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Tilting at Windmills

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April 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ZARQAWI STORY CONFIRMED....Two years ago, Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News reported that a few months after 9/11 the Pentagon drafted multiple plans to hit the camp of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda terrorist who had taken up residence in Iraq's northern no-fly zone, outside Saddam Hussein's control. George Bush, however, refused to authorize a military strike.

I've written about this multiple times (I used to jokingly call it my "monthly Zarqawi post"), but Miklaszewski's story always had a big problem: it was based on anonymous sources, which made it easy for the White House to ignore. Today, however, the Australian show Four Corners has gotten confirmation of the story from Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit:

He told Four Corners that during 2002, the Bush Administration received detailed intelligence about Zarqawi's training camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.

...."Almost every day we sent a package to the White House that had overhead imagery of the house he was staying in. It was a terrorist training camp...experimenting with ricin and anthrax...any collateral damage there would have been terrorists."

So why wasn't Bush willing to hit Zarqawi, a known al-Qaeda terrorist in a known location? Scheuer says he was told it was because Bush was afraid of annoying the French a theory that seems a bit of a stretch, non? Others believe it was because Zarqawi was politically convenient: having him alive allowed Bush to pretend that Saddam was "harboring terrorists," thus providing useful ammunition for the war.

Whichever it is, we now have a credible source telling us on the record that the Zarqawi story is true. We could have gotten him, but we chose not to. Perhaps someone will start off Tony Snow's White House career on the right foot by asking him about it on Monday.

Kevin Drum 7:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

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By: Kevin Drum

SECRECY....Via Andrew Sullivan, Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune writes that Dick Cheney refuses to follow the orders even of his own boss:

A standing executive order, strengthened by President Bush in 2003, requires all agencies and "any other entity within the executive branch" to provide an annual accounting of their classification of documents....Explaining why the vice president has withheld even a tally of his office's secrecy when such offices as the National Security Council routinely report theirs, a spokeswoman said Cheney is "not under any duty" to provide it.

Other executive agencies have complied with the order, but not the OVP. Not only does Cheney think he can ignore congressional legislation, he apparently thinks he can ignore executive orders too.

Read the whole thing for an excellent rundown of the vastly increased secrecy that George Bush has imposed on the federal government since he took office. (Not just since 9/11. Since he took office.) And while you're at it, read today's Boston Globe article about Bush's startling fondness for presidential signing statements that assert his authority to ignore, among other things, "military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, 'whistle-blower' protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research." And remember: these are complaints about laws passed by his own party.

For more on this, including links to some more detailed analysis, check out my post on the topic of the "unitary executive" from last January.

Kevin Drum 5:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

ENERGY IDIOCY....I'll confess that I'm a little tired of columns expressing outrage about our bipartisan temper tantrum over $3 gasoline where were these guys last year when Dick Cheney's energy industry giveaway passed? but there's certainly no arguing with the underlying charge:

Most Republicans, constrained by an ideological resistance to federal regulation, have always opposed tougher mandates. But achieving better fuel economy was once a passion of Democrats. In 1990, 42 of the Senate's 55 Democrats about three-fourths voted to require automakers to reach 40 mpg by 2001. That bill drew 57 votes overall, but failed amid opposition from President George H.W. Bush and a Republican-led filibuster.

Idiots. But then there's this:

Under pressure from the auto companies and auto workers, Democrats have retreated ever since. President Clinton didn't seriously try to raise fuel economy standards. Last year, a proposal from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) to require a 40-mpg average for cars by 2016 drew just 28 votes; only about half of the Senate's 44 Democrats voted yes. Those voting no included every Senate Democrat considering a 2008 presidential bid.

Idiots. Mileage standards work. If we had passed that bill in 1990, oil consumption in the United States would probably be 10% lower than it is today at virtually no cost to the economy and no inconvenience to consumers. That's a savings of about a billion barrels of oil a year and there are other things we could do to double that number with only modest pain.

(And ANWR? If Republicans were willing to act like grownups on the efficiency side, I'd say we should just open the damn thing up. It won't make a lot of difference, but at the same time, it also won't cause very much damage.)

Of course, the best time to have done those things was ten years ago. But the second best time is right now. It's not too late to grow up.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (260)

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April 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TONY SNOW....I was over at my sister's house today helping her get her new DSL connection up and running on her new laptop which worked fine, thankyouverymuch, but boy, those Verizon people really want you to use Outlook Express and the subject of Tony Snow came up. Why does everyone think his appointment is such a big deal, we wondered? It turns out Michelle Cottle wonders too:

Insomuch as journalists are longing for someone to deliver more entertaining sound bites as he spins them silly and to stroke their famously fragile egos even as he stonewalls them through the next three years, then, yeah, Snow should dramatically improve media relations. But beyond that, I'm not sure anyone should get all that excited about the new era of openness at the Bush bunker.

I wouldn't be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for that either although I imagine Snow will be a little more Ari Fleischer-like when it comes to smoothing out the rough edges of the Bushian spin machine. Really, though, it's a sign of just how dysfunctional the Bush administration is that something as trivial as getting a new press secretary has everyone swooning. Get a grip, people.

Oh, and one more thing. Did you know that you can put a wireless router right next to a microwave oven and it still works fine? Well, you can.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Kevin Drum

DC EVENT ROUNDUP....On Sunday there's going to be a massive rally on the Mall in Washington DC to urge the United States to take action against the genocide in Darfur. Information here. Starting time is 2 pm.

On a much smaller scale, Joanne Jacobs, author of Our School, is hosting a "bookraiser" at WEDJ, a DC performing arts charter school, on May 11. Starting time is 5:30 pm. Information here. Bring a book for the school library!

Kevin Drum 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

MAY DAY....Conservatives are plenty pissed over the massive boycott planned for May 1 to highlight immigrant demands for "nothing less than full amnesty and dignity for the millions of undocumented workers presently in the U.S." But where, Chris Kromm asks, is the progressive blogosphere?

In sharp contrast to the right-wing websites, a glance at today's front pages of DKos, Huffington Post, Eschaton, Talking Points Memo and Think Progress to pick some progressive heavyweights reveals they have nothing to say about May 1....What's going on? Why is the progressive blogosphere so completely out of touch?

For better or worse, I've been taking some of my cues on this subject from Los Angeles lefty Marc Cooper, who's been following the immigration debate for years and has sensibilities roughly similar to mine. Here's what he says:

There is a definite time and place for this sort of tactic, and it isn't here or now. Boycotts are powerful and volatile weapons used as a last resort to bust open dams of dogged resistance. You don't use them when the political tide is even vaguely flowing in your direction.

....That's why the larger institutional players in the pro-immigrant movement prefer an after-school (and after-work) rally over an intentionally punitive boycott and walkout. They argue that such an escalation could alienate lawmakers and the public just when political sentiment is shifting more toward immigrants. The positive message of demanding inclusion in the United States would be replaced by a more negative and divisive signal.

I'm cautious by temperament, so I don't really trust my own reaction to the boycott. Still, there's no question that backlash is a real concern, and a militantly confrontational strategy strikes me as pretty risky right now. More importantly, though, I figure that if Marc, who shares neither my caution nor my inexperience at political protest, thinks the boycott is a bad idea, then there's a good chance it's a bad idea. So for now, that's where I stand.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (155)

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By: Kevin Drum

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT....You know how liberals used to vent about how they were going to move to Canada if George Bush won the 2004 election? Well, it turns out that offhand comments like that can be used against you in a court of law. Johnny Depp is suing some developers for blocking the view from his multimillion dollar mansion, and their defense isn't that he's wrong, but that he said he wasn't going to live there anyway:

Depp asserts that the project would block the view his two children have while playing outside the 7,430-square-foot home. Backers of the development dispute that. They say that Depp has declared that the youngsters Lily-Rose, 6, and Jack, 4 will be raised in France, where he and French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis live.

....Developer Joseph Emrani...said he challenged Depp's representatives. "They said, 'The kids are playing over there and they don't want it to block their view.' I mentioned that his children live in Paris, and one of them said, 'That's very personal and we don't want to get involved with that.' "

Yo ho ho. No freedom fries for Lily-Rose and Jack!

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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April 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE COMMON GOOD...."Common good" is the watchword of the week as in, "If liberals want to win elections, they need to appeal to the common good and ditch the Balkanized identity politics of the 60s and 70s." Mike Tomasky says it here, and John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira explain at considerably greater length here, here, here, and here. I haven't yet read all of this stuff myself, but there's pushback already. Max Sawicky goes first:

There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult. "Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit. It discounts claims to fundamental rights. We will always need rights, as long as people are treated as less than human.

And Matt Yglesias has a different criticism:

I think it's indicative of the sort of problems Democrats face that in part four of the Teixeira/Halpin epic on "The Politics of Definition" ideas about defining progressive national security policy come third on the list behind ideas about defining progressive economic policy and defining progressive culture/values policy. It's also tellingly problematic that of the five bullet points on foreign policy, one ("Transform existing global institutions to better control the downsides of globalization") is more-or-less just an extension of liberal economic policy and another ("Create the political will and leadership to finally address global warming") is an extension of liberal environmental policy....There's nothing wrong with either of those ideas. But insofar as the public has doubts about Democrats as leaders of American's national security apparatus, we all know that those aren't the subjects the doubts are about.

I tentatively agree with Max and Matt, and I have yet another critique to add to theirs. But I'll save it until I've read and digested all these pieces over the weekend. I'll bet you can't wait, can you?

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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By: Kevin Drum

CRAFTY LIBERALS....Over at NRO, Byron York writes:

[Glenn Greenwald's] How Would a Patriot Act? appears to have become something of a (quiet) publishing phenomenon, outperforming at least in the early stages other, higher-profile anti-Bush books, not to mention all the other best-sellers on the list these days. Why? No one seems to know. "We're often caught by surprise by these," says Tom Nissley, senior books editor for Amazon.com.

This is what passes for a mystery these days? On Tuesday, big liberal blogs started pushing their readers to pre-order Greenwald's book on Amazon, with the specific goal of driving up its Amazon ranking. And it worked. Mystery solved.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, York's article contains some useful advice: "We rank by orders, not by sales," Nissley says. "We only count orders we count an order of 1,000 copies the same as an order of one." So if you're trying to goose somebody's ranking, be sure to place five orders for one book each instead of one order for five books.

Kevin Drum 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR BY SEPTEMBER?....Rosa Brooks is not exactly a neocon alarmist, a fact that makes her prediction of an Israel-Iran war sometime in the next five months more provocative than it might be coming from, say, Charles Krauthammer or Bill Kristol. From her LA Times column today:

Russian leaders continue to mouth the usual diplomatic platitudes about democracy and global cooperation, but Russia is actually playing a complex double game. On Tuesday, Russia launched a spy satellite for Israel, which the Israelis can use to monitor Iran's nuclear facilities. On the same day, Russian leaders confirmed their opposition to any U.N. Security Council effort to impose sanctions against Iran, and their intention to go through with the lucrative sale of 29 Tor M1 air defense missile systems to Iran.

....The upcoming deployment of Tor missiles around Iranian nuclear sites dramatically changes the calculus in the Middle East, and it significantly increases the risk of a regional war. Once the missile systems are deployed, Iran's air defenses will become far more sophisticated, and Israel will likely lose whatever ability it now has to unilaterally destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.

The clock is ticking for Israel. To have a hope of succeeding, any unilateral Israeli strike against Iran must take place before September, when the Tor missile deployment is set to be completed.

....Unfortunately, the Bush administration appears to be asleep at the wheel, too distracted by Iraq, skyrocketing gas prices and plummeting approval ratings to devote any attention to Russia's potentially catastrophic mischief.

The Tor deal was announced a few months ago, and the United States has objected to it several times since, most recently last week. Beyond that, I have no clue if this sale is as provocative as Brooks claims. Does anyone else?

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (160)

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By: Kevin Drum

SPECTER TO GET TOUGH?....Arlen Specter claims that he's so frustrated over the Bush administration's refusal to answer questions about the NSA's domestic spying program that he might actually do something about it:

In a warning to the White House, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he planned to introduce legislation that would cut off funds for the surveillance program, which he described as a threat to civil liberties and a violation of domestic espionage laws.

...."What's the use of passing another statute if the president won't pay any attention to it?" Specter said. "When you talk about withholding funds, there you're talking about a real authority."

I imagine that, as usual, someone from the White House will coo soothing words in Specter's ears and he'll back down, but who knows? Maybe this time he'll demonstrate some spine and do what's right. A few supportive calls and emails couldn't hurt. Contact info is here.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Kevin Drum

WRONG TRACK....The New York Times reports that the Commerce Department is expected to announce strong economic growth Friday morning. But something strange is going on:

In the most recent CBS News poll, conducted last month, 55 percent of respondents rated the economy as good, even though 66 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. In 23 years of polling by CBS, only once in late 2005 did a higher percentage of people say the country was on the wrong track.

That is unusual. Normally people are pretty satisfied when the economy is strong. Perhaps the explanation is lower down in the article:

Spending by upper-income families appears to be driving much of the economy's growth. The average hourly wage for rank-and-file workers who make up roughly 80 percent of the work force has fallen by 5 cents in the last four years, to $16.49, after inflation is taken into account.

Yep, that might account for it. For most of us, trickle-down economics is more like Republican water torture.

Kevin Drum 1:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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April 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AUTHENTICITY....Ryan Lizza's profile of presidential hopeful George Allen is mostly notable for its evidence of Allen's youthful Confederate sympathies, but there's a subtext to the whole thing that might be even more important. Here is George Allen, man of the people, in action at a political shindig in Virginia:

As the scrum breaks up, Allen turns away and spits a long brown streak of saliva into the dirt, just missing one of his constituents, a carefully put-together, blonde, ponytailed woman approaching the senator for an autograph. She stops in her tracks and stares with disgust at the bubbly tobacco juice that almost landed on her feet. Without missing a beat, Allen's communications director, John Reid, reassures her: "That's just authenticity!" It's a word they use a lot it the Allen world "authenticity."

The press corps is a sucker for "authenticity," and it's something that both George Bush and John McCain have cleverly exploited because for most reporters, speaking in complete sentences or having smart ideas about policy are way less important than being a "straight talker" or "comfortable in your own skin." But just as McCain's embrace of Jerry Falwell has shown him to be a wee bit less of a straight talker than his handlers claim, Allen's "authenticity" also turns out to be barely skin deep. See, Allen didn't grow up in the South at all. He grew up in Chicago and California:

In Palos Verdes, an exclusive cliffside community, he lived in a palatial home with sweeping views of downtown Los Angeles and the Santa Monica basin. It had handmade Italian tiles and staircases that his eccentric mother, Etty, designed to match those in the Louvre. "It looks like a French chteau," says Linda Hurt Germany, a high school classmate.

....While there, [Allen] became obsessed with the supposed authenticity of rural life or at least what he imagined it to be from episodes of "Hee Haw," his favorite TV show, or family vacations in Mexico, where he rode horses. Perhaps because of his peripatetic childhood, the South's deeply rooted culture attracted him....Whatever it was, Allen got his first pair of those now-iconic cowboy boots from one of his father's players on the Rams who received them as a promotional freebie. He also learned to dip from his dad's players. At school, he started to wear an Australian bush hat, complete with a dangling chin strap and the left brim snapped up. He wore the hat for a yearbook photo of the falconry club. His favorite record was Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison.

Ed Kilgore explains why we should care about this, even though it's long in the past:

As a native southerner, I find this weird and a bit troubling. Personally, I have all sorts of issues with the Confederate Flag and the whole self-destructive cult of the Lost Cause. But I do understand its appeal to people who have grown up saturated in southern culture; I may sometimes consider them SOBs, but they are my SOBs. The idea of young, incredibly privileged, golden-boy-quarterback George Allen of California choosing to embrace southern shibboleths at the precise moment, in the late 1960s, when they were most associated with atavistic racial attitudes, bothers me a lot.

Allen may reasonably claim that what he did as a teenager four decades ago shouldn't be held against him now. But the consistent evidence in Lizza's piece that Allen's red state good 'ol boy schtick is little more than a personal invention, carefully cultivated and maintained through the years, should at least give the press corps pause as they cover his campaign. They've gotten suckered by this act before, and both McCain and Allen are currently gearing up to sucker them again with the same song in a different key. Caveat emptor should be their watch phrase this time around.

Kevin Drum 8:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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By: Kevin Drum

PANDERING FOR DUMMIES....I realize that high gasoline prices bring out the worst in everybody, but Senate Republicans have surely given new meaning to the word "pandering" with today's proposal:

Most American taxpayers would get $100 rebate checks to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday...."Our plan would give taxpayers a hundred dollar gas tax holiday rebate check to help ease the pain that they're feeling at the pump," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced Thursday.

A hundred dollar rebate! It's bad economics, bad policy, bad optics, and the palpable stink of election-year desperation all rolled into one fetid package. But at least it's means tested!

Frist said the rebates would go to single taxpayers making less than $125,000 per year, and couples making less than $150,000.

Whew. For a minute there I thought they were just being frivolous about this. But as long as Bill Gates doesn't get a rebate check, sign me up.

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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By: Amy Sullivan

ROMNEY REDUX....The Note today highlights a "must-read!!" column by Bob Novak that carries the headline: "Religion may hinder Romney in '08." Regular Monthly readers will find Novak's argument familiar, and somewhat similar (point-by-point, actually) to a piece we ran by yours truly last September.

For good reason, I wouldn't expect an acknowledgement from Novak. On the contrary, I'm actually glad to see that his reporting--he's obviously much more sourced-up on the Republican side than I am--bears out the same argument I made last year. Most Christian Right leaders wouldn't be gauche enough to say it publicly, but they have a serious problem with Romney's Mormonism. I still find it likely that they would oppose him in the primaries but support him if he won the GOP nomination. But Novak says maybe not even then.

For the record, I think that's pretty appalling. There is no religious test in this country, and we shouldn't tolerate the de facto application of one. But it has to be said that this is the bed the GOP has made for itself by emphasizing the importance of a candidate's personal faith and by making the Christian Right such a critical part of its political base. If Romney's Mormonism makes it impossible for him to win, it will be the GOP's fault.

Amy Sullivan 2:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (305)

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By: Kevin Drum

PORT SECURITY....Is 100% scanning of all containers coming into American ports an unrealistic goal? Republicans may think so, but experts say otherwise:

This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. Since January 2005, every container entering the truck gates of two of the world's busiest container terminals, in Hong Kong, has passed through scanning and radiation detection devices.

Images of the containers' contents are then stored on computers so that they can be scrutinized by American or other customs authorities almost in real time.

....If they agreed to impose a common security fee of roughly $20 per container, similar to what passengers are now used to paying when they purchase airline tickets, they could recover the cost of installing and operating this system worldwide. This, in turn, would furnish a powerful deterrent for terrorists who might be tempted to convert the ubiquitous cargo container into a poor man's missile.

Hong Kong's pilot program has scanned 1.5 million containers in the past two years and officials there report that it hasn't slowed down operations in any way. The cost to install high-end scanners at ports worldwide would be around $1.5 billion, and not only would it improve port security immediately, but the resulting database of scanned images would be useful for both intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

So why are Democratic proposals to require 100% scanning routinely voted down by Republicans as they were once again yesterday? Because it's unrealistic? Or because Republicans are afraid to tell their campaign contributors that they're going to have to pay a security fee of $20 per container?

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

YOU'D THINK IT GREW ON TREES....You want to know how much money oil companies are making lately? Well, ExxonMobil just announced profits of $8 billion in one quarter and their stock dropped on the news. Wow.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL.....Greg Sargent has more on the delaying game being played by Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Roberts. He's confirmed that Roberts quietly allowed a key deadline for his committee's investigation into intelligence manipulation to slip weeks ago, with no indication of when, if ever, Roberts plans to meet it. Now that the subject of the committee is possible misconduct by President Bush, Roberts obviously has no intention of ever allowing anything to see the light of day.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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By: Kevin Drum


Crippled by years of poor leadership and inadequate funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be fixed, a bipartisan investigation says in recommendations to be released Thursday.

....Describing FEMA as a "shambles and beyond repair," [Republican Senator Susan] Collins said the overall report "will help ensure that we do not have a repeat of the failures following Hurricane Katrina."

This is truly remarkable. FEMA was a fine organization for eight years under Bill Clinton, widely recognized as one of the best run agencies in the federal government. But after a mere five years of George Bush's stewardship there's now a bipartisan consensus that it's so rundown that the only choice is to get rid of it and build a completely new agency in its place. Astonishing.

Kevin Drum 2:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AND BLOGS....Here's an interesting tidbit. The Diageo/Hotline poll recently surveyed registered Democrats, and one of the questions they asked was about blog readership, something I'm not sure I've seen before in a mainstream poll.

According to the survey, 17% of the respondents read a political blog several times a week or more. In other words, there are roughly 10 million registered Democrats who read blogs on a regular basis. That's a lot.

Kevin Drum 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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April 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NET NEUTRALITY....THE CURRENT RULES....Just in case you're curious, here are the current principles of net neutrality that were adopted by the FCC last August. These principles would be enforced by the Barton-Rush bill if it were passed in its current form:

The Federal Communications Commission today adopted a policy statement that outlines four principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet:

  1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

  2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

  3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

  4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

Although the Commission did not adopt rules in this regard, it will incorporate these principles into its ongoing policymaking activities. All of these principles are subject to reasonable network management.

The Barton-Rush bill instructs the FCC to enforce these principles if a complaint is submitted, but does not allow the FCC to proactively create new regulations based on them.

Note that these principles prohibit internet providers from blocking access to sites, but do not explicitly prohibit degradation of service. It's an open question how the FCC will interpret "access" if someone ever lodges a complaint alleging that a network provider has deliberately degraded performance in a way that effectively prevents a site or application from working properly.

Note also that these principles do allow internet providers to create special high-speed lanes that they can offer for a price to specific customers. The most likely customers for such a service are video-on-demand providers.

Conversely, Ed Markey's amendment, which failed 34-22 today, would have specifically prohibited network providers from impairing or degrading performance and would have required them to operate "in a nondiscriminatory manner so that any person can offer or provide content, applications, and services through, or over, such broadband network with equivalent or better capability than the provider extends to itself or affiliated parties, and without the imposition of a charge." In other words, no special high-speed toll lanes.

This is just FYI.

Kevin Drum 11:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....Karl Rove testified today for the fifth time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame case, and it appears that his testimony revolved around former Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak (no relation to Robert Novak). Here's a recap:

  1. Rove originally testified that he had never spoken to Time reporter Matt Cooper about Plame.

  2. Later, Rove admitted that he had, in fact, spoken to Cooper. His excuse for his earlier testimony was that he had had a simple memory lapse and had forgotten about the conversation.

  3. However, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (or so it was rumored) didn't buy the "I forgot" story and was ready to indict Rove for perjury. But then he held off. This was apparently due to a last-minute conversation he had with Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin.

  4. What Luskin told Fitzgerald was that Rove really had forgotten about his conversation with Cooper and what jarred Rove's memory was a conversation Luskin had with Novak, who told him offhandedly that Cooper had spoken to Rove and everyone in the Time newsroom knew it. Luskin immediately went to Rove, initiated a massive search of Rove's email, and eventually discovered that, yes, Rove really had spoken to Cooper. That was what caused Rove to go back to the grand jury and correct his testimony.

  5. But is that really true? The reason nobody knew about the phone call in the first place is that it wasn't entered in Rove's phone log, and Raw Story claims that Rove's secretary has testified that Rove specifically told her not to log it. Needless to say, that's mighty incriminating behavior. However, no other news account that I know of has confirmed this.

So: did Rove really forget? Or did he lie and then correct his testimony only when he knew he was about to get caught?

Perhaps the best clue is whether Fitzgerald asked Rove to testify (which Fitzgerald might do just to clear up some loose ends) or whether Rove volunteered to testify (which Rove wouldn't do except as a last ditch effort to keep from being indicted). So far, reports are distinctly mixed on this point.

It's all still rumors so far, though. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Luskin released this statement after Rove's testimony:

In connection with this appearance, the Special Counsel has advised Mr. Rove that he is not a target of the investigation. Mr. Fitzgerald has affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.

That's pretty weaselly language, so it's hard to know what to make of it. Luskin doesn't say that Rove isn't a target, only that he's not a target "in connection with this appearance." As for bringing charges, there's no telling what "no decision" means. Maybe he's waiting to see if Rove cooperates in testimony against someone else. Maybe that's just boilerplate stuff that prosecutors say until the day they hand down an indictment. Who knows?

Kevin Drum 5:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (124)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION UPDATE....Via Mickey Kaus, John O'Sullivan writes about the immigration debate in the New York Post today and has some kind words for Bill Clinton:

I recently suggested wrongly that there had been little or no enforcement of employer sanctions since the passage of the 1986 amnesty law....That was not quite accurate. The Clinton administration in fact managed some (albeit patchy) "internal" enforcement of employer sanctions. For instance, the period 1995-1997 saw 10,000 to 18,000 worksite arrests of illegals a year. Some 1,000 employers were served notices of fines for employing them.

Under the Bush administration, however, worksite arrests fell to 159 in 2004 with the princely total of three notices of intent to fine served on employers. Thus, worksite arrests under President Bush have fallen from Clintonian levels by something like 97 per cent even though 9/11 occurred in the meantime.

Unlike O'Sullivan, I don't especially want to deport the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. However, he's right that tighter border security is unlikely to make a dent in illegal immigration as long as there are jobs waiting on this side of the border. All it really does is motivate illegals to stay here permanently once they've made it across, since they know what a pain it will be to get back in if they ever leave.

But there's an alternative. Don't worry so much about the workers themselves, and instead crack down on employers. If the total cost of employing illegals i.e., actual cash wages plus fines and possible criminal charges goes up, employers will simply decide it's cheaper and more convenient to increase the cash part of that wage equation and hire American citizens instead. And if jobs for illegal immigrants dry up, illegal immigration will dry up too.

And the best part is that it's free! Make the fines big enough and the enforcement consistent enough, and the fines pay most of the cost of the enforcement. Couple it with more generous quotas for legal immigration, and the whole "illegal" part of the immigration problem could dry up almost entirely within a few years. It's as close to a free lunch as you can get.

Of course, there's that whole "cracking down on corporations" thing, which isn't exactly a strong point for today's Republican Party. After all, you don't want to piss off K Street! On the other hand, Michelle Malkin promises on behalf of her merry band of xenophobes that if George Bush supports anything resembling common sense on immigration, "This is not going to be forgotten."

Rock, meet hard place. I know you're going to get along famously.

Kevin Drum 2:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE UPDATE....Here's the latest on America's (very) rapidly declining healthcare infrastructure. A new survey from the Commonwealth Fund reports that middle and high income workers aren't doing too badly though they're doing worse than they were five years ago but that workers with incomes less than $35,000 are in free fall. Five years ago 17% of moderate income workers were uninsured; today that figure has skyrocketed to 28%. And a whopping 41% were without health coverage at some point during the year.

Providing healthcare for the poor and working class isn't the only reason to support a sensible national healthcare plan. Cost, efficiency, peace of mind, and increased choice are equally important drivers. But when nearly half of even those who are solidly in the working class don't have medical coverage during some or all of each year, we're in trouble.

Needless to say, George Bush's beloved "ownership society" isn't the solution. It's the problem. There's no way to fix our dysfunctional healthcare system until we stop forcing corporations to be healthcare providers in addition to whatever their actual line of business is. As these figures show, they don't want to be in the healthcare business, and more and more of them are bailing out. It's time to face reality on this.

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By: Kevin Drum

LOOSE LIPS....Max Boot is unhappy that Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this year to stories that exposed an illegal domestic spying program and the torture of prisoners in a secret network of prisons in Eastern Europe. It wouldn't have been tolerated during World War II, he says:

I want journalists to cover the present struggle as a fight between good and evil. And when the good guys that would be U.S. officials say that certain revelations would help the bad guys, I want them to be given the benefit of the doubt. So, I suspect, do most Americans.

Nice try, Max, but FDR earned the benefit of the doubt. This gang hasn't. They've made it crystal clear that they consider the war on terror little more than a useful campaign topic of unlimited duration.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

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By: Kevin Drum

MANIPULATING INTELLIGENCE....Having slightly defended the honor of Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Roberts a few minutes ago, let's switch gears and rip right back into him. You may recall that back in 2004, Roberts divided his committee's investigation of prewar intelligence into two parts: Phase 1 assessed the intelligence agencies themselves, and Phase 2 was supposed to investigate possible prewar manipulation of intelligence by the Bush administration.

Needless to say, the purpose of this was political: it allowed the committee to blast the intelligence community before the 2004 election, but put off the delicate topic of administration malfeasance until after the election.

But then it got even worse: even after the election was over, Roberts still showed no inclination to go ahead with Phase 2. It just dropped into a black hole. Finally, a year after the election, with no progress apparent, Harry Reid dramatically shut down the Senate as a way of forcing Roberts to follow through on his promise. Roberts reluctantly said he would.

But guess what? There's another election coming up this year, and you know what that means. The Hill reports:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he wants to divide his panels inquiry into the Bush administrations handling of Iraq-related intelligence into two parts, a move that would push off its most politically controversial elements to a later time.

....Questions about the Bush administrations handling of pre-war intelligence have new political relevance as the midterm elections draw nearer. Public concern about the war in Iraq is considered a major reason for Bushs low job approval rating, which, in turn, is widely viewed as harmful to congressional Republicans political fortunes.

What a worm. We keep hearing that the intelligence committees in Congress are a rare example of sober, bipartisan consensus, but Roberts apparently subscribes to Grover Norquist's definition of bipartisanship: it's date rape. It looks like Roberts is still bound and determined to loyally do whatever it takes to cover up the Bush administration's prewar manipulations.

Via Greg Sargent, who suggests that Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Dem on the committee, needs to grow a pair this time around and not let Roberts get away with this. Sam Rosenfeld agrees. So do I.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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WAAS ON ROBERTS....Did Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tip off Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraq war that we had infiltrated his inner circle? Murray Waas says yes:

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Roberts said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had "been in touch with our intelligence community" and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council "of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad."

....At the time, it was one of the most sensitive secrets in government that the CIA had recruited Iraqi nationals who claimed to have infiltrated Hussein's inner circle to be able to follow his movements at the onset of war....Whether or not Roberts' comments were inadvertent, former intelligence officials said, they almost certainly tipped off the Iraqi dictator that there were spies close to him. "He [Roberts] had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam's] inner circle," says a former senior intelligence official. "It was the worst thing you could ever do."

But it doesn't look that way to me. Via Nexis, here are some quotes from various news accounts about the strike on Saddam's bunker, all from March 20-22:

  • Washington Post: Other officials said the CIA had gathered highly sensitive and reliable electronic and other information, using a wide range of assets from humans in some proximity to the compound to image-snapping satellites miles above.

  • Associated Press: Officials said the surprise attack was the product of a complex operation that benefited from human intelligence....

  • Toronto Globe and Mail: Sources said the strike, which destroyed a home in Baghdad, was targeted using information from "highly placed Iraqis," who knew the movements of Saddam. Military sources said the site was pinpointed using "human intelligence" and electronic wizardry.

  • Los Angeles Times: Hussein "has to start thinking, 'How did they know this and who is telling them?' " said one military intelligence official. The objective, the official said, is to make Hussein "even more paranoid than he has already been."

  • Boston Herald: U.S. officials said they hoped the surprise attack, if it didn't kill Hussein, at least would leave him distrustful of his inner circle and suspecting betrayal by one of his advisers.

Waas quotes an unnamed Republican congressional aide who says that Roberts' remark was a "dumb act," and that might be true. At the same time, it looks like (a) an awful lot of other people were saying the same thing and (b) intelligence officials were hoping that Saddam would conclude we had a mole in high places. I'm no fan of Roberts, but this seems like a pretty weak indictment.

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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April 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

KATRINA AND GLOBAL WARMING....So maybe Hurricane Katrina was a result of global warming after all. Here's the latest:

"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."

....Holland, director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division of the federal research center, said tropical storm anomalies in the 1940s and 1950s can be explained by natural variability.

But he said carbon dioxide started changing traceable patterns in the 1970s and by the early 1990s, the atmospheric results were affecting the storm numbers and intensities.

"What we're seeing right now in global climate temperature is a signature of climate change," said Holland, a native of Australia. "The large bulk of the scientific community say what we are seeing now is linked directly to greenhouse gases."

There are still some doubters, but it looks like the connection between Katrina and global warming is hardly the laughable notion conservatives made it out to be last year. In fact, it's very nearly conventional wisdom.

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TOMORROW'S WEATHER: LIGHT SNOW, FOLLOWED BY FRISSON....The Hotline says that tomorrow is probably the day George Bush announces that Tony Snow is his new press secretary:

Quietly, researchers at the White House have examined hundreds of Snow's radio show transcripts and newspaper columns. They expect the White House press corps, in news articles and at early briefings, to publicly vet Snow, confronting him with his past statements. After the initial frission ... opinions differ.

Think Progress has a nice little collection of Snow-isms from recent years if you're curious to see just what frisson the White House can expect.

It's hard not to wonder if this is all some kind of weird misdirection from the White House, though. I honestly don't understand why they're seemingly so set on Snow. What exactly does he bring to the table that's so unique?

UPDATE: It's official. Snow's appointment will be announced on Wednesday.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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NET NEUTRALITY, TAKE 2....Let's take another crack at the net neutrality debate. Perhaps we can pop a collective gasket on this. Since I'm going to present some arguments both pro and con, though, please read the whole thing before leaving a trail of steaming gasket parts in comments.

This is also a long post, so I'm going to stick the rest of it below the fold.

First, here are some arguments against strict net neutrality and in favor of allowing tiered internet service:

  1. Video-on-Demand is a market I know a little bit about (at least, I did back when I worked for a startup VOD company), and the bandwidth and service issues that face commercial VOD rollouts are quite real. You and I may or may not care about VOD, but a lot of people do, and when telecom companies say that they need to make substantial investments to support large-scale VOD, they're right. When they further say that these investments will only be worthwhile if they can guarantee VOD service that works reliably and well, they're right again.

    The question, of course, is whether the only way to provide reliable VOD service over the internet is to offer a tiered service to video providers. I don't know the answer to that, but it's not transparently absurd to think that the answer might be yes.

  2. If they're freed from net neutrality rules, long haul carriers like AT&T and Verizon will have a big incentive to degrade the service of internet phone (VoIP) suppliers like Vonage, since Vonage is a direct competitor for both consumer and commercial telephone service. In fact, Vonage has faced discrimination in the past and suspects that it faces ongoing discrimination in several current cases. Thus, VoIP companies like Vonage have the most to lose from the demise of net neutrality.

    But here's the thing: Last year Vonage said it was satisfied (though not thrilled) with the net neutrality provisions in the Barton-Rush bill that's currently working its way through Congress. The bill has been modified since then, but as near as I can tell Vonage hasn't lobbied against it. When their CEO testified on the bill a few weeks ago, the only subject he brought up was 911 services. He didn't even mention net neutrality.

    So: if Vonage is satisfied, maybe the bill isn't all that bad?

  3. There are technical reasons to prefer a packet neutral internet architecture, and Henry Farrell outlines one of them here. The problem is that these arguments are very subtle, to the point where they become nearly religious in nature. I've been hanging around network geeks for a couple of decades now, and these kinds of religious wars are pretty familiar to me.

    Will the Barton-Rush bill doom the internet we know and love? Well, back in the early 90s I remember all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how allowing commercial access to the internet would ruin everyone's favorite sandbox, but guess what? That experiment turned out pretty well. Bottom line: network purists are constantly arguing that the sky will fall if some proposal they dislike is adopted. I'd take them with a grain of salt.

  4. The key issue in the Barton-Rush bill is adjudication vs. rulemaking. I'm sure everyone else arguing about this issue is an expert in regulatory law, but I'm not and I can't immediately tell how big a deal this is.

    Basically, the argument is whether Congress should mandate some kind of net neutrality regime and task the FCC with making rules to implement it, or whether they should set out general principles, let things unfold, and allow the FCC to adjudicate complaints if and when they're submitted. Rules have the virtue of being proactive, but also have the potential to hammer something into place that will turn out not to make sense. Adjudication is more flexible, but it's also a lot slower. It allows telcos to stretch Barton-Rush's net neutrality principles far enough to (possibly) put competitors out of business, safe in the knowledge that it will take years for the FCC to tell them to cease and desist.

So there you have it: several good reasons to wonder if the Barton-Rush bill is really as bad as everyone is making it out to be. Now for the other side.

  1. Net neutrality is essentially a "common carrier" requirement, and history has shown that common carrier rules are good things. Take railroads, for example. In the past, before common carrier requirements were adopted, railroads discriminated with abandon, shutting out startups in return for kickbacks from big companies like Standard Oil. This was bad for startups and bad for the economy, and there's no special reason to think that human nature has become more altruistic in the past century. If phone companies aren't required to act as common carriers, there's every reason to think they'll eventually throttle innovation in return for lucrative kickbacks the same way that railroads did in the 19th century.

  2. Reed Hundt answers my plea to chime in on the net neutrality debate at TPMCafe, but essentially punts. However, he did give a speech at Freedom2Connect a couple of weeks ago in which he made a strong argument in favor of net neutrality and came out pretty clearly in favor of rulemaking vs. adjudication:

    We have the four [net neutrality principles in Barton-Rush], but they are a palsied, weak, shadow compared to rules. They are not in substance addressing the issues. They do not provide guides or signs, they do not provide a program, and theyre issued in the context of the House subcommittee saying no rules, do everything case by case.

    That means all decisions are about what happened 5-7 years ago. They mean any company can avoid an adjudication until its irrelevant. That does not impact capital planning, strategy or how networks are built. Its a rear view window look.

  3. More interesting, I thought, was his primary argument that we should simply make the whole problem go away by writing a check:

    The public ought to create a public thoroughfare to the Internet, by regulation, just like in France, Japan and Korea. It ought to be fast. Every year it ought to be faster....Were talking about basing our information economy on an investment that is maybe $20 billion, for Fiber to the Home. If you had that it would be the work of a moment to allocate it. Id write that check in a heartbeat.

    If we did this, he says, the whole issue disappears. When every home has cheap 100 Mbps access to the internet, services like VOD are a no-brainer. They can travel over a neutral internet with no special tiering at all. And $20 billion is a tiny price to guarantee equal access for all to the "public space...where democracy will be defined."

  4. Finally, here's probably the most convincing argument in favor of net neutrality: the telecom industry is against it. As near as I can tell, most telecom CEOs would sell their mothers into white slavery if they thought it would help them keep one of their competitors at bay for a year or five longer, and their record of bending, breaking, and twisting the rules in order to maintain their monopoly position without which none of this would really matter in the first place would fill a phone book. Frankly, you can't go too far wrong simply taking the opposite side of the telecom industry on every relevant issue.

Bottom line: given the potential for abuse with tiered internet access, ordinary prudence suggests that loosening up on strong net neutrality is probably a bad idea unless someone is keeping a pretty close eye on the consequences and with the contemporary Republican Party in charge of oversight, that's obviously not going to happen. Still, I think Reed Hundt alludes to the real issue here, which, as he says, has been swept under the carpet for too long. The fact is, as long as the long-haul backbone of the internet is in private hands, it's hard to justify not allowing its owners to pursue whatever pricing schemes they want. It doesn't mean we can't regulate them, just that it's always going to be a rear guard action.

Conversely, if the federal government subsidized the whole thing at the cost of a few billion dollars a year, just as they did with the interstate highway system half a century ago, we could build an internet backbone that would be cheap, universal, public, and a huge boost to the American economy. The feds don't even have to own it, they just have to pay for it.

I don't know if that's the answer, but it's too bad it's not at least up for discussion. If Japan can do it, why can't we?

Kevin Drum 9:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

IDIOTS IN WHITE....The troglodytes who run the All England Club have decided to give the finger to women once again:

Wimbledon has chosen to remain the only Grand Slam not to offer its men's and women's champions equal prize money.

The All England Club has unveiled its 2006 prize money with the men's winner earning 655,000 compared to the 625,000 first prize for the women.

This is actually more insulting than in years past, and not just because the French Open recently agreed to equalize men's and women's prize money, leaving Wimbledon as the only tennis grand slam to still have unequal prizes. After all, back when the women made half as much as the men, they could at least gin up some hackneyed argument about three sets vs. five, or perhaps suggest that the club just couldn't afford to equalize the prizes. Or something.

But now the women's prize is 95% of the men's prize. That's such a small difference that they've made it plain that this is purely symbolic, a way to demonstrate that nobody's going to make them do anything they don't want to do and to hell with any woman who doesn't like it.

What a disgusting gang of neanderthals. If the men had any balls, they'd demand a pay cut.

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COBRA II....Andrew Sullivan tells us what he's reading at the moment:

On the plane back from England, I tuck into Cobra II. I'd put it off, thinking it would be important but tedious homework....In fact, it's a really riveting, readable narrative of the Iraq war....I haven't finished yet, but already the evidence is simply overwhelming that this (in my view) noble, important and necessary war was ruined almost single-handedly by one arrogant, overweening de facto saboteur. That man is Donald Rumsfeld. It's actually hard to fathom how one single man could have done so much irreparable damage to his country's cause and standing; and how no one was able to stop him. He makes McNamara look inspired.

Hmmm. Sounds like I should pick up a copy.

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FOX, MEET HENHOUSE....Shannon Brownlee says that allowing drug companies to fund most of the clinical studies of drug safety and effectiveness is like allowing the cigarette industry to fund most of the research into cigarettes and cancer:

The recent case of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics is instructive....Earlier this year, the American Journal of Psychiatry published an analysis of 30 separate trials involving head-to-head comparisons of five drugs. Nine out of 10 times, the drug made by the company that funded the study came out on top. When Eli Lilly, the maker of Zyprexa, funded five studies of its drug, Zyprexa was found superior in all five. But when Janssen, the maker of Risperdal, ran its studies, Risperdal came out ahead.

....Meanwhile, industry-funded research is failing to provide the clinically useful answers physicians and patients need in order to pick the best treatment....If we want answers to such questions, the public is going to have to start paying for them. Earlier this year, a $44-million National Institutes of Health study found that drug makers' claims notwithstanding, not one of the five newer antipsychotic drugs offered any meaningful improvement over an older drug that cost up to 10 times less.

Shannon suggests an independent federal agency similar to the Fed or the SEC to oversee clinical research. If the medical community and the public wants genuinely neutral information about drug safety and efficacy instead of the heavily subsidized marketing literature that's what we effectively get now, I suspect she's right.

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A SMALL VICTORY....Factory workers who lose their jobs because their factory is moved to China are eligible for extended unemployment payments, federally funded retraining, and relocation allowances under the Trade Adjustment Act. Earlier this month, the Labor Department ruled that computer programmers who lose their jobs to outsourcing are eligible for the same assistance.

The immediate impact of this is welcome but probably small. However, it strikes me that this is an important precedent, both legally and socially. In the future, globalization is going to affect far more service jobs than manufacturing jobs, and recognizing that service industry workers need help when free trade agreements put them out of work is a welcome acknowledgment of reality.

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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April 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NET NEUTRALITY....I've been trying to understand this whole "net neutrality" thing and I've failed utterly. I just can't figure out the underlying issues.

On the one hand, the telecom industry says they just want to be able guarantee service levels (for a price) for high-value, high-bandwidth services like on-demand video. This does not seem very alarming to me. Companies already buy bigger pipes and negotiate quality-of-service agreements when they need guaranteed bandwidth, and that's never caused any problems. Bloggers are accustomed to paying their hosts based on the bandwidth they plan to use, for example, and this seems like more of the same on a larger scale.

At the same time, the CEO of Qwest claims that "No one should deny or impede access to lawful sites on the Web. Everyone supports that position." But in fact, last year a small broadband provider decided to block access to Vonage phone service so apparently support for that position isn't quite as universal as Qwest's CEO claims.

What's more, if the real issue is that telecom companies want to be able to offer higher service levels to certain customers but would never reduce service levels for other customers well then, why not write that into law? Especially if "everyone" supports this position?

For the moment, then, I don't know. Everything I can find on the subject is hopelessly vague about what the rules used to be, what they're going to be, what the FCC will be able to do, and what the likely results will be. I'm confused and bewildered.

But I have a solution: I want Reed Hundt to chime in on the issue. I like his stuff over at TPM Cafe, he used to be chairman of the FCC, and I'd trust his judgment on this. So how about it, Reed? What's the straight dope?

UPDATE: More here. (Much more.)

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SO THREE GUYS ARE SITTING IN AN AIRPLANE....Needlenose has your joke of the day.

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THE WAR OF CIVILIZATIONS....Marc Lynch analyzes the latest address from Osama bin Laden:

While much of the media commentary has been on specific points bin Laden made (Darfur, Palestine), the overwhelming preoccupation of the tape was in fact the need for Muslims to accept the reality of a 'clash of civilizations.'....And as with the culture warriors of the West, bin Laden combines his opposition to this Crusader West with scorn for the Islamist moderates who he sees as the greatest threat to his own leadership of the Islamic umma.

....He's really quite extreme in his denunciations of those Islamist moderates the worst, most dangerous of all Islam's enemies in his eyes because they might mislead the umma. Even those who led the boycott against Denmark fell short he wants a boycott against America, since the Danish affront was only one case of a much wider problem in his view.

He's similarly scathing about those calling for dialogue with the West (the Copenhagen conference, the Saudi government, most Arab regimes), and accuses a number of Saudi and Gulf figures of spreading apostacy with their writings and fatwas. The West only calls for dialogue to weaken and confuse the Muslims, according to bin Laden, and only understands the language of force; the clash of civilizations exists, in his telling, because the West has attacked and continues to assault Islam, which makes dialogue a fool's game.

Well, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then we have a lot of potential friends in the Middle East. We shouldn't forget it.

