November 30, 2003

ANYBODY WANT A SOFA?....I was about to call some local charity to come pick up our old sofa when it occurred to me that maybe one of my loyal readers might like it. So there it is. If anyone wants it, all it takes is a truck to haul it away and a willingness to drive as far as Irvine to pick it up. There's a matching chair too if you're interested.

Hell, I've also got an old TV if you want that. And a computer. This house is a veritable gold mine, so bring a big truck! The computer is an old Pentium box, and the rest of the stuff is about ten years old but in good shape. You can't have the cat. Send an email if you're interested.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:48 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (56)

REALITY....A couple of days ago Paris Match ran a firsthand account by a reporter who had accompanied the Iraqi guerrilla band that shot down the DHL aircraft. Flit has a translation here if you'd like to read it.

Just to give you a sense of what we're dealing with, here's a quote from the leader of the band:

"Today, we are stretching out our hand to the Americans. We will let them have what they want, if they give us what we want: our freedom and our right to control our own country.

"We know all they are here for is the oil. We believe they should keep it, but let Iraqis have 1% of the revenue. For us, that would be enough. In order to manage this business, they will have to remain in Iraq, of course. We accept that they should remain, but in their bases, far away from the Iraqis, and that they cease their unjust actions towards our people. In exchange, we ask them for a minimum of respect and freedom. We thus believe a new government should be created, by mutual agreement between we Iraqis and the Americans. Officially, this government would be chosen by the Americans, but, actually, it would be chosen through negotiations with us carried out in secrecy and which would remain a secret for eternity."

Needless to say, this makes no sense whatever. It's like talking to a Lyndon LaRouche follower. Or Doug Feith.

In a way, Iraq is a demonstration of the old postmodern cliche: it's not so much that everyone is out of touch with reality, it's just that there are too damn many realities. I wonder which one we'll end up with when the wave equation collapses?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (69)

LIBERAL VALUES....Laura Nichols, vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress:

"Although it's taken 30 years of debate within their ranks, conservatives have a broad outline of what they believe in — smaller government, less taxes, family values," Nichols said. "You would be hard pressed to come up with that on our side. On the left, we have a general agreement on the issues but we've made the mistake of substituting a laundry list."

Well, aside from the laundry list, what are the core values of liberals? For me, I suppose it would be a desire for a certain minimum level of personal security for everyone, a basic sense that the rich and powerful shouldn't be allowed to game the system too much, and an end to senseless discrimination against women, gays, blacks, etc.

In other words, make sure everyone gets a little something, don't let the rich steal too much, and give everyone a fair shake. But that's just me.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (171)

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION....Dilbert tells you everything you need to know about executive compensation today.

I wish this were just a joke, but unfortunately interlocking compensation committees and commissioned compensation studies from big consulting firms really are a big part of the smokescreen that has allowed CEO pay to skyrocket over the past 20 years. Shareholders and workers are the victims of this legalized highway robbery, and one of these days they need to figure out a way to get together to stop it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (67)

ELECTIONS IN IRAQ?....Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani still isn't happy with the U.S. transition plans:

The statement by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was made in response to written questions sent to his liaison office in London. While Iraqi politicians had reported elements of Sistani's objections after meetings this week, Sistani had not publicly addressed the proposal, and the remarks represented his clearest statement yet on the plan.

....Officials with the U.S.-led occupation said that they would defer to the Governing Council to respond to Sistani and that the members would have to decide whether to follow through with the transition plan.

"It's for them to decide whether they defend the agreement they signed, if they believe in this agreement as the best way forward for Iraq," a senior official with the occupation authority said. "They're going to have to answer these questions. They're the political leaders of Iraq."

This just gets weirder and weirder. Sistani was responding — via London! — to questions from a newspaper, not Bremer or the Governing Council. And the only response of the CPA is, essentially, "Whatever."

It's no surprise that Sistani is in favor of democracy, and the sooner the better, since Shiites would win control in any fair election, but I wonder what's really going on over there? Does Bremer's team have any contact at all with Sistani? Any leverage? Any control over political events at all?

Or is his only goal to get the hell out? As with so many things these days, I just can't make sense out what the Bush administration is up to here. I feel like my IQ has dropped about 50 points in the past couple of months.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (45)

November 29, 2003

PISS POOR CONSPIRACY THEORIZING....From Al Bawaba, "The Middle East Gateway":

The results of Time Magazine and CNN’s 2003 Global Influentials survey can only fuel the fire of newly launched claims that Israel and the Jews control international affairs. Israeli businessman Shai Agassi made the top 20 list, a publication that has in the past honored Bill Gates and Saudi Prince Al-Walid.

The survery provides good artillery to Muslim leaders making the case that Jews “rule the world”.

This is pathetic. They're trying to make the case that Jews rule the world and that's the best they can do? One Israeli guy in a list of 20 influential businessmen?

Come on guys, you can do better.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (78)

SCORING BUSH....I'm not sure I really want to open this can of worms, but I'm sort of curious about something, so I guess I will after all.

Here's the background question: was it reasonable back in January for a liberal to believe that George Bush was serious about building a moderately stable, tolerant, and democratic Iraq? I believed that for a while, but once Bush's plans (or lack thereof) started to become clear I changed my mind, and that combined with some extreme fishiness about Iraq's WMD eventually led me to turn against the war.

But how could I possible have believed this in the first place? After all, my friends tell me, you know what Bush is like. He's a corrupt, thieving, crony capitalist and everything he touches turns to shit. Why would you give him the benefit of the doubt even for a minute?

The reason is simple: I loathe Bush primarily because I loathe his policy goals, not his ability to execute them, and in this case it seemed reasonable that his policy goals and mine might be pretty similar. Sure, he'd try to throw some business to his pals, but even a completely cynical reading of the man would tell you that a peaceful, stable, moderately free and democratic Iraq was something Bush genuinely wanted. After all, it's good for reelection and it's good for business.

So given that there were decent reasons to think he really wanted to accomplish this, the next step was to figure out if his administration was competent enough to pull it off. And this is the question I'm curious about: in general, how competent has the Bush administration been? In other words, if you accept his policy goals as worthy (just close your eyes and pretend, OK?), how good has he been at achieving them?

So I mentally went through some of his major policy initiatives:

  • Economic policy: I have no idea what he thinks he's doing here. I really don't. So score this as a major vote for incompetence, 0 points out of 10.

  • Education: given his policy goals, I'd say NCLB accomplished them reasonably well. Let's score it as 6 points out of 10.

  • Stem cells: again, given what he wanted to accomplish, he straddled pretty well on this. 6 out of 10.

  • Afghanistan: there are lots of problems here, but the initial war went well and it's not a complete disaster in any case. Let's say 4 out of 10.

  • Homeland Security Department: he fought it for a long time, but once he decided to get behind it he got what he wanted. 7 out of 10.

And since the Iraq war there have been a few others:

  • Partial birth abortion: good execution here. 9 out of 10.

  • Medicare: given the political realities, I think Bush got a lot of what he wanted out of this bill. Let's score it 5 out of 10.

  • Energy: this is a disaster even viewed from a conservative perspective, I think. Score it 0 out of 10.

So that's about 37 out of 80, or 46%, which is probably a pretty average score for a president. (Remember, this is based on his policy goals, not mine or yours. Based on my policy preferences, he'd score less than 10%.)

So there you have it. My take on Bush is that he's fair to middling at accomplishing the stuff he wants to accomplish, and unlike the economy, where he really doesn't need to worry about long-term disaster, he does need to worry about short-term disaster in Iraq. So given that he really would like to see Iraq turn out well, why did he allow the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith gang to work out a plan that was so obviously divorced from real world considerations? And why did the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith gang believe this stuff in the first place?

There are plenty of cheap answers to this question, but few satisfying ones. It's a real mystery.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (196)

SURVIVOR....What with Thanksgiving and all, I almost forgot: how about a Survivor thread this week?

Here's why: I almost couldn't believe I said this, but after Wednesday's episode I turned to Marian and said, "You know, that was awesome. I actually kind of like the guy now."

"The guy," of course, is Jonnie Fairplay, a loathsome toad of a contestant who I (and pretty much everybody else) have been praying weekly will get the boot. So what happened?

For non-Survivor watchers, here's the story: Wednesday was "loved ones" day, a regular feature in which spouses, girlfriends, parents, etc. of the contestants are brought to the island to participate in a competition. The losers all go home after tearful goodbyes and the winner gets to spend time with his or her loved one.

Anyway, Jonnie's loved one broke the news to him that his grandmother had died. He was pretty devastated, so everyone went easy on him and let him win. But later we learned it was all a setup: Jonnie had told his friend to make something up, and then used this to gain sympathy from everyone else.

Which is really loathsome, and just what you'd expect from Jonnie. And yet, this is a game, and it was a virtuoso performance. It was brilliantly original, it required lots of advance planning, and if he pulls it off it might even win him the game. He's already spun it as a moment that's changed him — "somehow the game just doesn't seem that important now" — and he can now make new alliances and seem completely sincere about them because he's a changed man. He already seems to have suckered Sandra and Christa with this ploy.

I know I'm probably off the reservation on this, but in the context of the game it was really pretty admirable. I can't help but think that Jonnie Fairplay, everyone's favorite loathsome toad, now deserves to win.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (155)

THE REAL WORLD....And speaking of Matt, he reminds me to link to this Mark Steyn piece that I meant to link to earlier but forgot about. It's pretty remarkable.

In outline, it's fairly ordinary loony-hawk stuff: we need to take out Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and North Korea, and we need to do it sooner rather than later. (And we would if it weren't for that pacifist Tony Blair!) This is pretty standard stuff from the hawks, actually, and I guess it's a sad commentary that this kind of thing hardly even strikes me as worth responding to anymore.

No, what's really remarkable is that Steyn can crank out 2,000 words about toppling five separate regimes without once acknowledging that the war in Iraq has taught us any lessons. Like, say, that getting rid of a regime is relatively easy compared to installing a new one and that the Bush administration hasn't demonstrated singular competence in this area.

You'd hardly think that even an über-hawk like Steyn would have the chutzpah to ignore this, but he does. We should "accidentally" bomb Syrian targets, we should promote revolution in Iran, we should encourage the House of Saud to tear itself apart, and we should do some unspecified things in Sudan and North Korea — unspecified but presumably nasty. And we should do all of this right now — and without even a nod to what happens after these regimes are toppled or whether we have any chance of controlling post-toppling events.

It's breathtaking. It's almost like the real world doesn't even exist for these guys.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (72)

November 28, 2003

FACTS ON THE GROUND....All I can say about this Matt Yglesias post is, Amen brother. I still find it hard to believe that the folks in charge of Iraqi reconstruction genuinely believed that it would be "sweets and flowers." I figured they were just painting rosy scenarios in order to maintain support for the war, but more and more it seems like they really, truly believed this. It is, as Matt says, almost literally unbelievable.

Matt's post was prompted by this article in the New Yorker, which includes this passage:

In the Pentagon’s scenario, the responsibility of managing Iraq would quickly be handed off to exiles, led by [Ahmed] Chalabi—allowing the U.S. to retain control without having to commit more troops and invest a lot of money. “There was a desire by some in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it,” a senior Administration official told me. “The idea was to put our guy in there and he was going to be so compliant that he’d recognize Israel and all the problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad. Everything would be hunky-dory.” The planning was so wishful that it bordered on self-deception. “It isn’t pragmatism, it isn’t Realpolitik, it isn’t conservatism, it isn’t liberalism,” the official said. “It’s theology.”

This quote didn't come from an administration official, it came from a senior administration official. And not a former official, a current one. Who?

Gotta be somebody at State, right? We all know the State guys hate Cheney and Rumsfeld. But that passage is incredibly brutal. Who would say it? And what does it tell you about the level of animosity and disdain that George Bush's senior aides have for each other? These guys must be barely able to stay in the same room with each other.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (102)

SUNSET....Isn't this nice? That was tonight's sunset as seen across our little artificial lake here in Woodbridge.

(This is not the view from our house, however. As near as I can tell, a house that fronts on the little artificial lake costs about $200,000 more than ones that don't. I'm not nearly that fond of water.)

Taking the picture wasn't too hard: I just walked over to the lake and snapped the shutter. On the way home I found our wayward cat roaming around and managed to snag him, but then discovered that I had locked myself out of the house. And naturally, when we left the house yesterday to spend Thanksgiving with my father-in-law, we had made sure to close and lock all the windows.

So I let Inkblot go, at which he point he darted into our neighbor's yard, and eventually I figured out that our upstairs bedroom window was open. Good thing I wanted to get some air this morning. Except I didn't have a ladder to get on the roof, because the ladder's in the garage, which can only be opened with the garage door opener, which is in the car, which is in the garage. Eventually I put together a rickety pile of lawn furniture and hoisted myself onto the patio cover and then to the roof, where I crawled in through the upstairs window. Inkblot was long gone by then, of course.

Believe it or not, this has happened to me about half a dozen times. Yes, I'm an idiot. Tomorrow I'm really, really going to get an extra housekey made, just like I keep telling myself every time this happens.

Really.

UPDATE: Inkblot has now meandered back. Must have gotten hungry or something. We go through this routine with him a lot.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (38)

SPAM....I think it's about time to install a spam filter here at Calpundit HQ. Any suggestions? I'm currently using Outlook Express as my email client, although I'm willing to switch if there's a really compelling case to be made for something else. (That is, something more compelling than the general evilness of Microsoft software.)

Anyway, if you're using something that you're really, really happy with, let me know. Remember, a spam-free Calpundit is a happy and productive Calpundit!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (83)

THE INDEPENDENT LAYS AN EGG....I promised myself I wasn't going to comment on George Bush's Thanksgiving Day visit to Iraq. I just didn't have anything nonobvious to say.

But take a look at this headline from the Independent. I mean, I don't like Bush either, and I have no doubt that PR played a major role in this whole episode, and I know the Independent is both lefty and anti-war and I know that British newspapers aren't as sober as American ones. I know.

But honestly, what were they thinking? As the cover of Counterpunch or some Bay Area alt weekly, sure. But on the front page of an allegedly serious broadsheet?

Time to grow up, lads.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (6) | Comments (199)

TODAY'S FACTOID....I am learning new things about the metric system today thanks to Measuring America, which has a chapter about how the metric system came about.

The first part was familiar to me: the metric system's revolutionary inventors defined the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole. What wasn't familiar was that this was actually a last minute choice.

It turns out that the idea of standardizing weights and measures based on "scientific" principle had already been a hot topic for a while in England, France, and America, and by 1793 the frontrunner for the unit of length was based not on the size of the earth but on the length of a pendulum with a period of one second. Not only did this strke the scientists of the day as an eminently rational choice, since the period of a pendulum depends solely on its length, but it also had a big practical advantage: anyone could create an accurate meter stick anywhere in the world even if they didn't have access to the vacuum-sealed brass reference rod buried in a vault in Paris.

(OK, not 100% accurate, since the length of the second's pendulum varies slightly from latitude to latitude. But close enough, especially compared to the crappy fifth generation copies of yardsticks that most people ended up using in those days.)

So why didn't the French stick with the second's pendulum, which coincidentally is almost exactly the length of a meter anyway?

Jean-Charles Borda...persuaded the commission to select the meridian because it would enable them to achieve the goal of French science for more than a century, that of establishing the size of the earth. Since the meridian would have to be measured with the superb repeating theodolite that he had invented, the credit for completing the work...would finally go to him.

....It was backed by another still more compelling motive, one familiar to generations of scientists and funding bodies since then: establishing the length of the meridian was a bigger, more expensive research project than establishing the length of the second's pendulum. On these grounds their choice was shrewd, for the National Assembly did indeed appropriate 300,000 livres for the project, a sum that kept many of the Académie's scientists in work when the institution was abolished in 1793.

And that was that. We ended up with the meter because it provided more work for some underemployed scientists.

The rest of the system fell into place easily, of course. A liter is a cube one-tenth of a meter across, and a kilogram is the weight of one liter of water.

And a second is just a second. They never did manage to decimalize that, though not for lack of trying....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (61)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....How do you like our new sofa? Isn't it purty?

The cats like it too, especially Inkblot. Although initially suspicious, he has now abandoned his favored purple towel and snoozes every evening curled up in the cracks between the cushions of the new bed we bought for him. Jasmine, as you can see, prefers a bit more personal attention.

BONUS CATS: Well, they're actually the same cats, but now they have their own book, courtesy of One Fine Jay.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (34)

AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE?....With the Medicare bill headed for defeat in the House last Saturday, Republican House leaders kept voting open for an unprecedented three hours beyond the normal 15-minute time limit in order to give themselves time to twist a few additional arms and put them over the top. This has become an increasingly common practice in the last couple of years, despite the fact that it caused a near revolt among Republicans when Jim Wright did this once for about 20 minutes back in 1987.

However, as Republican ur-gossip columnist Robert Novak tells us, it's even worse than that:

[Michigan congressman Nick] Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

Nice kid you've got there, Nick. Be a shame if anything happened to him....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:58 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (41)

November 27, 2003

GOBBLE GOBBLE....Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'll be back tomorrow.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (47)

November 26, 2003

SELECTIVE MEMORY....You'll often see a post in the blogosphere along the lines of "I sure don't remember any of those guys complaining when [fill in the blank]." Today, Jim Henley shows that sometimes that's just evidence of a poor memory.

Or perhaps not paying attention to begin with.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (20)

MASTER/SLAVE....I've been ignoring the "master/slave" controversy over in Los Angeles County, figuring it was just some stupid dustup that was being overhyped by the usual suspects. But apparently not. Via Eugene Volokh, the county is really taking this nonsense seriously.

(Quick summary: some county employee complained about having to work with computer equipment marked "master" and "slave." This is standard ISO approved nomenclature for things like disk drives and is used worldwide. For example, if you have multiple SCSI drives in your PC, one is the master and all the rest are slaves.)

Anyway, a manager in the purchasing department wrote a letter to vendors asking them to relabel their equipment. That's pretty dumb, but it's just one guy and the vendors aren't going to do anything anyway. But now there's this:

Under orders from the affirmative action office, county departments have surveyed about 1,000 pieces of equipment and taped over "master/slave" and put "primary/secondary" on the equipment, officials said.

....[Dennis A. Tafoya, director of the affirmative action office, said] "This has got some people's hair up on the back of their neck. They believe it's a question of being politically correct. It's not that at all. It's an issue of valuing diversity, respect and dignity for the individual who comes to work here every day. The issue that resonates in different people's minds is a very negative connotation."

If this isn't PC run amok, I don't know what is. "Master" and "slave" are ordinary English words, not epithets, and it's absurd to try and ban them from common usage.

Making a bunch of county employees run around with rolls of masking tape to cover up faux offenses is playground stuff. "Knock it off and get back to work" is all the respect that this particular complaint deserved.

POSTSCRIPT: Before anyone asks, yes, this stuff actually matters. There are plenty of genuine offenses left in our society, and childish stuff like this just leads people to throw up their hands in disgust and conclude that all complaints of racial offensiveness are equally ludicrous. It's a real disservice to take things like this seriously.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (9) | Comments (185)

WESLEY CLARK ROUNDUP....Wes Clark seems to have gotten his campaign woes more or less under control and has been getting a bunch of press lately. In addition to appearances on Letterman and 60 Minutes II, there have been lots and lots of profiles and interviews recently, many of them actually interesting! Here's a personal roundup:

  • In the New York Times, N.R. Kleinfeld writes, "In judging him, people tend to diverge on his ambition: to what extent is it fired by altruism and to what extent by self-aggrandizement? Is he all about 'duty,' as he says, or is he all about 'Wes,' as some detractors say? Or some of both?"

    Kleinfeld seems unable to make up his mind, but if you're interested in the "walking contradiction" school of Clark biography, this is the piece to read.

  • Over at Open Source Politics, UCLA political theorist Andy Sabl has made up his mind: Clark is a pre-sixties Democrat, "a throwback, a Rip Van Winkle, a pluralistic, optimistic, Greatest Generation-style politician lost, like Howard the Duck, in a world he never made. He's further outside the mainstream political culture than can possibly be imagined. This is what makes him so striking, so hard to parse, and so clearly the best candidate."

  • At Beliefnet, Steven Waldman talks to Clark about his religion: "I'm spiritual. I'm religious. I'm a strong Christian and I'm a Catholic but I go to Presbyterian Church." Parse that, baby!

  • GQ, apparently hoping that the General appeals to their target demographic, has a profile of Clark this month that one reader writes to tell me is the best article she's read about Clark. An excerpt: "I'll tell you what I think. He's running for president, and he is not used to losing. And if he gets the nomination, he'll go up and down this country and beat on President Bush like a drum. He'll do 2,000 yards of swimming every morning; he'll rappel down any cliff he needs to; he will shake off any small-arms fire as if it were a swarm of gnats. And he'll get better at the game each and every day. He hates to lose. And he doesn't run from fights. And even if he's never played the game, he's never a beginner at anything."

  • And for those of you who want some Clark bashing, check out Matt Taibbi's hatchet job in The Nation, in which he finds a few low-level Clark staffers and makes fun of them. Taibbi seems uninterested in trying to make sense of Clark's complexity and unwilling to countenance any foreign policy views deeper than "killing people is wrong."

    (And honestly, isn't carping about the fact that Clark once said some nice things about the Bush administration getting a little old? Hell, even I occasionally say some nice things about the Bush administration. I hope that doesn't mean I have to revoke my Democratic party registration.)

If you're interested in Clark, read 'em all. The consistent theme, which I agree with, is that Clark is a hard guy to make sense of. But if you're willing to take the time to look at him without too much cynicism, there's a lot to like. Yeah, he's personally ambitious and even a bit arrogant — attributes shared by virtually all presidential candidates, I think — but he's also broadly and honestly liberal, he bridges the culture war gap, he genuinely believes in America's capability to do good, he understands at a gut level that multilateralism is hard but absolutely necessary if we're going to win the war on terrorism, and he's much more sincere in his beliefs than your average politician. What's more, he's got the vision and the drive to get things done and the coattails to help elect other candidates besides himself.

I'm glad he's on our side. He'd make a good president.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (78)

FREE CHEAP LUNCH....I always thought that methane in the atmosphere was mostly a result of cow farts, but apparently that's just an old wive's tale:

About 70 percent comes from human activities — with most from fossil-fuel extraction. But methane also comes from sources as varied as the digestive tract of cattle and termites, wetlands, rice paddies and garbage dumps.

Why do we care? Because methane is a pretty serious greenhouse gas, and apparently some recent experience indicates that it could be substantially cut back at fairly low cost — and with no harm to economic growth.

All of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt until it's confirmed by further studies, but it's encouraging news anyway.

So will anyone do anything about it? I don't know. It reminds me of my other current favorite "cheap lunch" story: lead abatement, which would cost around $30 billion or so and could produce IQ gains of about 7 points in 6 million children. (Note: all numbers extremely approximate.) This is something where you could double the cost and halve the gain and it would still be one of the most stupendous social investments you could make. It's a real no-brainer, and it would probably raise student test scores — raise them for real — more than every educational initiative of the last decade put together.

But there doesn't seem to be any constituency for it, so nobody cares. Will methane reduction be the same?

POSTSCRIPT: Both of these things are still speculative, of course, since I'm not sure the science is firm on either one. Still, I wonder: is there a top ten list somewhere of programs that could benefit society the most at the smallest cost — with some serious data to back up the claims? I'll put methane reduction and lead abatement on the tentative list, but what else should go on it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (65)

IRAQI DEMOCRACY....The New York Times has more today about Iraq's most powerful cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Apparently he's not happy with the current election plans either:

Spokesmen for Mr. Sistani, who exercises strong influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, said he was insisting that the election planned for next June must be a direct, popular ballot — not the indirect caucus election called for in the already-troubled American plan. He is also insisting that any new Iraqi government have a more overtly Islamic character, aides said today.

And he's not the only one criticizing the United States:

The view that the American elections play a major role in shaping Iraq's political future is widely held among Governing Council members. Ahmed Chalabi, another council member, said: "The whole thing was set up so President Bush could come to the airport in October for a ceremony to congratulate the new Iraqi government. When you work backwards from that, you understand the dates the Americans were insisting on."

It didn't take long for Chalabi to turn on us, did it? I wonder if there's anyone in the Pentagon who's still returning his phone calls.

What a mess. It would be nice to think that some of these problems could have been avoided if the administration's ideologues had been willing to listen to dissenting voices once in a while, and I suppose some of them could have been. But in the end, there was never any chance that Iraqis themselves would choose anything other than a Shiite-dominated Islamic state if they were given a choice, something that's hardly what the war's supporters had in mind. The democratic rubber is now hitting the Islamic road.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:46 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (56)

GEORGIAN DEMOCRACY....GEORGIAN OIL....Patrick Belton points approvingly to this Christian Science Monitor story about the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia:

"The US government has gone to great lengths to back a [democratic] process and institutions, and to be very careful - amid big pressure from both sides - not to back certain individuals," says Mark Mullen, head of the Georgia office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), funded by the US government, which has engaged in democracy training here since the mid-1990s.

...."There is clearly US influence in this," says George Khutsishvili, head of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, one of many prodemocracy groups in Tbilisi that receives US, EU, and other Western funding. "The US has supported this government for so many years, with so little outcome. It was a disaster. Finally they realized [Shevardnadze] is not the man to count on" and that the "only thing is to remove [him]."

Now, there's no question that Georgia's vote three weeks ago was rigged, but was our disillusionment with Shevardnadze really due solely to his lack of dedication to democracy? Here's a second opinion from Canada's Globe and Mail:

Western investors built a second [oil pipeline] in 1998 from Baku to the Georgian port city of Supsa. Plans were laid for an even larger pipeline that would run through Georgia to Turkey and the Mediterranean. When these plans were made, Mr. Shevardnadze was seen as an asset by both Western investors and the U.S. government.

....But somewhere along the line, Mr. Shevardnadze reversed course and decided to once more embrace Russia. This summer, Georgia signed a secret 25-year deal to make the Russian energy giant Gazprom its sole supplier of gas. Then it effectively sold the electricity grid to another Russian firm, cutting out AES, the company that the U.S. administration had backed to win the deal. Mr. Shevardnadze attacked AES as "liars and cheats." Both deals dramatically increased Russian influence in Tbilisi.

Washington's reaction was swift. Within weeks, U.S. President George W. Bush had sent senior adviser Stephen Mann to Tbilisi with a warning: "Georgia should not do anything that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor," he said.

It goes without saying that I don't know enough about Georgian politics to say which of these stories is closer to the truth, but it's worth reading both of them.

I like Bush's speeches about democracy — although an American president extolling the virtues of democracy is hardly the rarity that his supporters make it out to be — but it's a little hard not to be cynical about the fact that the Bush administration's dedication to democracy seems to be strongest whenever U.S. energy interests are at stake. If he wants to show that he's serious Bush is going to have to occasionally support democracy even in places where it doesn't favor American interests. So far he hasn't.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (61)

CONFUSED....Here's a curious thing I just realized while pondering the previous post: Arnold is proposing two things:

  • $14 billion in spending cuts for next year, enough to balance the budget.

  • A $15 billion bond in order to cover the projected deficit.

What am I missing here? Why do we need both?

UPDATE: Ah, I see. The bond measure is apparently designed to cover this year's deficit. Of course, there is no deficit this year, but Arnold created one by lowering the vehicle license fee, and he's also afraid that courts will rule our current $10 billion in bonds unconstitutional. Putting the bond measure on the ballot will fix that.

I understand now.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (31)

CALIFORNIA'S BUDGET....Arnold unveiled his proposed California constitutional amendment to limit spending increases yesterday, and as usual the LA Times produces a long block of text that scatters the details around so widely that it's hard to figure out just what it's all about. I know that editors are convinced no one cares about actual details and stuff, but would it kill them to use a few bullet points or include a sidebar chart that spelled everything out?

Anyway, as near as I can tell, here are the details:

  1. Limit spending increases to total increases in state personal income.

  2. Restrict the state's ability to issue bonds to cover deficits.

  3. Give the governor "broad authority" to make budget cuts at any point during the year.

  4. Amend Proposition 98 to eliminate the guarantee that education gets approximately half of all new funding.

Item #2 is pretty funny, of course, since issuing bonds to cover this year's debt is the centerpiece of Arnold's financial plan. Perhaps he doesn't see the irony.

At any rate, assuming you're in favor of constitutional spending limits, this one isn't too bad. Basing it on personal income (or state GDP) is the right way to do it, and I've never been in favor of special set-asides like Prop 98 anyway.

On the other hand, giving the governor unilateral authority to make budget cuts is not a good idea: it's too easily abused and there's really no good reason for it. If midyear cuts are urgent, the legislature ought to have a say in where they occur.

On a more immediate note, since the deadline for putting this on the ballot is December 5, it means that when the legislature returns from Thanksgiving they will have precisely five days to consider the proposal. And the Times also notes that if the spending cap passes it will require 20% cuts in spending next fiscal year. Here's a preview:

In her testimony, [Finance Director Donna] Arduin offered a glimpse of the far more severe reductions the governor is expected to present in his January budget. She talked about health and human services programs that are not restrictive enough in whom they serve, suggested that taxpayers may be too heavily subsidizing public universities, and that local schools have been consistently over-funded, while school districts have not been held accountable for improving student achievement.

Local schools have been consistently overfunded? Then why did his TV ads say this about once every ten minutes during the campaign?

Question: Will you have to cut education?

Schwarzenegger: No. We can fix this mess without hurting the schools. For me, children come first. Always have, always will.

Yet another broken campaign promise, I guess. He sure doesn't wait long, does he?

For more, here is Dan Weintraub on Arnold's first round of budget cut proposals, which are pretty brutal even though they amount to a paltry $2 billion. He's going to need to find 7x that amount for next year.

Expect nuclear war to begin shortly.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:54 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (40)

BURIED....I noted in passing this morning while reading the LA Times that the story about the theft of Democratic computer files was limited to a Reuters dispatch on page 14. The Washington Post ran a few paragraphs on page 23. And the New York Times also limited itself to wire service copy.

I now confidently await howls of outrage from the usual suspects about the mainstream media ignoring this story....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:16 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (84)

November 25, 2003

ELECTIONS IN IRAQ....There's a long but interesting article in Wednesday's Washington Post about the sudden change in plans earlier this month regarding Iraqi sovereignty and early elections. The proximate cause, says reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, was indeed the escalating casualties during October and early November, but the underlying motivation for the about face was actually the fatwa issued in June by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani calling for general elections. Apparently Bremer and his team thought they could somehow work their way around the fatwa, but Sistani refused to budge and eventually the Americans figured out that they didn't have much choice in the matter. Sistani was calling the shots.

The article is well worth reading, not just for its background but also for its implications about what Iraq will look like a year from now. Frankly, I can't tell if it's good or bad.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (58)

REPUBLICAN HACKERS....A couple of Orrin Hatch's staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee have been caught stealing files from the computers of Democratic senators Dick Durbin and Ted Kennedy. Josh Marshall has the story.

As he says, this makes the charge that a Republican staffer stole that Intelligence Committee memo quite a bit more plausible too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:43 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (117)

TAKIN' CARE OF BIDNESS....Via Atrios comes this tantalizing question: why would Jiang Mianheng, the son of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, want to pay George Bush's brother Neil $2 million — plus a few other, um perks — despite his lack of knowledge of anything related to Jiang's business?

If your answer has anything to do with family connections, you're nothing more than a bitter, Bush-hating cynic. Stop it.

POSTSCRIPT: Actually, this is my favorite part of the story:

[Neil] Bush said he was co-chairman of Crest Investment Corporation, but worked only an average of three to four hours a week. For that, he received $15,000 every three months.

Bush said he provided Crest "miscellaneous consulting services."

"Such as?" asked Brown.

"Such as answering phone calls when Jamail Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice," Bush said.

The part about the prostitutes is pretty funny too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (62)

PARTITIONING IRAQ....And speaking of Matt, over at his day job he says that while Leslie Gelb's suggestion in the New York Times of a three-way partition of Iraq wouldn't be pretty, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

It's true that an ethnic partition would be pretty ugly, but for an equally compelling argument against partition go read John Quiggin, who points out that most of Iraq's population is in the central area around Baghdad but all of the oil is in the north and south:

So either a federal government in Baghdad would control revenue from oil that is under the physical control of Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south or the states would get the oil in which case the economy of the Sunni state in Baghdad would be devastated. Neither option seems tenable.

I agree. Giving the Sunni state a permanent claim on oil wealth from two other countries just isn't realistic in the long term, while forced destitution would create an insanely enraged anti-American state smack in the middle of present-day Iraq. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

Oddly enough, Gelb is well aware of this but somehow thinks it's an opportunity, not a problem, because we could use the partition as an excuse to withdraw our troops from the Sunni center:

American officials could then wait for the troublesome and domineering Sunnis, without oil or oil revenues, to moderate their ambitions or suffer the consequences.

"Suffer the consequences" has a rather ominous tone to it, don't you think?

Unfortunately, it's realities like this that keep leading me to the conclusion that unless we want a Yugoslavia-style civil war on our hands, the only option is for U.S. troops to maintain a presence in Iraq for a long time — "long" as in ten or twenty years. Just like in Yugoslavia.

And believe me, I don't like this idea any more than you do....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (67)

BIG BUSINESS + BIG GOVERNMENT = INVINCIBILITY?....In comments to the previous post I mentioned that Matt Yglesias said something the other day that deserves more attention. So I'm going to give it some more attention:

Ultimately, it seems to me that the Democratic Party is just helpless when faced with the prospect of a GOP that isn't even going to try to stand for conservative principles. A party organized as an alliance between Big Government and Big Business just has too many big guns on its side. The only real question is whether or not conservatives will try and take their party back from the Rove-DeLay-Frist domestic policy agenda and return the GOP to advocating something that resembles a small government philosophy.

There's a lot of truth to this. If the Republican party is both the party of big business giveaways and the party of big government giveaways it's going to be nearly impossible to beat because there are no constituencies left who are unhappy enough to demand change. It's free beer for everyone!

It can't last forever, of course, and eventually some poor Democrat will get elected to slog through the cleanup, but in the meantime it's a pretty potent combination. In fact, it seems to me that this is a pretty good topic for an enterprising young political journalist to explore at length in a progressive magazine.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (47)

PURITY....David Bernstein repeats a common lament among conservatives these days about George Bush's presidency:

"Compassionate conservatism" seems to have turned out to be a replay of the Nixon strategy of buying off every conceivable interest group that is capable of being bought off by a Republican administration, while using social issues and conservative rhetoric to appease the Republican masses. Nixon, at least, had the excuse of governing in an era when liberalism was at its apex, and with the constraints imposed by the other two branches of government, dominated by liberal Democrats. What is George Bush's excuse?

Answer: there isn't one. Like it or not, this is who George Bush is.

I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue — conservatives because they were so eager for a conservative president after eight years of Bill Clinton and liberals because it gives them a convenient object of hatred. But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.

It's true that Bush is temperamentally conservative, and it's also true that he sometimes does things that conservatives like: lowering taxes, for example, or invading Iraq. What's more, he talks the conservative talk pretty well, and all of this has fooled conservatives (and many liberals) into thinking that he does what he does out of deep devotion to conservative principles.

But he doesn't. I suspect that conservative eagerness for a conservative president has caused them to project their own views onto Bush, but Bernstein is right: Bush is just playing electoral politics. Tax cuts reward his rich contributors, invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser, the energy bill helped out his business pals, tariffs helped him with steel workers, the Medicare bill helps him with seniors, and the partial birth abortion bill helps him with the religious right. None of these things were truly driven by any kind of ideological purity.

This is why I'm much less certain than his supporters that Bush is planning to stay in Iraq. I doubt that he was truly motivated by the neocon grand plan or an unusual attraction to Middle East democracy as much as he was by a simple desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now that that's done, he'll get out of Iraq without a second thought if it turns into a losing issue at the polls.

The good news for liberals in all this — a bit of a thin reed, but still — is that it just goes to show that plenty of liberal principles remain very popular, regardless of what the movement conservatives like to pretend, and George Bush and his advisors have tacitly acknowledged this by refusing to hew to the ideological line that the Heritage Foundation folks would like him to. They know it would be suicidal.

The bad news for liberals is that while ideological purity might not motivate Bush, winning does. He strikes me as the most single-minded party politician since at least LBJ, and he is bound and determined to win at all costs — both personally and for the Republican party. He's a fighter with a mean streak, and that means that 2004 is going to be one nasty election. Fasten your seat belts.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (93)

A FEW OF HIS FAVORITE THINGS....Bill Clinton has been catching a bit of flak for his list of 21 favorite books. Here they are:

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Maya Angelou
"Meditations," Marcus Aurelius
"The Denial of Death," Ernest Becker
"Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963," Taylor Branch
"Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Lincoln," David Herbert Donald
"The Four Quartets," T.S. Eliot
"Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
"The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century," David Fromkin
"One Hundred Years of Solitude," Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes," Seamus Heaney
"King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," Adam Hochschild
"The Imitation of Christ," Thomas a Kempis
"Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell
"The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis," Carroll Quigley
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics," Reinhold Niebuhr
"The Confessions of Nat Turner," William Styron
"Politics as a Vocation," Max Weber
"You Can't Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe
"Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," Robert Wright
"The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats," William Butler Yeats

Now, I don't blame him for including his spouse's book — I hope Marian would display the same loyalty to me if someone asked for a list of her 21 favorite websites — but I have to admit that this list does look a mite calculated, doesn't it?

It doesn't reflect very well on me, either. Out of the entire list, not one is a favorite of mine. In fact, I've only even read one of these books — because it was assigned in class.

The worst part, though, is that I've never even heard of 11 of these books, and that's even giving myself credit for the Yeats, which I've technically never heard of but certainly assumed existed. (And no, I don't intend to reveal the extent of my ignorance by listing the ones I haven't heard of.)

So do you think these are really the books Bill would take to a desert island? Personally, I'd probably prefer the collected Doonesbury.

And I'm sure it goes without saying that the entire point of this post is to allow people to make jokes in comments about W's favorites, so have at it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (193)

COMPROMISE....If I had to choose between them, I'd vote to pass the Medicare bill and kill the energy bill, and that's exactly what happened. So I guess I'm not too unhappy with how things turned out.

However, I note without comment that Tom Daschle ended up on the losing side of both these votes....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (75)

REPEAL TAFT-HARTLEY!....Here's part 3 of the LA Times Wal-Mart series. This one is about what unions think of Wal-Mart.

Short answer: not much.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:23 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (18)

November 24, 2003

RELIGIOUS WARS....Robert Reich has an article this month in The American Prospect that is maddening. How can one person say so much that's right and so much that's wrong all in the same few paragraphs?

The subject is gay marriage, and here's the part that's right:

Public opinion sides with the Democrats. Even though a slim majority continues to oppose gay marriage, polls show that most Americans believe that homosexual relationships between consenting adults should be legal, that the choice of whether to have an abortion should be up to a woman and her doctor, that stem-cell research should be legal, and that religion should stay out of the public schools.

....Democrats should make clear that this is an issue about state power, not religion -- and call for gay civil rights. Not "marriage," but "domestic partnership" or "civil union" or whatever words will convey the same legal rights accorded heterosexuals. Most Americans think the law shouldn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. It follows that gays should have the same legal rights.

That's exactly right. To the extent possible, Democrats should frame this not as a culture war issue, but as one of basic fairness. It doesn't have to be about marriage per se, it needs to be about legal rights that most Americans agree should be available to anyone.

But then, mixed into the very same paragraphs, is this:

For more than three hundred years, the liberal tradition has sought to free people from the tyranny of religious doctrines that would otherwise be imposed on them. Today's evangelical right detests that tradition and seeks nothing short of a state-sponsored religion....Gay marriage doesn't have to be a wedge issue for the evangelicals -- not if Democrats can put it where it belongs, as another front in the religious wars.

....Democrats should be clear that the issues of abortion and stem-cell research are about religious liberty. Tar the Republicans and the evangelicals with William Pryor and other nominees who want to overrule Roe. Show that the Senate Democrats' filibuster of these nominees is another front in the same religious war.

....The religious wars aren't pretty. Religious wars never are. But Democrats should mount a firm and clear counter-assault. In the months leading up to Election Day, when Republicans are screaming about God and accusing the Democrats of siding with sexual deviants and baby killers, Democrats should remind Americans that however important religion is to our spiritual lives, there is no room for liberty in a theocracy.

This is unbelievably destructive advice. Of course we should stand up for issues and policies we believe in, but the worst possible way to do it is to allow our positions to be framed as part of a religious war — with Democrats necessarily cast in the anti-God role. This is exactly the stereotype of the party that the religious right wants people to believe, and the last thing we should be doing is helping them along.

Amy Sullivan and Allan Brill have written about this subject, and I think they have the right take on it. We don't need to compromise on civil liberties issues one iota, but we shouldn't make our positions sound like attacks on religion itself. It's wrong, it's self-defeating, and it's exactly what Republicans are trying to sucker us into doing.

So let's not.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (181)

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE....I've been remiss in not mentioning this before, but a bunch of pretty good bloggers have gotten together to start a new group blog on Latin American affairs. It's called Southern Exposure, and it's a good one to bookmark if this is a subject that interests you.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (23)

WE'RE #2!....Cosmic karma has been restored: USC is back to #2 in the BCS rankings. As near as I can tell, their lead over LSU is big enough that as long as they beat Oregon State in a couple of weeks they're assured of holding on and getting an invitation to the Sugar Bowl to play Oklahoma for the national championship.

Which is good news for for the BCS, since I think pretty much everyone thinks this is how it should have turned out. And although filial loyalty hasn't quite sapped my left brain enough to predict a Trojan victory in New Orleans, I think it'll be closer than a lot of people think. Ever since the Cal game USC has looked awfully strong and awfully focused, and it ought to be a good game.

(I should probably mention that despite all the football posts this year, I'm actually not a huge fan or anything. But my parents went to USC and my father was a big college football fan and I grew up during the USC glory days of the 60s and 70s. Put it all together and it just seems like USC ought to be playing for a national championship.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (53)

YES, PIGS CAN FLY IF YOU KICK THEM HARD ENOUGH....Oink. The Democratic minority on the House Appropriations Committee has written a report about Republican addiction to pork, and while the Washington Post's rendering of the opening chart is a more readable version, I think I prefer the one that's actually in the report itself. Edward Tufte might not approve, but it has a certain charm, don't you think?

The subject of the report is earmarks, which are specific pet projects inserted into bills by congress critters who are eager to funnel some federal dough directly to their own districts. Bottom line: everyone does it, but Republicans do it a lot more.

In the Labor-HHS-Education bill, as the chart shows, the number of earmarks has gone up from zero in 1995, when the Republicans took over, to 1,857 this year.

In the annual transportation bill, Democrats inserted 322 earmarks in their final bill in 1995. Republicans inserted 1,818 this year. In the defense appropriations bill the number has gone from about 300 to 1,800 and in VA-HUD from 265 to 921. Earmarks in the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill have skyrocketed from 45 to 966.

Put it all together, and in just these five appropriations bills the number of earmarks has risen from about 900 in 1995 to 7,362 this year.

The entire report is here, and it makes for fun reading in spots. It's full of cartoons and anecdotes, like the $1 million in the education budget earmarked for "The First Tee," a program to teach kids how to play golf. The sponsor of the earmark was that famous tax-cutting fiscal conservative Tom DeLay.

Oink oink.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (69)

SUPERMARKET STRIKE UPDATE....The unions have decided to up the ante in the supermarket strike. Management says they have a "contingency plan," but it's a secret....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (39)

THE ENERGY BILL....Irwin Stelzer at the Weekly Standard does a good job of explaining and skewering the appalling Bush/Cheney energy bill — so go read his article — but then gets to the real meat of the matter in his final paragraph:

But it is not the expensive and useless provisions that the bill contains that should most trouble us. The major liability of this bill is not what it contains, but what it doesn't. It leaves our energy policy stuck where it has been ever since Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and their successors talked the talk but failed to walk the walk towards a sensible response to our dependence on imports. We continue to rely on aircraft carriers and troops to assure adequate supplies of oil to fuel our cars and heat our homes. No photo op of a smiling president, pen in hand, surrounded by the grinning authors of this senseless legislation, can conceal that shameful fact.

That's exactly right. We all know that legislation is like sausage, and if a bunch of pork-fueled compromises were the price of getting some good public policy, we could all hold our noses and support the bill. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

But the problem is that with a couple of (very) minor exceptions, there's literally nothing worthwhile in this bill. Stelzer explains in passing why this is:

Rather than confront this problem by imposing a tax on imported oil....

Ah, a tax. But George Bush and Tom DeLay would rather chew off their own arms than admit that a tax increase is part of the answer to any problem, wouldn't they?

It's pretty sad that a bill nearly three years in the making could end up so completely irrelevant to the problem at hand. Unfortunately, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, this is not an administration that tries to solve problems, it's an administration that says here's a problem and how can we use it to advance the base's agenda?

On that score, this bill seems to be pretty well crafted.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:59 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (62)

RUSH BEHIND BARS?....Will Rush go to jail for money laundering? Drug expert Mark Kleiman says it could happen and explains (a) the law and (b) the agency politics.

Like Mark, I'd actually prefer that this be an opportunity for "lock 'em up" conservatives to do some soul searching about their attitudes toward drug policy rather than an excuse to toss Rush in the can, but on the other hand if a Rush trial moved Kobe and Jacko off the front page it might be worthwhile.

And thanks also to Mark for pointing us to professional moralist William Bennett's explanation of why Rush's actions weren't as bad as Bill Clinton's:

"He was manly," Mr. Bennett added of Mr. Limbaugh. "He was straightforward."

He was manly? Is that what you call threatening your housekeeper when she starts to have second thoughts about acting as your supplier? And straightforward? Sure, after he was caught, same as Bill.

I guess Bennett thinks that Arnold's groping was OK too. After all, it doesn't get much more manly than that.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (58)

WAL-MART PART 2....Here's Part 2 of the 3-part LA Times Wal-Mart story. First there's this:

Isabel Reyes, who has worked at the plant for 11 years, pushes fabric through her sewing machine 10 hours a day, struggling to meet the latest quota scrawled on a blackboard. She now sews sleeves onto shirts at the rate of 1,200 garments a day. That's two shirts a minute, one sleeve every 15 seconds.

....Reyes, who earns the equivalent of $35 a week, says her bosses blame the long hours and low wages on big U.S. companies and their demands for ever-cheaper merchandise. Wal-Mart, the biggest company of them all, is the Cosmos factory's main customer.

Reyes is skeptical. Why, she asked, would a company in the richest country in the world care about a few pennies on a pair of shorts?

But then there's also this:

Sheikh Nazma, a former child laborer [in Bangladesh], has seen the way Wal-Mart can help clean things up.

She worked at a Dhaka garment factory that had no clean drinking water and only a few filthy toilets for hundreds of employees. After the owner refused to pay their wages for three months, the employees complained to Wal-Mart, the factory's main customer.

"Wal-Mart interfered, and...the owner paid our salaries and overtime and even paid bonuses to each worker," recalled Nazma, who later helped launch the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation.

There are no simple answers to the questions raised by this article, but it does show that American outsourcing can work for both good and ill. It's just that it would be nice to raise the proportion of good a little bit.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:11 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (45)

November 23, 2003

FIGHTING TERRORISM....PART 1....I got into a minor skirmish with my friend Armed Liberal a few weeks ago that ended up producing this post over at Winds of Change in which he listed six ideas about the war on terrorism that he thought Democrats ought to support. They mostly looked fine to me, which caused me to wonder if we really disagreed with each other at all.

A bunch of emails later, we agreed to find out by expanding on each of the six items in a cross-blog discussion. Will it be really boring, as AL explains each of his points and I just nod my head and say "Sounds good to me"? Or will we find something really meaty to argue about? It's time to find out.

Here's point #1:

We're not going anywhere in Afghanistan or Iraq until we're done. Afghanistan will not turn into Vermont any time soon, but we will make sure that the power of the warlords is checked, and that it doesn't collapse again. Iraq could be the leader of the Middle east, and we intend to help build it into that.

And here is AL's expanded version. If you're interested in following this, go ahead and read it and then come back.

(Dum de dum....)

Now, if I understand his post correctly, his main argument isn't so much that Iraq and Afghanistan are important per se, but rather that they're important symbols of our willingness to continue the broader war against terrorism for as long as it takes:

The way to win is simply to sit on them and make it clear that you will sit on them until they have really and truly given up — until their will is broken to yours.

....By taking this position, by making it clear that we will stay as long at it takes, spend the treasure and blood required to break the wave of Islamist rage, in my view we will reduce the amount of actual violence we will ultimately have to impose.

So: if we leave Iraq, we're admitting to the terrorists that hitting us hard will get rid of us. In the end, this just encourages more terrorism since we've shown them that it can be successful.

Regardless of how it sounds to liberal ears, this is a compelling argument. But let's take a look at a few counterarguments:

  • Iraq is tangential to the war on terror. In fact, putting an enormous American army in the center of the Arab world will do nothing except spur on the terrorists and earn the enmity of the general population. If we want to make sure the terrorists know we're serious, we should be fighting them, not a bunch of Ba'ath nationalists.

  • We can't win. Max Sawicky makes the canonical version of this argument here, and it's worth listening to. Regardless of anything else, if victory truly isn't possible then we should just get out.

  • This is the wrong fight. Fighting al-Qaeda style terrorists with a conventional army is suicidal. We need to get out of Iraq and put together a genuine counter-terrorism force.

Although — as we'll see — I agree with AL's conclusions about staying in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's enough truth in all of these arguments to make me disagree with his reasons. The problem is that while sticking around in order to send a message seems like a sound show of resolve, the sad fact is that it usually accomplishes little except convincing the other guy that he needs to show more resolve too — as the French in Algeria or the Israelis in the West Bank can attest.

This is not the way to win wars. As AL acknowledges, symbolic shows of resolve won't deter al-Qaeda — they are, after all, fanatics — and they also won't retain the support of the American public, which is generally smart enough to distinguish between symbolic actions and those that are genuinely critical to American security.

No, the way to win wars is to fight the right battles and avoid the wrong ones, and this sometimes means acknowledging an error and moving the fight elsewhere — a tactic that may be less satisfying than a display of Alamo-style grit, but also one that's a lot more likely to end in victory. So while I don't entirely share Max's pessimism about our ability to win in Iraq, I do agree that Iraq is tangential to the war on terrorism and is quite likely the wrong fight. Getting out might be taken as a symbol of weakness by some, but in reality it would make us stronger by allowing us to redeploy our resources where they really belong and where they can make a real difference.

Having said all that, however, I think it's right to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan anyway. This is partly because I think we owe it to them — we did invade their countries, after all — and partly because I think it's possible for us to make a positive difference there. As AL says, we won't turn them into Vermont, but perhaps we can nudge them toward something better than they were before, which is both good for them and good for us.

So: yes, stay in Iraq and Afghanistan. But: do it with our eyes open and with the right goals in mind. When it comes to fighting terrorists, military force is a pretty good option, but when it comes to promoting liberal culture in foreign lands it's not. That's a lesson we need to keep our eyes on.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (64)

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNISTS....Matt Yglesias points out today that probably no one has ever turned down an offer from the New York Times to write a twice-weekly column, but that perhaps more people should. The standard 800-word format, he says, is hard to pull off.

That's true. Like Matt, I write more than 800 words a day, let alone twice a week, but a regular column that had to be 800 words ±5% every single time would be pretty intimidating. It's a format that takes some practice, and some people never get it.

What really strikes me as peculiar about all this is not the length requirement, which is standard for both typographical reasons and because daily newspaper readers are not really disposed to reading longer pieces, but the fact that the Times hires columnists who have never done it before. David Brooks is the subject of Matt's post, but Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman are other examples of writers who had no experience of the weekly 800-word routine before the Times hired them.

So why do they do it? The Times can hire anyone they want, so why don't they scour the country for columnists at second tier papers and hire one of them instead? Someone who has proven that they have a real knack for the 800-word routine?

And while we're on the subject, why is it that the LA Times, unlike both the NYT and the Washington Post, has no regular op-ed page columnists? They've had them on occasion in the past, but never more than one or two at a time, and none right now. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, just a minor oddity. Maybe Norah Vincent and Arianna Huffington made them swear off the idea.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (43)

WAL-MART....The LA Times is running Part 1 of a 3-part series on Wal-Mart today. Pretty interesting reading, even though the basic Wal-Mart story is familiar by now. Here's the nut:

The company has prospered by elevating one goal above all others: cutting prices relentlessly. U.S. economists say its tightfistedness has not only boosted its own bottom line, but also helped hold down the inflation rate for the entire country. Consumers reap the benefits every time they push a cart through Wal-Mart's checkout lines.

Yet Wal-Mart's astonishing success exacts a heavy price.

By squeezing suppliers to cut wholesale costs, the company has hastened the flight of U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas. By scouring the globe for the cheapest goods, it has driven factory jobs from one poor nation to another.

Productivity gains have made goods increasingly affordable since the Industrial Revolution, but there have been other factors at work too. In the mid-20th century, thanks in part to vigorous unionization, American businesses steadily paid their workers more, thus creating a growing class of people who could afford the products they made. Wal-Mart, by contrast, pays their workers less, which allows them to cut prices and therefore makes their products affordable to more people.

So which is the better and more sustainable model? Increasing the overall affordability of goods by creating a larger class of people who can afford them? Or increasing the overall affordability of goods by squeezing the blue collar workers who make them and thus lowering prices?

Both models work, but one works by building up the working class and the other works by tearing it down. I'll take Door #1.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (92)

STATES' RIGHTS....Dianne Feinstein has managed to prevent Congress from gutting California's efforts to reduce smog:

The agreement between Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) ensures that California, with its distinctive smog problem, would still have a special exemption under the federal Clean Air Act to impose tougher rules for the small gasoline engines sold in the state. It would bar other states from enacting stricter regulations than the federal government, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be required to draft a federal anti-pollution rule for the engines that would apply to the other states.

I'm not really sure what the compromise here was, since as far as I know the EPA is already drafting federal rules for small gasoline engines and other states are already barred from enacting their own. Only California has an exemption from the Clean Air Act.

Obviously there's something I'm missing here, but in any case I never really understood the problem. The ostensible reason that Briggs & Stratton (and thus Kit Bond) opposed the California rules was a fear that other states might then do the same. But why would they? Why would other states go to the time and trouble of enacting troublesome restrictions like these unless they have smog problems like California's — which they don't?

It's a mystery, but it's also a naked and unprincipled assault on federalism, no matter what Bond says:

Asked Saturday on Capitol Hill if his efforts don't go against his support for states' rights, Bond said, "It's not a question of states' rights. It's a question of whether the federal government [enacts] a federal rule that takes into account the concerns of the entire nation or whether we get held hostage by a bunch of a bureaucrats in Sacramento."

Putting aside his Gingrich-esque "bunch of bureaucrats" rhetoric, Bond is simply saying that the feds should enact rules, not the states. Why? Because if one state enacts a rule, other states might decide to follow suit if the rule seems to be working well.

And that would be bad because....?

UPDATE: In comments, Geoffrey Green clears up what the compromise was. Although only California has an exemption from the Clean Air Act, apparently other states are allowed to adopt either the federal rules or the California rule. The compromise bill prevents them from adopting California's rule in this case.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (37)

November 22, 2003

A MESSAGE FROM THE GROCERY WORKERS UNION....I don't normally have guest posts, but yesterday I wrote a short piece about the supermarket strike that generated quite a few comments. Today, Barbara Maynard, the chief spokesperson for UFCW Locals 770 and 1442, the grocery workers unions in the Los Angeles area, would like to respond to some of the comments. Take it away, Barbara:

Greetings everybody. Seems maybe the debate slipped away from the grocery workers themselves and into a referendum about unions? How ’bout we get back to the 70,000 grocery workers for a minute...

I’m quite involved in this strike and I’d like to share a few facts just to set the record straight. Let’s then debate these facts.

With regard to health care, I’ve heard people say over and over again that “everybody contributes something to their health plan — so should grocery workers.” Well, did you know that over the years grocery workers have given up pay raises in exchange for the assurance of having good health insurance? The employer's contribution toward healthcare has been a part of their compensation. The union could have negotiated it the other way. They could have agreed to higher wages and higher employee premiums...but the workers wanted a lower paycheck in exchange for fully paid health care.

OK, so that was then and health costs have been escalating. If this was about "contributing a little to their healthcare" there would be no strike. The employer proposal that led to this strike put so little money on the table that, in addition to the premium pickup of $5 to $15 a week, workers’ health benefits under their insurance plan would have to be cut 50% (which means that health care costs would be shifted onto the workers outside their insurance plan, meaning out of their own pocket). If the workers want to get the same insurance plan, it would cost them $95 a week or nearly $5,000 a year. THAT IS 25% OF THE AVERAGE WORKER'S SALARY. Is that what "everybody " pays out of pocket on a percentage basis? Hardly....

The fact is that most of these workers — at an average annual gross income of $20,000 — live paycheck to paycheck and earn their healthcare. If the cost to the worker is too high, experience has shown that workers "opt out" of insurance and roll the dice by becoming uninsured.

The bottom line regarding health care is that when a worker lives paycheck to paycheck she can only get her healthcare one of two ways: earn it or get it from the taxpayer. The answer as a taxpayer is clear to me: I would rather people earn their healthcare than get it from me as a taxpayer. What about you?

The companies have proposed to pay all new hires — and the stores have about 1/3 turnover each year, which means that there are a lot of new hires — $3 to $4 an hour less than the current employees. What does this mean? This means that new hires will be making Wal-Mart wages, which means that anybody with kids will be eligible for food stamps and taxpayer subsidized health care...

I hear a lot about these employees being “overpaid.” Did you know that the average hourly wage in the stores is $12.97? Did you know that 70% of the workforce is part time with the average number of hours worked per week just 30? That’s slightly more than $20k a year...hardly a big wage.

Having said that, there are some classifications in the store that make as much as $17.90/hour. There's no question that these are good jobs and the wages they make have been fought for. And because they're good jobs, they attract good people. People with customer service skills. (Have you gone into a store in Southern California with minimum wage workers lately? They don't care at all about you or their store!) Many grocery workers make a career in the stores and, as a result, they take real pride in the things that matter to me as a consumer: clean stores, well stocked shelves, knowledgeable staff (try asking a Wal-Mart worker where to find something like Devonshire cream — he would stare at you blankly and say "try aisle 46" ... without having any idea where it is).

Here’s the key question: Would you rather that these 70,000 middle class jobs become poverty level jobs filled by workers who have to turn to the taxpayer for healthcare and food stamps? That’s what the companies are proposing because that’s what Wal-Mart has. The CEOs of these three companies are just trying to keep up with the Waltons. Their combined operating profits have gone up 91% in the past five years...but Wal-Mart’s have gone up even more. Good lord — when is enough enough? At what price profits???

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (159)

BAD NAME....The Men of Troy seem to have matters well in hand, so let's turn to more important matters. A man named Charles Booher was arrested on Thursday for making wild threats against a company that was overhelming him with spam, but Douglas Mackay, the president of the company, says that Booher had his signals crossed:

He said his firm does not send spam but blamed a rival firm which he said routes much of their unsolicited bulk e-mail through Russia and eastern Europe. Mackay said such firms gave a bad name to the penis enhancement business.

That's so true, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (29)

LIBERTARIANS....Via Dan Drezner, cartoonist Berke Breathed explains his political temperament:

If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners.

Yeah, there's that. Plus the fact that so many of them seem to have about the same level of insight into human nature as your average Marxist academic with wire hair sprouting out of his ears.*

*Description of Marxist academics stolen from Tom Wolfe.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (141)

FOOTBALL UPDATE....Today's colors: maize, blue, cardinal, and gold. Go Wolverines! Go Trojans!

This has been a public service announcement. The festivities start now on ABC.

UPDATE: That's one down. Thanks, Michigan!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (72)

November 21, 2003

WILL IRAQ TURN INTO THE WEST BANK?....I don't like this one bit:

In the last six months, U.S. Army commanders, Pentagon officials and military trainers have sought advice from Israeli intelligence and security officials on everything from how to set up roadblocks to the best way to bomb suspected guerrilla hide-outs in an urban area.

....U.S. military officials also have reviewed a common Israeli tactic of conducting house-by-house searches for armed fighters by knocking down interior walls with a portable battering ram. The tactic eliminates the need to pass through doors and windows — one of the most dangerous aspects of urban combat, because of possible booby traps.

In the last week, U.S. soldiers began leveling houses and buildings used by suspected guerrillas, a tactic long employed by the Israeli military in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where they use bulldozers to knock down the homes of militants or their families.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog for a while that I'm torn in my views about Iraq and the larger war on terrorism. The evidence that Islamist terrorism is a very real threat is overwhelming, I think, and ought to be taken seriously by everyone. At the same time, I'm not at all convinced that the Bush administration's approach — especially its seeming reliance on conventional military force — can win this war.

But there's one thing I'm not torn about, and it's this: we can't let Iraq turn into the West Bank. We can't adopt Israeli tactics of neverending escalation and retaliation.

This isn't a moral stance, it's a practical one. I'm sympathetic to Israel's dilemma, but even so it seems plain to me that their approach, though understandable in many ways, has been a disaster. Israel is less safe today than it was a decade ago, or two decades ago, and the possibility of peace has likewise become ever more remote with each passing year. We can't allow ourselves to fall into the same death spiral, and the time to make sure we don't start falling into it is now.

Now, I might be overreacting to this article. Read the whole thing, which gives a somewhat more balanced view of what's happening than just the paragraphs I excerpted above. But our recent tactics in response to the increasing guerrilla activity have made me ultrasensitive about this, and I'm afraid that once we start down this road it's awfully hard to pull back.

I have no doubt that we can a learn a lot in terms of tactics and operational discipline from the Israelis. I just hope we don't learn anything more.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (102)

DOG BITES MAN....Least surprising headline of the day:

2 Bills Would Benefit Top Bush Fundraisers

Can you imagine?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (32)

LYING LIARS....On the other hand, one of the virtues of WorldNet Daily is that they link to fascinating stories like this one from the Newport News Daily Press:

Browsing the magazine racks in the library last week, John Callaghan, 77, was so disgusted with the cover picture on The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, that he ripped it off and took it home with him.

....Callaghan, a resident of Ford's Colony, said he got mad when he saw the cover featuring a black man and a white man, both bare-chested and muscular, leaning in to kiss each other.

....Callaghan said he didn't know he broke the law. When informed of the possible punishment, he said he'd "have to think about going to jail."

"It would depend where they would send me and if they had TV with football on it, that would be important," he said. He said he didn't have $2,500 and still has the magazine cover.

"They don't have witnesses that I did this," he said, "and I'm not sure I did it."

Man, someone needs to give this guy some lessons in lying.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (41)

PLAGIARISM....I was trolling around WorldNet Daily today and noticed this story about Hillary Clinton. It's about the millionth version of the "Hillary is going to run for president" story, a perennial favorite with the tinfoil hat crowd, and it's sourced to Newsweek.

Actually, "sourced" isn't the right word, "copied" is more like it. Here are the two stories side by side:

Newsweek

WorldNet Daily

Some dreams never die, including one clung to by loyal Clintonistas: that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democrats’ presidential nominee next year.

Is there a chance she would get into the race? “That depends on what you mean by ‘get into the race’,” one of her closest friends and advisers explained to Newsweek.

The scenario, as sketched by this hard-boiled insider, calls for Clinton to make an entrance as healer and unifier at the end of the primary season in May or June in the unlikely—but not impossible—event that none of the existing contenders has amassed a majority of the convention delegates.

“You’d have to have Howard Dean not wrapping it up, and being an angry, wounded front runner,” this adviser said. “You’d have to have two of the other challengers tearing each other apart in primary after primary. Then Hillary could come in, well in advance of the convention, and say, ‘Look, somebody has to save the party’.”

The political logistics are doable. Under party rules, delegates are bound to vote at the convention for the candidate under whose banner they were elected in the primaries—but only on the first ballot. Party and elected officials—the so-called superdelegates—are free to shift allegiance, and could form an instant core of Clinton support. Should she make a dramatic entrance next summer, the senator might be able to draw on the help of some savvy campaign veterans (and Clinton loyalists) now in the employ of other candidates.

If Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign fades, for example, she might recruit his top pros, media handler Mandy Grunwald and pollster Mark Penn.

In the meantime, Sen. Clinton isn’t ducking the campaign limelight. Just the opposite. She was the headliner hostess at last Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation caucuses will be held next January. Clinton logged lots of time at the podium, introducing each of the contenders.

“It was set up to make her the star,” groused one campaign manager. She would have been anyway, another Clinton insider said. “She still puts all the others in the shade and they all know it. She has the star power and they don’t. Here’s the way things stack up now,” he said.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., may not enter the primaries, but she has not given up hope of being the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, reports Newsweek.

Asked if she plans to compete for the nomination, one of her closest friends and advisers reportedly said: "That depends on what you mean by 'get into the race.'"

"The scenario, as sketched by this hard-boiled insider, calls for Clinton to make an entrance as healer and unifier at the end of the primary season in May or June in the unlikely – but not impossible – event that none of the existing contenders has amassed a majority of the convention delegates," reports Newsweek.

"You'd have to have Howard Dean not wrapping it up, and being an angry, wounded front runner," this adviser said. "You'd have to have two of the other challengers tearing each other apart in primary after primary. Then Hillary could come in, well in advance of the convention, and say, 'Look, somebody has to save the party.'"

Under party rules, reports the news weekly, delegates are bound to vote at the convention for the candidate under whose banner they were elected in the primaries – but only on the first ballot. Party and elected officials – the so-called super-delegates – are free to shift allegiance, and could form an instant core of Clinton support.






Newsweek says if the campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., fades, she might recruit his top pros – media handler Mandy Grunwald and pollster Mark Penn.

Clinton was the star attraction at last Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation caucuses will be held next January.




"It was set up to make her the star," groused one campaign manager. She would have been anyway, another Clinton insider said. "She still puts all the others in the shade and they all know it. She has the star power and they don't. Here's the way things stack up now," he said.

Former President Clinton's recent public statements suggest he's been recruiting his wife to challenge President Bush in 2004.

"That's really a decision for her to make," he said earlier this fall, suggesting the decision has yet to be made despite the senator's repeated insistence she would fill out her term in New York.

Time magazine reports Clinton has been urging his wife to get into the race and has been trying to figure out a way for her to be able to rescind her past comments.

Aside from chopping out a few sentences and adding some gratuitous Bill Clinton bashing at the end, the WND version is plagiarized slightly less carefully than a 6th grader cribbing from the encyclopedia, and this is something that WND does constantly — always preceded, of course, by "© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com."

So I'm just wondering: how do they get away with this? They aren't just some obscure blog, they're supposedly a legitimate (yeah, yeah, I know....) news source with a large readership, and yet they do this regularly. Doesn't anyone ever complain?

Just curious.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (60)

HELP OUT THE STRIKERS....If you'd like to help out the striking supermarket workers here in Southern California, go here and donate to their Thanksgiving turkey fund. They deserve your support.

And while we're on the subject, check out this story about the "mutual aid" agreement that the supermarket chains made before the strike:

The pact basically says that if one of the three chains reaps added business during the dispute, it will share some of that money, according to some Wall Street analysts who follow the companies closely.

...."I will acknowledge that there is an agreement, but we're not going to say anything about it," said Gary Rhodes, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Kroger. "I'm not going to characterize it, nor provide any details about it."

Sounds like they're really proud of this little deal they cooked up, aren't they?

Bottom line: secondary strikes are illegal but collusion between employers isn't. It's yet another way in which current labor law favors management over workers.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (114)

GET OUT, NOW....Body and Soul points me to something I missed a couple of days ago: on his first day in office Arnold Schwarzenegger fired the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The LA Times quoted a consumer activist as suggesting that this was payback from the car dealers lobby, which doesn't like the guy and contributed nearly a million dollars to Arnold's campaign. Their spokesman denied it:

"It's ludicrous," he said of the charge. "We didn't ask that the DMV director be relieved of his duties on [Schwarzenegger's] first day in office."

Ludicrous indeed. But what about Arnold's first week in office?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (36)

FEEL THE LOVE, PART 2....Ah, the famously unedited prose of the blogosphere. Dan Drezner demonstrates.

Question for the academic types in the audience: is saying "Fuck you" to James Lileks likely to (a) help Dan's tenure chances, (b) hurt Dan's tenure chances, or (c) go unnoticed because it is not peer reviewed?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (120)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....On the left, Inkblot thinks he sees something. As it turned out, it was just a leaf. What a surprise. On the right, Jasmine sees nothing but her own reflection in the camera lens, and she seems pretty pleased with it.

BONUS CATS: Bill Sjostrom has a Mazal update here. Her favorite things are apparently computers, dogs, and bathtubs.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:40 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (27)

CONVENTION WOES....As we all know, the Republicans have decided to hold their convention next year in early September, which is much later than usual. There were apparently two reasons for this: 1) it allows them to use their unrestricted primary funds for as long as possible before the federal caps kick in, and 2) it puts the convention close to September 11.

However, there are also problems: some states require candidates to be certified by August in order to get on the ballot, and George Bush won't officially be the Republican candidate until September 1. Oops.

Illinois is one such state, and Tom Bevan reports that Democrats are squeezing some favors out of their GOP colleagues in return for an exemption from the usual requirements. Hanging chads are involved.

This is pretty amusing, really, and certainly no less than Karl Rove deserves.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:37 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (66)

NO MORE MARRIAGE?....Jonah Goldberg writes:

I've now read 8 gazillion emails on gay marriage. One of the interesting trends has been an increase in the number of conservatives who say government should get out of the marriage business altogether. While I think this is probably -- though not definitely -- a bad idea, I generally find it an admirable tendency.

....What I find admirable about conservatives' increasing willingness to pull-up the plank of state support for marriage is that it reveals A) an openness to new arguments B) a dogmatic preference for a smaller state, even at the cost to your side and C) a reflexive decency which says I'd rather the state do nothing than impose my views on the unwilling.

Actually, I have my doubts that many genuine conservatives really feel this way, and if they do I hardly find it admirable that anti-gay prejudice among these readers is so violent that they'd rather get rid of state-sponsored marriage entirely than allow gays to get married.

But what I'm really curious about is this: what are they talking about? Do they just want states to get out of the marriage license business? Or do they want recognition of the institution entirely abolished? No more survivor benefits for Social Security, no joint tax returns, no exclusion for testifying in court against your spouse, etc. etc. The laws of this country recognize marriage in thousands of ways, and eliminating one of the duties of the county clerk's office (a) doesn't change that much, and (b) doesn't exactly make a dent in big government.

It's a very peculiar position. "Reflexive decency" hardly seems to be the best description of it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (91)

November 20, 2003

ANALOGIES....Just a note to my conservative brethren: any chance we can stop working our way through the microfilm archives of 1946 newspapers? If the analogy of Iraq to Vietnam is strained, the analogy to World War II is simply rubbish. There is literally nothing in common between the two.

OK?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (106)

SURVIVOR....It was no surprise, really, but Rupert finally got the boot on Survivor. And I have to say that his parting monologue was about the most pathetic thing I've ever seen on the show.

I don't really have anything to say about this, but just thought I'd open up a Survivor thread tonight. They seem to provide entertainment both for Survivor fans and for Survivor haters.

And if you're itching for some more commentary, Allen Brill has some thoughts about the "anti-Rupert economy." Tonight's show seems to have put him into a real funk....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (51)

PROMOTING DEMOCRACY....Josh Marshall is right: this TNR article about Dick Cheney by Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman is pretty damn interesting. It's hardly a pro-Cheney piece, but it's not entirely unsympathetic either. Here's the final paragraph:

Cheney will continue to push the agenda he set out 15 years ago: aggressive promotion of democracy through military power. This is no mere intoxication with ideas of the moment, spurred by a zealous staff or the pain of September 11. This is who Dick Cheney--the most powerful vice president in history--is.

When you strip away all the surface chatter, this is probably the key foreign policy question of our time. Everyone's in favor of promoting democracy, but can it be done primarily through military power?

Dick Cheney apparently thinks so, and while I can't say with certainty that he's mistaken, history seems unkind to the idea. I sure hope that history turns out to be wrong.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (132)

CONVERSATION WITH A PLUMBER....Scott the plumber was out this morning to fix a couple of things. He had a young assistant with him, and by the tone of his instructions it was pretty obvious that the assistant was very new and very green. I asked Scott about this while he was writing the invoice:

ME: So how long has he been working for you?

SCOTT: Three or four months. He's a good kid, he comes to work every day.

ME: (Puzzled) That's all it takes to be a good kid these days? To come to work every day?

SCOTT: Oh yeah. A lot of kids won't work on Mondays, or else they just don't show up after you pay them. It's hard to find someone reliable.

ME: Even for a plumbing job? That's a good occupation, not a minimum wage kind of job....

SCOTT: Sure, we make good money. Even a brand new kid gets paid $10 an hour.

ME: And even for that it's hard to find someone who will even show up for work every day?

I have no moral to this story. Just thought I'd share.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:42 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (61)

THE GENDER GAP....This will come as no surprise to my wife:

Women's income is lower on average than that of men in part because they generally work less, leave the labor force for longer periods and tend to hold jobs that pay less, a congressional study found.

But even after adjustments are made for those factors, women still earned an average of 20.3 percent less than men in 2000, investigators said Thursday.

Even in high tech, which is relatively merit driven compared to a lot of industries, men are too often viewed as simply being more competent and more senior than they really are — usually by other men, of course. (Alternatively, women are viewed as less competent and less senior than they really are. Take your pick.) I think in most cases this is a genuine, unconscious belief, not a deliberate attempt to discriminate.

And it's hard to overcome even when it hits you in the face. I hired a guy many years ago, and based on his seniority and competence I offered him a pretty good salary. About a year later, as we expanded, I hired a woman to do the same job, but since she was less senior I offered her a salary about 20% less. After only a few months, however, I realized that her previous employer had obviously not recognized how good she was. If anything, she was actually better than the guy I had hired earlier.

But it was too late. Conventional thinking about compensation is too ingrained, and my boss was simply unwilling to give her a one-time pay increase to make things equal. It just wasn't done. We gave reviews once a year, and increases had to be between 0-8%. That was important and it just wasn't going to change.

So every year I would give her the maximum raise, and bit by bit she caught up. However, it took about seven or eight years. Today she's manager of her department.

Aside from unconscious discrimination, I suspect that much of the pay difference between the sexes is based on men being more willing to shop around for jobs and then use that as leverage to get counteroffers. This happened to me fairly frequently with men, but almost never with women, and if the offer was legitimate and it was someone I wanted to keep it often translated into a 10% salary increase or more. Two or three of these in a career and you're making a lot more than the women you work beside. (In fact, my first boss actually advised me to do this so that he could justify paying me more. It worked.)

So that's my advice to any women reading this: if you think you're being underpaid, don't be afraid to look for another job and then either take it or use it as leverage for a pay raise. We menfolk don't usually take this as a sign of disloyalty. Honest.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (60)

STOCK OPTIONS....Yesterday Howard Dean mentioned a desire to "re-regulate" companies, and one of his targets was businesses that offers stock options. I can't say for sure what he was talking about, but my best guess is that he was supporting the idea that stock options should count as expenses on a company's balance sheet.

Here's a very quick nutshell description of what this is all about. Typically, companies offer stock options to their employee at the current price of the stock, but the options don't "vest" for several years. For example, I might be offered 10,000 shares at an option price of $10, but I can't exercise the options until, say, 2007. At that point, if the stock is worth less than $10, I just walk away and do nothing. But if the stock is worth, say, $20, then I can exercise my right to buy the shares at $10 and then turn around and sell them immediately for $20.

This is obviously a pretty good deal: there's no downside and no risk, and a very good chance that the options will be worth a lot of money when they vest. Companies that offer their employees stock options can usually get away with paying lower salaries, and this in turn helps their bottom line: lower salaries mean lower expenses, which means higher profits, which means higher stock prices. It's a virtuous circle.

Except for one thing: stock options are not free. They seem free, since a company uses its own stock to cover the option grants, but this is a mirage. Stock options do have a cost, since the stock itself has a cost, but it's hard to calculate because the stock is not actually issued until several years after the options are granted. So the cost has to be estimated, and the most widely used method is a rocket-science formula called Black-Scholes.

It's estimated that companies like Microsoft, which rely heavily on stock options to compensate their employees, have overestimated their earnings over the years by as much as 30% because they didn't have to account for the cost of the options they were issuing. There are moves afoot to require companies to account properly for stock options, which would give a better estimate of their real earnings, but this is being fought tooth and nail by high tech companies that realize that a big part of their appeal is based on artificially inflated earnings.

Anyway, this is all a longwinded introduction to a couple of posts over at Begging to Differ that explain (1) how Intel is leading the fight against efforts to reform stock option accounting, and (2) how Congress is caving in to Intel's efforts.

Yes, this is an obscure issue. But it's one that goes to show how obscure accounting and corporate governance issues can have a real impact. How far do you think the tech bubble would have gotten if high tech earnings hadn't been inflated by stock options? Not nearly as far.

And how bad would the tech bust have been if the bubble hadn't been so big? Not nearly so bad. This stuff really does make a difference.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:29 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (81)

UC ADMISSIONS....We've been having a minor kerfuffle here lately about admissions standards for the two flagship UC campuses, Berkeley and UCLA. The chairman of the UC Board of Regents started it by pointing out that thousands of students with high SAT scores were rejected by the two schools while hundreds with low SAT scores were admitted. Was this part of a plot to reject high scoring whites and admit low scoring blacks?

I don't know. But today the LA Times ran a long article about students who were "baffled" by their rejection despite having high SAT scores. The article itself was fairly uninteresting, but it did include this table, which shows the rejection rate of kids with SATs over 1400 at Berkeley by ethnic group:

Applied

Rejected

% Rejected

Asian American

5,898

2,616

44%

African American

124

54

44%

Latino

417

169

41%

Native American

44

20

45%

White

4,985

2,435

49%

International

895

610

68%

Other

130

62

48%

Unknown

1,439

621

43%

Total

13,932

6,587

47%

The obvious conclusion is that having a high SAT score just doesn't guarantee you admission to Berkeley, regardless of your race. Nearly half of all high scoring students are rejected, and the rejection rates are pretty similar for all ethnic groups. (UCLA shows the same pattern, although the rejection rates are a bit lower across the board.)

Basically, lots and lots of kids with high SAT scores get rejected because there are just too many kids with high SAT scores these days, and the difference between a score of 1350 and 1450 is probably pretty meaningless. In fact, the emphasis that the critics place on SATs is puzzling: if SAT scores were all that mattered, then we'd hardly need admissions officers at all. But that's never been the case, and that's especially true at UC, whose chancellor has been a persistent critic of the SAT for quite a while.

One final note: don't feel too sorry for the rejectees. Many of them end up at first-rate private universities, and the ones who don't most often end up at schools like UCLA or UC San Diego, which are absolutely top notch schools, even if UCSD isn't as well known as the flagship campuses. (I didn't even apply to Berkeley or UCLA myself. I applied to UCSD instead because its reputation was so good.) In the end, these kids are all doing OK.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (72)

ISTANBUL BOMBING....I don't usually post links to breaking news if I don't feel like I have anything to add to it. After all, you can just go read the news yourself or turn on the TV if you want to get the headlines.

But this bombing in Istanbul is just damn depressing. 27 people died, adding to the 25 who were killed in another bombing there last week. So pointless.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:31 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (106)

November 19, 2003

TORTURE....Body and Soul has a good post about the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen we shipped off to be tortured in Syria because we suspected him of being an al-Qaeda sympathizer.

This kind of behavior is revolting. John Ashcroft needs to keep in mind that we can win the war on terrorism without losing our souls in the process.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (241)

TRIM YOUR TREES....The investigation is done, and it turns out it's all Ohio's fault. Apparently they have poor tree trimming practices there.

Just goes to show that God is in the details. Next up: why do you suppose that this investigation was completed in 90 days but we're still trying to complete an investigation of 9/11 two years after the fact? Hmmm?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (50)

CABLE NEWS TALKING HEADS....While I was Googling around for the previous post, I came across this website that has pictures of all the anchors at CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. That's pretty handy if you see someone on the air briefly but don't know who it is.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (38)

CLARK-FOX UPDATE....This probably isn't hugely important, but Justene Adamec emails from the road with an interesting little tidbit about Wesley Clark's scuffle on Fox News the other day. It turns out that David Asman, the Fox host who did the interview, has a son in Iraq and apparently has a habit of getting a little overwrought on the subject when he's on the air.

I don't imagine that having a family member in Iraq should disqualify you from reporting on the subject, but it does shed a little light on why Asman might have made the insinuations that he did.

(Or, you know, maybe the evil genius Roger Ailes arranged the whole thing. Who knows? I report, you decide.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:43 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (76)

RE-REGULATION?....Howard Dean thinks there's a case to be made for regulating large corporations:

In an interview around midnight Monday on his campaign plane with a small group of reporters, Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "re-regulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "re-regulating" the telecommunications industry, too.

He also said a Dean administration would require new workers' standards, a much broader right to unionize and new "transparency" requirements for corporations that go beyond the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley law.

"In order to make capitalism work for ordinary human beings, you have to have regulation," Dean said. "Right now, workers are getting screwed."

I don't have any real comments on this until he gets more specific. I'm in favor of requiring companies to expense stock options and I also support efforts to liberalize the right of workers to unionize. Utility and telecoms regulation, on the other hand, I don't know much about, and I'm pretty agnostic about media regulation (although it's worth noting that a lot of people on both left and right were — and are — opposed to the FCC's plans to loosen media regulations).

But I do have one big complaint: is Dean really calling this a "re-regulation" campaign? That's just a horrible name. Have we learned nothing about the use of language from Newt Gingrich?

Surely a few minutes thought could have provided him with a better name for this. I invite my readers to peruse Newt's list of positive words and come up with something.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (132)

NO FREE MARKETS FOR ME, THANK YOU VERY MUCH....In other news on the "egregiously bad legislation" front, Kicking Ass points us to this ABC News story about the prescription drug bill worming its way through Congress:

Two Republican senators are seeking to shelter their states from part of an emerging Medicare bill, fearing their constituents could face higher premiums because of competition between traditional coverage and new private health plans for seniors, officials said Friday.

...."I ... strongly protest the possible use of my constituents as a testing ground for premium support," Specter wrote top Republicans recently. He noted that Pittsburgh and Johnstown in his state meet the criteria for an experimental program under discussion, and added that those "who are negatively affected by this proposed demonstration must be indemnified."

In much the same way that Republicans "support" vouchers but don't want voucher programs tested in their states, they also "support" Medicare competition but want no part of it for their constituents.

And you have to love the call for "indemnification." Translation: we already have to bribe the healthcare providers $12 billion because they don't want to participate in this program, and even then the program sucks so bad that we need to bribe the participants too. Give me a break. If we're going to pay the providers an extra $12 billion and Specter still thinks his constituents are likely to get crappier service than they do now, what does that tell you about Republican faith in the wonders of competition?

Republican Senators from Oregon and Arizona are also worried about the Medicare bill because they fear that Portland, Tucson, and Phoenix might be used as testing grounds. It kind of reminds me of Alaska congressman Don Young, who supported efforts to privatize air traffic control but insisted on exempting the airport next to his hotel.

Republicans seem to have a disturbing lack of faith in free enterprise whenever there's a chance that it might actually affect them. Perhaps from now on they should simply make it a standard feature of their legislation that it never applies to states or districts that vote Republican. Unless it's pork, of course, in which case it applies only to states and districts that vote Republican.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (76)

DICK CHENEY'S ENERGY BILL FINALLY HITS THE SENATE....Here's a smidgen of good news: Maine's two Republican senators have joined John McCain in saying they will vote against the odious new energy bill negotiated behind closed doors and hurriedly passed by the House yesterday.

It gets kind of depressing reading about this stuff after a while, so I've only plowed through four or five articles about this bill. Still, as near as I can tell, there's literally no one who favors it except for the folks directly in line for handouts. This New York Times article summarizes reaction:

Policy analysts across the political spectrum yesterday denounced the energy bill that Republicans in Congress hope to push to approval this week, saying it represented micromanagement of the economy and would open vast new opportunities for tax cheating.

Many experts said they were taken aback by the size of the proposed breaks...

Given the realities of electoral politics, it takes a lot for insiders to be "taken aback" by anything that comes out of Congress, but this legislation does it. The Times lists opposition from the Heritage Foundation, Cato, Citizens for Tax Justice, and Public Citizen, and so far I haven't seen a single non-industry group come out in favor of it. When both Heritage and Citizens for Tax Justice oppose something, you know there's a problem.

The biggest one for me is that there's nothing to blog about. This bill is very plainly nothing but an enormous piece of corporate welfare, with tax giveaways and unneeded incentives for practically every energy-related lobbying group around but practically no actual energy policy. It's just one big pork fest, and the folks who came up with it barely even did us the courtesy of trying to hide it. There's nothing in this bill that deserves any serious analysis.

Is the free market in coal and oil really so broken down that America's energy industry needs $100 billion worth of tax breaks in order to bother coming in to work every morning? And are Senate Democrats really so craven that they're going to allow themselves to be bribed into supporting this monstrosity by the pittance of a few billion dollars in ethanol subsidies? I hope the answer to both questions is no.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:46 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (7) | Comments (66)

ARNOLD vs. JOHN....LA Times columnist Steve Lopez is not everyone's cup of tea, but his piece today about Arnold's first day in office was pretty funny.

And he's right about legislative strongman John Burton: he seems a tad disgruntled these days. Expect fireworks quickly.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:54 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

November 18, 2003

NETSCAPE WOES....I've been deluged with email today from Netscape users telling me that suddenly Calpundit no longer renders properly in their browsers. Apparently the main text column is now much wider than it used to be and the site stretches beyond the right side of the screen.

I haven't changed my template in weeks, so I don't know what the problem is. Any Netscape-savvy readers out there have any suggestions?

UPDATE: All fixed. Thanks!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (38)

LAP DANCING UPDATE....Breaking news from the second largest city in America:

Los Angeles City Council members backed down Tuesday from a showdown with strip club owners and said they would allow near-naked women to keep gyrating in men's laps, a lucrative form of adult entertainment known as lap dancing that the council had voted this fall to ban.

....Days after the council voted in September to ban lap dancing and impose a host of new regulations, the industry raised $400,000 to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on the new law.

Hah! The powerful lap dancing lobby once again bends the city council to its will!

Which is too bad. I really would have liked to see a referendum campaign on this issue. More precisely, I would have liked to see the TV commercials for the referendum campaign.

Oh well.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:52 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (46)

ARNOLD, DAY 2....How pathetic is this? Arnold Schwarzenegger officially announced today that he will indeed be asking voters to approve a $15 billion bond measure to finance further deficit spending, but added that he's also going to cut expenditures:

He called for $2 billion in cuts from the state's roughly $77 billion general fund budget, but said he was putting together the details in the coming days with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

"Absolutely there will be budget cuts," he said. "I'm not going to take a salary ... which is $175,000."

$2 billion? That's it? Pair that up with his $4 billion reduction in the car tax, and his entire economic program consists of increasing the deficit by $2 billion and asking for a Household Finance style loan to "consolidate the debt" for one year. After that year, of course, our problems will remain.

You know, I'm genuinely willing to give Arnold a chance. I didn't like his dishonest campaign, but even so I recognize that a new face has a chance to change things in a way that an incumbent can't. Frankly, it would be nice if he really were able to bang a few heads and get the extremist nutballs in Sacramento to compromise a bit and actually try to solve our problems.

But it sure doesn't look like he's going to do it. What a wasted opportunity.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (100)

HOWARD DEAN: PRO-WAR?....This is really tiresome. Mickey Kaus excerpts a David Broder column today in which Howard Dean is quoted as saying this about George Bush back in June 2002: "I think he's done a good job on the war on terrorism." Then we get this:

There are two interpretations of Dean's transformation from a candidate who said Bush was doing "a good job on the war on terrorism" to the Howard Dean most voters think they know today. One...is that Dean sincerely supported the overall war on terror but thought the Iraq invasion was a misstep, the "wrong war at the wrong time."

....But there's a second, more troubling interpretation, which is that Dean shifted to a strong anti-war position not because of Bush's Iraq actions, but because he saw that that was where the Democratic party's activist base wanted him to go.

If you read the whole post you'll see that Mickey has absolutely no reason to suspect that Dean is insincere. Literally nothing. It's the cheapest of cheap shots.

But what's even more annoying is the fact that it seems impossible to put a stake through the heart of this particular brand of smear, so let me say it clearly and in simple language:

Yes, goddamit, it is possible to support the war on terror but not support the war in Iraq.

In Dean's case, he has been entirely consistent (as far as I know) that (1) he's against the war in Iraq, (2) he supported the war in Afghanistan, and (3) he supports fighting terrorism. It's bad enough when media shills insist on playing tiresome "gotcha" games with Democratic candidates by focusing on obscure past statements to try and prove some illusory "inconsistency" — while allowing enormous real inconsistencies by the people who are actually in power to float gently out of sight — but apparently now we're playing the same game even with a candidate who has been as consistent as it's humanly possible to be. It's time to knock it off.

UPDATE: Via Matt Yglesias, this Robert Kagan column makes the same point about Dean's position on terrorism vs. his position on Iraq:

He opposed the Iraq war, he says, because it was "the wrong war at the wrong time," not because it was emblematic of a fundamentally misguided American foreign policy. Dean has not, in fact, challenged the reigning foreign policy paradigms of the post-9/11 era: the war on terrorism and the nexus between terrorism and rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. "I support the president's war on terrorism," he told Tim Russert this summer. He supported the war in Afghanistan. He even supported Israel's strike against a terrorist camp in Syria because Israel, like the United States, has the "right" to defend itself. (European Deanophiles take note.) Dean does not call for a reduction in American military power but talks about using the "iron fist" of our "superb military."

Some peacenik, eh?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (69)

GAY MARRIAGE....Based on what I've read about "full faith and credit" I have my doubts that the Massachusetts decision to allow gay marriage will have any effect on the rest of the country. However, it will provide endless opportunities for Stanley Kurtz and John Derbyshire to write stupid but entertaining articles on the subject. In fact, the Derb has already started. In an effort to sound like a precocious Sunday School student, he poses two important questions today in The Corner:

1. If "gay marriage" is legalized, will prisoners be able to marry their cell mates? If not, why not?

2. In many jurisdictions, a marriage can be annulled if it has not been consummated. What, exactly, constitutes "consummation" of a gay marriage?

Answers:

1. No, but they will be allowed to marry their guards.

2. You don't want to know. Really.

Expect further panic over the end of western civilization tomorrow, along with questions about whether Adam had a belly button and who Cain and Abel married.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:23 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (232)

THE SIEGE OF KNOXVILLE....Glenn Reynolds writes today that his office is a battlefield. Literally:

The Law School is in the Fort Sanders neighborhood, so called because it's the site of Fort Sanders, whose siege played the decisive role in the Siege of Knoxville during the Civil War....

I mention this because of Antoine Clark's remark that "I continue to despair at the difficulty that anglosphere writers have in comprehending the humiliation of occupation. Admittedly this is for the best of reasons: Washington DC was last under foreign armed occupation in 1812, London in 1066."

....In fact, of course, the American South knows what it's like to lose a war, and to be occupied.

Glenn's overall point is well taken, of course: we have had a major war on our soil, and its impact on our history and culture has been immense.

But family loyalty compels me to point out that the Siege of Knoxville is not the best example to use here: it was Union troops who were besieged at Knoxville, not Southerners. In fact, one of them was my great-grandfather, Eli Drum. Here's what he wrote in his diary 140 years ago this month:

Sunday 29th. Cannonading was again commenced last night and was kept up until the morning our regt and the 111th Ohio. Was sent on the north side of Knoxville and held as a reserve. The enemy charged on Fort Saunders and was repulsed, our forces captured about two hundred of them.

Monday 30th. Everything appears to be quiet today. No firing on either side, both parties busy burying the dead and taking care of the wounded.

Tuesday Dec 1st 1863. Still laying under arms at Knoxville. The rebels do not appear to be willing to renew the attack. Called out in line and heard good news from Grant’s army.

....Saturday 5th. Today we have glorious news. Our reinforcements arrived driving the enemy before them. Not one to be seen this morning so we again have peace at Knoxville. Our regiment is back to our old quarters. We was again paid off this evening.

(Presumably the glorious news was the lifting of the siege, not getting paid. Although I suppose that didn't hurt.)

This isn't of much interest to anyone outside the immediate Drum family, of course, but I became a minor expert in the Siege of Knoxville back when I was researching Eli's diary and figured I ought to make use of it. Considering our rather opposite approaches to nearly everything, I've always been slightly amused by my Knoxville connection with Glenn, and now I realize that it's even closer than I imagined. Small world.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:34 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (61)

CANCER IN BEVERLY HILLS....In the LA Times yesterday, Erin Brokovich argued that toxic fumes from oil and gas operations at Beverly Hills High School have caused abnormally high rates of cancer in the area.

Today, in The New Republic, Eric Umansky says that Brokovich is basically running a con and has virtually no evidence to back up her claims. I can't say for sure who's right, of course, but my gut tells me that Umansky has the better side of the argument. After all, there are a lot of oil wells in Southern California....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (42)

BCS QUESTION....I'll be out of the, um, office this morning, but after I posted about the BCS last night I got curious about something and figured there might be some sports gurus out there who have an answer.

My question is this: has anyone ever tested the computer rankings to see which one is most accurate? An accurate ranking is one in which the higher ranked team wins when it plays a lower ranked team, and by now we've had thousands of games played since the BCS was introduced. So how have they done? What's their accuracy percentage?

Is there a site that tracks this?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:53 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (184)

November 17, 2003

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW....I just got back from seeing Master and Commander, which was OK, I guess. Sort of like Wrath of Khan set in 1805 or something. How's that for a review?

During the previews I noticed that next summer Los Angeles will be getting hit by yet another disaster, although apparently this time we share it with the rest of the world in a movie called The Day After Tomorrow. Unfortunately, as if the fact that it comes from the same team that made Independence Day isn't proof enough, the title guarantees that it will suck.

See, Robert Heinlein wrote a pretty wretched novel in 1949 called The Day After Tomorrow (good guys invent a death ray that only kills Asians), and Allan Folsom wrote a really wretched novel in 1994 also called The Day After Tomorrow. The Folsom novel contains my favorite final sentence ever:

The severed, deep-frozen head of Adolf Hitler.

Huh? Isn't that great? Doesn't it make you want to go right out and read the other 595 pages of the book?

Anyway, I don't think anything good has ever come from that title, so based on that I think you can skip the movie next summer and save yourself $9.50. No need to thank me.

POSTSCRIPT: $9.50?!? What's going on here? Have we finally reached Manhattan prices here in Orange County, or do movies now cost 20 bucks in the Apple?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (275)

BCS MADNESS....In an act of cosmic mathematical injustice, Ohio State has vaulted past USC in the BCS rankings despite USC's 45-0 drubbing of Arizona compared to Ohio State's 16-13 squeaker over Purdue. Since we're playing lowly UCLA next, this means that the only hope left for us is for Michigan to beat Ohio State next weekend.

So what can I say? Paint me blue and Fed Ex my heart to Ann Arbor! Go Wolverines!

POSTSCRIPT: And what's up with the New York Times computer, anyway? It's got 13th-ranked 8-3 Florida rated ahead of USC. Is this part of that liberal media bias I keep hearing about?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (97)

CLARK ON FOX....Via Josh Marshall, here's a link to the Wesley Clark interview on Fox that several people mentioned in comments below. You have to sit through an opening ad, and Fox annoyingly prevents you from skipping forward and backward in the clip, but at about the 2-minute mark the Fox host asks — while sort of sadly pretending to apologize for having to bring it up — about something Clark said on Sunday:

Fox: On Meet the Press you said something about Iraq. You said, "President Bush has said [the war in Iraq] is the centerpiece for the war on terror. It isn't. It's a sideshow. It's simply their easiest means of access to attack American soldiers. That's all it is."

Do you really think Iraq is only a sideshow?

Clark: For the war on terror it's a terrible distraction. We should have gone directly after Osama bin Laden....We should be putting a full court effort on finding Osama bin Laden....

Fox: While our men and women are dying in Iraq, is it proper to call it a sideshow?

Clark: Our men and women in Iraq are doing a fabulous job....Don't you dare twist words into disrespect for our men and women in uniform....You better take my words the right way....

And it just gets better from there.

This tired trope of pretending that anyone who criticizes presidential priorities is showing disrespect to the military is about as despicable as it gets, and it's way past time for it to stop. Clark got good and pissed off about it, and deservedly so. I hope it embarrasses the clowns at Fox from pulling it again.

And in case you're wondering, I imagine that this kind of remark is exactly what Samuel Johnson had in mind when he said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

UPDATE: Wording changed slightly based on the transcript here.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (8) | Comments (206)

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS....In a move that probably guarantees passage, AARP has decided to back the prescription drug plan being pushed by congressional Republicans. Apparently their theory is that it can always be fixed later:

William Novelli, CEO of the AARP, said his group would "pull out all the stops" to pass the legislation, including a three-day television advertising campaign this week.

The bill is not perfect, he conceded, "but the country can't afford to wait for perfect. On balance, it’s the right thing for seniors in America and their families."

I've been known to get suckered by the "half a loaf" theory myself, so I sympathize. On the other hand, this bill is such a byzantine nightmare of benefits that kick in, kick out, and kick in with dizzying speed and no apparent logic that it's hard to view it as even half a loaf.

But here's the part I don't get. The section of the bill that's near and dear to the hearts of Republicans is the part that introduces competition into Medicare. Now, the phenomenon that we rather optimistically refer to as "competition" in the rest of the healthcare industry — Adam Smith is probably rolling in his grave to hear the word abused this way — has rather famously not done an outstanding job of holding down healthcare costs in America. Still, Republicans are in a lather about it. Gotta have competition. It's the only way to reduce costs.

But here's the problem: in theory, private companies can deliver services more efficiently than the bad old federal government bureaucracy and can therefore deliver those services at a lower cost. But if that's the case, why does the bill have to pay them a bribe of $12 billion to get them to participate?

The answer, of course, is that the idea of competition in the Medicare market is a mirage. Private healthcare companies plainly don't believe that they can, in fact, provide services any more efficiently than the feds, and since the goal of a private company is to make money, that means that the only way for them to maximize profits is to reduce benefits and do their best to insure only the healthiest people.

And that's exactly what the Republicans want to happen: they want to reduce benefits without telling anyone that they're reducing benefits. And while they're at it, they want to provide large bribes subsidies to healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies who will show their appreciation the old fashioned way: by showering them with campaign contributions. It's a twofer.

And it sucks. I sure hope AARP is right that this boondoggle can be fixed later. It's a big gamble.

UPDATE: Plenty of AARP members seem to be upset with their endorsement....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (119)

WELCOME TO SACRAMENTO....Back in the dog days of September, here was Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal for solving California's fiscal crisis:

Here is my plan: audit everything, open the books, and then we end the crazy deficit spending.

Well, time passed, and ending our "crazy deficit spending" eventually receded into the background. In fact, Arnold's plan these days is to continue our crazy deficit spending by passing a gigantic $20 billion bond measure next March that will get us through the following year. It's sort of an Enron-style bid to put off the bad news just a little while longer in the desperate hope that somehow things will get better before the whole scheme completely unravels and people end up in jail — or, worse, recalled.

But it turns out there's a problem: things aren't going to get better, and Arnold's bond measure doesn't solve anything. As the chart on the right shows, California has an estimated $15 billion deficit in 2004-05, but it also has the same deficit in 05-06, 06-07, 07-08, and 08-09. A bond measure solves precisely nothing.

(For all the chart geeks out there, "VLF Backfill Restoration" is lege-speak for the car tax. Since Arnold has promised to reduce it, it adds about $4 billion to the deficit, which is the part shown in pink.)

This chart comes courtesy of California legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill, who is nonpartisan, widely respected — and, as nearly as I can tell, universally ignored. But the LAO's numbers are almost certainly correct, and they're based on a reasonably optimistic view of the state economy over the next few years.

So what's going to happen? I had dinner with retired blogger Ann Salisbury and Armed Liberal on Saturday, and my (tentative) prediction was that Arnold would end up resorting to the oldest trick in the book: after being elected, he would declare that his research had shown that the problem is even worse than he imagined — probably because Gray Davis was deliberately hiding it — so he has no choice but to raise taxes.

Indeed, he seems to be preparing the ground already. Here is incoming Finance Director Donna Arduin, who was in charge of the "audit":

"We knew that this was going to be bad, but in fact it's staggering," said Arduin, a budget expert brought in from Florida by Schwarzenegger.

....After he takes office Monday, Schwarzenegger is expected to call a special session of the Legislature....Republican consultant Dan Schnur said the session appeared to have been orchestrated to prepare the public for the potentially unpopular budget solutions that Schwarzenegger would be forced to present in the coming days.

"Think of it as shock therapy," Schnur said. "This is the way you set the stage for a difficult set of proposals. The first step is to make clear how dire the situation really is."

It's obvious that we can't keep borrowing for five years, and a variety of state, federal, and judicial mandates limit how much we can cut spending. We can make some cuts, but every analysis I've seen indicates that it's legally impossible to cut $15 billion.

So that leaves one choice: raise taxes. The only question is, how long will it be before Arnold fesses up?

Today is inauguration day and the clock starts ticking at noon. Welcome to Sacramento, Arnold.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:36 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (60)

CLARK ON BUSH....Just to clean up a bit of business from the weekend, I wrote on Saturday that Bush's plan to accelerate the handover of power to Iraqis sounded a lot like Wesley Clark's proposal and then added, "I assume that Clark approves of Bush's change in plan and I hope that rather than instinctively attacking it he's smart enough to say so." Today Clark showed that he's smart:

Clark's comments, at a session with USA TODAY and Gannett News Service reporters and editors, came as the Bush administration was accelerating the turnover of civilian authority to Iraqis. Clark praised the decision as a move "in the right direction" but said no regime was likely to succeed if Saddam stayed on the lam.

That's the right attitude to take. Give him credit if you think he's right, but keep up the pressure everywhere else.

On the other hand, can we talk about that flag burning amendment thing....?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (98)

BLOG NEWS....Ezra Klein, formerly of Not Geniuses, has been acquired by Pandagon in a deal worth an estimated hundreds of hits per day. His position at Not Geniuses will be filled by rookie blogger Nico Pitney.

In other news, former Tacitus VRWC pinch hitter Moe Lane has joined up with self-described Howard Dean supporter Katherine R and alleged centrist Von in a new group blog called Obsidian Wings. Check 'em out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (26)

November 16, 2003

CAN WE BRING NATO IN?....I took a quick stroll around the pro-war blogosphere just now because I was curious to see its reaction to the news that we're accelerating the transfer of power to the Iraqis. There's surprisingly little comment about it, actually, but a few people seem pretty seriously pissed off, including Sebastian Holsclaw, Tacitus, and Armed Liberal.

Well, if they're pissed now, I don't want to be anywhere near them if this turns out to be true:

The United States accepts that to avoid humiliating failure in Iraq it needs to bring its forces quickly under international control and speed the handover of power, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, has said. Decisions along these lines will be made in the "coming days", Mr Solana told The Independent.

....Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, arrives in Brussels tonight for talks with EU ministers, which he will combine with a meeting with the retiring Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Diplomats say that Mr Powell is expected to "test the water" about the involvement of the transatlantic alliance in Iraq.

Bring NATO in? These guys are sounding more and more like Democrats every day.

I have a hard time believing that the Bush administration will ever be willing to make the painful concessions necessary to get NATO cooperation, but the fact that they're even thinking about it is a turnabout of startling proportions. This state visit to Britain is already full of surprises, and it's just barely started.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (99)

VOTING MACHINE UPDATE....As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a believer in conspiracy theories when it comes to electronic voting machines, but stuff like this could change my mind:

Legislation that could add voter-verified paper ballots to controversial touch-screen electronic voting machines remains stalled in a House committee, despite 61 cosponsors.

....The legislation, called the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) in May, would require that the machines, generically called direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, print out a paper record of each vote so the voter can make sure it is correct. The printed ballot would be stored at the polling place and used if a manual recount or an audit of the results is needed.

Although the bill has attracted 61 cosponsors — all Democrats — it is still in the House Administration Committee. The bill has yet to attract any Republican support, according to Holt's staff.

Conspiracy theories or not, no piece of technology is perfect and a paper trail is a good idea in case of software failure or a simple need to do a recount.

So why won't Republicans support this measure? This is the farthest thing from a partisan issue that I can imagine.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (152)

IS CALPUNDIT OBSCENE?....OR MERELY INDECENT?....I guess this is old news, but like NBC used to say when they were extolling the dubious virtues of reruns, if you haven't heard it before it's new to you!

Anyway, last January during the Golden Globe awards Bono apparently said "this is really, really, fucking brilliant," which, as we all thought we knew, is not the kind of thing you're supposed to say on primetime TV. However, although current rules state that "radio and television stations shall not broadcast obscene material at any time, and shall not broadcast indecent material during the period 6 a.m. through 10 p.m.," last month the FCC ruled that Bono's joyous reaction was not, in fact, either indecent or obscene:

The word "fucking" may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities. Rather, the performer used the word "fucking" as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation.

Who can argue with that? Apparently sexual conduct (or excretory functions) are required for a finding of either obscenity or indecency, and Bono was clearly not referring to either.

Now, there are some weasel words in the FCC opinion about "fleeting and isolated remarks," so it's not clear exactly how much people can get away with. Still, it's yet another tragic sign of the decline of traditional morality in these benighted times of ours, and I for one think every presidential candidate should be required to go on the record with their view on this. Every fucking one of them. On fucking primetime TV. The American public deserves to know where they fucking stand.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (64)

FIGHT LINKROT!....Thanks to a comment from Lisa Williams (here), I learned today how to create permanent links to New York Times stories that don't disappear behind their archive wall after a few days. It's a bit klunky, but since we bloggers link to the Times frequently I thought I'd pass it along. Here's how to do it:

  1. The Times provides an RSS feed for all their stories in conjunction with Dave Winer's Userland. The various feeds are all listed here. You'll need to subscribe to all or some of these feeds in your news aggregator (for example, I subscribe to National, International, Opinion, and Politics).

  2. The RSS feed provides a URL for each story that has some additional stuff tacked onto the normal Times URL. For example, here is the normal URL for the Thomas Friedman column I linked to last night along with the expanded link from the Userland RSS feed:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/16/opinion/16FRIE.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/16/opinion/16FRIE.html?
    ex=1384318800&en=d0591e73d0b23754&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND

  3. The expanded URL indicates that the link comes from a blog, and according to Dave the Times has agreed that "now and in the future this link will work without a fee to access the archive."

And what if you read the Times the semi-old fashioned way, by just scanning their website? There's no way to generate the permanent URL yourself, so if you want to link to something you've found you'll have to keep a couple of keywords in mind and then search through the appropriate RSS feed in your aggregator and look for the story there. That's a bit of a pain, but it might help wean you off your non-RSS ways and begin reading news the 21st century way. There's a silver lining to every cloud, isn't there?

If you want to know more, Dave explains the whole thing here and has a bit of discussion about it here.

And while we're on the topic, here's a ranking of the most archive-friendly major news organizations:

  1. Tier 1: CNN, the Guardian, and the BBC all have permanent archives that never disappear.

  2. Tier 2: The Washington Post places old articles behind an archive wall, but previously existing links to the articles work forever. The New York Times makes permanent links possible, even if they're a bit of a pain.

  3. Tier 3: The LA Times places all its content behind an archive wall after a few days and breaks any existing links.

  4. Purgatory: The Wall Street Journal is in a class by itself, since their content is never accessible free of charge on the Web.

This post is dedicated to Brad DeLong.

UPDATE: Corrected the information about the Washington Post. Once you link, the link seems to work forever. However, if you search for an article on their site, you can't get free access to it after about two weeks.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (24) | Comments (55)

BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST....Frivolous lawsuit? Or a mysterious but coordinated effort to demonstrate that Christians are ruthlessly persecuted here in the land of the secular humanists?

You make the call. And if you know anything about BASIC (no, not the computer language), leave a note in comments.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (72)

BCS UPDATE....Gotta say, USC looks really good this season. Sure, 45-0 isn't that big a deal against Arizona, but they rolled over them from the opening kickoff and never lost focus for even a single series. This team has come a long way from the OT loss to Cal, that's for sure.

On the other hand, since our last three games are against nobodies our strength-of-schedule component is going steadily up (which is bad in BCS land), while Ohio State's is heading down fast thanks to games against #11 Purdue this week and #5 Michigan next week. If both teams win their remaining games, this is going to be the tightest race for the BCS #2 spot ever, and the deciding factor will probably be the poll results. Kinda nostalgic, really.

USC might eke it out regardless, thanks to the longtime tradition that poll rankings never decline unless you lose a game, but even that might not be enough. Let's face it: our best hope is for Ohio State's endless run of miracles to finally go up in smoke next week against Michigan. Go Wolverines!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:07 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (53)

BLANCO WINS....Hey, I guess we haven't completely lost the South yet:

Democrat Kathleen Blanco made history Saturday, becoming the first woman to be elected governor of Louisiana, overcoming Republican Bobby Jindal with a furious rush in a hard-fought runoff.

Using aggressive advertising that attacked the 32-year-old Jindal's record as the state's health secretary in the mid-1990s, his opposition to abortion without exception and his lack of political experience, Blanco turned what one tracking poll reported as a double-digit gap into a close but comfortable victory over the final five days.

Note to Tom: I guess Jindal didn't "smoke her" after all. Gotta watch that wishful thinking....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (49)

WES CLARK ON MEET THE PRESS....I just watched Wes Clark on Meet the Press. I was surprised that there was so little discussion of Bush's latest plan for Iraq, just a brief exchange in the middle of the show.

Overall, Clark did OK, but not great — although given Tim Russert's interviewing style that's about the best anyone ever does. I sometimes wonder how Russert himself stays interested in doing the show with such a narrow and formulaic approach.

(If I ever went on Meet the Press, I figure he'd ask something like, "Mr. Drum, you took a 19th century literature class when you were a student at Cal State Long Beach, and your professor gave you a B- on the final term paper. Let's take a look at his comment: 'This isn't bad, but it seems rushed and I think you're capable of doing better.' And yet now you think you can be a blogger. Can a guy who got a B- in a college literature course really be taken seriously in a writing medium like blogging?")

(Further aside: if I am ever interviewed on TV, I want to go on Larry King. Nice and friendly, that's for me.)

I can't really say there was a highlight of the show. Clark was bit hesitant responding to the nonstop blitz of critical comments and past "inconsistencies," but he stayed pretty calm and had some good moments. "I'm fair, and when the president does something good I say so. When he doesn't I criticize it." That sort of thing sounds good on a national stage.

On the negative side, Russert showed a clip of the ad Clark is running in New Hampshire and I'm not sure I liked it much. Too heavy on the military stuff, and too many pictures of Clark in fatigues. His military background is a plus for him, but it should be just that: a background.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:35 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (61)

November 15, 2003

IRAQ-AL-QAEDA CONNECTIONS....The Department of Defense has issued an official response to the Weekly Standard's article about Iraq-al-Qaeda connections. On its surface, it seems to be saying that the Standard is full of shit:

News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate.

....The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the NSA, or, in one case, the DIA....The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions.

Still, something tells me there are levels within levels here. I'm not sure what's going on.

UPDATE: I wrote this in a rush before going out to dinner last night, so let me just add a couple of comments:

  • I have no doubt that Stephen Hayes accurately excerpted the memo.

  • It's pretty unusual for DoD to issue a press release like this. Sure, it's carefully worded, but it just wouldn't have been released at all unless someone important had some kind of serious problem with the raw data in Feith's memo. If you want to know what's going on, try to figure out who was behind this release and why. (I don't have any guesses at the moment.)

  • Anyone who believes that they can read the memo and "judge for themselves" is living in a fantasy. Analyzing intelligence isn't a job for amateurs, and every single one of the 50 points in Feith's memo may have a dozen other points indicating the opposite. We don't know, and that issue is smack at the center of the controversy over guys like Feith cherry picking the reports that support their views and ignoring everything else. Raw intelligence like this is worthless except to professional analysts and proves nothing.

I imagine we'll hear more about this later.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (159)

MODERATES UNITE....Friedman's column is good today. It's been a while since I've said that....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

MORE ON IRAQ....I'm still trying to figure out what George Bush's real intentions are in Iraq. Here's one more data point, this time from the Guardian:

President George Bush and Tony Blair have agreed an exit strategy for pulling out of Iraq....British officials told The Observer that, although the occupation of Iraq would officially be over next year, it was likely that troops would need to stay, possibly until 2006.

....It is the first time Downing Street has spoken of the end of the occupation and marks a significant shift in the 'acceleration' process of handing Iraq back to the Iraqis.

....[Foreign Secretary Jack] Straw admitted that the security situation in Iraq had deteriorated and that it was time to look again at the way the military operation was being run.

'It has plainly got worse in the last six weeks,' he told The Observer. 'What we now have to do is get on top of it. In the Sunni triangle area [around Baghdad] it has been more difficult than we thought it would be. First we have to recognise that that is the case and upgrade the military response, and also understand that creating a better [political] climate is better for us and worse for terrorism.'

It's hard to draw any real conclusions from this, but saying it's "likely" that troops would stay, "possibly" until 2006, seems rather less certain than what we've heard in the past.

And for what it's worth, it's refreshing to hear someone acknowledge that things have "plainly got worse" and the first step is to recognize this. I wish there were some American officials willing to admit the obvious.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (48)

COMPARE AND CONTRAST....Just for the hell of it, I was curious to see how the current Bush plan for Iraqi sovereignty compares to Wesley Clark's, delivered a week ago in South Carolina. Clark, of course, favors internationalizing the mission much more than Bush, but aside from that here's the relevant part of Clark's speech:

Iraqis will be more likely to meet the security challenge if we give them a greater stake in our success. That means establishing a new sovereign government in Iraq right away. There has been a false debate between the French, who recommended turning all government functions over to Iraqis now - and the Bush Administration, which insists on waiting until a constitution is written and elections are held.

The French are wrong: we cannot transfer full authority to Iraqis before they are ready. But the administration is also wrong: we can give the Iraqis a much bigger sense of ownership over their country and move more quickly towards a government that answers to its people. Until Iraqis believe that they can control their future, they will huddle in fear and watch others attack - rather than stand with pride, expose the guerrillas and stop the violence.

We should help the Iraqis move immediately to establish their own government, a government to replace the existing council. Because that council was chosen by Americans, it is not seen as legitimate in the eyes of too many Iraqis. But right now, there are 50 city and regional councils in Iraq - elected by the Iraqi people. Just as the State Legislatures used to elect members to our Senate in our own country, these councils should select new members of an interim government drawing from the existing governing council.

This new government would represent Iraq internationally - and control oil revenues, funds, and any frozen assets through a transparent, internationally audited process. The transfer of government functions to this new government should be ongoing, week by week, as soon as it is ready.

This interim government would then launch a new process to write a Constitution. Such a constitution would be an Iraqi document -- not written by Americans or people appointed by Americans - and would set the terms for free and fair elections.

Aside from the fact that Clark appears to be a stronger proponent of democracy, Bush now seems to be on pretty much the same page as him.

There have been a number of occasions when Bush has ended up doing something that Democrats have been suggesting for a while, but they rarely seem smart enough to take any credit for it. In this case, I assume that Clark approves of Bush's change in plan and I hope that rather than instinctively attacking it he's smart enough to say so — while still sticking to his guns about other things he thinks Bush should do.

Clark is scheduled to be on Meet the Press on Sunday, so I guess we'll find out soon.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (61)

VICTORY IN IRAQ....Jacques Chirac, two months ago, on the transfer of power in Iraq:

French President Jacques Chirac has called for the transfer of power in Iraq from military occupation forces led by the United States to the Iraqi people in a two-stage plan.

In an interview with The New York Times, Chirac said the plan would consist of a symbolic transfer of power from the Americans to the Iraqi Governing Council, then a gradual process of transferring real power over a period of six to nine months.

The American plan, announced today:

The discussion Friday outlined a rough timetable under which the new plan would be presented to the U.N. Under the proposal, the Governing Council would draw up a package of laws by March under which an interim government would function.

....Between early spring and June, a legislative body would be formed, probably through a process involving a modified election in which provincial councils and possibly tribal councils hold caucuses to choose representatives.

Then in June, power would be formally handed over from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the transitional government.

And U.S. troops? According to Jalal Talabani, the current chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, "The presence of the forces of the United States and other countries will be discussed by the transitional government. If we need them to stay, we will ask them to stay. If we don't, we will respectfully ask them to leave."

I've been wracking my brain for the past week trying to figure out what the administration is really planning for Iraq. Are we going to stay until the bitter swamp-draining end, as they sometimes say? Or are we going to cut and run now that the guerrilla war has become an electoral liability, as their actions often seem to indicate? I truly can't make make up my mind anymore.

But let me ask this: back in September Chirac was ridiculed by the pro-war forces. If we accepted his plan, it would be a craven betrayal of our obligations to build a civil society in Iraq and would send a message that America wasn't serious about this fight. It would do nothing but embolden the terrorists and Bush was right to spurn it.

The problem is that while the words can be sliced and diced and spun endlessly — and I'm sure they will be — the simple fact is that today's anouncement is basically the same as Chirac's plan: he wanted a handover of "real power" to the Iraqis between March and June of 2004, and our plan involves a handover of sovereignty between....March and June of 2004. What's more, this entire plan was drawn up in a virtual panic over increasing battlefield losses, and against a background of previously announced preparations to draw down troops starting in February and begin handing over security to laughably ill-trained Iraqis.

So I want to know what the war party thinks of this. If it was wrong when Chirac proposed it, is it wrong now when we're proposing it? Has Bush betrayed the war cause? Are we demonstrating that America really is too weak to sustain battlefield losses? Or, if you'll excuse some snark since it's a weekend and my brain is ready to melt trying to figure this out, is it all OK because (1) it's being done by a Republican president; and (2) it's obviously in the best interests of getting him reelected?

What's the new party line?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (77)

SADDAM AND AL-QAEDA....Over at the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes reports on a top secret memo that outlines in painstaking detail collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, beginning in 1990 and continuing through mid-March 2003:

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Hmmm, Doug Feith. Would that be this Doug Feith?

Virtually everything that has gone wrong in Iraq—especially those matters that Congress is either investigating or is poised to investigate—is linked directly to his office. "All roads lead to Feith," noted one knowledgeable administration official this week.

It was his now-defunct Office of Special Plans (OSP) office that is alleged to have collected—often with the help of the neo-conservatives' favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi—and "cooked" the most alarmist pre-war intelligence against Saddam Hussein and then "stovepiped" it to the White House via Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney unvetted by the intelligence agencies.

It was also his office that was in charge of post-war planning and rejected months of work by dozens of Iraqi exiles and Mideast experts in the State Department and the CIA, work that anticipated many of the problems that have wrong-footed the occupation. It also excluded many top Mideast experts from the State Department from playing any role in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq.

...."Until they get rid of Feith, no one is going to believe that the administration is seriously reassessing its policies," said one Congressional aide, whose boss has been a strong critic of administration policy in Iraq.

Since Feith stands at the very center of the charges that the Bush administration exaggerated prewar intelligence, one might wonder what the professional analysts at the CIA think of the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection. Here's what their October NIE said:

While Bush also spoke of Iraq and al Qaeda having had "high-level contacts that go back a decade," the president did not say -- as the classified intelligence report asserted -- that the contacts occurred in the early 1990s, when Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, was living in Sudan and his organization was in its infancy. At the time, the report said, bin Laden and Hussein were united primarily by their common hostility to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, according to sources. Bush also did not refer to the report's conclusion that those early contacts had not led to any known continuing high-level relationships between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda, the sources said.

Now, this NIE was written a year ago, and maybe we've gotten lots of new information since then. Maybe Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden really did have lots of close contacts. After all, virtually every regime in the Middle East seems to.

But given his track record, it's awfully hard to figure out why anyone takes Doug Feith seriously anymore. Presumably the Senate Intelligence Committee has also asked the CIA for its opinion on this, and perhaps Hayes can get a leaked copy of their memo too. If it supports Feith's laundry list of allegations, I'll start to take it — and Feith — a bit more seriously.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (18) | Comments (101)

TWO QUESTIONS....Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Friday:

I didn't support every action of the United States. I tried to persuade them not to intervene militarily. But when I saw there was no way [to prevent it], I stood by the United States.

I've got two questions about this: when did he try to talk Bush out of invading? And why?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (27)

IDIOT LAWSUIT WATCH....First we had Fox vs. Franken, then Luskin vs. Atrios, and today we get word of two more brain dead lawsuit threats.

So for your blood-pressure-raising reading pleasure, here are today's entries:

Question for any lawyers in the crowd: I hear about tort reform constantly, usually in connection with medical malpractice, class action lawsuits, products liability, and so forth. How about harsher punishment for obviously frivolous suits? Does that ever come up? If not, why not?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:06 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (6) | Comments (75)

SALUTING OUR VETERANS....Back on Veterans Day Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan decided to criticize Wesley Clark. Fair enough. If I were going to call a 4-star general who had served his country for 34 years "Ross-Perot crazy" and then impugn his patriotism, that's the day I'd choose too.

Mark Kleiman takes Glenn on, and Glenn responds with his trademark "But that's not what I really meant" schtick. Yawn. The maturity and depth of Glenn's foreign policy views are roughly as weighty as my cats', so I figure Clark probably doesn't need my help on this one. Mark has his back anyway.

But as long as I'm typing away, I've got a question for Glenn. He says this about opponents of the Iraq war:

The real problem with the Iraq war is that it's (1) waged by a Republican President; and (2) obviously in the United States' national interest. To some people, those characteristics are enough to brand it evil.

Now, I'm sure this line gets plenty of applause from the same addlepated fans who also high-fived each other over renaming the French fries in the Capitol cafeteria, but I'm just curious: outside of the ANSWER crowd, can he provide even the slightest evidence for this idea, which he's repeated too many times to count? Or does he just think it sounds cool?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:49 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (70)

November 14, 2003

A RAY OF HOPE?....This is becoming a very big deal. A couple of weeks ago Israel's army chief of staff condemned Ariel Sharon's hawkish security policies, and today four former Shin Bet chiefs joined in the criticism using surprisingly harsh language:

"We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully," said Avraham Shalom, who headed the security service from 1980 until 1986. "Yes, there is no other word for it: disgracefully....We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools."

...."Why is it that everyone -- [Shin Bet] directors, chief of staff, former security personnel -- after a long service in security organizations become the advocates of reconciliation with the Palestinians? Because they were there." said Yaakov Perry, whose term as security chief between 1988 and 1995 covered the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada. "We know the material, the people in the field, and surprisingly, both sides."

The security chiefs denounced virtually every major military and political tactic of the Sharon administration, adding their voices to the dissent in Israel against the prime minister's handling of a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,500 Palestinians and nearly 900 Israelis and foreigners.

....[Ami] Ayalon, who is chairman of an irrigation systems company, said he considered much of Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories "immoral, some of it patently immoral."

"Terror is not thwarted with bombs or helicopters," said Shalom, who asked rhetorically: "Why does this increase terror? Because it is overt, because it carries an element of vindictiveness."

"The problem, as of today, is that the political agenda has become solely a security agenda," said [Carmi] Gillon, who has also served as an ambassador. "It only deals with the question of how to prevent the next terror attack, not the question of how it is at all possible to pull ourselves out of the mess that we are in today."

This is serious criticism from serious people, and the unanimity of opinion means that it can't be dismissed as simply coming from a single person who's turned either soft or bitter.

A simple policy of massive retaliation against terrorism is — for a while — emotionally satisfying, but in the end it doesn't work and it doesn't make anyone safer. These Shin Bet chiefs understand this, and the fact that they're speaking out is the first hopeful sign in the Israeli-Palestinian war that I've heard in years. Dissent during wartime can sometimes be the highest form of patriotism, and it's possible — barely possible — that this might be the start of a turnaround that leads, slowly and not without pain, to peace.

Like I said, this is a very big deal.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (45)

DAVID BROOKS JUMPS THE SHARK....You know, I've been resisting the general feeling in the liberal community that David Brooks' New York Times columns are really dumb, but after reading this I'm about willing to join the crowd.

Is he taking lessons from Maureen Dowd? Or Peggy Noonan?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (83)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....It's been getting mighty chilly here in Southern California, with temperatures plunging well below 70 degrees some days. Inkblot has taken to solving this problem by burrowing under the blankets in the morning (and practically pushing Marian out of bed in the process), where he stays until outdoor temps are more to his liking. This picture shows him at his saucer-eyed best.

Jasmine, meanwhile, learning a lesson from Greek mythology, hopes that by climbing a tree and getting closer to the sun she'll get warmer. I guess it must be working since she's up there every day, snoozing away in a crook in the branches. (In this picture she's on her way down. I'd take a picture of her up in her little cat-nest if I could, but she's such a camera hog that she instantly abandons whatever she's doing and heads toward me whenever she sees me taking pictures.)

BONUS CATS: Reader Amy Brewer sends along a link to this animated cat, which will purr and meow if you treat it right. Jenn Manley Lee has a photoshopped guest cat up today and promises more later, while James Joyner has finally given us a picture of his cats too. And Defective Yeti compares the camouflage abilities of his cat with those of a spotted amphibian of some kind. The cat needs some work.

Elsewhere, Xrlq (don't ask) discusses his theory of why liberals like cats and conservatives like dogs. Because liberals are smarter and lazier? Just remember, though: cat blogging Friday is an invective-free zone, so only witty and entertaining responses are allowed.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:44 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (80)

MY FAVORITE CHARITY IS ME!....I guess it should be no surprise that when it comes to nauseating new ways to raise political dough, Tom DeLay is at the head of the pack. Homeboy Charles Kuffner has the details.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:37 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (23)

LIBERAL HATRED....Here's a meme that's had its day and needs to be put out to pasture now: the horror of all us Bush-hating liberals. David Brooks picked it up last month, Nick Kristof repeated it yesterday, and former Bob Dole flack Douglas MacKinnon spreads more alarum today.

But here's the curious thing: they all agree on who started this.

  • Brooks: "And for those who are going to make the obvious point: Yes, I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough..."

  • Kristof: "Considering the savagery with which the Snarling Right excoriated President Clinton as a "sociopath," blocked judicial appointments, undermined U.S. military operations from Kosovo to Iraq, hounded Vincent Foster and then accused the Clintons of murdering him, it is utterly hypocritical for conservatives to complain about liberal incivility."

  • MacKinnon: "To be fair, hate was the fuel that energized many on the right during their diatribes against former President Clinton. And hate clouds the judgment of a number of Republicans today. Hatred of the left can also be found in a number of best-selling volumes by conservative authors."

Normally, when you agree that the other fellow started a fight, you also agree that it's the other fellow who should be taken to task. You don't blame the victim for finally getting up the gumption to fight back. Yet that's what all three of these guys do.

What's more, they act as if conservative rage is just some quaint bit of nostalgia from days of yore. Give me a break. Bill Clinton left office three years ago and the hate brigade is still churning out books about him and Hillary. And the vitriol is every bit as intense as ever.

Now, I happen to agree that white hot anger can eventually become counterproductive, but I want to know why these guys all think that it's liberals who should back down, rather than the conservatives who are the original rage-meisters and continue to shout from the rooftops to this day. Shouldn't they be the ones to hold out an olive branch first?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:02 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (246)

TALKATHON UPDATE....Thirty hours wasn't enough, so Senate Republicans decided last night to extend their anti-filibuster debate for nine additional hours.

What's that? You didn't hear about this? Well, in the LA Times the story got about six inches on page A31. This sure has been a great way to gain attention, hasn't it? The nation is practically riveted to its seats.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:04 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (30)

SURVIVOR....Can someone tell me what the hell happened on Survivor last night? For half an hour we were regaled with plotting against the mighty Rupert — he's too strong, he's going to win, we've got to stick together and vote him out now — and then during the immunity challenge every single person left him alone, including the plotters. He could have been tossed out of the challenge almost immediately, but not one single person was willing to put their balls in his bin. (Yes, I realize that last sentence makes no sense if you didn't watch the show.)

What happened? Did we miss something?

On another note, though, I have to give Rupert credit for a charmingly new and direct strategy for winning the game: just threaten to beat the crap out of anyone who dares to vote against him. So far it seems to be working remarkably well....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:54 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (59)

November 13, 2003

5,000 vs. 50,000....According to this report, the CIA estimates that there are about 50,000 insurgents in Iraq. But according to this report, General John Abizaid estimates their strength at about 5,000.

That's a helluva big gap, isn't it? Even the Team B folks back in the 70s only disagreed with the CIA by a factor of two or so.

The difference in tactics for defeating a guerrilla force of 50,000 is probably quite a bit different from the tactics for defeating 5,000, which means that getting a decent estimate is pretty important. Since Abizaid is the one who has to do the fighting, I sure hope he's right.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:54 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (73)

ECONOMIC INDICATORS....Via Brad DeLong, Wal-Mart looks at its detailed sales data and provides a fascinating contrarian view on the economy:

Customers continue to buy the cheapest items in any given category — a sign that household budgets remain tight, Lee Scott, Wal-Mart chief executive officer, said on a recorded message. Buyers are "timing their expenditures around the receipt of their paychecks, indicating liquidity issues," Scott said. "I don't think consumer spending is slowing, but I also don't see the strength that many of you in the investment community appear to see," Scott said.

This is fascinating because Wal-Mart is so big that it is, as the Reuters dispatch says, "an economic indicator by itself." What's more, it has access to detailed sales information that provides a view that aggregate data can't. This isn't conclusive evidence of anything, of course, but it's worth a raised eyebrow or two.

And in other economic news, the youth of America seem to be having trouble grasping the intricacies of the Phillips curve....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (75)

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY....Via Hit & Run, here's an interesting map that shows political fundraising using the familiar red state/blue state metaphor. On the left is fundraising by state and on the right it's broken down by Zip Code. You can also get a county level map, as well as maps for each of the individual candidates.

Nothing obvious springs to mind looking at these maps except for the surprising redness of the Pacific Northwest and the surprising blueness of a group of southern/midwestern states clustered between Texas and Georgia. But it's kind of fun to play around with.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (55)

BAD BLOOD....A couple of posts ago I wondered aloud about the fact that the White House was seemingly unaware of bad news in Iraq that the CIA was aware of: was it because, as Nancy Pelosi puts it, the White House was in the dark or because it was in denial?

My guess was "denial," but a well-placed reader suggests "in the dark" — but with a twist:

The one thing you're leaving out is that relations between the CIA and the WH are at historic lows (blaming Tenet for the Niger stuff; the Plame leak, etc). The CIA may very well have kept this stuff from the Pentagon AND the WH....You would not believe the amount of loathing for the WH that the last half-year (or more) has engendered at the CIA.

The CIA is holding back intelligence? That hardly seems believable no matter how much they loathe the White House staff, but my reader suggests it's really true:

Ah, but the really interesting thing is that Bremer had the report before the Pentagon and the WH did. No?

They're not holding back actionable intelligence, just prognostication reports.

If this is really true, it represents a breakdown in intelligence gathering — and an associated breakdown in national security — of truly epic proportions. This goes way beyond bureaucratic infighting if we're fighting a war and the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House are literally not talking to each other.

I don't know if this is true, but my source is at least credible. So I thought I'd throw it out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (70)

HAIL FIRE?....What's going on? Southern California just survived a series of forest fires of Biblical proportions, and now a week later Los Angeles is trapped in a massive hailstorm?

"The whole street turned white with the hail, plenty big, like marbles," said Ramon Flores...."It took a break for about half an hour, but another hour later, the ice started again."

Coming soon: a plague of frogs.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (52)

FACTS ON THE GROUND....Remember "push back," the PR campaign designed to bypass the big time media and tell the American public the truth about how well things are going in Iraq? Jack O'Toole already made the right call on the basic foolishness of this strategy a month ago, so I want to raise a different question about it.

It's this: the push back campaign started on October 8. A Chinook helicopter was shot down three weeks later, and two weeks after that the CIA station chief in Baghdad reported that there were an estimated 50,000 insurgents in Iraq and that their numbers were threatening to spiral out of control.

Now, follow my thinking here:

  • If the CIA report was circulated early this month, it was surely being written early last month. Reports like this take at least a few weeks to prepare.

  • The report is incredibly bleak, and since facts on the ground don't change on a dime that means the situation in Iraq must have already seemed pretty dicey in early October.

  • Even so, the White House went ahead with push back.

  • No one is stupid enough to mount a PR campaign like this if they know that the facts on the ground are likely to make them look like idiots within a few short weeks. So the White House didn't know.

This brings us back to the same question we've had for several months about prewar intelligence: what happened? Did the CIA (and the Pentagon) drop the ball and not properly warn the White House about the true seriousness of the situation? Or did they do their job, but the White House simply refused to believe intelligence information that they didn't want to believe?

The problem is that trying to blame this kind of stuff on the CIA is getting less and less credible with every passing day: after all, if it really is the CIA's fault, their incompetence has now endangered the interests of the United States and badly embarrassed the president so many times that it's simply beyond belief that there haven't been wholesale firings in Langley.

And that leaves only one conclusion, which even administration supporters need to face up to: the president and his staff are willfully and consistently ignoring facts that are inconvenient to them, and endangering the security of the United States by doing so. These guys have got to go.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (133)

ECONOMIC RECOVERY....Quote of the day:

"There can't be a jobless recovery," Treasury Secretary John W. Snow recently told the Economic Club of Washington. "The nature of a recovery is to recover. You don't recover if lots of people are looking for work and can't find work."

What is it with Bush and Treasury secretaries, anyway? Why not just hire Yogi Berra and be done with it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:22 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (49)

November 12, 2003

CLEAN AIR FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE....California has always had authority under the Clean Air Act to approve tougher pollution regulations than the feds. Why? Because we have really crappy air quality here.

In fact, after years of improvement, air quality here in the LA basin has been getting a bit worse recently, and we're running out of ideas about how to meet a 2010 federal deadline to cut smog to safe levels. Today, Senate Republicans decided that our latest effort to reduce smog should be overturned:

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the measure's sponsor, argued that California's regulation would drive 22,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs abroad.

"Today's passage of my job protection amendment is a victory for the thousands of families in Missouri, and across the nation, whose jobs were threatened by California's attempt to force-feed the nation dangerous new regulations without concern for job loss or safety," Bond said.

This is the oldest trick in the book. Large corporations have cried wolf over virtually every environmental regulation ever proposed, and the threat of closing factories is their favorite scare tactic. Never mind that these regulations almost always turn out to be eminently achievable; time after time Republicans obediently roll over and accept their carefully formatted but entirely invented "study results" — this time from Briggs & Stratton —without question.

The transparency is galling. Conservatives like to say that of course they care about the environment, and the only thing they object to is loony stuff like halting major development projects because of danger to some insignificant subspecies that no one cares about.

Well, this isn't loony, it's just a plain and simple attempt to solve the worst air pollution problem in the country. If Republicans actually cared about this stuff, instead of just pretending that they do, they'd be helping us out, not putting absurd roadblocks in our way based on wholly unsupported claims of distress from big donors in key states. They should be ashamed.

(And by the way, the same goes for liberal Democrats like Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), who joined with Bond in weak kneed acquiesence to Briggs & Stratton's extortionate report.)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:40 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (75)

SADDAM'S REVENGE....This is a genuinely interesting article in the Washington Post:

The recent string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq has appeared to be so methodical and well-crafted that some top U.S. commanders now fear this may be the war Saddam Hussein and his generals planned all along.

Knowing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War that they could not take on the U.S. military with conventional forces, these officers believe, the Baathist Party government cached weapons before the Americans invaded last spring and planned to employ guerrilla tactics.

It's genuinely interesting, that is, because I've always had a sneaking suspicion that this was exactly what was going on. Everything I've read about Saddam Hussein indicates that he's frequently out of touch with reality, especially in military matters, but it's quite possible that this time somebody finally pounded some sense into him: there was no way he could win against the U.S. military.

So instead, his troops "melted away" (remember that?) and prepared for the urban fighting that we were so afraid of back in April (remember that too?) but that never materialized. Now we're finding out just where those troops melted away to.

Now, this is obviously bad news in one sense, but I wonder if there's a sense in which it's good news: at least we know who the enemy is, and we know their numbers are limited — large, maybe, but still limited. I'd be interested to hear some analysis on this from knowledgable military types. If it's true, what does it mean? And what should we expect?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (143)

SYRIA....Speaking of unpleasantness that the administration might be holding off until after the election, I wonder if Syria is on that list? Exhibit A is this excerpt from Wesley Clark's Winning Modern War:

I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, and one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.

Exhibit B, from the far opposite end of the political spectrum, comes from Stephen Brown at FrontPage:

America's concern with transforming Syria, part of its effort to affect positive, geo-political change in the region, is the next logical step in the War on Terror, a step that was probably already decided upon before the invasion of Afghanistan. America appears to be following a plan in its fight against terrorism, in which it deals with the problem countries in order of weakest to strongest. Afghanistan, being the weakest, was the first invaded, followed by Iraq. Syria is next with Iran, the strongest in the region, targeted as the last.

Exhibit C comes from Jed Babbin at NRO today:

Regime change must be our goal, because nothing else will work.

....Most importantly, beginning now, and while all this diplomatic kabuki dance goes on, we should act. President Bush should order covert intelligence and military actions against Syria, and Hezbollah terrorists there and in Lebanon. We should not hesitate to operate with the Israelis, whose intelligence apparatus there is better than ours, and whose military can operate with ours secretly. An intense covert campaign should be used to topple Assad's regime and damage Hezbollah severely.

So one of Wesley Clark's Pentagon pals told him two years ago that the invasion of Syria was already a part of the Bush administration's long-range military plan, and Stephen Brown's sources have apparently told him the same thing. And Jed Babbin just comes right out and says that we ought to team up with Israel and lead a joint operation against Damascus — not exactly something that's likely to calm down the conspiracy theories that we're merely in Iraq doing Ariel Sharon's Zionist bidding. (And a note to Jed: paying lip service to diplomacy doesn't work very well if you call it a "kabuki dance" a few sentences later. Just saying....)

So is this really in the cards? Does the Bush administration really believe that the way to fight terror is to invade every unfriendly regime in the Middle East? Or are these guys just spouting eyewash that they have no real basis for believing?

I don't know. But I wish I did.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:31 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (96)

AND BE SURE TO KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE, OK?....Today in NRO, Bruce Bartlett provides a lesson in principled economic policy. The topic du jour is the possibility that Democrats are planning to make the budget deficit an issue in the 2004 campaign:

If this plan is successful, it could lead Republicans into the trap of doing some kind of major deficit reduction before the election. But to be meaningful, such a package would have to include tax increases and cuts in Medicare, especially if defense is off the table. This will open the door for Democrats to scare seniors and demoralize the Republican base.

Republicans need to be aware of what is happening and prepare themselves to respond to the deficit argument. Unfortunately, they cannot make the case that they have tried to limit the size of government but were stymied by Democrats. First, they haven't even attempted to limit spending. Second, Republican control of Congress gives them no excuse.

....I think President Bush is smart enough not to fall into the trap Democrats are setting. As long as growth remains solid and jobs continue to increase, he will likely win re-election. But after the election, deficit reduction will become a high White House priority.

So: the deficit really is a big problem, it's a problem we ourselves caused, and for the good of the country we need to do something about it. And there's no question that raising taxes and cutting Medicare is going to be part of the solution.

But: we need to be sure to lie, lie, lie about this for the next 12 months. After all, cutting taxes is really popular, but cleaning up the mess it's caused isn't. Especially among seniors, and we sure don't want to piss them off, do we? A lot of them live in Florida, after all.

I wonder what other unpleasant truths they're planning to save up for November 3, 2004?

POSTSCRIPT: And for more NR-related belly laughs, Ted Barlow managed to get a secret copy of the itinerary for this year's National Review cruise. Check it out.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (68)

JUDICIAL WARS....Republicans are planning to hold what Gregg Easterbrook calls a "30-hour nonstop yak-a-thon about the cloture rule" in an effort to draw attention to Democrats who are filibustering a few judicial nominees.

Elsewhere, writing on the same subject, Larry Solum says this about the judicial wars: "Both Democrats and Republicans seem to believe that their own moves are justifiable retaliations in response to escalatory moves by their opponent." I guess I'll refrain from a history lesson about how ideological litmus tests on a broad scale were started by movement conservatives during the Reagan administration, and just agree that on a practical level he has a point.

But I'll also point out — again — that there's a pretty easy compromise: Republicans should offer to rescind their unprecedented and nakedly partisan changes to the blue slip rule if the Democrats will agree to end their filibusters. I don't know if the Democrats would agree to this, but until the Republicans are willing to at least make the offer I'm pretty unsympathetic to the idea that both sides are equally blameworthy here.

UPDATE: I should add that I don't especially favor one blue slip, two blue slips, or no blue slips as the best way to run judicial nominations. However, Orrin Hatch changed the rule and used it happily during the Clinton administration, so he should be willing to do the same for a Bush administration. And if part of a compromise on this is that both sides agree to change the rule again (and hopefully permanently) starting in, say, 2008, that's fine with me too.

UPDATE 2: Tung Yin has some additional thoughts. I don't actually find his point very compelling myself, but you can decide for yourself.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:55 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (74)

FREE TRADE....Yesterday I speculated that the Bush administration would use the WTO ruling against steel tariffs as an excuse for some kind of broad overhaul designed to boost their electoral prospects even more than the original tariffs.

Via Dan Drezner, today we learn that this is apparently exactly what's being planned:

The US is considering a radical change to its laws on unfair trade that would severely penalise importers even if Washington bows to the World Trade Organisation's demands that it remove tariffs on foreign steel.

The complex methodological change would sharply raise the duties on steel imports that are also subject to separate anti-dumping tariffs.

That didn't take long. Apparently this was in the planning stages back in September, before the WTO even officially ruled.

Slightly off topic, Dan also says this about Bush's weak-kneed trade views: "The depressing fact -- that's still better than any of the Democratic candidates for president." This is a bit of a cheap shot since the link is to a post solely about Dick Gephardt, probably the least trade friendly Democratic candidate out there — although it's true that the Democrats are sounding rather more sincere in their anti-trade views this year than I'd like.

On the other hand, although Wes Clark hasn't produced a definitive statement about his views on trade, this summary makes him sound relatively broadminded on the subject.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:24 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (44)

REASONABLE DOUBT....Yesterday's news:

A jury on Tuesday found New York real estate heir Robert Durst not guilty of murder, despite his admission that he dismembered his neighbor's corpse and threw the remains into the sea.

It really does make you wonder if it's even possible to convict a rich person of a crime these days.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (62)

November 11, 2003

HELPING HAND....Art Silber is a fellow Southern California blogger, and thanks to the Los Angeles transit strike he can no longer get to work. After several weeks of this he's about to go broke, so he needs a few bucks to pay some bills and get his car running so he can get back to work.

Lord knows his politics don't line up with mine, but who cares? He needs a hand, and he is a fellow cat lover. So if you have a few dollars you can spare, hit his tip jar and help out.

Even better, if you live in LA and happen to have a spare car you could loan him until the strike gets settled, send him an email and let him know.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:14 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

RESTARTING THE WAR....Josh Marshall has been connecting a few dots and thinks that the shit is going to seriously hit the fan in Iraq pretty shortly. Bottom line: they're going to put the reconstruction on hold and restart the war.

This is speculative, of course, so go read for yourself and see if you think he makes sense. And stay tuned.

UPDATE: On a similar note, CNN has a pessimistic report about Iraq tonight:

A recent CIA assessment of Iraq warns the security situation will worsen across the country, not just in Baghdad but in the north and south as well, a senior administration source told CNN Tuesday.

The report is a much more dire and ominous assessment of the situation than has previously been forwarded through official channels, this source said. It was sent to Washington Monday by the CIA station chief in Iraq.

I have a funny feeling that we're not going to be hearing too much about how the liberal media is ignoring all the good news coming out of Iraq anymore. This really sounds grim.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (161)

SPENDING LIMITS....This has to be the most ridiculous story I've read in — well, a couple of days, anyway:

With President Bush's reelection fundraising nearing the $100 million mark, several advisers said Monday that the new financial threat posed by former Vermont governor Howard Dean should encourage the president's donors to vault his campaign well past its ambitious fundraising goal of $170 million.

You could get whiplash from trying to follow the spin in this story. Are Republican "officials" seriously trying to use Dean's decision to forego matching funds as an excuse for raising even more than $170 million — already nearly double the amount Bush raised in 2000? And did campaign press secretary Terry Holt manage to keep a straight face when he said their financial plan was drawn up "on the assumption that Bush was 'likely to be outspent,' largely because of spending by labor, environmental and other liberal groups"?

Probably the only true statement in the entire story is this one:

Even so, several Bush aides have said that raising more than $170 million is unnecessary. "At some point, you run out of prospects," a senior official said.

Glad to hear it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (31)

MEME....In comments to this post, we get the following heartfelt plea from Chun the Unavoidable:

Before using the word "meme," ask yourself if the sense you intend differs in any way from that conveyed by "idea." If it doesn't, as I strongly suspect it will not, then use the perfectly good word "idea."

There's nothing cool about using "meme." It doesn't make you sound smart or hip or even tech-savvy. Please.

Since the question of whether Howard Dean is electable is a speculative one that's based almost entirely on personal interpretation, I was happy to see a comment in that thread that was (a) completely off topic, and (b) about one of the great questions of our age.

So: is the word "meme" useful? I happen to have a general tolerance — even fondness — for new words, which enter the English language constantly and expose themselves willingly to a ruthless Darwinian selection that kills off all but the hardiest within only a few years. "Meme" has now been around for over a decade, and although it's not in widespread use in the general population I think it's survived as well as it has because it has genuine usefulness.

Here's my take: "meme" applies primarily to ideas that filter into a community rapidly, spread like a virus, and then just as rapidly die away. A meme that survives becomes something else: a concept, or an idea, or a principle.

And this is why the word shows up so often in blogs. Not just because bloggers tend to be geeks — although that's surely part of it — but because blogging by its nature tends to focus on minutiae that pop into the collective consciousness, rattle around for a while, and then go away. (During the middle state, memes often become "conventional wisdom," a phrase that probably deserves its own word too.)

So I use the word "meme" when the connotations I'm looking for include (a) a fairly trivial but specific idea, (b) one that's confined to a specific community, and (c) one that has spread rapidly. I don't know of any other word that gets all this across so succinctly, and the concept seems like a pretty useful one in an era of widespread instantaneous communication and short attention spans.

And that's why I like the word "meme."

UPDATE: There's also something about its specific syntactical usage that makes "meme" different from "idea," but I can't quite put my finger on what it is. For example, you might say "the 'Dean is unelectable' meme is hogwash...." but you wouldn't say "the 'Dean is unelectable' idea is hogwash...." Instead, you'd say "the idea that Dean is unelectable is hogwash...."

There's something concrete about the word "meme" that affects the way it's used in a phrase. Are there any serious grammarians out there who can tell me what I'm talking about here?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (135)

THANKS A LOT, WTO....A few years ago we had a little spat with the EU over the taxation of multinational corporations. The case went to the WTO, we lost, and Congress then took up the task of fixing our tax laws to comply with the WTO ruling.

The result, in retrospect, was predictable given the way Republicans react to just about everything these days: in what way, they asked themselves, can this problem be turned into a way to help out all of our big corporate donors?

The answer was pretty simple: craft a bill that ends the tax break as mandated by the WTO, but replaces it with a laundry list of tax breaks worth twice as much for favored industries. In other words, a technical dispute with Europe was swiftly turned into an excuse to continue the Republican tax cut jihad. What a surprise.

Now the WTO has struck again, ruling that George Bush's Pennsylvania And West Virginia Vote Protection Act of 2002, aka steel tariffs, violates international trade law. Normally this would be good news, since the steel tariffs were bad policy, but I think I'll wait for the other shoe to drop before I breathe a sigh of relief. After all, how long do you think it will take for this to be used as an excuse to enact yet another bevy of corporate welfare handouts? And this time maybe they'll be able to do it right and shovel a bunch of taxpayer dough to both the steel industry and the steel consumers, who were so unhappy with the tariffs in the first place.

My guess: the tariffs will go, but a few weeks later they'll get replaced with something a bit more subtle and far ranging. Watch the legislative calendar closely....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (46)

ELECTING DEAN....John Judis (channeled via Josh Marshall) and Atrios are having a disagreement about Howard Dean's electability. Here's Judis:

The only thing I'm semi-certain about is Dean's lack of electability in November....The similarities grow with every day. Not just the insurgent voter enthusiasm, the new ways of fundraising, and the bevy of flummoxed opponents, but also the economy (artificially stimulated by Nixon through the Fed and by Bush through the dollar just in time for election year) and the war (raging, but bound to quiet some by election time, and to raise prospects of peace)....I fear a cataclysm in the fall if the Democrats nominate Dean.

Atrios responds:

Other than the fundraising, which, you know, is a good thing, all the candidates will face the war and economy issues. Judis has made an argument why no Dem can win. If a million roses bloom in Baghdad and the economy is booming, there's a reasonable chance he's right - but I have no idea why this is an issue specific to Dean. Or any other candidate.

I'm really getting sick of the Old Left and the Old Right trying to have a Vietnam-era rematch. The Old Right want to prove we should've won in Vietnam, and the Old Left want to redo the '72 election. Stop letting your personal demons dictate how you play electoral and geopolitical chess. Sheesh.

As several people have pointed out, Dean is polling as well or better than other Democratic candidates in hypothetical head-to-head matchups against Bush, so why does the "Dean is unelectable" meme have so much currency? Is it just the Democratic establishment refusing to accept an outsider?

Maybe. But looking at the matchup numbers right now is meaningless. Anyone can look good when there's no competition, but starting around April (at a guess) George Bush and Karl Rove are going to start unloading their $200 million warchest against whoever the Democratic nominee is. I don't especially buy into the theory that Rove is an unbeatable political supergenius — a few hundred votes in Florida and he'd be lying in a gutter somewhere in Austin — but he is good at what he does and $200 million goes a long way toward turning good into brilliant.

So while I realize that obsessing about Dean's electability can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — and it's also the fastest way I know to start a comment war — I have to say it: I think Dean is unelectable. Without going into tedious detail, just try to imagine that it's April and the $200 million attack machine has geared up. And think about what the ads are going to look like, especially to moderates who aren't true believers in the Dean phenomenon already. (Go ahead: use your imagination. And try to be brutally realistic.) To me, they look devastating. I know it's not fair, but this election isn't going to have anything to do with fairness.

And if you want one single thing to chew on, it's this: national security is going to be the main theme of the election. I don't care if we like it or not, the Republicans are the ones with the money and the bully pulpit and they're going to hammer on it. And while I know that a lot of liberals think that anti-war sentiment is going to wash over the country in a great wave, it's just not realistic to think that's going to happen. Really, it's not.

I happen to think Wes Clark is a better potential president than Howard Dean anyway, but electability is a key factor too. It's vitally important to get rid of George Bush and his insanely incompetent crew of ideologues before they do any more damage, and I don't think Dean can do it. Clark can.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:52 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (14) | Comments (361)

GOOSE CREEK UPDATE....I haven't written before about the ridiculous SWAT-style raid last week at Stratford High School, but Glenn Reynolds has an update that seems about right to me. His response seems about right too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:14 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (51)

LIVENING UP THE DEBATES....PC or Mac? According to this LA Times story, CNN planted the question:

[Alexandra] Trustman wrote Monday that she was called the morning of the debate and given the topic of the question the CNN producers wanted her to ask. She wrote that she was "confused by the question's relevance," and constructed what she thought was a "much more relevant" question.

But when she arrived in Boston for the debate, she wrote, she was "handed a note card" with the question and told she couldn't ask her alternative "because it wasn't lighthearted enough and they wanted to modulate the event with various types of questions."

CNN planted a question and this was the best they could do?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:56 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (27)

THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH?....Judge Roy "Ten Comandments" Moore is facing removal from office for "intentionally and publicly engaged in misconduct, and because he remains unrepentant for his behavior." That sounds fine to me.

Unfortunately, James Joyner suggests that the main result of this will be to free Moore up to run for governor of Alabama in 2006. And win.

I know that God has a sense of humor, but surely He wouldn't take things that far, would He? There must be easier ways of teaching us all a lesson.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (64)

November 10, 2003

THINK, THEN TALK....Here are a few recent quotes from Wesley Clark:

Now, none of this is that big a deal. Political junkies like me are the only ones who ever hear this stuff, and these statements are just a little sloppy, not huge gaffes.

At the same time, one of the things that struck me when I read Waging Modern War was that Clark had a tendency to shoot off his mouth a bit without realizing how his remarks sounded to others — a habit that eventually led to Bill Cohen's famous order, relayed by Hugh Shelton, to "Get your fucking face off the TV. No more briefings, period. That's it."

I think that Clark and Dean are the two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination right now, and both of them seem to have a little bit of a problem watching what they say and who they say it to. So far their slips have all been fairly minor, but on the other hand these little media flurries can sap you if they happen on a weekly basis. Straight talking and candor are admirable, but I hope they both learn to think just a little bit more before rattling off those one-liners in the future.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (94)

MAKING MONEY THE OLD FASHIONED WAY....Via Sebastian Holsclaw, the San Francisco Chronicle regales us with the state of the art in stock scams: find an overhyped company, take a short position in their stock, bad mouth them to everyone who will listen, make a pot of money when the stock finally collapses, and then — the stroke of genius that turns this into a work of art — file a class action suit against the company alleging that they misled investors about their prospects.

And the icing on the cake? The guy doing all this is a pal of George Bush. Commenters may fire when ready.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (37)

RADICAL LEFTIES....I guess when you write a book you have a natural tendency to become pretty sensitive to your subject matter, but doesn't David Bernstein's apprehension here seem just a tad breathless?

But my ultimate concern is that the radical Left would like to bring to society as a whole the kind of authoritarianism they are constantly trying to, and sometimes succeeding in, bringing to universities. Universities are their friendliest turf, but the ultimate goal, to be achieved through "harassment" law, hate speech rules, and changes in First Amendment jurisprudence, is to have the government enforce PCism throughout society.

You really have to watch out for those radical lefties, don't you? Why, with the exception of every branch of government, most churches, the military, unions, corporations, and the media — yes, except for those few minor institutions they're practically everywhere!

What's to be done about this threat to the American way of life?

UPDATE: Nathan Newman thinks I'm being too soft and points to an area where speech control really is a problem. And — surprise! — it's not the radical lefties who are at fault.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:41 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (82)

November 09, 2003

IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!....What was the meaning of 9/11? What was the real lesson for all of us?

I'd say Ted Barlow has about the best answer I've seen. Go read it and then ponder his wisdom.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:53 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (135)

BUSH'S SPEECH....OK, let's get down to it: what did I think of George Bush's speech the other day? I'm having a hard time condensing my thoughts on this into a single post, but here we go.

First: it was a good speech. A few days ago I remarked that since, in the end, Saddam Hussein turned out not to have any weapons that presented a genuine security threat to America, Bush needed to provide a broader rationale for both the invasion of Iraq and our overall policies in the Middle East. If he didn't, public support would continue to dwindle away.

The good news is that he did:

Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy — as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress....It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule.

....Yet there's a great challenge today in the Middle East. In the words of a recent report by Arab scholars, the global wave of democracy has — and I quote — "barely reached the Arab states."

....Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands....This is a massive and difficult undertaking — it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.

Now, I think the speech could have been better. In particular, Bush devoted only a couple of weak sentences to explaining why the American public should care about democracy in Iraq. Everyone's for democracy, of course, but altruism has its limits. If the American public is to stay dedicated to this, it's going to need more.

But that's a quibble. If Bush is willing to make this kind of speech a regular part of his repertoire, it's a good start.



Unfortunately, while it was a good speech, there's precious little evidence that he has either the vision or the will to see it through. And this is where I get a little perplexed: why does Bush continue to retain support from anyone these days?

On the left, there are a lot of people who don't think we should have invaded Iraq at all. Obviously they don't support Bush.

But as we move toward the center, we get people like, say, Ken Pollack, who agree that the Middle East is a dangerous place and that America ought to try and do something about it. But these folks also understood what it would take to do things right and felt that Bush fought "the wrong war." We should have been more patient, and more willing to build international support. Do these guys still support Bush, and if so, why?

And then we get to the right, where people like Bill Kristol also reluctantly recognize the truth about Bush. Kristol, like most hawks, is gung ho on the idea of remaking the Middle East, but recognizes that George Bush is entirely unwilling to match deeds to words. We need more troops to make the Iraqi reconstruction work, but Bush has shown himself unwilling to take any of the possible paths that would increase troop strength. So why are these guys still supporting Bush?

Here's what it comes down to. There were three alternatives for dealing with Iraq, and I assume that from the point of view of the hawks they go like this, in order of preference:

  1. Invade Iraq and win. Send a message to the rest of the Arab world.

  2. Don't invade Iraq.

  3. Invade Iraq, but do it on the cheap and screw it up.

George Bush, despite the fine words of his speech, has pretty clearly chosen option #3, and I assume that everyone agrees this is the worst of all possible choices. Even the hawks would prefer not to invade at all than to invade and fail, right?

And so we get down to realities. How does George Bush plan to follow up on the inspiring words of his speech?

By force of arms? He's not willing to increase the size of the U.S. military and he's not willing to engage seriously with other nations to get help from them either.

By diplomacy? His diplomacy in the Middle East has been a disaster, and his flat unwillingness to expend serious capital on the Israeli-Palestinian war means it's likely to stay that way.

By pressure on Arab states to reform? Bush's coziness with Saudi Arabia is legendary, and there's simply no evidence that he's genuinely willing to put any overt pressure on countries that are nominally friendly toward us.

By foreign aid and institution building? As Fareed Zakaria points out, toughminded Republicans generally think of this as naive idealism, and Bush seems to see it this way too. There's been no sign at all that he's interested in the long, hard slog of "economic reform, trade, exchange programs, legal and educational advances, and hundreds of such small-bore efforts."

So I don't get it. I really don't. Hawks are in favor of scaring the Middle East into reform through force of arms, but George Bush isn't willing to take the political risks it would take to do that. Doves are in favor of softer efforts that rely on diplomacy and multilateral institutions, but Bush is pretty obviously not interested in that either.

In other words, he's not willing to do any of the things that might conceivably bring democracy and liberalization to the Middle East.

So: nice speech. But regardless of whether your ideas are good or bad, you're doomed to certain failure unless you're willing to seriously follow up on them. George Bush isn't, and since I think failure here has the potential to be catastrophic, I'll be voting for someone else next November.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (191)

A PROFILE OF DICK CHENEY....Newsweek's cover story this week is "How Dick Cheney Sold the War." As Josh Marshall points out, "The meme at last seems to be taking flight," and the only surprise is that it's taken so long. The fact that Cheney has been the primary architect of our Iraq strategy seems like it's been obvious for nearly a year now.

However, there's an interesting aspect to this aside from stock Cheney bashing. As the Newseek profile says:

Cheney, say those who know him, is in no way cynically manipulative. By all accounts, he is genuinely convinced that the threat is imminent and menacing. Professional intelligence analysts can offer measured, nuanced opinions, but policymakers, Cheney likes to say, have to decide.

In the same vein, I want to reprint something I came across earlier this year: a profile of Cheney from the unlikely source of John Perry Barlow, better known as a former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

It turns out that Barlow grew up in Cheney's home state of Wyoming, and that back in the 80s he knew Cheney pretty well. The essay below is his attempt to figure out what Cheney is up to, and while I don't especially endorse or reject any of it, I did find it provocative and intriguing — even though we now know that the invasion of Iraq was no bluff at all. It's an interesting read.

Sympathy For The Devil
By John Perry Barlow

I remember a time years ago when I was as convinced that Dick Cheney was obscenely wrong about something as I am now. Subsequent events raised the possibility that he might not have been so wrong after all. With this in mind, I've given some thought lately to how all this might look to the Vice President (who is, I remain convinced, as much the real architect of American policy as he was while Gerald Ford's Chief of Staff or George the First's Secretary of Defense).

As I've mentioned, I once knew Cheney pretty well. I helped him get elected to his first public office as Wyoming's lone congressman. I conspired with him on the right side of environmental issues. Working closely together, we were instrumental in closing down a copper smelter in Douglas, Arizona the grandfathered effluents of which were causing acid rain in Wyoming's Wind River mountains. We were densely interactive allies in creating the Wyoming Wilderness Act. He used to go fishing on my ranch. We were friends.

With the possible exception of Bill Gates, Dick Cheney is the smartest man I've ever met. If you get into a dispute with him, he will take you on a devastatingly brief tour of all the weak points in your argument. But he is a careful listener and not at all the ideologue he appears at this distance. I believe he is personally indifferent to greed. In the final analysis, this may simply be about oil, but I doubt that Dick sees it that way. I am relatively certain that he is acting in the service of principles to which he has devoted megawatts of a kind of thought that is unimpeded by sentiment or other emotional overhead.

Here is the problem I think Dick Cheney is trying to address at the moment: How does one assure global stability in a world where there is only one strong power? This is a question that his opposition, myself included, has not asked out loud. It's not an easy question to answer, but neither is it a question to ignore.

Historically, there have only been two methods by which nations have prevented the catastrophic conflict which seems to be their deepest habit.

The more common of these has been symmetrical balance of power. This is what kept another world war from breaking out between 1945 and 1990. The Cold War was the ultimate Mexican stand-off, and though many died around its hot edges - in Vietnam, Korea, and countless more obscure venues - it was a comparatively peaceful period. Certainly, the global body count was much lower in the second half of the twentieth century than it was in the first half. Unthinkable calamity threatened throughout, but it did not occur.

The other means by which long terms of peace — or, more accurately, non-war — have been achieved is the unequivocal domination by a single ruthless power. The best example of this is, of course, the Pax Romana, a "world" peace which lasted from about 27 BCE until 180 AD. I grant that the Romans were not the most benign of rulers. They crucified dissidents for decoration, fed lesser humans to their pets, and generally scared the bejesus out of everyone, including Jesus Himself. But war, of the sort that racked the Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, and indeed, just about everyone prior to Julius Caesar, did not occur. The Romans had decided it was bad for business. They were in a military position to make that opinion stick.

(There was a minority view of the Pax Romanum, well stated at its height by Tacitus: "To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace." It would be well to keep that admonition in mind now.)

There are other, more benign, examples of lengthily imposed peace. One could argue that the near absence of major international wars in the Western Hemisphere results from the overwhelming presence of the United States which, while hardly a dream neighbor, has at least stopped most of the New World wars that it didn't start. The Ottoman Empire had a pretty good run, about 700 years, after drawing its borders in blood. The Pharoahs kept the peace, at least along the Nile, for over 2800 years until Alexander the Great showed up.

If one takes the view that war is worse than tyranny and that the latter doesn't necessarily beget the former, there is a case to be made for global despotism. That case is unfortunately stronger, in the light of history, than the proposition that nations will coexist peacefully if we all try really, really hard to be nice to each other.

It is certainly unlikely at the moment that geopolitical stability can be achieved by the formation of some new detente like the one that terrified us into peace during the Cold War. Europe, old and new, is furious with the United States at the moment (if my unscientific polls while there in January are at all accurate), but they are a very long way from confronting us with any military threat we'd find credible.

I'm pretty sure that, soon enough, hatred of our Great Satanic selves will provide the Islamic World with a unity they have lacked since the Prophet's son-in-law twisted off and started Shi'ism. But beyond their demonstrated capacity to turn us into a nation of chickenshits and control freaks, I can't imagine them erecting a pacifying balance force against our appalling might.

I believe that Dick Cheney has thought all these considerations through in vastly greater detail than I'm providing here and has reached these following conclusions: first, that it is in the best interests of humanity that the United States impose a fearful peace upon the world and, second, that the best way to begin that epoch would be to establish dominion over the Middle East through the American Protectorate of Iraq. In other words, it's not about oil, it's about power and peace.

Well, alright. It is about oil, I guess, but only in the sense that the primary goal of the American Peace is to guarantee the Global Corporations reliable access to all natural resources, wherever they may lie. The multinationals are Cheney's real constituents, regardless of their stock in trade or their putative country of origin. He knows, as the Romans did, that war is bad for business.

But what's more important is that he also knows that business is bad for war. He knows, for example, there there has never been a war between two countries that harbored McDonald's franchises. I actually think it's possible that, however counter-intuitive and risky his methods for getting it, what Dick Cheney really wants is peace. Though much has been made of his connection to Halliburton and the rest of the Ol Bidness, he is not acting in the service of personal greed. He is a man of principle. He is acting in the service of intentions that are to him as noble as mine are to me — and not entirely different.

How can this be? Return with me now to the last time I was convinced he was insanely endangering life on earth. This was back in the early 1983 when Dick Cheney was, at least by appearances, a mere congressman. He was also Congressional point man for the deployment of the MX missile system in our mutual home state of Wyoming. (The MX was also called the "Peacemaker," a moniker I took at the time to be the darkest of ironies.)

The MX was, and indeed still is, a Very Scary Thing. A single MX missile could hit each of 10 different targets, hundreds of miles apart, with about 600 kilotons of explosive force. For purposes of comparison, Hiroshima was flattened by a 17 kiloton nuclear blast. Thus, each of the MX's warheads could glaze over an area 35 times larger than the original Ground Zero. Furthermore, 100 MX missiles were to lie beneath the Wyoming plains, Doomsday on the Range.

Any one of the 6000 MX warheads would probably incinerate just about every living thing in Moscow. But Cheney's plan — cooked up with Brent Scowcroft, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and other familiar suspects — was not about targeting cities, as had been the accepted practice of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The MX was to be aimed instead at the other side's missile emplacements.

The problem with this "counter-force strategy," as it was called, was that it was essentially a first-strike policy. The MX was to be placed in highly vulnerable Minuteman silos. In the event of a Soviet first strike, all of the Peacemakers would have been easily wiped out. Thus, they were either to be launched preemptively or they were set to "launch on warning." The MX was to be either an offensive weapon or the automated hair-trigger was to be pulled on all hundred of them within a very few minutes after the first Soviet missile broke our radar horizon .

In either case, the logic behind it appeared to call for fighting and winning a nuclear war. Meanwhile, President Reagan was bellowing about "the Evil Empire" and issuing many statements that seemed to consider Armageddon a plausible option.

I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill during the winter of 1981-82. I lobbied over a hundred Congressmen and Senators against a policy that seemed to me the craziest thing that human beings had ever proposed. The only member of Congress who knew more about it than I did was Dick Cheney.

Veteran Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanied me on one of my futile visits to his office, where she spent better than an hour listening to us argue about "circular errors probable" and "MIRV decoys" and the other niceties of nuclear nightmare. When we were leaving, she, who had seen a lot of politicians in her long day, turned to me and said, "I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous person I've ever seen up here." At that point, I agreed with her.

What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over.

As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus. They were determined to project such a vision of implacable, irrational, lethality that the Soviet leaders would decide to capitulate rather than risk universal annihilation.

It worked. While I think that rock 'n' roll and the systemic failures of central planning had as much to do with the collapse of communism as did Dick's mad gamble, I have to confess that, by 1990, he didn't look quite so nuts to me after all. The MX, along with Star Wars and Reagan's terrifying rhetoric, had been all along a weapon for waging psychological rather than nuclear warfare.

I'm starting to wonder if we aren't watching something like the same strategy again. In other words, it's possible Cheney and company are actually bluffing.This time, instead of trying to terrify the Soviets into collapse, the objective is even grander. If I'm right about this, they have two goals. Neither involves actual war, any more than the MX missile did.

First, they seek to scare Saddam Hussein into voluntarily turning his country over to the U.S. and choosing safe exile or, failing that, they want to convince the Iraqi people that it's safer to attempt his overthrow or assassination than to endure an invasion by American ground troops.

Second, they are trying to convince every other nation on the planet that the United States is the Mother of All Rogue States, run by mad thugs in possession of 15,000 nuclear warheads they are willing to use and spending, as they already are, more on death-making capacity than all the other countries on the planet combined. In other words, they want the rest of the world to think that we are the ultimate weaving driver. Not to be trusted, but certainly not to be messed with either.

By these terrible means, they will create a world where war conducted by any country but the United States will seem simply too risky and the Great American Peace will begin. Unregulated Global Corporatism will be the only permissible ideology, every human will have access to McDonald's and the Home Shopping Network, all "news" will come through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, the Internet will be run by Microsoft, and so it will remain for a long time. Peace. On Prozac.

If I were in charge, this is neither the flavor of peace I would prefer nor the way I would achieve it. But if I'd been in charge back in 1983, there might still be a Soviet Union and we might all still be waiting for the world to end in fifteen nuclear minutes.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about this. Maybe they actually are possessed of a madness to which there is no method. Maybe they really do intend to invade Iraq and for no more noble reason than giving American SUVs another 50 years of cheap gas. We'll probably know which it's going to be sometime in the next fortnight.

By then, I expect to be dancing in Brazil, far from this heart of darkness and closer to the heart itself.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:07 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (16) | Comments (74)

November 08, 2003

IRAQ AND VIETNAM....Aside from an occasional reference to domestic support for the war, I've avoided any comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam. For a variety of reasons I think the comparison is a weak one, and one that's too early to make in any case.

On the other hand, this Washington Post profile of pacification efforts in the town of Thuluiya is just damn depressing. It really does sound like Vietnam:

None of the U.S. tactics in Thuluiya has worked. In June, the town was the target of a massive helicopter and tank sweep as troops raided houses in a search for Hussein sympathizers. Of more than 400 detainees netted in the raid, called Operation Peninsula Strike, two remain in custody, according to Iraqi police.

When U.S. commanders took a softer approach, funding repairs to schools and the police station and recruiting local policemen to provide security, attacks continued. A father killed a son who had informed on behalf of the Americans. Attacks on U.S. soldiers at a bridge prompted the Americans to bulldoze a swath of date palms and fruit trees along a major roadway. U.S. troops carried out sporadic raids; eight Thuluiya residents have been detained in the past two weeks, residents say.

Efforts to get Iraqis to handle security in town foundered under a wave of mistrust. The police have been all but sidelined. "The Americans don't have confidence in us," said one officer, who declined to give his name for fear of getting fired. "They think we know who is doing the attacks but are not telling them."

The officer and his comrades said U.S. commanders no longer meet with local leaders in town but invite them to their base at a large airfield north of the town. Since a wave of car bombings last month in Baghdad, no U.S. official has visited the police station, they said. "The Americans are afraid," the officer said.

You've got your local allies who don't seem especially enthused, you've got entire towns seemingly controlled by popular enemy guerrillas, you've got American troops who don't seem to know what to do and veer wildly between punitive measures and humanitarian gestures, and you've got a leadership that's now so fearful they refuse to leave the security of their bases to find out what's really going on in the field.

For some reason, weekend news always seems more discouraging to me than it does on weekdays (which is rather curious, actually). So maybe this isn't that big a deal. But it sure doesn't sound good, doesn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (82)

POLITICIZING INTELLIGENCE....Given what we've learned since the war ended, it's now pretty obvious even to hardened partisans that the administration politicized intelligence about Iraq before the war. They exaggerated the threat of nuclear weapons and other WMD, they insisted on al-Qaeda connections that never existed, and they attacked the patriotism and moral purpose of anyone who questioned what they were doing.

Even the traditionally bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has gotten in on the politicization act, desperately trying to blame intelligence failures solely on the CIA in order to prevent any investigation into the president or his administration. "The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," said Pat Roberts, chairman of the committee, explaining his point of view a couple of weeks ago while trying to keep a straight face.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats on the committee are unhappy about this and want a wider ranging inquiry that actually tries to get to the truth of what happened. What's more, it turns out they actually have a plan to force this to happen, a plan that some Republican staffer seems to have came across while rooting through Capitol Hill trash cans.

Republicans are pretending to be outraged. But I read the memo, and while it's always a bit embarrassing to have internal strategy discussions made public, there's really nothing even remotely to be ashamed of in this one. If you don't believe me, just go ahead and read the memo itself. Here it is, along with a translation:

The Memo

What It Means

We have carefully reviewed our options under the rules and believe we have identified the best approach. Our plan is as follows:

1) Pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures regarding improper or questionable conduct by administration officials. We are having some success in that regard. For example, in addition to the president's State of the Union speech, the chairman has agreed to look at the activities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense as well as Secretary Bolton's office at the State Department. The fact that the chairman supports our investigations into these offices and co-signs our requests for information is helpful and potentially crucial. We don't know what we will find but our prospects for getting the access we seek is far greater when we have the backing of the majority. (Note: we can verbally mention some of the intriguing leads we are pursuing.)

We should work with the majority whenever we can. We've had a bit of success doing that already.

2) Assiduously prepare Democratic "additional views" to attach to any interim or final reports the committee may release. Committee rules provide this opportunity and we intend to take full advantage of it. In that regard, we have already compiled all the public statements on Iraq made by senior administration officials. We will identify the most exaggerated claims and contrast them with the intelligence estimates that have since been declassified. Our additional views will also, among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry. The Democrats will then be in a strong position to reopen the question of establishing an independent commission (i.e. the Corzine amendment).

However, we've also run into quite a bit of stonewalling in order to protect the president, so we should be prepared to release a minority report showing how and where the administration exaggerated pre-war intelligence.

3) Prepare to launch an independent investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the majority. We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation at any time -- but we can only do so once. The best time to do so will probably be next year either:

In addition, while we should give the Republicans every possible chance to do a fair job, in the end we should be prepared to call for an independent investigation if they refuse.

A) After we have already released our additional views on an interim report -- thereby providing as many as three opportunities to make our case to the public: 1) additional views on the interim report; 2) announcement of our independent investigation; and 3) additional views on the final investigation; or

We can either do this after the interim report is released....

B) Once we identify solid leads the majority does not want to pursue. We could attract more coverage and have greater credibility in that context than one in which we simply launch an independent investigation based on principled but vague notions regarding the "use" of intelligence.

....Or we can do it once we've got some especially solid evidence to pursue.

In the meantime, even without a specifically authorized independent investigation, we continue to act independently when we encounter foot-dragging on the part of the majority. For example, the FBI Niger investigation was done solely at the request of the vice chairman; we have independently submitted written questions to DoD; and we are preparing further independent requests for information.

Of course, in the meantime we should continue to fight Republican stonewalling whenever it crops up.

Summary
Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq. Yet, we have an important role to play in the revealing the misleading -- if not flagrantly dishonest methods and motives -- of the senior administration officials who made the case for a unilateral, preemptive war. The approach outline above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the administration's dubious motives and methods.

Summary
These issues aren't the biggest thing on the public's mind, but revealing the way that Republicans politicized intelligence before the war is still an important thing to do.


Bottom line: Republicans want to limit the investigation in order to protect the president. Democrats are fighting this because they think the president had a lot to do with the misuse of prewar intelligence.

There's nothing wrong with this, and it wouldn't have happened if Republicans had been willing to conduct a fair and thorough investigation in the first place. So let's save the mock outrage, OK?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:03 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (13) | Comments (168)

FAILURE OF NERVE....Here's a terrific post about depression and military service from an unexpected source. Go read it.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (58)

FACTOID WATCH....Several people have already linked to this Robert Reich piece, but it's genuinely interesting:

America has been losing manufacturing jobs to China, Latin America and the rest of the developing world. Right? Well, not quite. It turns out that manufacturing jobs have been disappearing all over the world. Economists at Alliance Capital Management in New York took a close look at employment trends in 20 large economies recently, and found that since 1995 more than 22 million factory jobs have disppeared.

In fact, the United States has not even been the biggest loser. Between 1995 and 2002, we lost about 11 percent of our manufacturing jobs. But over the same period, the Japanese lost 16 percent of theirs. And get this: Many developing nations are losing factory jobs. During those same years, Brazil suffered a 20 percent decline.

Here’s the real surprise. China saw a 15 percent drop. China, which is fast becoming the manufacturing capital of the world, has been losing millions of factory jobs.

It's remarkable that productivity gains have been so widespread that even China is losing manufacturing jobs. I'm not sure what the policy implications of this are, and Reich doesn't go into it, but it sure puts a different spin on the administration's recent claims that China is "stealing jobs" from America, doesn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (64)

BACK TO IRAQ....You just have to love these NRO types. Rich Lowry, in a post that was probably written through clenched teeth, credits Wes Clark with a good idea:

Given the internal Pentagon debate over whether to devote intelligence resources to hunt for WMD or the hunt for guerrilla/terrorists in Iraq, this is a Wes Clark idea that could make some sense. From the New York Times: "He proposed asking international inspectors to take over the search for unconventional weapons, which would free American linguists and intelligence specialists to work on efforts 'to find the people who are killing our soldiers.'"

An hour later, repenting of his apostasy, he runs the following email from a fan:

Rich, I would not be surprised if the Bush administration is already pursuing this course of action. However, given all of the hurt feelings of the international inspector community after the Blix affair, I suspect that a lot of back-room Mandarin-like negotiation is required to get them back into Iraq, which could be currently in-process. In other words, Clark got wind of this though his still in-the-loop military sources, and wanted to take credit for pushing Bush in this direction, even though it is possibly a fait accompli.

Yeah, I have no doubt that Bush is keenly interested in getting UN inspectors back on the ground and Clark is deviously trying to steal credit for the idea, but let's just run this theory through the news archives to make sure, OK?

Let's see....here's Mohamed ElBaradei on April 27, a few days before the war was even officially over, saying UN inspectors should be allowed back in. "We have been in Iraq for over 10 years, we know the people, we know the infrastructure, we know where to go," he said, and Senator Carl Levin agreed. George Bush apparently didn't.

And here's Hans Blix on June 5, urging Bush to allow his team back into Iraq. Sadly, as CNN reports, "The U.S. is resisting calls to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq."

Oh, and look here: it's Mohamed ElBaradei again just a couple of weeks ago. "It is time for U.N. inspectors to go back to Iraq to complete their work," he said. Apparently George Bush still doesn't agree.

In other words, there's zero evidence that George Bush has the slightest interest in this, and Wes Clark probably got the idea from reading the daily paper — something that we all know Bush doesn't do.

Maybe he should start. And maybe Lowry should too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:27 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

November 07, 2003

CAMPAIGN FUN....This New York Times article about campaign finance reform is hilarious. Honest. It's the theater of the absurd: apparently McCain-Feingold requires all candidates to personally endorse their own ads:

The new regulation requires candidates to use their own voices to endorse their advertisements while their images are covering at least 80 percent of the television screen.

So you have to run the ad, and then at the end pop up to say, "Yep, this is my ad." The intent is apparently to make it harder to run negative ads, but some observers are skeptical:

"You could say it in the context of another attack," said Ken Goldstein, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin. " 'Snodgrass beats his wife and I approve this message because I really believe that my opponent really does beat his wife.' "

Isn't America great?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (52)

HE DIDN'T HAVE SEX WITH THAT WOMAN AFTER ALL!....Via Eugene Volokh, it looks like Bill Clinton has finally been vindicated: oral sex isn't adultery.

In New Hampshire, anyway. Not sure about Washington D.C.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (43)

TURKEY BOWS OUT....Turkey has decided not to send troops to help out with the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Is this good news or bad?

On the one hand, we desperately need more troops in Iraq, and Turkey was the only country to offer a significant number. Losing them is a real blow.

On the other, letting Turkish troops into Iraq bore all the signs of yet another sellout of the Iraqi Kurds, who have longstanding grievances with Turkey and have been solid supporters of the United States. What's more, it was pretty obvious — or should have been — that Iraqis would not accept Turkish troops on their soil any more than, say, Poland would accept Russian troops on theirs. Sure enough:

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council quickly voiced opposition to troops from Turkey -- or any of Iraq's neighbors -- on its soil. Many Iraqis were suspicious of the Turks, fearing they were seeking to dominate the country or would clash with Kurds in the north.

This is just puzzling as hell. I realize that continual criticism of the administration's handling of the occupation reaches a point of diminishing returns eventually, but it's this kind of stuff that makes us look so hamhanded in the first place. Did they even consult with the Governing Council first?

The idea that Turkish troops would cause immense friction within Iraq is apparent to anyone with even a casual knowledge of Middle East politics. Obviously the pros in Washington knew this too, so why did they go ahead anyway? Only one explanation makes sense: their desperation for more troops, especially in light of the forced draw down starting in February, must be getting truly palpable.

I sure hope that training those new Iraqi security forces on the fly can be made to work. It doesn't look like there any alternatives left at this point.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:54 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (49)

A DENIAL FOR ALL SEASONS....Prince Charles denied allegations today as "risible" and "untrue."

Hmmm, that sounds juicy. So what exactly did he deny doing? Sorry, can't say.

Oh. Well, who made the allegations? Sorry, there's an injunction against telling you that too.

But I thought you'd all like to know anyway. Whatever it is that he did, he didn't do it. OK?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:58 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (51)

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM WATCH....Conventional wisdom, June 2003: Bush is strong on national security, but the Democrats might be able to beat him on pocketbook issues.

Conventional wisdom, November 2003: The economy is favoring Bush, but Iraq is bogging down and the Democrats can take advantage of that.

That didn't take long, did it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (82)

LABOR UNIONS FOR DEAN....I've been reading all the stories about Howard Dean sewing up endorsements from SEIU (service workers) and AFSCME (government employees), two big labor unions, and I'm a little puzzled. This is obviously great news for Dean's campaign, but none of the reports seem to indicate why they're supporting Dean.

My first thought was that this had something to do with his increasingly outspoken criticism of free trade policies, but that doesn't make sense. These are both service unions, and their members aren't really affected much by NAFTA and WTO and all that.

I suppose all will be explained next week when the two unions officially announce their endorsement, but I'm curious now. What was it about Dean — or about what he promised them — that caused these unions to decide he was their brightest hope?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:25 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (120)

A PROFILE OF WESLEY CLARK....Elizabeth Drew has a meandering but interesting profile of Wesley Clark in the New York Review of Books this week. Among other things, I was interested in her counterpoint to the common meme about Clark being unpopular with his fellow military officers, which usually takes the form of the rather odd charge that he was viewed as too ambitious and too willing to promote himself — characteristics that I suspect are pretty common among both four-star generals and presidential candidates. Here's what Drew says:

Several people who are well informed about military politics or who worked with Clark during the Kosovo war believe that his enemies were largely motivated by professional jealousy of a US general who rose so quickly and also got international attention for a war unpopular with many of his colleagues.

....Clark's conduct of the Kosovo war, and his earlier participation as the US military negotiator in the meetings in Dayton following the war in Bosnia, earned him the admiration of several of the civilians he had worked with. Strobe Talbott, then the deputy secretary of state, reminded me recently that Clark is, after all, the only Supreme Allied Commander of NATO who actually had to fight a war, "and it ended in victory." Talbott told me that he found Clark to be "extraordinarily determined and able, and open to working with diplomats and civilians, US and foreign." Talbott pointed out that Clark, in commanding the Kosovo war, had had to deal daily with nineteen nations.

[Sandy] Berger, who has not endorsed any of the presidential candidates, also speaks highly of Clark. Richard Holbrooke, under whom Clark served at the Dayton negotiations, is a friend of Clark's and supports his candidacy. Michael Gordon, the Times's able military reporter, who covered the Kosovo war, wrote of Clark in early October that "while NATO's military campaign was not perfect by any means...the general's judgment of... critical issues seems pretty solid when viewed in perspective; a humanitarian wrong was righted and NATO won its first and only war."

She also quotes retired General Walter Kross, a former four-star Air Force general who worked with Clark in the mid-90s:

He's not the army general officer from central casting. He's the extra-ordinary senior officer who can do extra-ordinary work on the entire range of challenges senior officers have to face—including Kosovo and the Dayton Accords, on which he worked himself into exhaustion. No army officer from central casting can do that work, but Wes did.

Ron Klain, one of Clark's advisors, says that when he briefs Clark "it's much more a conversation you'd have with Clinton than with Gore." To be honest, I'm not even sure what that means, but it sounds good, doesn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (55)

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING....This week's cat blogging is being turned over to Internet Ronin, whose cat Phoebe died on Thursday:

I returned yesterday from what was probably my most enjoyable trip to Japan in the last decade to find my feline friend near death. She had not eaten in a week, despite the petsitter's offer of everything from fresh tuna to ice cream.

When I picked up her tiny, emaciated body, she was desperately trying to purr but the sound that came forth was so heart-wrenching that it was unbearable. It was now time to say good-bye. I made the arrangements with the veterinarian and returned home for the first time in 14 years without "my big baby" rushing forth from some hiding place or sunny corner to greet me....

Read the whole thing here and go leave a comment of condolence.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:39 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (27)

WHAT PART OF "DO NOT CALL" DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?....Hot on the heels of the FCC's $780,000 fine of AT&T for calling consumers who had signed up for the Do Not Call list, California attorney general Bill Lockyer is seeking a $100,000 fine of American Home Craft for illegal telemarketing calls.

Good.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:19 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (37)

DON'T BLAME BILL....James Joyner identifies a growing national crisis that conservatives can't blame on Bill Clinton. That's the kind of bipartisanship I like to see, James.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:13 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (46)

November 06, 2003

ARNOLD INVESTIGATES HIMSELF....Arnold Schwarzenegger is planning to hire a private investigator to look into charges that Arnold Schwarzenegger groped a dozen women over the past couple of decades.

Say again? Maybe his investigators can team up with OJ's. You know, save some money all around.

And in other news — well, the same news, actually — Arnold is also apparently under the impression that he has a personal attorney-client privilege with the elected attorney general of the state of California. I hope he doesn't have too many more fantasies like that about how state government works.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:20 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (82)

WHY I LIKE WES CLARK....Why did I decide to support Wes Clark for president? That's obviously a combination of what I think about Clark and what I think about the rest of the candidates, and I'll try to cover both sides here without making this too long. Let's start with Clark.

On a policy level, I usually look at three areas — but not in White Paper detail. I want to know general tone and direction, not the intricacies of how they're all going to finance their competing healthcare plans. So here's how Clark stacks up on policy:

  • Economic issues. After three years of George Bush, I have a low bar here: I just want a candidate whose ideas are not obviously insane. (Yes, that's what it's come to.) All of the candidates qualify on that score, although I think Clark is smart not to suggest repealing the middle class parts of the Bush tax cut and smart to emphasize some areas of spending cutbacks as well as tax increases. His position on free trade seems reasonable too, although I haven't seen a definitive statement about it from him.

  • Social issues. I think this is an area where Clark shines. His basic instincts are the ones that liberals look for — "I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I am pro-environment, pro-health," as he famously said in the first debate — but at the same time he seems to understand that you can frame these issues as ones of basic fairness and security without gratuitously making them into culture war issues. I like that.

  • Foreign policy. This is probably the #1 issue in the 2004 election, and it's one where Clark's experience gives him credibility that the other candidates lack. It's true that most of the Democratic candidates say that they're committed to restoring our international relationships, but Clark is a guy who's actually fought a war with an international coalition and knows what a huge pain in the ass it is. When the other guys talk about alliances, I sometimes wonder if they really believe what they're saying, but when Clark talks about it I know that he believes what he's saying. What's more, I think he can convince the electorate that he's right about this and George Bush isn't.

    Clark also does a pretty good balancing job. One of the fundamental problems with opposition is that you spend most of your time attacking the guy currently in office. That's fine, it's the way the game is played. But you also need to make it clear that you have a positive plan to make things better, and Clark does that pretty well. I think it could still use some work, but overall his ideas for fighting terrorism seem realistic, toughminded, and sensible.

Aside from policy stands, Clark has a lot of other things to recommend him too. His personality is attractive and levelheaded, he "oozes sincerity," he's a good speaker, and his character and judgment are sound.

In addition, he is also George Bush's worst nightmare. So not only do I think he would be a very good, liberal president at a policy level, but I also like his character and I think he's the most electable of the candidates. What more could I ask for?


So how about the rest of the field? I want to make it clear that I have nothing against any of the major candidates and would support any of them against George Bush. In other words, I'm not trying to smack any of them down. Still, with that said, here's what I think of them.

Howard Dean: I like Dean's energy, I like his passion, and I like the fact that he's obviously not afraid to take on George Bush with gusto. But there's a flip side to this, and I think you can see them both in his "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks" remark. On the one hand, he was making a smart observation: these guys ought to vote for Democrats and we shouldn't alienate them. But on the other hand, it was a really, really stupid way to make his point and he was too stubborn to back down from it until it had already done him a bunch of damage.

So while I don't have any huge policy differences with him — although he's sounding a little too sincere in his opposition to free trade these days — his character seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Too much of his appeal is built on anger, he often comes across as defensive and perhaps a little bitter to people who aren't true believers in the first place, and I think he'd get flattened by Karl Rove's $200 million war chest. I feel bad saying that, but it's my best guess.

John Kerry: I just can't warm to the guy. All politicians waffle on their positions, but Kerry too often seems like he's waffling. Fair or not, his positions often seem a little too finely calibrated and his speaking style a little too calculated. Sorry.

Joe Lieberman: I don't have the instinctive revulsion toward Lieberman that a lot of liberals seem to have, but at the same time he's just too far from my own positions to consider seriously.

Dick Gephardt: He's run before, and he's lost before. I don't think he'd do any better this time.

John Edwards: I like Edwards a lot, but he just hasn't been able to gain any traction. I don't know why, but that's the way it goes sometimes. He'd make a great VP, or a great presidential candidate sometime down the road. Just not this year.

Kucinich, Sharpton, Moseley Braun: None of them have a chance of winning, so I just haven't paid any attention to them. Sorry, but life's too short.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:18 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (6) | Comments (206)

BUSH AND THE ENVIRONMENT....Yesterday in the LA Times:

The Bush administration has dropped enforcement actions against dozens of coal-fired power plants that were under investigation for violating the Clean Air Act and allegedly spewing thousands of tons of illegal pollution into the air, EPA officials said Wednesday.

Today in the LA Times:

Bush administration officials have drafted a rule that would significantly narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act, stripping many wetlands and streams of federal pollution controls and making them available to being filled for commercial development.

....State and federal officials have estimated that up to...20% of the wetlands outside of Alaska could lose protection under a new rule like the one in the draft.

You know, I'm open to the idea that stringent new environmental rules ought to get a pretty careful look — maybe we've reached a point of diminishing returns, after all. And I'm downright enthusiastic about trying out new market-based techniques like pollution credits trading.

But gutting the current rules is a whole different matter. George Bush himself touts improvements in air quality caused by the Clean Air Act, but now seems to think that enforcing it is no longer necessary. Ditto for the Clean Water Act, which Bush is treating as just another opportunity for a bit of corporate looting by his big campaign contributors. No wonder Christie Whitman finally couldn't stomach it any longer.

A few weeks ago Gregg Easterbrook wrote an op-ed for the LA Times claiming that Bush hadn't really rolled back any environmental rules at all and then magically granted him serious environmental mojo for some new rules on diesel emissions — while failing to note that these were actually Clinton-era rules and Bush merely agreed not to overturn them.

In light of the latest news, care to revise your opinion that Bush's environmental record isn't really that bad, Gregg?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:26 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (89)

ICONOLOGY....Jonah Goldberg gives us the inside track on Republican thinking about the Confederate flag today:

If [Howard] Dean had studied the Republican line more closely, he'd know that Republicans don't embrace the flag because it is racist — or at least they never, ever, say that — but explicitly because it represents things other than race: heritage, pride, honor, etc.

No, they never, ever, say that, do they? Care to revise and extend, Jonah?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:07 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (186)

WORKING THE REFS....You want to talk about bias in the press? Let's talk about bias in the press.

The LA Times reports today that the Texas Board of Education is about to decide on textbook adoptions for the coming year, and needless to say the big battle is over the biology texts. The creationist crowd is doing its usual best to undermine the teaching of evolution, and the Times starts out its article like this:

William Dembski pulled a book from a pile in the basement of his country home and flipped to a page containing drawings of embryos. A gilded painting of the crucifixion hung on the wall behind him. He was in a bind, or so it would seem.

He is a scientist by trade, a Baylor University research professor, and knows that the theory of evolution is considered a cornerstone of modern science. But he is an evangelical Christian at heart, convinced that some biological mechanisms are too complex to have been created without divine guidance. The two schools — science and religion — have long been difficult to reconcile. But those days, he believes, are over.

A scientist by trade! A research professor! A guy who struggles mightily to reconcile his faith and his science!

Hogwash. William Dembski has PhDs in mathematics and philosphy. He is not a research scientist and has no professional expertise in biology. Until recently he was a well known member of the Discovery Institute, the largest and best funded opponent of evolution in the country. He was head of a center at Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning until a controversy in 2000 which he mistakenly hailed as "the triumph of Intelligent Design." Even Southern Baptist Baylor couldn't stomach that and he was fired two days later.

In other words, he's a longtime foe of evolution with no professional standing whatsoever in biology. So why is the Times bending over backwards to pretend otherwise? And why do they oh-so-carefully describe him as having a degree in "science," a description not usually applied to mathematics, and just as carefully refrain from telling us that his degrees are entirely unrelated to biology?

This is the worst kind of he-said-she-said journalism. Some guys say evolution is true and some other guys say it isn't. Hey, whatever, we're just reporters.

And in further depressing news, it turns out that it's not just evolution these guys want to gut from the textbooks. Check this out:

A reference to the Ice Age was changed recently from "millions of years ago" to "in the distant past" in a nod to people who read Scripture literally and believe the Earth is just thousands of years old.

What's next? Geology texts that vaguely suggest the earth is, um, really, really old?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:28 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (8) | Comments (149)

November 05, 2003

BROKERED CONVENTION?....Tom Spencer reprinted a Gene Lyons column today that contained an interesting factoid about how the Democratic primaries are going to work:

What hasn't yet sunk in among journalists covering the race is the likely impact of the amazingly complicated rule changes the party has imposed on itself for 2004 in the interest of "fairness." Massive confusion appears likelier. There are no winner-take-all primaries. Instead, delegates will be awarded proportionally to all candidates receiving more than 15 percent of the vote in each congressional district, from sea to shining sea.

Now, this is old news to political animals, I'm sure, but it's new news to me, and what it means is that every single congressional district is a separate race. Even if you poll a mere 1% of the vote in a given state, if you poll 15% in a couple of districts you'll get a few delegates. This means that minor candidates are likely to get a few percent of the delegates even if they never manage to break the 15% barrier in a single state.

As Lyons points out, the reason this matters is that it makes a brokered convention more likely. I've been discounting this possibility myself, but mostly based on the lazy reasoning that it hasn't happened for 50 years, so it's probably not going to happen this year either.

But this rule change, combined with a shortened primary season that prevents candidates from building momentum slowly and then dominating the big final primaries, might very well produce a convention where no one has a majority of the delegates going in. After all, within a mere six weeks of New Hampshire we have the massive March 2 "Super Tuesday" that includes New York, California, Massachussetts, Georgia, and Ohio. Virtually the entire game will be played out in those six weeks.

I think I still have to bet against this scenario, but understanding this rule change makes me a little less sure of myself. And that brings up an interesting question that no one has been asking so far: in a brokered convention, which candidate would be in the best position? Endorsements and party insider support are traditionally just window dressing that don't translate into votes, but they might very well translate into convention support. And my first guess is that this would favor John Kerry.

Gotta think about this a bit more.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:01 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (102)

MISUSING THE TELEPHONE?....A few weeks ago, Auckland Marxist Bruce Hubbard sent the following barely literate email to the local United States embassy:

to the USA, embassy

Drop napalm on babies and kids in Afghanistan and Iraq and have invaded 72 other nations since to install US-backed military dictatorships to smash popular democratic freedom.

Result: New Zealand police have charged him with "misusing a telephone," carrying a possible NZ$2,000 fine.

Why did they do this? Because "a woman at the embassy was offended by the email." I guess American embassy workers are pretty easily offended these days.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (37)

NAME THE CABINET!....The endless stream of surveys demonstrating how ignorant we all are can admittedly get a bit tiresome, but sometimes one of them really hits you between the eyes:

Most Americans are unable to identify even a single department in the United States Cabinet, according to a recent national poll of 800 adults. Specifically, the survey found that a majority (58%) could not provide any department names whatsoever....No respondent named all nineteen correctly and only 1% were able to name at least 11 departments within the President’s Cabinet.

This would bring tears to the eyes of Mr. Beglinger, my 8th grade civics teacher, who taught us the following mnemonic: ST. DAPIACLE HUT. This was not only the entire cabinet (as of 1972), but it was even in order of presidential succession:

  • State

  • Treasury

  • Defense

  • Attorney General (Dept. of Justice)

  • Postmaster General

  • Interior

  • Agriculture

  • Commerce

  • Labor

  • Health, Education, and Welfare

  • Housing and Urban Development

  • Transportation

This, he told us, was the updated version of ST. WAPIACL, which he himself had learned as a boy.

Since then, of course, the Postmaster General has gone the way of the dodo bird, HEW has been split into HHS and Education, and we've added Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security. The resulting mnemonic, I suppose, is ST. DAIACL HUTEEVS, which seems a bit unwieldy. Still, any port in a storm.

(And for those keeping score at home, the full list of 19 "cabinet level" positions includes EPA, Trade Representative, Drug Control, and OMB. This explains the failure of a single person to name all 19 since, after all, who the hell knows this stuff?)

<cheapshot> I wonder how many of these cabinet departments George Bush can name? </cheapshot>

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 06:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (72)

WAR PROFITEERING: JUST GOOD, CLEAN FUN....Fraud against the government is prohibited here at home, of course, but it turns out that it's not expressly prohibited overseas. Like, say, in Iraq. So it would be a good idea to close that little loophole, wouldn't it?

Apparently not. Emma has the details.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (36)

"I WISH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS WERE LYING"....Nick Kristof's column today is very good. Nothing new, really, but well said.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 04:08 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (25)

DEFENDING THE WAR....Atrios points out something interesting today: the Senate decided to pass the $87 billion Iraq aid package by a voice vote, thus freeing members from casting individual votes. That much I knew. But a moment's thought leads you to the obvious corollary: Republicans control the Senate, which means it was Republicans, not just Democrats, who didn't want to be tied down to a firm yea or nay.

Now, The Hill reports that every Republican they talked to said the voice vote was a big mistake. Inexplicable, really. How could they do it? But then the story adds laconically:

None of those Republicans who criticized the way the issue was handled singled out [Majority Leader Bill] Frist by name. One reason is that any single senator could have demanded a roll call vote when party leaders “hotlined it” — a process used to contact senators about pending legislation.

This gets back to my comment yesterday about George Bush's unwillingness to really make the case for staying in Iraq. Not a few platitudes here and there, not macho throwaways about America never running from an enemy, but an entire address to the nation that presents a genuine, broad-based vision of what we're doing over there and why it's worth hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. And just as Bush's unwillingness to do this sends a message that he doesn't really have a good case to make, the Senate's voice vote sends a message that Republican lawmakers were vaguely ashamed of their vote and just wanted to sneak it through with no one the wiser.

Ditto for the military's decision to ban photographers from taking pictures of flag-draped coffins, and ditto again for the PR campaign to blame the media for the administration's own problems — the traditional last refuge of politicians who have run out of genuine arguments.

I think Americans are pretty good at telling when someone really believes what they're saying and when they don't, and George Bush and the Republican party are not acting like a group that has a deeply felt vision that they're proud to defend. It's going to cost them.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:55 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (56)

LEFT AND RIGHT....From one of the comments to this post, in which I sent readers to a piece on Dan Drezner's blog:

Thanks a lot, Kevin, for sending me to such a creepy site. The responses made me scurry back to Calpundit where there is just enough right-wing bile to get a sense of where they're coming from but not so much that I start humming America Uber Alles.

Dan returns the favor and sends his readers to this post of mine. One of his commenters sort of agrees with me but says this about my commenters:

As far as the many wingnuts who regularly visit Kevin's site, blinded by pathological hatred for Bush above all else, you can follow the thread below his comments if you dare....to enter the Twilight Zone.

You can just feel the love, can't you?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 02:45 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (192)

GOOD QUESTION, DAN....This morning I read an article about a German general who got fired for praising some anti-semitic remarks, and it immediately reminded me of our own Jerry Boykin, who is both a Lieutenant General and Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. He made some disparaging remarks about Islam a few weeks ago but so far is still happily ensconced in his Pentagon office.

Anyway, I was going to blog about it but it turns out Dan Drezner already has — and asks the relevant question at the end. So just go read his post instead.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:43 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (61)

TAKE A DEEP BREATH....Via James Joyner, I see that Ralph Peters has a serious entry in the Worst Idea of the Year Sweepstakes for 2003. Talking about the continuing guerrilla attacks in Iraq, he says this:

We need to have the guts to give at least one terrorist haven a stern lesson as an example to the others. Fallujah is the obvious choice.

If the populace continues to harbor our enemies and the enemies of a healthy Iraqi state, we need to impose strict martial law. Instead of lavishing more development funds on the city - bribes that aren't working - we need to cut back on electricity, ration water, restrict access to the city and organize food distribution through a ration card system. And we need to occupy the city so thickly that the inhabitants can't step out of their front doors without bumping into an American soldier. [And where are those soldiers going to come from? --ed. Er, um....]

Don't worry about alienating the already alienated. Make an example of them. Then see how the other cities respond. Such an experiment would be expensive. But strategic victories don't come cheap.

In my career there have been a number of occasions when I have gotten completely fed up with something and gone into a rant about how we need to kick some serious butt over some issue or another. Luckily, on all these occasions there has been someone around to slap some sense into me and tell me to calm down. Peters needs someone to slap some sense into him.

I surely have no problem with finding and roughly punishing guerrillas, but it's hard to overstate just how disastrous Peters' proposal is. Short of installing a police state — and wouldn't that be ironic? — this kind of escalation by an occupying power never works. Never. You don't have to look any further from Iraq than Israel and the West Bank to see the abject failure that results when both sides decide on a policy of never-ending escalation. It's a recipe for disaster.

In any case, Peters seems to be completely misguided about the whole point of this war anyway — although I admit I'm going out on a limb pretending to know anymore what the point of the war was. Here's his second entry in the sweepstakes:

We're overdue to take a lesson from the Romans and the British before us and recognize the value of punitive expeditions....One key lesson we should draw about expeditionary warfare in the Age of Terror is that we need not feel obliged to rebuild every government we are forced to destroy....Exemplary punishment may be out of fashion, but it's one of the most enduringly effective tools of statecraft. Where you cannot be loved, be feared. Indeed, a classic punitive expedition may prove to be the perfect model for Syria.

Is Peters nuts? The whole point of invading Iraq — here comes the limb — is to build a stable state that promotes tolerance and democracy, kicks the props out from under terrorism, and provides an example for others. The whole point is to reduce terrorism and the spawning grounds for terrorism, and if you give up on that then there's no point at all.

Quite aside from moral considerations, the idea that a series of punitive expeditions will reduce terrorism is little short of insane. That really would turn this "war" into a purely police action and the entire Middle East into the West Bank writ large. Is that really what he wants?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:05 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (216)

QUOTING REP. NETHERCUTT....After reading Josh Marshall for over a year, I've finally found something to disagree with him about. I was beginning to get worried there for a while.

Here's the deal. A couple of weeks ago the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted Rep. George Nethercutt as saying this about our overall success in rebuilding Iraq:

It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.

The PI has excoriated him several times for this sentiment, which they have every right to do. But here's the full quote:

It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day, which heaven forbid is awful.

Look, we can all decide for ourselves whether those extra five words change the meaning of his statement. But it's not as if the PI had to cut the quote short because of space considerations, and if they're going to blast the guy they should blast him based on his entire sentence.

Frankly, I can't think of any reason to snip that quote except that the PI's reporters and editors felt like making a point and were afraid it seemed kind of weak if you saw the final five words. After all, they were clearly trying to paint him as being unfeeling about the deaths of soldiers.

And that's fine. They should attack away on the substance of what he said, if that's how they feel. But they should also provide his full quote when they do it. That's Journalism 101.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:22 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (58)

YES, APPARENTLY THEY INHALED....It was a mere decade ago that Bill Clinton had to nervously fend off questions about youthful marijuana use with his famous waffle about "not inhaling." Last night the question came up at the Democratic debate and, after a bit of nervous laughter, the candidates all answered as matter-of-factly as if it were a question about their healthcare plans. Remarkable.

For the record, here are the cannabis habits of your Democratic candidates:

  • Yes: Dean, Kerry, Edwards

  • No: Lieberman, Clark, Kucinich, Sharpton

  • Refused to answer: Moseley Braun, Gephardt (not at debate)

This should narrow down your choices if marijuana use is an important part of your presidential selection criteria.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:00 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (64)

November 04, 2003

WHY ARE WE IN IRAQ?....OK, I'm going to struggle through some stuff here, but I'm pretty sure I have a point to make. Maybe.

Yesterday Gregg Easterbrook repeated an argument that he's made before about our occupation of Iraq:

Why are we in Iraq? If the reason really, truly was that we really, truly believed Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, then our assault on Iraq was justified, but now we must leave immediately, as no banned weapons have been found.

....Either the Bush aministration must admit that it was wrong about weapons of mass destruction and articulate different--possibly valid--reasons for the occupation of Iraq, or we must leave immediately.

When I first read this I just shook my head. Was he deliberately pretending to be naive? Or does he really not know why we're in Iraq? Or what? After all, the underlying motivations have been extensively debated in the blogosphere, and you gotta figure that if bloggers have figured this stuff out, so has Gregg.

Then I see the evening news, and there's Bush solemnly telling us that America will never cut and run. There's too much at stake. And in the New York Times today, there's a good example of the kind of thing he's been saying for the past few months:

"A peaceful and free Iraq is essential to the security of the United States," Mr. Bush said. "This will help change the world in a positive way so that years from now, people will sit back and say, 'Thank goodness America stayed the course and did what was necessary to win this battle in the war on terror.' "

...."[Saddam is] no longer running the country," Mr. Bush said. "He's no longer got rape rooms; no longer raping young girls or having young girls raped," he said, continuing, "He's no longer torturing people; he's no longer developing mass graves."

Do you see the problem? Although bloggers and the political media have been talking for a while about the allegedly real reasons we're in Iraq — drain the swamp, war of civilizations, reduce pressure on Israel's flank, the domino theory of bringing democracy to the Middle East, etc. etc. — it's true that George Bush has not once put his name to any of this stuff, has he?

Nobody talks about WMD anymore, of course, and Cheney's the only one who still pushes the al-Qaeda nonsense (although a bit half-heartedly even in his case). So what's left? Saddam was a bad man and we're obligated to finish the reconstruction job now that we've gone in there and blown the place up. But that's not exactly a message to stir the blood, is it? After all, if the only public reason for going to war is limited to changing the governance of one particular odious patch of desert in the Middle East out of dozens, how many Americans are really likely to stay interested over the long haul?

So here's what I'm getting at: maybe Easterbrook has a point. Why doesn't Bush tell us why it's important to stay in Iraq? I mean really tell us. Not just in negative terms ("we won't be scared away") but in positive terms of what his goal is. What does he really, truly want to accomplish?

And why are his conservative supporters letting him get away with staying silent? Surely they must know that America's willingness to expend hundreds of lives and billions of dollars depends on believing that our goal is worth it. The longer that Bush avoids talking about it, the more likely it is that public support will decline and the cherished goals of the national greatness conservatives will go up in smoke.

It's a dangerous game they're playing. The neocons, who seem like they're still the strongest faction among the policy elite, have their own set of reasons for wanting to occupy Iraq, but they're afraid to push them at a mass level because they know perfectly well that the American public won't buy them. This means that the booster-in-chief is limited to lame explanations that are long on emotional heartstrings but short on substance — explanations that over time are becoming less and less satisfying to Joe and Jane Sixpack.

So the public won't buy their real reasons, and increasingly they aren't buying the smokescreen either. It's quite a pickle they have themselves in, isn't it?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 05:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (5) | Comments (234)

LUSKIN AND ATRIOS MAKE UP....Well, this joint statement from Atrios and Donald Luskin is definitely one of the oddest I've seen in a while:

We both regret a series of misunderstandings that have resulted in something that neither of us intended. We have discussed our differences, and both of us are confident that such misunderstandings will not occur again in the future. As a result, Mr. Luskin is retracting his demand letter of October 29, 2003. We congratulate each other on having quickly achieved an amicable resolution. We are both glad to have put this behind us.

Misunderstandings? Unintended results? Discussed our differences? Amicable resolution?

That's about as mysterious as it gets, isn't it? Don't you wish you could have been a fly on the wall while those emails were crisscrossing the wires?

In any case, accusing Paul Krugman of condoning anti-semitism is still quite enough for me to think that Luskin has jumped the shark and needs to be put out to pasture. The letter to Atrios was just icing on the cake.

UPDATE: Yes, there are quite a few mixed metaphors in this post, aren't there? Feel free to mock at will.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:25 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (83)

MAINTENANCE UPDATE....Thanks to advice from some readers, the site has been updated:

  • The comment window is now resizable. You can now read comments along the full glorious width of your screen if you want.

  • I have a working RSS 2.0 feed. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what this means, but I'm assured it's a good thing that allows the cognoscenti to view entire posts in their aggregators instead of just the first few words. I'm not sure that I actually approve of people preferring their aggregators to viewing my carefully formatted prose in its native state, but what can you do? Science marches on.

That is all.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (32)

DEATH RATES....I've been reading Cori Dauber's posts over at the Volokh Conspiracy for the past few days, and like many examples of conservative media criticism they strike me as mostly just semantic nitpicking in a desperate attempt to read something malicious into a fairly innocuous choice of words. But it's a living, I guess.

Today, though, she goes completely overboard:

For some time we have been hearing, not only from critic's of the administration's policy but also in the straight press, the statement that almost one soldier a day has been killed in Iraq, and that this is evidence either of poor planning or that the policy is in deep difficulty. Given the caveats that every casualty is a tragic loss, what would be less than one loss a day? The return of the zero casualty policy of the Clinton years -- which I thought had been discredited....

I just know that Professor Dauber knows perfectly well that what the media is really reporting is that (as of today) 138 American troops have been killed in combat since the beginning of May. That this happens to equal about one death per day is meaningless.

So why the ridiculous attempt to pretend that fractions don't exist and that anything less than one death per day would obviously be a return to no tolerance for fatalities at all? Is it just a hamhanded way of taking a swipe at Clinton? A weird way of blaming the media for occasionally phrasing the death toll in different ways? A poor grasp of how rational numbers work?

Whatever it is, it's childish. Surely academics who pretend to be doing serious analysis can do better.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:57 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (199)

WISHFUL THINKING....As I was Googling links for the post below, I came across this Eric Schmitt article for the New York Times from last February. In retrospect, it is nothing less than mind boggling, and a salutary reminder of what the administration was really telling us nine months ago. Here are some excerpts:

Mr. Wolfowitz...opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops. Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year.

....."The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark," Mr. Rumsfeld said....A spokesman for General Shinseki, Col. Joe Curtin, said today that the general stood by his estimate.

....In his testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz ticked off several reasons why he believed a much smaller coalition peacekeeping force than General Shinseki envisioned would be sufficient to police and rebuild postwar Iraq. He said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it. "I would expect that even countries like France will have a strong interest in assisting Iraq in reconstruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said. He added that many Iraqi expatriates would likely return home to help.

....Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, he said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said. Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high....Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.

100,000 troops should be enough. Occupation costs will be low. Oil exports will amount to $15 billion or more. There's no ethnic strife in Iraq. Iraqis will welcome an American liberation force. Other countries — even France! — will see the light and help out after the war is over.

Schmitt's entire story is less than a thousand words long. It hardly seems possible to pack so much wishful thinking into such a small space.

And these guys are still in charge.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (60)

HOW MANY TROOPS?....Via Tapped, Edward Luttwak has an op-ed in the New York Times today that explains some realities about patrolling Iraq that are obvious but often overlooked. As he points out, the "headline number" for our presence in Iraq is 130,000 troops, which seems like an awful lot. Why do people keep talking about how thinly stretched we are?

Here's the breakdown:

  • Total U.S. troops: 133,000.

  • Excluding support troops, total combat troops available for security duty: 56,000.

  • Given normal sleeping/eating activities, total troops available at any given time for patrol: 28,000.

That may still sound like a fair number, but even if you count only the large urban areas in the Sunni Triangle, these guys have to patrol a population of roughly 15 million people. That means there's one soldier for every 500 people.

Still not convinced? Break it down again: it means that in, say, Fallujah, a city nearly the size of Pittsburgh, there are no more than a few hundred troops patrolling the streets at any given time.

A few hundred soldiers trying to cover several square miles and a quarter million people, half of whom are unemployed and many of whom are actively trying to kill you, isn't very many. And that's why even though 130,000 troops sounds like a lot, it isn't.

Which is exactly what the army chief of staff said nine months ago. Unfortunately, sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to hear bad news was the order of the day for the Pentagon brass back then. Their fingers seem to be slowly coming out now, but is it too late?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:48 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (48)

GLOBAL WARMING: SEMI-FINAL UPDATE....In case you're wondering if there's an update on the global warming hooha that I wrote about a few days ago, David Appell reports that the authors of the original report now have a final preliminary reply up here. In laymen's terms, they say that their critics are completely full of shit and wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ozone layer.

They also promise to go silent on this until they have a formal published response ready. I think I will too.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:55 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (29)

November 03, 2003

REPUBLICANS FOR LABOR....It's nice to see that there are Republicans out there who support the supermarket strike here in California. Larry Miller in the Weekly Standard explains why he not only supports the strike, he's even walking a picket line these days, and both Ralph Luker and Josh Chafetz register agreement. There's nothing about being a conservative that inherently makes you anti-worker, after all. At least, there shouldn't be.

One note, however: even Miller makes the mistake of saying that the big sticking point in negotiations is the five bucks a week that management wants workers to pay for health insurance, and if that's all it was you might well wonder whether the union was being completely pigheaded. But while it's true that healthcare is the main issue in the strike, management also wants to freeze wages for current employees and reduce wages and benefits dramatically for new employees. What's more, the increase in healthcare costs is considerably more than five bucks. Who picks up the slack? Taxpayers, as these folks become eligible for MediCal.

This strike is about a helluva lot more than five bucks a week.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:35 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (35)

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM...."Where is America's fascination with nudity taking us?" Find out in this hard hitting Washington Post expose.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:56 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (65)

THE MEMORY HOLE RE-REVISITED....First we had the White House scouring their website for headlines that said "combat operations" in Iraq were over and changing them to say "major combat operations" were over. You know, because the original got kind of embarrassing when American soldiers kept dying.

Then the White House webmasters blocked Google from caching all Iraq-related documents, but they seemed to have a good explanation for that so I let it slide.

But yesterday there was more historical revision: an interview in which an administration official said reconstruction would cost no more than $1.7 billion was mysteriously deleted from the USAID website.

Now, today, Josh Marshall reports that the White House altered the transcript of a presidential speech in a way that completely changes the meaning of what he said. Just one teensy little letter, though!

Is there an innocent explanation? Sure, maybe. But considering the track record here, I'm sure as hell not giving these guys the benefit of the doubt on it anymore.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 07:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (48)

NIGERIAN SPAM....Via John Holbo, I finally get an answer to a question that's been bugging me for a while: who the hell actually responds to those ridiculous Nigerian spam scams? Answer: Eric (not his real name), "one of five Singaporeans this year conned by the slew of Internet scams, which start off with a personal e-mail."

Eric lost $330,000. Holy cow.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:46 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (60)

WIRESIDE CHAT....Wes Clark is holding an online chat today at 5 pm Eastern/2 pm Western. Unfortunately, work beckons, so I won't be able to participate, but if you want the chance to ask some questions and get some answers in real time, here's the link for the chat session:

http://www.clark04.com/chat

If anyone reading this signs in and participates, leave a comment here to let us all know how it went.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:15 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (57)

TRUTHFUL TWINS....Justene Adamec's daughters, Maddy and Amanda — mostly Maddy, actually — run their own blog called The Twins Tell the Truth. In that spirit, they've decided to start blogging about the fact that they suffer from bipolar disorder. You can read about it here and here.

Justene is blogging in a little more detail about raising a pair of bipolar twins over at Dean Esmay's site, here and here. Aside from just wanting to get it off her chest, Justene (and the kids) don't want to treat their problem like it's a secret and want to reach out to others who might be in the same situation.

If that includes you, or if you're just interested in reading a personal account of bipolar disorder, head on over. Justene will be posting about it periodically on Dean's site.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 12:10 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (9)

THE FUTURE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?....Kos and Mrs. Kos have brought a bouncing new baby Democrat into the world: Aristotle Alberto, 8 pounds 7 ounces, dragged kicking and screaming into reality after 23 hours of labor. His first birthday will coincide with the stunning defeat of George Bush's run for reelection.

Pictures are here. Congratulations, Elisa and Markos!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (23)

JOHN BOLTON....The LA Times has a nice little profile of straight-shootin, bushy-mustached, neocon hawk John Bolton today:

Bolton, who has close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney, is the reigning bete noire of Washington's foreign policy liberals — and a hero to neoconservatives. He's been called "highly principled" and "human scum"; a "delightful colleague" and "the most hated man in the State Department"; an effective public servant and a loose cannon who has "sabotaged" U.S. foreign policy.

But here's the shocker: Bolton has so many enemies that "several of his critics — flouting Washington convention — agreed to be quoted by name."

They agreed to be quoted by name! It really tells you something about Washington that this is so unprecedented it was considered an important part of the story.

The gist of the story — unsurprisingly — is that Bolton has been routinely exaggerating the WMD threat from Cuba, Syria, and Libya. Bolton denies it, of course, but you really have to wonder about these guys. Just how often do they think they can cry wolf before there isn't anyone left on the planet who believes them? And then what happens when there really is a threat?

The answer, as we all know, is that the wolf eats all the sheep. I'd prefer not to be a dead sheep, and that's why I want guys like Bolton out of office.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:54 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (44)

GRAHAM OUT....AP says that Bob Graham has decided not to run for reelection in Florida. What a drag.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:41 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (19)

November 02, 2003

WES CLARK FOR PRESIDENT!....Via email, Mark Kleiman is puzzled by yesterday's post about Wesley Clark, in which I said I wasn't quite ready to support him yet:

It's one thing to pick a candidate in the primaries on the basis of how well he'll do in the general. But (unless you're a politician or an interest group head who needs to be with the winner) why pick a primary candidate on the basis of how well you think he will do? Why not just pick your guy, and then pick someone else if he falls apart? I think Clark will continue to struggle with the mechanics of campaigning. I also think he's by far the strongest candidate for November.

Well, hell, when he's right, he's right. For a variety of reasons having to do with both his fitness for office and his electability, I think Clark is the best candidate out there — something I'll explain at greater length in a future post. I'll vote for whoever gets the nomination, but I hope it's Clark.

And if he craters for some reason, then Mark's right: I'll line up behind someone else. But I don't think he will: his bobbles so far have actually been pretty minor, magnified mainly by the hyper-scrutiny of the blogosphere. The Republican attacks on his "waffling" have been pretty pathetic, really, and his staffing problems, although quite real, are probably not that serious this early in the game.

So that's it: Clark's my man. That's one more vote in the always critical California primary for you, General!

(And now that I've made up my mind does that mean you can't trust anything else I ever say about the guy? I guess we'll see, won't we?)

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (6) | Comments (143)

BLOGGERS COMING TO CALIFORNIA....A couple of bloggers will be in California doing speaking gigs on Tuesday. First, the Volokh Conspiracy's David Bernstein will be at Loyola Law School from 12:15-1:00 pm in Merrifield Hall. He will be speaking and answering questions about his new book: You Can't Say That! The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Law.

When that's over, hop on the Santa Monica freeway to UCLA, where Virginia Postrel will be speaking from 3-5 pm in Bunche Hall 7373. The talk, which is part of the Center for Governance's "Great Ideas in the Social Sciences" workshop series, is open to the public, but seating is quite limited.

So what's with the libertarian invasion of Los Angeles on Tuesday? How come there aren't any nice liberal bloggers coming to town to talk?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (22)

ABSOLUTELY, YOUR HONOR, IT WAS A LEGITIMATE BUSINESS EXPENSE....Allan Sloan writes about the birthday party that former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski threw for his wife a few years ago on the Italian island of Sardinia:

The Roman-themed party featured scantily clad men cavorting lubriciously with women in diaphanous gowns, an oiled male model gyrating on a pedestal, enough flaming torches to burn entire cities and Jimmy Buffett singing “Brown-Eyed Girl” and other favorites for a one-night fee of $250,000. Mercifully, the judge barred shots of the ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s “David” urinating vodka, and suppressed footage of sparklers sizzling atop the protruding portions of a birthday cake shaped like a woman.

The tab for the party, held in June 2001, was petty cash in the scheme of things. Kozlowski stuck Tyco with a bill for slightly more than $1 million, a minuscule part of the $600 million prosecutors charge him and his codefendant with looting from the company.

And here's the punch line: "Kozlowski’s lawyers say it was a legitimate corporate expense."

Sounds legitimate to me.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:01 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (112)

BACK TO THE FUTURE....This can't really be true, can it?

The year-long review of future directions for the U.S. space program is rapidly drawing towards selection of a policy path, Spacelift Washington has learned from sources close to the deliberations.

....As of late October, sources indicate that a central recommendation is likely, but not certainly to be resumption of manned lunar flights....Sources indicate the policy review has been a deliberative process "not driven by any crash program mentality" but focused on how a new major manned space goal could both mobilize the U.S. space industry as well as boost morale at NASA.

A manned mission to the moon? To boost morale at NASA? They can't possibly be serious, can they? Perhaps in the same speech President Bush can announce a national program to develop tasty orange flavored drinks and nonstick frying pans.

Better yet, maybe he could actually do something genuinely conservative and privatize the whole mess.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:42 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (2) | Comments (146)

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT INTERVIEW....The LA Times has an interesting interview with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today. I'll just excerpt a couple of passages. First, some red meat for the liberal Bush haters:

I try very hard to stay out of the "was 9/11 our fault, was 9/11 their fault" debate, because I find it useless. But when we did transition briefings, the Bush administration was not interested in what we were telling them about terrorism. They were quite surprised when they saw how much time we spent on it. They really did not believe that they'd have to spend as much time.

And now something for the conservative France bashers:

I think France is a fascinating ally. They really do have delusions of grandeur, and there is a jealousy of us. But ultimately, if you work to persuade them, they are good allies. It is very easy to get at cross-purposes with the French. I fully believe that [French President Jacques] Chirac is as responsible as George Bush for the failure in getting U.N. support for this war, because if you have Chirac saying, "I will veto anything that comes down," and Bush saying, "I don't care what the Security Council says," then they've announced in advance that they aren't going to have anything to do with each other.

She doesn't think much of Yasser Arafat either.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 10:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (66)

15 DIE IN IRAQ....15 soldiers were killed today when a shoulder mounted missile brought down a Chinook Helicopter about 40 miles outside Baghdad. I don't really disagree with Donald Rumsfeld's sentiments ("In a long, hard war, we're going to have tragic days, as this is"), but this is the scary part:

At the scene, villagers proudly showed off blackened pieces of wreckage to arriving reporters.

Others celebrated word of the helicopter downing, as well as a fresh attack on U.S. soldiers in Fallujah itself, where witnesses said an explosion struck one vehicle in a U.S. Army convoy at about 9 a.m. Sunday. They claimed four soldiers died, but U.S. military sources said they couldn't confirm the report.

"This was a new lesson from the resistance, a lesson to the greedy aggressors," one Fallujah resident, who wouldn't give his name, said of the helicopter downing. "They'll never be safe until they get out of our country," he said of the Americans.

I wish we had a better clue about just how widespread this kind of sentiment is. Unfortunately, given the Pollyanna PR campaign underway by the administration, it's impossible to take anything they say at face value. So in the end, even though we're told that American reporters are practically rooting for failure, it looks like their reports are all we have.

And so far they've been pretty accurate. Certainly more so than visiting congressmen and dance troupes returning from their carefully scripted tourist trips, that's for sure.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (111)

THE MEMORY HOLE REVISITED....April 23, 2003, USAID administrator Andrew Natsios chats with Ted Koppel about the cost of rebuilding Iraq on Nightline:

TED KOPPEL
(Off Camera) And we're back once again with Andrew Natsios, administrator for the Agency for International Development. I want to be sure that I understood you correctly. You're saying the, the top cost for the US taxpayer will be $1.7 billion. No more than that?

ANDREW NATSIOS
For the reconstruction. And then there's 700 million in the supplemental budget for humanitarian relief, which we don't competitively bid 'cause it's charities that get that money.

TED KOPPEL
(Off Camera) I understand. But as far as reconstruction goes, the American taxpayer will not be hit for more than $1.7 billion no matter how long the process takes?

ANDREW NATSIOS
That is our plan and that is our intention. And these figures, outlandish figures I've seen, I have to say, there's a little bit of hoopla involved in this.

This is from the Google cache. Oddly, though, it seems to have been removed from the USAID site itself — although the link is still alive and well here. Why do you suppose that is?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 08:50 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (4) | Comments (24)

November 01, 2003

FIGHT ON....Hey, how about them Trojans? With any luck, they might be the #2 BCS team come Monday.

National championship, here we come!

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:30 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (29)

THIS IS CONSERVATIVE?....This is weird. Either that or it shows that I don't understand anything about British politics.

Michael Howard is the odds-on favorite to become the new leader of the Conservative party, and today Ann Widdecombe — who rather famously said "there is something of the night about him" the last time he ran for the leadership position — discusses how Howard needs to clearly define the differences between themselves and the Labour party:

Any student or any parent financing a student knows there is a clear choice next time: tuition fees plus top-up fees with Labour or neither with the Conservatives. Any pensioner knows it is: struggle on with rocketing council taxes and inadequate pensions under Labour or vote for a party which will raise pensions in line with earnings....Having disciplined prisons is all well and good but it does only half the job if they are not also purposeful and rehabilitative. Having tough sentencing is useful only if it is matched by a real effort to make communities safer and pleasanter, and to break the treadmill of crime.

So the Conservative platform is supposed to be: free tuition for university students, higher pensions for seniors, an emphasis on rehabilitation of prisoners, and social programs to "break the treadmill of crime."

This sure doesn't very conservative (or very Conservative) to me. What am I missing here?

POSTSCRIPT: On the bright side, Widdecomb appears to be a cat lover. And there's more here. Good for her!

On the other hand, the Guardian quotes Linda Reeves of the cats protection league telling this story:

When Ann came to the shelter, we did advise her that the two cats hadn't been brought up together and might not get on. But, being Ann, she stuck to her guns and took them both home. It wasn't long before she came back.

Whatever else you can say, I think British politicians are probably more interesting than ours....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:11 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (48)

CUT AND RUN?....Back before the war started, Pentagon planners believed that Iraqis would mainly view American forces as liberators, we would be able to install a local government fairly quickly, and by September there would be no more than 30,000 U.S. troops left in Iraq.

Things haven't gone according to plan, of course, and early next year is when the crisis hits. Security is still tenuous even with 130,000 troops continuing to patrol the country, but that doesn't matter: troop rotation schedules demand that divisions start getting sent home starting in February and March. So what to do?

The new "strategic clarity" being forced on the Bush administration seems to now have three parts:

So: hurry up the training of security forces, even if it is sort of slapdash; bring back the Iraqi army; and hand things over to an Iraqi government pronto. I'm starting to understand where the fear of "cut and run" is coming from.

That may or may not be a fair conclusion, but it's easy to see how this stuff could lead some observers to believe that the Bushies are looking for a way to hand over responsibility for a deteriorating situation as fast as they can. Stay tuned....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 03:38 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (82)

GROW UP....More charming behavior from morning radio jocks at Clear Channel stations. Not only are they brainless children, but apparently they listen carefully and pick up each others' most brainless rants.

Oops, my apologies. I didn't mean to insult children there. Most of them have more sense than these guys.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 01:59 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (31)

ME AND WES....Let's put a few threads together that I've been dancing around for a couple of days. Let's talk about the war on terror and Wesley Clark.

Since I'm not a presidential candidate I don't have a 20-point program for how to fight and win the war on terror. But at a broad level there is one thing that ought to be plainly obvious to anyone who thinks seriously about these things: we can only win as part of a large, committed, global alliance. It's not that I think the rest of the world has some claim to moral superiority or anything, it's just that if we take a unilateral approach we're going to lose, and I don't want to lose.

This has been true for all the big wars of the 20th century, but a combination of dim historical understanding and a desire to canonize Ronald Reagan seems to have left much of the populace under the impression that we won World War II and the Cold War almost singlehandedly. But we didn't. We won them with lots of allies, and without those allies we would have lost. And on the lone occasion when we did try to win a big war alone, in Vietnam, we did lose.

Wesley Clark seems to understand this, as this excerpt from his forthcoming book makes clear. We need alliances, we need to rely more on "persuasion and shared vision," and we need to use military power as a last resort, not as a routine tool. Here is Phil Carter's take on Clark's views:

I like Wes Clark's view of the world, and his view of where America should fit into the world. I think that we ought to enlist other nations and international organizations in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terror networks, because the only way to defeat a terror network is to build a stronger network of our own. However, I also recognize that saying these things and doing them are two different things. It will be exceedingly hard for President Clark to implement his vision -- harder even that it would be if he were General Clark again. A lot of fence mending must be done before we can start down this multilateralist road. If Wes Clark wants to make this vision seem realistic, I think he has to articulate the "how" instead of just the "what" for his view of the world and America's place in it.

I've mentioned before that I'm not that interested in detailed plans from presidential candidates, so I'm not as concerned about the "how" as Phil is. What I am interested in is their instincts and judgment, and my take on Clark is that he truly understands the importance — and the weaknesses — of multilateral alliances in the war on terror, and truly understands that we're not going to win primarily through the use of traditional military power. At the same time, I also suspect that for the occasions when we do need to use hard power, he has the best chance of reforming the military to fight this new war.

I haven't yet made up my mind to support Clark because — let's be honest here — his campaign is going through some growing pains and I want to see how well he comes out the other end. If he gets his act together, though, I'll probably support him. George Bush's congenital insistence on getting his own way on all things at all times — exactly the wrong personality for a task that requires extensive and sensitive coalition-building — has set us on a course inherently doomed to failure, and right now Clark seems like the best combination of a candidate with sound domestic instincts as well as the ability to clean up Bush's mess and put us back on a winning path abroad.

And since I want to win this war, that means he'll get my vote. All he has to do now is show that he knows how to run a campaign....

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (3) | Comments (85)

FLATTENING IRAQ....Laugh or cry? You make the call:

The flat tax, long a dream of economic conservatives, is finally getting its day -- not in the United States, but in Iraq.

It took L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, no more than a stroke of the pen Sept. 15....

Voila, Iraq has a flat tax, and the 15 percent rate is even lower than Forbes (17 percent) and Gramm (16 percent) favored for the United States. And, unless a future Iraqi government rescinds it, the flat tax will remain long after the Americans have left.

"It's extremely good news," said Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and a Bush administration ally. Bremer's vaguely worded edict leaves open the possibility that Iraqis could face different levels of taxation below 15 percent, but "they told me it's a flat rate and it appears as though it's a flat rate," Norquist said. The tax fighter added: "It might be a hint to the rest of us."

I don't doubt that this makes some sense in a place like Iraq — what's the point of a complex tax system in a country with 70% unemployment? — but the idea that the flat-taxers think of this as some kind of ideological victory shows just how desperate they are. Norquist is apparently pining away for the day when America has the same tax system as economic powerhouses like Russia, the Ukraine, and Iraq.

Of course, Norquist has a longstanding interest in, um, slightly less than progressive elements in the Middle East. Mark Kleiman has more.

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 11:04 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (1) | Comments (29)

NEWT: CLARK DESERVES A FIFTH STAR....We've all heard about Wesley Clark's apparent praise for George Bush and other Republicans shortly after 9/11, but Amy Sullivan points out the praise seems to have flown in both directions: here is Newt Gingrich's glowing, five-star review of Clark's book, Waging Modern War, written on September 19, 2001.

Oh, sure, maybe it was just a chance to take a shot at Clinton, but he seems to think Clark really knows his stuff. Can an endorsement be far away?

Posted by KEVIN DRUM at 09:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0) | Comments (28)
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