Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HIGH STAKES TESTING....I guess everyone's heard the news about the new prayer study, right? A team of researchers asked several church congregations to pray for heart surgery patients at six different hospitals and then tracked how well they recovered from surgery compared to patients who weren't prayed for. The result was null. Neither group did better than the other.

But I've got a question about this. As I recall from Sunday School, testing God is supposed to be a no-no. In the second of the three temptations of Christ, Satan takes Jesus to the top of a temple and tells him to jump off in order to prove that God will save him from death. Jesus refuses, saying, "It is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

It's the same deal for prayer: it works, but not if it's being done for the purpose of testing that it works. It's sort of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of Christianity.

So here's my question. Christian doctrine says that testing the Lord won't work, which means a study like this is useless. Scientists say that science isn't meant to test supernatural phenomena, which means a study like this is useless. But if everyone agrees that a study like this is useless, why did the John Templeton Foundation spend $2.4 million on it? What's the point?

UPDATE: Just to make this super-duper clear, I'm not saying the study was useless because I'm an atheist and I don't believe in prayer. I'm saying it's useless because even Christians don't think a study like this would produce any positive results. That's assuming I understand Christian doctrine correctly, of course.

And don't bother suggesting that the folks doing the praying didn't know they were part of a test. Double blind protocols might work for us earthly humans, but they wouldn't fool God.

Kevin Drum 11:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (209)

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By: Kevin Drum

SECRETS REVEALED!....Jon Chait explains the conservative publishing world in 150 words or less.

Kevin Drum 7:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Kevin Drum

JADED?....As Bob Somerby and Peter Daou and Media Matters have all pointed out, it really is remarkable how little attention the confirmation of David Manning's explosive prewar memo has gotten in the past week. Here's what the New York Times reported on Monday:

During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second [UN] resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons...."The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

And this is in addition to the news that Bush was brainstorming ideas for deliberately provoking a war since it didn't appear that Saddam Hussein had any actual WMD to give him a legitimate reason for invasion.

And yet as near as I can tell from a search of both Nexis and Google News, a grand total of about a dozen U.S. newspapers bothered to even report this. This is despite the fact that Manning was Tony Blair's chief foreign policy advisor, the Times reviewed an actual copy of the memo, and two "senior British officials" confirmed its authenticity. What's more, the conversation between Bush and Blair took place on January 31, 2003, which means that Bush was flatly lying for six consecutive weeks when he pretended that war could be averted if only Saddam Hussein would cooperate with UN inspectors.

Is the "collective yawn" from the media because everyone figures this is old news? Because it comes from a competitor and no one wants to credit them? Because no one really cares anymore?

Or are we now so jaded by the relentless mendacity of the Bush administration that high level lying just isn't worth reporting these days? What other explanation is there for this not being front page news in Los Angeles and Washington DC as well as New York?

Kevin Drum 3:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (161)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SAD STATE OF TODAY'S TEENS....Apparently our educational system really is going down the toilet. Even the creationists are doing a lousy job:

As his students rummage for their notebooks, [biology teacher Al] Frisby introduces his central theme: Every creature on Earth has been shaped by random mutation and natural selection in a word, by evolution. The challenges begin at once.

"Isn't it true that mutations only make an animal weaker?" sophomore Chris Willett demands. " 'Cause I was watching one time on CNN and they mutated monkeys to see if they could get one to become human and they couldn't."

With all the resources at their disposal, this is the best that high school rabble-rousers can come up with these days? Nothing about the Second Law of Thermodynamics proving that evolution is impossible? Nothing about irreducible complexity? Just some lame question about a CNN show?

I fear that we're losing our younger generation of creationists. I propose a billion-dollar nationwide intervention program followed up by high stakes testing to ensure that our kids are prepared to talk ID trash at a tenth grade level before they're exposed to high school biology. This is a disgrace.

Kevin Drum 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DEATH OF COUPONS?....News you probably didn't know:

Americans took 3 billion coupons to retailers last year, a 33% drop from 2000, according to NCH Marketing Services Inc., a Deerfield, Ill.-based coupon processor. At the same time, the average coupon value has risen from 79 cents to 89 cents.

But now you do.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

FOX, MEET HENHOUSE....Hey, guess who President Bush has nominated to head up the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division? That's right: the guy who represented Wal-Mart in trying to prevent a class of 1.5 million women from suing the company for discrimination in pay and promotions! He also appears to oppose pretty much every regulation related to wages and hours ever passed.

What a perfect nominee. If he didn't exist, the Republican Party would have to have invented him.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

BRING BACK THE CHAIN GANGS!....Dana Rohrabacher, the insane congressman in the district immediately north of me, suggested yesterday that even if we cut off illegal immigration completely we'd still have a large and cheap labor force available to pick our strawberries for us. "Let the prisoners pick the fruits," he said.

Naturally I just discounted this as the ravings of a madman, but then TChris planted a thought in my mind: does this mean that maybe Jack Abramoff might be sent out to the fields for 10 hours per day of backbreaking work in the blazing sun for the next five years and ten months? And maybe Scooter Libby and Tom DeLay too? And you never know could even Karl Rove find himself on the business end of a short handled hoe in El Centro if Patrick Fitzgerald ever manages to make sense out of all those missing White House emails?

Maybe Dana is actually onto something this time.

UPDATE: Oh, and Tony Rudy too.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Kevin Drum

YOUNG REPUBLICANS IN LOVE....Today the Wall Street Journal tells the story of Emily Miller and Michael Scanlon, two aides to Tom DeLay who were engaged to be married until, "with the wedding a few months away, he called off the engagement and started dating a 24-year-old waitress." After the breakup, Miller began pondering the events of the preceding few months:

People who have spoken to Ms. Miller say that after her breakup she began questioning how Mr. Scanlon could afford a lavish lifestyle while working summers as a beach lifeguard and doing seemingly little work at his public-relations firm. She talked about the beach house he had presented to her, the private jet he flew around in and the $17,000-a-month apartment he rented at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington.

Indeed. That does seem a trifle extravagant, doesn't it? Shortly thereafter, Miller had a chat with federal prosecutors and helped them build a case against Scanlon, and Scanlon in turn helped build a case against his buddy Jack Abramoff. Miller kept her engagement ring.

Read the whole thing. It's fun for the whole family.

UPDATE: Apparently Jason Leopold at Raw Story broke many of the details of this story back in January. His piece is here.

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (124)

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March 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BLEATING AROUND THE BUSH....Ryan Lizza writes today that former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card viewed his job less as running the White House and more as being George Bush's ultimate spear carrier:

As his White House service wore on, this ostentatious modesty morphed even further into creepy masochism. He seemed to delight in the most painful assignments. After his own father died of Parkinson's disease, Card became a supporter of the life-saving potential of stem-cell research. Yet, when Bush limited federal money for the research, it was Card who made the rounds on the Sunday shows to cheerily defend the policy.

But this is less a reflection on Card than it is on Bush. After all, what kind of man would allow (or force?) a loyal retainer to do something like this? Answer: The same kind of insecure blusterer who repeatedly humiliates his aides in public with remarks like, "He's a PhD, see I'm a C student. Look who's the President and who's the advisor." Or who's so famous for surrounding himself with toadies that it's considered newsworthy when he appoints someone who doesn't decorate his office with pictures of George Bush.

This is the central mystery of George Bush: How does this man-child with such an obviously mediocre mind manage to generate such intense loyalty in so many people? And yet somehow he does. Where's Sigmund Freud when you need him?

Kevin Drum 3:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (269)

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By: Kevin Drum

KALOOGIAN UPDATE....If you've been following the recent nitwittery surrounding Republican congressional candidate Howard Kaloogian ("Each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism," he said, but it turned out the picture he posted to show how calm things were in Baghdad was actually taken in Istanbul) well, if you've been following it you might be wondering just how well Kaloogian is doing in his race to take over Duke Cunningham's seat in California's 50th congressional district. Here's the answer: he's got about 12% of the vote. For now. Somehow I have a feeling those numbers might drop a bit in the next few days.

What's also interesting is that Francine Busby has 45% of the vote compared to 46% for the combined Republicans in this heavily Republican district. Hmmm.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

MARKET-STYLE IMMIGRATION REFORM....Over at Tapped, Ezra Klein summarizes an LA Times article explaining how we could go a long way toward cracking down on illegal immigration without thousands of miles of Iron Curtain-style fences or vast mobs of vigilante groups lining the borders. Instead, the single most effective policy would probably be the simplest: enforce the law that prohibits businesses from hiring illegals. The problem, of course, is that this would require Republicans to pass laws that their corporate contributors don't like, and we all know what that means. Let's put up a fence instead!

As for me, I'm basically in favor of a market-style approach that tweaks incentives to increase the cost of immigrating illegally while decreasing the cost of immigrating legally. At some point, if you can enact the right basket of policies to get the costs right, you'll reduce illegal immigration to a point we can live with.

So: crack down on employers because that's probably the the cheapest and easiest way of discouraging illegal immigration. If it's hard to get a job, you're less likely to cross the border. At the same time, make it easier to immigrate legally with a reasonable path to citizenship. This makes "getting in line" more attractive. Do these things right and there just aren't very many people left who find the illegal route more attractive than coming over legally.

It also goes a long way toward solving the wage problem. There's no question that immigration from Mexico drags down wages for unskilled labor, but today it drags it down even more than it has to because illegal immigrants have no bargaining power. An increased supply of legal immigrants would still put downward pressure on wages, but not nearly as much as illegal immigrants do.

And remember: one of these days we're all going to retire. When we do, we're going to be glad we let our population grow by adding a large number of citizens whose sole motivation for coming here was to work and make money. That's the same reason my ancestors came over, after all, and that all turned out pretty well in the end.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION....Knight Ridder's Kevin Hall provides a sensible take on the economic impact of immigration:

"The consensus view is it is a net benefit to the country," said Tim Jim Smith, a senior economist and immigration expert at the Rand Corp., a research center in Santa Monica, Calif.

....Yet while immigration is a net economic benefit, it's one so modest that Smith cautioned that it "would not be on my top 10 list" of what's driving the U.S. economy.

Harvard University economist George Borjas recently published a study on the economic effects of immigration. He thinks the costs and benefits are a wash. Small gains to the broader economy are offset by social and fiscal costs such as providing health care to poor immigrants and schooling children who don't speak English.

"It would not be farfetched to say there would be zero gain from this," he said in an interview.

There's more, but this seems to be a fair summary. Immigration has some modest benefits and some modest costs, and overall is probably a small net positive in the short term and a larger net positive in the long term. At worst it's a wash.

Kevin Drum 2:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (185)

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By: Kevin Drum

CLONES....Responding to a PZ Myers post making the point that a cloned dog wouldn't be the original dog, Kieran Healy says:

Ive half-joked before that, purely because of this basic point, sociologists should welcome human cloning with open arms. Technically achieving the sort of things many people imagine they could do with cloning recreate a lost child or relative, produce a new version of themselves would in fact have just the opposite effect. It would show just how important social structure, local environment and historical contingencies are to forming people. And thats without even getting in to the metaphysical questions of whats essential about peoples identity. Some people are going to be really upset when they realize that the genome is not some kind of magic essence of self. I hope public understanding catches up with the reality before actual cloned people are subject to the resentment of their creators.

Is that really the current state of public understanding, though? It's true that the last few years have produced a flood of headlines about the genetic basis of various personality characteristics, but surely very few people believe that genes are the sole basis of personality, do they?

I'm genuinely sort of curious about this. One of the things I find annoying about the whole nature/nurture debate is that both sides have a tendency to portray the other side in its maximalist version, whereas I've never read a single book, article, pamphlet, or blog post that suggested personality was anything other than some mysterious combination of both. The maximalist position (all nature, all nurture) just doesn't exist today in mainstream discourse.

In any case, we already know the answer to the clone question. Identical twins are clones, and although twins can be remarkably similar, any parent of twins can tell you that they also have very distinct personalities. It's not all in the genes.

On the other hand, it might be different for cats and dogs. I mean, I'd like to pretend that Inkblot has such a distinct personality that I could tell him apart from his hypothetical clone, but I wonder if I really could? Just for starters, he's only conscious for four or five hours out of every day, and the rest of the time he mostly just sits around and looks sort of puzzled. I'll bet a clone wouldn't be much different.

Or would he?

Kevin Drum 12:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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March 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY....Which will make you happier: a pay raise or a boss you like? A pay raise or an interesting job? John Helliwell and Haifang Huang at the University of British Columbia claim to know the answer:

Say you get a new boss and your trust in management goes up a bit at your job (say, up one point on a 10-point scale). That's like getting a 36 percent pay raise, Helliwell and Huang calculate.

....Having a job that offers a lot of variety in projects, Helliwell and Huang found, is the equivalent of a 21 percent hike in pay.

Having a position that requires a high level of skill is the equivalent of a 19 percent raise.

And having enough time to finish your work is the equivalent of an 11 percent boost in pay.

Let's see. I like the management at the Washington Monthly; I get to write about lots of different things; my job requires a fair amount of skill; and I get to work at my own pace. Put this all together and it means that the Monthly gets to pay me about half of what they'd have to if this were a lousy job and I got treated badly. Not bad, eh?

Kevin Drum 10:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

ANDREW SULLIVAN NEEDS A NEW AWARD....Hugh Hewitt, in the process of grilling Time's Michael Ware about his reporting from Iraq, says he doesn't buy Ware's argument that reporting from behind enemy lines is a good thing. Then he lets loose with this:

MW: ....Let's look at it this way. I mean, you're sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right...

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that's what...

HH: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.

This just might be the most fatuous thing I've ever heard. But it does make me wonder: do you think he really means it? Do you think Hugh literally, genuinely thinks of himself as being on the front lines every time he visits New York City?

As for Hugh's broader question, look at it this way: if the Western media had pulled out of Moscow during the Cold War we would have spent several decades thinking that the GUM department store was a treasure trove of consumer goodies instead of the cheerless and barren place it really was. In other words, of course it's a good idea to have someone providing us with a pro-Western view of what our enemies are doing especially when enemy propaganda is already available 24/7 just by watching al-Jazeera or surfing the web or reading non-American newspapers. You'd think a guy who broadcasts on the radio, extols the virtues of the blogosphere, and supposedly understands the global nature of the war on terrorism could figure that out.

Kevin Drum 8:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (134)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEWS FROM BAGHDAD....Riverbend watches the news on Iraqi TV:

I was reading the little scrolling news headlines on the bottom of the page.... Suddenly, one of them caught my attention and I sat up straight on the sofa, wondering if I had read it correctly....The line said:

The translation:

The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.

Thats how messed up the country is at this point....The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense cant even trust its own personnel, unless they are accompanied by American coalition forces.

Are we making progress in Iraq that the defeatist American media routinely ignores because they've been overwhelmed by their single-minded loathing of George Bush? Read the whole thing and decide for yourself.

Kevin Drum 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY....Chevrolet now has a website that allows you to create your very own commercial for the Chevy Tahoe. Imagine the possibilities! I don't know how long they'll leave this one up not long, I imagine but it should give you a laugh if you manage to click through before they deep six it. I'd say its creators followed Chevy's recommendations to "entertain" and "inform" exceptionally well.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ISRAELI ELECTIONS....As an outsider who generally finds Israeli politics too byzantine to truly understand, I was a little surprised to hear that turnout for Tuesday's election had been so low. In the LA Times today, Yossi Klein Halevi suggests that it's because there's not much left for anyone to argue about anymore:

Tuesday's election marked the end of the two visions that together animated Israeli political debate for the last three decades: the left-wing dream of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians that would bring Israel the first real peace in its 58-year modern history, and the right-wing dream of a "Greater Israel" that would fulfill an ancient longing to return to the biblical land and, at the same time, give Israel the safety it needs to survive.

This was the first campaign in memory in which talk of peace was nearly absent. Previously, even right-wing politicians felt obliged to argue that their hard-line politics would bring a more durable peace. But now, with the rise of the Hamas in the Palestinian territories, even the left couldn't manage to sing the old peace songs.

Halevi argues that although the old arguments were a form of "fantasy politics," the new politics are scarcely better: a universally gloomy acceptance of a walled-off country permanently at war with it neighbors, with no real belief that things will ever get any better. The arguments now are only over the details, and that makes voting barely worthwhile.

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

FISA SPEAKS....So what do FISA judges themselves think of the NSA's domestic spying program? On Tuesday several of them testified in front of Congress:

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law "like everyone else." If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, "the president ignores it at the president's peril."

Bound by the law like anyone else?!? That's treason talk. Why does Judge Baker care more about the rights of Osama bin Laden than he does about the security of the American people?

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (205)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE, CONT'D....From the Los Angeles Times this morning:

Following four years of study, senior EPA scientists came to an alarming conclusion....

I hardly need to tell you how this story turns out, do I? We all know how the Bush administration feels about senior EPA scientists and their pansy ass whining about carcinogens and birth defects.

My favorite quote comes from Raymond DuBois, the Defense Department fellow who accidentally admitted why the Pentagon and the White House were fighting the EPA's conclusions about a chemical called TCE: "If you go down two or three levels in EPA, you have an awful lot of people that came onboard during the Clinton administration, to be perfectly blunt about it...."

Click the link if you've already had your coffee this morning. Otherwise you might want to skip it.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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March 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THAT SINKING FEELING....So how is the Republican Party doing since George Bush started his second term? Charles Franklin doesn't merely crunch the numbers to find the answer, he batters them into submission and eventually delivers the goods:

Between January 1, 2005 and March 12, 2006, Republican partisan identification declined by an estimated 3.6%. The percentage of the adult population calling themselves Independent rose by 4.6%, and the percentage of Democrats declined by a statistically insignificant 0.4%.

It turns out that not only has party ID shifted a fair amount in the past year, but also that party ID differs wildly between polls. Fox News, for example, asks "Do you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican?" while Pew asks "Do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, or Independent?" Just adding the option to the question increases the number of people who respond "Independent" from 17% (Fox) to 31% (Pew).

Both of the linked posts are long and eye glazing, but the bottom line is that party ID is surprisingly hard to measure. Keep that in mind the next time someone swears a poll must be wrong because its party weighting doesn't match the exit polls from a year and a half ago.

Kevin Drum 7:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (243)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MARKET SPEAKS....The State Department is raising its payscale for serving in Iraq:

Starting this month, U.S. government civilians serving in Iraq and in Afghanistan outside of Kabul are receiving an extra 35 percent above their base salaries for hardship and another 35 percent for danger. Previously, they were paid 25 percent extra for each category, the limits the government had set decades ago for any foreign post.

...."The idea was to recognize service at our most difficult and dangerous posts, and foremost among those posts are Iraq and Afghanistan," said a senior State Department official.

But I thought things were going fine in Iraq and it was only the traitorous fifth columnists in the media who were making it look dangerous?

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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By: Kevin Drum

RELIGION UPDATE....Hey, remember that post last week where I suggested that we atheists "don't suffer much serious social ostracism"? Well, it turns out that was pretty stupid. Andrew Sullivan reports:

Eugene Volokh has just written a law article on how atheist fathers and mothers are routinely discriminated against in child custody cases. He cites over 70 recent cases across the country and these were only the ones which were appealed, so they probably represent a fraction of the actual cases.

Eugene's article is here. I'm actually willing to concede that 70 incidents out of millions of custody cases over the last decade isn't exactly a sign of the apocalypse (so to speak), but it's still pretty discouraging news.

Meanwhile, among the religious demographic that isn't routinely discriminated against in custody cases, the "War on Christians" conference presents us with the wingnut Bill of Rights a full 29 items long, including all the usual greatest hits. And as Steve Benen says:

Remember, before you laugh these folks off as fringe activists that no credible person should take seriously, take a look at the conference's guest list, which includes three leading House Republicans (Tom DeLay, Todd Akin, and Louis Gohmert) and two leading Senate Republicans (John Cornyn and Sam Brownback), the latter of which is considered a credible presidential candidate in 2008.

Elsewhere, Steve makes the following observation:

You wouldn't know it from watching the major news networks, but progressive religious leaders are more articulate and thoughtful on the key issues of the day than anyone in the religious right. Before a TV producer calls James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, or Pat Robertson to comment on a story, they might also put a call into Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, or Barry Lynn.

Unfortunately, television producers aren't very interested in "articulate and thoughtful." They're interested in provocative and influential. If our guys were more willing to spout obviously unhinged opinions, maybe they'd get more air time. That's good TV!

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (320)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW BOSS....Apologies for the lack of posting this morning. I woke up sick, and now that I'm down at the computer I just can't work up any excitement over today's big news: the resignation of Andy Card and his replacement by Josh Bolten. However, feel free to sneer in comments while I try to find something else to write about.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

A GLOBAL COUNTERINSURGENCY....Jonathan Morgenstein and Eric Vickland write in the Boston Globe today that the insurgency in Iraq and our lack of success in defeating it is a microcosm of the broader global struggle against terrorism:

This global insurgency can only be defeated by severing the insurgents' connections to populations that sustain them. We must isolate and smother an enemy who thrives by delivering empowerment and vengeance to populations drowning in poverty, social humiliation, and political marginalization. These masses in return sustain the enemy passively with cover and actively with fighters. We have to convince those who passively support the insurgency that we are not their enemy. Unfortunately, our current strategy overemphasizing military force drives undecided millions into the insurgents' arms. Not only are we fighting the war wrong, we are fighting the wrong war.

This is not very sexy, but it's quite likely correct. Is anyone listening?

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (145)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE AND INNOVATION....Andrew Sullivan is unhappy at the prospect that someday the federal government may be allowed to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers. This strikes me as nothing more than the way free enterprise normally works i.e., both buyer and seller negotiating prices rather than one side dictating to the other but Andrew predicts doomsday:

We'll soon shift to a system of fantastically expensive free drugs of all kinds for all seniors and a crippling of the pharmaceutical industry's research and development arm. The trade-off will be complete: a collapse in research in return for free drugs for the most pampered senior generation in history.

That's an odd argument, isn't it? Are these drugs going to be fantastically expensive, or are they going to be so cheap they cripple the pharmaceutical industry's R&D efforts? I'm confused.

At any rate, big customers in the private sector routinely negotiate low prices with their suppliers, and it's not clear to me why things would be much different in this case. In fact, I can't think of any good reason to believe that the notoriously inefficient federal government should prove to be a steelier negotiator than, say, Blue Cross, which also buys in enormous volumes and has the added advantage of being a private company with plenty of incentive to negotiate the lowest prices possible. Ezra Klein has further arguments along this line here.

In the meantime, it occurs to me that there must be some natural experiments that could provide us with some data on this very legitimate question: does centralized control of healthcare spending reduce innovation? In the United States, Medicare funds healthcare for everyone over 65, so if single-payer healthcare really does stifle innovation, we should expect less innovation (and slower adoption of innovative technology) for new procedures and new drugs that are useful predominantly for older patients.

Surely someone has found some clever way to test this? I'll take a look around and see if I can find anything. Comments are open if you know of any relevant data.

Kevin Drum 1:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

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March 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MOUSSAOUI SPEAKS....The latest from the Moussaoui trial:

Zacarias Moussaoui testified in an Alexandria courtroom this morning that he was tapped by Osama bin Laden to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House as part of the terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

....He said he was supposed to head a five-man crew that also would have included Richard Reid, a British citizen who tried to set off explosives in his shoes aboard a transatlantic flight two months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Well, that testimony certainly explains why his attorneys thought he'd be wise to stay off the stand, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 8:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

MAKING THINGS WORSE....Is a continued U.S. presence in Iraq necessary to prevent full blown civil war? Over at MaxSpeak, Barkley summarizes the latest bunch of botched military operations and concludes exactly the opposite:

I have had some sympathy with the idea that maybe, just maybe, US forces were necessary to prevent a complete degeneration into a full-scale bloodbath. But if this is the sort of stuff our troops are going to do, for whatever reason, then they should get the hell out as soon as possible. They probably should anyway, but this insanity is simply the final straw. Even the supposedly pro-US parts of the media in Iraq are enraged. Get out now!

Can I ask something very politically incorrect? There's no question that the fiasco in Iraq is primarily the fault of our civilian leadership primarily George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld but what about our military leadership? Conventional wisdom suggests that we should all refrain from criticizing "the troops," but surely this stricture doesn't apply to the senior officer corps, which even now, 30 years after Vietnam and three years after the beginning of the Iraq war, appears not to understand how to fight a counterinsurgency. Or, for that matter, to even universally accept the fact that we are fighting a counterinsurgency.

Why? Either we're fighting this war very badly, in which case our military leadership deserves criticism, or else the kind of large-scale counterinsurgency we're fighting in Iraq is simply impossible for a country like the United States to win. Which is it?

Kevin Drum 7:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (168)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONGRESS AND CREDIT FREEZES....A reader emails to remind me of something that happened a couple of weeks but never made it into the blog: on March 16 the House Financial Services Committee approved the "Financial Data Protection Act of 2005" on a 48-16 vote.

Nothing wrong with that, is there? We're all in favor of protecting data, after all.

I hardly even need to finish this story, do I? The FDPA is sponsored by Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette, and the theory behind it is that instead of 50 different state laws on data protection we should have one nationwide law something that would be a great idea if FDPA actually did a good job of protecting data. Unfortunately, what it mostly does is bring broad smiles to the faces of credit industry lobbyists by enacting an industry-friendly federal law that does less to protect data than most state laws. As the Senate Democratic Caucus of California puts it:

First, it only allows people to freeze their credit reports widely touted as the most effective identity theft prevention tool after theyve become an identity theft victim. Second, it only requires businesses to notify their customers when a security breach happens if the breach is likely to result in substantial harm.

I'll let others deconstruct the notification issues, but credit freezes are one of my hobbyhorses because they're the best known defense against identity theft. Basically, a credit freeze is a simple option that prevents lenders from reviewing your credit history without your permission. Since lenders won't issue credit without first seeing a credit report, this prevents ID thieves from opening fraudulent accounts without your knowledge.

Why does the credit industry hate credit freezes? Because it puts an end to instant credit: when you apply for credit, it can't be approved until the credit agency notifies you and you tell them that it's a legitimate credit application. (That is, it's a credit application that you filled out, not someone else.) Unfortunately, the idea that some people would choose to accept this minor inconvenience in return for protection from identity theft terrifies them, which is why they want to limit the option only to people who have already been hit by identify theft. As Debra Bowen, the author of California's credit freeze law, says, this doesn't make sense:

Preventing people from freezing access to their credit reports unless theyre an identity theft victim is a little like saying people cant buy flood insurance until their house is six feet underwater. The whole purpose of the freeze is to let people take a pro-active, preventative step to ensure they dont get ripped off. Why Congress wants to tell people, Hey, theres this great thing that will help you from becoming an identity theft victim, but you can only use it if your identity has been stolen and the thief has racked up thousands of dollars worth of bills in your name is beyond me.

Far from overruling state laws on credit freezes, Congress should be doing just the opposite: passing laws making credit freezes even easier and cheaper than they are now. The credit industry, despite their predictable howls of anguish, would undoubtedly adapt with procedures that allowed fast notification and near-instant credit, and of course consumers who didn't want even this modest level of inconvenience would be free to keep their credit reports as free and unprotected as they are now.

But the credit industry doesn't want to bother themselves about identity theft since it's mostly consumers who pay the price anyway, and Congress is happy to oblige them. It's yet more evidence of Republican subservience to business interests even when it harms their own constituents.

UPDATE: More here on the notification aspects of this bill.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND BLAIR....Anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to George Bush's personality understands that he values loyalty above all else. But there's always been a catch: although he values loyalty to George Bush, it's never been a two-way street. It's not wise to expect anything in return.

I've always wondered just how long it would take until Tony Blair finally blew his stack over this, but the man seems to have superhuman patience and has never publicly revealed any cracks in the facade of his eternal friendship with the president. Lately, though, as Alex Massie reports in TNR, other pro-American Brits have begun asking the question that one of them finally voiced publicly during a recent visit to America: "What do we get out of it?"