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McCARTHY UPDATE....Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff update the Mary McCarthy story:

A former CIA officer who was sacked last week after allegedly confessing to leaking secrets has denied she was the source of a controversial Washington Post story about alleged CIA secret detention operations in Eastern Europe, a friend of the operative told Newsweek.

The fired official, Mary O. McCarthy, categorically denies being the source of the leak, one of McCarthys friends and former colleagues, Rand Beers, said Monday after speaking to McCarthy.

....A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to Newsweek today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and rendition operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.

Well, that's sort of interesting. Maybe we all jumped the gun assuming that McCarthy was linked to the secret prison story. Perhaps she was fired for something else entirely.

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THE CIA'S PRISONS....One of Dana Priest's sources for her Pulitzer-winning series of stories about the CIA's secret network of prisons in Europe was apparently CIA officer Mary McCarthy, who was fired last week for leaking to Priest. But how is it that McCarthy even knew about the agency's prison system, anyway? After all, she didn't work on the operational side of the house. She worked for the Inspector General's office.

The best guess floating around right now is that the only way someone in the IG's office could know about the prisons is if the IG's office was investigating the prisons. Juliette Kayyem comments:

So, here are the questions:

(1) Was there an IG investigation of the prisons? If yes, who authorized it? What happened to it?

(2) If no, did the CIA Director (goss) prohibit it from happening under the national security exception? Did he notify Congress as required by law?

Those are good questions. Here's another one: how did this program end up in the IG's office in the first place? Ken Silverstein offers a clue over at Harper's:

An ex-senior agency officer who keeps in contact with his former peers told me that there is a a big swing in anti-Bush sentiment at Langley. I've been stunned by what I'm hearing, he said. There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don't want to get caught up in it.

This former senior officer said there seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people at the agency to avoid involvement in some of the particularly nasty tactics being employed by the administration, especially renditions the practice whereby the CIA sends terrorist suspects abroad to be questioned in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and other nations where the regimes are not squeamish about torturing detainees.

The secret prisons may be another target of these "rational people." If enough of them are refusing to be involved with the prison system, that's something that's almost certain to eventually come to the attention of a body charged with agency oversight. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (135)

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By: Kevin Drum

DISSECTING PASSION....Over at the Prospect, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira write that liberal arguments over such topics as media tactics, base mobilization, "getting tough" on national security, and organizational structure are off base:

The totality of the advice simply misses the mark and obscures the underlying problem driving progressives on-going woes nationally: a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything....This trend, one we call the identity gap, has been written about and discussed by others in years past. What is not understood is the extent to which this gap continues to drag down progressives and Democrats and depress their support in myriad ways. No identity translates into no character. No personal integrity. No vision worth fighting for.

So we need a strong identity. Check. And how are we going to figure out what it should be?

We will begin with a detailed assessment of the various voter groups and geographical areas that need to be assembled into a progressive majority and how social change is likely to reshape those groups and areas over the next decade or so. That discussion will cover both those groups and areas where progressives are relatively strong and those groups and areas where progressives are relatively weak but can make gains in the future.

This piece is the first of four, and I'll wait until all four are out before I say anything substantive. Still, I wonder if I'm the only one who's a little taken aback by this whole approach.

Halpin and Teixeira are apparently planning to argue that liberals need to "put the common good at the center of a new progressive vision," the same advice that Prospect editor Mike Tomasky offered a few days ago. Now, as it happens, I have some doubts about that advice (about which more later). But whether or not it's a good idea, telling us that we need to "stand for something," and then divining what that "something" should be via a mind numbing demographic breakdown of red and blue America sure doesn't sound very inspiring, does it? I wouldn't mind if they had an idea they felt passionately about and then used their numbers to demonstrate that it was sellable, but it looks as if they did just the opposite: they used the demographic breakdowns and focus group results to figure out what we're supposed to feel passionately about in the first place. I'm a pretty analytic person, but that doesn't work even for me.

This may be unfair. Like I said, I'll read parts 2-4 before I say anything more. For now, this is just a shot across the bow.

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THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE....Mark Kleiman relates the latest Twilight Zone delusion from red blogistan: the CIA never had any secret prisons in Europe after all. In reality, it was all an elaborate hoax, part of a sting operation to catch leakers like Democratic Party mole Mary McCarthy.

Really, you can't make this stuff up.

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WANTED: SUFFICIENTLY SCARY ENEMY, APPLY WITHIN....Matt Yglesias quotes Francis Fukuyama telling us the obvious about the neocon agenda:

During the 1990s "There was actually a deliberate search for an enemy because they felt that the Republican Party didn't do as well" when foreign policy wasn't on the issue agenda.

They tried hyping China first, and then after 9/11 switched to Islamic fundamentalism. As Matt says, "I think this is very telling, and reveals a great deal about the mentality that's been guiding America's foreign policy during the Bush years."

Indeed it does. As for me, I just want to hear Bill Kristol deny it.

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April 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WHITE HOUSE UPDATE....Time magazine says it's not the next three years that George Bush is worrying about, but the next six months:

The marker that is uppermost in the minds of Bush's inner circle is Nov. 7, when Republicans could lose control of the House and even the Senate. "If we don't keep Congress, there won't be a legacy," said a presidential adviser. "The legacy will be investigations and fights over Executive privilege" with newly empowered Democrats.

That sounds about right to me. Also amusing is this take on Bush's ongoing attempt to reinvent himself: "Aides have claimed to be rebooting the second term so many times (at least three, by Time's count) that even their allies have lost track." And here I thought Bush was a straight talkin' Texan who was comfortable in his own skin. What's all this "rebooting" talk?

You'll also want to check out the White House's 5-point plan for success, which turns out to have approximately zero actual substance except for one thing: a plan to get tough with the mullahs. "In the face of the Iranian menace, the Democrats will lose," says an unnamed GOP apparatchik. Maybe so, but this time I wonder. It sometimes seems that the American public really does have an unending appetite for "getting tough" with whichever enemy du jour the White House casts its increasingly feckless gaze on, but I think it's just possible that Bush might have gone to this well one time too many. Getting tough hasn't worked out too well so far, and the public might well be ready for some straight talk on the subject.

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By: Kevin Drum

CHANGING THE WORLD....Ron Brownstein suggests today that "President Bush could discover something important if he puts down his talking points long enough during his trip to California this weekend." That's obviously not likely to happen, but the rest of Brownstein's column shows what Bush could learn if he had the political courage to buck the corporate interests that bankroll the Republican Party and propose real change:

Across each critical choice in the energy debate, California represents the path not taken in Washington.

....[Arnold] Schwarzenegger recently implemented a requirement that California utilities generate at least 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010; he wants to raise the mandate to 33% by 2020.

California...has passed legislation requiring automakers to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their vehicles. That would require the companies to achieve engineering efficiencies that could also improve fuel economy and encourage more use of alternative fuels....Two Democrats, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, have introduced legislation that would meet Schwarzenegger's goals by limiting greenhouse gas emissions through a "cap and trade" system beginning in 2012.

....Two economic assumptions guide the California Idea. One is that the energy mandates will create a mass market that lowers the price for clean technologies like solar electricity or ultra-low-emission cars. The mandates "say everybody is going to have to do this, and that spurs the mass production that brings the price down," says Terry Tamminen, Schwarzenegger's special advisor for energy and the environment.

The second assumption is that the mandates will help California capture a leading share of the jobs and investment created by the transition to a clean-energy economy. The requirements on renewable energy, tailpipe emissions and potentially on greenhouse gases will create enormous demand in the state for new products and processes from solar energy to biofuels to the retrofitting of manufacturing plants. And that should encourage many of the companies meeting that demand to locate in California.

We could do this and much, much more on a national level if we had leaders with real courage. It would be good for the economy, good for the country, and good for the world. It's striking that that just isn't enough to get things done these days.

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMOUS....Newsweek's account of Josh Bolten's White House shakeup is fairly ordinary, but at least their descriptions of their blind quotes are amusing:

....says a White House aide who didn't want to be named talking about the new boss.

....says a Republican leadership aide who won't be named because he wants to keep his job.

....says a former administration official who asked for anonymity to avoid hurting his career.

....according to a close friend of Bolten's, who asked not to be named because he wanted to stay close.

Ah, Washington journalism....

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By: Kevin Drum

BATTLING THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY....Cathy Seipp, who contracted cancer several years ago, tells us that if we're in the market for a health insurance policy, we should pay close attention to the policy's out-of-pocket cap. Hers jumped recently from $5,000 to $7,500 in a single year:

By law, insurance companies aren't allowed to adjust your monthly premiums just because you get sick. But they can raise the out-of-pocket cap for all of their members anytime they like, which amounts to the same thing because it affects only the unvalued sick members.

....The worried well, however, tend to be remarkably ignorant about medical insurance. Policy wonks keep arguing about market competition and consumer choice. But healthcare for the sick isn't a market because choice disappears. You can't shop around for generic drugs when you have cancer. Whatever chemical treatment the doctor suggests, it almost certainly will be a brand name costing several thousand dollars a month.

....[My latest] oncologist's report clarifies what is the crux of my current problem with Blue Cross and the problem any health insurance company has with cancer patients who just don't hurry up and die already. These new therapies may be great for humanity but not for WellPoint executives who don't like the thought of a $2.5-billion annual profit reduced to, say, $2.499 billion.

One of the reasons America spends so much more than any other country on healthcare is because upwards of 30% of our expenditures are for paper shuffling by insurance companies doing their best to deny treatment whenever possible. By contrast, administrative costs in countries where there's only one paper shuffler and it's not trying to make a profit from its shuffling are closer to 10%.

Battling cancer is bad enough. Why should cancer patients have to battle private insurance companies as well?

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By: Kevin Drum

PHYSICAL PROXIMITY AND ELECTRONIC SEPARATION....Walter Kirn writes about chatting with a guy at a bar recently and being constantly interrupted by the guy's Treo:

His face changed had some important message arrived? Still speaking to me, but without much focus now, he tapped out a line or two of text with his amazingly prehensile thumbs. He'd left the scene, I sensed; he was somewhere else. At headquarters, perhaps. And I'd been placed on hold.

I didn't like it. I never like it. And it happens constantly. I'll be in the middle of what I take to be a sincere human interaction with somebody and they'll start cutting in and out checking the Blackberry, texting on the cell phone, stylus-ing the electronic calendar. No apologies, either. No 'excuse mes.' As though a mixture of physical proximity and electronic separation is the accepted new mode of social togetherness.

Hear hear. I've never even gotten used to something as mundane as call waiting, let alone our brave new BlackBerry/Treo/cell/IM/text world. But that's just me. And I suspect Kirn is right: as with talking in theaters, this doesn't really represent a breakdown in civility, even though it seems that way to people like me. It's just a social change, and 30 years from now it will seem as natural as self-serve gasoline does today.

But I doubt I'll ever get used to it myself.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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By: Kevin Drum

CLEANING HOUSE?....David Corn points out this sentence in today's Washington Post story about the firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy as part of the agency's stepped up effort to fight leaks:

The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.

That sure deserves a followup, doesn't it? And a note to the White House: if you stop breaking the law, that would be a pretty good way to stop leaks too.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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April 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CONGRATULATIONS TO ANN AND HENRY....A few of you who have been reading liberal blogs for a long time will remember Ann Salisbury, former proprietor of Two Tears in a Bucket. Well, today she got married to Henry Jenkins, who she met via the blogosphere. Henry does IT/business blogging at Modern Middle Manager (though not much lately).

The ceremony was lovely, presided over by a fluffy gray cat who started making the rounds when the appetizers appeared and then went to sleep when the food went away. I should have taken my camera, but I didn't, so no pictures. Sorry. But it really was lovely, and I thought at least some of my readers who used to read Ann's blog would like to hear the news.

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By: Kevin Drum

GASOLINE ALLEY....Atrios sez:

It's amazing how much time news stations can spend on showing people complaining about gas prices.

For obvious reasons, I was thinking the same thing last night. But then, in my usual wonkish way, I got curious about the subject.

It turns out that the average household uses about 1100 gallons of gasoline per year and has an average income of about $44,000. Take out 20% for taxes and that's a disposable income of $35,000.

So at two bucks a gallon that means the average household spends 6% of its disposable income on gasoline. At three bucks a gallon it's more like 10%. And that's only the average.

If your income is higher than average or your driving habits are lower than average, you'll spend less. Marian and I qualify on both counts, and my guess is that we don't spend more than 2% of our income on gasoline. Higher gasoline prices don't really affect us that much.

At the other end, though, are the people who make less than average and drive more than average. They probably spend 15-20% of their incomes on gasoline. That's a lot.

So there you have it. There's a substantial segment of the population that spends a very big chunk of their income on gasoline, and in the past 12 months they've seen gasoline prices increase by 50% and that's at a time when household income has been decreasing for five years running and household debt is already sky high. They're probably pretty pissed that that whole Iraq business didn't work out quite the way it was supposed to.

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By: Kevin Drum

REVERSING THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION....Since 1996, thanks to the Republican addition of Section 912 to that year's welfare reform bill, the federal government has spent over a billion dollars funding "abstinence only" sex education programs for teens. Recently, however, the Bush administration rewrote the rules so that programs can only get funding if they promote avoidance of sex at any age until you're safely ensconced in a traditional marriage of one man and one woman. Via Dale Carpenter, Walter Olson complains:

Such language inadvertently makes clear, however, that the abstinence program has cut loose from whatever original public-health rationale it may have had, and is now about enforcing social conformity, not reducing risks of disease or out-of-wedlock pregnancy or empowering novices to make more considered decisions.

I just have to ask Walter a question: did he ever really believe that public health considerations were behind this in the first place? Did anyone? Seriously?

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By: Kevin Drum

LEAK UPDATE....Here's a potentially interesting turn in the espionage case that's being prosecuted against two former AIPAC lobbyists:

Lawyers for two lobbyists accused of conspiring to obtain secret defense information said Friday that they intended to prove that senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, provided the lobbyists with some of the sensitive information.

....At a hearing Friday, Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for former AIPAC employee Steven J. Rosen, said the testimony of Rice and the other officials was necessary to show that they also had disclosed sensitive information and that some of the disclosures at the crux of the indictments might have been authorized.

An "authorized" leak? Now where have I heard that phrase before....?

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By: Kevin Drum

FOUR LAYERS OF EDITING....I sure hope no one I know was working on the copy desk last night when the LA Times slapped this subhead on a story about the big immigration raid:

An informant triggered the nationwide sweep. Investigators say a plant in New York flaunted the law and mistreated its illegal workers


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April 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MEANWHILE, IN THE GAMMA QUADRANT....Really, they have no shame. Lee Raymond, the CEO of Exxon, recently received a retirement payout estimated by experts at $4.3 kazillion, and here's what Dennis Hastert's spokesbot had to say about it:

"The speaker is very concerned about compensation packages given to executives like Raymond at a time when families are facing choices between putting food on the table and filling their car with gasoline," [Ron] Bonjean said. "We met with Exxon Mobil and several companies last fall, and it seems that the message hasn't gotten through."

...."Having a profit is good. We believe in that as Republicans," Bonjean said. "But when you're making this kind of money and American families are being affected, there should be appropriate things done to bring prices down. We're going to be asking them again: What are they doing with their enormous profits?"

Yes indeedy. The Republican party is now deeply concerned about corporate executives making unseemly amounts of money. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Next up: Tom DeLay criticizes corporate lobbyists for spending so much money entertaining members of Congress.

UPDATE: In case you're interested and why wouldn't you be? Exxon Mobil was the largest campaign contributor in the Oil & Gas sector during the 2004 election cycle. 89% of their contributions went to Republicans. I think we can safely expect Speaker Hastert's bark to be considerably more menacing than his bite.

Kevin Drum 11:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

REFERENDUM IN IRAQ?....Over at The Corner, Jonah Goldberg is exercising his brain cells:

Here's an old idea that I've been noodling again for a while: Why not let the Iraqis have a referendum on whether US forces should stay? Here are some reasons, off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

[Long list of reasons why a referendum would be a terrific idea.]

I think the referendum would have to be worded carefully and cleverly, and I can think of other problems and benefits, but I think as thought experiment there's enough here to noodle.

Leaving aside the notion that we're in any position to "let" the Iraqis have a referendum I think it's more likely we'd have to beg and plead, myself what's the deal with wording it "carefully and cleverly"? Here's my stab at it:

Do you want all coalition troops to leave the country within the next 12 months? Please answer yes or no.

Is that clever enough? I think so! What's more, I can't actually think of any compelling reason to oppose this idea, especially since, unlike Jonah, I think that once the campaign got underway the No votes would carry the day pretty decisively. As any conservative should understand, jingoism is a lot easier to sell in times of fear than prudent policy.

UPDATE: In comments, Wagster points out that I answered my own referendum question incorrectly. My wording wasn't clever enough, I guess! For the record: I think the Yes votes would carry the day pretty decisively.

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By: Kevin Drum

POLLING FOLLIES....Via Steve Benen, this is really too funny to pass up. In the annals of loaded poll questions, the latest from Fox News is hard to beat. Be sure to read all the way to the end. I hope they got fully reimbursed by the Republican National Committee for doing this work for them.

(And check out question 10 on immigration too. No bias there!)

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By: Kevin Drum

IF YOU CAN'T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH....I don't really know what this is all about, but my best guess is that the Bush administration is trying to make its annual terrorism report so complicated that it's impossible to even try to make a year-to-year comparison. Now why would they want to do that?

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By: Kevin Drum


You would have thought it was impossible to make our intelligence problems even worse, but the Bush administration has accomplished that. This is a dangerous situation for the country, and it needs to be fixed, now.

George Bush certainly deserves his usual share of blame for this, and Ignatius ably explains why: bad appointments, poor oversight, and senseless vendettas have weakened our intelligence apparatus instead of strengthening it. (And he could have added an unwillingness to stand up to Donald Rumsfeld to that list too.)

Unfortunately, though, there are plenty of others who share responsibility: the Kean Commission that recommended a bureaucratic solution to our intelligence problems in the first place, a Republican congress that fiddled around and made things even worse, and a craven Democratic caucus that almost unanimously voted for a bad bill for fear of being called weak on terror. The bottom line is that this has been a mess all around, and there's no sign that anyone has the spine to go back and try to fix it. Hooray.

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April 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING....Laura Turner on the real issue that prevents conservatives from accepting the reality of global warming:

Thus the condundrum: accepting the reality of climate change is one thing....But accepting that Al Gore was right about climate change, well...hoo... That throws a wrench into the personality-based Republican justification machine.

Yeah, that would be a bitter pill, wouldn't it? But not to worry: there are plenty of new barricades to erect before conservatives have to swallow it. It may be getting hard to keep up the venerable and much-loved pretense that we still need more study on the question of whether rising CO2 levels are causing global warming, but that doesn't mean conservatives can't just switch gears and claim that a bit of warming might actually turn out to be good for us, or that hurting the global economy is too high a price to pay to save Bangladesh, or....well, something. There's always something, isn't there, when corporate interests send out their marching orders to the GOP?

And, anyway, we've heard this song before. As I recall, the Clean Air Act and the Clear Water Act were supposed to devastate the economy too. How could industry possibly put up with all those burdensome regulations just because rivers were catching fire and kids were dropping dead on football fields in Los Angeles? And yet, the economy did fine. Isn't capitalism amazing?

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By: Kevin Drum

TALKING TO IRAN....What should we do about Iran? I have a suggestion, but first I need to relate a story that's gotten suprisingly little attention from the press. Perhaps they're too bored to pick up on it.

It started on May 6, 2003, shortly after George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. On that day the Associated Press reported without elaboration that Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman had confirmed that "Iran has exchanged messages with U.S. officials about Iraq through the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran. He declined to give details."

What was that all about? Last January, Flynt Leverett, who worked for Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council, provided some initial clues:

In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.

In February, Newsday picked up the story:

The fax was one of a series of informal soundings that emanated from Tehran in the months after the United States invasion of Iraq. Iran's envoys to Sweden and Britain also began sending signals that the regime was ready to negotiate a deal, according to a former Western diplomat closely familiar with the messages. Iran was sending messages through other back-channels as well, according to Paul Pillar, who served as the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.

...."No one at a senior level was willing to push Iran on diplomacy," said Leverett. "Was there at least a chance that we could have gotten something going? Yes, there was a chance."

Three weeks ago, Gareth Porter added some more details:

Realists, led by Powell and his Deputy Richard Armitage, were inclined to respond positively to the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, within a few days of its receipt, the State Department had rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer.

Exactly how the decision was made is not known. "As with many of these issues of national security decision-making, there are no fingerprints," [Lawrence] Wilkerson told IPS. "But I would guess Dick Cheney with the blessing of George W. Bush."

As Wilkerson observes, however, the mysterious death of what became known among Iran specialists as Iran's "grand bargain" initiative was a result of the administration's inability to agree on a policy toward Tehran.

A draft National Security Policy Directive (NSPD) on Iran calling for diplomatic engagement had been in the process of interagency coordination for more than a year, according to a source who asks to remain unidentified.

But it was impossible to get formal agreement on the NSPD, the source recalls, because officials in Cheney's office and in Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans wanted a policy of regime change and kept trying to amend it.

With that as background, here's my suggestion: quit letting Cheney's crackpots run foreign policy and talk to Iran. After all, the administration's ideologues killed an opportunity to ratchet down tensions three years ago, and since then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they've made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter. So why blow another chance? If the talks fail, then they fail. But what possible reason can there be to refuse to even discuss things with Iran unless you're trying to leave no alternative to war?

That may well be the Bush administration's strategy, but ordinary horse sense suggests it shouldn't be anyone else's.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL JOHN McCAIN....Mark Schmitt adds his two cents to the argument over whether John McCain is "really" a liberal or a conservative or a maverick or whatnot, and not surprisingly, comes up with exactly the right answer: namely that we're asking the wrong question.

I dont like the whole mode of analysis that assumes a politician has some "real" core of beliefs and then various positions he or she takes are either "real" or "political." That whole analysis is based on the cult of authenticity of which McCain, and to a lesser extent Bush, have been the greatest beneficiaries....But as McCain demonstrates, authenticity is itself a pose, one he adopted and has now discarded.

McCains latest move is necessary, if he wants to be president, but its awfully daring. Live by the cult of authenticity, perish by the cult of authenticity....I assume that McCain's gamble is that he has so strongly established the "straight-talk express" brand with the general electorate that he can perform the ritual obsequies of the Republican nominating process and still emerge with his reputation intact. But he can't. [There are] too many Republican activists who simply aren't going to stomach his nomination, and he can't spend two years in his current mode and expect the independent moderate voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere to remember what they kind of liked about him for a period in 2000.

It's obvious that McCain is a conservative, but it's also obvious that he really does have a few views that don't fit current Republican orthodoxy views that have gotten him way more mileage than he deserves for being a "maverick." Still, he is what he is, and endless hairsplitting over what word to apply to him has rapidly diminishing returns.

