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Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

A VERY SHORT V-LOG....In which Matt Yglesias shows us that his little brother is even smarter than he is.

Kevin Drum 11:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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By: Kevin Drum

MATTHEW DOWD SPEAKS....I would probably be sued for blogger malpractice if I didn't link to today's New York Times story about the Epiphany of Matthew Dowd:

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush's leadership....In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush's inner circle to break so publicly with him.

....Mr. Dowd's journey from true believer to critic in some ways tracks the public arc of Mr. Bush's political fortunes....Mr. Dowd, 45, said he hoped in part that by coming forward he would be able to get a message through to a presidential inner sanctum that he views as increasingly isolated. But, he said, he holds out no great hope.

....He said he thought Mr. Bush handled the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks well but "missed a real opportunity to call the country to a shared sense of sacrifice." He was dumbfounded when Mr. Bush did not fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after revelations that American soldiers had tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

....He describes the administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina, and the president's refusal in the summer of 2005 to meet with the war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died fighting in Iraq, around the same time that Mr. Bush entertained the bicyclist Lance Armstrong at his Crawford ranch as further cause for doubt.

"I had finally come to the conclusion that maybe all these things along do add up," he said. "That it's not the same, it's not the person I thought."

Welcome to reality, Mr. Dowd. Like you, though, I hold out no great hope that Bush will come out of his cocoon. In fact, I expect just the opposite.

Kevin Drum 5:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE FALLOUT....Hey, remember that local corruption case that Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici wanted the New Mexico U.S. Attorney to file before the November midterms? It would have been sweet. After all, there's nothing like a juicy corruption probe against the opposition party to help the good guys in a close election.

Well, indictments have finally been returned. Bud Cummins, one of the other fired U.S. Attorneys, writes about it in Salon today:

On Friday, a New Mexico federal grand jury returned an indictment against New Mexico Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon and others of conspiring to skim $4.2 million in public funds. This happens to be the culmination of an investigation supervised by my colleague David Iglesias, before he was forced to resign. It is also the same case that stimulated improper telephone calls to Mr. Iglesias from a U.S. senator and a congresswoman

It is almost a certainty that the talented and hardworking law enforcement agents and prosecutors working on this significant case will now have to battle accusations of improper political motivation behind the prosecution. There will be no real basis for it, but they will have to answer the allegations nonetheless. Before the U.S. attorneys scandal, the defense team never would have considered using those allegations. Now, it is almost a certainty that they will be raised because of the way the administration carried out the U.S. attorney dismissals.

Way to go, Republicans! Your sleazy partisanship has given the defense a great case. Proud days indeed.

(By the way, a note for you nonsubscribers: the daypass ad you have to sit through to read Salon content is shorter and less annoying than in the past. Only about ten seconds or so. If you haven't clicked through a Salon link lately because you didn't feel like sitting through the ad, you might want to give them another try.)

Kevin Drum 1:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

PARANOIA WATCH....This is not really news, but a couple of days ago the Navy announced the sailing date for that third carrier group heading to the gulf:

The Nimitz carrier strike group will sail from San Diego for the gulf on Monday, a navy spokesman said. It will replace the Dwight D. Eisenhower...."You are looking at the early part of May that you would have the transition. It would be without any overlap. There is no plan to overlap them at all," Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said by telephone from naval headquarters in Washington.

"No overlap." OK. Though that's what they'd say whether they were planning some overlap or not, right? There was also this odd report coming out of Russia a few days ago:

Russian military intelligence services are reporting a flurry of activity by U.S. Armed Forces near Iran's borders, a high-ranking security source said Tuesday.

"The latest military intelligence data point to heightened U.S. military preparations for both an air and ground operation against Iran," the official said, adding that the Pentagon has probably not yet made a final decision as to when an attack will be launched.

It's probably nothing, and God knows I don't want to go all grassy knoll on you. Just passing along the latest rumors. One way or the other, though, we're sure putting a lot of naval firepower into a very small area where there are currently no particular naval threats.

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLAT MAXIMA....A couple of weekends ago I linked to an op-ed piece that mentioned something called the "principle of the flat maximum." The idea is that at the very top range of ability level, everyone is so highly qualified that it's almost impossible to predict who's really going to be the best at the next level of performance. The measured differences are just too small.

What would be a good test of this? How about the NFL draft? The players drafted in the first two rounds are the 64 best college football players in the country, and this is very elite territory indeed. The fact that pro scouts have a ton of information on each player makes this a very stringent test of the PotFM, but even so, if the principle is really true, the performance of these 64 players once they get to the pros ought to be fairly random.

So is it? If you compared the pro careers of, say, all the players drafted in the first round during the 1980s to those drafted in the second round, what would you find? Obviously this requires some consistent measure of pro performance, but it seems like there are thousands of sports geeks out there who have come up with performance metrics of various kinds, so this ought to be doable. Does anyone know if this kind of comparison has ever been done?

POSTSCRIPT: What might prevent this from being a good test? One thing that comes to mind is the possibility that first round draft picks are given more opportunity to prove themselves. If you're drafted #3 and have a multi-million dollar contract, your team will probably keep playing you even if you have a mediocre season or two. If you're drafted #58, you'll probably get cut.

What else would be a good test of the PotFM? Outside of sports, that is.

Kevin Drum 1:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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March 30, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS....The Outrage Of The Day™ (Media Edition) appears to be Radar's report about the peculiar news judgment displayed in the new issue of Time magazine:

Is Time trying to bury the attorney general scandal that's seized Washington, D.C., for the past three months? In just the last week, new documents emerged contradicting Alberto Gonzales's account of his role in the firings, a low-level Department of Justice staffer announced her intent to plead the Fifth if asked to testify before Congress, and Justice officials admitted that it had misled Congress when it denied last month that Karl Rove played a role in deciding which U.S. attorneys got the boot. Yet the new issue of Time, on stands today, contains precisely zero stories on the scandal. Nothing. As though it's not happening.

Well, sure. But as near as I can tell Time barely reports political news at all these days. After all, the passage of a bill calling for a timeline to withdraw from Iraq -- seems like news to me! -- got the same amount of attention as Alberto Gonzales did: none. The only piece of hard political news in the entire magazine this week is a short piece about the Democratic healthcare debate last Saturday.

This trend is, if I can coin a phrase, hardly news. Time has been getting steadily less newsy for years, and for better or worse, they just don't cover breaking political events much anymore. That's CNN's job.

Kevin Drum 6:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING.... Here's yet another view of my frequently poor working conditions here at blog central. Worse than usual, actually, since Inkblot is generally not a lap cat. (And a good thing, too. Even on a diet his geometrodynamic spacetime warping ability is considerable.)

This week we've tried an experiment with Inkblot. Usually we open a can of cat food each night and split it between a couple of plates. Domino wolfs down her half in about a minute or so and then walks up behind Inkblot and starts staring at him. He quickly gets nervous and heads out to the living room, leaving half his dinner to the victorious Domino.

I got to feeling sorry for him, though, so for the past week I've been putting his plate up on the dining room table. Domino hasn't figured this out yet, and it turns out that without her eyes boring into the back of his neck Inkblot finishes up his dinner fine. He's just a little too sensitive to do it while someone else is hovering around.

So: is this a good thing or a bad thing? On the plus side, Inkblot gets to finish his dinner in peace, which seems only fair. On the downside, he's supposed to be losing weight, and Domino's fierce gaze is probably a positive thing diet-wise. Dither dither.

Kevin Drum 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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By: Kevin Drum

SCIENCE, SHMIENCE....The Washington Post reports today on another loyal Bushie: Julie MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. The Interior Department's inspector general has been looking into her actions for a few months and issued his report yesterday:

The IG noted that MacDonald "admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences" but repeatedly instructed Fish and Wildlife scientists to change their recommendations on identifying "critical habitats," despite her lack of expertise.

At one point, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, MacDonald tangled with field personnel over designating habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, a bird whose range is from Arizona to New Mexico and Southern California. When scientists wrote that the bird had a "nesting range" of 2.1 miles, MacDonald told field personnel to change the number to 1.8 miles. Hall, a wildlife biologist who told the IG he had had a "running battle" with MacDonald, said she did not want the range to extend to California because her husband had a family ranch there.

Hey, nothing wrong with that. Give that woman a Presidential Medal of Freedom!

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY AND THE INSURANCE COMPANIES....Hillary Clinton hasn't yet released details of her universal healthcare plan, but Karen Tumulty reports this line from the healthcare debate in Las Vegas last week:

Clinton warned that her plan will spark a "big political battle" because it will mean "taking money away from people who make out really well right now." And who might those people be? "Well," she answered, "let's start with the insurance companies."

Yes, let's! I like her plan already.

On the other hand, I'm not much of a fan of one of the other pillars of her upcoming plan: employer mandates, in which employers are required to either provide healthcare plans themselves or pay into a common fund of some kind. It seems like a mess, and it generates huge opposition among business groups. Just fund the thing with a VAT or an income tax increase and be done with it.

But I'm just dreaming here. If and when universal healthcare comes, it's almost certain to include an employer mandate. Probably lots of other clunky provisions that I don't like too. It's not easy passing a camel through the eye of a conference committee.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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By: Kevin Drum

GOODLING....Via Max, the Washington Post has a short profile of Monica Goodling, the DOJ hack who rose through the ranks to become Alberto Gonzales's counsel:

Part of a generation of young religious conservatives who swept into the federal government after the election of President Bush in 2000, Goodling displayed unblinking devotion to the administration and expected others to do the same.

....To her detractors, Goodling was an enforcer of political loyalty who was not squeamish about firings -- of interns or of senior officials.

"She forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points," said a former career Justice official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

That's only her detractors, though. Her admirers think she was great. After all, actual experience and subject area expertise are not qualities held in high esteem within the Bush administration.

Oh, and one other thing: Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out yesterday that, for some reason, Goodling is still employed at the Justice Department even though "the department encourages corporations to fire employees who refuse to cooperate with government investigations." I guess taking the 5th is OK as long as you're a loyal Bushie.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN UPDATE....Why did Iran's Revolutionary Guard decide to seize 15 British sailors and marines last week? David Ignatius hazards a guess:

European officials note that the provocative move comes as speculation grows about new discussions between the United States and Iran -- a dialogue the Revolutionary Guard may oppose.

....U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said several weeks ago that the United States was getting "pinged all over the world" by Iranian intermediaries who wanted a resumption of talks. Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, hinted at such a message in his recent contacts with the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana. But the prospect of nuclear talks may have been blown out of the water, as it were, until the British issue is resolved.

Maybe that was the goal of seizing the sailors and marines. The Revolutionary Guard, after all, can't be happy about curbing the nuclear program that would allow it to project power even more aggressively.

It's as good a theory as any.

Kevin Drum 2:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (145)

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March 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE UPDATE....I've been negligent in following up the latest in Purgegate. Sorry. Here's a quick summary of Kyle Sampson's testimony today:

Least surprising revelation: that Alberto Gonzales was indeed involved in discussions about firing those U.S. Attorneys. "I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate," Sampson said. In other words, Gonzales lied. Knock me over with a feather.

Most bizarre revelation: that Sampson recommended firing Patrick Fitzgerald in the middle of his investigation into Plamegate. "That was a piece of bad judgment on my behalf to even raise it," Sampson said. No kidding.

Most heartfelt revelation: that Sampson is all too aware he screwed up. "Looking back on all of this . . . in hindsight I wish the department hadn't gone down this road at all," he said. Roger that, Kyle.

But really, here's the single most remarkable thing about Sampson's testimony. Purgegate broke open ten weeks ago. As Sampson himself admitted, the Justice Department's explanations of the affair since then have been comically inept. Sampson himself has known for a couple of weeks that he was going to testify before Congress today.

And what's the single biggest question we all have? It's this: so why did you choose those particular eight prosecutors to fire, anyway?

And after all this time to prepare and finally get it right, what did Sampson say? Nothing. Almost literally, nothing. He still didn't have any plausible, documented reasons for firing the USA-8. He stumbled around a bit, eventually claiming that the process wasn't "scientific" but also wasn't "extensively documented." Here's his final explanation: "I don't remember keeping a very good file," he said. "It was a chart and notes that I would dump into my lower right desk drawer."

And that, supposedly, was that. There were two years of plans to fire these guys, but we're supposed to believe that no one really kept any notes and nobody really knows why these guys were selected. It was just a gestalt sort of thing.

Unbelievable. But which is worse: that he's lying or that he's telling the truth?

Kevin Drum 10:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLIP!....FLOP!....Apparently Republicans have given up on defending their favored candidates from charges of relentless pandering and flip-flopping. The evidence is just too stark. Instead they're reduced to arguing pathetically that at least their guy hasn't flip-flopped as much as the other guys. Jon Chait runs down the scorecard.

Kevin Drum 6:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

TAL AFAR....Last year, it seemed as if half the reporters in Baghdad made a pilgrimage to Ninewah province and filed glowing reports about how the relative calm in the city of Tal Afar demonstrated that counterinsurgency could work in Iraq if only it were planned and executed competently. This was always something of a mirage, but even with that in mind yesterday's news about the resurgence of violence there left me too discouraged to write anything about it. However, others are made of sterner stuff. Joe Klein gets the gist here:

The violence in Tal Afar is all the more depressing because that city was the site of the most recent, pre-Baghdad experiment in counter-insurgency tactics. The estimable scholar-warrior Col H.R. McMaster led the effort, and Bush praised it at the time...and it fell apart as soon as the Americans left.

Spencer Ackerman, who spent last week in Mosul (about 40 miles east of Tal Afar), says that without exception, every officer he talked to credited the relative peace of Ninewah province to "the competence and strength of the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi Army Divisions operating in Ninewah, as well as the Iraqi police." But that was last week. So what happened?

The depth of sectarian division in Ninewah is impressive to behold, even for a cynic or a pessimist....Yet for the most part, the political process in the province has held.

....What the Tal Afar massacre shows is how thin a tissue the process is. By Baghdad standards, the twin suicide bombings weren't that much pressure for the jihadists to apply, and they managed to spur a bloodbath that sucked at least some members of the security forces in....Yet Petraeus, Wiercinski, Twitty, etc, have a point. Ninewah does evince more normalcy than most Iraqi provinces. The trouble is that things like the Tal Afar massacre are part of normalcy in the new Iraq.

It's simply not possible for a political process to take even minimal hold in the middle of a tinderbox -- and this week's violence strongly suggests that even after two years of successful (!) counterinsurgency Tal Afar remains a tinderbox. So ask yourself: If the Army's showpiece of counterinsurgency -- in a city of modest size far away from the fury of the Sunni triangle -- breaks down at the first hint of violence, what does that say about Baghdad? That we would need 200,000 troops there for ten years to have even a modest hope of success? Probably. But we don't have either 200,000 troops or ten years.

Every day that we stay in Iraq does further damage to our long-range best interests in the Middle East. At best, that would be worth it only if our continued presence there were likely to bring a measure of peace to Iraq itself. The failure of Tal Afar suggests that we don't have either the manpower or the ability to do that, and that in turn means we're literally accomplishing nothing in Iraq except making things worse along almost every dimension.

The sooner we get out of Iraq, the sooner we can rethink our recklessly militaristic approach to the war on terror and instead start applying some common sense to the problem. Unfortunately, it looks like we still have a couple more years of digging ourselves deeper into a hole before that will happen. 2009 can't come soon enough.

Kevin Drum 6:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN A DEMOCRAT?....Did John McCain seriously consider switching to the Democratic Party in 2001? Seriously enough to discuss it with Democratic leaders for two full months? That's what former Senator Tom Daschle and former Rep. Tom Downey say.

And McCain? After first saying he was preparing a response, he now says he's decided not to comment. Steve Benen has the full rundown.

Like everyone else who's commented on this, I have to assume that McCain's candidacy is toast if this story is verified -- or even if McCain doesn't produce a plausible rebuttal. He better start talking fast.

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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By: Kevin Drum

SAY IT, DON'T JUST SAY YOU'RE GOING TO SAY IT....In the New York Times today, Robin Toner quotes Matt Bennett of Third Way saying that Democrats need a positive national security plan that goes beyond mere opposition to the Iraq War. Matt Yglesias complains:

The only way for Democrats not to be defined entirely by opposition to the war is for the Bennett's of the world to say the things they think need to be said instead of saying that someone should say those things. If not Bennett, who? If not now, when? Quotations in major newspapers are a precious commodity; there's no point in wasting that space on not-very-original meta talk.

In fairness to Bennett, it's possible that he did say something about concrete strategy and Toner just didn't use it. But that aside, I think the real answer comes a few paragraphs later:

Ultimately, though, the party's foreign policy will be defined on the presidential campaign trail, by the candidates and eventually the nominee. "Congress can only take this so far," Senator Durbin said. "We deal with dollars and with votes."

I think that's basically right. There are 280 Democratic members of Congress, and they just don't all agree on what our foreign policy should look like. There's really no way around that, and if Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000 it's likely that Republicans would be having the same problem. (Although they have an advantage: "use more military force" is a nice, simple message that they all seem to agree on regardless of the problem at hand. Democrats have no such schoolyard approach to fall back on.)

Frankly, think tanks and bloggers and national security wonks don't have much to offer here except to the extent that they influence the Democratic presidential candidates. The real key to the resurgence of the Democratic Party is to nominate someone who has the good judgment to formulate a sane foreign policy in an age of jihad; the guts to stick to it even if AIPAC and Bill Kristol don't like it; and the rhetorical gifts to explain common sense so that it sounds like common sense. I think most of the top-tier Dem candidates at least have the potential to do this. Whether they actually do it is the $64 question.

Kevin Drum 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

OVERPAID....Here's the latest news from the non-unionized service sector:

Circuit City Stores Inc. has a message for some of its best-paid employees: Work for less or work somewhere else.

The electronics retailer on Wednesday laid off 3,400 people who earned "well above" the local market rate for the sort of jobs they held at its stores. In 11 weeks they'll be able to apply for their old positions -- which will come with lower hourly wages.

How charming. I wonder if any of Circuit City's executives are being laid off? Surely some of them are being overpaid too?

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

POLITICIZING THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT....Joseph Rich was chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005. Today he writes that ever since 2001 the division has been deliberately politicized in an effort to favor the prospects of Republican candidates:

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws -- particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies -- from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

The firing of John McKay and David Iglesias are two pieces of this puzzle, as is the hiring of Bradley Schlozman last year as interim USA for Missouri. The result?

Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.

At the same time, career staff were nearly cut out of the process of hiring lawyers. Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant's fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.

All part of the grand plan. All part of the plan.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

FEAR, FEAR, FEAR....In the LA Times today, L.J. Williamson writes about one of my all-time pet peeves: the insane fear that modern suburban parents have of sexual predators:

At a PTA meeting, during a discussion of traffic problems around the school campus, I asked what we could do to encourage families to walk or bike to school. Other parents looked at me as if I'd suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano. One teacher looked at me in shock. "I wouldn't let my children walk to school alone ... would you?"

"Haven't you heard about all of the predators in this area?" asked a father.

"No, I haven't," I said. "I think this is a pretty safe neighborhood."

"You'd be surprised," he replied, lowering his eyebrows. "You should read the Megan's Law website." He continued: "You know how to solve the traffic problem around this school? Get rid of all the predators. Then you won't have any more traffic."


"Huh" indeed. As Williamson says, child abduction by strangers is very, very rare. About as likely as being hit by lightning. "But it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope."

Even at that, though, I don't understand the bit about her son's school having a rule that K-4 kids aren't allowed to ride bicycles to school. What's up with that?

UPDATE: For what it's worth, my mother the ex-schoolteacher writes in about the bicycle thing:

I think this is standard procedure among school distsricts. Legally the school district is responsible for children until they get home after school, and I suspect, though I never asked because I never cared, that they feel the chance of a younger child getting hurt bicycling on the streets to and from school is greater than with older children and they don't want to risk a lawsuit.

UPDATE 2: I also agree with Atrios' comment. Obviously this is all intertwined, but it's the fact that this fear has become practically a cultural norm that's the real problem. Don't give in to it and people think you're a bad parent. That's nuts.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (242)

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By: Kevin Drum

UPDATE: INHOFE STILL A PRICK....We already know that James Inhofe is a scientific moron, and now we have further evidence that he's also the biggest prick in the Senate: Inhofe is single-handedly holding up permission for "Live Earth," a group associated with Al Gore, to use the National Mall for a concert on July 7. It's a point of personal privilege. Apparently he thinks the answer to global warming is more temper tantrums.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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ALBERTO THE CLUELESS....The New York Times reports on Alberto Gonzales's nationwide trip to meet with U.S. Attorneys and mend fences:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales endured blunt criticism Tuesday from federal prosecutors who questioned the firings of eight United States attorneys, complained that the dismissals had undermined morale and expressed broader grievances about his leadership, according to people briefed on the discussion.

....He reacted unemotionally to the criticism in the private session, responding that he had not previously heard of their specific complaints, including the McNulty memorandum.

Gonzales has already told us he knew nothing about the two-year process to fire a bunch of U.S. Attorneys, and in this meeting he knew nothing about any of the specific grievances the USAs brought up. Sounds like a real hands-on kind of guy. What exactly does he think the job of Attorney General is all about?

Kevin Drum 2:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

VOTE FRAUD....Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt comment today on the apparent obsession the Justice Department had with U.S. Attorneys who failed to prosecute voter fraud cases. The problem, they say, is that despite the GOP's insistence that such cases must be widespread, in fact they're almost nonexistent:

Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch....Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.

....Alarmingly, the Supreme Court suggested in a ruling last year (Purcell v. Gonzalez) that fear of fraud might in some circumstances justify laws that have the consequence of disenfranchising voters....Identification requirements often sound simple. But some types of paperwork simply aren't available to many Americans. We saw this with the new Medicaid proof-of-citizenship requirement, which led to benefits being cut off for many longtime citizens. Some states insist that voters provide photo IDs such as driver's licenses. But at least 11 percent of voting-age Americans, disproportionately elderly and minority voters, lack the necessary papers. Required documentation such as naturalization paperwork can cost as much as $200.

As everyone knows -- but no one will say in public -- GOP strategists like voter ID laws not because they're truly afraid of fraud, but because experience tells them exactly which groups of people are most likely to vote less in places where such laws exist: the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and minorities. And guess what? Those groups are all disproportionately Democratic. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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March 28, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FREEDOMNOMICS....Kieran Healy has the latest on John Lott. What a loon.

Kevin Drum 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE META SCREW-UP....Eve Fairbanks writes today about the problem of keeping track of Bush administration scandals:

In the last couple of weeks, even in the minds of the lawmakers tasked with oversight, the administration's scandals and screw-ups have started to blur together into one Meta Screw-Up -- a situation in which every procedural safeguard, institutional norm, and carefully designed plan seems to have "just melted into oblivion with this sloppy administration," as Senator Dianne Feinstein put it at the Mueller hearing. The impression that we are, by now, witnessing the unfolding of one giant, undifferentiated scandal is compounded by the sense that this is some kind of watershed moment: The U.S. attorneys affair unleashed last Thursday's complaint that Bush partisans meddled with a Justice Department tobacco prosecution, which unleashed Monday's accusation that the General Services Administration was misused for political ends, and on and on.

Actually, that sounds about right to me. But does it mean there are serious scandals that aren't getting the individual attention they deserve? Fairbanks makes a case that that's what's happened to the FBI scandal, which is "arguably, just as serious as the U.S. attorneys scandal and the others." Read the rest.

Kevin Drum 5:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (185)

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By: Kevin Drum

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE....Last week we learned that Karl Rove and the White House staff have routinely used their RNC accounts to send email as a way of evading congressional oversight. "We knew E-mails could be subpoenaed," an aide told U.S. News & World Report. "We saw that with the Clintons but I don't think anybody saw that we were doing anything wrong."

So what does this mean? NYU law professor Daniel Shaviro says, "The easy and obvious point is that anything Rove sent out in an e-mail from his RNC address is not privileged." But then, drawing on an analogy with attorney-client privilege, he suggests it may mean even more:

A further interesting question is the extent to which using RNC e-mails to communicate stuff about meetings with Bush et al should be viewed as a further waiver of other executive privilege claims, at the limit on everything pertaining to the meetings and topics discussed in the RNC e-mails. On this point I would have to defer to those more knowledgeable than I am about how the attorney-client privilege is interpreted and applied.

In other words, if staffers were primarily discussing the U.S. Attorney firings on personal and RNC accounts, that implicitly means that they themselves weren't treating it as the kind of official business that would be protected by executive privilege. Alternatively, if they were using private accounts specifically to evade legitimate congressional oversight, then executive privilege claims might also fail for all their other communications as well.

So: too clever by half, as Josh Marshall asks? Is it possible that by using RNC accounts they've essentially waived executive privilege claims completely in this matter? It's an intriguing suggestion, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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By: Kevin Drum

"OPEN WARFARE"....Steve Benen on Purgegate:

It seems part of the administration's problem with this fiasco is an inability to find a convenient scapegoat. Gonzales blames Sampson, McNulty blames Goodling, the White House blames McNulty, Republicans on the Hill blame Gonzales, and no one on the right has figured out a way to blame Dems, the media, or MoveOn.org. It's a wild west, every-man-for-himself environment ... and these guys are yet to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

According to the New York Daily News, it's "open warfare" over at the Justice Department. And the hearings haven't even started yet.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REEMERGENCE OF THE ERA....Every year the ERA gets re-introduced. Every year it goes nowhere. This year, though, the Democratic leadership promises to bring it to a vote. Shakespeare's Sister is dancing a jig: "I just feel deliriously happy at the mere possibility of the ERA at long last being ratified under the leadership of the first ever female Speaker."

There are, of course, some downsides to this. First, we're going to be seeing a lot more of Phyllis Schlafly. Second, we're going to hear endless prattling about unisex bathrooms and radical lesbians who have infiltrated the UN and are planning to take over the country with their black helicopters. In fact, we may even end up with ERA-themed versions of this. (Seriously, click on the link. It's off topic, but you really ought to treat yourself, even if all you do is look at the pictures. Page 21 is my favorite.)

But it'll be worth it. Let's have a vote. Even if it fails, it'll be nice to get everyone on the record.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Kevin Drum

STIFFED....Jim Hoagland reports today that Saudi Arabia has pulled out of a planned state dinner at the White House scheduled for April 17. The purported reason is that "it is not convenient," which, unsurprisingly, administration officials find somewhat unconvincing. Hoagland then goes on to note that our good friend King Abdullah of Jordan has also decided he can't make a state visit this year. Scheduling conflicts?

Hoagland manages to spin an entire column out of this, which just goes to show that he's a much older pro than I am. But pro or not, 800 words later he really doesn't have an explanation for this. Are the Saudis mad at us? Is there internal disarray among the princes? Do they just figure their intra-Arab negotiating position is better if they stay away from us for a while? He doesn't know. Neither do I.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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March 27, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FOCUSING ON THE PAST....On the Chris Matthews Show a couple of days ago, talking about the U.S. Attorney scandal, Time managing editor Rick Stengel said, "I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove because it is so bad for them."

Today, Stengel says that he was "caught out speaking as a citizen rather than as editor of Time" and explains what he meant:

As a citizen, I think it's unfortunate and perhaps short-sighted for Democrats to be perceived as focusing on the past rather than the future.

OK. Fair enough. Except that this scandal only broke open eight weeks ago. Is the new rule that anything older than last week now counts as focusing on the past?

Kevin Drum 11:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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By: Kevin Drum

EGYPTIAN REFERENDUM UPDATE....Turnout was low for my pool about what winning margin would be announced for yesterday's Egyptian referendum, but it turns out that the Egyptian government eventually decided on 75.9%. That almost makes my 80% guess the winner, but Gussie barely beat me out with a guess of 73%.

Announced turnout was 27.1%, but Marc Lynch calls that "obviously absurd." The real number, he says, was between 1% and 8%, "and that, by the way, would include all of the government employees ordered to vote and the women ordered 'to go vote for the President.'" He's also got a short rundown of winners and losers.

Kevin Drum 2:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL HEALTHCARE....A few days ago, during an email exchange with a friend, I mentioned that I don't usually tout cost savings as a big argument in favor of universal healthcare. It's true that a national healthcare plan would almost certainly save money compared to our current Rube Goldberg system, but I suspect the savings would be modest. Rather, the real advantages of national healthcare are related to things like access (getting everyone covered), efficiency (cutting down on useless -- or even deliberately counterproductive -- administrative bureaucracies), choice (allowing people to choose and keep a family doctor instead of being jerked around everytime their employer decides to switch health providers), and social justice (providing decent, hassle-free healthcare for the poor).

Today, the LA Times has a story that sits at the intersection of several of these issues:

Health plans offered by professional associations were once havens for millions of people who couldn't get coverage anywhere else. But as medical costs have soared, groups representing professions as varied as law and golf have been forced to stop offering the benefit or been dropped by insurers.

....Although no one tracks association coverage to know how many plans have disappeared, the experience of Marsh Affinity Services is telling. A decade ago, Marsh, which brokers and administers the health plans, had 142 such clients. Today, all but three have shut down.

....Over the same period, the nation's uninsured population, now estimated at 45 million, rose dramatically, fueled in part by the dearth of affordable options for the self-employed, experts say. Among uninsured workers, nearly 63% are self-employed or work in small firms, Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, told Congress recently.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. For obvious reasons, health insurers have never been eager to write individual policies, and even in most group policies it's the employer who bears most of the risk. (If their claim rate goes up during the year, their premiums get bumped the next.) Even worse off are groups that allow its members the option of whether or not to join: they inevitably attract the sickest members in disproportionate numbers, leading to a "death spiral" that's explained well in the article.

So today, with healthcare costs rising and the population getting older, policies for professional groups are becoming a thing of the past -- and individual policies are disappearing along with them. And without that, a lot of people simply can't afford to start up a company, work for a small business, or become self-employed. They're stuck.

This is nuts, of course, but it's inevitable in any system of private healthcare. It's not that insurance companies are evil, it's just that they're in business to make money and you don't make any money insuring sick people. The fact that these are the people most in need of insurance doesn't matter.

But it's still nuts. And that's why we need national healthcare.

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (193)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN IMPLOSION....John Quiggin, commenting on that Pew poll that I highlighted the other day, offers an explanation for the Republican Party's cratering support:

Republican support is contracting to a base of about 25 per cent of the population whose views are getting more extreme, not merely because moderate conservatives are peeling off to become Independents, but also because of the party's success in constructing a parallel universe of news sources, thinktanks, blogs, pseudo-scientists and so on, which has led to the core becoming more tightly committed to an extremist ideology.

....The general liberalisation of thinking on social issues is unlikely to be reversed. Moreover, while American faith in military power bounced back after Vietnam, I doubt that the same will be true after Iraq. If you wanted a textbook lesson in why resort to violence is rarely a sensible choice, Bush's presentation of that lesson could hardly be bettered.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First is John's suggestion that the conservative infrastructure built up in the 70s and 80s has become one of the right's biggest weaknesses. I'm not sure I buy this, but it's an intriguing thought because American liberals have recently become pretty entranced by the success of all those right-wing thinktanks and radio bloviators John is talking about. If he's correct that their very success has now backfired on conservatives, what lessons does this hold for the left as we go about the task of recreating much of that infrastructure for our own side?

Second, has American faith in military power really been permanently damaged? I doubt this very much, but I'd be interested in hearing more discussion. I'd like to believe John -- that is, I'd like to believe that Iraq will serve as a permanent lesson about the limits of military power and what it can achieve, but I'm just not sure I do. This belief is very deeply embedded in American culture, after all, and I suspect that, just as with Vietnam, most people will simply conclude that Iraq was a bad war, not that it represented a fundamentally flawed worldview.

I hope I'm being too pessimistic, and Iraq really does lead to Americans taking a more sensible view of what we want to accomplish in the world and how we can most effectively accomplish it. For now, though, I'm skeptical. Comments?

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (236)

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By: Kevin Drum

TONY SNOW....Between Cathy Seipp, Elizabeth Edwards, and now Tony Snow, it suddenly seems as if everyone has cancer. Just an illusion, I know, but still a distressing one. Here's hoping he recovers.

Kevin Drum 11:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TIMELINE....Is last week's House bill that sets out a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq either (a) a milestone or (b) a useless piece of symbolism? Beats me. I've read a ton of stuff pro and con, but when it comes to analyzing legislative strategy -- as opposed to policy proposals -- I'm pretty much clueless. I just don't know enough about the realities on the ground in Congress to have a firm opinion on this kind of stuff.

However, E.J. Dionne argues today for option A:

"The vehemence with which the president opposed it made it clear to a lot of people that this was a change in direction and that it was significant," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee....But the president's uncompromising language and his effective imposition of an April 15 deadline for the funding bill -- after that date, he said, "our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions" -- may solidify Democratic ranks without rallying new Republican support.

....With most counts showing Senate Democrats needing only one more vote to approve the call for troop withdrawals next year, antiwar pressures are growing on Sens. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). All face reelection next year, as does Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who is already seen as leaning toward the withdrawal plan.

So that's it. Only one Republican vote needs to switch. And when that happens, George Bush really will be alone, finally forced to make public his commitment to staying in Iraq forever. That will -- finally -- be the beginning of the end, because the public simply isn't on his side anymore. And in a democracy, eventually, it's the public that's the real Decider. It's time Bush learned that.

Kevin Drum 1:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (73)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PUSSIFICATION* OF 24....In tonight's episode, Jack Bauer lets slip that he thinks launching an unprovoked nuclear attack on an (unnamed) Arab country would be a bad idea. "It'll look like we've declared war on the entire Middle East," he warns his boss. Jeebus. What the hell is wrong with him? Sounds like he's been reading The Nation or something.

*If you don't get the joke, here's the reference. It was quite the butt of blogosphere mockery back in the day.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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March 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE AND EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE....I've long found it vaguely surprising that the scope (and limits) of executive privilege have never been spelled out in much detail by the courts. It's not as if the question doesn't come up frequently, after all, and it's not as if it isn't a perfect, juicy topic for the judiciary to address. The president and his immediate staff really do have a strong interest in their ability to receive candid, provocative advice, and that interest is threatened if advisors are worried that the ideas they toss around in private are likely to become public. This is an important principle regardless of who occupies the White House.

Likewise, however, Congress has a strong interest in executive branch oversight, and their interest is threatened if presidents routinely refuse to allow testimony by White House aides for any reason whatsoever.

So how does executive privilege play out in Purgegate? Today in Slate, Walter Dellinger and Christopher Schroeder run down the meager judicial record on the subject and come to the following conclusion:

Communications among senior White House staff members, and between them and the president, ought to remain confidential where the only charges being investigated concern "mere" patronage appointments to the U.S. attorney posts....For these allegations, Congress can rely upon compelled testimony from Justice Department officials and others outside the White House, and voluntary testimony and evidence from within the White House.

But if there is a plausible basis for believing that the Bush administration replaced any U.S. attorney to improperly obstruct a criminal investigation or improperly prompt an indictment, or a plausible basis for believing that earlier congressional inquiries were wrongfully impeded, then claims of executive privilege should give way for evidence pertinent to that charge.

As Dellinger and Schroeder say, there's an important distinction here: Congress is free to compel testimony from Justice Department officials regardless of the subject, but they can compel testimony from White House aides only if there's serious reason to believe there's been criminal wrongdoing. And -- so far, at least -- the only plausible issue of criminal wrongdoing involves the possibility that U.S. Attorneys were fired in order to impede or encourage partisan investigations in some way. Until and unless there's more concrete evidence of that, Karl Rove & Co. are -- unfortunately -- probably justified in refusing to testify under subpoena.

Kevin Drum 9:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

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By: Kevin Drum

DOJ AIDE PLEADING THE FIFTH....Look, I know Jeralyn might get mad at me for saying this, but when people start taking the 5th there's obviously some serious funny business going on. I think Andrew Sullivan's correspondent has the right idea: give Goodling immunity and force her to testify. She's obviously a small fish (or maybe even a non-fish) anyway.

UPDATE: Orin Kerr isn't sure Goodling has any standing to take the 5th in the first place. So maybe offering her immunity isn't necessary after all.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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By: Kevin Drum

NON-OFFICIAL EMAIL....Karl Rove sends 95% of his emails through a Republican National Committee account? If he's spending 95% of his time on RNC business, shouldn't he be working there instead of the Oval Office?

Laura Rozen wonders about the security implications. Meanwhile, Henry Waxman wants to make sure all the emails stay safe and sound in case he wants to subpoena them. The hits just keep on coming from these guys, don't they?

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (235)

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By: Kevin Drum

EGYPTIAN REFERENDUM UPDATE....The polls have closed in Egypt and Marc Lynch reports that turnout was abysmal -- though it's not likely that this will be reflected in the official results. Also:

Most Arab outlets are reporting that Condoleeza Rice softened her criticisms of the referendum after meeting with Mubarak. How humiliating, how predictable. Abou el-Gheit is spooning out the terrorism angle -- we must do this to protect ourselves, just as you did with your Patriot Act -- and Rice (and at least some of the media) seems to be eating it up whatever the flavor. Yes, how could Egypt possibly fight its great terror menace while judges are supervising elections?

So what results do you think the Egyptian government will announce? I'll go with 80% -- high enough to be "overwhelming approval" but not so high that it gets into mockworthy Saddam Hussein territory. Place your own bet in comments.

Kevin Drum 3:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

PLAYING GAMES....Mario Loyola is a hawk's hawk, so it's interesting to hear his take on the 15 British sailors taken prisoner by Iran last Friday:

Don't necessarily believe what the British say about what those sailors were up to when they were detained. There's probably a 90-percent chance they will tell the truth, but there is often a lot more to these international "incidents" than meets the eye. The British will say that their sailors were in Iraqi waters and the Iranians had no business being where they were. But the Iranians are unlikely to have provoked an international incident under circumstances as clear-cut as that. And in fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the Iranians were actually responding, in this case, to a carefully planned provocation of our own.

Now, being a hawk's hawk, Loyola thinks this is just dandy. After all, the Iranians haven't expelled IAEA inspectors and started enriching uranium in bomb-making quantities yet, but they might:

When the Iranians get belligerent, we have to respond in kind. Iran is getting ready to expel the IAEA inspectors. The United States needs to make it clear that the expulsion of the inspectors will be considered an act of aggression, and that we will respond appropriately.

So, long story short: It wouldn't surprise me if the British sailors were detained because the British did something to make the Iranians really angry. Khamanei dramatically upped the ante this week. We probably raised. And they probably raised back. The stakes in this nuclear-poker game just got a little higher.

I don't think Loyola is right -- his scenario sounds like something from a guy who's been getting a little too sweaty watching episodes of 24 -- but what makes it fascinating is how obviously delighted he is about the whole thing. He likes the idea that the British may have deliberately engineered a provocation. He likes the idea that tensions are being ratcheted up. He thinks nuclear poker is a great game.

Bottom line: he's an up-and-comer! Expect him to get drafted as a first round pick by the vice president's office soon.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

COURIC AND EDWARDS....Taegan Goddard asks:

Why did Katie Couric keep pressing John and Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes last night about their decision to continue his presidential campaign when she didn't give up her job as host of the Today Show when her husband was diagnosed with cancer?

Good question. My guess is that she was a little too desperate to establish her serious journalist cred, and figured that the best way to do that was to pretend she was Mike Wallace interviewing a suspected child molester.

Still, it may have been for the best. Questions like Couric's are inevitable, and it was probably better for Edwards to have them asked quickly, relentlessly, and on national TV. In fact, after watching Couric go a little overboard, it might make others embarrassed to keep asking the same questions. She probably did the campaign a favor.

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By: Kevin Drum

REGIONAL PEACE SUMMIT PREDICTION....Daniel Drezner, after reading the news that interest in restarting the Middle East peace process has increased, makes a prediction:

If this gains any momentum at all, I predict there will be an attack in Israel or the occupied territories. The attack will be designed to inflame the Israeli political establishment or wreck the Palestinian coalition govenment. There are simply too many armed groups in the region with a vested interest in maintaining the festering status quo.

It looks to me like Dan is trying to get some bonus oracle points for predicting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. He's right, of course, and this is what makes the whole kabuki dance so frustrating: everybody knows this is exactly how it will play out, but nobody is willing to acknowledge it up front and agree to keep forging ahead even when the extremists on the other side do something inflammatory. Unfortunately, the extremists know this perfectly well.

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE I-WORD....Whatever else you can say about him, Robert Novak has pretty good sources among Republicans. Today he writes about Purgegate and Alberto Gonzales:

"Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here," a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.

....The word most often used by Republicans to describe the management of the Justice Department under Gonzales is "incompetent."....The I-word (incompetence) is also used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally....A few Republicans blame incessant attacks from the new Democratic majority in Congress for that image. Many more say today's problems in the administration derive from the continuing impact of yesterday's mistakes. The answer that is not entertained by the president's most severe GOP critics, even when not speaking for quotation, is that this is just the governing style of George W. Bush and will not change while he is in the Oval Office.

Italics mine. Novak is right: the deficiencies of the Bush governing style are legion, but when all's said and done I think that the very first critique from the very first administration apostate is going to turn out to be the one that nailed the Bush presidency's core problem. Ladies and gentlemen, John DiIulio:

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis....On social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking -- discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.

George Bush and his team practically ooze contempt for the naive conceit that policy analysis is a serious business. That makes competent governance impossible -- and as Novak says, that's not going to change until we have a new occupant in the Oval Office. Until then, keep your seatbelts fastened.

Kevin Drum 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (167)

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March 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

NOBODY LOVES ALBERTO....The New York Times summarizes the Sunday chat shows:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales faced a weakening of Congressional support over the weekend, as Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in questioning his credibility....Not one of nine senators of both parties appearing on television news programs today offered unqualified support. Even Mr. Gonzales's strongest defenders, like Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a conservative Republican of Utah, expressed doubts about the Justice Department's handling of the matter, even while saying the attorney general deserved a full hearing.

This isn't a surprise. Scandals have a certain rhythm, and in this one it's pretty clear that there's more -- maybe much more -- to come. These guys have been around Washington long enough to sense that another shoe is almost certain to drop, and when it does they don't want to be caught looking like an idiot still defending Gonzales.

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By: Kevin Drum

IS 24 LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?....Last week 24 reverted to form: after learning early in the episode that CTU had been infiltrated by a mole, the (suspected) mole was located and immediately hauled off to an "interrogation room." Within a few minutes, this season's bad cop, Mike Doyle, had her tied up in a chair and was just about to start cuffing her around when he was suddenly called away to avert a drone headed for San Francisco with a nuclear cargo.

So this is yet more fodder for the fire: is 24 an inherently conservative show because of its message that torture is necessary, torture works, and only weak-kneed liberals object to it? Jane Mayer reignited the debate last month with a piece in the New Yorker that investigated 24's conservative roots.

At a broad level it's hard to argue with this, though not, I think, specifically because of 24's routine dramatization of torture -- which has become more a crutch for weary writers than anything else in recent seasons. It's more general: 24 is a tough-guy cop show, and tough-guy cop shows have appealed to conservatives for decades. Jack Bauer is basically an updated version of Dirty Harry, the poster boy for conservative backlash against urban crime in the early 70s.

So sure: 24 is a conservative Disneyland. But there's another side to the 24 story that's surprisingly liberal: its politics. There are, after all, really two stars in 24: Jack Bauer (when the action is on the ground) and the president of the United States (when the action shifts to politics). In Jack's world, being a tough guy works. In the president's world, it's exactly the opposite.

In fact, plot developments in the Oval Office (or Air Force One or an underground bunker or whatever vacation home is being used that season) are enough to warm the cockles of any lefty's heart. Why? Because the almost universal theme is that hawks are always wrong. Let's roll the tape.

In Season 2, a hawkish cabinet uses its 25th Amendment power to relieve the (Democratic) president of power because they consider him weak and indecisive for refusing to retaliate against a Middle Eastern country that has detonated a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil. But the hawks are dead wrong: it turns out that a group of shadowy businessmen fabricated the entire plot in order to push the U.S. into war and drive up oil prices. The liberal president is vindicated.

Season 4 starts out with a new (Republican) president who's killed midway through the season. The conservative, hawkish vice president who takes over turns out to be hesitant and incompetent. He's saved from disaster only by the advice and counsel of the liberal president from Season 2.

In Season 5, the hawkish president gins up a terrorist attack in order to give him an excuse to invoke the military terms of an anti-terrorism treaty and secure U.S. oil interests in central Asia. The plot is discovered and the president hauled off to jail.

Season 6 (the current season) stars a cautious, liberal (Democratic) president determined to protect civil liberties in the face of terrorist threats. His reward? An assassination attempt by a cabal of hawkish White House aides that leaves him in a coma and allows the vice president to order an unjustified attack on an unnamed (as usual) Middle Eastern country. You can guess how this is going to turn out.

So what's up? The hyperkinetic world of 24, where good and evil clash, torture is a necessary tool, and terrorist threats are everywhere, is indeed a paean to modern Bushian conservatism. But when the action switches to the Oval Office, hawks are almost universally portrayed as either ideologues who panic at the first sign of trouble or else scheming superpatriots who are desperate to push the United States into unjustified wars as a way of advancing their own mercenary agendas. If Joel Surnow's name weren't attached to the series, you might guess that it had been produced by Michael Moore.

So is 24 liberal or conservative? Schizophrenic, I'd say.

Kevin Drum 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (126)

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PRACTICING FOR A SHOWDOWN....Last Friday, a group of 15 sailors and Marines from the British frigate HMS Cornwall piled into a pair of inflatable boats and began patrolling the Shatt al-Arab waterway, just off the coast of Iraq where it borders Iran. It was a routine anti-smuggling operation, but it quickly turned non-routine: after boarding a dhow to look for contraband they were surrounded by six Iranian patrol boats and taken prisoner. But if the boats were really in Iraqi waters, as the British claim, whey didn't the Cornwall do something? Sir Alan West, who was First Sea Lord in 2004 when the Iranians did something similar, explains:

What are the rules of engagement in this type of situation?

The rules are very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting. The reason we are there is to be a force for good, to make the whole area safe, to look after the Iraqi big oil platforms and also to stop smuggling and terrorism there.

So we try to downplay things. Rather then roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were effectively able to be captured and taken away.

If we find this is going to be a standard practice we need to think very carefully about what rules of engagement we want and how we operate. One can't allow as a standard practice nations to capture a nation's servicemen. That is clearly wrong.

I imagine the Iranians will release the British prisoners shortly, but this is nonetheless yet another demonstration that they seem at least as eager to escalate tensions as any neocon in the vice president's office. And the result? Well, when both sides are eager for a showdown, you usually get one eventually. It's only a matter of when.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY WERE THEY FIRED?....The Washington Post investigates the case of fired U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara today and....scratches its head. "Western Michigan's legal community does not know what to think."

The LA Times investigates the case of fired U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden today and....scratches its head. "The reasons for the abrupt dismissal remain a mystery, but it has sparked wide outrage in Las Vegas."

Of course, the Justice Department could just tell us what the reasons were. But for some reason they're reluctant to do that. Any guesses why?

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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March 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE FISHINESS SUMMARY....Is there, as Alberto Gonzales insists, a perfectly reasonable explanation for Purgegate? I guess there might be, but there are sure an awful lot of reasons to be skeptical. Here's a list off the top of my head:

  1. Prior to the purge, DOJ lawyers quietly inserted a clause in the Patriot Act that allowed them to appoint new U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval. Why did they do this when their own emails show that the existing system hadn't caused them any problems?

  2. They fired eight USAs at once. This is wildly unprecedented in the middle of an administration. Why did they feel the need for such an extensive sweep?

  3. None of the eight were given a reason for being fired.

  4. DOJ initially lied when asked why they were fired, chalking it up to "performance reasons" even though five of the eight had previously received reviews placing them in the top third of all USAs. Why lie if there's an innocent explanation?

  5. Five of the eight were either aggressively prosecuting Republicans or else failing to prosecute Democrats to the satisfaction of local politicians. Coincidence?

  6. David Iglesias reported that he received case-related calls from from Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici shortly before the midterms. He believes the calls were intended to pressure him into indicting some local Democrats before election day. He didn't, and a few weeks later he was fired.

    On a similar note, the day after Carol Lam notified DOJ that she was planning to expand the Duke Cunningham investigation, Kyle Sampson emailed the White House and told William Kelley to call him so he could explain the "real problem" he had with Lam. What was the real problem that he didn't feel comfortable putting in email?

  7. When DOJ released thousands of pages of emails last week, there was a mysterious 18-day gap from a period shortly before the firings were announced. There are virtually no emails from within this period even though it seems like precisely the time when there would have been the greatest amount of email traffic. Where are the emails?

  8. The email dump contained virtually nothing from before the firings discussing the reasons for targeting the eight USAs who were eventually fired. Surely there must have been such a discussion?

  9. DOJ has now had weeks to come up with a plausible story for the firings and they still haven't. This is truly remarkable. Why not just tell the truth? That doesn't take weeks to concoct.

Except for #9, none of these things by themselves would generate much suspicion. Put them all together, though, and you have to be a real dead-end loyalist to believe there's nothing fishy going on. Throw in #9 and even the dead-enders ought to be scratching their chins.

Anyway, add further reasons in comments. I'm sure I've forgotten things. I just wanted to collect all this stuff in one place.

UPDATE: Patrick Frey points out an error in #6: Kyle Sampson's email talks about a "real problem," not a "real reason." He also notes a spelling error. Both have been corrected. Additionally, he points out that the 18-day gap (#7) actually contains two or three emails (something I mentioned here) and that Bill Clinton fired 93 USAs at once (#2) (discussed previously here). I've slightly recast both of those points as well.

I think even Patrick realizes this is pretty desperate quibbling. If that's the defense's idea of a defense, the Justice Department is in big trouble.

Kevin Drum 8:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN McKAY....Via ThinkProgress, a Seattle radio host interviewed Alberto Gonzales yesterday and asked the question of the day:

Mr. Attorney General, as a way to defuse this controversy now, why not just come out and tell the American people exactly why these prosecutors were fired? What did they do?

Gonzales refused to answer. Even now, after weeks of controversy, he can't explain why they were fired. He just repeated his usual mantra: the president can fire anyone he wants, there was nothing improper, and it's reckless to suggest otherwise.

Seattle's USA, John McKay, is extremely well thought of locally, and the radio hosts were properly skeptical of Gonzales's tap dancing. Why, for example, would McKay have been considered for a federal judgeship if he were doing such a lousy job as USA? Gonzales refused to answer that too.

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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By: Kevin Drum

FLAKKING PURGEGATE....Brad DeLong flags an email from last night's document dump that was highlighted by one of Josh Marshall's readers. Back in November a White House flak (Catherine Martin) wanted to know who was on the purge list and a DOJ flak (Tasia Scolinos) answered. Here's the email (read it from the bottom up):

Indeed, you could make the immigration connection if you were casting about for a semi-plausible post hoc reason for the firings. But you wouldn't have to do that if you had an actual reason at hand, would you? One that could withstand public scrutiny anyway.

In any case, here's the funny thing about that: elsewhere in the document dump there are dozens of emails related to immigration because congressman Darrell Issa had been screaming bloody murder about it. So DOJ commissioned a report and its conclusion was that two of the three prosecutors mentioned above were doing fine. There were no serious problems related to immigration prosecutions. The third, Carol Lam, did have some problems, but the report concluded blandly that it was probably due to differences in prosecution guidelines (Lam spent more time on felonies than the others) and could be fixed by changing the guidelines. Hardly earth-shattering, gotta-fire-her-ass kind of stuff. Furthermore, the report suggested, if Issa and the Border Patrol aren't satisfied with this, then perhaps Congress and the Bureau of Immigration ought to provide Lam's office with a few more attorneys. You can almost feel the snark.

Bottom line: It sure doesn't seem like anyone at DOJ was seriously pissed off at Lam over immigration issues. In fact, they were defending her. If you're still not convinced, here's another email from the dump, dated June 23, 2006 (see below). It's from David Smith of the USA Executive Office, and he doesn't sound like he's very put out with Lam. In fact, he seemed to think that Issa was being a bit of a prick and maybe Lam should meet with him just to see if she could explain the facts of life and calm him down. If there's any kind of concrete action that USAEO thinks Lam ought to be taking with regard to immigration (aside from deruffling Issa's feathers), there's no indication of it here. And no real indication of it anywhere else, either. If immigration really was a problem with Lam, they sure didn't talk about it much. It just appeared out of nowhere sometime around November when they started casting around for a public reason for letting her go.

In other words, it's the just like all the others. We still don't have any emails from before the purge explaining why DOJ wanted to fire these particular USAs. Surely there are some? And if not, then what was the reason?

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT DID HE KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?....It seems like only yesterday that Alberto Gonzales was telling reporters that he barely even knew his department was planning to fire a bunch of U.S. Attorneys -- and he certainly didn't actively participate in any discussions about it. Like so many other administration figures, though, it appears his memory isn't so good these days:

Internal Bush administration e-mails suggest that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have played a bigger role than he has acknowledged in the plan to fire several U.S. attorneys.

The e-mails, delivered to Congress Friday night, show that Gonzales attended an hourlong meeting on the firings on Nov. 27, 2006 -- 10 days before seven U.S. attorneys were told to resign. The attorney general's participation in the session calls into question his assertion that he was essentially in the dark about the firings.

The McClatchy link also includes PDFs of tonight's document dump, so head on over if you feel like browsing through it to look for dirt. Lots of back-and-forth about how pissed off Darrell Issa was at Carol Lam.

Also at McClatchy, they have a story putting together some evidence that the point of the purge was to install new U.S. Attorneys who would be more aggressive at ginning up Democratic voter fraud cases for the 2008 elections. Check it out.

Kevin Drum 12:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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March 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE LAB RAT THEORY....I have a theory that the combination of Romenesko, who pioneered 24/7 media navel gazing, and the rise of the blogosphere, which amplifies every jaywalking ticket into Murder 1, has turned American journalists into quivering masses of jelly. They're sort of like those lab rats who receive nonstop electrical shocks completely at random and eventually go insane because they don't know what they're expected to do and what they aren't.

Exhibit 1: Yesterday's debacle at the LA Times, in which a mere few hours of pressure over a bogus scandal caused seasoned executives to panic, rip up the weekend paper, and accept the resignation of their editorial page editor. They couldn't recognize a tempest in a teapot when they were staring straight at it.

Exhibit 2: Not convinced? Then check this out: the Washington Post has a story on its front page right now about an electronic glitch that caused an incorrect headline to appear on their website for 51 seconds on Thursday. It's a scandal!

Leonard Downie Jr., the newspaper's executive editor, said he was upset that the newsroom was not notified. "This was a big story," Downie said. "The fact that we had a wrong report up for 51 seconds--even though it was unintentional--should have been known to us in the newsroom."

Brady said he learned of the foulup early yesterday afternoon after a tip had been carried on the Media Bistro blog Fishbowl DC.

"The mistake I made was in not alerting people that it had happened because it was a high-profile story," [online editor Jim] Brady said. "We should have been up front."

Can we all please Get. A. Grip. If the executive editor of the Washington Post thinks a 51-second software hiccup is a "big story," he might want to think about early retirement. The job is obviously too stressful for him.

The flip side of this is how, like those confused lab rats, journalists also frequently underreact to genuine problems merely because it's the unwashed blog hordes who are yelling about it. That can be a topic for another day.

Kevin Drum 7:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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FRIENDLY FIRE....Half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq have been caused by unsecured munitions. You know, the ones that were in caches throughout the country that were ignored because we didn't have enough troops to occupy the country and didn't think insurgents would be a problem anyway. Those unsecured munitions. BGRS has the whole story.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE MYTH OF THE PERMANENT MAJORITY....The Pew survey I linked to yesterday showed some pretty stunning reversals for the Republican Party, and I think it's worth taking a minute to deconstruct what the numbers show. The party ID catastrophe, in which Republicans have plummeted from a 43-43 tie in 2002 to a 50-35 deficit this year, obviously happened on George Bush's watch. He's the least liked president among moderates and young people in over a generation. But the survey also shows something more fundamental: a loss of sympathy for conservative positions, a trend that began well before George Bush ever set foot in the Oval Office.

In a nutshell, what I think happened is this: beginning in the early 90s the Republican Party hitched its wagon to two things: tax cuts and culture war politics. In the short term this worked nicely: people like low taxes and talk radio was pretty successful at keeping cultural conservatives in a constant state of inchoate outrage. George Bush and Karl Rove were this strategy's ultimate practitioners, and the attacks of 9/11, which they treated as a culture war issue, kept the GOP successful through the first part of this decade.

But in the long term this strategy has been a disaster. Even the wingiest of wingnuts understands that you can't keep cutting taxes forever, and after 2003 the tax cut jihad simply ran out of steam. There were no more taxes to cut. On the culture war side, as the Pew charts confirm, the problem is that America is getting slowly more culturally liberal as time goes by. Partly this is a generational thing and partly it's just a continuation of the same slow march of social tolerance that's been a hallmark of the past half century. Every year there's one or two percent more of the country that doesn't hate gays, doesn't want to ban abortion, and would just as soon see the Ten Commandments stay in church.

Both of these trends are only going to get worse for the GOP. As entitlement benefits grow, taxes are going to have to go up. Everyone knows there's no way around this, and insisting otherwise will increasingly mark you as a fringe crackpot. Likewise, as culture war issues slowly become the province of a dwindling band of senior citizens and dead-end homophobes, arguing about gays in the military will seem about as relevant as attacking the tin trust.

