Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

September 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

STANDING UP....George Bush says "we'll stand down as they stand up" they being the Iraqi army and security forces. And guess what? They're up! We're pretty close to meeting our original target of 300,000 trained soldiers and police.

So can we come home now? Of course not. As Thomas Ricks reports, "the meaning of the phrase appears to have changed":

More recently, Bush has...added more conditions, saying the troops can come home "when our commanders say . . . the Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and sustaining itself and governing itself."

Military officers and other experts interviewed in recent days said that the Iraqi training program has worked but that its success is undercut by the lack of strong Iraqi political leadership. "You fix the government, you fix the problem," said an Army battalion commander who has seen hard fighting near Baghdad this summer.

No kidding. And how long will that take? Ricks's sources suggest five to ten years.

You know, I really wish Bush would just acknowledge this. I'd like to hear him give a speech something like this:

Yes, I'm a stubborn guy, and I continue to believe that success in Iraq is absolutely vital to our future security and to the overall war on terror. A failed Iraq would be a disaster.

But you know what? It's turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. Still, we have to succeed in Iraq, and our best guess is that this will require us to stay there for at least another decade. So tomorrow I'll be asking the Pentagon to extend overseas combat tours to 18 months, which will allow us to increase our troop strength in Iraq to over 200,000 soldiers. I'll also ask Congress for authorization to permanently stand up 30 new combat brigades for the Army and Marine Corps. And then I'm going to personally review the records of our senior officers in Iraq, and I'm going to fire every single one of them who doesn't get the fact that we're fighting a counterinsurgency, not World War II. And that business of discharging Arabic linguists who happen to be gay? I'm stopping it right now. The Iraq war is more important than our own piddling culture wars.

Oh, and I've asked Don Rumsfeld for his resignation. A fresh start needs a new leader.

Or something like that. Don't get me wrong: I'd oppose this plan because I don't think it would work. But I'd at least have some respect for Bush if he concretely acknowledged what it would take to accomplish his goals in Iraq and was willing to fight for them with at least the same tenacity that he fought to wreck Social Security. After all, wrecking Social Security is hardly the "calling of our generation," is it?

Of course, this would require Bush to take some genuine political risk, so I think it's safe to say we'll never see it happen. He'd rather kick this particular can down the road to whichever sap happens to occupy the Oval Office in 2009.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TRUTH SERUM....Indian police are continuing to investigate the Mumbai bombings from last July. Here is a report from September 20:

Two of the suspects arrested for the serial blasts have admitted to links with the terrorist groups, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil said here today.

The breakthrough came after investigators subjected two brothers, Faisal and Muzammil Sheikh, to narco-analysis or truth-serum tests.

Here is an AP dispatch from today:

[Mumbai police Commissioner A.N. Roy] said the Pakistanis slipped into India, some going over their shared border, while others went through neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh. There they were met by Indians who brought them to Mumbai and housed them in rented apartments, he said.

....However, Roy said that many of the suspects had been trained to resist interrogation and only the use of truth serum helped tie loose ends together.

Truth serum? Indeed. Apparently it's common in India to interrogate suspects after injecting them with a solution of sodium pentathol. In fact, it turns out that just recently a videotape was aired on Indian TV showing the pharmaceutical interrogation of one Abdul Karim Telgi, a con man at the center of a sensational and long-running story about a fake stamp paper scam whatever that is. You can read the story here, and you will be unsurprised to learn that authorities seem to have unilaterally decided that some of Telgi's confession was reliable and some of it wasn't. Good stuff, that truth serum.

But there's more: a day after the truth serum interrogation, Telgi was strapped up to....something....and made to take a "brain-mapping test." According to this story, "the brain-mapping test establishes Telgi's link to a number of top political and police official in Karnataka and Maharashtra."

I don't really have anywhere to go with this. But apparently that's how they do things in India. Now you know.

Kevin Drum 2:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IT'S NOT THE CRIME, IT'S THE....Our story so far: Republican congressman Mark Foley has resigned after a 16-year-old former House page complained that he had received repeated emails from Foley that he described as "sick sick sick sick sick....." You can see Foley's emails here, and the New York Times reports that there were more:

By Friday, other pages had come forward with more blatant instant messages. What ya wearing? Mr. Foley wrote to one, according to the network. Tshirt and shorts, the teenager responded. Love to slip them off of you, Mr. Foley replied.

This is bad enough. But Foley resigned very abruptly after the emails came to light, and it turns out this was probably because the Republican House leadership had known about Foley's behavior for some time and had simply been hoping nobody would find out about it. The Republican chairman of the House Page Board learned of Foley's behavior last year and House Majority leader John Boehner learned of it sometime this spring.

And how about Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert? As Brad DeLong points out, Boehner's story has gone from "we told Hastert and he said he was taking care of it" to "I don't remember if I talked to Hastert" to "I never told Hastert a thing about this and if you say otherwise it's a scurrilous lie." Hastert's office may have known about this, but not Hastert.

Sure. Of course. Hastert's office. And the lone Democrat on the House Page Board? He wasn't told about this. And Foley? As a member in good standing of the law-and-order party, he just went on his merry way after some no-doubt stern counseling from....someone.

So: what did Boehner and Hastert know, and when did they know it? Somehow it always comes back to that same question, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (206)

Bookmark and Share
September 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"BETTER TO NOT PUT THIS STUFF IN WRITING...." The House Government Reform Committee has released a bipartisan report on the Jack Abramoff scandal, including hundreds of emails between Abramoff and various GOP luminaries, including Karl Rove's assistant, Susan Ralston. And why not? Ralston used to work for Abramoff, after all.

You can see 'em all here. Mostly they seem to be obsessed with the giving and getting of skybox tickets to various sporting events, but Abramoff's bilking of Indian tribes and other clients is an ongoing favorite too. I haven't read the whole bunch, but I've reproduced my favorite exchange so far below. I wonder how many emails to "Susan's mc pager" didn't get into the White House system?

UPDATE: Or is it "Susan's rnc pager"? I can't tell.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BREATHTAKING....You have to give the hawks credit. Here is Robert Kaplan on why George Bush will have trouble getting support for a war with Iran:

Though they may not admit it, the political elites beyond loyal administration circles, and particularly in Europe, simply do not trust Bush's ability to wage another war. Here is where the real problem lies; by delegitimizing his ability to wage war, they delegitimize his right to wage war.

That's a helluva triple gainer, isn't it? The problem, apparently, lies not in the actual fact that Bush has prosecuted the Iraq war with astonishing incompetence, but in the fact that non-Republican "political elites" have peevishly decided to take note of Bush's performance. Wow.

Believe it or not, though, it gets worse later on in the piece:

As someone who supported the invasion of Iraq, I know that the problem with grand assumptions is that they're nice when they succeed; otherwise you require a Plan B. The idea that there is no alternative to diplomacy in dealing with Iran, even after it achieves nuclear status, is another grand assumption, but without a Plan B.

The president and his hawkish enablers are rather plainly trying to maneuver the country into a position where military force will be the only plausible option available to us against Iran. Not only do they have no Plan B, but they're actively trying to close off even the possibility of a Plan B in the future. Is this a problem? You'd think so, but in a breathtaking piece of table-turning chutzpah Kaplan declares that the real problem lies with those who are trying to keep our options open. Apparently they suffer from the unforgivable stain of having been right about Iraq.

The plain fact is that military action is always a Plan B. The Pentagon has multiple contingency plans for war against Iran, and those plans will continue to be updated and available to whoever is sitting in the Oval Office. If, in the end, we truly feel that we have no other choice, military force will always be an option. That's not a problem. It's preemptively closing off all the other avenues that's the problem.

Kevin Drum 1:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SLEEPWALKING THROUGH HISTORY....According to the New York Times, Bob Woodward's sources in his latest book, State of Denial, are now telling him that the Bush administration was not quite the well-oiled machine that he reported earlier:

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that Rumsfeld doesnt have any credibility anymore to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq.

....[In September 2003] Robert D. Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council...concluded that more ground troops, perhaps as many as 40,000, were desperately needed....The White House did nothing in response.

....The book describes a deep fissure between Colin L. Powell, Mr. Bushs first secretary of state, and Mr. Rumsfeld....[Andrew] Card then made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book, but was overruled by President Bush, who feared that it would disrupt the coming Iraqi elections and operations at the Pentagon.

There's more, and the Washington Post has its own book plug here, with presumably more extensive excerpts planned for Sunday. Bottom line: Powell didn't get along with Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld didn't get along with Rice, Cheney didn't get along with anyone, the war was going to hell the entire time, and Bush was sleeping through the whole thing. Cheers!

Kevin Drum 11:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DO THE BRITISH WANT OUT OF IRAQ?....The Guardian reports today that a pitched battle is being waged by British forces against a dogged band of insurgents. These particular insurgents, though, reside not in Basra but in northwest London, and they argue that British troops could be better used in Afghanistan than in an increasingly hopeless holding action in Iraq:

They believe there is a limit to what British soldiers can achieve in southern Iraq and that it is time the Iraqis took responsibility for their own security, defence sources say...."What is more important, Afghanistan or Iraq?" a senior defence source asked yesterday. "There is a group within the Ministry of Defence pushing hard to get troops out of Iraq to get more into Afghanistan."

....The fierce debate at the highest military and political levels in the MoD is reflected in a passage of a leaked memo written by a staff officer at the Defence Academy, an MoD thinktank. It reads: "British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of 'doing Afghanistan' and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts."

The reference to the "failure of the deal" suggests that this was a pretty serious effort, and one that was not appreciated by U.S. commanders, who were said to be "deeply unhappy about British talk of troop reductions and complained that the British seemed interested only in the south of the country."

The fact that basic strategy is being debated at high levels isn't unusual. What is unusual is that this particular debate suggests that the highest ranking officer in the British Army believes three things: (1) Afghanistan is in serious trouble and needs more troops ASAP, (2) there's very little more that can be accomplished by the military in Iraq, and (3) British troop deployments are essentially being dictated by political considerations in the United States.

There's not much more to say about this except for one thing: the British Army got a new chief about four weeks ago, General Richard Dannatt. Was the attempted "deal" to transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan something that his predecessor initiated or something that he initiated? Is the British Army going to be commanded for the next three years by someone who apparently thinks the cause in Iraq is lost?

Kevin Drum 1:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

Bookmark and Share
September 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SMOCKING!....On a somewhat lighter note, I'd like to point out that my wife is on the front page our local newspaper today. "On Saturday she will take a vow to uphold the SAGA oath 'to preserve and foster the art of smocking and related needlework.'" Hooray!

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

VOTING FOR TORTURE....A reader emails about Sherrod Brown's and Ted Strickland's votes in favor of the detainee/torture bill:

My wife and I have been lifelong Democrats and have contributed and worked on national and Ohio campaigns for the Democratic Party since 1988. This year we were actually looking forward to winning Ohio for the Democratic Party.

No longer. We're livid. We will not work, support or even vote for either Brown or Strickland. Judging from the reaction of many fellow Democrats, we're not alone.

Mark Kleiman writes:

Note to Blue opinion leaders: I hate the torture bill as much as you do. Maybe more....But is it really a good idea to spread the "Democrats are cowards" meme six weeks before an election that might restore the system of checks and balances? Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that you're doing Karl Rove's work for him?

Rude, maybe, but hardly undeserved. Democrats have been voting for stuff I dislike for as long as I've been voting for Democrats, but I have to say that their poll-tested cowardice on the detainee bill over the past couple of weeks has been about as bad as anything I can remember. And what makes it worse is that not only is it craven, it's probably politically stupid as well.

The leadership of the Republican Party decided after 9/11 to govern the country by trying to keep it in a state of permanent panic and tarring anyone who opposed their calculated panic as a weak-kneed appeaser. The way to fight this is not to give in to Karl Rove's political machinations, it's to fight them. It worked for Thomas Jefferson, after all, and Democrats consider him the founder of their party. They should take a lesson from him.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (546)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

YOUR DAILY DOZEN....I've been pretty consistently negative about George Lakoff and his framing crusade for the past couple of years, so let me turn the tables and recommend this short piece posted a couple of days ago at Alternet, "12 Traps That Keep Progressives From Winning." It's pretty good.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ENEMY COMBATANTS....Bruce Ackerman provides a good nickel summary of the main problem with the detainee bill currently wending its way through Congress:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States....It also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

Not to worry, say the bill's defenders. The president can't detain somebody who has given money innocently, just those who contributed to terrorists on purpose.

But other provisions of the bill call even this limitation into question. What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.

I wish conservatives could back away for a few minutes from their fear of breaking with a president of their own party and ask themselves if they want any president to have this power. The constitution is there for a reason, guys, and a day is going to come when you'll wish you hadn't gutted it.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (198)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE FOR ALL!....A advisory panel overseen by the comptroller general has recommended that "Congress should take immediate steps to guarantee that all Americans have access to affordable health care by 2012":

While leaving many details to be worked out, the panel declared, It should be public policy, written in law, that all Americans have affordable access to health care.

The panel was created by the 2003 law that added a drug benefit to Medicare. Under the law, President Bush has 45 days to comment on the recommendations and offer a report to Congress.

I'll bet Bush is just going to jump all over this. You know, compassionate conservative and all that. I can hardly wait.

Kevin Drum 1:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

STANDING 'EM UP....Having failed to successfully complete its contracts in Iraq for building a prison ($99 million) and a network of health clinics ($243 million), today we learn that Parsons Corp. has crashed and burned on yet another project. The $75 million police academy they built in Baghdad is so substandard that parts of it will need to be demolished:

The most serious problem was substandard plumbing that caused waste from toilets on the second and third floors to cascade throughout the building. A light fixture in one room stopped working because it was filled with urine and fecal matter. The waste threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, federal investigators concluded.

....[Phillip] Galeoto noted that one entire building and five floors in others had to be shuttered for repairs, limiting the capacity of the college by up to 800 recruits. His memo, too, pointed out that the urine and feces flowed throughout the building and, sometimes, onto occupants of the barracks.

Another triumph for the Bush administration, this time on a project that the president has repeatedly told us is the cornerstone of our strategy in Iraq: training police so that we can stand down as they stand up. Unfortunately, it turns out that even the buildings can't stand up, let alone the police.

Kevin Drum 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

Bookmark and Share
September 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

I NEED A DRINK....It's stuff like this that almost makes me want to give up sometimes. Here is William Arkin today:

The simplistic story line that the Democrats are pushing is all about and solely about Iraq: withdraw U.S. forces, defeat the Republicans, tidy up foreign policy by giving human rights to prisoners and being nicer in the world, and voila, terror subsides.

I write a blog. That means I make sharp points in very brief posts. But even at that, nothing I've written could even be unfairly caricatured the way Arkin does, let alone fairly. Ditto for other liberal bloggers who are even sharper and briefer than me.

Outside the blogosphere, of course, we have the actual Democratic establishment, the one that wields genuine influence. Some of them are in Congress and make floor speeches about both Iraq and national security more broadly. Some of them run for president and lay out detailed position papers about how best to conduct foreign policy in an age of jihad. Others host symposia at think tanks or write lengthy articles in places like Foreign Affairs and Democracy. Still others write books covering practically every nuance of liberal foreign policy you could ever hope for.

Some of these liberals think we ought to withdraw from Iraq and some don't. I think it's safe to say that virtually all of them believe that a less militaristic and more internationalist foreign policy would be a net benefit. But it's also safe to say that none of them not one believes this is all it will take to put a stop to militant jihadism. And yet, after five years of speeches, articles, symposia, and books by Democrats on national security, that's what Arkin writes.

Jeebus. David Ignatius blames Democrats for not figuring out a solution to Iraq, Michael Kinsley thinks bloggers are lunatics, and William Arkin claims that "being nicer" is all Democrats have to say about foreign policy. I expect this kind of stuff from Charles Krauthammer, not sane people. Is there something in the water?

Kevin Drum 6:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BLOG HYSTERIA....Michael Kinsley, a man reponsible as much as anyone for putting news on the internet, feels the need to riff not once, not twice, but three separate times in a recent column about the vile impact of blogs on the news industry:

Meanwhile, there is the blog terror: people are getting their understanding of the world from random lunatics riffing in their underwear....So are we doomed to get our news from some acned 12-year-old in his parents' basement recycling rumors from the Internet echo chamber?....But there is room between the New York Times and myleftarmpit.com for new forms that liberate journalism from its encrusted conceits while preserving its standards, like accuracy.

Are mainstream journalists really so shocked by the fact that bloggers sometimes use four letter words? And that some of them use their sites for political activism? Isn't it time to grow up, guys?

Kevin Drum 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (111)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

POLLING IRAQ....The Washington Post quotes three different polling firms today who say that by a wide margin Iraqis want American troops to leave:

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

....Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year.

....The director of another Iraqi polling firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being killed, said public opinion surveys he conducted last month showed that 80 percent of Iraqis who were questioned favored an immediate withdrawal.

The PIPA poll suggests that Sunnis are a little less likely than Shiites to want U.S. troops to withdraw, which isn't surprising since they're the ones who would be massively outnumbered if we left. The State Department poll, however, doesn't appear to bear this out, showing a stronger desire for U.S. withdrawal in mixed areas than in predominantly Shiite areas.

Overall, though, the results are clear and discouraging for "stay the course" fans. The Iraqi leadership may be reluctant to see us go, but what are the odds that an occupation force can succeed in quelling violence if three-quarters of the population wants them to leave?

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (192)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PERMANENT BASES....This was buried on page A16 of the LA Times today:

House Passes Ban on Permanent Iraq Bases

Congress is on the verge of barring the construction of permanent bases for U.S. forces in Iraq, a move aimed at quelling concerns in the Arab world that American forces will remain in the war-torn country indefinitely.

....On Monday, House and Senate leaders agreed to insert a ban pushed by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware...."I have no illusions that this provision will somehow dramatically change the dynamic of events on the ground in Iraq," Biden said Tuesday in a statement. "But...this is a message that needs to be proclaimed loudly and regularly and with the stamp of the Congress."

It's about time. Good for Biden for proposing this, and good for him again for not pretending that it's going to seriously change the dynamics in Iraq at this late date. This is the kind of thing we should have been doing three years ago.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NO PONIES LEFT....I had the same problem with David Ignatius's column today as Matt Yglesias did, but I also had another one. Basically, Ignatius wants Democrats to figure out how to salvage things in Iraq:

Many Democrats act as if that's the end of the discussion: A mismanaged occupation has created a breeding ground for terrorists, so we should withdraw and let the Iraqis sort out the mess....But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next....Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse.

....The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party.

I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose a solution himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves.

Look: A "debate" is fine, but only if there's something to debate. Should we privatize Social Security? Let's debate. Should we debate about how to fix Iraq? We could, but only if there were some plausible solutions to argue about. Unfortunately, there aren't. We don't have enough troops in Iraq to keep order and the troops we do have aren't trained properly anyway. Nobody appears to have any serious desire to change that. Politically, the sectarian split in Iraq is embedded deeply in their history and culture and is mostly beyond our ability to affect, especially after three years of mismanagement. Globally, we have virtually no influence left with either local power brokers like Iran or with our European allies.

Various luminaries in the liberal foreign policy community have been proposing Iraq policies right and left for over three years now. Initially, that perhaps we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan and stayed out of Iraq altogether. Then, once we were there, liberal thinkers suggested more troops, dialogue with Iran, a multilateral council to accelerate regional investment in Iraq's progress, a variety of counterinsurgency strategies, a variety of partition plans, more serious engagement in Israeli-Palestinian talks (Tony Blair practically begged for this), and on and on. Every single one of these suggestions was ignored.

Would they have made any difference? Who knows. But to blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It's one thing to ask for "debate," but it's quite another to ask for a pony that doesn't exist anymore and to blame Democrats when they're unable to produce yet another one after three years of trying. That makes no sense.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

Bookmark and Share
September 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE MARCH TO WAR....A CONTINUING SERIES....The "faster please" zealots continue to lob their bureaucratic bombs:

In another indication that some in the Bush administration are pushing for a more confrontational policy toward Iran, a Pentagon unit has drafted a report charging that U.S. international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime....It accuses the Voice of America's Persian TV service and Radio Farda, a U.S. government Farsi-language broadcast, of taking a soft line toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and not giving adequate time to government critics.

....Three U.S. government officials identified the author of the report as Ladan Archin, a civilian Iran specialist who works for Rumsfeld....She works in a recently established Pentagon unit known as the Iran directorate.

Ah yes, the Iran Directorate. Staffed by castoffs from our old friend, the Office of Special Plans, which did such a bangup job of misrepresenting Iraqi intelligence at the behest of the Cheney/Rumsfeld axis back in 2002. As Laura Rozen reported several months ago, "Among those staffing or advising the Iranian directorate are three veterans of the Office of Special Plans: Abram N. Shulsky, its former director; John Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst; and Ladan Archin, an Iran specialist."

I guess they're starting to earn their pay. Stay tuned for spine-tingling House hearings on alleged State Department softness toward the madmen in Tehran.

Kevin Drum 9:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (239)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

KEY JUDGMENTS....Is the Iraq war fueling terrorism? Here are the excerpts from the "key judgments" section of the newly declassified National Intelligence Estimate that address the issue:

We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

  • The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

  • ....Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement:....(2) the Iraq "jihad;"....

Al-Qaida, now merged with Abu Musab al-Zarqawis network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.

....We judge that most jihadist groups both well-known and newly formed will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.

In one sense, this answers the questions about what exactly the intelligence community meant by its assertion that the war was "fueling terrorism." However, because only the NIE's key judgments were declassified, these are still nothing but assertions. Without seeing the context, analysis, and dissenting opinions that shaped them, there's nothing to assess. You either accept the intelligence community's expertise or you don't.

With appropriate redactions, the entire NIE should be released. Then we can all see what this is based on.

Kevin Drum 7:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

RELEASE THE NIE!....Laura Rozen reports on what a contact told her about that leaked NIE the one that allegedly concludes that the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism. It's actually worse than that:

The report highlights the essential dilemma Iraq poses for the war on terror: staying fuels the al-Qaeda-inspired movement, creating a net increase in the terrorist threat; while leaving Iraq in chaos would also worsen the threat.

Of course, this has been the dilemma all along, and it would be instructive to actually discuss this. Unfortunately, if President Bush releases only the "key judgments" from the NIE, that will hardly be possible. It means that nuance, context, and explanation will all be lost. All we'll get is the PowerPoint version of the war.

Of course, reading the entire NIE would hardly be an unalloyed blessing for either liberals or conservatives, since the report almost certainly contains analysis that supports both sides. How could it not? But it might sharpen the debate. At yesterday's Democratic hearings on the war, retired military officers testified angrily about Don Rumsfeld's conduct of the war, but as Dana Milbank put it, they also recommended that the answer was "more troops, more money and more time in Iraq."

This is not what most Democrats want to hear, but let's face it: it's not what most Republicans want to hear either. Nonetheless: this is the dilemma in its starkest form. Nearly every serious military analyst believes that even minimal success in Iraq would require a very substantial increase in troop strength for a period of at least several years. Unfortunately, no one has offered up a practical way of finding more troops, President Bush shows no inclination to support a larger troop commitment, and the American public is pretty clearly skeptical about doubling down in Iraq anyway. In other words, even those who still believe Iraq can be salvaged also believe that the Bush administration is not doing anywhere near enough to accomplish that. Under these circumstances, with failure staring at us from both directions, what justification can there be for continuing our present course?

This is what people should be talking about. Releasing the entire NIE might help spark this conversation.

UPDATE: Hmmm. Two NIEs, a real NIE and a pseudo-NIE? Release 'em both!

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (198)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ONE CALCULATION....At the end of a remarkably thorough piece of reality avoidance in the Washington Post today, Robert Kagan says this:

I would worry about an American foreign policy driven only by fear of how our actions might inspire anger, radicalism and violence in others. As in the past, that should be only one calculation in our judgment of what does and does not make us, and the world, safer.

Crikey. I would be happy (well, happier, anyway) if the Bush administration showed even the tiniest inclination to think about whether their actions might inspire anger, radicalism and violence in others. We are so far away from this being their only consideration that Kagan's unease brings to mind visions of middle-aged Victorian gentlemen harrumphing that the Royal Navy has been treating its recruits with rather too light a hand after that kerfuffle over the Bounty a few years back.

On the other hand, Kagan is right that the classified National Intelligence Estimate leaked to the New York Times the other day should be released. I'm willing to bet that it would require only light redaction, and understanding its context would allow all of us, liberals and conservatives, to judge whether its conclusions are justified. I for one would like to know the analytic basis on which our intelligence community views the world.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

COMPETITIVENESS....The World Economic Forum's latest league tables have dropped the United States from first to sixth in global competitiveness. But why? What could we possibly have done to merit this drop? Let's see:

The WEF said the best performing countries were distinguished by their competent economic stewardship....

