Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 31, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FLAT FOOTED....Robert Nelson argues today that we shouldn't be too quick to get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax:

There is wide agreement among economists on the benefits of a federal "flat tax" on income that would apply a uniform rate to every taxpayer and eliminate most current deductions and tax credits....As Post business reporter Albert B. Crenshaw has noted, the AMT "approaches a modern-day flat tax." It imposes a uniform rate of 26 percent up to $175,000 in income, and above that 28 percent.

As Nelson surely knows, there's wide agreement among economists that a broadly-based tax that minimizes exemptions and loopholes would be economically efficient. However, there is no agreement at all that having a flat rate is a good thing. It's wildly dishonest to say otherwise.

Kevin Drum 11:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

JAPAN AND DEMOCRACY....Actually, I didn't intend to write a post about a typo on the back cover of With All Our Might. I meant to write a post about Kenneth Pollack's essay, "A Grand Strategy for the Middle East." One of the things he does is make the familiar argument that a democratic Iraq will serve as a model for other Arab states:

It would be akin to how Japan showed other East Asian nations over a period of decades that democratic principles can coexist with East Asian traditions, values, and aspirations and so made the transformation of East Asia possible.

Question for any historians out there: is this a common argument? I may be demonstrating some ignorance here, but I've never before heard anyone make the case that the (partial) democratization of East Asia has been primarily due to Japan's example. Japan has obviously been the economic model for much of East Asia, but do historians and IR folks also think of Japan as a political model?

Kevin Drum 11:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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SWITCH HITTING GOVERNORS....The back cover of With All Our Might describes Mark Warner as "former governor of Virginia, Indiana." This is obviously a typo (though Warner was born in Indiana), but it got me wondering: has anyone ever served as governor of two different states? Within, say, the last hundred years or so? I'm just curious.

UPDATE: Apparently Sam Houston is the only one (Tennessee and Texas). But no two-state governors in the last hundred years.

Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

OPTIMISM....Lindsay Beyerstein passes along the following anecdote about what the word optimist means when the subject is global warming:

My friend Ryan's dad is a famous polar zoologist. Several years ago, I asked Ryan what his dad thought about "the whole global warming thing."

"Well, my dad's an optimist about global warming," Ryan said...."My dad just thinks that global warming is going to kill off all the indigenous peoples and most of the wildlife in the arctic."

That's the lead-in to a pretty good review of An Inconvenient Truth. The whole thing is worth reading.

Kevin Drum 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (159)

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By: Kevin Drum

MOYERS ON JOURNALISM....Here is Bill Moyers defending public television against the charge that it's no longer needed because commercial TV provides us with everything we need:

One reason we get such pale and unquestioning journalism in America is that skepticism and irreverence toward the prerogatives of power and privilege are exactly what corporate media moguls don't want from the journalists who work for them. If they did, there wouldn't have been such gullible groupthink from the press when America went to war in Iraq on the basis of false information, faulty intelligence, fallacious propaganda, and flagrant secrecy. It's what happens when the news media becomes a complacent conduit for the government and multimedia corporations, failing to challenge authority, and passing information spun carefully by special interests both in and out of government.

....I believe in "fair and balanced."

I say let's be more fair than anyone else. Let's be as fair to Main Street as we are to Wall Street to the working men and women of America as we are to the big corporations, big government, and big investors.

....Let's be as fair to the skeptic of official policy as we are to its spokesman, as fair to the commoner as to the celebrity, and as fair to the lived experience of ordinary people as we are to the calculated opinion of think tank experts.

I'm for balance.

Let's balance the spin with the evidence, the rhetoric with the record, and opinion with reporting.

....And let's balance programs written by the National Mining Association and Boeing with programs underwritten by the United Mine Workers, Consumer's Union, and Citizens for a Fair Economy. If they can't afford the underwriting, let's at least give them a hearing.

You will be unsurprised to learn that Moyers is also appalled at the idea of setting up "digital tollbooths" on the internet that will transform it into "a system of corporate-controlled pipes." Read the whole thing for more. It's a manifesto for what journalism ought to be.

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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By: Kevin Drum

CRACKUP ON THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT?....In our April issue, Amy Sullivan wrote about Randy Brinson, a conservative evangelical who became disenchanted with the zealotry of his fellow evangelicals and now finds himself fighting against them more often than not. Today, via Steve Benen, the Guardian follows up:

"They've been calling my house, threatening my wife," said Dr Brinson. "The first time was on a day when I was going up to Washington to speak to Republicans in Congress. Only they knew I'd be away from home. The Republicans were advised not to turn up to listen to me, so only three did so."

....In his office in Washington DC, Rich Cizik, vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the largest such umbrella group in the US, is also feeling battered. His mistake has been to become interested in the environment, and he has been told that is not on the religious right's agenda.

...."It is supposed to be counterproductive even to consider this. I guess they do not want to part company with the president. This is nothing more than political assassination. I may lose my job. Twenty-five church leaders asked me not to take a political position on this issue but I am a fighter," he said.

Another Washington lobbyist on the religious right told the Guardian: "Rich is just being stupid on this issue. There may be a debate to be had but ... people can only sustain so many moral movements in their lifetime. Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?"

There you have it! God won't let anything bad happen to the Earth, so there's no point in worrying about it. I doubt that anyone will ever be able to talk sense into people who think like that, but kudos to guys like Brinson and Cizik for trying.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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By: Kevin Drum

AMNESIA....You really have to wonder about guys like Taranto. Having a poor memory is one thing, but has he never heard of Nexis? Does the Wall Street Journal not have a subscription? Sheesh.

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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THE LATEST ON IRAN....The Bush administration is reversing course despite Tony Snow's desperate denial that any such thing is taking place and has agreed to direct talks with Iran. Good for them

I guess. Because of course there's a catch. As I said a few weeks ago about awkward diplomatic initiatives:

The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely.

And that's exactly how it's playing out. The United States is demanding that Iran halt its nuclear program first, and only then will we join the Europeans in talks.

Here's hoping it works. It might, especially if it's true that Iran is having troubles with its uranium enrichment program and wouldn't really lose anything by halting it for a while. Still, this is straight out of the Diplomacy 101 playbook as a way of responding to pressure to look reasonable without actually running the risk of reaching a peaceful agreement. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN LOTT UPDATE....Today, the Los Angeles Times atones partly for having continued to publish op-eds by John Lott well after Lott's extreme hackitude had become obvious to anyone with a pulse. They do so by providing space for UC Irvine historian Jon Wiener to explain exactly why Lott is a hack and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Good for them. My favorite part of Wiener's piece is something I didn't know before. Here is Lott's response to Steven Levitt's statement that other researchers have been unable to replicate Lott's thesis that right-to-carry laws reduce crime:

Lott and his supporters disagree. They say it's not true that other researchers have been unable to validate his results. They point to a 2001 issue of the Journal of Law and Economics that contains several articles by scholars who agree with Lott.

But it turns out that all the papers in that issue were originally presented at a conference organized by Lott, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle reported that Lott not only "arranged for the papers to be published in a special edition" of the journal, which is not unusual, but he also paid for the printing and postage.

It's sock puppetry on steroids!

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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May 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE MALPRACTICE NON-CRISIS....Today comes news about the latest study of medical malpractice claims. A Harvard team examined 1,452 closed cases in four areas that collectively account for about 80% of all malpractice suits, and here's what they found:

  • Administration and litigation costs in our system are indeed very high, but the vast majority of the claims in the study were properly decided: the patients who suffered injury due to medical errors were compensated and those who weren't, weren't.

  • About 150 of the cases involved patients who received compensation even though there was apparently no medical error.

  • 236 of the cases involved patients who received no compensation even though they suffered injury due to medical error.

That's some out-of-control malpractice system, isn't it? I think we all agree that it would be nice to increase the accuracy of these cases, but if we did, the cost of malpractice payouts would go up, not down.

More detail here, including the fact that nearly all cases are settled out of court, and of the ones that do go to court, patients lose 80% of them. This study, by the way, follows a long line of earlier studies that show the same thing: malpractice claims are actually pretty rare; compensation is generally fair; a more accurate system would pay out more, not less; and malpractice payouts have not been rising any faster than the overall rate of medical inflation. The malpractice "crisis" is mostly just hype.

Kevin Drum 9:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

RUNNING THE CAUCUS....Sam Rosenfeld comments on Nancy Pelosi's tentative speaking style on political chat shows:

The actual job of managing a caucus in some kind of effective and strategic manner is immensely difficult in its own right. It's only the sheerest coincidence if it so happens that a person imbued with the proper skills, temperament, and ability as a caucus leader also happens to be slick and charming and photogenic. (Tom DeLay was not a good message person for the GOP. Neither is Dennis Hastert.) But the other thing about the job of congressional leader, besides that it's really hard, is that it's really important. Indeed, having someone there who's good at leading the House caucus is simply more important than having one who's good on Meet the Press.

That's right. Pelosi may get beat up about her lack of mad TV skillz, but as Michael Crowley says, "Denny Hastert, is perhaps the least articulate politician in all Washington. He may truly be among the most tongue-tied men who ever lived."

The difference, of course, is that he lets other people do the talking while he runs the caucus. Since Pelosi isn't planning to run for president, that might be the best bet for her too.

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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CNN RETURNS TO ARUBA....Here's the front page at CNN right now, and I just have to ask: are they trying to become a parody of themselves? They aren't even bothering to pretend there's any news in the case, either. It's just a one-year retrospective. Here's how they justify themselves:

The unfolding investigation had all the dramatic elements needed to captivate television audiences, said [Theodore] Simon, who has commented widely on the case.

"An American on an idyllic island supposedly celebrating her graduation goes missing under less than clear circumstances," he said.

Needless to say, Simon didn't have to bother mentioning that Holloway was an "18-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch blonde," because CNN had already said it for him several paragraphs earlier.

In any case, it's yet more bad timing from the White House, which probably didn't realize they were foolishly announcing a new Treasury Secretary on the anniversary of Natalee Holloway's disappearance. Who knows? If Henry Paulson were an 18-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch blonde, maybe they could have convinced CNN to cover it as actual news.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOGLE AND MEMORIAL DAY....Over at The Corner yesterday, Jonah Goldberg had the following bizarre complaint about Google:

It's kind of sad. They change their homepage logo for all sorts of holidays and occasions. Just last week they paid tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday. But Memorial Day doesn't seem to rate anything at all.

This meme overtook the conservo-sphere, with bloggers everywhere claiming they planned to switch to other search engines due to Google's manifest lack of patriotism.

Needless to say, lack of patriotism seemed unlikely in the extreme as the reason for Google's lack of a special Memorial Day banner. So I asked them what was up. Here's the answer from Megan Quinn in Google's press office:

Google celebrates a wide variety of holidays with Google Doodles. Doodles are generally reserved for international holidays and famous birthdays.

As it happens, Google does occasionally mark purely American holidays, but for the most part Megan seems to be correct. They generally stick to birthdays and international stuff.

Conservative bloggers may now go about their business. It turns out the republic is safe from search engine doodlers after all.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (146)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WAITING IS OVER....Eighteen months ago:

One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.

Well, they finally did it! It turns out that "not very long" in the Bush White House means a year and a half. Here's all you probably need to know about Snow's replacement, Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson:

But the White House spent months trying to find a prominent Wall Street figure to replace Snow, only to run into reluctance by many to take the cabinet job when economic policy was being set inside the White House.

So how did Paulson get suckered into the job? What kind of promises do you think they made to him? And how long will it be before he realizes they have no intention of honoring them?

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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UNAPOLOGETIC....I too noted the description of Nancy Pelosi as an "unapologetic liberal" in Mark Leibovich's recent profile of her. Matt Y. explains the problem:

Calling the Pelosis and Ted Kennedys and Dick Durbins of the world "unapologetic" has two problems. On the one hand, it suggests that maybe Pelosi should be apologetic about her liberalism. That, at a minimum, apologizing is something liberals should think about in a way conservatives shouldn't. Second, it reinforces the idea that more centrist Democrats are not, in fact, moderates but rather apologetic liberals with secret far-left hidden agendas.

I actually think #2 is the bigger problem, and this has nothing to do with Leibovich's choice of words. Rather, it's got to do with the fact that for a long time an awful lot of liberals really have been sort of apologetic about being liberals. The blogosphere may have plenty of pluses and minuses, but I think one of its pluses is that it's promoted a broadly read conversation in which liberals aren't apologetic, and that's now started to catch on in the rest of the world too. If the phrase "unapologetic liberal" ever becomes extinct, the liberal blogosphere can probably take a little bit of the credit.

Kevin Drum 12:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GOOD FIGHT....I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had recently interviewed Peter Beinart, editor-at-large of The New Republic and now author of The Good Fight, a book that promotes a vigorous, anti-jihadist foreign policy vision for liberals. It's a very readable book (and fairly short, weighing in at only 208 pages), and spends most its time tracing an intellectual history of the "anti-imperialist" left.

More about that later. For now, fairly or unfairly, I assume that most liberals are going to focus on the fact that Beinart admits in the book that he was wrong about a whole host of issues prior to the war and that he no longer believes the war itself was a good idea. Which leads immediately to this:

KD: The obvious question, then, is with a track record like that why should anyone listen to you now?

PB: Anything one writes deserves to be judged by itself. The Democratic Party nominated someone in 2004 who had been flat wrong in his opposition to the Gulf War in 1991, I think most people would acknowledge that. Many people who were very prominent figures in the Democratic foreign policy debate and the Democratic Party in general--most of the people who were there at that time in 1991 were wrong about that. The vast majority of the party was wrong, and yet it still seems to me that we have things to learn from people like Sam Nunn or John Kerry. If you were to go from the Gulf War through Kosovo and Iraq, you would find that a large number of people in every facet of the liberal Democratic universe were wrong, on at least one of those wars. Very, very few people were right about all three of them. The people who were--and I think Al Gore is in this category--deserve a significant amount of credit, but the truth of the matter is, if you were looking for an untainted record, you would find very few people.

I think it's perfectly fair that Beinart get beat up about this. Aside from the fact that this was a fairly spectacular misjudgment and deserves attention on that score alone, I also think he could have been more introspective in the book, spending more time on analyzing why he thinks he was wrong back in 2002-03.

At the same time, though, he also has some provocative ideas in the book, and once we get the Beinart-bashing out of the way there are some things in The Good Fight that are worth dissecting.

I'll get into that later in the week. In the meantime, the entire interview is here.

Kevin Drum 11:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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May 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MEMORIAL DAY.... Memorial Day didn't become a holiday until after the Civil War, but it was the Civil War that inspired it. So here's what my great-grandfather, Eli Drum, was doing 143 years ago today:

Friday 29th
Done nothing to day but patrol the streets.

Those would be the streets of Glasgow, Kentucky, where Eli and the rest of the Illinois 107th were twiddling their thumbs waiting for Ambrose Burnside to get started on the Eastern Tennessee campaign.

From these humble beginnings, Eli became a journalist in the town of Cerro Gordo, Illinois, where he and his neighbors observed Memorial Day every year with picnics and American flags. In a few minutes, I'm going to do the same.

See you tomorrow.

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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FAVORITE MUSIC REVISITED....How do people come up with top ten music lists from their iPods? Several people for example, Professor Bainbridge, here have pointed out to me that iPods keep track of which songs you listen to most often, so it's pretty easy to come up with a list of favorites: Just ask your iPod. I didn't know that.

I don't have an iPod, but I wonder if I can do the same thing? That is, not try to pick the music I think I like the best, but the stuff that I actually find myself playing most often. Or the individual pieces that I find myself looking forward to when I'm playing an album.

My taste in music is strictly middlebrow Top 40 within the genres I like (classical and 60s/70s pop), although when I went through this exercise I did find a couple of pieces that were slightly off the beaten path. So here you go: a pair of top ten music lists, one for classical and one for pop. Let the mockery begin!

Pop

Stand By Me, Ben E. King
Killing Me Softly, Roberta Flack
Figlio Perduto, Chiara Ferra/Sarah Brightman
A Hazy Shade of Winter, Simon and Garfunkel
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Amy Grant
Twelve-Thirty, The Mamas and the Papas
All I Know, Jimmy Webb/Art Garfunkel
Mrs. Vanderbilt, Wings
Feed the Birds, Sherman & Sherman/Julie Andrews
The Last Resort, Eagles

Nothing by the Beatles, oddly enough, though there are half a dozen songs that could have made the list. On the great Beatles/Stones question, I'm solidly in the Beatles camp.

Classical

Harpsichord Sonata #11 in G Minor, Antonio Soler
Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor, Sergei Rachmaninoff
Concerto for Mandolin in G Major, Johann Adolf Hasse
Piano Concerto #20 in D Minor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Impromptus, Franz Schubert
Symphony #9 in D Minor, Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata #14 in C Sharp Minor (Moonlight), Ludwig van Beethoven
Canon in D Major, Johann Pachelbel
Concerto in G Major for Two Mandolins and String Orchestra, Antonio Vivaldi
Sugar Cane, Scott Joplin

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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FISCHER ON IRAN....Germany's former foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, analyzes the Iranian situation today:

The Iran crisis is moving fast in an alarming direction. There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Iran's ambition is to obtain nuclear weapons capability....Iran is betting on revolutionary changes within the power structure of the Middle East to help it achieve its strategic goal. To this end, it makes use of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as Lebanon, Syria, its influence in the Persian Gulf region and, above all, Iraq. This combination of hegemonic aspirations, questioning of the regional status quo and a nuclear program is extremely dangerous.

Sounds pretty non-squishy to me. So what does he think we ought to do about it?

There remains a serious chance for a diplomatic solution if the United States, in cooperation with the Europeans and with the support of the U.N. Security Council and the non-aligned states of the Group of 77, offers Iran a "grand bargain." In exchange for long-term suspension of uranium enrichment, Iran and other states would gain access to research and technology within an internationally defined framework and under comprehensive supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Full normalization of political and economic relations would follow, including binding security guarantees upon agreement of a regional security design.

The high price for refusing such a proposal has to be made absolutely clear to the Iranian leadership: Should no agreement be reached, the West would do everything in its power to isolate Iran economically, financially, technologically and diplomatically, with the full support of the international community. Iran's alternatives should be no less than recognition and security or total isolation.

Security guarantees can come only from the United States, and Iran knows it. This is why the U.S. has to be part of any serious negotiations. The Europeans simply can't address security issues without us.

Kevin Drum 12:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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By: Kevin Drum

HADITHA....So what really happened at Haditha last November? Did a company of Marines murder two dozen Iraqi civilians in cold blood after they lost one of their own to a roadside bomb? Apparently so:

One of the most damning pieces of evidence investigators have in their possession, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told Time's Tim McGirk, is a photo, taken by a Marine with his cell phone that shows Iraqis kneeling and thus posing no threat before they were shot.

A congressman who was briefed on the investigation agrees:

"This was a small number of Marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them," said Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and former Marine who was briefed two weeks ago by Marine Corps officials. "This is going to be an ugly story."

....Almost as damaging as the alleged massacre may be evidence that the unit's members and their superiors conspired to cover it up. "There's no doubt that the Marines allegedly involved in doing this they lied about it," says Kline.

And two more congressmen suspect that the coverup extends pretty high up the chain of command:

Two influential legislators who have been briefed on the U.S. military's investigation into the deaths of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians said today they suspect that senior officers were involved in covering up evidence of war crimes by the Marine unit involved.

Neither lawmaker Sen. John Warner (R-Va), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a former Marine and a leading authority on military issues said they had direct evidence of top officers trying to suppress information.

...."It goes right up the chain of command," added Murtha, who has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the Iraq war....Warner was more cautious in his criticism, but said there were "serious questions" about "what happened and when it happened and what was the immediate reaction of the senior officers in the Marine Corps when they began to gain knowledge of it."

What an appalling and tragic story. It is, I suppose, only a tiny blot compared to the carnage that Iraqi militants inflict on each other every single day in this endless and brutal war, but this one is our blot. I hope this time we do the right thing about it.

Kevin Drum 12:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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May 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE HAWKS REGROUP....Jacob Heilbrunn surveys the scene in liberal hawk circles these days:

A host of pundits and young national security experts associated with the [Democratic] party are calling for a return to the Cold War precepts of President Truman to wage a war against terror that New Republic Editor Peter Beinart, in the title of his provocative new book, calls "The Good Fight."

....These Democrats want to be seen as anything but the squishes who have led the party to defeat in the past.

Indeed they do. But here's the funny thing about that. I read The Good Fight a couple of weeks ago, and Beinart is pretty clear that he now believes he was wrong about a whole host of things back in 2003. He was wrong about WMD, wrong about containment, wrong about the need for international legitimacy, etc. etc. If he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have supported the war.

What's more, his prescription for how liberals should approach foreign policy going forward is distinctly non-martial. He believes we need a sort of modern-day Marshall plan for the Middle East; a willingness to work with international institutions even if that sometimes restrains our actions; an acceptance that we should abide by the same restrictions that we demand of others; greater patience in foreign affairs; and a rededication to social justice both at home and abroad.

In other words, I think he could give the keynote address at YearlyKos and not really say much of anything the audience would disagree with. If Beinart really is the standard bearer for a new incarnation of liberal hawkishness, then we're almost all liberal hawks now.

There's a little more to it, of course, and Beinart remains critical of liberals who have gotten so disgusted with George Bush's approach to terrorism that they've decided the whole war on terror is just a sham. Still, it's an interesting transformation, and many of the differences that remain within liberal circles strike me as more rhetorical than substantive.

I interviewed Beinart about all this last week, and the interview should be available in a couple of days. I'll have more to say about it then.

Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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GEORGE BUSH'S LEGACY....Matt Yglesias says Nir Rosen's piece about Iraq in the Sunday Washington Post is the "must-read of the day." I suppose so:

I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya, or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.

Believe it or not, it actually gets worse from there. Be sure to keep reading until you get to the part about the ministry of health.

Like Matt, a year ago I thought that an orderly and planned withdrawal of American troops had a chance a small one, but a chance of reducing tensions and producing a non-catastrophic outcome in Iraq. I don't anymore. At this point, I'm mostly worried about what happens when Iraq's low-level civil war turns into a full-scale, armies-on-both-sides-fighting-openly-in-the-streets civil war. Either we'll try to do something about it, which will produce enormous casualties and probably have no effect, or else we'll retreat to our "enduring bases" and hide. Either option will make clear to the world that the greatest military in the world is helpless.

That's quite a legacy. I wonder who George Bush will try to blame it on?

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (158)

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May 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

OPPOSITION AS DEFINITION....Digby sez:

The non-southern Party appears to exist mainly as a repository of opposition to conservative policies. Is that true?

Yes, there's some truth to that, but I think it works both ways. One of the reasons that American politics is stalemated these days is that activists in both parties often define themselves more by opposition to the other than by support for a positive program of change. Conservatives especially cultural conservatives mostly want to fight the moral relativism and assaults on traditionalism that they believe are rife among liberals. Liberals, conversely, mostly want to prevent conservatives from clawing back the gains they made in the 60s and 70s. The end result is trench warfare, with neither side ever winning any significant victories because both sides are fighting rear guard actions.

So what kinds of things would really help working families? That's not hard to figure out. Rising wages would help, and the single biggest thing we could do there would be to roll back the laws and regulations that have made private sector unionization nearly impossible over the past few decades. Fiscal and monetary policies that encourage full employment would be a good idea too.

What else? National healthcare would help, since working families frequently lose access to healthcare when they're out of work temporarily or work for someone that doesn't provide health benefits. Universal access to decent childcare would help since two-job families are the norm rather than the exception these days.

There's more, but that's enough for now. All of these things used to be part of the explicit and implicit bargains between business and labor that defined the postwar era: if you work hard you'll make enough to raise a family on one salary; you'll get decent healthcare for you and your kids; and as the economy grows, we'll all get richer and more prosperous together. That bargain broke down long ago, but nothing has since taken its place. Sounds like a pretty good campaign platform to me.

Kevin Drum 6:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE iPOD TEST....Everyone's pissed off over Jacob Weisberg's weird rant about Hillary Clinton's iPod, and they're right to be. He basically used it as an excuse to demonstrate that Hillary is exactly the conniving fake he always thought she was, and it's likely he would have written the exact same thing regardless of what songs had made her top ten list. It was a remarkably lazy piece.

But I'm curious about something else: How do people even come up with these top ten lists in the first place? I don't think I could do it. That's not to say that I don't have any favorites. I do, and it would be easy to prepare a list of ten pieces that I like a lot. But if you asked me to do the same thing next week, there's a pretty good chance that I'd choose an entirely different list.

On the other hand, I'd have an easier time choosing a list of favorite books, even though I own way more books than CDs. Is this because I'm not much of a music person and pretty much only listen to it as background noise in the car? Are you more likely to have firm favorites in a medium that you pay more attention to?

And why is everyone so obsessed with music, anyway? Why not ask Hillary for her top ten list of books? Or movies? Or tourist destinations? Why does music continue to be the ultimate Rorschach test of our times?

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May 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WAGE GROWTH IN AMERICA....Brad DeLong has a nice, readable introduction to income and wage trends over at his place that's worth a look. At MaxSpeak, Max Sawicky comments that "I don't envy the politician trying to explain it in less space," while the Sandwichman wonders if the tiny growth in wages over the past few decades is even tinier than it looks because some of it is due to the fact that the average worker is older now, and older workers get paid more regardless of whether average wages are going up.

