June 30, 2003

CANADA DAY....Holy crap! The Canadians are taking over!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (14)

LYING WITH STATISTICS YET AGAIN....When parents divorce and one parent gets primary custody of the kids, what happens if that parent then moves out of town, thus cutting the children off from their other parent? Well, according to a new study, they are "significantly less well off on many child mental and physical health measures compared to those children whose parents don’t relocate after divorce."

Sounds bad, doesn't it? But there's a teensy weensy little detail that the researchers have inexplicably left out of this summary. Ampersand has the scoop.

And now that you're back, can I register a small complaint with Ampersand's closing comment? He says:

What's galling is, this study will be brought into court and used by father's-righters to argue that non-custodial dads should be able to prevent custodial moms from moving, "for the good of the child." In fact, if this study's findings have any validity at all, they seem to show that it doesn't cause children in mother's custody any significant harm to live more than an hour from their father; and that fathers who sue to prevent moves aren't improving the lives of their children, they're just exerting control over their ex-spouse.

I don't doubt that this is true of some fathers, but surely there are plenty of others who genuinely want to stay near their children, want to assist in their upbringing, and believe that this is good for both themselves and their kids? Ampersand's brush seems a bit overbroad here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (15)

CONSERVATIVE DEFENSE DAY....I don't defend conservatives here very often. Partly this is because I get so much shit for it whenever I do, and partly because....well, because I don't feel like it. Why should I, after all?

But today I'm going to take a crack at a couple of recent statements by conservatives that I think have been unfairly maligned. A letter writer has goaded me into it, and I guess I'm feeling contrarian at the moment.

First up is George Bush, who is alleged to have said the following to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas:

According to Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

I can't pretend to know what Bush really feels in his heart, but is this really so bad? He's talking to a religious person engaged in a largely religious dispute and trying to gain his trust. The remarks were made privately, and were obviously an attempt to speak in language that would be appreciated by the Palestinians.

I might add that this is also the very kind of language that Jimmy Carter is prone to use in private conversations, and for which he is generally excoriated by conservatives. They should knock it off. Diplomacy is all about gaining trust, and sometimes you have to use language in private that you wouldn't use in public. That's the way game works.

Next up is Clarence Thomas. Maureen Dowd, who I don't normally read, said this about Thomas a few days ago:

It's impossible not to be disgusted at someone who could benefit so much from affirmative action and then pull up the ladder after himself.

Her statement has been condemned on at least two grounds: (a) How does she know that Thomas benefited from affirmative action? and (b) even if he did, maybe he's since realized that it's wrong.

I'd like to defend him on different grounds, namely that there's nothing wrong (or even very hypocritical) about supporting the reform of something you benefit from. Jefferson supported the emancipation of slaves even though he didn't have the strength of character to emancipate his own. He wisely understood that sometimes broad government action is the only way to enforce behavior that we know is right but are too weak to enforce on ourselves unless we know that it's going to be enforced for everyone else too.

This is simply a recognition of ordinary human failings. After all, how many of us would turn down favorable treatment of some kind unless we knew that no one else was getting that treatment either? Not many. Very few of us can be a Gandhi, and surely Thomas can hardly be criticized for not rising to that rather rarified moral level.

So there you go. My next scheduled defense of conservatives should be sometime around Halloween or so.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (99)

TRAFFIC TICKETS....Researchers at Stanford University have concluded that traffic tickets save lives:

The team examined the records of drivers in Ontario, Canada, and found that receiving a traffic ticket reduces a driver's risk of dying in a crash by 35 percent in the weeks following the citation. "You don't think the police are doing a public service when they issue tickets, but traffic enforcement has a huge public-health benefit," said [Robert] Tibshirani, professor of health research and policy at Stanford and study co-author. "It may be a nuisance to receive a ticket but it could be helpful."

I have two comments:

  • I would bloody well hope this was the case. If handing out tickets had no effect on people's driving habits, then enforcing traffic laws would be sort of pointless, wouldn't it?

  • Since the effect apparently lasts only a few weeks, that means that traffic cops would have to hand out a dozen tickets per year per driver to keep our roads safe. I think I'll pass on that.

Science marches on.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

THE BEST OF WEEKS, THE WORST OF WEEKS....David Frum is unhappy:

The Republic has had better weeks. It opened with a Supreme Court decision on race preferences that bids fair to institutionalize this injustice in the national life for a minimum of another generation – proceeded through a Supreme Court decision on sodomy that seems logically to demand a high court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage – and ended on Friday with the Republican Senate passing a prescription-drug benefit that amounts to the first major national social entitlement since 1974.

Hmmm, doesn't seem like such a bad week to me. But what do I know?

In the same column, in a section strangely titled "Solutions to Last Week's Puzzle," Frum advocates a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

Someday soon, some activist state court – Massachusetts? Vermont? California? – will invent a right of same-sex marriage in that state. Immediately a couple from that state will travel to another state, demand recognition of their marriage, and then, when they don’t get it, will sue in federal court. The suit will claim that the failure to recognize their marriage violates the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires each state to give full validity to the legal and juridical acts of all the other states.

....A marriage amendment ought to be the first order of business for Congress when it returns in the fall. Leader Frist can make it happen – and should be made to understand that conservatives expect him to do so.

My guess is that both sides consider this to be political dynamite and will try to avoid making it an issue. But if it does become an issue, who would it hurt (or help) the most?

There's virtually no chance of a marriage amendment passing Congress, but I wonder if Republicans think that this is an issue where forcing Democrats to vote against it could hurt them in 2004? And I wonder if they're right?

I guess we'll find out soon.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (106)

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, 90s STYLE....Mickey Kaus notes today that while the incomes of the rich skyrocketed during the Reagan years, they also skyrocketed during the Clinton years. But he suggests that the Clinton boom was better because it didn't repeat the Reagan era's "unseemly celebration of wealth."

Fine, whatever, but then he says this:

Assignment Desk: Someone should defend the Clinton Boom, precisely on the grounds that '90s income inequality was relatively benign compared with '80s income inequality. Specifically, it was less corrosive of social equality. The basic argument: Most of the tech geeks and stock traders of the 90s couldn't possibly have thought they were better than the non-rich--they had so obviously lucked out into a windfall.

My evidence on this is anecdotal, of course, but having been in the software business throughout the entire boom this strikes me as completely wrong. In fact, 180 degrees wrong.

Far from thinking of their wealth as a lucky windfall, the tech geeks I knew were all convinced that they were the heralds of a new world order: they made lots of money because they "got it" and the neanderthals didn't. It was inevitable — and perfectly just — that in this brave new world brainy people would eventually take over everything. How else could it be, after all, in a world so dependent on technology?

Even the stock traders I knew felt much the same way. They weren't just riding a wave, they were causing the wave. Their gains weren't due to luck, they were due to savvy investing and an ability to see the future that others lacked.

It's a fact of human nature that when people do well they invariably attribute it to their own skill, and when they do poorly they attribute it to outside factors. The tech geeks of the 90s were no different.

UPDATE: And one other thing about the tech bubble: in 1997, one year after Alan Greenspan warned of "irrational exhuberance" in the stock market, Bill Clinton approved a cut in the capital gains tax from 28% to 20%. This helped take an overheated market and turn it into a full fledged bubble, the effects of which we're still trying to shake off six years later. This is practically a case study in the problems caused by favoring certain kinds of income over others in a tax system.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:08 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

June 29, 2003

NORTH KOREA UPDATE....I guess this isn't really new news, but it's still disturbing:

North Korea has enough plutonium to make six to 10 nuclear weapons and could test such a weapon by the end of the year, a former US negotiator with the Stalinist state said in an interview published today.

"To the best of my knowledge, based on very well-informed Washington sources, North Korea's nuclear program is moving ahead very quickly," Kenneth Quinones was quoted as saying by the Daily Yomiuri.

"Basically, this means North Korea's reprocessing (of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel) is almost finished, or has finished. This means North Korea now has enough plutonium to make six to 10 nuclear weapons," he said.

It continues to amaze me that, relatively speaking, this issue really hasn't attracted all that much attention.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (47)

ANOTHER SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE....The LA Times reports today on the latest fad in house buying and selling in Southern California:

Welcome to the world of value-range pricing — which, for better or worse, has become a fixture in Southern California's overheated real estate market. Homes are advertised in a range: There are two prices, low and high, and buyers are asked to offer something in between.

....Agents say it comes into use whenever the real estate market heats up to boiling, but that it has never before been so popular in Southern California.

"The concept is really catching on because it's very difficult to pinpoint the value of a property in today's marketplace," said Alice McCain, a real estate broker with Prudential California Realty in Northridge. "The definition of value is what a buyer is willing to pay and what a seller is willing to take. How can we determine what that is if we don't offer some parameters to get the process going?"

This is exactly the kind weird stuff that starts happening when a bubble is about to burst: the old rules stop working and people start making up new rules because they think there's been some kind of fundamental change in how the market works.

This is a very bad sign for the housing market....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (29)

BLOGGING....Tim Dunlop has a long but interesting essay about blogging up at the Evatt Foundation website. If I can summarize, he says that bloggers are often wrong, fight like cats and dogs, and frequently end up looking pretty stupid, but those are all good things! In reality, we're the new public intellectuals!

The essay is also, ahem, a bit more learned than we bloggers are used to, which is explained by this descriptive sentence at the end: "His PhD, completed in 2001, dealt with deliberative democracy and the role of intellectuals within such a structure." Who knew?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (20)

HISTORY....From page 228 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

History of Magic was by common consent the most boring subject ever devised by Wizard-kind. Professor Binns, their ghost teacher, had a wheezy, droning voice that was almost guaranteed to cause severe drowsiness within ten minutes, five in warm weather.

Sheesh. Even in the Harry Potter books history can't catch a break....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:08 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

June 28, 2003

PURGING THE BAATHISTS....Jeanne d'Arc is puzzled by our inconsistent approach toward Baath party members in postwar Iraq:

We're purging Baath Party members from universities and the oil industry (hmmmmmmm...) — two places where you'd expect to find plenty of people who just went along to keep their jobs — but we continue to get along just fine with the Baathist police and military, and even install them in power.

Pardon my ignorance, but in a police state, aren't the police likely to be the people you most have to worry about? If a country is a military monster — Iraq was a dangerous military monster, right? A threat to the entire world? — are generals likely to be uncompromised?

That does seem odd, doesn't it? I assume we're probably doing this because we were unprepared for the size of the policing effort that would be required and now find that we have a choice between anarchy and the Baathists. So we've chosen the Baathists.

I guess that's understandable, but I'm with Jeanne on this anyway: it just doesn't smell right. I hope there's not more here than meets the eye.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (25)

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN....Kieran Healy writes:

If you poke them a bit (and maybe buy them a few drinks), many academics will confess to sometimes feeling like impostors perenially threatened with humiliating exposure.

Actually, I think we all feel like that from time to time....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (27)

THE MELTDOWN IN POSTWAR IRAQ....This analysis piece by UPI's Derk Kinnane Roelofsma is a devastating indictment of the administration's handling of postwar Iraq. Normally I'd excerpt a paragraph or two, but it's not that long and you really have to read the whole thing to get the flavor. Both the strategic view of the neocons and the operational competence of the postwar planners are demolished with just a few well chosen quotes.

Tacitus is in the same boat, reluctantly concluding that the occupation is seriously fubared and wondering why the rest of the pro-war blogosphere isn't more concerned that three months after official hostilities ended the occupation appears to be close to melting down. Personally, I find the reticence of the hawks understandable, but it's also unfortunate since it's the voice of conservatives that will have the most impact on a conservative administration.

A note to Tacitus: my original post about no longer supporting the Iraq war is here. My followup is here.

And a note to my conservative readers: Yes, this is what I eventually concluded was going to happen, and no, I don't like George Bush. But regardless of that, I take no pleasure in what's happening and urge all of you to join in pressing the Bush administration to start paying more attention. They should know in no uncertain terms that their core constituency will be seriously pissed off if they don't change their tactics and start taking the occupation more seriously than they have so far.

I realize this is a naive sentiment, but this is a time when I'd like to see partisanship end at water's edge and everyone join in supporting as much money and as much manpower as it takes to do the job right in Iraq. For liberals, this means — on this specific issue — supporting an administration we don't like and refraining from pointless potshots. For conservatives, it means a willingness to consider a different approach to the occupation, one that involves the rest of the world as equals to be consulted, not willful children to be lectured and bullied.

Not much chance of this, I know....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:04 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (63)

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS....South Knox Bubba writes about the prescription drug plan now before Congress:

For those of you keeping score at home, there are 29,358 words in 1124 paragraphs dealing with the prescription drug benefit. There are 71,545 words in 3894 paragraphs dealing with "other" provisions. It would appear there's a lot more going on here than just a prescription drug benefit.

Overall, he doesn't seem very impressed.

For another interesting view, Fred Barnes takes a look at Teddy Kennedy's role in all this in the Weekly Standard. He says that Bush thinks 48% of Medicare recipients will jump to private plans under the bill, while Kennedy believes the CBO number of 12%. In Kennedy's mind, that makes it a gamble worth taking and provides a foot in the door that can be improved over time.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:18 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (6)

NO ISRAELIS ALLOWED AT OXFORD?....Last night I saw this appalling email from a British scientist to an Israeli citizen applying for a lab position:

From: "Andrew Wilkie"
To: "Amit Duvshani"
Sent: Monday, June 23, 2003 9:58 AM
Subject: Re: PhD application

Dear Amit Duvshani,

Thank you for contacting me, but I don't think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they (the Palestinians) wish to live in their own country.

I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army. As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I'm sure you will find another suitable lab if you look around.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Wilkie

Nuffield Professor of Pathology,
Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine,

I wondered for a bit whether this was real, since these things have a tendency to turn out to be hoaxes, but this morning I found that Eugene Volokh (among others) had written to Professor Wilkie and confirmed that it was indeed genuine. Here is Wilkie's reply:

27 June 2003

Comments by Professor Andrew Wilkie

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said:

"Our staff may hold strongly felt personal opinions. Freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of University life, but under no circumstances are we prepared to accept or condone conduct that appears to, or does, discriminate against anyone on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, whether directly or indirectly. This candidate is entitled to submit an application and to have it dealt with fairly according to our normal criteria.

"Professor Wilkie has issued a personal apology regarding remarks he made by e mail to an applicant for a research degree in Oxford. An immediate and thorough investigation of this matter is now being carried out in accordance with the University's procedures and a report will be presented to the Vice-Chancellor next week"

Note to editors:

The full text of Professor Wilkie's apology is:

"I recognise and apologise for any distress caused by my email of 23 June and the wholly inappropriate expression of my personal opinions in that document. I was not speaking on behalf of Oxford University or any of its constituent parts. I entirely accept the University of Oxford's Equal Opportunities and Race Equality policies"

"I am not the only UK scientist with these views "? No doubt, but aren't they supposed to at least pretend otherwise? I shall be interested to hear the result of Oxford's investigation next week.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:16 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (36)

THE WMD HUNT....Remember those nuclear plans we found a couple of days ago in the backyard of an Iraqi scientist in Baghdad? The original CNN story included this statement:

CNN had this story last week but made a decision to withhold it at the request of the U.S. government, which cited safety and national security concerns.

The U.S. government told CNN the security and safety issues have been dealt with and there is no risk now in telling the story fully.

At the time I paused for a second and wondered why CNN had agreed to hold off, but it is a war zone after all. It wasn't really all that odd.

I should have paid more attention. Today Josh Marshall has the story behind the story, and it's not a pretty one. Apparently "safety and national security concerns" translates to "we're completely incompetent and we'd like a little time to make ourselves look slightly less foolish." Go read it.

UPDATE: In comments, Matt Weiner suggests that the proper translation is really, "We're completely incompetent and, now that public exposure is forcing our hand, we'd like some more time to do at least one tiny little thing right."

Well, OK.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:36 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

June 27, 2003

UNIONIZING THE JANITORS....Still catching up a bit: Nathan Newman reminds me to link to this excellent article by Harold Meyerson in The American Prospect about the successful unionization of janitors over the past couple of decades:

The SEIU had begun as a union of janitors, but in one city after another, building owners were firing their unionized workers and hiring immigrant workers just arrived from Mexico and Central America. The SEIU was already established as the major public employee union in California, and the better part of valor would have been to build its public-sector membership (which it's done anyway) and forget the janitors.

Instead, it built the "Justice for Janitors" movement, employing hundreds of organizers, cultivating public sympathy, applying political leverage and mobilizing a raucous rank-and-file whose bells-and-whistles demonstrations are now a regular feature in many American cities. The union's janitorial membership swelled to more than 200,000, and this spring, janitors in Chicago got employers to pay more for expanded family coverage; janitors in Orange County, Calif., got employers to pay for family coverage for the first time; and janitors in Boston and Washington got employers to begin to pay for part-timers' health coverage too. "Union density trumped a bad economy," says Stephen Lerner, who heads the SEIU's building services division. It has also given the janitors more leverage when organizing in new cities.

This is exactly what unions should be doing: organizing low-paid employees and bargaining to get them higher pay and benefits. The union movement of the first half of the 20th century did this and was tremendously successful at creating a thriving middle class, expanding the economy, and creating better working conditions for millions, and that's exactly what they should be doing today too.

But how? Well, a couple of posts down I suggested that we were all still fighting the battles of 30 years ago, so why not go whole hog and refight the battles of 50 years ago? Anyone up for a fight to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (27)

NO MORE TORTURE....The Bush administration has officially renounced the use of torture:

"All interrogations, wherever they may occur," must be conducted without the use of cruel and inhuman tactics, the Pentagon's senior lawyer wrote after members of Congress and human rights groups pressed the White House to renounce abusive tactics reported by U.S. government officials.

On a day when President Bush asserted that his administration intends to lead by example in a global fight against torture, Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II said that anyone found to have broken the law in the Afghanistan deaths will be prosecuted.

....Haynes replied in a letter released yesterday that the U.S. promise of good behavior goes beyond a prohibition on torture to encompass "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Avoiding comment on specific cases and practices as "inappropriate," Haynes said the definition refers to behavior considered unconstitutional in the United States.

This is the right thing to do, so good for them. It took a little too long, but better late than never.

Now, if we can just add to this a policy that forbids turning prisoners over to other countries so that they can torture them for us, we'll be in pretty good shape on this issue.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (10)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, Inkblot gazes imperiously at the camera while resting on his favorite red blanket, a souvenir from American Airlines. Red shows him off well, don't you think? On the right, Jasmine also stares imperiously into the camera, probably wondering why dinner is late.

Today's bonus cat comes from The People's Republic of Seabrook, featuring Boo, a Siamese kitten who appears to be about the same size as Inkblot's head. Seabrook's proprietor, who clearly knows what his audience wants, has more here, yet more here, and yet still more here.

In other news, Moxie interviews her cat Phoebe here. Make no mistake: when Phoebe's revolution comes, all you dog lovers out there will be the first ones up against the wall.....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (24)

TIME AT A STANDSTILL....Sometimes I feel like time has stood still for the past 30 years in the world of American politics. Conservatives are still fighting communists and the Great Society and liberals are still fighting Jim Crow and the Vietnam war. Does it feel that way to anyone else?

I don't have any point to make, just the observation itself. I suppose someday we'll move on, won't we?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:29 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (38)

BUSINESS PROCESS PATENTS....Last month I wrote a post about my general dislike of "business process" patents, and today I have another excuse to write about it: Netflix, a company that rents DVDs over the internet, has been granted a patent that covers various aspects of its business model.

So what do I think about this? I'm not sure. For those unfamiliar with Netflix, here are the basics of how it works:

  • Netflix charges a flat monthly fee.

  • Customers order DVDs over the web.

  • DVDs are shipped and returned via mail.

  • You can order up to three DVDs. When you return a DVD, you can order another one. In other words, you can have a revolving library of three DVDs in your hands at all times and you can keep them as long as you want. There are no late fees.

Overall, it's a clever and attractive model and has deservedly attracted quite a few customers. If I were considering a patent for the totality of what they do, I might be inclined to grant it.

The problem is, none of the specific pieces seem to be worthy of patent to me, and the New York Times story doesn't provide much insight into exactly what's being patented:

The patent gives Netflix intellectual property protection over the technology at the core of its business: the way that a customer sets up his or her rental list; and the way the company sends the DVD's. The patent also grants the company exclusive control over many other small parts of the process of online DVD rental.