The GOP isn't dead, and Democratic victories in future years are hardly assured. But there's not much question that Republicans are going to have to find a new schtick. The combination of Grover Norquist and James Dobson had its day, but that day is fading fast. If they want to stay relevant, they're going to need some new ideas.

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FRIDAY CAT NONBLOGGING....No cat pictures today. Sorry. I fell down on the job.

But lots of people either commented or emailed after last week's post about Inkblot's weight loss, so here's an update. I talked to our vet and he assured me that the diet was working fine and Inkblot's weight loss was good news. Nothing to be worried about. (There was a longwinded explanation that went along with this, but I'll spare you the details since I didn't completely follow it myself.) We'll probably put Inkblot on the "maintenance" formula of cat food after we use up our current bag of the diet stuff, but that's about it. Bottom line: everything is fine.

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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SUPER-DUPER TUESDAY....Kos comments on the new front-loaded primary schedule:

There's some level of nostalgia over the notion of a long, drawn out primary process in which Iowa and New Hampshire kick things off. This is supposed to help the Jimmy Carter-type underdogs "build momentum" and give voters a chance to "deliberate" over their decisions.

In reality, of course, we had a system in which two non-representative states (IA and NH) decided our nominee last time, and they were gunning for the same "right" this time around.

The rest of the states aren't morons. They saw what was happening, and so many have moved up to the front of the pack that now we have essentially a national primary on Feb. 5. Is that a bad thing? I'd argue it's a fantastic thing.

I'm pretty much on board with this. I'd rather see the candidates spend a year running a truly national campaign -- the kind they'll need to run in the general election -- instead of spending 90% of their time in two small states where they engage in nostalgic but obsolete coffee klatsch campaigning. Like it or not, that just isn't the way the world works anymore.

However, if a single massive primary day is the way we decide to do things in the future, I hope that by 2012 we can agree to move the whole process forward and hold it in, say, April or May. The first week of February is just too early to commit to a candidate who won't be elected until November.

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (100)

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MORE ON GRAZERGATE....Since I've been dissing Michael Kinsley lately, let me say that I think he gets something exactly right today. The subject is the absurd pseudo-scandal at the LA Times that led to the resignation of its editorial page editor yesterday (full story here). Here's what Kinsley says:

Naturally, the LA Times publisher says that the problem isn't a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict of interest. This formula has irritated me for years, especially when used by the media. It is the job of journalism to bring appearances in line with reality, not to bring reality in line with appearances.

A thousand times yes. Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is obviously a wise goal, but it's impropriety itself that we should be concerned about. The job of the media should be to figure out whether or not something actually happened, not to cluck mindlessly over appearances. We should leave that to Maureen Dowd.

In the case at hand, my guess is that no one -- literally no one -- believes Andres Martinez actually did anything wrong. On the contrary: I think everyone accepts his explanation about how he chose Brian Glazer to guest-edit this Sunday's op-ed section -- an explanation that was simple, clear, quickly offered up, and consistent with the evidence. But for some reason the ethics brigade still feels like they have to go through the "appearance of impropriety" kabuki dance because otherwise Romanesko and the blogs will come after them. Feh.

And what does the LA Times get out of all this? A reputation for panicking at the tiniest sign of trouble. A reputation for not backing up its own people when unfair accusations are leveled against them. A reputation as a pseudo-moralistic prig. And will anyone ever agree to guest-edit an op-ed section for them again? I doubt it. You'd be crazy to waste your time, knowing that the Times will hang you out to dry at the first sign of trouble.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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CHANGING THE GUARD....It's almost painful to have to respond to the moronic "Clinton did it too!" talking point on fired U.S. Attorneys, but just for the record, here are the facts about new administrations bringing in their own slate of prosecutors:

Historical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan.

Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years.

In emails released earlier this week, Kyle Sampson and Paul McNulty acknowledged that both Bush and Clinton brought in a new team of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office. So did other presidents. The contrary suggestion that Clinton had done something unprecedented originated with a too-clever-by-half DOJ flak and gained currency by bouncing around among the usual suspects: talk radio, Drudge, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and assorted TV shills. It's time for everyone to stop pretending that it's anything more than a cynical talking point that even its inventors knew perfectly well was groundless.

Kevin Drum 11:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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By: Kevin Drum

KINSLEY AND PURGEGATE....I'm a little unsure of how to respond to this, but let's try it this way. Let's pretend it's 1973. How does this sound?

Yes, the president fired the Attorney General. And his deputy. But they serve at his pleasure, after all. And remember, Kennedy fired the entire cabinet and replaced them when he took over. I didn't notice any Democrats complaining about that.

Anyone buying that? No?

It's the same deal with the U.S. Attorneys. Putting in your own people during a change of administration, as Clinton and Bush both did, is routine. Firing them in the middle of an administration -- especially when you can't explain why you did it and your damage control stories are comically implausible -- looks pretty suspicious. Like maybe you did it to send a message about who should (Democrats) and who shouldn't (Republicans) be investigated in cases of political corruption. And that, to paraphrase the Trickster, would be wrong.

Of course, maybe not. Maybe it's all above board. But under the circumstances it sure seems worth asking a few questions about the whole mess under oath, doesn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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March 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BEST HEALTHCARE IN THE WORLD....PART 87....The state of California has fined Blue Cross $1 million for illegally cancelling policies:

The investigation found that Blue Cross used computer programs and a dedicated department to systematically cancel the policies of pregnant women and the chronically ill regardless of whether they intentionally lied on their applications to cover up pre-existing medical conditions, a standard required by state law for canceling individual policies. Regulators examined 90 randomly selected cases of policy cancellations and found violations in each one.

Italics mine. According to the LA Times, the fine came about as the result of an "unprecedented investigation" prompted by a story they ran a few months ago. Maybe next time state regulators shouldn't wait.

Kevin Drum 9:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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GOP AGONISTES....A (depressed) conservative friend writes to say that George Bush has single-handedly destroyed the Republican Party. But based on the Pew survey that prompted his comment (see below) I'd say that Bush had some help. The Gingrichization of the Republican Party has taken its toll.

But the GOP isn't doomed any more than the Democrats were in 1980. They're just in for a few years of soul searching.

Kevin Drum 7:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

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GRAZERGATE....Ready for another scandal? This one is local to Los Angeles and it goes something like this:

Andres Martinez is editor of the LA Times opinion pages. He is dating a woman named Kelly Mullens, who works for a Hollywood PR firm called 42West. One of the partners at 42West is Allan Mayer, who represents (among others) producer Brian Grazer. This Sunday, Grazer is guest editing Current, the LAT's weekend opinion section.

The scandal, such as it is, revolves around the possibility that Grazer was chosen because Martinez's girlfriend recommended him. Both of them say in no uncertain terms that this isn't true. Here's Martinez:

The apparent conflict in this instance arises from the fact that I called up Allan Mayer early this year to ask if he'd ask Steven Spielberg if he'd be interested in being our first guest editor. Mayer is a well-known former journalist and public relations guru who is Kelly's boss. Months earlier, Allan had come into the paper for lunch with a number of editors (at a time when I had no contact with Kelly) to talk journalism and some of the preemptive crisis management he'd done on Munich for Spielberg.

Long story short, Spielberg said he was intrigued, but couldn't do it then. Allan then suggested Brian Grazer, and I quickly decided this was an inspired choice. I told Nick Goldberg, Current's editor, and Michael Newman, my deputy, that Allan had suggested Grazer, and we all read up on him and met him, and were excited about his involvement.

I gotta be honest: even in the worst case -- namely that Mullens suggested one of her firm's clients to Martinez and he followed up on it -- this seems remarkably....piddling. People know people. Ideas come from all over the place. Friends recommend things.

But hey. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is an ethical blunder of Biblical proportions and I'm somehow not seeing it. I'm sure that the massive no-stones-unturned internal investigation recommended by former LAT city editor Bill Boyarsky will eventually set things straight. But I will say this: today's decision to cancel the guest-edited section is the worst possible response the Times could have chosen. (Martinez resigned immediately after he was told.) After all, the only way for their readership to decide if the choice of Grazer was (a) inspired or (b) corrupt is to read the result. If it looks like he used the section to pimp a bunch of 42West clients, then we can all conclude that Martinez abused his position. If it doesn't, then we can all scratch our heads about why Times management (and the newsroom, apparently) went into full-bore panic mode over this.

But unless we get to see it, there's no way to know. Regardless of what else they do, in the interests of transparency they should publish the section intact and let us see what Glazer ended up doing with it.

POSTSCRIPT: On a funnier note, do you know what Allan Mayer's PR specialty is? Back when he worked for Sitrick and Co., it was crisis management and celebrity damage control. Here's Variety:

Mayer, one of the few publicists with a journalism background (he ran Buzz magazine for several years), preaches the preemptive approach.

Handling clients like Halle Berry when she was implicated in a hit-and-run and Paula Poundstone when she was accused of child endangerment, his mantra has been: "If you don't tell your story, someone else is going to tell it for you, and you probably won't like the way it comes out."

That's especially true when a celeb is being pushed into the news by a scandal. "We live in a news culture in which the operative assumption has to be that a story is going to get out," he says."

"The idea that there are secrets involving public figures is an obsolete one."

Sounds like the LA Times could use his help right about now.

Kevin Drum 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

GINGRICH: STOP BEING LIKE ME....Newt Gingrich has seen the 1984/Hillary YouTube ad and he doesn't like it:

Oh it's clever....It's the Entertainment Tonight version of governing a great country. And its very dangerous, because we have no habits anymore of serious dialog, we have no habits of serious citizenship. Everything is reduced to gossip, attack, whose consultant is cleverer, and it's really very destructive.

Hold on a second while I pick my jaw off the ground. There. Got it.

Is he serious? Newt "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" Gingrich is now complaining about partisan attacks? Newt "Contract With America" Gingrich is complaining about consultant-driven politics? Newt "Let's Impeach Bill Clinton Over a Blowjob" Gingrich is complaining about the inability of our political system to solve real problems?

Newt Gingrich practically invented the modern attack-dog style of American politics. He is its patron saint and its most talented practitioner. But now that Democrats have won back control of Congress and seem likely to win back the presidency as well, he's seen the light. The Gingrichification of politics has to stop.

Wow. Just wow. But I will say this: Newt Gingrich might well be the only person on the planet with the chutzpah to pull this off. In its own way, it's impressive. But then, so was Joe McCarthy. In his own way.

Kevin Drum 1:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

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By: Kevin Drum

FAKE RAIDS....The Wall Street Journal reports today that Iraqi businessmen are in a tough situation: they need American funds to restart their businesses, but if anyone knows they're getting U.S. cash they run the risk of being shot or blown up. Capt. Dan Cederman came up with an answer to this dilemma last year while he was talking with the owner of a vocational school that was receiving U.S. reconstruction funds:

With the work well under way last fall, Dr. Noori asked Capt. Cederman to see the renovations for himself, both men say. But the Iraqi stressed the importance of keeping the U.S. role secret. "Can you come in without anyone seeing you come in?" Dr. Noori remembers asking...."I thought, 'Why don't we just raid the place?' " Capt. Cederman recalls.

....The U.S. raid took place last September. Dr. Noori, who had been alerted to the timing, stayed home the day of the strike to prevent his workers from finding out that he knew many of the soldiers....The ruse worked so well that Capt. Cederman decided to carry out a similar raid last month at the printing plant here that had been fixed up with U.S. funds.

....In recent days, meanwhile, U.S. forces staged a raid to solve a nettlesome -- and potentially life-threatening -- problem in the nearby city of Bayji.

An Iraqi who worked as a translator for U.S. forces there was getting death threats from insurgents and asked the U.S. for help. The Americans responded by raiding his house, publicly arresting him, and holding him in jail for two days.

"A lot of people there now think he's a bad guy," Capt. Cederman says. "It bought him a lot of street cred."

This is clever stuff. At the same time, it's a pretty stark reminder of just how unpopular we are in Iraq. Like so many things, it seems like an idea that might help us in the short term but will just end up making things even worse in the long term.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (62)

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PRINCIPLES....Matt Yglesias responds to a piece by David Boaz in which Boaz remarks that one of the nice things about having principles is that you don't have to examine every single new situation de novo:

This, to me, is more or less why it's not a very good idea to try and debate policy specifics with libertarians. That it's an ideology that precludes trying to decide issues through some dull "look at all the data and decide what we think about every issue" doesn't, of course, demonstrate that it's incorrect, but it hardly lays the groundwork for a productive exchange of ideas.

Normally, I'd say this is an unfair criticism. After all, we all have principles we believe in, and we all use those principles to guide us on topics that we don't have encyclopedic knowledge of. It's not just libertarians.

But of course I know exactly what Matt is talking about, and I find it puzzling in a way. My personal experience is that while everyone has principles, libertarians are far more likely than most people to go over the cliff with their principles, examining issues on a bright-line, unidimensional philosophical basis without taking into account real-world outcomes or real-world issues of human nature that might soften their views. I suppose a big part of the reason is that while most people become vaguely liberal or conservative just because those are the usual choices, libertarians choose libertarianism much more deliberately. And they choose it because the philosophy appeals to them.

Still, it seems at least slightly odd that libertarianism seems to produce such a large percentage of true believers. And it's true: arguing with true believers just isn't very useful or illuminating. cf. George Bernard Shaw and wrestling with pigs.

POSTSCRIPT: On a slight tangent, have you noticed that although "ideology" and "principles" have nearly identical meanings in common usage, we usually use ideology when speaking about people we don't like and principles when talking about ourselves? For example, this entire post could have been made even more hostile to libertarians simply by using the word ideology throughout, rather than principles. This is apropos of nothing. Just rambling.

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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By: Kevin Drum

JOHN EDWARDS PRESS CONFERENCE....Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has returned, as everyone has been speculating. It's largely confined to her bones, "which is a good thing." Not curable but treatable. "We and she are very optimistic."

But John Edwards is not suspending or ending his presidential campaign. The rumors were wrong. "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly."

UPDATE: In comments, people want to know what "not curable but treatable" means. Basically, it means the cancer can't be removed. It will always be there. However, the analogy Elizabeth Edwards used was to diabetes: you can't get rid of it, but there are therapies and medications that can keep it in abeyance and minimize both its spread and its ill effects. She also says that she has no symptoms and currently feels fine.

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By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE UPDATE....Yesterday I wrote a post suggesting that some of the fired U.S. Attorneys really did have performance problems while others didn't. How can you tell the difference? Well, the two who did have performance problems were given reviews that contained actual hard evidence of poor office management. The five who didn't were given vague reviews that didn't seem to add up to much. As it happens, these five were the same ones who had been suspected of being either too tough on Republican corruption cases or too weak on Democratic ones, which has led suspicious folks like me to suspect that this was the real reason they were fired.

One of the USAs who seemed to be a genuine management problem was Kevin Ryan of San Francisco. But according to a story in the LA Times today, until the very last minute that wasn't enough to get him on the list:

"You would have to know Kevin," said UC Hastings College of the Law professor Rory Little. "You can't find a stronger supporter of the Bush administration agenda."

His tenure, however, was plagued by morale problems and accusations that he was a bad manager. A number of the office's most experienced lawyers left.

Despite his problems, which were well documented in legal newspapers, Justice officials wanted to keep Ryan on, even as they plotted the firings of other U.S. attorneys. It was only when a Democratic judge threatened to go to Congress to raise a public fuss over an excoriating written evaluation of Ryan's office that Ryan was put on the termination list, according to e-mails released by the White House.

So: documented poor performance wasn't enough to get a Bush loyalist on the list. He was only added at the last minute to prevent possible embarrassment if his performance became public during a mass firing that was supposedly due to performance problems.

Which kinda makes you think that neither poor performance nor policy differences really had anything to do with any of this, doesn't it? We're left with Kevin Ryan, who was fired to avoid his poor performance becoming public; Margaret Chiara, another loyalist who appeared to have genuine management problems; and five more who were fired for unclear reasons -- but who all seem to have shared the fatal defect of prosecuting too many Republicans and not enough Democrats. (Plus one more who was fired to make way for a friend of Karl Rove to take his spot.)

The Fab Five are the ones to keep an eye on. Connect the dots.

Kevin Drum 2:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (197)

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March 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COMPACT FLUORESCENTS....Mickey Kaus goes green:

I recently bought a compact flourescent bulb, the GE brand recommended by Instapundit. I hate it. It flickers constantly. When it's not flickering it fills the room with a depressive, dulling haze. Maybe this is what happened to Courtney Love! It gives me a headache to look at it.

This is not an excuse for some Mickey bashing. We'll do that some other time. I just wanted to open a thread about compact fluorescents.

Here's the thing: I've never minded fluorescent lights, which I think is a little unusual, but I have always been sensitive to flicker. And most CFs flicker like mad if you put them in a lamp connected to a dimmer. But the CFs in my living room and bedroom -- which aren't on a dimmer circuit -- don't seem to flicker at all and the light they put out is fine. (Though that's obviously an esthetic judgment.) They're Sylvanias. I also have some overhead lights, basically floodlamps, and they work fine too, though they take a couple of minutes to completely warm up. I think they're the Lowe's house brand.

Anyway, I'm just curious. Have you tried CFs? Which brands work and which ones suck? Have you found any that work well on a dimmer circuit? What do you think about the quality of the light? Etc. Let's put the hive mind to work.

Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (211)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE QUESTION....I can't tell you how much it pains me to say this, but Larry Kudlow asks precisely the right question about George Bush's Purgegate press conference yesterday:

Unfortunately, President Bush's news conference yesterday failed to answer the absolute key question for the public: Why did he fire the eight U.S. attorneys?

If you read the transcript, he talked about "new leadership." He also said, "Neither the Attorney General, nor I approve of how these explanations were handled. We're determined to correct the problem."

But people watching Mr. Bush will still be wondering what his explanation is.

Of course, the President has the political and constitutional authority to hire and fire these prosecutors. But why were these eight dumped? Why not the other eighty-five?

It seems to me if you use a press conference event to go over the heads of the mainstream media, and broadcast to the American public, you have to deliver a clear rationale for your actions.

They've now had nearly two months to come up with a simple, clear, understandable explanation for why they chose those eight to fire but not the others. So what is it? And why has it taken such an interminable amount of internal chaos to come up with something?

People aren't stupid. If there were a simple, innocent explanation we would have heard it in January. The fact that the president of the United States held a press conference eight weeks after this issue first hit the media and still didn't have a plausible story to tell suggests pretty strongly that there is no plausible story to tell.

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By: Kevin Drum

GORE SPEAKS....David Roberts is liveblogging Al Gore's testimony before Congress today. Here's a snippet:

Dennis Hastert: Costs, costs, costs. You can tax the American people, or you can have economic activity and investment. Huh? Lots of your recommendations are more taxation and regulation -- that will depress the free market. [I read it in an Econ. 101 textbook once.] I agree about basic climate change, though I'm uncertain about human contribution. Now you're a movie star ...

Gore: "Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. I just have a slideshow."

The whole thing is fascinating and amusing, and aside from Hastert and Joe Barton it sounds like the Republicans managed to keep from being quite as moronic as usual on the subject. Gore did a good job.

However, if all you want is the nickel summary of Gore's legislative recommendations, here they are.

Kevin Drum 1:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRACY DEMOTION IN EGYPT....The Egyptian ruling party has passed a raft of constitutional changes and has set a date for a referendum to approve them: March 26, five days from now. Why so fast? Because that gives the opposition no time to mobilize protests. Marc Lynch explains the proposed modifications:

The changes are blatantly, almost absurdly, authoritarian and antidemocratic. Judicial oversight of elections will be eliminated....Contested Presidential elections will be virtually impossible....Parties based on religion would be explicitly banned....the regime, under NDP control, will retain an iron grip on the licensing of political parties...."Counter-terrorism" provisions will render a whole range of highly controversial, intrusive security practices Constitutional, making the de facto security state into a de jure security state.

Marc describes the scene after parliament approved the changes:

NDP deputies quite appropriatedly celebrated its "victory" by launching into the Baathist chant "With spirit, with blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Mubarak." This is what America's support for Egyptian "reform" has brought: Baathism on the Nile.

Read the whole thing for more gory details. You will be unsurprised to learn that U.S. reponse has been virtually nonexistent, yet more evidence that George Bush's commitment to democracy promotion was never anything more than a nice sounding slogan.

Kevin Drum 1:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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By: Kevin Drum

DIGGING THROUGH THE MUCK....As fallout from Purgegate continues, Steve Benen reports that "Every suspicious indictment and investigation suddenly deserves scrutiny. And it's getting it." He's got the rundown here. I'm sure the list will get even longer by next week.

Personally, I think Henry Waxman or some other enterprising committee chair might want to order up a more rigorous look at the conclusions of the Shields-Cragan study on partisan prosecutions at the local (i.e., away from prying media eyes) level. Maybe Shield and Cragan are wrong. Or maybe there's an innocent explanation for their results. But then again, maybe not.

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By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA AND RACE....Who do I agree with more? Matt Yglesias?

Obama's race is part of the story of his ascent. It's just not, I think, a very complicated part of the story, not the sort of thing that calls for the weaving or unweaving of tangled webs about the psychology of race.

Or Max Sawicky?

I've never seen more demented shit about an African-American politician and race.

They're both saying the same thing, but Max is shriller so I think I'll go with him this time around. But go ahead and read them both.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK....According to Josh Marshall, that 3,000-page document dump doesn't include a single email between November 15th and December 4th of last year. Josh thinks that's suspicious. What a paranoid guy.

UPDATE: Josh's loyal hordes have been scouring the documents and they've come up with one email written during The Gap. One! If they find any more, I'll let you know.

UPDATE 2: Here's another one. That's two!

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By: Kevin Drum

SINGING THE BLUES....This is off the beaten path for me, but the Wall Street Journal reports today on the virtual implosion of the music market:

In a dramatic acceleration of the seven-year sales decline that has battered the music industry, compact-disc sales for the first three months of this year plunged 20% from a year earlier, the latest sign of the seismic shift in the way consumers acquire music.

....In recent weeks, the music industry has posted some of the weakest sales it has ever recorded. This year has already seen the two lowest-selling No. 1 albums since Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales, was launched in 1991.

One week, "American Idol" runner-up Chris Daughtry's rock band sold just 65,000 copies of its chart-topping album; another week, the "Dreamgirls" movie soundtrack sold a mere 60,000. As recently as 2005, there were many weeks when such tallies wouldn't have been enough to crack the top 30 sellers. In prior years, it wasn't uncommon for a No. 1 record to sell 500,000 or 600,000 copies a week.

In revenue terms, sales are down even more: about 25% according to the CEO of Virgin Entertainment. And even when you include digital song sales, ringtones, etc., sales are still down 9%, according to a recent research report. That's a helluva drop.

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March 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FORTRAN....The inventor of Fortran is dead. It was the first programming language I learned, courtesy of the federal government back in 1975. R.I.P.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NO SCIENCE ZONE....David Roberts points today to an article that explains in a nutshell the Republican approach to the science of climate change:

House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming -- but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said.

"I said, 'John, I can't do that,'" Gilchrest, R-1st-Md., said in an interview. "He said, 'Come on. Do me a favor. I want to help you here.'"

Gilchrest didn't make the committee....He expressed his interest in the committee several times to Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, telling them the best thing they could do for Republican credibility was to appoint members familiar with the scientific data.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a research scientist from Maryland, and Michigan's Rep. Vern Ehlers, the first research physicist to serve in Congress, also made cases for a seat, but weren't appointed, he said.

"Roy Blunt said he didn't think there was enough evidence to suggest that humans are causing global warming," Gilchrest said. "Right there, holy cow, there's like 9,000 scientists to three on that one."

Familiarity with the scientific data? Sorry no. We're the GOP.

Kevin Drum 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE PRESS CONFERENCE....Shorter George Bush: Allow me to spend a few minutes scoring political points by accusing Democrats of scoring political points.

Boy, did he seem pissed at that press conference, or what? Although, I'll admit that he seems that way almost all the time these days.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHY WERE THEY FIRED?....Over at TPMmuckraker, Paul Kiel points to something that I too found odd when I was skimming through the Purgegate document dump last night:

Among the documents last night are some showing that the "performance related" reasons for firing eight prosecutors were the result of an ongoing collobaration at Justice. In other words, the officials appear to have brainstormed on the reasons they had fired the eight.

What Paul means is that DOJ hasn't released any documents from prior to the purge showing how they judged the performance of the folks they were firing. All we have is a summary document from after the purge, where DOJ apparatchiks are tripping over themselves trying to figure out just what those reasons were. But of course, that doesn't make sense. If they had really had firm, irreproachable reasons for firing the "USA-8," they would have just dug up the old memos that spelled out those reasons and transferred them to the summary sheet. Or maybe just released the original memos themselves. Instead they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

But there was something else I noticed as I read the document that Paul highlighted: there was a noticable difference in the quality of the stated reasons for firing the eight prosecutors. Some reasons seemed pretty strong, some pretty weak, and a couple in between. Here's how they looked to me:

  • Strong: Chiara, Ryan, Cummins. The first two seem to have had serious morale/management issues that had previously required on-site visits to address. Cummins was planning to resign eventually anyway.

  • Middling: Charlton, McKay. In both cases, EOUSA managers appeared to be unhappy about "insubordination" and working "outside of proper channels." It's not clear what the problems were, but these are at least colorable stories.

  • Weak: Bogden, Iglesias, Lam. In the first two cases, virtually no reasons are given at all. "Lack of energy" and "Underperforming generally" is the best they could come up with. In Lam's case, they complained about "time management" and then tossed in some items about illegal immigration and gun prosecutions that were pretty plainly bogus.

Notice anything unusual about this list? I didn't at first, but it turns out that the five firings with the weakest official explanations are the same five prosecutors who have been suspected of being either too tough on Republican corruption cases or too weak on Democratic ones. You can't very well put that on your summary sheet, though, which probably explains why the DOJies had trouble coming up with good reasons for firing them. The dots are practically begging to be connected here.

One of the interesting things this affair demonstrates is that Bush and his confidants are still clueless. They genuinely didn't expect this to blow up in their faces. They thought everyone would buy their story that this was a routine housecleaning and then move on. They simply haven't figured out that, given their track record over the past six years, no one is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt anymore. Even their own supporters are barely willing to defend them. But they still don't get that.

Kevin Drum 5:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

ZONING OUT....Ezra tells us about a recent party conversation with a friend who works for Google:

Upon finding out that I was a blogger, the colleague launched into an intense, interminable sales pitch for Google's new campaign services, which are apparently...something. I don't know. It seemed pretty indistinguishable from all consulting services, and it was being sold with the same mix of buzzwords and bullshit. I zoned out for a few minutes, reflecting on what un-Google-like behavior this all was, zoned back in to find she was still explaining why I should write about the new model, and then I abruptly walked away. This is why it's hard for me to make new friends.

Boy does that take me back. Not the abruptly walking away part -- I never did that -- but zoning out when a colleague tried to explain why some new product of theirs was not merely a new product, but a transcendental transformation of everything we had ever known about the entire product category. It was usually a sure sign that there was, in fact, nothing concretely good about whatever it was they were pitching.

This, by the way, is my biggest problem with Tom Friedman. When he hears these kinds of pitches from the execs he hangs around with, he swallows them whole. It never seems to occur to him that these guys are salesmen doing what salesmen do. They say they're changing the world, and that's that. After all, why would they lie to him?

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By: Kevin Drum

McNONSENSE....Seriously? McDonalds is griping to the editors of the OED about their definition of "McJob"? Apparently so.

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By: Kevin Drum

MUSCLE BOUND....Rosa Brooks comments on Joe Lieberman's call for a Democrat with a "strong and muscular" foreign policy:

I'm as fond of "strong and muscular" as the next girl, but not as the measure of US foreign policy. To paraphrase Zbigniew Brzezinksi, we need to resist efforts to frame policy debates in terms of strong versus weak, or hard versus soft power: the real question is whether we're going to be smart, or stupid. I don't know about Joe, but I'll take smart over stupid any day of the week.

Actually, I think the hard power vs. soft power distinction is a useful one, but point taken anyway. As Barack Obama said of the Iraq war back in 2002, "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars."

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By: Kevin Drum

SUBPRIME FOLLIES....Fortune notes that a big factor in the recent success of the subprime lending market has been the ability to repackage subprime loans into clever little bundles of asset-backed securities that are then traded on the open market. But there's more. An even bigger factor is the fact that these debt instruments (called collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs) have generally received investment grade ratings even if the mortgages underlying them were highly risky.

Read the whole piece if you want to understand the technical mechanisms involved, but the article suggests one reason why the rating agencies might have been a little too eager to play along with this game:

At Moody's (the only one publicly traded), net income went from $159 million in 2000 to $705 million in 2006, in large part because of increases in fees from "structured finance," the umbrella under which this mortgage alchemy falls.