Well, here's a single data point that addresses both questions. It's a chart that shows median income for 35-44 year old men and women since the end of World War II.

First the good news: women have made steady increases though it's worth noting that about half of that gain is because women work more hours than they did 30 years ago. On an hourly basis, the increase since then amounts to about 1% per year.

And men? Not such good news. The average 40-year-old guy made $44,000 in 1973, and that was as good as it ever got. Today that number is about $40,000. It's gone down even though the American economy has nearly doubled on a per-person basis during that time.

So where did all the money go? What happened in 1973 that suddenly stopped wage growth for half the population in its tracks? And what should we do about it?

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FAUX OUTRAGE....The Veterans Affairs Department lost 26.5 million personal records a few weeks ago when a midlevel analyst decided to copy a database and take it home to work on it. Congress is outraged:

"Just unbelievable," said Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

...."I don't think the secretary is really up to this job," said Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Added Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), another panel member: "You say you take responsibility, but then you tell veterans to 'go call your creditors.'...The most dramatic thing to take responsibility is to resign."

Well, I don't blame them for being outraged, although it's worth noting that every computer system has people with the privileges necessary to access and copy sensitive information. Still, even though the VA isn't the CIA, computer security sure shouldn't be taken as casually as the VA apparently takes it.

That said, I wonder just how genuine Congress's outrage really is? After all, the main problem with the loss of the data is identity theft, and there are plenty of things Congress could do to make ID theft a thing of the past. All of them would require some regulation of the credit industry, though, and the most effective measures would effectively do away with "instant credit" too, since the best way to prevent fraud is to require more than just a signature on a piece of paper in order to open up a charge account. If, instead, granting credit required an independent confirmation of identity, either in person or through some trusted intermediary, the problem of ID theft could be reduced almost to zero (though stolen credit cards would still be a problem). At that point, the theft of personal information would become an annoyance, not the nerve-wracking, years-long catastrophe it is today.

But....regulate the credit industry? Good God, man, do I know what I'm suggesting? I can't actually expect Congress to be that outraged, can I?

Even worse, if we really want to get serious about ID theft we'd have to effectively put an end to instant credit though that doesn't really strike me as such a horrible thing. But I'll bet if the penalties for granting fraudulent credit were big enough, the credit industry would suddenly discover it wasn't such a bad thing either.

UPDATE: Of course, ID theft isn't the only problem here. The VA needs to get their computer security house in order regardless.

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THOSE GENIAL CANADIANS....I really ought to pay more attention to what's happening in Canada:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared he won't talk to the national media because they are biased against him, his latest move in a spat with the Parliament's press corps.

....Since Harper's minority government took office after the Jan. 23 elections, his relations with the national media have become more and more strained. Determined to impose order on the traditionally chaotic press scrum in which reporters shout out questions, Harper said he would choose questioners from a pre-screened list....After journalists refused to sign on to the list, Harper refused to take any questions.

On Tuesday, when Harper's press secretary announced there would be no questions after his announcement of aid to the Darfur region of Sudan, nearly two dozen reporters walked out, leaving the prime minister to make his statement in front of a single camera in a nearly empty room.

What fun! Don't you wish our press had the balls to do something like that?

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THE FBI AND CONGRESS....Given its extremely politicized conduct in the past, Mark Kleiman believes that giving the FBI the power to search congressional offices is extremely dangerous. What's more, he's basically threatening to keep blogging about this forever unless we all go read his full argument. So go read it! He even has comments these days if you want to argue with him.

I'm not fully convinced myself. It strikes me that the FBI is the agency best qualified to conduct criminal investigations of national figures, and there are probably some narrowly targeted restrictions that could be placed on their ability to request search warrants if there are serious concerns that they might abuse it for purposes of political retribution. But go read Mark's argument and decide for yourself.

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TALKING TO IRAN....Unsurprisingly, Charles Krauthammer is resolutely opposed to talks with Iran. Also unsurprisingly, his writing on the subject is little more than the darkest and most hysterical sort of agitprop:

Mark my words. The momentum for U.S.-Iran negotiations has only begun. The focus of the entire Iranian crisis will begin to shift from the question of whether Tehran will stop its nuclear program to whether Washington will sit down alone at the table with Tehran.

To this cynical bait-and-switch, there can be no American response other than No. Absolutely not.

....Just yesterday the Democratic nominee for president attacked President Bush's foreign policy precisely for refusing to consult with, listen to and work with "the allies." Another day, another principle. Bush is now being pressured to abandon multilateralism and go it alone with Iran.

Nobody not one person is suggesting that Bush abandon Europe and negotiate with Iran unilaterally, and Krauthammer knows it. Rather, proponents of engagement with Iran believe that we should negotiate both multilaterally and bilaterally: multilaterally with our allies so that everyone has a stake in success, and bilaterally because sometimes you can accomplish things in private talks that you can't in a more public forum. These two tracks can happen simultaneously, both formally and informally, and at multiple levels.

David Ignatius, a more sensible observer who, unlike Krauthammer, understands traditional American strengths and values, has the better argument:

America's best strategy is to play to its strengths which are the open exchange of ideas, backed up by unmatched military power.

....There's no guarantee that a policy of engagement will work. The Iranian regime's desire to acquire nuclear weapons may be so unyielding that Tehran and Washington will remain on a collision course. But America and its allies will be in a stronger position for responding to Iranian calls for dialogue. Openness isn't a concession by America, it's a strategic weapon.

Amen to that. It's time to stop listening to the loons.

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May 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE LAST TAX CUT?....The IRS has finally sent up the white flag in a long running legal battle over whether the 3% excise tax on long distance phone calls applies to calls that are billed at a flat rate (as opposed to calls that are billed based on "distance and elapsed transmission time"). The answer is no, so now the tax goes away and a bunch of (mostly corporate) customers will get several billion dollars in refunds.

I don't actually care one way or the other about this tax, but I couldn't resist posting this sentence from the Bloomberg summary:

The courts' involvement may deliver a victory to tax-cutting Republicans in Washington who are running out of taxes to cut and are facing a projected $300 billion budget deficit for this year.

"Running out of taxes to cut." It's funny cause it's true! And since the entire domestic policy apparatus of the modern Republican Party is based on tax cuts for their campaign contributors, what will they do now?

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OFF WITH THEIR HEADS....When Richard Hatch was sent to prison last week for failing to pay income taxes on his Survivor winnings, I turned to Marian and said, "I bet he gets more time than Jeffrey Skilling."

I'm pleased to announce that I was wrong. Today, the former Enron weasel was found guilty on 19 counts of conspiracy, fraud, false statements and insider trading. His boss, Ken Lay, was found guilty on ten counts of conspiracy, fraud, and false statements. Apparently rich guys with good lawyers can occasionally be convicted of white collar crime after all.

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TEH GAY....Discharges of gay men and women in the military were up last year:

The number of military members discharged under the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals rose by 11% last year, the first increase since 2001, officials said Wednesday.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, said 726 service members were discharged under the policy during the 2005 budget year that ended Sept. 30. That compares with 653 discharges the year before.

It's a good thing thing we're not at war, isn't it? Or at least, not in a war serious enough to care more about winning than about ridding our armed forces of dreaded homosexuals.

(Actually, if there's a bright side to this, it's that 726 is still well below the peak of 1000+ that was normal before 9/11. Apparently the Army really is more willing to overlook your sexual orientation when they have a pressing need for more front line cannon fodder.)

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PLAME UPDATE....The latest from the Valerie Plame case:

Vice President Cheney was personally angered by a former U.S. ambassador's newspaper column attacking a key rationale for the war in Iraq and repeatedly directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then his chief of staff, to "get all the facts out" related to the critique, according to excerpts from Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony released late yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney raised as an issue that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA and that she allegedly played a role in sending him to investigate the Iraqi government's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons materials. That issue formed the basis of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's published critique.

In the court filing that included the formerly secret testimony, Fitzgerald did not assert that Cheney instructed Libby to tell reporters the name and role of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. But he said Cheney's interactions with Libby on that topic were a key part of the reason Libby allegedly made false statements to the FBI about his conversations with reporters around the time her name was disclosed in news accounts.

Everything always gets back to Cheney somehow, doesn't it?

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GREEN....I wonder how many reviews like this of An Inconvenient Truth we're going to have to put up with? Taking it paragraph by paragraph, Gregg Easterbrook complains that (1) it's boring; (2) it's annoying; (3) it's contrived; (4) it's unimaginative; (5) it's alarmist; (6) it's too detailed; (7) it promotes conspiracy theories; (8) it's hypocritical; and (9) it's morally careless.

And that's from a guy who says he's "glad" Gore made the movie and admits that it "comes to the right conclusions about the seriousness of global warming." Yet he spends the entire piece doing nothing except kvetching over trivia. You'd almost think he just can't stand the thought that Gore was right before he was.

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May 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HASTERT AND THE LAW....ABC News reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is under investigation by the FBI:

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

....The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by [Jack] Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

In previous years this kind of thing would have been business as usual. After all, the fundraiser was legal, the contributions were reported normally, and there was almost certainly no specific, documented connection between the contributions and the letter. But as Jeffrey Birnbaum reports in our cover story this month, the Justice Department has taken an unusual approach to the Jack Abramoff scandals:

At the center of the scandal is something more prosaic, and potentially far more explosive: good old-fashioned campaign donations. Deep in the plea agreements won by Justice Department lawyers are admissions by the defendants Abramoff and his cronies, ex-DeLay aides Tony C. Rudy and Michael Scanlon that they conspired to use campaign contributions to bribe lawmakers. Even though these gifts were fully disclosed and within prescribed limits, the government said they were criminal, and the defendants agreed. This aspect of the case has received little attention. But it is sending shudders down K Street.

....The Abramoff and Scanlon pleas get very specific. The contributions that they swapped for favors included $4,000 to the campaign committee of "Representative #1" and $10,000 in contributions to the National Republican Congressional Committee "at Representative #1's request." Representative #1 has been widely identified as Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is under investigation as part of the Abramoff scam. Ney denies any wrongdoing. Officials close to the investigations say that possible campaign-donation bribery is also being looked at as part of the ongoing probes of as many as six other lawmakers.

Read the whole thing. Hastert might be one of "six other lawmakers" named here, and it's possible that he could be in serious trouble even if he fully reported the Abramoff contributions. The rules of the game may be changing.

UPDATE: Hastert flatly denies that he's under investigation.

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FUEL ECONOMY WONKISHNESS....The CAFE fuel economy standards passed in 1975 have worked great: average fuel efficiency increased dramatically between 1974 and 1985, cutting U.S. oil consumption by about a billion barrels per year. Unfortunately, CAFE standards haven't been tightened since then, which means fuel efficiency has stagnated since the mid-80s.

Last year President Bush proposed that CAFE standards be increased, but his proposal does away with the "A" in CAFE. Dean Baker doesn't like it:

Carmakers will be required to make each type of car they produce more fuel efficient over time, but they will not be obligated to improve the average fuel efficiency of the cars they produce.

Thus, each car maker would have to gradually and steadily improve the mileage of each type of car, instead of improving the fuel efficiency of their entire fleet. According to EPA estimates, the 2006 Toyota Prius gets 55 miles per gallon (mpg), and the 2007 Ford Explorer gets 16 mpg. Under the new standards, both cars must improve their mileage. Which means that if, a few years from now, the Prius is still at 55 mpg and the Ford Explorer is at 20 mpg, Toyota will be penalized, while Ford will be a model corporate citizen.

Point taken, though I think Bush's proposals would raise fleet averages: if you raise the standards for every category of vehicle, the average for all of them put together almost has to go up unless buying habits change pretty dramatically. Still, why not add a bit of free market orthodoxy to the mix, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences:

Changing the current CAFE system to one featuring tradable fuel economy credits and a cap on the price of these credits appears to be particularly attractive. It would provide incentives for all manufacturers, including those that exceed the fuel economy targets, to continually increase fuel economy, while allowing manufacturers flexibility to meet consumer preferences. Such a system would also limit costs imposed on manufacturers and consumers if standards turn out to be more difficult to meet than expected. It would also reveal information about the costs of fuel economy improvements and thus promote better-informed policy decisions.

Too wonky, I guess. But it sure seems like just the kind of thing both liberals and conservatives could get behind. Maybe that's the problem.

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STEM CELLS....Steve Benen notes today that last year the House passed legislation to liberalize embryonic stem cell research. In the Senate, Bill Frist said he supported the bill and would bring it up for a vote. It's a measure that has broad bipartisan support and is extremely popular with the public.

So what happened to it? Well, George Bush claims he'll veto it. If he does, it will show up the Republican Party as captives of the Christian right, unwilling to support promising scientific research for fear of offending a small band of blastocyst rights extremists. Conversely, if he signs it, it will send James Dobson and Pat Robertson into hysterics and Republicans can kiss the 2006 midterms goodbye.

Thus Bill Frist's strategy: run and hide. Pretty gutty bunch, these Republicans, aren't they?

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BOLD! CONTRARIAN!....Brendan Nyhan has the latest from the Straight Talk Express.

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NET NEUTRALITY....Matt Yglesias writes the following about the net neutrality debate:

Neutrality partisans portray themselves as trying to block a new initiative from the telecom companies. Neutrality opponents portray themselves as trying to block a new regulatory initiative. In the abstract, there's a case to be made for both characterizations of the situation, but it's hard to miss the fact that almost all (or maybe [literally] all I'm not quite sure how to do a precise head count) of the internet's technical pioneers see neutrality as preserving the longstanding rules of the road.

I'm not the most full-throated defender of net neutrality in the blogosphere, but I think this is a bad case of he-said-she-said evenhandedness. The net neutrality supporters pretty clearly have the better argument here: net neutrality was effectively the law of the land for decades until an FCC decision last year eliminated it. There would be nothing "new" about re-establishing it as a regulatory principle.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act defined two different types of service, information services (IS) and telecommunications services (TS), and cable companies were originally classified as IS and telephone companies as TS. Although both cable companies and telcos provide local internet access, the backbone of the internet is carried exclusively by telcos, which were regulated as common carriers under the tighter TS rules. The common carrier rules effectively enforced the principles of net neutrality on the internet backbone.

A series of court cases between 2000 and 2005 changed all this. When the smoke cleared, the Supreme Court had beaten back a challenge to the FCC and confirmed that they could legally classify cable modem services as IS. More important, though, the court ruled that the FCC had broad technical authority to decide how to regulate various services, and that left the FCC free to classify DSL and the internet backbone as IS too. Which they did. On August 5, 2005, the FCC reclassified DSL as an IS and issued four net neutrality "principles" that essentially replaced the common carrier requirements that had been part of the older TS regime. The whole point of the FCC's actions was to drastically reduce the regulation of DSL, and the FCC's own statement described their action as "consistent with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Commission's light regulatory treatment of cable modem service."

That may or may not have been a good idea. But the fact remains that until August 5 of last year net neutrality was the legal standard that applied to the telcos that operated the internet backbone. There's nothing new about it.

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THE DEATH OF POLICY....The White House has been searching for a replacement for Treasury Secretary John Snow for quite a while, but apparently Robert Zoellick isn't on the list. Why not?

One influential Republican with close ties to the White House said Mr Zoellick was leaving soon because he was not getting the Treasury job. The Republican added that the White House wanted someone who would be a better salesman. Mr Zoellick is more widely admired for his policy knowledge.

Rule #1 in the Bush White House: never admit that you take policy analysis seriously if you want to get ahead. As near as I can tell, you can overcome nearly any other obstacle but that one.

This is actually my Grand Unified Theory of Bush. Pundits keep trying to figure out just what it is that makes Bush so different from other presidents, but most of them start by trying to figure out what he values. For example, maybe he's far more dedicated to hardline conservative ideology than any other president? That seems reasonable at first glance, but even a cursory look at the evidence turns up way too many exceptions for this to account for his record.

Pure, ruthless political calculation? There's plenty of that, but it really doesn't explain things like No Child Left Behind, the Iraq war, or his immigration policy.

Pandering to the Christian right? Nah. In fact, Bush's most striking feature in this regard is his cynical willingness to promise the Christian right the moon and then deliver almost nothing. They're right to be pissed off at him.

Unbridled fealty to business interests? That's probably the closest to the truth, but what about Sarbanes-Oxley or McCain-Feingold?

The fact is, all presidents rely for their decisions on a complex stew of ideology, interest group pandering, and political calculation. So what is it that makes Bush so different? Just this: until Bush they also all cared about serious policy analysis. This was obviously more striking in some (Clinton) than in others (Reagan), but they all paid attention to it and it informed their actions.

But not Bush. He's subject to the same stew of competing interests and factions as any other president, but what truly makes him unique is what's missing: a respect for policy analysis. After eight months of working in the Bush White House, John DiIulio reported that "the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking." Paul O'Neill described Bush in cabinet meetings as "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." A senior White House official told Ron Suskind that the Bush White House is "just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. Its depressing." The meltdown at FEMA, the war with the CIA for being insufficiently hawkish, the lack of a serious plan for Social Security privatization, the staffing of postwar Iraq with inexperienced ideologues all of these things have the same root cause: a belief that ideas are all that matter.

Of course, that also means that President Bush's initiatives fail at a truly spectacular rate. After all, policy is all about figuring out how to implement ideas so that they actually work. If you believe that policy is something for effete liberal wonks as George Bush evidently does your ideas are doomed to failure. In the end, ironically, the one thing that Bush disdains so utterly is the very thing that guarantees his utter failure.

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FIXING THE CIA....One of the CIA's most serious failures over the past few years has been in the area of analysis. David Ignatius reports:

In trying to fix what was so obviously broken, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte did a smart thing. He went to the agency that came closest to getting it right on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction the State Department's tiny Bureau of Intelligence and Research and picked its chief, Thomas Fingar, as his deputy for analysis. INR, as it is known, had antagonized many in the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 by refusing to endorse their case that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear program dismissing the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases from Niger as "highly dubious."

I didn't know that, and it makes me think more highly of Negroponte. For more on INR, see here.

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May 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AN OPENING FROM IRAN....The letter earlier this month from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been wacky, but apparently it really was intended as a diplomatic opening:

Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

....[Saeed Laylaz, a former government official and prominent analyst in Tehran] said Ali Larijani, chairman of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, passed that message to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei....Iranian officials made similar requests through Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Laylaz said. American intelligence analysts also say Larijani's urgent requests for meetings with senior officials in France and Germany appear to be part of a bid for dialogue with Washington.

....The change appears rooted at least partly in Iran's political scene, now dominated entirely by conservatives. Pillar pointed out that with reformists driven from government, conservatives no longer fear that political credit for renewing contact with Washington will accrue to a rival domestic force.

So: conservatives are fully in charge; their nuclear program gives them some negotiating leverage; they don't want sanctions to be imposed; and the Iranian public is in favor of closer ties with the U.S. On our side, we want them to commit to ending their nuclear program; we don't want their oil exports cut off; we desperately need more stability in the Middle East; and the Bush administration has successfully forced them to make the first move.

Sounds like there's some basis for discussion there. It might work, it might not. But it's foolish not to try.

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CONGRESS WAKES UP....I'm a little late on this, but let me join the bandwagon of mockery directed at members of Congress who have finally decided that the executive branch has overstepped its congressional boundaries. After six years of signing statements, domestic surveillance, habeus corpus violations, torture of prisoners, and secret overseas prisons all done with no oversight from Congress what finally woke them up was a raid on a congressman's office. That can't be tolerated. Not for one second.

Well, maybe not. But at least the FBI got a search warrant signed by a judge. Congress should feel lucky they were treated with such sensitivity.

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DATA MINING UPDATE....Yesterday I noted that the NSA's domestic spying program was "a system for identifying criminals by statistical analysis," and suggested that Americans need to decide if they think it's appropriate to launch police surveillance on people simply because they fit a statistical profile. Today, Noah Shachtman points to a USA Today article that says that's exactly what's happening:

The template, officials say, was created from a secret database of phone call records collected by the spy agency. It has been used since 9/11 to identify calling patterns that indicate possible terrorist activity. Among the patterns examined: flurries of calls to U.S. numbers placed immediately after the domestic caller received a call from Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Now, this might very well work. But Eric Umansky links to First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who was on a panel a couple of years ago that advised the government on privacy issues. Abrams zeroes in on the real problem:

We basically said if you want to engage in data mining, which we said was a very good way to gather information to fight terrorism, you should go to the FISA court to get permission. You should go to the court established by Congress and get an OK from the court to do so, and if if you didn't think that was the right way to do it, you ought to go to Congress and get them to give you more authority to go to that court and get permission.

That's exactly right. The Bush administration can't keep this out of the courts forever, and if they continue to refuse to ask Congress to modify the law, there's a good chance the entire program will get tossed out eventually. That's what just happened in Germany's highest court:

In a decision made public today, the justices stated that foreign policy tensions or a collective threat level such as after the attacks of 9/11/01 do not suffice to permit the dragnet/grid/screen [i.e. data mining] searches....The justices found that officials [seeking to do data-mining] must have put forward concrete grounds to believe there will be foreseeable attacks in Germany.

Computer-based searches might very well be an effective way of tracking down terrorists. They might also be an effective way of tracking down lots of other criminals. But if that's the case, Congress and the courts need to set down clear guidelines and clear oversight for how it can and can't be used. The executive branch can't be allowed to decide unilaterally what's legal and what isn't.

The implications of this stuff are pretty far reaching. The American public and its representatives need to stop hiding from it and decide exactly how far they want it to go.

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EVERYONE LOVES A MAN IN UNIFORM....Via Belgravia Dispatch, here is Efraim Halevy, the head of Mossad from 1998 to 2002, discussing Iraq in Newsweek:

Is there anything that the United States can do to salvage the war in Iraq?
I would say one thing. I think it's very important at this particular juncture to try to propel one or two or three local military figures of the emerging Iraqi armed forces to be a visible part of the administration. The people in Iraq have become accustomed over the years to a certain style of leadership. And there is a great importance to be attached to the symbol of a uniform.

Are you talking about a military dictator?
No, I'm not saying a military dictator. I don't want to say something against the democratization process. But somewhere in the bevy of leadership there should also be uniformed people who are prominent who would command the respect of the population.

He may not want to say something against the democratization process, but he doesn't really seem to have much faith that it's going to work, does he?

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SOOTHING NEWS....So I guess it's official. The route to anchoring a network news telecast goes right through breakfast. Is Al Roker next?

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POWER COUPLES....The crack investigative unit at the New York Times has some raw data for us today:

Since the start of 2005, the Clintons have been together about 14 days a month on average, according to aides who reviewed the couple's schedules. Sometimes it is a full day of relaxing at home in Chappaqua; sometimes it is meeting up late at night. At their busiest, they saw each other on a single day, Valentine's Day, in February 2005 a month when each was traveling a great deal. Last August, they saw each other at some point on 24 out of 31 days. Out of the last 73 weekends, they spent 51 together. The aides declined to provide the Clintons' private schedule.

Now look. This is totally legitimate. The Clintons are a power couple, and the public has a right to know precisely how much, um, up-close time they have with each other. In fact, they're lucky that a quality outfit like the Times did this research instead of some lunatic blogger.

I think all power couples should accept this kind of transparency, so I'm going to set an example. After a thorough review of our calendars, it looks like Marian and I spent 47 of 52 weekends together in 2005. We spend an average of 26 days together, and at our busiest, last February, we spent 18 days together. Valentine's Day was one of them. In December we saw each other at some point on 31 out of 31 days. We often meet up late at night to watch Jon Stewart.

Who's next?

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By: Kevin Drum

STATE SECRETS REVISITED....A couple of days ago I mentioned the "state secrets privilege" that allowed the Bush administration to throw out Khaled El-Masri's suit against the government for mistakenly kidnapping and torturing him. In Slate today, Henry Lanman provides more detail. The problem, he says, isn't just that the privilege is being used far more often than it used to be, it's that it's being used more broadly. In the past, it was used to exclude specific pieces of evidence that might have compromised national security, but today it's being used to keep cases from even coming to trial:

The troubling shift today is that in el-Masri and other similar lawsuits almost all of which involve important challenges to the government's conduct since Sept. 11 the administration has been routinely asserting the privilege to dismiss the suits in their entirety by claiming that for it to participate in the trials at all would mean revealing state secrets. In other words, in addition to relying on the state secrets doctrine to an unprecedented degree, the administration is now well on its way to transforming it from a narrow evidentiary privilege into something that looks like a doctrine of broad government immunity.

....Despite the burgeoning use of this privilege and the way it's been used to gut entire cases, the most disturbing aspect of the Bush administration's expansion of the state secrets privilege may well be this: More and more, it is invoked not in response to run-of-the-mill government negligence cases but in response to allegations of criminal conduct on the part of the government. These are not slip-and-fall cases. They are challenges to the administration's broad new theories of unchecked executive power. By using the state secrets privilege to shut down whole lawsuits that would examine government actions before the cases even get under way, the administration avoids having to give a legal account of its behavior. And if this tactic persists if the administration continues to broadly assert this privilege and courts continue to accept it the administration will have succeeded in creating an insurmountable immunity that can be invoked against pretty much any legal claim that the "war on terror" violates the law. The standard and winning response to any plaintiff who asserted such charges would be, quite simply, that it's a secret.

Read the whole thing. Really.

Kevin Drum 2:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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By: Kevin Drum

24 BLOGGING....So Jack is on a slow boat to China. Does that mean he'll actually be in China for next season's pulse-pounding action? Will he save Beijing from nuclear annihilation by the creepy guy with the earpiece? Will he, in the end, bring our two great nations closer together?

And we'll be on what? Our fourth president in as many years? They sure do plow through presidents on that show.

Kevin Drum 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Christina Larson

I WANT MY MTV... Conservatives are better at laying claim to liberal rhetoric than vice-versa ("Healthy Forests," "Academic Bill of Rights," etc.). Now they're coming for the music.

Courtesy of The National Review, John J. Miller has sifted through NRO readers' suggestions for "The 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs" and picked some winners. (Alas, the whole list is not available without a subscription.) Among them:

8. "Bodies," By the Sex Pistols. Violent and vulgar, but also a searing anti-abortion anthem by the quintessential punk band: "It's not an animal/ It's an abortion..."

28. "Janie's Got a Gun," By Aerosmith. How the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators: "What did her daddy do?/ It's Janie's last I.O.U. / She had to take him down easy / And put a bullet in his brain..."

OK, that's all good fun, and can be taken with a grain of salt. But then Miller lays definitive claim to The Beatles' deftly ambiguous "Revolution" ("You say you want a revolution/ Well you know / We all want to change the world ..."). This one is a little trickier. It's not a conservative anthem, but it defies the familiar genre of protest rock. Christina Larson 12:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (167)

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May 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CASH, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE....Dude. They've got videotape. It's time to resign:

[Rep. William] Jefferson was videotaped accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from a Northern Virginia investor who was wearing an FBI wire, according to a search warrant affidavit released yesterday.

A few days later, on Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided Jefferson's home in Northeast Washington and found $90,000 of the cash in the freezer, in $10,000 increments wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside frozen-food containers.

"I plan to go to the floor tonight to vote" is not the right response to this. Nor is the suggestion that searching his office was "an outrageous intrusion of the separation of powers between the executive branch and the congressional branch." It's time to take a pitch for the team and retain at least a tiny shred of dignity. In the immortal words of Jeff Probst, it's time for you to go home.

Kevin Drum 7:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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By: Christina Larson

HOUSE-WARMING PARTY... Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif), chair of the House Resources Committee, raised eyebrows in April with his committee's "Earth Day" web page:

The "sky is falling" sensationalism of environmental activists lead people to falsely believe that our environment is getting worse when it's actually getting better...

This website provides information on the great environmental successes we have achieved over the last several decades, information to "debunk" the myths, and data on how the environmental movement in the U.S. has truly lost its way.

GOP staffers are gatekeepers for the committee web site and meeting rooms. Don't think they don't understand hospitality. Quite the contrary.

Today the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, creators of an ongoing ad campaign against "global-warming alarmism," ran a briefing for media and Hill staffers on the "collapse" of the Kyoto Protocol out of the House Resource Committee's hearing room. Nice digs. Framed oil paintings of frontier scenes, buffalos, and American Indians on the walls. Christina Larson 6:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIKEABILITY....Margaret Carlson reviews An Inconvenient Truth:

The movie comes at a time when some pundits (including me) might wonder if we should give a rest to that old saw about likeability. Maybe Americans prefer to have a beer and burger with the charming frat boy to the student who always does his homework. But is that a wise basis for choosing a president?

With all the needless death from a ill-conceived war, the wasteful corruption of sweetheart contracts in Iraq and New Orleans, debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, gas prices through the roof with no energy policy in sight, and with a president who delegates to incompetents and cronies, I'm ready to give the class nerd his due and raise a glass to a serious man. Here's to you, Al and a huge box-office gross.

OK, it's six years too late, but whatever. Apology accepted.

Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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By: Kevin Drum

MY WINDOW....Andrew Sullivan is inviting his readers to send him photos of the view from their window. I figured I'd play along, so here it is: the view from my window at 11:25 am PDT in Irvine, California. Pretty exciting, eh?

I took pains to make it realistic, too. Since I don't wear my glasses when I work, my view of my neighbor's fence is mostly just a bright blur, occasionally broken up when a cat walks by. But for better or worse, that's it. The view from my window.

Kevin Drum 4:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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By: Kevin Drum

PRYING WITH STATISTICS....The NSA spying program raises plenty of sensitive issues, but at least one of them hasn't received the close scrutiny it deserves: it's fundamentally a system for identifying criminals by statistical analysis. Americans need to come to grips with whether they approve of this.

Take a different, but equally incendiary example. Suppose that we could semi-reliably create a statistical portrait of child molesters: their age, geographical location, gender, and calling and buying patterns. Suppose they tend to rent certain kinds of videos, make phone calls to certain kinds of chat lines, and call up other known child molesters.

Needless to say, the FBI could track these patterns using the same methods as the NSA and then exploit the results to create lists of "possible child molesters." And it might work. But would we be OK with the FBI tapping someone's phone just because they fit a statistical profile? Or staking out their house? Or investigating their friends?

And if we can do it for suspected terrorists and child molesters, how about tax evaders and unlicensed gun owners? Can we tap their phones too because they're the "kind of person" who might be breaking the law? Should a court grant a search warrant based on a statistical pattern rather than a showing of specific fact?

And if not, why not? After all, if you're not doing anything wrong, why would you object to being investigated? And if the statistical patterns just happen to target lots of wealthy Republicans or rural white gun collectors well, that's how the cookie crumbles. If that's what the profiling turns up, then that's what the profiling turns up.

Any problems with that?

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SPIRIT OR THE LETTER?....Seymour Hersh provides the latest guess at what the NSA is doing with all those phone calls it's tracking:

The N.S.A. also programmed computers to map the connections between telephone numbers in the United States and suspect numbers abroad, sometimes focussing on a geographic area, rather than on a specific person for example, a region of Pakistan. Such calls often triggered a process, known as chaining, in which subsequent calls to and from the American number were monitored and linked.

The way it worked, one high-level Bush Administration intelligence official told me, was for the agency to take the first number out to two, three, or more levels of separation, and see if one of them comes back if, say, someone down the chain was also calling the original, suspect number. As the chain grew longer, more and more Americans inevitably were drawn in.

....The point, obviously, was to identify terrorists. After you hit something, you have to figure out what to do with it, the Administration intelligence official told me. The next step, theoretically, could have been to get a suspects name and go to the FISA court for a warrant to listen in....Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other.

OK, that fits reasonably well with what a lot of other people have been saying. But there's one part I don't get. Hersh's source says that this eavesdropping is a "violation of the spirit of the law." But if the program works the way Hersh says it does, it doesn't violate the "spirit" of anything. It just flatly violates the law. Am I missing something here?

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

ROBOT CONSERVATIVES....After picking up my jaw upon learning that James Sensenbrenner is actually cosponsoring a good piece of legislation, it dropped back to the floor upon learning how the wingnuts are fighting it. The subject is net neutrality:

Opponents of Net Neutrality are now claiming that children wont be protected online if we pass Net Neutrality legislation. How do we know this? From a May 16 letter circulated to the Senate by Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a member of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a former member of the Committee.

In their letter, the senators write that opposing the heavy hand of regulation that network neutrality represents is critical if we are to maintain the Internet as an open, evolving, and market-based tool, and to protect children and familites from the negative aspects of Internet content that exist today.

....And the capper: It also threatens to deprive parents of new technologies they may use to protect their families from online harm.

Read the whole thing to see just how laughable the whole argument is. It's almost like these guys are robots with defective programming that forces them to respond to every issue, no matter how remote, with a thundering denunciation of gay marriage, kiddie porn, or higher taxes. Mockery is our only option.

Kevin Drum 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FALL OF THE GENERALS....They don't call him "Blood and Guts" for nothing. In the current issue of the Monthly, Ralph Peters argues that our post-WWII system of "celebrity defense secretaries" has been a disaster for our ability to fight wars effectively. Especially under George Bush:

Today, however, our presidents do not hear unvarnished, de-politicized military advice, and the situation has never been graver than under the current administration. Presidential interviews with generals are essentially pre-scripted, with vetted talking points political courtiers control access to the president and determine what the president will hear. Only the president himself could change the situation by demanding to hear a range of military views (without commissars at the shoulders of the generals). President George W. Bush, who has chosen war as a policy tool, may be the American president most isolated from sound military advice.

At least six retired combat commanders have now gone public with the sort of technical not political criticism I've heard for years in private conversations with our generals. None of the critics has anything to gain personally. Indeed, each has much to lose by speaking out against any aspect of the most vindictive presidential administration since the Nixon era.

Retired generals criticizing Donald Rumsfeld? Bring it on! After all, "Should we put our trust instead in biased pundits, administration surrogates and a battery of yesteryear's military retirees who've fed heartily at the defense-industry trough and rely on continued access to the Pentagon?"

Well, should we?

Kevin Drum 1:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (236)

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May 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ROVE INDICTED?....This is pretty weird. Last weekend I linked to a Jason Leopold article at Truthout saying that Patrick Fitzgerald had met with Karl Rove's lawyers on Friday the 12th and presented them with an indictment of Rove related to the Valerie Plame leaks. I linked to the story without comment since it was based solely on anonymous sources and I had no independent way of knowing whether it was reliable.

Needless to say, no indictment has been announced since then, and Rove's lawyers have denied the whole thing. Leopold and Truthout have mostly stood behind the story, though with some caveats. Today, though, after a week of inconclusive maneuvering, we have the journalistic equivalent of a full frontal assault: Both sides have issued unequivocal statements that essentially accuse the other of outright lying. (In the case of Rove's spokesman, it's not even "essentially"; he flat out calls Truthout's story "utter lies.")

TalkLeft has the full story here, which includes the even more incendiary allegation that Rove "may" be cooperating in a case against Dick Cheney. I, of course, have no way to judge the truth of either side, although it continues to be strange that Leopold claims to have multiple sources on this story and no other media outlet has even one. In any case, there's damn little wiggle room left here. One side or the other is wrong on a truly spectacular scale and is now set up for an implosion of credibility on a galactic scale. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 9:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Kevin Drum

LISTENING IN....Alberto Gonzales said today that the government wouldn't hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters, but won't do it willy nilly:

He also denied that authorities would randomly check journalists' records on domestic-to-domestic phone calls in an effort to find journalists' confidential sources.

"We don't engage in domestic-to-domestic surveillance without a court order," Gonzales said, under a "probable cause" legal standard.

Glad to hear it. But remember, this is only because they're in a good mood. Gonzales has previously made it clear that if they decide to listen in on domestic calls, there's nothing to stop them. So keep those quarters handy, reporters.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POLITICAL GRAVEYARD....In the New York Times today, Mark Leibovich revives an old chestnut: Republicans respect their losers while Democrats throw theirs in the trash heap of history. For example:

Bob Dole lost to Bill Clinton in 1996, but has retained an elder statesman's role within the party. Barry Goldwater lost 44 states to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 yet remains a conservative icon. Richard M. Nixon lost narrowly in 1960 and went on to be elected president in 1968.

Is this really true, though? Dole left politics after 1996 and has had no serious role in the Republican Party since then. (Elder statesman? Please.) Goldwater may be considered a conservative icon today, but for a decade after his 1964 defeat he was a pariah. George Bush Sr. can't even get his own son to take his calls, let alone anyone else in the party. Newt Gingrich has a little more clout with Republicans than Al Gore does with Democrats, but not much. And Tom DeLay? Fugeddaboutit.

And Democrats? Adlai Stephenson became ambassador to the UN in JFK's administration. Hubert Humphrey lost to Nixon in 1968 but still made at least a respectable run for the presidency again in 1972. Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 and then began a career as the "best ex-president ever." Howard Dean got himself elected head of the DNC. Al Gore's star is rising even as we speak.

I admit I'm playing devil's advocate here. It really does seem as though Republicans treat their losers better than Democrats. (Mondale and Dukakis are probably the star exhibits.) But in the postwar era, with the exception of Nixon, no one from either party has run for president, lost, and then eventually come back to win. I suspect there's less to this myth than meets the eye.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Kevin Drum

STATE SECRETS....Yesterday I mentioned that Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped, drugged, flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, and held for five months despite the fact that he was entirely innoncent and was merely the victim of mistaken identity had his lawsuit turned down on Thursday after the government asserted the state secrets privilege. Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, comments:

When the government claims the "state secrets privilege," the courts tend to look no further, and the cases are dismissed. It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. The Justice Department describes this tactic as an "absolute privilege" in effect, a neutron bomb that leaves no plaintiff standing.

But can we trust the government when it tells us that national security is at stake? Should the government's claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked dismissal? Probably not, given the government's track record.

....President Reagan's executive secretary at the National Security Council, career Navy officer Rodney McDaniel, told a blue-ribbon commission looking at classification in 1997 that only 10% of the secrecy stamps were for "legitimate protection of secrets."

....Erwin Griswold, who as U.S. solicitor general prosecuted the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971, once explained the real motivation behind government secrecy...."It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another," he wrote.

The Bush administration complains that there are too many leaks of critical government secrets these days. I have two suggestions for reducing this problem: (a) stop breaking the law whenever our backs are turned, and (b) stop classifying every word ever written just because it might cause you some political problems. If you did that, maybe we'd all take your complaints a little more seriously.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUBAR IN IRAQ....Today's New York Times story about the Bush administration's Keystone Kops approach to training police in Iraq might as well be an encyclopedia entry for "FUBAR." Three different groups wrote plans that nobody on the ground ever heard of; the number of trainers was laughably minuscule to start with and got even more laughable over time; and nobody really seemed to care much because they didn't figure we'd be staying around for long anyway. It's the usual story with this gang.

You have to read the whole thing to really get a sense of what was going on, but in the meantime here's a small aside. According to Jay Garner, a plan to dispatch 6,000 police officers to Iraq was opposed by Frank Miller, a former NSC official who coordinated the American effort to govern Iraq. Is that true?

Mr. Miller, who left the government last year, confirmed his opposition. He said the assessment by the C.I.A. led administration officials to believe that Iraq's police were capable of maintaining order. Douglas J. Feith, then the Defense Department's under secretary for policy, said in an interview that the C.I.A.'s prewar assessment deemed Iraq's police professional, an appraisal that events proved "fundamentally wrong."

But Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the C.I.A., said the agency's assessment warned otherwise. "We had no reliable information on individual officers or police units," he said. The "C.I.A.'s written assessment did not judge that the Iraqi police could keep order after the war. In fact, the assessment talked in terms of creating a new force."

A copy of the document, which is classified, could not be obtained.

If Doug Feith says it, it's a pretty good bet that exactly the opposite is the case. Still, why is this report classified? Surely this would be one of those cases that Scott McClellan told us about in which declassification would be in the public interest? Right?

Kevin Drum 1:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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May 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DISGRUNTLED DENTISTS....This might be the best lead of well, the best lead of the weekend, anyway:

Czech Health Minister David Rath has been in a punch-up with a right-wing opponent during a meeting of disgruntled dentists in Prague.

A meeting of disgruntled dentists? In Prague? At least no one got tossed out a window.

Kevin Drum 9:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Kevin Drum

EATING LIBERALLY MAY 2006 EDITION....Just a reminder: our impromptu Los Angeles get-together at the Farmer's Market is still on. If you're an LA blogger, commenter, or reader, feel free to drop by. Here are the details:

Where: Farmer's Market, 3rd and Fairfax (directions here)
Meeting Place: The upstairs seating area above Magee's Kitchen
When: Sunday at noon

Feel free to come early, come late, stay as long as you want, and leave whenever you need to. Everyone is welcome.

You're on your own for food. Just grab something you like and then come upstairs. I'll be getting barbecue from my usual place, but there are plenty of other places to choose from. A directory is here.

Parking note for those not familiar with the Farmer's Market: there's an outdoor parking lot next to the Farmer's Market, but it's usually full. However, right next door to the Farmer's Market (on the east) is an outdoor mall called The Grove, and it has an enormous parking structure that never fills up on Sunday afternoons (map here). The Farmer's Market merchants won't validate parking tickets from the structure, but it's free for the first hour and only a couple of bucks for two additional hours. Your best bet is to park there and then follow the trolley tracks to the Farmer's Market. It's only a hundred yards or so.

A map of the Farmer's Market is below.


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By: Kevin Drum

THE STRANGE CASE OF KHALED EL-MASRI....Back on New Year's Eve of 2003, a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri had a fight with his wife and decided to blow off steam by getting on a bus and going to Macedonia. Unfortunately for him, his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker, so he was picked up at the border by Macedonian police, who in turn contacted the CIA.

There was apparently no evidence of any kind against Masri, but the CIA took custody of him anyway. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, drugged, and put on a plane for Afghanistan, where he was beaten, kicked, and interrogated by American agents for weeks. He says he was told, "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."

Finally, in March of 2004, the CIA figured out they had screwed up. Masri's passport was genuine, and he was just some poor unemployed schmoe who had had a fight with his wife. But they kept him for two more months anyway because they weren't sure what to do. Eventually, they flew him to Albania and dumped him off at a narrow country road at dusk. "They asked me not to look back when I started walking," Masri said. "I was afraid they would shoot me in the back." Three men met him and drove him to an airport, where he was flown back to civilization.

Charming, no? But mistakes can happen. The important thing is that you fess up and make good on them, which is exactly what Condoleezza Rice promised a month after Masri's release:

When mistakes are made, we work very hard to rectify them. I believe that this will be handled in the proper courts, here in Germany and if necessary in American courts as well.

Well, guess what? It turns out the United States isn't quite as interested in judicial oversight as Rice claimed. When Masri went ahead and asked an American court to hear his case, the Bush administration argued that he should be denied a trial because it might compromise national security. On Thursday a judge reluctantly agreed. Nadezhda has the details.

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THE NEXT FEW MONTHS....After months of haggling, Iraqi leaders finally formed a government today. However, they were forced to leave three important ministries unfilled all related to oversight of security forces because Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds couldn't agree on who to appoint.

That's obviously troubling, but I have a feeling that an even bigger problem was buried in a single paragraph inside this morning's New York Times account:

The incident underscored how difficult it could be for the new government to act with any degree of decisiveness. And it presages the bitter conflicts that lie ahead, especially over amendments to the Constitution, which Sunni leaders are insisting on as a condition for remaining in the democratic process.

Last October, in a desperate attempt to get Sunni support for the referendum on the proposed Iraqi constitution, Shiite leaders agreed to form a special committee to consider amendments to the constitution within four months of forming a government. That was mostly a fig leaf, since no one agreed to actually change the constitution, but it was enough to allow the Sunni bloc to hold out hope that they'd eventually get some of the concessions they were after.

But that's been on hold ever since the December parliamentary elections because no government had been formed. Now, though, the clock is ticking. With a government in place, Iraq's leadership is obligated to form the promised committee and begin considering constitutional changes.

So what's going to happen? The leader of Iraq's biggest Shiite party pretty much repudiated the deal months ago, and the most likely outcome seems to be either no changes or else mere cosmetic changes. And then the Sunnis will have to decide: do they decide to live with the constitution they hated back in October, or do they pull out of the government when the constitutional committee fails to deliver on any substantive changes?

For once, Thomas Friedman might be right if he predicts that the next few months really are critical. Tick, tick, tick.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

SUBPOENA MANAGEMENT....The Wall Street Journal writes today that telephone companies aren't the only ones having trouble balancing government law enforcement requests with customer privacy concerns:

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement efforts to secure corporate information about clients and suppliers have reached such levels that some companies have had to create special units that do nothing but deal with these demands, a process often called "subpoena management."

...."Corporate counsel that used to see law-enforcement-related requests five times a year are now getting them sometimes dozens of times a day," says Susan Hackett, a senior vice president and top attorney for the Association of Corporate Counsel, which represents the legal departments of leading U.S. companies.

....The situation is made even more complicated when the companies are government contractors, vying for federal business or in an industry subject to complicated regulation.

....Since 2001, the pressure on them has grown as the amount of electronic information provided to or compiled by companies has grown to include everything from customer names and addresses to shopping preferences and pastime activities. The Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Justice as well as the CIA have increasingly viewed this data as a veritable treasure trove that can be tapped to help thwart crimes and identify potential terrorist attacks in the making.

This wouldn't bother me that much except for two things. First, an awful lot of these requests apparently have nothing to do with terrorism. Second, if AOL's experience is typical, the vast majority of the requests are just fishing expeditions. Read the whole thing for more details.

Kevin Drum 1:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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May 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AT LAST....Now that's my kind of headline. Punchy. To the point. Accurate.

Coming next: "Americans think Bush is kind of a jerk." "Americans wish Bush would just button it." "Americans really getting sick and tired of Bush."

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By: Kevin Drum

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER....Greg Sargent talked to BellSouth's spokesman today, and he confirmed that they are contemplating legal action if USA Today refuses to retract its story alleging that BellSouth turned over customer records to the NSA:

This is interesting, and here's why. I'm no lawyer, but I've gotta think that such a legal battle could result in a lengthy discovery process that could force some of this stuff into the public domain. Who knows whether this will happen, but it at least seems possible.

This could just be a bluff, of course, but it's a pretty peculiar bluff. After all, this won't stop any of the lawsuits that have been filed against BellSouth, and they could have just kept their mouths shut if they wanted to. Why ask for even more trouble?

In a related vein, Paul Kiel and Justin Rood explore the possibility that the NSA actually worked with third-party billing and equipment vendors, not with the telcos themselves. Eric Umansky suggests something similar. This doesn't quite seem to add up to me, but you never know. It's a possibility.

Kevin Drum 6:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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WAR ON TERROR NEAR AN END!....Via Eric Muller, here is congressman Howard Coble on the Brad & Britt Show on Greensboro's WZTK-FM. They're talking about the NSA program and the general deterioration of civil liberties under the Bush administration, which Coble says he's "not troubled by":

Britt: But this is the difficult part, Congressman, is that we don't know when this war is going to be over....So indeed, if we give up some of these liberties, are flexible about some of these liberties until the War on Terror is over, when are we going to know when the war's over?

Coble: Well, I'm the eternal optimist, Britt, who always sees the glass half-filled, and I think this war will ultimately be over, and I don't think it's going to be an eternity, uh, it may not be tomorrow, but I hope it will certainly be within the next few months, to certainly no more than...well, I won't put a timetable because I really don't know. But once they can get a government together over there, given that you have four or five sects that don't like each other, and who don't like us, it's going to be a difficult case to make, but I believe it can be done.

So does Coble, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, think the war on terror will be over in a few months? Or the war in Iraq? Or does he just think they're the same thing?

And a followup question: is he willing to put money on either of those propositions? His own money, that is, not the federal government's credit card.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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ARMITAGE, TAKE 2....Steve Clemons now reports that Richard Armitage is not repeat not in any danger of being indicted in the Valerie Plame affair:

That said, I have learned from several other sources that Richard Armitage was neck deep in the Valerie Plame story. According to several insiders, as soon as Armitage realized mistakes he had made, he marched into Colin Powell and laid out "everything" in full detail.

....Another person with deep knowledge about this investigation called to say that Fitzgerald seems to have abandoned any interest in securing indictments regarding the "outing" of Plame and has invested his efforts in challenging the "white collar cover-ups" involved. According to this source, the information provided by Richard Armitage is more than any other information what has put Karl Rove at major risk of indictment.

And, um, what's up with that indictment, anyway? Jason?

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

BELLSOUTH....BellSouth has demanded that USA Today retract its story saying that the company provided customer phone records to the NSA:

BellSouth insists that your newspaper retract the false and unsubstantiated statements you have made regarding our company.

"We've had no contact with the NSA," says BellSouth's spokesman, in what I think probably qualifies as the flattest denial to date from any of the telcos.

I have to say that there's something odd going on here. We've talked about all the possible loopholes in the previous denials: maybe BellSouth worked through an intermediary, not the NSA; maybe they think the presidential memorandum signed on May 5 allows them to lie about this; maybe the NSA collected the information itself by tapping BellSouth's trunk lines.

Maybe. But a demand for a retraction is often a prelude to legal action, and even if it's not, it does nothing except draw even more attention to what's going on. BellSouth doesn't want that, the NSA doesn't want that, and no judge would give BellSouth the time of day in a libel suit if their argument rested on a technicality. It really doesn't seem likely that BellSouth would be fighting this so hard if they were lying especially knowing that there must be dozens of whistleblowers would can call them on it if they are lying.

And yet, there's every indication that the NSA does have some kind of massive-scale data mining operation going on. Is it targeted only at AT&T? Or what?

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

UNSETTLED....NBC's David Gregory asks President Bush why he thinks his approval ratings are so low:

Bush: People are unsettled. They don't look at the economy and say life is good. They know we're at war and I'm not surprised that people are unsettled because of war.

Gregory: But they're just not unsettled, sir. They disapprove of the job you're doing.

Bush: That's unsettled.

Hmmm. Unsettling for who?

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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By: Kevin Drum

DOG BITES MAN, PART 587....Ken Silverstein of Harper's reports on what happened to CIA analysts who wrote pessimistic field reports from Iraq:

The field reports, known as Aardwolfs, were angrily rejected by the White House. Their authorwho I'm told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyerwas soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration.

....In 2004 Meyer was replaced with a new CIA station chief in Baghdad, who that year filed six Aardwolfs, which, sources told me, were collectively as pessimistic about the situation in Iraq as the ones sent by his predecessor. The station chief finished his assignment in December 2004; he was not fired, but according to one source is now a pariah within the system. Three other former intelligence officials gave me virtually identical accounts, with one saying the exstation chief was treated like shit and farmed out.

....As has been the case with other people deemed to be insufficiently loyal, the White House went fishing for dirt on the two station chiefs, including information on their political affiliations. I spent 30 years at the CIA, said one former official, and no one was ever interested in knowing whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. That changed with this administration. Now you have loyalty tests.

Am I a bad person if I barely even react to this kind of thing anymore? It's like reading that, once again, the freeways are crowded this morning.

Only 977 days to go. Only 977 days to go. Only 977 days to go.....

Kevin Drum 12:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Kevin Drum

CO2: A GIVER OF LIFE, A SOURCE OF PAYCHECKS....I think Publius wins the CEI joke contest from yesterday. I mean, at least he made an effort, people. Honorable mentions here, here, and here.

Kevin Drum 12:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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May 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ARMITAGE IN THE PLAME CROSSHAIRS?....Steve Clemons writes today that former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman thinks Patrick Fitzgerald is gunning for Richard Armitage. Dan Drezner, who was at the same conference and sat with Inman at lunch, comments:

3) There was more that Inman said, and I'm tempted to spill all the beans but I'm not going to do it. It would be unfair to Inman, who has probably never heard of danieldrezner.com and would not necessarily have known he was talking to a blogger with any kind of audience. I know this stinks to the reader, but that's what my ethics tell me to do here.

4) Related to (3), it is my understanding that what has been blogged here is pretty much common knowledge inside the Beltway. I am genuinely surprised that it hasn't appeared anywhere else in the blogoshere.

If the entire conference was clearly off the record, then fine. But if not, isn't it about time to ditch the idea that it's not fair to quote public figures because they might not have known they were talking to someone with a blog? I mean, what are the odds that at a lunch table at a big public conference, nobody sitting there had a blog? If you blab at lunch with a dozen people listening, you really can't expect everyone to treat it like a state secret.

At least, that's how it seems to me. But then, maybe that's why I don't get invited to conferences like this.

Kevin Drum 7:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

PARTY OF DEATH....Jon Stewart's interview last night with National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru wasn't very enlightening. Stewart was in one of his moods where he treats the interview like a monologue, and Ponnuru hardly got a word in edgewise. So we didn't learn much about his new book, The Party of Death.

But I want to vent about it anyway. Over at The Corner, the gang has been griping for weeks about the reaction to Ponnuru's book, and I want to answer a couple of questions they've raised:

  • Question 1: Why does everyone obsess about the title of the book?

    A: Because in 100 point type it blares "The Party of Death," and the subtitle makes it clear who he's talking about: "The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life."

    Does the text of the book explain that he's not saying the Democratic Party is the Party of Death? Sort of, although statements like this hardly help the cause: "The way I put it is that the party of death has largely taken over the Democratic party." That certainly clears things up, doesn't it?

    Look. Ponnuru is a smart guy. He knew exactly what he was doing. But if you decide to join the Ann Coulter school of book naming, you shouldn't complain when people get pissed off at the title of your book. After all, if he didn't want people to be put off by the title, then he could have picked a different title.

  • Question 2: Why aren't serious lefties giving it serious reviews?

    A: Because despite the efforts of the NRO gang to make Party of Death sound like one of the seminal scholarly tomes of our time, it looks to most of us like standard issue Regnery stuff, right down to the Ann Coulter quote on the cover.

    Let's get real here. Despite the use of red herrings like infanticide and euthanasia to make it sound like pro-choicers are leading us all down a slippery slope to the Holocaust, these subjects get only brief mentions in the book. Basically, it's a book about abortion. And the big moral question about abortion is whether life begins at conception.

    And there's a whole chapter on just that question. Which I read in the bookstore. But despite the implication that Ponnuru makes some kind of killer argument on this score, there was nothing of the kind. It was the same stuff I've read a hundred times before. There's just nothing new here.

The idea that a fertilized egg is a full-blown human being has always struck me as a bleakly mechanistic view of human life: I figure it takes more than a few strands of DNA and some protoplasm to be truly human. Inevitably, that means I take a fuzzy view of when human life begins, but I'm willing to accept that. The real world is a fuzzy place.

That's obviously not something everyone agrees with. But the arguments on both sides have been rehearsed in public for decades, and Ponnuru's main contribution in Party of Death is to claim that support for abortion rights is intimately related to a desire to kill infants and old people. This is not something likely to raise the level of discourse or to engage with liberals who take a different point of view. But it will sell books to the true believers. As Ann Coulter and Michael Savage already know.

Kevin Drum 6:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (205)

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By: Christina Larson

SOME LIKE IT HOT... Kevin has already linked to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's ads on the alleged "myth" of global warming. The ads speak for themselves. But there's something else worth noting.

At yesterday's press conference in Washington to roll out the campaign, spokesmen for CEI lectured the crowd of a few dozen journalists on how "objective" media coverage depended upon giving "both sides" of an issue. Whenever you cover climate change issues, CEI fellow Marlo Lewis admonished, find a second opinion, a dissenting point of view. The media packet included a tidy list of "Frequently Asked Questions" with rebuttals to myriad recent news items on global warming. Lewis said he was offering "suggestions for improving the balance with which the global warming debate is covered."

The ads may seem silly, but their creators know how to exploit the conventions of American journalism to insert apparent doubt into a debate. There was one journalist who vocally took issue with the premise of the presentation. He was from South Africa. Christina Larson 5:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

A CINEMATIC SILENT SPRING....Frank Foer saw Al Gore's global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, last night, and he was blown away:

I think the movie has the potential to become a seminal political document a cinematic Silent Spring. It will certainly change elite opinion.

Everything else I've heard about the movie sounds great too, but I wonder what Foer means when he says it will "change elite opinion"? Does he mean liberal elite opinion, which already accepts the reality of global warming but hasn't really pushed it very hard as a major issue? Or does he think even conservative elites will start to change their minds after seeing it? Or is he talking about centrist David Broder types?

Whichever it is, I hope he's right. When the opposition gets desperate enough to run ads telling us how great CO2 is, surely the time for action is ripe.

Kevin Drum 4:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Kevin Drum

WE CALL IT....WELL, WHAT DO WE CALL IT?....From deep very deep within the bowels of the "WTF" files come two ads from the Competitive Enterprise Institute arguing that carbon dioxide is....wait for it....

Good for us. The ads, "airing in 14 U.S. cities from May 18 to May 28, 2006," don't merely say that global warming isn't a big deal though they say that too they seriously say that carbon dioxide is great stuff. "We breathe it out, plants breathe it in."

Well, there's no arguing with that, especially when it's accompanied by pictures of old growth forests and sweet little girls using their CO2-enhanced breath to blow on dandelions.

There's not much point in actually arguing with stuff like this, of course, so I propose a joke contest instead. You can probably figure out the theme without my having to tell you. Comments are open.

Via Grist.

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (211)

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By: Kevin Drum

IS AL-JAZEERA DUCKING THE NEWS?....Marc Lynch reports that democracy advocates in Egypt are feeling sold out on all sides:

Al-Jazeera reported, and everyone has picked up, Gamal Mubarak's casual meeting with Bush, Cheney, and various worthies which rather undermines the State Department's strong statements. The restoration of diplomatic relations with Libya, whatever the strategic justification, have been taken by many Arab democracy advocates as a clear message that the United States can not be counted on to support democratic change that the US will abandon them the second it sees some slight advantage in doing so.

As for satellite TV, I had heard many complaints from Egyptian activists that al-Jazeera had sold them out, presumably in exchange for the release of their correspondent who had been arrested over his coverage of the Sinai bombings. I had seen some coverage on al-Jazeera of the protests, and thought that this might be changing. Evidently not. Having learned well the lessons of the potential power granted by Arab satellite TV, Egyptian security forces have been engaging in rather savage repression of television cameras attempting to cover the protests, attacks on journalists, and intimidation of others.

As Marc says, effective attacks on the Egyptian regime depend on "satellite TV again intersecting with popular protest and some signs of American / external pressure. Now two of the three legs seem wobbly." Not a single episode of al-Jazeera's key nightly prime time news/interview program Behind the News, he says, has been devoted to Egypt.

I happen to agree with Marc that satellite TV stations like al-Jazeera are probably far more important drivers of democracy than anything the United States does in its official capacity. If they're taking a dive, that's bad news for the region.

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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By: Kevin Drum

"SOMETHING SO BIG"....Judy Miller talks today about the one that got away. It's July 4th weekend in 2001, the counterintelligence community is spun up because they're convinced al-Qaeda has an attack planned, and Miller decides to spend the weekend in Washington DC:

As somebody metaphorically put it: 'They uncorked the White House champagne' that weekend because nothing had happened. We got through the weekend...nothing had happened.

But I did manage to have a conversation with a source that weekend. The person told me that there was some concern about an intercept that had been picked up. The incident that had gotten everyone's attention was a conversation between two members of Al Qaida. And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaida operative was overheard saying to the other, 'Don't worry; we're planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.'

And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying Al Qaida operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.

But Miller was unable to dig up more details, so she and her editor, Stephen Engelberg, killed the story. Perhaps now would be a good time to follow it up?

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOBS AMERICANS WON'T DO....I've always been sort of agnostic on the "jobs Americans won't do" argument. There's obviously something to it, but at the same time it's also a cop out. Offer field workers ten bucks an hour and decent treatment and you could find plenty of native Americans to fill the jobs currently taken by illegal immigrants.

Or so I thought. Which made this morning's story in the LA Times pretty interesting. David Streitfeld talked to several landscape contractors, all of whom have jobs on offer ranging from $9 to $34 an hour, and found that they still can't come close to filling them with natives. Cyndi Smallwood says the situation has completely soured her on Republicans:

That's due in large measure to her anger at her congressman, Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Diamond Bar), who does not favor a guest worker program.

In January, Smallwood had a contentious meeting with Miller at his district office in Brea. She said Miller twice challenged her assertion that she couldn't find workers for $34 an hour, saying his son would work for that wage and offering to send him over.

Smallwood said she took the deal, but that his son never showed up. Miller declined to be interviewed.

I'll bet. The people interviewed in the story claim to be offering $9-$15 for unskilled tenders, $20 for supervisors, and upwards of $34 for experienced laborers and they still can't fill the jobs.

I'm not quite sure if this is a fair cross section of what's going on or not. But it seems legit. And it's an interesting data point.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (183)

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By: Zachary Roth

GETTING OVERSIGHT RIGHT...It's probably smart for John Conyers to be trying to put to rest Republican claims that a Democratic House would impeach Bush (although you can still imagine a GOP attack ad that uses a few well-placed ellipses to make hay out of the phrase: "At the end of the process, if -- and only if -- the select committee, acting on a bipartisan basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would forward that information to the Judiciary Committee." But whatever.)

More important, it's good to see that Conyers doesn't seem to be listening to the sizable subgroup of Democrats arguing that essentially any attempts to investigate Bush administration transgressions will be seen as partisan witch-hunts, and will backfire politically. When I asked some prominent Democrats how the party should conduct oversight if it wins in November, I was surpised by the number who took this view. Lanny Davis told me I don't care about digging up whether Bush lied or not, or whether they manipulated evidence or not. That's just playing gotcha. And one committe staffer cautioned "when you do oversight, ultimately, the press is the judge of your credibility." I'm glad that Conyers seems to be more concerned with providing a full accounting of what's happened during the Bush years, and less concerned with what David Broder might say.

Zachary Roth 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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By: Kevin Drum

CODENAME THINTHREAD....I don't really know what to think of this. Siobhan Gorman has a lengthy story in the Baltimore Sun today about an NSA program called ThinThread that got killed sometime around 2001. It was similar to the call monitoring program that USA Today disclosed last week, but the idea was to make it scrupulously legal by encrypting all the phone number data before it got to analysts. They'd run their software on the encrypted data, and only if they found something worth following up would they get a warrant to decrypt the data. This supposedly ensured the privacy of the data they collected.

So what happened? According to "four intelligence officials knowledgeable about the program," it was abandoned in favor of Trailblazer, a program that was a favorite of NSA chief Michael Hayden:

NSA managers did not want to adopt the data-sifting component of ThinThread out of fear that the Trailblazer program would be outperformed and "humiliated," an intelligence official said.

Without ThinThread's data-sifting assets, the warrantless surveillance program was left with a sub-par tool for sniffing out information, and that has diminished the quality of its analysis, according to intelligence officials.

Sources say the NSA's existing system for data-sorting has produced a database clogged with corrupted and useless information.

The story here is that (a) ThinThread was awesome but was killed in favor of Trailblazer, (b) Trailblazer was eventually killed too, (c) a similar program was put in place after 9/11, but without the privacy safeguards, and (d) the new program doesn't work worth a damn.

Is this true? Beats me. I do know that you haven't seen a bureaucratic war until you've seen rival teams of programmers badmouthing each other's projects, and that may be what's going on here. Or, we may have a program that's both illegal and crappy because nobody wanted to make the boss's pet project look bad.

Anyway, read the whole thing. One thing, though: there sure are a helluva lot of intelligence agents squawking to the press these days, aren't there? Does that strike anybody else as a little odd?

Via Josh Marshall.

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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May 17, 2006
By: Christina Larson

OUR BIG BACKYARD ... All politics, even global warming, may ultimately be local.

The National Wildlife Federation, which in addition to its national membership includes nearly a million sportsmen associated with state and regional affiliates, recently polled the hook & bullet crowd on climate change. 54 percent of sportsmen said they'd noticed seasonal shifts (hotter summers, shorter winters, less ice cover on lakes, unusual drought, etc.), which they attributed to global warming. 70 percent said that global warming poses "a serious threat to fish and wildlife."

The results of the poll, conducted by the research firm Responsive Management, will be published in Field & Stream magazine. F & S hasn't shied away from political debates lately; its May issue includes an article on "unchecked energy development" in western states entitled "The Killing Fields."

There's also a web site where you can click on state maps to learn how climate change may affect the habitats, breeding cycles, and wintering grounds of familiar critters. Christina Larson 8:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Paul Glastris

MISSION REJECTED... Why has illegal immigration suddenly taken over American politics? After all, undocumented workers have been coming into this country for decades, and it just wasn't a terribly big issue here in Washington, at least two years ago, or four years ago, or six.

A big part of the answer, I think, can be found in a piece we ran last year called "My New Kentucky Home" by journalist Peter Laufer. What's really changed, Laufer demonstrates, is where immigrants, legal and illegal, settle. Instead of staying in a handful of big cities and border states, as they used to do, immigrants in recent years have been spreading out, to cities and towns that five years ago seldom if ever saw a Latino face. This is true of the western suburbs of St. Louis, where I grew up. When I go back home I get an earful from people in this strongly-Republican area who are shocked at all the burrito places opening up on Manchester Road and all the Spanish-speaking Mexicans they see shopping at Target. As Laufer's piece shows, this shock is especially keen in the GOP-controlled South. And I suspect it's that shock that is being reflected now in Washington.

Laufer's a sharp reporter with a great eye for coming trends. So it's worth checking out his latest book, Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq for what it has to say about where attitudes towards this war may be heading. Laufer will be speaking in DC this Friday evening at Busboys and Poets along with Markos Moulitsas and other authors from our esteemed friends at Chelsey Green Publishing, so go check him out and buy his book!

Paul Glastris 6:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING THE GOOD BOOK....David Plotz, while twiddling his thumbs at a recent bat mitzvah, picked up a copy of the Torah and idly started reading it. He was, it turns out, shocked and repelled by the surprisingly Old Testament brutality contained in the Old Testament, and decided to learn more. How? By reading the Bible to see what's actually in the thing. "What will happen," he asks, "if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents?"

My guess: he'll get bored quickly. For example, he almost certainly won't get all the way to 2 Kings, where he'd be appalled at the famous story of the saintly Elisha:

Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads ["little children" in the King James translation] came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead! When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.

As my Bible dryly notes in the margin, "Not all ancient writers, to say nothing of modern, would have told a story like this to inculcate respect for a prophet."

Well, no, they wouldn't, would they? But the real problem with Plotz's plan to blog the Bible is that while innocence is one thing, simplemindedness is quite another. Yesterday he blogged about Genesis 4, for example, and today he reports that he got some email about this:

Many other readers wrote in baffled about Cain's wife. Who is she? There's no mention of any daughters of Adam and Eve (who would be Cain's sisters, anyway). So, where did Mrs. Cain come from? Anyone have a good answer?

Please. This is like asking whether Adam had a belly button. Children have been tweaking their elders with questions about Mrs. Cain for decades? centuries? and Plotz's emailers surely know this. He's being suckered.

This is really not an experiment that can end well. Christians will assume that Plotz is mocking them, atheists will gleefully deluge him with examples of Biblical inconsistency, and the rest of us will wonder if his ignorance can really be quite as galactic as he's making it out to be. Meanwhile, Plotz himself will be lucky to make it past the two-week mark.

But I guess you never know. Maybe this time next year Plotz will be trying to puzzle out the significance of beryl and sardonyx and we'll all be cheering him across the finish line. But then what will he do the next time he's bored at a mitzvah?

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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By: Kevin Drum

SPINNING IMMIGRATION....Matt Yglesias puts poison pen to virtual paper and writes:

Robert Samuelson earns his bones today as one of those white pundits, employed by white editors, writing for an audience of white people, who has the courage to speak uncomfortable "truths" about how non-white people are bad.

I gave up reading Samuelson a while ago because his selective misuse of numbers was so bad that it just wasn't worth the time. His columns aren't quite in NRO territory, but they're close.

In today's column, he quotes figures that aren't even related to assimilation to prove that Hispanic immigrants don't assimilate. But they do. He says that immigrants depress the wages of unskilled natives, which is at best only barely true, and goes on to say that immigrants also have a negative effect on the economy as a whole, which is not true at all. Then he quotes an email to imply that immigrants don't learn English, which is also untrue.

Finally, to top it off, he makes the bizarre argument that the real problem is the combination of more immigrants and more old people. But our demographic problems will be worse if we don't encourage immigration, not better. We're going to have the same number of old people in 20 years no matter what we do, and an increase in immigration spreads the tax burden of supporting them to a bigger base of people.

No immigration policy is perfect. If we let in more legal immigrants, they'll probably exert a small downward effect on unskilled wages. And we probably ought to figure out a better way to teach their kids English, especially since this is such a hot button among some natives. But those are fairly minor problems, really, especially compared to the benefits of a sensible immigration policy: increased wages (legal immigrants are generally paid more than illegals), less worker abuse, less crime, a growing population, and a small but real positive impact on the economy. What's not to like?

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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By: Kevin Drum

LISTENING IN....Yesterday, President Bush insisted, again, that he has been "clear about the fact that we do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval."

That's great to hear. But we'd all feel a lot better about this if both Michael Hayden and Alberto Gonzales hadn't told us that this could change at any time:

  • Hayden: Asked why domestic calls weren't tapped, said simply, "that's where we've decided to draw that balance between security and liberty."

  • Gonzales: Asked if the president might authorize domestic taps, said, "I'm not going to rule it out."

Both men specifically suggested that the only reason domestic calls weren't being tapped was because the president had decided not to and that this might change in the future. Which is what makes op-eds like this almost too fatuous to believe.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

INVESTI-GATE....Republicans are already raising money from their true-believer base by warning them that a Democratic victory in November will mean nothing but endless investigations of the president. The mainstream press has picked up on this theme too. So does that mean Democrats should avoid the subject for fear of looking hyperpartisan? I think Zack Roth gets the answer right in "Investi-Gate," in the June issue of the Monthly:

Democrats might wish they could avoid talking about their investigative plans. But if they do, the press and the GOP will raise the issue for them, and they'll frame it around the prospect of impeachment. So Democrats might as well meet the challenge head on, and spend the summer making their case. Of course we'll vigorously investigate the administration if we win, they should say. And we'll do so the same way previous Democratic Congresses have investigated GOP presidents: shoulder-to-shoulder with honest Republican lawmakers willing to put country before party. The fact that the current GOP leadership chose to abandon the great American tradition of bipartisan Congressional oversight is no reason Democrats have to follow suit. Instead, they should embrace that tradition, with the faith that if they do, the president will get the legacy he deserves.

Read the whole thing. Done right, a promise of oversight can be a powerful campaign issue. Done timidly, though, it's a sure loser.

Kevin Drum 1:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NSA AND THE LAW....David Ignatius provides a plausible guess about how the NSA is using the database of calling records they've collected over the past few years:

Suppose you lost your own cellphone and bought a new one, and people really needed to find out that new number. If they could search all calling records, they would soon find a number with the same pattern of traffic as your old one calls to your spouse, your kids, your office, your golf buddies. They wouldn't have to listen to the calls themselves to know it was your phone. Simple pattern analysis would be adequate so long as they had access to all the records.

This, in simple terms, is what I suspect the NSA has done in tracking potential sleeper cells in the United States. The agency can sift through the haystack, if (and probably only if) it can search all the phone and e-mail records for links to numbers on a terrorist watch list. The computers do the work: They can examine hundreds of millions of calls to find the few red-hot links which can then be investigated under existing legal procedures.

Maybe so. But then he pinpoints the problem with such a program: it's probably illegal. And additional resources and additional briefings aren't a good answer:

These would be easy fixes, but they would duck the basic issue: Is it legal for the NSA to obtain and keep the nation's phone records to identify who is getting calls from terrorists? Do Americans support that trade-off of privacy for security? It should be obvious now, as the temporary anti-terrorist structure created after Sept. 11 begins to crumble, that the only stable framework going forward will be one that brings these programs clearly and firmly under the rule of law.

Amen. It's possible that the NSA programs that have been disclosed are reasonable ones. But if that's the case, there's no excuse not to have Congress pass a law making them clearly legal and setting firm boundaries on how they're used. Hearings can be done in closed session if necessary, something that's common for sensitive intelligence issues.

But Congress should have a say. No executive, regardless of who's president, should be allowed to unilaterally decide for itself what's legal and what's not. That's the job of Congress and the courts.

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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May 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NSA UPDATE....Verizon denied today that it has provided any call records to the NSA:

One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers' domestic calls.

This is false....Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records from any of these businesses, or any call data from those records. None of these companies wireless or wireline provided customer records or call data.

A spokesman followed this up with a flat statement: "We have provided no customer information whatsoever to the NSA."

BellSouth said the same thing yesterday, with their spokesman telling USA Today, "We are not providing any information to the NSA, period." He followed up today by confirming that BellSouth had not provided bulk calling data to "any governmental agency."

This is fascinating, isn't it? Seems like USA Today's sources have some explaining to do. I wonder what's really going on here?

UPDATE: In comments, Jeremy points out that we know (or think we know) that Qwest turned down the NSA's request. But that means the NSA did request customer call data from them. Since it's unlikely that the NSA approached only Qwest, this means that the other companies must be lying or spinning in some way.

One possibility: they allowed the NSA access to their trunk lines (as described here) and the NSA collected the data themselves. This would allow the telcos to say that they hadn't "provided" any "customer records" to the NSA, which would be technically true.

Still, it's very odd. The telco denials are pretty flat, and if they're lying they're doing it clumsily. Why not just stick with "no comment on national security matters" if the reports are true?

Kevin Drum 8:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Kevin Drum

LATEST POLL GOODIES....Man, this has got to hurt if you're a Republican: the public prefers the Democrats on every single issue in today's Washington Post poll. Even on terrorism, the GOP's longtime go-to issue, the public prefers the Democrats by 46%-41%. Other tidbits:

  • Democrats lead Republicans in the generic congressional poll by 12%. That's good, but it's worth keeping in mind that Dems led by about that much midway through 2004 too. Don't break out the champagne yet.

  • As usual, most Americans think Congress sucks but also think their own representatives are doing fine. Likewise, they think the country is headed in the wrong direction, but their own community is in great shape. (Much the same dynamic can be found in polls about education: American schools suck, but everyone thinks their own local school is just dandy.)

  • Sadly, American don't care much about privacy. Large majorities think the NSA's domestic monitoring program is just fine and don't mind if the NSA has access to their phone records. In a way, I'm not surprised, though. I've always been pretty appalled at how much personal information people are happy to give away for even the slightest bribe (a free download from iTunes!).

    On the bright side, a sizable majority also believes it was right for the press to disclose the program.

  • 31% of the respondents say that higher gasoline prices have caused them "serious hardship." Really? Even though I've written about this before, this still seems like a pretty high number.

  • There are plenty of other routine results as well: Bush's approval rating is in the toilet, the Iraq war is unpopular, we should bring the troops home, etc. etc.

Full results are here.

Kevin Drum 8:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

CINEMATIC ALBINOS....From the "things you probably didn't know" file:

"The Da Vinci Code" will be the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino.

This comes courtesy of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, which is not amused. And I have to admit they've got a point: when I saw the trailer for The Da Vinci Code, I turned to Marian and the first thing I said said, "Jeez, what's the deal with evil albinos in the movies, anyway?"

But enough of this tomfoolery. I suppose it's time to return to more serious matters, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 7:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

"BUT HE'S OUR SON OF A BITCH"....I'd never thought about this before, but inspired by an offhand comment here I went looking for the origin of the famous "son of a bitch" quote. Here are three contenders:

  • Reference.com: It was Roosevelt who made the often-quoted remark about the dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza: "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

  • Dick Morris: FDRs memorable characterization of Spains brutal dictator Francisco Franco: Sure hes a son of a bitch, but hes our son of a bitch.

  • Michael Wood: Rafael Lenidas Trujillo, long-term dictator of the Dominican Republic....The Americans supported him because, as Cordell Hull said, in a phrase since used countless times of other unappealing figures, 'he was a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.'

Bottom line: we don't know who said it, who it was said of, or where it came from. Or whether anyone ever said it at all. Apparently the best we can do is this guy, who tracked it back to a 1966 biography of Trujillo written by Robert Crassweller. However, when he contacted the author, Crassweller told him that although the quote had "acquired a great deal of generality," he didn't have any way of tracking it down.

Yet another famous quote that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. How many more are there?

Kevin Drum 5:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION POLL....A quickie CNN poll indicates that people who watched Bush's immigration speech last night liked it. 79% had a positive view of the speech; 67% had an overall positive view of Bush's policies; 75% approved of sending National Guard troops to the border; 69% favored a guest worker program; and 74% liked the idea of giving illegal immigrants a path to earn citizenship.

It's hard to say how meaningful this is, since people who watched the speech are probably more predisposed than average to approve of what Bush says. Still, it seems to have gone over pretty well.

Ironically, though, this is probably bad news. Bush seems to have done a good job of targeting the political middle, and these folks are going to be pretty disappointed when he's unable to deliver on his oh-so-reasonable plan. As near as I can tell, Bush's xenophobe base is more pissed than ever and planning to stay pissed; the House is still in no mood to compromise from its round 'em up and herd 'em home bill; Democrats are going to continue to hate him regardless; and the folks who were so impressed last night are going to feel like they were suckered when it becomes clear who really runs the Republican Party and how little clout Bush really has on this issue. By this time next month nobody's going to like him.

All this would make me pretty happy, too, if it weren't for the fact that there are real people who are going to suffer because of this, and real damage to the country that's going to be done. Sadly, we've all gotten kind of used to that, haven't we?

UPDATE: The Zogby poll is not so enthusiastic: "Overall, 47% said they liked the Monday speech, while 47% said they were disappointed." Hmmm.

Kevin Drum 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONDI'S iPOD....Editor & Publisher has a list of Condoleezza Rice's ten favorite pieces of music.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (152)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION ROUNDUP....Miscellaneous morning surfing suggests to me that Bush's immigration speech has basically provoked full scale nuclear war among conservatives. I won't bother to link, although scrolling through The Corner gives you an idea of what's going on, but people are pissed. Even uber-lapdog Hugh Hewitt isn't happy this morning.

I predict pain.....

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has the linkfest if you want to get a taste of what the president's biggest fans are saying. Even John "a man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius" Hinderaker is unhappy.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

NSL UPDATE....Over at Unfogged, LizardBreath takes a look at the law governing National Security Letters and notes that it allows the FBI to use NSLs to request phone records only for investigations to "protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." But that's not what's happening:

If the FBI is justified at all in seeking these phone records, it is justified only in that they are relevant to a criminal investigation an investigation of the leaking of classified material to reporters. And the FBI could plausibly get an order from a court, under the Pen Register Act, allowing it access to those records as relevant to a criminal investigation.

Instead, the FBI avoided the oversight of the courts, and issued NSLs for the records. While there is certainly an argument that could be made that the phone records in question are relevant to a leak investigation, a leak to a reporter, while it may be illegal, is neither terrorism nor a clandestine intelligence activity.

I wonder if we'll be seeing some lawsuits over this in the future?

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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May 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS....Earlier today, ABC News reported that the federal government was "tracking" the phone calls of reporters who were suspected of talking to leakers. Here's what's apparently going on:

The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters phone records in leak investigations. It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration, said a senior federal official.

....Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL). The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.

The FBI is now harrassing reporters in a way that previously required the consent of a judge which usually wasn't given except as a "last resort." NSLs, by contrast, are issued by the FBI itself. There. Is. No. Oversight. At. All.

See here for more on NSLs.

Kevin Drum 9:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE BORDER, EVENING EDITION....The immigration speech seemed like it was mostly just the same 'ol same 'ol. Nickel version: Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.

Actually, I don't really have anything against most of this stuff. Bush's position on immigration seems surprisingly reasonable to me. But it's still kind of fun watching him bob and weave and choose his words with such delicate care in order to avoid the "first fully televised political suicide in history," courtesy of the wingnut base he's spent his life pandering to.

A full transcript of the speech is here.

Kevin Drum 8:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOODOO ECONOMICS REVISITED....Do tax cuts supercharge the economy? Well, the economy has done well ever since the 2003 tax cuts, right? Case closed!

But....maybe not. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides this handy chart demonstrating the difference between the recession of 1990 and the recession of 2001. Bottom line: the economy eventually got better both times! Once with tax increases and once with tax cuts. As the authors dryly put it, the lesson from this is not that tax increases are great for the economy, but that "weak recoveries eventually tend to improve, whether there are tax cuts, tax increases, or no tax changes at all."

Max has more. As does the increasingly annoyed (of late) Matt Yglesias.

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

"I FELT AS THOUGH I HAD BEEN USED POLITICALLY"....You know how George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are constantly telling us that they provide their generals in Iraq with everything they want? Why, if they want more troops, all they have to do is ask.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004, and then turned down a promotion and resigned in 2005 in protest over Rumsfeld's handling of the war, has a different story to tell:

Over the course of the year-long tour, Gen. Batiste says he had to deal regularly with troop shortages....Gen. Batiste told Mr. Wolfowitz about this problem during the June 2004 visit, saying increased unrest in his sector was the "direct result of the boots-on-the-ground decrease."

....Gen. Batiste says he also relayed his concerns to his military bosses in Baghdad. "I always spoke out within my chain of command. I spoke my mind freely and forcefully," he says.

Just weeks before his troops left Iraq [near the end of 2004], the general had an opportunity to confront Mr. Rumsfeld publicly....Mr. Rumsfeld, accompanied by reporters, met with Gen. Batiste in his plywood office, in the corner of one of Saddam Hussein's unfinished marble palaces. Mr. Rumsfeld asked the general whether he had been given everything he needed, Gen. Batiste recalls. Not wanting to discuss problems in front of the press, he says he deflected the question, by talking about his efforts to train Iraqi security forces.

The defense secretary then turned to Gen. Batiste's boss, Gen. Metz and asked: "What has Batiste told you he needs that he has not received?" according to a Dec. 26, 2004, account of the meeting by the Associated Press. Gen. Metz made no mention of troop levels, but said that Gen. Batiste could use some more unmanned spy planes and Iraqi linguists, the 2004 AP report says.

Today Gen. Batiste says the encounter left him furious with Mr. Rumsfeld. "We had fought and argued about these issues internally ad nauseam and a decision had been made ... . You get what you get and do the best you can. I am not going to air our dirty laundry in public. That is our culture," he says. "It was an outrageous question and he knew I couldn't give him an honest answer in a public forum. I felt as though I had been used politically."

Isn't that charming? Deny their requests and then put them on the spot in public where you know they won't contradict you. Then use that as evidence that they're getting all the troops they need.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

UPDATE: Rick Perlstein emails to remind us that this is hardly a new trick: "LBJ did the exact same with Westmoreland on the third anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Westmoreland asked for 200,000 more troops. LBJ called up 57,000, and made Westmoreland say that's what he asked for."

Kevin Drum 2:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (171)

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By: Kevin Drum

HONEST JOHN....When John McCain agreed to speak at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, I figured he would take the chance to include at least one or two sentences that could be interpreted as criticism of Falwell and the Christian right. Why? To keep up his image as a straight talker. After all, the press expects this from him.

To my surprise, he didn't. But the press gushed anyway. George Stephanopoulos, for example, made the peculiar suggestion that McCain was courageous for mentioning Iraq. Talk about a low bar. Here's Bob Somerby's take:

You know the rules! Because McCain defended Iraq in a conservative setting, he gets some points for courage! Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Judy Woodruff said McCains speech was smart because the saint played it so safe.

....When did these become the rules? McCain was now smart for playing it safe! And theres nothing wrong with what McCain did, since others have done it before!

The media's adulation of McCain is genuinely stupefying. The straight talker does some garden variety political pandering by agreeing to speak at Falwell's university, but somehow that doesn't affect his straight talking reputation. He gives a bland, uncontroversial speech so as not to offend anyone, and that somehow adds to his straight talking reputation. No matter what he says, he's a straight talker. It's a miracle!

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

FEDS AND THE PHONES....Say what?

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

....Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

....The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.

A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.

It's possible, of course, that this is being done via a warrant issued by the FISA court. Or maybe ABC's source is wrong. Or maybe pigs will fly. Stay tuned.

Via Atrios.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE BORDER....Apparently George Bush will announce tonight that he plans to deploy thousands of National Guard troops to the Mexican border. But why? My guess is that the right context to view this from is this one:

Some of President Bush's most influential conservative Christian allies are becoming openly critical of the White House and Republicans in Congress, warning that they will withhold their support in the midterm elections unless Congress does more to oppose same-sex marriage, obscenity and abortion.

....[Conservative activist Richard] Viguerie also cited dissatisfaction with government spending, the war in Iraq and the immigration-policy debate...."I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," Mr. Viguerie said. "I have never seen anything like it."

Bush is between a rock and a hard place here. His base is furious and right now he's got nothing but a couple of Supreme Court justices to pacify them. So tonight we'll get a speech that he hopes will prove his tough guy bona fides on at least one issue that his base cares about.

The problem is that it's smoke and mirrors, just a piece of obvious showmanship with no real substance behind it. And something tells me his erstwhile supporters know it and will not be mollified. My guess: the base sees right through tonight's speechifying and it does him no good.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOODO REPUBLICANISM....Sebastian Mallaby writes:

Nobody serious believes that tax cuts pay for themselves, as I noted last week. But most senior Republicans flunk this test of seriousness.

[Quotes from George Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Frist, Chuck Grassley, and Rick Santorum making this claim, followed by reports from conservative Republican economists saying it's not true.]

Which raises a question: When top Republicans go around claiming that tax cuts pay for themselves, which economic authorities are they relying on? None, is the answer. These people's approach to government is to make economics up.

But Sebastian, that's the approach of top Republicans to every policy question these days: they just make it up. Voodoo economics is merely a proper subset of voodoo Republicanism.

Kevin Drum 2:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (220)

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May 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MOVIE MEMES....So what's the latest meme in TV/movie land? Let's see:

The current season of 24 revolves around a president of the United States who aids and abets a terrorist plot so that it will scare the hell out of everyone and provide him with an excuse to launch massive retaliatory actions. (As if the previous four seasons haven't done that job already.)

In V for Vendetta, a British politician aids and abets a terrorist plot so that it will scare the hell out of everyone and provide him with an excuse to launch a fascist dictatorship.

In Mission Impossible 3, the story revolves around a high-ranking intelligence officer who aids and abets a terrorist plot so that it will scare the hell out of everyone and provide him with an excuse to launch ever bigger and badder counterattacks.

Hmmm. Seems like there's a trend of some kind here.

Kevin Drum 5:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (135)

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By: Kevin Drum

EATING LIBERALLY....A few months ago a bunch of Southern California bloggers and blog readers got together for lunch at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. It was fun. So how about if we do it again next weekend?

Where: Farmer's Market, 3rd and Fairfax
Meeting Place: The upstairs seating area above Magee's Kitchen
When: Sunday, May 21, at noon

This is totally casual. Just come, grab some food from one of the stalls, and then come upstairs and join us. Last time there were about 30 of us and we stayed til about 3:00, so feel free to drop by anytime even if you can't make it by noon. Details to follow later in the week.

Kevin Drum 2:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

HUGO THREAD....Last week I finished reading all the nominees for this year's Hugo Award for best novel. Not quite all, actually I'm not planning to read A Feast for Crows since it's long, not available in paperback, part 4 of 7, and not really my thing anyway but I've read the other four and I figure that's good enough for now. So here's how I'd rank them:

  1. Accelerando, by Charles Stross

  2. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

  3. Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

  4. Learning the World, by Ken MacLeod

There's a pretty clear dividing line here: I liked the first two and didn't like the last two. Spin was readable, but the characters and situations were cardboard thin and the payoff at the end wasn't especially memorable. Learning the World was a slog: generation ship meets First Contact with nothing interesting or surprising during the entire 300 pages. It's the only one of the four I'd flatly not recommend.

Of the top two, I'd say that maybe I respected Accelerando more than I liked it and liked Old Man's War more than I respected it. Old Man's War was a fun romp, breezily written and great for an airplane ride, but in the end it was just a little too insubstantial for a Hugo, anyway. Plus, for my taste, it left a few too many big questions completely unanswered, and not in a good way.

Accelerando wasn't quite as accessible as Old Man's War, but it was a helluva lot of fun, with great characters, wonderful use of language, and an intricate, entertaining plot. And the real hero turns out to be a cat! What more can you ask for?

I'm sure lots of my readers have read all the Hugo nominees too. So what did you think?

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST INTEL....Did CIA officer Mary McCarthy leak agency secrets to journalists? No one knows. But several of her friends talked to the Washington Post recently about what she had discovered in the past year regarding detainee policy and prisoner abuse:

A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that "CIA people had lied" in [a congressional] briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading.

....In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA's detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the senior Democrat.

McCarthy also told others she was offended that the CIA's general counsel had worked to secure a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the agency's creation of "ghost detainees" prisoners removed from Iraq for secret interrogations without notice to the International Committee of the Red Cross because the Geneva Conventions prohibit such practices.

And in other intelligence community news, it turns out that Dick Cheney wanted the NSA to begin intercepting purely domestic telephone calls and e-mail messages after 9/11, according to the New York Times. The programs we got monitoring of all phone records and eavesdropping on calls into and out of the country without warrants were actually compromise positions. Makes you feel tingly all over, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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May 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

RIBBIT....Jason Leopold reports the Patrick Fitzgerald met with Karl Rove's lawyers on Friday to deliver some bad news:

During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

.... It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected to come this week, sources close to the case said. However, the day and time is unknown.

Hmmm. I vote for Thursday. Give the NSA story a little more time to simmer before we put it on the back burner.

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Kevin Drum

CUT THE CRAP, PART 2....Rep. Pete Hoekstra (RSpin City) explains today that the NSA's call monitoring program is completely legal and fully vetted:

The program fully complies with the law and the Constitution. It has been reviewed by executive branch attorneys, and congressional leaders from both parties including my friend and colleague Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) have been regularly briefed. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been aware of this program for several years yet never expressed any concerns until it was illegally leaked.

Gee, Pete, you seem awfully sure that this program "fully complies with the law and the Constitution." So why is it that when Qwest asked for a routine court order to make everything legal and tidy, the NSA decided it would rather leave a gap in its surveillance than get one? According to USA Today, their lawyers told Qwest "they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them."

And why didn't the White House ask Congress to amend the FISA law to clearly allow the NSA's programs? According to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it's because they consulted with congressional leaders and were told "that was not something we could likely get."

And why is that in 2004, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft John Ashcroft! refused to reauthorize one of the NSA's programs until further procedures were put in place to ensure that it wasn't abused?

And why did District Court Judge James Robertson resign from the FISA court after the NSA's original domestic spying program was publicly revealed last year? According to the Washington Post, he "privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work." What's more, both the current and former heads of the FISA court have "expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring of phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal."

Bottom line: cut the crap about how the NSA "fully complies with the law and the Constitution." If that were the case, the president would be eager to test it in court and clear up all doubt. The reason he's not is pretty obvious: he knows perfectly well he'd lose.

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW POLL ON NSA PROGRAM....Newsweek has a new poll out that tests reaction to the NSA's call monitoring program, and the results are significantly different from the Washington Post's poll yesterday. Perhaps it's because a day has passed and the news has sunk in a bit, or perhaps it's because it's a full-size poll (1007 respondent), but in any case 53% think the program invades people's privacy and 57% think Bush has gone too far in expanding presidential power.

Whew. My faith in the American public is slightly restored.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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ANONYMIZED?....Former Bush apparatchik Richard Falkenrath writes in the Washington Post today about the NSA's phone monitoring program:

On Thursday, USA Today reported that three U.S. telecommunications companies have been voluntarily providing the National Security Agency with anonymized domestic telephone records that is, records stripped of individually identifiable data, such as names and place of residence.

....The large-scale analysis of anonymized data can pinpoint individuals at home or abroad who warrant more intrusive investigative or intelligence techniques, subject to all safeguards normally associated with those techniques.

....The Telecommunications Act of 1934, as amended, generally prohibits the release of "individually identifiable customer proprietary network information" except under force of law or with the approval of the customer. But, according to USA Today, the telephone records voluntarily provided to the NSA had been anonymized.

Can we please cut the crap? Even a child knows that phone numbers can be linked to names and addresses using ordinary commercial databases. There is absolutely nothing anonymous about this data, and only a shameless con man would try to convince us otherwise. Why does the Post give space to this obvious agitprop?

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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May 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WILDLY SPECULATIVE RUMOR WATCH....I have no idea if this is true, but here's what Jason Leopold says today:

Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.

....Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources confirmed Rove's indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove's situation. A spokesman in the White House press office said they would not comment on "wildly speculative rumors."

Sure, and that's certainly the responsible thing to do. But what the hell. It's Friday evening, and that's a good time for some blog porn. Consider this your wildly speculative rumor kickstart for the weekend.

Kevin Drum 8:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEAD-IN-THE-SAND VOTING....Here's the response from Diebold's spokesman about the latest security vulnerability in their voting machines:

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

I'm with Lizardbreath:

That line officially makes him, and anyone at Diebold who doesn't instantly fire him for saying it, either deliberately crooked or too stupid to live. Of course people want to steal elections, just like people want to rob banks. People rob banks because that's where the money is; people fix elections because that's where the power is.

The technical details don't even matter here. A company that doesn't believe anyone would ever try to steal an election shouldn't be in the voting machine business. Jeebus.

Kevin Drum 5:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY QUILT BLOGGING.... Here's a picture of Marian's latest quilt. How do you like it? We're thinking of hanging it over the sofa. It should go really nicely with the green and tan....

What's that? This isn't really a very good view of it? Something's in the way?

Well, you don't expect us to hang it without getting everyone's opinion first, do you? This is a democracy, after all.

Kevin Drum 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Amy Sullivan

EXTRA POSTAGE....A small plea to the postal service: Since square cards are all the rage these days and available everywhere from high-end stationary stores to CVS, and since some of us are too dense to remember that the square envelopes require an extra $.13, so we get them returned in the mail, which is going to get up in super-big trouble with Mother's Day just two days away...could you please just create a special square-envelope stamp?

If the idea is to discourage people from using odd-sized envelopes that mess up the default-set machines, it's clearly not working. But I'd happily pay extra for special stamps upfront rather than getting grief for late cards. (Mom, Grandma--they're on their way, I swear...)

Amy Sullivan 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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By: Kevin Drum

FEAR....Mike Tomasky is musing today about why most Americans don't seem to care that the NSA is tracking their telephone calls, and comes up with three possible explanations. He doesn't think his first two hold water, though:

And so, explanation three: A lot of Americans are still very, very scared of another terrorist attack. And they think, Hey, whatever it takes. This is a good thing for us to be reminded of, I guess. I almost never think about the possibility of another terrorist attack, and it doesnt seem to me that anybody I know does either. And I and most of the people Im talking about live in a city that was attacked. But I cant recall any friend of mine both cultural elitists and my normal American friends back in West Virginny saying Jeezus, Im terrified theyre gonna hit us again, any day. But I guess a lot of people do think thats the case.

Is anxiety about another attack part of the daily routine of any TAPPED readers or any of your heartland cousins and so on? Am I part of the Barone-ian soft America? In any case, if a significant number of Americans believes that the next attack is more or less imminent, well, there are some obvious political lessons there.

This happens to be a question I've wondered about myself: Just how afraid are most Americans of another terrorist attack? That is, at a gut level, not an intellectual level. And how would we find out? Ordinary polling doesn't seem like it's up to the job.

POSTSCRIPT: For what it's worth, I'm not sure fear is the key issue driving attitudes toward the NSA program. I suspect (a) approval numbers will go down as there's more coverage of the program and the whole thing sinks in a bit more, and (b) most Americans just don't have much appreciation for the way programs like these inevitably get out of hand. But I still think Tomasky's question is an interesting one.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Speaking of the exploitation of fear, did you catch the Rob Corddry segment on the Daily Show last night? It was hilarious.

Kevin Drum 2:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NSA AND THE PATRIOT ACT....Orin Kerr has an interesting tidbit today about the legality of the recently disclosed NSA monitoring program. There are exceptions to the law that requires telecom companies to keep their call records private, and Orin notes that the 2006 revision of the Patriot Act subtly revises one of the exceptions:

The new exception states that disclosure is permitted "if the provider, in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay of information relating to the emergency." Few people were paying attention to this change at the time, but I would guess that it was very important to the telephone companies: The change expanded the exception to allow disclosure when there is a good faith belief instead of a reasonable belief, and when there was a danger instead of an "immediate" danger. I wouldn't be surprised if the telephone companies were pushing the change in part out of concern for civil liability for their participation in the NSA call records program.

It's not clear that this change in wording had anything to do with the NSA program, especially since a judge would have to agree that "emergency" = "decades-long war on terror." Still, it might be a worthwhile lead for someone to follow up.

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE TAX GIMMICKS....Here's the latest smoke and mirrors from the Republican tax bill: a provision that allows high-income taxpayers to convert regular IRA's to Roth IRAs starting in 2010.

Because people would pay taxes on the money converted, the provision would raise an estimated $6.4 billion in tax revenue in 2011 and 2012.

"But there's a huge revenue loss in the long run" as taxpayers realize profits on their Roth IRAs without paying taxes on them, said Leonard E. Burman, co-director of the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group.

The proposal's revenue gains would dissolve by 2018, he said, and the Treasury would give up nearly $100 billion in expected revenue by 2049.

Here's the gimmick. On a regular IRA, you pay no taxes on contributions, but you do pay taxes when you withdraw money. Roth IRAs are just the opposite. So when you do the five-year projections, this bill makes the deficit look a little better because more people are paying taxes on their contributions in 2010-2012 as they switch to a Roth. But the cost is $100 billion or so in the out years.

But hey. As long as it makes the five-year projection look better, that's all that matters. If you're a Republican, anyway.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

BIG BROTHER'S APPROVAL RATING HIGH, POLL SAYS....Well, this is depressing. But on the plus side, 56% of the respondents thought it was a good thing that the news media have disclosed the NSA's secret programs. That's a faint ray of hope, anyway.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (184)

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By: Amy Sullivan

YOU'LL STILL HAVE ME TO KICK AROUND....Renewed concern this week about the tiny number of female voices in opinion journalism has raised the fact that I'll be leaving my editorial post at the Monthly in another week or so. I just wanted to make clear that I'm by no means leaving the world of opinion journalism. This is just a short break to write a book (you'll never guess what it's about, not in a million years, not even if I...okay, you guessed it) to be published by Scribner in the fall of 2007.

I'll still be writing, in print and blog-form (I'm not that easy to get rid of...) in the meantime. And we have two fantastic women replacing me as editors here at the magazine Rachel Morris and Rebecca Sinderbrand.

In addition, all of The New Republic's assistant editors (the training-ground-position for staff writer) are women right now, three of the five columnists at the Nation are women, and The Atlantic just hired Amy Waldman as a national correspondent. The gender balance in opinion journalism is by no means where it should be. But it's getting better, not worse.

And I'll be back.

Amy Sullivan 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION PROGRESS....When we last heard from the Senate, Harry Reid had scuppered a compromise deal on immigration because Bill Frist had refused to provide assurances that he'd back the compromise by (a) limiting the number of amendments offered on the floor and (b) appointing serious supporters of the bill to the conference committee that will hash out a final markup with the House. Reid had the balls to kill the deal when it became clear the fix was in, and it looks like this has paid off. A new agreement is now in place:

Frist said the Senate will send 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats to negotiate with the House, with seven of the Republicans and five Democrats coming from the Judiciary Committee. The remaining seven Republicans will be chosen by Frist and the remaining seven Democrats by Reid.

....Frist said a "considerable" number of amendments will be considered when the Senate begins debating the bill early next week.

....Reid acknowledged on the Senate floor yesterday morning that he "didn't get everything that I wanted" in the agreement, but he said Frist did not either. Reaching the agreement is "not easy with the political atmosphere," Reid said.

This isn't perfect, and things might eventually blow up in conference anyway. But it's better than what we had before.

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

CANVASSING....So is Howard Dean's effort to build up the Democratic Party infrastructure in all 50 states paying off? Here's an anecdote from a reader in Georgia:

About 6:30 this evening, a young lady rang my doorbell. She was canvassing for the DNC, going door to door talking to people and collecting small donations. We chatted for a while about this year's elections, Karl Rove, possible presidential candidates, and so on.