On a range of issues, the Americans have upset the British, politely listening to their concerns and then, more often than not, simply ignoring them. A British offer to send 6,000 troops into the caves of Tora Bora to hunt for Osama bin Laden was rejected in November 2001. British proposals for postwar Iraq were, according to a senior Foreign Office official quoted by Coughlin, "dumped ... in the dustbin." The initial round of primary reconstruction contracts went exclusively to U.S. firms; British companies had to complain before they were allowed a bigger piece of the action. Moreover, despite Bush's stated commitment to free trade, he imposed tariffs on European steel imports for over 20 months. And, ignoring repeated British pleas, the administration refused to engage on global warming or to make a priority of the Middle East road map.

Lately, Massie, says, two new slights have taken center stage. The first is the American refusal to pass a bilateral extradition treaty even though the British approved their end of it three years ago. The second is American refusal to allow technology transfers related to Britain's agreement to buy 150 Joint Strike Fighter planes. Blair has raised this issue with Bush several times, but Bush has apparently declined to spend any of his precious political capital on the issue.

It sure is a special relationship, isn't it? Very, very special.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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SCALIA'S MOUTH....The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that will test whether the government is required to provide detainees at Guantnamo Bay with special military tribunals. At a talk a couple of weeks ago, Antonin Scalia made it clear that he's already made up his mind on this case:

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by Newsweek. "Give me a break."

Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."

Will Scalia recuse himself following this blunder? I'm going to take the underdog bet on this one and say that he does. Even Supreme Court justices are susceptible to peer pressure, and I have to figure that he's going to feel some heat from his fellow Supremes in this case.

Which could be a real problem for the government. As the Newsweek piece notes, John Roberts has already recused himself because he heard the case as an appellate judge, and if Scalia does the same it means the court will have lost two of its most conservative, pro-administration judges. In other words, the government will probably lose. And all because Scalia couldn't keep his mouth shut.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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By: Kevin Drum

PROVOKING A WAR....David Manning's memo summarizing a meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq has been reported before, but the New York Times has additional details today:

During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons.

....The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation

...."The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein.

Yes, that's the president of the United States talking about deliberately faking a UN overflight in order to provoke a phony confrontation with Saddam or if that didn't work, trotting out a defector to lie about Iraqi WMD. Honor and dignity, baby, honor and dignity.

Kevin Drum 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (180)

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March 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CHEMICAL SECURITY....As we all know, 9/11 changed everything. Take chemical plants, for example. Their owners really dislike the idea of being forced to spend money on onerous safeguards against terrorist attacks, but after 9/11 their allies in the Republican Party told them politely but firmly that this attitude would have to change. Protecting America against terrorism was more important than short-term chemical industry profits.

I'm just kidding, of course. As Jon Chait writes today, after the industry's lobbyists went to work the Republican Party folded like a house of cards and conservative hawks folded right along with them:

One of the few times I've seen a conservative even engage the issue of Bush's inaction on chemical security is in a book called "Bush Country," a paean to Bush's wisdom and greatness. The author, John Podhoretz, labels the idea that Bush has fallen short on homeland security a "crazy liberal idea." He cites a 2003 article I wrote in the New Republic detailing the GOP's initial cave-in on the chemical plant security bill. Podhoretz was aghast that the bill "would have authorized civil and criminal actions against plant managers and officials who supposedly weren't doing enough to secure their facilities."

Why is this bad? Because "such law would turn Americans against each other rather than allow them to focus on the true, external threat." Our very social fabric would be torn brother against brother, chemical plant owner against nonchemical plant owner. Much better to leave the plants unprotected than risk those bitter divisions.

Podhoretz goes on to argue, in a manner revealing of the conservative mind-set, that my critique of the situation "flies in the face of the passionate seriousness with which Bush has addressed the issue of homeland security and the war on terror." Let me translate: We know Bush is serious about homeland security because he says he is.

Port security? Chemical plant security? Pshaw. It's an infringement of private enterprise and not really necessary anyway.

Invading Iraq? Bombing Iran? Worth every penny. After all, don't you know there are al-Qaeda terrorists who might try to target our ports and chemical plants next?

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

NASA UPDATE....Four years ago, a pair of Air Force safety officials tried to hold up a shuttle launch because of a malfunction in the backup link that's responsible for destroying rockets in case of mishap. However, despite the downcheck from the safety team, the launch was allowed to proceed after a phone conversation between Donald Pettit, commander of the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, and Roy Bridges, director of the Kennedy Space Center. Because they kept this conversation offline and private, nobody on the shuttle launch team at KSC knew that the Air Force safety officers had responded "no go" during the final pre-liftoff poll.

NASA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that the conversation and subsequent overrule of the safety officers was unprecedented, and a draft report concluded that "Entire Florida Central Coast [was] placed at UNKNOWN but INCREASED risk." So what happened next?

Despite those findings, NASA Inspector General Robert "Moose" Cobb derailed the inquiry and declared the issue an Air Force matter last year, according to investigators familiar with the case. Sources in Cobb's office said they were forbidden from interviewing Bridges and Pettit or requesting crucial information from the Air Force.

"It was obvious to me that he didn't want to make the agency [NASA] look bad," said a former investigator in the office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He wouldn't do his job."

Cobb, a White House political appointee, is under investigation by an administration integrity committee after being accused of repeatedly quashing cases and retaliating against those who resisted.

Sounds like this fellow Cobb fits the Bush administration's mold for NASA political appointees perfectly. I wonder how long it will be before they give him a medal?

Kevin Drum 5:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ IN THE HEARTLAND....The LA Times reports that even heartland conservatives are starting to abandon the Republican Party over Iraq:

As Liz Larrison cooks up breakfast for customers at her family's diner in a farm town long friendly to the Republican Party, she listens as the regulars sling political opinions as easily as she slings ham steaks.

...."Nobody is against the people fighting the war. I think you'll hear that everywhere," she said. "We're just against it going on and on."

....In fact, Larrison who, like many of her customers, considers herself independent but tends to vote for Republicans says she will vote against her Republican congressman.

Russ Feingold is absolutely right on this issue, and I wish more Democratic politicians would join him in demanding a serious plan for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We don't have to act like pacifists, and we don't have to scream about the Bush administration being populated by war criminals. We just have to make it clear that enough's enough. An open-ended commitment in Iraq helps to fuel their civil war, not end it, and it's time to acknowledge this.

At this point, the Bush administration's incompetence has pretty much eliminated any chance we ever had for success in Iraq, but whatever chance we have left would be maximized by a serious plan for troop withdrawal. It's time.

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By: Kevin Drum

GUEST WORKERS....I've always been uncomfortable with guest worker programs. Germany's famous Gastarbeiter program of the 60s and 70s, for example, has produced a large population of Turks who do plenty of scut work but have little incentive to assimilate since they have no chance of becoming citizens. The result, as the Germans themselves have discovered, is alienation, distrust, and bitterness on all sides.

In the Washington Post today, Tamar Jacoby writes that if you sit down and talk to them, most Americans agree:

The Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum recently conducted a series of focus groups testing two contrasting options: a guest worker program or a more traditional immigration plan based on the idea of citizenship. The results ran sharply counter to the expectations of policymakers in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike overwhelmingly preferred the citizenship model for reasons of both principle and practicality.

It might make sense initially, these voters said, to admit workers on a provisional basis. It might also make sense to create incentives for the more transient to go home at the end of their work stints. But if they worked hard, put down roots and invested in their communities, wouldn't we want to encourage them to stay? Don't we want immigrants to assimilate? Don't we want to attract the kind of hard-working, committed folks who plan for the future and invest?

If we truly decide that we want to keep immigration limited, then we should face down the low-wage business bloc of the Republican Party and get serious about keeping illegal immigrants out of the country in the first place. But if we want to allow more legal immigrants into the country as a guest worker program tacitly acknowledges then we should encourage them to be good citizens by offering them the chance to earn actual citizenship. Because they don't do that, guest worker programs end up perpetuating both a culture of low-wage labor that's ripe for exploitation and insular communities that have no incentive to think of themselves as Americans because they aren't. It's the worst of both worlds.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (148)

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March 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL....Congratulations to UCLA for getting to the Final Four. But I have a suggestion for the gods of college basketball: reduce the number of timeouts allowed and don't allow timeouts at all during the final two minutes of the game. The 20 lumbering minutes that it takes to finish the last few minutes of most games is nothing short of excruciating, but in games where both teams have used up their timeouts the final minutes are some of the most exciting in sports.

So: no timeouts in the final two minutes. Let 'em run. Who's with me?

Kevin Drum 9:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

SELLING UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE....Steve Benen points to polling data that says 70% of Americans think the government spends too little on healthcare and concludes, "Public opinion is already leaning towards single payer, whether they're familiar with the phrase or not."

I have my doubts about how strongly the public actually believes this, but Steve's point is still well taken: we may have a long public opinion battle in front of us, but at least we're not literally trying to change people's minds. Most Americans are already receptive to the idea that the government should take on a bigger role in healthcare.

He's also right to focus on the public opinion aspect of the battle for universal healthcare, something that conservatives have long understood better than liberals. And it raises a question worth asking: what's the best way of selling single-payer healthcare to the American public? Here are my two favorite themes:

  • Hammer on the notion that it's crazy to rely on employers as the main healthcare suppliers in America. After all, why should they be? A car company should be a car company, not a healthcare supplier. Along the same lines: Why should you have to pay the price every time your HR department decides to switch to a cheaper health plan? Or lose coverage if you get laid off? Or be forced to keep a dead end job forever because it provides health coverage and you're uninsurable anywhere else?

  • Work on reducing the fear of national healthcare systems in other countries. When this subject comes up conservatives will always trot out their favorite tropes (waiting lines for hip replacements in Canada!) and to counter this we need to educate people about how good most of these systems are in real life. The vast, vast majority of Americans would be better off under a good national healthcare system than they are now, and we need to convince them of that.

These things are both the work of years, so now's the time to start. Any other ideas?

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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March 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TOM DELAY AND THE RUSSIANS....Last year the Washington Post reported that in 1997 Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff went on a lavish golfing junket to Russia that was paid for by NAFTASib, an Abramoff client with "tight connections to the Russian security establishment."

A couple of weeks after the Post story appeared, NBC got hold of actual hotel records from DeLay's stay at the Moscow Country Club. The records showed that room charges for DeLay and Abramoff were mingled together and then paid for on the credit card of Alexander Koulakovsky, general manager of NAFTASib.

But it turns out the junket is the least of the story, because after the trip NAFTASib also gave money to the U.S. Family Network, an advocacy group closely associated with DeLay. Lots of money. A million dollars, in fact. And just what did the Russian security establishment want from DeLay? Did they really spend a million bucks via NAFTASib just to influence DeLay's vote on an IMF bailout as one of DeLay's associates admitted to the Post? Who knows.

But whatever it was for, Peter Stone has a new piece in the National Journal today informing us that even more money was involved than we thought. Through a front company, NAFTASib also donated $250,000 to the U.S. Family Network before DeLay's trip to Moscow. That payment came shortly after a lunch meeting in Houston, and Stone reports that "the meeting has attracted the attention of federal investigators."

I'll bet it has.

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IMMIGRATION REFORM THE WRONG WAY....Jim Gilchrist, the rabidly anti-immigrant Minuteman Project founder who lives a few miles down the freeway from me, polled 25% of the vote in our recent congressional election, nearly as much as the Democratic candidate. That's no surprise. Here in Southern California, illegal immigration has always been a big deal.

However, as Douglas McGray writes in "Shift Work," it's not just border states where illegal immigration is a big deal anymore:

Until recently, most Americans lived in communities where few (if any) illegal immigrants settled. Conditions were ideal for a policy of willful inattention. But that's changing, as immigrantslegal and illegalincreasingly settle throughout the country. California's share of the country's estimated 10 million illegal residents is shrinking, as dozens of states from Virginia to Idaho see their undocumented populations explode. In a handful of these new immigration hubs, more than half of the foreign-born population is now undocumented.

As part of the populist backlash this has caused, immigration foes are increasingly trying to deputize local officials such as cops, doctors, and teachers in their fight to deport illegals. But a funny thing has happened along the way: it turns out that even conservative local officials think this is a bad idea:

Fresno's Republican mayor, Alan Autry....looks fit for the role of an immigration hardliner (big, ugly, white, and from the South, he deadpans.) But his motives for getting involved in the issue are more complicated than his lefty critics or his Minuteman fans assume. Local employers and middlemen prey on a workforce the region depends on, Autry told me. We're having more and more instances of businesses working people for four weeks, not paying them, and then calling immigration, he said. Some employers literally work men to death: Just a few days earlier, a local laborer had died in the 108-degree heat, and farm workers gossiped about two other alleged deaths that failed to make the news.

....Yet despite the visibility of illegal immigration in Fresno, Autry backs the local statute that prohibits cops like [Pat] Farmer from reporting undocumented workers to the feds. I don't believe we'll ever make a dent in the problem by approaching the symptoms, he said. Instead, he has tried to organize fellow mayors to lobby Congress for comprehensive immigration reform, including a guest-worker program.

Laws that require local officials to report illegal immigrants may be increasingly popular, but it turns out that no one neither local officials nor federal immigration officials thinks these laws will work. In fact, they're likely to make things worse. Click the link to get the whole story.

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BALANCING THE BUDGET....This slipped off my radar screen for a couple of days, but Andrew Sullivan has responded to my post suggesting that he hadn't done a very good job of identifying spending cuts that would balance the federal budget:

In my original post, I wrote about balancing budgets. What I meant was addressing our underlying fiscal imbalance; not balancing the budget for the next fiscal year now....I'm certainly not trying to be dishonest. Au contraire. I'm trying to keep conservatives honest about what keeping the tax cuts would realistically require.

In a followup post he says he plans to gather up suggestions and return to this topic in a couple of weeks. That's fine with me, and I'm looking forward to it. However, a few suggestions:

  • I'm not actually a huge deficit hawk, so I'm all in favor of focusing on long-term fiscal imbalances. That said, however, the long-term deficit is built on top of the current deficit, which means you need to address that too. Your entire program can't be built on speculative savings a decade down the road.

  • If Andrew is open to some tax increases, that's great too. I only ask that they be scored reasonably. If the proposal is vague ("eliminate corporate welfare"), don't pretend it's worth more than it really is.

  • The plan really needs to focus on hard program reductions. The line item veto might well reduce the deficit, but putting a number on it is simply impossible.

My goal is the same as Andrew's: to keep conservatives honest about what keeping Bush's tax cuts would realistically require. The difference lies in what we think the result of this will be. For example, Andrew thinks we should raise the Social Security retirement age to 72. I think that (a) this is nuts, (b) it's politically impossible, and (c) the vast majority of Americans agree with me.

In fact, that's what I think about this whole exercise. If Republicans really started putting programs on the table in the quantities needed to balance the budget, it would keep them out of office for the next century. So bring 'em on.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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IT'S TIME TO VOTE BEN OFF THE ISLAND....As I've mentioned, I basically don't care very much that the Washington Post has hired a conservative political operative to write a blog for them. In fact, I sometimes wish mainstream news outlets would hire more gaffe machines like Ben Domenech. It might serve as a wakeup call to moderate news consumers who basically don't understand that people like Domenech really exist. See here for an example of what I'm talking about.

However, if the guy has a long history of plagiarizing material from sources online and off and he does then he needs to go. I'm all for giving Blue America a taste of what Red America is really all about, but if you're going to write spittle-flecked polemics about the moral decay of liberals you really ought to think up your own insults.

UPDATE: Domenech has resigned.

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PACE vs. RUMSFELD, PART 4....General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the military shouldn't be in the business of secretly paying off journalists to write favorable stories:

"I think there are ways to get your message out, but get it out in a form that people understand how the message got there."

Speaking aboard an aircraft flying from Saudi Arabia, Pace added: "They need to know that, so they can make their own judgment about what they believe and don't believe in the article. The worst thing you can have is people feeling like somehow they've been snookered."

....At a Pentagon news conference later in the day, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said he expected the department to review its policy, but he declined to state his view of the practice.

It's a little late, but Pace's consistent willingness to disagree publicly with Rumsfeld on questions of military ethics is refreshing and far more effective than anything his critics could do to show up Rumsfeld for the shallow opportunist he is. Now if we could only get Pace to do the same on military tactics.

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN UPDATE....Knight Ridder quotes three anonymous officials about Iran's nuclear program:

Based on the IAEA data, U.S. experts have concluded that "Iran could be as little as two to three years away from having nuclear weapons, with all the necessary caveats and assumptions and extrapolations about them overcoming technical hurdles," said one U.S. official. "Admittedly, those are significant assumptions."

...."They are moving much quicker than everyone thought," said the [foreign] diplomat, who didn't offer an estimate on how soon Iran might be able to produce highly enriched uranium.

...."I think it's fair to say that there's growing concern about what the Iranians may be up to," said a U.S. defense official.

Keep your eye on Dick Cheney. Presumably he's still the Bush administration bellwether.

Kevin Drum 12:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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March 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN CRACKUP CONTINUES.....In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh reports that former USAID Director Andrew Natsios is the latest long-suffering Republican loyalist to finally crack. The CPA, under the authority of Paul Bremer, "didn't hire the best people," he now says. "We were just watching it unfold. They [the CPA] were constantly hitting at our people, screaming at them. They were abusive."

But perhaps this paragraph is more interesting:

There is much more to come, especially on the little-noticed issue of contracting in Iraq, which the watchdog group Transparency International last year warned could become the biggest corruption scandal in history." The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is expected to issue a harshly critical report in May concluding that the CPA did not have disciplined contracting procedures in place, according to several people involved in drafting the report. If the Democrats manage to get control of the House later this year, it's all going to come in an avalanche of subpoenas and new investigations.

It's not censure or impeachment that Republicans are really worried about if they lose control of Congress. It's subpoenas. If they lose the ability to block Democrats from conducting genuine investigations backed by the subpoena power of Congress, the jig is up. And they know it.

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"JUST DON'T MARRY AN ATHEIST, OK?"....The final frontier:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in sharing their vision of American society. Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

....Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years, says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the studys lead researcher.

That 3% number is tricky, though. The real number seems to be in the range of 3-9%, and if you count "nonreligious" as the same thing it's more like 15%. What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

As for trends toward increasing social tolerance, though, I'm not sure atheists really count as a "glaring exception." It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves. I never have, anyway, but maybe I've just been lucky. (And a Californian.)

UPDATE: Of course, it's true that making an obnoxious nuisance of yourself is generally considered a social faux pas no matter what you believe. On the other hand, it's also true that religious people seem to get away with it an awful lot more than us nonbelievers:

Robert Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

George H.W. Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

I don't think he ever apologized for that even after the election was over and the Christian Right had abandoned him.

UPDATE: Andrew Sabl emails to say that he tried to fact check this quote a year ago and was unable to verify it. Apparently nobody but Sherman heard Bush say this, and although Sherman says he has a tape of conversation he's never released it.

I don't know how reliable Sherman is, but for now it looks like this should be taken with a significant grain of salt.

UPDATE 2: I've exchanged several emails with Sherman, who says he took notes during his exchange with Bush but didn't tape it. The tape, he says, is an "urban legend." More here.

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By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....Looking for a job? Do you like blogs? The National Journal might be looking for someone just like you:

Job Opening: The Hotline is seeking a staff writer to take over The Blogometer. Applicants must consider themselves regular consumers of political blogs (min. 2 years reading them, also must be a fan of blogs), be familiar with nationally read blogs from across the spectrum; know how to use blog search engines/aggregators (such as Technorati and Memeorandum); be able to quickly analyze and synthesize developments in the news as well as summarize ongoing blog activity with brevity, clarity and accuracy. Excellent writing and time-management skills are also a must. As with every Hotline position, we don't expect our writers to not have an opinion, we just expect them to keep it out of their work. Interested applicants should send their resumes to jvu@theatlantic.com.

Who said reading blogs isn't a marketable skill?

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GENTLE ART OF REDACTION....Want to see a hilarious example of how government agencies redact "sensitive" material from information they release to the press? Check out this graphic from the News & Observer in North Carolina. The NC Department of Labor recently released some files to the News & Observer, and included in the files was a copy of a News & Observer story from 2003. Guess what? Even though it was a published story, and even though they were releasing it to the newspaper that had published it in the first place, they redacted it in 70 separate places. Among the redacted phrases were "six men," "tomato pickers," and "the workers."

A spokesman laconically suggested that the department "will probably review its policies on what information is private." Good idea.

Via Brendan Nyhan.

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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By: Kevin Drum

A LETTER FROM PAUL BERMAN....In his book The Assassins' Gate, George Packer wrote:

Before leaving for Iraq, I'd had dinner at the usual Brooklyn bistro with Paul Berman. He kept comparing the situation in post-totalitarian Baghdad to Prague in 1989. I kept insisting that Iraq was vastly different: under military occupation, far more violent, its people more traumatized, living in a much worse neighborhood.

I thought this was nuts and said so in a blog post. Well, it turns out that Paul Berman thinks it's nuts too, and today he writes to say that he never said it.

Last December you ran a short item that mentioned me, and, in retrospect, I'm sorry I didn't respond. Your purpose was to argue that, back in the early days of 2003 and the start of the Iraq war, liberal interventionists were in the grip of fantastical delusions, and, to illustrate this contention, you quoted a paragraph from George Packer's book The Assassins' Gate. The paragraph recounts a barroom chat between George and me in Brooklyn from those long-ago times, in which I am said to have likened Baghdad in the period after the 2003 invasion to Prague in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. You took note of this passage in your blog and you pasted the word "insane" over it in order to show that liberal interventionists were out of their minds. And you went on to observe that, if historical analogies between Iraq and some other place needed to be made, many another choice would have seemed much more plausible. Kosovo, for instance among other examples that you cited. But Prague during the Velvet Revolution? No.

Now, when you ran this post, I should have written to you right away to explain that never in a million years, not even in a noisy bar at two in the morning, have I imagined that Baghdad in 2003 resembled Prague in 1989.

The anti-totalitarian revolution that took place in Prague in 1989 was altogether peaceful. And more than peaceful the revolution came very close to being legal, too, given that, in the face of popular demonstrations, the Communist leaders basically decided, after a while, to shrug their shoulders in melancholy resignation and hand over power in a fairly orderly and parliamentary fashion to Vclav Havel and his fellow liberals. I know a lot about these events because I spent a month in Prague as a reporter during those very thrilling times, and I wrote voluminously about what I saw.

It was not within my capacity, back in 2003, to have mistaken Baghdad's reality for Prague's to have mistaken a violent military invasion for a peaceful transition of power, or to have regarded the Baath Party's terrorist resistance as roughly equivalent to the Communist Party's resignation in Prague. A similarity between the super-oppressed Third World in the grip of war and the heart of Europe practising mass non-violence? "Insane," you wrote. I couldn't agree with you more.

Nonetheless, George did claim in his book that, at the bar in Brooklyn, I made precisely that very insane comparison. George is a wonderful writer and a terrific journalist, not to mention a brave and intrepid one. The Assassins' Gate seems to me, apart from a few passages, truly a superb book. But George is also a novelist, and I can only say that the person who composed that paragraph about me and Prague and the bar was George Packer the novelist. Those particular lines in The Assassins' Gate are fiction. The paragraph contributes to the magniicent color and drama of his book. But he has invented that conversation.

I didn't respond to your post back in December because, well, many silly things are said in public, and life is short, and some disputes are too picayune to pursue. I hoped that George's remark about me and Prague would simply go away. Maybe I hoped (excuse me for this) that no one was reading your blog. Big mistake! The story about me having made a preposterous comparison between Baghdad and Prague circulated, and has gone on doing so, until the Los Angeles Times got hold of it a few weeks ago and ran an op-ed saying that I had compared Baghdad to the Prague Spring of 1968 which shows how, over time, rumors grow ever more ridiculous.

I am glumly aware that I will never be able to prove that George has invented this story. There was liquor at that bar, but there was no tape recorder, unless the agents of Homeland Security turn out to have been bugging the place. I will never be able to prove absolutely that what I am said to have said is something I could not possibly have said. George himself has made clear that he is going to go to his final hour swearing to the peerless accuracy of his barroom recollections.

Still, I would like to point out that George's account and your own recycling of it make a hash of the actual position on Iraq that I and all kinds of people with instincts like mine did try to uphold, a few years ago. When you suggest that Kosovo (among your other examples) might have offered a better analogy for Iraq, I can only say, exactly!

The liberal interventionist position on Iraq, in my version of it, always argued in favor of approaching Iraq partly as an extension of the Balkans policy of the late 1990s. That was one of the points of my book Terror and Liberalism, before the Iraq war had even begun one of my bases for criticizing Bush, whose policy on Iraq showed no concern at all for the Kosovo precedent.

An extended and more precise comparison of Iraq and Kosovo occupies a big portion of my current book Power and the Idealists in order to demonstrate what an alternative liberal policy for Iraq might have been, and to shed some additional light on Bush's thousand blunders, as viewed by the veterans of the Kosovo intervention. You don't have to agree with my emphasis on the Kosovo analogy or accept my argument for an alternative liberal interventionist policy I know that your own position departs from mine. But, for better or for worse, the argument about Iraq that I and other liberals and people on the left proposed in the past did have something to do with Kosovo and had nothing to do with mistaking Baghdad for Prague.

It's true that, back in 2003, some people did expect Iraq to blossom easily and automatically into an Eastern European-type democracy, 1989-style, and these people arrived at their sunny expectations mostly out of a naive belief that iron laws of universal history, as revealed in the revolutions of 1989, were unalterably at work. I have made the case any number of times that Bush's fecklessness in Iraq owes quite a bit to this all-too-simple assumption.

Then again, Bush and his supporters were hardly the only ones to entertain the 1989 analogy in its simple, sunny version. Saddam's statue was torn down on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad, and, in the American press, the notion that Iraq was undergoing a 1989-like success became, ever so briefly, a popular cliche an irresistible one, really, because of the visual image of the falling statue. I myself was thrilled to see the statue come down, and to see Saddam's government collapse as everybody ought to have been.

Yet even then, or, better put, especially then, when hopes for Iraq were at their zenith, I warned precisely against any temptation to assume that Iraqis were now going to progress toward democratic liberty in the way that so many Eastern Europeans had done. Suzy Hansen of Salon interviewed me on that occasion, and I put a lot of emphasis on that particular warning.

"They're in much worse shape," I said about the Iraqis. I gave reasons for this why Iraq's situation was graver than Eastern Europe's, and graver than Germany's after the Nazis. I said, "It will be a long while before they can conduct normal business without killing each other." This was not a stupid remark. Nothing in this worried comment suggested that Baghdad in 2003 resembled Prague in 1989. These remarks ran in Salon on April 10, 2003 the moment of maximum optimism for the Iraqi future. The interview is still online.

I published a think-piece in the Boston Globe three days later, once again emphasizing Iraq's several disadvantages, relative to Eastern Europe in 1989 and this, too, is still online. I worried in the Globe that Bush was likely to make too small an effort in Iraq, and was likely to behave with hubris a formula for disaster. I reminded the readers that communism's collapse in Europe led to successes in many places, but also to the Balkan genocide which suggested that Baathism's defeat in Iraq might easily lead to similar calamities, if the United States and its allies failed to act responsibly. I worried about the danger in having too few American soldiers in Iraq. In those days I was shouting to everyone who would listen about the delusions that I was noticing all around me, not in Iraq but in the United States and especially in its government.

I cite my Salon interview and my piece in the Globe, together with my books, in order to show that George's tale about me and the bar this story which your blog helped popularize runs against a main thrust of my thinking, and not just during the early months of 2003, when George claims that I made the ridiculous comparison. I have been mulling over the right and wrong conclusions to draw from 1989 for many years now ever since my book A Tale of Two Utopias, back in 1996, the same book, by the way, that describes in some detail a few aspects of the Velvet Revolution.