Oh. Right. I guess that would do it.

"US competitiveness is threatened by large macroeconomic imbalances, particularly rising levels of public indebtedness associated with repeated fiscal deficits," the report said.

"Its relative ranking remains vulnerable to a possible disorderly adjustment of such imbalances."

Thanks, Republican Party!

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HABEAS CORPUS....John McCain's compromise with President Bush on detainee legislation may not have accomplished much, but it did contain at least a few worthwhile measures. Now, though, Republicans in Congress apparently want to water it down even more. The plan is to redefine "unlawful enemy combatant" from someone who is

engaged in hostilities against the United States

to someone who is

engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States

"Supported" is a pretty far-reaching term that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with actual combat. And while this vagueness would be disturbing enough by itself, it's even worse than it seems because other provisions of the legislation prohibit someone accused of "supporting" hostilities from challenging their detention in U.S. courts even if the detainee is a U.S. citizen.

And the fate of this proposal? According to the Washington Post, Republican crypto-moderate Arlen Specter "assailed the provision as an unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus," but is "unlikely to derail the compromise legislation over those objections."

Well, sure. Why would a senior committee chairman actually do something substantive to back up a belief that pending legislation is an unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus? That's hardly worth fighting over, is it?

POSTSCRIPT: And how about the Democrats? Will they fight this? We'll have to wait and see, but their performance has been pretty uninspiring so far.

Kevin Drum 2:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (174)

Bookmark and Share
September 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HOUSING BUBBLE UPDATE....The supply of homes on the market is up by a third over the past 12 months, existing homes aren't selling, and prices are dropping. The glut of unsold homes is the highest since 1993 and the year-over-year price decline is the biggest since 1990. Here are a few reactions:

  • Joel Naroff, Naroff Economic Advisors: "Pop goes the housing bubble."

  • Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics: "With inventory still rising, there is no chance of any short-term relief. Prices and volumes have a long way to fall yet."

  • Thomas Lawler, former economist at Fannie Mae: "You've got a ways to go. You still have affordability issues in a lot of markets."

  • David Lereah, National Association of Realtors: "This is the price correction we've been expecting with sales stabilizing, we should go back to positive price growth early next year."

Question: Can you tell which of these guys is living in a dreamworld?

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FAMILY VALUES....FaithfulDemocrats.com was at James Dobson's Values Voters Summit this weekend and reports back today. Click the link to read their "Top Five Bizarro World Moments" from the event.

Kevin Drum 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF THE DREAM?....Karl Rove has long boasted about constructing an electoral strategy that doesn't just win elections for Republicans but instead puts them in a permanent majority. A big part of that strategy has been his effort to woo Hispanics who tend to be culturally conservative and not as historically bound to the Democratic Party as blacks into the GOP fold. George Bush won a sizeable chunk of the Hispanic vote when he ran for governor in Texas, and if the Republican Party could do the same thing nationwide it might well convert America from a 50-50 nation to something more like a 55-45 nation with Republicans getting the double-nickel.

Today that dream is in shambles, and in the current issue of the Monthly Rachel Morris reports that talk radio shoulders a big part of the blame:

Until [mid-2005], Roves strategy of wooing Latinos without actually doing anything that might offend the conservative base had worked remarkably wellperhaps because his outreach to the base and to Hispanics had advanced along separate tracks. So far, he hadnt been confronted with anything that might cause these tracks to converge, forcing the disparate elements of the Republican voting coalition towards collision.

The convergence began on right-wing talk radio....Casting around for something to talk about, hosts discovered the Minutemen. Illegal immigration has always been a perennial source of talk-radio outrage, but the Minutemen, with their warnings that terrorists could enter the country via Mexico, set off a veritable storm. Suddenly, the self-styled border patrols, along with their champion in the House, Rep. Tom Tancredo, became fixtures on radio shows and cable TV.

According to a former senior White House official, the administration became concerned by this phenomenon and conducted some research. Staffers listened to hours of talk radio and found that the obsession with illegal immigration on talk radio had appeared virtually from nowhere. Two years ago, this wasnt on the radar screen, he said. House Republicans, already eyeing the midterm elections, also took note. By then, Tancredos immigration-reform caucus had grown to more than 80 members (in 2001, it only had 15).

Live by the sword, die by the sword. But hey at least they've still got the Voter Vault! Something tells me that's a pretty short-term advantage, though.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DID HE OR DIDN'T HE?....This story may or may not be true, but legend has it that during one of Lyndon Johnson's congressional campaigns he decided to spread a rumor that his opponent was a pig-fucker. LBJ's campaign manager said, "Lyndon, you know he doesn't do that!" Johnson replied, "I know. I just want to make him deny it."

I have a feeling that George Allen can relate.

UPDATE: I should probably revise and extend here. I don't actually think the charges against Allen are false. The fact that Allen is now spending a lot of time denying the charges just happened to remind me of the LBJ story, that's all.

But it was a bad analogy. At this point, three separate people have confirmed Allen's use of the word "nigger" during the 70s and 80s (Larry Sabato, Chris Taylor, and Ken Shelton) along with a couple of other anonymous sources. What's more, it fits pretty well with what we know about Allen's youthful efforts to reinvent himself as a Southern redneck after growing up in Southern California. Sounds to me like he's toast.

Kevin Drum 3:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NUMERICAL LITERACY....Mark Kleiman nominates the following as a "list of concepts journalism students should be exposed to":

  1. Institutional culture

  2. Regression toward the mean

  3. Moral hazard

  4. Expected value (of an uncertain outcome)

  5. Present value (of a stream of gains and losses over time)

  6. Statistical control

  7. Correlation v. causation

  8. Benefit-cost analysis and willingness-to-pay

  9. Cost-effectiveness

  10. Separation of powers

  11. Mill's "harm principle"

  12. Rent-seeking

  13. Opportunity cost

  14. Cognitive dissonance

  15. Milgram experiment

Obviously we all have our favorites, and your list would probably be different from Mark's. But I will note one thing: by my count, nine out of his fifteen items are related to numerical literacy of one kind or another. That sounds about right to me.

Kevin Drum 2:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW 60 MINUTES....Laura Rozen was unimpressed with Katie Couric's profile of Condoleezza Rice on 60 Minutes last night:

I've never seen another serving official get such softball treatment from a serious news show. Rice was almost beaming with the Nerf-ball questions. How much of a true believer are you? Wonderful. So, you're really a true believer, aren't you? Tell me again how your life story has made you a true believer. ... Iraq is hard, but your life story is about overcoming hardship, isn't it? .... Would you like to get married? Agh!

Excellent. The world now has another Larry King, someone to go to when politicians need a pleasant way to demonstrate they aren't ducking the press but don't want to risk being asked anything embarrassing. I actually like Larry King. But one is enough.

Kevin Drum 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PARTITION....A number of people, perhaps most prominently Les Gelb, have been suggesting for years that the best way to stop the violence in Iraq is via partition. Various people have put forth various plans along these lines, but most of them boil down to a Kurdish north, a Shiite south, and a Sunni center.

I've been skeptical of this ever since I first heard about it, and yesterday Iraq's leadership decided it was pretty skeptical too:

Iraq's leaders stepped back from a simmering constitutional crisis Sunday, agreeing to wait at least 18 months before setting up autonomous regions that would shift power away from the central government.

....The compromise leaves intact southern Shiite Muslims' and northern Kurds' goal of creating a federal system that would strengthen their hold on the vast oil resources of their two regions. At the same time, Sunni Arabs, who dominate in the resource-poor central and western provinces, would have time to seek constitutional changes to limit the effects of autonomy.

The problem is that, far from bringing peace, discussion of partition does nothing but fan the flames of sectarianism. By forcing a serious discussion of tradeoffs between Sunni and Shia, it makes their differences concrete and immediate, which is why negotiations have been "put off" yet again. Unfortunately, there's no special reason to think these differences will become any less concrete and immediate 18 months from now.

I suppose it's possible that eventually something along the lines of partition might work out. But my guess is that in the end the only partition we'll get will be in the Kurdish north, which will almost certainly retain its current level of independence and might even formally secede at some point. The rest of the country, though, seems destined to become a Shiite theocracy one way or another. It will probably take an all-out civil war for it to happen, but given that Shia make up about three-quarters of the population of the non-Kurdish south, it's hard to see it turning out any other way.

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

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

A VERY LONG EMERGENCY....The LA Times reports today that the Army is engaged in a sort of sit-down strike, refusing to submit a budget until it gets more money:

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

....According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels.

"It's incredibly huge," said the Army official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity when commenting on internal deliberations. "These are just incredible numbers."

Army budgeting, like pretty much all federal budgeting, is an arcane science that one is well advised to approach carefully. To the extent that Schoomaker is just playing hardball because expensive new weapons systems have turned out to be more expensive than anticipated (surprise!), this is little more than an age-old wrestling match playing out between adversaries who are both well versed in bureaucratic warfare.

However, the bigger part of the problem is that the Bush administration, in its usual political approach to policy issues, has decided to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars almost entirely via emergency appropriations. This makes life easier for Bush, who gets to imply that these expenses are temporary without actually having to defend that belief, but the problem is that these wars also have a significant effect on day-to-day Army affairs. Unfortunately, the day-to-day Army isn't getting any money to deal with them.

This will be an interesting fight to watch. It might play out entirely in the shadows, but eventually I suspect it's going to have to become more public. It would be a good chance for Democrats to insist on a more realistic approach to defense budgeting in the age of terror.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

YE OLDE DONUTTE HOLE....It's coming soon, thanks to the Republican Party treating the Medicare prescription bill as a political football instead of a serious policy issue:

"Virtually everyone who calls to say they've been denied coverage, they're shocked," said Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a nonprofit that helps seniors navigate Medicare. "Trying to explain that this is the way the program was created by Congress angers folks who think it makes no sense. Many people feel blindsided."

The coverage gap was one of the most contentious elements of the 2003 legislation that created the new benefit. It ends federal payments for a person's drug purchases once an annual spending limit is reached, resuming them only after the beneficiary has spent thousands of dollars out of pocket.

As I've said before, I would have been willing to cut the budget for the Medicare prescription bill by a third if Republicans had just been willing to let serious policymakers craft a program that was wholly dedicated to getting prescription drugs into the hands of seniors as efficiently as possible. But they wanted to play games instead. Result: a bad program, and one that costs more than a good program would have cost.

Your Republican Congress at work.

Kevin Drum 2:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

INDEPENDENCE DAY....David Broder has been getting beat up pretty well in the blogosphere for his continuing paeans to "independent" Republicans (try here, here, and here, for example), and I don't have much to add. I think John Holbo captures the thing that mystifies me the most about Broder when he confesses:

I used to be a practitioner of the Higher Broderism myself, in some ways....

Exactly. Me too. If Broder had written today's columns fifteen years ago, I would have nodded along approvingly.

But then the Republican Party turned over its leadership to guys like Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, George Bush, and Karl Rove. During that same period, the Democratic leadership was made up of people like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George Mitchell, Tom Daschle, and Dick Gephardt. If American politics has become more extreme and more polarized over the past decade, which group of men do you think was largely responsible?

The question answers itself, and Broder was around the entire time to watch this saga unfold. So how is that after all this time he can still pretend that both parties have drifted equally away from centrism, and that it's Republican pseudo-moderates who might save us? It boggles the mind.

For more on this subject, try reading "Perverse Polarity," a piece written a couple of years ago by Paul Glastris. It spells out the whole sorry spectacle pretty well.

Kevin Drum 12:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

Bookmark and Share
September 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

AUTHORITARIANISM....Since 1992, the National Election Study has asked respondents four questions that collectively make up an "authoritarian index." The four questions ask you to specify which of two attributes you value more in children:

  1. Independence vs respect for elders

  2. Self-reliance vs. obedience

  3. Curiosity vs. good manners

  4. Being considerate vs. being well behaved

The first item in each pair marks you as less authoritarian and the second item marks you as more authoritarian. After you've answered all four, the scores are added up and normalized on a scale from 0 to 1, with 1 being the most authoritarian.

It will come as no surprise that authoritarians tend to vote Republican. What may surprise you, though, is that this has only become true in recent years. Over at the Democratic Strategist, Jonathan Weiler and Marc Hetherington tell the tale:

In 1992, authoritarianism barely had an effect on partisanship. Other things being equal, authoritarians tended to score about 7 percentage points toward the Republican end of the seven-point partisanship scale. By 2004, however, that 7 percentage point difference between authoritarians and non-authoritarians had ballooned to more than 20 percentage points.

....Authoritarianism's effect in 2004 was also strong relative to other variables. Its effect was substantially smaller than that of income in 1992. By 2004, its effect was twice that of income. In 1992, its effect was less than one-fifth as strong as the effect of government spending preferences. By 2004, the effects were much closer. It is not that the traditional left-right dimension in American politics is unimportant. What has changed is how relevant authoritarianism has become.

Weiler and Hetherington also report another interesting trend: in the past, strong authoritarians were alienated individuals who tended not to vote. Today's Republican Party, however, has succeeded in mobilizing them in greater numbers. You can read the article to get the stats, but the bottom line is this:

Appeals to authoritarian issues are mobilizing non-voters into the Republican camp, making non-voters and Republican voters nearly indistinguishable in their authoritarianism. This formerly disaffected group has found a political home.

....Republicans always benefit from increasing public fears, whether about gays, terrorism, illegal immigration, or anything that activates authoritarianism. It makes people who only have a little authoritarianism share the preferences of those who have a lot. The political implications of this fact for Republican fortunes are clear.

It makes people who only have a little authoritarianism share the preferences of those who have a lot. Appeals to fear move even moderates toward the authoritarian end of the scale. Fear is the conservative's friend, never the liberal's.

Kevin Drum 10:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SHUCK OF THE IRISH....As a USC fan, I'm always happy to see a beatdown of Notre Dame football, even if it comes from a Big Ten alumnus like Jon Chait. And today's column, which also calls out Rudy Ruettiger for being the annoying twit that he is, definitely made my corn flakes go down easy this morning. And yet, check this out:

Newspapers in the Midwest generally have dedicated beat writers for the hometown teams and one other program: Notre Dame....Notre Dame has its own network, NBC, whose college football coverage is limited solely to Notre Dame games, which it covers with all the journalistic tenacity of a church newsletter.

....Why does Notre Dame football hold such a prominent place in our culture? The answer lies in the power of myth....Myth is deeply embedded in Notre Dame football, the way it is in no other sports team.

....In this country you can make yourself into whatever you want, and sometimes all you have to do is convince everybody else that you are who you say you are. Pundit Michael Novak recently rejoiced that Notre Dame had become "America's team." Fans of other programs may bridle, but the appellation fits.

Hmmm. I could swear there was something else at work that helps explain Notre Dame's unique nationwide popularity. It's on the tip of my tongue. Starts with a "C," maybe. Perhaps Michael Novak could tell us?

(But hey nice comeback yesterday against Michigan's other team, guys. We'll see you after Thanksgiving in the Coliseum. We'll even mow the grass.)

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

Bookmark and Share
September 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TERROR REPORT CARD....America's spy agencies have released a report that acknowledges the obvious:

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

....The report says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse, said one American intelligence official.

The point of an anti-terror policy is not to look tough. The point of an anti-terror policy is to reduce terror. Republicans pretty clearly don't get this.

And on that note, a commenter at Steve Benen's site suggests that Howard Dean could have done worse than to simply hire J.D. Henderson of Intel Dump to write the Wall Street Journal op-ed I criticized last night. He's right. This isn't a bad first draft.

Kevin Drum 4:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (310)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TERRORIST WATCH....Osama bin Laden might be dead. Or he might not be. Or maybe he just has a "water-borne illness." Who knows? But at least we seem to have put a different baddie out of commission:

U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured a leader of Ansar al-Sunnah, the group behind the 2004 attack on a U.S. military mess hall that killed 22 people, the prime minister's office said Saturday.

Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri and two of his aides were arrested in Al-Taeyh, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, said Brig. Qassim al-Mussawi, spokesman for the General Command of the Armed Forces the prime minister's military office. He did not say when the arrest was made.

The Sunni militant group has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide attacks, the August 2004 execution of 12 Nepalese hostages and a December 2004 explosion at a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul that killed 22 people. It is believed to be an offshoot of another group, Ansar Al-Islam.

That'll have to do for now. As for the big guy himself, wait and see.

Kevin Drum 2:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE PHONICS WARS....Social conservatives believe a lot of things: school prayer is good, abortion is bad, homosexuality is a sin, evolution never happened, and phonics is the only proper way to teach children to read.

Do you notice one thing in that list that seems like a bit of an odd fit? And yet, conservatives have long fought for phonics with the same revolutionary zeal that they bring to the rest of their agenda. And they don't merely argue that phonics should be a substantial part of any good reading program which it should but that phonics should be the exclusive method of teaching reading to kids. "Whole language" meets with about the same reaction as a cry to arms against "secular humanism." I've never quite understood how phonics came to occupy the same pedestal as the Lord's Prayer, but there you have it.

What's more, in the same way that evolution has become "intelligent design" among the cleverer of the anti-Darwinists, the code phrase for phonics these days is "scientifically based reading research." For example, this is the requirement of the popular Reading First program, part of the the No Child Left Behind Act. But make no mistake. If your textbook company is considered an insufficiently fervent ally in the phonics wars, the zealots in charge of Reading First will strike you down where you stand. From an Inspector General's report released on Friday, here is the reaction of Reading First's director, Chris Doherty, to the news that some states had received funding approval for their reading programs despite their adoption of textbooks from the Wright Group, a publisher that's been a social conservative bte noire for a long time:

Beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in a way that will stand up to any level of legal and [whole language] apologist scrutiny. Hit them over and over with definitive evidence that they are not SBRR, never have been and never will be. They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the [expletive deleted] out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags.

In later emails, Doherty more-or-less admits that he doesn't have any particular evidence that Wright Group books fail the SBRR requirement, and follows this up with an admonition: "This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens."

Indeed. When you're rather clearly violating the law by allowing funding only for specific textbooks that you have a personal fondness for, it's probably best not to let anyone know.

Via Eduwonk, which notes that Doherty chose to announce his resignation from the Department of Education the day before the IG report was made public. Seems like a wise move.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATIC NAVEL GAZING WATCH....Earlier today, Arianna Huffington got a bunch of people riled up by linking to a Roll Call article that said Democrats are planning yet again! to pretend that national security isn't a major issue and will instead try to make the economy the central subject of this year's campaign. "Oh. My. God." said Arianna. "Oh, Christ," said Matt Yglesias.

"Not so fast," said Ezra Klein. The Roll Call article was brief and thinly sourced, and the Democratic aides he talked to told him that although certain local campaigns may be focusing on the economy, "the national messaging from the Democratic leadership has been almost all national-security focused."

So which is it? Obviously different Dems have different approaches, but one very prominent Democrat had a very prominent platform in print today, and it suggests Arianna may have been right after all. I hate to do this to you, but I'm going to turn the mike over to conservative Tom Bevan to describe Howard Dean's op-ed in Friday's Wall Street Journal:

He begins with this: "We need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror and to end the war on America's families." But if you were looking for an explanation in the 1,056 words that followed as to why we need a Democratic Congress to fight the war on terror, you came away disappointed because Dean never really offered one.

Instead, he launched into a litany of detailed complaints against the Bush economy (falling incomes, stagnant wages, rising heathcare costs, and falling retirement coverage) led off by a muted but obvious piece of populist class warfare right out of Bob Shrum's faded playbook: "An economy that favors the top 1% at the expense of everyone else might be good for President Bush's politics, but a shrinking middle class is bad for capitalism, democracy and America."

Snark aside, this is sadly accurate. Dean's piece is here, and it contains only one short, fuzzy paragraph about national security at the very end. Essentially, he just ignored the whole issue. That's very, very dumb.

And while we're at it, I have one other message for Dean: Dude. You were writing in the fucking Wall Street Journal. Do you really think that's the place for a thousand words of pitchfork-waving, tax-cut-hating, populist agit-prop? Even if you couldn't bring yourself to write about national security, don't you think you could have picked a slightly better approach to win the hearts and minds of the conservative business titans who read the Journal?

Know your audience. This is Persuasion 101. Can't anybody play this game anymore?

Kevin Drum 12:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (287)

Bookmark and Share
September 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THINGS I DID NOT KNOW....Darrin McMahon writes about the study of history in Europe and the United States:

Whereas you can go to almost any small college in America and find, say, a professor or two of French or German history, you will be hard-pressed to find a professor of American history anywhere in France or Germany. There are, to be sure, notable exceptions, as well as a number of programs teaching a kind of trendified American studies film courses with heavy doses of Zizek and Critical Theory and that sort of thing. But a course on the American Revolution, the New Deal, or the Civil War? Good luck.

Really? But how can they maintain an effective level of condescension toward us if they don't study our history? This is really quite astonishing, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 9:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (162)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

WEIRD STORY OF THE DAY....Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declines to talk to the press today:

President Bush said today he was surprised by reports that a former top State Department official threatened heavy U.S. bombing of Pakistan if it did not cooperate with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Pakistan's visiting president declined to comment on the purported threat, citing a book deal.

....Musharraf said he would like to comment, but that he was launching a book on Sept. 25, "and I am honor-bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book before that day."

Let me get this straight. The military dictator of Pakistan can't comment on a comment he's already made because he doesn't want to spoil the marketing campaign for an upcoming book? Sheesh. Today's dictators are either a lot dumber or a lot smarter than they used to be. I just can't figure out which.

Kevin Drum 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TORTURE ROUNDUP....Some good points from around the blogosphere about the torture "compromise" spearheaded by John McCain:

  • TPM reader JO: True, torture has always gone on "in the shadows"....[but] when the bill becomes law, it will be America's official policy for professional CIA interrogators to use torture. And it will be perfectly legal. Period. We are not even remotely returning to the status quo.

  • TPM reader JC: Right now, CIA are the bad guys. As far as I know, military interrogators were not using "coercive techniques." However, if this bill passes, military interrogators will not only be ALLOWED to use them, they will be EXPECTED to use them. Which is one reason so many military people have come out against it.

  • Charles Pierce: The national Democratic Party is no longer worth the cement needed to sink it to the bottom of the sea. For an entire week, it allowed a debate on changing the soul of the country to be conducted intramurally between the Torture Porn and Useful Idiot wings of the Republican Party....It contributed nothing. On the question of whether or not the United States will reconfigure itself as a nation which tortures its purported enemies and then grants itself absolution through adjectives "Aggressive interrogation techniques" the Democratic Party had...no opinion.

  • Juliette Kayyem: Marty [Lederman] and others are commenting on the wiggle room left to the President in determining what methods would be prohibited but may not constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions....It is this concession to the President that is mindboggling in almost all respects because the hold-outs could have given the President the less than grave tactics without giving him the sole authority to determine what they were. I'm eating my words; Marty is right McCain is a tragic figure now.

Kevin Drum 1:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (342)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PETROLEUM POLITICS....Brendan Nyhan is gone from the American Prospect and is now back at his own site. I think this is for the best: TAP's politics are liberal while Brendan's are centrist. There's no special reason that a liberal magazine should go out of its way to beat up on liberals for minor peccadilloes, as Brendan sometimes does, but neither is there any reason that a centrist should be prevented from beating up on liberals in his own way if he wants to. It was not a felicitous marriage in the first place.

That said, Brendan does his centrist thing today by debunking something that's become a common refrain in the press: namely that President Bush's approval ratings are driven almost entirely by gasoline prices. The basic chart is here, but as Brendan points out, there's a problem with it:

[9/11] boosted President Bush's approval ratings into the stratosphere, and they've more or less declined consistently since then. Meanwhile, gas prices have trended upward over Bush's presidency. The two series are correlated, but any variable that trended upward during this time period would show a similar relationship (I can "explain" 62 percent of the variance in Bush approval using a variable that just counts the number of months he has been in office).

Gasoline prices almost certainly have some effect on presidential approval, but a serious look at the data suggests it's a modest one. This is, I suppose, good news for liberals since it means that the recent fall in gasoline prices doesn't necessarily spell doom for the November elections.

And speaking of gasoline prices, Andrew Tobias is suspicious about their recent sharp drop:

So gasoline prices have come down and people are happy again just in time for the mid-term election. What a stroke of luck for the oil companies! What a further stroke of luck it would be if prices then went back up after the election.

Well, this does look suspicious. But here's the thing: over the past six weeks the global price of crude oil has decreased 18%; the U.S. price of oil has decreased 18%; and the spot price of oil has decreased 15%.