Now here's the thing: I have lived in blue and not so blue states in my life (and currently in the reddest of red states, Georgia) but this is the first time anyone representing the party has come to my house. What does she get for it? OK, I gave her some cash, but what is more interesting is what she found at some other houses in the neighborhood Republican ones. Some of them gave her cash too. Others said they couldn't give money since it would put them in a bad position with the party, but that she was getting their vote this year. I can't help but think that this was worth whatever the DNC is paying her. She is creating new Democrats.

Well, we can hope.

Kevin Drum 1:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Kevin Drum

LOST REVISITED....So why do episodes of Lost last 64 minutes? Or, more accurately, why do some episodes of Lost last 64 minutes? My commenters have two theories:

Theory #1: They are playing head games with your Tivo. I don't have a Tivo and don't quite understand what people are driving at here, but apparently the idea is that if the show doesn't end until 10:04, then Tivo won't pick up another show that starts at 10:00, thus screwing a competitor. I'm not sure I buy this.

Theory #2: It's a way of gaming the ratings. Commenter mmy explains:

During sweeps periods, which May is one, special attention is paid to the first 5-10 minutes of an hour (and by extension the last 5-10 minutes of the previous hour, since that leads into the next hour). If you're a TV executive, you want the most people watching during those times.

So a few years back NBC came up with idea of starting "ER" a few minutes early, to increase its ratings. Now popular shows regularly run a few minutes over during sweeps, and/or they promise a "shocking secret" in the first five minutes of an episode, or the last five minutes.

There were several variations on this theme, all of which revolved around the idea of keeping viewers glued to their sets for a few minutes of the following hour, thus making it less likely that they would switch the channel.

So that's that. I guess calling somebody and asking could clear this up for sure, but that seems like an awful lot of work, doesn't it?

UPDATE: On the other hand, here's a strong vote for the "Tivo blowback" theory. It still sounds kind of squirrely to me, but who knows? I've heard weirder stuff than this.

Kevin Drum 1:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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By: Kevin Drum

TAX NONSENSE....I didn't have the energy to write yet another post about the progressivity of the American tax code today, but luckily Matt Yglesias does it for me. The nickel version is: don't be a moron. Of course George Bush hasn't made the tax code more progressive.

Interestingly, though (or maybe not), even Matt gets slightly suckered by JEC report #109-36, the source of this current round of idiocy. It's true that the report doesn't claim that Bush's tax cuts have made "the tax system" more progressive, but in fact it doesn't even claim that his cuts have made "the personal income tax" more progressive. It merely says that the personal income tax is progressive. Which it is. No thanks to Mr. Bush, needless to say.

Kevin Drum 12:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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May 11, 2006
By: Amy Sullivan

THOSE WERE THE DAYS....From The Note today: "Dusty Foggo said through his lawyer yesterday that he did not have any improper relationship with Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor at the center of a congressional bribery scandal."

Remember the days when "improper relationship" referred to a little hanky-panky with a White House intern? Sigh. Good times.

Amy Sullivan 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE FROM IRAN....Guess what? There's a second letter from Iran. It's from Hassan Rohani, a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and it was published in Time magazine on Tuesday. Here's the concrete part of the proposal:

  • Iran would make an active contribution, provided that other countries with similar sensitive fuel cycle programs also do the same, to fixing the loopholes in the non-proliferation system and to developing a technically credible international control regime.

  • ran would consider ratifying the Additional Protocol, which provides for intrusive and snap inspections.

  • Iran would address the question of preventing break-out from the NPT.

  • Iran would agree to negotiate with the IAEA and states concerned about the scope and timing of its industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

  • Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on enrichment limit of reactor grade uranium.

  • Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on the production of UF6 uranium hexafluoride, which is used for enrichment during the period of negotiation for the scope and timing of its industrial scale enrichment.

  • Iran and the IAEA would agree on terms of the continuous presence of inspectors in Iran to verify credibly that no diversion takes place in Iran.

  • Iran's readiness to welcome other countries to partner with Iran in a consortium provides additional assurance about the peaceful nature of Irans nuclear program.

It's hard to say just how serious this is, or how much clout Rohani really has, but it does provide a basis for the United States to talk directly with Iran. And we should.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEAN AND THE DNC....The Washington Post reports today on the continuing war between Howard Dean and everyone else. Basically, Dean has raised lots of money and wants to spend it rebuilding the Democratic Party apparatus in all 50 states, while everyone else wants to save the money and spend it on advertising blitzes in close races later this year.

Over at Tapped, Ezra Klein and Garance Franke-Ruta both seem to take the anti-Dean side of this. Garance in particular argues that "Should Democrats fail to regain power, its likely they wont get as favorable an electoral environment again any time soon, regardless of what's built out on the ground."

But I'm not sure that's true. Here's the problem: no one ever thinks there's a good time to spend money on long-term organizing. If it's a bad year, the last thing you can do is spend your precious dollars on anything other than fighting this year's fights. If it's a good year, you need to take advantage of momentum and spend all your money fighting this year's fights. But if that's the case, when is it a good time to build long-term infrastructure?

Now, it's possible that Dean is going too far. For one thing, if you build infrastructure you need to do it at a pace that can be sustained. There's no point in spending $50 million this year if the whole thing is going to collapse because you can't spend $50 million every year. Still, you have to take the plunge sometime, and frankly, this seems like a pretty good year to me. There's enough momentum that Dem candidates are probably going to do pretty well regardless, and it's worth remembering that 2008 is the real prize anyway. I'd rather make good progress this year, even at the risk of losing a couple of close seats we could otherwise have won, if the payoff is a stronger organization in 2008.

In any case, shouldn't the real question be about the quality of Dean's infrastructure project? After all, you can spend money both wisely and poorly, and I'd be a lot more interested in hearing whether the money is being put to good use, not whether it ought to be spent on ads in October. Maybe somebody needs to write that story instead.

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

LUTTIG AND BUSH....Last December I wrote about Judge Michael Luttig's seriously pissed off opinion in the case of Jose Padilla, the "dirty bomber." Basically, the Bush administration argued for years that it was absolutely essential to the war on terror for Padilla to be locked up as an enemy combatant in a military prison, but then, suddenly and cynically, changed its mind when it looked like there was a chance that Padilla might appeal this decision to the Supreme Court and win.

Today the Wall Street Journal follows up on this, suggesting that Luttig felt personally betrayed by the Bush administration's transparent politicization of the war on terror in this case, and this led to his resignation yesterday:

[In September] Judge Luttig, according to a person familiar with the court proceedings, put his own credibility on the line, drawing on his own experience in national-security law and confidence in Bush administration officials he knew. He argued to his colleagues that the government wouldn't have sought such extraordinary powers unless absolutely necessary, this person says.

Then, in November, the administration suddenly announced that it didn't consider Mr. Padilla an enemy combatant any more and would charge him in a regular federal court....A person familiar with the judge's thinking says it's evident [Luttig] felt the government had pulled "the carpet out from under him."

....Instead of granting what the government considered a pro forma request to transfer Mr. Padilla to civilian custody, Judge Luttig ordered the parties to submit arguments over the question. On Dec. 21, Judge Luttig delivered a judicial bombshell: a carefully worded order refusing to move Mr. Padilla until the Supreme Court decided what to do. The order all but accused the Bush administration of misconduct.

Luttig, a super-conservative judge and a devout believer that the adminstration needed extraordinary powers to fight terrorism, suddenly discovered that he had been suckered. When this administration says something is critical to the war on terror, what it really means is that it's politically convenient. If something else is politically convenient tomorrow, they'll flip 180 degrees without batting an eye.

For some reason, Luttig found this unacceptable. And so he's gone.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NSA AND YOU....I've written about this before (see here), but USA Today's Leslie Cauley has a major story today about the NSA's program to collect data not just on international calls, but on purely domestic calls as well. It started right after 9/11:

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

....Last year...Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

....Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

The rules for collecting data about phone calls are different from the rules about listening in on the content of phone calls, so I don't know what the legal situation here is. However, although most domestic carriers cooperated with the NSA, one of them didn't: Qwest.

According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order or approval under FISA to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

....The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information known as "product" in intelligence circles with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

....Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

This should add even more excitement to Michael Hayden's confirmation hearings to run the CIA, shouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (166)

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By: Kevin Drum

LOST....Say, does anyone know why episodes of Lost are 64 minutes long? Isn't that a little unusual?

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

CHANTING CELL PHONES....You want to know how fragile the Iraqi legislature is? It's so fragile that fights can break out over the ring tone on your cell phone. Needlenose has the dope.

Kevin Drum 12:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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May 10, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HOORAY FOR GREEDY CEOs!....Here's the latest from the Department of Contrariness. Attend closely:

  1. Highly paid CEOs tend to be those who are "entrenched" that is, CEOs who are relatively insulated from shareholder pressure and are hard to fire.

  2. Entrenched CEOs tend to pay their workers more by an average of $2,200 per year.

  3. Therefore, highly paid CEOs are the friend of the proletariat, not their enemy!

This comes from Stephen Bainbridge, who has more details. I don't actually believe the causation here for a second (I suspect there's a common cause underlying both of these effects, rather than one causing the other), but high quality contrariness is sometimes its own reward. Enjoy.

Kevin Drum 11:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

OOPS....The chart on the right, courtesy of this morning's Washington Post, certainly seems alarming for the future of black America, doesn't it? As Andrew Sullivan says, "only 4 percent of the under-fives are African-American....That's a potentially huge future drop in the black presence in American life."

Luckily for the future health of the NAACP, what seems at first like a woefully underreported demographic bombshell turns out to be a mere mistake from the Post's chartmaker, who reversed the numbers for Blacks and Asians in the right hand column. Ethnically speaking, it turns out that about 15% of under-fives are black, and 4% are Asian.

This kind of thing reminds me of mistakes that change, say, millions into billions. I mean, anyone can screw up, but you'd think that something of this magnitude would catch someone's attention.

The Census Bureau press release is here. The table with the relevant data is here.

Kevin Drum 6:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Kevin Drum

WATCHING THE WATCHMAN....Suppose you've just invaded a country let's call it "Iraq" and you're now in the process of distributing the spoils to your supporters: no-bid contracts, overpriced delivery deals, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, you mistakenly appoint an auditor who turns out to be serious about auditing fraud and mismanagement in the distribution of goodies. What do you do?

Answer: reroute the money so it comes from a source that's audited by someone else someone who's already made it clear they don't have the resources to do the job right. The Carpetbagger has the details.

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

SCARED OF THEIR OWN SHADOW....As I was scanning the newspaper this morning, I came across a brief piece recapping the surprising Republican opposition to General Michael Hayden's nomination to head the CIA:

In a break with the White House, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he was surprised by the nomination and concerned about Hayden's background. "I don't think a military guy should be head of CIA, frankly," Hastert said. "I don't know anything about him."

....Several Republicans and a greater number of Democrats have expressed discomfort with Bush's decision to choose a military man to run the CIA. House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, an Intelligence Committee member, are among the Republicans who have voiced doubts.

So what's the deal? Do we really think that all these Republicans are truly concerned about the possibility of a military officer running the CIA? That hardly seems likely, does it?

Here's my alternative guess: they're just completely spooked (no pun intended). After Harriet Miers and Katrina and the Dubai port deal, Republicans in Congress now have an almost Pavlovian response to any George Bush nominee with even a hint of controversy: oppose him! And do it quick before Democrats beat them to the punch.

Despite the brave words from the White House, my guess is that congressional Republicans are really, really not happy at the prospect of a drawn-out series of hearings focused on Hayden's support for the NSA's domestic spying program. But they don't feel like they can say that, so instead they're claiming they don't want a military guy in charge of the CIA. It's faintly ridiculous, but it's the best they can come up with.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Kevin Drum

DARFUR....Yes, it's true: reading juvenile, Peretzian editorials like this one is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. But that's the Marty Peretz style, after all: if it's a choice between accomplishing something useful and getting in a good, sanctimonious lick, well, it's hardly even a choice.

But look. Aside from taking shots at TNR and its owner, there seem to be a few things about Darfur that are barely disputable:

  • Yes, it's a genocide. For chrissake, splitting hairs at this point is just wankery. TNR is right about that, at least.

  • The recent peace deal might be meaningful, but probably not. Even if the deal does provide a slight ray of hope, there's little reason to trust Khartoum to stick to it given their past behavior.

  • Stopping the genocide would take a lot of troops. Yes, there are sanctions and humanitarian aid that can help around the edges, but if we actually want to stop the genocide, we need troops on the ground.

  • Eric Reeves, in his useful Darfur FAQ, estimates 15,000 troops, but I suspect he's being optimistic. I'm not pretending to be a military expert here, but based on the sheer size and scope of the problem, it's hard to see an effective solution that involves less than several combat brigades plus a serious commitment to local air superiority. Call it 30,000 troops plus all the associated logistics. I mean, we're basically declaring war on Sudan if we do this.

  • But that's not going to happen. The UN doesn't have a standing army, after all, so it's no help. U.S. troops are committed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The African Union isn't quite a joke, but it's close to one. China, Russia, and the Muslim world plainly have no interest in intervening. And Europe has simply stuck its collective head in the sand. They aren't willing to even think about doing anything serious.

So what's left? Sanctions and humanitarian aid, and God knows we should be doing more along these lines. But even if we did, it wouldn't change the fact that there's not one single country in the world willing to seriously commit troops to Darfur. Not one. And unless we're talking about that, we're not talking about the real problem at all.

UPDATE: Turns out it's a Wieseltierian editorial, not a Peretzian editorial. Apparently my ear for sanctimonious licks from TNR muckymucks isn't quite sharp enough.

Kevin Drum 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Paul Glastris

NO MORE LIES... Political protest music is back, according to Newsweek. In addition to the latest from the Dixie Chicks (who were challenging the president back when that was a risky career move), there are a slew of new, openly-anti-Bush songs and CDs out, by Neil Young, Pink, Pearl Jam, Merle Haggard, Paul Simon, and Dashboard Confessional.

I have to admit I've never been much of fan of protest songs, for the simple reason that very few of them are any good as music. They tend to garner momentary attention for their message (which can certainly be a good thing), but seldom have much of a shelf life. As the Washington Post's David Segal, the paper's former rock critic, asked me the other day, when's the last time you listened to Little Steven Van Zandt's "Sun City"?

A rare exception to this rule, it seems to me, is Neil Young. "Ohio" is a great song despite lyrics rooted in a 36-year-old news event. (I know it's technically a CSNY song, but it's Neil's words and guitar that make it). So, being a pretty big Neil Young fan anyway, I decided to pick up his new CD, Living With War, which you can listen to here. I've listened to it now twice through, once with my 16-year-old daughter Hope, whose taste in music is quite good (it runs from the Beatles and Jack Johnson to Nirvana to Nine Inch Nails). We both like it. The track that has gotten the most attention, for obvious reasons, is "Let's Impeach the President," but musically it's not that good. Much better, IMHO, is "No More Lies." It's got that dark, two-chord "Down by the River" sound. And there's another quite good track called "Lookin' for a Leader," the lyrics of which remind me of a blog post: "Maybe it's Obama/But he thinks that he's too young. Maybe it's Colin Powell/To right what he done wrong."

Anyway, if you like Neil Young--or don't like President Bush--you'll probably enjoy the album, so check it out.

Paul Glastris 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Kevin Drum

NSA UPDATE....Noah Shachtman reports that former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman, who until now has been silent about the NSA's domestic spying program, has publicly called on the president to either change the law or end the program:

"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it."....He called on the president to "walk into the modern world" and change the law governing the wiretaps or abandon the program altogether.

....Inman put the White House's reluctance to change the surveillance regulations squarely on the shoulders of Vice President Dick Cheney. He noted that Cheney formerly served as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, who was in power before the FISA restrictions were put in place. Cheney never really agreed with the controls, Inman asserted. "The ultimate test," the retired admiral added, will be whether President Bush "walks away from the vice president on this."

Over at his blog, Noah adds the following tidbit:

In addition, Inman put to bed the notion that the NSA's domestic eavesdropping program only examined the links between terror suspects not the contents of the conversations themselves. Is this all about who-called-who? "No, it isn't," he answered, on his way out the door (he had to leave quick, because of a bout of food poisoning). For voice communications, which are tough to search, that might be the case, he added. But with e-mail? No way.

It's not clear what Inman bases this on, but he's certainly a credible commenter.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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May 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"IT TURNS OUT IT WAS WRONG"....Here is Donald Rumsfeld today, musing on the question of whether anybody should believe a word the Bush administration says about Iran's nuclear program:

The intelligence community had views on Iraq. That information was available to the president, to me....It turns out it was wrong, that intelligence. Fair enough.

It's a tough business. It's a difficult thing to be right all the time. And the information was not correct. Does that give one pause? You bet.

In a purely artistic sense, you almost have to admire the guy: Why, he was just an innocent victim of an intelligence effort gone awry! You'd almost think he wasn't the guy who instructed his aides to "judge whether good enough hit S.H" a mere five hours after the Pentagon was hit on 9/11. Or that he wasn't the guy who created the Office of Special Plans inside the Pentagon because "Rumsfeld and his colleagues believed that the C.I.A. was unable to perceive the reality of the situation in Iraq."

Nope, he was just an innocent bystander. And by golly, the CIA's failures give him pause. I'll just bet they do.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ESTABLISHMENT AND THE INSURGENCY....Ed Kilgore is Vice President for Policy at the Democratic Leadership Council, so if anyone knows the "DLC position" on stuff, it's him. Today he goes through the issues list that Atrios posted last night and provides a scorecard. Details are here, but the bottom line is this:

By my rough count this represents something like 80% agreement totally aside from the much higher percentage of agreement between left-bent bloggers and the DLC about the vast number of bad policies, terrible politics, and sheer incompetence associated with the Bush administration and the Republican Party.

Now, Atrios's list doesn't address national security issues, where the gulf between the DLC and the lefty blogosphere is considerably larger than on domestic issues. (Nor, as I mentioned last night, does it address differences on free trade issues.) It also doesn't account for the DLC's longtime advocacy of a more muted tone on hot-button social issues, which is a big deal.

In other words, it's not all sweetness and light. Still, there's more in common than you'd expect between the DLC and the liberal blogosphere. It's worth a look.

Kevin Drum 6:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Zachary Roth

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS...Something else from the New Republic: Jason Zengerle, in noting that Rupert Murdoch is hosting a fundraiser for Hillary, speculates that the ongoing Murdoch-Hillary rapprochement may indicate that she ultimately hopes to "somehow co-opt Fox News."

This isn't as crazy as it might sound. Throughout the 80's and early 90's, Murdoch's British tabloid The Sun supported Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative party more strenously than maybe any paper has ever supported a political party. (Okay, some of those 19th-century press barons probably outdid The Sun, but you get the point.) On Election Day in 1992, The Sun went with the headline: "Nightmare on Kinnock Street" and ran a front-page photo of the Labor leader, Neil Kinnock, that made him look frighteningly deranged and wild-eyed (which, truth be told, wasn't hard to do). Many observers credited the Conservative victory in part to The Sun's almost unimaginably cruel coverage of Kinnock in the race's final weeks.

When Tony Blair took over the Labor party in '94, he realized that getting elected could be tough with that kind of opposition. So he began courting Murdoch. And he succeeded: in 1997, The Sun (and the The Times, Murdoch's other slightly less-tabloidy, and much-less-read, daily) backed Blair, helping carry him to a sweeping win. Even more surprisingly, The Sun has remained a loyal Blair ally ever since, dutifully feeding readers the government line each day, even as the rest of the media, and the electorate, have long-since soured on Blair.

Admittedly, Blair's decision to move Labor to the right after taking over helped reassure Murdoch. But it's hard to imagine that Murdoch could see Hillary's current political persona as all that much more frightening than Labor in '97. The key thing point here is that Murdoch, though obviously hostile to regulation, isn't some sort of doctrinaire ideological conservative (he certainly seems to have little in common with the religious conservatism that dominates today's GOP). He's a businessman first and foremost, and once he became convinced that New Labor wasn't going to return Britain to the days when the Trades Unions regularly sat down for "beer and sandwiches at Number 10" with the prime minister, he was happy to support Blair, given which way the wind seemed to be blowing.

Does this mean that by 2008 Bill O'Reilly could be talking up Hillary's candidacy? Who knows? But even neutralizing the "Fox News effect" would be a pretty valuable coup for Hillary. Maybe she's up to something really smart here.

Zachary Roth 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Zachary Roth

INVESTI-GATE...Over at the New Republic blog, Michael Crowley notes that the latest Republican fundraising email, like earlier versions, hypes the threat that a Democratic Congress would conduct politically-motivated investigations, including trying to impeach the president. Crowley comments: "It's pretty clear what Republicans...want this election to be about."

The obvious implication here seems to be a point that Slate's John Dickerson made more explicitly yesterday: That since Republicans clearly want to scare some people into thinking that a Democratic Congress would plunge the nation into turmoil with ceaseless partisan investigations, Democrats should keep a lid on the investigation talk. (Crowley may not be arguing this, just noting the Republicans' tactic. But Dickerson is.)

I have a story coming out soon that, among other things, concludes by arguing that this thinking is exactly wrong. Remember how well it worked when Dems tried to avoid talking about national security in 2002? If Democrats try to similarly sweep the subject of investigations under the rug, Republicans and the press will frame the issue as being about destructive partisan payback -- and possible impeachment. If Democrats want to avoid this characterization getting fixed in the public mind, they can't just try to wish the whole thing away. They need to aggressively challenge what Republicans are saying, and talk instead about conducting fair-minded investigations focused on fixing the problems of the Bush years. As Matt Yglesias puts it, "What's at issue are two different ways of characterizing this. [NRSC chair Elizabeth] Dole wants people to think of partisan witch-hunts, Pelosi wants people to think of sober-minded oversight. Simply resting silent on the issue isn't going to stop Dole and whomever else from saying what they want."

It's also worth noting that Republican attempts to highlight the investigations issue have come almost exclusively in fundraising emails. In other words, they're using it as a tactic to gin up their plugged-in supporters, but not, so far, as a part of their broader message to ordinary voters. And when you think about it, you can see why they might not be too enthusiastic about a campaign message that draws voters' attention, even obliquely, to the slew of scandals and screwups of the Bush years. After all, it's not exactly inconceivable that voters might welcome the prospect of a party pledging to look into, and then fix, the policies of a president with a 32 percent approval rating.

Zachary Roth 4:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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By: Kevin Drum

NO BACKTALK ALLOWED....Via the Carpetbagger, here's a heartwarming story from a few days ago. A minority-owned business made a "heck of a proposal" to the Housing and Urban Development Department and was duly selected for a contract. Later they lost the contract. Why? Because the head of the business told HUD secretary Alphonso Jackson he didn't like George Bush much. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president?" Jackson said.

Charming, isn't it? And the topper is that we didn't find out about this from a whistleblower who sent private emails to a reporter. Not at all. In fact, Jackson was proud enough of this that he made it the topic of a speech to the Real Estate Executive Council. Do you think they all got the message?

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By: Kevin Drum

AVOIDING THE COURTS....The Bush administration has a real thing for keeping people imprisoned without charges and then suddenly freeing or transferring them just as a court is about to hear their appeals. Is it all a big coincidence? Or are they afraid that no court in the country is likely to rule in their favor, and they're willing to do just about anything to avoid an adverse ruling that would hamstring them in the future? TalkLeft has the latest.

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE IRANIAN LETTER....Well, OK. The complete text of the letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to George Bush is here, and I have to admit there's not much there to hang any hopes on. It's basically a long ramble about the shortcomings of the West and the virtues of theocracy, ending with this:

Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems.

We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: "Do you not want to join them?"

On the plus side, Ahmadinejad merely questions Israel's existence rather than calling for its outright destruction, which I suppose is progress. And although he spends a fair amount of time outlining the perfidy of the United States, the tone is actually fairly mild, all things considered.

An opening? Hard to say. But the job of a serious diplomat is to find the nugget of gold amongst the heapings of dross. A closer look might reveal one.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Kevin Drum

RADICALISM AND THE BLOGOSPHERE....We have two interesting entries in the Chait/Kos/Atrios war tonight. First, Jon Chait backs off his contention that lefty blogs "refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent," but then tries to salvage his original critique by saying that the blogosphere's hard-edged worldview "is suggestive of a tendency to move in more radical directions over time." This is pretty weak brew, no?

The rest of his post hits a little closer to home, I think, but I'll leave that for another time. Sticking with the ideological front for now, Atrios weighs in with a short list of stuff that he thinks most lefty bloggers agree on. Since I know most of you guys won't click through to read it even if I ask really nicely, here's the whole list (the serious part, anyway):

  • Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration

  • Repeal the estate tax repeal

  • Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI

  • Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)

  • Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation

  • Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there's probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.

  • Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code

  • Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.

  • Reduce corporate giveaways

  • Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan

  • Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.

  • Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards "more decriminalization" of drugs, though the details complicated there too.

  • Paper ballots

  • Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obiously details matter.

  • Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.

  • Marriage rights for all, which includes "gay marriage" and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.

This list isn't meant to be exhaustive, and Atrios doesn't pretend that every single lefty blogger in the world agrees with all of this. And it's solely domestic stuff.

But if there's any radicalism here, or even a tendency to drift in that direction, I sure don't see it. As I said yesterday, it's only modestly to the left of the DLC and maybe not even that. I'm not an expert on the DLC's positions on everything, but it doesn't look to me like there's an awful lot there they'd argue with. (Though if anyone from the DLC wants to set me straight on this, I'll stand corrected. And there are some contentious issues, like free trade, that don't show up on Atrios's list.)

So what's left? Iraq, of course, the motherlode of disagreement between the netroots and the vast TNR/DLC/mainstream Dem axis. And on that, I have no idea how to square the circle. I don't think anyone else does either.

UPDATE: The DLC responds here.

Kevin Drum 2:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (166)

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May 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THEN AND NOW....Brad is right: this is a good and evocative piece. It's also almost indescribably depressing.

The year I was born produced The Affluent Society. This year we're celebrating the tenth anniversary of The O'Reilly Factor. If you can think about that without feeling an intense longing to drink yourself into a stupor, you're a better man than me.

Kevin Drum 9:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

PRIORITIES....Let's see now. If you were part of the Republican leadership and were working to make some tax cuts permanent, which ones would you focus on? A tax cut that lowers rates for everyone? Or one that primarily helps the super rich?

It's a no-brainer, of course. These are Republicans we're talking about, so their top priority is to make investment tax cuts permanent and to repeal the estate tax. The idle rich beneficiaries of the estate tax repeal are pretty obvious you need to inherit an estate worth several million dollars before you even start to think about paying estate taxes but the investment tax cuts are a little more subtle. Thus the handy chart on the right, which shows exactly who's favored by the GOP's cherished investment tax cuts. You can click for a more detailed explanation, but why bother? As you can see, the bars on the chart barely even register for anyone making less than a million bucks a year. That's the tax cut the GOP is making its highest priority.

And the official explanation? According to John Kyl, "You do what you can when you can, and this is what's queued up right now." It's all the fault of that damn Senate calendar! The Republican leadership is helpless in its grasp!

But not to worry. Someday soon this millionaire's tax cut will trickle softly down onto all our heads, like a gentle rain from heaven. Someday soon.

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

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By: Zachary Roth

FOR ALL THREE OF YOU WHO CARE: I like a good bit of Bush-bashing as much as the next liberal journalist, but I think Matt Yglesias is clearly being unfair to the president on this one.

Concerning the US soccer team's chances at this summer's World Cup, Bush told a German journalist: "Whether it's good enough to win it all, who knows? But I know they'll try their hardest." Matt calls the president's assessment "troubling," notes that "we're fielding a very strong team this year," and wonders why Bush couldn't "muster a stronger vote of confidence in the squad."

This is misguided. Despite its (absurdly inflated) FIFA ranking, it's a stretch to call Team USA "very strong." Compared to previous US squads, they're not bad, but that's a low bar. In '98 they lost all 3 games, including one to Iran. And the celebrated 2002 squad was flattered by its quarterfinal finish. It beat an over-rated Portugal, drew with South Korea, and lost 3-1 to Poland (!) before beating a mediocre Mexican team and losing to an uninspiring Germany. This year's model may be marginally better, but only the keeper Keller is truly world class. More important, look at the draw: If they get out of a group that includes Italy and the Czechs, which I doubt, they'll likely play Brazil in the second round. Good luck.

All things considered, "I know they'll try their hardest" seems like the appropriate sentiment. I'd say the president's comments in fact represent a refreshing instance of allowing his judgment to be informed by the facts on the ground.

Zachary Roth 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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By: Kevin Drum

LEFT-WING LOONIES?....Jon Chait took a lot of abuse yesterday for writing a column that suggested it would be OK if Joe Lieberman won his primary race in Connecticut:

The left-wing blogs have taken after me for this, especially this passage describing the party's left-wing activists: "These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early '70s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent."

Daily Kos has taken particular umbrage....After quoting my column, he proceeds in the next two paragraphs to call my column "obvious crap," "intellectually dishonest," and "bullshit." Oh, and he also calls me a "moron." Atrios, for his part, has taken issue as well. His counterargument, which I hereby quote in its entirety, is this: "Wanker of the Day."

Simple slogans? Refusing to tolerate dissent? Can't imagine where I got that idea.

If you think that I have no desire to get into the middle of this infantile shouting match, you're absolutely right. At the same time, though, there is a massive misconception at the center of this argument that's worth mentioning. At least I think there is, anyway.

Chait calls the Kos/Atrios wing "left-wing activists." Marshall Wittman more colorfully calls them "McGovernites with modems." But this is a serious misreading. In fact, if I have a problem with the Kossite wing of the blogosphere, it's the fact that they aren't especially left wing. Markos in particular specifically prides himself on caring mostly about winning elections, not fighting ideological battles.

Now, there's no question that the left blogosphere is vaguely in favor of all the usual liberal goals: progressive taxation, decent healthcare for everyone, tolerance for minorities, and so forth. And, yes, they're loudly in favor of these things. But let's face it: with occasional exceptions here and there, these aren't the things that consistently get their blood boiling. What does is two things: the war in Iraq and the almost criminal negligence and incompetence of the Bush administration.

So is the liberal blogosphere liberal? Of course it is. But to compare it to the left-wing radicals of the early 70s is to misunderstand it completely. Netroots favorite Howard Dean is no lefty radical, and at a policy level most of the high-traffic liberal blogs are only modestly to the left of the DLC except on Iraq.

Frankly, I wish lefty bloggers did care more about fighting over policy issues. Not only is it a healthy argument to have, but it would give us something to coalesce around if we win back Congress in November. As things stand now, though, I have a feeling that if we win in November the netroots won't really have a very good idea of what it wants to accomplish, and will therefore default immediately to the longtime favorite game of liberals everywhere: the circular firing squad.

That may be too pessimistic on my part. Regardless, though, "McGovernites with modems" is about as far from reality as you can get. Chait and Wittman should know better.

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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By: Kevin Drum

AGRICULTURE AND THE WAR....Years ago the Washington Monthly used to have a "Memo of the Month" feature, usually some sterling example of bureaucratese submitted by someone in Charlie Peters's far flung network of agency pals. We don't do that anymore, but Al Kamen keeps the tradition alive today by reproducing a memo sent to senior muckymucks at the Department of Agriculture telling them to work in more references to Iraq and the war on terror in their speeches. How? Here's a helpful example:

But before I begin discussing the productivity of American agriculture, I'd like to take a moment to talk about a nation that is just now beginning to rebuild its own agricultural production.

Iraq is part of the "fertile crescent" of Mesopotamia. It is there, in around 8,500 to 8,000 BC, that mankind first domesticated wheat, there that agriculture was born, In recent years however, the birthplace of farming has been in trouble....

See? Nothing to it! Who says the Bush administration's communications shop needs revitalizing?

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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TALKING TO IRAN....Well, this is interesting:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written a letter to President Bush, a spokesman for Iran's hard-line government said Monday. The letter proposed "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation in the world," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told a news conference in Tehran, but he declined to elaborate on the contents.

....Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, delivered the letter on Monday to the Switzerland's ambassador in Tehran.

....The agreement to direct talks about Iran was endorsed by the cleric who holds supreme power in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and it is extremely unlikely that Ahmadinejad would send a letter to Bush without Khamenei's permission as well.

Ahmadinejad has been quite chatty lately, hasn't he? A few weeks ago he proposed talks about Iraq and now there's this. The contents of the letter haven't been disclosed, but the New York Times reports that the text of the letter will be released after the United States has received it.

So what happens now? The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely.

But I guess the interesting question is whether the Bush administration wants to talk with Iran. We know they didn't want to three years ago, and we also know that the recently proposed talks about Iraq haven't gotten anywhere, but maybe it's different this time. After all, they aren't quite on top of the world the way they thought they were in 2003, and there is a midterm election coming up. It's just barely possible that if Bush thinks talks could make some kind of progress in the next few months that it might help his chances in November.

But probably not. The Bushies are far more likely to view the Iranian offer as either a trick or a sign of weakness, and the smart money says the Iranians get turned down. Besides, there's a slim chance the talks might succeed, and what happens to our plans to bomb them back into the stone age then?

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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May 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TURF WARS OR HOOKERS?....Laura Rozen talked today to a friend who covers the White House, and he says the sudden and widespread media agreement that Porter Goss was fired because of a newly discovered turf war with John Negroponte is mostly due to what kind of reporters wrote the initial stories:

My best guess for the groupthink is who's doin' the writin'. National security folks [...] are going to talk to national security sources and get national security explanations. Sometimes that's all it takes for this kind of narrative to develop. Daily News and others, though, are going with non-nat/sec sources, and as a result they are getting a different explanation (that may also happen as Congressional correspondents sink their teeth into the story).

Talk to national security sources and they'll tell you Goss was fired because of national security turf wars. Talk to law enforcement sources and they'll tell you it was because of hookers. Talk to congressional aides or White House insiders and they'll give you yet another story.

But it was the national security reporters who wrote the initial stories, so a national security angle is what we got. Wait a few days and the conventional wisdom might change.

Kevin Drum 5:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONFIRMING HAYDEN....So it looks like the White House is running into a headwind in its plan to nominate Air Force General Michael Hayden to run the CIA. It turns out that both Republicans and Democrats are skeptical that he's the right man for the job, but apparently that's a feature, not a bug:

White House aides have indicated that they are fully aware that General Hayden might face a tough confirmation battle though the process has gone smoothly for him in the past but defend his competence and say they welcome a new chance to defend the surveillance program as a necessary tool in seeking to ferret out terrorists.

Why am I not surprised? I assume the White House figures that Republican critics will air out a few mild criticisms and then shut up, leaving them free to paint Democrats as weak on national security because they think the NSA ought to get search warrants if they want to spy on U.S. citizens. They went to this well in 2002 and 2004, and I assume they figure it's not dry yet.

But I wonder if they've finally miscalculated? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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MY DINNER WITH MARC....Marc Danziger sez:

I'm a liberal Democrat (Kevin Drum, at dinner, expressed shock at the kinds of policy proposals I thought the Democratic Party should be making)....

As I recall from that dinner, "fire all the teachers" was #1 on the list, and not as a joke. That was followed by raising the California sales tax and repudiating every interest group that actually supports the Democratic Party. Oddly enough, I didn't think that was an especially inspiring strategy for liberal Democrats to get behind.

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By: Kevin Drum

YOU KNOW HOW TO ADD, DON'T YOU?....Jared Bernstein tries his hand at some noir economics in the LA Times today:

"You came to the right place, doll," I said. "I see you've got the first-quarter GDP report, along with the new compensation results." I'd been puzzling over these numbers all day, but what, I wondered, could this tall glass of ice water want with them?

"That's right," she purred. "I need to know why GDP is up 4.8%, the strongest quarter since 2003, yet real wages are falling." Yeah, I thought, you and everybody else who works for a living.

"Why the interest?" I shot back. She didn't look like a Democrat.

"I wish I could tell you. But I work for some powerful people" now I knew she wasn't a Democrat "and they'd be very upset if they even knew I was here."

So who does she work for? The answer will shock you!

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

DOG BITES MAN, PART 576....Least surprising headline of the day:

Many Youths Disregard Their Virginity Pledges, Harvard Study Says

Who would have guessed?

UPDATE: But there's strong competition in this category from North Carolina today....

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DEATH OF POLICY....David Ignatius on Porter Goss's crusade to root out subversion at the CIA:

Though Goss long ago served as a CIA case officer, he arrived from Capitol Hill with a phalanx of conservative aides, soon dubbed the "Gosslings," who viewed the agency as a liberal, leak-prone opponent of conservative causes. That image is mostly nonsense many of the people forced out by the Gosslings were ex-military officers who would be tempted to shoot Democrats on sight, and most veterans cheered Goss's effort to stop press leaks. Goss's attacks on senior officers were reckless, and they peeled away a generation of senior CIA managers. Sadly, the Bush White House mostly applauded his jihad on what they viewed as CIA naysayers.

When the history of the Bush years are written, I suspect the biggest untold story of the era is going to be the one that John DiIulio warned us about almost at the beginning: The Death of Policy. George Bush's Republican Party is driven sometimes by ideology, sometimes by corporate fealty, and sometimes by nothing more than stubbornness, but serious policy analysis rarely enters the picture anymore. Why bother when you already know exactly what you want to do?

The CIA is the latest victim of this corrosive syndrome. Are they a bunch of effete liberals who hate toughminded foreign policy? Don't be absurd. But they sometimes produce inconvenient facts, and in Bush's world that makes them simply a member of the opposition to be dealt with. And so they were.

Goss's problem, ironically, is that for all the partisan witch hunting he conducted so eagerly, it turned out in the end that he wasn't quite willing enough to destroy the agency he headed. Presumably Michael Hayden will be more tractable, and when it's all over the Pentagon's intelligence arms will be more powerful, the CIA will be neutered, and Washington's other, smaller intelligence services will increasingly be sucked into the bureaucratic maw of the new Office of the Director of National Intelligence. What little dissension there used to be will be steadily planed away, and in the future presidents won't need to deal with even the occasional "minority opinions" that were so pesky during the runup to the Iraq war. There will be only the ODNI and the Pentagon, singing like a single Greek chorus into the president's ear.

My guess: future generations will consider the ODNI a catastrophe. For George Bush, though, it's exactly what he's always wanted: a department that will make sure he hears only what he wants to hear. The CIA, contra Ignatius, is not at rock bottom. There's still plenty far it can fall.

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Kevin Drum

WANTED: BAVARIAN GENEALOGIST....A few days ago I was surfing around the web trying to plan a trip to Germany with my mother. We were thinking that early June would be a good time to go, but I got suddenly suspicious when I saw this at a hotel's website:

Fuball-Weltmeisterschaft (29.05.-21.06.) Preis auf Anfrage

Hmmm. Turns out there's some big soccer shindig in Germany this June and every hotel in the country is booked solid. Who knew?

So I guess it's July for us, which means hot weather and lots of crowds. Bummer. And I still have to figure out how to hire a German genealogist in the vicinity of Bad Kissingen to help us dig up our Bavarian ancestors. I'm not even sure where to start on that. Besides, won't they all be on vacation?

Kevin Drum 12:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (93)

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May 6, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DON'T BOTHER ME, I'M DRIVING....I think the following story is America in a microcosm:

The number of people who expect rising gas prices to cause financial problems in the months ahead has jumped from 51 percent a year ago to 70 percent now, according to AP polling.

....When asked what would be a fair price for gasoline, many of those surveyed said $2-a-gallon on average.

....Yet the price spikes have not influenced people's views about fuel-efficient cars. A year ago, four in 10 said they were considering getting a car with better mileage the same number who say that now.

Or, as the Onion put it so eloquently six years ago, "98% Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others."

Kevin Drum 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Kevin Drum

DIVERSITY REDUX....Speaking of diversity, here's some news about the portrayal of boys vs. girls in G-rated films:

  • There are three male characters for every female.

  • Fewer than one out of three (28 percent) of the speaking characters (real and animated) are female.

  • Less than one in five (17 percent) of the characters in crowd scenes are female.

  • More than four out of five (83 percent) of films narrators are male.

The full report, based on the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004, is here. The authors also note that males are less likely than females to be portrayed as parents and that nonwhite males are way less likely to be portrayed as parents. In addition, Black and Hispanic males are extremely scarce in G-rated films (they appear at well under half their actual rate in the general population), and when they are present they're far more often portrayed as violent than white males.

If you think that a study like this could have been done in, say, 1970, with about the same results, you're right. But it sure is annoyingly PC to keep pointing it out in this enlightened day and age, isn't it? That must be why the report got exactly one mention in the press after it was released: a 400-word piece in USA Today that gave over nearly half its space to a critic who said the whole thing was no big deal. Sheesh.

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By: Kevin Drum

CELEBRATING DIVERSITY....I know, I know, I know. Gotta ignore this stuff. And I really try. But here's Michelle Malkin complaining because the Texas Rangers celebrated Cinco de Mayo yesterday by playing in uniforms that said "Los Rangers":

I understand the Rangers wanted to do something innocuous to recognize a holiday celebrating historical and cultural pride. But the politically correct selectivity here is telling. While it's considered a celebration of "diversity" to acknowledge the military sacrifices of another nation's heroes, it's considered racist to acknowledge the military sacrifices of one's own.

Case in point: Can you imagine if someone proposed changing the Rangers' jerseys to "Confederate Rangers" to celebrate Confederate Heroes' Day?

Oh, and I'm sure I'll be labeled a racist for pointing out the double standard.

It used to be that stuff like this was limited to mimeographed newsletters produced in someone's basement and carefully mailed out to a select group of fellow cranks and conspiracy theorists. Now it's on the web where it can be avidly cheered on by hundreds of thousands of fellow cranks in the full light of day. Isn't the 21st century wonderful?

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By: Kevin Drum

TURF WAR?....After hours of blogospheric speculation yesterday that Porter Goss was forced to resign as CIA director because of some mysterious (and still undetermined) connection to Hookergate, the conventional wisdom in the press today has congealed around something very different: it was just the final act in a long-running turf war with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. Laura Rozen isn't buying it:

Negroponte has President Bush's ear every single day when he delivers the President's daily intel brief. If he had been lobbying to get rid of Goss, and the President was inclined to support that decision, there were a hundred ways to do it in a way that would project stability, confidence, normalcy. There was hardly a show of that yesterday. They could have named a successor. There could have been a leak to the press about Goss being tired (remember all the foreshadowing in the press about how tired Andy Card was after all those 20 hour days that preceded his departure?) and wanting to spend more time with his family, or that Bush was unhappy with him. There was none of that. It was a surprise move. What happened this week that Negroponte and Bush acted so swiftly?

Does the way it happened resemble the slo-mo, warm and fuzzy way Andy Card and Scott McClellan were retired? Or does it rather have more in common with the swiftly announced departures of Claude Allen and David Safavian from their posts, a few days before we hear of federal investigations?

Well, who knows? Sometimes long-running feuds really can come to a head unexpectedly, and maybe that's what happened this time.

But, yeah, it doesn't seem very likely, does it? After all, as Laura points out, the press seems to have rather suddenly discovered this turf war. In fact, I just checked Nexis, and here's what I found: in the week before Friday's announcement, not one single reporter even mentioned the names Porter Goss and John Negroponte in the same story. In the month prior, there was only one piece that mentioned the phrase "turf war," and it wasn't being used to describe problems between Goss and Negroponte. On Thursday, a mere 24 hours before the Goss announcement, the Washington Post's Dana Priest did a one-hour online Q&A and never alluded to tension between Goss and Negroponte, even though she had several chances to do so.

So what's the deal? For the past several months, the consensus word on Goss has been that he's loyally protecting George Bush by firing all the CIA's closet Democrats and aggressively tracking down the leakers who are undermining his ability to torture prisoners in Eastern European prisons. That seems like sterling service. But now, out of the blue, we're supposed to believe that Bush woke up Friday morning and suddenly decided that some previously unreported bureaucratic turf war finally needed to be stopped? Who exactly is the source for this theory? Whoever it is, he seems to have been a busy boy on Friday.

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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May 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WHY DID GOSS GO?....So why did Porter Goss suddenly resign as head of the CIA? Is it because he's somehow implicated with the Brent Wilkes hooker scandal? Or does it have something to do with his deputy, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who's already been implicated in Hookergate? Let's round up the scuttlebutt:

  • Laura Rozen #1: Dana Priest is on MSNBC right now saying we'll have to wait for tomorrow's paper to find out why he resigned. The Post must have called him for comment on a story running tomorrow about his involvement with Brent Wilkes.

  • Laura Rozen #2: I hear that when Porter Goss went to meet with Negroponte today, he didn't know he was going to be leaving the job. And that it would have been the President's decision, not Negroponte's. And that this may have to do with how Goss handled a management issue concerning Foggo.

  • Justin Rood: I've heard it a bit more bluntly: Goss was told to fire Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, his troublesome Executive Director, and Goss refused. That's what we're hearing now from knowledgeable sources. But there's a lot of contradictory information.

  • John Podhoretz: If Goss were somehow implicated in matters relating to Duke Cunningham, say, there's no way on earth Bush would have made such a friendly show of his departure. Seems more likely to me that there was some kind of showdown between Goss and Negroponte and Negroponte said, "Either he goes or I go," and there Goss went.

  • Time magazine: The sudden and unexpected resignation of Porter Goss as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Friday highlights a long bureaucratic battle that's been going on behind the scenes in Washington. Ever since John Negroponte was appointed Director of National Intelligence a year ago and given the task of coordinating the nation's myriad spy agencies, he has been diluting the power and prestige of the CIA....Earlier this week, in a little noticed move, Negroponte signaled that he would be moving still more responsibility from the CIA to his own office, including control over the analysis of terrorist groups and threats.

Take your pick. And stay tuned for further speculation.

Kevin Drum 5:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (139)

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By: Zachary Roth

Once a Hack....The news that CIA director Porter Goss has resigned after less than 20 months on the job announced by the White House at prime news-burying time, Friday afternoon may or may not be an indication that Goss will soon be enmeshed in the cigars-and-hookers scandal now swirling about Dusty Foggo, Goss's number 3 man at the agency.

But the fact that Goss hasn't turned out to be the guy to reform the CIA isn't surprising. Though he was a CIA case officer in the '60s, it's long been clear, as we noted before he took over as director in September '04, that Goss is first and foremost a political hack. As House Intelligence committee chair, Goss consistently used his position to stifle investigations that could embarrass the White House, and showed more concern for his own career advancement than for national security.

Looks like we've got another candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Zachary Roth 3:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Kevin Drum

OLE!....Your Cinco de Mayo catblogging is here. Judging by the expression on the cat's face, this is the real thing, not some pale Photoshop imitation.

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By: Kevin Drum

CLASS WARFARE....From the Los Angeles Times op-ed page today:

That's been the story of the last few years, a rising tide that lifts only yachts. It used to be that economic growth ensured wide benefits across society. But the last four years of economic expansion have been historic for the steadily increasing poverty rate a depressing sign that inequality has so split the poor from the rich that the two hardly inhabit the same economy.

And it's not just the poor who've suffered. Research released last week by Tom Hertz of American University raised the troubling notion that inequality and economic insecurity have advanced so rapidly that the economic expansion of 2003 and 2004 was, in a variety of important ways, no better for the median American than the recession of 1990-91.

Damn communists. Now they're writing op-eds for the LA Times. How is it that a promising young man from Orange Country could have gone so bad? Guess I'll have to ask him at lunch today.

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

"DETAINED"....Speaking of mullahs, Dan Drezner points to yet another atrocity in Iran: authorities there "detained" human rights activist Ramin Jahanbegloo last week while he was on his way to the airport to attend a forum in Brussels. Human Rights Watch is on the case and quite reasonably suspects that his "interrogation" will be a distinctly unfriendly affair. Dan Drezner, who was at the Brussels conference, has more.

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By: Kevin Drum

DIPLOMACY....At a conference in Tokyo last month, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was hoping to pull aside a North Korean official for a private chat. It never happened:

Hill's superiors in Washington forbade him from talking directly to the North Koreans, said three U.S. officials, a conference participant and another knowledgeable expert. All requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Bush administration also is refusing to talk directly with Iran about its nuclear program, with Syria about Middle East security and the infiltration of terrorists into Iraq, and, like Europe, with the Palestinian government led by Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization.

This approach to diplomacy is drawing criticism. "I believe that diplomacy is not simply meant for our friends. It is meant for our enemies," said Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state in President Bush's first term. "In fact, our enemies need diplomatic engagement more.

The first step to effective diplomacy is to actually conduct diplomacy. If it doesn't work, then it doesn't work. But you don't simply refuse to try.

Democrats don't need to "get to the right" of the Bush administration on national security. They need to appeal to the common sense of the American public and promise that, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, they will actually show a willingness to engage in toughminded talks with our enemies. Believe it or not, sometimes it works.

Darfur is a good example. It wasn't easy, and Khartoum is not exactly a broadminded negotiating partner, but it tentatively looks like Robert Zoellick has pulled off a miracle. If talks with the warlords of Sudan can work, why isn't it at least possible that talks with the mullahs of Tehran might not also work?

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

ALARMING NEWS: WORKERS GETTING PAID MORE....The Washington Post reports that the labor market is getting a wee bit tighter than it has been for the past five years:

For most of the past five years, workers' productivity has risen faster than their compensation. But in the first quarter, the value of pay and benefits for workers rose at a 3.6 percent inflation-adjusted annual pace, as their productivity rose only 3.2 percent.

....The data speak to one of the big questions looming over the economy. If the tight labor market leads to wage growth at roughly the same pace as the nation's output rises, it would be welcome news for workers who have seen scant raises in recent years, would support consumer spending and help continue the economic expansion. But if wages grow too fast, it would create inflation, leading the Federal Reserve to try to put the brakes on the economy in a potentially painful manner by raising interest rates aggressively, slowing the economy.

"If the cost of labor rises much further, it's something the Fed will really have to watch," said Jason Schenker, an economist at Wachovia Corp.

The sad thing is that Schenker undoubtedly represents the conventional wisdom. Even the slightest indication that workers might be gaining back some of the losses of the past five years is enough to send America's economic elite into a tizzy. It's funny that a 30% increase in CEO pay doesn't seem to have the same effect, though, isn't it?

For more on this general topic, David Sirota is your man.

Kevin Drum 1:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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May 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

JUDGING MOUSSAOUI....What's the deal with the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, anyway? Is there any reason to even care about it? Mark Kleiman provides the Reader's Digest version of why the answer is "Yes."

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By: Kevin Drum

GOING FOR IT....Enough about politics. Let's talk about football.

I've been convinced for years that football coaches are way too conservative on fourth down: instead of punting or kicking field goals, they'd be better off going for it if they have only two or three yards to go for a first down. With the notable exception of Pete Carroll, though, mostly they don't. (And the only fourth down of Carroll's that anyone remembers is the one that went disastrously wrong in the Rose Bowl this year. But it's worth remembering that for the past five seasons, they mostly went right.)

Now, however, I'm happy to report (via Tyler Cowen) that David Romer of UC Berkeley has written an exhaustive analysis filled with sigma signs and subscripts that provides a quantitative answer to this burning question: exactly when should you go for it and when should you kick?

The solid line in the chart below provides the answer. At the 50-yard line, you should go for it if you have less than five yards to go. At the 40-yard line you should go for it if you have less than seven yards to go. At the 35-yard line you should go for it no matter what. Beyond the 33-yard line, as you get into field goal range, the value of kicking rises and the "critical value" necessary to go for it declines steeply (though it stays above four yards all the way to the goal line). The dashed line summarizes actual coaching decisions over the course of the study and shows that, on average, coaches go for it only if they're past midfield and have only about two yards to go. That's much too conservative.

Romer's analysis accounts for the probability of making a first down and then going on to score; the likely field position of your opponent depending on whether you kick or not; the likelihood of making a field goal; and a whole variety of other factors. Read the whole thing if you want to argue with him.

But the bottom line is simple: always go for it if you have less than three or four yards to go. Past midfield, you should go for it even in higher yardage situations until you get into field goal range. But even then, you should go for it if you have less then three or four yards to go.

In other words, Pete Carroll is a smart guy. It was LenDale White's fault that USC lost the Rose Bowl.


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By: Kevin Drum

THE SOUTH(ERN CALIFORNIANS) WILL RISE AGAIN!....Garance Franke-Ruta:

I think about the last thing America is going to want in 2008 is someone easily painted as a Californian obsessed with refighting the War Between the States. Racial matters aside, that's kooksville territory on the campaign trail.

Yeah, she's talking about Gorgeous George Allen. Ryan Lizza has the latest details here.

Kevin Drum 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION AND THE WORKING CLASS....When it comes to the immigration debate, anecdotal evidence is king. Did American flags outnumber Mexican flags at Monday's May Day rallies? How many day laborers hang out at your local Home Depot? Did illegal immigrants really swarm into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and take all the plum construction job away from hard working natives?

With that in mind, here are your anecdotal tidbits for the day. First, from The New Republic, we plum the depths of Joe Sixpack's psyche via the storylines of professional wrestling:

In the 1980s after the oil and hostage crises, Sgt. Slaughter battled the Iron Sheik. Three years ago, the "French" tag team La Resistance criticized the war on terror....Given this history and the recent immigration debate, one might expect equally cringe-worthy storylines involving Latinos.

But recently on "WWE Smackdown!" televised on UPN a crowd in Peoria, Illinois, cheered as the masked Rey Mysterio, in his soft, slightly squeaky voice, said his dream had come true: He'd just defended his title as world heavyweight champion making him the first Hispanic American to hold the strap. A few weeks later, Mysterio stood up for himself against a bullying Texan who mocked his origins and taunted, "Habla ingles?"

The crowds love him! Next up is the LA Times, which tells us what happened when the country's most famous anti-immigration group tried to rally African Americans to their side:

The Minuteman Project, the self-proclaimed citizen border patrol that has emerged as a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, arrived in the heart of South Los Angeles on Wednesday hoping to recruit blacks to their cause.

But instead, they were met by protesters most of them African American who compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan and urged them to take their campaign elsewhere.

What does this all mean? I don't know. But perhaps immigration from Mexico isn't quite as unpopular with America's working class as we've been led to believe?

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By: Kevin Drum

SUDDENLY IT'S ALL CLEAR....Apparently Laura Bush defended her hubby yesterday by telling CNN's John King that when he gave a nationally televised speech under a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln three years ago, he only meant that the mission of that particular aircraft carrier had been accomplished. Kos diarist J R Hand rewrites the president's speech to clear this up.

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By: Kevin Drum

ALL HAIL THE OC....I'm not quite sure how Orange County, home of Disneyland and the Crystal Cathedral, managed to transform itself into The Hippest Place on Earth, but apparently the beige stucco craze has now hit China: the latest slice of consumer paradise on offer there is western style housing developments modeled on you guessed it Orange County. But aside from the distinctly OC-like price tags, it turns out there are problems:

Not every aspect of upper-middle-class Los Angeles translates exactly, and adjustments have had to be made. Houses in Orange County were all built with sprawling American-style open-plan kitchens, with ovens and countertop stoves. But residents have discovered that they are poorly suited to typical Chinese cooking, which is centered on woks and sends grease and smoke spewing everywhere.

"I love the kitchen it is very pretty but the smoke is dispersed all over the house by the central air," said Liang Haijing, a thirtysomething lawyer, with big eyes and curly hair. So, like many Orange County residents, Ms. Liang has built a shack just outside the kitchen's sliding glass doors, and all cooking is done out there.

On the plus side, "The feng shui is excellent." So there's that.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

FEEDING THE BEAST....What happens if you lower the cost of something? People buy more of it. What if you raise the cost? People buy less of it.

So: what happens if the federal government reduces taxes and runs a deficit thus lowering the "cost" of government? People will "buy" more government.

This actually makes a strange kind of sense if there are no additional taxes to cause you pain, why shouldn't you support big government? and William Niskanen, the chairman of the Cato Institute, says he now has research to back this up:

Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found....no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending. To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.

....I would like to be proven wrong, says Niskanen. No wonder: for the modern conservative coalition, the implications of his findings are discomfiting, and in a sense tragic.

In other words, "starve the beast" doesn't work. If you cut taxes, all you do is encourage additional spending.

This makes sense to me because of the reductio case: what if you eliminated taxes altogether and funded the entire government by deficit? Then people would spend like crazy. Why not, after all? It's all free! (For a while, anyway....)

Of course, I'm not an economist and it might turn out that Niskanen's analysis is too crude. (His regressions don't sound especially sophisticated even to me.) So I'll be curious to hear what other economists have to say about this. Should we add "starve the beast" to the already large mountain of things Grover Norquist is wrong about?

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By: Kevin Drum

I'LL TAKE GOP CANDIDATES FOR 400, ALEX....Mark Schmitt surveys the 2008 field of Republican nominees for president tonight, and he's not impressed. Neither am I, but I enjoyed his snark enough to make a game out of it. Can you match up each candidate to Mark's witticisms? Answers here.

Candidate

Description

John McCain

A. "This guy could come back some day, like Nixon, but you cant lose a and then expect to be the 2008 nominee."

George Allen

B. "Ill go with whatever Amy Sullivan says on whether will accept a . Apparently the answer is no."

Bill Frist

C. "His personal failings are old news. He hasnt had to vote on anything in seven years."

Rick Santorum

D. "Actually, turns out hes a , a type Ive encountered once or twice in my life and is probably one of the creepiest personality types there is."

Mitt Romney

E. "Some people believe hes the inevitable nominee; others believe its impossible....I'm in the second camp."

Sam Brownback

F. "Utterly charmless."

Condoleezza Rice

G. "I dont know anything about this, but I cant help imagine that his life before he found God, which includes much of his political career, might involve some interesting stories."

Mystery Candidate

H. "Are they really going to want the 2008 election to be a referendum on Bushs foreign policy?"

Kevin Drum 12:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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May 3, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION AND THE CULTURE WARS....Over at RCP, Brad Carson, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, argues that although raising the minimum wage and passing union-friendly legislation would be the best way to help the working class, goals like these are nothing more than "misplaced fantasies of egalitarian social policies" since Republicans are currently running the show in Washington DC. This in turn means we have no choice but to sign on to their solution for helping the working class instead. And their solution is a draconian crackdown on illegal immigration.

Now, the barons of the Republican Party have never been noticeably sensitive to the economic fortunes of the working class, but Carson thinks this time they really are responding to economic pain among the rank-and-file:

While the opponents of immigration no doubt include nativists and xenophobes, the vast majority of those who oppose illegal immigration do so on sound public policy grounds. Illegal immigration is seen rightly as a threat to their economic livelihood.

The vast majority? Really? Despite the fact that the economic impact of immigration is zero for most people and minimal even for high school dropouts? Despite the fact that working class whites don't seem to be visibly fuming about their inability to get jobs picking grapes or working in sweatshops?

But if economics isn't at the core of anti-immigrant sentiment, what is? John Tanton founded FAIR, the nations oldest and most influential immigration restriction group, in 1979, and for years he tried to preach an anti-immigration message based on economic and conservation grounds. But it didn't work. Chris Hayes, who profiled Tanton recently in In These Times, tells us what did work:

Crisscrossing the country, Tanton...kept hearing the same complaint. I tell you what pisses me off, Tanton recalls people saying. Its going into a ballot box and finding a ballot in a language I cant read. So it became clear that the language question had a lot more emotional power than the immigration question.

....So in 1983, Tanton sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of a new group he created called U.S. English....The success of U.S. English taught Tanton a crucial lesson. If the immigration restriction movement was to succeed, it would have to be rooted in an emotional appeal to those who felt that their country, their language, their very identity was under assault. Feelings, Tanton says in a tone reminiscent of Spock sharing some hard-won insight on human behavior, trump facts.

Indeed. Mickey Kaus says he's astonished that an ex-congressman like Carson can bravely cut through the PC cant and "write clearly without cliches," but in a 2004 piece that Mickey also links to, Carson had a rather different take on the motivations of his erstwhile red-state constituents: "For the vast majority of Oklahomans," he wrote, "transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage."

That's exactly right. There's probably some genuine job-based animus toward illegal immigrants in the construction industry, but elsewhere you barely need to scratch the surface to figure out that anti-immigrant anxiety mostly seems to revolve around crime, gangs, culture, language, social services, and bizarrely trumped up fears of reconquista. Can we stop kidding ourselves about this?

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (174)

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By: Kevin Drum

LOST....One of my all-time favorite tropes is the periodic survey demonstrating that x% of U.S. teenagers (where x = "dismal") aren't able to find y on a map (where y = "a country you should know about"). The latest entrant in this parade comes from National Geographic, which included a question on its latest survey about the location of the television show CSI. Why? So they could breathlessly announce, "More know where the TV show CSI is set than can find Iraq on a map."

That is disturbing, isn't it? Predictably, Associated Press headlined their video, "U.S. Youth Get Failing Grade in Geography." And that's fair enough, I suppose, although I'll bet most AP reporters would fail too. In fact, that's my main gripe with these periodic reports: they never tell us how adults do.

I think it would be great if more people knew that Rwanda is in Africa. But until you can demonstrate that kids actually do significantly worse on this kind of thing than adults, please spare me the "report card" nonsense. I know we're all supposed to be in a perpetual state of tut-tutting horror at the miserable ignorance of kids today, but I'd like to see some actual evidence that our twentysomethings are really any more ignorant than our supposedly well-educated fiftysomethings before I start feeling too superior. Anybody know where I can find some?

In the meantime, you can take an abbreviated online version of the test here. The full National Geographic report is here. Note that on every question that had been asked previously, today's kids did better than those of 1988 and 2002 though that fact is mysteriously missing from AP's report.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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By: Kevin Drum

LEAVING AFGHANISTAN?....From the New York Times today:

The fact that American troops are pulling out of southern Afghanistan in the coming months, and handing matters over to NATO peacekeepers, who have repeatedly stated that they are not going to fight terrorists, has given a lift to the insurgents, and increased the fears of Afghans.

Generally speaking, the U.S. provides the combat troops in Afghanistan and NATO provides peacekeepers. Like it or not, that's the way it is.

It's also the case, as the Times points out, that security in Afghanistan is still pretty dicey. Michael Yon agrees:

The media is not up-playing the danger in Afghanistan but seems to be grossly missing it. Unfortunately, I predict NATO and other forces will lose increasing numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan. The place is bad. Really bad. And its getting worse. Yesterday an Indian engineer was murdered. They cut off his head. Also, yesterday, the car bomb in the photo above exploded close by some employees of a friend. I was close by two bombings in just six days in Lashkar Gah, a place they used to call safe.

Afghanistan is a place where the U.S. military presence is almost universally regarded as a good thing, a genuine bulwark against the resurgence of the Taliban. And yet we're pulling out of the most dangerous areas. Meanwhile, in Iraq, a place where the U.S. military presence is arguably just making things worse, we're refusing to even discuss the possibility of troop withdrawals.

Wake me up when this is all over, OK?

Kevin Drum 3:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Paul Glastris

GOOD COMPANY... Last year, right after Marjorie Williams of The Washington Post died, I wrote that I hoped a publisher would put together a collection of her extraordinary profiles of DC power players and other writings. Her husband Timothy Noah of Slate devoted himself to precisely that task, and the resulting book, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, was a big hit. Now the book is the co-winner of PEN's Martha Allbrand Award for First Nonfiction. Previous winners of the prize include Nick Lemann, Amy Wilentz, Nina Bernstein, Philip Gourevitch, and Serge Schmemann. So Marjorie finds herself, as in life she always did, in good company.

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By: Kevin Drum

NET NEUTRALITY....REED HUNDT SPEAKS!....Hmmm. Reed Hundt finally responds to my plea for his opinion about net neutrality. Or does he?

Imagine driving down your free public street...and all of a sudden a hoard of trucks carrying trash pours on to the road from every cross street....You are resentful of the government that passed no rule against "too many trucks" and you are mad at the trash-creators who filled the trucks, yet you have no choice. It is, after all, a neutral network, that free public street.

And so with [bandwidth hogging] video sent downstream from a movie studio over the American Internet's shared access network....The aspiring blogger, collaborating user, nascent political association that would use the Web to create, click, converse, and do commerce ought to rail against the hapless FCC which should have written rules making the video distributors pay for their own connections, or otherwise keep their smelly trucks stuffed with trashy films off the information highway (as twas once called), so as to keep the average users speed up. In short we need a Non Neutral Network!

Or do we?

I think this is a colorful way of saying, "it's complicated" at least given the current nature of the Internet in America. However, Reed does reiterate his call for a massive public investment in high speed internet to the home, which he believes would make the whole question moot. In the meantime, though, opinions continue to differ.

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By: Kevin Drum

VACUITY WATCH....Max Boot, in the course of telling us that Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez are "dictators," also passes along the breaking news that OPEC is populated by some pretty unsympathetic characters. Glenn Reynolds comments:

Of course, if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet, dictators would be broke, and poor nations would benefit from cheap energy. But we'd be called imperialist oppressors, then.

UPDATE: Various people (with various degrees of enthusiasm) see the above as a call for invasion. It was, rather, a comment on the vacuity of the "imperialist oppressors" language. Though I was probably wrong there anyway: If we really were imperialist oppressors, the critics would be sucking up.

Vacuity? Does Glenn think that if we seized all the world's oil fields we wouldn't be imperialist oppressors? Maybe we should seize the law schools instead.

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By: Kevin Drum

WAITING LIST HELL....As long as we're on a healthcare kick, here's the latest from the "best healthcare in the world" file:

In mid-2004, more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente patients awaiting kidney transplants in Northern California got form letters that forced them to change the course of their treatment.

Kaiser would no longer pay for transplants at outside hospitals, even established programs with thousands of successes. Instead, adult patients would be transferred to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO.

....Kaiser's massive rollout in Northern California endangered patients, forcing them into a fledgling program unprepared to handle the caseload, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation based on dozens of interviews, statistical analyses and confidential documents.

Screwups can happen anywhere, and organ transplants are in short supply no matter where you go. But it's worth noting that this particular screwup is a direct result of the balkanized healthcare system we put up with in the United States. There's simply no reason that patients who are already on a waiting list at one hospital should be forced to switch to a different hospital just because their insurer suddenly decides that's what it wants to do. But that's the system we have.

Don't like it? Tough. After all, don't you know that we have the best healthcare in the world?

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May 2, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BONUS HEALTHCARE WONKERY....Ezra Klein has some more healthcare wonkery for you over at his place. But, you know, it's good healthcare wonkery. International comparisons and all that.

One point I'd make about this stuff, though, is that if you compare any two healthcare systems, both of them will have pros and cons. Waiting times for hip replacements are longer in Canada than the U.S. Prostate cancer treatment is worse in Germany. Sweden doesn't have as many MRI machines. Etc.

Now, some of these things may be debatable. Some may not matter as much as you think. Some may be urban legends.

But some of them are true. No healthcare system is perfect. Our argument isn't (or shouldn't be) that the French or the Japanese or the Swedes have discovered healthcare nirvana, only that, overall, their systems produce outcomes as good or better than ours at a lower cost. I know it's hard to stick to that argument when conservatives are screeching about hip replacement queues in Ontario, but it's probably a mug's game to take them on on their own turf. Instead, we should relentlessly stick to pointing out how bad our system is and how much better and cheaper it could be if we replaced it with something more sensible. Spending our time defending Canada is just playing into their hands.

And before anyone points out that I don't always take my own advice on this issue, I know. But it's good advice anyway.

Kevin Drum 6:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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YES, NATIONAL HEALTHCARE REALLY IS THE WAY TO GO....Advocates of universal healthcare frequently claim that European-style national healthcare systems, aside from being fairer, are just more efficient than ours. They provide decent healthcare at a lower cost than the jumbled, pseudo-free market system we have in the United States.

But is it true? Do even relatively mediocre, underfunded national healthcare systems like the one in Britain perform as well as American healthcare? A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reaches a pretty unambiguous conclusion.

The researchers studied health outcomes in both countries and controlled for age by comparing only people aged 55-64. They controlled for race by studying only non-Hispanic whites. They controlled for obesity. They controlled for income. They controlled for education. They controlled for everything they could think of. Here's what they found:

"At every point in the social hierarchy there is more illness in the United States than in England and the differences are really dramatic," said study co-author Dr. Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London in England.

....The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income British.

The researchers are careful to say that their study doesn't prove that Britain's healthcare system is better than America's something that would be nearly impossible to demonstrate conclusively with a study like this in any case. But that's not the point. The point is that it's obviously not worse even though the British spend about half as much as we do per capita.

So here's the deal: under the British system, you don't have to worry about which doctors your HMO allows you to see. You don't have to worry about losing coverage if you get laid off. You don't have to worry about being unable to get a new job because you have a pre-existing condition. You don't have to worry about being bankrupted if you contract a serious chronic illness. And large corporations don't have to worry about going out of business because of spiraling healthcare obligations.

And the result of all this? Healthcare that's as good as ours and delivered for about half the cost. Under a national healthcare system, when you get sick, all you have to worry about is getting well. Explain to me again why we're afraid of this?

Kevin Drum 2:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (195)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAME UPDATE....I should have mentioned this yesterday, but I got distracted and forgot. On Hardball, MSNBC's David Shuster reported the following nugget about Valerie Plame on Monday:

Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson's cover was blown, the administration's ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged as well. The White House considers Iran to be one of America's biggest threats.

I don't really know what to make of this. If it's true, it's a bombshell, and yet it was dropped almost casually into the middle of Shuster's report and wasn't followed up in any way ("Great. Thank you David Shuster," responded Chris Matthews).

I guess we'll have to wait and see if anyone else confirms this. I can think of several reasons why this might be either plausible or implausible, but two sentences with no attribution aren't enough to figure it out. But in any case, that's the latest.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Kevin Drum

OH SAY CAN YOU SCREECH....I'm sure with Atrios on this one:

Of all of the recent fake controversies the Spanish Star-Spangled Banner one was actually the one which put my jaw on the floor and left it there. We are really living in stupid times.

I'm keenly aware that most of the world doesn't share my fondness for charts and graphs and sober analysis. Swift boaters win a lot more arguments than the Brookings Institution. But the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish? Just how idiotic have we become? It's enough to make you fear for the future of the Republic.

Needless to say, Michelle Malkin has been right at the epicenter of this particular lunacy. But if you're interested in a more considered take on the history of our national anthem, Ralph Shaffer and Walter Coombs have a brief rundown in the LA Times today.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (148)

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By: Kevin Drum

CARD CHECKS....One of the reasons that middle class and working class incomes have been virtually stagnant for the past couple of decades is the sad state of private sector unions. (Public sector unions are doing fine.) Union representation in private industry has been declining since the 70s and is now down to about 8% of the workforce.

There are lots of reasons for this, but one of them is that old, smokestack industries have been declining and their unions with them while successive Republican administrations have made it increasingly difficult to start unions in the newer service industries that have taken their place. On Monday, striking service workers at the University of Miami won a small victory by finally reaching an agreement with Unicco Service Company to form a union via card check, but it was a victory that shows just how tough unionization has become in America. Nathan Newman explains:

Part of the agreement was that the union would have to sign up 60% of employees to gain recognition, rather than the 50% required to win an NLRB election.

Which illustrates how bad the NLRB election process is. The workers preferred a lengthy strike, a hunger strike that hospitalized multiple workers, and a requirement for a super-majority rather than face the buzzsaw of a federal election, where employers manipulate the rules and routinely threaten and fire workers to defeat unions.

In a card check campaign, a union merely has to persuade workers to sign cards saying they want to join a union. No election is required. Conservatives argue that avoiding elections is unfair and antidemocratic, and they might have a point if NLRB recognition elections were run fairly. But in reality the rules are massively skewed in favor of management, and this makes card checks the only realistic option left to many unions. More on the subject here.

Increased private sector unionization is probably the only effective, large-scale way to systematically help America's middle class, and until we can level the NLRB playing field, card checks are the only way to do it. Congratulations to the U of Miami workers for winning the right to unionize. May many others follow in their path.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

HITTING BOTTOM....In a cage match between George Bush and Richard Nixon, who would lose? Jonathan Schwarz investigates.

Kevin Drum 2:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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May 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL SECURITY UPDATE....The 2006 Social Security Trustees Report is finally out, and the headline number is that the projected "exhaustion" date for the trust fund has changed from 2041 to 2040.

Why the gloomy news? There were two big changes in SSA's actuarial assumptions. On the plus side, they finally increased their projection of long-term productivity growth a bit, from 1.6% to 1.7%. On the negative side, they reduced their projection of long term real interest rates from 3.0% to 2.9%. The overall impact was to make the solvency of the trust fund look a bit worse than last year.

Demographic projections were brighter than last year: the trustees now predict a higher fertility rate but not much change in death rates. Immigration assumptions, which are probably overly conservative, didn't change. Disability rates were projected a bit higher.

To give you a quick read on the changes, I've merged the "Key Assumptions" tables from 2005 and 2006 below along with some commentary in red. More later.

Kevin Drum 5:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (192)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PRESS, THE PRESIDENT, AND A COMEDIAN WALK INTO A ROOM....It must be a slow day. Here's the question du jour in the blogosphere: Is the mainstream media in the tank because it mostly ignored Stephen Colbert's brutal and merciless skewering of the president at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday?

Beats me. I have a sneaking hunch that the featured comedian rarely gets very much news attention the next day last year's news accounts focused almost exclusively on Laura Bush, you'll remember but it would take a massive Nexis archeological expedition to find out for sure, and I don't care nearly enough to do it. Maybe someone else will.

But did anyone notice that George Bush's routine was every bit as pointed as Colbert's? For those who didn't see it, Bush worked with a double who acted as his "inner voice," saying the things that Bush himself is forced to hold in. But despite the laughter it received, that inner voice made it crystal clear that Bush really didn't want to be there and really doesn't like having to pretend to laugh at their jokes. He was pissed off about the whole thing and that was before Colbert spoke.

So the evening featured a president who really does loathe the press and a comedian who really is disgusted by Bush. Is it any wonder that it wasn't the most lighthearted correspondents' dinner in memory?

Kevin Drum 2:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (292)

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By: Kevin Drum

MANUFACTURING A WAR....Steve Clemons attended a dinner Sunday night and spoke with a "former foreign minister of a major nation" who is apparently privy to conversations with Iran's Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here is Steve's mysterious conclusion:

What I learned from this foreign minister last night and a room full of extremely smart people is that there are forces escalating America's and Iran's tensions and a single serious miscalculation could dramatically alter America's position in the world and yet miscalculations are already abounding.

Details, please! Steve doesn't elaborate further, and Matt Yglesias suggests that this kind of thinking is naive anyway. This is no miscalculation, he says:

It's part of a considered, and wrongheaded, view of America's foreign policy which holds that reaching diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes is always a bad thing. The preferred method is the use of force and intimidation. The problem is that neither the American people nor the international community is prepared to endorse fighting wars for no reason at all. Thus, when the Iranians approach us with peace feelers, the offers must be rejected out of hand. Iranian intransigence at the IAEA isn't a problem, but an opportunity for war.

That does seem to be the case, doesn't it? As near as I can tell, the Bush administration is doing everything it can to look like it's endorsing diplomacy while simultaneously ensuring that nothing with an actual chance of working is ever put on the table. A similar faction in Iran seems to be doing precisely the same thing.

And the rest of us? Stuck in the middle as usual.

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

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By: Kevin Drum

SHUFFLE....Today the LA Times tells us the story of KCDX, the world's largest shuffle player. A mysterious cult favorite in Arizona, it turns out that its playlist is entirely random except when its owner goes on the road, in which case he programs a playlist in advance so he can listen to it in the car. I guess that's one way to make sure the radio is playing tunes you want to hear.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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