Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PARTISAN HACKERY....Over at Tapped, the boys are discussing whether America would be better off if the media junked the fiction of "objectivity" and just adopted the European habit of sporting an open ideology. Ezra Klein suggests that although overt ideology might be OK, "A bunch of partisan outlets would be a problem. There's nothing honest or constant about their opinions, and so the whole advantage of knowing their beliefs evaporates when the beliefs become inconvenient and change."

Family honor compels me to disagree. Here is the notice in the Piatt [pronounced Pie'-utt, by the way] County Republican in July 1900 announcing the first issue of the Cerro Gordo Star, my great-grandfather's third newspaper:

Eli Drum has again resumed....Eli has been a republican and then a democrat and now has decided to become a populist and extract sweetness from both the old parties. In fact Cerro Gordo is not healthy place for a democratic paper.

Is Ezra calling my great-grandfather dishonest? Inconstant? Just because he apparently picked whichever party or non-party happened to be convenient depending on where and when he was setting up a printing press?

I demand satisfaction. Typewriters at twenty paces.

POSTSCRIPT: And what's this "Get there Eli" business all about? Beats me. A Google search informs me that Eli Perkins was the pen name of one Melville Landon, a stage humorist and author of Wit, Humor and Pathos. Apparently his catchphrase became popular to describe someone who was a striver, a go-getter, a person who never gave up. Eli Drum's second paper (the Democratic one, presumably) started up in 1890, but the phrase predates that. For example:

1883: Our people are free and untrammeled, and "get there Eli" every time.

1884: By his indomitable will, his sterling qualities, and his quiet, unassuming "get there Eli" and bound to succeed spirit, has kept climbing up the ladder round by round, until he is nearing the topmost.

1886: Belle Plaine is a get there Eli kind of a town, a sure go town, a good kind of a town to tie to.

1889: The people are glad to hear Colby is to have a mill. Colby knows how to get there, Eli.

1893: He was always one of the "get-there-Eli" boys.

1903: "'All right,' says he. 'I'll do it, and it's "Get there, Eli!" when I hook dirt....

1919: "Oh, I don't mind! Pick on me all you like, either of you. I suppose there are some frills I'm not onto, but I'm quick at catchin' on, and I'll get there, Eli!"

There is also a song called "Get There Eli," and a town in Nebraska named Eli whose residents are under the misimpression that it was originally named Get-There-Eli because that was the nickname of one of its original residents.

Wasn't that fun?

Kevin Drum 6:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Kevin Drum

GUANTNAMO....Abdullah Mujahid is a detainee at Guantnamo who pleaded innocent and called four witnesses from Afghanistan to testify at his hearing. After several months, the tribunal president said they couldn't be found. Apparently no one looked very hard:

The Guardian searched for Mr Mujahid's witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead. Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid's hearing.

....In the military tribunal Mr Mujahid protested his innocence. He enjoyed good relations with American soldiers and had been promoted, not fired, he said. The three living witnesses he requested were easily located with a telephone, an internet connection and a few days work.

....The witnesses largely corroborated Mr Mujahid's story, with some qualifications. Mr Jalali, the former interior minister, said Mr Mujahid had been fired over allegations of corruption and bullying - not for attacking the government. Mr Haider, the former defence official, said Mr Mujahid had contributed 30 soldiers to a major operation against al-Qaida in March 2002. "He is completely innocent," he said.

Look. Guantnamo isn't an easy issue. The whole question of how best to handle detainees isn't an easy issue. Plenty of the inmates at Guantnamo are genuinely dangerous people, and we can hardly afford to let them go free just because we don't have Perry Mason standards of evidence against them. There just aren't simple answers to this.

But the evidence has mounted for years that many of the detainees at Guantnamo were picked up randomly in Afghanistan or turned over for reward in Pakistan, and are being held with essentially no evidence at all. See here and here for more. In Mujahid's case, we were dealing with a former police chief in Gardez, not some random guy picked up on a battlefield, and yet we still claimed we couldn't find any of the witnesses he asked for.

I think most of the world understands perfectly well the dilemma we face in handling these guys. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that we don't even seem to be trying to figure out who belongs in custody and who's just a mistake. That's why Guantnamo is a disgrace.

UPDATE: Ah, I see that this same story ran in the Boston Globe a couple of weeks ago. Oddly enough, it was co-written by the same guy who wrote the Guardian's version.

Kevin Drum 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW HAMDAN WILL PLAY OUT....I don't agree with Marshall Wittman much these days, but I think he may be right about this:

Analysis that suggests [the Hamdan decision] is a political setback for the GOP has it exactly wrong. Republicans would like nothing better than a pre-election debate over whether Osama's buddies should receive ACLU approved rights. It is likely that many Democrats will join Republicans in supporting tough guidelines for military commissions.

Probably so. And Democrats would be right to support tough guidelines, which could probably sail through Congress with bipartisan support to spare if that's what the Republican leadership wants.

They don't, of course. They want a campaign issue, not a solution, and most likely won't rest until they manage to find legislative wording so punitive and extreme that even Hillary Clinton can't support it. It may not be good for the country, but it makes for good C-SPAN.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (158)

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By: Kevin Drum

PRIZES....For some reason, many conservative bloggers seem to be captivated by the idea of offering prizes for scientific progress. This is mentioned most often in the context of space exploration, but how about something more down to earth? Republican congressman Dan Lungren has an idea:

What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion prize for the first American automaker to sell 60,000 midsized sedans that could travel 100 miles on one gallon of gasoline?

It wouldn't be a panacea for our energy problems, but it would stimulate the development of viable technologies to reduce oil consumption while we develop alternatives to petroleum.

My problem with this is the same as my problem with most other prize ideas: it's chump change. A billion dollars for a car company? Ford's R&D budget is already somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 billion a year, and just yesterday they abandoned their pledge to sell 250,000 hybrid cars a year by 2010 because they figured it was too expensive a proposition. And that's for a technology that's already pretty well understood.

I can't imagine that any car company would seriously change its behavior for a lousy billion dollars. Better make it a hundred billion, Dan.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Alan Wolfe

Making Us Stronger....By striking a blow against President Bushs claims of unchecked presidential authority, the U. S. Supreme Court has enhanced the safety of all Americans.

This is not, of course, what you will hear from the administration. In its view of the world, Americans face unprecedented threats from terrorists that can only be met by granting to the president the authority to respond in any way he determines to be in the national interest. Consultation, negotiation, power-sharing all of which are part and parcel of ordinary democratic politics become luxuries we can no longer afford. Only resolute action can stop an attack before it occurs.

In the real world, however, the Bush administrations approach to terrorism is one more example of its failed approach to government. Its theory works only if those in charge make all the right decisions. But if they happen to make a wrong one, their approach multiplies many times over its negative ramifications. This is essentially what happened in Iraq. Able to ignore or quash dissenting points of view, the Bush administration deliberately removed constraints that might have saved it from fueling an insurgency that has tragically taken so many lives.

Separation of powers, judicial review, and bipartisanship do not deny the need for power. On the contrary, the great political theorists who shaped our constitutional system understood that power checked is power better exercised. The important thing is not just to make decisions but to make good ones. And the more deliberative such decisions are, the more likely they are to be good.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld throws the question of how decisions in the war on terror are to be made back in the hands of Congress. The House will no doubt support anything the president wants. But if a few key Senators honor the traditions and philosophical ideas that have made America great, the United States will preserve its liberal democratic structure and be stronger at the same time.

Alan Wolfe 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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By: Kevin Drum

PANDA SLUGGER....It sometimes seems as if right-wing hawks in America must get together every few years to assign each country in the world its own personal Chicken Little, someone to consistently make the maximal case for that country's danger to American security. Iraq, for example, had Ahmed Chalabi. Iran has Michael Ledeen.

For China, that person is Michael Pillsbury, a Mandarin-speaking scholar who can be relied on to provide the most nerve-wracking possible view of China's future military capability to anyone willing to listen. And needless to say, he has the ear of Donald Rumsfeld. After all, China hawkery is the ultimate trump card when budget season rolls around and it's time to justify yet another carrier group.

There's only one problem: it turns out that Pillsbury plays a little fast and loose when he explains China's alleged future plans to American audiences. Soyoung Ho provides chapter and verse this month in "Panda Slugger," a profile of Pillsbury that includes the following explanation of one particular future terror that he warns about relentlessly:

And what about the "Assassin's Mace," one of Pillsbury's major preoccupations? Here, Pillsbury appears to have taken a common Chinese term, shashoujian, and decided, based on his own unfamiliarity with it ("I first saw this unusual term in...1995," he writes in a 2003 article) that it indicates what he calls a "secret project."

In fact, though, the term has been around for centuries and has been revived in contemporary Chinese pop culture, a slangy phrase that appears in articles about everything from soccer to romance. Pillsbury cites public speeches by Chinese leaders and articles in Chinese newspapers that speak of developing "shashoujian" weapons, but he never explains how this adds up to evidence of a secret program. It's as if a Chinese researcher, hearing a U.S. official speaking of a need for "kick-ass weapons," were to become confused by the term "kick-ass" and conclude that there must be a secret "kick-ass weapons" program. In short, Pillsbury has identified a secret program that, by all indications, is literally no more than a figure of speech.

There's much more than this, though. You can read the whole story here.

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

ATTENTION WAL-MART SHOPPERS....According to Ryan Sager, frequent Wal-Mart shoppers are "largely Southern, rural, lower-middle-class, female, socially conservative not big fans of tax cuts, but huge fans of government programs." What's more, these shoppers make up about a fifth of the total U.S. population.

You may wonder why you should care, but apparently pollster John Zogby thinks this demographic is the next NASCAR Dad or Soccer Mom. And there's this:

Zogby finds that while 85 percent of frequent Wal-Mart shoppers voted for President Bush's reelection in 2004 (and 88 percent of people who never shop there voted for Sen. John Kerry), Wal-Mart voters have turned on the president dramatically. In a poll taken earlier this month, they gave Bush a 35 percent approval rating compared to a 45 percent positive rating from born-again Christians, 49 percent from NASCAR fans, and 54 percent from self-identified conservatives.

Most worrying for the GOP: Fifty-one percent of Wal-Mart voters agreed with the statement that it's "time for the Democrats to take over and run" Congress as opposed to just 31 percent who think "Republicans deserve to retain control."

Admit it: this is kind of interesting. I don't quite know what to make of it, but it's still interesting. Maybe Kansas is finally coming to its senses?

Via Steve Benen.

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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June 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WRONG MAN, WRONG TIME....Here's one more excerpt from The One Percent Doctrine. Sometime in the next few days I'll post some overall thoughts about the book.

This excerpt is from the very last couple of pages. It's late October 2004, a few days before the election, and Osama bin Laden has just released a long anti-Bush jeremiad. At the CIA, the men and women who know bin Laden best, who have been tracking al-Qaeda practically without rest for the previous three years, are sitting around a table discussing what it means:

What they'd learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization's leadership. Their assessments, at day's end, are a distillate of the kind of secret, internal conversations that the American public, and by association the wider world community, were not sanctioned to hear: strategic analysis.

Today's conclusion: bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection.

At the five o'clock meeting, once various reports on latest threats were delivered, John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President."

Around the table, there were nods....Jami Miscik talked about how bin Laden being challenged by Zarqawi's rise clearly understood how his primacy as al Qaeda's leader was supported by the continuation of his eye-to-eye struggle with Bush. "Certainly," she offered, "he would want Bush to keep doing what he's doing for a few more years."

But an ocean of hard truths before them such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected remained untouched....On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush's ratings [in the U.S.] track with bin Laden's rating in the Arab world.

The fact that we're doing what bin Laden wants doesn't automatically mean we're doing the wrong thing. But it sure as hell ought to give us pause, shouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 6:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALKIN' ABOUT LANGUAGE....If I were commenting on someone else's book review, I suppose I'd excerpt the most incendiary paragraph I could find and then hang it out to dry all by itself. I guess, then, that it's only fair to do the same to my own review in this month's Mother Jones of George Lakoff's latest book, Whose Freedom?:

The result is richly ironic: A man whos made his reputation advising liberals on how to use language more effectively has written a turgid and nearly unreadable book that rests on hundreds of short, disjointed sections and dozens of long bullet lists that demonstrate how, if you strain hard enough, commonplace concepts can all be rewritten in a way that includes the words free or freedom. And Lakoffs lists make it clear that he cant frame his way out of a paper bag. Freedom judges as a replacement for judicial activists? Spare me. And when it comes to the most salient topic in all of contemporary politics, the liberal response to the war on terror, hes just stumped. In the entire book, Lakoff devotes only one platitude-filled paragraph to the subject.

As with all breezy blog excerpts, this makes a lot more sense if you read the stuff that comes before and after. And lest you think I'm just being cranky, I did like Geoffrey Nunberg's book about language, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show. "Sparkling," I called it, "a witty and authoritative guide to several decades of political linguistic history."

Kevin Drum 2:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NYT AND NATIONAL SECURITY....ANOTHER VIEW....Here's another take on whether the New York Times damaged national security by exposing the Treasury Department's terror finance tracking program. In The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind spends a lot of time describing the way U.S. intelligence tracked global money flows after 9/11, including accounts of the cooperation they got from Western Union (wire transfers), First Data Corporation (credit card records), and the takeover of a "money store" in Pakistan. He doesn't mention the SWIFT program specifically, but he makes it clear that U.S. teams had their fingers in a lot of financial pies and had a considerable amount of success with it.

But only for a while:

In the closing months of 2003...the carefully constructed global network of sigint and what can be called finint, or financial intelligence, started to go quiet.

In short, al Qaeda, and its affiliates and imitators, stopped leaving electronic footprints. It started slowly, but then became distinct and clear, a definable trend. They were going underground.

...."We were surprised it took them so long," said one senior intelligence official. "But the lesson here is that with an adaptable, patient enemy, a victory sometimes creates the next set of challenges. In this case, we did some things that worked very well, and they started to evolve."

Or devolve. The al Qaeda playbook, employed by what was left of the network, its affiliates and imitators, started to stress the necessity of using couriers to carry cash and hand-delivered letters. This slowed the pace of operations, if not their scale, and that was, indeed, a victory.

By the beginning of 2004, Suskind says, the finint operation was in a "state of increasing obsolescence." The money store had closed down, the Palestinians had gotten wise to Western Union, and the "matrix," as he calls the overall finint operation, was becoming less and less effective.

Take this for what it's worth. But if Suskind is right, the SWIFT program probably hasn't been producing much actionable intelligence for over two years. NYT editor Bill Keller claims that government efforts to prevent exposure of the program were "half hearted," and if he's right, maybe this is the reason. Maybe it had outlived its usefulness long before the Times discovered it.

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (124)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF GITMO?....President Bush told reporters a few days ago that he'd like to close the prison at Guantanamo. No one really took him seriously, but now it looks like he might get his wish after all:

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions are unconstitutional.

....The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects.

The Supreme Court has now denied Bush's authority to detain prisoners indefinitely and denied his authority to try them solely before military commissions. Marty Lederman comments further:

More importantly, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever" including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.

This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).

Considering how deferential the court normally is to executive power in wartime, this is an extraordinary decision. The court pretty clearly feels that Bush has way overstepped his constitutional boundaries.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (221)

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By: Kevin Drum

YOYO ECONOMICS....Jared Bernstein writes about the fact that the U.S. economy has been growing at a pretty good clip lately but middle class incomes haven't benefited:

This disconnect between productivity and living standards is one of todays most important, and most unsettling, economic dynamics. Its obviously not the only salient problem we face the extent of our fiscal and international indebtedness is also worthy of our attention. But I see these all of a package.

Its a package tied up with a YOYO. Thats the acronym for youre on your own, which over the past few decades has become a disturbing and destructive thematic embedded in our economic policy.

Read the rest.

Kevin Drum 1:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Kevin Drum

CLEAN MONEY....I missed the news when it was announced on Monday, but it looks as if a ballot initiative has qualified in California that I might actually have to vote for: the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006. It's modeled on Arizona's campaign finance law, and the goal is to remove nearly all private funding of political campaigns. To qualify for public funding under the act, you have to raise $5 contributions from a set number of people (for example, 750 contributions for an Assembly race, 25,000 contributions if you're running for governor), and agree not to raise any additional money from private sources. All candidates get the same amount of money, and if one candidate decides to forego the state limits and raise private money, the others qualify for additional matching funds.

So far, neither Phil Angelides nor Arnold Schwarzenegger have taken a position on the measure, which was put on the ballot by the California Nurses Association. Marc Cooper is, um, skeptical that either one will support it:

So will Phil, whose campaign is already faltering and scurrying behind the Governators, come out and boldly endorse the clean-money initiative? Will the Democratic Party machine that cranked out squads of phone bankers and door knockers for Angelides in the primary now put its muscle behind an initiative that will finally crimp the role of Big Money in state politics? Will Democrats be willing to support a measure that blocks the flow of both corporate and union funding into the electoral system? Or, better put, will Pope Benedict demand that his young nephews have bar mitzvahs? All of the above outcomes are equally likely.

....So while naive liberals might now be expecting Phil and the party to throw their weight behind real campaign-finance reform, its more likely theyre about to learn that there really is no difference between the two parties on this issue. The fight around the November clean-money initiative promises to be a monumental battle between the entirety of the political establishment on the one hand, and the CNA and some consumer advocates on the other.

My head says Marc is probably right, but my heart hopes he's wrong. Having a big state like California adopt a measure like this would give campaign finance reform a huge boost. We'll see.

In the meantime, a brief summary of the initiative is here. A slightly more detailed summary is here. A more complete primer with all the details is here.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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June 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING FOR $1000, ALEX....On Sunday I had a small get-together at my house for some local bloggers. Today I realized that of the 14 people there, 21% of them have appeared on Jeopardy. That's a remarkably high proportion, no?

Kevin Drum 9:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

"HE TRULY ENJOYS GETTING PEOPLE TO KNUCKLE UNDER"....I'm reading Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine right now, and it's been an odd experience. Yes, it has quite a few anecdotes that make George Bush and Dick Cheney look bad, but at the same time it frequently paints a fairly sympathetic portrait of them as men who are reacting as well as anyone could to the furious real-time cascade of genuinely frightening and confusing events in the early days after 9/11.

More on that later, though. For now, here's one of those anecdotes instead. It's set at Harvard Business School in 1975, where Bush was captain of his class's basketball team. His team is playing the Class of '76 team:

The game was tight. The other team's captain, Gary Engle...went up for a shot. Bush slugged him an elbow to the mouth, knocking him to the parquet. "What the hell are you doing?" Engle remembers saying. "What, you want to get into a fistfight and both of us end up in the fucking emergency room?" Bush just smiled.

Moments later, at the other end of the court, Engle went up high for a rebound and felt someone chop his legs out from under him. Bush again. Engle jumped up and threw the ball in Bush's face. The two went at it until two teams of future business leaders leapt on their captains, pulling them apart. Engle, angry and vexed by what had happened, began wondering why the hell Bush would have done what he did. He lost his composure, and his team lost its leader.

A few years later, Engle...bumped into Jeb Bush....Engle, a Republican contributor, had thought from time to time about his game against George. Nothing like that had happened to him before or since. This was his chance to get a little insight about it. He told the story. Jeb kind of laughed, Engle recalled. "In Texas, they call guys like George 'a hard case.' It wasn't easy being his brother, either. He truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under."

This, apparently, is the real Bush Doctrine: America's goal is to get the rest of the world to knuckle under to us, one dimwitted action at a time. Suskind calls it Bush's "global experiment in behaviorism." Doesn't seem to be working too well so far, though, does it?

UPDATE: Added a couple of sentences that I left out of the original excerpt.

Kevin Drum 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (146)

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By: Alan Wolfe

Conservative Incompetence Continued....When Dick Cheney fought like the dickens to prevent anyone from knowing anything about his 2001 energy task force, you might have thought I sure did that he wanted to keep secret the names of the high rollers he invited. Maybe, though, he had another motive: given how bad conservatives have proven to be at governance, keeping their incompetence as secret as possible makes perfect sense.

Conservatives fail because those who hate government cannot run it very well the theme of my recent article in the July/August issue of The Washington Monthly. But then there is also what can be called conservative management theory. Conservatives have strong ideas about how organizations ought to be run and those ideas invariably make them run badly.

One such idea is that no information hostile to those in charge should ever leak out. The result, however, is that no good information ever leaks in. The smaller the number of decision-makers, the less the knowledge on which decisions are based. It is not good to keep a tight ship if the ship always sinks.

Conservatives love to proclaim courage a virtue, and a manly one at that. But loyalty to the man at the top, another conservative management idea, encourages fawning among all those below. If you want to fill an organization from top to bottom with chickens, give medals of freedom to as many people as you can.

Finally, conservatives view organizations in exactly the opposite way they treat markets. The economy, they insist, works most efficiently when spontaneous decisions emerge from the uncoordinated actions of millions of anonymous consumers. But when they run organizations, they insist on formal organization charts, aim to leave nothing to chance, and treat all decisions as authoritative. Their theory of the private sector is borrowed from Adam Smith. Their approach to the public sector owes far too much to state socialism.

But you need not take my word for all this. Dick Cheney was able to prevent public scrutiny of his energy task force, but no one has been able to prevent Ron Suskinds in depth examination of how the Republicans are fighting the war on terror. The One Percent Doctrine ought to be taught at the Harvard Business School as proof positive of how one famous graduate of that institution got it all wrong when he became CEO of the whole country.

Alan Wolfe 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WELDON FILES....Is Curt Weldon the weirdest congressman currently in office? It's a fierce contest, of course, but the latest news from Weldon-land is definitely opening up some daylight with the competition.

Here's the story. A guy named Dave Gaubatz, who was deployed to Iraq in 2003, became convinced that there were several hidden WMD caches in southern Iraq that had been overlooked by military inspectors. He tried to get someone to inspect the sites but had no luck, so he turned to Weldon and congressman Pete Hoekstra. Here's his story about his meeting with Weldon on May 4:

Congressman Weldon asked me several times during the meeting if I would go with them [along with three Iraqi citizens] to the four sites near Basrah and Nasiriyah, Iraq. During the meeting it was discussed that no member of their respective committees would be informed, specifically no member of the Democratic party.

Congressman Weldon whom I had respected very much then advised no member of the "Military" was to be informed because they could not be trusted with this intelligence information. Congressman Hoekstra did not like this statement, nor did I. I now did not feel comfortable going with Congressman Weldon because this was going to be a 'political personal venture" more so than for national security concerns.

Emphasis mine. According to Gaubatz, Weldon was seriously planning to take a secret trip to Nasiriyah and attempt to dig up the alleged WMD himself. As he told Tom Ferrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "They even worked out how it would go. If there was nothing there, nothing would be said. If the site had been [scavenged], nothing would be said. But, if it was still there, they would bring the press corps out....It was treated as an election issue that would get votes."

Did you get that? He was going to take a little jaunt to Nasiriyah, break out his shovel, and start digging around himself without telling the military what he was doing. Then, when the glorious shells were found, he was going to call in the press and declare himself Weldon of Arabia, Discoverer of WMD.

Ho-lee shit. Pennsylvania can do better than this whackjob, can't they?

Kevin Drum 2:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Christina Larson

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL... Vogue editor Anna Wintour must be an insufferable boss. But as The Devil Wears Prada, a movie based on a former assistant's vitriolic roman a clef, hits screens, l hope Wintour doesn't have a proverbial bad hair day. Last year, in reviewing Jerry Oppenheimer's unauthorized bio of Wintour, I came to sympathize with the devil. (If y'er curious why, read the review; I'll be quick here.)

Most women's magazines, in the guise of trying to help a gal get her life straight, introduce a dozen more things to start worrying about, from how your date ruins your diet to how your haircut is holding back your career. And then there's Vogue. Unlike its glossy peers on the newsstand, it at least isn't fully saturated with tips to flatten your abs, flaunt your cleavage, or squeeze into your thin jeans by Friday; it assumes you need no help mastering love moves no man can resist.

While Vogue surely exists to sell adswhich it does remarkably wellit does so more by exploiting women's ambition, than insecurity. Christina Larson 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NYT AND NATIONAL SECURITY....So did the New York Times really do any harm by exposing the Treasury Department's terror finance tracking program? After all, surely al-Qaeda already knows we're doing our best to monitor their international money flows, right?

Henry Farrell, who sounds like he's been itching for the chance to write a monster post about this, has a monster post about this over at Crooked Timber today. Here are the key parts:

Privacy International has filed complaints with umpteen European and non-European data regulators that SWIFT has illicitly shared European citizens financial data with US authorities....The crucial enforcement authorities when it comes to issues like SWIFT arent the European Commission or the member state governments. In all probability, theyre the national level data protection authorities.

....While the issues involved touch on national security, SWIFT wasnt cooperating with the relevant authorities on national security issues (the member states). Instead, it was more or less unilaterally deciding to cooperate with an authority outside the EU the US Treasury (and through Treasury, the CIA etc). SWIFT had informally told several member state central banks what was going on but central banks arent the relevant authority under any conceivable reading. Thus (and I repeat that Im not a lawyer), it would seem to me to be to be pretty hard to make the case that this activity would fall under the national security exemption to European data protection law.

....So whats likely to happen now? There are a number of ways in which this might develop....Most likely in my opinion, is that this is going to result in enforcement action by the EU data protection authorities and to new laws in the medium term. It seems very unlikely indeed to me that SWIFTs cooperation with US authorities was legal under European law. The organization could find itself in a lot of hot water.

In other words, although the Treasury Department (probably) didn't break any U.S. laws, it's quite possible that SWIFT did break some European laws and that they'll be forced to stop providing information to Treasury unless European laws are changed, a process that's both lengthy and uncertain of success. Read Henry's full post for more detail and more nuance.

So does this mean the Times shouldn't have published this story? The arguments cut both ways. On the one hand, it looks like it might have done real damage to an important anti-terrorism program. On the other hand, it looks like the damage is directly related to the fact that the program probably violated the law clearly a subject of considerable public interest. On the third hand, it was European law involved, not U.S. law, and the original Times story barely even mentioned possible violation of European law as a motivation for running the story.

In any case, that's the state of play. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT IS THIS "LAW" YOU SPEAK OF, EARTHLING?....Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, had this to say to Congress yesterday: "It is often not at all the situation that the president doesn't intend to enact the bill." Dan Drezner comments:

Getting rid of the double negative, and this translates into, "the president often intends to enact the bill." Not always, but often. Which is great, but I always thought that when Congress passes a law [and the president signs it] no matter how stupid that law might be the president is always supposed to implement it.

Silly boy. Laws are for kids. The grownups are in charge now, remember?

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHOLESALE TREASON....The New York Times story that exposed the Treasury Department's terrorist finance tracking program says it relied on "nearly 20" former and current government officials. The LA Times story on the same subject relied on "more than a dozen" sources.

Isn't that an awful lot of traitors in our midst? Why were so many people willing to talk about this? Was it because (a) revealing the program's existence didn't really endanger anything, or (b) they were concerned about its legality? Or both?

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June 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF SATIRE....Michelle Cottle writes today about World Ahead Publishing, a publisher of conservative books that recently launched a children's division called Kids Ahead:

Thus far, the new imprint has only one writer in its stable: Katharine DeBrecht, the pen name of a mother of three whose authorial debut, Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!, generated major buzz and sold some 30,000 copies after receiving an on-air plug from Rush Limbaugh. In the wake of DeBrecht's success, Kids Ahead is moving forward with an entire Help! Mom! series. Help! Mom! Hollywood's in My Hamper! hit stores in March, Help! Mom! The Ninth Circuit Nabbed the Nativity! will be out in time for Christmas, with Help! Mom! There Are Lawyers in My Lunchbox! to follow.

Is Cottle serious or is she making a joke? It's hard to tell these days when you read descriptions of conservo-land. And it's hell on satire in liberal-land. I mean, how can you create mock book titles for your next homage to Jonathan Swift if the real ones have titles like that?

Anyway, just for the record, it turns out she's serious: those new titles are genuine.

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By: Kevin Drum

NEWS YOU CAN USE!....Andy Leipold is guest blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy this week. His subject is the conventional wisdom in the law biz which holds that judges are far more likely to convict defendants of crimes than juries are. You know the rap: juries are easy to confuse, easy to emotionally manipulate, and just generally mushy. Judges, who have seen it all, ignore the BS and look straight at the evidence. If it's there, you're guilty.

Guess what? It's not true. As the chart on the right shows, conviction rates for juries in federal cases have risen from 60% to 85% in the past half century, while conviction rates in bench trials before a judge have declined from 90% to about 50%. But why? Could the type of crime involved violent, property, drug, etc. explain the disparity? Leipold says no. Is it because guilty defendants tend to pick jury trials while innocent ones prefer judges? Maybe, but then why the substantial change over time?

Leipold will be blogging about this all week, and his full paper is here. I'm linking to it just in case any of my readers get in trouble with a federal rap and need to decide what kind of trial they want. Apparently the answer is: a bench trial. And I'll bet it's quicker and cheaper too. I hope Rush Limbaugh knows about this.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

EXPOSING SECRET PROGRAMS....As long as I'm asking dumb questions, here's another one. No one is going to believe me when I say that I'm not trying to grind any particular axe here, but....I'm not trying to grind any particular axe here. I'm just curious.

OK. So the New York Times has now exposed two anti-terrorist initiatives: the NSA's domestic spying program and the Treasury Department's financial tracking program. The administration says that exposing these programs is bad because terrorists will stop using telephones and international credit transfers now that they know the U.S. government can monitor these activities. Thus, we have fewer ways of catching bad guys.

Fine. That's true. And yet, isn't there an upside too? If the bad guys stop using telephones and bank transfers, doesn't that reduce their effectiveness considerably? No phone calls, no wire transfers, satellites watching you, drones attacking out of nowhere, websites hacked, no one who can be trusted at some point their whole operation grinds to a halt out of sheer paranoia.

Now, I assume that the people running these programs aren't idiots. If they think that keeping them secret is a net positive, they're probably right. But nobody even mentions the upside of exposing them. Surely there is one, isn't there?

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (155)

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By: Kevin Drum

TWO QUERIES....Question for the masses. Jason Zengerle of The New Republic is getting skinned alive in the liberal blogosphere for refusing to burn the source who gave him a fabricated email allegedly from Steve Gilliard. Now, in principle, I agree that sources who provide bad info deserve to be outed, but in practice it never seems to happen. Thus my question: has this ever happened before? Can anyone think of a case in big-time journalism in which a dirty source has been exposed?

Second question: In the LA Times today, editor Dean Baquet defended his newspaper's decision to expose the government's secret program to track global financial transactions. He says, "The decision to publish this article was not one we took lightly," and follows up by explaining that sometimes they decide not to publish important stories: "We sometimes withhold information when we believe that reporting it would threaten a life."

Again, can anyone think of a serious case in the past few decades of a newspaper withholding an entire story like this simply because the government asked them to? Not just a single fact in a story, but an entire story about a secret program of some kind.

Just curious.

UPDATE: On Query #1, the answers so far that fit the criteria are (a) the NYT sitting on the NSA story for a year and (b) the NYT sitting on a story about our ability to listen in on Russian trunk lines in the early 80s. In both cases, however, the Times published the stories a year later.

On Query #2, the only example so far is this column by Jon Alter, where he says he burned Oliver North in 1987 after hearing him testify before Congress about something he himself had leaked.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

MONEY!....In the new issue of In These Times, Chris Hayes writes about fundraising for liberal causes:

In progressive circles, it seems the first rule of fundraising is: Dont talk about fundraising. Call up someone at a major foundation or a development director and their first response is to go off the record. Theres a deafening silence within the movement around the role of money in movement building, says Daniel Faber, who teaches sociology at Bostons Northeastern University.

More than a deafening silence, though, Chris writes that the biggest problem with liberal funding is that too much of it comes from foundations, which want to fund worthy programs, not political movements. I remember that Eric Alterman made the same point to me a few years ago when I interviewed him after the publication of What Liberal Media?:

You talked in the book about funding of think tanks and how important thats become for conservatives. Is there any hope at all for getting that on the liberal side? Why arent there any rich liberal cranks like Richard Mellon Scaife willing to fund liberal think tanks?

There are some good liberal funders, but its a very complicated question. The genius of what Scaife and Coors and those people did is, they just threw manure onto a field and decided to see what grew. What Scaife did is, he just gave everybody money, he said, fine, lets see what grows, whereas liberals are much more focused on programmatic money. They dont fund things that might turn into something useful that you cant predict.

You have to able to fund things where you cant predict how theyre going to work, and liberals dont do that. They want control, they want reports; they dont fund basic research, they dont fund operating expenses. All of the liberal organizations are always begging to keep going, they dont pay their people very well, and so theyre never going to let a thousand flowers bloom and see which of them is the prettiest.

The good news is that Chris reports that this problem is now widely recognized and liberal funders are starting to change their tunes. Here's hoping he's right.

Kevin Drum 12:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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June 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ADULTS WANTED, PLEASE APPLY AT THE DOOR ON THE RIGHT....I plead guilty to not paying attention. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

But is the United States Senate, the world's self-styled "greatest deliberative body," really only one vote short of passing a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration? Have they gone completely off their rocker?

No need to answer that, of course. But I wonder if any of these folks have thought about just how much hay countries like Iran will make the first time we toss someone in jail for burning a flag during a political protest?

Kevin Drum 6:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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By: Kevin Drum

PASSION vs. ANGER....Ezra Klein passes along some advice from Grover Norquist:

The left, he argued, shouldn't seek to simply mimeograph the right's structure CAP for Heritage, Media Matters for Media Research Council, etc. "You don't have to have the same weapons in politics because both aren't structured the same." Back in gladitorial days, one warrior would have a sword, the other a trident and net. You play to your strengths, not to your opponent's. I found this to be a remarkably compelling point.

Obviously you can take this point too far. Basic politics is basic politics, and figuring out what to say, who to say it to, and how to say it most effectively is important no matter what side you're on.

But I'll take the opportunity here to agree with Norquist in one particular way. It strikes me that modern American culture rewards conservatives when people are angry and polarized and rewards liberals when people are united and forward looking. (Relatively speaking, of course.) This is why I don't especially think the left needs its own Ann Coulter, or its own Karl Rove. We need effective advocates and smart political operatives, of course, but they need to operate on an entirely different wavelength. Fanning the flames of anger, even in our own cause, produces a political environment that ultimately helps conservatives.

Someday, perhaps, I'll think about this idea hard enough to decide if it's more than passing whimsy, and then I'll write something longer about it. For now, though, I'll throw this out: for the right, anger is more important than passion. For the left, passion is more important than anger. We should act accordingly.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

KEEPING IT REAL....Yesterday I had a party for a bunch of local liberal bloggers (plus Susie Madrak, who was in town), and an interesting question arose. It's not a new question, mind you, but still an interesting one. Here it is.

Everyone at the table seemed to agree that the Democratic Party was out of touch with the working class in America, broadly defined. Why? Because Dem leaders are a bunch of college-educated elites who make a lot of money and don't really identify with the problems of people who make $30,000 a year.

OK, fine. Let's suppose that's true. But the Democratic Party in the 30s and 40s was mostly headed by Harvard-educated rich guys, and they seemed to do pretty well on working class issues. FDR wasn't exactly a prole, after all. So what's the difference?

The most common response was: unions. Back in the 30s and 40s (and 50s and 60s), unions were big and powerful and had a seat at the table. Democratic politicians listened to them, and the upper ranks of the party had plenty of people who grew up in union households. Basically, unions kept it real for everyone else.

Today, public sector unions are still powerful, but private sector unions are a shell of their former selves. Result: labor concerns are marginalized, and there's no one to really force party leaders to pay attention to working class issues.

So here's my question: Assuming there's some truth to this, is the answer (a) we need to work to rebuild the size and power of private sector unions in America so that the working class has a powerful champion? Or (b) is this a hopeless task given the realities of the modern economy? Should we instead figure out some completely different way of forcing the party to pay more attention to working class/middle class economic issues?

I don't think anybody liked my question, because the conversation sort of meandered on to other topics at that point. Anybody have any bright ideas?

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BOY CRISIS....Is our boys learning? Education Sector, an edu-think tank, has examined the NAEP test results of schoolchildren for the past 30 years to find out if there's a "boy crisis," and their answer is a collective shrug:

On the one hand, girls outperform boys in reading at all three grade levels assessed on the main NAEP. Gaps between girls and boys are smaller in fourth grade and get larger in eighth and 12th grades. Girls also outperform boys in writing at all grade levels.

In math, boys outperform girls at all grade levels, but only by a very small amount. Boys also outperform girlsagain, very slightlyin science and by a slightly larger margin in geography. There are no significant gaps between male and female achievement on the NAEP in U.S. history.

So girls do better in some areas and boys in others and the reading gap has been around forever. They also pour some cold water on the recent hysteria over college campuses having more women than men: "Young men are actually more likely to attend and graduate from college than they were in the 1970s and 1980s...But the number of women enrolling in and graduating from college has increased much more rapidly during the same time period." (Emphasis mine.)

However, the report goes on to note that this academic success for women hasn't actually translated into any real-world gains in income, and that the smallish gaps between boys and girls in high school are dwarfed by enormous gaps between ethnic groups something that probably deserves more attention than the boy crisis.

Still, there really do seem to be problems here. Test scores for elementary kids in all subjects have been rising dramatically, and for middle school kids they've been rising a little bit, but by high school the gains disappear for both boys and girls. Since 1988, reading performance among 17-year-olds has been declining steadily among both boys and girls, and it's been dropping for boys at a considerably faster clip. The boy crisis itself may be overblown, but at least in the area of reading and writing, the news is not especially happy.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: Christina Larson


The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

The decision means the court will address whether the administration's decision to rely on voluntary measures to combat climate change are legal under federal clean air laws.

"This is the whole ball of wax. This will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency is to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and whether EPA can regulate carbon dioxide from power plants," said David Bookbinder, an attorney for the Sierra Club.

Bookbinder said if the court upholds the administration's argument it also could jeopardize plans by California and 10 other states, including most of the Northeast, to require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles.

UPDATE: Also today, business as usual in Washington was thrown a wrench by severe weather patterns -- torrential rains that flooded major roads; caused a mudslide near the Capitol Beltway; shut down several Metro stations; closed the downtown HQs of the Departments of Justice, Commerce, and the IRS; and forced many Federal workers to take the day off. Christina Larson 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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June 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW LIBERAL CW....After a lull following the 2004 election, liberal blogs are suddenly front page news again. Steve Benen comments:

On Thursday, the Washington Post's David Broder rejected "liberal bloggers," claiming that "the blogs I have scanned are heavier on vituperation of President Bush and other targets than on creative thought." Today, the New York Times' David Brooks, while specifically lashing out at Kos, characterized liberal bloggers as "small-minded," and described sites as "squadrons of rabid lambs [who] unleash their venom on those who stand in the way."

And then, of course, there's the ugly fight The New Republic picked with Kos....What on earth is going on here? What's fueling all this anti-blog rage? Jealousy? Elitism? And if blogs are written and read by fringe ideologues that don't matter, why are all these major media personalities so worked up?

I don't know. Maybe it's just a perfect storm of YearlyKos, Ned Lamont, and the TNR-Kos feud. But whatever the cause, it's not doing us any good. Mainstream reporters, despite their generally liberal temperaments, have an odd sort of contempt for actual liberal politicians, who they widely view as being wimpy, pandering, fence-sitting, poll-driven wonks who are hesitant to really speak their minds and insist on giving lots of boring policy-oriented speeches that don't make good copy.

Well, the blogosphere is anything but that, but it turns out the mainstream press doesn't like that much either. I'm not sure how that's going to play out in the long term, but in the short term I have a feeling it's nothing but bad news. "Spittle-flecked loons" seems likely to become the new media CW. Karl Rove must be pleased.

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (358)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING: WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT....The LA Times reports on the work of Jay Zwally and Konrad Steffen, two climatologists studying the Greenland ice sheet:

Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.

....By 2005, Greenland was beginning to lose more ice volume than anyone anticipated an annual loss of up to 52 cubic miles a year according to more recent satellite gravity measurements released by JPL.

The amount of freshwater ice dumped into the Atlantic Ocean has almost tripled in a decade.

"We are clearly seeing the effects of climate change starting to kick in," Zwally said.

Since Steffen started monitoring the weather at Swiss Camp in 1991, the average winter temperature has risen almost 10 degrees. Last year, the annual melt zone reached farther inland and up to higher elevations than ever before.

There was even a period of melting in December.

"We have never seen that," Steffen said, combing the ice crystals from his beard. "It is significantly warmer now, and it happened quite suddenly. This year, the temperatures were warmer than I have ever experienced."

The problem is that the computer models didn't take into account the dynamics of Greenland's glaciers. So in a way, the skeptics have turned out to be right: the computer models aren't as reliable as we thought. They're too optimistic.

Kevin Drum 1:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (191)

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June 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"A BROAD, CONDITIONS-BASED TIMETABLE"....The fine folks at Newsweek have gotten hold of a draft copy of the national reconciliation plan soon to be announced by Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Among other things, it will ask for a firm U.S. withdrawal plan to be enforced by a United Nations resolution:

The plan also calls for a withdrawal timetable for coalition forces from Iraq, but it doesn't specify an actual date one of the Sunnis' key demands. It calls for "the necessity of agreeing on a timetable under conditions that take into account the formation of Iraqi armed forces so as to guarantee Iraq's security," and asks that a U.N. Security Council decree confirm the timetable. Mahmoud Othman, a National Assembly member who is close to President Talabani, said that no one disagrees with the concept of a broad, conditions-based timetable.

....[A] senior coalition military official, who agreed to discuss this subject with Newsweek and The Times of London on the condition of anonymity, notably did not outright rule out the idea of a date. "One of the advantages of a timetable all of a sudden there is a date which is a much more explicit thing than an abstract condition," he said. "That's the sort of assurance that [the Sunnis] are looking for."

"Does that mean the subject of a date is up for negotiation?" he was asked. "I think that if men of goodwill sit down together and exchange ideas, which might be defined either by a timetable or by ... sets of conditions, there must be a capacity to find common ground," the official said.

Did you get that? No one disagrees with the concept of a broad, conditions-based timetable.

President Bush would be flatly insane to turn this opportunity down. It's precisely the kind of request he needs in order to declare victory, assure everyone that the job is close to done, and make it clear that he respects Iraqi sovereignty and doesn't plan to occupy their country forever. There would be no loss of face and no loss of national honor.

Conversely, if he resists it, it would be hard not to conclude that he was doing so solely because a "broad, conditions-based timetable" also happens to be exactly the position of the vast majority of the Democratic Party and he would rather chew off his own big toe than do anything that might turn down the volume on the domestic partisan jihad that's been so politically successful for Republicans ever since 9/11. I guess we'll find out soon.

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (171)

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By: Kevin Drum

I AM AN AUTONOMOUS REBEL....A few months ago I linked to a piece Garance Franke-Ruta wrote in the American Prospect about some research into political attitudes based on consumer marketing surveys. As it happens, the consumer marketing company that did the research was Environics Research Group, a Canadian company.

If you're looking for something to while away a few minutes this weekend, Scott Winship at the Daily Strategist points to one of the odder online surveys I've ever taken, a "shorter version of the standard one Environics uses to diagnose people's values and tribal membership." You can take it here.

As you can see, Environics has concluded that I'm (a) not very social and (b) slightly more modern than traditional. This ought to make me into an "Autonomous Post-Materialist," but that category is reserved for Gen Xers. So no dice.

My choices, it turns out, are the ones in blue, and Environics places me about midway between the Disengaged Darwinists and the Autonomous Rebels. Neither one sounds very appealing, frankly, but "Disengaged Darwinist" sounds really dreadful, so Autonomous Rebel it is.

So how did Environics do? My "icons" are a bunch of Canadians I've never heard of plus Hillary and Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., Gloria Steinem, and John Lennon. I don't know that I'd call these folks icons, precisely, but that's not bad. They're all people I mostly admire.

The rest of the description is sort of hit and miss, but not too bad overall. Which isn't too surprising, since if you ask someone a bunch of questions about their social attitudes you ought to be able to turn around and tell them what their social attitudes are. Still, kinda fun for a weekend though I note that Scott was less excited by his tribal affiliation than I was. Give it a try if you're bored.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Kevin Drum

PERMANENT BASES....Matt Yglesias:

I'm continually baffled, however, as to why Democrats don't seem to want to make a bigger deal out of the permanent bases question. That, I would think, is an issue the party could be fairly unified on.

Sadly, the most likely answer is that the party is not, in fact unified on this question.

Alternatively, if you choose to be more optimistic about the whole thing, nobody's bothering to rouse some rabble over this because nobody thinks the American public cares much about it. Which might very well be true. It's not as if the American public cares very much about our vast complex of permanent bases everywhere else in the world, after all.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT THE LEFT DOES BEST....I've deliberately ignored the Kos-TNR dustup until now because, really, who needs it? The kindergarten antics are just too depressing.

But this is too spectacular a meltdown to pass up. On Thursday Lee Siegel wrote :

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere....nightmare of populist crudity....hard fascism with a Microsoft face....fascistic forces....beyond the thuggishness, what I despise about so many blogurus, is the frivolity of their "readers."....The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.

And today he's upset that bloggers reacted badly to this measured and temperate criticism! Wow. Just wow.

(And the effort to genuinely, literally demonstrate that Markos is a fascist? Triple wow.)

On a broader note and yes, I realize I'm spitting into a Cat 5 hurricane here here's a wee bit of perspective for both sides: Kos is an activist, The New Republic is a magazine. Is it really a shocker that Kos acts like an activist and TNR acts like a magazine? Should I consider myself insane because I read and enjoy both?

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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June 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE WAR ON TERA....Knight Ridder brings us the latest in computer technology:

In the next five years, the government's goal is a computer system that can process at least a quadrillion [] arithmetic operations per second....known technically as a "petascale" system.

....On a more familiar level, a petascale computer will be at least 75 times faster than the most powerful game machine, such as IBMS XBox-360, and 100 times faster than a top-of-the-line desktop personal computer, such as the Apple Power Mac.

Let's see now....one petaflop is a thousand teraflops. So if that's 100 times faster than an Apple Power Mac, that means the Mac is producing....um....

Wow! 10 teraflops! Where do I get one?

UPDATE: And as frinklin points out in comments, when did IBM start making the Xbox?

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Christina Larson

EVANGELICAL SPORTSMEN ... "Do you consider yourself an evangelical Christian?" On first reflection, that might seem an odd question to have been included in the National Wildlife Federation's recent poll of sportsmen's attitudes toward global warming.

Yet, 50 percent of American hunters and anglers identified as evangelical.

One enduring story has been that of evolving partnerships on green issues. In February, for instance, the Evangelical Climate Initiative announced that 86 evangelical leaders had signed a statement declaring climate change a moral issue. In early June, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard christened a Blue-Green Alliance to address workplace hazards, alternative energy, and job creation. Last week, Sierra Club president Lisa Renstrom trekked to Lake Charles, La. for a national meeting of hook and bullet writers.

Typically these stories are covered as: environmentalists find a new ally.

But that overlooks the extent to which groups, motives, and identities already overlap. 20 percent of Sierra Club members are hunters. Half of sportsmen are evangelicals. The most popular section of the Steelworkers' magazine is the hunting and fishing section. Most people aren't drawn to green issues for a single reason, and concerns traditionally labeled environmental aren't only environmental.

UPDATE: In response to a query: the NWF poll was conducted by Mark Duda of Responsive Management, whose niche is outdoor recreation. Christina Larson 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMS ON IRAQ....I have to admit that the latest spin about Democratic disagreements over Iraq we're the only party with the guts to have a debate! strikes me as awfully precious. I'm not sure anyone is going to buy this.

On the other hand, Democrats voted in favor of the Levin-Reed proposal yesterday by a whopping 38-6 majority. Sure, Joe Lieberman and a few southern Dems voted against it, but the majority included everyone from John Kerry and Russ Feingold to Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

No minority party is ever going to have 100% consensus on something like this. But the vast majority of Democrats support the proposition that we shouldn't stay in Iraq forever and that we need to formulate a prudent plan for eventually getting out. All things considered, I don't think that really counts as "disarray."

Kevin Drum 3:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE HUMAN CONDITION....Yesterday I chided Jonah Goldberg for believing (in my words) that serious problems of the human condition are "barely worth trying to improve in any deep rooted way." Today he responds:

Conservatives, generally speaking, don't believe that no problems are fixable. Rather, they simply believe that some problems are permanent....Permanent problems of the human condition can be lumped under the rubric of "sin" or human nature and the like. But whatever you call them, I am at a loss as to what permanent problems of the human condition Drum thinks we've solved. Certainly not war or greed or envy or lust.

Understanding human nature and human culture and taking them seriously is important. No contemporary liberal of my acquaintance thinks that these things are "ignorable," as Jonah implies in another post, but neither do we think that "careful control" is the only possible response to them.

Think. We haven't "solved" the problems of war or greed or envy or lust. But we've made progress, much of it through liberal institutions and liberal education. In the industrialized West, slavery is gone and racism has been genuinely reduced. Sexism is less prevalent. Conservatives themselves are fond of pointing out that liberal democracies don't typically wage war against each other. And as for lust, what's wrong with that in the first place?

(But I'll give him envy. There's not much evidence that we can do anything about that other than control its more virulent forms.)

Progress on these fronts is slow, arduous, easily lost, and obviously stronger in some places than in others. But it's real. We control what we can't change, but it's a mistake to think that genuine change is impossible. Culture is a powerful thing, and not an immobile one.

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By: Kevin Drum

A READER POLL....Piny asks:

Lack of paragraph breaks in page-long passages of text: reliable indication of megalomania, or simple rudeness?

In my experience, megalomania or sometimes monomania or just plain nutballism. Feel free to chime in on this important question in comments.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

SWIFT, BUT NOT A BOAT....The New York Times and the LA Times both have big stories today about a U.S. program to subpoena records from SWIFT, a Brussels-based network that tracks instructions for international financial transactions. However, instead of issuing subpoenas for individual records, the government has relied on national security letters to scoop up large amounts of data. But how large? The New York Times gets an answer from Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department:

"We are not on a fishing expedition," Mr. Levey said. "We're not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking in all the information that we can."

Not a vacuum cleaner? Here's the LA Times:

Under the program, Treasury issues a new subpoena once a month, and SWIFT turns over huge amounts of electronic financial data....The SWIFT information is added to a massive database that officials have been constructing since shortly after Sept. 11. Levey noted that SWIFT did not have the ability to search its own records. "We can, because we built the capability to do that," he said.

The LA Times also has this to say about the breadth and sweep of the program:

During the last five years, SWIFT officials have raised concerns about the scope of the program, particularly at the outset, when it was handing over virtually its entire database. The amount of data handed over each month has been winnowed down.

"The safeguards were not all there in September 2001," Levey acknowledged. "We started narrowing it from the beginning."

But why has the program been narrowed? The New York Times explains:

By 2003, the cooperative's officials were discussing pulling out because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program were revealed, one government official said....In 2003, administration officials asked Swift executives and some board members to come to Washington. They met with Mr. Greenspan, Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and Treasury officials, among others, in what one official described as "a full-court press." Aides to Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Mueller declined to comment on the meetings.

The executives agreed to continue supplying records after the Americans pledged to impose tighter controls. Swift representatives would be stationed alongside intelligence officials and could block any searches considered inappropriate, several officials said.

So the scope of the program was narrowed only because SWIFT executives threatened to pull out. The original program, the one the Bush administration wanted to keep going forever, involved turning over "the entire Swift database" according to the NYT and "virtually" the entire database according to the LAT. If that's not a vacuum cleaner, what is?

POSTSCRIPT: This is probably a pretty good program, although the sources in the two stories are ambivalent about just how effective it's been. And regardless of whether or not you like national security letters, it appears to be on fairly solid legal ground much more solid than the NSA's warrantless domestic spying program, at any rate.

But, again, the big problem with this is the Bush administration's insistence that it can conduct this kind of program without congressional approval. Why do we need legislation if the program is (probably) legal without it? Because we have only the Bush administration's word that they'll use this database solely for narrowly-targeted terrorism-related investigations and human nature being what it is, that promise is likely to be broken at some point. Legislation that mandates appropriate judicial oversight is the way to handle things like this. Remember: Laws, not men.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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By: Kevin Drum

WINNING THE REAL WAR....Andrew Sullivan writes:

Readers know that I don't support any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. This puts me in the excruciating position of supporting a war conducted by an administration whose key players are manifestly incompetent and reckless.

....Unable to access intelligence, forced to rely on news reports, blogs and other sources for information, I don't have an alternative master-plan to win either. I would support an increase in troop levels, a clear-and-hold strategy, a more aggressive military commitment to protect the infrastructure, and the kind of outreach to alienated Sunnis that Maliki and Khalilzad are attempting. But as long as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are running the show, I cannot say I am optimistic that such a sane strategy will be employed or that it will succeed. It's like asking Ken Lay to turn Enron back into an ethical, profit-making company. But what else can I do? I agree with John McCain that peremptory withdrawal or a fixed date would amount to surrender to an enemy that seems to be gaining momentum and strength.

Scratch a Republican and I'll bet a lot of them feel the same way under the surface. They know in their hearts that this administration can't win the war in Iraq, but they can't stand the thought of withdrawing because it seems too much like surrender. So they're stuck supporting a war they know is a losing effort.

"Excruciating" is one word for this, though I might suggest a few others. Instead, I want to ask a question: Why are people like Andrew Sullivan so convinced that a carefully planned phased withdrawal would be such a disaster?

Because it would set off a civil war? Iraq is already in the middle of a civil war, and a public plan for withdrawal might actually make an expansion of the current civil war less likely. In the best case, the Sunni insurgency might become less violent once they know we're genuinely planning to leave. In the worst case, the Shiites will beat them once and for all after we're gone.

Because it would give al-Qaeda a safe haven? But why? A Shiite nation with close ties to Iran would be no friend of al-Qaeda. And freeing up troops in Iraq would allow us to beef up our presence in Afghanistan, where a resurgence of the Taliban is a genuine threat.

Because it would destroy our standing in the world? This is a fatuous argument. Staying in Iraq is doing far more damage to our standing in the world than a careful withdrawal ever would. Withdrawing from Vietnam didn't destroy America's standing in the world, withdrawing from Algeria didn't destroy France's standing in the world, and withdrawing from Lebanon didn't destroy Israel's standing in the world. It was staying too long that did the damage.

If the only way to win a war against Islamic jihadism is by invading and occuping Muslim countries, we're going to lose. Luckily, it's not the way to win. It's time to acknowledge this reality and demand that the Bush administration stop posturing and instead pursue a genuine, long-term winning strategy for the broader war we're fighting. An open-ended commitment to occupying Iraq isn't part of that.

Kevin Drum 12:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (389)

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June 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NAS WEIGHS IN....In news that will surprise no one except the president of the United States, it turns out that global warming is real:

It has been 2,000 years and possibly much longer since Earth has run such a fever.

The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."

....Other new research Thursday showed that global warming produced about half of the extra hurricane-fueled warmth in the North Atlantic in 2005, and natural cycles were a minor factor, according to Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a research lab sponsored by the National Science Foundation and universities.

Full details on the NAS report here. I can't wait for the wingnuts to zero in on the temperate language used by real scientists namely that the farther back you go, the less reliable the data. But that's real science for you.

The various temperature reconstructions for the past millennium are below. Note the unanimous agreement that temperatures have increased at an unprecedented rate since 1900.

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By: Kevin Drum

COMMON SENSE....When I first read about Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, I was astonished. The basic facts are simple: In 1997, Sheila White complained of harrassment by a supervisor, and although the supervisor was suspended and ordered to attend a sexual-harassment training session, White was transferred to a more arduous job and was later suspended for 37 days after getting into a dispute with another worker.

The new job paid the same as the previous one and White was eventually vindicated in the worker dispute and received 37 days of back pay. This led Burlington Northern to argue that there had been no retaliation because, in the end, there was no monetary damage.