And the price of gasoline? It's gone down 16%. The end of the summer driving season accounts for a bit of this, but as you can see in the chart on the right, gasoline prices have followed crude oil prices pretty closely for the past six years, which means that this drop is pretty much what you'd expect based on the underlying drop in the cost of oil. And while it's possible that American oil companies and hedge funds have somehow conspired to manipulate the entire global oil market over the past couple of months in the service of Republican victory in the upcoming midterm elections, it's not very likely. Even Dr. No would have trouble with that. I suspect this needs to be marked down as coincidence, not conspiracy.

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HUD-GATE CONTINUES....Think Progress has the executive summary of the HUD Inspector General's report into Alphonso Jackson's apparent distaste for awarding federal contracts to Democrats. There's no smoking gun, but there is this:

Investigation did disclose some problematic instances involving HUD contacts and cooperative agreement grants, in particular, the cooperative agreement award issued to Abt Associates.

....Secretary JACKSONs Chief of Staff also identified other instances of Secretary JACKSON intervening with contractors whom he did not like. Reviews of political contributions indicated these contractors had Democratic political affiliations.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Kevin Drum 11:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE TORTURE BILL....The "compromise" agreement on torture has apparently got everyone scratching their heads. For starters, the following (among other things like murder and rape) are specifically forbidden as "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions:

severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering....including serious physical abuse.... disfiguring the person or persons by any mutilation thereof or by permanently disabling any member, limb, or organ....serious bodily injury....sexual contact

That's all well and good, but the legislation also allows the president to unilaterally decide what's permissible below this threshold. And this threshold doesn't seem to prohibit, for example, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, or hypothermia. Presumably, then, all of this stuff will continue. Marty Lederman's reading of the bill's language is that "the Senators have capitulated entirely," and the New York Times agrees that President Bush won nearly everything he had originally wanted:

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bushs agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant.

....On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White Houses original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantnamo Bay.

More careful analysis of the compromise language is probably needed, but at this point it looks like the three Republican "moderates" gave in completely. If that's the case, the only question remaining is whether this was all staged from the beginning to put Democrats in an impossible position, or if they genuinely caved in on practically every detail. Stay tuned for more on that.

Kevin Drum 1:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (149)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BLIND HISTORY....So, the pope includes some remarks about Islam and violence in a recent speech, and what happens? The Muslim world goes nuts. Benedict's remarks may have been needlessly insulting, but the vicious and theatrical displays of violence from all over the Muslim world have nonetheless been completely disgraceful.

Charles Krauthammer makes this point today in his usual restrained fashion, and for once I wouldn't really blame him, polemics and all, if it weren't for one thing. In the middle of an acknowledgment that all religions have considerable violence in their pasts, this assertion pops out of nowhere:

However, the inconvenient truth is that after centuries of religious wars, Christendom long ago gave it up.

It's this kind of blithe, self-congratulatory nonsense that makes me wonder where the "clash of civilizations" crowd parks their brains. Cleverly, Krauthammer restricts himself here to "religious wars," and it's true that Christendom hasn't had a genuine religious war in quite a while. But Christendom sure as hell hasn't given up on war not among ourselves, and not against others. Just to name a few, and just to stay within the past few decades, we have Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, Malaysia, Suez, Iraq again, Greece, and Germany. And it would be easy to add a dozen more if I felt like it.

There's no excuse for the barbaric reaction to the pope's speech that's come from some corners of the Islamic world. But neither is there any excuse for Westerners to pretend that we've spent the last century cultivating peace and lovingkindness among our enlightened selves. It's a stupid distortion of reality and accomplishes nothing except to convince the rest of the world that we're blind to our own history and our own actions.

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

Bookmark and Share
September 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WAL-MART: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY....Ezra Klein comments on Wal-Mart's plan to start selling a wide array of generic prescription drugs for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply:

Some of my right-wing readers may think this'll make my head explode, but Wal-Mart's embarking on a new initiative to use its size and weight to bargain down the prices on generic prescription medications. In other words, the company I always accuse of acting like a monopsony is now going to use their might to act as consumer advocates on health care which will be good for consumers and bad for Pharma. Hooray!

This is actually worth unpacking a bit, because no one ought to be surprised by Ezra's reaction. Roughly speaking, there are three things that keep Wal-Mart's prices low:

  1. A spectacularly efficient supply chain and logistics system that's the envy of the industry.

  2. A willingness in fact, an almost palpable enthusiasm for using their enormous size to beat the lowest possible prices out of their suppliers.

  3. A scorched-earth campaign to prevent unions from organizing at Wal-Mart sites, thus keeping wages and benefits as low as possible.

I'm speaking only for myself here, not Ezra, but I'm pretty sure liberals like us don't have any problem with #1, and not much of a problem with #2 either. Needless to say, we also don't have a problem with Wal-Mart selling stuff as cheaply as possible. That's good for everyone.

It's really only #3 we have a problem with, because Wal-Mart is so big that their low wages have a depressing effect on all service sector wages. If they allowed workers to unionize and genuinely bargain for wages, that's all it would take to keep us liberals happy. (Well, and maybe fixing stuff like this and this too.) Keep in mind that payroll for hourly workers at Wal-Mart amounts to less than 10% of sales, which means that even a significant increase would only force them to raise prices by 2 or 3 cents on the dollar and they'd still have great logistics and enormous leverage with their vendors, which means their prices would still be lower than everyone else's.

So: Efficient operations, no problem. Economies of scale, no problem. Cheap generic drugs, hooray!

But: Poverty-level wages and benefits, big problem. That's the wrong way to keep prices low.

UPDATE: It's a good thing I was only speaking for myself, not Ezra. He thinks there are big problems with #2 as well.

Kevin Drum 8:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT RISK SHIFT....Via Instapundit, I see that the Wall Street Street Journal has published a very peculiar "review" of Jacob Hacker's forthcoming book, The Great Risk Shift.

I use the scare quotes advisedly. You see, The Great Risk Shift is about.....risk. It's not about income inequality, or stagnant median wages, or improvements in technology over the past few decades, or whether the CPI is overstated. It's about the growing amount of risk being shifted onto the backs of American workers: the fact that fewer of them have health insurance, fewer have guaranteed pensions, fewer have lifelong marriages, and fewer have stable jobs.

Now, all of this stuff is arguable, but Brink Lindsey doesn't even try. Instead, he talks about longer lifespans, increased homeownership, and the prevalence of color TVs. The closest he comes to even engaging with the thesis of the book comes near the end:

Mr. Hacker leans heavily on his findings that fluctuations in family income are much greater now than in the 1970s. But research by economists Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri has shown that big increases in the dispersion of income have not translated into equivalent increases in consumption inequality. In other words, most Americans are able to use savings and borrowing to maintain stable living standards even in the face of economic ups and downs.

Hooray! Life is riskier for today's family's, but they manage to eke out a bit of stability anyway by maxing out their credit cards and spending down the money in their retirement accounts. This is, to say the least, not a very persuasive rebuttal.

I still have a few pages left to read in the book, so I'll hold off on any further comment. Besides, I imagine Jacob can defend himself. In fact, he'll be doing exactly that right here the week of October 9th, when his book hits the shelves. Mark your calendars.

Kevin Drum 4:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PICTURE IDs....Stephen Bainbridge is unhappy over Democratic opposition to voter ID requirements:

You can't do anything in this country anymore without a photo ID. You can't drive. You can't fly. You can't cash a check, except maybe at the sleaziest places. You can't get a job. But you can vote, as long as the Democrats get their way. I guess voter fraud is a core part of the Democratic plan for victory.

But guess what? Outside of Westwood lots of people don't do these things! And they overwhelmingly tend to be poor, non-white, elderly, and disabled. It's funny that a Republican-backed bill in the closing days of an election would just happen to target these groups, isn't it?

Now, as near as I can tell, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that requiring photo ID to vote would stop a very, very tiny amount of actual fraud, but would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor, non-white, elderly, and disabled citizens. So: no actual serious problem solved, but lots of Democratic-leaning voters kept at home. Hard to believe that Democrats oppose this, isn't it?

But we're all about compromise and solution seeking here at Political Animal, so here's an idea. I'm something of a privacy obsessive to the point that I refuse to even use loyalty cards at supermarkets but oddly enough, I'm really not opposed to the idea of a national ID card. The arguments against them seem to be mostly emotional, and plenty of other flourishing democracies use them without incident.

So here's my proposal: implement a national ID and give one to everybody, free of charge. You get it when you turn 18 (or whatever), and you get a free update every five years (or whatever). Roving mobile vans would trek through rural areas periodically to make sure everyone has easy access to whichever federal agency is tasked with providing the cards. Instead of simply requiring people to have picture IDs, the federal government would do everything it could to make sure everyone actually has a picture ID, with as little hassle as possible.

Now, this would cost money. And it would create a (smallish) bureaucracy. And Michigan Militia types wouldn't like the idea. But if Republicans are serious about this whole thing, it's the fair and decent way to go about it. Any takers?

UPDATE: Bob Kuttner makes the case for a national ID care here. Among other things, it would allow more people to vote, not fewer.

Kevin Drum 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (173)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ALPHONSO JACKSON UPDATE....Remember Alphonso Jackson? He's the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and a few months ago he gave a speech in which he bragged about pulling a federal contract from a vendor who made a critical remark about George Bush.

Jackson later said it was all a big mistake. He was just shooting his mouth off and the incident never happened. Still, HUD's inspector general decided to investigate, and the Dallas Morning News has seen a copy of the IG's report. Apparently Jackson has been shooting his mouth off a lot:

In an initial interview on May 17, for instance, HUD Chief of Staff Camille Pierce said there was no political litmus test and she never heard Mr. Jackson express sentiments akin to those he expressed in his Dallas speech.

....In a follow-up interview on June 8, investigators confronted her with testimony from Cathy MacFarlane, who resigned that month as HUD's assistant secretary for public affairs. Ms. MacFarlane told investigators that at a senior staff meeting, Mr. Jackson "made a statement to the effect that it was important to consider presidential supporters when you are considering the selected candidates for discretionary contracts."

And Ms. MacFarlane told investigators, "I think it was a political [appointee] talking to a political, saying if all things are equal, you're giving out a contract, give it out to the family, you know."

The testimony stirred Ms. Pierce's memory. "He did say that he did not want contracts awarded he did say something about political groups, maybe to Democrats or something like that," she said in the follow-up interview, though she added that "if I had thought he was serious, I would have gone in and said, sir, that's ridiculous."

....Roy Bernardi, the No. 2 official at HUD and a former mayor of Syracuse, N.Y., also testified that he recalled Mr. Jackson's statement at the staff meeting.

Italics mine. Jackson is claiming the report exonerates him because no one can prove that any federal contracts were ever handed out based on political affiliation. They just talked about it. And, you know, they were just joshing anyway, politico to politico.

Sounds like a barrel of laughs over at HUD.

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TROOPS....A few days ago Max Boot asked George Bush about a recently leaked report suggesting we needed several more combat brigades in Anbar province alone if we want to maintain security in Iraq:

He dismissed it as just a "data point." He won't send more troops to Iraq unless asked to do so by Gen. George W. Casey, the U.S. commander on the spot, and Casey has not made any such request. "I'm certainly not a military expert, nor am I in Baghdad," he said, so he will leave those decisions to the "experts."

Well, the experts are apparently talking among themselves, and the experts are worried:

According to Pentagon officials, senior officers in the Army and Marine Corps in recent weeks have begun warning that without a reduction in Iraq, the present schedule of combat tours would be difficult to sustain without an increase in the number of forces.

....One senior Pentagon official involved in long-term planning said the concerns had reached such a level that top Army leaders broached the issue of changing deployment rules to allow for more frequent call-ups of National Guard and Reserve units to relieve pressure on the active duty Army.

...."If we're going to have an active duty force that's only going to be so big, you have to have access to the Reserve," the senior official said. "If you want to stay in this and never have to accelerate [Guard deployment], you'd better grow the [active] force."

Casey's not asking for more troops because he knows perfectly well that he can only barely maintain the force he's got and neither Bush nor the Republican Congress are interested in increasing the Army's end strength or in changing rules to allow more intensive use of Guard and Reserve units.

In other words, they don't want to withdraw, but they don't want to send enough troops to have any chance of succeeding either. Both options are too politically risky. Instead, they will continue following the one path guaranteed to fail. Apparently that's what passes for leadership these days.

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND TERROR....I don't have anything brilliant to say about this, but here are the results of the latest LA Times poll on how people feel about Iraq and the war on terror. Bush's message is pretty definitely not getting through.

Note, though, that "Republicans have nearly doubled their lead when voters are asked which party they trust most to protect the nation against terrorism." The Democratic message is apparently not getting through either.

Kevin Drum 1:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MacARTHUR AWARDS....Every year I peruse the list of MacArthur "genius grants" wondering if anyone I know will ever win one. Now, someone finally has: Jim Fruchterman won this year for his work in creating and distributing a reading machine for the blind as well as a number of other socially terrific activities. Jim was in my freshman class at Caltech in 1976 (a fellow Rudd), and by an odd coincidence I also ended up working with his brother for a few years in the late 90s.

Congratulations, Jim. I bask in your reflected glory.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
September 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CONGRESS SUCKS....There's plenty of stuff to chew over in the latest New York Times/CBS poll. War and terrorism continue to be by far the most critical issue with voters; George Bush's approval rating is still low; Congress's approval rating is practically subterranean; and Democrats are way ahead in the generic congressional ballot. You can read the whole thing here.

Just for fun, though, here are the two questions I feel like highlighting. We're all familiar with the us/them syndrome in opinion polls (schools suck but my school is OK, Congress sucks but my congressman is OK, etc.), but today's poll takes this to new heights. Apparently, 14% of voters approve of their own congressman's job but nonetheless don't think he or she deserves reelection. Now that's a crowd in a nasty mood.

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PLAN B....The Biting Beaver tells a harrowing story of trying to obtain emergency contraception in rural Ohio. First her doctor told her to call the ER, then a parade of nurses hemmed and hawed over the phone, until finally a fourth nurse told her what was going on:

"Well, ummm....*clears throat*...So you haven't been raped?" he asks again.

"No. I have not been raped. The condom broke". I state, becoming very frustrated at this point and wondering what the hell is going on.

"Ok, well ummm....Are you married?" he mumbles the words so low I can barely hear them.

Suddenly I get this image of the poor nurse standing at the hospital reading from a cue card that was given to him by a doctor.

"No." I state plainly. "I am not married. I've been in a relationship for several years and I have three children, I don't want a fourth." I respond tersely.

"Oh, I see." He says and then he hurries on, "Well, see. *I* understand. I want you to know that I understand what you're saying. But see, the problem is that we have 4 doctors here right now but only one of them ever writes EC prescriptions. But see, the thing is that he'll interview you and see if you meet his criteria. Now, I called the pharmacy but I also talked to him and well....*clears throat*....you can come down and try to get it. You know, if you meet his criteria he'll give you a prescription, I mean, there's really no harm in trying." the nurse trails off, his voice falters as I realize what I'm being told.

....I was told by every urgent care I called and every emergency room that I was shit out of luck. I was asked my age. My marital status. How many children I had. If I had been raped and when I became uncomfortable with the questions I was told, "Well Ma'am, try to understand that you will be interviewed and the doctor has 'criteria' that you need to meet before he will prescribe it for you."

The good news is that she finally found a clinic an hour away that would prescribe Plan B. The other good news is that Plan B will finally be available without a prescription on January 1st after two years of broken promises and political base pandering from the FDA. That's assuming your local pharmacy carries it, of course.

There is no other good news in this story.

Kevin Drum 7:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (159)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CHART OF THE DAY #2....We've already had one chart today, but here's a second one. It comes from the LA Times and shows the trajectory of housing prices in Southern California. As DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said, "The data are telling us the market will flatten out by the end of the year."

The question, of course, is what happens after that? The slope of the curve doesn't give me much hope that price increases are going to hit zero and then suddenly "flatten out." A few years below zero looks increasingly likely in the very near future.

Kevin Drum 4:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE BAKER/HAMILTON COMMISSION....Last month we printed a story by Bob Dreyfuss about the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan team headed by longtime Bush family friend James A. Baker III and former 9/11 Commission chair Lee Hamilton. Their charter is to figure out what to do in Iraq, but the ISG's work has been done under such a heavy veil of secrecy that no one has much of an idea of what they'll recommend. Nonetheless, there were clues, and our piece ended with this quote:

"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"

Today, Eli Lake at the New York Sun says that the ISG met with its expert working groups on Monday and were told pretty much the same thing:

According to participants in that meeting, the two chairmen received a blunt assessment this week of viable options for America in Iraq that boiled down to two choices.

One plan would have America begin its exit from Iraq through a phased withdrawal similar to that proposed this spring by Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania and former Marine. Another would have America make a last push to internationalize the military occupation of Iraq and open a high-level dialogue with Syria and Iran to persuade them to end their state-sanctioned policy of aiding terrorists who are sabotaging the elected government in Baghdad.

....The Iraq Study Group is likely to be as influential as the 9/11 commission, which Mr. Hamilton cochaired with a former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Keane. While the Iraq panel is not charged with assigning blame on past policy failures, as the 9/11 commission was, it does have the ability to give new legitimacy to a withdrawal strategy and force the administration's hand on policy.

So: Bush should either plan to withdraw from Iraq or else open up talks with Syria and Iran. It's hard to know which of those two options he'd loathe the most, and even with Baker delivering the bad news it's hard to see Bush agreeing to either course. By the time the ISG delivers its recommendations officially, though, he might not have much of a choice.

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

STEWART ON BENEDICT....As much as I enjoy the Daily Show, I occasionally get tired of suggestions that Jon Stewart is the only guy in America who "really gets it." Yesterday, however, I finally got around to reading Pope Benedict's recent remarks on reason and faith, and I was appalled. The reference to Islam near the beginning of the speech was entirely gratuitous and disingenuous, as were Benedict's subsequent crocodile tears over the idea that anyone could have taken offense at his remarks. For the record, here's the nickel version of what he said:

Mohammed was a violent man. Violence is unreasonable. God loves reason. Draw your own conclusions.

Benedict's supporters are mostly defending him by insisting that Benedict didn't actually say that. He was just quoting the 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who said it. So why are people so upset? What's wrong with quoting someone?

This is the reasoning of a ten-year old. And the reaction of the Islamic world though almost certainly exaggerated by the cable networks, which just love a good picture was typically abhorrent, little more than a staged media circus designed to keep the local yokels riled up. It's pretty much impossible to find any good guys in this debacle.

Anyway, back to my original point: Last night Jon Stewart pegged all this perfectly. In two entertaining minutes you can learn more about this affair than by reading reams of op-ed commentary. Does anyone know if that segment is available somewhere? Maybe on YouTube or something? It's worth watching.

UPDATE: Here it is.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (259)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NAKHLEH ON IRAQ....Until recently, Emile Nakhleh worked for the CIA as head of its Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program. Over at Harper's, Ken Silverstein has six questions for him. Here's an excerpt:

4. What should the United States do in Iraq now?

I have come to believe that our presence is part of the problem and that we should begin to seriously devise an exit strategy. There's a civil war in Iraq and our presence is contributing to the violence. We've become a lightning rod we're not restricting the violence, we're contributing to it.....

5. What is the likely political fallout from the Iraqi debacle and from the failures of the war on terrorism?

We've lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world. The President's democratization and reform program for the Middle East has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric. That was the centerpiece of the President's policies for the region, and now no one is talking about it....Because of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other abuses we have lost on the concepts of justice, fairness and the rule of law, and that's the heart of the American idea. That's very serious, and that's where I see the danger in the years ahead.

A generation of goodwill. That's a generation we couldn't afford to lose, and a missed opportunity that will haunt us for years.

Nakhleh also says that the CIA knew full well that Saddam Hussein never had any serious connection to al-Qaeda, that Guantanamo is full of detainees known to be innocent, and that killing terrorists isn't enough to end terrorism. Read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

"MEET THE NEW BOSS"....Bill Frist is leaving the Senate after the 2006 election in order to spend full time on his run for the presidency. So who will replace him? It turns out it's literally no contest: if Republicans hold onto the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky already has the votes sewn up to be the next Majority Leader of the Senate.

If you're a fan of bipartisan comity, this is bad news. As Zack Roth and Cliff Schecter report in the current issue of the Monthly, McConnell is to the Senate what Tom DeLay was to the House:

McConnells political persona with its focus on bare-knuckled partisanship and support for a money-driven legislative system embodies the very qualities that have helped reverse Republican political fortunes so dramatically over the last year and a half, and have led directly to a series of government scandals and slipups. In uniting around Mitch McConnell, Republicans are, in effect, doubling down on the governing style that got them, and us, into this mess in the first place.

....If Republicans do hold onto the Senateand they might not McConnell will likely have a smaller majority than Frist has enjoyed. A leader hoping to get legislation passed would probably respond by being more conciliatory toward the minority but Republicans didnt pick McConnell because of his talent for conciliation. I think hell be more likely to pick a fight, says the Heritage Foundations Darling. With a confrontational Republican leader, a narrow Senate majority, and an unpopular, lame duck president, the next two years dont figure to see much landmark legislation passed. Instead, if the past is any guide, Majority Leader McConnell will focus only on measures that support Republican power or drive a wedge between Democrats, and will do everything possible to keep campaign dollars flowing to the GOP. But if and when that happens, dont blame McConnell. Hell only be doing what he was elected to do.

Read the whole thing if you want to know what we're all in for if the GOP retains control of the Senate this year. It ain't pretty.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND....Via Kieran Healy, here's something way off the beaten path: a new paper by Alan Gerber and Neil Malhotra titled "Can political science literatures be believed? A study of publication bias in the APSR and the AJPS." It is, at first glance, just what it says it is: a study of publication bias, the tendency of academic journals to publish studies that find positive results but not to publish studies that fail to find results. The reason this is a problem is that it makes positive results look more positive than they really are. If two researchers do a study, and one finds a significant result (say, tall people earn more money than short people) while the other finds nothing, seeing both studies will make you skeptical of the first paper's result. But if the only paper you see is the first one, you'll probably think there's something to it.

The chart on the right shows G&M's basic result. In statistics jargon, a significant result is anything with a "z-score" higher than 1.96, and if journals accepted articles based solely on the quality of the work, with no regard to z-scores, you'd expect the z-score of studies to resemble a bell curve. But that's not what Gerber and Malhotra found. Above a z-score of 1.96, the results fit the bell curve pretty well, but below a z-score of 1.96 there are far fewer studies than you'd expect. Apparently, studies that fail to show significant results have a hard time getting published.

So far, this is unsurprising. Publication bias is a well-known and widely studied effect, and it would be surprising if G&M hadn't found evidence of it. But take a closer look at the graph. In particular, take a look at the two bars directly adjacent to the magic number of 1.96. That's kind of funny, isn't it? They should be roughly the same height, but they aren't even close. There are a lot of studies that just barely show significant results, and there are hardly any that fall just barely short of significance. There's a pretty obvious conclusion here, and it has nothing to do with publication bias: data is being massaged on wide scale. A lot of researchers who almost find significant results are fiddling with the data to get themselves just over the line into significance.

And looky here. In properly sober language, that's exactly what G&M say:

It is sometimes suggested that insignificant findings end up in file drawers, but we observe many results with z-statistics between zero and the critical value. There is, however, no way to know how many studies are missing. If scholars tweak regression specifications and samples to move barely insignificant results above conventional thresholds, then there may be many z-statistics below the critical value, but an inordinate number barely above the critical value and not very many barely below it. We see that pattern in the data.

We see that pattern in the data. Message to political science professors: you are being watched. And if you report results just barely above the significance level, we want to see your work.

Class dismissed.

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

Bookmark and Share
September 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE COUP IN THAILAND....Earlier this year, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote a piece for us about Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecomunications mogul who became prime minister of Thailand in 2001. After 9/11, Thaksin responded to the terrorist threat there by passing an emergency powers law, dismantling local councils in the Muslim south, and dispatching thousands of soldiers to the south, officially turning southern Thailand into a war zone. This won him reelection in 2005, but since then the mood has soured:

As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years, one Thai expert told me.

....For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin's government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister's allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him.

Read the whole thing. This is the background against which today's coup in Thailand took place.

Kevin Drum 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE HEALTHCARE BOOM REVISITED....Michael Mandel, who wrote the Business Week cover story I blogged about yesterday, has a blog of his own. That's sort of cool, no?

As you may recall, the takeaway from his story was that the American economy is being kept afloat by jobs in the healthcare industry. If you take those jobs away, private sector job growth elsewhere in the economy has been zero for the past five years. I objected that this was "statistical trickery" that could be done during any economic cycle, since if you remove the highest-growth industry you can make any economy look bad. Mandel emails to say that's not right:

This is a very unusual period where employment gains are so highly concentrated. Let's look at the previous business cycle, for example. Employment peaked in June 1990. Five years later, private sector employment had grown by 6.5 million.

The single biggest contributor to that growth was health services...but it only accounted for 25% of the private employment gains from 1990 to 1995.

....To put it a different way, private employment grew at a 1.4% annual rate from June 1990 to June 1995. Take out health services, and the annual growth rate of the rest of the private sector fell a bit, to 1.1%. Not that big a difference

Point taken. In the previous cycle, measured five years from the employment peak, the biggest industry (which was healthcare back then too) had contributed a lot of jobs, but not all the jobs. The non-healthcare economy really does look unusually anemic this time around.

On the other hand, it's also worth looking at a chart Mandel posted elsewhere on his blog. As you can see, it shows very healthy non-healthcare job growth for the past three years. There's no question that on an apples-to-apples basis (measuring from the employment peak for both the 1990 cycle and the 2001 cycle), overall job growth has been exceptionally weak this time around; and there's equally no question that healthcare has been the principal standout. On the other hand, since 2003 non-healthcare industries have accounted for about 80% of all new private sector jobs. I'm not sure this really makes the case that healthcare is the main industry keeping our economy afloat.

UPDATE: Mandel breaks down the past year into monthly chunks here. Healthcare's share of new job creation has averaged about 20% over the past three years, but it's grown to over 30% since the beginning of 2006. Is this a blip or a trend? We'll have to wait and see.

Kevin Drum 7:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEM FOREIGN POLICY....A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post suggesting that after years of disarray and vacillation, the mainstream of the Democratic Party has actually achieved a fairly substantial consensus about what our foreign policy should look like in the age of terror. I'm not going to repeat my arguments here, but if you want to brush up on what I said, the original post is here.

I'm revisiting this because last night I spoke to a local group of Democratic activists and pitched this idea to them. The feedback I got was this: in a general sense I might be right, but there's one specific issue that's so divisive within the party that it really doesn't matter if there's a consensus on everything else.

That issue, of course, is Iraq. As I said in my earlier post, "Nearly everyone in Democratic circles agrees that the war in Iraq was a mistake, though there's still a fair amount of disagreement about what to do about this now." However, if the people I talked to last night are right, that's a wild understatement. These are the folks who walk precincts, participate in party conventions, and help write position statements, and what they told me is that party activists in California are practically at war with each other over the question of whether we should withdraw from Iraq "immediately" or merely "as soon as we can." It blots out nearly everything else.

This is only one data point, and it's from a single state. I don't know how widely true it is. But it's discouraging anyway, if for no other reason than that it's so pointless. If we really do have a rough consensus on what our foreign policy should look like, it's nuts to tear ourselves apart over an issue that we have no control over in any case.

I'm still digesting this, but thought I'd toss it out and see what people thought. On the broader issue of whether Dems are anywhere close to consensus, Shadi Hamid critiques my thesis here and here.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

Bookmark and Share
By: Christina Larson

I KNOW WHAT YOU MAKE.... Pro sports players, Hollywood starlets, and law-firm associates have long been among the few professionals whose salaries are publicly known, discussed, and compared. Now the same fun is coming to Capitol Hill.

Voila, Legistorm, a new database of congressional staff salaries. As the site notes: "Who is employed by Congress, and how much they are paid, is often a source of fascination for the politically aware. Prior to this site's creation, members of the public needed to visit the document rooms of the House and the Senate in Washington, DC to discover who was being paid what. Now, all this information is available on the web for residents of Alaska or Zanzibar at the click of a mouse."

We're on deadline at the magazine, so I haven't had time to play yet. But in the spirit of open-source journalism, let me know what y'all find.

Christina Larson 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BOMBING IRAN....Over at The Century Foundation, Sam Gardiner has published a war-gaming analysis of possible military action against Iran. His narrow conclusion is similar to what Wes Clark told me in February: contrary to conventional wisdom, which suggests that Iran's research sites are too widespread to be destroyed via bombing, a military strike could probably do a pretty good job of taking them out. Although Gardiner warns that there's a lot of uncertainty over this, his baseline guess is that five nights of bombing would set back the Iranian nuclear program significantly.

He also notes that this very definitely seems to be the goal of the Bush administration, which has been carefully designing its diplomatic maneuvering to guarantee failure:

If the experience of 1979 and other sanctions scenarios is a guide, sanctions will actually empower the conservative leadership in Iran. There is an irony here. It is a pattern that seems to be playing out in the selection of the military option. From diplomacy to sanctions, the administration is not making good-faith efforts to avert a war so much as going through the motions, eliminating other possible strategies of engagement, until the only option left on the table is the military one.

I think that's exactly right. The administration's actions seem to have been carefully calculated at every step to leave no alternative to a military strike. When it comes, though, Gardiner thinks it will last longer than five days because the real goal goes beyond destroying Iran's nuclear program. The goal is to use airpower to overthrow the mullahs:

The real U.S. policy objective is not merely to eliminate the nuclear program, but to overthrow the regime. It is hard to believe, after the misguided talk prior to Iraq of how American troops would be greeted with flowers and welcomed as liberators, but those inside and close to the administration who are arguing for an air strike against Iran actually sound as if they believe the regime in Tehran can be eliminated by air attacks....[But] no serious expert on Iran believes the argument about enabling a regime change. On the contrary, whereas the presumed goal is to weaken or disable the leadership and then replace it with others who would improve relations between Iran and the United States, it is far more likely that such strikes would strengthen the clerical leadership and turn the United States into Irans permanent enemy.

....At the end of the path that the administration seems to have chosen, will
the issues with Iran be resolved? No....Will the United States force a regime change in Iran? In all probability it will not....Will the United States have weakened its position in the Middle East? Yes....After all the effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers. "You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. You have to make diplomacy work."

Matt Yglesias has more, including an unconfirmed report he calls "The Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time."

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TRADITIONAL VALUES....Janet Hook and Richard Simon write today about the political price John McCain may be paying for his stance on torture and coercive interrogation, and it contains this remarkable paragraph:

"This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community," said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques.

Apparently an unrestricted right for the CIA to abuse prisoners is now a traditional value. Crikey.

So what's going to happen? As much as I appreciate McCain's stand on this issue, I suspect that he'll agree to watered-down language, as he did with last year's torture bill, and that this will be further watered down by a presidential signing statement that McCain knows full well will accompany the bill. So the end result will probably be: not much. But I hope he proves me wrong.

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND CLIMATE CHANGE....The Independent claims that George Bush is getting ready to become a true believer in global warming:

After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources.

Administration insiders privately refer to the planned volte-face as Mr Bush's "Nixon goes to China moment"....Sources say that the most likely moment [for the announcement] is the President's State of the Union address in January.

Environmentalists expect the measures to fall far short of what is needed, but say this does not matter. "The very fact that Bush would reverse his position will liberate many Republicans to vote for meaningful pollution cuts," says Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Naturally, I have no idea if this is true, and even if it is true I have no idea if Bush will propose any genuinely effective measures. In the worst case, it will end up being an effort to bring "federal standards" into this arena in order to water down more aggressive state efforts like the one recently approved in California. In the best case, Bush has genuinely gotten religion on this issue.

But it's a provocative rumor. I thought you'd all be interested.

Kevin Drum 11:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

Bookmark and Share
September 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE HEALTHCARE BOOM....Business Week's cover story in their current issue tells us that healthcare inefficiency is what's keeping the American economy afloat:

The very real problems with the health-care system mask a simple fact: Without it the nation's labor market would be in a deep coma. Since 2001, 1.7 million new jobs have been added in the health-care sector, which includes related industries such as pharmaceuticals and health insurance. Meanwhile, the number of private-sector jobs outside of health care is no higher than it was five years ago.

.... The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.7%, compared with 8.2% and 8.9%, respectively, in Germany and France. But the health-care systems of those two countries added very few jobs from 1997 to 2004, according to new data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, while U.S. hospitals and physician offices never stopped growing. Take away health-care hiring in the U.S., and quicker than you can say cardiac bypass, the U.S. unemployment rate would be 1 to 2 percentage points higher.

....Both sides can agree that more spending on information technology could reduce the need for so many health-care workers. It's a truism in economics that investment boosts productivity, and the U.S. lags behind other countries in this area. One reason: "Every other country has the payers paying for IT," says Johns Hopkins' Gerard Anderson, an expert on the economics of health care. "In the U.S. we're asking the providers to pay for IT" and they're not the ones who benefit.

I'm not sure what to think about this. In one sense it's just statistical trickery: at any period in American history, if you remove the single fastest growing industry from the picture then the rest of the economy is going to look pretty anemic. In fact, that's true of nearly any statistical analysis: remove the highest scorers or the highest earners or the highest anything else, and by definition, what's left over looks a lot gloomier.

On the other hand, deliberately running an entire industry less efficiently than the rest of the world is a helluva thin reed on which to base an economy. As Anderson says, since taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for healthcare in other countries, they're more willing to pay for technologies that cut costs. In America, doctors bear the burden of adopting IT enhancements but don't make any money from them (they might make less, in fact), so they're pretty unmotivated to bother with the whole thing.

The fact that this inefficiency means we employs a lot more people than we would if we had a rationally run system is hardly a great rallying cry for the status quo. A national healthcare system, besides being tremendously beneficial for the actual consumers of healthcare, would also align market incentives more reasonably and reduce costs considerably. I'm willing to take the risk that we'll somehow figure out what to do with all the jobs and money we save along the way.

Kevin Drum 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DO YOUR HOMEWORK!....Conor Clarke writes today about a rash of back-to-school articles suggesting that homework is a sham that does nothing to help student achievement. In fact, he says, it's worse than that:

It would be a mistake to view this as a surprise, or even an isolated failure. After all, it's not easy to find a connection between academic success and most educational policies....What if academic success is so overwhelmingly predetermined by outside factors that schools can do little to change the situation?

The recent spate of homework hatred raises this same question, and it should produce the same answer: Educational debates should focus less on education policy as such, and more on socioeconomic inequality.

The connections between inequality and academic success are well-documented. As a recent report in The American Journal of Sociology found, early social context is so important that children are "launched into achievement trajectories when they start formal schooling or even before" that are "highly stable over childhood and adolescence." These trajectories, in turn, create achievement gaps that are evident in early grades and grow with age, so that "even a slight edge in test scores during the early years can predict long-term advantage." And this isn't just because wealthier students go to ritzier schools: the trajectories are almost as predictable even when well-heeled students end up in economically disadvantaged institutions.

I'll confess that I have a lot of sympathy for this view. The education world seems to be perpetually riven by fantastically shrill battles between traditionalists and progressives, and in the end it's hard to see that either side ever manages to win decisively in any area. These battles have swung back and forth for decades (the traditionalists seem to have won the latest round in the math wars, for example), but there's precious little evidence that kids today learn any more or less than kids in the 40s and 50s. Or the 60s or 70s. Does any of this stuff really make a difference?

Maybe. But I think Conor is probably right: simple socioeconomic inequality is such an overwhelming factor that everything else combined is barely a blip on the radar. Unfortunately, addressing that requires lots of money and an enormously intensive effort. A year of two of Head Start just doesn't do the trick. There's not much hope of anyone making a serious push on this front anytime soon.

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum


The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is getting closer much closer. Little more than a week ago, our Balance of Power summary showed the Republicans leading 50-45 with five states in the Toss-Up category.

....Todays changes all involve Republican incumbents who have been struggling all year. In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has fallen behind Jon Tester (D). Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) survived his primary but starts the General Election as a decided underdog. Sherrod Brown (D) is enjoying a growing lead over Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R).

They now rate the Senate race as almost dead even: 49 seats are Republican or Leans Republican while 48 seats are Democrat or Leans Democrat.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BEHIND THE TIMES....Sam Harris is no friend of religion, and in particular no friend of Islam. Today in the LA Times he takes his fellow liberals to task for not taking the threat of Islam seriously enough:

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

....Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

Is this true? Harris gives the game away elsewhere in his piece, where he cites polls showing that 16% of the public believes in conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. He's pretty sure this is evidence of liberal denial, but the same poll shows that 16% of the public also believes the government is withholding proof of the existence of intelligent life from others planets. Face it: there's a fringe group of Americans prone to believing conspiracy theories of all kinds, and the questions in the poll make it clear that active belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories is actually less widespread than plenty of others.

That kind of cherry picking makes Harris's essay deeply unserious. But Harris's second version of cherry picking is, perhaps, even worse: his belief that "liberals" continue to believe terrorism is caused solely by "economic despair, lack of education and American militarism." His evidence? It's hard to say, but apparently it's based on the letters he received after writing a polemic against religion called The End of Faith. But it should hardly come as a news flash that if you write a polemic you're going to hear polemics in return. The response to his book probably has no relevance at all to what "liberals" in general think.

In fact, it's sort of ironic that Harris chooses this particular time to make this point, because the conversation has moved on. Granted, I don't spend a lot of time hanging out with A.N.S.W.E.R. activists or participating in peace marches, but in the liberal circles I do participate in, virtually no one subscribes to the "economic despair" argument anymore. What we do believe is that the terrorists themselves usually middle class and decently educated are small in number and limited in capability unless they have broad support among the rest of the population. Without that support the creed of militant jihadism withers and dies.

It's that broad support that we need to target, and that's why we should focus our efforts on things like public diplomacy, economic engagement, and working seriously with multilateral institutions. It's not because liberals don't understand the threat, it's because liberals seem to be the only ones who do understand the threat these days namely that public opinion in the Muslim world is our biggest problem, and conventional military action only makes this problem worse. Harris has some catching up to do if he wants to join the conversation.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (213)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE RICH GET RICHER, PART ONE ZILLION....A few weeks ago the BEA reported that wage-and-salary income had risen in the first half of the year more than they had initially estimated. Pay was up about 7%, a pretty healthy number.

But who was getting all this extra dough? The average worker sure didn't seem to be seeing much of it. Something seemed fishy about the numbers, and today the Wall Street Journal says the BEA thinks it's figured out what happened:

The likely explanation: stock options. The income earned when employees cash in stock options is counted in both gross domestic income and the Labor Department's productivity-adjusted labor-cost measures, but not in most of the other wage measures.

"The stock market was strong in the first quarter, so that suggests probably quite a bit of stock-option exercise," says Brent Moulton, associate BEA director for national economic accounts. Because higher-paid employees are more likely to have stock options, this helps explain why the advance in labor income doesn't reflect the average worker's experience.

So total income was up, but a big part of it was corporate executives cashing in stock options. This also explains why corporate profits were strong despite the higher pay numbers: companies weren't actually paying out more money to their workers. All that exercising of stock options barely affected the bottom line at all.

So that's that. I just thought you'd all like to know why you weren't seeing any of that pot of gold the BEA told us about. It's the usual reason: you're not rich enough. Tough luck.

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

Bookmark and Share
September 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PROSE SLAM....Do you think you can write as well as the average high school senior who takes the new writing portion of the SAT test? Now's your chance to find out! Dave Munger and Chad Orzel are settling a bet or something, and they need volunteers for a writing exercise. If you want to be one of them, click here for instructions. It only takes 20 minutes.

Kevin Drum 11:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

WHO'S WHO....Ah. My boss emails to remind me that the rampant cronyism that characterized the occupation of Iraq was first noted by none other than the Washington Monthly back in December 2003:

Simone Ledeen is serving her country. She is the daughter of Michael Ledeen, the Iran-Contra luminary, AEI scholar, and all-around capo in the neocon mafia. She's 29, a freshly-minted M.B.A., with little to no experience in war-torn countries. But as an advisor for northern Iraq at the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad, she is, in essence, helping shape one quarter of that nation's economy.

....The architects of the war chose card-carrying Republicans operatives, flacks, policy-wonks and lobbyists for almost every key assignment in the country. Some marquee examples include....Tom Korologos, one of the most powerful GOP lobbyists on Capitol Hill....Dan Amstutz, a Reagan administration veteran who until recently served as the president of the North American Export Grain Association....Dan Senor....Williamson Evers....Leslye Arsht....Jim Nelson....Rich Galen.

...."They are all on the campaign trail," said another official. "They see this as a stepping stone to a better job in the next Bush administration."....It's also driven journalists on the ground, watching these operatives move in and out of Saddam's marble Republican Palace, which CPA commandeered as its headquarters, to joke: "They don't call it the Republican Palace for nothing."

It's probably time for a "Where Are They Now?" followup, don't you think? But only if you have a strong stomach.

Kevin Drum 3:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IMPERIAL LIFE....The story of the day is Rajiv Chandrasekaran's account in Sunday's Washington Post of how the Bush administration mismanaged the postwar occupation of Iraq. It all started with the staffing decisions, and the point man for this was the Pentagon's Jim O'Beirne, husband of longtime conservative writer/talker Kate O'Beirne:

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade.

....Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

Of course, when I say the occupation was "mismanaged," this is far too light a term for what really happened in Iraq. As Jonathan Chait says today, the Bush team's conduct of the occupation "was almost criminally negligent." Remove the almost and he's right.

Which brings me to a question. Chandrasekaran's article is an excerpt from his new book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an account of the "stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone" that's hitting bookshelves this week. It follows in the footsteps of Blind Into Baghadad, Fiasco, Cobra II, The Assassins' Gate, and a seemingly unending parade of other books about the still (to me) mind-boggling brew of incompetence and messianic ideology the Bush administration brought to the project it supposedly considered the main front on the war on terror.

So I'll once again ask a question that I asked of George Packer last year: is there anyone outside of the administration itself who's written a book-length defense of the occupation of Iraq? David Frum, say, or Charles Krauthammer or Ralph Peters?

Maybe that's too much to ask. How about merely a book suggesting that all the other critiques are too harsh, and things aren't quite as disastrous as they seem. Anyone?

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

Bookmark and Share
September 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PRISONER OF TREBEKISTAN....Have you ever wondered if there's a secret to winning at Jeopardy? Well, it turns out there is. And Bob Harris spills the beans in Prisoner of Trebekistan.

Seriously, he does. He was over at my house a few weeks ago and we got to talking about his past appearances on the show. I'd love to be a contestant too, I told him, but I have poor reading habits and a lousy memory and probably wouldn't do well. Pshaw, he told me. There's a trick to memorizing large amounts of crap and it's all in the book. He'd be happy to send me a copy. And he did. And it did.

Unfortunately and I don't want to give anything away here the secret involves (a) massive amounts of time and (b) a healthy dose of obsessive insanity. Both of which Bob apparently had at the time, and it's a combination that makes Prisoner of Trebekistan genuinely delightful. It's got plenty of inside dope about Jeopardy, but it's also a journal about Bob's life and how Jeopardy holds up a mirror to it. It's a terrific read.

Highly recommended, whether you're a Jeopardy junkie or not. It's available now at bookstores large and small. It probably makes a great gift too, and all the royalties go to a reliably liberal fellow blogger. How can you lose?

Kevin Drum 5:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MIDTERM MADNESS....Ed Kilgore picks up on an interesting point from Charlie Cook that I hadn't especially noted:

As a general rule, election-watchers under the age of 40, regardless of their party or ideology, see the contest for control of the House as fairly close....Observers over age 40, meanwhile, tend to see a greater likelihood of sizable Republican losses. They think that the GOP could well lose more than 20 House seats and more than five Senate seats.

Hmmm. Ed, as a certified Old Guy, puts himself in the optimist camp. "It's hard to find any precedent for a presidential party controlling Congress in the sixth year of an administration that avoids disaster when the electorate is completely sour on the status quo."

Conversely, Young Turk Chris Bowers is cautious. "In my experience, with few exceptions, Republicans have consistently won elections, while Democrats have consistently lost....Most of my friends don't really believe that we will win in November, and while I am not as pessimistic as some, I am certainly not the most optimistic forecaster out there."

This is a little perplexing on both sides. It's true that the midterm elections of 1966 (Vietnam) and 1974 (Watergate) were landslides, but that's a pretty thin data set. Besides, just how sour is the electorate? They might have more to be unhappy about than in 1998, but nothing like Vietnam or Watergate. How do you calibrate that?

As for Republicans always winning elections, that just isn't true. In the past ten elections, Democrats have gained in the House six times. During that same period they've won the presidency two out of five times. Granted, the last few years have been fairly grim, but it just isn't true that Democratic activists under 40 don't know what it's like to win an election.

In any case, since we're being wonkish about this I'll toss out a chart that I think explains more than either of these theories. Up until 20 years ago, wide swings were pretty common in congressional elections. Democrats and Republicans routinely saw gains and losses of 30, 40, or even 50 seats.

But as the chart on the right shows, that all changed in the mid-80s. The House has become remarkably stable since then, with no more than ten seats changing hands each year. The sole exception was the Gingrich-led 1994 election, which I've always considered more a one-off tectonic shift than anything else. Basically, a bunch of conservative southern districts switched to the GOP column all at once instead of switching slowly over the course of a decade. That dynamic isn't going to happen again and doesn't really tell us much.

The overall trend, however, is clear: It's really, really hard to generate a change of more than ten seats in a House election these days. That's the reason that a 20-seat gain is going to be tough for the Democrats to pull off. It's not impossible, especially if Dems focus like a laser beam on voter disgust with Congress (Who controls Congress? Republicans! I can't hear you. REPUBLICANS!!!), but it's going to take both hard work and a bit of luck.

Does that sound about right from someone who's 47?

Kevin Drum 3:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TORTURE....What DK says.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CLEAN MONEY....One of the measures on the California ballot this November is Proposition 89, the Clean Money initiative. In a nutshell, it provides 100% public financing for state campaigns; provides matching funds if you run against a rich opponent who declines public funds; and places strict limits on the amount of money that corporations, unions, and other interest groups can donate directly to initiative campaigns. You can read the details here.

It deserves passage, but its prospects are probably dim, judging by the number of people who say they support its goals but then go out of their way to find reasons to oppose it. David Sirota draws my attention today to one such person today, longtime LA Times columnist George Skelton. In Thursday's column he does a pretty good job of outlining the revolting state of modern special-interest campaign financing, but then shies away from reform for reasons that are hard to fathom. First there's this:

California's system would cost an estimated $200 million a year and be financed by a bump in the tax rates for banks and corporations. And that's where Prop. 89 starts to raise my eyebrows.

Here's the skinny: Prop 89 is financed by raising the California corporate income tax by 0.2 percentage points. That's an eyebrow raiser? Next up is this:

There's an agenda here that overreaches beyond public financing: It's to greatly reduce corporate influence in California politics. And while that might be fine, corporations shouldn't be whacked any more than labor unions in an initiative that's principal purpose is to drain special interest money from politics.

....Such a policy would unfairly inhibit a corporation from defending itself against some rich guy with no spending limit. A corporation could get around the limit by soliciting money from executives and shareholders and funneling it through a "political action committee." But that's cumbersome. Unions that are incorporated also would be limited, but they already operate PACs.

This is crazy. Candidates for statewide office who accept public funding aren't allowed to take any additional money from anyone. Not corporations, not unions, not their friends and neighbors. It puts a complete stop to the relentless fundraising that dominates the lives and votes of state officials today.

Likewise, initiative campaigns are restricted in the amount they can accept from both corporations and unions. The limit is $10,000. Both corporations and unions can raise additional money via PACs if they want, and the idea that the business community is unfairly disadvantaged by this is so peculiar I don't know what to make of it. Is Skelton suggesting that industry groups are a bunch of rubes who don't know how to set up and fund PACs? That's nuts. Industry groups raise hundreds of millions of dollars via PACs and know all too well how to set them up and milk them for all they're worth.

But the contribution limits would make life harder for everyone involved which is why plenty of public employee unions are opposed to Prop 89 too. It would still be possible for them to raise large sums of money, but probably not the astronomical sums that are raised now.

Which sounds fine to me. Frankly, Prop 89 probably doesn't go far enough to get special interest groups out of the initiative business. Opposing it because it's too effective makes no sense at all.

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

Bookmark and Share
September 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DONATE NOW....As we wrap up our week-long fundraising effort, Im going to make one more appeal. Please give. Please click on that support button right now. And please be generous.

For a nonprofit organization with a small budget, The Washington Monthly and Political Animal have a huge impact. Now, more than ever, our country needs the Monthly to bring fresh ideas to the table. Goals that our country can meet. Innovative policies that uplift Americans. Your gift will see to it that our crucial articles wont be buried by the political establishment. And your support will help us find more of those rare writers able to see through the hot air that fogs our nations capital. Every penny of your tax-deductible gift will go exclusively to stretching the reach of our website and our magazine.

