Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SURVEILLANCE....Speaking of Nancy Pelosi, here's part of the latest tirade aimed in her direction from desperate conservatives. This is from Thomas Sowell over at National Review:

As regards the war on terrorism and the terrorists war against the west, Nancy Pelosi has opposed having international phone calls to and from terrorists monitored by American intelligence agencies.

This is, flatly, a lie. Pelosi, like many Democrats, opposes NSA surveillance of American residents without a warrant. That is all she opposes. Period.

The rest of the piece isn't much more honest. But this business of liberals "opposing surveillance of terrorists" is McCarthyish mendacity of the worst kind. Even National Review should be embarrassed to peddle it.

Kevin Drum 7:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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By: Kevin Drum

A SEARING SYMBOL?....The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer says that Nancy Pelosi has "emerged as a searing symbol of the country's deep partisan divide." Bob Somerby comments:

The notion that Pelosi has emerged as a searing symbol of the country's deep partisan divide is, of course, pure RNC claptrap....Meanwhile, can you think of a single Democrat for whom Pelosi embodies their raw antipathy for the Republican Party? Is such a person alive on Earth? Funny Steinhauer doesnt name any such person. And no one is quoted saying such things, not even anonymously.

The reason, of course, is that it's solely Republicans who have spent the past few months trying to rally the troops with their laughable Pelosi-as-Grim-Reaper demagoguery. But as Steinhauer knows perfectly well, the truth is that Pelosi is only a symbol of partisan divide to the extent that Republicans have insisted on trying to make her one for their own purely partisan reasons. (Namely, that it's all they've got this election cycle.) In the real world Pelosi has gone to extraordinary lengths to present a moderate face and a moderate agenda. Jon Chait reminds you of that agenda here in case you've forgotten it.

POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of Pelosi, did anyone see the 60 Minutes segment about her a week ago? I read a lot of comments disparaging CBS for "fawning" over her two weeks before the election, but it sure didn't seem like an especially warm profile to me. I didn't write about it at the time, which means my memory has grown dim, but it seemed distinctly unfriendly to me. Am I off base here, or did it strike other people that way too?

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (158)

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By: Kevin Drum

NO MORE SEX!....The Bush administration is now in the business of encouraging adults to stop having sex? Seriously? And they accuse liberals of using government power in the service of utopian social engineering?

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (160)

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By: Kevin Drum

TIMETABLES....The LA Times reports that high-ranking military officers are warming up to the idea of deadlines and timetable in Iraq:

"Deadlines could help ensure that the Iraqi leaders recognize the imperative of coming to grips with the tough decisions they've got to make for there to be progress in the political arena," said a senior Army officer who has served in Iraq. He asked that his name not be used because he did not want to publicly disagree with the stated policy of the president.

....Some in the military argue that publicizing a timetable for reducing forces is far less damaging to a counterinsurgency campaign than the administration has suggested.

Many officers, particularly those who adhere to the military philosophy of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired Army general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe that deadlines are necessary to avoid getting mired in an endless war fueled by enmity between Iraq's long-subjugated Shiite population and the Sunni Arabs who ran the government under Saddam Hussein.

Two years ago, this might have done some good. Today, I'm not so sure, though it's certainly worth a try.

Regardless, it's nice to hear that there are at least a few rumblings among the officer corps. Three decades ago, after the Vietnam War, they swore they'd speak up before they'd allow the civilian leadership to lead them into a ditch again without protest, but that's pretty much what they've done in Iraq. If the Iraq debacle reminds them of that promise, at least it will have accomplished something.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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October 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

LATEST POLLING....Via Mickey Kaus, here's the latest round of robo-polling from Majority Watch. It suggests Democrats will pick up at least 20 seats, and possibly as many as 38 if they run the table in the "Weak D" districts. For now, I'll stick with my prediction of a 23-seat pickup though it's starting to look like I might be on the low side.

Kevin Drum 7:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

YO-YO MA....This is way off the beaten path, but take a look at Mark Swed's lead in his review of Yo-Yo Ma's performance in Los Angeles on Friday:

Yo-Yo Ma is the world's most popular cellist. That is not to say that he is the world's finest cellist. The Finnish virtuoso Anssi Karttunen, for one, can more effectively make Elliott Carter's Cello Concerto sound like music than can Ma, although it was written for him. Others play bluegrass, tangos and Kyrgyz traditional music more authentically than he.

I don't know much about classical music, and I know even less about Ma. I certainly don't have an opinion about whether he's the finest cellist in the world or not.

But what on earth was the meaning of that paragraph? A Finnish cellist plays one particular piece better than Ma? There are other cellists better versed in Kyrgyz traditional music (!) than Ma? WTF?

Can somebody knowledgable help me out here? What am I supposed to take away from this?

Kevin Drum 7:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS, LIBERALS, AND RELIGION....Scott Lemieux comments about Democrats and religion:

I have a lot of problems with Amy Sullivan's recent piece about the opportunities allegedly presented by David Kuo's new book. First of all, I reject her entire premise that Democratic politicians don't reach out to religious believers, and since she never mentions the names of prominent Democrats who treat believers with contempt it's impossible to evaluate her claims.

You know, I have two diametrically opposed responses to this. The first is that I've long had the same question as Scott about the Democratic Party's supposed religious phobia. Who are these Democrats who are insufficiently zealous in their religious outreach? Can anybody name even one? The plain fact is that every single Democrat in Congress claims to be religious, and none of them ever shows the slightest disrespect toward either Christianity or any other faith. Quite the contrary, in fact.

But my second response is: Give me a break. We all know perfectly well that it's the ACLU that fights every last expression of religion in the public square as if it really were the end times. (And don't even try to pretend the ACLU is anything but a liberal organization. Save it for the gullible.) It's liberals who gripe about "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. It's liberals who cheered when prayer was outlawed in public schools. It's liberals who fight even a nickel of public funding for parochial schools. It's liberals who write books like Kingdom Coming. It's liberals who disparage the anti-evolution crowd as thickwitted neanderthals.

And you know what? I agree with all that. I think the ACLU is great, I don't think government bureaucrats (i.e., teachers) should be pressing religion on little kids, and I have nothing but contempt for the self-righteous blowhards who want to turn high school biology classes into Sunday School. At the same time, I'm not so delusional that I don't realize that a lot of people view these positions as fundamentally anti-religious. I may not agree, but it's not as if this perspective has simply sprung out of thin air.

So let's get real: It's true that Democratic politicians are uniformly respectful toward religion, but it's equally true that the Democratic Party responds to liberal concerns, and that means it's more sympathetic than the Republican Party is to a whole raft of positions that even some moderate believers view as anti-religious. Maybe Democrats should do something about this, maybe they shouldn't. We all have our own take on that. But it's not as if the problem is just a figment of Amy Sullivan's imagination.

Kevin Drum 6:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (148)

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By: Kevin Drum

ONE WEEK STILL TO GO....From the "Just When You Think They Can't Sink Any Lower" file, Rick Santorum shows that they still haven't hit bottom:

"Bob Casey has invested Pennsylvania pension funds in companies with ties to terrorist-sponsoring states and states that engage in genocide," Santorum said. "Bob Casey is aiding and abetting terrorism and genocide."

I suppose the next step will for Santorum to self-righteously deny that he's impugned anyone's patriotism. At least, that's usually the next step after an attack like this.

Deeper and deeper into the muck. Truly disgusting.

Via Sullivan.

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

HUGO AND THE VOTING MACHINES....Via Mark Kleiman, I see that an e-voting company based in Venezuela is under investigation:

Federal officials are investigating whether Smartmatic, owner of Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems, is secretly controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chvez, according to two people familiar with the probe.

....Concerns about Smartmatic are keen on the eve of the Nov. 7 election, given fears that someone with unauthorized access to the electronic system could create electoral chaos. Some critics believe that if the Venezuelan government is involved, Smartmatic could be a ''Trojan horse'' designed to advance Chavez's anti-American agenda.

My guess is that there's nothing improper going on here. But who knows? What's more, if a minor round of chest-thumping xenophobia and Hugo Chvez bashing is the only thing that will get conservatives to finally pull their heads out of the sand on this issue, I guess I'm willing to pay the price. As Mark says, "Actually, I'm pleased. Maybe this will finally get the black box issue the attention it deserves."

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING AL-QAEDA....Marc Lynch has some interesting speculation today about al-Qaeda's war aims. It's based on a posting at a jihadi internet forum that makes the familiar observation that al-Qaeda wants the U.S. to continue bleeding in Iraq:

"Al-Qaeda's Scenario During the Coming Weeks" argues that the coming two weeks....will reveal whether al-Qaeda's leadership believes that this stage of direct combat has served its purpose of weakening America sufficiently. If it does, according to the author, al-Qaeda will remain silent, allowing the Democrats to win the Congressional elections and initiating a new phase of the conflict. If it does not (as the author hopes), it will intervene through a bin Laden tape or an attack on an American ally in order to ensure a Republican victory which will keep the Americans trapped in Iraq longer in order to weaken it more before moving to the next stage.

....The author doesn't know which way al-Qaeda will go, and having delivered his analysis is left sitting back and waiting to see. Total silence from al-Qaeda prior to the election should be read as a signal that its leadership believes that the time has come to move to the next phase. A tape or attack by al-Qaeda prior to the election means that its leaders are not yet satisfied with the American blood and treasure lost in Iraq and want more time before moving to the next stage. And that's where "Al-Qaeda's Scenario" leaves it.

This is interesting not so much for what it says about America's willingness to continually scare itself into doing things contrary to our own interests that's an old story but for its emphasis on what al-Qaeda's actions say about al-Qaeda itself. Is the timing and content of al-Qaeda videos the new equivalent of Beijing wall posters and May Day photographs in the Kremlin?

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING....A new report released in Britan warns that climate change will be devastating to the world economy if we don't do something about it:

The report warns unless the world moves to cut green house gases it is heading for a "catastrophic climate change" which would create the worst global recession ever seen.

....The review says failure to act early could end up costing between 5% and 20% of global GDP and render large parts of the planet uninhabitable with poor nations hit first and hardest.

Africa is likely to be most harmed by climate change and Sir Nicholas [Stern] says we have a "moral duty" to cut emissions.

Apparently the next step is for Tony Blair to persuade George Bush to help lead the world in a global effort to keep this from happening. Good luck on that, Tony.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (159)

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October 29, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE ACLU AND THE PATRIOT ACT....Thanks to changes in the Patriot Act passed earlier this year, the ACLU has dropped its legal challenge:

The lawsuit [had challenged] the part of the Patriot Act that lets federal agents obtain such things as library records and medical information. The ACLU said the revisions allow people receiving demands for records to consult with a lawyer and challenge the demands in court.

Instapundit links ominously to some guy who's convinced this was done solely for political reasons, because, you know, the ACLU is so famously gunshy about fighting for unpopular causes. And I suppose I might have gotten suckered in by this too if I hadn't spent 30 seconds reading to the end of the story:

The group also said it is continuing its legal fight against a more frequently used provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes national security letters. Such letters allow the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena.

I guess they haven't given up the fight after all, midterms or no.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS AND SOCIAL CHANGE....Over at The Corner, Jonah Goldberg recounts his bloggingheads.tv debate with Bill Scher:

Scher seems to really believe that liberalism as actually practiced over, say, the last century doesn't stand for imposing public policies on democratic majorities that don't want them....Having not met a smart liberal who actually believes this in a very long time, I was kind of flummoxed by how to respond to it.

Golly. Bill didn't accept this characterization of liberalism? That's hard to imagine, isn't it?

I don't have the patience to listen to an entire bloggingheads.tv conversation, but this claim struck me as so peculiar that I listened to a couple of minutes of it to see if maybe Jonah had just misrepresented himself in a hastily written post. Nope. He says it directly: "The idea that liberalism in America hasn't been about shoving things down people's throats is just factually untrue."

Well, it's certainly true that liberals, almost by definition, push for social change more than conservatives. And most social change doesn't gain majority support overnight. Still, Jonah's caricature is absurd as a definition specifically of liberalism, as opposed to a definition of anyone fighting for social change, whether progressive or reactionary. Every political movement worth the name starts out trying to convince the public about one thing or another, and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. When liberals succeed (civil rights, gay rights), the country eventually comes around. When liberals fail (busing, gun control), the country doesn't.

What's more, several of Jonah's examples don't even make sense. Courts as liberal, anti-democratic creatures? Judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress, and Earl Warren in particular was appointed by a Republican president and confirmed by a Republican Senate. Civil rights? That wasn't imposed by a minority. It was the final victory after many decades of a majority finally imposing its will against an obstructive minority. The American with Disabilities Act? It was signed into law by a Republican president. Most of Jonah's other examples (gay marriage, affirmative action, opposition to the death penalty) are liberal positions that have had mixed success precisely because liberals haven't been able to widely impose them on an unwilling populace. Some liberals continue to fight for these things and some don't. That's politics.

And conservatives have some unpopular notions of their own. A ban on abortion? That's not too popular, but that doesn't stop the Christian right from continuing to push for it. Terri Schiavo? Stem cells? The estate tax? Tearing down environmental regulations? Opposition to raising the minimum wage? Pretending that global warming doesn't exist? Privatizing Social Security? In all these cases just like liberals conservatives try to use elections to get their way, and if that doesn't work they try the courts, and if that doesn't work they use executive orders. They use every lever of power available to them, just like any political movement.

In the end, though, you have to win elections. If conservatives continue to do that, they'll be able to move the country closer to their vision of an ideal society. If liberals win, they'll try to do the same. I don't really see the problem here.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (180)

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October 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

EXPLAINING INCOME INEQUALITY....It's worth reading Jon Chait's entire article about rising income inequality in the New Republic this week, but for my money here's the most important factoid to lodge firmly in your brain:

Over the last quarter century, the portion of the national income accruing to the richest 1 percent of Americans has doubled. The share going to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent has tripled, and the share going to the richest one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled.

Whenever you hear someone propose an explanation for skyrocking income inequality over the past few decades, try to think about whether it explains the fact that inequality has gotten immensely worse not just between the top 20% and the bottom 20%, but between the top 1% and the 9% just below them. For example:

Greater returns to education? Do you really think that the top 1% are better educated on average than the next 9%?

Greater rewards for technical skills? Do you really think the top 1% have greater technical skills than the next 9%?


More stable families?

Race and gender?

A failure to take account of the growing value of health benefits?

Do any of these things plausibly seem like big differences between the top 1% and the next 9%? Pretty clearly they aren't. So why is the top 1% outpacing even the well-to-do who inhabit the next 9%? What's the big difference between these groups? If you're interested in reading more about this, it's below the fold.

Here's the answer: the top 1% have a lot more money. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader. Kevin Drum 8:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (141)

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By: Kevin Drum

CARDINAL BLUES....I guess we didn't have to wait very long for a USC loss after all. Four turnovers was just a few too many. Nice comeback try, though.

The pollsters have been itching to demote USC all season long. Now that they've lost, will they even stay in the top ten?

Kevin Drum 7:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

WALL STREET JOURNAL WATCH....Brad DeLong has a long post today about Greg Mankiw's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed endorsing higher gasoline taxes. You should read the whole thing (it's an interesting discussion), but since this is a weekend I just want to highlight the objection raised by the estimable Scott Hodge, President of the Tax Foundation:

The French have some of the highest gas taxes in Europe yet remain 100% dependent on foreign oil.

It's true! There are no oil fields anywhere within the boundaries of the French Republic, which necessarily means that if the French use even a single liter of oil, they will be 100% dependent on foreign oil. For the same reason, the United States remains dangerously dependent on foreign supplies of cocoa beans, bananas, and high-quality Gouda cheese.

Scott Hodge apparently has a low assessment of the IQ of the Wall Street Journal's opinion page readers. The editors of the Wall Street Journal opinion page seem to share this assessment. I wonder if their readers know this?

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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October 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION....So: is single-sex education a good thing or a bad thing? Over at Unfogged, Becks says she likes it:

I went to a single-sex high school and believe I got far more out of it than I would have in a coeducational setting....I'd always been outspoken in class but it wasn't until I was at an all-girls school that I felt my comments were heard and challenged. It's one thing to speak up in class with an opinion and have it ignored or dismissed and entirely another to be engaged and forced to defend it.

Brad Plumer disagrees. He takes a look at what Louisiana wants to do with single-sex schools and thinks the practical result would be grim:

The Louisiana plan would put boys in "competitive, high-energy teams" while girls would be "encouraged to take their shoes off." And so on. (Maybe female students can learn math by counting how many shirts they can iron in an hour.)....Sorry, whatever the academic studies might say, I can't shake the feeling that, in practice, Louisiana officials are pushing this plan in order to steer female students into home economics classes, de-emphasize real learning, and teach girls how to act like "proper" ladies.

As with so many issues in education, my first reaction is that experimentation is a good thing. Give it a try and see how it works. If it turns out as badly as Brad suggests, we can always kill it later.

It turns out, though, that my real fear is just the opposite: what if we try it and Becks turns out to be right? What if it works? Does that mean we just give up on the whole idea of figuring out how to make co-ed education work? I can't be the only one who thinks that would be a bad idea, can I?

There are all sorts of problems of race, gender, class, religion, and so forth that can seemingly be ameliorated by simple segregation. But that just caves in to the problem, essentially declaring it unsolvable, rather than acknowledging it and continuing to search for solutions. I have a hard time believing that this does anybody any good in the long term.

But....still....there's the whole experimentation argument. And it's a strong one. Count me as still on the fence on this one.

Kevin Drum 6:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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By: Kevin Drum

JUMPING AT SHADOWS....James Joyner links today to a pair of critics who warn that withdrawing from Iraq would "play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists" (Peter Bergen) and cause al-Qaeda to "rejoice" (Michael Scheuer).

That may be true. But what's missing here is what happens if we stay in Iraq: it will play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists and cause al-Qaeda to rejoice. This is the position that George Bush's blinkered view of national security has gotten us into: al-Qaeda improves its position no matter what happens. If we stay in Iraq, it's a substantive win because it helps recruiting and provides a cause for militant jihadists to rally around. If we leave, Osama & Co. will claim that they caused the mighty United States to leave with its tail between its legs.

So which is worse? A substantive victory for al-Qaeda or a round of theatrical, breast-beating propaganda videos on al-Jazeera? That's actually a harder question to answer than it seems, but it's still not that hard. If our foreign policy is focused primarily on the fear of what our enemies might say about us rather than on the substance of what's really happening, we're helpless. Al-Qaeda will always claim victory, after all.

Kevin Drum 5:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE C-WORD....Ramesh Ponnuru, responding to a sensible letter from a reader, gives the stem cell game away. After complaining that Michael J. Fox's ad for Claire McCaskill didn't explain the details of stem cell research in enough detail, he says this:

People don't know much about these issues, and the pro-cloning side has revised the lexicon repeatedly over the last four years to keep people off balance. Everyone doesn't know that Fox is talking about human cloning.

The extremist pro-life forces are bound and determined that no discussion of stem cell research should be allowed unless it includes the word "cloning." Why? Because it's scary. It brings to mind The Boys From Brazil and warehouses stacked with human bodies ready to have their organs harvested.

Needless to say, supporters of stem cell research tend to avoid the word for the same reason. And they should. Therapeutic cloning, in which microscopic groups of cells are duplicated in order to provide embryonic stem cells for research, isn't scary at all. Unless you take the extreme position that a blastocyst is a human person, there's simply no reason to connect this kind of research to reproductive cloning (i.e., the scary kind).

But pro-life extremists want to scare people. So they insist that any discussion that doesn't include the C-word is dishonest. That's horsepucky.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, who are these people who Ponnuru says are opposed to adult stem cell research? This is a genuine question. I've never heard of anyone taking this position.

UPDATE: A reader who's familiar with the stem cell debate writes to explain the origin of the claim that some people oppose adult stem cell research:

It comes from the opposition of some Democrats to the Santorum-Specter bill, introduced at the same time as the embryonic stem cell bill that Bush vetoed earlier this year. Santorum-Specter would have required the NIH to pursue alternative methods of making stem cells without destroying embryos. Ponnuru thinks that because some Democrats opposed Santorum-Specter (and ultimately killed it in the House), that means they're opposed to adult stem cell research. Kathryn Jean Lopez has called it the "embryos-or-nothing" school.

Total bunk. NIH is already free to fund alternative methods of making stem cells. In FY 2005, NIH received $199 million in funding for research on human non-embryonic stem cells, vs. $40 million for work on human embryonic stem cells. There's absolutely no statutory restriction on adult stem cell work, and no one has proposed such a thing. Santorum-Specter was a superfluous earmark, but a convenient way for Republicans opposed to embryonic stem cell research to say they voted for stem cell research.

It's fair for Ponnuru & Lopez to argue that alternative methods are morally preferable to research involving embryos. But it's bizarre and cynical for them to pretend that anyone actively opposes research on adult stem cells. No one does.

More details here.

Kevin Drum 3:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Kevin Drum

IDIOCY WATCH....Sam Brownback: doing his best to prove that Jim Inhofe isn't the worst senator in the country. Steve Benen has the details.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GRANDEUR OF THE PRESIDENCY....What's the most addle-brained thing George Bush said during his sit-down with conservative columnists on Wednesday? It's a tough choice, so I'm going to let you make it. Here are the nominees:

  1. Bush: "Iran empowered Hezbollah, Hezbollah takes the attack, and which creates an interesting dynamic, and it gives us an opportunity to fashion kind of an alliance of reasonable people headed toward a clash all kinds of different ways, by the way with extremists and radicals."

    Matt Yglesias: It's easy to get distracted by the fact that Bush doesn't seem familiar with the English language and miss the fact that beneath the garbled syntax Bush is making a clear and utterly incorrect factual claim here that the upshot of the war was to cement an alliance between the United States, Israel, and moderate forces in the Arab world.

  2. Bush: "One of the stories interesting stories I tell is about the fellow that came here. He got kidnapped and he was rescued pretty early by our Delta team. I said, 'What's it like to be kidnapped, man? It must have been weird Baghdad, to be kidnapped.'"

    Steve Benen: For some reason, reading this reminded me an episode of The West Wing called, "Posse Comitatus."....

  3. Bush: "A lot of people are just saying, 'You're not doing enough to win. We're not winning, you're not doing enough to win, and I'm frustrated, I want it over with, with victory.' And I'm trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better. I think that one way to measure is less violence than before, I guess...."

    Byron York: But that, of course, leads back to the president's statement that the enemy gets to define victory by killing people. If the sectarian forces are able to keep up the killing, then they will determine who wins in Iraq. [Kinda weak, Byron. Needs more snark. You can do better. ed]

  4. Bush: "If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves, and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East."

    Marc Lynch: This is just idiotic. The Sunni areas in which al-Qaeda would hope to reconstitute a base don't have any significant oil reserves this is one of the primary problems with most partition or federalism schemes.

Leave your vote in comments!

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (124)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLIP FLOPPING ON NATIONAL SECURITY....Dan Drezner thinks the national security debate has fundamentally changed in the past couple of weeks:

For the past five years, Democrats have been vulnerable on national security issues. Bush and the Republicans projected a clear image of taking the war to the enemy, and never yielding in their drive to defeat radical Islamists. The Democrats, in contrast, projected either an antiwar position or a "yes, but" position. The former looked out of step with the American people, the latter looked like Republican lite. No matter how you sliced it, the Republicans held the upper hand.

The recent rhetorical shift on Iraq, however, has flipped this phenomenon on its head. If Bush acknowledges that "stay the course" is no longer a statisfying status quo, he's acknowledging that the Republican position for the past few years has not worked out too well. If that's the case, then Republicans are forced to offer alternatives with benchmarks or timetables or whatever. The administration has had these plans before, but politically, it looks like the GOP is gravitating towards the Democratic position rather than vice versa.

If this is what the political optics look like, then the Republicans will find themselves in the awkward position of being labeled as "Democrat lite" in their positions on Iraq. And in elections, lite never tastes as good as the real thing.

The mainstream media has run plenty of stories about the meltdown in Iraq and the administration's resultant flip flopping on timelines and blueprints and so forth. But I've seen very few pieces acknowledging that, in practice, this means the administration is adopting the Democratic position from last year. Why? Because that would mean that Democrats were actually right about a major national security issue and had a more serious response to it at an earlier date than the Republicans did. And that would cause everyone's brain to explode. After all, everyone knows that Democrats aren't serious about national security. Right?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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By: Kevin Drum

SLEAZY ADVERTISING....Michael Grunwald writes an honest piece today in the Washington Post about the wildly negative campaigning going on in the Republican camp this election cycle. He briefly suggests that "some Democrats are playing rough, too" and provides a couple of examples but immediately acknowledges that virtually all Democratic ads have focused on policies and performance. Not so on the other side:

The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit.

See? It's not so hard to simply report the facts, is it?

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (93)

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By: Kevin Drum

ABORTION....Here's a bracing piece on abortion from Zoe Williams in today's Guardian. It's the kind of thing you never see in the mainstream U.S. media, because, as she says, "there are no votes to be won supporting abortion in an ideologically honest way, and lots to be lost."

I suppose so. But I agree with her anyway.

Kevin Drum 1:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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October 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TOO FAST?....Mickey Kaus objects to Andrew Sullivan's claim that New Jersey's Supreme Court "had no logical option but to apply its equal protection clause to everybody" when it unanimously decided that the state couldn't deny gay couples the same benefits that it gives to everyone else:

[T]he breathtaking speed with which this sort of radical cultural change has gone from being unmentioned to being a litmus test for all "logical" people is one of the things that worries ordinary voters and turns them into cultural conservatives.

I dunno. The Stonewall riots happened in 1969. Domestic partnership laws started springing up in the 70s and 80s. Sullivan wrote "Here Comes the Groom," an article for the New Republic that defended gay marriage, in 1989. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the state needed to show a "compelling state interest" in order to continue denying gay people the right to marry. Vermont passed a civil union law in 2000. Currently, we're in the year 2006.

Is this "breathtaking speed"? It doesn't seem like it to me, unless you want to make the case that broad social changes literally shouldn't happen until every generation that objects to them has died off. But where would that leave the Feiler Faster Thesis?

Kevin Drum 10:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSING UPDATE....Sales of new homes took a nosedive last month. By itself that's not a big surprise, but here are the details:

On a regional basis, new home sales in the West fell 13.6% in September compared to same month last year. Sales dropped 6.6% in the Northeast, 36.6% in the Midwest and 7.9% in the South, the Commerce Department said.