This argument is so prima facie absurd that I had a hard time believing any judge had taken it seriously. Today, in an effort to restore my faith in the universe, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this was, in fact, an absurd argument:

"Many reasonable workers would find a month without a paycheck to be a serious hardship," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.

....Breyer said workers could sue for retaliation over "materially adverse" employer actions. "In the present context, that means that the employer's actions must be harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination," he wrote.

This is common sense at its finest: Retaliation is anything that would make a reasonable person fear filing a complaint, and monetary damages aren't the only way to retaliate. Any first grader knows as much.

Thank you, Stephen Breyer.

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By: Kevin Drum

PAT ROBERTS, PARTISAN HACK....Is Pat Roberts, the weaselly chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, really going to deep six the second half of his committee's investigation of the Iraq war? You know, the part about the administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence? The part that might be a wee bit embarrassing for Roberts' fellow Republicans during an election year?

Apparently the answer is yes, and he's doing it via the most transparently political hackery it's possible to imagine. Greg Sargent has the details. (And further confirmation here.)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGS AND THE MEDIA....Jonah Goldberg makes a point about blogs and the media that I think is exactly correct:

I've toiled in the cyber-fields for close to a decade now (I was the founding editor of National Review Online), and what fascinates me is how the Internet is allowing the nation to return to its historical relationship with the media, not how it's changing everything.

In the 19th century, newspapers played a different role from the one we think they're "supposed" to play....American newspapers were never as unapologetically and uniformly partisan as European ones were (and still are), but they were still mostly creatures of specific political biases. There were Republican and Democratic newspapers, populist and communist newspapers, union and anti-union newspapers. These publications served as vehicles for partisan education and crusading personalities, in much the same way leading blogs do today.

Take another look at the most flagrantly partisan websites today: the liberal Daily Kos and its conservative doppelganger, Red State. What you see are media outlets trying to serve the same function as newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yes, blogs are often shrill, boisterous, and unapologetically partisan. But that's a good thing. People who prefer reading to listening or watching haven't really had a rabble-rousing mass medium at their disposal for a long time, and blogs are a chance to recreate a part of Americana that we've sorely missed for the past half century. Hooray for us!

(On the other hand, Jonah's contention that "the 'problems' of the human condition are permanent" and therefore, presumably, barely worth trying to improve in any deep rooted way is quite another thing. It's why I'm not a conservative, and it's why, in the end, conservatives rarely have any long term positive impact on politics. After all, if you don't really believe that the problems of the human condition are addressable in any meaningful way, what's the point?)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON NORTH KOREA....Over at Defense Tech, Noah Shachtman is unimpressed with William Perry's call to destroy North Korea's missile test site before it can be used to launch a new, long-range ICBM:

The hype kicked into high gear when the New York Times claimed that the Norks "completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile" over the weekend. But the report is getting fishier by the second. The Norks generally rely on a highly corrosive gasoline-kerosene mix for their missile fuel, and an oxidizer containing nitric acid. It's nasty, metal-eating stuff. And once fueled up, the missile has to be launched quickly two or three days, I've been told or else the missile is basically ruined.

It's now been four days. And there's been no launch. Which means it's becoming increasingly unlikely that a missile has been fueled. So much for Perry's demand "to strike the [missile] if North Korea refuses to drain the fuel out."

....Now, what happens if we strike North Korea and there's no missile to hit? What does that do to American standing, then?

The New York Times does not exactly have a great reputation for balance and fact checking when it comes to passing along alarmist information about the axis of evil. Maybe the Koreans have just built a giant paper mache model?

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By: Kevin Drum

HAMAS UPDATE....The Guardian claims that Hamas has agreed to recognize both Israel's right to exist as well as a negotiated two-state solution. However, nobody else seems to be reporting this yet, and the Guardian's sources are apparently not from Hamas itself. Still worth watching, though.

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By: Kevin Drum

HIGH INFIDELITY....Fresh off his triumphant guest blogging gig, Steve Benen has a piece in the print version of the Washington Monthly this month about a trait that three of the front runners for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination have in common:

Lurking just over the horizon are liabilities for three Republicans who have topped several national, independent polls for the GOP's favorite 2008 nominee: Sen. John McCain (affair, divorce), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (affair, divorce, affair, divorce), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (divorce, affair, nasty divorce). Together, they form the most maritally challenged crop of presidential hopefuls in American political history.

Personally, I think McCain is the only one of the three who has a realistic shot at the nomination. Giuliani is too socially liberal and would genuinely have trouble defending his messy past, while Gingrich is just a little too weird to hold up to the scrutiny of a presidential campaign.

McCain, conversely, is a serious contender, and I frankly would have expected that qualms over a divorce three decades ago would be stretching things even for the family values brigade. Surprise!

Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokesperson for [James] Dobson's Focus on the Family, recently made it clear that the adultery issue hasn't lost any of its toxicity among evangelicals. "If you have a politician, an elected official, and they can't be trusted in their own marriage, how can I trust them with the budget? How can I trust them with national security?" she asked me.

And over at his own site, Steve says that the Family Research Council's Tom McClusky told him, "If not a disqualifier, [adultery] is something that would make Christian conservative voters put candidates in an adverse category. It would, most definitely."

Does this mean that making up with Jerry Falwell and speaking at Liberty University was just a bit of pandering for nothing? Maybe. Read the whole thing and decide for yourself. 2008 could be a messy year.

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....William Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and Wes Clark's choice for best SecDef ever, has an op-ed in the Washington Post today saying that he favors a preemptive strike on North Korea:

Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil? We believe not.

....Therefore, if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead.

....In addition to warning our allies and partners of our determination to take out the Taepodong before it can be launched, we should warn the North Koreans. There is nothing they could do with such warning to defend the bulky, vulnerable missile on its launch pad, but they could evacuate personnel who might otherwise be harmed.

Perry believes that South Korea would oppose an attack, Japan would (privately) welcome it, and that Russia and China would basically stay neutral.

Perry co-wrote the op-ed with his former deputy, Ashton Carter. Laura Rozen has more about Carter here.

Kevin Drum 12:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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June 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AND THE SOUTH....Should Democrats try to reclaim the South, or should they just give up on the whole region and try to build an electoral majority elsewhere? I bounce back and forth on this. Most of the time I think that of course we need to contest the South: it's just too big to cede without a fight. But then I begin to think about abortion. And gay rights. And separation of church and state. And racial equality. And labor rights.

And I just give up. Given the way the majority of southerners think about this stuff, how can we win regularly in the South without completely selling our souls?

I don't know. But one of the many pissing matches provoked by the YearlyKos convention earlier this month turns out to be on exactly this subject. Tom Schaller, who has a book coming out later this year called Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, was on a panel with famous Southern consultant/rabble rouser Dave Mudcat Saunders and found himself the lone voice arguing, unsurprisingly, that Democrats can win without the South:

Saunders very livelihood requires him to peddle fictions like the notion that rural, white, Christian, noncollege-educated, married male voters are the key to Democratic resurgence in a country where women, suburban-exurbanites, seculars, college graduates, the unmarried, and minorities become a larger share of the electorate with each passing cycle. Democrat Mark Warners victory in the 2001 Virginia governors race is most often cited as evidence of the rural strategys effectiveness, but a closer look reveals a different story.

Basically, Schaller argues that Warner (and, in 2005, Tim Kaine) won in Virginia by increasing their appeal among moderate suburbanites, not rural conservatives:

It is this model writ large winning outside the rural areas and then taking a record of smart, progressive policies to rural voters for their inspection which ratifies the strategy of Democrats first building a non-southern majority, governing confidently and successfully, and then appealing to the South, the nations most rural, poor, and conservative region.

As for me, I still don't know. I guess I'll wait for the book. And Mudcat's response.

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (167)

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By: Kevin Drum

ESTATE TAX LOGROLLING....The latest attempt by Republicans to eliminate the estate tax failed in the Senate by three votes a couple of weeks ago. But because this is clearly the most important problem facing our nation, the House isn't giving up. Today they offered up yet another new proposal, one that's almost the same as the one that failed earlier. Almost:

The House bill is similar to a compromise that Senate Republicans circulated two weeks ago, without success. But it includes a tax cut that would save timber companies about $900 million over the next three years, a new twist that could win as many as four more Democratic votes in the Senate.

The provision would reduce the corporate capital gains tax, which is assessed on sales of timber, to about 14 percent from 35 percent. Two of the timber industry's strongest advocates are the Democratic senators from Washington Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell who both voted with other Democrats against blocking a filibuster on the estate tax.

.... Other Democratic Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana were co-sponsors of a similar timber tax cut last year.

Lincoln already disgraced herself by voting for the estate tax repeal earlier this month, but the other three didn't. And they better not change their minds now based on this naked bribe. If they do, the entire party will be disgraced.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MINIMUM WAGE....The Wall Street Journal reports that Democrats are planning to make the minimum wage a centerpiece of their campaign this year:

Democrats aim to make the minimum wage a maximum political problem for Republicans this election year.

The minority party fired the first shot last week, when the House Appropriations Committee broke with its Republican leadership and approved a $2.10-an-hour increase as part of a spending bill for labor, health and education programs. Speaker Dennis Hastert responded by putting the measure on hold possibly until after the election.

But Democrats are poised to come back this morning and offer the same wage amendment as part of a second appropriations bill funding science and law-enforcement agencies.

"I gave the Republicans fair notice that we will attach it to anything we can," said Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the committee's ranking Democrat. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) went to the floor of Senate yesterday and proposed to add the same amendment to a pending defense-authorization bill.

Good for them. Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for blocking a minimum wage increase for the past decade, sending it to an all-time postwar low. Anything that makes them squirm over this is a good idea.

There are arguments against raising the minimum wage, of course, and the usual one is an appeal to simple economics: if the price of unskilled labor goes up, then the demand for unskilled labor will go down. Low-wage workers will be laid off and unemployment among the minimum wage population will go up.

This is technically correct, but it delicately avoids saying anything about magnitudes, which is what really matters. Does unemployment go up 5% after increasing the minimum wage a dollar, or does it go up .01%? And are there countervailing factors that affect this, human beings not being pig iron ingots, after all?

This really can't be settled by an appeal to theory. Empirical studies are what matters, and they mostly seem to show that modest minimum wage increases have either no effect on low-wage employment or else a very tiny effect, most of it centered on teenagers, not adults. A long history of changes to the minimum wage at the state, local, and national level in the United States, for example, gives little reason to think that small increases in the minimum wage have any serious negative impact but does suggest that these changes have, in fact, increased the wages of the working poor.

Likewise, Britain introduced a national minimum wage for adults in 1999 and it appears to have had no negative effect on employment at all. On the positive side, however, it has increased the wages of low-skill workers.

At this point, the bulk of the evidence suggests that modest minimum wage increases (a) provide a measurable benefit for poor workers, (b) have little or no impact on employment levels, and (c) are paid for by the customers of low-wage industries, which means the cost is broadly dispersed among all of us.

So, given that the benefits are clear and the harm appears to be minimal or zero, I think it's now up to minimum wage opponents to make a clear empirical case against raising the minimum wage if they want to be taken seriously. In a perfect world, there might be other policy instruments for helping the poor that work better the Earned Income Tax Credit is the usual favorite but we don't live in a perfect world and it's probably not a good idea to put all our eggs in one basket anyway. As Brad DeLong says:

The right solution, of course, is balance: use the minimum wage as one part of your program of boosting the incomes of the working poor, and use the EITC as the other part. Try not to push either one to the point where its drawbacks (disemployment on the one hand, and administrative error on the other) grow large. Balance things at the margin.

That sounds right to me. I'll change my mind if minimum wage opponents can point to a serious recent literature review suggesting a consensus that the minimum wage hurts more than it helps, but until then count me as a supporter.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (175)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION UPDATE....Is immigration reform dead? It sure sounds like it.

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By: Kevin Drum

KAPLAN ON BEINART....I've already written several posts about Peter Beinart's The Good Fight, which argues that modern liberals should look to Cold War liberalism of the past for foreign policy guidance in the present. In the current issue of the Washington Monthly, Fred Kaplan argues that this analogy finesses a critical issue:

In several respects, The Good Fight is a valuable book. Beinart is right in urging liberals to craft a foreign policy more inspiring and substantive than the clerkish "competence" promised by Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. But I wish that he had grappled more fully with the context of many liberals' vacillations on national-security policy the tension, which nobody seems to know how to resolve, between the protection of American interests and the expansion of American ideals. Bush pretends that there is no tension that our interests and our ideals are synonymous. Beinart indulges in the same pretense, though from a different angle.

In fairness to Beinart, this is a tension that pretty much every leader of every liberal democracy in history has had to deal with, and no one has come up with a way of squaring this circle yet. A bit of mushiness on this point, along with a recipe for at least maneuvering a bit closer to a consistent answer than George Bush's, is probably the most we can ask for.

More tellingly, Kaplan suggests that Beinart's entire analogy of the Cold War to the war against jihadism is a stretch:

Beinart writes, "The brave Middle Eastern liberals who are fighting for democracy and against Salafism need us. They need our money, our expertise, and our example, just as anticommunist liberals and socialists did in Western Europe more than a half-century ago." The comparison is iffy. America shared the same Enlightenment background and the same enemy in the Soviet Union as those Western European liberals, most of whom, by the way, were also heads of state. It's unclear who these "Middle Eastern liberals" are. Certainly they don't occupy positions of political power. In any case, to the extent they do need us, they may not want us and, in many cases, they can't openly say they do. This isn't to say they're not worth seeking out and supporting only that it's a far more problematic task. Historical appeals to the Marshall Plan and NATO don't really resonate.

If that's the case, though, it's back to square one, since it means that neither conservatives nor liberals are close to elucidating a solution. That may be true, but it's a discouraging thought.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (163)

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June 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"A NEW KIND OF WAR IN WHICH ACTION AND EVIDENCE WERE CONSCIOUSLY DIVORCED"....Barton Gellman reviews Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine in the Washington Post today. Here's the story of Abu Zubaydah, hailed as al-Qaeda's chief of operations when he was captured in March 2002:

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be....Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics....And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States."

[Other unrelated bungling described, all of which is worth clicking the link to read.]

Which brings us back to the unbalanced Abu Zubaydah. "I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

This is not the way to protect the national security of the United States. It is not the way to make us safer. It is not the way to defeat jihadist terrorism.

It is not, in fact, the way to do much of anything.

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By: Kevin Drum

LESSONS FROM IRAQ....Max Sawicky is reading Babylon by Bus, the story of two slackers who ended up working for the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. Max comments:

I'm about halfway through. One thing I take from the story is that there was a window in 2003-2004 when the occupation could have been successfully launched, and the subsequent carnage precluded, or at least minimized. This opportunity was lost from lack of serious planning and other types of mulishness. Everyone seems to have realized this, but you get a better feel for it from reading their account.

Actually, not everyone seems to have realized this. In fact, it's a point of considerable controversy, isn't it? Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias made the opposite point explicitly in "The Incompetence Dodge," arguing that "administrative bungling is simply not the root source of Americas failure in Iraq." I made the same argument myself a couple of years ago, though I remain sort of ambivalent about it, largely because of stories like Babylon by Bus. If you're operating at 80% efficiency and your plan doesn't work, it probably means the plan was just plain bad. But if you're operating at 20% efficiency, it seems at least plausible that better execution could have produced success. It may be that democratization by force is a chimera, but the level of incompetence in Iraq has been so monumental that it seems almost impossible to draw any enduring conclusions from our experience there.

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By: Kevin Drum

MISSILE DEFENSE....Maybe James Robbins is going to get his wish:

The Pentagon activated its new U.S. ground-based interceptor missile defense system, and officials announced yesterday that any long-range missile launch by North Korea would be considered a "provocative act."

....Two Navy Aegis warships are patrolling near North Korea as part of the global missile defense and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors, the officials said yesterday.

....One senior Bush administration official told The Washington Times that an option being considered would be to shoot down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors.

This is almost certainly just anonymous trash talking, but I guess you never know. After all, they're going to have to test this thing against a real target someday.

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By: Kevin Drum

"NO OPEN-ENDED COMMITMENT"....This is actually sort of interesting:

Leading Senate Democrats called Monday for a "phased withdrawal" of U.S. forces from Iraq, outlining what they hope will become a consensus position on the war that will help their party speak with a more unified voice.

....The new Democratic proposal sets a starting point for withdrawing troops but does not set an end date or demand a particular pace for the redeployment, said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee...."Our amendment does not establish a timetable for redeployment," Levin said. "It does urge that a phased redeployment begin this year, partly as a way of moving away from an open-ended commitment and a way of avoiding Iraqi dependency on a U.S. security blanket."

On a substantive level, this probably isn't bad. The key issue, after all, isn't really setting some precise date for withdrawal redeployment, it's making clear that an open-ended commitment is a dumb policy.

On a political level, it's probably the right move too. Not only is it something that Democrats can coalesce around (thus proving me wrong about the impossibility of finding a consensus message on the war for Dems), but it's also something that's likely to resonate with the public. Not everyone who's unhappy with the war supports a firmly timed withdrawal that ties the president's hands, but I suspect that almost all of them do support the notion that official policy should at least acknowledge the idea that we don't intend to be in Iraq forever.

But will guys like Kerry and Feingold go along? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Kevin Drum

GERMAN TV....In the LA Times today, Alissa Rubin writes that Europeans don't like American politics but do like American entertainment. The following passage from Reinhard Scolik, chief of programming for Austria's largest broadcaster, caught my attention:

"In American programs, people have problems, serious problems. In 'Grey's Anatomy,' people are dying, it tells you that life will be very, very hard, but at the very end they get a little hope and there is a way to get through," he said. "In German shows, which we also get on Austrian television, it is mostly a hopeless situation, it is too heavy."

Wow. Are German TV shows really that bleak?

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Christina Larson

SHOOTS AND LADDERS.... The new American Hunters and Shooters Association, which aims to be a pro-gun, pro-conservation, pro-safety alternative to the NRA, is already a rumor magnet. Noting that the group's URL was first registered by an Internet consulting firm, DCS, with the address 600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, John Lott smells conspiracy:

So ALL three groups: The Democrat leadership council (DLC) , DCS - Internet Advocacy Group and The American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) Are located in the same building and all three groups are pushing to take away your rights via their made up causes for the sake of getting their faces in the news.

But wait. Other residents of 600 Pennsylvania Ave SE include the College Republicans, Republicans Abroad International, and the bistro Sizzlin' Express. Ergo, a really weird conspiracy.

(Quick intro to AHSA here.)

UPDATE: I'll cover in more detail what we can know about AHSA's political viability, leadership, and NRA contentions once I get back to the office. Frankly, more important than what I think is what's been the reaction of sportsmen and outdoor writers I've talked to here in Lake Charles.

Christina Larson 1:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

BURNT OFFERING....Gareth Porter has a terrific article in the American Prospect this month about the entire arc of Iranian-American relations since 9/11. In the beginning, things were looking up:

As America began preparing for the military operation in Afghanistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker held a series of secret meetings with Iranian officials in Geneva. In those meetings, Iran offered search-and-rescue help, humanitarian assistance, and even advice on which targets to bomb in Afghanistan, according to one former administration official. The Iranians, who had been working for years with the main anti-Taliban coalition, the Northern Alliance, also advised the Americans about how to negotiate the major ethnic and political fault lines in the country.

Then came the infamous "axis of evil" speech, and progress stalled because the Cheney bloc in the White House was convinced that Iran would disintegrate all on its own. That didn't happen, of course, and after the Iraq War we received yet another overture from Iran. I blogged about that a couple of days ago, but Porter provides even more detail about exactly what the Iranians proposed:

The proposal offered decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory....To meet the U.S. concern about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, the document offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for full access to peaceful nuclear technology.

....The Iranian proposal also offered a sweeping reorientation of Iranian policy toward Israel....The document offered acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states approach).

....The document also offered a stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory and...action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon.

....Finally, its aims included respect for Iranian national interests in Iraq and religious links to Najaf/Karbal.....The list of Iranian aims also included an end to U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S., including its removal from the axis of evil and the terrorism list, and an end to all economic sanctions against Iran.

There's more detail in the full story, and it's well worth a read. The Iranian proposal clearly wasn't something we'd be willing to accept in toto, but it was just as clearly an extremely detailed and serious starting point. Ignoring it was a world class misjudgment.

Kevin Drum 12:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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June 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ME ON KARL....I was on Ted Asregadoo's program In Focus along with Salon's Tim Grieve a couple of days ago, talking about Karl Rove, Valerie Plame, and the upcoming elections. I was calling in from a cell phone, but you can still make out what I said. If you're curious to know what I (sort of) sound like, the interview is here.

Kevin Drum 11:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ROVE WEIRDNESS....As if the Jason Leopold/Karl Rove story weren't already bizarre enough, today it gets even weirder. Rove obviously hasn't been indicted, as Leopold reported several weeks ago, but it turns out that Leopold and Truthout are standing behind their story anyway.

Long story short, Truthout says that (a) Rove was secretly indicted, (b) Rove and his lawyer then went back to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and made "concessions that Fitzgerald considered to be of high value," and (c) Fitzgerald subsequently agreed to hold off on the indictment.

And what were these concessions?

Our sources provided us with additional detail, saying that Fitzgerald is apparently examining closely Dick Cheney's role in the Valerie Plame matter, and apparently sought information and evidence from Karl Rove that would provide documentation of Cheney's involvement. Rove apparently was reluctant to cooperate and Fitzgerald, it appears, was pressuring him to do so, our sources told us.

Truthout claims that their sources for this information are "career federal law enforcement and federal government officials." Truthout also claims that their senior editors have confirmed all this with their sources. They're not just relying on Jason Leopold.

Is this true? I don't have a clue, but I figure I should pass along the latest scuttlebutt regardless. And for what it's worth, there is one thing that makes me wonder if Rove is really in the clear: the fact that he refuses to make public the letter from Fitzgerald saying that he "does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove at this time. Rove's spokesman says they won't release the letter because they have an agreement with Fitzgerald that they "wouldn't disclose direct communications or any documents between his office and ours." This is a pretty laughable excuse, and it's hard not to wonder just what's in that letter that they don't want anyone to see.

Kevin Drum 11:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE TORTURE....The latest whitewash of U.S. "interrogation techniques" aka torture has been released, and in it Brigadier General Richard Formica concluded that it was OK to hold prisoners in cells 4 feet high, 4 feet long and 20 inches wide for several days. Spencer Ackerman comments:

Here are two such questions you can puzzle over from your home or office. Take all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days or authorized doing so what should happen to that person?

I recommend posing those questions to Cliff May, who apparently thinks that even Saudi Arabian interrogation is too wussified these days.

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (210)

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By: Christina Larson

BAYOU DISPATCH: Coming Clean... It's raining again in Lake Charles, La. That means the hotel computer room is crowded here at the conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Right now the room is abuzz with hook & bullet writers discussing the Clean Water Act and scrambling for updates on this morning's Supreme Court decision. As the Times reports:

The Supreme Court set the stage for a re-examination of the 1972 Clean Water Act, as it narrowly ruled today in favor of two Michigan property owners who have sought to develop tracts designated as wetlands.

By 5 to 4, the justices overturned lower court judgments against the Michigan land owners, who had run afoul of the Clean Water Act over their plans to build a shopping mall and condominiums.

Yes, sportsmen care about the environment. Christina Larson 4:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

FREEDOM ON THE MARCH....Marc Lynch reports on the latest from Hosni Mubarak's Egypt:

I was bowled over by [an] al-Jazeera show discussing a draft law in the Egyptian Parliament to "combat rumours." The law, proposed by a member of Mubarak's NDP, would create a special unit assigned to combat the spread of "false information"....Egyptian NDP Parliamentarian Hisham Mustafa Khalil defended the draft law as necessary to protect national security and the Egyptian economy.

....Even if it can't realistically force a Mubarak to allow himself to be voted out of office, the US should be able to demand that its allies respect core values such as human rights and freedom of speech especially at a time when Egypt's aid package is sort of, kind of, open for discussion. If Egypt actually passed a law like this, it would make a complete mockery of America's democracy talk again.

If Mubarak and the State Department were smart, they'd deliberately set up some loyal party member to introduce a bill like this solely so Mubarak could kill it, thus earning brownie points for openness and liberalism. I have a feeling that's not what's going on, though.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIFE OUTSIDE THE GREEN ZONE....President Bush says things are improving in Iraq. His ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, seems not to agree. Two weeks ago Khalilzad sent a long cable to the State Department that laid out how things are really going according to Iraqi staff members at the embassy:

  • Women are being increasingly harrassed: made to wear a veil, told not to use cell phones or drive a car, and being forced to wear the hijab at work. Men who wear shorts or jeans have come under attack from "what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists."

  • Different neighborhoods are controlled by different militias, and staff members have to be careful to dress and speak differently in each one. "People no longer trust most neighbors." Even the upscale Mansur district is now an "unrecognizable ghost town." A newspaper editor reports that ethnic cleansing is taking place in virtually every Iraqi province.

  • Electricity is available for only a few hours a day and fuel lines can require waits as long as 12 hours.

  • Being known as an embassy employee "is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people."

  • "Objectivity, civility, and logic" from staff members are becoming harder to come by as pressure outside the Green Zone increases. The embassy can't get good information if people become too scared to speak honestly.

I tried to find some good news in the cable to balance out the bad, but the best I could come up with is the observation that if you live in the same building as an important government minister, you'll be able to get electricity 24 hours a day. No word on whether staff members' children are attending freshly painted schools.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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By: Kevin Drum

WINNING THE HOUSE....Matthew Continetti sez:

Five months out, it is difficult to locate a single pundit who disagrees with the conventional wisdom that Republicans will lose control of their gerrymandered House, and possibly even the Senate, which they hold by a margin of 10 seats.

Where do people get this stuff? I'm hard pressed to think of even a single pundit who has confidently predicted that Democrats will win the House this November as opposed to merely warning that it might happen. Am I missing something?

UPDATE: Ezra Klein noticed the same thing. Basically, he thinks Continetti is just working the refs.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Amy Sullivan

POOR SPORTS....It's hard to complain about a game in which the Washington Nationals come back from seven runs down to beat the Yankees. Especially when the Nationals have little pitching to speak of (oh, John Patterson, please come back) and the Yankees have one of the most talented line-ups in baseball, even with two of their stars out on the DL.

And yet. There's something not quite right about sitting in RFK stadium, rooting on the home team, and realizing that at least half of the fans around you are cheering for the visiting team. I've experienced the same thing at NBA and NHL games in Washington (although I've heard that Redskins games--after a brief period when games seemed to be infiltrated by large numbers of New York and Philly fans--seem to be getting better).

What is it about Washington sports fans? I offer a few thoughts in the June issue of the Monthly.

Amy Sullivan 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

USE OF FORCE....After reading tonight's story about North Korea preparing to test fire a new missile, it occurred to me that this would make a good real-life test of the "use of force" question. That is, when is it justifiable to use force against dangerous or unstable international regimes? Windy theorizing is one thing, but the rubber hits the road when you have to decide what to do in real time in an actual case.

Here's the background: the North Koreans are supposedly fueling their new Taepodong-2 missile, which is a sign that a launch is imminent. The State Department has taken the unusual step of directly contacting the North Korea delegation at the UN to warn them against performing the test. The missile could reach the United States and is probably capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

So: would we be justified in launching an attack on the North Korean test site? What does a neocon like Bill Kristol think? An old-fashioned super-hawk like Dick Cheney? A reformed liberal hawk like Peter Beinart? An unreformed liberal hawk like Hillary Clinton? Or would they all say the same thing and demonstrate that behind the rhetoric there's not really much difference between them?

Or how about this suggestion from James Robbins?

Sounds like a great opportunity to test our missile-defense technology. North Korea has no right to test weapons over other countries, so they won't have a leg to stand on legally. And it would be a great statement of our resolve to stand up to their aggressive behavior. Finally, it would be a high-profile way to demonstrate the effectiveness of our missile-defense systems. For example the Airborne Laser system is up for a flight test this year. Why not make it count?

Hell, I could almost sign up for that. After 20 years, it's time for the missile defense guys to put their money where their mouths are. Of course, Boeing doesn't even pretend that ABL is operational yet, so that particular suggestion is probably out. But how about GMD? Anyone up for finding out if it really works?