But I know, I know once these legends about insane barroom commentaries have begun to spread, there's no way to prevent them from continuing to do so. I'm halfway convinced that someday the LA Times or some other equally reputable publication will run an item declaring that, at a Brooklyn bar long ago, I compared Baghdad terrorism to hippie communes on the planet Venus. But, at least and I thank you for this opportunity I can in the future invite anyone who believes such a story to look up this letter of mine in your blog today, with its references to the online archives of what I actually did say about Iraq, back in the early months of 2003 and thereabouts not in a bar as recollected less than amiably by George Packer two years after the fact, but under my own byline, or else in formal interviews that, I am glad to say, did make use of that most unnovelistic of devices, that fiercest enemy of the free imagination, a journalist's tape recorder.

Final observation, if you will allow me. Liberal interventionism is a position much under criticism these days, sometimes by people who always did oppose it, sometimes by penitents who, in the past, used to uphold the position but now feel they made a big mistake. Well, everybody is welcome to criticize, and to repent, and to accuse. But the argument should be described as it was, with its nuances and complexities. Precision is everything.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

CREATING A MARTYR?....Yesterday I was up at USC as part of a panel about blogs and newspapers, and Ana Marie Cox mentioned that ever since she stopped reading dozens of blogs a day in order to write Wonkette she feels much better informed. Everyone laughed.

But there might be a good reason for that. After she made that comment I asked the audience how many of them had ever heard of Ben Domenech. Two people out of a hundred raised their hands. And yet, for the past couple of days the single biggest topic of conversation in the left blogosphere has been Ben Domenech. "The reason you feel better informed," I suggested, "is that you're no longer wasting neurons on subjects like whether or not the Washington Post should have hired Ben Domenech to write a blog for their online site."

Everyone laughed at that too. But maybe Ezra is right. Might it have been better to let Domenech toil away in well-deserved obscurity instead of making him yet another high-profile symbol of conservative martyrdom?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEPRESSED ABOUT ANTIDEPRESSANTS?....For some reason, I was fascinated by the different leads written today about the government's recent antidepressant study. Here's how the three biggest dailies reported it, starting with the most pessimistic and working upward:

  • Washington Post: "Antidepressants fail to cure the symptoms of major depression in half of all patients with the disease even if they receive the best possible care, according to a definitive government study released yesterday."

  • New York Times: "Some people with depression who do not recover with an initial course of antidepressant therapy can increase their chances of finding relief by trying other drug treatments, researchers are reporting today."

  • Los Angeles Times: "In the long and frustrating battle against depression, persistence does pay."

To Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post, a 50% success rate is a gloomy result (though he admits that this is "a result that quickly lent itself to interpretations that the glass was either half empty or half full.") To Thomas H. Maugh II of the LA Times, it's apparently cause for hope.

But 50% doesn't sound too bad to me. If these results hold up, and fiddling around with various antidepressants really has strong positive results in half or more of the patients, that's pretty good news, isn't it? I'm a little surprised that the news reports have been so ambivalent.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRAT PARTY....Now that we've got the whole "mouth breather" thing out of the way, Mark Kleiman Andrew Sabl brings up another etymological gripe:

One of the least substantial but most annoying things about the Republicans' repetition machine is how well they succeeded with their schoolboy prank of changing the adjective "Democratic" to "Democrat." They've been so successful that many nonpartisan radio and TV journalists and even some party activists now say "Democrat party" or "Democrat primary" and some young people probably can't remember a time when our party got to choose its own name.

I agree that this is a juvenile and irksome habit, but I don't think it's a new one. Republicans have been calling us the "Democrat Party" since at least the 30s, haven't they? And maybe longer than that.

Or am I off base on this? Does anyone know how long this has been going on?

UPDATE: Nexis, which only goes back to the 70s, quotes Ronald Reagan referring to the "Democrat Party" in 1976. However, last year Geoffrey Nunberg traced its origins back quite a bit further:

The bleaching of democracy made small-d democrat irrelevant as a political label....That's what allowed the Republicans of Hoover's era to start referring to their opponents as the Democrat Party....By mid-century, "Democrat Party" had become the routine tic that it is for modern Republicans, though nowadays it probably has less to do with undermining the Democrats than simply irritating them.

In a footnote he provides some further references:

In a 1984 column, William Safire located the origin of the phrase in 1940:

Who started this and when? Acting on a tip, I wrote to the man who was campaign director of Wendell Willkie's race against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. ''In the Willkie campaign of 1940,'' responded Harold Stassen, ''I emphasized that the party controlled in large measure at that time by Hague in New Jersey, Pendergast in Missouri and Kelly Nash in Chicago should not be called a 'Democratic Party.' It should be called the 'Democrat party.' . . .''

But in fact you find instances of "Democrat Party" going back at least to 1923, when H. Edmund Machold, the Republican Assembly Speaker of NY State, was quoted as saying:

The people of this State have chosen the Republican Party as the majority party in this House, and the representative of the opposite party, the Democrat Party, for the place of Chief Executive of the State. (New York Times, Jan. 4, 1923.)

And Hoover used the phrase in the 1932 campaign -- for example in a speech in St. Louis on November 4, 1932:

Many years ago the Democrat party undertook to remedy that whole question of booms and slumps by the creation of the Federal Reserve System. (New York Times, Nov. 5, 1932).

There you have it. It sounds like the primary motivation at first was to draw attention to the undemocratic nature of the urban Democratic machines of the era. In that way, it was perhaps one of the earliest and least inspired attempts at Lakoffian reframing.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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March 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE APOCALYPSE CONTINUED....You want a sign of the apocalypse? I'll give you a sign of the apocalypse. According to the OCLC, the 15th most widely held book in its member libraries as of 2005 was....Garfield at Large. Take that, Shakespeare.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE APOCALYPSE....I'm feeling left out of the Ben Domenech bashing, so let's take a crack at his latest post, which he mildly calls "one of the ever-growing number of signs of the apocalypse":

In brief: A group of British doctors fought in court for the right to remove a fully-conscious little boy from a ventilator, over the objections of his parents, because they judged his quality of life to not be worth living.

Damn socialists. It's a good thing that a God fearing man like George Bush would never sign legislation allowing doctors to pull the plug over the objections of family members, isn't it?

In any case, I'm glad to see Ben arguing that the state should be obligated to provide medical care for sufficiently sick people. It's a start.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (196)

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By: Zachary Roth

MORE ON THE PATENT OFFICE....Not to belabor this whole patent business, but it's good to see the New York Times get into the game today, with an editorial that hits pretty much all the key points.

Ironically, the Times also has a news story today that offers a near-perfect example of the harm that over-broad patents can do. A new study suggests flaws in a test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes mutations that have been linked to breast cancer. But a Utah bio-tech company called Myriad Genetics holds the patents on that test, and on any testing for BRCA1 and 2. So without Myriad's permission, no one can develop a more accurate test (or a cheaper one Myriad charges about one third again as much as some university researchers used to). And frequently that permission isn't granted: several researchers told me they'd given up studying the BRCA genes after getting cease-and-desist letters from Myriad.

What the Times doesn't mention is that the European patent office has revoked Myriad's patents, concluding, essentially, that Myriad's contribution to the ongoing research which ultimately allowed them to isolate the BRCA genes was not significant enough to merit giving them monopoly rights to any use of the genes. Europe's patent laws are less business-friendly than ours, but some American experts argue that the US patents are equally faulty. So the patents should perhaps have never been granted at all. If they hadn't, we might be catching more cases of breast cancer.

Zachary Roth 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum


The IRS is quietly moving to loosen the once-inviolable privacy of federal income-tax returns. If it succeeds, accountants and other tax-return preparers will be able to sell information from individual returns or even entire returns to marketers and data brokers.

....Critics call the changes a dangerous breach in personal and financial privacy. They say the requirement for signed consent would prove meaningless for many taxpayers, especially those hurriedly reviewing stacks of documents before a filing deadline.

"The normal interaction is that the taxpayer just signs what the tax preparer puts in front of them," said Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America, one of several groups fighting the changes. "They think, 'This person is a tax professional, and I'm going to rely on them.' "

The IRS was unable to explain why this regulation had suddenly been proposed. Their spokesman just shrugged and suggested it was routine housekeeping to keep up with the electronic revolution. Sure it was. H&R Block, unsurprisingly, "did not respond to requests for comment."

Welcome to George Bush's IRS. Your whole life is now for sale as long as it benefits someone who's a Republican campaign contributor.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM AND OSAMA YET AGAIN....Marc Lynch is still plowing his way through the Iraqi document dump, and today he examines a memo that was written in 1997 shortly after Osama bin Laden had moved from Sudan to Afghanistan. Among other things, it says, "Currently we are working to invigorate this relationship through a new channel in light of his present location."

Marc suggests that "activate" is a better translation of the Arabic word taf'il than "invigorate," but then tells us that's the least of the problems with this memo:

This is a very odd "document". It's handwritten, and is not on any kind of official letterhead or stationary. It has no stamps or signatures indicating that it had passed through the bureaucracy and been placed in the files. It is neither signed nor dated. I'm just not sure the grounds on which it was declared to be presumed authentic. That isn't to say that it is definitively not authentic there could be cover pages and supplemental materials that were not included in the scanned file. But what was made public gives little reason for confidence.

I've got a slightly different question: who cares? This document apparently dates from 1997 and it doesn't tell us anything new. We've known for years that Saddam and Osama had a few tentative contacts during the 90s, the last of which was in 1998/99 when Osama's relationship with the Taliban was undergoing some strain and Saddam had just been bombed by U.S./British forces. The contact was brief and nothing came of it.

No one has ever suggested that Saddam had no contact at all with al-Qaeda. He did. But it never amounted to anything, and the credible evidence indicates that there hadn't even been any casual contact between Saddam and al-Qaeda for over four years by the time we invaded Iraq in 2003. This document does nothing to suggest otherwise.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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By: Kevin Drum

CELL PHONES....Somewaterytart on cell phones:

I have this thing where I get really irritated by people who talk on the phone in the computer areas and the library. Because the thing is, everyone can hear them and their stupid conversations. This applies everywhere, really. I admire the employees of the many campus Starbucks locations, who have taken to writing threatening messages to would-be in-line phone users on the chalk boards about how they'll be refused service (empty threats, of course, but the point is made)....The mini grocery store I stop at for water on my walks with Ciara has a sign taped to the counter that says, "yeah, we all think your cell phone is really neat. Now turn it off."

Hear hear (so to speak). In fact, speaking of speaking, that's my real beef with people on cell phones: why do you guys ALWAYS TALK SO LOUD? If cell phone conversations were conducted at normal volumes they wouldn't be so bad. Cell reception has improved a lot in the past decade, but for some reason cell users don't quite seem to have figured this out yet.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE WAR....Max Boot is a smart writer. Like any good neocon, he wants to convince us that we need to stay in Iraq. Unlike the sophomoric warblogger crowd, however, he opens his pitch today by spending several paragraphs acknowledging that the war has gone worse and lasted longer than anyone anticipated. Then, after softening us up with his reasonableness, he tells us what we should do:

Instead of talking about how quickly we can get out, the administration should be talking more about how we can win this war. That may actually require sending more troops perhaps an extra division or two to help secure Baghdad and Anbar provinces. The administration's continuing unwillingness to adequately police Iraq, or to increase the permanent size of the U.S. Army, suggests the need for a thorough spring cleaning at the Department of Defense.

If President Bush announced that he was firing Donald Rumsfeld, limiting Dick Cheney's future activities to attendance at foreign funerals, and sending a couple more divisions to Iraq, even I might be willing to grudgingly concede that there was at least a slim chance of winning the war. But this is fantasyland. Bush thinks Rumsfeld is doing a great job, we don't have a couple of divisions to ship to Iraq, and Bush quite clearly doesn't think we need to do that anyway.

Given the reality that Boot thinks (a) the war is going very badly and (b) Bush is clearly not willing to do the things he thinks are necessary to win, why continue to support it? Does he just enjoy watching people die pointlessly? Or does he lack the guts to admit that Bush is an unserious clown who ought to be impeached for wartime malfeasance? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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By: Kevin Drum

PAY FOR PERFORMANCE....Florida has passed a plan to pay teachers based on how well their kids do on standardized tests:

The effort, now being adopted by local districts, is viewed as a landmark in the movement to restructure American schools by having them face the same kind of competitive pressures placed on private enterprise.

That's a laugh. How many private schools can you name that pay their teachers this way?

Actually, what's really a laugh is the BS that conservative politicians routinely pass off as "being like private enterprise." It's true that companies themselves rise or fall based on some pretty simple metrics, but the people inside them sure don't. Hell, CEOs, those paragons of American entrepreneurial spirit, routinely grant themselves pay plans that are completely divorced from any genuine performance metrics.

At any rate, since politicians are so fond of competitive pay, I suggest that we start paying politicians based on performance. I'm sure they won't mind, accountability being such a watchword and all. I'm open to suggestions on just how we should do this.

Kevin Drum 12:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (181)

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March 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"OPEN-ENDED COMMITMENT"....At his press conference today, President Bush suggested that American troops would be in Iraq for years to come:

Asked at a White House news conference whether there'll come a time when no U.S. forces are in Iraq, he said "that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Pressed on that response, the president said that for him to discuss complete withdrawal would mean he was setting a timetable, which he refuses to do.

Harry Reid, who has shown himself to be a pretty astute leader of Senate Dems, had exactly the right response:

Three years into the war in Iraq, with that country now experiencing a low-grade civil war, it has become increasingly clear that President Bush is content with an open-ended commitment with no end in sight for our U.S. troops and taxpayers....President Bush must accept that he has to change course, reject the notion of an open-ended commitment in Iraq, and finally develop the plan that allows our troops to begin to come home.

The phrase "open-ended commitment" is the right one to use. It's the logical equivalent of refusing to set benchmarks for withdrawal, and it's not something the American public is very comfortable with. An open-ended commitment during the Cold War was one thing, but Iraq is quite another. An open-ended commitment there sounds way too much like Vietnam.

One question, though. Has Reid himself proposed a "plan that allows our troops to begin to come home"? This is a genuine question. I don't remember hearing one, but I might have missed it.

Kevin Drum 9:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (239)

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By: Kevin Drum

OPPOSING ABORTION....Are hardcore abortion opponents genuinely motivated by a belief that abortion is murder? Or are they driven more by a simple desire to punish women who have sex?

I'd say the latter, but since this is a matter of divining underlying motivations it's a hard case to prove. Still, you can produce a lot of evidence in its favor, and today Ampersand does exactly that using the table format so characteristic of my own blogging habits.

You can probably argue with a couple of items in Amp's list, but not with his overall conclusion. The fact is that the behavior of hardcore abortion opponents just doesn't correspond very well with a genuine belief that fetuses are babies. But punishing women who have sex? Oh yeah.

Kevin Drum 7:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (229)

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By: Zachary Roth

RE-WRITING HISTORY I couldn't help noticing something about one of Bush's responses at his press conference this morning. Asked about FEMA trailers that were left sitting unused in Arkansas after Katrina, he said:

"The taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them," Bush said. "And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know it sends wrong signals to taxpayers."

So it's not that the White House was incompetent and uninterested. It's that the government's too big. That's the problem.

The White House has decided, it seems, that the only way to salvage anything from this whole Katrina mess is to use it as a way to further discredit the idea that government can provide people with anything of value. As if any "big government" would have screwed up as badly as Bush's did. We've seen this tactic used before, of course, but Bush's famous rhetorical clumsiness makes it particularly unsubtle here.

In a funny way, it's the same thing that Bush's new conservative critics Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan, et al. are doing by focusing on the growth of spending under Bush. It's not conservatism that's the problem, they're saying. It's that Bush isn't really a conservative at all, he's a big-spending liberal.

Many people smarter than me have pointed out how stupid this is. Sure, Bush has frequently departed from pure conservative ideology, but what that suggests is that he's an unprincipled, Nixon-style political operator, interested principally in maximizing his own power. It doesn't make him a liberal.

This is important in the long-term, because if the lesson of the Bush years becomes that Bush failed because he didn't hew closely enough to core conservative principles, I shudder to think about what the next Republican president's going to do.

Zachary Roth 5:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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By: Kevin Drum

WOMEN IN POLITICS....For anyone who wonders whether gender parity in our political insitutions is really that big a deal, consider a case that was argued before the Supreme Court on Monday. The question at issue was whether a recording of a 911 emergency call could be admitted as evidence in court even if the victim who made the call later refused to testify in person:

"The practical reality is many women are scared to death" to testify against a spouse or partner who abuses them, said Ginsburg, now the only woman on the high court. In other instances, "they are so desperate financially" that they decide against testifying, she said.

She questioned whether the Constitution should be interpreted to bar prosecutors from using their calls to a 911 line. "This is not just a call. It is a cry for help," Ginsburg said.

But Justice Antonin Scalia countered that the use of such statements in the place of a witness' testimony in court violated the principle set in the Constitution.

The 6th Amendment says: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Scalia said the court should enforce that right.

Now, Ginsburg might be right and she might be wrong. But the point is that she was the only one to even raise an argument for allowing the 911 call to be used, and that's almost certainly because she's a woman herself and a former director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project. Without her, there apparently wouldn't have been even a single justice willing to give much weight to the real-world reasons that make it difficult to get victims of domestic violence to testify. Ginsburg's argument might not be enough to change the result of the case, but it's something that the male justices should at least be forced to consider.

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By: Kevin Drum

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER....Last year I asked where the term "mouth breather" as a synonym for "idiot" originated. Today, reader KH provided the answer. Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article from March 21, 1897:

Many children are always mouth breathers, and cannot breathe through the nose on account of conditions of the throat requiring medical attention; in such children test the hearing, which is apt to become very dull if the case is neglected.

Apparently the original association, which was likely more true in 1897 than today, was "mouth breather" => deafness/difficulty hearing => mentally slow. And that's your etymology lesson for the day.

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By: Kevin Drum

INDEPENDENT VOTERS.....In the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn writes that swing voters are more important than ever these days. I'm certainly receptive to this notion, but as I mentioned last month, there's some contrary data too: it turns out that most of the voters who call themselves "independents" actually act pretty partisan when they get to the voting booth.

What's more, as Philip Klinkner points out, although the number of "split ticket" voters has indeed gone up over the past 50 years, a chart of the data presents a rather more complicated picture. The number of split ticket voters went up in the 60s but has been going down ever since. That's not really very good evidence that independence is on a relentless upward march.

But I suspect Klinkner's chart is also an illustration of Kevin's First Law of Political Wonkery: any analysis that ignores the South is worthless. This is just a guess, and maybe someone with access to the data can check this, but here's what I think happened: during the 60s, Southern whites started voting for Republican presidents while continuing to vote for local Democratic congressmen. After 1972, though, as the Republican shift of the South continued, they started voting for Republican congressmen too. In other words, I'll bet that the split-ticket phenomenon both up and down is almost entirely explained by the South, not by some massive nationwide shift toward independence.

It's not possible to build an enduring majority without appealing to centrist swing voters, but the notion that they're significantly more important than they've ever been isn't really supported by the facts.

UPDATE: Philip Klinkner runs the numbers for the South here and finds that (a) split-ticket voting is indeed more prevalent in the South and (b) split ticket voting has declined everywhere since the mid-70s.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Zachary Roth

EVEN A STOPPED CLOCK....This is a couple days late but we've had a magazine to put out. Sunday's New York Times features a pretty good op-ed on out-of-control patents by the science-fiction writer Michael Crichton. Say what you want about Crichton who's lately begun leveraging his "scientific" credentials to carve out a second career as a prominent global warming skeptic but he sure knows patents.

Crichton highlights the fact that current law allows patents for things that simply should not be patentable. For instance, he notes, 20 percent of the human genome including the gene for diabetes is now privately owned. That could require anyone wanting to conduct research on the genetic basis of diabetes to pay a licensing fee to the patent-holder or they could be prevented from conducting research at all.

Crichton also alludes to the controversy over "business method" patents, though he doesn't use the phrase, and ignores entirely the area in which they do the most to stifle innovation: software. Since a landmark 1998 decision, courts have held that business methods essentially, ways of doing something, rather than concrete physical inventions are patentable. That decision opened the door to an unprecedented boom in patent applications on software, with the result that vast areas of technological innovation have been cordoned off.

Crichton also doesn't address a major part of the problem the patent office itself. As we showed in a story last year, thanks to a shortage of patent examiners and a perverse bonus system which incentivizes examiners to grant patent applications rather than reject them, the USPTO issues too many patents. Many of the problems of our patent system could be solved simply by reforming the office, so as to reduce the number of faulty patents that slip through.

Zachary Roth 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW VERSE, SAME AS THE LAST....Can I be the first to say that I don't believe a word of this unless the administration is willing to provide us with some pretty serious backup?

U.S. intelligence officials, already focused on Iran's potential for building nuclear weapons, are struggling to solve a more immediate mystery: the murky relationship between the new Tehran leadership and the contingent of Al Qaeda leaders residing in the country.

Some officials, citing evidence from highly classified satellite feeds and electronic eavesdropping, believe the Iranian regime is playing host to much of Al Qaeda's remaining brain trust and allowing the senior operatives freedom to communicate and help plan the terrorist network's operations.

And they suggest that new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be forging an alliance with Al Qaeda operatives as a way to expand Iran's influence or, at a minimum, that he is looking the other way as Al Qaeda leaders in his country collaborate with their counterparts elsewhere.

Iran is certainly a nasty regime, but we've been down this road before. Only an idiot would believe the Bush administration a second time around unless they have some awfully good evidence to share with us. And as the article makes clear, they don't.

Kevin Drum 1:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (205)

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By: Kevin Drum

ADMISSION SEASON....I happened to be talking to a friend about this the other day, but I still don't get it:

A generation ago, high school seniors applied to three, four or five colleges. But now students aiming for the most selective universities frequently apply to as many as 10 or 12; a significant number of students, especially in the last three years or so, apply to many, many more, guidance counselors and college admissions officials said.

The main reason for this, guidance counselors and admissions officials say, is a growing anxiety about admissions, stoked by college ranking guides, the news media and, often, parents. Some students are desperate to do anything to get into a brand-name institution including applying to many of them.

Aside from the expense and time it takes to fill out all the forms and write all the essays, who writes the recommendation letters for these kids? Do they really have teachers who are willing to write a dozen letters each? Or don't they do that anymore?

The reason I applied to only three universities during my senior year was because (a) I had a pretty good idea of what I was after though I turned out to be completely wrong about that, of course, and (b) one of my choices was a safety school that I knew I'd get into. I just didn't see the point in applying to a dozen schools, and I still don't.

And what's up with top schools being so much more competitive than they used to be? That really does seem to be the case, but why? Are there really that many more kids applying for the same number of slots? Are there a lot more smart kids than there used to be? Or what?

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVES REVISITED....Andrew Sullivan has responded to my question about exactly what he'd cut in order to balance the budget without repealing Bush's tax cuts or cutting defense spending. Here's his list:

My back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I'd keep the charitable deduction). For good measure, I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department.

Let's unpack this. Remember the ground rules: Social Security and Medicare are running surpluses and are funded by their own taxes anyway, so they get left out of this picture. We're looking for a little over $400 billion in actual program cuts, and we're looking for them in the area of discretionary spending. With that in mind, let's examine Sullivan's proposed discretionary program cuts:

  • Repeal Medicare prescription bill. (This is funded out of the general fund, so it counts.) This program only started this year and contributed nothing to the 2005 deficit. Total savings: $0.

  • Abolish earmarks. Total savings: $25 billion, although I'm being generous here.

  • Abolish agricultural subsidies. Total savings: $30 billion.

  • End corporate welfare. This typically refers to special tax treatment, so abolishing it is a tax increase, not a spending cut. Total savings: $0.

  • Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it's a tax increase. Total savings: $0.

  • Eliminate all tax loopholes. This is a tax increase. Total savings: $0.

  • Abolish the NEA: Total savings: $.1 billion.

  • Abolish the Education Department: Total savings: $65 billion.

If Sullivan wants to increase revenue by closing loopholes and increasing the gas tax, that's fine with me. But in terms of actual budget cuts, he came up with only $120 billion, about one-fourth of the actual federal deficit and even that was mostly by the lazy expedient of "I'd just wipe out this program completely," which isn't really even a serious response. I hardly even need to add that every one of the things he'd cut are things that don't affect him personally.

The point of an exercise like this is to force people to set priorities and tell us what they really think the federal government should look like. Based on this, I have to assume that Sullivan wants about $120 billion in program cuts and (at a rough guess) about $100 billion in tax increases. He's still got $200 billion to go.

UPDATE: Max Sawicky suggests that if we actually implemented Sullivan's tax increase suggestions wholeheartedly we could indeed balance the budget. That's certainly possible since "eliminate deductions" and "eliminate corporate welfare" are such vague statements in the first place.

Of course, that's not exactly a "small government" solution, is it? What's more, as Max points out, Sullivan's proposed cuts are no more plausible than "flying to the moon and bringing back the buried treasure." And even if they were, we'd still be in trouble in the long term. As exercises like this always show, serious, feasible, large-scale budget cutting is simply not in the cards. Conservatives should face this reality and stop playing games.

Kevin Drum 1:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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March 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE CASE OF HAO WU....On February 17, a Chinese blogger and filmmaker named Hao Wu wrote a post about his conflicted feelings on the importance of free speech in China. After arguing all the pros and cons, he finally concluded with this:

What if I have to take a stand then? What if as in my business-school strategy class, theres a professor who demands a stand from me?....I would forget about the bullet points, forget about analysis, forget about my desire to go with the average Chinese (because I dont know the average Chinese and my decision has zero influence over the average Chineses), and stake my stand based only on me, on what I, as an individual, would want in a democratic society, because thats the only decision making process capable of making any honest sense to me I dont want to live in a society that doesnt allow me to express myself freely!

But wait, would that land me in prison?

Answer: yes it would. He was arrested on February 22 and has been held since then without charges. You can read more about the case here.

Via Peking Duck.

Kevin Drum 10:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

VIP TREATMENT....Via Hilzoy, Elizabeth Warren alerts us to a new film called Maxed Out, which promises to take us on "a journey deep inside the American debt-style, where everything seems okay as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time." Warren points out this fascinating little tidbit from the movie:

Did you know, for example, that while you need to sweat out your credit report, the credit bureaus keep a special "V.I.P." list of prominent citizens whose reports are specially tidied up so they look cleaner than they really are? If the big boys never experience the harassment or increased costs of a credit ding, then they are a lot less likely to insist on more legal oversight. There are many ways to lobby, and this one requires no reporting at all.

Why no, I didn't know that though I can't say that I'm surprised. It's just one more way in which congressmen and other VIPs are shielded from the aggravations of the real world.

Kevin Drum 10:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Kevin Drum

FINANCIAL QUERY....I just got a call from my mother. She says that she recently paid her telephone bill by check, but when her monthly statement arrived the canceled check was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the amount of the bill had been electronically deducted from her checking account.

So she called her bank, and was told that legislation passed in 2004 allowed companies to do this without asking permission from the consumer. Has this happened to anyone else? Does anyone know what this legislation is? What's going on?

UPDATE: And the answer is: the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act! I don't really have an opinion about whether this is good or bad, but when mom asks a question you're obligated to hustle up an answer, right?

Kevin Drum 9:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW AL GORE....Former Washington Monthly intern Ezra Klein is on the cover of the American Prospect this month with a look at the New Al Gore:

Since his loss, Gore has undergone a resurrection of sorts, shrugging off the consultants and the caution that hampered him during the campaign and aided by new distribution technologies evolving into perhaps the most articulate, animated, and forceful critic of the Bush administration. And now, with Democrats taking a fresh look at a man they thought they knew and speculation mounting around his ambitions in 2008, it seems that the man much mocked for inventing the Internet is in fact using the direct communication it enables to reinvent himself.

Is Gore taking on the mainstream media? Dedicating himself to fighting global warming? Gearing up to run for president again?

Or is it all three? Read the whole thing and decide for yourself. Personally, I always liked the old Al Gore, but I like the new one too and I probably like him more than any of the other obvious 2008 presidential candidates. I'll bet I'm not alone.

