Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

END OF THE LINE FOR KARADZIC?....How bad a person is Radovan Karadzic? Earlier this year, Russ Baker wrote in the Washington Monthly that he's a very bad man indeed:

One really shouldn't engage in atrocity one-upmanship, but it's arguable that compared with such more famous current and recent fugitives as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Karadzic wins the odiousness sweepstakes. A remarkably public front man for genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the disarmingly avuncular Bosnian Serb leader dispensed lies to packed press conferences while his soldiers laid siege to Sarajevo (where he previously worked at the main hospital) and went village to village, locking families inside houses and setting them afire, bringing women to detention camps where they could be mass-raped. Along with his general and fellow fugitive Ratko Mladic, Karadzic is accused of responsibility for all manner of atrocity, most notably the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the U.N. safe area of Srebrenica, the single worst crime committed in Europe since World War II.

As Baker points out, Karadzic has been on the lam for nearly a decade, and during that time nobody, including the United States, has shown much interest in trying to track him down. Until now:

The West's top peace envoy punished Bosnia's Serbs Wednesday for failing to arrest top war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic, dismissing 60 senior officials in the most dramatic such move since the 1992-95 war.

Those removed by Paddy Ashdown included Parliament Speaker Dragan Kalinic, who heads the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) founded by Karadzic, Interior Minister Zoran Djeric as well as police officials, mayors and members of parliament.

...."In all, I am removing 60 people today, 11 will be removed indefinitely, 48 may return to public life once Radovan Karadzic is in The Hague," the veteran British diplomat said.

Stay tuned to see how this turns out. Hopefully it's an indication that the coalition is finally willing to turn the screws a bit to flush Karadzic out.

For more on the problems both real and farcical of capturing Karadzic, read Baker's entire piece. There's even a bit of French bashing for the conservatives in the crowd!

Kevin Drum 3:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

SPIN BUSTING?....CJR's Campaign Desk, in some kind weird effort to show evenhandedness, criticizes the New York Times today for printing a direct quote from John Kerry:

This morning's account of Kerry's campaign appearances in Chicago and New Mexico includes a line from the senator's stump speech criticizing Bush's economic policies: "Don't tell us that two million lost jobs is the best we can do."

The Times reprinted this without informing its readers that the total number of job lost since George Bush took office in January 2001 now stands at 1.2 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There have been 1.9 million private sector jobs lost in the same time, which is closer to Kerry's assertion that 2 million jobs have been lost, but from reading The Times, you wouldn't know that either.

This is spin busting? "1.9 million private sector jobs" is telegraphed into "2 million jobs" in a stump speech and that's worth pointing out?

Give me a break. Considering the numbers Kerry could have used to compare Bush's performance to every previous president's (try these, for example), I'd say he's being a paragon of honesty and moderation. On the spin Richter scale, this rates about a 0.1.

Kevin Drum 1:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

THE ESSENCE OF TODAY'S CONSERVATISM?....Hillary Clinton told a group of her wealthy supporters on Monday that she supported rolling back some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy:

"Many of you are well enough off that ... the tax cuts may have helped you," Sen. Clinton said. "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

Andrew Sullivan teed off on this yesterday but then thought better of it. Today he admits that he was a little too snippy, but excuses it with this:

Why cannot Hillary end agricultural subsidies, abolish corporate tax shelters, or means-test social security and Medicare? That would be for the common good. But it's easier to raise taxes. Her invocation of her agenda with the "common good" is also part of what galls me.

This is actually more revealing than his original comment: he was annoyed because HC invoked the "common good." This is apparently all it takes to drive some conservatives nuts these days.

What a sad commentary. Of course the purpose of taxation is to provide for the common good and of course Hillary believes her agenda coincides with that common good. What else would she believe?

Apparently, though, a mere acknowledgment that she believes in advocating for the common good is anathema to Sullivan. But if that was really his gut reaction, what does he think we're all here for?

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CONVENTION COVERAGE....The Hill reports that the major networks are planning to reduce their coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions this year to almost nothing. Apparently the current plan is to devote perhaps an hour to live coverage on Wednesday and two hours on Thursday, when the candidates give their acceptance speeches.

Frankly, the only thing that strikes me as odd about this is that they're even planning to devote that much time. It's been decades since either convention actually meant anything, and it's not clear why TV networks feel obligated to broadcast a show that almost no one watches for good reason. As Ted Koppel says, they're just infomercials these days.

Kevin Drum 12:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGERS AS FUNDRAISERS....Fundraising isn't my thing and I'm not allowed to do it here anyway since the Washington Monthly is incorporated as a nonprofit but the fact that Atrios has raised $228,000 (so far) for John Kerry is genuinely astonishing. I'm not sure what the future of the blogosphere is, but anyone who can bundle up that kind of dough is a pretty serious player.

I don't really have a point to make about this. I'm just admiring from afar.

Kevin Drum 1:24 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SHOULD LIBERALS LIGHTEN UP?....Michael Ignatieff writes in the New York Times magazine:

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn't suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn't much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn't much excuse for our naivete either.

Brad DeLong responds:

For Ignatieff to say that there is "no excuse" for his assumption that the Bush administration was competent is not satisfactory: Ignatieff needs to tell us what chain of thought could possibly have led him to the assumption that the Bush administration was competent....

This is a recurring theme, and one I really hate to see. There are lots of "liberal hawks" (and even a few conservative hawks) who are having public second thoughts about having supported the war, and we should warmly embrace them. They are excellent candidates to become opinion leaders who will help persuade other people to see things our way.

However, it sometimes seems as though a mere public reconsideration is not enough: we instead demand an abject, groveling apology and a confession that those who opposed the war were right about every last thing. But human nature being what it is, there's a limit to just how much admission of pigheaded stupidity people are willing to make in public, and "there isn't much excuse for our naivete either" is probably about as much as we can reasonably expect. Demanding a line-by-line recitation of error is surely more at home in a Mao-era reeducation camp than in the United States of 2004.

Now, it's true that some of these public reconsiderations are pretty egregious see Tim Dunlop today for a pretty good example. But in general I think we'd all be better served by toning down the moral righteousness and welcoming our new comrades to the fold. We need all the allies we can get.

Kevin Drum 1:12 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ZARQAWI AGAIN....Jacob Levy gives me an excuse today to blog again about a story that I try to bring up once a month or so. It's the story of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the terrorist who George Bush says is the "best evidence" of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the war. Here's what NBC News reported three months ago:

In June 2002...the Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack [Zarqawi's] camp [but]....the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it....The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawis operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

Jacob wanted to know if anyone had ever officially refuted this story, and now reports that two days ago somebody finally did. Condoleezza Rice was on This Week on Sunday and said that "as far as we know, we never had a chance to get Zarqawi."

But this is hardly satisfactory, is it? What does she mean, "as far as we know"? She's the National Security Advisor, and she ought to know for a fact whether we ever had a chance to attack the camp especially since NBC's source claims it was "debated to death" three times by the NSC.

Note also that Rice carefully says only that we never had a chance to get Zarqawi, not that there was no feasible plan to take out the camp. But surely the camp, which was allegedly turning out poisons for use in terrorist strikes, would have been well worth taking out even if Zarqawi hadn't been there?

The real problem here is that NBC's source is anonymous, which allows Rice to simply brush it off. The only way to get to the bottom of this is for NBC or someone else to get this source or another one to go on the record. At that point everyone would have to take it seriously.

Unfortunately, there's no sign that that's going to happen.

Kevin Drum 12:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

FAHRENHEIT 9/11 UPDATE....I've been on semi-vacation for the last week and posting only lightly (did you notice?), but vacation is over and posting will now resume at its normal pace.

First, though, a quick update to my previous post about Fahrenheit 9/11, which I see has generated over 500 comments. I've only read a small fraction of them, but even so there are probably a couple of things I should say:

  • My overall opinion that the movie was "mediocre" was not a political comment, it was just a (necessarily highly personal) movie review. I found myself checking my watch about two-thirds of the way through, that's all.

  • I have a suspicion that the movie would be far more effective with someone who's not a blogger. At least half the clips Moore showed were things that I was not just familiar with, but was practically sick of because they've been blogosphere punching bags for over a year. Someone who had never seen any of this stuff before would almost certainly stay a lot more interested than I did.

  • My comparison of Moore's arguments to the Bushies' prewar arguments was not meant to be a slam on Moore. I just meant to point out that they were getting a taste of their own medicine and didn't seem to like it much.

  • For what it's worth, I saw Roger and Me 15 years ago, and while I admired it for its ability to make a point, the fact that Moore lied about the timing of the closure of AutoWorld to make it seem like it was caused by a GM plant closure gave me a bad taste that I've never really gotten over. I expect advocacy journalism to stretch the truth, but flat out lies are another thing entirely.

  • Despite that, I have nothing against Moore in general. To win the war of public opinion takes all kinds, and that includes people like me, people like Moore, and people like John Kerry. We all have our place in the ecosystem, and I certainly have no interest in disowning a guy who's obviously doing pretty good work for our side even if I don't agree with him on every issue.

I guess that's it. Normal blogging will now resume.

Kevin Drum 12:04 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FAHRENHEIT 9/11....I caught Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday. No long lines at a Monday matinee!

What to say? The argument over the film mostly seems to revolve around whether it's factually accurate and presents a logical case, a conversation so pointless as to be laughable. I mean, it's a polemical film from Michael Moore, not a Brookings Institution white paper. It's like complaining that editorial cartoons are unfair because they don't portray the nuance of serious policy discussions.

Now, as it happens, I thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a bit mediocre even as polemic, but the thing that really struck me about the film was the almost poetic parallellism between its own slanders and cheap shots and the slanders and cheap shots of pro-war supporters themselves over the past couple of years. It was almost worthy of Henry James.

Take the first half hour of the film, in which Moore exposes the close relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud. Sure, it relies mostly on innuendo and imagery, but then again, he never really makes the case anyway. He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes "9/11," "Bush," and "Saudi Arabia" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family.

Which is all remarkably similar to the tactic Bush himself used to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11. He never flat out blamed Saddam, but rather made sure to include the words "9/11," "Saddam Hussein," and "al-Qaeda" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that Saddam had something to do with it.

Or take Afghanistan. In a lengthy and nearly unreadable screed in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes Moore to task for arguing in 2002 that the war in Afghanistan was unjust but then arguing in the film that Iraq was a distraction from the real war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Surely I'm not the only one who's reminded by this of the ever shifting rationales for war from the Bush administration itself? In 2002 it was mostly about WMD. But there was no WMD. So then it became al-Qaeda. But there were no serious al-Qaeda ties. How about liberation? Maybe, except the Iraqis don't seem especially happy with their liberators. Democracy? Stay tuned.

Finally, the last half hour of the film includes a piece of street theater in which Moore accosts congressmen on Capitol Hill and asks if they'll try to get their sons and daughters to enlist in the military. It's a brutally unfair question, but one that echoes a standard debating point of Hitchens and others: "Would you prefer that Saddam Hussein was still in power?" It's a question that's unanswerable in 10 words or less, and about as meaningful as Moore's ambush interviews with congressmen.

So is Fahrenheit 9/11 unfair, full of innuendo and cheap shots, and guilty of specious arguments? Sure. But that just makes it the perfect complement to the arguments of many in the pro-war crowd itself. Perhaps the reason they're so mad is that they see more than a little of themselves in it.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

WHO WILL BELL THE CAT?....I've seen Bruce Bartlett's latest NRO article blogged several places, and it's an interesting piece. Basically, he says there's a good chance that something will go badly wrong with the U.S. economy in the next couple of years, and if it does we're screwed. We'll have no choice except to engage in some painful deficit reduction:

The package will have to reduce the deficit by at least two percentage points of GDP annually to meaningfully affect financial markets and restore confidence, and it is unrealistic to think that this can all be done on the spending side. Therefore, taxes will be on the table. Voters need to ask themselves which party they prefer to manage this process when the time comes.

Now that's an interesting question, isn't it? But which party is he talking about?

The obvious answer, since this is Bruce Bartlett writing in NRO, is that he thinks the Republicans are the better choice. But I suspect that's not what he thinks. After all, this is Bruce Bartlett writing in NRO. If he thought the Republican party was the better choice, surely he'd just come out and say so. A brief case could be made in only a couple of paragraphs, and it would surely be a crowd pleaser for NRO's audience.

But no. Instead he's coy. Perhaps he knows that this is a delicate subject that needs to be approached slowly and delicately lest his audience desert him. Perhaps he's just planting a seed for later nurturing.

But it's a delicate subject only if Bartlett, honest man that he is, has become unsure that the Republicans are up to the task. After all, we're not even talking about generic Republicans, are we? We're talking about George W. Bush. And what are the odds that George W. Bush will be willing to raise taxes under any circumstances?

So if you think that (a) painful though it is, there's a good chance taxes will have to be raised in the next couple of years, (b) George Bush is the Republican candidate for president this year, and (c) George Bush will never raise taxes if you think all that, then perhaps even a conservative can conclude that George Bush is not the right man to be president during the period 2005-2009.

Then again, maybe I'm the one being too clever by half, and Bartlett will soon present an article making a detailed argument for why Republicans are more likely to raise taxes responsibly circa 2006 than Democrats. Maybe I'll send him an email and ask.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 28, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE PRICE OF WAR....Robin Wright takes a look at the immediate consequences of the Iraq war today:

When the war began 15 months ago, the president's Iraq policy rested on four broad principles: The United States should act preemptively to prevent strikes on U.S. targets. Washington should be willing to act unilaterally, alone or with a select coalition, when the United Nations or allies balk. Iraq was the next cornerstone in the global war on terrorism. And Baghdad's transformation into a new democracy would spark regionwide change.

...."Of the four principles, three have failed, and the fourth democracy promotion is hanging by a sliver," said Geoffrey Kemp, a National Security Council staff member in the Reagan administration and now director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center.

The president has "walked away from unilateralism. We're not going to do another preemptive strike anytime soon, certainly not in Iran or North Korea. And it looks like terrorism is getting worse, not better, especially in critical countries like Saudi Arabia," Kemp said.

In a nutshell, this is the great irony of the Bush Doctrine and the Iraq war. Conceived as a means of finally putting to rest "Vietnam Syndrome," it now looks as though it's going to cement it in place for another few decades.

Liberals everywhere should hail the handiwork of Bush and the neocons. For a relatively small cost, we've gotten rid of a truly odious fascist dictator and assured that the American public is less inclined than ever toward military adventurism. What more could we ask for?

Conservatives, on the other hand, should be somewhat less enthralled with Bush and the neocons....

Kevin Drum 12:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OIL WARS....The Iraq war wasn't "about oil" in the sense that we simply wanted unfettered control over Iraq's oil production. It wasn't even about making sure that Anglo-American oil companies were the ones who won the contracts to produce and export Iraqi crude, although that was a nice bonus.

But it was about oil in the broader sense that the only reason we care about Middle East stability in the first place is that it supplies the oil the modern economy depends on. As Paul Roberts writes today in the Washington Post:

We are on the cusp of a new kind of war between those who have enough energy and those who do not but are increasingly willing to go out and get it. While nations have always competed for oil, it seems more and more likely that the race for a piece of the last big reserves of oil and natural gas will be the dominant geopolitical theme of the 21st century.

Already we can see the outlines. China and Japan are scrapping over Siberia. In the Caspian Sea region, European, Russian, Chinese and American governments and oil companies are battling for a stake in the big oil fields of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In Africa, the United States is building a network of military bases and diplomatic missions whose main goal is to protect American access to oilfields in volatile places such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and tiny Sao Tome and, as important, to deny that access to China and other thirsty superpowers.

My guess is that 50 years from now Gulf War I and Gulf War II will be considered merely the opening salvos in a single, longrunning conflict: the first of the large, modern wars fought primarily to protect the oil supplies of the West.

Our interest in oil is neither surprising nor reprehensible: without a steady supply of oil the world economy would collapse, bringing untold misery to billions. What is reprehensible is that even after 9/11 made our oil vulnerability as stunningly clear as 3,000 dead can make it, we still have no national effort in place to try and reduce our oil dependency. Literally nothing.

The only thing I'm not sure about is what this says about the Bush administration. Are they so cluelessly ideological that they simply never even consider non-market/non-military solutions to energy security? Or are they really so venal that they're not willing to consider any other solution?

Kevin Drum 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLINTON'S LEGACY....Did Bill Clinton leave much of a legacy? Or was his presidency just a series of transient, small-bore initiatives overshadowed by his impeachment? Ron Brownstein sets the record straight today:

The benefits of the Clinton boom were dispersed far more broadly than the gains under Ronald Reagan, in part because Clinton systematically implemented policies that encouraged and rewarded work for those on the economy's bottom rungs.

Consider the scorecard. During Clinton's two terms, the median income for American families increased by a solid 15% after inflation, according to Census Bureau figures. But it rose even faster for African Americans (33%) and Hispanics (24%) than it did for whites (14%).

The growth was so widely shared that from 1993 through 1999, families in the bottom [20%] of the income distribution saw their incomes increase faster than those in the top 5%. By comparison, under President Reagan in the 1980s, those in the top 5% increased their income more than five times faster than the bottom 20%.

Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush all had economic recoveries, but under Reagan and Bush it was (and is) primarily the rich who benefited. Under Clinton, the poor and middle class also benefited, and this was not just a coincidence. It was the result of deliberate policy choices inspired by a belief that when the economy grows, everyone should benefit.

Conservatives do more than simply disparage this: they ignore it, and it's a telling ignorance. Perhaps more than anything, it tells you everything you need to know about the values and character of modern conservatism, and it's not a pretty picture.

What Clinton showed was that careful economic policies could encourage both economic growth and equitable distribution of that growth. That's a fact that the free market fundamentalists in the Republican party don't care to acknowledge, but it's a fact nonetheless. We can have both, if only we have a president who cares about both. Right now we don't.

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

YELLOWCAKE UPDATE....Remember those forged documents showing that Niger had tried to sell uranium yellowcake to Iraq? We never did find out where those forgeries came from, but the Financial Times says it's discovered the source:

The fake documents were handed to an Italian journalist working for the Italian magazine Panorama by a businessman in October 2002. According to a senior official with detailed knowledge of the case, this businessman had been dismissed from the Italian armed forces for dishonourable conduct 25 years earlier.

....The businessman, referred to by a pseudonym in the Panorama article, had previously tried to sell the documents to several intelligence services, according to a western intelligence officer.

It was later established that he had a record of extortion and deception and had been convicted by a Rome court in 1985 and later arrested at least twice. The suspected forger's real name is known to the FT, but cannot be used because of legal constraints. He did not return telephone calls yesterday, and is understood to be planning to reveal selected aspects of his story to a US television channel.

Sounds like we're going to find out more about this very soon. Stay tuned.

On another note, the article also mentions that while the CIA never believed Iraq had tried to procure yellowcake from Niger (this was the famous "16 words" controversy from last year), British intelligence has always contended that there really were serious contacts between Iraq and Niger. The FT story has some more details about the nature of the contacts and the reasons that the British believed them. Oddly, though, it remains unclear why the CIA discounted them, so it's hard to know what to make of this new information.

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 27, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

TORTURE UPDATE....The lead of Dana Priest's latest article in the Washington Post says that the CIA has stopped using "extraordinary interrogation techniques." The bigger news, however, might be a few paragraphs down:

The suspension is the latest fallout from the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and is related to the White House decision, announced Tuesday, to review and rewrite sections of an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department opinion on interrogations that said torture might be justified in some cases.

Although the White House repudiated the memo Tuesday as the work of a small group of lawyers at the Justice Department, administration officials now confirm it was vetted by a larger number of officials, including lawyers at the National Security Council, the White House counsel's office and Vice President Cheney's office.

It's remarkable how Dick "Go Fuck Yourself" Cheney's name keeps coming up in these contexts, isn't it? Seems like something of a bad apple to me.

Elsewhere, Michael Froomkin wonders why the August 2002 memo was so bad purely from the point of view of legal craft. His conclusion, based on this New York Times piece: the memo wasn't written to guide future action. Rather, the White House was scrambling to find some legal cover for abuses that had already happened.

Kevin Drum 12:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 26, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

EMBARRASSING....Via Atrios, it appears that the White House is furious over the interview that Carole Coleman did with George Bush on Irish TV Friday night. In fact, they're so furious about the fact that Coleman dared to follow up with critical questions that they've withdrawn a planned interview with Laura Bush.

But here's the kicker: all the questions were submitted in advance. Bush knew exactly what she was going to ask.

It's unbelievable. We have a president who apparently feels uncomfortable doing an interview with a foreign journalist unless he knows beforehand what she's going to ask, and then behaves childishly when she actually follows up and insists on genuine answers to the prescripted questions instead of the usual talking point pabulum that the American press laps up. How dare she interrupt the president of the United States and demand real answers!

Can you imagine Tony Blair refusing to do an interview unless the questions were submitted in advance? Or John Kerry. Or Bill Clinton. Or George Bush Sr. Or Margaret Thatcher. Or pretty much any other world leader of the past 20 years?

It's just embarrassing. Was this really the best the Republican party could do in 2000?

POSTSCRIPT: See also this year-old post for a bit more discussion about the difference between how European and American journalists treat their leaders. Bush just isn't accustomed to being treated as simply another citizen who's required to account for his actions.

And once again, here's a link to the interview. It starts at the 15:00 mark.

UPDATE: Here's a transcript of the interview.

Kevin Drum 8:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BUSH'S WAR ON THE TRUTH CONTINUES....The Health and Human Services department has decided to prohibit its scientists from participating in UN meetings unless they are approved by the secretary. Apparently this has been going on since April:

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency.

...."No one knows better than HHS who the experts are and who can provide the most up-to-date and expert advice," [HHS spokesman Tony] Jewell said. "The World Health Organization does not know the best people to talk to, but HHS knows."

Um, yeah. This is just an innocent desire to make sure WHO talks to only the very best scientists. And, um, being a group of mere scientists themselves, they might not be aware of who these people are unless Tommy Thompson tells them.

Farther down in the article we get a glimpse of what might have caused this fear of letting scientists actually present scientific results free of political guidance:

WHO panels sometimes have disagreed with positions taken by the administration. A WHO panel met in Lyons, France, this month and declared formaldehyde a known carcinogen relying on studies that Bush administration political appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency had rejected as inconclusive.

Voting members of the panel included scientists from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health who had been authors of the studies.

In other words, it's dangerous for scientists to be representatives of actual scientific judgment. They should be confined to quarters until they agree that the political desires of Bush appointees and their campaign contributors represent the truth. Eventually they'll come around, right?

And here we thought Galileo had won that battle four centuries ago. Guess again.

Kevin Drum 12:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 25, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH THE MULTILATERALIST....Speaking on Irish TV last night, President Bush displayed his usual keen grasp of foreign public opinion:

President Bush suggested last night that there were not major differences between the US and Europe over Iraq, but just with France.

France had opposed the US position but "most of Europe supported the decision on Iraq. Most European countries are very supportive and are participating in the reconstruction of Iraq".

Hmmm. I guess that depends on the meanings of "most," "very supportive," and "participating." I wonder which meanings he was thinking of?

UPDATE: The interview is here. It starts at the 15:00 mark.

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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WINNING THE WAR....Anne Applebaum, no squishy peacenik she, today echoes Wes Clark's words in last month's Washington Monthly. Seemingly more in sorrow than in anger, she suggests that veteran Cold Warriors of all people should have known better than to think the United States could remake the Middle East on its own. Today, though, she's older and wiser about the current occupant of the White House and his team:

I had taken it for granted that the administration's big hitters--Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and, to some extent, even Powell--were united, if nothing else, by one common experience: All had been staunch opponents of the Soviet Union. That meant not only that they'd been right about the cold war, but that they knew that we had won it only partly thanks to U.S. military strength.

....The war on terrorism cannot be a narrow American or American-Israeli military struggle, or we will lose it. Like the cold war, the war on terrorism will be over when moderate Muslims abandon the radicals and join us.

Mistakenly, I assumed this was what the president meant when he talked, in that vague sort of way, about "democracy in the Middle East." The fact that he was vague didn't bother me, since this president is vague about a lot of things. But I should have been warier since, in this case, his vagueness was not just a personality tic or a speech impediment, but a sign of a deep lack of seriousness.

This is precisely what war supporters have been so deeply wrong about for the past two years: not the odiousness of Saddam Hussein's regime or the necessity of combatting radical Islam, but the idea that Bush's quick and dirty invasion of Iraq was a serious response to it. I know my readers hate to be reminded of this and hell, so do I but I supported the Iraq invasion until it finally became clear that Bush wasn't even faintly serious about democracy in the Middle East, consensus building among our allies, or any of the other long-term strategies necessary to win this war.

Rather, his plan was just hawkery run wild. Bush wanted to "prove we were serious," but the reality was always exactly the opposite. He's never been willing to do the hard work of actually trying to win this struggle, and that's why he's not the right leader for the war on terror.

If you're conservative, read Applebaum's entire piece and think about what this ardent anti-communist and Cold Warrior is saying. If you're liberal, read Wes Clark's longer take on the same theme. They're both saying the same thing, and they're both right.

Kevin Drum 1:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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NADER AND BUSH....So, um, didn't Ralph Nader claim that he was going to suck in votes equally from both Kerry and Bush voters? Apparently the low-tax mavens at Citizens for a Sound Economy led by well-known liberal Dick Armey don't agree. They're doing their best to make sure that Nader gets on the ballot in Oregon and they're not shy about saying why.

Noam Scheiber at &c has the documentary evidence. Go see.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LEADERSHIP....Via Jack O'Toole, here's an excerpt from a Rolling Stone round table about Iraq:

Surely the Abu Ghraib prison scandal didn't help. Should Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or other Bush officials resign?

Rand Beers: The Navy has a custom -- if a ship runs aground, the captain is relieved regardless of who is responsible. That's how Abu Ghraib should be handled.

Joe Biden: I was in the Oval Office the other day, and the president asked me what I would do about resignations. I said, "Look, Mr. President, would I keep Rumsfeld? Absolutely not." And I turned to Vice President Cheney, who was there, and I said, "Mr. Vice President, I wouldn't keep you if it weren't constitutionally required." I turned back to the president and said, "Mr. President, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are bright guys, really patriotic, but they've been dead wrong on every major piece of advice they've given you. That's why I'd get rid of them, Mr. President -- not just Abu Ghraib." They said nothing. Just sat like big old bullfrogs on a log and looked at me.

Big old bullfrogs. Yeah. Here's one more quote from Biden:

Biden: About six months ago, the president said to me, "Well, at least I make strong decisions, I lead." I said, "Mr. President, look behind you. Leaders have followers. No one's following. Nobody."

This is one of Bush's problems: he honestly thinks that the mere act of making "strong decisions" makes him a leader. It doesn't even occur to him that a leader is someone who makes good decisions and then persuades other people to support them.

Kevin Drum 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 24, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IT'S A GOOD THING HE WASN'T ON THE RADIO....Apparently "Go fuck yourself" is now Dick Cheney's answer to administration critics:

According to congressional aides, [Sen. Patrick] Leahy said hello to Cheney following the taking of the Senate group photo on the floor of the chamber.

Cheney, who is president of the Senate, then ripped into Leahy for the Democratic senator's criticism this week of alleged war profiteering in Iraq by Halliburton, the oil services company that Cheney once ran.

....During their exchange, Leahy noted that Republicans had accused Democrats of being anti-Catholic because they are opposed to some of President Bush's anti-abortion judges, the aides said.

That's when Cheney unloaded with the "F-bomb," aides said.

Let's cut the guy some slack, though. After all, he's probably got some heavy stuff on his mind these days.

Kevin Drum 7:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ENERGY TASK FORCE STAYS IN THE SHADOWS....The Supreme Court has ruled that Dick Cheney doesn't have to turn over the records of his energy task force meetings. Bummer. For an unvarnished look at what Republican administrations care about and what they don't, this probably would have been unbeatable.

And just what is it about energy policy that the White House thinks ought to be kept secret, anyway? After all, it's not like national security or military policy was part of the discussion, right?

Right?

Kevin Drum 12:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

POT, KETTLE, ETC....Former Pentagon spokesman Charles Krohn, a retired Army colonel, talks to Howard Kurtz about administration criticism of the press:

When senior officials express disappointment that schemes to manipulate the media aren't working well, one might say it's a triumph of principle over power.

One might. Especially since the charge of media cowardice that prompted this came from Paul Wolfowitz, who (a) is largely responsible for the murderous security situation in Baghdad and (b) never travels there himself without a large military security contingent.

Sometimes these guys really outdo themselves.

Kevin Drum 12:09 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HATING CLINTON....Max Boot writes today that Bill Clinton "still doesn't have a clue why he became every right-winger's favorite piata." Then this:

The mystery of Clinton is that he was an essentially conservative president perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the White House since Grover Cleveland and yet he was loathed by conservatives. So much so that he was accused of all sorts of awful things he didn't actually do, from murdering Vince Foster to being in cahoots with the Chinese. I don't blame Clinton for getting a tad upset about the nutty accusations tossed his way and for not being able to figure out what a good ole boy with a saxophone and a smile had ever done to justify such venom.

I'm not sure I can explain it either....

He can't? That's sort of disappointing for a guy who spent so much time on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, isn't it?

In the end, skipping past the idea that sheer partisan venom had anything to do with it, he decides that the answer is that Democrats prefer cleverness and Republicans prefer character. Maybe so, if by that he means that Democrats prefer people who actually care about policy and making things better while Republicans are obssessed with military service and drug use.

Except that, um, George Bush doesn't really score much better than Clinton on that score, does he? And considerably worse than Al Gore. Back to the drawing board.

Still, I suppose I agree with Boot that the culture wars are fundamentally to blame. Here's what I wrote last year:

For all the trees that have been felled examining the phenomenon of Clinton-hatred, the underlying cause seems pretty simple: Bill Clinton was a philandering, pot smoking, draft-dodging, slick talking, crypto-socialist child of the sexual revolution who was married to a ball-busting, man-hating feminist. If this is how you viewed him and a lot of people did what's not to hate?

That's the best I can do, and I've been pondering this question for a while, as the March 5 entry from my original 1997 blog shows....

Kevin Drum 11:53 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

LABOR vs. CAPITAL....Here's another interesting graph (from Brad DeLong) comparing the total share of national income going to corporate profits vs. the share going to labor compensation. The share going to labor plummeted abruptly in 2001 and is now at its lowest point in 40 years.

This behavior is quite a bit different than that in the previous recession of 1990-91, which showed a much more gradual decline. Is the difference due to Bush's capital-friendly tax cuts in mid-2001 and 2003?

I don't know, but whatever the reason it's probably why the economy seems worse than the headline growth and unemployment numbers indicate. The economy is growing, but the vast majority of workers aren't seeing any benefit. As the other chart in Brad's post shows, employment levels are still very low, and as this chart shows, the people who are employed are either treading water or losing ground. That's not a combination that makes for a happy electorate.

Kevin Drum 12:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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HAWKS PART 2....A brief coda to my previous post.

Obviously I'm annoyed with conservatives who are (and have been thoughout history) convinced that they and only they are clear-eyed realists who spurn comforting illusions and understand the real dangers we face. I think history shows no such thing, and my post was intended to show that.

My point, though, was not to suggest that hawkishness is always wrong. In fact, I can get equally annoyed with the "War Is Not The Answer" crowd: the lessons of history may be murky and malleable, but they rather plainly show that sometimes war is the answer. In recent years, for example, I would argue that Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Afghanistan were all justified and reasonable responses to dangerous aggression.

The United States has generally been served best by toughminded leaders who steered a middle course. Truman, Ike, and JFK were no pushovers, and were certainly not unwilling to go to war, but at the same time they also kept extremist hawks (and extremist doves) at bay. The results were mostly pretty acceptable.

But when the hawks get the upper hand, as they did with LBJ in 1965 and with George Bush in 2002, the results can be messy indeed. As longtime readers know, I'm hardly insensitive to the genuine dangers of modern terrorism, but the blinkered singlemindedness of the Bush administration's response has been both ineffective and dangerous a toxic combination. Left to themselves, hawks simply don't have the perspective and good judgment to do the right thing and it's past time for us to steer back to a more centrist course.

POSTSCRIPT: If you want to see the argument for the defense, go read Tacitus. He's unwilling to accept a comparison between current day hawks and hawks of the past which is understandable since it's not a very pretty picture and then proposes a few counterexamples that I find fairly unconvincing. But you can decide for yourself.

In any case, he concludes by saying "there are times to make peace, there are times to fight, and there are times to chart a course somewhere between." So rhetorically, if not in practice, apparently we're of one mind.

Kevin Drum 12:08 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 23, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HAWKS....My pal Hugh Hewitt now with permalinks! thinks I'm a nice but slightly dimwitted guy who probably shouldn't be trusted with the ability to express my opinions on grownup matters to the world. But he wishes me only the best anyway: "As with many Democrats, I wish him only good things provided they don't include the exercise of any power over my life or the defenses of the country."

Hugh doesn't trust squishy liberals like me with the defenses of the country. Hugh, you see, is a hawk. So let's talk about the recent history of hawkishness in America, shall we?

After World War II hawks thought we should invade the Soviet Union quickly before they got the bomb. That would have turned out well, wouldn't it? Luckily, Harry Truman, George Kennan, and other cooler heads prevailed.

In 1950 ber-hawk Douglas MacArthur insisted on moving aggressively into North Korea after his success at Inchon. As a result of this freelance hawkery, the Chinese entered the war in massive numbers and the United States was tied down in a quagmire for years. We're still living with the results.

Eisenhower mostly kept a rein on the hawks in his own party during the 50s and we came out the other end in good shape though not before those hawks bequeathed to history Joe McCarthy, blacklists, and the destruction of George Marshall, one of the great Americans of the 20th century.

Kennedy listened to the hawks in 1961 and the result was the Bay of Pigs. He sent them packing in 1962 and we came out of the Cuban Missile Crisis stronger than ever.

LBJ was afraid congressional hawks would think he was soft on communism, so he caved in to them in 1964 and 1965. The result was Vietnam.

Reagan listened to his administration's hawks about Central America and the result was Iran-Contra and the mining of Nicaraguan harbors. He overruled them a few years later and decided to deal with Mikhail Gorbachev. The result was glasnost, the 1987 missile treaty, and the eventual demise of communism in Eastern Europe.

After 9/11 hawks took control of George W. Bush's White House and the result was the godforsaken mess we now find ourselves in in Iraq.

Hawks aren't always wrong, of course. FDR and Churchill were surely right to face down the isolationists and appeasers in their respective countries, for example. But overall, their track record doesn't inspire much confidence.

So yes, let's talk about the defenses of this country. Let's talk about what kind of future our children face with hawks in charge of their safety today; let's talk about whether events would have turned out better or worse in 1949 and 1962 if hawks had gotten their way; and let's talk about whether terrorism is more or less of a threat now than it was before George Bush mortgaged his soul to hawkish neocon fantasies of national greatness.

Let's talk.

Kevin Drum 12:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

STRADDLE? FLIP FLOP? ASK MICKEY!....Hey, love him or hate him, at least you always know where the plain spoken George Bush stands on the issues, right?

Um, maybe not. Mark Kleiman has the details.

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By: Kevin Drum

DOES THE PRESS CORPS HAVE ADHD?....Brad DeLong wonders why the American press is not merely uninterested in policy, but aggressively contemptuous of anyone who is. He's got a couple of examples and wonders why these guys don't find a different line of work if policy debates are such a source of ennui for them.

Good question.

Kevin Drum 11:36 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TORTURE ROUNDUP....I wanted to post about the selective release of torture-related documents from the White House tonight, but after reading half a dozen stories my brain exploded and I gave up. Sorry. Instead, go read Michael Froomkin, who knows more about this stuff than me anyway:

  • Basic overview of what it all means is here.

  • More about the new inoperativeness of the torture memos is here.

Or, hell, just go to his main site and scroll until you're tired. There'll probably be more there by the time you read this anyway.

A few highlights: (a) torture is bad unless it's too much trouble, (b) only the military is mentioned, not the CIA, (c) the "it's legal if the president says so" policy appears to still be in force, (d) Rumsfeld claims he never authorized anything more serious than a bit of yelling and shoving, and (e) this is a partial and self-serving release of documents and there's no telling what they're still holding back.

This is, admittedly, a pretty unfair summary of things, but it's late and I'm tired and this subject makes me really cranky. The good news is that at least George Bush now says unequivocally that torture is wrong:

We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.

Someone go tell Trent Lott, okay?

Kevin Drum 1:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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OSAMA AND SADDAM REDUX....Via Instapundit comes this blast from the past, a Guardian article from February 1999:

Saddam Hussein's regime has opened talks with Osama bin Laden, bringing closer the threat of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, according to US intelligence sources and Iraqi opposition officials.

The key meeting took place in the Afghan mountains near Kandahar in late December [1998].

....An acting US counter-intelligence official confirmed the report. "Our understanding over what happened matches your account, but there's no one here who is going to comment on it."

Ahmed Allawi, a senior member of the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC), based in London, said he had heard reports of the December meeting which he believed to be accurate. "There is a long history of contacts between Mukhabarat [Iraqi secret service] and Osama bin Laden," he said. Mr Hijazi, formerly director of external operations for Iraqi intelligence, was "the perfect man to send to Afghanistan".

Analysts believe that Mr Hijazi offered Mr bin Laden asylum in Iraq, most likely in return for co-operation in launching attacks on US and Saudi targets. Iraqi agents are believed to have made a similar offer to the Saudi maverick leader in the early 1990s when he was based in Sudan.

This isn't really news, though. The 9/11 commission report that's been the center of attention for the past week mentioned both the Sudan meetings in 1994 and these meetings, which came shortly after Clinton bombed Iraq following the exit of the UN inspectors. And we know that nothing came of them.

As always, the point isn't that Saddam never had any contact with al-Qaeda. He did. But the contacts were brief, sporadic, and apparently never picked up again after this one. The credible evidence indicates that there had been no serious contact between Saddam and al-Qaeda for over four years by the time we invaded Iraq in 2003.

You can decide for yourself whether that's good enough to justify the war, of course. Just stay aware of the facts.

Kevin Drum 12:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL GUARD UPDATE....AP has filed suit to get access to George Bush's complete military records, not just the stuff he felt like handing out:

Filed in federal court in New York, where the AP is headquartered, the lawsuit seeks access to a copy of Bush's microfilmed personnel file from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin.

I'm not sure this will turn up anything new, but that's the whole point of asking, isn't it?

Of course, the really curious part about this is why it took so long. Why didn't they do this back in March?

Kevin Drum 12:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

CLINTON TALKS ABOUT THE PRESS....Remember that Drudge item a few days about Bill Clinton "losing it" on a BBC interview show? Well, I just watched the interview, and if this counts as "losing it," I wish a few more people would lose it once in a while.

After nearly 20 minutes of badgering about Monica in a 40-minute interview and with no end in sight Clinton unloads about Ken Starr and the press-assisted witch hunt:

One of the reasons he got away with it is because people like you only ask people like me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride. Any abuse they wanted to do, they indicted all these little people from Arkansas, what did you care about them, theyre not famous, who cares that their lives were trampled. Who cares if their children were humiliated?

It gets even better after that. The video is here, and you should definitely watch it. The interview starts at the 12:00 mark. The rant starts at about the 28:30 mark if you want to go straight to it.

Kevin Drum 12:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 22, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HEY, STUFF HAPPENS....Rich Lowry writes about the Washington Post poll showing that George Bush's approval rating for handling the war on terrorism has plummeted:

This Washington Post poll is disturbing today. A year or so ago, Bush critics set out to undermine Bush's credibilty and to undermine his standing on the war on terror. With help from events outside anyone's control--especially no WMDs in Iraq--they have now made major progress on both fronts.

Don't you love this? "Events outside anyone's control." You'd think the fact that Bush badly misjudged the security situation despite the advice of military experts, that he wildly exaggerated the intel about both WMD and al-Qaeda ties, that he thumbed his nose at the entire international community before the war, and that he populated the CPA with ideological hacks you'd think he was just an innocent bystander to all that.

It's amazing the blind loyalty he inspires in his fellow travelers. Is there anything that these guys are willing to admit is Bush's fault?

Kevin Drum 11:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

IN WHICH WE REVISIT THE TECHNICAL LIE....Matt Yglesias makes the case today that the Bush administration doesn't actually lie most of the time. Rather, if you parse their words with hyper-precision, you'll see that technically they're telling the truth even if it's plain to a four-year-old that their intent is to mislead and deceive. I've made exactly the same case myself, and Matt clearly shows keen insight by agreeing with me.

Still, it's a mighty philosophical argument, so how about if we make it more concrete? Let's take this statement from Dick Cheney on Meet the Press last year:

If we're successful in Iraq...we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.

To see how this is technically defensible, let's break it down:

  • Who attacked us on 9/11? Al-Qaeda.

  • Where do they operate from? Various places in the Middle East and Central Asia.

  • What's the geographic base of that region? Arguably, Iraq is dead center.

Each phrase, then, is technically accurate. Taken as a whole, though, it's obvious that his intent was to imply that Iraq was a primary base for al-Qaeda's activities, which is clearly untrue.

The whole exercise is sophomoric, of course, sort of like listening to a first grader who doesn't quite realize that adults can easily see through statements that he thinks are rather sophisticated. The difference is that in this case the first grader is surrounded by thousands of people who will dutifully pretend that of course he wasn't implying that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 and then shake their heads in sorrow that anyone could be so consumed by Bush hatred as to misunderstand the vice president's plain intent.

And the 70% of the country who nonetheless somehow got the idea that Saddam was behind 9/11? "I think it's not surprising that people make that connection," Cheney said. Indeed it's not.

POSTSCRIPT: Or, for a better take on this same theme, just watch this clip from the Daily Show. Not only is Jon Stewart right, but he's funny too!

Kevin Drum 7:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY'S VEEP....Atrios says today that he doesn't much care who John Kerry picks for his vice president. I get his point, but before you too decide it doesn't matter, take a look at this table of all vice presidents since World War II:

Vice President

What Happened?

Harry Truman

Became president in 1945 when FDR died.

Alben Barkley

Nothing.

Richard Nixon

Elected president in 1968.

Lyndon Johnson

Became president in 1963 when JFK was assassinated.

Hubert Humphrey

Ran for president in 1968.

Spiro Agnew

Resigned due to scandal in 1973.

Gerald Ford

Became president in 1974 when Nixon resigned.

Nelson Rockefeller

Nothing.

Walter Mondale

Ran for president in 1984.

George Bush Sr.

Elected president in 1988.

Dan Quayle

Nothing.

Al Gore

Ran for president in 2000.

So out of 12 vice presidents in the modern era, here's how they break down:

  • Five became president.

  • Three ran for president and lost.

  • One resigned in scandal.

  • Three served their terms and disappeared quietly.

It's true that it's hard for me to think of a recent case in which the vice presidential candidate actually affected the result of the election, and in that sense the VP pick is probably less important than people make it out to be.

But 41% of modern veeps have eventually become president and another 25% have been their party's candidate for president. That's a mighty big "but."

All the political horse race stuff to the contrary, Kerry's choice probably won't really affect his chance of winning the election one way or the other. But if he does win in November, there's an excellent chance that his vice president will eventually become either president or a losing candidate for president and that's a far more important consideration than whether someone will help him win a few extra votes in Missouri. If you get my drift.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CAGES AND WHIPS!....Ah, those family values loving Republicans! "Cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling," says the legal filing, roundly denied by the GOP Senate candidate, of course.

Tapped has more.

UPDATE: The GOP candidate in question is Jack Ryan and it turns out that his wife, who's divorcing him over the cages and whips and so forth, is Jeri Ryan. That's Jeri Ryan of Star Trek fame for all you geeks out there.

So that's politics, GOP bashing, geeky Star Trek references, and hot women all in one short post! Thanks, Dan.

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OSAMA AND SADDAM....The continuing FUD campaign over Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda is endlessly frustrating and, frankly, probably not an argument that's winnable for liberals. There's just enough uncertainty about the whole thing that war opponents will never be able to produce a firm smoking gun showing that the administration is lying.

But let's review the primary evidence anyway. First, the good news for the administration:

  • It's true that the 9/11 commission didn't say there was no relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda. They merely said there was no collaboration on attacks against the United States.

That's a pretty thin, reed, though. After all, it's attacks against America that the American public cares about.

What's more, that's the high point for Bush. The actual evidence even of "ties" a rather carefully chosen word is almost laughably thin. After intense scrutiny from every intelligence agency in the country, after a year of intensive high-level interrogations, and after a year of access to all of Saddam's files, here are the primary pieces of evidence:

  • Bush himself says the "best evidence" is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but if this is the best they can do, they're in big trouble. For starters, Zarqawi's ties to al-Qaeda are questionable. Second, while it's true that Zarqawi's camp was in Iraq, it was in Kurdish territory, outside of Saddam's control. And finally, although Zarqawi fled to Baghdad in 2002, there's no evidence that Saddam even knew he was there, let alone cooperated with him and if we haven't found any evidence by now, it's just not there. There's simply no good reason to think that Saddam had any kind of working relationship with Zarqawi.

    As Tony Blair said, Saddam may very well have had a "permissive environment" for terrorists, but that's a description that could be applied to every single country in the region. It's just meaningless.

  • Iraq had contacts with al-Qaeda in Sudan in 1994 and in Afghanistan in 1998. But if anything, this is evidence in Saddam's favor, not against him. After all, the evidence indicates that al-Qaeda approached Iraq but Iraq turned them away. Second, even taken at face value, the most recent contact was six years ago. You don't go to war over brief contacts half a decade in the past.

  • The latest news is that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a man implicated in the 9/11 plot, was a lieutenant colonel in the Fedayeen Saddam. But U.S. intelligence says it's a case of two guys with the same name: "It's very confusing, but it's not the same guy."

There are more bits and pieces, of course, but this is the guts of the case for cooperation. And remember: this is the best evidence, even after a year of free access to Saddam's files and the interrogation of hundreds of high-ranking prisoners. The fact is that there's just no case to be made.

Which explains why war supporters have been generally reduced to absurd arguments that the lack of good evidence is actually a reason to go to war an argument so Strangelovian that it demonstrates little except abject desperation.

And that's pretty much where the administration is. After all, as one Bush advisor put it, "If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it's part of the war on terror. If it's not part of the war on terror, then what is it some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?"

Exactly.

Kevin Drum 1:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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A TOAST TO MARTINA....I would like to briefly draw attention to Martina Navratilova's remarkable accomplishment at Wimbledon yesterday. It's true that her opponent was ranked 102nd in the world and is primarily a clay court player, but that's just a nitpick.

Tennis isn't like baseball, where people play into their late 30s, or golf, where people play into their 40s. It's a sport in which virtually no one plays beyond their late 20s. By the age of 40 most formerly top pros can barely beat a good high school player.

But Navratilova won her match at the age of 47. Not a doubles match or a mixed doubles match, a singles match at the biggest tournament in the world. At the age of 47.

Amazing.

Kevin Drum 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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KERRY vs. BUSH....This may be the most important graphic you'll see in the entire campaign. According to the latest Washington Post-ABC poll:

  • George Bush's approval rating for handling the war on terrorism is at 50% and falling.

  • Even more important, Kerry now outscores Bush in his perceived ability to handle terrorism by 48% to 47%.

This is huge. In a rare instance of complete agreement with Bill Kristol, I think the economy is basically a wash this year: good enough to keep Bush in the running but bad enough to give Kerry a chance. Neither man has an overwhelming advantage.

Rather, the race this year will be won or lost on terrorism and national security, an area where Bush had an advantage of 21% over Kerry as recently as April. And I don't care how his flacks try to spin it, spending $85 million and seeing that number plummet by 22 points is bad, bad news.

I happened to run into Hugh Hewitt at lunch again today he lives right across the freeway from me and in an effort to keep up a facade of good cheer he offered to make a bet: if Kerry wins he turns over his blog to me for a week; if Bush wins he gets my blog for a week.

I laughed and returned to my sandwich, which is probably a good thing for Hugh. Terrorism is central to Bush's chances this November, and if his approval ratings on terrorism aren't at least 10 points ahead of Kerry by October, he's going down in flames.

Which is exactly what's happened to every other president who's won office with fewer popular votes than his opponent. One termers all.

Kevin Drum 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IT'S ASHCROFT BY A HEAD!....AND A SHOULDER!....Is John Ashcroft really the worst attorney general in the history of the United States? Paul Krugman admits the competition is stiff, but he's standing his ground.

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SMOKE AND MIRRORS....I was all ready to give Arnold some props when I read this story in the LA Times tonight:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed new gambling compacts with representatives of five Indian tribes, securing a $1-billion payment to the state this year, helping to close the coming year's fiscal budget gap.

A billion dollars. Not bad! That's less than he talked about during the campaign, but more than he projected in his preliminary budget in January.

But then I read this:

The $1-billion payment to the state will be financed by a bond repaid over 18 years. Upon repayment of the bond, the tribes will then make annual payments to the state until 2030, when the compact expires.

So it turns out that Arnold didn't negotiate a deal get an additional billion dollars a year from the tribes. He didn't negotiate a deal to get half a billion dollars from the tribes.

He caved in and negotiated a deal to get a lousy $60 million or so per year from the tribes, less than 5% of what he claimed he could get during the campaign. And then he blew 18 years worth of the money all at once for this year's budget.

It's just more smoke and mirrors. But the headlines will all say he got a billion dollars. Hooray for Arnold.

Kevin Drum 12:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHOSE PIE?....I missed this a few weeks ago, but Nathan Newman linked yesterday to this very nice chart from EPI that shows in simple terms what counts as "economic recovery" in the minds of modern Republican elites.

In the past shown in the blue bars everyone benefited when the economy recovered from a recession. Wages went up, total compensation (including things like health insurance) went up, and corporate profits went up. Sure, corporate profits did better than workers' wages, but everybody got a decent slice of the pie.

In the Bush recovery shown in the red bars workers have gotten almost nothing while corporate profits have skyrocketed. The Republican establishment must be cackling in its single malt scotch.

But how can anyone defend this? Easy. The free market extremists at the top of the modern Republican party argue that economic growth is caused by the risk-taking executives of Fortune 5000 companies, and therefore they deserve the benefits of that growth. Worker bees don't make any contribution they just work so why should they get anything?

Treating labor like a commodity is a morally bankrupt policy, but it's one that's become an epidemic in the Republican party: they don't just want a bigger piece of the pie anymore, they want the whole pie. Surely it's past time for George Bush's beloved "real America" to revolt over this cynical treatment from conservative elitists?

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MORE ON ANONYMOUS....In the previous post I wrote about Spencer Ackerman's interview with Anonymous, the intelligence officer who's about to release Imperial Hubris. My reading of Spencer's post was that Anonymous thinks our Mideast policies have failed so utterly that the only option left is total war. Several commenters disagreed, picking up on his qualifier that "it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world."

So I emailed Spencer, who has interviewed Anonymous and read his book. Basically, he agrees that Anonymous thinks total war is necessary at this point, but there's total war and then there's total war. Here's his complete answer.


Spencer Ackerman's reply:

While its not totally clear, I think a fair reading is that Anonymous thinks the choice we face is between more-total war and less-total war. He writes on page 250 (of my galley copy of Imperial Hubris):

So, what does it mean to be at war with Islam? First, it means we must accept this reality and act accordingly. Second, it means a U.S. policy status quo in the Muslim world ensures a gradually intensifying war for the foreseeable future, one that will be far more costly than we now imagine. Third, it means we will have to publicly address issues support for Israel, energy self-sufficiency, and the worldwide applicability of our democracy long neglected and certain to raise bitter, acrimonious debates that will decide whether the American way of life survives or shrinks to a crabbed, fearful, and barely recognizable form.

As that passage indicates, and as he reiterates in the portion of the interview I posted, he thinks there indeed are steps we can take to mitigate the scope of the war: namely, seeking energy independence and disengaging ourselves (to an unspecified degree) from Israel, Russia, China, India and Arab/Muslim tyrannies.

That said, he does believe, and states at numerous points in the book (and reiterates in our interview), that we have no choice but to fight a very bloody battle. He writes in the concluding chapter, in a section titled Cant Will Kill Us, that:

Our principles stop us from fighting bin Laden as he fights us. We must fix the sources of al-Qaedas support poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness. Bin Laden is attacking the civilized world; we must work with others and respond in a manner in line with international law. Cant, all cant the obfuscating and ahistorical language of cowardice and defeat....

America is in a war for survival. Not survival in terms of protecting territory, but in terms of keeping the ability to live as we want, not as we must....There are two choices. We can continue using and believing the cant cited above, or we can act to preserve our way of life what Mr. Lincoln said is mans last best hope for self-government by engaging in whatever martial behavior is needed. We owe this to ourselves, our heritage and our posterity. We protect none of these by cloaking cowardice with canting words about international comity, civilized norms, and high moral standards. Such words are proper only in a suicide note for the nation.

As he adds in our interview, My argument, I think, taken from the whole book, is that we've left ourselves with no option but the military option, and our application of military force against our foe, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else, has not been particularly intimidating. They've ridden out two wars. They're on the offensive at the moment. What are we left with? If we don't use our military power, we really just sit and take it.

Since he doesnt see much promise in an ideological (read: democracy promotion) campaign, or in trying to alleviate the hopelessness of the Muslim world (which he calls cant in the section quoted above), the military option is the one he relies the heaviest on, and his conception of whats militarily necessary is very wide-ranging. The prospect of energy self-sufficiency and foreign disengagement (He writes, There is no greater duty todays Americans can perform for their nation and posterity than to finally abandon the sordid legacy of Woodrow Wilsons internationalism, which soaked the twentieth century in as much or more blood as any other ism) can do something to diminish the need for war to an unspecified degree, but cant substitute for it.

Kevin Drum 3:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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"WINNING" THE WAR....I'm with Matt on my reaction to Spencer Ackerman's interview with Anonymous, the CIA guy who's about to release Imperial Hubris. He thinks we're losing the war on terrorism, but then proposes this as a winning strategy:

To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing....

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base....[S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.

Anonymous basically thinks things are hopeless: America is utterly hated, reform is a chimera, there are no Arab moderates to appeal to, Al Jazeera controls the airwaves, and nothing short of extermination will stop al-Qaeda's fanatics. So extermination it is.