Kevin Drum 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Christina Larson

AL GORE VS. TOM CRUISE... An Inconvenient Truth is gradually rolling out in cineplexes across the country. Last weekend, the film opened in Kennesaw, GA; Olathe, KS; Louisville, KY; Omaha, NE; Albequerque, NM; Dayton, OH; Salt Lake City, UT; Dallas, TX; among other cities. (Find your hometown here.)

Anyone have a scoop about local reaction? We know the NY-LA-DC press gaggle swooned. But the real test will be whether the film resonates outside the choir.

Of note: In last weekend's match-up of middle-age screen idols, Al Gore whupped Tom Cruise in weekend box office grosses. An Inconvenient Truth: $1,750,000 -- Mission Impossible: $1,183,000. Christina Larson 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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June 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

LAPDOGS....Over at Firedoglake, Peter Daou is hosting a discussion of Eric Boehlerts book Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. I finally cleared away my pile of required reading a couple of weeks ago and read Lapdogs, which turned out to be pretty good: a partisan survey, to be sure, as media critiques almost inevitably are, but one with a more than normally compelling comparison to make. Instead of simply accusing the media of being generally liberal or generally conservative (or generally anything), Boehlert focuses primarily on the distinct difference in tone between coverage of the Clinton and Bush administrations. That's fertile ground.

And if you're the kind of person who likes to browse books in bookstores instead of actually buying them, my browsing recommendation is Chapter 7, an examination of press coverage of the Swift Boat debacle of 2004. Boehlert's question here is clear: why was this covered as a serious controversy instead of the vicious smear attack that campaign veterans in the press corps surely recognized it as? After all, (a) there was no evidence to back up even a single one of the Swift Boat charges, (b) there were enormous gaping holes in the stories told by the Swifties, and (c) every piece of documentary evidence dug up by reporters contradicted what the Swifties said. That should have been the story, but most often it was buried or soft-pedaled ("In the end, what happened 35 years ago remains murky...."). Boehlert's summary of how the coverage unfolded is the best I've read.

So: buy the book. Failing that, read chapter 7. The Firedoglake discussion is here.

Kevin Drum 6:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

STEELY RESOLVE UPDATE....Remember that 2003 letter from Iran proposing "comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences"? I've blogged about it before here. Today, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post reports that he has gotten a copy of the letter itself and can tell us exactly what Iran was prepared to talk about:

The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

That's pretty comprehensive, all right. And why did we turn down the offer? Kessler tells us that too:

Top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

That demonstrates some savvy foreign policy insight, doesn't it? Turn down an unprecedented offer from Iran when they're weak and we're strong, and then three years later reluctantly agree to much narrower talks when they're stronger and we're weaker. Great job, guys.

NOTE TO POST EDITORS: Nice job putting this on page A16. It's not as if this is anything important, after all.

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

GITMO....LA Times correspondent Carol Williams, who was one of the reporters kicked out of Guantanamo last week, tells us what it's like there:

Those of us cleared to cover the prison and war-crimes tribunal learned long ago that there will be a hard-fought battle for every factlet. When unexpected news breaks, like the suicides, the Pentagon's knee-jerk reflex to thwart coverage reminds me of how Communist officials used to organize Cold War-era propaganda trips for Moscow correspondents but then pull the plug when embarrassing realities intruded.

That should be good for a couple hundred spittle-flecked screeds from the remaining Bush dead-enders in Southern California. But good for her anyway. It's an apt comparison, and for the folks who scored poorly on the analogy portion of their SATs, no, she isn't saying that Bush is as bad as Stalin. She's saying that Bush and the Pentagon have acted disgracefully and permanently sullied our reputation. And she's right.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCCER BLOGGING....The blogosphere and the airwaves are practically dripping with derision for the performance of Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda in Saturday's USA-Italy World Cup match. Kieran Healy asks, "Where do FIFA find these guys?" Frank Foer is aghast: "How can we account for his Mickey Mouse performance?"

I didn't get to see the game, but I've now read half a dozen stories about it. And I don't get it. Larrionda's sins included three red cards and an offside call against USA, but all of them appear to have been justified. Here's a rundown:

  • BBC comment on the red card against Italy's Daniele De Rossi: "De Rossi disgraced himself with a sickening, needless elbow on Brian McBride and was given his marching orders."

  • BBC comment on the red card against USA's Pablo Mastroeni: "His two-footed, reckless lunge on Pirlo was deserving of a red card and left referee Jorge Larrionda with little option." And the New York Times: "The officials' guidelines call for red cards for two-footed cleats-up tackles."

  • LA Times comment on both red cards against USA, including the second against Eddie Pope: "Although the U.S. questioned the calls, replays appeared to show that both were justified."

  • Washington Post comment on the offside call against Brian McBride that negated a second half goal: "Afterward, McBride admitted that he was not only offside, but had screened goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon."

Here's The Telegraph's summary comment on the match: "It was the United States' own fault that they found themselves with nine players one fewer than the Italians for nearly half this extraordinary match." And The Times: "There were three red cards, all of them justified, and three more yellow cards that might have turned the deeper colour."

I gather that the American team played brilliantly after Pope was sent off, and deserves all the accolades it's getting. But why the invective against Larrionda? I don't know the first thing about soccer, but the press reports all seem to indicate he called the match fairly. What's up?

Kevin Drum 2:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (139)

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By: Christina Larson

BAYOU DISPATCH: Pro Gun, Anti-NRA ... A lifelong Republican, Korea vet, and former world-record holder in trap shooting (he broke 730 consecutive clay pigeons in 1967), Austin Dorr has nothing good to say about the NRA: They want to take me for granted, but don't speak for me.

Criticism of the NRA from within the hook-and-bullet community has lately been getting louder. Prominent hunting columnist Pat Wray recently blasted the organization for "hoodwinking hunters into thinking they are working on our behalf, while they use our money on politicians and legislative efforts which will degrade hunting, now and in the future."

The NRA has between 3 and 4 million members. But there are between 77 and 90 million total gun-owners in the United States, according to varying industry estimates.

Of that total, 30 percent of gun-owners said they would support an alternative organization -- if there was a viable group that would advocate gun rights and do more to support conservation and improved relations with law enforcement, according to a detailed poll of gun owners conducted in 2005 by KRC Research.

Now stepping into that space is the American Hunters and Shooters Association. The new group is "pro-gun, pro-conservation, pro-safety," as executive director Robert Ricker explains. Ricker, a former NRA counsel and gun-industry advocate for two decades, became a whistleblower in 2003 when he gave testimony linking negligent industry behavior and gun sales to criminals.

The organization kicks off Sunday with its first press conference in Lake Charles, Louisiana, at the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

The NRAs attack dogs are already out. John Lott is on the case. The stakes are high. For nearly three decades, conservatives have been able to use the issue of gun rights to drive a stake through potential alliances between hunters and greens, tilting American politics and undermining resource protections. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I'm blogging from Lake Charles & willl have more later on controversy here, John Lott's allegations ... maybe cajun recipes, if I'm lucky.

Christina Larson 1:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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June 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING vs. REAL LIFE....I don't suppose I really have a serious point to make here, but I was browsing the New York Times this morning and noticed that their list of Top 10 emailed stories doesn't have a single entry in common with their list of Top 10 blogged stories. Draw your own conclusions.

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Kevin Drum

WARNER AND LABOR....Labor blogger Nathan Newman provides an excellent reason for thinking that Mark Warner's YearlyKos bash was a good idea:

I give a thumbs up to the big party bash; no question Warner got his money's worth; and better it went to union hotel workers to deliver chocolate fountains to weary bloggers than to ten or twenty seconds of a random ad buy.

That's about the best argument I've heard yet in either direction, so consider me sold. On Warner himself, though, Nathan is still agnostic:

But let me return to his argument about bringing jobs to rural Virginia. He painted a nice story about education and retraining leading to software jobs springing up in rural towns, especially if supported by strong investments in broadband locally.

All to the good as far as it goes. But the story hides one of the big lies of DLCish economic policy, which is that the key to improving wages is just more education and more training. While that's ONE good thing to do, the hard reality is that a large portion of new job creation in the future will not be high-tech jobs but traditional service jobs. Warner had essentially NOTHING in his speech about how to raise wages for those in traditional service or remaining manufacturing jobs, no mention of the minimum wage or other policies to help the workers who will make up the vast bulk of new jobs.

....For most Americans, it's the wage standards in these basic non-tech jobs that will matter for the future of the middle class, not a few high-profile software jobs recruited to a few towns.

Agreed. Education is important, and centrist wonks are right to emphasize it. At the same time, it's just a plain fact that a huge number of jobs are basically unskilled or semiskilled, and we need to address the question of what happens to the people who fill them. Education really won't help here, and if we leave things entirely up to the market, these jobs will all pay Wal-Mart wages. That's convenient for all us middle class types who want cheap gardeners and retail clerks, but not so good for all the gardeners and retail clerks.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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June 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CUSTOMER SERVICE BLUES....Cathy Seipp has an entertaining rant against Verizon up at her site. After her cell phone stopped working, they made her visit the local Verizon store, which offered her a "free upgrade" costing $139.76:

I also asked her to put all the old contacts from the old phone onto the new one. They can easily do this for you at Verizon, but they'll never offer, you always have to ask. I didn't even know it was a possibility, in fact, until I went in once with Maia and she knew to make them do it.

"No...they don't tell us never to offer," the sales rep said when I asked if this unhelpfulness is something they learn in special Verizon training seminars, "but we never do. I guess we should."

The icing on the cake is that, because I was so exhausted, I did not realize until I got home that the sales rep had sold me a ridiculous accessory pack (leather case, assorted other crap) that I did not ask for. No wonder the bill seemed high. All I'd said, repeatedly, was please just give a new phone, with insurance, so I could get out of there. But for some reason she took "insurance" to mean "accessory pack."

Hey, between this, her fondness of public service announcments, and her annoyance at private health insurance, we'll turn her into a liberal yet!

Of course, what makes this triply or quadruply annoying is that we all know that companies like Verizon can be paragons of efficiency when they have the motivation of actually selling you something. Marian and I switched to Verizon about a year ago, and it was the most amazingly painless purchase I've made in a long time. They had a nice phone on sale for next to nothing, so we bought two of them. The guy at the counter did the setup and made sure everything worked. The batteries came fully charged. They switched our old numbers to the new phones in about 30 seconds. The entire operation took about 20 minutes and we were chatting away on our phones a minute later.

Needless to say, this efficiency disappears instantly if you aren't buying something. The worst offender on this score (to my knowledge, anyway) is Fry's Electronics: their customer service for returns isn't bad out of laziness or bad management, it's deliberately bad because they want to discourage people from returning things. So screw 'em. Their prices aren't all that great anyway. I do all my shopping at Micro Center, and I do it there solely because they've always been decent and efficient at processing my rare returns.

Of course, the problem in the cell phone world is that there's no one to turn to. They all suck. Or do they? Is there any cell phone company that gets consensus praise from people who have tried to resolve problems? (I'm actually happy with Verizon, for example, but I've never had any problems. That doesn't count.) Commenters?

Kevin Drum 4:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Happy 45th birthday, Stephen.

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMS ON IRAQ....Matt Yglesias chides Democrats for being unwilling to get serious about taking on Republicans over Iraq:

Democrats need to be prepared to fight this battle. They need to figure out what they think about Iraq and then they need to put in whatever time is necessary to craft a compelling message out of that policy. And they need to do it before they get ambushed by congressional Republicans, and before something or other forces them to talk about the war.

Disagreeing with this is sort of like disagreeing about the yumminess of apple pie, but I think it misses the real issue. The problem isn't that Democrats are unwilling to craft a compelling message, the problem is that there are deep and genuine divisions among Democrats that are simply not going to go away. Even if there were a compelling message just waiting to be crafted about which I have my doubts what possible message would satisfy Joe Biden, John Murtha, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and Joe Lieberman? It doesn't exist. At the very top levels, senior Democrats disagree strongly and deeply about what we should do in Iraq.

This is why 42 Democrats supported today's Republican-sponsored war resolution. It's why the DLC's book With All Our Might doesn't even have a single chapter about Iraq. It's why the "Real Security" plan offered up by Democrats a couple of months ago could only come up with a feeble suggestion that we should make sure 2006 is "a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty."

There's no question that Democrats ought to get their act together and put up a united front on Iraq. But how can they do that when no one agrees on what that front should be?

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (278)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ZARQAWI DOCS....Hmmm. Those documents allegedly found with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi suggesting that he hoped to start a war between the U.S. and Iran? Marc Lynch thinks they're fakes.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

WORST PRACTICES UPDATE....The latest news from Europe:

Along with hip-hop and Hollywood movies, Europeans are eagerly importing another American phenomenon: soaring pay packages for chief executives.

Terrific. We're in the process of importing their brain dead immigration policies and they're in the process of importing our brain dead executive comp policies. You'd think there were no good ideas left in the world, or something.

Kevin Drum 2:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (127)

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By: Kevin Drum

JEFFERSON OUSTED....Thank God for this: "House Democrats met behind closed doors Thursday and voted to strip Rep. William Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee." However, Jefferson seems to think he was treated unfairly:

The objection was to the unprecedented nature of the move (stripping a member of a seat prior to an indictment), along with the fact that there didn't seem to be any objective standard for removal. As Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) put it, her standard was "Anybody with $90,000 in the freezer you have a problem with this Caucus."

I'm fine with that standard. Jefferson deserves his day in court, but tonight's vote was a political statement, not a judicial one. The guy had bricks of hundred dollar bills wrapped in tin foil seized from his freezer by the FBI, and anybody with a lick of common sense knows that that's a plenty high standard for stripping someone of a committee seat.

And the Congressional Black Caucus should be ashamed of itself. Their job is to represent black interests, not to mindlessly defend anyone with dark skin no matter how obvious the evidence that he's a crook. Enough's enough.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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June 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TNR MEETS YEARLYKOS....Ryan Lizza writes about the YearlyKos convention:

Throughout the four-day convention, bloggers, politicians, and reporters circle one another like a trio of underwater species not quite sure who eats whom anymore. The bloggers alternatively ridicule and suck up to the reporters. The politicians prostrate themselves before the bloggers one minute and then roll their eyes at them in off-the-record pow-wows with the "mainstream media" the next. The press smile and yuk it up with the bloggers during the day and escape to decadent, MSM-only meals at night. All three groups seem to agree that everything in their respective spheres is changing because of the blogs, but nobody is quite sure how.

The whole thing is pretty funny. There's no way of knowing how fair or accurate it is, of course, but it's certainly the most entertaining piece I've read so far about YearlyKos.

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By: Kevin Drum

BOSTON....I have to give the telephone company lobby credit: their latest slogan (see ad on right) is pretty slick. "Smart network or dumb pipe?" they ask, and surely the answer is obvious. Who'd want a dumb pipe if they could have a smart network instead?

As it turns out, the answer is "just about everyone who knows anything about network design," but since that's a pretty small group it's still a slick slogan.

But here's what I really want to know. I watched their little cartoon, and for some reason they decided to rip off pay homage to the cover art for the old Boston debut album from 1976. My freshman roommate in college sure liked that album, but really, does anyone much younger than me even get the reference? Or do most people watch the cartoon and wonder why the hell it's illustrated with a picture of the city of Boston underneath a bubble?

Or, unknown to me, is Boston's debut album a cult favorite even among today's kids? Or what? Anyone have any idea what they were thinking?

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By: Kevin Drum

KNOCK AND ANNOUNCE....Southern California Edison has graciously decided to restore electrical power to my home, and upon rebooting my PC I note that the Supreme Court has decided to eviscerate the Bill of Rights a bit further today. In today's ruling in Hudson v. Michigan they decided that even if police violate the "knock and announce" rule for serving search warrants, they can still use the evidence they seize in court. Kieran Healy comments:

By the by, Scalia, writing for the majority, is happy to set his originalism aside and argue that the growth of public-interest law firms and lawyers who specialize in civil-rights grievances ... [and] the increasing professionalism of police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police discipline ... [and] the increasing use of various forms of citizen review can enhance police accountability all mean that the fourth amendment can be reinterpreted.

This is, of course, why I decline to take originalism seriously. Even its proponents pretty obviously understand that it's ridiculous to pretend that nothing has changed in the past 200 years, and they mostly use originalism as little more than intellectual cover for making the conservative rulings they want to make anyway. But when conservative rulings require that originalism be tossed overboard, they do so without apology. Some doctrine, eh?

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION....Brendan Nyhan has a cool map at his site showing the impact of Hispanic immigration on Iowa, most of it centered around the meatpacking plants in the state. It's an interesting data point that lends support to the idea that concern about immigration has spiked recently because it's increasingly affecting areas that have never experienced significant immigration before, rather than being confined primarily to border states like California and Texas. You can read more about that phenomenon in "My New Kentucky Home," from the January issue of the Monthly.

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By: Kevin Drum

STAGFLATION....The LA Times is worried:

With inflation heating up amid the prospect of another interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve, some economists said Wednesday they were beginning to worry about a ghost from the past: stagflation.

Maybe so. My instinct tells me that rising oil prices are more important than most economic models make them out to be, and there are certainly plenty of other reasons to be worried too.

Still, are worries about stagflation really up? Acording to Nexis, mentions of "stagflation" have declined recently, trending downward from 181 in 2005 (through June 15), to 101 for the rest of 2005, to 68 this year (through June 15). If there's a genuine concern floating around out there, it hasn't made much of an impact on the news media yet.

NOTE: I did a Nexis search on all news sources using the search term stagflation w/20 ("fed" or "federal reserve").

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By: Kevin Drum

ANONYMITY....President Bush has agreed to create a huge marine protected area near Hawaii, which is great news. But check out this quote in today's LA Times story:"With a stroke of a pen, the president not only can accomplish the single largest act of conservation in U.S. history, but he can inspire the American public on the broader importance of our ocean and coastal environments," said a senior administration official who requested anonymity.Thank God for anonymity! Without it, how would brave truth tellers like this one get their message out?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE FAILURE OF CONSERVATISM....One of the favorite games in conservative pundit-land these days is to weep sadly over the shocking discovery that George Bush has turned out not to be a real conservative. This is hardly a surprise. After all, even conservatives mostly acknowledge that Bush's tenure has been a disaster, and the only way to avoid the conclusion that conservatism itself is at fault is to throw Bush overboard instead.

In the Washington Monthly's cover story this month, "Why Conservatives Can't Govern," Alan Wolfe argues that this is a crock:

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

....If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

Of course, it goes beyond this. As Wolfe points out, Americans like big government that actually solves real-life problems, and that puts a firm ceiling on just how conservative you can be and still get elected. George Bush, who got reelected by the smallest margin in the past century despite a decent economy and the tailwind of 9/11, has shown almost precisely where that limit is.

It's true that Bush has been almost uniquely incompetent among modern presidents. But the real failure of the Bush years is a fundamental failure of ideology. For the first time since 1932, conservatives have controlled every branch of government. They had a chance to show they had a real governing ideology, and it turned out they didn't.

So: Are George Bush and Tom DeLay and Bill Frist real conservatives? Of course they are. They've failed because of that, not despite it.

For other takes on this theme, see my review of Bruce Bartlett's Impostor here and Jon Chait's takedown of conservative apostacy here.

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June 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ROADSIDE SIGN CULTURE....Brian Weatherson notes a photo in the LA Times of a sign in a Philly cheesesteak shop and asks:

Im not sure what rule of English requires, or even permits, quote marks around the last two words in that sentence. Im no prescriptivist, so Im happy to be shown that this falls under some generally followed pattern, but its no pattern Im familiar with.

Glad to help out here. There's a long folk tradition in American roadside signmaking of using quote marks the same way normal people use italics or exclamation points. In more refined circles for example, Usenet or corporate memos this message would be rendered thusly:

This is America. When ordering, SPEAK ENGLISH!!!

Since using quote marks for emphasis is an American tradition, it's obvious that the cheesesteak owner is using them here in a meta-referential attempt to draw attention to the fact that his shop is in America, and thus one should not just speak English, but "speak English." It's actually a very sophisticated play on the modalities of American discourse and the folkways of blue collar American culture.

POSTSCRIPT: The mainstream press, of course, has deliberately ignored the subtle subtext of Joey Vento's sign and instead portrayed him as just another ignorant nativist prick. They even mock the local idiom. Typical, isn't it?

POSTSCRIPT 2: Yes, I'm joking. But not about the quotation mark thing. Head over to The Gallery Of "Misused" Quotation Marks for more.

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By: Kevin Drum

ER BLUES....Best healthcare in the world, baby, best healthcare in the world. Just keep telling yourself that.

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By: Kevin Drum

KOREA SYNDROME....Matt Yglesias makes a point that's crossed my mind several times lately: even assuming arguendo that liberals suffer from "Vietnam Syndrome," conservatives have them beat to hell and gone. As near as I can tell, liberals have pretty much let go of Vietnam. It's conservatives who continue to be hypersensitive about our loss there.

Anyway, shouldn't we call it "Korea Syndrome"? After all, that was the original quagmire. For all the deification of Harry Truman that we hear from both sides of the aisle these days, it's worth remembering that he left office deeply unpopular primarily because we were bogged down in Korea and nobody trusted him to get us out. That's why Ike got elected: to go to Korea and put an end to the damn thing. Following in Truman's footsteps might not be the wisest course for a liberal wartime president.

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By: Kevin Drum

WITH ALL OUR MIGHT....Last week I read With All Our Might, a collection of essays by liberal national security wonks that was published recently under the aegis of the Progressive Policy Institute, an arm of the DLC. As with any collection of essays, the quality is variable, but reading them crystallized in my mind a fundamental problem that this volume shares with Peter Beinart's The Good Fight: although both books sound toughminded about national security, they both tiptoe around the most fundamental question of all.

I've previously mentioned that Beinart's vision for the future is pretty much standard liberal boilerplate, and it turns out that PPI's is too. It might be unfair to foreshorten the arguments so radically, but basically the essays in With All Our Might recommend that we ally ourselves with Muslim moderates, support democracy, pay attention to economic development, support nuclear counterproliferation, transform the military, engage with allies, work toward energy independence, etc. etc. With a few minor exceptions, there's really nothing there that MoveOn or Howard Dean or anyone else on the left would argue with very much.

So what's all the argument about? I feel sort of stupid for saying something so obvious, but the argument is about when to use military force. Or, more accurately, I would feel stupid about saying something so obvious if it weren't for the fact that both books seemingly go out of their way to avoid addressing this question. For all their talk about allies and restraint and soft power, would these authors support military strikes on Iran? North Korea? Darfur? How about special ops attacks on terrorist camps? Should we have crossed the border into Pakistan during the Afghanistan war? Should Russia withdraw from Chechnya? How long should we stay in Iraq?

I know there's no tidy answer to this. There isn't a magic formula that tells us when it's right to support military action and when it isn't. And yet, in a 14-part book about the war on terror, shouldn't at least one chapter be devoted to Iraq? Shouldn't at least one chapter be devoted entirely to the Bush Doctrine and what we'd replace it with? Shouldn't at least one chapter be devoted to explaining when we will support military force, not merely repeating the mantra that we won't use it except as a "last resort"?

Maybe I'm asking the impossible. And God knows this discussion would do nothing except magnify liberal fissures, rather than finding common ground. And yet, if toughminded liberals are going to criticize their weak-kneed brethren, shouldn't they be a little more forthcoming about exactly how tough they think we ought to be?

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By: Kevin Drum

EXPECTATIONS....President Bush talks about Iraq today:

I hope there's not an expectation from people that all of a sudden there's going to be zero violence.

No, I don't think there is. But then, outside of the White House, no one ever had that expectation in the first place.

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By: Kevin Drum

MAKING LEMONADE....Here's the lead of today's Washington Post story about George Bush's recent good fortune:

In a White House that had virtually forgotten what good news looks like, the past few weeks have been refreshing. A Republican won a much-watched special congressional election. President Bush recruited a Wall Street heavy hitter as Treasury secretary. U.S. forces killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And now the architect of the Bush presidency has avoided criminal charges.

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. The GOP barely won a congressional election in a district that's 60% Republican. After a year of looking, the White House finally persuaded someone to become Secretary of the Treasury. They killed a terrorist they could have killed three years ago if they'd wanted to. And Bush's top aide has "avoided criminal charges."

Next up: FEMA fails to screw up after Hurricane Alberto is downgraded to a tropical storm. Another triumph for the White House!

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June 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MARK WARNER AND YEARLYKOS....When King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France met in 1520, they demonstrated their power and puissance to each other by spending extravagant amounts of money on decorations and furnishings for their courts. In fact, the meeting became known to history as the Field of Cloth of Gold because of the absurdly lavish use by both monarchs of cloth of gold which is exactly what it sounds like it is.

Emptywheel suggests that presidential hopeful Mark Warner was following the same strategy at the YearlyKos convention this past weekend:

Warner rented out the entire top of the Stratosphere, with a great spread and bars at every corner. I've worked in and out of corporate America for 25 years (and personally witnessed Howard Dean's phenomenal $40 million burn). And I've never been to this kind of truly excessive party. I don't know whether all the free food and liquor bought our loyalty. I actually never saw the candidate ... I was much more interested in meeting the folks from DKos. But who knows whether that was the point? One person suggested the real audience was Hillary, a giant pissing contest over who could blow money with the greatest abandon. "Hillary, money is no object."

Apparently, the blogosphere is the new Iowa. There are worse ways to travel.

I don't much like Las Vegas and I don't much like conventions, but I sort of wish I'd gone to YearlyKos anyway just to see what it was like. Maybe next year. Mainly, though, I wonder what the politicians thought of it. Do they really think the blogosphere is where the action is, or is it, as emptywheel suggests, just the "new Iowa" except with speeches about direct democracy and net neutrality instead of ethanol and crop subsidies?

I'm not yet sure about that. But in any case, should I really support a candidate just because he "gets the internet"? Whatever that means? I'm not sure about that either.

Did any of my regular commenters attend YearlyKos? What did you think?

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL ATTITUDES....Here are the latest Pew numbers about how we're viewed in other countries. There's not much good news here, though I suppose it's nice to see that even though our favorable ratings in Jordan have dropped since last year, at least they've bounced back from their all-time low of 1% in 2003. Overall, there were big drops in Spain, Russia, India and Turkey, and small gains in China and Pakistan.

However, the news from Pakistan continues to be mostly bad. Pakistanis favor Iran getting nuclear weapons by a margin of 52%-15% and support the Hamas victory in Palestine by a margin of 87%-4%.

In other findings, Germany and France increasingly sympathize with Israel, negative views of France are on the rise, and Turks are "turning away from the war on terror." Make of all this what you will.

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By: Kevin Drum

T-SHIRTS AND THE DHS....Ray LeMoine reports on his encounter with Homeland Security in a drab backroom at JFK airport upon returning from a trip to the Middle East:

"You know, we could have you sent up to Boston for the unresolved T-shirt infractions," Malik said. "But what we're holding you for is an NYPD bench warrant from 2004. You were in a fight with a parking attendant, found not guilty and then missed a court date." All true. But how and why does Homeland Security share the NYPD's jurisdiction in cases unrelated to counter-terrorism? A fight over a parking space hardly counts as terrorism.

Read the whole thing. It's even dumber than it sounds.

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By: Kevin Drum

JORDAN AND ZARQAWI....The LA Times reports that Jordan was instrumental in helping us track down and kill Abu Musab Zarqawi:

Until November 2005, when Zarqawi operatives crossed the border into Jordan and bombed three hotels in Amman, killing 60 people, Jordan's intelligence service had barely operated in Iraq.

After the bombings, Iraq became, and remains, Amman's primary security worry....With the permission of Iraq's fledgling government, Jordanian operatives flooded the war-torn country, cultivating informants and working the periphery of the Zarqawi network to find ways into the organization, a Jordanian official and intelligence experts said.

The Jordanians may or may not be exaggerating their role. Who knows? But it goes to show that insurgencies have the same kinds of problems as counterinsurgencies: if you use too little force you can't maintain the fight, but if you use too much force you create new enemies where none existed before. It remains the case that the United States doesn't seem to have a clue how to win the war in Iraq, but at least it's still possible that al-Qaeda will help the insurgents lose it.

