Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MACS AND PROGRESSIVES....The conference I was at yesterday was a get-together of various folks from the liberal media (In These Times, The American Prospect, ColorLines, Mother Jones, etc.). We are, of course, preparing to take over the world, and Apple should be very happy at the prospect. Of all the notebooks busily being tapped on during the meetings, I'd say about 70% were Macs. This compares to an Apple market share of around 4% in the real world.

Steve Jobs should be contributing large sums of money to progressive media. I wouldn't be surprised if we rival the graphic arts community in our dedication to the Mac ethos.

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (197)

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By: Kevin Drum

MARCHING ORDERS FROM THE HOUSE OF SAUD....Nawaf Obaid is "an adviser to the Saudi government," but his opinions "are his own and do not reflect official Saudi policy." Roger that. With that boilerplate warning out of the way, Obaid takes to the pages of the Washington Post to warn us in no uncertain terms that if we try to withdraw from Iraq, the Saudi monarchy will make us very, very sorry:

Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance funding, arms and logistical support that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years. Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.

....Remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.

To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.

And while he's at it, Obaid tosses out a warning to Iran the American oil industry that Saudi Arabia might also try to drive oil prices into the ground by increasing production and cutting its own prices in half. Now, as far as I know, Saudi Arabia doesn't actually have much in the way of spare capacity at the moment, so this seems like a bit of an empty threat. For that matter, I have my doubts that the Saudis actually have the capacity to intervene all that effectively with military assistance to Iraq's Sunni community either. But who knows? They can certainly make things worse if they put their minds to it.

In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the lecture the House of Saud delivered to Dick Cheney after they summoned him to Riyadh last week. Not that Cheney was an unwilling listener or anything. Just one more excuse to stay the course, after all.

Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (585)

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By: Kevin Drum

DO RUMORS REALLY TRAVEL FASTER THAN LIGHT?....How do memes spread across the internet? Fellow Irvinite Scott Eric Kaufman is bringing rigorous blog science to bear on this important question, and needs links to this post to complete his experiment. Lots of links.

So go ahead. Link. It's for a good cause.

Kevin Drum 1:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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By: Kevin Drum

A SENSIBLE WITHDRAWAL?....Over at TPMCafe, Reed Hundt mocks Tom Friedman's "10 months or 10 years" choice for Iraq, but then adds his own plan for withdrawal:

A sensible centrist, if you forgive the phrase, alternative would be (a) negotiate with Syria and Turkey and Iran and Saudia Arabia to provide elements of security for Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites (minimum 6 to 12 months), (b) arm the Shiites with tanks and other heavy armor (minimum 8 months), (c) push Iraq into a loose federation of semi-autonomous states (12 months), (d) withdraw about half the American troops over one year, (e) commit to a total withdrawal including a dismantling of the astonishingly large Green Zone and airfield facilities (24 months minimum and not capable of being precisely defined).

That's sure not going to raise centrism's stock in the blogosphere, is it? I can't quite tell if Reed is suggesting these steps all need to be sequential, but it sure sounds like it, and together they add up to a minimum of five years, with the first withdrawals not even starting until 2009. Am I reading this wrong? It sure doesn't sound very sensible to me.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Kevin Drum

CLICK THE LINK....Here is a complete post from Andrew Sullivan last night:

The Black-White Test Score Gap

It isn't going away. Charles Murray and James Flynn debate why here.

Really? The fact that Charles Murray thinks the gap isn't going away is hardly news, but does James Flynn agree? That would be dispiriting indeed.

But there's no need to give up hope. Here's what Flynn really said:

We analyzed data from nine standardization samples for four major tests of cognitive ability. These data suggest that Blacks gained 4 to 7 IQ points on non-Hispanic Whites between 1972 and 2002. Gains have been fairly uniform across the entire range of Black cognitive ability.

That sure doesn't sound like "it isn't going away" to me. Murray and Flynn aren't just debating "why," they're debating "whether." And Flynn has the better of the argument.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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By: T.A. Frank

HOW MUCH BROOKS TO BROOK? I have to admit it: I read pretty much every David Brooks column. He's often quite good, honestly. However, as many have pointed out, he also has a unique knack for being infuriating. And its easy to get baited into responding each time. (Today, for example, Brooks declares ($) himself to be, in effect, a centrist Democrat, although he concludes with an appeal to Republicans: [W]e disaffected voters are easy. We want to go home with you if youll give us a reason. That sort of says it all. But I digress.) But Ive found two things helpful in dealing with my troubles. One is a helpful warning from Michael Kinsley about a similar threat: If you're not careful, you can squander an entire journalistic career swatting flies from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. And the other is an awareness of the existence of a natural Brooks Ratio. That would be the ratio of maddening-to-non-maddening columns in the Brooks output, and it's best not to challenge it. For example, my own Brooks Ratio, since I feel my anger growing when reading roughly two out of seven Brooks columns, is 0.29. I can live with that. But Id be curious to see how others deal with the problem.

T.A. Frank 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Christina Larson

METHOD TO THE MADNESS ... Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe calls out George Will for using the delete key in dubious fashion in a column on Jim Webb's uncomfortable exchange with the president. Webb's behavior raised eyebrows, but not for the reasons Will depicts.

One other point: On the campaign trail, Webb rarely talked about his son. He wore his son's boots as a personal reminder, but otherwise deliberately did not talk about him. Towards the end of the campaign, Virginia's Democratic governor Tim Kaine would bring it up for him, aides say. It might seem odd not to exploit the fact of having a son in Iraq on the campaign trail, but that's Jim Webb.

When Bush asked him about his boy, Webb would not take it, in Will's words, as " a civil and caring question, as one parent to another," for obvious reasons, and for some more particular to Jim Webb. Christina Larson 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Rebecca Sinderbrand

WHITHER OLLIE?... Anniversary stories are the journalistic equivalent of strawberry Pop-Tarts; a steady diet won't do, but in a pinch, they make for reliable, easily-prepared filler. Editors start off the year with a lengthy calendar that reads like a high school history final crib sheet, where the moon landing bumps up against the Battle of Bull Run, and the Reichstag fire shares real estate with the Gulf War. That kind of news predictability is otherwise in fairly short supply, which is why journalists tend to find anniversary pieces pretty addictive. For logical reasons, a good political scandal can generally make the grade in this town, especially on a slow news day: there's usually a lengthy paper trail, and some sort of big-picture morality play at work.

So over at Slate, Timothy Noah has an interesting, obvious query: Where, exactly, is the coverage of Iran-Contra's 20th birthday?

After all, it was two decades ago last weekend that Ed Meese conceded publicly that the White House had illegally sold weapons to Iran to fund anti-government fighters in Nicaragua -- a shocking admission that, at least briefly, triggered impeachment buzz -- yet somehow, so far, the occasion hasn't merited a single major press mention. (Yes, there's a lot going on right now, but as Noah points out, the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend wasn't exactly the busiest of news days.) He comes up with two likely explanations:

1) We like our political scandals simple, involving sex, or money, or (preferably) both; that whole arms-for-hostages tangle was complicated enough the first time around,
and
2) The whole sordid saga upends the current Grand Unified Theory of late Reagan-era officialdom, and the generally-assumed roles thereof (i.e., Bush I as unalloyed statesman, Bob Gates as the Man in the White Hat, etc).

Good, plausible guesses both, to which I'd add:

3) Give it time. There's still the Tower Commission (launched 20 years ago tomorrow), and that presidential apology (20 years next March -- mark your calendars now). My own, admittedly fuzzy, memories of Iran-Contra involve those congressional hearings that pre-empted late-afternoon Little House on the Prairie reruns, and made a star out of Ollie North. If I had to guess right now, I'd predict the first pieces will appear on or around the launch of the first big Iraq investigation of the new Congress.

Any wagers out there as to when Iran-Contra might finally get the big anniversary nod? Make your guesses below; the lucky winner will be compensated in traditional, generous Monthly fashion.

Rebecca Sinderbrand 2:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

BACK IN THE OC....So, um, the Baker-Hamilton commission is going to propose withdrawing combat troops from Iraq over the next year or so, as well as starting up talks with Iran and Syria. But Cheney and Bush are dead set against both, so I guess that's a dead letter. Apparently, there's still a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi PM suddenly pulls out of a scheduled meeting with Bush in Jordan, and the Bush team is reduced to pretending that this is really no big deal. Presumably it's also not a big deal that Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from the Iraqi government, thus flushing it irrevocably down the toilet.

What else? Cheney and the neocons still want to bomb Iran, regardless of whether or not the CIA thinks they're building a nuke. But that's old news. Elsewhere, Newt Gingrich wants to pare back the first amendment. And the whole wingnut universe is preparing for another decades-long rerun of Vietnam, in which they pretend that we could have won in Iraq if only liberals and Democrats hadn't poisoned the American will to win.

Is that it? I'm trying to play some quick catchup from the past couple of days before I start blogging again in the morning. Do I have things about right?

Kevin Drum 1:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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November 29, 2006
By: Rachel Morris

COMMISSION OMISSIONS... A couple of people wrote to me about my post yesterday, pointing out that Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy both have measures in the works addressing the Military Commissions Act, which is true. But I dont think these efforts will get very farbeyond Dodd, Leahy, Carl Levin and a few others, there doesn't seem to be a strong will among Senate Democrats to push too hard on this one.

Considering that Bush would almost certainly veto any change to the legislation, thats not unreasonable. But it does sadden me that the removal of habeas corpus, at the very least, isnt perceived as an issue worth taking up in order to raise its profile and to embarrass Bush by forcing a veto. (The always worthwhile Boston Globe Ideas section had an interesting piece a few weeks ago looking at why civil liberties issues have historically tended to be political non-starters.)

Its worth remembering that until the act was passed, the abuses of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions, and so on, were entirely within the control and knowledge of the executive branch. By insisting on the bill right before a tight midterm election, the administration managed to get Congress to acquiesce in its activities, a fact which has been under-appreciated so far, and which seems unlikely to change anytime soon. And perhaps acquiesce is too light a word: Joseph Margulies, the lead counsel who successfully argued the Rasul case before the Supreme Court, suggested in a talk today that the act grants the President greater powers than hed claimed before it was passed. Considering that Congress didnt know exactly what it was actually agreeing to, that seems plausible.

So with a legislative change unlikely, whats next? A legal challenge to the habeas provisions is already underway, and Margulies believes that if the court remains as presently constituted, I think well win. (Hang in there, Justice Stevens!) But any challenge to the commissions themselves will have to wait until someone is tried in one, which, according to Margulies, could take some time.

Rachel Morris 4:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Zachary Roth

REBELLION AT THE EPA...This seems like kind of a big deal. From a news release put out by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:

In an unprecedented action, representatives for more than 10,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are calling on Congress to take immediate action against global warming, according to a petition released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The petition also calls for an end to censorship of agency scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.
Since President Bush is committed to staying the course on not doing anything substantive about global warming, it's hard to believe this will have much effect. But it's a pretty compelling marker of just how shameful his administration's inaction has been.

Zachary Roth 4:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: T.A. Frank

NO MORE FRIST? Looks like we'll be deprived of a Bill Frist presidential run in '08. That's a shame, because a politician as entertainingly craven as Frist deserves to have a proper outlet for his talents. I was curious to see how he'd approach a national campaign in light of the midterms. Would he, for example, start attacking the White House for the war in Iraq? Or might he announce he'd changed his mind about end-of-life decisions and go and personally pull some plugs? It promised to be good, whatever it was. But I guess he felt it was going to be too hard to zig after the political winds had abruptly zagged. He's probably right, but I wish he'd have given it a try all the same. For my sake.

T.A. Frank 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Zachary Roth

VOTING WITH GOD...As we get around to fixing our still-broken voting system, here's another aspect of the problem that perhaps hasn't gotten the attention it deserves.

According to a lawsuit filed today by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center:

"An Illinois member [of the American Humanist Association] voted in a church that displayed a four-foot wooden crucifix right above the election judges. Another member in California was confronted by a large marble plaque dedicated to the 'unborn children' who are 'killed' by abortion, and containing a quote from the Bible justifying the notion that the soul is alive in the womb. And a New York member voted in a room featuring large religious slogans on the wall behind the voting machines."
It's tempting to see this stuff as small potatoes, especially when we have so far to go to ensure that every vote is even recorded and counted at all. But according to a Stanford University study cited by the AHLC, environmental cues in polling places have a measurable and significant impact on electoral results. And if you're going to ban signs from candidates in and around polling places, it's hard to see the logic for allowing religious statements or images with obviously political implications. Could be an interesting case to watch.

Zachary Roth 11:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (179)

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By: Christina Larson

DEFINING THE PROBLEM ... The Supreme Court will look at whether the EPA should have the power to regulate carbon emissions from new vehicles today. Recently I had a chance to ask Jim Woolsey, former CIA director, whether he thought global warming should be considered a national security threat (given the possibility of increased natural disasters, forced migrations, conflicts over resources). Here's his response:

In a real sense, yes. But not the kind of security threat people that people are accustomed to talking about. I distinguish between malignant and malevolent threats. No one is trying to create global warming; it is not something anyone is planning. In that sense, it is a malignant threat, not a malevolent threat. But it is a real threat.
Christina Larson 10:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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November 28, 2006
By: Paul Glastris

TAKES ONE... A wartime leader who speaks obvious untruths, surrounds himself with a narrow group of party ideologues who skew the information that gets to him, puts too few boots on the ground, fails to engage the international community, and may now be at the mercy of violent events beyond his control.

George W. Bush? No, its Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, as described in a newly-leaked memo by NSC Director Stephen Hadley.

Paul Glastris 11:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Paul Glastris

GENERAL INTEREST... The main argument for Wesley Clark's '04 presidential bid was his credibility on national security, the dominant campaign issue that year. There's no reason to think national security won't still be the big issue two years from now, as it was this fall. And so it's good news indeed that the general is sending pretty strong signals that he's running.

Paul Glastris 11:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (137)

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By: Zachary Roth

MISSION CREEP...Is it just me, or did Bush just ratchet back up our ambitions for Iraq?

According to the Associated Press, "The United States will not withdraw its forces from Iraq before its mission of building a stable democracy is complete, President Bush said Tuesday."

It seemed like in recent months, administration officials had bowed to reality and dropped the democracy talk, saying instead that we'll stay until Iraq has a stable government, capable of defending itself and not acting as a haven for terrorists (goals that could have been achieved, in other words, by not invading in the first place, but whatever.) But now we're again being told that the mission is to create a "stable democracy" and that Bush is not going to "pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

Since Iraqi democracy pretty clearly isn't coming any time soon, we're essentially being told that we'll be in Iraq at least until January 2009. Someone better tell James Baker nevermind.

UPDATE: Scratch that. I just checked the transcript of the speech. Bush never said anything about democracy in Iraq. It's just an incredibly sloppy mistake by the AP. I guess this counts as good news.

Zachary Roth 5:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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By: Rachel Morris

HABEAS SCHMABEAS... A lot of shameful things went on in the run-up to the midterm election, but to my mind the worst offence was the rushed passage of the Military Commissions Act, with its denial of habeas corpus to detainees. Jeffrey Toobin has a useful primer in the New Yorker this week which a) reminds readers just how bad the legislation is, and b) details Arlen Specters role in the sorry affair (Specter had sponsored an amendment that would have restored habeas corpus to the bill, but when the amendment was narrowly defeated, he voted for the bill anyway.)

At the time, I thought Democrats got way too much credit for their handling of this episodethe Times devoted an entire piece to chronicling how Senate Democrats had supposedly found their voice on national security issues. (They were probably heartened by some polling floating around that week from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which found that Dems tested well when they talked tough on national security.) Admittedly, some Democrats did make some fine speeches. But without any attempt to filibuster the bill or delay it through procedural means, such opposition was only ever really window dressing. (In contrast, Senate Democrats did manage to stall the administrations efforts to legitimatize its wiretapping activities.)

Unfortunately, as Toobin explains, Democrats seem to be in no rush to repair the damage in the foreseeable future:

Few Democratic politicians seem enthusiastic about proposing legislation that will principally benefit accused Al Qaeda terrorists, and, in the unlikely event that Democrats passed such a bill, it would face a certain veto from President Bush. The Supreme Courtnot Congressis likely to be the only hope for a change in the law. This is definitely not going to be the first thing out of the box for us, one Democratic Senate staffer said. We make fun of Specter, but were basically leaving it up to the Courts, too.

Rachel Morris 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Christina Larson

HERE'S A NUMBER FOR YOU ... Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, tells me he's been trading emails with folks around town -- generals, colonels, Pentagon officials -- who have been looking carefully and analytically for the last two years at what it will cost to reconstitute the military after Iraq. In other words, the bill to bring Army and Navy battalions back to the status they were in before the invasion. That includes training, equipment, replacing Apache helicopters, humvees, tanks, rifles (we have burned them up in Iraq faster than life cycle projections), etc. The current estimate: $50 to $100 billion. "The next president will face a staggering bill," Wilkerson says, not even counting the costs of further efforts in Iraq.

Christina Larson 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (207)

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By: Paul Glastris

SUMMONING CHENEY... Two days ago, Laura Rozen wondered why the White House was being so cryptic about Vice President Cheney's trip to Riyadh on Saturday to meet with Saudi King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan. Today, Robin Wright and Tom Ricks of The Washington Post provide the answer:

Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.

Pathetic. The U.S. government is so weak that the Saudis can summon our veep for a stern talking-to.

Speaking of Laura, looks like she was also right when she reported almost two weeks ago that the administration was debating the merits of throwing its full support behind the Shias as a way to settle the growing violence in Iraq. From the same Washington Post piece today:

But in a sign of the discord in Washington, the senior U.S. intelligence official said the situation requires that the administration abandon its long-held goal of national reconciliation and instead "pick a winner" in Iraq. He said he understands that means the Sunnis are likely to bolt from the fragile government. "That's the price you're going to have to pay," he said.

Paul Glastris 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

OFF TO LOS ANGELES....I'll be up in Los Angeles at a conference for the next couple of days, so tomorrow and Wednesday the blog will be manned by the combined forces of the Washington Monthly editorial staff. Be nice to them!

While I'm gone, though, let me recommend some reading material that I just got in the mail: The Best American Political Writing 2006, edited by Royce Flippin. It's got a great selection of liberal political writing from the past year, including a couple of pieces from the Monthly. Some I've read but many I haven't, and I'll be taking this with me to while away the downtime during the conference.

I'll be back on Thursday. Don't start any new wars until I get back.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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November 27, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

CARBON DIOXIDE UPDATE....The latest on global warming:

The rise in humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide has accelerated sharply, according to a new analysis.

The Global Carbon Project says that emissions were rising by less than 1% annually up to the year 2000, but are now rising at 2.5% per year.

...."At these rates, it certainly sounds like we'll end up towards the high end of the emission scenarios considered by the IPCC," commented Myles Allen from Oxford University, one of Britain's leading climate modellers.

Well, that should solve the problem of vote count foulups in Florida, anyway.

Kevin Drum 10:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

TIC WATCH....Digby has a corollary to my post earlier today about the centrism tic. It's exactly right.

Kevin Drum 10:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Kevin Drum

ANOTHER URBAN LEGEND BITES THE DUST....Following up on a burning question from last month, is it really true that green magazine covers are "newsstand death"? Julia Turner investigates for Slate and reports that (a) this opinion is universally held in the magazine industry, but (b) no one has even a shred of evidence that it's true. If I had a nickel for every story that turned out that way, it would be me handing out billion dollar checks for mass vaccination programs, not Bill Gates.

Kevin Drum 7:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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By: Kevin Drum

SAVING WHO WE CAN....Ah, the conundrum that is The New Republic. Today's essays from their "What To Do About Iraq" issue include two pieces, both by political science professors, that are diametrically opposed and yet still manage to contain not a single glimmer of intelligent thought between them. (Your choices: James Kurth suggests we obliterate the Sunnis because they've been such bastards, while Josef Joffe suggests we team up with the Sunnis in order to annoy Iran. Neither writer even remotely explains how we're supposed to accomplish either one of these goals.)

But then there's George Packer, who writes a genuinely thought provoking piece. Iraq is well and truly lost, he says, but a lot of Iraqis who worked with us and trusted us will die hideous deaths if we abandon them:

Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups.

....If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. In June, a U.S. Embassy cable about the lives of the Iraqi staff was leaked to The Washington Post. Among many disturbing examples of intimidation and fear was this sentence: "In March, a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate." The cable gave no answer. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas.

....We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands.

On moral grounds, it's hard to conceive of any argument against Packer. The only question is: Is it practical? Can we actually do what he suggests? How would we address the obvious security problems inherent in a relocation program?

The only way to know is for people with experience to study the issue and create a plan. But what are the odds that anyone in the Bush administration will ever allow this to happen?

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Kevin Drum

CENTRISM....Yes, centrism can be a tic. Yes, it's often favored by DC pundits who automatically assume that bipartisanship is an inherent good regardless of its outcome. Yes, it can sometimes be a substitute for real thought.

That said, I hope the liberal blogosphere doesn't get into the habit of automatically trashing centrist positions simply out of pique against some of centrism's more annoying practitioners. After all, trying to govern solely via populist intuition won't work any better than relying on a bunch of blue ribbon commissions.

On this score, it's worth keeping in mind that the biggest problem with the Bush administration was never its doctrinaire conservatism, which wasn't all that doctrinaire in the first place, but its insistence that it could govern by gut instinct without recourse to serious policy analysis. John DiIulio figured this out after only a few months in the White House, and later told Ron Suskind that "the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking."

Gut instinct won't get the job done for liberals, either. Your mileage will vary depending on the issue, but I'd argue, for example, that good analysis supports a fairly extreme view on Social Security (just leave it alone for now) but a centrist position on trade. The populist impulse on trade points us in the right direction, but a Lou Dobbsian solution (stop making trade deals, shut down the border) is nuts. Trade really does improve the economy after all, and the right answer for its ill effects on the working class is going to be found by agreeing on the populist goal and then letting the technocrats figure out smart policies to get us there. That's technocratic populism (an apparent oxymoron that confused a bunch of you when I first used it a couple of weeks ago).

The problem is not that smart policies aren't out there, the problem is that we've never built up the political will to insist that they be implemented. So let's work on that. And let's judge those policies on their merits. If a lefty solution works, that's great. But sometimes it doesn't, and if a wonky centrist solution works better, then that's what we should rally around. Whatever else we do, let's be sure to keep our eyes firmly planted in reality. The era of gut instinct is, hopefully, drawing mercifully to a close.

Kevin Drum 6:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL SECURITY DRECK....I don't really have the heart to wade back into the Social Security debate at the moment click here for the short version of how I feel about the whole thing but this paragraph from Sebastian Mallaby today really can't go without rebuttal:

During the 2005 debate, President Bush endorsed an idea that would inflict no cuts whatsoever on low-income workers and would allow the value of middle-class retirees' benefits to rise, albeit less quickly than now scheduled. Because this formula (devised by a Democrat named Robert Pozen) spreads the burden fairly, Democrats who worry about rising inequality should be open to it.

Just in case anyone is interested, I don't think there's a Democrat on the planet who worries about income inequality among the ranks of Social Security retirees. And Mallaby's "less quickly than now scheduled" is just a cute way of saying that under the Pozen plan middle class retirees of the future would receive a smaller percentage of their average earnings than they do now. I don't think I'd have to take off my shoes to count the number of progressives who think that's a good idea.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSE INTELLIGENCE UPDATE....In the soap opera that is the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, the latest chatter is that instead of selecting compromise candidate Silvestre Reyes, perhaps Nancy Pelosi should dig even deeper and select compromise-compromise candidate Rush Holt. Over at Ezra's site, Neil comments:

I have nothing against Reyes, but I'm drawn to Holt by the sort of identity politics that I'm the most susceptible to. He's the former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, giving rise to "My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist" bumper stickers in his New Jersey district. I have an immediate trust in skilled academics from rigorous fields of study. There's also the point that he's a really smart guy.

It would also be cool for Pelosi to make the point that doing your job well that is, being right about which countries have WMD and which don't can trump seniority in making you a committee chair.

Holt is a good guy, and his reasons for opposing the war resolution showed good judgment. He'd probably do fine as chair of the Intelligence Committee.

However, if Holt made any firm statements questioning the existence of Iraq's WMD programs back in 2002, I haven't been able to find them. He appears to have believed Iraq had an active WMD program as much as anyone, which shouldn't be a surprise since this belief was shared at the time by virtually every intelligence agency in the world, including the CIA. (Yes, the Bush administration exaggerated the CIA's finding, but the CIA did clearly report their belief that Iraqi WMD programs were active and dangerous.)

There also seems to be more than a whiff of retribution here against any Democrat who supported the war resolution, and that strikes me as pretty counterproductive. After all, nearly half the Democratic caucus supported the resolution, and we really don't want to declare every one of these folks persona non grata on all issues related to national security. Karl Rove would have a field day with that, wouldn't he?

In any case, it sure seems to me that Nancy Pelosi should make a decision about this ASAP, if only to keep idle fingers like mine and Neil's from chattering about this stuff endlessly. For better or worse, she ought to put this to bed.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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CIVIL WAR.....Via Taegan Goddard, I see that NBC News has announced a change in policy:

For months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into a civil war. And, for the most part, news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such. But after careful consideration, NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as a civil war.

Meanwhile, Niall Ferguson belatedly explains the dynamics of civil war to LA Times readers:

The majority of conflicts in our time have been within civilizations, not between them civil wars, not holy wars....The bad news, as James D. Fearon of Stanford University explained to members of Congress in September, is that withdrawing American troops from Iraq will only accelerate Iraq's descent into the abyss. The worse news is that increasing troop numbers may only slow the descent. The worst news is that civil wars like these tend to last a long time. Of 54 major civil wars since 1945, half lasted more than seven years. And most such wars don't end with power-sharing agreements but in victory for one side or the other often as a result of foreign intervention.

Does Ferguson then take the obvious next step and suggest that the United States ought to leave Iraq since it can no longer influence events in any significant way? No, he does not.

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BAKER/HAMILTON UPDATE....Jim Henley reads about the Baker/Hamilton commission so you don't have to. Click here for the 30-second summary.

I think Jim has it about right. When push comes to shove, the commission members are going to have a hard time finding a consensus because (a) at least some of them will insist on an honest analysis, but (b) Baker will be unwilling to endorse a report that President Bush is likely to reject. There's not much middle ground there.

In any case, the two proposals getting the most flagpole time at the moment include talks with Syria and Iran (opposed strenuously by Dick Cheney) and the temporary addition of 20,000 soldiers in Baghdad (pretty much dismissed by the military brass as either impossible or useless). The only other alternative is withdrawal, but virtually no one is willing to sign up to that since it would mean expulsion from the Sober Sensible Analyst club. It's just too hard for most of these guys to break ranks and admit in public that the fate of Iraq is no longer something we can control.

So the Kabuki dance continues.

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November 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MEDICARE DRUG PRICING....For some reason, this has been "Democrats Are In A Fix Over Medicare" weekend, with nearly identical stories in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the LA Times explaining that Democratic promises to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices are shaping up to be trickier than anyone thought. Oddly, though, none of the pieces really explains what the problem is. They just repeat complaints from the pharmaceutical industry that Medicare is so big that "negotiation" is tantamount to price controls, and that's a bad thing.

And so it is. But there's a fairly simple solution to this, one that only the Wall Street Journal even bothers to mention:

[An] approach Democrats could try would be requiring drug makers to give Medicare beneficiaries their lowest price, as companies must for Medicaid, the state-federal health-insurance program for the poor and disabled.

This, of course, is common practice in the business world, where large buyers routinely negotiate "most favorable pricing" clauses into their contracts. It also addresses the most infuriating aspect of current pharmaceutical policy: the bulk of the companies and the bulk of the R&D in the pharmaceutical industry are done in America, but for some reason consumers in every other country in the world get lower-priced drugs than Americans.

An MFP clause with appropriate exceptions takes care of this, and it's something the federal government already knows how to do since Medicaid currently operates this way. It's not price control, since pharmaceutical companies wouldn't be required to supply drugs at any particular price, but if they did supply them at a price to anyone else or any other country then they'd also be required to offer the same deal to Uncle Sam. This is pretty standard practice when you're the biggest buyer in an industry. Just ask Wal-Mart.

And if it turns out that giving Americans the Canadian/French/German/whatever price prevents pharmaceutical companies from making money, then they'll have to raise prices in other countries. But that's OK. There's no reason American taxpayers should be subsidizing healthcare for the rest of the world, after all.

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DIGGING INTO McCAIN....The redoubtable Matt Welch does the unconscionable today: he writes an op-ed for the LA Times in which he examines John McCain's actual views on the issues. He's not impressed:

McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He'll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats' nanny-state regulations with the GOP's red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism.

....If his issues line up with yours, and if you're not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he'll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable. Nowhere is that more evident than in his ideas about the Iraq war.

McCain has been banging the drum from nearly Day One to put more boots on the ground in Iraq. "There are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this," he said on "Meet the Press" on Nov. 12, "but they all require the presence of additional troops." McCain is more inclined to start wars and increase troop levels than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. He has supported every U.S. military intervention of the last two decades, urged both presidents to rattle their sabers louder over North Korea and Iran, lamented the Pentagon's failure to intervene in Darfur and Rwanda and supported a general policy of "rogue state rollback."

Hear hear. This doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, but despite his soothing speaking style McCain may literally be in the 99% percentile of hawkishness. That is, he may be more hawkish than every single one of his fellow senators. Some "centrist."

McCain has been the focus of some moderately bad press lately because of his notable lack of straight talk ever since he got serious about running for president in 2008: pandering to Jerry Falwell, switching his views on Roe v. Wade, caving in on the torture bill, and abandoning his long-held views on campaign finance reform. And that's all well and good. He deserves to get beaten up for this stuff the same as ordinary mortals do.

But his flip-flops get a lot of attention mainly because they're easy to find and satisfying to point out. Actually looking past his occasionally "maverick" views is far more important, and it reveals a man who has seemingly learned nothing from the Iraq debacle and who is decidedly out of step with the views of at least two-thirds of the country. I suspect that many people find him more palatable than George Bush because he has consistent principles and a working intellect, but those principles are consistently dangerous and misguided. He might not bumble into disasters the way Bush has, but a deliberate and well planned disaster is every bit as bad as the Bushian kind.

Bottom line: If you think Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer would make good foreign policy advisors, then McCain is your man. However, if you're not insane, that prospect will scare the hell out of you. As it should.

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November 25, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FOOTBALL OPEN THREAD....As promised, I'm back in time for this week's Game of the Century. Just rolled into the driveway half an hour ago, in fact. Needless to say, though, this doesn't mean any blogging will be done tonight, since my butt will be parked firmly in front of the TV for the next few hours.

My prediction: USC wins by a touchdown or two. Call it ten points. Make your own call in comments, or just engage in random (but sportsmanlike) USC and/or Notre Dame hatred. Or, if you're feeling more adventurous, try to justify the early season pretensions of Big East fans to the rest of us. Or just tell Thanksgiving stories. Whatever.

See you in a few hours.

HALFTIME UPDATE: A little shaky there in the second quarter, but still looking pretty good for the Trojans. That "touchdown or two" is looking like it'll end up closer to the two end than the one end.

But if USC wins, will the computers finally give them the respect they need to overtake Michigan as the BCS #2? Or will 2006 be a repeat of the grim digital farce of 2003?

FINAL UPDATE: Well, that was a satisfying score. And how about that final onside kick? All I can say now is: See you in Arizona, Buckeyes. (Computers and UCLA willing, of course.)

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November 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THANKSGIVING CAT BLOGGING....From everyone here at Drum World Headquarters, including our poultry-loving cats, Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be off for the next few days, but I'll be back in time for Saturday's USC-Notre Dame showdown, at which time we'll know how much we really have to be thankful for this year.

Have a good weekend, everyone. Enjoy your turkey!


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November 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FOLLY....Richard Clarke on Iraq:

In The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machina or to eventually shift the blame. There is no need to do that now. Everyone already knows who is to blame. It is time to stop the adventure, lower our sights, and focus on America's core interests. And that means withdrawal of major combat units.

That is about as succinct a description of our current situation as I've read anywhere. Read the whole thing for the longer version of his argument for withdrawal.

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WAR AND PEACE....Atrios quotes Lawrence O'Donnell's scathing denunciation of pundits who think we need to say in Iraq:

I've reached a Rangel-like breaking point with my TV pundit colleagues who championed the Iraq war and now say we can't leave even if we went there for the wrong reasons. For every one of them, I have a simple question: Why aren't you in Iraq? Or why did you avoid combat in your generation's war? The one unifying characteristic that all of us men in make-up on political chat shows share is fear of combat. Every one of us has done everything we can to avoid combat or even being fitted for a military uniform. Just like George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney, we are all combat cowards. It takes a very special kind of combat coward to advocate combat for others. It's the kind of thing that can get you as angry as Charlie Rangel.

Look: I get what O'Donnell is saying, and the chickenhawk argument is alluring to liberals for obvious reasons. What's more, regular readers know that I agree wholeheartedly with him that it's time to get out of Iraq. But this attitude is still pernicious. When nations decide whether to go to war or whether to continue an existing war everyone in a democracy is entitled to a view and everyone is entitled to be taken seriously. But if non-veterans, by virtue of having never served, are denied the moral authority to advocate in favor of war, their views will quite rightfully be entirely marginalized. After all, why should anyone care what they think if, as O'Donnell suggests, their non-serving status predetermines their only honorable opinion?

I'm not willing to leave decisions on the use of military force solely to combat veterans, but that's where this sentiment leads us. It leads to a place where military veterans are put on a pedestal and anyone who hasn't served is ipso facto less qualified to hold an opinion on isssues of war and peace than someone who has. Let's not go there.

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ELECTION COVERAGE....Via Steve Benen, the University of Wisconsins NewsLab provides a dispiriting recap of local news coverage of the midterm election:

Local newscasts in seven Midwest markets aired nearly four and a-half minutes of paid political ads during the typical 30-minute broadcast while dedicating an average of one minute and 43 seconds to election news coverage.

The new post-election analysis also shows that most of the actual news overage of elections on early and late-evening broadcasts was devoted to campaign strategy and polling, which outpaced reporting on policy issues by a margin of over three to one (65 percent to 17 percent).

By advanced arithmetic, this means that these broadcasts dedicated an average of 18 seconds each to discussing actual issues. I wonder how blogs would fare if someone did a similar study of the political blogosphere?

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FAKE ID AND THE FRICK....Cathy Seipp on lying:

I do lie now and then when it comes to stupid rules that are made to be broken. For instance, when Maia was eight or nine and I wanted to take her to the Frick Museum in New York, I faked her birth certificate, because the Frick has a rule against children under 10.

She faked a birth certificate to get her daughter into the Frick? That's.....kind of cool, actually.

But jeez, is the Frick really that finicky? The short answer, according to this "Policy on the Admission of Children," is yes. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has even granted them an exemption from the age discrimination provisions of Section 8-107(4)(a) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York.

Which is all well and good, but still: do they really require a birth certificate? They don't just take your word for it if you show up with a child who looks to be somewhere in the vicinity of tennish? Wow.

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PELOSI TAKES CHARGE....Now this is more like it:

[Nancy] Pelosi plans to start the 110th Congress with a bang on Jan. 4 when the House holds its ceremonial swearing in and elects her as speaker by immediately setting off on a sprint of several weeks to enact the Democrats' ambitious 100-hour agenda.

Lawmakers usually return home between the swearing-in ceremony and the president's speech, but analysts say the hurried schedule gives Democrats a chance to show instant results. It could also put Bush on the defensive, forcing him to sign or veto a host of popular initiatives.

This is a great idea: not only does it send a message of urgency and seriousness (not to mention hard work, a quality notably missing from Congress in recent years), but it allows Pelosi to seize the legislative initiative instead of just waiting to react to Bush's State of the Union address a few weeks later. It's a smart move.

Combine this with her decision to give extra attention to lobbying reform, her slapdown of loose impeachment talk, and her dismissal of Charlie Rangel's political theater over the draft, and Pelosi seems to have put the Hoyer/Murtha fiasco firmly behind her. Which is all the more reason to hope she doesn't send that into Act II with a Harman/Hastings/Reyes fiasco on the Intelligence Committee. Time to move on.

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November 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS PICK UP THEIR BALL AND GO HOME....It's nice to see the modern Republican Party taking the business of governing the country so seriously:

Republicans vacating the Capitol are dumping a big spring cleaning job on Democrats moving in. GOP leaders have opted to leave behind almost a half-trillion-dollar clutter of unfinished spending bills.

....Driving the decision to quit and go home rather than finish the remaining budget work is a determined effort by a group of conservative Republicans to prevent putting a GOP stamp on spending bills covering 13 Cabinet Departments and loaded with thousands of homestate projects derided as "pork" by critics.

....Some Republicans also look forward to using unfinished budget work to gum up an early Democratic agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, cutting interest rates on college loans and repealing some tax breaks for oil companies.

It's like watching a bunch of first graders stomp off the playground after the teacher has told them to break up a fight. And keep in mind that these bills are already two months overdue: the new federal fiscal year started on October 1, and until the FY07 spending bills are passed the government is forced to wheeze along on continuing resolutions and temporary stopgaps.

But who cares about running the country when you have one last opportunity to needle the Democrats? Priorities, priorities....

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EAT YOUR VEGGIES!....The Wall Street Journal offers advice on how to get your kids to like vegetables:

Try, try and try again. One of the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to kids and food is that they give up too soon. But Pennsylvania State University researchers have conducted studies using foods that most kids don't typically eat a lot of, such as vegetables and Asian dishes. They discovered it can take up to 15 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it.

15? I figure I must have eaten about a thousand servings each of peas, spinach, and green beans when I was growing up. But I still don't like them. I think the Penn State boffins may have miscalculated slightly here.

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SETTLEMENTS....Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group, has released a study saying that 39% of the land used by Israeli settlements in the West Bank is actually private Palestinian property. The report, which is based on data from Israel's Civil Administration, is highly detailed and includes satellite maps (here) showing the provenance of the land in dozens of settlements. On the right, for example, is a satellite map of Ariel, with private Palestinian land shaded in red and "survey land" shaded in yellow. According to the report, 35% of Ariel is private Palestinian property.

Which just goes to show how much I know. I never realized there was even a veneer of legality to the Israeli settlements, but it turns out that Israel has long claimed that the settlements are sited on land that was either purchased legally or was of uncertain ownership. The Peace Now report, however, seems to show pretty conclusively that that's not the case. It says:

The privately owned land to which this report refers is:

  1. Land that was registered and recognized as private property before 1968, at a time when the process of land registration was still open and available to Palestinians, or

  2. Cultivated land which is recognized by Israel as private land according to the Ottoman law.

An Israeli government spokesperson said they would comment on the report after they've had a chance to read it. But she added, "even if it turns out only 5 percent is private land, that is something we must take note of." Stay tuned.

UPDATE: For a closer look at how this process works on the ground, check out Bernard Avishai's Monday op-ed in the LA Times.

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SLANTED INTELLIGENCE....Is Robert Gates going to usher in a new era of truth-telling and independent analysis at the Pentagon? Jennifer Glaudemans, who worked as a CIA analyst during the Iran-Contra fiasco, says that Gates sure didn't fit this bill back when he was the agency's deputy director for intelligence:

When we received the draft NIE, we were shocked to find that our contribution on Soviet relations with Iran had been completely reversed. Rather than stating that the prospects for improved Soviet-Iranian relations were negligible, the document indicated that Moscow assessed those prospects as quite good....No one in my office believed this Cold War hyperbole. There was simply no evidence to support the notion that Moscow was optimistic about its prospects for improved relations with Iran.

....Despite overwhelming evidence, our analysis was suppressed. At a coordinating meeting, we were told that Gates wanted the language to stay in as it was, presumably to help justify "improving" our strained relations with Tehran through the Iran-Contra weapons sales.

....It was well known among analysts at the time that we would have a hard time getting Gates to sign off on analyses that did not fit his ideological preconceptions. All one had to do was look at his margin comments on controversial papers to know what was going on. Fortunately for him, classification and layers of bureaucracy kept those comments from public view. Today, however, many cases of politicized intelligence are a matter of public record. The National Security Archive, a not-for-profit organization, has posted many documents on its website that tell the story.

Read the whole thing for more. Glaudemans suggests that Gates had a consistent history of slanting intelligence to fit both his own views and that of his political masters. She suggests some pointed questioning from the Senate would be in order during his confirmation hearing.

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IRAQ TO AMERICA: GET OUT.... PIPA has released a new poll of Iraqi attitudes toward the U.S. occupation, and the takeaway is very, very clear: they want us to leave. 74% of Shiites and 91% of Sunnis want us to leave within a year (the number is 80% for Shiites in Baghdad). By wide margins, both groups believe U.S. forces are provoking more violence than they're preventing, and both groups believe that day-to-day security would improve if we left. Support for attacks on U.S. forces now commands majority support among both Shiites and Sunnis. And none of this is because of successful al-Qaeda propaganda: 94% of Iraqis continue to disapprove of al-Qaeda.

Now, it may be that these views are misguided. But it hardly matters: it's simply not possible for us to occupy the country successfully if a majority of Iraqis actively support attacks on our troops and a vast majority think we're responsible for the rising violence. It's time for us to leave.

The report summary is here. The full report is here.

UPDATE: Note that the date of this report is September 27. It's pretty recent, but it's not quite "new," as I said in the main post.

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November 20, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

A DAY LATE....Straight from the "Missing the Point" file comes this brilliant plan from the United States Mint:

In an effort to wean Americans off the dollar bill and onto dollar coins, the U.S. Mint announced today plans for a series of metal dollars with images of every U.S. president.

The mint hopes the presidents will succeed where Susan B. Anthony and then Sacagawea failed. Each year starting in 2007, it will release four presidential coins, beginning next year with George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

I can hardly wait for 2012, which will feature the dynamic quartet of Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and then a reprise of Grover Cleveland. Good times!

Needless to say, this will do nothing to get people to use dollar coins. As with the state quarters, it may encourage people to collect dollar coins, but not to use them. I think I can say with some confidence that the only thing likely to accomplish that is to get rid of the dollar bill once and for all.

Still, there's a bright side: the "Name Everything After Reagan" crowd will finally get their hero on a coin, even if they do have to wait another decade for it to happen. On the downside, Richard Nixon will also get a coin. Hard to believe, isn't it?

UPDATE: Michael O'Hare has much more on this subject.

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TEN WEEKS....Will Nancy Pelosi try to cut off funding for the Iraq war? Democrats say that's not on the table, but Bill Kristol isn't so sure:

The conventional wisdom in Washington right now is but of course they'll never cut off funds. That would be politically suicidal, and that's not going to happen.

I don't believe that. Four months from now, if things continue to slide downhill, if the president hasn't adjusted course, if hawks like Senator McCain haven't been satisfied that there's been an increase in troops or that we have a real strategy for victory, I think . . . we could be looking at a Democratic House and some Republicans who are willing to just pull the plug on Iraq.

That comment takes hawkishness to an almost otherworldly plane. I know Kristol thinks we need to redouble our efforts in Iraq, but take a close look at his hypothetical: If (a) things continue to slide downhill, (b) there's no change of course, and (c) there's no strategy for victory, then he's worried that Congress might pull the plug? If all those things were true, wouldn't even a megahawk like Kristol concede that withdrawal is the only decent option left?

I guess not. In any case, at least Kristol put a pretty firm date on his fears: "If by the State of the Union, things aren't getting better on the ground or there's not a really plausible change of tactics here at home, I am very worried that political support will crumble; not among Democrats, but among Republicans." That's only about ten weeks away, right? He must be picking up some pretty bad vibes from his fellow Republicans.

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MIDTERM MYTHS....Via Greg Sargent, I see that Time magazine ran an article a couple of days ago putting a stake through some of the enduring myths of the midterm election:

MYTH: Joe Lieberman's victory proves the netroots don't matter.
REALITY: The netroots had some key victories.

MYTH: Democrats won because they carefully recruited more conservative candidates.
REALITY: Democrats won because their candidates were conservative about their message.

MYTH: The losses Republicans sufferend this election were no different than what you usually see in a President's sixth year in office.
REALITY: Redistricting minimized what might have been a truly historic shellacking.

MYTH: The election was all about the war.
REALITY: It's the dishonesty, stupid.

MYTH: Republicans lost their base.
REALITY: The base turned out, they just got beat.

I think the war was probably at least as important as corruption in the Democratic victory, but this is still a pretty good list. Read the whole thing for more detail.

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INNUMERACY....A New York Times reporter and presumably the legion of editors who laid eyes on his story passed along a nugget this weekend: if you earn $75,301, your income is in the top 20% worldwide. Andrew Tobias comments:

Ah, the Innumeracy or just complete lack of clue. Can a writer or editor at the newspaper of record (who very possibly earns $75,301 himself) actually think that 20% of the worlds 6-plus billion people earn $75,000 or more?

....Actually, of course, the paper was off by a factor a 100....If you are the 49,205,295th richest person in the world, you are richer than 99.18% of your planetary neighbors, not 80%.

....But you get the point, and it is nicely made: you are probably better off than you realize. (Certainly thats true of the newspaperman who thinks hes only in the top 20% when in fact hes in the top eighty-two hundredths of one percent.)

It's faintly appalling that neither the reporter nor any of his editors were even slightly suspicious of that 20% number, even though there were two separate reasons to think it was fantastically wide of the mark.

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PRETZEL MAN....I see that on Sunday John "Straight Talk" McCain demonstrated once again that he's fully absorbed his lesson from 2000: straight talk doesn't win elections for Republicans. Sucking up to social conservatives does. So now he's pulled a full 180 on abortion and says he supports repeal of Roe v. Wade, telling George Stephanopoulos it's because "Im a federalist." However, as Scott Lemieux points out, this makes McCain's Roe switcheroo disingenousness squared:

Nothing in McCain's own record suggests that he thinks abortion should be left to the states. He had voted for nation-wide "partial birth" bans at least 6 times. He voted to deny the use of military facilities for women in the military who needed abortions. He voted for this year's Fugitive Uterus Act. Indeed, given his 0% NARAL rating, he apparently has yet to meet a federal regulation of abortion he doesn't like. So while I suppose it might be possible in the abstract to oppose Roe on "federalist" grounds, in McCain's case it's a pathetically disingenuous dodge.

Poor McCain. Pandering to the Jerry Falwell crowd might have done him some good in 2000, but like so many generals before him, he's fighting the last war. He should have stuck with the straight talk.

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YES, THINGS CAN GET WORSE....After running through all the options available to us in Iraq and acknowledging that they have little chance of succeeding, Suzanne Nossel briefly raises a point that gets nowhere near enough attention:

9. If we don't begin a planned exit, there's a good chance we'll find ourselves in an unplanned one It's surprising that by now we haven't experienced the Iraqi equivalent of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the dragging of a corpse of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu a decade later. But it seems likely that that day will come.

Conventional wisdom tacitly assumes that the worst that can happen in Iraq is a continuation of the current low-level civil war, resulting in the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives and dozens of U.S. soldiers each month. But as bad as that is, it's worth keeping in mind that the American occupation has actually made the Iraqi situation worse every single year since it began, and will probably continue to make things worse as long as we're there. And the worse the violence, the worse the Iraqi theocracy that eventually takes root in its wake is likely to be.

But that's not all. The dynamics of violence are nonlinear in the extreme, and the odds of an Archduke Ferdinand moment continue to rise inexorably as our occupation continues to make things ever worse and ever more unstable. A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?

All of these developments may be individually unlikely, but you're not trying hard enough if you can't dream up plausible scenarios leading to each one of them. Pundits and policymakers alike should keep this in mind when they're mentally totting up the costs and benefits of staying in Iraq and concluding that we might as well try a Last Big Push because, heck, it can't do any harm to try. In fact, it can. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse things are likely to get.

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November 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

DEALING WITH THE WORLD....Is the increased corporate regulation required by Sarbanes-Oxley making London into a more appealing financial center than New York? Clay Risen says there's probably some truth to this, but suggests there are also bigger factors at play:

Even more significant is the perception that the United States is culturally and politically averse to the international market system. It is hard to express just how offended the global finance world was by the blunt nativism surrounding the Dubai Ports World debacle earlier this year, or the rise of protectionist sentiment in Congress, or the fact that it is now much harder for international financial workers simply to move in and out of the country a key requirement in a fluid global economy. "Just getting into America, even if you're British, is an issue,'' one headhunting executive told The New York Times. ''We've had candidates that arrived for an interview, were told they couldn't leave a room in the airport, and were put on the next plane back."

Some of the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley may be overly onerous, and Democrats would be well advised to at least consider modifying some of them. In the same vein, while we should take a harder look at trade deals, we risk losing a considerable amount of global influence if we end up in full-blown protectionist mode. Ditto for fear-driven security policies that make it a hassle for even garden-variety corporate executives to visit our country.

It's Sunday, so I don't have a lot more to say about this. But I think Risen makes a sensible point: Sarbanes-Oxley may need some tweaking, but it isn't the bogeyman that conservatives seem to think it is. Likewise, putting a freeze on trade deals isn't the panacea some liberals seem to think that is. Centrism may sometimes seem like nothing more than a tic, but in this case it makes a lot of sense.

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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JUST SAY IT....Fareed Zakaria, at the end of a column that acknowledges there's nothing much left that we can accomplish in Iraq, says this:

America's only real leverage is the threat of withdrawal....Washington can warn the ruling coalition that unless certain conditions are met, U.S. troops will begin a substantial drawdown, quit providing basic security on the streets of Iraq and instead take on a narrower role, akin to the Special Forces mission in Afghanistan.

And one last thing: for such a threat to be meaningful, we must be prepared to carry it out.

This is about a millimeter farther than he was willing to go last month, but for some reason he still can't quite bring himself to flatly say that we need to leave even though he seems to understand pretty clearly that U.S. troops no longer have any chance of contributing to peace or stability in Iraq. Apparently the straitjacket of maintaining membership in the community of serious mainstream analysts is a powerful one.

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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SADDAM'S A-BOMB....In The Good Fight, Peter Beinart says that he originally supported the Iraq war because he thought it was the only way to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting a nuclear bomb. David Adesnik isn't impressed with this argument:

Really, a nuclear bomb? I know that the President and others made ominous references to a mushroom cloud, but I also remember that almost all Democrats and almost all analysts rejected out of hand the possibility that Iraq had, or would soon have, a bomb.

....In order to make his chapter persuasive, Beinart should've gone back to the best liberal arguments on behalf of the war and evaluated their merits. His own writings would have been a good place to start. Also well-known is Ken Pollack's book, The Threatening Storm, which Beinart cites in his chapter.

I remember thinking the same thing at one time, but it turned out that I was the one with the faulty memory. Here's what Ken Pollack said in The Threatening Storm (pp. 173-175), published in late 2002:

There is a consensus that Iraq has resumed work on nuclear weapons....A recent defector who worked as a design engineer stated that Saddam had ordered the entire nuclear program reconstituted in August 1998, when he announced that he had ceased all cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors.

....Just to be clear about this: in 1990, Iraq built a workable nuclear wepaon. All it lacked was the fissile material. Iraq has natural uranium deposits....It also has the technology and the know-how to build a system capable of enriching that uranium to weapons grade.

....The U.S. intelligence community has estimated that it would take Iraq five to ten years from the start of crash program to enrich enough uranium to make one or more devices. If such a crash program started in 1999, Iraq might be able to develop such weapons by 2004.

It's true, as David says, that a few months after The Threatening Storm was published UN inspectors had discredited the evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program. However, by then UN inspectors had pretty much discredited the evidence for chemical and biological weapons programs as well. They had also demonstrated that Saddam's missile stock was only barely out of compliance with UN mandates and that the much-hyped drone program was a joke. In fact, they made it pretty clear that Saddam posed virtually no threat at all to anyone.

In that sense, there's nothing unusual about the idea that Beinart believed Iraq was trying to build a bomb. Mainstream analysts did believe that Iraq had an active nuclear program, just as they believed he had an active chem/bio program. They were wrong about all that stuff, not just the nuclear weapons.

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OVERSIGHT....What should be the main targets for Democratic investigations in the new Congress? Ron Suskind recommends (a) the energy industry, (b) lying to Congress about domestic issues like global warming and Medicare, (c) lying to the public about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, (d) nonterrorists who have been subjects of warrantless wiretaps, and (e) continued incompetence in the intelligence community.

Seems like a decent list.

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman disagrees. He has a list of his own to submit for your approval.

Kevin Drum 12:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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November 18, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

RANDOM VITUPERATION THREAD....Speaking of football, who's the director of ABC's television coverage of the USC-Cal game? Can someone please fire him during halftime and put the AD in charge?

Look: I realize that the overhead camera is expensive and ABC wants to get its money's worth from the thing, but most of the time it provides a really lousy view of the play. And cutting between the overhead cam and the sideline cam three seconds after the snap is even worse. Who do they think can follow the play when the camera angle changes just as the quarterback is releasing the ball? Sheesh.

Anyway, consider this an open thread for random gripes about television sports coverage.

Kevin Drum 9:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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OHIO STATE vs. MICHIGAN....It's the game of the century! Who are you rooting for?

I'll be rooting for Michigan, though for fairly convoluted reasons. As a lifelong USC fan, I was raised to consider the entire Big Ten an undifferentiated enemy of everything good and pure, so there was never any reason to care who won games like this. The Rose Bowl was all that mattered.

On the other hand, as a lifelong USC fan I also favor whatever result is most likely to get USC into the #2 spot in the BCS rankings and therefore into the BCS championship game (assuming they manage to win the rest of their games, of course). So which result would most likely accomplish that? I figure a Michigan win, because the BCS computers love Michigan. The humans will probably drop the losing team to #3, but a Michigan loss might cause the computers to drop them only as far as #2, and this could result in them hanging on to the #2 BCS spot by a fingernail. But if Ohio State loses, I figure they'll drop below USC in both the human polls and the computer polls, pretty much guaranteeing the Trojans the #2 spot.

Did that make sense? Probably not. In any case, today's game sure shows off the absurdity of the human polls. Out of 238 voters in the AP, coaches, and Harris polls, we're supposed to believe that a grand total of two think Michigan is the superior team. Sure.

And now, it's off to the game.

UPDATE: That was sure an impressive opening drive, wasn't it? Go Wolverines!

FINAL UPDATE: Well, that was about the worst possible result from my parochial West Coast point of view. Ohio State won, but Michigan kept it so close they'll almost certainly stay pretty high in the polls. Bummer.

But hey congratulations Buckeyes! Maybe we'll see you in Arizona next year.

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THE END OF INHOFE?....One of the best pieces of news to come from the Democratic takeover of the Senate is the change in chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which will move from the odious and delusional James Inhofe to the environment-friendly Barbara Boxer. It's hard to think of any other committee that will change more dramatically.

Today, the Washington Post reported even more good news:

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) announced his intention to become the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, now headed by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said that global warming is a hoax. Warner has called for action against climate change, and his ascension to a leadership post would accelerate significant changes already underway.

....First, however, GOP senators must decide whether Warner's seniority on the committee grants him the right to be the ranking Republican. Inhofe issued a statement saying that he thinks Warner "has misunderstood the rules" and that "I intend to retain my leadership position in the 110th Congress, returning as the Ranking Member" of the environment committee.

Warner responded in a statement: "I carefully reviewed the rules in consultation with the Secretary of the Majority, who assures me that my seniority on the Committee forms a clear basis, under longstanding precedent" for claiming the top Republican spot.

Sidelining Inhofe completely would be one of the most dramatic signs imaginable that the Republican leadership is reclaiming a bit of common sense in the wake of their midterm defeat. Warner may be conservative, but he's a traditional, reality-based conservative, not a crackpot ideologue like Inhofe. Here's hoping he gets his wish.

Kevin Drum 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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THE CHESS CLUB ON STEROIDS....Dick Meyer, the editorial director of CBSNews.com, lets us know today what he really thinks about the Republican revolutionaries of 1994. In fact, he tells us, it's what everyone has thought about these guys ever since they were elected. It's just that no one has been willing to say it until now:

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos.

....Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn't fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn't deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise.

The rest of the column is a rundown of the various hypocrisies of the House Republican leadership during this era, but I think the excerpt above is the key part of what Meyer was trying to say. The Gingrichites were a bunch of high school kids who got hooked on Ayn Rand and then forgot to grow out of it. They had obsessive personalities but no serious experience of the world, and this toxic combination led to a genuine, sincere, completely delusional belief that Atlas Shrugged wasn't a monomaniacal flight of fancy, but a blueprint for society that could actually be put into practice. They were the guys who rant from soapboxes in Hyde Park, but with nice suits and silk ties.

At least, I think that was his point. I wonder if next week he'll tell us what he thinks of the Bush White House. Or will he wait until 2018?

Kevin Drum 12:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (258)

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November 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE....In the Guardian, Richard Adams writes a critique of Milton Friedman that includes this:

In terms of the policies he inspired or influenced, however, the report card is not so glowing. His great claim, the idea that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon" may have set off the Monetarist versus Keynesian "econ-wars" of the late 1970s and 1980s. But Friedman's ideas of directly targeting the money supply were tried and rejected as a failure, in both the UK and the US, and Friedman himself backed away from his dogmatic earlier positions. Today, no major central bank directly targets money supply data in setting monetary policy.

That's true. "Long and variable lags" combined with technical difficulties in meeting money supply targets pretty much doomed pure monetarism. Or so I understand, anyway.

But I'm more curious about Friedman's famous conclusion that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." Is it? I was influenced a few years ago by David Hackett Fischer's The Great Wave to suspect that Friedman was wrong about that, but I haven't read any further on the subject and I don't have the economic chops to draw any conclusions on my own. What's more, as with all interesting economic questions, I suppose the correct answer is "opinions differ."

Still, since that sentence is one of if not the most famous thing Friedman said, surely it deserves a bit of discussion upon his death? Or is it too old hat to merit any further interest? DeLong? Mankiw? Sawicky? Cowen? Thoma? What do you say?

Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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BIPARTISANSHIP WATCH....God knows I don't want to get in the middle of the endless squabbling between Andrew Sullivan and National Review, but when the man has a point, the man has a point.

Get this: In yet another example of bipartisan comity, George Bush has just appointed a new chief of family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. His candidate turns out to be the medical director of an organization that regards the distribution of contraceptives as "demeaning to women," and this strikes many people as an odd choice to head up a federal family-planning organization.

Not Kathryn Jean Lopez, though. In fact, she thinks it's inconceivable that anyone would disagree with this view of contraceptives:

Passing out contraception without any deeper context or conversation is degrading and disrespectful to men and women. Tell me I'm crazy.

Degrading and disrespectful? To refrain from lecturing full-grown adults who want to have sex but don't want to have children? Only if you think that all sex outside of marriage is inherently degrading and disrespectful.

Which, of course, is the whole point and it's a good example of why the "keep abortion legal but acknowledge that it's a heart-wrenching choice" school of thought leaves me cold. There's no question that abortion is a heart-wrenching choice for some women, but encouraging that belief means encouraging people to believe that there's something morally culpable about getting accidentally pregnant. Not to mention something morally culpable about not wanting a child in the first place, a decision so profound and personal that I have a hard time imagining anyone thinking they have a right to interfere with it.

Tell me I'm crazy.

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (207)

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INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE UPDATE....Hmmm. Should Nancy Pelosi choose compromise candidate Silvestre Reyes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee? Laura Rozen says he has some baggage of his own.

[UPDATE: I just spoke with Kira Maas, Reyes's press secretary, and she says that Laura's report that Reyes met with Manucher Ghorbanifar in Paris in 2003 is incorrect. According to Haas, they've searched Reyes's appointment books and could find no record of such a meeting. Reyes says the meeting never took place and that he's never met Ghorbanifar.

UPDATE 2: Laura has updated her post and provides specific details about Reyes's meeting with Ghorbanifar. In late August 2003 Reyes was on a trip with fellow congressmen Curt Weldon and Solomon Ortiz, and during a stopover in Paris Weldon set up a meeting with a partner of Ghorbanifar's at the Sofitel hotel. The hotel lobby was under surveillance, and the CIA's then-Paris station chief, Bill Murray, says, "Weldon, Ortiz and Reyes were part of a Congressional delegation which was in France in late August 2003 for a planned meeting that Weldon planned with his source....The meeting was held. Ghorbanifar attended."

Sounds like Reyes has some 'splaining to do.

And now, back to our original post:]

The Murtha/Hoyer battle for majority leader was never as big a deal as people made it out to be, but the squabble over the chairmanship of the intelligence committee is looking to turn into at least a minor debacle. I can't help but think that the best best here is to turn down the heat, stop looking for perfection, and keep Jane Harman where she is. Nobody's perfect, but Harman is smart, well qualified, and the senior Dem on the committee. It's time to put this to bed.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that at least the new chairman won't be Pete Hoekstra. We're in for an upgrade no matter what happens.

Kevin Drum 3:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

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FILIBUSTER PROOF IN 2008?....We all know that Democrats had an uphill battle to win control of the Senate this year because there were so few incumbent Republican seats in play. Democrats had to practically run the table to gain six seats.

In 2008 the situation will be just the reverse: of the 33 seats up for reelection, 21 are held by Republicans, which makes further Democratic gains pretty likely. Still, the folks at Democratic Strategist might be getting just a little too optimistic:

Bottom line is that the nine seat pick-up needed for a veto-proof Senate majority is within reasonable range. Ironically, Dems probably wouldn't need it, because if we pick up nine Senate seats, we will likely win the presidency as well.

Now, I assume what they're really talking about is a "filibuster-proof" majority (veto-proof would take two-thirds, or 67 seats), but even that seems like a stretch. Still, always good to aim high, I suppose.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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THE ESTABLISHMENTARIAN....Why did Steny Hoyer beat John Murtha in the battle to become majority leader yesterday? In our profile of Hoyer from last month, Zack Roth provides some clues:

Throughout his career, he has earned a reputation for maintaining good relations with as many players as possible. Mr. Hoyers policy is that youve got to listen to all sides. Never close the door to anyone whether you agree with them or disagree with them, says Bill Cable, his chief of staff. When I asked friends and former staffers which issues Hoyer seemed to feel most passionately about, most spoke instead about his political skills. He cares more about process than issues, per se, says John Moag, who worked for him in both the Maryland state Senate and the U.S. Congress.

....Most Democrats agree he deserves some of the credit for the dramatically increased Democratic unity on display over the last year and a half, in part because of the changes he instituted to the whipping operation, including permanently assigning deputy whips to cover specific members of the caucus. During the Social Security fight last year, Pelosi and Hoyer, working together, succeeded in convincing almost every Democrat to avoid offering an alternative plan of his or her own, preventing the White House from shifting attention away from the unpopularity of its own approach, and ultimately dooming the presidents initiative. But even here, there was a hint that Hoyers constant desire to avoid alienating allies threatened to undo the Democrats hard-won unity: When Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) floated a tentative proposal of his own, aides to Pelosi denounced it as a tactical blunder, but Hoyer called it useful.

Want to know more about Hoyer? You know what to do. Just click the link.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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November 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS....With the battle for majority leader out of the way, Nancy Pelosi can now begin to concentrate on her legislative agenda. One of the top items on that agenda is allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, a common-sense proposal that would result in lower costs for both the government and for senior citizens on Medicare.

But wait. If the feds negotiate prices, then prices will go down. And if prices go down, pharmaceutical companies might make less money. And if pharmaceutical companies make less money, they'll do less basic research and churn out fewer lifesaving drugs. As Jonathan Cohn says in The New Republic, this is "a potent argument." It's also probably wrong:

The most important basic medical and scientific research that leads to major medical breakthroughs usually takes place under government auspices typically, through grants from the National Institutes of Health. In other words, taxpayers not drug companies are the ones financing the most important drug research today. So, even if the pharmaceutical industry did reduce its research and development investment because of declining revenues, what we'd lose probably wouldn't be the next cure for cancer it would be the next treatment for seasonal allergies, and likely no better than the ones we have already.

Cohn also addresses some of the other arguments for insisting that the government should pay above-market prices for prescription drugs, and finds them all wanting. Read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (154)

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TNR AND THE WAR....Generally speaking, I favor a warm embrace for people who once supported the war but have since seen the light. This is mostly a pragmatic choice. It's easier for people to change their minds if they think their admission of faulty judgment will be welcomed instead of scorned, and since I want people to change their minds on this subject I figure it's best to let bygones be bygones.

Even by my soft-hearted standards, though, today's editorial from The New Republic renouncing their support for the war was remarkably clumsy and unsatisfying. TNR "deeply regrets its early support for this war," the editors say, but they don't provide a hint about why they regret their support. Is it just because things didn't work out? Because they think things could have worked but they're ashamed of not realizing that George Bush would bollocks it up? Because Saddam turned out not to have any WMD? Or what?

Nor do they give a clue about whether the Iraq disaster has prompted any kind of broader re-evaluation of their support for foriegn military adventures in the future. "We do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of 'realism,'" they say, but they don't tell us what if any change in direction they do think is appropriate.

In fact, I can't really figure out why they wrote the editorial. Does it presage a change of attitude toward Darfur? Iran? Peace talks with the Palestinians? Any change at all? It doesn't really sound like it.

Kevin Drum 5:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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MORE TROOPS = LESS VIOLENCE?....William Stuntz, writing in the Weekly Standard a few days ago, tried to make the case that sending more troops to Iraq would help contain the violence there:

Consider these data: Between November 2004 and February 2005, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, the number of coalition soldiers in Iraq rose by 18,000. In that time, the number of Iraqi civilians killed fell by two-thirds, and the number of American troops wounded fell by three-fourths. The soldiers were soon pulled out; by the summer of 2005, American and Iraqi casualties rose again. Later that year, the same thing happened again. Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.

The picture is clear: More soldiers mean less violence, hence fewer casualties.

I didn't bother linking to his piece when it came out because his argument sounded so iffy and cherry picked that it was hardly worth responding to. However, BruceR at Flit didn't give up so quickly: he created a graph that plotted the number of troops vs. the level of violence, and when that didn't support Stuntz's hypothesis he went back to the drawing board and tried graphing the numbers a few different ways. None of them panned out. His conclusion: "The prospects that another 20,000 increase (c. 180,000 Coalition forces combined) would achieve anything lasting seem dim."

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BAD AND WORSE....Laura Rozen reports today that the Bush national security team met over the Veterans Day weekend to discuss options for Iraq. National security advisor Stephen Hadley apparently set the agenda for the meeting:

Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

....So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.

Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.

More to the point: is it worse than the other options at our disposal? Or, alternatively, is it slightly less bad? I'd guess the former: There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.

Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (172)

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IRAQ....A couple of days ago I said that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "would almost certainly touch off a full-scale civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and the eventual establishment of a Shiite theocracy." The reason I favor withdrawal anyway is partly because I no longer think we can do anything to stop this, and partly because I suspect the eventual bloodshed will be worse the longer we stay.

However, just in case this prognosis still isn't bleak enough for you, try reading Ellen Knickmeyer's front page piece in the Washington Post today. Just don't have any sharp objects around when you do.

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READING THE TEA LEAVES....In the latest news from Bizarro world, the LA Times suggests that underneath all the Great Satan bluster Iran actually wants us to stay in Iraq:

On Tuesday night, Tehran's English-language news channel featured commentary from political scientist Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, who called for the U.S. to remain in Iraq until it has established a strong, stable central government capable of providing adequate security.

....Analysts familiar with official thinking say there is growing support for views like Mojtahedzadeh's within Iran's professional foreign policy establishment, if not within the hard-line circles closest to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a feeling that a drawn-out timetable for withdrawal would be preferable to a quick pullout.

"They've not said it directly and openly as an official policy line, that they'd like the U.S. to stay, but I think there's a sense among the Iranians that they understand that the U.S. cannot just leave immediately," said Hadi Semati, an Iranian political analyst who is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

So, um, this means we do have to leave, right? Because it would be cowardly to do what our enemies want us to do. That's why we're not supposed to vote for Democrats, as I recall.

Or....maybe this is just a clever bit of reverse psychology? Or an accident on the part of the director of Iran's English-language news channel, for which he has already been stoned to death? Or the bald truth, because they figure it's better for us to be tied down in Iraq than planning an invasion across the Zagros Mountains?

Crikey.

Kevin Drum 1:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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November 15, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MORE TROOPS....General John Abizaid insisted to Congress today that we have precisely the right number of troops in Iraq at the moment. Not too many, not too few. Quite a coincidence, no? But then he accidentally told the truth:

Abizaid added that, even if it were in Iraq's best interest to increase the presence of U.S. forces, it would be difficult for the Pentagon to find additional combat troops without increasing the size of the active-duty military.

Translation: we don't have 20,000 more troops, Senator McCain, so will you please stop yapping about it?

Also: We need to get the violence under control in wait for it four to six months, or else it may be impossible to contain. OK then. I guess we'll just check back in March.

UPDATE: Then again, the Guardian reports this:

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

...."You've got to remember, whatever the Democrats say, it's Bush still calling the shots. He believes it's a matter of political will. That's what [Henry] Kissinger told him. And he's going to stick with it," a former senior administration official said. "He [Bush] is in a state of denial about Iraq. Nobody else is any more. But he is. But he knows he's got less than a year, maybe six months, to make it work. If it fails, I expect the withdrawal process to begin next fall."

I think we're going to be hearing a lot more about this "last big push" strategy, so let's just acronym-ize it right now, shall we? From now on, it's LBP. Don't forget.

Kevin Drum 9:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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BIPARTISANSHIP UPDATE....Let's see....Bolton was renominated last week, then Tomlinson on Tuesday, and today it's a bunch of judges so extreme that even Republicans have their doubts about them. George Bush sure is following up on last week's clarion call for humble bipartisanship, isn't he?

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NOT-SO-FREE TRADE....Heather Hurlburt on trade:

Trade policy is the next big bipartisan train wreck. The "pro-trade" and "economic nationalist" certitudes of both sides are largely outdated platitudes, whether it's President Bush telling the newly-unemployed to take community college courses (so helpful for that job at McDonald's) or the just-say-no trade rejectionism that I see a lot of in the industrial Midwest where I live. Progressives have less than a year, to my mind, to offer up new ways forward that avert that train wreck. Interesting little things, from unions organizing overseas to proposals for changing how we do unemployment and health insurance, are bubbling all over but I'm not at all sure we'll pull them together in time.

I'm really struggling with this thanks to the defeat of the bill to grant Vietnam "normal" trade status, which looks to be a silly bit of pique over a trade deal that should have been something of a no-brainer. After all, it wouldn't really have changed Vietnam's trade status (it would only have removed the requirement for a yearly vote on the subject), it was required by WTO rules, and passing it would have given President Bush a symbolic accomplishment prior to his meeting with Vietnamese leaders the kind of "water's edge" lollipop that leaders of both parties have traditionally supported.

But not this time. Part of the reason is that the free trade crowd's public face has increasingly been that of guys like Tom Friedman, who famously admitted to a questioner a few months ago, "I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn't even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade." That kind of naive boosterism is pretty galling since Friedman knows perfectly well the reality of who wins and who loses in most trade agreements:

On an annual basis, globalization boosts the U.S. economy by $1 trillion, or roughly $10,000 per household, according to the Peterson Institute. Those broad gains dwarf $54 billion in costs to the families that suffer trade-related job losses. But the gains are dispersed throughout the economy in the form of less expensive clothing, cars and phone calls while the costs are concentrated in the heartbreak of an estimated 225,000 individual job losses.

Protectionism would be a disaster for both the United States and for the world's developing countries. Democrats should resist falling into that trap. At the same time, everyone knows that it's the well-off who mostly get the benefits from these deals and the working schmoes who mostly take the lumps with the constantly promised help for the losers never seeming to arrive. With that in mind, I imagine trade is going to be a hotter topic of conversation over the next couple of years than it has been recently, and I hope that Democrats can figure out some way to embrace trade while also doing something concrete to force the winners to share the gains with the losers. (And not just the "retraining" mantra, please. I've got nothing against training and education, but it's wholly inadequate as a complete solution. We need a lot more than just that.)

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 2:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (159)

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By: Kevin Drum

HACK WATCH....First John Bolton, now Ken Tomlinson. Steve Benen runs down the details. George Bush sure has a funny definition of "bipartisan," doesn't he?

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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS AND LATINOS....Here's the opening sentence of this morning's LA Times story about the appointment of Mel Martinez to head the Republican National Committee:

President Bush's decision to back Sen. Mel Martinez to help lead the Republican Party, a move intended to appeal to disaffected Latino voters....

Question: does this make any sense? My experience is heavily colored by local California politics, but that experience suggests that Bush and Karl Rove are whistling past the graveyard. Long story short, Republican Governor Pete Wilson barnstormed the state in 1994 in favor of Proposition 187, a measure that heavily restricted state services for illegal immigrants. It passed handily (though a judge later threw out most of it), but the effect on the California GOP was catastrophic: Latinos began turning out more heavily, and efforts to bring them into the Republican fold cratered. It's not the only reason California has been so reliably liberal ever since, but it's a big part of it.

If national politics works the same way, the fence-building, immigrant-bashing, English-only rhetoric from the paleo-conservative wing of the Republican Party this year has dealt it a permanent blow among Latinos, and nothing they can do is going to reverse this in the near term.

So: Is the Times just regurgitating conventional wisdom about Martinez? Or do Rove and Bush not understand just how hopeless their position is? Or is the California experience not necessarily the template for the entire country?

My guess is #2. I think the Republican Party has lost the Latino vote for a generation, but Bush and Rove aren't yet willing to admit it. It's probably not the only thing they're in denial over.

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HARMAN vs. HASTINGS....ROUND 2....Matt Yglesias has some further thoughts on the battle between Jane Harman and Alcee Hastings to chair the House Intelligence Committee. Main argument: The New Republic favors Harman, and your best bet on foreign policy matters is always to do the opposite of TNR. This is disturbingly persuasive. Primary conclusion: Don't appoint either one of them. Appoint the #3 Democrat Silvestre Reyes instead.

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By: Kevin Drum

$36 MILLION?....Hillary Clinton spent $36 million for a Senate race in which she had essentially no competition? Compared to $14 million for the next most expensive race? Wow.

Was this because she really, really wanted to win by a landslide and figured anything under 65% of the vote would be humiliating? Did she have a bet with Dianne Feinstein? (If so, she won. Feinstein won her race with an anemic 59% of the vote.) Was she trying to scare off her 2008 competition by showing that she has so much money she can literally afford to throw it away?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PROFESSIONALIZATION OF THE BLOGOSPHERE....Markos Moulitsas, at the end of a post about his advertising policy at Daily Kos, concludes with a teaser:

I'm not afraid of money, and I'm putting it to good use the abandonment of Scoop and a massive ground-up redevelopment of Daily Kos to be the ultimate blogging platform in the world, and the establishment of a corps of "fellows" to do great activism.

More details on those projects will emerge in December, but bottom line is that I won't cry if Chevron or anyone else wants to help fund the rise of a professional netroots activist class.

We'll have to wait and see what he means by this, but I think it's probably a bellwether for the future of the political blogosphere: the end of the amateur era and the rise of the professionals.

For the last year or so, whenever someone asks me for a comment about the future of blogging, I suggest that the biggest underreported trend in the blogosphere is professionalization. This can develop along multiple avenues. The first is amateurs who get hired to blog for professional outlets. I'm an example of this, as is Jesse Lee and anyone else who's paid to blog for a politician or a political campaign. The second avenue is professionals who move from print to blog (or add a blog to their print portfolio). Early examples are Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan, and more recent examples include Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, and the legions of newspaper reporters who now have their own blogs. The third avenue is to sell enough ads to become a self-employed pro. Josh Marshall is an example of this, and so is Markos. The next step along this avenue, perhaps, may be whatever it is that Markos has in mind.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. In fact, the reason I mention it frequently is that I keep hoping someone will get inspired by the suggestion and go off to write a shrewd and perceptive piece about the phenomenon. So far, nobody has.

But it's a story waiting to be told, and there's still time for someone to be the first to tell it. For good or ill, I suspect that within two or three years virtually all of the high-traffic political blogs will essentially be professional operations. Think of it as the talk radio-ization of the political blogosphere.

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November 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HARMAN vs. HASTINGS....I don't have a deep knowledge of Jane Harman's work on the House Intelligence Committee, but what I've seen I've mostly been impressed with: she's tough, she knows her brief, and she's not overly partisan (a negative on some committees, but a plus on Intelligence). She's probably too close to AIPAC for my taste, but hell that would disqualify half the Democrats in Congress. And she's currently the ranking Democrat on the committee.

But Nancy Pelosi gets to appoint committee chairs in the new Congress, not me, and apparently she dislikes Harman enough that she wants to appoint as chairman Alcee Hastings, currently #2 behind Harman. Kenny Baer isn't impressed:

The optics of backing Hastings over the eminently qualified Harman are horrendous: Democrats elected to clean up Washington, and the only senior member passed over for a chairmanship is pushed aside for an impeached judge. Democrats need to prove their security credentials, and they appoint a chairman of the Intel Committee who would not pass a background check if he applied for the most junior analyst post at the CIA. What's worse as the Washington Post descibed Pelosi's move is that it's "a decision pregnant with personal animus." Message: settling of scores is more important than your security.

To that, I'd add: wouldn't it be nice if the first woman Speaker had a woman chairing not just a major committee, but a national security-related one?

Politics aside, passing over Harman would be a huge blow to a committee that needs someone leading it with deep experience in, knowledge of, and outrage about the doings of the past six years. And, as one extremely senior Democratic foreign policy hand put it to me last night, there is no one in the entire Caucus with more experience and credibility on intel matters than Harman.

Consider this an open thread on Harman vs. Hastings. Has Harman done a good job on the Intelligence Committee? Is there a downside to her work I'm not familiar with? What say you?

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By: Kevin Drum

INSURANCE INDUSTRY ADVOCATES MORE INSURANCE....FILM AT 11....Good news, campers! The health insurance industry has decided that universal healthcare is a great idea. On Monday they unveiled a shiny new proposal:

The plan would rely on a mixture of expanded federal and state programs and tax credits for workers and their families to purchase private health insurance and pay medical expenses.

....But the proposal does not address the key elements that would determine whether it is even workable. For example...it fails to deal with the creation of purchasing pools to bargain down the cost of coverage, or with reforms to curtail industry practices that exclude people in poor health.

Let me get this straight. The private insurance industry favors a government program that would purchase more private insurance for people, but is opposed to anything that would drive down the cost of insurance or guarantee coverage for people the insurance industry doesn't want to cover. That's quite a plan. Why not just ask for grocery sacks full of unmarked bills instead?

I'm not any kind of hardliner when it comes to Democrats taking contributions from corporations. Money is part of politics and always will be, world without end. But if I could have one wish on this front it would be for no Democrat to ever accept another dime from the insurance industry. In practically every area I can think of, the insurance industry is, and always has been, the enemy of liberal/progressive/populist reform.

No national healthcare plan that relies primarily on private insurance will ever be able to control costs and provide universal coverage. Conversely, every national healthcare proposal that doesn't rely on private insurance i.e., all the ones that would work in a reasonably efficient and convenient way will be fought tooth and nail by the insurance industry. I don't blame the insurance industry for defending its turf, but the fact remains that Democrats will never be able to tackle healthcare properly as long as they depend on insurance industry money. This is not an interest group that's on our side, and Democrats should have figured this out a long time ago.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE....Isaac Chotiner on the Baker Commission:

You are sure to hear time and again how Baker et al. have given the Democrats cover to push even harder for withdrawal. And why do they need this "cover"? Well, because they are going to be attacked by Republicans. Now, every time some GOP spokesman tells Tim Russert that the Democrats want to cut-and-run, Russert can respond that even the Baker Commission wants withdrawal (turn on your televisions; this is already happening). And why does the Baker Commission have such "credibility"? Because the press has been telling us that it does. What a beautiful circle.

The whole thing reminds me of an argument I once heard someone make about how ludicrous it was that Nixon received such plaudits for "opening" China. Why could "only Nixon" go to China? Because, for the preceding 20 years, the Richard Nixons of the world attacked as soft anyone who dared go to China. And yet our history books blather on about how much we all owe Nixon for this wonderfully counterintuitive move. Ah, Washington.

Makes your heart go pitter patter, doesn't it?

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BUSH AND THE MIDDLE EAST....News on the foreign policy front has been pretty discouraging for the past couple of days. Tony Blair has, yet again, begged George Bush to make a serious effort to broker an Israel-Palestine deal, but Bush, despite plenty of opportunity to say something soothing on the subject, has remained stonily silent. In a meeting with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, the conversation was apparently dominated primarily by more tough talk about Iran. Any other topics discussed, reporters asked? Everything from the American elections to the Israeli economy, said Olmert's flack with one pretty obvious topic missing from that "everything."

On the Iraq front, everyone is playing a kabuki dance waiting for the Baker Commission report. What will they recommend? The betting favorite is talks with Syria and Iran, which is a fine idea with one wee drawback: talks would likely have almost no effect on the violence in Iraq even if they were successful. Iran may be causing trouble in Iraq, but at this point the vast bulk of Iraq's trouble is homegrown. Iran could help in only a limited way even if it wanted to.

The other crowd-pleaser getting airtime these days is "One Last Push," the idea that we can surge in another 20,000 troops or so and end the Iraqi violence once and for all. John McCain is one of many running this idea up the flagpole, but it's a suggestion so puerile and reckless it boggles the mind. It's unlikely that 20,000 troops would have made a difference three years ago, let alone now, and he knows it.

But still we wait, even though everyone knows perfectly well that Baker's team won't come up with any magic solution. Unfortunately, even some liberals play along with this game because they have their own bit of truth they'd just as soon avoid: namely that conservatives are correct when they say that a U.S. pullout would be a disaster for Iraq. War supporters may have only themselves to blame for this state of affairs, but that doesn't make them any less right: A pullout now would almost certainly touch off a full-scale civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and the eventual establishment of a Shiite theocracy. It's hardly surprising that no one wants to face up to this, but the fact remains that our continued denial only makes the situation worse with every passing day, virtually guaranteeing a higher body count and an even more brutal end game.

But perhaps the tide is turning. Even with the election over, top Democrats like Joe Biden and Carl Levin are continuing to push for a firm commitment to begin withdrawing troops. Harry Reid said on Sunday that withdrawals "should start within the next few months." That's a promising sign, and I hope they're serious. It would be nice to see some moral leadership for a change.

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November 13, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY AND IOWA....Commenting on the decision by Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, John Podhoretz says:

This decision is a huge gift to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. With Vilsack in the race, all other Democratic candidates can declare the Iowa caucuses his territory and bail out of there. The quirky state won't play a big role, and that only benefits the 800 lb. Gorilla.

Podhoretz is, of course, obsessed by Hillary Clinton, but that doesn't necessarily make him wrong about this. In fact, it seems like a sharp observation.

Question for the audience: is Iowa a problem for Hillary in the first place? Does she benefit by being allowed to ignore it? Can she now engage in an orgy of long-suppressed corn bashing that's been eating away at her ever since she choked on a popcorn kernel as a small girl?

Beats me. But it's worth noting that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin took Iowa out of play in 1992, and we all know who went on to win the nomination and the presidency that year. Hmmm.....

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ELECTION WONKERY....So what happened in the midterm elections? Was it a great ideological reshuffling, like 1994? Was it a bunch of conservative Dems picking off liberal Republicans? Or what?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but the graph on the right provides some clues. It's based on Keith Poole's NOMINATE model of ideological sorting, with liberals on the left and conservatives on the right. The black bars show the House Republicans who lost their seats on Tuesday.

There are a couple of interesting things to note. First, even before the election there were essentially no centrist Republicans in the House. In the three bars closest to the center-right, there were a grand total of three Republican incumbents. So there were really no centrist Republicans to target.

Second, the Republican losses were pretty evenly spread. The absolute most conservative Republicans all survived, which isn't surprising since they generally come from the absolute most conservative districts, but aside from that the losses came from across the spectrum of the Republican caucus. When you do the arithmetic, it turns out that the Republicans who kept their seats were slightly more conservative than those who lost their seats, and the end result is that the Republican caucus, which was already far more skewed to the right than the Democratic caucus was to the left, is now skewed even more to the right. But only slightly.

This is just one piece of raw data to noodle over, but I think it supports the notion that this election represented a broad-based revulsion against the war and the Republican Party, not any kind of serious ideological realignment. That's too bad, but I guess I'll take what I can get. After all, what I really wanted to see this year was some evidence that the American public will put up with only just so much in the way of corruption, extremism, and almost insane levels of incompetence before it revolts, and that's what we got. With that out of the way, now we can spend the next couple of years persuading the public to move a few steps to the left.

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By: Kevin Drum

BORAT....I promise to get back to politics right after this, but I'm curious: Am I the only person in America who didn't really like Borat much? Don't get me wrong: it had some funny scenes and delivered some laughs here and there. I've seen lots worse. But the lesson of the movie wasn't some razor-sharp subversive point about how we're all racists and xenophobes an inch under the surface, the lesson was that if you act like a complete whack job you can get ordinary people flustered and flummoxed. This doesn't really strike me as any kind of surprise.

UPDATE: Along the same lines, check out Andrew Tobias's interesting bit of Borat backstory today.

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By: Kevin Drum

HOYER vs. MURTHA....Matt Yglesias makes an underappreciated point about the race between Steny Hoyer and John Murtha to become House Majority Leader in the 110th Congress: Murtha is not exactly a progressive superstar. He gets a lot of well-deserved credit for his principled anti-war stance, but it's worth taking a closer look at the reason for his turnaround on the war as well as his broader political agenda.

Generally speaking, Murtha is pretty hawkish. Like Hoyer, he voted for the Iraq war resolution, but unlike Hoyer, a year later he said he favored a draft in order to keep the war going: "We cant sustain a one front war for any length of time," he told The Hill. "You can make the deployment but you cant sustain it because we have so many worldwide commitments, so Im for the draft." Murtha's current opposition to the war seems to stem more from a narrow belief that the military is overstretched than from any broader commitment to a more progressive foreign policy.

On both economic and social issues he's more conservative than Hoyer (who is himself already in the rightward half of the Democratic caucus). He's pro-gun and anti-abortion (0% from NARAL!). And while I'm annoyed that Hoyer voted for the bankruptcy bill last year, Murtha voted for it too. Matt pointed out that Murtha is more conservative than Hoyer based on Keith Poole's computer-generated models, and that matches up with National Journal's more traditional rankings for 2005 based on roll call votes (see below).

I don't really have any big axe to grind here. Hoyer is too close to K Street for my taste, and both Hoyer and Murtha are more conservative than I'd like. I appreciate Murtha's anti-war stand, but since it's based more on troop issues than on progressive foreign policy principles I'm not sure how happy I'm likely to be with his future positions on national security issues. Bottom line: This race is probably a bit of a tossup, but I wouldn't leap into bed with Murtha too quickly just because he took on Bush over Iraq. He's not exactly a progressive dream candidate.

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November 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION....Michael Tomasky asks (in the same piece I highlighted this morning), "Why would Democrats, having finally regained control of the legislative calendar, schedule a vote that highlights their divisions?" Mickey Kaus responds:

Tomasky's talking about abortion and gay marriage, but you could ask the same thing about legalizaton of illegal immigrants, no?

This is an interesting question. Consider the following:

  • For Democrats, immigration is almost as much a wedge issue as it is for Republicans. On balance, they'd probably benefit from passing comprehensive immigration reform, but not by much.

  • For Bush and Karl Rove, immigration reform was part of their long-term "realignment" strategy, a way to drain away traditional Latino support from Democrats and transfer it to Republicans. However, the Tom Tancredo wing of the party has torpedoed that dream for at least the next few decades, and passing a bipartisan bill won't get it back. At this point, there's not really much upside for Bush to continue picking a fight within his own party over this.

  • At his Wednesday press conference, Bush didn't even mention immigration reform until a reporter reminded him at the tail end of the Q&A. "I appreciate you bringing that up," he said. "I should have remembered it." It sure doesn't sound like immigration is exactly at the top of his mind right now, does it?

In other words, Mickey may be right. Democrats have bigger fish to fry and may be happy to avoid a fight by putting immigration on hold for a while. Ditto for Bush. My guess? It's time for a bipartisan blue ribbon commission!

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW CONGRESS....Did Democrats win last week by running a bunch of conservative candidates? I think Michael Tomasky gets things just about right in his LA Times piece today:

In fact, of the 27 Democratic candidates for the House who won outright Tuesday, only five can truly be called social conservatives. Far more are pro-choice, against the Iraq war and quite liberal.

....So the experts got it wrong again, which is really not so surprising given that what happened last week was quite nuanced. The Democrats moved to the center and to the left at the same time. In doing so, they became more like the hegemonic Democratic Party of old. And if, in 2008, it turns out that last week did in fact usher in an era of Democratic resurgence, it will be precisely because the party managed to sustain this left-center coalition and render the distinctions between the two groups less important.

There were some socially rightish candidates who won on Tuesday, but their numbers were pretty small and it's unlikely that Democrats are going to focus much on social issues anyway in the upcoming congressional session. Instead, they're going to focus mostly on the Iraq war and on economic issues, where there's a considerable amount of common ground among all Democrats, new and old.

There's a lot of talk about "interest groups" all demanding their due now that the election is over, but I doubt very much that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are going to allow them to dominate the agenda. Expect a full plate of technocratic populism and foreign policy oversight instead.

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November 11, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

RELIGIOUS VOTERS....Why do I keep writing about the exit polls? Because of stories like this from the Washington Post's Alan Cooperman:

Religious liberals contended that a concerted effort by Democrats since 2004 to appeal to people of faith had worked minor wonders, if not electoral miracles, in races across the country.

....Democrats recaptured the Catholic vote they had lost two years ago. They sliced the GOP's advantage among weekly churchgoers to 12 percentage points, down from 18 points in 2004.

....In House races in 2004, 74 percent of white evangelicals voted for Republicans and 25 percent for Democrats, a 49-point spread, according to exit polls. This year, Republicans received 70 percent of the white evangelical vote and Democrats got 28 percent, a 42-point spread.

Once more with feeling: in the the overall national vote, Democrats picked up 5 percentage points compared to 2004.

Among Catholics they picked up 6 points.

Among weekly churchgoers they picked up 3 points.

Among white evangelicals they picked up 3 points.

There's just no story here unless you look at individual races. Nationally, turnout among religious voters was as high as it was in 2004, and their shift toward Democrats was either the same or a bit less than the overall national shift. I'd love to be able to say that Democrats made some disproportionate inroads in this group, since it's such an important part of the GOP base, but they didn't. People need to quit saying it.

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November 10, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MYTH BUSTING....You're probably all a little tired of exit poll wonkery by now, but here's one more anyway. In an earlier post I showed that the Democratic win was a broad-based victory, not one based on appealing to any particular demographic group, but several demographic myths have turned out to be hardier than I expected. So let's take a minute to bust a few of them.

First, though, a technical note. I have a feeling that some of the myths making the rounds might be based on comparing the 2006 House exit polls to the 2004 presidential exit polls. This is fine if you're specifically trying to compare, say, Sherrod Brown's performance to John Kerry's in Pickaway County, but in general you should be comparing nationwide House results to nationwide House results. Here they are:

Now, on with the myths. And remember, the key question for each of these groups is whether they swung in favor of the Democrats by more than the overall national swing of 5 percentage points. If all they did was follow the national trend, there's no story.

Myth #1: It was the youth vote that pushed Democrats over the top.

Nope. In 2004 Dems won 55% of the youth vote. This year they won 60%. That's a swing of 5 points, exactly the same as the overall nationwide swing in favor of Democrats.

In fact, it's actually worse than that: the number of young voters (age 18-29) decreased from 16% of the electorate in 2004 to 12% of the electorate in 2006. This means that in 2004 they amounted to 8.8% of the total Dem vote, compared to 7.2% in 2006. The youth vote was a fizzle.

UPDATE: It still doesn't appear that the youth vote was an overwhelming factor in the 2006 election, but the picture may be a little more complicated than it seems from a simple comparison with 2004. Steve Benen has more details here. Also worth noting is that young people have been moving steadily into the Democratic camp for the past decade, as you may recall from this data posted back in October.

Myth #2: Democrats won a third of the white evangelical vote.

I have no idea where this one came from. In 2004 Dems won 25% of the white evangelical vote. This year Dems won 28%. That's a swing of 3 points, which is actually a bit less than the overall Democratic swing. Turnout was about the same both years.

Bottom line: Nothing happened here.

Myth #3: Democrats won by running conservative candidates.

A few high-profile Democratic candidates had conservative views on certain issues (Casey on abortion, Tester on guns), but overall the newly-elected Dems look a lot like the current Democratic caucus.

And the exit polls back this up. In 2004, Democrats got 17% of the vote from self-described conservatives. This year it was 20%. As with evangelicals, this is less than the overall nationwide swing. Conservatives are still solidly supporting the Republican Party.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT NEXT?....Over at RBC, Steven Teles lays out some advice for the new Democratic Congress, most of which seems pretty sound to me. Go ahead and read it and then come back. My comments on each of his recommendations are below.

  • Go slow on oversight. I guess I'd put it this way: I don't think Dems need to go nuts on hearings. They just need to return Congress to its normal level of oversight. Compared to the past six years, that will be plenty.

  • Lobbying reform. Republicans have been very good over the past couple of decades at promoting policies that hurt Democrats structurally, either by reducing their money-raising ability or reducing the number of people who can vote for them. Examples include tort reform, union bashing, voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and the K Street Project.

    In the same vein, lobbying reform is a no-brainer for Democrats, a place where good policy is also good politics. Unfortunately, I fear that Dems will go soft on this because they've become so dependent on corporate funding in recent years, but if they do they'll be wasting a golden opportunity. Anytime you have a chance to enact something that's (a) popular, (b) good policy, and (c) hurts the other party structurally more than it hurts you, you should swing for the fences. They won't have a second chance on this.

  • Comprehensive immigration reform. Yes. Again, this is both good politics and good policy. Dems get to stick to their principles, do the right thing, and get brownie points for working with the president in a bipartisan way. The press loves bipartisanship.

  • Medicare reform and an increase in the minimum wage. More no-brainers. Not only are these popular, but they're both part of the platform the Dems ran on.

  • Pass the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. Agreed. Heather Hurlburt has some additional detail on this, all of which makes sense (though some is fairly long-term).

  • Social Security reform without private accounts. I don't really agree with Steven about the importance of this, but he argues that it would be good politics regardless: if we pass some kind of bipartisan blue-ribbon plan, it takes Social Security off the table forever, and that will be helpful in the future. I'm halfway convinced by this, though I still don't think I'd make it a high priority.

  • Follow the Baker Commission's lead on Iraq. I'll wait and see on this. However, I dissent pretty strongly from Steven's advice to avoid blaming Republicans for the war over the next few months. (He thinks we should wait a year or so until investigations have ramped up.) That's highminded, but the conservative movement is already gearing up a major effort to blame our loss in Iraq on Democrats and the liberal media, and they have a good chance of finding a ready audience for this claptrap if we don't fight it constantly. We need to find a way out of Iraq, but we also need to make it crystal clear every step of the way that we're cleaning up a Republican mess.

  • No long bombs on domestic policy. Sure, agreed. The obvious "long bomb" is some kind of universal healthcare, but it's plainly obvious that right now there's neither the public nor the political support necessary to pass it. This needs a lot more spadework.

What else? I'll second Ezra's call for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Strengthening private sector unions is good policy, since it would give workers more bargaining power and make a bit of progress toward reinvigorating middle class incomes. That's good for the economy. At the same time, it's also structurally useful for Democrats since unions provide both money and manpower for liberal causes. Like lobbying reform, it's good policy and good politics.

I'd love to add some serious environmental legislation to this list: raising CAFE standards, maybe a carbon tax of some kind, passing a new and more enforceable version of new source review. Unfortunately, for various reasons, none of these seem likely to garner a lot of attention. But at least Barbara Boxer will be replacing James "Global Warming Is a Hoax" Inhofe as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. That's something.

Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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By: Christina Larson

EXIT POLLS, 1994 vs. 2006 ... Ive just sat through a marathon of post-election press conferences, each explaining how the major structural shift of this election was the behavior of .... Unmarried persons! Midwesterners! Voters with "some college" education!

Im with Kevin; it mostly sounds like much ado about very little. If you scrutinize this year's exit poll data, the most striking pattern is the absence of outliers.

On Tuesday, Democrats gained support among men and women; married and unmarried individuals; whites, Asians, and Hispanics; high-school dropouts, high-school diploma holders, and college graduates; rural and suburban voters; Easterners, Westerners, Midwesterners, and (yes) Southerners; liberals, moderates, and conservatives. I dont see evidence of a singular structural shift. The country as a whole was ready for a change.

It's interesting to compare this years results to 1994, an election that has rightly been called the revolt of the angry white man more precisely, the revolt of the married conservative angry white man. Exit polls from 1994 show much clearer patterns. That year, the GOP win depended much more on increasing votes among men than women, among conservatives than any other ideological stripe, and among whites and Hispanics than blacks and Asians.

Of note: In both 1994 and 2006, independents and Hispanics swung support from one party to the other by hefty margins. The movement of independents was actually greater in 1994, while that of Hispanics was greater in 2006. In any event, the fact of this crossover alone isnt enough to infer a permanent shift.

1994 House elections exit poll results: (% point change over 1992 House elections)

  • men +10 points
  • women + 2 points
  • white +8 points
  • black -2 points
  • Asian 5 points
  • Hispanic + 11 points
  • Conservatives + 9 points
  • Liberals no change
  • Moderates no change
  • Independents + 11 points

    2006 House elections exit poll results: (% point change over 2004 House elections)

  • men + 6 points
  • women + 4 points
  • white + 5 points
  • black no change
  • Asian + 6 points
  • Hispanic + 14 points
  • Conservatives + 3 points
  • Liberals + 4 points
  • Moderates +5 points
  • Independents + 8 points

    Christina Larson 2:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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  • By: Kevin Drum

    THE LESSON....Over at TalkLeft, Big Tent Democrat takes me to task for underplaying the lesson of this week's midterm election:

    Well, beyond the fact that the fastest growing political group [independents] and the fastest growing minority group [Latinos] broke strongly to the Dems, no big whoop.

    Fair enough, actually, so let me add a few more comments about this. (The original post we're discussing is here.)

    First, BTD is right about the Latino vote. A swing of 14 percentage points in favor of the Dems is a big deal for two reasons: (a) wooing the Latino vote was a major part of Karl Rove's "realignment" strategy, which has now been pretty thoroughly dashed, and (b) it's likely to be a fairly permanent switch. The immigration extremists have made the Republican Party unpalatable for a lot of Hispanics, and it's likely to stay that way for a while.

    On the switch in independent votes, however, I continue to think the jury is still out. Again, there are two reasons. First, a swing of 8 points isn't that big a deal, just barely above the overall nationwide swing of 5 points. Second, independents swing back and forth all the time, and there's no special reason to think this particular swing is permanent. It's obviously good news, but by their very nature independents are centrists, which means this swing will be long-lasting only if Democrats continue to appeal to the center. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.

    Finally, I should clarify what I meant when I said "there is no big lesson" from the election. I was focused on demographic groups in that post: Latinos, evangelicals, Midwesterners, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc. With the exception of Latinos, who were obviously driven by a specific issue, I didn't see any major shifts in those groups.

    However, there's a whole different level of policy analysis that I didn't address and didn't mean to address. Did Dems win because of the war? Because they shifted to the center? Because of an economic populist message? That stuff is all fair game, and I don't yet have any strong opinion on any of it. Based on the very broad nature of the Democratic win, I'd say that any plausible answer has to be something equally broad based (the war is an obvious choice here), but pretty much everything is still on the table.

    Kevin Drum 1:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (206)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    BUSH'S LIE....At his Wednesday press conference, President Bush made it clear that Donald Rumsfeld's departure had been planned for some time, and that he had lied about this a week earlier during an interview with several reporters. Since then, even some conservatives have been laying into him for this admission.

    But, really, this has gotten way too much attention. There's a pretty broad-based understanding, after all, that personnel issues are special: you're expected to deny that anything is going on until the minute you make an official announcement. And there's really no other way to do things. You can't refuse to ever comment on your own subordinates, but at the same time you can't give away future personnel moves by suddenly clamming up about them. The result is a kabuki dance accepted by everyone in which you're allowed to lie about this stuff until something official happens.

    However, this lying is typically a bit more smoothly done. What this kerfuffle really shows is that Bush must have been pretty rattled by the specter of upcoming defeat and then by the massive defeat itself. Politicians may be allowed to effectively lie about personnel changes, but they're also expected to be a little more subtle and ambiguous about them. Last Tuesday, when Bush first answered the question, and this week, when he explained himself, he was obviously flustered enough that he couldn't think of a way to do that. So he just flatly lied and then admitted it. That's pretty unusual.

    Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (177)

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    November 9, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    TODAY'S LESSON: THERE IS NO LESSON....I finally got around to looking at the overall 2006 exit poll data in detail, and it's pretty interesting. Anyone planning to make any grand pronouncements about the "lesson" of the election really ought to spend a few minutes comparing the 2006 exit poll data to the 2004 exit poll data first. It turns out that the big lesson is that there's no big lesson.

    Here's the baseline: the overall Democratic share of the congressional vote was about 5 percentage points higher than in 2004. And what you find from the exit polls is that Dems gained 2-7 points in practically every demographic group surveyed. It was an across-the-board sweep, not a victory that depended on any single big electoral shift.

    So were there any big changes? Compared to the overall 5-point gain, did Dems get a bigger share of the white evangelical vote? No. Women? No. Young people? No. Low-income voters? No. Self-described conservatives? No. Suburban voters? No. The South? No. The Northeast? No. Any region? No. Dems gained a steady 2-7 points in all these groups.

    In fact, I was only able to find a grand total of seven groups that broke for the Dems by substantially more than the overall gain of 5 points. Here they are:

    Group

    Gain

    No high school

    +15%

    Those rating the economy "good"

    +15%

    Latinos

    +14%

    Jews

    +11%

    No religion

    +9%

    Income $200K+

    +9%

    Independents

    +8%

    Now, there are some stories here. Democrats obviously appealed to the middle a little better than in 2004. Republican pandering to the Christian right seems to have energized Jews and seculars to vote for Democrats. Latinos were pretty obviously turned off by the Republican hard line on immigration.

    More interesting (though less important in raw numbers) is the fact that high-income voters broke for Democrats in large numbers. I'm scratching my chin over that one. And not only did the economy not help Bush, but apparently it actively hurt him. Those who rated the economy "good" voted much more strongly for Democrats than they did in 2004. (Those who rated it either excellent, not good, or poor voted about the same as last time.)

    In the long run, I suppose the higher totals among Latinos and independents are the big news. Beyond that, there's not much. Keep this in mind when you start reading anecdotal analyses of "what happened." Most of it doesn't hold water. Based on the exit poll data, it was just a broad-based wave of disgust against Republican rule.

    UPDATE: A bit more discussion and some further explanation of what I meant is here.

    Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ALL ABOUT ME....What have I learned since 2004? "That George Bush and Karl Rove aren't as politically invincible as we once thought." I made that observation in an interview a month ago, but it only went online yesterday. Pretty good timing, no?

    You can read the whole interview here. It's in The Potomac, a journal of poetry and politics though mostly politics, it seems. Still, it does have some poetry, which is not my thing, but I admit that I got a little bit of a kick out of "Love to an Earthworm." Interpretations are welcome in comments.

    Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ONE DAY OF BIPARTISANSHIP IS PLENTY....So what's the very first thing George Bush does after holding a press conference in which he used the word "bipartisan" half a dozen times and humbly promised to find "common ground" with the new Democratic majority? He hastily renominates John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN before the new majority takes office. Bolton nemesis Steve Clemons asks:

    Does this look like a new "bipartisan" start? I don't think so.

    I don't think so either. Looks like the same old Bush to me.

    Kevin Drum 5:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (153)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE....Is Karl Rove a genius? Is Karl Rove a doofus? Somebody pass the smelling salts!

    Look: Rove is a sharp guy who knows how to win elections, but he's not superhuman and never has been. He won a razor close election in 2000, and then won a couple more razor close elections with 9/11 at his back. He took pretty good advantage of the material he had to work with, but that material was never going to last forever. He's not a doofus, he's just a guy whose luck finally ran out.

    But I want to add one more thing so simple-minded that I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. Here it is: if you pursue popular policies, you win. If you pursue unpopular policies, you lose. Ideology is secondary.

    In George Bush's first term, Republicans passed tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, campaign finance reform, Sarbanes-Oxley, a Medicare prescription drug plan, went to war against Afghanistan and Iraq, and appointed a bunch of conservative judges. Liberals may not have liked all of this stuff, but all of it polled pretty well. They were popular policies.

    In Bush's second term, Republicans pursued Social Security privatization, made a spectacle over Terri Schiavo, and fiddled while New Orleans drowned. In addition, they passed a bankruptcy bill and an energy bill that didn't win them any points with rank-and-file voters, fought over immigration legislation, refused to expand stem cell funding, and wouldn't even allow a vote on widely supported measures like a minimum wage increase. This did not exactly reflect the popular will.

    I'm not trying to pretend that everything Bush did in his first term was popular and everything in his second term wasn't. But that's sure the way it trended. Corruption matters, Iraq matters, and ideology matters, but what matters even more is pursuing popular policies. Bush and Rove mostly did that in their first term (contrary to all their hot air about "not reading the polls") and mostly didn't in their second. Then, like Newt Gingrich in 1994, and the entire Democratic Party in the 70s, they discovered that it wasn't ideology that got them elected in the first place. It was popular policies. When that gave way, they lost their mandate.

    I know. Too simple-minded. And not very interesting. But still worth thinking about as an antidote to the coming onslaught of airy post-election theorizing from both right and left. Just keep it in the back of your mind, OK?

    Kevin Drum 1:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (213)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE NATIONAL VOTE....The average result of the five generic congressional polls taken over the final weekend before the election showed Democrats ahead by about 11%. So how does that compare to the final actual House vote? And how does that compare to the number of House seats the Democrats won?

    First, the national House vote. Steve Sailer added up the votes in all the House races, did a little bit of extrapolating, and came up with the following two-party numbers:

    Party

    Vote

    %

    Democrats

    40.2 million

    53.7%

    Republicans

    34.6 million

    46.3%

    So Democrats beat Republicans by about 7.4 percentage points, which means the generic polls overestimated Dem strength by about four points. I think this is in line with what most people expected.

    And how did this translate into House seats? Answer: Democrats won about 53.7% of the two-party vote, and assuming that they eventually win 232 seats, they won 53.3% of the seats. That's a pretty close match.

    And it's a huge victory for simple-minded populist arithmetic vs. fancy-pants elitist poli-sci models. For yet another year, it turns out that the Democratic percentage of the two-party vote predicts the number of Democratic House seats pretty closely. Hooray for bloggy populism!

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

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    By: Kevin Drum

    RUMSFELD....David Ignatius tells a story about Donald Rumsfeld's penchant for micromanaging:

    To the end, even when Rumsfeld must have known that his time in the job was short, he wouldn't give up that option to meddle with his field commanders. When Marine Gen. James Jones, the retiring NATO commander, went to see Rumsfeld a few weeks ago to talk about becoming commander of Centcom, he asked whether the defense secretary intended to continue his direct line of communication with the theater commander, Gen. George Casey, sometimes bypassing Centcom. When Rumsfeld wouldn't rule out such contacts, Jones began to doubt the Centcom job would work. And when Rumsfeld said he didn't foresee significant changes in Iraq strategy, Jones withdrew his name from consideration.

    "Rumsfeld said he didn't foresee significant changes in Iraq strategy." That sort of says it all.

    Kevin Drum 1:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (168)

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    November 8, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    DOW UP! DOW DOWN!....Earlier this morning I was griping about the kind of dumbo financial reporting that pretends there's a reason for every tiny change in the stock market. Some days it's "Dow Drops on Kazakhstan Potassium Worries," other days it's "Dow Drops After Dem Takeover of Congress." Both are about equally meaningful.

    But guess what? The Dow set a new record today! So how did CNN explain this peculiar state of affairs? Here's their subhead today:

    Techs lead turnaround as investors move beyond possible Democratic control of Congress

    Yes, you read that right. Not "Dow Moves Randomly for No Special Reason." Not "Dow Welcomes Democratic Victory." Not "Dow Higher on Hopes of Iraq Withdrawal."

    Nope. The mind readers at CNN decided that in the space of just a few hours investors had both panicked and recovered over the dire threat to the economy posed by Nancy Pelosi. Crikey.

    Kevin Drum 9:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    PRELIMINARY POOL RESULTS....There are still a bunch of close House races yet to be finalized, but assuming that the candidates currently ahead all go on to win, it means that Democrats will gain 29 seats, for a total of 232. In the Senate it looks like they'll gain 6 seats, for a total of 51.

    Only one person correctly predicted both numbers in our election pool: Zachary Drake, who not only picked the right winning margin, but resisted the temptation to change his guess later because it would mean greater pundit glory to have gotten it right from the start. My kind of guy!

    This could change later depending on how recounts go, but for now it looks like Zachary is the odds-on favorite to win the Washington Monthly's 2006 Crystal Ball Award. Congratulations!

    UPDATE: Hold on. Bob G notes correctly that he also chose +29/+6 on Mulligan Day. If these numbers hold up, we have a tie!

    Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    POSTMORTEMS....I'm a little blogged out at the moment, but there are a couple of good post-election comments over at Showdown '06. First, Zack Roth talks about Rahm Emanuel and the blogosphere:

    Beyond the rightness or wrongness of Emanuel's strategy, the larger point is that there's no need to set up the netroots and the Democratic establishment in opposition to each other. Many of the most successful Democratic candidates Tester and Webb, for example had strong backing both from the blogosphere and the party apparatus. And with a victory this big, surely there's enough credit to go around.

    This is something we should all stitch on our foreheads. Yesterday's results were a tribute to Howard Dean's 50-state strategy and a tribute to Emanuel's fundraising ability and general energy level. I note that Dean said nice things about Emanuel last night, and I hope Emanuel returns the favor. Bickering is bad enough when you lose, but it's even worse when you win.

    Elsewhere, Christina Larson documents the pain of the Club for Growth's Pat Toomey. It seems the Club took a poll before the election and they didn't like the results:

    Two-thirds agreed with the notion that the GOP used to be the party of fiscal responsibility and limited government but was not today. By an 11-point margin, likely voters expressed greater confidence in Democrats to handle select fiscal matters responsibly. We have lost our brand, Toomey bemoaned.

    Get real, guys. The Club for Growth and its ilk have never cared a tenth as much about lower spending as they have about lower taxes. They know perfectly well that if a Republican administration actually cut spending to match its tax cuts it would get voted out of office for the next century.

    And they've never cared. They just want low taxes (the easy part of fiscal responsibility) without the spending cuts (the part that gets you voted out of office). It's similar to the GOP's Iraq strategy: they want the glory of winning a war, but without the pain of making the hard choices it would take to actually do so.

    At the moment, the Republican Party is the Party of Magic. That's the brand they need to fix.

    Kevin Drum 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    LISTENING TO THE VOTERS ON IRAQ... Looks like the president took David Gergen's advice.

    Paul Glastris 2:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    TUESDAY'S BLOWOUT....Brad DeLong points out the size of yesterday's Senate blowout: Democrats won about 32 million votes compared to 24 million for Republicans. I might add that a pickup of six seats out of 33 amounts to 18% of the seats in play. That's a huge wave.

    What was the total national vote in the House, though? Has anyone added up those numbers yet? I haven't seen them.

    In other news, CNN just called the Montana Senate race for Jon Tester, which means control of the Senate all depends on Virginia. Webb is nearly 7,000 votes ahead in that race, which makes it vanishingly unlikely that a recount will turn that around. Come January, Dems will be in charge of both houses of Congress.

    Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (143)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    NO MORE RUMMY?....Rumsfeld resigning? CNN says an announcement is imminent.

    UPDATE: Yep, he's out. Bush will nominate former CIA Director Bob Gates to replace him.

    UPDATE 2: Bush has just made clear that he knew Rumsfeld was leaving a week ago though, oddly enough, he denied it at the same time. As of last Tuesday, he said, he hadn't yet "figured out who would replace" Rumsfeld, which obviously means he knew Rumsfeld was on the way out. He says he met with Gates on Sunday, though it was unclear to me if this was their initial meeting or their final meeting.

    UPDATE 3: For the third time, Bush is now emphasizing that Iraq was only one of many issues that decided the election. He seems pretty eager to downplay the idea that the election was a referendum on Iraq.

    UPDATE 4: Bush says that Democratic control of Congress has a silver lining: it's going to make it easier to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Mickey Kaus's head just exploded.

    Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    IRAQ....Max Boot, who has been writing many strange columns of late, has outdone himself today. He starts out well:

    First, let's get one thing straight. Contrary to the suggestions sometimes heard on conservative talk radio, the terrible headlines out of Iraq aren't an invention of liberal news media. They all too accurately reflect the grim reality.

    That's some bracing tonic for the Kool-Aid drinkers in right blogistan, and props to Boot for serving it up. But then things gets weird.

    In the rest of the column, Boot literally brings up and dismisses every possible solution for stabilizing Iraq. A political compromise? Nobody wants one and nobody could make it stick even if they did. Cutting a deal with Iran and Syria? They don't want to help and couldn't do much in any case. Partition? Just another word for civil war. A benign dictator? Nice idea, but no one can make this work without a functioning security service. More troops? We'd need another quarter million and we don't have them.

    It sounds grim, but I hardly need to tell you how this ends, do I? Maybe we can't win, but that doesn't mean we should withdraw. That would be disastrous. So we should just stay forever with no prospect of success in sight. This is, apparently, called "being honest with ourselves."

    Kevin Drum 1:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    YES, THE CENTER IS STILL IMPORTANT....Props to the LA Times for going into print with a couple of perceptive election comments today. They're both obvious points, but not everyone is making them. First, Ron Brownstein points out that yesterday was a repudiation of Karl Rove's base mobilization strategy:

    In the long run, the reversals raise fundamental questions about the viability of the strategy Bush and his chief political advisor, Karl Rove, have pursued to build a lasting Republican political majority.

    Bush and Rove placed their main emphasis on unifying and energizing Republicans and right-leaning independents with an agenda that focused squarely on the goals of conservatives.

    But Tuesday's broad Democratic advance underscored the risks in that approach: In many races, Republicans were overwhelmed by an energized Democratic base and a sharp turn toward the Democrats by moderate swing voters unhappy with the president's performance.

    Any winning political party has to appeal both to its base and to centrist voters, but Rove has mesmerized analysts into thinking otherwise for the past six years. However, this was always a mirage. Rove's "all base all the time" strategy produced only a razor-thin victory in 2000, and its unexpected successes in 2002 and 2004 were an artifact of 9/11. The iron laws of politics didn't change overnight, they were just suspended for a bit thanks to the polarizing effect of the war on terror. As for the Democrats, the party didn't take the conservative turn that pundits were spinning last night, but neither did it lurch to the left. Dems won by winning votes in the center, and the ideological balance of the party today is very close to where it was last week.

    The second obvious-but-underappreciated truth comes from Peter Wallsten:

    White House allies suggest there is little reason to think Bush and the Democrats will work together. Bush has tied himself closely to conservative movement leaders who bitterly disagree with Democrats for their opposition to tax cuts and to privatizing Social Security two of the administration's top goals.

    ....On the issues that have been most important to Bush, he has given little hint of a willingness to compromise. He has made it clear that he would much prefer to work with his partisan brethren than to cut deals with Democrats on such issues as extending tax cuts that are due to expire and privatizing Social Security.

    For some reason, the talking heads last night were consumed with speculation about whether Bush would suddenly turn into a friendly, compromising, bipartisan wheeler-dealer now that he has to deal with a Democratic Congress.

    Have they learned nothing? That's just not who Bush is. I expect his speech today will contain a few well-crafted platitudes about the will of the people, moving forward, etc. etc., but it will also contain plenty of tough talk about protecting the American people and standing up for what's right. More to the point, Bush's actions over the next few months will almost certainly be as combative as always. He just doesn't have anything else in him.

    Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    KOOL-AID WATCH....Belle Waring has a Hugh Hewitt festival over at Crooked Timber. Check it out. Hugh, unsurprisingly, thinks the GOP lost power because it was insufficiently nasty.

    Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    IDIOTIC CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WATCH....Somebody shoot me. Here's our first story of the day claiming that the financial markets are tanking due to fears that Democrats will wreck the economy. Sheesh.

    Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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    By: Rebecca Sinderbrand

    Over on Showdown, Matt Cooper has some great perspective on the largely-overlooked Deval Patrick win in the Massachusetts gubernatorial contest last night -- a victory that was surprising mostly for the lack of surprise involved. But as Matt points out, the race shouldn't have been a sure thing: Patrick's not-so-secret weapon in his first race ever was a brilliant centrist campaign, hinging on the efforts of Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

    Axelrod, of course, happens to have another charismatic African-American client with pretty big crossover appeal: Barack Obama.

    Rebecca Sinderbrand 10:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    WRAPUP....Two quick notes to end the evening:

    • A couple of days ago I said that close Senate races were the key thing to watch. In 2004 Dems lost four out of five close races and got blown away. This year, it looks like Dems are going to win three out of four close races (MT, MO, VA, TN), not to mention a bunch of close House races. That's a better sign of a sweep than even the raw number of seats won.

    • Somebody really needs to put a lid on the almost scarily synchronized spin that Democrats won only by running a bunch of conservative candidates. The numbers just don't bear this out. Most of the Dem pickups were in moderate-to-liberal areas with moderate-to-liberal candidates. There were a few rightish Dems who won, but there are always a few rightish Dems who win in rightish regions. There's really nothing new here. What's more, a quick look at the exit poll data indicates pretty clearly that Dems won by sweeping the independent vote, not by picking up conservatives or frequent churchgoers or any of the other traditional Republican blocs. The overall composition of the party will remain center-left with very little change. For more, see Matt Yglesias (here and here) and Josh Marshall (here).

    That's it for the night. I hope Tester is still winning in Montana by the time I wake up.....

    Kevin Drum 4:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (265)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE REPUBLICAN MELTDOWN.... It looks like a Democratic gain of 30 or more seats in the House and either 5 or 6 seats in the Senate. That's huge, despite the predictable spin from Republicans that this is just garden variety sixth-year blues. So what caused the Republican meltdown? This is just off the top of my head, but here are my guesses:

    • Iraq, of course. There's not much to add to the conventional wisdom here. As Kenneth Adelman said, George Bush's national security crew "turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era." The voters pretty clearly agree.

    • Terri Schiavo and Katrina. This is sort of a gut feeling on my part, but I think it was the combination of these two things within a couple of months of each other that really hurt Republicans last year, not either one alone. The contrast was deadly: the Republican Party (and George Bush) showed that they were capable of generating a tremendous amount of action very quickly when the issue was something important to the most extreme elements of the Christian right, but were palpably bored and indifferent when the issue was the destruction of an American city. It's hard to think of any two successive issues painting a clearer and less flattering picture of just what's wrong with the Republican Party leadership these days.

    • The economy. The media is so focused on GDP and gasoline prices as economic bellwethers that I think they've badly missed the real story of the past six years: the deteriorating fortunes of the working and middle classes. This is more than just Democratic spin, and in this dismal atmosphere Democrats won a lot of support by holding the line against Social Security privatization, supporting increases in the minimum wage, and fighting for lower prescription drug prices. These aren't explicitly economic issues as much as they are values issues, and Republicans were on the wrong side.

    • Sleazy campaigning. This might be wishful thinking on my part, but I wonder if this year's campaign finally got a little too negative? Is it possible that the Lee Atwater-ization of the Republican Party has reached its limit, turning off more voters than it attracts?

    • Extremism. Did Republicans lose because they weren't conservative enough? With all due respect to folks like Andrew Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett, I doubt it. The American public has shown over and over that it's operationally moderate, and I suspect that George Bush has actually pushed conservatism about as far as it can go. If you take a look at the exit polls, Republicans lost because they lost the center, not because they lost their base.

      On a similar note, this idea that the Democratic Party is getting "more conservative" because it backed several center-rightish candidates in red states is just weird. Both parties compromise where they have to, and Dems have run plenty of moderates before. They just haven't won. This year some of them did, but their actual numbers were pretty small and I doubt they're going to have much of a concrete effect on anything. (On the other hand, the Republican Party did lose a bunch of its moderates, and it didn't have many to lose. It looks even more extreme today than it did yesterday, which doesn't bode well for its future.)

    Feel free to add your own guesses in comments.

    Kevin Drum 2:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    DEJA VU....At this point, McCaskill is ahead in Missouri and Tester is ahead in Montana. What's more, the exit polls show McCaskill winning by 3% and Tester winning by 6%. So things look pretty good for them.

    If that holds up, the Senate is 50-50 and it all comes down to Virginia. Unbelievable. It's 2000 all over again. Control of one branch of government comes down to a couple thousand votes in one state. I think we can expect a scorched earth battle over the next few weeks.

    UPDATE: I just listened to Jeffrey Toobin describe the Virginia recount process. First they count the provisional ballots, and then the vote is certified. That takes until November 27. Then the loser can ask for a recount. This race might not be decided until mid-December.

    Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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    November 7, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    SPEAKER PELOSI....Looks like Dems have won the House. Now it's just a matter of how big the margin is.

    Kevin Drum 11:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ELECTION UPDATE....In Senate races, Santorum, DeWine, and Chafee have lost, while Menendez and Cardin have won. That's +3 for Dems. In Kentucky, CNN just reported that John Yarmuth has beaten Anne Northup in a real bellwether race. This is looking like a pretty strong night for Democrats, no?

    Kevin Drum 9:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    FIRST BIG HINT OF THE NIGHT... No surprise that CNN is calling Democratic challenger Brad Ellsworth--the big handsome sherriff--the winner against Republican incumbent John Hostettler in Indiana's 8th. That's the Democrat's first pickup of the night, but an expected one.

    The real news, says Mark Nickolas over at Showdown '06, is Kentucky's 3rd, where, with 80 percent of the vote counted, Decomcratic challenger John Yarmuth leads GOP Rep. Anne Northup 50-48. "A reminder: a few weeks ago, NRCC chairman Tom Reynolds told reporters that he expected Northup to win," say Nickolas, "but that he would be in for a long night if she lost."

    Update: Yarmouth declared the winner.

    Paul Glastris 8:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    KY3 EXIT POLL... Reporting from Kentucky, where the polls closed at 6pm, Mark Nickolas of The Bluegrass Report notes an exit poll showing Democratic challenger John Yarmuth leading GOP Rep. Anne Northup 51 to 47, with with 2 percent refusing to say. "KY3 was not among the toss-ups until last week," Nickolas adds. "Could this be a harbinger of national trends?"

    Paul Glastris 7:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    FIRST SENATE EXIT POLLS... Come and get 'em...

    Paul Glastris 6:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    EXIT POLLS....I guess the Fort Knox-like security surrounding this year's exit polls worked. I've seen no leaks anywhere.

    But it's now after 5 pm, and that means CNN is releasing some early exit poll results. There's nothing yet about individual races, but Bill Schneider says:

    • Issue most often chosen as "extremely important": It's a close call. 42% say corruption in Washington, followed closely by terrorism, the economy, and Iraq.

    • 57% disapprove of the war in Iraq.

    • A majority say Democrats can deal well with terrorism and national security.

    • 62% say national issues determined their vote. Politics is not local this year.

    More later when they report it.

    UPDATE: Republicans have been talking up the economy for the past few weeks, but people who named that as an extremely important issue voted for Democrats by 20 points. Apparently having a great economy for the richest 10% of the country hasn't won the GOP very many votes. Imagine that.

    Republicans are still ahead on their handling of terrorism, but only by a little bit.

    Kevin Drum 5:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    EXIT POLLS....Over at GOP.com they've posted 2,000 words about how unreliable exit polls are, and how we shouldn't be surprised if Republicans do better tonight than the exit polls suggest. Interesting stuff.

    But, um, I'm sort of wondering why they're preemptively telling us this. Does the GOP know something we don't?

    Kevin Drum 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    MARYLAND GOP VOTER GUIDE BAMBOOZLE... The GOP is handing out blatantly misleading campaign literature in heavily African American Prince George's County, Maryland. It comes in the form of a pamphlet urging voters to support the two "Democrats" at the top of the ticket, Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele (both, of course, are Republicans). Our reporter in PG County, Jesse Singal, got his hands on one of the pamphlets. It was given to him by a homeless guy from Philly bussed in by the GOP. Check out Jesse's report here.

    Lot's of other terrific on-the-ground reporting over at Showdown '06, including: high voter turnout reports from Virginia and New Jersey, scrutiny of voting machines in Tennessee, and GOP shenanigans--but a glum-looking Charlie Bass--in New Hampshire.

    Paul Glastris 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    AFTERNOON UPDATE....Michael Steele is still trying to fool people into thinking he's a Democrat. It's pathetic. But hey $100 a day is good money for someone who's homeless.

    In New Hampshire, Republicans are apparently playing an old game: sending postcards to registered Democrats and collecting all the cards returned as undeliverable. Why? So that they have a nice long "caging list" of names to challenge. It's an oldie but a goodie.

    Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    MY CIVIC DUTY....Well, I think I'll go vote now. Back in a bit.

    UPDATE: I'm back. And I even cast one of my votes for a Republican! (Can you guess which one in comments?) I feel gloriously bipartisan today.

    I see also that our e-voting machines here in Irvine now have a paper trail. Hooray!

    Kevin Drum 2:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    GEORGE? GEORGE WHO?....Gavin Esler of the BBC:

    The Democrat campaign seems to boil down to one phrase: "We're not George Bush." And the Republican campaign is similarly taut: "We're not George Bush either."

    Sounds about right. I suspect that Democrats have the better of this argument, though.

    Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    MORE ANNOYING CONTRARIANISM....Look, I get the whole contrarianism schtick. And maybe Michael Kinsley is right that the Democratic campaign manifesto, "A New Direction for America," is too infatuated with new tax credits, which he thinks make for lousy fiscal policy. But then there's this:

    Honesty is not just therapeutic. Fiscal honesty is a practical necessity. "New Direction" quite rightly denounces the staggering fiscal irresponsibility of Republican leaders and duly promises "Pay As You Go" spending. But in the entire document there is not one explicit revenue-raiser to balance the many specific and enormous new spending programs and tax credits.

    Golly. You mean the Democratic document didn't have a whole section about exactly which taxes Nancy Pelosi wants to raise and by exactly how much? I wonder why? Kinsley then follows up this faux bumpkinism with a complaint that the Democrats also fail to present a plan for crushing the Iraq civil war, even though he admits one sentence later that neither does anyone else. If it weren't for the 800-word limit on op-eds, I figure the next paragraph would have been a complaint that Democrats lack a plan for turning water into wine.

    What's the point of all this? Kinsley knows perfectly well as he acknowledges in passing that a central part of the Democratic agenda is PayGo, which requires all new expenditures to be offset with funding increases or cuts in other programs. And he knows perfectly well that "eliminating tax giveaways," a phrase the litters the Democratic plan, is standard-issue campaign-speak for higher taxes. What's more as he also knows perfectly well any number of Democrats are on record as wanting to let some of George Bush's tax cuts lapse when they come up for reauthorization. This is hardly a secret.

    But that's not enough. Apparently the only thing sufficiently bracing for Kinsley's brand of tough love would be a joint suicide note from the Democratic Party. That would solve all our problems, wouldn't it?

    POSTSCRIPT: After reading this, you might think that election day has made me unusually tetchy. You would be right.

    Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    POSADA UPDATE....It's been a while since I updated you on the case of Luis Posada Carriles, a terrorist currently being held in U.S. custody without trial. Why no trial? The reason isn't the usual one. It's because Posada conducted his terrorism against Cuba, and we don't have a big problem with that:

    "A public trial of Luis Posada would certainly reveal embarrassing details on the degree to which U.S. covert operatives used terrorism as a tool in the 1960s," said Peter Kornbluh of the independent National Security Archive at George Washington University.

    Kornbluh has compiled declassified CIA and FBI evidence of Posada's role in the 1976 plane bombing, near Barbados, of a Cuban airliner in which all 73 on board died. Among the documents in the archive's online dossier is one recently obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation that shows Posada informed his CIA minders of the plot to blow up the airliner three months ahead of the attack.

    ....Posada returned to Florida in March 2005...after being pardoned by outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso in August 2004 after serving four years for attempting to kill Castro at a Panama summit in 2000.

    Moscoso's clemency decree for Posada and three U.S. militants was seen as a favor to the Bush administration in a presidential election year when the Cuban exile vote in Florida was vital.

    The Bush administration doesn't want to release him, doesn't want to try him, doesn't want to turn him over to Venezuela or Cuba (he might be tortured in those places!), and can't find anyone else to take him off their hands. It's quite a dilemma.

    Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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    By: Paul Glastris

    FBI CALLING... From NBC.com: "The FBI is looking into allegations from Jim Webb's campaign that Virginia Democrats are getting suspicious telephone calls from so-called volunteers threatening voters with arrest if they go to the polls."

    Also, some interesting scene-setters and early on-the-ground reports from Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida and elsewhere over at Showdown '06.

    Paul Glastris 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    QUICK NOTE....Over at our Showdown '06 blog, we've got several dozen bloggers lined up to post throughout the day from all of the battleground states. It should be pretty fast moving, and since I operate on sluggish West Coast time I imagine there'll be plenty of posts up from the Eastern states before I begin blogging in the morning. So bookmark the site and check back frequently.

    As for me, I'll be right here doing my usual thing from the best vantage point in the house: right in front of the TV. See you in a few hours.

    Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    PHOTO FINISH....Two years ago Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, which requires voters to produce a picture ID before they're allowed to vote or register to vote. What's more, your ID better be current: if you have a driver's license with an old address, you're out of luck. It's one of the most stringent laws of its kind in the country.

    As we all know, the picture ID requirement disproportionately hurts minorities, the elderly, and the disabled. But there's another group that's affected even more severely: students. Art Levine explains today in Salon:

    In Arizona, students can't register to vote unless they provide an Arizona-approved birth certificate and multiple proofs of their current address. In-state students who are already registered to vote in one Arizona county must provide proof of U.S. citizenship if they want to reregister in another county.

    At Arizona State University in Tempe, with its 63,000 students living on and off campus, voter registration has essentially evaporated....From 5,000 voters registered in six weeks before the 2004 presidential race, the ASU Young Democrats' post-Proposition 200 registration drive has produced little more than 200 new voters in a year and a half. According to Joaquin Rios, 20-year-old president of the local Young Democrats chapter, the problem is the ID requirement. "I've encountered hundreds of students," he reports, "and I don't know a single one who has decided to get a state ID."

    Read the whole thing. The new law has disenfranchised native Americans who don't have ID cards, any voter whose address isn't current on their driver's license, and virtually all students, who move around frequently and don't keep their ID updated. Voter registration has plummeted. And all of this, needless to say, is in response to a non-problem: Evidence of actual voter fraud prior to passage of Proposition 200 is virtually zero. On the other hand, it does a great job of solving the problem of too many people voting for those pesky Democrats.

    For more along the same lines, check out Greg Palast's latest piece here.

    Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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    November 6, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    THE ROBOCALL SHUTOUT....It's one thing for the mainstream media to mostly ignore the infamous Republican robocall story, or even, as Josh Marshall notes, to think about running pieces and then get cold feet. But Paul Glastris was watching the Diane Rehm Show this morning, and he reports that even when Rehm tried to get her guests to talk about it, they still wouldn't. You can read the whole depressing story here.

    Kevin Drum 9:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    JUMPING SHIP....I can understand why this isn't getting much attention, but it's pretty bad news:

    Zalmay Khalilzad, the plainspoken dealmaker and Republican insider who has won praise and criticism for attempts to broker Sunni political participation in Iraq's fragile government, is likely to quit his post as U.S. ambassador in Baghdad in the coming months, a senior Bush administration official said Monday.....His replacement in Baghdad may be Ryan Crocker, a senior career diplomat who is currently U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

    ....National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, during a Baghdad visit on Friday, told [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] that Khalilzad would leave about the first of the year and replaced by Crocker, according to two top aides to the Iraqi leader. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release information.

    Khalilzad is a pretty competent guy in an administration with a dire shortage of competent guys, and we can ill afford to lose him. Mark Kleiman runs down the list of possible reasons for Khalilzad's departure (Iraq is a lost cause, Bush wants to engineer a coup and Khalilzad wants no part of it, Maliki demanded a new ambassador), but leaves out the possibility that three years in Afghanistan and Iraq is simply as much as you can expect from anyone. He might just be exhausted.

    Still, I suspect Mark is right: "If Khalilzad still thought his strategy had a chance of success, he wouldn't be talking about leaving." That's probably so. Like I said, it's bad news.

    Kevin Drum 6:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ROBO-CALLING....So here's a good question: is the mainstream media even going to bother reporting on the saturation robo-calling currently being funded and coordinated by the National Republican Congressional Committee? As you may recall, the tactic here is to call people multiple times, at odd hours, whether or not they're on the Do Not Call registry, with messages that sound like they're from the local Democrat. The purpose is to get people annoyed with the Democratic candidate, even though the annoyance is really coming from the Republican side.

    This kind of tactic is only going to get more common unless the media trumpets it loud and clear and the Republican Party pays a price for it on Tuesday. Conversely, if it flies under the radar and helps produce a few GOP wins, they'll do it again. And again. And again.

    I don't care if reporters are jaded by this kind of thing. It's a revolting practice and ought to be the lead story on tonight's network news programs. Instead, what do you want to bet that it barely gets mentioned?

    Kevin Drum 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (147)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    VOTING FRAUD....We all know about the dangers of voting fraud inherent in electronic voting machines with no paper trail. But former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, blogging at Showdown '06, reminds us that in the real world there are actually much bigger things to be worried about:

    The most worrisome laws, for 2006, involve requirements in many states to show photo ID, not just to register, but actually vote. While 15 or 30 seconds to check an ID isnt all that much, multiply it by thousands of voters and its not trivial. Not to mention the myriad of judgment calls and (attempted) uniform applications of standards, especially in states that literally say 1 photo ID = two non-photo IDs. (Uh, will my expired Costco card AND an August cell phone bill work?)

    Keisling runs through four different types of voting fraud (including e-voting dangers) for those who want to get some perspective from a guy who's actually had to run elections. His concluding advice is: stay calm. America is a big country and it may take a few days to sort out every race.

    Keisling also has a very informative review in our current issue of Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting, a book by a Johns Hopkins computer-science professor named Aviel Rubin. It's all about his adventures discovering software glitches in e-voting machines and his (mostly futile) efforts to get anyone to care about it. Check it out.

    Kevin Drum 2:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    LOCAL STUFF....As long-time readers know, I vote No on pretty much all ballot initiatives. Explanation here, if you're interested. In practice, what this really means is not that I literally vote No on everything, but that the bar for voting Yes is very, very high. With that in mind, here's a rundown of the California ballot this year.

    I don't favor parental notification (85) and I think sex offenders are already treated plenty harshly (83). No on both. We already have way too many constitutionally untouchable boutique taxes targeted at funding someone's favorite hobby horse, and I don't favor adding any more (86, 87). I'm slightly more sympathetic to the education parcel tax (88), which is a fairly standard tax for a fairly standard purpose, and I wouldn't blame anyone for supporting it (though I probably won't). And while it's possible I could be talked into supporting a straight anti-Kelo initiative, I won't be voting for the fraudulent version on this year's ballot (90).

    As for bond measures, forget it. Long ago, bond measures became nothing more than vehicles for budget flim-flammery, and this year is no different. Arnold wants to solidify his progressive cred by spending a bunch of money on worthy projects, but he also wants to pretend that he has a solid gold record of never raising taxes, and that's what this year's infrastructure initiatives are all about (1A-1E). Every single thing in these measures could be and should be supported out of the general fund. But because he wants to keep his reputation as a tax fighter, Arnold is proposing a huge tranche of bonds that will require someone else to raise taxes sometime in the future when he's out of office. Will Californians fall for this transparent trickery? We'll find out tomorrow. As for me, I'm voting against them.

    So that leaves only the Clean Money Initiative (89), which I've written about here and here. It's hardly a panacea, but for all the talk of how gerrymandering has made incumbents nearly invulnerable these days, the fact is that money imbalances have a lot more to do with it than redistricting does. (In fact, academic research indicates that gerrymandering has actually had a fairly modest effect on incumbency.) With that in mind, I think public financing on the Arizona model is well worth a try, and far more likely to have a positive effect than any other single thing we could do. Prop 89 isn't perfect, but it's close enough. I'll be voting Yes.

    Kevin Drum 1:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE STATE OF THE RACE....The media/blog theme of the morning seems to be a barely concealed panic over the shrinking Democratic lead in various generic congressional polls. This is crazy. When you have a lead of 15 points or more, there's only one direction to go. Of course the Democratic lead is shrinking.

    A lot of the Dem lead in September and October polling was, I think, an expression of a vast, pent-up frustration with the Republican Party. But as election day nears, and advertising ramps up, and the reality of pulling the lever becomes more concrete, people tend to put away their frustration and get back to work, voting for whoever they usually vote for. Not all of them, but enough to make the political landscape look a little more normal.

    In other words, there's really nothing unexpected here, and I'm surprised that people with decades of experience in politics are nervous about this. As near as I can tell, Dems are going into Tuesday with a lead in the generic polls of 5-10%, which is huge, and with pretty good prospects in upwards of 40 congressional districts. The Senate races look about the way you'd expect, with Republicans gaining ground or holding on in red states (Montana, Tennessee, Arizona) and Democrats gaining ground or holding on in blue states (New Jersey, Maryland). Missouri and Virginia continue to be wild cards.

    For what it's worth, I think Democratic performance in close Senate races is the key variable to watch. In 2004 there were five Senate races decided by a swing of a percentage point or less, and Republicans won four of the five. If Republicans show the same prowess this year, Dems will only pick up a couple of seats. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, maybe the race isn't tightening at all. Fox shows Dems ahead by 13 points (up from 11 a week ago) and CNN has them ahead by 20 points (up from 11).

    Kevin Drum 11:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    DIRTY TRICKS....The latest campaign trick from the fine folks in the Republican Party is to make repeated robo-calls to voters that sound as if they're from Democratic candidates. Do it often enough and voters will be so pissed off at their local Democrat that they'll just stay home instead of bothering to vote. Clever, eh?

    TPM is all over this if you want the details, but here's the gist from a House race in New Hampshire:

    Incumbent Republican Congressman Charlie Bass denounced the calls yesterday and said he tried to get the NRCC to put a stop to them. But a spokesman for the NRCC said the automated phone calls would continue indefinitely.

    "The calls will continue as planned," said Alex Burgos, a spokesman for the NRCC, the national group charged with electing Republicans to the House. "They are done independently of Charlie Bass's campaign. He has nothing to do with them."

    Ignore the question of whether Bass is denouncing the tactic or merely "denouncing" the tactic. Instead just think about what's going on here. In every election, there have always been individual wingnuts who go over the edge with desperate campaign tactics. It happens on both sides. This time, though, the desperate tactics are coming straight from the Republican central committee. What's more, there's not even a hint of embarrassment. In fact, they sound pretty proud of themselves.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    Kevin Drum 12:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (225)

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    November 5, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    MULLIGAN DAY....Today is Mulligan Day. With 48 hours to go, this is your chance to change your mind about the size of the Democratic win on Tuesday. If you participated in the October 25 pool, tell us whether your prediction is higher or lower than it was then.

    For the sake of pundit consistency, I'll stick with my original prediction of +23 in the House and +4 in the Senate. As near as I can tell, that's now at the low end of the consensus range.

    UPDATE: For what it's worth, the average prediction from the ten participants in the Washington Post's "Crystal Ball Contest" is a Dem pickup of 4.7 seats in the Senate (counting Lieberman and Sanders as Democrats) and a pickup of 26.5 seats in the House.

    Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (208)

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    November 4, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    RAISING THE BAR....Having essentially conceded defeat, the latest conservative game is to pretend that even if the Democrats pick up 20 or 30 House seats on Tuesday, it's no big deal. Charles Krauthammer: "Since the end of World War II, the average loss for a second-term presidency in its sixth year has been 29 House seats." Ann Coulter: "The average sixth-year midterm election, like this year, is much worse for the president's party, which typically loses 34 seats in the House."

    Nice try, guys, but here's the reality. Up through the 70s, big swings in House elections were common, but in the last 20 years there's only been a single year with a big swing (1994). Aside from that, the average change has been less than five seats. You can see the same thing if you look only at sixth-year midterms:

    • 1958: 49 seats

    • 1966: 47 seats

    • 1974: 49 seats

    • 1986: 5 seats

    • 1998: 5 seats

    See the trend? In the two sixth-year midterms since 1980, only five seats changed hands. There are plenty of reasons for this, including improved gerrymandering, huge money imbalances, and increased self-segregation. More here if you're interested.

    Bottom line: Thirty years ago a pickup of 25 seats wouldn't have been that big a deal. Today it is. If Dems win that many seats, it really will be a historic victory.

    Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (231)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    TORTURE AND SECRECY....Majid Khan, currently being held as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay, is not being allowed to speak to his lawyer. Why? Because previously he was detained in one the CIA's secret overseas prisons and "he may have come into possession of information, including...alternative interrogation techniques."

    "May have come into possession." Indeed he may have. That's a very nice use of the passive voice, isn't it?

    Now, Khan may be a cold-blooded killer whose main goal in life is to commit the mass murder of innocent Americans. Then again, he may be guilty of nothing more than yelling "Death to America" on crowded street corners in Karachi. We'll never know for sure, though, because once you've been the subject of government-sanctioned torture alternative interrogation techniques, you're automatically forbidden to defend yourself because you might tell people about the very alternative interrogation techniques that were employed against you.

    This highlights the fundamental corruption of the human soul that torture causes. We know it's wrong, so not only do we torture prisoners, but we then do what we must to conceal what we've done. And then we try to conceal even that. Torture and secrecy, secrecy and torture, world without end.

    That's not America. At least, it shouldn't be.

    Kevin Drum 4:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (107)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE NEOCON REHABILITATION PROJECT....David Rose's Vanity Fair interview with the neocon elite is getting plenty of well-deserved attention this weekend. For one thing, it's fun to play the "which quote is the most damning?" game. Is it Michael Ledeen (the most powerful people in the White House are "women who are in love with the president")? Kenneth Adelman ("They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era")? David Frum (George Bush "just did not absorb the ideas")?

    But that can wait. A few months ago I noted in passing that it was only a matter of time before the neocon hawks began claiming, like old-time Trotskyists, that there was nothing wrong with their ideas, only with the fools who had bungled their execution. Richard Perle states this the most directly:

    Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that.

    It's worth saying very plainly what's going on here: the neocons are using these interviews to make the case that neoconservatism is in no way to blame for the disaster in Iraq. If they had been in charge things would have been different.

    This baby needs to be strangled in its crib. The 1997 "Statement of Principles" of the Project for a New American Century, the neocon Bible, was signed by, among others, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Scooter Libby, and Elliot Abrams. All of these men were deeply involved in the formulation, planning, and execution of the Iraq war. The neocon creed was part and parcel of every move they made.

    What's more, despite their conveniently-timed hand wringing about incompetent execution, there's little evidence that the apologists would have done anything very different in fact, little evidence that they cared very much about anything beyond "bringing down Saddam." Rather, neocons have always been focused on conventional military power, and plenty of it, primarily aimed at potential enemies like China. (Despite the revisionist history spit out now and again by their supporters, terrorism simply wasn't a major neocon focus prior to 9/11.) But conventional military power wasn't the problem in Iraq. The problem was in the occupation, an area that neocons have never cared a fig about. Peacekeeping forces? Nation building? Multilateral legitimacy? Language and cultural training? Counterinsurgency? Economic engagement?

    It's easy to cherry-pick the neocon archives to find bits and pieces where they talked up some of this stuff. But their overall focus has always been on the use of overwhelming force and intimidation, with a sideline in democracy promotion rooted more in fantasy than in a hard look at what it takes to actually make democracy take root in a region with none of the economic or institutional infrastructure to support it. Anybody with ground-level experience in nation building could have explained the problems, but they didn't want to listen. A sufficient show of force was supposed to be enough to make democracy flower.

    The neocons have always been idealists, and their ideals saw full flower in the Iraq war. A show of force in one country, plenty of threats against its neighbors, a disdain for multilateral action, and an occupation designed to be a showpiece of conservative ideology rather than a serious attempt at reconstructing a society. That's what the neocons wanted, and that's what they got. The rest is details.

    The failure of Iraq is inherent in the naive idealism and fixated ideology of neoconservatism, and shame on us if we let them get away with suggesting otherwise. This is one rehabilitation project that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

    Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    WHERE'S OSAMA?....It's starting to look like Osama bin Laden has decided to sit out this election cycle. No scary messages yet, anyway, though I suppose there's still Monday to go.

    Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    VOTED OFF THE ISLAND?....As it happens, the Army Times has been critical of Donald Rumsfeld for some time now. But apparently George Bush's fervent support last week for Rumsfeld's plainly failed leadership has driven them over the edge, and along with their colleagues at the Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times they've released an editorial calling for his resignation, come what may on Tuesday:

    It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

    That should make for bracing reading at commissaries around the world. I wonder if a summary has shown up yet in the copy of the Early Bird that Rumsfeld gets every morning?

    The full editorial is here.

    Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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    November 3, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    THE LIGHT MAN....This might be the most pathetic thing I've ever read. It's David Frum talking about George Bush:

    I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything.

    Shorter David Frum: I used to think Bush was such an empty vessel that if I could just get him to parrot the words I wrote, they'd bounce around in his skull and become actual ideas for lack of any competition. Later, though, I finally realized why his skull was empty of serious ideas in the first place.

    And, yes, this is the root of everything.

    Kevin Drum 6:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (201)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    WHAT NEXT?....What if Democrats win control of Congress next week? What then? We asked a bunch of pundit types to give us their take for our December issue, and one of them was David Gergen. His suggestion was that George Bush should accept defeat with humility and then reach across the aisle to ask for Democratic help in creating a new strategy for the Iraq war. He envisions Bush giving this speech:

    It is clear now that we cannot just stay on the same course, and I believe it would be equally fatal to leave immediately. So, I would ask that both of those options be off the table. Let us instead, together, come up with a new plan that has a chance of success; let us also put in place a new team to carry out that plana team that will enjoy the respect and confidence of people on both sides of the aisle.

    He goes on to say that if "Bush were to be man enough to ask the Democrats to join him," Dems should take him up on it even if it might hurt them in the short term. In the long run, it would demonstrate their governing bona fides and increase their political capital.

    I guess I'm not going to lose any sleep pondering this, since the chances of Bush delivering Gergen's speech seems somewhere near the south end of the range between "No" and "Hell no." Bush's petulant fury with his antagonists and his seething contempt for Democrats has become so palpable in the past few years that he practically seems like he's going to burst out of skin when he gives a speech these days. There's simply no way he could bring himself either to utter Gergen's words or to genuinely cooperate with a party he loathes even if he did.

    Which is actually a pity for him, because Gergen is probably right. If Bush actually did deliver some conciliatory words through clenched teeth or not and then offered Democrats a genuine, substantive role in war strategy, it would be really hard for them to turn it down without looking petty. And once they were inside the tent, it would become much harder for them to criticize the war effort. Politically, Gergen is offering some pretty shrewd advice.

    But that's only one man's take. If you want to read a few other attempts to gaze into the tea leaves, click here. We've got short essays by Tom Daschle, Mark Schmitt, John Nichols, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, Ed Kilgore, and Daniel Levy.

    And if the Republicans hold on? That isn't looking very likely right now, but we have that covered too. Just flip the magazine upside down and we have some essays about what happens if the GOP wins. Click here to read predictions from Dick Armey, Ed Kilgore, David Greenberg, and Mark Schmitt. Enjoy!

    Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (239)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ENOUGH....You know, I'm always happy to see folks advertising on our site, but the Freak Show nitwits at MSNBC have been plastering John Kerry's mug at the top of their ad like grim death for something like four or five days in a row. So now that this non-story has finally sputtered and died a well-deserved death, what do they do? They demonstrate their razor-sharp news judgment by upping the ante and making his picture even bigger. This despite the fact that if you click through, they don't even have a story about the Kerry flap on their front page at all.

    If that thing stays up much longer, my head is going to explode. I'm just letting you know in case my blogging suddenly stops and you're wondering what happened.

    Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE ECONOMIST BLOGS....Over at its new politics blog, the Economist, speaking of itself in the third person, summarizes its midterm election recommendations:

    The Economists advice for the mid-term elections is this: throw the Republicans out. The Democrats may be incoherent, it says, but they can scarcely do worse than the Republicans have done already. A few independent-minded Republicans deserve to keep their seats, it says, but in general, sometimes ruling parties become so addled and incompetent that they need to be punished.

    This is, potentially, bad news for Democrats, since my sense is that the Economist has a pretty bad track record at endorsements. Sort of like the Sports Illustrated jinx. But I've never checked that out rigorously, and since I don't read the magazine anymore I don't know how they've done lately. Maybe their political antennae have gotten better recently. Or maybe I'm just wrong.

    You may be thinking, by the way, that the reason I no longer read the Economist is because of their tiresome conservative tilt and increasingly formulaic writing a frequent subject of criticism in the liberal blogosphere. But that's not it. Not mainly, anyway. The real reason is that several years ago they opened a new printing plant designed to make their American operations more efficient. It was based in California, I think, which seemed like good news for me.

    Unfortunately, "seemed" is not "is." What happened was that instead of receiving the magazine on Friday or, at the latest, Saturday, I began receiving it on Monday or Tuesday. Since it's a weekly magazine that goes to press on Thursday, that made it hopelessly out of date by the time I got my copy, and since the weekend had passed it meant that I often didn't get around to reading it at all. Eventually, I just gave up.

    But now their content is online for free, and they have a couple of new blogs as well. The American politics blog is called Democracy in America and the economics blog is called Free Exchange. They're both worth checking out.

    Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN....Over at National Review, a certain J. Edward Carter explains how the budget went from a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion in 2001 to a projected deficit of $2.9 trillion today. The answer is: blah blah blah. Specious projections, a runaway Congress, Osama bin Laden, etc. etc. But any claims that President Bush "frittered away" the surplus are just the sheerest moonshine.

    Whatever. But who is J. Edward Carter? His tagline says, mysteriously, only that "Mr. Carter is an economist in Washington, D.C." What does that J stand for?

    Answer: James. He's James E. Carter, deputy undersecretary for international affairs in the Department of Labor. In other words, a political appointee in the Bush administration. I wonder why National Review didn't want anyone to know this?

    UPDATE: Kathryn Jean Lopez acknowledges the mistake and apologizes here.

    Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    THE MINIMUM WAGE IN OREGON....If the radical, business-hating, crypto-socialist Democratic Party takes over Congress next week, one of their first orders of business will be to raise the federal minimum wage. As we all know, this would likely cripple the American economy and send us spinning into a recession. After all, look at what happened to Oregon after they raised their minimum wage:

    During the 2002 debate in Oregon, foes of a minimum-wage increase argued that it would chase away business and cripple an economy that traditionally had higher unemployment than the national average. "With so many Oregonians already unemployed, raising the minimum wage and then increasing it annually would devastate our economic recovery," Bill Perry, head of the Oregon Restaurant Association, wrote at the time.

    Four years later, though it is impossible to say what would have happened had the minimum not been raised, Oregon's experience suggests the most strident doomsayers were wrong. Private, nonfarm payrolls are up 8% over the past four years, nearly twice the national increase. Wages are up, too. Job growth is strong in industries employing many minimum-wage workers, such as restaurants and hotels. Oregon's estimated 5.4% unemployment rate for 2006, though higher than the national average, is down from 7.6% in 2002, when the state was emerging from a recession.

    Read the whole thing. Deborah Solomon provides both sides of the story, but it's worth noting that virtually all the evidence on the anti-minimum wage side is either anecdotal or theoretical. The evidence on the pro-minimum wage side is concrete and statistical. You can decide for yourself which kind of evidence to believe.

    POSTSCRIPT: As a side note, it's interesting that the only industry that's still throwing around doomsday claims is the agricultural industry. "Why grow a potato here when you can do it in Idaho for $5.15 an hour?" asks one farmer.

    It's true that agriculture is in a unique position, since even if a higher minimum wage were federalized, farmers would still have to compete with cheaper foreign labor. But guess what? Higher wages are what we're going to get if we seriously cut down on immigration too. So conservatives need to make up their mind: either we need cheap fruit pickers, in which case agriculture should be exempt from the minimum wage and we should allow plenty of immigrants across the border to follow the harvests, or cheap labor isn't critical and we do neither. Which is it?

    Kevin Drum 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    DEADLINES....Republicans may say they don't believe in deadlines for Iraq, but it turns out there's one deadline they do believe in. The Pentagon budget signed a couple of weeks ago includes a hard date for putting Stuart Bowen, the Inspector General for Iraq, out of business:

    The order comes in the form of an obscure provision that terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, on Oct. 1, 2007. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee over the objections of Democratic counterparts during a closed-door conference, and it has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation.

    That's a real shocker, isn't it? The official excuse from Duncan Hunter (RRunning For President), who inserted the provision, is that he wanted to return to a "non-wartime footing" for all this inspection stuff. That seems a little funny considering how relentlessly Republicans remind us that "we're at war," but maybe I've misunderstood this concept all along. After all, as our commander in chief tells us, war is hard.

    But at least it should soon be a little easier for Halliburton.

    Kevin Drum 2:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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    November 2, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    TENNESSEE....Can someone tell me what's going on in the Tennessee senate race? Zogby has Corker ahead by 6 points and CNN has Corker up by 8 points. But Benenson has Ford ahead by 5 points and the DSSC (via email) has Ford up by 6 points.

    All of these polls were conducted within the last three or four days, but they span an astonishing range of 14 points. Does anybody actually have any idea what's going on there?

    Kevin Drum 9:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH"....Frank Schaeffer, "a Christian, a writer, a military parent and a registered Republican," recently got an email from supporters of George Allen. Here's how it went:

    First, it was the Catholic priests, then it was Mark Foley, and now Jim Webb, whose sleazy novels discuss sex between very young teenagers. ... Hmmm, sounds like a perverted pedophile to me! Pass the word that we do not need any more pedophiles in office.

    Here's his response:

    Enough is enough. I've had it with Republican smears.

    .... My wife and I have reached the tipping point. We plan to go to town hall to dump our Republican voter registration and reregister as independents. I don't care anymore what party someone is in. These days, what I care about is what they're made of.

    Wartime demands leaders with character and moral authority. The political party smearing Mr. Webb proves it has neither.

    When people are under pressure, that's often when you see their true character. The same is true for political parties. I imagine Schaeffer speaks for a lot of formerly loyal Republicans who are finally starting to see the price they've paid for the Bush/Rove/DeLay-ization of their party. Enough is enough.

    Via MoJoBlog.

    Kevin Drum 8:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    LATEST POLL....I don't know how reliable Democracy Corps' polls are, but whatever bias they may have is probably about the same from poll to poll which makes today's final poll before the election pretty interesting. The poll was finished on Wednesday, and despite the ongoing John Kerry flap (which "clearly broke through," they say) it shows an increase in Democratic strength compared to a poll taken last Sunday. As the chart below shows, in 50 competitive House districts Democrats gained strength in every category, from most competitive (Tier 1) to least competitive (Tier 3).

    Read the whole thing for more. Unless they're way, way off base, virtually every trend is not just in favor of Democrats, but getting even more favorable in the final weeks. If Osama can keep his mouth shut, Dems may end up with a historic victory.

    Kevin Drum 6:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (123)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    PRODUCTIVITY....Via Dean Baker, I see that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported the latest quarterly productivity numbers. In Q3, nonfarm business productivity grew....

    0%.

    Now, this is not the first time productivity has leveled out for a quarter. A 16-year chart is here. But two things make this slowdown noteworthy. First, it follows weak Q2 productivity growth, which means we've had six straight months of poor performance. Second, remember my wonky post yesterday about possible mismeasurement of the increase in auto production? If that turns out to be a genuine error, it means this quarter's productivity growth is overstated. We might have actually seen a drop in productivity.

    I dunno. It looks to me like the housing market is collapsing, and that's the bubble that's been keeping the economy alive ever since the tech bubble burst. Is there another bubble to take over from housing? I sure don't see one on the horizon. At the same time, middle-class incomes the engine of economic growth have fallen over the past few years, and there's a limit to how much families can make up for that by piling on ever more debt. I suspect we've just about hit that limit and since the one constant of the financial industry is that it overreacts to both good news and bad, it's likely that they'll add to the economic misery by reining in credit even more than the fundamentals justify.

    But at least they have a shiny new bankruptcy bill to help them through the hard times. I hope everyone who voted for that legislation is proud of themselves this time next year.

    Kevin Drum 5:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    NO MORE FISH....A new study published in the journal Science reports that 29% of open sea fisheries are in a state of collapse and there's no end in sight:

    Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."

    A few months ago Mother Jones published a special issue called "The Last Days of the Ocean." Check it out if you want to learn more about this.

    Kevin Drum 3:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    DEEP THOUGHTS....My favorite new blogger is Mario Loyola over at The Corner. He popped up out of nowhere a few weeks ago, and ever since then he's been posting tirades so aggressive and extreme that he makes guys like Michael Ledeen and Mark Levin look like a quivering clique of weak-kneed wafflers. K-Lo must have thought the gang was going soft and needed some bucking up.

    Here's his latest. Today, after Jonah Goldberg wisely suggested that the Kerry flap had probably been milked for just about all it was worth, Loyola charged into the fray. Feast on this:

    Jonah, I do not agree. Kerry drew the Dems into a blind alley by making respect for the troops the central issue of the Iraq war, and I remain convinced that we should open up with both barrels.

    Every Democratic candidate should now be asked whether they think the troops are in Iraq because (a) they are committed to the mission and want to win or (b) because of their lack of economic and social opportunity back home. The latter is plainly Kerry's position and that of the Democratic left and it has now been revealed as a position for which one has to apologize. Therefore, most Democrats now will contradict Kerry, and answer (a) the troops are devoted to their mission.

    Then the upper-cut. "Well do you still want them to win, or do you want them to withdraw in defeat?" Then, they either have to take their GOP opponent's position on the war, or advocate surrender.

    "Respect for the troops" is now the central issue of the Iraq war! Democrats should be asked whether they respect the sacrifice of our troops! That'll stonker 'em!

    And then the coup de grce: "Do you want them to withdraw in defeat?" Well, do you? Huh? Do you?

    You may be wondering where The Corner gets deep strategic thinkers like this. Answer: from the Bush-era Pentagon, where Loyola recently served as a "consultant for communications and policy planning....assisted in the final preparation and roll-out of the 2005 National Defense Strategy, and worked on global energy and China issues with the policy planning staff." What a surprise, eh?

    Kevin Drum 12:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (204)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    IN THE COCOON....Let me get this straight. President Bush thinks Don Rumsfeld is doing a fantastic job in Iraq ("I'm pleased with the progress we're making") and Majority Leader John Boehner agrees. The problems if there are any are the fault of the generals on the ground, not Rumsfeld. The man's a rock.

    It's a looking glass world out there in GOP-land, isn't it?

    Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    POLLING MADNESS....So how many House seats are Democrats likely to pick up this year? Over at Showdown '06, Ruy Teixeira takes a look at all the available projections:

    Three political scientists...using model-based computer simulations of the 435 individual House contests....predict a 32 seat pickup for the Democrats. As we shall see when we get to the race by race data, this is not such a crazy prediction.

    ...."Majority Watch"...indicates a possible Democratic gain of 38 seats (43 wins minus the five seats they already hold in the competitive 60 seats).

    ....Mark Blumenthal and Charles Franklin look over all the available public polling on House races and assign 222 seats to the Democrats with 25 tossups. Let's say the Democrats and Republicans split the tossups....That would bring the Democratic total to 234 seats a gain of 31 seats over where they now stand.

    ....It's also worth noting that Charlie Cook now predicts Democratic gains of 20-35 seats (with a hedge toward a higher number than 35). Using the midpoint of his range, that would put the Democrat gain at around 28 seats again, not far off the 32 mark.

    The average of all these averages is pickup of about 32 seats exactly what the poli sci geeks are predicting. Not bad.

    Ruy also takes a look at the Senate races, and has some skeptical words about the legendary GOP get-out-the-vote effort. Take a look at the whole thing.

    Kevin Drum 1:37 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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    November 1, 2006
    By: Kevin Drum

    MORE POLLS....It turns out the American public is pretty savvy. Here are the results of the latest New York Times poll:

    The poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and an overwhelming 80 percent said Mr. Bushs latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

    In the generic congressional poll, Democrats now have a staggering 19% lead. As far as I know, this is unprecedented a week before an election.

    Other results: The Iraq war is the most important issue by a huge margin. George Bush's approval/disapproval rating for handling the war is a subterranean -35%, and even for the broader war on terrorism it's -4%. More people think the economy is getting worse than think it's getting better by a margin of 22%. The approval/disapproval margin for the Republican Party is -20%, compared to +9% for the Democratic Party. People think taxes will go up no matter who wins control of Congress. 57% are in favor of allowing either marriage or civil unions for gay couples. There's plenty of other good stuff in the full poll results here.

    But for the sheer pleasure of seeing his own partisans finally abandon him, my personal favorite questions are the ones below. Heckuva job, George!

    Kevin Drum 8:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (191)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    "VIRTUAL CENSORSHIP"....Jonathan Landay reports on the latest from the Bush administration:

    An internal State Department review has found that U.S. officials screened the public statements and writings of private citizens for criticism of the Bush administration before deciding whether to send them on foreign speaking assignments.

    The screenings amounted to "virtual censorship" in the State Department's selection of speakers, said a report by the department's Inspector General's Office. McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy of the 22-page report, which was completed in September.

    I know. I should be outraged, I guess. But is there anyone left on the planet who expects anything different from these guys?

    Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    KERRY AND THE CAMERA....I'm sort of loathe to even blog about the whole John Kerry flap. It's not that I'm flatly unwilling to write about idiotic and transparently manufactured political issues, but a man's got to have his limits. This "controversy," along with the almost insane amount of play it's gotten in the mainstream press, is surely a sign of the end times.

    Still, there's one part of this that I can't help but comment on. Here's what Kerry said:

    You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

    And here's what Kerry's office claims he meant to say:

    Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.

    Here's the thing. I believe Kerry. I think that really is what he meant to say. But Kerry has been active in politics for more than three decades. He's been a U.S. senator for more than 20 years. He spent two years running for president. In his career, he's probably given what do you figure? 5,000 speeches? 10,000? 20,000?

    So how could he possibly have screwed up a simple little piece of snark like that? After all these years, does he still get so flustered in front of a camera that he can't even get a simple three-line joke straight? Sheesh.

    Kevin Drum 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (182)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    ALL ABOUT OIL?....During his interview with Rush Limbaugh today, George Bush paused for a bit and then veered off from the subject at hand to explain what really troubles him about the Middle East:

    Give me a second here, Rush, because I want to share something with you. I am deeply concerned about a country, the United States, leaving the Middle East. I am worried that rival forms of extremists will battle for power, obviously creating incredible damage if they do so; that they will topple modern governments, that they will be in a position to use oil as a tool to blackmail the West. People say, "What do you mean by that?" I say, "If they control oil resources, then they pull oil off the market in order to run the price up, and they will do so unless we abandon Israel, for example, or unless we abandon allies.

    Rush called this "extremely visionary." It's certainly a bracing call to arms for our troops overseas, isn't it?

    Kevin Drum 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    HOW FAST IS THE ECONOMY GROWING?....Did GDP increase 1.6% last quarter? Only if you believe that auto production increased 26%, the estimate used by the BEA in its calculation of 3rd quarter GDP. But as Nouriel Roubini says, this hardly seems believable:

    During Q3 all the major US automakers Ford, GM, Chrysler announced production cuts for both Q3 and Q4. So, how could the folks at BEA argue and estimate that production went up by a whopping 26%? These data also do not make any sense as the Federal Reserve Board data on automotive production in Q3 show a sharp fall in production of motor vehicles of 12%

    So what's going on? One possibility: the BEA calculation uses a price deflator based on wholesale light-truck prices, which tanked in the third quarter. When you plug that into the formula for all auto production, it gives you a falsely large estimate of auto sales.

    Another possibility: the BEA's seasonal adjustment formula (Q3 is when automakers retool their plants and blow out their existing inventory) is wrong. Dean Baker points out that BEA may have a systematic problem here, since the Q3 numbers for the past three years show increases in auto production of 17%, 23%, and 26%, all of which seem rather too high to believe.

    Yet another: the BEA is right. The Fed tracks auto production, while the BEA tracks auto consumption, which is the right thing to do for GDP calculations. It's entirely possible that carmakers have reduced production but still increased sales by slashing prices and selling off inventory.

    I have no idea which of these is correct. But if you're interested, the commenters over at Brad DeLong's place are holding a seminar on the topic. It's your chance to learn a little bit about how GDP accounts are calculated. And while that may sound dry, anything is better than listening to the latest campaign nonsense, isn't it?

    Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    MELTDOWN IN IRAQ.... Here's the PowerPoint slide obtained by the New York Times that shows Central Command's internal view of the situation in Iraq. In short: bad and getting worse.

    In fact, here's some fun pseudo-math to go along with it. If you mark off the entire scale in units from 0-100, the "Chaos Quotient" has increased from 55 to 81 in the past eight months, an increase of slightly more than 3 points per month. So how long until we hit 100 at the current rate?

    Answer: Just under six months. Even the U.S. military now thinks we have less than one Friedman before Iraq is hopelessly lost.

    Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    MALIKI AND THE CORDON....The White House is doing its best to distract everyone's attention from this by feigning outrage over a botched John Kerry joke about George Bush's college study habits, but I wonder if Tuesday's news from Iraq will eventually get any traction?

    Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

    ....The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

    The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high.

    So: an American soldier is abducted and held in Sadr City, the Army sets up a cordon in an effort to force the soldier's release, but then meekly gives in when Maliki orders them to. This whole situation seems tailor-made for Democrats in an election year: Why have we abandoned an American soldier? Why are we letting Maliki give orders to U.S. generals? Who's in charge over there?

    So far, though, Democrats have restrained themselves. Is this because they know in their hearts that letting Maliki call the shots in this case was the right thing to do, and they've decided they don't want to politicize the situation? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. The Dubai port deal was almost certainly the right thing to do too, but that didn't stop Dems from mounting a two-week frenzy over the whole thing. There's probably some other calculation going on. Or maybe they just need a day or two to get their act together.

    I mention this mainly because bowing to pressure from Maliki probably was the right thing to do, for at least a couple of reasons. First, it's impossible for Maliki to control the political situation in Iraq, as we want him to do, unless the various Iraqi factions believe he has genuine influence over the U.S. military. If we had swatted him down in a high-profile case like this, it would have been tantamount to a death sentence.

    Second, Maliki might very well have saved us from ourselves. After all, our cordon had already been in place for eight days without result, and there was no indication that it ever would have worked. (Hezbollah endured a thousand deaths and two months of destruction in Lebanon and still wouldn't release the abducted Israeli soldiers that started that war.) My guess is that the militants who held the U.S. soldier would never have released him, and that they even viewed the growing chaos in Sadr City as a positive benefit. Keeps the locals riled up against the American occupation, you know.

    So Maliki probably did us a favor by giving us an excuse to back down yesterday. In a broader sense, though, the story of the Sadr City cordon is the story of Iraq in a microcosm: tactics unsuited to the fight, no exit strategy when those tactics turn out not to work, and eventually a clear demonstration of the limits of American power. The military set up the cordon because they didn't want to simply do nothing, but then had to stick with it forever because anything less would show a "lack of resolve." In a way, Maliki rescued us from our own folly on Tuesday.

    Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    GEORGE ALLEN....In a campaign season filled to the gills with ginned up absurdities, perhaps the most absurd of them all has been George Allen's desperation last-minute attacks on Jim Webb over some racy scenes in one of his war novels. This ranks high on the short-list of campaign stunts that deserve to blow up in the most gruesome possible way, if only to serve as a warning to future politicians: No, the American public is not willing to put up with literally anything. Yes, you can go too far.

    That, along with revelations of Allen's youthful and possibly lingering racism really ought to be enough to send him packing. But in case it's not, Ed Kilgore provides more:

    I personally think the most damning thing about the Allen Story is that he has been exposed as the ultimate Golden State Child of Privilege who has spent much of his life trying to impersonate a dirt-farm, dirt-track Yahoo, mainly by aggressively embracing the underside of Yahoo culture, without the mitigating circumstances of actually growing up that way, or any indication that he shares the positive features of that culture (e.g., a healthy disrespect for economic elites). To put it another way, most true southern white crackers may well have contempt for those well-heeled cultural elitists who look down on them, but they'd also kill to give their kids the kind of advantages that George Allen had, and, if confronted directly with the full Allen Story, would probably consider his efforts to remake himself as a 'bacca-chewing, thuggish redneck the ultimate insult.

    Allen is a fake in much the same way that George Bush is a fake except that he's not quite as good as it. Perhaps Virginians will finally cotton to Allen's peculiar brand of condescension next week.

    Kevin Drum 1:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

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    By: Kevin Drum

    FORMER REPUBLICANS....Former Republican John Cole on why he's a former Republican:

    I am not really having any fun attacking my old friends but I dont know how else to respond when people call decent men like Jim Webb a pervert for no other reason than to win an election. I dont know how to deal with people who think savaging a man with Parkinsons for electoral gain is appropriate election-year discourse. I dont know how to react to people who think that calling anyone who disagrees with them on Iraq a terrorist-enabler than to swing back. I dont know how to react to people who think that media reports of party hacks in the administration overruling scientists on issues like global warming, endangered species, intelligent design, prescription drugs, etc., are signs of ... liberal media bias.

    That about sums it up. The modern Republican Party definitely not the party of Dwight Eisenhower or even Ronald Reagan had full control of the government for a mere four years before they overreached so far that the American public became disgusted by them. It took Democrats 50 years to do that. So, you know, congratulations on that. Apparently pandering to the most extreme elements of the Christian right and selling their soul to K Street turned out to be less popular than they thought. Imagine that.

    Kevin Drum 1:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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