Now that's a counsel of despair. America is pretty plainly not planning to send an army of 10 million men to the Middle East to emulate Sherman's march to the sea, and if Anonymous truly believes that's the only thing that would work then it means he thinks we're doomed to failure.

So I guess that's that for Anonymous. Just for the sake of curiosity, though, I wonder how he thinks his Shermanesque approach to the Middle East would work? Does he really think we could occupy the entire region from Libya to Pakistan for the next 50 years? Or is he planning to soften them up with a couple dozen nukes first? Guess I'll have to read the book.

In any case, at least the prowar bloggers ought to have a new hero to chat up....

UPDATE: Does Anonymous really think that total war is the only option left to us? I asked Spencer Ackerman if he could clarify this, and he did. More here.

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EVANGELICALS....Some good news on the religion front:

The National Assn. of Evangelicals is circulating a draft of a groundbreaking framework for political action that strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party.

....It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, healthcare, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a "sacred responsibility" to protect the environment.

It's not all good news for liberals, of course, since the document also has the usual evangelical positions on abortion, gay rights, stem cells, etc. Still, if it gets taken seriously it might help push some evangelicals into the Democratic camp, it might get some of them to just stay home, or it might even get the Republican leadership to ease up in their endless to war against the poor and weak. Any or all of these would be good things.

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MALPRACTICE....Bob Herbert writes about the tort reform scam today:

What is needed is a nationwide crackdown on malpractice, not a campaign to roll back the rights of patients who are injured. This is another utterly typical example of the Bush administration going to bat for those who are economically and politically powerful against those who are economically and politically weak.

There are basically three things that can be done to reduce malpractice premiums:

  • Reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits.

  • Regulate insurance companies.

  • Reduce the amount of malpractice.

President Bush talks about the first but does nothing real about it, and he doesn't even bother talking about #2 and #3. This is all you really need to know to decide whether he's serious about the problem or just blowing political smoke.

Bush and the Republican don't really care about the roots of the malpractice problem, or even whether it's really a problem at all. They just want to bash Democratic trial lawyers. But remember: they think that Republican corporate lawyers are just fine. Funny how that works, isn't it?

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June 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE PRICE OF GAS....Newsweek suggests that our love affair with the SUV may be fraying due to high gasoline prices:

John Luber reached the breaking point when he took the family SUV for a fill-up recently and the pump didn't stop spinning until it hit $65. When the Cincinnati-area dentist got home, he sat down with his wife and did the math. With their GMC Yukon getting only 13mpg and gas at $2 a gallon, they discovered their monthly fuel bill was more like a car payment: $385....

The usual proposal for getting people to buy more fuel efficient cars is either a tax on gasoline or a tax on gas guzzlers. But this suggests a different approach.

How about this instead: right now the sticker on a car lists (among other things) the price of the car and its city and highway mileage. How about adding one more thing: approximate cost per month of gasoline based on some simple formula involving typical driving habits, average amount driven, and the price of gasoline. Or maybe it would include a small range of costs based on different driving amounts and different gasoline prices. The "official" gasoline price used for the calculation could change every six or twelve months.

My guess is that, like the Lubers, most people don't have any idea how much they spend each month on gas. If all we did was make sure they did know, it might change car buying habits significantly without any taxes and without much effort from anyone involved.

It wouldn't change the world or anything, but it might make a difference. Why not give it a try?

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BOB AND JOSH AND ME....I've gotten a bunch of email about this Bob Somerby post, and since it's a Sunday afternoon and news is light, I thought I'd respond to it.

Quick summary: Joshua Green wrote a story in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly in which he repeated the old chestnut about Al Gore inventing the internet. A reader wrote in to say (correctly) that Gore never said any such thing, but instead of using this as an opportunity to correct the record, Green repeated that he thought the story was basically true.

As anyone who reads Bob's Daily Howler knows, he was not likely to take this sitting down. And he didn't. But then, at the end of his post, he wrote this:

By the way, a closing question: Why do you only hear from THE HOWLER about scribes of low caliber like Green? Readers, why dont you write to Marshall, Alterman, Drum and Brock and ask if its OK with them when garbage like this keeps getting printed?

And his readers did! So here's the short answer: no it's not. Green should be ashamed of himself for repeating this canard, he should be doubly ashamed for not owning up to it later, and he should be triply ashamed for using this as the lead for a story about how campaigns use oppo research to spin the press (!). Oh, and while we're at it, the Atlantic should be ashamed for not fact checking this.

Beyond this, though, there's Bob's broader question: why do you read about this stuff all the time at the Howler but very seldom from me? The answer is equally simple: press criticism is a full time beat for Bob. It's not for me, which means you see it only occasionally here. The blogosphere is a vast place, and there's room for all of us in its endless ecosystem. Bob does his thing and I do mine.


But then I got interested in something else. I agree with Bob that the biggest problem with the national press isn't really either liberal bias or conservative bias, but rather laziness, pack mentality, inability to resist spin (despite their cynical pose), and a willingness to compromise themselves in order to retain access. All of which means that the press is creating storylines this year with the same reckless abandon that they did in 2000. (Something that, ironically, was the very point of Green's Atlantic article.)

But what about those Gore myths from the 2000 campaign? Specifically, how about the myth that Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Does the national press still flog the story? Green aside, how common is it?

I was curious, so I performed the following Nexis search:

Gore w/20 "invented the internet"

This picks up every story in which the word "Gore" is within 20 words of the phrase "invented the internet." It won't pick up everything, but it's a pretty good indicator.

And the results? 92 stories so far this year. There have been 20 in the past two months, and they broke down like this:

  • 6 references in opinion columns (4 of them joking)

  • 4 letters to the editor (3 passing the story along, 1 debunking it)

  • 2 passing references in obscure publications

  • 1 use in a direct quote from George Bush

  • 1 jokey reference in a straight news piece from CNBC

  • 6 debunkings, including items in Time and Slate

As a joke, this myth is part of popular culture and there's not much any of us can do about it. But as far as the national press goes, there have been only three references in the past two months in straight news pieces (CNBC, Time, and Slate), and of those, 2 were debunkings. A spot check of references in the national media since January shows the same thing: nearly all the references were either passing jokes or else debunkings.

So overall, Bob and his fellow debunkers should be proud of their yeoman work. It took four years, but the national press mostly seems to have finally figured out that Gore never said this. Which means, of course, that Joshua Green should be quadruply ashamed of himself for continuing to pass it along....

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PLAN B....A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned the FDA's obviously political decision to ban over-the-counter availability of Plan B, a "morning after" contraceptive. Today, at Kautilyan, Lerxst has the latest on the Bush administration's nanny state desire to control our sex lives, increase the rate of abortion, and gin up phony excuses to justify it. Enjoy.

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THE BIG DOG....Matt Yglesias has been watching TV this morning and says the talking heads are practically salivating at the idea of being able to talk about Clinton's blow jobs again. This will undoubtedly be followed up with a special segment on how woefully underinformed the American public is on the important issues of the day.

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IS KERRY BUSH LITE?....Military affair analyst William Arkin thinks Kerry is just Bush Lite when it comes to national security, and he's not happy about it:

By overstating the threat and overreacting to incidents, we not only give terrorists exactly what they seek, but we seem to create a panicked environment that clouds our judgment when it comes to intelligence, propels us into military adventures abroad and distorts our priorities at home.

....We need to rethink this problem, pure and simple, and Kerry needs to unburden himself from the conventional wisdom.

Otherwise, for many in the Islamic world, Kerry's adoption of the Bush administration's worldview and strategies merely reinforces the idea that the United States is indeed the problem, that there is a clash of civilizations that only might can resolve and that Islam will be an American target no matter who is president. If reducing terrorist attacks is the goal, I can't imagine more dangerous perceptions to foster.

Pieces like these are intensely frustrating. I know op-eds have space limitations, but Arkin spent 800 words providing a detailed critique of all of Kerry's (and Bush's) proposals and then apparently just ran out of steam. "We need to rethink this problem," he says rather unhelpfully. "The United States would be safer with a Democratic political platform that demonstrated fundamental disagreement about our current course."

But surely Arkin recognizes that "Calm down, terrorists aren't so bad" isn't exactly a winning campaign strategy? Kerry needs a positive program, not just "fundamental disagreement," and it's hard to see the point of an experienced military analyst writing a piece that doesn't provide one.

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SAY IT AIN'T SO....I'm perplexed. The lead story in the LA Times this morning is a report that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia aided al-Qaeda prior to 9/11:

For years, there have been unsubstantiated allegations that the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia intentionally ignored Bin Laden's efforts in their countries or even cut deals with him, either out of sympathy with his efforts or to protect themselves from attack....Both governments have strenuously denied this, and did so again Saturday.

...."This whole notion of us buying off Bin Laden is nonsense," said the Saudi official, who declined to be identified. "It's nuts. Do you trust a thug and a murderer like Bin Laden? You can't."

But commission investigators have come to believe that these allegations are credible, based on their exhaustive review of all of the classified intelligence data known to the U.S. government. The commission's 80 staffers also conducted thousands of interviews in the United States and abroad, and had access to the interrogations of Al Qaeda's most senior operatives in U.S. custody, including accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

"There's no question the Taliban was getting money from the Saudis...and there's no question they got much more than that from the Pakistani government," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey, one of the congressionally appointed commission's 10 members. "Their motive is a secondary issue for us."

I feel like I've been living under a rock for the past two years. Is this really news? I mean, I know that the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian governments has long issued pro forma denials of collusion with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but this article acts as though everyone has believed these denials up until now.

Is this true? Is it just my imagination that I've read dozens of articles in the past couple of years outlining this collusion?

At any rate, read the whole thing if you're interested in learning more about the commission's conclusions. Basically, the story is that Saudi Arabia recognized the Taliban in exchange for promises to keep bin Laden from targeting them, while Pakistan was in with al-Qaeda "up to their eyeballs." That sounds about right to me.

UPDATE: As a couple of people have pointed out, this may not really be news but it's still helpful for the mainstream media to point out stuff like this with big headlines when the chance comes up. Ditto for "Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11" and "Saddam had no WMD," for example. Point taken.

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DEMOCRACY....Yesterday I was wondering why Vladimir Putin wants George Bush to be reelected. Here's one analyst's answer:

"It's apparent that Russians and President Putin are interested in a second term for Bush," said Liliya Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "We've always had good relations with Republicans. We dislike Democrats, because Democrats always care about democracy in Russia."

Yeah, Democrats can be annoying that way. It's much easier to deal with Republicans who occasionally jabber about democracy but never actually do anything about it, isn't it?

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June 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CAT SHELTER EPIDEMICS....I've got a question for anyone who happens to work at an animal shelter. Over the past decade or so it's become standard practice not to allow visitors to touch cats unless they sterilize their hands first, and even then the attendents hover about attentively, seemingly none too thrilled about having strangers handle the cats regardless. The stated reason is fear of cats catching diseases from all the grubby humans.

I haven't been out shopping for a cat for years, but I know people who have and they report that this practice has now become ubiquitous, which, needless to say, takes some of the fun and spontaneity out of visiting shelters and looking for a pet. So here's my question: is the fear of cat epidemics at shelters and pet stores real? Has it actually happened frequently in the past? Occasionally? Almost never but everyone's paranoid about it anyway?

Can anyone provide an honest to goodness answer? (As opposed to the normal vague bloggy guesses, that is.)

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THE BILLION DOLLAR SINKHOLE....Via Tapped, I read this fascinating David Ignatius column yesterday about the Washington Times which, as you all know, is owned by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's cultish Unification Church. It turns out that there's increasing friction between Moon and the Times over the paper's support for a hardline foreign policy, and "rumors about a high-level power struggle have been swirling around the Times offices." But here's the part that really got my attention:

The Unification Church has bankrolled huge losses at the Times, which several sources estimated have totaled more than $1 billion over the past 22 years. The paper's losses are running about $20 million annually, one source said; another source offered a slightly higher estimate. Insiders said that Japanese backers of the church had been especially unhappy with the Times's huge losses and with its right-wing positions on global political issues.

A billion dollars!? What on earth does the church get for that kind of dough? Legitimacy and access are the usual answers, but after 22 years and a billion dollars is the Unification Church really any better regarded today than it was in 1982? It sure doesn't seem like it.

On the other hand, it's not every cult leader who can get a United States congressman to crown him emperor of the United States (or something) in a ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building attended by several other United States congressmen, is it? More details are here, if you have the stomach for it.

The problem here is that Moon has vastly overestimated the United States Congress. It doesn't take nearly a billion dollars to buy access and influence, and some straightforward bribes campaign contributions would have served him far better than buying a newspaper that even conservatives only pretend to take seriously. I guess it's a good thing he never figured that out.

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KERRY AND CUBA....I suspect Robert Tagorda and David Brooks are right to criticize John Kerry's milquetoast attitude toward the Varela Project, a group of dissidents fighting for human rights in Cuba. Last year Castro cracked down on the dissidents, and although Kerry has supported the Varela Project in the past he now says that it has "gotten a lot of people in trouble" and has been "counterproductive."

This is, as Brooks points out, pretty uninspiring stuff. I count myself a supporter of a realist foreign policy to the extent that realist means "not so obviously clueless that it's doomed to failure," and I support Kerry's approach to foreign affairs because I think it's more likely to win the war on terrorism than Bush's. But the bully pulpit is one of the most important aspects of the presidency, and there's nothing about a thoughtful, multilateral foreign policy that precludes a vigorous, inspiring support for human rights and democracy. After all, if the members of the Varela Project themselves were willing to risk jail for what they did, the least Kerry could do is join the European Union in supporting them.

This might all be fairly trivial since Cuba policy is a minor part of this year's election, but it's this kind of stuff that makes it so hard for me to warm to Kerry. If you read the Miami Herald column that started all this you'll see vintage Kerry: his Cuba policy is thoughtful, cautious, and nuanced, and he correctly notes that Cuba is a case where lack of international support has doomed U.S. efforts to failure. I could wish for more, but overall it's a pretty decent approach.

But then there's the dark side: you can almost cut the political calculation with a knife. It's just tough enough that it doesn't lose any more of the Cuban exile vote than it has to (the embargo stays), while being open enough that it attracts voters who favor less confrontation (travel restrictions go). And all stewed together with a pleasing dash of multilateralism.

And worthy though it might be, it's all presented in a dull, almost technocratic drone. There's not much to make anybody mad, but there's also not much there to make anybody feel inspired. There's nothing to sink your teeth into.

In the end, Bush has bollocksed up Iraq and the war on terrorism so badly that a technocratic approach is almost a relief, especially since I'm more interested in actually winning the war on terrorism than I am in feeling good about talking tough. Given a choice, then, I'll take decent policy and boring speeches over failed policies and inspiring words any day.

But it would be nice to have both.

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LAKERS IMPLODE.... Apparently the Lakers are no more. Phil Jackson is out as coach, Kobe is filing for free agency, and Shaq is pissed off and wants to be traded. Laker haters may now rejoice.

But I guess I have to agree with reader Walter K who suggests that the LA Times is being a wee bit crass by playing it above the beheading story. It's not like every beheading in the Middle East has to be the lead story, but second fiddle to the breakup of the Lakers?

UPDATE: In the print edition of the Times the beheading is the lead story. Just thought I'd let everyone know.

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LOSING THE WAR....An anonymous intelligence officer is about to release a book saying that Bush is losing the war on terror:

Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.

The fact that he has been allowed to publish, albeit anonymously and without naming which agency he works for, may reflect the increasing frustration of senior intelligence officials at the course the administration has taken.

This is the second book written by this guy, but apparently he takes his criticism of Bush far beyond anything he's published before. Among other things, Anonymous say that (a) we probably aren't close to capturing bin Laden, (b) Bush and Tommy Franks screwed up big time by not going after him with massive firepower at Tora Bora in 2002, and (c) al-Qaeda is probably stronger than ever right now. And then there's this:

Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

"One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."

Hmmm, where have I heard that before...?

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June 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

PUTIN AND BUSH....Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters today that Russian intelligence had knowledge of Iraqi plans to launch terrorist attacks on the United States after 9/11. It's hard to know how to take this since we have no idea whether it's true or not, but there's definitely one intriguing aspect to this: why did Putin suddenly announce this news today? Kim Murphy, the LA Times' Moscow correspondent, writes this:

In a move whose timing is widely seen in Russian political circles as an attempt to support Bush's reelection, Putin said Russian agents received information after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that Iraqi agents were plotting strikes against other U.S. targets, both at home and abroad.

Why do Russian political circles think that Vladimir Putin wants George Bush to win reelection? And if they're right, why does Vladimir Putin want George Bush to win reelection?

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IRONY OF THE DAY....As we all know by now, some of the abuses at Abu Ghraib were carried out by civilian contractors, which poses a thorny legal problem: who has jurisdiction over their behavior? They aren't military, so they aren't subject to military law. They aren't in America, so they aren't subject to American law. And although they might be in Iraq, they aren't subject to Iraqi law either.

Quite the conundrum until recently, anyway. You see, it turns out that due to a recent statutory change, the jurisdiction of U.S. law now extends to:

the premises of United States diplomatic, consular, military or other United States Government missions or entities in foreign States, including the buildings, parts of buildings, and land appurtenant or ancillary thereto or used for purposes of those missions or entities, irrespective of ownership....

Such as, for example, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

In other words, if the Department of Justice cares to get involved, they have all the authority they need to bring charges against civilian contractors involved in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. And what new statute do we have to thank for making federal jurisdiction clearer in cases like this? That would be Public Law 107-56, otherwise known as the USA PATRIOT Act.

Ironic, no? Phil Carter has the details.

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FISHY....Hmmm, $35 million in tax relief for manufacturers of fishing tackle boxes? Now why would anyone add that to a tax bill? Max has the answer.

However, I will say this for that: at least it's nothing more than good old fashioned constituent pork. Frankly, I almost miss that kind of penny ante corruption from the Republican party.

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LAT EDITORIAL PAGE UPDATE....I realize that most of my readers don't really care one way or the other about the quality of the LA Times editorial page, so I promise not to make this a daily feature. Still, it gets shoved into my face every morning, which affects my mental health, which in turn affects this blog, which in turn means everyone reading this blog should care about the quality of the LA Times editorial page at least a little bit.

Right. At any rate, it's hard to know how to describe this effort that took up half the op-ed page today, so I won't bother. But I will say this: there's a difference between offbeat reverie and juvenile drivel dressed up as offbeat reverie. It may be a thin line sometimes, but the line does exist.

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LOLLIPOPS AND CIGARETTES....The founder of the Washington Monthly is a fellow named Charlie Peters, and one of the mainstays of the magazine for as long as I've been reading it is Charlie's column "Tilting at Windmills," a collection of short riffs that I consider the granddaddy of political blogs. In fact, if Charlie had founded the magazine 30 years later than he did, that would probably be the name of this blog and he'd probably be the one writing it.

The June issue of the magazine is online now, and with it the June installment of "Tilting at Windmills." Some of the items will be familiar to anyone who keeps up with the blogosphere, but some won't. Take this one, for example:

Did you know that the cigarette companies are making cigarettes with candy, fruit, and other sweet flavors? This is obviously designed to lure kids into smoking--according to the Boston Globe's Stephen Smith, they are being marketed under teeny-bopper brand names like Mandarin Mint and Cherry Cheesecake--and is especially hideous because the earlier smoking begins, the more likely lung cancer will be the result. The guilty parties, by the way, are not fly-by-night companies but big-timers like R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson. At least one state, Massachusetts, is trying to halt this insanity. Christine Ferguson, the commissioner of the Department of Public Health, is the hero. Other state officials around the country should emulate her. And isn't it about time for the federal Food and Drug Administration to take on the tobacco companies?

Here in California, we passed an initiative a few years ago that taxes cigarettes and devotes part of the proceeds to running ads that discourage smoking. Now, depending on your point of view, this is either poetic justice or nanny state outrage, but one thing I can tell you for sure is that the result has been some viciously funny commercials usually aimed at the cigarette companies themselves rather than the dangers of smoking. And every once in a while, after a particularly brutal (but funny!) commercial, I even feel a little twinge of sympathy for them.

But then I read a story like this one, and I realize that no matter how hard they try, even clever ad agencies can't come up with anything as brutal as real life. Candy flavored cigarettes? That would probably seem too over-the-top even for a California anti-smoking ad.

And of course, they're not aimed at kids. Not at all. Everyone likes candy, right?

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OP-EDS WORTH READING....Anne Applebaum connects some dots. White House response: silence.

Bob Herbert fact checks George Bush's most recent dog and pony show about medical malpractice. White House response: oops.

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BUSH AND ZARQAWI....Did Iraq have any serious ties to al-Qaeda? The 9/11 Commission says no, President Bush says yes. Here's his best evidence:

Zarqawi. Zarqawi is the best evidence of connection to al Qaeda affiliates and al Qaeda. He's the person who's still killing. He's the person -- and remember the email exchange between al Qaeda leadership and he, himself, about how to disrupt the progress toward freedom?

Right. Zarqawi. If I were Bush I'd be embarrassed to mention his name. Here is NBC News last March:

In June 2002...the Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack [Zarqawi's] camp [but]....the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....The Pentagon drew up a second strike plan, and the White House again killed it....The Pentagon drew up still another attack plan, and for the third time, the National Security Council killed it.

Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawis operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

Would it have killed the press corps to follow up on Bush's answer? I'm thinking of something like this:

Mr. President, if Zarqawi really was the linchpin of Saddam's connection to al-Qaeda, why did you refuse three separate times to approve military plans to take out his camp?

Or, of course, they could have tried the more obvious followup and asked Bush why he continues to flog the Zarqawi connection when it's well known that Zarqawi's camp was in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, territory that was part of the northern no-fly zone and outside of Saddam's control.

Instead, there was no followup at all. Nothing. You see, it was time for lunch.

Kevin Drum 12:03 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LA TIMES EDITORIAL PAGE....I missed this op-ed by David Klinghoffer in the LA Times this morning, but Matt Yglesias is right: it is the most abjectly puerile thing I've read on a major editorial page in a long time. Did they really publish a guy who claims, "There is a secular creation account evolution through random mutation and natural selection, a just-so story increasingly challenged by scientists"?

So, we have both Barone and Klinghoffer in the Times today peddling junior high school essays as adult opinion. And I'd like to note that today is June 17th, the third day of Michael Kinsley's reign as editorial and opinion editor. I'm going to be as charitable as possible and assume that he's clearing out the slush pile while still trying to get his arms around things, because the only other interpretation is that he actually thought these were both worthwhile contributions to the public discourse.

And I really, really don't want to believe that.

Kevin Drum 6:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SLUGS AND BLOGS....Quote of the day, uttered at lunch today by former Banana Slug and current Pandagon contributor Ezra Klein:

Living in Santa Cruz is like living in a blog.

No, I'm not sure what it means either, but I thought it sounded kind of cool anyway.

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PERMISSIVE ENVIRONMENTS....Bizarrely, Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to this Guardian piece:

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did let al-Qaida operate out of Iraq, Downing Street insisted today.

....No 10 said it was not claiming a direct link but a spokeswoman said: "The prime minister has always said Saddam created a permissive environment for terrorism and we know that the people affiliated to al-Qaida operated in Iraq during the regime."

That's it? A "permissive environment"? He makes it sound like Saddam was just reading a little too much Dr. Spock. Is there a single country in the entire Middle East that doesn't have a "permissive environment" for terrorism?

And are war supporters really so desperate that they take stuff like this as support for their views? I wonder how laughable the evidence would have to be before they'd concede it was kind of iffy?

On the other hand, at least Tony Blair has the decency to be too embarrassed to stretch things any further than this. The Vice President of the United States, on the other hand, apparently thinks Blair is a wimp. Damn the torpedos!

Kevin Drum 1:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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BAD INTEL....Ahem, sorry about that. My annoyance at Mr. Barone's typing in the LA Times this morning has delayed my commenting on a Times story that's actually important.

According to the invaluable Bob Drogin, U.S. intelligence in Iraq before the war was not very good. That may sound like old news, but Drogin has details. Let's start with this one:

U.S. experts, for example, still have not been able to determine the meaning of three secretly taped conversations that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell played to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 in making the case for war. Investigators have been unable to identify who was speaking on the tapes or precisely what they were talking about.

U.S. analysts also erred in their analysis of high-altitude satellite photos, repeatedly confusing Scud missile storage places with the short, half-cylindrical sheds typically used to house poultry in Iraq. As a result, as the war neared, two teams of U.N. weapons experts acting on U.S. intelligence scrambled to search chicken coops for missiles that were not there.

Remember, we've known for a long time that our human intel in Iraq sucked, but the technical intel, like satellite photos and communications intercepts, are the things we're supposedly good at. Think again. (But Colin Powell sure sounded pretty confident about those tapes and photos a year ago, didn't he?)

And then there's this little gem. What happened to loyal-but-ethical David Kay when he came home from Iraq and told everyone there were no WMDs?

CIA leaders refused to accept Kay's stark assessment when he returned from Iraq last December that most prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons were wrong. Kay was assigned a tiny office far from the executive suites, without a working computer or secure telephone.

Is there anyone left in the entire upper reaches of the Bush administration who has any contact with reality these days?

Kevin Drum 12:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MICHAEL BARONE EXAMINES HISTORY....I think I'm going to be sick. In the latest entry in the Bombastic George Bush Mythmaking Contest, Michael Barone compares Bush seriously! to Abraham Lincoln. John Kerry is slotted into the McClellan position and the Democratic Party is compared to the 1864 Copperheads who wanted to allow the South to secede and had no beef with slavery.

The increasing probability of a Bush loss in November is apparently driving conservatives toward insanity. Bush is Lincoln. Kerry is a secret appeaser. Changing horses now would be more disastrous than in World War I, World War II, Korea, the Vietnam War, or the Cold War.

And all without even a scintilla of evidence that Kerry would be any less forceful in prosecuting a war against actual terrorists than George Bush aside, of course, from his inexplicable conduct as a candidate for office in actually criticizing Bush. This, in Barone's view, is apparently what makes him unfit for office.

The stench of desperation is everywhere in this piece. I hope that's good news.

Kevin Drum 12:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SULLY AND BUSH....Has Andrew Sullivan officially jumped ship and decided not to support George Bush? Jonah Goldberg wants to know.

Andrew says yes: "My only dilemma now is whether to support Kerry or sit this one out. It still is." Interesting.

Can Kerry do for Bush and the Christian Right what Bush Sr. did for Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton: make them inextricably linked in the public's mind? Sullivan may be an extreme case, but I think he's an example of what could happen if Kerry manages to link Bush strongly with the social intolerance of the Christian Right. When you combine that with his poor performance in Iraq and his lack of dedication to small government, there are a fair number of moderate conservatives who might jump ship to Kerry or at a minimum at least stay home in disgust.

One of the longtime arguments of mainstream Republicans has been that the Christian Right doesn't really have much influence on the party, so there's nothing to worry about. Gay marriage, though, is an opportunity to show that that's not true. After all, if Bush is willing to amend the constitution to ban gay partnerships in order to win their votes, what might he do next?

What indeed? Let the culture wars commence....

