Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 28, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THREE RIGHTS....I figure that if a country guarantees the following three rights, it's probably a pretty decent place:

  1. The right to free speech

  2. The right to a fair trial

  3. The right to vote

Now, we can argue forever over just what "free" and "fair" really mean, but I think we all have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about here. There are plenty of other highly desirable rights, but these are the three cornerstones that define a decent liberal society.

So here's a question: Do you think convicted felons who have served their time should be prohibited from speaking freely? Do you think they should lose the right to a fair trial?

No? Then why do they lose the right to vote in 20 states?

Kevin Drum 8:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE CONSULTANT RACKET....It's a blogosphere truism these days that Democrats are too reliant on a tired bunch of Beltway consultants who are out of touch with the liberal base, reflexively recommend poll-driven caution and mushiness, and have losing streaks that make the '62 Mets look good. But you would have heard about this more than two years ago if you'd been subscribing to the Washington Monthly back then. Amy Sullivan told the whole story in "Fire the Consultants," in our January 2005 issue:

[Joe] Hansen is part of a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually. Pollster Mark Mellman is popular among Democrats because he tells them what they so desperately want to hear: Their policies are sound, Americans really agree with them more than with Republicans, and if they just repeat their mantras loud enough, voters will eventually embrace the party....Hansen and Mellman are joined by the poster boy of Democratic social promotion, Bob Shrum. Over his 30-year career, Shrum has worked on the campaigns of seven losing presidential candidates--from George McGovern to Bob Kerrey--capping his record with a leading role in the disaster that was the Gore campaign. Yet, instead of abiding by the "seven strikes and you're out" rule, Democrats have continued to pay top dollar for his services.

I've been reading the Monthly for nearly three decades now, and it's because stories like this pop up in virtually every issue. It's great stuff, and it's stuff you won't find anywhere else. You really, really ought to be reading it every month.

So subscribe today. It's only 30 bucks and it just takes a minute. You can subscribe for yourself here. Or order a gift subscription here.

Kevin Drum 3:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PURGE....Why did the Justice Department fire a bunch of U.S. Attorneys recently? Because they were too zealous in prosecuting Republican politicians? Maybe. Because the Bush administration wanted to reward one of Karl Rove's ex-aides? Definitely. Because they were insufficiently gung-ho about indicting Democrats before last year's midterm elections? That's what one of them said today:

David Iglesias said two members of Congress separately called in mid October to inquire about the timing of an ongoing probe of a kickback scheme and appeared eager for an indictment to be issued on the eve of the elections in order to benefit the Republicans. He refused to name the members of Congress because he said he feared retaliation.

....Iglesias, who received a positive performance review before he was fired, said he suspected he was forced out because of his refusal to be pressured to hand down an indictment in the ongoing probe.

"I believe that because I didn't play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign," said Iglesias, who officially stepped down Wednesday.

This scandal started out slowly, but it's really been picking up steam as time goes by. Expect hearings soon.

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

SETTING THE TABLE....This is not exactly the kind of thing one expects to find at The Corner, but Andrew Stuttaford makes an unusually crisp point today about the "all options on the table" crowd:

Speaking more widely, it strikes me as thoroughly perverse that those who like to argue that "nothing" should be off the table when it comes to Iran and Syria find a little diplomatic conversation as something too ghastly to contemplate.

Now, Stuttaford's version of "diplomatic conversation" is pretty typically British (circa the good old days of Empire) and world-weary, but I guess that's excusable since, um, he's British. It's a good point anyway.

Kevin Drum 1:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

WEB ANNOYANCE ALERT....I didn't know this, but Matt informs me that if you doubleclick on a word in a New York Times story, a contextual dictionary pops up to define the word. Handy! But apparently Gen Y doesn't like it. Kriston is pissed:

When I'm reading something on the screen, I click, double-click, drag, and highlight words. Any and all words, whole blocs of text, I don't care....If I want to just nervously click on words, that's what I do.

....Now, the double-clicking that happens accidentally and incidentally when I read the NYT online produces an endless, intolerable string of pop-up windows, each presenting dumb definitions for words I already know -- words like "to" and "seven" and "November". It's enough to make a body read washingtonpost.com.

Kriston's commenters all seem to have the same reaction. But I say: think of the good this might do for the country. For example, say you're a congress critter reading about a cache of bomb components uncovered in Iraq and you come across a statement that the stuff was bound for "armed Shiite groups here." You shake your head: what the hell's a Shiite? Just doubleclick!

smaller of two branches of Islam; defining belief is that succession of Islamic leaders should descend from Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad (Isl.)

And if you really want to go to town, there are two more definitions plus a 500-word mini-encyclopedia entry. It won't help you pass ABC's "Sunni or Shiite?" quiz, but it's a start!

Besides, for real annoyance try reading Outside the Beltway these days. You don't even have to doubleclick: an annoying gigantic box (Powered by Snap!) pops up every time you run your mouse over a link. Ugh.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

PUNCTURING GASBAGS....No trip down the Washington Monthly's memory lane would be complete without a link to "The Bookie of Virtue," Josh Green's story in our June 2003 issue about moralizing conservative windbag William Bennett. Bennett had built a lucrative career based on hectoring others about leading a vice-free life, but there was one particular vice he was oddly silent about: high-stakes gambling. Turns out there was good reason for that:

The Washington Monthly and Newsweek have learned that over the last decade Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where he is a "preferred customer" at several of them, and sources and documents provided to The Washington Monthly put his total losses at more than $8 million.

....Bennett likes to be discreet. "He'll usually call a host and let us know when he's coming," says one source. "We can limo him in. He prefers the high-limit room, where he's less likely to be seen and where he can play the $500-a-pull slots. He usually plays very late at night or early in the morning--usually between midnight and 6 a.m." The documents show that in one two-month period, Bennett wired more than $1.4 million to cover losses. His desire for privacy is evident in his customer profile at one casino, which lists as his residence the address for Empower.org (the Web site of Empower America, the non-profit group Bennett co-chairs). Typed across the form are the words: "NO CONTACT AT RES OR BIZ!!!"

Don't you just love the smell of napalm in the morning? But you know what I'm going to say next, don't you? If you enjoy watching us deflate pompous right-wing gasbags like Bennett, you have to subscribe to the print magazine. You don't want to miss the next puncturing, do you?

So subscribe! Do it today. It's only 30 bucks! You can subscribe for yourself here. Or order a gift subscription here.

Kevin Drum 11:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From transplant surgeon Timothy Pruett, president-elect of the United Network for Organ Sharing:

"We have to guarantee to the public that we're not going to go out and kill people to get their organs."

Yes, that sounds like a reasonable PR goal to me.

(Pruett was responding to a case in which a transplant surgeon in California may have "ordered excessive doses of powerful pain medication to speed the death" of an accident victim. It's under investigation.)

Kevin Drum 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION: NOT THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR PROBLEMS AFTER ALL....Some new data on the immigration front:

A study released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that immigrants who arrived in the state between 1990 and 2004 increased wages for native workers by an average 4%.

UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri, who conducted the study, said the benefits were shared by all native-born workers, from high school dropouts to college graduates....

Another study released Monday by the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center showed that immigrant men ages 18 to 39 had an incarceration rate five times lower than native-born citizens in every ethnic group examined. Among men of Mexican descent, for instance, 0.7% of those foreign-born were incarcerated compared to 5.9% of native-born, according to the study, co-written by UC Irvine sociologist Ruben G. Rumbaut.

So are these studies legit? I can't say for sure, but the objections offered up by the immigration hawks at the Center for Immigration Studies were so transparently lame that it suggests they don't actually have any credible criticisms of the methodology. They just don't like the results. But perhaps they'll be able to come up with something better after they've cogitated on the matter for while.

Kevin Drum 1:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

STATE DEPT. BACKS ACTUAL DIPLOMACY....NEWS AT 11....Direct talks with Syria and Iran are still verboten, but Condoleezza Rice has agreed to attend a regional meeting set up by the Iraqi government:

The first meeting, at the ambassadorial level, will be held next month. Then Rice herself will sit down at the table with the foreign ministers from Damascus and Tehran at a second meeting in April elsewhere in the region, possibly in Istanbul.

....Yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of bilateral discussions between Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts, except to note that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program is already being handled on a separate diplomatic track. "I'm not going to exclude any particular interaction at this point . . . on issues that are important to us, but the focus will be on Iraq," he said.

It's a start.

Kevin Drum 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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February 27, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EFP UPDATE....On Monday the U.S. Army discovered a new cache of components in Iraq for the manufacture of EFPs. So did the stuff come from Iran? Here's what the Los Angeles Times says:

[Maj. Martin Weber] said that technical expertise was required to cut, stamp and mill the copper plates, as well as to arm and trigger the EFPs. Iran has the necessary expertise, he said....Referring to the C-4 explosives, rockets and mortar rounds, Weber said, "You can establish the country of origin, and that is a fact."

But here's the New York Times:

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, "plastic made in Haditha," a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.

Hmmm. Perhaps it's more like this, from the Wall Street Journal:

This find...is forcing U.S. officials to reassess their belief that such bombs were being built in Iran and smuggled fully assembled into Iraq...."We originally thought these came into Iraq already created, and now that intelligence has been totally relooked," said Capt. Clayton Combs, who led the raid. "It's like a playground kit you get in the mail: You can plot the instructions and start putting it together on-site, and that's what we have here."

Put it all together, along with the report last week that Iraqi insurgents already have the ability to manufacture the copper disks that form the core of EFPs themselves, and you end up with....mush. Iraqis are making the disks, various countries are supplying the PVC tubing, Iran may be supplying the explosives, and the final assembly is done locally. And since C-4 is practically like currency in the Middle East, who knows what circuitous route it took before making its way into the hands of Iraqi insurgents?

I dunno. I can be pretty easily convinced that Iran -- or some faction in Iran -- is helping out one or more of the factions in Iraq, but it's going to take more than this. In addition, I'd like to know who this stuff was intended for. It was found in Diyala province, which is a mixed Sunni-Shia battleground at the moment, and none of the published reports provides a hint about which side we think cached these components. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 6:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE K STREET PROJECT....In 2002 and 2003 the Washington press corps finally began taking note of the K Street Project, a Republican plan designed to cement their long-term hold on power. But coverage was sporadic and light. The first serious examination of the project and what it meant came in "Welcome to the Machine," a terrific cover story by Nick Confessore in the July 2003 issue of the Washington Monthly:

Over the last few years, Republicans have brought about a revolutionary change: They've begun to capture and, consequently, discipline K Street....The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP. Through them, Republican leaders can now marshal armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts -- not to mention enormous amounts of money -- to meet the party's goals. Ten years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the political donations of 19 key industry sectors -- including accounting, pharmaceuticals, defense, and commercial banks -- were split about evenly between the parties. Today, the GOP holds a two-to-one advantage in corporate cash.

I can't tell you how many times I read and linked to this piece between the time it was published and the 2006 midterms, when the K Street Project finally crashed and burned. It was a genuinely seminal article explaining how the modern GOP was reshaping politics in its image, and understanding how it worked was also one of the keys to understanding the Republican defeat last year. But you only see stuff like this when it first comes out if you subscribe to the magazine.

So subscribe! The magazine is fun, it's provocative, and it contains great stories like Nick's that you don't see anywhere else. And it's only 30 bucks! And it helps pay my salary! You can subscribe for yourself here. Order a gift subscription here.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

A CONSERVATIVE BROOKINGS....The Pew Charitable Trust plans to forge a "bipartisan" consensus about social mobility in America by bringing together analysts from both liberal and conservative think tanks. Ezra Klein has the right comment:

This bespeaks a certain political naivete on Pew's part. It is certainly true that Brookings and Urban are more liberal than AEI and Heritage, but they are not proportionately liberal. Brookings...is a centrist, establishment think tank, while Urban is just a few ticks to the left of it. AEI and Heritage, conversely, are hard right, movement conservative organizations....A wiser study would have tapped the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress.

I don't know that I'd insult EPI and CAP by putting them in the company of AEI and Heritage, but I'll let Max Sawicky beat up Ezra over that. Instead I have a different question: are there any conservative versions of Brookings? That is, big, well regarded, and centrist conservative in background but still fundamentally dedicated to honest research rather than simply advancing a partisan agenda. Nothing really comes to mind. Ideas?

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

TRYING TOO HARD....Hmmm. John Solomon has another front-page story in the Washington Post today about financial skullduggery by Democrats. Turns out that, um....what? Hillary Clinton is more generous than she admits publicly? The Clintons' staff sometimes makes mistakes? I dunno.

Long story short, the Clintons have a family charitable foundation that they've put $5 million into. Hillary is treasurer and secretary of the foundation (Bill is president, Chelsea is a director), but she failed to disclose this in her Senate ethics filing.

This is pretty meager stuff, but my guess is that the whole thing was an excuse to get in the following lick:

Among the institutions receiving grants [was] a charity connected to the Arkansas businessman who helped Hillary Clinton make $100,000 on a commodities trade that stirred controversy a decade ago, Internal Revenue Service reports show.

....One Arkansas recipient was the Diane Blair Foundation. Diane Blair is the late wife of James Blair, the businessman who helped Hillary Clinton with controversial commodities trades in the late 1970s that netted her about $100,000. There are two foundations in Diane Blair's name. One is a private family charity; the other funds a center for the study of Southern politics at the University of Arkansas.

The Clintons' tax form indicates the money went to the private charity, but James Blair said in an interview yesterday that the Clintons "miscoded" the entry. The check actually went to the university fund, he said.

"She was Hillary's closest friend," Blair said of his wife, who died in June 2000.

Gotcha! "Miscoded" money going to an AU foundation named for the wife of a guy who was associated with one of the endless number of bogus Clinton "scandals" from days past, this particular one dating from 30 years ago. But who cares? Any excuse to revive a Clinton scandal is a good excuse!

Solomon's last front-page scoop (John Edwards sold his house to some guy) was bad enough that even the Post obudsman declared that "It seemed like a 'gotcha' without the gotcha." It was, she said, "more of an item for the Reliable Source or In the Loop -- and not worth Page 1." That seems to be a pretty fair description of Solomon's latest effort too.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

SILENT DICK....From a Newsweek report on Dick Cheney's current travels around the world:

Just after dawn on Tuesday morning, reporters were taken to the mess hall, where Cheney was dining with the troops. "How was breakfast?" a reporter yelled to the VP. "Breakfast was excellent," Cheney replied, in what were his first three words to the press pool traveling with him on the trip, now in its eighth day.

Does he think he gets charged by the word or something? Jeebus.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING DICK....It's hard to remember now, but during the first few years of the Bush administration Dick Cheney was widely viewed as a wise old man, the steady hand at the Bush tiller. As we've been reminded repeatedly in the past few weeks, that conventional wisdom is laughable now -- but if you had been subscribing to the Washington Monthly back in 2002, you would have read Josh Marshall's "Vice Grip" and you would have known just how laughable it was even back then:

Why, though, has the press failed to grasp Cheney's ineptitude? The answer seems to lie in the power of political assumptions....It doesn't take long for a given politician to get pegged with his or her own brief story line. And those facts and stories that get attention tend to be those that conform to the established narrative. In much the same way, Cheney's reputation as the steady hand at the helm of the Bush administration -- the CEO to Bush's chairman -- is so potent as to blind Beltway commentators to the examples of vice presidential incompetence accumulating, literally, under their noses. Though far less egregious, Cheney's bad judgment is akin to Trent Lott's ugly history on race: Everyone sort of knew it was there, only no one ever really took notice until it was pointed out in a way that was difficult to ignore. Cheney is lucky; as vice president, he can't be fired. But his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.

Josh has since gone on to build a blog empire over at TPM Cafe, but you can still read this kind of reporting ten times a year in the Washington Monthly. So subscribe and stay ahead of the curve! The stuff we publish today won't be in the New York Times until next year.

And it's only 30 bucks. It helps support the cause of good liberal journalism and it helps keep this blog in business too. You can subscribe for yourself here. Order a gift subscription here.

Kevin Drum 1:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING WATCH....More good news on the global warming front:

Seeking to shape legislation before Congress, three major energy trade associations have shifted their stances and decided to back mandatory federal curbs on carbon dioxide and other man-made emissions that could accelerate climate change.

Or is it?

The groups say they now plan to use their lobbying clout to stake out positions that favor modest, economy-wide regulations, in hopes of minimizing anticipated energy-price increases and pre-empting state efforts that could result in a patchwork of differing state and regional regulations.

....Institute chairman James E. Rogers described the lengthy, closed meeting as "crossing a bridge" for members of the group, which previously supported only voluntary reductions. He added that his group wants a "safety valve" that would require the government to intervene as needed to keep the price of credits stable and low.

For now, call it a wash. From a public opinion standpoint, it's good news to see even industry groups acknowledging the need for carbon caps of some kind. From a substantive standpoint, however, this is mostly just tacking with the wind. With a Democratic Congress in power, a flat opposition to carbon caps would have left them completely sidelined. Today's announcement, they figure, at least gets them a place "at the table," and that place will be used to lobby for the weakest possible national standards. And, of course, preemption of tougher state standards.

But at least it's a start.

Kevin Drum 1:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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February 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BAD TEACHERS, CONT'D....I'm still sort of agnostic on the whole issue of teacher firing (see here), but Mark Kleiman points out today that down in the anti-union South we can run a natural experiment on whether the ability to easily fire teachers is a good thing:

Ignore the rhetoric for the moment and concentrate on the fact: The tyranny of the teachers' unions is not universal! There are places where it's as easy for a principal to fire a bad teacher (or, of course, a good one) as it is for a Wal-Mart manager to dump a union organizer.

No coddling teachers: that must be the reason the South leads the country in educational attainment, and in particular why Georgia's students so outperform students from union-ridden Massachusetts and New York.

In an update, he also delivers the peculiar news that although the South provides the raw material for a study of whether unionization affects school performance, apparently such a study has never been done. "That seems odd," he says, and I'm not sure I can add anything to that.

Kevin Drum 9:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

INTEMPERATE LANGUAGE WATCH....Steve Benen comments on the Edwards blogger kerfuffle of a couple of weeks ago:

A Democratic candidate hired a couple of fairly low-level staffers who'd written some intemperate blog posts about religious fundamentalists, and outrage was everywhere for a week. A Republican presidential candidate gives a high-level position to a man who once publicly announced his belief that Buddhists and Muslims should be "screwed" and "killed," and it's barely noticed.

Now, it's true that the Republican presidential candidate in question was D-lister Duncan Hunter. But still. Read the whole thing if you're wondering if Steve took those two words out of context. (Hint: he didn't.) As he says, "it's further evidence that there's literally nothing a conservative can say that will get him or her shunned by the GOP establishment."

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S SUBSCRIPTION WEEK!....Yep, it's that time of year again. In the past I've always struggled to figure out how to convince more of you to subscribe to the print magazine, so this time I'm going to take the direct route: the reason you should subscribe is because we break a lot of stories before they hit other people's radar screens. If you read them, you'll be ahead of the curve and probably a hit at cocktail parties as well. Here's the kind of thing I'm talking about:

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

The "working group" in question was the Baker-Hamilton group, and it was the subject of "A Higher Power," a piece that Bob Dreyfuss wrote for us back in the summer of 2006. At the time it had gotten a couple of brief mentions in the back pages of the Washington Post and that was about it. But if you had subscribed to the Monthly you would have known all about it months before it became the topic ju jour in the blogosphere.

So subscribe! It's only 30 bucks. It helps support the cause of good liberal journalism and it helps keep this blog in business too. You can subscribe for yourself here. Order a gift subscription here. In fact, order two: one for a liberal friend who will appreciate it, and one for a conservative friend just to drive him crazy.

Kevin Drum 12:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF COAL?....A private equity group that's purchasing TXU Corporation, a Texas utility firm, has agreed to drop plans to build 8 of its 11 proposed new coal plants. It's part of a broad array of environmental measures they've agreed to in order to smooth the way for the deal to go through:

The roster of commitments came through an unusual process in which the equity firms asked two prominent environmental groups what measures could be taken to win their support....Environmentalists said they hoped that the TXU deal would represent a turning point in the attitude of energy businesses as they adjust to what many anticipate will be a new regulatory and public-relations landscape in an era of climate change.

Over at Grist, David Roberts is ecstatic: "The 'tipping point' concept is cheap from overuse these days, but to me this is the clearest sign yet that we have entered a fundamentally new stage in the fight against global warming." He also can't resist throwing a few intramural punches:

Who did the equity firms approach about making the project environmentally acceptable? NRDC and Environmental Defense. Green groups like these get grief from hardcore enviros because they work closely with business and favor market-based solutions. They get grief from the Reaper crowd because they're stodgy and technocratic and not hip to the new Apollo Alliance-style "framing." But who's making things happen?