Sales in the Midwest are down 36.6%? What's up with that? I'm not surprised to see that the bursting of California's housing bubble has knocked the wind out of sales in the West, but there's been no bubble in the Midwest. In fact, hasn't it been the least bubble-icious region in the country for the past few years?

Very strange. In any case, this comes a day after learning that existing home sales in California dropped 32% last month, and sales for the year are 24% below 2005 levels. Some of this is because people are taking their homes off the market rather than selling them for less than they think they're worth, but I suspect that dam can hold only just so long. There's a certain number of people who don't have a choice in the matter, and eventually most of the holdouts are going to have to get back into the market.

Not looking good. Buckle your seatbelts.

Kevin Drum 5:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

IN DEFENSE OF SLEAZY ATTACK ADS....OK, not really. But just to show how out of touch I am with California politics, I didn't even realize until a few days ago that Dianne Feinstein was running for reelection. The reason for this shocking ignorance is that her opponent is a conservative nonentity who hasn't even held office since 2000, which means there's been essentially no campaign. Feinstein is a shoo-in.

Anyway, Feinstein is finally deigning to run a few ads here in The OC, and they're the most cloying, saccharine, sick-making commercials you can imagine. They star Feinstein and her granddaughter cooing at each other, followed by Feinstein telling us that she's going to continue doing a really great job for all us Californians. You can watch the whole wretched thing here if you dare.

Bah. If that's what a positive, uplifting campaign is like, I'll take the gutter. It may smell bad, but at least you still know you're still alive.

Kevin Drum 4:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

POISON PILL....Ah, the Medicare bill. The three-hour vote in the wee hours of the morning. The attempted bribery of congressman Nick Smith. The Bush administration's deliberate lies about the bill's ultimate cost. The budgetary chicanery that resulted in the infamous donut hole. The millions of dollars funneled to the cause by the pharmaceutical industry, which was desperate to make sure that the bill prevented the government from negotiating drug prices.

Hmmm. The pharmaceutical industry. Who did they funnel all their dough through? You'll be unsurprised to learn that a considerable part of it, at least, was funneled through none other than Jack Abramoff and friends. Barbara Dreyfuss tells the story this month in "Poison Pill":

Its well known that in his crusade to pass the bill, [Tom] DeLay drew on more than 800 pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists, millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and the efforts of numerous business and healthcare groups. But this grossly flawed legislation could never have passed without the help of the same players who were central to Abramoffs lobbying operation: Tony Rudy and Ed Buckham. Using a nest of nonprofits flush with corporate cash, the discredited lobbyists played a vital, albeit hidden, role in whittling down congressional opposition to the bill for more than a year before the final vote.

Read the whole thing for all the grim details.

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUNDRAISING, REPUBLICAN STYLE....A reader in Washington recently bought a house from a very conservative elderly man, and apparently the efficient folks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee have now started sending him their fundraising appeals. He sent me a copy of their latest mailing, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Basically, it's a fake survey, with the lucky recipient informed that he's been singled out to represent "all Republicans living in your voting district." Here's the pitch:

So far, it's a fairly standard hard sell direct mail piece, complete with appeals to keep "Union Bosses and other liberal special interests" from destroying our great nation at which point the recipient is repeatedly hit up to return the survey "along with your generous donation." But the best part is at the bottom:

So that's it. That's their pitch to elderly Republican voters. You MUST return this survey, and by the way, you also need to send us $11 to "cover the cost of tabulating and redistributing" the results. You can see the full mailing here.

I wonder who came up with this scam? How many elderly Republicans end up sending the NRSC $11 because they're convinced they've been specially chosen to represent their district and figure eleven bucks must be a legitimate fee of some kind? Hundreds? Thousands? Does everyone feeble-minded enough to include the $11 payment go into a special chump file for future use?

Do Democrats do stuff like this too? Am I naive to find this kind of thing revolting?

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THE 15% LIE....The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Harold Ford's Senate race in Tennessee and wonders if he really has a chance of winning:

Polls have often shown African-American candidates scoring well in the polls only to fail to clinch the election.

....Some political scientists and strategists refer to it as the "15% lie" when whites, bowing to societal pressure, tell pollsters they intend to vote for a black candidate but fail to do so in the voting booths. Indeed, several political experts believe that despite Mr. Ford's strong showing in the polls, some whites may desert him at the last minute. "We'll get the non-surprise surprise when Ford doesn't get the vote," says Thomas F. Schaller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland and author of a new book, "Whistling Past Dixie," which argues that most of the South is beyond Democrats' reach.

The problem is that even if Ford ends up doing worse than the polls show, there might be other factors at play. I've always suspected, for example, that in close races there's a small but significant number of voters who can't bring themselves to vote against their usual party, even if they planned to do so when they walked into the polling place. Thus, I figure that Republican candidates in reddish states like Tennessee and Missouri are actually doing a little better than the polls show, while Democratic candidates in bluish states like Maryland and New Jersey are doing better than you'd think.

I don't think this effect is anything like 15%, but in a close election even 2-3% is more than enough. This is why I suspect, in the end, Democrats will gain Senate seats this year, but not quite enough seats to make Harry Reid majority leader.

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TORTELLINI....A couple of years ago Stephanie Mencimer wrote an article for us called "False Alarm," about the myth of America's "lawsuit crisis." She has since turned the article into a book, Blocking the Courthouse Door, due out in December. (I'll be reviewing it for an upcoming issue.)

As with all good book authors these days, she's created a blog to help promote the book. It's called The Tortellini, and today she tells us about one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's more transparent efforts to pretend he was solving California's budget crisis after his election in 2003. The idea was to skim off 75% of all punitive damage awards to the state, supposedly raising $450 million:

When the so-called "split-recovery" law lapsed in July, it had generated exactly zero dollars for the state coffers. No surprise there. Punitive damages are really rare. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that of the 356 civil trials that resulted in punitive damages in 2001 in the nation's biggest counties, only nine resulted in an award larger than $10 million, and that's before they were appealed. The median award was a mere $50,000. There weren't enough punitive damage awards in the whole country to fill California's budget gap.

That's our out-of-control tort system for you. And as Stephanie points out, everyone who voted for the California measure, Democrats and Republicans alike, knew perfectly well it wouldn't raise any money. But it sells well with the rubes, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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October 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ATTACK DOGS....Via Atrios, I see that ABC News is running a story today about right-wing attack ads. The story acknowledges that "the nastiest rhetoric right now is coming from the political right," and Jake Tapper and Greg McCown document this with several examples. Then they end with this:

Democrats aren't necessarily running clean campaigns, though. As the races tighten in the next couple of weeks, the left will likely unleash its garbage as well.

Needless to say, they present exactly zero evidence for this.

I'm not breaking any new ground here when I say that this is, as usual, inexplicable. Sure, neither party is simon pure, but Tapper and McCown know perfectly well that the nauseating and polarized nature of modern American politics is almost entirely a Republican invention. From Lee Atwater to Rush Limbaugh to Newt Gingrich to Ken Starr to Tom DeLay to the Rove/Bush/Cheney machine, the Republican Party has pioneered a scorched-earth approach to politics that Democrats have never come close to matching. Their destruction of congressional traditions in the service of power has gone immensely farther than anything Democrats did when they were in power. Their deliberate and single-minded fealty to K Street lobbyists makes Democrats look like pikers.

Tapper and McCown know this. But they still insist on acting as if somehow both parties are equally responsible for this state of affairs.

I know I'm a partisan observer. But no one who's followed politics for the past decade or two can pretend not to know how we got where we are today. For some reason, though, they sure do try.

Kevin Drum 8:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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LATEST HOUSE SURVEY....Greenberg Quinlan Rosner just finished a survey of the 50 most competitive House seats currently held by Republicans. Respondents were asked about the candidates in their districts by name, and the results were pretty positive for Democrats:

In the top tier of the most competitive 16 seats, the Democrats have increased their lead to 8 points, 52 to 44 percent; in the second tier of 17 seats, the Democrats have kept their lead of exactly 6 points (50 to 44 percent). In both cases, the named Republican candidate is only getting 44 percent of the vote.

That's 33 seats. Republicans will probably close the gap in a few of those districts over the next couple of weeks, but it doesn't seem likely they're going to close the gap in all of them. At least, not if Democrats keep fighting.

Kevin Drum 6:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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MALIKI GETS IT....Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is unhappy over the Bush administration's recent timetable talk:

"I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it," Maliki said Wednesday at a nationally televised news conference. "The Americans have the right to review their policies, but we do not believe in a timetables."

With less than two weeks to go before critical midterm elections in the United States, Maliki accused U.S. officials of election-year grandstanding, saying that deadlines were not logical and were "the result of elections taking place right now that do not involve us."

Smart man. He may be off base about our right to insist on seeing some actual results from his government, but he knows political cynicism when he sees it. The timing of George Bush's sudden enthusiasm for "blueprints" and "adjusting tactics" is no coincidence, and he knows it.

Kevin Drum 6:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN NEW JERSEY....The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that although the state constitution doesn't mandate gay marriage ("we cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this State that it ranks as a fundamental right"), it does prohibit the state from denying gay couples the same state benefits afforded to other couples:

The Legislature has recognized that the rights and benefits provided in the Domestic Partnership Act are directly related to any reasonable conception of basic human dignity and autonomy.....It is difficult to understand how withholding the remaining rights and benefits from committed same-sex couples is compatible with a reasonable conception of basic human dignity and autonomy.

....Disparate treatment of committed same-sex couples, moreover, directly disadvantages their children. We fail to see any legitimate governmental purpose in disallowing the child of a deceased same-sex parent survivor benefits under the Workers Compensation Act or Criminal Injuries Compensation Act when children of married parents would be entitled to such benefits.

....Gays and lesbians work in every profession, business, and trade. They are educators, architects, police officers, fire officials, doctors, lawyers, electricians, and construction workers. They serve on township boards, in civic organizations, and in church groups that minister to the needy. They are mothers and fathers. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends. In light of the policies reflected in the statutory and decisional laws of this State, we cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantages committed same-sex couples.

Good for them. I suppose this will spark another frenzied and cynical round of "scare the evangelicals" from Karl Rove & Co. just in time for the midterms, but you know what? Let 'em. Liberals shouldn't run scared from this stuff just because there's an election coming up.

In any case, this sounds like the right decision to me. Whether I like it or not, it seems indisputable that gay marriage simply can't be considered a "deeply rooted" tradition protected by either the New Jersey constitution or the state legislature. However, denying same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as every other taxpayer does seem prima facie forbidden by any equal-protection clause worth the name. The court did the right thing.

UPDATE: By the way, it's worth noting that the decision was essentially unanimous. Technically it was decided 4-3, but the dissenters all agreed that it was unconstitutional to deny equal rights to same-sex couples. The reason they dissented was that they felt the decision didn't go far enough. They argued that the right to marriage itself was as fundamental as all the other rights:

[B]y asking whether there is a right to same-sex marriage, the Court avoids the more difficult questions of personal dignity and autonomy raised by this case. Under the majority opinion, it appears that persons who exercise their individual liberty interest to choose same-sex partners can be denied the fundamental right to participate in a state-sanctioned civil marriage. I would hold that plaintiffs due process rights are violated when the State so burdens their liberty interests.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY....ABC News political director Mark Halperin on Bill O'Reilly's show last night:

As an economic model, if you want to thrive like Fox News Channel, you want to have a future, you better make sure conservatives find your product appealing.

Noted without comment.

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CONSERVATIVES AND STEM CELLS....Wingers are in a fantastic snit over Michael J. Fox's new ad supporting Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race because of her stand on stem cell research. It's a remarkable reaction considering how little the ad actually says (video here). Here's the complete text:

As you might know, I care deeply about stem cell research. In Missouri, you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures. Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research. Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope.

They say all politics is local, but that's not always the case. What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans. Americans like me.

Fair enough, right? Missouri has an initiative on the ballot this year that would guarantee researchers the freedom to conduct embryonic stem cell research, and McCaskill supports it while Talent doesn't. What's more, until recently Talent supported federal legislation to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer of human embryos, a promising form of stem cell research. It's a tough ad, but it addresses a legitimate issue that's important to Missourians.

So what happened? Rush Limbaugh, in his usual smugly obnoxious way, suggested that Fox was exaggerating his Parkinson's Disease in the ad, and Kathryn Jean Lopez leapt to his defense: "To make the point Rush made was not mean or heartless....It was an honesty check a worthwhile and fair one." Ramesh Ponnuru says Fox's charge is "flatly untrue" because get this Talent is not actually opposed to every single type of stem cell research in the world and Fox didn't acknowledge this in his 73-word ad. (Talent is opposed to Missouri's initiative, though, which is pretty clearly the context of the ad, and until recently he did support S.658, which would have banned some of the most promising advances in embryonic stem cell research.) Meanwhile, John Podhoretz is a voice of reason.

Actually, I'm sort of happy to see this. Too often it's been liberals who respond to tough ads with whining, but now conservatives are doing it instead and it's a sign of weakness. If conservatives want to defend Talent's position, they should go right ahead and do so. But accusing Michael J. Fox of faking his symptoms and then complaining that a 30-second spot isn't a Brookings white paper? That shows a kind of helpless desperation that it's nice to see on the other side for once.

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EMPIRE REVISITED....Yesterday I suggested that one of the reasons we're less able to subdue and occupy countries than Britain was in the days of empire is because we're less brutal than the British (and everyone else) were a century ago. Tyler Cowen votes for a different cause:

No matter how we compare American and British brutalities (we dropped many bombs on Vietnam), I place greater stock in the railroad (later the car and bus) and the radio. In the early days of British control, most Indians couldn't get within shouting distance of a fight if they wanted to. The Brits had only to control some key garrisoned cities and some trade routes. Local rulers did the rest. Radio, which spread in the 1920s, told people what was going on and cemented national consciousness. Those technologies heralded the later end of colonialism, with WWII hurrying along the new equilibrium.

I agree, especially the bit about radio. More recently, CNN and al-Jazeera have permanently changed the landscape of insurgent war, and it's a change we haven't yet come to grips with. Considering the fact that the United States is the acknowledged master of entertainment and mass communication, this is sort of ironic, but there you have it.

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ELECTION POOL....I'm not much of a horserace blogger, and I don't have any more information than anyone else about how the midterms will turn out. But with two weeks to go, how about an election pool? In comments, tell us how many House seats and how many Senate seats you think the Democrats will pick up. The winner will receive....the adulation of an adoring blog public. Or something.

I'll go with a Dem pickup of 23 seats in the House and 4 in the Senate.

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NEW RULE....Shorter Frederick Kagan: Losing in Iraq would be the worst catastrophe imaginable, and we can't allow it to happen. However, like everyone else who feels this way, I decline to suggest any plausible plan for winning.

I think the punditocracy needs a new rule: you're not allowed to pontificate about the importance of winning in Iraq unless you're also willing to make concrete suggestions about how to make that happen. More troops? Tell us how many and where they're going to come from. Help from Syria and Iran? Tell us what you think they can offer us and what you'd be willing to put on the table to get their help. Partition? Convince us that the Iraqis would be willing to peacefully accept this. Etc.

If you're not willing to do any of this, then write about something else.

Kevin Drum 12:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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October 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SEEING GREEN....The American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen the year's best magazine covers, and I'm seriously underwhelmed. Were these really the most compelling covers of the entire year?

Mostly, though, I was intrigued by the winner in the Celebrity category, a Harper's Bazaar cover featuring actress Julianne Moore. Here's what the New York Times said about it:

The awards panel said in a statement that the Julianne Moore cover was a breakthrough on several levels. Ms. Moore is not automatically perceived as someone whose picture alone can sell magazines. On this cover, her face is partially obscured by her red hair. She is not flashing a big smile. And her dress and the type used on the cover are green, a color often worn by redheads but one that has traditionally been considered poison on the newsstand.

Really? Green is newstand poison? Am I the only person on the planet who didn't know this?

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By: Kevin Drum

GET TO WORK!....Prof B, now a fellow resident of the Golden State, visits her son's classroom:

My volunteer visit to Mrs. Smith's classroom made it clear to me that the new curriculum is *way* more demanding than elementary school was back when I was a kid....

I've talked to several different teacher acquaintances (including my dad and my aunt's best friend, both now retired), and they all say the same thing: parents are tending to wait to start kids, especially boys, in kindergarten because nowadays schools at least, the "high-performing" ones, aka the schools whose kids primarily come from the educated middle and upper middle classes really do seem to prefer kids to be beginning reading by the time they finish kindergarten and reading more or less fluently in first grade.

Hmmm. That's the same thing Linda Williamson said a few months ago. Is this because teachers prefer older kids? Because school districts want kids who are likely to score better on standardized tests, thus gaming the NCLB testing regimen? Because parents hold off a year in hopes that their kid will be king of the hill among a bunch of younger kindergartners? Because kindergarten as we used to know it doesn't really exist anymore? All of the above?

I dunno. Is this true in other states, or just California? Comments?

POSTSCRIPT: And what's up with this "Cali" stuff? Is that what East Coasters call California?

UPDATE: Apparently "Cali" comes from the 1988 LL Cool J song, "Going to Cali." Lyrics here. It will probably surprise no one that I had never heard of this, but I still have a question: Is it an East Coast thing? If it comes from the song lyric, then why?

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JUST ASKING....Conservatives have been lecturing liberals for the past few years about the fact that George Bush will be our president for the next few years whether we like it or not, so for the good of the country we ought to be supporting him instead of gleefully hoping for a failure that just hurts all of us. The stakes are high, war of civilizations, madmen with nuclear bombs, etc. etc.

So if Democrats win control of Congress this year, I expect we'll see plenty of sober, thoughtful support for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid from conservatives, right? Gotta do what's right for the country, after all.


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THE NETROOTS....In the LA Times today, political guru Ron Brownstein highlights a project from Chris Bowers at MyDD:

In an unusual grass-roots uprising, liberal Internet activists are pressing dozens of Democratic House members without serious challenges in November's election to transfer nearly one-third of their campaign cash to the party's challengers against potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents.

I thought it was interesting that Brownstein is now taking the time to follow blogs closely and report on what they're up to, and via Tapped, I see that the New York Times wrote about it as well. The times, they are a changin.

But not changing too much. Brownstein's conclusion so far? Democrats are being "cordial but resistant." In other words, they're holding onto their cash.

So far.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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EMPIRE....Niall Ferguson reprises his argument today about why the United States is unable to win in Iraq or anywhere else:

Less than a century ago, before World War I, the population of Britain was 46 million, barely 2.5% of humanity. And yet the British were able to govern a vast empire that encompassed an additional 375 million people, more than a fifth of the world's population. Why can't 300 million Americans control fewer than 30 million Iraqis?

Three years ago, as the United States swept into Iraq, I wrote a book titled "Colossus," which offered a somber prediction, summed up in its subtitle, "The Rise and Fall of the American Empire." My argument was that the United States was unlikely to be as successful or as enduring an imperial power as its British predecessor for three reasons: its financial deficit, its attention deficit and, perhaps most surprisingly, its manpower deficit. Rather cruelly, I compared the American empire to a "strategic couch-potato ... consuming on credit, reluctant to go to the front line [and] inclined to lose interest in protracted undertakings."

This is an absurd argument. It's not so much that it's wrong, but that it leaves out by far the most important reason for American failure: today's colonials fight back. Britain occupied India with a tiny force because the Indians mostly let them, and on the rare occasions when they rebelled the British (like all the other European colonial powers) felt free to crush them in the most brutal manner imaginable.

None of that is true today. The people of Iraq are flatly unwilling to be ruled by outsiders, they have the weaponry to fight back effectively, and the West is no longer willing to spill rivers of blood simply to show them who's boss. If those things had been true a century ago, Britain never would have had an empire in the first place, let alone been able to keep it.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BASE....The LA Times reports that the Bush/Rove effort to woo Latino voters has run aground:

The Latino backlash has grown so intense that one prominent, typically pro-Republican organization, the Latino Coalition, has endorsed Democrats in competitive races this year in Tennessee, Nebraska and New Jersey. The coalition is chaired by Hector Barreto, the former administrator of the Small Business Administration under Bush; its president is a former strategist for the Republican National Committee.

....In recent months, Democratic activists who marveled at Bush's success in courting Latino voters watched with amazement as Republicans pushed into law a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border....Despite Bush's lobbying for an immigrant guest-worker program, favored by many Latinos, conservative lawmakers in the House refused to bend, forcing Bush to endorse the fence legislation and dimming his popularity among Latinos.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Bush and Rove have happily encouraged culture war politics designed to eke out electoral victories by appealing to a rabidly conservative base, and now that base has come back to haunt them. Like many a demagogue before them, they've discovered that controlling a monster is harder than creating one.

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RAW DATA....I'm reading The Truth About Conservative Christians, by Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout, which is, by a good measure, the worst and most frustratingly-written book I've read in a long while. It's a sociological picture of conservative Christians based on statistical analysis of recent survey data, but for some reason the authors decided to keep tables and charts to a minimum in favor of tossing most of their numbers directly into the text. Since tables and charts are actually the least confusing way of presenting numerical data, this makes the book a real slog.

Still, there are some tables and even a few charts, and here's one of them. It shows voting patterns by religion and income, and Greeley and Hout present it as evidence that, in fact, class is still far more important than religion in America, despite the culture wars of the past couple of decades. It's true that conservative (white) Protestants vote for Republicans in greater numbers than other denominations, but their voting patterns are actually more sensitive to income than other groups. Among high-income CPs, about 70% vote Republican, a number that drops in half among the lowest-income group. This is a switch of nearly 35 percentage points, far larger than any other group.

I don't really have anywhere to go with this. I just thought it was interesting raw data. However, it does suggest that while Democrats probably don't have much chance of peeling off votes from higher-income evangelicals, they might have surprisingly good luck at using a primarily economic message to win votes from middle-income evangelicals, culture war or no. Food for thought.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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October 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

KELO AND CALIFORNIA....Last year, in Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments had the right to seize land under eminent domain even if they intended to turn the land over to a private firm for development. At the time, I sort of approved:

The Supreme Court shouldn't have invented a new constitutional restriction on eminent domain, but state and local governments should enact laws that limit land grabs designed solely to increase tax revenue. And if different states want different rules, and want to apply those rules differently in different areas, that's fine too.

Well, California has an initiative on the ballot this November that does exactly what I suggested. But a few days ago Ryan Grim warned that there might be a little more to it:

In Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and California, libertarians, in concert with the business community, have managed to put initiatives on state ballots that appear to be common sense solutions but are in fact extreme giveaways to the private sector from public coffer.

....The plan introduces a "pay or waive" scheme: If any government regulation causes a person to lose property or profit even potential, imagined profit the government must either pay that person the value of that which was lost or waive the regulation.

"Takings" (from the constitutional restriction on eminent domain, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation") has been a hot button for years among hardcore libertarians and movement conservatives, who believe that if the government does anything to restrict the use of your land (and thus lower its value), you should receive compensation. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise long ago when it gave its approval to the newfangled idea of zoning back in the 1920s, and despite a few recent rulings moving slightly in the other direction, cities and states have retained wide authority to enact land use laws. Most of us think that's a good thing.

But sure enough, Ryan is right. It turns out that in addition to being an anti-Kelo initiative, California's Proposition 90 is also an attempt to legislate the long-time libertarian "takings" wet dream. Here's what the nonpartisan legislative analyst says:

This measure requires government to pay property owners if it passes certain new laws or rules that result in substantial economic losses to their property.

....In addition to the examples cited above, the broad language of the measure suggests that its provisions could apply to a variety of future governmental requirements that impose economic losses on property owners. These laws and rules could include requirements relating, for example, to employment conditions, apartment prices, endangered species, historical preservation, and consumer financial protection.

Nice try, fellas. A simple anti-Kelo initiative might have had a chance of passing. But trying to prevent the government from ever enacting legislation that might have an economic effect on property owners? Not so much. I imagine most Californians will elect to stay in the 21st century on this one.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE STUPIDSTORM....On al-Jazeera the other day, State Department diplomat Alberto Fernandez introduced some broader remarks by saying, "undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq." He has since apologized, but Arab media expert Marc Lynch says he did nothing wrong:

Fernandez has conducted literally hundreds of interviews in Arabic with various Arab media outlets at a time when few American officials could be bothered or could perform effectively when they tried. In the first weeks of the Lebanon-Israel war, he was the only American official to appear on al-Jazeera, at a time when America desperately needed someone at least trying to defend it. What made him effective was not just his fluent Arabic, but that he is willing to argue, to get angry, to make jokes in short, to offer a real human face and not just a grim diplomat reading from a script. He has established a strong reputation with Arab bookers and audiences not by "bashing America" but by being honest and candid, which has in turn made his defenses of American policy far more effective.

....The State Department, and especially Karen Hughes, must back Alberto Fernandez to the hilt in this StupidStorm. If he's fired, or transfered to Mongolia, the United States unilaterally disarms in the 'war of ideas' as currently waged in the Arab media. While we do have 'rapid reaction' units coming online in Dubai and London, and CENTCOM has its own media outreach team, the fact is that Fernandez has been single-handedly carrying the American flag on the Arab broadcast media for years. America simply can not afford to lose him over a silly partisan media frenzy. And if Fernandez is punished, it's safe to guess that nobody will be foolish enough to step up and take his place and do what he did. And that will be a major loss for America in a place where it can ill-afford any more losses at all.

Just thought I'd pass that along.

Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

LANCET REVISITED....Matt Yglesias makes an obvious point about the controversy swirling around the Lancet study of post-war deaths in Iraq:

If the American and British governments or conservative think tanks and media outlets genuinely feel that the Hopkins team's methods were unsound, there's an obvious solution available to them: Design a method for a different comprehensive study of Iraqi mortality and fund its implementation. This is a sufficiently important question, and sufficiently difficult to pin down precisely, that it would make perfect sense for several different studies to be conducted.

I gather that the cost of the study was actually fairly small, somewhere on the order of $50,000 or so. That's nothing. So why doesn't some middle-of-the-roadish institution like Brookings or CSIS do its own study? It seems like something that would be worth a bit of grant money.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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By: Kevin Drum

ORANGE COUNTY IN THE NEWS....I see that local GOP goofball Tan Nguyen, after a moment of hesitation, has now fully absorbed the Three Ns of Republican politics: No matter what you've done, never apologize, never back down, and never go off the attack:

At a chaotic sidewalk news conference Sunday, Orange County congressional candidate Tan Nguyen defended a letter his campaign sent to 14,000 registered voters that warned in Spanish that immigrants could be jailed or deported for voting.