UPDATE: OK, here's the kind of ad I see. Open with the Twin Towers smoking in the background and Jerry Falwell telling us that 9/11 was God's punishment for America being an immoral nation. Pat Robertson nods in agreement. Cut to Paul Weyrich (or someone) saying that unless Bush supports a gay marriage amendment, the Christian Right walks. Fade out and then show Bush caving in by supporting the amendment. Cut to fanatic crowds of Christian Rightists cheering and stomping. Fade to black, with an ominous voiceover that asks, "What's next?"

Something like that, except, you know, done professionally. And carefully targeted. And all that good stuff.

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VOLES AND YOU....Fascinating stuff:

Scientists working with a rat-like animal called a vole have found that promiscuous males can be reprogrammed into monogamous partners by introducing a single gene into a specific part of their brains.

....The difference, it turns out, is a receptor for the hormone vasopressin. Prairie voles have such receptors in a part of the brain known as the ventral pallidum. Meadow voles do not.

To make promiscuous male meadow voles behave like their loyal prairie cousins, the scientists used a common gene-therapy technique. They injected the animals' forebrains with a harmless virus carrying the gene responsible for expressing the receptors.

The effects of learning and culture are so strong in humans that this result isn't necessarily meaningful for us even though we share vasopressin receptors similar to the voles'. Still, there's no question that behavior has biochemical roots as well as cultural roots, and it's fascinating that a relatively complex behavior like this can be changed by a single gene. We are, perhaps, not quite so complex and inscrutable as we sometimes like to think.

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM AND AL-QAEDA....I'd like to make a point about the whole Saddam-al-Qaeda connection that I've seen mentioned obliquely in other places but never set out directly.

Basically, it's this: were there ever any connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda? Of course there were. This is the Middle East, after all: everyone has connections of some kind with al-Qaeda. But despite years of concentrated work from the best best intelligence agencies in the world and the equally concentrated efforts of conservative conspiracy theorists to spin airy wisps of dross into gold, it's clear that those connections were (a) infrequent, (b) far in the past, and (c) never amounted to anything.

So did Iraq have zero contact with al-Qaeda? No. But that's not the point. What's telling and never acknowledged by war supporters is how little contact Iraq had with them despite enormous opportunity. At a guess, I'd say that the following countries all had (and have) far greater contact with al-Qaeda than Iraq did:

  • Afghanistan

  • Sudan

  • Iran

  • Saudi Arabia

  • Syria

  • Egypt

  • Pakistan

  • And several others

A dozen contacts in a dozen years is not proof of a Saddam-al-Qaeda connection. Just the opposite, in fact. To suggest otherwise would be like documenting the small number of occasions that George Bush has consulted with Democrats and pretending that means he's really a liberal. Frankly, given Iraq's circumstances Arab country, centrally located, large, unfriendly to the U.S. their minuscule contact with al-Qaeda indicates a pretty positive effort on their part to avoid them.

Oh, and Tactitus resorting to "maybe there's no evidence but that doesn't mean anything" reeks of desperation, no? Isn't it time to just accept the truth?

Kevin Drum 12:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE ENRON TAPES....More Enron tapes from CBS: "I want to see what pain and heartache this is going to cause Nevada Power Company. I want to fuck with Nevada for a while."

Charming. Aside from the smoking gun tapes themselves, though, I was glad to see that the CBS segment focused on the two things that are really the most infuriating about this whole affair:

  • FERC has had these tapes for more than two years and has resisted releasing them. Who the hell are they protecting?

  • At the height of the crisis several states, including California, signed long term power contracts at high prices. But even though it's now clear that these contracts were substantially the result of deliberate fraud, the Bush administration has declined to endorse efforts to void the contracts.

Of course, Kenny Boy knew nothing about this. It was just a few bad apples, right?

Kevin Drum 11:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TIN FOIL....Did Oswald act alone? Is the income tax legal? Is the Trilateral Commission just another international talking shop?

We all know better, don't we? Just like we know that Saddam really was the mastermind behind 9/11, despite the "report" of the pathetic Saddam dupes on the 9/11 commission. Spencer Ackerman tells the tale.

Somebody please tell Glenn Reynolds, OK?

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MIRANDA RIGHTS AND WRONGS....Remember Manuel Miranda, the fine fellow who filched all those memos from Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Yes, I'm talking about the same Manuel Miranda who continues to this day to say that there was nothing wrong with surreptitiously looting other people's computers.

Well, he got fired from the Judiciary Committee, but we all knew that the conservative machine would find a nice little sinecure for him, didn't we? After all, can't let youthful enthusiasm like that go to waste.

Tim Dunlop has the latest details. Such an inspiring story.

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PEACE IN NAJAF?....Muqtada al-Sadr has apparently called off his insurgency:

With the formal end of U.S.-led occupation just two weeks away, Sadr issued a statement from his base in Najaf calling on his Mehdi Army militiamen to go home.

"Each of the individuals of the Mehdi Army, the loyalists who made sacrifices...should return to their governorates to do their duty," the statement said.

That call came a day after President Bush said the United States would not oppose a political role for Sadr -- only weeks after branding him an anti-democratic thug.

This is unexpected good news.

On the other hand, Fox News this morning was claiming that Nick Berg executioner Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is holed up in Fallujah, although I haven't seen that reported anywhere else yet. Hard to say if that's good news or bad.

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PEOPLE ARE MAD AS HELL....BUT ARE THEY GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE?....The Mother Jones people are flogging a new poll in this month's issue, and like all polls there are some interesting tidbits here and there. One of the most surprising to me was how intensely negative people were about a wide variety of subjects. Asked if they were better or worse off than three years ago, people rather emphatically said they were worse off in the categories of the economy, tax burden, job security, keeping up with the cost of living, access to affordable healthcare, personal privacy, tolerance for people not like us, national unity, special interests, average citizen being heard, moral values, creating good paying jobs, the deficit, and public schools. This is an astonishing degree of pessimism.

Oddly, there was one exception: the only issue on which most people thought they were better off was the strength of local communities. I'm not quite sure how to account for that.

And several of the results are just plain peculiar. A 2:1 majority thinks their tax burden is worse? That seems downright ungrateful, especially from the $75K+ income bracket, which is pretty clearly better off taxwise than three years ago. (Although it's worth noting that the more you make, the less unhappy you are.)

Most discouraging result: are you warm or cool toward gay marriage? 59% were cool, the strongest negative sentiment by far.

Overall, I'm not really sure how seriously to take all these results. For some reason they seem a little too perfect, and I can't help but wonder if the methodology was sound. Still, polls are always fun and this one has some interesting questions. The full results are here.

Kevin Drum 1:06 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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SADDAM AND 9/11....Today's headline on CNN:

9/11 staff: No al Qaeda cooperation with Iraq

This may not seem like a big deal we already knew that, right? but it is. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, most people didn't really believe that Saddam had no WMD until David Kay made headlines by saying so. Most people didn't believe we were abusing prisoners at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib until leaked photographs made headlines. In the same way, the 50% of America that believes Saddam was behind 9/11 wasn't going to change its mind until somebody made headlines saying otherwise.

Now someone has.

UPDATE: This is the top story pretty much everywhere except surprise! Fox. They decided that President Bush's pep rally to the troops was the more newsworthy event.

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ABORTION AND CHOICE....This piece by Rich Lowry is truly one of the most bizarre things I've ever read at NRO and that's saying a lot:

The right to abortion is as legally secure as ever, but its advocates have never been so apparently ashamed of the practice itself....In April, supporters of Roe v. Wade held a rally in Washington in support of the right to abortion. But you would hardly know it. The rally was called the "March for Women's Lives" well, for the lives of women who aren't very, very young. The word "abortion" was almost verboten among people who support the right to it.

One of the nation's premier defenders of abortion rights is the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. It's a perfectly descriptive name, but the group nonetheless changed it last year to expunge the offending word. It is now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. It's as if the National Rifle Association changed its name to avoid any association with the word "rifle."

In three lawsuits challenging the partial-birth-abortion ban after it was signed, abortion-rights advocates refused to say "partial-birth abortion." They preferred the terms "intact dilation and extraction" and "dilation and evacuation"....

The linked article says nothing close to what Lowry claims, even though it was published on his own site. "Pro-choice" has been the preferred nomenclature of abortion supporters for decades. And liberal objections to "partial-birth" as a way of describing the procedure in question are of long standing. None of this is exactly new or exactly a secret.

All political organizations use words to frame issues in ways favorable to themselves, and "choice" has been the framing of choice for the abortion rights movement for a very long time. Still, if you go to the NARAL site and click on "About Us," you'll see a 350 word statement that includes the word "abortion" seven times. Surely, Rich, once every 50 words is enough for even you to get the message?

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June 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

LAKERS FINALE....Jeez, what a blowout. Who would have guessed?

I have to hand it to the Pistons, though. They just flat outplayed the Lakers in the entire series, and by rights they should have won in a sweep. Let the unseemly gloating begin.

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SCIENTIFIC GOBBLEDEGOOK....I rented Paycheck last night, and I'd like to take this opportunity to kvetch about something supremely unimportant, even by the standards of blog movie criticism.

The premise of the movie is that our hero (Ben Affleck) does supergenius level work for a high-tech company, but the work is so secret that they wipe his brain after each job. This is obviously ridiculous on a whole bunch of levels, but that's OK. One of the rules of movies like this is that you have to accept the initial premise at face value no matter how silly it is.

Fine. But then it turns out that Affleck's most recent job involved building a machine that peers into the future. How does it do this? By combining a laser with "a lens so powerful it can see around the entire universe." But when this lens finishes seeing around the universe and trains its eye on earth, it sees the future earth, not the present earth.

So here's my beef. Would it have killed them to spend five minutes making up some kind Star Trekkish BS to explain this machine? Pretty much anything would do. You know, "inverting the polarity of the quantum tachyon field" or some such.

But no. It has to be a lens so powerful it sees around the universe. Whose five-year-old came up with that? It reminded me of the first Matrix movie, where they explained the whole humans-in-pods thing as a giant Energizer battery.

America is at a serious crossroads when Hollywood scriptwriters can no longer sling scientific gobbledegook even as well as a bad 50s movie. Clearly, something needs to be done.

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GAY MARRIAGE VOTE....Roll Call reports that a vote on gay marriage may be only a few weeks away:

The Senate Republican leadership is aiming for a mid-July vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, forcing Democrats to take a stand on the controversial topic just before the party heads to Boston for its presidential nominating convention.

Since I don't subscribe to Roll Call I can't read the rest of the article, but I hope this is true. Gay marriage strikes me as a lose-lose proposition for both parties, but in the end I suspect Republicans have more to lose than Democrats when it comes to banning it via constitutional amendment.

Basically, I figure that voting for the amendment doesn't do that much for the GOP. It solidifies their support with the Christian Right, but Rove & Co. have been focusing on them so much for the past few years that I think they're mostly in the bag already. On the other hand, the GOP has the potential to lose a fair amount of the centrist vote from 2000 that bought into the whole "compassionate conservatism" thing and really doesn't think that amending the constitution in the service of gay bashing was what they were signing up for.

For Democrats, I suspect the downside is much smaller. After all, even in conservative areas they can easily justify a negative vote on principled grounds of not wanting to mess with the constitution.

So bring it on. This seems like a great chance for Democrats to paint Republicans as hopelessly in hock to the Christian Right and painting themselves as simple moderates who think the constitution shouldn't be revised every time some special interest group needs to be bought off. If John Kerry plays his cards right and yes, I know that's a big if this is a great chance to make the Republican party look awfully scary to some important voters.

UPDATE: One more thing. A lot of this depends on liberal activists pressuring Kerry to do the right thing but not pressuring him so strongly that it's the Democrats who look scary. Let's let him win some votes on this, OK?

Kevin Drum 8:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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DAVID BROOKS....Poor David Brooks. Sasha Issenberg busted his chops in March for lazy and inaccurate reporting (although I wasn't really convinced by Issenberg's takedown), David Plotz skewers him today in Slate, and the Washington Monthly's own Nick Confessore rips him a new one in our June issue. The guy can't catch a break.

Andrew Sullivan thinks it's just jealousy, and there might be something to that successful book writer, NYT columnist, daily TV gig, what's not to be jealous of? but there's more to it than that, and you don't have to go any further than his column in the Times today to see what it is. Here's the basic thesis:

The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists, decorators and so on who live and vote differently than their equally well-educated but more business-oriented peers.

....Managers, who tend to work for corporations, brokerage houses, real estate firms and banks, tend to vote Republican. Thanks to their numbers, George Bush still won the overall college-educated vote.

This is Brooks at his worst, what Nick calls Brook the Hack. I mean, is it really news that academics and therapists tend to vote liberal while stockbrokers and business people tend to vote conservative? This is about as banal a hook for a column as you can find.

And yet, go a little further in the very same column and you find Brooks at his best:

Knowledge-class types are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution. Democratic administrations tend to value self-expression over self-discipline. Democratic candidates from Clinton to Kerry often run late.

Managers are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective.

....Many people bitterly resent it when members of the other group hold power. Members of the knowledge class tend to think that Republican leaders are simple-minded, uncultured morons. Members of the business class tend to think that Democratic leaders are decadent elitists. In other words, along with the policy and cultural differences that divide the groups, there are disagreements on these crucial questions: Which talents should we admire most? Which path to wisdom is right? Which sort of person deserves the highest status?

Don't get me wrong: it's not like Brooks is going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this stuff. Still, by newspaper column standards, it's not bad.

I can even add another note to all this. First, it reminded me a bit of Bruce Reed's distinction in the March issue of the Monthly between wonks and hacks. Second, it reminded me of my own experience in the business world.

In my case, it was the eternal battle between marketing and sales. Marketing people (aka knowledge-class types aka wonks aka liberals) tend to live in an ivory tower and pronounce on product direction and sales strategy based on market research and high level analysis. Sales people (aka managers aka hacks aka conservatives) ignore that highfalutin stuff and make their own pronouncements based on an offhand remark they heard from their best customer's brother-in-law.

Like Brooks, I'm exaggerating here for comic effect, but it's not nearly as much of an exaggeration as you might think. But here's the (occasional) good news: every once in a while these worlds come together and it's immensely powerful. When both sides genuinely respect each other and recognize that their opposites have skills and insights that they themselves don't, the result is a flurry of productivity that's truly inspiring. On the occasions when it happened to me, it was just about the most fun (and the most success) I ever had.

It may be a cliche, but the world really does need wonks and hack, thinkers and doers, introverts and extroverts. And even liberals and conservatives.

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JOHN ASHCROFT....Atrios was watching CNN last night when they reported John Ashcroft's announcement that some terrorist plotters had been arrested. He thinks the press is becoming skeptical of these declarations from Ashcroft:

Maybe I was just projecting, but I sensed a bit of subliminal eyerolling coming from the CNN anchordesk.

For what it's worth, I happened to be watching ABC News last night when they ran a segment about this, and the skepticism was more than subliminal. Peter Jennings came about as close as an anchor can to telling us that Ashcroft was completely full of shit before ABC ran its piece.

The fact that Ashcroft is such an obvious camera hog is probably part of the reason for this treatment. I swear, I think he'd hold a press conference to announce his own birthday if he thought it would get him on the evening news. Nor does it help that two weeks ago he announced a huge terrorism scare, only to have Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge sound confused the next day while admitting that, no, as far as he knew there was nothing serious going on and the threat level would stay at yellow.

All of which means that Ashcroft is in serious danger of being the boy who cried wolf. And that's a dangerous game to play since there are quite a few genuine wolves out there.

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FRENCH FRIES AND KETCHUP....Back in Reagan's day ketchup was declared a vegetable. Today it's battered french fries:

The Frozen Potato Products Institute appealed to the USDA in 2000 to change its definition of fresh produce...to include batter-coated, frozen French fries, arguing that rolling potato slices in a starch coating, frying them and freezing them is the equivalent of waxing a cucumber or sweetening a strawberry.

...."I find it pretty outrageous, really," said [Chicago attorney Tim] Elliott, who argued that the Batter-Coating Rule is so vague that chocolate-covered cherries, packed in a candy box, would qualify as fresh fruit.

Seems to me it's Elliot who's being outrageous here. Why shouldn't a chocolate covered cherry count as fresh fruit?

Actually, what's odd about this little story isn't really the battering part which seems to be the key industry complaint but the potato part. Since when are potatoes a vegetable?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

URBAN vs. RURAL....Amy Sullivan may have occasional trouble telling her West Coast football teams apart, but she knows an evangelical Baptist from a premillenial fundamentalist and has recently put that knowledge to good use by reading the first four volumes of the Armageddon porn series Left Behind which is a good thing since Slacktivist has been reviewing them for us slightly more slowly than the authors wrote them. You can read what she has to say about the Left Behind phenomenon in "Jesus Christ, Superstar," an essay in this month's Washington Monthly.

And with that out of the way, I will now completely ignore the main point of her piece and instead comment on a single paragraph. The setting is a party of conservative evangelicals in Washington DC and she is trying to engage them in conversation about Left Behind:

There was just one problem. No one I talked to would admit to having read any of the books. A number of people conceded, "Oooh, yeah, my mom read those," wrinkling their noses and giving embarrassed shrugs. Several women offered that they had thought about reading the books after the former "Growing Pains" star, and heartthrob of our teen years, Kirk Cameron made a movie adaptation of the first installment. But after even some Christian publications panned the film, they had reconsidered.

This doesn't surprise me. Try the same experiment in a small town in the Midwest, though, and the conversation would likely be considerably different.

I know the conventional wisdom these days says that the single most reliable determinant of voting is church attendance (the more you attend church, the more likely you are to vote Republican), but it's anecdotes like this that continue to convince me that the real divide in America is rural/urban, not secular/religious. Sure, you need to be pretty religious for the Left Behind books to appeal to you in the first place, but even at that its admirers are mostly in small town America. Urban folks, even the most strongly religious of them, are mostly too elite to be anything but embarrassed by this kind of stuff.

In fact, I often get the feeling that urban conservative intellectuals i.e., most of the ones who actually write about this stuff are faking it when they write about socially conservative causes. They may be able to peck out an austere intellectual argument that gays are bad and faith healing is authentic Americana, but they aren't true believers. They act like someone who extols the virtues of tofu burgers in public because they own stock in a tofu company, but then sneaks out to McDonald's when no one is looking.

I'm sort of rambling here. Sorry. It's just that this subject never really seems to get quite the attention it deserves. Among all the talk of liberal/conservative, religious/secular, east/west, and white/nonwhite, I still think the real core social divide in America is between big cities and small towns. Get a few beers into them, and even the urban conservatives would probably admit that they think their core supporters in Middle America are a bunch of hicks. And don't even get me started on what those rural hicks probably think of David Brooks....

UPDATE: Hah! I see that Amy has surreptitiously corrected her football/basketball post to refer to the USC Trojans. But it used to refer to the Bruins the Bruins! and I have the videotape to prove it.

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BUSH AND THE POPE....Josh Marshall comments today about President Bush's visit to the Vatican and his efforts to enlist their help in getting American bishops to be more aggressive on subjects like gay marriage and abortion:

Presidents regularly meet with Popes. Certainly they talk about matters both political and moral, perhaps even theological. But is it the president's place to press the pope to sow religious divisions among American Catholics, a majority of whom seem uncomfortable with the efforts of some in the hierarchy to discipline pro-Choice Catholic politicians? And all that aside is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign?

Josh makes it sound like this is sort of a one time deal, but it's worth noting that the Christian Right isn't the only religious community that Bush and Karl Rove have spent a lot of time courting. Rather, Bush's entreaty to the Vatican is part of a serious, long term strategy to win Catholic votes away from Democrats. Here are John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in The Right Nation:

Bush has devoted a great deal of energy to trying to broaden the definition of the Religious Right....His main quarry has been Roman Catholics, the biggest single religious group in the country and the most ripe for picking.

Bush easily won the votes of a majority of religiously active Catholics in 2000, the best showing among them by a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. He has made a great show of visiting prominent Catholic institutions like the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The White House has a weekly conference call with an informal group of Catholic advisors, and the Republican National Committee has revived a Catholic task force. Bush tries to include fashionable Catholic phrases, such as "the culture of life," in his speeches

....Bush's best chance of winning Pennsylvania and Michigan, which he narrowly lost in 2000, probably lies in seducing blue-collar Catholics.

Needless to say, Bush wasn't expecting the Catholic John Kerry to be the Democratic nominee, and the fact that he is has thrown a huge monkey wrench into his plans to "seduce" ever more Catholics to his side in 2004. The result has been a methodical and relentless assault on Kerry's Catholic credentials and a sustained effort to find and publicize Catholic bishops willing to go public with their complaints.

So, "is it proper for the president to enlist the Vatican as an arm of his political campaign"? And was his request just something that popped into Bush's head during one of his conversations? No and no. But the Catholic vote has been a longtime obsession of the Bush campaign and a Catholic opponent has made them desperate.

Remember this whenever you see a news story about a Catholic bishop speaking out against Kerry or a Republican operative questioning his fitness to receive communion. These aren't just spontaneous shows of support, they're part of an ongoing and highly professional media campaign to win votes in swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. And judging by how the press credulously reports this stuff at face value, it's working.

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PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE....I see that the Supreme Court punted today in the Pledge of Allegiance case. Three justices said "under God" was no big deal (and Antonin Scalia surely would have joined them if he hadn't recused himself), but the rest of the court weaseled out by deciding that Michael Newdow had no standing to bring the case on behalf of his daughter because he doesn't have custody:

When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, a prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law.

Bah. What a bunch of cowards. If they had any guts they would have approved the wording of the pledge but insisted on a firm rotation of "under God," "under Allah," "under Jehovah," and a few other choices that escape me at the moment. That would liven up the campaign season, wouldn't it?

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THE TORTURE MEMO....The Washington Post has posted the full text of an August 2002 memo regarding the president's ability to approve torture as legitimate tool of interrogation during wartime. It's long, and I'm not a lawyer, so I was waiting for some kind of expert opinion before weighing in.

Well, Michael Froomkin is a lawyer, he's read the text, and he's not a happy camper. Aside from a general air of nauseating amorality ("Nowhere do the authors say 'but this would be wrong'"), the key point in the memo is the same Nixonian one we've seen before: when it comes to war, the president can do anything he wants.

The memo argues (p. 35) that Congress may no more regulate the Presidents ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield. Either this is just bunk, or the Geneva conventions, the prohibitions on the use of poison gas, all the rest of the web of international agreements to which the US is a party, are so much tissue paper. Were no longer committed to the rule of law, but the rule of force. (In fact what the OLC seemed to argue for in other memos was a double standard in which international law still applied to everyone else.)

In any case, theres an enormous difference between unfettered discretion to move troops around on the battlefield and unfettered discretion to order war crimes.

Who knew that when George Bush famously said, "the nice thing about being president is that I don't have to answer to anyone," he was dead serious? Too bad that the legal machinery of the government seems to feel it's their duty to justify his megalomania.

In any case, read Froomkin's full post for a complete breakdown of what the memo says. Just don't do it after you've eaten.

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MY LAST REAGAN POST....Although many of the standard storylines about Ronald Reagan are more myth than reality, there's at least one of them that's fundamentally true: he really did win the Cold War. Maybe it didn't happen in quite the way his fans would like to believe, and maybe it wouldn't have happened at all without Mikhail Gorbachev, but still: Reagan's defense buildup and his quixotic insistence on pursuing an unworkable missile defense shield really did help to bring down the Soviet Union. When I say this, it's not because I especially want to believe it, but because the historical record seems to show that it really happened.

But for Reagan's supporters there's a paradox at the heart of the standard story of how he won the Cold War. On the one hand, they are unable to admit that the Soviet Union was fatally weakened by the time Reagan took office, because to do so would diminish his accomplishment. Conversely, though, they can hardly admit that the Soviet economy was humming along nicely since that would be a tacit admission that a communist economy can perform as well as a capitalist one.

As it happens, though, the historical record is pretty clear on this question too: by 1980 the Soviet Union was dying. And despite some historical revisionism to the contrary, nobody really knew it at the time, including Reagan. The Committee on the Present Danger routinely made predictions of vast Soviet arms buildups and Reagan and his advisors believed every word of it. In fact, they were convinced that our own defense buildup was necessary merely to catch up to the Soviets, not to overtake them.

As it turned out, though, none of this was true. Although Reagan's unyielding stance really did hasten the downfall of the Soviet Union, it worked only because the Soviet economy was in terminal disarray and they were desperate to make peace. When Reagan finally offered it to them, they snapped it up.

This might all be of only academic interest except for one thing: the Reagan mythology is a critical part of the worldview that informs current conservative reaction to the war on terror. Rather than acknowledging that Soviet weakness played a big part in the story, they have convinced themselves that the Soviet Union fell solely because of Reagan's unyielding stance toward communism, and they take this as a universal lesson: an aggressive posture is a winning posture. If you just stand tall your enemies will slink off.

Now, ignore for the moment that despite his bellicose rhetoric Reagan never actually authorized any large scale military action against either the Soviet Union or its satellites. Ignore for a moment the fact that communist China remained standing at the same time the Soviet Union was dying in fact, was cracking down on dissenters at Tiananmen in the same year that the Berlin Wall fell. Instead, just ask this: is it true that if you simply take a forthright, aggressive posture against your enemies, they will eventually back down?

Hitler thought so in 1938 and he was right for a couple of years. But in the end he wasn't. Douglas MacArthur thought so in 1950 and insisted on moving his troops ever northward despite clear warnings from Red China. Needless to say, the Chinese didn't back down: they counterattacked and we ended up in an unwinnable quaqmire for the next three years. Arabs tried an aggressive posture against Israel in 1967 and 1973 and met with a notable lack of success. The Israelis have tried the opposite ever since and have been equally unsuccessful.

But this is not something that hawks like to see. If liberals sometimes have a blind spot that prevents them from seeing that credible threats of force are ever effective despite plenty of evidence and common sense that says they are conservatives have a blind spot that prevents them from seeing that aggressive use of force isn't always the answer. But al-Qaeda is not the Soviet Union and Iraq is not Normandy Beach.

We're going to have a hard time in the war on terror until both sides see through their respective blind spots and understand that credible force and credible peace are flip sides of the same coin. I wonder what, if anything, it will take to make that happen?

UPDATE: Since Reagan's "victory" in the Cold War is the subject of most of the comments, it's worth noting that (a) no, of course he didn't win it by himself, (b) he built on the accomplishments of many previous presidents, and (c) whether it justifies the rest of his presidency is, of course, a matter of opinion. However, I don't think there's much doubt that his defense buildup, his support of SDI, and his bellicose rhetoric all things I hated while he was actually doing them along with the olive branch he eventually held out in his second term, really did deliver the coup de grace to the Soviet Union. Fred Kaplan has a pretty good, nuanced explanation of all this in Slate if you're unconvinced.

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June 13, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

MORE BLOGGINESS....Time magazine is the latest to promote the blogosphere as the Next Big Thing:

Blogs showcase some of the smartest, sharpest writing being published. Bloggers are unconstrained by such journalistic conventions as good taste, accountability and objectivity and that can be a good thing.

You betcha.