But Mark is right about the "cult of authenticity." That's been McCain's real bread and butter, and it's tiresome. McCain is no more a straight talker than George Bush, but both are terrific at manipulating our supposedly cynical and world weary media into thinking they're straight talkers. My fervent wish is that McCain's recent pandering to Jerry Falwell will at least disabuse them of this notion and finally earn him the coverage he deserves: that of an ambitious politician willing to work with whatever interest groups it takes to get him elected president. That's the real McCain.

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By: Kevin Drum

PROGRESS IN IRAQ?....It took two weeks instead of the two days it usually takes in America, but Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari's insistence that he would never ever step down turned out to mean exactly the same thing it means in America: that he would agree to step down. The Washington Post reports:

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari has "given up his bid and is ready to quit the candidacy in the best interest of the country," the second-highest-ranking member of Jafari's Dawa Party, Jawad al-Maliki, said at a nationally televised news conference.

Only a day before, Jafari himself had said in another news conference that such a withdrawal was "out of the question."

This is, I hope, good news, although most of the alternatives to Jafari aren't exactly comforting propositions themselves. Presumably we'll find out what deals have gone down over the weekend.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT CONSERVATIVE CRACKUP?....In the current issue of the Monthly Jacob Heilbrunn reviews The Making of the American Conservative Mind, a chronicle of the impact of National Review on the evolution of conservative thought over the past 50 years. The author is Jeffrey Hart, a longtime contributor to NR, and like many other conservatives these days, he's not a happy camper:

Hart is clearly uneasy about the rise of the younger generation, which, under the editorship of Richard Lowry, has been generally enthusiastic about the Bush administration. "Perhaps surprisingly, none of these now prominent figures at the magazine had been known for books or even important articles on politics or political thought," he sniffs. "Where they stood on the spectrum of conservative thought traditionalist, individualist, libertarian, skeptical, Straussian, Burkean, Voegelinian was completely unknown."

More generally, Hart is unhappy about the modern conservative movement's embrace of and reliance on both the Christian Right and the culture war vulgarians represented by right-wing talk radio. But I think Heilbrunn is right when he says:

In reality, though, conservatism hasn't really changed all that much. The Christian right has certainly infused it with moralism and anti-Darwin mumbo-jumbo, but what's more striking about the GOP over the past 100 years or so is its continuity. The party's main, almost sole, purpose has been to ensure that as much money as possible goes to those who need it least and that as little as possible goes to those who need it most. In a party of moneybags, Theodore Roosevelt was the exception, not the rule. Whether Bush manages to extricate the United States from Iraq or not, his avalanche of tax cuts has already justified the main reason that Republican pooh-bahs selected him to become their candidate for president.

Still, Hart and his compatriots are right to be worried about their creation. For now, the millionaires are still in charge, cynically using the evangelicals as shock troops while giving them little in the way of concrete rewards. But how long will it be before the monkey on their back becomes an 800-pount gorilla?

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By: Kevin Drum

PUTTING ON A SHOW....Via TalkLeft, it appears that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is pretty good at keeping a straight face while spouting transparent fibs:

"ICE has no tolerance for corporate officers who harbor illegal aliens for their work force. Today's nationwide enforcement actions show how we will use all our investigative tools to bring these individuals to justice, no matter how large or small their company," said ICE chief Julie Myers.

Sure, Julie. ICE's enforcement actions against companies that hire illegal aliens are legendary. And the timing of this little show was just coincidental. Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 12:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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April 19, 2006
By: Amy Sullivan

FAITH-BASED VACUUM...Less noticed during all the comings and goings over at the White House this week was the resignation of Jim Towey, who has run the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for the past five years. Towey is a good man--he is perhaps one of the only people in government, Democrat or Republican, who passionately cares about the fact that there are very few ways to track whether programs that receive federal funds actually accomplish anything, making it impossible to tell whether an organization like Head Start, for instance, is meeting the educational goals set out for it or whether faith-based programs are as effective as secular ones.

But Towey also chose to mouth the Bush administration's fiction that government discriminated against faith-based groups until George W. Bush came to save them. And he stayed in his position long after it was clear to most observers that the faith-based office was little more than a political showpiece for the White House. On that score, it may turn out to be very difficult to replace him.

The first director of the faith-based office, John DiIulio, left after just six months in the position and later blasted the White House for using the office as a political tool. DiIulio's deputy, David Kuo, said much the same thing after he left the office. It took Bush six months to find someone willing to fill the position after DiIulio left, and when Towey accepted the job, it was in February of 2002, too early to know for sure (although surely early enough to guess) that the entire operation was a religious PR stunt. Now, with even the most loyal congressional supporters of the faith-based initiative calling the effort a sham, it will be nearly impossible for the president to find a Democrat willing to take the job.

And that's a problem for the White House. At the White House's faith-based conference in March, Bush and a handful of cabinet members received polite applause from the (mostly minority) crowd, but Towey got boisterous cheers. He has been one of the only factors keeping those religious supporters in Bush's camp. His depature shifts focus to the White House's actual faith-based accomplishments, which are few and far between.

P.S. That record gets worse as Bush threatens to eliminate part of Americorp--one of the original community initiatives--because it has supposedly been deemed "ineffective." Much better to shift the money to a faith-based program that will never be examined for efficacy. Or, more likely, to funnel those funds into a tax cut and do away with pesky social spending altogether.

Amy Sullivan 5:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

FACT OF THE DAY....You know what? I didn't even know there was such a thing as a Pulitzer Prize for music. Which, I guess, is sort of Fred Kaplan's point....

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By: Kevin Drum

JOB SAFETY....Will George Bush replace Treasury Secretary John Snow? As many people have pointed out, the biggest problem is finding someone of any stature willing to take the job. After all, why give up a multimillion dollar CEO job in order to be humiliated for a couple of years by a lame duck doofus who's just a little too obviously tickled by the fact that he gets to boss around someone with a PhD?

That's not a problem for the job of Defense Secretary, but Josh Marshall points out a good reason that Bush might want to avoid changes there too:

With Rumsfeld, or any other cabinet secretary, there's a related problem the importance of which has, I think, not been fully appreciated or aired. If Rumsfeld goes, you need to nominate someone else and get them through a senate confirmation. That means an open airing of the disaster of this administration's national security policy. Every particular; all about Iraq. Think how much they don't want that ...

In the end, I think the real reason Bush doesn't plan to replace Rumsfeld is his usual chip-on-a-shoulder stubbornness plus the fact that Cheney likes Rumsfeld. But yeah, confirmation hearings would be a bitch too, wouldn't they? After all, the main question would be, "What are you going to do differently from Rumsfeld?" and that would be a very awkward question indeed. Democrats have been tying themselves in knots trying to answer that for the past couple of years, and I doubt that a Republican could do any better.

So for now, Rumsfeld stays because Bush isn't the kind of man who can put up with a bit of short-term embarrassment. And our military will continue to pay the price.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

BEING SUPER-RICH IN AMERICA.....Harold Meyerson is unimpressed with the "Hamilton Project," a brainchild of Robert Rubin's that advocates a variety of familiar Rubinesque economic policies: balancing the budget, investing in education, increased scientific research, etc. Meyerson thinks something is missing:

Their list of national problems includes nothing about a corporate and financial culture that richly and reflexively rewards executives who offshore work to cheaper climes and deny their American employees the right to join unions.

....There's nothing in the statement about raising the minimum wage or mandating a living wage; the word "unions" is nowhere to be found, though unionizing our non-offshorable service sector jobs is the surest way to restore the broader prosperity for which Rubin and his co-authors pine.

I don't have anything against Rubin and his mainstream ideas, but Meyerson is right: it's depressing that mainstream liberalism is so economically timid these days.

I know I'm not the first or even the thousandth to make this point, but consider a few wonkish numbers from the past 20 years:

  • Per capita GDP in the United States has increased about 52% over the past two decades. This economic growth is due mostly to increased productivity, which in turn is largely due to technological progress. It's not due to any magical increase in the quality of CEOs, managers, or factory floor workers.

  • Median personal income 20 years ago was about $18,000. If everybody's income had grown 52% since then, median income would be about $27,000 today.

  • It's not. It's only $23,000. If you add in health benefits it changes the numbers only slightly.

The reason for this is obvious: our economy has grown 52%, but that doesn't mean everyone's income has grown 52%. It means that the incomes of the super-rich have grown 100% while the incomes of average schmoes have grown only 25%. And average schmoe incomes haven't risen a penny since George Bush took office.

In other words, the rich are taking most of the money and leaving little behind for anyone else. And then, to add insult to injury, they whine about having to pay taxes on that vastly increased income.

And you, my lovely little schmoes, have to listen to that whining every day on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and in the pages of National Review. Your income ought to be about $4,000 higher than it is, but instead of getting that income you get bought off with a $200 tax cut from the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the lucky duckies at the top get a 100% pay increase and a 30% tax cut. It's a good time to be super-rich in America.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRESH OLD FACES....Yawn. The White House "shakeup" continues. Karl Rove is stepping down, except that he's not. He's still deputy chief of staff, still chief policy aide, and still senior advisor, but he's giving up his role as "policy coordinator" whatever that means. I'm sure the mood in the West Wing will change dramatically because of this.

In other news, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, his credibility having been reduced to tatters long ago, is also stepping down. However, with speculation about Treasury Secretary John Snow's departure heating up, President Bush has apparently made the decision to conserve the number of people named Snow in his administration by offering Scotty's job to Fox News commentator Tony Snow. I don't know why Snow would accept a demotion like that, but that's the scuttlebutt.


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By: Kevin Drum

TOO MUCH JOHN WAYNE....Alan Sharpe, a British brigadier general who helped write the coalition campaign plan for Iraq during a tour in Baghdad in 2004, has a few choice words about the U.S. military's approach to war:

An important part to being a successful American officer was to be able to combine the "real and acted heroics" of Audie Murphy, the "newsreel antics" of Gen Douglas MacArthur and the "movie performances" of Hollywood actors, the brigadier wrote.

While this might look good on television at home, the brigadier suggested that "loud voices, full body armour, wrap-around sunglasses, air strikes and daily broadcasts from shoulder-holster wearing brigadier-generals proudly announcing how many Iraqis have been killed by US forces today" was no "hearts-and-minds winning tool".

That should do wonders for the 'ol special relationship, shouldn't it?

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL?....Ezra Klein thinks John McCain is a real conservative. Jon Chait thinks he's more liberal than Ezra lets on. I'm more on Ezra's side than Jon's and I think Ezra's case would have been even stronger if he'd taken into account McCain's relentless hawkishness but I was interested in this passing comment from Jon over at The Plank:

Ezra cites McCain's ACU ratings. But I think that, especially in recent years, those ratings do a lousy job of showing who's liberal and who's conservative. Don't they show Hillary Clinton to be one of the most liberal Senators? There's an article to be done debunking those ratings, but I'm guessing that the changing partisan dynamics of the current era has rendered the old system worthless.

The same thought has crossed my mind too, though I've never mustered the energy to really investigate it. But I think there's something to this. We're now living in an era in which liberals have pretty much all sorted themselves into the Democratic Party and conservatives into the Republican Party, and party discipline has increased to the point that we largely live under a de facto parliamentary system: most of the time, you just vote with your party. Opportunities to jump ship are increasingly few and far between.

This doesn't mean the rankings are useless, but I'll bet they're getting pretty close. I have a feeling somebody ought to be looking at a different way of determining just who the most liberal and conservative members of Congress are.

Kevin Drum 12:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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April 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE EMERGING ENVIRONMENTAL MAJORITY....The original environmental movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was led by a coalition that might seem like an odd one by today's standards: hunters and fishers who were concerned about exploitation of the wilderness allied with urban reformers concerned about public health. That alliance, which survived for nearly a century, died 40 years ago when liberals started supporting curbs on hunting and gun rights, and outfits like the NRA were transformed from hunting safety groups into explicitly political organizations. Since then, environmentalist has been a dirty word among the mostly rural and mostly conservative "hook-and-bullet" community.

Today, though, both sides are starting to rethink their split. At the same time that the Sierra Club has been reaching out to hunters, the hunting and fishing community has started to become seriously concerned about the Bush administration's rapacious support for drilling and mining on public land support that helps big corporate contributors to Republican coffers but steadily eats away at wilderness land used by hunters and anglers.

But as Christina Larson reports in "The Emerging Environmental Majority," there's a bigger issue brewing that might finally re-cement the old alliance:

It's global warming that will almost certainly "be the glue that brings everyone together," as National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Larry Schweiger puts it. Last year, Lake Erie did not freeze, leaving ice fishermen scratching their heads. The Waterfowlers' Guide to Global Warming (PDF), published last summer by NWF, explains how climate change could produce droughts across the Midwest and evaporate the region's "prairie pothole" wetlands vital duck-breeding grounds. Global warming recently made the cover of Trout, the magazine of Trout Unlimited; the article cited a Pew Center study that found that a 4.8 degree temperature increase could halve trout habitat in the Rocky Mountain Region (trout thrive in cold water).

Because the potential effects of the problem are so sweeping, the threat and lately, the reality of climate change has become a top concern across a broad spectrum of organizations. Evangelical Christians are calling for carbon reductions. An agricultural coalition, 25 by '25, is pushing for renewable energy. Insurance companies are calculating potentially catastrophic losses. Sportsmen are gathering data on shifting habitat and changing stream flows. "I think we've reached a tipping point in public awareness," says Steven Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, adding, "Sportsmen want a seat at the table."

As more and more people begin to realize that the scientific debate over manmade global warming really is over, I think we can expect to see more shifts like this. It's a real opportunity for the liberal community to expand its reach.

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR ON JIHADISM?....Who are we fighting, anyway? "War on Terror" is a phrase disliked by lots of liberals and not a few conservatives, and the Pentagon's suggested replacement, the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism," is mostly considered a joke. So what is it, then? Jon Rauch has a suggestion:

"I think defining who the enemy is is a real problem in this war," says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies....As it happens, Habeck is the author of one of three new books that, taken together, suggest the time is right to name the battle. It is a war on jihadism.

Jihadism is not a tactic, like terrorism, or a temperament, like radicalism or extremism. It is not a political pathology like Stalinism, a mental pathology like paranoia, or a social pathology like poverty. Rather, it is a religious ideology, and the religion it is associated with is Islam.

But it is by no means synonymous with Islam, which is much larger and contains many competing elements. Islam can be, and usually is, moderate; Jihadism, with a capital J, is inherently radical....No single definition prevails, but here is a good one: Jihadism engages in or supports the use of force to expand the rule of Islamic law. In other words, it is violent Islamic imperialism. It stands, as one scholar put it 90 years ago, for "the extension by force of arms of the authority of the Muslim state."

No matter how careful we are to distinguish Jihadists from moderate Muslims, there's not much question that an explicitly religious phrase like "War on Jihadism" is explosive. On the other hand, like it or not, it has the virtue of being more accurate than "War on Terror." We haven't spent a lot energy trying to bring the Tamil Tigers to heel, after all.

And it does have an upside: although it may make religion more explicit than we'd like, it also forces us to distinguish between moderate and radical Islam in a way that's too often glossed over. And it has another upside: it forces us to address the question of just how numerous and how dangerous our enemy really is. How many are there? How much damage can they do? Is the Jihadist movement growing? Even including 9/11, the fact is that Jihadists haven't had a lot of success outside the Muslim world, and addressing these questions might very well bring a stiff dose of common sense to the debate over what role the United States ought to play in this war.

Or maybe not. But it's worth a discussion, no?

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ'S SMOKE FILLED ROOMS....What's the meaning of the latest moves in the seemingly endless effort to put together a government in Iraq? Eric Martin offers some speculation that's disturbingly plausible.

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By: Kevin Drum

A DOCTOR ON SINGLE-PAYER....In the Wall Street Journal today, Dr. Benjamin Brewer writes that he's finally come around to the idea that America would be better off with a single-payer national healthcare system:

Doctors in private practice fear a loss of autonomy with a single-payer system. After being in the private practice of family medicine for 8 1/2 years, I see that autonomy is largely an illusion. Through Medicare and Medicaid, the government is already writing its own rules for 45% of the patients I see.

The rest are privately insured under 301 different insurance products (my staff and I counted). The companies set the fees and the contracts are largely non-negotiable by individual doctors.

....My practice requires two full-time staff members for billing. My two secretaries spend about half their time collecting insurance information. Plus, there's $9,000 in computer expenses yearly to handle the insurance information and billing follow up. I suspect I could go from four people in the paper chase to one with a single-payer system.

Read the rest. He makes a good case from a ground level that both doctors and patients would be better off if we swept away our current "maze of deductibles, provider networks, out-of-network costs, exclusions, policy riders, ER surcharges, etc." He's right.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GENERALS' REVOLT REVISITED....I want to revisit the question of whether there's a downside to the "Generals' Revolt" due to concerns that it serves to blur the principle of civilian control of the military. I'm hesitant to bring it up again since I don't think we seriously have anything to worry about on this score, but at the same time I do think there are some genuine issues here that we shouldn't sweep under the carpet just because we like the message we're hearing. In particular, there are two counterarguments I want to address.

First, Mark Kleiman suggests that this is a case of IOKIYAR. After all, where were the complaints when Colin Powell "led the active-duty brass in a thoroughly insubordinate, and completely successful, campaign to overturn Bill Clinton's executive order ending discrimination against gays in the military?"

That's a good question, but it's exactly the one that came to mind when I began writing about this last night. And here's another example: does everyone remember Clinton's complaints that whenever he asked for small scale military options he never got back anything that utilized less than two divisions? His suspicion was that the uniformed brass was frustrating his policy wishes by refusing to give him good advice. Put these two things together and there's evidence already that the military feels free to meddle in policy debates. I'm not sure they need yet another precedent to do so.

Second, both Atrios and Steven Taylor make the obvious point that the complaints are coming from retired generals. That's a fair point, but consider this from Lt. General Gregory Newbold, writing in Time magazine last week:

After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq an unnecessary war....I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat al-Qaeda.

....With the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't or don't have the opportunity to speak.

Two things. First, Newbold isn't just complaining that Donald Rumsfeld ignored professional military advice. He's saying he thought this was an ill-conceived war and the uniformed military should have spoken out about it. Second, he's plainly claiming to speak for some active duty generals and he's encouraging them to go public.

There's really nothing to like about this. Whether the war was "unnecessary" or not, that's a political decision, not a military one. And if active duty generals follow his advice and start to speak out whenever they think the president is going to war unwisely, we're going to have a serious problem on our hands.

There's no question that military leaders should forcefully offer their best advice in private and should testify honestly in public on operational matters. When General Eric Shinseki gave his opinion that the invasion of Iraq required "several hundred thousand" troops, he was acting properly. That was a professional military opinion, and the way he was treated for expressing it was shameful. But that's quite a different thing from speaking out simply because you think a war is a bad idea on policy grounds.

As I said, I don't think this is that big a deal. I'm hardly concerned that we're entering Seven Days in May territory, and Stephen Bainbridge and Steve Clemons, in different ways, both make the reasonable point that feedback from retired generals is really the only feasible way to keep the civilian leadership accountable given the military's rigid chain of command. And Lord knows Rumsfeld deserves all the flak he's getting and then some.

Still, there is another side to this story, and it's not a completely nonsensical one. It's worth airing, even if only to keep our bearings straight.

Kevin Drum 2:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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April 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum


Bush has truly become the Republican equivalent of President Jimmy Carter, out of control, dropping in popularity, unable to resume command.... Yet Bush, like his father, fails to invent issues to give his presidency a new lease on life. Is he too tired or lazy to do so?

So what's the first fresh new idea Morris proposes for Bush? "Really focus on energy issues," he says, apparently oblivious to the fact that not only is this an old idea, it's an old idea originally popularized by....Jimmy Carter.

At least it's a good idea, though, unlike his bizarre proposal to "put the drug fight front and center." That one is both old and tired.

But that's really no surprise since Morris's comparison of Bush to Carter is itself an old idea. You can read the original and much better version of the Bush-Carter comparison here.

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By: Kevin Drum

ENZO UPDATE....For some reason the Great Enzo Saga hasn't gotten much play outside the Los Angeles area, but for all you interested onlookers it looks like it's finally wrapping up. The Ferrari Enzo that crashed into a power pole at 162 mph a couple of months ago wasn't being driven by a mysterious German named Dietrich after all. Police now say that Stefan Eriksson, who initially claimed he was just a passenger, was at the wheel after all. And he was drunk. And the car was stolen. And so were Eriksson's other $3 million worth of cars. And if that's still not enough to get you interested, how about Eriksson's supposed involvement with the "Swedish mafia"? Who knew the Swedes had their very own mafia?

Still no word on the identity of the "Homeland Security" guys who showed up at the scene of the crash, though. Stay tuned.

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW DICK DOES IT....Robert Dreyfuss writes in the American Prospect today about the obsessive secrecy that surrounds the zealots who work for Dick Cheney:

His press people seem shocked that a reporter would even ask for an interview with the staff. The blanket answer is no nobody is available. Amazingly, the vice presidents office flatly refuses to even disclose who works there, or what their titles are. We just dont give out that kind of information, says Jennifer Mayfield, another of Cheneys angels. She wont say who is on staff, or what they do? No, she insists. Its just not something we talk about.

Read the whole thing to learn more about the men and women who work for Cheney and how they've managed to seize control of the foreign policy apparatus of the United States government:

According to [Larry] Wilkerson, Cheneys office and the [National Security Council] were completely separate on foreign policy. Cheney, says Wilkerson, set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didnt know what his staff was doing. The vice presidents staff could read the statutory NSCs e-mail, but the NSC couldnt read their e-mail. So, once someone on the statutory NSC figured it out, they used various work-arounds. Like, for example, they would walk to someones office, rather than send an e-mail, if what they were going to talk about they didnt want to reveal to the vice presidents very powerful staff. But that was difficult because of Cheney spies within the bureaucracy, including people like John Bolton at the State Department, Robert Joseph at the NSC, certain staffers at WINPAC (the arms control shop at CIA), and various Pentagon officials, he adds.

But is the Cheney moment over? Dreyfuss, for one, thinks not. Here's his final sentence: "For the moment, at least, the war party led by Dick Cheney remains in ascendancy." Make of that what you will.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHITE HATS vs. BLACK HATS....Tom Coburn says the magic number is seven:

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn isn't naming names, but he expects six congressmen and a fellow senator will go to jail....Speaking at a town hall meeting in Wagoner last night, Coburn said that "if you've been keeping up with things, you've got a pretty good idea" of who the seven lawmakers are.

Coburn may not be naming names, but we are and we're doing it in boldface. Check out "White Hats vs. Black Hats" to refresh your memory about who's who in the latest round of Washington scandals. The Coburn Seven are probably all in there somewhere.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GENERALS' REVOLT....A friend of mine who's currently serving in Iraq emails some thoughts about the recent criticism of Donald Rumsfeld coming from retired general officers:

Its very interesting to watch the retired generals coming out to speak against Secretary Rumsfeld from here. Prior to mobilization, I was a fairly vocal critic of this administration and its national security policies. But now that Im on active duty, I have to stay mute and neutral, especially in front of my soldiers.

Its also difficult to weigh the value in having these generals speak out now, versus the harm theyre doing to the principle of civilian control over the military. But I guess most of all, I have to ask the question why now? It wouldve been one thing for these generals to fall on their swords in 2003 or 2004 to literally lay their stars on the line when it counted. But now that theyre comfortably retired, and were three years into the war....I dont know what to make of these acts of dissent.

Should the generals have spoken up earlier? Should they have spoken up at all? Regardless of whether or not we agree with the generals' criticism, I think it's wise to be uneasy about something that has a bit of a sense of a palace revolt against the current civilian leadership of the military. But has mismanagement of the war become so extreme that the usual rules simply don't apply anymore?

Kevin Drum 1:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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April 16, 2006
By: Amy Sullivan

WEEKEND BASKETBLOGGING....If you haven't gotten enough of basketball via my intermittent blogging on the topic over the course of the season, boy, do I have good news for you: This week on Blogging Heads TV, Matt Yglesias and I discuss the Washington Wizards, the NBA playoffs, and Larry Brown (in addition to Iran, immigration, and other political matters...) The Wizards, by the way, halted their five-game losing streak today with the return of a not-quite-healthy-but-good-enough Caron Butler. The commanding win over Cleveland secured a playoff spot and further convinced me that the Wizards need the five seed so that they can face Cleveland in the first round. LeBron James is amazing, but the Wizards are 3-1 against the Cavs this year, and I like that match-up.

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By: Kevin Drum

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS AND THE ECONOMY....Remember that study suggesting that illegal immigration had modestly reduced the wages of native-born high school dropouts? Well, it turns out there's even less to that than meets the eye:

George J. Borjas and Lawrence F. Katz....estimated that the wave of illegal Mexican immigrants who arrived from 1980 to 2000 had reduced the wages of high school dropouts in the United States by 8.2 percent.

....When Mr. Borjas and Mr. Katz assumed that businesses reacted to the extra workers with a corresponding increase in investment...their estimate of the decline in wages of high school dropouts attributed to illegal immigrants was shaved to 4.8 percent. And they have since downgraded that number, acknowledging that the original analysis used some statistically flimsy data.

Assuming a jump in capital investment, they found that the surge in illegal immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by just 3.6 percent.

....Mr. Katz agreed that the impact was modest, and it might fall further if changes in trade flows were taken into account specifically, that without illegal immigrants, some products now made in the United States would likely be imported.

So we went from 8.2% to 4.8% to 3.6% and probably even less if trade flows are taken into account.

Bottom line: illegal immigration has had a (small) positive economic impact on the American economy as a whole; its sole negative impact has been tiny and limited to one segment of the workforce (high school dropouts); and if we're really worried about high school dropouts, everyone agrees they have way bigger problems than competition from illegal immigration anyway.

If this is the best we can come up with after 20 years and 8 million illegal immigrants, there really isn't a serious economic argument to make against immigration from Mexico. Cultural backlash is pretty much all that's left.

Via Ezra Klein.

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By: Kevin Drum

NUCLEAR ENERGY....Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace and a lifelong foe of nuclear energy, has changed his mind. Global warming is the underlying reason:

When I attended the Kyoto climate meeting in Montreal last December, I spoke to a packed house on the question of a sustainable energy future. I argued that the only way to reduce fossil fuel emissions from electrical production is through an aggressive program of renewable energy sources (hydroelectric, geothermal heat pumps, wind, etc.) plus nuclear.

....Here's why: Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can't replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple.

This is something that I've struggled with too, but Moore's case is persuasive. There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities, and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.

Read the whole thing and see if you agree.

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman agrees here. David Roberts of Grist disagrees here.

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April 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB....Michael Kinsley's rumination yesterday about the history of Western intervention in Iran was an oddly rambling affair, but the man does have a way with words:

When the United States should use its military strength to achieve worthy goals abroad is an important question. But based on [our record in Iraq and Afghanistan], it seems a bit theoretical. It's like asking whether Donald Trump should use his superpowers to cure AIDS. Or what George W. Bush should say when he wins the Nobel Prize in physics. A more pressing question is: Can't anyone here play this game?

Nope. George Bush : Fixing National Security Problems :: Herbert Hoover : Fixing National Depressions.

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By: Kevin Drum

MALKINITIS....The thing that's always impressed me about Michelle Malkin is not her unhinged but ultimately fairly commonplace right wing looniness, but rather her keen eye for manufacturing outrage over the most obscure topics imaginable. A few weeks ago, for example, it was outrage over a student council debate about a statue at the University of Washington. Today it's outrage over a recent piece of standard-issue pabulum from Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa:

Many law-abiding L.A. residents who clean their own toilets took umbrage at Villaraigosa's McCain-like contempt for self-reliant Americans and his us-vs.-them militancy.

"Law-abiding L.A. residents who clean their own toilets"? What's that all about? Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be inspired by the latest rant from local talk radio idiots John and Ken, but you'll have to click the link if you insist on finding out more.

And yes, as usual, there's a whole "campaign" associated with this.

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April 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MORE DECLASSIFICATION MAGIC....Murray Waas reports today about yet another classified document that Dick Cheney told Scooter Libby to leak to the press. This one was a CIA report on Joe Wilson's trip in early 2002 to Niger:

The March 2002 intelligence report was a debriefing of Wilson by the CIA's Directorate of Operations after Wilson returned from a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate claims, later proved to be unfounded, that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation, according to government records.

The debriefing report made no mention of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, then a covert CIA officer, or any role she may have played in her husband's selection by the CIA to go to Niger, according to two people who have read the report.

The previously unreported grand jury testimony is significant because only hours after Cheney reportedly instructed Libby to disclose information from the CIA report, Libby divulged to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper that Plame was a CIA officer, and that she been involved in selecting her husband for the Niger mission.

The implication of the third paragraph is that perhaps Cheney instructed Libby to leak Plame's identity at the same time he instructed him to leak the contents of the trip report. However, I'm not sure this makes sense, since the leak Waas is writing about happened on July 12, 2003, and Miller says Libby had already mentioned Plame's employment twice before that. I'm open to correction or clarification on this point, though.

In any case, the obvious question this raises is: Just how many reports did Cheney hastily "declassify" in order to get back at Wilson? Perhaps President Bush should direct his vice president to give us a full tally.

UPDATE: Was this really another case of "declassification magic"? Jane Hamsher spoke today to Joe Wilson, and he says his understanding is that his trip report is still classified.

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Everyone else seems to be taking today off, so I think I'll take the day off too. But before I go, here's some Friday Cat Blogging for you. If Inkblot were a human, he'd probably be pissed that I'm posting this picture of him in mid-yawn, but then, if Inkblot were a human I suppose I'd have plenty of worse things to worry about. Jasmine, as always, is serene about the fate of the universe as long as she has a patch of dirt to rest in. If only we were all so easy to please.

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY CLINTON'S CASH MACHINE....The latest from Hillaryland:

The New York senator raised more than $6 million in the first three months of the year, according to papers filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. The $2 million-a-month fundraising pace gave her $19.7 million cash on hand at the end of March for her reelection.

"It's mind-blowing. She is raising money at a presidential level," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College.

So let's see....$20 million now....another $10 million over the summer....total campaign costs of, say, ten bucks or so....gives her....$30 million dollars in the bank at the end of the year.

Give or take a million or two. Not bad.

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

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By: Kevin Drum

FIRING DON....Steve Benen makes a point about all those generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation:

Not all of the retired generals are making the same argument. Some want Rumsfeld to go based on his incompetence, others because of his inept management style, others because of his misplaced disregard for advice from military commanders, and still others because of the scandals that have erupted during his tenure.

He's right: There's no good reason to fire Rumsfeld. There are dozens.

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By: Kevin Drum

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING....In the course of a column about how Hollywood is wrong to portray conservatives as nasty and unpleasant they can actually be very jovial people if you get to know them! Jonah Goldberg comments about the movie Thank You for Smoking:

The refreshing thing about "Thank You for Smoking" is that the most likable character is the most "evil" by liberal standards at least. Tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart, is a charming rogue who loves his son and doesn't apologize for his line of work. He never "sees the light" at the end of the movie, as Michael Douglas does in "Falling Down" when he realizes that, as an angry white male, he actually must be the villain.

That is sort of weird, and what makes it weirder is that in the book Naylor does see the light and eventually ends up working for an anti-smoking organization called Clean Lungs 2000. Basically, then, the conservative author of the book (Christopher Buckley, son of William F.) portrayed the tobacco lobby as evil and allowed his hero to see the light at the end of the day, while in supposedly liberal Hollywood the screenwriter (Jason Reitman, son of Ivan) portrayed the smoking lobby as just another industry group and not only kept the hero in his job, but allowed him to earn the love of his young son for doing so. I don't know if that's refreshing, but it's definitely odd.

And for what it's worth, the main defect of the movie isn't the changed ending, it's the young son, who takes all the air out of the pointed satire of the book and turns it into a treacly morality tale. This was very much an adult story written for adults, and why Reitman felt like he had to introduce a cute little kid into the story is beyond me. Who does he think he is, Steven Spielberg?

POSTSCRIPT: Lest I sound too critical, the movie was actually pretty good. Not as good as the book, and sort of uneven, but it had some funny scenes and it's worth seeing.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING THE RIGHT BATTLE....Marc Lynch reports that Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt appeared on al-Jazeera the other day, and he's pleased:

There's been something of a war going on in the administration between those (like Karen Hughes) who think that American officials should go on al-Jazeera, since that's where the Arab political action and largest audience is; and those (like, broadly speaking, the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President) who see al-Jazeera as the enemy and think American officials should have nothing to do with it. Thanks in large part to Hughes, there has been a really dramatic increase in the number of American officials appearing on al-Jazeera in the last few months. And she's taken a lot of heat from al-Jazeera's critics in the administration for it.

Whatever else you can say about Hughes, she's on the side of the angels in this dispute. Of course we should be appearing on al-Jazeera as frequently and as aggresively as we can. After all, that's where our target audience is: Muslims in the Middle East who need to be convinced that America is not the Great Satan.

If you retreat from the battlefield before the fighting even begins, you're guaranteed defeat. So kudos to Hughes for apparently pounding some sense into Donald Rumsfeld and her other Pentagon friends who are so reluctant to acknowledge the real nature of the war we're fighting.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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April 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BAN VIAGRA!....How dangerous is the "abortion pill"? Actually, it's not clear if it's killed anyone at all, but what if the worst is true and it turns out to be the culprit in all of the recent deaths in which it's been implicated? Kerry Howley reports:

If Mifepristone turns out to be the cause of death in all five possible cases, the pill's mortality rate will be under one in 100,000. Between 1988 and 1997 (before the abortion pill was approved) the mortality rate from legal induced abortion, according to the Centers for Disease Control, was 0.7 per 100,000.

....The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals cites a mortality rate of five per 100,000 for Viagra, the erectile dysfunction drug, and as Dr. Paul Blumenthal, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, puts it, "That's a risk men are willing to take to have erections."

How long do you think a conservative congressman would stay in office if he seriously spearheaded an effort to ban Viagra? Six months?

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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By: Kevin Drum

ALPHABETICAL TYRANNY....Matt Yglesias has complained about this before for obvious reasons, but today Alex Tabarrok reports that alphabetical privilege is real in the world of economics, anyway:

A new paper (free, working version, Winter 06, JEP) demonstrates that...faculty members in top departments with surnames beginning with letters earlier in the alphabet are substantially more likely to be tenured, be fellows of the Econometrics Society, and even win Nobel prizes (let's see, Arrow, Buchanan Coase...hmmm). No such effects are found in psychology where the alphabetical norm is not followed.

The "alphabetical norm" is the rule that coauthors on a paper are listed alphabetically, which results in only alphabetically privileged authors getting citation credits (everyone else is "et al"). The paper demonstrating the effects of this rule was written by Liran Einav and some other guy.

Is the same true in the blogosphere, where blogrolls are often arranged alphabetically? There's a research project just waiting to happen here!

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Kevin Drum

ATTACKING IRAN....William Arkin describes the Pentagon's contingency plans for Iran and then suggests we're being too cagey about publicizing them:

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran.

....The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

....I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran....The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking. It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this.

As I've said before, I don't think that amping up the saber rattling is a wise idea, but this is a reasonable, if fairly conventional, counterargument. And either way, it's always nice to know the facts. Now you do.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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By: Kevin Drum

BEYOND SABER RATTLING....Recently on conservative sites I've been reading various versions of the following scenario about what a nuclear Iran would mean for American. This particular version comes from Mark Helprin in the Washington Post:

With an intermediate-range strategic nuclear capacity, it could...reign over the Persian Gulf...lead and perhaps unify the Islamic world, and thus create the chance to end Western dominance of the Middle East.

I'm genuinely not familiar enough with regional politics to know the answer to this, but is this even remotely plausible? Iran is ethnically Persian and confessionally Shia, after all, while the rest of the region is mostly Arab and Sunni. Is there any real chance that Iran could ever unite the Islamic world under its leadership?

The payoff for this fearmongering comes near the end of Helprin's column:

As simply as it can be said, were Egypt to close the canal, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to lock up their airspace which, with their combined modern air forces, they could the U.S. military in Iraq and the Gulf, bereft of adequate supply, would be beleaguered and imperiled.

....We would do well to strengthen in numbers and mass as well as quality the means with which we fight, to reinforce the fleet train with which to supply the fighting lines, and to plan for a land route from the Mediterranean across Israel and Jordan to the Tigris and Euphrates. And even if we cannot extricate ourselves from nation-building and counterinsurgency in Iraq, we must have a plan for remounting the army there so that it can fight and maneuver as it was born to do.

Translation: saber rattling might not work! Instead, we should guarantee war by building up our forces in response to the scary but laughably remote possibility that every single country in the entire region turns against us all at once. Sadly, I imagine that this is what passes for "being serious" about national security these days.

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (219)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION POLL....Today's LA Times poll shows why I don't really trust polls on immigration. Here are the results:

Basically, sizable majorities seem to be in favor of practically everything, and the numbers are fantastically sensitive to question wording. People are in favor of a wall, in favor of a guest worker program, in favor of a path to citizenship, in favor of greater enforcement, in favor of whatever you ask them about. Or maybe not depending on how you phrase the question.

So take it for what it's worth. In any case, the poll is also full of good cheer for us liberal types: Democrats are way ahead in the generic congressional ballot; George Bush's credibility has taken a big hit due to leakgate; Republican congressional unfavorables are high; and Democrats are more trusted on every issue except for national security.

So guess what? Expect a midterm campaign heavily based on national security issues. I hope we're ready.

Kevin Drum 1:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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April 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SYMANTEC....If there's a software company in America more maddening than Microsoft, it has to be Symantec. Everyone I know who uses Norton Antivirus has a story like this one or worse. How do they manage to stay in business?

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By: Kevin Drum

TIGER AND THE PRESS....On Sunday, after blowing half a dozen putts to lose the Masters to Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods said:

As good as I hit it, that's as bad as I putted and it's frustrating, because I felt so in control of my ball from tee to green, and once I got on the green I was a spaz.

Didn't hear about this? Australia's The Age explains why:

Print outlets Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe all ran reports from which "spaz" had been excised. The Los Angeles Times sidestepped the issue by forcing Tiger to say, "It was frustrating because I felt so in control of my golf ball from tee to green, then when I got on the green, I was a (wreck)."

On the other hand, over a dozen U.S. newspapers used the full quote as did British newspapers, which criticized him harshly for his choice of words. Woods apologized on Tuesday.

So: were major U.S newspapers guilty of covering up for a popular sports star? Slaves to PC orthodoxy? Doing the right thing since the word is generally considered offensive by the disabled community? All of the above?

Kevin Drum 8:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Amy Sullivan

GROWING LESS LAME BY THE MINUTE!....Okay, it's not exactly the best rallying cry, but I'm still giving it away, free of charge, for Democrats to use as their campaign slogan. Kevin got some grief last week for arguing that the immigration bust-up could be attributed to wily Democratic manuevers. But today's Washington Post confirms his story:

House GOP leaders had rushed lawmakers back to Washington for a rare December session to vote on the immigration measure, hoping to give their members an accomplishment to brag about over the long winter recess. But it was the deft maneuvering of Democrats that preserved the bill's most infamous provision, declaring illegal immigrants felons, and that provision has helped turn the bill into a political albatross for some Republicans, Democrats say.

The bill, written by House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), was passed in a matter of hours, nine days before Christmas. Just seven amendments were allowed to come to a vote, none of them fundamentally altering the legislation.

Sensenbrenner's committee bill included the felony provision, but when he took it to the House floor Dec. 16, he offered an amendment to downgrade the offense of being an undocumented worker from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The Democratic leadership pushed its members to vote against the amendment, and 191 Democrats did. Only eight Democrats voted with Sensenbrenner.

Imagine that.

Amy Sullivan 6:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME/FITZGERALD UPDATE....In the spirit of getting things right and avoiding future embarrassment it turns out that Patrick Fitzgerald has filed an update to his now-famous court filing from last week. In the original filing he said:

[Libby] understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.

In other words, Dick Cheney had instructed Libby to lie, since the "vigorously trying to procure" statement wasn't one of the key judgments of the NIE. But now Fitzgerald has amended his filing to state the following:

[Libby] understood that he was to tell Miller, among other things, some of the key judgments of the NIE, and that the NIE stated that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium.

This doesn't really have much impact on the main revelation of Fitzgerald's filing namely that Cheney and Bush authorized a selective declassification of an intelligence report in order to fight a domestic political battle but it does mean that Fitzgerald isn't claiming that Cheney lied about this particular point.

Via The Corner.

Kevin Drum 5:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

POWELL ON CHENEY....Robert Scheer has a short conversation with Colin Powell:

I queried Powell at a reception following a talk he gave in Los Angeles on Monday. Pointing out that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate showed that his State Department had gotten it right on the nonexistent Iraq nuclear threat, I asked why did the president ignore that wisdom in his stated case for the invasion?

The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote, Powell said. And the Niger reference in Bushs State of the Union speech? That was a big mistake, he said. It should never have been in the speech. I didnt need Wilson to tell me that there wasnt a Niger connection. He didnt tell us anything we didnt already know. I never believed it.

When I pressed further as to why the president played up the Iraq nuclear threat, Powell said it wasnt the president: That was all Cheney.

Is Powell just trying to get George Bush off the hook? Maybe. But it's still interesting that he's now publicly blaming Cheney for all the bad intel. He's only badmouthed Cheney in private before, hasn't he?

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Kevin Drum

HARD TO SWALLOW....The Stranger reports on the latest escalation in the pharmacy wars: pharmacists who not only refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives, but have refused to fill prescriptions for antibiotics and vitamins simply because they came from a women's health clinic that performs abortions. Lovely.

The only silver lining I can see to this stuff is that it presents a marketing opportunity for an aggressive pharmacy chain, which might be able to attract new business with a simple slogan: "We respect your privacy. We'll fill all your prescriptions, and we'll fill them with no hassles." I won't hold my breath waiting, though.

Via Professor B.

Kevin Drum 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (174)

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By: Kevin Drum

A DANGEROUS JOB....Over at the CBS News blog, Brian Montopoli writes about the case of Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, a CBS cameraman who was shot by a sniper while covering a car bombing in Baghdad:

Hussein was taken to a military hospital, where he was treated and arrested. The film in his camera, the military later said, suggested he might be involved with insurgents....The fact that Hussein was taping the event, it was alleged, suggested he had previous knowledge of the attack. And the tape in the camera was said to be damning; there were suggestions it showed four incidents that proved he was involved in insurgent activity.

[Time passes. After a year in Abu Ghraib, Hussein finally gets a trial.]

Normally Iraqi trials take ten or fifteen minutes, but the presiding three-judge panel knew this one was under intense scrutiny, and it lasted over an hour. The news was good for Hussein: The Iraqi attorney general, whose job it was to prosecute Hussein, said there was no evidence to support the prosecution. He was cleared.

....The tape that was in Hussein's camera, which was supposed to have been so damning, turned out to be less than 20 seconds long. The multiple pieces of evidence against Hussein on it did not exist. The tape shows debris in a road, according to Linda Mason, CBS News Senior Vice President, Standards and Special Projects, and a faint voice can be heard shouting "Allahu akbar" God is good. "Ameer had been accused of chanting this, but he was holding the camera and the microphone was right near the camera, so if he were the one chanting this, you would have heard it," Mason told TV Week.

Hussein's lawyer thinks this is an example of the U.S. military sending a message to the press corps: there are certain things we don't want you to tape. Hussein himself, unsurprisingly, has decided he no longer wants to be a journalist.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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By: Kevin Drum

MERCENARIES?....Max Boot writes today about a way that the public outcry over immigration provides an opportunity for improving both the quality and quantity of our military recruitment:

Lost in the uproar has been an idea so meritorious that it should win universal assent: Create a fast track toward citizenship for those willing to serve a stint in the United States armed forces.

....This would address two critical shortcomings. First, it would make it easier for the U.S. armed forces to fill their ranks with high-quality volunteers. Second, it would increase the armed forces' knowledge of foreign languages and customs.

....Our current conflicts also require intimate knowledge of the areas where our soldiers operate, because their tasks are often as much diplomatic as military. Recruiting foreigners could go a long way toward filling this critical knowledge deficit.

This is an idea that's been floating around for a long time, and I've never quite been able to make up my mind what I think about it. On the one hand, as Boot acknowledges, it reeks of hiring mercenaries to fight our wars for us. On the other hand, it's all too easy to let a scary word define a debate, and a desire for U.S. citizenship is a far cry from just accepting a paycheck in return for carrying a gun. Besides, my grandfather joined the Navy because he wanted to become an electrician and they were the only ones willing to train him at a price he could afford (i.e., nothing). Plenty of others have signed up in order to take advantage of the GI Bill to get an education. Does that make them mercenaries? Of course not.

But I'm still not sure what I think. It's worth a discussion, though.

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALK RADIO....Erin Aubrey Kaplan comments on Neal Boortz's recent remark that congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's new hairdo makes her look like a "ghetto slut" and shows "contempt for the position that she holds and the body that she serves in":

None of this should matter, of course. Boortz is a relatively minor media figure who, thanks to the McKinney flap, got his 15 minutes. It's tempting to believe this is an isolated incident, and Boortz even wound up apologizing for his misstep, as McKinney did for hers.

But isolated is just what this isn't. That any journalist feels free to insult a member of Congress with a blatantly racist and sexist slur on the public airwaves means that we're all in big trouble. Nor is it likely that Boortz would have said what he said if he didn't feel there was a critical mass of people prepared to agree with him. The context facilitated the comment.

That's exactly right. That Boortz said what he said is bad enough, but he wouldn't have said it if he hadn't felt that a big part of his audience would cheer him on for it. This, my friends, is the sewer that is conservative talk radio.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (264)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE....Captain Ed defends the honor of the Bush adminstration in re The Case of the Dubious Mobile Bioweapons Labs:

What the Post neglects to mention in its sensationalist zeal is that this was one of several teams that investigated the trailers, and the totality of their evaluations came to a different conclusion than that of the leakers who supplied this story.