The rating agencies say that they've reviewed their ratings and don't plan to change them. But what if they do?

Janet Tavakoli, who runs Tavakoli Structured Finance, points out that AA-rated tranches of CDOs backed by subprime mortgage paper now yield far more than AA-rated debt backed by other assets -- a sign that the market doesn't trust the ratings. "No one believes the ratings have any value," she says. Opined Grant's Interest Rate Observer: "We are willing to bet that the agencies assigned too little weight to greed, ignorance, and soft criminality."

All this has real-world implications. If the rating agencies do downgrade some of this paper, investors who can't own non-investment-grade debt would be forced to sell in droves. The losses could affect the bottom line of an untold number of companies, including insurers and possibly even mutual funds.

And if CDOs stop purchasing mortgage paper, then a major source of liquidity will evaporate. That tightening of credit could affect the demand for homes, thereby turning the virtuous circle of recent years into a vicious one of falling home prices.

This is pretty similar to the way investment banks managed to keep the dotcom bubble alive for a couple of years too long in the 90s. Analysts at brokerage firms were supposed to be neutral in their recommendations -- in theory, there was a "Chinese wall" between analysts and traders -- but in fact the wall had long since broken down and there were tremendous pressures to oversell stocks their firms had an interest in. Unfortunately, it took a while for everyone to figure out that the analysts had become little more than carnival barkers, and that allowed the bubble to get wildly out of control.

Is it deja vu all over again? Are we a couple of years too late with the supposedly impartial rating agencies as well? Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMORAL?....This from Paul Waldman is a good question. The press has given lots of attention to Democratic responses to Gen. Peter Pace's statement that homosexuality is "immoral," but why not ask the Republican candidates too?

In comments to Paul's post, it appears that several of the GOP candidates have been asked, but with the exception of Sam Brownback, who thinks Pace was spot on, the rest of them have all dodged the question in one way or another. Maybe the national press should try again?

UPDATE: Here's Mike Huckabee tap dancing around the question on Bill Maher's show last week. (It comes at about 5:30.)

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

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By: Kevin Drum

DOCUMENT DUMP....PART 1....The DOJ document dump is here. I haven't had a chance to do more than skim randomly through a few of the emails, but one of the most inexplicable cases seems to be that of Margaret Chiara, U.S. Attorney for Michigan's Western District. A series of emails makes it clear that she was completely blindsided by the request to resign, was never given a reason for being let go, and couldn't afford the loss of income from being out of work for even a short while. However, the administration's lies about the mass firings made it even more difficult than usual to find new employment on short notice. Here's an email to Paul McNulty dated February 1:

FYI: Everyone who knows about my required resignation, (primarily our USA colleagues and people providing references), is astonished that I am being asked to leave. Now that it has been widely reported that departing USAs have either failed to meet performance expectations or that they acted independently rather than follow DOJ/EOUSA directives, the situation is so much worse. You know that I am in neither catagory. This makes me so sad. Why have I been asked to resign? The real reason, especially if true, would be a lot easier to live with.

"Especially if true." What a plaintive request.

Elsewhere in the dump, Kyle Sampson explains why it would be unwise to allow Bud Cummins to testify before a Senate committee. The email is below (read from the bottom up):

Kevin Drum 1:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (134)

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March 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TOAST WATCH....McClatchy reports that the White House is already looking for a new Attorney General:

The White House began floating the names of possible replacements for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Monday as the Justice Department released more internal documents related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

....Possible replacements for Gonzales include Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Security and Exchange Commission chairman Chris Cox, White House anti-terrorism adviser Fran Townsend, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson.

.... Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., said he'd back a decision by Bush to oust the attorney general.

"I've been disappointed in the Justice Department. We've had trouble getting answers form Gen. Gonzales from the start," Feeney said. "No prudent congressman wants to be too far out there defending a group that doesn't want to answer questions directly."

Looks like Rep. Feeney has seen the light. Fill in your own joke in comments.

UPDATE: Mike Allen reports that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty will also resign shortly. He's also got some background on why Gonzales isn't finding any support among Republicans. Nickel version: he's a hack, but he's not wingnutty enough for them.

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By: Kevin Drum

"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW BAD IT IS HERE"....Via Balloon Juice, Chitra Ragavan at U.S. News & World Report passes along the following update on Purgegate:

"You have no idea," said one Justice official, "how bad it is here."

The fear that virtually any piece of communication will have to be turned over has paralyzed department officials' ability to communicate effectively and respond in unison to the crisis, as has the fact that senior Justice officials themselves say they still don't know the entire story about what happened that led to the crisis. So they are afraid that anything they put down on paper could be viewed as lies or obfuscation, when in fact, the story is changing daily as new documents are found and as the Office of Legal Counsel conducts its own internal probe into the matter.

Golly. I wonder why they think that anything they put down on paper could be viewed as lies or obfuscation? That's a real poser. And then there's this about the problem Bush would face if Alberto Gonzales leaves the Justice Department:

Who could Bush find that could get Senate confirmation, since Democrats now run the show? It would have to be a seasoned insider, a consummate veteran or an elder statesman who has bipartisan respect and acceptance and a squeaky-clean record.

"The trouble," says one former official, "is that no one comes to mind."

Elliot Richardson died a few years ago, so yeah, I can see their problem.

UPDATE: By the way, I'll be very surprised if there's anything close to a smoking gun in the 2000-page document dump still being promised for tonight. Even among the nitwits routinely hired by the Bush administration, I can't believe that any of them would be stupid enough to put in writing a suggestion that a U.S. Attorney be fired because their investigations were insufficiently partisan.

Then again, with this crew you never know. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 8:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

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By: Kevin Drum

A PURGEGATE PRIMER....Shorter Michael Kinsley: For the Bush administration, lying is practically official policy. The fact that they're lying about Purgegate ("Volleys of lies come in wave after wave, like the trench soldiers of World War One. They get mowed down and the administration just sends in more.") doesn't mean they're covering anything up. It's just a tic.

If this sounds curiously familiar, that's because it is. The last time Kinsley was poo-pooing Bush mendacity was in his belated column about the Downing Street memos, where he made an almost identical argument: "fixing" intelligence is a standard feature of the Bush administration, so why get upset over further evidence about it? It's just one of those things.

This is beyond maddening, as if Kinsley is deliberately trying to misunderstand what's going on here. Look: the only serious argument that Purgegate is a scandal is related to the reason for the Pearl Harbor Day massacre. If seven U.S. Attorneys were fired that day for poor performance, that would be fine. If they were fired for insufficient commitment to Bush administration policies, that would be fine too. But there's considerable reason to believe that at least some of them were fired because either (a) they were too aggressive about investigating Republican corruption or (b) they weren't aggressive enough about investigating Democrats.

That's it. That's the argument. David Iglesias: Didn't bring indictments against some local Democrats prior to the 2006 election. John McKay: Failed to invent voter fraud cases that might have prevented a Democrat from winning the 2004 governor's race in Washington. Carol Lam: Doing too good a job prosecuting trainloads of Republicans in the wake of the Duke Cunningham scandal. Daniel Bogden and Paul Charlton: In the midst of investigations targeting current or former Republican members of Congress when they were fired. And this all comes against a background that suggests the Bush Justice Department has initiated fantastically more investigations of Democrats than Republicans over the past five years.

All of this, combined with the "volleys of lies" coming at us machine gun style from one Bush administration figure after another, strikes me as a pretty good reason to be deeply suspicious. Has Kinsley learned nothing about these guys since 2001?

Kevin Drum 8:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Paul Glastris

IT'S THE ADULTERY, STUPID... Last summer, when we published this piece by Steve Benen, which was the first to point out how maritally challenged the current crop of GOP presidential candidates is, we figured that eventually the mainstream press would get around to noticing the same thing. What we didn't see coming was how quickly that would happen. It's all reporters seem to want to talk about.

This otherwise delightful development, however, has one bothersome aspect: journalists keep portraying it as a controversy about how many divorces various Republican presidential hopefuls have under their belts. Even the usually spin-savvy Greg Sargent falls for this. But the truth is that divorce ain't that big a deal, even in conservative circles (think Reagan). McCain, Giuliani and Gingrich are in trouble with the base because they cheated on their wives--serially in the case of the latter two. So print it out in big bold letters, folks, and tape it to your computer screens: "It's the Adultery, Stupid!"

UPDATE: The man himself, Steve Benen, citing a new Newsweek Poll, reports:

* A majority (56%) of Americans said a candidate's relationship with their spouse tells the public something about how good a president they would be. When looking just at evangelical Republicans, the number grows to 70%.

* Divorce wasn't seen as too big a hurdle--Reagan broke that wall down in 1980--but adultery was a deal-breaker for a lot of voters. Among all voters, 43% said they would vote against a candidate who had committed adultery. Among evangelical Republicans, that number increases to 54%.

Paul Glastris 7:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

STILL BETTER THAN NORTH KOREA!....Ilan Goldenberg reports that at a panel about U.S. policy in the Middle East today, the moderator asked Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman what a reasonable outcome in Iraq would be:

Basically, he explained that when he first supported the war he viewed the establishment of a government similar to that of the Philippines or South Korea to be a positive outcome. They aren't perfect democracies but they're pretty good.

By 2004 he decided that an outcome like Jordan was the best we could hope for. By 2005 his standard had become Egypt. And Now? Wait for it... Wait for it...


Last year Adelman told Vanity Fair that the Bush administration "turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era." So this isn't a surprise. Still, it's nice to see Adelman express his concerns a little more quantitatively. By next year will he be reduced to hoping for a new North Korea?

UPDATE: Daniel Munz wonders how Adelman could have thought Iraq would ever turn out as well as the Philippines in the first place. After all, he and Paul Wolfowitz were both in the Reagan administration when the United States intervened to send Ferdinand Marcos packing, and both understood the dynamics that made that transition turn out pretty well. "They knew why Iraq could never be South Korea or the Philippines," he says. "They just forgot."

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By: Kevin Drum

BIG SISTER....I finally watched all of the famous Hillary/1984 YouTube mashup last night, and it didn't do much for me. (I started to watch it once before but got bored after 20 seconds and quit. This time I got through the entire 1:13!) Marc Cooper's daughter wasn't impressed either. But Time's Joe Klein was:

I disagreed -- quietly, in a loyal and seemly fashion -- with Time's Person of the Year last December. But ads like this one, which will have an impact on this campaign, indicate that I was wrong. You are, apparently, not only the Person of the Year, but also the Political Consultants of the future. Wonder how Hillary's paid help will respond.

OK, so now I'm curious: tell me in comments what you think of this video. Were you pro-Hillary, anti-Hillary, or don't-care-about-Hillary before watching it? How about after? Any change?

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By: Kevin Drum

POWER COUPLES....Did you know that lots of high-profile political journalists are married to high-profile political operatives? Sure you did. But if you want a few more details about DC's power couples, the LA Times runs 'em down for you today.

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By: Kevin Drum

TEACHERS UNIONS....It's funny how I keep getting dragged into writing about education, even though it's a topic I generally prefer to stay away from. (Why? Lack of knowledge, basically.) But I was struck this morning by Megan McArdle's latest plea for liberals to support a voucher system:

Come over to our side, outline a voucher plan you'd accept, and as long as it doesn't include "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures", I'll sign on. Central testing? Fine. You want to make sure they serve organic seaweed salad in the lunchroom? If that's what it takes to get you and other liberals into the voucher camp, I'll agree to that too. Double spending per student, for all I care.

Now, I'll confess that my support for unions isn't the most full-throated you're going to find. Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for unionization efforts in low-wage service industries, a little bit less for old-line manufacturing unions, and less still for public sector unions. But even so, I find this remarkable.

Double spending per student, for all I care. Sure, sure, this is hyperbole, but even so it represents a pretty straightforward admission of what many of us have always suspected: voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions. It implicitly assumes that the biggest contributors to poor public education in America -- so big that it's worth literally anything to get rid of them -- is the existence of grievance procedures and seniority.

Unfortunately, there's no evidence to back this up. Unions appear to have, at most, modest and variable effects on student outcomes. Even the most hostile reading of the evidence doesn't come anywhere close to suggesting that unions are the single biggest obstacle in the way of educating our children properly. And it doesn't come within light years of suggesting that it would be worth doubling spending to get rid of them. This is anti-unionism run wild. Hating teachers unions because they oppose policies you like is one thing, but hating them even if you get your favorite policies enacted is crazy.

As for those grievance procedures, I don't doubt that they can misused. On the other hand, if you want to see an example of what can happen without them, read this story. Nickel version: you can be fired for anything. Even protesting a front office decision forbidding you from presenting a program about Emmett Till.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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By: Kevin Drum

POWELLED?...Laura Rozen reviews Condoleezza Rice's tenure as Secretary of State in our current issue and finds the record mixed. Right now, Iran is the major issue facing Rice, and the big question is whether she can avoid Colin Powell's fate:

The difficulty Rice faces is that every successful effort to pressure Iran through firm but peaceful means has the potential to be hijacked by those seeking grounds for military confrontation -- just as Powell's efforts once were. Will Rice's gamble on diplomacy work, despite the formidable odds, or will she get Powelled? That is precisely the question that lingers in the minds of some within the State Department. "People are very conscious of Iraq," one official involved with Iran policy told me, on condition of anonymity. "And they realize there are people who would love to see this be a runaway train."

So who's really in charge? Rice? Or Dick Cheney and Elliot Abrams? There's no firm answer, but Laura runs down the players and the box score so far. Come back this time next year to find out who won.

Kevin Drum 1:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE PURGEGATE....On Face the Nation this morning Dianne Feinstein pointed out an odd coincidence surrounding the firing of Carol Lam, the U.S. Attorney for San Diego:

Feinstein said Lam notified the Justice Department on May 10, 2006, that she planned to serve search warrants on Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, who'd resigned two days earlier as the No. 3 official at the CIA.

On May 11, 2006, Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales' chief of staff, sent an e-mail to deputy White House counsel William Kelley, asking Kelley to call to discuss "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

The email did not spell out what the "real problem" was, and it was unclear whether Kelley and Sampson talked later.

Meanwhile, David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, who was supposedly fired for being insufficiently aggressive at prosecuting voter fraud, tells the Washington Post that that's an odd complaint indeed:

David C. Iglesias, who was dismissed as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in December, was one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a "voting integrity symposium" in October 2005....Iglesias, a Republican, said in an interview that he and the U.S. attorney from Milwaukee, Steven M. Biskupic, were chosen as trainers because they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections.

Patrick Leahy says he's "sick and tired of getting half-truths on this" and wants to issue a slew of subpoenas next week. Good for him.

Kevin Drum 12:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

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March 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LOSING THE WAR ON TERROR....There are legitimate differences of opinion about how to fight the war on terror. But as reported by Josh Meyer in the LA Times today, it's barely conceivable that anyone thinks the Bush administration's priorities can possibly make any sense:

The overall cost of the U.S. war on terrorism has ballooned to at least $502 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with the administration now requesting that Congress fund another $93 billion this year for the Pentagon's counter-terrorism programs alone, and $142 billion for 2008.

Conditions are much different at the State Department, which is charged with coordinating the U.S. government's international role in the war on terrorism. Its task includes overseeing aid to foreign governments and making sure the overall campaign balances military power, diplomacy, economic development, law enforcement and intelligence gathering.

The State Department requested $157.5 million for its major counter-terrorism programs this year but received $20 million less than that from Congress.

Sure, the State Department isn't the only source of non-military spending in the GWOT. But it doesn't matter. Maybe if you did a full accounting the ratio would go down from 1000:1 to 100:1 or 10:1. But it still wouldn't be within light years of where it should be. We should be spending more on non-military responses to the GWOT than we do on military responses, not a mere 1% or even 10% as much.

And Meyer's piece points out another thing, something that William Arkin has written about several times over at Early Warning: the Bush administration is in the process of militarizing practically everything related to the GWOT.

Over the last several years, the Bush administration has appointed a current or former military commander to virtually every senior post in the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign.

Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden now heads the CIA; retired Navy Vice Adm. John Scott Redd is in charge of the National Counterterrorism Center; and the White House just appointed retired Navy Vice Adm. J. Michael McConnell as director of national intelligence. Last month, the administration tapped Dell L. Dailey, an Army lieutenant general and director of the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base, as the State Department's ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism.

"When everyone out there representing us is a general or a retired general, we have a problem," said [Robert] Richer, now the chief executive of a company called Total Intelligence Solutions. "The United States used to be an iron fist with a velvet glove over it. Now it is viewed by many abroad as just an iron fist."

Iraq aside, the military still has a substantial role to play in the GWOT. But it doesn't have the only role -- or even the biggest role. The biggest role -- assuming we actually want to win, that is -- will be played by programs and policies that work to convince the Muslim world that we're not at war with them. Policies and programs aimed at winning them over and persuading them to stop supporting or tolerating terrorism in their midst. In the long run, short of turning the Middle East into a glassy plain, it's simply the only way to win.

But money talks, and judging by the money it spends the Bush administration couldn't care less about that stuff. Instead, Bush is all military all the time. It's the fastest way imaginable to lose the war on terror and mortgage our country's future to the Bank of China at the same time. Quite a legacy, no?

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SYMBIOSIS OF BLOGS AND THE MSM....Steve Benen suggests that the blogosphere is getting more respect from the MSM these days:

FireDogLake's coverage of the Libby trial was must-read content for reporters covering the case. TPM has [made] the purge scandal what it is today. It's getting increasingly difficult to dismiss the blogosphere's "dirty hippies" as wrong and irrelevant.

It's an interesting dynamic. In both of these cases (Plamegate and Purgegate), it was the MSM that did most of the primary reporting but the blogosphere that showed the better news judgment. Why?

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By: Kevin Drum

PICK A NUMBER....Barry Schwartz writes that the insane levels of anxiety to get admitted to top universities today is, well, insane. What's more, the "principle of the flat maximum" tells us that it's pretty much impossible to predict performance within a tiny group of superstars at the top of the bell curve. So he suggests that we quit trying: elite universities should simply choose students by lottery from among the entire group that meets their standards:

At the very least, colleges and universities should consider doing the following experiment: Put a random half of the applicants through the normal admissions process and the other half through a "good enough/luck of the draw" admissions process. Then track the performance of the students admitted from these two sets of applicants over the course of their college careers.

If there are no major differences in performance between these two groups, then by publicly adopting the "good enough" practice, schools can take a lot of the pressure off high school students so that they can be curious, interested kids again.

That sounds like a very cool experiment. Who wants to go first?

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By: Kevin Drum

SUNNI JIHADISM UPDATE....Hey, remember what a great victory it was when we killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iaq? Turns out Zarqawi was the best thing we had going for us:

Little more than a year ago, AQI's back was against the wall, its efforts to recruit Iraqi Sunni nationalist and secular groups undermined by its violent tactics against civilians and the fundamentalist doctrine of its founder, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi...."When Zarqawi was killed in June," a senior intelligence official said, "a lot of us thought that was going to be a real milestone in our progress against the group."

Instead, he said, "al-Masri has succeeded in establishing his own leadership, keeping the operational tempo up and propelling sectarian violence to higher levels."...."In a year, AQI went from being a major insurgent group, but one of several, to basically being the dominant force in the Sunni insurgency," said terrorism consultant Evan F. Kohlmann.

Oh, and that business about how "If we fail there, the enemy will follow us here"? Not really:

Asked by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) whether "al-Qaeda-type elements" would follow U.S. forces as they withdraw from Iraq into Kuwait, [Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell] answered with one word: "Unlikely."

This story was co-written by Walter Pincus, so it's buried on page A20. But check it out anyway.

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By: Kevin Drum

WHITE ENOUGH?....Here's how Gregory Rodriguez opens his column today about the 2008 presidential contenders:

You've heard the grumbling about other presidential candidates. Is Barack Obama black enough? Is Rudy Giuliani white enough?

Have I been living in a cave? Exactly who is it that's been asking if Rudy Giuliani is white enough to be president?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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March 17, 2007
By: T.A. Frank

WMD TRAINING IN IRAQ: The Washington Post reports that insurgents in Iraq are becoming increasingly expert at using chlorine bombs to kill large numbers of people. Forgive me for harping on this, but this makes our unsecured chemical plants at home a big problem. As is the fact the White House has effectively resisted efforts to do anything about it.

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By: Kevin Drum

HOBGOBLINS....McMegan muses today about education policy and wonders if the issues are similar to those in healthcare, where American liberals are usually in favor of single-payer healthcare (like Medicare, where doctors all work for themselves but service is paid for by the feds) but not so excited about single-provider healthcare (like Britain's NHS, where the doctors all work directly for the government):

This is a common enough argument in debates over healthcare success -- I'm for single payer, not the NHS! -- but it never occurred to me to wonder if those people felt the same way about school funding.

Question of the day: should one be required to stake out a consistent policy across school and healthcare funding? Or can some single-payer supporter explain to me why healthcare will work with what is basically a voucher system, but education won't?

My initial answer is no, there's no reason to be consistent here. Healthcare has some unique characteristics that (I believe) end up pointing toward single-payer as the best, most efficient solution for universal coverage. It's different from the defense industry or the housing industry or the soft drink industry, all of which operate better using different models.

Still, what is the difference? I'd argue that a big part of it is regulation. Healthcare is a very heavily regulated industry and there are a broad variety of mechanisms that work to ensure a minimum level of competence, from basic research all the way down the food chain to your family pediatrician. Obviously these mechanisms aren't perfect, but overall they do a pretty good job. Speaking generally, the government can pretty much assume that the pills you're taking are safe and that any doctor who's board certified and follows the rules isn't a crackpot who's convinced that regular bleedings are the answer to all your health problems.

Schools are different. Private schools not only don't have to meet minimum standards, they fight like cats and dogs to insist on their right not to meet minimum standards. And that's just not going to fly. If you want taxpayer dollars, you have to meet taxpayer standards. Otherwise you're just shoveling cash to anyone who can pack kids into a room that meets the building code.

This is, roughly speaking, why I favor charter schools but not vouchers. Charter schools allow experimentation, which I like, and freedom from some of the worst of the public bureaucracy, but still have to meet some defined standards. I'm not worried much about the standards at $15,000-a-year private schools, but I am worried about the standards at storefront operations in the inner city. The prospect of massive abuse is just too great.

For a variety of reasons, I suspect that private schools will never accept any serious oversight from the state. For that reason, I think that just as the idiosyncrasies of the healthcare market point to single-payer as the best solution for universal health coverage, the idiosyncrasies of the education market point to a combination of public and charter schools as the best solution for universal education coverage. Charter school advocates pretty loudly claim that they all have the silver bullet for educating the kids who are most poorly served by public schools today, and I say, let 'em try. Maybe some of them do. And as long as they're held to a reasonable minimum set of standards, the ones that don't probably aren't going to do any worse than public schools.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

FAME AND FORTUNE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE....In the LA Times today, Terry McDermott writes about Josh Marshall's blog empire:

In a third-floor Flower District walkup with bare wooden floors, plain white walls and an excitable toy poodle named Simon, six guys dressed mainly in T-shirts and jeans sit all day in front of computer screens at desks arranged around the oblong room's perimeter, pecking away at their keyboards and, bit by bit, at the media establishment.

The world headquarters of TPM Media is pretty much like any small newsroom, anywhere, except for the shirts. And the dog. And the quiet. Most newsrooms are notably noisy places, full of shrill phones and quacking reporters. Here there is mainly quiet, except for the clacking keyboards.

It's 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country -- the Bush administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys -- was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

Read the rest!

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE MARCH MADNESS....Oh man, USC has to play Texas again? Last time didn't turn out so well.

How did your team do?

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March 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

NEWS YOU CAN USE....Actually, I hope this is news you don't ever have to use, but it can't hurt to be prepared:

Overturning a century of conventional medical wisdom, Japanese researchers reported Thursday that simple chest compressions without mouth-to-mouth ventilation save twice as many heart attack victims as traditional CPR.

The findings could have important implications in emergency medicine. As many as three-quarters of bystanders who observe a heart attack in a stranger decline to perform CPR, fearing infectious diseases.

...."Most people do better with compressions only," said Dr. Paul E. Pepe, head of the emergency medicine department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School....But experts cautioned that the new rules applied only to people who collapsed suddenly from a heart attack. Those suffering from respiratory arrest, including victims of drowning and drug overdoses, still require conventional CPR.

You are now free to make Dick Cheney jokes in comments.

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By: Kevin Drum

MARCH MADNESS....Hmmm. Not looking so good for my alma mater at the moment. Do you think we can make up a 25-point deficit in three minutes?

But hey, it was an honor just to be invited. And there's always USC tonight.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the right is Domino the sun worshipper. On the left is Inkblot the sleep worshipper.

Inkblot, it turns out, really is thinner thanks to the diet cat food we've been feeding him since December. A lot thinner. We took him to the vet to get him officially weighed on Wednesday, and he's down from 22.4 pounds to 18.3 pounds. That's a pretty astonishing drop in just a bit over three months. The office staff seemed to think it was fine, and the vet wasn't around when we went in, but I think I'll call him next week just to make sure this isn't too dramatic a weight loss.

What really strikes me as remarkable is that this is even possible. I mean, for me to lose 20% of my body weight in 14 weeks I'm pretty sure I'd have to fast completely. Even at that I'm not sure I'd lose 40 pounds. But Inkblot sure isn't fasting. He eats wet food at night and dry (diet) food all day long. Yet he's lost 20% of his starting weight, and it sure isn't because he's been following an exercise plan either. He's as active as ever, but "as ever" means he sleeps 20 hours a day just like every other housecat on the planet. It almost seems to defy the laws of physics.

But then, we all know that cats defy the laws of physics anyway. So why shouldn't their metabolism defy the laws of physics too? Just one of those feline mysteries.

POSTSCRIPT: Just to put everybody's mind at rest, Inkblot didn't start losing weight for no reason. He lost weight because our vet said he was too heavy and switched us to a prescription brand of diet cat food. His appetite is fine, his coat is sleek, and he's as active as ever. I'm still going to check with our vet about this, but there's really no reason to think there's anything wrong with him.

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By: Kevin Drum

COVERT....From Valerie Plame Wilson's opening statement to Congress this morning:

I served the United States loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.

I worked on behalf of the national security of our country, on behalf of the people of the United States until my name and true affiliation were exposed in the national media on July 14, 2003, after a leak by administration officials.

Today, I can tell this committee even more. In the run-up to the war with Iraq I worked in the counter proliferation division of the CIA -- still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.

....While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.

For whatever reason, Patrick Fitzgerald decided he couldn't win a case against any of the Plame leakers merely for leaking her name. Maybe that was because he decided she didn't qualify as "covert" under the very specific legal requirement of the IIPA Act. Maybe it was for other reasons. Who knows?

But whatever the legal case, Plame herself sure thinks she was covert. And her job sure sounds covert. And if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.....

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By: Kevin Drum

THE HACKOCRACY....Matt Yglesias warns aspiring pundits against appearing on blowhard radio and TV shows:

As I well recall from my appearances on the Hugh Hewitt showing, appearing on hack-controlled media outlets is not an effective method of persuading the audience. The rules are rigged....Television is especially tricky for providing the illusion of unmediated reality while, in fact, allowing a thousand different kinds of mediation. Thinking that you can beat television professionals whose job is to make you look bad on a television network that they control is just hubris. Nobody's that smart. Nobody's that clever. Nobody beats the producers.

Boy, is that right. Unless you're a seasoned pro yourself, you're not going to outduel guys like Hewitt or Bill O'Reilly. You're just not. And if the next day all your friends give you high fives and tell you that you kicked ass, they're just being good friends. Believe me: you didn't.

Luckily for me, whatever kind of ego I have, it's not the kind that wants to appear on TV shows jousting with people determined to prove I'm an idiot. So I'm not tempted. And let's face it: the kind of folks who listen to Hewitt and O'Reilly and their ilk aren't going to be swayed by even the most silken-tongued liberal in the world. So what's the point?

As near as I can tell, the exception to this rule is people with deep subject area knowledge and some level of conservative cred -- even if they aren't actually conservatives. Military officers, for example, or tough-guy journalists who can't be brushed off with the host's usual bag of smarmy slurs. For the rest of us, though, just forget it. Direct your energy somewhere else.