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (312)

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By: Kevin Drum

FEINGOLD AND THE NSA....Matt Yglesias was pleased to hear Cokie Roberts this morning citing a Newsweek poll suggesting that support for censuring President Bush was actually fairly robust, even among Republicans. Unfortunately, he wasn't so pleased with the rest of the magazine:

Look at what else I found on the Newsweek web site. Here's a column by Eleanor Clift about how Feingold is terrible and ruining everything. And here's a column by Jonathan Alter about how Rahm Emanuel is awesome but Feingold may ruin everything. Honestly, I find the idea that this gambit will influence the midterms significantly one way or the other to be a bit daft it's just not that big a deal. So how about a column by someone anyone trying to explain why the president does not, in fact, deserve to be censured for his lawbreaking ways?

I agree with Matt that Feingold's censure motion probably isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but his post also highlights my biggest problem with the whole affair: it's not increasing public awareness of the NSA's domestic spying program. All it's doing is increasing awareness of Russ Feingold's censure motion.

I'm sure someone can point to an exception somewhere, but so far every single column or news story I've read on the subject has been about (a) Feingold the maverick and whether this helps his presidential chances, (b) the disarray his motion has caused in the Democratic party, (c) whether the censure motion was politically smart, or (d) Republican glee that Feingold has shifted attention away from all the things that were hurting them.

Is this really helping convince the public that Bush deliberately and repeatedly violated the law when he approved the NSA program? I'm not seeing it. Political theater is only useful if it actually shines the spotlight into the dark corner where we want it shined, and Feingold's censure motion doesn't really seem to have done that. Instead of pinning our hopes on yet another bright and shiny silver bullet, maybe there's a place for all those boring hearings and investigations after all.

Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVES....Atrios is right. Andrew Sullivan is just being incoherent here in his defense of his own conservatism:

So let's recap: I'm in favor of Bush's tax cuts, but want spending cuts to match them; I favor balanced budgets; I favored and favor the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, but want to execute them competently, with enough troops....I want more money for defense....

Bush's tax cuts haven't touched Social Security or Medicare taxes (and both programs run surpluses anyway). They've been solely cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, dividend taxes, and capital gains taxes. These are the taxes that fund discretionary spending.

Discretionary spending in 2005 was roughly $1 trillion. About half of that was for defense and national security, which Sullivan doesn't want to cut. That leaves $500 billion, which funds the entire rest of the federal government.

The federal deficit for 2005 was over $400 billion.

So: if you support the tax cuts, and you don't want to cut defense spending, and you want a balanced budget, you need to slice about $400 billion out of the $500 billion that's left.

These are round numbers, but you get the idea. Cutting a few agricultural subsidies and eliminating Amtrak isn't going to do the trick. Even taking an axe to social welfare programs wouldn't do it. You'd need to eliminate about 80% of the federal government outside the Defense Department. So if Sullivan wants to be taken seriously, he needs to tell us just which 80% he wants to get rid of. The FBI? Prisons? EPA? The federal courts? Housing assistance? Highways? The National Institutes of Health?

What's it going to be?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE....As many of you have noticed, we disabled trackbacks here about a year ago due to problems with trackback spam. For a long time I held out hope that someday we'd be able to turn them back on, but I think I've finally given up hope based on a couple of recent posts which suggest that spammers have finally succeeded in killing off trackbacks for good. May they rot in hell.

Last night I replaced trackbacks with a link to Google's Blog Search entry for each post, so if you click the Trackback link it now takes you to a search page for other blogs that reference that post. It's far from perfect since it doesn't capture every reference and references don't show up until Google has indexed them, but on the positive side it's lightning fast. In any case, it's better than nothing. If I can come up with something better, I'll let you know.

Kevin Drum 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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March 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE DEMOCRATIC STRATEGY....Jonathan Alter provides a glimpse at Rahm Emanuel's strategy for winning back control of the House for Democrats:

Just as Harry Truman ran against the "Do-Nothing Congress," Democrats will run against the "Rubber-Stamp Congress," which pimped for K Street, took a dive on its critical oversight duties (particularly on Iraq) and helped the president bankrupt the country by shoveling money toward the rich.

Emanuel won't say yet which votes supporting Bush he plans to wrap around the necks of incumbents. But look for gut-punch ads that highlight the incumbents' 90-plus percent backing for Bush on issues like cuts in college loans and veterans benefits, privatizing Social Security, selling out to Big Pharma on prescription drugs and halting stem-cell research. Republicans are now scurrying away from Bush, but it may be too late. They can't take those roll-call votes back.

That all sounds good, but I still think we need a stronger focus on Iraq (i.e., withdrawal from) and national security (i.e., what we'd do if we're not up for invading Iran). I hope we're not planning to ignore that stuff again, like we did in our famously winning efforts of 2002 and 2004.

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (307)

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By: Kevin Drum

CHANGING THE SUBJECT....Fred Barnes says that since there are no actual substantive issues that are going well for Republicans, they plan to change the subject:

House Republicans, for their part, intend to seek votes on measures such as the Bush-backed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a bill allowing more public expression of religion, another requiring parental consent for women under 18 to get an abortion, legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, a bill to outlaw human cloning, and another that would require doctors to consider fetal pain before performing an abortion.

Well, those are certainly the big issues facing America today, aren't they? And anyway, what happened to the legislation to bar atheist lesbian physicians from adopting cloned children? Are Republicans going soft or what?

Kevin Drum 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Kevin Drum

CREAM, BLANCH, FOLD, DREDGE....The Washington Post reports that we are all now idiots when it comes to cooking actual food:

At a conference last December, Stephen W. Sanger, chairman and chief executive of General Mills Inc., noted the sad state of culinary affairs and described the kind of e-mails and calls the company gets asking for cooking advice: the person who didn't have any eggs for baking and asked if a peach would do instead, for example; and the man who railed about the fire that resulted when he thought he was following instructions to grease the bottom of the pan the outside of the pan.

OK, sure, but anyone who's worked retail or manned a tech support line can offer up an endless supply of anecdotes like this. Like the guy who came into my Radio Shack store once and wanted to know if some electrical device would work if electricity had to flow upward to get to it.

Anyway, the gist of the story is that no one can follow cooking instructions anymore, and they even have a little test to see if you can follow cooking instructions. Unfortunately, the test is no good. I got all five questions right even though I only really knew the answer to one of them, which just goes to show that making up the wrong answers in a multiple choice test is harder than it looks. Test creation is apparently a dying art too.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

DOG BITES MAN, PART 576....I would like to nominate this for the year's least surprising headline. Here's the key sentence about the Republican legislation currently wending its way through Congress: "Many lobbyists said they consider these bills more of a nuisance than an impediment to their ability to work their will." Shocking, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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March 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MORE SOCIAL SECURITY DOOM-MONGERING....Over at Slate, Will Saletan has yet another entry in one of journalism's favorite genres: the Social Security doomsday story. It's chock full of the usual grim statistics: we're living longer, we're retiring earlier, there are fewer workers to support each retiree, and the taxes to keep up with all this are going to bankrupt us before long. In short, we're completely screwed.

Please. Can we just stop with this stuff? The financial projections for Social Security really aren't that complicated, and the Social Security trustees take into account all the stuff that Saletan mentions. They know perfectly well that lifespans are increasing and they include that in their models along with a dozen other trends that Saletan doesn't mention. And it turns out that the results aren't really very scary at all.

Here's the deal in three easy steps:

  1. Currently, federal government spending amounts to about 20% of GDP.

  2. Every year, the Social Security trustees make three projections for the future growth of benefits. The middle projection indicates that everything is fine until about 2042, after which we will need to increase taxes by wait for it a whopping 2% of GDP.

  3. However, it turns out that the middle projection hasn't turned out to be the most accurate in the past. The "low cost" projection has. And that projection tells us that Social Security is solvent for at least the next 80 years.

So: even if you're the worrying sort, the pessimistic scenario suggests that we'll need to do no more than gradually increase taxes by about one-tenth starting in a couple of decades. Or perhaps by a twentieth along with a few modest benefit reductions. Not exactly the end of the world. But the most likely scenario is that Social Security is in fine shape and we don't have to do anything at all.

Saletan is right that we can all look forward to longer retirements than our great-grandparents enjoyed. And guess what? There's nothing wrong with that. We're a richer country than we were in 1935 and we can afford it. There are plenty of things to worry about these days, but Social Security isn't one of them. Honest.

Kevin Drum 9:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Kevin Drum

FREEDOM MINDED....Via the ever-pithy Jim Henley, I learn that Reason magazine has asked a bunch of people about their thoughts on the war in Iraq as we near its third anniversary. My favorite part is the explanation at the very beginning:

Reason asked a wide range of libertarian, conservative, and freedom-minded journalists and academics to assess the war....

So I guess conservatives are freedom-minded by default, but liberals have to somehow prove their bona fides to make the club? Welcome to George Bush's America.

Kevin Drum 8:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

ANTHILLS....Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal that maybe the anthill theory of foreign relations i.e., "the Middle East is stuck, so we might as well kick over an anthill and see what happens" has something going for it:

In its new national-security strategy released Thursday, the Bush White House put a happy gloss on what's happened in the last three years: "The people of Lebanon have rejected the heavy hand of foreign rule. The people of Egypt have experienced more open but still flawed elections. Saudi Arabia has taken some preliminary steps to give its citizens more of a voice in their government. Jordan has made progress in opening its political process. Kuwait and Morocco are pursuing agendas of political reform."

Some of that is political spin, of course but it isn't entirely wrong.

Nir Rosen, who's been reporting from the Middle East for some time, has a bit different take on this same set of facts:

Since the war, radical Islam has strengthened in Iraq. Hamas won in Palestine, and the Muslim Brotherhood gained strength in Egypt. Throughout the region, political, radical Islam, which might have been a spent force until a few years ago, is only strengthening. This is blowback, just like in the 1980s when a generation of Arab jihadists went to Afghanistan and gained skills.

We are now going to have a new generation of young fighters experienced in jihad from Iraq. Theyre going to lead the fight for the next 20 years. When I was in recently in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, I bought a magazine dedicated to the heroes of Fallujah. I was in Mogadishu this summer, and there was actually a store named after Fallujah, and guys walking around wearing Fallujah T-shirts. Throughout the Muslim world, people actually believe that America is the enemy of Islam and even if this might not be true, they have Abu Ghraib and the destruction of Iraq to point to. Weve also given reform and democracy a bad name. Suddenly, the dictatorships in the Arab world dont look so bad, in comparison to Iraq, and people are more suspicious of change.

Rosen, of course, has also made one of the more compelling arguments for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq even if he does overplay his hand in a few places. Still, the United States has never had much luck with anthill kicking, and the Bush administration's righteous indifference to facts on the ground has made it even worse than usual at this sport. We're going to spend a very long time digging ourselves out from the hole that Bush has put us in.

Kevin Drum 2:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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March 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE MEANING OF "ANY"....As part of a process called New Source Review, the Clean Air Act requires power plant operators to install specific types of pollution control equipment whenever they make "any physical change" that increases the amount of air pollution a plant emits. As you can imagine, the power industry dislikes this requirement, and if they dislike it then so does the Bush administration.

So a couple of years ago, after failing to get Congress to change the law, the EPA issued a rule declaring that "any" actually means "things that cost more than 20% of the value of the plant." So if you run a $1 billion plant, you can make $200 million worth of pollution increasing modifications without running afoul of the Clean Air Act.

Today, after listening to the EPA's pretzel-bending defense of its postmodern definition of "any," the DC Court of Appeals told the Bush administration to stuff a sock in it:

In this context, there is no reason the usual tools of statutory construction should not apply and hence no reason why any should not mean any.

....EPAs position is that the word any does not affect the expansiveness of the phrase physical change....EPAs approach would ostensibly require that the definition of modification include a phrase such as regardless of size, cost, frequency, effect, or other distinguishing characteristic. Only in a Humpty Dumpty world would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world-view.

Good for them. The power industry has spent the better part of three decades fighting New Source Review, which was originally meant as a compromise that would allow them to install pollution control equipment gradually as they upgraded their plants instead of mandating the changes all at once. Little did anyone realize at the time that industry lawyers would manage to put off the day of reckoning for 25 years, culminating in the election of an administration that would then simply change the rules by fiat in order to eliminate even the minor aggravation of showing up for court dates.

The power industry is right that New Source Review hasn't worked. The answer, however, is not to give them even more leeway to evade the clear intent of the law. The answer is to eliminate NSR and simply require them to install modern pollution controls in all plants within a specified period of time. That would be plain language that even power industry lawyers couldn't pretend not to understand.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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By: Kevin Drum

A POTEMKIN OPERATION?....Via Atrios, Christopher Allbritton says that Operation Swarmer, the recent air assault on Samarra, is a "Potemkin operation":

According to a colleague of mine from Time who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The number of weapons caches equals six, which isnt unusual when you travel around Iraq. Theyre literally everywhere.

....About 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area theyre scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

Operation Swarmer is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army although there was no enemy for them to fight.

This is a pretty serious charge. I wonder what Time's "official" coverage of Operation Swarmer will have to say about this?

UPDATE: Here's the official coverage:

On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled

....Contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war....In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. Whats more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation...was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces....But by Friday afternoon, the major targets seemed to have slipped through their fingers.

Needless to say, this piece is a little more restrained than Allbritton's blog post, but it still gets the point across.

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (167)

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By: Kevin Drum

THOSE IRAQI DOCUMENTS....Marc Lynch is delighted that the Bush administration is finally releasing captured Iraqi documents, but then goes on to provide an obvious warning:

Their value depends entirely on their comprehensiveness, and that they are vetted on a nonpartisan and scholarly basis. If all the released documents support the administration's case for war (like the infamous Feith memo of cherry-picked intelligence about Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda leaked to Steve Hayes), then the release becomes worse than useless.

One hates to be cynical so early in the morning, but seriously: what are the odds that these documents are going to be "vetted on a nonpartisan and scholarly basis"? Every single piece of intelligence ever made public by the Bush administration every single piece has been cherry picked for maximum partisan effectiveness. Surely no one seriously believes it's going to be any different this time?

Along those lines, Marc provides both some sound advice and an almost certainly well-founded expectation that no one will listen to him:

The only prediction I'm confident making: a lot of people are going to dive into these things, and find what they're looking for. Here's a line in a transcript which proves, proves, that Saddam ordered 9/11! Here's a document which proves, proves, that Saddam and Zarqawi never had anything to do with each other! Here's one that proves, proves, that Saddam had nukes! Here's one that proves, proves, that Saddam didn't have nukes! I'd advise people on both sides of the issue not to get too excited over individual documents... cherry-picking seeming smoking guns to prove your pet issue might be irresistably tempting, but isn't likely to be edifying in the longer term. I don't expect anyone to take the advice, but there it is.

Neither do I.

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE TIRED HEALTHCARE FEARMONGERING....Kinsley's schtick sure gets tiresome sometimes. See Ezra and Max on his latest column about universal healthcare.

Let me just add this. Aside from the factual problems and shallow analysis that Ezra and Max point out, Kinsley acts as if single-payer healthcare is some kind of radical theoretical construct that no one understands very well. Better to take things slowly.

But various forms of single-payer have been in use in dozens of advanced countries for decades including Medicare right here in the United States. There are few social programs we know more about than single-payer, and what we know is that in a well constructed program costs are lower, the quality of healthcare is better, the amount of healthcare is higher, private healthcare remains available to anyone who wants to pay for it, and people are generally far more satisfied than American healthcare consumers are. The problems Kinsley tries to scare us with flatly don't exist in the simplistic ways he presents them, and it's dishonest for him to pretend otherwise.

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (272)

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By: Kevin Drum

MAINSTREAM MEDIA....Who's responsible for coining the term "mainstream media"? It's probably lost in the mists of time, but the first reference I could find in Nexis was in a Newsweek story by Elizabeth Peer and Lucy Howard titled "Washington's Press Corps." It ran on May 25, 1981 and contained this sentence:

The mainstream media have little in common with the burgeoning specialty and trade press, which now employs a quarter of the town's newspeople.

For what it's worth, the term was used commonly throughout the 80s and has been in very common use for more than a decade. Nexis returns more than a thousand hits for every single year since 1994.

Just thought you'd like to know. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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By: Kevin Drum

REWRITING HISTORY....What planet do these people come from? Writing about George Bush's renewed commitment to preemptive war, Cliff May says:

It's easy to say that if we had left Saddam alone, nothing bad would have happened. But how is that different from what was said for years about Osama bin Laden?

Well, it's different because absolutely no one ever said that about Osama bin Laden. It's true that we never took him out, but it wasn't because no one thought he was dangerous. It was because prior to 9/11 no one not Cliff May, not George Bush, not the PNAC hawks thought that an invasion of Afghanistan was a justifiable way of doing it.

This comes courtesy of Glenn Reynolds, who nods approvingly and then opines that the "more damaging critique" of Bush isn't his obvious incompetence in Iraq, it's the fact that we haven't also "pressed the war" with Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. That would go well, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BASE vs. THE SUITS....I'm not entirely sure what E.J. Dionne means in his column today about Russ Feingold's censure motion, and yet somehow it still sounds like an interesting comment on the whole affair:

Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold's strong stand would redefine what's "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven't.

Turning a minority into a majority requires both passion and discipline. Bringing the two together requires effective leadership. Does anybody out there know how to play this game?

My guess is that there's a fundamental difference between the parties that Dionne is ignoring. On the Republican side you have lots of establishment figures who want to move the party in a more extreme direction, which makes a partnership with their activist base a pretty natural relationship. For the most part, the conservative base believes that Republican politicians, in their heart of hearts, are on their side, so they're willing to cut them some slack when it comes to practical politics.

On the Democratic side, that's not true. There are very few establishment politicians who actively want to move the party to the left, which means that the activist base quite reasonably doesn't believe that everyone's singing out of the same hymn book. So the dynamics are completely different.

Unless, of course, Dionne is making a completely different point that I missed. Comments?

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (171)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEINLEIN vs. ASIMOV CAGE MATCH....Gary Farber, stout man, is reading Robert Heinlein's long lost first novel, For Us, The Living, and reports back:

Really really bad. Horribly, painfully, agonizingly, gongs ringing on your head, your teeth being drilled, being forced to listen to perky blonde partners of Regis Philbin chirp at you for hours, while Spider Robinson drones at you, and every inch of skin under your calluses itches madly but you cannot scratch, bad.

In comments, Gary upgrades his opinion of the book slightly, and also avers that no matter how bad it is as a novel, it's still interesting reading for serious Heinlein fans because it so clearly contains the seeds of practically everything he wrote later.

So I guess I should go buy it. For over a decade after Heinlein died I kept buying his books, even including the endless "original uncut versions" that mostly turned out to have no more than a few paragraphs of difference from the published versions, and finally gave up sometime in the mid-90s after I decided I wasn't going to get suckered any longer. This is why For Us, The Living is the only piece of Heinlein I don't own, and it's probably time to complete the collection.

In a related vein, Megan McArdle asks:

I wonder if those who read science fiction in childhood can be divided into those who liked Robert Heinlein better, with his swashbuckling individualism, and those who preferred Isaac Asimov, with his technocratic fantasies. And I wonder if those early preferences semi-reliably map onto the conservative/liberal divide . . .

Well, I liked 'em both, but I liked Heinlein more and I turned into a liberal. However, this almost seems like an unfair comparison to me. Political preferences aside, swashbuckling individualists just make for more exciting genre fiction, don't they? (Although I'd actually classify Heinlein's heroes as mostly cranky individualists rather than swashbuckling.)

I'm still waiting for someone to make a movie out of Starman Jones, though. There's gold there, I tell you, pure gold....

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (196)

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March 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PORT SECURITY....We have been told by conservative hawks that Iran is actively building a nuclear weapon and that we should do everything we can to stop this, up to and including a military assault on suspected nuclear sites. Since Iran is incapable of delivering a nuclear weapon 7,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the primary doomsday scenario they've offered up is that Iran (or a terrorist group working with Iran) will ship a completed nuke through an American port and then threaten to detonate it in a large city.

Now, if you were truly concerned about this possibility really, truly concerned you would support more than preemptive action against Iran. You would also support funding to increase security at American ports. In particular, you would support funding to install radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry.

On the other hand, if a nuked-up Iran were not a genuine national security concern, but merely a convenient way to keep people scared and voting for Republicans, you would continue screeching about the mullahs but would oppose spending actual money on increased port security. In particular, you would not want to waste half a billion dollars on radiation monitors for a threat you don't really believe in.

Today, House Republicans voted almost unanimously against an amendment to beef up port security and install radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry. They also blocked consideration of an amendment to require 100% scanning of shipping containers entering the United States. I think this tells you just how seriously they take the actual threat of a nuclear Iran.

NOTE TO REPORTERS: The next time a Republican politician tells you that a nuclear Iran is intolerable, the first question you should ask is whether said politician supports funding for serious port security. If the answer is anything other than a firm and passionate "yes, dear God, yes," you should end the interview and walk away. You are talking to a partisan shill, not someone genuinely concerned about national security.

Kevin Drum 6:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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By: Amy Sullivan

KNEE-JERK REACTIONS....I'm on deadline, so don't have time to respond in full to the feverish debate that has been taking place over the past few weeks about religion and politics. But since my name has been invoked/cursed in many of those conversations, I do want to address the reaction to an offhand comment I made about "the knee-jerk left." Like Ed Kilgore, I have the most respect for those who can admit when they are wrong and re-engage in the debate having learned from their mistakes. So I'm here to say that I used that phrase intemperately and inaccurately. I knew as I typed it that I was reacting out of anger (and here I hear Bill Murray's voice in my head: "Don't blog angry, don't blog angry"...). But having spent most of the previous week on the receiving side of dozens of emails that all went something like, "Fuck you, stupid little girl--you're just a religious nut trying to push your backward superstitious shit on us," maybe you'll understand if I momentarily forgot that those views are just a small minority on the left.

That said, I do think there is a tendency on the part of some on the left to criticize conservative politicians on the basis of their religious views. Now, don't misunderstand me. I am not defending conservative politicians, nor do I think it's inappropriate to criticize religious beliefs, especially when they're brought into political debate and certainly when they're extreme. But when it's done with broad brushstrokes--and here I'm thinking of the charge that Bush is trying to turn the country into a theocracy (see: Kevin Phillips, Bill Moyers, and other very smart people)--it can have the effect of sounding anti-religion when that's not what I think it is. There are a lot of reasons to criticize George W. Bush, many of them related to his use and mis-use of religion. But theocracy isn't one of them. Sam Brownback, on the other hand, does actually want to turn the U.S. into a theocracy and should be roundly criticized on that point.

Why does it matter? Not because I think Democrats are hostile to religion, because I don't. It matters because the percentage of American voters who think the Democratic party is friendly to religion has dropped sharply in the past few years, and the change hasn't come from Republican voters but from independents. The perception is unfair and inaccurate, but complaining about that doesn't do any good. It's not mouthing RNC talking points to say that Democrats are at a disadvantage when it comes to how voters perceive their approach to religion. You can say that doesn't matter--and that's a perfectly fair position to take. But if you think it does matter, and it certainly doesn't help the party, the question becomes what to do about it.

More on that later. But here's a sneak preview: It doesn't mean, nor have I ever said, that we all engage in God-talk. That would be unnecessary, inappropriate, and wouldn't work anyway.

Amy Sullivan 2:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (361)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUN WITH FUNDRAISING....I see that House Republicans are responding the Jack Abramoff scandal by proposing again to cripple the operation of "527" organizations. This is probably just a coincidence, but it's funny that they're picking on 527s, which are mostly used by liberal groups who had nothing to do with the Abramoff scandal, isn't it? Conversely, conservatives tend to prefer 501(c)s for their fundraising because they require less disclosure and can operate virtually in secret. That's was the vehicle of choice for Abramoff and Tom DeLay, for example, but the Republican proposal does nothing to rein them in.

Like I said, it's probably just a coincidence. I'm sure that as soon as someone points this out they'll fix up their proposal. In the meantime, if you don't don't know your 527s from your 501(c)(3)s, try reading "Bush's Secret Stash" from the May 2004 issue of the Monthly. It's enlightening.

Kevin Drum 1:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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By: Kevin Drum


Senate Republicans are attempting to invalidate all state-level insurance regulations and create an anarchic system where insurers don't have to guarantee any floor of [healthcare] coverage. The GOP's insurance industry paymasters must be literally salivating at the sort of scams they're going to be able to pull now.

You want some Democratic spine? How about a party-wide pledge not to take another dime from the insurance industry and to demonize the everlasting hell out of every Republican who cravenly votes for stuff like this? Insurance money is toxic for Democrats, putting us in hock to an industry that will always fight against liberal goals. We should treat it like the poison it is.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

CENSURE UPDATE.... Via Taegan Goddard, here's an American Research Group poll sounding out support for Feingold's censure resolution. The results among Democrats aren't too surprising, but the 29% support among Republicans is higher than I would have expected. Another sign of the coming conservative crackup?

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAN B....President Bush nominated yet another head for the FDA on Wednesday, but two Democratic senators immediately put the kibosh on it:

Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington announced Wednesday that they would block a floor vote on the nomination until the FDA made a firm decision on the controversy whether or not to allow Plan B, the "morning after" birth control pill, to be sold without a prescription.

....The agency's scientific staff has long concluded that the contraceptive is safe and effective for over-the-counter use by women of all ages, according to internal memos recently released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles). But senior FDA officials have repeatedly delayed a final decision. That has prompted some in the medical community, as well as Democrats such as Clinton and Murray, to charge that the agency compromised its scientific judgment under pressure from social conservatives influential in the Bush administration.

Good for them. Aside from the personal insult of being directly lied to (Clinton was promised a vote on Plan B last year if she'd allow Bush's previous nominee to proceed, and was then double crossed) this is plainly a case of interfering with the FDA's normal scientific role in order to pander to the Falwell-Schlafly wing of the Republican coalition. The FDA's role is to decide if drugs are safe, not to decide if they're moral, and the Bush White House is corrupting that role for political gain.

Because of this, more teenage girls will get pregnant who don't want to be, more of them will get abortions, more of them will suffer sustained emotional devastation, and more of them will end up bearing children they aren't prepared to support. All thanks to a corruption of the scientific process enthusiastically supported by President Bush. Hooray.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Kevin Drum

CENSURING BUSH....A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has some good news: it pegs George Bush's approval rating at a dismal 37% and it gives Democrats a 13 point lead in a generic congressional ballot (50% prefer a Democratic congress compared to 37% who prefer a Republican congress). Unfortunately, there's also some bad news: apparently we've done a lousy job of mobilizing public opinion against the NSA wiretapping program. In what looks to be a properly worded question, the poll shows that the public still supports the program by a margin of 52%-46%:

So is Russ Feingold's motion to censure Bush a good way of shifting public opinion on this issue? Maybe, although the transparently faux-naive way he introduced it makes me think he might have gotten a little too fond of his reputation as Mr. 99-1. (As in, "Golly, I'm shocked that my fellow senators aren't instantly flocking to support this obviously controversial motion that I sprung on everyone without a word of warning.") As near as I can tell, Feingold has spent more time since Sunday playing up his maverick status to reporters than he's spent actually lining up support for his censure motion.

Bottom line: Feingold (and the lefty blogosphere) are right that Dems need to show more spine, but it doesn't follow that every possible attack on George Bush makes political sense. The attacks still have to work and still have to resonate with the public. See Clinton, William J, impeachment of for more details on this.

Still, even though I'm not impressed either with Feingold's sincerity or his political savvy, I hope he figures out a way to make this work. What's done is done, and, like Atrios, I think Democrats are foolish not to support his motion now that it's out in the open.

Next time, though, I hope we either let our leadership lead or else fire them. A little consultation could go a long way toward making Democrats look like an actual party, not a herd of cats.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (118)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW TO SCARE A REPUBLICAN....The LA Times reports that the Medicare prescription bill has become such an albatross for Republicans that they're actually willing to brace yourself stand up to a major campaign contributor and allow the government to negotiate lower prices for drugs:

The vote to allow the government to negotiate for discounts on drugs marked a major policy reversal for the Senate and a rare move against the pharmaceutical industry, one of the leading donors to federal political campaigns, with most of its money going to Republicans. Negotiations for drug discounts were barred under the 2003 law that created the drug benefit.

....Democrats have long said that the government, which spends billions of dollars annually on pharmaceuticals through Medicare, ought to be able to negotiate with drug companies for volume discounts, as other big customers do.

But it took until Wednesday for enough Republicans to agree and for the Senate to take action.

See? Republicans can do the right thing after all if you just make it clear enough that their jobs are in danger. Later this year, as the dreaded doughnut hole comes into play and seniors realize how much their drugs are going to cost them under the Republican plan, expect to see action on that front too.

And in related news (see the end of the same story for details), President Bush continues to dodge and weave about the cost of the program. The name "Richard Foster" is slowly seeping into people's consciousness.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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March 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HOW LOW CAN HE GO?....Via Laura Rozen, I see that Pew now has Bush's approval rating at a cellar-dwelling 33%. And that decline is across the board: he's lost about 20 points of support from every single demographic group that Pew samples.

But here's my favorite part:

President Bush's declining image also is reflected in the single-word descriptions people use to describe their impression of the president....The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent,"and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

Now that's a poll!

Kevin Drum 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (222)

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By: Kevin Drum

SECURITY SECRETS OF THE CREDIT CARD INDUSTRY....From the Annals of Identity Theft comes an investigation into how easy it is to apply for credit cards in someone else's name:

I get a heck of a lot of credit card applications in the mail. A bunch for Visa, quite a few from Mastercard and tons of them from American Express.

I almost always tear them in half and throw them away. Sometimes, if I am feeling particularly paranoid, I'll tear them into little bitty pieces.

Is that good enough? Could a determined and dexterous criminal gather all the bits, tape them together and apply for a card in my name? Would a credit card company balk when confronted with an obviously resurrected application?

I think you can probably guess how this turned out, but click the link and read one man's look at the credit card industry anyway. It turns out there was more to it than just tearing up the application.....

UPDATE: More here.

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

EVERYDAY LOW VICES....Wal-Mart is obviously not a model employer, but how does it really stack up against its competitors? After all, big box retailing is not exactly an industry famous for high wages and great benefits. In the current issue of the Monthly, T.A. Frank takes a look at three specific allegations against Wal-Mart off-the-clock work, discrimination against women, and union busting and concludes that, yes, Wal-Mart really is worse than its peers. Here's his conclusion on gender discrimination, for example:

Is Wal-Mart really any different from its competitors when it comes to treating its female employees fairly? An extensive search of cases against Target doesn't turn up any similar accusations, and while Costco does face a gender discrimination class action, it involves hundreds of women, not millions. Brad Seligman, who is lead counsel on the gender discrimination cases against both Wal-Mart and Costco, stresses that, even accounting for differences in size, Wal-Mart is exceptional. I'm the first to concede that the Costco case is nowhere in the same league as the Wal-Mart case, says Seligman. I've done 50 class actions in my time, and Wal-Mart stands out above all of them, both in terms of the depth and pattern of discrimination and in their reaction to the charges.

Read the rest here.

Kevin Drum 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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PAYGO....Republicans had a chance yesterday to cast a clear vote in favor of fiscal responsibility. Do I even need to tell you which way the vote went?

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By: Kevin Drum

FEINGOLD'S CENSURE MOTION....Everyone wants to know how I feel about Russ Feingold's motion to censure President Bush over the NSA's domestic spying program. I'll give you two and a half answers:

First, substantively: Sure, censure away. God knows Bush deserves it.

Second, politically: I'm not so sure on this score. Anytime a congressman introduces a measure that's certain to fail, it's done for reasons of political theater: to make a point, to get some attention for an issue that's being ignored, or to reach out to some constituency or other. So the relevant question is: is this good political theater?

For example, when Harry Reid shut down the Senate last year to protest the slow progress of the investigation into prewar intelligence, that was good theater. He highlighted something that the press had been ignoring, he worked Bill Frist into a practically incoherent rage, and he embarrassed Pat Roberts into (sort of) promising to speed things up. All in all, a good day's work for the minority party.

Conversely, it's not clear what Feingold hopes to accomplish with his censure motion. Bush's shortcomings are already getting plenty of attention, so he's not galvanizing any new media attention. He obviously didn't bother telling his fellow Democrats about his plan, which has had the result of making the party look muddled and stupid. And Republicans, far from being nonplussed by his censure motion, are having a field day with it.

Political theater has its own rules, and fair or not, the only measure of success is success. So while I'd vote for Feingold's motion, I don't think I'd hire him as a political theater consultant.

POSTSCRIPT: And what about my half answer? It's this: all the people complaining about Democratic senators who are waffling on Feingold's motion even though they voted to censure Bill Clinton need to lighten up. As I hope everyone knows, the censure motion against Clinton was an attempt to derail the impeachment proceedings, not a genuine expression of censure. And Feingold, as I hope we also remember, was the only Democratic senator to side with Republicans and refuse to vote for dismissal of the impeachment charges. So let's keep the holier-than-thou stuff down to a dull rumble, shall we?

UPDATE: The Clinton censure stuff is complicated for a number of reasons, but Elton Beard points out that although the House censure motion was indeed intended as a way of derailing impeachment, the Senate censure motion was introduced after the impeachment proceedings were over. I still think it's important to keep the political background in mind here, but I was wrong to suggest that senators who sponsored the Clinton censure motion were trying to do Clinton a favor. Sorry about that.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (222)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SPHEREOSPHERE....Am I a member of the catosphere? Yes, I suppose I am.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS AND KIDS....Phil Longman says that conservatives have more children than liberals and that this spells big trouble for liberals:

This dynamic helps explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism. Among states that voted for President Bush in 2004, the average fertility rate is more than 11% higher than the rate of states for Sen. John Kerry.

....Tomorrow's children, therefore, unlike members of the postwar baby boom generation, will be for the most part descendants of a comparatively narrow and culturally conservative segment of society. To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents' values, as often happens. But when they look for fellow secularists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.

Maybe. But you want to know something that seems impervious to population shifts? Articles predicting demographic Armageddon for some group or another. A hundred years ago we were supposed to worry about Catholics overwhelming us or low-IQ immigrants breeding us into extinction. Then it was Jews. Then blacks. Now it's conservatives.

And I suppose it could happen if demographic trends lasted forever and children reliably inherited their parents' political beliefs. But where's the evidence? Ideological self-identification has been steady for decades. Churchgoing has declined, not grown. Social norms have grown steadily more liberal. And while it's true that conservative evangelical denominations have become politically potent in the past couple of decades, they've been growing steadily for over a century a trend that's almost certainly due primarily to vigorous proselytizing, not vigorous childbearing.

Liberals have a lot to worry about these days. Being bred into extinction probably isn't one of them. This particular boy has cried wolf too many times.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (219)

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March 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BOMBS AWAY....I know the party line is that these are "precision" bombing runs, but still:

A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year. Knight Ridder's statistical findings were reviewed and confirmed by American Air Force officials in the region.

The numbers also show that U.S. forces dropped bombs on more cities during the last five months than they did during the same period a year ago. Airstrikes hit at least 11 cities between Oct. 1, 2004, and Feb. 28, 2005....A year later, U.S. warplanes struck at least 22 cities during the same months.

Apparently our military leaders still don't believe we're fighting a counterinsurgency in Iraq. Either that, or they simply don't know how so they're using air strikes instead. Or else they've given up and are just trying to hold things together until they finally get the word to withdraw.

Bombs don't beat insurgencies. The fact that we're increasing our reliance on them is bad news.

Kevin Drum 9:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (255)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GOP AND THE SOUTH....Clay Risen wrote a piece in the Boston Globe last week about a new book, The End of Southern Exceptionalism, by Richard Johnston and Byron Shafer. Johnston and Shafer argue that the reason the South became a Republican stronghold following World War II was due less to racial backlash than to the postwar growth of suburbia, with its natural affinity for Republican economic policies:

As the South boomed and Sunbelt cities added millions of suburban residents, they argue, its burgeoning middle classes naturally tilted to the Republicans' fiscal conservatism, which promised tax cuts and smaller government programs.

"The engine of partisan change in the postwar South was, first and foremost, economic development and an associated politics of social class," they conclude after sifting through reams of electoral and polling data. "The impact of legal desegregation and an associated politics of racial identity had to be understood through its interaction with economic development." In other words, the Southern realignment wasn't about white racial backlash. Rather, it was about a new, middle-class South that focused mostly on economic issues and only secondarily on race.

But perhaps this puts the cart before the horse. After all, it's not a natural law that suburbs have to be conservative, so it's worth asking why suburbia is so conservative in the first place. A few months ago Kevin Kruse sent me a copy of his book White Flight, which I just started reading over the weekend, and he argues that, in fact, suburban economic conservatism is inextricably linked with racial backlash:

On the surface, the world of white suburbia looked little like the world of white supremacy. But these worlds did have much in common from the remakably similar levels of racial, social, and political homogeneity to their shared ideologies that stressed individual rights over communal responsibilities, privatization over public welfare, and "free enterprise" above everything else. By withdrawing to the suburbs and recreating its world there, the politics of massive resistance continued to thrive for decades after its supposed death.

Since I haven't finished the book I need to be careful summarizing Kruse's argument, but basically he suggests that the crude Klan-style racism that dominated attention at the national level during the postwar years was actually fairly ineffective, and was quickly replaced by more sophisticated segregationist arguments that were less overtly racist: namely that whites weren't fighting against the rights of others but for rights of their own:

....the "right" to select their neighbors, their employees, and their children's classmates, the "right" to do as they pleased with their private property and private businesses, and, perhaps most important, the "right" to remain free from what they saw as dangerous encroachments by the federal government.

This core set of beliefs, which was originally just an acceptable public face for private segregationist sentiment, was carried into post-WWII suburbs by whites fleeing central cities, where they found a sympathetic reception in the Republican Party. Eventually these beliefs became the bedrock economic principles of the party, and as Southern whites became increasingly influential within the GOP its economic policies became ever more radicalized.

So: was Republican ascendancy in the South due primarily to economic likemindedness or to racial backlash? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Via Ed Kilgore.

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (222)

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By: Kevin Drum

ARMITAGE AND PLAME....Today the Washington Post reports on a Vanity Fair article quoting a former Washington Post editor commenting on a book written by a Washington Post reporter and then asks their former editor if he was quoted accurately. He says he wasn't:

Vanity Fair is reporting that former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee says it is reasonable to assume former State Department official Richard L. Armitage is likely the source who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward.

In an article to be published in the magazine today, Bradlee is quoted as saying: "That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption." Armitage was deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term.

...."I don't think I said it," Bradlee said. "I know who his source is, and I don't want to get into it....I have not told a soul who it is."

Hmmm. If Bradlee knows who Woodward's source is, and if he really did tell Vanity Fair that it was a "fair assumption" to suspect Armitage, then it's probably Armitage. But did VF writer Marie Brenner tape her interview with Bradlee? Inquiring minds want to know what Bradlee really said.

POSTSCRIPT: For what it's worth, Armitage certainly knew Plame's identity, and the Wall Street Journal suggested (indirectly) months ago that Armitage was a prime suspect to be Woodward's source. A fair assumption indeed.

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE LEAKED BRITISH MEMOS....Based on the evidence presented here, John Sawers appears to be a fairly perceptive and clear thinking sort of person. Unfortunately, the very evidence that demonstrates these qualities has probably also scuttled his chances of being named Britain's new ambassador to the U.S. Win some, lose some.

POSTSCRIPT: You really ought to click the link, but if you're just too lazy to do it, here's Shorter John Sawyers on May 11, 2003: Nobody in America has any interest in the aftermath of the Iraq War. They mostly seem to be a bunch of clueless and incompetent twits.

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AND NATIONAL SECURITY....I don't plan to comment on everything that happened while I was gone, but I do want to highlight something Dan Drezner wrote this weekend that's also been on my mind lately. The Los Angeles Times ran a package of articles on the "Conservative Crackup," and Dan's contribution provided several reasons why George Bush is having so much trouble with his own party in the area of foreign policy. Here's one of them:

Second, conservatives disagree about foreign policy just as much as Democrats. At this point, the GOP is split between realists and neoconservatives.

....What makes today's atmosphere so perilous for Bush is that both sides of the Republican divide feel betrayed. The conservative realists outside the administration, who thought the pre-9/11 Bush was one of their own, were alarmed by the decision to invade Iraq. They expressed grave doubts about the war and it looks as if their fears were realized. The absence of a stable Iraq has hamstrung the White House in other areas where force might need to be an option.

Meanwhile, the neoconservatives have become disillusioned too, as Bush's second-term foreign policy has failed to even remotely match the ambitious rhetoric of the second inaugural.

It's true that Democrats often seem hopelessly muddled when it comes to presenting a compelling foreign policy message, but the core of Dan's piece is an acknowledgment that Republicans have the same problem. It's just not quite as obvious yet.

So without minimizing the need for Democrats to get their national security house in order, can I ask just what the Republican national security strategy is these days? Seriously. The Bush Doctrine is pretty much in tatters even W himself doesn't seem to be up for any further preemptive military adventures at the moment and aside from "staying the course" in Iraq and conducting an almost comically muddled and contradictory public diplomacy campaign, what exactly is it that Republicans think we should be doing? Aside from talking tough?

As Ronald Reagan said, "Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root." That's true even when the bayonets are ours, and I think most Republicans have figured that out by now. But if military force is no longer the cornerstone of the Republican strategy to fight the war on terror, what is? In 25 words or less?

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (219)

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March 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BACK FROM VACATION....So, um, I guess we discussed religion in the blog this weekend? Complete with the civil and respectful dialog we've all come to know and love in the comment section?

Sounds like fun! I'm sorry I missed it. But I promised you different, and you got different so many thanks to Ogged, Roxanne Cooper, and Steve Waldman for guest blogging this weekend while I was up in the chilly north. (Amy too, but she's on staff and doesn't count as a guest, regardless of what it says next to her byline.)

Customary secular blogging will resume momentarily.

Kevin Drum 11:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Roxanne Cooper


  1. Everyone's talking about a insider's political listserv and wondering why they haven't been invited to join it.
  2. Ajax is the new black. If you don't get it, call your local geek.
  3. Comedian Andy Dick has completely and utterly lost it. I hear there's physical evidence of his SXSW escapades. For all of you who are political --yet culturally impaired-- yes, that's his real name.
Roxanne Cooper 10:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Ogged

The Christian Left

Atrios says (I think) that liberal hostility to religion is just a Republican talking point. That's true, in the sense that most liberals are also religious. But isn't it undeniable that "religious" and particularly "Christian" have come to be synonymous in politics with "conservative evangelical Christian?" Recovering the sense of "religious" as progressive, socially conscious, and principled will actually take some work. When Kevin asked me to guest here, and before I knew what Amy and Steve would blog about, I asked whether any of the liberal divinity students I knew would write something about how they see the situation of the Christian left. Here's the response. You might also want to check out this group.

Ogged 7:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (210)

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By: Ogged

The Secret Police

The recent New Yorker article on Iranian exile groups isn't online, but Jackmormon has a very good summary. The motivations of both the US and Iran are hard to read, but there's one point that everyone should keep in mind.

The Iranians in Iran--the ones who are speaking out, going to jail, and sometimes being murdered, the ones who have fought for two decades for every bit of democracy they have today--are the ones who should choose and run any "post mullah" government, if there is to be such a thing. You'd be hard-pressed to find a population anywhere that had shown a greater commitment to democracy, and that had so clearly earned the right to self-determination.

The exile groups are opportunists, hoping to be installed by force in case the mullahs are removed from power. You can ignore the MEK, which is quite literally a cult, and to which most Iranians are hostile. Reza Pahlavi's threat to Iranian self-determination is more real, if only because he's playing the political game in here in the States, and just enough people in the administration might be credulous enough to think that he's a viable leader, or cynical enough to hope to install a puppet. There's a priceless moment in the New Yorker article when the reporter tells him that people would take his talk of democracy more seriously if he would just renounce any desire to become king. His response is that it's not for him to tell the monarchists that he shouldn't be king.

Even more to the point, Americans should review what they know about SAVAK. SAVAK was the Shah's secret police, responsible for spying on, silencing, torturing, and murdering the opposition. This is relevant because Pahlavi's organization is stocked with former members of SAVAK. For all his talk of "looking toward the future" and not "reliving the past," Pahlavi is dragging the most evil parts of Iran's past with him, and relying on them to bring him to power. Every time he's interviewed, he should be asked what he's done to purge SAVAK from his inner circle, and whether he can guarantee that no former member of SAVAK holds a position of influence in his organization. He hasn't done a thing, of course, and he can't guarantee any such thing. He just hopes no one will ask.

Ogged 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Amy Sullivan

HUCKAWHO?....If you're still wondering who Mike Huckabee is and whether he really could be the Republican dark horse candidate for 2008, you'll want to read this profile by the Arkansas Times' Warwick Sabin. My favorite quote:

Huckabees most notable disadvantage is that he is relatively unknown outside of Arkansas, unlike some of the other possible Republican candidates, like U.S. Sen. John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The biggest newspaper in New Hampshire, the Union Leader, recently included Huckabee in a poll gauging presidential primary support but got his first name wrong, calling him Mark.
Sounds like he's still got a ways to go...

Amy Sullivan 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Ogged

Happy To Help

I'm sure we can all set aside the recent acrimony about religion and politics and agree that this proposed logo for the Republican Party is perfect.

Ogged 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Ogged

No One Benefits

Stunning news this morning that an unprescribed antibiotic--one that would have made his high blood pressure medication largely ineffective--was found in Slobodan Milosevic's system. This is disastrous news for institutions of international justice, since it will be played as murder in a lot of the world. The tribunal maintains that Milosevic was surreptitiously undermining his own treatment because he hoped that ill health and charges of poisoning would be his ticket out of custody and to Moscow, which, one assumes, he hoped wouldn't hand him over again.

I'm sure that most people in the West, being convinced (rightly, of course) of Milosevic's perfidy, will quickly believe that this was more likely a form of suicide than murder, but it's hard to overstate how important it is that the tribunal launch a full investigation, and be able to explain how Mr. Milosevic got the drugs, if indeed he was deliberately taking them.

Ogged 10:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

AN ALTERNATIVE NARRATIVE.... Why have Conservative Catholics rejected the Church's teaching on immigration issues? And will there be a call for priests to refuse communion to Michelle Malkin and Pat Buchanan?


The assertion that "the white activists who shaped the Left of the 1960s have remained mired in a culture of hostility toward religion and spirituality" is a misfire. Nixon-era Liberal activists transformed their own churches as much they transformed other institutions, as Mark Oppenheimer points out in his book, Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture. This is why some sects of Christianity now sport gay and women clergy, issue proclaimations against draconian immigration reform, work with labor unions and organize anti-war protests. What Liberals (most of whom are Christian) hold a hostility toward are policies that run counter to their own church's teaching.

Roxanne Cooper 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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By: Steve Waldman

Did the Founding Fathers want a strict separation of church and state? Yes. Did they want the government to actively support religion? Er, yes. That too. The problem is, it depends on which Father youre talking about. For instance, as president, John Adams instituted highly religious, national fasting days. But when Jefferson became president he stopped them because he thought them a violation of the First Amendment.

So Im imagining that if we had Washington, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson locked in a room debating this, they would disagree on the interpretation of the First Amendment. Heres a cheeky fantasy bound to cause strokes among religious conservatives: after a couple of hours of deadlock, the Founding Fathers would conclude that the First Amendment is so ambiguous that the courts (boooooo) must be enlisted to figure it out!

But what do you think? Heres today's poll (and shameless Beliefnet self-promotion vehicle): Were the Founding Fathers alive today, would they think we had too much separation of church and state or too little?

Steve Waldman 9:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (127)

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March 12, 2006
By: Steve Waldman

I was thinking about the readers who suggested that I had been unfair in claiming a liberal hostility to evangelical Christianity. Fair point, I thought. I probably should have said "many liberals" rather than caricaturing liberalism per se.

But as I was crafting the words for a correction, I came across this passage from "The Left Hand of God," the new book by Rabbi Michael Lerner, a liberal-in-good-standing if ever there was one:

"Overwhelmingly, the white activists who shaped the Left of the 1960s have remained mired in a culture of hostility toward religion and spirituality. If this were merely a historical curiosity, I'd leave this issue to the cultural historians. But since the Left's hostility to religion and spirituality has become such a major stumbling block to the chances that progressive forces will ever win enough power to actually change the socially and environmentally destructive policies of the West, it becomes important to explore the roots of this hostility."

I had been making a narrower point that many liberals carry an elitist attitude toward evangelical Christians. Lerner's indictment is far more sweeping. Is he being unfair? I think a distinction should be made between the elites and the rank and file on this. The fact is that most Democrats are religious. But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote (more stats here) seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party's image and approach.

Steve Waldman 11:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (307)

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By: Amy Sullivan

BASKETBLOGGING, PISTONS EDITION....As we head into my three favorite weeks of the year, a brief comment on the NBA. Matt Yglesias thinks that Eastern Conference teams would prefer an early playoff match-up against New Jersey and then Miami instead of Cleveland, followed by Detroit. After watching the Wizards blow out my hometown Detroit Pistons by eighteen points last night, I think the Wizards, at least, should be gunning for the latter match-up.

Although the Pistons are the best in the league at shutting down the inside game, that doesn't really work against the Wizards because, well, we don't have an inside game. (Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, and Michael Ruffin are three of the hardest-working guys in basketball, but the Wizards don't count on them for points.) The Wizards are the only team in the NBA to have scored 110 points or more against Detroit this season, and they've done it twice. Only one other team--Utah--has beaten Detroit twice this year. At both ends of the court, the Wizards match up very well agains the Pistons.

As for Cleveland, the Wizards have blown them out in two out of their three meetings. A lot rests on whether Larry Hughes will be back and healthy for the playoffs. But I'd still take that half of the bracket any day over a repeat of last year's early series against Miami.

Now, onto March Madness!

P.S. Note to angry Detroit fans: It goes without saying that I root for the Pistons when they play anyone other than the Wizards. Joe Dumars has been my favorite person in basketball for almost twenty years. But this is my home now, and yes, I did enjoy watching Caron and Gilbert and their 71 percent shooting last night...

Amy Sullivan 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Amy Sullivan

POINTLESS PROGNOSTICATION....'Tis the weekend, apparently, for spouting off about who the eventual GOP nominee will be in 2008. I usually try to abstain from this things, mostly because: a) I don't know, and b) I don't think anyone else knows. Still, the idea that "Huckabee, Hagel, Brownback, and Graham" (Graham? Lindsay Graham??) are the guys to watch was enough to rouse me for a few comments.

First of all, I didn't even know Mike Huckabee was thinking about running until a few weeks ago and there's a good reason for that. A poll of Arkansas voters in February revealed that 52 percent of them would choose Hillary Clinton over Huckabee. Remember, the spin was that she left the state as an unpopular woman. Maybe so, maybe not, but people there seem to think she's a better option than Huckabee. Only 39 percent of Arkansas voters think he's qualified to be president. You kind of need your own state behind you if you're going to make a run.

Hagel is seen as an apostate, a traitor (see: McCain, 2000). Even conservatives who like him tell me he would never get past the base.

Brownback is interesting. The old guard of the Christian Right may just be angry enough to get behind him. They wanted Ashcroft in 2000, settled for Bush, and although they've gotten two Supreme Court justices out of the deal (they hope), they're still feeling burned. Rather than compromising in 2008, they may insist on their own guy. And that would be fantastic. Because as my friend Jeff Sharlet showed in this fantastic Rolling Stone profile of Brownback (writer's cut can be found here), Brownback is about as extreme as they come in the Christian Right world. Finally, a religious candidate who actually deserves the scorn of the knee-jerk left.

And all I'll say about Lindsay Graham is--true or not--if he ran, we could expect push-polling about this "never-married", neatly-groomed senator. Even in his home state of South Carolina.

Who will be the nominee? I have no frickin' idea. But I wouldn't count out John McCain or George Allen. Never discount the willingness of GOP leaders to make a pragmatic choice.

Amy Sullivan 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS....As you may have heard by now, Feingold plans to introduce a resolution tomorrow to censure Bush. Let's break out our crystal balls for a moment. If the resolution passes, what's the impact on the Republican Party in '06 and '08?

Roxanne Cooper 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

REPUBLICANS IN '08....I agree with Atrios. Neither Frist, Romney, Allen, or McCain will be the Republican nominee in '08.

Frist lost the nomination the day he danced the Schiavo shuffle.

A Republican candidate from New England? Get serious. The Dems can't even nominate a candidate from New England.

Allen's got some personal data that's already giving push-pollers wet dreams.

McCain will again get swiftboated in the primaries. Dude will never, ever learn.

If I was a betting woman, I'd be taking a hard look at Huckabee, Hagel, Brownback and Graham. As a candidate straight from the Senate hasn't taken the Presidency in eons, smart operatives will be pushing Huckabee.

Roxanne Cooper 9:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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March 11, 2006
By: Roxanne Cooper

POLYGAMY AND THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY.... HBO's new comedy series, "Big Love," has spawned some interesting commentary from John Tierney, which has, in turn, spawned some interesting feedback from the blogosphere. I particularly enjoy this commenter's take on Tierney:

It's not like women actually enjoy or seek out sex, ever; so why shouldn't they spread the misery around to their friends? Although their failure to want sex does allow for girl-girl-boy threesomes at any convenient moment. That goes double if they have gymnastic bodies, which, if they don't, clearly there's something wrong with them.

Leaving John 'Nabokov' Tierney's perverse version of Libertarianism out of it for the moment, can either of the two major parties use "Big Love" to their political advantage in November?

Roxanne Cooper 7:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Ogged


The Dubai ports debacle, which to many people signaled for the first time the unseriousness of the administration with regard to national security, is the Democrat's opportunity to finally change the context of the national security debate. Instead of playing "I'm tough too," Democrats should talk about national security in terms of competence.

In addition to a quick review of the fact that Democrats, when they've been in charge of military engagement, have cared about having a plan, and that one of John Kerry's main concerns was, yes indeed, port security, they should propose a few simple to understand, highly visible initiatives geared toward making people actually feel safer. Here's one idea: DHS will coordinate threat assessment teams composed of agents from the FBI, NRC, CDC, etc., who will be dispatched to various "high priority" sites around the country: a water purification plant in Atlanta, for example, or a vulnerable but important rail switching station in Kansas, or one of the unguarded nuclear sites we keep reading about, etc. Whenever one of these teams comes into town, there will be local coverage, which is what we really want: "DHS was right here in Ashtabula today, making sure that our little ol' chemical waste facility isn't vulnerable to terrorism." This is the kind of thing that people remember and care about. If what the teams propose is funded and put into effect, great, Democrats take credit for the idea. If not, then they have a long list up things the administration should have done, but didn't. If you don't like this idea, come up with another; it doesn't really matter, as long as it's clear and visible.

(An aside: people often dismiss plans or ideas with, "But the Republicans will just argue X...." The key in these debates, however, is that people stop paying attention pretty quickly, and as long as you have a reply to "X," the debate will be sufficiently muddled that the original proposal will remain salient. So if the Republicans were to say that the Democrats are so out of touch that they don't even realize that threat assessments are happening all the time, the response should be, "Well, what about sites A, B, C, D and E, all of which are vulnerable?" If the Republicans dismiss the plan as an unconscionable use of federal agents for show, the response should be that since sites A, B, C, D and E are all vulnerable, people should be able to see their government at work, and hold agencies accountable, rather than being satisfied with "trust us." (You might also mention Bush's own use of emergency personnel during photo ops for Katrina.) You get the idea. "Republicans will just say X" should only be dispositive if you also think "And I don't have a good answer to that.")

The catchphrase for the Democratic emphasis on competence should be "let's do what works." That signals both "enough with the fancy words and crappy outcomes" as well as "enough with the partisan and ideological bickering, we care about results." It also drives home the point that being "tough" doesn't matter if your toughness doesn't work. Facts are on our side, we should emphasize them.

The usual objection when anyone says that Democrats should emphasize competence is "Dukakis." But that was a special, or especially bad case. Dukakis was geeky and from Massachusetts, but there's no reason that "let's do what works" can't be folksy and no-nonsense: "Some people want to save the whole world or tell you what's right and what's wrong, I just want to do what works."

Ogged 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

THE BUTCHER OF THE BALKANS.... According to a report that just hit the wires, Slobodan Milosevic has died of natural causes in his jail cell. He was 64. And probably won't be missed.

Roxanne Cooper 9:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

DREAM SHOW....It's a good thing I won't be attending the Music Festival portion of SXSW... because in looking at the daunting list of amazing bands performing this year, it's hard to know where to start. I wouldn't miss Beth Orton, Tokyo Nites, Jad Fair & Lumberob, The Gena Rowlands Band, The Silos, and Midori Umi. If you were there, which bands would you see?

If you were in charge of programming your very own show at SXSW, what would your line-up look like? For me, Cake, Gomez, Joe Ely, and The Paladins would make for quite a evening.

Roxanne Cooper 9:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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March 10, 2006
By: Ogged

Having A Plan

My unimpeachable sources at the Powerline relate this development.

It's happening already. Waiters at New York City restaurants are starting to introduce themselves to customers by saying, Im a blogger--Im just doing this while I wait for my big break.

On the one hand, this is crazy. As the article apparently goes on to say,

While blogging is showing profit potential for consultants prospecting for new business and savvy marketers creating customer dialogues, the vast majority of citizen publishers arent making enough from their efforts to even pay for their Internet connection.

But it's not completely crazy. The happy finger of chance has picked out a few people, almost at random, and made them a pile of money or given them nice, if not cushy, blogging gigs. Washingtonienne Jessica Cutler signed a book deal for a reported few hundred thousand dollars. The new Wonkette, David Lat, was just some blogger before Gawker decided to employ him. And of course there's Kevin.

Blogging is still just new enough that there's no established track to "making it"--do something interesting, and you might land a full-time gig, and maybe rub elbows with a few minor celebrities too. Yes, the waiters are deluded, but as delusions go, it's not so bad.

Big Break Update: It seems that on the strength of my brilliant Pie Strategy post, I've been named head baker/imam of the Washington Monthly. I now have the power to hold you in contempt. Comment carefully, little people.

Ogged 8:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Roxanne Cooper

THE SELF-SERVICE FUTURE....In last week's NYT Sunday Mag, Freakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt proclaimed real estate agents an endangered species:

Think back for a moment to 1999. Travel agents still roamed the earth in vast numbers. So did stockbrokers. But their business models were being blown apart, largely by the Internet. The new market for do-it-yourself online securities trading lowered fees so drastically that a full-price stockbroker could simply no longer earn a living. Travel agents were shoved aside once the Internet gave customers the ability to book their own trips and when, perhaps more damagingly, the airlines decided to stop paying the travel agents' commissions.

The Internet is a natural repository for the sort of data that drive the real-estate market. New sites like zillow.com let anyone try to figure out (if imperfectly) what his home is worth; sites like craigslist.org allow buyers and sellers to easily find each other. As those services and ones like them become more popular, it is hard to imagine that the market will allow Realtors to maintain their hefty commissions.

There will always be some home sellers who prefer full-service, full-fee agents, and a handful of these high-end agents will undoubtedly thrive (just as some full-service travel agents and stockbrokers still thrive, except they are now called "travel counselors" and "financial planning specialists," respectively). But more and more home sellers, armed with data from real-estate Web sites and facing a variety of pricing options, will surely choose another route.

Of course, the real estate industry has a powerful lobby that'll throw everything they've got at preventing commission erosion. Also, FSBO sales are much easier to transact during a hot real estate market. Now that the market has cooled, the conversion to self-service home sales will slow. But, like Dubner and Levitt, I think it's inevitable.

What other white-collar, service professions are likely to go the way of the Dodo?

A Note on SXSW
I'm here in Austin for two terrific, but lesser-known-than-the-Music-Festival festivals --SXSW Interactive and SXSW Film. I'm not likely going to experience much live music between now and Tuesday, but I plan to see Neal Pollack tonight with Amanda and Norbiz ...right after we hit the BlogHer party at Stubbs.

Roxanne Cooper 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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By: Steve Waldman

As I noted in my Monthly piece, the one group that would surely oppose the approach taken by many 21st evangelicals is 18th century evangelicals. They were eloquent and fierce supporters of separation of church and state. I know many people will read that Monthly article as further evidence of the hypocrisy of modern evangelical conservatives.

But I would also like to point out that the history also challenges the liberal notion that religious Christians are inherently backwards, regressive and opponents of liberty. The evangelicals were the true religious freedom fighters of that era and names like Isaac Bachus and John Leland Baptists who fought for separation of church and state should be counted among the great American heroes.

Steve Waldman 2:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

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By: Steve Waldman

Besides the image of the eloquent 1,235 pound cheese being rolled up to Thomas Jefferson standing at the White House door, my other favorite visual image from this Washington Monthly piece is of young James Madison and Patrick Henry sparring in committee in the Virginia legislature. Madison would have been 33, Henry a prominent figure at 48. Henry thought he was being a moderate by proposing that the state support all religion and not just the Anglican church. Madison thought any state support of religion was a threat to religious freedom. By using tax dollars to pay for religious support, Madison reasoned, you were taking their property in order to support a faith with which they disagreed.

The titans squared off, and Henry won at first. Then Madison went back out in the field and helped organized grassroots opposition especially from the evangelical Christians who then turned the tide against the proposal. Just think of how much faster Madison could have worked if he could have hired Jack Abramoff to get the Indian tribes to weigh in too.

Steve Waldman 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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By: Ogged

Filling The Gap

Insightful commenter "nut" writes,

This is a remarkable moment.

Amy writes a column without mentioning basketball or exhorting Democrats to be religious nuts.

We can't have that. Over at the great basketball blog, True Hoop, Henry Abbott notes the political contributions of several NBA players and owners. Unsurprisingly, 100% of the unlovable Karl Malone's contributions have gone to Republicans. Good guys Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, on the other hand, have given only to Democrats. What's genuinely surprising is that NBA Commissioner David Stern has contributed nearly $800,000 exclusively to Democrats. I'm just musing here, but if the Commish is so interested in politics, why not draft him to run for office? He's savvy and likable, he's managed a fantastically successful, racially integrated enterprise, and Jordan and Barkley could stump for him. Why not?

More: In comments, Mark Schmitt mentions Adonal Foyle, and, in all seriousness, Foyle is the model of an athlete who uses his position to make a difference in politics.

Ogged 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....I've still got a few minutes before I leave for the airport, so how about some pre-flight catblogging? On the left, Inkblot ponders whether to leave his nice warm house for the windy and rain-threatening outdoors. He eventually decided in favor. Jasmine, who is made of sterner stuff, hopped out immediately and began playing with a stick that some fellow with a camera kept waving in her face. Within a few minutes, both of them will undoubtedly be snoozing away in the lovely, lovely dirt.

Kevin Drum 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Amy Sullivan

O'CONNOR SMACKS DOWN REPUBLICANS....Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor gave a speech yesterday at Georgetown in which she slammed Republicans--singling out Tom DeLay and John Cornyn--for undermining the judiciary. (You can listen to NPR coverage of the speech here.) She quoted DeLay's attacks on the court during Justice Sunday, and then turned on the sarcasm: "This was after the federal courts had applied Congress' one-time-only statute about Schiavo as it was written--not as the Congressman might have wished it were written. The response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint was that the Congressman blasted the courts..."

As for Cornyn, O'Connor said, "It doesn't help when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with."

When O'Connor announced her retirement last year, there was outpouring of praise for her "wisdom" and "moderation" and "thoughtfulness." That won't stop Republicans from turning around now and denouncing her comments, but it will make it harder for them to press their case. And--who knows?--maybe it will inspire some of her former colleagues across the judiciary. The pool of self-hating judges has to be fairly small.

Amy Sullivan 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

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By: Ogged

The Pie Strategy

You bastards already hate me. Probably.

As the war in Iraq grinds into its fourth year, a growing proportion of Americans are expressing unfavorable views of Islam, and a majority now say that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

This is not only depressing, it's boring. We're playing out everyone's favorite dynamic of suspicion vs. grievance. Right-wingers like to pretend that they're the only ones who dare say that we were attacked by MUSLIMS! In their narrative, the media, in thrall to various lefty taboos, goes out of its way to avoid showing the essential link between Islam and anti-American terrorism.

Meanwhile, on the left we have people telling us that the London bombers were British, damn it, and that we shouldn't forget Timothy McVeigh, the white terrorist.

Please. The fact is that most of the recent terrorist attacks that you might care to name--9-11, the London bombings, the Cole, the African embassies--were carried out by Muslims, and Muslims who look pretty much like you expect Muslims to look, at that. Yes, Timothy McVeigh was a regular American white boy, but even those of you who are so far left that your right ventricles don't even beat will admit that in your heart of hearts, whatever vanishingly small worries you have about terrorism involve a guy on a bus who doesn't look like Tim McVeigh.

We lose credibility when we don't admit what's obvious to everyone: insofar as we're worried, it's about Muslims (note to those who don't know me and didn't get the opening joke: I'm a (non-practicing) Muslim, born in Iran; no, I'm not pulling a Michelle Malkin on you). We get into these bizarre dynamics because we don't want to give any ground. We worry that if we give ground, unscrupulous people on the other side will take advantage and say things like, "even the liberal Washington Monthly admits Muslims are crazy." But our denial of the obvious is the only thing that gives right-wing complaints any credibility. We make it possible for them to cast their bigotry as truth-telling.

The way to approach the debate is to start from the fact that we're worried about Islamic terrorism, and make it clear that the right-wing approach of suspicion and division never ever works, because--as long as we're facing facts--any Muslim, however much he loves America, hip-hop, and the NBA, is going to hesitate to drop the dime on someone planning an attack if he thinks that the FBI agent picking up the phone hates him, or that the neighbor he'll be saving hates him. My conception of the ideal response is this: go to your local mosque, find the imam, or just some of the people gathered there, and say "I have to admit I'm scared of you, but I don't know anything about you. Let's have some of this pie I baked, and let's talk." Americans are totally down with baking some pie and sizing up the neighbors. Instead of the "vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding..." crap that we hear from liberals, let's hear "We're all scared of each other, let's have pie!" I'm totally serious about this. That's the kind of thing that people respond to, and the kind of thing that might actually make a difference.

Meanwhile, since you're still sitting at your computer, click over to this rare and fantastic three-part series by Andrea Elliott in the NY Times. She spent several months with the imam of a bustling Brooklyn mosque as he dealt with the FBI, his own move from Egypt, and all the young people he's trying to set up in marriage. Great, well-written stuff if you want a clue about what life is like for a practicing Muslim in America. The interactive features are good too.

Ogged 9:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (141)

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By: Ogged

The Condition of the Possibility of Mimesis

Damn that Drum (to whom, many thanks). I wasn't planning on doing any Swedish swim instructor blogging--my Swedish swim instructor having moved away--but I can't just leave you all hanging, so...

As my body began to creak more loudly on the basketball court, I decided to take up the more genteel sport of swimming. I hopped onto the magical Craigslist, answered a gender-anonymous ad for swimming lessons and about a week later found myself in the pool with a former member of the Swedish Olympic team. Woot! Actually, she's married and almost killed me every week but one of the very first instructions I got--as I was trying to learn proper technique--was "look at my butt." People, it's harder than you think! We polite liberal men are so used to stealing a quick glance that we can't help but feel that our eyes will burn up if we keep them glued. But I persevered and I survived. You should try swimming.

Any chance this thread won't descend into juvenile sexism (or even mature sexism)? If you're good, in the next post you'll get wonkery.

Ogged 2:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Roxanne Cooper


Universal Health Care = good!

Next topic?

Roxanne Cooper 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

VACATION....I'll be on vacation for the next few days, but as usual I have a couple of guest bloggers lined up to keep everyone entertained.

First up is Roxanne Cooper, of Rox Populi, who's in Austin this weekend for SXSW, a music, media, and film festival. I'm not sure if she'll be blogging about SXSW or about other things as well, but it'll be good regardless.

Our second guest blogger, coaxed out of retirement for a brief return engagement, is the mysterious Ogged of Unfogged. He will be blogging about Swedish swimming instructors and related topics from his usual secret undisclosed location.

In addition, the staff of Washington Monthly might be popping in with a few posts as well.

Obviously the tone is going to be a wee bit different here for the next few days, but different is good. Right? I'll be back on Tuesday. See you then.

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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By: Kevin Drum

TNR ON NATIONAL HEALTHCARE....It would be belaboring the obvious to say that the liberal blogosphere has its differences with The New Republic. Today, though, in Frank Foer's first issue as editor, they go a very long way toward redeeming themselves:

Since President Clinton's health care plan unraveled in 1994 a debacle that this magazine, regrettably, abetted liberals have grown chastened and confused, afraid to think big ideas. Such reticence had its proper time and place; large-scale political and substantive failures demand introspection, not to mention humility. But it is time to be ambitious again. And the place to begin is the very spot where liberalism left off a decade ago: Guaranteeing every American citizen access to affordable, high-quality medical care.

That's precisely right. Liberals need to be ambitious again, and guaranteed healthcare for all is a vision worth fighting for. As TNR points out, our current system is both enormously expensive and badly broken:

Perversely, our extra spending doesn't seem to buy us better medical care. According to virtually every meaningful statistic, from simple measures like infant mortality to more carefully constructed data like "potential years of life lost," Americans are no healthier (and are frequently unhealthier) than the citizens of countries with universal health care. Nor do Americans always get "more" medical care, as is commonly assumed.

The citizens of Japan, for example, have more CT scanners and MRI machines than we do. And the French, whose system the World Health Organization recently declared the planet's best, have more hospital beds. They get more doctor visits, too, perhaps because their access to physicians is nearly unfettered a privilege even most middle-class Americans surrendered with the spread of managed care. In fact, aside from cost, the measure on which the United States most conspicuously stands out from other advanced nations may be public opinion: In a series of polls a few years ago, just 40 percent of us said we were "fairly or very" satisfied with our health care system, fourth worst of the 17 nations surveyed.

Read the whole thing. As TNR's editorial implies, if we're going to join this battle it's critical that we cut through the scare tactics of the right and finally tell the American public the simple truth about national healthcare in other countries: that it works better than American healthcare. As our creaky private sector system increasingly sputters and breaks down, the seemingly "old" idea of universal healthcare is more relevant than it's ever been, and TNR's conclusion is exactly correct: "Government isn't the best way to provide all Americans with health security. It's the only way. And it's time for liberalism to say so openly."

Kevin Drum 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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March 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DPW UPDATE....Dubai Ports World has agreed to sell off its U.S. port operations to an American company. It was the obvious solution, and Republicans everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.

But remember you read it here two weeks ago!

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ THROUGH ROSE-COLORED GLASSES....I didn't bother posting earlier this week about Ralph Peters' latest column the one in which he spent a few days in Baghdad, personally saw no civil war, and thus pronounced everything peachy because, well, why bother? Sometimes things are so plainly idiotic that there's no point. Peters probably could have written the same story in Richmond in 1863.

Christopher Allbritton, on the other hand, who is actually in Baghdad full time, has reason to be a little more exercised about Peters' fantasies:

[Peters] says, If reporters really care, its easy to get out on the streets of Baghdad. The 506th Infantry Regiment and other great military units will take journalists on their patrols virtually anywhere. Well, no, they wont. Some reporters I know are having trouble getting embeds because theyre not the right reporters. They dont write the right kind of stories meaning they dont follow the militarys playbook.

Its more than a little churlish to say, Well take you anywhere, as long as youre not too liberal/French/whatever and then turn around and criticize those you refuse to take with you as cowards.

....To be blunt: We are as close to full-scale civil war as weve ever been. We are one more bombing, massacre or atrocity from a national bloodletting. But even if that happens, there will be ebbs and flows. Just because people arent curled up in the fetal position under their beds all the time doesnt mean theres not a war on of some kind.

....Peters little yarns sure sounds nice, but he sounds either desperately clueless or willfully blind. Officials in the American embassy, at least, are very worried that civil war is upon us, and its surely no coincidence that [General George] Casey has a reputation for not wanting to hear bad news. And so Peters continues to think because he rolls around in an armored convoy and no one takes a shot at him, theres no civil war. As someone Im sure he admires once said, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Conservatives are fond of claiming that the media exaggerates the problems in Iraq, but as near as I can tell exactly the opposite is true. Every time I've come across a candid report from a journalist usually after they've come home, or perhaps in a private email or a report of an overheard conversation they say that things are actually worse than what they officially report. Lots of people with a feel-good agenda go to Iraq for a few days of McNamara-like "fact finding" and then come back with glowing reports, but virtually no one who's there full time doing comprehensive reporting has anything very optimistic to say.

Of course, being right will gain them nothing. If and when full-scale civil war breaks out, the Ralph Peters of the world are going to do their level best to lay all the blame at their defeatist feet anyway. Who lost Iraq?

Via Jim Henley.

Kevin Drum 1:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (255)

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By: Kevin Drum

BETTING LINE ON DUBAI....So what's going to happen to the Dubai Ports deal? Thursday's 62-2 vote to kill the deal in the House Appropriations Committee certainly seems like a firm bellwether, but what are the options going forward?

  1. The full House and Senate concur and then George Bush backs down from his promise to veto any attempt to kill the deal. This could be facilitated by some kind of "new information" that Bush claims to have been previously unaware of.

  2. Bush vetoes the bill and Congress overrides. Bush is humiliated.

  3. Congressional leaders manage to fudge the issue in such a way that Bush can sign the bill while still pretending to stick to his guns. Since Dems will fight this, Republicans would have to be almost 100% united to pull it off.

My guess is Door #1. Vote for your prediction in comments!

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman explains Door #3 in more detail.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (111)

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By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL WAR WATCH....In congressional testimony today there was more openness than usual about the situation in Iraq. General John Abizaid: "There's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are higher than we've seen, and it is of great concern to all of us." Donald Rumsfeld: "There is a high level of tension in the country, sectarian tension and conflict." Rumsfeld then punted on the civil war question, saying only that the conflict had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation." That's not exactly a huge vote of confidence.

Not sure what to make of this. But definitely a little less bluster than usual.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON SANTORUM....Is the Heritage Foundation illegally providing fundraising assistance for a political candidate? Mark Kleiman and Steve Teles say "maybe." Perhaps some real reporter will check this out.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MEANING OF "IS"....Rick Santorum said he was going to end his Tuesday morning "K Street Project" meetings with lobbyists, but apparently he, um, lied:

Santorum, whose ties to Washington lobbyists have been criticized by his Democratic challenger, suspended his biweekly encounters on Jan. 30.

....But in the month since his announcement, Santorum has held two meetings attended by the same core group of lobbyists...convened at the same time as the previous meetings....Instead of being held in the Capitol, however, the recent meetings were conducted nearby. The first was held about three blocks away, at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the second was held around the corner from that building, at the Heritage Foundation.

As near as I can tell, Santorum's explanation is that it's the same people, at the same time, on the same day, but it's still a different meeting from the one he used to have. Or something.

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ROBERT A. TAFT MEMORIAL AND CARILLON....I have a political trivia question on my mind. Maybe Tomasky knows the answer. Or maybe someone here does.

Here it is. When I was visiting Washington DC last December, a guide on one of the tour buses did a spiel about the Robert A. Taft bell tower. Among other things, he said that it was oriented to face the Department of Labor because Taft was the guy responsible for writing one of the country's seminal pieces of labor legislation.

Now, this is true. The Taft-Hartley Act is a seminal piece of labor legislation. However, it's more accurately described as a seminal piece of anti-labor legislation, and I have a hard time believing that even Taft's fans would be cynical enough to pretend that he was a friend of labor.

So: Is this story true? If so, was it an attempt to give Taft some undeserved working man cred? Or was it a crafty way of telling labor unions that Taft continued to have his eye on them even in death? (In which case I'd give them credit for a surprisingly sly sense of humor.)

Anybody know?

UPDATE: In comments, Michael Rebain provides a history lesson:

The Taft Memorial was dedicated in 1959. The Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building was not completed until 1974. Prior to moving into the current headquarters, it was housed at 14th and Constitution (the current EPA headquarters).

In other words, the story is bollocks unless the statue of Taft was meant to have telescopic vision.

Kevin Drum 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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March 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

KOS AND THE "IDEOLOGY OF WINNERISM"....Look, this slam from Jason Zengerle is just unfair. Yes, Ciro Rodriguez, the Kos/Atrios/etc. candidate, lost fairly badly to Henry Cuellar in Texas last night, and yes, this means that liberal blogs continue to have a batting average that makes the '62 Mets look good. But Rome wasn't built in a day. I imagine the Kossacks will learn from their mistakes and figure out how to do better in the future.

But it turns out that Laura Turner actually has a better critique than that. Zengerle thinks that Rodriguez's defeat is also a defeat for Kos's "ideology of winnerism," but she's not so sure:

Doesn't Zengerle posit there might be, like, a reason the blogs launched themselves behind Rodriguez that might have to do with ideology, in the sense that Cueller is (and he really is) a very bad Democrat? If Kos and Atrios just wanted a win for somebody with a D behind his name, they probably would have stayed out of Texas-28, which already gurantees such an outcome given that the GOP doesn't even run candidates in the district (somehow the Republican revolution never took hold there). The blogs took a chance on the underdog Rodriguez. Isn't that the opposite of a blind Democratic "winnerism"?

I suppose there are multiple of ways of looking at this. Laura's way is one, but it's also true that the whole thing was sort of a freebie. It's easy to take a cheap ideological stand when you know there's no danger of losing in November, so this race doesn't really say anything one way or another about the Kossacks' willingness to risk a loss in order to elect a better candidate.

In the end, of course, I suspect this is all a bunch of overanalysis. The ability of Kos to rally his troops depends on the troops themselves, and my guess is that their preferences are fairly unpredictable. Sometimes they'll sacrifice ideology for a better chance of winning, and other times they won't. Just like all of us.

Kevin Drum 11:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE HACKERY....Clive Crook takes a sledgehammer to single-payer national healthcare in the Atlantic this month, but here's all you need to read to know that you can safely ignore his rant. American healthcare has its problems, he says, but:

Wherever you look, you find no plainly superior system. Countless variants from the mainly government-run, single-provider, single-payer model at one extreme to America's semi-private, multi-provider, multi-payer approach at the other have been tried. None is widely popular. Canada, did somebody say? You must be joking. Rationing and gaps in coverage, necessary instruments of cost control in that system, are at the limit of what people will accept: they were an issue in the recent election, and helped get the previous government thrown out. Britain's National Health Service, once the country's pride, is today renowned for dirty hospitals that make you sicker than you were to begin with.

This is the grubbiest and most venerable trick in the arsenal of the lazy healthcare ideologue: pretend that Canada and Britain are the best benchmarks for comparison and then pick up your ball and go home. But if you're going to play that game, why not go whole hog and use North Korea and Afghanistan as your reference points instead?

Because, of course, your readers would catch on to that. But the fact is that no one who's serious about healthcare uses Canada or Britain as anything but cautionary tales. If you want to take a look at national healthcare systems that work, you'd pick, say, Sweden at the most centralized end of the scale, France in the middle, and Germany or the Netherlands at the least centralized end. These healthcare systems all have their good and bad points, but on the whole they're so much better than America's on so many different measures that to deny this fact is to drain virtually all meaning from the phrase "plainly superior." What's more, every one of them is far more popular among its own populace than America's system is with ours and far less expensive.

These healthcare systems also provide plenty of grist for honest arguments. Some of them require larger copays than others, some provide a bigger role for insurers than others, and some provide greater choice and flexibility than others. Crook is well aware of this.

But blandly suggesting that "the closer you get to the single-payer socialized alternative, the less appealing it looks" without even giving your readers a serious, honest look at the single-payer alternative is the work of a hack, something that Crook usually isn't. So what happened this time?

UPDATE: As Matt Yglesias points out, Crook also seriously overstates the problems with the Canadian and British healthcare systems. Decent funding levels would make both of them a lot better. My main goal, however, was to point out the Canada/Britain straw man that's so common in conversations about global healthcare. There are lots of examples of national healthcare systems that are far superior to either of them, and those are the models we ought to be discussing.

Kevin Drum 7:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (130)

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPER PREDATORS....Schools are safer than they used to be, and Jeffrey Seals, a security guard at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland, gives technology part of the credit:

Seals and Vice Principal Linda Wanner agreed that today's kids are more serious strivers than those of the '80s. They also said parents were more involved now in their kids' school lives, more likely to show up promptly when summoned.

Why's that?

"They've all got cell phones," Seals said.

Really? Cell phones have made parents more responsible? Who knew?

The rest of the article is about why the predicted "super predator" crime epidemic of the 90s never materialized, and it's worth a read. The basic answer seems to be: maybe because the crack bubble burst, maybe because of a good economy, maybe because of some other stuff. Basically, no one knows. After all, Canada's teen crime rate is down too, so the cause probably isn't anything exclusive to the United States.

My guess: the question isn't so much why crime rates came down, but why they went up for a short period. Perhaps the 80s were the aberration, not the 90s.

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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By: Kevin Drum

ABRAMOFF TALKS....Jack Abramoff on his supposedly nonexistent relationship with Newt "My Revolution Has Been Betrayed" Gingrich: "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."

Ouch. I wouldn't want to be Newt or Abramoff's wife.

UPDATE: Here's the full Vanity Fair article this is taken from.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE COLD WAR....Mike Tomasky's regular guy cred is now solidly in tatters after demanding that we all pass his sniffy history and politics test if we ever want to read his magazine again. He has officially become one of those dreaded coastal liberal elites, looking down his nose at the beer swilling masses. No red state victories for you, Mike!

Still, in the spirit of expanding knowledge among the politically active, here's a book recommendation. Based on Nick Thompson's review in the current issue of the Monthly I went out the other day and bought John Lewis Gaddis's The Cold War, a brief and unusually lucid history of, um, the Cold War.

It's terrific. The whole book clocks in at a svelte 266 pages, and it's that rarest of things: a readable and accessible primer for readers who are new to the subject, but still an illuminating and valuable review for those who have already read deeply in the history of the post-WWII era. There are plenty of judgments embedded between the covers of this book, but they're all backed by Gaddis's unparalleled scholarship and his careful and lively language. Agree or disagree, there's nothing shallow in this book despite its brevity.

Highly recommended. It's a sterling example of the value a world class scholar brings to the table when he writes for a popular audience, not down to it.

POSTSCRIPT: And since there are always a few people who don't get the joke, I'm just kidding about Tomasky.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

OVERSIGHT WATCH....Senate Republicans, who were dangerously close to showing some spine as recently as a week ago, have decided that a genuine investigation of the NSA's domestic spying program would simply be too painful, so they've decided instead to simply let George Bush do whatever he wants. They have no interest in serious oversight at all. Laura Rozen rounds up the sorry story here and here.

Kevin Drum 1:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (242)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH BASHING FROM THE RIGHT....Apparently conservative Bush basher Bruce Bartlett will be blogging at the New York Times for a month. That should be fun. I hope it's not behind the subscription wall.

For a preview, see here.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

PATRIOT ACT....Am I being overly sensitive, or is this really not an appropriate graphic for CNN to use to illustrate their lead story tonight about the passage of the Patriot Act? The headline claims it's a "controversial" measure, but judging from the picture you'd have to be Tokyo Rose to oppose it. The only thing missing is a photograph of a bald eagle soaring majestically above Mount Rushmore.

Note to CNN: "Patriot Act" is just the name that Republicans gave to the bill when they introduced it. That doesn't mean it's actually an iconic symbol of patriotism.

I wonder what they'll use to illustrate their next story about the president's defense of the NSA's domestic spying program. Uncle Sam, his sleeves rolled up, listening intently to a telephone with Osama on the other end?

Kevin Drum 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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March 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WINGNUTTERY WATCH....Chicago Dyke passes along the news that some nutball assemblyman in New Jersey is trying to pass a law prohibiting anonymous posting on the internet. Of course, if anonymous posters are criminals, then only criminals will be, um, anonymous posters. Or something.

Kevin Drum 9:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

NOT SO HARD OUT HERE FOR A PIMP, AFTER ALL....This comes from Jason Zengerle, but I figure a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the picture. That CNN headline pretty much tells you all you need to know about DeLay, doesn't it? Here's the cover charge:

Entry to the fundraiser costs $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000 for political action committees and $500, $1,000 and $2,100 for individuals, according to an event invitation.

I also like this picture because of the way the books in the background merge with DeLay's ear to make him look like a bitty little elf. Or is it a troll? I always get those mixed up.

Kevin Drum 5:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Amy Sullivan

CHRISTIAN CHARITY....This story hasn't gotten a ton of attention, but on Ash Wednesday last week, LA's Cardinal Mahoney declared that if Congress passes legislation to criminalize the act of offering support to an illegal immigrant, he will instruct his priests and Catholic parishioners to ignore the law.

The Republican sponsors of the bill say that they're just targeting those who smuggle immigrants, and yet they've written such a broad definition of "alien smuggling" that it could potentially include things like baby-sitting for a neighbor or working at a soup kitchen. The legislation has already passed the House and is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Jesus didn't instruct his followers to inspect the citizenship papers of the sick, the poor, the old, and the hungry. Even so, Mahoney's statement is an unusual--if welcome--call for civil disobedience. All eyes should be on the Senate this week, and on other Catholic leaders to see if they follow Mahoney's lead or shrink from the fight.

Amy Sullivan 5:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOUCHERS....I can't read John Tierney's latest piece of duplicitous spin in the New York Times, but I can read Greg Anrig's comprehensive dismantling of it. And so can you.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

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By: Kevin Drum

SINGLE-PAYER HEALTHCARE....Ed Kilgore responds to my angry post about the DLC's wonkish 7-point healthcare plan with this:

As recently as 2004, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, and Joe Lieberman offered health care plans that would take the country pretty damn close to UHC without embracing a single-payer system at all....Were they all compromising wimps? Did they all privately acknowledge that single-payer was the goal, and just cringe from saying it publicly?

Here's my guess: in private, I'll bet all of these gentlemen do acknowledge that a simple single-payer national healthcare plan is the best policy. But for tactical political reasons, they think it's more effective to talk about incremental solutions.

I disagree. It's true that Hillarycare failed in 1994, but incrementalism has failed too. There have been a few minor improvements in the healthcare scene over the past couple of decades, but the only move in the direction of expanded healthcare that you could describe as even modestly significant has been the Medicare prescription bill, and that was enacted by Republicans. At this rate, we'll achieve universal coverage by about 2100.

The historic failure of incrementalism is not just a coincidence, either. Rather, I think it's basic politics: conservatives fight against it as hard as they fight against big reforms, but because the benefits are small there's no constituency to fight hard for it. Because of this, incrementalism doesn't work. What's more, it sounds mushy, it's not very good policy, and it doesn't make Democrats sound like they're standing up for something important. Do you see why I'm not enthusiastic?

The alternative, I think, is to continue supporting improvements to the current system but to make it absolutely clear that our goal is single-payer national healthcare. (For those of you who don't know what "single-payer" means, it's simple: it means that healthcare itself is provided by private doctors and hospitals, but it's paid for by the government. Medicare is a single-payer system, for example. Rich people can continue to pay privately for services that aren't covered by the government, of course.) It's true that single-payer will attract huge opposition from conservatives, but unlike incremental solutions it has at least the potential to attract equally passionate support from a very large constituency that would benefit from it. It's not a fundamentally impossible political proposition.

My guess is that we're a minimum of ten years away from single-payer UHC, and to get there we need to shift public opinion. Here's the argument in favor of focusing on that:

  • Single-payer is a simple plan that can be explained in short, compelling phrases. If you lose your job, you still have healthcare. If you're poor, you have healthcare. If you get a new job, your preexisting conditions continue to be covered. No matter what, you always have access to high-quality healthcare from the doctor of your choice.

  • It's good policy. Single-payer UHC is the only solution that gets rid of America's bizarre and accidental (and wildly inefficient and expensive) hodgepodge of private insurance, employer insurance, government subsidies, inner city clinics, and overworked emergency rooms. Single-payer is simple, and experience around the world shows that it works, it saves huge amounts of money, and it reins in skyrocketing costs.

  • It gives Democrats a branding tool. Democrats, for example, are already clearly viewed as the pro-choice party, but in the healthcare arena they're viewed as being vaguely in favor of "more," but not much else. Single payer gives us something to stand up for.

  • The political landscape is slowly moving in our favor. Big corporations are tired of healthcare and are increasingly receptive to the idea of offloading their problem to the government. Funding alternatives like VATs could reduce opposition from small businesses, who are afraid of proposals that would raise their costs drastically and disproportionately. Insurance companies will fight against this like crazed lemmings, of course, but there's not much we can do about that. No proposal is ever going to have the support of everyone.

  • It's possible to win this battle. From a public opinion standpoint, our biggest obstacle is fear. As soon as you open your mouth about UHC, conservatives start screeching about waiting times for hip replacements in Canada or the number of MRI machines in Belgium, and everyone suddenly starts wondering if the solution is worse than the problem. But we have reality on our side: good single-payer systems (France, Sweden, Germany not Canada, Britain, or Italy) work great and people love them. If we can introduce the public to real world examples of how well those systems work, we can gradually overcome their fear of the unknown. This is probably the single biggest thing we can do to persuade people that single-payer healthcare is not the bogeyman the right makes it out to be.

But here's the thing: none of this will happen if Democratic politicians are afraid to fight for it. We don't have to give up incrementalism in the meantime, but we do need to make it absolutely clear what goal we're working toward. It's good politics, good policy, and good branding. But it's a long fight, and the sooner we get back in the saddle and start fighting it, the better.

POSTSCRIPT: Matt Yglesias has more on the same subject. And the review of healthcare by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in the current issue of the New York Review of Books is excellent.

Kevin Drum 2:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (211)

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By: Kevin Drum

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL....Legal issues aside, the real problem with the Solomon Amendment is that it shouldn't even be necessary. If the military simply ended its bigoted and unjustifiable ban on openly gay service members, its recruiters wouldn't be barred from universities in the first place.

So how close are we to that? Steve Benen points out that a bipartisan effort to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is up to 109 co-sponsors. We're halfway there.

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMS IN DISARRAY....FILM AT 11!....Everybody seems to be complaining about today's Washington Post story suggesting that Democrats are in some disarray over how to fight this year's election. Here's an account of a meeting in January at which Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid spoke:

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, noting that the two leaders had talked about a variety of themes and ideas, asked for help. Could they reduce the message to just two or three core ideas that governors could echo in the states?

According to multiple accounts from those in the room, Reid said they had narrowed the list to six and proceeded to talk about them. Pelosi then offered her six not all the same as Reid's. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said later: "One of the other governors said 'What do you think?' and I said 'You know what I think? I don't think we have a message.' "

I don't quite get this. The issue for Dems isn't to have one message, or even two or three. It's to have something simple and compelling to tell voters. Newt Gingrich's Contract With America had ten points, after all, and it was famously successful anyway bacause all those points were short, easily understood, and compelling.

Now, God knows we don't need a repeat of Pelosi's 60-point (!) platform from 2004, but neither do we have to restrict ourselves to two or three. Half a dozen is fine. So is ten. It gives candidates in various parts of the country different things to focus on depending on what matters to their constituents.

So the real question is: how good were Reid and Pelosi's ideas? Unfortunately, the Post article doesn't give any clue about what they were. And in any case, later in the article the Post notes the real elephant in the room:

Perhaps the Democrats' greatest dilemma is how to respond to the Iraq war....Congressional Democrats have been split over the war since 2002, when many voted to authorize military action. The ground shifted last November when Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), a leading Democratic voice on military matters, called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn as soon as possible. Two weeks later, Pelosi endorsed his stance.

Although Pelosi said she was not speaking for her caucus, some colleagues complained that she was handing Republicans a gift by enabling them to tag Democrats as soft on terrorism and forcing Democratic candidates to explain whether they agreed with their House leader.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done about this. The disagreement is real, and there's no way to force it to go away. Still, it would be nice to get some level of agreement on a broader national security platform anyway. That's been our biggest Achilles' heel for the past couple of election cycles.

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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By: Kevin Drum

COMMENT SPAM....I'm curious about something. Dan Drezner writes that he's upgraded to a new version of Movable Type that required him to get rid of MT-Blacklist, and as a result he's now deluged with comment spam. But it strikes me that an easy way to eliminate spam would be a plugin that prevents posting of any comment that contains a URL. If you want to be a little less draconian, perhaps the plugin would allow a maximum of one URL per post. Since comment spam all contains multiple URLs, this would get rid of the spam.

Has anyone written a plugin like this? Or am I missing something and this wouldn't work?

Kevin Drum 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ....Mohammed at Iraq the Model talks to his father:

Me: what kinds of challenges can make things worse?

Dad: Virtually anything...assassinating a leader, a fatwa, attack on a shrine like last time; we do not possess the institutions that can abolish the effects of severe sentimental reactions.

The American ambassador in Iraq talks to an LA Times reporter:

In remarks that were among the frankest and bleakest public assessments of the Iraqi situation by a high-level American official, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the "potential is there" for sectarian violence to become all-out civil war, but that Iraq for now had pulled back from that prospect after the wave of sectarian reprisals for the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

"If another incident (occurs), Iraq is really vulnerable to it at this time, in my judgment," Khalilzad said.

So even diehard supporters of the American invasion agree: a single new incident could touch off full-scale civil war in Iraq. Got it.

Now, what are the odds there won't be another incident?

Kevin Drum 2:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (181)

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March 6, 2006
By: Amy Sullivan

BASKETBLOGGING, COLLEGE EDITION....Those of you out in Washington state will have to help me out because I just watched the Loyola Marymount-Gonzaga game and just don't understand what the fuss over Adam Morrison is all about. Setting aside his truly horrendous facial hair and the fact that he sounds like kind of a tool based on the way he taunts his opponents ("Scoreboard!"), Morrison was scoreless for a good twenty-plus minutes in the middle of the game.

The ESPN announcers may have seen something I didn't ("Even when he's not scoring, boy, you can just feel how talented Morrison is!"). Maybe he's just tired at the end of the conference tournament. But he looked slow, often taking a while to make it back to the other end on defense, and just not creating his own shots. Okay, Morrison still scored 22 points and his team squeaked out a one-point week. But I'm not putting Gonzaga in my Final Four picks just yet.

Amy Sullivan 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Kevin Drum

UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE AND THE BLOGOSPHERE....I thought I had gotten this out of my system over the weekend, but I guess I didn't. I'm talking about the DLC's feeble and ridiculous 7-point plan to "move our health care system in the right direction." I read it on Friday and it had me fuming.

Look, I'm a pragmatic kind of guy. I'm so pragmatic that I even halfheartedly supported the Medicare prescription drug plan, which Bruce Bartlett, with some justice, calls "the worst legislation in history." But bad as it is, I figure it did one critical thing: it established the principle that Medicare should be responsible for providing access to prescription drugs. And it's a lot easier to fix a bad bill in the future than it is to get it passed in the first place.

That's how pragmatic I am. But I swear, the DLC's healthcare laundry list is the kind of thing that convinces me the DLC is trying to give pragmatism a bad name. Let's count the ways.

First off, it's hopelessly wonkish and unfocused. It's a 7-point plan, for God's sake. The worst aspect of Hillarycare was that it was so complex it scared people, and this plan learns nothing from that.

Second, it has no chance of becoming law. The big argument against fighting for universal healthcare is that it's politically infeasible, but the DLC's plan is dead on arrival too. What's the point of compromising if the compromise itself is just as big a nonstarter as the original goal?

And finally, it's far too timid about at least acknowledging that our eventual goal should be a full-fledged, single-payer national healthcare system. This means that it forfeits any chance of making a clear and easily understood statement about what the Democratic Party stands for. Instead it's just mush.

This last point is the most important one. Abortion opponents happily endorse incremental abortion restrictions all over the country, but there's never any doubt that a full-blown ban is their actual goal. Democrats, conversely, are still shell shocked over the events of 1994. That's understandable, but 1994 was over a decade ago. It's time to get back into the saddle.

Let me be clear: I don't underestimate the political difficulty of getting universal healthcare enacted. I don't underestimate how long it will take. But if there's anything the Democratic Party ought to be united on, it's the principle of loudly and enthusiastically endorsing universal healthcare as a goal.

So how about it, blogosphere? It's great that we endorse good candidates and help get them funding, but how about also making a difference in the policy arena and insisting that candidates publicly endorse universal healthcare if they want our help in the future? After all, not only is it a big, meaty, progressive goal, but it's one that we all agree on, not one that we fight over. We don't have to pick any particular plan, and we shouldn't expect anyone to commit electoral suicide over it. But we should at least insist that anyone who wants our help has to support simple, genuine, full-blown universal healthcare as a goal and that they do it publicly. That's how Grover Norquist turned the Republican Party into the "Tax Cuts Forever" Party, and it worked pretty well.

The reason that universal healthcare has failed in the past has been fear: fear of rationing, fear of lines, fear of bureaucracy. To win, we have to overcome that fear, and that's a public opinion campaign that will take years. The blogosphere can help by writing about what national healthcare systems in other countries are really like, and we can also help by insisting that candidates who want our support get on board the bandwagon. How about it?

Kevin Drum 11:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMELINE UPDATE....Britain is edging ever closer to a firm timetable for pulling out of Iraq:

Most British troops should have been withdrawn from Iraq by the summer of 2008 under a phased plan disclosed to The Daily Telegraph yesterday by the most senior Army officer in Baghdad. The first movements could come within weeks, said Lt Gen Nick Houghton.

He detailed the timetable to end months of speculation over when the first of Britain's 8,000 contingent will be brought home.

....The general said a gradual withdrawal needed to begin soon to ensure that the Iraqi people understood that British troops had no intention of staying for ever. "There is a fine line between staying too long and leaving too soon.

Later in the story a Ministry of Defense spokesman is at pains to say that no firm decision has been made and that withdrawal plans depend on the formation of a national unity government. Duly noted. Still, this is about the firmest indication of a timeline yet.

Kevin Drum 9:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

SOLOMON AMENDMENT....The Solomon Amendment, originally passed in 1996, allows the government to deny federal funding to universities if they prevent either ROTC or the military from recruiting on campus. Several law schools challenged the law, saying it infringed their First Amendment right to refuse association with organizations that discriminate against gays, and today the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the government.

Prof. Bainbridge explains that the key issue is the "unconstitutional conditions doctrine," which means that a law denying funding unless you do X is constitutional if Congress could just mandate X in the first place. That makes sense to me, although I'm a little surprised to learn that Congress could indeed have simply mandated access to military recruiters if it wanted to. Under that doctrine, could newspapers be required to accept advertising for military recruitment even if they didn't want to?

But that's not what I'm really curious about. What I'm curious about is this: if Congress could have simply forced universities to provide access to military recruiters, why didn't they do it? Why bother with all the federal funding cutoff folderol? Seems pretty inefficient, no?

Kevin Drum 6:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

PARADIGMS OF POVERTY....Mike Tomasky's working class cred aside, I was amused by this paragraph from George Will's column today. He is contrasting the "old" paradigm of poverty that the poor need housing, transportation, training, etc. to the new paradigm:

The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from individuals' nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. that are not developed in disorganized homes.

In other words, the poor are poor because they're lazy, dirty, weak, and come from bad stock. Is Will seriously trying to pretend that this is a new view of the poor?

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By: Kevin Drum

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION....Is CEO compensation in America crazy? Mickey Kaus agrees that it is:

It seems obvious that top corporate pay is out of control. But there's Charles Murray's argument to contend with: "[W]hen a percentage point of market share is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the people who can help you get that extra percentage point will command very large salaries."

That's true. In any system where there's a lot of money sloshing around think of Hollywood or professional sports the pay of the top performers is going to be astronomical if those top performers can increase profits by even a few percent. And in corporate America, there's a lot of money sloshing around.

But there's more to it than that. Consider this from Daniel Akst in the New York Times today:

As Rakesh Khurana showed in his insightful book, "Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic C.E.O.'s" (Princeton University Press, 2002), there is a much wider pool of potential chief executives than soaring pay levels would seem to imply. But companies insist on bidding for a savior, not a capable leader who knows the business at hand, which may be why typical C.E.O. tenures are now so short. Even in the boardroom, charisma carries you only so far.

This is the big difference between corporate pay and, say, pro sports pay: owners and general managers may make occasional mistakes when they bid for star quarterbacks or left-handed pitchers, but on the whole their bidding is pretty reasonable. They have good reason to think these guys are going to boost revenue by more than they're getting paid, and if the player's performance drops he eventually gets cut or traded. It's far from a perfect system, but at its core it's fundamentally rational.

Contrast that to executive pay, where truckloads of studies have shown that, in fact, it's practically impossible to predict which CEO will help you gain Murray's fabled couple of points of market share. What's more, star CEOs mostly don't do much better than merely excellent CEOs, so the money spent on them is pretty much wasted. As Akst points out a few paragraphs later, the compensation of the top five executives at public companies totaled roughly 10 percent of corporate profits, and it's almost a dead certainty that those companies would do better on average to hire competent executives at half the pay and then bank that additional 5%.

So why do they keep paying their executives so much? As Akst almost-but-not-quite says, it's because there's no one to stop them. Compensation committees are stocked with senior executives from other companies, and they all set each other's pay. Stephen Bainbridge half-jokes about this when he quotes Jack Welch's advice about who to put on your compensation committee ("Put someone in charge who is...immensely rich...and enjoys seeing other people get rich"), but it's no joke. That's a very big part of the story.

Despite what Akst says, there really are ways to pay for performance that are workable. Not perfect, but workable. But by their very nature, pay for performance incorporates the chance that pay will be low if performance is low, and CEOs, those supposed bastions of risk taking and private enterprise, are simply unwilling to accept that risk.

I don't have anywhere special to take this, except to insist that we give up on the fiction that CEOs are paid a lot these days because they're worth so much to their companies. There's just no evidence for it. It's not supply and demand that's responsible for astronomical CEO pay, it's cronyism and lack of accountability.

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (153)

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By: Kevin Drum

KATHERINE HARRIS UPDATE....Katherine Harris is now so caught up in the ever-widening penumbra of the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal that she's canceling campaign events and avoiding the press. I know it's bad form to gloat about such things, but can we make an exception this time?

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHEN WOULD JESUS BOLT?....I have to confess that I've always been skeptical of the notion that liberals should spend much time trying to get the Christian evangelical community on our side. When push comes to shove, they just care way more about sex and "moral degeneracy" than they do about helping the poor or taking care of the environment, and that means that outreach efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.

Still, Amy Sullivan's cover article in the latest issue of the Monthly, "When Would Jesus Bolt?" makes a pretty compelling argument that I'm wrong. As she points out, it's not a matter of persuading every evangelical in the country to switch sides, it's just a matter of persuading enough of them to make a difference at election time. And the story she tells about Randy Brinson, a conservative evangelical who became increasingly disenchanted with other conservative evangelicals the more he hung out with them, is enough to make you sit up and notice:

The newly converted are the most zealous, sharing the good news with gusto to any and all comers. Every few days, Randy Brinson calls me with another revelation. Republicans? The power structure in the Republican Party is too entrenched with big business. It's not with evangelicalsthey're a means to an end. The Christian Right? They just want to keep the culture war going because it raises a lot of money for them. Abramoff? Evangelicals were being used as pawns to promote a big money agenda. His fellow evangelicals? Can't they see that Republicans are just pandering to them?? He once was blind, but now he sees.

Now, Brinson has not suddenly become a bleeding heart liberal, but he's not working on behalf of the Republican Party anymore either. And he's not a small time player: the organization he started in 2003, Redeem the Vote, "registered more voters than all of the efforts of the Christian Right heavyweights Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, American Family Association, and the Family Research Council combined."

Religion has been a big topic in liberal circles for a while now, and I have to admit that I always feel a bit like a bystander when the subject comes up. It's not like I can fake being religious, after all. Still, no one is really asking people like me to do much of anything except stay quiet, refrain from insulting religion qua religion in ways that would make people like Brinson unwilling to work with us, and let other people do the heavy lifting when it comes to persuading moderate Christians to support liberal causes and liberal candidates. That's not much to ask, and Amy makes a pretty good case that it would make a difference.

The full article is here. It's worth reading.

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (193)

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March 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ACADEMY AWARD OPEN THREAD....My Oscar predictions:

  • The show will run three and a half hours because that's how long it's designed to run and that's how long it's run every year for the past several decades.

  • Nonetheless, critics will join the great Oscar Conspiracy just like they do every year, pretending to believe that the show ran way over its scheduled length yet again and demanding that Something Must Be Done.

Yes, I whine about this every year. I'm nothing if not predictable.

And of course, some will say that this isn't much of a prediction since I'm writing this post after the show is over. I consider that a mere technicality.

Kevin Drum 11:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Jonathan Dworkin

Thank You.

This will be my last post for the Washington Monthly. I want to thank Kevin Drum for taking interest in my trip to Iraqi Kurdistan and offering me a forum to discuss some of the issues it has raised. I also want to thank the readers of this blog, whose comments and e-mails preserve me from the feeling that when I write I'm merely dating myself.

KURDS AS LIBERALS....In Halabja we ended our work March 3rd, having interviewed three hundred patients about their experiences of the chemical weapons attacks in 1988. We have yet to do a statistical analysis, but my sense from an initial glance is that we may have underestimated the extent to which psychiatric and physical ailments continue to plague the community. One final excursion took me to a region called Howraman, which towers amongst the mountains bordering Iran. In her travels through Kurdistan in 2002, Christiane Bird, the author of A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts, was unable to visit the area. This is because until 2003 the mountains were occupied by the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam, which consisted of Kurdish, Arab, and Afghan radicals, and the region was cut off from the secular Kurdish government in Sulaimania. Despite this the Howramis have a reputation amongst Kurds for cleverness, and after the American air force and Kurdish peshmerga pushed the terrorists out, many people returned to their villages to rebuild. Howramis are talented in medicine, and I am told there are more doctors in Tarwela, a small town we visited during our drive, than in much-larger Halabja. The region is also a visual feast, with small towns built into the sides of mountains, terraced hillsides that turn bright green even in early March, and deep gorges where springs support the growth of pomegranate and walnut trees.

What relevance does Howraman have for Americans? In his recent essay titled "After Neoconservatism," Francis Fukuyama takes issue with the notion that Americans can "'impose' democracy on a country that doesn't want it." Instead he defines democracy promotion as "a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective." Sensible enough, but I am surprised that Fukuyama finds no place in his seven pages to discuss Kurdistan. One thing that impresses me during my visit to Howraman is that it is an example of US policy actually working in the region. Unlike other parts of Iraq, the Kurds in Howraman were not fundamentalist by inclination, and a limited action by the American and Kurdish governments was able to restore their land and rid the area of terrorism. This is important specifically because it is not the case in most of Iraq, and yet it draws little attention in the West.

After two months in Kurdistan I am convinced that what applied to Howraman in 2003 can apply to the Kurdish region in general. The people here have many problems a meddling and opaque government being one of them but they also have many of the core qualities neccessary for liberalism to take root. Most importantly, they are not chauvinists. There is no theory of Islamic or Kurdish exceptionalism that is spread through the media or popular culture; on the contrary there is a great curiosity about outsiders and a desire to form personal and professional links with visitors. There is also the widespread expectation that the government must answer to the people and that delays to improve civic society represent genuine failures of leadership.

There is an argument pursued by some in the United States that Iraq consists only of factions, not citizens. This is true enough for much of the country, but in this argument the Kurds are inevitably presented as no more than the faction obsessed with seizing Kirkuk. The fact that they have built a university system, allowed a free press, begun to embrace feminism, and held successful elections makes no impression on proponents of this thinking. The Kurds' eagerness to work with UN agencies, NGOs, and private investors also leaves them cold. And the fact that the Kurds have done all of this while upholding minority rights and inviting displaced Arabs to settle in their territory, even after suffering a genocide conducted by an Arab government, produces only an icy shrug.

This thinking, which often masquerades as realism, is no less petty than claiming that Lebanese are responding only to clan politics, or that Ukrainians are motivated only by their phobia and hatred of Russians. In each of these instances there is an element of truth the Kurds do want Kirkuk, the Lebanese are fractured, the Ukrainians do fear the Russians but to reduce these groups only to their visceral motivations is to lie and do so cynically.

The future of Kurdistan is all the more important because of America's inability to stabilize Iraq. The people I am living amongst, whose friends and family members are fighting alongside American troops, wonder what will happen after a US withdrawal. The signs are not reassuring: Iranian meddling in Iraq's south is already a reality, and Ibrahim Jafari's recent visit to Turkey created panic that a deal is in the works to curtail Kurdish autonomy after America draws down its forces. What is certainly clear is that the Kurds face hostile neighbors on all sides, and the failure of American policy in Baghdad runs the risk of leaving them at the mercy of governments with no interest in their welfare and development.

As difficult as this situation is, America could easily consolidate liberalism's gains in Kurdistan, and in all likelihood it could do so without further violence. The most important thing we could do is simply keep Turkey and Iran out. In the longer run we could facilitate the democratic transition by working with nascent Kurdish institutions the universities, the press, the courts to ensure their relative independence from the political parties. This would be a greater challenge than merely preventing foreign interference, but a walk through Sulaimania would convince most visitors that even minimal investments in the region have made a positive difference.

Most importantly liberals in America should understand that to toss Kurdistan out the window alongside the rest of Iraq would be to waste a prescious opportunity, as well as to disgrace any notion of internationalism within our party. Kurdistan is not yet a full member of the free world, but you will not find a people more favorably inclined to America and its aspirations. That's worth remembering the next time you go to vote.

Jonathan Dworkin, a medical student in his final year at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is travelling in Iraqi Kurdistan from January to March of 2006. Other posts in this series:

March 5: Kurds as Liberals
February 18: In The Pediatrics Hospital
February 5: Halabja
January 25: Kurds and Jews
January 18: At Home in the New Kurdistan
January 14: City of Refugees
January 11: First Impressions

Jonathan Dworkin 3:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

STAB IN THE BACK....Instapundit today:

The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media.

I'm too tired to even respond. The dreamland these people inhabit has become simply pathological.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (258)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LIBERAL TEMPERAMENT....Before I even get started here, let me say up front that I have no idea if Neuropolitics.org is even a remotely credible organization. And since it's a weekend, I don't care. However, I applaud them for taking on one of today's weightiest political questions: Is it really true that liberals like cats and conservatives like dogs?

As you can see from the chart on the right, the answer is a resounding yes. Among women, about 60% of those who identify as very liberal prefer cats, a figure that plummets to 40% among the very conservative. Among men, it goes from 45% to 30%.

The inverse is true for dogs, with preference for canines going up with conservatism except for one odd blip among very conservative women, who have equal preferences. For those of you who demand an explanation for this, here it is (sort of):

So what is driving the Conservative preference for dogs over cats? Is it the dog's pack-oriented nature and prominent submissive behaviors?....Does the Liberal have a stronger aversion to pack-like hierarchical organizations and an attraction to feline-like territorial-based social organization?

Whatever. Personally, I think cats are just more likely to take ruthless advantage of liberals' good nature. Who else would put up with them?

Thirsting for more? Here's what else the Neuropolitics folks claim to have discovered:

  • Liberals are more inclined to believe that the rich and powerful have a negative social value. No surprise there.

  • Among men, conservatives are more active in high school sports. Texas probably skews the results here.

  • Extroverts have a better sense of smell than introverts. This is actually sort of interesting. Also: extroverts tend to be more conservative and more religious.

  • Conservatives like the colors red and dark blue. Liberal men like dark green; liberal women like light blue.

  • Conservatives tend to be morning people. I hate morning people.

  • Among women, conservatives are more likely to be sex-obsessed than liberals. Phyllis Schlafly, come on down!

  • Liberals curse more than conservatives. Of course, we have reason to.

  • Conservatives like beef more than liberals. ("If you eat a lot of beef, do you become more conservative? If you are conservative, do you eat more beef? More to come on this surprising and significant dietary preference.")

  • Liberals are more depressed than conservatives. Gee, I wonder why?

All of this is accompanied by loads and loads of entertaining ev psych explanations. Have fun!

Via TalkLeft.

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By: Kevin Drum

SHIELD LAW UPDATE....This is why I think we need a federal shield law for reporters. Unfortunately, it's also why we're not likely to get one.

Let me say this flatly: Leaks are good. They are the way we hold paranoid and secretive governments accountable. Historically, leaks have virtually never harmed national security in even a minor way, despite plenty of shrill commentary to the contrary. Reporters should be allowed to print them without fear of being tossed in jail.

If the Bush administration succeeds in changing this tradition and tradition is all it is at the moment we will all have lost a very great deal.

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March 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TENNIS DAD SYNDROME....Somehow I find myself unsurprised that the junior tennis world has finally come to this: a French tennis dad is on trial for drugging his kids' opponents by spiking their courtside drinks with a tranquilizer. One of them fell asleep at the wheel after a match and was killed.

Sadly, I'm also unsurprised that the tennis dad in question is defending himself by claiming a personality disorder. In fact, considering the well-documented semi-insanity of tennis parents worldwide, I almost believe him. I don't do much tennis blogging these days, but this was something I wrote about on my second day as a blogger.

Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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By: Kevin Drum

THEN AND NOW....Shorter Bill Frist: I think the Senate Intelligence Committee should be bipartisan unless being bipartisan happens to harm my party's interests.

Quite a guy, that Bill.

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By: Kevin Drum

RALPH REED AND eLOTTERY....For years, Ralph Reed has claimed that he was shocked shocked! to learn that when his friend Jack Abramoff hired him to lobby against an internet gambling ban in 2000, Abramoff was working on behalf of a gambling firm called eLottery. This wouldn't be a big deal except that the gambling ban was sponsored by Reed's Christian right pals, and in public Reed himself is virulently anti-gambling. Reed has always claimed that he didn't know eLottery had anything to do with fighting the ban.

Via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, you will be extremely unshocked to learn that Reed knew it all along:

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act didn't gain traction until [2000], when a deal was struck among sponsors of the bill, representatives of the gambling industry, and some of the nation's most prominent religious conservatives.

On May 17, 2000, James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Charles Donovan, then the acting head of the Family Research Council; Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority; and Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, put their names to a compromise that gave the bill serious heft.

....Within five days of the evangelicals' letter to Hastert, Abramoff had drawn up a contract for the services of Reed and his firm....[Abramoff's boss] made his revisions and sent the entire message back to Abramoff, including the reference to "the elot project."

On May 23, 2000, Abramoff forwarded the contract to Reed, with the "elot" reference still intact, and the notation: "Ralph, are these changes okay?"

Reed responded, "Yes."

And Reed's response? Back in October, he said that he didn't learn about the eLottery connection until 2005. Now he's backtracking, but only slightly: his latest story is that he knew that Abramoff had a business relationship with eLottery, but didn't realize that eLottery was directly involved in fighting the gaming ban.

And what about the newly discovered email? "Campaign manager Jared Thomas declined to discuss the apparent inconsistency of Reed's earlier statements and the date of the 'elot' e-mail." I guess they need a few days to make up a new story.

Via the Carpetbagger.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE MOCKERY....More Hugh Hewitt mockery by John Holbo over at Crooked Timber. Of course, John has a fancy post-somethingorother degree and a more creative mind than me, so his mockery is a lot funnier than mine:

Subtler and ultimately more satisfying would be a genuine, 24-karat gold-plated imitation 24. In the first episode, "Download PDF For Murder", terrorists have encrypted their plans in an email attachment that can only be read using the latest version of Adobe Reader. Sweaty which wire do I cut? tension as the heroes race against time to crack the main Adobe site. This mouse has TWO buttons! Just PICK one!

Read the rest. It's a weekend!

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

IF DRUDGE CAN DO IT, SO CAN I....Over at Preemptive Karma, Carla sez:

A DC political operative has told me that Brent Wilkes, one of the individuals charged with bribing Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, has struck a deal with prosecutors to testify.

Wilkes will implicate four more Republicans for possible criminal activity: Richard Pombo, John Doolittle, Duncan Hunter, and Jerry Lewis.

Is this true? Who knows. I wouldn't bet the ranch on it or anything. But it's a weekend, I need some good news, and this would be some very satisfactory news indeed. So let's all clap our hands and hope it's true, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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March 3, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

KAFKA'S LEGACY....Via Pecunium, the Washington Post reports on the real-world results of John McCain's anti-torture bill:

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

...."Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."

I have a lot of reasons for wishing that liberals would stop falling for McCain's "straight talk" schtick, and this is one of them: even on the issues where he's one of the good guys, he caves in too often to have much of an impact. His ambition to be president is palpable in everything he does, and it's what's responsible for his routine compromises on issues he supposedly considers matters of honor, his cozying up to George Bush whenever it's politically convenient, and his bizarre recent temper tantrum against Barack Obama. He's certainly mastered the art of sounding reasonable, but it's only an inch deep. Underneath, he's just a standard issue right wing politician. Caveat emptor.

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SEX, SEX, SEX....Michelle Cottle:

Every couple of months a news story pops up about how the evangelical community is growing up, reaching out, and expanding its political activism beyond the traditional issues of personal piety: abortion, sex education, smut, and anything to do with homosexuality.

Is it going to happen this time? Or is it still all about sex and gender for these folks? Read the rest to find out!

Kevin Drum 3:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALISM'S EARNESTNESS CRISIS....Michael Kalin is undoubtedly a good guy, which makes me feel a wee bit guilty for highlighting this, but please spare me observations like this about Jon Stewart's odious influence on America's youth:

At a time when the Democrats desperately need inspired leadership, the [Daily Show's] self-conscious aloofness pervades the liberal punditry.

Although Stewart's comedic shticks may thus earn him some laughs Sunday at the Oscars, his routine will certainly not match the impact of his greatest irony: Jon Stewart undermines any remaining earnestness that liberals in America might still possess.

Yep, that's liberalism's biggest problem: not enough earnestness. Shame on you, Jon Stewart.

Kevin Drum 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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PRESCHOOL MADNESS....The New York Times has the latest entry in what seems like (at least) an annual story: the scramble to get your 3-year-old into a great preschool:

This is the moment of maximum anxiety for parents, many of whom have applied to so-called safety preschools, just hoping their children will be accepted somewhere. And the hot pursuit of slots has continued despite tuition that can run over $10,000 a year for 3-year-olds. Acceptance letters were sent out last Wednesday for private kindergarten programs, to be followed next week by the telltale thick or thin envelopes from the preschools.

There's something I don't get here. Top universities are not pure businesses, and thus have various incentives not to simply raise their prices until supply meets demands. But that's not true of preschools, is it? They just want to make money, right? So why not simply raise their rates and make all the money the traffic can bear? If you have twice or three times as many applicants as you have spots, you're leaving money on the table.

I guess I can see the possibility that there's a balance here: having a certain kind of student body makes you exclusive, which in turn allows you to charge lots of money, which in turn means that you have to have lots of applicants in order to make sure you have the kind of student body that allows you charge lots of money. I get that. But we're talking preschool here, and we're talking about applicants who are all pretty high up the SES food chain in the first place. Surely setting a price point that produces a mere 50% too many applicants would allow you to create a pretty damn exclusive student body?

Tyler Cowen, please take some guesses about this. It seems like it's right up your alley.

UPDATE: I'm told that elite Manhattan preschools are mostly nonprofits, and thus don't charge market clearing prices. This actually inspires three or four more questions about the whole thing, but I'll restrain myself from asking them. Rich people sure are weird, aren't they?

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U OF MIAMI STRIKE....Majikthise reports that not only are janitors at the University of Miami striking for healthcare coverage and better wages, but now the the gardeners at president Donna Shalala's personal residence have joined them. Good.

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HUGH HEWITT'S TIRED PERRY MASON ACT....For the record, I have no opinion about whether John Zogby's recent poll of U.S. troops in Iraq is accurate and reasonable. Mark Blumenthal has a sensible discussion of it here. But here's Hugh Hewitt doing his usual ambush interview schtick in an interview with Zogby on Thursday:

HH: [After lengthy hectoring about the poll's methodology, which Zogby had already said he would only discuss off the record for security reasons.] Why were no demographics released?

JZ: All the demographics were indeed released, Hugh.

....HH: John, I've got your entire thing here. You have not released the demographics.

JZ: You are clearly uninformed.

HH: You have not released the demographics.

JZ: (click)

HH: You have not...he hung up. He hung up. That's John Zogby, not a pollster.

Guess what? Zogby had indeed released the demographics. Here is Hugh's excuse for not knowing this:

In fairness, his office had sent the demographics info (which had not been released yesterday and still isn't on the web) but did so in a PDF file that we were only able to read after downloading a new version of Adobe. When we were talking, we didn't have the demographics. Had Zogby simply told me the demographics were now out after previously being withheld, that would have been fine.

Could Hugh possibly be any more pathetic? Zogby did send a copy of the demographics directly to Hugh's office but had the gall to do so in the latest version of Adobe. Hugh's crack staff was apparently stymied by this, and Hugh thinks that Zogby should have performed some mind reading to figure this out. Telling him that "all the demographics were indeed released" wasn't enough. Instead, he should have told Hugh that "the demographics were now out after previously being withheld." Right.

The entire right wing choir, of course, is now crowing about how Zogby was too gutless to answer Hugh's questions and hung up on him. But go ahead and read the transcript and see if you wouldn't have done the same. The real question isn't why Zogby hung up, the real question is why anyone who's not already a Republican shill ever bothers to appear on Hugh's show in the first place.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (130)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE SPYING?....After Alberto Gonzales seemed to imply a few days ago that the NSA's domestic spying program might not be the only domestic spying program that Congress didn't know about, Jane Harman asked him directly about it:

White House counsel Harriet Miers called Harman on Wednesday, and Gonzales phoned yesterday, Harman said. She said both of them "assured me that there is not a broader program or an additional program out there involving surveillance of U.S. persons."

Oh yeah? Then who installed all those secret surveillance cameras in the Guam airport? Hmmm?

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE....Greg Anrig, responding (partly) to my post yesterday about the eerily unanimous support for universal healthcare among liberal bloggers, says the obvious:

Why not make UHC, UHC, UHC the one and only item on the progressive economic reform agenda to simplify matters and focus the public mind?

....Heaven knows, there are a few other little details to work out. But come the 2008 presidential race, every single Democrat running absolutely, positively must support in a persuasive way some form of genuine national health insurance. The only reason not to would be political cowardice. And the country has already paid a huge price for the cowardice of its leaders over the past six years.

The liberal blogosphere disagrees about gun control, disagrees about the war in Iraq, disagrees about the role of labor, disagrees about nearly everything. But as near as I can tell, support for national healthcare is so unanimous and well accepted in the left blogosphere that it barely even merits discussion. Mostly it's just taken for granted. Hell, even Mickey Kaus supports universal healthcare.

This is a little odd, isn't it? Can you think of any other major policy issue that's (a) universally supported by liberal bloggers but (b) almost universally feared by major Democratic politicians? There are plenty of disconnects between the activist blogosphere and mainstream liberal politicians, but is there any other disconnect quite this deep and this clear?

I can't think of one. And while I'm not naive about the recent history of national healthcare plans, it still strikes me as a bit mysterious that virtually no major Democratic politician supports full-on, unapologetic universal healthcare. If there's any single big progressive policy that I think the blogosphere is a genuine bellwether for, this is probably it.

Bottom line: Surely it's time for someone to step up to the plate and stake their reputation on a simple, comprehensive, common sense plan to implement national healthcare? And if financing is the problem, just take a page out of the Bush playbook and ignore it: "If I'm elected president, I'll work with Congress to devise a fair and sensible revenue plan." How hard is that?

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (386)

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March 2, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ENZO FOLLOWUP....I wasn't planning to follow up on our local bizarro story, but here's the latest on Stefan Eriksson and the crash last week of a million-dollar Ferrari Enzo in Malibu:

Eriksson survived the crash of the Ferrari, which was traveling at more than 160 mph, investigators said. When emergency workers arrived at the scene, Eriksson produced a card identifying him as "deputy commissioner" of the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority police department's antiterrorism unit, according to the Sheriff's Department.

A few minutes later, two unidentified men arrived at the crash site on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and flashed cards and said they were from "homeland security," according to a Sheriff's Department report.

According the SGVTA website, they just hired a new chief of police, Philip Sugar. Ashley Posner, Chairman of the SGVTA Police Commission, had this to say: "Chief Sugar takes over at a time when mass transit is faced with perhaps its greatest challenges ever the post 911 era." He failed to address the burning question of why the SGVTA, a tiny agency that provides transportation for the handicapped and disabled, believes that global terrorism is even a pressing concern, let alone its greatest challenge.

But at least they haven't outsourced security to Dubai. That's something.

Kevin Drum 7:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE....I'm just curious: is there a liberal blogger in the United States any liberal blogger who doesn't support universal healthcare? I can't think of one. Sure, we have arguments about both details and political strategy, but underneath it all it seems like pretty much everyone supports a genuinely comprehensive France/Germany/Sweden/Japan (pick your favorite model) version of national healthcare.

I don't read every blog in the world, though, so maybe I'm missing someone. Are there any dissenters? Or is this literally a policy that's supported unanimously by the left blogosphere?

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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"COMPLETELY ENGAGED"....Dan Froomkin says that a funny thing happened after AP released that video yesterday of George Bush sitting glassy-eyed through a pre-Katrina briefing about the upcoming devastation:

Apparently as a rejoinder to the new video, the White House yesterday suddenly sent around a transcript that it previously said didn't exist, from a conference call on the following day. It includes a second-hand account of Bush's activities from Michael Brown, the Bush-appointed FEMA director who later resigned in disgrace, describing the president as engaged, watching TV and asking questions.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said this yesterday: "I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing. He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times."

Really? That's what Bush is like when he's completely engaged? Duffy might want to think a little harder before he says stuff like that in the future.

In any case, how about releasing all the transcripts of White House conversations regarding Katrina during the first few days of the disaster? Or does executive privilege only count for stuff that makes the president look bad?

Kevin Drum 4:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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CABLE FOLLIES....This is pretty hilarious. Social conservatives are big fans of "a la carte cable," which allows you to pay only for the channels you actually want to watch. The big selling point is that you aren't forced to allow the lasciviousness of MTV into your house just because it's part of a package that includes ESPN.

But guess who thinks they'd lose most of their audience if a la carte took over the industry? TV preachers. Steve Benen has the details.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that I've long been sort of skeptical of the benefits of a la carte cable, but not anymore. Bring it on, baby! I smell a wedge issue!

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

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By: Kevin Drum

COMMIES vs. WIMPS....Over at MaxSpeak, Josh Bivens has a long and interesting post today explaining what he thinks are the four key differences between the center-left and left-wings of the Democratic coalition on economic issues. I'm a little surprised to find that, apparently, I'm considerably closer to the left wing than I am to the center-left.

Does this mean I'm a closet communist? Or does it mean that even Josh isn't as far left as he thinks? You'll have to read his full post to see what I'm talking about, but here's the nickel version of where I line up on his four key issues:

  1. Scale: I'm with Josh almost completely. Sign me up for national healthcare, early childhood education, and helping out the working class. (I probably need a little convincing on worker adjustment programs, though primarily on grounds of practicality.)

  2. Strategy: I'm a pragmatist. Whatever works. But I think Josh is almost certainly correct that trying to work with Republican moderates is a doomed strategy today (though I'm not sure that was quite so obvious in 1993-94).

  3. Primary vs. secondary interventions to address income inequality: Josh's examples of primary interventions are stronger unions and a higher minimum wage, and I'm for 'em. (Though I'm for fairer taxes too.) And I agree completely that a broad array of modest measures is better than trying to rely on just one or two big secondary measures.

  4. Full employment vs. balancing the budget: I'm basically on the full employment side, though I suspect Josh is more on the full employment side than I am.

I imagine that if we sat down and discussed the details we'd find more points of disagreement than are obvious here. And maybe Josh isn't fairly characterizing the center left. And of course, neither of us are kidding ourselves that any of these things are going to find widespread support anytime soon.

But interesting reading nonetheless. Maybe Gene Sperling will respond somewhere.

UPDATE: Josh Bivens wrote this post, not Max Sawicky as I originally indicated. Sorry about that. I've corrected the text throughout.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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OBAMA'S ENERGY PLAN....Knight Ridder reports that Barack Obama has proposed a deal with the auto industry:

The federal government would pay 10 percent of the $6.7 billion in annual health costs for retirees that are weighing down General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if they'll commit to building more fuel-efficient cars, Obama proposed in a speech Tuesday before a panel at the National Governors Association conference. He called it a "win-win proposal for the industry."

That's a little cryptic, though. What exactly does "more fuel-efficient cars" mean?

A quick hop over to Obama's website provides a transcript of his speech, and apparently the answer is that he proposes to "raise fuel economy standards by 3% a year over the next fifteen years, starting in 2008." At a guess, that means he's proposing to increase CAFE standards from the current 27.5 mpg to 40 mpg by 2023. That's a very cautious proposal, but at least it's a proposal although I'd like to know whether his legislation adds SUVs to the CAFE regime too. I'd also be curious to know what he thinks of tradable fuel economy credits, which strike me as an intriguing idea.

Obama's plan also includes a new focus on biofuels, primarily cellulosic ethanol. His plan has five components:

  • Ramp up new fuel standards that will result in production of 65 billion gallons of alternative fuels per year by 2025.

  • Mandate that the federal government buy only flex fuel vehicles.

  • Within ten years, mandate that every car in America is a flex fuel vehicle. Include a $100 tax credit per vehicle to ease the pain.

  • Put yellow gas caps on all flex fuel vehicles.

  • Provide a $30,000 tax credit to any gas station that installs E85 pumps (i.e., a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline).

Overall, this is a very moderate proposal, but that might be exactly what makes it politically doable. And nothing says we can't use it as the basis to do more in the future.

In any case, it's nice to see Obama picking this as an issue to get out in front on. It's wonky and earnest, it has bipartisan appeal, it has pork appeal (lots of farmers in Illinois), and what's more, it's genuinely worthwhile. And it's a damn sight more than President Bush has put on the table, that's for sure.

Now let's see if anyone bothers talking about it.

Kevin Drum 1:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (307)

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March 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

OPEN ACADEMY AWARD THREAD....Of the five nominees for Best Picture, my favorite is Crash. A friend of mine thinks this is crazy, because (and I'm paraphrasing here), Crash is one of those irritatingly pseudo-profound movies that thinks it's saying something deep and thoughful when in reality it's just saying something banal and clichd. Racism is everywhere, we're all racists, even blacks can be racists, yada yada yada. Got it.

Oddly enough, I sympathize with that response. The movie worked for me, but it's balanced on a pretty thin knife edge, and I can easily see how it falls on the other side of the knife for some people. Matt Welch's complaint, however, I don't get:

The conceit of "Crash" and the Oscar-nominated L.A.-bashing movies it borrows liberally from ("Magnolia," "Short Cuts," "Grand Canyon") is that they have the guts to portray the real Los Angeles. In truth, they tell us far more about the neuroses of their directors and the prejudices of academy voters than about our actual city.

Matt seems to think that Crash was designed to show Los Angeles as a uniquely steaming hellbroth of racism and intolerance, whereas I saw Los Angeles as just a convenient backdrop. The movie could just as easily have been set in Detroit or New York or any other big American city. It wasn't really meant as a specific message about LA.

Anybody else feel the same way as Matt? Just curious. And just so everyone can have fun in comments mocking my taste in movies, here's my personal ranking of the five Best Movie nominees:

  1. Crash

  2. Capote

  3. Good Night, and Good Luck

  4. Brokeback Mountain

  5. Munich

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TEACHING OUR KIDS....Go read Somerby today. There's no Bush bashing or Gore-mongering in today's column, and as usual he doesn't write in a way likely to win friends or influence people, but go read him anyway. I'm not sure liberals deserve quite the level of scorn he delivers for not caring enough about low-income kids and low-income schools, but he's got a point.

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JACK ABRAMOFF AND THE GOP....A few weeks ago Greg Sargent wrote a piece in the American Prospect that analyzed the contribution patterns of Indian tribes represented by Jack Abramoff. One of the conclusions he highlighted was that "donations of Abramoffs tribal clients to Democrats dropped by nine percent after they hired him."

That figure is misleading since the post-Jack period was about half as long as the pre-Jack period, which makes a direct comparison impossible. Because of that, I focused on the annual contribution rate instead, which still shows that Abramoff overwhelmingly directed his contributions to Republicans.

Today, the analyst who originally prepared the raw data, Dwight Morris, weighed in. He agrees that the 9% figure is misleading, but says the numbers still show an extremely clear-cut partisan pattern. His conclusion:

In short, whatever one thinks of the 9 percent figure, these numbers demonstrate the undeniably Republican shift in giving in a far more compelling way. The nature of the giving switched from marginally Democratic to significantly Republican. The data do not show that Abramoff steered no money to Democrats. Congressional testimony from tribal leaders themselves shows that he clearly did so. However, Sargent made no such claim. As his article puts it, a great majority of contributions made by those clients went to Republicans. That was and remains the central point of the piece, and if that did not come through, then hopefully the record has been set straight.

Read Morris's full statement for more. Bottom line: as everyone knows, Abramoff was a lifelong Republican operative and steered the vast bulk of his clients' contributions to Republicans. The minuscule amount of money he steered to Democrats hardly changes that.

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SAY IT....On the other hand, I fully endorse the pithy view expressed by Atrios here.

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ENGAGING WITH THE MIDDLE EAST....Matt Yglesias writes, and Atrios endorses, the following critique of the Bush Doctrine:

America's strategy for the Middle East is centered on transforming its states into liberal democracies, but our main local partners in this effort are...sharia-enforcing hereditary monarchs. Nobody seems to talk about it anymore, but this is obviously dumb.

....The bulk of American elite opinion has switched over to the Bush view that we need to democratize the Middle East, but as we've been seeing in the port controversy the bulk of American elite opinion, like Bush himself, thinks the Arabian peninsula's monarchical elites are wonderful people who we should be supporting to the end. You can't do both.

This is a topic that deserves considerably more than just an assertion of "obviously dumb," I think. Let me offer a few half-formed responses.

First, America has lots of strategic partners that aren't liberal democracies, and always has. What's more, everybody talks about this. I can hardly swing a dead blog without hearing George Bush condemned for not being tough enough on Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, and this criticism isn't exactly foreign to dead tree op-ed writers either. I'm a little mystified at the proposition that this paradox at the heart of American foreign policy never gets any attention.

Second, has the bulk of American elite opinion really bought into the Bushian view that democratizing the Middle East is Job 1? I'm really asking here. There's no question that this is a major preoccupation among a certain sort of opinion maker, but it's far from universal. I think democracy promotion is a fine idea, for example, but I'm actually a lot more interested in things like economic reform, institution building, a free press, better treatment of women, religious tolerance, and so forth.

Third, is it really true that you "can't do both" i.e., support democracy and work with nondemocratic regimes in the Middle East? The Bush administration certainly pushes hypocrisy to the limits sometimes on this score, but what's the alternative? Outside of Israel, sharia-enforcing hereditary monarchs are the only partners available in the Middle East. This means that if we want to engage with the Muslim world, instead of simply bombing and invading it, we're going to have to engage with some fairly disagreeable regimes. There's no question that this is a tricky line to walk, and I myself think the Bush administration appeases nasty but useful allies far too often, but carrots and sticks are still the name of the game here.

None of this is directly related to the Dubai port deal, which can be supported or opposed on its merits. Still, there's an instructive lesson to be taken from the latest talking point among the deal's opponents, namely that Dubai Ports World is a nasty company because it supports the boycott of Israel. Surely this is an opportunity, though, not a reason to scuttle the deal? If we make approval of the deal conditional on DPW abandoning the boycott, that's a big win. It would mean we've used American leverage in a good cause and a major Arab company would be publicly committed to allowing trade with Israel. That's a small step, but with rare exceptions that's how progress is made.

UPDATE: Matt makes some eminently reasonable points in response here.

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SURVEY....The BlogAds folks are doing their annual demographic survey, and we'd really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to fill out their questionnaire. It only takes a few minutes. Just click here:


For question #23, fill in "Washington Monthly." Thanks!

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SO HOW ARE THINGS GOING ON THE CENTRAL FRONT IN THE WAR ON TERROR?.... The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress on Tuesday that "insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001." Sounds like we could use some more troops there.

Oh wait. We don't have any. They're all busy in Iraq, where, according to the Washington Post, "Salim Rashid, 34, a Shiite laborer in an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab village 20 miles north of Baghdad, received his eviction notice Friday from a man at the door with a rocket launcher." Sectarian attacks "surged" Tuesday, the story says.

In undoubtedly unrelated news, the Post also reports that Republicans are busily abandoning George Bush on national security issues. Or maybe it's not unrelated after all: "The repetition of the news coming out of Iraq is wearing folks down," says Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 campaign. "It started with women and it's spreading. It's just bad news after bad news after bad news, without any light at the end of the tunnel."

Tis the winter of their discontent. But if I were them I wouldn't count on a glorious summer to follow. This has been their show for the past five years, and it's their show now. Jumping ship now just makes them look like cowards.

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RATHERGATE....President Bush and his team regale Bill Sammon with some comments about Rathergate for his new book, Strategery:

It looks like somebody conspired to float false documents, the president tells author Bill Sammon. And I was amazed about it. I just couldnt believe that would be happening [and] then it would become the basis of a fairly substantial series of news stories.

....The episode, known as Memogate, inoculated Bush against further scrutiny of his National Guard record for the duration of the presidential campaign.

It also, frankly, gave us an opportunity, frequently, when things came out in the media that we didnt believe or didnt like, to say, Its another CBS story, said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who was the presidents campaign manager. I mean, it gave us a serious response to bad news.

Those memos were fakes, and Dan Rather and Mary Mapes deserved every bit of criticism they got for choosing to air them on 60 Minutes. But I swear, comments like Bush's and Mehlman's are enough to half convince me that Bill Burkett's supposed source for the memos, "Lucy Ramirez," really was an RNC plant a longshot dirty trick that succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. It was like manna from heaven in the waning days of the closest reelection campaign in the past century.

POSTSCRIPT: Just for the record, though, I don't think it was an RNC dirty trick. I think the evidence points pretty strongly toward Burkett himself as the creator of the memos. However, I doubt we'll ever know the truth for sure.

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INSURGENCY? WHAT INSURGENCY?....Within months of the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that the Iraq insurgency was the real deal:

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions not foreign terrorists and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

.... Robert Hutchings, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005, said the October 2003 study was part of a "steady stream" of dozens of intelligence reports warning Bush and his top lieutenants that the insurgency was intensifying and expanding.

"Frankly, senior officials simply weren't ready to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios," Hutchings said in a telephone interview.

Golly. Imagine that. The White House ignored some evidence that was politically inconvenient. I sure hope they don't make a habit of that.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I can't wait for this story to spawn yet another post at The Corner explaining that Bush and Cheney were right to ignore the CIA because, you know, the CIA always gets everything wrong. You'd think that excuse would get embarrassing after the tenth or twentieth time in three years that the CIA has turned out to be more on the ball than the White House (or The Corner, for that matter), but it seems to be an evergreen.

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