UPDATE: In related news, Marc Lynch reports that the Jordanian government has arrested four members of parliament who public mourned Zarqawi's death.

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By: Kevin Drum

NO FROGMARCH FOR ROVE....Is this the final word on Karl Rove's involvement in the Valerie Plame case?

White House senior adviser Karl Rove has been told by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that he will not be charged in the CIA leak case, according to Robert Luskin, Rove's lawyer.

"In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation," Luskin said in a written statement Tuesday. "We believe that the special counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."

Of course, it's still possible that Rove is cooperating with Fitzgerald in some other aspect of the case, but that's baseless speculation too. Wait and see.

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June 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON TOM DELAY....A few commenters last night wondered if the Tom DeLay quote that I posted was real. After a bit of checking, my guess is that it's not. Rather, it's a paraphrase of a longer and even more addlepated rant. Here it is, straight from the Congressional Record four weeks after the Columbine shootings:

Every once in a while, I read something or hear something that blows away all that smoke that clouds a particular issue. A letter written by a Mr. Addison Dawson to the San Angelo Standard-Times is just such a statement....The following is Mr. Dawson's letter:

For the life of me, I can't understand what could have gone wrong in Littleton, Colorado. If only the parents had kept their children away from the guns, we wouldn't have had such a tragedy. Yeah, it must have been the guns.

....It couldn't have been because we place our children in day care centers where they learn their socialization skills among their peers under the law of the jungle, while employees who have no vested interest in the children look on and make sure that no blood is spilled.

....It couldn't have been because we have sterilized and contracepted our families down to sizes so small that the children we do have are so spoiled with material things that they come to equate the receiving of the material with love.

....It couldn't have been because our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud.

....Nah, it must have been the guns.

Yes indeed, back in the halcyon days of 1999 this was the sort of thing that The Hammer hailed as the kind of piercing social analysis that "blows away all that smoke." There's more along the same lines, but I only included the sections about guns, day care, birth control, and evolution. I left out the parts about broken homes, television, video games, children as pets, pets as children, moral relativism, and Bill Clinton. I also left out Barney Frank's longsuffering reply. Read the whole thing if you dare.

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SEALED....I'd sort of forgotten about Jason Leopold's claim last month that Karl Rove had been indicted in the Valerie Plame case and given 24 hours to "get his affairs in order." It's been 744 hours since that story appeared and we're all still waiting.

Today, Truthout's Marc Ash provides an explanation: the indictment was sealed. Here's the latest:

We know for certain several things about federal indictment "06 cr 128" (Sealed vs. Sealed). The indictment was returned by the same grand jury that has been hearing matters related to the Fitzgerald/Plame investigation. The indictment was filed in the time frame (around May the 10th) that the indictment of Karl Rove was first reported. The title of the indictment, Sealed vs. Sealed, is unusual. Typically a sealed federal indictment will be titled, "US vs. Sealed." The indictment has been sealed for roughly five weeks, an unusually long time (although not unheard-of). We know that experts watching the Fitzgerald/Plame investigation are keeping a very close eye on "06 cr 128" (Sealed vs. Sealed). We know that we attempted to contact Karl Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, on two occasions while researching this issue and both calls went unreturned.

Unfortunately, the update goes on to say only that they "believe" this indictment is related to the Plame case. This is based on a "single credible source," not the half dozen they claimed previously.

Well, who knows? Not me. I continue to have a hard time believing that Leopold just invented the whole thing, but on the other hand there's been precious little confirmation of any of it. So all we can do is wait. In any case, this update seemed worth posting just for the sheer weirdness factor of it all.

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By: Kevin Drum

HOLBROOKE ON IRAQ....I'm still catching up with stuff from last week, and one of the things that struck me was Suzanne Nossel and Michael Signer's report that Richard Holbrooke is seriously gloomy about our prospects in Iraq. First Suzanne:

He and our own Mort Halperin now agree that Iraq is worse than Vietnam both in its consequences and the policy challenge posed by the need to extricate. Neither thought they would ever say that about any foreign policy quandary. It's astonishing that with 1000 days left Bush is already saying he plans to hand this to his successor its a guaranteed 2000+ more casualties. Plus our international standing will only continue to wane.

Administration's dilemma is whether to draw down troops for political reasons or increase troops for strategic reasons....If Bush buck-passes as is his stated intent, it now looks like the 2008 election may be a referendum on Iraq. In office, a new president will have to end the war to have a hope of reelection in 2012.

And Michael:

Holbrooke intoned all of this as if he were reciting a dirge. Ominous is far too light of a word, and if he was only pessimistic he might as well have been dancing. Holbrooke seemed haunted and depressed by the darkness of a vision, and unquestionably convinced of the central premise of his vision that Iraq is "worse than Vietnam."

I'm pretty gloomy these days too. A year ago, I thought (or maybe just hoped) that a milestone-related withdrawal plan might improve Iraq's chances of avoiding complete chaos. Today I can't even convince myself of that little. If we leave now, full-blown civil war seems inevitable, but if we stay, full-blown civil war also seems inevitable except with the U.S. Army stuck in the middle. And that's long been my biggest worry.

Maybe I'll feel more upbeat tomorrow. But I doubt it. I think Holbrooke is right.

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By: Kevin Drum

PRESCHOOL BLUES....E.J. Dionne surveys the defeat of a recent ballot initiative to fund universal preschool in California and concludes that liberals need to face the fact that the public remains deeply skeptical of big government programs:

Progressives have a lot to think about. For one thing, there remains a deep skepticism about government spending, even for the best purposes. On the same day the two propositions went down, voters in five California counties rejected sales tax increases, mostly to fund transportation projects. Attacks on tax-and-spend sound old and tired, but they still have force.

....It gives me no joy to say these things, since I wish both California propositions had passed. But realism is not the enemy of idealism, and taxpayers aren't being selfish when they place a heavy burden on those who would ask them to part with some of their money. Advocates of public action need to meet that test.

I said something similar yesterday, but I want to offer a slightly different take anyway.

Dionne mentions several reasons the initiative might have failed (the wealthy bankrolled plenty of opposition, Californians are suffering from initiative fatigue, and preschool supporter Rob Reiner got caught up in a messy mini-scandal), but I think he might have missed a couple of dynamics that weren't entirely clear from 3,000 miles away.

First, California's fiscal problems are truly gargantuan, and everyone in the state understands this deep in their guts. This problem won't last forever (I hope), but for now any major spending proposal faces even higher than usual skepticism.

Second, Californians are really, really suffering from initiative fatigue. I've routinely voted against ballot initiatives for years, and it looks like my view is finally becoming much more mainstream. As near as I can tell, it's almost flatly impossible to pass a major initiative these days if there's any kind of serious opposition.

Third, the opposition to Prop 82 didn't really revolve around demonizing of higher taxes. Rather, the television ads and flyers pounded relentlessly on the idea of creating a "new preschool bureaucracy." I suspect that this resonated pretty strongly with voters, who have practically given up on the ability of state government to tackle even modest problems these days. Believe me, the gridlock in Sacramento makes Washington DC look like a model of Swiss efficiency.

Fourth and this is strictly anecdotal I ran into a fair number of people who were convinced that the whole thing was just a giant pander to the teachers union (Prop 82 required preschool instructors to be credentialed and paid at the same level as K-12 teachers). I may be off base on this, but I have a feeling that this might have been an underlying cause for a substantial part of the opposition.

These are all just details, of course, and basically Dionne is right. Californians liberals included see a state that's become largely dysfunctional combined with big-city school districts that are worse than dysfunctional. The idea of pumping money into a new education program while old ones still aren't working just wasn't going to fly. State government needs to work tolerably well in order for people to support funding more of it.

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R.I.P. TOM DELAY....Ruth Marcus memorializes Tom DeLay in the Washington Post today and does a fine job. However, I like many others will always remember him best for his reaction to the Columbine shootings in 1999:

Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence. The causes of youth violence are working parents who put their kids into daycare, the teaching of evolution in the schools, and working mothers who take birth control pills.

The man who said this has been one of the most powerful leaders of the Republican Party for over a decade and was treated seriously by the DC press corps the entire time. Never forget that about either the Republican Party or the press. All the rest is trivia.

UPDATE: Actually, this quote appears to be a paraphrase. The real rant is even more unhinged.

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June 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BACK FROM VACATION....Many, many thanks to Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report for filling in for me while I was on vacation. If you're not already reading him daily, this would be a great time to start. Bookmark TCR today!

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By: Kevin Drum

THE S-WORD....Ezra Klein, practicing for his career as a TV talking head, responds to a question about whether national healthcare is "socialist":

We should stop running from that moniker. If we're going to call what Canada, France, Germany, England, Japan, and essentially every actually, not essentially, just every other industrialized nation offers socialized health care, but they cover all of their citizens with better outcomes and lower costs than we do, then I'm happy to associate myself with that.

OK, it was only a training session. But still. Can I suggest something a wee bit different?

"Socialist" is a scare word conservatives use when they've run out of serious arguments. But national healthcare isn't socialism any more than Medicare is. It's just a practical and efficient way of providing medical treatment for everyone in the country, the same way that interstate highways are a practical and efficient way of providing roads for everyone in the country.

The facts are simple: A well-designed national healthcare plan gives you greater choice of doctors, it's less expensive than private insurance, it helps rein in spiraling costs, it keeps you covered even if you temporarily lose your job or have a preexisting condition, it helps out small companies that can't afford to provide health coverage for their employees, it helps out big companies like GM and Ford that are nearly bankrupt because they do provide health coverage, and it covers everyone all the time.

And best of all, it gets rid of the bureaucratic hodgepodge we have now: Medicare for the old, employer coverage for people who work for big companies, 50 different versions of Medicaid for the poor, emergency rooms for the destitute, and no coverage at all for people who are unlucky enough to work for Wal-Mart. It's an expensive mess that drives doctors nuts and provides most of us with mediocre care.

Or something like that. In any case, the basic answer to "Is national healthcare socialist?" should always be no, not yes. We are not in favor of command economies, ownership of the means of production, or state control of doctors, and that's what most people think of when you say "socialist."

And that's Kevin's media training for the day.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO VOTED FOR WHAT?....My offhand comment in the previous post that "the press rarely even bothers to report which party supports which stuff" was prompted by this article in the LA Times on Friday about the vote on Ed Markey's net neutrality amendment. I'm probably late to the party on this (no pun intended), but when did it become standard practice to write stories about legislation without even taking a single sentence to provide the vote count and the party breakdown?

For the record, the net neutrality amendment failed 269-152. Republicans voted against it 211-11 and Democrats voted in favor 140-58. But anyone reading the LAT article would have no idea who to blame or praise for this outcome. It was just "Congress."

I don't get it. We're repeatedly told that we live in the most polarized partisan atmosphere in decades, and yet news reports about legislation routinely refuse to add the dozen or so words it would take to tell you who voted for what. Why is that?

UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan has a more detailed breakdown of the vote. The news is not good for net neutrality supporters, he says.

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By: Kevin Drum

DONUTS, NOT DONUT HOLES....In Texas, Robert Pear reports that senior citizens are finally learning about the notorious but until now mostly theoretical Medicare prescription drug donut hole:

Jose M. Flores, a Medicare beneficiary who lives outside McAllen, used the new drug benefit four times from January to April to purchase Byetta, an injectable medicine for diabetes. Each time he paid $40.

So when he went to the pharmacy on May 25, he was dismayed to be told that he owed $167.56 for the next month's supply. Mr. Flores had reached the notorious gap in Medicare's drug coverage. He had to pay the full price of Byetta. His Medicare drug plan paid nothing.

"It's almost useless," said Mr. Flores, a 66-year-old school bus mechanic who was interviewed at his home in La Joya, Tex. "I'm paying the premium, but not getting protection."

Yep, the Republican Party's Medicare prescription drug plan pays for prescription drugs until you reach a certain limit, then pays nothing, and then after a few thousand more dollars starts paying for your drugs again. And this isn't just an embarrassing mistake. It's deliberate. As Mr. Flores astutely points out, though, there's no donut hole in the premiums: you keep paying those every month regardless of whether or not Medicare is paying for your drugs. With considerable justice, this strikes most people as insane.

Democrats are generally in favor of government programs for worthy purposes like healthcare, education, and the environment, and people generally say they trust Democrats on these issues. The problem is that people lie. They trust Democrats not to randomly trash program they care about, but they don't trust them or anyone else to create new programs that don't piss away most of their funding on waste, fraud, and transparently idiotic things like donut holes and insurance industry pork. (As Pear's article suggests, but doesn't quite say, insurance company bureaucracy makes the prescription drug program far more expensive and inefficient than it needs to be.) What's worse, since the press rarely even bothers to report which party supports which stuff, Democrats probably suffer as much from Medicare's donut holes and mind-boggling complexity as Republicans.

I'm not really going anywhere with this. Just venting a bit after a week of inactivity. This is hardly a new observation or a sufficient one, but if we liberals want the public to support liberal goals, we have to convince them that we can create programs that actually work well and spend their money wisely. I'll bet Harry Reid would get more mileage out of "Donuts, not donut holes" than he does out of "Together, America can do better."

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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BUSH TRIES DIPLOMACY -- WITH REPUBLICANS....Talk about your soft bigotry of low expectations; the New York Times ran a lengthy article today that offers the president credit for -- get this -- schmoozing with Republican lawmakers.

Senator John W. Warner and his wife were at the White House for a Memorial Day photo session with veterans when they received an unexpected invitation from President Bush. "Come on," the president said suddenly. "Let's go back to the Oval Office."

What followed, said Mr. Warner, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was a rare 15 minutes alone with the president, no aides or staff in sight.

Mr. Bush escorted the couple to a private garden that President Ronald Reagan had built -- "I never knew it was back there," said Mr. Warner, whose public service dates to the Eisenhower administration -- and, just as important, solicited Mr. Warner's views on Iraq. "It was a nice way of doing things," Mr. Warner said.

The Bush-Warner chat was noteworthy, the article suggests, because the president has considered Congress little more than an annoyance for more than five years. Now, with Bush's political capital gone and his agenda stalled, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has convinced the president to try "a more personal touch."

What does this include? Apparently, Bush is suddenly willing to talk to Republican members of Congress about issues that are on their minds. He's also willing to host "intimate cocktail parties" on the Truman Balcony and take lawmakers and their spouses for tours of the White House residence.

There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but it's odd that the paper of record seems to find it so remarkable. Bush may think of lawmakers as rubber-stamps, but it's hardly a striking development for a Republican president to talk to Republicans in Congress about policy matters.

For that matter, it's a sort of half-hearted charm offensive. The president is acting chummy with his GOP allies from the Hill, but as the Times article conceded, "[I]t is hard to find evidence that Mr. Bush's new open-ear policy has led to any substantive change in direction by the White House."

So we're left with a president who will, for the first time, chat with members of his own party, whom he'll proceed to ignore and act just as he always has. Are we supposed to be impressed by this?

Steve Benen 4:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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ADVICE, AD NAUSEAM, FOR DEMOCRATS....The Washington Post published six item today -- count 'em, six -- with analysis and recommendations for what ails the Democratic Party. The series, combined, is nearly 6,000 words of competing, at frequently contradictory, advice.

The DLC's Al From and Bruce Reed want the party to re-embrace Clintonism; David Sirota says the party needs to "move to the center," but makes a compelling case that the middle isn't what the conventional wisdom says it is; Peter Beinart outlines his pitch about how the party should approach foreign policy and interest in key international institutions; and one item collects sound-bite sized advice from 15 well-regarded Democratic thinkers. Taken together, the pieces are, well, a bit much.

I was particularly struck by Michael Grunwald's analysis, which suggested that the party's current position isn't all that bad, and that most of the advice it gets is rather self-serving.

The problem with Democrats is that they're too liberal. Or not liberal enough. They talk too much (or not enough) about abortion or torture or gun control. They're too condescending, too cosmopolitan, too secular, too wonkish, too weak. They've been captured by their interest groups, their contributors, their pollsters, their consultants. They're on the wrong side of a demographic revolution. Joe Sixpack doesn't want to have a beer with them. They should think strategically instead of tactically, or they should forget about strategy and speak from the heart. They aren't catering to values voters, heartland voters, exurban voters. They aren't motivating their base. They don't have a unified national message, or they're too worried about a unified national message. They need to do more than criticize Bush, or stop rolling over for Bush. They're too disconnected to understand what voters want to hear, or too cowardly to say things voters don't want to hear. They should imitate the Republican intellectual infrastructure that produces the conservative movement's big ideas, or imitate the Republican anti-intellectual attitude that doesn't worry about big ideas. Or they should stop imitating Republicans.

It can seem confusing, all this contradictory advice. But most of it reveals more about the biases of the advice-givers than it reveals about the party's prospects of regaining power.

I have a tradition going at my site called the "Sunday Discussion Group" where I throw out a topic and open the floor. Here's one for Washington Monthly readers: what do you think about all this advice? Are Dems in a better position than the conventional wisdom suggests, or is the party poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? If the Washington Post asked you to contribute some suggestions to today's series, what might you recommend?

Steve Benen 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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June 10, 2006

'YOU ALWAYS WANT TO POLARIZE SOMEBODY'....In 2002, New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race was too close to call, so top GOP officials came up with a clever-but-illegal plan: have a telemarketer tie up Democratic and union phone lines in order to interfere with their get-out-the-vote drives. Whether the scheme to criminally interfere with the election process was the deciding factor is unclear, but Republican John Sununu won the race by only 19,000 votes.

The scandal, which the Bush White House may or may not have been aware of, sent a few Republican officials to jail, including Allen Raymond, a former RNC official who sat down this week with down the Boston Globe for his first post-incarceration interview. Apparently, he's had time to reflect on what his party is all about.

[Raymond] said the scheme reflects a broader culture in the Republican Party that is focused on dividing voters to win primaries and general elections. He said examples range from some recent efforts to use border-security concerns to foster anger toward immigrants to his own role arranging phone calls designed to polarize primary voters over abortion in a 2002 New Jersey Senate race.

"A lot of people look at politics and see it as the guy who wins is the guy who unifies the most people," he said. "I would disagree. I would say the candidate who wins is the candidate who polarizes the right bloc of voters. You always want to polarize somebody."

Raymond stressed that he was making no excuses for his role in the New Hampshire case; he pleaded guilty and told the judge he had done a "bad thing." But he said he got caught up in an ultra-aggressive atmosphere in which he initially thought the decision to jam the phones "pushed the envelope" but was legal. He also said he had been reluctant to turn down a prominent official of the RNC, fearing that would cost him future opportunities from an organization that was becoming increasingly ruthless.

"Republicans have treated campaigns and politics as a business, and now are treating public policy as a business, looking for the types of returns that you get in business, passing legislation that has huge ramifications for business," he said. "It is very much being monetized, and the federal government is being monetized under Republican majorities."

As Digby put it, "It's amazing what happens to people when they run into trouble with the law, isn't it? Talk about your moral clarity."

According to this former top GOP operative, today's Republican Party believes in not only pushing the envelope in terms of what's legal, but it's also anxious to tear the electorate in half, and hope the GOP is left with the bigger chunk. In terms of policy making, the distinction between cut-throat campaigning and governing is practically gone. It's all part of the "broader culture in the Republican Party."

This should come as a surprise to, well, no one, but it's always nice to have an experienced Republican insider admit it.

Steve Benen 8:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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LIEBERMAN'S 'OPEN OPTIONS'....This week, a Quinnipiac poll showed Sen. Joe Lieberman leading his Democratic primary rival, Ned Lamont, but not by the margin he'd like. The three-term incumbent, facing a political novice, was ahead 55% to 40%.

Given the circumstances, Lieberman should probably do everything he can to remind Democratic voters that, despite breaking ranks on several key issues, he loves the party, shares its commitments, and is proud to run under its banner. Instead, he continues to do the opposite.

In the wake of a statewide poll that shows U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman winning re-election easily if he runs as an independent, the three-term Democratic incumbent refused Friday to rule out the possibility.

"I'm not going to close out any option," Lieberman said during a campaign stop at Carmine's Italian Grill.

As a practical matter, I can appreciate Lieberman's dilemma. If he loses in the primary, Lieberman can very likely run a very competitive, if not successful, campaign as an independent. Indeed, the Quinnipiac poll shows him winning a three-way race fairly easily.

But if, in the short term, Lieberman hopes to win over primary voters, talking openly about possibly abandoning his party strikes me as a spectacularly bad strategy. He is, in effect, telling Democratic voters, "I want to be the Democratic nominee, but my allegiance will disappear if you choose someone else." (For the record, Lamont has said he'll back Lieberman if the incumbent wins the primary.)

Primary voters tend to be the most loyal, active members of both parties. As a rule, they have made a sincere commitment to the party, and more often than not, like candidates who feel the same way. If many Connecticut Democrats are concerned that Lieberman's values and priorities have strayed too far from the party's mainstream, how does Lieberman suppose these people will react to word that he's prepared to give up on the party altogether?

Steve Benen 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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HECKUVA EMAIL, BROWNIE....In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and for months afterwards, former FEMA director Michael Brown was excoriated for his response (or lack thereof) to the crisis along the Gulf Coast. "Brownie" has tried to resuscitate his image a bit more recently, and yesterday told CNN that he received an e-mail before his resignation stating the president was glad to see Brown bear the brunt -- instead of him.

Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Friday that he received the e-mail five days before his resignation from a high-level White House official whom he declined to identify.

The September 2005 e-mail reads: "I did hear of one reference to you, at the Cabinet meeting yesterday. I wasn't there, but I heard someone commented that the press was sure beating up on Mike Brown, to which the president replied, 'I'd rather they beat up on him than me or Chertoff.' "

The sender adds, "Congratulations on doing a great job of diverting hostile fire away from the leader."

CNN couldn't verify the email's authenticity, but it came from an "eop.gov" address, suggesting it came from the Executive Office of the President.

To be sure, there are a couple of degrees of hearsay involved -- president told someone, who told someone else, who told Brown -- but it's certainly consistent with everything we've seen from the Bush White House from day one. When trouble arises, the buck stops anywhere but the Oval Office. The "leader" has to be shielded.

It's also entirely in line with how these guys view the "era of responsibility." Remember this gem from then-Gov. Bush's 2000 convention speech? "A hundred years from now this must not be remembered as an age rich in possession and poor in ideals. Instead, we must usher in an era of responsibility.... [O]ur nation's leaders our responsible to confront problems, not pass them onto others. And to lead this nation to a responsibility era, that president himself must be responsible." Too bad this outlook didn't last long.

For that matter, Mark Kleiman's right that the White House should own up to this. At this point, a Bush spokesperson would only say that the email Brown produced is an "old story." As Kleiman put it, "Either the President said what Brown's White House source says he said, at a Cabinet meeting, or he didn't."

Steve Benen 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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CLEARING THE AIR ON CAPITOL HILL....Washington is allegedly filled with smoke-filled rooms, but DC recently implemented a smoking ban for office spaces citywide. It affects everyone -- except, apparently, lawmakers on Capitol Hill who haven't decided if they'll follow the city law or not. (Congress is not automatically subject to D.C. law.)

This week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and 18 of his Democratic colleagues asked Speaker Dennis Hastert to help bring the Hill in line with the rest of the city.

"Unless you act, the Capitol Complex will soon be one of the few places in the District of Columbia where the law does not protect employees and visitors for the harmful effects of secondhand smoke," the lawmakers wrote. Congress is not subject to the D.C. law.

The Democrats single out the Speaker's Lobby off the House floor, a favorite hangout of Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers who take breaks from the action on the floor to puff on a cigarette or cigar.

Boehner probably won't take kindly to the idea -- he's a proud chain-smoker -- but I vaguely recall the Contract with America emphasizing the importance of lawmakers following the same laws as everybody else.

I can personally think of dozens of committee hearings that I've attended in which members of the Virginia and North Carolina delegations would light up in the middle of testimony, much to the surprise of visitors who knew they couldn't legally do the same in their office.

So, how about it, Congress? Care to clear the air?

Steve Benen 10:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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June 9, 2006

FRIST'S FARM FAMILY....Since the estate tax debate began in earnest, congressional Republicans have highlighted what they see as the tragic consequences of the estate tax. As a rule, they point to hypothetical horror stories, but are usually a little short on actual examples.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), however, claims to have found a real-life incident about a family in his home state. This is from an email Frist sent to his supporters on Wednesday:

"I am reminded of a case in Williamson County, TN. I know of a family there that inherited from their dad the 167 acre farm that they grew up working on. The kids considered keeping the farm ... until they got the 'inheritance tax' bill, which typically runs 40 to 50% of the current market value of a property in excess of $1 million.

"The children needed to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars within mere months of their dad's death. Like so many other families who inherit the family farm, they simply couldn't do that without selling the land."

Something doesn't quite add up. First, Frist is just wrong about the amount at which the estate tax kicks in. The senator's email mentions "property in excess of $1 million," but as MarketWatch's Marshall Loeb explained this week, the portion of an estate that is automatically exempt from any federal taxation is $2 million (or $4 million per couple).

Second, Frist said grieving kids had "mere months" to pay "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to the government. At a minimum, this is misleading. The law says the estate tax is not due until at least nine months after a person dies, and in some cases, heirs get years.

Third, when Frist noted that the estate tax "runs 40 to 50%" of an estate worth more than $1 million, he's not only wrong about the dollar amount, he's also wrong about how the tax is applied -- it affects an estate's value over and above $2 million, not the whole thing.

And, finally, as Crooked Timber's Ted Barlow told me, it's rather disingenuous for Frist to claim that the tax hits "so many other families," considering how much trouble Republicans have had finding real people who have had to sell their family farm because of the tax.

So, in the end, Frist appears to be have been wrong about ... nearly everything. Here's a final thought: why would the Senate Majority Leader and likely presidential candidate put all of these errors in writing?

Steve Benen 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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PREDICTABLY, SPECTER CAVES....Remember in February, when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) unveiled a bill that would have mandated that the Bush administration get a warrant before tapping a domestic phone call? Don't worry; neither does Specter.

The senior senator from Pennsylvania has been all over the map on this one. First he wanted judicial oversight. More recently, Specter offered a "compromise" proposal whereby lawmakers could make the president's surveillance programs legal -- after the fact -- while also making it next to impossible for someone to have the legal "standing" to challenge the administration's conduct in court. Yesterday, Specter went ever further.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The new proposal specifies that it cannot "be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to gather foreign intelligence information or monitor the activities and communications of any person reasonably believed to be associated with a foreign enemy of the United States."

It's hard to call this a "compromise." It's more accurate to call it a "bad joke."

Just a few months ago, as the public was learning about Bush's legally-dubious surveillance initiatives, Specter swore up and down that he'd demand full oversight and accountability. He talked about the needs for checks and balances. He was willing to make all kinds of public threats.

But it was just hollow rhetoric. Specter now believes a warrant from a FISA court to eavesdrop on a domestic phone call should be "optional." Anyone care to guess how frequently Bush might choose to exercise this "option"?

But wait; there's more.

Another part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law.

Specter believes the administration's surveillance efforts violated the law, but under his new approach, there's no punishment and no accountability. Silly me, I thought Republicans were against amnesty.

Glenn Greenwald captures the problem nicely.

The idea that the President's allies in Congress would enact legislation which expressly shields government officials, including the President, from criminal liability for past lawbreaking is so reprehensible that it is difficult to describe. To my knowledge, none of the other proposed bills -- including those from the most loyal Bush followers in the Senate -- contained this protective provision. And without knowing anywhere near as much as I would need to know in order to form a definitive opinion, the legality of this provision seems questionable at best. It's really the equivalent of a pardon, a power which the Constitutional preserves for the President. Can Congress act as a court and simply exonerate citizens from criminal conduct?

Violations of the law in the past are forgiven, and following the law in the future is "optional." Who could have imagined that Specter would cave so completely and abandon the positions he so forcefully articulated just weeks ago? Oh wait, everyone could have imagined it.

Steve Benen 6:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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MURTHA V HOYER?....Obviously, the midterm elections are still five months away, but since there's at least a real possibility that Democrats will take back the House, it's only natural for there to be some behind-the-scenes jockeying for leadership roles -- just in case.

Last week, there were some rumors that DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel could make a run for Speaker, or if the party fell short of the majority, Minority Leader, but Emanuel dismissed the talk and the caucus continues to support Nancy Pelosi. But what about the #2 job? Subscription-only Roll Call reports a surprising development this afternoon.

In a move that figures to throw the Democratic Caucus into a contentious and volatile leadership battle just as the mid-term election season is heating up, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has announced his plans to run for Majority Leader if the Democrats reclaim the House this fall.

"Our goal is to win the House back and if there's an open seat, I'm the candidate," the 73-year-old Pennsylvanian said in a statement.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office confirmed to TNR's Michael Crowley that Hoyer, whom everyone has assumed would move up if the midterms went the party's way, would also run for Majority Leader. A senior Democratic aide also told Crowley that Murtha's announcement could become a "huge diversion" and that the party shouldn't get "distracted with a leadership race" right now.

I realize that if Murtha is going to mount a serious challenge, he'll need to start lining up support early on, but it'd be a shame if House Democrats spent the next several months squabbling over leadership posts that might not even be available if they don't focus on reclaiming the majority.

Crowley concluded, "This could get ugly." I think that's a safe bet.

Steve Benen 4:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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'GOOD' FLAG-BURNERS VS 'BAD'....When the right criticizes hate-crime proposals, the main argument seems to be opposition to punishing one's thoughts. As the argument goes, judge the conduct, not the motivation for the conduct.

With this in mind, I've been wondering what these same people might say about the flag-burning amendment that's supposed to come up for a vote in the Senate next week. Though I suspect proponents would deny it, the measure seems to be aimed, not at those who burn the American flag, but at those who burn the American flag for the wrong reasons.

About a year ago, I was doing some research on flag "desecration" and found dozens of examples across the country of veterans' groups and Boy Scouts holding public flag-burning ceremonies. In Hazelton, Pa., Tom Kostick, commander of AMVETS Post 253, helped collect thousands of flags for a mass burning and set up a mailbox in front of the VFW building where veterans can donate flags for the ceremony. "It's the only proper way to it," Kostick said. "We like to let people know the proper way to dispose of them." Look at the men in this picture. They're all burning American flags.

Now, obviously, these aren't the kinds of incidents that Orrin Hatch and congressional Republicans are worried about. I suspect supporters of the amendment would argue that these public ceremonies are different because the people involved love the United States and were honoring the flag by burning it.

In other words, the argument is "good" people can burn the flag, but "bad" people should be prohibited from doing so, through a constitutional amendment if necessary. People who burn the flag out of reverence should be encouraged, but those who do so in protest should be prosecuted. It's not how you act; it's what you're thinking while you act.

I don't imagine Hatch or anyone else wants to punish patriotic Americans who burn the flag for all the right reasons, but I'm yet to figure out how the law is supposed to draw the distinction between the respectful and the insolent.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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TAKING ON BIG BIRD -- AGAIN....In the mid-'90s, Gingrich & Co. thought there would be minimal political backlash if they tried to slash funding for PBS. They were wrong, the public rallied behind Sesame Street characters (Save Big Bird!), and the GOP backed off.

Ten years later, conservatives in the House have decided to give this another shot.

House Republicans yesterday revived their efforts to slash funding for public broadcasting, as a key committee approved a $115 million reduction in the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs.

On a party-line vote, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees health and education funding approved the cut to the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes money to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. It would reduce the corporation's budget by 23 percent next year, to $380 million, in a cut that Republicans said was necessary to rein in government spending.

The reduction, which would come in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, must be approved by the full Appropriations Committee, and then the full House and Senate, before it could take effect. Democrats and public broadcasting advocates began planning efforts to reverse the cut.

The Boston Globe added, "Republicans say they remain adamant that public broadcasting cannot receive funding at the expense of healthcare and education programs." That's an interesting spin -- Republicans are prepared to boost spending in healthcare and education? Since when?

Steve Benen 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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MAY THE BETTER DEMAGOGUE WIN....The debate among conservatives over "a la carte" cable -- in which consumers pay only for cable TV channels they want -- got a little more interesting this week when the James Dobson weighed in, on the opposite side of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Advocates for cable choice have picked up a big endorsement: Dr. James Dobson, the founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action. [...]

Daniel Weiss, senior media and sexuality analyst for Focus on the Family Action, said even if a family blocks objectionable channels, it still winds giving money to the company's behind them.

"You're not only losing money out of your own wallet," he said, "you're actually subsidizing and helping to fund the very program you find reprehensible. That's simply not an option."

Except to many of Dobson's closest allies, it has to be an option.

The FCC says that the average household watches only 17 channels -- and apparently, evangelical right-wingers aren't pulling in many viewers. As far as Robertson, Falwell, Benny Hinn, and a few others are concerned, if consumers pick which cable channels to receive, they probably won't sign up for Christian Broadcasting Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network. For TV preachers, fewer households means fewer viewers, and fewer viewers means less power, influence, and cash.

It's set up quite a fight among the theocons. Focus on the Family and the Parents Television Council want a-la-carte cable so families won't have to pay for channels they find offensive. CBN and Falwell ministries are in a panic over a-la-carte cable because, without it, they're effectively going to be run off the air.

Colby May, a lawyer for Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, noted that religious broadcasters believe the measure "will cause a significant dent in their ability to fill the great commission: to go into all the world and share the news that Jesus is Lord."

Who'll win? Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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THE PERMANENT BASES QUESTION....A few months ago, Tom Engelhardt noted that the "debate" over permanent U.S. bases in Iraq was practically non-existent. After a search of the LexisNexis database, he explained, "American reporters adhere to a simple rule: The words 'permanent,' 'bases,' and 'Iraq' should never be placed in the same sentence, not even in the same paragraph; in fact, not even in the same news report."

With the U.S. set to build four "super-bases" in Iraq, which many believe will eventually be part of a massive permanent presence, maybe it's time to put the question on the table? According to one House Democrat, GOP lawmakers are avoiding the issue.

[Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)] introduced an amendment to the latest emergency war spending bill prohibiting the use of funds to build such bases. The House accepted it, and the Senate included the same wording in its version.

However, the provision was dropped by House and Senate conferees reconciling the two versions of the bill.

"Their willingness to abuse the process is amazing," she said of Republican leaders. "I hope the debate will at least get a debate going on permanent bases."

Thanks to a bi-partisan deal struck in April, Lee will probably have a chance to at least ask the question. The House is poised to hold a full-day debate on Iraq policy at some point next week, which both parties hope to use to make their case on the future of the war. Several Democrats are anxious to discuss whether the U.S. plans to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq, and with any luck, they'll get some answers.

Lee said in a press release that "Republicans need to go on record as to whether they think we should stay in Iraq permanently." We'll see what they say.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Zachary Roth

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...For those of you with any interest in the greatest sporting ever created, check out Goalpost, The New Republic's World Cup blog. In terms of flair and creativity, they've assembled the soccer-writing equivalent of the famed Brazil 1970 team, and even non-soccer fans will enjoy the dubious socio-political-athletic theorizing and crude national stereotyping that World Cup writing always encourages. Plus, I'll be contributing some on-the-scene reporting live from Germany starting next week. The first game kicks off in two hours, but Goalpost is already going strong...

Zachary Roth 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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FDA APPROVES HPV VACCINE....I was more than a little worried that the FDA would cave to conservative political pressure (again), but the agency clearly did the right thing yesterday.

In what officials called a major public health breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the first vaccine developed to protect women against cervical cancer.

The vaccine, which works by building immunity against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, was found to be effective in preventing almost three-quarters of all cervical cancers.

"This vaccine is a significant advance in the protection of women's health in that it strikes at the infections that are the root cause of many cervical cancers," said FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.

He predicted that the vaccine -- the first ever designed specifically to prevent a cancer -- will have a "dramatic effect" on the health of women worldwide.

The reason this was even a debate at all in public health circles is that some far-right political activists have criticized the vaccine, regardless of its benefits, because they feared young women might believe they can have sex without getting cervical cancer. The Family Research Council explained, "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex."

Let's be clear: this vaccine offers the promise of preventing cervical cancer and saving thousands of lives. For some conservatives, however, it comes down to a fairly straightforward position: The vaccine may lead to more pre-marital sex, which ultimately trumps everything else.

To be fair, not every conservative group who weighed in on this debate felt that way. Some organizations backed the vaccine, but oppose making it mandatory. That's at least open to some debate.

But there was nevertheless a sizable religious right bloc that fought this vaccine every step of the way. Fortunately, the FDA had the good sense to look past their callousness.

Steve Benen 9:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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June 8, 2006

'A SHARED SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY'....Whenever the issue universal health care comes up, near the top of the list of conservative talking points is concern about government "interfering" with health care. As it turns out, it may not be such a scary concept after all.

The federal government should guarantee that all Americans have basic health insurance coverage, says a committee set up by Congress to find out what people want when it comes to health care.

"Assuring health care is a shared social responsibility," says the interim report of the Citizens' Health Care Working Group, a 14-member committee that went to 50 communities and heard from 23,000 people.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) agreed in 2003 to create a congressionally-backed panel to work outside DC to find out what Americans actually want from the health care system. Apparently, people said they want universal coverage, guaranteed by the federal government.

To which I respond: of course they do. The existing system costs too much and offers too little to too few people. Since the Clinton plan fell apart in 1994, the country has seen no practical changes, except services cost more and there are more uninsured Americans. A single-payer, universal system -- services are provided by a private healthcare system, but financed by the government -- has to be more appealing than the status quo.

This gets back to something Kevin and I were discussing a few months ago: when it comes to the broader political debate over healthcare, those on the left who support a single-payer system don't have to worry about changing the public's mind -- they're already there. The vast majority of the country actually wants the federal government to spend more money on health care.

As for this specific Wyden/Hatch committee, the next step in the process is a 90-day public comment period, followed by a response from the Bush White House, and then five congressional committee hearings. I'm not optimistic -- "socialized medicine" still strikes some people as scary, for reasons I don't understand -- but it should be interesting.

Steve Benen 9:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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REACHING PARIAH STATUS....By now, you've probably seen the clip of Matt Lauer interviewing Ann Coulter about her new book, which includes a scathing attack on widows who lost loved ones on 9/11. "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzies," Coulter wrote. "I have never seen people enjoying their husbands' death so much." Lauer pushed Coulter on the comments, but she stood by her book.

Coulter's attack has generated quite a bit of attention, and last night, NBC Nightly News ended its program with a story about the controversy. Brian Williams told viewers:

"Tonight we're going to go off the air with a report on civility in American life. The explosion in our media, our deafening national noise level, and our changing mores, have made this a much different era in America than the one our parents grew up in. And just when you think it seems like there are no limits on anything, someone comes a long and makes a comment that goes over the line, the line that is shared by just about everybody because some things, it turns out, are still sacred."

I'm glad Williams was willing to say, on the air, that Coulter crossed some ambiguous standard of decency, but I'm not quite sure what took NBC so long. Coulter's record of hatred isn't new -- but that hasn't stopped the Today show from having this clown on nearly every other month since last fall. For that matter, how long until she's invited back onto the network to spew her callous nonsense again?

In the broader context, I've always been curious what it takes for a conservative to reach genuine pariah status in the political world. Last fall, Bill O'Reilly suggested that it'd be fine with him if al Queda attacked a major American city. There were no apparent adverse consequences. In 2001, just 48 hours after 9/11, Jerry Falwell said liberal Americans were to blame for the attacks and said the nation "deserved" to be hit by terrorists. Five years later, he's hanging out with John McCain as if he were a credible figure in Republican politics, which he unfortunately is. It's easy to pull equally disturbing comments from Limbaugh, Robertson, Dobson, etc. Not one lost his status as a leading conservative voice.

Coulter is a best-selling pariah this week, but she'll be back on the air soon enough. What would it take for a conservative to get permanently shunned by polite society? I have a hunch lashing out at 9/11 widows just isn't enough these days.

Steve Benen 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (204)

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0 FOR 2....Yesterday, Bill Frist and Senate Republicans kicked off the first of three major far-right initiatives with a vote on a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Step two was a vote today on the permanent repeal of the estate tax. It went about as well as yesterday.

A 57-41 vote fell three votes short of advancing the bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the Senate will vote again this year on a tax that opponents call the "death tax."

"Getting rid of the death tax is just too important an issue to give up so easily," he said.

Frist may try again, but the votes just aren't there. Kudos to the two Republicans -- Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) -- who had the good sense to vote "no." As Voinovich put it, "Repealing the estate tax during this time of fiscal crisis would be incredibly irresponsible and intellectually dishonest."

There's still talk of an almost-equally-irresponsible "compromise" under consideration, but in the meantime, today's vote was very encouraging. It was, as Atrios put it, a "rare moment of sanity" in the Senate.

As for the three big "Divide America" votes -- anti-gay amendment, flag burning, and estate tax -- the GOP is now 0-for-2. The flag amendment still appears to be a couple of votes short, but in case any wavering Democrats need a reminder about this cynical scheme, the New York Times had good editorial on the subject today. Let's hope a few of otherwise sensible Dems -- Sens. Reid, Rockefeller, Salazar, and Feinstein, I'm looking at you -- take the time to give it a read.

Steve Benen 6:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Zachary Roth

After Abramoff...If you liked Jeffrey Birnbaum's cover story in the most recent issue of The Washington Monthly on how the Abramoff case could revolutionize the campaign finance system -- or if you didn't read it yet, or even if, hard to imagine, you read it and didn't like it -- you'll want to catch Birnbaum talking about the subject tomorrow morning at 8am on C-Span's "Washington Journal." Should be some good breakfast TV.

Zachary Roth 5:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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By: Paul Glastris

THE PROGRESSIVE TRINITY... There have been a number of attempts recently to rethink and redefine progressivism for the 21st Century. We took some stabs at this with our New Populism package and William Galstons essay on freedom. So did Michael Tomasky in his widely-read essay in The American Prospect, as did, in a similar vein, Ruy Teixiera and John Halpin in "The Politics of Definition."

The latest installment in this ongoing effort is The Progressive Trinity: Family, Business, and Public Service, by San Francisco attorney Greg Colvin, which were proud to bring to you as a web-only feature. It came to us via our mutual friend Bill Moyers, who first encouraged Colvin to write the essay.

Colvin argues that American life is out of balance. The realm of business, through its own success, has encroached on and disrupted two other realms whose vitality and integrity are crucial to sound democracy and the good life: the family and public service. The aim of any new progressivism, Colvin argues, is to right that imbalance. And the principle that should guide this new progressivism is a melding of the ideas of John Stuart Mill and modern human rights theorists: "the greatest good for the greatest number, with dignity for all."

No summation can quite do justice to this long and wonderfully vernacular essay, which has the feel of something the writer has been living with and turning over in his mind for years. There are quite a few points of agreement between this essay and those of Tomasky and Teixiera-Halpin, especially on the centrality of the idea of shared sacrifice. Its really worth reading the whole thing.

Paul Glastris 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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'I THINK THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON WMD'....I can appreciate that many Republicans are slightly embarrassed that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but that's no reason for lawmakers to go into denial.

Last night, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) faced off in a debate against Joseph Sestak (D), a former deputy chief of naval operations and the first director of Deep Blue, the Navy's anti-terrorism group. Naturally, the war in Iraq was a major topic, and the two debated the principal reason used to launch the invasion.

While Sestak said Iraq was "not a clear nor a present danger" because no weapons of mass destruction have been found, Weldon said he knows of four sites in Basra and Nasiriyah that have yet to be searched for biological or chemical weapons.

"I think the jury is still out on WMD," said Weldon.

It's been three years, Charles Duelfer said Iraq did not possess, or have concrete plans to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, but Weldon wants his constituents to hold out hope that he was right all along.

Did I mention that Weldon is the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee?

Steve Benen 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (152)

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NAME THAT OUTRAGE....Here's a little game. I'll give you the quote and source; you guess what outrage the person is describing.

"It's amazing. Such incompetence is worse than anything I've ever seen in six administrations," Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said during a news briefing. "At some point, this administration has got to stop saying we'll hire or appoint political cronies, but will actually appoint somebody who knows how to make the government work."

Katrina? Iraq? Medicare Plan D? This response could apply to so many administration controversies, but in this case, it's the stunning -- and widening -- data-security breach now encompassing nearly all active-duty military, Guard, and Reserve members.

In the Senate, Democrats renewed their criticism of Veteran Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson and demanded his ouster following the agency's disclosure Tuesday that personal information for 2.2 million military personnel -- not just 50,000, as initially believed -- was stolen from a VA employee May 3. [...]

In the House, about 150 Democrats called on President Bush to request emergency funds to provide free credit monitoring for the millions of veterans and military personnel who are now at risk for identity theft.

"These records were stolen more than a month ago, and we're still figuring out what information was lost?" asked Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, whose House Government Reform Committee will hold hearings today in which Nicholson will testify. "We need to hear a good explanation for why that is."

So far, neither the White House nor the VA has one. What a surprise.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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ZARQAWI KILLED IN IRAQ....News reports this morning confirm that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed last night in Iraq.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings whose leadership of the insurgent group al- Qaeda in Iraq made him the most wanted man in the country, was killed Wednesday evening by an air strike near Baqubah, north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.

The stated aim of the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, in addition to ousting U.S. and other forces from Iraq, was to foment bloody sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a prospect that has become a grim reality over the past several months.

Iraqi and U.S. officials agreed that his death would not necessarily stem the violence and insurgency -- and as if to prove the point, an explosion ripped through a busy outdoor market in Baghdad just a few hours after Zarqawi's killing was announced. Regardles, when a dangerous terrorist can no longer wreak havoc, it's good news.

One relevant angle to this story, however, that has not been emphasized (or even mentioned) by most news outlets this morning is that Zarqawi could have been taken out years ago, on several occasions, but Bush decided not to strike.

NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself -- but never pulled the trigger.

In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council.

"Here we had targets, we had opportunities, we had a country willing to support casualties, or risk casualties after 9/11 and we still didn't do it," said Michael O'Hanlon, military analyst with the Brookings Institution.

This NBC report was later confirmed by the Wall Street Journal and Australian journalists who got on-the-record comments from the former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit.

So, while it's no doubt good news that Zarqawi is no more, it's worth remembering that Bush wasn't willing to hit this known al-Qaeda terrorist in a known location based on air-tight intelligence before the war even began.

Steve Benen 8:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (296)

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June 7, 2006
By: Christina Larson

GREENSPAN FOR HYBRIDS... This morning Alan Greenspan testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on the end of cheap oil ("The energy abundance on which this nation was built is over"), our economic vulnerability, and the need to "wean ourselves off gasoline." On this last matter, where to focus attention and funding ... corn ethanol? Pah! We couldn't harvest and process enough corn domestically to make a significant dent in fuel demand. More drilling sites? "It makes no sense to go out and try to find new sources," Greenspan said, as the percentage of worldwide reserves open to international oil companies is fast shrinking. Hydrogen cars? Didn't even come up. If you're a betting (or investing) man, concentrate on energy-efficiency and honing technology for cellulostic ethanol and plug-in hybrids. Says Al.

Christina Larson 5:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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A HOUSE DIVIDED....The three big rally-the-base votes in the Senate -- ban on gay marriage, ban on flag "desecration," and permanent repeal of the estate tax -- are all expected to lose, but more importantly, they're expected to put Democrats on the defensive while uniting Republicans and their base.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the culture war. Democrats don't seem at all intimidated, and Republicans appear increasingly divided amongst themselves.

On the anti-gay amendment, which seven Republicans voted against today, many in the party wanted proponents of the measure to just go away.

"I know in many meetings of our colleagues when the issue of marriage comes up, heads drop," Mr. Santorum said in a floor speech. "It is just an issue that people just feel uncomfortable talking about. It's something that maybe in some respects they feel like, why do we even have to? Why is this even an issue?" [...]

One Republican strategist, Ed Rollins, said it was a mistake for the president and Senate leaders to focus attention on a marriage ban now, in what could look like a panicked reaction to shrinking public support. "What the president needs to do is look like a leader, not be somebody who looks like a politician who is overreacting to polls," Mr. Rollins said. "If anything, he is reminding people of what they don't like about the Republican Party."

The GOP is split on the estate tax, too.

Senate Republicans, pushing once again to abolish the estate tax on inherited wealth, are split about whether to push for a full repeal that would probably fail, or seek a more cautious compromise with Democrats that could pass. [...]

In what is either a shrewd game of chicken or an effort to inflame the passions of crucial Republican constituencies, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, has made little effort to strike a compromise with conservative Democrats that would greatly reduce but not fully abolish the tax..... The strategy has divided Republicans.

For that matter, some top Senate Republicans are even balking on the party's flag scheme.

Like most Democrats, two Republican senators, Robert F. Bennett of Utah and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have consistently opposed the measure.

"I don't want to amend the Constitution to solve a nonproblem," Mr. Bennett said. "People are not burning the flag. The only time they start is when this amendment gets offered."

Indeed, opponents of the measure routinely help highlight the argument against a flag "desecration" amendment by quoting one fairly high-profile Republican:

"The First Amendment exists to ensure that freedom of speech and expression applies not just to that with which we agree or disagree, but also that which we find outrageous. I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will still be flying proudly long after they have slunk away." -- Colin Powell, May 1999

These three measures are supposed to be the kinds of conservative, nonsensical ideas that keep the GOP together. Instead, the initiatives are a) failing; b) getting shrugged off by Democrats; and c) highlighting fissures within the Republican Party. Great job, GOP.

Steve Benen 4:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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THINK OF THE CHILDREN....So, as expected, the FMA failed again today. Sponsors expected to get 52 votes, but they ended up with 49, just one more than in 2004. How did supporters manage so little progress after gaining allies in Congress in the last election? I suspect exchanges like this one from a press conference on the Hill help explain part of the problem.

[Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.)] held a news conference Monday at which the speakers said they wanted to reduce the "epidemic level of fatherlessness in America."

"How would outlawing gay marriage encourage heterosexual fathers to stick around?" was the first question. Allard skirted the question by saying that "laws send a message to our children."

The moderator, Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, tried to find a question on another subject. But when reporters continued to press Allard on the link between same-sex marriage and deadbeat dads, Daniels blurted out: "All right, you know what? We're going to call this press conference to a close."

Rhetorically, at least, supporters of the amendment spent an almost-ridiculous amount of time arguing that gay marriage would lead to children without parents. Focus on the Family ran a series of print ads across the country asking, "Why doesn't Senator [fill in the blank] believe every child needs a mother and a father?" The ads explained:

"It is a painful but very real truth. Homosexual marriages intentionally create motherless families or fatherless families. But a compassionate society would not deliberately deny a child a mother or father."

It's always a mistake to look for logic in far-right claims, but aren't these arguments geared towards opposition to gay adoption? Taking this approach just one step further, wouldn't conservatives also want a constitutional amendment banning divorce among couples with children?

On second thought, it's probably best not to give these guys any ideas.

Steve Benen 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (134)

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THE U-TURN POLICY ON IRAN....The Bush administration's policy on Iran was, for the most part, unambiguous. The president believed the United States should not take part in negotiations with the Iranians and Europeans, should not offer Iran nuclear fuel to be used in a peaceful nuclear energy program, and should not offer Iran any incentives that might "reward bad behavior."

Indeed, any suggestions from Democrats that the administration try a more engaged, carrot-like approach was immediately dismissed as "appeasement." Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Condoleezza Rice told Fox News, "This regime has to be isolated in its bad behavior, not quote-unquote 'engaged.'"

I'm glad to see the administration has come around to more progressive approach, but let's not forget this is a world-class, Grade-A flip-flop.

The confidential diplomatic package backed by Washington and formally presented to Iran on Tuesday leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil, U.S. and European officials said.

That concession, along with a promise of U.S. assistance for an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, is conditioned on Tehran suspending its current nuclear work until the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency determines with confidence that the program is peaceful. U.S. officials said Iran would also need to satisfy the U.N. Security Council that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, a benchmark that White House officials believe could take years, if not decades, to achieve.

But the Bush administration and its European allies have withdrawn their demand that Iran abandon any hope of enriching uranium for nuclear power, according to several European and U.S. officials with knowledge of the offer. The new position, which has not been acknowledged publicly by the White House, differs significantly from the Bush administration's stated determination to prevent Iran from mastering technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

The Moose explained, "If a Kerry Administration had offered this deal, there would be the equivalent of conservative rioting in the streets. An impeachment resolution would be offered. The theme of the day on talk radio would be the betrayal of America." I think this is absolutely right.

The same Bush administration that said it would isolate Iran -- and which said we shouldn't vote for Kerry because he might be inconsistent on national security matters -- has offered Iran a very handsome package, including international aid on a nuclear reactor, airplane parts, and an enrichment program of its very own.

In other words, Bush's new Iranian policy is to the left of where Kerry was during the '04 campaign, when the GOP blasted Kerry's approach as dangerously soft. What's more, the administration has embraced the very policies it once denounced.

Insert joke about Bush being "against this policy before he was for it" here.

Steve Benen 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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BRING ON PRIVATIZATION....Remember last year, when the president's pseudo-plan to privatize Social Security became a debacle for the ages? Apparently, at least one key House Republican wants a rematch.

It's not available online for non-subscribers, but Congress Daily reported yesterday:

Congress should make Social Security overhaul its top priority next year, while a rewrite of the tax code and revamping the nation's healthcare system probably will wait until at least 2009, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery, R-La., said today. [...]

"Looking at the lay of the land politically and substantively, it seems to me the more logical order would be Social Security, then tax reform, then healthcare reform," he told reporters after addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. McCrery said Congress should take up Social Security first because doing nothing would have "tremendous negative fiscal consequences," and it is easier to solve from a policy standpoint than fixing Medicare and Medicaid. "If we can get [Social Security] done, I think that buys us the political capital to move on to the bigger issues of health care," he said.

I think it's only fair that Democrats help Rep. McCrery and House Republicans by letting as many Americans as possible know about exactly what they'd like to do next year, if they keep their majorities in Congress. It's getting some press, but gifts like these don't come along very often and Democrats would be foolish not to take advantage.

Keep in mind, the DCCC is already anxious to remind voters about the privatization scheme. Indeed, just last month, House Democrats started reaching out to Christian conservatives with radio ads on the issue, because polls showed that Bush's approach was particularly unpopular with the evangelical community.

The main problem with the ads was that they lacked a news peg. Voters haven't heard about Social Security for months, so the Republicans' fiasco on the issue isn't fresh in their minds.

House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery seems willing to give Democrats a hand in reminding the electorate. The party can, in turn, give McCrery a hand in disseminating his message.

Steve Benen 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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SO LONG, FMA....The outcome was never in doubt, but now it's official.

The Senate on Wednesday rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but supporters said new votes for the measure represent progress that gives conservative Republicans reason to vote on Election Day.

The 49-48 vote fell 11 short of the 60 required to send the matter for an up-or-down tally by the full Senate. The amendment's failure was no surprise, but supporters said the vote reflected growing support among senators and Americans.

"We're building votes," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is among supporters of the ban who were not in the Senate when the amendment was last voted on in 2004. "That's often what's required over several years to get there, particularly to a two-thirds vote."

Building votes? Proponents of the amendment couldn't break 50 and bring this to the Senate floor in 2004 and they fell short of the same threshold again this year. At the rate they're going, supporters might be able to get the two-thirds they need sometime around 2026. Good luck with that.

Well, at least this nonsense is behind us, right? Wrong. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he plans to bring this same silly amendment to the floor next month, despite the fact that it already lost in the Senate.

Well, at least the Senate can get back to substantive policy issues, right? Wrong. Next up: flag-burning.

It's going to be a long summer.

Update: Here's the roll call on today's vote.

Steve Benen 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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SPECTER HANGS UP ON NSA OVERSIGHT....In May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) talked tough in response to revelations about Bush's legally dubious surveillance efforts. At one point, Specter even complained publicly, "[T]here really has to be in our system of law and government, checks and balance, separation of powers, congressional oversight and...there has been no meaningful congressional oversight on these [surveillance] programs."

Of course, Specter has a track record of not exactly walking the walk when it comes to follow through on administrative oversight. A few weeks ago, Specter cut a weak deal with conservatives on the committee on legislation on NSA surveillance, and yesterday, the other shoe dropped.