....Nguyen maintained that the letter was sent without his knowledge. But he added that, after firing the staffer he said was responsible for it, he was asking her to return because he believes the mailer was fair. [Italics mine.]

....Former U.S. Atty. William Braniff, a lawyer for Nguyen's campaign, said Sunday that the controversy was caused by the news media and others who inferred that the word emigrado, or immigrant, included U.S. citizens. In fact, Braniff said, emigrado in the letter merely referred to U.S. immigrants who have legal status but not citizenship and thus do not have the right to vote..

Braniff declined, however, to say why the campaign had used letterhead closely resembling that of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform without the group's permission and why it was signed by a fictional "Sergio Ramirez."

Yeah, I can't imagine why anybody would have inferred that. Nice try, Bill.

It's been a tough month for my hometown. A couple of weeks ago Adam Yahiye Gadahn became the first person since WWII charged with treason, and now it's Tan Nguyen demonstrating the depths to which local Republicans can sink. Hooray for Orange County!

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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By: Kevin Drum

GAFFE WATCH....Well, this comes as no surprise:

A senior State Department diplomat apologized Sunday for having told the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera on Saturday that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

"Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq," Alberto Fernandez said in an e-mail sent to reporters by the State Department and attributed to him. "This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize," the statement said.

What is it Michael Kinsley said? "A gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth"? Sounds about right.

Kevin Drum 1:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (169)

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By: Kevin Drum

WAR AND FOREIGN POLICY....Atrios writes that looking at which wars a person has supported is a lousy proxy for how good their foreign policy judgment is:

There's this attitude out there where one's foreign policy abilities are judged by whether you supported the right wars, with people like Peter Beinart checking off their little lists.

....Wars are failures. A primary purpose of sensible foreign policy is to stop them. When wars happen, our foreign policy has failed. That isn't to say there's never a point when they're necessary or justified, but that point is simply an acknowledgment that the people in charge failed.

No argument: war represents failure. What's more, as he says in a later post, foreign policy has a lot of moving parts that can't simply be reduced to war vs. no war.

At the same time, I think that looking at someone's record of support for various wars is more meaningful than he suggests. The problem is that foreign policy, largely because it is so complex, is a domain of platitudes. Should the United States defend its interests? Of course. But which interests? Should war be a last resort? Publicly, nobody would disagree. But who's to say when every other option has been exhausted? Are there times when the United States might need to fight a preventive war? Yes. But under what circumstances?

Windy paragraphs often conceal more than they inform, and it's impossible to come up with a magic formula that answers these questions. But there's one concrete thing you can do: take a look at someone's past record. Bill Kristol has never met a war he didn't like. Theory aside, that tells you where he stands in practice. Al Gore thought it was in America's interests to fight in the Gulf War, in Kosovo, and in Afghanistan, but not in Iraq. That gives you an idea of where he draws the line. Nancy Pelosi supported Kosovo and Aghanistan, but opposed the Gulf War and Iraq. Her line, in practice, is a little bit different than Gore's.

In general, it's hard to fudge on war: you either support it or you don't. After you've examined everything, talked to everyone, and thought long and hard, you draw together everything in your experience and make a decision. The gears may turn in private, but the final result represents one of the ultimate tests of someone's foreign policy judgment.

So: which wars did you support? Any of them? None of them? Some of them? Does it make sense to support a politician who appears to have the same judgment about these things that you do? It's obviously not the only thing you should look at, but it seems like it ought to be one of the things.

Kevin Drum 1:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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October 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BARACK OBAMA....Barack Obama told Tim Russert today that he's weighing the possibility of running for president in 2008. With that in mind, you might be interested in reading a profile of Obama that Ben Wallace-Wells wrote for us back in 2004. It was a good piece back then and I think it holds up pretty well two years later.

After surveying the rising (and falling) stars of past black politicians, he gets to Obama himself:

Like Wilder, Powell, and Ford, Obama has crafted a way of signaling his political independence: He tells people what they don't want to hear. At fundraisers on Chicago's lavish North Side, he tells his wealthy supporters that he'll hike their taxes. At union halls, he tells the workers that the drain of jobs to India and China is inevitable, and that there's nothing he can do to prevent it. To inner-city, he says that parents need to turn off their televisions and teach their kids some discipline.

In early October, I watched Obama give a speech and take questions at a forum in downtown Chicago....Obama was measured throughout; he tends to come off as an expert and wonk, an earnest, hopeful policy nerd. A group of older black women asked, humbly, for vague assurances that he would redirect federal housing policy to emphasize low-rise, rather than high-rise, projects most housing advocates think low-rise buildings would be easier to police and maintain, and encourage more neighborly interactions.

The grandmas were throwing him a softball, hoping only for a signal that he was open to their concerns, that he would side with the experts. Obama was having none of it. "Low-rise isn't going to solve all your problems," Obama said sternly. "I've worked in the projects, and, let me tell you, low rise has problems of its own." The particular lady who had asked the question looked rebuked, and there was a surprised wince in the church: Did he really just say that to a bunch of trapped-in-the-projects grandmas?

The whole thing is worth a read.

Kevin Drum 8:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PERFECT THING....Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the iPod, and Steven Levy has celebrated the occasion by writing a paean to the iPod called The Perfect Thing. In the LA Times today, he gives us a preview, including this:

To me, the iPod's biggest legacy will be the shift it symbolizes by its signature feature, the shuffle. In the simplest sense, this refers to the way iPod users can randomly reorder the contents of their music libraries to create instant radio stations stocked with music they chose. So although you don't know what song will come next, you know it's one you'll almost certainly like.

Remember a few months ago I asked all of you whether you mostly used the shuffle mode on your iPods or mostly picked songs yourself? Now you know why: I was reviewing Levy's book and was curious to test his belief that the iPod has made shuffle mode the "techna franca of the digital era." My conclusion was that Levy went a little overboard on this:

But guess what? It turns out that it doesnt really matter whether Levy is right or wrong about this. It doesnt even matter that shuffle play has been a commonplace practically since the invention of the CD player. Like much of the book, the chapter on shuffling is just a springboard that allows him to riff on the iPod subculture.

The riffs are pretty good too. Over and over I thought he was about to drift into some kind of banal point about technology or music or whatever, but he invariably surprised me. His observations are consistently intriguing and even a bit addictive, which makes reading the book sort of like eating potato chips. You just can't stop. It's not a comprehensive history of everything iPod, but if you're interested in both the device and the culture it's spawned, it's a fun introduction. Recommended.

Kevin Drum 5:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

USC FOOTBALL RAMBLINGS....As long as I'm focused on Los Angeles news this morning, I have to say that yesterday's football results gave me a bit of relief. Like most USC fans, three consecutive squeakers over mid-tier teams had made me pretty nervous about this year's prospects. I really couldn't blame the AP pollsters for their aggressive efforts to find someone anyone other than USC to put in their #2 spot whenever the previous #2 lost.

But USC's record is starting to look a little better. We had a good win over Arkansas early in the season, and Arkansas has turned out to be a pretty good team. With the exception of their loss to the Trojans, they're undefeated, including wins over Auburn and Alabama.

USC's win over Nebraska was less dramatic, but still solid. And Nebraska isn't bad, either, nearly beating #9 Texas yesterday.

And those Washington teams? Washington State beat #14 Oregon yesterday and Washington took #10 Cal to overtime. USC's wins over the Cougars and Huskies may have been ugly, but they're starting to look a little more impressive just the same.

(And the near-meltdown against Arizona State last week? I still don't know what to make of that.)

The final month of the season continues to look like a killer (Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame, UCLA), but this is still shaping up to be a helluva "rebuilding" year. See ya in the BCS Championship Game, Buckeyes.

UPDATE: Oops. Fiesta Bowl is right, not Orange Bowl. Can't keep my bowls straight.

UPDATE 2: Wrong again. It's just the "BCS Championship Game." It's played in Arizona, it's in the same stadium as the Fiesta Bowl, but it's not the Fiesta Bowl. It's a week later and it's the BCS Championship Game. I think I now finally have this right.

Kevin Drum 1:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE J-CONSULTANT MAFIA STRIKES AGAIN....Yesterday the LA Times announced that on Sunday it would unveil a "more dramatic look and new features to make it easier to navigate." You can imagine my excitement.

Today, the dramatic redesign showed up on my driveway. It appears to consist of three things: (a) bolder, blacker headlines, (b) a picture bar across the top teasing some inside stories, and (c) bigger pictures above the fold.

In other words, precisely the changes made to every paper that's hired a design consultant in the past 30 years. And more to the point, exactly the look of the Times' corporate parent, the Chicago Tribune. So now the Times looks like every faceless second-tier metro daily in the country. Yippee.

Needless to say, the unavoidable result of this is that the front page has room for only four stories now, not the usual six or seven. Yippee again. And since pages 2 and 3 were given up to "navigational aids" and "briefing" items some time ago, this means that there's now a grand total of four actual pieces of news in the first three pages of the paper. If my navigational needs are catered to any further I'm going to need an LA Times decoder ring just to find anything worth reading.

Here's an idea: to make it easier to find the news, devote the first three pages of the paper to news. That's easy! And then assume that anyone with an IQ high enough to be interested in a newspaper in the first place is well aware that they can find sports on the sports page and entertainment on the entertainment pages.

I know, I know. I'm a fossil. Don't remind me. But a beige box on the front page of today's paper informs me that "On weekdays, the changes are even more pronounced." Be still, my heart.

Kevin Drum 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Kevin Drum

PSST! IT'S AN IMETABLE-TAY!....When is a timetable not a timetable? When the Bush administration is creating a "blueprint" for progress in Iraq:

Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

....A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said that Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment of the American strategy in Iraq.

....Were trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming, a senior Bush administration official said. We cant be there forever.

Take your pick: (a) They're serious about this. (b) They're trying to put together a plan any plan in order to prevent James Baker's forthcoming recommendations from becoming the default "sensible" middle course accepted by everyone in the DC punditocracy. (c) It's meaningless except as political theater. Bush just wants the country to think he's busily working on something, and this is the something.

I actually don't know which of the three it is. Maybe all of them to some degree. But while we're on the subject, note that this is all coming in the same week that the former head of the British armed forces gave his considered opinion about how we're doing in our various wars: "I don't believe we have a clear strategy in either Afghanistan or Iraq. I sense we've lost the ability to think strategically." He was talking about Britain, but obviously his remarks were aimed at the United States as well. After all, we're the ones primarily setting the strategy.

I wonder how long it will take America to recover from George Bush's uniquely blinkered and self-righteous brand of ineptitude? In the past five years he's demonstrated to the world that we don't know how to win a modern guerrilla war. He's demonstrated that we don't understand even the basics of waging a propaganda war. He's demonstrated that other countries don't need to pay any attention to our threats. He's demonstrated that we're good at talking tough and sending troops into battle, but otherwise clueless about using the levers of statecraft in the service of our own interests. If he had set out to willfully and deliberately expose our weaknesses to the world and undermine our strengths, he couldn't have done more to cripple America's power and influence in the world. Beneath the bluster, he's done more to weaken our national security than any president since World War II.

So how long will it take after George Bush has left office for our power and influence on the world stage to return to the level it was at in 2001? When I'm in a good mood, I figure five years. Realistically, ten years is probably more like it. And when I'm in a bad mood? Don't ask. It's really all very depressing.

Kevin Drum 1:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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October 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING BACK....Commenting on the continuing Democratic obsession with the attack ads that cost Max Cleland his Senate seat in the 2002 election, Matt Yglesias comments:

Democrats over and over again seem to think that biographical qualities either are or [ought] to somehow immunize nominees from political attacks based on national security issues and they keep getting burned. They need to get over it the world doesn't work that way and the world shouldn't work that way. This is on a par with whining that Republicans are politicizing national security. Well, guess what, national security is a political issue. The Democratic Party is full of politicians. They need to learn to do politics the whining just looks weak and pathetic.

I agree, and I note that the same thing is happening over the latest Republican ad, "These Are the Stakes," a standard-issue bit of fear-mongering with roots in both LBJ's infamous "Daisy" ad from 1964 and Reagan's "Bear in the Woods" ad from 1984.

Don't like it? Then fight back instead of complaining. Run an ad showing a mushroom cloud over the Korean peninsula and asking how George Bush let things get to this point. Why not?

In any case, Marc Lynch makes the right criticism of the Republican ad. He thinks that al-Qaeda's media arm, al-Sahab, must be pretty jazzed that the GOP is helping the cause:

This is not just a video which suggests that Republicans will be better at fighting terror. It actually very closely resembles real al-Qaeda videos....This video would not look out of place on a jihadi forum, and it wouldn't surprise me if it actually gets posted on them and admired (although the production values are a bit low for an actual al-Sahab product).

Anyone involved in analyzing or combating al-Qaeda's media strategies has to be astounded that the Republican National Committee has financed, produced, distributed on the internet, and aired on US television what is for all intents and purposes an al-Qaeda recruitment video. The video, if it works as intended, will frighten the American people and influence American politics... just like al-Qaeda's own videos. Bin Laden couldn't be prouder, or more grateful, especially since it didn't cost him a thing.

Read the whole thing for more on this theme. Marc notes that the Arab media has caught on to this "bizarre turn of events" even if the American media hasn't.

Kevin Drum 8:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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By: Kevin Drum

NO SHAME....The National Republican Congressional Committee is now so desperate to suppress voter turnout that they're running ads too disgusting for even their own candidates to stomach. "It was way over the line," says the Republican candidate for whom it was run. "We stand by it," says the NRCC flack, who insists they're not going to pull it no matter how egregious it is.

John Cole has the details. It's item #3.

UPDATE: A reader who's been working on the Democratic side of the campaign in question writes in with more:

The NRCC has known for weeks that the allegations are bullshit. About 3 weeks ago they sent out a fax talking about it and tried to get local news stations to run the story. We were able to knock down the allegations pretty fast. Ben Smith in the Daily News also did a good piece blowing holes in the story. But they still ran the ad.

Also, don't take the Republican candidate's protestations too seriously. They smack of Captain Renault being "shocked, shocked" that gambling is going on. His campaign has been spreading the rumor. Also, his ad traffic suddenly went positive last week, probably because they knew that if the ad ran they could claim they were taking the high road.

Kevin Drum 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Kevin Drum

MERIT BADGE WATCH....There's another Chinese import gaining a foothold in Southern California. This time it's a new Boy Scout merit badge:

Officials with the local Boy Scouts and the Motion Picture Assn. of America on Friday unveiled the Respect Copyrights Activity Patch emblazoned with a large circle "C" copyright sign along with a film reel and musical notes.

....To earn the badge, Scouts must participate in several activities including creating a video public-service announcement and visiting a video-sharing website to identify which materials are copyrighted. They may also watch a movie and discuss how people behind the scenes would be harmed if the film were pirated.

The punchline, of course, will come when some scout creates a video public-service announcement tht includes pirated material from an after-school special about the dangers of piracy. The script almost writes itself.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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October 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WHAT THE NORTH KOREANS REALLY SAID....The Guardian reports that China has put more pressure on North Korea than most observers were expecting:

This leverage appeared to have paid off today when China's special envoy to Pyongyang, Tang Jiaxuan, put a "strong message" to Mr Kim. According to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper, the North Korean leader expressed remorse for putting China in a difficult situation and demonstrated a willingness to compromise.

"If the US makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks," the North Korean leader was quoted as saying by an unnamed diplomatic source in Beijing.

That sounds promising. That is, it sounds promising until you go to the Chosun Ilbo website and read what it actually says:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a special Chinese envoy on Thursday the hermit nation will only return to six-party talks on its nuclear program if the U.S. lifts sanctions, according to a Chinese diplomatic source.

The source quoted the North Korean leader as telling State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan on Thursday morning that North Korea will negotiate on its nuclear program, be it in new bilateral talks with the U.S. or the existing six-way framework, if the U.S. makes some concessions.

That sounds rather less promising, doesn't it? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

CARD CHECKS....If you run a union and you want to organize a new site a Wal-Mart store, let's say how do you do it? That is, what's the technical mechanism for getting legal recognition of your union?

Choice A is a secret ballot (aka an "NLRB election"). The prospective union campaigns for recognition, management campaigns against them, and eventually there's a secret vote. If the union gets a majority of the vote, they win recognition.

Choice B is what's known as a "card check." Both sides campaign as before, but there isn't the frenzy associated with a single election day. Instead, the union works on getting a majority of the workers to sign cards authorizing a union, and when they manage to collect cards from a majority of workers they petition to be recognized as the collective bargaining unit for the site.

So which is better? The business community prefers secret ballots because it gives them more control over the process and results in fewer union recognitions. Unions prefer card checks for the opposite reason. Both processes are used frequently in other contexts and neither one violates any fundamental principles of fairness. So which is better?

Basically, the answer is that you want a process that best reflects the actual wishes of the workers by allowing them to make an honest choice free of coercion. Theory won't help much here, so this boils down to an empirical question: which process, in practice, produces less worker coercion from both management and organized labor? Ezra Klein reports the results of a recent survey:

During the NLRB election, 46% of workers complained of management pressure. During card check elections, 14% complained of union pressure. Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely as workers in card check elections to report that management coerced them to oppose (it's worth noting that in card-check elections, 23% of workers complained of management coercion more than complained of union coercion). Workers in NLRB elections were more than 53% as likely to report that management threatened to eliminate their jobs.

The survey, commissioned by American Rights at Work (a pro-labor group) and conducted by two professors at Rutgers University and Jesuit Wheeling University, is here.

It's impossible to devise a process that eliminates coercion entirely. But the evidence in favor of card checks is twofold: first of all, it turns out that card checks result in less overall coercion than NLRB elections. Second, management coercion is fundamentally more oppressive than labor coercion anyway, since management has the power to fire election coordinators, threaten to shut down plants, bribe workers, etc. and research suggests they do all these things in startling amounts. In recent decades, management coercion has simply been a much more serious problem than labor coercion.

The business community prefers NLRB elections because NLRB rules are stacked in their favor and NLRB elections provide them with far more leverage to coerce workers into rejecting union representation. Card checks don't eliminate coercion from either side, but they do reduce it dramatically. It's a fundamentally fairer system for workers and, it turns out, a far less contentious and hostile process for both sides. Federal rules recognizing card checks ought to be a Democratic priority if they win control of Congress in November.

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By: Kevin Drum

AMBER WAVES OF GAIN....Via Max, apparently the tax wizards at big corporations are now taking out patents on their dodgiest tax avoidance strategies. Is America a great country or what?

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICAL ADS....Via James Joyner, here's a head-scratching result from Gallup. As the chart on the right shows, conservatives say they trust candidate ads more than advocacy ads from interest groups. Liberals trust advocacy ads more than candidate ads. The Gallup press release is here.

Any guesses about why this might be? Is it because "advocacy" is more associated with groups like the Sierra Club than the NRA? Is it because liberals and conservatives have a different view of what advocacy is in the first place? Or do conservatives just trust political candidates more than liberals do?

It seems like this should lend itself to plenty of good pop psychologizing, but nothing springs immediately to mind. Any ideas?

Kevin Drum 1:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

AMARA FALLS TO THE INSURGENCY....This summer, British forces returned two southern provinces to Iraqi control. A third, Maysan province, was effectively abandoned when troops in Amara, Maysan's capital, pulled out of their main base at Camp Abu Naji after it came under heavy and unremitting attack. The plan? 600 troops would "disappear into the marshlands and desert" in order to disrupt arms smuggling from Iran. A military spokesman denied they were being forced out:

"We understand the militias in Maysan province are using this as an example that we have been pushed out of Abu Naji, but that is not true. It was very rare for us to take casualties."

That may be the official line, but the militias know better. Today, Amara was overrun by the Mahdi Army, a militia nominally controlled by the anti-American firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr:

The takeover of Amara by the militia, the Mahdi Army, was a broad act of defiance against the authority of the central government, which has been trying to impose order and curb sectarian violence. The incident also raised questions about whether Iraqs militias can be reined in.

....A message from Mr. Sadr was broadcast from police cars and ambulances, calling on gunmen to lay down their weapons, but it appeared to be disregarded, Mr. Muhammadawi said.

Sadr may be playing a double game, encouraging attacks privately while denouncing them publicly, but it's more likely that he's genuinely lost control of at least parts of his militia. In other words, not only don't we control Amara, and not only does the central government in Baghdad not control Amara, but apparently even Sadr doesn't control Amara. That may change depending on how the fighting goes, but the bigger picture is clear: When militia leaders dismiss even Moktada al-Sadr as too moderate and timid, where does that leave us? What's the next step?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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By: Rebecca Sinderbrand

UPDATE on the GOP's shrinking cash advantage: Karl Rove's campaign success has generally rested on creating an aura of inevitable dominance. That's obviously a bit tougher this cycle -- and as Greg Sargent points out, his bluff has just been called on the latest campaign finance numbers. Of course, the biggest surprise here is the whistleblower: Ken Mehlman.

Rebecca Sinderbrand 10:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

FINAL FUNDRASING NUMBERS....In a demonstration of just how much the political momentum has changed in the past couple of months, Democrats are actually raising more money than Republicans now:

According to the reports among the final tallies filed before Election Day the three Democratic committees collectively raised $33.6 million, compared with $30 million by the Republicans. The strong showing cut the cash-on-hand advantage Republicans had a month ago to about $10 million, or nearly half.

Here's another interesting tidbit: although Republicans have raised far more than Democrats over the entire 2005-06 campaign cycle, they aren't in much better shape today. Why? Because the Dems have been much more efficient and businesslike in spending their money. How about them apples?

Kevin Drum 1:16 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST ON THE WAR....So what's the lead story in today's newspapers? Answer: Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq. Here's McClatchy:

Regardless of what politicians and the media talk about from week to week the Foley sex scandal in the House, a nuclear test in North Korea, a soaring stock market what dominates American politics this fall is Iraq.

It's consuming George Bush's second term, threatening his party's control of Congress and endangering his dream of forging a Republican majority that would rule the country long after he retired to his Texas ranch.

And the Los Angeles Times:

Even some of President Bush' staunchest allies in solidly Republican states are questioning the administration's war policies, while others are scrambling to find new ways to talk about Iraq in the face of rising voter frustration over management of the war.

...."We haven't found one part of the country, even in the South, where it is good to say 'stay the course,' " said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a political group for GOP centrists. "But (candidates) don't want to do a major in-your-face with the president. They are trying to work around the issue in their districts."

And the Washington Post:

One point on which adherents of these sharply different approaches appear to agree is that "staying the course" is fast becoming a dead letter. "I don't believe that we can continue based on an open-ended, unconditional presence," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a centrist Maine Republican. "I don't think there's any question about that, that there will be a change" in the U.S. strategy in Iraq after next month's elections.

And the New York Times? Instead of talking about the politics of the war, their story is about the war itself. We're losing it. Ditto for the Wall Street Journal.

Did I miss anyone?

Kevin Drum 1:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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October 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE TET ANALOGY....I didn't catch this at the time, but on Tuesday Tom Friedman suggested that the recent spike of insurgent attacks in Iraq was similar to the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Asked about this comparison, George Bush replied, "He could be right."

Dan Drezner thinks "it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies," but what I think is more interesting is which analogy Bush & Co. are embracing. There have always been at least three competing historical perspectives about Tet:

  1. There's the military perspective: Tet was a huge setback for the North Vietnamese. They were badly defeated, took huge losses, were operationally crippled, and achieved none of their objectives.

  2. There's the liberal media perspective: Even though we won, the left-wing press spun it as a defeat. That's why the public lost faith in the war.

  3. There's the government mendacity perspective: For some time, LBJ had been assuring us that the war was going well and the Viet Cong were on the verge of collapse. Tet demonstrated that he was either lying or else completely divorced from reality.

I've always sided with #3. There's no question that #1 is technically correct, but in practice it simply meant that Gip was vindicated in his preference for guerrilla warfare over conventional offensives. North Vietnam was fully able to continue prosecuting the war. And while the press was indeed gloomy about U.S. prospects after Tet, that was almost certainly because of #3, not #2. Walter Cronkite, the most famous of the pessimists, stated this clearly: "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest cloud." He concluded correctly not that we had lost, but that we were "mired in a stalemate."

But #3 is surely not the analogy that George Bush had in mind. So which one is it? Is it #1, in which case he's convinced that this is a last ditch effort by the insurgents and we're on the verge of a famous victory? Is it #2, in which case he's laying the groundwork for a future claim that we could have won if only the media hadn't been against us?

Or does he have no real clue, and just figures that any two battles in which the enemy demonstrates increased strength are pretty much the same thing? You can vote in comments.

Kevin Drum 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (179)

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By: Kevin Drum

ON TO PLAN J....The U.S. military is feeling increasingly bleak about our prospects in Baghdad:

In an unusually gloomy assessment, General [William] Caldwell called the spike in attacks disheartening and added that the American military was working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts.

It is unclear, however, what other options might be available to American military commanders if their current efforts fail.

Caldwell's suggestion that the attacks are being timed to affect the U.S. midterm elections is pretty silly, though. He knows perfectly well that the civil war got going in earnest after the Golden Mosque bombing in February, and that Ramadan has a lot more to do with the current spike in violence than the American electoral calendar. What's more, as British Army Chief of Staff Richard Dannatt admitted last week, the coalition presence itself "exacerbates the security problems." It's time to take that to heart.

Kevin Drum 3:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

MANIFESTO WARS....I'm pretty manifesto-phobic myself, but I agree that Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin's defense of liberalism, "We Answer to the Name of Liberals," is a good piece of work. The title is pretty cringe inducing, but I guess that's rather in the nature of manifestos, isn't it? Here's a sample:

Make no mistake: We believe that the use of force can, at times, be justified. We supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. But war must remain a last resort. The Bush administration's emphatic reliance on military intervention is illegitimate and counterproductive. It creates unnecessary enemies, degrades the national defense, distracts from actual dangers, and ignores the imperative necessity of building an international order that peacefully addresses the aspirations of rising powers in Asia and Latin America.

....We reaffirm the great principle of liberalism: that every citizen is entitled by right to the elementary means to a good life. We believe passionately that societies should afford their citizens equal treatment under the law regardless of accidents of birth, race, sex, property, religion, ethnic identification, or sexual disposition. We want to redirect debate to the central questions of concern to ordinary Americans their rights to housing, affordable health care, equal opportunity for employment, and fair wages, as well as physical security and a sustainable environment for ourselves and future generations.