The patent, which was filed in 2000, has 100 claims over all. The company has other applications pending with the United States Patent Office, including one on the intricately designed envelopes it uses to send the DVD's.

I wish there were someplace to go to get some commentary on the individual patent claims, but I can't find one and the NYT story was the most detailed I came across in the mainstream media.

So what do I think? I still don't know. What Netflix has done is clever, but I'm still concerned that these individual patents cover things that aren't really nonobvious at all and accomplish little except preventing legitimate competition. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

OUR LAPDOG MEDIA....Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a good post about the difference between the American media and the British media when it comes to interviewing politicians. Short version: their reporters insist that politicians actually answer their questions, ours just accept what they're told and move on.

Of course, this is only partly the media's fault. American politicians tend to avoid reporters or situations in which they'll be merciless grilled, while for some reason British politicians seem to feel obligated to take on all comers. I'm not sure why that is. But whatever the reason, watching Tony Blair go on TV and get treated like a man on trial for serial murder is an eye opening experience for an American.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:11 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

June 26, 2003

GEORGE BUSH AS KING CANUTE....I've had a houseguest for the past week, so I've missed a few things that I otherwise would have blogged about. The Bush administration's desire to ban scientific information that doesn't fit its ideological views is one of them:

Assessing up to 30 years of government efforts to clean up the environment, [an EPA progress report] was overshadowed by a controversy over its global warming section.

Outgoing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has said she deleted the discussion of global warming after White House aides sought to tone it down and she decided the result would be "pablum."

David Appell has more about the dodgy study used to justify the decision, which he says "has serious scientific and methodological flaws." That's putting it nicely, I think, and overall the arguments and the lame statistics coming from the anti-global warming camp increasingly remind me of the desperate attempts by tobacco companies to deny any link between smoking and cancer back in the 50s and 60s.

Now, a distaste for letting facts on the ground sway your opinions is a problem shared by zealots on both the left and the right, but at the moment it's the zealots on the right who are in charge, and they just don't like scientists much. Too liberal, you see, as Nicholas Thompson explains in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly:

The split between the GOP and the scientific community began during the administration of Richard Nixon. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, protests against the Vietnam War captured the sympathy of the liberal academic community, including many scientists, whose opposition to the war turned them against Nixon. The president characteristically lashed back and, in 1973, abolished the entire White House science advisory team by executive order, fuming that they were all Democrats. Later, he was caught ranting on one of his tapes about a push, led by his science adviser, to spend more money on scientific research in the crucial electoral state of California. Nixon complained, "Their only argument is that we're going to lose the support of the scientific community. We will never have their support."

Thompson argues that to the modern Republican party, scientists aren't scientists, they're just another interest group. And we all know what to do with interest groups we disagree with, don't we?

Anyway, read Thompson's entire article. It's enlightening.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (66)

ONLY 110 YEARS?....Via How Appealing comes this remarkable summary of the facts of a case in an opinion issued today by the Seventh Circuit Court:

John Veysey appeals from his conviction, after a jury trial, and sentence of 110 years in prison for mail and wire fraud, arson, and the related offense of felony by fire. The facts are amazing, but we shall resist the temptation to recount them at length.

In 1991 Veysey set fire to his house and inflated the claim that he then filed with his insurer. The insurer paid, and the house was rebuilt. The following year Veysey married a woman named Kemp, increased the insurance on the house, removed the valuable contents of the house, along with himself and his wife, and then cut the natural-gas line inside the house, causing the house to fill up with gas and explode spectacularly, utterly destroying it. He grossly exaggerated the value of the property allegedly lost in the explosion--some did not exist and some he had removed before the explosion. The insurance company (a different one) paid, and he used part of the proceeds to buy another house.

The next year he tried to kill his wife by driving his van with her in it into a river. When that failed he killed her by poisoning her, and collected $200,000 in the proceeds of insurance policies on her life. He placed personal ads in newspapers, seeking to meet women. He became engaged to one of the women he met through his ads, named Donner, but broke his engagement after failing to procure a $1 million policy on her life.

He then took up with a Ms. Beetle. This was in 1996 and the same year he burned down his house, again submitting an inflated estimate of the loss and receiving substantial proceeds from the insurance company (a different one, again). He then married Beetle, and they moved into a rented house. She insured her life for $500,000 with him as beneficiary. One night in 1998, after drugging her, he set fire to the house, hoping to kill both her and their infant son, on whom he had also taken out a life insurance policy and who was in the house with her. They were rescued, and soon afterwards Veysey and Beetle divorced.

The house was rebuilt and Veysey persuaded a woman named Hilkin to move in with him after she had accumulated some $700,000 in life insurance and named him as the primary beneficiary. He apparently intended to murder her, but he was arrested before his plans matured. There is more, but these are the highlights.

There's more?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

A PICTURE IS WORTH 190 WORDS....Sometimes the stars align in odd ways. It turns out that Steven Den Beste and yours truly had exactly the same reaction to this picture when we first saw it, we both posted about it, and we both used exactly the same number of words in our posts.

What are the odds?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

ROLL CALL....If you're a member of Congress running for president, you're going to miss some votes. I've got no problem with that.

But so far this year Dick Gephardt has missed 89% of the votes in the House of Representatives. That really does seem excessive, doesn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:55 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

GAY SEX....Good news: the Supreme Court has ruled that state bans on gay sex are unconstitutional. The vote was 6-3, so it's even a moderately decisive ruling.

I have to say that this is a case where the result is so clearly worthy that I don't even care that much exactly what the legal reasoning was. But speaking of reasoning, it's no surprise that the three dissenters were Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. Scalia was especially outraged:

"The court has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," Scalia wrote for the three. He took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.

"The court has taken sides in the culture war," Scalia said, adding that he has "nothing against homosexuals."

Uh huh. The majority has "signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda." A bit paranoid sounding, no? Something tells me that that won't go down in history as one of the great dissents of all time.

Jack Balkin has a bit more detail on the decision.

UPDATE: So I wonder if George Bush will have anything to say about this? Just curious, you know....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (115)

June 25, 2003

WMD UPDATE....MSNBC is reporting that an Iraqi scientist has led U.S. investigators to a barrel in his backyard containing plans for a gas centrifuge and components of a uranium enrichment system. However, the plans appear to date back to 1991 and are really nothing new.

However, MSNBC also says:

The more significant discoveries were related to Saddam’s attempts to rebuild chemical and biological arsenals like those he was known to have used during the Iran-Iraq War of the late 1980s, when he was supported by the U.S. government.

Sources told NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski that within just the past week, U.S. investigators had found two shipping containers filled with millions of much more recent documents relating to chemical and biological weapons.

One of the documents, from 2001, was titled “Document burial and U.N. activities in Iraq,” the sources said. It gave detailed instructions on how to hide materials and deceive U.N. weapons inspectors, the sources said.

Other documents related to the concealment of VX nerve gas, the sources said.

Documents are not weapons, and considering the number of times we've been suckered already by discoveries that turn out a few days later to be meaningless, I'd take this with a shaker of salt for the time being. Still, it's a clue that might lead to discoveries in the near future and it's worth keeping an eye on.

My own guess at this point is that Saddam pretty much abandoned his WMD program after 1998 but kept documentation around in the hopes that he could start back up someday. In the end, however, that someday never came.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (174)

DVD SURGERY....I have to replace the DVD drive in my PC, which in turn means I have to shut off my computer. I will be cut off from the outside world during this operation.

Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Well, that was pretty painless. Remarkably enough, XP recognized the new hardware immediately, it worked flawlessly, and all the software seems to work fine too. How often does that happen?

It's a Pioneer DVR-A05, in case you're in the market for a DVD reader/writer yourself. It was $229 at my local Micro Center, it comes with a good suite of software, and it works. Assuming that it continues working, I recommend it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (28)

LIBERAL MEDIA UPDATE....Here's a report from the front lines of the media bias wars from Four Color Hell, a comics blog recommended by Instapundit:

According to the History Channel's special, "Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked," which first aired Monday, June 23, the best thing about comic books seems to be their advancement of leftist politics.

It only gets worse, though, when they get into and past the '80s when the post-"Crisis" Lex Luthor is seen as a reaction to Ronald Reagan... here the '80s businessman is referred to as the ultimate evil. The pro-gun control "Batman: Seduction of the Gun" is praised. A recent Captain America story arc where the bombing of Dresden is compared to September 11th is seen as "political complexity" instead of moral equivalence.

See, this is what always happens when I actually look into charges of liberal bias, even on a subject as trivial as comic books. I watched this show on Monday and thought it was fairly interesting, but I didn't take away any particular bias at all. The "leftist" politics was one guy's opinion that Superman was a reaction to the Depression and a celebration of FDR's values, but this was neither praised nor panned. It was just an observation, and quite possibly a correct one. And the "ultimate evil" of Lex Luthor being an American businessman was obviously being played for laughs.

Now, it's quite possible (indeed probable) that comic books themselves trend pretty liberal these days. They certainly seem that way to me, although I suspect some of that is inevitable since superheroes by their very nature are bound to stick up for the little guy. But if that's the case, then any documentary that accurately portrays the industry is going to talk about that. That doesn't mean the producers are biased, just that they're describing reality.

The show re-airs Sunday, June 29 at 6 pm, so if you're interested you can watch and judge for yourself. Is it slanted, or is it just describing a liberal medium? You be the judge.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (56)

MEDICARE REFORM....Medicare reform update: the Republicans want more private sector involvement and the Democrats want more government involvement. Answer: add $6 billion for a private sector pilot program and $6 billion for expanded government benefits. Everyone wins!

Well, that's Washington. But I have a hard time choking down a laugh when Republicans continue to talk about "private sector" and "cost containment" in the same sentence while keeping a straight face. Boy, that's sure worked for the past 50 years, hasn't it? You'd think that since we have both the greatest private sector involvement in healthcare in the industrialized world and the highest cost of healthcare in the industrialized world, someone might begin to think that maybe the private sector isn't the greatest idea around when it comes to healthcare cost containment. But ideology marches on.

In fact, apparently the free market forces don't even believe their own rhetoric:

Under the emerging compromise, $6 billion would be used to set up the pilot project to allow private health plans to compete for Medicare business in certain regions without being restrained by a federal cap on prices.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a leader of conservative critics, said that would give free-market advocates a "toehold" in the program.

Um, guys, if private health plans are supposed to keep prices down, why are they worried about being "restrained" by price caps? That was the same thing we Californians heard from the electricity companies a few years ago, and that really didn't work out so well for us....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

INCOME MOBILITY....There is little question that income inequality has increased in the United States over the past few decades. In fact, the increase has been so dramatic that conservatives no longer even try to deny the basic facts, but instead suggest that, really, things aren't all that bad if you're just willing to look below the surface a bit.

Their favorite archeological dig along these lines — it's practically a mantra on the Wall Street Journal editorial page — is that what really matters is not income inequality but income mobility. Sure, inequality has gotten worse, but who cares when America is a land of opportunity where the poor so often become rich?

This has always been a bit dishonest, since "poor" often refers to college students and other young people who naturally become better off as they grow older. But it turns out that even taken on its own terms, it's a bogus argument because income mobility is also decreasing in America. The rich are getting richer, they are staying richer, and the poor are increasingly stuck being poor.

The charts on the right are from an article by Katherine Bradbury and Jane Katz published a few months ago in the Boston Fed's Regional Review. The top chart shows the familiar increase in income inequality: the richest quintile has grown far faster than any of the others. The bottom chart shows the surprise: fewer people are moving up, fewer people are moving down, and more people are staying put.

So here's what's happening:

  • We live in an era in which highly skilled people are increasingly valuable and unskilled workers are worth less and less. In other words, left on its own, income inequality will naturally increase.

  • Our tax policies are increasingly geared not to ameliorating this trend, but to making it worse. Tax rates on the rich are decreasing, while tax rates on the poor and middle class are increasing.

  • At the same time, income mobility is going down. If you're at the bottom, that's probably where you're going to stay.

It's possible to justify these policies if the result of lower taxes and higher inequality is higher economic growth. After all, why fret that the rich are getting richer if their hard work is driving a fast growing economy that benefits everyone, while all those poor schlubs in Europe are stagnating thanks to their misguided egalitarian instincts? Unfortunately, there's little evidence to back this up. There doesn't appear to be any correlation at all between high inequality, low tax rates, and economic growth.

This is fundamentally unhealthy in a democratic society. When the rich absorb more and more of the economic growth of the nation, and the poor begin to lose hope of economic advancement, you have a potentially toxic combination. George Bush and the policies of the Republican party are making this ever worse, and someday soon the poor and middle class are going to figure out what's going on. How about 2004?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (10) | Comments (153)

GUERILLA WAR IN IRAQ....Novelist and military historian Caleb Carr enters the "Why Can't We Find the WMD?" sweepstakes with a brand new entry today in the Los Angeles Times. Maybe Saddam really did destroy the WMD, Carr says, but pretended otherwise precisely so that he could lure us into war. His kind of war:

What if, acting on this realization [that our military would crush his], he abandoned a biochemical campaign before the war started, destroying or hiding his weapons of mass destruction deep underground, in terrain controlled by his most ardent supporters, while stockpiling enough cash to bankroll a different kind of Armageddon?

I'm speaking here of a carefully planned effort to sow anarchy and thus a desire among the Iraqi people for the return of a strong hand, as well as a complementary effort to destroy American domestic will when it comes to sustaining a gruesome and grueling occupation.

Basically, Carr suggests that Saddam knew he couldn't win a conventional war, so he suckered us into an easy victory and now plans to beat us via a long war of attrition that we don't have the stomach for. Left unexplained, however, is why Saddam would pursue such a baroque strategy. After all, if his goal was simply to retain power all he had to do was cooperate with the inspectors for a while and wait for them to go away.

Still, although Carr's theory seems silly, his broader point is probably sound: we need to keep lots of troops, lots of special forces, and lots of police in Iraq in order to fight something that appears to be quickly turning into a guerilla war. How many and for how long he doesn't suggest, but the answer to that, unfortunately, is "a lot" and "a long time."

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:33 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (44)

June 24, 2003

20 QUESTIONS....Via Kieran Healy, this computerized version of 20 Questions is pretty fun. It beat me with "cigar" but lost on "teapot."

Give it a try.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (26)

WAR WITH IRAN?....The other day I was mulling over the consequences of the Iraq war. Would neighboring countries like Iraq (or non-neighboring ones like North Korea) be more conciliatory now that we've shown a willingness to take tough action? Or would they conclude that they actually have a freer hand now because we're busy with Iraq and the American public wouldn't put up with another war so soon? (Not to mention the practical problems of whether we could mount another war anytime soon.)

And on a related note, what about that American public? Would they support another war in the near future? Or are we all a bit fidgety about trusting George Bush's claims since we haven't found that WMD he so confidently said was present in Iraq?

Today, I sort of get an answer from a Washington Post-ABC News poll:

President Bush last week said the rest of the world should join the United States in declaring that it "will not tolerate" nuclear weapons in Iran -- a vow that most Americans appear willing to back with force. By 56 percent to 38 percent, the public endorsed the use of the military to block Iran from developing nuclear arms.

The wording of the question doesn't provide a lot of context or depth, but it's still suggestive: if George Bush says Iran is building nuclear bombs, the American public appears ready to back him in another preemptive war.

The full poll results are here. There's nothing really new, but it's got a couple of interesting results:

  • 44% think American casualties have been unacceptable, up from 28% a couple of months ago.

  • 72% are concerned that we will get "bogged down in a long and costly peacekeeping mission."

Taken together, these two things don't bode well for our willingness to stick it out in Iraq. We seem willing to support war in the abstract, but rather less willing to support the necessary followup. That's a bad combination.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (58)

CLASS ACTION ARBITRATION....Sam Heldman points out today that while everyone was talking about the affirmative action cases handed down yesterday, there was a lot less attention paid to another Supreme Court decision that protected the right to bring a class action suit even if a case is being decided by arbitration:

....more and more, in consumer-company or employee-employer relationships, we see arbitration "agreements" being slipped in amongst the fine print, such that you "agree" that you will arbitrate rather than sue if you ever have a claim against the company.

Companies also like to claim that, in arbitration, there's no such thing as a class action -- that each consumer, or employee, must fight his or her fight alone, shouldering all the costs. Companies take this stance, naturally, because they don't want class actions -- they want most of their behavior to go unchallenged by the people whom it affects. But Bazzle is good news for consumers and employees in this regard: the Court seemingly rejected the theory that there is something ipso facto impossible or improper about having an arbitrator certify a class and grant relief to the class.

Sam also talks in passing about a growing trend in which companies "shove arbitration 'agreements' down consumers' and employees' throats that explicitly forbid class arbitration." I confess to ambivalent feelings about enforced arbitration generally, since I think it's bad public policy to allow companies to unilaterally opt out of the justice system simply because they think they might get a better (or cheaper) deal elsewhere. There are some good things to be said about arbitration, but it ought to be voluntary on both sides, not used as a bludgeon by a stronger party who wants to avoid the possibility of ever being held accountable for their actions in the public courts.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:13 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

MOVEON PRIMARY....I just tried to go to the MoveOn.org web site and couldn't get through. But today and tomorrow are the days for the MoveOn primary, so if you have a candidate you want to vote for, keep trying until you get through and then cast your vote.

UPDATE: Try this link instead: http://www.moveonpac.org/moveonpac/index.phtml It seems to work better.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (23)

June 23, 2003

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION....I don't have a lot of comment on the two affirmative action cases handed down today other than to say that, taken together, they seem about right to me. I'm happy that affirmative action as a concept was ruled constitutional, but I'm also happy to accept the idea that it needs to be moderate in scope — although the ruling seems to insist on a somewhat more stringent scope than I'd like. What's more, as Tapped points out, Sandra Day O'Connor's suggestion that affirmative action shouldn't be viewed as a program that lasts forever is also reasonable.

I support moderate affirmative action as a simple matter of equity, but I also believe that our real goal should be to make it unnecessary. The sooner we do this the better, but until then we need to keep it around as a necessary tool in the fight to overcome a centuries-old legacy of racism that continues to haunt us today.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (51)

JOHN EDWARDS, POPULIST....A few months ago I was vaguely leaning toward John Edwards as my favorite in the Democratic race. Although I didn't (and still don't) have a detailed understanding of his positions, his policy choices seemed basically OK, he was personable enough to stand up to Bush, he had a good national security record, he knew how to raise money, and he was a Southerner. It seemed like a reasonable combination of electability and decent liberal credentials.

But then he seemed to disappear. Howard Dean became a media darling, Dick Gephardt unveiled a (semi) universal healthcare plan, and John Kerry started going on the attack. Edwards was nowhere to be seen.

So I'm happy to see him give a rousing speech like this last week:

[George Bush's] economic vision has one goal: to get rid of taxes on unearned income and shift the tax burden onto people who work. This crowd wants a world where the only people who have to pay taxes are the ones who do the work.

....This is a question of values, not taxes. We should cut taxes, but we shouldn’t cut and run from our values when we do. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan argued for tax cuts as an incentive for people to work harder: Americans work hard, and the government shouldn’t punish them when they do.

This crowd is making a radically different argument. They don’t believe work matters most. They don’t believe in helping working people build wealth. They genuinely believe that the wealth of the wealthy matters most. They are determined to cut taxes on that wealth, year after year, and heap more and more of the burden on people who work.

How do we know this? Because they don’t even try to hide it. The Bush budget proposed tax-free tax shelters for millionaires that are bigger than most Americans’ paychecks for an entire year. And just last week, Bush’s tax guru, Grover Norquist, said their goal is to abolish the capital gains tax, abolish the dividend tax, and let the wealthiest shelter as much as they want tax-free.

That's some good crowd pleasing populism, and it pretty closely matches my own views. Today's movement conservatives, having already abandoned the middle class, are now explicitly endorsing the idea of eliminating taxes on unearned income and reducing the top marginal rates on earned income to the point where all too many of the super-rich and their trust fund offspring pay a lower tax rate than your average auto factory worker. After two decades of this, I believe pretty strongly that middle class taxes need to be cut while taxes at the top need to be increased pretty substantially. Edwards' speech presents a plan that does just that.

So good for him. I hope he can present a vision of national security that's equally coherent, equally tough, and as equally informed by liberal values. If he does, he could be a pretty tough candidate to beat.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (42)

TRIAL OF THE CENTURY....Every time there's a big trial the media names it the "Trial of the Century." But it occurred to me the other day that now that the 20th century is over, we should be able to decide which trial really was the Trial of the Century (American version).