After weeks of anticipation, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter deferred a decision about whether to force executives from three telecom companies to testify about their involvement in the National Security Agency's terrorist-surveillance program. His decision came as a total surprise to Democrats on the committee, leading Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin to suggest Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, had succumbed to a "June swoon."

According to those in attendance, Specter said he'd been "advised informally" that the phone companies they planned to subpoena -- BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T, would be precluded from providing any information about the secret program by the government. Thus, a vote was therefore postponed on the matter, Senate staffers said.

Instead, Specter said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah had extracted a promise from Vice President Cheney himself to work with the Senate on proposed legislation related to the NSA and its oversight.

How utterly predictable. Instead of meaningful oversight, Hatch has invited Dick Cheney to "help" the Senate Judiciary Committee determine how it can exercise its oversight responsibilities.

I'm sure the Vice President will be forthcoming and ensure the NSA's activities are open to scrutiny, right?

Steve Benen 10:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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INHOFE: UNPLUGGED AND UNHINGED....If you haven't seen Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) remarks yesterday on the Senate floor about the Federal Marriage Amendment, it was quite a performance. Think Progress has a short video clip of one of the more remarkable parts of Inhofe's speech, which was delivered in front of a large picture of the senator and his family.

"As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we'll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship."

But wait; there's more. According to an unofficial transcript from the congressional record, sent to me from a reader who works on the Hill, this was hardly the only bizarre thing Inhofe had to say. For example, Inhofe sees the debate sliding quickly down a radical slippery slope.

"The homosexual marriage lobby, as well as the polygamist lobby, they share the same goal of essentially breaking down all state-regulated marriage requirements to just one, and that one is consent. In doing so, they're paving the way for illegal protection of such practices as homosexual marriage, unrestricted sexual conduct between adults and children, group marriage, incest, and, you know, if it feels good, do it."

My personal favorite came when Inhofe explained his belief that gay marriage will, for reasons he never quite explained, lead to more children being born out of wedlock. With this in mind, Inhofe believes the whole gay-marriage effort may be some kind of big-government conspiracy.

"Now, stop and think. What's going to be the results of this? The results are going to be that it's going to be a very expensive thing, all these kids, many of them are going to be ending up on welfare. So it goes far beyond just the current emotionals [sic]. I think that my colleague, Senator Sessions, said I believe yesterday, 'If there are not families to raise children, who will raise them? Who will do the responsibility? It will fall on the state.' Clearly it will be a state."

Then, just for good measure, Inhofe concluded with some scriptural interpretations for his colleagues.

"In Genesis 2:24, they said, 'Therefore man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become flesh.' Then Matthew 19 says, 'Have you not read that he who made them at the beginning made them male and female and for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and join his wife and the two shall become one flesh so they no longer will be two but one flesh.' I can assure you that these 20 kids and grandkids are very proud and very thankful that today, 47 years later, my wife and I believed in Matthew 9:14, that marriage should be between a man and a woman."

Keep in mind, of course, that these aren't the remarks of some TV preacher; Inhofe, alas, is a two-term member of the U.S. Senate.

Steve Benen 9:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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A PACE THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP UP....I won't delve into every individual campaign result from yesterday, but the one race on everyone's radar deserves a closer look.

A former Republican congressman narrowly beat his Democratic rival early Wednesday for the right to fill the House seat once held by imprisoned Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a race closely watched as a possible early barometer of next fall's vote.

Republican Brian Bilbray emerged victorious after a costly and contentious race against Democrat Francine Busby, a local school board member who ran against Cunningham in 2004.

With 90 percent of precincts reporting, Bilbray had 56,016 votes or 49.5 percent. Busby trailed with 51,202 votes or 45 percent.

Obviously, Democrats had hoped to pull an upset yesterday by winning in a solidly-Republican district. They fell a little short in the end. But for Republicans this morning, it's hard to spin the results as an encouraging sign of things to come.

It's very much reminiscent of Jean Schmidt narrowly defeating Paul Hackett is Ohio's 2nd last year -- a race that the GOP was supposed to win easily went down to the wire, and ended up costing Republicans a fortune. Put it this way: if the GOP has to work this hard just to keep ordinarily-safe Republican districts in November, they better raise more money than they've ever raised before.

As Stuart Rothenberg noted yesterday, before results were available, "The National Republican Congressional Committee is pouring resources into this race at an astonishing rate in hopes of saving the seat. But the NRCC will not be able to put $5 million into every contest this fall, so a Bilbray victory, if it happens, should not mislead observers into thinking that Democratic prospects in the fall have been exaggerated."

Ultimately, coming close isn't good enough, and it's Bilbray who's going to take the oath of office. But if this race was a bellwether election, Republicans can't be at all pleased with how this year is shaping up.

Steve Benen 8:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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June 6, 2006

A 'DO-NOTHING' CONGRESS -- BY DESIGN....About a month ago, the Boston Globe reported that Republican leaders in Congress were considering a legislative agenda in which they would literally give up on passing major policy initiatives and instead focus on divisive bills that they didn't expect to pass.

According to (subscription-only) Roll Call, the Senate GOP is officially on board with the plan.

With only a few months left on the legislative calendar, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has decided to abandon any efforts at bipartisanship in favor of using his chamber to hold a series of highly partisan, mostly symbolic votes on conservative causes, including amendments banning gay marriage and flag burning, and fully repealing the estate tax.

Although Frist has peppered the Senate schedule with a handful of substantive issues -- including likely votes this week on a new U.S. trade representative, a Native Hawaiian-rights bill and a new mine-safety czar -- the chamber will put off work on major legislation such as the fiscal 2007 Defense authorization bill in order for Frist to pursue items of special interest to his party's conservative base.

It's been painfully obvious for a while now, but it's almost comical how unserious congressional Republicans are about matters of state. They're not only failing to govern, they're shirking their duties intentionally as part of an electoral strategy.

House Majority Leader John Boehner recently said Republicans don't need policy achievements to keep their majority in Congress; they just need to do "the simple blocking and tackling that any team goes through if they're going to win." The reality is, however, the only thing GOP lawmakers are blocking right now is substantive legislation that might pass.

During a recent debate on a medical malpractice bill that both sides knew was going to lose anyway, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told CQ, "We haven't done anything worth a toot in three months." Expect about four more months of the exact same thing.

For the "party of ideas," it's a sad spectacle, isn't it?

Steve Benen 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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JON STEWART DOESN'T HOLD BACK....Anyone who watches "The Daily Show" realizes that Jon Stewart is not terribly fond of the Bush administration, but I think it's safe to say his disappointment has officially turned to disgust.

That was Comedy Central's Jon Stewart cutting up while emceeing yesterday's Peabody Awards for broadcasting excellence at the Waldorf-Astoria. "This afternoon's program is sponsored by your Internet and phone records," Stewart told the star-studded crowd. "Isn't that interesting -- your Internet and phone records, because 'blah blah blah, 9-11.'"

In case anyone missed his point, Stewart also quipped: "Thomas Jefferson once said: 'Of course the people don't want war. But the people can be brought to the bidding of their leader. All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for somehow a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.' I think that was Jefferson. Oh wait. That was Hermann Goering. Shoot."

First, damn. Once in a while, Stewart really doesn't hold back.

Second, in case there was any doubt, the quote is largely accurate, and came from Goering at the Nuremberg trials in 1946. It does have a certain resonance today, doesn't it?

Steve Benen 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (198)

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HE'S SPOKEN 'REPEATEDLY,' BUT NOT 'LATELY'....As part of the White House's drive to impress the religious right with talk about the Federal Marriage Amendment, Press Secretary Tony Snow sat down with Focus on the Family's James Dobson for an interview yesterday, which was aired today. Snow insisted that the president is not a Johnny-come-lately to the issue.

During that interview, however, Dobson pointedly asked Snow about tough allegations being raised in some conservative circles that the president had announced his support for MPA only for political reasons.

"This is an issue on which George W. Bush has been very clear over the years -- and he's spoken repeatedly about it," Snow told Dobson.

That's about half-true. Searching through White House transcripts, I found that in 2004, Bush mentioned his support for a constitutional amendment "defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman" in public speeches over 100 times. In 2005? Zero. In 2006, before this past weekend's radio address? Zero.

In other words, Bush has spoken about the amendment "repeatedly" -- but only when he needed to use his base to get a second term.

E. J. Dionne wrote today that the GOP "thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces." Sounds about right.

Note to the religious right: are you going to take this lying down? After all you've done for the GOP? It sounds like these guys just take you for granted and only call when they want money or foot soldiers. I say you teach them a lesson -- leave the Republicans behind and form your own party that won't compromise and won't ignore the issues you really care about, only to hold half-hearted votes before an election. If not, GOP leaders will just assume they can string you along without consequences. You don't want that do you?

Steve Benen 2:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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ELECTION/PRIMARY DAY IN EIGHT STATES....For early-June, today is a surprisingly important day for elections nationwide. Voters in eight states will go to the polls, including what will probably be the most important race between now and November. Among the highlights:

California's 50th congressional district: The race to pick Duke Cunningham's replacement was supposed to be easy for the GOP. It's a conservative San Diego district, which backed Bush over Kerry by double digits two years ago. Today, however, Francine Busby (D) will face former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R), and it's too close to call. The Republican establishment, in a near panic over what a defeat here might mean nationwide, has spent about $5 million on the race, and sent as many as 150 operatives to the district to eke out what they hope will be a narrow victory. The winner will fill the seat immediately, but stand for re-election in the fall.

California's Democratic gubernatorial primary: State Treasurer Phil Angelides and State Controller Steve Westly have fought a very nasty primary for the right to take on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). The San Diego Union-Tribune reported today that the results may be unclear for up to a week due to absentee ballots and a "laborious" manual counting system.

Montana's Democratic Senate primary: State Senate President Jon Tester will face state Auditor John Morrison today, the winner of which will take on Abramoff-plagued Sen. Conrad Burns (R). Tester seems to have the momentum, though polls show the two about even. The winner has a real shot at picking up the seat; a recent Mason-Dixon poll showed Burns trailing both of his Democratic rivals.

Alabama's gubernatorial primaries: On the Republican side, incumbent Gov. Bob Riley is poised to crush theocrat Roy Moore in the GOP primary, while among Democrats, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is expected to beat former Gov. Don Siegelman, who has been running despite facing racketeering and bribery charges.

Iowa's Democratic gubernatorial primary: In the race to succeed Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), Democrats will choose between Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver, former state economic development director Mike Blouin, and state Rep. Ed Fallon. The most recent Des Moines Register poll showed Culver with an eight-point lead over Blouin, his closest rival. The winner will take on Rep. Jim Nussle (R) in November.

New Jersey's Senate primaries: Sen. Robert Menendez (D) and state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R) are supposed to cruise to easy victories, but keep an eye on the GOP primary. Conservative activist John Ginty (R) has picked up considerable far-right support, and if Kean doesn't win by a lot, it could reflect trouble for him in November.

So, any predictions?

Steve Benen 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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DIFFERENT KINDS OF PRESIDENTIAL VISITS....Apparently, former President Bill Clinton is in demand this campaign season.

In what promises to be his most intensive campaign season since he left office, former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to appear at more than two dozen fund-raisers for Democrats around the country, hoping to collect at least $20 million for his party's drive to recapture Congress.

"In contrast to Republican candidates who are running away from George Bush, our candidates are clamoring for him in every part of the country," said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

RNC spokesperson Tracey Schmitt denied Schumer's claim and insisted Bush has been campaigning for Republicans nationwide, noting that he had appeared at 37 fundraising events since the beginning of 2005. What Schmitt didn't mention is that the candidates the president helps frequently choose not to be in the same room as Bush.

Republican congressional candidates throughout the U.S. love President George W. Bush's fund-raising prowess. They just don't want to be seen in public with him.

It's getting rather embarrassing. Bush hosted an event for Senate candidate Michael Steele in Maryland, but Steele was elsewhere. The president raised money for Rep. Thelma Drake (R) in Virginia, but Drake couldn't make it. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) was notably absent from a Bush event in March in Ohio. Cheney was in New Jersey to help Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr., but Kean didn't show up until Cheney was gone. Minnesota Senate candidate Mark Kennedy skipped an appearance by Bush at a 3M Corp. plant outside Minneapolis. Bush was in Pennsylvania two weeks ago to campaign for vulnerable Republican House members in the Philadelphia suburbs, but Rep. Curt Weldon (R), the most vulnerable of them all, couldn't even make up a good excuse for dodging the president, telling reporters that Bush "is really doing poorly in our state."

How bad is it? Now, even Rick Santorum is keeping his distance.

When Bush headlined a May 24 fundraiser in Philadelphia to benefit members of Pennsylvania's Republican congressional delegation, only two of the 13 incumbents up this year -- Representatives Jim Gerlach and Michael Fitzpatrick, the event's main beneficiaries -- attended.

Among those absent was Senator Rick Santorum, who trails Democratic challenger Robert Casey by 13 percentage points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. The poll, taken May 2-8, also showed Bush's approval rating at 30 percent in the state, compared with 73 percent four years ago.

"There was a time when on any trip by the president to Pennsylvania, you'd find Rick Santorum fairly close by," said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown. "Any time the president is in the state for a big fund-raising event and Rick Santorum isn't there, it's fair to question why."

Et tu, Rick?

Steve Benen 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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IT'S GETTING WORSE....Dennis Hastert may be impressed by some electricity in Baghdad at 4 am, but conditions in the city are growing increasingly horrifying.

In Baghdad, leaving home to work, shop or visit family has become an increasingly dangerous proposition. Violence rears up without warning; residents navigate a citywide obstacle course of roadside bombs, shootouts and security checkpoints.

The city just had its deadliest month since U.S.-led forces invaded the country in 2003, new Iraqi government documents indicate. More people were shot, stabbed or otherwise violently killed in May than in any other month since the invasion, according to Health Ministry statistics. The figure does not include slain soldiers or civilians killed in bombings, on whom autopsies are not usually performed.

Last month alone, 1,398 bodies were brought to Baghdad's central morgue, the ministry said. All over the city and out into the provinces, corpses surface on a daily basis in garbage dumps, in abandoned cars or along roadsides. They often bear marks of bondage and torture.

The worst month in over three years. Whatever it is that's on the march, it's not freedom.

In related news, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting item today on American troops shooting fewer Iraqis at checkpoints and in convoys.

The U.S. military has cut the number of Iraqi civilians killed at U.S. checkpoints or shot by U.S. convoys to about one a week today from about seven a week in July, according to U.S. defense officials in Iraq.

The reduction in civilian casualties shows that months before the killing of 24 Iraqis in the western Iraqi town of Haditha came to light, the military was pushing to reduce the number of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded at the hands of U.S. forces.

The once-a-day shootings last July were the first month in which the military kept track of these incidents, suggesting, the WSJ noted, that at least "hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed at U.S. checkpoints or on Iraqi highways during the first two years of the war."

An average of one a week is clearly better than one a day, so I guess if you're desperate to find progress, this counts?

But, war supporters argue, what about the Washington Post item this morning that points to a new report showing that "Iraqis believe violence will abate"? There's ample reason for skepticism. The report is the Defense Department's quarterly report to Congress, which apparently includes the results of a "nationwide" poll gauging Iraqis' attitudes about the future. Unfortunately, the Pentagon report offers "no explanation of who was polled and how." I guess we're supposed to take Donald Rumsfeld's word for it?

Steve Benen 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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SAFAVIAN 'PROBABLY NOT' QUALIFIED....In terms of the criminal trial, it's important that David Safavian, the Bush administration's former top procurement official, acknowledged yesterday that he provided "a lot of insight and advice," including government information not available to the public, to Jack Abramoff. Since Safavian was arrested last September for doing secret favors for Abramoff, his former employer, it was a key admission.

But for political purposes, I think this development was even more entertaining.

Safavian conceded to Justice prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg that he most likely didn't believe he had the qualifications to be chief of staff at the Government Services Administration, the position he held when he had the dealings with Jack Abramoff he is accused of covering up.

"Did you think you were qualified for the job?" Zeidenberg asked.

"Probably not, actually," Safavian said.

What a helpful admission. In fact, I can think of dozens of top administration officials who might have similar responses to the same question.

For example, I'd love to hear the response to the "Did you think you were qualified for the job?" question from former Small Business Administration head Hector Barreto, a former Republican fundraiser who had no experience or relevant qualifications. Or maybe his replacement, Steven Preston, who has the same problem.

For that matter, why don't we also pose the same question to Stewart Simonson, the Health and Human Services Department's point man "on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies," despite a complete lack of experience in the fields of public health and/or national security. And how about Douglas Hoelscher, who went from being a low-level White House staffer, arranging presidential travel, to a top post in the Department of Homeland Security despite no experience at all?

We could also ask Ellen Sauerbrey, who Bush appointed to be Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, despite having literally no background in setting up refugee camps, delivering emergency supplies, and/or mobilizing international responses to humanitarian crises. We could then ask Julie Myers, who Bush named to help lead the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite the fact that she has no management experience at any level.

This list just never seems to end. Safavian's admission was helpful, but we'd probably get the same response out of most of the administration's political appointees. There might as well be a "No Policy Experts Need Apply" sign hanging in the West Wing.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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'DO WE REALLY CARE WHAT THE PRICE OF GAS IS?'....As far as the political debate goes, Republicans seem to have a little trouble offering a compelling explanation for why the Federal Marriage Amendment is necessary now. Senate Democrats are effectively sidestepping the issue itself by asking, "Aren't there better things we can do with our time right now?"

So, what's the right's response to this question? James Dobson's Focus on the Family emailed an alert to its membership yesterday with a comment from a conservative law professor that responds to the Democratic suggestion that the Senate is wasting time.

Pepperdine Law School professor Doug Kmiec disagreed the debate is frivolous.

"This debate takes nothing away from the other national issues of the day," he said. "Getting Iraq settled and moving toward a civil order is very important. Getting gasoline prices back down to affordable levels is very important. But to some degree, it's all important, because it all relates back to the family and the household. But if the family is itself being undermined at its foundational level, then do we really care what the price of gas is?" (emphasis added)

It seems to me this is the kind of comment the left should do more to highlight. Let's tell as many voters as possible that, as far as the right is concerned, a constitutional amendment to address a crisis that doesn't exist is critical -- and conservatives "don't really care what the price of gas is." Let's see how this goes over.

Given the most recent Gallup poll, such a tack probably wouldn't resonate particularly well. Gallup asked respondents, in an open-ended question (no options to choose from), to name what should be the "top priority for the president and Congress to deal with." Iraq was the clear winner with 42%, followed by oil prices and energy policy at 29%. Of the 27 responses that generated measurable data, gay marriage was a no-show.

Let the voter backlash begin.

Steve Benen 8:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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June 5, 2006

FAILURE DOESN'T RALLY THE BASE....The conventional wisdom at this point insists that Bush and the congressional GOP are touting the anti-gay constitutional amendment to rally the base. Grassroots activists are frustrated about Republicans' disregard for the religious right agenda, excessive spending, inaction on immigration, etc., and, while everyone knows the amendment isn't going to pass, a vote is supposed to make the activist base feel better.

As The Note put it, "If banning same sex marriage and flag burning and repealing the estate tax doesn't gin up the conservative base of the Republican Party, what will?" But that's the part of all of this that just doesn't work for me. Why, exactly, would the GOP base feel motivated for the midterm elections after an abject failure?

A year and a half ago, the GOP base thought their time had come. They had played a key role in electing Bush and big Republican majorities in both chambers, and they were finally ready to cross a few items off their wish list. Nearly 18 months later, they have very little to show for it.

So why is it, exactly, that these same far-right activists will be thrilled by votes that don't go their way? The Note, in this sense, has everything backwards -- the argument is the GOP will gin up the conservative base with votes that fail to ban same-sex marriage, fail to ban flag burning, and probably fail to repeal the estate tax.

If I'm a conservative who's feeling discouraged, and considering staying home this November, why would I feel excited about a powerful Republican machine that can't deliver on any of these agenda items? Grover Norquist told the LA Times, "Every time you have that conversation it reminds [voters] of what team they're on."

But is that enough? Do grassroots members of Focus on the Family really tell themselves, "I'm going to work extra hard this fall to help Republicans because they lost on all the key culture war votes this year"?

It seems just as likely that the opposite will occur. The conservative movement went all out to get to where they are right now, they still can't deliver on a far-right social agenda, and there's limited evidence that GOP leaders care.

The flip side of the argument, of course, is that these votes will motivate conservative activists in states with competitive races and remind them that Democrats are on a different page. Perhaps. But the GOP base is crazy, not stupid. Pandering can be an effective strategy, but pandering-while-failing, when your side controls every branch of government, strikes me as a recipe for more frustration, not enthusiasm.

Steve Benen 5:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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BY ALL MEANS, MESS WITH TEXAS....It's going back a few years, but in 2000, the reality-based community got a good look at what grassroots conservative activists wanted in the way of government action when the Texas Republican Party published a party platform. Among other things, it called for a return to the gold standard; the abolishment of the Federal Reserve, Social Security, the minimum wage, and the federal income tax; a wholesale rejection of the separation of church and state, an enthusiastic embrace for creationism in science classes, and the criminalization of all abortions and gay sex.

That was then. How's the Texas GOP holding up now? As wacky as ever.

Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell offered a greeting to delegates to the Republican convention. "It's great to be back in the holy land," the Fort Worth native said to the cheers of the party faithful. For the 4,500 delegates at last week's biennial gathering, it was both an expression of conservative philosophy and religious faith, a melding of church and state.

At Saturday morning's prayer meeting, party leader Tina Benkiser assured them that God was watching over the two-day confab.

"He is the chairman of this party," she said against a backdrop of flags and a GOP seal with its red, white and blue logo.

It kind of gives "holier than thou" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

The activists also adopted a revised party platform that declares, among other things, that "America is a Christian nation"; the official language is "American English"; the Bush should "build a physical barrier" along the entire Mexican border; and voters should have to re-register every four years as well as show a government-issued photo ID in order to participate in an election.

What do Republican activists want? This is what they want.

Steve Benen 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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DEPENDS ON WHAT THE MEANING OF 'MORAL' IS....If you ask Americans if they support gay marriage, a slim majority will say they don't (in fact, a new ABC News poll will be released in a couple of hours saying just that). But the far more important question is where this issue ranks on the nation's moral radar. Despite the hype, culture-war issues lack the salience of other moral controversies.

* Asked to name the most serious moral crisis in America today, 28% of Americans cite "kids not raised with the right values"; followed by 22% saying "corruption in government/business"; 17% saying "greed and materialism" or "people too focused on themselves"; and only 3% citing "abortion and homosexuality."

* On addressing poverty: 68% of voters strongly agree that "government should uphold the basic decency and dignity of all and take greater steps to help the poor and disadvantaged in America" (89% total agree).

Ron Brownstein noted, in response to these results, that "the moral issues people worried about most in their daily lives were very different from the ones dominating political debate."

Quite right. Polls that simply show preferences are interesting, but it's the intensity of the belief that matters most. Americans may say they support an anti-gay constitutional amendment, but asked to name genuine moral crises that affect their families, people are far more worried with "kids nowadays" and the culture of corruption. This is not just true of secularists -- among those who attend religious services most often, just 6% picked abortion and homosexuality.

The response to the question about poverty was also important, not just in demonstrating Americans' concern for the disadvantaged, but in expanding the definition of what a moral issue actually is. Too often in our political discourse, issues that are characterized as "moral" or related to "values" are necessarily connected to conservatives. This is nonsense. If abortion and gay rights are moral issues, so are poverty, the environment, and health care.

As George Will, of all people, put it, "The phrase 'values voters,' which has become ubiquitous, subtracts from social comity by suggesting that one group has cornered the market on moral seriousness." As polls like this one help show, they haven't.

Steve Benen 2:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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RUN, NEWT, RUN....I find it hard to believe Dems would get this lucky in '08, but these results are encouraging anyway (via Stakeholder).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the easy winner of a straw poll Friday night that tested 2008 presidential candidate support at the Minnesota Republican Party state convention. Gingrich got about 40 percent of the 540 votes cast, putting him far ahead of Virginia's Sen. George Allen, who got about 15 percent. Next were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Arizona Sen. John McCain, each with about 10 percent.

"This shows activists think that Gingrich has the cachet to help set and drive the conservative agenda, just as he did when he led the Republican takeover of the House in 1994," said Tony Sutton, a Gingrich supporter and secretary-treasurer of the party. "He and Ronald Reagan were the two most important conservatives in the last 30 years."

The results also confirm once again that party activists are considerably more conservative than Republican voters and the public in general.

That last point seems particularly noteworthy. Early national polls for '08 are testing little more than name recognition. While these state straw polls are hardly scientific, they do reflect a problem for which "front-runners" like McCain and Giuliani have not yet crafted a solution: they have a long way to go before they convince the GOP base that they're conservative enough to be the Republican nominee.

As for the former House Speaker's possible interest, he's been traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire quite a bit, and he has a new book coming out: "Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future."

Run, Newt, run.

Steve Benen 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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THE LIGHTS WERE ON, BUT....House Speaker Dennis Hastert, at the request of the president, made a surprise visit to Baghdad over the weekend. Arriving at 4 am, Hastert said he was impressed with the number of lights he saw.

The speaker and his party saw it as a sign of progress, of how much power had been restored in a city known for frequent blackouts, according to Hastert's spokesman, Ron Bonjean, who accompanied the speaker.

"It was one of our first impressions, so many lights shining brightly," Bonjean said.

Now, the easy response is that some electricity in Baghdad is hardly indicative of "progress" in Iraq. Indeed, considering that Hastert's visit coincided with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashing out at American forces in Iraq, it's probably best if the House Speaker doesn't dwell too much on light bulbs.

That said, the Center for American Progress noted a Brookings Institution Iraq Index (.pdf), published the day before Hastert landed, that highlighted a different conclusion.

In Apr. 2006, residents in Baghdad received an average of four hours of electricity per day, compared to pre-war levels of 16-24 hours per day.

Maybe Hastert caught Baghdad on a good day?

Steve Benen 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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THE WRONG GUY TO MAKE THE CASE....A Senate vote on a full repeal of the estate tax is slated for this week (probably Thursday), and as part of its coverage, the Washington Post ran dueling op-eds on the issue from Sebastian Mallaby and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Readers can decide for themselves who makes the stronger case, but I think Ezra captured the heart of the debate when he noted that it's "a bit like setting a monkey in intellectual combat with his banana."

Nevertheless, picking Sessions to take the lead on this is an odd choice for Senate Republicans, especially in light of the Alabama senator's embarrassing background on the issue.

Federal troops aren't the only ones looking for bodies on the Gulf Coast. On Sept. 9, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions called his old law professor Harold Apolinsky, co-author of Sessions' legislation repealing the federal estate tax, which was encountering sudden resistance on the Hill. Sessions had an idea to revitalize their cause, which he left on Apolinsky's voice mail: "[Arizona Sen.] Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with."

If legislative ambulance chasing looks like a desperate measure, for the backers of repealing the estate tax, these are desperate times. Just three weeks ago, their long-sought goal of repeal seemed within reach, but Katrina dashed their hopes when Republican leaders put off an expected vote. After hearing from Sessions, Apolinsky, an estate tax lawyer who says his firm includes three multi-billionaires among its clients, mobilized the American Family Business Institute, a Washington-based group devoted to estate tax repeal. They reached out to members along the Gulf Coast to hunt for the dead.

They found plenty of Katrina victims -- but none that was hit with the estate tax.

For what it's worth, despite the hyper-wealthy conservative interests who have bankrolled this fight for years, it appears proponents of a full repeal are a few votes short. There's still an irresponsible "compromise" measure under consideration, but if things go as they should, this absurd initiative should be defeated by week's end.

Steve Benen 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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BUSH'S TALK IS SHALLOW, BUT IS DOBSON'S?....When Bush touts the "importance" of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage today from the White House, keep in mind the rhetoric is shallow.

Though Bush himself has publicly embraced the amendment, he never seemed to care enough to press the matter. One of his old friends told NEWSWEEK that same-sex marriage barely registers on the president's moral radar.

"I think it was purely political. I don't think he gives a s--t about it. He never talks about this stuff," said the friend, who requested anonymity to discuss his private conversations with Bush.