....To put it in advertising terms, two out of three inspectors agreed that the trailers were part of Saddam's WMD effort. The Pentagon relied on that majority opinion, as did the administration, and no one can argue that doing so constituted either an intent to deceive or even an unreasonable decision at the time.

Nice try, but cutesy advertising jingles to the contrary, this episode fits the usual MO of the Bush administration perfectly: a flat statement of fact about intelligence matters that's made with great fanfare even though they know there's significant dissent within the intelligence community. I haven't been keeping my list of examples up to date, but here are seven cases of the exact same thing, and what they demonstrate beyond question is that you simply can't trust the Bush administration's public statements about intelligence issues. The bioweapons story is #8.

So: Intent to deceive? Check. Unreasonable decision? Check. Deliberate lie? Check.

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE LIES....Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reports on the latest evidence of WMD fabrications from the Bush administration:

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

....But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true....A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq not made public until now had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

...."There was no connection to anything biological," said one expert who studied the trailers. Another recalled an epithet that came to be associated with the trailers: "the biggest sand toilets in the world."

Is this ever going to end? How many more deliberate fabrications would we learn about if we could just turn the White House upside down and shake it?

Kevin Drum 2:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (144)

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April 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ....Michael Yon reports from the UAE on the facts of life in conservative talk radio:

Last week, in America, a radio producer for a large syndicated program in the United States called me requesting that I go on the show, a show that has hosted me many times and where Ive been referred to as, Our man in Iraq. But when I said Iraq is in a civil war, that same producer slammed down the phone and, in so doing, demonstrated how much he reveres truth....When the receiver slammed into the phone, the producer revealed himself naked; he was not supporting the troops, nor the Iraqis, but the President.

....I checked my website to see if the United Arab Emirates had shut me down for saying Iraq was in a Civil War. They had not. More interestingly, though a few military leaders politely disagreed with the statement that Iraq is in a state of civil war, a larger number of Iraq-experienced military officers agreed (off-the-record) that Iraq is in a civil war, and thanked me for saying it.

So whose opinions should we respect on matters Iraq? Smart combat veterans who have graduated from top schools in the United States and who have faced bombs and bullets and bled in Iraq, or a radio producer who has never been there and who cannot control his temper in the face of words? Its time we listened to our combat leaders.

It's worth noting that although Yon believes Iraq is engaged in civil war, he doesn't think this is reason for us to withdraw. However, it's also worth noting that if our officer corps largely believes that Iraq is engaged in civil war too, they need to be willing to say this publicly, not just off the record. If Iraq eventually falls apart and the American public comes to believe that our military leaders were unwilling to speak candidly about events on the ground due to political pressure, the result will be a loss of faith in the military similar to what happened after Vietnam. That would be a very high price to pay.

Kevin Drum 7:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

MODEST PROPOSALS....Ryan Lizza has a pair of recommendations to help George Bush get his groove back:

Bush has to overcome these two characterological features that have cemented as conventional wisdom that he's fundamentally incompetent and that he governs for the benefit of a handful of Republican special interests.

Well, OK. Except that Bush is fundamentally incompetent and he does govern for the benefit of a handful of Republican special interests. How does one "overcome" one's very raison d'etre?

On the other hand, I like the idea of shipping Bush off to Baghdad for the rest of his term. He could start a blog and report back regularly on all the progress we're making.

Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN UPDATE....Iran's game of nuclear chicken continues apace:

Iran has enriched uranium, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Tuesday.

"I'm announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology," Ahmadinejad said in a carefully staged speech carried live across Iran. "This is a very historic moment, and this is because of the Iranian people and their belief. And this is the start of the progress of this country."

It's sort of like watching the Cuban Missile Crisis in ve-r-r-r-y slow motion. And without the possibility of the entire planet being incinerated, of course.

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By: Kevin Drum

TEN COMMANDMENTS....I caught a few minutes of The Ten Commandments last night. Marian thought the production values were cheap, but I had a different complaint: "Why did they cast a guy as Moses who looks like Jesus?" Marian: "Yeah, that was the first thing I thought too."

OK, so why did they choose to make their Moses look exactly the way Jesus is typically portrayed? Marian and I both noticed the resemblance instantly, so we must not be the only ones. What's the deal?

And speaking of television, how about 24, huh? Regular readers know that my favorite character this season is President Charles Logan, so I'm glad to see that they've decided to transform him from a mouse to the ultimate in insider bad guys. They sure do plow through presidents in a hurry on that show, though, don't they?

And $40 million for the next three seasons? Nice work, Kiefer.

Kevin Drum 2:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST ON LOTT....Here's the latest chapter in the continuing follies of John Lott:

John Lott Jr. of Virginia, a former U. of C. visiting professor, alleges that [Steven] Levitt defamed him in the book [Freakonomics] by claiming that other scholars had tried and failed to confirm Lott's conclusion that allowing people to carry concealed weapons reduces crime....According to Levitt's book: "When other scholars have tried to replicate [Lott's] results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don't bring down crime."

.... Lott acknowledged in the suit that some scholars have disagreed with his conclusions. But he said those researchers used "different data or methods to analyze the relationship between gun-control laws and crime" and made no attempt to "replicate" Lott's work.

Testy, isn't he? Needless to say, to "replicate" a result doesn't necessarily mean to use precisely the same data and methods as the original researcher, but as it happens other researchers have used Lott's data and methods, and once they corrected his coding mistakes they found that his results didn't hold up. In response, Lott simply switched to a new method so that the correctly coded data would continue to support his theory.

If it takes more than five minutes for a judge to toss this out, there's no justice.

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By: Kevin Drum

MINIMUM WAGE....The LA Times has a pair of op-eds today about the minimum wage. The first is by a Republican state senator who supports a modest increase but opposes a Democratic proposal to index the minimum wage to inflation and accuses Dems of "political posturing." The second is by a Republican state senator who opposes any hike in the minimum wage and declares Democratic arguments in support of an increase to be the "soothing and smarmy rhetoric of leftist populism."

Some balance, eh? But speaking of smarmy rhetoric, you can tell when minimum wage opponents have completely run out of steam when they make the following argument:

If a simple legislative act increasing the minimum wage to $7.75 is all that is needed to improve the lot of the working poor by just a little, then why not raise it to $10 an hour and get them to the poverty level? For that matter, why not raise it to $50 an hour?

Good question, Tom. Likewise, if cutting taxes is good for the economy, why not get rid of them entirely? If three strikes send you to prison, why not one? If business is too tied up in regulations, why not ditch them all?

How tired and threadbare. If this kind of juvenile flailing is the best that opponents can come up with, there truly must not be any arguments left against raising the minimum wage. So how about if we stop listening to fatuous stuff like this and just give the working poor a helping hand instead? Raising the minimum wage a buck or two is the least we can do for them.

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By: Kevin Drum

WORKING HARD OR HARDLY WORKING?....The Washington Post reports that Republicans are frustrated with President Bush's detached approach to immigration reform:

When the delicate compromise was announced Thursday morning, Senate Republicans said, White House officials had told them that Bush would appear on television early that afternoon to strongly back the deal a move that advocates say could have shored up support and deflected opposition from conservatives. Right on time, Bush appeared in Charlotte, N.C., at 12:36 p.m., but his message was to exhort senators "to work hard."

Well, what do they expect? We all know how Bush feels about hard work.

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April 10, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

49.7-49.8 NATION....And here I thought we had close elections:

Italy's centre-left opposition has won a narrow victory in the lower house of parliament, official results say.

It won 49.8% of the vote against 49.7% for the centre-right, according to interior ministry figures.

The centre-left coalition is also projecting that it will win a one-seat majority in the upper house.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LESSON OF TAL AFAR....George Packer's latest New Yorker article on Iraq is now online, and as usual, it's both lengthy and worthwhile. It's called "The Lesson of Tal Afar," and it's about a subject that regular readers know I touch on frequently: counterinsurgency.

Packer's focus is on the successful counterinsurgency tactics used by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar over the past year, but ironically, it's that very success that makes this article such discouraging reading. Tal Afar demonstrates that counterinsurgency can work in Iraq, but it also demonstrates clearly just how hard it is and how little of it we're really committed to doing. Instead, too many soldiers are being pulled back to "enduring FOBs," gigantic bases completely cut off from daily life in Iraq:

A field-grade officer in the 101st Airborne said, The algorithm of success is to get a good-enough solution. There were, he said, three categories of assessment for every aspect of the mission: optimal, acceptable, and unacceptable. He made it clear that optimal wasnt in the running.

....But a good-enough counterinsurgency is really none at all. There is no substitute for the investment of time, effort, and risk that was so evident in Tal Afar. The retreat to the enduring FOBs seems like an acknowledgment that counterinsurgency is just too hard.

....[Lt. General David] Petraeus is overseeing a group of active-duty and former officers in the writing of a new joint Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual....In February, I attended a two-day workshop at Fort Leavenworth, where the authors of the draft heard suggestions from an assembly of critics....The question hanging unasked over the workshop at Fort Leavenworth was whether it was already too late to change the militarys approach in Iraq. When Kalev Sepp discussed the field manual with students in his class on insurgency at the Naval Postgraduate School, a Special Forces captain said, If this manual isnt written soon, youll have it ready just in time to give one to each soldier leaving Iraq.

After three years, we're still working on the field manual. In the meantime, we have too few officers who understand counterinsurgency and too few battalions to make it work: after all, even in Tal Afar the only result was probably to force the city's insurgents to melt away to other areas. Long-term success in Iraq would require, at a minimum, (a) twice the number of troops we have now, (b) long deployments, and (c) an absolute commitment to counterinsurgency tactics from top to bottom. But even today that simply doesn't exist.

And it's probably too late anyway. Counterinsurgency is the right tactic if you're fighting an insurgency, but not if you're fighting a sectarian civil war. And more and more, that's what we're fighting.

But read the whole thing and make up your own mind. It's worth a few minutes of your time.

Kevin Drum 7:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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By: Kevin Drum

TOUGH TIMES FOR THE BOSS....Sad news today: CEO compensation increased only 16% in 2005. The yacht industry must be worried sick.

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REGIME CHANGE IN IRAN....Remember the White House Iraq Group? And the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans? Basically, they were organizations designed to sidestep the moldy old national security bureaucracy and market the war with Iraq directly to the American public. And while in retrospect some may have questioned their, um, dedication to precise and sober analysis, you can't deny they were effective.

Well, guess what? Lawrence Kaplan reports that we now have a similar organization for Iran:

Although a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) declines to comment on its existence, and the press has yet to carry a single mention of it, last month the administration formed something called the Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG) a group headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Liz Cheney, the purpose of which is to encourage regime change in Iran. It's no secret that Cheney has over $80 million at her disposal to promote democracy in Iran. But ISOG isn't simply about promoting democracy. It's about helping to craft official policy, doing so not with one but two countries in its sights, and creating a policymaking apparatus that parallels and skirts Foggy Bottom's suspect Iran desk.

Kaplan, for reasons that are obscure, apparently accepts at face value the official explanation that "ISOG has no role to play on security issues, doesn't coordinate at all with White House efforts against Iran at the United Nations, and confines itself to promoting regime change from within." Sure it does. That's why the Vice President's daughter is in charge of it.

In any case, connect the dots. "Promoting regime change from within" = the Iranian exile community. The Iranian exile community = source of dubious intelligence about Iran's nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program = excuse to go to war. Why change a winning game plan?

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BOMBING IRAN....I think a number of people are missing the point about the latest spate of articles suggesting that George Bush has plans for an air strike against Iran. The United States military has contingency plans for everything, they say, so it's hardly a surprise that the military has contingency plans for Iran. William Arkin even tells us their names: CONPLAN 8022 and CONPLAN 1025.

But what's important isn't the existence of the contingency plans. Rather, it's the fairly obvious fact that the Bush administration is publicizing them as part of a very public PR campaign in favor of a strike against Iran. The problem is that even if this is a bluff, it's one that has a profound effect on both Iran and the American public. As James Fallows says:

By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel create excess demand for military action, as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices.

In other words, if the PR campaign is too successful, then Bush will have boxed himself in. Eventually he'll feel obligated to bomb Iran solely because he's now under pressure to make good on his threats and doesn't want to look like he's backing down. World Wars have started over less.

Who knows? A subtle and well orchestrated game of chicken might be appropriate here. But please raise your hands if you trust this crew to play a subtle and well orchestrated game of anything.

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WHAT DID BUSH KNOW?...Here's an excerpt from Patrick Fitzgerald's court filing that discusses the events of September 2003, when the White House was coming under attack for the leak of Valerie Plame's identity:

During this time, while the President was unaware of the role that the Vice Presidents Chief of Staff and National Security Adviser had in fact played in disclosing Ms. Wilsons CIA employment, [Libby] implored White House officials to have a public statement issued exonerating him.

It's only one sentence, and it's not clear what Fitzgerald bases this on, but it seems as if he's saying as a factual matter that George Bush had no role in the Plame leak and didn't know it had happened. Since Bush's role in Plamegate is still an open question, I'm a little surprised this statement hasn't gotten more attention.

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FREE TRADE....Niall Ferguson urges us not to give up on free trade and liberal immigration policies:

Global flows of labor, capital and goods are all under attack and this in a country that has been enjoying robust growth for the better part of five years. I shudder to think what would be coming out of Congress if the country was in recession. Presumably a bill for total autarky, mandating the construction of a vast, impermeable dome from sea to shining sea.

....Proponents of a new generation of anti-global measures claim to want to protect vulnerable native groups from the ravages of competition....Yet it would be an error to blame the widening inequalities of American societies on globalization and to seek to rectify matters with the old, failed policies of nativism and protectionism. American inequality has much more to do with not-very-progressive taxation and patchy welfare provisions than with immigration and free trade.

But it's people like Ferguson who are the source of the problem. He's obviously able to work up a serious head of steam about the dangers of protectionism and nativism, and he even recognizes that the answer is to pair up free trade proposals with more liberal social policies to help the poor and the working class the ones who pay the bulk of the price for globalization.

But after coming up with the answer, what does he do? Propose more liberal social policies? No. Instead, he proposes a new slogan for our schoolchildren: "If you flunk, you're sunk." That's fine, but why not propose more liberal social programs too?

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CHENEY DID IT!....The New York Times reports that George Bush's people have confirmed that he did order the declassification of the NIE that Scooter Libby subsequently disclosed to Judith Miller:

But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters.

Translation: Don't blame this on us. Cheney and his guys might have been out of control, but Bush had nothing to do with any leaks. All he did was approve the declassification.

The scapegoating is starting to heat up. Can we expect a rebuttal from an anonymous official on Cheney's staff anytime soon?

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DARFUR....This is depressing. The Bush administration is floating a plan for intervention in Darfur that's so obviously inadequate it might as well be called "Operation We Don't Care":

The proposal...falls well short of more aggressive measures that some have advocated, such as sending ground combat troops or providing air patrols to protect peacekeepers and prevent the bombing of villages. These options have been ruled out as unnecessary at this time, an administration official said.

....Plans under consideration envision fewer than 500 NATO advisers. They would be assigned to African Union headquarters units and assist in logistics, communications, intelligence and command and control activities, not engage directly in field operations.

"Unnecessary at this time." How comforting.

Not that I really blame Bush for this. Sure, it would be nice to see some more aggressive leadership from the White House, but as near as I can tell it's going to be tough to get Europe to agree to even this much. There's simply no desire anywhere in the world to take the Darfur genocide seriously.

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April 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

GASOLINE UPDATE....Here's a Knight Ridder story about gasoline prices vs. gasoline demand:

Gasoline prices have reached $3 a gallon in some parts of the nation, and crude oil is hovering close to last summer's record high....[But] U.S. demand for fuel continues to grow. It was up by more than a full percentage point in March and is expected to climb still more when the peak-driving season begins in May.

.... Some states...have banned [a fuel additive called] MTBE....Many refiners, unable to sell in some states and fearing future environmental claims in others, are no longer putting MTBE in their gasoline, which could reduce the volume of the nation's fuel supply by about 1.6 percent, a large amount in a tight market.

....The American Automobile Association, however, thinks the MTBE issue is already driving up gas prices. "We're looking for some quantifiable data on that, but it does appear that it is having an effect," said Montill Williams, a national spokesman for AAA in Washington.

Two comments. First, if 1.6% is a "large amount," then we are indeed in a very tight market. This is probably due to both refinery capacity issues and fundamental oil supply issues.

Second, gasoline prices have doubled in the past few years and demand has continued to increase. It hasn't even leveled off, let alone dropped. I'm not opposed to higher gasoline taxes, but anyone who thinks gas taxes are good way to lower gasoline consumption had better be in favor of a whopping big one.

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BLEEP....Why, yes, as a matter of fact I did rent the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? and thought it was crap. But I'll give The Disgruntled Chemist credit: at least he seems to have watched the whole thing. I only made it halfway through before my brain rebelled.

Oh, and DC is actually too kind. The movie is even worse and more tedious than he says.

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THE VIEW FROM BAGHDAD....The New York Times reports today on an internal staff report about how things are going in Iraq, and I figured I'd flip right to the page about Baghdad Province. The official prognosis is on the right.

So let's see. The local government is increasingly under the control of an Iranian-backed theocratic party with a famously independent and vengeful private militia. Assassinations are frequent and criminal activity is common. Unemployment is high and infrastructure is weak. The overall situation is "serious."

That's the official government view, anyway. But I don't get it. If things are going that well, why does the media continually focus only on the bad news?

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SADDAM'S URANIUM SHOPPING....Both the Washington Post and Tom Maguire bury the lead today in reporting about Iraq's alleged prewar uranium cravings. Here it is:

Iraq's alleged uranium shopping had been strongly disputed in the intelligence community from the start....[In 2002] the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council.

....The council's reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

In other words, well before the 2003 State of the Union Address, when George Bush stated unequivocally that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," his own intelligence experts had told him unequivocally and in writing that the story was bogus.

I for one would sure like to see that memo. Wouldn't you? A couple of questions spring immediately to mind:

  • Does "unequivocal" mean that the memo debunked the whole story, or just the Niger part?

  • Does "unequivocal" mean that the memo addressed and debunked the supposedly "independent" British reports about Saddam's attempts to purchase uranium? After all, the CIA's deputy director was already on record telling Congress that "we don't think they are very credible," so it seems like the kind of thing the NIC might address.

Inquring minds want to know. This seems like a memo that could stand to be declassified in the public interest, no?

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April 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST ON IRAN....Jane Harman is a generally hawkish and fairly sober Democrat who recently received an intelligence briefing on Iran:

Her bottom line: "I remain skeptical lots of unanswered questions."

"The conjecture that I have is that if I were Iran, and I wanted to put out disinformation, it might look a lot like what our government is claiming is information," she said. "I can't tell you that's true, but I can't tell you it's not true."

....Harman said she does not doubt that Iran is a threat. "The issue is how capable are they and what are the real intentions of Iran's leaders, and I think the jury is out on both of those," Harman said.

But Jane Harman is not president of the United States. Here's Seymour Hersh on what George Bush thinks:

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do, and that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.

....One of the militarys initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

...The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff....[A Pentagon adviser on the war on terror] called it a juggernaut that has to be stopped. He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries, the adviser told me. This goes to high levels.

As usual, Hersh's piece is based almost entirely on anonymous sources, so take it for what it's worth. But it warrants reading regardless. It may or may not be a bluff, but the PR campaign for an air strike against Iran is clearly moving into high gear.

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WHAT THE NSA IS DOING....A couple of months ago the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class action suit against AT&T for violating its customers' privacy by cooperating with the NSA's domestic spying program. On Friday, they released a statement from a former AT&T technician named Mark Klein who saw what the NSA did in AT&T's San Francisco office:

In January 2003, I...saw a new room being built adjacent to the 4ESS switch room where the public's phone calls are routed....While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal.

....One of the [design] documents listed the equipment installed in the secret room, and this list included a Narus STA 6400, which is a "Semantic Traffic Analyzer". The Narus STA technology is known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets....[Later] I learned that other such "splitter" cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

....Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA's spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA's charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals' phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of internet communications of countless citizens.

The Narus STA is designed to analyze internet traffic so that service providers can create specially configured billing plans for their customers. But it's also highly customizable for other uses, as outlined in this old Forbes profile:

Want to know what Narus software can do? It can find out how much time you spent on the network, how many E-mails you sent, how long you played online video games, how many files you uploaded or downloaded and what web sites you accessed.

....It is not just billing, it is much more than billing," says [Narus president Mark] Stone....Gartner Group senior analyst Chris Ransom is duly impressed by this vision, and points out that there is a critical difference between Narus and all the other companies competing in the marketplace. "Utilization of the data from a marketing and sales point of view is an extremely powerful selling point," says Ransom.

Note: "Marketing and sales" = data mining. More to come on this, I'm sure.

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THE IMMIGRATION TWO-STEP....So what happened on the immigration bill? The nickel answer is that Harry Reid and Bill Frist agreed on a compromise measure that had broad bipartisan support in the Senate, but Reid wanted assurances that Frist was willing to control his own caucus and deliver the bill they had shaken hands on. After all, as Ron Brownstein points out, Republicans have made a habit of reneging on agreements like this before:

Repeatedly in recent years, the Senate has forged bipartisan agreements on issues such as energy policy, the Medicare prescription drug plan and renewal of the Patriot Act, only to see much more conservative approaches emerge from conference committees with the House.

Only an idiot gets taken to the cleaners time after time in exactly the same way by exactly the same people, and Reid isn't an idiot. When it became clear that conservative Republicans were intent on undermining the compromise with amendments, Reid asked Frist to demonstrate his good faith by reining in his colleagues. Frist refused, and even veteran Republican vote-counter Orrin Hatch admitted that Reid was justified in viewing this as a surreptitious betrayal: "The Democrats know the amendments would pass," he said in an interview. "They lost in [the Judiciary] committee, but they would pass on the floor."

The next step in this familiar dance would have come in conference with the House. Frist's usual tactic is to deliberately appoint weak negotiators from the Senate who will cave in to hardline House negotiators, producing a bill that looks nothing like the original deal. Time magazine describes what happened behind closed doors:

Reid had tried to get some kind of guarantee from Frist that Republican Senators would support only the Senate version in conference, and over the last 24 hours, Sen. John McCain worked to sign colleagues on for just such an assurance. Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, tried to be reassuring. The Senate will defend the Senate position, he said. But Reid wanted more than that. We have no safety net here, says a top Reid aide, The Republicans have the President, the Senate and the House. In negotiations that lasted all night, Reid's staff insisted on a say in the make-up of the conference committee, but Frist wouldn't budge.

In other words, "trust us." But Frist's actions made it crystal clear that the standard double cross was in the works: agree on a deal, water it down with amendments, gut it in conference, and then eventually present Democrats with a fait accompli: an up-or-down vote on a conference markup that looks nothing like the one Frist and Reid shook hands on. Democrats would then have the choice of either voting for a harsh and punitive bill they never agreed to or else filibustering it and getting tarred as obstructionists by gleeful Republicans aided and abetted by credulous editorial boards like this one.

