Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's July 31, do you know where your bridge to Rivera is?

Hey, sports fans...I know that the eyes of most of my (two) readers glaze over when the subject is baseball, but we'll be following the trade rumors all afternoon so you don't have to.

I guess with Teixeira gone, Wilson Betemit will platoon at first against lefties, and he provides some leverage when A-Rod opts out at the end of the season.

No word yet on Gagne, the Astros seem to be asking too much for Lidge, and the Yankees haven't found a new home for Farnsworth, this year's candidate for class act of the year.

1:26 PM

UPDATE: I haven't seen it confirmed, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Gagne has agreed to go to Boston to join Okajima and Papelbon. That would sure shorten games the Red Sox are leading after six innings.

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Oh, THAT alternative universe

In a typical, as Roy puts it, "glibertarian" post about what we dirty fucking hippies should call ourselves (progressives, donchaknow, are really closet eugenicists), comes this strange passage, apropos of nothing else:

Incidentally, those good goverment reforms (combined with the legal culture changes in the 1970s), are the reason that it takes about seventy years to get anything done at any level of government. My father likes to point out that had George Bush come into office saying "Shoring up the levees in New Orleans is my #1 priority" and proceeded to act on that, by the time Katrina hit the Army Corps of Engineers would probably have just about finished the Environmental Impact Analysis on the preliminary bids.


Ah, right. Just as "progressives" are stirring up memories of eugenics-past by now trying to destroy the human race by insisting on the science of global warming (Are you following me? I'm not.) , environmentalists can also be blamed for Katrina.

Or they could, if George Bush had tried to fix the levees.

I believe, in reality, that preznit had come into office saying he would restore honor and dignity to the White House. Other than the new rug, how's that working out?

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Walsh and Bergman

While Tom Snyder's death brought back memories of late-night TV in the late 70s, I am remiss in not noting the passing of Bill Walsh and Ingmar Bergman, who, respectively, changed for the better the way football was played and film was appreciated.

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So long, Ted

It's getting warm in Alaska.

Agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R) yesterday as part of a broad federal investigation of political corruption in the state that has also swept up his son and one of his closest financial backers, officials said.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, is under scrutiny from the Justice Department for his ties to an Alaska energy services company, Veco, whose chief executive pleaded guilty in early May to a bribery scheme involving state lawmakers.

Contractors have told a federal grand jury that in 2000, Veco executives oversaw a lavish remodeling of Stevens's house in Girdwood, an exclusive ski resort area 40 miles from Anchorage, according to statements by the contractors.

Stevens said in a statement that his attorneys were advised of the impending search yesterday morning. He said he would not comment on details of the inquiry to avoid "any appearance that I have attempted to influence its outcome."

Stevens, 83, who joined the Senate in 1968, has been considered one of the most powerful members of Congress for more than a decade, including six years in which he held wide sway over nearly $1 trillion in federal spending as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is now the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, which has oversight of fisheries and other industries critical to his home state.

"I urge Alaskans not to form conclusions based upon incomplete and sometimes incorrect reports in the media," Stevens said. "The legal process should be allowed to proceed so that all the facts can be established and the truth determined." Brendan Sullivan, a prominent white-collar defense attorney representing Stevens, declined to comment.

It would be a terrible loss should the Senate lose one of it's most distinguished members.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

I am but a poor English major

In which I am totally exposed.

Elsewhere in wingnuttia, the big story is that there’s this soldier Scott Thomas Beauchamp (STB) and we all totally, totally hate him. Ace of Spades is obsessed. Lots of other lame bloggers - and the inevitable Howie Kurtz - are on the case. Shmibertarians and others join in, with Jeff Goldstein gettin’ all academic ‘n’ shit with his theory that ‘STB’ might not be STB but only a guy calling himself ‘STB’ who’s punk’n you, and we can’t be for sure about it until we cut open his brain. And I once again wonder what it is about English majors that makes them want to do their wanking in public.

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Insider trading

There's lots to excerpt from the excellent 1999 James Fallows essay (it's dated 2002, but was originally published in 1999, when the impeachment craziness was still in full flower) that Matt and Ezra have been playing volleyball with today, but this passage is particularly on point.

Internally driven stories. Institutions fall apart when they start doing what's convenient for internal reasons, rather than addressing the outside world--the customer who has to be wooed, the enemy who needs to be fought, the mystery that has to be solved.

Monica was an "internal" story from the start. It was interesting to people in Washington because it was about people in Washington. The sense of zip in the whole city picked up--as you drove through town, you saw crowds of cameramen outside the grand jury site; pundits, lawyers, and politicians scooted from studio to studio to give their latest views. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to the O. J. and Diana stories, Monica was not doing much for newsstand sales or viewership. When the Starr Report was finally released, cigar and all, it sold strongly; and niche cable outlets could attract larger-than-normal audiences by concentrating on Monica news. But most weeks the story did not do well for newsmagazines or network news--and yet the media kept dishing it out.

Journalists are not, of course, just shopkeepers meeting market demand. The highest achievement of the trade is to make people care about and understand events or subjects they had not previously been interested in. This requires journalists to be internally guided to a large degree--but not just by parochial, insider obsessions. Sally Quinn's notorious "This Town" article, published in the Washington Post the day before the 1998 election, attracted immediate attention because it was smoking-gun proof of how parochial the obsessions could be. [4]People who had spent their careers in Washington--and referred to it as "this town," as Quinn pointed out--were mad at Clinton for (as they imagined it) making their culture look bad, and they took it out on him with their reports. An internal compass is one thing; a Marie Antoinette–like assumption that the masses are wrong is something else.

As Fallows points out, when anything Lewinsky related showed up on the newsstands, circulation declined. People outside of the immediate pool of pols and the Washington press corps were not only driven mad with the frenzy of the story, they were driven mad by the general public's refusal to care about the president's indiscretions. "Where's the outrage?!" was the mantra, you may recall.

We're seeing the same thing on a smaller bore with the primaries campaign. We are months from the first votes being cast, so you would think that the "journalists" covering the campaign or the pundits paid to discuss "policy" would have more to write about than Hillary's "revealing" outfits or whether Obama's answer "sounded presidential." Perhaps some context on the issues around Obama's answer might be something worth covering. And what was Ms. Clinton talking about when she was wantonly showing so much...breastiness? Who knows? Who cares? For the press covering the election, it's not about what separates the candidates substantively; it's about how the candidates differ in style. Not what they say, it's how they say it. In other words, which candidate best matches the portrait of the Washington press corp of what a president should look like. In other, other words, which candidate is going to fit in the best in "this town."

Truth is, they aren't really interested in what the candidates are saying because, as Washington insiders, they know it's all a show put on to impress the rubes and the hoopleheads who aren't savvy enough to know that this is all just an enjoyable day at the races.

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Round up of Armageddon news

Robin Wright in the Post on Saturday.

The Bush administration will announce next week a series of arms deals worth at least $20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other oil-rich Persian Gulf states as well as new 10-year military aid packages to Israel and Egypt, a move to shore up allies in the Middle East and counter Iran's rising influence, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The arms deals, which include the sales of a variety of sophisticated weaponry, would be the largest negotiated by this administration. The military assistance agreements would provide $30 billion in new U.S. aid to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt over 10 years, the officials said. Both figures represent significant increases in military support.

U.S. officials said the arms sales to Saudi Arabia are expected to include air-to-air missiles as well as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn standard bombs into "smart" precision-guided bombs. Most, but not all, of the arms sales to the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman -- will be defensive, the officials said.

U.S. officials said the common goal of the military aid packages and arms sales is to strengthen pro-Western countries against Iran at a time when the hard-line regime seeks to extend its power in the region.

"This is a big development, because it's part of a larger regional strategy and the maintenance of a strong U.S. presence in the region. We're paying attention to the needs of our allies and what everyone in the region believes is a flexing of muscles by a more aggressive Iran. One way to deal with that is to make our allies and friends strong," said a senior administration official involved in the negotiations.

The arms deals have quietly been under discussion for months despite U.S. disappointment over Saudi Arabia's failure to support the Iraqi government and to bring that country's Sunni Muslims into the reconciliation process.

Good, good. Let's provide additional arms to the country supplying most of the foreign fighters in Iraq. The Bush administration's brilliance has never been brighter.

Robin Wright today.

After three decades of festering tensions, the United States and Iran are now facing off in a full-fledged cold war.

When the first Cold War began, in 1946, Winston Churchill famously spoke of an Iron Curtain that had divided Europe. As Cold War II begins half a century later, the Bush administration is trying to drape a kind of Green Curtain dividing the Middle East between Iran's friends and foes. The new showdown may well prove to be the most enduring legacy of the Iraq conflict. The outcome will certainly shape the future of the Middle East -- not least because the administration's strategy seems so unlikely to work.

The new Cold War will take center stage this week, as President Bush dispatches Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to the Middle East for a last-ditch appeal to recalcitrant U.S. allies on Iraq. Their pitch to Sunni Arab regimes spooked by the bloc of countries and movements led by Shiite Persian Iran will be simple: Support Iraq as a buffer against Iran or face living under Tehran's growing shadow.

Although the United States and Iran have been adversaries since the 1979 Iranian revolution replaced a monarchy with a rigid theocracy, Washington has felt compelled to isolate Iran more aggressively over the past 18 months, as the Middle East's strategic balance has begun to tilt in Tehran's favor. In the Palestinian territories, the Iranian-backed radicals of Hamas won the most democratic election ever held in the Arab world in January 2006, then militarily routed their secular, U.S.-backed rivals in Fatah to seize control of the Gaza Strip. In Lebanon last summer, the extremist Shiite militia Hezbollah used Iranian weaponry to engage Israel in the longest war since the Jewish state's creation -- and fought to a draw, despite Israel's vastly superior U.S. weaponry. In Syria, Iran's closest ally lets foreign jihadists cross into neighboring Iraq, funnels Iranian arms to Hezbollah and supports radical Palestinian groups opposed to peace -- undermining Washington's top strategic goals in the region. And in Iraq, Shiite militias armed and trained by Iran have made Baghdad's streets and the fortified Green Zone unsafe, even for the U.S. military.

"The difference now is that Iran is feeling its oats because of the increase in oil prices, Iraq's weakness since the fall of Saddam, and the successes of Hezbollah and Hamas," noted Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who ran the State Department's policy planning shop during Bush's first term. "In contrast, the U.S. is feeling stretched by the very same high oil prices and its difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The roots of Cold War II lie in the Bush administration's decision to remove regimes it considered enemies after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first two targets were the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- coincidentally, both foes of Iran that had served as important checks on Tehran's power. The United States has now taken on the role traditionally played by Iraq as the regional counterweight to Iran.

So, we are sending a huge package of arms to the gulf states in order to counterbalance the new found power of an Iranian state. That Iranian state's new found power is a result of high oil prices, our knocking off of Iran's main rival, and Iran's ability to move into the vacuum created by our knocking off of their main rival. And what exactly is Iran's great threat to us? They can launch attacks on our troops stuck in the Iraqi quagmire.

This is a case for serious men from Brookings.

Meanwhile, Maliki is screaming for Petraeus' head because the general is teaming up with Maliki's enemies.

BAGHDAD -- A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relations with Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington to withdraw the overall U.S. commander from his Baghdad post.

Iraq's foreign minister calls the relationship "difficult." Petraeus, who says their ties are "very good," acknowledges expressing his "full range of emotions" at times with al-Maliki. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets with both at least weekly, concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."

It seems less a clash of personality than of policy. The Shiite Muslim prime minister has reacted most sharply to the American general's tactic of enlisting Sunni militants, presumably including past killers of Iraqi Shiites, as allies in the fight against al-Qaida here.

An associate said al-Maliki once, in discussion with President Bush, even threatened to counter this by arming Shiite militias.

History shows that the strain of war often turns allies into uneasy partners. The reality of how these allies get along may lie somewhere between the worst and best reports about the relationship, one central to the future of Iraq and perhaps to the larger Middle East.

All going according to plan.

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Tom Snyder

Dead at 71.

The Tomorrow Show.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Talk show host Tom Snyder, whose smoke-filled interviews were a staple of late night television, has died after a struggle with leukemia. He was 71.

Snyder died Sunday in San Francisco from complications associated with leukemia, his longtime producer and friend Mike Horowicz told The Associated Press on Monday.

Known for his improvised, casual style and robust laughter, Snyder conducted a number of memorable interviews as host of NBC's ''The Tomorrow Show.'' Among his guests were John Lennon, Charles Manson and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.

It is simply impossible to conceive of such a discussion taking place on network television today.

The waning days of empire

Police state antics are breaking out all over the place.

Via Digby, in West Asheville, NC.

And in Downers Grove, IL.

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Glenn Beck's moral equivalence

This man does not work on Fox News.

"Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government." He continued: "You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming." Beck added: "Then you get the scientists -- eugenics. You get the scientists -- global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists who say, 'That's not right.' And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did."

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Blue Monday, Death Letter edition

The White Stripes cover a Son House classic as only they (and, yes, Led Zeppelin) can.

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Today's Krugmaniad (Time$elect):

An Immoral Philosophy

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room” — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans — including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans — support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Very stupid men and the men who worship tthem

I have said it time and again, the Republican nominee hopefuls represent (with the exception of Ron Paul) a third term for the current WH resident's foreign policy.

DIVIDE AND CONQUER....In a review/essay critiquing both the phraseology and the underlying reality of the "war on terror," Samantha Powers notes the following from Ian Shapiro's new book, Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror:

Shapiro is at his most persuasive when he argues against lumping Islamic radical threats together. He points out that at the time of the cold war, George Kennan, the formulator of the containment policy, warned against treating Communism as a monolith. Policy makers, Kennan said, ought to emphasize the differences among and within Communist groups and "contribute to the widening of these rifts without assuming responsibility." The Bush administration, by contrast, has grouped together a hugely diverse band of violent actors as terrorists, failing to employ divide-and-conquer tactics.

Although it is tempting to feel overwhelmed by the diversity of the threats aligned against the United States, Shapiro says that very diversity presents us with opportunities, since it "creates tensions among our adversaries' agendas, as well as openings for competition among them." To pry apart violent Islamic radicals, the United States has to become knowledgeable about internal cleavages and be patient in exploiting them.

This is the serious side of dumb gaffes from people like Rudy Giuliani, who seem unable to distinguish between even simple divisions like Sunni and Shia. They're not just demonstrating a willfull ignorance, they're demonstrating an ignorance of one of the key levers we have for fighting violent jihadism. If you treat everyone who's ever said a salaat as an enemy, you've lost the battle before it's even started.

Exactly so, and when you think about whom Giuliani recommended for Homeland Uber Alles director and whom he counts on for foreign policy advice, you can see how seriously he takes "the "existential threat" of our times.


By far the most compelling confirmation of the phallic meaning of the president's aircraft-carrier cakewalk was found on the hot-selling "George W. Bush Top Gun action figure" manufactured by Talking Presidents. I originally ordered one to use as part of the cover design for this book. The studly twelve-inch flyboy not only comes with a helmet and visor, goggles and oxygen mask, but underneath his flight suit is a full "basket" --- a genuine fake penis, apparently constructed with lifelike silicone.


Crisis in Europe

Watching the Tour this month, and especially the race's entry into Paris this morning, it's evident that Europe is in crisis.

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The British pulling out of Basra

The dilemma.

“Some people are asking, ‘Are we any longer part of the solution, or part of the problem?’ ” said Capt. Toby Skinner, 26, of the Fourth Battalion, the Rifles Regiment, in Basra. “An Iraqi told me: ‘You stay here for three years you will be our friend. You stay for four years, you will be our enemy.’ ”

Riyadh, a 22-year-old Iraqi and Basra native who is an interpreter for the British, expressed little confidence that the Iraqi Army was ready to take over from his paymasters, and none at all in the Iraqi police.

“Right now the militias are busy concentrating on getting the British Army out of Iraq,” he said. “After that is done they will turn on the people and try to control them in a very difficult way.”

“They will kill people who don’t do what they want,” he added. “There will be no punishment by courts; they kill people on the streets.”

But he acknowledged that if British troops stayed they would be sucked into further deadly confrontations with militias using civilians as cover, leading to inevitable innocent casualties and more hostility.

“If they leave, the militias will eventually fall apart,” he said. “There will be no reason to join them because they will not be fighting the British Army.”

This is what the British hope, but cannot guarantee, will happen.

At Basra Palace, the rocket attacks at all hours of the day and night have led soldiers to christen it, with characteristic dark humor, “probably the worst palace in the world.”

Despite the rocket-shredded roof and garden labyrinth of head-high sandbags, morale remains high. However, some soldiers question their continued presence in the city center.

“I don’t see the point,” shrugged Trooper Charles Culshaw, 21, an armored vehicle driver. “ We are training the Iraqi Army and doing a couple of bits and pieces that are useful, but I don’t think it’s worth it, to be honest with you.”

“All we are doing now is resupplying ourselves,” he said. “It’s going round in circles. People are getting killed for us to resupply ourselves, and if we weren’t resupplying ourselves, people wouldn’t be getting killed.”

Unsurprisingly, Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, commander of the Fourth Battalion, the Rifles Regiment, has a different view.

“If that were true and that were all we were doing, then I would be saying the same thing, but it’s not,” he said, pointing to recent battles in which the British had killed at least 100 insurgents.

But while such raids will continue against wanted men, a speedy transition to a Basra run by Iraqis is the game in this town.

“I think that the route is one of reconciliation, and that means taking some risk,” Lieutenant Colonel Sanders said. “The other option is that we do what has been done in the past and what is being done elsewhere, which is to thrash around killing people by the dozen because they are attacking us. But I’m not sure that is constructive.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

You can't handle the truth

First the wingnuts decided the story wasn't true ("Dan Rather! Dan Rather!"). Then, when the soldier came forward and courageously identified himself, it was too predictable that they would then scream, "betrayal!"

There probably is some subset of the wingnutty stupid enough to believe that American soldiers do not commit atrocities. I doubt that anyone who has ever served in or closely studied the military could believe such a thing, but wingnuts and facts have never mixed well. I suspect that for most of the bloggers involved in this nonsense, however, the point is to rebuild the fantasy of the American soldier. Americans may do awful things, but our job is to pretend that they don't; on the one hand, revealing the true costs of war makes it harder to argue that we should be in one, and on the other pointing out such atrocities is a betrayal to the troops that are fighting. This last, I think, comes most often from people with actual military service. It's bad enough that somebody wrote such things, but to find out that the author is actually a soldier is a kick in the gut, a betrayal. This is why there's so much more rage now that we know who Beauchamp is; he betrayed his comrades, betrayed America, and gave aid and comfort to the enemy by talking frankly about the things that happen in war. Recall that one of the primary wingnut complaints against John Kerry was that he talked about the awful things that happened in Vietnam; no meaningful effort was made to deny the things that he said, because the fact that he had spoken at all was the true disloyalty.
And you can forget that, Matt, they can't be engaged. My favorite comment...

Sounds like an AstroTurf. A pos leftard who joined the military so that he can have the "cred" to slam the military.

Those crafty "pos leftards."

This whole thing has really been strange to watch. I haven't read Beauchamp's story, but from the summaries I've read, the "atrocities" he describes strike me as nasty, disgusting, and not exactly guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of the occupied, but not, as one of the commenters on LGM noted, exactly Mai Lai. That's why I haven't taken the time and energy to look too deeply or to post anything about it.

I guess it's dangerous to puncture the fantasy of the keyboard kommandos® -- U.S. soldiers are all uniquely able to kill islamonazi thugs using nothing more than their piercing, blue-eyed gaze, while at the same time rescuing a puppy -- even if it's punctured by one of those U.S. soldiers. Young men aged 19-22 rarely act well in large groups. Put those large groups in 100+ temperatures, heavily armed, far from home, basically female-free, and under intense, alternating pressure and boredom, some of them are going to do things of which the folks back home are not going to be especially proud. By telling his story, Beauchamp reminds those open to the reminder that war is inhuman (and therefore the most human activity we engage in) and some of its participants are going to act inhumanely.

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Dear Alex Rodriguez and Madam Cura,

Happy birthday!

On a related note, A-Rod, who turned 32 today, has hit 499 career homeruns, but he may have hit his 500th two days ago.

If Rodriguez hits a home run in the resumed game, it will be quite reasonably celebrated as his 500th, but it technically will be inserted into his June 28 statistics and become his 493rd.

And his home run Wednesday night in Kansas City, previously his 499th, will be promoted to No. 500.

So, depending on one’s point of view, he will either never have hit his 500th home run, or have hit it twice.

What makes this doubly or even triply odd is that whenever A-Rod comes to the plate, the bat boy runs out and hands the umpire a handful of specially marked balls. That already seemed strange to me: what if he hits a foul ball into the stands, then hits one out -- can't the person who gets the foul ball be able to claim that she caught number 500? Now, it's totally confusing.

Public service announcement: The Yes network will broadcast the start of the June 28 game starting at 4:30 this afternoon, then pick up the resumed game when it begins at 7:05. The "regular" game against the Orioles is scheduled to start at 7:50 tonight.

The InnerTubes is biased

I'm not sure what YouTube is...a website, a "killer app," a networking service, a widget, a celebration of the amateur...but whatever it is, I would never have guessed that it holds an inherent "liberal bias."

UPDATE: I've delved deeper into this issue and learned exactly who the specter* they fear most is. A puppet snowman.

Here's Rudy "24" Giuliani's when faced with the possibility that some clever evangelical might use a puppet fetus to ask about his views on abortion rights.

* David Brooks claims it's Hillary Clinton, but I think not.

Drama Prairie Dog courtesy of Attaturk.

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"People Get Ready"

The Chambers Brothers cover Curtis Mayfield.

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Steve Forbes, Bubble Boy

Today's Krugmaniad (Time$elect)

The Sum of Some Fears

Yesterday’s scary ride in the markets wasn’t a full-fledged panic. The interest rate on 10-year U.S. government bonds — a much better indicator than stock prices of what investors think will happen to the economy — fell sharply, but even so, it ended the day higher than its level as recently as mid-May, and well above its levels earlier in the year. This tells us that investors still consider a recession, which would cause the Fed to cut interest rates, fairly unlikely.

So it wasn’t the sum of all fears. But it was the sum of some fears — three, in particular.

The first is fear of bad credit. Back in March, after another market plunge, I spun a fantasy about how a global financial meltdown could take place: people would suddenly remember that bad stuff sometimes happens, risk premiums — the extra return people demand for holding bonds that aren’t government guaranteed — would soar, and credit would dry up.

Well, some of that happened yesterday. “The risk premium on corporate bonds soared the most in five years,” reported Bloomberg News. “And debt sales faltered as investors shunned all but the safest debt.” Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com said that if another major hedge fund stumbles, “That could elicit a crisis of confidence and a global shock.”

I saw that one coming. But what’s really striking is how much of the current angst in the market is over two things that I thought had been obvious for a long time: the magnitude of the housing slump and the persistence of high oil prices.

I’ve written a lot about housing over the past couple of years, so let me just repeat the basics. Back in 2002 and 2003, low interest rates made buying a house look like a very good deal. As people piled into housing, however, prices rose — and people began assuming that they would keep on rising. So the boom fed on itself: borrowers began taking out loans they couldn’t really afford and lenders began relaxing their standards.

Eventually the bubble had to burst, and when it did it left us with prices way out of line with reality and a huge overhang of unsold properties. This in turn has caused a plunge in housing construction and a lot of mortgage defaults. And the experience of past boom-and-bust cycles in housing tells us that it should be several years at least before things return to normal.

I’ve written less about oil prices, so let me emphasize two points about the oil situation. First, we’re now in our third year of very high oil prices by historical standards — prices as high, even when adjusted for inflation, as those that prevailed in the early 1980s, after the Islamic revolution in Iran. Second, unlike the energy crises of the past, this price surge has happened even though there hasn’t been any major disruption in world oil supply.

It’s pretty clear what’s happening: economic development is colliding with geology.

The “peak oil” theorists may or may not be right in asserting that world oil production is already as high as it will ever go — anyone who really knows what’s going in Saudi Arabia’s fields, please drop me a line — but finding new oil is getting a lot harder. Meanwhile, emerging economies, especially in Asia, are burning ever more oil as they get richer. With demand soaring and supply growth sluggish at best, high prices are what you get.

So why did people seem so shocked by a few more bad housing and oil numbers? What I guess I didn’t realize was how deep the denial still runs.

Over the last couple of years a peculiar conviction emerged among some analysts — mainly, for some reason, among those with right-wing political leanings — that the housing bubble was a myth and that the real bubble was in oil prices.

Each new peak in oil prices was met with declarations that it was all speculation — like the 2005 prediction by Steve Forbes that oil was in a “huge bubble” and that its price would be down to $35 or $40 a barrel within a year. And on the other side, as recently as this January, National Review’s Buzzcharts column declared that we were having a “pop-free” housing slowdown.

I didn’t think many people believed this stuff, but the market’s sudden freakout over housing and oil suggests that I was wrong.

Anyway, now reality is settling in. And there’s one more thing worth mentioning: the economic expansion that began in 2001, while it has been great for corporate profits, has yet to produce any significant gains for ordinary working Americans. And now it looks as if it never will.

© 2007 The New York Times Company

On a related note, Floyd Norris (also behind the firewall) reminds us of the Oracle at Delphi's role in all of this.

In Mr. Poole’s [William Poole, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis] view, it was obvious from 2002 to 2004 that short-term interest rates were all but certain to rise, thus driving up the cost of ARMs. But the bankers did not point that out to their customers.

“Apparently driven by the prospects of high fee income,” said Mr. Poole in a speech a week ago, “mortgage originators persuaded many relatively unsophisticated borrowers to take out these mortgages; then, investors willingly purchased them when they were securitized. Many of these mortgages are now in default, some of the lenders are bankrupt, and the mortgage-backed securities are trading at deep discounts to face value.”

In 2004, however, the Fed sent a different signal. Mr. Greenspan, speaking to Credit Union executives on Feb. 23, said “recent research within the Federal Reserve suggests that many homeowners might have saved tens of thousands of dollars had they held adjustable rate mortgages rather than fixed rate mortgages during the past decade.”

He conceded that they might suffer if rates rose, but that was not the point he emphasized. Instead, he used option pricing theory to conclude that homeowners were paying a very steep price when they took out fixed rate mortgages.

“American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed rate mortgage,” said the Fed chairman.

Rarely has an industry done a better job of following a regulator’s suggestion. The bankers came up with mortgages that took 40 years to pay off, rather than the customary 30-year amortization period. If that was not enough, they offered loans with negative amortization, so that every month a borrower owed more than he had the month before. People could get mortgages without anyone’s checking to see if they had lied about their income.

Mr. Greenspan may have come to regret his 2004 remarks. In the fall of 2005, he told a group of mortgage bankers that the “apparent froth in housing markets may have spilled over into mortgage markets.” He voiced concern over “more exotic forms of adjustable rate mortgages,” but said nothing to indicate banks should stop offering them.

Had Mr. Poole been willing to talk to me, I would have asked if he thought the Fed bore any responsibility.


Actually, there were forecasts of disaster. But Mr. Poole was not among the Cassandras.

In March of last year, a few months before home prices peaked, he said a housing bubble might be brewing, but that Fed research indicated home prices were not unreasonable.

“So, if you have an academic interest in house prices, I recommend that you wait a few years,” he said. “If you have a direct financial interest, I can’t help much — you’re on your own!”

That exclamation point was in the text released by the Fed.

Good times. Good times.

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First they came for Marcos, and I said nothing...

Colbert bravely defends Papa Bear.

OReilly: “It’s like the Ku Klux Klan. It’s like the Nazi party.”

Colbert: “Exactly! The Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis were both notorious for allowing people to express unpopular views in an open and free forum.”

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Shocking, yet unsurprising

Shorter Republican lawyer: I've never seen anything like this, but Republicans can't be blamed for being in power at the time.

Maybe that's not so short.

Jan Baran, a Republican lawyer who specializes in ethics law, said he could not recall a time when so many members of Congress had been caught up in so many financial scandals drawing the attention of the Justice Department.

Mr. Baran said it was not surprising that most of the lawmakers under scrutiny were Republicans, given that their party controlled Congress until this year and “money follows power: those that don’t hold power are less susceptible to corruption, because they don’t have anything to sell.”

Emphasis mine.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

"No End in Sight"

This does not look entertaining.

Mr. Ferguson said he did not start filming expecting to see so many problems with the planning of the occupation. “But I had no idea how incompetently the occupation was being planned, and with what degree of ideological rigidity and arrogance and callousness and stupidity,” he said. “I just had no idea.” Mr. Ferguson mailed copies of the film to Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bremer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials but has heard nothing back.

“No response from anybody,” he said. “Not a word.”

Etta James

Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.


Visions of Bob Dylan

Paul Williams' review of Blond on Blond, from the August 1966 issue of Crawdaddy.

In many ways, understanding Dylan has a lot to do with understanding yourself. For example, I can listen to “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and really feel what the song is about, appreciate it; but I have no idea why “a warehouse eyes my Arabian drums” or what precise relevance that has. Yet it does make me feel something; the attempt to communicate is successful, and somehow the refrain “Now a warehouse eyes my Arabian drums”: has a very real relevance to me and my understanding of the song. So it isn’t fair to ask Dylan what the phrase means, or rather, why it works; the person I really have to ask is the person it works on—me. And I don’t know why it works—i.e., I can’t explain it. This only means I don’t understand me; I do understand Dylan, that is, I appreciate the song as fully as I believe is possible. It’s the example of the sixth grader and Robert Frost all over again.

Harry Reid writes letters

He calls the Post editors on their disingenuous support for the war.

On reading the July 21 editorial "The Phony Debate," it became clear why The Post's editorial writers have been such eager cheerleaders for the Bush administration's flawed Iraq policies -- the two share the same disregard for the facts en route to drawing dubious conclusions.

The editorial was an inaccurate commentary on the nature of the Senate debate, the reality in Iraq and the president's stubborn adherence to failed policies.

Your editorial wrongly asserted that "a large majority of senators from both parties favor a shift in the U.S. mission." While a majority of the Senate voted again last week for a plan that would keep U.S. forces in Iraq for counterterrorism and troop protection and launch a diplomatic effort to help stabilize the region, Democrats were joined by only a handful of courageous Republicans -- far from a majority of Republicans and not enough to break the Republican leadership's filibuster. And if the president truly supports changing course, as your editorial implied, he needs to do much more than tell us "it's a position I'd like to see us in" -- he must drop his irresponsible veto threats and tell Republican leaders to stop blocking votes on proposals to carry out this change.

Finally, it was disingenuous to assert that Democrats are using Iraq to stir voters' passions; the American people are sufficiently disappointed on their own. Three-quarters of Americans recognize that the war is going badly, three out of five support further funding only if it includes a timetable for transitioning the mission, and nearly all expect their president to work with Congress to do something to change course.


U.S. Senator (D-Nev.)

Democrats. Fighting back. Fred Hiatt will surely suffer a bout of the vapors.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This day in baseball and fascism

July 25, 1943

At Yankee Stadium‚ the 2nd game of a twinbill with the White Sox is interrupted by the announcement that "Mussolini has resigned. [sic] The crowd cheers wildly. On the field the Yankees take game 2 by a 6-3 score after losing the opener‚ 2-1.

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Wish fulfillment?

"Don't these people ever give up?"

I wonder who will make the definitive film about our efforts to win H&Ms in Iraq?

Laslo Kovaks

It's amazing what you learn from obituaries. Who knew that many of my favorite films were shot by the same cinematographer, or anything about his heroic capture of the Soviet invasion in 1959.

Kovacs was born to Imre and Julianna Kovacs and raised on a farm in Hungary when that country was isolated from the Western world, first by the Nazi occupation and later during the Cold War. Kovacs was in his final year of school in Budapest when a revolt against the communist regime started on the city streets.

He and his lifelong friend Vilmos Zsigmond -- who also went on to become one of Hollywood's leading directors of photography -- made the daring decision to document the event for its historic significance. To do this, they borrowed film and a camera from their school, hid the camera in a paper bag with a hole for the lens and recorded the conflict.

The pair then embarked on a dangerous journey during which they carried 30,000 feet of documentary film across the border into Austria. They entered the U.S. as political refugees in 1957.

"As a man I loved him," said Zsigmond, reached in North Carolina where he is shooting the film "Bolden! "We always had a great time together."

Their historic film was featured in a CBS documentary narrated by Walter Cronkite.

After working on several smaller films during the 1960s, Kovacs was approached by Dennis Hopper in 1969 to film Easy Rider. Kovacs turned it down, but Hopper was persistent and met with him to act out all the scenes.

"At the end of that meeting, I asked when we could start shooting," Kovacs recalled in a 1998 interview with the International Cinematographers Guild. "That's how I happened to shoot Easy Rider. We knew it was something special, but none of us realized that it would win awards and become so influential."

The counterculture classic, also starring Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, was shot during a 12-week journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans, entirely on location.

"That was the style of Poetic Reality, basically making movies that look real," Zsigmond said. "The lighting is real, and the people in the theater think they are seeing the real thing."

Kovacs worked with many of the leading directors of his time, among them Peter Bogdanovich ("Targets," "Paper Moon," "What's Up, Doc?"), Martin Scorsese ("New York, New York," "The Last Waltz"), Robert Altman ("That Cold Day in the Park") and Bob Rafelson ("Five Easy Pieces," "The King of Marvin Gardens").
Not mentioned in his obit is that he got his start in Hollywood working for Roger Corman, "King of the Bs." It was Corman who suggested "Leslie" be the cinematographer for "Targets."

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Alright, then, but please tell him to put his clothes back on

Hilzoy puts the "O" back in the blogosphere.

Robert Farley: a pale, little man who hides within his armature of logical principles and arguments and consistency, like a grub cowering inside its discarded exoskeleton. Jonah Goldberg has no such fears: he sees that contradiction is not a peril to be feared, but the narrow footbridge that allows us to cross over the great abyss of incomprehensibility into a world of sublime and transcendent certainty, in which, freed from niggling doubts and hairsplitting distinctions, our soul can fuse with the world-soul, and we can simply know, with every cell in our body and every fiber of our being, that whatever we did in Iraq was justified, that history will redeem our grand vision, and that liberals are always wrong. While so-called "empiricists" in the "reality-based community" hesitate and wait for evidence and argument, Jonah Goldberg strides forth, naked and unencumbered, into the new dawn.

And the little men in white coats are right behind him.

The Bronx is smoldering

Around hour two of the four hour mini-series that was last night's Yankees Royals pitching duel, we turned our attention to "The Bronx is Burning" for the first time. I have to agree with a number of critics...Turturro is mesmerizing as Billy Martin (the prosthetic ears are a bit much, though), Oliver Platt has Steinbrenner's mannerisms down cold -- his football pep talk ("C'mon over and take a knee") was hilarious, and I thought a real standout was Erik Jensen who played Thurmon Munson. He hasn't been mentioned much, but he makes the Munson character totally believable. The weakest character, unfortunately, is Daniel Sunjata as Reggie. He just doesn't seem to have the physical stature to pull it off. Maybe it was just the episode I saw last night, but he didn't strike me as having the sharp wit to come up with "I'm the straw that stirs the drink." He mainly just whined.

Another thing on which I agree with the critics -- the side story of Son of Sam feels tacked on. The Breslin character is good, and it's fun to hear Breslin's words again (they don't make newspaper columnists like that anymore), but the story sheds no light on what's going on in the Bronx, and the Yankees club house that year offers more than enough content. Recently, Ron Guidry was asked if it was tough playing on a club with so many sideshows, the taciturn Cajun just laughed and said, no, it was fun.

One thing that struck me as strange, though: did Berkeley, CA-raised Billy Martin really have such a thick Southern accent, as protrayed by Turturro? Was it the year and a half he spent in Texas auditioning for the Yankees job?

UPDATE: No, my memory didn't fail me.

Does Turturro play up the accent to create even greater tension with sensitive, educated, and articulate Jackson? Like I said, strange.

"My baby"

The enemy of Mickey Maus is my friend. I like Joe Biden more and more.

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We are ruled by madmen

And I don't mean the new AMC show. I don't even know what to comment when I read shit like this.

WASHINGTON, July 24 — Once every two weeks, sometimes more often, President Bush gathers with the vice president and the national security adviser in the newly refurbished White House Situation Room and peers, electronically, into the eyes of the man to whom his legacy is so inextricably linked: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In sessions usually lasting more than an hour, Mr. Bush, a committed Christian of Texas by way of privileged schooling in New England, and Mr. Maliki, an Iraqi Shiite by way of political exile in Iran and Syria, talk about leadership and democracy, troop deployments and their own domestic challenges.

Sometimes, said an official who has sat in on the meetings, they talk about their faith in God.

“They talk about the challenges they face being leaders,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations. “They, of course, also share a faith in God.”

The official declined to elaborate on the extent of their religious discussions, but said, “It is an issue that comes up between two men who are believers in difficult times, who are being challenged.”

In the sessions, Mr. Bush views Mr. Maliki’s crisp image on a wall of plasma screens. Aides say the sessions are crucial to Mr. Bush’s attempts to help Mr. Maliki through his troubled tenure. The meetings are also typical of the type of personal diplomacy Mr. Bush has practiced throughout his presidency, exemplified by the way he warmed to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — misguidedly, in the view of some policy analysts — after Mr. Putin showed him a cross he wears that his mother gave him.

The story goes on to say that Bush speaks with Maliki more "than just about any other foreign leader besides those of Britain and Germany." That isn't all that surprising. Unlike most other foreign leaders, Maliki has to sit there and listen to Bush lecture him on leadership.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mike Lupica, knight of the keyboard!

Okay, another Mike Lupica post, but think about it, this is The Sports Week That Was:

  • The NFL acts and disinvites a superstar quarterback from camp because of a federal investigaton into dog fights that occurred on his property (he blames, predictably, relatives).
  • We learned a 13-year NBA ref may be entering the witness protection plan because of his alleged gambling, points shaving (how a ref shaves points, I don't get...) and maybe ties to organized crime.
  • And in the beloved Tour day France, last night's stage winner is reported to have had an illegal blood transfusion, and questions surround the leader in the general classification regarding missing four off-season drug tests.

And Mike Lupica chooses to be outraged by Alex Rodriguez. For getting his 100th RBI. In 97 games.

And this is just weird and tragic.

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What, is there a stat for clubhouse leadership?

Mike Lupica should focus on politics where he can make snarky comments and not be troubled by, you know, quantification. He should stay far away from giving the Yankees advice.

Against the Royals last night, A-Rod made it an even 100 RBI for the season. Between April and October, he goes in with the biggest and most famous Yankees of them all. Rodriguez should win a third MVP award this season whether the Yankees make the playoffs or not. And when that happens, when he is voted the most valuable in his league again, it is game on.

It is game on because the Yankees will then have to decide just how valuable Alex Rodriguez is to them. A team that reminds us constantly that winning is the only thing that matters will decide how much they are willing to pay a great star who has not won here. And might never.

Funny, you never see anyone look at Don Mattingly and sneer, "He may be 'Donnie baseball,' but he never won anything." Pity, maybe, but never a sneer.

But see, A-Rod has "won here." In fact, if it weren't for his various walk-off HRs, doubles, and singles this year, the Yankees would be looking forward to a chance this weekend to snatch third place away from the Orioles in the AL East standings.

How valueable is A-Rod "to them," the Yankees? Extremely valuable. A projected 14 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) valuable. A projected, if he weren't playing for the Yankees they'd be hoping for 85 wins this year, valuable. Almost invaluable.

As always, the go-to guy here is Ken Tremendous.

What an asshole. ARod, I mean. The guy can't even single-handedly win a postseason series.

People who write about Alex Rodriguez have a pathological inability to separate the man from the team. Jeter hasn't won shit since 2000 either. Mussina and Giambi have been paid just as much as ARod, by the Yankees, and they have won fuck-all. Damon hasn't won anything with the Yankees. Neither has Matsui. Neither has Pavano, or Cano. None of these people is ever -- ever -- held to the same impossible standard as ARod.

I hate the Yankees. And all I do is defend their players against their own media and fans. What is wrong with this picture?
People who write about Alex Rodrigues have a pathological inability to admit and absorb just how fucking great the player is. I'm sure all the embarrassing back pages and insulting columns helps sell a few more tabloids each day, but it sure sours the sheer enjoyment of watching him play and watching him carry himself after every game, win or lose.

The weird thing is, with A-Rod the Yankees got just what they expected when they signed him. Last year was an off-year, but he was an MVP the year before that -- one year after he'd changed positions, for chrissakes. He's the odds on favorite to win the award this year unless the Yankees tank.

If you want to point to specific players rather than the collected effort, luck, and opponents' timely pitching and hitting to blame for the lack of a title since 2000, I can think of a few players who didn't perform as they were expected to when they signed long contracts with the Yankees. Mussina was never the dominant ace the Yankees expected to shore up an aging rotation. Giambi has not only been prone to very weird and extensive injuries, he has nowhere near come to the levels he showed in 2000 and 2001 as a member of the A's. Instead, although when he does play he's got a high OPS, shown flashes of power, and at least provides some protection for A-Rod in the lineup, he's primarily been an expensive albatross for the Yankees, leading them to make poor decisions, like signing a "defensive first baseman" rather than get a decent hitter at this slugging position. And of course there's Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Kyle Farnsworth, Tom Gordon, and several "lead-off" hitters whose names, thankfully, have been seared from my memory by the trauma of watching them run up a

.290 276 on-base percentage for months before the Yankees could airmail them to some other sucker team.

Oh, and it was my favorite Yankee, Mariano Rivera (who, by the way, will be looking to be rewarded as the Best Closer in History when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season), who threw the ball into center field in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS.

What did Ted Williams say about the sportswriters who "covered" him? Oh, yeah, "the knights of the keyboard."

UPDATE: Their, there, what's the difference?

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David Brooks eats lies for breakfast

And then regurgitates them for me while I eat my cornflakes. It's a nice racket.

This, incidentally, helps explain why I'm spending so much time on the Brooks article from earlier today. The median reader doesn't actually have the time, inclination, or resources to personally fact check and footnote every article they read. So they tend to use certain heuristics to help them navigate the media sphere -- chief among them trusting that authors operating out of established media outlets are being basically truthful. Conversely, they can rely on the aggregate disreputation of an outlet -- the reason I don't read or critique the Wall Street Journal editorial page is that most everyone I can reach already knows it's a stew of lies and disinformation.

But Brooks is different. He's a respected writer, perched on the world's most respected op-ed page, and making his argument through frequent references to established and credible outlets like the CBO and the Brookings Institution. It's a rare reader indeed who wouldn't trust that product. But that product is not trustworthy. Nor, for that matter, are some of his past columns on economics, which misleadingly invoked trusted and even liberal sources to add illusory credibility to conservative, controversial pronouncements. So you actually need to create an instinctive skepticism in readers as to his economic arguments -- enough so that if something sounds wrong, they'll check to see whether it is in fact incorrect, rather than just believing the air of credibility Brooks so artfully produces.

And, yes, I agree with Ezra and Duncan on this -- David Brooks is not an economist. He was given the numbers he quotes in his column to help him tell his tale of how all this populist talk about the rich getting richer and everyone else not so much is just crazy talk.

More here. And here. And here.



They're smarter -- or at least more self-aware -- than the current Decider in the White House.

In another recent study, Jonathon D. Crystal, a psychologist at the University of Georgia in Athens, and his colleague Allison Foote were astonished to discover that rats display evidence of metacognition: they know what they know and what they don’t know. Metacognition, a talent previously detected only in primates, is best exemplified by the experience of students scanning the questions on a final exam and having a pretty good sense of what their grade is likely to be. In the Georgia study, rats were asked to show their ability to distinguish between tones lasting about 2 seconds, and sounds of about 8 seconds, by pressing one or another lever. If the rat guessed correctly, it was rewarded with a large meal; if it judged incorrectly, it got nothing.

For each trial, the rat could, after hearing the tone, opt to either take the test and press the short or long lever, or poke its nose through a side of the chamber designated the, “I don’t know” option, at which point it would get a tiny snack. During the trials, the rats made clear they knew their audio limits. The closer the tones were to either 2 or 8 seconds, the likelier the rats were to express confidence in their judgment by indicating they wanted to take the lever test and earn their full-course dinner. But as the tones edged into the ambiguous realms of 4 seconds, the rats began opting ever more often for modest but reliable morsels of the clueless option.

Rats do not lie, and, when the stakes are this high, neither do they gamble.

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And here I thought it was the jimson weed

Brad DeLong thinks conservatives have gone barking mad and quotes Jonathan Chait:

[I]t's certainly true that conservatives today are more divided than liberals about whether the Iraq war has been a fiasco.... Conservatives see their split on this proposition as evidence of intellectual acuity. I see it as evidence that roughly half of all conservatives are barking mad. On last year's National Review cruise, as Johann Hari reported in these pages, Norman Podhoretz called the war "an amazing success" and insisted that "it couldn't have gone better."... Maybe it's the blind Bush hatred talking, but I'm not terribly embarrassed that liberals are united in rejecting this notion.

What explains the right's insufferable need to declare philosophical victory at all times?... [T]he natural insecurity that comes with being conservative in a scholarly milieu. If I were an academic or a writer who made his living defending a party that routinely wins elections by appealing to rabid anti-intellectualism, I'd be a little defensive, too. But... conservatism is more of an ideological movement than liberalism.... Like communists, conservatives have a tendency to believe that every question can be answered by referencing theory. Berkowitz, for instance, describes the conservative debate over the war as one of pure philosophical abstractions: Defenders of the invasion, he writes, believe in "planting the seeds of liberty and democracy in the Muslim Middle East." Whether or not the war actually has accomplished these ends is not an issue of much interest...[sic]

Oh, by the way, that Panglossian Podhoretz mentioned above...guess who he works for.

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One of these years

Goalposts aren't just moved. They're removed completely. Glory will be ours by 2009.

BAGHDAD, July 23 — While Washington is mired in political debate over the future of Iraq, the American command here has prepared a detailed plan that foresees a significant American role for the next two years.

The classified plan, which represents the coordinated strategy of the top American commander and the American ambassador, calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established on a nationwide basis by the summer of 2009, according to American officials familiar with the document.

The detailed document, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is an elaboration of the new strategy President Bush signaled in January when he decided to send five additional American combat brigades and other units to Iraq. That signaled a shift from the previous strategy, which emphasized transferring to Iraqis the responsibility for safeguarding their security.

That new approach put a premium on protecting the Iraqi population in Baghdad, on the theory that improved security would provide Iraqi political leaders with the breathing space they needed to try political reconciliation.

The latest plan, which covers a two-year period, does not explicitly address troop levels or withdrawal schedules. It anticipates a decline in American forces as the “surge” in troops runs its course later this year or in early 2008. But it nonetheless assumes continued American involvement to train soldiers, act as partners with Iraqi forces and fight terrorist groups in Iraq, American officials said.

The goals in the document appear ambitious, given the immensity of the challenge of dealing with die-hard Sunni insurgents, renegade Shiite militias, Iraqi leaders who have made only fitful progress toward political reconciliation, as well as Iranian and Syrian neighbors who have not hesitated to interfere in Iraq’s affairs. And the White House’s interim assessment of progress, issued n July 12, is mixed.

Well, maybe not so much "glory."

“We are going to try a dozen different things,” said one senior officer. “Maybe one of them will flatline. One of them will do this much. One of them will do this much more. After a while, we believe there is chance you will head into success. I am not saying that we are absolutely headed for success.”

This is just the latest in a string of revelations that indicate the Pentagon is trying to dampen expectations for the Petraeus and Crocker "September report," otherwise so breathlessly awaited in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

UPDATE: Matt wonders, "if the 2004-vintage plan called for the country to be mired in chaos by the summer of 2007? I'm guessing it didn't, though. It seems to me that the tricky part is going to be less the planning to restore security than the actual restoring of the security."

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One hell of a stint on the DL

Congratulations to Jon Lester on his return to the Sox rotation.

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We don't wanna know

Mark Schmitt suggests that the Dem candidates should offer a whole lot fewer details.

Eight years ago, I worked on Senator Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign. Mr. Bradley issued a detailed health plan, which got lost in a squabble with Vice President Al Gore over technical questions like whether the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program could provide services comparable to Medicaid.

Fighting over such minutiae served neither the Bradley candidacy nor the cause of universal health care. Yet here we go again, picking apart Barack Obama’s health plan, John Edwards’s poverty plan, Bill Richardson’s plan on climate change.

The explanation for these plans is that voters deserve to know what a candidate would do if elected president. But highly detailed plans don’t tell us that. Nor does the ability to assign some staffers to produce a plan indicate the skills necessary to serve as president. The plans put forward in the primaries are long forgotten by Inauguration Day.

That’s what happened after the Democratic primary-campaign battle over health plans in 1992. Bob Kerrey moved first, taking the left-wing position of support for a single-payer system. Paul Tsongas embraced the centrist, technocratic fix known as managed competition. Under pressure to produce a plan, Bill Clinton half-heartedly wrote one based on the “pay or play” idea, which would require employers either to cover all their workers or pay a tax.

But when Mr. Clinton, as president, unveiled his actual health plan more than a year later, it looked a lot like Mr. Tsongas’s. Meanwhile, Mr. Kerrey forgot his previous embrace of single-payer and became a critic from the right of President Clinton’s Tsongas-like plan. This isn’t evidence that politicians are deceitful or willfully break their promises. They were promises that shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

We don’t give our presidents total power to enact policy. They have to work with a Congress made up of people with their own views and constituencies. Does anyone really think that a plan cooked up by a bunch of smart 20-somethings after a couple of all-nighters amid the empty pizza boxes and pressures of a campaign is superior to what could be developed with the full resources of the federal government and open Congressional hearings and debate?

Democratic primary voters are infatuated with the idea of plans, not the plans themselves. We like to think that we vote based on our rational analysis of issues and ideas, not on such tawdry matters as personality. So we insist that candidates produce plans to show that they are as serious as we like to think we are. Voters mistakenly use the level of detail in a plan as a clue to the candidate’s level of commitment to solving a problem. But what we really need are clues to character.

Democrats should just state their principles, explain their reasoning, and describe their basic goals for health care or poverty. In a recent Democratic debate, Hillary Rodham Clinton almost did. “The most important thing is not the plan,” she said. “We’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” What is crucial, she added, is that “you’ve got to have the political will.”

I don't disagree with him; he's certainly got the black & blue marks from working on the Bradley campaign to prove his experience. But one of the things that actually has Democratic voters excited about the primaries this early is the very existence of ideas. The Republican candidates have not a one, the Dem candidates are brim full of them.

Unfortunately, having "principles" is great, but the devil's always in the details and we want something more than ideas to back up those principles. Principles without a plan just aren't very credible. It's going to be a tough balancing act, particularly on health care. Provide enough details to show they're serious without showing anything that will come back to haunt them later. For instance, John Edwards has been forthright in saying that if we want to fix the health care crisis in this country we need to show how we'll pay for it. True enough. But that will be easily translated as raising taxes by whatever sot the Republicans nominate. And while I think most Americans basically understand that if we want universal health care it's going to mean generating income to pay for it, they viscerally respond to "He wants to raise your taxes!" That's assuming he survives the primaries in which his fellow candidates will point to him and exclaim, "He can't win against Republicans -- they'll just label him a 'tax and spend liberal.'"

It's stupid. It's politics.

He just assumed the position

From a new critical biography of Dick Cheney by The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dick Cheney once considered the vice presidency a "cruddy job" but got over his misgivings and went on to be arguably the most powerful No. 2 in U.S. politics, and one of the most heavily criticized.

The 66-year-old Cheney's stoic, no-nonsense demeanor and influence in many White House decisions are in stark contrast to his youthful days when he was caught twice for drunk driving in Wyoming and dropped out of Yale University for bad grades.

Cheney's life has been chronicled in a fairly sympathetic biography by Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly Standard conservative magazine. He spent nearly 30 hours in one-on-one interviews with the normally reticent Cheney for the book.

In his research Hayes found that Cheney in 1996 called the vice presidency a "cruddy job," which his political mentor, President Gerald Ford, had hated. But by 2000 Cheney was persuaded to accept when George W. Bush offered the position.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Filibusters gone wild

A very useful chart showing the really shocking number of times Republicans have killed action on legislation by threatening a filibuster. As Kevin Drum notes, a Republican is in the White House who can veto anything that escapes Capitol Hill, so unlike Dems before last November, the GOP has other ways to kill legislation they don't like. No, what they really want to do is kill really popular legislation quietly, because they know the press has no desire to tell their readers/viewers that Congress can't get anything done because Republicans won't permit it.

Thus, as a friend keeps reminding me, griping about obstructionism per se won't really get us very far. For the most part the public just tunes it out as "politics." It's a point worth making, but it has to be secondary to the main point: making sure the public knows what it is that Republicans are opposing. Unfortunately, I'm not really sure how to do that given the current state of the press in America. More funny YouTube videos?

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The role of the press

You'd think the campaign press would have learned a wee bit something from 2000 and 2004 -- that by playing favorites, they have, how shall we say, participated in the complete fuck up that is the Bush administration.

Apparently not.

There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly, there's also a difference in narrative timing: when the first quarter ended, the press was trying to bury Edwards. It's not so much interested in burying Romney right now -- many reporters think he's the Republican frontrunner.

Jaysus. Ambinder, writing in The Atlantic, and a former editor of ABC's The Note, sees this as a political reality, not a professional and ethical problem.

Citizens, we're fucked.

More from LGM and Foser.

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"Junk statement"

Out of the insanity of this era when "9-11 changed everything," a few principled and heroic individuals have taken stands. Col. Stephen Abraham is one of them.

A divorced father of a 7-year-old daughter, he was not looking for a posting. But a commander suggested that his skills were needed: the hearing program was entering its busiest period, with more than 200 people gathering evidence and running the hearings at an office near the Pentagon and in Guantánamo.

It was obvious, Colonel Abraham said, that officials were under intense pressure to show quick results. Quickly, he said, he grew concerned about the quality of the reports being used as evidence. The unclassified evidence, he said, lacked the kind of solid corroboration he had relied on throughout his intelligence career. “The classified information,” he added, “was stripped down, watered down, removed of context, incomplete and missing essential information.”

Many detainees implicated other detainees, he said, and there was often no way to test whether they had provided false information to win favor with interrogators.

He said he was prohibited from discussing the facts of cases. But public information, much of it obtained through lawsuits, includes examples of some of the points he made.

In a hearing on Oct. 26, 2004, a transcript shows, one detainee was told that another had identified him as having attended a terrorism training camp.

The detainee asked that his accuser be brought to testify. “We don’t know his name,” the senior officer on the hearing panel said.

At another hearing, later reviewed by a federal judge, a Turkish detainee, Murat Kurnaz, was said to have been associated with an Islamic missionary group. He had also traveled with a man who had become a suicide bomber.

“It would appear,” Judge Joyce Hens Green wrote in 2005, “that the government is indefinitely holding the detainee — possibly for life — solely because of his contacts with individuals or organizations tied to terrorism and not because of any terrorist activities that the detainee aided, abetted or undertook himself.”

In a third hearing, an Afghan detainee said he had indeed been a jihadist — during the 1980s war against the Soviet Union, when a lot of Afghans were jihadists. Was that what the accusation against him meant, he asked, or was it referring to later, during the American war?

“We don’t know what that time frame was, either,” the tribunal’s lead officer replied.

During one of the recent interviews, Colonel Abraham said that the general accusations that detainees were jihadists without much more alarmed him.

“As an intelligence agent, I would have written ‘junk statement’ across that,” he said.

But "junk" is good enough for the Pentagon. And if the tribunals defy all odds and decide that the defendant doesn't qualify as an "enemy combatant," that would result in a quick do-over.

Critics of the administration’s detention policies have questioned the hearings’ fairness, noting that detainees are not permitted lawyers and cannot see much of the evidence. Pentagon officials have said such criticism is not meaningful because a combatant status hearing “is not a criminal trial.” They note that 38 of the 558 cases ended in decisions favorable to the detainees.

But Colonel Abraham said that in meetings with top officials of the office, it was clear that such findings were discouraged. “Anything that resulted in a ‘not enemy combatant’ would just send ripples through the entire process,” he said. “The interpretation is, ‘You got the wrong result. Do it again.’ ”


One of the tribunals the lawyers have learned more about since then was the one on which Colonel Abraham sat. Documents they have gathered show that he was assigned to the panel in November 2004. The detainee was a Libyan, captured in Afghanistan, who was said to have visited terrorist training camps and belonged to a Libyan terrorist organization.

By a vote of 3 to 0, the panel found that “the detainee is not properly classified as an enemy combatant and is not associated with Al Qaeda or Taliban.”

Two months later, apparently after Pentagon officials rejected the first decision, the detainee’s case was heard by a second panel. The conclusion, again by a vote of 3 to 0, was quite different: “The detainee is properly classified as an enemy combatant and is a member of or associated with Al Qaeda.”

Colonel Abraham was never assigned to another panel.

Fast forward to today, the top civilian at the Pentagon wants to close Guantanamo down. It's down to Dick Cheney -- who is as intent as ever on ensuring that the United States is not soon again known as a "liberal democracy" -- who staunchly defends the place.
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