But we need your support. Click the ad on the right (or click here) to donate via our handy web form. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ENERGY....You may know this already, but the New York Times makes a point today about California's dedication to efficiency and conservation:

This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally.

Actually, as the accompanying graph shows, it's per capita electricity usage that's remained flat while it's increased 50% in the rest of the country. If you look at total per capita energy use, it's actually declined since 1970 (compared to a modest increase in the rest of the country). At the same time, smog levels in Southern California have been substantially reduced. And do you know why? Largely because California has passed laws forcing it to happen.

Of course, we all know the result, don't we? As the Republican Party and the corporate community are so fond of declaring, regulation like this inevitably leads to economic disaster. Businesses fail, incomes drop, and the economy goes into a tailspin. It's nothing short of a disaster.

And yet, the predictable screeching of the corporate community, delivered on pretty much an annual basis, appears to have been wrong. California's economy has been doing just fine during the decades we've pursued these policies. Imagine that.

Anyway, it's a good article, and goes to show the kinds of things we could be doing nationwide if conservative politicians could put their Chicken Little campaign contributors on hold for a few minutes and take a look at how it's possible to cut energy use dramatically and reduce our dependence on foreign suppliers without ruining the economy. The energy industry might not like the idea, but the rest of us would.

Kevin Drum 3:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SPECIAL FORCES....Ann Scott Tyson has a depressing story in the Washington Post today about a conflict between Special Forces troops and regular Army troops in the volatile Anbar region of Iraq. Her focus is on operations in the town of Hit:

The conflict in the Anbar camp, while extreme, is not an isolated phenomenon in Iraq, U.S. officers say. It highlights two clashing approaches to the war: the heavy focus of many regular U.S. military units on sweeping combat operations; and the more fine-grained, patient work Special Forces teams put into building rapport with local leaders, security forces and the people work that experts consider vital in a counterinsurgency.

"This war was fought with a conventional mind-set. The conventional units are bogged down in cities doing the same old thing," said the Special Forces team's 44-year-old sergeant, who like all the Green Berets interviewed was not allowed to be quoted by name for security reasons. "It's not about bulldozing Hit, driving through with a tank, with all the kids running away. . . . These insurgencies are defeated by personal relationships."

Read the whole thing for more. There's obviously a personality clash of some kind here, and it may well be that the Special Forces guys have made some mistakes. Still, this is not an isolated case and the broader picture the article describes is one of the reasons I gave up some time ago on the idea that we had any chance of succeeding in Iraq.

Think about it: three years after the invasion we still have widespread opposition to counterinsurgency methods in the most volatile region in the country. That's nuts. If the past three years isn't enough to convince every general officer in the Army that counterinsurgency is the only way to make progress in Iraq, what's it going to take?

Of course, the other reason to be skeptical is that even if the Army brass figured this out, we don't have anywhere near enough trained troops to conduct a serious counterinsurgency anyway. As near as I can tell, we're not much farther along today than we were in 2003, which is why you read and hear endlessly about our great counterinsurgency success in Tal Afar. It's because it's practically the only one we've got.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE FUNDRAISING!....Why should you make a donation to Political Animal/The Washington Monthly?

Well, think about it: America is at a tipping point. Independent media is gathering unprecedented strength. Engaged citizens like you are migrating in droves away from a staid mainstream media that has largely failed in its watchdog role and towards more aggressive independent media outlets like this website. A golden age of independent media is rapidly emerging. The Washington Monthly is the best small, hard-hitting indy media operation out there, bar none.

But we need your support. Click the ad on the right (or click here) to donate via our handy web form. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

100% INSPECTION....Here is today's news five years after 9/11:

The Senate approved a port-security bill Thursday that its sponsors said would make the nation safer from terrorist attack, after it rejected a plan to inspect every inbound cargo container for nuclear weapons.

....The Senate tabled, 61-37, an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would have required that 100 percent of the cargo containers headed for the United States be scanned within four years. Shippers would have picked up the cost.

....Collins said the bill would move toward 100 percent inspections when it was "proved and feasible." Doing it prematurely could create a massive backlog of containers waiting on the docks to be inspected, she said.

Republicans have been blocking serious port inspection legislation for years, and even now can't bring themselves to tell their corporate contributors that they're going to have pony up a few dollars per container for 100% inspection. This is despite the fact that experts widely agree that it's perfectly feasible to do this if we just get serious about it.

I don't get it. Why is it reasonable to mandate a timetable for 100% pass rates on standardized tests for schoolchildren, but not reasonable to mandate a timetable for 100% inspection of cargo containers headed for U.S. ports? Are Republicans really that far in thrall to the shipping industry?

Kevin Drum 12:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

Bookmark and Share
September 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SURVIVOR BLOGGING....As a longtime Survivor fan, I guess I'm supposed to be outraged by this season's newest gimmick: segregating the tribes by race and then pitting black against white, Asian against Latino. In reality (no pun intended), my initial response was, What took them so long?

After all, Survivor has never had any problem slicing and dicing the tribes by age or gender. Why is that OK but ethnicity isn't? Sacha Zimmerman expands on this today over at TNR:

In a country where the struggle for racial equality is a defining feature of our recent past (and where race remains a topic at the forefront of issues that span everything from education and poverty to military enlistment and pop culture), even the specter of segregation seems shocking.

But is it really? Whether it's in the ethnic enclaves of the inner city, suburban sprawl, or gated communities, America is a segregated country....In fact, Burnett's reality-TV stunt may actually reflect reality better than any other so-called reality programs out there. In a TV landscape where contestants are often plucked out of suburbia and placed in a totally contrived situation with a totally contrived racial make-up (think "Big Brother" or the "The Real World"), Burnett is simply codifying what everybody else has been happily ignoring since reality TV hit the mainstream; he is breaking the illusion that any of the other reality TV shows in any way reflect our everyday lives.

I pretty much agree. I'll bet this turns out better than people think, much as Welcome to the Neighborhood would have if Disney hadn't caved in and pulled the show. At the same time, I agree with Zimmerman that it's probably going to matter a lot less to the actual operation of the show than people think. (And if it doesn't well, that's why God invented editors.)

So: wait and see. American TV has always been a yeasty blend of simple storylines and treacly moralism, and I'll bet that when all is said and done, the treacly moral of this season's Survivor will be exactly what you think it will be: we need to look beyond racial stereotypes and accept every individual on the basis of their true inner gifts. Do you honestly think it will end up any other way?

More on a separate subject below the fold.

Survivor has been criticized in the past for being too white, but check out where this year's contestants live for a heaping helping of geographic favoritism. Here's the list:

San Diego, CA
Washington DC
New York, NY
Santa Monica, CA
Washington DC
Christiansburg, VA
Oakland, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Lake Forest, IL
Chico, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Long Beach, CA
Playa del Rey, CA
Venice, CA
West Hollywood, CA
Laurelton, NY
Los Angeles, CA
Columbia, SC
Los Angeles, CA
San Mateo, CA

Do you notice any particular area of the country that's a wee bit overrepresented? Sheesh.

As for me, I guess I'll be rooting for Jessica Smith and her cat Alita, who reside in Chico. She's a "performance artist/rollergirl," and my best pal in Chico will be amused to read that she moved there at age 18 in order to live in "a town that supports the arts."

Kevin Drum 6:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FUNDRAISING....Last year, in response to our annual online fundraising appeal, one reader wrote:

Think of it this way:

Rupert Murdoch subsidizes the Weekly Standard.
Reverend Moon subsidizes the Washington Times.
YOU could be subsidizing the Washington Monthly.

If you think there needs to be an independent, progressive alternative to the right-wing media, one that's more honest, fair, and fact-based, but that isn't imprisoned, as the mainstream media so often is, by the fear of being labeled biased for the simple act of calling it like it is; and if you think all of us at the Washington Monthly are doing this, then please help us out by making a donation. Just click the ad (or click here) which takes you to a page that allows you to write a check or donate online. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 2:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE WAR, PART 456....Hilzoy points out the following wording in the Graham/Warner bill on military commissions. The subject at hand is coercive interrogation of suspected terrorists:

....it shall be a defense that such officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent did not know that the practices were unlawful....Good faith reliance on advice of counsel should be an important factor, among others, to consider in assessing whether a person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the practices to be unlawful.

I guess this isn't quite "I was just following orders," but a person of ordinary sense and understanding would sure have a mighty hard time figuring the distinction.

In any case, Hilzoy is actually more concerned with the habeus corpus provisions, which apply to everyone, even those known to be innocent of wrongdoing. That's your "moral basis" for the war on terror right there. Go read.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORAL BASIS....Two cheers for Colin Powell:

Powell lent his support to three Republican senators Thursday saying that Congress must not pass Bush's proposal to redefine U.S. compliance with the Geneva Conventions, a treaty that sets international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war.

...."The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," said Powell, who served under Bush and is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

It is astonishing that, apparently, only three out of 55 Republican senators recognize something so obvious. It would have been nice if Powell had said this five years ago, but it speaks poorly to the eventual success of our war against jihadism that he has to say it at all.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

GET TO WORK!....Wow. 172 "learning goals" for kindergarten? Does one of them include learning to count to 172?

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

COMPARE AND CONTRAST....Three weeks ago, conservative Republicans on the House intelligence committee released a report criticizing the U.S. intelligence commtittee for not being aggressive enough about gathering information on Iran's nuclear threat. "We think it's important for the American people to understand the kinds of pressures that we are facing and to increase the American public's understanding of Iran as a threat," explained Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich).

Today, the IAEA which, you may recall, turned out to be right about Iraq wrote Hoekstra a letter complaining that the report contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements."

I've reproduced the Washington Post's coverage of these two events below. Do you notice any differences? I've provided some subtle clues in case you're having trouble figuring it out.

Hat tip to Jonathan Schwarz, who has more.

Kevin Drum 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SAY WHAT?....Here's the latest from Robert Salladay, the LA Times' new political blogger:

Some good news for pessimists today: California is headed toward a political system dominated by a white minority which votes and sets public policy at the ballot box, while Latinos and other ethnic groups that make up the majority of California's population sit on the sidelines.

....White people are expected to be only one-third of the state's adults in 2040, the report said. But their power at the ballot box will remain strong still representing a majority of voters in 25 years.

Salladay's blog is only three days old, and I know that sometimes sloppy wording can creep in inadvertantly when you don't have four layers of editors watching everything you write. Still, can someone please tell me how a "political system dominated by a white minority" can be considered "good news for pessimists"? Or is pessimist what we call racists and xenophobes these days?

UPDATE: Salladay clarifies:

Let me explain the "good news for pessimists" intro. It was not meant to be taken in a racial context or suggest in any way that the PPIC's pessimistic assessment of the future is "good."

The state's voter system is dividing along many lines: race, income, age, etc. The pessimism concerns the state's political system devolving into fewer and fewer people taking control of their own destiny through the ballot box.

Kevin Drum 1:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

"A HIGHER POWER"....Several people today have highlighted recent reports that Bush family fixer James A. Baker III has been shuttling in and out of Baghdad for the past few weeks, apparently hoping to find some kind of face-saving Iraq exit strategy for the current occupant of the Oval Office. See here and here, for example.

But guess what? Subscribers to the Washington Monthly already knew all about this, because we had the story in last month's issue. You can read it here.

But this stuff doesn't come cheap! In addition to paying me, the Monthly also has to pay its writers, its editors, its printers, and the U.S. Postal Service. Everyone but our interns, in fact. And you know what that means, don't you? It means that if you like what you read here but you haven't tossed a few bucks our way during our fundraising drive this week, it's time to do it now. Just click the ad (or click here) which takes you to a page that allows you to write a check or donate online. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
September 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"FAILURES OF IMAGINATION"....Eric Umansky has a terrific article in the Columbia Journalism Review this month about the media's post-9/11 coverage of the Bush administration's policies toward torture, rendition, and "coercive interrogation." The press deserves praise for the stories they finally broke, he says, but the overall picture is decidedly mixed:

When the record on torture coverage is examined in detail, an ambiguous picture emerges: in the post-9/11 days, some reporters offered detailed accusations and reports of abuse and torture, only to be met with skepticism by their own editors. Stories were buried, played down, or ignored a reluctance that is much diminished but still bubbles up with regard to the culpability of policymakers.

The Abu Ghraib story, for example, didn't burst like a bombshell, as so many people now remember. It dribbled out very slowly:

With headlines blaring across the world, and near-endless coverage on Arab networks such as Al Jazeera, President Bush made his first public comments about the abuse two days after the photos aired.

And that is what, finally, lent Abu Ghraib big-story status: not allegations of abuse or even the photos confirming them, but revulsion abroad and the presidents reaction to it. "Bush Denounces Troops Treatment of Prisoners," proclaimed the Los Angeles Times in its first front-page story on Abu Ghraib, on May 1, 2004.

The floodgates then opened, and what was revealed was far more than random acts of sadism toward detainees at Abu Ghraib. Now that the story had been ratified as important, as the writer Michael Massing put it in The New York Review of Books, journalists pushing for significant coverage of abuse were no longer sticking their necks out. They were part of the pack.

That's exactly right. Here's a post I wrote two days after the Abu Ghraib pictures were first aired, for example, noting that while the pictures were splashed all over Arab newspapers and TV stations, "only a handful of U.S. newspapers gave the story significant play."

Read the whole thing. Eric has done a great job reminding us of how skeptical reporters and editors were in those days about allegations of abuse and especially about allegations that the abuse was deliberate administration policy despite the fact that their own reporters were often the ones who had dug up the evidence. It's a story with a moral.

Kevin Drum 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE TROOPS....The New Republic reports on the state of our military today:

After failing to meet its recruitment target for 2005, the Army raised the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 40 in January only to find it necessary to raise it to 42 in June. Basic training, which has, for decades, been an important tool for testing the mettle of recruits, has increasingly become a rubber-stamping ritual. Through the first six months of 2006, only 7.6 percent of new recruits failed basic training, down from 18.1 percent in May 2005.

Alarmingly, this drop in boot camp attrition coincides with a lowering of recruitment standards. The number of Army recruits who scored below average on its aptitude test doubled in 2005, and the Army has doubled the number of non-high school graduates it can enlist this year.

There's nothing all that new in this article, but it's worth reading it to get the big picture. Two-thirds of active Army units are unready for combat and the situation is even worse in the National Guard. The number and quality of recruits is down. Equipment is wearing out and not getting replaced. As the authors say, we simply don't have any more combat-ready troops than the ones that are already in the field.

This is why it's not merely rhetorical to ask guys like Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol to tell us where they're going to get the extra soldiers they keep telling us we need in Iraq. They've already tacitly admitted that we can't win the war without more troops, but they're too timid or mendacious? to ask the obvious next question: If we need more troops to win, but there aren't any more troops to be had, then what?

Kevin Drum 5:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (135)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THANK YOU....You are a generous bunch!

Let me tell you who else has been generous: A couple of big foundations have helped us out over the past few years, including the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy and the Open Society Institute. And a handful of very, very generous individuals have written us checks with lots of zeros. And a bunch of readers have regularly sent us checks and donated online.

Every donation helps. Every check, for one dollar or one hundred dollars or one hundred thousand dollars, brings us closer to meeting our two million dollar annual budget. Every donor motivates us to keep going.

Thanks to those who have already given this week. And to those of you who
haven't had the time to do so, please donate now. Just click the ad (or click here) which takes you to a page that allows you to write a check or donate online. Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NOVAK AND ARMITAGE....Robert Novak slips the shiv into Richard Armitage today. In his first column about the Plame affair since Armitage was outed as his original source, he notes that he had never once met Armitage before the Plame pushback started: "I tried to see him in the first 2 years of the Bush administration, but he rebuffed me summarily and with disdain, I thought. Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitages office said the deputy secretary would see me."

And what happened during that interview? Here is Novak's recollection:

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he thought might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

....As for his current implications that he never expected this to be published, he noted that the story of Mrs. Wilsons role fit the style of the old Evans-Novak column implying to me it continued reporting Washington inside information.

Very peculiar, no? After 25 years in Washington, Armitage calls Novak out of the blue and gives him an interview. He provides specific information about Valerie Plame. He clearly suggests that this would be good fodder for a column. Then, when the column appears (he now says), he was unsure he was Novak's source and thus didn't come forward and fess up. Novak notes acidly just how implausible this is, but then fails to ask the obvious followup question: So why did Armitage talk to him in the first place?

Questions, always more questions.....

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (270)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FEDERALISM....Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the Sunni speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said yesterday that federalism is dead in Iraq. Then he added this:

"The United States is a federated system and it is leading the world. But this was after the Civil War," Mashhadani said. "So must we go through a civil war in order to achieve federalism?"

That's a fairly eccentric reading of American history, isn't it? In fairness, though, probably no worse than most readings of Iraqi history by American politicians.

On a more serious note, though, things seem to be going to hell in Iraq, don't they? The Kurds have all but seceded now, and as Marc Lynch notes, that hasn't gone down well in the Arab world. And while Mashhadani may not be keen on federalism, the Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is and he's got an army to back him up. Meanwhile, Iran is happily offering help with "security matters" and violence is flaring up yet again in Baghdad. And those are just the high points.

Question: how does this end up? I figure like this: the Kurds break off from the rest of Iraq maybe officially, maybe not and after a bloodbath that American troops can't stop, the Shiite majority takes over the rest of the country and installs an Iranian-backed theocracy. If anyone can figure out how to keep this from happening, I'm all ears.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (122)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ROOT CAUSES....Max Boot is confused:

For the last five years the standard critique of Bush administration foreign policy has run as follows: The president did a great job of rallying the nation after 9/11 and of toppling the Taliban. But then he blundered by invading Iraq and trying to spread democracy at gunpoint. He should have concentrated on working with other countries to track down terrorists.

The reality or so it seems to me is nearly the opposite. Bush has done a good job of capturing or killing "evil-doers," but he hasn't done enough to addresses the root causes of their actions.

Is this really the "standard critique" of Bush? Not that I've noticed. In the blogs and magazines I read, the standard critique is pretty much exactly the one Boot makes: that Bush has adopted a purely military approach to fighting terrorism instead of figuring out a real plan to eliminate jihadist support in the Arab world a broader project that's an absolute prerequisite for keeping their ranks from growing faster than we can kill them off.

In fact, I'd say the conventional wisdom these days may have tilted a bit dangerously in exactly the opposite direction from the one Boot observes: namely that we've done such a good a job of killing off al-Qaeda leaders that the organization is now virtually dead. Check out John Mueller's argument in Foreign Affairs, for example, or James Fallows' recent piece in the Atlantic. I appreciate these arguments, but I guess I'm not convinced that al-Qaeda is completely ready for the scrapheap of history yet.

More to the point, though, Boot makes the standard neocon argument: killing bad guys is great, but democracy promotion is Job 1. I've never really gotten this. I mean, I'm in favor of democracy as much as the next guy, but I'm also in favor of a free press, equal rights for women, fair trials, religious tolerance, a free market economy, universal education, and a dozen other liberal institutions that seem like keys to a decent society. Why the fetishism of democracy above all the rest? And why the continued support for a president who likes to talk about this stuff but rather plainly doesn't really believe it?

Another one of those mysteries of life, I suppose. Perhaps Boot can explain it in his next column.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of conventional wisdom, have you noticed that "root causes" have now become a routine talking point among conservatives? Remember when liberals were mocked as weak-kneed appeasers for even bringing up the subject? Good times.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HART ON BUSH....Here's some more right-on-right mudslinging from our current issue. The author of this one is Jeffrey Hart, a longtime National Review editor so conservative that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he considered Barry Goldwater slightly unreliable. But George Bush? That's a bridge too far:

Today, the standard-bearer of conservatism in the United States is George W. Bush, a man who has taken the positions of an unshakable ideologue: on supply-side economics, on privatization, on Social Security, on the Terri Schiavo case, and, most disastrously, on Iraq. Never before has a United States president consistently adhered to beliefs so disconnected from actuality.

....As Bushs ideology leads from one disaster to another, one might ask: How far can it go? It has already brought us to Baghdad, an adventure so hopeless that [William F.] Buckley recently mused, If you had a European prime minister who experienced what weve experienced, it would be expected that he would retire or resign. The more we learn about what happened behind the scenes in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, the more apparent it becomes that evidence was twisted to fit preconceived notions. Those who produced evidence undermining the case for war were ignored or even punished. It was zealotry at its most calamitous.

Who can argue with that? But remember: if you want to see more pieces like this, you won't find them in National Review. You'll find them in the Washington Monthly. So please help us stay alive by donating some money or buying a subscription.

To donate, click the ad (or click here) which takes you to a page that allows you to write a check or donate online. You can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 1:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

Bookmark and Share
September 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY....David Weigel asks a GOP consultant if terrorist attacks are good for his clients:

"Would it be good for Republicans if terrorists kept trying to attack us?" ponders Republican consultant John McLaughlin...."You don't want to answer that question. You don't want to see Americans attacked, but this is an issue where Republicans have a decisive lead. It's the one issue where the President has a net approval rating. It's got to help the Republicans when something like this happens."

....In fact, what Republicans really worry about is that one day the Democrats will actually offer their own convincing vision for national security. "I'm kind of surprised a lot more of the Democrats haven't stepped up to run strong on defense, strong on security messages," McLaughlin says. "This could be their strongest issue."

Why yes, it could be! Anyone listening?

Kevin Drum 8:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

RHODE ISLAND....Polls are about to close in Rhode Island, right? I figure Lincoln Chafee is going to pull out a close victory. Odds, anyone?

Results here, when they appear.

UPDATE: Yep, Chafee won. Bummer.

Kevin Drum 8:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ONE-WEEK FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN....You may have guessed this already from the money-grubbing conclusion to my post last night about conservative-on-conservative violence, but this is fundraising week at the Washington Monthly. In fact, this post is a simple, straightforward, all-American appeal for your support, to help keep both this blog and The Washington Monthly print magazine going.

In case you're wondering, this really is the only way we're able to exist subscriptions don't come close to covering the cost of running the magazine, and this website is of course free to all. So please help us out during this one-week fundraising campaign. We really, really appreciate it. And were a nonprofit, so all contributions are tax deductible.

To donate, click the ad (or click here) which takes you to a page that allows you to write a check or donate online. You can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here. Or donate via PayPal here:

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NARCISSISM....The LA Times reports today that celebrities are more narcissistic than average joes:

The average Narcissism Personality Inventory score of Americans as demonstrated in a previous study is 15.3 out of a possible 40. Celebrities averaged 17.8. Contrary to what occurs in the general population, women celebrities, across the board, were more narcissistic than males (19.26 versus 17.27). Musicians who have the highest skill level are the least narcissistic celebrity group, while reality television stars the least talented or skilled group are the most narcissistic.

"Female reality show contestants," Pinsky said, "are off the chart."

OK, I guess that's interesting about female reality show contestants though I don't quite know what to make of it but color me unimpressed on the general results. Celebrities only score two points higher than the general population on narcissism? Isn't that a remarkably restrained finding?

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

WITHDRAWAL PAINS....In a crie de coeur over at The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan harshly rebukes advocates of withdrawal from Iraq:

The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

....Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.

Kaplan, of course, is someone who eagerly supported the war in the first place and bears considerable responsibility for our current position there. And yet, justified or not, I sympathize with his obvious bitterness. There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

And yet, like most other critics, Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that's apparently OK for conservatives):

Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam's reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent U.S. forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.

But this is exactly the problem, isn't it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn't accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

Anyone who advocates withdrawal needs to understand just what the consequences would be. But, as Kaplan admits, responsibility nonetheless lies squarely with the war's architects. In Iraq, if anything, we are having even less success than we did in Vietnam, and there's hardly even a colorable argument left that we have any hope of turning this around. Withdrawing may be an appalling and grisly option, but would it be better to kill a few hundred thousand more people and then leave? Those like Kaplan who oppose withdrawal have a question of their own to face up to.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (171)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

VOTER ID....Peter Wallsten has a long story in the LA Times today about conservative efforts to pass laws that require voters to show a picture ID in order to vote in state and national elections. This is, rather plainly, an effort to reduce Democratic turnout, since people who don't have picture IDs (the poor, the elderly, and minorities) tend to vote disproportionately for Democrats.

Of course, that's not what conservatives say. What they say is that this is an effort to cut down on voter fraud. This, then, presents an obvious question: is there, in fact, any widespread evidence of the kind of voter fraud that picture IDs would prevent? You have to wait until nearly the last paragraph of the story for this question to even be addressed, in a description of a court battle currently being fought in Arizona:

A lawyer for the state argued that the voting system was vulnerable to fraud by impersonators and noncitizens; lawyers fighting the new law said there was little to no evidence of past fraud.

