Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shrill Watch

 Ben Stein drives Felix Salmon to shrillville:

Ben Stein Watch: October 30, 2007, by Felix Salmon: I'm a uniter, not a divider. I'm a lover, not a fighter. I don't like to engage in the politics of personal destruction. But as Jonathan Landman might say, we have to stop Ben Stein from writing for the Times. Right now. And so, by popular demand, the first weekly Ben Stein Watch.

Stein uses his column this week to ask a question: "Is It Responsible to Shun Military Contractors?". Stein is a believer that investing isn't just about money:

I certainly believe in socially responsible investing for myself. I sold my tobacco shares long ago. (They have done fantastically well since then, but I don't regret my decision.)

Unfortunately, Stein doesn't tell us why he sold his tobacco shares. So we're going to just have to take a wild guess: maybe it's because cigarettes kill people?

Yet somehow Stein just can't comprehend why some socially responsible investors don't want to invest in arms manufacturers. "I don't understand this whole attitude," he writes. "Maybe someone can explain it to me."

Here, Ben, let me try, in words of one syllable:

Guns and bombs kill people.

Oh, damn, "people" is two syllables.

But let me rewind, to the very first sentence of Stein's column:

Henry Blodget should have started out as a writer.

I might point Stein to the second sentence of Blodget's wikipedia page:

Blodget received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and began his career as a freelance journalist and was a proofreader for Harper's Magazine.


Stein finishes up his column seemingly asking the SEC to regulate everything that absolutely anybody might conceivably invest in. He doesn't claim that this massive expansion of regulatory responsibilities would do any good, mind you; he just ends his column, cryptically enough, by saying that "the ladder of law should have no top and no bottom." It's a Bob Dylan lyric which Stein obviously loves, since this is the second time this year he's trundled it out.

So here's my idea. Since Stein clearly isn't being featured in the business section on the grounds of his economic expertise, he's obviously got this gig on the grounds of his celebrity status. Maybe the Times has no desire to replace Stein with someone (like DeLong, say) who actually knows what he's talking about - what they want is a writer who's vaguely familiar with economic concepts but who's also something of a household name. My suggestion: Bob Dylan.

Tom Friedman and the New York Times Drive Duncan Black Shrill!

When I look at it, I understand why. My brain, too, cannot grasp the concept that Tom Friedman still has a job:

Eschaton: Now He Tells Us: Little Tommy Friedman, age 9:

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

What reaction was that? Oh, maybe this one.

I think it [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie.


We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big state right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.


What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna to let it grow?

Well Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Hundreds of thousands of people sucked on it, and little Tommy Friedman still has a job.

I thought that the smart money was that a million Iraqis are now dead because Tom Friedman and company let themselves be "knocked... completely out of balance."

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

George W. Bush Has Driven General Casey Shrill!

Welcome, general!

Casey tells Congress Army is stretched too thin - The Boston Globe: By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff  |  September 27, 2007: WASHINGTON - The Army's top officer, General George Casey, told Congress yesterday that his branch of the military has been stretched so thin by the war in Iraq that it can not adequately respond to another conflict - one of the strongest warnings yet from a military leader that repeated deployments to war zones in the Middle East have hamstrung the military's ability to deter future aggression.

In his first appearance as Army chief of staff, Casey told the House Armed Services Committee that the Army is "out of balance" and "the current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies."

Officials said Casey, who appeared along with Army Secretary Pete Geren, personally requested the public hearing - a highly unusual move that military analysts said underscores his growing concern about the health of the Army, America's primary fighting force.

Casey, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted a public forum even though he has ample opportunity to speak to lawmakers in closed-door meetings.

Representative John M. McHugh, a New York Republican, said Casey's blunt testimony was "just downright frightening."...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Republican Party Drives Matthew Yglesias Shrill!

It's Lee Atwater who done it:

Matthew Yglesias: Atwater's Strategy: I have, in the past, been known to argue that the role of race per se in the GOP "southern strategy" has often been overstated by liberals. Bob Herbert disagrees and would seem to have the proverbial telling quote:

In 1981, during the first year of Mr. Reagan’s presidency, the late Lee Atwater gave an interview to a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University, explaining the evolution of the Southern strategy: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger,’ ” said Atwater. “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

Now that said, Herbert's more recent examples of "sustained mistreatment by the Republican Party" of black people mostly involve efforts to prevent black people from voting, which I'm fairly sure they do for purely partisan reasons than out of racism as such.

General Ricardo Sanchez Is SHRILL!

It's the "national political leadership":

Talking Points Memo | Kickin' the Can: By Josh Marshall: I haven't seen much published reference to this speech but it seems we can add retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to the list of former Bush appointees and Generals serving under the president who turn out to be thoroughly disillusioned with the president's conduct of the war. This weekend, at a speech in Corpus Christi, Texas, Sanchez said ...

My assessment is that we have a crisis in national political leadership. When will America recognize the danger we face? When will the corrosive partisanship of American politics end and allow for a bipartisan solution to arguably the most dangerous threat our nation has faced in over 60 years?

When asked who he meant by "national political leadership", Sanchez said “the most senior political leadership,” which leaves little doubt he's referring at least to the president and his chief subordinates.

Taken on its own, the statement certainly contains at least some ambiguity. Is this an indictment of the White House or a more general 'pox on all your houses' dig at our collective politics and the failure of those of us at home to unify around a strategy while we've got soldiers in the field fighting and dying.

I found the link to the report of the speech at Scott Horton's site. And just after the quote I just excerpted Horton provides this gloss ...

For three months now, Sanchez has been making off-the-record statements. He eventually came to the conclusion, he says, that Republican politics had trumped the national security interests of the United States in the execution of plans in Iraq. The Bush Administration had not planned to win in Iraq, but simply to keep a war running so Bush could run around and play “war president.” That is as devastating a criticism as any general has made of a president since the days of Douglas MacArthur. Unlike MacArthur’s criticisms, however, it has the advantage of being accurate.

Horton's right. If anything he understates it how devastating a charge that is. Does anyone know more about what Sanchez has been telling people off the record?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tom Brokaw and Hank Paulson Drive Matthew Yglesias Shrill

Boy, is he shrill:

Matthew Yglesias: Behind the Scenes: Tom Brokaw leading in to a question to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, started by talking about how he knows that Hank and his wife are ardent conservationists: "I've been on bird-watching expeditions with them that are also marathons; it's a death-march from 4AM to midnight."

Now, obviously, there's be no way to enforce a rule like "important media people aren't allowed to be bird-watching buddies with high government officials" but it is striking that you tend not to hear about this sort of coziness between the media and political elites when said media elites are busy posturing as a vast brigade of Woodward and Bernsteins eagerly digging to the truth. Meanwhile, Paulson, representing an administration that's worked tirelessly to block action on climate change at a climate change event, just sat around and said a bunch of misleading stuff designed to make you think that the Bush administration has been contributing constructively to this matter. Brokaw, who's probably not an idiot, doesn't want to give his friend the bird watcher a hard time, and just smiles before moving on.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Edition)

Is there any reason that the Washington Post should print another paper edition, ever? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

For the past several years Dan Froomkin has been maintaining to me that the Washington Post's Peter Baker is an honorable, intelligent reporter trying as hard as he can to get it right.

Today Matthew Yglesias reads Peter Baker, and wretches. The paragraph he quotes is Peter's lead:

Legacywashing With the Post: The Washington Post's Peter Baker falls for administration spin in a jaw-dropping manner. Here's the lead:

As he addresses a conference on climate change this morning, President Bush will face not only a crowd of skeptics but the press of time. For nearly seven years, he invested little personal energy in the challenge of global warming. Now, with the end in sight, he has called the biggest nations of the world together to press for a plan by the end of next year.

This turnaround just didn't happen. The UN had a meeting on Monday aimed at building political momentum for a meeting to happen later in Bali aimed at kicking off negotiations toward an international treaty that will commit the world's countries to binding reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Bush didn't attend that meeting. Instead, he called this other meeting in an effort to subvert action on climate change. He hasn't in the past "invested little personal energy in the challenge of global warming." Rather, he's invested plenty of energy in undermining efforts to respond to the challenge of global warming and continues to do so by continuing to oppose mandatory emissions reductions.

This isn't brain science (it's climate science -- ha!) to move to address the challenge of global warming you need to move to address the challenge not just say you're addressing it while not doing anything. You need to, that is, unless all you really want is for Peter Baker to publish a misleading article about what you're doing in The Washington Post.

It is not that Peter Baker is ignorant, Matt. "Falling for administration spin" is not what is going on here. Not at all.

Liars for Jesus Drive P.Z. Myers Shrill:

Boy! Is he shrill:

Pharyngula: Evil Catholic propaganda: hat a charming representative for Christianity! A Catholic archbishop is claiming that condoms and retroviral drugs have been intentionally spiked with HIV. That's getting down and dirty with best evangelical strategy: lie, smear, and promote evil ignorance.

Archbishop Chimoio told our reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/Aids. "Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose," he alleged, refusing to name the countries. "They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century's time."

Please, Archbishop Chimoio, tell me of these amazing human societies where abstinence actually works.

I wonder if those mysterious unnamed countries are also where Ruloff's mysterious unnamed researchers live.

He said he knew researchers, whom he would not name, who had studied cellular mechanisms and made findings "riddled with metaphysical implications" and suggestive of an intelligent designer. But they are afraid to report them, he said.

Liars for Jesus all begin to sound alike after a while, don't they?

Oh, well. Ruloff is only trying to keep people stupid. Chimoio is trying to kill them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bill Clinton on the Republicans and Moveon

YouTube - Bill Clinton On MoveOn:


Mark Bauerlein Drives Smurov Shrill!

Smurov writes:

The Valve - A Literary Organ | What Constitutes Academic Labor: This short essay by Mark Bauerlein requires a comment box, if only to highlight this aside:

Do not believe academics when they talk about summer research work. Outside the scientists, most of them are idle or labor on books and articles that they don’t have to write and that less than 50 people will read.

Let me break that down for you:

  1. Most academics don’t work during the summer. 
  2. Professors can be divided into two groups: 1) the idle and 2) those who work.  The latter, however, labor on books and articles related to their specialization, so only specialists will read them.  Therefore, the effort expended on them doesn’t count as work. 
  3. Most academics don’t work during the summer.

Sounds fine to me. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Neoconentariat Drives Justin Logan Shrill!

Justin Logan writes:

Cato-at-liberty » You Call That Rethinking?: You Call That Rethinking? In a maddening discussion with Robert Wright, AEI scholar David Frum promises a “rethinking” of his views on Iraq but, unsurprisingly, I suppose, provides no such thing. I’ll leave it to C@L readers to stomach as much of it as they can.

But at times like this, I am reminded of Anatol Lieven’s takedown of Eliot Cohen in The National Interest:

by contributing in this way to a hasty, poorly-planned military operation, it must be repeated that Dr. Cohen took on himself a measure of the moral, intellectual and political responsibility for precisely those U.S. administration mistakes in Iraq which he now denounces, and which have cost so many American lives. It is disappointing—though not surprising—that Dr. Cohen himself does not realize that this record demands from him, as an honorable man, a lengthy period of quiet, private reflection on his mistakes and the reasons for them.

Lieven is absolutely right, but if his advice were followed, housing prices in Northern Virginia could well plummet as the neocon commentariat flees for the hills to contemplate the err of their ways. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Michael Berube Gets Canonical on Ross Douthat

I say this is shrill!

Crooked Timber » » Everybody wang chung tonight: Perhaps the sorry state of contemporary canon-commentary is best exemplified by Ross Douthat, who picks up the NAS study and writes, “obviously, having Morrison and to a lesser extent Woolf in that group is somewhat depressing.” Obviously, you just gotta love the “obviously.” In a stroke, five of the most accomplished novels from the high-modernist era—-Jacob’s Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves—have now been so pwned by Ross Douthat!

No way they deserve to be sitting in the chair reserved for the author of “Mac Flecknoe.”

Douthat’s judgment is then seconded by a couple of rapid-fire commenters, one of whom writes that “intelligent professors should acknowledge that Toni Morrison’s work is low-brow junk” only to be corrected, one comment down, by someone who writes, “Excuse me. Toni Morrison’s work is not ‘low-brow junk.’ It’s middle-brow junk.” I can’t explain these comments myself, any more than I can explain why a once-respected literary magazine like the Atlantic would want to offer gigs to people who find it “obviously” depressing that writers like Woolf and Morrison are widely read and studied, but I can suggest three options: (1) the commenters have actually never read Paradise or Beloved, novels that make substantial demands on ordinary readers; (2) people are unaware that the properly highbrow way to sneer at Morrison is to compare her unfavorably with Faulkner or Garcia Márquez, neither of whom is usually associated with the lower brows; (3) these remarks are actually a subtle form of praise, insofar as they link Morrison to Charles Dickens, long considered by Surly Curmudgeons everywhere as the king of middlebrow junk.

And why are people still hating on Toni Morrison? Because in Canon-Debating World, it’s always 1987, and . . . oh, you know the tune. Everybody have fun tonight.

In Canon-Debating World, it’s always 1987, and we always have to be on the lookout for the possibility that some black writer, somewhere, is getting too much attention at some dead white guy’s expense. (Odd, isn’t it, that the allegedly overrated contemporary writer is always black? And if people don’t want to make an issue of this, then they shouldn’t complain about the attention being paid to writers like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe. They should try complaining instead that everyone has read Don DeLillo’s Underworld but few people have read Book VI of the Aeneid, or something along those lines.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We Would All Be Better Off If the Washington Post Just Stopped Printing Tomorrow

Atrios is shriller than ever! He reads the Washington Post--which nobody should have to do--and finds Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray. The lead:

In Swing Districts, Democratic Enthusiasm Is Harder to Come By: Conventional wisdom dictates that Democratic voters are thrilled with their choices for president, bursting at the seams to rally behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) or whoever gets the party's nod next year. A recent survey by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, however, showed Clinton and Obama trailing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) in the 31 Democratic-held House districts regarded as most imperiled in 2008, and even potentially serving as a drag on those lawmakers' reelection chances. The poll was conducted in August but has not been previously reported. It paints a "sobering picture" for Democrats, according to a memo by Lake and Daniel Gotoff that accompanies the poll report...

Atrios writes:

Blogger Ethics Panel: So why is "Democratic pollster" Celinda Lake running push polls about Obama and Clinton? Why are Cillizza and the Devil running them as news? More importantly, why isn't Cillizza telling us that Celinda Lake works for the rival Biden campaign? I know he knows this, because he told me himself...

Indeed, Cillizza did:

Celinda Lake Joins Biden's 2008 Team: If Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Ill.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) are the hares of the 2008 Democratic nomination race, Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) is aiming to be the tortoise. While the announcements of Clinton and Obama have dominated the news over the past week, Biden continues to soldier on -- slowly building a national political team. The latest addition to the team is Celinda Lake, who will handle polling for Biden's presidential effort. Lake, a well-known pollster among the chattering class, had a very good 2006 as the lead pollster for Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) as well as Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.). All three beat Republican incumbents...

And it's true: the name of Celinda Lake's employer, Joe Biden, doesn't appear in the Cillizza-Murray article. And the wording of Lake's question?

"Some people say [your Democratic incumbent] is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and will support her liberal agenda of big government and higher taxes if she becomes president," the poll stated, before asking respondents whether they would still vote for their incumbent or choose a Republican candidate...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Paul Krugman: What I Hate About Political Coverage

Yea, our grand heresiarch is shrill:

What I Hate About Political Coverage - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog: What I Hate About Political Coverage Warning: this is a bit (actually, more than a bit) of a rant.

One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans.

There are two big problems with this kind of reporting. The important problem is that it fails to inform the public about what matters. In 2004, very few people had any idea about the very real differences between the candidates on domestic policy. It remains to be seen whether 2008 is any better.

The other problem, which has become very apparent lately, is that this sort of coverage often fails even on its own terms, because the way things look to inside-the-Beltway pundits can be very different from the way they look to real people.

Which brings me to the Petraeus hearing.

To a remarkable extent, punditry has taken a pass on whether Gen. Petraeus’s picture of the situation in Iraq is accurate. Instead, it was all about the theatrics – about how impressive he looked, how well or poorly his Congressional inquisitors performed. And the judgment you got if you were watching most of the talking heads was that it was a big win for the administration – especially because the famous MoveOn ad was supposed to have created a scandal, and a problem for the Democrats.

Even if all this had been true, it wouldn’t have mattered much: if the truth is that Iraq is a mess, the public would find out soon enough, and the backlash would be all the greater because of the sense that we had been deceived yet again.

But here’s the thing: new polls by CBS and Gallup show that the Petraeus testimony had basically no effect on public opinion: Americans continue to hate the war, and want out. The whole story about how the hearing had changed everything was a pure figment of the inside-the-Beltway imagination.

What I found striking about the whole thing was the contempt the pundit consensus showed for the public – it was, more or less, “Oh, people just can’t resist a man in uniform.” But it turns out that they can; it’s the punditocracy that can’t.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There is No Non-Shrill Lunch

PGL is, well, shrill:

Bush Rebuts Greenspan's Critique of Fiscal Policy, by PGL: My title is the title of a WSJ op-ed from Henry Pulizzi:

Saying he "respectfully" disagrees with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's recent criticism, President Bush defended his administration's fiscal record and said his tax cuts helped the U.S. fend off recession and reduce massive deficits. "Our fiscal record is admirable and good. After all, the deficit as a percentage of GDP is low relative to the 30-year average," Mr. Bush said in an interview with the Fox News Channel. I would also argue that cutting taxes ... made a significant difference in dealing with the deficit because the growing economy yielded more tax revenues, which allowed us to shrink the deficit.

My apologies to AB readers for repeating Mr. Pulizzi’s title as it is complete and utter BS. Bush did not rebut anything. Hat tip to Mark Thoma for reminding us that real economists – which excludes Lawrence Kudlow but does include Bush’s “own economists” - do not believe in the free lunch supply-side crap that certain GOP politicians routinely utter. Henry Pullizi should be ashamed of himself for suggesting that George W. Bush rebutted in any way what Alan Greenspan has recently said.

I have a question for the either incredibly stupid or dishonest Henry Pullizi – shouldn’t the fact that Bush went on Faux News been a big clue that his statements were just stupid partisan garbage? Seriously – how dumb is this Mr. Pullizi?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gene Healy: Learning to Love the Imperial Presidency

Gene Healy is shrill:

Reason Magazine - Rant: Learning to Love the Imperial Presidency: “I took an oath, and I take that oath to the president very seriously,” former White House aide Sara Taylor told the Senate Judiciary Committee during the summer hearings on the U.S. attorneys purge. Taylor’s statement prompted an indignant clarification from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.): “No, the oath says that you take an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States!”

Leahy was right, of course. But it’s not surprising that the 32-year-old Taylor, born the month after Nixon’s resignation, had some trouble locating the object of her sworn fealty. For as long as she’s been alive, the conservative movement has prioritized the expansion of presidential power, often at the expense of the Constitution.

It wasn’t always that way. Almost to a man, the conservatives who coalesced around William F. Buckley’s National Review in 1955 associated executive power with liberal activism and viewed Congress as the conservative branch. In 1967 the right-wing intellectuals Russell Kirk and James McClellan praised the late Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, “Mr. Conservative,” for warning that an overly aggressive foreign policy threatened to “make the American President a virtual dictator.” During his 1964 presidential bid, Barry Goldwater called the celebration of presidential power “a philosophy of government totally at war with that of the Founding Fathers.”

Yet Goldwater’s distrust of presidential power fit uneasily with his embrace of a hyper-aggressive posture in the struggle against the Soviet Union. When conservatives did support the expansion of presidential power, it was almost always in the context of foreign policy. Even so, postwar, pre-Watergate conservatives in Congress voted against the expansion of presidential power more consistently than did liberals.

That began to change with Nixon. Prominent conservatives began to see the executive as the conservative branch and set to work developing a conservative case for the imperial presidency. Right-wing ressentiment over Nixon’s downfall helped drive the shift. As the right-wing writer M. Stanton Evans quipped, “I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.”

Conservatives started to consistently vote for major expansions of presidential strength, even when those expansions contradicted traditionally conservative positions. By the Reagan era, prominent Republicans were calling for a repeal of the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms. In the ’90s, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich led an unsuccessful effort to repeal the War Powers Act, even though that would have increased the powers of President Clinton. “I want to strengthen the current Democratic president,” Gingrich explained, “because he’s the president of the United States.”

Trying to strengthen the powers of the presidency when the office is occupied by a political enemy shows principle of a sort. But it’s not a recognizably conservative principle. Conservatism as its best has recognized man’s weakness for power. As Kirk put it in 1993, “The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage.”

Modern conservatives, by contrast, spent much of the ’90s trying to convince the nation that its highest office had been seized by an unscrupulous, venal man who would stop at nothing to retain power. They’ve spent much of this decade trying to tear down checks on that office’s power, all the while with another Clinton warming up in the on-deck circle.

The Heritage Foundation, the leading conservative think tank in D.C., still offers a Russell Kirk lecture series. The speaker at the Kirk Lecture of February 2006 was John C. Yoo—an architect of the PATRIOT Act, coauthor of White House legal memos asserting that the president could unilaterally suspend the Geneva Conventions, and the legal academy’s most prominent advocate of unbridled executive power.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism Looks to Be Really Shrill

Yves Smith learns something about the strategies of Goldman Sachs's Global Alpha fund, and is genuinely shocked:

Global Alpha, Carry Trade Victim: Bloomberg reports that Goldman's big hedge fund, Global Alpha, which took a beating along with other quantitatively oriented traders, was down 22.5% in August. Even among quant funds, this was lackluster performance. James Simons' Renaissance Technologies recouped the 8.7% loss it suffered at the beginning of the month.

But here comes the juicy bit: of that 22.5% loss, the biggest contributor was an 8.9% fall in currencies due to being hit by an unwinding of the carry trade. The fund had sold yen and bought Aussie dollars, and the Australian dollar fell 6% while the yen rose.

Let's get this picture straight. Goldman is charging hedge fund fees and claiming to deserve them by virtue of having highly sophisticated models, and one of its biggest positions in a yen/Aussie dollar bet? You don't need Goldman for that. Japanese housewives are doing far more complicated currency trades on their own. They can try to hide behind their models, but this is plain simple point of view punting on currencies.

But Goldman would have you believe otherwise:

"Longer term, successful quant managers will have to rely more on unique factors," the firm's fund-management division said in a report to clients. "While we have developed a number of these factors over the last several years, in hindsight we did not put sufficient weight on these relative to more popular quant factors."

The claim that too many other quants were making the same trade is utter baloney. Huge numbers of Japanese speculators were into that trade. Everyone knew that. Every time the yen stated to appreciate, retail traders in Japan would sell it down, until even they lost their nerve...

Washington Post Hack Michael Gerson Drives Publius Shrill!

Yes, Publius is shrill:

Obsidian Wings: Gerson's Pants-on-Fire Problem: Anyone care to take a stab at what Gerson means by this:

The resentment of Sunni tribal leaders against al-Qaeda's highhanded brutality predated the surge -- but the surge gave those leaders the confidence and ability to oppose al-Qaeda.

The surge was proposed in December, 2006, following the elections. The Anbar tribes made a decision about AQI in September, four months earlier. Maybe the Anbar sheiks read the Charlie Cook Report and just extrapolated from there. This macaca thing is going to kill Allen in Fairfax. Death to America.

Of course, I recognize he's using patented Gerson weasel language (e.g., the "resentment" -- not the action -- predated the surge). But it's still intended to mislead -- which is unfortunately a regular feature of his op-eds, not to mention his speeches and his life more generally.

"The President’s Description ... of the Stakes in Iraq was Delusional"

The Commander in Chief is a pretty lame duck:

Somebody Else’s Mess, By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, September 16, 2007: George W. Bush delivered his farewell address on Thursday evening — handing the baton, and probably the next election, to the Democrats. Why do I say that? Because in his speech to the nation the president … said that … a substantial number of U.S. troops would remain in Iraq “beyond my presidency.” Therefore, it will be up to his successor to end the war he started. …

The sad thing for the American people is that we have no commander in chief anymore, framing our real situation and options. The president’s description on Thursday of the stakes in Iraq was delusional. … We … do not have a commander in chief weighing the costs of staying in Iraq indefinitely against America’s other interests at home and abroad. 

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Texas Execution System Drives Radley Balko into Shrill Unholy Madness!

Radley Balko: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares! Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares!: Comments: A judge has blocked prosecutors from destroying a hair found at scene of the murder for which Claude Jones was convicted, and executed in 2000. DNA testing will now be done to determine if it matches Jones. It's not just any hair. It's the hair that prosecutors matched to the defendant at trial by way of a hair fiber analyst.

Hair fiber analysis is, to say the least, an imperfect science. It has led to wrongful convictions before, and professional prosecution hair fiber witnesses have a history of exaggerating the certitude of their findings.

I haven't read enough about this particular case to have an opinion on it. I note it mostly because of the following passage, which I find absolutely inexplicable:

The groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to DNA testing – and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible a human being.

Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.

But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those things should happen. Because...well...because Texas...would have executed an innocent man.

And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about it--and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty--isn't something to be avoided, it's something that damned-well ought to happen. Because--at risk of repeating myself--Texas would have executed an innocent man.

Seriously. What possible not-devoid-of-all-morality argument could a prosecutor possibly make for being permitted to destroy evidence that might prove an innocent man was executed?

I really can't think of one.

Matt Welch: Why Do We Have to Stay in Iraq Forever?

Matt Welch is shrill:

Iraq forever - Los Angeles Times: Last Friday morning, I found myself cornered by a Republican Iraq war vet from the National Guard who sincerely wanted me to understand that when the news media or congressional Democrats talk about drawing down troops, or withdrawing altogether, they are, explicitly, siding with the enemy. "It's either victory or defeat," he said, and if U.S. troops leave Iraq, that means unequivocal defeat.

I pointed out that by that definition of abetting the enemy, noted non-treasonite John McCain, to name the one of many qualifying Republicans I happen to know best, could be culpable, based on his statements and actions regarding Beirut, Somalia and Haiti. The vet let the blow glance off and got back on message: Wartime is not the time to debate the conduct of war. Once we're there, we're in it together, and we need to fight united until we win.

Set aside for the moment whether he's right. The important thing, for the future conduct of U.S. foreign policy, is that his sentiment remains widely held, in numbers large enough to help ensure that no matter what you may hear on the campaign trail between now and November 2008, the U.S. troop deployment in Iraq will likely be an issue in the 2012 election and beyond. To paraphrase that old country song, we ain't going nowhere.

Consider that in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as the 1990s), President Clinton felt that he had to assure an isolationist Republican Congress -- repeat after me, an isolationist Republican Congress -- that the 20,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops he promised Bosnia as part of the Dayton Accords would only stay deployed for a single calendar year. They ended up staying nine times as long, and that ranks among the shortest of unpromised U.S. deployments since the country became a global power.

At the time, Clinton was able to persuade enough Republicans not necessarily on the merits of backing Balkan peace with potential U.S. blood but rather on the argument that, well, the commander in chief had made a promise. McCain, who had said just two years earlier that "the aspect of the future of this nation that bothers me more than anything else is the prospect of sending American troops on the ground into Bosnia," grudgingly rallied his party mates to the president's side. "As I have already stated," he said on the Senate floor, "I would not have committed American ground forces to this mission, had that decision been mine to make. But the decision has been made by the only American elected to make such decisions."

The logic and momentum of intervention is so powerful that few Americans, even in Year 4 of a howlingly unpopular war, seem to note how far the goalposts have been moved in such a short time. Eighteen years ago, war was considered a grudging last resort, conditional on a maximally multi-lateral "new world order" in which Bahrain would fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Denmark and Bangladesh, financed (for some reason) with billions from the Japanese and Germans. Back then, Op-Ed pages nearly printed themselves with thumbsuckers about who, if anyone, should play "global cop," and no one deemed "serious" even considered going all the way to Baghdad.

Every presidential nominee of the major party not currently occupying the White House runs on a scaled-back, more "humble" foreign policy; every new president quickly becomes a robust interventionist. People commonly misportrayed as wild-eyed pacifists -- Howard Dean, George Soros -- in fact supported just about every war before Iraq and will almost certainly support future Democratic wars. As the woman said, what's the point of having this superb military if we can't use it?

As for this year's candidates, according to this useful and depressing rundown from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Hillary Clinton "has proposed a congressional vote to reauthorize the war effective next month, the fifth anniversary of the original authorization measure's passage, although there appears to be little prospect that it will be taken up." Barack Obama wants a "phased withdrawal," a negotiated settlement, perhaps a residual force. Joe Biden imagines a standing presence of 20,000 troops. Everyone wants to double down in Afghanistan.

So Gen. Petraeus will get his six more months of surge, even though Democrats claim it's failing and the public has long since given up hope. We'll all reconvene next spring, by which time the goalposts should be moved sufficiently enough that I can plan on writing the exact same column on the seventh anniversary of Sept. 11 as well.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Jay Rosen: The Master Narrative that Went Missing During the Bush Years Turns Up in Charlie Savage's Book

Boy, is Jay Rosen shrill!

PressThink: The Master Narrative that Went Missing During the Bush Years Turns Up in Charlie Savage's Book: Unbuilding the Bush presidency: does your candidate support that? Which parts? And if you don't know, isn't that a case of: Iowa, we have a problem? Some new developments this week in the continuing story of how the press was overawed by the Administration of George W. Bush. For those who have followed it, the story has two tracks: what happened then (2002-05, as the case for war was made and then fell to pieces) and what’s still happening now, despite broad awareness of how badly the press failed itself, and the country, back “then.”

Boston Globe Reporter Charlie Savage did something great on Track One Monday. He actually supplied at TPM Cafe the missing master narrative for the Bush years: “The agenda of concentrating more unchecked power in the White House.”

In one of the first posts I wrote when I started blogging (Sep. 2003), I defined the master narrative in press coverage as “the story that produces all the other stories.” In campaign news on the horse race model, the base narrative is winning; how the campaign is won is the “master” from which thousands of copies—horse race stories themselves—are made.

My thought was: change the master, come up with a better one, and maybe you can change the reporting. Well, Savage came up with a better one for this Administration: the drive to concentrate unchecked power in the White House, commanded by Cheney, backed by Bush, centered in the OVP— and a radical project. Not a “new” story but a thread for connecting lots of stories and piecing together better explanations for what was going down.

I think that was the narrative the press needed to get back in the game after being gamed in the build-up to the War. The story that produces lots of other stories should have been the attempted expansion of executive power, and the go-it-alone politics that followed from it.

Savage is planning a five-week tour around the country. You should try to catch him. But first catch what he’s saying— and the responses. For if we can’t get the presidential candidates of both parties on record about steps to reverse this agenda, if we can’t make a proper issue out of it in 2008, we’re probably screwed.

Unbuilding the Bush presidency: does your candidate support that? Which parts? And if you don’t know, isn’t that a case of: Iowa, we have a problem?

PressThink readers would know Charlie Savage as the Globe reporter in Washington who figured out that Bush’s signing statements were part of a pattern. He put some of the pieces together and got a Pulitzer for it, which was just.

I thought his new book, Takeover, was going to be the fuller story of signing statements, but no. It’s about “the Bush administration’s very broad view of executive power,” and the effort to put that view into practice by overcoming all constraints. Savage began calling it the Cheney project because Dick Cheney had “articulated a vision of nearly limitless commander-in-chief power two decades earlier.”

In 2005, Savage followed the fight over John McCain’s efforts to get a ban on torture enacted by Congress. “We all thought the story was over when Bush signed the bill into law, but then the president issued a signing statement telling interrogators that he could authorize them to ignore the law.” Then it happened again with oversight provisions in the Patriot Act.

Savage reported on both actions for the Globe. “Those two stories got a huge response, and so after that my bureau chief relieved me of daily reporting responsibilities for a month to go find and decipher all the other signing statements Bush had issued since taking office.”

(Why do I say bloggers vs. journalists is stupid and should be declared over? Because the two “sides” are already part of one news system. A large portion of that “huge” response he got was the blogosphere roaring its approval for the digging and synthesizing Charlie Savage did, which influenced the bureau chief to spend the manpower on more stories like that. The big response online amplifies the Globe’s voice in the national conversation, and expands the circle of people who care about the newspaper’s reporting.)

Savage learned that the president had challenged more laws than all previous presidents combined. If the owner of the policy was Bush and its originator Cheney, the enforcer was David Addington (see Jane Mayer’s profile), a man who does not even speak to the press. The policy predated September 11, after which the attacks became the spectacular (and bottomless) justification.

Savage put it this way in the Boston Globe (Nov. 26, 2006): “Over the course of his career, Cheney came to believe that the modern world is too dangerous and complex for a president’s hands to be tied. He embraced a belief that presidents have vast ‘inherent’ powers, not spelled out in the Constitution, that allow them to defy Congress.”

A theme Savage develops is the inadequacy of a string of episodes. “Like many reporters, I had been focused in on a close-up of one or two controversies, but had been missing the broader context,” he writes. In fact, journalists have to decide not only what “the broader context” is, but whether there is a broader context building up, a thread connecting these things, or just a series of news stories, episodes that are worth a few cycles but ultimately have to make way for other episodes.

Savage tells us what happened when he allowed the “full panorama” into view. It changed what he saw in incidents that had made news.

Suddenly, what the Bush administration had been doing across a huge range of issues made much more sense – not just the 9/11-related controversies, but Cheney’s fight to keep his energy task force papers a secret, the attacks on open-government laws such as FOIA and the Presidential Records Act, the use of executive orders instead of legislation to push the faith-based initiative, the decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without consulting the Senate, the choices for Supreme Court nominations, unprecedented efforts to impose greater White House control over Justice Department lawyers and other executive branch bureaucrats, and many other things. These disparate controversies were all connected. The administration, from its very beginning, had set out to set precedents and take actions that would permanently expand presidential power for the long-term, even when such tactics brought them extra short-term difficulties. A quiet but sweeping constitutional revolution was well underway.

See why master narratives matter?

While Savage develops his argument for what was going on, Jack Goldsmith’s testimony is unfolding at Slate. They complete each other, clashing only in one respect: the view each has of presidential power.

Here we have a conservative, a Republican, and a Bush Administration insider—head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, until he resigned because of the Cheney project—developing what is largely the same narrative, and bringing you into the meetings where key events in it happened.

“Why don’t we just go to Congress and get it to sign off on the whole detention program?” Goldsmith asked at one sit down. “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Addington replied. This is the heart of his book, which is a work of dissent from within the Bush camp.

Presidential candidates will think twice about “giving away the president’s power,” Savage believes. Once they are successfully asserted, new presidential prerogatives are hard to get rid of. (Especially with a war on.) Which is why Savage thinks Bush and Cheney have largely won. “The expansive presidential powers claimed and exercised by the Bush- Cheney White House are now an immutable part of American history — not controversies, but facts.”

Even if the victor in the 2008 presidential election declines to make use of the aggrandized executive powers established by the Bush- Cheney administration, in the long run such forbearance might make little difference. The accretion of presidential power, history has shown, often acts like a one-way ratchet: It can be increased far more easily than it can be reduced.

In a statement that struck some people as strange, Savage said “I do not think that presidential power is a partisan issue.” Why? Because “future Democratic presidents will be able to invoke the same novel powers that the Bush administration has pioneered in order to unilaterally impose their own agendas.” They will be able to, but are they as likely to? Savage says it doesn’t matter; the powers are there. But if it doesn’t matter, and if we don’t have live controversies but accomplished facts, then how is there any “issue” at all, partisan or not? Charlie has three days left; he should address this.

When Goldsmith suggested going to Congress, he thought he was expanding White House power by adding hugely to its legitimacy without sacrificing much at all. But this is where the radical part in the Cheney project emerged. The very act of seeking broader legitimacy diminished the president’s power, giving it away, according to Cheney and Addington. Goldsmith is good on this:

Addington once expressed his general attitude toward accommodation when he said, “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop.” He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies.

Calling it a “truism among political scientists and historians who study the American presidency,” that “a president’s authority is not measured primarily by his hard power found in the Constitution, statutes, and precedents, but rather by his softer powers to convince the other institutions of our society to come around to his point of view,” Goldsmith points out how great a departure was made under this president.

The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action, and legalistic defense. This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.

Only by shifting the narrative could this “entirely different concept of power” come into view and make news, as it were. It has been a truism among Washington journalists that the Bush White House was “good” at politics. (It had discipline, it had Rove, it won twice: case closed.) Goldsmith shows how thin this view was. The Bush White House actually declined to participate in normal politics, but this is not something it ever told the country it was going to do. In any case, the move was a disaster whether you were part of the Bush coalition, or stood outside it. Which might be part of what Savage means by “not a partisan issue.”

You can’t run a press system that assumes the President feels a need to explain himself to the nation when the White House is running a system in which no such need is felt. Just one of the many ways in which by declining to develop a more savage narrative the press failed to figure out what was happening to itself under Bush.

George W. Bush Drives Editor and Publisher Shrill

Think of it: a whole periodical shrill:

As Bush Prepares for 'Surge' Address Tonight: Here Is What He Promised in January Speech: NEW YORK With President Bush reportedly ready to endorse a full continuation of the "surge" in Iraq through next summer in a speech to the nation tonight, a look back at what he promised in his address last January might prove illuminating, especially concerning "benchmarks."

The president said then, "I've made it clear to the Prime Minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this....

"To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."

None of this happened.

A fact sheet released by the White House at the same time stated:

"The Government of Iraq commits to:

  • Reform its cabinet to provide even-handed service delivery.
  • Act on promised reconciliation initiatives (oil law, de-Baathification law, Provincial elections).
  • Give Coalition and ISF authority to pursue ALL extremists.
  • All Iraqi leaders support reconciliation.
  • Moderate coalition emerges as strong base of support for unity government."

Howard Kurtz Drives Media Matters Shrill

Media Matters was shrill already. But who is keeping track anymore?

Media Matters - Wash. Post media critic Kurtz said Fox News is "entitled" to be a Bush "cheerleader" and "misinform[] our society": During the September 12 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, Washington Post media critic and CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz said that MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has described Fox News as a channel that "poses as a news organization and puts out dangerous misinformation [and] is a cheerleader for the Bush administration, that it is misinforming our society." Kurtz added: "But you know what? They're entitled to do that."

Kurtz has a history of ignoring Fox falsehoods and ignoring criticism of the cable network. In his April 19, 2006, profile of Fox News host Brit Hume, Kurtz presented Hume as the "Low-Key Voice of Conservatism on Fox News" but largely ignored the numerous false and misleading statements Hume has made during his tenure. Media Matters also documented Kurtz's response to a September 19, 2004, column by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, in which he referred to Fox News Channel as "G.O.P. TV." On the September 26, 2004, edition of Reliable Sources, Kurtz asked Rich if that label was "fair to [Fox] correspondents like Carl Cameron and Jim Angle and Major Garrett ... who are trying to do a straightforward job." But Media Matters has documented numerous examples of reporting by Cameron, Angle, and Garrett that belie Kurtz's statement that they are "trying to do a straightforward job."

Kurtz made his remark on Glenn Beck in the context of discussing Olbermann's comments quoted in the October 2007 issue of Playboy: "Al Qaeda really hurt us, but not as much as Rupert Murdoch has hurt us, particularly in the case of Fox News. Fox News is worse than Al Qaeda -- worse for our society. It's as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan ever was."

Fox News is reportedly the most-watched cable news network in America. The New York Times reported on August 2 that "Fox News remained entrenched in first place" in the July 2007 cable-news ratings race, while rivals CNN and MSNBC battled over second place. Moreover, a 2003 study conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks that was based on seven U.S. polls conducted from January through September of that year found that "Fox was the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions [about the war in Iraq]" The study gauged misperceptions on the following issues: "Evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda have been found," "Weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq," and "World public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq." The study also found that "Fox News watchers were most likely to hold misperceptions -- and were more than twice as likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions."

From the September 12 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck:

KURTZ: Look, I'm not -- look. Keith Olbermann is somebody who interviews people and spouts off on cable and has had some success doing it. And I think he's very talented. But I think those comments -- Al Qaeda, Ku Klux Klan -- are so over the top, it's just beneath him. It's beneath the kind of erudition I would expect from him.

BECK: Do you -- do you even understand what he was talking about?

KURTZ: I think the argument that I've heard Olbermann make in the past about Fox News -- it's not an argument that I embrace -- is that, because it poses as a news organization and puts out dangerous misinformation --

BECK: But that's what he's doing!

KURTZ: -- and is -- is a cheerleader for the Bush administration, that it's misinforming our society. But you know what?

BECK: Howard --

KURTZ: They're entitled to do that.

BECK: Let me ask you this question. Who makes you weep more for journalism: Keith Olbermann or me? That's quite a question.

KURTZ: I think you both have plenty of opinions and are both paid to spew them on the airwaves.

BECK: At least I admit it. Howard, thank you very much.

Friday, September 07, 2007

George W. Bush Drives Karen Tumulty Shrill!

Karen Tumulty: George W. Bush's Fantastic Freedom Institute

The Fantastic Freedom Institute - Swampland - TIME: George Bush rarely opens the window to his inner life. But this morning's NYT has a front-page story about an interview Bush has given to family friend and fellow Texan Robert Draper, the author of "Dead Certain," a new book about Bush's presidency. In it, Bush talks about how he wants to spend his post-White House years:

First, Mr. Bush said, “I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”

Then he said, “We’ll have a nice place in Dallas,” where he will be running what he called “a fantastic Freedom Institute” promoting democracy around the world. But he added, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.”

The President who so often says he's preoccupied with the present, and will leave his place in history to historians who will be writing long after he is dead, betrays that he has indeed been thinking about what they will decide. In fact, he is already trying to frame the questions for them:

Mr. Bush said he believed that Mr. Hussein did not take his threats of war seriously, suggesting that the United Nations emboldened him by failing to follow up on an initial resolution demanding that Iraq disarm. He had sought a second measure containing an ultimatum that failure to comply would result in war.

“One interesting question historians are going to have to answer is: Would Saddam have behaved differently if he hadn’t gotten mixed signals between the first resolution and the failure of the second resolution?” Mr. Bush said. “I can’t answer that question. I was hopeful that diplomacy would work.”

It did not, but soon enough, somebody else will make the decisions on Iraq. And then, Mr. Bush said, he would still be pursuing his “freedom agenda” at his institute, modeled on Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where young democratic leaders from around the world would study.

“Sixty-two is really young,” Mr. Bush said, “and yet I’ll be through with my presidency.”

UPDATE: Commenter Riesz Fischer would make a good Swampland editor (uh, I mean, if we HAD a Swampland editor). He points out:

I love you Karen, but you left out the best part. From TPM:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush's former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army's dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?' " But, he added, "Again, Hadley's got notes on all of this stuff," referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

So Bush is confused about the biggest mistake of the Iraq invasion-- he doesn't remember, Hadlye's got notes. OMG!

Justice Souter Is Shrill!

Examiner: Yeas and Nays

Book says Souter mulled resignation after Bush v. Gore: According to Jeffrey Toobin’s new book on the Supreme Court, Justice David Souter nearly resigned in the wake of Bush v. Gore, so distraught was he over the decision that effectively ended the Florida recount and installed George W. Bush as president.

In “The Nine,” which goes on sale Sept. 18, Toobin writes that while the other justices tried to put the case behind them, “David Souter alone was shattered,” at times weeping when he thought of the case. “For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice,” Toobin continues. “That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same.”

Kevin Drum and Dan Drezner Are Shriller than Ever

Kevin Drum on George W. Bush:

The Washington Monthly: "THAT'S WHAT I MEAN BY STRATEGIC THOUGHT"....Slate published this excerpt from Robert Draper's Dead Certain back on Tuesday, but I just got around to reading the whole thing today. It truly defies description:

Bush, as always, bridled at the request to navel-gaze. "You're the observer," he said as he worked the cheese in his mouth. "I'm not. I really do not feel comfortable in the role of analyzing myself. I'll try....

"You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know — y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it — I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really — You either know how to do it or you don't. I think part of this is it: I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond."

Dan Drezner is nonplussed: "Consider the following discussion question: what is missing from George Bush's strategic thought?" His commenters immediately answer correctly: "strategy" and "thought."

Read the whole thing. If you think you can stomach it.

The Shrillness of M.J. Rosenberg Passeth Understanding

M.J. Rosenberg: "There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons' 18th birthdays for another generation"

Israel Policy Forum: Critics of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Steven M. Walt cannot be surprised that the attacks on the book prior to publication have already helped propel it to #10 on Amazon's best-seller list. Not only that, the names "Walt-Mearsheimer" have become almost People magazine famous, odd for two mild-mannered political scientists from the University of Chicago and Harvard. It just shows you what a little "buzz" will do and a lot of buzz surrounds this book.

And why not? It's an important, heavily sourced and documented book (108 pages of footnotes) by two distinguished professors at two of our best universities. It deals with Middle East policymaking at a time when America's problems in that region surpass our problems anywhere else. And it is a serious book about a subject that is decidedly provocative, a much improved and expanded version of the original London Review of Books article. The book asks the question: how much power does the pro-Israel lobby have? The authors answer: too much, and that both America and Israel suffer as a result.

It's an arguable question and people are definitely arguing about it. It is also the kind of book you do not have to agree with on every count (I certainly don’t) to benefit from reading.

The authors do not say that there is anything intrinsically wrong about the existence of a pro-Israel lobby. As political scientists, they understand that lobbies are as American as corn in Kansas. They know that lobbies play a major role in virtually all areas of American policy-making, domestic and foreign. Nor do they suggest that the pro-Israel community is out of bounds when it uses its influence on Israel's behalf.

Their question is whether or not that influence is used to promote policies that are in America’s interest, or Israel's.

The authors answer is “no.” They believe that the interests of both countries would be better served by aggressive US involvement to produce an Israeli-Palestinian agreement along the lines of the so-called Clinton parameters. Israel would withdraw more or less to the '67 lines, a Palestinian state would be established, Israel's security would be guarded by ironclad guarantees, and the Palestinians would abandon any future claims on Israeli territory. They believe that it is the influence of the lobby that has prevented the US from vigorously pursuing this goal, despite the fact that both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush have endorsed it.

I spent almost 20 years as a Congressional aide and can testify from repeated personal experience that Senators and House Members are under constant pressure to support status quo policies on Israel. It is no accident that Members of Congress compete over who can place more conditions on aid to the Palestinians, who will be first to denounce the Saudi peace plan, and who will win the right to be the primary sponsor of the next pointless Palestinian-bashing resolution. Nor is it an accident that there is never a serious Congressional debate about policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, every President knows that any serious effort to push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on compromise by both sides will produce loud (sometimes hysterical) opposition from the Hill.

Walt and Mearsheimer mostly limit themselves to exploring whether all this is good for the United States (and to a lesser extent, Israel). The question I ask today, and not for the first time, is whether this type of behavior is good for Israel. Forty years after the Six Day War, the occupation continues, the resistance to it intensifies, and Israelis in increasing numbers question whether they have a future in the Jewish state. Has "pro-Israel" advocacy consistently produced "pro-Israel" ends? At several critical moments, it most certainly has not.

Was it pro-Israel to lobby the Nixon administration in 1971 to support Israel’s rejection of Anwar Sadat's offer of peace in exchange for a three mile pullback from the banks of the Suez Canal? Nixon capitulated to the pressure and backed off, leaving Israel free to reject Sadat's offer. Two years later, Sadat attacked and Israel lost 3000 soldiers in a war that would have been prevented had Israel accepted the Sadat initiative. Israel gained nothing in that war, and ended up giving Sadat all the territory he sought in 1971, and much more.

Was it pro-Israel to urge the Reagan administration to back Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982? That war, and its bloody aftermath, lasted for 18 years with the last Israeli soldier not leaving Lebanon until 2000 – after a thousand soldiers were killed. Just days after Israel's invasion, Lebanese Christian forces massacred almost a thousand Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. And 241 United States Marines, serving as post-war peace keepers, were killed (the most on any single day since Iwo Jima) when Hezbollah blew up their barracks. In the end, the war accomplished nothing and Israel withdrew unconditionally.

Was it pro-Israel to press Congress to attach so many onerous conditions to aid to President Abbas's Palestinian Authority that Abbas was unable to demonstrate to his people that a moderate President, who fully accepted Israel, would produce benefits that they would not achieve by choosing Hamas. The US (and Israeli) policies of all sticks and no carrots led predictably to Abbas's defeat by Hamas and a Hamas-controlled Gaza which has resumed its attacks on Israeli towns.

Was it pro-Israel to prevent the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administration's from insisting on a permanent freeze on settlements or, at the very least, the immediate removal of the illegal settlements? Wouldn't Israel be infinitely better off if the United States had used friendly persuasion to end the settlement enterprise right from the get-go? After all, the vast majority of Israelis consider the settlements to be impediments to peace and so has every President since the first settlement was erected. Similar question could be asked about the arguments favoring the Iraq war as good for both the United States and Israel (when critics correctly predicted that it would be disastrous for both) and should be asked about some future attack on Iran.

These questions are especially urgent with a Presidential election coming up.

Once again, Presidential candidates are being told that in order to earn the "pro-Israel" label, they must heartily endorse the status quo. That means that when asked what they would do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they must state unequivocal support for Israeli policies. They must put the onus for the failed diplomacy of recent years on the Palestinians. They must indicate that although they support peace, they will not adopt the kind of pro-active peacemaking engaged in by President Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. They must never use the words "even-handed or "honest broker." There is a script and the candidates must not deviate from it.

For the vast majority of us who care deeply about Israel, the politically correct (and safe) approach to Israel is insulting. Sure, it keeps candidates out of trouble with that small minority of the pro-Israel community which believes that Israel can survive as a Jewish state while holding on to the territories. But that isn't most American Jews, not by a long shot.

Candidates who avoid saying what they believe out of fear of offending lobbyists and activists who have been proven wrong over and over again are not doing Israel any favors. And they should not be rewarded for it by being granted the label of "pro-Israel."

There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons' 18th birthdays for another generation. For that we are supposed to be grateful?

The Health Care System Freaks Out Marc Cooper

Marc Cooper: Sicko Sticko Shock

Marc Cooper » Blog Archive » Sicko Sticko Shock: It's been way too hot today (about 110) to write much about anything serious. So I'll share an anecdote with you that I got via the U.S. mail this afternoon.

My health insurance company sent me one of its gazillionth periodic statements for my medical care. You know, one of those purposefully indecipherable billings for which you need NSA code-breaking skills to understand.

This one was for my hospitalization two months ago for heart procedures of what I would classify as moderate complexity. I underline the word moderate because its germane to this story. This wasn't open heart surgery, not even close. One procedure was done without anesthetic and other could have been done likewise on an outpatient basis but my doctor decided to knock me out for it and hold me overnight to recover. So I was in this particular hospital for a grand total of 20 hours.

The bill arrives today and (without any itemization) totals up to -- are you ready?-- $116, 749.00 (not included the cardiologist fees which are billed separately-- about another $6k).

I kid you not.

In a column lateral to the "amount billed" I then find the "amount allowed" i.e. the amount that Blue Cross is actually willing to pay the hospital. That amount: $4730, or less than 4% of the total charge.

But wait, there's a footnote appended to the amount allowed. In fine print at the bottom of the page the annotation says that the provider accepts the amount allowed as payment in full and that I, the insured, owe nothing.

That news, of course, allowed my heart to start beating again after momentarily seizing up. But then you start to wondering what this all means. I saw something similar a few weeks ago when two days in the ICU were billed at about $64,000 and the hospital accepted about 10% of that amount as payment in full from my network insurer.

These are my conclusions but I'm willing to stand corrected by anyone reading this who has some deeper, more nuanced understanding:

First, as current insurance plans go, I have what might be called platinum coverage thanks to the USC benefits program (Fight on, Trojans!).

Second, if the private, for-profit hospital (part of a chain with a rapacious reputation) accepted the $4730 from Blue Cross as payment in full for the time I was in the Coronary Care Unit, then I have to assume that the hospital is still making a profit even at that vastly reduced level. This seems inevitably the case if Blue Cross and similar carriers are covering what must be the overwhelming percentage of patients in this facility.

Third, I deduce from this statement that if for some reason I didn't have insurance but still wanted the same life-saving medical procedures and, provided that the hospital would admit me (probably on the basis of my signing a lien against my house from a bed in ER), then I would have quite literally been charged the full freight of $116,000 plus -- or in starker terms, a 25-fold mark-up beyond the rate offered to mega-insurance companies.

Fourth and finally, the system is absurd, insulting and inhuman.

I can only be grateful that I have such comprehensive insurance at a very low cost. Grateful and privileged but nevertheless still in sticker shock. No wonder it's called the Coronary Care Unit.

Norm Ornstein Drives Matthew Yglesias further into Shrill Unholy Madness

Matthew Yglesias: Guilty By Associates

Matthew Yglesias: Guilty By Associates: One of the weirdest things I've read in a while is this Norm Ornstein "diarist" column in TNR. He starts out by observing that, recently, he sees his name pop up now and again on lists of deranged neoconservatives who are destroying the country. He points out that this is wrong -- anyone who knows his work knows that he's a very smart guy of seemingly moderate views, deeply committed to procedural integrity and good government. That said, it's obvious why people might make this mistake: He works for the American Enterprise Institute, an outfit that's full of lunatics.

Where it gets weird, is that instead of complaining that guys like Kevin Hassett and John Lott and Michael Rubin and Michael Ledeen are starting to ruin his good name he complains that liberal bloggers don't realize how awesomely moderate AEI is and suggests at one point that people who confuse his views with those of his colleagues are anti-semites.

To all this I say, basically, what Mark Schmitt said:

So as an abstract principle, I agree with Steve that Norm Ornstein and others of independence and integrity at AEI (some would name welfare scholar Doug Besharov as another example) bear no responsibility for the views or activities of their neoconservative or fraudulent (e.g., Lott) colleagues, any more than I am responsible for Steve’s views (such as his curious gullibility to Hillary Clinton fundraising letters), or someone on the Harvard faculty is responsible for, say, Harvey Mansfield’s views. However, Harvard is an institution with a purpose – education and scholarship – and AEI is an institution with a different purpose. At one time, AEI’s purpose was honest analysis of policy from a broadly heterodox conservative perspective; over time its purpose has been moving in the direction of reinforcing the interests of its donors and of the conservative power structure, right or wrong. At some point, the sheer number of Lotts and Hassetts, the more explicitly political purpose, and the the large-scale deception perpetrated by Ledeen and the AEI neo-cons becomes the essence and purpose of the organization.

I mean, there's an obvious solution to Ornstein's problem: Quit AEI, say he's quitting AEI because he doesn't want to be associated with these charlatans, and get a job elsewhere. He's one of the best-respected people in Washington, I'm sure he could get a new one. Having good people at bad institutions just makes it harder to marginalize the lunatics in the way they ought to be marginalized.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Hilzoy Ventures into a Really Bad Internet Neighborhood

Hilzoy makes a mistake, and agrees to be a guest weblogger on Andrew Sullivan's website alongside pseudo-intellectual thug Jamie Kirchik. She gives a good account of herself:

The Daily Dish: A few points in response to Jamie's last post, which I will put below the fold so as not to distract from more substantive posts.

First, I don't know how Jamie is using the term 'totalitarian', but I meant it in its usual sense... "a form of government in which the political authority exercises absolute and centralized control over all aspects of life..." We can debate how closely al Qaeda's goals fit this definition: whether, for instance, an organization that rejects all man-made political structures could be described as one in which a political authority exercises absolute control over all aspects of life; whether the Sunni Islamic authorities who would presumably have a fair amount of power in al Qaeda's dream caliphate are normally unified enough to exercise totalitarian control, and so forth.

But al Qaeda does not pose a threat to us because its dream caliphate is a realistic possibility. It threatens us because it is a terrorist group.... [Kirchik is doing the equivalent of] describing Lenin's Communist Party as an anarchist rather than a totalitarian organization on the grounds that it held that the state would eventually wither away.

Second, I do not deny that Iran and Syria support terror, or that they, especially Iran, have helped factions within Iran. I do deny that they have "effectively declared war on us", which was Jamie's original claim. There is a difference.

Third, Jamie objects to my claim that al Qaeda's natural allies are failed states.... The two states with which al Qaeda has been most closely allied were Somalia and Afghanistan... failed or failing states. I do not believe that this is a coincidence....

Fourth, because I used the phrase "the risk of further destabilization in the Middle East and Pakistan", Jamie writes that "For Hilzoy, as for many on the left, there's no agency, no ideology, no actor behind this destabilization, except, of course, America, George W. Bush, and the criminal neocon cabal." Jamie is free to entertain this fantasy vision of what the left thinks, but if he wants to attribute this view to me, he should provide some evidence other than the construction of a single sentence. For the record, I have neither said nor thought that no one other than Bush is responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East, nor have I been particularly shy about criticizing other agents.

Fifth, Jamie seems to think that when I asked him what his conception of journalism was, I was bothered by the fact that I disagree with him. This is not true. I was bothered, as I said, by the fact that he made a serious accusation, and then wrote, the next day, that he wasn't sure whether what he wrote was true or not, but was simply trying to be provocative.... I was trying to understand how someone could write an article defining and describing "The Obama Doctrine", and then go on to write: "I'm not really sure if there is an Obama Doctrine, but was hoping to be provocative and stir some debate. That is why I asked:

Jamie, how do you conceive of your role as a journalist and blogger? What responsibilities do you think it involves? And how has your view of those responsibilities informed the posts I've mentioned above?

In asking that question, I was not impugning Jamie's motives, but questioning his conception of what being a journalist or a blogger involves. There is a difference. I supposed that Jamie was trying to do what a journalist or a blogger is supposed to do, and I wondered what he took that to involve. I might instead have impugned his motives.... I might have impugned his journalistic competence.... Or I might have impugned his linguistic competence: for instance, by supposing that he did not understand that "I'm not really sure whether X is true" is inconsistent with "I believe X for good reasons."

Any of these options would, I thought, have been less charitable than the one I chose. Moreover, while I do not know Jamie, and thus am in no position to judge, I do not suppose that any of them is true. That is why I did not impugn either his motives or his competence, but asked what his conception of journalism and blogging was, and how it was consistent with what he wrote.... If there is a good answer to [my] question, I am eager to hear it. If there isn't, then it is that fact, not any statement of mine, that Jamie should worry about.

Here is her earlier post:

Obsidian Wings: More On "The Antitotalitarian Left": On several occasions, Jamie has made serious claims for which he has provided very little evidence. There was, for instance, his claim that "Syria and Iran have effectively declared war on us", a declaration I must have missed, especially in the case of Syria. Similarly, his posts bemoaning our lack of grit brought to mind Tonto's great (and probably apocryphal) line: "What do you mean, 'we', white man?" Practically every generation I know of has believed that its members lacked the grit and purpose of the generations that came before. Is there any evidence at all to suggest that this is more true of our generation than it was of, say, Caesar's or Nietzsche's?

And, as I noted earlier, Jamie's post on Obama, and his related column, made claims about Obama's views on genocide that were difficult to square with Obama's record, his positions, or for that matter with a simple Google search of Obama's website for a word like Darfur.

Jamie's response to my post puzzled me. While he wrote in his column that "Judging from his statements thus far, it appears that Illinois Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama — though many steps away from becoming leader of the Free World — has presciently formulated his own doctrine: The United States will remain impassive in the face of genocide", he now claimed that "I'm not really sure if there is an Obama Doctrine, but was hoping to be provocative and stir some debate." Here I agree with Steve Benen's take:

Really? Kirchick wrote a piece for publication in a newspaper that accused a top presidential candidate of being indifferent towards genocide. He got basic facts wrong, and confronted with his mistakes, Kirchick argues that he simply wanted to “stir some debate”? (...) Professional writers aren’t supposed to submit pieces for publication with errors of fact and judgment just to get people talking.

We live in a time in which it is virtually impossible for ordinary citizens to get all the information they need to make informed political decisions.... [P]eople who write about politics for public consumption have, I've always thought, a responsibility, as citizens, to write things that illuminate and inform.... We all need help trying to figure things out, and for that reason we should at the very least try to make sure that what we say is true.... An uncharitable way to take Jamie's posts would be as manifesting a disregard for this duty... by making a very serious charge without having any real basis for it, in order to "be provocative."... Since I do not particularly want to be uncharitable, I'll just ask: Jamie, how do you conceive of your role as a journalist and blogger? What responsibilities do you think it involves? And how has your view of those responsibilities informed the posts I've mentioned above?

This is high-quality and high-class snark, giving Jamie Kirchik the choice between admitting that he is (a) not fluent in English, (b) not aware that he has a duty not to tell lies, or (c) aware that he has a duty not to tell lies but choosing to violate that duty by presuming that he is ignorant of the duties of a journalist or commentator in a Habermasian speech situation and asking him to explain his ignorance.

But it is a misuse of her time, her energy, and her mind.

Condi Rice Drives Steve Benen Even Shriller!

It is beyond the compass of mortal minds to grasp these ideas:

Talking Points Memo | Rice's legacy: By Steve Benen: When it comes to aides, staffers, and high-ranking officials, the Bush White House has had a reverse Midas touch. People who have reasonably good reputations before working for Bush, tend to leave humiliated. It's as if the president's inner circle is some kind of credibility-sapping black hole.

Condoleezza Rice, for example, left Stanford with at least some stature in professional circles, only to become what David Kay described as "probably the worst national security adviser since the office was created." Seven years ago, Rice was considered a fairly credible foreign policy expert, particularly on Russian policy. Today, Rice is best known for helping sell a disastrous war and losing turf wars to Donald Rumsfeld.

As Secretary of State, she has had little success improving U.S. relations with much of anyone. Rice biggest diplomatic victory was a breakthrough deal with North Korea, in which she triumphantly accepted the same deal the Clinton administration struck years earlier.

But, never fear, Rice has a comeback plan.

... Ms. Rice is working hard to reshape her legacy in her remaining 16 months in office. She is cooperating with a range of authors who have lined up to write books about her.... Although both the Kessler and the Bumiller books are expected to be critical of Ms. Rice on many points, State Department officials say that it is unusual for a sitting secretary of state to cooperate with so many biographies. But then again, few of her predecessors had multiple authors jostling to write books about them.

Beyond trying to influence the historical record, Ms. Rice is trying hard to rewrite her legacy to include something more than Iraq. Her colleagues and friends say that she has accepted that Iraq is a stain that she probably cannot remove before she leaves office.

At the risk of sounding uncharitable, that's probably a good conclusion to accept. Rice, like her boss, has a legacy that is based entirely on the war she helped sell.

For that matter, Rice tied her fate to the president, with whom she has chosen to be inextricably linked.

By the time Rice met Bush, he had become a Christian teetotaler and a devoted family man. The two shared a strong religious faith, a belief in American power, similar senses of humor, and a conviction that sports was a metaphor for life. He admired her brains. She valued his instincts. [...]

"There was this connective stuff -- that was really fully under way by the summer of 1999," said Rice's friend Coit "Chip" Blacker. "There's a funny kind of transfer of energy and ideas that's almost -- not random, but unstructured. It's as though they're Siamese twins joined at the frontal lobe."

The president reportedly refers to Rice as his "sister," while Rice's stepmother said she "just can't say no to that man."

I'm afraid it's a little late for Rice to start wondering how history will perceive her.

George W. Bush's Amnesia Drives Steve Benen into Shrill Unholy Madness!

"Yeah, I can't remember" says George W. Bush. And Steve Benen's sanity is shattered beyond repair:

Talking Points Memo | "Yeah, I can't remember": By Steve Benen: Robert Draper, however, a former writer for Texas Monthly, spent hours with the president at the White House, getting Bush to open up on these subjects for an upcoming book, which Draper agreed to share with the New York Times. It led to an NYT piece today that is almost impossible to read without feeling incredibly frustrated.... This might have been the most maddening revelation:

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, "The policy was to keep the army intact; didn't happen."

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush's former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army's dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, "Yeah, I can't remember, I'm sure I said, 'This is the policy, what happened?' " But, he added, "Again, Hadley's got notes on all of this stuff," referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

Let's not brush past this too quickly. The disbanding of the Iraqi army was one of the biggest mistakes of an administration burdened by near-constant missteps, one that was largely responsible for the creation of an Iraqi insurgency. On the subject, Bush sounds like a confused child -- he didn't understand the decision, he's not sure how the decision was made, and asked for his reaction to the decision, Bush is left to conclude, "Yeah, I can't remember"...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.