You mean Bush is insincere and will play up the amendment as some kind of empty political sop to his far-right base? You don't say.

The same Newsweek story, however, included another tidbit that's a little more significant.

Last month James Dobson, the influential founder of Focus on the Family, met privately with key Republicans, including Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner, to warn them about the political consequences of failing to promote issues like marriage. "If you forget us, we'll forget you," he said, according to a GOP House leadership aide who was briefed on the gatherings, but declined to be identified discussing private meetings.

Keep in mind, Dobson and a few of his high-profile cohorts had a similar meeting eight years ago. In 1998, he sat down with Newt Gingrich and the GOP leadership and, according to everyone who was there, Dobson threatened to leave the Republican Party unless the GOP embraced a religious-right style agenda with significantly more enthusiasm. "If I go," Dobson said, "I will do everything I can to take as many people with me as possible."

He was brought back into the fold, but the cease-fire was temporary and Dobson's making similar noises now. Pretty soon, if he expects his threats to be taken seriously, Dobson may actually have to follow through.

Steve Benen 10:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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'A PARADISE OF SCANDALS'....Having been born and raised in Miami, I feel it's my duty to point out reports that help to show just how bizarre a place Florida really is. Take, for example, last night's 60 Minutes interview with Carl Hiaasen. (C&L has video.)

Whether he's writing fiction or journalism, Carl Hiaasen's main character is always Florida, that axis of weirdness that gave us the sagas of Elian Gonzales, and dimpled "chads." It's also where developers build homes around gravel pits advertised as "lakefront property," and where marijuana falls out of the sky.

This is how Hiaasen describes Florida: "The Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats, and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout. And you'd be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office."

Still true? "Yeah, very true. More true than ever I think. The opportunities for corruption are many here," says Hiaasen. "But the one thing about Florida politicians, the crooked ones that I still find somewhat heartwarming, is that they're not very sophisticated."

Of course they're still true. Hiaasen novels deal with fictitious characters and scenarios, but locals know that there's nothing in his books that couldn't, or hasn't, happened in real life. Hiaasen shared some anecdotal gems with Steve Kroft -- I'm particularly fond of the South Florida mayor who tried to hire City Hall workers to kill her husband -- all of which are hilarious, or depressing, depending on one's perspective.

I have this theory that almost all the bad things that happen in this country have an almost direct connection to Florida. The Elian Gonzalez controversy, the 2000 election debacle, the original anthrax letters, the flying lessons for the 9/11 terrorists, the Terri Schiavo matter, the Abramoff deals, the worst drivers in the country ... what else am I supposed to think?

I now invite residents of California, Texas, or (enter your state here) to tell me how Florida can't hold a candle to the insanity you've seen. Given Florida's record, I'd say you have a tough case to make.

Steve Benen 10:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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SKIPPING OVER 'HUMILIATING AND DEGRADING TREATMENT'....The LA Times has a very disturbing report today on the Pentagon putting together a guide for troops on how to handle detainees -- and leaving a few key details out.

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

The decision could culminate a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.

The internal debate within the administration on this has been going on for far too long. We learned several months ago that in late 2005, Pentagon officials and lawyers were discussing whether these same Geneva Convention provisions needed to be followed. The decision was pushed off because top Bush administration officials opposed conventions that barred cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. The debate, alas, is still ongoing.

This need not be complicated. If the president and his team want the world to believe that incidents of torture are "aberrations" and the work of a few "bad apples," and that the United States follows humane standards, aside from our rendition policies and secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, then here's an opportunity to make an unambiguous statement.

"The rest of the world is completely convinced that we are busy torturing people," said Oona A. Hathaway, an expert in international law at Yale Law School. "Whether that is true or not, the fact we keep refusing to provide these protections in our formal directives puts a lot of fuel on the fire."

I can't help but wonder if Bush administration officials know or care about how this undermines our standing and credibility in the world. It's simply breathtaking. As Kevin put it a while back, "It's simply impossible to persuade the rest of the world that we're the good guys as long as we persist in plainly repugnant behavior."

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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June 4, 2006

ALL CLINTONS, ALL THE TIME....It's been about two weeks since The New York Times ran a 2,000-word analysis, on its front page, about the frequency with which Bill and Hillary Clinton spend evenings and weekends together. The piece pulled off a rare feat: it was as salacious as it was pointless. There was no news; it relied on petty gossip from Clinton "friends"; and it included subtle innuendo about the former president without evidence.

Nevertheless, the Clintons are the Clintons, so a variety of news outlets jumped on the story, especially MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who was nearly driven to hysteria by the report and asked his on-air guests at least 90 questions about the Clintons' marriage since the Times published the piece. David Broder wrote an odd column defending the article, and later said he was "getting killed" by negative reader response. The mess prompted Byron Calame, the Times' "public editor," to address the controversy today.

Over all, I found the article a worthwhile piece of journalism that deserved to be published in The Times. Senator Clinton's unique relationship with the former president is certain to be on many voters' minds if she pursues the presidency, and the article provided an update on where their complicated partnership stands. The focus, appropriately, was on the political calculations by the couple and their advisers, and the tone of the assessment of their personal lives was generally understated and evenhanded.

Perhaps Mr. Calame read a different article than the rest of us, because the defense seems to overlook the very problems that generated the angry response in the first place.

The Clintons' "unique relationship" will be on voters' minds? That's highly unlikely -- unless news outlets like The New York Times continue to publish front-page analyses that literally count how many weekends they're together.

Greg Sargent has the complete take-down. I'd only add that there are some high-profile Republicans who have "unique relationships" with their spouses as well. When the Times explores those marriages with a similar level of prurient interest, it will be a pleasant surprise.

Steve Benen 4:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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WHEN THERE IS NO PLAN B....The Washington Post ran a provocative item today from a 42-year-old happily-married mother of two, identified only as "Dana L.," who became pregnant unexpectedly. She had tried to prevent the pregnancy by taking Plan B emergency contraception, but her doctor refused to write her a prescription.

Ultimately, Dana had an abortion she didn't want. With some justification, she's blaming the "conservative politics of the Bush administration."

My anger propelled me to get to the bottom of the story. It turns out that in December 2003, an FDA advisory committee, whose suggestions the agency usually follows, recommended that the drug be made available over the counter, or without a prescription. Nonetheless, in May 2004, the FDA top brass overruled the advisory panel and gave the thumbs-down to over-the-counter sales of Plan B, requesting more data on how girls younger than 16 could use it safely without a doctor's supervision.

Apparently, one of the concerns is that ready availability of Plan B could lead teenage girls to have premarital sex. Yet this concern -- valid or not -- wound up penalizing an over-the-hill married woman for having sex with her husband. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

Actually, it's even worse than Dana characterized it.

About two years ago, an FDA advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to approve over-the-counter access to Plan B emergency contraception. One FDA panel member called it the "safest drug that we have seen brought before us." The scientific evidence was overwhelming that access to Plan B would curtail abortion and unwanted pregnancies. This was a no-brainer -- right up until the administration blocked the medication anyway, under pressure from its far-right base.

Ever since, the Bush gang has struggled to come up with a coherent explanation for the decision. Initially, then-Commissioner Lester Crawford cited FDA concerns about selling the drug to younger teens as a reason to keep Plan B off shelves. Then we learned Crawford was lying and the FDA had no such concerns.

A month later, the FDA released an internal memo showing that one high-ranking FDA official was sincerely worried about adolescents forming "sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B." Seriously.

The evidence, which may not be relevant to the Bush administration, shows no link between access to Plan B and risky sexual behavior, worse yet "sex-based cults." How Bush-appointed "scientists" come up with such nonsense is a mystery.

If the administration said, "We're morally opposed to emergency contraception," we could at least have a reasonable debate. If the administration said, "We could go for this, but the Dobson crowd would kill us," we would at least be facing political realities.

Instead, the Bush gang insists on a bizarre approach, in which they claim to base decisions like these on science, but ignore their own experts, hide embarrassing facts, and then lie about it. In the case of Plan B, the result is more unwanted pregnancies and more abortions.

For reasons that are unclear, the GOP's religious right base seems to think this is a great idea. Maybe more of them should have a chat with "Dana L."

Steve Benen 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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UNITY08....When Unity08 introduced itself this week, and unveiled a vague plan about a bi-partisan presidential ticket in 2008, it was easy to imagine journalists like David Broder, who love nothing more than centrist cooperation, jumping up and down. Right on cue, Broder had high praise for the initiative today.

In a wonderful example of life imitating art, a group of serious political pros has taken the plot line of "The West Wing" and turned it into the most intriguing gambit yet seen for the 2008 election.

As fans of the now-canceled NBC drama know, the closing episodes showed newly elected Democratic President Matt Santos offering the position of secretary of state to his defeated Republican rival, Sen. Arnold Vinick. The Great Reconciliation not only brought Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda together for the closing shows but also satisfied the audience's hunger for national harmony in a time of bitter partisanship.

That's also the motivation for the creators of Unity08, a scheme announced last week to put forward an alternative ticket for the next presidential race, joining a Democrat and a Republican or headed by an independent pledged to forming a bipartisan administration.

It all sounds very nice. Unity08 wants to form a ticket with candidates from the two parties -- one from each. It's effectively a third party presidential bid without an actual third party.

The group's pitch is overly-simplistic but largely inoffensive: Democrats and the GOP are "well-intentioned," but ultimately "trapped in a flawed system." Unity08 can take steps to address real problems, it claims, by tapping into online activism, a centrist platform, and a bipartisan ticket.

The idea, however, is not without flaws.

For one thing, like the "Purple Party" idea that New York magazine was touting a few weeks ago, Unity08 offers an agenda that sounds awfully similar to a Clintonian Democratic model. For example, the group explains that it wants to take on "crucial issues" that the two parties aren't addressing, including:

"global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington's lobbying system, the education of our young, the health care of all, and the disappearance of the American Dream for so many of our people."

The group goes on to say that culture-war issues such as "gun control, abortion and gay marriage" should be placed on the back burner while government deals with more pressing matters. All of this sounds eerily similar to what most of the Democratic establishemtn want to do right now. So who needs Unity08?

Perhaps more important are the practical concerns that Broder alluded to in his column. As Unity08 sees it, an experienced, well-qualified leader from each party is going to abandon their side, and take on their party's nominee in a presidential election, while running with a member from the other party. I'm not sure who the group has in mind, but I'm hard pressed to think of a lot of people who'd volunteer for the gig.

Also, in terms of style, Unity08 also offers an oddly mixed message. The group says it's intent on focusing on "ideas and traditions which unite and empower us as individuals and as a people," while in the next breath its website features an online game in which Howard Dean and Dick Cheney run over people with their car, accompanied by the message: "Gotcha! Another trip to Democracyland cut short by the parties and special interests!"

The whole thing comes across as a bit of a press stunt. I'll concede that there are some serious people involved with the project -- establishment types who are now railing against the establishment -- but it's an endeavor that's long on rhetoric, short on specifics, and more pie-in-the-sky than substance.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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June 3, 2006

ANOTHER SNOW JOB....After a series of alleged attacks against Iraqi civilians by U.S. forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military. The New York Times quoted al-Maliki as saying habitual attacks had become a "daily phenomenon" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people."

"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion," al-Maliki said. "This is completely unacceptable."

In light of the seriousness of the prime minister's remarks, and the impact his concerns might have on the duration of American forces on the ground, al-Maliki's comments had an immediate international impact. Is the Bush White House worried? Not at all -- the Bush gang said the Iraqi prime minister was misquoted.

The White House on Friday sought to soften criticism by Iraq's prime minister over allegations that U.S. Marines killed two dozen unarmed civilians in the western town of Haditha last November.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had told U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that he had been misquoted.

OK, sometimes reporters get things wrong, especially when there's a possible language barrier. Tell us, Tony Snow, what did al-Maliki say?

"[T]hat is a little too complicated for me to try to read out," Snow explained, adding, "[I]t really does get pretty convoluted. I don't want to get myself too much into it."

Yeah, that ought to clear things up nicely.

Steve Benen 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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THE GOP BASE IS UNIMPRESSED....Just to follow up on an item from yesterday, I suggested that the religious right would not be terribly impressed with the president speaking out in support of the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment at the last minute. Given the reactions yesterday from some leading activists, I think I understated the case.

"I'm going to go and hear what he says, but we already know it is a ruse," said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, which opposes gay marriage. "We're not buying it. We're going to go and watch the dog-and-pony show, [but] it's too little, too late."

Of particular interest in the LA Times report, however, was not just displeasure with the Bush White House from the GOP base, but an under-reported division among conservatives over the anti-gay amendment itself. To be sure, most conservatives love the idea of writing a gay-marriage ban into constitutional stone, but some far-right heavy-hitters are balking -- because it's not harsh enough.

At least two prominent social conservative groups -- Concerned Women for America and the Traditional Values Coalition -- believe the language contains a loophole that would allow gays to seek civil unions. [...]

Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, and others say the second sentence leaves open the option that gays and lesbians could enter unions other than marriage; and that's a deal breaker for them.

On its website, the Concerned Women for America says it "does not support the Marriage Protection Amendment as currently worded because the second sentence is open to differing interpretations."

Does it? Well, there are some competing ideas on the subject.

The proposed amendment reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

Apparently, under some conservatives' reading of the text, some states might still be able to recognize gay relationships in some legal way. That, in and of itself, is so troubling that they're withholding their support for the amendment.

For what it's worth, the Human Rights Campaign believes the opposite and has told amendment opponents that legal scholars believe the FMA "could forever invalidate civil unions or other legal protections for same-sex couples, like the right to partner health benefits or fair taxation upon the death of a partner - even if state legislatures passed them and voters approved them."

It's just one more thing to argue over before Tuesday's vote.

Steve Benen 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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A LITTLE TOO 'PRO-FAMILY'....Once in a while, it's important to remind far-right religious conservatives that being "pro-family" does not mean you can have two of them.

Republican Jim Galley, who is running for Congress as a "pro-traditional family" candidate, was married to two women at the same time, defaulted on his child support payments and has been accused of abuse by one of his ex-wives.

The San Diego Union-Tribune discovered the personal history in making public-records checks on Galley, who is making his fourth run for elective office in four years. These checks are part of the newspaper's election reporting process.

Galley married his second wife, Beth, in 1982 when, unbeknownst to her, he was still married to his first wife, Terry. Beth and Galley divorced in 1990 after she sought a restraining order alleging abuse. The child support was owed to his first wife.

Galley claims the polygamy was an accident, the child support default was short-term (a few months), and the abuse allegation was made only to get him out of the house.

But wait, there's more. Galley also claims to have been drafted by the Navy during the Vietnam War and "serviced my time." The San Diego Union-Tribune discovered through a FOIA request, however, that Galley started his Navy service almost a year after the draft ended and that he was discharged less than six weeks later, while in "recruit training." Oops.

The truth is, Galley has never been considered a serious challenger. He was going to lose and these revelations will only help seal the deal. That said, it's also worth noting that former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R), who hopes to replace Duke Cunningham in a special election on Tuesday, threw his support behind Galley's campaign. Let's hope Bilbray doesn't list "good judge of character" among his best qualities.

Steve Benen 10:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

POPPING THE BUBBLE....Did you ever think you'd see the day when the Washington Post would consider it front page news front page news! that the White House is showing a "willingness to listen to opinions that are at odds with its stated positions"? That's quite an accomplishment.

Still, they're reaching pretty deep if this is the evidence they've dug up:

Bush just hired a Treasury secretary who opposed his policy on global warming and a press secretary who dismissed his domestic agenda as timid and listless.

Give me a break. Bush's inability to govern is so flagrant that there's practically nobody left in the country who hasn't criticized him over something or another. What was he going to do? Nominate Laura for Treasury Secretary?

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be on vacation. I'll just step away from the computer now.

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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June 2, 2006

BUSH AND THE FMA....I know the White House is anxious to impress the frustrated GOP base, but I'm not sure if the Bush gang has thought this one through.

President Bush will promote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a scheduled Senate vote on the cause that is dear to his conservative backers. [...]

"The president firmly believes that marriage is an enduring and sacred institution between men and women and has supported measures to protect the sanctity of marriage," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said.

Putting aside the merit of the amendment (or lack thereof), there's little strategic upside to the president's new-found interest in the anti-gay amendment.

If you're Bush, and your agenda isn't exactly sweeping through the Hill, why intentionally tie yourself to a measure that's going to fail? The amendment isn't going to pass; it won't even be close. But instead of a predictable, pro-forma defeat for the far-right on the Senate floor, the president will connect himself to a sinking ship on purpose. The post-vote spin will now be, "Bush suffers another defeat on the Hill; lawmakers reject president's demands on amendment."

Maybe the religious right will give Bush credit for trying? It's unlikely. Dobson, Falwell, Robertson & Co. have asked the White House to take this amendment seriously for months. For the president to speak out, literally at the 11th hour, will probably be seen as too-little, too-late.

There's also the consistency question. In January 2005, Bush said, in no uncertain terms, that he would not aggressively lobby the Senate to pass the constitutional amendment during his second term. By flip-flopping now, the president only reminds everyone what a weak position he's in -- and how much he needs to suck up to angry religious right activists before midterms.

If Bush said nothing, the base would be angry, but it's angry anyway. The amendment would lose, but it's going to lose anyway. So why bother?

Steve Benen 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Today is close-up day. As usual, Inkblot is far more cooperative in the camera department, which means that he gets a more interesting picture than Jasmine. There's a lesson there for camera-shy humans as well.

And that's it for the day. For the week, in fact. I'm on vacation until next weekend, and filling in for me will be fan favorite Steve Benen, proprietor of The Carpetbagger. Miscellenous editors of the Washington Monthly might also pop in occasionally. Just don't start impeachment proceedings without me, OK? See you in a week.

Kevin Drum 2:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

CALL THE MINUTEMEN!....Andy Rotherham makes a pithy remark about Thursday's spelling bee finale:

Thank God For Katherine Close
She's the kid who beat back the Canadian menace to win the National Spelling Bee last night. I just don't think I could have listened to weeks of conservative belly-aching about how an American kid couldn't win our own spelling bee and the corresponding complaints about our public schools without losing my mind.

Good point. Though it's undermined a bit by the unending stream of foreign words on the show, including the eventual winner, ursprache, which my dictionary labels as "not completely naturalized." If we can't even make English the official language of the National Spelling Bee, what hope do we have for the rest of the country?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Kevin Drum

PUTIN THE OBSTREPEROUS?....Has Vladimir Putin been "constructive diplomacy personified" when it comes to dealing with Iran? I'm not sure, but Nadezhda thinks so.

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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By: Kevin Drum

YOU ARE WHAT YOU SURF....The Bush administration is moving into even newer frontiers in their ongoing mission to know everything that every American citizen ever does:

Big Internet and telephone companies are girding to fight an unprecedented call by the Bush administration for them to keep detailed records of customers' online activities for two years.

....Gonzales and Mueller asked Google Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and other companies to preserve the data at a May 26 meeting, citing their value to investigations into child-pornography distribution and terrorism. Internet companies typically keep customer histories for only a few days or weeks.

....Beyond law enforcement, though, the trove also could be available to lawyers arguing civil lawsuits including divorce cases and suits against people suspected of swapping copyrighted movie and music files online. Privacy advocates fear the user histories could be exploited by criminal investigators conducting inappropriate exploration or pursuing minor cases.

I wonder if they keep track of all the mail flowing through U.S. post offices? And if not, what's stopping them?

Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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June 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ISHAQI....More bad news. The BBC has a videotape that seems to confirm another American massacre of civilians in Iraq, this time in the town of Ishaqi, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. Knight Ridder first reported on this back in March, but the official response from the military was to dismiss the story, which was based on Iraqi police reports: "We're concerned to hear accusations like that, but it's also highly unlikely that they're true," said Major Tim Keefe.

The BBC video is here. It comes from a "hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces," but the BBC says that it "has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine." If that turns out to be the case, it directly contradicts the American version of events.

In related news, Iraq's new prime minister demanded that American officials turn over their files on the Haditha massacre so that Iraq can conduct its own investigation. The New York Times reports:

The move also came as the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, lashed out at the American military in the harshest terms anyone in his office has so far used to condemn what he characterized as habitual atrocities against Iraqi civilians.

The American-led forces "do not respect the Iraqi people; they crush them by vehicles and kill them by suspicion," Mr. Maliki said. "This is extremely unacceptable."

At the risk of repeating the obvious, this is a very delicate situation. We desperately need to do the right thing.

Kevin Drum 7:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (231)

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By: Kevin Drum

ESTATE TAX CHARTOLOGY.... I do love me some charts. Like a zombie that refuses to die, the Senate is getting ready to repeal the estate tax yet again, having abandoned last year's attempt because even to Republicans it seemed kind of crass in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This chart, from the fine folks at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, shows how low the actual estate tax rates would be under a more modest reform that exempted estates under $3.5 million and capped the top rate at 45%. The Paris Hiltons of the world would still end up paying no more on their inheritances than most middle-class workers pay on their ordinary income. Seems fair to me.

Needless to say, this is still unacceptable to the barons of the Republican Party, who want to repeal the tax altogether and are being amply rewarded for their fealty to the wealthiest families in America. Other fun facts:

  • Under the $3.5 million/45% plan, we would retain 60% of the revenue that we get from the current estate tax. This would pay for about half of the projected Social Security shortfall.

  • 99.7% of all estates would pay no tax at all.

  • Only 50 (that's "fifty," not "fifty thousand") farms and small business would owe any estate tax.

  • Conversely, repealing the estate tax entirely would cost nearly $1 trillion over ten years. That's "trillion," not "billion."

More charts here. "Myths and Realities" here. An estate tax blog here. The Coalition for America's Priorities has more information here, including fun state-by-state data.

Kevin Drum 5:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND IRAN....David Sanger provides a look at what's behind President Bush's supposed change of heart on holding talks with Iran:

Few of his aides expect that Iran's leaders will meet Mr. Bush's main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium....And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush's turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence.

...."Cheney was dead set against it," said one former official....But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside perhaps because they read Mr. Bush's body language, or perhaps because they believed Iran would scuttle the effort....In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, "it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of trying talks.

They sure sound serious about trying to avoid war, don't they? They're going to "check off the box" and everything.

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

AIDS....Heather Hurlburt has a global HIV/AIDS quiz over at Democracy Arsenal. I can't say that I did very well on it. Head on over and see if you can do better.

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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By: Kevin Drum

WORDS AND DEEDS....Andrew Sullivan is perplexed by President Bush's admittedly incomprehensible approach to the Iraq war:

We were told by the president that the Iraq war was the critical battle in the war on terror, an effort of enormous stakes that we couldn't possibly lose. And then he went to war with half the troops necessary to win, with no plan for the aftermath, and refused to budge even when this became obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain.

This is followed by a long string of "He says [blank]" accompanied by evidence that Bush rather obviously doesn't believe [blank].

But it's not just the Iraq war and it's not just Bush. It's the entire Republican leadership. For example, they claim to be worried about nuclear terrorism, but they pay virtually no serious attention to counterproliferation issues and have routinely opposed proposals for tighter port security.

They claim to be concerned about the future financial impact of Social Security deficits, but for short-term electoral reasons they have blithely passed tax cuts and a Medicare prescription bill that do far more damage to our future finances than Social Security ever will.

They claim that democracy promotion is the cornerstone of their foreign policy, but they've budgeted only a pittance for programs that might genuinely encourage democracy, and have applied serious public pressure only to regimes that are already administration bte-noirs for other reasons.

I could go on, but I'll spare you. The obvious conclusion is that they didn't think Iraq was the central front on the war on terror back in 2002. They don't think nuclear terrorism is really that big a deal. They aren't worried about long term finances. And they don't really care very much about democracy promotion. They just say these things because they're convenient.

It's this simple: these guys say a lot of stuff they don't believe. Their words are largely meaningless. There's no paradox, and there's really not much point in trying to make it more complicated.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

A BESTIARY OF SKEPTICS....John Quiggin provides a handy summary of Joel Achenbach's recent piece in the Washington Post on global warming skeptics. Here it is:

  • Richard Lindzen, prominent MIT climate scientist, is an irresponsible contrarian, whos prepared to defend an implausible position on the off chance of being right when everyone else is wrong

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute, well-known Washington thinktank, is a set of industry shills who will say whatever Exxon pays them to say

  • William Gray, respected hurricane expert, is a raving loon who thinks climate change is a conspiracy to bring in world government and compares Al Gore to Hitler (as Achenbach notes, its almost impossible to keep the Nazis out of the discussion in GW-sceptic circles)

  • All these guys know the score as regards the others.

John's summary motivated me to read Achenbach's piece, and I think he has it exactly right: the contrarians come across as obvious shills and buffoons. If you want to watch Achenbach talk about these guys in person, his Bloggingheads.tv conversation with Robert Wright is here.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (123)

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By: Zachary Roth

Drum 1 Norquist 0...Kevin is likely going to be too modest to post this, so I will. Looks like David Broder was flipping thru his old Washington Monthly collection, and came across our September 2004 issue, in which we asked a group of 16 smart political observers, Democratic and Republican, to predict what would happen if Bush were re-elected. As Broder writes in his Washington Post column today:

The one commentator who got it exactly right was Kevin Drum, who runs the magazine's blog. "What do we have to look forward to if George W. Bush is elected to a second term?" he asked. "One word: scandal."

Kevin based his argument, back then, on the "ruthlessness and disregard for political norms" that Bush and the GOP leadership had already demonstrated: holding open House votes, using off-year re-districting in Texas to gain House seats, and obsessively cloaking executive-branch decisions in a veil of secrecy.

And that turns out to have been exactly right. That combination of arrogance, secrecy, ruthlessness, and incompetence that Kevin picked up on during Bush's first term is exactly what has driven the scandals that have emerged during his second.

It's also instructive to look back at Grover Norquist's prediction, headlined, "The Democratic Party is Toast." Nice call.

Zachary Roth 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL WORDS, ILLIBERAL ENDS....I have a few more things I want to say about Peter Beinart's The Good Fight, and now's as good a time as any.

First: it's a pretty good book. Most of it is an intellectual history of the "anti-imperialist" left in America, a subject that dominates the first half of the book and then continues to weave its way through the second half even when the main focus of the narrative changes. I'll leave it to others to judge whether Beinart summarizes this history fairly, but he does a snappy and readable job of telling his story. It's a quick read.

Second: it's a book that can provoke a lot of questions and start a lot of arguments. Here's an example. One of Beinart's biggest concerns is that liberals are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the war on terror:

A November 2005 M.I.T. study...found that only 59 percent of Democrats as opposed to 94 percent of Republicans still approved of America's decision to invade Afghanistan. And only 57 percent of Democrats as opposed to 95 percent of Republicans supported using U.S. troops to "destroy a terrorist camp." George W. Bush, in other words, has used the war on terror to cover such a multitude of sins that for many liberals the whole idea of focusing the nation's energies on defeating global jihad (whether you call that effort the "war on terror" or something else) has fallen into disrepute. Just as Vietnam turned liberals against the cold war, Iraq has now turned them against the war on terror.

Now, maybe he's right about this. I don't think the evidence is quite as damning as Beinart makes it out to be, but poll after poll makes it clear that at the very least the war on terror doesn't rank very high on the list of things liberals care about these days.

But Beinart also makes it abundantly clear that he recognizes just how badly George Bush has politicized the war on terror, misused the military, and made fundamental strategic mistakes of a catastrophic nature. And as I mentioned a few days ago, his prescription for how liberals should conduct the war on terror going forward is decidedly non-martial. It is, frankly, not much different from what John Kerry said during the 2004 campaign, and not something that most liberals would find much fault with.

So what is it that Beinart really wants from antiwar liberals? The obvious answer is found less in policy than in rhetoric: we need to engage more energetically with the war on terror and criticize illiberal regimes more harshly.

Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.

So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there's a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he's also wrong, because like it or not, my words and those of other liberals would end up being used to advance George Bush's distinctly illiberal ends. And I'm simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration's latest marketing campaign.

I don't have a very good answer for this dilemma. And I'm not very happy about it. Feel free to whack away in comments.

Kevin Drum 1:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

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