Pathetic, no? This is probably the key question in the whole controversy, and the story doesn't even make an attempt to say anything about. That state lawyer, of course, is quite correct: there is virtually no evidence of anything more than minuscule amounts of fraud associated with impersonation of legitimate voters. You would think, perhaps, that this would be important enough to make it into the story.

Alternatively, conservatives could put their money where their mouth is by supporting ID laws that include aggressive provisions to ensure that everyone has quick and easy access to proper ID, free of charge. Or that ID would also be required for those who vote by mail, who are predominantly white, upper income, and Republican. But they don't. I wonder why?

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE CAGE MATCHES....A fairly astonishing array of conservatives have come forward recently to publicly break with George W. Bush. But we figured that wasn't enough. To really twist the knife in, we thought it would be fun to put them all on the record in a liberal magazine. First up is Christopher Buckley, who acknowledges that Republicans have had failures before:

Despite the failures, one had the sense that the party at least knew in its heart of hearts that these were failures, either of principle or execution. Today one has no sense, aside from a slight lowering of the swagger-mometer, that the president or the Republican Congress is in the least bit chastened by their debacles.

George Tenets WMD slam-dunk, Vice President Cheneys we will be greeted as liberators, Don Rumsfelds avidity to promulgate a minimalist military doctrine, together with the tidy theories of a group who call themselves neo-conservative (not one of whom, to my knowledge, has ever worn a military uniform), have thus far: de-stabilized the Middle East; alienated the world community from the United States; empowered North Korea, Iran, and Syria; unleashed sectarian carnage in Iraq among tribes who have been cutting each others throats for over a thousand years; cost the lives of 2,600 Americans, and the limbs, eyes, organs, spinal cords of another 15,000 with no end in sight. But not to worry: Democracy is on the march in the Middle East. Just ask Hamas. And the neocons bright people, all are now clamoring, On to Tehran!

What have they done to my party? Where does one go to get it back?

Want to see more conservatives bashing George Bush? Then contribute to the Washington Monthly! You can donate in many different ways. If you want to write an ordinary check, make it out to WM Corp and send it to:

1319 F St. NW, Suite 710
Washington, DC 20004

Or you can click here, which takes you to a page that allows you to donate online. You can buy a subscription to the magazine here, or buy a gift subscription here.

Last but not least, you can donate via PayPal, using either your PayPal account or a credit card. So many choices! Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

Bookmark and Share

By: Kevin Drum

MORE TROOPS....In an all-star op-ed written by the editors of our nation's two biggest conservative magazines, Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol argue that they have the secret to winning in Iraq:

The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment. This means the ability to succeed in Iraq is, to some significant degree, within our control. The president should therefore order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.

....Administration spokesmen have jettisoned talk of "staying the course" in Iraq in favor of "adapting to win." If those words are to have meaning, the administration can't simply stay the course on current troop levels. We need to adapt to win the battle of Baghdad. We need substantially more troops in Iraq. Sending them would be a courageous act of presidential leadership appropriate to the crisis we face.

I swear, I almost think we should go ahead and agree to let them do this. If it would settle the question once and for all, I think I would.

But it wouldn't, of course. If it didn't work, they'd just write another column blaming the failure on something else. Lack of willpower, maybe. Or the French.

In any case, it's telling that they use the word "surge" and decline to provide an estimate of just how many more troops they think we need. A few thousand? Fifty thousand? Where are they going to come from? And do they really think that a surge would do the job? If they had the courage of their convictions, they'd provide a number, tell us what was needed to get the additional troops (pull them out of Korea? call up more reserves? extend tours of duty? institute a draft?), and admit candidly that these troops would need to be in country for at least several years. But they don't.

On the other hand, they're right about one thing: staying the course is the most irresponsible plan possible. There are arguments for withdrawing and there are arguments for sending more troops, but there's really no plausible argument for doing what Bush is doing. Staying the course is just another name for killing thousands more American soldiers for no reason.

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

Bookmark and Share
September 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND 9/11....James Joyner, noting the harsh tone evident in many of the lefty blogosphere's 9/11 posts today, says that "the stridency of these posts, even from bloggers and publications on the moderate side of the lefty blogosphere is surprising."

Speaking only for myself, I'm not sure this should come as a surprise to anyone. My biggest disappointment of the past five years the biggest by a very long way has been the way that George Bush transformed 9/11 from an opportunity to bring the country together into a cynical and partisan cudgel useful primarily for winning a few more votes in national elections.

Compare and contrast: FDR was surely one of the most partisan presidents of the 20th century, but after Pearl Harbor he announced that "Dr. New Deal has been replaced by Dr. Win the War." And he made good on that. World War II was largely a bipartisan war and FDR largely governed as a bipartisan commander-in-chief.

And Bush? Within a few months of 9/11 Karl Rove was telling party members what a great issue terrorism would be for Republicans. Andy Card was busily working on the marketing campaign for Iraq, timed for maximum impact on the midterm elections in 2002. Joe Lieberman's DHS bill was hijacked and deliberately loaded with anti-union features in order to draw Democratic complaints and hand Bush a campaign issue. The UN resolution on WMD inspections in Iraq was kept on fire until literally the day after the midterms, at which point the version acceptable to the rest of the world was suddenly agreeable to Bush as well. Democrats who supported Bush on the war were treated to the same scorched-earth campaigning as everyone else. Bipartisanship bought them nothing.

What else? Bush never engaged with Democrats in any way. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were both hawkish Dems who could have been co-opted early if Bush had had any intention of treating the war seriously. He didn't even try. He continued pushing divisive domestic issues like tax cuts and culture war amendments. ("Dr. Tax Cuts has been replaced by Dr. Win the War" would have been more appropriate.) He showed little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts or working with serious Democratic proposals to improve domestic security at ports and chemical plants. The national security rhetoric from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration was relentlessly inflammatory and divisive.

I think this is a complaint that most conservatives don't accept even conservatives who have soured on Bush over the past couple of years. But believe me: on the Democratic side of the aisle, Bush's intensely and gratuitously partisan approach to 9/11 and the war on terror is keenly felt. Sunday's Republican Party photo-op at Ground Zero was just more of the same.

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman puts it this way: "By using September 11 to aggregate power for himself, and to make his opponents you, me, and every other liberal who needed to feel like we could trust our leaders after we were attacked feel disloyal to their country, he prevented us from healing."

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (253)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BEYOND REPAIR?....Col. Pete Devlin, a man who has "the reputation of being one of the Marine Corps' best intelligence officers," has concluded in a secret assessment that the situation in Iraq's Anbar province is hopelessly lost:

One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically and that's where wars are won and lost."

....Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.

....Over the past three weeks, Devlin's paper has been widely disseminated in military and intelligence circles. It is provoking intense debate over the key finding that in Anbar, the U.S. effort to clear and hold major cities and the upper Euphrates valley has failed.

In a sense, I'm not sure this is anything new. Anbar has been in chaos since the end of the war, and has been on the edge of being hopelessly lost ever since George Bush dithered and dallied over his response to the 2004 uprising in Fallujah. But a report like this is still ominous since it pretty clearly indicates that as bad as things were two years ago, they're even worse now. And next year? Don't ask.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (193)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HEALING THE WOUNDS....The Washington Post notes today that George Bush's visit to Ground Zero on Sunday "left aside the partisan rancor" we've all become so familiar with since shortly after 9/11. Mike Tomasky chuckles mordantly at this and points to the picture on the right as evidence that the Post apparently doesn't understand modern electoral politics very well. In case you don't get it either, here's the fourth paragraph of the Post piece:

Accompanied by Gov. George E. Pataki (R), New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) and former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R)....

That's a lot of R's in that picture, isn't it? Bush and his handlers understand very well that pictures are everything these days, and even on a day like this they'd rather have their big toes cut off than include New York's two Democratic senators in a ceremony where cameras are rolling.

These guys just don't know when to quit. It's enough to make you ill.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FOREIGN AFFAIRS....A few days ago Matt Yglesias mentioned that Tony Blair's support for the Iraq war had influenced him to support the war as well:

People tend not to be up front about this kind of thing, but clearly in the real world decision-making is highly heuristic....In that sense, I tend to think Blair was more influential than is often recognized in terms of moving American public opinion in Bush's direction.

I think this is right, and I'd also argue that it's a pretty rational approach to foreign affairs for most of us. On nearly all domestic issues, I feel pretty comfortable applying my liberal principles to the issues at hand and deciding for myself where I stand. However, I'm far less comfortable doing that on foreign policy issues, which are inherently murkier and less amenable to ideological solutions. Instead, when it comes to foreign affairs, I rely much more on the guidance of people I trust, people who have (I think) demonstrated an even temperament and good judgment when they've had to make difficult calls in the past.

Why am I bringing this up? I was emailing with Jeff Weintraub a couple of days ago about this subject, and he emailed back a link to a speech that Al Gore made a few months after 9/11. Gore is, for me, one of the guys I mentioned above. His judgment on foreign affairs has been pretty good through the years, and he's someone worth listening to.

I don't agree with everything Gore says in this speech. But it's worth reading regardless. Liberals may be uncomfortable fitting his words into their current-day view of Gore as anti-war prophet; conservatives will be uncomfortable seeing Gore as someone plainly more dedicated to waging a real fight against terrorism than the guy they've been supporting for the past five years. And all of us would do well to remember what it's like to listen to someone who has at least a modest command of the ways and means of statecraft. There are a few passages in the speech that are so prescient they'll make your teeth hurt.

Ladies and gentlemen, Al Gore.

Al Gore Address to the Council on Foreign Relations February 12, 2002

I am grateful to be back before the Council on Foreign Relations and I want to congratulate Les Gelb and the entire Council its staff and its members on the great work you have been doing to deepen our understanding of Americas role in the world.

A lot of people have let me know they wished I had been speaking out on public affairs long before now. But in the aftermath of a very divisive election, I thought it would be graceless to do so and possibly damaging to the nation. And then came September 11th.

In the immediate aftermath, I expressed full support for our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. Tonight I reaffirm that support of the Presidents conduct of the military campaign in Afghanistan, and I appreciate his candor in telling the American people that this will be a long struggle for which the nation must be braced and its political leadership united across party lines.

Indeed, President Bush deserves tremendous credit for the way he has led the nation in a highly successful opening counter-attack in the war against terror.

All Americans are proud of our nation's triumph and especially proud of the courage and skill that our armed forces have demonstrated in winning swift and decisive victories. Our men and women in uniform have shown uncommon valor and the highest levels of dedication, professionalism and preparedness in responding to this enormous challenge. They have proved they are up to the task and I know they will continue to protect and defend us in the coming stages of the military campaign as well.

If yesterday marked the five month anniversary of the darkest day in American history, today the Day After must mark the anniversary of one of the greatest days in American history: because on September 12, a bruised and battered nation began to fight back. Some fought back by rushing to aid and rescue the few surviving victims of the tragedy and to aid and comfort the grieving and bereaved. Here in this city, even this today, remains are still being removed from the World Trade Center site.

Some fought back by reporting to reserve units or shipping out for extended tours of duty. And still others reported for duty on the front lines of our homeland defense as firefighters, police, nurses, border patrol, and others whose courage and sacrifices are admired and appreciated now more than ever.

The Axis of Evil

I also support the President's stated goals in the next phases of the war against terrorism as he laid them out in the State of the Union. What I want to talk about tonight are the fundamental, strategic questions before us as a nation. What are the next steps in the war against terrorism? And beyond immediate next steps, what is the longer-range plan of action? And finally, what should be done to deal with root causes of this threat?

Since the State of the Union, there has been much discussion of whether Iraq, Iran and North Korea truly constitute an "Axis of Evil." As far as I'm concerned, there really is something to be said for occasionally putting diplomacy aside and laying one's cards on the table. There is value in calling evil by its name.

One should never underestimate the power of bold words coming from a President of the United States. Jimmy Carter's espousal of human rights as an integral part of American foreign policy was in truth the crucial first step towards the democratic transformation of Latin America. And Ronald Reagan's blast against "the evil empire" was a pivotal moment reminding everyone that there was more at issue in the struggle between east and west than a contest for power.

As important as identifying Iraq, Iran and North Korea for what they are, we must be equally bold in identifying other evils that confront us. For there is another Axis of Evil in the world: poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder; corruption and political oppression. We may well put down terror in its present manifestations. But if we do not attend to the larger fundamentals as well, then the ground is fertile and has been seeded for the next generation of those born to hate us, who will hold these things up before the world's poor and dispossessed, and say that all these things are in our image, and rekindle the war we are now hoping to snuff out.

"Draining the swamp" of terrorism must of course in the first instance mean destroying the ability of terrorist networks to function. But drying it up at its source must also mean draining the aquifer of anger that underlies terrorism: anger that enflames the hearts of so many young men, and makes them willing, dedicated recruits for terror. Anger at perceived historical injustices involving a mass-memory throughout the Islamic world of past glory and more recent centuries of decline and oppression at the hands of the West.

Anger at the cynicism of Western policy during the Cold War: often aligning itself with corrupt and tyrannical governments. And even after all that, anger at the continued failure to thrive, as rates of economic growth stagnate, while the cohort of unemployed young men under twenty continues to increase.

This is anger different than the pure evil represented by terrorists, but anger nonetheless anger which is the medium on which the impulse to terrorism thrives. The evil we now confront is not just the one-time creation of a charismatic leader and his co-conspirators, or even of a handful of regimes. What we deal with now is today's manifestation of an anger welling up from deep layers of grievance shared by many millions of people.

Military force alone cannot deal with this. Public diplomacy alone cannot drain this reservoir. What will be needed is a far reaching American strategy for encouraging reform, and for engaging day in and day out with societies that are trying to cast off the curse of bitter experience relived continuously. Hope for the future is the only way to put out these fires.

What is "evil" anyway? I do not pretend to have the answer to such a question but my faith tradition teaches me that all of us have the potential inside of us for both good and evil. Indeed, the first example of murderous violence in the Bible is the story of the two sons of Adam and Eve. With slight differences, it is the same story told in Chapter five, verses 27 through 31 of "Sura" in the Koran, where Muslims read that both Cain and Abel "offered an offering, but it was accepted from one of them and was not accepted from the other." Feeling disrespected by God, Cain said to his brother, "I will most certainly slay you... then his mind facilitated to him the slaying of his brother, so he slew him; then he became one of the losers."

Disrespect, the feeling that what one has to offer in life has been rejected, the feeling that one has joined historys losers can make us as human beings more vulnerable to evil.

Conservative theologian Michael Novak wrote recently of Americas founders view that, "there is evil in the world and it coagulates, it gathers force, and if it bursts its bounds endangers everybody." In a brilliant essay that was otherwise full of praise for President Bushs actions in the war against terror, Novak concluded with an important caution: "The word evil, when used only of others, can intoxicate the user before he knows it. I commend to him [the President], and all of us, [Reinhold] Neibuhrs pregnant warning: the final enigma of history is therefore not how the righteous will gain victory over the un-righteous, but how the evil in every good and the un-righteousness of the righteous is to be overcome."

We must also expand our idea of what constitutes a threat to our security in the long run, and be prepared to confront and deal with these things, too. It is time to accept that massive environmental disorder including global warming is literally a threat to international peace and stability. We must finally develop alternatives to mid-eastern oil, internal combustion engines, inefficient boilers and the inertia that has paralyzed needed efforts at conservation.

HIV/AIDS is a national security threat. It is now the most deadly pandemic in the history of the world. U.S. leadership is needed.

We must acknowledge that the utter poverty of hundreds of millions of people is not a matter for compassion only, but a threat in the long term to the growth and vigor of the global economic system. We must see it as a part of our charge to help create economic opportunity so that the gap between the richest and poorest does not grow ever wider.

Globalized crime is a cousin to globalized terror, and along with corruption needs to be dealt with as an urgent threat to civil society.

Our most important immediate task is to continue to tear up the Al Qaeda network, and since it is present in many countries, it will be an operation, which requires new forms of sustained cooperation with other governments.

Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq.

As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table. To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition.

In 1991, I crossed party lines and supported the use of force against Saddam Hussein, but he was allowed to survive his defeat as the result of a calculation we all had reason to deeply regret for the ensuing decade. And we still do. So this time, if we resort to force, we must absolutely get it right. It must be an action set up carefully and on the basis of the most realistic concepts. Failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit. And wishful thinking based on best-case scenarios or excessively literal transfers of recent experience to different conditions would be a recipe for disaster.

But still, the question remains what next? Is Iran under the hard-liners less of a proliferation threat than Iraq? Or less involved with terrorism? If anything, Iran is at this moment a much more dangerous challenge in each area than Iraq. Iran is flight-testing longer range rockets. Iran has loaded up at least one merchant ship with a cargo of death for Israel.

The vast majority of the Iranian people seem to disagree with the policies and actions of the small group of mullahs now in control of their military and intelligence apparatus. We have to deal with that nations actions as they take place. In the process, however, we should find ways to encourage the majority who obviously wish to develop a more constructive relationship with us.

On the Korean peninsula, unlike in the previous two cases, we have a strong ally in South Korea. It is not enough to call North Korea what it is evil. We need to continue to keep the peace by remaining ready for war, as we have for almost fifty years. We also need to work with President Kim Dae Jung and the government in the Republic of Korea to galvanize positive action on the peninsula. Throughout the 1990s we proved that a creative, sustained program could help move the North Korean regime in new directions. Such creativity and commitment to addressing our interests in Korea are needed more than ever now.

And supposing even that we could eliminate the threat presented by the "Axis of Evil?" at what point, can the United States declare that the job is done, and leave the scene? Here, a too narrow definition of the threat, and a too limited assessment of its causes, can lead us into trouble.

It is important that America not just stand tall against terrorists, but America must also stand for economic opportunity and democratic freedoms. America must stand for human rights. America must stand for the rights of women. America must stand for environmental protection and energy conservation.

Unilateralism and hubris

The Administration in which I served looked at the challenges we faced in the world and said we wished to tackle these "With others, if possible; alone, if we must." This Administration sometimes seems inclined to stand that on its head, so that the message is: "With others, if we must; by ourselves, if possible."

The coalition so skillfully assembled by the President is one that may dissipate as rapidly as it coalesced, unless we make an investment in its permanence, beginning with a more evident respect on our part for the views and interests of its members. As regards our most important established alliance, NATO, we convey impatience and disdain for the military capabilities of its other members, and little patience for their views about longer-term objectives.

Maybe they have earned a good deal of that by their failure to invest in capabilities they only talk about; maybe some of them have been much too ready to believe that the best way to deal with dangerous forces is always to engage them in dialogue. Maybe some of them have bought peace for themselves by not looking too hard for terrorists who plot against us on their soil, so long as their plans did not disturb domestic tranquility.

But we need them with us and equally for sure, we cannot bind them to us for fierce battle over the long term if we take them lightly. We may be the worlds sole remaining super-power but we are going to need allies. In Greek mythology, Hercules was the super-power of his day, but when he faced his most dangerous foe, the multi-headed Hydra which like the terrorist networks of today grew two new heads every time one was cut off he had to build a coalition. Uncharacteristically he teamed up with an ally because it was the only way he could prevail.

Continuity of effort

One of the truly bad things about our politics is that it incites each administration to attack every last thing its predecessor has done, and to either tear down what was left or rename it so that its parentage can be forgotten. We did some of that but we also kept a lot of what we inherited from the first Bush administration and we protected it and built upon it. The struggle against terror may last for a very long time, even past a shift of parties in power. You know, the Cold War was won by the cumulative work of administrations from Harry S Truman to George H. W. Bush. And I hope that the present administration chooses to invest in reconstructing a sense of what bipartisanship in the defense of the country is all about: even after the planes land and the guns stop firing.

I don't pretend to any received wisdom but I learned a lot from my experience in the Clinton-Gore administration: lessons I think are worth remembering and incorporating into the normal practice of our diplomacy and of protecting from the vicious rip- tides of our politics. I know from experience that bi-partisanship is no easy matter. It is difficult to go against one's own political base, whether its a Democrat supporting the MX missile or a Republican trying to cancel an obsolete 70 ton artillery piece.

Above all, I learned that our engagement with others on behalf of common values is something that must be of profound intent, and of long duration. It isn't enough to destroy what is evil, and then seek to leave by the nearest door. We must make the commitment to work with those whom we have rescued until they can stand on their own feet.

That means supporting an increase in the size of the international security force in Afghanistan and enlarging its mandate beyond Kabul to the whole country. And it means remaining engaged ourselves, if not with a small symbolic presences in the international force on the ground, then at least as on the horizon ready to respond with help from the air when needed.

When all is said and done, I hope that when the people of our country next return the White House for a time to the Democratic Party, our leadership then will be big enough to salute the present administration for what it will have done that is wise and good. And to build upon it forthrightly.

Towards that end, we must now expand our concept of what is needed to reach the goals upon which we all agree. The United States needs to create a world made more just and more hopeful, not just a world made more profitable for ourselves. I hope that this Presidents record makes it damn hard for the competition to complain about his record in foreign policy. That may be bad for the loyal opposition. But its good for the people, who deserve it. And I promise my support for whatever he may do in support of that prayer.

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

Bookmark and Share
September 10, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

IT'S OPPO TIME!....The Washington Post reports today that Republicans plan to spend the vast bulk of their campaign money this year on negative ads focused on "personal issues and local controversies." Matt Yglesias comments:

I also feel like this directly contradicts reporting that was in major papers just last week. Persona issues and local controversies are, of course, always good campaign fodder. Spending the "vast majority" of one's war chest on that, however, does seem like a bit of a desperation move.

Actually, this sounds like exactly what we've been reading for a while, doesn't it? Namely that Democrats want to try to nationalize the campaign and Republicans want to prevent that from happening. After all, national issues (Iraq, Bush, K Street corruption, Medicare donut holes, etc.) aren't exactly working in the GOP's favor at the moment.

It also seems like a pretty smart move to me. There are only about 40 Republican seats in the House that are realistically in danger, and a good part of that danger seems to be based on little more than a vague sense that things aren't going that well at the moment. It's hard to reverse a vague sense like that among inattentive independents, but it's not that hard to pick up five percentage points in a single district by accusing your opponent of mopery and dopery of some sort. And five points is all they need in a lot of these districts.

Desperate? Maybe, but it seems pretty smart to me. If the Republican Party can pull this off and we all know it's something they're very, very good at I suspect Democrats are going to have a harder time this fall than pundits are predicting.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

VOTE FOR LINC OR ELSE....The Republican Party is certainly playing a bracing game of chicken here:

In an extraordinary pre-emptive announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it will concede Rhode Island to the Democrats should Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston, defeat [Lincoln] Chafee in the primary. Citing poll data, Republican leaders said they saw no way someone as conservative as Mr. Laffey could win in a state as Democratic as this; as it is, they are increasingly worried about Mr. Chafees hopes in a general election.

It's certainly the case that, in practice, national committees often cede races they know they can't win. But has a preemptive declaration of defeat like this ever happened before?

Kevin Drum 12:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

Bookmark and Share
September 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MEMORIES....The most remarkable phrase in print Friday was Brigadier General Mark Scheid's recollection about Donald Rumsfeld's response when Scheid said they ought to think about doing some postwar planning in Iraq: "I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that."

Second place goes to this, from Jennifer Medina in the New York Times:

In answering repeated questions about the scandal....

Yes, that's the Monica Lewinsky scandal that the stars of the Times "repeatedly" asked Ned Lamont about at a dinner on Wednesday. The mind reels.

But there's lots of tennis on today and a pretty good football game later this evening, so that's probably about it for today's blogging. Who do you think will face Federer in tomorrow's final?

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

Bookmark and Share
September 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"HE WOULD FIRE THE NEXT PERSON THAT SAID THAT"....Today, via Orin Kerr, comes a remarkable interview with Brigadier General Mark Scheid, chief of the Logistics War Plans Division after 9/11, and one of the people with primary responsibility for war planning. Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, he says, Donald Rumsfeld told his team to start planning for war in Iraq, but not to bother planning for a long stay:

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," Scheid said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.

"He said we will not do that because the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war."

...."In his own mind he thought we could go in and fight and take out the regime and come out. But a lot of us planners were having a real hard time with it because we were also thinking we can't do this. Once you tear up a country you have to stay and rebuild it. It was very challenging."

In a way, this is old news. As much as it beggars the imagination, there's been plenty of evidence all along that Bush never took the idea of rebuilding Iraq seriously. The plan was to remove Saddam from power, claim victory, and get out.