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By: Kevin Drum

OPTING OUT....Are women opting out of the workforce in ever greater numbers? In the Columbia Journalism Review, E.J. Graff notes that far from being new, this "trend" has been discovered over and over again during the past 50 years -- and it's no more true today than it was when the New York Times first wrote about it in 1953. However, aside from being factually wrong -- statistics don't bear out the idea that increasing numbers of women are leaving the workforce -- these stories all share another flaw: they assume that women who do leave the workforce are doing so primarily as a matter of lifestyle choice. But in a study released last year called "'Opt Out' or Pushed Out? How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict," Joan Williams collected meticulous evidence showing that this is rarely the case:

Williams establishes that "choice" is emphasized in eighty-eight of the 119 articles she surveyed. But keep reading. Soon you find that staying home wasn't these women's first choice, or even their second. Rather, every other door slammed. For instance, [Lisa] Belkin's prime example of someone who "chose" to stay home, Katherine Brokaw, was a high-flying lawyer until she had a child. Soon after her maternity leave, she exhausted herself working around the clock to prepare for a trial -- a trial that, at the last minute, was canceled so the judge could go fishing. After her firm refused even to consider giving her "part-time" hours -- forty hours now being considered part-time for high-end lawyers -- she "chose" to quit.

The media's insistence on rediscovering this trend every few years -- and misreporting it -- has a real impact on obscuring the actual policy issues at stake. Read the whole piece to learn how.

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March 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PURGEGATE UPDATE....This morning a friend asked if I was willing to predict that Alberto Gonzales was toast. I replied: "I figure all it's going to take is one more damaging email to send him packing. But of course, I don't know if such a thing will pop up."

But the odds were with me, weren't they? Within a couple of hours we got this from ABC News:

New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show that the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House adviser Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than the White House previously acknowledged.

....Two independent sources in a position to know have described the contents of the e-mail exchange, which could be released as early as Friday. They put Rove at the epicenter of the imbroglio and raise questions about Gonzales' explanations of the matter.

....The latest e-mails show that Gonzales and Rove were both involved in the discussion, and neither rejected it out of hand.

It's a twofer! Both Gonzales and Karl Rove are implicated! I suppose, as usual, that Rove will survive, but Gonzales looks like a deader.

However, I sort of hope he hangs on a little while longer. Better to keep this scandal going for another few weeks, don't you think?

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By: Kevin Drum

LOOKING FOR A THEME SONG....Did you know that Washington Monthly has a radio show? Well, we do. (You can listen to it here.) And our producer is looking for help choosing a new theme song.

Got any ideas? If so, send it to us at wamotheme@gmail.com. Thanks!

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By: Kevin Drum

CLENIS WATCH....The endlessly entertaining Andrew Tobias comments on Purgegate today:

FEMA was politicized, the Veterans Department was entrusted to the former RNC chair, George Tenet was given a medal for his work at the CIA, Donald Rumsfeld did a brilliant job, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales always puts Justice ahead of politics. The competence and integrity are all but overwhelming. What's next? Industry lobbyists in regulatory roles? Creationists on scientific panels? Oh -- wait.

But there I go off into orbit, when all I wanted to do was answer one of my donors, who asked me to find out how many of the 93 Federal prosecutors were fired in the Clinton era. Eight? For political reasons?

As it happens, the Congressional Research Service has just released a report on this. It appears two resigned under pressure -- one because he grabbed a TV reporter by the throat on camera, and the second having been accused of biting a topless dancer.

There you have it. Clinton did do it too. I expect this to be breaking news on Fox any moment now.

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By: Kevin Drum

SOMALIA UPDATE....A couple of months ago conservative apologists were falling all over themselves lauding the success of Ethiopia's brutality-based approach to quelling the Islamist insurgency in neighboring Somalia. Today, that approach isn't looking so good. Eric Martin comments:

Why, it's almost as if insurgencies can get by without the aid and comfort of American leftists, humanitarian groups, the UN and the treasonous Western media. One might even conclude that, at times, insurgents have goals and motivations that provide their own animating impetus -- not derived solely from the domestic political situation in the occupier's home country. Imagine the implications.


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By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICANS ARE DOOMED....Are Republicans doomed in 2008? Ezra has David Broder's back on this and says no. I say yes.

You want simplistic? Here's simplistic. Since World War II, parties have alternated the presidency every 8 years. In 60 years, the only exceptions have been Jimmy Carter failing reelection in 1980 and George H.W. Bush winning in 1988. Other than that this rule works like clockwork.

So that's that. Unless the economy starts an unprecedented boom in the next six months -- a rather unlikely occurrence -- Democrats will win the presidency in 2008. You heard it here first.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, yes, I know that Al Gore really won in 2000. But he's moved on and so can we. Besides, I didn't say why the presidency alternates every eight years, I just said that it does. It's magic!

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By: Kevin Drum

THE KSM CONFESSION....Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed to everything. His statement (released yesterday) takes responsibility for 31 separate acts of terrorism, ranging from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bojinka plot, and 9/11 to attempts to assassinate Henry Kissinger and Pope John Paul II. It's an astonishingly wide array of plots, and Noah Shachtman wonders if KSM, knowing he's doomed anyway, confessed to all this stuff just to avert suspicion from others:

Sorry, that feels just a little too pat, a little too tidy. It could be that KSM is, as the 9/11 Commission noted, someone who sees himself as "the self-cast star -- the super terrorist" in "a spectacle of destruction." But to me, it sounds like a man taking on as many bodies as he can, so the rest of his group can go free.

Maybe, though one assumes U.S. intelligence is bright enough to see through this. Still, if you read the transcript of Saturday's tribunal session, it's striking how often KSM asks that other prisoners at Guantanamo be treated "fairly." This might be merely a reference to interrogation methods, but it might also be a plea to give all these other guys the benefit of the doubt when they say they had nothing to do with any of this stuff. It's not likely to work, but it might explain why he decided to so fully take the rap for everything under the sun.

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By: Kevin Drum

"NO TIME TO GO WOBBLY, BARACK"....Michael Hirsh has an interesting piece in our April issue that's partly about Barack Obama and partly about America's post-9/11 foreign policy -- and, from there, partly about Barack Obama's likely approach to post-9/11 foreign policy. To foreshorten Hirsh's argument considerably, he's afraid that Obama's choice of advisors (Samantha Power and Anthony Lake) suggests that he thinks U.S. foreign policy needs a "wholesale reimagining," when what's really needed is just a change of personnel:

What's needed is not a new birth of liberalism or of conservatism -- or cleverly titled ideological mergers of the two -- but just one good Democrat or Republican with the courage to say, repeatedly, that invading Iraq was irrational, that the entire war on terror has been misconceived, that the last six years have been such an aberration as to constitute the most disastrous foreign policy in the nation's history, and that reason will now rule again. I think that person will win.

Hirsh's piece is long and worth reading completely. He's actually making one of the most difficult kinds of argument of all, an argument that the current system is fine and doesn't really need big changes. The UN is flawed but workable. Muscular diplomacy produces results. Liberal internationalism as practiced by FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton is still workable, even (or maybe especially) in a post-9/11 world. And Barack Obama might be just the right messenger to spread this gospel:

For all his openness to rethinking first principles, there's reason to believe that this is something Obama understands better than any other leading candidate. "I don't oppose all wars," he declared in 2002, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were triangulating their way toward authorizing the Iraq invasion. "What I am opposed to is a dumb war." Perhaps, ultimately, this is his real value right now. Not as the perfect vessel for a shining new world order. Though, of course, he is just that: Who could better reassure a jittery and suspicious world that America is ready to resume global leadership than a new young president who is the son of a black African father and a white Kansan mother, with a Muslim middle name who grew up in Asia? Rather, Obama's value is as someone with the courage, independence, and basic common sense to declare, without equivocation, that America's loss of global leadership is a result not of the inevitable breakdown of the existing structure, but of the Bush administration's radical and disastrous policy decisions. And that, with the right mix of patience, wisdom, and common sense, we're not as far from reclaiming that leadership as it might appear.

Read the whole thing.

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YET MORE NCLB....There's just no getting away from NCLB. Here's the latest from the Washington Post:

More than 50 House and Senate GOP members -- including the House's second-ranking Republican -- will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush's signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

....Some Republicans said yesterday that a backlash against the law was inevitable. Many voters in affluent suburban and exurban districts -- GOP strongholds -- think their schools have been adversely affected by the law. Once-innovative public schools have increasingly become captive to federal testing mandates, jettisoning education programs not covered by those tests, siphoning funds from programs for the talented and gifted, and discouraging creativity, critics say.

This is, admittedly, pretty much what several people told me after my earlier NCLB posts: it's silly to think there was a conservative conspiracy to use NCLB to destroy public education because most conservatives didn't support NCLB in the first place. They just voted for it because George Bush wanted them to. Now, with Bush an unpopular lame duck, they're free to revolt and vote their conscience.

What's more, this article suggests precisely the vector by which NCLB is most vulnerable: self-absorbed suburban kvetching. Even at this early date there are suburban schools that have fallen afoul of NCLB, and invariably this produces massive backlash among local parent who are convinced that their school is just fine and they'd better not lose one thin dime of federal funding just because their school fell 1% short of NCLB's outlandishly complex testing requirements. And as we all know, when suburban parents complain, politicians listen.

Of course, this also leads me to one of my biggest complaints about NCLB and education policy in general. No, not testing. I'm agnostic on that for the moment. What really bugs me is that politically we're forced to create (and fund) a system that applies to every school system in America even though we all know perfectly well that 80% of our school systems are basically OK and could probably be left alone. It's the other 20% -- the low-income schools located largely in urban inner cities -- that need help. But for a variety of reasons, it's nearly impossible to target our reform efforts there. So instead we end up with broad brush efforts that waste lots of money and eventually fail because they piss off suburban voters. Bleh.

But maybe I'm off base on that. I invite our ed experts to chime in.

Kevin Drum 12:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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March 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"MISTAKES WERE MADE"....Matt Yglesias already pointed this out when Alberto Gonzales said it yesterday, but now his boss has followed suit:

President Bush said today he is "not happy" about how the Justice Department handled the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys last year, and said Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales has "got some work up there" in better explaining the events to Congress.

"Mistakes were made, and I'm frankly not happy about it," Bush said during a joint news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Merida, Mexico.

What a couple of morons. Do they really have no idea why that phrase is infamous?

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By: Kevin Drum

3.14....By the way, today is Pi Day. Go square a circle or something.

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By: Kevin Drum

NCLB WRAPUP....I just know that everyone is fascinated by the ongoing NCLB discussion and wants it to continue forever, right? Right?

OK, probably not. But just to get a bit of closure on the one specific issue that was bugging me, I called education guru Andy Rotherham a few minutes ago and chatted a bit. The 100% passing requirement of NCLB is plainly absurd, I said, so why is it there? Answer: initially it wasn't. The original New Dem proposal that it's based on suggested an ultimate goal of 90%.

So how did this get changed to 100%? Answer: George Bush insisted on it because he's not a 90% kind of guy. Why did Dems agree to this? Answer: because urban school districts are so fantastically far from meeting any reasonable goal that it hardly seemed worth fighting over. But eventually it'll get fixed in one of the mandated reauthorizations.

So there you have it. I'm not, if I can coin a phrase, 100% satisfied by this explanation, but among progressive Dems, at least, apparently the idea was simply to get something halfway reasonable in place and then plan on tweaking it later.

Among Republicans, who knows? But a couple of years ago Reed Hundt gave us a clue about how at least some of them were thinking.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

INCOME INEQUALITY UPDATE....Via Brad DeLong, here are Emmanuel Saez's latest (2005) figures on income inequality in America. My contribution is to make the chart more colorful.

The chart shows income excluding capital gains, and as you can see, the top 1% of the population (blue line) increased their share of national income from 16% in 2004 to 17% in 2005. Not bad for one year! Meanwhile, the merely well off (red and green lines) went nowhere. Historically speaking, then, here's what we've got:

  • Top 10%: income share stagnant since 1983.

  • Top 5%: Income share stagnant since 1995.

  • Top 1%: Still rocking and rolling!

This is all pretty rarefied atmosphere, of course. Here's Saez:

2005 shows a very large increase in income concentration: the top 1% gains 14% in real terms from 2004 while the bottom 99% gains less than 1%....The striking thing about 2003-2005 is the huge increase at the top with quasi-stagnation below the top 1%. In the late Clinton years, the top gained enormously but at least the bottom was also making progress.

Median wages have been stagnant since the mid-70s. Today, the wages of everyone below the top 1% are stagnant. As Andrew Tobias likes to say, it's a grand time to be rich and powerful in America.

Kevin Drum 5:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

FITZGERALD FOLLIES....Ex-senator Peter Fitzgerald says Karl Rove warned him not to recommend a U.S. Attorney who would be too tough on Republican corruption in the state of Illinois. Steve Benen provides the details and the twist.

Kevin Drum 4:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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By: Paul Glastris

THE GOSPEL OF CHARLIE....Blogger and Washington Monthly contributing editor Jonathan Rowe sent me an email today. In it he reminded me of a distinction I failed to make in my last post. That is, the distinction between Charlie Peters' view of the world, which we editors liked to call The Gospel -- and which Charlie summarized in the essay I linked to, "A Neoliberal's Manifesto" -- and the spirit that drew so many writers and readers to Charlie's magazine, even when we disagreed, often hugely, with various parts of The Gospel:

The journalistic approach is the heart and soul of the Monthly because it is more than a journalistic approach. It is a mandate for continual self-examination and ruthless intellectual honesty. Face up to the strongest arguments against your own position, not just the weakest ones. Be willing to look contrary evidence squarely in the eye and not hide under your desk a la Dick Cheney or the WSJ editorial page. This is the gospel within the gospel -- and yes it does have roots in the more traditional meaning of that term.

The basic text here is "Get the beam out of your own eye so that you can see clearly to get the mote out of your brother's eye." (Or maybe it's mote and beam; I always forget.) These words are posted beside the front door of every honest journalist and thinker. It is a part that somehow got left out of the text consulted by brothers Dobson, Bush, Reed et al.

This inner gospel requires ongoing revision of the outer one. Times change. We get new facts. The excesses of conventional liberalism pale today against those of the messianic Right. (I do NOT say "conservative" because it is NOT conservative.) Thus the founding thrust of the Monthly in 1969 -- inspector general for the liberal establishment -- did require a change in direction.

The inner gospel not only has room for that; it requires it. Just as it will require another one when the conventional wisdom finally turns against the market worship of the last six years and beyond. This is why, I think, the Monthly attracted, and weaned, so many great journalists; and why it holds a key for those in the future.

It was when the inner gospel hardened into an outer one -- a doctrine -- that the trouble started. Thus it always has been.

Paul Glastris 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

AIPAC....M.J. Rosenberg says that Barack Obama got only a mild reception at this week's AIPAC conference. Why? Not enough Arab-bashing:

For the far right in the pro-Israel community, it is more important that a candidate hate Arabs than love Israel. It's true. At AIPAC, professions of love for Israel are politely applauded but only Arab bashing (and Palestinian bashing in particular) brings the crowd to its feet.

....So ignore the crazies, Senator. They are a tiny minority of the pro-Israel community (not to mention of Americans in general).

The overwhelming majority of American Jews support the two-state solution, venerate the memory of Rabin rather than the likes of Netanyahu, and will support a candidate who promises not a Bush-like hands-off policy but leadership to end the deadly conflict.

I don't know if M.J. is right about Arab-bashing, but it wouldn't surprise me. After all, how do you get a big cheer at a Democratic convention? Bash Republicans. How do you get a big cheer at a Republican convention? Bash Democrats. Bashing the bad guy always gets a big response.

But put that aside for a moment. I'm curious about something else. The AIPAC conference has inspired a bunch of blogging about AIPAC's hawkish views on the Middle East and its remarkable success as a lobbying organization. Members of Congress cross them at their peril, as demonstrated by AIPAC's success last week in removing legislative language that would have required the president to get congressional approval before launching an attack on Iran. AIPAC is routinely named one of the top two or three most effective lobbying groups in DC.

So here's my question, and I hope everyone will excuse my ignorance in asking it: Where does AIPAC's clout come from? Does it represent a big part of the pro-Israel community or is it just a small but very motivated group? Is M.J. right when he suggests that an "overwhelming majority" of American Jews oppose AIPAC's hawkish line? If so, where are these folks? Is this overwhelming majority not politically active?

I'm more interested in things like hard polling data on this question than I am in shouting matches. Anybody know a good source of reliable information?

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE NCLB....Matt Yglesias thinks I'm being paranoid when I say that some of NCLB's supporters view it as a clever Trojan horse designed to officially label public schools as failures:

Does Kevin really expect me to believe that this is what Ted Kennedy and George Miller, the law's leading Democratic supporters in the Senate and the House, are up to?

....States have broad lattitude to define proficiency however they like and will, presumably, set proficiency standards that won't simply result in their schools all "failing" across the board....It's just not true that the law is has put the country on a collision course to a world in which 99 percent of public schools are labeled failures.

Let me make several points in response. You can all decide whether they're fair ones:

  1. Details aside (about which see below), I support the basic idea of NCLB. I'm fine with testing and I'm fine with holding schools accountable.

  2. Different people had different reasons for supporting NCLB. I don't think Ted Kennedy supported the 100% goal because he wanted to label public schools as failures, but I think that a lot of movement conservatives and evangelicals did. These are not people who would ordinarily favor a multi-billion expansion of education funding and an enormous new intrusion of federal oversight into local schools, after all. Rather, they reluctantly supported NCLB because they were persuaded that it was a stealth measure that would eventually undermine support for public education.

    Go ahead, call me paranoid. All I can say is that in the past, when I've given George Bush and his enablers the benefit of the doubt on things like this, I've turned out to be wrong.

  3. Three years ago, when I asked about the 100% requirement, people told me that of course it would be relaxed. Just wait until NCLB comes up for renewal. 100% was nothing more than a nice-sounding goal that helped get the bill passed in the first place.

    Well, it's renewal time and Republicans are still loudly insisting that we keep the 100% requirement. "Which child do Democrats want to leave behind?" they ask unctiously. So what happened?

  4. The obvious solution to the 100% requirement, as Matt points out, is that school districts will simply reduce their standards to a point where even drooling idiots can pass. Not so. There are political limits to how absurdly low you can set standards, and in any case you're not likely to literally get a 100% pass rate even if all you have to do is randomly fill in bubbles. There's always going to be at least one kid in most schools who screws the thing up no matter how easy it is.

    Besides, does this make any more sense than the 100% pass rate requirement? Why would anyone support a bill that motivates public schools to set comically low standards? Answer: see #2 above.

So what should we do? Aside from setting a high but reasonable bar (wouldn't you be happy if 95% of America's schoolchildren genuinely showed proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic?), check out the proposal for smarter NCLB testing that Tom Toch made in "Measure for Measure," in our October 2005 issue. His ideas make a lot of sense.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that it's a fair question to ask who got suckered here. Did Ted Kennedy get suckered, because it's going to turn out to be impossible to reduce the 100% requirement, thus harming public education in the long run? Or did the conservatives get suckered, agreeing to billions of dollars in federal education spending only to eventually see the 100% requirement loosened and public schools in stronger shape than ever?

Who knows? But either way, conservatives sure aren't acting as though reasonable, meetable standards are what they actually care about.

UPDATE: Kevin Carey responds here and here. He makes one or two good points, but doesn't even come close to addressing the primary question: Why does NCLB mandate a 100% passing requirement if everyone agrees that it's unreachable? Color me unconvinced, though wide open to further argument. As always, of course, click the links and judge for yourself.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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By: Kevin Drum

GAYS IN THE MILITARY....Former Republican senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming writes that he came to his senses a few years ago on the issue of gays in the military:

My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation's "foreign language deficit" and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a "straight" way to translate Arabic? Is there a "gay" Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war.

Good for him. The rest of his piece makes plenty of good points (society has changed, military views have shifted, other countries allow gays to serve with no ill effects, etc.), but it was one of his concluding sentences that, I think, gets to the core of things: "Since 1993, I have had the rich satisfaction of knowing and working with many openly gay and lesbian Americans, and I have come to realize that 'gay' is an artificial category when it comes to measuring a man or woman's on-the-job performance or commitment to shared goals. It says little about the person."

People who are afraid of gays are usually people who have never met a gay person (or think they haven't, anyway). Conversely, people who have quickly learn that there's nothing to be afraid of. If there's a better reason than that for allowing gays to serve in the military, I can't think of one.

Kevin Drum 11:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (70)

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By: Paul Glastris

LONG LIVE NEOLIBERALISM?....From the comments to my previous post, I see that many otherwise well-informed people had not until recently even heard of the term "neoliberalism," or aren't at all sure what the word means, or doubt that it stands for anything unique or consistent -- other than perhaps the selling out of liberalism itself.

Can't say I'm surprised. This is really inside baseball, dated baseball at that. And even within the rarefied world of people who think about this stuff, I doubt there's a definition of neoliberalism that all of its adherents would agree to.

But, if there is no single definition, there is an ur-text. It's Charlie Peters' "A Neoliberal's Manifesto" (pdf). Anyone really interested in this subject ought to read it.

Charlie wrote the piece in 1983, the same year I started at the Monthly as an intern. Rereading it now after many years, I'm struck by several things. First are the policy positions that seemed persuasive to me then but definitely don't now, like means-testing all entitlement programs.

Second are the ideas that I knew to be crazy back then but, at some level, intrigue me still, like reinvigorating participatory democracy by turning vast numbers of civil service jobs into patronage positions.

Third are the ideas that I strongly agreed with then and still do today. These include some version of a draft to make sure everyone, including the rich, serve the country, and some kind of evaluation system to hire and fire teachers based on performance rather than credentials and seniority.

Indeed, we've continued to publish stories advocating these ideas -- see here and here, for instance -- and we'll continue to do so. In that sense, the answer to the question "Does neoliberalism have a future?" is yes -- at least it does at the Washington Monthly.

But what strikes me the most about the manifesto is just how passionately anti-elitist, anti-snobbery, even populist, it is. I invite younger neo-populist netroots types to read it -- I would sincerely be interested in what they think (you especially, Ezra). I imagine they'll find plenty of passages that affirm their idea that neoliberalism was the caravan slave who let the conservative camel's nose inside the tent. I don't agree -- the camel was coming in anyway -- but so be it. The idea, however, that neoliberalism -- Charlie's and my conception of it, anyway -- is a pro-upper-middle-class ideology adhered to by establishment types who have made their peace with K Street, cannot survive an honest reading of the text.

Paul Glastris 1:06 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Kevin Drum

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN....What an infuriating article on the No Child Left Behind Act in the Washington Post tonight. The question is whether NCLB's requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 is achievable, and the answer, as almost everyone in the article acknowledges, is no. 100% isn't achievable for anything. Everyone knows that. Nonetheless, here's a sampling of Republican bloviating on the subject:

"We need to stay the course," U.S. Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon said. "The mission is doable, and we don't need to back off that right now."

....Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary and supporter of the law, said Americans don't want politicians to lower standards.

"Are we going to rewrite the Declaration of Independence and say only 85 percent of men are created equal?" Alexander asked. "Most of our politics in America is about the disappointment of not meeting the high goals we set for ourselves."

....Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House education committee, said the 2014 deadline forces educators to pay attention to each student. He said he is open to slight changes in the law to exempt certain students with disabilities from the proficiency requirement. But he said he won't back down from the law's core ideal, citing his own six children and 28 grandchildren. "Which one of them would I like to leave behind?" McKeon asked.

Question: Why would NCLB mandate an obviously unmeetable standard? And now that it's up for renewal, why would Republicans continue to insist on that obviously unmeetable standard?

Answer: Because the 100% goal isn't just rhetorical. It comes with penalties. If you don't meet the standard, you lose money, you're officially deemed a "failing school," and your students are eligible to transfer to other schools. And needless to say, by 2014 there won't be any satisfactory public schools to send them to because 99% of them won't have met the standard.

Followup bonus question: What incentive does anyone have to label 99% of America's public schools as failures? That's crazy, isn't it?

Answer: Anyone who wants the public to believe that public schools are failures. This would primarily consist of conservatives who want to break teachers unions and evangelicals who want to build political momentum for private school vouchers. The whole point of NCLB for these people is to make sure that as many public schools as possible are officially deemed failures.

I'm happy to entertain alternative answers. But I've asked this question before and I've never heard any good ones.

Kevin Drum 12:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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March 13, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE KIDS THESE DAYS....Using "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" as its hook, the Washington Post informs us that game shows are getting dumber. No more opera, science and Shakespeare! But guess who they find to blame for this sad state of affairs?

Fred Wostbrock, co-author of "The Game Show Encyclopedia" and the agent for such game show legends as Bob Eubanks, Monty Hall and Chuck Woolery, blames young viewers, in particular. Since advertisers want to attract younger people, he argues, it's not surprising that the content of quiz shows has become more frivolous to lure them.

The effect, he says, is that we might never again see the likes of such classic game shows as "Password," in which a contestant tries to get a partner to say a secret word by offering one-word clues. "You could get 'kangaroo' by saying 'pouched,' 'marsupial' and 'Australia,' " Wostbrock says. "With MTV and 'Entertainment Tonight,' do young people still read? I doubt very many would know what a 'pouched marsupial' is anymore."

Christ, I'm sick of this -- and I say that as a middle-aged grump who'd be only too happy to believe that the kids today are sending the world swiftly to hell in a handbasket. But where's the evidence?

I realize the design methodology here would actually be kind of tricky, but still, can someone please get some funding for a research project to answer this pressing question? Are 20-somethings really dumber than 40-somethings and 60-somethings? Surely it would be worth a few million of Uncle Sam's dollars to find out once and for all?

Kevin Drum 11:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From General Tony McPeak (ret.):

America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference.

This is from a Rolling Stone roundtable about Iraq that asks, How bad can it get? The answers span the gamut from soul-crushingly-depressing to abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here. In other words, don't click the link unless you've taken your Prozac today. Seriously. You have been warned.

Kevin Drum 5:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

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By: Kevin Drum

CURVEBALL....Brian Ross of ABC News has uncovered a picture (though not the name) of Curveball, the Iraqi emigre who peddled the phony stories of mobile biological labs that ended up in Colin Powell's speech to the UN. Tyler Drumheller, former chief of European operations at the CIA, says the agency knew all along that the information was unreliable:

"We said, 'This is from Curveball. Don't use this,'" Drumheller says. Powell says neither he nor his chief of staff Col. Larry Wilkerson was ever told of any doubts about Curveball.

....Drumheller also says he met personally with the then-deputy director of the CIA, John McLaughlin, to raise questions about the reliability of Curveball, well before the Powell speech.

"And John said, 'Oh my, I hope not. You know this is all we have,' and I said, 'This can't be all we have.' I said, 'There must be another, there must be something else.' And he said, 'No, this is really the only tangible thing we have.'"

McLaughlin adamantly denies any such meeting or warning from Drumheller and also denies knowing that Drumheller had attempted to redact the Curveball portions of Powell's speech.

They knew Saddam didn't have a nuclear program. They knew he didn't have mobile bio labs. They knew he didn't have drones. They knew.

Kevin Drum 4:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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By: Kevin Drum

BRAIN CALISTHENICS....I'm proud to say that I got all these questions right -- though #5 produced a few beads of sweat on my mental forehead. Apparently my math IQ has only dropped about 20 points in the past decade, not the 30 or 40 it feels like. Full story here.

Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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By: Kevin Drum

AG PRESS CONFERENCE SUMMARY....Shorter Alberto Gonzales: I take total responsibility for Purgegate, but none of it was really my fault.

UPDATE: What? That was it? He evaded three or four questions and then just turned on his heels and walked out?

Gonzales is toast. If that's the best he could do after having plenty of time to figure out what to say, he's a goner.

UPDATE 2: Henry Farrell points out that Gonzales' Galbraith Score is now 1. Three to go!

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

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By: Paul Glastris

R.I.P. NEOLIBERALISM? (CONT'D)....There's been a lively debate, on and off line, about David Brooks's column on Sunday asserting that neoliberalism, as a political-intellectual movement, is dead. As the editor of the magazine that coined the term (at least the American version of it) I suppose I should weigh in.

If by "neoliberalism" we mean the tendency of center-left Democratic intellectuals to spend lots of time and energy attacking those further to the left, I'd say the movement is, like the hero in the The Princess Bride, mostly dead. That is, it could, under the right circumstances, stir back to life, but for now, the movement ain't moving.

There are two main reasons for this. First and foremost is the conservative takeover of Washington. Personally, as a longtime self-identified neoliberal, I've been more interested over the last six years in figuring out how the new conservative machine works and how to fight against it than in getting into pissing matches with my friends on the left over whether federal job retraining programs are a false god. That's the real reason that the Monthly seems more liberal, more sympatico with the American Prospect, than it used to -- though it's also true that I've moved a bit more to the left on a few issues, like unionism and entitlement programs.

Second, as Kevin and Matt and Jon Cohn have rightly noted, neoliberals have achieved much of what they set out to achieve. Of course, there never was a totally agreed-upon neoliberal agenda, or even a unified worldview. The cerebral contrarianism of the Michael Kinsley-influenced New Republic subtly differed from the earnest, crusading neoliberalism championed by the Monthly's founder Charlie Peters. Both were quite distinct from the aggressive south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line centrism of the DLC. And neither had much to do with the neocon-friendly editorial line espoused by the New Republic from about the time Andrew Sullivan became editor to about when Frank Foer took charge.

Still, back in the day, most neolib-New Dem types I knew shared one main goal: to remove the thorns in the paw of the American body politic that made voters furious at the federal government, so that government could once again play an activist, progressive role in American life.

This was not the most glorious or fun kind work, but it's what I spent most of my career as a journalist prior to 2001 doing, and it's what Bill Clinton spent most of his presidency doing. Ending "welfare as we know it" by replacing AFDC with a system that encourages and rewards work. Dealing with crime by spreading the gospel of community policing through the COPS program. Tearing down high-rise public housing -- the embodiment of what many Americans thought of as disastrous big government liberalism -- and placing residents in less uniformly poor neighborhoods. Ending Washington's deficit-spending habit and creating the first budget surplus in memory. Turning once-dysfunctional agencies like the VA and FEMA into adept and effective enterprises, thus showing that government bureaucracies can, under the right management and philosophy, be made to serve the public well. Fashioning, in Bosnia and Kosovo, a model for deploying US military force in concert with allies to address security and human rights threats, thus giving liberal government its first, if modest, war-fighting successes in almost half a century.

No, these achievements didn't stop the conservative takeover of Washington -- though they might have had Al Gore chosen to run on them. And yes, the Bush administration has undone or squandered much of what Clinton achieved. But that's not something conservatives can now brag about. And whatever bold future may soon be in store for liberalism, it wouldn't be possible without these neoliberal achievements. (I am a neoliberal so that my son can be a liberal.) At the very least, one does not hear liberal critics of neoliberalism arguing that we should bring back AFDC, or build more high-rise public housing, or get all those community police off the street.

Neoliberalism, then, has a very proud past. But does it have a future? I'll address that in a subsequent post.

Paul Glastris 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?....Conservative pundit Bruce Bartlett writes today that although he once believed the mainstream media had a liberal bias, he no longer thinks it does: "Major newspapers like the Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage." However, he says that "evenhanded" gives conservatives an advantage:

The problem for those on the left these days is that during the long period when there was a pronounced liberal bias in the media, they got lazy. They just assumed that the major media would automatically take their side, do hit jobs on conservatives and basically do their job for them. By contrast, conservatives have always had to contend with an adversarial media and thus learned better media skills and techniques in order to compensate.

I would advise my liberal friends to stop whining about media bias. You had a free ride for a long time, and now it's over. Get used to it, and learn how to use the media. Take a page from the conservative handbook and go around it.

I think there's probably something to this -- though unlike Bruce, I think that whining is a big part of the package. It worked pretty well for conservatives, after all. But basically he's right: the world is what it is, and if the media isn't portraying us the way we want, we need to figure out better media strategies. I think liberals have made some recent progress along these lines, but there's still work to be done.

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Kevin Drum

McKAY "STUNNED"....Via Josh, fired U.S. Attorney John McKay reacts to the news that the White House was directly involved in passing along complaints that he didn't investigate charges of voter fraud aggressively enough in the 2004 governor's race in Washington -- with the result that a Democrat was allowed to win:

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay said Monday night he was "stunned" to hear President Bush told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last October that Bush had received complaints about U.S. attorneys who were not energetically investigating voter-fraud cases.

...."Had anyone at the Justice Department or the White House ordered me to pursue any matter criminally in the 2004 governor's election, I would have resigned," McKay said. "There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury."

...."There should be no controversy at the Department of Justice, or anywhere else in the federal government, about how the 2004 election was reviewed," McKay said.

Keep in mind that McKay is not some Democratic flunky appointed during the Clinton administration. He's a Republican loyalist appointed by George Bush. He worked with the FBI to investigate claims of voter fraud and simply concluded that the evidence wasn't there. But that wasn't good enough for the local politicos: they wanted him to keep digging until he came up with something -- anything -- that would have produced a few hundred more votes for the Republican candidate.

But he didn't, and that annoyed George Bush. So now he's out of a job.

But it wasn't personal. Just business. You know.

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE PURGE....The New York Times has the latest on Purgegate:

The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.

Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday.

But which voter fraud are we talking about? Presumably one of the cases is that of John McKay, the Seattle U.S. Attorney who was insufficiently zealous in digging up dirt that might have helped defeat the Democratic candidate in a tight governor's race in Washington in 2004. Are there any others? Any cases of being insufficiently zealous in uncovering alleged Republican voter fraud?

I'm guessing not. But as long as they've told us this much, let's hear the whole story. Which cases of voter fraud are we talking about? Once they've told us, we can all make up our own minds about whether this affair is as nonpartisan as the White House claims.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has an even better story tonight based on emails and documents they've viewed. One tidbit:

The documents also provide new details about the case of [Tim] Griffin, a former Rove aide and Republican National Committee researcher who was named interim U.S. attorney in Little Rock in December.

E-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August. By mid-December, Sampson was suggesting that Gonzales exercise his newfound appointment authority to put Griffin in place until the end of Bush's term.

"There is some risk that we'll lose the authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?" Sampson wrote to a White House aide. "(I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.)."

Important to Harriet and Karl! Inquiring minds want to know why. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE 2: Robert reports that the final line (in parentheses) is now missing from the Post story. That's peculiar. It might have just gotten cut for space in the print edition and then cut to match online, but it seems like an unusually juicy quote to get rid of.

Kevin Drum 1:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (138)

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By: Kevin Drum

NEOLIBS AND THE WAR....This is sort of inside-baseball-ish, but Mickey Kaus makes a point about neoliberalism that's worth sharing:

The word "neoliberalism," at least in its domestic context, was coined by The Washington Monthly's Charles Peters in 1978. (It didn't start, as David Brooks declared, with a Kinsley tax editorial in 1981). Recently, the editors and former editors of Peters' magazine, The Washington Monthly, had a dinner to celebrate his 80th birthday. Out of the approximately 45 Peters proteges there, how many supported the Iraq War? My guess is no more than 8, Peters himself certainly didn't support the war. Neither did Kinsley. Monthly alum James Fallows (who wasn't at the dinner) tried to stop it with cautionary articles in The Atlantic. The war's a New Republic thing--and a David Brooks thing--not a Washington Monthly thing.

Admittedly, it's sort of self-serving to reprint this. But whether you love or hate neoliberalism, don't tar it with being too hawkish. Neolibs were all over the map on national security issues.

Kevin Drum 12:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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March 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

FUN WITH WORDS....From the Washington Post:

The government has new rules for preventing food poisoning in fresh-cut produce, but companies don't have to follow them.

Question: In what way is something a "rule" if you don't have to follow it?

Kevin Drum 11:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LA TIMES AND THE WAR....Just for the record: earlier today I guessed that the LA Times had supported the original Iraq war resolution as a way of giving President Bush maneuvering room to pressure Saddam Hussein. I guessed wrong. Via Nexis, here are the first and last paragraphs of the editorial they wrote on October 11, 2002:

The resolution Congress passed early today authorizing the use of military force against Iraq gives too much power to this and, potentially, future presidents to attack nations unilaterally based on mere suspicions.

....The world has indeed changed since Sept. 11, 2001. Iraq must be disarmed. But even the new terrorist threats should not panic this nation into abandoning one of its guiding principles.

Nuff said. Except for this: the fact that they got it right five years ago makes it all the more discouraging that they aren't getting it right this time. Sigh.

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By: Kevin Drum

SUNDAY STILL FOR CONSERVATIVES.... Media Matters reports that the Democratic victory in the 2006 midterms has had almost no effect on the guest lists of the Sunday chat shows: with the exception of ABC's This Week, they've all continued to invite considerably more conservative guests than liberal guests. More Republicans than Democrats. More pro-war than anti-war. Etc.

I know. You're shocked. Full report here.

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By: Kevin Drum

R.I.P. NEOLIBERALISM?....This weekend David Brooks declared neoliberalism dead. Is it? Jon Cohn provides some perspective:

[Neoliberalism] was based on the premise that sometimes liberals were a greater menace to liberalism than conservatives -- by failing to recognize the public sector's fallibility, by not taking seriously middle class resentment over the use of taxes, by putting the needs of constituent interest groups above the greater public good, and so on.

But to the extent that premise was ever true -- and, surely, it was true in at least some instances -- it is no longer. I would argue that turning point came no later than 1994, when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans came to power....When the party in power has, say, declared war on the welfare state, one should probably defend said welfare state's existence before harping on its modest, if still regrettable, flaws.

And yet, unlike my friend Ezra Klein, I'm not quite ready to say that neoliberalism failed, either. One reason it no longer seems relevant is that the liberal left, broadly speaking, has embraced some of its best teachings.

I think this is the key point: neoliberalism didn't die, it won. The reason it's no longer a vital movement is that mainstream liberalism has fully absorbed about 80% of the neolib critique and moved on. This is true even for a lot of younger liberals who may not fully realize where their political sensibilities come from.

No movement wins all its battles, of course, and neoliberalism lost its share along the way. But as Jon points out, winning those last few battles just doesn't seem important any longer. After 1994 it became clear that Republicans had no interest in meeting us halfway. Instead they declared war. Conservatives like Brooks shouldn't act surprised that eventually liberals decided to shed their introspective ways and start fighting back.

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By: Kevin Drum

ENDING THE WAR....There's no question that congressional opposition to the war is muddled. Cutting off funding would be the best bet to get us out of Iraq, but the votes aren't there for that, and the current compromise (benchmarks and timelines) is murky and unsatisfying. Still, in a remarkable bit of bottom dredging, the LA Times managed this morning to find the worst possible reason for opposing the compromise bill:

Congress should not hinder Bush's ability to seek the best possible endgame to this very bad war. The president needs the leeway to threaten, or negotiate with, Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, Syrians and Iranians and Turks. Congress can find many ways to express its view that U.S. involvement, certainly at this level, must not go on indefinitely, but it must not limit the president's ability to maneuver at this critical juncture.

As I recall, this was precisely the reason that a lot of liberals gave for supporting the original war resolution in 2002. In fact, I'll bet the LA Times itself made that argument (and if I weren't locked out of Nexis right now I'd check and see). [UPDATE: I bet wrong. They opposed the resolution.]

There are certain times and certain presidents for whom this might be a compelling argument. Pretty clearly, Iraq and George Bush aren't among them. Surely by now we all realize that giving Bush the "ability to maneuver" is, in fact, just another name for staying in Iraq indefinitely?

Kevin Drum 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Kevin Drum

DUMB POLL QUESTIONS....AP trotted out one of the stalest tropes in all of politics this weekend:

For all the policy blueprints churned out by presidential campaigns, there is this indisputable fact: People care less about issues than they do about a candidate's character.

A new Associated Press-Ipsos poll says 55 percent of those surveyed consider honesty, integrity and other values of character the most important qualities they look for in a presidential candidate.

....The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,001 adults, conducted Monday through Wednesday, found honesty was by far the most popular single trait , volunteered by 41 percent of voters in open-ended questioning.

Please. People might say they value character above all other traits, but guess what? People who identify as conservative and conservative-leaning vote for Republicans about 80% of the time. Liberals do the same for Democrats. Perhaps this is just a remarkable coincidence, but character sure seems to be mighty closely tied to party affiliation.

Look: policy white papers probably don't swing many votes, though they might swing a few more than most pundits realize. (Why? Because the people who pay attention to them tend to be opinion leaders who sway other voters.) But plainly voters judge presidential candidates first and foremost by party ID and general policy preferences, and secondarily by personality traits. And there's nothing wrong with that. I do it too. Don't let dumb poll questions persuade you otherwise.

Kevin Drum 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE TALIBAN CRACKDOWN REVISITED....Remember that Taliban honcho who was captured in Pakistan right after Dick Cheney read the riot act to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last month? Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, isn't impressed:

Clearly, the pressure is on. Western leaders are finally beginning to recognize that Musharraf's regime has been unsuccessful in taming the Taliban, which has regrouped in the tribal areas of Pakistan while the military regime has given up trying to establish order on the Afghan border. At the same time, the regime has strategically chosen to help the United States when international criticism of the terrorists' presence becomes strident. The arrest of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a top Taliban strategist, by Pakistani authorities late last month is a case in point. The timing, right on the heels of American and British pleas for renewed toughness, is too convenient. Akhund was arrested solely to keep Western governments at bay.

Actually, it may be even worse than that. I don't know anything about the Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick, but they claim that Akhund was never even arrested at all:

"The news is not true," SonntagsBlick wrote. "The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee."

It said Akhund was one of 300 people present at [an Islamic school in the southwestern city of Quetta]. He then met with the reporter and explained his future strategy in Afghanistan, the Zurich-based paper said.

According to SonntagsBlick, Akhund's "future strategy" is to kill as many Americans as possible. "We thirst for their blood," they report him saying.

Very curious, no? And to be taken with a grain of salt for the moment, of course. But one wonders just who's playing whom, doesn't one?

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March 11, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"IT'S AN INTELLECTUAL GRESHAM'S LAW IN ACTION"....Brad DeLong has a good post today titled "Un-Discourse Situations." I can't really describe Brad's complaint in a sentence or two, but a lawyer leaves a comment summarizing the same situation in his neck of the woods:

In the law business, I see it all the time. The Federalists put on a panel with one lefty, a few centrists, a few conservatives, and a raving nutbag. Who wins the debate? Who cares? The nutbag is always legitimated by being there. And that's the point of the debate.

Go read the whole post. It's important.

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POP GOES THE WEASEL....The collapse of the home mortgage market, especially among subprime lenders who (until recently) have been eagerly offering risky variable-rate mortgages to questionable applicants, prompts a plea from Reed Hundt: "Help me, readers, find that quote where Dr. Greenspan recommended that everyone take more risks in the mortgages they assumed."

Ask and ye shall receive. Here it is, in a February 2004 address to a conference of credit union executives:

Indeed, recent research within the Federal Reserve suggests that many homeowners might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages during the past decade....American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home.

Oops. But the bigger question is, why did Greenspan make such an odd pronouncement? It's not as if he wasn't aware of the dangers of irrationally exuberant bubbles driven by over-optimistic lending practices.

Ben Wallace-Wells provided the likely answer in "There Goes the Neighborhood," in our April 2004 edition. Writing at the height of the refi boom, he put it this way: "Quite simply, Greenspan is trying to keep a wobbly and fragile recovery alive -- and using mortgage refinancing to do it." In other words, he was desperate and didn't have any other choice. Read the whole thing for a prescient look at the home mortgage market and what happens when bubble-icious financing schemes finally come crashing down.

For more, check out the New York Times here and the LA Times here. It ain't pretty.

UPDATE: Here's an even better Greenspan quote from April 2005. Inexplicably, a year's reflection apparently made him even more bullish on subprime lending.

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIBERAL AMERICA?....James Joyner reports today on a new Gallup poll showing that the number of Americans who self-identify as conservative is twice the number who self-identify as liberal. He comments:

This is especially interesting considering that the public seems to continue to demand liberal policies, opposing even nominal market-based reform of Social Security, continuing to push for the socialization of health care, expecting instant bail-outs for poor financial decisions, and generally wanting more federal spending on a variety of social programs.

Twas always so. Harris has been tracking liberal vs. conservative ID for several decades, and the numbers have been pretty rock solid. Ronald Reagan made conservatism slightly more popular and Clinton made it slightly less, but the changes have been modest and today we're in almost precisely the same spot as we were in 1976. What's more, the fact that this supposedly conservative country continues to favor operational liberalism hasn't changed much either. Apparently we just don't like to admit it.

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PURGE-GATE WATCH....The LA Times has a decent rundown today of Purge-gate. Here's their take on what happened to John McKay:

McKay, the U.S. attorney in Seattle, found himself in the midst of the contested 2004 governor's race between Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Chris Gregoire.

While the voting dispute was still in progress, McKay took a phone call from Ed Cassidy, chief of staff for Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), then the head of the House Ethics Committee.

McKay said Cassidy started to ask about what federal prosecutors were doing in the election dispute, but McKay cut him off, saying that going further could constitute obstruction of justice. Later, when McKay was interviewed by then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and her deputy, William Kelly, for a possible judgeship, he said they criticized him for "mishandling" things during the recount.

He never got the judicial robes, and he lost his job as prosecutor as well.

But there was nothing political about it!

Anyway, this is really just an excuse to tell everyone to tell all their friends about this. I had dinner with my sister last night and she had never heard about this story. I take this as a sort of bellwether that it hasn't really broken into the public consciousness yet, so it could use some help.

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

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March 10, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DARTH McCAIN....The good news here in Southern California is that Max Boot will no longer be writing for the LA Times op-ed page. (Though, despite the shit this is going to get me in comments, I have to admit that I find him one of the more interesting of the neocons.) The bad news is that Jon Chait will also no longer be writing for them. Sic transit etc. However, at least he made his last column a good one.

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RUDY-MANIA....If New York City's actual firefighters don't like you -- and they don't -- but you're running for president as the hero of 9/11, what do you do? Answer: tell one of your campaign aides to invent your own group called "Firefighters for Rudy" and then tout it to the media.

Will they fall for it? Is the Pope Catholic? Greg Sargent has the scoop.

UPDATE: Just to give you an idea of how real this group is, check out www.firefightersforrudy.com. They, um, don't seem to have made much progress.

Oddly, though, if you just type "firefightersforrudy" into your browser's address bar, it redirects you to this fine liberal blog. At least, it does in Firefox.

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By: Kevin Drum

CRACKING THE EVANGELICALS....I've been following this with only half an eye, but the battle between the "old guard" evangelicals (Dobson, Weyrich, Bauer, etc.) and the younger crowd is heating up. The latest round is a letter from the dinosaurs asking the National Association of Evangelicals to fire Richard Cizik, ostensibly because he thinks we ought to do something about global warming. When you get to the end of the letter though, you find out what their real problem is:

Finally, Cizik's disturbing views seem to be contributing to growing confusion about the very term, "evangelical." As a recent USA Today article notes: "Evangelical was the label of choice of Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality. Now the word may be losing its moorings, sliding toward the same linguistic demise that "fundamentalist" met decades ago because it has been misunderstood, misappropriated and maligned." We believe some of that misunderstanding about evangelicalism and its "conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality" can be laid at Richard Cizik's door.

Well, that's clear enough, isn't it? It's not just that they want to stay focused on abortion and gay marriage, the Dobson crowd's usual hot buttons. Their agenda is far broader: they want to make sure that evangelical Christians stay closely aligned with conservative views on "politics [and] economics." In other words (say it quietly, since the IRS is listening) Republican Party views. Opening up the evangelical agenda to topics such as citizenship for illegal immigrants, universal healthcare, and caps on carbon emissions risks finding common ground with Democrats:

The best-known champion of such causes, the Rev. Jim Wallis, this week challenged conservative crusader James C. Dobson, the chairman of Focus on the Family, to a debate on evangelical priorities.

"Are the only really 'great moral issues' those concerning abortion, gay marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence?" Wallis asked in his challenge. "How about the reality of 3 billion of God's children living on less than $2 per day? ... What about pandemics like HIV/AIDS ... [and] disastrous wars like Iraq?"

Anyway, I don't have any special comment here. Just thought I'd let everyone know that there are cracks in the evangelical movement's longtime role as a bought-and-paid-for subsidiary of the Republican Party, and those cracks are getting bigger. The old guys don't like it much, but time may not be on their side.

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By: Kevin Drum

JUST RIGHT....One of the hot topics in education right now is school size. Not class size, which everyone would like to reduce but which has nebulous effects on academic performance, but the size of the school itself. Is 5,000 kids in a high school too much?

Everyone seems to think so, but Carlos Jimenez, a teacher at the midsized Francisco Bravo High School in Los Angeles, argues today that the backlash may be going too far:

The small learning community idea is to divide up large high schools into 300-student clusters, each with an academic focus and its own group of teachers....New campuses are being built to accommodate this 300-student model. That's small. Too small?

....Bravo is small enough that few students fall through the cracks. Counselors -- even the clerks in the attendance office -- know students by name. Yet we also are able to offer a dizzying array of electives: jazz band and modern dance, Latin American studies and art history, nursing and computer digital imaging. We have honors or advanced placement classes in languages, history, literature and science.

Bravo has about 1,750 students, which strikes me as an upper limit for an urban high school. Like Jimenez, I have my doubts about widespread use of 300-student subgroups, which seem awfully restrictive, but 1,500 or so seems like the best of both worlds.

Costs a lot of money, though. One big high school is a lot cheaper than three smaller ones.

Kevin Drum 12:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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March 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DRED SCOTT?....Um, guys? Gun issues aren't really my thing, but I really don't think that citing Dred Scott is the best way to make your point. Just sayin'.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING.... Yeah, this is kind of a boring picture. They're just sitting there. But do you notice how trim and toned Inkblot looks? No? Look more closely. Look really closely.

According to a rough and ready measurement on our home scale, Inkblot has slimmed down from about 22 pounds to 19 pounds over the past couple of months. Imagine what that would do for his sex life if, um, it weren't for....well, enough said about that.

As near as we can tell, Inkblot's newfound chiseled look is partly due to the fantastically expensive diet cat food we're feeding him these days and partly due to the fact that Domino eats half of his nightly dinner. All for the best, I suppose, though I don't know that he sees it that way.

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW MUCH IS THAT IN KWATLOOS?....The chart on the right displays the growing wealth of the world's third richest man, Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim Helu. It goes with this story in the LA Times today.

Question: How can anyone with $14 billion manage to increase their wealth by more than 50% per year for four consecutive years? Legally, that is. The Times story really doesn't give us a clue other than to say that it's "thanks to a string of acquisitions and the ballooning value of his telecom holdings." That's not very helpful.

Just to give a sense of scale, Slim's wealth, according to the Times, is equal to 6% of Mexico's GDP. That's roughly equivalent to an American tycoon having a net worth of nearly a trillion bucks. American capitalism clearly has some catching up to do.

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By: Kevin Drum

"IT'S THE FOX DESIGNING THE HENHOUSE"....David Cay Johnston reports today that the IRS is outsourcing its writing of tax rules to the very lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes for the superrich:

John D. Graham, the official appointed by President Bush to streamline the federal rule-making process and give private interests a greater voice, said even he was surprised by the I.R.S. plan.

"Whoever's pen the first draft comes out of has a big advantage," said Dr. Graham, who ran the Office of Regulatory and Information Affairs for the White House before becoming dean last week of the graduate school at RAND, the nonprofit research organization.

....A single word, sometimes one letter, can change the meaning of a rule: "must" or "may"; "and" versus "or"; "could" or "would."

....In recent years there has been a quickening pace of moves to outsource the actual work of regulation, hiring contractors to write the rules. Now the I.R.S. is proposing that outside experts do it at no charge, opening up the possibility that some firms providing the draft would be working on behalf of an individual, business or association seeking to plant a favorable nuance in a rule.

What an outrageous thing to say. I'm sure all these guys are doing this work for free merely out of a sense of pro bono altruism and a desire to make sure our tax rules are clear and consistent. I really don't know where Johnston gets off implying that they might be trying to plant "favorable nuances" that they can later take advantage of.

Anyway, the IRS says this is just a pilot project limited to "technical and noncontroversial issues." So I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. And certainly no reason for the Democratic Congress to restore cuts in IRS staffing so that they can once again write their own rules and audit the rich with the same zeal they audit the working poor. Why, that would be tantamount to class warfare, wouldn't it?

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By: Kevin Drum

HYPERPARTISANSHIP WATCH....Paul Krugman's column today is about a study by two retired professors, Donald Shields and John Cragan, who have taken a look at the partisan breakdown of corruption investigations by the Department of Justice under George Bush. Their preliminary results, published in 2004, showed that DOJ initiated far more investigations of Democrats than Republicans, and their followup study shows that the pattern continued through 2006. However, the really interesting part came in the breakdown between local cases and national cases.

In statewide and federal cases they found a total of 66 investigations. Here's the breakdown:

  • Democrats: 36

  • Republicans: 30

This is roughly what you'd expect. Democrats are slightly overrepresented compared to their actual numbers, but only by a bit. There's nothing fishy. But the numbers for local cases paint a very different story. They found 309 investigations, broken down as follows:

  • Democrats: 262

  • Republicans: 37

  • Independents: 10

Now isn't that odd? At the local level, even though both parties make up about half of all elected officials, Democrats get hammered and Republicans are left alone. Shields and Cragan offer up the following hypothesis:

We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-statewide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest....[Conversely] because the investigations of state-wide and federal elected officials and candidates occurred within the radar of the national press, there was little room for nefarious, out-of-line investigations for political purposes on the part of the Bush Justice Department.

And who does these investigations? Why, U.S. Attorneys, the very group that Alberto Gonzales has been busily trying to make even more partisan. Apparently a 262-37 breakdown isn't good enough for him.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF THE RUMSFELD ERA....Via James Joyner, National Journal has an interesting article suggesting that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely to eliminate some of Donald Rumsfeld's most dubious forays into personal intelligence gathering. Here's the key paragraph:

Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to "roll back" several of Rumsfeld's controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit's teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result.

As James points out, there's a lot of bureaucratic turf fighting going on here, and everyone acknowledges that the military has a need for its own tactical battlefield intelligence. But the key to understanding Rumsfeld's expansion of Pentagon spying is that the Strategic Support Branch worked largely out of embassies, not on battlefields, and reported directly to Rumsfeld. Why? The only reason for a spying operation to report directly to him, rather than to commanders on the ground, is because, Kremlin-like, Rumsfeld wanted a personal intelligence service that could help him win internal political battles against the likes of Colin Powell and Condi Rice, not Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And he wanted the ability to cherry pick the intelligence directly, rather than seeing it only after it had been sifted clean by professional analysts who might come to conclusions he didn't want to hear about.

So good for Gates. Battlefield intel is fine, but setting up a parallel CIA is megalomania. It's time to put an end to it.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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By: Kevin Drum

OLYMPIAN HEIGHTS....You know, I really don't begrudge David Broder his fondness for bipartisanship. Hell, I'd like to see the tone in Washington ratcheted down a notch myself. But perhaps he ought to read his fellow columnist E.J. Dionne today:

Hand-wringing over extreme partisanship has become a popular cause among learned analysts. They operate from Olympian heights and strain for evenhandedness by issuing tut-tuts to all sides, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

But the evidence of recent days should settle the case: This administration has operated on the basis of a hyperpartisanship not seen in decades. Worse, the destroy-the-opposition, our-team-vs.-their-team approach has infected large parts of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

Dionne is a nice guy, so even here he understates the problem. One doesn't want to sound shrill, after all. But it's sound advice nonetheless. Unless you're willing to acknowledge what's actually happening at ground level, your writing isn't evenhanded, it's just out of touch.

For more, check out "Perverse Polarity" from our June 2004 issue.

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

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March 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MARCH DIMWITTERY UPDATE....Last month I wrote a post that collected all the dimwit stories about Democratic politicians that had somehow made the jump to mainstream media stardom in the previous few weeks. I figure I should keep it up to date. Here's the list again, with new entries in italics:

  • Nancy Pelosi: the military jet flap

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

  • Barack Obama: the madrassa flap, the stock purchase flap

  • Hillary Clinton: the "evil and bad men" flap, the family foundation flap, the "Southern drawl" flap

The Obama parking ticket story has gotten a fair amount of play, but since everyone (so far) seems to be treating it as lighthearted puffery it doesn't count. Anything I've left off the list?

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YES, PARKING TICKETS....Seriously, we're now writing articles about Barack Obama not paying parking tickets when he was a student at Harvard? What's next? "Needs to work on his penmanship" from his fourth grade teacher?

But just to show what a charmed life he leads, this ends up turning into yet another example of what a great guy Obama is. You see, as soon as the Boston Globe brought this to his attention, he paid off his fines. The director of the city's traffic department was thrilled:

"I think it's fabulous he finally paid them," [Susan] Clippinger said by phone yesterday. "I think others who owe us money should pay us, too."

Atta boy, Barack! Way to set an example. Let's hope the rest of Harvard's deadbeats are listening.

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TAX REVOLT REVOLT....Chris Hayes is down in Texas schmoozing with legislators and reports a change of mood. Turns out that even in Texas there are Republicans who have figured out that spending on social programs is generally pretty popular:

Just had an interesting interview with a Republican State Senator in which he raised an interesting point. Basically, he was complaining about how the conservative movement had essentially been reduced to one single, inviolable principle: never raise taxes ever. It's crazy he said...."The notion that these are programs Democrats want and Republicans abhor may have been true thirty years ago, but I feel like there's been a shift. Now, everybody wants the programs, but one group [the Republicans] is unwilling to pay for them, and the other group [the Democrats] is unable to pay for them."