Leopold and Loeb? Sacco and Vanzetti? The Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? The Chicago 7? Patty Hearst? OJ?

I guess I'd probably go with either Lindbergh or OJ. Any other nominees?

UPDATE: A reader emails to suggest the Scopes monkey trial. Definitely a worthy contender that slipped my mind.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (41)

WAS MILTON FRIEDMAN NAIVE?....Brad DeLong says, "I have never been able to figure out whether Milton Friedman is better viewed as the Arch-Keynesian or as the Anti-Keynesian."

If you're interested in economic theory and how best to manage the economy, this is a pretty interesting post. Check it out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (2)

CALPUNDIT....SMASH....PUNY....HULK....I give it two stars out of four. The friend I went to see it with gave it one star. Actually, what he really said was, "I almost left halfway through to go sit in the lobby and eat some popcorn while I waited for you." Does that mean he was just hungry, or that he thought it was a bad movie? I report, you decide.

I gotta say, though, that for the first two hours it was dumb but comprehensible. But the final half hour was completely incoherent. I have no idea what was supposed to be going on.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:19 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

ENHANCING THE MIND....Dwight Meredith recommended this New York Times Magazine article yesterday but I didn't click the link to read it. Big mistake. I'll never take Dwight's recommendations lightly again.

Allan Snyder, a researcher in Australia, has been experimenting with a device that directs electromagnetic pulses into the frontal lobes of subjects, and has found that it increases performance on a variety of mental tasks:

He has used TMS dozens of times on university students, measuring its effect on their ability to draw, to proofread and to perform difficult mathematical functions like identifying prime numbers by sight. Hooked up to the machine, 40 percent of test subjects exhibited extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills. That Snyder was able to induce these remarkable feats in a controlled, repeatable experiment is more than just a great party trick; it's a breakthrough that may lead to a revolution in the way we understand the limits of our own intelligence -- and the functioning of the human brain in general.

This is genuinely remarkable, especially considering that Snyder has only been doing this for a short while and we still know virtually nothing about what's really going on in the brain. But if this really turns out to work, it's possible that in the future it might affect more complex mental skills than the ones Snyder has enhanced so far, and we might be able to tune the machine to produce different effects.

So someday maybe we will go to work, and depending on what task we're working on we'll program the machine to enhance a critical skill. Maybe we'll be able to enhance multiple skills at once, and we'll change the programming dozens or hundreds of times a day depending on what we're doing.

This is all in the very early stages, but it's genuinely remarkable stuff with potentially mind blowing consequences. Read the whole article.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (45)

LYING WITH STATISTICS, PART 874....Back in February I wrote about Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries. I was critical of using public money to convert prisoners to Christianity, but I also admitted that "Colson seems to do genuinely good work."

It looks like I spoke too soon. Today Mark Kleiman takes a look at the record and says their success rate is completely bogus.

So not only are various state governments subsidizing religious indoctrination for prisoners, and not only does it not work, but they're lying and claiming that it does. Sheesh.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:28 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (34)

SPINNING....Glenn Reynolds quotes David Adesnik today about the missing WMD: "....the question everyone is now asking is 'Did Bush lie?' rather than 'Did the United States have good cause to invade Iraq without the express written consent of the Security Council?'" Glenn comments:

Read the whole thing, which suggests that there's as much spinning going on from self-justifying antiwar revisionists as there ever was from the Bush Administrations.

So I did, and apparently he missed David's very next paragraph:

While I suspect that Bush himself did not lie, there is considerable evidence that high-ranking officials, possibly including the Vice President, knew in advance of the State of the Union address that Iraq had not purchased uranium from Niger. If so, all of the officials involved in that process of deception should be severely disciplined.

David is right to say that Saddam's non-cooperation remains a mystery if he really didn't have any WMD, but I think it's safe to say that the spinning these days is coming from the pro-war crowd, not the other way around. After all, so far there's no WMD, there's no al-Qaeda connection, we've caved into Osama by withdrawing troops from Saudi Arabia (which remains our best pal in the region), and our dedication to the democratic reconstruction of Iraq is starting to look kind of ragged.

Of course, as always, there's a way to put all this to rest: Bush could show us the intelligence reports that demonstrated Iraq's WMD programs and al-Qaeda connections. If they look reasonable, he's vindicated, even if they don't pan out. It's funny how many little mysteries there are that could be cleared up in exactly that way, and equally funny that in every single one of those cases Bush has done nothing but stonewall.

Funny indeed.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (69)

PASTA SAUCE....I went to the store to buy some pasta sauce last night, and as I was staring at the choices I actually looked at the prices for the first time. Wow! I felt like George Bush Sr. confronted with a barcode reader.

Anyway, it turns out that the most expensive jar of sauce was $15, approximately 5x the $3.29 price of most of the bog standard brands. This brand was called, appropriately, "Probably the World's Most Expensive Pasta Sauce," and is explained thusly:

For years my friends and family have said, "You've GOT to put this sauce in a bottle". Knowing the amount of time it takes and the cost of ingredients, my answer has always been, "I can't because it would be probably the world's most expensive.™" Then the light went on. Why not give people the choice to buy something unlike anything else on the shelves. A sauce that I promise will be the very best you've ever bought.

I guess I hardly need to add that it's thinking like this that was behind 99% of failed dotcoms in the 90s.

Anyway, I bought a $3.29 jar of Classico, a package of Italian sausage, and some mushrooms instead. Half the price, and undoubtedly far superior.

UPDATE: Jeanne has my back on this. Unfortunately, I'm a culinary cretin who can shove pretty much anything down my gullet and barely notice the difference. But maybe I can get Marian interested in trying some homemade sauce....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (36)

June 22, 2003

WHEN IS A CONFESSION NOT A CONFESSION?....In the Washington Post today, we learn of a case in which three women were arrested for murder based on the mistaken idea that they had withdrawn money from a bank using the victim's ATM card:

Virginia and Shirley Shelton said they were questioned intermittently for about seven hours by Prince George's detectives at the Sierra Vista [Arizona] police station April 22.

....While the three detectives -- Ben Hollowell, Robert J. Frankenfield and Sean Chaney -- were in Arizona, a detective in Prince George's, Marc Alexander, prepared an affidavit that was given to a Maryland court commissioner, who then issued arrest warrants. In the sworn statement, Alexander said that, under questioning, the suspects had admitted to using the victim's card.

Why would the Sheltons and Starkey make such confessions when, as later became clear, they had not used the card?

For anyone who wonders why I believe that all police interrogations should be videotaped from beginning to end, read this story to find out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

THE SOUTH RISES AGAIN....NO, NOT THAT SOUTH....I'm busy today and won't be able to blog much. However, for an interesting liberal vs. conservative conversation about foreign policy I recommend this comment thread over at Tacitus.

A lot of the usual disagreements are on display here, but I'm going to pick out one topic that especially interested me: could South Vietnam have beaten the North if we had continued to support them after 1975? (Not with ground troops, that is, but with air support and supplies.) Tacitus thinks so, and blames Democrats of the era for cutting off support, while my reading has convinced me that we were simply throwing good money after bad and the cutoff was justified. Nothing short of nuclear war would have allowed the South the beat the North, and we were simply facing reality when we finally ended our support of a corrupt and hopelessly inept South Vietnamese regime that had no chance of winning. Better late than never.

However, I'm no expert on Vietnam-era military history, so perhaps I need to read up on this. Aside from Rambo-esque "they wouldn't let us win" rhetoric, this is really the first time I've heard a serious argument that the South could have won, either with or without us. Interesting topic.

UPDATE: On a broader level, this discussion gets to a more fundamental question: why did communism fail? Was it because of our consistent military opposition (as in Vietnam, for example), or was it because communism was a lousy economic system and would have failed regardless of all the proxy wars we fought?

Some of both, surely, but I suspect more of the latter. Anti-communists in the U.S., I sometimes think, don't really show the courage of their convictions when they insist that the Soviet Union fell only because Reagan pushed so hard on them militarily. That betrays a confidence in communism as a political and economic system that I really don't share.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:26 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (147)

ANN COULTER....Can I make a suggestion to my liberal brethren? Please just ignore Ann Coulter's new blog, supposedly starting up tomorrow.

Oh, sure, I know that sometimes it's hard to resist, but she's really not a serious person and her schtick is just to annoy liberals with provocative nonsense, not to actually say anything meaningful. It's really best not to give her the attention she craves.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:28 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (6) | Comments (47)

June 21, 2003

THE DLC VS. THE LIBERALS....Ron Brownstein has a good piece in the LA Times today about the tug of war between the centrist DLC and the more liberal wing of the Democratic party. He says the DLC is losing, and is especially taking heat because of its nuclear assaults a few weeks ago on Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt.

There's probably nothing new here for blog readers and political junkies, but it's a decent little summary of the way things are playing out right now.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (83)

BURSTING BUBBLES....My post yesterday about Open Source and the subsequent comments reminded me of a long time problem that I've never really found an answer for: how do you criticize excessive enthusiasm for something without sounding like you're dismissing it entirely? Here are a few examples where this has bitten me in the last few years:

  • The dotcom/internet bubble. I'm a big fan of the internet, but in the mid to late 90s I found myself consistently telling people to calm down about it. I remember one particular encounter, probably around 1996 or so, after our CFO attended a seminar on web tools. He came back wildly enthusiastic about how easy it would be to move all our systems onto the web and make them easily accessible to the outside world. I spent some time explaining that all the back end database work still needed to be done and was no easier on the web than anywhere else, UI development still had to be done and was probably harder on the web than elsewhere, all the business rules still had to be coded, and so forth.

    He decided I just "didn't get" the web (after a one day seminar!) and was standing in the way of progress. Obviously I took the wrong tack, but how do you convince someone that while web tools are great and allow you to do a lot of new and innovative things, all the ordinary problems of developing big software applications still exist?

  • The stock market bubble, another one that I "didn't get." I don't care what anyone says, PEs in three digits are unsustainable and the only way to value a company is via the discounted present value of its estimated future earnings. I didn't think web-based companies were a stupid idea — far from it — but there's just no way they were worth what people were pretending they were worth.

    (The bad news: I didn't invest much in dotcoms and didn't make very much money from the bubble. The good news: I didn't lose my life savings when it burst.)

  • Blogging. It should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I like blogging a lot. But I don't think blogs brought down Trent Lott and I don't think they are going to replace the New York Times either. Blogs are a new niche in news/opinion/chatroom universe, not a replacement.

I feel the same way about Open Source: it's actually a great thing and has had a lot of influence on the programming community. But it's focused largely on system level software and tools, and because programmers themselves use Open Source tools so much I think they overestimate its value in the rest of the software world. Like dotcoms, the long term potential of the stock market, and blogs, I like Open Source, but I think its proponents way overstate its actual influence and potential.

But how to say that without sounding like I'm dissing the entire movement? Gotta work on that.

UPDATE: Henry Farrell writes to point me to this paper co-authored by Kieran Healy in which he examines the Open Source movement and comes to some interesting conclusions. Basically, the idea of OSS as a big, bustling, anarchic community doesn't seem to be true. The vast majority of Open Source projects are tiny (one developer), and the larger projects tend to be managed pretty heirarchically, just like commercial projects. Interesting reading.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (23)

A TEST....Do you have what it takes to be a blogger? Chris Rasmussen, guest blogging at Unlearned Hand, has a wee test.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (3)

June 20, 2003

CHEAP DRUGS....This just cracks me up. First, the Senate votes to allow importation of drugs from Canada:

For the second time in less than a year, the Senate voted overwhelmingly today to allow American pharmacists to buy prescription drugs in Canada, where they sell for less, and resell them in the United States, a procedure that many people believe will curb the price of drugs.

Why are drugs cheaper in Canada? Because they're purchased by the various provincial governments, who drive a hard bargain with the pharmaceutical companies. However, although the Senate is in favor of taking neighborly advantage of Canada's governmental efficiency, the Bush administration is not, apparently making the laughable argument that "such imports will open the United States to new threats in an era of worries over terrorism."

OK then, maybe our government should do the buying so we can apply proper American safeguards against al-Qaeda tampering with the nation's drug supply? You might think so, but the Bush administration is opposed to this too. In fact, they are even opposed to the U.S. government doing this in areas where there are no private insurers who offer drug coverage:

"The 'fallback' provisions are a government-run delivery system for prescription drugs which could lead to government pricing of individual drugs and government regulation of the availability of certain prescription drugs," the White House said on Thursday.

In addition, the Senate wants to crack down on pharmaceutical industry abuse of federal patent laws that keeps cheap generic drugs off the market, but the hardliners in the House are balking. This is actually an attempt to prevent pharmaceutical companies from using government regulation in order to stifle competition, but the supposed "small government" conservatives led by Tom DeLay want no part of it.

So apparently Republicans think that government intervention is bad if it might reduce the price of drugs, but they also think that reducing government intervention is bad if it might reduce the price of drugs. I sense a pattern here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

THE NEW YORK TIMES....Hugh Hewitt, writing in the Weekly Standard about candidates for the executive editorship of the New York Times, has this to say:

None of the candidates above--or any of the other long shots--are going to set the New York Times on a course of moderation and objectivity. The paper has sailed too far to the left during the last two decades to get itself back to "paper of record" status anytime soon.

I happen to be reading a history of the New York Times right now, and you will all be happy to learn that the Times has been accused of abandoning its long held neutrality and veering hard left on a regular basis for at least the past 50 years. So take all this with a grain of salt.

I've just started getting to the good stuff, though (at least from a blogosphere perspective): the early 90s, when Arthur Sulzberger Jr. took over as publisher and installed the hated Howell Raines as his editorial page editor. I shall report back if I learn anything interesting.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:04 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

STONEWALLING....Glenn Reynolds links to a Salon article about George Bush's resistance to various 9/11 investigations and notes that he's been critical of this too. That's correct, and to his credit, but then he says this:

Karl Rove should be thankful, though, for the screechily partisan note of these calls for an investigation, which have so far made them easier to ignore. But my advice to Karl is not to depend too much on the shrillness of his enemies, and to remember that if you act like you're hiding something, people will sooner or later conclude that you've got something to hide.

Bush and his team have been stonewalling for about a year and a half now, so I really have to ask: how long does "sooner or later" last? Even if I were a Bush partisan I think I'd be a little suspicious by now that maybe there's some fairly damning stuff being hidden behind the national security smokescreen.

Unless, of course, "sooner or later" really means anytime after November 2004....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, Inkblot is presented in his full glory thanks to the wonders of a wide angle lens. On the right, Jasmine enjoys the final day of spring on our garden bench.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:19 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

SEX AND COMMUNISM....Yes, I know that writing about Ann Coulter is a waste of time, but her latest book excerpt reminds me of something that's been tickling the back of my brain for a while.

I have this vague notion that about two-thirds of what motivates hardcore conservatives is sex and communism. On the sex (and gender) side, we have porn, homosexuality, "family values," abortion, the pill, sex education in schools, and so forth. Dig a little bit below the surface of social issues that are important to strong conservatives, and you quickly hit on the bedrock of sex and gender.

Then there's communism. Since I've started blogging and paying attention to this kind of thing, I've been surprised that anti-communism is still such a living, breathing topic for so many conservatives. I naively figured that when the wall came down in 1989 and capitalism won, that was pretty much the end of it.

But no. I see article after article reliving the 30s and 50s and castigating "liberals" for being weak on communism. When I write about human rights, I always get comments (or emails) saying, essentially, that liberals supported Stalin and therefore have no credibility on human rights at all.

Well, sure, some liberals did support Stalin during the Depression, but that was three generations ago and a very different era. And the 50s? As in all times and places, there was a small band of extreme lefties around saying the kinds of things that extreme lefties say, but Truman and his gang were pretty staunch anti-communists, as were the vast majority of even hardcore liberals.

But along comes Coulter to write this about Joe McCarthy:

Despite the left’s creation of a myth to defeat legitimate charges of treason, McCarthy had so badly stigmatized Communism, his victory survived him. In his brief fiery ride across the landscape, Joe McCarthy bought America another thirty years. For this, he sacrificed his life, his reputation, his name. The left cut down a brave man, but not before the American people heard the truth.

Who's next? Hitler was a brave man and France would be a better place if we hadn't all let FDR talk us into kicking him out?

The right wing's attempted rehabilitation of McCarthy is surely one of the most peculiar of their jihads of the past decade or so. (I blogged about Jonah Goldberg's contribution to this a few months ago.) It's especially peculiar because anti-communism was in full swing well before McCarthy picked it up and it's almost dead certain that all he really accomplished was to stigmatize anti-communism, not the other way around. In fact, although he smeared innocent people and ruined lives with abandon, McCarthy himself rather famously never found a single communist. So why the newfound love affair?

I dunno. There were plenty of people during the 50s, both Democrats and Republicans, who really did root out communists, but McCarthy wasn't one of them. And let's face it: unearthing old lefties in Hollywood might have made good theater, but it didn't really accomplish anything.

I suppose there's a strain among extremist conservatives and liberals alike that simply doesn't understand the difference between means and ends. Joe McCarthy was anti-communist, so he's OK. Fidel Castro claims to be an agrarian reformer, so he's OK. But it's not so. You can be strongly anti-communist — as virtually all Americans were during the 50s — and still believe that McCarthy was a lunatic bully and that loyalty oaths and blacklisting were unAmerican. In fact, I'd say all those things go together. If you want to be truly anti-communist, you should also be opposed to the methods of the communists. McCarthy would have been right at home in Stalin's politburo, and that's why he remains vilified by most decent people today.

But not by Ann Coulter. You may draw your own conclusions about her decency.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (98)

OPEN SOURCE....Kieran Healy has an interesting post about the Open Source movement and asks what I think is the key question: why do people volunteer to work on Open Source projects for free?

The best predictor of whether you’ve volunteered time or money recently is whether you’ve been asked. So we need to know much more about the organizational side. Volunteerism has been a constant in the software/hacker community since its inception, yet the open-source explosion is a comparatively recent affair. My intuition is that the real causal traction is in social organization or institutions, not individual motives. Interestingly, this view is supported by some of the people involved in the comunity. Jeff Bates, of OSDN, was a commenter on the last session and said he wanted to know how a project aggregates people. This seems like exactly the right question to me.

I've been a skeptic of Open Source for a long time, and it's not because I have anything against Linux. My problem is more fundamental: how do you keep these projects going? To pick a specific example, what happens to Linux when Linus Torvalds gets bored with it?

Well, who knows? Maybe somebody will pick it up, and maybe Linux will do fine. After all, the internet is mostly run by volunteers and it's doing OK.

But how many other successful Open source projects will there be? How many projects are there where someone will become obsessed enough with the idea to do all the organizing? And how many high quality coders are there who are willing to get talked into participating?

I suspect the answer is: very few. So maybe Linux and a few other Open Source projects will be successful — although even that's a stretch in the long run — but there aren't enough organizers and volunteers around to make a dent in the other 99.9% of software that's equally critical but much less cool. That includes the vast majority of extremely dull business software that's the real linchpin of the sofware industry.

In Kieran's comments, Mary Kay Kare analogizes Open Source to the volunteerism that characterizes the science fiction fan community. It's an intriguing comparison, but let's face it: volunteerism doesn't have a great track record competing with profit-motivated business concerns. I suspect that when all is said and done, the invisible hand will beat out the open source with hardly a fight.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:58 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (60)

WMDs AND WAR....Matt Yglesias has a Tech Central Station column up about why it's important to know whether intelligence information about Iraqi WMD was exaggerated before the war. He makes a good case, but I want to make one that I think is more fundamental.

No serious analyst suggests that the United States should mount large scale foreign wars for purely humanitarian reasons. While the humanitarian aspects of the Iraq war are welcome, pretending that they are sufficient is both dangerous and disingenuous.

The fact remains that the only substantial thing that distinguished Iraq from Burma, the Congo, Zimbabwe, or Iran in public eyes was the possibility that Iraq had WMDs and was likely to use them. In other words, that Iraq threatened the security of the United States or, at the very least, threatened the vital interests of the U.S.

Conservative warhawks have become tireless in recent weeks making up reasons why all these other humanitarian interventions are somehow different: Iran has its own reform movement, the Congo is in the middle of a war, etc. etc. But the real reason is a lot simpler: none of these countries pose any real threat to the United States or our allies. If they truly did, we'd invade in a heartbeat.

That's why the WMDs are important. Did President Bush pretend that a threat existed where none really did? Or does he truly think that it should be U.S. policy to engage in major wars for humanitarian reasons? It's hard to say which of these would be more disturbing.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (71)

June 19, 2003

AN IRAN SCORECARD....After writing yesterday that I didn't know anything about Iran, today I came across an interesting post over at Unfogged that gives a brief outline of who the various players are in Iran, who to trust, and who not to. It's only one person's opinion, of course, and I can't vouch for it personally (especially since it's an anonymous person), but the writer is an Iranian who seems pretty familiar with what's really going on and it has a ring of reasonableness about it. It's nice and concise, and I recommend reading it.

Informed dissenting opinions are welcome, of course.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

GEORGE GALLOWAY UPDATE....A couple of months ago I blogged about a Daily Telegraph reporter who had rummaged around burned out Iraqi ministry buildings and found documents indicating that lefty MP George Galloway had accepted about half a million dollars a year from Saddam Hussein via oil sales starting in 2000. The Christian Science Monitor ran a similar story based on different documents alleging that Galloway had accepted $10 million over the past decade from Saddam's government.

Today, via TBOGG, I find that the Christian Science Monitor has found that its documents were forgeries:

An extensive Monitor investigation has subsequently determined that the six papers detailed in the April 25 piece are, in fact, almost certainly forgeries.

The Arabic text of the papers is inconsistent with known examples of Baghdad bureaucratic writing, and is replete with problematic language, says a leading US-based expert on Iraqi government documents. Signature lines and other format elements differ from genuine procedure.

The two "oldest" documents - dated 1992 and 1993 - were actually written within the past few months, according to a chemical analysis of their ink. The newest document - dated 2003 - appears to have been written at approximately the same time.

The Telegraph documents still appear to be genuine, but they are also somewhat fuzzier about exactly what Galloway allegedly did and when he did it.

So where did the forgeries come from? And isn't it odd that they would coincidentally be on the exact same subject as the Telegraph's documents? As so often with supposed smoking guns in the Iraq war, I suspect this story will eventually turn out to contain less than meets the eye.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

PAY TO PLAY....Jim Battin is a California state senator who sits on the committee that oversees gambling issues. He is also the owner of a private consulting group and has recently begun soliciting business from Indian tribes that operate casinos.

In other words, for all practical purposes he is now both a legislator and a lobbyist all rolled up in one. Does he have a problem with that? Apparently not:

"If I felt conflicted, I would abstain," Battin said. "I'm not interested in crossing the line."

Honestly, my guess is that corruption and conflict of interest is no worse now than it's ever been, but what's different is that nobody even pretends to be ashamed of it anymore. After all, regardless of the legality of all this, don't you think Battin would at least try to hide what he's doing? You know, put the consulting firm in his wife's name, or create a shell corporation that made it hard to track down? Or something?

But no. He doesn't even seem to care. It gives "pay to play" a whole new meaning.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

SOCIAL SECURITY....Mindles Dreck has an interesting post up suggesting that Social Security isn't really in big trouble. Why? Because we haven't been taking into account the widespread popularity of tax deferred savings accounts (such as IRAs). When the boomers retire, they are suddenly going to have to start paying taxes on those accounts, and this will generate an extra $12 trillion that nobody's expecting, more than enough to cover the projected shortfall.

Now, Mindles does warn that "There are so many ways I can think of to manipulate this number I'm going to remain skeptical until I've digested this," and that's probably good advice. Still, it's an intriguing proposition and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the economics community reacts to it.

Of course, I've never been convinced that Social Security has any serious problems anyway. Although Medicare may be a bit tricky (since it's tied up with the whole problem of rising medical costs in general), Social Security is pretty simple. Workers of the future will easily be able to support the Social Security retirees of the future, and the only question is how we feel like funding it. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, for example, all we have to do is let the current $80,000 payroll tax cap gradually rise to about $300,000 or so over the next few decades and everything is taken care of without any increase in the tax rate at all. Simple. Then again, if this new study is correct, we don't even have to do that. Even simpler.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)

UNIONS IN AMERICA....Nathan Newman chastises Kos for claiming that special interests such as unions aren't the "true" grassroots of the Democratic Party and suggesting that the blogosphere pick up the slack.

I don't really want to take part in that argument (you can head over to Nathan's site and comment if you'd like), but I am curious about the role that unions play these days and what their future is. It just happens to be something I've been mulling over recently.

I quite agree that union activism has been responsible for a tremendous amount of progressive social change, but at the same time it's also obvious from declining membership figures that unions are in big trouble. What I can't quite figure out is what their main problem is.

I mean, I look at a company like Wal-Mart, for example, and I wonder why unions have such a hard time organizing there. Sure, Wal-Mart is opposed, but the workers there are treated shabbily and paid worse, so you'd think it would be a slam dunk to get certified. But it's not. So what's the problem? What are the workers afraid of?

I've had the vague idea for a while that one of the problems with unions is that their concerns have been just the opposite of what they should be. That is, they haven't spent enough energy trying to organize low paid workers and then campaigning to get them paid more, while at the time they've been over-obsessed with extremely rigid work rules that might not make that much sense in today's economy. Basically, I think they should be fighting harder to raise wages in the service sector but compromising on work rules in order to get them.

However, this is just talking off the top of my head since I've never worked for a company that's been unionized. So I guess what I'm really doing is (a) asking for comments from my readers, and (b) asking Nathan what his opinion is. I'd be interested to read a generic post from him about what he thinks unions need to do in America to revitalize themselves. How about it?

UPDATE: Nathan responds here (at least, regarding the difficulty that unions have organizing workers).

UPDATE 2: And more here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:29 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (89)

REPUBLICANS....I'm honored by the faith Charles Murtaugh shows in me here, and I'll try to be worthy of it. But I'd really like to know: just what was it that inspired this poetic ode to the Republican party?

I mean, I've certainly got reasons of my own for feeling the same way, but I'm not quite sure how the past couple of weeks have been much different from the past couple of years. So whaddaya say, Charlie, how about sharing with us?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:59 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

MISSILE DEFENSE....I just love this quote about the latest test of our missile defense system:

"I wouldn't call it a failed test, because the intercept was not the primary objective," said Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the MDA. "It's still considered a success in that we gained great engineering data. We just don't know why it didn't hit."

Hey, I thought the Bush administration was interested in results, not process?

Cheap partisan jokes aside, though, the lack of transparency in evaluating missile defense is a real scandal. We've been at this stuff for at least two decades (maybe four or five depending on how you count), the tests are designed to be practically impossible to fail, and yet they continue to fail and fail and fail.

But they don't. These days, "great engineering data" is considered a success. (Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations....) I'm not philosophically opposed to missile defense, but I am opposed to sinking money endlessly into a program that never seems to achieve anything. Conservatives rightly castigate social programs that don't produce results, so why are they willing to put up with it here?

(Oh, and don't forget that Bush has decided that missile defense will be deployed in October 2004 regardless of whether it works or not. October 2004. Does that date sound at all suspicious to anyone?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (62)

June 18, 2003

LATE NIGHT RANT....This isn't directed at anybody in particular, but can I just say that I'm getting really, really tired of hawkish bloggers who self-righteously chastise "anti-war liberals" for not posting daily about the crappy situation in Iran, the Congo, Burma, Zimbabwe, or whatever the godforsaken shithole of the day is?

I realize that blogging is by nature a bunch of ordinary folks spouting off on topics they know little about, but do you really think that we should all be blathering on forever about the political/cultural/religious/whatever aspects of small countries we don't know anything about?

Take Iran, for instance. I've been reading about Iran for a couple of decades now, and for at least the past ten years I've also been reading about their restive students, their tiny sprouts of democracy, and the conflict between the moderates and the hardliners. So who should I be rooting for? Frankly, their "moderates" have never sounded especially moderate to me, and my recollection is that Iranian students held a bunch of Americans hostage for a while back in 1980, so it's hard to have an awful lot of sympathy for them. Still, I'll grant that moderate is a relative term, and perhaps the students have changed some, and in any case how much worse can things get? So root for the students I shall.

But, really, I don't really know jack about Iran, or about any of those other countries, other than the fact that they are all lousy, brutal dictatorships and I would be delighted to see them under new management as soon as possible.

So if you want to blog about these places, that's great. If you post good stuff, I'll read it and thank you for the insights. But quit trying to score sophomoric debating points by carping about what other people choose to write about.

Okay?

(Yeah, bad mood. What I'm really pissed about, I guess, is yet another court ruling telling us that it's perfectly OK for the government of my country to act exactly like one of those third world dictatorships mentioned above and secretly detain anyone it wants. Just say the magic words "national security" and apparently they can do pretty much anything they feel like.

But, you know, what if some of these suspects aren't actually guilty of anything? As Jim Henley says, "The question is not 'Do terrorists deserve the same rights as ordinary criminals?' The question is 'Are terrorist suspects terrorists?'"

That's precisely right, and it's the whole point of a free and open judicial system. If these guys are guilty, then deport away. But maybe they aren't. The problem is, we'll never know, will we?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (59)

SPORTS BREAK....Bizarrely enough, the comments to this post degenerated into a discussion of the merits of the designated hitter rule in baseball. I myself finally lost interest in baseball after the last strike, but before that happened I came around on the DH rule and am now pretty much in favor of it.

Actually, the only thing I'm really against is the idea of having different rules in different leagues. Let's either have a DH or not. And while we're at it, umps ought to call the strike zone the same in both leagues too.

In other sports related news, Gregg Easterbrook says:

Hockey and basketball are done; the Triple Crown, Indy 500 and the Open are past. Now comes the deadest, dullest six weeks in the annual sports calendar -- nothing but baseball until August, when the NFL resumes.

What the heck is he talking about? Wimbledon is right around the corner!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (37)

CDs AND GAY MARRIAGE....Tyler Cowen owns "at least" 5000 CDs. That's a lot, isn't it? On the generous assumption that he started collecting CDs the very moment they first became available (1983), that means he's been buying an average of 250 CDs a year for the past two decades. On a more realistic assumption that his CD buying has increased over the years, this means that he buys about one CD per day nowadays.

When does he find time to listen to them all?

On a more substantive note, Eugene Volokh has an interesting post about whether or not a Canadian gay marriage would be recognized in the United States. The answer is: maybe.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

MISSING IN ACTION....Where is Jane Galt?

No, really, that's not a joke. What's going on?

And as long as I'm at it, where's Digby? And DeLong? On vacation without telling us? Or is something much, much uglier at work?

UPDATE: Jane is back. I guess it was just some temporary hosting glitch. No word on the others, though.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:20 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE....Commie symp lefty blogger Max Sawicky takes a look at Howard Dean's platform and says, basically, it looks OK to him. However, he also makes this specific comment about Dean's healthcare plan:

I'm not sufficiently expert to evaluate the Dean plan. I note that it has multiple parts and runs the risk of Hillarification. In this business, simplicity is important. I also note that there seems no treatment of cost containment, the giant sleeper issue in health care that no politician talks about.

I agree with all of that. Whether universal healthcare is a winning issue for Democrats in 2004 is something I'm not sure about, but a simple plan is certainly the only kind that has a chance. By way of comparison, I would say that Al Gore lost the 2000 election not because his tax cut proposal was too small, but because it was too complex. George Bush was able to paint it as a typical piece of idealistic liberal social engineering, and that description stuck.

(And yes, I know that whenever an election is as close as 2000 was, pretty much anything can be plausibly trotted out as the straw that broke the camel's back. I happen to think that this is the one that both (a) made a big difference and (b) was entirely under his control.)

I suppose the problem is that a simple plan is almost inevitably a very wide ranging and costly plan as well, and no one thinks that's politically feasible. Still, I can't help but think that candidates would be better off just skipping the issue entirely than they are offering a competing set of watered-down plans that are hard to understand and don't appeal to a very wide segment of the population.

And as Max says, cost containment is key. Unfortunately, only one of those simple, broad-based (but politically risky) plans has even a prayer of keeping costs down. Still, if there's any way to sell simple universal healthcare to the American public (and Congress), this is the soft underbelly to attack. Americans spend far more on healthcare than any other country, but we don't seem to get appreciably better service for all the extra money that we pay.

Of course, cost containment inevitably means rationing of some kind, regardless of what you call it, and that's a political loser.

On the fourth hand....well, you get the idea. The whole thing is just a mess and it's hard to see what kind of plan actually has a chance of getting widespread support. Overall, I'm just not convinced that the healthcare sweepstakes currently in play in the Democratic primaries has much chance of helping our cause. Maybe in 2008.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (32)

TIMES vs. TIMES....If you want a morsel of evidence showing that despite the incessant whining of the conservative commentariat the New York Times really is the most important newspaper in America, whereas nobody cares a whit about the Los Angeles Times, consider the varying fates of Paul Krugman and Arianna Huffington. Krugman writes columns that are feisty and tough, and, yes, perhaps sometimes shrill, and every time one comes out he is immediately set upon by an entire legion of conservative commentators.

Arianna Huffington, on the other hand, writes columns for the LA Times that are generally much nastier than Krugman's — today she interviews some psychiatrists to try and make the point that George Bush is clinically insane — and is generally greeted by yawns. The last time I read anybody complaining about her was a few months ago when she ran those SUV ads.

Just the perils of living on — or writing for — the West Coast, I suppose. But remember: as California goes, so goes the nation (eventually....) Ignore us at your peril.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (61)

June 17, 2003

THE WORST JOB IN THE WORLD?....The recall campaign against Gray Davis is moving along nicely, but Boomshock asks a question about a possible Davis replacement that I've been wondering about too:

Does anybody honestly believe that he or she will be able to turn this state around from a $35 billion deficit? Nearly impossible. Plus, even if a high-profile candidate such as The Terminator were to replace Davis, he'd still have to deal with a Democratic legislature. Practically impossible. Am I concerned about tax and fee hikes? Sure, but I've also embraced the inevitable.

I don't get it either. California is $38 billion in the hole, there's no way to get out without both tax increases and service cuts, and, yes, any Republican governor would have a dangerously resentful and pissed off Democratic legislature to deal with.

Who in their right mind would want this job?

(Yeah, Boomshock says $35 billion and I say $38 billion. Whatever. What's a few billion between friends?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (54)

GAY MARRIAGE UP NORTH....John Derbyshire warns us today against treating gay marriage as a "social science theorem," while Stanley Kurtz continues his ridiculous efforts to convince us that gay marriage will lead to rampant heterosexual adultery.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, gay marriage will soon be a reality in the socialist hell of Canada:

"We won't be appealing the recent decision on the definition of marriage. Rather, we'll be proposing legislation that will protect the right of churches and religious organizations to sanctify marriage as they define it. At the same time, we will ensure that our legislation includes and legally recognize the union of same-sex couples," [Prime Minister Jean Chrétien] said.

He said the government plans to move quickly on the bill, and then refer the legislation to the Supreme Court. After that, it will be put to a free vote in the House of Commons, Mr. Chrétien said.

"We don't want there to be a long period of uncertainty."

So I guess we'll know soon enough, won't we? If Canada falls apart at the seams, Stanley and John will be vindicated.

Of course, conservatives have long been in the habit of predicting both the breakdown of civilization and the end of the free market as the inevitable result of every piece of social liberalization or government regulation ever proposed, so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them to be right about this one. Their track record of doomsaying isn't really very good.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:24 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (19)

DONALD LUSKIN, VILLAGE IDIOT....I stopped reading Donald Luskin's dimwitted "Krugman Truth Squad" columns over at NRO a while back when it became clear that he wasn't to be taken any more seriously than Ann Coulter. But today Jesse Tayler had a short post about Luskin's latest column, and — foolishly — I clicked, and then clicked again, and soon enough I was hip deep in idiocy. Thanks a lot, Jesse.

Anyway, here is Krugman's column, which I suppose you ought to read first, and here is Luskin's reply. And here is E.J. Dionne's Washington Post column on the same subject, which Luskin quotes. Here's the story:

  • Luskin complains that Krugman doesn't identify either the House subcommittee or the "ranking Democrat" that he's talking about. Considering that Krugman is writing a 700-word opinion column — not a news story — and spends only two paragraphs on this, it's hard to see exactly what Luskin is upset about.

  • Luskin then names the ranking Democrat: Martin Olav Sabo. But Sabo's website doesn't even mention the amendment he supposedly introduced!

  • Next, he quotes Dionne saying that it was actually David Obey who introduced the amendment. But Obey isn't even on the subcommittee!

Idiot. David Obey is the ranking Democrat Krugman was talking about. He's the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and therefore entitled to sit on all subcommittees. Krugman and Dionne are in complete agreement.

And that was just the first paragraph. Luskin then goes on to complain about some other things Krugman said, all of which appear to be correct:

  • There was no reason to close the subcommittee meeting since classified material wasn't discussed. This is apparently true, since the Democrats unanimously voted to keep the meeting open. They can't all be traitors, can they?

  • The bill didn't contain Obey's proposed extra funding. Yep.

  • The homeland security budget is lower than last year. Also true, since Krugman is comparing the 2004 budget request to the entire 2003 budget, including supplemental appropriations.

Not only is Luskin too stupid to get his facts right about who sits on what subcommittee while simultaneously mocking Krugman, who said nothing wrong, but he then chastises Krugman for a further list of things that are essentially correct and certainly well within the normal rhetorical bounds of an opinion columnist. This is a fundamental problem with "Watch" columns, since the authors are constantly overreaching in order to prove that every single column and every single word their target writes is untrue. It's even worse, of course, when the author is an idiot.

I'll say it again: NRO should be ashamed to provide space to guys like this. I'm not on their side on much of anything, but even I think they're better than this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (23)

CALPUNDIT TRIES SOME POETRY HAIKU....

D-squared is troubled
He says: haiku rots the soul!
Go read his blog. Now.

Yes, I realize that not only is this not clever, but D²'s post practically begs for this response. But maybe I'll be the first!

Anyway, screw him. If the Japanese can translate iambic pentameter into their language, where it undoubtedly makes no sense at all, why can't we translate haiku into ours? Of course it's butt easy, that's the whole point for poetry challenged people like me, isn't it? If I'd had to write a sonnet in order to make this post, it just wouldn't have happened.

Besides, I liked this Windows haiku the first time I read it, and I still think it's pretty funny. So there.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (26)

QUICKSILVER....Short Hope Unfiltered reports that Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson's followup to the wonderful Cryptonomicon, is now available for pre-ordering on Amazon and will be available September 23rd.

About damn time, I say. If you ask me, we ought to pass a constitutional amendment requiring Stephenson to write faster.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:12 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (22)

DAY 64: STILL NO WMDs....Here are a few touchstones for determining if someone is an intellectual crank: belief in astrology, creationism, or the gold standard.

And here's one for intellectual consistency and honesty: believing that between Bill Clinton (Lewinskygate) and Ronald Reagan (Iran/Contra), either both or neither deserved to be impeached.

And now we have another one: were Iraq's WMDs important? I note, for example, that Glenn Reynolds has been gleefully covering the misreporting of the looted antiquities at the Baghdad Museum ("The academic community -- antiwar all along, and a bit too obviously looking for a way to make Bush and the war look bad -- shot itself in the foot, and will command much less respect on such topics in the future") but still declines to view the far more serious nonexistence of WMDs as anything more than a trivial matter.

I think this is a fundamental issue of credibility for pro-war partisans. Even if you believe that there were other good reasons to invade Iraq, the fact remains that WMDs were the primary reason put forward by both the president of the United States and the prime minister of Great Britain before the war started. As time goes by, it's beginning to look more and more like what happened was not just spin or exaggeration, but either deliberate misrepresentation or else a massive intelligence breakdown, and this has serious consequences. Does North Korea really have nuclear weapons? Is Iran working on a nuclear program? Does Syria have chemical weapons? Will anyone believe us again if we say so?

There are times when even partisans have to break ranks if they want to maintain credibility, and this is one of them. Whether or not Bush knowingly lied about Iraq's WMDs, committing the United States to war on — at best — shaky intelligence and false pretenses is something that should be taken seriously by everyone. So far, it hasn't been.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (171)

THE SIXTH AMENDMENT....Steven Den Beste ponders the relative importance of the First and Second Amendments:

Whether or not you think that our right to own firearms is a fundamental part of what maintains our freedom of speech and press and assembly, there can be no question that it is our First Amendment rights which give us the strongest ability to directly influence our government. Any given citizen only has one vote, but a persuasive speaker may influence many votes. And it is noteworthy that any autocracy always cracks down on free speech, free press, free assembly and private ownership of firearms in the early stages of establishing a police state.

Certainly there are no freedoms that Americans cherish more than those in the First and Second Amendments.

Nope. He's certainly right that the First Amendment freedoms are more crucial to our national character than the right to bear arms, but what tyrannies really crack down on first is free speech followed (or preceded) by the right to a fair trial.

That would be the Sixth Amendment, and no matter how fond you are of your guns, I hope that everyone recognizes that the right to a speedy and public trial is far more fundamental to freedom and liberty than gun ownership. Any country that has both a free press and a fair court system is probably going to muddle along pretty well regardless of their gun laws, but countries without either of those — Iraq, just to pull an example out of a hat — is a tyranny regardless of whether everyone owns an AK-47 and knows how to use it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:17 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (48)

GAY RIGHTS....Thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden for pointing out this TNR post that I missed while I was on vacation last week:

Today Joe Lieberman, along with Senator Mark Dayton and Congressman Barney Frank, introduced a bill extending domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian federal employees....That Lieberman is willing to join with the openly gay Barney Frank to propose a bill like this shows that he's not willing to tone down his support for gay rights in an effort to claim the family-values center. Good for him.

Gay marriage may still be highly controversial, but domestic partnership benefits are pretty widely supported and this is exactly the kind of issue that Democrats should be pushing. It's the right thing to do, it's a moderate stand that appeals to moderates, and Bush will have a hard time explaining why he's against it. It's a winner.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

June 16, 2003

BILL O'REILLY VS. THE INTERNET....Via Instapundit, here is Bill O'Reilly complaining that "nearly every famous person in the country's under siege" thanks to the internet:

The reason these net people get away with all kinds of stuff is that they work for no one. They put stuff up with no restraints. This, of course, is dangerous, but it symbolizes what the Internet is becoming.

Dangerous indeed! We're all putting stuff up with no restraints! None!

Jeez, what's the point of even mocking him over this when he's practically engaging in auto-mockery these days? He and Nora Vincent should start up their own internet whining club and be done with it.

UPDATE: Fearful Symmetry reports that our socialist brethren in the European Union are busily addressing Bill's concerns (scroll down to see it). Maybe he should move to France!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (44)

THE TRADE DEFICIT....Long term budget deficits are a bad thing, but when you get right down to it they aren't really that bad. This is true of lots of other economic trends as well: sure, they're bad, but they aren't catastrophic and in any case are eminently solvable with a bit of political willpower. (In short supply these days, I admit.)

In fact, a while back I mentioned in an email to Megan McArdle that there were only two economic trends that really worried me: growing income inequality and the skyrocketing the trade deficit. I've written a bunch about income inequality recently, and a few days ago Billmon tackled the problem of the trade deficit (which, by the way, is referred to by all cool people as the "current account deficit"). If you want to learn more about it, go read his post.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (12)

TOM DELAY, BIOLOGIST....I was reading this profile of Tom DeLay in the LA Times this morning and noticed something I didn't know: he has a BS in biology.

This is the same guy who explained the Columbine tragedy by saying, "Our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud." So I guess that means he doesn't believe in evolution, right?

That must be some biology degree he earned....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

IS HAMAS BACKING DOWN?....I rarely comment on the ongoing Israel/Palestinian violence, but this post from Tacitus seems awfully strange:

Any observations on a possible causal relationship between Israel's putting the smack down on Palestinian terror groups and their newfound willingness to consider a ceasefire? What "cycle of violence"?

Let's turn this around: do you think that Hamas' willingness to put the smack down on Israel over the past week was responsible for Sharon making his ceasefire proposal in the first place? Do you think that if Hamas raises the heat level even more, that maybe Israel will finally cave in and just withdraw from the West Bank?

No, I didn't think so. I am, as I've always been, puzzled by the general hawkish belief that if violence levels are ratcheted up just a little bit more the other guys will finally back down, even though no one ever thinks the same is true in the other direction. (The Japanese Empire learned the folly of this proposition starting on December 8, 1941.) As near as I can tell, violence ends in only two ways: (a) an all-out war in which one side annihilates its enemy (the Carthage/WWII model), or (b) everyone finally gets tired and begins slowly ratcheting the violence down. I suppose there must be plenty of counterexamples to such a sweeping statement, but none occur to me offhand.

If you think this is a pessimistic assessment of the situation, you're right. Unfortunately, I don't see any signs at the moment of either side finally getting tired, so I'm not really sure what the solution is. If anybody can think of one, let me know.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:19 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (24)

CRASHING APPLES....Here's an odd post from Virginia Postrel. She writes "Kudos to Apple" because they fixed her computer when its hard drive crashed, and then says this:

One piece of advice to Apple buyers: Always get the AppleCare. You're buying expensive hardware from a company that's best at software. Your computer almost certainly will need service.

So Apple makes crappy computers that are bound to fail, but at least they fix them when you take them in? Actually, I kinda doubt that Macintosh hard drives fail any more often than those on PCs, but even so this really doesn't seem like a great sales pitch.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (31)

GOD AND MAN IN EUROPE....I never cease to be amazed at the peculiar things that arouse the ire of writers over at NRO. Today, John Cullinan is upset that the new EU constitution doesn't mention God:

The proposed constitution greatly strengthens the EU's central bureaucratic mechanisms at the expense of state sovereignty and democratic accountability; but its most controversial feature is what's not included: any mention of Europe's Judeo-Christian heritage.

This omission was by no means an oversight. It was rather a deliberate policy decision by a militantly secularist elite determined to bring about a naked public square barring all opinions based on religious values.

My goodness, a "militantly secularist elite"? And they say Paul Krugman is shrill?

But here's what's weird. Cullinan goes on and on endlessly about the "hand-picked cabal" responsible for this outrage, his splenetic ranting apparently based solely on the absence of any mention of Christianity in the preamble to the constitution. But when I clicked the link and read the preamble for myself, I found that it says this:

Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious, and humanist inheritance of Europe....

Compare that to this famous preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So the EU preamble has more to say about religion than our own does.

Actually, the only problem with the EU preamble is that it's long and pompous. But surely, in a region that values religious tolerance — just like the United States — its constitution shouldn't favor one particular religion any more than it should favor one particular country or one particular brand of beer. If NRO doesn't like the EU constitution, they really need to find something more substantive to complain about than the junior high school level rantings on display here. It's embarrassing.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (19)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY....Today is my brother Steve's 42nd birthday. I don't know where he is these days or what he's doing (still teaching physics, I presume), but wherever and whatever, I hope he's well and having a good day.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

REPUBLICAN OVERREACH....As it turns out, blogging is probably going to be light for a while even though I'm no longer on vacation. I have to catch up on some work before an out of town guest arrives, and that means I actually have to work a little more diligently than I usually do when deadlines aren't looming.

However, as I was skimming through the blogs this weekend, I noticed this post from Matt Yglesias that I recommend. Matt was linking to a post by John Holbo, and both are scratching their heads trying to figure out just what the Republicans are up to these days. As John says, "I'm not usually the sort of Dem who habitually talks as if all Reps all want to melt down babies for Soylent Green for Halliburton," which makes it hard to figure out just what it is they do want.

Here's what I think is going on. A while back I had an email exchange with another blogger who said that the problem with Democrats is that they're under the misguided impression that their social policies are actually popular. So they keep banging away on guns and abortion and gays and they don't realize that the country just isn't with them.

As it happens, I don't agree with most of that, but let's leave it alone for now and apply the same thought to the Republicans. Every party in power eventually overreaches, and I think the Republicans are on the verge of doing this right now because they keep fooling themselves into thinking their economic policies are popular. But they aren't. Sure, no one wants to pay taxes, but eventually we'll have to make a choice between cutting taxes and cutting Social Security and Medicare and other programs, and Republicans are going to learn what they know in their hearts already: these programs are a lot more popular than tax cuts. When that day comes, the Republicans will be out on their ears.

I know conservatives hate to face up to this, and libertarians hate it even more, but the social safety net is really, really popular. You screw with it at your peril, and sometime soon it's going to become clear that Republicans have no support for a policy that's designed to cut back on them. The only question is, is "sometime soon" 2004 or 2008?

Matt is right about their foreign policy too, by the way. More about that later, but for now it's back to work for me.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:14 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (27)

VACATION UPDATE....Yes, I'm back. Actually, I was back on Friday, but I spent the weekend catching up on filing and research, so I didn't have any time for blogging.

And how was the trip? Not bad from a genealogy hobby point of view. We discovered a few new ancestors and learned quite a bit more about their lives in Denver around the turn of the century. Quite enlightening.

I won't bore you with any more about that, other than to remark that it's amusing how frequently families have legends about being related to famous people. My family, for example, has long had the vague idea that we are related to Mary Queen of Scots, and when I started doing genealogy a couple of years ago I discovered that my great-grandmother's name was, in fact, Mary Stuart, and if you trace her line back far enough and make about half a dozen heroic assumptions, it's possible that she really is descended from an illegitimate child of James V and thus tangentially related to the unlucky Mary herself. But probably not.

In Denver we read through some stuff about a relative via marriage named William Smith. William was originally from Aberdeen, so naturally it turns out that his family legend is that he's descended from the economist Adam Smith. Heck, they're both from Scotland and they're both named Smith! What more do you need?

Still, I suppose it's harmless, and nowhere near as bad as the friend of my mother's who insists that she can trace her family tree back to Jesus....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (24)

June 09, 2003

VACATION....I'll be on vacation all this week. My mother and I are heading off to Albuquerque and Denver to do a little bit of digging into our family history.

Blogging will resume next weekend.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (37)

June 08, 2003

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REDUX....Based on some of the comments to my post below about medical malpractice, I just want to make few additional miscellaneous remarks:

  • The overall rate of growth of malpractice payouts over the past decade has been less than the rate of medical inflation. Since this includes all payouts, including big ones, the insurance industry really has no basis for an overall complaint about skyrocketing damage awards.

  • Some states have high payout levels, but by itself that may not mean much. Some states are just more expensive than others, and as long as their growth rate is in line with inflation, there's no real crisis. Likewise, some states have high growth rates of payouts, but sometimes that's because their payout rate a decade ago was extremely low. If high growth is only bringing a state up to the average level, that's not necessarily a danger sign either.

    If you have both high payouts and a high growth rate, however, that's almost certainly a danger sign. Delaware appears to be in a class by itself on this score.

  • There was tremendous competition in the malpractice insurance market in the 90s, with many companies pricing coverage at well under market rates. When this bubble burst and companies exited the market in droves, rates went up dramatically. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's anything wrong with the court system, it just means that doctors now have to pay the rates they should have been paying all along. That's painful, but it's hardly a reason to beg for government-mandated payout caps.

Payout caps are not a black and white issue, and the important thing is to understand the costs on both sides. Even if caps do hold down awards, it's also true that they prevent some seriously injured people from collecting reasonable damages. Is $250,000 enough for someone who's paralyzed for life? To most people that seems patently unfair, and it's not at all clear that results like that are worth the rather moderate effect on overall rates that caps produce. There are some cases where large awards are warranted, and caps prevent judges and juries from making equitable judgments in these cases. Is that fair, even if it does save some money?

Overall, I'm not very sympathetic to the argument for caps, especially since insurance companies routinely refuse to commit to limits on premiums in return for getting them. And it doesn't make things better that the loudest argument in favor of them is "frivolous lawsuits," a complete red herring.

In fact, it almost seems to be a law these days that the most effective argument for something is the very argument that has the least real value to it. I wonder if this has always been the case?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

THE 22nd AMENDMENT....You know, Clinton and Dole really need to find something a little more....um, serious to talk about in their 60 Minutes debates. Surely there's got to be a few genuine issues out there for them to talk about?

Oh, and it would be nice if they picked ones they actually disagreed about.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:37 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (2)

ANY TAKERS?....As a way of building traffic, Dan Gelfand is looking for someone to have a nasty and pointless blog-fight with. Head on over to his site if you'd like to take him on.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (5)

PAYOUT CAPS AND MEDICAL MALPRACTICE....WARNING: Extreme tedium ahead!

A few days ago I wrote a post about a study on medical malpractice premiums done by Weiss Ratings. You should read that post before you go any further in this one. I'll wait.

On Friday I spoke to Stephanie Eakins, a financial analyst at Weiss who was one of the co-authors of the report. I asked why they used medians, and she said they were trying to show norms, not total payouts. But the whole point of caps on malpractice payouts is that they prevent a small number of extremely high awards, something that's completely missed by looking at medians. Don't you need to look at total payouts?

Long story short, Eakins said the data showed that payouts haven't increased, I said it really didn't, she said they thought they could measure payouts with medians, and again I said that you really couldn't. "You don't seem very satisfied with that," she said, and I had to agree.

"We just don’t think caps are the be all and end all," she said, "We do think caps can be a part of reform." Now, I certainly agree with that, and in fact I think the Weiss report does a good job of pointing out a host of other factors that are probably more important to the malpractice crisis than payout caps. But even so, we're still left with the question of whether caps have any effect on reducing medical malpractice payouts.

So Eakins referred me to Robert Oshel, an associate director in the Division of Practitioner Data Banks of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. He sent me the raw data for payouts for 1991-2002 and I decided to stick it in a spreadsheet and take a look at it myself.

And here's my conclusion: I still don't know what the hell is going on. Here are a few specific points, though:

  • The statistic you want to look at is average malpractice payout per doctor, and to take into account the possible effect of a small number of very large payouts, you want to use the mean, not the median. Has that number gone up faster or slower in states with payout caps?

  • Answer: in states with caps, it's gone up 24% and in states without caps it's gone up 54%. So caps appear to have had some effect on keeping down payouts.

  • OK, but how about the cost of premiums compared to the average payout per doctor? You'd expect that the higher the average payout, the higher the premium. So let's take a look at the ratio of premiums to payouts.

  • It's just the opposite of what you'd expect: in states with caps, premiums are higher, and the ratio is increasing faster than in states without caps.

Does this mean that in states with caps the insurance companies are making a killing (low payouts, high premiums)? Or does it mean that in states without caps insurance companies are going broke (high payouts, low premiums)?

Beats me. As near as I can tell, the cost of malpractice premiums has virtually nothing to do with actual payouts. And one thing I can tell you for sure is that payouts per doctor haven't really gone up that much. In Pennsylvania, for example, currently in the middle of a big tort reform battle, average payout per doctor has gone up about 75% since 1991. This is exactly the rate of medical inflation. So while average payouts in Pennsylvania are indeed quite high, they're actually the same now as they were in 1991 adjusted for inflation. So where's the crisis?

POSTSCRIPT: None of this takes into account the fact that certain medical specialties may be hit a lot harder than others. It just shows overall payouts. However, even if certain specialties are hit harder than others, if the problems were serious I'd expect them to at least show up as a blip in the rates of increase. That doesn't seem to be the case.

And a bit ironically, even though I think the Weiss methodology was wrong, my conclusions ended up about the same as theirs. Funny how that happens.



One final thing. In an effort to either ask a pretty good question or else expose the depth of my ignorance, there was one part of the data that I found especially perplexing. I expected that average premiums (per doctor) and average payouts (per doctor) should be roughly the same. After all, if the average doctor in the average year is going to be responsible for $1,000 in malpractice payouts, then his average premium ought to be about $1,000.

But it's not. In fact, premiums are higher than payouts by a factor of about 4, and in many cases by factors as high 10 or 15, which means that insurance companies ought to be making a killing. Something is wrong with this picture, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

If anyone feels like looking at this data themselves, here are the sources:

These data sources aren't perfect. The Weiss data on premiums, for example, shows medians, not means. However, in the case of premiums my guess is that means and medians are fairly close. The data on doctors is also a little loose, since it's impossible to say how many of them are practicing doctors, but I imagine the error is fairly consistent from state to state. And finally, the doctor information is for 1990 and 1998, not 1991 and 2002, but again, I imagine that the differences are small.

Overall, my guess is that this data is not perfect but is pretty close. If anyone can make more sense of it than me, please feel free to have at it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:43 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (28)

POSTWAR IRAQ....According the Washington Post, Ahmed Chalabi and his crew aren't going to get the chance to run Iraq the way they were hoping:

The decision not to hand over power to the former opposition leaders through a hastily formed transitional government, which U.S. officials here said was made by the White House, means the United States will occupy Iraq much longer than initially planned, acting as the ultimate authority for governing the country until a new constitution is authored, national elections held and a new government installed. One senior U.S. official here predicted that process could last two years or more.

"The idea that some in Washington had -- that we would come in here, set up the ministries, turn it all over to the seven and get out of Dodge in a few months -- was unrealistic," the official said.

"We gave them a chance," the official said. "We bankrolled some of them. But they just couldn't get their act together. It was amateur hour."

"Some in Washington," by the way, means "Donald Rumsfeld and his gang at the Pentagon."

I have to say that in some ways the White House is exceeding my earlier meager expectations. Having first gotten rid of Jay Garner and now following it up by sidelining the Rumsfeld/Chalabi axis, Bush is showing a welcome ability to react to the predictable failure of the neocons' naive plans for a tidal wave of democracy in the Middle East. Good for him.

The next test is to see just how serious he is about postwar Iraq, something that will be determined by (a) his willingness to keep substantial troop strengh in Iraq through the end of the year and beyond, and (b) his willingness to change his tone and work to increase the level of support from the rest of the world. Both of these things carry considerable risks, but there's really no other option if he's serious about reforming Iraq. We'll be watching.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:22 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

BUSH AND POLITICS....Neal Gabler has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today that describes the Bush administration pretty well:

In his administration, politics seem less a means to policy than policy is a means to politics. Its goal is not to further the conservative revolution as advertised. The presidency's real goal is to disable the Democratic opposition, once and for all.

This has become a presidential mission partly by default. Bush came to the presidency with no commanding ideology, no grand crusade. He was in league with conservatives, but he was no fire-breather. For him, conservatism seemed a convenience — the only path to the Republican nomination. One is hard-pressed to think of a single position Bush took during the 2000 campaign, save for his tax cuts, much less a full program.

I don't expect Gabler's argument to mean anything to Bush supporters, of course, but I've felt this way about Bush almost from the beginning. He's a furious political animal who is uninterested in compromise and whose main goal is to defeat his enemies, not advance a cause. Ideology is actually secondary, and is useful mainly as a way to batter his political opposites.

Although this has been evident in a number of battles, nowhere was it more striking than in the runup to the Iraq war. From the very beginning, it was clear that Bush wasn't trying to build bipartisan support, the normal course for a president embarking on a foreign war, but was using it as a partisan club and a campaign issue, a way of dividing the Democrats and making them look weak on national security. It's true that it's been a while since politics truly stopped at the water's edge, but Bush has well and truly put that particular political maxim to bed once and for all.

The 2004 election is going to be one of the nastiest on record, I think. I hope the Democratic nominee is up to it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:28 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (8) | Comments (49)

June 07, 2003

NIGHTMARES....Jeez, now my blog is giving people nightmares? I guess I wouldn't mind so much if it were giving nightmares to the right people, but I have a feeling those people don't read my blog. Do you, George?

(And don't anyone tell Justene, but I paid Sekimori Design to port my blog from Blogspot to Movable Type. That's why it looked so easy.)

UPDATE: The move is now complete and Calblog has a new address:

www.calblog.com

Adjust your bookmarks.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (3)

NEW YORK TIMES ROUNDUP....Jim Henley has this to say about the New York Times:

Righties like Alan [Sullivan] are convinced that the media is reflexively liberal, lefties like Avedon Carol are as certain it serves its right wing masters. Me, I think the media just sucks, and has a statist, not necessarily liberal, tilt built into its very structure.

Of course it does, Jim. I've come to realize that the Times isn't really a newspaper at all, it's the perfect political Rorschach test: just ask someone to read a copy, note down what they mumble irritably about, and then take the mirror image. That's their political leaning.

Of course, there's little doubt that Times reporters really do trend pretty liberal socially, but I wonder if conservatives realize how lucky they are that this is so? (Aside from giving them a good punching bag, of course.) I figure that the mostly Southern, mostly rural, mostly Christian mega-conservatives — the rightmost 15% or so of the country — that are covered so poorly by the Times are actually a pretty scary bunch to most Americans. So while it's true that Times reporting of this group might indeed be rare and condescending, that's actually better than being frequent and enthusiastic. If they got the coverage they deserved, Republicans probably wouldn't win another election for the next 50 years.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds, offering the Times some otherwise interesting advice, says, laughably:

Where are the Ken Laynes, the Mark Steyns, etc. at the Times? The Times has been an intellectual and political monoculture for a long time, and that makes it hard for it to engage in the kind of critical evaluation of its own coverage that's necessary if it wants to be a real national paper, rather than a northeastern city paper with national aspirations.

Are its critics really so blinded that they are under the impression that the Times is just some provincial broadsheet desperately trying to get some recognition in the world? How about a little perspective here?

As for me, I hope the Times doesn't cave in to its right wing critics. Over at RealClear Politics, for example, John McIntyre says that the problem is that the Times has "drifted from the center-left to the hard-left," using a definition of "hard-left" that seemingly includes anyone who thought we should give UN inspectors more time in Iraq. There are damn few combative liberal voices left in the mainstream American press, and I hope the Times holds onto what's left of the ones it has. If they cave in, who's left?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (49)

GLOBALIZATION....In an interesting post about globalization and capital mobility — in which I guess I come out as a 4-day-a-week globalist — John Quiggin says this:

Even more, I'm struck by the failure of the world's most sophisticated financial markets in their basic task, that of allocating funds for investment. Governments have wasted a lot of money on silly projects, but the dissipation of a trillion dollars in the space of a couple of years on valueless dotcoms and redundant optical fibre is a record that is not going to be matched any time soon. And as far as rent-seeking goes, the amount creamed off in this process by people whose contribution was entirely negative gives the Mobutus and Saddams of this world a fair run for their money.

Now, I really do believe that free markets are generally the most efficient allocators of economic resources (and I imagine that John does too), but his point is one that I've also marveled at, and not just because of the dotcom boom. As near as I can tell, international financial institutions are, in reality, just about worst judgers of risk imaginable, whose only real rule seems to be, "If everyone else is lending, then so should we, and if no one else is lending, then we shouldn't either."

This is a good example, I think, of a place where moderate government intervention is well justified. Things like fixed exchange rates or dollarization don't seem to work, but unfettered capital movements all too often result in a boom/bust cycle that seems wholly unnecessary. Something in the middle, that allows markets to work but prevents them from nearly destroying entire countries seems eminently reasonable.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:08 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (9)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TED....It's Ted Barlow's birthday. Go wish him the best!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (0)

MILITARY OVEREXTENSION....Tacitus points out today — correctly, I think — that our military is vastly overextended. It's one thing to fight a war, it's quite another to have half the active army committed to a long-term occupation of a medium sized country. But what options do we have?

There's a few choices here, none of them good: We can undercommit to our commitments; we can continue to abuse the Guard and Reserve system until it falls apart; or we can resume a draft. Any bets as to which we'll do?

Since this is one of my hobbyhorses, and this is my blog after all, I'm going to repeat that there is another option here: get the rest of the world involved. If George Bush had been more patient and more willing to compromise, I think there's a good chance we would eventually have gotten UN (and world) support for a war in Iraq and we wouldn't have to be patrolling the entire country ourselves. We'd still have a big role to play, and it would still be a big problem for us, but it would be more manageable than it is now.

That's why the rest of the world matters and why we should listen to them. It might mean that we can't always do everything we want, but the reality is that we can't anyway. The sooner we learn this, the better.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:10 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

HATE CRIMES....Matt Yglesias linked last night to a post by Matt Singer defending hate crimes legislation, saying that Matt S. "makes a strong case" for them.

Matt makes two arguments. First, while many crimes are motivated by hate, "hate crimes," like terrorism, are designed to generate fear, not just to attack a single person, and this makes them worse. Second, although it's true that hate crimes legislation punishes people more harshly because of what they think, motivation is a factor in the punishment of many crimes. Why not take it into account in this case as well?

I'm not quite as sanguine about Matt's second argument as he is, since the example of Europe shows that laws against hate crimes can rather easily morph into laws against hate speech, which I think are far more invidious. Still, the First Amendment probably protects us against that in the United States, so it's not a decisive concern.

But there's a third argument against hate crimes legislation, and it's the one that I find persuasive: who decides if something is a hate crime?

The hate crimes that make the front page are the obvious ones: Matthew Shephard being bludgeoned and left to die, or a Klan member burning a cross on someone's lawn and then attacking them. Those are easy.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of hate crimes are likely to be far more subtle, and there's a danger that prosecutors and juries will eventually trivialize the entire notion by continually pushing the envelope on the definition of "hate." Domestic violence? Rape? Any crime against a minority? An email written five years ago? Unfortunately, these definitions do tend to expand with time, and this makes me especially uneasy since it's people's thoughts that we're legislating against.

It's true that juries are asked to examine motivations all the time, and perhaps I'm being too wary of a slippery slope here. But I'm nervous in the first place about the possibility of punishing people additionally for their political thoughts and social psychoses, and the possibility that the scope of hate crimes might expand far beyond what most of us think is reasonable makes me even more nervous.

Put me down as tentatively against.

UPDATE: TalkLeft has more.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (54)

THE GUARDIAN APOLOGIZES....I criticized the Guardian a few days ago for running both the (apparently) bogus Jack Straw/Colin Powell story and the Paul Wolfowitz translation. Today they explain themselves in a lengthy article. Here's the end:

There is no total satisfaction in these situations. The story should not have run. In view of the significance of the statements attributed to Mr Wolfowitz, rigorous checking should have taken place. The hazard of translating remarks from German back into the English in which they were originally made should have been apparent.

It concluded a week in which the Guardian apologised to the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, for locating him at a meeting he did not attend. It has not been the best of weeks.

The Guardian deserves a lot of credit for printing this. American newspapers frequently print corrections, but rarely do they explain exactly what happened, what the reaction was, or express any genuine sense that they screwed up. Kudos to the Guardian for doing all these things.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (11)

OPEN SOCIETY....Billionaire George Soros is leaving Russia because there's someplace else that needs his help more:

After 15 years and $1 billion in charity, international financier and philanthropist George Soros bid an emotional farewell to Russia on Thursday, saying it was time to focus his efforts on a nation more in need of help -- America.

"I was led to come to Russia because of my concern for a prospering open society," Soros told students and journalists at the Higher School of Economics, which was created with his funding. "But now I have to concentrate on what goes on in America. The fight for an open society now has to be fought there," he said.

Glad to hear it. Maybe in another decade or so we'll manage to have a society as open as Russia's.

Sheesh.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (21)

June 06, 2003

SCLM UPDATE....Hey, the media isn't liberal anymore! Busy, Busy, Busy has the evidence, straight from Fox News' finest!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (12)

HISTORIC MATCHUPS....Outside the Beltway links to a poll from Fox News saying that in a hypothetical presidential contest George W. Bush would defeat Bill Clinton 53% to 32%.

Why conduct such a silly survey? Because Clinton recently said he thought the 22nd Amendment should be repealed, so, you know, there's a hook there of some kind. With that in mind, how about some other matchups?

  • If the "natural born" clause were repealed, how would Henry Kissinger do against George Bush?

  • If the age requirement were repealed, how would Chelsea Clinton do against George Bush? How about Jenna Bush?

  • If the requirement to be a citizen were repealed, how would Tony Blair do against George Bush?

  • If the requirement to be a human being were repealed, how would Shamu do against George Bush?

  • If the electoral college were abolished, how would Al Gore do against George Bush. Oops, I guess we already know that one.

Other suggestions are welcome.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (29)

TROUBLE SPOTS....What a mess. I suppose the world is always a mess, really, but quite aside from everything happening in the Middle East there sure seem to be an unusually large number of trouble spots right now.

In Myanmar, the thuggish generals who run the place have once again placed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. This is one of the nastiest little regimes on the planet.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe defies belief by getting even worse with time. He has kicked out all foreign journalists, arrested the opposition leader, and has more or less warned potential demonstrators that they will be slaughtered if they take to the streets.

In the Congo, the killing continues apace and it would almost certainly take at least 50,000 troops to put a stop to it. So far there's less than 10% that many there.

Groups like Amnesty International do what they can in situations like this, and their work is worthwhile. Mocking them is like refusing to donate to a cancer fund because, after all, a hundred bucks isn't going to cure cancer. But at least it's something.

On the other hand, it's surely true that pressure at the national and international level is the only way to really make a difference. But short of war, which few seem to have the stomach for in cases like these, the usual answer is economic sanctions, and I've always wondered just how effective these really are. Historically, what's the success rate for import bans, asset seizures, travel restrictions, and the like?

Still, unless there's evidence that economic sanctions actually make things worse, that's the way to go until the world community is ready to send in troops to these places in large numbers. Congress is ready to do just that in the case of Myanmar, and here's hoping it works. Nothing else seems to.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:00 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (20)

DOUBLE TAXATION?....Need another reason to be pissed off about the Bush tax cut for the super-rich? Look no further. Paul Krugman's column today pointed out something I didn't know, and it's pretty important. I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more attention.

One of the problems with having different tax rates on different types of income is that instead of encouraging economically productive behavior, it sometimes encourages people to simply shift income around into the lowest tax vehicle available. Cutting dividend taxes has exactly this potential for business owners: since high incomes are taxed at the personal rate of 35%, why not simply pay yourself (or others) a dividend instead of a straight salary? Dividend income is now taxed at only 15%, after all, and the difference between a salary and a dividend is surprisingly subtle.

In the original Bush proposal, this wasn't possible because the dividend tax reduction applied only to companies that reported profits at least equal to the dividends being distributed. You couldn't just set up a bogus tax shelter because it would have to show a profit and pay federal tax before distributing a dividend. Alternatively, if the shelter didn't show a profit, then the dividends would be taxed at the old rate. In both cases the total tax take would end up being about the same as the personal tax rate, so what's the point?

With me so far? Here's the kicker: in the final tax bill, the profitability requirement was removed. As Krugman says:

The tax cut — originally billed as a way to reduce abuses — may well usher in a golden age of tax evasion. We can be sure that lawyers and accountants are already figuring out how to disguise income that should be taxed at a 35 percent rate as dividends that are taxed at only 15 percent. Since there's no need to show that tax was ever paid on profits, tax shelters should be easy to construct.

Back in January the Wall Street Journal assured us that the dividend tax cut would apply only to companies that paid taxes. Not only was this because the noble purpose behind it was to eliminate the dread "double taxation," but it had the side benefit of forcing companies to prove they had earnings, thus introducing a bit of much needed "sunshine" into corporate accounts.

In the end, the sunshine is gone and we've done far more than eliminate double taxation. In the case of corporations — such as Treasury Secretary John Snow's CSX — that pay low or no taxes already, the dividend tax cut means that we've eliminated practically all taxation on a broad swath of income. Who are the lucky duckies now?

UPDATE: Just in case you're wondering: yes, the whole thing is actually more complicated than this — but that's why God invented tax lawyers, right? Some of this abuse could have happened even with the profitability requirement, but without it the sky is, potentially, the limit.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (34)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....A mockingbird has been visiting us recently, relentlessly mocking our cats with loud calls and aggressive divebombing expeditions. Jasmine, up a tree on the left, is determined to put a stop to this insulting behavior. So far, her lack of wings has prevented any semblance of success.

Inkblot, typically, doesn't really care. You've got to stop and smell the roses sometimes in life, and even if he doesn't know a rose from a camellia he's pretty determined to make this his life motto. (Actually, "stop to smell the cat food" is probably closer to the truth.)

And for those of you who like both cats and the 2nd Amendment, Jane Finch has your bonus cat picture today.

UPDATE: The Springfield Technical Community College Library weblog (yes, really) reminds us that June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month. Potential adoptees (for Massachusetts residents, anyway) are here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (8)

BLOGS AND HOWELL RAINES....Nick Denton has a different take on the resignation of Howell Raines at the New York Times. He says Raines was trying to shake things up, and the real power of the internet is that it allowed disgruntled employees to resist the shakeup:

Let's face it: most people are disaffected. They're paid too little, promoted too slowly, passed over, humiliated. They haven't realized their dreams, and they blame everyone around them, and above them in particular. Apart from conservative opportunists, who wanted Raines out of the Times? Duh. The old farts who'd lost out to him in the power struggle, the pedestrian reporters who resented the paper's cult of soaring writing, and those whose metabolisms would never achieve the speed Raines wanted.

He'd lost the confidence of the newsroom? As if the happiness of the workers is far more important than the satisfaction of the readers. Give me a break. Raines, sometimes crassly, was trying to institute change; the organizational reactionaries didn't like it. In a previous era, a manager would have been able to execute the ringleaders, and ride out the discontent. But Raines was up against a powerful combination of old labor unionism, and the new industrial action: a leak to a weblog, tittle-tattle over the IM, whispered conversations to Howard Kurtz.

It's an interesting thought, and similar to the questions about Donald Rumsfeld's style at the Pentagon: is he disliked by the brass because he's trying to shake up an entrenched bureaucracy, or is he disliked by the brass because he doesn't know what he's talking about? It's hard to say, isn't it?

But was it really blogs that brought down Howell Raines? I continue to be skeptical of blog triumphalism and I have to wonder if it was really as important in this case as people are making it out to be. Journalism is a tight knit community, and I have a feeling that the hail of criticism directed at Raines from the journalism community would have been the same regardless of the internet. The internet made it more public, but when you get right down to it, the criticism from his peers was a whole lot more important than the fact that people like me got to listen in to the scuttlebutt. Remember, Trent Lott wasn't the first politician forced to resign over a scandal and Howell Raines isn't the first editor.

Anyway, that's how I feel on even-numbered days. On odd-numbered days I think that the "death by a thousand cuts" theory of blog influence has something to it. In other words, I guess I really don't know.

(On the other hand, I do think that blogs can transform internal business communications — to employees, to resellers, to suppliers, etc. However, when I've mentioned this to friends of mine in marketing departments, I just get blank stares. Blogs obviously still have a ways to go.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:09 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

MORE REPUBLICAN INSANITY....California's lovable Republican leadership is getting desperate:

The state Senate Republican leader threatened lawmakers in his party this week that he will fight to end their political careers if they vote for tax increases to close California's $38.2-billion budget gap.

In a closed-door joint Senate and Assembly GOP caucus meeting, Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday told colleagues that he will come to their districts and seek their defeats in their next elections if they vote for tax hikes.

Brulte even brought in a mock political advertisement that he said would be mailed to voters of traitorous party members with money he would raise.

Lovely. The state Republicans are still hunkering down, of course, trying to pretend that we can close a $38 billion budget gap without any tax increases. This goes to show how far Republicans have moved to the right just since 1991, when Pete Wilson proposed a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to bail us out of our last budget crisis.

The worst part of it, I think, is my perennial complaint about Republicans: they claim to want spending cuts but refuse to say what they want to cut. Our latest budget crisis is now about eight months old, but the Republican leadership still hasn't presented a plan that would cut $38 billion from the budget. They talk big, and they like to score political points, but they won't put their money where their mouths are. Cowards.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (27)

DEMOCRATIC COMPUTER WOES....Tapped links today to a (subscription only) Roll Call story about problems the Democratic party is having updating its ancient and creaky computer systems. Given the importance of database marketing these days, you'd think that modernizing these systems would be a slam dunk priority, but apparently not:

The huge database, containing an estimated 150 million voters and known within the party as "Demzilla," has become a sore spot for some state parties and interest groups who say they were not adequately consulted during its development.

This sounds like a familiar story to me. The company I used to work for relied on a network of distributors and resellers, and they were all fantastically protective about sharing customer names. Their fear was that we would send out marketing material that would, somehow, cause them problems (perhaps announcing an upgrade that they weren't yet ready to support, for example).

I imagine something similar is at work here, with state Democratic parties afraid that the national committee will send out a mass mailing that offends Dems in their particular state, or that they will poach donors who might otherwise donate money directly to the state committees.

These fears have to be taken into account, but fundamentally TAPPED is right:

Past experience shows that only parties with big, up-to-date voter databases are capable of waging and winning effective, coordinated national campaigns. Let's hope the state party chairs get their heads out of their arses.

Like it or not, big, modern, centralized voter databases and marketing operations are the lifeblood of politics today. The state Democratic parties need to realize that.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:13 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (7)

PROPOSITION 13....Via Calblog, I discover that not only is today the anniversary of D-Day, it's also the anniversary of Proposition 13, which instituted California's famous property tax limits.

Prop 13 is a pretty good example of the law of unintended consequences. It did reduce property taxes, and thus reduced a considerable load of middle class anxiety caused by skyrocketing property values, but it also transferred a lot of power from local cities and counties to the state as local property tax revenues dried up. Prop 13 isn't the only culprit in this shift, but Sacramento has a lot more power in local affairs today than it did 25 years ago. That's something that conservatives, at least, ought to be wary of.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (13)

June 05, 2003

HILLARY-NRO SMACKDOWN!....What is today's most important story? Hillary Clinton, of course, at least if NRO is to be believed. They have an entire category devoted to Hillary today, with a full four articles in it. Their interest in Iraq, conversely, has dwindled to the point where the "At War" section only has two entries.

Four articles! Let's see what they have to say about the burning question of whether Hillary knew that Bill was having an affair with Monica Lewinsky:

  • Ramesh Ponnuru: "...I don't believe it for a minute. Maybe it's partisanship, and maybe it's Clinton-hating paranoia — but I doubt it."

  • Mark Levin: "This is just the latest in her unending line of deceptions."

  • Kathryn Jean Lopez: "Not quite a damsel in distress. But a distressed wife sells better than an all-business partner in politics when you're Senator Clinton, running for president."

  • Dick Morris: "Did Hillary believe her husband's denials? Come on. Get real. If Winona Ryder were caught running out of Bloomingdale's clutching an Armani dress with neither a receipt nor a bag, would you assume she hadn't shoplifted?"

Not a single one of them believes her! Imagine that.

But did they really need four separate people to write four separate columns saying that Hillary lied in four separate ways? I guess Howell Raines isn't the only editor who knows how to flood the zone.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (74)

TALK RADIO UPDATE....Yes, Michael Savage is a very bad man, and all right thinking people already know that his employment by MSNBC is a both a mystery and an abomination.

Still, even for us bitter, hardened, cynical liberals who swear that nothing about right wing talk radio can surprise us anymore — well, Savage still manages to surprise us. The Mighty Reason Man has the latest.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (80)

COMMENTS REDUX....My post yesterday about comment sections on blogs was just an offhand thing, but Stentor Danielson decided to put it to the test. Today he claims that contrary to the small sample of blogs I used, a more, um, rigorous survey shows that 52% of lefty blogs have comments while 62% of righty blogs have comments.

You can inspect his methodology here, and since he has comments himself, you can also comment at his site on his comment methodology.

And that's enough of that.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:31 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (34)

INSANE REPUBLICANS?....Justene Adamec over at Calblog has been blogging about the Republican effort to recall Governor Gray Davis for quite a while, something I orginally scoffed at. "Every governor in California has been the target of a recall effort," I told her, "and this one won't go any farther than the others."

Luckily, I don't get paid for political prognostication:

At first, the effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis looked ineffectual; now a special election seems inevitable. The team that helped Davis win reelection has assembled to do battle, and California political insiders are saying a vote to decide the governor's fate is a done deal.

....If Davis is recalled and replaced with a Republican governor, will Democrats target GOP lawmakers and engage in a tit-for-tat retaliation? Will Republicans then feel forced to respond in kind? Could a successful recall also be the kickoff of an era of even pettier and more destructive partisan bickering...?

As Justene reports, the recall forces now have 500,000 signatures and are well on their way to their goal of 900,000. Sure, we had an election just seven months ago, but it looks like we'll get another one later this year. Happy days.

This was why I had to laugh a couple of weeks ago when Megan McArdle proposed:

Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

Megan had mentioned to me a while back that evidence of Democratic insanity was the filibuster over Miguel Estrada, and my thought at the time was "Hmmm, the Republicans launched a hopeless and unprecedented impeachment attempt against a sitting president, while the Dems are trying to block a circuit court nominee. Somehow these don't seem like they're even in the same ballpark, insanity-wise."

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we all watched the spectacle of Republican legislatures in both Colorado and Texas trying to ram through completely unprecendented mid-decade redistricting efforts, and shortly we'll have Republicans in California ramming through an unprecedented recall effort against a governor who was elected a mere 28 weeks ago.

I'm as tired as anyone of Democrats who continue to obsess over the 2000 election fiasco, but when it comes to "insane" I have to say that the Republicans still have us beat by a country mile. Blocking a couple of judges doesn't come close to the bile coming from a party that already controls the presidency, both houses of Congress, and the courts, but still isn't satisfied. I'm afraid the Dems still have a long way to go in the political insanity derby if they want to measure up to the standard set by today's Republicans.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (109)

THE BRITISH PRESS....A few days ago I blogged about a story in the Guardian reporting that Colin Powell and Jack Straw had met in New York in February and had expressed doubts about the quality of the intelligence reports they were using. Today the Guardian retracted the story: "Mr Straw has now made it clear that no such meeting took place. The Guardian accepts that and apologises for suggesting it did."

Also today, the Guardian removed from its website yesterday's story that contained the mistranslation of Paul Wolfowitz's remarks. Bad day for the Guardian.

However, there is one odd thing about all this: they didn't remove that first story, the way they did with the second one. And the retraction is very low key: they accept that the meeting never took place, but they don't actually say that Powell and Straw didn't have doubts about the intelligence reports.

There's something fishy about this. What was their source for this story? Was it completely bogus, or was only the report of the meeting wrong? Was it a phone call, not a meeting? And if the story was completely wrong, why not remove it from their website? I have a feeling there's a little more to be learned about this.

And here's a thought: I've been trying to figure out what the British press reminds me of, and I think I have it now: they remind me of blogs. It's not just that they're sensationalistic and partisan — there are American newspapers that fit that description too — it's that they seem willing to print pretty much any rumor from anywhere without bothering to check it. If it's wrong — well, tomorrow's another day.

Say what you will about the American press, but they do mostly try to verify the information they print. From now on, at least mentally, I'm going to think of the British press as guardian.blogspot.com, telegraph.blogspot.com, etc. That seems like the appropriate level of skepticism.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

June 04, 2003

COMMENTS....JoeF of Apathy, Inc left a comment over at Matt Yglesias' site that piqued my curiosity:

One thing I've noticed in my travels of the blogosphere (limited as they might be) is that comments are far more common on liberal blogs than conservative blogs. I can understand Instapundit giving comments up, as it sounds like they were very out of hand there...but it seems like nearly every big conservative/libertarian blog is comments-free. It's frustrating as heck to be unable to respond to people.

Is that true? I'd peg the top six conservative/libertarian/pro-war sites to be Instapundit, Sullivan, Lileks, LGF, Volokh, and Den Beste. Only one of those six allows comments (although perhaps LGF makes up for all the rest?)

On the liberal side, I'd guess that the half-dozen most popular sites are Atrios, KOS, Marshall, me, Yglesias, and Max. Five out of six allow comments.

I can't say for sure that my dozen choices are the right ones, but I'm probably not too far off the mark and the difference in comment friendliness is indeed remarkably clear cut. I wonder what accounts for this, or if it's just some weird coincidence?

UPDATE: More here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (91)

CORKED BATS....Mindles Dreck points out some awkward timing by the House of Representatives on Monday. Sometimes you just can't win.

And speaking of Sammy Sosa (although you wouldn't know that if you didn't click on the link above), last night the sports guy on Channel 5 told the story about Sammy's corked bat and then did a little chitchat with the anchors. Hal Fishman, Mrs. Calpundit's favorite anchor, asked (more or less) "But accusations of cheating aren't fair, are they? How is he supposed to know what's inside his bat?"

As near as I can tell, he was serious.

UPDATE: Apparently they've checked all 76 of Sosa's other bats and found no cork in any of them. So maybe it was just an honest mistake.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

WOLFOWITZ....Why did I take the time to set the record straight on the Wolfowitz quote in the post just below? Aside from my well-known dedication to truth and light, the reason is simple: I don't like to see liberals make fools of themselves, and the Guardian's version of the quote was so obviously wrong that accepting it was just a setup for trouble.

(I saw it first this morning at Road to Surfdom, which expressed appropriate skepticism, then over at KOS, which was somewhat less skeptical, and then at Counterspin, which wasn't skeptical at all. Finally, after reading this post at Instapundit and then going back to Surfdom for the links, I wrote my post.)

But why "obviously" wrong? Can I illustrate with a little dramatic presentation? Pretend that the following top secret conversation took place in the Oval Office sometime last year:

BUSH: How about WMD?

WOLFOWITZ: No, Tenet says there isn't any. The inspectors got it all back in 1998.

BUSH: Al-Qaeda?

WOLFOWITZ: We've got that Prague thing, but hell, even Perle thinks it's horseshit. Nothing there either.

POWELL: Well look, if you want me to make a case to the UN, I've got have something to say. What do you want me to do, just admit to everyone that we want their oil?

(Raucous laughter from entire group.)

CHENEY: Come on, we just have to find something that sounds good. I'll ask Rumsfeld to put the OSP on it.

BUSH: OSP?

CHENEY: Don't worry about it. But I know those boys, and if anyone can spin a good WMD story, they can.

BUSH: OK, let's do it.

POWELL: I'm in.

WOLFOWITZ: Me too. Lock and load.

Here's the deal: even if that exact conversation had taken place, Wolfowitz is a smart guy who's been in government positions for two decades. He would never get caught admitting it.

It's just dumb to see a supposedly damning quote from Wolfowitz made in a public forum and accept it uncritically. Even if Wolfowitz does think the whole war was about oil, there's not a reporter in the world who could trick him into saying it. So just give up on the idea that it's going to happen.

I suspect that what we're seeing at work in this particular case is the real bias of the press. Most reporters don't care all that much about a liberal or conservative take on things, what they really want is to see their byline above the fold on the front page. They don't care who they're interviewing or what side of the aisle they're on, if they see a chance to print something that seems like an attention grabber, they'll go with it. This out-of-context quote looked good, so someone went with it. That's all.

UPDATE: Oh, and was the war all about oil? This is tiresome. In a broad sense, of course it was about oil. The reason we care about the stability of the Middle East in the first place is oil, and if it weren't for that we'd just lend our support to Israel and otherwise stay out of things there. On the other hand, was it about taking direct control of Iraq's oil and pumping it straight into our Strategic Petroleum Reserve? No. We just didn't want Saddam threatening the Mideast oil supply.

There were a few other reasons too, of course. Many of us disagreed with those reasons, but most of them were out in the open. So let's lighten up on the conspiracy theorizing, OK?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (62)

TRANSLATION WOES....Remember those games where you electronically translate something into Japanese and then translate it back into English? Lotsa laughs.

It looks like that happened for real today. Here is a report in Die Welt about Paul Wolfowitz commenting on the difference between Iraq and North Korea:

Betrachten wir es einmal ganz simpel. Der wichtigste Unterschied zwischen Nordkorea und dem Irak ist der, dass wir wirtschaftlich einfach keine Wahl im Irak hatten. Das Land schwimmt auf einem Meer von Öl.

The Guardian picked this up and translated it thusly:

Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

This makes it sound like we went to war to secure Iraq's oil, but here is the DoD transcript of the original quote in English:

Look, the primarily (sic) difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage....

Wolfowitz was obviously making the point that he feels we can bring economic pressure to bear on North Korea but couldn't do the same in Iraq. The only question is: did the Guardian deliberately slant this, or was it a case of a really incompetent translation? And who screwed up the translation, Die Welt or the Guardian?

Are there any fluent German speakers out there who can read the Die Welt article and compare it to the DoD transcript? If so, leave your remarks on the accuracy of the translation in comments.

UPDATE: Via comments, it looks like it was Die Welt that did the bad translation. The Guardian's main fault was accepting the quote without re-verifying it.

UPDATE 2: This gets even weirder. Via comments again, it looks like the Guardian printed an AP dispatch four days ago that had the correct quote. So not only did they pick up the Die Welt version of the quote without checking to see if the translation was correct, they didn't even realize that they themselves had already published the original English language quote. Very strange.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (47)

LEFT AND RIGHT....Over at The Volokh Conspiracy — which really needs to get in touch with N.Z. Bear and give him their new URL — David Post points to this network map of political blogs that clusters them along the usual left-right axis. Hesiod will be happy to see that he is the leftiest of the lefties, at least among the group included in the map.

As I recall, Mac Diva was searching Diogones-like for a true centrist a while back, and if this map is to believed there are two blogs in the precise center: Jim Henley and Oliver Willis. Something doesn't seem quite right about that, though....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (31)

SUCCESS IN THE MIDDLE EAST....David Frum has a question:

If the Arab governments honor their pledge to President Bush to cease funding Islamic extremist terror, and if they agree that Arafat must be isolated and Mahmoud Abbas put in his place, and if Abbas then honors his pledges to end terror against Israel — big ifs all of them — but if so, then can’t we now say: The Iraq war worked? The ultimate goal of the Iraq war was to change the political culture of the Arab world – and post-war, that culture is changing.

Yes. I would add a condition that terrorism actually decrease, but yes: if all those things happen then I think the war worked. Hell, if all those things happen I might even vote for George Bush next year.

Now I've got a question: having agreed that even though I don't like George Bush I will give him credit for a tremendous achievement if Frum's conditions are met, can the war supporters agree that even though they do like George Bush they think something is terribly wrong if it turns out there was no WMD in Iraq? Even if you think the war was justified anyway, shouldn't you still be bothered by a president who loudly and knowingly goes to war under false pretenses?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (72)

SCHOOL CZARS....John Derbyshire, upset that a 5% budget increase for his local schools passed by a whopping margin, prints this in The Corner today:

A reader writes: "School boards must die. From small towns to big cities they don't work. They always get co-opted by either unions, ideologues, crooks, or all of the preceding. Turn out for school board elections is always low. To many of them are not voted on at-large but by sub districts. It is too easy for them to dodge responsibility. They will blame the superintendent that they hired. They will blame the voters, in desperation for power they might blame one another but is never the board as a wholes fault. A school Czar needs to replace the school board. A known name can be held responsible. Go out on the street, grab ten individuals and ask them to name one individual on the local school board. What are the odds on any of them being able to do that?"

I didn't realize conservatives were so down on local control and so big on czars. I guess I should have known.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:36 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

SNEEZING....A few years ago I was talking with some friends when one of them sneezed. Three times. Then she did it again, and again she sneezed three times.

When I sneeze, I always sneeze twice. Some other people apparently sneeze only once.

And then there are the outliers: one friend sneezes about a dozen times when she sneezes, and my mother tells me — and you can't doubt your mother, can you? — that my father never sneezed. Ever.

That sure would have been a nice genetic quirk to inherit. Instead I got his high cholesterol. Sigh.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (16)

PLACING BLAME....Via Tim Dunlop comes this stunner from Newsday:

At the behest of Congress, a handful of CIA analysts are investigating whether the agency and its sister organizations buckled under administration pressure and produced exaggerated estimates to policy-makers about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or its alleged links to al-Qaida.

But these officials will not be able to review the performance of a small office inside the Pentagon that critics claim routinely distorted the CIA's intelligence to support a policy to invade Iraq: the Office of Special Plans and Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

Is this unbelievable or what? It's the Office of Special Plans that everyone thinks cooked the reports.

Is Congress really going to let the Bush administration get away with making the CIA the scapegoat for this? Apparently so: Republican Senator John Warner is in charge of the Senate investigating committee, and as Newsday says:

But, this source said, Warner may not be inclined to press the Pentagon for its information. "The question is how much of a [Bush administration] loyalist he really is," he said.

It's hard to believe, but I'm actually starting to feel sorry for the CIA these days.

UPDATE: Here is my post about the OSP from last month, and here is Seymour Hersh's New Yorker story about the whole CIA-OSP shootout. It's a must read if you want to know what this is all about.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:15 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (10)

MIDDLE CLASS TAXES....I read this last night in the Washington Post but didn't have time to blog it:

As critics of the tax cuts in 2001, 2002 and 2003 have noted, the very wealthiest Americans -- those earning $337,000 or more per year -- will be the greatest beneficiaries of the changes in the nation's tax laws. And, as administration officials have argued, low-income taxpayers will also enjoy a disproportionately lighter tax burden.

The result is that a broad swath of lower-middle, middle- and upper-middle-income people, as well as some rich Americans, will carry a greater share of the federal tax burden after the laws passed in the past three years are fully implemented. While taxes are scheduled to decline for all income groups, those earning more than $28,000 but less than $337,000 will end up paying a greater share of the taxes than they did before the changes.

This sounds right to me. Reducing taxes on the super-rich is part of the whole game plan, of course, and despite some of the rhetoric on the left there's also been tax reduction on the poor (although not in payroll taxes, which is their biggest burden). Reducing taxes on the poor helps shield Republicans from charges of coldheartedness and it also costs virtually nothing. So why not do it?

Of course, if you want to continue funding government, that means that, relatively speaking, you have no choice but to increase the share paid by the great middle class, and that's what's happening. I've published the chart on the right before, but I wish I could burn it into everyone's forehead: effective tax rates on millionaires have plummeted over the last 50 years while tax rates on the middle class have quintupled. I know a lot of people think this trend is just peachy, but I don't.

As the chart shows, reducing progressivity at the top income levels is apparently pretty easy, which makes this quote from the story priceless:

"It's hard to get a lot of progressivity at the very top," said R. Glenn Hubbard, the architect of Bush's most recent tax cut proposal and a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Yeah, Glenn, that would be tough all right. You'd actually have to, you know, create a whole new tax bracket and assign it a higher rate. What a Herculean effort that would be....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (17)

June 03, 2003

THE WMD HUNT CONTINUES....SORT OF....The hunt for WMD in Iraq gets more bizarre every day. Via The Daily Weasel (who has his own comments), here's an AP dispatch in the Miami Herald:

No U.S. weapons hunters or intelligence officials have visited the heart of Iraq's missile programs - the state-owned al-Fatah company in Baghdad, which designed all the rockets Saddam Hussein's troops fired in 1991 and again this year. Not only that, it's not even on their agenda.

"We have the most sensitive documents here," said Marouf al-Chalabi, director-general of al-Fatah. "We were sure the Americans would target us but they haven't even dropped by."

....Over the past 11 weeks, U.S. search teams have visited more than 230 suspected sites from a list drawn up U.S. intelligence but found no weapons.

Al-Chalabi, who studied engineering at the University of Colorado from 1964 to 1969, is convinced none will be found. He said he showed U.N. inspectors everything he had and was ordered by Saddam not to violate U.N. resolutions.

"We don't have those weapons. I think they must know this by now," al-Chalabi said. "I even signed a paper that said I would be executed if I violated the range fixed by the U.N. resolutions."

Curiouser and curiouser....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (79)

NEGLIGENCE....Four years ago Jose Aguado Cervantes crossed the border from his home in Tijuana into the United States. Customs agents searched his car and found 119 pounds of marijuana hidden in his car's bumpers, so they arrested him and sent him to jail.

Fair enough, right? Not quite: it turns out he had bought the car at a U.S. marshal's auction and the marijuana was already there. Oops.

Anyway, Cervantes, a 67-year old grandfather, is now suing the U.S. government for negligence, which seems like a pretty open and shut case, but the feds are fighting it. On Monday they lost:

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the government's argument against Cervantes' negligence claim is "patently without merit" and "so off-the-mark as to be embarrassing."

....The government's arguments, they said, "simply fail the straight-face test."

That seems about right.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (10)

WORLD OPINION....Josh Marshall, who's been posting an awful lot of good stuff lately, points today to the latest Pew poll on world attitudes (summary is here, full 136-page report is here). I get a kick out of this stuff, and while I don't really have any conclusions to draw, some of the individual results are interesting.

For example, the chart on the right shows opinions regarding various world leaders. I suppose that for partisan reasons it's not surprising that most countries (except for Russia!) didn't choose their own leader as the one they trusted most "to do the right thing," but it's interesting to see who they did choose and who the third and fourth place finishers are. There's a surprising amount of support for Kofi Annan, for example, despite the fact that elsewhere in the report we learn that regard for the UN has fallen dramatically since the war.

And then there are the dismal results in Muslim countries. It's at least understandable that Arafat and Chirac are highly regarded, but the widespread support for Osama bin Laden as a man trusted to do the right thing is just horrifying. Yeah, I know, blowback and all that, but it's still pretty discouraging.

In fact, all the results in Muslim countries are pretty horrible. Long story short, they don't like us, they don't like Bush, they wish Iraq had put up a stiffer resistance, they don't think we tried very hard to avoid civilian casualties, Iraq is worse off without Saddam than with him, and support for the war on terrorism is down considerably. Sure, opinions might bounce back some as memories of the war recede, but right now they're really in the toilet. About the only good news is that most Muslims think that Western style democracy can work in their countries.

And while this is probably not news, the absolute worst set of opinions (from an American perspective, anyway), comes from residents of the Palestinian Authority. They don't trust the UN, they don't trust the U.S., 71% admire Osama bin Laden, only 17% think a Palestinian state can coexist with Israel, and only 6% have a favorable view of the U.S. This is hardly surprising in light of another poll result: everyone thinks the United States favors Israel over the Palestinians too much. Even Israelis think so!

On another front, only 55% of Americans think religion should be kept separate from government. That's surprisingly low.

And for one final discouraging — but not surprising — statistic, there are still an awful lot of bigots all over the world. The chart on the right shows how many people thought various minority groups had a "bad influence" on their country. In America, 12% thought this about blacks and 21% about Hispanics, and it just gets worse from there: 26% in Britain (blacks/Asians), 41% in Germans (Turks), 51% in France (North Africans), and 80% in Italy (Albanians).

There's plenty of good stuff in this report, so check it out yourself if you're interested. It's one of those things where you can browse around and find an interesting little nugget on every page.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (46)

HOWARD DEAN AND NATIONAL SECURITY....I have to admit that I liked this statement from Howard Dean a few days ago about the Bush tax cut. Nice and fiery, straightforward about what he believes, sincere, and right on the merits.

On the other hand, as much as I like Dean's message and his charisma, I keep reminding myself that his opposition to the war and his lack of credibility on national security make him unelectable. Maybe that's not fair, but I'd like a Democrat to win the presidency in 2004, and I'm very skeptical that Dean can beat Bush.

So what can Dean do to shore up his national security credentials? The Minute Man has a suggestion:

Dr. Dean should go to Iraq and work for a week in various health clinics. That would be a photo-op that would blow away "Bush in a flight suit". Then, with his newly enhanced credibility as an expert on Iraq, Dr. Dean can denounce the progress and planning of the Bush Administration.

If, a year from now, Iraq is looking good, Dean can claim some credit for turning up the heat and forcing the Administration to address it. If Iraq is a mess, Dean can make an issue of "who lost Iraq". Either way, he gains great publicity and foreign policy stature.

Now, I don't know if this is a practical suggestion or not, but it actually doesn't sound like a bad idea to me. A couple of weeks in Iraq might do wonders for him. Worth thinking about.

UPDATE: By the way, the Dean website has an interesting graph showing the growing number of people who are attending Dean Meetups. It's the power of the blogosphere at work!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (66)

CARE AND FEEDING OF COMPUTERS....Dan Gelfand reports that his ethernet card stopped working, and when he called tech support he eventually had this conversation after two hours of running diagnostics:

Technician: Take off the casing.
Me: What?
Technician: You've got a screwdriver and a number two pencil?
Me: Yeah.
Technician: Just take off the casing.
Me. Okay.

(five minutes later)

Me: Now what?
Technician: Take out the ethernet card.
Me: Okay. I've got it.
Technician: Now rub the connecting end with the pencil's eraser on both sides.
Me: Done.
Technician: Put it back in, close the casing and start the computer up again.

I used to manage a Radio Shack store, and I can confirm that this an excellent cure for what ails you. Many a time someone would come into the store complaining that their radio/tape recorder/whatever was broken, and the first thing I always did was remove the batteries and rub the contacts with a pencil eraser. It doesn't always work, but you'd be surprised how often it does work.

Of course, removing a pair of batteries is easy, so it makes sense to try this first. This is not so when it comes to disassembling a computer case, of course, but poorly seated adapter cards or slight corrosion on the connectors is the cause of intermittent problems surprisingly frequently. Taking the case apart and jiggling the card is a pain in the ass, but it's usually worth doing before you go too far down the road with tech support.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:42 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (27)

DID SADDAM HAVE A NUCLEAR PROGRAM?....Is Ken Pollack backing down on his prewar claims that Saddam Hussein's WMD program posed a danger to the United States? Via Hesiod, Joe Conason in Salon excerpts parts of an interview that Pollack did this weekend on NPR about whether or not Saddam had everything he needed to build nukes:

I mean, the point that I made on your show [last year] was a true point. That was the consensus of opinion among the intelligence community. It was hearing things like that that brought me to the conclusion that, you know, 'Boy, if this is the case, we've got to do something about this guy.' I think, you know, that is exactly the kind of thing that we're going to need to go back and look hard at the evidence that we were getting and those various intelligence services who were making those claims, I think, are going to need to go back and re-examine the methods they used. As I said, that was not me making that claim; that was me parroting the claims of so-called experts.

Hmmm. The problem is that Pollack has been a Mideast expert for over a decade, and many people (including, ahem, me) trusted his judgment on this. Unlike most of us, he's had access to this intelligence, he knows where it came from, and he's supposed to know how to evaluate it. If all he was doing was "parroting" what other people said, then his analysis isn't really worth much, is it?

Earlier in the interview he also insists that in his book he called Iraq a "much more distant threat," which I think is also a little disingenuous. It's true that he did say the danger from Iraq wasn't imminent, but he also made the point that the containment regime was bound to falter soon, allies like Saudi Arabia were getting ready to abandon us on Iraq if we didn't act quickly, and, basically, that the sooner we solved this problem once and for all, the better.

There's no question that Pollack's position was a more measured one than George Bush's, and it's also true that the war did not unfold the way that Pollack wanted it to. Still, emphasizing that last year he thought Iraq was a "distant" threat is a bit heavy on the spin.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (30)

FRANCE....As my readers know, I got awfully tired of the insane levels of French-bashing that went on before the war. However, as Dan Drezner points out today, the rule of thumb that "Every major disruption of the global political economy is the fault of the French" actually has something to it.

In this case, he's talking about France's egregious and self-centered attachment to the EU's hideous agricultural policy, and it's true that France has been by far the biggest obstacle to reform in this area. What's more, France seems almost incapable of agreeing to any EU policy unless the rest of the EU caves in to their frequently ridiculous demands.

The fact that France disagreed with our Iraq policy didn't bother me that much, but overall France does indeed insist on playing the role of spoiler far, far too often. There's actually not that much that the U.S. can or should do about this, but there's plenty that France's EU neighbors could do about it. It's probably about time some of them started playing the same brand of hardball that France does.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:50 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (46)

MISSING WMD....George Bush says — hallelujah! — that we've found the weapons of mass destruction. A commenter over at South Knox Bubba's site begs to disagree:

It seems the pipes are made of the wrong materials; the joints, whether screw threaded or flanged, would allow the escape of all those WMDs; the commercial grade air conditioning unit installed at the front end of the truck bed couldn't possibly maintain accurate temperature controls; the a/c unit has no external exhaust system, so the canvas covers that hid these ever so dangerous "weapons" would just return the exhaust back into the truck body, thereby raising the ambient temperatures and defeating the alleged scientific cooling of the alleged units.

Meanwhile, as Sam Rosenfeld points out: "Here is an incredibly important story that the press actually has gotten around to covering extensively, and the Dems just sit on their hands."

I can understand the Democrats' reluctance to say anything, since for all anyone knows tomorrow we might discover an underground swimming pool of anthrax in one of Saddam's palaces. Still, as Matt Yglesias says, "This is exactly the sort of thing opposition parties are for." He's right. After all, it's now hit the big time, with major coverage by all the major newsweeklies, so how dangerous can it be? It's past time for Tom Daschle or Nancy Pelosi to take a chance and start making some serious waves over this.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (73)

June 02, 2003

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE....Atrios links today to a summary of Time magazine's cover story this week about the medical malpractice crisis. Both the summary and the Time story itself claim that malpractice premiums actually rose faster in states with damage caps than in states without them.

This is true, but it turns out it's only part of the story, which gets even more surprising when you see the whole picture. The report they cite is here, and it actually says two things:

  • States with caps did have lower growth in malpractice payouts: a growth rate of 37% between 1991 and 2002 compared to 71% for states without caps.

  • However, exactly the opposite was true for malpractice premiums. States with caps saw premiums grow 48% between 1991 and 2002, while states without caps saw premiums grow only 35%. So in states with caps, payouts went up more slowly but premiums went up more quickly.

UPDATE: OK, hold on a second. I just deleted the rest of the original post.

On reading the report more carefully, I now note that all these figures are for median payouts, which wouldn't be affected at all by a few huge awards. I'm not sure what's going on, but this is so obviously the wrong statistic to use in this case that there must be some kind of axe to grind here. I'm now very skeptical that this report is, as it claims, "not driven by a political ideology or industry-driven self-interest."

What's more, although Appendix 2 does indeed show that premiums have gone up only 35% in states without caps, there are several states with enormous increases and several with tiny increases, and it's hard to see any correlation at all between median payout increases and median premium increases. This might be due to the use of medians, it might genuinely be due to different regulatory regimes, or it might be something else. Who knows?

Until further notice, I no longer believe anything in this report and I don't think Time should have cited it. I'll have more later if I can find any additional explanations.

UPDATE 2: By the way, this is why I hate this whole subject so much: it's practically impossible to get reliable statistics. These guys had access to the raw data and all they had to do was calculate average payout per doctor on a state-by-state basis and compare it to premiums, which would have been even easier than calculating meaningless medians. But they didn't, and no one else does either. Arggh.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (29)

THE FREE MARKET....I didn't really mean to spend an entire fortnight posting about income inequality, but it ended up taking on a life of its own after the first post, and I'm glad it did since it led to some interesting conversations. In any case, I think I'm done for the time being, and I'd like to finish up with one final post.

Several of the criticisms — especially of this post — were along the lines of "Perhaps Kevin doesn't realize that there's a reason certain people do better than others. It's called the free market."

Indeed I do realize that, and that's really the whole point of all my posts. The problem is that while market-based economies are terrific at a wide range of allocation problems, free market capitalism isn't a law of nature or a command from God. It's an invention of human beings, and like any human tool there are places where it works well and places where it doesn't. Roughly speaking, there are two areas where I think government intervention in free markets is justified:

  • Interventions that are designed to make capitalism work better. Example: capitalist economies work their magic via competition, but classical economists have recognized for over a century that laissez faire capitalism frequently leads to monopolies, which in turn destroys laissez faire capitalism. The answer is antitrust legislation, which is designed not so much to rein in free markets as to allow them to flourish. Securities regulation, which is generally designed to promote transparency and a freer flow of information, is another example.

  • Interventions designed to correct things that capitalism does poorly. Example: brutally exploitive child labor is a normal and predictable consequence of industrial capitalism. However, when it eventually became socially unacceptable it took government intervention to end it. A modern day example is minimum wage laws. A free market will inevitably price the least skilled labor at (more or less) subsistence levels, but today we have a social consensus that if you want to employ someone, there's a certain minimum amount you should be required to pay.

Bottom line: I am a considerable fan of free market capitalism and generally think of it as the default mechanism for making economic decisions. However, while I'm also a fan of the scientific method, that doesn't mean I think it's the right tool to decide every single question of the workings of the world.

Likewise, capitalism isn't the right tool to decide every single question of resource allocation and human interaction. As a democratic society, we can decide for ourselves what our priorities are, and if unregulated capitalism doesn't meet our needs, we should feel free to intervene. The important thing is to understand the costs and limitations of interfering with free markets, to treat our ignorance with respect, and to be willing to change our minds based on changing evidence. Free markets work wonderfully well in a wide variety of cases, and we should be skeptical about our ability to improve on them — but not petrified into inaction.

This is why economics (and economic history) is important. Not because it teaches us to worship at the altar of the marketplace, but because it helps teach us what the marketplace can do, how and when it can be safely interfered with, and what the costs and benefits of interventions are likely to be. As long as we interfere with our eyes open and maintain a healthy respect for the dangers of unintended consequences, there is no reason we must — or should — accept the results of the marketplace as gospel.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (9) | Comments (93)

MONEY AND GENDER....Some new research from Ohio State University based on a longitudinal survey shows that husbands and wives have very different ideas about the state of family finances:

Half of all couples stated income values differing by more than $5,000 a year. And 10 percent of the couples’ income figures differed by more that $15,000 a year. Usually it was the men who thought the couple earned more – the typical husband said the couple’s income was $1,000 to $2,500 more than his wife reported.

....While couples have very different views about their income, they agree even less about their total net wealth. Among older couples surveyed, half differed in their wealth estimates by more than $14,700, and 10 percent differed by more than $113,000. Among younger couples, who have had less time to save, half differed in their wealth estimates by more than $7,000, and 10 percent differed by more than $31,000.

Unfortunately, the study stops short of setting off a full scale gender war by admitting that it "couldn’t tell which spouses were more accurate in reporting family finances."

However, this is a blog, not a scholarly journal, so there's nothing to stop us from having a full-scale stereotype war over this, is there? You may fire when ready.

POSTSCRIPT: In our family, Marian does the finances and therefore almost certainly has a better idea of our precise income, but even so she's the one who worries about it the most. She's usually concerned about how much money we have, whereas I'm perpetually astonished at how much we have.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:46 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (15)

TIME TO INVEST?....Today's fan mail:

Time elapsed since Calpundit made snarky remark about, "Hey, shouldn't the market be higher now that the war is over"? Approx. 50 days. Market perfomance since? S&P up around 100 points, Dow up 700, and heading higher.

Damn, some people sure have long memories. Consider my ass fact-checked.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

KIDS....At dinner with friends last night, the conversation turned to Those Kids These Days. We actually all agreed that although Those Kids are different than we were, they're pretty much OK.

One observation was that teenagers of our acquaintance seem to be more comfortable around adults than we were (for purposes of comparsion, "we" was a bunch of folks in our 40s). Has anybody else noticed that? Or is it just us?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

PSYCHOANALYSIS AS NEWS....The G8 summit is over, and the ending statement called on Iran and North Korea to stop developing nuclear arms. The G8 leaders also talked about exchange rates and a bunch of other boring stuff.

But nobody cared about any of that, you see, because what really mattered was the body language between Bush, Chirac, Schroeder, and the others. For a complete navel-gazing roundup in pictures, check out this 10-photo spread from the BBC. Fascinating.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

PHILOSOPHICAL PICK-UP LINES....My entry in Josh's contest:

Hey, babe, life is nasty, brutish, and short. But down where it counts, I'm only nasty and brutish.

What do I win?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (37)

CIVIL DISCOURSE....The Bill O'Reilly-Al Franken smackdown on Saturday also had a third guest, Molly Ivins, who told a joke that David Frum thinks was pretty unfunny. Why, a conservative would never be allowed to tell such a nasty joke!

Yeah, yeah. Poor downtrodden conservatives aren't even allowed to make jokes these days. Then he says this:

Let me venture instead this possibly slightly less obvious point - Molly Ivins went on to deliver a passionate little speech about her commitment to civilizing American discourse! Apparently, American discourse is being rendered viciously uncivil by Rush Limbaugh's habit of explaining dynamic scoring over the airwaves - and the liberal way to elevate the vulgar tone of right-wing debate is to make jokes about killing people.

Aside from the laughable image of Professor Limbaugh carefully explaining the intricacies of economic modeling to his audience, Frum misses the point completely. The very last question from the audience during this session was about the increasing coarseness of political discourse. Did any of our panelists have any thoughts about how to make civil discourse a little more civil?

Answer: no. I expected a bit of PC handwaving, but in fact all three went out of their way to say that civil discourse wasn't their job. Their job was to stir things up, to take a stand, to get people angry, etc. Even Ivins, who later said she was trying to tone down the male testosterone levels a bit, basically said the same thing.

Anyway, Ivins' joke was this: "The price of gas is riz [Texas transliteration courtesy of Frum] so high that women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool." Hell, that's not even a very partisan joke. Frum needs to lighten up.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:58 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (29)

June 01, 2003

WINNING THE PEACE, PART 2....Glenn Reynolds has a long post today about the need for patience in assessing how we're doing in postwar Iraq:

I think it's very important that we work at it, and I think it's ironic that some of the people who were critics before the war saying "we'll just put in a friendly dictator and leave" are now pushing arguments and criticisms that imply just such a course of action when the Administration is obviously committed to something more. We want a peaceful, free and prosperous Iraq. Claims that Arabs are somehow incapable of that sort of thing seem a bit dubious to me, especially when they come from people who call themselves "progressive" -- and it's especially unimpressive when those people say "Iraq is ungovernable" with ill-concealed glee at the prospect of what would be, in practice, a far bigger disaster for the Iraqi people than for George Bush. But they don't care about the collateral damage if they can see Bush hurt.

The funny thing is that although I'm certainly one of those people who wish disaster on George Bush, I agree with this. Getting it right in postwar Iraq is going to be tough, and day-to-day news in the first couple of months — whether good or bad — doesn't really mean that much.

Unfortunately, when Glenn says, "the Administration is obviously committed to something more," that's where he loses me. As I mentioned in the post below, I hope he's right, since as much as I'd like to see Bush replaced in 2004, that's not how I'd like to see it done. Unfortunately, I haven't been impressed by Bush's actions so far, and I suspect that his willingness to stick it out in Iraq is pretty limited.

UPDATE: This, by the way, is one place where I wish left and right could agree: we need to stay in Iraq in large numbers for a long time. Whether you supported or opposed the war, now that it's over we have an obligation to do everything we possibly can to build a "peaceful, free and prosperous Iraq."

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (52)

WINNING THE PEACE....Jon Dworkin links today to Fareed Zakaria's column in Newsweek asking "Why is an administration that was so bold, ambitious and clearheaded about waging war so hapless, diffident and error-prone when it comes to waging peace?" He points to Bosnia and Kosovo as partially successful nationbuilding efforts and then says:

In Afghanistan, we have just 5 percent as many troops, per capita, as we do in Kosovo—and it shows. In Iraq, if we were to put as many troops as there are in Bosnia, per capita, the stabilization force required would be more than 250,000, about the number cited by the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik K. Shinseki. In Germany and Japan, five years after World War II, we had hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in each of those countries.

Before the war, a number of people asked why I (and many liberals) kept harping on the UN and other multilateral institutions. Did we have some kind of naive faith that these organizations would magically make things better?

No. Speaking for myself, anyway, I wanted the UN involved because it seemed clear that the U.S. didn't have the resources to handle the postwar occupation by itself. With other countries involved, we'd have more people, more money, and the help of organizations with a lot of specific expertise that we lack on our own.

Unfortunately, all the talk about "liberation" notwithstanding, I think a lot of people really don't care much what happens next. Here is Walter Russell Mead in the LA Times today asking what will happen if disorder in Iraq continues to get worse:

The short answer is that if Iraqi violence continues to rise, at some point the administration would go to Plan B: Find a general, turn the place over to him and go home.

....Elites would wring their hands, but voters would just shrug their shoulders. Poll after poll shows that Americans want democracy and human rights to spread around the world — but that they don't want American combat troops to be caught in the crossfire. If Iraqis reject U.S. help to build a democracy, and Bush decides to bring the troops home, most voters will agree with his decision. They were willing to give this democracy-in-the-Middle-East idea a try — and they genuinely do hope it will work — but at the end of the day, they don't want a war over it.

Sadly, Mead is probably right. But I hope he's not.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (56)

ZIMBABWE....Thomas Nephew has a good post up about Robert Mugabe's latest plans to silence the opposition in Zimbabwe. As he says, there isn't that much that any of us can do about this, but we can let the government of Zimbabwe know that "the whole world is watching":

To put this little action in the proper perspective: this may be just a thimbleful of prevention, and it's almost certainly yet another case of too little, too late. If you send a message, it may get deleted or ignored. The MDC seems to be intent on a showdown with Mugabe, so violence is almost guaranteed next week. But it doesn't seem utterly naive to hope that enough messages might help a bloody crackdown stop a little bit sooner.

Bottom line: if you send a message, you'll probably never know just how ineffective it was. But you'll know you've helped put Mugabe on notice that someone is watching.

Good idea. The last foreign journalist in Zimbabwe was kicked out last week, so this really is the the only way to send a message.

Here are the contacts for the Zimbabwean government if you want to send a message of your own:

Contact the Zimbabwe government:
Zimbabwe embassy to the US: web site, e-mail, contact web page.
Zimbabwe mission to the UN: Phone: (212) 980-9511/5084, Fax: (212) 308-6705
Zimbabwe embassy in Canada: web site, e-mail
Government of Zimbabwe: web site, contact web page.

Consider CC'ing these organizations:
US State Department, Human Rights: web site, contact web page
Human Rights Watch: web site, e-mail
UNHCHR: web site, e-mail

Here's a handy-dandy multiple address e-mail link, modify as you wish, of course

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (12)

RAISING OUR KIDS....As an antidote to the ongoing culture wars, read this post by Justene Adamec about raising a pair of girls.

Is Will and Grace OK? How about Jackass the Movie? Lizzie McGuire? Is the media corrupting our youth?

The answer is: we muddle along, and in the end as long as parents really care about their kids and talk to them and set a good example — then all the rest doesn't really matter that much. That sounds about right to me.

UPDATE: And as long as you're over there, here is perhaps the clearest, most straightforward explanation of blogging yet blogged, courtesy of one of Justene's Lizzie McGuire-loving twins:

Why I blog
I enjoy bloogging — yet I have no idea why. I guess I just like people reading my opinions. And coming to MY site, to read my thoughts. Like right now, your reading my thoughts and listening to me. At least somebody will. I JUST LOVE BEING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (4)

FCC DEREGULATION....Why haven't I commented on the upcoming FCC deregulation, you ask? Because I'm a coward, that's why.

See, the problem is that...crackle....buzz....um, can you still hear me out there?....pop....you're breaking up....gotta go....

Heh, heh, just kidding. See, the problem is that I'm not sure I'm actually opposed to deregulation. There, I said it.

Roughly speaking, here's where I stand: despite my liberal leanings, my conservative readers will be either surprised or amused (depending on temperament) to hear me say that I'm not especially in favor of government regulation of industry without a compelling reason. The smaller the regulation, the less compelling the reason has to be, of course, but in the case of the media the current regulatory regime is very intrusive indeed.

This regime is mostly a historical accident based on the scarcity of broadcast spectrum space in the 30s, and the argument for keeping it in place revolves around the idea that the media is different from other businesses. It's critical to democratic debate, it's at the center of the First Amendment, and normal antitrust laws aren't enough to ensure that it stays free and vibrant.

This makes me very nervous. Frankly, if there's any industry where I think the government ought to stay as far, far away as possible, it's the media. Hell, I'm not even a big fan of PBS or Voice of America. As businesses, media companies should be bound by normal antitrust rules, but as opinion leaders I really would prefer that the government stay out.

On a more practical level, I also have my doubts about the purported death of media diversity that deregulation would bring. Newspapers come one to a city these days, but that's been true for decades and has nothing to do with deregulation. Talk radio is mostly conservative, but that's got more to do with what people want to listen to than it does with ownership concentration. Cable TV obviously provides far more variety (both in channels and ownership) than the measly half dozen channels that even large cities were restricted to 30 years ago. And there's the internet.

I guess I'm just not convinced that the world is going to come to an end if media regulation is relaxed. What's more, when you clear through the thicket of the debate, an awful lot of it seems to end up focused on the evils of Clear Channel and the problems of Minot, North Dakota. That's good theater, I guess, but I'm not sure it's a good enough reason to keep our current regulations in place.

And now, you may fire when ready. Comments are open, but remember to keep it clean....

UPDATE: I probably ought to make clear that the only thing I'm commenting on here is ownership regulations on radio and TV stations, not telecom regulation in general, which I think is an entirely different subject.

Generally speaking, though, none of us would approve of ownership restrictions on newspapers, magazines, or internet news sources, so why radio and TV? Mainly because the airwaves are a public resource, so we demand that radio and TV serve the public interest in return for being granted space on the spectrum. My feeling, however, is that the "public interest" portion of broadcast schedules was never anything more than a joke, and allocating spectrum could be done via auction just like cell phone spectrum. Corporate ownership of major news outlets is really nothing new, and I can't help but wonder if we're all being a bit Chicken Little-ish about the bogeymen of Viacom, AOL, and News Corp.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:31 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (44)
Powered by
Movable Type 2.63