want to lecture Dems about decorum and polite floor tactics? Are they kidding?

As Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris pointed out last year, it's important to remember who started this. Republicans need to take a long look in the mirror before they crank up the outrage dial too far.

UPDATE: Kash has yet another list of traditional courtesies that Republicans have done away with over the past few years.

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA INITIATIVE ROUNDUP....The latest LA Times poll suggests that Arnold's proposition blitz is in trouble:

By and large, the survey found the public siding with organized labor and its Democratic allies in their clash with the Republican governor. Barely a third of likely voters favor Proposition 76, his flagship proposal to curb state spending, and Proposition 77, his plan to give retired judges the job of drawing district maps for lawmakers.

Also in trouble is Proposition 75, Schwarzenegger's plan to require public-worker unions to get written consent from members each year before spending dues on political campaigns.

The advertising campaigns have been nonstop on local TV, and for my money the award for best commercial goes to the opponents of Prop 77, the redistricting initiative. In heavy rotation right now is one ad starring Judge Wapner Judge Wapner! who's anti-judge when it comes to drawing district boundaries, and another ad starring a group of shifty, inept, gum chewing judges cutting up boundaries in a back room, ending with a picture of California transformed to look like Texas. Boo yah!

The award for strangest advertising goes to the opponents of Prop 79. Their ad, pictured on the right, is currently running in the Guardian, which, the last time I looked, was a British newspaper. Note the clever use of a German in-box, which is either a funny mistake or else an ultra-sly allusion to those famously persnickety German bureaucrats. Take your pick.

And me? I usually vote No on everything unless there's a spectacularly good reason to vote Yes, and nothing on the special election ballot this month rises to that level. So voting will once again be pretty easy in the Drum household.

Kevin Drum 1:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LOTT vs. ROVE....Today, Trent Lott suggested that maybe Karl Rove should think about stepping down. Lott has nursed a grudge against Rove ever since Rove declined to lend his support during Strom Thurmondgate a couple of years ago, so this is hardly surprising. But what is surprising is that Lott actually picked exactly the right reason for recommending his departure:

Look, he has been very successful, very effective in the political arena....But, you know, how many times has the top political person become also the top policy advisor? Maybe you can make that transition, but it's a real challenge.

....A lot of political advisors, in fact, most presidents in recent years have a political adviser in the White House. The question is, should they be making, you know, policy decisions? That's the question you've got to evaluate.

That's exactly right. Presidents all have political gurus who know how to play rough and pander to their base when election season rolls around, but George Bush is the only president who's put this same guy in his top policy role. That's fundamentally turned policymaking into a mockery in the Bush White House, converting virtually every question about how to run the country into little more than a crass electoral calculation. Remember what John DiIulio told us three years ago about his experience in the Bush administration:

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions....There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis.

....The "faith bill"...illustrates the relative lack of substantive concern for policy and administration. I had to beg to get a provision written into the executive orders that would require us to conduct an actual information-gathering effort related to the president's interest in the policy....and we got less staff help on it than went into any two PR events or such.

So should Rove go? Of course he should. He's a guy who runs political campaigns and engineers dirty tricks, not a guy who runs a policy shop. It's long past time for him to go back to what he does best.

Kevin Drum 12:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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November 1, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SPECTER ON ALITO....Arlen Specter said today that he's looked at Samuel Alito's dissent in Casey and doesn't think it indicates that Alito would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. That's fine, I suppose, but it doesn't really matter much. After all, Specter's personal interpretation of Alito's opinions is just that: his personal interpretation.

On the other hand, Alito's personal interpretation obviously does mean something, and here's what Specter reported on that score:

The chairman said he had met with Alito for an hour and 15 minutes Monday and that the veteran appeals court judge assured him he believes there is a right to privacy under the liberty clause of the United States Constitution and he accepts Griswold v. Connecticut as good law.

....Alito also assured Specter that his view of legal precedent was that the longer a decision was in effect and the more times it had been affirmed by different courts and different justices appointed by different presidents, it had extra precedential value.

That's pretty interesting, because it's exactly what I was writing about over the weekend in response to Jeffrey Rosen's New York Times piece about "super stare decisis." Griswold is the foundation of Roe, and if Alito truly believes both that Griswold is settled law and that longstanding precedents deserve special deference, this suggests that Roe would be largely safe too. He might still be willing to carve out more exceptions than a centrist justice would, but he probably wouldn't be willing to overturn it completely.

Of course, that's if this is what he really believes, and you can count me as unconvinced unless I hear it in his own words while he's testifying under oath. In the meantime, though, it ought to raise some blood pressure on the right, since Griswold's penumbras and emanations are an object of special scorn among judicial conservatives. Let the games begin.

Kevin Drum 8:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

A QUESTION....From The Corner:

A REVEALING DISPUTE [Kate O'Beirne]
The Senate showdown gives us some idea of what it would look like if the Boy Scouts tried to take on the mafia.

Um, OK, but which side is the Boy Scouts and which side is the mafia? And do you really want to answer that question?

On a tactical level, by the way, this seems like it was a pretty canny move on Reid's part. I don't think relations between the parties can get much worse, so there's probably no harm done on that score. On the other hand, it does force the media's attention back on the intelligence scandal, and does it in a way that probably seems pretty reasonable to neutral observers: by asking only that Pat Roberts and the Senate Intelligence Committee conduct the investigation into manipulation of prewar intelligence that they promised to conduct all along. Roberts and the Republicans really don't have a very good explanation for their obstruction on this, and the Libby indictment makes this the perfect time to make a big deal out of it. The public is primed and ready.

Kevin Drum 5:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CNN vs. FOX....CNN is all over Harry Reid's move to force the Senate into closed session. Half a dozen correspondents are talking about it, and Jack Cafferty just unleashed a broadside about the need to find out once and for all whether we were lied into war.

But I keep flipping over to Fox and they've got nothing. What's up with that? Isn't this their kind of story?

Kevin Drum 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLOSED SESSION....Huh? Harry Reid has shut down the Senate by invoking Rule 21 and placing the Senate into closed session to discuss the intelligence that led to war. What's up with that?

Frist is pissed. Really pissed. Reid did this without warning him. So is this something real, or is it a way to get Libby and Fitzgerald back on the front page? Or was it deliberately designed to make Frist lose it?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Bill Schneider on CNN calls it a "full scale revolt" by Democrats. Here are the talking points emailed out by Reid's office:

  • Most important decision a President makes is to put American lives at risk and go to war.

  • Many of us supported the decision to invade Iraq based on the national intelligence presented at the time.

  • Over the past few months, and vividly last Friday, weve learned that we were given bad information. Americans were intentionally deceived.

  • White House indictments confirm Republicans tried to silence critics and cover up the real intelligence.

  • America deserves answers. National security is at stake.

  • If mistakes were made, we need to know. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat them.

  • Republicans committed to investigate how national intelligence was used to set the stage for war.

  • Now, they are refusing to keep that commitment. What are they afraid of America learning?

  • Republicans must come clean. It is our shared responsibility to be straight with the American people.

  • Stakes could not be higher. That is why we are demanding answers through an unprecedented closed Senate session.

  • We will not let up until America gets answers.

  • Together, America Can Do Better

I wonder how many people knew beforehand that Reid planned to do this?

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

MODO'S WORLD....Chris Nolan reads Maureen Dowd's recent meditation on how feminism has worked out and is not impressed:

Maybe if Mo, the ultra-protected nice Irish girl had taken a look at the porn industry and what impact its aesthetics were having on modern culture (Brazilian, anyone? Boob jobs?) and relations between the sexes, I might have gotten interested.

Those are the symptoms of our modern cultural divide, not who pays the check and if he really means it.

But no, Mo doesnt do porn, wax or sex for that matter.

Well, hell, that almost makes me want to read Dowd's piece, but I'm still not going to. Life's too short. If there's no porn, wax, or sex, what's the point? Sorry, Roxanne.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FILIBUSTER....Kos surveys the recent travails of the GOP and suggests that Democrats should welcome a fight over the filibuster:

Given the tenuous hold on power of the Republican Party, do Republicans really want to ditch the filibuster? Because it won't be long before Democrats retake the White House and congress. And it sure will be nice to need just 51 votes to pass legislation and confirm nice, solid, liberal judges.

I say test the GOP. If we don't use the filibuster out of fear they'll pull the nuclear option, then there is no practical filibuster in existence anyway. Force them to pull the trigger. Let's see just how confident they are in their "permanent majority" status.

Because the way things are going for Republicans, it won't be long before Democrats reap the benefits.

This has been what's kept the filibuster around for the past century, of course: majorities aren't confident they'll stay majorities forever and minorities aren't confident they'll ever become majorities in the future. For both sides, the value of obstruction when the other side is in power always seems greater than the value of more easily passing legislation when their side is in power.

One think that Kos alludes to but doesn't quite spell out, though, is the full extent of the danger that Republicans are inviting if they invoke the nuclear option. Their plan is to invoke it solely for judicial nominations, and of course that carries the risk that they wouldn't be able to filibuster Democratic nominations in the future. But it goes further than that. After all, the nuclear option could just as easily be invoked for ordinary legislation too. Invoking it on Samuel Alito's behalf could outrage Democrats so badly that if they ever get a majority again, they'd go ahead and get rid of the filibuster for everything. Are Republicans willing to take that chance?

Personally, I would be. One of the drawbacks of the filibuster is that it prevents the American public from understanding what each party really wants to accomplish. Without a filibuster, Republicans would no longer have an excuse for failing to pass the legislation that the Christian right has been demanding for years. So they'd either have to pass it, and lose a huge chunk of middle America, or vote it down, in which case they'd lose their right-wing support. Right now, the political cover provided by the filibuster is probably the only thing keeping them in power.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

JUDICIAL ACTIVISM....Via Crooked Timber, here's a New York Times op-ed from a few months ago that provides a metric for one particular type of "judicial activism": the willingness of a justice to overturn congressional legislation. It turns out that it's conservatives who are most likely to strike down laws and liberals who are most like to show deference and let them stand. Here are the numbers since 1994:

Thomas 65.63 %
Kennedy 64.06 %
Scalia 56.25 %
Rehnquist 46.88 %
OConnor 46.77 %
Souter 42.19 %
Stevens 39.34 %
Ginsburg 39.06 %
Breyer 28.13 %

So if Samuel Alito really is to the right of every current justice on the court, what does that mean? That he'll vote to overturn 80% of the legislation that makes it to his desk?

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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