This is good news. Still, I'm going to wait a bit and see what kind of plans TXU proposes to make up for those eight aborted coal plants. Let's hope the alternatives are as green as we'd like them to be.

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

SMOKE-FILLED ROOMS....As I've mentioned before, California is on the verge of moving its presidential primary date to February 5. But it turns out there's more than presidential politics involved in the move. We're also going to have a pair of initiatives on the primary ballot: one that allows an independent commission to draw legislative districts and one that extends the length of term limits from 6 years to 12. Scott Schmidt explains the timing:

If you wonder why these measures cannot be on the regular June 2008 ballot, you're missing the point of the whole early primary exercise. The deadline to file for office for the June election falls in March. Sitting incumbents whose terms are scheduled to end in 2008, like [Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez], need a ballot measure approved and certified before that March deadline. Thus, we get an early presidential primary with a ballot initiative attached.

....But the redistricting measure under discussion wouldn't go into effect until the first election cycle after the next census, which is, coincidentally, four years after the November 2008 election.

Essentially, California would have no real elections over the next four years, because we would have the same people running in the same districts where there is no competition.

Clever! But I have to say that this doesn't bother me all that much. Offering longer term limits in exchange for redistricting reform has pretty much always been the deal on the table, so this is hardly unexpected. In fact, allowing it to apply to current officeholders, with only a few weeks to spare, might give it just the sense of urgency needed to actually get it passed.

And what if it doesn't pass? Sure, the old doofuses will get termed out, but we'll just end up with new doofuses in the same old noncompetitive districts. Frankly, four more years of the old doofuses doesn't really seem like all that big a price to pay in the grand scheme of things if we get a decent anti-gerrymandering bill in return. And I'm in favor of the longer term limits anyway.

Still, you have to admire the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Kevin Drum 11:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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February 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY....Over at the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh says the Bush administration is honing its plans to attack Iran. Meanwhile, the London Times reports that if Bush actually goes through with an attack, "up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack."

I have a limited interest in both stories. Contingency plans are a dime a dozen, and breathless British press reports are about a dime a thousand. I hope the Times is right, but I'm not holding my breath.

In any case, Hersh's story has far more of interest than its throwaway lines about military planning. The gist of his piece is that the Bush administration has essentially decided to redirect its attention away from radical Sunni jihadists -- i.e., the folks who attacked us on 9/11 -- and instead take sides in the brewing Sunni-Shiite civil war in the Middle East. In fact, he says we've pretty much decided to throw in our lot with the Saudis and buddy up with the al-Qaeda wannabes:

This time, [a] U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that "they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was 'We've created this movement, and we can control it.' It's not that we don't want the Salafis to throw bombs; it's who they throw them at -- Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."

....During a conversation with me, [a] former Saudi diplomat...objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon. "Salafis are sick and hateful, and I'm very much against the idea of flirting with them," he said. "They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly."

....In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. "We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here," he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a "theatre of conflict."

Is this true? Who knows, since the sources mostly seem to be Hersh's usual anonymous cast of ex-spies, ex-consultants, and ex-diplomats. But the story is plausible. Having never really believed in the threat of non-state terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the first place, the Bush administration may now have come full circle from 9/11, tacitly teaming up with Sunni jihadists in the hope that they'll help us take out the state-based terrorist threat of Iran -- after which, presumably, the jihadis will all go home to watch TV and raise their families. Just like they did after the Afghanistan war.

Lovely, no? And one more thing: Hersh says the covert side of this plan is being run by the vice president's office. Which means, of course, that it will be handled with the same finesse in international relationships and grounding in reality that Dick Cheney is famous for.

Read the whole thing for more. And buckle your seat belts.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE EXCEPTION THAT PROVES THE RULE....A reader takes Andrew Sullivan to task today for using the expression "the exception that proves the rule." As this link explains, there are at least two possible ways in which modern day usage has corrupted the original meaning of the phrase:

It has often been suggested in reference works that prove here is really being used in the sense of "test" (as it does in terms like "proving ground")....It is said that the real idea behind the saying is that the presence of what looks like an exception tests whether a rule is really valid or not.

....[But] it's not a false sense of proof that causes the problem, but exception....The true origin of the phrase lies in a medieval Latin legal principle: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, which may be translated as "the exception confirms the rule in the cases not excepted"....A sign on a museum door which says "Entry free today" leads to the implication that entry is not free on other days.

This is good stuff for us pedant types. I've always bought into the "proving ground" explanation myself, but the second explanation really does sound more plausible. This is the first time I've heard it.

But here's a question: how did the phrase get corrupted in the first place? I think it must satisfy a deep human desire to avoid admitting error. After all, its current usage is so obviously absurd (an exception to a rule proves the rule is true?) that it wouldn't manage to stick around unless it satisfied some highly desirable rhetorical market niche. And it does: even in the face of indisputable evidence of error ("Actually, George Bush was shorter than John Kerry and he won anyway") it provides a snappy comeback ("He's the exception that proves the rule!") that leaves your average know-it-all windbag gasping ("Huh?"). Victory is yours! Nonsensical or not, that makes it a pretty handy handy phrase to have around, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

THEN AND NOW....February 2003:

While diplomatic maneuvering continues over Turkish bases and a new United Nations resolution, inside Iraq, U.N. arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of U.S. intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases....So frustrated have the inspectors become that one source has referred to the U.S. intelligence they've been getting as "garbage after garbage after garbage."

February 2007:

Diplomats [in Vienna] say most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran...."Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong," a senior diplomat at the IAEA said. Another official here described the agency's intelligence stream as "very cold now" because "so little panned out."

Noted without comment.

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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February 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MATTER vs. ANTI-MATTER....Presidential polls taken this far ahead of the primaries don't mean anything. Unlike most people I actually take that seriously, and so far I've put my money where my mouth is by refusing to blog about them. Still, it's faintly unnerving to see just how far ahead of the field Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are right now.

That would be a hell of a campaign, wouldn't it? Two New Yorkers, playing out the unfinished grudge match of their 2000 Senate race. A mayor vs. a senator. The first major party female candidate in history. And just possibly the two toughest, most polarizing, most single-mindedly ambitious politicians on the national stage today. I hope we all survive.

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By: Kevin Drum

KIDS' BOOKS....For some reason the subject of kids' book series popped into my head the other day. Which ones did you read?

In our family, we started reading with the Oz books. We owned a complete set. My mother read them aloud to us at first, but let us kids (in turn) choose which title to read. (Mom preferred the earlier volumes, which were truer to the spirit of the first book, but soldiered on manfully even when we kids got hooked on the later installments, which got increasingly outre and science fictiony. Not exactly Jack Pumpkinhead in space, or anything, but you get the idea.) Later, when we learned to read ourselves, we were allowed to read the books on our own, but only in the presence of a parent. The books were too fragile to be allowed out of sight of an adult.

Next up was the Happy Hollisters. Our local library had a complete set, and when I was a kid (in the mid-60s) I always wondered if they had been written by the basketball player. (Answer: No, and even as a child I sort of figured that a famous Laker was unlikely to be writing children's books in the offseason. Sharp thinking, no?)

Next up was Tom Swift. Or, more accurately, Tom Swift Jr. The titles of the books alone are worth the price of admission. Later I discovered that we owned a few of the original Tom Swift books from my father's childhood, but they proved disappointing. A floating airport? Please. If there were no atomic ray guns, I wasn't interested.

And then there was Brains Benton, the red-headed scientific sleuth of Crestwood. Sadly, there were only six books in this series, but I got them all. I'm not sure where they are now, but I think they finished their career in my mother's fourth grade classroom. An honorable and worthy retirement home.

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By: Kevin Drum

APOLOGIES....This story here is being taken as evidence of the take-no-prisoners zealotry of the gun rights movement, and I suppose it is. But it's evidence of something else too: the utter futility of the apology in modern day America.

The guy in question, Jim Zumbo, has been a gun advocate for decades. Last week he wrote a single ill-considered blog post, and after a flurry of complaints he followed it up 36 hours later with the most abject apology imaginable. His blog has since been taken down, but trust me on this: he told his readers that it had been late and he was tired; that he had written in ignorance; that what he said was stupid; that he apologized; and that he was going to make an effort to learn more about the subject in question (AR platforms for hunting). He practically got down on his knees and begged forgiveness.

As usual these days, it did no good. The slavering hordes were unappeased and he's now out of a job, has lost his sponsorships and his TV show, and might as well move to a desert island to live out the rest of his years now. He's a pariah.

There are, obviously, some apologies that are meaningless and shouldn't be accepted. But this wasn't one of them. Zumbo was plainly sincere and was plainly apologizing for a hastily written remark that didn't reflect his long history of gun advocacy. All it did was make his critics madder. The moral of this story is: don't ever bother apologizing. It won't do you any good.

I have a feeling Hillary is well aware of this.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (188)

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February 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PATENT ABUSE....You may or may not be aware of this, but pretty much everything in the high-tech world is patented. If you watch a movie on cable TV, for example, it's delivered in a format called MPEG-2, a standard that's composed of over 600 different patented technologies from 20 different companies. If you want to build a device that uses MPEG-2, you have to pay a licensing fee to the MPEG Licensing Authority, which controls the patent pool for MPEG-2.

That makes MPEG LA a pretty handy organization to have around. After all, who wants to diddle around trying to locate every single relevant patent and negotiating terms with every single patent holder? And what if you screw up your patent search? That's what happened with the GIF image format, which everyone thought was in the public domain until 1994, when Unisys suddenly announced that it contained patented Unisys technology. Chaos ensued.

So how about MP3, the ubiquitous music encoding standard? Who holds the patents on that? Answer: the MP3 standard was developed in the early 90s and the patent pool was originally controlled by Fraunhofer IIS. Microsoft paid Fraunhofer $16 million for the right to use MP3 in its Windows Media Player and hundreds of other companies have done the same over the past decade. During that time, everyone in the world assumed that Fraunhofer was the legitimate patent holder.

Until now. In 2003 Alcatel-Lucent suddenly announced that they owned some of the underlying patents on MP3, and on Thursday a jury decided they were right. The result was a $1.52 billion patent infringement verdict against Microsoft. And just in case you hate Microsoft enough to cheer for this, allow Rob Pegoraro to set you straight. As he says, "Alcatel-Lucent's patent payday has all the things that patent-abuse critics hate":

  • "Submarine" patents, invoked years after a contested invention has hit the market? Check

  • Claiming ownership of a media format most people use all the time? Check

  • A plaintiff that's failed to commercialize its own alleged invention? Check

  • Extortionate royalty demands? Check

The prospect of charging Microsoft $1.52 billion for the use of two minor patents over the course of 30 months (mid-2003 through 2005) is further evidence that the abuse of software patents has become nearly pathological in recent years. And it's not just software. More here on the wider breakdown of the patent system in the United States.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW NEW REPUBLIC....The New Republic has been sold to a Canadian media company and plans to re-launch itself as a "thicker, glossier" magazine with a more robust website. It's also going to become a biweekly. And there's this:

"We've become more liberal," Foer said, pointing out that he used his first issue to embrace universal healthcare and "retract" a famous 1994 piece that helped bring down Bill Clinton's 1994 heathcare reform plan.

....Under Foer, the magazine has also cut its remaining editorial support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The magazine's editorial voice supported the invasion at the time, though some writers dissented, and in the summer of 2004, the New Republic published a famous cover package of essays under the heading "Were We Wrong?"

"The question mark is gone," Foer said.

And Marty Peretz? Still editor-in-chief, at least for now. But we can hope.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY DOG BLOGGING....As promised earlier this week, today is equal opportunity pet blogging day. The fine looking critter below is Mischa, my brother's new dog. Mischa is a 9-week-old applehead teacup chihuahua.

On the left, Mischa is checking out Gabbro, my brother's cat. I'm told that moments after this picture was taken Gabbro headed for the hills. On the right is Mischa on a visit to our house a couple of days ago. As you can see, Inkblot is on the landing in the background looking on suspiciously. Mischa was a little too hyperactive for our cats, who kept a safe distance the whole time.

Speaking of cats, everyone is doing fine around here. Domino has finally figured out that jumping up on my desk while I'm blogging is a reliable way of getting some attention. That's fine, but unfortunately she has a tendency to scratch herself on the corner of the keyboard, which is where the sleep button sits. One wrong move and my computer is locked. This is not a problem except that even after I revive the machine the internet connection remains dead. So far, I haven't been able to figure out how to revive the internet connection except by rebooting the PC. Stupid cat.

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By: Kevin Drum

BAD TEACHERS....Over at bloggingheads.tv, Mickey Kaus and my boss are talking about whether it should be easier to fire bad teachers. Naturally this turns into an argument about union busting (Mickey's all for it) vs. figuring out a way to work with unions on this (Paul's position).

Unfortunately, the conversation never really got to the key issue (though it cropped up momentarily): how do you decide who the bad teachers are? My background is all private sector, and it's certainly true that private sector managers have a lot more freedom than public school principals when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. I couldn't fire someone just because I felt like it, but neither did I have to produce reams of documented evidence of highly specific transgressions. If someone wasn't working out, all it took was a written warning and some counseling to try to get them on track. If that didn't work, they were out.

Needless to say, this can be unfair -- as I'm sure some of the people I fired would agree. But the key thing that made it workable is that everyone who worked for me actually worked for me. There may not have been any numerical measures of how they were doing, but they did write reports, solve problems, work with customers, launch new products, put on trade shows, and so forth. These were all concrete work products that could be evaluated on a regular basis. My individual judgment -- like any school principal's -- might be suspect, of course, but at least I had plenty of up-close-and-personal interaction on which to base my judgment.

This is the part I've never figured out when it comes to teachers. I suppose principals can visit classrooms occasionally to observe teachers, but that's sporadic and inconclusive. There are test scores, but those are problematic even on a long-term basis, let alone as the evidence for a short-term work evaluation. What else is there? Parent complaints? Peer review? It's pretty thin stuff. The fact is that principals simply aren't in close contact with their teachers on a regular basis.

But I'm curious to hear comments about this. Is this wrong? Do principals know more than I'm giving them credit for? Are there reasonable metrics for judging performance even without the advantage of daily supervision and concrete work products? Bottom line: if bad teachers really are a big problem, how do we identify them? How do we decide who the bad teachers are?

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By: Kevin Drum

BEINART ON IRAQ....Peter Beinart on why he supported the Iraq war:

I was willing to gamble, too -- partly, I suppose, because, in the era of the all-volunteer military, I wasn't gambling with my own life. And partly because I didn't think I was gambling many of my countrymen's. I had come of age in that surreal period between Panama and Afghanistan, when the United States won wars easily and those wars benefited the people on whose soil they were fought. It's a truism that American intellectuals have long been seduced by revolution. In the 1930s, some grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, some felt the same way about Cuba. In the 1990s, I grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the United States.

And why he changed his mind:

We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That's why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force -- because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own. And it's why liberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time.

That's not to say the United States can never intervene to stop aggression or genocide....But it does mean that, when our fellow democracies largely oppose a war -- as they did in Vietnam and Iraq -- because they think we're deluding ourselves about either our capacities or our motives, they're probably right. Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United States has no monopoly on insight or righteousness.

Whatever else one might think of Beinart, he's looking at the disaster in Iraq with clear eyes and thinking seriously about how it should change his worldview. That's something that an awful lot of war supporters continue to refuse to do. It's as if Iraq holds no lessons for them at all.

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By: Kevin Drum

THIRD RAIL....Wow. Make a proposal to re-index Social Security to prices instead of wages one day, withdraw your candidacy the next day. I guess it really is the third rail everyone says it is.....

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By: Zachary Roth

WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST...Ever wanted to see Washington Monthly editor in chief Paul Glastris covering just about everything from the Surge to Obama to the Libby trial to campaign-finance reform, with Slate's Mickey Kaus? Well, thanks to Bloggingheads TV, here's your chance. Check it out.

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By: Kevin Drum

NO TALKS....Via Josh, Haaretz reports that Condoleezza Rice has told the Israelis to keep Syria in the deep freeze:

When Israeli officials asked Secretary Rice about the possibility of exploring the seriousness of Syria in its calls for peace talks, her response was unequivocal: Don't even think about it.

....Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far adopted the strict American position not to respond to the Syrian feelers.

On the other hand, at the Foreign Ministry and within the defense establishment, there is a greater degree of openness to the offers, and the overall view is that the door should not be closed entirely to the Syrians. Similarly, many believe that the Syrian offers should be tested for their sincerity.

Nope. Can't have that. Apparently the Bush administration view is not that making concessions would be too big a reward for Syria's bad behavior. It's not even that talks would be too big a reward. Nor is it that talks with the Israelis -- no Americans involved! -- would be too big a reward. No, the American position is that even exploratory talks would be a bridge too far. Stick that in your hookah and smoke it.

However, in more positive news, Haaretz also reports that 10,000 tons of apples will be delivered to Syria from the Golan Heights. What this has to do with the rest of the story I couldn't tell you.

Kevin Drum 1:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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February 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

HATING US FOR OUR FREEDOMS....Over at Tapped, Janna Goodrich points out the following quote from Glenn Beck:

More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.

The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We're a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is off the charts.

Now, obviously, as Janna points out, this argument is appealing to conservatives because it's a way of condemning social liberalism. It's an unusually loathsome way of condemning social liberalism, but hey. Strange bedfellows and all that.

However, there's another reason that this argument has generated a certain amount of conservative appeal lately: it perpetuates the trope that "they hate us for our freedoms." And if they hate us for our freedoms, guess what? It means they don't hate us for our actions. And that means there's no need for us to change anything we're actually doing in the Middle East.

And that's a pretty comforting thought for conservatives, isn't it?

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By: Kevin Drum

WIMBLEDON COMES TO ITS SENSES....This is hardly the most important news on the equality front, but the All-England Club has finally reversed its increasingly absurd insistence on paying women less than men at the Wimbledon tennis tournament. In recent years the difference had become purely symbolic (a paltry $53,000 in the final round last year), a fact that made the unequal treatment little more than an extended middle finger unmotivated by any actual concern over operating expenses or audience size. Good for them for finally joining the 20th (sic) century.

Now about those grass courts.....

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BRITISH IN IRAQ....So why are the British pulling troops out of Iraq? Here's what the LA Times says:

The British military is approaching "operational failure," former defense staff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week.

"Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensive counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there's been a realization that there has to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan," said Clive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Leeds, who has closely followed Britain's Iraq deployment.

"It's either that, or you risk in some ways losing both," he said. "It's the classic case of 'Let's declare victory and get out.' "

This fits pretty well with several stories from last year that claimed there was a big push from both the Ministry of Defense and the Army Chief of Staff to get out of Iraq and put more troops in Afghanistan. They didn't win the bureaucratic battle back then, but apparently they won the war.

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By: Kevin Drum

SOCIAL SECURITY....At the Democratic debate yesterday, Tom Vilsack proposed a slow reduction in future Social Security benefits by switching from wage indexing to price indexing. Scott Lemieux is scratching his chin over this:

What puzzles me about Tom Vilsack's decision to end his campaign yesterday by endorsing price indexing for Social Security is what makes him think it would work....I don't have a strong idea of what would appeal to Middle America....But I do understand at least one thing: running to the right on an extremely popular entitlement program in a Democratic primary is remarkably stupid.

I'll hazard a guess here: Vilsack proposed this because he believes it's a good idea. It's worth remembering that Vilsack is a former DLC chair and his politics are fundamentally DLC centrist on domestic issues. And it's further worth remembering that reducing future benefits is the kind of compromise position that DLC types have been proposing for years. Here's a Will Marshall piece from 1999, back when Bill Clinton was proposing a Social Security overhaul:

Congress should embrace a gradual increase in the retirement age to 70 by 2030....Less dramatic but still important ways to close the funding gap include bringing state and local employees into the system and adjusting the Consumer Price Index downward.

Adjusting the CPI downward is in the same ballpark as changing the indexing scheme, and until recently proposals like this were pretty standard fare from centrist Social Security wonks. In fact, they still are in some quarters. If I had to guess, I'd say that Vilsack has long believed this is a good idea, and hasn't quite figured out that the ground shifted after the 2005 Social Security debacle and this stuff no longer flies. Betcha he figures it out now, though.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALKING TO IRAN....Here is Christiane Amanpour's latest from Iran:

As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other. ''Natural allies,'' this official said.

....He insisted he was describing the thinking at the highest levels of the religious leadership -- the center of decision-making power in Iran. I asked whether he meant Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. "Yes," he said.

...."Each of us is afraid of looking weak if we take the first step," he said. "We have this fear in common with America. Before contemplating recognition, each side feels it necessary to convince the other side that 'I am not weak.'"

Look: Iran is not some wayward child with a heart of gold that can be made into our bosom buddy by sitting down and swapping a few stories. It's a harsh, illiberal theocracy that's been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades. But the weird thing is that this senior official is right: there really aren't any fundamental geopolitical reasons that Iran and the United States need to be enemies. Iran isn't territorial, they're happy to sell their oil to the highest bidder, and they really do hate al-Qaeda.

1979 was a long time ago, and in the past few years Iran has made overture after overture toward us. Some of those overtures have been kind of weird; they've been interspersed with plenty of hostile rhetoric; and they don't always follow up on them. But they keep making them, and no country does that unless they really are looking for a rapprochement of some kind. What's more, Iran did cooperate pretty significantly with us immediately after 9/11. That's pretty concrete evidence that there's at least a chance of working out some kind of acceptable modus vivendi with them.

I know, I know. There's still Israel. And obviously I don't have any magical solution to that. But even there, there might be a deal to be struck. Not an easy one, or a quick one, but something. But we'll never know unless we actually make a serious effort.

Seems worth it to me. The Soviet Union turned from implacable enemy to semi-friend in a remarkably short time, and that conflict was far longer lasting and more deeply rooted than our conflict with Iran. And remember: Ronald Reagan ensured his legacy by cutting a deal with the Soviets during his final two years in office. Maybe Bush should try to do the same.

Kevin Drum 12:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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February 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE BRITISH PULLOUT....Here's the announcement from Tony Blair about British troop withdrawals from Iraq:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months....Remaining troops will stay into 2008, to give back-up if necessary and secure borders, but the Iraqis would "write the next chapter" in Basra's history.

...."The UK military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we are wanted and have a job to do. "Increasingly our role will support and training, and our numbers will be able to reduce accordingly," Mr Blair said.

This is a little firmer than I expected, though certainly short of a concrete timetable for complete withdrawal. However, as someone said this morning (I can't remember who), one reason to think the withdrawal might actually be fairly speedy is that Gordon Brown will be taking over as prime minister soon, and he's keen to get British troops out of Iraq before the Labor Party implodes completely. In any case, count Juan Cole among those who are unimpressed with the happy talk surrounding Blair's announcement:

This is a rout, there should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq's South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn't protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

Blair is not leaving Basra because the British mission has been accomplished. He is leaving because he has concluded that it cannot be, and that if he tries any further it will completely sink the Labor Party, perhaps for decades to come.

I don't know about "decades," but it's sure not doing them any good right now. The latest polls have them in the doghouse.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEXT ATTACK....The insurgency seems to have found a new way of killing people in Iraq: a bomb on board a tanker carrying chlorine exploded outside a restaurant today, killing six people and injuring dozens of others. As Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank suggested earlier (see post below), Iraq is proving to be an excellent training ground for jihadists eager to hone their skills.

But it could have been worse. It could have been an attack on a chemical plant, with the potential to cause casualties on the level of Bhopal or worse. Or, as Stephen Flynn reports in our current issue, an attack on an oil refinery, like Sunoco's facility in densely populated Philadelphia, which might kill tens of thousands even in a crude attack by suicide bombers:

Readers may be surprised to learn that an oil refinery can pose such a huge threat; terrorists, rest assured, are not. Al-Qaeda has been acquiring experience in these kinds of attacks in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sharing the details of constructing improvised explosive devices in Internet chat rooms. All the information on the dangers of hydrofluoric acid and the vulnerability of the Sunoco facility can be found in publicly available reports that are accessible with the click of a mouse. And there are dozens of other similar plants near urban areas -- from refineries to chemical factories to water-treatment facilities -- where, to this day, in a worst-case scenario, hundreds of thousands of Americans could be killed or injured.

I suspect this is a story that no longer gets much attention because everyone is just tired of it. Too wonky. But either the threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is serious or it's not. If it's not, let's say so and cut out the color coded nonsense. But if it is, how is it that the Republican Party has gotten away with ignoring the whole thing merely because they have an ideological aversion to regulating industry?

Because it really doesn't boil down to much more than that. Dick Cheney's son-in-law may have been the point man for this stuff, but it's not as if he had a tough fight on his hands. The entire adminstration and the entire Republican Party was on his side:

Because 85 percent of the critical infrastructure within the United States is privately owned, federal efforts to advance homeland security would have clashed with the conservative belief that Washington should avoid regulating industry. In July 2002, the White House made this thinking official doctrine when it quietly released The National Strategy for Homeland Security. The policy paper establishes that "the government should only address those activities that the market does not adequately provide -- for example, national defense and border security." However, as a rule, the government found, "sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection. In these cases we should rely on the private sector."

The whole thing is really beyond belief. Maybe that's why it doesn't get a lot of attention any more. But as Flynn points out, it's hardly an insurmountable problem: there are a finite number of truly likely targets; the technology exists to make them substantially safer in case of a successful terrorist attack; and the cost would probably be in the range of a few billion dollars. Not chickenfeed, but a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the Iraq war.

But we're not doing anything about it. In fact, the latest proposal from the White House even goes so far as to prevent states from enacting their own laws. Apparently we're willing to bear any burden and pay any price....as long as that doesn't include writing a few regulations for the chemical industry. That's beyond the pale. It's the true-believer monomania of movement conservatism at its finest.

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By: Kevin Drum

MUDSLINGING....I suppose the intensely personal nature of today's back-and-forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (here and here) isn't that big a deal. Happens all the time in presidential contests. Still, the fact that it's happening in February is yet another good reason to wring our hands over the steadily lengthening campaign season. It's one thing for campaigns to descend into mudslinging for a couple of hectic final months during the actual primaries, but it's another for the mudslinging to last for over a year. At the least, it makes it a lot harder to kiss and make up at the convention. By September these people are going to hate each other's guts.

I might add that it's made all the worse by the new conventional wisdom that the only proper response to any attack is an instant and vicious counterattack. This is going to get very old very fast.

Kevin Drum 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLYPAPER WATCH....So how's the Iraq war doing at keeping terrorists tied down so they can't make trouble elsewhere? According to a study sponsored by Mother Jones, not so well:

Our study yields one resounding finding: The rate of fatal terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups, and the number of people killed in those attacks, increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq....Even excluding Iraq and Afghanistan...there has been a 35 percent rise in the number of attacks, with a 12 percent rise in fatalities.

Contrary to Bush's assertion, jihadists have not let the Iraq War distract them from targeting the United States and its allies. The rate of attacks on Western interests and citizens has risen by almost 25 percent, while the yearly fatality rate has increased by 4 percent.

Of course, there are terrorists in Iraq too, and if you add in jihadist attacks there the numbers look even worse. What's more, those terrorists are getting an excellent education:

The globalization of jihad and martyrdom has disquieting implications for American security in the future. Jihadists are already leaving Iraq to operate elsewhere, a "blowback" trend that will greatly increase when the war eventually winds down. Terrorist groups in Iraq, which have learned to raise millions through kidnapping and oil theft, may be in a position to help fund their jihadist brethren elsewhere. Finally, Iraq has increased the popularity of a hardcore takfiri ideology so intolerant that, unlikely as it seems, it makes Osama bin Laden appear relatively moderate.

Wonderful. I can hardly wait.

MoJo also has a nice Iraq 101 feature this month. Check it out if you're still not quite sure about the difference between Sunni and Shiite.

Kevin Drum 12:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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February 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

SMOG....This is of no interest to anyone outside California, and probably not even of interest to very many people in California, but I got my car smog checked yesterday (it was the first time, since you don't have to do it for the first six years) and I was amazed at the results:

My car is actually something of a gas guzzler, and I assume the smog equipment is just standard stuff. But it didn't register above 2% of the legal maximum in any of the tests. 2%! Am I the only one who didn't know that modern smog equipment is that good?

Kevin Drum 8:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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By: Kevin Drum

BRITISH TROOPS....Hmmm. CNN's headline says "UK to begin Iraq pullout," but here's what the Guardian says:

The reduction of just 1,000 by early summer cited by officials yesterday is significantly less than anticipated in reports that British troops in southern Iraq, presently totalling 7,200, would be cut by half by May.

A more cautious reduction may reflect concern expressed by the Iraqi and US governments about British intentions.

If the Guardian is right, the real story here isn't that Britain is withdrawing from Iraq, but that they're actually planning to stay longer than previously planned. That seems like a pretty important qualifier.

Now, if Tony Blair announces in tomorrow's speech a firm deadline of 2008 for withdrawing the rest of Britain's troops, as the Guardian also reports, that will be news. But I betcha he does nothing of the sort. It'll be "if conditions allow," just like it's always been.

Kevin Drum 8:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEROIC DOGS, PART ONE MILLION AND ONE....Jeez, are we going to have to put up with this every single time some dog performs an act of selfless heroism? Sheesh.

On the other hand, let me just say this: dogs may be selflessly heroic, but cats give better advice. Does anyone doubt for a second that if they had bothered to ask, a cat would have told those Mt. Hood climbers to relax, take a nap, and wait for a sunnier day?

On the third hand, that's a mighty fine looking mutt Tom has. Credit where it's due. And just to show there are no hard feelings, I might even have some dogblogging of my own this Friday. Aren't you all atingle with excitement?

Kevin Drum 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLYSWATTERS....Back in the pre-9/11 era, when al-Qaeda first seriously emerged on our military radar screens, our options were limited. Pinpoint covert strikes on their camps in Afghanistan (George Bush's "flyswatters") were unlikely to work, but at the same time a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan had no hope of gaining public support without the casus belli of a serious attack. Today, with the news that al-Qaeda has largely regrouped and is working unmolested out of Pakistan, Spencer Ackerman suggests we're right back where we started:

After the invasion of Afghanistan, we find ourselves in a comparable situation to the unhappy 1998-2001 era. Invading Pakistan isn't politically tenable, nor, quite possibly, militarily sustainable beyond a few months. Indeed, Pakistan has opted to return to its pre-9/11 strategy of brokering truces with tribal leaders in Waziristan instead of harassing them militarily. If anything is to be done, it's to be done with a flyswatter -- something likely to remain obscured if al-Qaeda Prime pulls off another attack and an American political consensus demands an invasion of, say, Syria or Iran in its anger.

Noted without any particular comment. Just food for thought.

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SURGE....Mickey Kaus thinks the war in Iraq has obviously turned out badly but that the surge just might work:

The correct position, by these lights, was War No, Surge Yes. It would be selfishly callous, in a stereotypically American way, for us to invade Iraq, make a mess, and then not be willing to pay any extra price to help fix the mess we've made.

....Yet through a conscientiously applied mixture of high-minded comity, Machiavellian calculation, stubbornness and bad expert advice, Hillary has managed to arrive at a position that's precisely wrong on both counts: War Yes, Surge No.

This only makes sense if you conclude, after reading a single report from Mickey's favorite Iraqi blogger, that the surge might work. But what if you read more broadly than that and conclude otherwise? Then Hillary's opposition to the surge makes perfect sense. At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, it's just barely possible that her position is based on her evaluation of facts on the ground, not Machiavellian calculation, stubbornness and bad expert advice. You never know!

There's a broader point worth making here too. A consistent mistake made by a fair number of partisans on both sides -- Andrew Sullivan is the archetype here -- is to make way too much out of individual day-to-day incidents. Occasionally this is legitimate (the Golden Mosque bombing, for example), but usually it's just simpleminded emotionalism. Purple thumbs: whee, democracy is coming! Helicopter crash: boo, Iraq is a hopeless mess!

But there are always going to be bits of good news and bits of bad news out of Iraq. What matters more are the underlying dynamics, and it doesn't look to me like a few extra brigades in Baghdad have any hope of seriously changing those. Maybe I'm wrong. But if, like me -- and, as you recall, virtually the entire uniformed military before they got their marching orders -- you think the surge is nothing more than a desperate PR gamble with no hope of having anything more than a very short, very localized effect, it would be the height of cynicism to support it. Maybe that's a lesson Hillary has learned.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEW RULES, OLD SCHOOL...I haven't read Third Way's "New Rules" report yet, so I don't have any substantive opinion about its proposals. However, I highly recommend Mark Schmitt's take on it just out of admiration for his mastery of the fine art of evisceration. There's not much left standing after he's through.

UPDATE: Then there's Tyler Cowen's amusing take:

The neat trick is that the authors invert the usual right- vs. left-wing take on living standards: "Yes, living standards are way up, that means we have lots of money to spend on creative social programs." It will make some people want to say "Whoa....living standards aren't up that much..."

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

SENDING A MESSAGE....Over at ThinkProgress, Faiz Shakir makes an interesting point: The Bush administration may claim that last week's votes against the surge were bad for the war effort, but during Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to Baghdad she used those votes as a way of pressing Iraqi leaders to make the compromises necessary for political stability. Turns out it's a pretty useful way of convincing them that American patience is not inexhaustible.

As Sen. Carl Levin put it, "It's interesting that finally [the administration] understands the power of what we are doing in the Congress." Indeed it is.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

BOWDLERIZATION....The Washington Post writes today about Democratic candidates' support for net neutrality:

"It's an issue that really captures the attention of one of their core constituencies, especially the bloggers and 'netroots,' " said Craig Aaron of Free Press....A veteran Democratic consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity was more blunt. Among Democratic candidates, she said, "if you're not for net neutrality, then the blogs will kick your" rear.

For crying out loud. Can't they at least stick with the tried and true hyphen euphemism and write "kick your a--"? Did Jerry Falwell pay them a visit recently or something?

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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February 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE 1/2 HOUR NEWS HOUR....Jeez, I almost forgot. And maybe it would be better if I had. But I have to ask: Did anyone else catch Fox's new comedy news show last night? I realize that liberals and conservatives generally find each other's humor puerile and leaden, but even taking that into account the show was bad. Really bad. Like the very worst of SNL's Weekend Update during the very worst of SNL's long run.

And what was with Jenn Robertson? Did they cast her in the co-anchor role because she looks and sounds like Jane Curtin? How lame is that?

And were they using a laugh track? In front of a studio audience?

Anyway, not to get overly serious about this, but there's a lesson here: it's a mistake to mindlessly copy the other side's successes. We haven't been able to copy Rush Limbaugh, and they haven't been able to copy Kos or Jon Stewart. Sometimes it's best to understand that and move on.

Kevin Drum 11:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBBY WATCH....The Scooter Libby trial is over and tomorrow both sides make their closing arguments. Then it goes to the jury. So how do you think it's going to turn out?

We can't really do a pool on this since there are only three possible outcomes, but go ahead and take a guess anyway. I'm going to take a flyer on a hung jury. Fitzgerald has pretty strong evidence, I think, but perjury is a tough case to win. The jury is going to be swayed both by the lack of an underlying crime in the indictment and by the possibility that Libby might have just had a faulty memory when he testified. I figure the majority of the jury will vote to convict, but that even after a lengthy deliberation there are going to be two or three holdouts.

Agree? Disagree? Take your own shot at forecasting glory in comments.

Kevin Drum 7:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

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By: Kevin Drum

LYING....News you can use:

[Social psychologist Bella DePaulo] once conducted a study in which she asked people to recall the worst lie they had ever told and the worst lie ever told to them. In a reflection of how much our perceptions of lying depend on our particular points of view, the psychologist found that many young people reported that the worst lie ever told to them was by a parent who concealed news that someone they loved was sick or dying. By contrast, DePaulo found, parents never thought of such deceptions as particularly serious ethical breaches -- in fact, they saw them as acts of love.

Consider yourself warned.

Kevin Drum 6:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SECURITY WISH....The debasement of our national security discourse has reached staggering proportions. Just consider the half-witted nonsense we're deluged with these days: Can you support the troops if you don't support the war? (Yes. Don't be a moron.) Should Hillary apologize for her war vote? (Seriously, who cares?) Will the surge work? (No.) Is Iran "meddling" in Iraq? (Of course they are. What did you expect?) Where is Carmen Muqtada al-Sadr?

I guess it's always been this way. Still, we could use a break from the trivia, and my greatest wish for this campaign season is for Democrats to back off from the trifles now and again and instead spend some time getting back to basics and outlining a broad perspective on both American and global security that competes with the puerile bluster that currently passes for intelligent discussion among Republicans. I already know that every Democratic candidate thinks we should withdraw from Iraq, but what I don't know is what they want to do next. What do they think are the biggest threats facing us? Are they willing to repudiate preventive war? (More to the point: Are they going to continue to insist that if all else fails, they'll wage preventive war against Iran?) Do they agree that democracy promotion ought to be our primary foreign policy goal? If not, what is? What's the role of the military in the war on terror? In fact, do they even think we're at war? If so, is it a war on "terror" or something else? What's the best way to prosecute it? Etc.

I've pretty much given up hope that there are any Republicans left who understand anything serious about the exercise of American power, but there's at least a chance that one or more of the Democrats do. So let's hear it. Let's argue about something real for a change.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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By: Kevin Drum

RED AND BLUE ECONOMIES....As longtime readers know, Democratic administrations routinely deliver better economic performance than Republican administrations. Among other things, they deliver lower inflation, lower unemployment, higher economic growth, better stock market growth, and higher median wage growth. This performance is remarkably robust and consistent, and holds up even if you lag the analysis by a few years to allow time for economic policies to have an effect.

It's also a bit odd, since as I'll readily concede, presidents have only a modest effect on the economy. But it's not a statistical fluke. There have now been enough years, enough administrations, and enough separate measurements since WWII to make these results something that can't just be shrugged off.

I have my own idea about what causes this difference (nickel version: broad policy preferences that favor the working and middle classes vs. policy preferences that favor economic elites), but that's just a guess. Over at Angry Bear, Cactus posits a different explanation: "Democrats tend to pursue policies that are less likely to run up the debt."

Maybe so. In any case, Cactus decided to see if he could give Republicans a break by comparing economic growth to monetary policy. After all, maybe Democrats were just the lucky recipients of expansionary Fed policy. Long story short, it turns out to be just the opposite: Democrats do well even in the face of generally unfavorable Fed policies. Conversely, Republicans generally get a lot of help on the monetary side but their performance sucks anyway.

And of all Republicans, which one sucks the most? Do you have to ask? It's the one "who has a penchant for under performing at everything." Click the link for more good, clean fun.

In comments, Frank di Libero produces even more fun:

This discussion has historical as well as statistical roots. FDR used the campaign slogan "Vote Democrat and live like a Republican."

....In trying to make better sense of the media's use of BLS' payroll survey results, I compared the data from 1921 on with working-age population data. (These data are highly correlated.) Taking the ratio of four-year growth estimates for each of these two series over the 21 administrations beginning with Harding, results in 9 out of the 10 Democratic administrations having a favorable growth ratio (i.e., greater than 1), compared with only 2 of the 11 Republican administrations.

His chart is on the right.

Kevin Drum 2:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

POLL OF THE DAY....In Gallup's latest Presidents' Day poll, both FDR and George Washington are beaten out by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and John F. Kennedy. Crikey. And people complain about kids being historically illiterate?

So instead here's your real poll for the day. To be honest, there's not that much to say about it. PIPA polled people in a bunch of different countries about whether tensions between Islam and the West are mostly political or mostly cultural, and it turns out that most people in most countries thought they were political. This is, roughly speaking, good news, since political issues are more amenable to compromise than cultural issues.

The main thing that struck me, though, was the dog that didn't bark in the night. Usually on polls like this the United States is something of an outlier, but this time we're smack in the middle: 49% think that East-West tensions are primarily political. That's toward the low end of the global spectrum, but not by a lot. Here's Marc Lynch's comment, after appearing on the BBC Newshour to discuss the poll:

On the BBC show, I warned against reading this as meaning that the differences are "just" political, though: the fears and critiques of American hegemonic aspirations in the Muslim world is becoming universal and deep enough to transcend easy political solutions, as important as those political causes are; and even small minorities are easily capable of exploiting existing mistrust and fears. But overall the general thrust of the BBC report offers some rare good news, and holds out some hope that good sense might still prevail on this question in much of the world.

So that's your semi-good news for the day. Enjoy.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Kevin Drum

SCAIFE REPENTS....Bill Clinton's #1 attack dog during the 1990s was reclusive wingnut zillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. But according to one of his close associates, he's had a change of heart:

Christopher Ruddy, who once worked full-time for Mr. Scaife investigating the Clintons and now runs a conservative online publication he co-owns with Mr. Scaife, said, "Both of us have had a rethinking."

"Clinton wasn't such a bad president," Mr. Ruddy said. "In fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today."

Maybe so, but you have to be a pretty bad president to make Richard Mellon Scaife start pining away for the good old days of Bill Clinton. If there was any lingering doubt about whether George Bush is the worst president ever, instead of just the second or third worst, we should probably take this as a cosmic confirmation that the votes are in.

As it turns out, though, the story is actually about Hillary Clinton and the fact that the old-time hate brigade just isn't what it used to be. It pretty much takes the flip side of yesterday's LA Times story about how the Hillary Swift-boaters are gearing up for action later this year. They're still out there, says David Kirkpatrick, but they don't have the mojo they used to.

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February 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

A DANGEROUS WORLD....In the LA Times today, Paul Kennedy has an op-ed on one of my pet subjects:

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates responded to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's polemical attack on the United States by remembering the 50-year Cold War as a "less complex time" and saying he was "almost nostalgic" for its return.

....Nor is he alone. There is a palpable sense of nostalgia these days for the familiar contours of that bygone conflict, which has been replaced by a much more murky, elusive and confusing age.

If you happen to be someone who agrees with Gates, read the whole thing. I've always figured that anyone who thinks that the world today is more dangerous and more frightening than, say, the decade after WWII, is either too young to remember, too incurious to have read any history, or else just plain nuts. Kennedy explains why.

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By: Kevin Drum

SWIFT BOATING....Stephen Braun of the LA Times reports that right-wing activists are already heavily targeting Hillary Clinton:

Conservative admirers of the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth media blitz that helped torpedo Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential candidacy in 2004 are now agitating to "Swift-boat" Clinton.

....Whether she can strike back quickly may prove crucial to winning over Democratic primary voters looking for assurance that she can survive a bruising general election and Swift-boat-style attacks.

....Hillary Clinton's longtime spokesman, Howard Wolfson, dismissed the early GOP moves with characteristic terseness: "One thing people know about the Clintons is they know how to fight back."

I'm with Wolfson: I don't have any doubt that Hillary can take care of herself. But you know what I liked about this story? The fact that it talks about "Swift-boating" right at the top. It gives me a smidgen of hope that this time around the media is going to recognize campaign tactics like this for what they are: common thuggery, not legitimate attacks.

Or maybe not. We'll see. For now, though, a tiny ray of optimism.

Kevin Drum 12:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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February 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

CAREER ADVICE....From the "You Learn New Things Every Day" file:

If you're a good looking straight guy in need of easy money, find a gay restaurant or bar and become a waiter or bar-tender. Gay men are great tippers, and they're even better tippers if you're hot. (Don't even think of getting tips from lesbians. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, look elsewhere.) I have a straight friend who made a small fortune as a deck-chair dude on the beach in Rehoboth. As so often, capitalism is the true corroder of prejudice.

Roger that. It's a little late for me, but I just thought I'd pass this along for the benefit of my younger, hotter readers.

Kevin Drum 10:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEIL!....Ann Althouse comments on a video at John McCain's website:

The music is over-the-top....It announces the intent to manipulate you emotionally. That makes it a less effective effort at manipulation, though. I don't think Leni Riefenstahl would have done something so crude.

So McCain's big failing is that his campaign propaganda isn't quite as subtle as Triumph of the Will? Ouch.

Kevin Drum 9:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SURGE....Two weeks ago only two Republican senators voted to oppose the surge. Today seven voted to oppose it. The resolution still didn't muster the 60 votes it needed to break the Republican filibuster, but it's getting closer.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL WAR....Atrios asks:

One does wonder why the 101st Fighting Keyboarders aren't more upset by the fact that George Bush has fucked up their pet war.

OK, I know this is partly tongue in cheek. But as near as I can tell there are real answers:

  1. They don't believe Bush has fucked up the war. They think that most of the bad news from Iraq is just an invention of the anti-military liberal media.

  2. To the extent that we are doing badly, they think it's the fault of liberals who are undermining morale by criticizing the war.

  3. Following up on #2, their biggest complaint with Bush isn't that the war is going badly, but that it isn't broad enough and brutal enough. If only we'd take the gloves off and stop fighting like liberal pussies, we'd be doing OK.

Yes, this is delusional. But they don't think it's Bush who has screwed up their war, it's liberals. There is nothing that will ever change their minds about this.

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By: Kevin Drum

HACK OF THE DAY....Today's anti-union harangue in the LA Times by Russell Roberts is so mind-numbingly steeped in intellectual dishonesty that the Wall Street Journal's editorial board must be slapping itself on its collective head this morning for not getting their hands on it first. It's a work of art.

But it's warm outside and I don't have the energy to slog through the whole sorry mess. Consider it an exercise for the reader. To get you started, though, here's one line from Roberts:

Cleaning people routinely earn $20 an hour, more than most cities' so-called living wage.

Wow! 20 bucks an hour for mopping floors! Except, um, here's the actual data from the BLS from a few years ago:

Among janitors at all levels, nonunion janitors earned $8.60 per hour, 72 percent of the $11.98 earned by union janitors.

So not only do janitors generally make way less than $20 per hour, but in the non-union paradise Roberts recommends they don't even make 10 bucks an hour. And benefits? Please. Ask the janitors in Houston about that.

On the positive side, I didn't notice any spelling errors in Roberts' piece. So at least the Times copy desk is on the ball.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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February 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHIP WATCH....Earlier this week Wayne Gilchrist (R-Md) predicted that 30 to 60 Republicans would vote for the nonbinding House resolution opposing the surge. The final vote was held today and the resolution passed 246-182. Only 17 Republicans voted in favor.

So what happened? Is Gilchrist just a lousy vote counter? Did a bunch of Republicans chicken out? Did the GOP leadership apply some unusually effective arm twisting?

Kevin Drum 6:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (115)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....No worries, cat lovers, I have your Friday Catblogging right here. Today's installment is dedicated to my readers on the East Coast. After watching some goofball on the Weather Channel last night doing a report in (literally) arctic conditions, I figured you could all use some sunny catblogging today, just to remind you that spring is right around the corner. So here are Inkblot and Domino, soaking up the rays here in Southern California. Inkblot is trying to play the whole thing very cooly, but Domino has turned into a Grade A sun worshipper in the past few weeks and doesn't mind letting the world know it.

Need more? Reader AYM emailed this YouTube of Nora, the piano-playing cat. Enjoy.

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By: Kevin Drum

FREE TRADE....Color me unsatisfied. Max recommended Jamie Galbraith's piece on progressive economic policy in The Nation today, so I clicked the link and read it. As it happens, I'm not very comfortable with the current choices on offer in the free trade debate, so I was especially interested in Galbraith's comments on that. Here's the nickel summary:

Whether NAFTA created or cost jobs initially, the economies of Mexico and the United States are now about as integrated as they are going to get, and the effect is basically finished....Almost all discussion of outsourcing now focuses on China and India, two countries with whom we do not have, and will not get, free-trade agreements.

....The facts are clear: NAFTA is a done deal, and China is a success story we have to live with. Progressives need a trade narrative that moves past these two issues. Broadly, this means accepting manufactured imports and dropping the idea that we can control -- or that it matters much -- who assembles television sets or stitches shirts. Standards to guard against flagrant abuses such as child and prison labor are fine, but it's an illusion to think they will, or should, dent the flow of goods from China. A progressive trade agenda should focus, instead, on building stronger world markets for our exports, and in ways that do not trample on the needs and rights of poor people in poor countries. That should provide plenty of room for future fights with free-trade absolutists.

That's it? (Yes, it is. The rest of the piece is about domestic policy and international finance.) Basically, Galbraith suggests that free trade agreements don't really do much harm to the U.S. economy ("they don't prevent full employment in the United States"), but also don't help much ("the productivity gains...brought on by NAFTA in the mid-1990s were trivial if detectable at all"). We should worry about the predatory effect of free trade agreements on poor people in other countries, but that's about it.

I suppose that may be true. I wonder what guys like DeLong and Krugman think of this? Is the whole free trade debate really just a tempest in a teapot?

UPDATE: Galbraith responds in comments:

Briefly: my focus is not on "free trade," but on "free trade agreements" -- the mainly bilateral (in NAFTA's case, trilateral) documents that have been the practical focus of the trade debate. The commenters, by and large, are absorbed in a theoretical discussion, and Kevin muddies the issue by describing the debate over NAFTA as though it were a debate over "free trade."

For example, "lord mike" writes that the effect of "NAFTA and other trade agreements... is to facilitate the importation of goods." This sounds plausible -- after all, what else is a "free trade" agreement likely to be about? -- but it isn't really true.

The maquiladora system existed before NAFTA; average tariffs on manufactured goods coming from Mexico to the US were around three percent (e.g., trivial) before NAFTA, and, by the way, China isn't a member of NAFTA or any other bilateral trade agreement with the US.

So, the beginning of sense in this debate is to get off the theoretical high horse and ask, would getting rid of NAFTA actually accomplish anything the anti-trade folks want to accomplish? Answer: no, it would not.

If the commenters are, on the other hand, arguing that the U.S. should renounce NAFTA, the WTO and the rest of the postwar trading system, cut the flow of goods from China (and our exports of aircraft, computer systems, communications networks, energy services, and the rest to that country and the rest of the world), and build an autarkic national system (including the big wall along the Rio Grande this would require), well, then they're in an alternate universe altogether.

My point is one that holds in the present universe: nothing about the U.S. position in the world prevents full employment at good wages. If you want proof, just look at the statistics for 1997-2000. It happened. There is no good reason it can't be made to happen again, hence no reason to go on demonize the Mexicans, the Chinese or our other trading partners.

Two quick comments on points of fact:

1) the U.S. and China have had a memorandum of understanding against the use of prison labor in exported goods since the early 1990s. There is no reason to think that this is a major issue in U.S.-China trade at present or (therefore) that new standards would add anything to the existing ones.

2) when I said that an RMB revaluation would not bring a single low-wage job back to the U.S., I meant that exactly: not a single one. The reality here is that China is not our only potential trading partner. Making Chinese workers less competitive will cause factories to locate in (say) Indonesia long, long before it brings any jobs back here.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (90)

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By: Kevin Drum

CHOOSING SIDES....Via Eric Martin, one of McClatchy's Iraqi bloggers wonders if the Bush administration has asked itself this question:

If the war started between U.S. and Iran, on which side the Iraqi government will be?

Hmmm. Good question. Perhaps Dick Cheney would like to address this in his next press conference.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

APPLES AND APPLES....Is the Bush administration's recent deal with North Korea really just the hated old Clinton-era Agreed Framework with a fresh coat of wax? Over at Passport, Eric Hundman has a nice chart showing just how the two deals stack up side by side. Answer: they're pretty darn close!

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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By: Kevin Drum

EFPs AND IRAN....Andrew Cockburn reports on how to make Explosively Formed Penetrators, the subject of much administration backpedaling recently:

In November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.

The truth is that EFPs are simple to make for anyone who knows how to do it. Far from a sophisticated assembly operation that might require state supervision, all that is required is one of those disks, some high-powered explosive (which is easy to procure in Iraq) and a container, such as a piece of pipe. I asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. "Twenty bucks," he answered after a brief calculation. "Thirty at most."

As Cockburn says, EFPs have been a favorite tool of Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is one reason to suspect that Iran has had a hand in supplying EFPs to Iraq as well. But if they're being manufactured in Baghdad machine shops, that puts things in rather a different light. Odd that the administration has been slow to publicize this, isn't it?

For more, see David Hambling at Defense Tech, who describes what modern EFPs look like and suggests that "if EFP mines were being supplied by an outside source, you might expect to see something a lot slicker."

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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DICK CHENEY'S DANGEROUS SON-IN-LAW....Dick Cheney, as we all know, is willing to go to almost any lengths to prosecute the war on terror. But there's one step that, for Cheney, is a bridge too far: regulation of the chemical industry, a network of absurdly vulnerable time bombs scattered across the country just waiting for the attention of an enterprising young al-Qaeda zealot.

For two years after 9/11 the point man for inaction on chemical plant security was the ultimate member of the clan of Cheney loyalists scattered throughout the Bush adminstration: his son-in-law, Philip Perry. The chemical industry loved him. But Perry left government service in 2003 to return to his lucrative private legal practice, and in 2005 New Jersey's governor decided to regulate his state's chemical plants himself.

This was a problem: the only way to stop New Jersey was for the federal government to preempt state law. But the only way for that to happen was for the federal government to actually pass a law. Re-enter Philip Perry, who went looking for a solution:

He would find it in a DHS appropriations bill in the Senate, to which had been attached an obscure amendment giving the DHS short-term regulatory authority over chemical security. Perry reworked the language and helped to get it added to the spending bill in a conference committee. Under the new amendment, the DHS would have nominal authority to regulate the chemical industry but also have its hands tied where required. For example, the DHS would be barred from requiring any specific security measures, and citizens would be prohibited from suing to enforce the law.

Best of all for industry, while the bill didn't mention giving the DHS preemption authority, it didn't bar it, either, leaving a modicum of wiggle room on the subject. In other words, if Perry was sufficiently brazen, he could claim for the DHS the power to nullify the chemical regulations in New Jersey.

He was sufficiently brazen.

Read the whole thing. The story is from Art Levine, and it's called "Dick Cheney's Dangerous Son-in-Law."

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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February 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OPTIONS ON THE TABLE....Joe Klein weighs in on whether "all options should be on the table":

I thought, and still think "all/table" in response to an overt Iranian act of war against the United States. Processing nuclear fuel, even developing a bomb, doesn't make the cut, although everything possible, short of war, should be done to discourage the latter.

Am I missing something here? I don't think anyone is suggesting that a military attack should be off the table in response to a genuine, serious Iranian act of war. This entire discussion is about whether a military strike should be off the table as a way to keep Iran from getting nukes. This may not always be stated outright, but that's because everyone already knows that's what we're talking about. The whole conversation is kind of silly otherwise.


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By: Kevin Drum

GAY BASHING IN MICHIGAN....Back in 2004, when Michigan approved a referendum to ban gay marriage, supporters insisted that marriage itself was the only thing they were concerned about. Benefits for gay partners wouldn't be affected. Jonathan Cohn reports from Ann Arbor on the reality:

But -- as critics warned at the time -- the ban's wording was ambiguous: "The union of one man and one woman in marriage," it said, "shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose."

That left it open for broad interpretation. And it didn't take long before State Attorney General Mike Cox, a conservative Republican, took advantage of the situation. In early 2005, he issued an opinion barring state employers from offering spousal benefits to same-sex couples. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, along with 21 gay and lesbian couples in Michigan, and, initially, a local judge sided with the plaintiffs. But then the appellate court reversed the lower judge's ruling. With the state Supreme Court unlikely to overrule, the state's public employers began notifying employers that spousal benefits would likely end within the year.

Is this an example of conservative overreach that will come back to haunt Republicans? Maybe not immediately, but Cohn suggests it might turn out that way before long. We can hope.

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By: Kevin Drum

"GET BACK TO US"....Via James Joyner, the Political Insider passes along this tidbit:

Word on Wall Street is that New York fundraisers for Rudy Giuliani are calling senior executives with histories of supporting Republican candidates with demands along these lines: "We need five people from your firm to raise $100,000 for Rudy. Get back to us."

The caller then hangs up, satisfied the instructions were clear and will be followed.

Sounds like our Rudy! As even National Review admits, he's going to have a tough time on the campaign trail because "there is so much evidence in the public record that he is a total jerk." No fooling.

UPDATE: More Rudy here. And here! At this rate, I give him a couple of months before he implodes completely.

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ON THE TABLE....The standard formulation when it comes to Iran is that "no option is off the table." Kenny Baer says that this time-tested trope is exactly right: "The reason why Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are all refusing to take the military option off the table is because there is no credible expert on Iran, nonproliferation, or any combination of the two who would advise them to do so."

Matt Yglesias has a series of posts up this morning taking issue with that. No credible expert? How about Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr? Or Joseph Cirincione? Or Rand Beers? Or Kenneth Pollack?

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of Cirincione ("it is a dangerous stick to wave"), none of these analysts actually recommends taking military action irreversibly off the table. They do say that military action against Iran would be a bad idea, but even Baer agrees with that. The same experts who are recommending everything be left on the table, he says, are also advising "in no uncertain terms that a military strike against Tehran, much less total war, would be long, nasty, costly, and unwise."

So far, then, the argument seems to go to Baer on points. Which is too bad, because the real underlying argument here isn't over a time-honored rhetorical wheeze, it's over a genuinely serious, fundamental question: Should the United States continue to follow the Bush Doctrine of preventive war? It's one thing to argue, as Takeyh and Nasr put it about the Iranian regime, that "A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power," but that's merely a pragmatic argument that turning down the volume is the most likely way to prevent Iran from acquiring nukes. It's not an argument that the United States, as a matter of general policy, should eschew the use of preventive war against regimes that it feels threatened by.

That would be an interesting campaign debate to have. But I'll bet we won't get it. After all, repudiating the Bush Doctrine is, essentially, taking at least one option off the table.

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REFUGEES....The United States will accept a small number of Iraqi refugees after all:

The Bush administration hopes to resettle about 7,000 Iraqi refugees to the United States this year, the State Department said Wednesday.

....[U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula] Dobriansky said the United States also is working to develop special provisions for resettlement of thousands of Iraqis who work for the United States in Iraq and are still there, but face increased threat because of their cooperation with the coalition.

This is a pretty meager number, but at least it's a start. At the very least, Iraqis who have risked their lives, and their family's lives, to act as guides and translators for the U.S. mission during the occupation, ought to be welcomed to America. Staying in Baghdad after we leave would be tantamount to a death sentence for many of them.

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DISSENSION IN THE RANKS....Another conservative revolt?

The White House yesterday found itself fending off a conservative revolt over the North Korea nuclear deal....Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser, fired off e-mails expressing bewilderment over the agreement and demanding to know why North Korea would not have to first prove it had stopped sponsoring terrorism before being rewarded with removal from the list, according to officials who reviewed the messages.

Sweet. Apparently the conservative chattering classes are blaming this rank appeasement on the departure of Donald Rumsfeld.

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THE PLAN....The National Security Archive has forced the declassification of a PowerPoint presentation about Iraq that was created by CENTCOM in the summer of 2002, and the full thing is now up on their website. It's fun reading. Here's one of the "Key Planning Assumptions":

  • Operations in Afghanistan transition to phase III (minimal air support over Afghanistan)

Remember all that talk about how Iraq had no impact on Afghanistan and the search for al-Qaeda? Not true. At CENTCOM, anyway, winding down the effort in Afghanistan was apparently considered a prerequisite to action in Iraq.

And then there's this slide, showing the "Phase IV" plans. That's mil-speak for "after the invasion," and it shows that they figured they'd be down to 25,000 troops within a couple of years -- and almost totally gone a year or so after that. That hasn't worked out so well.

Via Michael Gordon of the New York Times, who has a summary of the rest of the slides.

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February 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MORAL VALUES....When Mara Vanderslice says that she believes "the religious community can be the conscience and the soul of the Democratic party," that actually seems like pretty harmless boilerplate to me. At the same time, when Atrios complains that "this is part and parcel with the basic messages people like me get regularly from people all over the spectrum, that atheists and agnostics lack a conscience and a sense of values, and these things only come from religion and the religious" -- well, he's got a point.

The other day, for example, James Joyner linked to a Pew survey designed to figure out your political typology. (It told me I was a "liberal." Very helpful, guys.) One of the questions was the one below, and, yes, it's pretty annoying. After all, the reason it's there is because an awful lot of people -- including a lot of loud, rich, influential people with 24-hour TV stations -- agree pretty enthusiastically with the sentiment on the right. If we nonbelievers occasionally get a mite touchy about this stuff, that's why. Just saying.

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WHERE IS MUQTADA?....The Guardian reports today on the whereabouts of Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army:

Senior commanders of the Mahdi army, the militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have been spirited away to Iran to avoid being targeted in the new security push in Baghdad, a high-level Iraqi official told the Guardian yesterday.

...."The strategy is to lie low until the storm passes, and then let them return and fill the vacuum," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The Tehran authorities were "playing a waiting game" until the commanders could return to Baghdad and resume their activities. "All indications are that Moqtada is in Iran, but that is not really the point," he added.

So Muqtada is in Iran after all? Not so fast:

The assertion was hotly contested by senior members of the Sadr movement, who said their leader had been in Najaf meeting local officials. One pro-Sadr satellite channel showed footage of Mr Sadr that it said was taken in Najaf three days ago. Falah al-Akaily, a pro-Sadr MP, said: "This is just a rumour sent around to confuse people. Sayid Moqtada is available and has not left Iraq. Why would he need to do so? The movement has declared its support for the security crackdown and its full cooperation in defeating the terrorists."

Well, if Sayid Muqtada really is in Najaf, that ought to be pretty easy to prove. Your move, Muqtada.

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IRAN'S BOMBS....Spencer Ackerman runs down the various possibilities for how and why Iranian explosives have been found in Iraq:

Any number of alternative explanations are possible: renegade Qods Forces could be trying to make money on the lucrative Iraqi black market for weapons. Iran could simply be arming its Shiite proxies in the civil war as opposed to seeking attacks on U.S. forces. And those proxies could in turn be unloading some of the weapons on the very active black market. (Remember, some of them were discovered in December at a compound belonging to U.S. "partner" SCIRI.) An element of the Qods Forces could be attempting to attack U.S. forces without the knowledge of their leadership. And so on. These are contending theories that require additional information to be compelling. And there should be some explanation of why most of the deaths of US forces from these IEDs are coming from Sunni insurgents who are opposed to the people Iran supports -- a fact that some believe points to the black market.

This last point seems like the most important one to me. It's certainly possible that the radical Shiite mullahs of Iran are supplying weapons to the radical Sunni insurgents of Iraq, but it's unlikely enough that, at the very least, it should raise some healthy skepticism about the whole story. The Iranian leadership might eventually turn out to be up to its ears in this -- though even Bush is unwilling to flatly say so at the moment -- but so far the evidence is thin. Wait and see.

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TERRORISM....A recent post from Glenn Reynolds about how we ought to be responding to Iran has been batted around quite a bit in the past few days. Here's Glenn:

We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and iranian atomic scientists....Basically, stepping on the Iranians' toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq.

....[T]o be clear, I think it's perfectly fine to kill people who are working on atomic bombs for countries -- like Iran -- that have already said that they want to use those bombs against America and its allies, and I think that those who feel otherwise are idiots, and in absolutely no position to strike moral poses.

I imagine a lot of people agree with Glenn, but his recommendation really demonstrates the moral knot caused by George Bush's insistence that we're fighting a "war on terror." After all, killing civilian scientists and civilian leaders, even if you do it quietly, is unquestionably terrorism. That's certainly what we'd consider it if Hezbollah fighters tried to kill cabinet undersecretaries and planted bombs at the homes of Los Alamos engineers. What's more, if we took this tack against Iran, we'd be doing it for the same reason that terrorists target us: because it's a more effective, more winnable tactic than conventional war.

If you think Iran is a mortal enemy that needs to be dealt with via military force, you can certainly make that case. But if you're going to claim that terrorism is a barbaric tactic that has to be stamped out, you can hardly endorse its use by the United States just because it's convenient in this particular case.

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By: Kevin Drum

WAIVERS....The New York Times reports that the Army is turning over a lot of rocks to try to fill its recruitment quotas:

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years....The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army's moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

I assume this is a bad thing, but I guess you never know. In the past, it was actually fairly common for young offenders to be given a choice of going to jail or joining the military. A cousin of mine did something dumb in his teens (this was in the late 40s, I think) and ended up getting "sentenced" to serve in the Air Force. I guess it must have shaped him up pretty well, since he's been a solid citizen ever since and went on to become a millionaire doing something or other. I guess we can hope that the same thing happens to some of these kids.

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By: Kevin Drum

SALON....I'm curious: is anyone else having trouble reaching Salon? For the past couple of weeks my browser has timed out whenever I try to connect. Since other blogs continue to link to Salon, I assume they must be able to get to the site. Why can't I?

(Pre-emptive answers to the usual questions: (1) No, I'm not having trouble with any other site. (2) Windows XP. (3) Both Firefox and Explorer. (4) I also tried and that didn't work either.)

UPDATE: As I expected, no one else seems to be having this problem. I turned off my firewall, but that didn't help. I checked cookies, and they're enabled. I ran tracert and it got through my router and then died at the next hop. Very mysterious. Perhaps I should contact my ISP? I wonder if my neighbors have the same problem?

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By: Kevin Drum

WHERE IS MUQTADA AL-SADR?....Before I went to bed last night I checked the news about Muqtada al-Sadr and failed to find anything conclusive. Basically, some unnamed American sources said he had fled to Iran while al-Sadr's people said he hadn't. I was left wondering why American sources seem to demand anonymity for everything these days, but I was otherwise no closer to knowing the truth.

However, Juan Cole has a long post this morning examining what we know about al-Sadr's movements over the past few weeks, and his tentative conclusion is that it's unlikely he's in Iran:

The press record shows that Muqtada is in hiding inside Iraq, not in Iran. It also suggests that he has ordered his Mahdi Army to keep a low profile during the present security operation.

But we'll see. Stay tuned.

Who's right: Juan Cole or anonymous administration sources? It's time to place your bets. Will Jonah Goldberg go double or nothing?

UPDATE: We now have a name: Maj. Gen. William Caldwell. Though he's just the usual military briefer, so it only half counts. In any case, the Washington Post reports that "Caldwell said U.S. officials monitor Sadr's moves very closely and have evidence he is in Iran."

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By: Kevin Drum

APOCALYPSE NOT?....Robert Dreyfuss has a piece in the new issue of the Monthly that's well worth reading. Its premise is simple: nearly everyone -- even anti-war liberals -- tends to accept the conventional wisdom that an American withdrawal from Iraq will result in unbridled civil war and massive carnage. But are we really so sure of that?

If it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it's also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it's possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it's also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?

This is a thought-provoking piece not because Dreyfuss proves his point -- nobody knows for sure what would happen if we left Iraq, after all -- but simply because he asks the question seriously instead of simply assuming the worst. There are plenty of reasons to think that the worst-case scenarios are overblown, and even more reasons to think that even if they aren't, they're no worse than what will happen if we stay. You may or may not agree with Dreyfuss's conclusions, but his arguments are worth grappling with. Take a few minutes to read the whole thing.

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February 13, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LA GOES WIRELESS....Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced today that Los Angeles will soon create a citywide wireless internet network:

If successful, the plan would create the nation's largest municipal Wi-Fi networks in terms of square miles covered and the number of people given access...."With L.A. Wi-Fi, we are dedicating ourselves to the idea that universal access to technology makes our entire economy stronger," Villaraigosa said.

Sounds great. But considering that you can't even use a cellphone in LA's subway system more than a decade after it first opened, I'll believe it when I see it.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY ONLY LIBBY?....On Monday the defense in the Scooter Libby trial called a string of reporters to the stand and asked them if Libby had ever told them about Valerie Plame's identity. They all said no. Over at National Review, Byron York (or, rather, Byron York's headline writer), asks a question:

If There Was a Conspiracy to Out Plame, How Come Libby Didn't Tell Woodward? Or Novak? Or Pincus, Or...?

Answer: Who cares? Libby's not on trial for outing Plame's identity.

So here's a more pointed question. As near as I can tell, everyone else that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald talked to during the course of his investigation told him the truth. That includes Richard Armitage, who originally leaked Plame's name to Robert Novak. It also appears to include Karl Rove (though only barely), Bob Woodward, Ari Fleischer, Novak himself, and dozens of others. So here's my question: If everyone else told the truth, why did Libby lie? Repeatedly. Under oath. What was different about the vice president's office that out of the entire mountain of people Fitzgerald interviewed, Dick Cheney's chief of staff was the only one who felt he had to lie?

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EXPERTS vs. THE MOB....I'm not quite sure what to make of this, and I have to run out to an appointment in a minute, so I'll just post this and let everyone noodle over it. It comes from the second edition of the "Terrorism Index," a joint project of Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress that surveys equal numbers of (self-described) liberal and conservative national security experts. The full report is here. An excerpt is below. Question: Is the gap between the public and the experts surprising? Predictable? And does it mean anything?

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GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS....Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it's having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show's staff that "People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen."

But here's another observation about TV torture. It's alluded to in passing in Mayer's article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

....The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer's identity was more likely to be an American hero like "24's" Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That's one of the ways you know they're bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing's changed. It's still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

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By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA WATCH....Over at The Corner, Andy McCarthy, who thinks the North Korea deal stinks, says:

Don't take my word for it. Take John Bolton's.

Um, sure. Still, maybe he has a point. Here's Bolton:

This is the same thing that the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we going to cut this deal now, it's amazing we didn't cut it back then.

The man's got a point. And six years ago this deal would have come without an already built stockpile of nuclear weapons. Perhaps there's a lesson there?

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SEMANTICS....Hmmm. Those U.S. attorneys who were fired recently in part because of "performance related" issues? Turns out most of them got positive job evaluations.

Marisa Taylor of McClatchy asked a Justice Department official about this and was told the whole thing was just a matter of semantics. "Performance-related can mean many things," the official said. I'll bet.

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INTELLIGENCE WATCH....Yesterday, military briefers told the press that the Iranian government was responsible for shipping roadside bombs into Iraq. So what does Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, think about this?

Asked about the briefing during a visit Monday to Canberra, Australia, Pace said he couldn't substantiate the assertion that the clerical regime in Tehran is shipping such devices to Shiite militias in Iraq.

...."It is clear that Iranians are involved and it is clear that materials from Iran are involved. But I would not say based on what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

As usual, a well oiled machine.

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16 WORDS....Remember the "16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union address? About how Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa? In the Scooter Libby trial today, the defense played a tape recording of a Bob Woodward interview with Richard Armitage and the subject came up. Here's what Armitage said:

Armitage: We're clean as a [expletive] whistle. And George [Tenet] personally got it out of the Cincinnati speech of the president.

....Woodward: It was taken out?

Armitage: Taken out. George said you can't do this.

Woodward: How come it wasn't taken out of the State of the Union then?

Armitage: Because I think it was overruled by the types down at the White House. Condi doesn't like being in the hot spot. But she--

So that's Armitage's take: the director of the CIA tried to get the uranium nonsense taken out of the State of the Union but Condoleezza Rice didn't have the backbone to stand up to the hardliners in the White House and get it excised. Chemical and biological WMD just wasn't enough. They wanted everyone to think Saddam was working on nukes too. Evidence to the contrary simply didn't matter.

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February 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DONOHUE WINS?....Amanda Marcotte has resigned from the John Edwards campaign. More to come on this, I'm sure.

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By: Kevin Drum

HACKWORK....Last year Dahlia Lithwick wrote a piece for Slate advising everyone to take a breather in the Duke rape case. "We are being played by the lawyers," she warned. We should wait for the facts in the case to develop instead of jumping to conclusions based on our "pre-existing suspicions about what inevitably happens between men and women, rich people and poor people, black people and white people."

Sound advice. But over at the Weekly Standard Charlotte Allen had a point to make -- the liberal media convicted the white guys sight unseen -- and decided to use Lithwick's column as Exhibit A. How? The hack's best friend, of course: selective quotation.

Lithwick has decided to laugh off this obvious smear and instead invite her readers to enter a contest: Take her original column and edit it to make her look like a bilious conservative wingnut. "Please don't be afraid of those ellipses," she advises. So here goes:

Here we go again. The Duke lacrosse team's rape scandal...reaffirms...that...white men...can't get a fair shake under our legal system....This is not a case about consent....This was[] a date gone wrong.

....We already...know, with great certainty, who's lying[:] Jesse Jackson...[who] doesn't hesitate to impugn the truthfulness of ...white people....This...serves as yet another depressing reminder of all that is wrong with this country: Our...colleges are hotbeds of polarizing identity politics. Race and gender...more often than not...are, in the end...[just] lawyers' spin.

Well, that was kind of fun. But I'm pretty sure someone can do a lot better. Give it a go yourself and win a free subscription to the Standard. Second place is two free subscriptions to the Standard!

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By: Kevin Drum

BACK TO THE FUTURE....After some last minute problems, it looks like the U.S. and North Korea have agreed to the first steps in a deal to rein in North Korea's nuclear program. Basically, the North Koreans agreed to shut down their reactor at Yongbyon and freeze their bomb development in return for shipments of fuel oil:

Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the talks, told reporters that the final text was "an excellent, excellent draft"....

A deal to rein in North Korea's nuclear program would give President Bush a rare foreign-policy victory at a time when he is embroiled in a bitter debate over the war in Iraq and tensions with Iran. But the proposed deal also exposes the administration to accusations from both conservatives and Democrats that President Bush has essentially returned to a Clinton-era arrangement with North Korea -- known as the 1994 Agreed Framework -- that he disparaged and cast aside soon after he took office in 2001.

Nah, life's too short for that. If Bush's foreign policy in 2007 is now almost as good as Clinton's was in 1994 -- give or take a dozen actual bombs -- I'll take that as a big win. Next up: Bush brings peace to Bosnia!

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOCKING THE COURTHOUSE DOOR....Stephanie Mencimer, a Washington Monthly alum who has just written a terrific book about the conservative tort reform crusade, will be hosting a book reading this Thursday at Olsson's Books in Washington DC (418 7th St., NW between D & E Streets). Starting time is 7 pm.

The book is called Blocking the Courthouse Door, and I reviewed it for our January issue. Here's an excerpt:

Insurance companies have been dutifully warning the public since the 1950s that "you pay for liability and damage suit verdicts whether you are insured or not." But for its first three decades, their lawyer-bashing campaigns were both sporadic and desultory, a subject of interest only to a few conservative wonks camped out in little-known D.C.-based think tanks. That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a succession of Republican partisans, including Dan Quayle, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist, finally realized just how powerful an issue tort reform could be.

....Tort reform was already a natural Republican Party issue thanks to its support in the business community, but it was Norquist, in his usual bald style, who pointed out in 1994 that there was more to it than just that: The big losers in tort reform are trial lawyers, and trial lawyers contribute a huge amount of money to the Democratic Party. "The political implications of defunding the trial lawyers would be staggering," he wrote.

It's a great book and a much-needed antidote to the past decade's endless hysteria about the "tort crisis" in America. If you're in DC, check it out.

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By: Kevin Drum

MILEAGE STANDARDS....You know that something has changed when even Ted Stevens is in favor of raising fuel mileage standards for cars. The Los Angeles Times reports:

"I'm trying to protect my state," said Stevens, who recently called climate change "more apparent in Alaska than anywhere else."

The 83-year-old senator's change of heart illustrates how the landscape has shifted in Congress, and could signal a turning point in the long campaign by environmentalists -- successfully fended off by Detroit -- to toughen fuel-economy standards.

"There is clear bipartisan agreement, for the first time in 30 years, that Congress is going to have to act to increase fuel economy standards," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

This is one of those subjects that's a big deal among traditional liberal environmental groups but gets surprisingly little love in the blogosphere, which (to the extent it cares at all) seems to favor higher gasoline taxes as the best way to reduce gasoline usage. This is odd, since CAFE standards have a clearly demonstrated capacity to reduce gasoline consumption while higher gasoline prices have a very modest effect. What's more, gasoline taxes hurt the poor far more than the rich and are probably even less likely than higher mileage standards to make it through the legislative meatgrinder. Higher CAFE standards ought to be a slam dunk for anyone who cares about global warming, cleaning up the air, and reducing our dependence on oil.

Of course, that's not to say that we shouldn't favor higher gasoline taxes too. After all, we can do more than one thing if we're serious about this stuff. A broad-based carbon tax is the backbone of any decent energy policy, partly because it reduces consumption and partly because (unlike CAFE standards) it raises money that we could use to fund other mitigation programs. I'm also a fan of a gas guzzler tax/credit scheme, which taxes low-mileage cars while providing refunds to purchasers of high-mileage cars. This can be revenue neutral if desired; it incentivizes the purchase of efficient cars; and it's strongly progressive since rich people tend to buy expensive, low-mileage cars. And if we ever do impose higher gasoline taxes, a refund for small cars would help offset the impact of the tax on the poor and working class.

As for CAFE standards themselves, I don't really understand George Bush's proposal to make them "attribute-based" (i.e., different targets for different classes of cars). Everyone agrees that the goal of increased mileage standards is to improve average fuel consumption, so why not just mandate that, maybe add in a credit-trading scheme, and then let the car manufacturers comply any way they want? Creating extra rules and extra complexity is just an invitation to a bigger bureaucracy and provokes attempts to game the system by automakers. Why not funnel that energy into making better cars instead?

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMS ON IRAN....Garance Franke-Ruta thinks Hillary Clinton is being unfairly trashed for allegedly having more hawkish views on Iran than either John Edwards or Barack Obama:

I've looked very carefully at what Obama, Clinton, and Edwards have said about Iran of late and there is no substantive difference between their positions. All support direct engagement with Iran. And all three, including Obama, have said that "all options [are] on the table," which is code for not ruling out military intervention. And not one of them, alas, has yet made it a campaign or leadership priority to prevent the expansion of America's war in Iraq into Iran.

Hmmm. There are differences of tone and emphasis that suggest to me that Obama has been better on this subject than either Clinton or Edwards, but Garance has a point when she reminds us that Clinton's comments about negotiating with Iran came at an AIPAC dinner, which certainly counts for something.

In any case, it may be that trying to parse political language on Iran too finely is a mug's game. After all, even George Bush claims that he's open to talks and has no plans for a military strike. What's more important by far is trying to get a sense of a candidate's foreign policy judgment, and on that score I'm still agnostic. Leaning toward Obama, though.

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TIME TO VOTE....The Senate may not be able to force a vote on a resolution opposing the surge, but the House will have no such problems. And that means that a sizable number of Republicans are going to face the music this week:

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican, predicts that 30 to 60 of his colleagues will back the nonbinding resolution, which would be the strongest repudiation of Bush's Iraq policy from Republicans since the war began nearly four years ago.

...."Many of us have just watched this thing unfold and see nothing changing," said Gilchrest, whose largely rural district has lost 23 service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. "You face the families and you have to have something to tell them."

As one Republican congressman put it, "This next week is going to be a very tough one for us to get through. The Democrats know that. We can sit back and hope they overplay their hand, but I don't think they will." I don't think so either.

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MEMORIES....John Boehner explains why we should keep fighting in Iraq:

"If you don't like the president's plan, Steny, what is your plan for success?" Boehner asked, predicting dire consequences if the U.S. failed to shore up Iraq. "Who doesn't believe that if we withdraw and leave that chaos in the Middle East, that the terrorists won't follow us here to the United States?"

Jeebus. They're still using that old chestnut? You can almost smell the desperation.

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BLUSTER WATCH....Dan Drezner is right. I don't know how Robert Gates is going to turn out in the long term, but his response to Vladimir Putin's criticisms was pretty deft. As Dan says, "It's been so long since an American official reacted so correctly to empty bluster that I'd almost forgotten how it should be done."

On the other hand, was the bluster really as empty as all that? Be honest, Dan: don't you hate it that George Bush has run such a disastrous foreign policy that even a guy like Putin manages to score a few telling points now and again?

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February 11, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN'S BOMBS....Today was finally the day of the big briefing about the roadside bombs Iran is supposedly smuggling into Iraq, and you'd think the folks in charge of this long-planned event would want to put their best foot forward. But no. Despite being "repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter," they persisted in conducting the briefing entirely on background.

Golly. I wonder why no one wanted their name publicly attached to this stuff? I mean, it's ironclad, right? A slam dunk, so to speak. It's certainly puzzling that they're being so shy about taking credit for their work, isn't it?

But put that aside for the moment. Here's some interesting spin:

The defense officials said many of the Iranian weapons components are smuggled through three main border crossings: at Meran, at Amarah and near the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The weapons are typically supplied to what officials called "rogue" elements of the Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hmmm. Rogue elements of al-Sadr's militia. That's certainly convenient, since not only do we not like Iran, but we also don't like al-Sadr. It's a twofer! And yet....isn't there another Shiite militia that's an equally likely recipient of these bombs? Let me think. Ah, of course, here it is:

The officials provided further details on the case of the two Iranians captured during the December raid in the compound of one of Iraq's leading Shiite politicians, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

....[The raid] uncovered weapons inventory documents with information about sniper rifles and mortars, the officials said. When U.S. officials discussed the allegations with Hakim's representatives, their explanation was that "it is normal for different groups to acquire armaments for protection purposes," the senior defense official said.

In other words, if we had to guess where the bombs were going, we might guess that SCIRI's militia is getting a share of the action too. But that would be inconvenient. After all, just a couple of months ago Hakim was in the Oval Office for a chat and George Bush was calling him one of Iraq's "distinguished leaders" and praising "His Eminence's strong position against the murder of innocent life."

No doubt, no doubt. But who decides who's innocent?

In any case, this whole sorry episode just goes to show how deep a hole the United States is in these days. Sure, the timing of this briefing was childishly transparent, and there's also the nagging question of where the Sunnis are getting their bombs. If not from Iran, then maybe there's another source for these devices after all. Still, even with all that noted, it's not as if it would be wildly out of character for Iran to be smuggling this stuff into Iraq. If I were in charge of Iran, it's probably what I'd be doing. What's more, as McClatchy's Leila Fadel argues persuasively, "The evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq...is far more compelling than much of the administration's pre-war intelligence about Iraq."

Still, everyone is skeptical, and who can blame them? The current gang in the White House would have to provide videotape of the Ayatollah Khamenei himself attaching tailfins to one of these things and putting it in a box labeled "Baghdad -- ASAP" before I'd be willing to take any action based on this latest dog and pony show. With any luck, in a couple of years we'll have a president I don't have to feel that way about.

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WORDS MATTER....Chris Wallace talks to Doug Feith this morning about the intelligence his office produced while he was at the Pentagon. Here's Feith:

Nobody in my office ever said there was an operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It's just not correct. I mean, words matter.

Yes, words do matter:

Osama bin laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda -- perhaps even for Mohamed Atta -- according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by The Weekly Standard.

Anybody want to guess whose office this "top secret memorandum" came from? Anybody? No fair clicking the link first!

Via Laura Rozen.

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE IRAN....Following up on my post last night about radicalizing Iran, Kim Murphy of the LA Times reports from Tehran today that hawkish rhetoric from the United States has been a godsend for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had been losing popularity until recently:

A large number of parliamentary deputies signed letters this year demanding answers from the president on the nuclear issue and the economy. But new, strong language from Washington starting in January that hinted at the possibility of a military strike quickly took the wind out of their sails.

Independent legislator Akbar Alami, who had circulated a letter, said he stopped getting signatures almost immediately.

If Iranians perceive a foreign threat, he said, "they don't pay attention anymore to differences, and the problem they have between parties and governments doesn't matter anymore."

To the contrary, said former central bank governor Mohammad Hossain Adeli, it mobilizes the Iranians and ratchets up the conflict.

"The foreign pressure is counterproductive and radicalizes the domestic environment," he said. "And then this radicalization results in more confrontational positions on the part of Iran."

Of course, it's more complicated than this, since in this case "foreign pressure" includes UN sanctions designed to bring Iran's nuclear program into compliance with international rules. Ahmadinejad may well be able to use the UN's actions to his benefit, but that doesn't mean anyone thinks the UN should back off. Quite the contrary.

But even so, that still doesn't make this kind of thing any less crazy:

"[George Bush's advisors] intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs....A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and Newsweek has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years.

This is from Newsweek's cover story this week, "The Hidden War With Iran." I'm not sure it's really all that hidden, but the story itself is worth reading. It's a pretty good summary of what's happened on both sides to make war more likely over the past five years.

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BLOGGERS AND CANDIDATES....Jon Chait wonders aloud about the long-term effect of the kerfuffle caused by John Edwards' hiring of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. Sure, he says, Edwards decided to stand by them and that was great:

But will this open doors to bloggers being hired by campaigns? My guess is, just the opposite. What this episode demonstrated is that, if you're a candidate, hiring a blogger may or may not win you the loyalty of that blogger's friends. But firing that blogger will certainly bring their wrath down upon you. But campaigns, of course, fire staffers pretty often. So why would you hire somebody you can't fire?

Maybe. But I suspect that's not how this will play out.

First of all, I imagine that other campaigns will take a little breather and see how this works out. If, as I suspect, the whole controversy has died down after a few weeks and Edwards hasn't taken a hit, that will send a pretty positive message that hiring bloggers has a bigger upside than downside.

It's also worth noting a few other things. First, Amanda was sort of a limiting case. Her writing is about as raucous as anyone I can think of, and if a campaign can survive, and even prosper, after hiring her, it actually makes most other bloggers seem like pretty safe hires. Second, the Edwards campaign has taught everyone a lesson in how to handle this kind of thing. Campaigns probably will scour the archives of potential hires a little more carefully now, but they'll also make it clear up front that personal blogging doesn't represent the candidate. I suspect that a general truce along these lines will shortly become the norm. And third, as more bloggers get hired by campaigns, the blogosphere will have less invested in each one. So sure, bloggers will get fired occasionally, just like other campaign staffers, but it won't be that big a deal when there are dozens working for various campaigns instead of just two or three.

Nobody's going to support a candidate just because the campaign hired a blogger they like. But that's not the point. If you want to know the ins and outs of dealing with the blogosphere, a blogger is the best bet to help you out. That was true a week ago, and it's still true today.

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K STREET RISES FROM THE DEAD....I'm not sure what the right response is to this article in the New York Times today. Is it to laugh, to cry, or to say "Duh"? The subject is Congress's recently passed ethics reforms:

It did not take long for lawmakers to find ways to keep having lobbyist-financed fun.

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker's honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents' Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like "Mary Poppins" and "The Drowsy Chaperone" (also $2,500 for two).

....By barring lobbyists from mingling with a lawmaker or his staff for the cost of a steak dinner, the restrictions have stirred new demand for pricier tickets to social fund-raising events.

Lobbyists say that the rules might even increase the volume of contributions flowing to Congress from K Street, where many lobbying firms have their offices.

Apparently the con is an absurdly simple one. Lobbyists can't pay for this stuff directly anymore, so instead they make a contribution to the congressman's PAC and the PAC pays for it.

That this is happening is not surprising. That it's so trivially easy is a little discouraging. Shouldn't it take them at least a year or so to figure out how to game the system whenever new rules are put in place? Were they even trying this time around?

On the other hand, the Starbucks thing was pretty amusing, assuming it makes it past your outrage filter. As was the whining from the lobbyists about how expensive it's getting to bribe lawmakers these days.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN....From Arnaud de Borchgrave's most recent column:

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

"But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

I don't know how reliable de Borchgrave is, but perhaps some serious reporter type person will call Shehabi next week and ask if this conversation really happened. And then maybe someone will ask Cheney if he agrees.

Via Pacific Views.

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February 10, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TEN THOUSAND....This is the 10,000th post on this blog. Hooray! Free beer for everyone today!

Now, this is not my 10,000th blog post, because I had my own blog for a while before I started working at the Monthly. Nor is it my 10,000th post on this blog, since other people have contributed posts too. In fact, it's not even the 10,000th post written specifically for this blog, since one or two thousand entries from my old blog were imported to this site when we started it up.

But who cares? The odometer just ticked over to five digits, and us base-10-using primates with oversized cortexes just love stuff like that. To celebrate, here's some bonus catblogging! As you can see in this picture taken just moments ago, Inkblot doesn't use base 10 and he's not a primate, and as a result he thinks that rolling around in the sun is more worthy of celebration than a blog post. As usual, he's probably right.

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TRANSPARENCY....Avedon Carol asks:

How on earth did Howie Kurtz find out about the existence of two brand-new blogs that appear to have come into existence solely to attack Nancy Pelosi over how she flies home, and why did he represent them as "typical" of the blogosphere's reaction to the fake flap -- and not even mention the many, many established blogs that have been debunking this stupid story?

That's a very good question. As the Roger Ailes post Avedon links to points out, Kurtz wasn't likely to have found these blogs via a Google search, so somebody must have brought them to his attention. Who?

This prompts me to revive one of my pet suggestions for improving political reporting: transparency. For example, take today's Daily Flap: Mike Allen's story about how Barack Obama used to say that Barack was Arabic for "blessed" but now says it's Swahili for "blessed by God." Whether or not you think Allen is being beat up more than he deserves over this, he could have avoided the whole thing -- and made his story better -- by telling us why he included this in his piece. Is it really something he noticed on his own? Is it something making the rounds of reporters who are following Obama? Did he get it from another Democratic campaign? From a Republican source? He doesn't have to name names, but especially in a story that's ostensibly about how other people are going to attack Obama, it would be enlightening to know where the various attacks are originating.

Ditto for other stories. Why did you decide to quote Bill Donohue? Is it because he called you or because you called him? That story about John Edwards' house. Where did the idea come from in the first place? Friend or foe? Etc.

For what it's worth, this is something that blogs do a little better than traditional media. I don't do it as consistently as I should, but I usually try to indicate where an idea came from. Often it's just from reading something in the press that I link to, but sometimes it's via reader email or via another blog, and in both cases I usually say so. If some organization complained about a post and I'm responding, I try to mention it (like here, for example). This gives you at least a clue about why I'm writing what I am and what axes to grind are behind it.

Anyway, I know this isn't going to happen. No need to remind me of that in comments, thank you very much. But it should.

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February 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OUTSIDE THE LAW....Every executive agency in the government, including the president's office, is required to issue an annual report disclosing statistics on document classification and declassification activity. Every executive agency, that is, except for one: the vice president's office. U.S. News & World Report explains:

Megan McGinn, Cheney's deputy press secretary, says the vice president's office is exempt.

"This matter has been thoroughly reviewed," McGinn told U.S. News, "and it has been determined that reporting requirements do not apply to the office of the vice president, which has both legislative and executive functions."

"Thoroughly reviewed," I assume, means that David Addington has written a memo saying Cheney doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to. He's not executive, he's not legislative, he's a quantum superposition of both and therefore not subject to the classical laws the rest of us are.

Usually their arrogance isn't quite so bald-faced. I guess Cheney is tired of putting up a facade for the little people.

Via Steve Benen, who has more.

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FOUR WARS....In Slate, Phil Carter writes that our problem in Iraq is that we're not fighting either a civil war or a counterinsurgency or an anti-terrorist campaign. We're fighting all of them at once. In fact, there are four separate wars:

  1. Shi'a on Shi'a, principally in the south. Requires delicate political maneuvering. Military action would "undermine the goal of building a legitimate and stable government for Iraq."

  2. Sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad. Requires a "massive imposition of force and control."

  3. The insurgency. Requires a traditional counterinsurgency approach. Unfortunately, the training of indigenous troops, the obvious first step, "has merely trained and equipped the partisans fighting Iraq's sectarian civil war."

  4. Al-Qaeda. Plays the role of spoiler anytime it looks like the other three wars might be flagging.

Phil doesn't say it, but the conclusion from this is pretty obvious: continued American engagement is futile. No matter what tactics we use, at best we can win only one of these battles -- and only at the cost of making the others worse. Read the whole thing.

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FRIDAY CATBLOGGING.... This picture doesn't really do it justice, but Domino is getting noticeably more playful as time goes on. On Tuesday she was rolling around underneath the footstool swatting at Inkblot's tail as it moved around. Inkblot actually seemed to be enjoying the game too.

But it's dinnertime that's really changed around here. In the old days, we'd open a can of food and spoon it out onto two plates, one for each cat. Inkblot and Jasmine ate a leisurely meal, usually leaving about half the food on the plate. Later they'd come back to finish it off. But those days are gone: Domino licks her plate to a sheen and then waits around for Inkblot to amble off. When he does, his leftover food is hoovered up in an instant.

All for the best, I suppose, since Inkblot is supposed to be losing some weight. It's hard not to feel a little sorry for him, though. He just doesn't realize that the competition has been cranked up a notch.

(Shed no tears, though. Inkblot also has a bowl of dry food available day and night. It's diet dry food these days, but them's the breaks.)

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TEMPERAMENT....Jonathan Alter on Rudy Giuliani:

His ridiculously thin skin and mile-wide mean streak were not allegations made by whiners and political opponents. They were traits widely known to his supporters. Which is why, if you ask Giuliani backers in New York City who was the better mayor -- Giuliani or Mike Bloomberg -- I'd wager that a strong majority would say Bloomberg.

....Based on the polls, Rudy Giuliani is now the front runner for the GOP nomination. He could very well be president. Instead of obsessing endlessly over whether social conservatives will scrutinize his record closely enough to see that he is not one of them, we should be debating what kind of president Giuliani -- or any of the rest of them -- would actually make. Let's begin by talking about temperament.

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LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA....I saw Letters from Iwo Jima yesterday, and I have a question. Can someone please tell me what the fuss was about?

As a war movie it was tedious. No story arc, no tension, no nothing. Just lots of random shooting back and forth. As a human story, it was cardboard thin. The flashbacks were clumsy and the stories they told were colorless and dull. Hell, Lost does it better. And as a message movie -- was it a message movie? -- it went nowhere. That is, unless the goal was to demonstrate the pointlessness of war by literally making viewers feel the pointlessness of remaining in their seats.

And a note to Clint Eastwood: subtitle technology has improved since 1925. Using a difficult font that's hard to read against a bright background does not improve the moviegoing experience.

I know, I know, I have terrible taste. But please, someone tell me what I missed here. How is it that this movie has been received so deliriously by the critical masses?

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MITT ROMNEY, TAX FIZZLER....Via Tapped, the Wall Street Journal reports that Mitt Romney has given up on the idea of campaigning on the promise of a tax cut: "The ex-Massachusetts governor had contemplated lower top individual and corporate tax rates, but was deterred by lost revenue as more upper-middle-class taxpayers seek relief from alternative minimum tax."

No big surprise there. Even Grover Norquist must realize by now that "Tax Cuts Forever!" has been pretty much played out. As Mark Schmitt wrote in our current issue, "The era of the tax revolt is over."

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"I WAS NOT ENDORSING ITS SUBSTANCE"....So, you remember all that, um, stuff created by Doug Feith's private intelligence shop in the Pentagon back in 2002 and 2003? You know, the stuff about how Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda and possessed an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? The stuff that helped justify a catastrophic preventive war that's still raging four years later?

Yeah, that stuff. Today, Feith tells us what it actually was:

This was not "alternative intelligence assessment." It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.

Got that? He didn't actually believe any of that stuff. He was just passing it along for giggles.

Please make it stop. Please?

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February 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DIMWITTERY....This afternoon I was trying to remember all of the dimwit stories about Democratic politicians that have somehow made the jump to mainstream media stardom in the past few weeks. I've got five:

  • Nancy Pelosi: the military jet flap

  • John Edwards: the Georgetown house flap, the foul-mouthed blogger flap

  • Barack Obama: the madrassa flap

  • Hillary Clinton: the "evil and bad men" flap

Two questions. First: am I missing any? I'm looking for the really dumb stuff that got picked up widely, not just run-of-the mill hackery. Second: since I admit that dimwit stories about conservative politicians are more likely to fly under my radar, have there been any of those in the past month that I've missed? I can't remember any.

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YES, THINGS CAN GET WORSE....A CONTINUING SERIES....The New York Times reports today on the recent spike in helicopter crashes in Iraq:

Some aspects of the recent crashes indicate that insurgents have become smarter about anticipating American flight patterns and finding ways to use old weapons to down helicopters, according to military and witness reports.

....Historically, improved tactics in shooting down helicopters have proved to be important factors in conflicts in which guerrillas have achieved victories against major powers, including battles in Somalia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

Compare that with Tom Lasseter's report from Baghdad last week:

The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.

.... After U.S. units pounded al-Sadr's men in August 2004, the cleric apparently decided that instead of facing American tanks, he'd use the Americans' plans to build Iraqi security forces to rebuild his own militia.

....His recruits began flooding into the Iraqi army and police, receiving training, uniforms and equipment either directly from the U.S. military or from the American-backed Iraqi Defense Ministry.

Every day that we remain in Iraq we are almost certainly making things worse, both politically and militarily. The political situation will continue to deteriorate because any kind of compromise is fatally associated with doing the Americans' bidding. The military situation will continue to deteriorate as the insurgents take advantage of the war to become better trained and more lethal. (Remember the mujahedin in Afghanistan?) And, as Armando never tires of pointing out, our continued presence is by far the most likely source of some kind of provocation that provides an excuse to expand the war into Iran.

Iraq is not likely to have a happy ending no matter what we do, and that's hard to accept. But there's a huge downside to staying, namely that the ending is likely to be a lot less happy the longer we're there. It's time to stop digging ourselves into an ever deeper hole.

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ALL ABOUT THE NUKES....Andrew Sullivan notes today that testimony in the Scooter Libby trial has made it crystal clear just how obsessed Dick Cheney was with Joe Wilson's rather modest criticisms of the administration back in 2003. It's also made it clear just how weird this obsession was. After all, Cheney's pushback against Wilson started before he wrote his infamous New York Times op-ed. It was based on nothing more than a couple of anonymous interviews Wilson had given to Walter Pincus and Nick Kristof, neither of which had resulted in very much attention. Sullivan asks:

Why did Dick Cheney care so much about Joe Wilson?....His Niger report was not central to the WMD case....But Cheney cared. In fact, he cared terribly. He cared so much he risked outing a CIA agent, something he must have known was very dangerous -- to both himself and his cronies. He is no fool and has been around Washington for a long time. He knew the risks, and he took them anyway....Why?

As Sullivan notes, one possible answer is: Cheney was just being Cheney. Massive retaliation is the only way he knows. And, frankly, that's a pretty persuasive theory.

But I don't think it's the right one. I think the right theory is that it was all about the nukes. It's always been all about the nukes. More here.

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By: Kevin Drum

PEAK OIL....I haven't posted much about peak oil lately, but here's a story that caught my eye this morning. Mexico's main oil field showed a very sharp drop in production last year:

Production at Cantarell, the world's second-largest oil complex, which provides about 60% of Mexico's crude, averaged 1.78 million barrels a day in 2006. That's a 13% drop from 2005....The decline was more than twice as great as the company's published predictions, and the slide will almost surely continue in 2007.

...."They are feeling pressure from the market to say that things are fine ... and that they are doing well in production," said Mexico City energy analyst David Shields, the author of two books on Pemex. "But oil engineers will tell you that when a major field is in decline, it doesn't come back up again unless you do something very radical to change the dynamics....I don't see that happening."

The issue here isn't that Cantarell is declining. That began a couple of years ago and had been widely anticipated. What's news is that, just as many peak oil theorists have been warning, when big fields start to decline they decline faster than anyone expects. So far, Cantarell appears to be evidence that they're right.

By itself, this is nothing to get alarmed about (unless you're a Mexican politician or a Pemex executive). However, if it turns out that the peak oil guys are broadly correct, and declining fields start turning into collapsing fields across the world, that would be something to get alarmed about. We don't know yet if that will turn out to be the case, but it's very definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

GOOD NEWS WATCH....Just so you know, the BBC is reporting that talks with North Korea are showing a "hint of progress." Elsewhere, the LA Times says that public opinion in Iran is shifting and "signals that a broad range of Iranians hope to avoid an all-out confrontation."

To be honest, neither story is all that heartening if you read through the whole thing, but good news is in such short supply that I figured I'd link to them anyway. Enjoy it while you can.

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By: Kevin Drum

SILLY SEASON ARRIVES SIX MONTHS EARLY....IS IT GLOBAL WARMING?....The continuing flap over Nancy Pelosi's military jet accomodations is so knuckle-draggingly stupid that I can hardly stand to open the newspaper these days for fear of reading about it. But open the paper I did this morning, and it spurs a question. Here's the dope on the larger military plane that everyone is complaining about:

Air Force officials say at least 21 people can theoretically request to use the C-40s....Those who can ask for the planes include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Cabinet secretaries and seven commanders who oversee military operations around the world.

Now, Pelosi claims that she doesn't need a C-40. She just wants something that can get her to California without refueling. But riddle me this: why is it that these supposedly luxurious aircraft are almost exclusively for the use of the executive branch? Is there some reason that the Secretary of Commerce needs the foldout bed and the communications suite but the Speaker of the House doesn't? Why? Ditto for the Joint Chiefs. Seems to me that the top brass in Congress rate these perks every bit as much as the top brass in the executive branch. Maybe we should ditch these things and make everyone squeeze into long-range Gulfstreams.

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By: Kevin Drum

KNOWING YOUR OPTIONS....From the Washington Post today:

In the survey of 1,144 doctors nationwide, 8 percent said they had no obligation to present all possible options to patients, and 18 percent said they did not have to tell patients about other doctors who provide care they found objectionable.

Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that more than 40 million Americans may be seeing physicians who do not believe that they are obligated to disclose information about legal treatments the doctor objects to, and 100 million have doctors who do not feel the need to refer patients to another provider.

....Male doctors and those who described themselves as religious were the most likely to feel that doctors could tell patients about their objections and less likely to believe doctors must present all options or offer a referral.

So I guess secular female doctors are your best bet. Assuming you want one who actually does her job, that is. Consider yourself warned.

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February 7, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGERS AND CAMPAIGNS....On one level, this whole dustup over the Edwards campaign's hiring of Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon) and Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) is faintly ridiculous. (Brief summary here.) I mean, did the Edwards people not know what they were getting? All you have to do is read their archives for a couple of hours to realize that both of them write stuff that's likely to offend some people. Did the Edwards campaign inexplicably fail to do that?

Unfortunately, it might end up being not so ridiculous at all. Bloggers nearly all talk trash, and if Edwards sets a precedent by agreeing that you shouldn't hire a blogger who's ever said anything that anyone finds offensive -- even for a relatively low-level position -- then that's pretty much it for hiring bloggers. And that would be a shame. I hope they stick to their guns on this and laugh it off. It'll be forgotten in a couple of days if they do.

For more, see Steve Benen.

Kevin Drum 7:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONFIDENCE MAN....Mr. Straight Talk on the surge:

John McCain just told Harry Reid and Dick Durbin that it's impossible to support the troops unless you support the mission. "A vote of no confidence is a vote of no confidence in the men and women who are serving in the military."

So I guess this means Congress can never try to wind down any military conflict. Because that would demonstrate a lack of confidence in our troops.

Unless they happen to be in Somalia, of course.

UPDATE: Or in Vietnam! Or Beirut!

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By: Kevin Drum

AHMADINEJAD AND THE NUKES....The LA Times ran a long story today about Israel's "unusually open campaign" over the past few months to convince global leaders that Iran's nuclear program is a threat to the world. "What is new is Israel's abandonment of quiet diplomacy to rally others to its side. Until a few months ago, Israeli leaders worried that high-profile lobbying would backfire and provoke accusations that they were trying to drag the United States and its allies into a war."

OK. But then there's this:

Vice Premier Shimon Peres told students in Qatar last week that Israel's problem was with Ahmadinejad, not the Iranian people, and it did not "intend to use military action."

If Ahmadinejad were to fall, "someone else would come to power, someone less hostile, and the question of whether they have nuclear capability will be less important," said Uri Lubrani, a former Israeli ambassador to Iran who advises the Defense Ministry and opposes military action.

That, however, appears to be a minority view in the government and defense establishment. Other officials and analysts argue that voluntary sanctions are unlikely to win full support from European countries and in any case would be undermined by Russia, China and India. They say time is too short and the stakes too high to bet solely on a change in government.

Genuine question here: what's the deal with the obsession over Ahmadinejad? He's certainly a loathsome guy, but my understanding is that he has no control at all over Iran's nuclear program and its possible future use. He can talk all he wants, but it's just not part of his remit. Foreign policy in general, and control of nuclear weapons in particular, is solely under the control of the Guardians Council.

But the more I read about this the foggier it gets, and I haven't been able to figure out if this is really true. There may be subtleties underneath the public chain of command that aren't obvious -- though if there are, they seem to suggest that Ahmadinejad has even less power over the nuclear program than it seems on the surface.

Anybody have some good references on this? I don't really have anything against Ahmadinejad bashing, but on the nuclear front he's a nobody. So who cares whether or not there's a change in government?

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By: Kevin Drum

ATTACKING IRAN....In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman weighs in on whether the president can order air strikes against Iran:

FP: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has told her colleagues that if President Bush wants to take the country to war against Iran, the House of Representatives would take up a bill denying him the authority to do so. Does the House have the ability to do that?

BA: The president has to get another authorization for a war against Iran. It isn't up to Nancy Pelosi or the House to prevent him; he doesn't have the constitutional authority to just expand the war. He does not have the authority to unilaterally invade Iran....

FP: What about actions short of invasion: air strikes or hot pursuit?

BA: Air strikes would be an invasion. It's an act of war of an unambiguous variety....On a major incursion into another large Middle Eastern country, I believe that, when push comes to shove, the president will once again request the explicit authorization of Congress. When he was contemplating the invasion of Iraq, he was in a much stronger position politically -- and he was still obliged to request authorization. And the same thing would happen again.

I think that's right. And I think Democrats better be prepared to figure out how they're going to vote on such an authorization. It's not as if they aren't getting plenty of warning that it's likely to cross their desks sometime in the near future.

Kevin Drum 1:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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By: T.A. Frank

DICK CHENEY'S BOY.... It looks like another member of the Cheney family is getting into trouble. This time, it's DHS General Counsel Philip Perry, husband of Elizabeth Cheney and son-in-law of Dick Cheney.

According to testimony yesterday by Government Accountability Office Comptroller David Walker, the DHS strategy of dealing with investigations is to "delay, delay, delay." This comes as no surprise to Monthly staffers. Our latest issue, due on stands this weekend, has a piece all about Perry, "Dick Cheney's Dangerous Son-In-Law," and his role in another delay, delay, delay. That would be the five-plus-year (and counting) delay in producing any serious chemical security legislation in the wake of 9/11, even though security experts agree that our chemical plants are uniquely vulnerable and deadly.

Why would Philip Perry, general counsel of DHS (who recently announced his resignation), have any influence in undermining chemical security? Well, if you ardently oppose regulation, play your cards with skill, and, most important, have Dick Cheney as your father-in-law, there's almost nothing you can't make people not do. Read the whole thing.

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By: Kevin Drum

LIONS AND LAMBS....Union boss Andy Stern today:

It is time to admit that the employer-based health care system is dead -- a relic of the industrial economy. America cannot compete in the new global economy when we are the only industrialized nation on earth that puts the price of healthcare on the cost of our products.

....And that's why I chose to be here today, standing with several major corporations -- some of whom I don't always agree with, and of some of whom, frankly, I have been critical.

One of the companies joining him is Wal-Mart. Others include Intel, AT&T, and Kelly Services. Details are a little sketchy, but all of these companies -- did I say Wal-Mart was one of them? -- have decided to work together with SEIU to push for universal healthcare (of an undefined nature) by around 2012.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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February 6, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OPPOSING THE WAR....Was Time's Joe Klein opposed to the war in 2002? Here's what he said on Monday:

I remember sitting in John Kerry's office as he went to the floor to cast his vote in October 2002. He read me his speech supporting Bush and asked what I thought. I said I thought it was an ok speech, but I wouldn't be voting that way. But I can't prove that...I can, however, prove that as early as this column and this one, I was criticizing the Bush administration's conduct of the war.

This provokes a question that goes beyond generic Klein bashing. Taking him at his word, he plainly opposed the war as early as October 2002. (It doesn't get much plainer than opposing the war resolution, after all.) However, also taking him at his word that the columns he links to are the best examples he has of his opposition, it means that for five solid months he opposed the upcoming war in Iraq but never wrote a single word clearly saying so in public.

Why? What was he afraid of? Ditto for anyone else who does this kind of thing, since this phenomenon is hardly limited to Iraq or Joe Klein. What are they all afraid of?

UPDATE: Yeah, half rhetorical. But only half. Honestly done, Atrios's idea would make a pretty good column.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LIMITS OF WONKERY....This is pretty far down in the weeds and probably doesn't interest very many people, but at the risk of beating a tedious subject to death here's another take on the question of whether or not presidential candidates should commit themselves to detailed healthcare proposals (or any other kind of proposal, for that matter). I have two answers:

First: During a campaign, nobody cares about 100-page white papers. That's not going to stop them from being produced (all those policy aides have to do something, after all), but they won't buy you a single vote. They might lose you a few votes, though, so you're probably better off not bothering.

But: You need to do something to make both your priorities and your positions credible. It doesn't have to be a full-blown policy paper, but it does need to be more than "It's a tragedy that 43 million Americans have no health insurance." You have to offer at least enough detail to convince voters that (a) you really are serious about doing something, and (b) you have at least some idea of what approach you want to take. Basically, your proposal needs to have at least enough detail to draw serious fire and survive. This is what gives you a mandate to follow through once you're elected.

That said, I'd like to suggest that the two examples served up here by Steve Benen illustrate this point pretty well. The first is George Bush's tax proposal of 2000, and it was right in the sweet spot: detailed enough to demonstrate he was serious about it but not so detailed that it drew the fire of every special interest group in the country. It got plenty of attention and was clearly something that people were voting for. Result: a solid mandate and a big tax cut in 2001. (And 2002, 2003, and 2004.)

The second example is Bush's Social Security proposal in 2004. In this case, there was too little: Bush mentioned privatization only in passing and it never became a big campaign topic. Nobody had to seriously defend it, its popularity was never really tested, and Bush's victory that year obviously owed nothing to it. Result: no mandate and a crushing defeat in 2005.

Bottom line: this is one area where the golden middle really is the right place to be. Serious proposals need to have enough meat on them to produce a mandate for action, but not so much meat that they tie you up in knots for the entire campaign season.

Fascinating, no? Aren't you glad you read all the way to the end?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE WAR....Matt Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld got some backup this weekend for their contention that the Iraq war was doomed to failure no matter how well it had been prosecuted. After a long lead-in, here's the conclusion of New York Times reporter John Burns:

My guess is that history will say that the forces that we liberated by invading Iraq were so powerful and so uncontrollable that virtually nothing the United States might have done, except to impose its own repressive state with half a million troops, which might have had to last ten years or more, nothing we could have done would have effectively prevented this disintegration that is now occurring.

The really odd thing here is that I found this via John Podhoretz at The Corner, who calls it "frank" and "powerful." But even though Burns acknowledges that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a uniquely bad regime, even by Mideast standards, the obvious conclusion from his comments is that (a) as a way of liberalizing the Middle East the war was a bad idea from the get-go and (b) further military action in the Middle East is likely to backfire too. Is that a conclusion that Podhoretz and his fellow Cornerites are willing to accept?

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN EDWARDS' HEALTHCARE PLAN....John Edwards' new healthcare proposal is, basically, an individual mandate (everyone is required to get health insurance coverage somehow) combined with community rating (private insurers have to take all comers, regardless of medical condition) and government subsidies (the feds will pay for insurance if you're too poor to afford it). Private insurance would be available through a mechanism Edwards calls "Health Markets." Jon Cohn explains what makes this new:

But that's not the plan's most intriguing -- and potentially radical -- feature. That distinction...is for what's known as a Medicare buy-in. When people go to buy insurance through the Health Markets, they'll have the option to buy into a public program modeled on Medicare. This would, in theory, set up a competition between the public and private insurance plans. And, if the public program ends up winning in the long run -- by attracting most or all of the subscribers -- then eventually you'd have what is basically a single-payer system, in which the government provides insurance directly to most people through something like Medicare.

Upside: Edwards' plan has the potential to evolve into a rational single-payer model in the future. Downside: It might not, and in the meantime it combines the additional cost of universal coverage without the offsetting benefits of the administrative savings from a single-payer system.

Overall, though, it's a decent plan. So is Mark Schmitt right to say that it's still a political loser? "Let me go public with the one sure thing I learned from my own miserable six months working on a presidential campaign -- Do Not Put Out A Health Care Plan....There will be particular problems with any health care proposal....And the people who are most likely to vote based on health care are also people likely to be fearful of losing what they have. It will always be for political opponents to push that fear button. And when they do, the cause of universal health care is set back."

I don't think I agree, because at some point you really do have to run a campaign and win despite the fear button. Otherwise you'll get the feel-good vote during the election but then lose later on when you try to fulfill your campaign promise and run smack into....the fear button. Best to take it on in broad daylight and wrestle it to the ground. Eventually someone will have to.

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By: Kevin Drum

GROUP BLOGS....Are single-person political blogs dying off? That would certainly be a drag for me, but Chris Bowers makes a surprisingly strong case that this is a real trend. Hmmm.

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By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC OPINION....Is a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's "surge" really just a meaningless bit of preening from antiwar forces? If so, why are Republicans so single-mindedly trying to keep it from a vote? E.J. Dionne explains:

They know, as the war's opponents should, that in a democracy whose constitution accords so much power to the president, turning around even a failed war policy takes time, persuasion, organizing, legislative strategizing and pressure.

The impatience of the administration's critics is entirely understandable. But it would be a shame if impatience got in the way of a sensible long-term strategy to bring America's engagement in this war to as decent an end as possible as quickly as possible -- even if not as quickly as they'd like. The anti-surge resolution is a necessary first step, which is why those who are against a genuine change in our Iraq policy are fighting so hard to stop it.

Yep. This is all about public opinion, and war supporters know it. Right now, the debate over these resolutions is nearly invisible to most people. We political junkies are following it, but virtually nobody else is.

But if a resolution passes, and the result is newspapers and evening news shows running big stories headlined "Senate Votes to Oppose Surge" -- well, that will get noticed by a big chunk of the country that currently has no idea what's going on. We bloggers and blog readers may not be attuned to much of anything outside our own activist circles, but members of Congress sure are, and they know exactly what impact a successful resolution would have on dinner table conversations in their districts. All the maneuvering, all the rhetoric, all the parliamentary kabuki, it's all designed to avoid that one headline. That's why the resolution is important even though it has no legally binding impact: public opinion, baby, public opinion.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING, TAKE 2....Now that I've vented my annoyance with Anne Applebaum's mind reading performance in today's Post, a reader suggests I should follow this up by mentioning that her substantive position is actually perfectly reasonable:

Any lasting solutions will have to be extremely simple....Fortunately, there is such a solution....It's called a carbon tax, and it should be applied across the board to every industry that uses fossil fuels, every home or building with a heating system, every motorist, and every public transportation system. Immediately, it would produce a wealth of innovations to save fuel, as well as new incentives to conserve. More to the point, it would produce a big chunk of money that could be used for other things.

Quite so, and virtually every serious analyst I've read agrees that a carbon tax is one of the primary building blocks for any effective global warming policy. Considering the results of this poll (see page 2), it's especially welcome to hear this kind of sensible talk from a conservative.

Of course, this makes the mockery in Applebaum's opening paragraph even more inexplicable. If she agrees that global warming is real, and that it may have catastrophic consequences, and that serious action is justified to fight it, why was she so dismissive of a newspaper report that implied the exact same thing? Very mysterious.

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S A NEWSPAPER, NOT A MIRROR....I'm really tired of this kind of thing. Here is Anne Applebaum's sneering column today about the latest IPCC report on global warming:

"Worse than we thought." The headline in the British Guardian newspaper on Saturday was almost gloating about the bad news. The tone of the article that followed was no different....Among the coastal cities threatened by the higher ocean levels caused by melting ice caps, the paper noted -- not without a degree of satisfaction -- are London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

"Almost gloating"? I defy you to read either the headline or the Guardian's brief report (here) and find even a hint of gloating. Sure, the news they're reporting is dismal, but that's because the IPCC report was pretty dismal and they're reporting what the IPCC report actually said. As for the melting ice caps, the Guardian summarizes the likely consequences of a 4 degree rise in global temperature at the end of the piece. Here's the full paragraph on flooding:

Sea levels rise by up to 59cm. Bangladesh and Vietnam worst hit, along with coastal cities such as London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Calcutta and Karachi. 1.8m people at risk from coastal flooding in Britain alone.

This was reported "not without a degree of satisfaction"? She must be kidding. That's as telegraphic a style as you're ever likely to see in a modern newspaper. I recommend that in the future Applebaum leave the faux psychoanalysis to Charles Krauthammer. It suits him better.

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (93)

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February 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EGGS OVER EASY....From the National Journal, this pretty much speaks for itself. It's not just that Republican members of Congress aren't convinced that global warming is a man-made problem -- gotta keep those campaign donations from Exxon rolling in, after all -- it's that the number who believe this has actually gone down over the past year.

Down! What could possibly have happened over the past nine months to make them less likely to believe in human-induced global warming? Hell, even George Bush now claims to believe that greenhouse gases are at fault. Truly stupefying.

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY AND RUDY....I'm with Atrios on this: I don't think it's surprising at all that Hillary Clinton trounced Rudy Giuliani in a recent poll in New York state. It's sort of the flipside of my earlier argument about Hillary being stronger than many people think.

In Hillary's case, my argument is that there are a lot of people who have vague, negative impressions of her from the 90s, and that these people are going to be pleasantly surprised when they see her for the first time in years and she turns out not to be a fire-breathing dragon after all. Maybe it's the soft bigotry of low expectations, but it's real nonetheless. She has nowhere to go but up.

Giuliani is just the opposite. The average voter has vague, positive impressions of Rudy thanks to his 9/11 heroics, and these people are going to be unpleasantly surprised when they see him for the first time in years and he turns out to be nastier than they remember (not to mention being freighted down by a closet full of skeletons they didn't know about). He has nowhere to go but down.

New York demonstrates this dynamic pretty well. Name recognition isn't an issue since both Clinton and Giuliani are well known there. And unlike the rest of the country, the average New Yorker has good, sharp recent memories of both candidates. The result? Clinton is better liked than in the rest of the country and Giuliani is less liked. The same thing is likely to happen when both candidates go national.

Anyway, that's my take. I don't think Giuliani has the faintest chance of winning a presidential contest in 2008, which is the reason I insisted a few days ago that the Republican field was so poor this cycle. Democrats, on the other hand, look pretty good.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: My track record on these kinds of predictions isn't especially good. You have been warned.

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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By: Kevin Drum

STRATEGIC APPETITE....Is the Pentagon's budget too stingy?

For more than a year, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, has pointed out that defense spending accounts for about 3.8% of the gross domestic product....Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen added: "At 3.8%, it just isn't enough for the strategic appetite, and the strategic appetite is tied directly to the world we're living in."

Of course, that isn't true. Here's what's in the FY2008 budget:

In fiscal 2008, beginning Oct. 1, the administration is requesting $481.4 billion for the Pentagon, an increase of $49 billion or 11.3%, that doesn't count two additional requests for Iraq and the larger global war against terrorism. When these are included, the president is asking for a total of $716.5 billion to carry the military through Sept. 30, 2008.

That's about 4.9% of GDP. Add in other items that are routinely left out of the "Pentagon" budget even though they're clearly part of our overall defense expenditures and you get a number well over 5% of GDP. Seems like a pretty fair chunk of change, doesn't it? Though, no doubt, still not enough to sate the Pentagon's "strategic appetite." But what is?

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By: Kevin Drum

DIAMOND ON IRAN....Leonard Weiss and Larry Diamond are members in good standing of the mainstream liberal foreign policy community. They're about the farthest thing imaginable from a pair of left-wing loonies, but here's what they have to say today about Iran and the Bush administration:

When Bush signed the Iraq war resolution, he issued a statement challenging the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, indicating that he could take the nation to war without obeying its restrictions. Unfortunately, even if the president were to agree to the act's restrictions, he could still attack Iran and have up to 90 days before being required to get congressional authorization for the attack.

What to do? Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.

....The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto. If he simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

Italics mine. Diamond, obviously, has more than the usual insight into how the Bush administration thinks and acts, since Condi Rice chose him to advise the CPA on Iraqi development in early 2004. His conclusion: the administration plans to bomb Iran and plans to do it whether Congress likes it or not. Listen up, Democrats.

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February 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OH MY!....Hmmm. Colts vs. Bears. Do I care? Not really, but I've got a friend who got his PhD from Northwestern and roots for the Bears, so I suppose I will too. Plus the Colts did the same thing to Baltimore that the Rams did to Orange County. Can't reward that kind of behavior, can we? Go Bears!

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE EDWARDS....Digby says that John Edwards said the right things about Iran this morning on Meet the Press. That's good to hear.

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By: Kevin Drum

STAB-IN-THE-BACK WATCH....Over at the Weekly Standard, the magazine that provides the intellectual superstructure for hawkish neoconservatism, Noemie Emery provides the most straightforward version yet of the stab-in-the-back narrative that neocons plan to lay on Democrats a few months from now:

[If] the surge is seen to fail, they will be the ones who made it more difficult, demoralized the armed forces, kneecapped the commander, and telegraphed to the enemy that our will was cracking, and we would shortly be leaving.

The Democrats have also given Bush a partial alibi for a possible failure -- he tried, but at a critical moment they threw in the towel. This argument would be plausible enough to attract support from a great many people.

Why yes, it might be plausible enough to "attract support from a great many people"! It just mght. But I wonder where all these people will get the idea in the first place? Such a wonderful invention, the passive voice, isn't it?

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By: Kevin Drum

MOVING LEFT?....Matt Yglesias remains bitter about Ralph Nader's spoiler role in the 2000 election, but also has this to say:

On the other hand, one of the memes floating about in the Nadersphere has, I think, been vindicated: Namely the basically Leninist idea that a Democratic loss and a period of Republican governance would pull the Democrats in a more progressive direction in terms of, for example, questioning "Washington Consensus" globalization. At the time, that argument didn't make sense to me. And in some important ways I still don't think it makes a ton of sense logically. But it does seem to be what's happened. Now, was that a price worth paying for the dead in Iraq, the torture, etc.? I don't really think so.

Steve Benen and Isaac Chotiner have some comments about this, but I have a question: Is Matt's basic premise even true? Is the Democratic Party more generally progressive today than it was six years ago?

There's not much question that Democrats (and liberals in general) are more aggressive today than they were in the year 2000. Six years of George Bush and Tom DeLay will do that to you. But on a policy level, are John Kerry and Hillary Clinton more progressive than Al Gore? Is Barack Obama further left than Bill Bradley, Gore's primary challenger in 2000? Is the team of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid noticably more liberal than Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle? (ADA scores here.) Are congressional Democrats taking a less hawkish line on Iran than they did on Iraq in 2002? Are they more willing to take action to make the tax system more genuinely progressive? Or to seriously tackle universal healthcare?

I'm genuinely agnostic on this issue. Comments are very definitely solicited. On a surface level, today's Democrats do seem a bit further left on some subjects than they were in 2000, but I'm not really sure it's more than skin deep. After all, Hillary Clinton's doomed 1994 healthcare plan is still more progressive than anything on the agenda of the current crop of presidential contenders. Where's the progress?

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By: Kevin Drum

ON THE GROUND IN BAGHDAD....Tom Lasseter is one of our best on-the-ground reporters in Iraq, a guy with a track record for getting things right. Here's what he wrote on Saturday about George Bush's plan to pacify Baghdad with five new brigades:

Soldiers interviewed across east Baghdad, home to more than half the city's 8 million people, said the violence is so out of control that while a surge of 21,500 more American troops may momentarily suppress it, the notion that U.S. forces can bring lasting security to Iraq is misguided.

....Almost every foot soldier interviewed during a week of patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only temporarily. The soldiers cited a variety of reasons, including incompetence or corruption among Iraqi troops, the complexities of Iraq's sectarian violence and the lack of Iraqi public support, a cornerstone of counterinsurgency warfare.

Interviews and quotes are a dime a dozen. If you interview enough people you can find quotes to back up any position you feel like taking. But if Lasseter says flatly that "almost every foot soldier" thinks the mission in Baghdad is doomed, that's a whole different matter. If it's true, it almost doesn't matter if the surge is technically feasible. It won't work if the people charged with implementing it no longer believe they have any hope of making a difference.

And a note to the dead-enders: If you want to chalk this up to standard GI griping -- every soldier's traditional right -- I guess no one can stop you. Ditto if you think this is just liberal media bias and Lasseter is holding back on all the positive reactions he got. Just be sure you have a backup position in a few months when it turns out he was right.

Kevin Drum 1:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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February 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EDWARDS AND IRAN....Here is John Edwards two weeks ago, speaking about Iran to the Herzliya Conference in Israel:

Edwards: Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn't done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran.....To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table. Let me reiterate -- ALL options must remain on the table....

Question: ....Would you be prepared, if diplomacy failed, to take further action against Iran?....Secondly, you as grassroots person, who has an understanding of the American people, is there understanding of this threat across US?

Edwards: ....As to what to do, we should not take anything off the table....As to the American people, this is a difficult question. The vast majority of people are concerned about what is going on in Iraq. This will make the American people reticent toward going for Iran. But I think the American people are smart if they are told the truth, and if they trust their president. So Americans can be educated to come along with what needs to be done with Iran.

Italics mine. And I'm left wondering: I don't think the American people have any real problem with economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure against Iran. So just what is it that Edwards thinks they need to be educated about? Military action?

Now, here is John Edwards speaking to liberal American Prospect reporter Ezra Klein yesterday:

Klein: So, I just want to get it very clear, you think that attacking Iran would be a bad idea?

Edwards: I think would have very bad consequences.

Klein: So when you said that all options are on the table?

Edwards: It would be foolish for any American president to ever take any option off the table.

Klein: Can we live with a nuclear Iran?

Edwards: I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet. I think that we have lots of opportunities that we've ... We're not negotiating with them directly, what I just proposed has not been done. We're not being smart about how we engage with them. But I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet. And I think the reason people react the way they do -- I understand it, because, when George Bush uses this kind of language, it means something very different for most people. I mean when he uses this kind of language "options are on the table," he does it in a very threatening kind of way -- with a country that he's not engaging with or making any serious diplomatic proposals to. I mean I think that he's just dead wrong about that.

Let me say first off that I like Edwards. I always have. And I'd very much like to go along with the conventional wisdom that he "backed off" his hawkish Iran comments when he talked to the Prospect yesterday.

But, really, does anyone believe that? I don't. Instead, he was engaging in Politics 101: telling different audiences what they each want to hear. When he's talking to an Israeli conference, he emphasizes the supreme danger Iran presents and implies strongly that military action is a real possibility, while barely even mentioning the idea of engagement and economic aid. When he's talking to a liberal American magazine, he emphasizes engagement and economic aid and downplays the possibility of military action as vanishingly unlikely during an Edwards presidency.

Technically, there was no contradiction between what he said in these two venues. At the Israeli conference he did mention direct engagement with Iran, even if it was only in response to a question at the end. And with the Prospect, he did say that all options had to be left on the table -- including, presumably, military action. Still, you'd barely know it was the same person talking if you read both conversations with no names attached.

There's nothing new about this. It's standard issue politics. But the internet is making this game harder to play, because every word you speak, at every venue, is now easily accessible to people who aren't quite as jaded about this kind of thing as most political reporters are. People like me. And I'll tell you: I'd sure feel a lot better if even a small part of Edwards' comments to the Prospect had made their way into his speech at Herzliya.

Kevin Drum 8:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

SUPER BIPARTISANSHIP....Check this out. Megachurches across the nation are being forced to cancel their Super Bowl parties:

Farmland Friends [in Indiana] on Friday joined churches nationwide in abruptly canceling its Super Bowl party for fear of violating a federal copyright law that prohibits public venues from showing NFL games on big-screen TVs.

....The law has been widely ignored for years....This year, however, a celebration sponsored by Falls Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis caught the attention of a National Football League attorney, Rachel L. Margolies.

....The intent of the law, which dates to the 1960s, is to protect the NFL's television ratings by preventing large crowds from gathering to watch games in public places -- where their viewing habits aren't measured by the Nielsen ratings. (The ratings only measure viewership at home.) Sports bars and other businesses that rely on televised sports to draw patrons are exempt.

Under NFL guidelines -- and federal law -- churches, schools and other public venues can hold football-viewing parties only if they use a single, living-room-size TV, no bigger than 55 inches.

I smell a chance for some sweet, sweet bipartisan action here! We on the left (along with our libertarian friends, of course) oppose the massive overreach of intellectual property law that gives big business the right to do stuff like this. Likewise, our colleagues on the right would get big ups from their base if (mostly conservative) megachurches were once again free of the NFL/Uncle Sam jackboot. So how about it? Who's in favor of the Obama-Brownback Freedom to Be a Fan Act of 2007?

Kevin Drum 2:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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By: Kevin Drum

SYRIA UPDATE....A couple of days ago Joshua Landis posted some notes from Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC's bureau chief in Jerusalem, about a presentation by Alon Liel, the former Director General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Liel has been secretly meeting with Syrian negotiators for the past couple of years and reports that he believes they are genuinely interested in rapprochement:

The Syrians, Liel says are serious about a full "reorientation." The deal on offer is far more than an Israeli-Syrian deal over the Golan Heights. The deal would encompass a full engagement of Syria with the international community. No Hamas, no Iran, no Hezbollah. The Syrians are fully aware they won't get the Golan if they remain within the Iranian axis.

They are willing to wait for the land until their change of heart is proven to be genuine and lasting. This is where the 5 or 15 year withdrawal timetable came from.They are completely inflexible on the question of sovereignty and the 4th June 1967 borders. They want all the land and swaps are a non starter.

The Syrians apparently wanted to begin formalizing the negotiations, but according to Liel, this was vetoed by the Bush administration. Brian Ulrich is puzzled:

If Liel's perceptions are accurate, and I suspect they are, then American policy makes no sense, though since Dick Cheney was apparently in the loop of our involvement, that's to be expected. The war drums focus is clearly on Iran. I doubt the Bush administration could plan a major confrontation with Syria during its two remaining years in office. What, therefore, is the point of stymieing negotiations?

Good question. Perhaps Cheney is afraid of a domino effect?

Kevin Drum 2:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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February 2, 2007
By: T.A. Frank

No Shame: So I visit a rundown zoo and see hyenas in miserable cages, lions in miserable cages, and antelopes in miserable cages. I'm disgusted by their conditions, so I attack the zookeepers and set the animals free. The lions eat the antelopes, the hyenas eat the antelopes (and sometimes the lions, too), and the antelopes run for shelter. Should I feel bad for not having minded my own business? No way, says Charles Krauthammer. Hey, who knew that lions liked to eat antelopes? "We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war."

T.A. Frank 7:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN AND IRAQ....Is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates trying to suggest that Iranian explosive devices are responsible for 70% of U.S. casualties in Iraq? Hard to say. Maybe he just didn't realize quite what he was implying. Laura Rozen has the story here.

Normally this wouldn't be too big a deal. And it probably still isn't. But clever juxtaposition is apparently what convinced half of all Americans that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (see here), so it's worth keeping an eye on this kind of stuff.

Kevin Drum 6:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

USE OF FORCE....Ezra Klein listens to Hillary Clinton explaining that she wouldn't have voted for the Iraq war if she'd known how bad the intelligence was (not to mention how big a doofus George Bush was) -- and comes away unsatisfied. Being more skeptical about intelligence, he says, is not the right lesson to learn from Iraq:

The lesson I've taken, by contrast, is that toppling Middle Eastern governments, occupying their societies, and trying to impose pluralistic democracy is an almost impossible endeavor, one with far more potential for catastrophe than completion. And it's easy to assume, listening to politicians who have turned against the war, that they've gleaned the same. That isn't necessarily true. Just because they oppose the Iraq War in retrospect, doesn't mean they oppose the theory on which it was based. They may have turned against the lies, or the mismanagement, or the unpopularity. But they may not have substantially raised the bar for the use of force.

Regular readers know that I largely agree with the spirit of this. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards may claim to have learned a lesson from the Iraq debacle, but when the conversation turns to Iran they sure don't sound like they've learned much of anything.

But I think Ezra's formulation falls short too. Arguing that it's not possible to impose democracy on Middle Eastern countries is sort of like fighting the last war. It doesn't even matter whether it's true or not. It's damaged goods, and no one in the foreseeable future is going to use this as an excuse for military action. Why bother constructing arguments against a case no one is going to make?

Right now, the most likely target for the use of military force in the Middle East is Iran, and when the time comes George Bush won't pretend that he's trying to midwife the birth of democracy there. He's simply going to point to some border incident or another, along with intelligence suggesting that Iran is close to building a nuclear bomb, and that will be that. The cruise missiles will be on their way.

Bottom line: forget about democracy-building arguments for now. The ground has shifted. In the upcoming marketing campaign for war against Iran, much of the debate actually will be focused on intelligence (just how close is Iran to building a nuke?), so it's nice to know that Clinton and Edwards claim they're going to approach the intelligence with a more skeptical eye this time around. More important, though, are their views on (a) whether they approve of using military force to prevent Iran from someday going nuclear if they feel there's no other way to stop it, and (b) whether they believe the president can unilaterally take such action. Or, conversely, would they support a resolution barring the president from taking substantial military action against Iran without prior congressional approval? Do they even think Congress has that authority? That's a question I'd like them to answer, especially since someday one of them just might be the president considering military action.

UPDATE: More here that I pretty much agree with. Aside from Iran-specific issues, it's the broader questions that are most important, not the narrow ones.

UPDATE 2: Just in case this post wasn't clear -- always a distinct possibility -- here's a short conversation to ponder:

A: Trying to impose pluralistic democracy at the point of a gun is an almost impossible endeavor.

B: Oh yes. The Iraq war has firmly convinced me of that.

A: Aha! Then you agree that war with Iran would be wrong.

B: Oh no. I don't want to impose democracy on Iran. I just want to bomb their nuclear facilities and then leave.

A: Um.....

There just aren't many people left who think (or pretend to think) that the United States Army can make democracy bloom in the Middle East. We've won that argument for now. But we'd better be ready for all the other arguments.

Kevin Drum 5:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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By: Paul Glastris

Adultery Watch... If San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom were a Republican, he'd be perfectly positioned now to run for president.

Paul Glastris 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....Last week I blogged about the sheepskin kitty bed that I got for Domino and what a hit it turned out to be. In fact, it was such a hit that on Wednesday we got one for Inkblot too. We had to go to the dog section of the pet store to find one big enough, but find one we did.

He loves it. All I had to do was put it down next to him and he jumped right in and refused to budge for the rest of the day. (Until dinnertime, that is. Priorities.) And it's been great for us, too. Inkblot has always tended to sprawl out on the bed, which is sort of inconvenient for us, but now all we have to do is put his kitty bed where we want it (in the middle of the bed, oriented north-south) and he curls up right where we want him. And all for only ten bucks!

So anyway, here's your Friday Catblogging: Inkblot and Domino in their beloved (and cheap as dirt) cat beds. Best purchase I've made all week.

UPDATE: For everyone who's asked, we got these faux-sheepskin beds at PetSmart. The small one is here and the larger one is here. There's no guarantee that your cats will be as wild about them as ours, but for ten bucks ($15 for economy size cats) you can hardly go wrong.

Kevin Drum 11:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

GAYS IN THE MILITARY....From the latest Harris Poll: 55% of Americans think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

It's a small step. But a welcome one. Generational and party ID breakdowns are at the link.

Kevin Drum 11:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT THE MARKET WILL BEAR....Compare and contrast. First this:

After ringing up the biggest annual profit figure in U.S. corporate history in 2005, Exxon Mobil yesterday announced that it topped that number in 2006. Riding the wave of high crude oil and gasoline prices, the company reported a profit of $39.5 billion, up 9 percent from the year before. Its revenue of $377.6 billion exceeded the gross domestic product of all but 25 countries.

Then this:

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Seriously? These guys made $39.5 billion but were willing to pay scientists only ten grand each to whore themselves out writing reports and op-eds pretending there's some kind of serious doubt about the reality of human-induced global warming? Even though these scientists have kids to feed?

That's insulting. For this level of simpering I recommend holding out for at least $50,000. That's the minimum it would take to buy a congressman, after all.

Kevin Drum 10:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BATTLE OF BAGHDAD....If Tom Lasseter is to be believed -- and I think he is -- the junior officers leading our troops are not sanguine about our prospects in Baghdad. They think that Muqtada al-Sadr's militia has so thoroughly infiltrated the Iraqi army and police force that they're the ones who mostly benefit from our training:

"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory."

...."All the Shiites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they'll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It'll be called the 'Day of Death' or something like that," said 1st Lt. Alain Etienne, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They say, 'Wait, and we will be victorious.' That's what they preach. And it will be their victory."

.... After U.S. units pounded al-Sadr's men in August 2004, the cleric apparently decided that instead of facing American tanks, he'd use the Americans' plans to build Iraqi security forces to rebuild his own militia.

....His recruits began flooding into the Iraqi army and police, receiving training, uniforms and equipment either directly from the U.S. military or from the American-backed Iraqi Defense Ministry.

You know, everything I've heard suggests that Gen. David Petraeus is a terrific officer in all respects. And yet, there's something that's been niggling in the back of my mind for a while: namely that in August 2004, when al-Sadr was hatching this plan, Petraeus was the guy in charge of creating and overseeing the training program for the Iraqi army and police. In other words, he was the guy who was being suckered. Now he's in charge of the whole operation. Is anybody else bothered by this?

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ: POSSIBLE TROUBLE SPOT?....After six months of grueling work, our intelligence community has apparently produced a 90-page report stating the obvious:

A long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, presented to President Bush by the intelligence community yesterday, outlines an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration, according to sources familiar with the document.

....The document emphasizes that although al-Qaeda activities in Iraq remain a problem, they have been surpassed by Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence as the primary source of conflict and the most immediate threat to U.S. goals. Iran, which the administration has charged with supplying and directing Iraqi extremists, is mentioned but is not a focus.

Of course, when it comes to this administration, stating the obvious shouldn't be underrated. Anything that stands a chance of intruding on their fantasy world is welcome.

Kevin Drum 1:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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February 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DR. K SPEAKS....Shorter Henry Kissinger: Prizes for all! The distinguished senators all have wonderful points to make. A+!

Steve Benen has slightly longer Henry Kissinger here.

Kevin Drum 5:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE COMING WAR....Zbigniew Brzezinski explains how war with Iran will come about:

A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle."

....Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world.

The Bush/Cheney team is plainly doing its best to provoke a casus belli that will justify a military response against Iran -- an undertaking that the Iranian regime itself seems happy to help along. Democrats are mostly either playing along as well, or else sitting on their hands hoping that nothing will happen.

That's a bad idea. Pretty speeches about how you regret voting for the Iraq war are all very fine, but the real test is how you react to the next big marketing campaign for war. It's coming, it's going to seem plausible, and it's going to whip a lot of people into the usual frenzy. Any Democratic politician who hasn't thought about how they're going to deal with this is being willfully delusional.

Kevin Drum 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (121)

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By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMY OF FEAR....Via Max, the Congressional Budget Office has a new report out on income volatility. CBO Director Peter Orszag makes the point that although the broad economy has gotten more stable over the past few decades (fewer big booms and busts), at the individual level it's gotten less stable. This is especially true for high school dropouts, who have considerably more income instability than more educated workers.

The chart on the right, adapted from the report, shows one of the reasons that people feel so economically insecure these days even though broad trends seem benign. Consider: Since the mid-80s the headline unemployment rate has been both steady and moderately downward trending. So why is fear of unemployment seemingly greater than ever?

Answer: because the consequences are so dire. The risk of losing your job may not actually be greater than in the past, but if you do lose your job the odds of a catastrophically long period without work are much greater than in the past. It's one thing to be afraid of losing your job for a few months; it's quite another to (justifiably) be afraid of losing your job for six months or more. Healthcare is part of it too. From the CBO report:

One study found that, on average, workers who lost a full-time job from 2001 to 2003 and found a new job by the time they were interviewed in 2004 earned about 17 percent less than they would have earned had they not been displaced. That amount was roughly double the average loss in earnings incurred by workers who were displaced in the late 1990s.

A previous CBO study...found that the former recipients of unemployment insurance benefits who went back to work within three months after their benefits ended were earning about 15 percent less than they had earned before they lost their job. About 30 percent of them lacked health insurance; 20 percent of them had been uninsured before they lost their job.

For more on the healthcare front, check out yesterday's report in the LA Times about the latest round of negotiations between grocery workers and supermarket chains in Southern California. The supermarket lockout in 2003 was eventually resolved with a new contract that reduced healthcare benefits, and the results are about what you'd expect: the number of workers covered by health insurance has plummeted from 94% to 54%. The dismal numbers are here.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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By: Kevin Drum

SLAM DUNK?....Noted without comment:

The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTER INTIMIDATION....This is long past due. Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama have introduced a bill to crack down on voter intimidation:

Prompted in part by misleading campaign tactics that marred elections in several states, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would criminalize lying to or otherwise intentionally misleading voters to keep them away from the polls.

....Obama and Schumer framed the need for the proposed legislation within a larger struggle for suffrage and civil rights.

"It's hard to imagine that we even need a bill like this," said Obama, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. "There are people who will stop at nothing to try to deceive voters and keep them away from the polls. What's worse, these practices all too often target and exploit vulnerable populations like minorities, the disabled or the poor."

Good for them. I wonder if Republicans will have the stones to try to filibuster this bill?

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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By: Kevin Drum

KIRKUK....This is not a widely known thing, but there's another election coming up later this year in Iraq. It's intended to decide who controls Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in the north that's on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds have been busy for some time trying to eject as many Arabs and Turkmen as possible before the referendum takes place, and neither of these groups is taking it lying down:

"They are right when they call it a time bomb," said Sheik Abdel Rahman Obeidi, a prominent Sunni Arab leader in Kirkuk. "We will not leave, and we will not let anyone take Kirkuk. We are ready to fight. We hope we won't have to, but we're ready."

Kurdish leaders, in turn, warn that they will take the city by law or by force.

"People don't have any more patience," said Kurdish Councilman Rebwar Faiq Talabani, sitting inside Kirkuk's heavily fortified provincial council building. "They are telling the government, 'If you can't get our rights back, we'll do it by ourselves.' "

Unfortunately, I don't have any special comment about this. It's just one more thing to get depressed about in Iraq.

Kevin Drum 1:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY....On Tuesday, the prosecution in the Scooter Libby trial introduced into evidence an internal White House note written by Dick Cheney in September 2003. This was right after Scott McClellan had told the media that Karl Rove hadn't been involved in leaking Valerie Plame's name, and Cheney wanted McClellan to issue the same denial for Libby, who at the time was his chief of staff. Here's the text of the note:

Has to happen today.

Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl.

Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy this Pres. that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.

So who was it that asked Libby to take the lead in talking to the press about Joe Wilson's trip to Niger? Apparently it was "this Pres," but immediately after writing this Cheney decided the passive voice was a better bet. Even in a note to McClellan, it was best not to admit that Bush had ever been involved. Plausible deniability, you see.

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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