Overall, it's a pretty blog-friendly piece. "We may be in the golden age of blogging, a quirky Camelot moment in Internet history," the authors say, just after a paragraph about the potential overcommercialization of blogging laid at the feet of the Wonkette/Gawker-driven Nick Denton empire. (Whose sites, by the way, are proof positive that the supposedly cynical, media hip, spin resistant blogosphere can indeed be mightily swayed by bog standard marketing.)

But there is one odd note. There's the inevitable capsule blurb about Instapundit, which notes that he writes 20-30 posts a day, "many of them fairly lengthy." Fairly lengthy? Are they reading the same Instapundit as me?

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SADLY, WONKETTE IS THE ONLY THING THEY HAVE IN COMMON....Rivka compares and contrasts the left wing blogosphere and the right wing blogosphere today. Don't worry, though, there's nothing that will raise your blood pressure no matter which side you're on. Enjoy.

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ABU GHRAIB UPDATE....A few days ago I mentioned that the 2-star general investigating Abu Ghraib is being replaced with a 4-star general. This is being done because the 2-star apparently felt that the investigation was pointing toward higher ranking generals than him.

On that note, there are a couple of interesting stories today about Ricardo Sanchez, the 3-star who's in charge of Iraq. First, from the Washington Post:

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.

The U.S. policy, details of which have not been previously disclosed, was approved in early September, shortly after an Army general sent from Washington completed his inspection of the Abu Ghraib jail and then returned to brief Pentagon officials on his ideas for using military police there to help implement the new high-pressure methods.

And there's this from U.S. News & World Report:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, issued a classified order last November directing military guards to hide a prisoner, later dubbed "Triple X" by soldiers, from Red Cross inspectors and keep his name off official rosters. The disclosure, by military sources, is the first indication that Sanchez was directly involved in efforts to hide prisoners from the Red Cross, a practice that was sharply criticized by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in a report describing abuses of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

....The disclosure of Sanchez's involvement may focus more attention on him.

I really don't know what this all means or if it's related to the change in the investigation. But it seems like it might be more than a coincidence that all this is happening at the same time.

UPDATE: And this from the Telegraph:

The Telegraph understands that four confidential Red Cross documents implicating senior Pentagon civilians in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been passed to an American television network, which is preparing to make them public shortly.

How senior? Sounds like even a 4-star general might not be enough.

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BLOG ECONOMICS....Jim Fallows writes today about AdSense, Google's program that inserts ads on a web page based on the content of the page. How much money can you make from installing AdSense on your page?

Google strongly discourages the Web sites using AdSense from revealing how much money they are taking in. (It even refuses to tell those Web sites how large a cut they are getting of the advertiser's fee, one of several ways Google has pushed its just-trust-us principle to the limit. There are other controversies about the program, but that's a discussion for another day.) I have talked to a site operator who says he gets "extra beer money," to another who gets several hundred dollars a month and to another who receives many thousands.

Can you guess why Google "strongly discourages" AdSense users from revealing how much money they make?

I installed AdSense on my old Calpundit site, and it provided a fair amount of entertainment as I watched to see which ads were served up based on what the content of the blog happened to be at the time. Unfortunately, entertainment was all I got out of it: I ended up making about $30 per month for a site getting 30,000 page views a day at the time.

There probably aren't more than a hundred blogs in the world that have traffic even as high as 10,000 page views per day, and any blog smaller than that is unlikely to make more than $10 a month from AdSense, which means AdSense probably doesn't make much sense for most bloggers. As a point of comparison, my revenue from BlogAds was about about 30x higher than my revenue from AdSense.

Bottom line: you won't get rich from blogging. And unless you have a very high traffic site, you sure won't get rich from AdSense.

UPDATE: Read the comments for more. A number of people say they've been quite a bit more successful with AdSense than I was.

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June 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

SATURDAY TRIVIA QUESTION....What was the world's first bestseller? This depends on your definition of "world" and "bestseller," of course, but Diarmaid MacCulloch, in The Reformation, makes the case that it was the very first book in the "Complete Idiot's Guide" series, written by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1500:

He created the first best-seller in the (then very brief) history of printing after a stroke of bad luck: Desperate for cash after English customs officials had confiscated the sterling money in his luggage, he compiled a collection of proverbs with detailed commentary about their use in the classics and in Scripture. This work, the Adagia (1500), was a huge commercial success, since it offered the browsing reader the perfect shortcut to being a well-educated humanist, and Erasmus much expanded it in successive editions.

It's good to hear that books of this nature have a long and honorable history. Erasmus probably would have made a pretty good blogger.

Sadly, although this anecdote was interesting, the rest of MacCulloch's book is rather emphatically not recommended. I picked it up on a whim a couple of weeks ago because I've long thought that (a) the Reformation is probably the key inflection point in European history and (b) that I was undereducated about it. I still feel that way, but if I had bothered to crack open the book in the bookstore and read even a few pages I would have realized that far from being a general history of the period, it's a 600 page monograph about the theological minutiae of each and every little sect that sprung up anywhere on the continent during the 16th century.

Now, some of that is surely necessary to an understanding of the Reformation, but after 200 pages of it I finally cried uncle. I think the final straw was a "dauntingly technical" description of the different views of the Eucharist held by Zwingli (a "symbolic memorialist"), Bullinger (a "symbolic parallelist"), and Calvin (a "symbolic instrumentalist"), all of whom are contrasted to Martin Luther, of course, who did not see the Eucharist as symbolic at all. A few pages later I just gave up.

Books like this really don't have much of a home in general purpose bookstores, and perhaps this will teach me to be more careful in the future. Perhaps.

UPDATE: In comments, I gather that some people perhaps taking this post a wee bit more seriously than it should be think I'm suggesting this book should be burned or something. Needless to say, I'm not, and I have no objection at all to 600-page books concerned solely with theological minutiae of early Protestantism. I just don't think they should be marketed as general purpose histories, and it strikes me that this one was. If I'm wrong about that, I offer my abject apologies to everyone associated with the writing, producing, and marketing of this book.

Also the last sentence of the original post has been slightly modified in order to slightly appease my critics.

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REAGAN AND BUSH....I spent part of this week reacquainting myself with all those old Reaganisms that used to scare the crap out of us back in the 80s but don't anymore because, hell, he didn't blow up the world, did he? The fact that the leader of the free world used to be a doddering old guy completely out of touch with reality seems more cute than menacing these days.

Memories, memories. But all this also reminded me of what a small world this has become, and what a pale imitation of Reagan our current president is. Even his lies are smaller and his dimwittery a bit less dim. I mean, sure, Bush got gentlemen's Cs, but at least he got them at Yale. How can you compare that to a guy who got gentlemen's Cs at Eureka College?

And lying about torture or WMDs? It's almost vulgar. Reagan told lies like that too, but he went further, routinely answering questions by telling us that, say, most pollution was caused by trees. Or that South Africa had eliminated segregation. Or that the Contras were the equivalent of America's founding fathers. There's a sort of ethereal majesty to these kinds of statements that removes them from the earthbound realm of mere cluelessness and makes them the stuff of legends.

So, yes, both Bush and Reagan are conservatives, they both loved tax cuts and tough talk, and they both had ranches and wore cowboy hats. But Bush would never dare tell us that most pollution is caused by trees. He just wouldn't have the vision or the guts.

A pale imitation, George Bush is. There is, by contrast, something Munchausian about Ronald Reagan, something that, for better or worse, the smallminded George Bush can only dream of matching. When it comes to the high art of ignoring the real world in favor of a fantasy world of your own making, Ronald Reagan truly is the father of modern conservatism.

And, after all, he didn't get us all blown up in the end, did he?

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ESTATE TAXES....Matt Yglesias spent his high school years at the rather tony Dalton School (before spending his college years at the rather tony Harvard University). Last night he went to his five-year high school reunion and has this to say:

One further observation would simply be that talking to a room full of Dalton alumni is pretty much the best case that can be made for the estate tax.

On a more serious note....

Actually, this is about the most serious argument imaginable about the estate tax. For those who didn't attend, a little imagination should tell you why an evening spent with callow 20-something heirs to great wealth ought to convince you that far from being eliminated, the estate tax ought to be increased to, oh, approximately 100%. Let 'em earn their own way.

UPDATE: And not that I have anything against Sacagawea or anything, but Matt's suggestion that we put Reagan on a new dollar coin has some merit too although this is a case where an unserious suggestion probably really is unserious. Aren't an airport, an aircraft carrier, and an international trade center enough?

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POLICY WONKERY....Atrios:

I've declared "the age of wonk" has been over for some time. There's little point in having serious policy debates about anything.

I happen to love policy wonkery, but I feel the same way. More and more, it just feels like intellectual masturbation. I mean, I keep doing it because I can hardly bear to admit that it doesn't make any difference anymore, but as near as I can tell nobody in power cares two cents about actual policy these days. It doesn't matter whether something actually works better or worse than some other thing, only whether or not it helps your own team.

But hell, I suppose the reality is that it's always been like that. Rose colored hindsight can be a bitch.

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KERRY-McCAIN....The LA Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all have stories about a possible Kerry-McCain ticket today, but I think the LA Times has the scoop:

The Massachusetts senator broached the idea with McCain at least seven times, first raising it about 2 1/2 months ago, the source said Friday. All the conversations occurred over the phone but one, which took place on the floor of the Senate.

The last conversation was about a week ago, the McCain associate said. Each time, he said, McCain "respectfully declined, but firmly."

Seven times? WTF?

Look, the idea of a bipartisan ticket has some public appeal, even if the kind of activist liberals who read blogs don't think much of the idea, so I can understand Kerry being intrigued with the notion. But seven times? For chrissake, that just makes him look desperate. It's time to move on.

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LE ROUGE ET LE BLEU....The New York Times has an article today about a subject that, coincidentally, I was discussing at lunch with another blogger just yesterday: is it possible that the country is not really as polarized as everyone thinks it is?

Majorities in both places support stricter gun control as well as the death penalty; they strongly oppose giving blacks preference in hiring while also wanting the government to guarantee that blacks are treated fairly by employers. They're against outlawing abortion completely or allowing it under any circumstances, and their opinions on abortion have been fairly stable for three decades. Virtually identical majorities of Blues and Reds don't want a single party controlling the White House and Congress.

...."Compared to earlier periods the Civil War, the 1930's, the 1960's our disagreements now are not that deep," Professor [Alan] Wolfe said last week. "Indeed, it is only because we agree so much on so many things that we can allow ourselves the luxury of thinking we are having a culture war. When one of society's deepest divisions is over stem cells, that society is pretty unified."

Exactly. In the same way that the most trivial disputes can often be the bitterest, the opposite might also be true: perhaps our increasingly bitter rhetoric is a sign that many of today's worst disputes are actually pretty trivial.

Assault weapons bans? Not exactly a core isse of gun rights, is it? Partial birth abortion? It's at the absolute fringe of the abortion debate. How many points of preference out of 100 can we give black applicants to law school? That's a lo-o-o-ong way from Jim Crow.

To a certain extent, the same is true of economic issues. We fight enormous battles over whether tax rates should go up or down by three points and whether the Social Security retirement age should be 67 or 68. This is not the stuff of which legends are made.

And if I may be permitted a bit of blasphemy, even the Iraq war demonstrates considerably more consensus than it seems at first glance. Think about it: we have a conservative president who controls both houses of congress. Three years ago we were directly assaulted by Arab terrorists. Saddam Hussein was a brutal, murderous dictator who had been in a low-level war with us for years. And the United States has waged plenty of unprovoked wars in its history, so invading Iraq was hardly unprecedented.

And yet, even with all that going for it, George Bush was barely able to get support for the war, was forced to at least pretend he wanted UN support, and knows perfectly well that even his conservative supporters won't accept an American presence in Iraq for more than a couple of years. Bush had everything going for him a president could have, but even so the country's skeptical attitude toward foreign wars these days is widespread enough that his options were extremely limited.

This isn't to say there aren't any big issues left. Gay rights is certainly a core debate over values, although one whose ending is pretty much assured at this point. National health insurance provokes questions about the basic role of government in the modern world. And there's no question that slow but steady changes in income inequality and wealth distribution are a potential timebomb that needs to be dealt with.

But on issues from abortion to gun control to the size of government to our position in the world, once you cut through the weeds it's surprising how consistent the core majority positions of the country have been for the past 30 years. But you sure wouldn't know it from listening to NARAL, the NRA, the Club for Growth, or MoveOn, would you?

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CELL PHONES FOR SILVIO....Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi thinks a big turnout in Sunday's election will help his party. So, since ownership of half the media in the country apparently wasn't enough to get the word out, he decided to send text messages to all 56 million cell phones in the country. The results were mixed:

Many of the messages arrived in the night, activating the alarms of hundreds of thousands of mobiles and waking their owners.

....Italian law authorises the government to carry out mass texting "in cases of disaster or natural calamities" and "for reasons of public order or public health and hygiene".

Mr Berlusconi's supporters argued that a decree authorising the move, signed by the interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, on Thursday, complied with the law because the messages would ensure a steadier flow of voters and thus avert any threat to public order.

Yes indeedy, hijacking Italy's cell phone network for partisan purposes was clearly necessary in order to prevent riots at polling places. That's some sharp thinking.

The real problem, of course, is that being an ally of George Bush is death for a foreign leader these days. In the last year and a half, Bush bashing has proven to be electoral magic in Germany, South Korea, and Spain, and yesterday it was at its most magical yet in a walloping defeat for Tony Blair's Labor Party. As a staunch Bush ally, Berlusconi is obviously feeling like he's next on the chopping block.

That's my kind of magic. Now, how about if we bring a little of it home for our own elections in November?

Kevin Drum 1:34 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

REAGAN (JR.) ON BUSH (JR.)....Before George Bush spends too much time wrapping himself in the mantle of the Gipper, he might want to listen to this excerpt from Ron Reagan's eulogy for his father this evening:

Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference.

You had to hear it to get the full impact of his words, but unless I'm sorely mistaken, that was a shot directly across the bow of the current occupant of the Oval Office.

UPDATE: As several commenters have pointed out, this is not the first time Ron Jr. has taken a shot at Bush. This Salon interview from last year is pretty much a full frontal assault.

UPDATE 2: Corrected quotation thanks to Fiat Lux.

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HOUSE HORSE RACE....I just talked to polling guru Ruy Teixeira to find out what he thought about the the LA Times poll showing Democrats with a huge nationwide lead over Republicans in congressional races (see previous post for details). He made a few points:

  • His rough guess is that the real Democratic lead right now is 10-11 points.

  • However, historically Republicans always outperform the congressional polls. So if the election were held today, the actual Dem lead would probably be several points lower.

  • The conventional wisdom is that any seat that was won with a majority of 55% or more in the previous election is not in play. However, if there's a real surge for the Democrats, some of those seats could turn out to be contestable after all.

  • There are models that predict House results based on nationwide vote percentage, but it's too early for any of them to be useful. Still, he says, "there's a real chance the Democrats could pick up a bunch of seats."

Well, it may be too early for pollsters with genuine models to make any guesses, but since I have no reputation at stake it's not too early for me. Take a look at the results of the past three elections:

I may not have a fancy computer model, but those results seem strikingly consistent to me. If the Democrats can produce a 2-3% nationwide lead in the congressional election this year, it seems to me they might be able to produce an actual win in House seats as well although a win of uncertain size due to gerrymandering and other uncertainties. You heard it here first.

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LATEST POLLS....The LA Times released a poll yesterday showing that in congressional races, voters preferred Democrats to Republicans 54%-35%. I was, needless to say, skeptical. The Dems are going to win 300 House seats this year?

What to make of this? Aside from the usual caveats that it's still early in the year and the poll might be an outlier and blah blah blah, what's the deal? Here are a couple of points:

  • Here are the results of four other polls taken during May:

    Harris: 53%-40%
    Greenberg: 46%-44%
    AP/Ipsos: 50%-41%
    NBC/WSJ: 44%-41%

    That averages to a Democratic lead of about 48%-41%, which means the LAT result is out of line, but not wildly out of line. Remember, there's a 3-point margin of error, so even if the poll is done properly the real LAT numbers might be more like 51%-38%, about the same as the Harris numbers.

  • Bush adviser Matthew Dowd criticized the results, saying, "They have Dems leading generic congressional ballot by 19. This means this poll is too Democratic by 10 to 12 points."

    As Mickey Kaus points out, that means even Dowd thinks the Democrats are ahead right now by 7-9 points.

So here's what we've got. The May polls show a Democratic lead of 7 points. Dowd, who is certainly trying to spin things as pro-Republican as he can, thinks the Dems have a 7-9 point lead. And the June LAT poll shows a 19 point Dem lead.

Bottom line: my guess is that the LAT poll is an outlier for some reason, but at the same time things really have turned against the Republicans in the past few weeks. Democrats aren't ahead by 19 points, but I wouldn't be surprised if the reality is that they're now 11-12 points ahead.

But here's one more oddity. A genuine Democratic lead of at least 10 points seems pretty likely based on the results of multiple polls, and yet I've heard nothing nothing suggesting that Democrats are likely to pick up even a dozen House seats this year, let alone the large number that a 10-point lead implies even when you take gerrymandered House districts into account. What's going on? Why isn't anyone even talking about this?

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OH YEAH, VENDING MACHINES....You know the saying, "There are no stupid questions"? It's not true. New father Charles Kuffner links today to possibly the dumbest question of the year.

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RONALD REAGAN....Some views of Ronald Reagan:

  • Alexander Gribanov, Soviet dissident who emigrated in 1987: "The '70s were a decade of unrelenting Soviet expansion that met virtually no resistance. Reagan signaled that the period of non-resistance was over, and this gave us hope."

  • Reagan on the apartheid regime in South Africa: "They have eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country, the type of thing where hotels and restaurants and places of entertainment and so forth were segregated that has all been eliminated."

  • Samuel Wells, Cold War historian at the Woodrow Wilson Center: "His staff, for all of the first term and most of the second, kept this out of the press, but Reagan was terribly, deeply opposed to nuclear weapons he thought they were immoral."

  • Reagan on trading arms for hostages: "Mistakes were made."

  • From The Clothes Have No Emperor: "12/15/1985 60 Minutes interviews Berkeley professor Michael Rogin, who posits the theory that [Reagan] honestly can't tell the difference between movies and reality. The evolution of a Reagan anecdote is traced from the point where he credits it as a movie scene to the point where he tells it as if it really happened. Viewer response proves this to the one of the least popular segments in the program's 17-year history."

So which one was he? Inspirational cold warrior? Social neanderthal? Ex-liberal idealist? Corrupt ideologue? Delusional old man?

All of them, I guess.

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June 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

ABU GHRAIB UPDATE....Is the Abu Ghraib scandal about to break wide open? John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, is planning to appoint a 4-star general to head up the Army's investigation:

General Abizaid's request, which defense officials said Mr. Rumsfeld would most likely approve, was set in motion in the last week when the current investigating officer, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, told his superiors that he could not complete his inquiry without interviewing more senior-ranking officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq.

But Army regulations prevent General Fay, a two-star general, from interviewing higher-ranking officers. So General Sanchez took the unusual step of asking to be removed as the reviewing authority for General Fay's report, and requesting that higher-ranking officers be appointed to conduct and review the investigation.

So Fay needs to be replaced because the investigation has gone higher than a 2-star can conduct. And there's more: a new witness possibly a high ranking one? has recently decided to cooperate with the investigation:

Within the last several days, an important figure in the inquiry who had previously refused to cooperate with Army investigators suddenly reversed his position and agreed to work much more closely with investigators, a senior Senate aide and a senior Pentagon official said.

That important development prompted General Fay to send some of his 29-person team back into the field to conduct more interviews, the officials said. "A key witness, a key person who'd pled the military equivalent of the Fifth has changed his attitude, and Fay is reopening the investigation," the Senate official said.

This is potentially devastating for Bush. First, you have the possibility of high-ranking culpability, which is bad enough. But second, you have the recent leak of memos showing that even if Bush didn't personally approve the torture, he certainly presided over a culture that was doing its best to justify it as a routine exigency of war.

That combination is deadly. And as Mark Kleiman says, if there's also video of "horrible things done to children" at Abu Ghraib, that would be the final straw. George Bush set the tone, and he's responsible for what happened.

Or, since he's fond of Bible verses, let's put it this way: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians 6:7.

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LAKERS THREAD....My basic prediction is Lakers in 6. I figure they're going to win tonight, lose the middle game in Detroit, and then win the next two.

Dissenters and Laker phobics may now commence disagreement.

POSTGAME UPDATE: Ouch. Lakers in 7?

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THE REAGAN CULT....If ABC News had a "Word of the Week" feature, this week's winner would surely be hagiography. The conservative canonization of Ronald Reagan is in full swing and the effusiveness of the praise being sent in his direction is unlike anything we've seen for half a century from either Democrats or Republicans.

Why Reagan? What's so different about him? Conservatives mostly talk about his accomplishments as president, but I don't think that really accounts for their hero worship of him. Consider:

  • The economy. Reagan is famous for lowering taxes in 1981, but the fact is that he also raised taxes several times after that. Stagflation? Inflation was lowered mostly due to Paul Volcker's tight money policies at the Fed not to mention the lack of further oil shocks after 1979 and the unemployment record of the 80s wasn't actually any better than the 70s. What's more, the Reagan expansion was pretty average compared to other postwar expansions.

    But he did lower taxes significantly for the first time in 20 years. And the economy did boom.

  • Winning the Cold War. Yes, he doubled defense spending, but a lot of it was for weapons systems like the MX missile, the Trident submarine, and the stealth program, that were started by his predecessors. He talked about strength, but hightailed it out of Beirut the first time he got his nose bloodied. He obsessed over Central America, but largely ignored the far more important campaign in Afghanistan until he was forced to during his second term. And in 1987 he signed an idealistic and far-reaching arms control agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev that was derided by many of his conservative advisors.

    But he did preside over an unprecedented defense buildup, and the Berlin Wall did fall in 1989.

  • Social conservatism. Yes, he appointed Antonin Scalia and tried to appoint Robert Bork, but he also appointed Sandra Day O'Connor and (when the Bork nomination failed) Anthony Kennedy, who are considered generally centrist. He pandered to the Christian Right, but rather famously did little to actually accomodate them. He promised to reduce the size of government, but actually grew federal spending and federal employment faster than Bill Clinton.

    But he did appoint lots of conservative judges and he did veto lots of spending bills (even if he knew perfectly well his vetos would be overridden).

So again: why Reagan? My point is decidedly not to pretend that Reagan had no substantive accomplishments, nor to pretend that he was really a pragmatist or a moderate rather than a true conservative. Rather, it's to figure out why a president with a clearly mixed conservative record is so deified by conservatives. After all, they don't treat Eisenhower the same way.

The answer, I think, lies not so much in what he did as in what he said. Although his record is mixed, his rhetoric never faltered and there's one thing about his presidency that I think is unquestionable: he changed the terms of the debate. Tax cuts, anti-communism, small government even if he didn't follow through on all of them consistently, he at least made them acceptable once again as serious political goals.

And this is surely why conservatives love him. In the same way that activist liberals fell for Howard Dean earlier this year because of his fiery speeches despite the fact that his actual record in Vermont was rather moderate conservatives love Reagan because he was the first president since 1930 to unapologetically promote conservative ideals. He told conservatives it was OK to be conservative, and even if he didn't always follow through on his principles that was enough. For perhaps the first time in a half century, conservatives felt like they didn't have to be embarrassed about who they were. It was finally! possible to be a conservative without being considered a John Birch Society loon.

In that sense, he really does deserve his place as a patron saint of conservatism. Although in many ways the country has continued to move steadily along a liberal path remarkably unchanged by his presidency, conservative ideas are a serious part of the political conversation in a way they weren't before Reagan.

That's why they love him, and I guess I don't blame them. Flaws and all, if a liberal version of Reagan came along, I'd probably fall in love too.

POSTSCRIPT: It's probably hopeless to point this out, but I'm not a Reagan fan and I'm not trying to excuse his many and varied faults. I'm just trying to get a handle on why conservatives love him so much despite his rather mixed record on the issues that are important to them. OK?

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"THE WHITE HOUSE LOOKS ON THIS AS A GREAT JOKE?"....Reagan and AIDS: Andrew Sullivan has a 1982 transcript that pretty much tells the whole story. Unbelievable.

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THE TORTURE MEMOS....What do the torture memos really mean? Josh Marshall:

We're like contestants on Wheel of Fortune with a long phrase spelled out in front of us with maybe one or two letters missing. We know what the letters spell. It's obvious. We just don't have the heart to say it out loud.

That sounds about right. I sure hope 50% + 1 of the voters this year manage to figure it out.

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REAGAN AND PHILADELPHIA....Ronald Reagan's record on civil rights was pretty abysmal, but I'd like to suggest that he might be getting a (slightly) bum rap on one particular subject: his speech at the Neshoba County Fair in 1980. First, here's the background.

In 1964 three young civil rights workers (two whites and one black) were killed near Philadelphia, Mississippi, by a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen that included several sheriff's deputies. The state of Mississippi failed to prosecute, Robert Kennedy sent in the FBI, and in a circus trial some of the men (though not the county sheriff himself) were eventually convicted of violating the workers' civil rights. This was, needless to say, one of the seminal events of the civil rights movement.

Now for Reagan. In 1980, after receiving the Republican nomination, Reagan flew to Mississppi and gave a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, a few miles from Philadelphia. But why? Why did he choose this place to kick off his campaign? And how could he have been insensitive enough, even in passing, to talk about "states' rights" obvious code for white segregationism at a place like this?

Frankly, there's not much excuse. Reagan obviously knew the racial baggage of a phrase like that at a place like Neshoba, and it's a genuine blight on his record. However, it's worth noting that (a) Reagan talked about states' rights routinely in a non-racial context, (b) Mississippi at the time was seen as a swing state that Jimmy Carter had only barely won in 1976, and (c) the Neshoba event wasn't orignally planned to be the kickoff for his campaign. His original intent was to kick off the campaign with a speech to the Urban League, but his advisors were afraid of the symbolism of doing that first and following it with Neshoba. Here is Lou Cannon's report from the Washington Post:

Originally, Reagan was scheduled to make the Urban League appearance first, and then fly to deliver his speech here at the Neshoba County Fair.

But some in the campaign objected to the symbolism of Reagan going to a community where three civil rights workers were slain with the complicity of local police officials in 1964.

"It would have been like we were coming to Mississippi and winking at the folks here, saying we didn't really mean to be talking to them Urban League folk," said one Reagan source. "It would have been the wrong signal."

So instead they switched his schedule: he went to Neshoba first and then spoke to the Urban League.

Now, so far this might not seem like a very convincing defense and it's not. But let's fast forward exactly eight years to August 4, 1988. Guess who's talking at the Neshoba County Fair? Here's the New York Times account:

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, bringing his campaign today to a sweltering Mississippi town that is at once in the heart of the conservative South and a place resonant with the anguished history of the civil rights movement, had to confront the region's enigmatic political character.

While he pledged to ''bring down the barriers to opportunity for all our people,'' he made only passing reference to the problems of American minorities in a speech to an almost entirely white crowd at the Neshoba County Fair, 24 years to the day since the bodies of three slain civil rights workers were found under an earthen dam nine miles from here.

Mr. Dukakis mentioned that he was near the birthplace of Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who was born in nearby Meridian. But he did not mention the three young civil rights workers: Andrew Goodman and Michael H. Schwerner, both whites from New York, and James E. Chaney, a black who was born in Meridian. The three were slain on a back road by a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen on the night of June 21, 1964, and found 44 days later, on Aug. 4.

The omissions may have reflected the sensitivities of the Dukakis organization to the dilemmas at this campaign stop, at a time when he is trying to attract both white conservatives and blacks in the South.

On his airplane later, Mr. Dukakis noted that he had said in his speech that it was a ''special day'' and insisted that everyone knew what he meant. He also said he had come to Neshoba County to talk about economic development, which he called the ''the fundamental issue facing the people of Mississippi and the people of the South.''

Does Ronald Reagan deserve criticism for opening his campaign at Neshoba and using the occasion to mention his support for states' rights to an all-white Southern crowd? Yes.

On the other hand, he's not the only candidate to head to Neshoba shortly after being nominated, and he's not the only one to shade his words there to court Southern whites. In fact, even with Reagan's performance to learn from, Dukakis decided to play pretty much the same game eight years later.

During Reagan's entire career, from his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to his risible suggestion during his presidency that South Africa had eliminated segregation, his civil rights record was pretty abominable. However, I suspect that in this particular incident there's a bit less than meets the eye. Caveat emptor.

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THE FALL OF JOE McCARTHY....This week is the 50th anniversary of the Army-McCarthy hearings that led to the eventual downfall of red-baiting cretin Joe McCarthy, and that brings up a bit of trivia. In an op-ed on the subject today, Thomas Doherty quotes Joseph Welch's famous retort to McCarthy (after McCarthy had suggested that fellow attorney Fred Fisher was a communist) like this:

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

I haven't actually listened to Welch's speech in a dog's age, but my recollection is that his phrasing actually went like this:

Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Which way should it be rendered? Let's take a vote.

And while we're at it, how about a pool. Will National Review take the occasion of this anniversary to produce yet another article telling us that McCarthy wasn't nearly as bad as everyone thinks he was?

UPDATE: Transcript and audio are here. The phrase in question is at about the 8-minute mark. And I have to admit, listening to it again, that it sounds like the first version above is probably the more accurate one.

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BLOGS AND JOURNALISM....Here's the lead of Michael Hiltzik's column in the Los Angeles Times this morning:

Mark A.R. Kleiman knew he was challenging liberal orthodoxy last week when he posted an item on his weblog headlined "Bring back the nukes!"

Hiltzik is one of the Times' best columnists, and the fact that he's not afraid to use blogs as an acknowledged source is to his credit. Blogs may be a sign of the journalistic apocalypse to some, but to smart journalists they're yet another source of ideas to be mined and mulled over. Michael Hiltzik is a smart journalist.

On the other hand, he (or his editors?) could be a bit smarter still. How about a link to the original blog entry so that readers can see for themselves the comments that kicked things off in the first place?

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HARD TIMES AT THE NEOCON CORRAL....Paul Richter writes in the LA Times about tough times for neocons:

Fourteen months ago, Kenneth Adelman was one of the prominent neoconservatives who took part in a now-storied victory celebration at the home of Vice President Dick Cheney that was described in Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack."

Since then, Adelman acknowledged, the group's influence has declined, because "Iraq didn't turn out to be as promising as it was billed."

Adelman, a former Reagan administration official, said that although he supported the rationale for the war, he was torn about what had happened since. "I still have to sort it all out. I'm just not settled yet," he said.

...."Bush could end up looking like the worst president since Jimmy Carter because of Iraq, and people are going to say, 'You got us into this mess,' " said one Washington source who considered himself a neoconservative and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's going to be nasty and bitter and brutal."

The worst president since Jimmy Carter? Harsh words indeed....

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TORTURE....Writing about the recent revelations of memos justifying torture against Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners, I said this on Monday:

The United States has fought many wars over the past half century, and in each of them our causes were just as important as today's, information from prisoners would have been just as helpful, and we were every bit as determined to win as we are now. But we still didn't authorize torture of prisoners. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan all of them knew it wasn't right, and the rest of us knew it as well.

Michael Froomkin cited this approvingly, and his post then caught the attention of the Curmudgeonly Clerk at Crescat Sententia, who suggested I was taking a rather too rosy view of the past. What about the firebombing of Dresden and the Japanese internments during World War II? Or, more recently, Nixon's bombing of Cambodia. Surely these examples show that George Bush's wobbly moral compass is hardly unique?

I feel like there's an answer to this, but I'm not quite sure what it is, so I'm going to talk out loud a bit and see if I can puzzle out why I feel more strongly about torture than I do about the other excesses of war that CC mentions. Let me toss out a few thoughts:

  • Am I minimizing past injustices simply because they happened a long time ago and are merely historical to me? Maybe. It's a point worth paying attention to as we consider what follows.

  • At the risk of splitting hairs, it strikes me that while torture is universally condemned (in the west, anyway), bombings that kill civilians are treated more equivocally. That may or may not be justified, but I think it's true: more than almost any other practice, torture is something that we associate only with the very worst regimes on the planet. (On the other hand, CC specifically suggests that torture might not be quite as universally condemned as I think, and sadly, there's some evidence to back that up.)

  • When I turn this over in my mind, one of the things I keep coming back to is the idea of coldbloodedness. There is something about excesses on the battlefield that, even if wrong, are at least understandable since they happen in the heat of battle. Torture of prisoners, on the other hand, is a carefully planned, coldly executed, and highly personal tactic against people who are no longer capable of fighting back. There is, in my mind, something uniquely amoral and corrosive about this kind of coldblooded infliction of pain.

  • There is also something about the present circumstances that makes this even more egregious than usual. We spent a lot of time before the Iraq War rightly condemning Saddam Hussein for his use of torture, and this makes it even more repugnant than otherwise to find out that we're employing some of the same methods.

  • And then there's secrecy. The Japanese internments during WWII, as appalling as they were, were at least the subject of some debate and were carried out in public. It was, in a sense, a case of mass hysteria. The Bush administration's obsession with torture, on the other hand, was kept secret precisely because they knew the public would never support it. In other words, they knew how wrong it was but went ahead and did it anyway.

  • It's also worth noting that FDR and Nixon aren't exactly primo examples of presidents with strong personal senses of morality and you can add LBJ to that list too. However, it's also worth noting that even so, none of them ever approved the torture of prisoners.

I've been careful when I talk about torture not to make legal arguments, since I don't think that condemnation of torture should depend on sterile discussions of specific laws or treaties. I've also avoided arguing about cleverly invented "ticking bomb" scenarios, since this is basically just a way of changing the subject by picking the most extreme possible case for consideration.

Rather, I want to get to the hard, moral core of this issue: namely that routine state sponsored torture of prisoners is a barbaric practice more barbaric than almost anything else we can think of and that tolerating it does indeed put the current administration in a class by itself. This post, however, isn't a thorough defense of that thesis, merely a few notes in that direction. Comments are welcome.

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June 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

G8 UPDATE....Apparently the United States and France can disagree about pretty much anything:

It was dress-down Wednesday for the leaders of the west when they gathered in Sea Island yesterday. The mood was "business casual", and George Bush took the lead. Clad in a golf shirt and sucking a boiled sweet, he cracked jokes to show the cameras that this was an informal gathering, an attempt to return to the original summit concept of a "fireside chat" between old friends.

....Jacques Chirac was evidently unmoved by the attempt to be laid back. Not the sort of person to be impressed at the prospect of zipping around the secure compound in a golf cart, he turned up for talks in trad summit gear a suit and tie.

Yep, just a casual meeting between old friends....

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G.I. WOE....Congrats to Washington Monthly editor Nick Confessore for winning the 2003 Livingston Award, the "largest all-media, general-reporting prizes in the country." And there's ten grand to go along with it!

The prize was awarded for "G.I. Woe," a March 2003 piece about the overburdening of the U.S. military. You can read it here.

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TERROR AT 20-YEAR HIGH?....Remember that terrorism report issued by the State Department a few weeks ago? The one showing what a great job we were doing reducing terror? Not so fast:

On Tuesday, State Department officials said they underreported the number of terrorist attacks in the tally for 2003, and added that they expected to release an updated version soon.

Several U.S. officials and terrorism experts familiar with that revision effort said the new report will show that the number of significant terrorist incidents increased last year, perhaps to its highest level in 20 years.

....[A] senior official characterized the errors as clerical, and blamed them mostly on the fact responsibility for the report recently shifted from the CIA to the administration's new Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

....For example, the State Department report listed 190 terrorist attacks in 2003, including 169 "significant" ones. But [Rep. Henry] Waxman said a review showed the report stopped counting terrorist incidents on Nov. 11, leaving out several major attacks, including bombings of two synagogues, a bank and the British Consulate in Turkey that killed 62 and injured more than 700.

Waxman said a State Department official blamed the Nov. 11 cutoff on a printing deadline.

The bombing in Turkey happened on November 20.

I may not be an expert on terrorism, but I've had an awful lot of printing done in my career and it's hardly credible that the printing deadline for an April report could have been early enough to cut off data gathering six months earlier. Unless they're using a printshop from hell, a report like this would have headed to the printer sometime in March.

It's embarrassing, really. These guys can't even be bothered to come up with good excuses anymore. It's almost like they know that no one in the press will even bother to challenge them.

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BURGER WARS....Does Los Angeles have the best burgers in the world? Charles Perry investigates.

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SADR'S POPULARITY GROWING?....I hope this isn't true, but I have a feeling it probably is:

After months of losing hundreds, if not thousands, of men in battles with the U.S. military, firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears to be more popular than ever in Iraq.

American coalition leaders were optimistic that last week's truce calling for al-Sadr to move his men out of the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa was a sign of a weakened leader.

But many Iraqi religious and political leaders say al-Sadr's public appeal is higher than ever and that he and his followers seem poised to gain ground in Iraq's political arena, threatening America's plans for the country.

The story goes on to suggest that it was a mistake to exclude him from the interim government, something that echoes Juan Cole's comment this morning:

Bremer's action in excluding the Sadrists from parliament is one final piece of stupidity to cap all the other moronic things he has done in Iraq. The whole beauty of parliamentary governance is that it can hope to draw off the energies of groups like the Sadrists. Look at how parliamentary bargaining moderated the Shiite AMAL party in Lebanon, which had a phase as a terrorist group in the 1980s but gradually outgrew it. AMAL is now a pillar of the Lebanese establishment and a big supporter of a separation of religion and state. The only hope for dealing with the Sadrists nonviolently was to entice them into civil politics, as well. Now that they have been excluded from the political process and made outlaws in the near to medium term, we may expect them to act like outlaws and to be spoilers in the new Iraq.

I'm not entirely sure I buy this, but it's food for thought.

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HOOPS UPDATE....Jeez, the Lakers sure know how to make it a nailbiter, don't they?

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June 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH: THE NEXT REAGAN OR THE NEXT LBJ?....The best liberal defense of Ronald Reagan's presidency is probably a simple acknowledgment that after the Great Society excesses of the 60s and 70s a conservative backlash was inevitable sooner or later. In the event, Reagan turned out to be the leader of the backlash, but if it hadn't been him it would have been someone else. Reagan at least carried it off with more style than most.

Of course, backlashes work in both directions, something that occurred to me as I read a story in the LA Times this morning about George Bush's efforts to assume Reagan's mantle:

Officially, GOP leaders said it would be unseemly to talk about the political impact of Reagan's death. "We just want to make sure that Ronald Reagan's legacy is honored," Republican Party national chairman Ed Gillespie said.

But unofficially, several Republican strategists said the nation's outpouring of nostalgia and respect for Reagan may have offered Bush an opportunity to improve his flagging popularity....

The problem with comparing Bush to Reagan is that Bush comes off as a mediocre painter trying to emulate Picasso. He sees the brushstrokes on the surface and knows how to copy them, but because he doesn't understand their underlying purpose he ends up being only a clumsy and ultimately damaging imitation when he tries to craft a painting of his own.

No analogy is perfect, but in a lot of ways Bush strikes me as being to Reagan what LBJ was to Roosevelt. It's true that LBJ made some powerful and original contributions to the country, particularly in the area of civil rights, but in the end his legacy has been overshadowed by a pair of signature failures. The Great Society and the Vietnam War, consciously modeled on FDR's New Deal and his leadership during World War II, adopted the surface characteristics of FDR's great achievements but ended up as failures because LBJ didn't have Roosevelt's instinctive feel for public opinion or his grasp of why some things worked and some didn't.

Much the same can be said of George Bush. He learned Reagan's lesson that tax cuts could be powerful political symbols, but then turned that lesson into a blind rule that tax cuts are the answer to every economic problem. Likewise, on foreign policy he saw that Reagan was admired for his steadfast anticommunism, but failed to learn when and where to turn down the volume. As a result, he's a man with only one gear, overreliant on military solutions whether they're appropriate or not.

Like LBJ, Bush is a man who knows the notes but not the song. He learned the surface lessons of Reagan's presidency tax cuts, hawkishness, unyielding rhetoric but because he doesn't have the political sensitivity to understand what to do with them he has no choice except to simply offer more tax cuts and more hawkishness, whatever the problem. As a result, he overreaches in a way Reagan never did and will likely be the prime cause of the one thing he most fears: a liberal backlash. Welcome to the club.

UPDATE: I see that not everyone is buying this. That's OK. Let it sink in for a little while and see how it sounds tomorrow.

Remember, the analogy here isn't between everything LBJ and Bush have ever done, it's only an analogy about overreach caused by a superficial understanding of a predecessor's accomplishments. Starting in the mid-60s, liberals pushed their agenda farther and faster than the country could tolerate and the result was Ronald Reagan. Starting in the mid-90s and culminating with Bush, conservatives are doing the same. We have yet to see the result, of course.

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BUSH v. GORE....This is weird. Via Unfogged, here's a chart showing that the fatter you are the more likely you were to vote for Bush in 2000. What's more, aside from a set of outliers in the mountain states (which is peculiar all by itself) the correlation looks pretty good for a set of social science data.

Yes, yes, I know there's an underlying cause. Probably income, or socioeconomic level, or something. But still. Weird.

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THERE WERE SOME WHO SAID....The UN approved a resolution on the transfer of power in Iraq today. President Bush commented thusly:

There were some who said we'd never get one.

Is this his new favorite phrase? It seems like "There were some who said" keeps popping up all over the place.

But who was it that said this? A commenter at DU? An op-ed writer in the Guardian? I mean, it's a nice way of pretending that he's triumphed over enormous odds and all, but getting a Security Council resolution isn't exactly unprecedented. And maybe my memory is faulty, but I don't remember a huge chorus of naysayers suggesting it could never happen.

Who is this mysterious "some," anyway? Donald Rumsfeld?

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REAGAN'S HERITAGE....Virginia Postrel on Reagan:

George Will, in his excellent obituary column, tries to claim Reagan for the Midwest, but Dan Walters knows better: "Millions of words are being spoken and written about Ronald Reagan in the aftermath of his death Saturday, but just four capture his essence: He was a Californian."

Yes, but....

At the risk of being pedantic, it's hard to overstate just how profoundly the Midwest informs everything that is California. Migration from the Midwest made up the bulk of California's population in the first part of the 20th century, and the biggest contribution of all came from Iowa and Reagan's home state of Illinois. (In fact, his hometown of Dixon is about a hundred miles from Cerro Gordo, birthplace of my own grandfather.)

Everybody knows about California's flakiness, but its true character and the source of its astonishing success comes from a combination of its famously vibrant openness to new ideas with the down-to-earth heritage of its Midwestern roots. In that sense, Reagan really is the perfect Californian, but it's his Illinois upbringing that's the key to that.

So yes, he was a Californian. But there's a lot of history packed into those four little words.

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RUMSFELD ON TERROR....A few days ago Donald Rumsfeld was asked a question about the war on terror and he answered (in part) that "It's quite clear to me that we do not have a coherent approach to this." Was this an admission that the Bush administration's policies have failed?

It's always good to be skeptical about things like this, since it's wildly unlikely that a smart, experienced political professional like Rumsfeld would accidentally make such an admission. And sure enough, the full transcript makes it pretty clear that he was actually saying the entire world lacks a coherent approach, not that he thinks the United States has failed. Robert Tagorda has the details.

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WINNING NEOLOGISMS....I don't really have an opinion one way or the other about Howell Raines, but I do like Megan McArdle's invention of the word "autohagiography" to describe his most recent writings. It would fit very nicely between autograph and autoharp in the dictionary, I think....

UPDATE: OK, OK, other people have thought of this word before. But it was the first time I had seen it!

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TORTURE....The Washington Post reports today about yet another administration memo regarding torture of enemy prisoners. This one is from August 2002 and makes a total of four (so far):

  • January 9, 2002: Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty argue that "customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds...the President or the U.S. Armed Forces." Despite this "anything goes" argument, they go on to say that President Bush could still put Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on trial as war criminals if they violate international laws.

  • January 25, 2002: White House counsel Alberto Gonzales warns that treatment of Taliban prisoners could be interpreted as war crimes. To avoid this possibility, he recommends that President Bush exempt captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from the Geneva Conventions.

  • August 2002: A Justice Department memo about torture says that "necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability." Translation: torture is OK if we really, really think we need to do it.

  • April 2003: The Department of Defense says that "(the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority." In other words, as long as the president approves it, torture is OK.

The administration says that despite this rather chilling obsession with torture, all prisoners with the unfortunate exception of a few at Abu Ghraib have been treated humanely. Maybe. But surely I'm not the only one who finds it disturbing that the topic of torture came up almost immediately after 9/11 and continued to be a subject of conversation on such a regular basis after that? They have an almost Nixonian penchant for trying to figure out how far they can go, how much they can get away with, and how best to protect themselves from future prosecution for war crimes.

I've got something simpler for the plain spoken President Bush: "We don't torture prisoners. Not on my watch." Why didn't he say that instead and just put the whole subject to rest?

Kevin Drum 12:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE GAZA PULLOUT....Is Ariel Sharon going to succeed in unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip? Jim Henley thinks not:

Like the Road Map, Taba and Oslo before it, the Gaza disengagement is heading for the wastebasket of big mideast plans. If I had any doubts that the whole thing was a show, the Someday Someway timetable (requiring further cabinet approval to actually implement!) confirms it. We can't say what precise combination of timely suicide attacks on one side and targetted killings on the other will scuttle the putative disengagement, but we've been here before.

Sadly, this is probably accurate. Extremists on both sides know perfectly well how to stage outrages designed to scuttle any forward progress in the Middle East, and neither side has shown the backbone to stand up to its own extremists for the past two decades.

Someday that may change, but probably not soon. Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and George Bush just aren't the right cast of characters to do it.

Kevin Drum 11:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHILD ABUSE?....Can you be arrested for child abuse if you take your kid off Ritalin? Maybe. Suburban Guerilla links to an ABC News segment about a man who did just that, and then tells her own story of ADD and Ritalin:

When they first put me on Ritalin, I was thrilled. For the first time in my life, I felt focused and productive.

Until, after a few years, the tics started....

Read both stories and leave your thoughts in comments. Feedback from teachers would be especially interesting.

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THE LUCK OF THE GIPPER....It's hard to avoid blogging about Ronald Reagan this week, so I guess I'll just give in and do it.

I have to admit that I flip back and forth on Reagan a lot. On the one hand, I can read something like this and be instantly reminded of everything I hated about him welfare queens, AIDS, Iran-contra, James Watt, El Salvador, Ed Meese, his confusion of movies with reality, and on and on. On the other hand, sometimes those things recede in my memory and I also remember his sunny optimism, his eventual willingness to negotiate with the Soviets, the fact that he never really made good on his social conservatism, his final victory against communism, and, as my mother put it, the fact that "we came out the other end OK after all."

But there's another aspect of Reagan that doesn't get much attention: he was extraordinarily lucky. I don't especially intend to demean his accomplishments by saying this, since it's surely true that people often make their own luck, but nonetheless: Reagan was a very lucky guy. Here are some examples:

  1. The Iranians decided to let the hostages go on the precise day of Reagan's inauguration. There are dark theories that this was prearranged by Reagan's people during the campaign, and equally suspect theories that it was because the Iranians were deathly afraid to deal with Reagan the gunslinger. More likely, the hostages had accomplished their purpose and the Iranians just didn't want to risk having to reopen lengthy negotiations with a new administration.

    But whatever the case, the timing was fortuitious. Not only did Reagan not have to deal with the hostages, but his first days in office coincided with a gigantic national celebration over their return. It really did seem like a new era.

  2. One of Reagan's signature early moments came when he fired the air traffic controllers who had gone on strike in August 1981. He won that battle and cemented his reputation as a firm leader who wouldn't allow himself to be extorted by a bunch of hooligans.

    But what if a couple of 747s had collided a week after he broke the strike? What would his legacy have been then?

  3. The 1981 recession ended just in the nick of time, didn't it? One more year and we'd be writing about President Mondale's legacy right about now.

  4. Reagan eventually agreed to arms reductions with the Soviet Union, but that became possible only when two Soviet leaders in succession died after little more than a year in office and the reforming Mikhail Gorbachev came to power.

    It's obviously to Reagan's credit that he seized the opportunity to work with Gorbachev, but he was still lucky to get the chance. If Konstantin Chernenko had remained in power for a few more years, that chance probably never would have come.

  5. It's easy to forget now, but in 1987 the folks around Reagan were genuinely afraid that the Iran-contra scandal might lead to his impeachment. In the end, though, no smoking gun was found, John Poindexter took the ultimate fall, and the entire affair slowly drifted into the haze of history.

    But no one seriously believes that Reagan was entirely unaware of either the deal to trade arms for hostages or of the deal to covertly supply the contras with weapons. All it would have taken was the leak of one unambiguous memo and Reagan would have been toast. It was a lucky break that no such memo ever became public.

  6. And finally there's the biggest piece of luck of all: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, just a few months after Reagan left office. This is surely the iconic emblem of Reagan's victory over communism, and the timing is etched indelibly in our national consciousness.

    But regardless of how you feel about Reagan's contribution to toppling the Soviet Union, it was only coincidence that the Wall fell when it did. It could just as easily have fallen, say, in 1993 when Bill Clinton was president. If it had, would it still be remembered as Reagan's victory? Fairly or not, there's little doubt that the passing of a few years would have made an enormous difference in the public mind.

And there's one more thing: Reagan was even lucky in choosing his predecessor well. It's not just that it was easy to look good compared to Jimmy Carter, it's that Carter laid an awful lot of the groundwork for Reagan's accomplishments. For all the contempt that conservatives shower on him today, the fact is that it was Carter who first used human rights as a serious cudgel to bash the Soviet Union; it was Carter who began the deregulation movement; it was Carter who first approved the secret war in Afghanistan; it was Carter who formed a "Management Strike Contingency Force" scabs to prepare for the air traffic controller strike; and it was Carter who appointed inflation hawk Paul Volcker to the Fed someone who surely had far more to do with fixing the ailing economy than Reagan himself did.

So what to say? It's true that every president has a mix of good and bad luck. And it's true that there are different kinds of luck: in the case of the air traffic controller strike Reagan rolled the dice and won, while in the case of Gorbachev he was presented with a lucky opportunity and had the wit to take advantage of it. Making the best of your chances is sometimes the truest mark of a winner.

But still: Ronald Reagan was an exceptionally lucky man during his eight years in the White House. We haven't seen its equal since JFK won his bet with Khrushchev and emerged into history as a steely eyed cold warrior instead of the man who started World War III.

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THE OSAMA FACTOR....A conservative trope that's currently skyrocketing up the charts argues that Osama bin Laden wants you to vote for John Kerry. Dick Morris is the latest to play this game, saying without any particular evidence that it's "obvious that Osama and his allies all want Bush out." Matt Yglesias has the right response:

Obvious how? Was the attack on the U.S.S. Cole an effort to get Bush in office?

Morris's peculiar historiography aside he can't seem to make up his mind whether terrorists prefer appeasers or hardliners when they're cleverly pulling electoral strings it's not clear to me that Osama really cares one way or another who wins. Satan is Satan, after all.

On the other hand, if you were Osama in late 2001, what would you be hoping for?

  • You'd like to see the pressure taken off of Afghanistan, since that's where you and most of your fighters are.

  • But U.S. troops are bound to be somewhere, and if not Afghanistan then where? Iraq would be nice, since none of your guys are there and you've never really seen eye to eye with Saddam Hussein anyway.

  • Hmmm, yes, Iraq. Instead of killing al-Qaeda terrorists, something that would retain public support for a long time regardless of cost, American troops will instead be dying at the hands of Baathist insurgents, something the American public will probably soon tire of since it's pretty clear that Iraq poses no actual threat to the United States at all.

  • And what a great recruiting tool! Americans in the heart of the Muslim world! Stealing our oil! Building a Christian empire!

And then Osama would have awakened from his dream and realized that this would never happen. No American president would ever be so witless. Better get cracking on finding a new cave.

But it did happen, and since it turned out that Osama got exactly the American president of his dreams, surely he doesn't want to take a chance of switching horses now? John Kerry might actually take terrorism seriously, after all.

My guess: Osama knows perfectly well that a terrorist attack in the United States would help George Bush's reelection chances since Americans always rally around their president in times of crisis. He's probably been planning one for the last couple of years.

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BETTER THAN GOOGLE?....After hearing Bill Gates' recent comments about Microsoft's new search engine, Brad DeLong writes:

The computer scientists I know are overwhelmingly of the opinion that Gates is either (a) using mirrors and smoke to confuse his audience, or (b) genuinely has no clue how hard the problems of "natural language and contextual semantic approaches" are. Amazon has a lot of information about my taste in books. It has proven unable to use it effectively even in its own limited scope.

Bill Gates is a very smart man and he knows more about computers than practically any human alive. I would say that (a) is almost overwhelmingly certain to be the correct answer here. Judging from the title of his post, Brad seems to agree.

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A "LESS CRAMPED" VIEW OF TORTURE....Compare and contrast the following passages:

From the Convention Against Torture, ratified in 1994 and currently the law of the land:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

From an April 2003 report by the Department of Defense:

In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority.

In other words, as long as the president says it's necessary to help the war effort, torture is OK.

The April report was dug up by the Wall Street Journal and is the latest in a string of Bush administration memos explaining that, unlike in all the other wars the United States has fought, torture is justified in this one as long as you're really, really frustrated by the fact that prisoners aren't talking. As one military official put it, interrogations at Guantanamo weren't going very well at the time, so DoD decided "we need to have a less-cramped view of what torture is and is not."

Phil Carter has some legal analysis of the DoD memo, which, as he says, is "a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct."

But put aside the technical analysis and ask yourself: Why has torture been such a hot topic since 9/11? The United States has fought many wars over the past half century, and in each of them our causes were just as important as today's, information from prisoners would have been just as helpful, and we were every bit as determined to win as we are now. But we still didn't authorize torture of prisoners. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan all of them knew it wasn't right, and the rest of us knew it as well.

So what's different this time? Only one thing: the name of the man in the White House. Under this administration, we seem to have lost the simple level of moral clarity that allowed our predecessors to tell right from wrong. It's time to reclaim it.

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THE FUTURE OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY?....Well, that whole Lakers thing didn't quite work out the way I hoped, so let's change the subject.