But despite what the Washington Post thinks, what was at stake here wasn't the compromise bill that Reid and Frist agreed to a bill that might very well have been a decent step forward. That was just flash for the rubes, and Frist knew it perfectly well. Pro-immigration groups who are complaining about Reid's hardball would be wise to figure this out too.

When someone has suckered you enough times, you demand guarantees before you'll make another deal with him. If all you get is sweet talk, you know the fix is in and you walk away. Reid walked away, and it was the right thing to do.

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April 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BEING JOHN SNOW....Daniel Gross explains why White House insiders are unhappy with Treasury Secretary John Snow:

The dissatisfaction with Snow stems from the fact that he doesn't seem to convince enough Americans that it's raining when they're getting pissed on. Sure, the headline figures on gross domestic product, inflation, and the unemployment rate look fine. But median income hasn't budged in several years, and the tax cuts aren't trickling down....As people who rely on wage income are subject to the slow-motion wage and benefits cram down, Snow and the Bush administration have had nothing to offer except health savings accounts, income inequality, and capital gains tax cuts.

Yep. You can only con the rubes for just so long. Read the rest to learn why the odds are against finding a decent replacement or possibly any replacement at all for Snow.

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HERESY OR GREED?....Is National Geographic "peddling heresy"? Stephen Bainbridge investigates.

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MUST HAVE BEEN SOMETHING IN HIS TACO....Why should we think immigrants from Mexico are any more dangerous than immigrants from other countries? Mickey Kaus offers this explanation:

Part of the answer is [that] citizens of "other backgrounds" do not have any colorable claim that they are living in the land of their "roots," land then taken by the U.S.. There's no danger that Koreans on Vermont Avenue will think they have a special pre-1789 entitlement to Koreatown, or desire to reconnect it to its ancient, original status as part of Korea. The more historically valid the Mexican claim that "vast portions" of the Southwest constitute their "homeland," the more dicey it is to allow such a large chunk of immigration to come from Mexico. True, the fabled "reconquista" is hardly a real threat now. But who can guarantee what future generations will think?

This is a rather baroque fear, no? One more step and we're in Howard Hughes territory.

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TRADE vs. IMMIGRATION....Over at Max's place, Josh Bivens writes about immigration:

Immigration has recently joined international trade as one of the most controversial topics in American politics. For an economist, this isnt surprising. Economic theory predicts that the impacts of immigration and trade on the American economy are analytically equivalent: both increase total national income while causing redistribution that typically harms less-skilled natives.

Josh makes the point that the ideal answer is the same in both cases: let in both goods and workers, but make up the damage done to the working class via social policy: "The corporate class gets NAFTA, American workers should have gotten universal health care. The corporate class gets membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), American workers should have gotten labor law reform to help willing workers more easily form unions."

Read the whole thing. If you're in favor of free trade, why not liberal immigration policies too?

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DEMS AT WORK....Sam Rosenfeld picks up on Amy Sullivan's arguments that congressional Democrats are more effective than most people think and carries it a step further:

Much of her focus is on the mainstream media narratives that continue to portray Democrats as invariably weak, divided, and feckless. But MSM cluelessness is an old story what's frankly more troubling and frustrating is the unyielding scorn and hostility that Democratic activists and netroots folks heap on the Democratic congressional leadership.

Take the question of caucus discipline. The lack of comparative context underlying liberal critics' incessant carping on this front is glaring compared to both recent and much more longstanding historical precedent, the current Democratic opposition has not only been disciplined and unified, but effective.

He's right. I've been pretty impressed over the past year with Harry Reid, who's been remarkably sure-footed in both his public statements and his parliamentary efforts to keep Bill Frist off balance. I've been less sure about Nancy Pelosi, but Sam makes a pretty good case for her too.

Take immigration, for example. House Democrats obviously oppose making illegal immigrants into felons, but check out John Podhoretz's political primer in the New York Post last week:

Back in December, the House of Representatives began debating the first draft of a tough immigration bill that included language effectively turning every illegal immigrant into a putative felon. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the co-sponsor of the legislation, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, offered an amendment that would change the felony to a misdemeanor.

....The Sensenbrenner amendment failed to pass the House, even though 156 Republicans voted to soften the penalty. Why? Because 191 of the 201 House Democrats voted against it.

They voted, in other words, to keep the language that would make being an illegal alien a felony. They did so because they understood that, as the bill moved closer to becoming law, they could use the felony provision as a weapon against Republicans.

Cynical? Sure. But Podhoretz also recognizes it as "canny political planning," and he's right. The felony provision is a Republican proposal, and if Republicans can't get their own caucus to soften it then they're the ones who will pay the price. But that only happens if Democrats stick together and don't let Republicans off the hook for the actions of their own members.

And they did.

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IRAN....I'm old fashioned enough that I still tend to ignore silly attacks rather than respond instantly to them, but enough's enough. A couple of days ago, citing sources who thought the Bush administration was becoming increasingly likely to propose air strikes against Iran, I said, "If Democrats don't start thinking about how they're going to respond to this, they're idiots." The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto, displaying the postmodern parsing skills favored by contemporary conservatives, didn't like this:

One would have more confidence in the Democrats if this leading young intellectual said they needed to start thinking about what was in the best interests of the country rather than "how they're going to respond to this" as a campaign issue.

This is pretty rich. I was specifically responding to the likelihood that the Bush administration would cynically build up Iran as a campaign issue just as they did with Iraq and my advice encompassed two obvious meanings: Democrats should figure out substantively what the right policy toward Iran is and they should figure out how to sell this policy to the American public. Choosing a transparently strained reading in an effort to pretend that I don't care about what's best for my country is pretty contemptible.

And for the record: I didn't cite "a source of [my] own." I cited and linked to a Joseph Cirincione column in Foreign Policy.

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CHERRY PICKING THE TRUTH....It turns out Andrew Sullivan had already written my previous post about presidential leaking an hour before I did. That's what I get for being on West Coast time. Here's his version:

In this case, we're...talking about the following set of circumstances. A president is challenged in his public account of pre-war intelligence. The president authorizes a selective leak of classified information to rebut the challenge. He selects only those parts of the classified information that supports his case, and omits the rest that actually show parts of the government disputing his case. He authorizes the veep to authorize Libby to give the selected information to a pliant reporter for the New York Times. Meanwhile, his public statements reiterate an abhorrence of all unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

....It shows a conscious capacity to mislead people by selectively disclosing data that skews for a while the public's understanding of the facts. It proves that this president is capable of deliberately misleading the American people as a gambit in a Beltway spat

This gets to a point that I've made once or twice before: national security is different because the president controls all the information. If George Bush spins the truth about Social Security reform, there are dozens of analysts with access to the numbers who can spin back. When it comes to national security, though, the president holds all the cards. If we have a president willing to cherry pick intelligence and release only the parts that support his case, there's no one who can fight back.

Scott McClellan, it turns out, not only agrees, but thinks this is just fine:

The unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to a program like the terrorist surveillance program is harmful to our nation's security....So there's a distinction...between declassifying information that is in the public interest and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security.

Translation: the president decides what's in the public interest, and that's what the public gets to hear. Everything else is harmful to national security.

And of course, as Laura Rozen points out, Pat Roberts feels the same way. Apparently Republicans are of one mind about this: A powerful, unaccountable executive is fine as long as it's their powerful, unaccountable executive.

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CLASSIFIED LEAKS AS POLITICAL WEAPONS....Did George Bush authorize Scooter Libby to disclose classified information to the New York Times in 2003, as Libby alleges? Oddly enough, it turns out the White House isn't denying it:

A senior administration official, speaking on background because White House policy prohibits comment on an active investigation, said Bush sees a distinction between leaks and what he is alleged to have done. The official said Bush authorized the release of the classified information to assure the public of his rationale for war as it was coming under increasing scrutiny.

So Bush did know about the leak, and he did authorize it. What's more, his excuse is a simple one: he wanted to defend himself against attacks on his war policy, so it was OK.

That's exactly what happened, but it's remarkable that he's willing to admit it. Basically, Bush is saying that it's all right for him to selectively leak classified information whenever he feels it would help him politically.

Are conservatives OK with this? Should presidents be allowed to leak classified information whenever they're under pressure and need to strike back at their opponents? Even Richard Nixon didn't believe that (in 1960, anyway).

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THE SIMMERING FROG....As we all know, President Bush believes he has the right to eavesdrop on calls between the United States and foreign countries at his sole discretion without a warrant, without probable cause, and regardless of the requirements of federal law. But if he has that inherent authority, why not also eavesdrop on purely domestic calls? Back in January, a reporter asked General Michael Hayden this question and Hayden said simply, "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty."

In other words, the president could eavesdrop on domestic calls too if he felt like it. On Thursday, the administration confirmed this point of view:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales left open the possibility yesterday that President Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the United States a move that would dramatically expand the reach of a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program.

...."I'm not going to rule it out," Gonzales said.

....Gonzales previously testified in the Senate that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the NSA spying program, but he said the idea was rejected in part because of fears of a public outcry.

This is exactly why a public outcry is important. Once the public accepts the idea that domestic-to-international calls can be tapped at the whim of the administration without a warrant and without bothering to show probable cause they're a lot less likely to be upset at the prospect of domestic-to-domestic calls being tapped too. The frog is simmering.

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By: Kevin Drum

HAVE YOU EVER LIED TO THE AUTHORITIES?....Starting in July, passengers traveling to Russia will be required to take a lie detector test before entering the country. The device relies on voice stress analysis to figure out who's lying and who's not:

The machine asks four questions: The first is for full identity; the second, unnerving in its Soviet-style abruptness, demands: "Have you ever lied to the authorities?" It then asks whether either weapons or narcotics are being carried.

....Passengers who fail will be subjected to more rigorous interrogation both by the verifier, whose accuracy increases to 98 percent with more extensive questioning, and by its human colleagues.

I realize that Russia is now officially our warmest and dearest friend, but can I just say that this news does not increase my eagerness to visit the land of Darkness at Noon? The prospect of "more rigorous interrogation" doesn't reassure my already jangled nerves, and 98% accuracy doesn't seem like very good odds. What's more, the article doesn't say what happens if you fail. (Or what happens if you answer Yes to the question about lying to authorities.) I think I'll pass on the Hermitage this year.

Via Tyler Cowen.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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April 6, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CRANKY ABOUT HEALTHCARE....T.J. Simers is an LA Times writer whose schtick is cranky sports columnist, but today he plays cranky healthcare critic:

TRUE STORY. I can barely walk, suffering a serious knee injury while on assignment in Las Vegas....I called my doctor (he was in Hawaii), got sent to urgent care, where they took their time, went for an X-ray because an MRI exam on our HMO plan is obviously too expensive, and was told to wait for the guy to get back from Hawaii.

He returned, telling me how much it rained while he was there, and referred me to a shoulder specialist.... I switched to a knee guy...and who knows if he's any good?....I've been given no choice, and now I've been told I have to wait 20 days to see [him].

...."I'm just supposed to limp around in pain for the next 20 days?" I asked the appointment clerk, and she said, "Yes."

....The guys in the office said they had similar problems with HMOs, and weren't surprised with my Cigna plan, which is apparently designed to prolong pain in the hopes it might go away before someone forces Cigna to pay for a MRI or treatment.

See, that's why we can't have single-payer healthcare in the United States. It might lead to something like this:

The health system in France is regarded as delivering high quality services, with freedom of choice and generally no waiting lists for treatments. Access to medical services is equal among the population and, unlike in some other countries, people can get the treatments they need irrespective of their social status or work situation.

It costs less too. Can't have that, can we?

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By: Kevin Drum

DECLASSIFICATION MAGIC....Today's Valerie Plame news revolves around a recently submitted court document from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in which he reveals some new details about Scooter Libby's testimony to the grand jury last year. Apparently Libby admitted that although he disclosed some information from a classified document to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in 2003, he did so only after Dick Cheney gave him the go-ahead. And Cheney did that only after George Bush gave him the go-ahead. Libby claims he asked Cheney's counsel, David Addington, if this was kosher, and Addington told him that Bush's permission "amounted to a declassification of the document."

You can find reams of analysis about this at practically every URL in the blogosphere right now, but I'd just like to highlight the following timeline from 2003:

  1. July 8: Based on Addington's assurances, Libby discloses information from a classified 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to Miller. This information helps Libby make the case that Joseph Wilson was wrong to say that Iraq wasn't seeking uranimum from Africa before the war.

  2. July 11: Time reporter Matthew Cooper speaks with Karl Rove. Rove assured him that "material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and his findings." Rove is almost certainly talking about the NIE here.

  3. July 18: The NIE is officially declassified.

So: Cheney and Bush and Addington all supposedly believed they could declassify the NIE on Bush's say-so, but for some reason they continued with the normal declassification process anyway. In fact, "Defendant testified in the grand jury that he understood that even in the days following his conversation with Ms. Miller, other key officials including Cabinet level officials were not made aware of the earlier declassification even as those officials were pressed to carry out a declassification of the NIE." It was just a private little declassification between the three of them that even Karl Rove didn't know about.

Needless to say, this doesn't make sense. Documents are either declassified or they're not, and the president can either declassify them with a mere verbal flick of his wrist or he can't. Which is it?

POSTSCRIPT: Fitzgerald's complete filing is here. Note the statement on page 7 that "Some documents produced to defendant could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson." Do you think we'll ever get to see those documents?

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By: Kevin Drum

A BIT TOO EARLY?....Three years into the genocide in Darfur, you would think that travel bans and asset freezes for the men most reponsible for the continued violence would be the absolute minimum the Bush administration would support. But you'd be wrong. According to a spokesman for our UN mission, it's "a bit too early to talk about specific names."

Mark Leon Goldberg has the full story.

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By: Kevin Drum

NOT AS LAME AS YOU THINK....For the past two weeks Harry Reid has been insisting that Bill Frist allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor for the relatively liberal immigration bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee back in March. Frist and his fellow Republicans, outraged over Reid's parliamentary tactics, have spent that entire time pounding on the table and labeling Reid as yes, you guessed it an obstructionist.

Today Reid lost his bid to force a floor vote on the Judiciary proposal. But guess what? Minority parties rarely win procedural votes, and by hanging tough Reid did force Frist to accept a compromise proposal. It might not be the greatest compromise in the world, but as recently as a year ago most observers wouldn't have credited the Democrats with the moxie to win even this much.

But as Amy Sullivan points out in "Not As Lame As You Think," our cover story this month, Democrats have actually been surprisingly united and effective over the past year despite their minority status and the media's insistence on pushing their favored storyline of Dems as hopelessly divided and timid. The reality is that the sell-by date on that storyline expired long ago.

Consider. Democrats successfully killed a Social Security privatization plan that nearly everyone thought was a lock for passage. Harry Reid forced the Intelligence Committee to investigate prewar intelligence by shutting down the Senate. Nancy Pelosi worked shrewdly with Jack Murtha to give him the maximum possible attention for his pro-withdrawal message. (Yes, really.) George Miller single-handedly forced George Bush to rescind his suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act following Hurricane Katrina. And Chuck Schumer was the driving force behind criticism of the Dubai port deal.

So why don't Democrats get more credit? Louise Slaughter, a feisty Democrat who led the opposition to Ethics Committee rule changes last year, blames it on journalists who simply refuse to abandon their favored narratives:

When reporters do write about Democratic victories, they often omit the protagonists from the story completely, leaving readers to wonder why Republicans would change course out of the blue. A Washington Post article about the Ethics Committee rule change simply noted that House Republicans overwhelmingly agreed to rescind rule changes, in the face, apparently, of phantom opposition. Or journalists give credit to maverick Republicans rather than acknowledge the success of a unified Democratic effort: The Associated Press covered Bush's reversal on Davis-Bacon by writing, The White House promised to restore the 74-year-old Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protection on Nov. 8, following a meeting between chief of staff Andrew Card and a caucus of pro-labor Republicans. Or Bush is blamed for his own defeats, without any mention of an opposition effort, as with Social Security privatization.

I have my doubts that the 2006 Democrats are really the equivalent of the 1994 Republicans, as Amy implies. More like the 1946 Republicans, I'd guess. But I do think she may be right about the imminent collapse of the media narrative of Dem fecklessness and disarray. There seems to be a tipping point to these kinds of storylines, where they hold firm seemingly forever until suddenly everyone discovers all at once that they haven't been true for quite a while. Given the changes on the ground, this particular storyline shouldn't have much longer to live.

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By: Kevin Drum

UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE IN THE BAY STATE....Several emailers want to know what I think of the new Massachusetts universal healthcare legislation. Answer: I'm not sure.

As near as I can tell, the main point in its favor is that it's something. It's progress just to have a state pass any universal healthcare legislation at all, and it's a good example of a state acting as a laboratory for a new idea.

At the same time, the plan itself is a fairly unattractive kludge that, in essence, extends Medicaid to more people and levies a small fine (in the form of higher income taxes) on anyone who doesn't have health insurance but could afford to buy it. This doesn't do anything to address cost containment and doesn't do anything to make the system more efficient.

What's more, as several people have pointed out, Massachusetts is in a very unusual position: they have such a small uninsured population that they were able to pass their plan with almost nothing in the way of new taxes to fund it. There are very few states that are in this position, which makes the plan's usefulness as a model limited. On the other hand, I think Jon Cohn has an incisive take on the political ramifications:

Nationally the most important impact of this new law may be on politics, not policy. Once [governor Mitt] Romney starts boasting about how he achieved universal health coverage in Massachusetts, it will become that much harder for conservatives to demonize the very concept as "big government." Oh, they'll try and they'll have at least some success. But now Democrats will have this retort: If a Republican governor and leading presidential contender with strong conservative credentials thinks universal health care is a good idea, how radical an idea can it be?

That's right. If Romney runs, he's going to make universal healthcare a major plank in a Republican campaign. Even if he loses, that's a huge step.

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM'S NUKES....When George Bush touted aluminum tubes and uranium from Africa as firm evidence of Iraqi nuclear ambitions in his 2003 State of the Union address, was he aware that the intelligence community had significant doubts about both of these items? Writing in the National Journal, Murray Waas claims there is documentary evidence that George Bush did know this and that Karl Rove was worried about the consequences if this ever became public.

In response, Greg Sargent lays out a sort of grand unified theory of the Valerie Plame affair that tries to explain a central question: why did Scooter Libby (and possibly others) lie to the grand jury about their role in outing Plame's identity to reporters? After all, what they did probably wasn't even illegal. So why take such a dangerous risk?

It is entirely plausible that Bush advisers calculated that if it came out that theyd outed Plame, Congress would have been forced by the resulting firestorm to run a far more aggressive investigation of Bushs pre-war deceptions....

White House officials, including Bush himself, withheld critical information it had about doubts over supposed evidence of Saddam's nuke ambitions in order to better make the case for war. Then they subsequently discovered that hard evidence existed of that duplicity. Then, anxious that this evidence might surface before the 2004 reelection, they engaged in a relentless campaign to cover up what really happened during the Iraq run-up and to prevent an aggressive congressional investigation until after the election.

Read the whole thing to get a better understanding of Greg's theory. I'm not sure if I buy it or not, but it does fit my own theory that Saddam's supposed nuke program was by far the most critical part of the prewar WMD argument and Bush's team was hyper-sensitive about keeping it credible. Back in 2004, even hardened Bush supporters probably would have turned on him if they had believed he consciously deceived them about this.

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April 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AMATEUR HOUR....Heather Hurlburt on Karen Hughes. Go read.

Honestly, just when you think the Bush administration amateur hour can't get any worse, they prove you wrong. And we still have 33 months to go.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT MORE?....Scientists have discovered yet another fossil that's a transitional form between one animal and another:

In addition to confirming elements of a major transition in evolution, the fossils are widely seen by scientists as a powerful rebuttal to religious creationists, who hold a literal biblical view on the origins and development of life.

....One creationist Web site (emporium.turnpike.net/C/cs/evid1.htm) declares that "there are no transitional forms," adding: "For example, not a single fossil with part fins part feet has been found. And this is true between every major plant and animal kind."

[Michael J. Novacek, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan] responded in an interview: "We've got Archaeopteryx, an early whale that lived on land and now this animal showing the transition from fish to tetrapod. What more do we need from the fossil record to show that the creationists are flatly wrong?"

I appreciate the sentiment, but I imagine that this latest discovery will have approximately zero effect. Sigh.

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By: Kevin Drum

SOME WEE ADVICE....Peter Beinart offers George Bush some advice on immigration policy:

Perhaps a more enlightened Republican friend will come to Bush and say this. "Your presidency isn't hanging by a thread; your presidency is already over. You staked it on the war in Iraq, and you lost. Even if Republicans do hold Congress this fall, they will never again acquiesce to your wishes. Your hopes of passing any kind of agenda are over. So think about your legacy. If historians say anything kind, it may be that you helped the Republican Party which benefited so shamefully from the civil rights backlash lay down the burden of race. Politically, you are going to lose either way. Why not do it with dignity?"

Why do I have a feeling that no one is going to propose this brand of enlightened capitulation to our commander in chief? Nice try, though.

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE MARKETS....Tyler Cowen thinks we need more markets:

Which markets do you feel are missing? Your choice must be technologically feasible and not obviously ridiculous from the cost side....I will nominate "simply paying the tiny but time-consuming library fines of people ahead of you in line (why don't I?)."

That's it? Library fines? After making it to the Final Four, I expect deeper thoughts from GMU professors. The bar is higher than it used to be, Tyler.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL OSAMA?....According to the mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden is the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert:

To hear Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed tell it, Osama bin Laden was a meddling boss whose indiscretion and poor judgment threatened to derail the terrorist attacks.

He also saddled Mohammed with at least four would-be hijackers who the ringleader thought were ill-equipped for the job. And he carelessly dropped hints about the imminent attacks, violating Mohammed's cardinal rule against discussing the suicide hijacking plot.

....Mohammed describes a terrorist outfit fraught with the same conflicts and petty animosities that plague many American corporations. Mohammed describes himself in particular as having to fend off a chairman of the board who insists on micromanaging despite not knowing what he was doing.

More at the link.

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By: Kevin Drum

SUNSHINE vs. IRS....Readers with good memories will recall a post from a few months ago about Susan Long, a Syracuse professor who has been tracking the IRS since 1976 and publishing analyses of how thoroughly they audit big corporations and the rich. A couple of years ago the IRS suddenly decided to stop providing the data despite the fact that they were under court order to do so.

Long sued, and you'll be glad to know that on Monday a federal judge ruled in her favor. Unless the IRS stonewalls some more, the data will begin flowing once again.

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By: Kevin Drum

ISRAEL AND IRAN....Steve Clemons went to Israel recently and reports that Israelis are considerably less worried about Iran's nuclear program than Americans are:

One of the issues that came up in many of the national security related discussions I had was that Israel has maintained and cultivated a very strong human intelligence network inside Iran. The two nations were close strategic allies 25 years ago and continue, in many behind-the-scenes ways, to communicate and possibly even to coordinate certain actions. It doesn't mean that Israel is ready to appease Iran's regional ambitions, but it does mean that I have witnessed far more worries about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's anti-Holocaust and anti-Israel rhetoric in the U.S. than I did in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

....Nearly everyone I spoke to in Israel who ranged in political sympathies from the Likud right to Maretz left thought that the tone of the AIPAC conference had been too shrill and that Israel thought it wrong-headed and too impulsive to be engaged in saber-rattling with Iran at this stage.

I don't know how widespread this belief is, but it's an additional data point to consider. Do we really want to be more hawkish than the Israeli establishment on this issue?

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN AND THE BASE....Jon Stewart grilled John McCain last night about McCain's recent efforts to cozy up to Jerry Falwell and demonstrated that sometimes fake journalists do their jobs better than real ones. He pressed McCain harder than Tim Russert did last Sunday and got McCain flustered enough that he finally ran out of ways to defend himself. Here's their closing exchange:

Stewart: You're not freaking out on us? Are you freaking out on us? Because if you're freaking out and you're going into the crazy base world are you going into crazy base world?

McCain: I'm afraid so.

I'm sure McCain and his supporters will try to pass this off as just a joke, suitable for Jon Stewart and late night TV. But it was no joke. McCain ran out of ways to dodge the question and finally just blurted out the truth. It wasn't pretty.

On the other hand, McCain is plenty smart to do all this stuff now, when no one is really paying attention. By the time the 2008 presidential race really starts up, this stuff will be long forgotten. He may not be the straight talker he likes to portray himself as, but he's a shrewd politician.

UPDATE: Crooks & Liars has the video here.

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPER RICH IN AMERICA....Back in 2003, here's how the Bush administration explained its proposed dividend tax cut:

Everyone who invests in the stock market and receives dividend incomeespecially seniorswill benefit from elimination of the double taxation on dividends. About half of all dividend income goes to Americas seniors, who often rely on those checks for a steady source of retirement income.

That's a heartwarming portrait, isn't it? All those seniors relying on Bush's dividend tax cut to help pay the rent and keep their pantries stocked with something better than Alpo.

Fast forward to 2006 and you will be unsurprised to learn that an analysis by the New York Times demonstrates that the reality turned out to be a wee bit different:

Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003....The analyses show that more than 70 percent of the tax savings on investment income went to the top 2 percent, about 2.6 million taxpayers.

By contrast, few taxpayers with modest incomes benefited because most of them who own stocks held them in retirement accounts, which are not eligible for the investment income tax cuts. Money in these accounts is not taxed until withdrawal, when the higher rates on wages apply.

Sure, half of all dividend income goes to America's seniors America's super-wealthy seniors, that is. By contrast, the kind of middle class senior that puts money into a retirement account doesn't benefit at all from dividend and capital gains tax cuts.

It's a good time to be super rich in America. A very good time.

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND DEMOCRACY....This is what I was talking about a couple of days ago:

While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups....The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.

...."Money keeps getting transferred away to security training. Democracy's one of the things that's been transferred," said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's project on democracy and the rule of law. "Without that, all the other stuff looks like just background work."

Is democracy promotion really something that George Bush cares deeply about? Let's review the bidding.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush derided the very idea of nation building. Promoting democracy in foreign countries was simply not something he believed was a high priority for the United States.

Did 9/11 change fundamentally change George Bush's worldview? The record says no. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bush barely even mentioned democracy promotion as a reason for war. In the 2003 State of the Union Address he devoted over a thousand words to Iraq and didn't mention democracy once. Paul Wolfowitz specifically left out democracy promotion as a major goal of the war when he later recounted the administration's internal decision making process for Sam Tannenhaus.

Nor did the invasion itself envision democracy in Iraq as its goal. Rather, the plan was to install some favored exiles as proconsuls and reduce our military presence to 30,000 troops almost immediately.

Later, when Ayatollah Ali Sistani insisted on elections, Bush resisted as long as he could, throwing up excuse after excuse until it became clear he had no choice. In the end, he punted the whole issue to United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who finally created a credible plan for Iraqi elections.

What's more, in the surrounding regions, Bush has shown himself to be exactly the type of realist he supposedly derides. Hamas won elections in Palestine and he immediately tried to undermine them. Egypt held sham elections and got nothing more than a bit of mild tut tutting. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain our closest allies.

And now this. A man who is supposedly passionate about democracy can't rouse himself to bother funding it. Instead the money is going into security.

These decisions may or may not be defensible, but they are plainly not the decisions of a man dedicated to spreading democracy and the fact that he repeatedly says otherwise doesn't change this. So once and for all, can we please stop hearing about democracy promotion as a central goal of the Bush administration? It's just a slogan and nothing more.

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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April 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HALLOWED RECORDS....Matt Yglesias sez:

On SportsCenter just now they're talking about Barry Bonds on the career home runs list and calling Hank Aaron's record "the most hallowed record in all of sports." Most hallowed according to who? No doubt there's some soccer record of some sort that's extremely hallowed outside the USA. The whole thing wreaks of typical MLB arrogance. At any rate, I take it that Bonds stands a good chance of breaking Aaron's record. Wilt's 100 point game is something I think may really never be surpassed.

There are plenty of records less likely to be surpassed than Hank Aaron's home run record. Nobody's going to win 41 games or bat .424 again, nor is anybody going to win eight NBA titles in a row.

But what about "hallowed"? That's a more interesting question since "hallowed" is such an interesting word. What's the most hallowed record in baseball? Basketball? Soccer?

Tennis is my sport, and if I had to guess I'd say the most hallowed records in tennis might be Bjorn Borg's five consecutive Wimbledons or Rod Laver's two grand slams. Or maybe Margaret Court's 24 total grand slam titles. But I'm not really sure. It's a very tricky question, isn't it?

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY UPDATE....The latest from Iraq:

Iraq's embattled prime minister has defiantly refused to give up his claim to head the country's next government....In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Baghdad his first since Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw pleaded with him and his rivals for an immediate agreement to prevent a slide to civil war Ibrahim Jaafari insisted he would continue to carry out his duties.

If this were happening in America, I'd say it's the kind of thing people say about two days before they finally cave in and step aside. But Iraq? Beats me. It still sounds like the kind of table banging you do when you know you've lost all support, but maybe Arab table banging is different from ours.

Anyway, that's what's going on.

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THE LATEST ON IRAN....Joseph Cirincione:

For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran.

Apparently senior sources in Britain have been getting the same message. From the Telegraph:

It is believed that an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, is "inevitable" if Teheran's leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.

....A senior Foreign Office source said...."If Iran makes another strategic mistake, such as ignoring demands by the UN or future resolutions, then the thinking among the chiefs is that military action could be taken to bring an end to the crisis. The belief in some areas of Whitehall is that an attack is now all but inevitable."

There's no question that the administration is already preparing the ground for an air strike on Iran, but it's likely that the real push won't come until late summer when it can be used as a cudgel in the midterm elections. Same song, new verse.

And once more: If Democrats don't start thinking about how they're going to respond to this, they're idiots. We don't always get to pick the issues to run on. Sometimes they're picked for us.

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TOM DELAY: MARTYR?....In an effort to buck up Tom DeLay's spirits last week, Christian Right leader Rick Scarborough assured DeLay that he was nothing less than a martyr to the conservative cause. "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion," he said, and DeLay himself seems to agree. Last year he told the Family Research Council that attacks on him were actually "a huge, nationwide, concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in."

Question: Is this going to work? Now that he's officially announced his crucifixion retirement, will DeLay's erstwhile allies in Congress stand by him as a symbol of right wing martyrdom or will they drop him like a hot potato? I vote for the potato.

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THE FRENCH PROTESTS....Are French students living in a dreamworld? Refusing to acknowledge economic reality in a globalized world? Insisting on a right not to be fired that's been unrealistic for at least the past couple of decades?

So far, coverage in the American media hasn't told us much except that French students like to protest, but anyone who's seen Les Misrables recognizes that as a cultural tradition that goes back a very long way indeed. The question is: are they being out of touch with reality when they protest for the right to lifetime employment once they're hired? Or is the inability to fire people one of the drivers behind high French youth unemployment rates?

My personal view is that I'm not very enthusiastic about either France's "nobody ever gets fired" laws or America's "you can get fired for being a cat lover instead of a dog lover" laws. (In most U.S. states, you can be fired without cause at any time. The only restriction is that you can't be fired because of your race, gender, religion, or for a few other specifically defined reasons.) But my feelings are based mostly on moral and cultural grounds. What about the economic arguments?

Do strict employment laws drive up unemployment? The basic claim is pretty simple: if it's hard to fire people, you're going to think very hard before you take a flyer and hire someone essentially for life. Conversely, if hiring someone weren't a 40-year commitment, maybe French companies would be more willing to take a chance on hiring more people, especially young people.

Now, my personal experience suggests otherwise. My old company hired Europeans pretty much the same way we hired Americans: every year we budgeted for the number of positions we thought was justified by sales projections, and the responsible managers then hired people. We filled jobs in Europe as fast as we did in America. In other words, French (or Belgian or German) laws didn't have much effect on our hiring, which was driven mostly by other more basic concerns.

But guess what? It turns out that this experience is true generally. Brad Plumer rounds up a bunch of evidence that suggests (a) plenty of countries with strict employment laws also have low unemployment rates, (b) there's not much of a correlation between labor laws and unemployment rates, and (c) when you compare apples to apples, France's unemployment rate isn't as high as it looks anyway.

For mostly libertarian reasons, I still think employers should have the right to decide who they want to employ and should be able to fire people without going through too wildly onerous a process. And it could be that France would benefit from more flexibility in that regard. But that said, the economic arguments don't seem to hold much water. Labor laws probably don't have much impact on unemployment to begin with, and France's overall economy is in pretty good shape anyway. So let 'em protest.

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DOING IMMIGRATION RIGHT....Fareed Zakaria sums up the immigration issue in two sentences:

Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

That's an argument that even the wingnuts can understand. Do we really want to be like France?

On a more serious note, the whole piece really is pitch perfect. It's about the best short column I've yet read on the immigration debate.

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April 3, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DELAY GIVES UP....Tom DeLay says he's leaving Congress:

"I'm going to announce tomorrow that I'm not running for reelection and that I'm going to leave Congress," DeLay, who turns 59 on Saturday, said during a 90-minute interview on Monday. "I'm very much at peace with it." He notified President Bush in the afternoon. DeLay and his wife, Christine, said they had been prepared to fight, but that he decided last Wednesday, after months of prayer and contemplation, to spare his suburban Houston district the mudfest to come. "This had become a referendum on me," he said. "So it's better for me to step aside and let it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what's important for this district."

That's it? We're supposed to believe that DeLay is dropping out because a mudfest just isn't his style?

Right. How long before the other shoe drops?

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS LOSING THEIR LAST STRONGHOLD?....The DSCC just released a poll showing for the first time that Americans appear to trust Democrats more than Republicans on national security. The survey was done by a Democratic research firm, so I've excerpted a snippet from the report so you can see the exact wording of the question for yourself. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

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JOSE PADILLA UPDATE....This is really a disgrace: the Supreme Court has declined to hear Jose Padilla's case contesting the power of the federal government to detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants.

Aside from the substantive issues at stake, the trial record made it crystal clear that the Bush administration has been playing games with Padilla solely for the purpose of creating legal technicalities that would prevent the Supreme Court from hearing his case. Even if the court doesn't care about Padilla, they sure ought to care about the executive branch playing transparently disingenuous games to flout the authority of the judicial branch.

The court should have taken the case. Not only is it an important issue that needs to be settled, but the Bush administration needs to be sent a message that the Supreme Court doesn't appreciate being screwed around with. They blew it on both counts.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AND THEIR SLOGANS....Atrios wonders if I was being coy when I asked pro-war hawks to explain what they mean when they say we need to do "whatever it takes" to win in Iraq. Answer: sort of. Mostly, though, I was trying to make the point that although Democrats get routinely skewered for "not having a plan," neither do Republicans. But nobody ever calls them on it.

Take Fred Hiatt's apparent attempt to mimic the slashing prose style of the late lamented Ben Domenech in the Washington Post today. Writing about "Real Security," the recently released Democratic national security plan, he starts out like this:

You can look at the Democrats' national security plan, released last week, as simply a political shield, akin to the upgraded body armor they promise for U.S. troops.

...."Real Security"....is an amulet for 2006 candidates: You see? We have a plan. We Democrats will buy more weaponry than the Bush administration, sign up more troops, give more to veterans, inspect more shipping containers.

I guess that's what passes for cute these days, and it takes three paragraphs of this snide drollery before Hiatt confesses that there is another way to look at the document, namely as a serious policy statement. But he's no happier with that perspective:

President Bush believes that the United States "is in the early years of a long struggle"....the United States must first and foremost offer better values, promoting democracy and opposing tyranny. It must be ready to take the fight to the enemy....must seek to ease the poverty that breeds hopelessness.

This is a mug's game. Hiatt is unhappy that the Democratic plan actually focuses on achievable goals instead of slogans like these, despite the fact that he all but admits that these slogans are pretty empty in Republican hands. But if it were the other way around, he'd complain that the plan lacked details to back up its fancy words.

But why give Republicans a free pass? Where's their plan? What I've seen is a National Security Strategy that's full of windy phrases that plainly don't match the administration's actual intentions, and a Quadrennial Defense Review that pretends to be concerned with terrorism but devotes virtually all of its real resources to the same old platforms designed to fight the same old Cold War enemies. Why is that considered "serious"?

It's time to end the double standard. President Bush gives stirring speeches, but his actions indicate rather plainly that his administration isn't really driven by concern for democracy, global poverty, nuclear nonproliferation, port security, foreign oil dependence, or public diplomacy. As for Iraq, it's obvious he doesn't have a clue what to do.

So aside from slogans, what's the Republican plan? Guys like Hiatt ought to be asking.

Kevin Drum 2:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

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By: Kevin Drum

REID ON REPUBLICANS....Via the Carpetbagger, U.S. News & World Report's "Washington Whispers" column rounds up the latest remarks from Harry Reid about his Republican counterparts:

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, makes no bones about disliking most of his GOP colleagues. "Republicans in the Senate," he says, "do not represent mainstream Republicans in this country. Mainstream Republicans in this country are more moderate and more thoughtful than the people I work with who are in the majority in the Senate." Ouch. Well, of the 55 GOP-ers, he's gotta like a few, right? "Someone asked me the other day," he says, "'Who are the moderate Republicans?' Hmm. Well, you've got Lincoln Chafee [of Rhode Island], sometimes the two senators from Maine [Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins], and Arlen Specter [of Pennsylvania] whenever you don't need him. That's it." Double ouch.

He sounds kind of like FDR when he talks like that, doesn't he? More, please.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN ON MTP....Crooks & Liars has the video of John McCain's appearance on Sunday's Meet the Press and it's worth watching. I don't have anything more against McCain than I do against any other conservative Republican politician, but that's because McCain is just another conservative Republican politician. I'll be a slightly happier man if the press corps can figure this out sometime soon and ditch the whole "straight talk" schtick that he's been dazzling them with for the past five years.

Kevin Drum 1:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT'S THE PLAN?....Glenn Reynolds suggests today that George Bush's difficulties are not so much with the people who were fair weather supporters of the war from the start, but rather with the people who were its most fervent fans:

Bush's problem on the war is that he's losing the Jacksonian base, which is no longer confident that he's willing to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of foreign or public opinion.

Like most slogan-driven hawks, however, he doesn't follow this up with a definition of what he means by "whatever it takes." It's just left hanging. Greg Djerejian, a hawk who's grounded enough to have been getting steadily more pessimistic about our chances in Iraq over the past year, takes a crack at it:

Fire Donald Rumsfeld, and replace him with John Warner or Richard Armitage or someone else qualified soonest. Bulk up our troop presence in Baghdad asap, even if it means rotating some troops out of places like Anbar (especially in locations where we are still more in whack-a-mole posture than clear, build, hold). Let's have a major show of strength, including large amounts of U.S. troops, in the most problematic neighborhoods (US troops are critical, as confidence in the integrity of Iraqi Army units as impartial arbitrers or plausible peacekeepers simply doesn't exist yet among much of the Iraqi public. This is why under-informed blather about the Iraqi Army being "solid", or the militias being simply "pesky", is just crap, and it's quite sad prominent right wing bloggers link to such hokum as offering soi disant serious perspective).

Unfortunately, this isn't much better than saying nothing. A new Secretary of Defense? Fine, but it's a little late for that. And more troops at the very beginning might indeed have created a precarious order that we could then have preserved, but that chance is long gone. Even under the rosiest assumptions, there just aren't enough troops available to bring even a makeshift peace to the Sunni Triangle today.

So: what's the plan, hawks? "Whatever it takes" is just cheap talk. Are you suggesting higher taxes to fund a dramatic increase in military end strength? A draft? A ground invasion of Iran? A permanent military occupation of the entire Middle East?

Because that's probably what it would take. Right now, nearly a thousand Iraqis are dying every month, the per capita equivalent of about 100,000 deaths per year if this were taking place in the United States. And keep in mind that this is the result of a mere low level civil war, not the real thing. What happens when full scale civil war breaks out and the U.S. military is stuck in the middle?

What's the plan then?

Kevin Drum 12:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (155)

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April 2, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND ATHEISTS....Quick note. A few days ago I quoted George Bush Sr.'s 1987 statement to Rob Sherman that "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots." I also noted that Sherman had refused to release a tape of the statement and no one else had ever verified it.

I've now exchanged several emails with Sherman, who says he didn't tape this exchange, which happened during a media scrum at O'Hare airport in Chicago. However, he also confirms that no one else reported Bush's remarks. It's just him.

Sherman has posted the full story here, including a subsequent letter from C. Boyden Gray to Jon Murray that Murray says is "a clear admission by the President, through his counsel, that he had indeed made the remarks and was not backing down from them."

For what it's worth, Gray's statement doesn't seem like a clear admission of anything to me, though it's obviously not a denial either. However, you can decide for yourself.

In any case, I just wanted to set the record straight and provide a link to Shermans' full account. I was wrong to say there was a tape of the exchange, but apparently it's correct that no other reporters have ever corroborated the exchange. I will say, however, that Bush's followup statement to Sherman ("I'm just not very high on atheists") sure sounds like the George Bush Sr. we all know and love.

Beyond that, click the link and make up your own mind.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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By: Kevin Drum

ESPIONAGE AND THE PRESS....Here's some encouraging news. Remember Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon analyst who was charged with passing classified information to a couple of lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison back in January.

Fine. But what about the lobbyists who received the information? Well, they've been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act and are currently on trial something that seems unexceptional at first glance since they are, after all, AIPAC lobbyists and therefore working on behalf of a foreign interest.

But it's not that simple. If they were being prosecuted for harming U.S. interests by passing information to the Israeli embassy which they did that would be one thing. However, instead of prosecuting that case, the government is deliberately trying to build a much broader case: namely that the lobbyists had lunch with a source who passed along classified scuttlebutt and then divulged that information "to persons not entitled to receive it." But if AIPAC lobbyists can be convicted of espionage merely for receiving confidential information and then passing it along to anyone not authorized to hear it, can journalists be convicted too?

Last week, T.S. Ellis III, the conservative Reagan-era judge in the case, suggested this was a slippery slope he was uncomfortable with:

At a hearing in federal court last week, Ellis said that the charges brought under the 1917 law were unprecedented and that the government had veered into "uncharted waters."

"My initial thought was maybe that, since this statute has been around for so long, that this would be a case that would be governed by well-established precedent," the judge said. "I don't think it is."

.... "I regard this [1st Amendment issue] as central to this case and important," Ellis declared.

My own view is that the government has chosen this case very shrewdly. The two lobbyists work for AIPAC, which gives this case the veneer of being about foreign spying. President Bush is a solid supporter of Israel, which means the administration can't be accused of going after its political enemies. AIPAC itself fired the two lobbyists and is reluctant to publicly defend them for obvious reasons. And of course anyone who's unsympathetic toward Israel in the first place is happy to see this case move forward.

In other words, there's really no one to defend these guys. But once the precedent is set that you're guilty of espionage merely for receiving confidential information over lunch and then reporting it to someone else, every national security reporter in the country is in danger of prosecution. Judge Ellis seems to understand this.

As should we all. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman obviously aren't poster children for press freedom, but that shouldn't stop us from seeing what the administration is trying to accomplish here. Remember, they think we're in a permanent state of war, and they're looking for weapons to shut down leaks of all kinds. AIPAC may seem like a safe initial target, but if Rosen and Weissman are successfully convicted, how long will it be before James Risen and Dana Priest are in the dock too?

We're being suckered here, folks. Don't fall for it.

UPDATE: I've rewritten the third paragaph of this post to make the issue at stake clearer.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

BUCKLEY vs. THE HAWKS....Is William F. Buckley a traitor and a defeatist, a useful idiot who provides aid and comfort to our enemies?

William F. Buckley Jr., the longtime conservative writer and leader, said George W. Bush's presidency will be judged entirely by the outcome of a war in Iraq that is now a failure.

.... Buckley said he doesn't have a formula for getting out of Iraq, though he said "it's important that we acknowledge in the inner councils of state that it (the war) has failed, so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure."

The 80-year-old Buckley is among a handful of prominent conservatives who are criticizing the war. Asked who is to blame for what he deems a failure, Buckley said, "the president," adding that "he doesn't hesitate to accept responsibility."

Buckley called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a longtime friend, "a failed executor" of the war. And Vice President Dick Cheney "was flatly misled," Buckley said. "He believed the business about the weapons of mass destruction."

I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but Dick Cheney was "flatly misled"? In which alternate universe could someone believe that?

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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April 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FELINE THERAPY....Ah, yes. The pros and cons of having a cat when you're sick.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

WORLDCON QUERY....Chad Orzel reports on his diet success:

How big a dork am I? Well, you can see from the graph at left, roughly thirty pounds less of a dork than I was at the beginning of the year.

Bill Hooker responds in comments:

You're using the wrong units. Dorkiness is measured in units called Trekkies, abbreviated Tk. People who get married in Klingon combat suits are the unit standard for 1.0 Tk.

Speaking of dorkiness, I learned last week that this year's World Science Fiction Convention is being held right down the road from me in lovely downtown Anaheim. Despite reading science fiction since approximately age 5, I've never been to a Worldcon, and part of the reason is that it always seemed like the kind of thing that probably isn't a lot of fun unless you can tag around with someone who's a Worldcon veteran and knows what's what. But Anaheim is certainly convenient. So: who's going this year? Any advice? Should I buy a membership? Will I learn to write like Connie Willis if I attend?

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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By: Kevin Drum

BURNING QUESTIONS....Question of the day: why does Cynthia McKinney refuse to wear the member's pin that identifies her as a member of congress to Capitol Hill police and allows her to bypass security? Are there any other congress critters who also decline to wear their pins? What does this pin look like, anyway? And how much does it cost to buy a fake one?

Anyone know the answers to any of these questions?

Kevin Drum 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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