What's odd, though, is that this was written in response to "Bushs Useful Idiots," an essay by Tony Judt in the London Review of Books. So I followed the link and read it. It's almost exclusively about the Iraq war and foreign policy:

Intellectual supporters of the Iraq War among them Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick and other prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving preventive war a bad name.

In a similar vein, those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq War the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman demanded that France be voted Off the Island (i.e. out of the Security Council) for its presumption in opposing Americas drive to war are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs.

....Friedman is seconded by [Peter] Beinart, who concedes that he didnt realise(!) how detrimental American actions would be to the struggle but insists even so that anyone who wont stand up to Global Jihad just isnt a consistent defender of liberal values. Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, writing in the Financial Times, accuses Democratic critics of the Iraq War of failing to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. The only people qualified to speak on this matter, it would seem, are those who got it wrong initially.

That's pretty bracing too, isn't it? True, Judt is unforgivably sweeping in implying that his criticism applies to every liberal in America, but careful qualification isn't exactly a hallmark of polemics, is it? What's more, the actual liberals he criticizes are pretty frequent targets of liberal blogosphere ire for exactly the reason he describes.

Like I said, I'm not a manifesto lover. But hell read 'em both. It'll do you good.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

"IF WE HAD KNOWN THEN"....In the LA Times today, Jonah Goldberg writes about the war:

The Iraq war was a mistake.

I know, I know. But I've never said it before. And I don't enjoy saying it now. I'm sure that to the antiwar crowd this is too little, too late, and that's fine because I'm not joining their ranks anyway.

Fair enough. I don't expect the National Review crowd to turn into liberals, though I do think there's a minimum standard of intellectual honesty involved here. No matter how enthusiastic you are about spreading democracy at the point of a gun, at some point you have to acknowledge that the Iraq project has turned out disastrously for U.S. interests: "Truth is truth. And the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003."

But Jonah says that even though it was mistake to go in, we still need to see it through. And then there's this:

According to the conventional script, if I'm not saying "bug out" of Iraq, I'm supposed to....

To my surprise, the rest of the paragraph is a suggestion that we should hold a plebiscite asking Iraqis if they want us to stay. But that's not at all what the conventional script requires. The conventional script requires that those who think we should stay need to suggest a way in which we can win. Otherwise Jonah will be writing this same column in 2009, except this time it will be, "If we had known then what we know now, we would have been better off pulling out when we could."

Well, we do know now what we know now. The civil war in Iraq is getting worse, our current strategy plainly isn't working, there are no more troops to send over, the political situation in Baghdad is untenable, and the U.S. Army is still culturally allergic to counterinsurgency and security training ("Everyone in the U.S. armed forces knows that the way to the top is to command American units, not to advise foreign units," says Max Boot, and he's right).

So what's the plan? It may be true that "if we can finish the job, the war won't be remembered as a mistake," but even if the Iraqis vote to keep us around, how do we finish the job?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (182)

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By: Kevin Drum

BIRTHDAY CAT BLOGGING....Happy Birthday to me! I'm 48 today. As you can tell, excitement is running high here.

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By: Kevin Drum

FOLEYGATE UPDATE....From Mark Kleiman:

Tucker Carlson and Dana Milbank have both reported rumors that a third page scandal is coming, this one involving a Congressman and a 16-year-old girl.

From CNN:

Former House Clerk Jeff Trandahl repeatedly raised red flags about former Rep. Mark Foley years before GOP leaders said they knew about Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages, sources said.

....A friend, Craig Shniderman, told CNN that if Trandahl was aware of something improper, he would have reported it. "Jeff is a guy who always does the right thing," Shniderman said. "He lives by the truth. He lives by one truth. He's not a man that tells different stories to different people."

Stay tuned.

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

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October 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SURPRISE!....Ezra Klein thinks we should take conspiracy theories more seriously. Tom Engelhardt obliges after learning that the special tribunal in Iraq has scheduled the verdict in the Saddam Hussein trial for November 5:

A possible death-sentence for Saddam and his top lieutenants on November 5? Now, shouldn't that raise a few eyebrows somewhere? If you happen to have a calendar close at hand, pull it over and take a quick look. That verdict would then come, curiously enough, just two days before the midterm elections. It's the sort of thing that you would think that any reporter with knowledge of the US election cycle (no less of how Karl Rove has worked these last years) would at least note in an article. But no, you can search high and low without finding a reference to this in the mainstream media.

OK, let's put it to a vote: is this (a) a nutbar conspiracy theory, or (b) entirely likely considering the folks who are running the country these days?

And remember: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (130)

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By: Kevin Drum

MIDDLE CLASS SQUEEZE.... Courtesy of McClatchy, here's a nice graphic that explains why most people aren't very impressed by the past five years of economic expansion. It's because they're not seeing it themselves:

Through September, the growth in hourly wages was flat or negative for 27 of the previous 29 months, according to Labor Department data....Workers are barely keeping up. Health care, wages and energy prices are consumers' top three economic concerns, according to a Gallup poll in September.

"That has to do with things like stagnant wages, fears of jobs being outsourced, income security. These are on people's minds, particularly in lower- and middle-income areas," said Dennis Jacobe, chief economist in Charlotte, N.C., for Gallup.

"I think it's quite clear to people that their paychecks are being squeezed when they try to meet their family budgets," said Jared Bernstein, the chief economist for the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "There's a disconnect between overall economic performance and paychecks of working families."

And this is all happening when the broad economy is chugging along pretty nicely. What's going to happen when there's a downturn?

Kevin Drum 1:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (118)

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By: Kevin Drum

IF THE DEMOCRATS WIN....So what happens if Democrats win control of Congress in November? Conservative Bruce Bartlett says, nothing much:

Democrats are unlikely to get more than a very thin majority in the House. If they get the Senate as well, it will not be with more than a one-vote margin. Consequently, effective control will be in the hands of moderates who often work with Republicans on specific issues. In a delicious bit of irony, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, lately excoriated by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, may end up holding the balance of power in the Senate.

As for impeachment and cutting money for Iraq, such actions would be politically insane and the Democratic leadership knows it. They will make the White House pay a price for Iraq, but will ensure that they dont get blamed for any debacle resulting from failure to provide adequate money for our troops.

At the Washington Post, liberal Harold Meyerson mostly agrees. He says the Democratic agenda will be pretty much what you'd expect:

It includes raising the minimum wage, repealing the Medicare legislation that forbids the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices, replenishing student loan programs, funding stem cell research and implementing those recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission that have thus far languished.

....Confronted with an up-or-down vote on raising the minimum wage or making medication for seniors more affordable, many Republicans will side with the Democrats....Should they make it through both houses, many of these measures will face a presidential veto. George W. Bush has already vetoed stem cell legislation, and he has staunchly opposed raising the minimum wage since the day he entered politics. What will congressional Republicans do if they're confronted with a series of vetoes of popular legislation?

If Democrats win, they'll be able to propose legislation for the first time in a long while, and this gives them considerable agenda-setting power. And while impeachment is little more than a bogey man that Republicans use to scare their troops into forking over campaign contributions, Democrats will have considerably more oversight power, even if Republicans did gut the oversight staff when they took over a decade ago. And not a moment too soon.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (246)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ESTABLISHMENTARIAN....Steny Hoyer is the Democratic whip in the House of Representatives, and this November he's going to be a winner no matter what happens. If Democrats win control of the House in the midterm elections, it means Nancy Pelosi moves up to Speaker and Hoyer moves up to Majority Leader. If Dems fail to win control, it most likely means that Pelosi gets tossed out by her colleagues and Hoyer takes over her position as Minority Leader.

So who is Steny Hoyer, and what can we expect from him? Zack Roth, at the end of a long profile in the November Monthly, comes away unimpressed:

The spate of recent lobbying scandals revealed a system in which corporate interests enjoy an unprecedented degree of control over the legislative process. Indeed, the influence of corporate money on legislation is the single biggest obstacle to achieving a broad array of progressive policy goalsfrom universal health care, to a fairer tax code, to curbing global warming.

Thats why Democrats need leaders who are willing to play aggressively by the current rules of the game but who seek to change those rules once in power. The enthusiasm with which Hoyer has raised money from K Street, his resistance to serious lobbying reform, and his general comfort with the Washington establishment all imply a politician with little interest in systemic change. Indeed, Hoyers contention that the problem lies not with lobbying practices as a whole, but rather with individual corrupt members of Congress, suggests he genuinely sees little need for such change.

The title of the article is "The Establishmentarian," which pretty much sets the tone for the whole piece. It's well worth a read.

Kevin Drum 12:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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October 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WE ARE GOVERNED BY IDIOTS....Jeff Stein has an op-ed in the New York Times today in which he recounts his adventures asking various mucky mucks if they know the difference between Shiite and Sunni. It was amusing, but I was going to skip blogging about it because it's the kind of gotcha game that probably tells us less than we think. But then Attaturk pointed to a passage I had skimmed over. This is Rep. Terry Everett (RAla) after admitting he didn't know the difference:

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. Now that youve explained it to me, he replied, what occurs to me is that it makes what were doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.

If you don't know the whole Ali/Hasan story from the 7th century, that's one thing. But if you literally don't know that there are different sects of Islam that form majorities in different regions, and that conflict between these sects is as defining as the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and you're the vice chairman of the House Intelligence committee then we're doomed. As Attaturk says, we are governed by idiots.

Kevin Drum 11:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

LANCET STUDY FOLLOWUP....I've been meaning to round up the blogosphere discussion on that Lancet study that pegged the Iraqi death toll since the invasion at 600,000+, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I've been following the discussion, but I haven't quite worked up the energy to gather up all the links and post about it.

However, Megan McArdle had done a pretty good job here and here, if you want to catch up.

I'll just add this: My intuition is obviously no better than anyone else's here, but based on a broad reading of all the discussion on both sides, my instinct is that the study is off by a factor of about two. That is, the total number of deaths is probably in the range of 200-300,000. Take that for what it's worth.

Kevin Drum 11:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (165)

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By: Kevin Drum

KUO AND THE EVANGELICALS....David Kuo says that White House operatives regularly disparaged Christian right leaders in private and that George Bush never put any energy into seriously funding his faith-based initiatives. It was all just for show, a way to con the rubes into voting Republican. Beliefnet has some more excerpts from Kuo's book here.

So will this cause evangelicals to stay home in disgust this November? Rebecca Sinderbrand, who comes from evangelical Christian stock herself, doesn't think that's the effect it's going to have on most of them:

So what sorts of questions does it raise in their minds? How about: Why did this come out three weeks before the election? Who's plugging this story? And: is there any reason to trust them?

Here's your answers: This story which people they trust dismiss out of hand comes by way of a turncoat....Meanwhile: the fact that these charges are emerging in mid-October makes them feel manipulated. And sure, that kind of manipulation makes them angry but not at the Republican party.

My evangelical street cred is....zero. But I wonder if this is the correct read? Sure, the hardcore Christian right will probably react this way, but what about the more moderate evangelicals? It seems to me that they're the real audience for this stuff, and if even a small percentage of them see Kuo on 60 Minutes or read excerpts of his book in the Washington Post, they might well stay home.

But read the post and decide for yourself. If Rebecca is right, Kuo's confessions might end up being a plus for the Bush/Rove machine, not a minus.

Kevin Drum 5:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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By: Kevin Drum

GOP MELTDOWN WATCH....From conservative Kate O'Beirne at The Corner:

A well-connected Republican source who was running through the most competitive House races this morning said, "If we lose Heather Wilson, we lose the House." The explanation was that Wilson has faced tough reelection races in the past and so knows what she's up against. She's aggressive, knows how to fight for her seat, and raises plenty of money. The reasoning is that if she is knocked off this year, there is little hope for incumbents facing their first real challenge. At the end of September, polls had Wilson tied with New Mexico's attorney general Patricia Madrid. Recent polls give Madrid an edge of about 8 points.

Italics mine. Details here.

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By: Kevin Drum

TRIVIAL PET PEEVE WATCH....I don't know why, but I've gotten really tired of the relentless contemporary use of the phrase "full disclosure." It's become a transparent excuse for drawing attention to ones sterling connections while simultaneously affecting a dedication to some kind of fanciful Olympian standard of rhetorical honesty. What's more, it's almost always unnecessary. Compare and contrast:

This report by John Doe makes a great point. (Full disclosure: I originally met John when we were students at Harvard and we've been yachting buddies ever since.)

This report, written by my friend (colleague/former boss/brother-in law) John Doe, makes a great point.

Unless you're under some legal obligation to do so, can we knock off this "full disclosure" nonsense? It belongs on the trash heap.

UPDATE: OK, I give in. If full disclosures were more like this, I might learn to like them.

Kevin Drum 2:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

RACE BAITING....Just when you think conservative political advertising can't stoop any lower, they prove you wrong. Steve Benen has the latest.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PROBLEM OF GUANTANAMO....If we shut down Guantanamo, what do we do with all the prisoners? This is a genuinely difficult question, and it's one that's kept me from being too full-throated a critic of the military prison there. Today's Washington Post provides a sense of the problem, but only if you read the entire article. First there's this:

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett last week issued the latest European demand to close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba....Behind the scenes, however, the British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to let some prisoners leave Guantanamo and return home.

....There are about 435 prisoners from about 40 countries at Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon. Military tribunals have concluded that about one-quarter of the prisoners are not a security risk, or are otherwise eligible for release or transfer....But those whom the Pentagon wants to free often have nowhere to go.

....The United States is still looking for a home for 17 Uighurs who remain at Guantanamo. Several European countries with small Uighur immigrant populations declined to give the prisoners asylum....Among those countries is Germany, which also balked for years at allowing a German native, Murat Kurnaz, to return even though U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement officials had largely concluded there was no information tying him to al-Qaeda or terrorist activities.

So Britain and Germany carp, but aren't willing to do much to solve the concrete problem at hand. At the same time, it turns out that the inmates involved aren't actually citizens of any European country, merely legal residents. What's more, European reluctance to take them has something to do with U.S. demands:

In January, new German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised Kurnaz's case in visits to the White House and said her country had changed its mind. But it took until August to secure his release, largely because U.S. officials insisted he be indicted or placed under 24-hour surveillance. The Bush administration ultimately relented after Germany refused.

....While all British citizens in Guantanamo were freed starting in 2004, Britain has balked at allowing former legal residents of the country to return....U.S. officials informally floated a proposal in June to see whether Britain would be willing to accept the transfer of all 10 prisoners. Court papers show that Britain nixed the idea, saying it would be too costly and difficult to meet U.S. conditions to keep the men under constant surveillance.

European countries that are unwilling to accept Guantanamo inmates hardly have any business playing holier-than-thou over U.S. reluctance to let them roam our streets. At the same time, the United States can hardly be surprised that sovereign countries are unwilling to let us dictate the terms of prisoner release on their soil.

So what do we do with the Guantanamo inmates? Nobody wants them, even the ones who are almost certainly innocent of any crime, but everyone wants to feel free to denounce us as monsters for keeping them. Fair enough: we're the ones who captured them in the first place (though the last paragraph of the Post story puts even that in doubt in at least one case). Still, what do we do with them?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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By: Kevin Drum

PARTY SWITCHING....Over at Political Wire, Del Ali ponders the chance of Republican defections after the election:

There is a realistic possibility that if the Democrats pick up at least five Senate seats on Election Night, several current Republican Senators could switch to the Democratic side of the aisle. Remember, Shelby switched because he felt Democrats were incapable of moving away from liberalism and Campbell switched because he felt Democrats were beholden to cronyism and did not respect other views among colleagues on issues important to Campbell. In 2006, cronyism is alive and well in the GOP ranks: Arlen Specter is shunned by the GOP leadership and White House for his views on domestic surveillance while Olympia Snowe, John Warner and Chuck Hagel are shunned for their views on Iraq.

Does this strike anyone else as a realistic comment? For various reasons, I don't see Specter, Warner, or Hagel switching parties. Just not gonna happen. Both of the Maine senators have seemed like good party-switching candidates pretty much forever, but not only didn't they do it in 2001 when they could have followed Jim Jeffords' lead, they haven't even been as critical of Republican Party looniness in recent years as the other three, who have at least stood up now and again as voices of relative sanity (if only briefly).

This seems like a pipe dream. Am I missing anything?

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Jacob Hacker

The Emerging Health Care Debate...This will be my last post on the "Great Risk Shift," and I want to thank Kevin and all of you for having me.

In a sign, I believe, of a major emerging debate, USA Today and ABC News have teamed up to run an entire week of stories on the problems in American health insurance and how they can be fixed. Over at TPMCafe, I am currently blogging alongside Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union. In recent months, Stern has provocatively talked about these problems, insistingrightly, in my viewthat the employment-based system of health financing is in serious trouble and needs to be rethought.

Some have taken Sterns comments to mean we should move away from an employer role in health insurance altogether, perhaps instituting some form of individual mandate that would require all workers to get coverage on their own. But thats not how I interpret Sterns remarks (no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong).

Instead, I think hes suggesting that we need to ensure that all workers have insurance, regardless of whether employers offer private protections. That means getting employers out of the game of deciding whether workers get insurance. But it doesnt necessarily mean that employers shouldnt or cant play some sort of administrative and financing role, albeit one much more limited than they play today.

In my proposal for expanded health insurance, for example, employers can continue to provide coverage on their own, but if they dont, theyre asked to contribute a modest amount toward the cost of a Medicare-like plan. One virtue of this approach is that employers remain a conduit for coverage, so that everyone who works (including the self-employed, who are allowed to buy into the Medicare-like program for a bargain price) is automatically enrolled at their place of employment. Another is that it ensures that employers still play a role in financing, so that all those costs dont shift onto workers at once. Yet it still saves employers a bundle. (Yes, on the whole and on average, employers finance health benefits by paying workers less in cash wages. But that payment is largely hidden and most workers greatly value employer contributions.) And a third is that it would allow a large public insurance plan and private employment-based plans to operate side-by-side, with each gaining subscribers over time based on how well costs are controlled by each.

Thats a bargain that would give public-private partnerships a good name.

Jacob Hacker 9:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Kevin Drum

HAPPY BIRTHDAY....If you were born this minute or if you just hopped over the border from Sonora you've put us semi-officially over the top. Congratulations! We can finally stop saying the population of the United States is "nearly 300 million." As of one minute from now, it's "over 300 million."

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October 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON DEMOCRATS AND REDISTRICTING....In a recent column, Paul Krugman suggested that the structure of House districts is fundamentally rigged in favor of Republicans:

The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the G.O.P. to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that because of this ''geographic gerrymander,'' even a substantial turnaround in total Congressional votes say, from the three-percentage-point Republican lead in 2004 to a five-point Democratic lead this year would leave the House narrowly in Republican hands. It looks as if the Democrats need as much as a seven-point lead in the overall vote to take control.

Is this true? Krugman is referring to "majority-minority" House districts, in which minority voters are packed heavily into single districts in order to encourage the election of minority candidates. These districts were originally created as a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and their numbers were later enlarged thanks to the charmingly named "Project Ratfuck," a Republican program designed to help groups like the NAACP create greater numbers of majority-minority districts after the 1990 census. (See Rachel Morris's "The Race to Gerrymander" for the details.)

Did it work? The number of majority-minority districts increased from 27 to 56 after the 1990 round of redistricting, and in 1994 Republicans won a landslide victory in the midterm election. Case closed?

Not really. It's true that Republicans won 53% of House seats in the 1994 election, but they also won 53% of the two-party vote that year. And it's not just 1994. Delia Grigg and Jonathan Katz of Caltech, using data from congressional elections in every state from 1972-2000, have concluded that majority-minority redistricting has had at most a tiny effect in favor of Republicans and most likely no effect at all. Project Ratfuck may have been meant to help the Republican cause, but in practice it had very little impact. (Although it did help a lot more minority candidates get elected.)

The table below lays out more evidence. It shows the percentage of the two-party vote and the percentage of congressional seats won by Democrats in every election since 1992. In 1992 they won more seats than they should have, and in every election since then (with a modest exception in 1996) they've won nearly as many seats as the popular vote suggests they should. Dems do seem to have a structural disadvantage, but it's closer to 1% than 7%.

This doesn't prove anything conclusively in fact, the 1996 exception is a data point in favor Krugman's thesis but the overall evidence, combined with the Grigg/Katz results, suggests that majority-minority redistricting hasn't seriously affected the ability of Democrats to win congressional seats. If Dems win 53% of the two-party vote this November, I'll bet they win close to 53% of the seats too.

NOTE: I'm mostly posting this in hopes that someone who knows a lot about this stuff will see it and chime in. I'd be interested to hear some expert opinion about whether there's more to this than meets the eye.

Kevin Drum 6:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....Air sampling has confirmed that North Korea did indeed test a nuclear bomb last week. The yield was "less than a kiloton," which suggests the test didn't go so well.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?....Apparently it's not just liberals who are asking that question anymore. Steve Rose, chairman of the Johnson County Sun, who admits that the policies of the Democratic Party still make him "cringe," has nonetheless had enough of his own party:

I can name on two hands over a half century the number of Democrats we have endorsed for public office. This year, we will do something different.

....So, what in the world has happened? The Republican Party has changed, and it has changed monumentally.

You almost cannot be a victorious traditional Republican candidate with mainstream values in Johnson County or in Kansas anymore, because these candidates never get on the ballot in the general election.

Rose follows this with a nice list of just what it means to be a right-wing candidate in Kansas these days, and it's not pretty. The Sun will be endorsing an almost unanimous slate of moderate Democrats this year. Is Kansas a weathervane for the nation?

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

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By: Kevin Drum

CRAZY CURT WELDON UPDATE....There's nothing up on their website yet, but apparently the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that FBI agents raided the home of Rep. Curt Weldon's daughter this morning. They are acting on complaints that Weldon steered nearly a million dollars worth of contracts to Karen Weldon's lobbying firm.

This is the same investigation that Weldon denied even existed a few days ago. I guess it exists after all.

UPDATE: Here's the story.

Kevin Drum 1:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

COMMUTING IN AMERICA....Via James Joyner, it appears that the Transportation Research Board has released its third study on commuting patterns and trends. As you can see in the chart below, the main finding is pretty stark: the number of workers has increased by 31 million since 1980 while the number of workers who drive alone to work has increased by 34 million. Despite the population increase, carpooling is down (except in the West), transit use is down (except in the West), walking is down, and motorcycle use is down. The only bright spot is an increase in people like me, who work from home.

The author of the report also produced a "top ten" list of commuting tidbits. Here are the top five:

  1. Sharp increases in proportion of workers traveling more than 60 and even more than 90 minutes to work.

  2. Rise of the donut metro; big work flows in to and out to the suburbs.

  3. Continued, pervasive, and substantial increases in working at home.

  4. Significant increases in percentage of workers leaving for work before 6 am.

  5. Dramatic increases in those workers leaving their home county to work.

Why are more people leaving for work before 6 am? The increase seems to be way out of proportion to the average growth in commuting time, which has risen only four minutes in the past 20 years.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Kevin Drum

BAKER COMMISSION UPDATE....I haven't blogged about all the recent rumors and leaks surrounding the Baker Commission on Iraq, but the LA Times has a pretty good roundup today if you want to catch up. Or you might want to skip the whole thing based on this quote:

An administration official was skeptical that the panel would uncover new policy options, but said the White House would welcome ideas.

"If an independent group like the Baker panel can come up with some good ideas, we're all for it," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because his comment had not been approved.

In other words, write all the reports you want. Just don't count on us taking any of your advice. After all, James Baker may think it's a good idea to talk to Iran and Syria, but do you really think the reason the Bush administration hasn't done this is because the idea simply hasn't occurred to them?

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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October 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY?....Matt Yglesias is right: this is an interesting chart. (It's too big to post on the blog, so you'll have to click on the link to see it.)

The theory behind it, I guess, is that the political climate when you're age 20 affects your party preference for your entire life. The hypothesis would go something like this: popular presidents produce a swing among 20-year-olds to their own party, and unpopular ones produce a swing in the other direction.

A look at the chart suggests this is almost true. If you push the whole thing forward by about four years, so that you're looking at 24-year-olds, it looks to me like the administrations of FDR, Truman, Kennedy/Johnson, and Clinton produced swings toward Democrats, while Jimmy Carter didn't. Likewise, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush Sr. produced swings toward Republicans, while Nixon/Ford, and Bush Jr. didn't. The political climate during your early 20s seems to scar you for life.

Of course, what's really most remarkable about the chart is the fantastic shift toward the Democrats in the 20-30 age group. The delta among this cohort between Democrats and Republicans is about +15 in the Democrats' favor, a bigger number than even the Vietnam/Watergate generation. It looks to me like the Christian right's social neanderthalism is causing the Republican Party to lose a generation forever.

Kevin Drum 6:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (232)

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By: Kevin Drum

CLEAN MONEY....I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but the LA Times has recommended a No vote on Proposition 89, the Clean Money initiative on the ballot in California this November. They agree it's a splendid idea, but:

In the details, however, Proposition 89 runs aground. The funding would come from a tax on corporations and financial institutions....The measure worsens both the insult and the injury by sharply limiting a corporation's ability to spend money supporting or opposing a ballot measure.

Yeah, Prop 89 really sticks it to corporations. It's funded by a 0.2 (that's zero point two) percentage point increase in the corporate income tax, and it prevents corporations from donating more than $10,000 to initiative campaigns unless they set up a PAC to do it.

Can we get real? 0.2% is a tiny increase, and forcing corporations to set up PACs that raise money from wealthy executives and stockholders is a speed bump, not a death sentence. But that's still too bold for the Times. Your liberal media at work.

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

JACK AND KEN....Was Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman a frequent friend of Jack Abramoff back when he worked in the White House? TPM's weekend fill-in, DK, compares Mehlman's current testimony ("I was a gateway") to his previous denials ("Abramoff is someone who we don't know a lot about"). Sounds like he's having a hard time making up his mind.

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By: Kevin Drum

FREE SPEECH WATCH....So how's the world been doing on that free speech thing over the past few weeks? Let's round up the action:

  • The French National Assembly passed a draft law that would make it illegal to deny the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey. Violation would be punishable by five years in jail and a 45,000-euro fine.

  • The Turks, of course, have their own law banning "public denigration of Turkishness." In September, Elif Shafak was put on trial for violating that law, just as Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk was last year.

  • Tony Judt, a widely respected historian who is critical of Israeli policy, had a talk canceled after pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. The talk was sponsored by a group that rents space from the Polish consulate in New York, and the Polish Consul General reported that the ADL and AJC made their position clear: "The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure. That's obvious we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

    Another Judt appearance was similarly canceled after Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale complained that Judt was an anti-Semite in all but name. "Being anti-Israel is essentially being anti-Jewish," he explained.

  • In Germany, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin canceled a performance of Mozart's Idomeneo after a call from an unidentified person who warned that the opera was "damaging to religious feelings." This was due to an added scene that presented the severed heads of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha as a way of making a statement critical of organized religion.

  • Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya, a frequent critic of Vladimir Putin, was gunned down in broad daylight in her apartment building. "According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Ms Politkovskaya is the twelfth journalist to die in a contract-style killing since Mr Putin came to power."

  • Steven Howards of Beaver Creek, Colorado, sued a Secret Service agent after being arrested for assault for telling Dick Cheney that his policies in Iraq were "reprehensible."

  • After Pope Benedict XVI delivered a speech critical of Islam, Christian churches were firebombed in the West Bank, a Pakistani terrorist group called for the pope's murder, a Baghdad terrorist group threatened to kill all Christians in Iraq, and a nun was murdered in Somalia.

  • At Columbia University, protesters stormed the stage and shut down a planned speech from Jim Gilchrist, head of the anti-illegal immigrant Minutemen group.

I could go on, but I'll stop. I just wanted to provide a flavor of what's happening these days. Keeping people from speaking their minds is as popular as ever and needs to be fought as much as ever. From all sides.

Kevin Drum 2:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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October 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FUNDRAISING....The Wall Street Journal reports that the Republican fundraising advantage isn't quite as huge this year as it usually is:

Republicans are used to having more money than Democrats but this year the margin is narrower....According to Tony Corrado, an expert on political finance at Colby College, the two Democratic congressional committees have helped cut the Republicans' cash edge at this point to less than half the margin it was overall in the 2002 midterms.

"We have to at least surpass them to just stay competitive," Illinois veteran Republican Rep. Ray LaHood says of the Democrats. "This is the most competitive I have ever seen it."

That's a pretty remarkable admission, isn't it? LaHood apparently thinks the GOP has no chance of winning a congressional election unless it can outspend the Democrats. In fact, he thinks they aren't even in the game unless they can outspend the Democrats.

This year, the Republican Party has raised 40% more than the Dems, and they still have an $18 million edge for the home stretch. What's more, even those figures are deceiving. Howard Dean has been spending DNC money primarily on infrastructure building, which makes the Dem total less than it seems, and individual Republicans have almost certainly raised more than their opponents, which makes the GOP number higher than it seems.

And they're still way behind. Imagine how far behind they'd be if Democrats were actually competing on a level playing field.

Kevin Drum 11:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING FOR POSTERITY....As I was grabbing the NRO link in the previous post, I noticed that the software they use identifies individual Corner posts like this:


That's a remarkable string of characters, isn't it? On the assumption that all combinations are possible, this algorithm is robust enough to produce 62^43 different combination, or just a bit over 10^77 possible blog posts. That's roughly enough for one blog post every microsecond right up through the heat death of the universe.

Credit where it's due: conservatives sure do plan ahead, don't they?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

LISTEN!....Everybody's having fun with Jeffrey Smith's piece in the Washington Post today about the ballooning numbers of things that George Bush finds "unacceptable," and you can count me among them. But who can blame Bush, really? Six years into his presidency, there are a lot more things I find unacceptable about the world too. The only difference between Bush and me is that I recognize the correlation and he doesn't.

But it was the final paragraph that hit home for me:

Bush's proclamations are not the only rhetorical evidence of his mounting frustrations. One of his favorite verbal tics has long been to instruct audiences bluntly to "listen" to what he is about to say, as in "Listen, America is respected" (Aug. 30) or "Listen, this economy is good" (May 24). This year, he made that request more often than he did in a comparable portion of 2005, a sign that he hasn't given up hope it might work.

This is a symptom of what I find so mysterious about Bush's popularity: his speaking style always strikes me as irritated and angry, as if he's nearly ready to jump out of his skin in frustration that his audience just doesn't get it. Even though he keeps explaining it! And explaining it again! And again! What's wrong with you people?!?

This feeling is almost palpable, and it's the reason I don't understand why his supporters continue to find him attractive. Especially over the past couple of years, he seems increasingly angry, defensive, frustrated, and completely unable to understand why he can't control events around him. Conservatives recognize how feeble and embarrassing this looks when Bush pulls this schtick over something that even they understand is dumb (Kathryn Jean Lopez on the Harriet Miers nomination: "I hate this groaning-when-the-president speaks reflex I've had all week on this issue") but they don't seem to understand that to growing numbers of people he sounds this way all the time.

Listen, George: Being hectored just isn't a good way to people's hearts, and repeating the same words over and over isn't a good way to influence actual events in the world. Is it any wonder your approval ratings are stuck in the 30s?

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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October 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

I SEE DEAD PEOPLE....If you haven't been following the options backdating scandal, I won't bore you with the details right now. Basically and I know you'll be shocked to hear this it's a way for rich executives to make each other even richer by granting stock options that are dated in the past and therefore almost guaranteed to increase in value.

This is all bad enough, but backdating stock options to a dead guy? Is there anything too revolting for these guys to do in pursuit of another buck? And they wonder why us liberals think they need an occasional watchful eye?

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Jacob Hacker

Democrats need a clearer and more forward-looking economic vision, and I argue that they should embrace a vision that combines a commitment to economic security with a faith in economic opportunity. This visionwhich I call an insurance and opportunity societyis starkly opposed to the ideal of an ownership society outlined by conservative critics of the welfare state. The premise of conservatives ownership society is that we can only be free to pursue the opportunities in our lives if we do not share risks with others. An insurance and opportunity society, by contrast, is based on a very different premise: that we are most capable of fully participating in our economy and our society, most capable of taking risks and looking toward our future, when we have a basic foundation of financial security. In this vision, economic security is not opposed to economic opportunity. It is its cornerstone.

In The Great Risk Shift, I argue that an insurance and opportunity agenda must include the preservation and improvement of existing social insurance programs, like Social Security, but simply cannot end there. Our framework of social protection is overwhelmingly focused on the aged, even though young adults and families with children face the greatest economic strains. It emphasizes short-term exits from the workforce, even though long-term job losses and the displacement and obsolescence of skills have become more severe. It embodies, in places, the antiquated notion that family strains can be dealt with by a second earnerusually, a womanwho can easily leave the workforce when there is a need for a parent at home. Above all, it is based on the idea that job-based private insurance can easily fill the gaps left by public programswhen it is ever more clear that it cannot.

This means the emphasis should be on portable insurance to help families deal with major threats to income and big blows to household wealth. It also means that these promises should be mostly separate from work for a particular employer: a commitment that moves seamlessly from job to job. Yes, this will sometimes mean that government has to take the lead, but it will also mean a system of economic protection thats more family friendly, more conducive to having kids, more supportive of obtaining new skills, more accommodating of employers buried under the cost of their benefit obligationsin short, more supportive of a large productive workforce that will lessen the strain on programs for the aged. It also means a system much less imperiled by the demographic shifts that have placed Medicare and Social Security in danger.

Instead of slashing existing protections, in sum, we should work to include families in the bargainby, for instance, expanding Medicare to younger Americans, upgrading unemployment insurance to reflect the changing character of job loss, and ensuring that 401(k) retirement plans are broadly distributed and are capable of providing guaranteed benefits for the remainder of retired peoples lives.

I wont go into the detailed agenda that I lay out in The Great Risk Shift here. I will, however, mention one novel proposal I have developed that I call Universal Insurancea kind of umbrella insurance policy protecting working families against catastrophic drops in income or budget-wrecking health costs. I have outlined Universal Insurance in considerable detail for the Brooking Institutions Hamilton Project, and I encourage those interested to find out more about the plan on the Projects website As you will find if you visit the proposal, my estimates suggest that Universal Insurance would cost much less than what the government now spends to subsidize 401(k) plans each year. In turn, it would lift more than 3 million Americans out of poverty, and cut Americans chance of experiencing a 50 percent or larger income drop in half.

All these changes will not come without struggle, of course, and the struggle will be fierce. Yet we should not forget the principles at stake. If we acquiesce to the creative destruction of American-style capitalism, then we also have to accept that many Americans, at one point or another, will be hit with disasters they cannot cope with on their own. Providing protection against these risks is a way of ensuring that the dynamism of our economy is politically sustainable and morally defensible. It is also a way of ensuring that Americans feel secure enough to take the risks necessary for them and their families to get ahead. Corporations enjoy limited liability, after all, precisely to encourage risk-taking. But while today we still have limited liability for American corporations, increasingly we have full liability for American families.

This must change.

Jacob Hacker 2:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

SANTORUM MELTS DOWN....Via Isaac Chotiner, check out this video of Rick Santorum's debate with Bob Casey last night. Casey makes a rather garden-variety debating point about the short workweek in Congress these days, suggesting that Santorum and his colleagues ought to spend more time on the people's business, and Santorum goes nuts. It's impossible to do it justice in print, but his finger-jabbing rant goes something like this:

Look at the camera, Mr. Casey. Look at the camera. Look at the camera and answer the question. Look at the camera! JUST LOOK AT THE CAMERA!!

This happens about three or four minutes into the debate, and you can practically see the spittle flying into the camera lens. The moderator finally manages to get a word in edgewise and shut him up, but Santorum sure gives every impression of a guy who's completely lost it.

UPDATE: Oliver Willis has a YouTube of the relevant part of the debate here.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (170)

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By: Kevin Drum

EXODUS....It's wise for Democrats not to get too giddy over every new poll that comes out, but Gallup's latest is definitely one of the most remarkable we've seen in a while. In the past few elections, one of the strongest predictors among white voters of party preference has been church attendance: regular churchgoes vote overwhelmingly for Republicans while white non-attendees (and blacks) vote for Democrats.

But according to a Gallup poll released on Thursday, that advantage has dried up completely this year: regular churchgoers are now split evenly, with 47% planning to vote Republican and 47% planning to vote Democratic. As recently as last month Republicans still held a 20-point lead among frequent white churchgoers.

In the end, I imagine that a majority of these people will hold their noses and vote for Republicans after all. But if even 5% of them stay home and another 5% switch to the Democrats, it's going to have a huge impact. David Kuo's new book ought to help that along nicely.

Kevin Drum 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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By: Kevin Drum

LABOR UPDATE....Good news! That four-month lockout at Southern California supermarkets that ended in Safeway slashing pay and cutting health benefits for its workers is working out swell. Thanks to the cost cutting, they've managed to scrape by for another few months:

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based parent of the Vons and Pavilions grocery chains said Thursday that fiscal third-quarter profit jumped 42%....

Analysts said that labor dispute, which resulted in a contract that reduced benefits and pay rates for new hires, was finally paying off for Safeway.

"There's no question the restructured labor contracts have had a positive impact" on the company's bottom line, [analyst Craig] Hutson said.

Yep, that was a close call. Without the new contract profit might have increased only 10% or so. Can you imagine?

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Jacob Hacker

I'm going to be writing about what can be done to counter the growing economic insecurity of American families later today. But I just discovered an idea I hadn't thought of -- on p. 18 of today's Times.

Just Asking to Be Caught, Thief Solves Joblessness

October 13, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Oct. 12 (AP) A man who could not find steady work came up with a plan to make it through the next few years until he could collect Social Security: He robbed a bank, handed the money to a guard and waited for the police.

On Wednesday, the man, Timothy J. Bowers, told a judge that a three-year prison sentence would suit him, and the judge obliged.

At my age, the jobs available to me are minimum-wage jobs, Mr. Bowers, who will turn 63 in a few weeks, told the judge, Angela White. There is age discrimination out there.

Judge White told him: Its unfortunate you feel this is the only way to deal with the situation.

Mr. Bowers said he had been able to find only odd jobs after the drug wholesaler for which he made deliveries closed in 2003. He walked to a bank and handed a teller a note demanding cash in an envelope. The teller gave him four $20 bills and pushed a silent alarm.

Mr. Bowers handed the money to a security guard standing in the lobby and told him it was his day to be a hero.

He pleaded guilty to robbery, and a court-ordered psychological exam found him competent.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that before the robbery, Mr. Bowers had handed his landlady the keys to his apartment, his mailbox and the laundry room and told her he would probably not be back.

Its a pretty sad story when someone feels thats their only alternative, said Jeremy W. Dodgion, a defense lawyer, who described Mr. Bowers as a charming old man.

Prosecutors had considered arguing against putting Mr. Bowers in prison at taxpayer expense, but they worried he would do something more reckless to be put behind bars.

Its not the financial plan I would choose, but its a financial plan, the prosecutor, Dan Cable, said.

Jacob Hacker 10:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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October 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

TOP BRITISH GENERAL: IT'S TIME TO LEAVE IRAQ....Ah. This is interesting. Remember a couple of weeks ago I posted an item about a secret memo suggesting that the Chief of Staff of the British Army wanted to get out of Iraq? The only question I had was: which Chief of Staff did the memo refer to? The previous guy who retired at the end of August, or the new guy who took over from him? Today the Daily Mail answers my question: it's the new guy. Here's what General Sir Richard Dannatt told them:

"I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.

...."The hope that we might have been able to get out of Iraq in 12, 18, 24 months after the initial start in 2003 has proved fallacious. Now hostile elements have got a hold it has made our life much more difficult in Baghdad and in Basra."

....Sir Richard adds, strongly, that we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems". "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren't invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in."

All in all, this is a pretty extraordinary interview. The BBC's Nick Robinson calls it a "very public warning" to the next prime minister. Doug Henderson, a former defence minister, told Newsnight, "One can only assume that Sir Richard has made his views known privately and that they've been ignored."

That's true. The secret memo made it clear that Dannatt tried to privately broker a deal last month to pull British troops out of Iraq and transfer them to Afghanistan, where he thinks we still have a chance to make a difference, but was turned down. Now he's gone public. I wonder if there are any American generals who agree with him?

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (111)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERTARIANS AND LIBERALS....Should Democrats court the libertarian vote? Over at Cato Unbound, Markos Moulitsas is making the case for something he calls "Libertarian Democrats," and the Cato folks themselves have released a paper claiming that "some 10 to 20 percent of voting-age Americans are libertarian." Does that mean libertarians are a significant constituency that might turn the Democrats' way with the right kind of wooing?

Color me skeptical. Matt Yglesias argues that in order to gum up the works and reduce the chance of continued legislative idiocy from Republicans, libertarians ought to vote for Democrats in 2006, and this seems pretty much inarguable on a purely tactical level. Any libertarian who can't figure out this much needs to turn in his Hayek Fan Club badge.

But more broadly? I just don't see it. When it comes to social policies, it's true that liberals are more closely aligned than conservatives to libertarian principles. Liberals tend to be tolerant of drug use, dedicated to civil liberties, committed to separation of church and state, in favor of gay rights, and so forth. The Republican Party, having long ago sold its soul to the Christian right, can't credibly pretend to support any of this stuff.

But it doesn't matter. Libertarians may say they favor liberal social policies and they do but when push comes to shove most of them will toss the social stuff overboard in a heartbeat in favor of a dedication to economic libertarianism. What really gets their hearts pounding is big government and regulation of the free market. They're against 'em.

And let's face it: Democrats just can't credibly claim to be on their side. We like labor unions, we support environmental regulation and consumer safety laws, we think anti-poverty programs are great, we favor safety net programs like Social Security and national healthcare, and we're not allergic to imposing the taxes to pay for all this stuff. You can try all day long to find a few grains of libertarian economic doctrine in the Democratic Party platform, but why bother? You're not going to convince anyone, least of all the libertarians themselves, that we're on their side.

Now, I don't quite know why it is that libertarians care so much more about economic libertarianism than they do about social libertarianism. Maybe they believe that Republicans talk a good game about their scary social agenda but aren't really serious about imposing it. Or maybe they figure that although Democrats are theoretically more socially libertarian than Republicans, in reality they don't do much about it. And those are pretty reasonable propositions. How many Democrats are in favor of any kind of serious drug decriminalization, after all?

But whatever the reason, there's not much long-term chance of a marriage between liberals and libertarians. Economic policy is at the heart of the libertarian worldview, and on that score they're just a lot closer to Republicans than to Democrats. It's hard to see any plausible way of papering that over.

Kevin Drum 7:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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By: Kevin Drum

HELPING AMERICA VOTE (FOR THE RIGHT PARTY)....The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is an administrative body created in 2002 as part of the Help America Vote Act. Recently they commissioned a study of voter fraud:

The bipartisan report by two consultants to the election commission casts doubt on the problem those laws are intended to address. There is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling-place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, dead' voters, non-citizen voting and felon voters, the report says.

The report, prepared by Tova Wang, an elections expert at the Century Foundation think tank, and Job Serebrov, an Arkansas attorney, says most fraud occurs in the absentee ballot process, such as through coercion or forgery.

That makes sense. Polling place fraud is difficult and risky, and that makes it rare. Absentee ballot fraud, by contrast, is pretty simple to pull off.

So if you want to combat voter fraud, you should put your biggest effort in the place where most fraud occurs, right? And that would be absentee voting.

But of course, there's another consideration: putting restrictions on voting in polling places primarily reduces voter turnout among Democrats. Conversely, restrictions on voting by absentee ballot primarily reduces voter turnout among Republicans.

That's a tough decision, isn't it? Do the right thing, or do the thing that hurts Democratic turnout? Hmmm. What do you think happened in this case? Would it help if I told you that this report was written four months ago and that the Republican chairman of the EAC immediately decided not to release it?

Via Mark Kleiman.

Kevin Drum 2:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH: DON'T BLAME ME....The Washington Times, based on leaked information about some recent intelligence reports, says the intelligence community badly screwed up its assessment of North Korea:

The officials said there were as many as 10 failures related to intelligence reporting on North Korean missile tests and the suspected nuclear test that harmed administration efforts to deal with the issue.

According to officials familiar with the reports, the failures included judgments that cast doubt about whether North Korea's nuclear program posed an immediate threat, whether North Korea could produce a militarily useful nuclear bomb, whether North Korea was capable of conducting an underground nuclear test and whether Pyongyang was bluffing by claiming it could carry one out.

This is via Instapundit, who seems oddly unconcerned with this particular pre-election leak of our nation's secrets. (Compare to "we should fire the leakers on general principles" from a couple of weeks ago when someone leaked intelligence info to the New York Times that was damaging to the administration. I guess pro-Bush leaks are different.)

Snark aside, though, here's the really odd thing: what failures are we talking about? There's no way to know without seeing the reports in question, but it strikes me that (a) it's not clear if North Korea's nuclear program poses an immediate threat, (b) North Korea's weapon did appear to be something of a dud, (c) they don't seem very good at this underground testing thing, and (d) they might very well have been bluffing. What's more, given how hermetically sealed North Korea is, I assume the NIE was practically bursting with caveats that no one really knows for sure what they're up to.

All in all, a pretty transparent effort at buck passing. I don't have any special brief for the intelligence community, which has made its share of mistakes in the past, but the fact is that Bush has spent more than four years waving his arms manically but doing absolutely nothing of any substance about the North Korean threat. Now he's trying to blame his lack of policy on the intelligence community? Pathetic.

POSTSCRIPT: As an added bonus, note the attempt to specifically blame the "failures" on Thomas Fingar, formerly of the State Department's intelligence service, and the one guy who had the gall to get it right on Iraq. I guess this is payback for arguing with Dick Cheney three years ago.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Jacob Hacker

Al asks a good question in the comments (well, he presents it as a statement of fact, but I will take it as a question): Is increased risk just the flipside of the increased returns of our economy? Don't we have to take risks to achieve rewards, and won't providing security prevent that?

Al's not the only one making this point. Both Brink Lindsay in his review of my book in the Wall Street Journal, and Tyler Cowen, in his otherwise favorable assessment of my book on "marginal revolution," suggest that I understate the gains that have come with increased risks. So is economic security just an inconvenient but necessary byproduct of our economic success?

The answer, I am convinced, is no. In fact, quite the opposite: We could increase the gains of our economy--and make them more fairly distributed--by providing basic financial security.

Let's start with the first simple point, one that Kevin has been drumming away at (sorry for the pun) for years: It's not as if middle class Americans are making out like bandits in the American economy. The statistics are pretty clear. Median-income Americans have seen only modest growth in their incomes over the past generation; most of the gains have been at the top. Plus, most of the gains at the middle have been due to the increasing work hours of families (specifically, the increasing work hours of women). I think the movement of women into the workforce is something to celebrate, but it can't be described as a great victory for the middle class that families have gotten ahead only because they've worked more.

This is when the risk-return folks turn to other arguments. They say that upward social mobility has increased (it hasn't). Or they say, as Cowen and Lindsay do, that Americans are living longer (true, but it's hard to argue that this is a result of us facing more risk--after all, people live even longer in many European countries with generous welfare states--or that it makes the increased economic insecurity families face irrelevant, or that it should make us less concerned about the rising number of Americans without health coverage). Or, to pull out the ace card that Lindsay finally resorts to in his rebuttal, they say that income inequality has increased, but inequality of consumption -- what people spend -- hasn't.

What should we make of this claim? Well, first, it's probably wrong. Consumption inequality is less than income inequality, but it seems to have increased just as much. But the broader implication is that we shouldn't worry about drops in income because people can deal with these drops on their own -- hence their consumption is less unequal than their incomes.

But how are people dealing with these drops on their own today? Mostly by going into debt. As I show in my book, median household debt as a share of income for married parents was more than 125 percent of income in 2004. The economist Herb Stein once said, "If something can't go on, it won't." And the debt hemorrhage of the American family simply can't go on.

If the returns of rising risk add up to the ability to borrow more to dig oneself out of short-term holes (thus digging a deeper long-term hole), then I think we can safely say that most Americans would be happy to give up the returns to obtain greater security.

But here's the kicker: We can provide security and help our economy. Just as businessmen and entrepreneurs are protected against the most severe economic risks they face to encourage economic investment and growth, we are most capable of fully participating in our economy, most capable of taking risks and looking toward our future, when we have a basic foundation of financial security. Economic security is not opposed to economic opportunity; it is its cornerstone. And restoring a measure of economic security in the United States today is the key to transforming the nations great wealth and productivity into an engine for broad-based prosperity and opportunity in an ever more uncertain economic world.

How do we do that? That's the subject of my next post.

Jacob Hacker 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (93)

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By: Kevin Drum

REDISTRICTING: FACT AND FICTION....Is gerrymandering responsible for the fact that it's virtually impossible nowadays to defeat an incumbent in the House of Representatives? Reporters and pundits seem to accept this without question, but academic research suggests otherwise. For example, Alan Abramowitz, an Emory political science professor who's studied the decline in competitive seats, recently published a paper concluding that redistricting has had "little to do with the recent decline in competition in House elections. Other developments, such as the growing financial advantage of incumbents and increasing partisanship in the electorate, appear to be more responsible." He figures that only 12% of the decline in marginal districts has been a result of redistricting.

Still, 12% is 12%, and when the House is split as evenly as it is now that can make the difference between being in the majority and being in the minority something that Republicans seem to understand better than Democrats. In "The Race to Gerrymander," in our November issue, Rachel Morris provides a fascinating 20-year history of Republican efforts to gain control of state legislatures in 1990 and again in 2000 so that they'd be the ones in control of redistricting:

Republicans prepared earlier and poured money into the 2000 legislative elections in critical states like Pennsylvania. Some Democrats, particularly [Martin] Frost, advocated a similarly ambitious approach, but the 1994 wipeout had thrown the party into something of a tailspin, and for the next few years presidential contests consumed much of its energy and money. Eventually Democrats did devote considerable attention to state elections and preparing for the census, but they had already lost valuable time.

After 2000, Democrats found themselves entirely locked out of redistricting in four large swing states where Republicans had won all three branches of government: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In those states we got hammered, one Democratic redistricting operative said.

It may be that Republican gerrymandering has produced a net gain of no more than 20 seats for the GOP over the past couple of decades. Still, that's enough, and it's one of the reasons I think Howard Dean's focus on rebuilding state party infrastructure is so pivotal. When 2010 rolls around Democrats need to be in a position to compete in every state, either to gain control of the redistricting process outright or to at least win enough control to prevent Republicans from dominating the process the way they have for the past two cycles. 2004 was none too soon to start working on that.

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

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October 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CONTEMPT....Tucker Carlson talks to Chris Matthews:

CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power.

....MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.

David Kuo agrees. He was the #2 guy at the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for two years, and he's got a new book out called Tempting Faith:

He says some of the nations most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as the nuts.

National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ridiculous, out of control, and just plain goofy, Kuo writes.

Kuo also says that the OFB was used to secretly sponsor partisan events designed solely to turn out Republican voters:

Kuo alleges that then-White House political affairs director Ken Mehlman knowingly participated in a scheme to use the office, and taxpayer funds, to mount ostensibly nonpartisan events that were, in reality, designed with the intent of mobilizing religious voters in 20 targeted races.

According to Kuo, Ken loved the idea and gave us our marching orders.

Among those marching orders, Kuo says, was Mehlmans mandate to conceal the true nature of the events.

Kuo quotes Mehlman as saying, ...(I)t cant come from the campaigns. That would make it look too political. It needs to come from the congressional offices. Well take care of that by having our guys call the office [of faith-based initiatives] to request the visit.

And during this time, according to Kuo, faith-based groups actually ended up getting less money for social programs than they had before. Like I said a few days ago, are social conservatives ever going to catch on to the way they're being conned by the Republican Party?

Kevin Drum 9:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (163)

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By: Kevin Drum

WANTED: ADULT SUPERVISION....From Al Kamen's column:

This just in from the Green Zone in Baghdad: The hot new polo shirt in the zone is white with a diplomatic security badge on it and stitching below that says "Resistance Is Futile."

Good God. This sort of triumphal jackassery is straight out of warbloggerdom circa March 2003, back when the 101st Fighting Keyboarders were certain we'd whip those pesky Baathist ragheads into line ASAP and then march home in victory. If this is really the hot new thing in the Green Zone, it's no wonder we're losing.

Kevin Drum 7:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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By: Kevin Drum

A FEDERAL IRAQ?....You may recall that last October's election to ratify an Iraqi constitution almost didn't come off. Why? Because the constitution included a provision to make Iraq into a loose federation with a weak central government, a proposition that was violently opposed by the Sunni minority.

At the last minute, though, Sunni leaders agreed to a compromise: a committee would be created within four months of a new government taking power after the January parliamentary elections, and the committee would have the power to consider amendments to the constitution.

Now, this was always something of a fig leaf. Shiite leaders repudiated it almost immediately, and the proposed amendments would have required an impossible two-thirds approval anyway. But for the time being, it got the Sunnis on board.

In May a government was formed and the four-month clock started ticking. And the result? Nothing. Finally, in September, Sunnis agreed to allow a vote on federalism in return for yet another promise to form a constitutional committee, and today the bill came up for a vote. Apparently the Sunni bloc has reconsidered the deal over the past few weeks:

The Sunni coalition in parliament and two Shiite parties tried to prevent a vote on a bill by boycotting Wednesday's session to keep the 275-seat body from reaching the necessary 50 percent quorum.

But the quorum was reached with 140 lawmakers, who voted on each of the bill's some 200 articles individually, passing them all unanimously.

...."This is the beginning of the plan to divide Iraq," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni National Accordance Front, which boycotted the vote along with al-Sadr's party and the Shiite Fadila party.

"We had hoped that the problems of sectarian violence be resolved. We hope there won't be an increase in violence," al-Dulaimi said.

It looks like the Shiites and Kurds are going to get their federal state whether the Sunnis like it or not. And they don't like it, since all sides know perfectly well that the Sunni region has no oil wealth and will be weak and impoverished. This is a big part of the reason that there's no reason to think the fighting is going to stop anytime soon.

Kevin Drum 5:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DISAPPEARING LABOR BEAT....The labor beat at daily newspapers has been on the verge of extinction for years. My local paper, the LA Times, used to have some of the best labor coverage in the country, thanks to its great labor beat reporter, Harry Bernstein, but that heritage declined and then finally died last year when labor writer Nancy Cleeland left the beat. As Michael Massing reported:

She made the move "out of frustration," she told me. Her editors "really didn't want to have labor stories. They were always looking at labor from a management and business perspective 'how do we deal with these guys?'"...."They don't consider themselves hostile to working-class concerns, but they're all making too much money to relate to the problems that working-class people are facing," observed Cleeland, who is now writing about high school dropouts.

At the New Republic, John Judis observes that BusinessWeek has increasingly transformed itself from a serious chronicler of business into a Smart Money clone ("Revealed! Secrets of the Male Shopper") and suggests that its prize-winning labor coverage was one casualty of the change:

I have read BusinessWeek regularly for 30 years....But, over the last year or so, I started reading it less, and finally stopped altogether. I didn't know why at the time, and I even felt somewhat guilty about neglecting the magazine. But I figured out why last week when I heard that the magazine's new editor, Stephen Adler, had fired Aaron Bernstein, who had worked at the magazine since 1983 and had written many of its most outstanding stories.

....To see the difference between the old BusinessWeek and the new, you need only compare issues from a few months toward the end of Shepard's tenure with some recent issues that Adler has put out....As I looked over these issues, I suddenly understood why I had stopped reading BusinessWeek and why its new editor would let someone like Bernstein go. A serious writer and particularly one who writes about the American worker has no place at a magazine that aspires to be the People of the business world.

As labor unions decline in power and advertisers insist ever more vigorously on appealing to specific demographics (young, white collar, lots of disposable income), coverage of blue collar and working class issues simply fades away. It's like this stuff doesn't even exist anymore. And let's face it: if all you read is BusinessWeek or your local daily, it doesn't.

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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By: Jacob Hacker

As a downpayment on the positive agenda I promised in my last post, I wanted to note that I laid out one proposal -- universal health care through a new approach that builds on the best elements of our current system -- yesterday in Slate. (I take no responsibility for the graphic, or the smarmy teaser.)

Jacob Hacker 9:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Jacob Hacker

Anyone who's watched the GOP meltdown cannot fail to be impressed by the lack of underlying public sympathy for the party that's successfully held Congress for the past twelve years. That's no surprise: Republicans have governed substantially to the right of the center of public opinion. Instead of appealing to the moderate middle -- which, incidentally, clearly wants health reform, retirement security, and jobs that aren't constantly at risk -- they've relied on what Paul Pierson and I call "backlash insurance" (ways of obscuring their unpopular agenda or lessening the degree to which voters can call them to account at the polls) to reduce the chance they'll suffer electorally while strong-arming their agenda through Congress. But now, backlash insurance seems to have lost a good deal of its power, and although the GOP structural advantages Paul and I emphasized in Off Center are still in play, they increasingly look insufficient to hold back the electoral tide.

But make no mistake: The playing field of American politics still remains heavily tilted in the GOP's favor -- and nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the overall tenor of political debate about economic policy.

As I show in The Great Risk Shift, there's been a major increase in economic insecurity for most Americans -- even those once well insulated from the winds of economic uncertainty. Americans are as pessimistic about the economy and their economic futures as they've been in years, and they're hungry for change. "The political mystery," as Bob Kuttner nicely puts it, "is why everyone else is not kicking up a fuss." Why isn't rising economic insecurity Topic #1 in American politics?

Now, it may not be the popular position on this blog (so far as I can tell from the comments), but I think there's no way to avoid the conclusion that part of the reason is the failure of the Democrats to recognize and seize on the new economic climate. Bill Galston, one of Bill Clinton's former advisers and a well-known Democratic centrist, expressed the point well in a forum on Democrats and the middle class that I recently participated in:

"I believe that the economy and Americans' perception of it have changed since the 1990s in ways that require corresponding changes in our [i.e., Democrats'] economic agenda and in the ways we talk about it. An understandable nostalgia for the Clinton years must not fool us into believing that we can succeed just by dusting off and updating Putting People First. Selective benefits for the middle class are at best a small piece of the answer. We must be prepared to take on the larger structural challenges that have emerged since the end of the Clinton administration. "

What does this mean in practice? That's the subject of my next post.

Jacob Hacker 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DEATH RATE IN IRAQ....A team at Johns Hopkins has done another study of the post-invasion death rate in Iraq:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

....Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence....Of the violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes, the respondents said.

This is remarkable. If you do the arithmetic, it means that coalition forces have killed 186,000 Iraqis in the 39 months between the invasion and the period when the study was done. That's about 4,700 per month and the numbers are on a steady upward trend.

This study was done by the same team that did a similar "cluster sampling" analysis in 2004 that generated a huge amount of controversy. As near as I can tell, though, their methodology turned out to be sound and the objections mostly didn't hold water. (For example, they were accused of inflating the figures by including a cluster from Fallujah, which had just gone through a horrific battle. In fact, they specifically excluded the Fallujah cluster for exactly that reason.) This time around, the figures from their new study buttress the previous one, and also match up with other data, which suggests their methodology is on target.

There is, of course, a fair amount of inherent uncertainty in this study. There's a roughly 10% chance the true figure could be half the reported size and a 10% chance it could be double the reported size. Still, the most likely figure is the one the Johns Hopkins team reported, and if it's accurate it means that coalition troops are killing nearly 5,000 Iraqis per month. That's truly an astonishing number.

UPDATE: I only had the Washington Post report to go on when I wrote this last night, and I guessed wrong about the statistical accuracy of the study. The paper is here, and in fact there's only about a 2% chance that the true figure is either half or double the reported figure.

That's based strictly on the chance of statistical sampling error. It's also possible that there are additional methodological problems (people lying to the researchers, for example), but that's a separate issue.

Kevin Drum 2:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (313)

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October 10, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICAN MELTDOWN UPDATE....Over at Showdown '06, Ruy Teixeira notes that in four polls released Monday the average Democratic lead in the generic congressional race is a mind-boggling 17 percentage points. Structural changes over the past couple of decades mean that this still isn't likely to create a victory the size of 1994, but if this news energizes the Democratic ground operation as it should it could still produce the second biggest congressional rout since the Reagan era.

Mark Blumenthal also summarizes the poll results today, and concludes that they look equally grim for Republicans whether you look at registered voters or likely voters. There's just no good news for the GOP anywhere.

And here's a thought: if the Republican Party does continue its ongoing implosion, it's going to make Howard Dean look pretty smart, isn't it? It'll mean that Democrats win a historic victory this year and have made two year's worth of progress on improving their state organizations for 2008.

Sure, some of that is just luck. Neither Dean nor anyone else predicted this year's Republican meltdown. But you know what they say: luck favors the well prepared.

Kevin Drum 8:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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By: Jacob Hacker

WHAT IS "THE GREAT RISK SHIFT"?....I can see that my last post stirred up as much dissent as assent, and I think I understand why. Criticizing the Democrats is frequently a set-up for mealy-mouthed centrism. But thats not what Im advocating. Instead, I want the Democrats to return their roots, so to speakreclaiming their voice as the defender of middle-class Americans on pocketbook issues. And the way I argue Democrats can do this is by speaking forthrightly about the rapidly increasing insecurity of American workers and their families, and by putting forth innovative ideas that build on the Democrats proud tradition of broad-based insurance while updating that tradition for the new world of work and family. As I said in my last post, I dont think this is necessary to win big in November. But I do think its essential if Democrats are to build a strong governing majority for the long haul and restore a measure of public faith in government.

I want to talk briefly about increasing insecurity in this post, then take up potential criticisms (or actual ones; see also this one and this one) and provide some ideas about what should be done in posts to come.

Why are Americans so unhappy about the economy, when the basic economic numbers (inflation, unemployment, economic growth) have been pretty good? Because the basic economic numbers dont capture the pervasive insecurity that Americans increasingly feel. Our economy hasuntil recently at leastproduced strong overall growth and productivity (though not strong growth in middle-class incomes). But its also been producing massive economic instability for ordinary Americans, whose jobs, incomes, homes, health insurance, and retirement pensions are ever more at risk.

If you have trouble figuring out why risk makes people anxious and unhappy, consider this simple thought experiment: How much of your income would you be willing to put at risk to get a chance at twice your current income? If youre like most Americans, the answer is not muchand for a simple reason: While youd love to have more money, your life would be thrown into turmoil if your income dropped by, say, half.

Social psychologists have a name for this phenomenon: loss aversion, which means simply that we dislike losing things we have far more than we like gaining things we dont have. No wonder: If your family income fell by half, you would risk losing your home, your health insurance, your retirement savingsin a word, your safety net. And with these vital assets would go your dreams for the future. Maybe its no surprise, then, that a recent poll found that even opportunity-loving Americans prefer, by a two-to-one margin, the security of having their current income protected to the chance to make more money.

To understand why insecurity is at the heart of public dissatisfaction with the economy requires grasping how much our economy has changed. Ive discovered that the up-and-down swings of American family incomes before taxes are now three times larger than they were in the early 1970s. Remember that thought experiment about a 50 percent potential income drop? Well, the chance of such a 50 percent drop for an average Americanwith average age, average education, average personal characteristics, average chance of experiencing job loss, divorce, and the likeis now almost one in six. (The chart below, taken from this report, tells the story.) Find six average people, and the statistics say one of them is going to see their family income fall by half. Back in the early 1970s, you would have had to round up more than fourteen people before one of them faced that risk.

As Jack Beatty recently argued at the Atlantic Online, poverty and inequality are often highly abstract for most Americanseven those whove fallen farther and farther behind the top birds in the economic pecking order. Economic insecurity, however, is decidedly not abstract, and its being felt by more and more Americans. Which is precisely why the risk shift could become such a resonant political issue.

Is there an alternative? Yes, and Democrats should seize it. But thats a subject for another post.

Jacob Hacker 11:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE CRACKUP WATCH....Ralph "Blood and Guts" Peters isn't quite following in Fareed Zakaria's footsteps and recommending immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but he's close:

If Iraq's leaders stop squabbling and lead, and if Iraq's soldiers and police fight resolutely for their constitutional state, we should be willing to stay "as long as it takes." But if they continue to wallow in ethnic and religious partisanship while doing as little as possible for their own country, we need to leave and let them face the consequences.

Give them one more year. And that's it.

....Make no mistake: Were our nation directly threatened, our ground forces would surge to respond powerfully and effectively. But as far as Iraq goes, they've given their best. They're willing to die for our country. But we should never ask them to give their lives to postpone a political embarrassment.

....Iraq is not yet lost, but it's harder every day to be optimistic. It's still too soon to give up we must have the fortitude to weather very dark days. But we also need the guts to recognize when it's time to cut our losses. In Iraq, the verdict must come in 2007.

In the same way that Zakaria is representative of the center-right establishment, I think that Peters is representative of a different strain of conservatism that's also soured on the war. These guys basically think the Iraqis haven't shown much gratitude for the favor we did by invading them, and if that's the way they feel then the hell with them. I've heard this more than once from distinctly non-elite conservative acquaintances.

So what does it mean? George Bush says he's going to stay in Iraq even if Laura and Barney are the only ones left supporting him, and that may be exactly where he finds himself before long. Liberals of even the hawkish variety abandoned him long ago, and both the center-right and the isolationist right are now following right behind. When James Baker III makes it official with whatever he recommends after the election, it's just going to be Laura, Barney, and Bill Kristol left baying at the moon, and not much of anyone else.

Kevin Drum 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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By: Kevin Drum

MONITORING THE NORTH KOREANS....Did the North Koreans really detonate a nuclear device? The consensus seems to be "probably," and we'll know for sure in a few days thanks to sniffer spy planes looking for radiation signatures in the atmosphere near the test site. And what are those planes looking for? For the geeks out there, Jeffrey Park of Yale provides the answer:

In geologic conditions where containment is more effective, the "golden spikes" of radionuclide detection are isotopes of certain noble gasses, which diffuse out of the ground post-explosion. The CTBTO-IMS has radionuclide detectors in Japan and Okinawa, so the chance of getting a reliable reading is good.

Now you know. (BTW, that's the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization's International Monitoring System he's talking about.)

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT NORTH KOREA WANTS....Selig Harrison, who has spent a fair amount of time talking with North Korean officials, argues that their nuclear test on Monday was basically just a dramatic way of getting our attention:

Paradoxical as it may seem, Pyongyang staged the test as a last-ditch effort to jump-start a bilateral dialogue on the normalization of relations that the United States has so far spurned. Over and over, I was told that Pyongyang wants bilateral negotiations to set the stage for implementation of the denuclearization agreement it concluded in Beijing on Sept. 19, 2005, with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

Washington focuses on Article One of the accord, in which North Korea agreed to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." But what made the agreement acceptable to Pyongyang was the pledge in Article Two that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize relations."

In North Korean eyes, it was a flagrant violation when, four days after the agreement was signed, the United States in effect declared economic war on the Kim Jong Il regime. The Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions designed to cut off North Korean access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting and money laundering.

Well, if we were in their position, we'd feel double-crossed too, wouldn't we? Far from being the hare-brained response of a bunch of "madmen," their feeling of betrayal was actually a pretty unsurprising reaction. Kim Jong-Il may be a weird guy, and the whole DPRK leadership is paranoid as hell, but within the constraints of how police states usually act, they actually seem to behave fairly predictably.

Of course, the part I've never really understood is our reluctance to give them the one thing they've consistently asked for over many decades: diplomatic recognition and some kind of security guarantee. After all, what's the downside? Treaty or not, if North Korea provoked a war we'd declare them in default of their obligations and then squash them. Recognition and security guarantees literally cost us nothing.

But ten consecutive presidents of both parties have declined to offer this, so there must be more to it. But what?

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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October 9, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SECURE FENCE ACT REVISITED....Is George Bush going to pocket veto the Secure Fence Act? Ed Morrissey made a phone call and says no:

Congress has not formally sent the bill to the President. That means the clock has not started for his signature. The 10-day period starts only after Congress formally prints and delivers the bill for the President to sign into law.

Why has Congress waited? The Secure Fence Act, which requires that the border barrier be constructed, is a very high priority for Republican leadership in both chambers. They and the White House want to schedule the signing for what they see as the maximum impact to the midterm elections. This means waiting for other stories to fall off the front pages.

This actually sounds pretty plausible to me, since it's hard to imagine that even Bush could be stubborn enough to betray his already rebellious base by vetoing this legislation. On the other hand, if they're really serious about "waiting for other stories to fall off the front pages," he could end up pocket vetoing the thing just by mistake.....

Kevin Drum 11:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Paul Glastris

INDEPENDENT'S DAY... Over at Showdown '06, our election blog, we've recruited ace polling analyst Ruy Teixiera to be our in-house Charlie Cook, the guy who can give us an overall sense of where the midterms are headed. Ruy's first post came in over the weekend, and if you haven't read it, you should. Among other interesting nuggets, he reports that Democrats are now garnering an historically unprecedented 14 to 15 point lead among independents:

As far back as I can get data (1982), the Democrats have never had a lead among independents larger than 4 points in an actual election, a level they managed to achieve in both 1986 and 1990. Indeed, since 1990, theyve lost independents in every congressional election: by 14 points in 1994; by 4 points in 1998; and by 2 points in 2002. So, even leaving questions of relative partisan turnout aside (and I suspect the Democrats will do better, not worse, in this respect in 2006), the implications of a strong Democratic lead among independents in this years election, if it holds, are huge.

Paul Glastris 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALKING TO YOUR ENEMIES....Donald Gregg, National Security Advisor for George H. W. Bush, on North Korea:

Why won't the Bush administration talk bilaterally and substantively with NK, as the Brits (and eventually the US) did with Libya? Because the Bush administration sees diplomacy as something to be engaged in with another country as a reward for that country's good behavior. They seem not to see diplomacy as a tool to be used with antagonistic countries or parties, that might bring about an improvement in the behaviour of such entities, and a resolution to the issues that trouble us. Thus we do not talk to Iran, Syria, Hizballah or North Korea. We only talk to our friends a huge mistake.

James Baker III said much the same thing yesterday:

I believe in talking to your enemies, he said in an interview on the ABC News program This Week, noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bushs father as secretary of state.

Its got to be hard-nosed, its got to be determined, Mr. Baker said. You dont give away anything, but in my view, its not appeasement to talk to your enemies.

Exactly right. Remember that turnaround in Libya that conservatives like to say was a result of the invasion of Iraq and George Bush's hardnosed foreign policy? Donald Gregg is right: it was negotiation that did the trick, not threats. You can read the whole story in "The Tyrant Who Came In From the Cold," a piece from our October issue based on excerpts from Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine. It's eye opening.

Kevin Drum 5:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

LETTER TO HOME....UPDATE....This is interesting. That email from a "Marine officer" that Time magazine printed this weekend? It turns out that the officer who wrote it is Col. Pete Devlin, the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq. You may recall him as the guy who caused some waves several weeks ago by filing a secret report concluding that "the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there."

Here are the bits of Devlin's letter that Time left out:

Best Piece of U.S. Gear new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.

Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.

Bill O'Reilly what a buffoon.

Biggest Ass-Chewing 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn't figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in convening his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.

You can read the whole letter here.

Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES....Glenn Kessler reports that senior members of the Bush administration, far from being shocked and appalled at North Korea's nuclear test, have been looking forward to the day it finally happened:

A number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.

...."This fundamentally changes the landscape now," one U.S. official said last night.

Let's recap: The Bush/Cheney administration took a bad situation with Iraq and made it even worse. They've taken a bad situation with Iran and made it even worse (see here, here, and here). They've taken a bad situation with North Korea and made it even worse (see Fred Kaplan here). At every step along the way, they've deliberately taken actions that cut off any possibility of solving our geopolitical problems with anything other than military force.

Once is a singular event. Twice might be a coincidence. But three times? That's a policy. Encouraging these "clarifying events" appears to be the main goal of the Bush administration. This is not the way to make America safer.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

LETTER TO HOME....A Marine officer writes home to his family and friends about life in Iraq. Two excerpts:

Most Profound Man in Iraq an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

....Biggest Hassle High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no effect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

Biggest Outrage Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest Offender: Bill O'Reilly.

This business of parachuting into Iraq for a day or three and then "reporting" on conditions there is surely one of the more egregious examples of hackdom around. It's not enough time to learn anything, and miraculously virtually no one who does this ever seems to see anything that doesn't jibe with what they already thought. Amazing, isn't it?

UPDATE: More here.

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICS....Nature or nurture? You decide.

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By: Kevin Drum

A BOMB OR A DUD?....Here's what the BBC says about the North Korean nuclear bomb test:

The size of the bomb is uncertain. South Korean reports put it as low as 550 tons of destructive power but Russia said it was between five and 15 kilotons.

And the LA Times:

One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies detected an explosive event in North Korea with a force of less than a kiloton. Historically, the types of devices used in initial nuclear tests have yielded several kilotons of force.

There's something peculiar here. A geology professor at Yale, Jeffrey Park, emails to tell me that the updated Richter magnitude for the North Korea event is 3.5, which he calls "mighty small for a crude nuke." And that's true: it suggests a very small yield. But the odd thing is that it's actually harder to build a 1 kiloton weapon than a 5 or 10 kiloton weapon, and it's unlikely North Korea has the expertise to do this.

Was this a failed test? A 10 kiloton nuke that fizzled? Not a nuke at all? (The North Koreans seemed unusually insistent that there was absolutely no release of radiation.) Or what?

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that Jeff, who's an old high school friend of mine, stresses that "My skepticism is not to be taken as a conclusion that North Korea is bluffing. A reliable detection of bomb-generated radionuclides would prove that they were not." A paper he cowrote on the 1998 Indian nuclear test is here.

I agree. There just seem to be several oddly suspicious things about the North Korean announcement.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

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By: Jacob Hacker

Let me begin by thanking Kevin for having me back. Im looking forward to another great week.

I want to start by linking the subject of my last guest appearance (with my coauthor and friend Paul Pierson) to this one. In Off Center, Paul and I explained how the Republicans had managed to push through a number of highly conservative policies, despite the fact that their agenda was not particularly popular withand sometimes outright opposed bymiddle-of-the-road voters. The book was about Republican governance (after all, thats the big story of recent years). But a consistent complaint was that we didnt pay enough attention to the Democrats failure to articulate a compelling alternative.

Well, you may be surprised to hear me say that the complaint was rightor at least half right.

(And yes, Paul agrees with this.) For understanding why the GOP has been able to do what its done, we provide a strong account. Yet for understanding the longer-term weaknesses of the Democrats, its essential to grasp how the Democratic Party has ceded the high ground on the field it once completely dominated: standing up for ordinary Americans on economic policy. Over the same period in which a whole host of new and newly intensified economic risks have shifted onto American workers and their families, Democrats have mostly clung the old formulas and scripts, failing to develop a compelling argument about how to ensure broad-based prosperity and economic security in an increasingly uncertain world of work and family. In 2004, for example, Bush creamed Kerry among white middle-class voters, and public concerns about foreign threats and moral values werent the only reasonthe Democratic economic program, such as it was, also rang hollow to many middle-class Americans.

Such a vision is all the more essential today, because, as Kevin has been arguing, Democrats now appear poised to take one or both houses of Congress. Winning an election doesnt always require a positive agenda, and Republicans seem to be doing everything in their power to lose this election on their own. But governing does require vision and goals. And whatever else might be said about Republicans, theyve had a clear economic agendawhat I call The Personal Responsibility Crusade. While doling out special favors to privileged interests, theyve held up personal responsibility as a magic tonic for all economic ills, and called for an endless stream of tax cuts and tax-free accounts as a means of realizing this ideal.

But what do Democrats stand for? Today, many Americans still say the Democratic label doesnt stand for much, and on economic policy, theyre right. Democrats are defenders of Social Security and Medicare, to be sure. They are sometimes champions of fiscal rectitude; sometimes skeptics about Wal-Mart; sometimes advocates of the minimum wage; sometimes defenders of organized labor. But what is their overall economic agenda? In an age of dramatic change in the relationship among workers, families, employers, and government, what should be the next social contract that unites Americans and carries them together into the next American century?

I wrote The Great Risk Shift to begin to answer that question. The book shows that the challenges facing our leaders are greatand I will write about these challenges in my next post. But the opportunities are great, too. The United States is the richest, most dynamic nation in the world. It has the potential to construct new institutions and new policies that would provide security and expand opportunity in ways that aid our flexible, competitive economy, rather than hinder it. There is a huge void in American politics just waiting to be filled by the party and leaders that can speak to this potential, and speak to middle-class Americans anxious about their economic security. In the next week, I hope to show why this great opportunity must be seized, and how it can be.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE GREAT RISK SHIFT....As regular readers know, rising income inequality in America is a common topic on this blog. On a per-person basis, our economy has nearly doubled over the past 30 years, but that growth has been wildly uneven. Instead of everyone seeing their incomes double, the poor and the middle class have seen almost no growth, while the rich and the super-rich have seen their incomes skyrocket.

But just as bad or possibly even worse is the fact that not only are middle-class incomes stagnant, but they're far more unstable than in the past. This is the theme of The Great Risk Shift, a new book by Jacob Hacker. Here's a summary from the book's introduction:

We all know something about rising inequality in the United States....Yet we have heard much less about rising insecurity, the growing risk of slipping from the economic ladder itself.

....Consider some alarming facts. Personal bankruptcies has gone from a rare occurence to a routine one....Since the early 1970s, the mortgage foreclosure rate has increased fivefold....Meanwhile, the number of Americans who lack health insurance has increased with little interruption over the last twenty-five years.

....Perhaps most alarming of all, American family incomes are now on a frightening roller coaster, rising and falling much more sharply from year to year than they did thirty years ago....And this rising insecurity does not come with any obvious silver liings. The chance that families will see their income plummet has risen. The chance that they experience long-term movement up the income ladder has not.

You may remember Jacob from his guest blogging last year with Paul Pierson after the publication of their book Off Center, an exploration of how the activist base of the Republican Party has managed to pull the GOP so far away from the center of American politics without suffering at the polls. This week Jacob is back to talk about his new book, and he'll be guest blogging here through Friday.

I'll be doing my usual blogging as well, and piping up with questions for Jacob along the way. And he'll be reading comments, so feel free to chime in with questions of your own. It should be an interesting week.

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October 8, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NO MORE FRIEDMANS....Fareed Zakaria finally calls it quits:

It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

More waiting is unlikely to turn things around, nor will more troops.....Nor will new American policies help. The reason that the Democrats seem to lack good, concrete suggestions on Iraq is that the Bush administration has actually been pursuing more-sensible policies for more than a year now, trying vainly to reverse many of its errors. But what might well have worked in 2003 is too little, too late in 2006.

This is a big deal. It's one thing to express retrospective misgivings about Iraq (as Peter Beinart has done) or to criticize the conduct of the war (as Tom Friedman has done), but it's quite another to finally admit that there's little more we can do and that we should come home. That's a difficult public step for someone who's a charter member of the conservative establishment, a man who supported the war and has been vocal ever since about the importance of getting Iraq right.

It's also nice to see Zakaria acknowledge the fact that it's understandable that Democrats don't have much of a positive agenda for Iraq. It's arguable whether the Iraq experiment could have worked under any circumstances, but it's undeniable that after three years of miscues there simply aren't any credible options left. You can't criticize Democrats for being unable to solve a problem that's no longer solvable.

Zakaria is a smart guy, but he's also a person who's good at putting his finger to the wind and then getting credit for leading the way when he anticipates an imminent shift. That may be what's happening here. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to say something publicly in order to get everyone else to finally admit their own unspoken doubts. This may be the column that breaks the dam and makes withdrawal respectable among the center-right establishment.

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By: Kevin Drum

"WHO DO YOU HAVE TO DECAPITATE TO MAKE PAGE 1 AROUND HERE?"....Michael Kinsley, fired from his job as editorial page editor at the LA Times a year ago, reminisces today about the paper's famous stodginess:

My very first day on the job, I attended the Page 1 meeting in the newsroom. There was a story about a transient who allegedly had broken into the home of a 91-year-old Hollywood screenwriter author of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and later a blacklisted victim of the Red Scare cut off his head, climbed over the back fence (head in hand), stabbed a neighbor to death, and was ultimately arrested at Paramount Studios, where guards recognized him from police photos shown on a TV they weren't supposed to be watching on the job.

What a story! But it didn't make the front page. It ran in the Metro section. I asked [editor John] Carroll, "Gosh, who do you have to decapitate to make Page 1 around here?" Now we know.

If you haven't been following the recent LA Times soap opera and don't understand Kinsley's final sentence, click the link and read the whole piece.

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By: Kevin Drum

PARTITIONING IRAQ....The London Times says the Baker Commission is planning to recommend a "soft partition" of Iraq:

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls cutting and running or staying the course.

....His group will not advise partition, but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

Will it work? Even Leslie Gelb, a longtime proponent of this idea, is pessimistic. "Everything is a long shot at this point," he says.

Juan Cole is more emphatic: "This is a very bad idea for so many reasons it would take me forever to list them all." I'm inclined to agree. He lists a few of the reasons here.

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DE-BAATHIFICATION....Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett, whose diary will begin serialization in the Guardian on Monday, says that it wasn't Paul Bremer who favored dismantling the Iraqi military after the invasion:

A member of the war cabinet, he reveals that Britain battled with the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, and defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, not to press ahead with dismantling "the whole of the security, policing, administrative and local government system on the basis of the de-Ba'athification of Iraq.

"The issue was: 'What the hell do you do about it?' All we could do as a nation of 60 million off the coast of mainland Europe was to seek to influence the most powerful nation in the world. We did seek to influence them, but we were not in charge, so you cannot say that if only the government recognised what needed to be done, it would all have been different. The government did recognise the problem."

I don't suppose this is really surprising news or anything did we ever really think Bremer made this decision on his own? but it's nice to see confirmation. Yet another disastrous miscalculation from the dynamic duo of Cheney and Rumsfeld. Have these guys ever gotten anything right?

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By: Kevin Drum

TORTILLA CURTAIN UPDATE....Remember the 700-mile fence along the Mexican border that Congress approved a couple of weeks ago? There are two parts to it: an appropriations bill that authorizes spending $1.2 billion on the project, and the Secure Fence Act, which requires the money to actually be spent on a fence. Mickey Kaus notes that George Bush has signed the former but not yet the latter and wonders if he's planning to quietly pocket veto the Secure Fence Act and then use the appropriations money in more innocuous ways (a "virtual fence"). I'm not sure I buy it, but it is interesting that he didn't sign both bills at once, isn't it?

Perhaps he just wants to sign the second bill more quietly. Or maybe he really believes in a moderate immigration policy so strongly that he's willing to double-cross his pro-fence base and kill the bill. By my count, he has until Wednesday to sign it. Tick tick tick.....

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By: Kevin Drum

LANDSLIDE REVISITED....Republicans are in a death spiral:

Democrats now outdistance Republicans on every single issue that could decide voters choices come Nov. 7. In addition to winning for the first time in the Newsweek poll on the question of which party is more trusted to fight the war on terror (44 to 37 percent) and moral values (42 percent to 36 percent), the Democrats now inspire more trust than the GOP on handling Iraq (47 to 34); the economy (53 to 31); health care (57 to 24); federal spending and the deficit (53 to 29); gas and oil prices (56 to 23); and immigration (43 to 34).

How should Democrats take advantage of this? I boiled down my advice to 200 words for the New York Times two months ago, but it just got printed today. I think it holds up pretty well.

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By: Kevin Drum

FOLEY AS METAPHOR....The Mark Foley scandal is only marginally about Foley himself. More broadly, it's about the how the House Republican leadership handled the scandal and what that says about the Republican Party itself:

Many strategists in both parties believe the scandal might echo principally as a metaphor for a GOP leadership that over the past year has drawn more attention for ethical lapses and partisan turmoil than legislative achievements.

....A frustrated GOP strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity essentially agreed, saying his party's mishandling of Foley "speaks to our inability to govern and do the right thing. It says everything about who we are as a party."

Mike O'Hare has more along these lines.

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October 7, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

LANDSLIDE?....A couple of years ago, when the generic congressional polls were showing huge Democratic leads a few months before the election, I called polling guru Ruy Teixeira and asked him what it meant. He warned me to be careful: the generic polls always favor Democrats, and a lot of their lead was bound to disappear as the election drew nearer anyway.

This year, Ruy is feeling more optimistic. Over at Showdown '06 he writes that earlier in the year the macro and micro data were telling different stories:

But that was then. This is now and now the macro and micro data are aligning and pointing in the same direction: big trouble for the Republicans and a good chance that they could lose not only the House which looks better than 50-50 at this point but also the Senate.

....The Democrats are also running even larger leads among independents in the generic Congressional ballot typically 6-7 points higher than their overall lead....So, even leaving questions of relative partisan turnout aside (and I suspect the Democrats will do better, not worse, in this respect in 2006), the implications of a strong Democratic lead among independents in this years election, if it holds, are huge.

As Foley-gate spreads further and it sure looks like that's what's going to happen these numbers could get even better for Democrats. Who knows? Maybe even Dennis Hastert will lose his seat.

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HASTERT-GATE....It's more than just conveniently timed earmarks over at the speaker's office, of course. Foley-gate is still plowing forward at full ramming speed.

Hastert's story so far is that his staff was told about Foley's emails last year, but the emails were merely "over-friendly," not explicit. Foley was cautioned, and given what they knew at the time, that was the appropriate thing to do.

But Kirk Fordham says Hastert's office had been aware of Foley's problems long before 2005, and today another congressional staffer backed him up, saying that Hastert's chief of staff originally confronted Foley back in 2003:

The staff member said Hastert's chief of staff, Scott Palmer, met with the Florida Republican at the Capitol to discuss complaints about Foley's behavior toward pages. The alleged meeting occurred long before Hastert says aides in his office dispatched Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) and the clerk of the House in November 2005 to confront Foley about troubling e-mails he had sent to a Louisiana boy.

....Sources close to Fordham say [House Clerk Jeff] Trandahl repeatedly urged [Fordham] to confront Foley about his inappropriate advances on pages. Each time, Foley pledged to no longer socialize with the teenagers, but, weeks later, Trandahl would again alert Fordham about more contacts. Out of frustration, the sources said, Fordham contacted Palmer, hoping that an intervention from such a powerful figure in the House would persuade Foley to stop.

So those "over-friendly" emails weren't just some over-friendly emails. They were the latest in a string of warnings, and Hastert's office knew it. They had every reason to think that serious action was required.

Needless to say, Palmer denies all this, and Trandahl has resolutely refused to talk to the press. Stay tuned.

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By: Kevin Drum

HASTERT'S BONANZA....I made a brief, snarky reference to this a couple of days ago, but Norman Ornstein and Scott Lilly give Dennis Hastert's shady real estate dealings the attention they deserve in the New Republic today.

Here's the nickel summary: In 2002 Hastert bought some land for a house along with some adjoining fields. He paid about $5,200 per acre for the fields.

Eighteen months later, he formed a land trust with a couple of local Republican politicos. The trust bought 69 acres of land adjacent to Hastert's for about $15,000 per acre (it was nearer a road and therefore more valuable) and Hastert then added 69 acres of his own land to the trust. Although his 69 acres had been worth only $5,200 per acre a year and a half earlier, the trust valued his land at the same $15,000 per acre as the new land, three times its original price. Sweet, huh?

Then, Dennis Hastert decided to enter the earmark hall of fame. A highway bill was wending its way through Congress at the time, and Hastert took a special interest in it:

There was no better object lesson in the case against earmarks than the Prairie Parkway Corridor, pushed by none other than Denny Hastert. This new highway, designed to connect the counties west of Chicago to the metropolis itself, had neither the support of the public nor the Illinois Department of Transportation....But the Prairie Parkway did offer one important convenience: It was located just over a mile from the property owned by Hastert's trust.

....In December of 2005, four months after the signing of the new Federal Highway Bill containing the $207 million inserted by Hastert for construction of the nearby Prairie Parkway, the 138 acres held by the trust were sold to a developer as part of planned 1600 home housing development. The trust received $4,989,000 or $36,152 an acre for the parcel of which 62.5 percent or $3,118,000 went to Hastert. Klatt and Ingemunson also did well. Their profit equaled 144 percent of their original investment. Hastert, however, received six times what he had paid for his investment, a profit equal to 500 percent of his original investment.

What's more, Hastert still has over a hundred acres left from the parcel he originally bought in 2002. That land is worth double, or maybe more than double, what he originally paid for it. Ornstein and Lilly finish up with this observation:

The speaker hasn't exactly helped his case with his accounts of the transaction. His office has, for instance, described the Prairie Parkway as located over five miles from his property. But U.S. Geological Survey aerial photographs clearly show it to be about four miles closer than that.

We cannot say at this juncture whether the actions taken by the speaker are illegal. We can say that they do not meet the standards we expect or should expect from a member of Congress. And they certainly do not meet the standards we expect from the speaker of the House.

No, they don't.

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October 6, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

VELVET MAFIA UPDATE....A few days ago CBS reported this:

One senior House Republican tells CBS that there's a lot of anger at what he describes as "a network of gay staffers and gay members who protect each other and did the speaker a disservice."

I took this to mean that it was House Republicans who were angry at the gay staffers (why would Dems care about doing the speaker a disservice?), and that therefore they were also the ones who were circulating the now-infamous list of closeted gay GOP staffers that's making the rounds in DC.

But apparently not. David Corn now tells us that the list is being circulated by "gay people of a non-Republican bent." I'm not sure what the caginess is about here though it's unfortunately typical of Corn since in a two-party system "non-Republican" must mean "Democratic," right?

In any case, if it really is Democratic staffers doing this, it's both stupid and wrong. Republicans are self-immolating over Foley-gate, and all the rest of us had to do was sit back and watch. This is both revolting and moronic.

UPDATE: In comments, Steve suggests it's not Dem staffers after all:

The people with the "list," who are threatening to out Republican staffers, are pro-outing activists [....] They're hardly an arm of the Democratic Party, and I'm sure they make the Democrats unhappy with some of their more over-the-top stunts.

UPDATE 2: I've removed the names from the original comment, since there's no evidence that the specific people who were mentioned had anything to do with this. It was sloppy of me to include them in the first place. My apologies.

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By: Kevin Drum

A VIRTUAL FENCE....I see that the Republican Party is busily continuing its usual electoral strategy: pretending to pander to the base during election years but simultaneously doing their best not to actually deliver anything. It might lose them votes elsewhere, after all:

No sooner did Congress authorize construction of a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border last week than lawmakers rushed to approve separate legislation that ensures it will never be built....

Shortly before recessing late Friday, the House and Senate gave the Bush administration leeway to distribute the money to a combination of projects not just the physical barrier along the southern border. The funds may also be spent on roads, technology and "tactical infrastructure" to support the Department of Homeland Security's preferred option of a "virtual fence."

....In this case, it also reflects political calculations by GOP strategists that voters do not mind the details, and that key players including the administration, local leaders and the Mexican government oppose a fence-only approach, analysts said.

Hooray! The rubes, who party bigwigs hope aren't "minding the details," think they're getting something like the Great Wall of China, but in reality they'll get a few miles of showpiece fortification plus a billion dollars worth of "tactical infrastructure" and "virtual fence."

Political parties play politics. But I have to say that the 20-year dance that Republicans have played with the social conservative wing of the party has been about as cynical as anything in modern history. I'm fine with that, of course, since I'd just as soon see social conservatives confined to their basements churning out angry mimeographed newsletters about the horrors of secular humanism, but it really makes you wonder if they're ever going to catch on. How many times can Lucy pull the football away before they figure out they're being had?

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By: Kevin Drum


The challenge for the Democrats, if they do triumph in November, will be to break out of the partisan straitjacket that constricts American politics. That has been the real inner demon of the Republicans they appeared to care more about their party and its prerogatives than about the country's welfare. The Democrats, in recent years, have drunk deep from that same poisoned chalice, and they need to stop.

That's not going to go down well in the blogosphere. And yet, I don't think this is the sort of instinctive centrism that marks, say, David Broder. It's more about temperament.

And tactics. If Democrats win in November, they're still going to have a very limited amount of power to get things done. Policy-wise, they're going to remain pretty constrained, and that means they can go in two basic directions: (a) acting as the party of moderation and focusing on bipartisan "good government" proposals, or (b) using the subpoena power of Congress to investigate the hell out of what's been going on in the executive branch for the past six years.

Which will do them more good? This depends on whether you think there are lots of moderate, centrist voters in America who will respond positively to Ignatius's wholesome message. On that score, though, keep in mind something Thomas Edsall wrote recently:

In late 2000, even as the result of the presidential election was still being contested in court, George W. Bush's chief pollster Matt Dowd was writing a memo for [Karl] Rove that would reach a surprising conclusion. Based on a detailed examination of poll data from the previous two decades, Dowd's memo argued that the percentage of swing voters had shrunk to a tiny fraction of the electorate. Most self-described "independent" voters "are independent in name only," Dowd told me in an interview describing his memo. "Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket" for one party or the other.

Once such independents are reclassified as Democrats or Republicans, a key trend emerges: Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of true swing voters fell from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent. In other words, the center was literally disappearing. Which meant that, instead of having every incentive to govern as "a uniter, not a divider," Bush now had every reason to govern via polarization.

More on that here, including a chart that shows the breakdown of true independents vs. faux independents. Moderation may sound appealing, but there's growing evidence that it doesn't play well on election day for either party. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Kevin Drum

NAMES NOT TO HAVE....Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes has somehow gotten hold of a copy of the no-fly list used by airport authorities to screen for possible terrorists. So who's on the list?

Gary Smith, John Williams and Robert Johnson are some of those names. Kroft talked to 12 people with the name Robert Johnson, all of whom are detained almost every time they fly. The detentions can include strip searches and long delays in their travels.

"Well, Robert Johnson will never get off the list," says Donna Bucella, who oversaw the creation of the list and has headed up the FBIs Terrorist Screening Center since 2003. She regrets the trouble they experience, but chalks it up to the price of security in the post-9/11 world. "They're going to be inconvenienced every time ... because they do have the name of a person who's a known or suspected terrorist," says Bucella.

You know, I'll bet if there were some senator named Robert Johnson, the FBI would figure out a way to make this list a little more user-friendly. Maybe we should try to elect one.

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By: Kevin Drum

TRANSATLANTIC BOMB PLOT UPDATE....I realize this has nothing to do with Mark Foley (sorry!), but a reader emailed today to ask about the latest news on the transatlantic bomb plot that prompted British and American authorities to ban liquids and gels from airplanes last August. Good question. What has been going on?

In a word, nothing. As near as I can tell, there's been virtually no news in the past couple of weeks from either the British or American governments about the plot, the perpetrators, the state of the evidence, or anything else. I found only a single interesting article, which ran last Sunday in the Observer:

American intelligence agents told their British counterparts they were ready to 'render' Rashid Rauf, a British citizen allegedly linked to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and who was under surveillance in Pakistan, unless he was picked up immediately.

Rauf is the key suspect in the alleged plot to detonate explosives on up to 10 transatlantic planes that was exposed in August....A senior intelligence source has told The Observer that US agents had agreed on a plan to seize Rauf and fly him to an interrogation centre at a secret location if he remained at large.

....The intelligence source said the alleged plot had not been at the advanced planning stage.

I thought we had been promised startling revelations about the seriousness of this plot, but apparently not. Or at least not yet. All we know is that the Americans forced the British to act sooner than they wanted (possibly with good reason), and the plot itself was not at the "advanced planning stage."

So that's the latest.

Kevin Drum 1:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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October 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SULLIVAN AWARD NOMINEE....Today's nominee is....Andrew Sullivan:

If Hastert stays the GOP could lose 50 seats, according to an internal poll. And if he quits? Maybe they didn't ask that question. One aspect of this is worth further noting. The base of the GOP has been fed homophobia and gay-baiting for years now. It was partly how Rove won Ohio and the presidency. Gay-hating is integral to their machine. Now, the very homophobia these people stoked and used is suddenly turning back on them.

Part of me is distressed that the GOP could lose not because of spending recklessness, corruption, torture, big government, pork, and a hideously botched war ... but because of a sex scandal which doesn't even have (so far as we know) any actual sex. But part of me also sees the karmic payback here. They rode this tiger; now it's turning on them. And it's dinner time.


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By: Kevin Drum

RUMOR CENTRAL....Ray LaHood has publicly called for ending the congressional page program because "some members [of Congress] betray their trust by taking advantage of them." It seems like LaHood might be using the word some advisedly:

As the scandal over former congressman Mark Foley entered its sixth day, one Republican warned that there may even be further disclosures involving other politicians. "People are very, very concerned," said Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican. "They think there are going to be more disclosures."

Hmmm. A friend emailed this morning to say that he's heard "there are two more Republican members about to get swept up in this thing." Is LaHood hearing the same thing?

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By: Kevin Drum

SETTING A LOW BAR....I've now seen two cryptic references to this, and sure enough it's worth clicking through to see. But I'll save you the trouble:

Rep. Don Sherwood, a Republican fighting for re-election in northeastern Pennsylvania, says in a TV ad that he is truly sorry for cheating on his wife but denies ever abusing the woman he had the affair with.

See? No abuse. That's family values, baby, family values.

Kevin Drum 12:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

BOMBS AWAY!....Matt Yglesias:

It was brought to my attention recently that Reps. De Fazio and and Hinchey offered an amendment to the 2007 Pentagon appropriations bill that would have specifically barred the administration from launching a military attack on Iran without congressional authorization. 158 members of the House voted for it, but 262 voted against and it failed. In other words, a majority of the House seems to have gone on record in favor of letting the president start wars illegally, a fairly discouraging development.

Actually, it's probably worse than that. I have little doubt that the legal wizards in the Vice President's office will argue that, in fact, this vote is actually a specific authorization for a military strike against Iran. After all, if Congress weren't in favor, they would have explicitly said so. Right?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

TRIVIA TIME....Jonah Goldberg comments today on Foley-gate:

Now, it would be unfair to suggest that liberals have been clamoring for gays to have an unfettered right to hit on teenage boys....

I hardly need to tell you what comes next, do I?

Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (344)

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By: Kevin Drum

COUNTERINSURGENCY....The Army's new counterinsurgency manual is nearly completed, and military sources say that this time they're really going to adopt its principles wholeheartedly:

The doctrine warns against some of the practices used early in the war, when the military operated without an effective counterinsurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces.

....The new doctrine is part of a broader effort to change the culture of a military that has long promoted the virtues of using firepower and battlefield maneuvers in swift, decisive operations against a conventional enemy.

This is good news as far as it goes. Needless to say, though, there are several questions still remaining:

  • Is the Pentagon really serious about this, top to bottom? Or is this new doctrine the work of a small cadre of counterinsurgency acolytes, destined to be adopted reluctantly if at all by most battalion and brigade level commanders?

  • A manual is good, but how long will it take to actually train combat brigades to get good at this stuff? A year? Five years?

  • Do we have enough troops to make it work? Do we have enough time?

I have my doubts on all three scores. Still, this is a necessary first step, and since George Bush has made it clear he plans to stay in Iraq it would be nice to hope that it will make some difference. And even if it doesn't, it's almost certain to improve our fighting capability in the future.

Kevin Drum 1:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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October 4, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MR. ANSWER MAN....Stephen Bainbridge asks:

Why do disgraced politicians and celebrities always go into rehab when they get caught?


Because the press can't harass them there.

Come on. Give me a hard one.

(Yes, yes, an "addiction" of some sort is also a handy excuse for misbehavior. But I'll bet the main reason is to stay away from the slavering media hordes for a few weeks until everything has died down.)

Kevin Drum 11:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEOLOGISM WATCH...."Tortilla Curtain"? I like it!

UPDATE: Hmmm. Not so new after all. But still a good turn of phrase for our shiny new fence.

Kevin Drum 9:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE VELVET MAFIA....Did a "velvet mafia" of gay congressional aides protect Mark Foley for years? That's what CBS News reported last night:

One senior House Republican tells CBS that there's a lot of anger at what he describes as "a network of gay staffers and gay members who protect each other and did the speaker a disservice."

In fact, David Corn says there's even a list circulating that names names.

What to make of this? Here's a wild guess. I suspect that some low-wattage GOP staffer has made a huge miscalculation, figuring that this disclosure would do a few things. First, it would take some pressure off Dennis Hastert and place it instead on a bunch of gay guys. And we know all about them, don't we? Second, it would reassure the Christian right that this is a gay thing, not a Republican thing. The party just needs to clean house and everything will be fine. Third, if they can manage to get some liberal site to make this list public, it will help them promote the Limbaugh/Hannity storyline that this whole affair is just a dirty trick by Democrats who have known about Foley all along but waited to spring the news until a few weeks before an election.

Does that make any sense? It doesn't to me, but I really can't figure out a motivation here that does. To the Christian right base, the idea that the Republican party has been infiltrated by a gay mafia will do nothing but disgust them, keeping them away from the polls in droves. To everyone else, watching the the GOP resurrect its tried-and-true gay-bashing formula to divert attention from its own failings will seem revolting. There's literally no one who will react well to this.

But why else float this trial balloon? Was it a completely instinctive lashing out? Or is there some subtler game being played that I can't figure out? Anybody have any ideas?

Kevin Drum 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (151)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE FORDHAM ON FOLEY....Kirk Fordham now says he had multiple conversations about Foley with "senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives" way back in 2004. But they did nothing.

I posted about this, along with a few other thoughts over at our Showdown '06 blog. I won't be doing that on a regular basis, but I did want to see what kind of caricature Fred Harper had drawn of me, and the only way to find out was to write a post and see what showed up (the drawings are automatically linked to each writer). It looks like Fred decided to stick a Darwin-esque beard on my mug for some reason, though I suppose it's really just an exaggerated chin. You can judge for yourself, I guess. The head shot it's based on is over at the right for your artistic reference.

Kevin Drum 4:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BLOODLETTING BEGINS....Tom Reynolds' chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, has been "forced out" for his role in Foley-gate:

Those sources said Fordham, a former chief of staff for Congressman Mark Foley, had urged Republican leaders last spring not to raise questionable Foley e-mails with the full Congressional Page Board, made up of two Republicans and a Democrat.

"He begged them not to tell the page board," said one of the Republican sources.

People familiar with Fordham's side of the story, however, said Fordham was being used as a scapegoat by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

They said Fordham had repeatedly warned Hastert's staff about Foley's "problem" with pages, but little was done.

You know what? I'll bet both these things are true. I'll bet Fordham did warn Hastert about Foley he used to work for Foley, after all, and certainly knew what was going on and I'll bet he also did his best to keep the whole thing as far under the radar as he could.

Will he squeal now that he's been tossed onto the tracks as a sacrificial lamb? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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By: Kevin Drum

NOT EVEN HINTING....Philip Zelikow, one of Condoleezza Rice's aides, made a speech the other day. Glenn Kessler reports on the reaction:

"For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about," Zelikow said. "We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable, but it's fact. That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems."

Zelikow's comments alarmed Israelis, who fear becoming a pawn in American diplomatic calculations, and U.S. officials said they were misinterpreted. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack even posted a statement on Power Line, a right-wing blog, saying there is no change in policy.

Should we laugh or cry? Zelikow makes the entirely unremarkable observation that the United States should be engaged in trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, if for no other reason than that a lot of other people think it's important, and the wingosphere is so livid that the State Department feels it necessary to assure Power Line Power Line! that "Nothing in Philip's remarks should be interpreted as laying out or even hinting at a change in policy."

Whew. We sure wouldn't want any changes in policy out of this crew. Their current ones are working so well, after all.

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

SQUASHING UNIONS....In a move that surprised exactly no one, the NLRB voted along party lines yesterday to reclassify 8 million workers as "supervisors" who will no longer have any protection under U.S. labor laws. It no longer matters whether you hire, fire, or discipline. If you do so much as make out a shift schedule or monitor the quality of other employees' work, bingo! You're a supervisor!

Nathan Newman explains what this means on a practical basis:

The new expansive definition of "supervisor" means that more workers will be given nominal supervisory responsibilities to undermine their right to unionize and lock every union vote in endless delays as companies litigate who is and who is not a supervisor. Even if the workers "win", the election will probably be delayed long enough to kill the union drive.

The Chamber of Commerce, of course, puts this semi-cheerful spin on it:

The decision will probably affect primarily work sites where union organizing is going on, said Stephen A. Bokat, general counsel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Where there are established collective bargaining relationships," he said, "these issues with regard to supervisors are very well established and I doubt most employers will totally upset their workplaces to meet that definition."

Everyone who believes this, please raise your hand. I imagine it will take no more than a few hours for some enterprising CEO with an "established collective bargaining relationship" to realize what a great opportunity this is to send his company's unions into turmoil. Others will follow almost immediately.

This is, by the way, the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say that Republicans have made it steadily harder over the years to organize unions. Most people will never hear about this ruling, just as most have never heard of the dozens of other under-the-radar rulings, laws, regulations, and court decisions that have slowly chipped away at the ability of unions to organize over the years. But believe me: business lobbies have. And since this ruling mostly affects service industries, they can't pretend that globalization has forced their hand. They just want to eliminate any organized pressure to pay their workers more.

That got a lot easier on Tuesday.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....Just thought I'd let you know. If you want to follow our new Showdown '06 blog in your RSS client, here's the URL for the RSS feed:


As long as I'm at it, here's the URL for the Political Animal RSS feed:


And since not everyone seems to know this, this site does have archives and a search function. They're both at the very bottom, so just scroll way down if you want to get to them.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHOSE INTEREST?....Marc Lynch draws our attention to a letter sent last year from al-Qaeda's high command to Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. It was recently translated and released by the Counterterrorism Center at West Point and suggests that al-Qaeda is extremely eager for the war in Iraq to continue:

The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day. Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest, with God's permission.

This shouldn't come as a big surprise. The Iraq war is al-Qaeda's best recruiting tool, and as Ron Suskind noted in The One Percent Doctrine, the CIA has known for some time that Osama bin Laden wants the war to continue and deliberately times public messages to help George Bush's electoral chances. Here's a description of a CIA meeting in October 2004, right after a bin Laden tape had been released to al Jazeera:

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

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

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

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

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

Iraq has been so mismanaged that almost anything we do now will be disastrous. But some things are more disastrous than others, and it's well to keep in mind that al-Qaeda seems pretty certain that a continuing war there is in their best interests. Is it in ours?

Kevin Drum 12:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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October 3, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DIVERSITY vs. ECONOMIC JUSTICE....Walter Benn Michaels thinks that liberals have become too obsessed with "diversity." Why? Because, he says, "celebrating diversity" is easy and makes us feel good we're fighting racism! and sexism! and homophobia! while doing what we should be doing is hard and makes us feel tired.

And what is it that we should be doing? Reducing income inequality and helping the poor:

The last few decades, as The Economist puts it, have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The rich are different from you and me, and one of the ways theyre different is that theyre getting richer and were not. And while its not surprising that most of the rich and their apologists on the intellectual right are unperturbed by this development, it is at least a little surprising that the intellectual left has managed to remain almost equally unperturbed. Giving priority to issues like affirmative action and committing itself to the celebration of difference, the intellectual left has responded to the increase in economic inequality by insisting on the importance of cultural identity.

So for 30 years, while the gap between the rich and the poor has grown larger, weve been urged to respect peoples identities as if the problem of poverty would be solved if we just appreciated the poor. From the economic standpoint, however, what poor people want is not to contribute to diversity but to minimize their contribution to it they want to stop being poor. Celebrating the diversity of American life has become the American lefts way of accepting their poverty, of accepting inequality.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for this point of view. Partly, no doubt, this is because I'm a straight, middle-class white guy and have never had to personally worry about issues of race or gender or sexual orientation. However, despite the fact that in calmer moments I realize that $10 billion the number Michaels quotes as the size of the "diversity industry" is actually a fairly modest figure, it's also true that it's dispiritingly easy to dig up stories about the excesses of identity politics that are either absurd or horrifying, depending on your temperament, and I confess that I sometimes find them absurd and horrifying.

That said, though, the main reason I sympathize with Michaels is not that I'm seriously bent out of shape about identity politics. It's because, like him, I'm pretty intensely convinced that our economic system has recently gotten way out of whack: for the past 30 years the American economy has grown robustly, but the fruits of that growth have been directed by the well-off almost exclusively to themselves. If we had done nothing more over the past three decades than simply grow everyone's income at roughly the same rate, then the rich would be richer, the middle class would be richer, and the poor would be considerably less poor. Instead, the rich have gotten fantastically richer and everyone else has had to make do with flat-screen TVs and Lipitor. In a country with an economy as healthy as ours, the poor and the middle class should be getting richer, but they aren't.

So I have some appreciation for Michaels' thesis. Despite that, though, I have to confess that I don't really see much evidence for his main point: that the reason liberals aren't fighting very hard for economic justice these days is because we're directing all our energy instead to promoting diversity. There are other reasons for this lack of attention (post-60s exhaustion, the fact that the middle class has stagnated at a pretty comfortable income level, and the "boiling frog" nature of increases in income inequality, to name a few), and I very much doubt that mere distraction has much to do with it. After all, liberals have managed to continue fighting a lot of other battles just fine during this time.

But hey I could be wrong. Maybe identity politics really has distracted us from economic issues. Over at The Valve they're going to be discussing Michaels all week, so if you're interested in this kind of thing go check it out. Next Monday I expect to see a complete game plan for putting income inequality back at the forefront of liberal politics.

Kevin Drum 7:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (213)

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By: Kevin Drum

BRASS TACKS....Andrew Bacevich makes a point today about the military brass that's been nagging at me for a long time:

In determining the conduct of the Bush administration's global war on terror, the civilians in the office of the secretary of Defense call the shots. Apart from being trotted out on ceremonial occasions, the Joint Chiefs have become all but invisible. Certainly, on questions related to basic national security policy, they have become irrelevant.

Some of this qualifies as payback. During the 1990s, in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, the Joint Chiefs were riding high and used their clout to show their civilian "masters" who was really boss. During the largely contrived controversy over gays in the military, the Joint Chiefs publicly humiliated the newly elected president, Bill Clinton.

....When Rumsfeld took office in 2001, he was intent on shoring up the principle of civilian control. He has done that although Rumsfeld's idea of control amounts to emasculation. He has bludgeoned generals into submission, marginalized or gotten rid of those inclined to be obstreperous and selected pliable replacements such as [Marine Gen. Peter] Pace.

When it comes to the debacle in Iraq, it's right that the focus be kept squarely on the civilian leadership: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. But there's a downside to this, namely that it lets the military leadership off the hook too easily.

We should expect our top military leaders to treat the civilian chain of command with respect and obedience. We should also expect them to provide sound military advice regardless of the consequences and to accept responsibility for failure. In the Clinton administration they failed to do the former and in the Bush administration they've failed to do the latter. They've allowed Rumsfeld to cow them into silence, they've declined to implement the root-and-branch commitment to counterinsurgency that's needed to succeed in Iraq, and they've consistently misled the American public about how much progress we're making against the Iraqi insurgents.

So sure: Bush and his administration deserve the lion's share of the blame for the disastrous decline in our national security that we've suffered over the past three years. But the generals shouldn't escape their share of responsibility either. We deserve better.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Kevin Drum

RAW DATA....My head is spinning over the sheer volume of panicked idiocy that's erupting among the Republican leadership over the Mark Foley scandal. Did NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds really use a couple dozen small children as props in a press conference in an apparent attempt to discourage reporters from asking him explicit questions about Foley? Words fail me.

So here's something else to tease your brain. Ruth Davis Konigsberg has been tracking bylines in major national magazines for the last year, and Clara Jeffery summarizes her findings over at MoJo Blog. Here's the ratio of male to female bylines:

The Atlantic: 3.6 to 1
Harpers: 7 to 1
The New Yorker: 4 to 1
New York Times Magazine: 2 to 1
Vanity Fair: 2.7 to 1

This has absolutely nothing to do with Mark Foley. But that's why I'm posting it.

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE FOLEY....The LA Times has interviewed some former congressional pages, and they say that Mark Foley's infatuation with teenage pages was well known:

"Almost the first day I got there I was warned," said Mark Beck-Heyman, a San Diego native who served as a page in the House of Representatives in the summer of 1995. "It was no secret that Foley had a special interest in male pages," said Beck-Heyman, adding that Foley, who is now 52, on several occasions asked him out for ice cream.

Elsewhere, we learn that the chief of staff for Tom Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, tried to cut a deal with ABC News last Friday not to air Foley's explicit emails. And everyone else with an R after their name is scrambling for all they're worth to blame the whole episode on someone else.

I dunno. For a bunch of supposedly innocent guys, the Republican leadership sure is acting guilty, aren't they?

Kevin Drum 12:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (254)

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By: Kevin Drum

FREE SPEECH....A couple of weeks ago Bill Maher complained that CBS wouldn't allow him to comment about religion for his planned "Free Speech" segment on the CBS Evening News. That's just a little too free, apparently. But reciting conservative talking points about secularism being responsible for school killings is OK:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

How tiresome. What could Maher possibly have been planning to say that would have been further into the fringe than that?

Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

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By: Kevin Drum

SHOWDOWN '06....The mucky mucks at Washington Monthly's palatial chrome and glass headquarters in Washington DC tell me that by the time I wake up Tuesday morning the cover will be stripped away from that enormous banner that's been hovering over the site for the past few days. Underneath, it turns out, will be another blog.

And I'll be just as curious to see it as you. It's going to be all about the midterms, and it will feature a bunch of plugged-in guest posters, including Paul Begala, Matt Cooper, our own Rebecca Sinderbrand, and more. They'll be following all the nitty gritty stuff that I don't spend much time on, and with everything happening this week they sure picked a good time to get started. Just click the banner to head over and see what they're saying.

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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By: Kevin Drum

EVENING FOLEY ROUNDUP....Dennis Hastert is under intensifying scrutiny over his handling of the Foley scandal. He and John Shimkus made a statement Monday defending themselves, but the LA Times reports that they "refused to take questions from reporters, who wanted to know when they learned about Foley's messages to the teenage page."

Not quite, it turns out. The New York Times says that reporters did ask some questions and here's what the speaker had to say:

Would have, could have, should have, Mr. Hastert said, responding to questions about whether Republicans should have done more.

That's personal responsibility for you! But we should cut Hastert a break, I suppose. He was probably too busy overseeing those secret investments that he made in land that skyrocketed in value after he personally earmarked money to build a highway nearby.

Sadly for Hastert, not everyone is so understanding:

Republican operatives closely following the battle for the House and Senate said that they are virtually ready to concede nearly a third of the 15 seats the Democrats need to recapture control of the House, and that they will spend the next five weeks trying to shelter other vulnerable incumbents from the fallout of the Foley scandal in hopes of salvaging a slender majority.

....Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and an important social conservative leader, said "there's a real chance" that the episode could dethrone the Republican majority. "I think the next 48 hours are critical in how this is handled," he said, adding that "when a party holds itself out as the guardian of values, this is not helpful."

....Joe Gaylord, who was the top adviser to Newt Gingrich (Ga.) when Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, was pessimistic about the party's midterm prospects. He said the fallout from Foley's resignation comes "very close" to ensuring a Democratic victory in November.

....Leaders from about six dozen socially conservative groups held a conference call late yesterday afternoon, and participants were described as livid with House GOP leaders.

"They are outraged by how Hastert handled this," said Paul M. Weyrich, a conservative activist who participated in the call. "They feel let down, left aside. How can they allow a guy like [Foley] to remain chairman of the committee on missing and exploited children when there is any question about e-mails?"

...."From what I hear, it is resonating badly and our candidates are on the defensive about this," Weber said. "The maddening thing about this is if they had done the right thing" by informing Democrats early on and investigating it fully, "there would be no political fallout," he said.

That's true. If Hastert had done the right thing, he would have been fine. But that's the whole problem, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (214)

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By: Kevin Drum

SANTORUM'S LA LA LAND....Via David Adesnik, here's a passage from Rick Santorum's latest campaign flyer:

You probably remember well when Bill Clinton and the Democrats passed the largest single tax increase in our nation's history in 1993, $293 billion. That sent our nation into an economic slump.

He's really lost it, hasn't he?

Kevin Drum 1:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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October 2, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

RELEASE THE POWERPOINTS!....That hair-raising al-Qaeda briefing George Tenet supposedly gave to Condi Rice in July 2001 that she supposedly blew off and supposedly doesn't even remember today? Apparently the 9/11 commission was told about it after all:

The independent Sept. 11, 2001, commission was given the same scary briefing about an imminent al Qaida attack on a U.S. target that was presented to the White House two months before the attacks, but failed to disclose the warning in its 428-page report.

....Tenet raised the matter himself, displayed slides from a Power Point presentation that he and other officials had given to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on July 10, 2001, and offered to testify on the matter in public if the commission asked him to, they said.

Well, Rice's office now confirms that the July 10 meeting took place. So that's one mystery solved. But 9/11 commission member Richard Ben-Veniste says that Tenet never expressed any frustration about Rice's reaction. Tenet never told us that he was brushed off, Ben-Veniste says.

Crikey. Can we just declassify the damn PowerPoints? Is there any possible chance that making public a five-year-old set of slides about al-Qaeda would damage any sources or methods? Especially if Tenet has already offered to testify about it in public?

These mysteries are absurd. Show us the slides and let's see who's telling the truth. Either the content is hair-raising or it's not. Either it specifically says bin Laden was planning attacks on U.S. soil or it doesn't. My guess is that it doesn't, but McClatchey quotes an anonymous official as saying Tenet's warning rated a "10 on a scale of 1 to 10." Fine, but the only way to know for sure is to see the slides. So let's see 'em.

POSTSCRIPT: This is weird. I don't know where I got the two paragraphs I excerpted above. Obviously I copied them from somewhere, but where? I can't find them anywhere. When I figure it out, I'll add a link.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Link found. Thanks, Victor!

Kevin Drum 10:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

CROSSWORD FOLLIES REDUX....The solution to yesterday's crossword puzzle is below the fold, along with explanations for a few of the more obscure clues.


  1. Inkblot is my cat. He likes to bask in the Southern California sun.

  2. David Brock coined the phrase "Republican noise machine" in 2004 to describe right-wing media tactics.

  3. In a 2002 campaign debate, Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele was allegedly pelted with oreos ("black on the outside, white on the inside").

    By the way, did you know that Steele was born on the same day as me? Creepy, huh?

  4. This is an old joke.

  5. Lake Erie is the 11th biggest lake in the world. It's slightly bigger than #12, Lake Winnipeg.

  6. A snipe hunt is a hunt for something that doesn't exist.

  7. The Isle of Man. Commenter JJF is correct that this clue should have been "Man, e.g."

  8. Glenn Reynolds is famous for ending posts with the sarcastic comment "Heh." He lives in Knoxville, TN.

  9. "No One Lives Forever" is a videogame.

  10. The old USSR was a union of SSRs, or Soviet Socialist Republics. Kazakh was one of them, and it was in the southeast corner of the country. Thus, it was a SE SSR. I warned you this one was ridiculous.

  11. The TV show "Lost" is filmed on Oahu.


  1. According to this dictionary entry, one meaning of knot is "a unit of 47 feet 3 inches (13.79 meters) on a log line, marked off by knots."

  2. Heyl Sadeh was a group formed in 1939 by the Jewish paramilitary force Haganah. It is abbreviated HI'SH.

  3. This refers to a 2001 poll showing that most Americans think the government spends 24% of its budget on foreign aid.

  4. In the movie A Mighty Wind, one of the folk groups sings a song about a diner with a neon sign that says "Eat At Joe's." However, two of the letters on the sign have burned out, so the punch line of the song is that the sign now reads "Ea At oe's." I warned you that this clue was also ridiculous.

  5. The Rose theater was a predecessor to the Globe in Elizabethan England.

  6. From the movie "To Live and Die in LA."

  7. The Sui dynasty in China flourished in the 7th century, 300 years before the Song dynasty.

  8. Bosons are particles that don't obey the Pauli exclusion principle.

  9. Marcelo Rios was the #1 tennis player in the world for a short while in 1998.

Kevin Drum 3:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUILDING A BETTER MOVEMENT....There's a pair of interesting articles out this week about Democratic efforts to improve their electoral fortunes. First, Matt Bai has a piece in the NYT Magazine about Howard Dean's insistence on spending DNC money to build enduring state organizations instead of blowing it all on a single election:

Every Democrat in Washington says hes for expanding the partys efforts beyond the familiar 18 or 20 battleground states, but only Dean, among his partys leaders, has been willing to argue that there is a choice involved, that you cannot actually invest for the long term unless youre willing to forgo some short-term priorities.

It takes courage, Dean told me, to try something new in the face of failure, which is why Washington Democrats were resisting his plan. I think politicians are incredibly risk-averse, especially legislating politicians, he said. This is like deciding to go to a psychiatrist the risk of staying the same has to be greater than the risk of changing."

That's exactly right, and it's the reason I support Dean. This kind of long-term planning in politics, in business, in nearly every walk of life is something that nearly everyone says they support, but when push comes to shove very few people are willing to back it up. There's always something this week, or this month, or this year that seems uniquely crucial and demands our attention. Next year there will be something else, and the year after that something else again. The long-term stuff simply never gets done unless someone like Dean is willing to go to the mat for it.

The big question, of course, is whether Dean is doing a good job of building the long-term infrastructure he's been fighting for. This is also the theme of a piece this week by Ari Berman in The Nation about the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy liberal donors who decided after the 2004 election to stop focusing on individual campaigns and instead focus on funding think tanks and other liberal organizations that would have a more enduring effect. But do they have the guts to see it through?

At the first meeting in Phoenix, Alliance partners agreed that funding media would be a front-and-center priority. Instead, says one early member of the media committee, "it keeps getting shuttled to the back, over and over." Partly that was because at the beginning of the process few members were familiar with progressive media. In time, the media committee developed a plan to fund bloggers, investigative reporting and media reform efforts. Now, in the run-up to Miami, says another media committee member, that plan has been slashed in half.

....Alliance staff originally conceived of an "innovation fund" to funnel smaller amounts of money (between $25,000 and $250,000) to newer ventures, such as the blogs and MeetUp-type gatherings, at the discretion of the managing director. That concept, too, has yet to get off the ground. Instead of directing the fund [Judy] Wade, with her McKinsey background, appointed yet another committee to oversee it, reinforcing the inside joke that the Alliance at times resembles a "let's have a meeting about having a meeting" self-parody.

I have to confess that I don't quite get the whole Democracy Alliance concept, even though I've now read three or four long articles about it. They seem to be merely a clearinghouse for people who are already big donors, and it's not clear to me what those big donors get out of the deal. Sign up to join DA, commit to donating a bunch of money, and what do you get in return? A limit on who you can give your money to. Why is that appealing to them?

I dunno. Frankly, I suspect the biggest problem with liberal donors is that they already funnel their money too narrowly into a limited number of already well-heeled groups. The idea behind DA build infrastructure that will help shift public opinion over the long term is good, but do they have the stones to waste money on a hundred startups with weird ideas in the hopes that two or three of them will pan out? It doesn't seem like it.

Likewise, Howard Dean's 50-state strategy is a good idea, but is he actually building effective state organizations? Bai's article certainly gives one pause on that score.

But at least both of these efforts are steps in the right direction. There are still a few steps left to go, though.

Kevin Drum 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGER SMACKDOWN RESULTS....A couple of weeks ago I linked to the "Blogger SAT Challenge," a brainstorm from Chad Orzel and Dave Munger designed to answer a burning question: can bloggers write as well as the average 17-year-old taking the SAT test? Chad and Dave made up a typical SAT-ish essay question and invited bloggers to answer in a 20-minute timed format.

The main challenge page is here and the essays themseves are here. I was planning to complain that the site does nothing to answer the actual question (how do bloggers stack up to random high school students?), thus forcing me to do all the complex statistical analysis myself, but then I hopped over to Chad's site and it turns out he's got results galore. Even a graph! With standard deviations!

You can click the link for the complete blow-by-blow results, but here is Chad's conclusion: "I don't think I'd really call these results a significant blow against blogger superiority." From this you might guess that perhaps the bloggers did not exactly blow away the competition. The official graders (sort of) explain why here.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Kevin Drum

MOYERS ON ABRAMOFF....One reason that the Foley scandal probably has more legs than the Abramoff scandal (besides sex, Sex, SEX!) is that it's nice and simple. The Abramoff scandal, by contrast, is mind-numbingly complex.

But now there's a way for you to catch up. Bill Moyers is returning to PBS and the first episode of his new show is "Capitol Crimes," a 2-hour roundup of the Abramoff scandal and its related web of corruption. It'll be airing Wednesday at 9 pm and it's probably worth watching. A 3-minute preview is up on YouTube here.

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (189)

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By: Kevin Drum

THAT WAS A COMPROMISE?....Niall Ferguson:

Last week, both houses of Congress approved a bill the Military Commissions Act that would permit the indefinite, extrajudicial incarceration of terrorist suspects and their interrogation using torture in all but name. Does that sound shocking? What's really shocking is that this was a compromise measure.

Ferguson doesn't really say anything new or original in the rest of his piece, but that was a refreshingly clear-headed first paragraph. So I thought I'd share.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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October 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ONE LAW FOR YOU, ONE LAW FOR ME....Federal law says that if you sue the government for violating your constitutional rights, you're entitled to collect attorney's fees if you win. The rationale behind this is obvious: it's in everyone's best interests to deter governmental wrongdoing, but few people can afford the attorney's fees necessary to mount a challenge when their rights have been violated. Paying attorney's fees for meritorious cases helps keep the government honest, while witholding them in losing cases discourages lawyers from bringing frivolous suits.

But it turns out that House Republicans think that some civil right are more worth protecting than others. Under a new bill that just passed the House, if you sue the government for violating your religious freedom you'll be out of luck whether you turn out to be right or not. Erwin Chemerinsky:

Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. The religious right, which has been trying for years to use government to advance their religious views, wants to reduce the likelihood that their efforts will be declared unconstitutional. Since they cannot change the law of the Establishment Clause by statute, they have turned their attention to trying to prevent its enforcement by eliminating the possibility for recovery of attorneys' fees.

This has become standard practice for conservative Republicans: if they can't change the law, they simply stop enforcing it. We've seen this in the IRS, we've seen it in the FDA, and I was talking to a guy the other night who said he's seen the same thing in the EPA, where he works. Republicans can't (or don't dare) repeal the laws that protect us, so instead they just slash funding for enforcement. It works out the same in the end.

Kevin Drum 9:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

CROSSWORD FOLLIES....Several weeks ago, with some spare time on my hands, I decided to see the film Wordplay, a documentary about crossword puzzles and crossword puzzle tournaments. It was both charming and fascinating.

Too fascinating, in fact. I've never done crossword puzzles before, but the movie gave me the bug, and soon I was slightly obsessed. (The same thing happened after I read the book Word Freak a few years ago. Marian and I played Scrabble nightly for months after that.) I started off doing the LA Times puzzle, but within days I knew I had to have more. Before long I was working half a dozen puzzles a day.

Unfortunately, this is fairly time consuming. Dr. B has recently hosted a guest blogger named Orange who, typically for serious puzzle solvers, plows through even difficult puzzles in about five minutes flat, but this sort of linguistic facility is just a distant dream for me. At 20-30 minutes per puzzle, I was flushing away several hours a day.

So I set a goal. I don't think I could finish a crossword puzzle in five minutes even if you gave me the answer key and just told me to transcribe it, but after a few weeks I got good enough that I could at least successfully solve most puzzles I tried. (Yeah, low bar.) My goal, then, was to have a day in which I solved all six of my daily puzzles without any hints or errors. Last week, on Monday, I came close: only one error. Tuesday was the same. On Wednesday I had two goofs. On Thursday I was back to one. Finally, on Friday, I did it: all six puzzles solved without a mistake.

Whew. Does this mean I should declare victory and give up on crosswords? Probably. We'll see. But I decided that as a swan song I should try to create a crossword puzzle instead of merely solving one. Guess what? It's hard! But for anyone with a crossword jones, here it is in PDF format for easy printing:

Kevin's first (and probably last) crossword puzzle

It's got a bloggish motif, and all answers are guaranteed to consist of genuine English letters. I don't think it's all that hard, but who knows, really? I imagine that judging the difficulty of your own puzzle is something that comes either from long experience or from the judgment of an editor, both of which I conspicuously lack.

And I suppose I should just fess up right now that 21 Down is pretty ridiculous, and 69 Across is really ridiculous. That's what happens when you're dealing with an amateur. Then again, I've seen some pretty ridiculous crossword answers over the past few weeks, so maybe these are both perfectly legit after all.

If I'm feeling benevolent, I'll post the answers tomorrow. Have fun!

Kevin Drum 4:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

DYNAMITE....John J. Miller writes about the emerging Foley scandal over at The Corner:

The news that House Republican leaders may have known about disgraced former congressman Mark Foleys behavior as early as several months ago is dynamite.

....If House Republican leaders really did avert their gaze from a problem they knew about, however, Foley could become the new Jack Abramoff. Except that whereas the details of Abramoffs were always a bit complicated for the public to follow closely, the accusations now leveled at Foley are much simpler and more appalling. Foley is on the verge of becoming the poster child of a party that is concerned about little more than preserving its power.

I think he's right. Even my eyes glaze over a bit when I try to remember everything that was going on with Jack Abramoff or even Duke Cunningham. But Foley? That's easy. He was preying on teenage pages, and the Republican leadership looked the other way and allowed it to continue for nearly a year. It doesn't get much easier than that.

This scandal may not expose systemic corruption the way the Abramoff scandal did, but it has plenty of legs. It involves sex, it involves coverups, it involves powerful players turning on each other to protect their own skins, and it involves lots of documentary evidence. Unlike the Abramoff scandal, this one is going to get covered in People magazine and the National Enquirer. It may finally be the GOP's Waterloo.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (271)

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S OFFICIAL....Michiko Kakutani reviews Bob Woodward's latest tell-all:

In Bob Woodwards highly anticipated new book, State of Denial, President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader....Its a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in Bush at War, his 2002 book, which depicted the president...as a judicious, resolute leader.

This is what happens when a court turns on its king: the court stenographer dutifully turns right along with them and then tells the whole world about it. That's why I've never held Bob Woodward's role against him. We need to have at least one court stenographer around so the rest of us know what the court is thinking, and Woodward is as good a choice as anyone.

This is what makes State of Denial useful. It's not that the anecdotes happen to be more gratifying to liberal ears this time around though they are. Woodward's sources, as ever, are just trying to make themselves look good, and we should take their anonymous stories with the same grain of salt as we did in Woodward's earlier and more hagiographic recitals.

But these details aren't really the point, even though it's the details that get endlessly recycled within the media and the blogosphere. State of Denial may only be a reflection of Woodward's sources, but for a discerning reader the zeitgeist of those sources is what the book is all about anyway. Thanks to Woodward, we can now say with confidence that it's not just liberals who think Bush is a nitwit anymore. Bush's supporters think he's a nitwit too.

Thanks, Bob. We're glad you made it official.

Kevin Drum 2:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (118)

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