The Texas Republican party is meeting again this year, which means the Texas GOP platform is once again in the news:

A plank in a section titled "Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety" proclaims the United States a "Christian nation."

....Also new this year is a section declaring that the Ten Commandments "are the basis of our basic freedoms and the cornerstone of our Western legal tradition."

"We therefore oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols."

....As delegates prayed and sang, oversized religious images, including Jesus on the cross, were displayed on the hall's giant video screens. Christian clergymen took turns leading the prayers, some with political overtones.

The problem with stories like this is that they actually make the Texas GOP sound better than it really is. Oh sure, the Bible thumping may be a turnoff, but basically they just sound a little overenthusiastic and maybe a little eccentric.

The thing is, you have to read the whole platform to see how dangerously unhinged these people really are. And while you're reading it you have to remember that they aren't just a harmless fringe group: they control the second biggest state in the nation and have produced the current top leadership of the United States.

So since the 2004 platform isn't available on the Texas GOP site yet they are "closed for several days" in remembrance of Ronald Reagan I'm going to repost some selected readings from the 2000 platform that I originally blogged about last year. Don't worry; I don't think the 2004 platform is much different.


The Texas Republican Party Platform for 2000

Texas GOP Platform

Short Translation

The Party calls for the United States monetary system to be returned to the gold standard. Since the Federal Reserve System is a private corporation, has no reserves, and is not subject to taxation or audit, we call on Congress to abolish this institution and reassume its authority, enumerated by Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, for the coinage of money.

The United States should return to the gold standard and abolish the Federal Reserve.

Congress should be urged to exercise its authority under Article III, Sections 1 and 2 of the United States Constitution, and should withhold appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in such cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and all rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.

The Supreme Court should not be allowed to decide the constitutionality of laws regarding abortion, religion, or anything else related to the Bill of Rights. In these areas, Congress should be allowed to pass any laws it wishes.

Our Party pledges to do everything within its power to restore the original intent of the First Amendment of the United States and the concept of the separation of Church and State and dispel the myth of the separation of Church and State.

We should completely do away with separation of church and state.

The party opposes the decriminalization of sodomy....We publicly rebuke judges Chief Justice Murphy and John Anderson, who ruled that the 100 year-old Texas sodomy law is unconstitutional, and ask that all members of the Republican Party of Texas oppose their re-election.

Gay sex should be a criminal offense.

The Party affirms its support for a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse making clear that the Fourteenth Amendments protection applies to unborn children.

All abortion of all kinds should be permanently outlawed by constitutional amendment.

No homosexual or any individual convicted of child abuse or molestation should have the right to custody or adoption of a minor child, and that visitation with minor children by such persons should be limited to supervised periods.

Gays should be treated like child molesters and should not be allowed to visit children unsupervised.

The Party believes that scientific topics, such as the question of universe and life origins and environmental theories, should not be constrained to one opinion or viewpoint. We support the teaching equally of scientific strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories--as Texas now requires (but has yet to enforce) in public school science course standards. We urge revising all environmental education standards to require this also. We support individual teachers right to teach creation science in Texas public schools.

The Biblical story of creation should be taught in science classes.

The Party supports an orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax.

Social Security should be abolished.

We urge that the IRS be abolished and the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution be repealed. A constitutional tax, collected and controlled by the States, must generate sufficient revenue for the legitimate tasks of the national government.

The federal income tax should be abolished.

The Party believes the minimum wage law should be repealed.

The federal minimum wage should be abolished.

We further support the abolition of federal agencies involved in activities not delegated to the federal government under the original intent of the Constitution including, but not limited to, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the position of Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce and Labor.

The EPA, HUD, HHS, the Department of Education, and several other federal agencies should be eliminated. Since these departments supervise all federal welfare programs for the poor and sick, they are presumably advocating the complete abolishment of the federal welfare state.

The Party believes it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.

Get the United States out of the UN.

The Party urges Congress to support HJR 77, the Panama and America Security Act, which declare the Carter-Torrijos Treaty null and void. We support re-establishing United States control over the Canal in order to retain our military bases in Panama, to preserve our right to transit through the Canal, and to prevent the establishment of Chinese missile bases in Panama.

Take back the Panama Canal.

This plank remains in the 2002 platform. Since Panama presumably would object to this, they appear to be endorsing military action to retake the canal zone.

Any person filing as a Republican candidate for a public or Party office shall be provided a current copy of the Party platform at the time of filing. The candidate shall be asked to read and initial each page of the platform and sign a statement affirming he/she has read the entire platform.

We are dead serious about all this.


These are not the words of sane people. This is not "reform," this is not "common sense," and this is not "restraining government growth." This is plain and simple madness and the people behind it have real influence.

California is probably the most liberal state in the country, so for comparison you can take a look at the California Democratic Party Platform for 2000 to see what the other end of the spectrum looks like. By comparison it's pretty feeble liberal fare: affirmative action, commitment to education, opposition to global warming, etc. etc. You may find many things you disagree with strongly and a few that you think are just goofy, but nothing remotely close to the Texas GOP. Nothing to compare with the obsessive militant lunacy of abolishing Social Security or seizing the Panama Canal.

If this were just a lunatic fringe we could all have a good laugh over their manifesto and then go out for a beer. But you can't dismiss it so easily. Texas-style conservatism has already put George Bush, Tom DeLay, and Karl Rove in charge of the country, and it is very much the future of the Republican party. And for all the conservatives reading this: I know this doesn't necessarily represent what you believe. But whether you like it or not, this kind of thinking does represent a very strong, very fast growing segment of the leadership of your party, and this is why liberals think the Republican party is just plain scary these days. We know that this is their agenda, we know that they really truly want to do this stuff, and we know that they are steadily gaining influence.

And to liberals: this is what we're fighting. Republicans may be smart enough to make soothing noises and put friendly faces like George Bush's in front of their agenda, but behind the facade this is what they want and they won't rest until they get it. It's our job to make sure everyone knows this.

UPDATE: More here.

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE NOT-LONG-ENOUGH ARM OF THE LAW....More scuttlebutt on Chalabi:

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ahmed Chalabi's right-hand man in Baghdad, the American consultant Francis Brooke, who tried to stop the recent raid on the politician's headquarters in the Iraqi capital.

...."He stopped the raid by telling the police they didn't have the legal power to do it because he was an American and they were Iraqis," said Judge Zuhair Al-Maliky, of the central criminal court in Baghdad."

Hmmm, so Chalabi is in Iraq where the Americans can't get to him and Brooke is in America where the Iraqis can't get to him. Thank goodness for cell phones, eh?

Further down the story, we also learn that the Chalabi friend who has been investigating the UN oil-for-food scandal (based, you might recall, on documents Chalabi collected last year from burned out ministry buildings and has not allowed anyone to see since) has suffered a setback:

Last night, it emerged that on the same day as the raid, computer files belonging to the British consultant investigating the oil-for-food scandal were destroyed by hackers and a back-up databank in his Baghdad office wiped out.

Claude Hankes Drielsma, a British businessman and long-time acquaintance of Mr Chalabi, accused America and Britain of mounting a "dirty tricks" campaign to obstruct his inquiry.

Wow. They got both his computer and his backup database! Those are some pretty sharp hackers!

It's been known for years that Saddam Hussein managed to skim off money from the oil-for-food program, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that the corruption also includes the UN and runs deeper than previously imagined. But it certainly is peculiar that it was Chalabi of all people who managed to sweep up all the relevant documents after the war; that he's been unwilling to show them to any outside investigators ever since; and that his own investigation has suddenly been delayed several months. Peculiar indeed.

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AHMED CHALABI: GUILTY, OR REALLY REALLY GUILTY?....Josh Marshall reminds us today that although Reagan and D-Day have pushed everything else to the side, the mystery of Ahmed Chalabi and his continuing support among certain of his neocon friends is still with us:

To try to figure out what might be going on I talked to several folks over the last few days who have a very good view into not only what folks in the intel community make of this stuff but what the prime neo-cons and/or Iraq hawks at DOD think too.

So what did I hear?

From what I can tell, they all think Chalabi is guilty as sin. They may have questions about how Chalabi got the information -- here there is some interagency skirmishing. But none seem to seriously question that he passed it on.

Actually, it's even weirder than that. As near as I can tell, even his last ditch supporters outside DOD seem to have tacitly accepted that Chalabi really is guilty of betraying sensitive U.S. secrets to the Iranians. For example, here is Danielle Pletka writing a couple of days ago in the LA Times about the allegations against Chalabi:

Of all the charges, passing secrets to Iran is the most serious. It is gravest, obviously, for the American who supposedly told Chalabi that we had broken Iranian codes. That person is governed by U.S. laws, and if he exists, he should be prosecuted.

Chalabi, on the other hand, is a foreigner and owes us no fealty (although it is worth noting that he denies the charges). That he has been close to the Iranians has been well known for years; the United States even paid for his offices in Tehran. So there's no great surprise there.

This is genuinely remarkable. Pletka can barely even work up the energy to claim that Chalabi is innocent. Instead she glosses over his treachery against the country that supported his cause for over a decade by blandly reminding us that that Chalabi "is a foreigner and owes us no fealty." In other words, even if he's guilty he barely even did anything wrong. You can almost hear her yawning in the background as she types this.

It's funny, isn't it? Normally I'd expect hawkish neocons to be opposed to people betraying sensitive national secrets to charter members of the Axis of Evil certainly a far worse offense than anything ever committed by Jacques Chirac or Gerhard Schroeder. This time, though, they seem to be remarkably sanguine about it. I wonder why?

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RONALD REAGAN....I voted against Ronald Reagan twice, and while 20 years may have passed since my last vote for a Reagan opponent, that doesn't mean I've forgotten why I cast it. Rose tinted hindsight or not, I didn't like his policies then and I don't like them now.

But there's a time and a place for everything, so I'll stay quiet for now and allow conservatives to have their day. At the same time, though, some of them need to get a grip:

MRC's Brent Baker reports: Virtually all of the broadcast and cable network coverage, in the hours after the late Saturday afternoon EDT announcement of President Ronald Reagan's passing, forwarded praise and admiration. There were, however, several exceptions where journalists incorporated liberal, anti-conservative spin to denounce Reagan's policies.

This is followed by the shocking news that according to the liberal media, anyway some people didn't like Reagan, his tax cuts led to big deficits, and that there were several controversial aspects to his career.

Give it a rest, guys. An obituary should tell the whole story, good and bad, not act as a hagiography. Coverage of Reagan that didn't include anything negative would be a lie, and I hope conservatives can resist the opportunity to use Reagan's death as yet another pretense for manufactured charges of liberal media bias.

And speaking of coverage, the LA Times delivered a 12-page special section devoted to Reagan right to my doorstep this morning. Remarkable. You can read the whole thing here.

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June 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE BELMONT....Still time to get your bets down. I'll take the field against the favorite.

Oh, and Lakers by ten tomorrow.

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R.I.P....Ronald Reagan has died.

UPDATE: For a different perspective on his presidency, try "Reagan's Liberal Legacy," Joshua Green's take on Reagan from the January 2003 issue of the Washington Monthly.

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SOROS AND ANTI-SEMITISM....I don't pay much attention to conservative reaction to fiery liberal speeches anymore. As Avedon Carol put it last week after Al Gore's speech:

The right side of the Blogosphere was pretty much in lock-step with the RNC talking points: He's lost it. He was anti-American and full of rage. He was frothing-at-the-mouth. He was crazy. And (this is getting so original) he has officially lost it. He has careened off the rails. In other words, they had nothing to say.

That's the basic reaction to any liberal who expresses any passion these days, so why bother? It's obviously just manufactured outrage and doesn't really deserve to be taken seriously.

Still, the reaction to George Soros' recent speech stands out for sheer repugnance. Max has the details on how blatantly conservatives twisted Soros' words to pretend he said things he plainly didn't, and Media Matters has the story on Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley's odious bloviating on Sean Hannity's show:

Look, if he wasn't a multi-billionaire, he'd just be another ignored left-wing crank....This is a man who has blamed the Jews for anti-Semitism....This is a man who, when he was plundering the world's currencies, in England in '92, he caused the Southeast Asian financial crisis in '97....He said that he has no moral responsibility for the consequences of his financial actions. He is a self-admitted atheist, he was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust.

Translation: he's a Jew-hating Jew, he's a greedy Jew, he's a conniving and heartless Jew, he's an atheistic Jew, and he's a Jew who must have been (if you get my drift, wink wink) a Nazi collaborator. Anyone who's not a child knows perfectly well what Blankley was saying here.

Conservatives routinely jump on every alleged piece of anti-Semitism out of France as proof of European moral decrepitude, and here at home they can get seriously bent out of shape by nothing more than liberals using Jewish names as examples of neocons (i.e., Kristol, Feith, Perle, Wolfowitz). But Blankley's transparently racist imagery hasn't caused much of a ripple. Eugene Volokh has an extremely mild rebuke, but that's about it. Nada from Instapundit, Sullivan, The Corner, Den Beste, or LGF, despite the fact that anti-Semitism is part of their regular beat.

Maybe they're just waiting until next week. We'll see.

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THE END OF PARANOIA....How bad are things at the CIA? Amy Sullivan channels Jon Stewart to tell us.

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NUCLEAR POWER....Hmmm, a couple of liberal University of California professors with PhDs agree with the Harvard grad that nuclear power is good for us. Mark Kleiman makes the case for the defense here and Brad DeLong agrees with him here.

I'm still on the fence, though. If anyone wants to blog a case for the prosecution, let me know and I'll link to it.

NOTE: Before commenting, at least read Mark's piece, OK? There's not much point arguing if you haven't even read the opening statement.

UPDATE: One more thing. I know this isn't entirely fair, but I'd also like to hear the public relations case for nukes, since it's not enough for nuclear to simply be safe. In addition, you have to convince the public that nukes are safe, which is another thing entirely.

The big problem, I think, is that you can wave your hands all you want and say that Chernobyl doesn't count (the Russians were idiots) and that Three Mile Island was a feature not a bug (containment worked!) and that naval accidents don't count (um, er...) but nobody's buying. There are still an awful lot of accidents and near misses to account for and you have to somehow convince people that there's a genuinely safer, better way to handle nukes than the record indicates. But how?

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BRANDON MAYFIELD....TalkLeft links today to a lengthy New York Times piece about Brandon Mayfield, the Portland lawyer who was arrested because the FBI mistakenly matched his fingerprints with prints found on a blue bag at the scene of the Madrid train bombing last March. The details are pretty chilling:

The F.B.I. officials concluded around March 20 that it was a "100 percent match," to Mr. Mayfield, according to court records and prosecutors in Portland. They informed their Spanish counterparts on April 2 and included Mr. Mayfield's prints in a letter to them.

But after conducting their own tests, Spanish law enforcement officials said they reported back to the F.B.I. in an April 13 memo that the match was "conclusively negative." Yet for for five weeks, F.B.I. officials insisted their analysis was correct.

....Spanish law enforcement officials kept pointing out discrepancies between their analysis and that of the F.B.I., but this did not seem to sink in with the Americans, Mr. Melida [head of the fingerprint unit for the Spanish National Police] said.

....Mr. Melida said an examination of the two prints showed that the arcs on the lower part of the print curved downward in Mr. Mayfield's print but upward in the print from the bag. In addition, the two prints did not have the same number of concentric rings, or crests, he said. "You're trying to match a woman's face to a picture," he said. But you see that woman has a mole, and the face in the picture doesn't. Well, maybe it's covered up with make-up, you say. O.K., but the woman has straight hair and it's curly in the picture. Maybe the woman in the picture had a permanent?"

...."The Spanish officers told them with all the affection in the world that it wasn't him," said a Spanish police official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We never wanted to simply come out and say the F.B.I. made a mistake. We tried to be diplomatic, not to make them look bad, so we just said the case is still open."

On May 6 the FBI arrested Mayfield on a material witness warrant and kept him in jail for two weeks.

There are several cautionary tales in this fiasco, but here are the ones that jump out at me:

  • If you already have a suspect in mind and it turns out his fingerprints match those at a crime scene, the odds that the match is just a coincidence are pretty small. You've probably got the right guy. Conversely, though, if you don't have a suspect in mind and you just go searching through your database for a match, the odds of making a mistake are pretty high.

    Think of it this way. Suppose you're at the library looking for a book and you're pretty sure you've found the right one. You know that it starts with the sentence "I love summer," so you open up the book and, sure enough, that's the opening phrase. Bingo. After all, even if there are several books that start with that sentence, what are the odds that the book you chose would just happen to start that way unless it was the right one?

    Now turn it around. Suppose you don't have a particular book picked out. Instead you go to the library database and just search for all books that begin with "I love summer." And it turns out the library has one. The problem is that if, say, there are five books that start that way, there's only a 20% chance that your library has the correct one. This is pretty much what happened to the FBI in this case.

  • It's awfully easy to convince yourself that a theory is correct even if the evidence isn't very good. Mayfield was a Muslim, he had represented a terrorism defendant in a custody case, etc. Hey, what are the odds? The problem is that these theories can be awfully seductive even when they have lots of holes, as this one did.

  • What if the Spanish hadn't been involved? If it had been up to the FBI, they would have convinced themselves that Mayfield was their man, shipped him off to Gitmo for "interrogation," and the real bombers might have gotten away. It wouldn't be the first time.

  • I don't like material witness warrants. It's not a central part of this case, but the fact is that Mayfield was arrested as a material witness, which allows authorities to keep someone locked up indefinitely without charges. This has been abused before and it's going to be abused again. It's wrong.

Anyway, keep all this in mind the next time you shake your head over the fact that OJ was acquitted. After all, what happened to Mayfield has probably never happened to you or one of your friends before, has it? But if you had been on the receiving end of stuff like this before, where flimsy evidence was built into a capital case based on little more than simply belonging to the wrong ethnic group, you might have been suspicious of the evidence too.

Kevin Drum 2:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLICK THIS....Via Unfogged, Microsoft has been granted a patent on double clicking.

Hard as it is to believe, this is apparently not a joke. For once, I'm the blogging equivalent of speechless.

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June 4, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NUCLEAR ENERGY....Matt Yglesias responds to my energy post from earlier today:

What I have to add here is that I think any serious effort to reduce oil use is going to need to have a nuclear component. The basic fact is that any strategy to burn less gasoline -- electric cars, the "hydrogen economy," more mass transit, some combination of the three -- is going to require the production of more electricity, either in order to directly power vehicles or else to manufacture the alternative fuel. At the same time, using less oil to make gasoline and more oil to make electricity clearly isn't going to achieve anything.

I'm not going to express an opinion about this except to say that I think I've changed my mind on nuclear power about five times so far in my life. But it's a worthwhile subject to bring up for discussion, so discuss away.

Kevin Drum 7:47 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MISCELLANY....Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

A student at the University of Kent who got zapped for plagiarism right before his final exams is suing the university for negligence, on the grounds that hes been cheating in exactly the same way throughout his studies there, and theyve never said anything about it.

My first reaction was Nice try, kid. On second thought, he does have a point....

Kieran Healy:

I dont think he has a point.

I link, you decide.

Elsewhere, Kieran waxes lyrical about the programming language APL. Now that takes me back a ways specifically to my senior year in high school:

COMPUTER CENTER GUY AT LOCAL JC: Can I help you?

ME: Is this the place to get an account to use the computer?

CCGALJC: What [computer] languages do you know?

ME: Um, I know some BASIC. And I'm taking a FORTRAN class.

CCGALJC (sarcastically): Well then, all the kingdoms of heaven are yours, aren't they?

He was a fan of APL, which was also the approved pedagogical language of Golden West College at the time. But he was right: BASIC sucks, whereas APL is truly a mesmerizing language. It's not really all that good a language, or so I'm told by people who know more about these things than I do, but it's certainly more fun than any other language I've had the misfortune to meet.

APL legends abound, and the local legend at Golden West College was of some young prodigy who wrote a 4-line program that could take the derivative of any equation fed into it. I saw the program myself, and sure enough, it was only four lines long. And it worked. I don't know how, and I've always been suspicious that there was a trick involved perhaps buried within the arcane symbols was a call to some other program that was a thousand lines long but everyone swore it was for real. If so, it was an amazing accomplishment.

Sadly, it's been downhill for me and computers ever since....

Kevin Drum 7:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IDAHO TRIVIA....Professor Bainbridge would like to find out the score of a high school football game between Soda Springs (Idaho) and Paris (Idaho) on September 21, 1934. If you can help with this, email him here.

As for why he wants to know, it all has to do with highfalutin academic research involving litigation over agency relationships. Full explanation here.

Kevin Drum 6:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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MORE ON OIL....Here's another followup, this time to my post yesterday morning about OPEC and oil.

I was not making a short term prediction of massive price increases. Right now there's not much spare oil production capacity in the world, but there is some spare capacity, which means prices over the next year could go up or could go down. If nothing goes wrong, prices will probably ease down a bit; if Venezuela descends into civil war we'll be paying $100 a barrel. Who knows?

But in the medium term, things are different. For the past two decades demand for oil has been increasing much more quickly than production capacity, which means that global demand is now very close to the maximum capacity of the world's oil suppliers. Most of the world's spare oil pumping capacity is in OPEC, and their total operational capacity has remained at 30 million barrels/day or less since the early 80s.

As demand has increased, OPEC's spare capacity has gone down from 15 million barrels/day to 5 million barrels/day to today's 2 million barrels/day. This means that even if there aren't any special problems, demand will start to exceed production capacity within a couple of years. And when that happens, prices will go up and stay up. What's more, with virtually no spare capacity around, every little blip in the oil supply will have potentially huge consequences. Stability of supply will become ever more important and American military policy in the Middle East will start to get really nasty.

There are five main ways to improve this grim picture:

  1. Produce more oil (drill wells, build pipelines).

  2. Switch to other, more plentiful hydrocarbons (gas, coal).

  3. Increase use of renewable power sources (wind, solar).

  4. Increase energy efficiency (higher CAFE standards, energy-friendly building codes).

  5. More conservation (less driving, air conditioners set to 80 degrees).

Unfortunately, the first four of these all take time. Russia and Iraq can produce more oil, for example, but it will likely take a minimum of five years to build the required infrastructure and by that time demand will already have outstripped the new supply. Likewise, using more gas requires the construction of massively expensive (and unpopular) LNG ports, while using more coal requires the construction of costly clean coal facilities. Even if money were no object, both of these things take years to build.

After that it gets worse. Wind and solar are great, but their use is limited in a practical sense (it's not always windy and it's not always sunny), limited in a financial sense (both are more costly than conventional power), and limited in a temporal sense (building serious new capacity will take decades). Likewise, there are plenty of ways to increase energy efficiency, but they take time to implement. What's more, no one in our current government or, to be fair, in our previous government or most of the rest of the world's governments gives a rat's ass about either of these alternatives.

Finally, there's conservation. The problem here is that there's good conservation and bad conservation. The good kind is when we all decide to turn our air conditioners down in order to give ourselves time to work on the other four ways of fixing our energy problems. This is not very likely. The bad kind is when supply suddenly fails to meet demand and I say "suddenly" since no one seems to really believe this is going to happen even though the numbers are right in front of our faces and the world goes through another oil shock. Like previous oil shocks, this would cause a global recession that in turn would cause us all to conserve one way or another. It would also cause massive worldwide pain, most of it in poor and developing countries.

If we're lucky, of course, there won't be any serious catastrophes, the market will adjust to tighter supplies with gradually higher prices, demand will slowly decrease in response, and there will be only a little bit of pain. The downside to this semi-cheery scenario is that it will convince everyone that we can continue with business as usual and make no serious efforts to curb oil use. But unlike previous oil shocks, the forthcoming one won't be just the result of an artificial shortage mandated by a cartel, it will be a real shortage caused by the fact that we're finally beginning to bump up against physical and geological limitations. The piper will eventually be paid, and the longer it's put off the worse it's likely to be.

This is a global problem, not just an American problem or a Bush/Cheney problem. Still, some leadership from America could go a long way toward producing a global consensus on a sustainable energy policy, and that leadership would recognize that the only possible answer involves steady progress in all five areas, not just #1.

Liberals can help too. How about a deal that trades ANWR drilling for higher CAFE standards, for example? Sounds horrible, doesn't it? But it might be a politically feasible trade, and in the end the benefit from higher mileage cars probably vastly outweighs the negatives of another pipeline in Alaska. Consider it food for thought.

Kevin Drum 1:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CLANCY ON WOLFOWITZ....From Juan Cole, who was watching Deborah Norville's segment with Anthony Zinni and Tom Clancy last night:

Deborah Norville: What's your impression of Paul Wolfowitz?

Tom Clancy: Is he working for our side?

As they say, ouch.

UPDATE: Here's the transcript:

NORVILLE: And Paul Wolfowitz.

CLANCY: Is he really on our side?

NORVILLE: You genuinely ask that question? Is he on our side?

CLANCY: I sat in on I was in the Pentagon in 01 for a red team operation and he came in and briefed us. And after the brief, I just thought, is he really on our side? Sorry.

Very peculiar. I really don't know what he meant by that and Norville didn't follow up.

Kevin Drum 1:33 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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JUST LIKE NIXON....I'm with Atrios on this: it might not be the most responsible thing to do, but this article in Capitol Hill Blue about the Bush White House is just too much fun not to link to:

It reminds me of the Nixon days, says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House. Everybody is an enemy; everybody is out to get him. Thats the mood over there.

....Aides say the President gets hung up on minor details, micromanaging to the extreme while ignoring the bigger picture. He will spend hours personally reviewing and approving every attack ad against his Democratic opponent and then kiss off a meeting on economic issues.

....The mood here is that were under siege, theres no doubt about it, says one troubled aide who admits he is looking for work elsewhere. In this administration, you dont have to wear a turban or speak Farsi to be an enemy of the United States. All you have to do is disagree with the President.

Why might it not be responsible to link to this? Because we all got burned pretty badly by CHB on a story last year during the Niger/yellowcake scandal.

But heck, everyone deserves a second chance, right? Still, it might be best to think of this as something from the Onion: even if it's not true it might be more true than you think.

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STEM CELLS....Ah, I see that another initiative has qualified for the November ballot in California:

An initiative that would have state taxpayers underwrite $3 billion worth of research into using embryonic stem cells to develop cures for Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases qualified for the Nov. 2 ballot Thursday, propelling California to the forefront of a national battle at the intersection of science and morality.

....The ballot initiative is an implicit referendum on an executive order that President Bush issued in 2001. That action limited the use of federal funds for stem cell research to a small number of cell colonies already extracted from human embryos.

What a shame. I'm all in favor of stem cell research, and I'm all in favor of sticking it to Bush, but I'm not at all sure that I'm in favor of a $3 billion bond issue dedicated to funding one specific area of scientific research.

Still, I guess I could be convinced, and if the opposition from the self-proclaimed morality policy starts to get too annoying I might vote for it just out of pique. After all, that's what makes California-style democracy such an inspiration to us all, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 12:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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RUMSFELD TO CONGRESS: DROP DEAD....Congress wants to investigate a $23 billion sweetheart deal that the Pentagon tried to ram through a couple of years ago to lease aerial refueling tankers from Boeing. To do this, they've requested that the Pentagon turn over documents related to the negotiation of the deal. Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want to play ball:

Rumsfeld told the committee he would let its members see e-mails that were reports of communications with members of Congress or references to them. The members' names and any identifying information on them would be deleted, the letter said.

But senators would not get access to some information that is at the heart of the investigation.

Rumsfeld wrote that e-mails and documents that would not be made available to senators included communications with the White House and the Office of Management and Budget, discussions with Rumsfeld or Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, discussions with Defense Department lawyers and communications that touch on projected budget options.

So he'll let Congress see all the emails that were originally sent to Congress in the first place as well as reports related to them. But not anything else.

In other words, nothing they don't already know. Considering that there's both a serious scandal and a serious question of malfeasance on the part of the Air Force involved in this deal, Congress has every right to want to investigate. A "rare" congressional subpoena might be the next step. Stay tuned.

Kevin Drum 1:39 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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CHALABI AND THE IRANIANS....Last year Josh Marshall noted something interesting about Ahmed Chalabi. Back in 1996, when the CIA was planning a coup attempt against Saddam Hussein, Chalabi warned them off of it because, he said, Saddam already knew about the plot. Josh, however, said that the CIA believed that it was Chalabi himself who spilled the beans about the CIA's operation. Chalabi was upset because he himself wasn't involved in the coup and therefore didn't want it to succeed.

Today, Walter Pincus and Bradley Graham of the Washington Post tell a similar story about an earlier assassination attempt against Saddam:

Officials yesterday recounted an incident in early 1995 when Chalabi's name turned up in an encrypted Iranian cable reporting a purported CIA-backed plan to assassinate Saddam Hussein, then Iraq's president. The message was intercepted by U.S. intelligence and caused a major political stir in Washington.

This is all murky stuff, but if it's true we now have three separate cases of Chalabi leaking ultra-sensitive information to the Iranians. Read the whole Post story for more details.

UPDATE: By the way, the fact that CIA sources seem to be retailing these stories all over Washington suggests that they really are involved in a campaign to discredit Chalabi. That doesn't mean they're wrong, of course, but it does mean that there's a bureaucratic war going on and all charges and countercharges should be treated with an appropriate degree of skepticism.

Kevin Drum 1:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 3, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WHY DID TENET LEAVE?....Was George Tenet fired or did he resign? As this much-quoted excerpt from the New York Times suggests, he resigned:

Mr. Bush announced the resignation of the 51-year-old Mr. Tenet in a way that was almost bizarre. He had just addressed reporters and photographers in a fairly innocuous Rose Garden session with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia. Then the session was adjourned, as Mr. Bush apparently prepared to depart for nearby Andrews Air Force Base and his flight to Europe, where he is to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion and meet European leaders some of whom have been sharply critical of the campaign in Iraq.

But minutes later, Mr. Bush reappeared on the sun-drenched White House lawn, surprising listeners with the news of Mr. Tenet's resignation. After Mr. Tenet leaves, the C.I.A.'s deputy director, John McLaughlin, will be acting director, Mr. Bush said.

If Tenet had been fired, surely the announcement would have been a little bit smoother?

But why did he resign? I suppose the most obvious reason is also the most likely: he got a look at the forthcoming Senate Intelligence Commitee report said to brutal about his management of the CIA and decided to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.

On the other hand, Mark Kleiman has some interesting speculation that points in a different direction:

An even more optimistic possibility from the anti-Bush perspective: Tenet wanted to use the fact that the neocons in OSD and the VP's shop and their buddy Chalabi had managed to blow a major cryptographic secret to persuade the President to carry out a purge of the people who have been giving him such bad advice, and quit when he lost that argument.

Hmmm, maybe. First Plame, then Chalabi maybe Tenet was sick and tired of political appointees treating national secrets like trading cards. I don't know if I believe it, but I'd like to believe it. Even from a completely neutral viewpoint, it would be nice to think that there are still officials willing to resign over a matter of principle like that.

Kevin Drum 6:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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X CHROMOSOME BLOGGING....A couple of followups to yesterday's post about the composition of the blogosphere specifically the observation that most well known political bloggers and a large majority of blog readers are men.

First, Chris Nolan emails to point out that until recently political magazines like, ahem, the Washington Monthly and The New Republic didn't hire or publish many women, and even today women are still in fairly short supply at such places. So male domination of the blogosphere is hardly something to be surprised about. (Concerned, yes, surprised, no.)

Second, one of the 20% of my readers who are women emails to ask, "Are there any women bloggers who focus on politics/public affairs who are worthwhile reading?" Indeed there are! I'm usually reluctant to publish lists of "favorite" blogs, since I almost inevitably leave out someone that I shouldn't, but I suppose that's really a bit of a cowardly attitude, isn't it?

So here's a short list. I'm not claiming these are the best political/public affairs blogs by women around, just that they happen to be ones that I've bookmarked and read frequently:

There are also women who write for group blogs, including Tapped, Crooked Timber, The Corner, The Campaign Desk, and others. And, needless to say, this list is top heavy with liberals since my personal reading is top heavy with liberals. If you're more conservative than me, you might try bugging some friendly right wing blogger to create a more conservative-friendly list.

And finally, at the risk of repeating myself, there's no special reason for endorsing these eleven blogs. They just happen to be the ones that I read on a frequent basis, which means that if you like Political Animal you might like them too. At any rate, you won't know til you try!

Kevin Drum 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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IRAQ'S NEW GOVERNMENT....So what does Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani think of the new interim government in Iraq?

Juan Cole has the translated text of Sistani's statement at his site, and sure enough, it doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. Apparently we're still going to have to move very carefully indeed if we want to keep him more or less on our side.

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OPECed OUT....Pretty much everyone is reporting today's OPEC story the same way, so I'll choose the New York Times version to excerpt:

In an effort to ease crude prices from the $40-a-barrel level, the Organization of Oil Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed today to a compromise agreement that would increase oil output by 2 million barrels a day, to 25.5 million barrels.

....Analysts said the cartel's move would probably have the intended effect and push spot oil prices down a bit from current levels.

I've been mystified by how OPEC's decision has been reported over the past few days. Every story passes along the standard interpretation that OPEC is trying to calm down the markets by increasing its production quotas, thus guaranteeing enough oil for everyone.

But OPEC's quotas are meaningless, as the Times eventually acknowledges:

Participants in the oil market may fear that the production increase announced today will not be sufficient to satisfy current demand, because OPEC members are already producing above their quotas. That means the increase agreed upon today will inject less new production into the market than advertised.

....PetroLogistics Ltd., an energy consulting group, estimated that during May, production from OPEC's 10 members probably averaged 26.35 million barrels, exceeding the cartel's limit by 2.85 million barrels.

But even this doesn't quite tell the story. In fact, there is no spare capacity left and OPEC's production quotas don't mean a thing. Everyone except Saudi Arabia is already pumping flat out, and even Saudi Arabia is close to its limit. They are within 2 million barrels per day of their maximum capacity, and this is pretty much the only spare capacity left in the world.

Bottom line: the entire world is already pumping at close to its maximum capacity. Refining capacity is also nearly maxed out. But global demand keeps going up each year by about 2 million barrels per day. By this time next year worldwide demand will probably be equal to worldwide production.

In the near term, the only thing that can change this is a reduction in demand. But what could cause such a reduction? A global recession would do it. An implosion of the Chinese market would do it. Americans driving less and buying more fuel efficient cars in response to high gasoline prices would do it although that's unlikely since Americans have shown themselves impervious to price increases for the past two decades.

From this point forward, we are likely to live in a world in which oil demand is permanently and precariously close to maximum supply, since it's unlikely that we can increase pumping, pipeline, and refinery capacity faster than the growth in demand. Result: oil prices that are high, unstable, and fantastically sensitive to the slightest disruption in supply. Too bad we didn't start planning for this a decade ago.

UPDATE: The MSNBC chart above had the wrong units for gasoline consumption. It should be millions of barrels per day, not millions of gallons per month. I've photoshopped the correction into the chart. Thanks to reader Buzz P. for pointing it out.

Kevin Drum 12:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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TENET RESIGNS....George Tenet becomes the first to go. I think the final straw was Al Gore calling him a "personal friend" and "a good and decent man."

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DUPING THE UN?....UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi apparently isn't very happy with the interim Iraqi government he was supposedly in charge of choosing:

Asked how big a role the American administration had in forming the government and selecting the prime minister and president, Brahimi reminded reporters that American Ambassador L. Paul Bremer runs things in Iraq.

"Bremer is the dictator of Iraq," he said. "He has the money. He has the signature."

He later added: "I will not say who was my first choice, and who was not my first choice ... I will remind you that the Americans are governing this country."

Sadoun al Dulame, the head of a Baghdad research organization and polling center, said he spoke with Brahimi last week and that the diplomat was discouraged.

"He was very disappointed, very frustrated," al Dulame said. "I asked him why he didn't say that publicly (and) he said, 'I am the U.N. envoy to Iraq, how can I admit to failure?'"

It seems fair to say that in the end, Bush and Bremer managed to use the United Nations as little more than a respectable cover for their own choices. They got exactly the government they wanted but made it look like it was the work of the UN.

If this is what really happened, it's a clever piece of work. I wonder, though, if it will hurt us in the long run. After all, having the UN and through them the rest of the world feeling like they've been duped might cause problems down the road.

Not that Bush is likely to care about something like that. In fact, duping the UN would probably tickle him no end. Maybe that's why he was in such a good mood on Tuesday.

Kevin Drum 12:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 2, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND CHALABI....President Bush, February 7, 2004:

Russert: If the Iraqis choose, however, an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that, and would that be better for the United States than Saddam Hussein?

President Bush: They're not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with Mr. Pachachi and Chalabi and al-Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion.

President Bush, June 1, 2004:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Chalabi is an Iraqi leader that's fallen out of favor within your administration. I'm wondering if you feel that he provided any false information, or are you particularly --

THE PRESIDENT: Chalabi?

Q Yes, with Chalabi.

THE PRESIDENT: My meetings with him were very brief. I mean, I think I met with him at the State of the Union and just kind of working through the rope line, and he might have come with a group of leaders. But I haven't had any extensive conversations with him.

Chalabi? Who? Oh, right, Ahmed Chalabi. Sorry, barely know the guy. I think he's a friend of Laura's or something.

(Thanks to reader Robert E for this amusing catch.)

UPDATE: Via commenter Anthony, more about the Chalabi raid a couple of weeks ago:

One Bush administration official said that in addition to harboring suspicions that Chalabi had been leaking sensitive U.S. information to Iran both before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, some U.S. officials also believe that Chalabi had collected and maintained files of potentially damaging information on U.S. officials with whom he had or was going to interact for the purpose of influencing them. Some officials said that when Iraqi authorities raided Chalabis offices, one of the things American officials hoped they would look for was Chalabis cache of information he had gathered on Americans.

Jeez, and just a couple of hours ago I was complaining it was a slow news day!

Kevin Drum 10:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PLAME UPDATE....From CBS News:

President Bush has consulted an outside lawyer in case he needs to retain him in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative last year, the White House said Wednesday.

There was no indication that Bush is a target of the leak investigation, but the president has decided that in the event he needs an attorney's advice, "he would retain him," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

The lawyer is Jim Sharp, Buchan said, confirming a report by CBS Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

....She deflected questions about whether Bush had been asked to appear before a grand jury in the case.

Hmmm.....

Kevin Drum 9:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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THE BLOGOSPHERE....I was on a blogging panel over the weekend, and in response to a remark about how the forthcoming tidal wave of blogdom would soon sweep all before it, I pointed out that one should take the political blogosphere with a grain of salt since it's very unrepresentative of the population at large. The blogosphere may be loud, but it's hard to say for sure if its collective opinion really represents anything larger than itself.

Actually, to be more accurate, I should say that I was going to point that out, but for some reason I didn't. I'm not quite sure why, but I think we all got distracted by Charles Johnson providing a lengthy tutorial about how the mainstream media is too friendly to the Palestinian cause or something.

But why waste a perfectly good point? So here are six ways in which the political blogosphere is very, very different from the real world in which we live:

  1. Less than 10% of political bloggers are women. This compares to about 50% in the real world.

  2. Approximately 20% of blog readers are women. Once again, this compares to about 50% in the real world.

  3. If Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan are typical and I suspect they aren't too far off the mark the blogosphere is incredibly elite. About 90% of blog readers have college degrees and an astonishing 50% have advanced degrees. Among top bloggers, my personal count indicates that the top six have advanced degrees (Instapundit, Marshall, Kos, Atrios, Sullivan, Volokh) and nearly all of the top 30-40 have at least an undergraduate degree.

  4. 11% of blog readers are libertarian. What's more, nearly all major "conservative" blogs are more accurately described as libertarian than truly conservative. This probably has something to do with the blogosphere's roots in the heavily libertarian tech world read Paulina Borsook's Cyberselfish if you're interested in learning more about the history of high-tech libertarianism but in any case it means that true conservatism is heavily underrepresented in the blogosphere.

  5. However, using the blog version of conservative as our guide, conservatives are still heavily overrepresented in the blogosphere despite the hype that liberal blogs have received lately. It's true that there are four liberal blogs among the top ten (Atrios, Kos, Marshall, and PA), but if you take a look at the next 20 it's about 80% conservative.

  6. And now for the truly shocking news: California dominates the top of the political blogosphere. Among the top dozen bloggers, half are Californians (Kos, Volokh, LGF, Kaus, Den Beste, and PA). And of those, five are from Southern California.

I have no special analysis of all this information, and further interesting data points about the blogosphere are hereby solicited in comments. Have at it.

NOTE: "PA" = Political Animal. You know, the blog you're reading right now.

Kevin Drum 9:13 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS....It's been kind of a slow blogging day. I couldn't get inspired by much of anything in the news, couldn't get inspired by much of anything in other blogs, and the weather today was really nice too.

That happens every once in a while, and when it does I wonder why I can't get inspired. Is it just me, I asked myself today?

But then I surfed over to The Corner and saw that by far the biggest topic of the day there was William Safire's column about abolishing the penny. 15 posts so far!

So no, it's not just me. It really is a slow day.

POSTSCRIPT: The Corner conversation has morphed into a discussion of the decimalization of the British currency a few decades ago, which the Cornerites agree was A Very Bad Thing Indeed for conservative-kind. However, to answer Peter Robinson's question, a decimalization committee was first formed in 1961 under a Conservative government, it reported back in 1968 under a Labor government, and decimal coins became a reality in 1971 under a Conservative government, so apparently it was a pretty bipartisan affair. Isn't Google a wonderful thing?

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By: Kevin Drum

STEM CELLS....Stem cell research, an area of tremendous promise in fighting Alzheimer's and other diseases, was gutted three years ago when George Bush cut off federal funding for all but a small handful of existing stem cell lines. The result? American research has stagnated while foreigners are forging ahead. As TNR's Michael Crowley reports, even Republicans are not amused:

As rivals abroad make advances, frustrated U.S. researchers are pressing Congress hard. An aide to [Texas Senator Kay Bailey] Hutchison, for instance, says the Texas senator was swayed by entreaties from researchers at places like Houston's Baylor College of Medicine--"a major part of the local economic engine," as an aide puts it. (Social conservatives, in turn, imply that members are being bought off by greedy private companies: "The biotech industry is money-hungry enough to do anything they can to get members of Congress to sign onto these letters," says Connie Mackey, legislative director of the Family Research Council.)

Bush's reasoning for his decision, taken from the pages of his religious right supporters, was that an embryo smaller than the head of a pin is equivalent to a human life and therefore off limits to research. It's hardly a tenable position, though. After all, the idea that a few strands of DNA surrounded by a bit of protective packaging is equivalent to a human life is actually profoundly degrading to the idea of humanity. It's the most reductionist, materialistic view possible of what it means to be human.

But I suppose Bush doesn't care much about that. What he does care about, though, is that the pharmaceutical industry is not very happy about his decision, people with ill relatives like Nancy Reagan are not very happy about it, polls in battleground states show that voters are not very happy about it, and quite a few prominent Republicans aren't very happy about it. Perhaps they should all read this speech.

Kevin Drum 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

REALTORS IN REVOLT....Has George Bush lost the influential real estate agent vote? Tim Dunlop discusses.

UPDATE: The mayor of Crawford continues his contrarian ways too....

Kevin Drum 1:07 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT....I've gotten quite a few emails, prompted by this article in the Guardian, which in turn seems to have been prompted by this post at Congress.org, suggesting that the Bush administration is planning to bring back the draft in 2005. Twin bills, S. 89 and HR 163, have been introduced that would reinstate the draft for "all young persons [age 18--26] in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes."

The issue of military manpower is surely a worthy one, but in order to forestall further panic (and further emails) I'd like to point out to everyone that these bills were introduced by a pair of Democrats, Senator Fritz Hollings and Congressman Charlie Rangel. They are, as far as I know, primarily meant as PR ploys, either as ways to whip up anti-war sentiment or as ways to embarrass Republicans by forcing them to vote against the draft. Both bills are currently bottled up in committee and will likely stay there forever.

At any rate, it's certainly wrong to suggest that "the Bush administration" is trying to bring back the draft. Just thought I'd let everyone know.

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

HOOP DREAMS....Note to Detroit residents: Welcome to your nightmare.

Kevin Drum 12:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OK, OK, ABOLISH THE PENNY ALREADY....I would very much like the government to abolish the penny. Why? Because then I would never again have to read a columnist boldly suggesting for the millionth time that we should abolish the penny.

(And the worst part even worse than the fact that this is being done on the most valuable op-ed real estate on the planet is that Safire says he wrote today's column to "re-establish my contrarian credentials." Does he truly think he's the first person to ever suggest this?)

Kevin Drum 12:21 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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June 1, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

CHALABI UPDATE....So what did Ahmed Chalabi do that finally convinced his hawkish friends in the Pentagon to wash their hands of him? The Bush administration, which had asked news organizations not to publish the details of Chalabi's betrayal, withdrew its request today and the New York Times has the full story:

American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of "them" a reference to an American had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American had been drunk.

....It could not be learned exactly how the United States broke the code. But intelligence sources said that in the past, the United States has broken into the embassies of foreign governments, including those of Iran, to steal information, including codes.

So apparently Michael Ledeen had the story right the Iranian intelligence guy really did stupidly inform Tehran of the broken code using the broken code itself and the explanation apparently is that the Iranian thought Chalabi was a blowhard and didn't believe what he said. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty credible story.

The FBI investigation of this ought to be interesting. Unlike, say, Valerie Plame, the number of people who knew about the Iranian code and had contact with Chalabi has to be fairly small. There's a real chance they could catch someone.

Kevin Drum 11:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OIL POLITICS....Here are the answers to the two questions I posed about Iraqi oil over the weekend:

  1. Who do you think legally owns Iraq's oil presently, and who do you think gets the largest share of revenues from selling Iraqi crude oil to the world's refiners since the invasion?

    Answer: The practical answer is that in May 2003 the UN terminated the oil-for-food program and decided that Iraqi oil sales would be made "consistent with prevailing international market best practices." Proceeds would go into the Development Fund for Iraq, to be controlled by the occupying authorities. (In practice, Iraq's state oil marketing company overseen by U.S. administrators became the controlling authority for oil sales.) The resolution also stated that all oil sales would be immune from legal proceedings through 2007. Bottom line: the CPA controls oil exports and the UN has granted legal immunity from title challenges to the oil they sell. That was close enough to "legal ownership" for ChevronTexaco, and within a month of the passage of the resolution (and the parallel Executive Order 13303 from the United States) they loaded up and exported the first postwar tankerful of Iraqi oil.

    As for who's getting the lion's share of the revenue, it's impossible to say. The CPA keeps a very tight lid on their books, and I'm not sure anyone outside the government truly knows for sure where the oil revenue goes or what it's spent on. However, it is spent on reconstruction, and since the reconstruction contracts are mostly in the hands of large Anglo-American companies, and these companies appear to employ very few Iraqis, it's a pretty good guess that the bulk of the money is going to....Anglo-American companies and the citizens of their respective countries.

  2. Who do you think should legally own, control and benefit from the sale of the Iraqi crude oil after Iraq is stabilized and Iraqi debts are restructured?

    Answer: This is a matter of opinion, of course, but one voice to pay attention to might be Ali Allawi, who last year was the trade minister for Iraq. Here's what he said after "sweeping economic reforms" were announced last year:

    The announcement included new opportunities for foreign investors, allowing them to own 100% of Iraqi enterprises. But natural resources, including oil Iraq's most valuable asset was excluded.

    ....He said that foreign ownership of some Iraqi oil assets is a possibility. But the foreign involvement could also be through technical co-operation or through sharing the revenue of oil remaining under Iraqi ownership.

    In other words, the state owns the oil but might allow "some" foreign ownership of assets. Allawi isn't part of the recently announced interim government, but his cousin Iyad Allawi is now the interim prime minister, so Ali's views might still be considered to carry some weight.

That's it. Further clarifications welcome if anyone has some better answers.

Kevin Drum 11:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ENRON AND CALIFORNIA....CBS News has obtained tapes of Enron traders gloating about how successfully they've gamed the California energy market in 2000:

"He just f---s California," says one Enron employee. "He steals money from California to the tune of about a million."

"Will you rephrase that?" asks a second employee.

"OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day," replies the first.

There's lots more like it. Just click the link to read the whole story.

By the way, did you know that beginning in 1977 California began a comprehensive campaign to improve energy efficiency using a combination of regulation and free market mechanisms? And that per capita energy growth was flat by the mid-1990s? And that California was one of the lowest per-capita energy consumers in the nation when the 2000 crisis hit?

Just thought you'd all like to know.

Kevin Drum 10:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

OFFICIAL WM MOVIE REVIEW....As part of my, um, research duties for the Washington Monthly I went to see The Day After Tomorrow this afternoon, and I have to say that it's probably the best movie Roland Emmerich has ever made. Thomas Hibbs at NRO doesn't agree:

It is infected by simpleminded Hollywood dualisms: scientists and homeless guys good, Republican politicians bad.

Now why does he think all the politicians in the film are Republicans? It's true that they are uniformly unctious, supercilious, oblivious, and hardhearted, but why does that make him think they're Republicans?

But where Hibbs really screws up is his assertion that the movie "pales by comparison to Emmerich's 1996 summer hit, Independence Day." Puh-leeze. I mean, Day After Tomorrow may have had a dumb plot, but at least it had a plot. And it didn't rely on aliens having adopted ISO standards for computer transmissions.

Hibbs is also annoyed that the movie had a happy ending. Jeez, what did he want? By the looks of things, a couple of billion people died, but at least the hero's son, the homeless guy's dog, and New York's Gutenberg Bible survived. I don't know that I'd really call that happy, but I guess a conservative might. Funny people, conservatives.

Kevin Drum 8:11 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

TAX CUTS vs. SPENDING CUTS....Responding to an LA Times story about internal Republican battles between the tax cutters and the deficit cutters, Jonah Goldberg wonders why we can't have both?

While I think the logic of "pay-as-you-go" is deeply flawed and I do not embrace it, what's wrong with cutting a deal that "pays" for tax cuts with more spending cuts? I say "more spending cuts" as if there have been any spending cuts. And there haven't been. I can think of several cabinet agenices I would heave over the side in order to "pay" for tax cuts. If the only politically feasible way to get tax cuts is to agree to spending cuts, I say "Wahoo!"

Why have a silly battle to define the "heart and soul" of the GOP as either tax cuts or spending cuts? Why not define it as both tax cuts and spending cuts? You need both to be the party of limited govenment, don't you?

"Wahoo!" is my reaction too, but for slightly different reasons than Jonah. You see, Jonah writes about swinging cuts in federal programs as if this would be a popular move, and in this I don't know if he's merely mistaken or being disingenuous or what. But there's not much question that he's wrong.

In the past there has always been a natural feedback loop that kept conservatives and liberals in check. Conservatives, by supporting tax cuts and prudent fiscal policies, earned the support of millionaires and big business. Liberals, by supporting broad growth of popular federal programs, earned the support of the poor and middle class. Neither side had a permanent advantage.

But a few years ago the Republican leadership had the bright idea that they could forge a permanent Republican majority by coopting both of these constituencies. If you support tax cuts and big government, there's no one left to vote against you. Everyone's happy.

Which is why this battle is happening. Jonah may like the idea of heaving a few cabinet agencies over the side, but people like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay know perfectly well that this would be electoral suicide. Even aside from the fact that most of Jonah's target agencies are quite popular with some key constituencies, everyone who looks seriously at federal spending for more than a few minutes knows perfectly well that the vast majority of spending goes to four things: Social Security, Medicare, national defense, and interest payments. Unless you propose large cuts in those programs, you just aren't serious about "small government."

And of course no one will ever propose serious cuts in those programs. Interest payments are untouchable for obvious reasons, and the other three are all highly successful and highly popular programs. Not only won't they be cut, but demographic and other pressures ensure that all of them will grow considerably over the next couple of decades and everyone knows it.

It's this that makes modern Republican fiscal policy so deeply cynical and abhorrent. The leadership of the pary knows perfectly well that spending won't be cut because they'd be kicked out of office instantly if they tried it. At the same time, they also know that their tax cuts will produce extremely damaging long term deficits. But they don't care because the damage won't become apparent until they leave office.

Off the top of my head I can't think of another period in which a political party deliberately enacted policies they knew to be so damaging over the long term. Mistaken policies, sure, but not deliberate ones. But that's what the Newt Gingrich revolution did to the Republican party. The only question left is just how bad things will get before America sees through the sham and decides to put the adults back in charge.

UPDATE: I've already mentioned this in comments, but it's worth noting that my vague phrasing about the "Newt Gingrich revolution" was rather poorly put. What I should have said, but didn't, was that the Bush/Rove/DeLay reaction to the failure of Newt's budget cutting proposals in the mid-90s has defined today's Republican party.

Jacob Levy is exactly right in pointing that out in more detail here. As he says, the party decided to "never get Gingriched again," and the result was a commitment to support both people-pleasing tax cuts and people-pleasing expansions of federal programs. And while I agree with Jacob that Newt's failure doesn't "logically culminate in the 2004 Republican Party" the party leaders could have chosen a more responsible path, after all in the end they chose what they chose. Much to their eternal shame, I might add.

Kevin Drum 1:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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By: Kevin Drum

ABUSE AT ABU GHRAIB....David Adesnik points out something I missed reading through today's Washington Post analysis of the abuse at Abu Ghraib: it started almost immediately after the 372nd Military Police Company arrived there. Here are the key dates:

The abuse first occurred shortly after the 372nd arrived at Abu Ghraib on Oct. 15, taking control of Tier 1A, which held prisoners wanted for questioning by military intelligence.

....In the photographs obtained by The Post, the earliest abuse appears in those dated Oct. 17 and Oct. 18. One shows a hooded Iraqi handcuffed to the bars of his cell; another shows a handcuffed naked man with women's underwear covering his head.

That's only two days. There's plainly no way that a bunch of MPs from Maryland decided to start abusing prisoners in bizarre ways within two days of arriving, which means (a) they got instructions from someone else, and (b) it had been going on for some time before they got there.

The evidence is already pretty overwhelming that this abuse was not limited to a few "bad apples" in the 372nd, and this is yet another piece of evidence. So whose idea was this? And how high did it go?

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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