It's just one more hint that, as Mark Schmitt wrote for us last month, the era of the tax revolt is coming to a close. You simply can't run a political party on that, and nothing but that, forever.

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THAT SPIKE IS THERE FOR A REASON....Matt Yglesias comments on Monday's New York Times piece about Barack Obama's foray into the equities market:

The Times reporter, in short, saw something that did arguably raise questions. He looked into it. He found nothing. Then rather than printing nothing -- since, after all, that's what he found -- he instead went to press with a story that "raises questions" -- a formulation that simply amounts to a presumption of guilt.

Yep. This is common practice for at least two reasons (and maybe others I haven't thought of):

  • Reporters just hate the idea of spending a bunch of time on a story and then not having anything to show for it. This is actually an even bigger problem in the field of "trend analysis," where the actual evidence often turns out to suggest that nothing much is going on but the juicy anecdotal stories are nonetheless too good to pass up.

  • Reporters often toss out half-formed stories like the Obama one (or the Edwards house story) in hopes that beating the bushes will dislodge some additional information. What better way of letting people know that they should call you with tips than by printing an accusatory story on the front page?

The downside of all this, of course, is that newspapers routinely print stuff that's unfair and/or misleading. But I guess they figure that's a small price to pay.

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CIVIL WAR UPDATE....Missing Links takes a look at the latest political news from Baghdad and suggests that the recent breakup between the Fadhila Party and the ruling UIA may be good news:

The leader of the Fadhila Party in his statement yesterday about pulling out of the UIA, made the point as clearly as he could: UIA leadership is sectarian, and the dissolution of this kind of sect-based parliamentary blocs is the "first step" toward pulling Iraq out of its crisis. And the UIA got the message....Fadhila is a Shiite party, and its attack on the sectarianism of the Shiite UIA leadership is an important event and a positive sign in and of itself.

Not everyone agrees, and this is an isolated event in any case. (And you know how I feel about isolated events.) But still, it's probably a small step in the right direction.

Via Eric Martin, who has more about this, both good and bad.

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By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE ON UNIONS!....Tyler Cowen has been assigning homework. I read yesterday's assignment, but today he's got a new one: a paper by John DiNardo and David Lee suggesting, among other things, that unions don't actually raise wages. So why bother with them, Tyler asks?

As it turns out, this paper is unavailable to the hoi polloi, so instead, Cowen-like, how about if I simply offer up a few reasons for thinking this result is probably wrong? Here are three:

  • In yesterday's reading assignment (here) we learned that unions don't negatively affect productivity but do negatively affect firm profitability. Now, it's not impossible that there could be other reasons for lower profitability even as productivity stays constant, but higher wages sure seem to be the most likely. That paper also reports lower investment levels by unionized firms, and again, higher wages seem like the most likely culprit.

    (I should add that this also passes the "makes sense" test. Basically, you'd expect higher wages to get passed on in various ways depending on the nature of the union and the nature of the industry. Part of it would get passed through in the form of higher prices to consumers, part of it would come out of investment spending, part would come out of executive pay, part out of lower profit margins, etc. But none of these things should happen unless wages really are chewing up a bigger share of corporate costs.)

  • Other research has long shown that unions produce higher wages. Cross-country comparisons show that union wage differentials in the U.S. are bigger than in Britain, for example, and cross-industry comparisons have shown that unionized industries pay higher wages than non-unionized ones. Of course, all this other research could be wrong, but how likely is that?

  • Finally, at some point you have to assume that people aren't completely and utterly irrational and misinformed. For over a century, employers have fought unions tooth and nail because, among other reasons, they think that higher wages will put them out of business or make them uncompetitive (or simply reduce their profits). Likewise, workers have been fighting for unions tooth and nail because, among other reasons, they're convinced that unions provide higher wages and benefits. Maybe everyone has been wrong all these years. It's possible. But is it likely?

Bottom line: An awful lot of other stuff, not to mention common sense, has to be wrong in order for DiNardo and Lee to be right. I'd take this with a big grain of salt unless other researchers corroborate it.

And while I'm at it, I'll toss out one other thing about this whole field that makes a lot of research results less than compelling (including ones that favor my position): they mostly focus on unionization in manufacturing industries. There's no other choice, of course, since that's where most unionization has occurred in the past, but current union organizing activity is focused most heavily on service industries. The dynamics there are far different (there's generally no overseas competition, just for starters), and it's very hard to know if research results based on manufacturing industries, which are in decline for lots of reasons unrelated to unions, also apply to service industries. So caveat emptor.

And now I have an assignment of my own. It's for Brad DeLong: Will you please walk down the hall and tell David Card that his life would be much richer if he'd start a blog? That would be very cool. Thanks.

Kevin Drum 11:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

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March 7, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OUT OF CONTROL?....One of the points frequently made by right-wing critics of Patrick Fitzgerald is that he must have figured out pretty quickly that outing Valerie Plame wasn't itself a crime, and at that point he should have simply terminated his investigation. Result: no questioning of Scooter Libby, no charges brought, no conviction.

The Washington Post repeated this point in its editorial today, but Wagster points out that it's specious:

The indictment dates the first instance of lying to the [FBI] investigators on October 14, 2003. Patrick Fitzgerald was not appointed as Special Prosecutor until December 30, 2003. Investigators had already spent three months speaking with witnesses who contradicted Libby's account.

....Fitzgerald didn't go on a hunt for administration blood. He did not lay perjury traps. He walked into an office and was immediately presented with some damning facts about a possible crime. He would have been derelict in his duty if he did not pursue this matter.

I'll add that the perjury charges (lying to the grand jury) date from early March 2004, a mere eight weeks after Fitzgerald's appointment. There's no way that Fitzgerald had come to any conclusion about the underlying outing charges by that point. By the time he finally did, Libby had already lied about Plame on four separate occasions.

Now, I'm still curious about whether Fitzgerald thinks that outing Plame was itself illegal. During his initial press conference he said that Plame's identity was classified, but he carefully didn't say whether she was "covert," a term that has a precise legal meaning. He also suggested that state of mind was important: under the law, outing Plame might have been a crime only if it was done with intent to harm the United States. But whatever else you can say about the leakers, nobody thinks they were deliberately trying to undermine American national security.

The fact that Fitzgerald didn't indict Richard Armitage, who originally leaked Plame's name to Robert Novak, suggests pretty strongly that he didn't think he could win a case based on the leak itself. My guess is that this is because he decided the law didn't support an outing charge. IIPA didn't apply because Plame didn't fit its precise rules, and the Espionage Act didn't apply because nobody had any deliberate intent to pass along classified information with an intent to harm the United States. More here.

It'd still be nice to hear Fitzgerald's take on this, though. But of course we never will.

Kevin Drum 4:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (209)

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By: Kevin Drum

FIGHTING BACK....This isn't really my thing (which is why I haven't blogged about it before), but the activist blogs have been up in arms for the past couple of weeks about the Democratic Party's decision to allow Fox News to host a primary debate in Nevada. I still don't have a lot to say about this, but just wanted to mention it for the benefit of readers who may not have been following the whole thing. Bottom line: the activists appear to have the party on the run; John Edwards has pulled out of the debate; and Fox News is now being treated like the propaganda arm of the Republican Party that it is. Matt Stoller has a brief summary here.

This is good work from the activists -- though my own preference would be to keep the debate on Fox with some tightly negotiated requirements for how they run the thing. (After all, the party has a point when it says that Democrats need to reach Fox's audience too, not just liberals and independents.) Like Matt, I'm a little surprised that the activist community's pushback has had such a big impact in such a short time, but that's the blogosphere for you. This whole thing is a real bellwether of how much bloggers have changed political media dynamics in the past couple of years.

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN WATCH....Has a high-ranking retired Iranian general defected and sought asylum in the U.S.? An Arabic newspaper in London says yes.

Or maybe we kidnapped him. Or maybe he just went missing. All very mysterious.

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By: Kevin Drum

JUST ANOTHER THIRD RATE BURGLARY....Shorter Washington Post editorial board: We see nothing particularly wrong with half a dozen different Bush aides recklessly outing the name of a CIA NOC in order to distract the public from the fact that they had lied about Saddam Hussein's nuclear program before the war. Doesn't everyone do that kind of stuff?

Really, guys, if you're just going to transcribe White House talking points, why not ditch the pretense and outsource the whole editorial page to Tony Snow? It might save everyone some effort in the future.

But I will give them, along with the rest of the right-wing talking point crowd, credit for one telling point. I think Patrick Fitzgerald really does owe us all an explanation of one thing: at what point during his investigation did he conclude that outing Valerie Plame's name was not an indictable criminal offense? Was it early in the investigation? Not til the end? And why did he come to that conclusion? Merely because he didn't feel he had enough evidence to convict anyone, or because he thought Plame's outing simply didn't violate federal law at all? He's not allowed to talk about the evidence he compiled against people he didn't indict, but he can talk about his team's legal reasoning and its understanding of the federal statutes involved. And he should.

UPDATE: I pretty clearly asked whether Fitzgerald's lack of prosecution on the underlying offense was due to to lack of evidence or lack of crime, which I thought was enough to make my question clear. But I guess not. So I've changed a word in the post to make it even clearer. Call off the dogs, folks.

Kevin Drum 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (155)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE SURGE....The surge is getting even surgier. This has barely even been reported in U.S. newspapers, but the Pentagon has apparently decided that 21,500 extra troops aren't enough:

Gordon England, deputy secretary of defence, revealed [on Tuesday] that army commanders were requesting reinforcements beyond the 21,500 personnel already earmarked for the so-called "surge" into the capital.

"At this point, our expectation is the number of ... troops could go above 21,500 by about 4,000, maybe as many as 7,000," the official told the House of Representatives Budget committee in Washington.

An AP dispatch elaborates:

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told the Senate Budget Committee last week that about 6,000 additional support personnel -- such as headquarters staff, military police, and medical personnel -- would be needed to complement the 21,500 additional combat troops....The request probably will come to about $2 billion.

Are they seriously trying to pretend that they just forgot they'd need support troops as well as combat troops? Please.

In any case, this is the Democrats' first chance to oppose the surge in a serious, non-symbolic way: they can refuse to approve the additional $2 billion. Even if the Pentagon goes ahead and reallocates money from some other account to fund the extra troops, this would still be a concrete way to oppose any further escalation. But do they have the spine to do it?

Kevin Drum 12:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (123)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEMOCRATS AND TELEPHONES....Michael Wolff has a piece in Vanity Fair about the Libby trial that tries to deconstruct why everyone in the vice president's office did what they did, and he concludes that it basically all comes down to an obsession with image management. I'm not sure I buy it, but I was struck by this aside:

The one constant I've observed, in 27 years as an on-again, off-again political reporter, is that Republicans return reporters' calls and Democrats don't....[Message control] is part of the DNA which makes Republicans return a reporter's calls -- and not grudgingly but eagerly (in contrast, you should hear the impatient and dismissive tone of the Democrats when you call them up).

Is this true? Are Democrats really that dumb?

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March 6, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

NORTH KOREA AND NIGERIA.... World Public Opinion has another one of its global polls out, and this one asks people in various countries what they think about people in various other countries. Opinion is pretty mixed about the usual suspects (Israel, Iran, the United States) and mostly follows the usual patterns, so there's not much of interest there.

But there are two things that caught my eye. The first one is North Korea. I can understand people having a mixed view of Iran or Russia or whatnot, but North Korea? And yet, even in the United States 8% of the respondents had a positive view of North Korea. 26% of Chileans liked North Korea. 31% of Turks. And so forth.

Believing that North Korea isn't as dangerous as the Bush administration claims is one thing. I could understand that. But believing that North Korea's influence in the world is objectively positive? WTF?

And then there's Nigeria. Is Nigeria just the happiest place in the world, or what? It's always an outlier in these polls, and this one is no different. Nigerians have a more positive view than the world average of every single country in the poll. They like everyone! Except Venezuela. Why are they so sunny in their outlook about everyone except Venezuela?

Anyway, just diddling around here. You can read the full report here. Or just continue talking about the Libby trial.

Kevin Drum 10:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

LYING ABOUT NUKES....Sullivan on the Libby verdict:

Something is rotten in the heart of Washington; and it lies in the vice-president's office. The salience of this case is obvious. What it is really about -- what it has always been about -- is whether this administration deliberately misled the American people about WMD intelligence before the war....Fitzgerald could smell this. He was right to pursue it, and to prove that a brilliant, intelligent, sane man like Libby would risk jail to protect his bosses. What was he really trying to hide?

Nobody else lied to the FBI and the grand jury. Only Libby. And that makes it pretty obvious that he was trying to hide the one thing he knew that no one else did: the fact that he learned Valerie Plame Wilson's identity from Dick Cheney.

For some reason, in May 2003 Cheney went ballistic over a couple of anonymous statements Joe Wilson made to Nick Kristof and Walter Pincus, statements that weren't especially damaging to Cheney and could have been challenged pretty easily. It's hard to say why (my longtime guess is here), but the end result was that Cheney ferreted out Plame's identity, passed it along to Libby, and told him to put a full-court press on Wilson. Libby thought it was worth lying about this because it threatened to provide a clue to just how involved Cheney had been in spinning the prewar intelligence on Iraqi nukes. That was the one thing serious enough to make them wildly overreact to a couple of otherwise toothless allegations.

Libby deserves his convictions. The only unfair thing about the whole trial is that his boss, the guy who was behind the whole thing, wasn't in the dock with him.

Kevin Drum 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (256)

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By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING NEWS....CNN and Jane Hamsher both report that a verdict in the Libby trial is coming soon. Stay tuned.

...Results coming in:

  • Guilty on count 1 (obstruction of justice).

  • Guilty on count 2 (false statement).

  • Not guilty on count 3 (false statement).

  • Guilty on count 4 (perjury)

  • Guilty on count 5 (perjury).

My faith in the American justice system has been restored.

Jeff Toobin says Libby's likely strategy at this point is merely to stretch out appeals long enough to stay out of prison until late 2008, at which point President Bush will pardon him. Sounds plausible.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (182)

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By: Kevin Drum

STRAIGHT OFF A CLIFF?....The latest campaign gossip from Radar:

John McCain's Obama-esque remarks about our "wasted" resources in Iraq weren't the only comments that landed him in hot water after a recent appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Many of his staff were blindsided by his campaign announcement. And several aides were so outraged that they've quit, say Republican insiders.

"They're imploding -- he had a game plan that had him announcing much later in the year," one top Republican aide tells Radar, adding that the campaign is "in serious trouble ... Romney's plan and Rudy's jump in the polls caused him to scrap his plans completely. When you do that, and you're not prepared for it, the staff goes crazy. Some of his coordinators in different states were pulling their hair out!"

Very juicy. I love it. But is it true? Did McCain really make the Letterman announcement on the fly? Would McCain's aides really have gone bananas over this? (It's not like everyone in the world didn't already know he was running, after all.) Did "several aides" really quit recently? And who is the "top Republican aide" who was Radar's source for this? Somebody close to McCain or somebody close to another candidate?

Just asking. But it sure sounds true. Though that's more because it tickles me to think so than because there's any real evidence for it.

Kevin Drum 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Kevin Drum

IT'S NOT THE CRIME, IT'S THE....Here's a quote from one of the U.S. Attorneys who was fired in the "Pearl Harbor Day Massacre":

"It should never have come to this," said John McKay, former U.S. attorney for the Seattle-based western district of Washington, who was among those fired and is now an adjunct law professor at the Seattle University law school. "I resigned quietly and left. But when they started saying it was for 'performance reasons,' I couldn't keep quiet any more."

It's remarkable. The Bushies quietly got a shiny new Patriot Act power to fire and replace U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval, so they went ahead and used it. Then they got called on it. So how did they react?

Well, they could have just said it was for policy reasons: they wanted people who were on board with administration policies a little more heartily, and these folks didn't make the grade. So we replaced them.

What would have happened then? A little bit of grumbling, probably. Some complaints that Bush was politicizing the office, perhaps, but since the offices are political appointments in the first place that wouldn't have gone very far. And the fired official themselves, who are all Republican loyalists in the first place, would have packed their bags and gotten other jobs. They know how politics works.

But no. This administration is so dedicated to spin and deceit that they just couldn't leave it alone. They figured maybe they could avoid any criticism by claiming the firings were for performance-related reasons. That should shut everyone up! But of course it did just the opposite. The fired attorneys, who were originally willing to suck it up and accept their political fate, were unhappy over being called incompetent. Who wouldn't be? And so the whole thing unraveled. Now it's a case of U.S. Attorneys being fired because they were too zealous about prosecuting Republican corruption, and the Department of Justice is reduced to feebly arguing that it's just a coincidence that so many of the Pearl Harbor Eight were investigating corruption cases.

It's the Bush administration in a microcosm: a too-clever-by-half expansion of executive power, spin and deceit when it's discovered, followed by a storm of backtracking and protestations of innocence that no one believes. It wouldn't be so bad if this weren't also the Bush administration in a macrocosm. But it is.

Kevin Drum 10:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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March 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WINGNUT-ORAMA....Go check out Greg Sargent's takedown of the latest anti-Hillary idiocy from wingnut-land. It would be sort of breathtaking if it weren't just business as usual for these guys.

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON UNIONS....We've finally found something that Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan agree on: the unalloyed doom facing us if we make it easier for unions to organize in America:

As the Democrats come closer to holding real power in Washington, the threat of unions to economic growth -- and to individual liberty -- is concentrating a few minds. Jane Galt is on the case, making an argument for secret ballots before unions are formed. What a concept! The usual leftists oppose such essential aspects of liberal democracy. But some of us come from countries where unions once ran affairs. And we remember what damage unions can do, and what bullies they often are.

So now we're not only stuck in the 70s, we're stuck in Great Britain in the 70s. Crikey.

There's a weirdness to this anti-union hysteria that's genuinely puzzling. I mean, I'm not actually the biggest union sympathizer in the world, and I sort of get the fear of unions that some people have. If it were 1975, I might sympathize more.

But it's not 1975. We don't live in an era of corrupt union bosses, inflation-busting contracts in dying industries, or endless strikes that threaten to cripple the economy. We live in an era in which unions are as decently managed as any other similar-sized enterprise, middle-class workers haven't gotten a raise in three decades, and management locks out workers unless they agree to pay cuts and benefit reductions. If you thought labor had too much power 30 years ago, fine. I'll let it pass. But today? You must be kidding.

And another thing that's changed since 1975: The whole issue of union organization today is not primarily aimed at the old line manufacturing industries that unions have long been associated with. It's aimed at the service sector, things like retail and janitorial services that have low pay, lousy benefits, and aren't under pressure from globalization. You can't outsource your window cleaning to India, and paying these kind of people another few bucks an hour has exactly zero impact on our global competitiveness.

But it does have an impact on one thing: the share of wages a company pays its workers. And when that goes up, the share it pays to its executives has no choice but to go down. Considering that stagnant blue-collar wages have allowed executive pay to increase about 10x in the past three decades, tipping the scales a bit in the other direction for a while doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth clicking the link on the Jane Galt post above. In between all the ranting and raving, a few brave souls squeezed in a few actual facts. Unions don't hurt productivity. Unions don't cause companies to go out of business. Management does routinely intimidate workers who threaten to organize a union. (For chrissake, Wal-Mart shut down and outsourced its butchering operation in 180 stores in response to one butcher department in one store voting to organize. That's illegal, of course, but Wal-Mart said the timing was just one of those funny coincidences.)

Bottom line: It's 2007. Labor's bargaining power has been reduced to nearly zero. Service workers routinely get paid $8 an hour with no benefits. Meanwhile, the extra cash this generates is used to fund $100 million golden parachutes for corporate CEOs. Seems like maybe the incentives could use a modest amount of rejiggering.

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

STILL THE BEST CARE ANYWHERE....Following the Washington Post's series on problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, attention has started to focus on the VA hospital system as well. Is the VA system in bad shape too? Does this go to show that government-run healthcare is inherently disastrous?

Phil Longman wrote a piece for us about the VA system a couple of years ago, so I asked him about this. Here's his answer:

Still the Best Care Anywhere
By Phillip Longman

It's great to see the Post doing investigative reporting that actually changes the national conversation and improves people's lives. But its series on the squalid conditions facing some veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center also has the potential to do harm unless the context of the story gets more play.

For example. True or false. Walter Reed is a VA hospital. The answer is false. The VA has nothing to do with Walter Reed, which is an Army hospital. That's why the Secretary of the Army took the fall.

Yet as the author of a Washington Monthly cover story on the VA entitled "Best Care Anywhere" (and as the author of a forthcoming book by the same title) I know all too well that many people don't get the distinction. My email box is overflowing with people wondering what I think of the VA now that it has been enveloped in scandal.

From this I conclude many Americans are taking the wrong lesson from the series. If you are left with the impression that Walter Reed is a VA hospital, then it's just a short leap to concluding that the problems exposed there are indicative of the veterans health care system as a whole. And from that point, conservatives conclude that the whole story just goes to show what happens when the government gets into the health care business, while liberals use the same VA "scandal" to bash Bush.

Look, the VA has its problems. Because the White House and Congress won't give it the funding to honor past promises to veterans, it now has to limit new enrollments to vets who have service-related illness or who can meet a strict means test. It's also having trouble ramping up to meet the needs of the unexpectedly large number of young vets diagnosed with mental illness. But despite these challenges, the fact remains that the VA enjoys the highest rate of consumer satisfaction of any American health care system, public or private.

And outside experts agree that the VA deserves this high rating from its patients. A RAND Corporation study published in the The Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that the VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care in 294 measures of quality. In awarding the VA a top prize in 2006 for innovation in government, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government gushed that "While the costs of healthcare continue to soar for most Americans, the VA is reducing costs, reducing errors, and becoming the model for what modern health care management and delivery should look like."

Let's hope the press doesn't miss that "story behind the story."

Kevin Drum 3:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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By: Zachary Roth

THE US PATENT OFFICE DISCOVERS THE INTERNET...Some would argue there are sexier topics, but the news that the US patent office is finally entering the internet age by posting patent applications online, and inviting comments from experts around the world, deserves attention. Giving examiners access to the range of technical expertise that exists online, rather than making them reliant only on those innovations that the patent office happens to have catalogued over the years, could revolutionize the application process, and therefore, the state of American innovation.

The Washington Post goes into great detail about what seems like one of the least important aspects of the new system: its ability to prioritize the comments of true experts. But the paper does a poor job explaining the likely effect of the decision to go online. Right now, the office issues way too many patents. One reason for this (among several) is that examiners don't have access to the right search information. Now, with a whole new source of data, examiners will be more likely to find "prior art"--examples of existing technology related to the suppposedly "new" invention for which the applicant is requesting a patent. That means they're likely to reject more applications, and the ones they approve will be more limited in scope. The effect could be to begin to clear the "patent thickets" that currently stifle innovation in areas like software and biotech, as we explained in this Washington Monthly story. Ultimately, this is the reason for the new system, though, understandably, it's not one that the USPTO is eager to go into.

What's particularly interesting is that major patent applicants, like IBM and Microsoft, were behind the push for the new system. That's likely because they're feeling increasingly threatened by "patent trolls"--smaller companies that make money by patenting their "inventions" (which are often of dubious originality) without ever intending to bring a product to market, then shaking down large tech companies for licensing feees. IBM et al. may also be concerned that the current system makes it virtually impossible to know how much their own patents are really worth--since many fail to hold up when challenged in court.

It's not clear (to me at least) how much the new system, which is only in a pilot stage, will do to improve the process. But it seems like a very preliminary step in the right direction.

Zachary Roth 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL COUNTERINSURGENCY....William Arkin asks today, "Is the War on Terror a Global Counterinsurgency?" This is an analogy I'm fond of, and Arkin says it's one that the military is starting to embrace. His own view of this development is a little murky, but he does say this:

[Military leaders] describe al Qaeda and the terrorist threat as a force to be isolated from "normal" society, thus suggesting a methodical way for the United States to defeat it. All aspects of national power -- military and non-military -- are needed to defeat the terrorists, and local partners are needed to isolate terrorists from the otherwise "good" population.

....It's a fine game plan to eliminate insurgents -- the terrorists -- from the safe havens of battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, etc. But it is also an incomplete and faulty articulation: Our foreign partners, many of whom in the Middle East are particularly interested in preserving their own regimes, are not necessarily going to fight terrorists in the way we would. They are otherwise corrupt, autocratic, non-democratic, and major contributors to the internal anarchy and contradictions in society that breeds terror.

So counterinsurgency it is, for now -- that is, until the terrorist hunters realize that the very people and governments we align ourselves with are part of the problem.

This is obviously a big problem, and not one with an easy solution. The counterinsurgency metaphor, I think, is a good one, since it gets across the key point that the only way for us to win is to somehow eliminate the support the hardcore jihadis get from local populations. This in turn provides a useful framework for thinking about tactics and strategy, a framework in which military action is only a modest component.

The scare quotes in Arkin's first paragraph suggest that he may not agree that this is the right way to think about it. But in any case, his point is well taken: even if it is the right idea, how do you implement it if your foreign policy is dedicated to supporting some of the very governments that are responsible for driving local populations into the arms of violent extremists in the first place? Especially when withdrawing support for those governments could be hellishly dangerous in its own right? Perhaps Arkin will give us some thoughts on that in the future.

Kevin Drum 12:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

GENOCIDE IN IRAQ....Genocide expert Samantha Power takes to the LA Times today to explain how to avoid genocide in Iraq:

Although it has a familiar and thus unsatisfying ring to it, the most viable long-term route to preventing mass atrocities is to use remaining U.S. leverage to bring about a political compromise that makes Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds feel economically stable, physically secure and adequately represented in political structures.

....However, if this political pressure fails and U.S. forces remain unable to stave off an ever-widening civil war, the U.S. should go further and announce its willingness to assist in the voluntary transport and relocation of Iraqi civilians in peril. If Iraqis tell us that they would feel safer in religiously homogenous neighborhoods, and we lack the means to protect them where they are, we should support and protect them in their voluntary, peaceful evacuation -- a means, one might say, to preempt genocide in advance of our departure.

As gruesome as this suggestion sounds, I have a feeling we're going to be hearing more about it as time goes by and our options become ever more constrained. Brace yourself.

(Also: in an op-ed that praises Barack Obama's withdrawal plan, shouldn't Power be identified as a former staff member and current advisor to Obama? Just wondering.)

Kevin Drum 12:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (94)

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March 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BRAVE NEW WORLD....Mickey Kaus offers up the following political analysis of the card check legislation that recently passed the House:

Voters--even many socially liberal peacenik voters--traditionally worry that if Dems gain full power they will a) serve their special interests and b) cripple American capitalism in a fit of leftish nostalgia. This bill legitimately triggers both fears.

Jeez. Making it modestly easier for unions to organize will cripple American capitalism? Who knew that paying janitors ten bucks an hour would doom our way of life?

In any case, the underlying question, I think, is whether you believe that workers have too little bargaining power these days, thus leading to stagnant median wages. Mark Thoma thinks so, and asks:

Is a return to unions the best solution to the market power imbalance? Should we return to the past, or should we try to use the changing political landscape as an opportunity to build better institutions for both workers and firms, institutions that offer workers the same degree of bargaining power that unions provide, and the the same degree of income, health, and retirement security, but do so more efficiently? We already know how unions work, pretty much, but can we do better?

Well, that's the question, isn't it? If you don't care about boosting stagnant wages, then the whole question is moot. Of course you'll be opposed to unions. But if you do care about boosting stagnant wages, then either you support unions as the best answer we currently have, imperfect though they may be, or else you need to propose an alternative.

Unfortunately, that's where everything stops dead. The alternatives on offer are usually either pie in the sky (tighter labor markets! night classes!) or transparent conservative shilling (voucher schools! lower capital gains taxes!). In the past three decades, the only thing that's succeeded in raising median male wages even a little bit was the late-90s dotcom boom, and I don't think that's something we can count on replicating. I'm mightily interested in feasible real-world proposals for "better institutions...that offer workers the same degree of bargaining power that unions provide," but what are they?

Kevin Drum 7:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Kevin Drum

HARSHING ON UNIONS....Tyler Cowen has a question for Ezra Klein:

I propose a deal. I'll agree that unions, in the best natural experiments we have, boost wages by about 10 to 20 percent. On the other hand, will Ezra (and others) agree that unions are mostly detrimental to the rate of economic growth?

Hmmm. Considering the historically inverse relationship between union density and economic growth in the United States since World War II, I wouldn't be very inclined to grant that premise. In fact, since middle class consumption is one of the main drivers of growth in modern economies, I suspect that boosting the wages of the middle class actually helps economic growth.

This discussion, I think, ends up being similar to discussions of the minimum wage. Simple economic theory suggests that a higher minimum wage ought to reduce total employment. Likewise, simple economic theory suggests that unionization ought to reduce economic growth. But in both cases, more sophisticated labor theory suggests lots of possible countervailing factors. So the question becomes: how much? How much does union density have to grow (it's currently a paltry 7% in the private sector) before it becomes a problem? 10%? 15%? 25%? And how much does simple economic theory predict that unionization depresses growth? 1% a year? 0.1%? 0.01%?

This makes a big difference. In practice, if even low union density suppresses growth substantially, it's unlikely that countervailing factors will turn it into a positive. But if the opposite is true, they might. Unfortunately, "the empirical literature on unions and economic growth is murky." So how do we know?

Beats me. But like I said, strong unions sure didn't seem to hurt economic growth much in the 50s and 60s. Conversely, the decline of unions did seem to bring middle class wages to a virtual standstill in the 80s and 90s -- and without the upside of returning us to earlier economic growth levels, either.

In any case, I'm certainly willing to concede that unions have both upsides and downsides. The problem is that if we really care about the "problems of labor and the desire to raise living standards," unions seem to be one of the few institutions concretely addressing them. I'm wide open to hearing alternatives, but somehow they never seem to arrive.

Kevin Drum 2:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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By: Kevin Drum

GENERATION TRAP....If you haven't been following the ongoing brawl between Time columnist Joe Klein and the liberal blogosphere, it's probably too late to bring you completely up to speed. Let's just say that the blogosphere thinks Klein is a wanker and Klein returns the compliment in full.

Which is too bad, because I think there might be an interesting conversation to be had here if we could get past the Crossfire-style drive-by insults. Here's Klein a couple of days ago on why he's a centrist:

I've come to my views honestly, after years of watching extremists on both sides of the spectrum refuse to accept the complexities of reality with disastrous consequences -- beginning with the liberal attempt to impose court-ordered school busing to achieve integration in Boston in the 1970's (I couldn't find any black people who actually favored it) to the ridiculous supply-side aversion to taxation to the current foreign policy of the neoconservatives.

In a followup post he listed some benchmarks for identifying a "left-wing extremist," and after reading comments from liberal critics suggesting that real-life liberals didn't take any of the extreme positions he imputed to them, he replied sarcastically, "There are no lefties left. There are no socialists left....Jeez, that's a relief."

So what's gong on? The biggest clue is that the first example of lefty extremism that comes to Klein's mind is an issue that's been all but dead for over a decade, while his examples of righty extremism are alive and well right now today. And socialists? There have never been many socialists in America, but there were at least a few who pretended to be in the 60s and 70s, when Klein and his generation first became politically active. But today? Outside of Berkeley, you'd have to swing several hundred dead cats before you'd be likely to come across an actual socialist.

Still, since I became politically aware during the 70s and early 80s (a decade later than Klein), I have at least a little bit of appreciation for what's driving him. For somebody with a moderate temperament, some of the excesses of that era are bound to leave scars. In my case, though, I was only aware during that period, not active. Like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late 90s. So for me the ghosts of school busing are just that: ghosts.

My political frame of reference is different. It's Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America; it's the insane wingnut scandal-mongering of the Clinton administration, culminating in Kenneth Starr and the Republican loonies trying to impeach a president over a blow job; it's the press beating up on Al Gore in 2000 and a conservative Supreme Court then awarding the disputed election to its favored candidate; it's a series of brazen, multi-trillion dollar tax cuts aimed at the GOP's rich donor class; it's the K Street Project; it's the 30-year stagnation of middle class wages, partly due to an unholy alliance between conservatives and neoliberals on trade and unions; it's a disastrous war in Iraq led by a president who had no clue what he was getting into (and still doesn't); and during this entire time a Democratic Party seemingly adrift and unwilling to really fight back.

Now, I sort of get the fact that, having grown up and reported on politics during the 60s and 70s, Klein still gets twitchy when he sees things that remind him of it. And his personal knowledge of the past has some pretty obvious utility, especially for a blogosphere that tends to be pretty historically myopic. But in the face of everything that's happened since 1994, does he really think his memories of school busing are germane?

This is where a genuine, non-snarky conversation might actually be interesting. Basically, I (and most of the liberal blogosphere, I assume) think that Klein is living in the past. He just hasn't completely internalized the vast changes of the past decade: namely that right-wing extremism is now light years more dangerous than any chimerical revival of the New Left. With apologies to Bernie Sanders, there aren't any socialists left in national politics, and a spotty dedication to national healthcare is about the most radical position held among mainstream liberals today.

I imagine Klein would say I'm wrong. He'd say he gets it just fine, and I'm the one being naive. But it would be worth having an inter-generational conversation that tries to unpack the assumptions behind the name calling. You never know. We might all learn something.

Kevin Drum 12:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (186)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUN WITH CHARTS....Yesterday I put up a post about the Bush administration's latest version of the United States Climate Action Report. The chart I posted showed that Bush was proposing policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions only slightly.

However, sharp reader Linda L. points out that I was actually giving Bush too much credit. (I know, I know....) On the right are both of the charts the New York Times published to illustrate the report, not just one of them. Notice anything odd?

Sure you do! The "reduced" line in the chart on the right is exactly the same as the "business as usual" line in the original DOE chart on the left. Bush's proposals don't actually reduce emissions at all. He just created a higher line out of whole cloth and labeled it "business as usual" so that his line would look lower.

They never cease to amaze, do they?

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By: Kevin Drum

FROM THE ANNALS OF SCIENCE....Just saw Jesus Camp. My favorite line comes from Levi, age 12, after a science lesson:

I think, personally, that Galileo made the right choice by giving up science for Christ.

Indeed. A wise career decision on his part.

Kevin Drum 12:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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March 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BREAKING THE NEWS....Mother Jones has a package of stories this month about media consolidation, and the lead piece is an article by Eric Klinenberg lamenting the decline of local news. He starts off with a story about a March 2005 Senate hearing in which Barbara Boxer questioned Kevin Martin, who had been nominated to head the FCC, about a study the commission had done on the impact of media ownership on local news:

Unsuspecting, Martin said that it had never been completed. Then, as he watched glumly, Boxer brandished a draft of the study, which had, in fact, been written more than two years earlier, only to be buried by the FCC. The report found that locally owned television stations, on average, presented 5 1/2 minutes more local news per broadcast than stations owned by out-of-town conglomerates. The findings squarely contradicted the claims made by Martin, [former FCC chairman Michael] Powell, and big media companies, who have argued that lifting limits on ownership would improve local news coverage.

....The discovery of the missing studies wasn't just bad for Martin's image, it was a blow to his pet project -- trying to repeal what's known as the cross-ownership ban, a 31-year-old FCC rule that prohibits a single company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same regional market....Lifting the ban, he said, "may help to forestall the erosion in local news coverage." But now, the FCC's own internal findings confirmed what its critics had been saying for years -- that letting one company dominate a city's news business actually undermines the quality of the local media that most Americans rely on for their news.

The whole package is here, including a short sidebar piece from me that suggests the decline of national and international bureaus is an even bigger problem than the decline of local news. Even bloggers are going to feel that pinch eventually.

Kevin Drum 8:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

MELTDOWN AT THE WASHINGTON TIMES....Via Sullivan, we get a fascinating inside report from George Archibald on the latest newsroom meltdown from Washington Times editor-in-chief Francis Coombs. Along the way there's also this:

The day before, there was a brief discussion on the foreign desk about a pending series by religion writer Julia Duin on the abortion of girls in India....In the discussion with colleagues on The Washington Times foreign desk, [foreign desk editor David Jones] said: "The reason we are running this story is that Coombs thinks all the aborted girls means that Indian men will be immigrating to the United States to marry our girls." That is an exact quote, what Jones told his colleagues on the foreign desk.

Coombs has told me and others repeatedly that he favors abortion because he sees it as a way to eliminate black and other minority babies.

Charming. Archibald, a longtime Washington Times reporter who left the paper a few years ago, also passes along news of Coombs confronting a reporter "bug-eyed, sneering, shouting, waving his fist, spittle flecks flying." He then asks, "Has the man become unhinged and lost his marbles? Will he have to be carried out in a straight-jacket?"

Sounds like it. At the same time, my impression from the passage above is that Coombs' views on abortion and black babies have been held for a long time. Doesn't seem to have hurt his career at the Times, though.

Kevin Drum 12:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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By: Kevin Drum

"A SLIGHTLY SLOWER RATE"....A "government employee" who was apparently "frustrated with the slow pace of its preparation" has leaked to the New York Times a copy of the Bush administration's latest editon of the United States Climate Action Report. Here's the bottom line:

According to the new report, the administration's climate policy will result in emissions growing 11 percent in 2012 from 2002. In the previous decade, emissions grew at a rate of 11.6 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

....[White House flack Kristen] Hellmer defended Mr. Bush's climate policy, saying the president was committed to actions, like moderating gasoline use and researching alternative energy, that limited climate risks while also increasing the country's energy and national security. She said Mr. Bush remained satisfied with voluntary measures to slow emissions.

Killer stuff, Mr. President! Reducing emissions growth from 11.6% to 11% really shows you take this stuff seriously.

And remember, this is the same guy who thinks Congress should get out of the mileage standard business and turn it over to him so that new standards can be set in a "flexible rulemaking process." I think not.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

PURGE WATCH....So about all those U.S. Attorneys who were fired a couple of months ago. Was it really for "performance-related reasons," as the Justice Department originally said? The answer is pretty clearly no, and on Friday the White House decided to go ahead and admit it:

The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday.

The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said.

Now, do you think the Bush administration suddenly woke up Friday morning and decided they ought to fess up about this because it was the right thing to do? Don't be silly. So why the turnaround?

My guess is that they've decided this is their only remaining chance of escaping from this scandal with their hides intact. After all, the evidence suggests that the U.S. Attorneys in question were actually fired for partisan reasons: either being too tough on corrupt Republicans or not tough enough on corrupt Democrats. With the vultures circling and stonewalling no longer a viable strategy, the only option left was to confess to some lesser misdemeanor and hope that the press would buy it. A mass firing for policy reasons -- especially accompanied by an initial coverup -- might not look all that good, but it looks a hell of a lot better than firing a bunch of prosecutors because they were being a little too aggressive at investigating Republican malfeasance.

Will it work? I hope not. This is pretty plainly a last ditch attempt to head off an investigation, not a sudden attack of honesty from the White House. Keep digging, guys.

UPDATE: At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick offers a few other theories.

Kevin Drum 2:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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March 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

SMELLING SALTS WATCH....First a confession: I'm a little weary of grown men and women pretending that they don't understand the power of profanity in written communication. I happen to be a fan of it myself, but I'm also mindful of the widely noted fact that most people consider it vulgar, shrill, and juvenile, and that it's hard to be taken seriously if you use it relentlessly. Crackpots haranguing the onlookers at Speakers' Corner and all that. This will undoubtedly change when the revolution comes, but in the meantime I think we're all pretty well aware of how things work in the actual world in which we live. Right?

OK, fine. That said, is there anything more ridiculous than some wingnut counting up the number of alleged vulgarities on right-wing and left-wing blogs in order to prove.....what? Hard to say, though apparently "Yowsers" is the appropriate response.

But as it turns out, there is something more ridiculous than that: a wingnut who can't even count the vulgarities properly. Scott Eric Kaufman, probably in an attempt to procrastinate on his doctoral research, ran the numbers himself and it looks like the wingnut is off by about a factor of ten. Plus he's counting comments, but fails to notice that most big right-wing blogs don't allow comments. And even if you think comments are fair game, a lot of comment vulgarity is from spam.

What's even worse, though, is that the wingnut didn't include me in his research. Am I chopped liver? Not at all: Political Animal delivers 6,130 vulgarities over its lifetime. Not bad! Most of it doesn't come from me, of course, since I know my mother reads this blog, but apparently my commenters are a bunch of pottymouths. Shame on you.

On the bright side, this gives me an excuse to reprint my favorite political quote of recent years. It's from Sir Richard Mottram, a British civil servant, commenting on a particularly embarrassing PR fiasco:

We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.

Get that man a blog! And this guy too.

Kevin Drum 6:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING.... I sort of fell down on the catblogging front today. Sorry about that. Here's a makeup, along with an exciting inside look at the communications hub that powers this blog. It's got a telephone and everything!

And cats. This is how much of my day is spent, sitting at the computer with one or more the cats either (a) watching me, (b) wandering around the desk flicking their tail in my face, (c) napping on top of my notes, (d) waiting craftily for me to get up so they can jump into my chair, or (e) all of the above. It's a jungle. And you thought all I had to to do was type......

Kevin Drum 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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By: Kevin Drum

MAN BITES DOG....From the Toledo Blade: "Documents filed Monday in Seneca County Common Pleas Court show that John I. Rocko, aka Rocko the police dog, received a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice last year."

But that's not the best part. Turns out the police chief got a degree from the same school. Guess who got the better grades?

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By: Kevin Drum

OFF THE CLIFF....Via Ann Althouse, who apparently follows the loony bin crowd more closely than me, comes news of a poll of right-wing bloggers recently conducted by (appropriately) Right Wing News. An excerpt is on the right. Bring out the white jackets, boys.

You know, I can almost forgive them for #2. I'm sure we lefties impute lots of pernicious motives to conservatives too. And politics makes people crazy sometimes.

But not one single person in the survey thinks humans are the primary cause of global warming? Not one? Even though about 99% of climate scientists say we are? That's unhinged.

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By: Kevin Drum

PEAK OIL WATCH....Over at the Oil Drum, Stuart Staniford is looking at the recent declines in Saudi Arabian oil production (see chart on right), coupled with their massive investment in new drilling rigs, and coming to an uncomfortable conclusion:

  • Saudi Arabian oil production is now in decline.

  • The decline rate during the first year is very high (8%), akin to decline rates in other places developed with modern horizontal drilling techniques such as the North Sea.

  • Declines are rather unlikely to be arrested, and may well accelerate.

  • Matt Simmons appears to be right in Twilight in the Desert, but the warning did not come until after declines had actually begun.

I'm not quite convinced yet, since global oil demand flattened in 2005 in response to the price runup of the past few years and has declined a bit since then thanks to a warmer than usual winter. The Saudis may simply be responding to this lower demand and using it as an opportunity to build up their spare capacity.

Or maybe not. In any case, it's well worth keeping an eye on, since as the Saudis go, so goes the world. Read Stuart's full post for more details. And since I'm highlighting old magazine articles this week, you can find out more about Matt Simmons and his pessimistic outlook on Saudi oil production in "Crude Awakening," a story for our June 2005 issue by some dude named Kevin Drum.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

HOUSEWORK....The BBC reports today that men are slobs and women are neatniks. You can see the quantitative results on the right, and Jessica Valenti and Matt Yglesias have the usual comments to make.

But I was curious about why the total hours of housework goes up so dramatically for couples (two people shouldn't require twice the hours of housework as one person, should they?). Was this due to the presence of children or did they control for that? So I went looking for the paper itself, and eventually found an earlier version of the research here. Unfortunately, it was so crammed with formidable looking equations that I quickly gave up.

However, if you scroll down to Table 2, you'll find something that makes the basic results a little more understandable: men in couples do less housework than women, but they also do way more work outside the house (44 hours vs. 31 hours on average). Women's work outside the home declines when they become part of a couple, and my guess is that men's work outside the home increases (though, oddly, Table 2 doesn't actually provide this data directly). The total amount of leisure time reported within couples is 128 for women vs. 124 for men. The guys aren't quite so lazy after all!

Now, the author warns us to be careful with this data, since time spent with children is sometimes coded as housework and sometimes coded as leisure, and it's not always clear which is which. And overall, there's not much question that men rarely do their fair share of housework: I'll bet that if the author controlled for hours worked outside the home, men would still report fewer hours of housework than women. Still, if you're going to report this stuff, shouldn't you report the full picture?

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux adds, "Read your Betty Friedan!" Though I'm paraphrasing a bit here....

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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By: Kevin Drum

BEST CARE ANYWHERE....The Washington Post's recent series about the crappy care at Walter Reed Hospital has been a real eye-opener. But the culprit probably isn't money. The hospitals operated by the Veterans Administration had a similar reputation 20 years ago (remember Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July?), but as you've probably read in dozens of articles recently, they're now among the best in the country -- and the VA budget is no more generous now than it was a decade ago. It was management changes during the Clinton administration, not money, that have made the entire VHA medical system among the best in the country, and the first person to point that out was Phil Longman, who wrote "Best Care Anywhere" for our January 2005 issue:

An outfit called the National Committee for Quality Assurance today ranks health-care plans on 17 different performance measures....And who do you suppose this year's winner is: Johns Hopkins? Mayo Clinic? Massachusetts General? Nope. In every single category, the VHA system outperforms the highest rated non-VHA hospitals.

....If this gives you cognitive dissonance, it should. The story of how and why the VHA became the benchmark for quality medicine in the United States suggests that much of what we think we know about health care and medical economics is just wrong. It's natural to believe that more competition and consumer choice in health care would lead to greater quality and lower costs, because in almost every other realm, it does....But when it comes to health care, it's a government bureaucracy that's setting the standard for maintaining best practices while reducing costs, and it's the private sector that's lagging in quality.

Examining the turnaround at the VHA system tells us a lot about what works and what doesn't in healthcare. Some of the answers are surprising, and some of them are common sense. (Preventive medicine, anyone?) And the print edition of the Washington Monthly was the first place to tell you the story.

So come on! Subscription week is nearly over. If you like this blog, you'll love the magazine, and it's only 30 bucks a year. Order now! You can subscribe for yourself here. Or order a gift subscription here.

Kevin Drum 11:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PURGE, CONT'D....Yesterday we learned that two Republican politicians called U.S. Attorney David Iglesias prior to last year's midterms to ask when he might hand down indictments in a corruption case involving some local Democrats. Today, Marisa Taylor of McClatchy tells us who the Republicans are:

Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico pressured the U.S. attorney in their state to speed up indictments in a federal corruption investigation that involved at least one former Democratic state senator, according to two people familiar with the contacts.

....According to the two individuals, Domenici and Wilson called to press Iglesias for details of the case.

Wilson was curt after Iglesias was "non-responsive" to her questions about whether an indictment would be unsealed, said the two individuals, who asked not to be identified because they feared possible political repercussions. Rumors had spread throughout the New Mexico legal community that an indictment of at least one Democrat was sealed.

Domenici, who wasn't up for re-election, called about a week and a half later and was more persistent than Wilson, the people said. When Iglesias said an indictment wouldn't be handed down until at least December, the line went dead.

Iglesias was fired two months later. I guess he should have taken the hint.

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By: Kevin Drum

HUH?....Hey, if you're going to keep linking to stuff behind the Times paywall, can you at least explain what the heck is going on? Inquiring minds etc. etc.

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

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March 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

NO CONFIDENCE....Fred Kaplan (unsurprisingly) picks up on something I missed about our intelligence turnaround on North Korea's uranium enrichment program:

Why are senior officials suddenly saying that North Korea might not have an enriched-uranium program? No new information has come to light on the issue. They are saying this for one reason: President Bush recently agreed to a nuclear deal with the North Koreans; the deal says nothing about enriched uranium (it requires them only to freeze their plutonium-bomb program); so, in order to stave off the flood of criticism from Bush's conservative base, senior officials are saying that the enriched uranium was never a big deal to begin with.

....In October 2002, when Bush was looking for any excuse to back out of the Agreed Framework, senior officials said the evidence of enriched uranium was strong.

Now, four and a half years later, when Bush is looking for reasons to justify a deal that's remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (except it's not quite as tight, and the North Koreans have since become a nuclear-armed nation), senior officials are saying the evidence of enriched uranium is weak.

The evidence has always been ambiguous. Before, they hyped it to justify what they wanted to do. Now, they're downplaying it to justify what they've done.

Kaplan is pissed: "[This] shows that Bush and his people will say anything, no matter whether it's true, in order to shore up a political point. It means that U.S. intelligence has become completely corrupted." I'm not sure this is really news at this point, but he's right that this is an unsually bald demonstration of the point.

Kevin Drum 9:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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By: Kevin Drum

FUNNY LINE OF THE DAY....From Andrew Golis:

A few weeks ago, liberal writers were worried that voters would forget that when Giuliani was Mayor of New York he was a crazy, mean, dangerous authoritarian. This week the concern is that the conservative base may nominate him for exactly that reason.

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By: Kevin Drum

CARD CHECKS....The Employee Free Choice Act is coming up for a vote in the House shortly, and the business community is pulling out all the stops to kill it in its tracks. [UPDATE: It just passed. Next stop is the Senate.] In case you're wondering what the fuss is about, here's a lightly modified reposting of a piece I did about it a few months ago:

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

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

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

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

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

During the NLRB election, 46% of workers complained of management pressure. During card check elections, 14% complained of union pressure. Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely as workers in card check elections to report that management coerced them to oppose.

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

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

The original purpose of secret NLRB ballots was to reduce management coercion of union organizing efforts, and it's that goal that's important, not the 70-year-old ballot mechanism itself. Card checks don't eliminate coercion from either side, but they do reduce it dramatically. It's a fundamentally fairer system for workers and, it turns out, a far less contentious and hostile process for both sides.

UPDATE: In case you're wondering how management harasses workers during organizing campaigns, here's a case study and here are some stats. A bit of googling will turn up plenty more if you need further convincing.

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By: Kevin Drum

PAKISTAN....A few days ago, according to the New York Times, Dick Cheney jetted into Pakistan to warn Pervez Musharraf that "the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda." Michael Currie Schaffer comments:

There's an irony in the Bush administration -- and, in particular, Cheney -- making such conspicuous use of this old tactic. Ever since September 11, 2001, GOP loyalists have leaned on one simple message when it comes to the politics of security: Only Republicans have the hard-headedness and the backbone to face the menace that is Islamic terrorism.

....That message gets just a wee bit diluted when the veep pops up in Islamabad to say, more or less, that those same Democrat sissies are willing to be tougher on North Waziristan's putative constabulary than the manly folk of the executive branch.

This reminds me of the old bromide I used to hear about the Soviet Union, namely that they liked Republican presidents better than Democrats. Sure, the Republicans hated them, but at least they were predictably nasty. Democrats might be more open to improving relationships, but they were also a wild card. Better the enemy you know etc. etc.

Of course, the real irony in this whole episode is how little grief Cheney has gotten for this. I think the reason is simple: Pakistan is the one place that's so horrifically intractable that Democrats are willing to cut Bush a lot of slack in dealing with them. In fact, for all the talk of Iran and North Korea and al-Qaeda and whatnot, if you asked me to name the single most dangerous place on the planet it would be Pakistan. They've got nukes, they've got missiles, they've got a famously unstable leadership with levels of intrigue that would baffle an Ottoman Sultan, and the ISI is by a long way the world's preeminent terrorist training organization. It's a nightmare, and no one really knows how to deal with it.

So fine. If they want to threaten Musharraf with the specter of Nancy Pelosi cutting off his foreign aid, go ahead. If anyone has a better idea, speak up.

Kevin Drum 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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By: Zachary Roth

EVERY WHICH WAY YOU WANT...With the verdict in the Libby trial due any day now, some of us here at the Monthly got to thinking. Many leading conservatives have downplayed the importance of the entire Plame-Wilson affair from the start. And once it became clear that the only prosecution in the case would be for perjury and obstruction of justice during the investigation--rather than for the original crime of leaking Plame's name--some became downright dismissive of the entire enterprise. Giving faulty information to a prosecutor, it seems, just isn't that big a deal in the conservative world.

But what were those same conservatives saying about a different perjury case, when the target was not a top aide to Dick Cheney, but a Democratic president, and the underlying substance of the case was, by any measure, somewhat less earth-shaking? Here, thanks to Monthly interns Nick Baumann and Oliver Haydock, are some choice examples of what we might call the evolving conservative line on perjury:

GOP Rep. Lindsey Graham (now Senator) on Clinton, 1998: "I believe it is a crime--it's a high crime that should subject any president for removal." Graham also served as one of the GOP's managers of the impeachment case.

And on Libby, 2006: "When it came to the grand jury, he gave false testimony allegedly about his interaction. But the underlying charge that started this investigation never materialized. So you have to put it in that perspective...It's a bad story but it's a different story than the way it started."


Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes on Clinton, 1998: "It's going to be hard not to impeach the president for prejury."

And on Libby, 2006: "Fitzgerald should terminate his probe immediately. A correction--perhaps the longest and most overdue in the history of journalism--is in order."


GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, on Clinton, 1998: "Something needs to be said that is a clear message that our rule of law is intact and the standards for perjury and obstruction of justice are not gray."

And on Libby, 2005: "I certainly hope that, if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollar."

(Thanks to The New Republic's Jon Chait for this one. [subscription required])


GOP Sen. Don Nickles on Clinton, 1998: "In my opinion, President Clinton is guilty of perjury. He is guilty of obstruction of justice."

Nickles now serves on the Libby Defense Board.

Zachary Roth 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION MADNESS....Finally! Colorado has found an immigration proposal that both sides in the debate can agree on. That is, they can both agree that it's loathsome:

Ever since passing what its Legislature promoted as the nation's toughest laws against illegal immigration last summer, Colorado has struggled with a labor shortage as migrants fled the state. This week, officials announced a novel solution: Use convicts as farmworkers.

....Advocates on both sides of the immigration debate said they were stunned by the proposal.

"If they can't get slaves from Mexico, they want them from the jails," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which favors restrictions on immigration.

Ricardo Martinez of the Denver immigrant rights group Padres Unidos asked: "Are we going to pull in inmates to work in the service industry too? You won't have enough inmates -- unless you start importing them from Texas."

Congratulations, Colorado! You're a uniter, not a divider.

On another note, the story also reports that "more stringent requirements put into effect last year made it harder to get a driver's license." Boy howdy, is that true. A friend of ours recently moved to Colorado and has apparently been almost completely unable to transact any business with the state because they need multiple forms of IDs and won't accept hers. Her passport is an unacceptable form of identification. Crikey.

Kevin Drum 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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By: Kevin Drum

WHAT WENT WRONG....John Quiggin points to a long essay written a couple of days ago by Bjorn Staerk, a recovering warblogger, that tries to come to grips with "What Went Wrong." Not with them, but with us. Here's his take on the pro-war blogosphere that he was once a part of:

Among the bloggers there was a sense that there were all these brilliant people, who knew so much about history, war and society, who had previously been without the tools to express themselves. Thanks to the wonders of amateur media, we could now finally exploit this huge reservoir of expert knowledge. And when you contrasted the lazy neutrality of the old media with the energy of the new, it certainly could seem that way. Here were people who regularly would write thousands of words about the historical context of Islamist terrorism, who could write brilliantly about freedom and democracy, who commented boldly on the long trends of history. How could such people be wrong?

But what we saw was not expert knowledge, but the well-written, arrogantly presented ideas of half-educated amateurs. This, too, went all the way from the bottom to the top. It often struck us how well the writing of the best of the bloggers measured up to that of pro-war pundits and intellectuals. We thought this showed how professional the amateurs were, when what it really told us was how amateurish the professionals were.

I don't have any real comments to add, but it's an interesting, self-reflective essay that reaffirms my belief in the fundamental common sense of Scandinavians. Worth a read if this kind of thing appeals to you.

Kevin Drum 11:18 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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By: Kevin Drum

ROLLING BLUNDER....Appropriately, since this is golden oldies week here, today's news gives me a chance to link to "Rolling Blunder," Fred Kaplan's piece in our May 2004 issue about how the Bush administration reacted to the news that North Korea might be processing uranium for a nuclear weapon:

This new threat wasn't imminent; processing uranium is a tedious task; Kim Jong-il was almost certainly years away from grinding enough of the stuff to make an atomic bomb.

But the North Koreans had another route to nuclear weapons -- a stash of radioactive fuel rods, taken a decade earlier from its nuclear power plant in Yongbyon. These rods could be processed into plutonium -- and, from that, into A-bombs -- not in years but in months. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration, the rods were locked in a storage facility under the monitoring of international weapons-inspectors. Common sense dictated that -- whatever it did about the centrifuges -- the Bush administration should do everything possible to keep the fuel rods locked up.

Got that? The one thing we wanted to avoid was goading North Korea into unlocking their plutonium. But we did. Why? Because we suspected them of processing uranium. Except, um, it turns out maybe we weren't so sure of that after all. Here's the Washington Post today:

The Bush administration is backing away from its long-held assertions that North Korea has an active clandestine program to enrich uranium, leading some experts to believe that the original U.S. intelligence that started the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions may have been flawed.

....The administration's stance today stands in sharp contrast to the certainty expressed by top officials in 2002, when the administration accused Pyongyang of running a secret uranium program -- and demanded it be dismantled at once.

Even when you think you understand just how incompetent they are, the Bush administration surprises you. It turns out they're even more incompetent than you could have imagined.

"Rolling Blunder" spells out the whole story. It's yet another reason to subscribe to the print magazine, so why not go ahead and do it? 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 2:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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