Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2007

SATURDAY SMITHERS BLOGGING....Yes, this is my darling cat, Smithers. And yes, that is a leash. We started getting her used to a harness when she was but a kitten, and while other cat owners are frequently surprised to hear it, she's never minded it a bit. In fact, she usually comes running the moment we take it out of the drawer.

I've never entirely understood why it's considered odd. Sure, leashes are generally associated with dogs, but we've taken Smithers for many a stroll. (We do, to borrow a phrase, get the funniest looks from everyone we meet.)

Is walking Smithers like walking a dog? Well, no. She stops quite a bit and, compared to a dog, she's far less interested in going in the same direction we're going in. That said, it's probably not as awkward as one might expect.

And with that I give you, 24 hours late, a hearty dose of cat blogging for your reading pleasure.

Steve Benen 7:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM....Ken Silverstein wrote a fascinating expose for the July issue of Harper's about DC's lobbying industry. Silverstein wanted to understand how, exactly, these firms operate when approached by an ethically-dubious client, and what lobbyists would/could do for a price.

Of course, if the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine calls up one of these firms, he'll get plenty of spin and very few answers. If "Kenneth Case," a consultant for "The Maldon Group," a mysterious (and fictitious) London-based firm that claimed to have a financial stake in improving the public image of neo-Stalinist Turkmenistan calls up, he'll get a candid assessment of what services are available.

So, Silverstein went undercover, took on a fictitious persona, and gained some fascinating, albeit disturbing, insights.

In some circles, what Silverstein did was unethical. In short, he misrepresented himself -- a journalistic no-no. "No matter how good the story," Howard Kurtz wrote, "lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects." Kurtz was hardly alone; the DC media establishment has been less than shy about denouncing Silverstein's tactics.

Silverstein responded today in an LA Times op-ed, arguing that a) this media establishment is far too close to the political establishment; and b) until news outlets start taking investigative journalism seriously again, the public will suffer.

The decline of undercover reporting -- and of investigative reporting in general -- also reflects, in part, the increasing conservatism and cautiousness of the media, especially the smug, high-end Washington press corps. As reporters have grown more socially prominent during the last several decades, they've become part of the very power structure that they're supposed to be tracking and scrutinizing.

Chuck Lewis, a former "60 Minutes" producer and founder of the Center for Public Integrity, once told me: "The values of the news media are the same as those of the elite, and they badly want to be viewed by the elites as acceptable."

I suspect this will make Silverstein even less popular with the media establishment, but he makes a very compelling case.

Steve Benen 2:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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AND THEN THERE WERE SEVEN....For an "overblown personnel matter," the U.S. Attorney scandal sure has produced a lot of Justice Department resignations.

A Justice Department official who was considered as a possible replacement for one of several fired United States attorneys has resigned. The official, Rachel L. Brand, the assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, will step down July 9, the department said. The statement did not give a reason for her departure, but Ms. Brand is expecting a baby soon. She was a member of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's leadership team.

When officials were planning to fire prosecutors in San Diego, San Francisco, Michigan and Arkansas, Ms. Brand was named as a possible replacement for Margaret Chiari in Michigan, according to documents released as part of a Congressional inquiry.

Brand is the seventh senior aide to Gonzales to resign in the past few months.

She's also the latest to depart late on a Friday afternoon, a time the White House routinely uses (abuses) to hide embarrassing news. For those keeping score at home, Brand joins William Mercer, the former Acting Associate Attorney General; Michael Elston, former chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; and Monica Goodling, Gonzales' former White House liaison, as top DoJ officials who stepped down by way of The Late-Friday-Media Trick.

Steve Benen 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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June 29, 2007

THE RIGHT'S MOVEON.ORG....For years, one of the principal concerns on the left was creating a political and intellectual infrastructure that the right developed over decades. Conservatives had the think tanks, the massive membership organizations, the media outlets, the conferences, the deep-pocketed benefactors, etc. The left scrambled to catch up in the late '90s, but the right has a big head start.

But as it turns out, the envious looks cut both ways. The right wants its own MoveOn.org.

Veteran Republicans say they have quietly raised millions of dollars for a pair of nonprofit organizations that will launch this fall with the ambitious aim of providing a conservative counterweight to the liberal MoveOn.org, Politico.com has learned.

The issues and education group, which has a plan to enlist hundreds of thousands of small donors, aims to be active in the 2008 presidential election, according to Republicans involved in the effort. Organizers, who include veterans of the last three Republican White Houses, would not give specifics on how much money the group has raised so far or who its donor base is.

Bradley Blakeman, a former aide in Bush's White House said, "We're in the formative stages of creating a new group that will give voice and hope to conservatives everywhere who believe in peace through strength and limited government. We expect to have more to announce sometime down the road."

We'll see what Blakeman and his team can pull together, but I'm skeptical it'll amount to much, at least for a long while. For one thing, this still-unnamed group will have plenty of competition. The Vanguard says it's "intended to be a right-wing version of the leftist MoveOn.Org." Tom DeLay says he's in the process of "building a conservative grass-roots equivalent of MoveOn.org." In the last couple of cycles, a right-wing 527 group called Progress for America Voter Fund has already positioned itself as a far-right version of MoveOn.org. I think Blakeman's group will have to get in line.

For that matter, I think the right's been confused about MoveOn's appeal for a while. The group doesn't follow a top-down model; it's the other way around. Loyal Bushies can raise some money and form yet another conservative activist group, but that's hardly a recipe for success.

MoveOn drew support because it had a cause (Clinton impeachment). It showed staying power when new causes (Iraq war) emerged. This wasn't an instance in which a bunch of liberals got together and said, "Wouldn't it be great to form some kind of organization to advance a progressive agenda?" It was a far more natural evolution, a fact that seems to elude those who want to emulate it.

But that won't stop them from trying. We'll see what happens.

Steve Benen 7:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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MAN BITES DOG....Several readers have asked about Friday Cat Blogging, which, I'm afraid, will have to wait until Kevin returns. In its absence, how about a different pet-related story?

An example of Mitt Romney's crisis management skills has turned into something of a political problem for the Republican presidential contender.

Romney placed his family dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, into a kennel lashed to the top of his station wagon for a 12-hour family trip from Boston to Ontario in 1983. Despite being shielded by a wind screen the former Massachusetts governor erected, Seamus expressed his discomfort with a diarrhea attack.

Now the story, recounted this week in a Boston Globe profile of Romney, has touched off howls of outrage from bloggers and animal rights activists even though it was presented in the story as an example of Romney's coolness under trying circumstances.

Is this story important to the presidential race? Not really, but it's one of those nagging stories that's been, ahem, dogging Romney's campaign all week. He was even forced to respond at a press event yesterday, telling reporters the dog "enjoyed" being on the roof.

It seems like a stretch to think that a story like this could hurt Romney's chances in the presidential race, but there are a lot of dog owners out there who wouldn't dream of sticking their family pet on the roof of a car.

And just to make thing extra interesting, Time reported, "Massachusetts's animal cruelty laws specifically prohibit anyone from carrying an animal 'in or upon a vehicle, or otherwise, in an unnecessarily cruel or inhuman manner or in a way and manner which might endanger the animal carried thereon.' An officer for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals responded to a description of the situation saying 'it's definitely something I'd want to check out.'"

It's a story with, ahem, legs.

Steve Benen 5:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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FALSE WITNESS....James Dobson's Focus on the Family issued an alert to its membership yesterday bragging about the latest New York Times poll, which, the group said, showed that "America's young people continue to track conservative" on social issues. It took some breathtaking spin to reach this conclusion.

The survey collected opinions of 17- to 29-year-olds. Sixty-two percent said abortion should be outlawed or restricted. Danielle Huntley, a student at Boston College Law School and president of Students for Life of America, said she's proud her peers are not buying into liberal rhetoric.

"It illustrates that my generation realizes that they are survivors of Roe," she said. "Each of us born after 1973 could have been legally aborted by our parents."

Tom Robins of the College Republican National Committee told Family News in Focus the opposition to abortion can be attributed to young people's level of understanding. "Our generation has seen the effects of that," he said. "They understand that abortion on demand is not a healthy choice for America."

Fifty-four percent of young adults expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. Ron Luce with Teen Mania said the challenge is to make sure their opinions are founded in biblical truth.

OK, now let's look at what the poll actually said:

* On abortion: A combined 75% of voters under 30 want abortion rights to be legal.

* On gay rights: 44% said they believe that same-sex couples should be permitted to get married, and an additional 24% support civil unions, for a combined 68% who support some legal recognition of gay relationships.

* On ideology: 28% of young voters describe themselves as liberal (compared with 20% of the nation at large), while 27% call themselves conservative (compared with 32% of the general public).

If this is what it takes for a young generation to "track conservative" in Dobson's book, I couldn't be more pleased.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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HOMOPHOBIA?....I have to admit, I'm puzzled by the reaction in some corners to what seemed like one of the more amusing and lighthearted moments of last night's debate.

NPR's Michel Martin asked the candidates, "[W]hat is the plan to stop and to protect these young people from this scourge?" When it was Joe Biden's turn, the senator suggested the key to combating AIDS is prevention: "I got tested for AIDS. I know Barack got tested for AIDS. There's no shame in being tested for AIDS. It's an important thing."

The audience laughed nervously. When Biden was done with his answers, Obama, smiling, interjected.

OBAMA: Tavis, Tavis, Tavis, I just got to make clear -- I got tested with Michelle. (Laughter, applause.)


OBAMA: In -- when we were in Kenya in Africa. So I don't want any confusion here about what's going on. (Applause continues.)

SMILEY: All right.

BIDEN: And I got tested to save my life, because I had 13 pints of blood transfusion.

OBAMA: I was tested with my wife.

SMILEY: And I'm sure Michelle appreciates you clarifying it.

OBAMA: In public. (Laughter.)

Everyone laughed; the debate continued. Today, however, Obama is being accused of homophobia, which strikes me as off-base.

TNR's Alexander M. Belenky said Obama "doesn't want anyone to get the impression that he's on the down-low." Lane Hudson said it was a "frat-boy moment," adding that Obama revealed "some level of homophobia."

My take on it was entirely different. Obama seemed to be saying that Biden's comment might have left the impression that he got an AIDS test because he'd had sex with someone else. But why assume he was referring to a man? Isn't it just as likely Obama wanted to "clarify" so that no one would think he'd had an affair with another woman?

The criticism seems misplaced. How did everyone else perceive the comments?

Steve Benen 2:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (98)

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THE WRONG 'MAIN ENEMY'....Oddly enough, the president used to be fairly responsible when describing al Qaeda's role in Iraqi violence. Not too terribly long ago, Bush described "the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda" -- not even the network itself -- as the "smallest" component of violence in Iraq.

And then, as the political winds shifted, so too did the president's rhetoric. In May, Bush declared that al Qaeda is "public enemy No. 1 in Iraq." Yesterday, he reiterated the point at the Naval War College, describing al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq.

The point, obviously, is to shift the political debate. If we're fighting those who were responsible for 9/11 in Iraq, the argument goes, then we can't withdraw. As such, al Qaeda is suddenly transformed from minor player in Iraq to the sole purpose for our ongoing presence, reality notwithstanding.

Glenn Greenwald recently had an excellent item explaining that several major media outlets are buying into war supporters' rhetorical shift. Thankfully, McClatchy demonstrated today that some journalists are still willing to fact-check the president.

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Retired Major Gen. John Batiste, a former division commander in Iraq turned critic of the war, recently warned everyone about conflating al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents: "[W]e cannot attribute all the violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda. There's a tendency now to lump it all together, and call it al-Qaeda. We have to be very careful with that."

Unfortunately, the president disagrees, and hopes Americans won't know the difference. Kudos to McClatchy's piece for calling him on it.

Steve Benen 1:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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LISTENING TO THE GENERALS....The president delivered a speech yesterday at the Naval War College, rehashing most of what you'd expect him to say about the war in Iraq. (Surprise, he's "encouraged" by what he called "hopeful signs.") When he opened the floor to questions, however, the audience seemed a little skeptical.

Q: Mr. President, I just returned from a week at the United States Army War College in Pennsylvania on national security. I walked away with so much more pride in our military. I would follow them anywhere. My question is: At the beginning of your speech -- that you said that you consult with the military. With all due respect, sir, how much do you really listen and follow them?

BUSH: Yes, a lot. I don't see how you can be the Commander-in-Chief of a well motivated military without listening carefully to the advice of your commanders.

Really? In order to be effective, he has to listen to the advice of his commanders? Does Bush remember this from January?

When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against. [...]

It may also be a sign of increasing assertiveness from a commander in chief described by former aides as relatively passive about questioning the advice of his military advisers. In going for more troops, Bush is picking an option that seems to have little favor beyond the White House and a handful of hawks on Capitol Hill and in think tanks who have been promoting the idea almost since the time of the invasion.

In November, after the election, CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid rejected the notion of a surge, saying that he "met with every divisional commander, Gen. Casey, the Corps commander, Gen. Dempsey" and asked them if bringing "in more American troops now, [would] add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq and they all said, 'No.'" Indeed, Bush fired Gen. Casey, in large part because he neglected to tell the president what he wanted to hear.

And yet, here we are, just a few months later, watching Bush brag about "listening carefully to the advice of [his] commanders." Please.

If Bush wants to reject the advice of top military leaders, that's his prerogative; he is regrettably the Commander in Chief. But he really needs to drop this I-listen-to-our-military schtick.

Reporting on yesterday's speech, Peter Baker noted, "[E]ven in this military setting, the audience responded politely and without much enthusiasm." Bush used to count on these speeches to show how receptive military audiences are to his message. Not anymore.

Steve Benen 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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THWARTED BOMB IN LONDON....While some of the recent alleged terrorist plots in the U.S. haven't withstood much scrutiny, it looks as if London avoided a serious terrorist incident today.

Police in London say they have deactivated a bomb packed with nails and capable of creating huge casualties, raising renewed fears of a terrorist strike almost two years after the city was hit by deadly suicide bombers.

The device, consisting of 200 liters of fuel, gas cylinders and nails linked to a triggering mechanism, was found in a car in Haymarket, in the city's busy nightclub and theater district shortly before 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Friday.

British police anti-terror chief Peter Clarke said the explosives would have resulted in significant injury and loss of life had they detonated.

Details are still a little sketchy, but apparently an ambulance crew alerted police after they noticed a smoke-filled car parked close to the popular nightclub. Explosives officers discovered the fuel and nails attached to a "potential means of detonation," inside the vehicle. Officers "courageously" disabled the trigger by hand, Clarke he said.

Several news outlets are noting the proximity to the anniversary of the 7/7 attacks, but I'm also curious about the possible attack coinciding with the announcement of a new British Prime Minister. The '93 attack in NYC happened shortly after Clinton took office; 9/11 occurred shortly after Bush took office; might today after something to do with Brown?

Regardless, I think Atrios raises a valid point about the temptations towards hysteria: "Watching the CNN coverage of the thwarted car bombing in London I'm struck by how the coverage makes something that didn't happen thousands of miles away sound like something around the block. You know, foiled bomb plot in London! Terrorists crawling up through your toilet!"

Good point. As for Londoners, the chances of something like this sending London into a panic are about zero. In 2005, Slate's David Plotz happened to be in London on 7/7 and noted, within a couple of hours of the attacks, "When I walked by the Queen's Larder Pub, not half a mile from the Tavistock Square wreckage, at 11 a.m., a half-dozen men were sitting together at a sidewalk table, hoisting their morning pints of ale. Civilization must go on, after all."

Hearty bunch, those Brits.

Steve Benen 10:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (120)

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ADVENTURES IN POLLING....As Eric Kleefeld noted, there's a real gem towards the end of the latest Fox News poll (.pdf).

This has to be a first. In its new poll, Fox News asked what may well be the ultimate in jingoistic, rally-around-the-flag questions -- and the Democrats came out on top:

"If there is an all-out war between the United States and various radical Muslim groups worldwide, who would you rather have in charge -- Democrats or Republicans?"

Democrats 41%, Republicans 38%, Both the same 9%, Don't know 12%

As Eric put it, "The question of which party the people would trust more to lead World War III against a global coalition of Islamofascists should have been a gimme for the Republicans. But they couldn't even manage to get a plurality." Ouch.

Of course, given the rather silly wording of the question, this probably wasn't the result Fox News was hoping for. Indeed, once a month the partisan network releases a poll, and once a month we see shamelessly slanted questions that no legitimate news outlet would ever want to include in a valid survey.

From May's FNC poll: "Recently Democratic Leader of the Senate Harry Reid said that the war 'is lost' in Iraq. Do you feel this was an acceptable thing or an unacceptable thing for Reid to say while U.S. troops are still in the field fighting?"

From April's: "Considering that over the past twelve months the stock market is up, employment has increased and the disposable income of U.S. workers has increased, do you think the news media has generally done a good job or bad job providing accurate news about the nation's economy?"

From March's: "Do you think the Democratic Party should allow a grassroots organization like Moveon.org to take it over or should it resist this type of takeover?"

Pretty soon, someone might get the sense that Fox News is trying to skew its polls to advance some kind of political agenda. Shocking, I know.

Steve Benen 8:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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June 28, 2007

DEBATE WRAPUP....The latest debate for Democratic presidential candidates just wrapped up, and I was impressed with how different this one was from the rest, both in style and substance. It focused specifically on issues important to the African-American community, featuting a panel of minority journalists. Tavis Smiley moderated, and I hope the other networks were paying attention to how well he kept the event moving -- without inane raise-your-hand questions. For that matter, there won't be any complaints about some candidates dominating; everyone got the same questions and the same opportunitities to speak.

The candidates were on their best behavior -- there were no pointed barbs tonight -- which kept things substantive. I didn't see any campaign-changing moments, though Hillary Clinton just about brought the house down when she said AIDS would be a higher national priority if it were the number one killer of white women ages 25 to 34. (The comment drew the loudest, most sustained applause of the night.)

Let's consider this a debate open thread. Who won? Who lost? Who watched?

And why did this nationally-televised debate get so much less attention than the previous ones? There was very little live-blogging tonight, though I noticed Chris Cillizza was keeping up.

Steve Benen 10:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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CANADIAN HIP REPLACEMENTS....Well, Kevin warned us back in April.

[H]ere's a handy rule of thumb: any time a healthcare article starts nattering on about hip replacement waiting times in Canada, just stop reading. The authors are cherry picking so egregiously it's a wonder their fingers haven't fallen off.

With that in mind, I give you David Gratzer's piece in today Wall Street Journal:

Canadian doctors, once quiet on the issue of private health care, elected Brian Day as president of their national association. Dr. Day is a leading critic of Canadian medicare; he opened a private surgery hospital and then challenged the government to shut it down. "This is a country," Dr. Day said by way of explanation, "in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years."

On a more substantive healthcare note, the president and congressional Dems are facing off on whether, and to what extent, State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) should be expanded to include more children from middle-income families. Bush is repeating a predictable canard "government-run healthcare," and insisting that his proposed changes to the tax code would cover more kids.

The truth is, the divide isn't between public and private; it's about guaranteed standards. Brad Plumer explains.

Steve Benen 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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DEPT OF POTS AND KETTLES....Way back in April, during the first round of debate on war funding, Bush excoriated lawmakers for "spend[ing] billions of dollars on pork barrel projects and spending that are [sic] completely unrelated to this war." It was one of his more disingenuous complaints -- the president's own war funding proposal included funds for federal prisons, Kosovo debt relief, flood control on the Mississippi, and nutrition programs in Africa, among other things.

Similarly, just a couple of weeks ago, Bush devoted his radio address to complaining about federal spending. "Earmarks are spending provisions that are slipped into bills by individual members of Congress, often at the last hour and without discussion or debate," the president said. "It's not surprising that this leads to unnecessary Federal spending."

It's why the White House should probably find this embarrassing.

Just a few months after blasting the congressional practice of diverting millions in taxpayer dollars to pet projects, President Bush has slipped into current legislation more than 100 so-called "earmarks" worth over $1 billion -- including nearly $6 million for work on the White House. [...]

The president's earmarks, for projects including national park improvements, land purchases and new government facilities, have drawn unusual on-the-record criticism from Republican lawmakers, who typically eschew public displays of disaffection with the White House.

"It would appear the administration likes earmarks from their perspective," Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., told the Hill newspaper, which first reported the White House earmarks. Aderholt is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He termed the White House stance as "inconsistent," though another Republican, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, told the paper it was "duplicity."

The Bush White House? Duplicitous? Never.

Steve Benen 6:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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CHENEY SEES THE LIGHT....We've all been thoroughly entertained by Dick Cheney's "unorthodox" argument that he is not part of the executive branch, a policy position the White House has refused to comment on.

Late Tuesday, the Office of the Vice President shifted its rhetoric a bit, arguing that Cheney ignored an executive order because the document exempted him from oversight. (Asked where the E.O. said this, Cheney's lawyers declined comment. Apparently, you need some kind of decoder ring to read text that doesn't exist.) Forget about that other argument, they said; it's no longer operative.

Yesterday, in what I believe was a first, the White House said Cheney never liked that fourth-branch argument anyway.

A White House official placed further distance from the dual role argument by adding that Mr. Cheney did not necessarily agree with it.

See? Dick Cheney's office started asserting a year ago that the Vice President isn't part of the executive branch, but the gang has just now come to the conclusion that Cheney isn't fond of his argument. What a relief.

If the White House doesn't like the tack, and the VP doesn't agree with it, and literate people everywhere recognize the argument as sheer nonsense, maybe now the White House can respond to questions about whether Cheney is part of the executive branch?

And if the argument has genuinely fallen out of favor at the White House, maybe someone can tell the Justice Department? Gonzales & Co. have apparently been struggling with the question for several months. Maybe Cheney can give them a hand.

Steve Benen 4:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

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PERJURY TRAP....The White House "offer" to the Senate Judiciary Committee was fairly straightforward: if members wanted to talk to WH staffers about the prosecutor purge, the discussions had to be a) private; b) not under oath; and c) without transcripts. It's that last one that never made any sense.

Indeed, the Bush gang never even tried to rationalize it. That is, until today.

The White House organized a conference call this morning with an official who certainly appeared to be Counsel Fred Fielding, who finally shed some light on why the president would make staffers available for private interviews, but only if there was no transcript of their remarks.

"Obviously, there has been a lot of discussion back and forth in that regard. The position that the president took and conveyed to the committees and the offer of compromise did not include transcripts. The accommodation was designed to provide information, not to appear to be having testimony without having testimony. One of the concomitants of testimony, of course, is transcripts.

"As far as the debate goes, often cited is that a transcript is not wanted because otherwise there would be a perjury trap. And, candidly, as everyone has discussed, misleading Congress is misleading Congress, whether it's under oath or not. And so a transcript may be convenient, but there's no intention to try to avoid telling the truth." (emphasis added)

Got that? As Fielding sees it, if there's a written record of what Bush's aides say, senators might have proof if they lie. It's preferable, then, to have no record and simply assume that White House staffers are being honest. And if you disagree with any of this, you prefer "confrontation" to cooperation.

He did not appear to be kidding.

Steve Benen 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (86)

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ANOTHER 5-4 RULING....It's been a discouraging week at the Supreme Court. Over the last four days, there have been five major decisions, all of them 5-4 rulings, all of them victories for conservatives, and all of them backed by the same five-member majority (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy).

Today's ruling on school racial integration was probably the most disappointing of all.

Concluding its current Term with a historic ruling on race in public policy, the Supreme Court divided 5-4 on Thursday in striking down voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not join all of the majority opinion, but joined in the result. Kennedy suggested in a separate opinion that the Chief Justice's opinion, in part, "is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion."

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Roberts wrote. On the two school plans, the majority found that the districts have "failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts."

The Chief Justice, in his oral announcement of the ruling, insisted that the Court was remaining faithful to Brown v. Board of Education in barring public school districts from assigning students on the basis of race. Answering that, Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that there was a "cruel irony" in making that claim, because it involved a rewriting of the history "of one of this Court's most important decisions." Stevens noted that he joined the Court in 1975, and asserted that "no member of the Court" at that time "would have agreed with today's decision."

Stevens' and Breyer's dissents (.pdf) are both worth reading. Their disdain for the majority is palpable.

Ultimately, of the five controversial rulings this week, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in three, and Alito wrote the other two.

I guess it's one of those elections-have-consequences moments, isn't it?

Steve Benen 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

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STICK A FORK IN IT....A couple of weeks ago, a confident president said his immigration package was going to pass. "I'll see you at the bill signing," Bush said. So much for that idea.

The Senate drove a stake Thursday through President Bush's plan to legalize millions of unlawful immigrants, likely postponing major action on immigration until after the 2008 elections.

The bill's supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate and clear the way for final passage of the legislation, which critics assailed as offering amnesty to illegal immigrants. The vote was 46 to 53 in favor of limiting the debate.

Senators in both parties said the issue is so volatile that Congress is highly unlikely to revisit it this fall or next year, when the presidential election will increasingly dominate American politics.

Sure, we thought the bill was dead earlier this month, and it came back for a second round, but this time it's really dead. The AP's "drove a stake" metaphor is telling.

The roll call on the key vote is online. The 46 votes to allow the bill to proceed were made up of 33 Dems, 12 Republicans, and Joe Lieberman. The 53 votes to block the bill included 37 Republicans, 15 Dems, and Bernie Sanders. Before David Broder blames Dems for the bill's failure, let's keep in mind that nearly 70% of the Senate Democratic caucus backed the legislation this morning, whereas 75% of the Senate GOP caucus voted to block the bill.

As for the winners and losers, the president couldn't rally support from Republicans, a failure which ultimately did the legislation in. Immigration reform is the one major, sweeping policy area in which the White House and congressional Democratic leaders were at least near the same page. With this legislation falling apart, Bush appears to have lost his only shot at scoring a major legislative victory in the 110th Congress.

As for conservative critics of the status quo, I'm sure they're greatly relieved by today's "success," but they may ultimately regret it. First, a hard-line conservative bill won't magically replace the legislation they just killed. Second, as Kevin recently noted, their prospects for the future aren't encouraging: "[W]hen do they think they're going to get another crack at this? It's going to be years, and at this point it looks to me like the political environment in the future is more likely to be more liberal than it is to be more conservative. My guess is that the hardliners aren't going to get a better deal in 2010 than the one they voted down."

Steve Benen 12:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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FEIN: IMPEACH CHENEY....As part of the Washington Post's multi-part profile on Dick Cheney, Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, accused the Vice President of having made "monarchical claims" on power.

In an interesting Slate piece, Fein, a self-identified conservative, follows up on these concerns and explicitly calls for Cheney's impeachment.

In grasping and exercising presidential powers, Cheney has dulled political accountability and concocted theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III. The most recent invention we know of is the vice president's insistence that an executive order governing the handling of classified information in the executive branch does not reach his office because he also serves as president of the Senate. In other words, the vice president is a unique legislative-executive creature standing above and beyond the Constitution.

The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.

Fein presents quite an indictment, describing multiple "crimes," including Cheney's role in creating military commissions, initiating torture policies, authorizing legally-dubious "signing statements," engineering the warrantless domestic surveillance program, and generally usurping the power of the presidency outside the standards of the 25th Amendment.

There's nothing wrong with Fein's argument, of course, but I'm not going to get my hopes up. Dems have a busy policy agenda, and this isn't on it. What's more, even if Dems went for Cheney impeachment, unless there are 67 votes in the Senate to remove the VP from office, Cheney, alas, isn't going anywhere, scuttlebutt from Sally Quinn notwithstanding.

That said, defunding Cheney's office is another matter entirely. Debate begins on Rahm Emaneul's amendment in about 20 minutes.

Steve Benen 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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BUSH ASSERTS EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE.... Well, this hardly comes as a surprise.

President Bush, moving toward a constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers' demands for documents that could shed light on the firings of federal prosecutors.

Bush's attorney told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents for former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor.

"With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation," White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. "We had hoped this matter could conclude with your committees receiving information in lieu of having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are at this conclusion."

Yeah, I'm sure the White House is all broken up about it. They'd hoped to avoid "confrontation," but those pesky Dems kept insisting they had some kind of oversight responsibilities or something.

The White House counsel's office also said Miers and Taylor would not testify next month, as required by subpoena.

Last week, The Hill reported, "House Judiciary Committee Democrats warned yesterday they would pursue a contempt of Congress motion if the White House fails respond to subpoenas for testimony and documents related to the firings of U.S. attorneys last year." Stay tuned.

Update: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy responded to today's announcement: "This is a further shift by the Bush Administration into Nixonian stonewalling and more evidence of their disdain for our system of checks and balances. This White House cannot have it both ways. They cannot stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred.... Increasingly, the President and Vice President feel they are above the law - in America no one is above law."

Legally, we're in for a fierce fight in the courts. Politically, the White House is now left looking as if it has something to hide, in large part because it almost certainly has something to hide.

Steve Benen 9:56 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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LUGAR BACKPEDALS....On Monday, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) appeared to shake things up with a Senate speech in which he said Bush's war strategy is not working and that the U.S. should downsize the military's role in Iraq. Given Lugar's stature in the GOP, it was perceived as a seminal moment.

Lugar's spokesperson added, however, that the speech did not mean Lugar would switch his vote on the war. The senator crafted a high-profile speech on Iraq, sent shockwaves through the Hill, inspired Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to also call for a troop reduction, but Lugar wasn't committing to anything. He's willing to break with his unflinching support for Bush's war policy, but that's about all he's willing to do.

Yesterday afternoon, Lugar made clear that his rhetoric may be the full extent of his actions.

Lugar has no intention of acting on his rhetoric. Speaking this morning with NBC's Matt Lauer, Lugar said that Congressional measures aimed at curtailing U.S. military involvement in Iraq, including "so-called timetables, benchmarks," have "no particular legal consequence," are "very partisan," and "will not work."

What are we left with? A conservative Republican senator who's willing to break with the president's policy, unwilling to embrace the Democrats' policy, and unable (so far) to offer some other alternative. What's this worth? Time will tell.

Swopa argues, persuasively, that Lugar can hem and haw now, but at a minimum, the Indiana senator has moved the debate forward: "The good news about the Lugar et al. statements is that by creating a media fuss about 'Republicans say it's time to leave Iraq,' they've kept the subject of withdrawal on the table and made it easier for Democrats to apply more pressure."

Perhaps. All the buzz this week is that leading Republican senators are breaking with Bush on Iraq. They see the White House pushing them over a cliff, and they're suddenly reluctant to go. This creates some momentum for opponents of the war, and will ratchet up the pressure when it comes time for these "serious" GOP lawmakers to actually cast a vote.

But this approach still counts on a sizable chunk on the Republican caucus to eventually act on their convictions (and fears). So far, a small handful are kinda sorta willing to talk the talk. I'll be impressed when any of them start walking the walk.

Steve Benen 8:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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By: Kevin Drum

VACATION....I know this is going to sadden many of you, but I'm afraid I'll be unable to continue my sizzling debate with Andrew Sullivan over pharmaceutical policy. Why? Because I'll be on vacation starting today and going through the end of next week. I may pop in occasionally, but probably not much.

But you'll be well taken care of: Steve Benen will be blogging here in my absence, and Chris Mooney is going to join in next week to blog about his new book, Storm World. Y'all behave while I'm gone, OK?

Kevin Drum 12:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW VISION....Do Democrats need some of that old JFK magic? Failing that, how about some magic from JFK's speechwriter instead? We asked Theodore Sorensen to try his hand at writing a convention acceptance speech for the winning Democratic nominee in 2008, and the result is in our July/August issue. Here's a piece:

In this campaign, I will make no promises I cannot fulfill, pledge no spending we cannot afford, offer no posts to cronies you cannot trust, and propose no foreign commitment we should not keep. I will not shrink from opposing any party faction, any special interest group, or any major donor whose demands are contrary to the national interest. Nor will I shrink from calling myself a liberal, in the same sense that Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy, and Harry Truman were liberals — liberals who proved that government is not a necessary evil, but rather the best means of creating a healthier, more educated, and more prosperous America.

For more about the art of presidential speechmaking, also check out this issue's Editor's Note from Paul Glastris, formerly a speechwriter for Bill Clinton. The words matter, he says, but the person matters even more.

Kevin Drum 12:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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June 27, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OBSTRUCTIONISM....Without getting into the question of whether this particular video is effective or not, I think Democrats are smart to expend some effort highlighting Republican obstructionism in the 110th Congress. It's an easy charge to make stick, since it's plainly true, and it has two equally important targets: the press and the public. The press, for its part, needs to get over its "both sides are equally at fault" schtick, and the public, for its part, needs to know why nothing seems to be getting done in Congress. Right now, all they see are headlines telling them that "Congress Fails to Act" on this, that, and the other. They need to know exactly who's responsible for that.

Kevin Drum 7:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

PHARMA, PART 2....Andrew Sullivan returns to the Big Pharma debate today, stepping back a bit from yesterday's claim that European pharma companies have been "decimated" by Europe's widespread adoption of universal healthcare. And a good thing too. After all, the market for pharmaceuticals is global. Every pharmaceutical company, no matter where it's based or where it conducts R&D, sells into the exact same market. If European national healthcare had really decimated European pharma companies, it would have decimated American companies too.

But it hasn't. So today Andrew moves on to a different, and more common, conservative claim. With some coaching from Mark Kleiman, he argues that the real issue is drug innovation, which he thinks is driven largely by profits from U.S. sales. If we introduce national healthcare in American and start bargaining down the price of drugs, Big Pharma will no longer have an incentive to invest lots of money in R&D. Result: no new drugs.

On its face this sounds reasonable. Pharma companies are like anyone else: they invest in R&D to the extent that they can earn a return from the drugs they develop. If drug company profits are driven mostly by high-priced U.S. sales, then the rest of the world is getting a free R&D ride on our backs.

But I don't think that's quite what's happening. There's a free ride happening, but it's not a free ride on innovation. It's a free ride on pricing.

As Mark points out, pharma companies have to raise capital in the same markets as everyone else, and that means their overall pricing has to be high enough to provide them with the risk-adjusted returns on equity that the market demands. So what happens if prices in America are gradually pushed down? Answer: prices everywhere else will be gradually pushed up. Americans will pay a bit less and Europeans will pay a bit more — which suits me just fine — and both profit levels and risk-adjusted returns will remain constant, just as basic economics demands. The only difference is that Europeans will be forced to pay their fair share of pharma R&D budgets. No more free ride on pricing.

Now, the scaremongering alternative to this is that basic economics will fail because governments around the world are such ruthless bargainers that they'll literally drive pharmaceutical companies into the ground with their demands for ever lower prices. But seriously, how likely is this? The global aerospace industry is highly dependent on military sales, and their profits haven't been driven into the ground. Quite the contrary: Europeans are forever complaining that Boeing, for example, is essentially subsidized by the U.S. government because its high-profit defense business is more lucrative than its civilian business.

The fact is that selling to the government — or, in this case, to a hundred separate governments — is every bit as profitable as selling to private industry. (Does anyone seriously want to make the case that federal procurement is more ruthlessly efficient than, say, Wal-Mart?) Right now, the only reason European countries can get such low prices on drugs is because pharma companies know they can make up for it in the United States. If we stopped acting like chumps, they wouldn't be able to do it anymore.

So in the end, pharma profits will remain healthy and innovation will continue apace. What's more, as Mark points out, we already spend a lot of federal dollars on basic pharma R&D. If it turns out that lower U.S. prices have an impact on innovation after all, "then we need to budget some public R&D funds (as grants, as prizes, or as patent buy-outs) to make up for that loss." Dean Baker has more on that here.

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

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By: Kevin Drum

GETTING TO KNOW YOU....On Monday Rudy Giuliani made a pilgrimage to Regent "Farm Team to the Justice Department!" University to meet up with Pat Robertson. Jon Chait is unimpressed:

For those who don't recall, Robertson is not just a strong social conservative, he's a raving loon.

....When conservatives are forced to address the subject of Robertson, they usually insist that he's a marginal figure. That's basically what liberals say when forced to discuss the likes of Louis Farrakhan, who is a very close parallel to Robertson. But you don't see Democratic presidential candidates seeking out Farrakhan's warm public embrace. So why isn't the Giuliani-Robertson story getting much national attention?

There's some additional reading material at the link.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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By: Christina Larson

BREAKIN' THE LAW IN CHINA .... Responding to domestic and international panic over food safety in China, regulators in Beijing announced on Tuesday that they had closed 180 food-processing plants in the past six months for breaking food-safety laws.

That sounds tough. But it's a small fraction of the 23,000 total violations the watchdog agency says it found. And that's a small fraction of the estimated 750,000 total food-processing facilities in China, where other problems may exist and inspections are few and far between.

China has laws on food-safety. There's a good argument they should be stricter.

But the first problem is how to enforce the laws already on the books. Stricter laws won't have much impact without better enforcement. Although Beijing can take dramatic punitive measures, its powers of routine oversight and enforcement are typically overestimated in the West. Almost all recent headlines from China, those that affect American consumers and whip up concern on this side of the Pacific — pet-food scares, toy recalls, food-safety shut-downs — are, at root, instances of regulation breakdown: laws ignored, misapplied, or bribed away.

Here's another example: In China this spring, less than 25 percent of those required to submit personal-income statements for tax purposes actually did. By preliminary figures, four out of five are tax evaders. It's possible to argue that, in some instances, Beijing may not be motivated to enforce its own laws (perhaps intellectual property). But massive tax-evasion can't be in the interest of the central government. Nor can recalled exports totaling billions in lost revenue. There's a capacity problem, folks.

I was in China this spring reporting on what the gap between laws and reality means for the environment. For China's air and water, and ours too. For global warming. More soon in the Monthly.

Christina Larson 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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By: Kevin Drum

SIMPLE TAXES....I didn't mean to give the impression yesterday that I'm opposed to tax simplification. It's a great idea and Democrats ought to be in favor of it. But this from Ezra Klein seems wrong to me:

Additionally, tax simplification is the sort of policy which would make a great many people very happy at just about no extra cost to the government.

Somebody in comments should correct me if I'm off base about this, but my understanding is that the whole problem with tax simplification is that although it might make a great many people slightly happier, it inevitably makes a small number of people much angrier because they lose some loophole tax credit or other. And that small number of people will raise bloody hell about it.

That's not to say it shouldn't be done. But politically it's harder than it looks, and the extent of simplification is limited in any case. If a straight salary is your only income, simplification is eminently possible (though we all still love all our deductions, don't we?). If it's not, then it's not. Welcome to the 21st century.

POSTSCRIPT: I'd also like to offer up a rule of thumb similar to my warning that anyone whose main objection to national healthcare boils down to "hip replacements in Canada!" is not to be taken seriously. It's this: any simplification proposal that touts a smaller number of tax brackets is likewise not to be taken seriously. The complexity of taxes has nothing to do with the number of brackets. It has to do with calculating your taxable income.

And a note to Ron Wyden: any "simple" version of the 1040 form that includes the phrase "see page x" over a dozen times is cheating. By that standard, the current 1040 form is "simple" too.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

CHENEY, PART 4....The fourth and final installment in the Washington Post's series about Dick Cheney is up, and it's a bit of a chin scratcher. It's about the environment, and the biggest chunk of the piece is devoted to Cheney's efforts to overturn a decision by federal scientists in 2001 that shut off irrigation water to farmers in Oregon in order to save some protected fish. As it turns out, Cheney had a few options for making this happen, but the one he chose was to ask the National Academy of Sciences to review the science. That was risky since the NAS panel was independent, but according to the Post, "Cheney was firm, expressing no such concerns about the result. 'He felt we had to match the science.'"

That's remarkably....honest and above board. So unlike the Cheney we know and loathe. On the other hand, the decision also turned out to be disastrous: a critique of the NAS opinion was quietly deep-sixed in typical Cheney-esque fashion, the fisheries eventually collapsed, the feds ended up out of pocket for $60 million in disaster aid, and last year a federal judge overruled the whole thing. That's more like it!

We also learn for the first time why Christie Whitman quit as EPA administrator. She wanted to construct some reasonable rules specifying exactly when old power plants would be required to install anti-pollution equipment, but Cheney, unsurprisingly, just wanted her to create "routine maintenance" loopholes so big that no plant would ever be required to install upgrades:

Whitman agreed that the exception for routine maintenance and repair needed to be clarified, but not in a way that undercut the ongoing Clinton-era lawsuits — many of which had merit, she said.

....The EPA sent rule revisions to White House officials. The read-back was that they weren't happy and "wanted something that would be more pro-industry," she said.

The end result, which she said was written at the direction of the White House and announced in August 2003, vastly broadened the definition of routine maintenance. It allowed some of the nation's dirtiest plants to make major modifications without installing costly new pollution controls.

By that time, Whitman had already announced her resignation, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family. But the real reason, she said, was the new rule.

"I just couldn't sign it," she said. "The president has a right to have an administrator who could defend it, and I just couldn't."

Needless to say, the power and refinery industry was a heavy contributor to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Just a coincidence, though, I'm sure.

Kevin Drum 1:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POLITICAL BRAIN....I finished reading Drew Westen's The Political Brain last night. I was, no pun intended, of two minds about it.

First the good news: Westen spends about the first hundred pages telling us that voters respond mostly to emotion, not to facts or policies, and Democrats need to figure this out stat. I'm not sure he really had to spend a hundred pages on this, but who knows? Maybe Democrats really are so clueless that they need to be hit over the head with this. It's good advice in any case.

Unfortunately, Westen then falls into the same traps that George Lakoff falls into. First, he uses his position as a clinical psychologist to pretend that the advice he's offering is based on some kind of deep understanding of how the brain works. For the most part, though, it's really not, no matter how many times he tosses off the phrase "activating a network." There are a few nods here and there to brain research — some of which is genuinely interesting — but the bulk of the book is just Westen offering advice the same way any political consultant offers advice. This spurious appeal to authority probably shouldn't bug me as much as it does, but there you have it. It bugs me.

Second, Westen spends a good part of the book presenting faux speeches he wishes various Democratic politicians had given. His instinct is that any attack should be met by a quick and ferocious counterattack, an instinct that will certainly play well in the blogosphere. The problem is that his made-up speeches are practically parodies. They're so insanely belligerent that no politician in his right mind would give them. Even the wingiest of the wingnuts doing their late-night CSPAN schticks don't give speeches as aggressive as Westen's.

This is all especially weird considering his poll-driven approach to hot-button social issues. Here, for example, is his proposed Democratic position on abortion:

Abortion is a difficult and often painful decision for a woman to make. It's a decision only she can make, based on the dictates of her own conscience and faith, not on the dictates of someone else's. But except under exceptional circumstances, such as rape, incest, or danger to her health, she should make that decision as early as she can, so she is not aborting a fetus that is increasingly becoming more like a person.

I dunno. This doesn't sound very different from the usual liberal spiel, and it certainly doesn't provide much guidance once you start poking around and asking real-world questions. What about IDX abortion? Parental notification? Foreign aid restrictions? I don't see how Westen's carefully constructed statement really helps much here.

So: Westen has good instincts (pay attention to emotion, construct a narrative, hit your opponent first before your opponent hits you, and for God's sake hit back if your opponent does hit first), but you'd be best off skipping lightly over the specific examples of political advice he offers up. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 12:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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June 26, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOING POSTAL....Suppose you have an ordinary piece of paper to mail. You don't want to fold it, so you put it in an ordinary 9"x12" envelope. It weighs less than an ounce.

Question: How much postage does it require?

To enter this contest, put two things in comments: (a) your guess, and (b) how long it took you to figure out the answer. This is an open book test and you may use any reference materials you like.

When we're done, I'll tell you what I think the answer is and what the post office thinks the answer is. Sadly, they don't seem to match.

UPDATE: The answer is 80 cents. Initially I thought it was 41 cents, not knowing that an ordinary 9x12 envelope now counts as something special. Then, after digging through the USPS website for a while, I thought the answer was 58 cents. But no. Turns out that a 9x12 envelope is not a "retail letter or card" plus a fee for being nonmachinable, it's a "retail flat," which has its own fee table. So that's 80 cents for the first ounce. Plus the 41 cents I wasted on the initial try, for a total of $1.21 plus three days of delay. "Shaping a More Efficient Future in Mail" my ass.

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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By: Kevin Drum

BABY COOING....I'm hardly the world's biggest expert on babies, but I have to say that Markos's kid pretty much maxes out the cute-ometer. If Hillary doesn't become our first female president, Elisandra just might.

Kevin Drum 6:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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By: Kevin Drum

KEEPING IT REAL....Matt Yglesias endorses Ron Wyden's tax plan today, and I might join in if I had the slightest idea what Wyden was proposing here. Unfortunately, "All Americans should be able to complete their taxes in an hour or less" isn't a proposal, it's populist nonsense. The modern world has lots of complex ways of making money, and if you choose to earn your money in one of those complex ways there's really no alternative to having a complex tax code to handle it.

Furthermore, although I hate to do it, I have to take issue with Matt's suggestion that "all income should be taxed according to a single rate schedule. Right now, capital income is taxed much more lightly than labor income, which is great if you're rich, but otherwise not such a hot idea." I agree, but I think this requires a caveat.

The problem with investment income is that it gets eroded by inflation. Suppose, for example, that you have $100, the inflation rate is 5%, your return is 8% (3 points higher than inflation), and the tax rate is 30%. Here's what happens.

At the end of the year you have $108, which makes your total income $8. At a 30% tax rate you have to pay $2.40. However, your inflation-adjusted income was only $3, which means that your effective tax rate is 80%. That's a bit steep, no?

Taxing capital income at the same rate as labor income seems like basic fairness to me. But that needs to be a real rate, which means including an inflation adjustment of some kind. Of course, that also means adding some complexity to the tax code. Sorry, Ron. Alternatively, you can do a quick and dirty adjustment by taxing capital gains at a lower rate and figuring that that's close enough. But you really have to do something.

Kevin Drum 5:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING UPDATE....More on Emily Yoffe and global warming today from Bob Somerby (here) and Chris Mooney (here). Bob unearths the reason Yoffe is so skeptical of X-Y graphs. Chris patiently explains why Yoffe doesn't know what she's talking about. Too little mockery for my taste, though.

By the way, I just got a copy of Chris's new book, Storm World, yesterday, and I started digging into it last night. Pretty good so far. I'll have more about that later, and Chris himself will be guest blogging about the book right here next week. Should be fun.

Kevin Drum 3:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLAST FROM THE PAST....Ah, I do miss Ted Barlow. Henry Farrell reminds me why.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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By: Kevin Drum

AMERICA'S DRUG HABIT....No healthcare system is perfect, and the various European national systems each have problems of their own. Pointing that out is perfectly kosher in healthcare debates, but where does Andrew Sullivan get this kind of stuff from?

The European health systems have, of course, been free-riding on private U.S. drug research for decades. Name a great new drug developed in Europe these past ten years. Their own pharmaceutical industries have been decimated by the socialism Moore loves (and many of Europe's drug companies have relocated to the US as a result). But I fear the left is winning this battle; and the massive advantages of private healthcare are only appreciated when you lose them.

This business about America providing all the world's pharmaceuticals is a common trope on the right, but it's absurd. There are more biotech startups in Europe than in the U.S. Pfizer is targeting Japan as one of its biggest near term growth opportunities (and Japan is also a major source of new biotech development). And plenty of pharmaceutical research is done outside the U.S.: The #3 pharmaceutical company in the world, GlaxoSmithKline, is British. The #4 company, Sanofi-Aventis, is French. The #5 company, Novartis, is Swiss. #6, Hoffman-La Roche, is also Swiss. #8, Astra-Zeneca, is Anglo-Swedish. Their combined R&D spending is slightly higher than the American companies that make up the balance of the top ten.

Now, what is true is that American capital markets are both bigger and generally friendlier to startups than European capital markets, which means that small biotech companies often migrate to the United States in order to get funding. My sense is that Europe is improving on this score, but in any case this has nothing to do with the state of European healthcare. What's more, an enormous amount of basic research is done in American universities and the NIH, most of it publicly funded. This speaks well for our system of higher education, but doesn't really say anything about our healthcare industry, which is famously hesitant to invest in genuinely innovative (but chancy) new ventures. Ironically for big pharma's cheeleaders, it turns out that America's titans of capitalism mostly prefer to leave the risky stuff to the feds.

Bottom line: Universal healthcare systems use plenty of pharmaceuticals — though they're generally a little smarter about it than we are. (America tends to be pretty overmedicated.) Basic pharmaceutical research comes largely from universities and government grants, not from U.S. corporations, which mostly specialize in applied research and commercial development. And non-U.S. pharmaceutical companies are alive and well and cranking out applied R&D too. The American drug industry will do just fine if we move to a universal system here. So will the rest of us.

Kevin Drum 2:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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By: Kevin Drum

LUGAR: FAILED POLICIES OK WITH ME....I noticed Dick Lugar's floor speech yesterday declaring that he now supports withdrawal from Iraq, but didn't get around to commenting on it. Good thing, too, because today his spokesman clarified that he didn't really mean it anyway. A real profile in courage.

Kevin Drum 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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By: Kevin Drum

TECH BLEGS....If you're tired of my using this blog for technology blegs, you should skip this post. If not, I have two questions. Any help appreciated.

  1. Yesterday a reader sent me a little icon called a "favicon" to go with the site. It's the icon that shows up in the URL bar of your browser, or next to the bookmark if you have the site bookmarked. I loaded it into our root directory as instructed, but apparently it only shows up in Safari. In Explorer and Firefox, no luck. Does anyone know why?

  2. I intermittently have problems getting to certain sites. A couple of months ago Salon went dead for a week, and then suddenly became accessible again. Then a few days later another site went out. Then ThinkProgress went down, and right now it's Slate. The behavior is the same each time: For about a week or so I get a "Server not Found" error when I try to get to the site, and then it abruptly reappears and everything is fine.

    This time, though, I discovered by accident that Slate is only inaccessible if I go there directly from a bookmark. If I click over from another site, it's fine. This behavior is the same in both Firefox and Explorer. Anyone have any clues about what's going on?

That is all. Normal blogging will now resume.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

HEALTHCARE CHALLENGE....Libertarian Arnold Kling talks about our recent healthcare battles. His conclusion:

I once wrote that "The original sin of America's health care system is employer-provided health insurance." The best outcome might be for America to abolish employer-provided health insurance, try single-payer, have it fail, and then experiment with the sorts of policies that I talk about in my book.

I'm up for that. Like Kling, I have the courage of my convictions. Medicare (i.e., single-payer healthcare for the elderly) has been around for 40 years and the elderly don't seem to think it's a failure. In fact, they like it quite a bit better than the rest of us like what we have now. Bring it on, baby.

Kevin Drum 11:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAN UPDATE....Far be it from me to be skeptical of an exclusive report from the world class journalists of the Sun, but even if I take its report of Iranian incursions into Iraq at face value, here's what it says:

Iranian forces are being choppered over the Iraqi border to bomb Our Boys, intelligence chiefs say.

....Our Boys picked up the Iranian helicopters on radar crossing into empty desert. The sightings have been confirmed to The Sun by very senior military sources.

At least two Brit squaddies are thought to have been killed by bombs planted during these incursions into Maysan province — Corporal Ben Leaning, 24, and Trooper Kristen Turton, 27.

Leaning and Turton were killed by an IED attack five weeks ago. So we're not talking about anything new here. No pitched battles or strafing runs. Just the same old allegations that Iranians are supplying IEDs to Iraqi militias.

Which they might well be doing. Still, we've been claiming this and then retracting it and then sort of claiming it again and then sort of retracting it again for months. Even if the Sun is right — and I wouldn't bet the ranch on that without confirmation in triplicate — I'm not quite sure what the breaking news is supposed to be here.

Kevin Drum 2:28 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (108)

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June 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TONY BLAIR'S NEW JOB....Apparently the rumors of Tony Blair becoming chief envoy to the Middle East are true after all. He'll take over after he steps down as Prime Minister on Wednesday:

Working from an office in Jerusalem, and possibly another in the West Bank, Mr Blair will become the special representative for the Middle East quartet of UN, EU, US and Russia.

....The idea of Mr Blair doing this job is understood to have originated with the prime minister himself in conversation with George Bush, who then suggested it to the UN. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is said to be a keen supporter and Washington was reported last night to have mounted "an enormous push" to ensure Mr Blair got the post.

....Diplomats familiar with the proposed mandate for Mr Blair said it did not differ in substance from that of his predecessor, Jim Wolfensohn, who left the job in April 2006.

Wolfensohn, of course, resigned because he couldn't manage to scrounge up any actual support from George Bush (or much of anyone else, for that matter). But maybe Blair will do better. One thing in his favor is that the peace process is so completely broken down right now that he hardly has any place to go but up. For a while, anyway, he'll look good no matter what happens.

On the down side, for the next 18 months he still has Bush to deal with. But whoever said life was fair?

Kevin Drum 9:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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By: T.A. Frank

JOURNALISTS ARE STILL MISSING THE DOJ STORY....Here's one more example of how the press still hasn't woken up to the significance of the politicization of the Department of Justice. We've read plenty about the federal indictment of Chicago millionaire Antoin Rezko, a generous donor to Democrats in the state, and we've read even more about how this hurts Illinois Democrats, including Barack Obama. But despite all the evidence that the Department of Justice has become little more than a political instrument of the White House, we've heard almost no questions about whether Rezko's indictment is legitimate or simply puffed up. Consider the evidence for the latter:

  • Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was running a tight campaign for reelection in 2006. Small things could tip the balance against him.

  • The indictment of Rezko occurred less than a month before the 2006 election and dominated coverage for the next few weeks. As one Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote, "Is the fact the feds indicted Rezko, who is this close to Blagojevich, a month before the election sending shockwaves through Blago's campaign? You bet."

  • Asked about the timing of the indictment, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same one who prosecuted Scooter Libby) had this response: "We're not going to stop momentum or take a siesta for political reasons." This, of course, is entirely contrary to DOJ policy, which states that election time is precisely when you're supposed to take a siesta. **[SEE ADDENDUM]

  • Rezko's indictment has tarnished Obama, Blagojevich, and Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez — a bonanza all around for the GOP.

  • Fitzgerald was briefly included on a prospective purge list of U.S. attorneys and was undoubtedly under pressure to make up for having gone after Libby. This is similar to the case of Wisconsin prosecutor Steven Biskupic, also briefly on the list, who wound up redeeming himself with a bogus prosecution meant to hurt Democrats in the state.

Does this mean that Rezko has simply been victimized for his political views? Not necessarily. It's possible that the rap against Rezko is legitimate, even if the timing is against the rules of the DOJ. But no fair-minded journalist should be failing to ask the sorts of questions raised above.

In this case, there are two reasons why journalists have dropped the ball. The first is that Fitzgerald enjoys a reputation for fairness and incorruptibility. But part of what the attorney scandal has shown is that even decent attorneys can be pressured into pursuing the wrong cases. (Again, I'm not saying Rezko's innocent — I don't have any idea either way.) The second and more important reason is that, until recently, faith in the basic integrity of our justice system has run so deep that it's been hard for most journalists to shake it. But shake it they should. Given what we've learned over the past several months, it's no longer conspiratorial to wonder whether political scheming could have contaminated the DOJ. It's an established fact. Today, therefore, whenever the DOJ announces an indictment, any responsible reporter must ask an additional question: Which political party gains or loses? Sadly, it's the way we live now.

**ADDENDUM/CORRECTION: Several commenters on this post have stated that the timing of the indictment of Rezko is not contrary to DOJ rules. Since they sound more expert than me (not so hard to pull off), I'll assume that I stand corrected on this point.

T.A. Frank 7:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

WINNING AND LOSING....Fareed Zakaria has a piece in the current issue of Newsweek that makes some valuable points about our successes against terrorism over the past few years:

In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which were Al Qaeda's original bases and targets of attack, terrorist cells have been rounded up, and those still at large have been unable to launch any major new attacks in a couple of years. There, as elsewhere, the efforts of finance ministries — most especially the U.S. Department of the Treasury — have made life far more difficult for terrorists.

....In Iraq...Al Qaeda has morphed into a purist Sunni group that spends most of its time killing Shiites....As a result, an organization that had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world to jihad against the West has been dragged instead into a dirty internal war within Islam.

....The split between Sunnis and Shiites — which plays a role in Lebanon as well — is only one of the divisions within the world of Islam....Rather than speaking of a single worldwide movement — which absurdly lumps together Chechen separatists in Russia, Pakistani-backed militants in India, Shiite warlords in Lebanon and Sunni jihadists in Egypt — we should be emphasizing that all these groups are distinct, with differing agendas, enemies and friends. That robs them of their claim to represent Islam. It describes them as they often are — small local gangs of misfits, hoping to attract attention through nihilism and barbarism.

This is good as far as it goes, and its realistic look at the strength of al-Qaeda is a welcome antidote to the scaremongering favored by the Rudy Giuliani crowd. I also like Zakaria's emphasis on the obvious divisions between different countries, sects, and movements, something we could use to our advantage if the Bush administration were bright enough to understand that it takes more than mere displays of stubbornness to win a war. (Stephen Holmes made a similar point in The Matador's Cape, which I reviewed here.)

But there's something big missing, namely that regardless of what you think motivates terrorists in the first place, they have a hard time surviving as a large-scale threat without support (or, at a minimum, tolerance) from a surrounding population. Zakaria gives this three sentences at the very end of his piece:

How to open up and modernize the Muslim world is a long, hard and complex challenge. But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies. That is one battle we are not yet winning.

He's right: we're not winning that battle. We're losing this part of the war pretty dramatically, and in the long run that's a lot more important than the scattered successes we've racked up against individual jihadist groups here and there. In fact, in the long run it means we're losing the war itself. If the Muslim world largely decides to turn against jihadism, then terrorists will find themselves unable to build the critical mass it takes to do serious damage. But if they don't, and jihadists have safe havens in large numbers over long periods, we'll find that we can't kill them as fast as new ones are created.

This is by far the most important aspect of our broad fight in the Middle East, one that the Bush administration first ignored, then prosecuted ineptly, and now seems simply confused about. It doesn't get nearly enough attention, and it's something Zakaria would be smart to devote his next column to. After all, Bush won't be president forever.

Kevin Drum 5:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

LEGAL NEWS UPDATE....In the least surprising judicial decision so far this year, a DC Superior Court judge decided today that a fellow DC judge doesn't deserve $54 million because a local dry cleaners allegedly lost his pants. He deserves nada. Justice has been served.

In other, slightly more elevated judicial news, the Supreme Court handed down four decisions today. As Andrew Cohen points out, conservatives won them all:

Each of these decisions help establish the true conservative bona fides of this Court. It is more conservative than it was last term, when Sandra Day O'Connor sat in one some of the cases. And was more conservative last term than the term before that, before Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Sam Alito joined the Gang of Nine. In fact, the Court now is is so entrenched on the ground of the legal right that, aside from the global warming case decided earlier this year, it is hard to point to a single major ruling this term that could or would give succor to legal liberals or even jurisprudential moderates.

I think I have a case of the Mondays.

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By: Kevin Drum

IS APRIL THE END OF THE LINE?....Matt Yglesias has browsed through the Iraq white paper from the new CNAS think tank and comes away unimpressed. The best he can muster is that for a bunch of establishment weenies, it's slightly better than you might expect. Then there's this:

The conceit of the report is that the Bush administration will take their advice seriously and begin the process of withdrawing troops and transition to a training mission this very summer. That's a fun conceit, obviously, but equally obviously Bush doesn't care — at all — about what these people think, what's right for the country, what's right for Iraq, what's right for America's soldiers, or anything else.

Now, I agree with this — although I don't actually doubt that Bush is doing what he thinks is right for the country. But it's odd that there have been two major stories in the past couple of days making exactly the opposite point.

On Sunday the New York Times reported that in addition to Gen. Petraeus's much-awaited report in September, there are going to be a whole bunch of others too. This initially struck me as nothing more than a way to generate lots of conflicting advice so that Bush can continue to do whatever he wants, but at least a few of the Times' sources don't see it that way. They see it as providing cover for the start of a withdrawal:

"The issue now is when do we start withdrawing troops and at what pace," one senior administration official said. "Petraeus wants as much time as he can get," the official said, but added that "the president may not have the leeway" to give him that time.

The reality, officials said, is that starting around April the military will simply run out of troops to maintain the current effort. By then, officials said, Mr. Bush would either have to withdraw roughly one brigade a month, or extend the tours of troops now in Iraq and shorten their time back home before redeployment. The latter, said one White House official, "is not something the president wants to do" and would likely become a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Hmmm. April is a drop dead date? I've been hearing for at least the past couple of years that the military is close to the breaking point in Iraq, and yet that breaking point never seems to happen. This is an unusually flat statement, though.

Then, today, the LA Times ran this story:

With public support of the war dropping, President Bush has authorized an internal policy review to find a plan that could satisfy opponents without sacrificing his top goals, the officials said.

The president and senior officials "realize they can't keep fighting this over and over," said one administration official, who along with others declined to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak publicly or because decisions were pending.

We've heard this kind of talk before as well, and it's never amounted to anything. Still, two big stories in major newspapers on successive days suggests that, at the least, the administration is suddenly eager to start market testing the idea of some kind of compromise over Iraq. Election season might have something to do with this, though probably only at the margins. So what is it?

Has the military really given Bush a firm April deadline? I haven't heard this anywhere else, but it would certainly explain Bush's sudden search for a withdrawal option. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE CHENEY....Part 2 of the Washington Post's series about Dick Cheney is up, and today's segment is all about Cheney's obsession with expanding the president's authority to abuse prisoners. It turns out that even John Yoo (!) and John Ashcroft seem to think he went a wee bit overboard on this. However, it also turns out that pretty much nobody in the Bush administration was actually willing to seriously confront Cheney over any of it.

You should read the whole thing, of course. Really, though, the key observation is this one:

"The irony with the Cheney crowd pushing the envelope on presidential power is that the president has now ended up with lesser powers than he would have had if they had made less extravagant, monarchical claims," said Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.

As today's piece shows, the pushback from both the courts and Congress against Cheney's hardline stands has already been substantial — and I suspect it's only going to get stronger as time goes by. Cheney's goal was to give the president more power, but in the end his monomania blinded him to the fact that he was accomplishing just the opposite. Much like his response to the war on terror, in fact. But the whole country is paying the price for that.

Kevin Drum 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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By: Kevin Drum

TODAY'S FORECAST: GLOBAL WARMING DOESN'T EXIST BECAUSE I SAY SO....Today's op-ed in the Washington Post by Emily Yoffe is literally so inane I'm speechless. The last sentence, in particular, deserves an award of some kind. Can someone please give it the mockery it so richly deserves?

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June 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE VEEP'S OFFICE....Yesterday I wondered if National Review would take notice of Dick Cheney's laughable theory that the vice president is both a legislative and an executive officer and therefore bound by the rules of neither. My money was on Mark Levin to make some kind of bizarre, pretzel-like defense of Cheney's assertion, but today I was disappointed. Levin can usually be counted on to say something kookily belligerent no matter what the subject, but he decided to lay low on this one:

Rather than arguing that the vice president, as president of the Senate, is exempt from coverage, I would have argued that this is a purely internal executive branch issue. Therefore, who cares what Dick Durbin, Rahm Emanuel or the Democrat front group CREW have to say about it.

Levin doesn't quite admit that Cheney's theory is absurd, but he does sensibly suggest that it's not exactly a winning argument. Meanwhile, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, after offering a desultory defense of Cheney on the grounds that oversight is "a pain in the neck," also decided that discretion was the better part of valor. After Juan Williams pushed back, all Kristol could offer was a defeated shrug.

When you don't even have Mark Levin and Bill Kristol on your side, it's time to give it up. Maybe noted constitutional scholar Ann Coulter will find a way to defend Cheney, but it looks like that's about it.

Kevin Drum 2:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE PANOPTICON WHITE HOUSE....There's nothing wrong with the fact that Dick Cheney is a powerful vice president. Jimmy Carter began the transformation of the vice presidency decades ago when he gave Walter Mondale more than just the veep's usual ribbon cutting and funeral attendance duties, Bush Sr. continued the transformation, and Al Gore took it up yet another notch when he was Bill Clinton's vice president.

That's all fine. Since the vice president is the guy who takes over the country if the president dies, we're all better off if the VP is deeply involved in the operations of the executive. The Washington Post's series on Dick Cheney, however, describes a man who's not just involved, but nearly pathological. The most telling moment comes in a passage that involves Condoleezza Rice, back when she headed up the National Security Council, and her top lawyer, John Bellinger. The subject is Cheney's belief that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to the war on terror:

At the White House, Bellinger sent Rice a blunt — and, he thought, private — legal warning. The Cheney-Rumsfeld position would place the president indisputably in breach of international law and would undermine cooperation from allied governments. Faxes had been pouring in at the State Department since the order for military commissions was signed, with even British authorities warning that they could not hand over suspects if the U.S. government withdrew from accepted legal norms.

One lawyer in his office said that Bellinger was chagrined to learn, indirectly, that Cheney had read the confidential memo and "was concerned" about his advice. Thus Bellinger discovered an unannounced standing order: Documents prepared for the national security adviser, another White House official said, were "routed outside the formal process" to Cheney, too. The reverse did not apply.

The article doesn't explain how this process happens, but it's astonishing that even the NSC director and her top aides are not allowed to exchange private memos in the Bush/Cheney White House. Apparently the West Wing has been transformed into a panopticon for the benefit of Dick Cheney and his staff: they can watch you, but you can't watch back. Jeremy Bentham's passion for "invisible omniscience" must have struck a chord with them.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

SCIENTIFIC NOTATION....Today the Washington Post takes a look at looming teacher shortages caused by a wave of retirements among baby boomers combined with NCLB's requirements that all teachers have degrees and be credentialed. And I supposed I'd comment on that if I had anything intelligent to say on the subject. But I don't, so instead I'm just going to highlight this sentence that comes about halfway into the story:

Math teachers now face more pressure to engage students, to get them to really understand and enjoy scientific notation and exponents — something [Debbie] Valcour worked hard to do on a recent warm afternoon in a room full of 24 chatty sixth-graders.

Damn. They have to enjoy scientific notation? That's rough.

And while I'm at it: Scientific notation? In sixth grade? I don't remember exactly when I was taught scientific notation, but it was nowhere near sixth grade, that's for sure.

On the other hand, thanks to the New Math, I learned the basics of set theory in fourth grade. I could have corrected Mitt Romney's "null set" nonsense when I was ten. So I probably have the little beggars beat on that.

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By: Kevin Drum

DOUBLEPLUS BLURBISHNESS....You know how to tell when a book is good? Really doubleplusgood? When the paperback edition has not one, but two separate cover blurbs from Kevin Drum. The marketing folks for Geoffrey Nunberg's Talking Right, clearly possessed of unusually penetrating judgment, decided that the new softcover release should include blurbs from both my Mother Jones review and my end-of-the-year blog post which confirmed that, yes, I liked the book.

This seems a little less than completely kosher to me, but still: high marks all around for discerning taste. Next time, though, I want three blurbs.

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June 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE PAPERLESS OFFICE....John Quiggin says the death of the phrase "paperless office" came in 2001, with the release of a book by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper called The Myth of the Paperless Office. Maybe so. But when I went to work in the document imaging industry it was already a cynical joke amongst ourselves that the paperless office would arrive at about the same time as the paperless bathroom. And that was in 1992.

Of course, it's not as if we were advertising this to people outside the industry. Just a private recognition of reality between ourselves, you understand. And in any case, the joke lost its punch when paperless bathrooms became a surprising reality — and not just in tech crazy Japan. Helen Pidd tried one out in London last year and called it "the best toilet experience of my life." So maybe, as John suggests, the paperless office isn't so far off after all.

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By: Kevin Drum

FUN WITH DICK AND DICK....Last night at dinner my mother was outraged over Dick Cheney's ridiculous contention that he's not part of the executive branch. So she'll be happy to learn that Democratic pit bull Rahm Emanuel is calling Cheney's bluff and threatening to defund the VP's office:

The Vice President has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules. At the very least, the Vice President should be consistent. This amendment will ensure that the Vice President's funding is consistent with his legal arguments.

This is excellent political theater. It's not going to win any elections or anything, but it's a clear and graphic way of exposing both Cheney's chronic contempt for the rules everyone else has to follow and George Bush's inability to stand up to him — and that's never a bad thing.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, back in February when this story was first reported, Cheney wasn't arguing that the VP's office wasn't executive. He was arguing that the VP's office was both legislative and executive, and thus could ignore the rules of either branch whenever it suited him. So here's my question: If a quantum superposition of a dead cat and a live cat is Schrödinger's Cat, is a quantum superposition of legislative Cheney and executive Cheney Schrödinger's Dick?

POSTSCRIPT 2: Another question: Will the principled conservatives at National Review manage to avoid commenting on this entirely? Or will they somehow tie themselves into pretzels trying to justify Cheney's position? They'd be wise to ignore it, but my bet is that Mark Levin won't be able to restrain himself. So, ten bucks on #2.

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By: Kevin Drum

STAB IN THE BACK WATCH....Here's the latest from Instapundit, in its entirety:

IN THE MAIL: Col. Buzz Patterson's War Crimes: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror.

I don't think that the left wants to lose the war on terror, exactly — they just want Bush to lose the war on terror. I suspect, however, that Patterson's theme is one that we'll hear more in the future, especially if things go badly in Iraq.

Oh yes indeedy, I too expect we'll be hearing more of this in the future, especially if things go badly in Iraq. Lots more.

You can almost smell the stink of desperation from the pro-war crowd. The next couple of years is going to be a nonstop frenzy of books, articles, TV shows, op-eds, radio segments, blog posts, and white papers about how everyone except George Bush and his enablers were responsible for our catastrophe in the Middle East. Anyone will do, as long as it's not them.

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June 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TALKIN' ABOUT ENERGY....Over at Grist, Charles Komanoff takes issue with the proposition that gasoline prices don't have much impact on gasoline consumption. He points to this study by Ken Small and Kurt Van Dender which suggests that although the short-run impact of higher prices is small, the long-run impact may be as high as 43%. Thus, a 10% increase in gasoline prices would produce a 4.3% decrease in gasoline consumption (partly due to purchase of more fuel efficient cars and partly due to a reduction in miles traveled). If this is right, it means that a sizeable gasoline tax increase (say, 50 cents a gallon) might eventually reduce fuel consumption by as much as 7%.

Which is great, and it's one reason why I'm in favor of carbon taxes. But this is also a good chance to argue in favor of something else: when it comes to energy policy, we should adopt a broad range of smallish measures instead of focusing on one big one. The problem is that every policy instrument does some things well and some things badly, and there's also a risk that some of them just won't work at all for some reason or another. Better to have your eggs in several baskets, which makes it easier to fine tune the effect you want and also makes it easier to discard policies that don't pan out.

A carbon tax, for example, has some good points. It's efficient, it raises money that can be used for other purposes, and it reduces gasoline consumption. On the other hand, it's brutally regressive, hurting the poor far more than any other group, and even under rosy long-term assumptions it reduces gasoline use only modestly.

CAFE standards, conversely, raise gas mileage very quickly and very efficiently, and don't have a disproportionate impact on the poor. On the other hand, they're a blunt instrument, and if anything, they motivate people to drive more, not less. (It's called the "rebound effect": if your car gets better mileage, it's cheaper to drive. That prompts people to drive more.)

A refundable gas guzzler tax has different pluses and minuses. Like a carbon tax, it can raise money that can be channeled into green research, and unlike a gasoline tax, it's progressive. On the downside, once you've paid the tax, there's no further incentive to actually reduce your driving.

Other proposals, like the low-carbon fuel standard touted by Daniel Sperling in the op-ed I linked to yesterday, have yet other tradeoffs. Ethanol research, nuclear power, and subsidies for renewal electricity generation have others. I say: the more the merrier. All of them have good points and bad, and the more we experiment the more we can find out which ones produce the biggest bang for the buck. Let the games begin.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....On the left, the mighty hunter basks on a sunny rock while waiting for signs of her prey. It will come soon, disguised in a small metal cylinder covered by mystic runes.

On the right, Inkblot bides his time in his own way. Nothing says naptime like a load of fresh laundry!

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By: Kevin Drum

BACK TO 100....Our new senator from Wyoming is John Barrasso, MD. Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, "Dr. Barrasso is also a rodeo physician for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association." Aside from that, he appears to be a fairly standard issue Wyoming Republican.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE RON PAUL BOOM....Is libertarian, um, provocateur — yeah, that's the word — Ron Paul actually more popular than polls indicate? Andrew Sullivan hauls out the old chestnut about cell phone bias today, suggesting that Paul's support skews young, the young use cell phones a lot, and cell phones don't get included in telephone polls — so maybe the polls are underrepresenting Paul's support.

Maybe indeed. But I wouldn't bet the farm on that, pollsters being a more clever lot than Andrew and Joshua Claybourn give them credit for. But Andrew has a fallback position:

One more thought: I wonder if libertarians are more likely to have cell-phones than others?

Give it up, dude. There's no there there. What's really going on is that Ron Paul's support is fantastically overrepresented in the blogosphere, which skews absurdly libertarian for reasons both historical and cultural. In the outside world, though, there's just no support for hard core libertarianism. The reason Ron Paul is polling about 1% is because.....Ron Paul is polling about 1%.

UPDATE: Claybourn fights back here. A report from the Pew Research Center about the effect of cell phones on polling is here. I'm still not buying, though. It's true that the cell phone problem is a growing one, but its overall effect is still pretty small, and certainly nowhere near big enough to have a noticeable impact on Ron Paul's showing in the polls.

Anyway, come on, guys. We're talking about a candidate who thinks we'd be best off getting rid of Social Security altogether and who wants to abolish the federal reserve, repeal the 16th Amendment, and put us back on the gold standard. This is really not a platform designed to muster up more than 1% of the vote.

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STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AGAIN....OK, fine. Firstborns have higher IQs while lastborns are provocative and revolutionary. Yada yada yada. But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

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By: Kevin Drum

ANTHRAX....While I was tooling around on Rep. John Campbell's website yesterday, I noticed that his home page had a link to a "Problem Solver Wizard," a grandiose name for an FAQ in the form of a dropdown box. Pick a question, and a bunch of advice pops up.

Now, most of the questions were the ones you'd expect: How do I apply for Social Security? How do I get a passport? Where can I get IRS tax forms? Etc. But the fifth choice was "I have questions about Anthrax." Really? Questions about anthrax are so common that congress members now put it in their FAQs? Wow.

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE SICKO....Jonathan Cohn saw Michael Moore's Sicko last night and confirms that there are places in the film where Moore plays a little fast and loose. Still, he says, "Sicko got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right."

And that's a helluva lot better than getting both the little things and the big things wrong, as Moore's critics so often do. Michael Tanner, for example, the Cato Institute's one-man hurricane of healthcare obfuscation, wrote a "pre-buttal" of Sicko that criticized Moore for touting France's great healthcare system but failing to mention their "shortages of modern health-care technology." Shortages? Cohn called Tanner to ask what he was talking about, and long story short, he was basically just making stuff up. Which prompts this summing up from Cohn:

Tanner's op-ed was a good reminder of the proper context for considering Sicko — the fact that opponents of universal health care have been spewing half-truths and outright falsehoods for decades. If anything, the proponents of universal health care have probably been too honest, getting so caught up in nuance and policy accuracy that they undermine the very real moral power of their own argument. As another great health care debate begins, it's worth remembering that the fundamental challenge isn't technical. We have plenty of good ideas for achieving universal coverage. The challenge is political. Our side needs some passion and, yes, perhaps a little simplicity, too. That's what Moore has supplied. No wonder the health care industry is spooked.

I wish they were more than spooked. But I guess that will do for a start.

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June 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COMMANDER IN CHIEF....Fred Kaplan on Rudy Giuliani:

The fact is, Giuliani has no idea what he's talking about. On the campaign trail he says that the terrorist threat "is something I understand better than anyone else running for president." As the mayor of New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, he may have lived more intimately with the consequences of terrorism, but this has no bearing on his inexperience or his scant insight in the realm of foreign policy. He is, in fact, that most dangerous would-be world leader: a man who doesn't seem to know how much he doesn't know.

Hmmm. That reminds me of somebody. But who? Push? Tush? Schmush? Something like that.....

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, the academic name for this is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Impress your friends by knowing this! Dunning and Kruger, in a famous series of tests, found that "Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria." Also: "They will be less able than their more competent peers to recognize competence when they see it — be it their own or anyone else's."

In other words, the halfwits of the world all think they're geniuses. But you knew that already, didn't you?

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By: Kevin Drum

DIGITAL BUFFOONS....I'd be willing on general principle to link to any essay that denounces "neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarins," but I'm especially willing to do so when the target is Michael Gorman, dean of library services at CSU Fresno and, for the nonce, useful idiot for the Encyclopedia Britannica empire. Jeebus. This guy was a nitwit when I first ran into him three years ago, and apparently he's still a nitwit. I mean, does it even occur to him that it's possible to use the internet and read books as ways of learning and doing research? It remains unclear to me why he seems to find this combination so unlikely.

This is via Henry Farrell, who has a PhD but nonetheless has the good taste to agree that Gorman's attack on the internet is shallow nonsense, much of it little more than "an extended rejoinder to our old friend, Some Dude in a Comments Section Somewhere." Sez Henry: "I can see why the Encyclopedia Britannica has an urgent interest in pushing this line, but I don't understand why the intellectual standards of argument among its appointed critics is so low."

Indeed. There really are some interesting things to say about credulous overreliance on Google as a way of performing research, but Gorman isn't the guy to pull it off. Better attack dogs, please.

Kevin Drum 5:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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By: Kevin Drum

STEM CELLS....Matt Yglesias comments on President Bush's apparent disconnect when it comes to embryonic stem cell research: namely that he only seems to care about banning federally funded stem cell research.

If the cells are sacred human life, then surely it's not okay to kill them in a privately financed manner. The nonsensical nature of Bush's position on this issue is old news, but continues, in my view, to be under-remarked upon in mainstream coverage of the issue. Years ago, he hit upon a goofy split-the-difference compromise and ever since then he's been wandering the country insisting that he's taking a bold stand of principle.

Well, OK. But two things.

First, when it comes to federal funding all Bush has to do is veto a spending bill, and he can make this stick as long as he has the support of one-third of one house of Congress. Conversely, banning all embryonic stem cell research would take the affirmative passage of a bill, which requires the support of half the members of both houses of Congress. So Bush can do the former but not the latter simply due to the level of congressional support he can muster.

Second, would a ban on private research be constitutional anyway? Normally I'd be inclined to say that Congress can ban almost anything it wants using its commerce clause powers, but the Supreme Court has been slowly eroding that authority over the past couple of decades. So, ironically, a research ban might actually be found unconstitutional thanks to the increased business conservatism of the Supreme Court in recent years. It's yet another example where social conservatives have gotten the short end of the stick because the Republican Party doesn't really care about them. What they really care about is supporting corporate interests, and the justices they've nominated to the Supreme Court are a lot more interested in that than they are in stem cells. More evidence on that score here.

UPDATE: Steve Benen has some good pushback on this. It's one thing to do as much as you can while reluctantly accepting that you don't have the votes for an outright ban. It's quite another thing to actively tout the fact that private funding is still available and imply that this is just the way it should be. If embryonic stem cell research represents destruction of human life, why is private funding so admirable?

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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By: Kevin Drum

ABOVE THE LAW....A few months ago I briefly mentioned Dick Cheney's refusal to comply with the federal requirements on document classification and declassification activity that every other executive office has to comply with. Cheney's office said the matter had been "thoroughly reviewed," and I figured that meant that "David Addington has written a memo saying Cheney doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to."

Wrong! Apparently they didn't even bother doing that much — at least not publicly. ThinkProgress has an update:

To resolve the matter, the ISOO wrote Cheney's chief of staff David Addington on two separate occasions in summer 2006, disputing the claims made by Cheney's office and requesting that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel settle the matter. Cheney's office ignored both letters.

There's more at the link.

Kevin Drum 1:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (125)

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By: Kevin Drum

PORK: IT'S THE OTHER INCUMBENT PROTECTION RACKET....Max Sawicky defends congressional pork today in his Pajamas Media column (yes, he has one), and it reminds me of something I ran across the other day. A couple of weeks ago Anderson Cooper set his interns loose to call every member of Congress and ask them what earmarks they had requested in the FY 2008 budget. Most of them scurried into hiding, but it turned out that my congressman, John Campbell, had his earmark requests already posted on his website. Here they are:

  • The Upper Newport Bay Ecosystem Restoration Project

  • The Irvine Basin Groundwater and Surface Water Improvement Project

  • Dana Point Harbor

  • Aliso Creek Mainstream Project

  • Prado Dam Flood Control and Water Conservation Project

Now, I don't know anything about these projects, but I can pretty much guarantee that all of them are popular with Campbell's constituents. There's certainly nobody here in the California 48th who's going to mount a Porkbusters campaign against Campbell for successfully getting funding for this list of feel-good ecological projects.

Which, paradoxically enough, is the real reason pork is so corrupting. Not because it wastes money: as Max points out, even today the total pork budget is a drop in the federal bucket (and the high-profile abuses are a smaller drop still). What's more, if pork went away most of the money would get spent anyway, just on slightly different stuff. Even the money for the Bridge to Nowhere would simply be shifted to other Alaska projects if it got killed. No, the real problem with pork is the very fact that it is popular. It's yet another way for incumbents to bring home the bacon, win the support of another few thousand constituents, and cement yet another 20-point victory in the next election.

Campbell's earmarks are pretty instructive in this regard. I mean, the guy is a conservative Republican in Orange County, and short of the second coming of FDR his seat is safe until the day he dies. But he's taking no chances: not only is he asking for a few earmarks, but he's requesting funding for a laundry list of environmental do-goodism. Why? Because he can already count on the votes of all the conservative Republicans around here, and these earmarks are a good way of building some cheap support among people who wouldn't normally back him. Any Democrat running against Campbell will always have to fight the usual conservative OC headwind, but now they'll also have to fight the ambivalence of their own natural supporters, who may not like Campbell in general but appreciate the fact that he helped get them some money for that ecosystem restoration project they've been promoting for the past decade.

As a budget buster, earmarks aren't really that big a deal, even after the Republican explosion of the past ten years. As part of Congress's incumbent protection racket, though, they work like a charm. If there's a reason to get rid of them, that's the one to focus on.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

CARBON TAXES....My back-of-the-envelope arithmetic convinced me long ago that any feasible gas tax would have only a modest impact on actual gasoline consumption. Today, Daniel Sperling of UC Davis tells me that real research backs this up:

The one sector where carbon taxes will work well is electricity generation, which accounts for 20% of California emissions (and 40% of U.S. emissions). The carbon tax works because electricity producers can choose among a wide variety of commercial energy sources — from carbon-intense coal to lower-emitting natural gas to zero-emission nuclear or renewable energy. A modest tax of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide would increase the retail price of electricity made from coal by 17%. Given the many choices, this would motivate electricity producers to seek out lower-carbon alternatives. The result would be innovation, change and decarbonization.

Transportation is a different story. Neither producers nor consumers would respond to a $25-a-ton tax....A CO2 tax of $25 a ton would raise the price of gasoline only about 20 cents a gallon....A recent study at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies found that the "price elasticity" of demand for gasoline has shrunk; a price increase of 10% induces less than a 1% reduction in gasoline consumption. Thus, that 20-cent increase would be barely noticeable. In the transport sector, a carbon tax would have to be huge to induce change.

None of this is to say that a carbon tax isn't a good idea. It is, and probably at levels higher than Sperling's $25 per ton. But the hard fact is that it would have only a modest effect on gasoline usage. If we're serious about cutting back, we need other, better policy instruments, like low-carbon fuel standards (Sperling's suggestion), higher CAFE standards, refundable gas guzzler taxes, and so forth. Carbon taxes are only a start.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

WHICH PART OF "VOLUNTEER" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?....Ryan Crocker gets results! At least, he does after his cables get published in the Washington Post:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered this week that U.S. diplomatic positions in Iraq must be filled before any other State Department openings in Washington or overseas are made available, raising the possibility that soon the agency will be forced to order its employees to serve in Iraq.

....Rice's message was sent more than two weeks after Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, sent her a cable with an urgent plea for more and better staffers.

I don't get it. These guys believe in the free market. Why not just keep raising the salaries for postings in Baghdad until they get enough volunteers? I doubt they'd have to go much above a million bucks a year.

Kevin Drum 1:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (124)

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June 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

CHANGE....How do you create change? By proposing a compelling policy agenda, as John Edwards is doing? By using stirring rhetoric to move public opinion, as Barack Obama is trying to do? Or do you bring home the bacon the old fashioned way, as Ezra Klein suggests that Hillary Clinton would do:

The most compelling explanation of how to create change came from Hillary Clinton in the last debate, who said, "What's important, and what I learned in the previous effort, is you've got to have the political will, a broad coalition of business and labor and doctors and hospitals standing firm when the inevitable attacks come from the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies who don't want to change the system because they're making so much money from it."

That's actually a vision of how to achieve health reform. The problem with Hillary is, in fact, the opposite of that with Edwards, which is that I believe she's got a coherent vision of how to use the office of the executive, but I'm deeply unconvinced she's willing to deploy that savvy in service of serious change.

I have a pretty old school view of politics as a contest of raw power between competing interest groups: if you have the power, you get what you want. If you don't, you don't, regardless of how righteous your cause is. This is something that I suspect Obama understands pretty well in theory, but that Hillary Clinton understands — really understands — in actual practice. If the country is primed for change, I'm pretty sure that Hillary is the candidate who could most successfully convert popular opinion into actual legislation.

Unfortunately, she's not the candidate most likely to prime the country for change in the first place. Obama is. If we could somehow create one of those freak transporter accidents from Star Trek and meld the two of them into a single person, we'd probably have the perfect candidate. Lacking that, I'll just continue to watch and wait and see how they do.

Kevin Drum 6:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

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By: Kevin Drum

GIULIANI FOLLOWUP....Remember that Newsday story from yesterday about Rudy Giuliani getting kicked off the Iraq Study Group because he couldn't find the time in his busy schedule to attend their meetings? You could be excused if you don't, since apparently no one in our press corps considered either the news itself or Giuliani's laughable explanation for his absences to be worth commenting on.

A quick Nexis search shows that among the mainstream media, the New York Times wrote a short piece, and the Kansas City Star and Chicago Tribune carried brief blurbs. That's it. On TV, Olberman discussed it, but no one else.

I'm keenly aware that an awful lot of blog criticism of the mainstream media is basically just partisan sniping. But is this seriously not considered news? A guy who's running for president based on his reputation as a hero of 9/11 was given a seat on the highest profile group ever created to investigate a way forward in Iraq, but he decided it wasn't worth his time? He blew off James Baker and Lee Hamilton so that he could give speeches in South Korea and attend fundraisers for Ralph Reed in Atlanta? And the consensus reaction is a big yawn?

Yeesh. Somebody please tell me this is just a case of the Nexis record being incomplete. Please?

Kevin Drum 2:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

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By: Kevin Drum

FIRST QUARTER SCOREBOARD....Ron Brownstein writes today that Democrats haven't been ruthless enough against their own party's dinosaurs. Nancy Pelosi, he says, should take a page from Newt Gingrich's playbook and start dumping a few of the party's most recalcitrant committee barons in favor of loyalists who actually care about moving the party's agenda forward:

Gingrich's changes replaced a culture of seniority with a culture of competition that awarded chairmanships to legislators who most reliably supported the leadership. Republicans carried the system to excess by systematically denying chairmanships to moderates and punishing almost any independent thinking. But overall, Gingrich's approach helped Republicans consistently move their agenda through the House despite persistently narrow majorities.

When Democrats regained control after the 2006 elections, they insisted they had learned from Republican techniques. But they blinked at the toughest step. Pelosi, ruffling senior Democrats, maintained Gingrich's term limits for chairmen. But she reverted to a seniority system in naming the chairman of every permanent House committee.

The result of this Democratic blinkery is John Dingell, who seems dedicated to using his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee to block any and all environmental legislation in favor of yet more short-sighted protectionism for the auto industry in his home state of Michigan. Because, you know, protecting the American auto industry from the outside world has worked out so well for them over the past few decades.

But if Pelosi is too soft on Democrats, John Judis think that Harry Reid is too soft on Republicans. Judis harks back to the late 80s, and tells us that majority leader George Mitchell and speaker Tom Foley pursued a successful strategy of passing moderate legislation that President Bush was forced to veto, thus making him look like an obstructionist:

During his term, Mitchell and Foley sent Bush 36 pieces of legislation that he vetoed. These included the Family and Medical Leave Act, tax relief and urban aid (in the wake of the Los Angeles riots), extended jobless benefits (during a recession), a crime bill, the removal of a Bush administration ban on federal funding of fetal tissue research (which had been instrumental to discovering a polio vaccine), a bill removing the gag rule that forbade federally funded family planning counselors from discussing abortion, a bill regulating cable rates, and a campaign finance measure.

Unfortunately, all of these votes, as Judis acknowledges, required support from Republican moderates in order to pass. But that strategy pretty clearly won't work in today's Senate, which contains no more than half a dozen Republicans who could truly be called moderate. And even those half dozen are rarely willing to join Democrats in passing moderate legislation. The Gingrichization of the Republican Party has made moderate insubordination too costly to seriously consider.

The result is that Senate Republicans can filibuster anything they want to keep off Bush's desk, allowing through only those bills that he's willing to sign — or those in which a veto is actually helpful to the cause. Democrats simply don't have the ability to force moderate legislation to the Oval Office as veto bait.

Neither Pelosi nor Reid look ready to join the pantheon of great congressional leaders yet, but given the slim majorities they command I've been reasonably impressed with their performance so far. These are nonetheless useful critiques, I think. Congress hasn't accomplished much so far this year, and unless Pelosi and Reid can either turn this around or else place the blame on Republican obstructionism, Democrats might have a tough time at the polls next year.

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOOMBERG!....Like Michael Bloomberg, my great-grandfather made the full circle from Democrat to Republican to independent. A local newspaper opined that Eli's final switch was made so that he could "extract sweetness from both the old parties," and I can't help but think that that's pretty much what Bloomberg has in mind too.

But that's a minority view. Everyone else thinks that being on the cover of Time magazine with Arnold has gone to his head and he's gearing up for a third-party run for president. I'm struggling to believe this, and it's a struggle between two traits Bloomberg obviously must have. Clearly, to get where he's gotten, he must be really ambitious and have an ego the size of Manhattan. So maybe he really will run. On the other hand, he didn't get where he's gotten by being an idiot. So he won't.

For now, my money says he won't run. It's just too patently a suicide run. But I guess it doesn't really matter what my money says, does it?

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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June 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE NORTH SHALL RISE AGAIN....John Edwards thinks he has an advantage over Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama because he's from the South and can therefore win votes from all over the country. Paul Waldman explains why he's right:

Part of this is that, to be frank, while people in Rhode Island or Oregon don't look on presidential candidates who come from regions other than their own with suspicion, lots of southerners seem to be reluctant to vote for people who don't share their drawl. Of course, this is never characterized as pathological regional xenophobia — it's just how regular folks think, and there's not supposed to be anything wrong with it.

....Southerners are always taking offense at people who supposedly look down on them, but to someone who was raised in the Northeast, the idea that southerners are inherently more "real," and more American, than the rest of us is deeply insulting.

Amen to that. I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of the South's victim complex. Five of our last seven presidents have been from the South and the other two have been from the Southwest — and the reason, as near as I can tell, is that most Southerners just flatly refuse to vote for anyone who comes from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And yet, somehow, it's the rest of us who are supposedly intolerant of Southern culture. Feh.

And, yes, I've been in a bad mood for the past couple of days. Feh anyway.

Kevin Drum 8:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (253)

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By: Kevin Drum

DMV HELL....Endemic corruption? Spying on American citizens? An endless war in Iraq? Official policy that OKs the torture and abuse of prisoners?

Maybe Republicans can get away with all that. But if they start screwing up our ability to get a drivers license, they're in trouble. Greg Anrig reports.

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By: Kevin Drum

HILLARY'S SONG....OK, I have to admit that Hillary Clinton's latest spot is pretty cute. She sure is a lousy actress, though. Luckily, we're electing a president, not an actress, so who cares?

Can't say that I like the song pick much, though. But then, we're electing a president, not a deejay, so who cares?

POSTSCRIPT: Seriously, though, voice lessons would probably gain her a couple million votes. Ditto for some of the other candidates. Do they just not get this? Or have they tried and failed? Or what? Considering how important media spots are to modern campaigns, it's astonishing that so few candidates really seem to take this seriously.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE VERY SERIOUS RUDY GIULIANI....Via Steve Benen, I see that Craig Gordon of Newsday explains a mystery today: How did Edwin Meese of all people end up as one of the Republican representatives on the Iraq Study Group? Answer: He was a last minute replacement for Rudy Giuliani, who was originally appointed to the group but couldn't be bothered to show up to meetings:

Giuliani left the Iraq Study Group last May after just two months, walking away from a chance to make up for his lack of foreign policy credentials on the top issue in the 2008 race, the Iraq war.

He cited "previous time commitments" in a letter explaining his decision to quit, and a look at his schedule suggests why — the sessions at times conflicted with Giuliani's lucrative speaking tour that garnered him $11.4 million in 14 months.

....By giving up his seat on the panel, Giuliani has opened himself up to charges that he chose private-sector paydays and politics over unpaid service on a critical issue facing the nation.

Amazing. This has been common knowledge for months, but this is the first time I've heard about it. For some reason, the mainstream press apparently thinks this decision from America's Mayor is hardly even worth a yawn. Too substantive, I guess. Back to the haircuts and blind trusts, boys and girls.

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By: Kevin Drum

CAMPAIGN NARRATIVE WATCH....E.J. Dionne notes today that Democrats do pretty well in national polls until actual names are plugged into the questions. Then the Dems start to sink. Why? Bob Somerby thinks he knows:

Why do voters want a Democratic president — until the candidates' names are mentioned? Dionne doesn't say, but we'll offer an obvious answer: This "performance gap" is a reaction to the mainstream press corps' messaging in the past several years — messaging in which demon tales have been dumped on Big Dems, with hero tales fashioned for Reps.

Do McCain and Giuliani run ahead of their party? Yes — and why would that be a surprise? McCain has been praised for eight years for his mighty "straight talk," even when he flips and reinvents madly. Giuliani has been endlessly tagged as "America's mayor." In short, the mainstream press corps tends to recite these pols' slogans for them, as we've recorded many times.

By way of contrast, let's just say this isn't a problem Hillary Clinton has been forced to endure.

Who knows? Maybe one advantage of the absurdly early campaign season this year will be to help Dems out by letting the press get all the idiot stories out of their system before the public is paying attention. Alternatively, maybe a year from now their desperation for newer and even more idiotic stories will be all-consuming after all the obvious narratives have been used up. Vote for your prediction in comments. I'm a pessimistic sort, so I guess I'll go with option 2.

Kevin Drum 12:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

SiCKO....Andrew Tobias does a movie review today:

I got to see Michael Moore's new movie, SiCKO, last night, which opens a week from Friday. Run don't walk. This movie is going to be huge — and have a huge impact. At the screening I attended, 1500 people were on their feet cheering through the entire credits.

It's true that I wish Michael Moore were a wee bit more scrupulous with the facts in his films, but I sometimes wonder if he doesn't insert random distortions into his movies deliberately. With rare exceptions, after all, they're small things that could just as easily have been presented correctly without damaging his narrative at all. But the end result is the kind of publicity money can't buy, and it's the sweetest kind of publicity of all: the kind that's subsidized by his enemies, who helpfully boost ticket sales by furiously denouncing his films for weeks on end.

With SiCKO, though, I'm willing to bet Moore mostly sticks to the facts. When you're dealing with the American healthcare industry, after all, the facts alone are usually hard enough to swallow. Anything more would simply seem implausible, like expecting us to believe that Katherine Heigl has a hard time getting a date.

Which, of course, explains why he shot part of SiCKO in Cuba. Sweden or Canada would have worked just as well, but probably no other country in the world could have produced the kind of howling denunciations from the National Review set that Cuba has produced. Even the State Department got briefly into the act. Really, Moore's brilliance at getting his mortal enemies to do all his publicity for him is unparallelled. His enemies' willingness to go along with this time after time is astonishing.

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (140)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST FROM THE GREEN ZONE....Our embassy in Baghdad may be the biggest, most fortified, and most expensive in the world, but it's still not good enough:

Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, bluntly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a cable dated May 31 that the embassy in Baghdad — the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy — lacks enough well-qualified staff members.

...."He's panicking," said one government official who recently returned from Baghdad, adding that Crocker is carrying a heavy workload as the United States presses the Iraqi government to meet political benchmarks.

"You could use a well-managed political section of 50 people" who know what they are doing, the official said, but Crocker does not have it because many staffers assigned to the embassy are "too young for the job," or are not qualified and are "trying to save their careers" by taking an urgent assignment in Iraq.

Back in the early days of the war, the Bush administration deliberately disdained help from the career professionals in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, instead staffing the embassy with true believers from the Heritage Foundation and elsewhere who were more interested in trying out crackpot flat tax theories than in actually getting Iraq running. That didn't work so well, and now that the ideologues have left in disgrace everyone has decided that we need the pros after all. Unsurprisingly, though, after having been tarred as striped-pants appeasers by the right-wing lunatic crowd for the past four years — "Arabist" being about on par with "pederast" in the lexicon of the neocon visionaries who led us into Iraq — it turns out that the pros aren't especially keen on being left holding the bag for the disaster that the right-wing loons have left them. Can you blame them?

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By: Kevin Drum

FREE MARKET FOLLIES....Back in the early days of his presidency, Bill Clinton introduced legislation to reform the federal student loan program. Instead of the feds setting interest rates and guaranteeing loans made by private banks — hardly a paradigm of the free-market in action in the first place — why not just cut out the middleman and have the feds make the loans directly?

It was a good idea and in 1993 the Direct Loan Program was duly created, but more than a decade later 75% of student loans are still made via the old subsidized system. Why? Are private lenders more efficient after all? Hardly. The subsidized loans are unquestionably more expensive for the government, to the tune of nearly $3 billion a year. As Jon Chait explains, the reason for the continued popularity of the subsidized system is a little more prosaic:

It now turns out that the private lenders' success came not through superior efficiency but through superior graft. The emerging college-loan kickback scandal is a vast scheme by private lenders to bribe colleges into foisting their services onto students. Lenders plied college-loan officers with meals, cruises, and other gifts. Some loan officers were given lucrative stock offers.

....The very thing that drove conservatives to oppose Clinton's reform — the vast private profits made available by guaranteed loans — is what enabled the scandal. Almost any government program creates at least some potential for cheating. The hallmark of the conservative approach is that the scale of the profits is so huge. Sallie Mae, the largest student lender, was recently sold for $25 billion.

The old system was created in the 60s, when existing banks were the only reasonable way to originate loans in large quantities. Since then, technology and capital markets have both evolved tremendously, making the direct loan program possible. It's also made the loans much cheaper for banks to administer, and the combination of 60s-era government subsidies and 90s-era capital market efficiency has made the student loan business very lucrative indeed. It's no wonder that neither the financial industry nor the members of congress they donate money to want to do away with it.

As a result, a toxic combination of conservative true believer-itis in free markets (the stated reason) and old-fashioned corruption (the real reason) costs the taxpayers about $3 billion per year. For just this one program. Welcome to right wing America.

Kevin Drum 2:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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June 18, 2007
By: Christina Larson

HUNTERS AND GREENS....I spent last weekend in Roanoke, Va., at the annual get-together of the Outdoors Writers of Association of America, the national hook & bullet journos group. This is my second year in attendance. A few things were different this time: The conversation about hunters and greens working together, last year bubbling below the surface, was front and center this year. Global warming is now an accepted premise — a part of landscape in which other conversations about conservation take place. Though I wouldn't make too much of it, I did hear someone pining for Al Gore in '08 (the rundown: Romney is a fake hunter; McCain is crazy on Iraq; Hillary is too divisive; Obama is too novice).

A few other things I learned:

  • The Sierra Club, among the leading green groups in partnering with sportsmen, recently added 12 new regional staffers to work on outreach; some of their state chapters have also begun facilitating hunter-safety training courses.

  • Ducks Unlimited has been working with National Wildlife Federation to inform its members about the potential effects of climate change.

  • In the most recent national survey, the number of hunters and anglers overall continues to decline, due to increased urbanization and other factors. Hunters in households with incomes below $40,000 have declined the fastest. But for hunters in households making more than $100,000, the retention rate has actually increased since 1996.

  • Hunters are predominantly male. Yet the folks who've been most successful in reaching out and forging partnerships haven't been green dudes, talking man to man — but rather the enviro ladies. A few possible explanations present themselves.

  • John Edwards, the talk went, wears a lot of make-up on the stump. (FYI, I'm not making a comment on this, just passing along what I heard folks talk about; I'm always curious where impressions spring from, what gossip sticks. WaPo confirms detail.)

  • Climate change is driving species to higher latitudes and elevations. National wildlife refuges, lands set aside as habitat based on where critters used to live, aren't so mobile.

There was a whole roundtable on advice for hunter-green coalitions, so I'll post more on that later.

Christina Larson 11:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From White House flack Tony Snow, reacting to the news that 140,000 of Karl Rove's email messages have been lost:

That is a whole lot of email.

Sure, but most of it was probably just Viagra come-ons. So, you know, there was no real reason to bother archiving this stuff.

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By: Kevin Drum

SHINY NEW IDEAS....Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore, writing about Iraq in the Washington Post, says that Democrats are spineless cowards who are "playing to the polls to obtain political advantage at home." Roger that. So here's his plan:

I believe the only realistic alternative — the least bad option, if you will — is a limited deliberate drawdown of our military men and women and a redeployment of the forces remaining in the region to areas where they can more efficiently and effectively carry out a clearly defined mission.

I believe that the American military is on target when officers ask for a mission that includes maintaining — either at bases in Iraq at the request of Iraq or in bases in Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — a military force powerful enough to launch special operations missions against al-Qaeda or Sunni insurgents in Iraq; train Iraqi troops to defend their own country; and guarantee the security of the Iraqi government, if so desired by Iraq.

Um, in exactly what way does this differ from the plan offered by all three of the major Democratic candidates? Hell, they'd almost be justified in suing Gilmore for plagiarism.

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By: Kevin Drum

A BIGGER ARMY?....In the LA Times today, Andrew Bacevich writes that George Bush's vision of transforming the Muslim world by military force is plainly a failure. So why do both Democrats and Republicans alike seem to agree that the United States needs a bigger military?

Given the mess in which we currently find ourselves, increasing the number of men and women under arms makes about as much sense as drinking bourbon to treat depression. In the short term, the antidote might make you feel better, but at a cost of masking the underlying problem and allowing it to fester.

....The challenge confronting those aspiring to the presidency, therefore, is to devise an alternative to Bush's failed strategy....Any plausible strategy will prescribe concrete and sustainable policies designed to contain the virulent strain of radicalism currently flourishing in parts of the Islamic world. The alternative to transformation is not surrender but quarantine.

....In that regard, the requirement is not for a bigger Army but for fresh ideas, informed by modesty and a sense of realism. The candidate who can articulate such ideas might well merit respect and popular support. Those who in the absence of serious strategic analysis reflexively posture about the need for more troops deserve only contempt.

I go back and forth on this, but the main caveat I'd add is that although Bacevich is probably right that merely increasing the size of the Army is pointless, it's possible that it would make sense to improve our peacekeeping ability in certain specific ways. This is the main thing missing from all those proposals to increase the end strength of the Army and Marines: some detail about exactly what's going to be increased and how it's going to help us in the future. I haven't seen much of that, but it would tell us a lot about the actual foreign policy visions of the candidates who are proposing the increases. More than most topics, it would force a pretty concrete discussion of America's future role in the world. We ought to have it.

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By: Kevin Drum

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION....Mickey Kaus, trying on his new role as champion of the common man, is appalled that Ted Kennedy is giving in to the chicken plucking industry's refusal to pay its chicken pluckers "$10 or $15 an hour." In a remarkable and unprecedented surge of apparent sympathy for organized labor, he suggests caustically that Ted wouldn't give in so fast if the chicken pluckers organized and then went on strike demanding $10 an hour. Boo yah! In real life, of course, Mickey would denounce Democratic support for a strike like this with acid disdain ("the last feeble gasp of Kennedyesque paleoliberalism," perhaps), but as long as it's just a hypothetical example it's all good.

So why the sudden concern for the working poor? Illegal immigration, of course, and a desperate desire to somehow get the left to oppose sensible immigration reform as stridently and absurdly as the wingnut right. But how? Answer: flail around and try to convince gullible liberals that the plight of the working poor (i.e., chicken pluckers) is due to immigration from Mexico, not conservative public policies of the past 30 years. And how desperate is Mickey to make this point? So desperate he's willing to cite the hated Paul Krugman as a source that illegal immigration has depressed the wages of high school dropouts 8.2%. That's desperate.

Of course, pay no mind to the fact that the column he cites is a year old, and it turns out the study Krugman wrote about has since been updated. Illegal immigration hasn't reduced the wages of high school dropouts by 8.2%. It's reduced wages by 3.6% at most, and probably not even that much, according to the authors.

And pay no mind to the fact that even that tiny drop is probably due mostly to the fact that illegal immigrants are illegal, which reduces their bargaining power considerably. Make 'em legal and their wages would certainly rise by at least a couple of percentage points, no? But that's "amnesty," and our affection for the common man can go only just so far. Comprehensive immigration reform, by increasing the bargaining power of non-natives, would almost certainly help native workers too, but that's a very inconvenient fact. Best to pretend otherwise and hope that a few gullible liberals will buy it.

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June 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL TAGUBA REPORT....Back in January 2004, when the military first learned about the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, it assigned Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba to investigate. He did, filing draft reports along the way and extensively briefing senior military leaders. But in May, when Donald Rumsfeld testified before Congress after Taguba's report was leaked, he told them he hadn't known anything was going on until a few hours before. Taguba, now safely retired, tells Seymour Hersh how he felt at the time:

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld's testimony was simply not true. "The photographs were available to him — if he wanted to see them," Taguba said. Rumsfeld's lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps [Stephen] Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, "Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There's no way he's suffering from C.R.S. — Can't Remember Shit. He's trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves." It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

"The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects — 'We're here to protect the nation from terrorism' — is an oxymoron," Taguba said. "He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they've dragged a lot of officers with them."

....Taguba came to believe that Lieutenant General Sanchez, the Army commander in Iraq, and some of the generals assigned to the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib even before Joseph Darby came forward with the CD. Taguba was aware that in the fall of 2003 — when much of the abuse took place — Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and witnessed at least one interrogation. According to Taguba, "Sanchez knew exactly what was going on."

I've only read half of Hersh's story so far. I'm not really up for the rest of it just yet. But if you are, click the link.

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By: Kevin Drum

U.S. OPEN THREAD....So is there anyone who thinks this Baddeley dude is going to beat Tiger Woods today?

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BUBBLE, BUBBLE...Interest rates are going up:

When potential home buyers call for mortgage rate quotes these days, "they're shocked; they almost don't believe you," said Jim Foley, senior vice president of George Mason Mortgage. "They're quick to get off the phone to make more calls."

The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 6.74 percent last week, up more than half a percentage point in four weeks, from 6.21 percent, according to mortgage financier Freddie Mac.

This really demonstrates what a bubble we've been living in. My first thought when I see a 30-year fixed rate of 6.74% is that it's an incredible bargain. Until about 2002, I hadn't seen a rate that low in my entire adult life.

But of course, compared to the past four or five years, it's pretty high. So high, in fact, that today's home buyers recoil in shock. What the bubble giveth, the bubble taketh away.

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By: Kevin Drum

EMAIL QUESTION....I turn to the hivemind of the blogosphere for help. I have a weird email problem.

This morning, for the third time in a week, my email client (Thunderbird 2.0) was filled with identical pieces of spam. Same text, same sender, same timestamp. They pop into my inbox about once every ten minutes.

The first time this happened I thought I was the victim of some moronic spammer who had decided to send me a thousand copies of the exact same message. But then it happened again. And then a third time. Different spammers each time. And when I check my webmail interface, there's only one copy of the email.

So it looks like the fault is Thunderbird's. Every once in a while, it goes crazy and starts creating copies of emails. I've now figured out that if I go into the webmail interface and remove the offending email from the server and delete all the copies in my inbox and empty the trash, the spawning cycle stops. But I'm still curious about what's going on. Anyone have any ideas?

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June 16, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

E-COMMERCE....Will online sales ever reach the 10-15% of total retail sales that Jeff Bezos has predicted? Maybe, but apparently it's going to take a while:

Since the inception of the Web, online commerce has enjoyed hypergrowth, with annual sales increasing more than 25 percent over all, and far more rapidly in many categories. But in the last year, growth has slowed sharply in major sectors like books, tickets and office supplies.

Growth in online sales has also dropped dramatically in diverse categories like health and beauty products, computer peripherals and pet supplies. Analysts say it is a turning point and growth will continue to slow through the decade.

....Sales on the Internet are expected to reach $116 billion this year, or 5.2 percent of all retail sales, making it harder to maintain the same high growth rates....Analysts project that by 2011, online sales will account for nearly 7 percent of overall retail sales.

On the other hand, after only a decade online sales already outpace mail order. That's not bad, unless you were one of the people who lost your life savings betting on e-grocery deliveries in the 90s.

How much do you spend online? More or less than 5.2% of your total retail purchases? I'm pretty sure it's less for me, which might be because (a) I'm old and stodgy, (b) I don't buy very much stuff in the first place, (c) I'm too impatient to wait for deliveries, (d) I like to see things before I buy them, or (e) I live in an urban area and can buy practically anything at a competitive price with no more than a ten minute drive. Or maybe all of the above. Then again, maybe if I thought harder about it I'd realize that all those airline tickets, hotel bookings, and sewing supplies add up to more than I think.

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CATO....You know, I keep hearing that unlike, say, the Heritage Foundation, the folks at Cato are relatively honest. They've got their ideology just like the rest of us, but they aren't dishonest shills willing to torture the facts any old way that's convenient. The Social Security debate made me pretty skeptical of this notion (remember the Cato Calculator?), and stuff like this pretty much nails the coffin shut:

Politicians are circling around hedge funds like vultures. They want to raise taxes on hedge funds, maybe by treating their capital gains as normal income. Why? Because hedge funds are mysterious — do you know what they really do? — and they have a lot of money. Make billion-dollar profits, get headlines, attract taxers — it's as certain as ants at a picnic.

That's flatly untrue. Nobody wants to treat the capital gains of hedge funds as normal income. What a lot of us would like to do is treat the normal income of hedge fund managers as normal income.

If you invest your own money and earn a return, that's capital gains. If you manage other people's money and take a cut of the profits, that's management. Only in a looking glass world would these management fees have ever been treated as capital gains in the first place, and it's hardly mysterious that Democrats want to close this absurd loophole. After all, we believe in treating the normal income of the rich the same as the normal income of the rest of us. If Cato believes otherwise, I'd like to hear why.

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IRAN UPDATE....The Washington Post reports, essentially, that the Iranian economy is cratering, the public is increasingly restive, and the ruling regime is scared. So they're putting the screws on:

"The current crackdown is a way to instill fear in the population in order to discourage them from future political agitation as the economic situation begins to deteriorate," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "You're going to think twice about taking to the streets to protest the hike in gasoline prices if you know the regime's paramilitary forces have been on a head-cracking spree the last few weeks."

Despite promises to use Iran's oil revenue to aid the poor, Ahmadinejad's economic policies have backfired, triggering 20 percent inflation over the past year, increased poverty and a 25 percent rise in the price of gas last month. More than 50 of the country's leading economists wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad this week warning that he is ignoring basic economics and endangering the country's future.

....Iran's Supreme National Security Council last month also laid out new censorship rules in a letter to news outlets, instructing them to refrain from writing about public security, oil price increases, new international economic sanctions, inflation, civil society movements, or negotiations with the United States on the future of Iraq, according to Iranian journalists.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Dick Cheney is still busily pushing for military strikes. Ain't life grand?

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June 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LIBERALS vs. CONSERVATIVES....Ezra and Matt (and Ezra again) are pinging back and forth on the question of why, in general, modern political parties that represent economic liberalism also tend to represent social liberalism, and vice versa. (I'm using "liberal" in the American sense here.) At first glance it's odd. After all, the two things seem to be pretty unrelated, and there's no special reason why you can't be, for example, economically conservative and socially liberal. But that's libertarianism, and there's no place in the world where libertarians are more than a tiny minority. The opposite ideology, economic liberalism plus social conservatism, is a little more common (think rural populism), but generally doesn't command widespread support either. In most places, the major parties are either all conservative or all liberal.

Why? Fact-free speculation is what blogging excels at, so here's my take. Most of the major parties in today's western democracies were fully formed before the middle of the 20th century, during a time before the current culture wars were even a twinkling in anyone's eyes. So regardless of how and why they were originally founded (the Republican Party, for example, was originally associated with the anti-slavery movement), by the 1950s they were primarily associated with purely economic positions. They either represented the working class (Democrats, Labor, Social Democrats, etc.) or else they represented big business and the rich (Republicans, Conservatives, Christian Democrats, etc.).

So the question is: when the 50s and 60s dawned, why is it that it was mostly the economically liberal parties that supported the emerging social revolution? This strikes me as a pretty easy question to answer: it's because the founding principle of most liberal parties was economic egalitarianism. When the postwar era rolled around and the current crop of social issues became important, it was only natural that economic egalitarianism morphed into social egalitarianism, and that in turn led to support for civil rights, feminism, and gay rights. Support for things like affirmative action, criminal justice reforms, and abortion rights were obvious corollaries.

This doesn't explain everything. Nothing explains everything, after all. Environmentalism, for example, is something that I suspect everyone naturally supports unless they have some reason not to, and the main reason not to is that it interferes with business interests. So opposition to environmentalism comes mostly from conservative, pro-business parties, while everyone else supports it. It has nothing much to do with egalitarianism.

Ditto for some other social issues, like gun control and school prayer, which are slightly mysterious. They might be associated with the urban bias of liberal parties, or they might just be an artifact of tribalism. After all, once you've drunk enough of the Kool-Aid on either side, you tend to drink the rest.

But a commitment to egalitarianism probably explains most of it. If you're committed to breaking the stranglehold of the ruling classes, that just naturally leads you down certain roads. Likewise, if you think the current hierarchy works pretty well, that leads you down other roads. Economic justice and social justice are two sides of the same coin.

POSTSCRIPT: Is egalitarianism the underlying principle that guides everyone's political beliefs? Of course not. Libertarians, for example, just want government to leave them alone, which leads them naturally to support social liberalism and economic conservatism. The problem is that human beings are social creatures, so "leave me alone" has never attracted a huge following as a guiding principle.

As for the rural populist types (socially conservative/economically liberal), I'm not really sure what motivates them. Whatever it is, though, it seems to have a relatively limited base these days.

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By: Kevin Drum

NIFONG....Durham district attorney Michael Nifong explains his obscene mishandling of the Duke rape case:

He said he had not intentionally withheld evidence in the case, though he had made mistakes. He said that some mistakes made in the case, including mishandling evidence and not turning favorable DNA tests over to defense lawyers, were based on his inexperience in handling felony cases and oversight.

He said he had not handled a felony case since 1999, concentrating on traffic offenses in recent years.

Spare me. This guy makes Alberto Gonzales look like a boy scout. I hope he's disbarred with extreme prejudice.

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....On the left, Inkblot is hoping that if he yawns hard enough a bird will fly into his mouth. Hasn't worked yet, but he's only eight years old. Maybe next year.

Domino, meanwhile, has completely abandoned the faux furry pod we bought for her a few months ago. Mostly this is because she now prefers the upstairs bed (the Mother Of All Pods), but also because she's so pleased with the latest piece of ingenuity from those clever humans she lives with. You can see the latest invention from homo sapiens on the right: a new and improved pod with built-in AutoChinRest™ technology. What will we think of next?

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GAY MARRIAGE....On the same day that the Massachusetts legislature became the first in the nation to finally approve gay marriage, Michael Kinsley writes about "The Quiet Gay Revolution":

On no issue is history moving faster than on "gay rights" — an already antiquated term for full and equal participation and acceptance of gay men and women in American life....Kids grow up today with gay friends, gay parents, gay parents of friends and gay friends of parents. If only blacks and whites were as thoroughly mixed together in society as gays and straights are. Kids are also exposed constantly to an entertainment culture in which gays are not merely accepted but in some ways dominant. You rarely see a reality show without a gay cast member, while Rosie O'Donnell is a coveted free agent and Ellen DeGeneres is America's sweetheart. The notion that gays must be segregated out of the military for the sake of our national security must strike Americans younger than, say, 40 as simply weird, just as we of the previous generation find the rules of racial segregation weird. (O.K., run that by me again: they needed separate drinking fountains because ... why?)

In the long run, it's almost impossible to keep hatred of gays stoked up among people who actually have friends and acquaintances who are openly gay. It's just too obvious that there's really nothing to be afraid of. So Dobson and his ilk can keep screaming, but they know they're losing. Sometime soon, they're going to have to find a different peril to Western civilization to keep the checks rolling in.

In the meantime, congratulations to Massachusetts, the first state in the union to enter the 21st century. Only 49 to go.

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BILL KRISTOL....Matt Yglesias has some words about Bill Kristol:

Kristol is like a horrifying right-pundit Chimera fusing together the worst aspects of Krauthammer and Barnes, but adding in a strain of raw cleverness that elevates — and yet denigrates — the resulting punditry from banal categories like "worst" to more exalted realms of "dangerousness."

The Bill Kristol phenomenon is a stellar example of what a nice suit and a sober tone of voice can do for you. When Curtis LeMay suggested bombing North Vietnam into the Stone Age and getting over our fear of using nuclear weapons, everyone saw him for what he was: a bellicose nutcase. Kristol is barely any less bloodthirsty, but he's smart enough to talk in more soothing tones. As a result, he gets columns in Time magazine, edits his own widely-read magazine, and shows up constantly on television.

Underneath it, though, he's every bit the bellicose nutcase that LeMay was. His answer to every foreign policy problem is exactly the same: a proposal to use the maximum amount of force that he thinks elite opinion can tolerate. But Kristol is well dressed, soft spoken, and a lively dinner companion. So everyone just sort of shrugs their shoulders at the fact that he basically wants to go to war with the whole world. It's a nice gig.

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By: Kevin Drum

YET ANOTHER INVESTIGATION....Apparently Alberto Gonzales is trying to set a record for the number of different things any government official not named Nixon has been under investigation for at the same time:

The Justice Department is investigating whether Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales sought to improperly influence the testimony of a departing senior aide, two of its senior officials said yesterday, adding a new dimension to the troubles already besetting the nation's chief law enforcement official.

...."It's remarkable that he's under investigation and that he's still attorney general," said Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law. "At some point, it can no longer be done internally. This cannot be done by Gonzales's subordinates."

Remarkable? Sure. But Bush doesn't care. He's not running for reelection, after all, and at 29% his approval rating can only fall two more points, which is hardly worth worrying about. (Impressively prescient explanation here.) So Gonzales stays.

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June 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

REID AND THE BRASS, PART 2....Did Harry Reid call Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "incompetent" in a conference call with liberal bloggers on Tuesday? Oddly, Reid has declined to comment on this one way or the other even though the call was on the record. So what really happened?

Apparently there were seven bloggers on the call, and six of the seven say they don't remember hearing Reid say that. However, the seventh, Bob Geiger, provides this direct quote from the call:

REID: I guess the president, uh, he's gotten rid of Pace because he could not get him confirmed here in the Senate... Pace is also a yes-man for the president and I told him to his face, I laid it out to him last time he came to see me, I told him what an incompetent man I thought he was.

So what did Reid mean? Hard to say, precisely, but the Associated Press says that although Reid wouldn't confirm calling Pace incompetent, "he essentially said as much when he told reporters that Pace 'had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq.'"

OK then.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent has a more extended version of the quote here. The antecedents of "he" and "him" are not 100% clear, but the most obvious interpretation is that Reid does indeed think Pace is incompetent.

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SECULAR HUMANISM....As we all know, our universities were long ago taken over by an elite cadre of latte-quaffing, postmodern, anti-American ultra-liberals. That's what National Review says, anyway. But I've always wondered just what actual effect this has on America's youth. Do kids become more liberal than they otherwise would when they attend these dens of radicalism? Or are our academic fifth columnists so incompetent that they have no influence at all?

Well, I'm still wondering. But Inside Higher Ed reports today on a related question: do university faculties shot through with secular humanists make college kids less religious? The answer appears to be no. A study that tracked 10,000 subjects for seven years between adolescence and young adulthood found that among those who didn't attend college, 76% reported a decline in church attendance. Conversely, college grads reported only a 59% drop. The study found similar results on two other measures of religious activity.

Needless to say, I'm bitterly disappointed. The shock troops of atheism are apparently falling down on the job. Better get cracking, folks.

Via Chad Orzel, who offers up some possible explanations for the results. I didn't find any of them very persuasive, but your mileage may vary.

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By: Kevin Drum

INTERVENTION....Jon Chait today:

Must I really explain why it's OK to favor some wars but oppose others?

Apparently so. In particular, Chait wants to explain why liberals who supported intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo might not support continued intervention in Iraq:

The key fact in Bosnia is that people were not, for the most part, "slaughtering one another." Serbs were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims (and later Kosovars). That's a situation in which American military force could clearly solve the problem. All we had to do was inflict enough punishment upon the aggressors to make them stop.

In Iraq, on the other hand, you really do have ethnic groups slaughtering one another. One of those groups, the Shiites, is mainly using the machinery of the state. The other group, the Sunnis, is using insurgent tactics. But the point is, we can't kill our way out of the problem, because success would entail not just persuading one side to stop its aggression but persuading both sides to make peace. And the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government shows no signs of wanting to make the concessions it needs to make for peace.

There's actually an even stronger case to be made here. Consider the Kosovo war. We came in at the end of nearly a decade of fighting in the former Yugoslavia, when the ethnic violence in the region was finally showing signs of burning itself out. We had the undivided support of NATO. The postwar occupation was conducted with plenty of troops. And since the end of the war there's been very little fighting and almost no casualties among the occupying forces.

In other words, it's about the best case you could ask for. Compared to Iraq it's a rose garden. And even at that, after eight years Kosovo is still far from stable. It's only barely a success story.

The lesson here is simple: Sometimes military intervention is a feasible way of getting what you want. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it depends on whether you're willing (and able) to bring enough force to bear. That's why most of us who aren't named Bill Kristol support some wars but not others. In Darfur, for example, my hesitance about military intervention is related to the rosy scenarios I've seen bandied about too often: an awful lot of people seem to think that two or three combat brigades and some close air support is all it would take to fix things up. And maybe that's right. But I wouldn't count on it, and unless the West is prepared up front to commit two or three divisions plus some serious air power for an extended period of time, then I think we're just kidding ourselves.

The Powell Doctrine may be honored more in the breach than in the observance, but in principle everyone agrees that military intervention is a good idea only if (1) there's a military solution available and (2) we're clear-eyed about committing the forces necessary to do the job right. In Darfur, we probably have #1 but I've seen little sign of #2. In Iraq, we have neither. Regardless of whether there was ever a military solution available in Iraq in the first place, there certainly isn't now. And even if there was, President Bush has never displayed the political courage it would have taken to do it right. He wanted a quick and dirty war that could be fought without risking his political capital, and in the end he only got half of what he wanted. It hasn't been quick, but it sure has been dirty.

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START YOUR ENGINES....From a story about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s decision to join the Hendrick Motorsports team next year:

The move "makes good sense for Earnhardt because the [Hendrick] team will help elevate his game," said Michael Pitts, who co-teaches a course on NASCAR as an associate professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Virginia Commonwealth University offers a class in NASCAR?

UPDATE: They even have a blog!

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REID TAKES ON THE BRASS....From The Politico:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "incompetent" during an interview Tuesday with a group of liberal bloggers, a comment that was never reported.

Reid made similar disparaging remarks about Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said several sources familiar with the interview.

This is a very odd piece. There's no response from Reid. There's no response from any of Reid's spokespeople. There's not even a pro forma "Reid was not immediately available for comment." What's going on?

Not knowing what Reid actually said, there's no way to comment intelligently on this. I will say, however, that there's nothing wrong in principle with criticizing high-ranking military leaders. Too many people (some deliberately, some not) conflate this with "not supporting the troops," but that's claptrap. General officers who support lousy policies deserve brickbats, and plenty of them have done just that in the Iraq war. If Reid has legitimate criticisms to offer, there's nothing out of line about offering them.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POLITICAL BRAIN....Ezra Klein says I should read The Political Brain, a new book by Drew Westen. Maybe I will. But I got a copy last week and was immediately put off by sentences like this:

The vision of mind that has captured the imagination of Democratic strategists for much of the last 40 years — a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions — bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work.

I have no doubt that this bears no relation to how the mind and brain actually work, but I'd like to know which Democratic strategists have ever believed anything like this in the first place. I'm open to being proved wrong, but surely no one over the age of 10 needs to be told that Earth isn't populated by exiles from the planet Vulcan.

Anyway, that caused me to toss the book into my vastly expanding pile of political books never to be read. But maybe I'll pull it out. I don't think any Democratic strategists actually believe what Westen says about them, but it may be that they act that way even if they don't know it. Next week I'll give him a chapter or two to convince me.

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IMPORTANT PARIS NEWS....We still don't know what Paris Hilton's alleged medical condition was, but today the LA Times crunches the numbers and answers the other burning question in the case: was Paris really treated more harshly than an average schmoe? Apparently the answer is yes:

The Times analyzed 2 million jail releases and found 1,500 cases since July 2002 that — like Hilton's — involve defendants arrested for drunk driving and later sentenced to jail after a probation violation or driving without a license.

Had Hilton left jail after four days, her stint behind bars would have been similar to those served by 60 percent of those inmates. But after a judge sent her back to jail Friday, Hilton's attorney announced she would serve the full 23 days in jail. That means Hilton will end up serving more time than 80 percent of others in a similar situation.

....Because of the high media interest, Hilton was one of few inmates whose premature release received publicity — and the judge who originally sentenced her took notice. She is believed to be the first inmate in years who actually was sent back to jail to serve more of her term.

Admit it. You wanted to know.

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June 13, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

YES, BUT IT ONLY VIOLATED TWO AMENDMENTS OUT OF 27....Today yet another Justice Department appointee had serious memory problems related to his erstwhile duties in the civil rights section. Nothing new there. Must be something in the DOJ water coolers. But Hans von Spakovsky also had this novel intepretation of the word "correct" when he was questioned about his support of a Georgia law requiring photo IDs of all voters:

Asked about the Georgia ID law, von Spakovsky declined to disclose the legal advice he gave his superiors, saying it was privileged, but he maintained that the department took the correct position because the courts didn't find that the law violated the federal Voting Rights Act. In overturning the law, the federal courts cited the 14th and 24th Amendments to the Constitution, he said.

So I guess as long as the law is only unconstitutional, that's OK. Your Bush Justice Department at work.

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By: Kevin Drum

WATCH UPDATE....Sadly, it turns out that George Bush's watch wasn't stolen by some enterprising Albanian thief after all. He took it off himself before he waded into the crowd. Chris Hayes comments: "Bush is savvier than I thought, apparently. Although it's also pretty awesome that while he's glad-handling he's thinking 'I bet you one of these Albanians is going to try to take my watch.'"

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO, ME?....Lurita Doan is a real piece of work, isn't she? Jesse Lee has the details.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE END OF INEQUALITY....Over at the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer talks about growing income inequality. He walks us through the usual statistical litany and even adds a few new ones for the Robb Report set: blue collar men have less money than their fathers; the share of national income going to the middle class is shrinking; corporate vice presidents are losing ground to CEOs; and CEOs are envious of the skyrocketing incomes of principals in private equity firms. Things are tough all over.

But this being the Weekly Standard, you can be sure that none of this is a problem. Guess what's coming to the rescue?

Market forces are already in motion to change some of these trends. As more and more imitators follow the path of the original private equity players, those profits are being competed down — which is what happens to all builders of better mousetraps in the long run. CEO compensation is now under greater scrutiny than ever, as increasingly active shareholders and corporate boards, awakened to their fiduciary responsibilities by Sarbanes-Oxley, become less generous. More and more workers are enrolling in community (two-year) colleges to upgrade their skills. Wages in China and India are rising, easing some of the pressure on wages of unskilled workers in developed countries.

That's a relief, isn't it? Market forces are going to fix all this stuff, so there's no need to worry our pretty little heads about it. Now get back to work.

POSTSCRIPT: Really, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't excerpt this paragraph from Stelzer's piece. Read and be astonished:

Start in a place where you wouldn't ordinarily expect to hear whining about relative incomes: the executive suites of major corporations....Not that CEOs are suffering. Professor Xavier Gabaix of MIT and Professor Augustin Landier of New York University estimate that average CEO incomes increased six-fold between 1980 and 2003....But even the most handsomely remunerated corporate chieftain is a pauper compared with the moguls who run Blackstone, KKR, and the other buy-out shops. The average CEO can afford to join a country club, either with his own money or by having the corporation pick up the tab; a private-equity operator can build his own golf course. A corporate jet is fine, but using it for private travel is likely to raise howls of protest from shareholders and, in some cases, attract the attention of federal prosecutors. Leaders in the private equity sector have their own jets, and no need to apologize or explain if they flit to the south of France for a weekend in the sun.

A pauper!

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By: Kevin Drum

LEAVING IRAQ....I mentioned last week my dismay over the growing conventional wisdom among both Democrats and Republicans that we need to leave a "residual force" in Iraq for a good long time. Today, Spencer Ackerman expands a bit on why this is such a bad idea:

As the 2004 handover demonstrated, Iraqis are unlikely to be fooled into thinking 40,000-plus US forces stationed indefinitely in the country represents an end to the US presence. Worse, if the idea is to either protect Iraqis from a slide into chaos or safeguard enduring US interests — be it preventing genocide or fighting al-Qaida or keeping the oil flowing — then keeping only 40,000 troops in Iraq is senseless. As Major General Joseph Fil commented to [Thomas] Ricks: "My nightmare — the thing that keeps me up at night — is a failure of Iraqi security forces, somehow, catastrophically, mixed with a major Samarra mosque-type catastrophe." Leaving the Iraqi security forces aside, another huge sectarian provocation is guaranteed. In 2009, US commanders of a post-occupation force will find themselves powerless to deal with it. At that point, US troops will be little more than a constabulary force to keep the Iraqi politicians who failed to avert the crisis — and probably contributed to it — alive.

Exactly right. The Sunni insurgents want us out, and a drawdown to 40,000 troops won't mollify them. At the same time, it's nowhere near enough to deal with any kind of serious violence. It's the worst kind of limbo.

On a related note, something Spencer doesn't mention is the geo-psychological aspect of all this. If there's a U.S. residual force stationed in Iraq, we'll eventually find ourselves under irresistible pressure to engage in large-scale fighting of one sort or another. Something — some crisis of some kind — will erupt and we'll feel like we have to respond. We're right there, after all. At that point, our choice will be to give in and fight, but with too few troops to do the job right, or to stay hunkered down on our bases, which implicitly makes us responsible for the carnage. The almost certain global reaction will be: The Americans were only ten miles away and they didn't do anything to stop it!

There is, at this point, simply nothing more we can do in Iraq. The only sensible course of action is to leave. Completely.

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ALL ABOUT OIL....I am, I think, more inclined to give Ronald Reagan a share of the credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union than many of my fellow liberals. But while rock-jawed rhetoric and missile defense may have played a role in the demise of communism, they were hardly the overwhelming factors that conservatives play them up to be. I'm reminded of this by Yegor Gaidar, who, despite an obvious agenda of his own for saying so, tells a big part of the story here:

The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.

As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive.

[The Soviet leadership was then faced with three options: start charging hard currency for oil exports, reduce food imports, or cut back military spending. None of them were seriously considered.]

Unable to realize any of the above solutions, the Soviet leadership...started to borrow money from abroad while its international credit rating was still strong. It borrowed heavily from 1985 to 1988, but in 1989 the Soviet economy stalled completely....The Soviet Union then received a final warning from the Deutsche Bank and from its international partners that the funds would never come from commercial sources. Instead, if the Soviet Union urgently needed the money, it would have to start negotiations directly with Western governments about so-called politically motivated credits.

....When the situation in the Soviet Union is examined from financial and hard currency perspectives, Gorbachev's policies at the time are much easier to comprehend (see figure 6). Government-to-government loans were bound to come with a number of rigid conditions. For instance, if the Soviet military crushed Solidarity Party demonstrations in Warsaw, the Soviet Union would not have received the desperately needed $100 billion from the West.

The only option left for the Soviet elites was to begin immediate negotiations about the conditions of surrender. Gorbachev did not have to inform President George H. W. Bush at the Malta Summit in 1989 that the threat of force to support the communist regimes in Eastern Europe would not be employed. This was already evident at the time. Six weeks after the talks, no communist regime in Eastern Europe remained.

Once it became clear that there would be no repeat of 1956 or 1968, every one of the Eastern bloc states seceded from Soviet control in short order and the Soviet empire was no more. Twas oil that killed the beast, not Star Wars.

Via Tyler Cowen.

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By: Kevin Drum

LOST IN TRANSLATION....In this picture taken in Ramallah, "Starbucks Coffee" is rendered as "Stars & Bucks Cafe" in the sign above the shop. That seems pregnant with meaning, somehow, even though I'm sure it's not. Interesting, though.

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By: Kevin Drum

SPINNING THE WAR....The Pentagon said today that Iraq's security forces are still incapable of keeping order and need to be expanded yet again, this time by 20,000 soldiers:

Even then, Iraq will remain incapable of taking full responsibility for its security for many years — five years in the case of protecting its airspace — and will require a long-term military relationship with the United States, said Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until recently led the U.S. military's training effort in Iraq.

....The remarks follow other blunt comments by U.S. military commanders that civilian deaths and attacks on U.S. troops have recently risen and that particularly tough fighting is expected in the coming months....Describing the U.S. effort in Iraq as a labor of Sisyphus, [Dempsey] said the metaphoric stone is "probably rolling back a bit right now in Baghdad. But I don't think it's going to roll over us."

Man, they are really working overtime to lower expectations before September rolls around. The last couple of weeks have been dedicated to nonstop declarations that we should expect (a) an increase in violence this summer, (b) no political progress to speak of, and (c) an even more disfunctional and sectarian Iraqi security apparatus than we have now. By the time Petraeus's progress report arrives, they'll be telling us we should count the surge a success as long as things are no more than 20% worse than when it started.

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June 12, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COMMITTED....Rudy Giuliani unveiled his "12 Commitments" to the American people today. James Joyner is seriously unimpressed. And he's a conservative.

In any case, I guess Rudy will be barnstorming America this summer to put some meat on the bones of each one of his commitments. I can't wait.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SOPRANOS....I don't get HBO, so I've never seen an episode of The Sopranos. However, sight unseen, I'll say this: if the purpose of a series finale is to get people talking, then the series finale of The Sopranos must be one of the greatest of all time. Sheesh.

I guess it's better than 24/7 Paris Hilton, though.....

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By: Kevin Drum

BRZEZINSKI ON IRAN....Matt's at a foreign policy conference today and reports back:

Zbigniew Brzezinski at the conference says the US and Israel should try to put their demands for Iranian disarmament in the context of support for a regional nuclear-free zone (i.e., Israeli nuclear disarmament). After all, he says, if we're supposed to believe that Israel's nuclear arsenal isn't a sufficient deterrent to ensure Israeli security in the face of Iran's nuclear program, then it obviously isn't a very valuable asset.

This sounds smart to me.

Am I missing something here? This doesn't sound smart. It sounds absurd.

Here's how it would go: The U.S. makes the regional disarmament pitch. The Iranian government says "You bet! Let's have a conference!" The Israelis either refuse outright or else join the conference but decline to negotiate their nuclear status in any serious way. After all, they're no more willing to give up their nuclear arms than we are. After a decent interval Iran emerges and sadly declares that they gave it their best shot but the Zionist entity is unwilling to commit to a nuclear-free Middle East. That being the case, why shouldn't they have nuclear weapons too?

I'm not ready to bomb Tehran, but I also don't see the point in handing Iran an almost guaranteed diplomatic triumph. What is Brzezinski smoking?

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THE PRESIDENT'S WRISTWATCH....Conspiracy theory of the day: Was George Bush's watch stolen while he was working the crowd in Albania this weekend? Or did he take it off himself?

You be the judge! YouTube video is here. Selected frame grabs are below. At 51 seconds in, Bush has a watch. At 56 seconds he still has a watch. At 57 seconds hands are grabbing at his wrist. His hands are then obscured for a few seconds, and at 1:05 he doesn't have a watch.

Bruce Schneier has collected three different denials that Bush was robbed. Denial 1: At about the one minute mark Bush put his hands behind his back so a bodyguard could remove his watch. Denial 2: It fell off. Denial 3: Bush took it off himself.

Maybe. But it would be a lot funnier if an Albanian pickpocket managed to rip off the president of the United States. Keep an eye on EBay.

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By: Kevin Drum

700 MHz....Last year I gave my take on the telecom industry:

As near as I can tell, most telecom CEOs would sell their mothers into white slavery if they thought it would help them keep one of their competitors at bay for a year or five longer, and their record of bending, breaking, and twisting the rules in order to maintain their monopoly position...would fill a phone book.

Tough! But not tough enough. Here's Matt Stoller today:

They are monopolists, run by seriously bad people, and viciously anti-democratic. The telecom giants are large, lumbering, stupid beasts; cable companies are quick and weasely, but even more unethical if possible. Both sets of companies offer awful service, dishonest pricing plans, and generally are in bed with politicians at a local level and on a Federal level that it's literally stunning.

You won't read that on the op-ed page of the Washington Post. But maybe you should. In a more fundamental way than, say, the soda industry or even the automobile industry, the behavior of the telecom industry really matters to all of us, and the basic problem is not a lack of competition. It's the fact that there's virtually no room for new competitors to enter the market.

What brings this up? The issue immediately at hand is the 700 MHz spectrum, an extremely valuable portion of the wireless spectrum that the FCC is getting ready to auction off. If the telecom industry has its way, the entire spectrum will be auctioned off under the current rules to the current players and new competitors will be shut out. If you're happy with the lousy service and spectacular lack of innovation demonstrated by today's telecom giants, this is the plan for you.

For the rest of us, a better policy would be to auction off a piece of the spectrum under the usual rules, but to reserve another chunk to be auctioned off under "open access" rules that require the spectrum to be open to anyone who wants to lease it and to any device that's capable of running on it. This would allow small innovators to enter the market and would open up the spectrum to interesting new devices in the same way that the Supreme Court's 1969 Carterphone decision revolutionized the phone industry by opening up the old telephone network to answering machines and cordless phones not made by AT&T. But none of this will happen if the entire spectrum gets auctioned off to the usual suspects.

And in case you're wondering, the 700 MHz spectrum is part of the spectrum currently used by UHF television stations, which have been ordered to vacate it in 2009 when broadcasting goes digital. It's extremely valuable real estate because UHF signals have a very long range and pass through walls and buildings easily. A single UHF tower can cover far more ground far more efficiently than WiFi, which makes it a perfect candidate for municipal wireless networks.

It's also the last high-quality spectrum likely to be available for a very long time. If it gets swallowed up by the big guys, that's it for at least another decade or two. So call your congress critter.

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SARTWELL ON RORTY....Crispin Sartwell, in an op-ed piece about Richard Rorty, starts out with this:

It's hard for non-philosophers to understand how seriously philosophers take their own questions, from the nature of truth to the correct interpretation of the texts of Friedrich Nietzsche. An air of hushed solemnity reigns over the procedures.

You know, I have noticed that. It's a remarkable attitude for a field that's still arguing about whether Plato was right, isn't it? But Sartwell says that Rorty's big problem was an unwillingness to take this all as seriously as the professoriate thought he should:

What absolutely killed philosophy professors was Rorty's interpretation of the great figures of the Western tradition. The average philosophy professor may spend a decade or a career trying to elucidate the works of Martin Heidegger or W.V.O. Quine. Rorty lined up such figures in support of his own positions in a fundamentally careless way. He quoted them out of context and ignored everything he couldn't use.

This truly enraged people. The Dewey scholars hated him, as did the Wittgenstein scholars, the Davidson scholars, the Nietzsche scholars, the Derrida scholars and so on.

....I disagreed with almost every position he ever took, but Rorty was for me an inspiration. He showed me and generations of students and readers how to think and speak boldly, how to transcend the constraining conventions of academia and, most important of all, how to drive professors crazy.

I don't know the first thing about Rorty. I just thought this was an interesting little essay. Still, if Sartwell is right, Rorty didn't drive professors crazy by thinking and speaking boldly, he did it by treating philosophy with the same level of intellectual honesty that the Heritage Foundation treats fiscal theory. Anybody care to weigh in on this?

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PAKISTAN UPDATE....Spencer Ackerman says that U.S. intelligence is increasingly convinced that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf is doomed. So what should we do about this?

The hope — among Pakistani military officers and politicians, to say nothing of U.S. diplomats — is that the increasingly inept and unpopular Musharraf can be eased out of power while the U.S. slowly distances itself from him, allowing for as smooth a transition as is possible in the turbulent South Asian country.

Well, that would be a first. But I suppose the Bush administration is due for a success, aren't they? And this would hardly be the first transition in Pakistan's history that the U.S. has weathered.

Spencer also says something that I've seen increasingly from other analysts as well: that fears of an Islamist takeover if Musharraf departs are overblown:

Not many see the Islamists as able to take control. "One common factor in places where Islamists rise to power is the economy tanking," observes [Rob] Richer. "But in Pakistan investment is taking off. It doesn't have many of the factors that drive religious elements taking power."

That's heartening. I just hope it's true.

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WHEN IS A GALLON NOT A GALLON?....I see that Dennis Kucinich is busy tackling one of the nation's most urgent problems: the fact that gasoline expands in hot weather. Thus the gallon of gasoline you buy in summer might not be a full gallon. It might only be 99.5% of a gallon.

That's not really much of a difference. And anyway, in winter you're probably getting 100.5% of a gallon. But it's not winter right now, is it? It's summer. And Kucinich apparently thinks the way to fix this miscarriage of justice is to require gas stations to install temperature-compensating meters on their pumps at a cost of about $2,000 a pop. That way we'll get 100% of a gallon all year round.

I have two reactions to this. The first comes from Michael O'Hare, who correctly points out that none of this matters. If the meters do their job and gas stations take a 0.5% hit on revenues, they won't just eat it. After a short while their prices will increase 0.5% and we'll be right back where we started. Sometimes Economics 101 really is all you need in order to figure out that something is just plain dumb.

That really ought to be my only reaction, but I can't help myself. I have to add this. It turns out that oil companies, which are fighting Kucinich's proposal, have a rather different attitude toward temperature-compensating pumps in more northern climes:

Retail pumps in this country don't have that capability. But the devices are widely used in Canada, where the temperature equation works in favor of consumers instead of fuel retailers — and where the oil industry pushed for the right to add the equipment.

It might be economically useless, but it's hard not to figure that what's good for the Canadian goose is also good for the American gander. I'm still opposed to Kucinich's proposal on grounds of general dumbness, but I have to admit that there would be a wee bit of cosmic justice involved if it passed.

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June 11, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

ENEMY COMBATANTS....The tide is turning, both politically and judicially, against holding enemy combatants indefinitely in military prisons:

In a stinging rejection of one of the Bush administration's central assertions about the scope of executive authority to combat terrorism, a federal appeals court ordered the Pentagon to release a man being held as an enemy combatant.

"To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, "even if the President calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country."

....[Ali al-Marri], whom the government calls a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda, was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, in Peoria, Ill., where he was living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University.

....A dissenting judge in today's decision, Henry E. Hudson, visiting from the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, wrote that President Bush "had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent" because "he is the type of stealth warrior used by Al Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States."

Hudson should be ashamed of himself. Al-Marri might be "the type of stealth warrior used by Al Qaeda," but nobody's denying that. The question at hand is whether the federal government is allowed to simply assert this indefinitely without evidence.

Question: Will the Bush administration allow al-Marri a trial, or will they appeal this to the Supreme Court and risk an adverse ruling? In the past they've played every legal game in the book to avoid the possibility of a definitive decision, but time may be running out. Eventually the Supremes are going to rule on this, and this might be the time. Stay tuned.

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IT'S LIKE 2002 ALL OVER AGAIN....Matt Yglesias is annoyed at Kenneth Baer for his drive-by libel of Ezra Klein in the latest issue of Democracy, and who can blame him? It's odious. Still, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? I figure Ezra has committed himself to a long career of being on the receiving end of this kind of stuff from National Review and its ilk, so he might as well get used to it now.

But there's actually a more remarkable aspect to Baer's piece than this. The subject is Iran, and here's the sum total of what he has to say:

In Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, Israel is again staring down a possible existential threat, and the United States is once more facing a serious challenge to its interests in the region....But it would be a disservice to our progressive ideals if we allowed disgust with the Bush Administration to lead to a softness toward totalitarian, anti-egalitarian, atavistic regimes and movements.

....Once again, the Middle East and its lone democracy are threatened....At a moment like this, to defend American interests and the values we stand for, progressives should heed the sage words of [Wayne] Morse and not use anger at one war as an excuse to blink when confronting a future threat head on.

This is remarkably content-free coming from a "Journal of Ideas." If Baer thinks we ought to invade Iran, he should say so. If not, he should tell us exactly what he thinks us progressives are getting wrong. Iran may be a nasty, repressive, and terrorist-supporting theocracy, but just saying so hardly amounts to a coherent critique of progressive foreign policy. Next time, more substance and less random contempt, please.

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THOMPSON ON ABORTION....It turns out that rising conservative hero Fred Thompson has given some modestly equivocal answers about abortion in the past. Does this flip-floppery mean that he's in trouble with the evangelical base? CBN's David Brody thinks not:

I think at the end of the day these abortion incidents from the 1990's probably don't amount to much. Listen, the reality is Thompson was a 100% national Right to Life guy. His Planned Parenthood score was 0. Those numbers mean something....What I'm hearing is that Thompson is saying all the right things to certain religious leaders and they are taking to him. Watch for some notable names to get behind him by the end of the summer. Maybe before.

I figure Brody is probably about as close to a reliable voice of the evangelical base as we have, so for now I'll take his word for it that this stuff isn't going to hurt Thompson. But that doesn't mean something else won't. I suspect Republicans are sadly deluded if they think Thompson is going to be their savior this year.

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YUK YUK....The frat-boy-in-chief visited Albania this weekend. The topic at hand was independence for Kosovo:

"At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say, 'Enough is enough — Kosovo is independent,' " Mr. Bush said...."In terms of a deadline, there needs to be one. It needs to happen."

But on Sunday, Mr. Bush tried to backtrack when asked when that deadline might be. "First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline," Mr. Bush said, during a press appearance with Mr. Berisha in the courtyard of a government ministry building. He was reminded that he had.

"I did?" he asked, sounding surprised. "What exactly did I say? I said deadline? O.K., yes, then I meant what I said." The reporters laughed.

Look, I'll admit that my sense of humor has been stretched to the breaking point over the past few years. But is it really too much to ask the president of the United States to take his own policies seriously enough to actually know what they are?

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June 10, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

POWELL ON GITMO....From the "better late than never" file, here is Colin Powell on Meet the Press this morning:

"If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it," he said.

"And I would not let any of those people go," he said. "I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?"

That was simple enough, wasn't it?

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CONVENIENT ARGUMENTS....Daniel Gross writes in the New York Times about growing income inequality:

Two professors — Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley — have found that the share of gross personal income of the top 1 percent of American earners rose to 17.4 percent in 2005 from 8.2 percent in 1980.

....Public policies have played a significant role in contributing to the growth of income inequality. That's the argument made in a recent, brilliant National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Professor [Frank] Levy and Peter Temin....[Since 1980] unions have weakened, the minimum wage hasn't come close to keeping up with inflation, and marginal income tax rates have been cut — the top marginal rate is now 36 percent, down from 70 percent in 1980. A result has been declining bargaining power for workers and the rise of a winner-take-all environment.

....It is commonplace to hear that the current set of arrangements and policies is the only possible way the economy can work, given trends like the rise of China and global economic integration. As Professor Levy said, "That's a very convenient argument for people to make if they're doing very well."

On a related noted, today the LA Times prints this year's list of the 100 highest paid executives in California. For the first time ever they've started listing CEO pay as a percentage of total corporate profits. Why? Because CEO pay has finally gotten so out of hand that shareholders are starting to notice that it's making a serious dent in earnings all by itself. Just think what they'd find out if they took at look at the top dozen executives instead of just the CEO.

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June 9, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

STAR POWER....The LA Times reports on the political lay of the land recently in Tinsel Town:

Here's the buzz these days: Clinton's presidential bid has begun to regain momentum over Obama's in the entertainment industry. In fact, it's become so strong that Steven Spielberg, once considered a solid supporter of Illinois Democrat Obama, is now believed to be leaning in favor of Clinton, according to longtime industry politicos.

....At a celebrity-studded reception at News Corp. President Peter Chernin's house — an event co-hosted by Spielberg and television financier Haim Saban — Clinton brought in $850,000....Later, the junior senator from New York went to director Brett Ratner's house, where she raised $250,000....The former first lady wowed crowds last week, said longtime Hollywood political consultant Donna Bojarsky...."She did a real tour-de-force analysis of the world."

But who is Paris Hilton supporting? And how is Fred Thompson faring? More gossip, please.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE POLITICAL PAST TENSE....In his column this week griping about blogger bile, Joe Klein lets us in on a trick of the trade. He's describing a blog post he wrote shortly after the vote on the war supplemental:

Congresswoman Jane Harman of California called as the debate was taking place. "Look, I would love to have cast a vote against Bush on this," she told me.

....And then Harman changed her position. After we spoke, she voted against the funding. The next day, I was blasted by a number of left-wing bloggers: Klein screwed up! I had quoted Harman in the past tense — common usage for politicians who know their words will appear after a vote takes place. That was sloppy and... suspicious! Proof that you just can't trust the mainstream media.

Huh. Is it true that politicians routinely speak in the past tense in situations like this? This makes sense (and I've done it myself) if you're taping a radio show that won't air for a while, which makes the time context unclear to the audience. But in news articles that's not really true. The time context is usually obvious.

Anyway, I've never heard this before, so it's an interesting tidbit to know. Do all politicians do this? For print and broadcast, or just print? Or what? Inquiring minds want to know.

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June 8, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EXTREMISTS....I just heard Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos chatting on the ABC Evening News about the collapse of the immigration bill. Their conclusion? It was killed by extremists on both sides: liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans overwhelmed the centrists. It just goes to show that partisan polarization has made America ungovernable.

This is ridiculous. Look at the numbers. This was a bipartisan bill sponsored by Ted Kennedy and John McCain and supported by George Bush. Democrats voted 37-11 in favor of moving forward to a final vote. Republicans voted 38-7 against it. In the end, the Democratic leadership delivered nearly 80% of its votes. Bush couldn't even get 20% of his party to go along.

All I can say is: if it was extremists that killed this bill, then 80% of the Republican Party is made up of extremists. For some reason, though, that wasn't quite the impression Charlie and George left us with tonight. Jeebus.

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WANTED: BETTER GOSSIP MONGERS....Clearly, the big question on everyone's mind in l'Affaire Paris is: What was the alleged medical problem that got her sprung from jail yesterday? Well, it's now been a full 24 hours since we first heard about this and the gossip industry still hasn't delivered the goods. What's wrong with these people? This is a sad day for journalism.

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FRIDAY CATNIP BLOGGING....More action catblogging! This is Inkblot gnawing away on one of our catnip plants, which naturally has the effect of boosting his cuteness quotient about a hundred percent. Doesn't have much effect on Domino, though.

At the moment, I'm watching Inkblot right outside my window, where he's sitting on the fence and peering intently at one of our neightbor's plants. I have no idea what has him so entranced. Whatever it is, though, he seems to be enjoying himself.

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SPARE ME....Republicans are complaining that Democrats aren't being quick enough about confirming George Bush's judicial nominees? Seriously? Give 'em credit for chutzpah, anyway.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE LATEST TO GO....Why did SecDef Robert Gates decide not to nominate Gen. Peter Pace for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs? It wasn't performance, Gates said:

Rather, Mr. Gates said, he had concluded after extensive discussion with key Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, that General Pace's renomination hearings "would have been on the past rather than the future."

In the last few months we've already seen the departure of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, Casey, Abizaid, and Zalmay Khalilzad either from the government or from positions responsible for Iraq, and Pace is now the latest to go. The message is pretty clear: the Bush administration can't withstand any scrutiny of any part of its handling of the war on either the military or civilian side. There's not a single person whose performance is considered defensible. Remarkable.

UPDATE: Cernig takes a look at the record of Pace's replacement, Adm. Mike Mullen, and offers some thoughts:

It seems plain to me that Mullen is being brought forward, in part, to clean house for Gates and consolidate his position at Defense by sweeping out all the old Rumsfeld hangovers....Does anyone else get the impression that the real feud in the Bush administration in coming days won't be the much publicized Cheney-Rice spat but instead a Cheney-Gates one?

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By: Kevin Drum

FRENCH OPEN BLOGGING....So I'm watching the French Open on the crummy little desperately-needs-to-be-replaced TV next to my desk. It's a semifinal match in a grand slam tournament; it stars Roger Federer trying to win his second slam of the year; and the weather looks wonderful.

But the stadium is only about half full. What does it take to get Parisians to a tennis tournament, anyway?

(And in case you're wondering why I haven't replaced my crummy little TV, the answer is odd: I can't find one small enough. It has to fit in a space about a foot wide, but I can't find a color set with a 9-inch screen anymore. Very peculiar.)

Kevin Drum 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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By: Kevin Drum

WEALTH AND STATUS....Via Tyler Cowen, Will Wilkinson summarizes a new bit of research on how people adapt to changes in income and status:

Folks on the left get used to money, but not status and the reverse for folks on the right. This is funny, since I've been reading a bunch of papers on inequality, mostly by political philosophers on the left, and they are positively obsessed specifically with the status effects of material inequality.

This doesn't surprise me, actually. Well, it partly doesn't surprise me, anyway.

My guess is that lefties are generally much more class conscious than money conscious. Having money is one thing — what are you going to do, turn down a raise? — but egalitarianism is one of liberalism's core beliefs. Probably the core belief, in fact. This makes us uncomfortable with behavior that punctures our egalitarian self-image too overtly.

Conservatives, by contrast, are basically fine with heirarchy and adapt pretty well to being at the top of the heap. Somebody's got to be there, right? However, I confess that the money thing puzzles me. Why don't righties adapt well to having lots of money? They sure seem to adapt just fine, don't they?

....Oh. I see. I missed the part about this being a study of adaptation among Germans. The paper is here. That makes more sense. Great riches are not celebrated in Germany the way they are here, so it's not too surprising that German conservatives might feel some residual levels of guilt for accumulating large sums of money. Betcha these results wouldn't hold up in the United States.

UPDATE: In comments, y81 suggests I have this backwards. Upon more careful reading, I think that's probably right. Basically, the research shows that, in the long run, money makes conservatives happier but has no effect on liberals. Conversely, status makes liberals happier but has no effect on conservatives. The effect is small, but nonetheless strikes me as peculiar. And it might be different in America. Still, the bottom line is that my interpretation was completely wrong. Pretend I never said it.

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By: Kevin Drum

CONGRATULATIONS....A little over a year ago, David Plotz decided to read the Bible and blog a bit of it every day for Slate. My prediction: "Plotz himself will be lucky to make it past the two-week mark."

On Wednesday, Plotz proved me wrong: "After 39 books, 929 chapters, more than 600,000 words — and just over a year — I've finally finished reading the Hebrew Bible." Impressive work, though I note that he seems to have zipped through 2 Chronicles mighty quickly. But congratulations anyway. Apparently a book is in the works.

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By: Kevin Drum

THE SCION....Laura Rozen reports in the current issue of the Monthly that Washington DC is now home to yet another smiling Iraqi with a distinct agenda, a fluent command of English, and strong connections. This time it's Qubad Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani:

Talabani is hardly the first cosmopolitan, culturally dexterous representative of a foreign interest to find his cause in vogue in the halls of American government. The Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi was also a charismatic, effective Washington advocate, who systematically persuaded influential constituencies, and ultimately the Bush administration, to lend the U.S. Army to his longtime struggle against Saddam Hussein. But Qubad is different. He's of a younger generation, more pragmatic than idealistic, less enmeshed in neoconservative Republican politics and with less of the seductive con-man qualities of the old master. "We have friends on the Democratic and Republican sides," Talabani says. "It is not our game to play American politics. Chalabi did that and failed. We are not taking sides."

Talabani's agenda? Keep the Americans in Iraq, ensure that the promised elections in oil-rich Kirkuk are held on time, and sell Kurdistan as Iraq's great success story to anyone who will listen. Read the whole thing for more.

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION REFORM DEAD....It looks like the immigration bill is dead. That surprises me. It seemed as if there were enough people on both sides of the aisle who would benefit from putting this behind them that it was likely to pass. But in the end, it wasn't even close.

The defeat came almost entirely at the hands of the hardliners, and I confess that I can't figure out what they're thinking. Sure, they think the current bill is worse than doing nothing at all, but when do they think they're going to get another crack at this? It's going to be years, and at this point it looks to me like the political environment in the future is more likely to be more liberal than it is to be more conservative. My guess is that the hardliners aren't going to get a better deal in 2010 than the one they voted down on Thursday.

Beats me. I'm in the "better than nothing" camp, though, so I'm disappointed it went down to defeat.

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LUTE SPEAKS....Our soon-to-be war czar agrees with the intelligence community: the surge hasn't had any effect so far and isn't likely to in the near future.

Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions "have shown so far very little progress" toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, "we're not likely to see much difference in the security situation" a year from now.

....As the president's point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the leverage to force them to do so. "I am concerned about the capacity of this government," he said. "But I haven't passed final judgment on them."

Italics mine. Question: Is the promotion of Lute a sign that the administration is making moves in the direction of abandoning the Maliki government and hitching its star to someone else? If you want to change direction, after all, the easiest way to do it is to bring in a new guy, wait a couple of months, and then announce that after careful review he's recommending a new course. It's a time honored strategy.

I guess we'll see. But while we're on the subject, it's worth mentioning that both Swopa and Eric Martin have scoffed at my suggestion that there's an emerging new political alliance that might manage to wrest control of the government from Maliki sometime in the next few months. I can't say that I blame them, either. After all, factional fighting in Iraq is Byzantine; it's hard to believe that any alliance could survive if it excluded the party formerly known as SCIRI; it seems unlikely that Sistani would countenance any alliance that increased the power of the Sunnis, and equally unlikely that Sadr would join such an alliance without Sistani's blessing; and the alliance members are probably just selling a bill of goods to any American willing to listen to them. What's more, the Kurds are key to everything, and who knows what they'll do?

So great big shakers of salt are recommended here. Still....I can't help but think that something has to happen. Maliki seems like a dead man walking, and eventually someone's going to make a deal that would have seemed unlikely on its face a week before — and I wouldn't be surprised if this includes some kind of weird volte-face from Sadr. I wonder if Lute is sending a signal that the Bush administration won't be too crushed if this happens?

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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June 7, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LIBBY'S LIES....Former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy is annoyed at the nearly unanimous willingness of his right-wing colleagues to let Scooter Libby off the hook just because he happens to be a fellow conservative:

All this passionate rhetoric about his heroic service to the United States, how the investigation should never have happened, and how he got unfairly singled out and screwed (all of which I agree with) would be fine if it weren't obscuring something fairly important: Lying to the FBI and a grand jury is a very bad thing, even if we all think it was an unworthy investigation.

....The evidence that Libby lied, rather than that he was confused, was compelling. And the jury was dilligent: the post-verdict commentary showed that they liked and felt sorry for him, several thought there should have been no case, some openly hoped for a pardon, and on the one count where the evidence was considerably weaker than the others, they acquitted him. They convicted him on the other four charges, reluctantly, because they had no choice if they were going to honor their oaths.

McCarthy is right: the evidence was extremely compelling that Libby lied repeatedly, deliberately, and with premeditation. Which leads us inevitably to the big question: Why did he lie?

Take Bill Clinton. He lied too when he denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, but in his case everyone knew exactly why he had lied: because he didn't want anyone to know he was getting blowjobs in the Oval Office. And most of us took that into account. First, because it plainly had nothing to do with the official exercise of executive power, and second, because pretty much everyone figured they might very well have done exactly the same thing in his position. It was understandable human weakness. So while we might not have approved, most of the public decided it wasn't a hanging offense.

But Libby is a different case entirely. The conservative community wants us to believe that Valerie Plame wasn't really undercover at all. They also want us to believe that outing her was, in fact, part of an entirely legitimate effort to explain that Dick Cheney hadn't been responsible for sending Joe Wilson to Niger. And finally, they want us to believe that none of this was part of a coordinated plan. Plame's name was merely mentioned in an offhand way here and there when reporters brought up questions about Wilson's trip.

But if that's the case, then why did Libby lie? Deliberately and repeatedly? Richard Armitage fessed up almost immediately. Ari Fleischer fessed up. Karl Rove had to be pushed, but eventually he fessed up too. Only Libby lied.

Why? If nobody actually did anything wrong, what was he hiding?

Kevin Drum 6:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (128)

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By: Kevin Drum

THE REAL PROBLEM....What Ezra says. Medicare isn't the problem. Healthcare is the problem. If we don't figure out a way to contain the overall rise of medical spending, it really doesn't matter much exactly how those dollars get spent.

Needless to say, I think the only serious opportunity to rein in those costs without a revolt of the middle class comes from a universal system regulated by the feds. The liberal argument for this is that it provides decent healthcare to everyone and allows greater freedom of choice for consumers. The conservative argument is that it makes medical costs more transparent. Right now, consumers have essentially no say in the cost of health insurance. They just pay whatever their employer makes them pay and then use as much medical care as they want. A national system, however, is limited by how much people are willing to pay in taxes. That provides a stronger motivation for cost control than anything we have now.

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By: Kevin Drum

TRUST BUT VERIFY....What's up with those anti-missile bases President Bush wants to put in Poland and the Czech Republic? Supposedly they're to protect Europe from Iranian attack, but I imagine that even most Americans don't take that explanation seriously. On the other hand, the bases also don't really represent much of a threat to Russia, so why is Vladimir Putin so upset about them? In the Prospect today, Robert Farley says it's basically big-power politics combined with a fear of what the bases might become in the future:

[It's] possible that the Russians are genuinely concerned about the ABM bases in Eastern Europe, not so much for what they're capable of now than for what they might mean in twenty years. Given enough time and money, the United States can probably make a missile defense system work. In the 1980s, the Soviets were quite concerned about the Star Wars system despite its lack of technical success, and many of the people in the Kremlin then remain important now. The U.S. contention that the shield isn't aimed at Russia is only halfway believable, given that the interceptors presumably won't be programmed to avoid incoming Russian ballistic missiles.

The bases in Eastern Europe also represent a focus of U.S. military activity close to Russia's borders; successful resistance to Russian intimidation on the part of Poland and the Czech Republic could further convince Russia's closest neighbors to seek U.S. military protection and NATO membership. Since it's extremely unlikely that Poland or the Czech Republic take the Iranian threat very seriously, their thinking on this issue probably mirrors the Russians'; that the ABM sites represent a U.S. commitment to protect Eastern Europe both militarily and politically from Russia.

I think this sounds right. Just to pick an example out of the air (no, really!), suppose that Russia decided to build some crude ABM bases in, say, Mexico and Nicaragua, supposedly to protect Latin America from Chinese attack. How would we react? Most likely, we'd come to the same conclusion Ronald Reagan did about Grenada's construction of a 10,000 foot airstrip in 1983: "The Soviet-Cuban militarization of Grenada," he said, "can only be seen as power projection into the region."

So: we want to project power into Eastern Europe and Russia is pushing back. As for the Poles and the Czechs, they have a lot more reason to be afraid of the Russians than to be afraid of us. It's hardly surprising that they're on board with this.

UPDATE: The latest news is that Putin has told Bush he'll accept the missile defense system if it's moved near the Iranian border and built in partnership with Russia:

Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Bush Thursday that he would drop his objections to a U.S. missile defense system if Washington substantially altered current plans to base it entirely in Europe and instead involved Russia through a Soviet-era radar system in the central Asian nation of Azerbaijan.

....Putin said he spoke yesterday with the president of Azerbaijan, who agreed to host elements of a missile defense system there to protect all of Europe. If this is accepted, he said, he would have no need to carry out his threat to retarget Russian missiles or place offensive units along the country's European borders.

Putin's proposal will be "studied by U.S. experts," according to the Washington Post. Bush called it an "interesting suggestion." Sounds pretty unlikely to me. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE NCLB MADNESS....Guess what? In today's education news, we get yet another report that compares the results from state tests to the results from the "gold standard" NAEP test. This one is from the National Center for Education Statistics, and here's the nickel summary: the standards used by states to measure compliance with NCLB are all over the map.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the chart on the right. It shows how state standards compare to the NAEP "basic achievement level" for 32 states. This one is for fourth grade reading, and the state standards vary from 161 to 234.

Does this seem like a lot? Well, hold on: the rule of thumb for NAEP is that ten points is about equal to one grade level, which means that Mississippi at the bottom has a passing standard seven grade levels lower than the passing standard for Massachusetts at the top. Overall, more than half the states had passing standards a full grade level lower than the NAEP "basic" level.

So improved scores on state tests probably need to be taken with a grain of salt. Or a grain of statistics. Like this one:

There is also a negative correlation of -0.88 (with a standard error of 0.094) between the estimated NAEP score equivalents and the statewide percents proficient; that is, the larger the NAEP score equivalent, the lower the percent of students in a state deemed proficient.

Now, unlike yesterday's poor correlation between states that showed improvement on their own test vs. states that showed improvement on the NAEP test (suggesting that the improvements we're seeing in state test results might not be very meaningful), 0.88 is a very strong correlation. You won't see one much better in the social sciences. And what that paragraph means in plain English is that the easier the state test, the more students who pass it. No surprise.

None of this means that testing is useless or that NCLB has nothing to recommend it. But it does mean that glowing reports about soaring test scores should be greeted very cautiously. Caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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By: Kevin Drum

CAP-AND-TRADE 2.0....In the LA Times today, Patt Morrison has a story idea for Charlie Stross:

If Philip K. Dick, the man who inspired "Blade Runner," were alive, he would be scribbling dystopian environmental novels in which every newborn child is assigned a lifetime carbon debit card — like wartime ration cards. You only get to use so much plastic, or burn so much wood or eat so much imported food (how much fossil fuel does it take to get that bottle of Euro-water to Santa Monica?) before you use up your carbon points and you're out of the game. Dick's characters wouldn't be stock traders, they'd be carbon traders, blackmailing starving Sudanese villagers online for their carbon points in exchange for rice and water.

But will my cats get ration cards too?

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By: Kevin Drum

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION....Don Young is a congressman from Alaska, not Lee County, Florida. So why was he so intent on approving a $10 million earmark to extend Coconut Road in Bonita Springs eastward several miles so it could join up to I75? An extension that neither the local congressman nor Lee County officials had any interest in? Funny you should ask:

The Coconut Road money is a boon, however, to Daniel J. Aronoff, a real estate developer who helped raise $40,000 for Mr. Young at the nearby Hyatt Coconut Point hotel days before he introduced the measure.

....A consultant who helped push for the project spelled out why its supporters held the fund-raiser. "We were looking for a lot of money," said the consultant, Joe Mazurkiewicz. "We evidently made a very good impression on Congressman Young, and thanks to a lot of great work from Congressman Young, we got $81 million to expand Interstate 75 and $10 million for the Coconut Road interchange."

....When he was approached near the House floor by a reporter, Mr. Young responded with an obscene gesture.

Yes, $40,000 probably counts as a "very good impression." On the bright side, at least they didn't deliver it in bricks of hundred dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil.

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By: Kevin Drum

DUCKS WIN!....Congratulations to the Anaheim Ducks, who just won the Stanley Cup to bring home Orange County's second ever major pro sports championship. That may not be as many as Los Angeles, but it's more than San Diego. Hooray!

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June 6, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....John MacArthur, quoted approvingly by James Dobson: "You know a society has been abandoned by God when it celebrates...lesbian...sex."

Via Perlstein.

UPDATE: Apparently the speaker in this clip is actually John MacArthur, not Dobson himself. However, the tape of McArthur's sermon was enthusiastically introduced by Dobson, who devoted two of his radio shows to it. I've corrected the text to make this clear.

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By: Kevin Drum

DECONSTRUCTING ROBERT SAMUELSON....Mark Thoma, a braver — or more dedicated — man than me, apparently still reads Robert Samuelson's column in the Washington Post. Today he discovers that Samuelson is as disingenuous as ever in a piece tackling the problem of growing income inequality. Says Thoma:

Finding a way to share the gains from economic growth more equitably won't be easy, and confusing the issue by claiming that more equitable distributions will lower economic growth, cause more frequent recessions, and be inflationary when there's no evidence to support those claims doesn't help at all.

No, but Samuelson's goal isn't to help. It's to muddy the waters. And he's very good at it.

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By: Kevin Drum

SOARING TEST SCORES....Here's the headline in the Washington Post today:

Test Scores Soar After 'No Child'

Now, this is a peculiar headline since the second paragraph of the accompanying story admits, "The study's authors warned that it is difficult to say whether or how much the No Child Left Behind law is driving the achievement gains." And indeed, the study from the Center on Education Policy (available here) goes to considerable pains to emphasize that the trend they're reporting started before NCLB was enacted. This, along with other factors, makes it very difficult to say whether, or how much, NCLB is responsible for the gains since 2002.

But put that aside for a moment. An even better question is: even if state test scores are rising, does that indicate that student achievement is also increasing? Bob Somerby suspects that rising scores might actually be due to dumbed down tests, and unfortunately, the study itself suggests he's right. Here's the paragraph that jumped out at me:

When the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level on state tests is compared with the percentage scoring at the basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), states show more positive results on their own tests than on NAEP. Moreover, the states with the greatest gains on their own tests were usually not the same states that had the greatest gains on NAEP.

Chapter 6 of the report goes into this in detail (see pp. 68-70), but the bottom line is that there is virtually no correlation at all between rising state test scores and rising NAEP scores — and like it or not, NAEP has long been considered the gold standard for consistent and reliable measurement of student achievement. In fact, the distribution of the scores is rather curious. As you can see in the chart on the right (for middle school reading results), there are some states where scores rose on both tests (top right) and some where they fell on both tests (bottom left). No problem there. It's what you'd expect if both tests were doing a decent job of measuring performance.

However, there are virtually no states that improved on NAEP but fell on their own tests. A rising NAEP score really does seem to indicate better performance that shows up no matter what test you take. Conversely, there are loads of states that showed improvement on their own test even though results fell on NAEP. Peculiar, no? It's almost as though the states tests aren't really testing actual performance very well.

The report suggests several reasons why the results of state tests might not align with NAEP, and score inflation is one of them. More important, I suspect, is the first reason they list: alignment with state curriculum standards. State tests are designed to be tightly constrained to state curriculum standards, and teachers are tightly constrained to teach precisely to those standards. From the report:

For example, Jacob (2007) found that for Texas 4th graders, the difference in scores between NAEP and the state exam was largely explained by differences in the set of math skills (multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, etc.) covered by the two tests, and the format in which test items were presented (word problems, calculations without words, inclusion of a picture, etc.).

Obviously kids are going to do better on a test that perfectly replicates what they're familiar with from class. Frankly, though, fourth graders are all taught basic arithmetic, and if merely making small changes in the format of the problems causes the NCLB gains to disappear, then NCLB isn't doing much to genuinely improve basic skills. More data, please.

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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PARDONING LIBBY....I'm curious: why is it that George Bush is apparently digging in his heels and planning not to intervene in the Scooter Libby case? Consider:

  • The conservative base is furious that Bush hasn't pardoned Libby, and Bush usually tries to tend the base pretty carefully.

  • You have to figure that Dick Cheney wants Libby to be pardoned, and he's usually pretty persuasive about this kind of thing.

  • Bush is a lame duck, so it's not as if a pardon will hurt his reelection chances.

  • Pardoning Libby and claiming that this is a principled stand against a liberal witch hunt is precisely the kind of thing Bush would normally be expected to do.

What am I missing? In what way would a pardon hurt Bush?

POSTSCRIPT: On another note, if I'm ever convicted on federal charges, I'd just like to ask all of Washington's prominent hawks and neocons not to write letters to the judge on my behalf. It just seems to have pissed him off.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (119)

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By: Kevin Drum

NULL SET....I tuned in too late to hear Mitt Romney's "null set" answer last night, but apparently his algebraic illiteracy is nothing compared to his ignorance of actual events from four years ago. Here's his answer to a question about whether it was a mistake to invade Iraq:

Well, the question is, kind of, a non sequitur, if you will. What I mean by that — or a null set — that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock and Saddam Hussein had opening up his country to IAEA inspectors and they'd come in and they'd found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein therefore not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in. But he didn't do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in.

WTF? Does this kind of stuff run in the family? (Yes, I know I've already made that joke once before.)

Question: does Romney genuinely not know that both the IAEA and Hans Blix's team had hundreds of inspectors in Iraq prior to the war? And that those inspectors found nothing?

Or does he know it perfectly well and has simply calculated that no one in the media cares enough about this stuff to make a big deal out of a howler like this? In any sane world, this kind of thing would be enough to disqualify a candidate from running for dogcatcher, let alone president of the United States.

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (118)

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By: Kevin Drum

MORE IRAQI POLITICS....Ned Parker in the LA Times today:

Iraq's government is teetering on the edge. Maliki's Cabinet is filled with officials who are deeply estranged from one another and more loyal to their parties than to the government as a whole. Some are jostling to unseat the prime minister. Few, if any, have accepted the basic premise of a government whose power is shared among each of Iraq's warring sects and ethnic groups.

....Even Maliki's top political advisor, Sadiq Rikabi, says he doubts the prime minister will be able to win passage of key legislation ardently sought by U.S. officials, including a law governing the oil industry and one that would allow more Sunni Arabs to gain government jobs.

That sounds promising, doesn't it?

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

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By: Kevin Drum

BEHIND THE VEIL....Megan Stack writes in the LA Times today about her years of reporting from Saudi Arabia:

I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being. I tried to draw parallels: If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?

....The rules are different here. The same U.S. government that heightened public outrage against the Taliban by decrying the mistreatment of Afghan women prizes the oil-slicked Saudi friendship and even offers wan praise for Saudi elections in which women are banned from voting. All U.S. fast-food franchises operating here, not just Starbucks, make women stand in separate lines. U.S.-owned hotels don't let women check in without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone have long been regarded as prostitutes.

It's a good piece. Worth reading.

Kevin Drum 1:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (112)

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June 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE ONE-LINERS....If I attempted any serious discussion of tonight's debate my brain would explode. So instead, here's a random sampling of one-liners from around the blogosphere. Enjoy!

Michael Crowley on Mitt Romney: The man is a human PowerPoint presentation — it's almost scary.

Ana Marie Cox: Duncan Hunter would use nukes... but carefully.

Ezra Klein: Does anybody really believe religion is a "very important" part of Giuliani's life? He seems like the type who would make holy water sizzle.

Kathryn Jean Lopez on Sam Brownback: Was he saying Bush causes cancer?

Matt Yglesias: Someone needs to tell Mitt Romney what "null set" means.

Brad Plumer on Tom Tancredo: Between his suggestion that we abolish St. Patrick's Day and his whining that he has to "Press 1 for English" on automated phone menus, he was easily the biggest d-bag of the night.

Andrew Sullivan on Mitt Romney: It's rare to see a fraud exposed quite as clearly in real time as the Republichameleon. So he's for making English the national language, but runs campaign ads in Spanish: an almost perfect representation of the plastic one's bullshit.

Ann Althouse: The question is Iran. Is it acceptable to talk to them? This is a boring question, so Blitzer spices it up by asking if it's okay to nuke them.

John Derbyshire on John McCain: It's getting really annoying hearing you call me your friend, John. When did I become your friend? "My friend" is what Third World bazaar traders call me when they want to sell me overpriced tchotchkes.

Kevin Drum 10:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE WRAPUP....How is it that these guys manage to make 60 seconds seem like too long a time? Crikey.

UPDATE: Was that cryptic? Or does everyone get what I meant?

Anyway: I'm a liberal and these guys are conservatives, so it's only natural that I'm not down with their message for America. But damn. They're just horrible. Their answers are so cliched and regurgitated that I mostly want to cry for mercy after about 10 or 15 seconds. Rudy on healthcare was so incoherent it almost made my teeth bleed. And I guess I didn't even hear the good part, where they all nodded along as Wolf Blitzer talked about nuking Tehran. But only with tactical nukes, so, you know, I guess that's OK.

Somebody shoot me.

Kevin Drum 8:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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By: Kevin Drum

ENDING THE WAR....Earlier this morning, writing about the next chapter in the showdown over war funding, I said: "My guess is that maybe 20% of congressional Republicans will join [Democrats] in voting to fund a gradual drawdown when September rolls around. If Democrats are willing to stand their ground and fight, that's probably enough." Armando begs to disagree:

I think that is simply fantasy. Who are these "20% of Republicans?" And even if they exist, what of a Presidential veto Kevin? 20% of Republicans is NOT enough for a veto proof majority. When will folks deal with reality here? the NOT funding after a date certain option is the only way to end the Iraq Debacle.

I was rushed this morning, so let me revise and extend my remarks a bit.

First, the 20% number is obviously just a flyer. My guess is that events in Iraq combined with constituent pressure will end up pushing maybe 10 GOP senators and 40 GOP congressmembers into the anti-war camp. This will likely be a combination of moderates who are on the fence already (think John Warner); temperamental isolationists who are hawkish but were never really that thrilled with the neocon grand plan in the first place (think Jeff Sessions); and folks who simply decide that opposition is the only way they can win reelection next year (think Norm Coleman). Needless to say, though, I could be all wet about this.

Second, my whole point was precisely that even if this happens, it's not enough for a veto-proof majority. That means that Dems have to be prepared to submit variations of the kind of budget resolution Armando and I favor (basically Reid-Feingold) over and over in the face of repeated vetoes, and they have to be prepared to win a fight for public opinion against a president who's going to claim that this amounts to "not supporting the troops." (See here for my take on why Dems can probably win this battle.) There's really no alternative since Democrats aren't likely to ever "have the votes" to end the war if that means having a veto-proof majority. Public opinion is key, not partisan majorities.

Kevin Drum 5:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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By: Kevin Drum

IRAQI POLITICS UPDATE....If you have a good memory you might remember a post I wrote last month about the slow emergence of an anti-Maliki bloc in Iraq that includes various elements led by Ayad Allawi, the Sunni politician Saleh Al-Mutlaq, and Muqtada al-Sadr, among others. At the time, Cernig suggested that "discreet support" for this alliance might be "the only Plan B there is" in Iraq if the surge fails.

Today in the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss updates us on this emerging alliance and suggests that it represents the best path forward to an American withdrawal:

Earlier this year, Fadhila — a Sadrist movement strong in Basra and Iraq's south — pulled out of Maliki's ruling United Iraqi Alliance. Since then, both Fadhila and Sadr's own party have been discussing a new political alignment with the Sunnis called a "National Salvation Front."....Among Sadr's potential allies are Mutlaq's bloc, the larger Iraqi Accord Front (which includes Sunni religious parties, such as the Iraqi Islamic Party), and Allawi's secular Iraqi National List. Allawi, a secular Shia, has been actively seeking a leadership role in a coalition to replace Maliki, too.

....In the end, if and when the United States reconciles itself to a withdrawal from Iraq, the path to stability will be found in a nationalist government constituting most or all of the emerging "national salvation" coalition. It's possible that the team of so-called realists now in control of U.S. foreign policy can come to that understanding on their own. Or perhaps they'll need to be pushed, and hard, by the Democrats in Congress and on the '08 presidential campaign trail.

But with each passing day, as sectarian violence grows, it will be more and more difficult to make that happen. Americans need to begin understanding that the end of the Maliki government and the start of a U.S. withdrawal are one and the same thing.

Now, Maliki's coalition is genuinely influential, and its members won't fade quietly away if a rival coalition manages to take power. Stability is far from guaranteed even if the National Salvation Front successfully wrests control away from Maliki.

It's also unclear just what the United States can do to encourage the NSF in any case, especially since its credibility with the Iraqi public rests largely on the very fact that they're fundamentally anti-American. Any overt help we gave them would likely backfire, which means our assistance would need to be very discreet indeed.

Still, the Maliki government has pretty clearly failed and the NSF is the most credible opposition there is. It also seems like the best bet to hold things together enough to allow an American withdrawal. So, discreetly, subtly, quietly, whatever, Dreyfuss is probably right: helping the NSF build a coalition that can topple the Maliki government is most likely our best bet for disentangling ourselves from Iraq. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 4:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

KNOCKED UP....I saw Knocked Up yesterday. I wouldn't normally bother mentioning this, but because it's gotten so many enthusiastic reviews I want to add mine to the pile: It was quite possibly the worst movie I've seen in the past year. Or three. I almost walked out halfway through out of sheer boredom.

The dialog is leaden. The plot was phoned in. There is not a single engaging character in the entire cast. Seth Rogen is almost completely charmless. There are no jokes worth more than a slightly upturned lip. We are expected to believe that Katherine Heigl has trouble getting a date. The supposed anguish of the characters is vapid and platitudinous. And aside from a change in the tempo of the music at the end, there is no genuine reason to believe that any of them has actually changed in any serious way.

So, um, I guess that's a thumbs down from a married, childless, 48-year-old grump. Just thought I'd share in case there are other people out there like me.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (116)

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By: Paul Glastris

SONG OF HILLARY... I'm wondering what people think about Hillary Clinton's new web video. It's an American-Idol inspired update on the contest to pick her campaign theme song and it's getting pretty good traffic.

Personally, I found it funnier than her last video, and actually quite charming in the way she pokes fun at her own hopelessly-uncool-aging-baby-boomer-listens-to-Stevie-Nicks persona. I showed it to my wife Kukula and she had precisely the same reaction: "charming." But my guess is that we're not the intended audience for these kinds of videos. Younger people are. And since we happen to have two such people living in our house, I decided to use them as a little focus group.

First, I showed the video to my 10-year-old son Adam. He was eating cereal at the time in front of the computer, toggling between game highlights on mlb.com and Weird Al Yankovic videos on YouTube (yeah, I know, I know, but we let him watch this stuff anyway). So it's possible that his heart and mind were not one hundred percent focused on my experiment. In any event, his response to the video was: "That made no sense."

Next, I played it for my 17-year-old daughter Hope, who graduates from high school tomorrow, and who consequently stumbled out of bed this morning at 10:15.

Her one-word response was: "Cute."

"Just cute?" I asked.

"It wasn't, like, thrilling," she added, "but it was funny."

So, there you have it: the Glastris family's take on Hillary's new video. I'll be interested to see if commenters agree more with my wife and me or with the kids.

Paul Glastris 1:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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By: Kevin Drum

IMMIGRATION REFORM....In the LA Times today, Jonah Goldberg kinda sorta admits that at least some of the conservative opposition to immigration reform really does come from xenophobic nativists. "But they are the minority," he says.

Fair enough. But then he says this:

The most important immigration policy is to enforce the policy, whatever it is....If I had my druthers, in 2001, Bush would have pursued a real clampdown on illegal immigration while at the same time expanding legal immigration, including from Mexico. I don't even mind the idea of a one-time amnesty for illegals, if in fact it is a one-time deal. But again, a system in which we declare it's a one-time amnesty but mean nothing of the sort means that we have no policy at all.

Indeed. That's more or less my position too. But what Jonah doesn't tell his readers is that the main opposition to implementing a policy like this comes from....the Republican Party. After all, everyone with a pulse and a three-digit IQ knows that the single most effective policy to cut down illegal immigration isn't a border fence or more money for patrol cars. The single most effective policy would be to seriously clamp down on businesses that illegally hire undocumented workers. Really clamp down. There are plenty of smart proposals out there for doing just that, and some of them even have the added bonus of costing almost nothing.

But of course we know who opposes this policy change: the corporate paymasters of the Republican Party. Maybe somebody ought to have a word with them about that.

Kevin Drum 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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By: Kevin Drum

CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL DOWN....The Washington Post reports that approval ratings for Congress are down. This is hardly a surprise, since approval ratings are almost always high at the beginning of a new Congress or a new presidency (a majority voted for the new folks, after all), and they inevitably decline a bit as reality sets in and the revolution doesn't come. However, the Post seems to think there's more to it:

Just 39 percent said they approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 44 percent in April, when the new Congress was about 100 days into its term. More significant, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 10 percentage points over that same period, from 54 percent to 44 percent.

Much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents and liberal Democrats.

....In April, the public, by a 25-point margin, trusted the Democrats over Bush to handle the situation in Iraq. In this poll, Democrats maintained an advantage, but by 16 points.

This is water under the bridge at this point, but I think congressional Dems blew it by caving in to Bush on the war supplemental so quickly. It may well be that they couldn't have held out forever, but I think there was a big chunk of the public that at least wanted to see them fight harder. Unfortunately, a substantial block of the party was so spooked by the idea that fighting harder would be successfully spun as "not supporting the troops" that they decided to wait and hope for some bipartisan cover later in the year.

They'll likely get it, though not, I suspect, in huge quantities. My guess is that maybe 20% of congressional Republicans will join them in voting to fund a gradual drawdown when September rolls around. If Democrats are willing to stand their ground and fight, that's probably enough. If they aren't, they'll continue to lose support from a public that wants to see a sustained and determined challenge to the war.

If Democrats want to be taken seriously on national security, they need to be serious about national security. Sticking to their guns on Iraq is the place to start. Hesitation and indecision never won the public's support for anything.

Kevin Drum 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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By: Kevin Drum

COLD, HARD CASH....I just want to remind everyone that William Jefferson (D–Icebox) is innocent until proven guilty. That's the American way. Besides, there are lots of reasons why a congressman might have bricks of hundred dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed in his freezer. Right? In fact, let's make a list in comments!

Kevin Drum 12:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (111)

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By: Kevin Drum

PAYBACK TIME....The recent FCC crackdown on "fleeting vulgarities" has always struck me as little more than ludicrously misguided prudery, so I'm happy to see that an Appeals Court has struck it down. The court's reasoning is just a cherry stuck on top:

The judges said vulgar words are just as often used out of frustration or excitement, and not to convey any broader obscene meaning. "In recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced sexual or excretory organs or activities."

Adopting an argument made by lawyers for NBC, the judges then cited examples in which Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney had used the same language that would be penalized under the policy. Mr. Bush was caught on videotape last July using a common vulgarity that the commission finds objectionable in a conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. Three years ago, Mr. Cheney was widely reported to have muttered an angry obscene version of "get lost" to Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate.

"Get lost" indeed. Karma is a bitch, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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June 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IS THE PEN NO LONGER MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD?....Old farts are forever complaining that kids aren't as well educated today as they used to be. I think Plato felt that way about Aristotle, and it's been all downhill since then.

In other words, it's best to take this complaint with a grain of salt. Still, I have to say that an awful lot of people I trust have been telling me this lately, and in no uncertain terms. Yesterday, for example, both Mark Kleiman and my brother were pretty adamant about the almost complete lack of writing skills displayed by contemporary college students. The kids are as smart as they used to be, and their math skills are OK, but they can't write worth a damn. They can't write papers, they can't write paragraphs, they can't even write coherent sentences.

Is this true? Or just a case of old-fartism? I realize this isn't exactly a scientific survey or anything, but I'm curious to know what teachers at various levels think of this. I know plenty of them read the blog, so comment away. Is writing really a lost art?

NOTE: One (1) person will be allowed, on a first-come-first-serve basis, to write a semi-literate comment allegedly from a college student. After that, the joke is done. OK?

Kevin Drum 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (156)

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By: Kevin Drum

DOBSON ON ABORTION....Via Scott Lemieux, I see that hardline abortion opponents are unhappy with James Dobson because of his support for a ban on partial birth abortions. One of his critics believes, shockingly, that Dobson uses the partial birth abortion bogeyman primarily as a fundraising tool, while another says the recent Supreme Court ban is useless: "This will never save a single child, because...there are lots of other techniques, and they even encourage abortionists to find less shocking means to kill late-term babies," he said.

Fine. Let 'em fight. But the response from Dobson's spokesman, Tom Minnery, was unusually revealing:

Doctors adopted the late-term procedure "out of convenience," Minnery added. "The old procedure, which is still legal, involves using forceps to pull the baby apart in utero, which means there is greater legal liability and danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus. So we firmly believe there will be fewer later-term abortions as a result of this ruling."

Let me get this straight. Dobson agrees that in many cases the IDX procedure is the safest one available, and that's why doctors have adopted it. So the purpose of the ban is to force them to use more dangerous procedures. If a few extra mothers die or experience serious trauma as a result, well, them's the breaks.

Excuse me while I retch.

Kevin Drum 3:12 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

SCORING THE DEBATE....I got home too late to see the Democratic debate last night, but the left blogosphere seems to be virtually unanimous that Hillary Clinton won (for whatever definition of "won" you prefer). This seems to be the consensus both of those who like Hillary and those who don't.

That's amazing. I've long felt that Hillary Clinton is a more effective debater and public speaker than she's given credit for, but I'm still surprised that she seems to have blown away the competition so thoroughly last night. I'm interested enough in seeing how she did this that I might even try to catch a rerun of the debate if it gets rebroadcast later in the week.

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

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By: Kevin Drum

LEAVING IRAQ....In the current Newsweek, moderate conservative weathervane Fareed Zakaria makes a bunch of excellent points about the almost complete lack of serious national security discourse in the Republican campaign these days ("it has turned into an exercise in chest-thumping") and the related fear of Democrat hopefuls that they need to join in lest they be thought soft ("the party remains consumed by the fear that it will not come across as tough. Its presidential candidates vie with one another to prove that they are going to be just as macho and militant as the fiercest Republican.")

As important as this is, though — and it's well worth reading — what he says about Iraq might be even more important:

In order to begin reorienting America's strategy abroad, any new U.S. administration must begin with Iraq. Until the United States is able to move beyond Iraq, it will not have the time, energy, political capital or resources to attempt anything else of any great significance.

....The administration has — surprise — tried to play up fears of the consequences of a drawdown in Iraq (which is always described as a Vietnam-style withdrawal down to zero). It predicts that this will lead to chaos, violence and a victory for terrorists. When we listen to these forecasts, it is worth remembering that every administration prediction about Iraq has been wrong.

....As for the broader Sunni-Shiite civil war, even if we improve the security situation temporarily, once we leave the struggle for power will resume. At some point, the Shiites and the Sunnis will make a deal. Until then, we can at best keep a lid on the violence but not solve its causes. To stay indefinitely is simply to keep a finger in the dike, fearful of the outcome. Better to consolidate what gains we have, limit our losses, let time work for us and move on.

This gets it precisely right. Our foreign policy is at a standstill right now, held hostage by Iraq and unable to move in any sensible direction as long as we're there. Only if we get out can we start making serious progress against violent jihadists and their murderous and growing influence on Mideast public opinion.

As usual, though, Zakaria doesn't quite have the courage of his convictions. Rather than suggesting we leave Iraq, he wants only to draw down our forces to 50,000 troops, a strategy that would almost certainly represent the worst of all worlds: a big enough number to keep the Arab public convinced that we intend a permanent imperial presence in the region, but too small a number to accomplish anything effective. Whether we like it or not, a presence like that will imply an ongoing police role in Iraq, but without enough troops to carry out that role.

A much better option would be to draw down nearly to zero, keeping troops and air support nearby but not physically within Iraq. Otherwise the pressure to intervene will rear its head constantly and Iraq will remain the festering centerpiece of American foreign policy, preventing us from devoting our attention to more serious issues. We can't afford that, and neither can Iraq.

Kevin Drum 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (142)

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By: Kevin Drum

FOUCAULT PENDULUM UPDATE....LA Times reporter Bob Pool goes the extra mile and does what I didn't: he picked up the phone and asked Edwin Krupp, the director of the Griffith Observatory, why the pegs were missing from their Foucault pendulum:

Krupp denied rumors that health or safety inspectors were responsible for initially banning observatory workers from the pendulum pit. Instead, observatory officials themselves decided to change the procedure after repeated pit entry began damaging the enclosure's decorative stone and glasswork, he said.

Well....OK. Pool also reports that the observatory folks are busily constructing a brand new peg setter upper: "It will be radio-controlled, using the same type of technology found in remote control toy cars. An arrow will also be used to show where over the pit floor the pendulum was previously swinging." I was hoping for a specially trained chimpanzee to swing down into the pit and reset the pegs in order to earn banana rewards, but I guess this will do instead.

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

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By: Kevin Drum

THE BITTER END....It's a common refrain among liberals that the best way to "support the troops" is to get them out of Iraq and bring them home. In the current issue of the Monthly, Spencer Ackerman says plainly that this is rubbish:

Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight.

....Democrats have made the decision — rightly, I think — that withdrawing from Iraq is the least bad of many bad options. But they shouldn't kid themselves into thinking that a majority of the troops doing the fighting agree with them. For soldiers like Lieutenant Wellman, this will be hard to accept. As he told me of war doubters back home, "I don't want them to just support the troops. I want them to support the mission." This matters, because pretending that in ending the war they're doing the troops a favor hurts Democrats politically. They risk looking condescending, and, worse, oblivious — which has the broader effect of undermining public trust in the Democrats to handle national security. More basically, it does a disservice to those who serve. For soldiers who are optimistic, being told that the war can't be won is bad enough. But to be told that politicians are doing them a favor by extricating them from a mission they believe in is downright insulting.

This is God's own truth. Ditto for the Democratic obsession with using better body armor, higher GI pay, or the quality of military medical care as proxies for "supporting the troops." As with leaving Iraq, these are all good things to support. But they're good things on their own terms, not because anyone in uniform will be fooled into thinking that voting for them means you support the military. It's the equivalent of Democrats who thought that John Kerry had automatic credibility on national security just because he was a Vietnam vet.

Telling the truth, as usual, is better: we need to leave Iraq not because we think the troops need rescuing, but because we think that leaving is what's best for our national security. And in the future? Our message should be that we'll support the troops by making sure that we send them into war only with proper leadership, proper planning, and when the national security of the United States is genuinely at risk. On all these counts both the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military has let down the troops in Iraq. We need to promise that we won't do the same on our watch.

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (149)

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June 2, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TELEMARKETING....Back in 2003, after the federal Do-Not-Call registry went into effect, telemarketing calls at my house ended abruptly and almost completely. It was a miracle.

Lately, though, the calls have been creeping back up. I'm not talking about calls from any of the organizations exempted from the law. These aren't calls from pollsters or companies I already do business with. I'm talking about plain old telemarketing spam. It's not as bad as it used to be, but there's clearly been an uptick. I get a couple of illegal calls a week.

Anyone else having the same experience?

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (170)

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By: Kevin Drum

LIGHTING UP....A cigar-smoking friend of mine points me to this story in the Sacramento Bee:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fired up a stogie during his trip to Canada this week, but did he break U.S. law to do it?

The celebrity governor known for his love of premium cigars was in Ottawa Wednesday on his way to the airport when his motorcade made a detour to a hotel. There, Schwarzenegger picked up a Cuban Partagas cigar in a shop, with the $15.99 bill paid by an aide traveling with him, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported.

His office wouldn't confirm or deny that the governor indulged in a forbidden smoke while in Canada, where he was on a trade mission...."There's no way of telling now because he smoked it," [spokesman Aaron McLear said.]

...."Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from purchasing or importing Cuban cigars, regardless of where they are," U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said in a statement.

My stogie-loving pal thinks this whole thing is stupid on so many levels his head is spinning. But I think he's missing a bet. Schwarzenegger ought to fess up to smoking contraband tobacco and then dare the ATF (or whoever) to prosecute him. Arnie can afford the attorney's fees, it would reinforce his reputation for macho behavior, and the resulting publicity would be a giant step forward in demonstrating just how dumb our Cuba policy is. Hell, even JFK thought our Cuba policy was dumb, and it was his policy in the first place.

So c'mon Arnie. Fess up! Make it a federal case. America's cigar smokers will celebrate you for it.

Kevin Drum 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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June 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

EATING LIBERALLY — JUNE 2007 EDITION....Just a reminder: our impromptu Los Angeles get-together at the Farmer's Market is still on. If you're an LA blogger, commenter, or reader, feel free to drop by. Here are the details:

Where: Farmer's Market, 3rd and Fairfax (directions here)
Meeting Place: The upstairs seating area above Magee's Kitchen
When: Sunday at noon

Feel free to come early, come late, stay as long as you want, and leave whenever you need to. Everyone is welcome.

You're on your own for food. Just grab something you like and then come upstairs. I'll be getting barbecue from my usual place, but there are plenty of other places to choose from. A directory is here.

Parking note for those not familiar with the Farmer's Market: there's an outdoor parking lot next to the Farmer's Market, but it's usually full. However, an outdoor mall called The Grove is attached to the Farmer's Market on the east, and it has an enormous parking structure that doesn't fill up until late afternoon (map here). The Farmer's Market merchants won't validate parking tickets from the structure, but it's free for the first hour and only a couple of bucks for two additional hours. Your best bet is to park there and then follow the trolley tracks to the Farmer's Market. It's only a hundred yards or so.

A map of the Farmer's Market is below.

Kevin Drum 7:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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By: Kevin Drum

TB MANIA....You know, when CNN goes into one of its periodic feeding frenzies over a missing white girl, I understand it. I don't like it, but at least I understand it.

But a feeding frenzy over some guy with TB who went to Greece when he wasn't supposed to? This is round-the-clock material?

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By: Kevin Drum

CHENEY AND IRAN....Remember that report from Steve Clemons last week about how Dick Cheney is hoping to get Israel to attack Iran in order to provoke a shooting war that will suck in the United States? Today in the New York Times, Helene Cooper confirms it:

In interviews, people who have spoken with Mr. Cheney's staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the report, and said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders were made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now the principal deputy assistant to Mr. Cheney for national security affairs.

Good 'ol David Wurmser. A neocon's neocon. Co-author in 1996 of "A Clean Break," the infamous document that proposed giving up on peace in the Middle East in favor of armed attacks on Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and, while we're at it, Iraq too. A man who proposed attacking South America in retaliation for 9/11. The guy who keeps Cheney bucked up when things look bad.

Unsurprisingly, this news didn't go over well with non-crazy people:

During an interview with BBC Radio that was broadcast today, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he did not want to see another war like the one still raging in Iraq five years after the American-led invasion there.

"You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, 'let's go and bomb Iran,'" Mr. ElBaradei said, in his strongest warning yet against the use of force in Iran.

....Several Western European officials also echoed his concern, and said privately that they are worried that Mr. Cheney's "red lines" — the point at which he believes that Iran is on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon and a military strike is necessary — may be coming up soon. "We fully believe that Foggy Bottom is committed to the diplomatic track," one European official said Wednesday. "But there's some concern about the vice president's office."

And the White House's response? An unnamed senior official didn't actually deny that Wurmser's account of Cheney's views was accurate, saying only that "the vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff." Roger that. I'm sure Wurmser will be fired any day now. And Condi Rice says the whole thing is ridiculous. Of course Cheney is on board with the diplomatic track. Why on earth would anyone think differently?

Kevin Drum 5:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (97)

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By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING.... Over on the right is Inkblot in the garden, surrounded by plants and flowers and watching the birds fly by. Spring is in the air.

Below is a Domino octet. Now that she's discovered the upstairs she spends all her time there, and this is from last Sunday. She's having a grand time playing under the sheets as we make the bed with her in it. In the low light she's just a blur, but a very furry, artistic blur, don't you think?

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By: Kevin Drum

IS WE LEARNING?....Via Tyler Cowen, economist Robert Frank disses traditional economics classes:

What we know is that the course as it's traditionally taught doesn't achieve much impact. Students are given tests six months after they've taken the course to see whether they understand basic economic concepts, and students who've taken the course don't score any better on those tests than students who didn't take the course at all. That seems like a pretty scandalous level of performance, to my eye. I think in other sectors of the economy we'd see malpractice lawsuits filed; in the university, maybe we get a pass on that sort of thing.

It does seem scandalous, doesn't it? I have a funny feeling it's not limited to economics classes, though.

Kevin Drum 1:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA THE TRUTHTELLER?....Andrew Sullivan reads Karen Tumulty's piece on Barack Obama in this week's Time magazine and enthuses "We need this guy. We're lucky to have him." Why? Because he says what he thinks is right regardless of the audience he's speaking to.

But has he always done that? Apparently so. Tumulty's piece reminded me yet again of a profile that Benjamin Wallace-Wells did for us three years ago that's stuck with me ever since. Here's his description of a routine meeting Obama held at a forum in downtown Chicago in late 2004:

Before his audience, Obama told a fortyish man worrying about taxes that government will have to do more to help the middle-class, not less, and that limiting taxes shouldn't be his narrow political priority. He told a white-haired woman peace activist who criticizes Israel that the Palestinians are in the wrong, and then when this appears to encourage a pro-Israel man, tells that guy that the Israelis are far from perfect, too. Obama was measured throughout; he tends to come off as an expert and wonk, an earnest, hopeful policy nerd.

A group of older black women asked, humbly, for vague assurances that he would redirect federal housing policy to emphasize low-rise, rather than high-rise, projects — most housing advocates think low-rise buildings would be easier to police and maintain, and encourage more neighborly interactions. The grandmas were throwing him a softball, hoping only for a signal that he was open to their concerns, that he would side with the experts. Obama was having none of it. "Low-rise isn't going to solve all your problems," Obama said sternly. "I've worked in the projects, and, let me tell you, low rise has problems of its own." The particular lady who had asked the question looked rebuked, and there was a surprised wince in the church: Did he really just say that to a bunch of trapped-in-the-projects grandmas?

"Obama tells you the hard truths, and other politicians, particularly from Chicago, they tend to tell you what they think you want to hear," Lowell Jacobs told me. Jacobs is a retired plumber in Rock Falls, Ill., a grimy old steel mill town at the western edge of Dennis Hastert's district; he is also the chair of the Democratic county commission, and was one of only two chairmen outside of the Chicago region to endorse Obama in the Democratic primary this year. "Barack's got something different," Jacobs told me. "He makes you feel like he's not a politician, but a leader."

Yes, he does. Which is why I'm probably more genuinely undecided between the major Democratic candidates this cycle than I have been for a long time. All three of them appeal to me in significant ways but none of them have completely sealed the deal. (In Obama's case, I'd like to see him be a little more willing to make some of the right enemies.) It's a pretty tough choice this year.

The upside of this is that I don't think I'll be disappointed regardless of who wins. They're all good candidates. And there's still plenty of time to make up my mind.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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By: Kevin Drum

SETTING UP SHOP....Speaking of former Monthly editors, Jonathan Alter is getting shrill at the news that the Bush administration sees Iraq as the new Korea:

All of that White House chatter about staying in Iraq for decades means that Bush has essentially given up on democracy there.

....So why the move to permanent bases in Iraq?....The only two reasons to station troops in the Middle East for half a century are protecting oil supplies (reflecting a pessimistic view of energy independence) outside the normal channels of trade and diplomacy, and projecting raw military power. These are the imperial aims of an empire. During the cold war, charges of U.S. imperialism in Korea and Vietnam were false. Those wars were about superpower struggles. This time, the "I word" is not a left-wing epithet but a straightforward description of policy aims — yet another difference from those two older wars in Asia.

It's nice to finally see a few people in the mainstream press taking seriously the question of why the Bush administration has, for the past four years in Iraq, been busily building permanent military bases the size of small towns to go along with an embassy compound more suited to be NATO headquarters than a diplomatic outpost to a country of 25 million. What's more, this isn't a "move" to permanent bases in Iraq. That's been the plan all along. I remember there was a period a couple of years ago when I'd write about this periodically, but then finally gave up because it didn't seem to get more than a shrug from anyone else. As if building an embassy compound the size of the Pentagon in downtown Baghdad didn't really mean anything special.

I expect that the White House will back off pretty quickly from the South Korea analogies that started all this, but hopefully a few people will have taken notice anyway. An occupying force that's planning to leave someday doesn't need the kind of infrastructure we're building in Iraq. Only a country planning to use Iraq as a staging area for further conquest needs that.

Kevin Drum 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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By: Kevin Drum

TALKING TO SADR....Leila Fadel of McClatchy reports that after spending the past four years turning him into Iraq's best known symbol of anti-Americanism, we're finally recognizing reality and trying to open some lines of communication with Muqtada al-Sadr:

The U.S. military is seeking talks with Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr directly and through the government of Iraq, according to a top American general.

...."He has a grass-roots movement that he's always going to have; we have to recognize that," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview this week. "We're trying to talk to him. We want to talk to him."

.... Salah al-Obaidi, a senior Sadr aide, acknowledged that the U.S. has approached the cleric's supporters multiple times about talks with Sadr. He said the requests had been rebuffed.

"This will be a betrayal for the country," Obaidi said. "Any cooperation with the occupier is forbidden."

Sadr's refusal sounds pretty pro forma to me, and I wouldn't be surprised if he eventually his stance. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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By: Kevin Drum

EDITOR WANTED....Interested in a career in political journalism? If you are, we have an opening for an editor at the Washington Monthly. It's a two-year stint beginning in August.

Now, it's worth noting that "editor" at the Washington Monthly is not the word we use for the actual person running the magazine. That would be the editor-in-chief, Paul Glastris, for whom you would be working. (He's a really nice guy and a terrific editor, by the way.) In fact, you would be one of three editor/reporters, responsible for both editing other people's articles in the magazine as well as writing several pieces of your own each year.

This is a Washington DC-based job, and it won't make you rich. But damn, you'll be following in illustrious footsteps. (Seriously. James Fallows, Jonathan Alter, Kate Boo, Joshua Green, Michelle Cottle, David Ignatius, and lots of others. The Monthly is famous for its alumni.) If you're interested, click here and follow the instructions.

Kevin Drum 12:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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