However, this is the clearest evidence I've seen yet. The guy who was actually in charge of logistics has now directly confirmed that Rumsfeld not only didn't intend to rebuild Iraq in any serious way, but threatened to fire anyone who wasted time on the idea. Needless to say, he wouldn't have done this unless it reflected the wishes of the president.

And this also means that all of Bush's talk about democracy was nothing but hot air. If you're serious about planting democracy after a war, you don't plan to simply topple a government and then leave.

So: the lack of postwar planning wasn't merely the result of incompetence. It was deliberate policy. There was never any intention of rebuilding Iraq and there was never any intention of wasting time on democracy promotion. That was merely a post hoc explanation after we failed to find the promised WMD. Either that or BG Scheid is lying.

This is an astounding interview, all the more so for the apparently resigned tone that Scheid brings to it. It belongs on the front page of the New York Times, not the Hampton Roads Daily Press.

POSTSCRIPT: An alternative explanation, based on Rumsfeld's admonition that "the American public will not back us if they think we are going over there for a long war," is that Rumsfeld and Bush were planning to stay but simply lied about it in order to build support for the war. However, based on the rest of the interview with Scheid, as well as the other evidence that there was no plan to stay and rebuild in any serious way, that explanation seems unlikely. The bulk of the evidence continues to suggest that democracy and rebuilding were simply not on Bush's radar.

Kevin Drum 10:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (206)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

A TIDBIT FROM THE VALERIE PLAME ARCHIVES....Is the Valerie Plame scandal dead now that Richard Armitage has fessed up to being Robert Novak's source? I know one way to find out.

Those of you who haven't followed Plamegate from the very beginning may not remember this, but although David Corn's column on July 16, 2003, was the first to break the news of Plame's outing, it wasn't until later that the Plame affair turned into a full-fledged firestorm. It was a story in the Washington Post two month's after Corn's column that did it. Here's what it said:

A senior administration official said two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and revealed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife...."Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

That changed the story completely: instead of one guy talking to one reporter, it was multiple White House officials methodically calling their sources and hoping someone would bite on a juicy morsel designed solely for political revenge. That was a story, and everyone went nuts.

But was it true? Well, three years later we know that Karl Rove spoke to at least two reporters about Plame (Novak and Matt Cooper). We know that Scooter Libby spoke to Judith Miller about Plame. We know that someone else provided the actual name "Plame" to Miller. We know that at least half a dozen reporters were told about the Plame story by one official or another (Novak, Cooper, Miller, Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus, and, perhaps, Knut Royce). We know that Scooter Libby lied repeatedly about his actions to both investigators and a grand jury, something he'd be unlikely to do unless the truth were more damaging than a possible perjury trial.

Circumstantially, then, there's a fair amount of evidence that the Post story was correct. It wasn't just Armitage; there really was a deliberate, systematic plan to out Plame, and it came straight from the White House.

But that's hardly bulletproof confirmation of the Post's story, and it's impossible to find out more because we still don't know who their "senior administration official" was. Why? Because the journalistic code of omerta prevents Mike Allen and Dana Priest from telling us. It prevents us from knowing whether the person who set off the Plame firestorm knew what he was talking about or was just shooting from the hip. It prevents us from ever knowing what really happened.

Too bad, huh?

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BLAMING AMERICA....Are these guys in a contest to see who can write the most moronic book? Or what?

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IS THE WELL FINALLY DRY?....So how is Karl Rove's "Democrats are appeasers" campaign offensive going? Not so well: JAG lawyers don't like George Bush's new rules for military tribunals, Democrats are insisting that his wiretapping plans actually be fully debated, and Republicans aren't too happy about his endorsement of torture as long as only the CIA does it. Steve Benen has the roundup.

And while you're over there, Steve also rounds up the commentary on Osama bin Laden's peculiar preference for helping out Bush and Rove by releasing scary videotapes right around election time. You'd almost think he likes having these guys in power, wouldn't you?

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE WAR, REVISITED....Tom Friedman on failure of the Bush approach to fighting militant jihadism:

Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, and lets have an unprecedented wartime tax cut and shrink our armed forces. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, but lets send just enough troops to topple Saddam and never control Iraqs borders, its ammo dumps or its looters. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism, but rather than bring Democrats and Republicans together in a national unity war coalition, lets use the war as a wedge issue to embarrass Democrats, frighten voters and win elections. They told us we are in the fight of our lives against a new Islamic fascism which is financed by our own oil purchases but lets not do one serious thing about ending our oil addiction.

Jonathan Rauch on the same subject:

Bush has run the war against jihadism out of his back pocket, as a permanent state of emergency. He engages in legal ad-hockery and trickery, treats Congress as a nuisance rather than a partner, and circumvents outmoded laws and treaties when he should be creating new ones. Of all Bush's failings, his refusal to build durable underpinnings for what promises to be a long struggle is the most surprising, the most gratuitous, and potentially the most damaging, both to the sustainability of the antiterrorism effort and to the constitutional order.

Joe Galloway channeling the military brass on the same subject:

This week I asked more than a dozen top Army and Marine Corps generals active duty and retired, dissidents and administration loyalists to address what we should do now in Iraq.

All of them agreed that America's strategy and tactics in Iraq have failed....[Marine Lt. Gen. Paul] Van Riper said the United States lacks a global strategy for fighting a global war against a global Islamist insurgency. He contrasted what we've witnessed from today's war president with the way America and its leaders prepared and planned the campaigns in World War II, and how President Franklin D. Roosevelt explained the strategy and the campaigns to educate the public and ensure support for the war.

"Our current leadership has failed us in these most basic of obligations," he said.

George Bush doesn't have a clue how to fight the enemy he claims is so important. I think that even those who were initially inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on this are finally figuring this out.

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IDIOCRACY....Curt Weldon's latest bright idea:

The second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is a strong supporter of the U.S. military mission in Iraq, has drafted a resolution that would give military commanders instead of President Bush or Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld decision-making authority over when American troops should return home....Weldon is one of the foremost Republican military experts in the House.

....Weldon initially contemplated introducing his proposal as regular legislation, but opted instead for a sense of the House resolution after learning that legislation would conflict with the presidents constitutional war powers.

Let me get this straight. Weldon is one of the "foremost Republican military experts in the House," but he didn't realize that stripping the president of the authority to determine troop dispositions would be a plainly unconsitutional infringement of his commander-in-chief powers? Apparently the Republican Party really is a living, breathing example of the fictional world of Idiocracy. How else could a guy like Weldon rise to the top of the heap?

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE WAR....The New York Times reports today on the details of George Bush's proposed legislation regarding the interrogation of detainees. The wording is apparently so convoluted as to be nearly impenetrable, but once it's finally been penetrated it turns out that the meaning is clear:

Many of the harsh interrogation techniques repudiated by the Pentagon on Wednesday would be made lawful by legislation put forward the same day by the Bush administration. And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.

....Legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.

Even the Pentagon says this stuff is barbaric and ineffective. They have figured out, in theory if not always in practice, that we are essentially fighting a global counterinsurgency, not World War III, and that this is precisely the kind of thing that produces blowback a hundred times worse than the meager amount of information we get from torturing these guys. It's a recipe for losing the war against jihadism.

But Bush is bound and determined to write it into law anyway. He is, apparently, bound and determined to continue losing the war he has fought so ineptly for the past five years. I sure hope there are at least a few Republicans who have figured this out and can put the brakes on Bush's folly. We need to start winning.

Kevin Drum 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (185)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MUSHARRAF'S LAST STAND?....What's up with the recent peace deal between the Pakistani government and the Taliban-friendly tribal leaders in Waziristan, the area on the Afghanistan border that's home to most of the al-Qaeda leaders who fled after the American invasion? Here is the Asia Times:

With a truce between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad now in place, the Pakistani government is in effect reverting to its pre-September 11, 2001, position in which it closed its eyes to militant groups allied with al-Qaeda and clearly sided with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

....The truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan has been a bitter pill for Washington to swallow, although Pakistan's pledge to allow foreign troops based in Afghanistan hot pursuit into a limited area in Pakistan softens the blow a bit.

That sums up most of the conventional wisdom I've read. But then there's India Defense, which claims the whole thing was orchestrated by America's very own General John Abizaid:

Sources in Rawalpindi the Headquarters of the Pakistani Army indicate that the plan was directly dictated by Abizaid during his recent visit to Pakistan, and is said to put both the Musharraf Regime and War Against Terror in more secure positions.

....Pakistani analysts argue that the granting of 'hot pursuit' into Pakistani territory to the United States Forces in the Taliban controlled FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) was one of Musharraf's last remaining cards....and with this concession to the American forces in Afghanistan Musharraf may well and truly won himself more time in office.

I haven't the faintest idea which of these analyses is true. Maybe both, to some degree. But I thought it was worthwhile to at least point out that there are multiple interpretations of what's going on here. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
September 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PLAME, PLAME, PLAME....It's funny, isn't it? Every time we learn more about the Valerie Plame case, we also end up with more questions.

Richard Armitage spoke with three reporters today and confirmed that he was the original source for Robert Novak's column outing Plame as a CIA operative. Armitage said he learned Plame's role from a State Department memo written in June 2003, a memo that referred to her as "Valerie Wilson":

In the interview with McClatchy Newspapers, CBS News and The New York Times, Armitage said he had no partisan intent in mentioning that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA at the end of an interview with Novak on other subjects in the summer of 2003. He didn't know her by the name Valerie Plame or that she was working undercover.

I know I'm flogging this horse over and over, but where did the name "Plame" come from? The proposition that Novak looked it up in Who's Who and decided to use her maiden name just for kicks has never struck me as plausible. What's more, we also know that someone gave the name "Plame" to Judith Miller, though she now pretends not to know who she got it from.

So who was it? Who was it who knew that Valerie Wilson used the name "Valerie Plame" when she was on CIA business? And who passed this tidbit along?

POSTSCRIPT: For those who think that Armitage's admission makes the whole Plame affair a nonstory, note that Warren Strobel included the following in his account:

The administration's defenders have claimed that Armitage's acknowledgement of his role, which has been speculated about for months, takes much of the sting out of those allegations.

But interviews and documents also portray the White House in the persons of Bush aide Karl Rove, Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and others as furiously trying to get information about Wilson and Plame, then discussing it with reporters.

See? That wasn't so hard, was it?

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEEDS, NOT WORDS....As near as I can tell, virtually every commentator agrees that George Bush's decision yesterday to release 14 prisoners from CIA prisons and transfer them to Guantanamo was timed for political reasons. As Ronald Brownstein points out, he's hoping to recreate the great Department of Homeland Security triumph of 2002, where he deliberately inserted into the bill some union-busting features Democrats would object to so that he could then go out on the campaign trail and claim that Democrats were "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."

Well, that's an old trick, and who can blame Bush for trying it again? He doesn't have many other arrows left in his quiver, after all. But I hope Democrats don't get suckered this time around. How about just saying this?

In America you have the right to decent treatment and a fair trial, no matter who you are. We'll be working closely with Republicans to craft a bill that shows the world we really mean it when we say this.

Why should Dems say this? Because it's what they actually believe. Right? Please tell me I'm right.

Kevin Drum 6:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MEDIAN INCOME UPDATE....A few days ago I posted a map from the Detroit Free Press showing that median household incomes had dropped in nearly every state between 1999 and 2005. Via Asymmetrical Information, I see that the Freep screwed up: they used a different measure for the 1999 figures than for the 2005 numbers, and that made the decline look worse than it was.

Census figures are here, and while they aren't perfect, they do use the same methodology over time. This doesn't change the main conclusion of the original post, namely that median incomes have dropped even though the economy has been growing, but the drop wasn't quite as bad as it looked. The census figures are below.

I'll say one thing, though: those boys down in Texas sure did a whole lot better under Clinton than they have under Bush. If they were smart, they would have voted for Gore and kept the Shrub under wraps in Austin, where he couldn't have done so much damage to their economy.

Kevin Drum 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE SILVER BULLET SYNDROME....Jared Bernstein, reacting to a David Brooks column in which he channels the conventional conservative wisdom about increasing income inequality (it's not happening, and if it is happening it doesn't matter because sales of plasma TVs are up), makes a general comment about news reporting and analysis on this kind of thing:

As is too often the case, journalists who cant find a factor that explains 51% of the phenomenon in question dismiss everything. Brooks argues that declining unionization is not a driving force because it only explains 10-20 percent of the rise in inequality. But thats as big as any other force that economists have measured.

Roughly speaking, the decline in the real value of the minimum wage explains about that much (more for female wage inequality). And globalization is generally cited as accounting for around this share of the increase as well. Im not aware of any inequality analysis that dismisses these changes because they are not driving forces (i.e., they individually account for less than half the growth).

Call it the Silver Bullet Syndrome. Unfortunately, as much as we'd like it to be otherwise, the world is a complex place. If you want to know why middle class wages have stagnated over the past 30 years, while business executives have been taking home pay packets that would make Boss Tweed blush, you're just not going to find it in a single explanation. It's partly unionization, it's partly monetary policy, it's partly the minimum wage, it's partly globalization, it's partly increasing returns to education, and it's partly a dozen other things as well.

Brooks wants to find a single explanation that fits his worldview, so he chooses to focus on increasing returns to skills. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of the increase in inequality has been due to skyrocketing compensation in the top 1%. Does Brooks really believe that corporate executives have more "social and customer-service skills" than their counterparts did 30 years ago?

I don't think he does. But it serves his purpose to pretend otherwise, since he doesn't like government intervention in the economy and this is an explanation that government policy can do little about.

But is it a true explanation? It seems unlikely. Increasing returns to skills are a part of the picture, but that's been true ever since WWII, yet middle-income stagnation began only in the mid-70s. What's more, it's been true throughout the world, yet middle-income stagnation has hit the U.S. far harder than other developed countries. Why? Because there's more to it. Unfortunately, part of that "more" includes things that the government can influence, and that's inconvenient for the conservative worldview.

If you don't care about stagnant middle-income wages, you'll do what Brooks does: dismiss it. But if you do care, there really are things we can do about it. There's no single magic bullet, there's probably no way to solve 100% of the problem, and there's no way to fix things immediately. But if we can find half a dozen things that solve 50% of the problem over the next decade, that sure seems worthwhile to me.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TORTURE?....President Bush announced yesterday that 14 "high value detainees" would be transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay. ABC News describes the interrogation techniques that have been used on on them:

The first the attention grab, involving the rough shaking of a prisoner.

Second the attention slap, an open-handed slap to the face.

Third belly slap, meant to cause temporary pain, but no internal injuries.

Fourth long-term standing and sleep deprivation, 40 hours at least, described as the most effective technique.

Fifth the cold room. Prisoners left naked in cells kept in the 50s and frequently doused with cold water.

The CIA sources say the sixth, and harshest, technique was called "water boarding," in which a prisoner's face was covered with cellophane, and water is poured over it (pictured above) meant to trigger an unbearable gag reflex.

Is this torture? There's an easy question that provides some moral clarity here: If someone else did this to American prisoners, would you consider it torture? If you would, then it's torture when we do it too.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (301)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MARKETS IN HEALTHCARE....If we treat healthcare like any other market, allowing consumers free rein to purchase the services they like best, will it produce high quality results? A recent study suggests not:

Researchers from the Rand Corp. think tank, the University of California at Los Angeles and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs asked 236 elderly patients at two big managed-care plans, one in the Southwest and the other in the Northeast, to rate the medical care they were getting. The average score was high about 8.9 on a scale from zero to 10.

....In the second part of their study, the medical researchers systematically examined 13 months of medical records to gauge the quality of care the same elderly patients had received....The average score wasn't as impressive as those in the patient-satisfaction surveys: 5.5 on a 10-point scale. But here's the interesting part: Those patients who graded the quality of their care as 10 weren't any more likely to be getting high-quality care than those who gave it a grade of 5. The most-satisfied patients didn't get better medical care than the least-satisfied.

Surprise! Patients are poor judges of whether they're getting good care. And if consumer preferences don't map to high quality care, then a free market in healthcare won't necessarily produce better results or higher efficiency, as it does in most markets.

Back to the drawing board. Perhaps a national healthcare system would be a better bet to reduce costs, cover more people, provide patients with more flexibility, and produce superior outcomes. After all, why are we satisfied with allowing the French to have a better healthcare system than ours even though we're half again richer than them?

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BLAIR'S SNARE....Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have always had an uneasy relationship, but it looks like it's now in complete meltdown:

An all-out power struggle between the chancellor and the prime minister, culminating with allegations of blackmail by Tony Blair and a ferocious shouting match between the two men, appeared last night to have forced Mr Blair to publicly declare as early as today that he will not be prime minister this time next year.

....In probably the most astonishing day in the annals of New Labour, the use of the word blackmail to describe Mr Brown's actions over the past few days by Downing Street staff was authorised by Mr Blair, and reflected his view that Mr Brown is orchestrating a coup against him.

Really, British politics is a lot more fun than ours. A coup! Shouting matches! Threats of blackmail! That's what politics ought to be about.

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
September 6, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

LEARNING A LESSON....Andrew Sullivan, who is now a full-throated critic of the Iraq war and everyone associated with it, suggests that he now believes that raw military power isn't the best way to fight jihadism:

I believe we have to fight, rather than accommodate, it. It seems to me we can be shrewd and deft and guileful in fighting it on our terms. Fighting does not merely mean brute military force. It can mean more skillful global diplomacy with other great powers to isolate Iran's regime, better counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, covert military action, expanded intelligence, as well as subtle but real support for the people of Iran.

That's all well and good. But what does it mean going forward?

But no American president can or should tolerate the Iranian regime's acquisition of nuclear weaponry. And negotiating with theo-fascists is a mug's game. Their God does not negotiate. And they are nothing if not faithful to their God.

For conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between, Iran is really the crucial touchstone. It's one thing to say, in retrospect, that the Iraq war was wrong, and then to suggest that you've learned your lesson and now believe that there are more effective ways of fighting jihadism than bluster and invasion. But the rubber hits the road when you get down to cases. If you've learned your lesson, then why not apply those lessons to Iran?

It's a funny thing. Conservatives have a peculiar habit these days of viewing the Cold War through nostalgically rose-tinted glasses. At least life was simple back then. We had one enemy, and as bad as they were, they had interests. We could talk to them.

But this is just flatly wrong. When Krushchev banged his shoe at the UN and promised to bury us, we thought he meant every word of it. And plenty of people were convinced that it was useless to negotiate with such a regime. At the time, a lot of people viewed Krushchev and the Soviets exactly the way the neocons view Ahmadinejad and the Iranians today.

But guess what? JFK proved them wrong. We now know that he didn't stare down the lunatic Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He negotiated a deal with them, and it worked. Likewise, in Vietnam, anti-communist paranoia blinded us to the essentially nationalist nature of the war we were fighting there. Today we know that negotiations and support for fair elections probably could have worked.

In the 1980s, neocons were aghast that Reagan thought he could negotiate with the Soviets. He proved them wrong. Four years ago it was Saddam Hussein who couldn't be boxed in. That turned out to be wrong too. He sputtered and blustered, but in the end we found out that sanctions and no-fly zones had scared him pretty well after all.

And now it's Iran, yet another country that can't be negotiated with. Why? Religious fanaticism is the excuse this time. But while the Iranians may seem scarier simply because they're today's enemy, that doesn't mean they can't be dealt with just like any other nation state can be dealt with.

Not every problem can be solved by diplomacy. Sometimes, as in the currently fashionable right-wing obsession with 1938, negotiation really is useless. But far more often than not, our enemies can be negotiated with, despite all the convincing reasons the hawks adduce for confrontation and war as the only possible solution. So ask yourself: With a track record this bad, why should we pay attention to the same old hysterical siren song this time? Shouldn't we send the hawks packing and instead figure out more sensible ways to react to our global problems? Shouldn't we have learned our lesson by now?

Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (264)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

GIVING VOICE....I've read about this before, but Tyler Cowen quotes today in more detail from a new book about the differences in average voice pitch among women in different countries:

Women in almost every culture speak in deeper voices than Japanese women. American women's voices are lower than Japanese women's, Swedish women's are lower than American's, and Dutch women's are lower than Swedish women's. Vocal difference is one way of expressing social difference, so that in Dutch society, which doesn't differentiate much between its image of the ideal male and the ideal female, there are few differences between male and female voice. The Dutch also find medium and low pitch more attractive than high pitch.

Which goes to show how powerfully culture worms its way into things that are widely assumed to be mostly biological. Most people believe that women have higher pitched voices as a matter of simple physiology, but it ain't so. It's mostly cultural, and anyone who watches old movies can attest to how the ideal of female voice has changed over the past 70 years.

Also: this is one more data point demonstrating why the Netherlands is the best country in the world. It's more than just the tulips.

Kevin Drum 12:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEMS AND TERROR....I've been noodling around with an idea lately that I want to share. I'm not really prepared to defend it in a lot of detail, but it's worth getting some feedback about, so I'm going to try it out on you guys in its current hazy state.

Here's the proposition: after several years of vacillation and uncertainty over Iraq and national security, Democrats have recently achieved a fairly considerable consensus on how to move forward. I don't want to overstate this: obviously there are still plenty of differences among major players in the party. But if you take out, say, the Chomsky wing on the left and the Lieberman wing on the right, there's a surprising amount that the rest of us agree on.

Domestically, we nearly all agree that we should spend more on things like port security and chemical plant security. We mostly agree on strengthening cooperation between the FBI and the CIA, but we oppose large-scale infringements of civil liberties like the NSA program as both wrong and unnecessary. We oppose torture and we oppose rendition. We support a far more serious energy policy for both environmental and national security reasons.

On the overseas front, we largely agree that, in the long term, we can only eliminate militant jihadism if we eliminate support for jihadists among the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East. This requires genuine support for democracy, serious economic and trade programs aimed at the Middle East, and a public diplomacy program vastly superior to the laughable efforts currently underway. We support a far more active role for the United States in negotiating a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. We support a hardnosed dedication to diplomacy and negotiation, Richard Holbrooke style. We recognize that the moral high ground isn't just a nice thing to have, it's crucial to winning support for our policies and that means a renewed dedication to taking seriously international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. Military action, when absolutely necessary, should be as sharp and pointed as possible, oriented toward counterinsurgency, not invasion and regime change.

What else? Nearly everyone in Democratic circles agrees that the war in Iraq was a mistake, though there's still a fair amount of disagreement about what to do about this now. On Iran, I think most Democrats believe, along with Fareed Zakaria, that we need to take a deep breath and put aside the current Republican hysteria on the subject. Bombers and cruise missiles aren't going to solve our problems here.

Again: I'm not trying to sound too Pollyannaish. There are still disagreements. Still, five years after 9/11 I think Democrats finally have about as much of a consensus as any out-of-power political party is ever likely to have on a subject as complex and intractable as foreign policy in an age of radical jihadism.

So here's my proposition: At this point, it strikes me that our problem is less about agreeing on policy than it is about agreeing on marketing. We have enough consensus on policy that we can move forward if we only have the courage of our convictions about this stuff. We need to talk about our approach out loud, we need to believe that people aren't too scared or stupid to make sense of it, and we need to be clear that we think Republicans are taking a hysterical approach to national security that's both partisan and foolish. For some reason, though, most Democrats seem unwilling to risk saying this with any serious conviction, relying instead mostly on generic attacks on George Bush. Or so it appears to me.

So how about some feedback on this? I think our consensus on policy is somewhere around 70%, which is good enough for now. Am I being too optimistic? Is that enough in any case, or are there still some disagreements so serious that no marketing is possible until they're resolved? And can we win elections by aggressively selling this approach to jihadism? Or are we still afraid of being called appeasers?

Discussion, please.

Kevin Drum 1:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (212)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE GRAVITAS GAP....Mark Kleiman notes two little-noticed ways of conserving energy: planting trees in cities and lightening dark asphalt surfaces with chalk dust. Both reduce heat, and thus reduce the need for energy-hungry air conditioning, but both also require a fair amount of political organization:

There's a big political problem here. A candidate who says he's going to deal with our energy problem by drilling in ANWR will have his opinion taken seriously by reporters and pundits, even though the actual contribution of such drilling to reducing imports is trivial. But a national-level politician who proposed tree-planting or chalk dust would wind up the butt of jokes on late-night TV. Somehow the ideas lack gravitas. I have no clear idea what to do about that.

That's true, isn't it? Despite the supposed liberal tilt of our news media, reporters have a habit of treating liberal solutions to problems far less seriously than conservative solutions. The same thing happens in foreign policy, where conservative ideas (invade Iraq, bomb Iran, etc.) are accorded a respect they don't deserve, while liberal ideas are frequently treated as little more than pro forma responses. Like Mark, I have no clear idea what to do about this.

UPDATE: Reader Daniel Schacht passes along some home-brew experiments he did that show just how effective it can be to replace dark roofing material with lighter material. The difference is dramatic.

Kevin Drum 12:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

Bookmark and Share
September 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT VALERIE PLAME DID....I've been relatively quiet on the Valerie Plame front for the past year or so. Aside from Scooter Libby's indictment there hasn't been an awful lot of news, and what news there has been got picked over so thoroughly by the blogosphere's resident Plameologists that there wasn't much left to ruminate about over here.

However, after three years of guesswork from thousands of people about exactly what it was that Valerie Plame Wilson did at the CIA, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that David Corn has finally told us. It turns out that she didn't just work on WMD issues, she worked specifically on Iraqi WMD:

In 1997 [Wilson] returned to CIA headquarters and joined the Counterproliferation Division....She was eventually given a choice: North Korea or Iraq. She selected the latter. Come the spring of 2001, she was in the CPD's modest Iraq branch. But that summer before 9/11 word came down from the brass: We're ramping up on Iraq. Her unit was expanded and renamed the Joint Task Force on Iraq. Within months of 9/11, the JTFI grew to fifty or so employees. Valerie Wilson was placed in charge of its operations group.

There was great pressure on the JTFI to deliver. Its primary target was Iraqi scientists. JTFI officers, under Wilson's supervision, tracked down relatives, students and associates of Iraqi scientists in America and abroad looking for potential sources. They encouraged Iraqi migrs to visit Iraq and put questions to relatives of interest to the CIA. The JTFI was also handling walk-ins around the world. Increasingly, Iraqi defectors were showing up at Western embassies claiming they had information on Saddam's WMDs. JTFI officers traveled throughout the world to debrief them.

So that's whose cover Robert Novak, Richard Armitage, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and God knows who else blew. The woman who was in charge of the entire CIA team trying to locate Saddam's WMD.

Of course, this also sheds some light on why Dick Cheney and the entire White House crew seemed so interested in discrediting Wilson: because her team didn't find anything. Cheney was visiting Langley, writing memos, demanding answers, and just generally obsessing over Iraqi WMD programs, and it was Valerie Wilson's team that was failing to find what he wanted. I think it's safe to say that he was displeased with Wilson and her team, and it stretches the imagination to think that this had nothing to do with the White House pushback against her husband's relatively innocuous op-ed about his trip to Niger.

Is there more to the story? Corn and his partner, Michael Isikoff, appear to be metering out their reporting for maximum possible book exposure, so there might be more to come. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

UNSCREWING THE MIDDLE CLASS....Just for the record, I completely agree with this. But you already knew that.

(No, it's not the whole answer, not by a long way. But it's certainly one of the single biggest pieces.)

Kevin Drum 7:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DRAINING THE SWAMP....Fareed Zakaria almost gets it right here:

Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall and crazy. During the cold war, many hawks argued that the Soviet Union could not be deterred because the Kremlin was evil and irrational. The great debate in the 1970s was between the CIA's wimpy estimate of Soviet military power and the neoconservatives' more nightmarish scenario. The reality turned out to be that even the CIA's lowest estimates of Soviet power were a gross exaggeration. During the 1990s, influential commentators and politicians most prominently the Cox Commission doubled the estimates of China's military spending, using largely bogus calculations. And then there was the case of Saddam Hussein's capabilities. Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons and because he was a madman, he would use them.

It is not quite right to say that "Washington" has a habit of doing this. Zakaria should instead say that "hysterical Republican hawks" have a habit of doing this.

Accuracy is important in these matters. For the record, then: "Team B" was a creation of George H.W. Bush and included such members as Richard Pipes, Paul Wolfowitz, and Edward Teller. The Cox Commission was the brainchild of congressman Christopher Cox (RCalif.). And Saddam's nuclear bombs were the fantasy product of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush, et. al.

This quibble aside, the column is very good. The fever swamp hysteria floating around right-wing circles has become increasingly desperate in recent weeks, and Zakaria does a good job of showing it up for the infantile yowling that it is. Democrats who want to be taken seriously on foreign policy could do worse than have it stapled to their foreheads.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SISTANI BOWS OUT?....Via Juan Cole, the Telegraph claims that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has been a moderating influence on Iraqi politics for the past three years, has basically given up:

Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."

It is a devastating blow to the remaining hopes for a peaceful solution in Iraq and spells trouble for British forces, who are based in and around the Shia stronghold of Basra.

....Ali al-Jaberi, a spokesman for the cleric in Khadamiyah, said that he was furious that his followers had turned away from him and ignored his calls for moderation.

....He said a series of snubs had contributed to Ayatollah al-Sistani's decision. "He asked the politicians to ask the Americans to make a timetable for leaving but they disappointed him," he said. "After the war, the politicians were visiting him every month. If they wanted to do something, they visited him. But no one has visited him for two or three months. He is very angry that this is happening now. He sees this as very bad."

I don't have the chops to figure out just what this means, but every possible interpretation seems to be negative to one degree or another. In any case, given Sistani's role in Iraqi politics, this seems like a noteworthy development.

UPDATE: Eric Martin has more.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ENDING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE....I don't know if Arnie is going to sign it, but last week the California legislature sent him a bill that would change the way the state allocates its electoral votes in presidential elections:

Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide not the most votes in California....The California legislation would not take effect until enough states passed such laws to make up a majority of the Electoral College votes a minimum of 11 states, depending on population.

Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, Article 1 Section 10 of the United States constitution says that "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State." Isn't this an agreement with other states? Isn't it prima facie unconstitutional unless Congress consents? Is Congress likely to do that?

Just asking. Any constitutional scholars out there care to weigh in on this?

Kevin Drum 11:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PATRIOT GAMES....Carl Hulse and Rachel Swarns in the New York Times:

As they prepare for a critical pre-election legislative stretch, Congressional Republican leaders have all but abandoned a broad overhaul of immigration laws and instead will concentrate on national security issues they believe play to their political strength.

George Packer on the Bush administration in the New Yorker:

I think what those people have done is [turned] what should be very difficult strategic policy questions into, essentially, part of a permanent campaign at home to win a political argument. I think theyve taken that more seriously, theyve given it more energy, and they consider it more important, in a way, than they do the actual conflict outside of our borders.

This is, by a long measure, the most underreported aspect of the Bush administration's war on terror. Not that they're pursuing the wrong strategy though they are but that in the end they don't really care that much one way or the other. Winning the war has always been secondary to winning elections.

Kevin Drum 12:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

Bookmark and Share
September 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY LABOR DAY!....Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, here's a handy map showing how far median incomes have dropped over the past six years. And it's good news for most of you: Compared to Michigan and North Carolina you're not doing so badly after all. So stop your sniveling.

UPDATE: This map is wrong. Median incomes have dropped over the past six years, but not by this much. Corrected data is here.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (238)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEEP THOUGHTS....Noodling on the latest poverty figures, Mickey Kaus says that we may be overcounting the poor. He suggests two corrections. First, don't count new immigrants, and second:

Don't count affluent people who, by reason of their affluence, are able to take off a year with no income and therefore show up as "poor" in the income stats....You'd think the number of idle-affluent who earn no income and show up as "poor" would be increasing (as the rich get richer!). But if that's true then these people are making the "poverty rate" appear worse than it really is. If they're idle enough zero income, despite lots of assets they'll even show up as "deep poor."

Yep, that's our problem: Thanks to skyrocketing income inequality, the idle rich are more idle than ever! Get those bums off the poverty rolls!

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

Bookmark and Share
September 3, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MAC vs. PC....Today was a very pleasant day that was ruined surprise! by an encounter with a Windows PC. I mention this only to give Mac users a free pass to gloat in comments. Linux folks should feel free to chime in too.

As you know, I have a low tolerance for this kind of thing when it's off topic. Today, though, it is the topic. Gloat away.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (157)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ABORTION IS MUR MILDLY DISAGREEABLE....Jonathan Rauch reviews Ramesh Ponnuru's Party of Death today in the New York Times. Over at NRO, Jonah Goldberg calls the review "fair and sensible" and says Rauch is "one of the sharpest minds and most decent souls around." Here's what Rauch says:

Eight-week-old fetuses do not differ from 10-day-old babies in any way that would justify killing the former, [Ponnuru] writes. The law will either treat the fetus as a human being with a right to be protected from unjust killing or it will not. If those are the only choices, and if the right position is that an early-term fetus is a full-fledged person, why not impose jail terms on women who seek abortions? After all, they are taking out a contract for murder. Instead of confronting that question, Ponnuru equivocates, mumbling that the pro-life movement does not necessarily seek jail time for women and that fining doctors and revoking medical licenses might suffice.

....Ponnuru says the issue should be returned to the states and abortion then banned in increments. He does not say what he thinks abortion law should finally look like, or how the hardest cases should be handled, or what to do about the surreptitious abortions that a ban would inevitably bring (though he does observe that antibiotics have made black-market abortions safer). One can be sure that if he were on the other side of the issue, he would zestfully denounce those omissions as tactical pirouettes.

This is pretty much precisely the question all the rest of us have been asking Ponnuru all along. But back when we were asking it we were berated for not taking the issue seriously and not confronting Ponnuru's razor-sharp moral logic. But now that Rauch brings it up, it's "fair and sensible."

Whatever. I'll take what I can get, I guess. But can we now finally get a straightforward answer to this question without the usual shilly shallying? In Ponnuru's world, why should people who murder fetuses or allow their fetuses to be murdered get off with nothing more than a stern warning?

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (173)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE TWO T'S....The New York Time reports today on Karl Rove's strategy for the midterm elections. Unsurprisingly, it's the same as his strategy in 2002 and 2004:

Mr. Rove...has settled on a narrow strategy to try to minimize Congressional losses while tending to Mr. Bushs political strength. The White House will reprise the two Ts of its successful campaign strategy since 2002: terrorism and turnout.

This is why I think it's curious to hear Brad DeLong say this about the Republican Party: "I do think that there is hope that they will come to their senses and that building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward will be possible and is our best chance."

I'd like to believe that too, but there's just no evidence of it. Over the past 30 years the Republican Party has gone from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney i.e., from conservative to reactionary to crazy to batshit insane and Rove's "two T's" are further evidence that they have no intention of rowing this back. They're obviously getting more desperate in the face of possible electoral defeat this November, but other than that they're just doubling down on the same old strategy of cultural bloodletting in the service of economic plutocracy.

For all the talk of Joe Lieberman being "purged" from the Democratic Party last month, that was a one-off deal. It's the Republican Party that's been steadily (but relentlessly) purging moderates for the past couple of decades, swearing electoral death on anyone who refuses to accept Grover Norquist's screwball economic ideas. The result is that there's virtually no one left in the party who can be described as a moderate, and the party's continued existence depends wholly on nurturing the most radical elements of its base and then radicalizing them even further.

That's not a strategy Democrats should emulate, but at the same time it certainly doesn't bode well for the prospect of the Republican leadership coming to its senses and building pragmatic technocratic policy coalitions from the center outward. I think the party's leaders know perfectly well that if they were to pause their project of radicalizing the conservative base for even a short while, the party would literally implode.

Then again, maybe I haven't thought about it hard enough. Perhaps centrist Republicanism is poised and ready for a comeback. Maybe.

Kevin Drum 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (166)

Bookmark and Share
September 2, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES....Brad DeLong says something worth starting a conversation over:

When I read Paul [Krugman's] call for "smart, bold populism," I am reminded of earlier calls a couple of decades ago by Milton Friedman, Marty Feldstein, and their ilk for smart, bold conservatism or smart, bold libertarianism. But they did not get what they ordered: on the economic policy front the policies of Reagan and of Bush II have been a horrible botch. What populist policies that we can think of would be smart? And how can we make our high politicians allergic to populist policies that are stupid?

I would have agreed with this 15 years ago. And I am enough of a temperamental moderate to agree with it still emotionally, anyway.

But one has to respond to reality, no? And given the current political and economic climate in the United States, what are the odds that David Sirota will succeed in leading howling mobs onto the streets with pitchforks and torches? About zero, right?

The reality is that, in a way that's invisible to most Americans, the economy has gotten fantastically out of kilter over the past quarter century. Bill Clinton did a little bit to get it heading back in the right direction, but he didn't do enough and he didn't have much time to do it. Eight years out of the past 26 was too little to make a serious dent.

So what to do? We now have an enormous tide to swim against, and let's face it: sober, incremental, smart rhetoric just isn't going to change things. Incendiary rhetoric, by contrast, might and discomfiting though it may be, it's hardly likely to lead to incendiary policy. We don't live in Weimar Germany. Sure, a few stupid policies are bound to emerge from all the talk, but more likely it will merely succeed in scaring a few people into turning the battleship a few degrees.

None of this means that serious economists like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong should deliberately advocate stupid policies, or even that they should refrain from criticizing stupid policies. Nonetheless, we desperately need radically more attention paid to full employment policies; to labor organization in service industries; to the distributional inequities of free trade policies; to national healthcare; and to significantly more progressive taxation. It seems unlikely to me that we can get it without a sea change in public opinion, and that won't happen without breaking a few eggs.

I probably won't be one of the egg breakers. Not my style. Maybe Brad and Paul won't be either. But I'm willing to sit back and let other people do it without kibitzing too much.

Unless, of course, someone comes up with a realistic alternative that can still produce serious change. So far, no one has.

Kevin Drum 6:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (172)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....If you are tempted to create a fake screen name and use it to comment favorably on stuff you yourself have written on the internet the kids call this "sock puppetry" don't.

That is all.

Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ORWELLIAN?....NOT QUITE....Kevin Carey is the author of "Is Our Students Learning?" our cover story this month suggesting that we have surprisingly little information about whether our universities are actually educating anyone. Today he's back with another guest post. Kevin says universities are now hyping bogus privacy concerns in an effort to prevent anyone from collecting the data that might hold them accountable for their performance.

From Kevin Carey: In response to a recent proposal by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, the Department of Education wants to gather information about individual college students in order to upgrade its long-established system of reporting public data about individual colleges and universities. Individual student records wouldn't be released to the public and the department would be able to create a whole lot of needed public information about institutional performance. That's why I endorsed the plan in a recent Monthly article, as did the president of private Lewis & Clark College in a Washington Post op-ed published a couple of days ago.

On Friday, however, the New York Times reported that the FBI has been accessing federal student loan records as part of post-9/11 anti-terrorism investigations, adding fuel to an uncharacteristically strident and public debate in the higher education community about student privacy rights and federal data.

Critics of the proposed data system, who've basically called it the precursor to an Orwellian police state, jumped on the FBI program as an excuse to condemn the Education Department's entire data gathering effort. David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the plan's most high-profile critic, said that the program "confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put."

Two things in response.

First: Really? An anti-terrorism investigation that involves looking into whether people have or have not received students loans, data that could just as easily be gotten from for-profit student loan companies (who, as it happens, created their own private version of the proposed national student database ten years ago and have been maintaining and building it ever since): that's your "worst fear"? If so, there's not much to worry about here. My worst fears about data privacy involve a combination of government-controlled closed-circuit video monitors in my family room and having the intimate details of my American Express bill published on "MySpace." But that's just me.

Second: What this really highlights is the need for sensible, transparent law and policy when it comes to government data and privacy. Sometimes the government needs to gather and store personal information about citizens. The IRS is one example, federal student loans is another. Sometimes the government, particularly law enforcement, needs limited, confidential access to information reasonable people wouldn't want made public, like financial records or who you called on your cell phone last week.

The best way to keep the government from overstepping those bounds and I'm as sensitive as anyone to the potential for abuse, particularly given the current administration isn't to prevent needed data from ever being gathered in the first place. It's to establish strong, reasonable laws around about how that data can be used, and then enforce those laws vigorously. The FBI program seems limited and targeted, the article suggests that it had already been publicly disclosed, and no one seems to think that laws have been broken. I wouldn't want it to go any further, but that seems reasonable to me.

But the real agenda of the private colleges isn't protecting student privacy it's protecting institutional privacy, keeping information about how well they serve their students out of the public eye. When that's your goal, any excuse to cloud a very real debate about privacy will do.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ: STILL WORSE THAN YOU THINK IT IS....The Pentagon's quarterly assessment of conditions in Iraq was released on Friday:

Attacks and civilian deaths in Iraq have risen sharply in recent months, with casualties increasing by 1,000 a month, and sectarian violence has engulfed larger areas of the country, the Pentagon said Friday in a strikingly dismal report to Congress.

...."This is a pretty sober report," said Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of Defense for international security. "The last quarter has been rough. The level of violence is up. And the sectarian quality of the violence is particularly acute and disturbing."

....Administration officials, for example, repeatedly have emphasized that recent violence has been concentrated in Baghdad. The new report notes that violence has increased in Diyala, Mosul and Kirkuk as the sectarian conflict has spread to those cities.

In other words, they've been lying. Even when the Bushies switch into their pre-election war-of-civilizations mode, the happy talk continues. Three years of Republican occupation in Iraq has had about the same effect on their country as six years of Republican rule has had on ours.

Kevin Drum 12:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

Bookmark and Share
September 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OWES YOU $20,000....The Democratic Strategist has a roundtable discussion in its September issue that pretty neatly encapsulates my own inability to figure out what economic message will work for liberals. To start, the authors of the main article make an excellent point:

Part of the problem is that Democrats have been misled about the state of the middle class. Progressive economists typically peg median household income at about $45,000. But that includes households headed by 22-year olds (who are on their way up) and 76-year olds (who live on fixed incomes that may be small but are often comfortable since they have no dependents and limited work related expenses).

Among households headed by prime age Americans adults between the ages of 26 and 59 the median household income is about $63,000.

This is a badly underappreciated point: America is a very rich country. People still have economic worries, but the plain fact is that the vast majority of Americans are well enough off that their financial status is not the overwhelmingly most powerful fact of their lives. Like it or not, this means that for about 70-80% of the population, raw appeals to economic populism just don't have much salience.

But here's the problem: the two rebuttals that have been posted so far also make sense. John Halpin says: "The problem lies with a Democratic Party establishment that is unwilling or unable to call it like it is in a larger sense....explaining to Americans how the GOP-controlled system is rigged against the middle class on everything from taxation and social spending to corporate welfare and military service."

Hear hear. And Elizabeth Warren writes: "Today, a fully-employed, median-earning male makes about $800 less than his counterpart made back in 1972. But costs for many of the basics housing, health insurance, transportation, college educations-continued to rise."

Halpin and Warren are right: Republicans have rigged the system to overwhelmingly favor the rich and the result has been stagnation and increasing insecurity for the middle class. But the reason Republicans been able to get away with this is that stagnation at a household income of $63,000 isn't all that bad.

So how do we get this point across? Here's the basic message:

  1. In 1970, the median income for workers age 35-44 was $29,000 (in today's dollars).

  2. Today, the median income for the same worker is $32,000.

  3. During that time, total income (adjusted for population) has increased by about 80%. If that growth had been spread evenly instead of going predominantly to the already rich, the median income of a middle-aged worker today would be $52,000. That's a difference of 20 grand. (And no, counting healthcare benefits doesn't change this calculation very much.)

I dunno. Is that enough to get people pissed? If middle-class income had merely kept pace with economic growth, your $32,000 job would instead be paying you $52,000. But it's not. And the reason is that virtually all of the economic growth of the past three decades has been funneled into the pockets of the well-off, the rich, and the super-rich.

And yet, that $52,000 number is just airy theorizing. And $32,000 isn't so bad. And the Steelers are playing this weekend. So how do we get people to pay attention to this?

Kevin Drum 2:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (176)

Bookmark and Share
By: T.A. Frank

Over at Stats.org, Rebecca Goldin has thrown an unfriendly tomato at the Washington Monthlys college rankings, calling our efforts bizarre and absurd. She also describes the Monthly itself as a scrappy political magazine perpetually strapped for cash. Well, on the latter point, no fair give us something we can refute.

But, to return to the former, I think, quite frankly, Dr. Goldin misses the point of the rankings. (Unless shes talking about our desperate bid to attract credulous media coverage and sell magazines, which, of course, is always a point.) The first indication of the trouble comes when Goldin writes that we have weird metrics for distinguishing academic brilliance and that the idea that there are over one hundred better college choices than Cal Tech suggests that the Monthly has demoted common sense and elevated the absurd.

Hang on now: that idea isnt one that were floating. As the guide explains, we arent measuring academic brilliance, if by that one means the quality of the learning (for more on why, see this piece), and we certainly arent saying that prospective students have one hundred better college choices than Cal Tech. As we make clear, this isnt a guide to where you should park your tuition dollars. Its a guide that offers plaudits to schools that are giving back to the country and attempts view the idea of best through a different prism: not whats best for you, but best for the country. (In the debate over whether Americans have the best healthcare in the world the same issues arise: best for whom?) You might not like our emphasisindeed, Goldin does not (The Washington Monthlys Misplaced Values is the heading of one section) but thats really a separate issue from whether we meet our goals.

So do we meet our goals? Well, there's no doubt that if we had all the data we wanted to have, theres a lot more that wed include in our measurements. But any measurements are limited by the simple fact that, as Rummy might say, you go to rankings with the data you have. Overall, I think we did pretty well.

But that doesnt seem to be what fundamentally gets under Goldins skin anyway. Rather, its the very goals we set out that seem to bother her. Rankings should reflect how good a job a university does at fulfilling its mission, she informs us, and the university mission is not primarily social mobility or community service, but research and education. I see. I thought the point of our rankings was to challenge precisely such notions, to broaden the university mission and highlight other worthy priorities. Maybe people will agree and maybe they wont, but anyone who doesnt care about our priorities doesnt have to care about our list. For that matter, Dr. Goldin is free to come up with her own priorities and make her own list. Hey we did.

T.A. Frank 1:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

POWERFUL WOMEN....I don't really have any trenchant commentary to add to this, but I thought I'd post the top 20 entries from Forbes' latest list of the most powerful women in the world. Condi Rice has been demoted to #2 after a two-year reign at the top, and Oprah Winfrey continues to be more important than both the president of Chile and the prime minister of New Zealand. Katie Couric comes in at a dismal #54. Americans make up the vast majority of the top 20, but other countries get a bit more recognition as you go further down the list. Queen Elizabeth's occupation, perplexingly, is listed as NA. She's a queen, isn't she?

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NEEDED: MORE TABLE THUMPING....Rosa Brooks writes today about (shhh!) the power of AIPAC and the broader Israel lobby to enforce an atmosphere in which "it just isn't possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism." Well, maybe so, and I agree with her that the recent attacks on Human Rights Watch were way over the top. But here's the part that's always struck me as the most remarkable:

How did adopting a reflexively pro-Israel stance come to be a mandatory aspect of American Jewish identity? Skepticism a willingness to ask tough questions, a refusal to embrace dogma has always been central to the Jewish intellectual tradition. Ironically, this tradition remains alive in Israel, where respected public figures routinely criticize the government in far harsher terms than those used by Human Rights Watch.

Anyone who reads the Israeli press even occasionally recognizes that this is true. Internal debate in Israel is robust and covers a remarkably wide spectrum. And not just among fringe pressure groups either. This diversity extends all the way to top politicians and gets aired on the op-ed pages of Israel's biggest newspapers. You can routinely read stuff there that would curl your nose hairs if it were printed in the pages of the Washington Post.

Of course, that's just generally true of American opinion, which is constrained to a surprisingly narrow range of views. We could use more table thumping over here.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

RICH GETTING RICHER....NEWS AT 11....Good news, comrades! Revisions to last quarter's economic data show that wages and salaries grew faster than initially estimated:

As a result, wages and salaries no longer make up the smallest share of the gross domestic product since World War II. They accounted for 46.1 percent of all economic output in the second quarter, down from a high of 53.6 percent in 1970 but up from 45.4 percent in the spring of 2005.

Boo yah! Sure, compensation is down seven percentage points over the past three decades, but it's no longer the lowest on record. Go team!

Of course, there's always a skunk at the garden party, isn't there?

Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR, said that much of the income increase probably went to people who work on Wall Street or for hedge funds. The biggest spike occurred in the first quarter, when financial companies typically pay bonuses. Other data, including Labor Department figures on wage growth and private-sector surveys on consumer confidence, suggested that most families were not receiving pay increases that outpaced inflation.

If this were more widely spread around, Mr. Shapiro said, we would be seeing it in readings on confidence and sentiment. It tends to indicate this is pretty concentrated on the upper end.

As Andrew Tobias is fond of saying, it's a grand time to be rich in America. For the rest of us, at least we get to watch.

Kevin Drum 12:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (185)

Bookmark and Share



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly