Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 31, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

THE DNC RULES....As the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets today to decide whether to strip Florida and Michigan of their delegates, it's important to remember why such strong punitive measures were needed in the first place.

There were good reasons for the DNC to add the states it added to the January primary calendar. In addition to the mostly white populations of Iowa and New Hampshire, labor unions and Hispanics in Nevada and blacks in South Carolina were included among the voters in the first four primaries. Including these states added to the diversity of the process.

The DNC also made a good move in excluding large states in the early contests. Large states are particularly expensive to compete in, and too many of them too early would turn the primary into a fundraising contest. As it was, comparatively underfunded candidates like John Edwards were able to seriously compete in early states and shape the debate.

Most importantly, keeping any other states from jumping in line was essential to keep the primary calendar from collapsing. What was to stop Vermont from deciding in summer 2007 to move their primary to December, and California from one-upping them into November, and New Mexico from giving their governor a boost by holding a surprise primary in mid-October? That kind of chaos wouldn't allow voters in the early states to seriously consider their vote.

So there were good reasons for the DNC to pick that particular basket of states early, and further good reasons to make sure their rules were followed. When Iowa and New Hampshire moved their primaries slightly earlier, none of the principles underlying the DNC's decision to schedule the primary calendar as they did (diversity, small states first, preventing surprise primaries in October) were violated. So the DNC didn't do anything.

But when Michigan and Florida jumped into January, the DNC had to enforce their rules or risk seeing the primary calendar collapse. So they penalized these states, and none of the candidates protested. As bad as it is for people in Michigan and Florida to not have their votes counted, this is the kind of punishment that has to be built into the process for it to make any sense. Without these constraints, there's no telling what kind of crazy things state party bosses might do with their primaries. The DNC has to act to preserve the integrity of the process.

Lots of people have written about how it's ridiculous for Hillary Clinton to accept the DNC's decision back in January, and only complain about them now that it's to her advantage. My point here isn't that -- if anything, it's a more controversial one. Howard Dean and the DNC made the right decision back then, and they'll be right to enforce their rules now.

Neil Sinhababu 5:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


I briefly considered driving down to DC to check out the protests at the DNC meeting, but thought better of it. But Eve Fairbanks was there:

"Howard Dean may hope that the "healing will begin today," but two blocks away from the northwest Washington Marriott where the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee is meeting right now to try to figure out Florida and Michigan, the Hillary protesters are occupying an utterly alternate (and healing-free) universe: a universe in which one of the big lawn rally's speakers yells that the Democratic Party no longer is in the business of "promoting equality and fairness for all"; in which a Hillary supporter with two poodles shouts, "Howard Dean is a leftist freak!"; in which a man exhibits a sign that reads "At least slaves were counted as 3/5ths a Citizen" and shows Dean whipping handcuffed people; and in which Larry Sinclair, the Minnesota man who took to YouTube to allege that Barack Obama had oral sex with him in the back of a limousine in 1999, is one of the belles of the ball.

"They almost made me cry this morning when they told me to get out of there," the blond Sinclair--who's looking roly-poly and giddy in a blue-and-white striped shirt with a pack of Marlboros protruding from the breast pocket--says, referring to several nervous protest organizers who tried to evict him when he first showed up at the rally site early this morning carrying a box of "Obama's DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS: Murder, Drugs, Gay Sex" fliers. Since then, though, he goes on, "I have been totally surprised by the reception I have received!"

He's not kidding. Clusters of people in Hillary shirts ask to take their photo with him, one woman covered in Clinton buttons introduces him to Greta Van Susteren, and he estimates he has handed out 500 fliers. "You could improve your credibility if you downplayed the gay sex and focused on the drugs," sagely advises one Hillary supporter with auburn hair and elegant makeup. But in this universe, Sinclair's credibility doesn't seem to be suffering too much. In fact, he's treated nearly as well as he might be at a meeting of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy. In the thirty minutes I stand with him, only one woman expresses disgust at his fliers and his willingness to chattily discourse on whether Obama is "good in bed." (...)

It's easy to sink into despair here. Standing and watching all these Democrats chat up Sinclair--who's retained Montgomery Blair Sibley as his lawyer and says the Republican National Committee has also been in touch with him--makes me want to fall to my knees, rend my garments, and start insanely screaming, "Wake up! Wake up! You'll hate a President John McCain!" But the rhetoric from the top has imparted its poison below, and the bitterest criticisms of Obama gain traction as they circulate through the virulently-pro-Hillary echo chamber. "Would you rather have a president who had an affair [Bill Clinton] or one who was a murderer [Obama]?" Jeannie, the Greensboro Democrat, asks a fellow in a floppy Tilley hat and Hillary buttons. "That's a good point," he replies."

It was ugly when some Republicans seemed to seriously believe that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster and hung crack pipes from their Christmas trees. This is ugly in exactly the same way. And if I saw a story in which Obama supporters were acting like this, I'd say that was ugly too. Politics is worth being passionate about, but it's not worth losing your mind over.

Still, there's hope:

"Following instructions from Obama HQ, almost no Obama supporters have shown up to protest, amplifying the impression of the alternate Hillary universe. But around the edges, a few small signs of the other universe peek through, the one in which Barack Obama leads and most Democrats don't suspect him of multiple felonies. Inside the Marriott's gift shop, the sales clerk tells me that Democratic bumper stickers have been selling like crazy today. "Mostly Hillary?" I ask.

"Actually, mostly Obama," she giggles."

(Preemptive note: I am not saying that Clinton supporters in general have lost their minds; just that the particular Clinton supporters Fairbanks describes seem to have.)

Hilzoy 4:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

Bookmark and Share
By: Neil Sinhababu

DID REID AND MCCONNELL CUT A LIEBERMAN DEAL?....Here are two things I can't explain -- except, maybe, in terms of each other.

First: Even if Joe Lieberman decides to officially become a Republican, this doesn't give the GOP control of the Senate. This is because of the organizing resolution that was passed at the beginning of 2007, which doesn't allow a change in majority to change control of the chamber. Things were different in 2001-2002, when Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party gave Democrats control. Why did Mitch McConnell let Harry Reid set up the rules this way, when Tom Daschle didn't let Trent Lott set up the rules like that six years ago?

[Update: As it turns out, the 2001 resolution, not the 2007 resolution, is the unusual one. The 2001 resolution was written to allow control to flip so that proper accommodation could be made for the tiebreaking VP change from Gore to Cheney. The 2003 and 2005 resolutions look a lot like the 2007 resolution. This makes the 2007 resolution look a lot less like a concession from McConnell -- it's just the way things usually are. So I'm putting the rest of this post in extended entry. Don't bother to read it unless you're really bored.]

(Here's the text of the 2001 organizing resolution, which allows for control to switch. By contrast, this term's organizing resolutions list off the Democratic and Republican members of each committee by name, and specify which Democrats get to chair committees. As with so many good things, I got all this in an old post from fellow guestblogger Hilzoy.)

Second: Harry Reid hasn't been forcing the Republicans to filibuster very much, even on issues where the Democratic position is popular. There was the Iraq funding filibuster last July, but that ended a lot quicker than many of us expected. Why hasn't Harry Reid been forcing the Republicans to hurt themselves by filibustering popular legislation?

So here would be a plausible explanation -- these are the terms of a deal cut by Reid and McConnell at the beginning of the session. Reid's majority isn't hostage to Lieberman, while McConnell doesn't have to filibuster popular legislation. The loser? Lieberman, who can't sell his official party allegiance to McConnell for a high price, or threaten Reid that he'll do so. Reid and McConnell also get the advantage of a Senate that isn't clogged up by filibusters and can get to the important business of letting members appropriate funds for highways and post offices.

This is obviously just speculation -- I'm not the sort of guy who's privy to much insider information. But it's the best way I can explain a lot of otherwise inexplicable things. And if this was the deal, I'm pretty happy with Reid for making it. Since I wouldn't trust McConnell to keep his end of the bargain, it's a good thing that Reid got his goods delivered in advance.

Neil Sinhababu 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


Geraldine Ferraro wrote a horrible op-ed in the Boston Globe. She says a number of things about the effects of sexism on the Clinton campaign, which I do not propose to consider here. But she also claims that the concerns of Reagan Democrats have not been heard:

"As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don't believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Whom he chooses for his vice president makes no difference to them. That he is pro-choice means little. Learning more about his bio doesn't do it. They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate. His experience with an educated single mother and being raised by middle class grandparents is not something they can empathize with. They may lack a formal higher education, but they're not stupid. What they're waiting for is assurance that an Obama administration won't leave them behind."

I'm going to accept Ferraro's claims about Reagan Democrats for the purposes of this post, not because I believe them to be true, but because I'm interested in the state of mind that would lead her to write this. I'm sure that some such people exist -- when Ferraro says that they have stopped her on the street, I have no reason to doubt her. I am also sure that her all Reagan Democrats are not as she describes them, both because no such simple picture could cover such a diverse group of people, and because hers seems to me slanted in some specific ways. But leaving aside the accuracy of her sociology, and focussing on Reagan Democrats as she imagines them:

Reagan Democrats, Ferraro assures us, do not expect to be treated fairly by Obama. Why, exactly, is that? "Because they're white" isn't enough of an answer; they have to have some reason to expect that Obama, in particular, will treat whites unfairly. Why might they think this? Ferraro says it's because they don't think he understands them or their problems. His positions won't help here, she says, which is a pity: one of the first places I'd look for reassurance is at a candidate's positions, and the issues he has made a priority. Neither will his biography: also a pity, since a lot of it consists of sticking up for working men and women. They can't empathize with his upbringing by middle-class whites, though Ferraro doesn't tell us why not.

It's odd that Reagan Democrats, as Ferraro describes them, are so uninterested in a candidate's history and positions, and so curiously unable to empathize. Still, Ferraro tells us that there is one way to reach them: they are, she says, waiting for an assurance that he won't leave them behind.

You'd think that this might have done the trick:

"Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience -- as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze -- a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns -- this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding."

Though Ferraro says that Reagan Democrats want assurance that Obama understands their problems, apparently this isn't enough. Nor is the fact that Obama has gone out of his way to have an inclusive message, to reach out to all kinds of people, and to try to treat everyone with respect.

But if neither his positions, the things he says, his biography, or quite explicit assurances can reach the Reagan Democrats Ferraro imagines, then what could reach them? Frankly, it's hard to imagine.

And what is it about Obama that makes it impossible for him to reassure Reagan Democrats, whatever he says, whatever he does, and whatever positions he holds? Ferraro says this: "They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate." But that can't be right: surely Reagan Democrats don't have such a finely-grained view of the distinctions* between Ivy League law schools that while Obama qualifies as an elitist, someone who went to Wellesley and Yale Law School and is married to a Georgetown-Yale Law grad counts as the salt of the earth.

It's very hard to avoid the conclusion that Obama cannot reach the Reagan Democrats in Geraldine Ferraro's head, that they don't think he will treat them fairly or understand them or their problems, because he is black.

Consider this passage from her op-ed: "when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed." I went back and looked at Obama's South Carolina speech. Here's the only place in which Obama said anything about our time coming:

"Over two weeks ago, we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time for change has come. But there were those who doubted this country's desire for something new - who said Iowa was a fluke not to be repeated again.

Well, tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina."

The "we" whose time for change has come is not blacks, in this speech. It's all of Obama's supporters, black and white. (It's proclaimed by the people of Iowa, for heavens' sake; not the people of East Saint Louis or Newark.) But for some reason, the Reagan Democrats in Ferraro's head didn't hear it that way. When Obama says "we", he couldn't possibly mean a "we" that includes them. He couldn't mean "the people of this country", or "the people who want change", or even "my supporters". They heard him say: our time -- blacks' time -- has come. Your time -- whites' time -- has passed.

And since that's just self-evidently not what Obama said, I find it very hard to see how anyone could have interpreted it in that way if race was not already on his or her mind.


I do not, at this juncture, want to get into the question whether or not these Reagan Democrats are racist. For one thing, they exist in Geraldine Ferraro's head, and there's a limit to how much we can infer about them. For another, I think that the word "racism" has outlived its usefulness. Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why:

"There is peculiar bit of jujitsu that white public figures have employed recently whenever they're called to account for saying something stupid about black people. When the hard questions start flying, said figure deflects them by claiming that any critical interrogation is tantamount to calling them a racist, which they most assuredly are not. [There follows a long list of people saying outrageous things and then reacting with horror at the thought that they might be racist.]

All of this leaves me wondering, Who does a guy have to lynch around here to get called a racist? If twice claiming that a presidential candidate is only in the race because he's black doesn't make you racist; if shouting, "He's a nigger! He's a nigger" from stage doesn't make you racist; if calling an accomplished black woman "the cleaning lady" doesn't make you a racist, what does?"

Coates is right: this is just a game. And it's a game I have no particular interest in playing. If people want to redefine the word "racist" so that only actual slaveholders count, let them. I'm more interested in the "critical reflection" Coates rightly says that the "I'm not a racist" move is designed to shut down; in asking: does race play a role in someone's thought and action that it ought not to play? rather than in asking: does that role reach whatever bar of horrificness s/he wants to say it would have to meet to qualify as "racist"?

It seems obvious to me that race does play a role that it should not play in the thought and conduct of Ferraro's imagined Reagan Democrats. It's not just that they listen to speeches that have nothing to do with race and imagine that they do; that when they hear Obama say things like "our time for change has come", they assume, on the basis of nothing whatsoever, and in flat contradiction to what Obama is actually talking about, that he is dissing whites. And it's not just that they find themselves in the peculiar position of thinking that Obama's Harvard Law degree makes him an elitist with whom they cannot identify, whereas Clinton's Yale Law degree has no such unfortunate effects. It's that race makes it impossible for them to seriously consider one of the two candidates for the Presidency of the United States.

This is an incredibly important election. Our country is facing unusually serious challenges. And the choice between the two candidates is unusually stark. Obama and McCain differ on almost everything: the conduct of the war, foreign policy, the economy, health care, the works. This is a choice we should take very seriously, and make on the best possible grounds, after thinking as clearly and carefully as we can.

Ferraro's imagined Reagan Democrats cannot do that. Whatever Obama says, they will see him through the prism of their fears. There is no assurance he can give them, and nothing he can say that they will not be able to hear as threatening to leave them behind. (Really: anyone who can hear what Obama said in his South Carolina speech as "telling them that their time has passed" can project race onto anything.) There is nothing Obama can say that can reach them. And that is true just because he is black.

As I said, I have precisely no interest in debating whether or not this is racist. Personally, I think it is. But at this point, that question has become a distraction. Whether or not Reagan Democrats, as Ferraro imagines them, qualify as racists is, to my mind, much less important than convincing them that race is playing a role in their decisions that it ought not to play. Because the consequences of their decisions for all of us, black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American, native, whoever, could be enormous.

Ta-Nehisi again:

"Racism has tangible costs for blacks and whites. Deciding your president on something as stupid as race could mean (for instance) that you have less access to health care, that your children work in a stagnating economy, that your neighbors kids will die in a stupid war. Or maybe not. Maybe the white guy is completely right. But if you're a racist, you will never know.

Let me be utterly candid her and speak for myself. I grew up in de facto segregation. I didn't have a white classmate until I was in high school. I didn't have any deep relationships with anyone who wasn't black until I was in my early 20s. I also had some very retrograde views about gays (I'm probably most ashamed of that). When I started working in Washington, I had some truly beautiful colleagues, many of whom I'm friends with today. But when I started the gig, I wouldn't hang out with them after work; I thought something might happen if I got drunk around them. That didn't change until my job hired another brother and he informed me of how ignorant I was. A short time later, I moved to New York, and was shocked to live in a place where the black/white dichotomy didn't really exist. I mean it's here, but not in the same way.

My point is this--it's quite likely that had I not been shaken out of my ignorance, had I not let go of my prejudice, you wouldn't be reading this right now. It was not simply ethical for me to become a more open person--it was to my advantage. I know that the math isn't the same for white people, but the point, I think, still stands. Let me end with a nod to America's greatest past time. The Boston Red Sox were the last team in pro baseball to integrate. And for their belief in the grand purity of the Great White Race, they sacrificed a shot at Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and probably a World Series or two. White racism rewarded them with decades of heartbreak. Not saying racism was the only factor. But it didn't help."

If we elect McCain because a majority of Americans decide, on the merits, that he is the best candidate, well and good. I would disagree, but, well, that happens. But if we elect McCain because some Americans cannot see past race -- if we allow ourselves to become the political equivalent of the 1940s-50s Boston Red Sox -- that would be a terrible, terrible thing.


* Footnote: this phrasing ("surely Reagan Democrats don't have such a finely-grained view of the distinctions* between Ivy League law schools ...") deliberately chosen because it does not make any claim about whether it would actually be right to put Harvard Law ahead of Yale; just that it would not make sense to attribute the view that it is, and therefore that Obama is an out of touch elitist while Clinton is not, to Reagan Democrats. I have no view on the comparative merits of Ivy law schools. (Just trying to avoid needless arguments here ...)

Hilzoy 11:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

MARGIN OF ERROR....Another mini-uproar with (about?) North Korea ensues. Or perhaps more than one, if the media have their way.

Helene Cooper, or rather the editor who wrote the headline on her article, leads the media faction. Looky looky, the numbers don't match! American intelligence agencies estimated that North Korea had produced 40 to 50 kilograms of plutonium, but the documents handed over by the North Koreans list 37 kilograms.

The American intelligence estimates were constantly on the high side; not excessively so, but with appropriate caution. The size of the Yongbyon reactor is such-and-such, a reasonable range of loading with uranium (take the higher number), left in the reactor for an optimal time, reprocessed so as to retrieve every atom of plutonium. It's the calculation anyone would make in their place, but it's most likely going to be higher, rather than lower, although in the right range. If we put 37 next to 50, that's the way it looks. If we put 37 next to 40, the lower end of the intelligence estimates, we can call it right on.

As Cooper notes, it's appropriate also to be skeptical of the North Korean documents, but this is close enough for now. As negotiations proceed, the numbers (on both sides) will have to be brought closer.

The discrepancy, if we can call it that, is fodder for the end-negotiations-now faction in the administration, of course.

Meanwhile, Charles Pritchard, who has visited North Korea many times, including their nuclear installations, reports that the North Koreans will give up their reactor but not their nuclear weapons. Of course they are saying this. It is their way of negotiating, and not the worst obstacle they have put up. It looks like they want light-water civilian-style reactors in exchange for the weapons. That's not impossible.

It may well be that North Korea's latest bargaining point derives from their ever-present fear of being dissed. They're upset at a State Department report that called North Korea a "militarized society" and "dictatorship." So they react by hardening their position. They've done it before.

It's positive that the administration is reacting strongly to Pritchard's revelation. It looks like they're trying to get out ahead of their end-negotiations-now faction.

Ambassador Christopher Hill seems to have this negotiation thing right. His comments have been calm and oriented toward moving forward.

So much of the negotiations with North Korea is reported so quickly that it's a fascinating study in what diplomacy and negotiation require. And it's one place in which the Bush administration seems to be rising to that challenge.

Cheryl Rofer 10:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

Bookmark and Share
May 30, 2008
By: Hilzoy


Just in case anyone was in any doubt about the awesome advantage in understanding conferred by a trip to Iraq, John McCain provides a perfect illustration:

"So I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr city are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks."

As ThinkProgress notes, Mosul isn't quiet. Moreover, Nico Pitney at HuffPo notes that McCain apparently doesn't know how many troops we have in Iraq. Pre-surge, there were 130,000 troops in Iraq. The number of troops is supposed to be down to 140,000 by July.

Steve Benen quotes John Kerry's response:

"If you don't know the numbers of troops, it's very difficult to make a judgment about whether or not they're over-extended. It's also very hard to have an understanding, as a citizen, about what levels of troops he's going to keep there. If he thinks 150,000 is 'pre-surge,' and that's where he's going to stay, that's a deeply over-extended military, and it raises serious questions about his comprehension of this challenge."

The McCain campaign's response is a bit bizarre:

"Clearly John Kerry and Barack Obama have very little understanding of troop levels, but considering Barack Obama hasn't been to Iraq in 873 days and has never had a one on one meeting with Gen. Petraeus, it isn't a surprise to anyone that he demonstrates weak leadership.

"What informed people understand, John McCain included, is that American troops are not even close to surge levels. Three of the five Army 'surge' brigades have been withdrawn and additional Marines that were initially deployed for the 'surge' have come home as well -- the remaining two brigades will be home in July.

"Talk about a political stunt, it's sending out campaign surrogates to parse words about a topic Barack Obama has no experience with, and has shown zero interest in learning about."

Maybe, if John Kerry and Barack Obama had McCain's deep understanding of troop levels, they would see that while 130,000 and 150,000 are different numbers in normal cases, when you're talking about troop levels, they are the same. Somehow, I doubt it.

McCain was wrong. He should just admit it, especially since he wasn't just off by a little. The entire surge involved about 40,000 troops. We are now about 20,000 above pre-surge levels. The problem, of course, is that he can't admit his mistake without undercutting his line that he's the one who really understands Iraq, despite having been consistently wrong both about the broad policy and about such minor details as who the players are.


My favorite part of the exchange:

"McCain national security adviser Randy Scheunemann conceded that McCain said troop levels "have" been drawn down to pre-surge levels. "If he had said 'we'd drawn down,' he'd be accurate," Scheunemann said. "If he had said 'we were drawing down,' he would be accurate."

"To get into a debate about a verb tense rather than the real fundamental national security issues ... is really a distraction.""

Sometimes it matters whether something is true now, or will become true in the future. (If you doubt this, try explaining to the IRS why the fact that you will eventually send in your tax return is all that matters.) This is one of those cases. Eventually there will be no US troops in Iraq. That does not mean that if McCain had said that there are no US troops in Iraq now, noting that that was false would be debating verb tenses.

Still, it's nice to know in advance that we can expect John McCain not to care about the difference between past, present, and future. It will be very useful, if he becomes President, to know that he regards a statement like "I have taken action" as equivalent to "I will, eventually, get around to doing something, but I haven't yet", and that he takes "I have already made all the documents available" and "several decades from now, I will get around to releasing them" to be interchangeable.

Hilzoy 3:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

Bookmark and Share
By: Neil Sinhababu

PELOSI FOREVER!....It's good to see Nancy Pelosi get some positive coverage. I wish the article went into more detail on what's probably the grandest achievement of her political career to date -- holding the Democratic caucus together to destroy Bush's Social Security Privatization initiative in 2005.

Of the 200+ Democrats in the House, only one defected to Bush's side. Without bipartisan cover on an issue where Democrats have historically had the most credibility, and without enough Democratic support to make up for differences within the GOP caucus on how to make the finances work out (higher taxes? more debt? benefit cuts?) the Republicans simply couldn't get a plan through. Social Security was saved.

That was the point when I regained my optimism about the Democratic Party. Pelosi wouldn't do on Social Security what her predecessor, Dick Gephardt, had done on the war -- get bullied into supporting disastrous policies by an overconfident president. (Harry Reid, for his part, did a similarly good job in the Senate.) Pelosi and Reid dealt George Bush the most devastating legislative defeat a president has had since the failure of the Clinton health care plan in 1994.

So when 2009 comes around and it's time to pass health care reform and whatever other domestic policy initiatives we want, we can be confident that the House side of the game will be in good hands.

Neil Sinhababu 2:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
By: Inkblot

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING.... Finally. With Kevin gone we can skip the cutesy pictures and show you the real me. None of this business of staring into the distance or rolling around on the patio. I only do that stuff because he threatens not to feed me if I don't cooperate with his foolish "catblogging."

This is the real Inkblot. As you can see, Domino tried to cross into my domain and was met with the whirling paws of death. You can just bet that she backed off in a hurry. And if you think it looks like I'm the one backing off, I assure you it's just a trick of the light. Victory was entirely mine.

Jeez, this blogging stuff is a lot of work, isn't it? I'm tuckered out. I think I'll take a nap for the rest of the afternoon. Ciao, babies.

Inkblot 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


ABC News:

"In an encounter last night in the lobby of a New York Hotel, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan apologized for denouncing a former White House colleague, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism advisor, after Clarke wrote a book highly critical of the Bush administration in 2004.

Now McClellan is facing a similar denunciation from the White House for his own highly critical book.

"I should have known how personal it would get when they went after me, well, I mean, after what I said about you", Clarke says McClellan told him in the lobby of New York's Essex House.

"I think I can forgive you now", Clarke says he replied.

"I'd like to ask you to", McClellan reportedly answered."

I have mixed feelings about McClellan. As best I can tell, what changed his mind about the Bush administration was having Rove and Libby completely destroy his credibility (what there was of it) by lying to his face so that he could repeat their lies in public. That was, in fact, a terrible thing to do. But, as this encounter makes clear, it's not as though McClellan didn't know that people were having their good name savaged by the White House. It's not even as though he had not willingly participated in that savaging. But he never seems to have thought that it could happen to him.

That's a hard thing, and part of me sympathizes. But another part thinks: you should figure out what's wrong with trashing someone and destroying his credibility when you do it to someone else. You shouldn't have to wait until it happens to you.

That said, better late than never, I guess. I can only hope that some of the people who once defended this administration are open-minded enough to notice how many erstwhile members of the Bush administration have come out with memoirs saying essentially the same thing, and how the administration trots out essentially the same talking points against all of them. You'd think that if so many ex-White House people were "disgruntled former employees", that might raise questions about whether something in the White House had given them cause to be disgruntled. And you might wonder why, if all of them had somehow gone insane or been eaten up by bitterness or were trying for massive book payments, they all came out with the same set of criticisms.

One can only hope.

Hilzoy 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

Bookmark and Share
By: Eric Martin

GETTING TO KNOW YOU...Like Dr. iRack, I found Dexter Filkins' review of Patrick Cockburn's new book on Moqtada al-Sadr to be well worth the read (don't agree with everything Filkins or Cockburn write, but overall, insightful). This is a pretty good summary of the persistent condition of ignorance vis-a-vis Sadr that has been so prevalent amongst US policymakers:

Muqtada al-Sadr stands for everything in Iraq that we do not understand. The exiles we imported to run the country following Saddam's fall are suave and well-dressed; Muqtada is glowering and elusive. The exiles parade before the cameras in the Green Zone; Muqtada stays in the streets, in the shadows, surfacing occasionally to give a wild sermon about the return of the hidden twelfth imam. The Americans proclaim Muqtada irrelevant; his face adorns the walls of every teashop in Shiite Iraq. The Americans attack; Muqtada disappears. The Americans offer a deal, and Muqtada responds: only after you leave.

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr? What does he want? And how many divisions does he have? That we know so little so late about someone so central to the fate of Iraq is an indictment of anyone associated with the American endeavor there. But it is also a measure of Iraq itself: of its complexity, its mutability, its true nature as an always-spinning kaleidoscope of alliances, deals, and double- crosses. Muqtada al-Sadr is not merely a mirror of our ignorance, he is also a window onto the unforgiving land where we have seen so many of our fortunes disappear.

Administration policymakers have ignored, underestimated and prematurely written off Sadr since before the invasion (when few, if any, even knew who he was), to immediately after the invasion (when he was dismissed as an insignificant rabble rouser not worthy of attention), through a series of clashes with US forces and subsequent poltical maneuvers (after and during which Bush administration officials and their supporters have proclaimed Sadr and his movement dead so many times that cat's stare in awe at his innumerable lives).

Even now, there is much buzz about the impact of the recent anti-Sadr operations in Basra and Sadr City - with many pointing to the fact that Iraqi government forces are in both places as a sign of Sadr's diminishing relevance. I would caution against putting too much stock into that reading.

Some basic facts to consider: the Sadrist trend is generally estimated as comprising between 3-5 million Iraqis. That would put his movement in the range of 15-20% of the entire Iraqi population (especially when you consider that, due to the relatively modest means of his constituents, few Sadrists were among the massive exodus of some 2 million wealthier Iraqis that fled the country as refugees).

Though not a cleric yet himself, Moqtada is the heir to a well respected and immensely popular clerical lineage that dates back many decades (his father and father's cousin were extremely influential Grand Ayatollahs). Beyond the sheer numbers of his constituency, Sadr represents a social movement (and an effective network that distributes vital services to millions of poorer Iraqis) and brand of religious millenarianism (Mahdism) that has a rich and lengthy tradition throughout Iraq's Shiite-dominated south (the latter, with literally centuries of history). The Fadhila Party that dominates Basra is itself an off-shoot of the Sadrist trend that emerged after the assassination of Moqtada's father - just to give you a sense of its reach.

Thus, it is entirely unrealistic to believe, as the Bush administratoin apparently does, that the Sadrist trend can be neutralized militarily, or marginalized through intra-Shiite political maneuvering. Despite recent gains made against Sadr's militia, Sadr's endgame involves exerting his considerable influence via the ballot box and through popular appeals. The US would be far better served by coming to grips with his clout and attempting to normalize relations with his movement, rather than trying to ignore it or adopt policies that amount to wishful thinking. If the US continues to target Sadr and his followers, in the end, such hostility will only harden anti-American attitudes, radicalize the Mahdist movement (and cause dangerous splinter groups to break off) and help weaken one of the truly nationalistic, anti-Iranian forces in Iraqi Shiite politics.

That last point, I would say, represents the other great misunderstanding about the Sadrist movement - its reputed ties to Iran. Actually, I'm not sure it's a misunderstanding as much as useful propaganda adopted by the Bush administration in order to further a political agenda (permanent bases, heavy foreign involvement in the oil industry) that Sadr opposes. In this, the Bush administration has made common cause with Iraqi political parties (ISCI/Dawa) that have much stronger ties to Iran than Sadr. But that is a rather inconvenient and awkward position, so instead of acknowledging the reality of the situation, we adopt a fictitious narrative. But there is a potential for self-fulfilling prophesy: in targeting and isolating Sadr, we are pushing him closer to Iran by denying him viable alternatives.

I haven't had the time to read Cockburn's book on Sadr yet, but I have read this extremely informative piece by Reidar Visser. Visser's work is a valuable tool in overcoming the ignorance surrounding Sadr and his movement that Filkins describes. I'll post an excerpt below the fold that touches on some of the issues mentioned above, but I highly recommend the entire piece.

The problem in this is the character of the "rejection of Iran" referred to by Bush as a supposed attribute of the Maliki government. A brief glance at photos of the frequent and amicable meetings between top ISCI officials and Iranian leaders immediately sows doubts about the realities of that "rejection." Similarly, studies of the run-up to the Basra operations against the Sadrists show that some of the "Iraqi" parties routinely accused of having intimate links to the Iranian revolutionary guards - such as the Sayyid al-Shuhada movement - played a role alongside ISCI in instigating the Maliki government to escalate its operations against the supposedly "pro-Iranian" Sadrists. Only weeks prior to the operations, the only Iraqi group that was talking about pushing its enemies "back to Iran" was the Sadrists. By April, even mainstream Western media reports suggested, albeit belatedly, that perhaps ISCI and their scheme of a single Shiite federal region could after all be Iran's number one priority in Iraq. In short, there is still very little hard evidence that indicates any change in the longstanding historical image of ISCI as Iran's primary partner in Iraq and the Sadrists as Iran's primary challenge - a situation with which Tehran deals shrewdly through dividing and ruling the Sadrists as much as possible through the creation of "special" splinter groups (about which Sadrists complained as early as in April 2007), while at the same time maintaining fallback strategies, such as operating a television channel in Arabic (al-Alam) that allows articulation of both the Sadrist and the ISCI point of view.

Nevertheless, US policy has been the logical opposite of Tehran's strategy of spreading the bets, namely, to persevere with one particular set-up - a coalition of "sectarian moderates" supposedly representing an imagined trinity of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But two out of the three main components of this coalition (i.e. the "Shiite" ISCI and the "Sunni" Tawafuq) enjoy only limited popular backing in the constituencies they purport to represent. Despite all the spin, key Sunni and Shiite groups outside the government (including for instance Fadila) remain sceptical of Maliki's methods against the Sadrists, and while Basrawis certainly seem to appreciate the strengthened presence of the Iraqi army in their area, this in itself does not mean that support for the Maliki coalition as a political force is growing. Even the higher ranking ulama (and Sistani himself) have reportedly signalled that any move to marginalize any particular party in the next elections would be unacceptable. Against this background, the emerging US reconstruction project in Iraq increasingly comes across as a colossus with feet of clay: only Kurdistan is being represented in government by politicians who enjoy widespread popular backing; substantial segments of the Arab population are either being bombed into submission (the Sadrists) or bribed and armed (the Sunnis) instead of becoming genuinely integrated in national politics; finally, in the absence of a grand political compromise that could secure durable peace and healing across sectarian divides, Iraq's capital city itself is being compartmentalised with concrete barriers, despite complaints by many Iraqis who think that physical separation is no adequate substitute for true reconciliation.

Despite all this, Washington consistently refuses to rethink its basic choice of Iraqi partners (ISCI and the Kurds), and appears to continue to eschew any serious contact with those Shiite groups in Iraq that "reject" Iran - Bush's term - in a far more convincing manner: the Fadila party, "moderate" Sadrists and independent Shiite figures (both secularists and Islamists) who all repeatedly have made calls for assistance against Iranian infiltration in Iraq's security forces, and have asked for help to cope with the pressures they are being exposed to due to their anti-Iranian attitudes. More plausible approximations of the dictionary definition of "rejection" include accusing Iran of death threats (as the Fadila governor of Basra has repeatedly done), criticising the "Iranian occupation of Iraq" to the press (a frequent complaint by Fadila members of the Basra council), accusing Shiite parties of having their headquarters in Iran (the latest charge by Wail Abd al-Latif, a Shiite secularist from Basra) or even setting fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra (followers of the small Sadrist group of Mahmud al-Hasani have reportedly been involved in this). But despite a catalogue of political demands that are shared by a high number of independent experts on Iraqi affairs - a timetable for US withdrawal, a negotiated settlement of Kirkuk, early provincial elections, prudence in the federalism question - such genuinely anti-Iranian elements among the Shiites continue to receive very limited attention from the United States, whether from Democrats or Republicans.

The ironic result is that in the end, even these Shiite Iraqi nationalist groups will have nowhere else to go than Iran. It is of course understandable that Washington may dislike the prospect of Muqtada al-Sadr's strict Islamism becoming ascendant in the new Iraq. But that kind of reasoning misses the point in three ways. In the first place, the main Shiite alternative, ISCI, has been equally involved in the Islamisation of Iraq after 2003, even if they are more professional than the Sadrists in handling their reputation when they deal with the Western media, and sometimes also rely on proxy-like groups, like "Hizbollah in Iraq" and Tharallah.

Secondly, the Sadrists can offer something to other Iraqis which ISCI is unable to deliver due to its insistence on a Shiite federal region: national reconciliation that would appeal to a majority of Sunnis. (If Maliki is serious about dialogue with the Sunnis, he should stop boasting about "going after the Sadrists" and instead start pressuring ISCI to take the scheme for a Shiite federal region off the agenda.) And thirdly, to include the Sadrists in the political process is not the same as making Muqtada al-Sadr the next premier of Iraq, and also does not imply a green light to the sort of extremist vigilantism perpetrated by Sadrists in Basra. Rather, the most likely outcome would be a change in the dynamics of Iraqi politics, back to a more nationalist and centrist atmosphere. This in turn could bring to the fore new leaders and new political formulas that simply do not have a chance in today's Iraq, where the political game is largely controlled by a minority of returned exiles who insist on a more sectarian, ethno-federal approach to Iraqi politics. It would be the sort of change that could produce a new Iraq more in touch with the long lines of its own history and hence more stable; dialogue with the Sadrists is as central to this kind of outcome as negotiations with Hamas is in the Palestinian question and as engagement with Hizbollah is in Lebanon.

Finally, it is high time that Washington understands that Muqtada al-Sadr was driven to Iran in 2007 as the result of threatening US policies, not as a consequence of any longstanding warm relations between him and Tehran. More mistakes like this could deprive the United States of one of the last chances to salvage the political process in Iraq, and might also unleash some of the most destructive forces that exist in southern Iraq. The consequences for the geopolitics of the world's largest belt of oil resources could be devastating.

Eric Martin 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

MAYBE HE NEEDS TO GO BACK TO IRAQ....I guess the right thinks this "Obama's afraid to visit Iraq, nanny nanny poo poo" taunt is a political winner for them. It certainly fits in with their strategy to paint the Illinois senator as un-American and weak. Of course, the exact phrases that John McCain is using in making the taunt match the words from Vets for Freedom, a 527 group which is off limits to any McCain supporters, but OK for the Presidential candidate as far as coordinating messages, I guess. McCain is also using unauthorized images of American military personnel in pushing this message along.

"The U.S. military must remain apolitical at all times and in all ways," wrote the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation’s highest-ranking officer. "It is and must always be a neutral instrument of the state, no matter which party holds sway." [...]

Three days [after Mullen’s advice was published], Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, sent a fundraising solicitation using an image of him and Gen. David Petraeus.

"Something is wrong with your judgment when you want to sit down unconditionally with Raul Castro and Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but you don't take the opportunity to sit down with General Petraeus and learn about the situation in Iraq firsthand," the letter reads. "My friends, this is not the 'change' we need in our next president."

I believe this comes very close to McCain breaking the law.

But let's break down his substantive "point," if we can dig it out. He's saying that you cannot show proper judgment about Iraq unless you physically set foot in the country. But, as Michael Ware notes, McCain has been in Iraq multiple times, and yet has screwed up assessments of the situation on the ground over and over again, most recently... yesterday:

All week we've been hearing about all those trips McCain has made to Iraq. We know about some of them. Like the one where he claimed he could stroll safely through a Baghdad. Or the one recently where he didn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shi'as.

Just yesterday, McCain was talking about how "quiet" Mosul is. But, Nico Pitney compared McCain's words to what was actually happening yesterday in Mosul:

"Moreover, McCain's claim that Mosul is "quiet" was disproved earlier today in grim fashion. Three suicide bombings -- two in Mosul and another in a surrounding town -- left 30 Iraqis dead and more than two dozen injured, according to press reports."

And the reason for that is that there's no such thing as a legitimate "fact-finding mission" in Iraq. The trips are highly sanitized dog-and-pony shows which make it nearly impossible to get a real picture of things. So on every level, McCain "killer attack" is more like a lead balloon.

dday 11:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

THE AIR WE BREATHE....A commenter at WhirledView put John McCain's nonproliferation policy into context the other day, but his point applies far beyond that.

The doctrine of "American Exceptionalism" is not especially radical in the US. The assertion that the US is uniquely selfless and fair-minded is a mainstream idea in American politics.
The United States is a big, wealthy, highly-defended country with friendly and weak neighbors. We are insulated by media that give us health and beauty tips in preference to the gritty realities that other countries face.

And most of us, most of the time, try to be selfless and fair-minded in evaluating what news we get and selecting our elected representatives. The problem is that blind self-righteousness is only a little way off.

I've been collecting examples. Every day's news provides something, but David Brooks gives us a bonanza today: Iran has to get their internal politics straight before we can talk to them. And that's in addition to shutting down their uranium enrichment plant. And, and, and, besides that, it's all the fault of the international community! They're feckless! They won't do it our way!

While claiming that the United States can't negotiate with Iran because we don't understand their internal politics, Brooks demonstrates enough understanding to indicate that possible strategies might include various ways of increasing divisions among their internal factions and molding paths for them. Our "feckless" allies have been pretty much on board with that sort of thing. They just don't see endless sanctions as being particularly effective. And, it's not an Iranian internal problem, so Brooks doesn't include it, but there's always the option of trying to assure the Iranians that they're not the target of US-imposed regime change.

One of the distinguishing marks of the Bush administration's foreign policy has been American exceptionalism. We've got to move on and get in touch with how others think.

Cheryl Rofer 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
May 29, 2008
By: Cheryl Rofer

TIME OUT....Harumpf. Kevin said we could post photos, but I don't see any way of doing that.

What I was going to say was that I'm getting a bit tired of nuclear weapons and treaties and all that, but the issues with them just don't stop. I've been saying that for several years now. Back in the early nineties, I began to think that they would be less of a problem than they had been, but they're baaaaack!

So I went to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" this afternoon. I enjoyed it immensely and hope to write a review on it, either here or at WhirledView, depending on how long-winded I decide to be.

And I thought I'd post a photo. I do photoblogging at WhirledView, mostly on Tuesdays, but whenever I get to it. I don't have cats as engaging and beautiful as Inkblot and Domino, but I do take photos of the birds, lizards and wildflowers in my yard.

The photo is from last night, when the wind was blowing and the clouds were sailing. There was even a weather warning for further north of a nasty big cloud that could have produced hail. I haven't heard that it did. This one grew up after that one was gone, and the photo is facing east at a little before sunset. I've posted it at WhirledView if you're interested. If you click on it, a larger version pops up.

Update: I've inserted some code sent me by a helpful hacker. Let's see if it works. Looks like it did. You can get an even larger version at WhirledView.

Cheryl Rofer 6:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

BOLD, PRINCIPLED LEADERSHIP... Ask John McCain the one issue where he would separate himself from the President and he almost always answers "climate change." Rhetorically speaking, he has staked out a position that global warming is real and man-made and America must lead to come up with a solution. Only when faced with the opportunity to kick off that process, he's taking a pass on the vote:

Despite stressing the issue on the stump, McCain says he won’t be in the Senate to vote on a landmark bill imposing mandatory greenhouse gases limits.

“I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000. The people of Arizona understand I’m running for president.”

Now, Halperin is wrong. The Lieberman-Warner bill is not a landmark, in that it gives away carbon credits to polluters. The far better bill in the Congress is Ed Markey's Investing in Climate Action and Protection Act, which sets up a 100% cap and trade auction and invests that revenue into clean energy sources, setting a target for an 85% reduction in emissions by 2050. That's a legitimate approach to the problem.

But consider McCain, wanting desperately to be seen as mavericky maverick, yet too constrained by the needs of his base to ever step out of line. His reason for skipping the vote is that the bill doesn't reward the nuclear power industry enough, which is right in line with Bush Republicans nationwide. In fact, as Bill Scher demonstrates, McCain has a completely incoherent environmental policy, highlighted by this complaint that there aren't enough subsidies for the nuclear industry when he claims to oppose all subsidies.

Maybe one of his 2,876 lobbyists working on the campaign has a particular interest in getting the nuclear industry their welfare bucks. Whatever the reason, taking a walk on the vote is certainly the boldest leadership I've ever seen.

dday 6:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

TURNABOUT, FAIR PLAY, ETC.... It's about time somebody slammed Howard Kurtz for his multiple conflicts of interest. His interview with CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier when his wife is the publicist for her book is one thing (he disclosed this at the tail end of the glowing profile). But here's the guy who is supposed to be the nation's foremost media critic, yet he's employed by the Washington Post and CNN/Time-Warner, two of the nation's largest media companies. Not to mention that practically everything he promotes as a major media ethics story has the uncanny knack of bubbling up through some right-wing blog site. He's been a hack for some time and the Dozier interview is the least of the transgressions.

...I also have a post at Hullabaloo about the reaction to Scott McClellan's book, particularly from the media, who responded to his claim that they laid down on the job during the run-up to the Iraq invasion with both guns blazing. And I assume you've all seen Jessica Yellin admit that her corporate bosses at the time pressured her to produce positive stories about the President and the war. Can't wait for Kurtz' reaction. Is his wife working on Scottie's book, too?

dday 3:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PSI!....In an article less tinged with snark than usual, Dana Milbank critiques National Security Advisor Steven Hadley's appearance at the fifth anniversary celebration of President Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative.

This is one of the administration's initiatives designed to keep us safer since 9/11, but they can't tell us what it's doing to keep us safer because that would tell the evildoers.

I'll agree with Milbank that Hadley's speech was deadly dull and chock-full of stuff he didn't need to say. But The Sun goes him one better, aided by certified neocon and John Bolton aide David Wurmser. Wurmser is not at all happy that the PSI has grown to 90 nations from the seven he and Bolton personally selected.

This initiative was precisely an answer to the ossified, broad based proliferation structures that were failing us. It was meant to be an association of like-minded nations genuinely worried and serious about counter-proliferation.
Hadley gave one of those mysterious non-examples, all identities removed to protect sources and methods, as they say.
One example of its success occurred in February 2007, when four nations represented in this room worked together to interdict equipment bound for Syria -- equipment that could have been used to test ballistic missile components. A firm in one nation had manufactured the equipment. A firm in another nation was the intermediary that sold it to Syria. The shipping company was flagged in a third nation. And customs officials at the port of a fourth nation were alerted to offload and inspect the equipment -- and send it back to the country of origin.
Wrongdoer nations were included: one of the nations "represented in this room" had hosted the firm that manufactured the equipment, another hosted the intermediary firm and a third hosted the shipping company. This says nothing about their governments' involvements, which were presumably on the side of the angels.

But it is an example of why you've got to talk to everyone. Which is probably what's upsetting Wurmser.

(h/t to MC)

Cheryl Rofer 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
By: Eric Martin

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG...The most prominent remaining goal of the Bush administration with respect to its Iraq policy is to secure a long term treaty that would allow for a continued presence of US troops in that country for the foreseeable future and, presumably, tie the hands of the incoming administration (or at least create a heavy presumption in favor of consistency) with respect to such matters.

With an eye on the domestic election calendar (as well as the impending withdrawal of the extra "surge" related troops), the Bush administration has set a deadline of the end of July for the deal to be hammered out. In the meantime, the Bush team has been putting considerable pressure on the Iraqi government to take the necessary steps to forge an acceptable accord. Some of the impetus for its decision to push the Maliki government to woo back the Sunni bloc is to provide the imprimatur of broad-based legitimacy to the treaty, or at least the appearance thereof. There has also been speculation that at least part of the motivation for the recent anti-Sadr operations is to intimidate/weaken Sadr in order to mute his expected opposition to the treaty.

It's not just Sadr though. The long term treaty is opposed by large segments of the Iraqi population - perhaps majorities - as well as by other prominent political and religious leaders. Fearing this public backlash, the negotiations between the Bush administration and the Maliki government have been conducted largely in secret, without information or updates provided to the Iraqi people, let alone consultation. That might change, however. Iraqi political and religious leaders are beginning to push back, both on the somewhat arbitrary (by Iraqi standards at least) July deadline and against the treaty itself:

An agreement between the United States and Iraq to allow U.S. troops to remain operating in Iraq past 2008 should be put to a popular referendum, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr urged in an online message to his followers.

The message also calls for weekly protests against the agreement, being negotiated by the two governments.

Al-Sadr also called for "an organized media action" and "a unified political and parliamentary movement" to oppose the standards of forces agreement, which would replace the U.N. resolution that allows U.S. troops to operate in Iraq when it expires at the end of the year.

Al-Hayat reports (via Juan Cole), that Sistani is on board with the national referendum idea as well:

Sources close to the office of the Shiite Supreme Exemplar, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, told al-Hayat that he called on...Iraqi prime minister [Maliki] during the latter's visit to Najaf recently, to deal cautiously with the agreement and called on him to organize a national referendum on it. [emph. added throughout]

Sadr's vocal opposition and, if true, Sistani's more subtle objections, may be yielding results. From the same al-Hayat article (via badger):

Sources said Iraq has informed the American delegation of its intention to extend the talks to the end of the year, on account of unfavorable domestic conditions, and [they informed the Americans also of the need for] deep study of the form of the American military presence in Iraq, and of the proposals for ending [that presence] in case it is no longer necessary.

The Bush administration, consistent with its selective dedication to democracy, will staunchly oppose a national referendum on this subject - despite the enormity of the issue to be decided and the long term effects the decision could have on Iraqi society. You see, some purple fingers are prettier than others (just ask the residents of Gaza). Nevertheless, the Bush team wil continue to rationalize its decision to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq on the grounds that these forces are needed to protect the Iraqi people (at least those not located in Fallujah, Sadr City and other targeted areas). Even if the Iraqi people don't agree. What do they know after all?

Tell me now if you want me to stay. It don't matter, 'cause I'd stay here anyway.

Eric Martin 11:32 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

WARMING TO THE LAW OF THE SEA VIA THE ARCTIC?....The United States joined four other countries that border the Arctic Sea in Ilulissat, Greenland, this week to work out ways to deal with the Arctic's growing accessibility as the ice thins. The other four are Denmark, Russia, Canada and Norway.

As the ice melts, commercial shipping passage becomes possible, along with oil exploration. Russia recently set a flag on the North Pole's seafloor to illustrate their claims.

The United States has resisted ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention, the Republicans and Libertarians holding out in the name of St. Ronnie, although President Bush has recommended its ratification in his diffident way. But the Russian feat may have woken someone up.

The United States was represented at the conference by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. That's pretty high up the line. He is also urging Congress to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.

The agreement reached at the meeting follows the Convention's requirements. But it's not clear to me how that will hold up if the United States stays out of the Convention.

Cheryl Rofer 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


From the Reuters blog:

"During a fund-raiser in Denver, Obama --a former constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School -- was asked what he hoped to accomplish during his first 100 days in office.

"I would call my attorney general in and review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution," said Obama."

It makes me smile just thinking about it.

Hilzoy 12:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

Bookmark and Share
May 28, 2008
By: dday

CLUSTER BOMB BREAKTHROUGH.... Gordon Brown hasn't had a great couple of months, but he showed some backbone today and greatly improved prospects for an international ban on cluster bombs.

In a major diplomatic defeat for the U.S., Britain broke ranks Wednesday and joined more than 100 nations in agreeing in principle to an international ban on cluster bombs, the small, insidious weapons that have killed thousands of civilians in the aftermath of battle.

Though the Bush administration has lobbied hard against the treaty and many U.S. and British officials consider cluster bombs valuable weapons, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown overruled elements of his own military and threw his support behind the prohibition. Brown's decision cleared the way for an agreement that supporters said would lead to the removal of cluster munitions from arsenals around the world.

Most interestingly, the convention not only prohibits the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs among signatories, but it calls on any nation conducting joint military operations with a non-signatory to "actively discourage use of the weapons." With Britain on board, that will have an impact on the United States regardless of what a future President and Congress do with the treaty (for example, these have been used in Iraq).

Cluster bombs are a truly hideous by-product of modern warfare, canisters that open upon ejection and pour a series of "bomblets" across a wide area that are meant to explode on impact. However, up to 25 percent do not, creating minefields that kill hundreds or even thousands of civilians wherever they are deployed.

But while a ban on these weapons would be a major human rights victory, it is more reflective of the waning credibility of the United States under Bush. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago for a stalwart ally like Great Britain to break with the US on a diplomatic issue such as this. But Brown is in trouble domestically, and may have seen such a split as a political cure-all. It's not only McCain who wants to show his independence from Bush. Moreover, here is the United States, on the wrong side of a human rights issue YET AGAIN, lining up with China and Russia and using technicalities like "China and Russia don't support it, so we won't" to justify their behavior. Which is essentially saying that "We don't think this effort will succeed until you bring users of the weapons, like us, to the table."

How many foreign policy failures from this Administration can you name off the top of your head? Because you can add this one.

dday 9:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


Yesterday was full of interesting news. Sticking to stories that concern the election: John McCain gave a speech on nuclear non-proliferation. He also wrote an op-ed with Joe Lieberman in which he renounced Bush's policy on North Korea. And then, in the evening, we learned that when he was coming up with his response to the mortgage crisis, McCain's main economic advisor was literally a paid agent of one of the banks most heavily involved in creating that crisis -- a bank that has an enormous amount riding on what our government decides to do in response.

And yet, at about 1am, when I clicked on Memeorandum, I saw -- well, I can't show you, since I don't know how to do that, but I saw something like this (h/t), only twice as big. There were approximately a million stories about the fact that Obama said Auschwitz when he should have said Buchenwald. (The RNC responds, with characteristic understatement: "Obama's frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief.") There were also a couple of stories about Scott McClellan's book, which is slightly more interesting, but not much, since all he really did was say things that everyone but the editors at RedState already know. The Newsweek story on McCain and Phil Gramm, which had put in a brief appearance as a tiny entry in the 'More Items' section, had vanished. McCain's nonproliferation speech, and his break with Bush on North Korea, were nowhere to be found.

I suppose one explanation for this might be that people are more interested in gaffes than in policy wonkery. But that can't be it. After all, McCain made a much more serious gaffe in his speech yesterday, but very few people noticed it:

"In John McCain's speech today he says something very very puzzling:

Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.

So McCain thinks that the President of the United States has been negotiating with the Iranians for the past two decades? Huh? Does McCain not understand that the stated policy of the U.S. government since April 7, 1980 has been to NOT TALK TO THE IRANIANS. And that we have not negotiated with Iran over their nuclear weapons program."

Personally, I think being wrong about official US policy towards Iran, and about whether recent history shows that negotiating with them won't work, is more serious than being wrong about precisely which Nazi concentration camp your great-uncle helped liberate. But then, I also think that at a time when we are involved in two wars, our standing in the world is as low as it has been in recent memory, we have jettisoned our commitment to basic human rights and the rule of law, our economy is tanking, our currency seems to be in free-fall, the energy crisis has finally (and predictably) hit home with a vengeance, food and commodity prices are soaring world-wide, our health insurance system could most charitably be described as badly frayed, our infrastructure seems to be crumbling around us, and a whole lot of people are looking at losing their homes -- at a time like this, there are better things to talk about than flag pins, pastors, and the real explanation for Hillary Clinton's RFK moment.

Honestly: if this campaign is decided on those sorts of issues, we deserve what we get. It's just a pity our election will affect so many other people, who don't.

Hilzoy 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy


"Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, distanced himself from the Bush administration on Tuesday by vowing to work more closely with Russia on nuclear disarmament and by calling for a reduction in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

In what his campaign promoted as a major speech on nuclear security policy, Mr. McCain told a largely friendly crowd at the University of Denver that he supported a legally binding accord between the two nations to replace verification requirements in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, which expires in 2009. The Bush administration has refused to accept such binding limits on nuclear weapons, which the administration's critics say has created paranoia in Moscow."

You can read the full speech here. This is one of those times when it really helps to know the context. For starters, McCain does not have a very strong record on nuclear disarmament. He did vote for Nunn-Lugar and START II, but he also voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and against making it a precondition of our deal with India that it not contribute to nuclear proliferation. And while in this speech he comes out against the development of nuclear bunker-buster bombs, he fails to mention not only that funding for that project was cut three years ago, but that he voted against those cuts at the time.

Moreover, McCain's other policies would make the ones he announced yesterday a lot harder. Ilan Goldenberg gives the short version on Democracy arsenal: "McCain's basic plan is to slap the Russians smack across the face and then ask them for a favor. Somehow I don't think that will work." The longer version is below the fold.

A lot of the things McCain talked about yesterday turn on negotiations with Russia. Unfortunately, McCain has also proposed kicking Russia out of the G-8, and creating a rival to the UN from which Russia and China would be excluded. Fareed Zakaria:

"On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil -- but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power. (...)

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

The single most important security problem that the United States faces is securing loose nuclear materials. A terrorist group can pose an existential threat to the global order only by getting hold of such material. We also have an interest in stopping proliferation, particularly by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. To achieve both of these core objectives -- which would make American safe and the world more secure -- we need Russian cooperation. How fulsome is that likely to be if we gratuitously initiate hostilities with Moscow? Dissing dictators might make for a stirring speech, but ordinary Americans will have to live with the complications after the applause dies down."

You can decide to work with Russia for non-proliferation, or you can decide to kick them out of major international bodies for no good reason. You cannot do both. But that's what McCain is proposing.

Besides that, McCain says:

"In 2010, an international conference will meet to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If I am President, I will seize that opportunity to strengthen and enhance all aspects of the non-proliferation regime."

That sounds very nice. But the fact that John Bolton is not just one of his foreign policy advisors, but one of the people who worked on this very speech, makes me very skeptical. Bolton, after all, was in charge of the last such conference, in 2005. And guess what happened?

"But if the NPT needed so much fixing under U.S. leadership, why was the United States so shockingly unprepared when the treaty came up for its five-year review at a major conference in New York this month, in the view of many delegates? And why has the United States been losing control of the conference's agenda this week to Iran and other countries--a potentially serious setback to U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran?

Part of the answer, several sources close to the negotiations tell NEWSWEEK, lies with Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control. Since last fall Bolton, Bush's embattled nominee to be America's ambassador to the United Nations, has aggressively lobbied for a senior job in the second Bush administration. During that time, Bolton did almost no diplomatic groundwork for the NPT conference, these officials say.

"John was absent without leave" when it came to implementing the agenda that the president laid out in his February 2004 speech, a former senior Bush official declares flatly. Another former government official with experience in nonproliferation agrees. "Everyone knew the conference was coming and that it would be contentious. But Bolton stopped all diplomacy on this six months ago," this official said. "The White House and the National Security Council started worrying, wondering what was going on. So a few months ago the NSC had to step in and get things going themselves."

Well, that certainly inspires confidence. As does the fact (which I had forgotten until I reread the Newsweek article) that Bolton "tried to block" this administration's one and only nonproliferation success: the deal with Libya.

Jon Wolfsthal lists even more problems with McCain's speech at Democracy Arsenal.

This is one of the most important issues there is, and nothing about either McCain's policies or his advisors suggests that he's up to dealing with it.

Hilzoy 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

Bookmark and Share
By: Neil Sinhababu

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN....Below, Cheryl Rofer joins Thomas Carothers in criticizing the idea of an active 'League of Democracies'. The reason some people want such an organization is so that they don't have to listen to China and Russia in deciding when to undertake coercive action. That's an understandable motivation -- getting approval from dictatorships with serious human rights problems can often prevent us from achieving genuinely valuable ends. But I was pretty impressed by an argument that Matt Yglesias made in Heads In The Sand against relying on such an organization to legitimize sanctions and military action.

Suppose we were to ignore Chinese opinion, and only seek the approval of our friends in the League of Democracies before undertaking coercive action. With the threat of being invaded or sanctioned by democracies, the dictatorships of the world wouldn't just shrug and plod along one by one in their oppressive way. Faced with an external threat, they'd form alliances against all those mean democracies that keep invading and sanctioning them. Nuclear proliferation is a particularly big problem here -- what's to stop China from selling nuclear weapons to dictators who promise to keep selling it oil or promise not to sanction it? As Yglesias points out, there's a serious danger that you'd end up in a great power conflict like the Cold War, with its Vietnam-style quagmires, huge sums of money wasted on armaments, brutal proxy conflicts that rip apart Africa and Latin America, and possibility of nuclear war.

That, obviously, isn't where we want to go. It's not even clear that this kind of polarized situation would be good on democracy-promotion grounds -- when your undemocratic country finds itself threatened with invasion by democracies, being a local democracy activist might make you look suspicious and unpatriotic. So as annoying as it is to look for Russia and China's approval on stuff, it's worth some restrictions on our freedom of action to avoid a situation where the world is embroiled in decades-long negative-sum great power conflicts.

A lot of this is moot right now -- after the Iraq War, our fellow democracies aren't exactly itching to follow the United States into battle. But building a substantial 'League of Democracies' that wields massive power and excludes countries we don't like isn't even really a goal to build towards. Truly inclusive organizations like the UN, even with their obvious drawbacks, are the kinds of international institutions to work through.

Neil Sinhababu 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

Bookmark and Share
By: Eric Martin

WHEN "IN" MEANS "OUT"...Back in late April, there was considerable "reconciliation" buzz generated by news that the Sunni bloc that had withdrawn from the Iraqi government in August 2007 was coming back. At the time, I pointed out that the actual deal paving the way for the Sunni bloc's return hadn't been finalized, that such rumors of rapprochement had been periodic and common despite the lack of follow through, and thus the celebration was premature. Sure enough:

Iraq's main Sunni Arab political bloc said on Wednesday it had suspended talks to rejoin the Shi'ite-led government after a disagreement with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over a cabinet post.

Despite this standoff, it is still quite possible that the Sunni bloc will forge a compromise with the Maliki government in the near future - that is, before the next round of regional elections slated for November of this year. Some background:

Many Iraqi Sunni groups and voters boycotted the regional elections in 2005 out of principle, so the Sunni bloc that has been participating in the Maliki government does not really reflect the political expression of a wide swathe of the Sunni population. In recent months, rival Sunni groups have been forming to challenge the current bloc's monopoly on the Sunni political apparatus. In particular, the Awakenings groups that have allied with the US against al-Qaeda in Iraq (especially the Anbar Salvation Council tribal elements) have been demanding a share of the local and national political machinery. In fact, some of the Awakenings constituents have threatened violence if they are not given a share of political power via elections (or some other means).

Thus, the Sunni bloc has at least a few incentives to rejoin Maliki's government. For one, its members will be able to take advantage of their insider positions, and access to government machinery, in order to improve performance at the polls come this fall (in both legitimate and less than legitimate ways). In addition, when it announced its return, the Sunni bloc touted some gains made (though exaggerated) in terms of easing de-Baathification and securing amnesty for Sunni prisoners. Running as incumbents that have delivered tangible results for their constituents does have its advantages. Thinking cynically for a moment, the Bush administration might even be tempted to look the other way with respect to electoral manipulation in order to help a Sunni political bloc if that bloc is willing to endorse certain of the Bush team's cherished objectives (i.e., a long term agreement on bases and troop presence).

The article cited above goes on:

Persuading the bloc to rejoin has been a main aim of U.S. policy in Iraq and is widely seen as a vital step in reconciling the country's factions after years of conflict. Sunni Arabs have little voice in a cabinet dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds.

This vastly overstates the significance of the bloc's return in terms of progress on the national reconciliation front. The return of this bloc to the Maliki government would not represent some bold new development in terms of reconciliation, just a reset of the status quo ante in place before its withdrawal in August 2007. So a deal for the return of the Sunnis would merely recreate the same "broad based" government that was incapable of making any meaningful progress in terms of the national reconciliation agenda for years.

Credible and lasting reconciliation will only be possible (eventually) after free and fair elections produce leaders with perceived legitimacy that address the concerns of large majorities of the population - even if (and, if polling data is to be believed, especially if) those leaders oppose the continued presence of large numbers of American troops. Ironically, if the current Sunni bloc's reentry in the Maliki government is a sign of its intention to use its position to gain unfair advantage over its Sunni rivals in the upcoming elections, then a development that will be touted as a sign of progress on the reconciliation front will, in reality, mean exactly the opposite.

Eric Martin 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

GOOD NEWS FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY.... I know Kevin has been following the California same-sex marriage issue after the state Supreme Court tossed out Prop. 22. He's been gaming out scenarios for public support, and now we have enough data from early polling to get a real understanding of where we're at, 5 months out from a likely vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The LA Times poll from last week showed an electorate that supports, by anywhere from 55%-59%, the concept of a loving relationship between two people of the same gender, finding it not morally wrong. However, they also supported the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by a count of 52%-35%.

But today's Field Poll, still considered the best pollster in the state despite some misses of late, finds that Californians both support the concept of gay marriage AND oppose the constitutional amendment.

By 51 to 42 percent, state voters believe gay couples have the right to marry, according to a May 17-26 poll of 1,052 registered voters [...]

In another Field Poll two years ago, state voters opposed gay marriage, 51 to 43 percent. DiCamillo said the recent shift may reflect both the presence of newer voters and a reaction to the state high court ruling.

"We had this historic ruling of the state Supreme Court, and people may have been persuaded," DiCamillo said. "We do see a shift. It looks like something happened to affect opinion."

The Field Poll asked two groups of voters differently worded questions on whether they would support a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Voters asked about "barring marriage between gay and lesbian couples" opposed a constitutional ban, 54 to 40 percent. Voters asked whether they favored or opposed "having the state constitution prohibit same-sex marriage," also opposed the ban, 51 to 43 percent.

The poll's findings, which track with the LA Times poll, show that this is a regional issue and a generational issue. The Central Valley, the most conservative part of the state, opposes gay marriage pretty strongly, while the coasts support it. And there's a large shift in support between those under 45 and over 45; in the Field poll, 68 PERCENT of voters between 18-29 favor same-sex marriage. So in the long-term, the people have made their decision. The question is whether enough voters in that bracket will come out on Election Day to cast a ballot. In addition, it seems like the biggest stumbling block for those who oppose gay marriage is the words "gay marriage"; they're OK with the concept in theory, if they are to be believed, but just can't get over the hump of seeing two men or two women as a married couple. So advocates working this campaign in the fall have to figure out how to create a way to make the swing voters more comfortable with voting on a conceptual and intellectual level rather than a visceral one. Overall, however, this looks very good for the marriage equality side.

dday 10:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

NO THANKS, WE'VE GOT ONE ALREADY...A League of Democracies, that is.

John McCain and others frustrated by the need to do diplomacy and work with other countries keep putting forth the idea of a League of Democracies. That would be the guys in the white hats who would agree with the United States and offer up their armies when the United States wants to depose another dictator. Or cooperate in trade sanctions. Or something.

But it turns out that we have had The Community of Democracies since 2000. You haven't heard much about them, because they haven't done much.

The Department of State's website doesn't list the members, just mentions 100 nations and 140 nations that were invited to previous meetings. Accomplishments so far include missions to East Timor and Tblisi, Georgia. No mention of what the missions were for.

h/t to Thomas Carothers in a WaPo op-ed.

Cheryl Rofer 10:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
May 27, 2008
By: Hilzoy

MSNBC (h/t):

"Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's national campaign general co-chair was being paid by a Swiss bank to lobby Congress about the U.S. mortgage crisis at the same time he was advising McCain about his economic policy, federal records show.

"Countdown with Keith Olbermann" reported Tuesday night that lobbying disclosure forms, filed by the giant Swiss bank UBS, list McCain's campaign co-chair, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, as a lobbyist dealing specifically with legislation regarding the mortgage crisis as recently as Dec. 31, 2007.

Gramm joined the bank in 2002 and had registered as a lobbyist by 2004. UBS filed paperwork deregistering Gramm on April 18 of this year. Gramm continues to serve as a UBS vice chairman."

You can see the lobbying disclosure forms at the MSNBC link above. They are as advertised. (On all except the first, note the little "Next" button at the upper left; it takes you to subsequent pages, on some of which you will find Gramm's name.)

Gramm is bad news with or without his lobbying job. As I wrote two months ago, he was heavily involved in the Enron crash, and some of his legislation helped make the current crisis possible. To quote James Galbraith:

"Phil Gramm's career was as the most aggressive advocate of every predatory and rapacious element that the financial sector has," Galbraith said. "He's a sorcerer's apprentice of instability and disaster in the financial system."

But it just defies belief that McCain would have, as his main economic advisor and one of the people responsible for his plan to deal with the mortgage crisis, someone who was a paid lobbyist for a bank that was heavily involved in that crisis, a firm that has just advised some of its employees not to travel to the US for legal reasons, and that stands to gain or lose a lot depending on what the federal government decides to do about it. What's next: the revelation that McCain's policy on Iran is being written by a lobbyist for the makers of cruise missiles? Or that he has outsourced his health care policy to a lobbyist for the National Funeral Directors Association?

My best guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that there are certain things about himself that McCain is so sure of that he does not see how he could ever be challenged on them. He knows that he is a man of honor, so why would he need to keep people with obvious conflicts of interest away from his campaign -- even when he is taking their advice on topics that, by his own admission, he doesn't know much about? Likewise, he knows that he cares about the military, so why would he need to actually acquire a decent record on veterans' issues?

If this is at all right, it promises to be an entertaining campaign. Meanwhile, will the last lobbyist to leave the McCain campaign please turn out the lights?

Hilzoy 10:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

RELEASE THE MEMOIRS!... There was a hint last November that Scott McClellan's memoir was going to be unrelenting on George Bush, Karl Rove and the gang, but that was quickly dismissed as overhyped. The book is now on the verge of being released, and in fact was on sale over the weekend at D.C.-area bookstores. So Mike Allen picked up a copy, and the revelations appear to be as originally advertised:

Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception" (Public Affairs, $27.95):

McClellan charges that Bush relied on "propaganda" to sell the war.

He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be "badly misguided."

The longtime Bush loyalist also suggests that two top aides held a secret West Wing meeting to get their story straight about the CIA leak case at a time when federal prosecutors were after them - and McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts.

McClellan asserts that the aides - Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff - "had at best misled" him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

This could be cherry-picking as well for the sake of selling some hardcovers. But that's not a phenomenon that will be limited to Scott McClellan (and who knew he had this in him, huh?). The spate of memoirs that always roll out near the end of an Administration will take on an even greater "every-man-for-himself" quality in this one. From the lowest-level staffer to his personal food-taster, Bush will see half of his underlings or more trash him to every publisher in the country. If someone like McClellan, who was at Bush's side from the Texas days, is willing to go nuclear to preserve his own reputation, it'll be a free-for-all.

dday 8:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy

Ben Smith puts the fact that 10% of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim in context:

"Large minorities of Americans consistently say they hold wildly out-of-the-mainstream views, often specifically discredited beliefs. In some cases, those views should make them pretty profoundly alienated from one party or the other.

For instance:

22 percent believe President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.

30 percent believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

23 percent believe they've been in the presence of a ghost.

18 percent believe the sun revolves around the Earth."

That last is pretty scary. I mean, there are certain things I just assume that everyone knows (except for Sherlock Holmes, who had his reasons.) The fact that the earth revolves round the sun is one of them. The idea that nearly one in five Americans does not know this is unnerving. I am not at all consoled by the fact that a few years before this poll was taken (in the 90s), only 74% of Germans and 67% of Britons got it right.

However, here's something even stranger: not only do 23% of Americans claim to have been in the presence of a ghost; five per cent think they have seen a monster in the closet. Unless their definition of "monster" includes, say, cockroaches, or they included small children in their survey sample, that's really strange.

Hilzoy 5:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

DOE/NNSA Mission.....Tbw asked for my opinion on the mission of the DOE/NNSA complex. In that regard, optical weenie suggested I look at the NNSA website.

For those joining in the middle of this conversation, the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) is the part of the Department of Energy that deals with nuclear weapons.

I don't see an explicit statement of mission at the NNSA website, although I would be surprised if a government agency didn't have such a group of words somewhere.

One can be obvious and say that the mission of NNSA is to maintain and certify the nuclear stockpile. But that doesn't tell us much of what I suspect tbw is asking about.

The mission of the nuclear weapons complex during the Cold War was to keep ahead of the Soviets. That meant more and better. When Gorbachev became First Secretary of the Communist Party, and it turned out that Ronald Reagan was a closet nuclear abolitionist, that got toned down. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the potential uses of nuclear weapons were no longer obvious.

The military never was all that crazy about nukes, either. The Air Force liked that they justified fancy missiles and bombers, but the other services tended to see them more as a liability to themselves. Too much standoff distance for the Army if you wanted to lob one at the other guy.

So who are we going to use nuclear weapons against now? Where is the threat that would justify the use of a nuclear weapon?

Both the United States and Russia have been decommissioning their nuclear weapons. They have agreed to get down to 2200 each by 2012. The numbers now are something under 10,000 for the US, a few thousand more for Russia. Congress has refused to fund the RRW until they get a clear statement of what it will be used for.

The DOE/NNSA mission is inextricably tied to national policy on nuclear weapons. There are three ways it could go, it seems to me.

1. Nuclear weapons become much more important in the US's defense strategy. In this case, DOE/NNSA gets a new lease on life. Complex 2030 (or whatever they are calling it this week) gets fully funded. The RRW becomes real. The labs hire a bunch of eager young designers and the economy of New Mexico blooms. I put the probability of this scenario at less than 10%.

2. The next president signs on to the program proposed by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn. Agreement with Russia opens up Pantex and the Russian equivalents to the IAEA and regular reports are issued on how many weapons have been disassembled and how many are left. Britain, France and China join the rush. Israel admits it has nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan decide to think about it. Probability: somewhere between 20 and 50%, higher if Obama becomes president.

3. Business as usual. Nukes are disassembled at the current rate. National policy remains muddled. We hoot and holler at various other nations who hoot and holler back. Probability: around 50%, more if Clinton or McCain becomes president.

[Whoops! Got to change those probabilities with McCain's speech today. So let's add McCain to scenario 2 and subtract him from scenario 3, while decreasing the probability of scenario 3.]

Cheryl Rofer 5:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Bookmark and Share
By: Rachel Morris

A guest post from Washington Monthly founding editor Charles Peters:

First primary of 2012 -- October 31, 2011

The New Hampshire primary used to be in March. The present chaotic race to earlier and earlier primaries is a recent development, not required by tradition or reason.

The Democratic National Committee, attempting to get this situation under control, adopted new rules governing the timing and order of primaries. Those rules were violated by Michigan and Florida. As a result, the DNC deprived the two states of their convention delegates. Hillary Clinton wants to restore the delegates because she won both states, though Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. Obama, of course, wishes the controversy would go away, but has to be careful not to offend Florida and Michigan voters who may be crucial to him in November. Only a handful of DNC officials seem certain to fight to preserve the penalty.

The media, with the exception of the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman, has been mostly silent on the issues at stake, other than the effect on the delegate counts for Clinton and Obama. I pray that journalists wake up in time -- meaning before the DNC Rules Committee meets this weekend -- to alert the public to the fact that, if Michigan and Florida are allowed to get away with violating the rules, the first primary for 2012 is going to be on Halloween 2011.

My own solution would be to seat the delegates but deprive them of a vote affecting the presidential nomination.

-- Charles Peters

Rachel Morris 4:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

LIEBERMAN HEARTS HAGEE....Joe Lieberman is scheduled to address Pastor John Hagee's national summit on, I guess, Armageddon in July.

If you want to petition Joe not to go, you can sign up here.

I have to confess that I find the whole thing bizarre, from Hagee's crowd's making pets of Jews in preparation for the Rapture, to the willingness of Jews to take that status. Throw in the recently uncovered remarks from Hagee about Hitler doing God's will, and you've got quite a mixture.

Cheryl Rofer 2:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share
By: Neil Sinhababu

INSTANT CONGRESSIONAL RACE RANKINGS....This is pretty nifty: Nicholas Beaudrot analyzed the demographics of the 27 GOP-held open seats and all 170 races with GOP incumbents to see how Barack Obama would perform in each district.

The thinking is that demographics predict Obama's performance (blacks and college-educated whites help him), and Obama's performance serves as a rough proxy for how Democrats will do this time around. It's a neat way to identify races that may become unexpectedly competitive with Obama at the top of the ticket.

So if you're represented by a Republican in the House, take a look at the spreadsheets (embedded into the page by the magic of Google Docs) and take a look at how the demographics project Obama's performance, and how winnable your district is. We've won three straight special elections in places where Democrats don't usually win, so it's a good year to go after the local GOP congressman.

Also, a word to any Democrats suffering under Mike Rogers, the Republican in Michigan's 8th district -- your district comes in as the 18th most competitive! Please try to make sure your challenger's website doesn't look like this. And that number's been stuck at 2880 each time I've checked it tonight.

Neil Sinhababu 12:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
May 26, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

SCHOOL AND WAR....Back in 2003, one of the students in the class I was TAing came to my office to tell me that I wasn't going to see him in class for the rest of the semester. When I asked him why, he explained that was being deployed to Iraq. My attitude did a split-second shift from "kid dropping out of school" to "brave young man risking his life in war" and we sat there and talked for about half an hour.

It didn't occur to me to get his email address then, so over the next few years I'd occasionally Google him to see if any news came up. I had little success, because his name isn't especially unusual and all I could find were thousands of irrelevant hits. I reminded myself that this was a good thing -- most likely, if his name was in the news, it would be because something bad had happened to him.

If you're bracing yourself a little, don't worry -- this isn't that kind of Memorial Day story. I was overjoyed to run into him in a campus restaurant last year and hear that his time in Iraq was over. He's back in Texas, safe and sound.

I tell you this because it brings to mind one of the lesser costs of the Iraq War -- the disruption it imposes on the lives of able and intelligent people who have to put their educational plans and careers on hold for years. While everyone else is advancing, they're away fighting a war.

This is what I think of in relation to Jim Webb's bill to expand educational benefits for veterans. (That's the bill that at the center of the Obama-McCain spat right now -- Obama voted for it while McCain opposed it but didn't show up for the vote.) If we can reduce the bad consequences of risking your life for your country, we should, and that's what Webb's bill tries to do.

Neil Sinhababu 9:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

GETTING SAFER..... Quick quiz: Are terrorist attacks increasing or decreasing?

The answer depends on where you get your numbers from. Fareed Zakaria goes to Canada for his. The reason? Simon Fraser University doesn't count civilian casualties from the war in Iraq. US databases do, and those casualties amount to 80% of the deaths they count. Simon Fraser's numbers (that other 20%) are decreasing and have been for the past several years.

There seem to be numerous reasons for the decrease, but the Simon Fraser study attributes it mainly to the "extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years." That's like what has been happening in Anbar province in Iraq: the Islamists get too pushy, kill too many of the neighbors, and their popularity goes down.

Counterterrorist operations, including undressing for the TSA at the airport, as on the cover of the May 26 New Yorker (sorry, can't find a good link) seem to be part of the reason for the decrease too. I'm wondering if the decrease in terrorism forms a background for the increasing numbers of people who are getting fed up with airport security theater. Derrick Z. Jackson must have flown lately, and Mike Lukovich's 5/26 cartoon echoes the disdain.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is insisting that its funding to the states be used to protect us against IEDs. And--sssshhh!--there's even more danger out there!

Cheryl Rofer 5:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE WAR PRAYER.... In 1904, disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War, Mark Twain wrote a short anti-war prose poem called "The War Prayer." His family begged him not to publish it, his friends advised him to bury it, and his publisher rejected it, thinking it too inflammatory for the times. Twain agreed, but instructed that it be published after his death, saying famously:

None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.

"The War Prayer" was eventually published after World War I, when its message was more in tune with the times. Washington Monthly's publisher, Markos Kounalakis, who was affected by Twain's words when he covered the war in Yugoslavia in the early 90s, made "The War Prayer" into a short video for release last Memorial Day, and today we're reprising it. It features stunning illustrations by Akis Dimitrakopoulos and is narrated by Peter Coyote, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Erik Bauersfeld. You can view it here.

Kevin Drum 12:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share
May 25, 2008
By: Cheryl Rofer


We don't hear much about the Eurovision song contest here in America, but it's big in Europe, particularly the countries that used to be part of other countries. I was in Estonia for the finals a couple of years back, and we were all feverishly texting our votes in to make sure our guys won. They didn't that time around.

The winner's country gets to host the next year's finals, so they'll be in Russia next year.

Some of the contestants get pretty outrageous. Here's the YouTube channel for you to check them out. I haven't been following closely this year, so I can't make any recommendations.

Cheryl Rofer 3:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
By: dday

Recount And Recent History... Hi, I'm actually spending the weekend out in New York City for a wedding and am largely off the grid, but I did want to mention one thing before HBO unveiled its cinematic account of the Bush-Gore Florida follies Recount tonight, which is getting excellent reviews.

In my day job, I'm a freelancer in the LA area, and this past week I spent some time in a new office that I hadn't been to in some time. Immediately, I noticed something new gracing the wall; the front page of the Los Angeles Times from the day after the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore and Gore's concession from the race. I don't know how it got there or who put it up, but I'm glad they did, for as an artifact of the state of the world from the eye of the media at the close of the election, it's pretty fascinating.

The subhead from the top headline reads "President-Elect Calls For Reconciliation After Gore Concedes Defeat in Longest Contest in a Century." There was an analysis from Times Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus titled "Bush's Vow To Unite Encounters a Great Divide," and the beginning of the story (only the front page was on the wall) talked about how Bush campaigned as a "uniter, not a divider," and how this would now be tested by those angry Democrats, who Bush planned to reconcile with in order to calm the waters. Here's a sample:

Bush sought to send a message of soothing bipartisan conciliation in his first statement as President-elect.

"I am optimistic we can change the tone in Washington, D.C.," Bush said. "I believe things happen for a reason, and I hope the long wait of the last five weeks will heighten a desire to move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past."

Bush actually invoked Lincoln in that speech, saying that "Our nation must rise above a house divided," and how he was elected to serve one nation and not one party.

There was an analysis by Josh Getlin about how the nation was ripped asunder by this recount battle and scars were still showing and how wonderful it was that the "national shouting match was ending."

And there was an vaguely sourced story about how Gore's lawyers wanted to keep fighting after the Supreme Court decision (they apparently found some glimmers of hope in the opinion), but Gore finally called it to an end after exploring all avenues.

So the prevailing opinion on one of the country's more respected newspapers on this day was, basically, that George Bush was this conciliatory figure, Al Gore was scheming right up until the very last second and even after to overturn the election, and the public was just glad it was all over and now America can get on with the business of healing and bipartisanship.

Let that marinate in your mind, and bathe it in the knowledge of what actually took place over the past eight years.

Of course, this is the rhetorical angle that Bush used outwardly during the recount battle, that the counting was over with and now is the time to "bind up the nation's wounds" and move forward. What's a little shocking is how quickly and directly the major media figures came to the same conclusion. The seeds of how the media treated the Bush Administration over the bulk of his first term are all here, particularly the amplification of the main message coming from Ari Fleischer on any given day. And this was all done for our benefit, in the spirit of ending bitterness and changing tone and overcoming the rancorous partisanship. A time for healing.

Except we all know where that partisanship flowed from. And how it continued from the moment Bush II entered office. I don't know if this is explored in "Recount," but it should be in the background of any story which recreates that time period.

dday 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy

Hillary Clinton has an op-ed in the NY Daily News called "Why I Continue To Run." In addition to lamenting the fact that an unnamed "some" took her remarks about Bobby Kennedy's assassination out of context, she makes two points that are worth remarking on. First:

"I am running because I believe staying in this race will help unite the Democratic Party. I believe that if Sen. Obama and I both make our case - and all Democrats have the chance to make their voices heard - in the end, everyone will be more likely to rally around the nominee."

This might or might not be true in the abstract. In the actual world, however, everything depends on how Hillary Clinton conducts herself. She can continue to make her case in a constructive and positive way, trying to show that she is the best candidate while doing her best to defuse the idea that the nomination was somehow stolen from her, and to reconcile her followers to the idea that she lost fair and square; or she can try to undermine Obama's claim to be the legitimate nominee, if he wins. "Staying in the race" describes both options. But only one of them "will help unite the Democratic Party", and make "everyone (...) more likely to rally around the nominee." Hillary Clinton has not chosen that option.

I just heard someone on one of the talk shows say that it must be hard for Hillary Clinton to give up her dreams. I appreciate this fact, and I do not envy her. However, as I wrote a few days ago, Hillary Clinton is a responsible moral agent. She has the power to decide which of these two approaches she will pursue. Moreover, she has now had several months to get used to the idea that she lost. If she were an adult, she would deal with it. The fact that she seems instead to require our indulgence while she sorts through her emotional issues just gives me one more reason to be glad she lost: Presidents are often confronted with crises, at 3am and other times, and they do not always have the luxury of working through all the stages of grief before coming up with a response.

Clinton also claims that she is more electable than Obama:

"Finally, I am running because I believe I'm the strongest candidate to stand toe-to-toe with Sen. McCain. Delegate math might be complicated - but electoral math is not. Our campaign is winning the popular vote - and we've been winning the swing states we need to get 270 electoral votes and take back the White House: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and West Virginia."

Let's leave aside both the arguments about the popular vote and the problems involved in extrapolating from primary votes to the general election, and focus on electability in the actual world. In the actual world, the only way Clinton can win the nomination, absent some genuine catastrophe, is for the superdelegates to decide to give her the nomination. If that happened, would she be more electable? She might have an edge over Obama in Appalachia, but she would surely be at a serious disadvantage among African-American voters. This might not have been true had she won the primary on pledged delegates: in that case, Obama's supporters would probably be disappointed, but would manage to get over it.

Obviously, I cannot speak for African-American voters, but I imagine a number of them might wonder whether it's possible for an African-American candidate to win at all; and that a larger number probably feel that if a black candidate were to win, that candidate would have to surmount challenges that no white candidate has to face. For instance, any black candidate has to negotiate a whole minefield of issues, as was shown by the number of insulting articles early on about whether Obama was "black enough", and, in a different way, by the focus on Jeremiah Wright. Had Obama lost straightforwardly, I imagine those voters would have been disappointed, but hardly surprised. And since African-Americans have an unbroken record of voting for white candidates for President, there's no need to ask whether they would have been willing to do vote for one this time.

But despite the fears of those voters, Obama has actually won a majority of pledged delegates, and he won them with the support of a lot of white voters in a lot of predominantly white states. This strikes me as a wonderful thing; I cannot imagine how it would feel if I had gone through my entire life wondering, in my heart of hearts, whether anyone who looked like me could ever win a major party nomination. And if, at this point, the superdelegates were to give the nomination to Hillary Clinton, or to any white candidate, it's hard for me to see how I would not feel robbed not only of my candidate's shot at the nomination, but of some portion of my hopes for my country.

Again, I cannot speak for African-American voters, but I cannot imagine how Hillary Clinton could be nominated at this point, after Obama won a majority of pledged delegates, without taking a very big hit to her ability to motivate and mobilize African-American voters. Any attempt to figure out who is more electable has to take this into account. Talking about Clinton's edge in Kentucky and West Virginia without taking into consideration the damage she would do to Democratic support among African-Americans, is at best pointless, and at worst dishonest.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings.)

Hilzoy 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

Bookmark and Share
By: Hilzoy

The NYT has a story headlined 'Worries in G.O.P. About Disarray in McCain Camp'. It contained this rather astonishing passage:

"The string of departures from the campaign was prompted by questions about lobbying activities by aides and advisers to Mr. McCain and a new policy, which he dictated, that active lobbyists not be allowed to hold paying jobs in the campaign. Mr. Schmidt said that policy was an example of how Mr. McCain would take tough action, part of a contrast he said they would draw with Mr. Obama for “giving great speeches” but having no record of accomplishment."

Let me get this straight. Obama has refused, from the outset, to take money from lobbyists and PACs. He has also refused to have lobbyists on his paid staff. When the RNC has tried to catch him in hypocrisy, it has had to resort to such claims as: he lets lobbyists give him free advice! He has people on his staff who used to be lobbyists!

By contrast, until quite recently, John McCain's campaign was full of lobbyists:

"For years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has railed against lobbyists and the influence of "special interests" in Washington, touting on his campaign Web site his fight against "the 'revolving door' by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided."

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae. (...)

Even as Black provides a private voice and a public face for McCain, he also leads his lobbying firm, which offers corporate interests and foreign governments the promise of access to the most powerful lawmakers. Some of those companies have interests before the Senate and, in particular, the Commerce Committee, of which McCain is a member.

Black said he does a lot of his work by telephone from McCain's Straight Talk Express bus."

Yep: McCain's senior political advisor was running a lobbying firm which was registered as an agent for several foreign governments as well as a whole host of corporations, from McCain's campaign bus. But when it turned out that two of McCain's people had lobbied for the odious Government of Myanmar, McCain suddenly saw the wisdom of adopting Obama's approach, and started shedding lobbyists. (Not, however, Charlie Black: while he has resigned from his lobbying firm, the fact that he has represented Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Mohamed Siad Barre, Jonas Savimbi, and Ahmed Chalabi is apparently not a problem.)

And the fact that Obama spotted the problems with having lobbyists working for his campaign from the outset and avoided it, while McCain let it fester until it blew up in his face, is supposed to show that McCain "takes tough action" while Obama just gives speeches? Sounds like a winning argument to me.

(Cross-posted at Obsidian Wings.)

Hilzoy 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share
May 24, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

A FALSE, FALSE SENSE OF NATIONAL SECURITY SECURITY....When you say that your plan is to lull your enemy into a false sense of security, that usually means that you know you're going to lose. Kind of like the Democrats on national security issues for the early part of this decade (not that they ever professed that particular idiotic plan -- they had others.)

But the Democrats' '02-'04 fecklessness and the resulting election losses have led the national GOP into massive overconfidence on foreign policy issues. Even with approval/disapproval numbers for the Iraq War in the 30-65 range, hardly any Congressional Republicans have come out against it. Walter Jones of North Carolina is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

The GOP House leadership remains totally in the dark about their situation. In Tom Davis' 20-page strategy memo after losing the third straight House special election, the Iraq War is mentioned only once -- as "the ultimate cultural issue, fueling and giving oxygen to the cultural left, as well as planting doubts in many swing voters' minds about the direction of the country." While Davis realizes that President Bush is somehow dragging down the GOP brand, he doesn't seem to realize that the Iraq War is a big part of how. While the memo calls for Republicans to put some distance between themselves and Bush, opposing his signature foreign policy initiative is never mentioned as a way to do it.

At long last, we have a Democratic candidate who opposed the war from the beginning, and who stands ready to go all in on foreign policy issues. John McCain, meanwhile, is so overconfident on national security that he's criticizing Obama's support for sending veterans to college! That's the kind of cuddly education-oriented Democratic issue that a smart Republican would just duck his head and ignore, waiting for the debate to turn to something else. But McCain really seems to think that he can pull rank on Obama and win this issue.

I'm going to enjoy the next six months.

Neil Sinhababu 8:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share
By: Cheryl Rofer

That Was Then......The K-25 gaseous diffusion facility at Oak Ridge is being demolished.

It's one more of the Manhattan Project facilities that is outdated and contaminated. But it's also historic, so part of it will be preserved museum-fashion. I'd like to see that; heck, I'd like to have a piece of the diffusion barrier encased in lucite to put next to my piece of graphite from Enrico Fermi's first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, but barrier material is probably still classified.

On my first visit to Oak Ridge, the plane approached Knoxville over K-25. The building went on and on and on, one of the impressive engineering feats of the Manhattan Project, built in a year or so. Later I got to see the inside: enormous piping, repeated over and over, the repetition a necessary part of separating atoms with only three neutrons diffference in mass. But the building is old and, in this day of centrifuge isotope separation, no longer needed. Those acres of land can be used for other things.

Another part of K-25 and the Manhattan Project that seems to have become outdated is the management structure. DuPont and other industrial firms, which had business other than contracting to the government, agreed to manage Manhattan Project facilities like K-25 and the Hanford reactors for a fee of $1 a year. Yes, that's one dollar, a token of their patriotism.

Not so much any more. Even the demolition of K-25 is subject to today's cost plus contracting. The management fees have risen just a bit. And it's not just at Oak Ridge.

Cheryl Rofer 8:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
May 23, 2008
By: Neil Sinhababu

VEEPSTEAKS: THE BIG JUICY PART....Here's where I go through a long list of potential VP contenders for your amusement! And you get to throw stuff at me in comments! First, the ones which I recommend to you, my fellow netroots progressive:

John Edwards: His plans on health care and global warming moved the entire race to the left, and he had an astonishing number of good proposals on everything from making sure poor people could get fresh produce to regulating hog waste. I don't think that anybody available would use the VP media spotlight as well as Edwards would. And after two and a half years of repenting his war vote and rejecting the 'War on Terror' framework, he's a fine partner for Obama on foreign policy issues.

Not only will he (and Elizabeth!) push hard for universal health care within the Obama administration, but he's about the best weapon you can imagine to sell the plan. If Judd Gregg or George Voinovich are filibustering health care reform in 2010, Obama could send Edwards to NH or OH and have him spend a week telling stories about little girls who died because they didn't have health care coverage. That's what he used to do for a living, and he did it pretty darned well.

As far as electability goes, take a look at the recent OH and VA polls that included VP candidates. Sure, Edwards' advantages over the other Democrats are mostly name recognition. But I didn't expect any VP possibility to move the numbers this strongly. When you add on Edwards as a VP, he adds between 3 and 9 points to Obama's total in Ohio, depending on who McCain is paired with. He adds between 2 and 11 points to Obama's numbers in Virginia. None of the other Democrats added anything to Obama's numbers (no strike against them, because nobody knew who they were). I look at this as a favorability test, and it's one that Edwards passes. Furthermore, McCain has a pretty terrible anti-worker voting record, and the mill worker's son is exactly the guy who could drive that home.

Kathleen Sebelius: Her story in Kansas is a barrel of awesome. She's a popular pro-choice Governor who fought with unprecedented success against health insurance companies (from whom she refused to take contributions). The best thing -- and the part that fits best with the Obama message of national unity -- is her uncanny ability to turn high-profile Kansas Republicans into Democrats. The former GOP state party chair? Now her lieutenant governor. The formerly Republican Attorney General? Turned into a Democrat. Six GOP members of the state legislature became Democrats under her watch. Of course, part of that is because the Kansas Republican Party came apart over teaching evolution in the schools. But she was there to pick up the pieces and take them home with her.

The downside to Sebelius is that picking her deprives us of an potential Senate challenger in Kansas when 2010 rolls around. And I hear that her State of the Union response wasn't so hot. If anyone knows more about her speeches, please do tell -- the SOTU response is a weird gig and maybe it wasn't representative of her real talents.

Sherrod Brown: Okay, nobody is mentioning Sherrod Brown. But I will! He's the Ohio Senator who refused to accept his Congressional health care package back in his House days, in protest of the fact that all Americans didn't have health care coverage. If you think, as I do, that Obama would be well served to add individual mandates to his health care plan, Brown is (like Edwards) the kind of guy who might be able to get that going. He's a straight down-the-line progressive with a 100% NARAL rating, and any of us on the left would love to see a Brown administration in 2016. We should be able to replace an Ohio Democratic Senator reasonably well, too.

Brian Schweitzer: Not many people are talking about him either, though Markos would sprout wings and fly around with joy if he were selected. Schweitzer is a Montana Democratic governor with a whopping 70% approval rating. He's pro-choice and pro-gun. I'm told that he has a pretty solid economic populist streak. Believe it or not, he speaks fluent Arabic -- he worked in the Middle East on irrigation projects for several years.

Montana is represented entirely by Democrats at the Governor and Senator levels, so it's not like we need him to run for Senate soon. One of those Senate Democrats is the conservative Max Baucus, who could use some replacing, but I don't know when he'll retire. If you're partial to macho-man Western Dems, you might enjoy David Sirota's article on him.

Now for the VP picks whom I think are overrated. (By the way, I just don't know enough about Janet Napolitano to have any idea what to say.) Not that I dislike all of these folks -- it's usually that I think they belong better somewhere else:

Jim Webb: Look, he's a wonderful Senator -- one of the best we've got on foreign policy, and a solid economic populist as well. Let's have him on TV more often. But when we're trying to get 60 votes for health care reform, we can't afford to lose a Democratic seat in Virginia while Tim Kaine is still ineligible to run. There's also the matter of his past negative remarks on women in the military -- I'm quite optimistic that Hillary's most committed supporters will come around and support Obama, but I don't want to add insult to injury.

But above all, I wonder if he's really up for life in the presidential fishbowl. With career politicians, you can usually have more confidence that they'll be able to put up with all the BS that comes with running for national office. I've talked to a couple people who watched his Senate race, who say that campaigning 24/7 for months on end isn't really his forte. So let's keep him as a general-purpose foreign policy spokesman in the Senate.

Another thing is that I'm usually not a big fan of ticket-balancing, especially for something like credibility on foreign policy issues. Mori Dinauer is right that if Obama picks Webb for those purposes, the media narrative becomes "Obama lacks credibility on foreign policy issues -- that's why he had to pick Webb!" Given that people tend to think much more about the top of the ticket than the bottom, this can actually do more to hurt you on an issue than to help you.

The times you see ticket-balancing succeed are when you balance to satisfy your base (by picking a more extreme person who makes you look more moderate) or when you pick someone boring who has more experience (because Presidential voters don't care about experience anyway, and usually pick the candidate with less experience). I'm confident enough in the Iraq War poll numbers, in Obama's instincts on the issue, and in the impressiveness of his smart decision in 2002 that I think he'll be able to handle the politics of foreign policy on his own.

Bill Richardson: This man belongs in the Cabinet, not on the campaign trail. He's kind of a gaffe machine. Remember the 'Whizzer White' remark, the line about homosexuality being a choice (in front of gay rights organizations), and the time he forgot which labor union he was addressing and called them by the name of their rivals? And this time, if he gets asked a question about Katrina and he wasn't paying attention, he won't have Obama to stage whisper to him. I hope he gets a good place in an Obama administration, but I don't want it to be VP.

Hillary Clinton: Her voters will come back into the fold without her in the VP slot, her poll numbers are icky, her consultants won't play well with Obama's people, she'll mess up the Obama antiwar message, and won't it be sweet to see all the money the GOP spent smearing her go to waste? I present these arguments... and more! in detail here.

Now, I don't have the personal dislike of her that some people do. I really liked her during the 1990s, and there's no denying that the sexism thrown at her by the media has been repulsive. But she's just not the person we need at this time (that bizarre assassination remark definitely doesn't help).

Joe Biden: He's not the worst choice by a long shot, but I'll have to disagree with my esteemed host on this one. Yes, the guy often comes out with good quips and says awesome stuff. On the other hand, he sometimes comes out with gaffes (remember that one about the Indians at 7-11s?) and embarrasses himself. Will the memorable quip to embarrassing gaffe ratio remain above 1? That's the question. I also worry about him as a vehicle for Obama's antiwar message.

And his performance at the Alito confirmation hearings was deeply disappointing. Sure, I'm confident that if he becomes president, he'll appoint judges who are good and pro-choice. But after that I don't see him as the kind of guy who'd ever be on a mission to move the judiciary seriously to the left.

So that's that... what do you think?

Neil Sinhababu 11:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (142)

Bookmark and Share
By: Neil Sinhababu

MARINATING THE VEEPSTEAKS....Thanks to Kevin for inviting us, and for putting up the post below! I don't know if any of the guestbloggers own cats, so I was worried that I'd have to take a picture of myself laying around with costume ears and a tail to satisfy Friday catblogging obligations.

With that embarrassment averted, why don't we do what political junkies do, and talk Veepstakes? I'll start by suggesting some general strategic principles for progressives as they approach the 2008 VP nomination. (I'll be assuming that Obama wins. If Clinton wins, she should pick the Penrose triangle for Vice-President -- who better for an impossible situation than an impossible object?) Everybody thinks about electability, but these considerations are important too:

Think about 2016. Intrade is giving Obama a 60% chance of winning the election. Assume -- conservatively, I think -- that he has a 50% chance of winning re-election and that his VP has a 50% chance of getting the nomination in 2016. That multiplies out to a 15% chance of today's VP selection being the person who we're all donating to in 8 years when wise Democratic stewardship of the economy has doubled our annual income.

So don't just pick VP candidates because they'll appeal to one of this year's swing voter blocs du jour, or compensate for a perceived Obama weakness. Giving somebody a 15% chance of becoming our nominee (even barring tragedy) is a pretty big deal, so be sure to support somebody who would be an excellent presidential candidate and an excellent president.

Think about what they'd do in office. Despite its general lack of official powers, the Vice-Presidency turns people into top-notch political celebrities who command huge media attention. (Cabinet positions, on the other hand, have lots of power but don't come with quite the same celebrity.) Who would use this particular kind of power most effectively to make things better in America and the world?

Furthermore, the VP will be a key member of Obama's inner circle. Let's hope for somebody who has the right tactical instincts and who will represent progressive views effectively in those discussions. Obama's VP certainly won't end up with as much influence as Cheney has, but it'd be surprising if the VP ended up being totally sidelined.

Don't disrupt Obama's excellent foreign policy message. Just as Clinton made the economy a solid Democratic issue, Obama has the potential to make foreign policy a solid Democratic issue for a long time. He's bold in standing up to GOP foreign policy attacks, and he predicted many of the problems with invading Iraq in advance.

We need a VP pick who won't get tied into Kerryesque knots trying to justify mistaken support of the war, and who will be able to go on the offense on broad strategic questions. This isn't just important for winning the election, it's important for establishing the Democratic Party for the long term. And it isn't just about Iraq, it's about a general approach to foreign policy. (Obviously, I've been reading Matt Yglesias' book.) Somebody who voted against the war is best, somebody who wasn't in Congress but never supported it is good, and somebody who voted for it but repented and now thinks it was a total disaster is okay too. What's important is that you have a forceful advocate for Obama's foreign policy message.

If I actually tell you about my favorite and unfavorite VP picks in this space, the discussion is going to be all about them and not about these general ideas. So why don't we save that for later?

Neil Sinhababu 7:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Today Inkblot and Domino ponder the inky vastness of the universe. Their conclusion: as long as there's cat food at the other end, everything is OK.

And with that, I'm off on vacation for two weeks. My mother and I will be flying to Europe to do some family history sleuthing, where we'll be visiting the village of Ulmet (ancestral home of the Drums) and Bad Kissingen (ancestral home of Henry Kissinger) in Germany, and then flying to England, where we'll visit Bridgwater, Ashcott, Membury, and London. But no worries about the blog. I have five fabulous guest bloggers to hold down the fort while I'm gone:

In addition, Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report may be popping in from time to time. Treat 'em all nicely. See you in a couple of weeks.

Kevin Drum 2:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BACK ATCHA, JOE....Joe Biden responds today to Joe Lieberman's recent anti-Obama screed in the Wall Street Journal:

Last week, John McCain was very clear. He ruled out talking to Iran. He said that Barack Obama was "naive and inexperienced" for advocating engagement; "What is it he wants to talk about?" he asked.

Well, for a start, Iran's nuclear program, its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, and its patronage of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Beyond bluster, how would Mr. McCain actually deal with these dangers? You either talk, you maintain the status quo, or you go to war. If Mr. McCain has ruled out talking, we're stuck with an ineffectual policy or military strikes that could quickly spiral out of control.

Sen. Obama is right that the U.S. should be willing to engage Iran on its nuclear program without "preconditions" — i.e. without insisting that Iran first freeze the program, which is the very subject of any negotiations. He has been clear that he would not become personally involved until the necessary preparations had been made and unless he was convinced his engagement would advance our interests.

President Nixon didn't demand that China end military support to the Vietnamese killing Americans before meeting with Mao. President Reagan didn't insist that the Soviets freeze their nuclear arsenal before sitting down with Mikhail Gorbachev. Even George W. Bush — whose initial disengagement allowed dangers to proliferate — didn't demand that Libya relinquish its nuclear program, that North Korea give up its plutonium, or even that Iran stop aiding those attacking our soldiers in Iraq before authorizing talks.

Not bad, Joe. I know this isn't a position with a lot of support, and that Biden himself is (apparently) angling to be secretary of state in an Obama administration, but I still think he'd be a pretty decent VP selection. Experienced, good debater, pretty smart on foreign policy, and willing to talk occasional smack — a better quality in a VP than a secretary of state.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE ENDGAME....According to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, sources from Hillary Clinton's "inner circle" claim that they're in preliminary talks with the Obama campaign about ending her campaign. They claim there are three scenarios: (1) Obama chooses someone else as VP and ignites a civil war within the party, (2) he publicly offers the VP slot to Clinton, who turns it down, or (3) the two get together and "talk in a room and figure out something." David Kurtz has the video.

Obama's camp denies all this, and even the Clinton sources apparently say that Hillary herself isn't much interested in these ongoing discussions. What's more, it all seems to come down to scenario #3 anyway, doesn't it? In other words, nothing. This strikes me as much more heat than light.

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SUICIDE....Would Iran be willing to risk extinction by attacking Israel? Jeffrey Goldberg says anyone who doubts it should read Amnon Rubinstein's column in the Jerusalem Post this week about "the tendency among Islamists toward national suicide":

The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest....The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000....The third case is that of the Taliban [after 9/11].

....In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts....These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising. If you glorify individual suicide, if death is the key to a happy afterlife, if war itself is sanctified, why not extend these ideas from the individual to the collective?

Lord knows that these were all stupid and ultimately destructive positions, as is Hamas's continued shelling of Israeli towns (the main subject of Rubinstein's column). But unprecedented in the annals of history? Isn't it just the opposite? I'd say that every culture in the history of mankind has examples of both individuals and countries that would rather fight to the death than surrender. Sometimes this is admirable, sometimes it's stupid, but it's not uncommon. So why try to pretend that this is some kind of mysterious attribute unique to Muslim culture?

Answer: because Rubinstein wants to convince us that "Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past." Since this requires a uniquely irrational enemy, one must be created. And one has.

UPDATE: Robert Farley adds that things that look like national suicide in retrospect rarely look that way at the start. That's true too. The impulse to stand up to a powerful foe is usually driven by pride, by a mistaken belief in eventual victory, or by a belief that your powerful foe will crush you utterly if you don't fight back, not by a desire for suicide.

Kevin Drum 10:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ON SISTANI....Why did Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani choose this particular moment to start issuing fatwas approving of armed attacks on American troops? Juan Cole has some speculation.

Kevin Drum 10:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CRANKY....I think Barack Obama has accidentally discovered the easiest way to defeat John McCain this November: make him mad. We've all heard the stories about McCain's legendarily cranky temper, and he sure showed where those stories came from on Thursday when he erupted after Obama had the temerity to disagree with him about Jim Webb's GI Bill extension. Get a grip, Senator.

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TWO DOWN....John McCain has now rejected Rod Parsley's endorsement too. Good.

But as David Corn points out, the Parsley story was broken two weeks ago by Brave New Films, which unearthed the video of Parsley's anti-Islamic rants, and Mother Jones, which distributed the story on its website. McCain obviously knew about Parsley's views after that, but he didn't care. He only cared when it showed up on network TV and became an embarrassment to him. So much for a different kind of politics.

Kevin Drum 12:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
May 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SISTANI'S FATWAS....Via Robert Farley and a bunch of other people, Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra of AP report that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential cleric in Iraq, may be moving in a worrisome direction:

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible — a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.

....So far, al-Sistani's fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private — rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population — according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani....Between 10 and 15 people are believed to have received the new fatwas in recent months, the Shiite officials told the AP.

....It is impossible to determine whether those who received the edicts acted on them. Most attacks — except some by al-Qaida in Iraq — are carried out without claims of responsibility.

All the usual caveats apply here. The purpose of the fatwas is murky, the leakers may have axes to grind we don't know about, and it's a good idea not to overreact to daily news from Iraq.

That said, this ranks fairly high on the worry meter. As badly as the U.S. occupation of Iraq has gone, it would have gone way, way worse if Sistani hadn't cooperated with us. And for the most part he has, mostly by tolerating our presence and refusing to countenance the kind of active resistance favored by Mutqda al-Sadr. But these recent fatwas might be a sign that this is changing. Eric Martin:

Sistani is moving in this direction, at least partially, because of public sentiment and Sadr's ability to capitalize on his anti-American stance. Opposing the American presence is popular. That's not going to change any time soon.

But why now? There has to be some reason not just for the fatwas themselves, but for leaking their existence to the press at this moment in time. Maybe Sistani was feeling the heat from Sadr. Maybe after five years of waiting for us draw down, his patience has finally run out. Or maybe it was just a shot across the bow, a way of telling us that a long-term American presence is not in the cards.

There's no way to know for sure based on this single report. Still, it's probably not too much to say that if Sistani turns openly against us, our continued presence in Iraq will truly become impossible. He may have decided that if we're not going to set a timetable ourselves for leaving, he's going to set one for us. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 8:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ONE DOWN....I see that John McCain has finally decided to reject John Hagee's endorsement. Good for him. Maybe he'll reject Rod Parsley next. And who knows? Maybe this, combined with Barack Obama's pastor troubles, will convince everyone that religion is best left out of politics. I can dream, can't I?

Kevin Drum 7:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ACTUAL EXISTING CONSERVATISM....Jonah Goldberg responds to George Packer's New Yorker article, "The Fall of Conservatism":

I agree with most folks quoted as saying that the GOP is in deep trouble and that conservatism is something of a mess these days as well. But for Packer, these terms — conservative and Republican — sometimes seem like interchangeable terms, while for me they are not. I think this may be one of the reasons why I thought the piece was so structurally flawed. He begins by arguing, asserting really, that conservatism begins with Nixon in the late 1960s, when Tricky Dick crafted a strategy of exploiting resentments, which any student of intellectual conservatism knows is simply wrong. Nixon did not like or trust the Buckleyites and the Buckleyites were hardly wild about Dick either. This fact should help one keep in mind that treating conservatism and the modern GOP as interchangeable is an analytical error of the first order.

I hear this a lot, and I get the reasoning behind it. Obviously "conservatism" isn't identical to "Republicanism," and just as obviously it's a good PR move to emphasize this in an era when the Republican brand is increasingly toxic. Still, conservatives protest too much.

No political ideology lives in isolation. We judge communism by how Mao and Stalin implemented it, we judge 60s-era liberalism by how LBJ and the Democratic Party implemented it, and we judge social democracy by how Western Europe has implemented it. That's how you judge movements: by how their real-life adherents put them into practice, not by reference to a utopian vision of how they should be implemented if only we lived in the best of all possible worlds.

Nonetheless, now that the Republican Party has been brought low, an awful lot of conservatives are jumping ship, claiming that it really doesn't represent them at all. But look: when the GOP made common cause with evangelical extremists, conservatives cheered. When the GOP accepted Grover Norquist's tax jihad as sacred writ, conservatives cheered. When Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay all but declared the GOP the party of corporate welfare, conservatives cheered. When George Bush declared war on the Middle East, conservatives cheered. Somehow Burke never really entered the discussion. But now that it turns out these positions have been pretty much played out, Burke is back in and Karl Rove is out. That's just a little too convenient.

Of course, conservatives point elsewhere, to the rise of pork and the rise of corruption and the rise of government spending, as signs that the GOP is no longer a true conservative party. But pork has been part of politics since politics was invented, corruption has nothing to do with ideology, and discretionary domestic spending hasn't gone up that much. The real problem is that people have gotten tired of war, they've gotten tired of the relentless and cynical defense of economic privilege, they've gotten tired of a refusal to even attempt solutions of real-life problems, and they've gotten tired of preachers banging on endlessly about abortion and teh gay. But these are all things that, in real life, the conservative movement and the Republican Party agree on.

A Republican Party that was more competent, more honest, and more principled would obviously also be more popular. And certainly there's room on the margin to complain about the modern GOP's conservative bona fides (Medicare, spending, immigration, etc.). Still, on the big issues the Republican Party is pretty damn conservative, at least as actual existing modern conservatism is practiced — and after 30 years of putting it into practice it turns out that actual existing modern conservatism doesn't have much appeal left. That's the problem, not the fact that George Packer pays more attention to Nixon than Buckley.

Kevin Drum 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (78)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY NEWS DUMP....John McCain will be releasing his medical records tomorrow to "a tightly controlled group of reporters on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend." Because, you know, he has nothing to hide. Michael Scherer of Time magazine, which is not part of the tightly controlled group, is not amused.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE GAY MARRIAGE POLLING....A few days ago I mentioned that attitudes toward gay mariage (as well as most other gay issues) has been improving steadily for several decades at the rate of about 1% per year. Over at Pollster, Charles Franklin shines a brighter spotlight on the change in public attitudes specifically toward same-sex marriage.

As you can see, the long-term trend is indeed an improvement in attitude of about 1% per year. Unfortunately, there's also a big disconnect for a couple of years right around 2004, when it became a major political issue after the Massachussetts Supreme Court decision. What this (might) mean is that although long-term trends are up, an advertising blitz doesn't affect both sides equally. For a short period it energizes the anti-gay forces more than the pro-gay forces. This would, of course, be bad news for California's gay marriage initiative this November.

Franklin isn't sure if we'll see the same effect this year that we saw in 2004, and neither am I. Obviously I hope we don't, but this is going to be one close contest.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McBUSH....Sid Blumenthal says that trying to portray John McCain as an extension of George Bush is a tactical mistake. "The public doesn't see him that way," he says. "That's a hard sell." Matt Yglesias comments:

I'll just note that I think it would be silly to base a campaign strategy on how the public currently views John McCain (the point of the swift-boat attacks, for example, was to change perceptions of John Kerry) and then say it's probably best to bracket the question of campaign strategy and just ask straight-up how different Bush and McCain are.

Matt then goes through the details and concludes that, in fact, Bush and McCain really are pretty similar. That's probably more true than not, but of course Blumenthal isn't really interested in objective fact here. He's interested in what will sell attack-wise, and whatever else you think about Blumenthal, you have to admit that the man knows his attack politics.

I don't know for sure whether I agree with Blumenthal on this, but I think the comparison to Kerry in 2004 might actually back him up. The point of the Swift Boat attacks wasn't just to denigrate Kerry's bravery or patriotism — which would have been a hard sell on its own — it was to paint him as an opportunist and a truth shader. Fair or not, those are character flaws that had already dogged Kerry for a long time and were ripe for exploitation. So the Swift Boaters weren't really trying to change perceptions of Kerry so much as they were trying to magnify an already widespread narrative in a particularly pernicious way.

In the case of McCain, then, the question is whether painting him as McBush taps into a narrative that's already bubbling around out there and can be turned into an effective attack with the right choice of issues and framing. I'm not sure about that. Comments?

Kevin Drum 1:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE CRAZY....Another day, another crazy white pastor. Yesterday it was an anti-Semitic rant from John Hagee (John McCain's view: I'm "glad to have his endorsement");

today it's an anti-Islamic rant from Rod Parsley (John McCain's view: Parsley is "a moral compass"). Neither of these is new: Hagee's rant was from the late 1990s and Parsley's rant has been making the rounds of the internet (thanks to Brave New Films) for a couple of weeks. Today, Parsley's sermon, which has the advantage of being available in nice, high-quality video, is finally being aired for a wider audience by ABC News.

Good. Not because I think John McCain shares Parsley's views that Mohammed is "the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil," but because mainstream America needs to understand that this kind of stuff is out there. And not just out there, but tolerated and catered to by the modern Republican Party. It's toxic, and the people who spew this stuff need to be made toxic too. It's time for McCain to reject and denounce.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (47)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PEAK OIL WATCH....Why have oil prices doubled, doubled again, and then nearly doubled yet again over the past six years? Hedge fund speculation? A "risk premium" due to the Iraq war? Or genuine supply restrictions caused by the declining output of old oil fields?

I've long thought it was the latter — though I admit that the most recent doubling, which took place over a mere 12 months, looks so much like a bubble that it's given me pause. Today, though, the Wall Street Journal reports that even the International Energy Agency is getting gloomy. In the past, they've simply projected demand and basically assumed that OPEC could keep up, but now they've decided to take a closer look at that assumption:

The decision to rigorously survey supply — instead of just demand, as in the past — reflects an increasing fear within the agency and elsewhere that oil-producing regions aren't on track to meet future needs.

....The IEA's pessimism over future supplies has been building for some time. Last summer, the agency warned that OPEC's spare capacity could shrink "to minimal levels by 2012." In November, it said its analysis of projects known to be in the works suggested that the world could face a shortfall by 2015 of as much as 12.5 million barrels a day, unless there was a sharp drop in expected demand. The current IEA work aims to tally the range of investments and projects under way to boost production from the fields in question to get a clearer sense of what to expect in production flows.

"This is very important, because the IEA is treated as the world's only serious independent guardian of energy data and forecasts," says Edward Morse, chief energy economist at Lehman Brothers. Examining the state of the world's big oil fields could prod their owners into unaccustomed transparency, he says.

The IEA's concern is with both the absolute condition of the world's oil fields and the amount of investment being made in new projects. Either way, though, a shortfall of 12.5 million barrels is huge. If that's an accurate assessment, prices are going to have to double another couple of times to bring demand into line with supply. $500 oil, anyone?

Kevin Drum 1:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

Bookmark and Share
May 21, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE SEA IN WHICH THEY SWIM....The chart on the right, from Human Security Brief 2007, is simple: it shows that as terrorist incidents have risen in Pakistan, opposition to terrorism has also risen. Dan Drezner is right to say that this is hardly surprising, but its obvious corollary — even seven years after 9/11 — is still not widely enough appreciated. From the text of the report:

The historical evidence [] suggests that terror campaigns that lose public support will eventually be abandoned, even if the terrorists themselves remain undefeated. As [Audrey Kurth] Cronin puts it, "Terrorist groups generally cannot survive without either active or passive support from the surrounding population."

In a nutshell, this is why a primarily militaristic approach to terrorism is foolish. Killing terrorists is a useful thing to do, but even the most determined military assault is unlikely to work as long as terrorists retain public support. Until and unless that support is undermined, eliminating a terrorist threat is almost impossible.

Both the Sunni Awakening in Iraq and the recent experience of Pakistan demonstrate that terrorists are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The more they target civilians, the less support they have in the surrounding population. In Iraq we used that to our advantage to co-opt Sunni tribal leaders who had gotten tired of the violence and theocratic tyranny introduced into their communities by al-Qaeda in Iraq, and we should be doing the same in Pakistan.

In the long term, public support for terrorism is a far more important target than terrorism itself. It may not make as good a soundbite as a promise to follow Osama Bin Laden "to the gates of hell," but figuring out how to get the Muslim public to turn against al-Qaeda and other likeminded jihadist groups ought to be Job 1 for any incoming administration.

Kevin Drum 8:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

YET MORE HAGEE....According to pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain says he's glad to have, the Holocaust was God's way of punishing European Jews for not emigrating to Israel quickly enough and Hitler was His divine instrument for getting this done. Charming. Audio here. Unfortunately, AIPAC and likeminded organizations long ago made their peace with crazy Christian preachers who support Israeli expansion because Armageddon needs a proper battleground, and this means they're unlikely to insist that McCain repudiate Hagee. Quite the contrary, in fact. They like Hagee.

Of course, this whole thing is just garden variety white crazy, and the audio clip is more than five seconds long, which means that neither Sean Hannity nor CNN will play it on a 24/7 loop. I guess that leaves it up to the mighty blogosphere to draw attention to it.

Kevin Drum 7:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ECONOMY WATCH....Most market watchers seem to have become slightly more optimistic about the economy lately, but not the Fed:

Under its new economic forecast, the Fed said it now believes gross domestic product will grow between just 0.3 percent to 1.2 percent this year. That's lower than a previous Fed forecast, released in late February, that estimated growth to be between 1.3 percent and 2 percent.

In addition to lowering their GDP estimate, the Fed also increased their estimate of unemployment as well as their estimate of the inflation rate. Apparently their growing pessimism was driven by skyrocketing oil prices, continued softening in the housing market, and the ongoing credit debacle.

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE SKILLS GAP....Over the past couple of decades the wage premium for getting a college degree has gone up dramatically. In 1973 a typical college grad earned 30% more than a high school graduate. Today a college grad earns something like 90% more.

Standard economic theory predicts that this should lead to way more people getting college degrees, but that hasn't happened. Altonji, Bharadwaj and Lange report that, when various socioeconomic factors are held constant, "the supply response to the increase in skill premia between cohorts was small: about 1% on average and about 1.5% at the median." In other words, kids aren't bothering to increase their skills very much even though the reward for doing so has skyrocketed.

Why? Brad DeLong proposes that part of the answer may be the surging cost of college, which not only makes the return on a bachelor's degree lower than it would be otherwise, but probably makes it seem even lower than it really is to teenagers with short time horizons. He's also got some other ideas that he muses about here.

But I want to toss out another possibility that's been tickling my brain for a while. On the right is an EPI chart that shows declining wages for college grads over the past seven years. Ezra Klein comments:

As an economist told me a year or two back, "there's never been a worse time to be a college graduate. But there's never been a worse time not to be a college graduate." Your wages may be higher than those of less educated cohorts, but they're stagnant nevertheless.

Right. And maybe that's the problem. When I say that the premium for getting a college degree used to be 30% and now it's 90%, what do I mean? One possibility is something like this:

  • 1973: high school grad makes $42K, college grad makes $55K.

  • 2006: high school grad makes $42K, college grad makes $80K.

This probably would motivate more kids to get college degrees. But that's not what actually happened. Here's what actually happened for male workers (all figures adjusted for inflation):

  • 1973: high school grad makes $42K, college grad makes $55K.

  • 2006: high school grad makes $31K, college grad makes $61K.

The skill premium hasn't gone up because a college degree is way more lucrative than in the past. In fact, it's only slightly more lucrative over the long term and completely stagnant among recent grads. Rather, the skill premium has gone up because the value of a high school degree has cratered.

So here's my thought: even though the two scenarios above are (roughly) economically equivalent, they might not be psychically equivalent. If the value of a college degree had gone way up, that really might prompt more kids on the margin to study harder and go to college. Not only would that higher value be fairly obvious since it would get a lot of attention, but the prospect of doing better is highly motivating. But does the declining value of a high school degee motivate them in the same way? I doubt it, even though mathematically the effect is the same. For starters, many teenagers may not really understand the hard reality of the trend in non-college wages, and in any case a slow but steady decline simply doesn't motivate people the same way as dangling a reward in front of them does. Instead of making them try harder, it tends to make them feel helpless and angry.

Am I explaining myself adequately here? I'm not sure. But it seems to me that there are lots of cases where real-life behavioral responses depend not merely on monetary differences, but on the direction and reason for those differences. Perhaps if you want more kids to go to college, you need to reward them for going to college, not merely punish them for not going.

Kevin Drum 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NEXT UP: $5 PER LAVATORY VISIT....The latest from American Airlines:

AMR Corp. became the first U.S. carrier to make more moves to deal with still-surging fuel costs, announcing additional U.S. capacity cuts, the planned retirement of at least 75 aircraft and more fees — including charging some fliers $15 for their first checked bag.

....Becoming the first carrier to start charging some customers for the first checked bag — just several months after carriers began hitting some with fees on a second checked bag for the first time — American is raising a host of other fees by $5 to $50. They are estimated to generate several hundred million dollars a year.

Airlines have spent years trying to bully passengers into reducing their carry-on luggage — with TSA pitching in to help in recent years. Now that they've finally broken us (I finally caved in and started checking everything several years ago) they're going to charge us for checking luggage. Lovely.

I don't know anything about airline economics and obviously the American Airlines executive team does. Still, the kind of sleazy pricing practices they and the rest of the domestic industry are adopting, where advertised fares mysteriously rise 20% by the time you actually board the plane, seem like exactly the kind of thing designed to wreck their long-term business. People really don't like the feeling of being cheated and lied to. The industry's answer, I suppose, is that they have to survive in the short term in order for there to be a long term, and that's true enough. But if the problem is a secular, broad-based increase in fuel costs that hits everyone equally, I'm still a little stumped about why a blizzard of fees is supposed to be a better solution than simply raising prices a bit across the board.

Sadly, in a couple of days I'll be stepping onto an American Airlines flight to London. I sure hope they don't lose my checked luggage after charging me for the temerity of wanting a change of clothes on my trip. In the meantime, I think there's a niche somewhere for an airline that raises their prices a bit and runs blaring ads that announce "No Hidden Fees!" Or am I just dreaming?

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (157)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HAGEL HEARTS OBAMA....Chuck Hagel (R–Neb.) sure does seem to like the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Not too surprising given their personal relationship, I suppose, but I wonder how many other Republicans secretly agree with him? More than few, I'll bet.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SYRIA....Turkey is mediating peace talks between Syria and Israel. The New York Times comments drolly:

The public disclosure that Israel, albeit indirectly, is talking with Syria, one of its most implacable enemies and a sponsor of groups that both Israel and the United States consider terrorists, came less than a week after President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Parliament, created a stir by criticizing those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals."

Indeed. But I guess the State Department didn't get the message either:

A U.S. official in Washington praised the talks. "I think Turkey played a good and useful role in this regard," senior State Department official David Welch said of the talks, according to the Reuters news agency. "Israel and Turkey have apprised us in the past of these discussions and kept us informed."

This has been in the works for a while, so there's not really anything all that new or surprising here. But even if Syria and Israel manage to reach agreement, Syria almost certainly needs direct assurances from the United States too before it would enter into any kind of comprehensive deal — something which would, among other things, have the salutary effect of cutting off Iran from an ally and increasing Hamas's isolation. President Obama has made it clear that he'd be willing to be a part of that. President McCain, not so much. That's your foreign policy choice this November in a nutshell.

Kevin Drum 11:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION THREAD....OK, OK, Barack Obama won Oregon and Hillary Clinton won Kentucky. I wasn't ignoring them, I was just out to dinner. Consider this an open thread to chat about the election.

Kevin Drum 1:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

Bookmark and Share
May 20, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

1977 ALL OVER AGAIN?....Matt Yglesias is in a bad mood this morning, so he's thinking grim thoughts about the last time the conservative movement seemed down for the count:

One wonders if it didn't feel this way in 1976 — or even more so in January of 1977. Conservatism triumphant, yet unmoored from principle in the figure of Richard Nixon, then brought into a disgrace from which the more moderate Gerald Ford couldn't solve it. A new president from the outside promising change, and a new bumper crop of "watergate class" members of congress ready to shake things up. But it all went to shit. I am, personally, an apologist for the Carter administration which I think was doing good things and got torpedoed by an unfortunate combination of objective reality (oil shocks, the need to curb inflation) and blinkered behavior by congressional leaders.

....So I dunno. Maybe none of that will happen. Certainly it would be bizarre for history to repeat itself precisely, so doubtless some of it won't happen. But I'll be ready to write the conservative movement's epitaph when (a) Barack Obama is inaugurated, and (b) Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid enact some stuff with more lasting impact than the meager results of 1977-80 or 1993-4.

Shorter Matt: Is Barack Obama another Jimmy Carter or is he the Democratic Ronald Reagan? I wonder that a lot too.

But I guess I'm in a good mood this morning, so I'll offer a more cheerful take. First, as Matt says, today's Democratic caucus is much less dependent on conservative southerners than the 1977 version. Even with the malign influence of the Blue Dogs casting its usual pall, next year's congressional class is likely to be the most genuinely liberal in decades. That makes a big difference.

Second, Democrats show every sign of being way more united than they were in 1977. Senators are still senators (i.e., famously arrogant and prodigiously jealous of their fiefdoms), but overall, Dems seem to be almost panting for a bit of unity and genuine progress. They've been out of power for a long time now, and that changes people.

Third, and most important, the zeitgeit is exactly the opposite of 1977. Back then, it was liberalism that was tired and increasingly out of touch with the mood of the country. The Watergate blip aside, Carter was fighting an ascendant conservative tide during his entire term, and after the Iranian revolution and the ensuing oil shock/recession/hostage crisis it engulfed him. This year, though, the roles are exactly reversed. Obama will be taking office on a rising tide of genuine revulsion against conservatism, and this gives him the best chance to restore the liberal brand of any president since LBJ.

Can he do it? My crystal ball is no better than anyone else's on that score, and Obama continues to be (in my eyes) an infuriatingly difficult politician to read: sometimes bold and willing to assert himself in ways that I haven't seen much of from Democratic pols recently, sometimes a cautious technocrat who seems unwilling to upset the applecart much. I guess there's nothing really wrong with that as long as he has good instincts for when to fight and when to compromise, and we won't know that until he takes office and fights a few fights. Overall, though, unless Obama turns out to be a uniquely empty suit — and I don't think he is — I don't see a repeat of 1977 on the radar. The mood of the country is just too different.

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (104)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CUBA....Via TPM, here's a preview of John McCain's planned pander speech on Cuba today:

"Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba," McCain will say, according to prepared excerpts, then quoting Obama saying that normalization of relations would improve conditions for the Cuban people.

"Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators — there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy."

The jokes just write themselves, don't they? For a guy of McCain's age, I guess that half a century of failure is just the blink of an eye. So why not give it another half century?

Kevin Drum 1:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SADR CITY OPERATION BEGINS....About 10,000 Iraqi troops entered Sadr City today and met little resistance:

Despite the heavy military presence, residents said the district remained calm and no shots were fired at the troops. Sadr's representatives in the neighborhood, which is named after the cleric's revered father, wandered the streets, welcoming the Iraqi soldiers and presenting them with Korans, the Muslim holy book....U.S. forces were playing no part in the operation, the military said.

....Lt. Col. Steven Stover, spokesmen for U.S. forces in Baghdad, said he was "ecstatic" about today's operation. "I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people," he said. "And it will be because they did it, not us."

This is, tentatively, good news. And it's worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too. The conduct of the Iraqi troops was spotty and the Iranian influence in bringing the fighting to an end was obviously problematic, but in the end government forces did take control of most of the city and have restored relative peace.

Add to that today's promising start to the Sadr City operation, the continued cooperation of the Sunni tribes, and the sustained reduction in overall violence, and Iraq's prospects look better than they have for a while. It's still true, among other things, that the status of Kirkuk hasn't been resolved; that arming the Sunnis poses long-term stability problems; that Sadr's intentions are murky and he may just be biding his time; that the Iranians seem to be calling a lot of the shots; and that Nouri al-Maliki still doesn't really have a functioning government. Only an ostrich would pretend that prosperity is just around a bend in the Tigris. Still, there's been some genuine progress over the past few months, enough to make me feel a bit of hope for Iraq's future for the first time in years.

It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.

Kevin Drum 12:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SEGREGATED CLASSROOMS....Do boys and girls learn better in sex segregated classrooms? I don't know. But even if they do, I always figured the problem was that no matter how good the intentions were when the classes were set up, they were almost certain to evolve into separate and unequal domains over time — as Dana Goldstein demonstrates here. It's not quite what I would have guessed, and it's hardly the most pressing issue in American education today, but it's still a slippery slope that's probably best avoided.

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FANTASYLAND....Nicolas Sarkozy's honeymoon with American conservatives was always bound to end before long. Here's another nail in the coffin:

France acknowledged Monday that it had informal contacts with Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization for its campaign of violence against Israel.

Washington swiftly condemned the move, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said such contacts are needed to gauge the humanitarian and political situation in the Middle East. He said other European countries had quietly done likewise, a contention supported by Hamas.

Kouchner hastily assured everyone that the French were involved only in "contacts," not "relations" or "negotiations" with Hamas, but even that was too much for the Bush administration. We are all supposed to pretend instead that Hamas doesn't exist and that things will get magically better if we ignore them. Even Barack Obama has been forced to buy into this nonsense. The mind boggles.

Kevin Drum 11:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HOUSING BUBBLE UPDATE....The latest from the Southern California real estate market:

Gated mansions and hillside estates have held their own through most of the real estate slump, but data released Monday showed big drops in the region's most exclusive neighborhoods.

Median sale prices fell by 13% in Beverly Hills in April, compared with the same month last year. Rancho Palos Verdes dropped 18% over the same period, while Newport Beach's 92660 ZIP Code took a 34% hit, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

Well, that's that. If rich people are suffering too, the housing bubble must officially be a problem.

Kevin Drum 1:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DETERRENCE....Andy McCarthy is unhappy with Barack Obama's opinion of Iran:

The Soviet Union was a superpower unlikely to attack us because retaliation would have been certain and massive. Iran may be comparatively puny, but the chance that the mullahs will actually use the weapons once they have them is geometrically greater.

....Ahmadinejad and his cohort are apocalyptic jihadi revolutionaries. Shouldn't what they believe be analyzed and factored in as we try to assess the threat that they pose? Or would that offend moderates too much? It seems awfully silly to compare them to the Soviet Union when, with the latter, we had a deterrence policy — Mutually Assured Destruction — that was explicitly based not only on the size of the enemy arsenal but on whether, given his motivations, he was likely to act.

Dismissing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran as "puny" probably wasn't a smart move by Obama, but I nonetheless continue to be amazed at the rose-colored glasses that so many conservatives use these days when they talk about the old Soviet Union. Back in the day they sure didn't think the Soviets were rational. They didn't think much of MAD either, a term initially invented by conservatives as a term of ridicule. And communism was very much considered an apocalyptic, expansionist ideology that would never rest until the West was buried. The Andy McCarthy of this post would have been considered a wide-eyed naif by any serious conservative of 30 years ago.

I dunno. I guess they have to do this because it's the only way they can make Iran look like it's the worst threat ever in history. But as dangerous and destabilizing as a nuclear Iran would be, there's simply no reason to think that Shiite theology makes them undeterrable. They've never acted suicidal in the past, and it's unlikely they will in the future. Obama has that exactly right.

Kevin Drum 1:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

Bookmark and Share
May 19, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NARRATIVE WOES....I had to laugh a bit when I read Conor Friedersdorf's piece in Doublethink about why conservatives have trouble with the media:

Contra the least-thoughtful conservative critics, there isn't any elite liberal conspiracy at work. Bias creeps in largely because the narrative conventions of journalism are poor at capturing basic conservative and libertarian truths. An instructive example is rent control. A newspaper reporter assigned that topic can easily find a sympathetic family no longer able to afford its longtime apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood. Their plight is a moving brief for a rent ceiling.

As almost everyone long ago conceded, however, opponents of rent control offer superior counterarguments. Limiting rent degrades the quality of a city's housing stock, causes shortages as a dearth of new units are built, and spurs a black market where well-connected elites game their way into subsidized flats. A talented reporter, given enough time and space, could craft a narrative that illustrates how rent control ultimately makes poor families worse off. His job is relatively difficult, however, for he can hardly write a pithy anecdotal lead about the hundred families that won't occupy a non-existent apartment building because a foolish policy eliminated an unknown developer's incentive to build it.

The right, in other words, has a problem with narrative. The stubborn facts of this world contradict pieties left, right, and libertarian, occassionally forcing each group to revise its thinking. But the core critiques of liberalism intrinsically resist the narrative form. Who can foresee the unintended consequences of government intervention in advance? Who can pinpoint the particular threats to liberty posed by an ever-growing public sector?

The reason I laughed is that liberals complain about this exact same thing all the time. I guess everyone is convinced that the other side has nice, simple heart-tugging narrative storylines while their own side is consistently burdened with complex, bloodless, policy-heavy wonkery.

The real difference, though, isn't that one side or the other has a monopoly on simple narratives, but that left and right tend to rely on different narratives. Liberals traffic heavily in guilt and personal tragedy. Conservatives specialize in fear and self-interest. Conservatives don't have the same narratives as liberals, but they've still got plenty of narratives.

Eminent domain? Take your pick of stories about elderly widows kicked out of their homes to make room for a CostCo. Social programs? Ink has been spilled by the barrelful on welfare queens and related undeserving poor. Taxes? I hear the common man is groaning under their oppressive weight. National defense? The commies Islamofascists are coming! Free trade? The media ranks protectionism right up there with creationism on its list of mouth-breathing quackeries. Social Security? There isn't a reporter alive who doesn't believe it's going bankrupt. Unions? Pretty much responsible for the destruction of American industry. Bureaucratic bungling? Reporters love stories about bureaucracy run amok. Hell, the (liberal!) magazine I work for was practically founded on the notion of exposing bureaucratic idiocy.

Obviously each side has issues that it has a hard time with. The conservative case against rent control, granted, probably doesn't lend itself well to narrative treatment — though I'll bet it wouldn't be that hard to come up with one. But if you think that's tough, try the liberal case for higher taxes to fund social programs. Sure, it's easy enough to find some photogenic five-year-old suffering from the ravages of poverty, but the conservative counternarrative against funding a program to help our struggling five-year-old is pretty widespread too: (a) it's your money, (b) it'll just get wasted by the bureaucracy, (c) we already spend enough on welfare anyway, and (d) the free market would take care of this if we just let it. If you're wondering which narrative is more effective, just ask yourself how many big new social programs and how many big new tax increases we've gotten over the past few decades. Not too many.

It's true, of course, that favored narratives rise and fall over time, and right now we're entering an era when the repertoire of conservative narratives is showing every sign of Cheyne-Stokes breathing. But it had a good run until the current crew got hold of it. Blame them, not the storytelling power of conservative thought.

Via Megan McArdle.

Kevin Drum 9:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

END OF AN ERA?....David Frum is pretty pessimistic about the current state of movement conservatism, but George Packer says that David Brooks is even more dejected:

When I met David Brooks in Washington, he was even more scathing than Frum. Brooks had moved through every important conservative publication — National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard — "and now I feel estranged," he said. "I just don't feel it's exciting, I don't feel it's true, fundamentally true." In the eighties, when he was a young movement journalist, the attacks on regulation and the Soviet Union seemed "true." Now most conservatives seem incapable of even acknowledging the central issues of our moment: wage stagnation, inequality, health care, global warming. They are stuck in the past, in the dogma of limited government. Perhaps for that reason, Brooks left movement journalism and, in 2003, became a moderately conservative columnist for the Times. "American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn't a big one," he said. "The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don't know if they can." He added, "You go to Capitol Hill — Republican senators know they're fucked. They have that sense. But they don't know what to do. There's a hunger for new policy ideas."

The great liberal wave that lasted from the 30s through the 70s was fundamentally based on three things: middle class wage growth, the construction of a social safety net, and the individual rights revolution. Its other pathologies aside, liberalism's big problem by the end of the 70s was that it had essentially won most of these battles. Not all of them. No movement ever wins all its battles. But once you win two-thirds of them, it's hard to sustain the kind of momentum it takes to win the rest.

Conservatives are in the same boat today, except worse. Modern movement conservatism was also fundamentally based on three things: low taxes, anti-communism, and social traditionalism. ("Small government" was never more than a fig leaf.) Today communism is gone (and Islamofascism has failed to rally the troops in the same way), taxes literally can't be lowered any more, and sex-and-gender fundamentalism has become an albatross that's rapidly producing a generation of young voters more repelled by conservatism than any generation since World War II. Even in the late 70s, there were plenty of traditionally liberal goals still to be fought for. Not enough to build a winning coalition around, but still something. Modern conservatives don't even have that. The culture war is pretty much all they have left, and its clock has run out.

They won't be willing to say this during a presidential campaign, but there are at least half a dozen smart Republican senators who understand this and don't really want to go down with the ship. So even if Democrats don't win a filibuster-proof majority in November — as they almost certainly won't — it's likely that there will still be enough survival-inspired GOP senators around to give Barack Obama the votes he needs to make a difference. If that's the case, and if Obama has the courage of his convictions, his first two years could be historic.

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (133)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Al Hunt, commenting on runaway veep speculation:

Over the past 50 years, 17 men and one woman have been chosen by the major parties to run for the vice presidency of the U.S. Only one — Lyndon Johnson in 1960 — demonstrably affected the outcome of the presidential race.

True enough, but veep speculation is also essentially harmless, which gives it a leg up on lots of other press corps obsessions. Hunt goes on to prove this by....speculating about who McCain and Obama will choose as their vice presidents.

Kevin Drum 1:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ROVE AND SIEGELMAN....Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, thinks that Karl Rove was behind his politically motivated prosecution on tissue-thin charges of bribery and corruption. He's not afraid to say so, either:

The Star: Why do you believe Rove hasn't agreed to testify under oath?

Siegelman: He doesn't want to run the risk of lying under oath and being prosecuted for perjury.

You know, I think it's telling that he talks a good game. He wrote a, I think it was a five-page letter to [MSNBC anchor] Dan Abrams basically asking Dan Abrams questions about why he should testify under oath. When Conyers invited him to testify under oath, he's dodged that, he's skated, and I think it's clear he's got something to hide. Otherwise, there is no reason why he wouldn't testify under oath.

Rove has plenty of connections to Alabama, so it's certainly plausible that he was involved in this episode. On the other hand, Joe Wilson was famously hopeful that Rove would be frog-marched into prison over the Valerie Plame affair, and Rove slid out from under that without working up a sweat. I'll keep hoping, but I guess I'll be surprised if anything Rove-worthy comes out of this either.

Via ThinkProgress.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

RELIGION AND HAPPINESS....In Europe, the advance of secularization has corresponded with an increase in reported happiness. In America, it's just the opposite: religious participation is positively correlated with higher levels of self-reported happiness. Will Wilkinson suggests that this is mostly a matter of fitting in: since most Americans are religious, you're more likely to be happier if you fit in with our religious culture. Ross Douthat suggests the answer lies elsewhere:

My suspicion is that the difference has something to do with the role of the welfare state as well — that the benefits of belonging to a religious community are greater in the U.S. than in Europe in part because our welfare state is smaller, and religious participation provides both tangible and intangible forms of security that are more valuable in a society where the free market is more freewheeling and the welfare state weaker. If you're a Christian who prefers the American model, you might say that the Europeans use government as a substitute for God; if you prefer Europe's path to modernity, you'd probably say something about Americans clinging to churchgoing because it's the only protection available against the harsh brutality of our jungle capitalism. Either way, I suspect that this symbiosis between high levels of religiosity and economic individualism is at the heart of American exceptionalism — which is another way of saying that libertarians root for secularization at their peril.

This is way outside my wheelhouse, but here's another possibility: Europe has suffered through centuries of devastating religious wars that didn't end until fairly recently. If you live in Western Europe, there's a pretty good chance that you associate strong religiosity with death, destruction, and massive societal grief, not with church bake sales. So whatever you think of religion itself, seeing the end of religious wars, religious terrorism, and massive state-sponsored religious bigotry is almost bound to make you happy. You'd have to be almost literally crazy not to be happier in today's secular Europe than in yesterday's religious Europe.

Religion in America is just a whole different story. Sure, it's caused its share of problems, but nothing even remotely on the scale of what happened in Europe. We still have a pretty innocent view of religious belief here, and this probably accounts for part of the reason that religion is associated with happiness here but not in Europe. Whether that makes us exceptional or just naive I'll leave for others to debate.

Kevin Drum 12:31 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

RED LIGHT CAMERAS....Although red light cameras have never been one of my big hot buttons, there's a fair amount of evidence that they're routinely misused, set up to maximize revenue collection rather than safety. Today, the LA Times adds some fuel to the fire:

One of the most powerful selling points for photo enforcement systems, which now monitor 175 intersections in Los Angeles County and hundreds more across the United States, has been the promise of reducing collisions caused by drivers barreling through red lights.

But it is the right-turn infraction — a frequently misunderstood and less pressing safety concern — that drives tickets and revenue in the nation's second-biggest city and at least half a dozen others across the county.

....The city of Los Angeles issued more than 30,000 photo tickets last year at 32 camera-equipped intersections. About eight in 10 involved right turns, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Matthew MacWillie, the program's co-coordinator.

The infraction, of course, is not coming to a full and complete stop before rolling into a right turn. This turns out to be a relatively modest safety issue, but it's often the difference that allows an intersection to produce enough revenue to justify a red light camera in the first place. In the city of Walnut, the assistant city manager admitted as much:

Right-turn enforcement was included, records and interviews show, after camera vendor Redflex Traffic Systems surveyed several intersections and set a "threshold" of violations needed to make the cameras financially feasible.

"It had to meet that," [Chuck] Robinson said, and right-turn violations helped.

Moral of the story: if you get a right turn ticket, you're helping to fund a system that catches other people who really are driving unsafely. You should feel proud of your contribution to society.

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (75)

Bookmark and Share
May 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

HOW OLD IS JOHN McCAIN?....Did you see John McCain's taped appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend? You can check it out here. James Fallows had pretty much the same reaction I did:

What on earth was John McCain thinking, in agreeing to do a SNL spot 35 minutes into the show? The run-into-the-ground "joke" line was, "I am older than anyone can possibly believe. Hardee-har! I am so incredibly old!" Jeesh. He came across as a good sport, but, well, old. Everyone has seen SNL items that could be used as campaign ads. This is the only one I can think of where a candidate intentionally produced something that could be used as an attack ad on himself.

I get it: McCain was trying to defuse the age issue, which he knows is festering away out there. But this didn't defuse it. It just introduced it to a whole new audience. Dumb.

Kevin Drum 11:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN AND THE LOBBYISTS....I'm having a hard time keeping up, but here's the latest from the John McCain campaign:

John McCain's national finance co-chairman has stepped down, the latest casualty of a presidential campaign eager to cauterize damage caused by its ties to lobbyists.

Former Texas Rep. Thomas G. Loeffler....who runs the lobbying shop The Loeffler Group, is the highest profile departure from McCain's inner circle since a summer 2007 shake-up cost McCain his campaign manager and chief strategist.

That brings to five the number of campaign workers McCain has had to fire recently. Here's the complete list:

  • Thomas Loeffler, lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and various defense contractors. CEO of The Loeffler Group.

  • Doug Goodyear, lobbyist for the military junta in Burma. CEO of DCI Group.

  • Doug Davenport, also works for DCI Group.

  • Eric Burgeson, energy lobbyist, works for Barbour Griffith & Rogers

  • Craig Shirley, works for anti-Hillary 527 group that's not allowed to coordinate with presidential campaigns.

This is ridiculous. Except for Shirley, whose sins are a little different, all of the other four headed up or worked for big lobbying outfits. The press is reporting this as if it's just one embarrassment for McCain after another that he keeps finding out he's got lobbyists working for him, but that's not the story here. The real story is that McCain obviously knew these guys were lobbyists long before anyone pointed it out to him. You don't hire the CEO of the DCI group without knowing that the guy is a lobbyist.

Only a child would believe that McCain didn't know who these guys were when he hired them. The press really needs to step up their game a notch on this story.

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

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE SMALL DONOR REVOLUTION....Mark Kleiman argues today that for the past couple of decades the Democratic Party has been in hock to corporate interests. Not as much as Republicans, maybe, but enough to prevent Dems from pursuing lots of worthy public policies that a party of the common man ought to be pursuing. I assume he'll get little argument on this score from the lefty blogosphere, but then he muses about how this might change in November:

Assume for the second that November goes well, with a big win for Obama and increased majorities in both Houses. Assume in addition that the Obama money machine can keep cranking even after he becomes President, and can substantially replace the usual big-money interests as a source of campaign funding for Congressional Democrats.

One implication of that ought to be that some popular (and in some cases populist) programs that Democrats have been shying away from since 1974 because they can't afford to lose the donors suddenly become possible.

Mark has a list that includes things like copyright reform, hedge fund taxation, credit card regulation, and so forth, but it strikes me that he's putting the cart before the horse here. I chatted with him about this on Friday, and his basic argument is that Obama has created a spectacular money machine that he can call on at will. Got a congressman who's nervous about voting for healthcare reform because he'll lose the support of the insurance industry? No problem. President Obama can send out an email to his list, raise a couple mil overnight for the guy's reelection campaign, and there are no more worries about the insurance industry. Ditto for telecommunications, entertainment, and high tech cash.

This sounds great, but I'm skeptical. Obama has been raising enormous amounts of money from small donors, but he's been raising that money from people who are enthralled by Barack Obama and are willing to donate money to help Barack Obama become president. Once he actually becomes president, however, a lot of the thrill goes away. Partly this is because once the deed is done, the deed is done and people move on. Partly it's because the real-life Barack Obama is going to have to make compromises and tradeoffs just like any other real-life politician and his supporters will inevitably become a little less enthralled by him over time. Partly it's because people who are willing to donate to the Obama campaign aren't necessarily also willing to instantly open their wallets for other people just because Obama asks them to.

Plus there's this: Although Obama, and to a lesser extent online organizations like MoveOn, have been able to raise huge amounts of small-donor money, "huge" is a relative term. The amount may be big compared to my house payment, but compared to the cost of an entire election cycle it's still fairly small. This means that big corporate donors are going to stay pretty important.

Still, it's an interesting topic. Just how far is the small-donor revolution going to take us? I'm not convinced Mark is entirely wrong about this, but I'm not really convinced he's entirely right either — and it seems like a conversation that's worth having in public, not just as party chitchat. Should big corporate interests be feeling scared right about now? Comments are open.

Kevin Drum 8:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DOWN THE MEMORY HOLE....I know I'm not the first person to mention this, but the House GOP's newly released "American Families Agenda" is a remarkable piece of work. As recently as two years ago, any Republican document with the word "families" in it would have been crammed full of proposals for parental notification laws, constitutional bans on gay marriage, prayer in public schools, promotion of two-parent families, abstinence-only sex ed, and internet porn crackdowns. But this year? Nada.

The 2008 agenda is remarkable for two reasons. First, the old-school social issues haven't just been deemphasized, they've been completely airbrushed out. It's like some old May Day photo from the Soviet archives. There's a very brief mention of a reward fund for people who turn in porn spammers, but that's it. Unless my code word radar is on the blink, there aren't even any oblique references to abortion, gays, sex-ed, prayer, vouchers, or any of the other usual crowd favorites. You wouldn't know there had ever even been a day when the GOP considered that stuff part of a family agenda.

Second, look at the stuff that is in the agenda. Comp time for workers! Business training for underprivileged women! Health care portability! Anti-obesity programs! SCHIP expansion! If you read the fine print most of these items turn out to be pretty weak tea, but that's not the point. The public face of the party's family agenda is almost pure Democratic-lite technocracy.

And it's not just the House GOP caucus, either. As David Corn points out, John McCain's big fantasy speech about what the country would look like in 2013 after four years of a McCain presidency doesn't make so much as a pro forma nod in the direction of abortion, gay marriage, or any other hot button social issue. They're just gone:

The closest he comes to addressing the priorities of the fundamentalist right is to note the appointment (and confirmation!) of federal judges "who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them."....Any self-respecting social conservative should be enraged. On a day when the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, McCain's speech is insult added to injury.

McCain and the Republican Party obviously have big problems this year. McCain in particular is caught between a rock and a hard place: the core of his appeal is to crossover moderates, which means he can't afford to play culture war games, but if he abandons culture issues entirely he'll forfeit the support of a religious right base that's already suspicious of him.

There's no really good answer to this, and so far, at least, it looks like the GOP has decided not to even bother trying to thread the needle: social issues have been erased from the conservative agenda, and if James Dobson doesn't like it, tough.

Can it work? Barack Obama may be willing to let sleeping dogs lie, but will social conservatives go along for the next six months? Will studied neutrality be enough as the biggest state in the union votes on gay marriage? Will evangelicals hold their tongues on vouchers and nativists hold their tongues on comprehensive immigration reform? Maybe, but all it will take is one high-profile event — a Terry Schiavo, a stem cell breakthrough — to uncork the dam. It's going to be a very nervous six months on the culture war front for McCain.

Kevin Drum 1:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

Bookmark and Share
May 16, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING.... None of my pictures of Domino turned out well this week, so instead you get a bigger than usual picture of Inkblot in the backyard, unwinding from a hard day at the office.

A hard day? Sadly, yes. We had a paper shopping bag up on the table that morning, not intended as a cat toy, but not yet put away either, and it viciously attacked Inkblot and chased him all over the house. He finally ended up cowering under the bed, where I rescued him and untangled the bag handle from his neck. After that, he needed some serious relaxation, and the backyard bushes seemed just the ticket.

I've got people coming over tonight, so I'm taking off a little bit early today. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NO OIL FOR YOU....President Bush has gone to Riyadh once again to beg the Saudis to increase oil production, and once again he's been rebuffed. Here's the explanation:

Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, told reporters, "What they're saying to us is" that "Saudi Arabia does not have customers that are making requests for oil that they are not able to satisfy," The Associated Press reported.

That's a lovely tautology, isn't it? Needless to say, there's always a price at which the demand for Saudi oil is no greater than what they happen to be putting on the market. Today it's $127 per barrel. If they cut production in half and the price went up to $500 per barrel, they still wouldn't be getting any requests they couldn't satisfy.

In other words, the Saudi response was not materially different from "Piss off." At this point, the only really interesting question is whether they're throttling their supply because they want to or because they have to. As time goes on and prices keep going up, I'm inclining more and more toward the latter.

UPDATE: It turns out that the Saudis are increasing their production after all. The increase is only a token 300,000 barrels per day, so it's not clear what's really going on here. A face-saving measure for Bush? Or something else?

Kevin Drum 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

WATER'S EDGE....Over at American Footprints, Haggai has a comment about President Bush's speech to the Knesset on Thursday:

While it might be true that Bush just took "the basically unprecedented step of lashing out at his domestic political opponents in a speech to a foreign parliament," why does it matter where he made the speech? Why should we care about that particular aspect of it?

Let's surmise this scenario: Obama becomes president and ends up in the circumstance of visiting Israel to advance negotiations on a peace agreement, while simultaneously drawing down American forces from Iraq. Let's say he gives a speech there talking about both of those things, and he argues for why American withdrawal from Iraq is better for Israel than the policies of the previous administration, including an argument about why invading Iraq in the first place was not beneficial to America or to Israel. Surely Republicans would cry foul about the U.S. president slamming his domestic opposition on foreign soil, but would any of us liberals be against it? I sure wouldn't be.

I think this business about politics stopping at water's edge has always been overblown, honored more in the breach than the observance. Regardless, though, I agree with Haggai: if this rule ever made sense, it doesn't anymore. Travel is too ubiquitous, television and the internet are too global, and audiences are too sophisticated for this to matter much anymore. Everyone in the world already knows how Bush and Obama feel about talking with various international bad actors because they see see it on TV every day. 24/7 cable news has made the distinction of where something is said mostly obsolete and the symbology of showing a united front on foreign soil little more than a quaint relic of an earlier age.

What Bush said was ridiculous, but the fact that he said in Israel didn't make it any worse. It may have had a good run, but it's time to officially retire the water's edge rule.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

GUANTANAMO....Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick on the real heroes of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay:

Since the inception of the commissions, the brakes have almost always been applied when some member of the military has balked, even when going along would have been the far easier course....Start with Charles Swift....Next up, Col. Morris Davis....yet another military naysayer: Keith Allred....Four others — Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr, Capt. Carrie Wolf, and Lt. Col. Stuart Couch.

....The truth is that the best thing the commissions have going for them right now are the lawyers and judges in uniform who have, albeit reluctantly, refused to play along. If they'd been out on the battlefield, they'd have killed any detainee they met as an enemy. But they're not willing to see them killed in the wake of a sham trial. That's not because they value the lives of terrorists over the lives of Americans or because they value legal formalism over the exigencies of war. It's because they come out of a long military tradition of legal integrity and independence. And much as it must pain them, this precludes them from being yes men for the Bush administration at the expense of the rule of law.

Read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TALKING TO TERRORISTS....On Thursday President Bush said that talking to "terrorists and radicals" is appeasement, and later that day John McCain said he agreed. But in the Washington Post today, James Rubin says that McCain hasn't always felt this way:

Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News's "World News Tonight" program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain answered: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

I imagine that McCain will wriggle out of this somehow. Maybe by claiming that "sooner or later" means, um, later. Or that "deal with them" doesn't include actually talking to them. Or something. But it sure sounds as if he was in favor of talking to Hamas before he was opposed to it.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

Bookmark and Share
May 15, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

YAK YAK....I have to admit, Chris Matthews does occasionally have his moments.

Kevin Drum 11:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

WILL CALIFORNIANS VOTE TO BAN GAY MARRIAGE?....It's almost certain that an initiative to ban same-sex marriage will be on the California ballot this November. How likely is it to pass?

Here's a very crude cut at an answer. Lots of polls have been done over the years about attitudes toward gays, and they all show a similar trend: people have become more gay friendly at the rate of about 1% per year. Here are some examples from Karlyn Bowman's 2006 roundup of historical poll data:

  • Same-sex relations "not wrong": increased from 11% to 31% between 1973 and 2004.

  • Gays should have equal employment rights: increased from 56% to 89% between 1977 and 2006.

  • Gay marriage should be valid: increased from 27% to 39% between 1996 and 2005.

  • Gays should have adoption rights: increased from 29% to 45% between 1994 and 2004.

All of these questions have had ups and downs over the years, but on all of them the population has gotten steadily more gay friendly. The exact rate of change per year on these four questions is: .66%, 1.14%, 1.2%, and 1.45%. The average of all four is 1.11% per year.

In 2000 Californians voted to ban same-sex marriage by a margin of 61%-39%. If attitudes toward gay marriage have followed their historical pattern, about 9% more Californians are in favor of it this year, which means they'd still vote to ban it, but by the smaller margin of 52%-48%.

In other words: this is likely to be very close. These numbers have fairly big error bars attached to them, and it's also possible, especially in California, that attitudes toward gay marriage since 2000 have softened faster than in the past. Still, right now it looks to me like the odds are slightly stacked against those of us who favor same-sex marriage. This is going to be a very tough campaign.

UPDATE: I originally had the vote on Prop 22 pegged at 63%-37% in favor. I'm not sure where I got that, but the actual final tally was 61.4%-38.6%. So this is even a closer call than I thought.

Kevin Drum 8:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MUNICH! MUNICH! MUNICH!....Over in Israel today, George Bush got right down to business and compared Democrats to the Hitler appeasers who sold out Czechoslovakia just before World War II. Barack Obama shot back that this was a "false political attack" and that Bush was a liar. Christopher Orr thinks this is great:

I'm struck by how politically foolish this assault appears to be. Bush attacking Obama, and Obama counter-attacking Bush, while John McCain sits on the sidelines, is a disastrous dynamic for the GOP. The more Obama can frame this race as him vs. the most unpopular president in modern history, the easier a time he'll have in the fall.

As it happens, McCain didn't sit on the sidelines. He and his pal Joe Lieberman chimed in to say that Bush was absolutely spot on. But I suspect that this is even worse: after all, Democrats are going to do everything they can to promote the "McBush" meme this year, and diving in feet first to say "Me too!" when Bush hauls out artillery like this is just going to make their job easier. If McCain wants to sign on with Mr. 28%, who are we to complain?

On the other hand, Obama's response seemed slightly off to me. "It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel" sounds a little rote, doesn't it? I guess a presidential candidate can't afford to sound unpresidential, but I still think I would have preferred something like a Reaganesque shake of his head followed by "It's always Munich with these guys, isn't it?" There are times when mockery is the best policy.

Kevin Drum 4:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (114)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

GAY MARRIAGE UPHELD IN CALIFORNIA....As expected, the California Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled today that state laws banning same-sex marriage are discriminatory:

The long-awaited court decision stemmed from San Francisco's highly publicized same-sex weddings, which in 2004 helped spur a conservative backlash in a presidential election year and a national dialogue over gay rights.

....Today's ruling by the Republican-dominated court affects more than 100,000 same-sex couples in the state, about a quarter of whom have children, according to U.S. census figures.

Here's the conclusion of the majority decision affirming the right of gay couples to marry:

[T]he exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children. As discussed above, because of the long and celebrated history of the term "marriage" and the widespread understanding that this word describes a family relationship unreservedly sanctioned by the community, the statutory provisions that continue to limit access to this designation exclusively to opposite-sex couples — while providing only a novel, alternative institution for same-sex couples — likely will be viewed as an official statement that the family relationship of same-sex couples is not of comparable stature or equal dignity to the family relationship of opposite-sex couples.

Furthermore, because of the historic disparagement of gay persons, the retention of a distinction in nomenclature by which the term "marriage" is withheld only from the family relationship of same-sex couples is all the more likely to cause the new parallel institution that has been established for same-sex couples to be considered a mark of second-class citizenship.

Finally, in addition to the potential harm flowing from the lesser stature that is likely to be afforded to the family relationships of same-sex couples by designating them domestic partnerships, there exists a substantial risk that a judicial decision upholding the differential treatment of opposite-sex and same-sex couples would be understood as validating a more general proposition that our state by now has repudiated: that it is permissible, under the law, for society to treat gay individuals and same-sex couples differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals and opposite-sex couples.

In light of all of these circumstances, we conclude that retention of the traditional definition of marriage does not constitute a state interest sufficiently compelling, under the strict scrutiny equal protection standard, to justify withholding that status from same-sex couples. Accordingly, insofar as the provisions of sections 300 and 308.5 draw a distinction between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples and exclude the latter from access to the designation of marriage, we conclude these statutes are unconstitutional.

And now it goes to the voters. In November we'll see how far we've come in the past eight years.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

A BETTER YOU....Via Andrew Sullivan, Johann Hari describes his experiment taking Provigil, the pill that college students describe as "Viagra for the brain":

I picked up a book about quantum physics and super-string theory I have been meaning to read for ages, for a column I'm thinking of writing. It had been hanging over me, daring me to read it. Five hours later, I realised I had hit the last page. I looked up. It was getting dark outside. I was hungry. I hadn't noticed anything, except the words I was reading, and they came in cool, clear passages; I didn't stop or stumble once.

Perplexed, I got up, made a sandwich — and I was overcome with the urge to write an article that had been kicking around my subconscious for months. It rushed out of me in a few hours, and it was better than usual....The next morning I woke up and felt immediately alert. Normally it takes a coffee and an hour to kick-start my brain; today I'm ready to go from the second I rise. And so it continues like this, for five days: I inhale books and exhale articles effortlessly. My friends all say I seem more contemplative, less rushed — which is odd, because I'm doing more than normal. One sixty-something journalist friend says she remembers taking Benzadrine in the sixties to get through marathon articles, but she'd collapse after four or five says and need a long, long sleep. I don't feel like that. I keep waiting for an exhausted crash, and it doesn't seem to come.

I want some! Maybe not permanently or anything, but I have to admit it would be interesting to give it a try and see if I suddenly started churning out dozens of brilliant blog posts a day.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Provigil would be bad for blogging. Perhaps I'd get an idea, slip into a zone, and only emerge five hours later. The resulting post would be brilliant, I'm sure, but I'd only crank out one or two a day. That's not much of a blog. Perhaps there are advantages to a short attention span.

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PANIC IN THE RANKS....The sense of panic among Republicans after their congressional loss in Louisiana on Tuesday is pretty remarkable. Here's Scott Reed, a former RNC official: "Republican leadership needs to really take a good look in the mirror. They're taking the party off the cliff." And Tom DeLay: ""We haven't hit bottom yet. I've never seen members so frustrated or demoralized."

There's plenty more where that came from, and the most popular response seems to be a stampede by everyone to run away from everyone else. John McCain doesn't want to be associated with Congress, the GOP congressional caucus doesn't want to be associated with George Bush, and Bush himself is on autopilot, currently in Israel accusing Democrats of being the heirs of Neville Chamberlain. Meanwhile everyone agrees that the Republican "brand" is now toxic. Maybe they need a new slogan?

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (109)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN AND WITHDRAWAL....Back at the end of January, John McCain's coup de grâce against Mitt Romney was a completely bogus charge that Romney wanted to "wave a white flag" in Iraq. "My friends, I was there," McCain said. "He said he wanted a timetable for withdrawal."

This was an early indication that McCain was pretty much willing to say and do anything to win the nomination. But that was then and this is now: polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor a withdrawal from Iraq and McCain wants to win the presidency. Result: in a speech today in Ohio outlining his vision for what he wants the world to look like at the end of his first term, McCain says he'll bring the troops home:

By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.

So that's that. McCain expects to withdraw all but a handful of troops from Iraq by 2013. Sure, he's just sort of fantasizing here, and I imagine we'll hear some revising and extending once reporters start asking him pointed questions about this. But his intent is obvious: he wants to let the voting public know that he really, really wants to get out of Iraq soon, just like Barack Obama. It's looking more and more as if everyone's going to be campaigning against the war this year. Welcome aboard, Senator.

Kevin Drum 11:13 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
May 14, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Andrew Tobias, responding to Jon Stewart's characterization of George Bush as a moron:

"Bush is hardly a moron. He wanted the rich — in particular the oil guys — to do well and they have (phenomenally well). He promised to appoint more Justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and he did. He didn't want to work terribly hard and he hasn't. He wanted to show that government can't do things very well, and he has. Morons are not usually so successful in getting what they want."

Well, OK. I guess I'll have to think of something else to yell at the TV set then.

Kevin Drum 8:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SAME SEX MARRIAGE IN THE GOLDEN STATE....Via Andrew Sullivan, the California Supreme Court will announce its decision on whether to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday at 10 am:

No one knows for sure what the decision will be — but, given the length of time this has taken, it's perfectly possible the court will order civil marriage equality immediately without a stay. That would lead to thousands of irrevocable civil marriages and set up a ballot initiative this fall as a potential watershed for civil rights.

Those in favor of civil equality better get ready. The gay civil rights movement will never have waged a battle this big, this expensive or this important. We can win at the ballot box as well as in the courts and legislatures. And the good news is that the Republican governor has said he will oppose any initiative to take marriage rights away, if they are granted. Hold on tight.

I think it's widely expected that the court is going to legalize gay marriage, and the initiative to strike down their ruling has already gathered over a million signatures and is just waiting for verification from the Secretary of State before it goes on the November ballot. It's 14 words long, identical to the wording of Prop 22 back in 2000: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." This time, however, it's a constitutional initiative, not a statutory initiative, so if it passes it will be immune to court challenges.

Prop 22 passed overwhelmingly with 63% of the vote. Has 13% of the state decided to relax since then and allow gay couples to live in peace? We're about to find out.

Kevin Drum 6:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE AMAZING MONEY MACHINE....Josh Green has an interesting piece in the Atlantic this month about Barack Obama's online fundraising machine. It's focused mainly on the technology behind the machine and how it sprang from the venture-capital oriented worldview of Silicon Valley, but this little nugget caught my eye:

And as a newcomer to national politics, [Obama] needed to establish credibility by making inroads to major donors — most of whom, in California as elsewhere, had been locked down by the Clinton campaign.

Silicon Valley was a notable exception. The Internet was still in its infancy when Bill Clinton last ran for president, in 1996, and most of the immense fortunes had not yet come into being; the emerging tech class had not yet taken shape. So, unlike the magnates in California real estate (Walter Shorenstein), apparel (Esprit founder Susie Tompkins Buell), and entertainment (name your Hollywood celeb), who all had long-established loyalty to the Clintons, the tech community was up for grabs in 2007. In a colossal error of judgment, the Clinton campaign never made a serious approach, assuming that Obama would fade and that lack of money and cutting-edge technology couldn't possibly factor into what was expected to be an easy race. Some of her staff tried to arrange "prospect meetings" in Silicon Valley, but they were overruled. "There was massive frustration about not being able to go out there and recruit people," a Clinton consultant told me last year. As a result, the wealthiest region of the wealthiest state in the nation was left to Barack Obama.

Furthermore, in Silicon Valley's unique reckoning, what everyone else considered to be Obama's major shortcomings — his youth, his inexperience — here counted as prime assets.

In a close race, you can point to pretty much anything as "the difference." But if Green is right, Clinton's neglect of Silicon Valley ranks as one of the biggest mistakes of her campaign. Obama may have been uniquely situated to take financial and political advantage of the boom in social networking sites, but I sort of doubt it. I'll bet Hillary could have done it too. She just didn't.

Kevin Drum 3:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

UN-REGRESSING A CARBON TAX....The other day I mentioned that a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases would be a huge windfall for power companies if the permits are given away based on past history instead of being auctioned to the highest bidder. What's more, energy prices would rise substantially (that's the whole point) and the poor would be hit much harder by this than either the middle class or the affluent.

A cap-and-trade scheme that auctions off 100% of its emission permits would eliminate the windfall profits, but it would still act essentially as a regressive carbon tax, raising the price of energy and hitting the poor disproportionately. The nice thing about the auction, though, is that it provides government revenue that can be used to offset the regressivity of the original tax. But if we did that, would there be any revenue left over for anything else?

An analysis by CBPP says yes. They conclude that about 15% of the revenue would be needed to compensate companies for their losses and about 14% would be needed to hold low-income consumers harmless. That leaves more than 70% for other purposes, including funding of green R&D. Here's their basic recommendation for helping the poor: "We propose pairing a tax rebate with climate rebates issued through the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems that state human service agencies use to provide assistance to many poor people....Funds set aside for climate rebates should go to intended beneficiaries, not administrative costs or profits. Accordingly, policymakers should provide relief as much as possible through existing, proven delivery mechanisms — such as the EITC and state EBT systems — rather than new public or private bureaucracies, which entail very substantial administrative costs."

More here if you want to read up on this stuff.

Kevin Drum 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

APPALACHIA....This map of voting patterns in the Democratic primary race has now shown up on a bunch of different blogs, but I'm reproducing it yet again because it really is kind of fascinating. It comes from DHinMI, and it shows all the counties where Hillary Clinton has won 65% or more of the vote. Her area of greatest strength, it turns out, isn't whites per se, or old people, or the working class. It's all those things, but it's all those things mainly in Appalachia.

(The gray areas are states that haven't voted yet. Last night, West Virginia filled in nearly of its counties with purple, and Kentucky is expected to do likewise next week.)

The working theory here, of course, isn't that Appalachians love Hillary so much, but that Appalachians are uniquely uncomfortable voting for a black guy. Josh Marshall chalks this up to history: "Each of these regions was fiercely anti-Slavery. And most ended up raising regiments that fought in the Union Army. But they were as anti-slave as they were anti-slavery, both of which they viewed as the linchpins of the aristocratic and inegalitarian society they loathed."

This stuff is way, way outside my wheelhouse, so there's nothing much I can add. But the concentration of those purple dots is really striking. It's not clear if this really means much for the general election, but it might. Feel free to speculate in comments.

Kevin Drum 12:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (144)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SHOPPING CARTS....I'm fighting off a cold. Blecch. I blame unsanitary shopping carts.

What else could it be? For years I've been mocking those antibacterial wipes that supermarkets have started putting out by the shopping carts. Just more yuppie idiocy, I figured, part of the trend toward protecting ourselves from every remote possibility of harm no matter how dumb. I mean, how paranoid do you have to be to insist on wiping down your shopping cart before you head into the store?

Well, fine. I'm a believer now. Push a shopping cart around on Sunday and get sick on Monday. QED. Just like those telephone handset sanitizers from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You might call this the addled logic of a sick man, and you'd be right, but I don't care. No more shopping carts for me.

Anyway, if I write anything dumber than usual today, that's why. Blame the disease. Please.

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (71)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

REPUBLICAN LOSING STREAK CONTINUES....Mississippi's 1st congressional district may be a longtime Republican stronghold, but as usual this year, that didn't matter:

Travis Childers, a conservative Democrat who serves as Prentiss County chancery clerk, defeated Southaven Mayor Greg Davis by 54 percent to 46 percent in the race to represent Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, which both parties considered a potential bellwether for the fall elections.

....House Democrats now hold a 236 to 199 majority, up from 203 seats they controlled two years ago.

....Democrats begin the march into the fall elections with an enormous cash advantage: $44 million for the DCCC to $7 million for its GOP counterpart as of March 31. And 25 other Republican incumbents have decided against running for reelection, providing Democrats with more opportunities to make gains.

That's an 8-point victory in a solidly Republican district. The GOP even brought in Dick Cheney to campaign and tried to tar Childers as an Obama lover. But nothing worked. Even in Mississippi, they just don't want anything to do with Republicans anymore. It's going to be a ver-r-r-r-y long summer and fall for the GOP leadership.

Kevin Drum 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

Bookmark and Share
May 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BEST AND WORST GUESTS....ThinkProgress links today to this year's survey by TVWeek about which guests TV bookers like and which ones they don't. Here's one category:


Leading vote-getter: Vice President Dick Cheney. "He doesn't give a s***. He's checked out," said one respondent. "I don't know what he does all day," said another.

Also mentioned: Former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore ("just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview"); Michelle Obama; Sen. Reid ("never does Sunday shows"); Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. ("very hard to book"); Bill Clinton; Hillary Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams; Mr. Edwards; "someone who's actually in charge of the war."

After seeing Reid on the Daily Show last week I can understand why he doesn't do the Sunday talkathons. I've never seen a guest so reluctant to open his mouth and say something. Pelosi isn't as reticent, but apparently she's very high maintenance (typical comments: "won't come to the studio," "wants the grandeur of her Speaker's office," "the queen — spare me").

This is sort of unfortunate for the Democratic Party, isn't it? I don't suppose party leaders always have to be ones in front of the camera, but it would be nice to have ones who at least know how to play the game.

On the bright side, though, neither John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell even got mentioned in TVWeek's survey. That's even worse than being dissed, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL SMACKDOWN....For some time Dan Drezner has been arguing that all the tears shed over the demise of the public intellectual in America are misplaced. Today's public intellectuals, he says, are every bit as good as the giants of the past, and blogs have served to give them an ever wider audience. Today he puts his money where his mouth is:

Among periodicals, The New Yorker has Malcolm Gladwell, James Surowiecki and Louis Menand on their payroll; Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, and Virginia Postrel write for The Atlantic; Harper's contributing editors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Frank, and Tom Wolfe; Vanity Fair has James Wolcott and Christopher Hitchens; Newsweek employs Fareed Zakaria, Daniel Gross and George F. Will. Despite the thinning of their ranks, unaffiliated public intellectuals like Paul Berman, Michael Beschloss, Debra Dickerson, Robert D. Kaplan, John Lukacs, Joshua Micah Marshall, Rick Perlstein and Robert Wright still remain. The explosion of think tanks in the past thirty years has contributed to a rise in partisanship — but it has also provided sinecures for the intellectual likes of Robert Kagan, Joel Kotkin, Michael Lind, Brink Lindsey, Jedediah Purdy, and David Rieff. Within the academy, there is no shortage of public intellectuals: Eric Alterman, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michael Bérubé, Joshua Cohen, Jared Diamond, Jean Behke Elshtain, Amitai Etzioni, Niall Ferguson, Richard Florida, Francis Fukuyama, John Lewis Gaddis, Henry Louis Gates, Jacob Hacker, Samuel Huntington, Tony Judt, Paul Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Steven Leavitt, Lawrence Lessig, John Mearsheimer, Martha Nussbaum, Steven Pinker, Richard Posner, Samantha Power, Robert Putnam, Dani Rodrik, Jeffrey Sachs, Amartya Sen, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Joseph Stiglitz, Laurence Summers, Cass Sunstein, Michael Walzer, Sean Wilentz, E.O. Wilson, and Alan Wolfe. Their recent books [big slug o' books omitted –ed] are designed to be accessible to the informed lay public. It will be easy for the reader to quibble with one of the names or one of the books listed above. However, most cultural commentators would agree that most of the names and books belong on that list.

Sounds about right to me. Still, I think I might argue that even if the overall PI scene is still vibrant, 40 years ago there were a small number of what you might call mega-intellectuals — people like Buckley and Chomsky and Galbraith and Friedman — who had a bigger influence on public discourse than any single public intellectual does today. Nobody on Dan's list really seems to compete on quite the same plane as some of those 50s and 60s superstars. This might just be the hindsight bias that he talks about earlier in his piece, but if you had to nominate someone to be as influential today as Buckley and Galbraith were in their time, who would you choose? No one really comes to mind.

Kevin Drum 2:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ENERGY PANDERING....Over at The Corner, Iain Murray argues that the Consumer First Energy Act, introduced a few days ago by congressional Democrats, is a "terrible piece of legislation." Oddly enough, he seems to be right. Rolling back tax breaks for oil companies and promoting renewable energy tax credits instead is a sound idea, but the rest of the bill is mostly just a bunch of cheap political pandering: a windfall profits tax, some SOP griping about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a bit of anti-OPEC grandstanding, and some almost certainly useless provisions aimed at speculators and "price gougers."

The Republican energy bill is even worse, but if this is the best Dems can do it's time to take a deep breath and start over. We can win in November without this kind of junk.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGO-NEWS....I'm informed via email that Pajamas Media "shook the blogosphere" today by incorporating Instapundit onto its site. So it's goodbye instapundit.com, hello pajamasmedia.com/instapundit. Are you feeling shaken yet?

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CATNAPPING....Note to Mary Kolesnikova: If you don't like leet/lol/textspeak, no problem. We pedants have to stick together on this kind of thing. But leave the cats out of it, OK?

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DUMB OR MENDACIOUS? OR BOTH?....Democrats are taking unsurprising glee in rubbing GOP noses in the fact that the new campaign slogan chosen by House Republicans — "Change You Deserve" — turns out to also be the trademarked slogan of the antidepressant Effexor. That's prepackaged comedy gold for the late-night comic crowd. But I'm genuinely curious: how did this happen? Didn't Boehner & Co. even bother to Google the phrase to see if anyone else was using it? It shows up in a 10-second search, after all.

I dunno. Maybe they really are that dumb. And judging by this, they're just flat-out liars too. Nice week you're having so far, guys.

Kevin Drum 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

JOHN McCAIN AND 100% AUCTIONS....On Monday, John McCain outlined his climate change policy, which includes a cap-and-trade program:

We will cap emissions according to specific goals, measuring progress by reference to past carbon emissions. By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emission, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

....As part of my cap-and-trade incentives, I will also propose to include the purchase of offsets from those outside the scope of the trading system....Through the sale of offsets — and with strict standards to assure that reductions are real — our agricultural sector alone can provide as much as forty percent of the overall reductions we will require in greenhouse gas emissions....Over time, an increasing fraction of permits for emissions could be supplied by auction, yielding federal revenues that can be put to good use.

It's great that McCain acknowledges the reality of climate change and great that he acknowledges that we need to do something about it. But his cap-and-trade proposal is pretty weak tea.

For starters, its goal of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is less aggressive than Barack Obama's plan, which calls for a reduction of 80%. Since the plan will probably get watered down in Congress, that's a bad place to start.

Second, there are the offsets. It's not impossible to do offsets right, but in the reality we live in they're almost certain to end up as little more than fig leaves that give the appearance of doing something while delaying real action on GHG reductions. Promises of "strict standards" notwithstanding, this is an area where you definitely want to see the fine print before you sign up.

Third, McCain's cap-and-trade plan initially gives away emission permits instead of auctioning them. I mentioned a few days ago that that a 100% auction of emission permits is what distinguishes a real plan from a fake one, and later that day Mike O'Hare begged to differ: "The difference between a giveaway and an auction of the same total emissions is not a difference in environmental outcome or the economic cost of getting to it; it's only a matter of whose ox is gored." That's true, but it's worth unpacking that gored ox a bit.

Environmentally speaking, it doesn't matter whether you auction permits or give them away. What matters is the cap. If you cap total emissions at 90% of current levels (and enforce it), then that's what you'll get no matter which kind of system you use. And since both systems allow permits to be traded between companies, they each provide similar levels of economic efficiency. Our ox lurks elsewhere.

Here's the difference. If you auction permits, then power plants and other GHG emitters have to buy permits to operate, and this raises their cost of doing business. This will get passed along to consumers and energy prices will go up. The revenue from the permits will go to the government, just like a tax.

If you give away permits instead, common sense suggests that since there are no additional costs to emitters, they won't raise their prices. But it turns out this isn't true. Thanks to the opportunity cost of the permits, they'll raise their prices just as much as if they'd bought the permit in an auction. (This isn't just a theory, either. That's how the European cap-and-trade system worked initially, and prices really did go up. If you want the gritty detail on why it works this way, read this paper.) So: power plants end up raising their prices, but since the emission permits are free their costs don't change. Result: a huge windfall profit for GHG emitters. Some get more and some get less, but the overall net result is lots of extra profit, with the biggest polluters getting the biggest profit.

That sounds Republican bad enough already, but it gets worse. All cap-and-trade programs increase energy prices — it's like a carbon tax. But carbon taxes are heavily regressive, and a cap-and-trade program with a permit giveaway is even worse. Not only would the resulting higher energy prices hit the poor more heavily than rich, just as they would with a carbon tax, but in addition, thanks to the windfall profits, the rich would actually benefit from increased earnings in their investment portfolios. An auction system, by contrast, (a) doesn't provide windfall profits for corporations and (b) since the federal government collects the auction fees it can use them to ameliorate the disproportionate impact on the poor. It can spend some of the money on clean energy R&D; it can spend part of the money on mass transit; and it can spend part of the money by simply giving it back to taxpayers in a way that reduces the regressive nature of the original tax.

Finally, there's a political reality here. A system that gives away permits is highly vulnerable to legislative fiddling. Just as with tax policy, it's all too easy to favor certain industries over others by doling out different permit levels, and all too easy for the whole thing to turn into yet another form of corporate welfare. It's a lot harder to do that with an auction plan, which simply sets a nationwide permit level for GHGs and then makes companies buy them in a publicly traded system. It's not impossible for legislators to game the system — it's never impossible for legislators to game the system — but it's a lot harder.

So that's that. A cap-and-trade system with a 100% auction provides revenue for green research; it reduces the regressivity of the tax hit; and it helps keep lobbyists from gaming the system. The giveaway method, conversely, is highly regressive; provides windfall profits for big polluters; and would almost certainly end up as a congressional pork barrel that eviscerated the original emission targets bit by bit by bit. It just goes to show that policy details matter. Take your pick.

Kevin Drum 1:44 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share
May 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum


The cable news shows this morning were full of wide-eyed anchor larvae reporting that with gas prices high, people were driving less, and instead using more public transit! Oh, for a land in which the downward-sloping demand curve was not such a constant source of surprise and wonder to the broadcast media.

I bow to no one in my general contempt for cable news talkers — Shakespeare would undoubtedly update Dick's famous line in Henry VI if he were writing it today — but for five years U.S. gasoline consumption has been famously impervious to sharply rising prices. The cost of a tank of unleaded has more than doubled since 2002, but consumption has merrily kept rising 1.5% a year anyway. It was only in 2007 that consumption even started to flatten out, and only this year that it's projected to decline — ever so slightly. So can we really blame the cable talkers for being a little surprised that consumer behavior is finally changing?

Besides, it might not even be the price of gas that's responsible. Gasoline consumption does fall during recessions, and that might have as much to do with the recent reduction in driving as prices at the pump.

More generally, though, sure, demand curves slope downward. But that's the starting point of any serious discussion, not a devastating comeback that ends it. If the slope is very mild, as it seems to be with gasoline consumption and minimum wage labor markets, for example, there might be other factors at play that introduce enough real-world noise to flatten out the curve over part of its range. It's an empirical question, not an ideological one, and there's no way of knowing for sure except by looking at the data.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SURVEILLANCE STATE UPDATE....After 9/11, unsurprisingly, there was a spike in the number of warrants issued to spy on Americans. Also unsurprisingly, there was a spike in the number of terrorism prosecutions taken to court.

So what happened next? I don't know whether this is surprising or not, but Richard Schmitt of the LA Times reports today that after the spike in 2002, those two trends diverged. There have been more and more surveillance warrants issued, but they've produced fewer and fewer actual prosecutions:

The emphasis on spy programs [] is starting to give pause to some members of Congress who fear the government is investing too much in anti-terrorism programs at the expense of traditional crime-fighting. Other lawmakers are raising questions about how well the FBI is performing its counter-terrorism mission.

....Even some former government officials concede many intelligence investigations fail to yield evidence of a serious threat to the U.S. "Most of these threats ultimately turn out to be wrong, or maybe just the investigating makes them go away," said Washington lawyer Michael Woods, former head of the FBI national security law unit. "A lot more information is going to pass through government hands, and most of that is going to be about people who turn out to be innocent or irrelevant."

If anything, the real situation is almost certainly even worse than this: "Warrants" understates the vast increase in surveillance, which also includes things like national security letters and the warrantless programs run by the NSA, while "prosecutions" overstates the number of genuine terrorists who have been taken to court. It would be nice if Congress actually took a serious look at this.

Kevin Drum 3:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE BOTTOM THIRD....Over at TPMCafe, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels is talking about his new book, Unequal Democracy. Here's one of the results of his research:

Insofar as elected officials are responsive to the policy views of their constituents, only the views of affluent and middle-class people really matter. The preferences of millions of low-income citizens (in the bottom third of the income distribution) have no discernible effect on senators' roll call votes, whether we consider the whole range of issues that come before Congress or specific salient roll call votes focusing on the federal budget, the minimum wage, civil rights, and abortion. Aristotle wrote that "where the possession of political power is due to the possession of economic power or wealth ... that is oligarchy, and when the unpropertied class have power, that is democracy." By that standard, America is, at best, a very unequal democracy.


Kevin Drum 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

AN OIL BUBBLE?....I don't really have any good reason for posting this chart, but reader Jonathan C. sent it to me and I thought it was kind of amusing. Every month the Energy Information Agency releases a near-term energy forecast, and as oil prices have been skyrocketing it turns out that the EIA has been a model of consistency: every month they predict that oil prices have peaked and are about to start declining. In May the EIA analysts got a little frisky and predicted a plateau for the next few months instead of an immediate decline, but needless to say, the market failed to cooperate. Prices continued to rise.

So take the EIA forecasts with a grain of salt. The problem is that they, like many others, seem to believe that we're in the middle of an oil bubble that's being sustained by reckless speculators. My own hunch is that although speculation may be playing a role in the current runup, it's only a small one. Fundamentally, prices are going up because demand is growing and supply isn't. Paul Krugman agrees, and points out that artificially high prices can't be sustained for long, since eventually supply will go up and demand will go down, breaking the bubble:

The only way speculation can have a persistent effect on oil prices, then, is if it leads to physical hoarding — an increase in private inventories of black gunk. This actually happened in the late 1970s, when the effects of disrupted Iranian supply were amplified by widespread panic stockpiling.

But it hasn't happened this time: all through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn't the result of runaway speculation; it's the result of fundamental factors, mainly the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China. The rise in oil prices these past few years had to happen to keep demand growth from exceeding supply growth.

The lesson of those EIA forecasts is twofold. First, trying to predict short-term price fluctuations is a mug's game. They might go up, they might go down, and nobody knows which. Second, the overall trend is nonetheless up. Eventually, high prices will reduce demand and prices should level out a bit, but this might take a while since energy consumption is famously inelastic in the short term. But that's what it's going to take: change in the real world. This isn't a bubble, it's Adam Smith in action.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

GENETIC DISCRIMINATION....Congress voted nearly unanimously last week to outlaw genetic discrimination by health insurance companies. Michael Kinsley comments:

The very appealing notion that genetic discrimination is unfair looks especially odd in the context of insurance. The idea of insurance is to protect against the unexpected or unlikely. Forbidding insurers to take predictable risks into account when choosing whom to insure and how much to charge is asking them to behave irrationally and make bets they are sure to lose. Not insuring people who are likely to get cancer, or charging them more, isn't evil. It's rational behavior. Of course, we outlaw a lot of behavior that would be rational if it weren't against the law. But the skeptics who say this is a step on the way to universal health care actually understate the case.

This paragraph is preceded by some silliness about Yo-Yo Ma and followed by some further silliness about a possible descent into Stalinism. But that stuff aside, Kinsley is right about this. Insurance companies have to be allowed to assess risks when they set premiums. If they don't, then they aren't insurance companies.

So what's the eventual result of forbidding healthcare insurers to rationally assess risks when they write policies? They go out of business. Slowly, to be sure, but eventually they go kaput.

So think of this as a revealed preference. Conservatives all claim to believe that the private market is the best way to provide health insurance. And yet, given a close look at exactly what that means, they voted to outlaw the very thing that makes private insurance work: rational discrimination. The reality was just too ugly to support. If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, I guess that means a liberal is a conservative who's been denied insurance because of a congenital condition.

Kevin Drum 12:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE....Matt Yglesias comments on the home court advantage in basketball:

Here in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs we're seeing once again that home court advantage matters a lot — out of eight total games, seven have been won by the home team. Which makes me wonder — is anyone aware of any good research on what the home court advantage consists of? Why should it be so strong?

Oddly enough, I was going to post about this exact thing over the weekend, but decided not to bother because I don't know squat about basketball and I figured this was probably well trod territory. But maybe not.

So what is the deal? It's not just that basketball teams have a home court advantage, it's the fact they seem to have have more of a home court advantage than other team sports like football and baseball. But why? Basketball teams don't rely on calling audible signals, so noise shouldn't be that big a factor, and basketball courts, especially these days, are essentially identical. If anything, then, basketball ought to offer less of a home field advantage than either of those other sports. Does waving that junk around when visiting teams shoot free throws really make that big a difference?

Apparently not. Matt's comment thread produced two persuasive explanations. First, from a metastudy of scholarly research (!) on this very question, there's this:

A number of studies provide strong evidence that home advantage increases with crowd size, until the crowd reaches a certain size or consistency (a more balanced number of home and away supporters), after which a peak in home advantage is observed. Two possible mechanisms were proposed to explain these observations: either (i) the crowd is able to raise the performance of the home competitors relative to the away competitors; or (ii) the crowd is able to influence the officials to subconsciously favour the home team. The literature supports the latter to be the most important and dominant explanation. [Italics mine.]

Second, maybe basketball courts aren't as identical as I think:

Home court advantage is more pronounced in basketball for a variety of reasons, many mentioned here. First, familiarity with the court/arena cannot be underestimated. Every floor is different. Some are incredibly bouncy while others are totally dead. Some have ice below them, others don't. Some arenas are more intimate while others are cavernous (there's a reason the Final Four games are often poorly played in the early going. They're playing in a football stadium which has things like draft they're not accustomed to). The perspective of the basket is also quite different from one venue to the next. What's behind the basket affects shooting like nothing else....Basketball, as a game of streaks, is also more heavily dependent on momentum and the proximity of the crowd helps feed that. Crowd noise and excitement can rattle even the best players and influence referees, who have a more demonstrable impact on a game's outcome than in any other sport.

Further speculation welcome in comments.

Kevin Drum 11:52 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BASRA UPDATE....So how are things going in Basra? According to the New York Times, not too badly:

In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

Just as in Baghdad, Iraqi and Western officials emphasize that the gains here are "fragile," like the newly planted roadside saplings that fail to conceal mounds of garbage and pools of foul-smelling water in the historic port city's slums.

....Government forces have now taken over Islamic militants' headquarters and halted the death squads and "vice 'enforcers' " who attacked women, Christians, musicians, alcohol sellers and anyone suspected of collaborating with Westerners.

I don't have anything special to say about this, but it's tentative good news and I wanted to pass it along. We'll have to wait and see whether this is a temporary lull or a permanent change.

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
May 11, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OUR FAVORITE NEWS SOURCES....A couple of days ago I asked my readers what news outlet they'd choose if they could only have one. Assuming I counted the answers correctly and successfuly ignored all the double posts, here are the results:

  1. New York Times (34 votes)

  2. BBC (30 votes)

  3. NPR (25 votes)

  4. Economist (12 votes)

  5. Financial Times (9 votes)

  6. Washington Post (8 votes)

There was also a smattering of votes for the Guardian, "my local newspaper," the New Yorker, and various news aggregators.

Kevin Drum 4:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Hilzoy, commenting on which foreign regimes John McCain thinks it's respectable to lobby for and which ones he doesn't:

"So Ukraine is too much, but Burma is OK?"

Come on. Everyone has fond memories of those old Burma Shave signs, don't they?

Kevin Drum 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BEGONE!....Are wizards infiltrating Florida schools? Maybe. Luckily, the Pasco County School District is on the case.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

JINGLE MAIL....Has there been a sea change in the way Americans view the responsibility of paying off their mortgages? Has it become common to simply toss the keys to your house in the mailbox and walk away if you don't feel like making your payments any more? Even if you can afford to? This has recently acquired the status of conventional wisdom, but Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times says there's a problem with this story:

When pressed for the number of borrowers who could afford their mortgage payments, major banks and lender groups could not produce numbers figures.

Nor could the Mortgage Bankers Assn., the leading trade group for housing lenders....Wachovia's [Don] Truslow acknowledged during the bank's conference call April 14 that walkaways were "hard to quantify."....Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco said the bank had seen indications that some homeowners were taking pains to keep their credit card accounts current at the expense of their mortgage balances....But he said the bank did not have "firm figures" on how many homeowners were unnecessarily defaulting on their mortgages.

....At Fannie Mae, the government-chartered company that owns or guarantees billions of dollars in home mortgages, Senior Vice President Marianne Sullivan conceded that there was growing "folklore" about residential walkaways but said that the phenomenon was more likely connected to investors than people who live in their homes, or "owner-occupants."

"The vast majority of borrowers we find have been acting in good faith," she said. "If they get behind, they are interested in working with their lender."

If this is right, there's been no sea change at all. What there's been is a huge increase in houses purchased by speculators and a huge increase in lenders willing to provide them with mortgages. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that speculators are willing to walk away from mortgages if they no longer look like a profitable investment, but this says nothing about the attitudes of ordinary homeowners. What it says is that banks should be careful about loaning money to speculators.

But they weren't, so now they're trying to construct an urban legend about feckless home buyers who are defaulting not because their loans are resetting and they can't afford them, but merely because they feel like it. Hardworking bankers are just the latest victims of a liberal culture that no longer values personal responsibility, you see.

Maybe. But like most self-serving narratives coming from the moneyed class, you might want to ask for evidence beyond a few anecdotes before you believe it. Who knows? Maybe this one is no more real than that mythical family farmer tossed off his land by a cruel and unjust estate tax. We never did get his name either.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MODERN WARFARE....Both sides in Iraq's Shiite civil war have accepted a truce in Sadr City. The Sadrists agreed to stop displaying arms in public and to allow the government to arrest specific individuals suspected of attacks, though only if they get a warrant first. The government ended its offensive and gave up on its demand that the Mahdi Army disband. It also apparently agreed that only government forces could stage raids in Sadr City, not the U.S. military. The Iranians were said to have been instrumental in brokering the deal.

So who won? As near as I can tell, opinion ranges from "murky" to "seems like the Maliki government backed down," but really, nobody knows. Welcome to modern warfare.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon last week, Hezbollah managed to shock everyone by taking control of a big chunk of West Beirut with practically no resistance. Then, just as suddenly, they pulled out yesterday, turning control back over to government forces. But things are still tense and sporadic fighting has broken out elsewhere.

So who won? Hezbollah, probably, though it's not clear whether they backed off because they got what they wanted or because they couldn't have consolidated their control even if they'd wanted to. It's murky. Welcome to modern warfare.

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

Bookmark and Share
May 10, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CYCLONE NARGIS....Wingers sure are weird. The Wonk Room documents how one of Brent Bozell's media watchdog groups spliced together an NPR interview with Al Gore to make it sound like he was blaming the recent devastating cyclone in Burma on global warming. In the audio splice, they play the end of the interview followed by the start of the interview without any indication that they're taking his words out of order.

But what makes this weird, as opposed to just mendacious in a garden variety way, is that they didn't need to do it. Gore was careful to acknowledge that no individual storm can be blamed on global warming, but he followed that up by saying that global warming is responsible for a trend toward more powerful storms and that the Burma cyclone is an example of that. So why bother splicing the tape dishonestly?

Beats me. Maybe it's just in their blood. In any case, what surprises me is that more people haven't been making the connection between the Burma cyclone and global warming. That kind of talk was all over the place after Hurricane Katrina even though it made little sense in that case. In the end, Katrina made landfall as a strong Cat 3 hurricane, hardly a superstorm, and the bulk of the damage to New Orleans was done not by Katrina itself but by the breaching of poorly built levees. That had nothing to do with global warming.

By contrast, the Burma cyclone really is a good example of the kind of thing we're likely to see more of in coming decades. It's not just that it was a very severe cyclone early in the season, but that it's also highly typical of the damage that global warming is likely to do in the future. It isn't North America that's going to bear the brunt of the damage from climate change, it's poor, low-lying area like Burma and Bangladesh. We'll respond (or try to respond) with aid whenever something like this happens, but all the aid in the world won't make up for the fact that we're the ones warming the globe but it's poor developing countries that are going to pay most of the price.

Kevin Drum 3:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

Bookmark and Share
May 9, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

LOYALTY CARDS....I really loathe retail loyalty card programs. Really really really. Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Maybe I should write this up as an op-ed and see if anyone wants to print it. Perhaps I'm not the only one.

Kevin Drum 8:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (129)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....This week was all about the evil eye. On the left, Inkblot is pretty plainly saying, "Dude, don't even think about blogging unless you find some other chair to do it in." Luckily I keep a spare chair around for just these circumstances.

On the right, Domino has taken possession of a box full of peanuts. She was so thrilled with it that she wouldn't even come out for dinner. I had to haul her out and plop her down in front of the dish. Inkblot looked on enviously as long as Domino was in the box, but after she left he just sniffed around a bit and then decided that the whole setup looked a little too scary to try. He's not a very courageous cat, our Inkblot.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PRIORITIES....Last month I linked briefly to a report by Daniel Kimmage of RFE/RL analyzing al-Qaeda's media and internet strategy. Marc Lynch has this to say about Kimmage: "There are very few people inside or outside the government who have worked harder or thought more deeply about how jihadists use online media, drawing on the original Arabic sources rather than from second and third-hand conjecture. It is clear that everyone working on the issue has learned a tremendous amount from those reports, even when we don't agree on how to interpret his findings."

You can guess the end to this story, can't you? He's been fired. Budget cutbacks. Apparently analyzing al-Qaeda didn't make the cut for FY08, priority-wise.

Kevin Drum 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE IRAQ ALBATROSS....Scott Lemieux on Hillary Clinton:

Admittedly, this is the kind of counterfactual that's impossible to prove, but my guess is that if she had voted against the war Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. Given the closeness of the race, her inherent advantages going in, and that the war had to be a liability it's hard to imagine that she wouldn't have prevailed without the Iraq albatross. Whether or not Clinton's support was sincere — I don't think it really matters — sometimes getting big policies wrong really is politically damaging.

I agree. Barack Obama is highly likely to be the next president of the United States because he opposed a dumb war. Democrats should take notice.

Kevin Drum 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (103)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DEBT RELIEF....The latest rumor making the rounds is that maybe Barack Obama will pay off Hillary's $11 million loan to her campaign if she quits the race. I suppose that makes some kind of sense — and it would be a gracious and unifying gesture from Obama — but I'm not sure why Hillary would really be moved by this. She and Bill have earned over $100 million in the past few years and Bill obviously has tremendous earning capacity in the future. $11 million just isn't a big deal to them.

Or shouldn't be, anyway. But I suppose that kind of casual attitude toward money is one of the reasons I'm not rich.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, I want go on the record as being pretty unenthusiastic about an Obama/Clinton "dream ticket." It reminds me of the fabled Reagan/Ford dream ticket of 1980, and I'd say Reagan (and Ford) were smart to kill that idea. A strong vice president is one thing, but if you choose Hillary as a running mate you get the whole Clinton family in the bargain, and having Bill Clinton as a de facto part of the White House staff just smells like big trouble. That aside, the bigger issue is that picking Hillary would be a sign of weakness from Obama, and a completely unnecessary one. Obama certainly ought to reach out to Hillary once the primaries are over, but he can win in November on his own, and there are plenty of good, solid VP choices out there that would nonetheless make it crystal clear that an Obama White House would be an Obama White House.

What's more, Hillary can probably do more good in the Senate than she can from the veep's chair. I'd rather have her there anyway.

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

OIL PRICES AND DRIVING HABITS....So how much have Americans cut back on driving in the past few months? Here are a couple of data points.

First, on the right, is the weekly amount of motor gasoline produced in the United States as a percent of the amount produced in the same week last year. If you sum up the first 18 weeks of the year, gasoline production in the United States is down about 0.7% compared to the same period last year. This is a pretty rough measure of gasoline consumption, but still suggests that high prices have had only a fairly modest effect.

Second, via ThinkProgress, is a USA Today chart taken from Federal Highway Administration data. It only goes through February, but it's a more direct measure and suggests a reduction of about 5% in total miles driven. This is nothing to sneeze at. Sure, considering that gasoline prices have gone up about 50% since the beginning of last year, even 5% might not seem like much of a reduction. But if you add in population growth, it means that per capita miles driven is down about 6% compared to last year. If you then compare it to the 1.5% annual growth we've been experiencing for the past decade, it means that per capita driving is down about 7-8% from its trendline. That's the first time this has happened in a long time.

Still, there's a caveat. In Los Angeles, for example, driving is down and use of mass transit is up. But will it stay up?

Not everyone who switches to biking, walking or carpooling will stick with it, MTA spokesman Dave Sotero said. The MTA usually sees a temporary increase in riders when gas prices reach certain thresholds, like $3, $3.50 and $4 a gallon, he said. Then ridership goes down once people become accustomed to the higher cost.

If oil really does go up to $200 per barrel, maybe MTA will finally be able to hold on to a few of those new riders.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (51)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN'S WEAPONS....Tina Susman of the LA Times reports that Iranian involvement in Iraq's civil war may not be everything it's been cracked up to be:

There was something interesting missing from Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner's introductory remarks to journalists at his regular news briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday: the word "Iran," or any form of it. It was especially striking as Bergner, the U.S. military spokesman here, announced the extraordinary list of weapons and munitions that have been uncovered in recent weeks since fighting erupted between Iraqi and U.S. security forces and Shiite militiamen.

....A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.

This item only showed up on the LAT's Iraq blog, not in a regular news piece. If it weren't for the blog, I wonder if we ever would have heard of this?

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

I DO NOT THINK THAT WORD MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS....The Wall Street Journal asked its panel of economists which presidential candidate offers the most responsible fiscal policies. Only 28 answered:

However, Sen. John McCain was the clear favorite of those who answered the question. Twenty-one economists [or] 75% of the respondents chose the Republican contender.

I guess blowing a $5 trillion hole in the budget and proposing a gas tax holiday counts as responsible among the WSJ's team. Maybe Hillary was right about economists after all. Via Krugman.

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

Bookmark and Share
May 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Judah Grunstein, commenting on Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's legal troubles:

I don't know a whole lot about Israeli campaign finance laws, but I imagine that suitcases full of cash that go undeclared until a police raid on your home probably violate them.

I dunno. Olmert sure doesn't seem to think so.

Kevin Drum 8:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE 100% AUCTION....Wait a second. Via Ezra Klein, Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center has this to say about cap-and-trade schemes for addressing global warming:

Cap'n Trade would work like this. The government would require companies to obtain permits that give them the right to emit a fixed amount of greenhouse gasses. The limit on emissions (the cap) would be gradually ratcheted down over the years until the overall amount of schmutz reached some agreed-upon level. A relatively clean company could sell (trade) its unused rights to pollute to a dirtier company.

The candidates have not said how they would distribute these permits. But they only have two choices. The government could auction those mandatory licenses, a process which would look an awful lot like a tax....Or, Washington could give the permits away based on prior energy use, which would generate a massive corporate windfall.

Unless I'm missing something, this just isn't correct. It's true that John McCain hasn't taken a position on how to distribute permits — though his past history strongly suggests that he'll go for the "massive corporate windfall" version. But both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have proposed cap-and-trade systems that auction 100% of all greenhouse gas permits. This is the very thing that makes their plans noteworthy.

A 100% auction is one of those technical details that usually gets lost in the shuffle of a presidential campaign. But it's not just a detail. It's the thing that distinguishes a real cap-and-trade plan from a fake one. Both Democrats have the beginnings of a real plan. The Republican candidate doesn't.

Kevin Drum 3:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PROBLEMS IN ANBAR?....Is the Anbar Awakening coming unraveled? In the last four weeks nine U.S. soldiers have been killed in Anbar province. That's up from two in the previous six months. Something to keep an eye on. Via Robert Farley.

Kevin Drum 2:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN CRAVENNESS WATCH....Speaking of craven pandering, Mother Jones and Brave New films have released a pretty good short video about one of John McCain's newest homies, the Rev. Rod Parsley. Compare and contrast. First, here's McCain on a stage in Cincinnati a few weeks ago:

"I am very honoured today to have one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide, Pastor Rod Parsley....I am very grateful you are here."

And now, the great moral compass himself:

"I do not believe that our nation can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam....I know that this statement sounds extreme. But I am not shrinking back from its implications The fact is that...America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed."

We have, of course, all gotten inured to this over the past few decades. Frothing at the mouth about Muslims and gays and baby killers and Hurricane Katrina just seems like normal stuff from crazy right-wing white preachers. But it's not normal. It's crazy, and John McCain used to agree that it was crazy. But now there's an election coming up, so he's delighted to cozy up with lunatics like Parsley and John Hagee.

This isn't just some dumb campaign gotcha, either. Unlike Jeremiah Wright's egocentric blatherings, which got truckloads of attention but don't, in the end, really matter, this does. That's why I chose to link to al Jazeera's report about McCain's appearance with Parsley in Cincinnati even though lots of other news outlets covered it too. One of the biggest foreign policy challenges Barack Obama will face if he wins in November is the fact that a very large number of Muslims believe that the United States is not merely fighting terrorism, but is engaged in a war against Islam. And why wouldn't they? Rod Parsley says so, and one of our presidential candidates is willing to get up on a stage, shake his hand, and call him a "moral compass." Andrew Sullivan, who is occasionally still readable when he takes a break from his 24/7 Hillary hatefest, gets it right:

And the truth is: the GOP is far, far more influenced by its religious fanatics than the Democrats by theirs'. And yet the right-wing extremist ranters are given a pass, as mainstream Republicans like McCain feel obliged to suck up to them. After what the right has done with Wright, they don't get a pass any more. The GOP needs to be held accountable for every religious extremist it panders to, especially when their sectarian rhetoric could impact the work of American foreign policy.

If McCain were serious about the war on terror, he'd stay a million miles away from a guy like Parsley. Instead he begs for his endorsement. It's an election year, after all.

Kevin Drum 1:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MOVING ON....Hillary Clinton insists, unsurprisingly, that she's going to press on, but I wonder if the rest of us have to press on as well? Instead of continuing the internecine warfare of the past couple of months, maybe the best thing to do is to start ignoring her — perhaps the worst fate of all for someone who seems to gain strength via umbrage. So if she says something outrageous, who cares? Just shrug and move on. After all, Barack Obama is, at this point, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, so why not start treating him that way? There's really not much point in fanning the flames any longer.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (131)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN MAVERICKINESS WATCH....Is John McCain really a maverick? His home state newspaper investigates the cases where his vote actually made a difference:

Over the years, Sen. John McCain has publicly condemned Republican Party leaders and occasionally voted against the GOP on selected issues. But an Arizona Republic analysis of his Senate votes on the most divided issues in the past decade shows that McCain almost never thwarted his party's objectives.

....During the 10 years The Republic examined, McCain crossed over to vote with Democrats 19 times in 82 close votes. He did so just once in the four years he was running for president: 1999, 2000, 2007 and 2008.

What this really reveals isn't so much McCain's principles, conservative or otherwise, as his lack of them. During the six years he wasn't running for president, McCain publicly and gaudily promoted his maverick credentials by voting against his party 18 times. But in the four years he was running for president, Mr. Straight Talk suddenly became Mr. Straight Ticket, voting against the GOP only once.

Conclusion: he'll do whatever it takes to get your vote. During off years he pimps for the independent vote and during election years he pimps for the conservative vote. Sure, it's craven, but it's a nice gig if you can get away with it.

Via Steven Benen, who has more.

Kevin Drum 12:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE....Iraq's foreign minister says he's caught in the middle of two quarreling giants:

Prospects for another round of talks between Iranian and U.S. officials soon appeared dead Wednesday after Iraq's foreign minister said tensions between Tehran and Washington made such a meeting impossible.

....The Iraqi foreign minister made it clear that his government found it maddening to be squeezed between two crucial allies who cannot get along. "The atmosphere of...media attacks, exchange of attacks and accusations and lack of trust and confidence....I don't think we will succeed in having the fourth round" of talks, he said.

When you get to the point of being lectured about political stubbornness by the Iraqi foreign minister, it's probably time to tone down the rhetoric.

Kevin Drum 11:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NIXON LIBRARY UPDATE....When I blogged the other day about Matt Yglesias's talk at the Nixon Library on Wednesday, several commenters wanted to know what that was all about. The Nixon Library? Matt? Well, just for the record, it turns out that last year the library was transferred into the federal system and a new director, Tim Naftali of the University of Virginia, was hired. The old private foundation still controls a couple of buildings, but basically it's now a nonpartisan institution under federal control, just like all the other presidential libraries. Naftali told me that they're busily updating the displays and that Nixon's presidential papers, kept in Washington until now, will be shipped to California as soon as a new archive building is constructed. It is, one might say, the New Nixon Library.

So that's that. As for the talk itself, it went fine aside from a couple of odd harangues from the St. John's Wort dude. But even that, it turned out, just provided a bit of comic relief, so it wasn't all bad. Nickel summary: a militaristic foreign policy is bad and everyone should buy Matt's book. Or, at a minimum anyway, everyone should buy Matt's book.

Kevin Drum 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

Bookmark and Share
May 7, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From James Poulos, complaining about fans of globalization:

"My distaste for migrant labor and the hegemony of engineers, each taken separately, is already almost incalculable because of my judgments about what ruins a healthy republic."

The hegemony of engineers? Which parallel universe are we talking about here?

Kevin Drum 5:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

A WEE SURVEY....If you could have only one source of news in the world, what would it be? You may pick one (1) magazine, newspaper, news broadcast, radio show, blog, or newsletter. Only one. And it's the only source of news you get. What would it be?

Kevin Drum 4:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (262)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS....From the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog:

Nearly 80% of affluent Americans believe a recession has already hit the U.S., and optimism about the U.S. is at a record low among the well-to-do, according to the Annual Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America by American Express Publishing Corp. and Harrison Group.

....Survey respondents, who have an average discretionary income of $342,000, aren't highly sensitive to recent economic shocks, but the poll found that they are still the same "emotional recession." As a result they are cutting debt, saving more and scrutinizing spending.

....Six in 10 respondents believe there can be no rebound without a new president. John McCain leads the current field of candidates among the affluent with 37% support, followed Barack Obama at 20% and Hillary Clinton at 15%.

Hmmm. So even among the well-to-do, support is split pretty evenly between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidates. I guess McCain's promise to cut taxes on the wealthy by $5 trillion wasn't quite enough.

Kevin Drum 2:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CRUSHING THE BUTTERFLY....I generally try not to read Maureen Dowd's columns because, you know, they just don't pay me enough for that kind of hazard duty. But today's column about Hillary Clinton was a train wreck of epic proportions. I couldn't avert my eyes. Here's the final sentence:

As she makes a last frenzied and likely futile attempt to crush the butterfly [i.e., Barack Obama], it's as though she's crushing the remnants of her own girlish innocence.

This would be embarrassing coming from a 12-year-old. Shouldn't Dowd have an obscure blog, not a biweekly column in the greatest newspaper in the world?

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (96)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL....Via ThinkProgress, here is Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Q&A a few days ago with graduating cadets at West Point:

With a national election looming, a cadet asked about the "don't ask, don't tell" law and what would happen if someone took office who wants to change it. "It's a law, and we follow it," Mullen said. Should the law change, the military will carry that out too, he said.

"We are a military that is under the control of our civilian elected leaders," he said. "It has served us well since we've been founded. That is a special characteristic of our country and I would never do anything to jeopardize that."

This is obviously a pretty restrained answer, and says nothing about what Mullen would actually do if the question comes up. Would he fight like a crazed weasel against allowing gays in the military, as Colin Powell did in 1993, or would he adopt a more commonsense attitude and work to bring the military into the 21st century? No telling. But this is a promising start.

Kevin Drum 12:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION THREAD....Was I wrong? In the end, Obama won North Carolina by 14 points and Hillary Clinton eked out only a bare 2-point win in Indiana. Gas tax pandering didn't work, the arithmetic is even more stacked against her than ever, the cable talking heads have almost unanimously declared her dead, Tim Russert says she's cancelled her morning TV appearances, and speculation is rife that she might finally drop out. Maybe the game changed tonight after all.

It's been pretty clear for over a month that Hillary's only chance to win was to hope that Obama got hit by a meteor or something. In the end, though, he got hit by several meteors and it still didn't knock him out. Short of Obama literally keeling over from a stroke, I'm not sure what Hillary has left to hope for. Maybe she's finally figured that out.

Or not. Who knows? Consider this an open election thread.

Kevin Drum 1:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (196)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE....Michael Gerson today:

There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, more fanatically faith-based, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a "war on science."

....For the most part, these accusations are a political ploy — actually an attempt to shut down political debate. Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science." Any ethical question about the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells is dismissed as "theological" and thus illegitimate.

The disingenuousness here is breathtaking. Yes, liberals and conservatives have different views about sex education and stem cells, but those aren't even close to being the core issues in the liberal critique of the Republican war on science. The core issues, rather, are global warming denialism; creationism and intelligent design; the Gingrich-era shutdown of OTA; the promotion of phony cost-benefit analysis; and politically motivated lying about things like Plan B, breast cancer links to abortion, and condoms and STDs. Gerson surely knows this, but chooses to ignore all these genuine issues because his goal isn't to talk about science at all. What he really wants to talk about is a conservative trial balloon of fairly recent vintage: namely that liberal support of abortion rights and genetic screening constitutes a "new eugenics" in which science trumps morality and Dr. Mengele has the last laugh on all of us. Liberals' blind support of science über alles, he concludes ominously, is leading them into a "war on equality."

Good luck running that up the flagpole, Michael. Better than flag lapel pins, I suppose. In the meantime, what do you think about global warming, evolution, and condoms?

Kevin Drum 1:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (101)

Bookmark and Share
May 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OIL, OIL, EVERYWHERE....The price of oil closed at $122 today. But where's it going next? According to this AP dispatch, one analyst thinks it's likely headed up to $200 while another thinks it's probably headed down to $80. Yawn. This reaction, however, grabbed my attention:

"It's not that the genie is out of the bottle — it's that 100 genies are out of the bottle," said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Normally known for optimistic forecasts of lowering oil prices, Mr. Yergin's firm now says the price could rise to $150 a barrel this year.

The world's diminished spare production capacity remains the strongest single catalyst for high prices, Mr. Yergin says. The world's safety cushion — the amount of readily available oil that could be pumped in a moment of crisis — is now around two million barrels a day, according to most estimates. That's just 2.3% of daily demand, and nearly all of the safety cushion is in one country, Saudi Arabia. Everyone else is pretty much pumping all they can, which makes the world vulnerable to political or other shocks.

Saying Daniel Yergin is an optimist is like saying Chris Matthews is annoying. Yergin basically thinks peak oil is Luddite crankery and that new technology will allow us to continue increasing production for at least the next several decades. He's the Pollyanna of the oil patch.

Now, I'm sure he'd say that his current pessimism is based not on a fundamental reevaluation of recoverable reserves, but instead on "aboveground" issues: political instability, terrorism, lack of investment, and so forth. Still, if even Daniel Yergin thinks oil prices are headed upward, it's a pretty good guess that oil prices are headed upward.

Kevin Drum 11:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ELECTION THREAD....I guess Obama is going to win North Carolina by 15-20 points and Clinton is going to win Indiana by 4-5 points. In other words: no surprises, nothing game changing, and no likelihood that today will mark the end of the campaign.

What a drag.

Kevin Drum 9:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

REQUIEM FOR A CORRUPT, PATHETIC, SHAMEFUL, DECAYING, HAS-BEEN*....Daniel Larison notes that Newt Gingrich is pimping nine "acts of real change" on his blog, including something he calls the "more energy at lower cost with less environmental damage and greater national security bill":

This will also be known as the No Trade-Offs/Free Lunch Act of 2008. Gingrich forgot to mention introducing the bill to protect endangered unicorns. Gingrich supplements this with such proposals as, I kid you not, an earmark moratorium (take on those tough issues, Newt!), a gas tax holiday that will allegedly be paid for by "cutting domestic discretionary spending," using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to manipulate oil prices (very slightly), tackling all of the outrageous waste at the Census Bureau (?), and, naturally, banging the drum about the judiciary....I can just see the average voter now as he hears about these proposals, "Sure, the GOP exploded the deficit, created a huge new entitlement and backs a war two-thirds of us want to end, but they are on top of that Census Bureau problem, so all is forgiven." If this is the best they can come up with, they may be in bigger trouble than I thought.

This isn't fair. Daniel fails to mention that Newt also demonstrates his 21st century visionary bona fides via some vintage union bashing and angles shamelessly for the angry-white-man vote by proposing we make English our official language. He also fails to note the real tragedy here: that the guy who wrote "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" a decade ago can't do better than the "more energy at lower cost with less environmental damage and greater national security bill." Kinda sad, really.

* In case you don't get the joke, click here.

Kevin Drum 6:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ATTENTION FELLOW ORANGE COUNTIANS....Friend o' the blog Matt Yglesias will be at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on Wednesday evening to give a talk about his new book, Heads in the Sand. It's at 7:30 pm, but if you come early you'll probably have a chance to ask some annoying questions and make him nervous beforehand. Details here. Directions to the library here. I'll be there too, but I plan to sit in the back and be my usual unobtrusive self.

Kevin Drum 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ETHANOL?...Sheesh. James Fallows runs a contest to name "the stupidest manifestation of bipartisan public policy in the last 50 years" and not a single person even mentions the Tonkin Gulf resolution? Are ethanol subsidies really that bad?

UPDATE: Ah, I see. In comments, Gaucho points out that Fallows had earlier declared that Tonkin Gulf "doesn't count." His reasoning seems mighty suspect to me, but rules are rules.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SEVEN-LEVEL WIPE...Is "seven-level wipe" about to become the latest entry in the Bush scandal lexicon? Steve Benen has the details.

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CRUSH THE CELL....Michael Sheehan, an NSC staffer and counterterrorism professional under both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has a new book out called Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves.In Newsweek, Christopher Dickey talks to him about al-Qaeda and global terrorism:

Before September 11, said Sheehan, the United States was "asleep at the switch" while Al Qaeda was barreling down the track. "If you don't pay attention to these guys," said Sheehan, "they will kill you in big numbers." So bin Laden's minions hit U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, they hit the Cole in 2000, and they hit New York and Washington in 2001 — three major attacks on American targets in the space of 37 months. Since then, not one. And not for want of trying on their part.

What changed? The difference is purely and simply that intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military have focused their attention on the threat, crushed the operational cells they could find — which were in fact the key ones plotting and executing major attacks — and put enormous pressure on all the rest.

...."Even in 2003, less than two years after 9/11, I told [counterterrorist colleagues in New York City] that I thought Al Qaeda was simply not very good," Sheehan writes in his book...."I said what nobody else was saying: we underestimated Al Qaeda's capabilities before 9/11 and overestimated them after."

....That's part of what makes Sheehan so refreshing. He knows there's a big risk that he'll be misinterpreted; he'll be called soft on terror by ass-covering bureaucrats, breathless reporters and fear-peddling politicians. And yet he charges ahead. He expects another attack sometime, somewhere. He hopes it won't be made to seem more apocalyptic than it is. "Don't overhype it, because that's what Al Qaeda wants you to do. Terrorism is about psychology." In the meantime, said Sheehan, finishing his fruit juice, "the relentless 24/7 job for people like me is to find and crush those guys."

Note the absence of large scale wars in this prescription. We need to crush the bad guys where we can, but we also need to leave the "war of civilizations" talk in the ash heap where it belongs. Not only is it wrong, but it makes our fight against actual terrorists harder than it needs to be. We need help from the other 99% of the Islamic world, not their eternal enmity.

Kevin Drum 2:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BOOK TALK....I've been reading an unusually large number of current events books lately (aka "books that publishers send me for free"), and although there have been a couple of clunkers in the lot, several of them have been very good. I've been remiss in not writing them up on the blog, but at the very least I feel like I ought to give them a brief mention. There have been four that were especially good:

  • Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein. This is a followup to Rick's phenomenal first book, Before the Storm, which chronicled Barry Goldwater's presidential run in 1964 and the birth of movement conservatism.

    Nixonland is, for obvious reasons, a darker book than Before the Storm, and one that's narrated with less sympathy toward its subject, but it's really a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what happened to both Democrats and Republicans during the 60s and how our country managed to change so dramatically in the space of less than a decade. Before I read Nixonland, I think I'd pretty much blotted out my memory of the 1972 Democratic convention (with good reason), but now it's fresh in my mind and scaring the hell out of me. Thanks, Rick. I hope 2008 isn't a repeat. Nixonland's official release date is next Tuesday.

  • The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, by Steven Teles. It's become common in liberal blog circles to recount the story of how the right outflanked the left by building up its think tank machine in the 70s and 80s. We all know the basic narrative by now (Heritage Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, AEI, Grover Norquist, etc.), but too often this movement is portrayed as something that sprouted de novo from the forehead of Zeus (or perhaps Lewis Powell), with virtually no historical antecedent. Teles fixes that in this book about the rise of the Federalist Society, the Institute for Justice, the Center for Individual Rights, and the law and economics movement more generally. In particular, chapter 2 ought to be required reading for liberals: it explains the evolution of the liberal public interest law movement of the 60s and 70s and provides valuable insight into what conservatives felt they were up against at the time and why they chose the particular response they did. In the end, the good news for liberals is that although the conservative legal movement of the past couple of decades has had obvious successes, it's also had a lot of hiccups along the way and its influence remains, perhaps, more moderate than we often think. Bottom line: If you believe that "know your enemy" is a good maxim, then this is a book you ought to read.

  • U.S. vs. Them, by Peter Scoblic. This is another book in the same vein as the first two: a historical look at conservatism and its intersection with liberalism over the past half century. Where Teles focuses on law and Perlstein focuses on domestic turmoil, Scoblic focuses on foreign affairs.

    Nickel summary: post-9/11 neoconservatives aren't really hawking anything all that new. American conservatives since World War II have always been militaristic and nationalistic, they've always hated the idea of wasting ink on treaties with other countries, and they've always been obsessed with total military superiority. For them, international affairs is a decidedly zero sum game, and George Bush is just the apotheosis of this belief system, not something truly new and different. The book's website is here; you can read the introduction here.

  • Heads in the Sand, by Matt Yglesias. Matt has taken on a pretty tough task in this book: trying to convince us that good 'ol liberal internationalism is the best foreign policy bet we have to deal with global terrorism and other threats over the next few decades.

    This is a decidedly unsexy position to take (there's a funny section toward the end where he talks about desperate liberal efforts to rebadge liberal internationalism just to make it sound newer and more exciting than it is), but it has the virtue of being essentially correct. The final chapter, "In with the Old," is as good a brief for liberal internationalism as I've read recently.

I've also recently read Grand New Party, by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, which was good, but also frustrating and unconvincing in places. However, I have a full review of the book in the next issue of the Monthly, so I'll hold off on further comment until it comes out.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN AND IRAQ....From Ned Parker of the LA Times:

Abu Baqr, now a commander in the Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada Sadr [...] still hates Iran. But now, he said, he accepts its weapons to fight the U.S. military, figuring he can deal with his distaste for the Iranians later. So he takes bombs that can rip a hole in a U.S. tank and rockets that can pound Baghdad's Green Zone without apology or regret.

....The attitudes of commanders such as Abu Baqr would seem to confirm U.S. accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq. Although the extent of their relationship remains unclear, the commanders have embraced a hardened stance that may bode ill for the U.S. military.

I think that's the hat trick: In the past two days all three of the big national dailies have written stories about Iran supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. Quite a coincidence, no?

Of course, Iran probably is supplying arms to the Mahdi Army. But they've been doing that for a long time, and they also provide support to the Badr Organization, which is allied with the Iraqi government. So why the sudden spate of stories sugesting that Iran supports only the Mahdi Army, and implying that its support is increasing? There are two options, I guess: (a) because it's true or (b) because it's in somebody's interest to feed this storyline. It's pretty much impossible to say which is more likely, though.

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

AFGHANISTAN....Can we put 7,000 more troops in Afghanistan, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates would like? That's about two brigades, and after going through the current deployments of every combat brigade we have, Fred Kaplan says there's only one way for this to happen:

There is no way to put more boots in Afghanistan without taking boots out of Iraq. As one senior Army officer put it to me, having it both ways is, "in a word, impossible," and anyone who thinks otherwise, he added, is "dreaming." Gates, by the way, is not among the daydreamers. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said in an e-mail today that Gates well knows that, fundamentally, "the only way he can add significant forces to Afghanistan, while keeping the President's commitment to reduce tour-lengths, is to continue the drawdown of troops in Iraq."

Presumably, then, Gates wants to continue the drawdown. And also presumably, CENTCOM-commander-to-be David Petraeus doesn't. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share
May 5, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

WHICH MILITIA?....Michael Gordon has a piece in the New York Times today passing along charges from (anonymous) American sources that (a) Hezbollah is in Iran training Iraqi militia fighters and (b) Iran is providing weapons to these militias. Are these charges true? Who knows. Gordon, unfortunately, has a longstanding reputation for repeating official U.S. narratives almost verbatim, so all we really know is that this is something the military and the Bush administration want us to believe. Depending on your temperament, you can read Abu Muqawama for a restrained takedown of Gordon's piece or Glenn Greenwald for the more fire-breathing version.

However, Laura Rozen points out something that also tickled my brain cells when I first read Gordon's article. Picking up on a comment at Abu Muqawama, she notes that "the Gordon piece strikingly doesn't tell us WHICH militia the captured Shiite militants who had trained in Iran belonged to." That's true. Here are the descriptions scattered throughout Gordon's piece:

Iraqi militia fighters....four Shiite militia members....Iraqi militia fighters....Iranian assistance to the militias....militia groups....Iraqi militias....small groups of Iraqi Shiite militants....other groups of Iraqi militants....Shiite militias.

That's nine separate references, all of them purposefully vague. We're obviously meant to believe that Iran is exclusively training and supplying Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, not the Badr militia associated with the Iraqi government, but if that's the case then why not just say so? There hardly seems to be any reason to leave this detail out unless it's not actually true.

Kevin Drum 10:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CORPORATE WELFARE IN THE OIL PATCH....Alex Knapp thinks that a windfall profits tax on oil companies is a bad idea:

However, one thing that I did notice when I was doing a little google-fu on the issue is that there appears to be approximately 20 to 50 billion dollars spent by the federal government per year on direct subsidies (as opposed to tax breaks) given to the oil industry each year. Unfortunately I can't pin down the exact number any better than that — it appears to vary every year and spread out amongst different agencies. Still, the GAO should be able to track the exact numbers down, so instead of an extra tax on oil companies, why not just eliminate their direct subsidies? Not only would that generate more revenue than the "windfall tax" (estimated to be $15 billion), but it would do so without getting the federal government into the problematic business of deciding how profitable companies are allowed to be.

I had exactly the same thought this morning, and I ended up in exactly the same spot as Alex: I couldn't figure out which subsidies/tax breaks still existed, how big they are, who they go to, or who voted for them. Royalty relief alone was enough to bring tears to my eyes. If I spent several months on this topic instead of half an hour, maybe I could figure this all out, but surely someone else has already done this?

Anyway, this really ought to be the liberal rallying cry: forget a windfall profits tax, let's work first on getting rid of the massive corporate welfare infrastructure we've constructed for an industry that really, really doesn't need it. Not as sexy as a gas tax holiday, maybe, but it makes a helluva lot more sense.

Kevin Drum 3:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CONFRONTING THE AGE ISSUE....Bill Kristol, the gift that keeps on giving:

In separate conversations last week, no fewer than four McCain staffers and advisers mentioned as a possible vice-presidential pick the 36-year-old Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. They're tempted by the idea of picking someone so young, with real accomplishments and a strong reformist streak.

It might also be a way to confront the issue of McCain's age (71), which private polls and focus groups suggest could be a real problem. A Jindal pick would implicitly acknowledge the questions and raise the ante.

Yep, that's the ticket. "Confront" the issue of McCain's age by picking a running mate who's barely old enough to run legally and has a grand total of four years of experience in elected office. Doesn't that, um, actually highlight the issue of McCain's age? "Hey, at least one of us won't drop dead before 2012!"

Next up: Barack Obama "confronts" the race issue by picking an albino as running mate. Hillary Clinton "confronts" the gender issue by choosing Hulk Hogan as running mate. Add your own jokes in comments.

Kevin Drum 2:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (77)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MORE NAMES....Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was put in charge of Iraq shortly after the invasion, told us last year that Iraq has been a giant clusterfuck run by incompetents and that he'd soon be naming names. This weekend, in Time magazine, he started naming a few (Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Powell, Cheney, Bush, etc.). Today, in the New York Daily News, he names another one: Rudy Giuliani's mobbed-up pal and former police chief Bernie Kerik, who was inexplicably put in charge of training the Iraqi police in May 2003:

"I would be hard-pressed to identify a major national-level success that his organization accomplished in that time," Sanchez told The News...."His whole contribution was a waste of time and effort."

....Sanchez said Kerik focused more on "conducting raids and liberating prostitutes" than training the Iraqis.

"They'd get tips and they'd go and actually raid a whorehouse," Sanchez told The News. "Their focus becomes trying to do tactical police operations in the city of Baghdad, when in fact there is a much greater mission that they should be doing, which is training the police."

Sweet. Via TPMMuckraker.

Kevin Drum 1:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ENERGY INDEPENDENCE....On Friday, John McCain announced that his forthcoming energy plan would "eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East." On Saturday I ridiculed this as idiocy. After all, there isn't an energy analyst in the world who seriously thinks we can eliminate oil imports from the Middle East. Saying otherwise, I said, was "a child's fantasy."

On Sunday, one of my regular conservative correspondents took me to task. If McCain is an idiot, what does that make Barack Obama? Here's an excerpt from his energy policy page:

Set America on Path to Oil Independence

Obama's plan will reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels per day, by 2030. This will more than offset the equivalent of the oil we would import from OPEC nations in 2030.

"Take off the Obama beer goggles already," my emailer said. (We have one of those warm internet friendships.) Since we currently import less than 10 million barrels per day from the Middle East, Obama was actually promising to do more than John McCain.

Yes and no. It's true that reducing American oil consumption by 10 million barrels a day is an aggressive goal — as it should be. Unlike McCain, though, who doesn't care about this enough to even bother with a placeholder energy plan on his issues page, Obama (like Hillary Clinton) has a pretty thorough set of proposals to get us there. The real question, however, is how tolerant you are of clever wording. Unlike McCain, Obama doesn't promise to eliminate reliance on Middle East oil. This is probably because his policy people have told him that not only is this impossible, but as oil production falls in the rest of the world our reliance on the Middle East is almost certain to grow, not decline in the future. So instead he pledges to "offset the equivalent" of the oil we import from OPEC. This isn't actually a promise to cut Middle East oil imports at all, but it sounds an awful lot like it.

(Hillary Clinton, by comparison, promises to "cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from 2030 projected levels, more than 10 million barrels per day." Make of that what you will.)

So, which is worse: flat out BS (McCain) or wording that's technically correct but a bit dodgy in the impression it leaves (Obama)? I'd vote for the BS, but your mileage may vary.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

THE GAS TAX HOLIDAY....Contrary to my semi-prediction of a few days ago, the media has made a big deal out of the gas tax issue. But not because they've suddenly gotten religion about reporting on policy differences and highlighting political panders. I think Ezra gets the reason about right:

The problem with the press's relatively good behavior on the gas tax is that it was a one-off produced by a fairly rare set of circumstances: Namely, a 1) high profile fight between two leading national candidates who were 2) on the same side of the partisan divide and were 3) squabbling over a policy issue where there was utter unanimity among experts....If credentialed experts disagree, however, the media will still refuse to render a judgment. And when it becomes Democrat vs. Republican, all sorts of "experts" who have been given credentials (a sinecure at AEI) specifically in order to support Republican candidates will pop up and loudly proclaim support for health savings accounts or surges or sun blotting and the media will slowly back off in confusion.

I'm not as enthusiastic as some people are about criticizing the media for refusing to render judgments on complex issues, but it's true that they generally do a pretty lousy job of distinguishing experts from "experts." In this case, though, even the "experts" agreed that the gas tax holiday was a bad idea, so everyone breathed a sigh of relief and just reported the truth.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share
By: Paul Glastris

POLICY IS THE BEST HONESTY... A lot of journalists get lured into the profession by the excitement—the chance to cover wars, natural disasters, political campaigns, or the lives of powerful people. I'm not immune to such inducements and have done a bit of all of the above. But most of my time in the business has been spent engaged in what might be called "policy vetting." Does a particular government policy work as advertised? Would a proposed new idea work if it were actually tried? This is not the most Hunter Thompsonesque form of journalism. But it's one I find endlessly fascinating, in part because it provides a bracing check on one's ideological biases.

For instance, as a center-left guy, I generally favor expanding global trade but fear its downward pull on American wages. So I'm sympathetic to toughening labor standards in international trade deals, an idea Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have called for. But are such standards really enforceable? That's an open question. In our cover story this month, T. A. Frank takes a step toward answering it. He does so by letting us in on the failures and successes of the profession he used to work in: private-sector consultants who monitor wages and working conditions in foreign factories for major U.S. companies. Also in this issue, Greg Anrig explains why hard empirical evidence is increasingly leading conservatives to give up on one of their favorite ideas, school vouchers. And Michael Waldman makes the case—one liberals and conservatives ought to be able to agree on—for an ingenious new policy idea that is quietly catching on at the state level: legislation that would, in effect, kill off the Electoral College.

Waldman was my boss back when we both wrote speeches for President Bill Clinton. That was another experience in policy vetting. Modern White House speechwriters seldom have a direct hand in setting policy. Their job is mostly to find the words to sell proposals crafted by the various White House policy shops and approved by the president—a task that often forces the policy folks to think more clearly about what they're proposing. If I had any moral qualms about joining the administration in September 1998, they were not about the then-unfolding Monica Lewinsky investigation—I thought Washington's fixation on that scandal was a form of insanity—but the possibility that I might be asked to write speeches about policies that I thought were indefensible.

Thankfully, that never happened. The Clinton White House policy shops reflected the careful, obsessive wonkiness of the president himself. No proposal ever crossed my desk that didn't seem programmatically sound.

Well, almost none.

I once had to write a speech announcing new federal grants for local "gun buybacks." Such programs tend to reap lots of rusty, inoperable World War II-era revolvers from the attics of the elderly while doing virtually nothing to get guns off the street. One University of Pennsylvania expert on crime prevention program assessment called gun buybacks "the program that is best known to be ineffective." But buybacks are enormously popular with big-city voters and relatively unthreatening to gun rights activists, so we were for them. When I grumbled to the policy guy with whom I worked on the speech, he smiled and shook his head in agreement. Yeah, we know they're pretty useless, he said. But they're also harmless, they get the communities fired up, and, anyway, we're spending a relative pittance ($15 million) on the stupid things.

This helped salve my conscience—that and the fact that the speech was also a chance to advocate for something I really did believe in: the COPS program. The core of the administration's crime policy, it put nearly 100,000 additional cops on the streets with federal grants that also required police departments to adopt community policing strategies. It was a kind of domestic version of the "surge" in Iraq, and it is one of the reasons why the violent crime rate fell during the 1990s by more than 40 percent.

The connection between the vetting and selling of policy has been on my mind lately because it is the underlying theme of a marvelous new book by Robert Schlesinger, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. It is a history of the modern presidency as seen through the eyes of White House speechwriters (the author, the son of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., comes by his subject honestly). One of many revealing anecdotes involves the now-famous deliberations among John F. Kennedy and his senior advisors in October 1962 upon learning that the Soviets had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. After several days, a rough consensus developed among the group that the central U.S. response would be a naval blockade. Ted Sorensen, a participant in those meetings, was dispatched to write the speech, but his pen faltered.

"Back in my office," he recalled, "the original difficulties with the blockade route stared me in the face: How should we relate it to the missiles? How would it help get them out? What would we do if they became operational? What should we say about our surveillance, about communications with Khrushchev?"

Sorensen returned to the group not with a speech, but with a list of the questions that had stayed his hand. This forced several days of further debate before Kennedy and his advisors settled on a better-calibrated response, including the threat of air strikes and a more careful choice of language: the word "blockade," with its Berlin references, was dropped in favor of "quarantine." The ensuing speech—and Kennedy's secret offer to Khrushchev to pull some NATO missiles out of Turkey—defused the most dangerous moment in the cold war.

Fast-forward nearly forty years, to December 2001. Bush speechwriter David Frum is given an assignment by his boss, Michael Gerson, to write a memo summing up the case for going to war with Iraq. Frum rereads Roosevelt's speech to Congress after Pearl Harbor, and notices that FDR had said that the Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan were a menace because of their shared "recklessness." Perhaps, Frum reasoned, "terror states" like Iraq and Iran and "terror organizations" like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah formed a similar menace because of their shared hatred of freedom and desire for weapons of mass destruction—in other words, perhaps they comprised an "axis of hatred"? The comparison was, of course, tendentious: Iran and Iraq were bitter enemies, as were bin Laden and Saddam. Nevertheless, Frum's memo became the rhetorical foundation of Bush's "axis of evil" speech one month later, in which the president made the case for invading a country that had not attacked us.

Earlier this year, Gerson wrote a column in the Washington Post that I read as a defense of his role and style as Bush's former chief rhetorician. In the column, Gerson protested insinuations by Hillary Clinton and John McCain that Barack Obama was offering empty rhetoric. "Many political advisers in both parties employ 'rhetoric' as a synonym for 'folderol,'" Gerson wrote. He continued:

This is nonsense. From the Greek beginnings of political rhetoric, the wise have described a relationship between the discipline of writing and the discipline of thought. The construction of serious speeches forces candidates (or presidents) to grapple with their own beliefs, even when they don't write every word themselves. If those convictions cannot be marshaled in the orderly battalions of formal rhetoric, they are probably incoherent.

Great political rhetoric, however, demands more than grappling honestly with one's convictions. It means grappling honestly with reality. This is what the Bush administration failed to do. When Sorensen asked his fellow Kennedy advisors tough questions about their Cuba policy, he forced them to come to grips with flaws in their thinking. When Gerson and Frum gave Bush and his advisors high-toned nonsense about the "axis of evil," they simply provided a rhetorical smokescreen that allowed the administration to pursue its preferred course of action while diverting attention from the incoherence of those actions.

Not that the speechwriters could have changed the president's mind even if they had tried. From everything we know, the decision to invade Iraq was already set in stone. Whereas Kennedy was looking for the best way to resolve a crisis short of war, Bush was looking for a rationale to start a war. For Bush, policymaking was not about finding the best solutions to discrete problems. It was about advancing a preset ideological and political agenda. The system that was set up to vet his policies was, therefore, dysfunctional almost by design, as John DiIulio, a domestic policy advisor in Bush's first term, made clear. "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," DiIulio told the journalist Ron Suskind. "What you've got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Perhaps no one could have predicted, back when he was first running for president in 2000, that Bush would prove to be such a catastrophically dishonest policymaker. But there were hints that his policies, and his way of talking about them, lacked a certain integrity. In his speeches during the campaign, Bush repeatedly portrayed his proposed tax cuts as broad based, when in fact they were heavily tilted toward the wealthy. When Al Gore pointed this out in the first debate with a blizzard of numerical evidence, Bush quipped: "Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think that not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math." That clever rhetorical response cued the press to cover the debate as one about character, the "straight-talking Texan" versus the "serial exaggerator." But, of course, as we now know, Gore was right on the facts.

As a former speechwriter, I'm the last person to argue against the use of stirring rhetoric to win the public's support. And I'm certainly under no illusions that policy can be made without political considerations being weighed in. But if the last seven years have taught us anything, it is that we shouldn't let rhetoric—especially dishonest, diversionary rhetoric—keep us from a hard scrutiny of a candidate's policy proposals. Yes, it can seem like a boring exercise, especially when voters seem to show such interest in revealing details about candidates' personalities and character. But there are many tests of character: how one treats one's family, for instance, or how one has overcome the difficulties in one's life. Surely another test of character for a politician, the most important one, I would argue, is how fully and honestly they think and talk about policy—that is, about what they plan to do with the awesome power they are asking us to hand them.

Note: This was published as an Editor's Note in the April print edition of the Washington Monthly.

Paul Glastris 7:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

MEDIA DARLING WATCH....So who has the media gone the easiest on, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? The New York Times surveyed the people who listen to the news and they said the answer is....John McCain. Awesome. Apparently we have pretty savvy news consumers here in America.

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

Bookmark and Share
May 4, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

EMINENT DOMAIN....SPECIAL CALIFORNIA EDITION....Three years ago, in Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments have the right to seize land under eminent domain even if they intend to turn the land over to a private firm for development. However, nothing in the ruling prevented states from enacting their own restrictions on eminent domain if they wanted to, and several have done exactly that in the years since.

Here in California, though, nobody seems to have the horse sense to get it right. Two years ago the lunatic brigade offered up Proposition 90, which not only restricted eminent domain but also tried to enshrine a longtime wet dream of the property rights movement: demanding government compensation for any restriction on land use. Are you losing money because local yahoos won't let you build an oil refinery in a residential neighborhood? Sue 'em! They need to either give you a permit or else pay you for all your lost profits.

Prop 90 failed. Big surprise. But not by much: if its supporters had just offered a clean eminent domain initiative, it might have won.

So this year they're back. And guess what? They haven't learned their lesson. They're still stuck on offering a "Kelo-plus" initiative. This time it's Prop 98, which not only limits eminent domain but also phases out rent control, probably eliminates affordable housing laws, prevents courts from giving any special deference to state agency findings, increases eminent domain payouts, and prohibits laws that "transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner" — a deliberately vague statement that has the potential to wipe out an immense swath of environmental and land use regulations. It's more subtle than Prop 90, but it's hard to say if it's any less dangerous. (Genuinely hard. There's no telling how the courts will interpret that "economic benefit" language.)

Alternatively, we Californians can vote for Prop 99, a competing eminent domain measure. This one is a clean initiative — no gotchas — but it's so sparkling clean as to be almost useless. It applies only to single-family houses and condos, and even then tacks on a list of five exemptions that, as near as I can tell, effectively guts the whole thing.

So there's your choice, Californians: Prop 98, yet another grab bag of landlord goodies, or Prop 99, which does next to nothing. And in one of those wonderful ballot measure tricks we've come to know and love here, if you're opposed to both propositions then you really need to vote Yes on Prop 99 anyway. It might not accomplish much on its own, but it does overrule Prop 98 if it gets a higher number of votes. And since there's virtually nothing on the June ballot except these measures, you probably don't want to take any chances. There's no telling what kind of turnout the Prop 98 true believers will produce.

Isn't direct democracy wonderful?

Kevin Drum 2:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Hillary Clinton, after being asked if there's a single economist who thinks a gas tax holiday makes sense:

"Well, I'll tell you what, I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."

Smart woman. Those economists are a shifty lot. (Via email from the Stephanopoulos show.)

Kevin Drum 12:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (106)

Bookmark and Share
May 3, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

A CONTEST....Let's have a contest. As we all know, Hillary Clinton chose filly Eight Belles to win the Kentucky Derby today. Instead, EB came in second and then had to be euthanized after breaking both ankles right after crossing the finish line. So here's the contest: Who do you think will be the first pundit/columnist/talking head to use this as an idiotically extended metaphor for the state of Hillary Clinton's campaign? Matthews? Dowd? Jonah Goldberg?

Or has someone already done it?

Kevin Drum 8:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (102)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

SANCHEZ SPEAKS....As we all know, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has a few bones to pick. Originally in charge of the 1st Armored Division of V Corps during the invasion of Iraq, he was later given a third star and full command of V Corps in June 2003. Along with that — a bit unexpectedly — came command of all coalition ground forces in Iraq when it turned out that the regional commanders and their staffs were all scrambling for the exits. A year later, after the Abu Ghraib scandal, Sanchez was essentially relieved of command and denied a previously promised promotion to four-star general. He retired in 2006.

But he wasn't happy about it. In a speech last year, he lambasted pretty much everyone except himself for their conduct of the Iraq war, including (a) the Bush administration, (b) the Pentagon, (c) Congress, (d) the National Security Council, (e) the "inter-agency process," (f) the State Department, and (g) the media. Despite all that, however, the Washington Post reported that "He declined to say whether he thinks he was scapegoated by the Army and refused to name senior leaders he believes failed at developing war strategy, saying several times: 'More to follow later.'"

Apparently "later" has now arrived. Sanchez is hawking his new book, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story, and Time magazine has an excerpt:

I walked into Rumsfeld's office at 1:25 p.m. on April 19, 2006. He had just returned from a meeting at the White House, and the only other person present in the room was his new Chief of Staff, John Rangel.

....Secretary Rumsfeld then pulled out a two-page memo and handed it to me. "I wrote this after a promotion interview about two weeks ago," he explained. "The officer told me that one of the biggest mistakes we made after the war was to allow CENTCOM and CFLCC [coalition land forces] to leave the Iraq theater immediately after the fighting stopped — and that left you and V Corps with the entire mission."

....He went on to write that neither he nor anyone higher in the Administration knew these orders had been issued, and that he was dumbfounded when he learned that Gen. McKiernan was out of the country and in Kuwait, and that the forces would be drawn down to a level of about 30,000 by September. "I did not know that Sanchez was in charge," he wrote.

I stopped reading after I read that last statement, because I knew it was total BS....Starting to get a little worked up, I paused a moment, and then looked Rumsfeld straight in the eye. "Sir, I cannot believe that you didn't know I was being left in charge in Iraq."

"No! No!" he replied. "I was never told that the plan was for V Corps to assume the entire mission. I have to issue orders and approve force deployments into the theater, and they moved all these troops around without any orders or notification from me."

....After the meeting ended, I remember walking out of the Pentagon shaking my head and wondering how in the world Rumsfeld could have expected me to believe him. Everybody knew that CENTCOM had issued orders to drawdown the forces. The Department of Defense had printed public affairs guidance for how the military should answer press queries about the redeployment. There were victory parades being planned. And in mid-May 2003, Rumsfeld himself had sent out some of his famous "snowflake" memorandums to Gen. Franks asking how the general was going to redeploy all the forces in Kuwait. The Secretary knew. Everybody knew.

Rumsfeld commissioned an investigation into the drawdown plans, and Sanchez says he later asked a member of the team if they had ever finished it:

"Oh, yes sir. We sure did," came the reply. "And let me tell you, it was ugly."

"Ugly?" I asked.

"Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. 'This is not going anywhere,' he said. 'Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don't talk to anybody about it.'"

....When I was on the ground in Iraq and saw what was going on, I assumed they had done zero Phase IV planning. Now, three years later, I was learning for the first time that my assumption was not completely accurate. In fact, CENTCOM had originally called for twelve to eighteen months of Phase IV activity with active troop deployments. But then CENTCOM had completely walked away by simply stating that the war was over and Phase IV was not their job.

That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it.

Sanchez obviously has his own axes to grind here, just like everyone else involved in the Iraq fiasco. But the Wolfowitz/Feith/Rumsfeld plan to immediately draw down to 30,000 troops and essentially abandon Iraq is pretty well known, though never officially acknowledged by the Bush administration to the best of my knowledge. Which means it would sure be interesting to see a copy of the investigation that upset Rumsfeld so much, wouldn't it?

Kevin Drum 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN IDIOCY WATCH....Early Friday, John McCain said his energy independence plan will eliminate the need for us to go to war in the Middle East:

My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will — that will then prevent us — that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.

So the Iraq war was all about oil after all? Don't be silly. He was talking about the other Iraq war:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) clarified his comments Friday after suggesting the Iraq war was motivated by U.S. reliance on foreign oil. His explanation: He was talking about the 1991 Persian Gulf War, not the current conflict.

...."No, no, I was talking about that we had fought the Gulf War for several reasons," McCain told reporters.

One reason was Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, he said. "But also we didn't want him to have control over the oil, and that part of the world is critical to us because of our dependency on foreign oil, and it's more important than any other part of the world," he said.

But this is just your garden variety gaffe/backpedal. I haven't even gotten to the idiocy yet. Namely this: there isn't an energy expert in the world — not one — who thinks we can "eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East." It's a child's fantasy, but McCain spouts this stuff as if solving our problems really were just that easy. It reminds me of his solution to the fighting in Iraq: "One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit.'"

Anyway, as John Lennon said, we'd all love to see the plan. Unless it depends on staying in the Middle East for a hundred years until they run out of oil and eliminate our dependency for us, it sounds like McCain is shoveling the bullshit once again.

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

Bookmark and Share
May 2, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Today is about favorite places old and new. Yesterday one of Marian's coworkers asked her if she wanted a piece of cardboard that was lying around. Mais oui! Toss it on the carpet, wait about ten seconds, and it's Inkblot's favorite new place. He camped out on it all evening.

On the right, Domino has, for the usual mysterious feline reasons, suddenly decided that our little antique bench is once again her favorite place. Maybe it's a summer thing? Whatever the reason, she abandoned it months ago, and then decided on Wednesday to reclaim it. She's been there ever since. If you're wondering what she's looking at in this picture, the answer is: Inkblot, just outside the frame.

Need more cats? "An Engineer's Guide to Cats" is the latest YouTube sensation, and I have to admit that their cat's box shredding ability is pretty amazing. On a more serious note, if your cat has diabetes, check out Jonathan Schwarz here. No promises that this will work for every diabetic cat, but it's at least worth reading.

Kevin Drum 2:56 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

AGRIBUSINESS UPDATE....I haven't vetted these numbers from Stephen Spruiell at The Corner, but they sound about right to me:

Ninety-two percent of farm-dwellers derive either all or most of their income from sources other than farming or subsidies....The other 8 percent — commercial farmers who derive most of their income from farming and subsidies — earned an average of $200,000 last year — an increase of 22 percent from 2006. This year, income for this group is projected to hit $230,000 — another 9.3-percent increase. The USDA, which calculated these estimates, reported last year that the windfall for commercial farmers is due in large part to "demand from the rapid expansion of ethanol production."

....Right now, Congress is attempting to renew farm subsidies for five more years, even though the vast majority of the payments go to farmers who are making six figures a year. The chief obstacle is President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill in its current form. Bush, who signed the massive 2002 farm bill, has set an unbelievably low bar for Congress to clear, calling only for modest spending restraint in the wake of record farm incomes. Yet Congress cannot even bring itself to cap payments to millionaires, among other simple reforms.

Hell, I'm willing to be bipartisan once in a while. This is one of those once in a whiles. Maybe next week, after the Indiana primary is over, we can all sign up for this.

Kevin Drum 2:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

TERRORISTS EVERYWHERE....Yesterday I mentioned our ever-expanding terrorist watch list and implied that it contained a staggering 500,000 names. A reader reminds me that this number is way low. According to the GAO, the combined watch list contained 755,000 records in May 2007. I've helpfully reproduced the GAO graph below, adding my own projections through May 2008 in red. If TSC is continuing to add new names at the same galloping rate they have for the past six years, the watch list now contains over a million names. Maybe even yours!

Kevin Drum 2:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

USAGE QUERY....Linguistic question of the day: Is netroots singular or plural? I changed my mind two or three times in the previous post before settling on singular. Comments?

Kevin Drum 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

BOYCOTTING FOX NEWS....Democratic politicians are starting to pop up on Fox News in droves and the netroots isn't happy about it:

The nation's top Democrats are suddenly rushing to appear on the Fox News Channel, which they once had shunned as enemy territory as the nemesis of liberal bloggers.

The detente with Fox has provoked a backlash from progressive bloggers, who contend the party's leaders are turning their backs on the base — and lending credibility and legitimacy to the network liberals love to hate — in a quest for a few swing votes.

....Markos Moulitsas, founder of the leading liberal site Daily Kos, told Politico's Michael Calderone: "Democrats are being idiotic by going on that network."

....The Democratic leaders' new openness to Fox reflects the liberal left's diminishing power, at least at this point in the political cycle. Once feared by the Democratic candidates, these activists are now viewed at least in part as an impediment to winning the broad swatch of support needed to clinch the nomination.

Two things. First, I never really understood the Fox boycott. Objecting to Fox hosting a Democratic debate is one thing: it really doesn't make sense to have a Democratic event hosted by an obvious arm of the Republican Party. But not even giving interviews? That doesn't do anything to spoil Fox's credibility. It just reduces Democrats' exposure and makes them look like they're afraid to confront their opponents.

But it's that line about the "liberal left's diminishing power" that really intrigues me. I think it's wrong. It conflates "liberal left" with "netroots," and the real lesson of the 2008 primaries is to raise some serious doubts about the power of the blogosphere in particular and the netroots more generally. On the Republican side, I'd venture that John McCain was the least favorite of the major candidates by a pretty fair margin. But he won anyway. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was the least favorite of the majors but she's one of the last two standing. And although Barack Obama is a netroots darling now, it's worth remembering that his initial foray on Daily Kos didn't endear him to the blogosphere in the beginning. His message of bipartisan reconciliation was about the farthest thing imaginable from the "fighting Dem" spirit of the blogosphere and he took plenty of hits for it. He's only popular now by default: virtually the entire netroots loathes Hillary Clinton, which means Obama is the only choice they have left.

If the respective left and right blogospheres had any real say in things, would we be looking at a McCain vs. Obama contest in November? Or McCain vs. Hillary? We would not. It would be Giuliani vs. Edwards, or maybe Romney vs. Dodd. The blogosphere is good at raising modest sums of money, and it likewise plays a modest role at the congressional level, but its influence on the national stage appears to be pretty close to nil. That was true in 2004, when Kerry won the Democratic nomination, and it appears to still be true four years later.

Kevin Drum 1:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

PRE-K....Education policy, which rarely produces unalloyed success stories, "must be a discouraging field to work in," I said yesterday. Maybe so, but Ezra Klein reminds us that "The big bright spot, it should be said, is universal pre-k, which has not only shown itself to have massive educational benefits, but to be tremendously cost-effective as well."

That's true. You have to do it right, and you have to keep at it (the effects are small if you offer a year of pre-k and then nothing more), but it's one of the few things that has proven benefits. That said, this is a good excuse to link in more detail to an article a few days ago by Chicago Tribune science writer Jeremy Manier about the different approaches to pre-k from each of the presidential candidates:

As decades of academic studies on brain development start to land in the real world, experts are divided on whether to focus new funding on infants and toddlers, or conventional preschool. Many now think some policies popular with politicians and the public, such as universal prekindergarten, may fail to reach at-risk kids at a young enough age.

....Chicago has become a national proving ground for schooling during the first three years, and is home to prominent advocates such as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman of the University of Chicago, who said reaching kids before preschool could offer the best long-term economic return.

"Even at age 4 or 5 you may be starting too late," Heckman said. "I wouldn't say it's hopeless to help kids after those early years, but it's extremely expensive."

Backers of universal preschool say the evidence for even earlier intervention is not yet solid and offering conventional prekindergarten to everyone would help build popular support for early education.

Although each Democratic hopeful is proposing dramatic increases in funding for Early Head Start, the federal program aimed at children younger than 3, they disagree on the importance of universal preschool.

Sen. Hillary Clinton's proposals focus on extending universal prekindergarten by requiring that states offer preschool to all 4-year-olds to receive certain federal funds. Sen. Barack Obama would direct more money to the years before preschool and quadruple the size of Early Head Start, which now serves just 3 percent of eligible children. Obama describes his plan as "a preschool agenda that begins at birth."

Officials for Sen. John McCain said the research has convinced the Republican nominee of the value of investing in early development, but he has not yet proposed changes to existing policies.

Read the whole thing for more. Bottom line: Obama and Clinton both take the issue seriously but have different priorities, different approaches, and different ideas about how best to get political support for more widespread pre-k programs. John McCain, on the other hand, basically couldn't care less.

Kevin Drum 12:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

CREDIT CARD REFORM....The Washington Post reports that the Fed plans to crack down on the credit card industry:

The Federal Reserve and two other banking regulators are set to unveil today one of the most aggressive efforts in decades to crack down on the credit card industry, prohibiting practices such as arbitrarily raising interest rates on outstanding balances.

The proposed regulations, which could be finalized by year's end, would label as "unfair or deceptive" practices that consumers have long complained about. That includes charging interest on debt that has been repaid and assessing late fees when consumers are not given a reasonable amount of time to make a payment. When different interest rates apply to different balances on one card, companies would be prohibited from applying a payment first to the balance with the lowest rate.

I've been so beaten down by seven years of Bush/DeLay/Rove Republicanism that I'm willing to be happy about pretty much any advance in social justice, no matter how small. So one cheer for the Fed. However, I haven't been beaten down enough not to note that (a) these appear to be only the most minimal possible reforms, (b) they are most likely being implemented in an effort to stave off more serious efforts from Democrats, and (c) Bush and congressional Republicans have stonewalled those more serious efforts for years on end.

Also: details matter. I'll wait to see the wording of the final rules before I uncork the champagne.

Kevin Drum 11:47 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

ONE MORE DAY....To everyone who's contributed to our fundraising drive this week: Thank you. Every dollar makes a difference. To those who haven't, today is the last day. Throw a few bucks our way if you can. You can donate via check, PayPal, or credit card. Just click here.

And now, one last excerpt from our April issue. This month Richard Kahlenberg reviews two books on the labor movement: The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, by New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse, and State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence, by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Philip Dine. One message of both books, Kahlenberg says, is that one way to regain some of labor's past strength is to begin promoting the movement in terms of moral values (such as respect for hard work) rather than just in terms of economic interests:

Dine calls on labor to tap directly into the moral righteousness of the civil rights movement. His best chapter recounts a strike in the early 1990s that did just that. The conflict pitted nine hundred poor, black, female catfish packers in Mississippi against Delta Pride, the world's largest catfish processor, owned mostly by wealthy white men. Many of the women who skinned, filleted, and packed the catfish had once picked cotton. They were poorly paid, and not tremendously well treated — their bathroom visits, for example, were limited to six a week. The workers had little economic leverage and much to lose: Delta Pride officials sat on the boards of the local banks that held the workers' mortgages and car loans.

The battle shifted, however, when the food workers union representing the women called for a nationwide boycott of Delta Pride catfish. Leading supermarkets complied in order to stay on good terms with their own unions. When reports appeared in the national press, donations began pouring in from unionists and church members around the country who hoped to sustain the workers in their strike. After a protracted battle, the company eventually conceded to a hefty wage increase and eliminated the limits on bathroom breaks. The key, says Dine, was that the movement was put in the context of the broader fight for human respect. It wasn't just a battle over money; there was a powerful moral component too.

Kahlenberg notes that although the modern progressive movement mostly supports the same goals as the labor movement (better health care, a more generous minimum wage, etc.), most modern progressives don't really feel much solidarity with labor. But with income inequality skyrocketing and wage stagnation hitting even white collar workers, that might start to change. "Globalization used to hurt just the Bud crowd," Greenhouse writes, "but now it is also hitting the Starbucks crowd." Read the whole piece to see what that might mean on the political front.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

Bookmark and Share
May 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Ezra Klein, reacting to the news that Reading First, a program begun in 2001 that mandates "scientifically-based" reading instruction, has had little success in improving reading scores:

"This fits into the larger pattern in education reform efforts which is that most ideas fall short of expectations."

Now, who knows? Maybe RF was poorly implemented. Maybe it just happened to be a bad idea. But it's astonishing how many efforts to improve K-12 instruction turn out not to work. Even the ones that do seem to work usually turn out to fail if you just wait a few years or try to scale them up beyond pilot size.

This is one of the reasons I don't blog much about education policy even though it's an interesting subject. For all the sturm and drang, in the end nothing really seems to matter. After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to. Early childhood interventions, if they're really early and really long lasting, seem to have some effect, but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Unfortunately, the former is really expensive and the latter is well nigh impossible in most places.

It must be a discouraging field to work in.

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

McCAIN IDIOCY WATCH....It's hard to keep up. Two examples so far this morning. First, we get a lesson in civil engineering:

Republican John McCain said Wednesday that the bridge collapse in Minnesota that killed 13 people last year would not have happened if Congress had not wasted so much money on pork-barrel spending...."The bridge in Minneapolis didn't collapse because there wasn't enough money," McCain told reporters while campaigning in Pennsylvania. "The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects."

Actually, the bridge collapsed because it was badly built. Pork barrel spending quite plainly had nothing to do with it. Then there's this:

At least 20 disabled activists, most of them in wheelchairs, were arrested outside Sen. John McCain's offices Tuesday after being refused a meeting with the GOP presidential nominee-to-be over a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to more people who want in-home care.

....McCain's Senate chief of staff said the protesters turned down an offer to meet immediately with McCain's aides. Mark Busey said he didn't know McCain's position on the legislation but would ask.

He doesn't know McCain's position on this? Really? Does anyone really believe that? Or is the Straight Talk staff just a wee bit nervous about fessing up to McCain's position on this?

Kevin Drum 1:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

NO-FLY....There are — knock wood — no terrorist suspects named Kevin Drum, which means I probably won't ever end up on the federal no-fly list. But it's still a program that gives me the heebie jeebies. Today, at the end of a story about air marshals (!) being kept off flights because their names are wrongly on the no-fly list, we get this:

The Terrorist Screening Center announced April 10 it will automatically review nearly 500,000 names on its watch list that are frequently matched during airport screenings and other law-enforcement encounters with the general public, and remove those names that don't belong to actual suspects.

Additionally, Mr. Chertoff announced Monday that each airline can now create a system of limited biographical data including a passenger's date of birth to clear up watch list misidentifications.

...."Thousands of passengers are inconvenienced each day, and this change should provide a way to eliminate the vast majority of these situations. This is good for travelers and for security, because as we make the checkpoint environment calmer, it becomes easier to spot individuals with hostile intent," Mr. Chertoff said.

First question: 500,000 names? Where are they getting this stuff? There can't be even a tenth that number worldwide who are serious threats to air travel. Keep in mind that on 9/10/01 there were a grand total of 16 people on the list.

Second: it took until now, six years after 9/11 caused the listmakers to go crazy, to order TSC to review the list for common names and remove the ones that don't belong? And it also took six years to put in place a program to allow innocent passengers to provide additional data to the airlines so they don't get hassled every time they enter an airport? Crikey.

But here's an answer to this problem. A partial answer anyway: national IDs. For reasons I don't quite get, civil libertarians routinely go crackers over this idea, but we already live in a society that demands ID for lots and lots of things, and that's not going to change. So if we're going to demand ID, why not at least provide everyone with a free, standardized, secure ID? It would make air travel more convenient, it would eliminate most of the problems with voter ID laws, it would reduce the inanities involved in moving to a new state and not being able to sign up for local services because you don't yet have any local ID, and the drawbacks would be....um....what would they be, actually? Plenty of other liberal democracies have had them for decades and seem to have stayed pretty liberal regardless.

Anyway, it's not a panacea, but it would help. And the downside, even for privacy nuts like me, seems to consist mostly of vague images of jackbooted thugs standing around on street corners demanding to see our papers. In reality, though, it would mostly be a convenience and mostly wouldn't change a thing. After all, we all have Social Security numbers already, and most of us have various picture IDs too. And we have to use them. What exactly would a national ID change about that aside from making it cheaper, easier, and more accurate?

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (82)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

"THAT'S WHERE SCIENCE LEADS YOU"....Last week, after I saw Ben Stein's Expelled, I noted that "Stein spends the final half hour wandering around Dachau and telling us outright that his real motivation for attacking evolution isn't any real flaw in the theory, but his belief that Darwinism leads directly to Nazi-ism, eugenics, atheism, the breakdown of morals, and mass slaughter."

Perhaps you didn't believe me. After all, we liberals are always misrepresenting conservatives, aren't we? Well, here's Stein talking to telepreacher Paul Crouch and clearing up exactly where he stands on this:

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed ... that was horrifying beyond words, and that's where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that's where science leads you.

Jonah Goldberg promises that he'll post "some thoughts on this and related stuff" on his Liberal Fascism blog, but so far nothing. I can't wait.

Kevin Drum 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (180)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

JUST SHOOT ME NOW....Dan Drezner is at a conference in London this week and reports back:

The campaign panel was certainly not boring — for me, the entertaining highlight was when Peter Wehner unironically compared John McCain to Pericles of Athens.

That would be the Peter Wehner who until recently was director of George Bush's office of strategery. I guess the Lincoln and Churchill comparisons have gotten stale for these guys.

Kevin Drum 11:27 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
By: Kevin Drum

YET STILL MORE PLEDGE WEEK....Don't know what to do with your stimulus check? Send it to us! Or at least a piece of it, anyway. We promise to stimulate you in return. There's one more day left to go in our pledge week and we could use your help. As always, you can donate via check, PayPal, or credit card. Just click here.

And speaking of money, how much would you give to get rid of the Electoral College? Democrats hate it because of the 2000 election, and Republican should hate it because it almost cost them the 2004 election. Everyone should hate it. But what to do about it?

In our April issue, Michael Waldman says that although a constitutional amendment would be nice, it ain't gonna happen. But there's another solution that's both elegant and feasible:

The National Popular Vote is a campaign to get each state to pass a law entering into a binding agreement to award all their electors to the candidate who wins the national popular vote in all fifty states and Washington, D.C. This provision would only go into effect when states whose electoral votes total a majority of the Electoral College — currently, 270 votes — sign the compact.

....Last April, Maryland became the first state to sign the compact. New Jersey followed suit in January of this year, as did Illinois in April. The measure has passed one house in seven states and, as of this writing, had passed both legislative houses in Illinois and was awaiting the governor's signature. It is being actively debated in more than a dozen other states.

That's 46 electoral votes so far, 224 to go. Read the whole piece for all the details.

Kevin Drum 12:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

Bookmark and Share



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly