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:: Saturday, May 31 ::

AM I MISSING SOMETHING?: So I'm poking around the Open Secrets database of political donations, as is my right as a citizen of the democratic wonderland where wealth equals speech equals political contributions equals access for the wealthy, and I come across the following:

Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 1/23/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B

Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 8/7/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B

Contributor: REED, BRUCE N, WASHINGTON, DC 20008
Contribution Date: 10/20/2002
Amount: $500
Recipient: Bowles, Erskine B
Seems to me that totals $1,500. I know that the present limit for individuals is $2,000 -- but that is a result of the McCain-Feingold law which came into effect last November, after the election (in which Mr. Reed's candidate, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, was one of many Democrats who were defeated during what has become known as the Centrist Slaughter).

Was it possible under the old laws to contribute the $1,000 limit to a Senate candidate for the primary campaign and then give another thousand for the general election? Or is this something else? The DLC has been pretty sinister lately. Can someone explain what's going on here?

:: posted by Joe at 20:39 ::
:: ::


:: Friday, May 30 ::

Scott Martens of the highly-regarded Pedantry asks in comments:
Joe, maybe you can cast some light on this for me, since you're in Sweden. My boss is Swedish and complains endlessly about the taxes, business regulations and lack of entrepreneurial opportunities. I am in many respects inclined to ignore him since he is clearly someone with a California venture capital background, and has lived in Belgium for quite a few years without learning French or Dutch. However, I am unable to judge how accurately he is able to judge Sweden. You've basically described Sweden in a manner consistent with an American leftist who is used to seeing the near diametric opposite of social justice. Would Swedes see their own state the same way?
A couple of points come to mind, from which maybe you can cobble together a coherent thesis:

  • Most Swedes don't have this Manifest Destiny/take-over-the-world view of wealth. Far fewer Swedes than Americans aspire to ridiculously opulent wealth and, in fact, many are turned off by it. My girlfriend (who, it should be said, comes from a particularly red part of the North) thought the brass Home Depot doorknobs at my mother's house in New York were a bit distasteful. Most doorknobs are steel here, for whatever reason.

  • There is a profound lack of feelings of insecurity about personal finances. Swedes know that (for better or worse) a more tightly restricted labor market means better job security. More to the point, they know that unemployment benefits and placement are not just token programs; benefits are enough to feed your family with and Arbetsförmedlingen, the state employment office, actually places people in jobs. (Incidentally, the agency also works to place immigrants, which -- with the free Swedish classes and the information and assistance new immigrants receive from the Integration (recently switched from Immigration) Office -- helps those who in the US often wind up left up of society and the formal economy.)

  • The business environment favors small businesses over huge conglomerates. Again, if you want to take over the world, it's possible (Ericsson, H&M, Volvo) but the taxes are high and, because unions are powerful and "the workers" isn't quite as dirty a word here, employer-employee relations can be a hassle from an American businessman's perspective. I know more people in Sweden who have started up a small business than I do in America, for whatever that says. Also worth mentioning are the free classes on starting a small business.

  • Scott's boss complains about "complains endlessly about the taxes, business regulations and lack of entrepreneurial opportunities." The first two are undoubtedly true. No matter how you measure it, there are more taxes and business regulations in Sweden than in America. That said, there are more taxes and business regulations in America than in, say, Somalia, which has no central government. There, you'd just need a small private army and you could do your business tax-free and with no government "interference". The question is what kind of society you build.

    To me, how a nation chooses to regulate its economy places it somewhere on an arch. At one base you have laissez faire, which doesn't build a good society, and at the other you have complete state control, which also doesn't build a good society. The country that finds the magic amalgam of free market and regulation that builds wealth, freedom and justice will be at the top of the arch. If I were president or prime minister, I wouldn't stay the course of either George Bush or Göran Persson. Perhaps controversially, I'm not sure I have a preference as to on which side of the arch it's better to err, as long as you're getting close. In any case, I think the United States is further from top than Sweden.

    Sweden consistently ranks higher than the US in the UN Development report and on standard-of-living measures across the board. The Gini index that measures income equality consistently puts the two countries at opposite ends of the field; on a scale where 0 is a perfectly equal society and 100 is a perfectly unequal society, income distribution in the US is nearly twice as unequal as in Sweden.

    I guess point for Americans to understand is that where Sweden regulates business and has higher taxes, it is for a moral reason. One entrepreneurial opportunity not available to Swedes is that of starting up a liquor store. The state owns and operates the only store permitted to sell anything stronger than 3.5% alc./vol. beer. That's not because they think that the state monopoly is a better economic model. They do it because they worry (somewhat excessively, I think) about the effects that loosening the monopoly would have on public health. Most Swedes support the status quo.

    Americans would do well to remember that the Cold War is over. We won. No serious person on the planet favors a centrally-planned economy. But the far-right and supply-siders in the US have used the residue of Cold War rhetoric against one extreme system to justify further steps down the road towards its opposite, which is equally bad.

    Just like in America, no serious person in Sweden believes that a centrally-planned economy is the right way to go. That's why they don't have one. Where they do have restrictions on business and higher taxes, it is for moral reasons. For example, it is a popularly-held moral stance in Sweden that everyone should have access to affordable health care. It is moral stance that everyone should have access to affordable housing. It is a moral stance that society cannot tolerate poverty.

    I don't always agree that the way they have implemented these goals has been the best way, but they are (or should be) the goals of every society and Sweden has achieved them. Today's politics here is about how to fill the gaps and do these things in cheaper and better ways. For all its evangelists and moralizers, the United States could stand to learn from this Swedish morality.

    :: posted by Joe at 07:21 ::
    :: ::


    Also in the article cited below, Ivo Daalder, late of Clinton's national security council and now with Brookings, slipped in your smart guy's response to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's distinction between "old" vs. "new" Europe:
    Scholars note, however, that Poland and other Eastern European nations of Mr. Bush's "new" Europe date back further than nations like Germany, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld infamously derided before the Iraq war as part of the "old" Europe, along with France.

    "They're all old — Europe is old," Mr. Daalder said. "In that sense, it's nonsensical. There are countries that are now members of the `new' Europe that predate countries of the `old' Europe. Germany was unified and became a single state long after Poland was an independent country."
    I wouldn't advise any of the Democratic presidential contenders to make that the backbone of their case against the Bush foreign policy, however.

    :: posted by Joe at 04:38 ::
    :: ::


    Where are the Patriotism Police on this one? President Bush, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, on the upcoming G8 conference in France:
    Mr. Bush said that Évian "will not be a summit of confrontation" and that "it will be a pleasure to talk with Jacques Chirac." He added, "Vive la France."
    It will be interesting to see if this remark turns off the spigots from which a rank, xenophobic hate has been pouring of late on the American right.

    :: posted by Joe at 04:32 ::
    :: ::


    :: Wednesday, May 28 ::

    In the spirit of the great clarifications, I offer the following:

    It has come to my attention that some readers are under the impression that I am Swedish. While I do speak (pretty awful) Swedish, live in lovely Stockholm, and partake in both the good (it's light out until after eleven at night these days; there are more beautiful people per thousand inhabitants in Stockholm than anywhere in the world) and the bad (draconian state monopoly on liquor; draconian state monopoly on liquor) of Swedish society, I am not in fact Swedish.

    I am originally from New York and, despite my disagreements with the president, somehow retain US citizenship. My last place of residence was Washington, DC, in an apartment just a few short blocks from the White House and, more importantly, The Brickskeller. I have lived here for a little over six months. And to paraphrase another great qualification, yes, universal health care is real, and it's spectacular.

    :: posted by Joe at 09:36 ::
    :: ::


    This seems like good news:
    Major liberal organizations, from labor unions to civil rights groups, have begun to meet privately to develop a coordinated strategy to oppose President Bush's reelection in 2004. Their goal is to buttress the Democratic Party and its nominee by orchestrating voter mobilization and independent media in as many as a dozen battleground states.

    All of the organizations are free to accept unlimited contributions, or "soft money" from wealthy individuals, unions and corporations. These donations are the kind that the new campaign finance law prohibits political parties and federal candidates from collecting.

    Together, these organizations have the potential to target $40 million to $50 million in key states including Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The amount could be much higher if organized labor invests heavily and a new, pro-Democratic committee gearing up to run television advertisements is successful. In addition, these organizations are expected to play a crucial role in Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts.
    The conservative cabal has been doing this for years, under the auspices of Grover Norquist, he of the quest to put Reagan on the ten dollar bill and other wacky adventures, and it's a good idea for liberals to get in the game organizationally.

    The project only stands a chance, though, if the famously factional liberal interest groups can show the same fascist discipline to the message of the 2004 Democratic nominee that conservative interests have to the White House line. We'll see. Surely a charismatic nominee would help.

    :: posted by Joe at 04:19 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, May 27 ::

    Incidentally, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which led (and won) the war for independence from Ethiopia, has an address in my building here in Stockholm. It seems that they share a tiny apartment/office with several other dodgy businesses and "foundations".

    The first time I got a piece of their mail by accident I was troubled by the prospect of bumping into a Communist and/or terrorist footsoldier or financier in the elevator. But Kaplan and Google have led me to tentatively conclude that the EPLF, which now governs Eritrea in some other incarnations, is neither a particularly Communist group nor a terrorist organization in the conventional sense (Ethiopians might disagree).

    :: posted by Joe at 05:24 ::
    :: ::


    Ezra's pointing to this Nicholas Kristof piece, which drafts Eritrea as the symbol of all that's wrong with Africa -- a case he sums up, chastises Westerners for not doing more about, and outlines his own solutions for, all in just over 700 words.

    But Robert Kaplan took a not-altogether-hopeless view of the tiny country on the Horn of Africa in an April article in The Atlantic Monthly. He portrayed Eritrea far more favorably, casting it as a staunch ally in the fight against terrorism led by a man whose "refreshing, undiplomatic brilliance" could make him "yet turn out to be among Africa's most competent rulers." He also praised Eritrea's people, its culture, and even its former colonial power, Italy, for getting urban planning right (no mention of Mussolini's record on Eritrean train timetables).

    So which is it? I'm inclined to go with Kaplan for a few reasons. First, he doesn't look as much like a Chia Pet as Kristof. Second, Kaplan presents more of both the pluses and minuses, largely owing to the fact that he has more space in which to write about them.

    It's tempting to give Kristof a pass because of the space consideration. But the better conclusion is that Kristof's goal of describing, wringing hands over, and solving the complex problems facing sub-Saharan Africa is part of the very problem he claims to be fighting: Western neglect. His column's pretensions represent the very arrogance and fitful interest he condemns.

    That said, anyone read any good books on Eritrea lately?

    :: posted by Joe at 05:16 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, May 26 ::

    Lots of footage of Ariel Sharon on CNN this week so far. Reports that the Israeli cabinet had accepted the Bush "road map" to piece were occasioned by clips of the prime minister walking through some hallway or other. More recent stories about his defense of the plan against right-wing critics brought pictures of a sitting Sharon. This extensive visual input got me thinking about just how fat Ariel Sharon really is.

    Anticipating charges of political bias or, worse, anti-Semitism, I briefly panicked before realizing that Yasser Arafat is no Slim Jim himself. Feeling pretty even-handed, I realized I would object with equal fervor to seeing either man naked. Peace in the Middle East seemed closer at hand than ever. Finally, something Israelis and Palestinians could agree on: both peoples have ugly, obese (and probably smelly) leaders.

    Naturally, this raises the more general question: what public figure would you least like to see naked?

    The related question of which public official you would most like to see naked seems likely to get sticky (of course I mean "complicated"). I'd rather not open myself and any commenters so charges of sexism by identifying, say, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, or Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, or Phillipine President Gloria Arroyo, or Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, or Norwegian Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold as the politician I'd most like to see nude. Far better to ask the equal opportunity question of who's probably most hideous without clothes.

    And so, my provisional "bottom five" in no particular order:

  • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

  • Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat

  • Former US Attorney General Janet Reno
  • Chairman of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde

  • Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski

  • The first three seem pretty obvious, but I challenge readers to best those last two. It's awfully hard to imagine wanting less to see someone naked, but suggestions are welcome. Be careful not too imagine to vividly.

    UPDATE: Reader SD notes in comments that many may not have a mental image of Hyde and Mikulski, so here are two headshots of Hyde that really don't do justice to his DeVito in Batman figure and two more of Mikulski that, well, don't do justice to her DeVito in Batman figure.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:45 ::
    :: ::


    :: Sunday, May 25 ::

    Given that most readers probably weren’t glued to their televisions listening to an apparently crazy Austrian guy in suspenders, That Other Blog is pleased to provide a brief recap of the Eurovision song contest in something approaching journalistic prose. Our intrepid reporter caught some of the program before going out, and periodically glanced at the television in the bar, which was tuned to the song contest but on mute.

    Turkey’s goal of being welcomed into the community of Europe may be that much closer after their entry in the Eurovision song contest, held last night in Riga, Latvia, was voted the best by the people of twenty-six nations. The contest, a decades-old European tradition, pits pop songs against one another in a night of live performances which viewers call in to rank.

    Turkey’s entrant, Sertab Erener performing “Every Way That I Can”, like all of the other participants, won a national contest to decide who would represent their country. Turkey finished just ahead of Belgium and Russia, which was represented by T.A.T.U., the not-so-heterosexual girl duo which is a favorite of the very heterosexual Matthew Yglesias. Russia had been the favorite to win because of the star power of the girls, but caught a tough break when contest officials required that the girls remain clothed.

    Britain surprised many by finishing dead last. They received no points in the voting, which means that no country put the British entrant, Jemini, on its list of the top twelve songs. (Viewers call national hotlines that tabulate votes for the best song, with the most popular song receiving twelve points and the twelfth most popular receiving one point.) It was the first time in the history of the contest that Britain didn’t receive any votes; some commentators posited that the collective cold shoulder was backlash over the British role in the war in Iraq.

    Here in pop-crazy Sweden, there was disappointment that its duo, Fame, finished only fifth. The male-female pair were both contestants on an American Idol-like program here called Fame Factory, and seemed to have perfected the “art” of very pretty people earnestly singing so-bad-you-hope-it’s-kitschy music.

    Latvia won last year and so was the host for this year’s contest. In keeping with tradition, next year the event will be broadcast live from Turkey.

    UPDATE: Fellow expat in Europe Vaara has some excellent coverage here and here, where he refers to the event as "an annual campfest" of "utter irrelevance to North Americans".

    :: posted by Joe at 10:27 ::
    :: ::


    :: Saturday, May 24 ::

    Matt Yglesias takes up the role of heterosexual sentry protecting us from hypocrisy in response to a Kos post that uses the phrase "the Bush Administration's ridiculous 'war on drugs'". Matt is mostly right when he says that:
    They inherited it from Clinton who inherited it from Bush who inherited it from Reagan and I don't know what the policy was like before that. ... [T]his is a bipartisan screwup and has been for many years. Bush is part of the problem, but just a small one.
    He has a point, but I think it's also a matter of degree of wrongness and the fervor with which one pursues the wrong policy.

    It seems that these days several billion more dollars are being spent and lots more military "advisers" are being deployed to train a weak national army facing guerilla insurgents, all in the name of winning the War on Commun-- I mean, Drugs -- no, wait, Terrorism? -- down in Vietn-- sorry, Colombia.

    Apologies. All these protracted wars being fought with short-sighted, counterproductive tactics against scary, monolithic enemies get confusing. I need to go lie down.

    :: posted by Joe at 05:48 ::
    :: ::


    :: Friday, May 23 ::

    Huge congratulations to fellow DeanBlog contributors Ezra Klein and Matt Singer, who earned mentions in The New Republic today in a piece by Ryan Lizza on the Howard Dean internet phenomenon. The article is great and outlines all the aspects of the Dean campaign's internet presence (so far).

    Devoted That Other Blog readers will be delighted to note that Lizza quotes a piece first published right here. He writes:
    Anyone who writes critically about Dean can expect his copy to be chewed up by this army of zealous Dean Internet scribes. When I wrote a piece recently that contained a few paragraphs about Dean, a member of the Dean2004 blog team filed an almost 2,000-word entry slicing my article up into sections with labels such as "true," "false," "inadvertently true," and "foolish."
    That's me! He's referring to this piece of mine, which dissected his analysis of the 2004 race (it was also posted at the DeanBlog). I'm a fan of Ryan Lizza, so I hope he's not mad. In any event, I plan to consider being less obnoxious in the future in hopes of next time being attributed by name.

    Though perhaps he did me a favor by not appending my proper name to such traits as zealotry, membership in a metaphorical army, and (implied) long-windedness.

    :: posted by Joe at 12:58 ::
    :: ::


    Ezra Klein cites a recent poll of Pennsylvanians on homosexuality and concludes that:
    [Sen. Rick] Santorum's recent remarks didn't hurt him much at all, he was simply representing the feelings of his constituents.
    I'm not sure that's entirely true. Culling the figures from the article, it appears that the poll showed the following:

    -- Asked whether they "personally believe homosexual behavior is morally acceptable or morally wrong," 58% said it was morally wrong; 27% said morally acceptable; and 14% were undecided.

    -- Santorum got the same approval rating he did in April, before the comments (55%).

    But those aren't the statistics that matter. It's pretty obvious from those numbers that Pennsylvanians have a less-than-sophisticated view on homosexuality, but some other numbers cast them (or some of them) in a slightly better light:

    -- Asked whether they thought that "homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal or not," 45% said legal; 35% said illegal; and 19% were undecided.

    -- Santorum's disapproval rating went from 20% before to 33% after the comments, with the number of undecided voters dropping from 24% to 12%.

    Those numbers get more to the point of Santorum's comments: that homosexual acts, in addition to being morally wrong, should be illegal:
    "And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
    It's a shame he wasn't hurt more by that, but I wouldn't write off the effect completely. The real question is whether this modest outrage will remain salient until the next time Santorum faces the voters in 2006.

    :: posted by Joe at 06:52 ::
    :: ::


    :: Wednesday, May 21 ::

    It is marginally painful physically to write this, sort of the same discomfort I felt yesterday when I realized that my new driver's license photo looks a bit like Scott Peterson after he was arrested. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd support a Democrat for president. This is not to say I am a Republican -- far from it. Readers of the now-seemingly-defunct El Blog Regular will note that I have written several anti-Bush posts. But I have never -- and still do not -- adhere to the labels liberal (except in the classical Lockean sense) and Democrat. Indeed, the linear conception of the political spectrum is outdated and obsolete. The cross-pattern model works much better, as Howard Dean demonstrates. So it is with some trepidation that I announce my support for Howard Dean for President in 2004. He addresses the right concerns and asks the right questions, and in the context of present conditions, has most of the right answers. I was never planning on voting for Bush, and the other Democratic candidates make me throw up in my mouth. So if Dean doesn't win the nomination, I don't know what I'll do. I may have to write-in my dad.

    Luckily, Howard Dean's very detailed website serves as an excellent guideline for expounding upon the reasons for my support; I have selected a few of the more pertinent issues:

    Universal Healthcare
    I am a libertarian, and have been for as long as I can remember. But I now firmly reside on planet Earth, and I think that is a fairly new occurrence. In the realm of governance, there is Democratic turf; there is Republican turf. There is not, however, Libertarian turf, so then the libertarian -- when he is not off stockpiling beenie-weenies and starting militias -- must choose which turf makes the most sense. I do not believe that people have the right to health care. But an inescapable fact of reality is that we have a welfare state. America has a government that provides various social programs; they fund these programs through taxation. It is time for reasonable libertarians to give up the fight for a taxless society. Instead, we should work toward spending what we must pay in a cost-effective fashion. That's exactly what Governor Dean's health care plan accomplishes. Health care may not be a right, but it certainly is a desirable thing. And if we can do it in a reasonable way, we should. Dean's does that, which is a far cry from the unworkable monstrosity that is Gephardt's plan. Dean's idea is much less complicated and has actually been implemented on the state level. As he writes, "This plan is affordable and simple, relying on three existing systems -- one for children, one for seniors, and one for those in between -- which all Americans can understand." There are many flavors of libertarianism, but I think this plan sits well with most in the Jeffersonian vein.

    The Economy
    I am a libertarian who opposes tax cuts. I know; even I can't reconcile it. I buy into the notion that those who earn the most money deserve the most in tax relief, principally, because those at the bottom of the economic ladder hardly pay any taxes as it is. But the Bush Administration's economic plan is deceitful and hugely irresponsible, especially when coupled with the spending orgy in which they are currently engaged. One used to be able to count on the Republican Party for fiscal responsibility, but they seem to have abandoned that notion. With unemployment surging, a weakening dollar, a war to pay for, and lack of investor confidence, now is not the time for astronomical tax cuts that will plunge the nation deeper into debt. If enacted, it will be the most unstimulative stimulus package ever. David Gergen makes a good point of this here. Dean's plan calls for the repealing of the first tax cut -- one that I thought was a good idea at the time, but that was when we were sitting on a huge surplus. Nobody wants higher taxes, but it seems like a reasonable trade-off in order to avoid record deficits.

    Homeland Security
    President Bush has not made our country safer since September 11. As Governor Dean is fond of saying, Bush hasn't funded local first responders as promised. 98% of all America-bound ships are not inspected. I won't reiterate what Dean wants to do, since it's all right here, but it is substantive, all-encompassing, and protects us at the domestic level. Also, Dean makes it clear that he will not trample over the Constitution, as the Bush Gang is attempting with Big Brother-esque tactics like the USA Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness Program. At the core of the libertarian model is both the defense of property and the defense of individual rights. Howard Dean accomplishes both.

    National Security
    Howard Dean is mostly right on national security. He's spot on about Iraq. I'm no fan of the UN or of France, but there's little use squabbling with our friends when there's important work to be done. And a coalition of UN and NATO forces in Iraq will 1) help the rebuilding process substantially; 2) ease the financial burden from us; and 3) dismiss the perception that the US is an occupying force in Iraq. He further rightly understands that the Israel/Palestine conflict and the North Korean crisis are pivotal issues for world affairs, while promising to continue the war on terror.

    Where I differ is my concern that Dean's foreign policy could lend itself to over-reliance and dependency on international institutions. It seems to me that refraining from action without broad international consent is as foolish as hegemonic unilateralism. But Dean is essentially right: having a foreign policy in which people like us once in a while is a good thing.

    Reproductive Rights, Equal Protection, and Gun Control
    These three issues really make up the meat of the libertarian ethos. Dean is right on the mark too, whereas the Republicans have historically dropped the ball on the first two, and has too easily given in to the gun lobby on the latter. The rights of the individual to make decisions freely and live privately is most overtly manifested in a woman's right to choose, and of men and women to choose to marry whom they wish. Dean will uphold these rights. A President Dean will not appoint a zealot like Priscilla Owen to a lifetime judgeship. On gun control, he takes a states' rights stance, and is rational enough to be palatable to most libertarians.

    Those are the stances Dean takes on the key issues for this election. Libertarians wondering who to support should ask themselves: "Which candidate will be devoted to fiscal responsibility, peace and security, and the protection of our fundamental rights?" The answer is Howard Dean. Now if only he can do something about that creepy grin.

    :: posted by The Law Ninja at 06:45 ::
    :: ::


    Matthew Yglesias likes girls. He doesn't, however, like the color-coded terror alert system, which was raised yesterday to orange (Note that the link is via The New York Times, so it could be a lie, but as I've seen this elsewhere, we'll assume it's true.). I agree that the system is pretty annoying and awfully stupid, but too much criticism seems a bit unfair.

    Yglesias says that, "If the government doesn't have any better way of assessing the threat than watching CNN to see if anyone's been blown up lately, then I think we all have reason to worry." That's not exactly what happens. This marks the fourth time the terror alert has been raised from yellow to orange. The three preceding instances were spurred by calendar events--the first was on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, the second coincided with a Muslim holiday, and the third was two days before the war in Iraq began. If anything, it seemed like Department of Homeland Security was raising the level after reading "Islam For Dummies." But this last time is the first time they've changed the terror alert level in response to actual terror, and it seems justified. Also, the Administration would sure be in a mess-up if there was a terror attack and they did not forewarn us.

    The chief criticism against the system is that it is unclear what the public is supposed to do. How much more "vigilant" can we be? I have no idea what a "heightened state of awareness" means. We can't very well go around reporting every swarthy guy in a van. But I think the system can be useful to local law enforcement, and the rest of us might be inclined to report something we would otherwise ignore. Also, I'm not an intelligence analyst, as Yglesias purports to be, but I don't really see why the infamous "chatter" is "obviously B.S." Yeah, this terror alert system is a bit silly, but it's what we've got, and it's better than doing nothing.

    :: posted by The Law Ninja at 05:37 ::
    :: ::


    I concluded a post below about Warren Buffett's article in the Post opposing the dividend tax cut (despite the fact that stands to gain a lot from it) with the following line:
    It's awfully sad that achieving a fair tax policy in this country requires outspoken selflessness from the rich.
    But is Buffett really even being selfless? He wants more money just as much as the next guy. It's not like he's retired, even though he could be since he's already filthy rich. His argument is not a charitable one, it's an economic one. He knows that he'll be better off in the long term with a fair distribution of the tax burden, which will create more economic growth and social justice: both essential to wealth building.

    The broken record reply to any criticism of tax cuts for the very wealthy is that the rich pay more taxes in the first place, and so it is only logical that they receive a larger cut. This is deceiving.

    As Buffett demonstrates, we’re not talking about everyone getting a proportional tax break here, with the rich just getting a higher dollar amount. We’re talking about fundamentally altering the balance of how the tax system works. Eliminating the dividend tax, the capital gains tax, and the estate tax permanently alters the landscape of who pays what -- to the permanent disadvantage of those making less than $350,000 a year (that’s the cut-off for Al Gore’s fabled top 1%).

    Of course rich people pay more in taxes (both in dollars and as a percentage of income) than poor and middle-class people. It’s called progressive taxation. The idea is for those who can most afford it to pay for the services -- education, health care, military -- that provide the safe, healthy, well-educated society that makes wealth-building possible.

    :: posted by Joe at 04:57 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, May 20 ::

    I'm reluctant to even mention this because they guy's not running, but there is one other Democrat who talks a tougher game than the president on national security and opposed the Iraq war: General Coy -- I mean, Clark.

    There are two problems with Clark, and they make it risky having him in either slot on the ticket. First, if someone like Howard Dean or John Edwards or even John Kerry chose Clark for the two-slot, there would be a huge risk that he'd be seen as window dressing at best, or that the ticket was light on top at worst.

    Second, a run by Clark in his own right faces the obstacles of a very late fundraising start and the huge unknown of the career military officer's campaigning skills. Say what you will about how politicians govern, but running for office is one thing they do well. It's hard to see how Wesley Clark fits into this race.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:40 ::
    :: ::


    I hate veepstakes speculation this far out as much as the next guy, but I have to get this out.

    I've already written that any eventual Democratic nominee is going to have a hard time not choosing Bob Graham as his running mate. But today I concluded that Bob Graham is best suited as a number-two to Howard Dean. He's the only other serious Democratic candidate not to have succumb to the rah-rah cheerleaderism of the Bush foreign policy agenda (Joe Lieberman, I'm looking in your direction) -- and he's resisted it for the same reason as Dean.

    Bob Graham is a former governor from the South, both good things in terms of how Democrats have won the White House recent history. But perhaps more importantly, he is "outraged" at the Bush administration on all matters national security-related.

    Barring some unforeseen catastrophe during the primaries, he has assured himself a spot on the ticket. Bob Graham needs only to make a respectable third- or maybe even fourth-place showing in the first several primaries in order to secure himself the second spot. No matter who wins the nomination, he'll be an attack dog on terrorism and national security, equally serious and equally credible up against Dick Cheney. And, of course, he's from must-win Florida, where he remains hugely popular.

    Graham's virtues notwithstanding, if you've been reading this site at all, it's abundantly clear that I'm for Dean. There's been a lot of speculation that Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq will hurt him if he winds up facing President Bush. I think that's wrong. Dean wasn't (and isn't) opposed to war per se, just this particular war at this particular time.

    Surely we could go and overthrow Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus and that would be a Good Thing in the cosmic sense. But just like Iraq, they're neither here nor there when it comes to assessing threats to the United States. Howard Dean has been making, and will continue to make, the case that while the president has pursued his pet project of deposing Saddam he has dropped the ball on North Korea, Al Qaeda, and homeland security.

    Here's where Bob Graham comes in. Many people forget that he's the only other serious candidate to have opposed the war -- he voted against the Iraq resolution. Here's what he said then:
    Even if we say the number one issue should be containing weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, I frankly do not believe that Iraq should be our first concern.

    We do not know the full capabilities of the state of Israel, although we believe it has the full capability to defend itself against attacks or the threat of an attack. We are aware of the significant threats posed by India, Pakistan and Iran. But I can say without fear of contradiction, all of these possess substantially greater capability and means of delivering weapons of mass destruction than does Iraq.

    Of all of the issues that we care about, and those over which we have some ability to determine the outcome, in my judgment, the number one priority should be the war on terrorism and the protection of the people in the United States, our homeland. Our top targets should be those groups that have the greatest potential to repeat what happened on September 11, killing thousands of Americans.
    Sound familiar?

    There is among Democrats a seemingly contradictory consensus that the Democratic ticket must be tough on foreign policy and not concede Bush any ground on the issue. Folks like Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton are too peacenik to be credible; footage of Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt fawning over the president during and after the Iraq debate will show them giving the president a pass without the benefit of making them look tough.

    It seems that the only Howard Dean and Bob Graham resolve this problem. Sort by charisma and you've got yourself a ticket: Dean/Graham in 2004.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:36 ::
    :: ::


    Via Kos I see this piece in the Post by Warren Buffett, which I'll just reproduce in full with some editorial emphasis added:

    By Warren Buffett

    Tuesday, May 20, 2003; Page A19

    The annual Forbes 400 lists prove that -- with occasional blips -- the rich do indeed get richer. Nonetheless, the Senate voted last week to supply major aid to the rich in their pursuit of even greater wealth.

    The Senate decided that the dividends an individual receives should be 50 percent free of tax in 2003, 100 percent tax-free in 2004 through 2006 and then again fully taxable in 2007. The mental flexibility the Senate demonstrated in crafting these zigzags is breathtaking. What it has put in motion, though, is clear: If enacted, these changes would further tilt the tax scales toward the rich.

    Let me, as a member of that non-endangered species, give you an example of how the scales are currently balanced. The taxes I pay to the federal government, including the payroll tax that is paid for me by my employer, Berkshire Hathaway, are roughly the same proportion of my income -- about 30 percent -- as that paid by the receptionist in our office. My case is not atypical -- my earnings, like those of many rich people, are a mix of capital gains and ordinary income -- nor is it affected by tax shelters (I've never used any). As it works out, I pay a somewhat higher rate for my combination of salary, investment and capital gain income than our receptionist does. But she pays a far higher portion of her income in payroll taxes than I do.

    She's not complaining: Both of us know we were lucky to be born in America. But I was luckier in that I came wired at birth with a talent for capital allocation -- a valuable ability to have had in this country during the past half-century. Credit America for most of this value, not me. If the receptionist and I had both been born in, say, Bangladesh, the story would have been far different. There, the market value of our respective talents would not have varied greatly.

    Now the Senate says that dividends should be tax-free to recipients. Suppose this measure goes through and the directors of Berkshire Hathaway (which does not now pay a dividend) therefore decide to pay $1 billion in dividends next year. Owning 31 percent of Berkshire, I would receive $310 million in additional income, owe not another dime in federal tax, and see my tax rate plunge to 3 percent.

    And our receptionist? She'd still be paying about 30 percent, which means she would be contributing about 10 times the proportion of her income that I would to such government pursuits as fighting terrorism, waging wars and supporting the elderly. Let me repeat the point: Her overall federal tax rate would be 10 times what my rate would be.

    When I was young, President Kennedy asked Americans to "pay any price, bear any burden" for our country. Against that challenge, the 3 percent overall federal tax rate I would pay -- if a Berkshire dividend were to be tax-free -- seems a bit light.

    Administration officials say that the $310 million suddenly added to my wallet would stimulate the economy because I would invest it and thereby create jobs. But they conveniently forget that if Berkshire kept the money, it would invest that same amount, creating jobs as well.

    The Senate's plan invites corporations -- indeed, virtually commands them -- to contort their behavior in a major way. Were the plan to be enacted, shareholders would logically respond by asking the corporations they own to pay no more dividends in 2003, when they would be partially taxed, but instead to pay the skipped amounts in 2004, when they'd be tax-free. Similarly, in 2006, the last year of the plan, companies should pay double their normal dividend and then avoid dividends altogether in 2007.

    Overall, it's hard to conceive of anything sillier than the schedule the Senate has laid out. Indeed, the first President Bush had a name for such activities: "voodoo economics." The manipulation of enactment and sunset dates of tax changes is Enron-style accounting, and a Congress that has recently demanded honest corporate numbers should now look hard at its own practices.

    Proponents of cutting tax rates on dividends argue that the move will stimulate the economy. A large amount of stimulus, of course, should already be on the way from the huge and growing deficit the government is now running. I have no strong views on whether more action on this front is warranted. But if it is, don't cut the taxes of people with huge portfolios of stocks held directly. (Small investors owning stock held through 401(k)s are already tax-favored.) Instead, give reductions to those who both need and will spend the money gained. Enact a Social Security tax "holiday" or give a flat-sum rebate to people with low incomes. Putting $1,000 in the pockets of 310,000 families with urgent needs is going to provide far more stimulus to the economy than putting the same $310 million in my pockets.

    When you listen to tax-cut rhetoric, remember that giving one class of taxpayer a "break" requires -- now or down the line -- that an equivalent burden be imposed on other parties. In other words, if I get a break, someone else pays. Government can't deliver a free lunch to the country as a whole. It can, however, determine who pays for lunch. And last week the Senate handed the bill to the wrong party.

    Supporters of making dividends tax-free like to paint critics as promoters of class warfare. The fact is, however, that their proposal promotes class welfare. For my class.

    The writer is chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a diversified holding company, and a director of The Washington Post Co., which has an investment in Berkshire Hathaway.
    It's awfully sad that achieving a fair tax policy in this country requires outspoken selflessness from the rich.

    :: posted by Joe at 17:15 ::
    :: ::


    So I was getting ready to point out that the fact that Dick Gephardt has missed 85% of all votes in the House so far this year is bad, but not for the reasons that you might think, when who but RNC spokesman Jim Dyke goes and says something reasonable:
    “All of the candidates have been here for all the votes where their vote was needed to win,” said Jay Carson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). “As long as that remains the case, it’s not an issue.” ...

    “It’s not just votes they miss. They miss the negotiations, they miss the discussions,” said RNC spokesman Jim Dyke. “So when Gephardt goes out and talks about energy policy and how important it is, not only did he miss all the votes on energy legislation, but he missed being a part of the discussions that led to the legislation.”
    If I find myself agreeing with an RNC spokesman again in the next six months this blog will self-destruct.

    :: posted by Joe at 16:49 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, May 19 ::

    Tacitus takes time off from being a pretty reasonable conservative to post this monster about why he's not a Democrat. It's not that I expect him to be a Democrat, of course. The problem is that this essay is a strange departure from the usually self-conscious and rational posts many are used to reading. There's something emotional going on -- in particular some lingering fear of Communism and a romanticizing of the American South -- and that's all well and good. Party affiliation has as much to do with socialization (by one's parents, by one's community) as it does with policy preferences.

    But Tacitus should just leave it at that. When he moves beyond seeing Reagan's first inauguration in person, living under Communist threat South Korea, and his time spent in the South, what purports to be some sort of "case" about why one guy chooses to be a Republican reads more like a tortured rationalization of childhood nostalgia.

    Now, it's one thing to define yourself as not something; it's another to make a positive case for what you are. Leaving aside the fact that he doesn't bother to outline an argument for being a Republican, let's examine a bit of his case against Democrats.

    Right off the bat we're in a strange place. In accusing Democrats back in the day of being soft on Communism he makes the following qualification:
    Make no mistake, there were some truly great anticommunist Democrats -- men who fully understood and loathed the communist threat and all it represented. Two things happened to those Democrats: first, they lost control of their party's soul around 1968 or so; second, many if not most of them became Republicans.
    Yeah, people like Trent Lott and Jeff Sessions -- racists. They left the party with George Wallace, and Richard Nixon gobbled them up. Party shifts from Democrat to Republican occurred almost exclusively in the South and had nothing to do with Communism. Some even took their time and became Republicans well after the Cold War had ended; when the GOP took over Congress in 1994 a few Southern Democrats crossed the aisle to be part of the new majority, knowing that as Democrats they no longer held the balance of power.

    Two sentences later things get worse:
    The effect of the much-derided Reagan military buildup (including the Star Wars program) on Soviet strategic thinking is well-documented, and the policy of confrontation (including, in places like Afghanistan and Nicaragua, violent confrontation) bore self-evident fruit.
    First of all, there is now some contention among academics who immerse themselves in the ever-growing mountain of opened Soviet archives that the massive, unfinished, unsuccessful Star Wars program had any effect at all on Soviet military expenditures. Second, the policy of proxy confrontation in Afghanistan bore one awfully rotten piece of self-evident fruit: Osama bin Laden. Virtually everywhere else this policy propped up the most odious of dictators and in many cases to this day leaves authoritarian rule or failed states in its wake.

    You're saying to yourself: But surely the eminently reasonable Tacitus has some refutation for -- or at least acknowledges -- these drawbacks, doesn't he? The very next sentence astounds:
    ... bore self-evident fruit. You'll hear a lot of rationalization these days that these policies were irrelevant, affecting events not at all or at best hastening the inevitable. Don't believe it: they're the losing side's posturing for the historians.
    One can say a lot of things about the decision to arm Islamic militants not just like but including Osama bin Laden, but "irrelevant" and "affecting events not at all" surely aren't among them.

    He goes on to criticize Bill Clinton's "precipitate withdrawal from Somalia," forgetting that it was the first President Bush who sent the troops in there in the first place. And then there's the "an utterly pointless Kosovo war" remark, which seems utterly bizarre given that liberation from a mass murdering dictator has become the ex post facto casus belli for the recent Republican-supported Iraq war, and was all that the war in Kosovo was ever about. Of course no critique of Clinton foreign policy would be complete without reference to his "thoroughly inglorious and shamefully un-energetic response to the terrorist threat" which, until several thousand people were murdered on American soil, his Republican successor had addressed with no more glory or energy.

    If you can believe it, the rest of the piece is even less convincing than what I've excerpted so far. I hope readers will forgive me for my un-energetic response to the rest of this essay. I am and will remain a regular Tacitus reader, but some arguments simply aren't worth the time to refute -- well, my time, anyway. For some writing more characteristic of the Tacitus many love, see this piece on the budget and this very thoughtful post on the military (one of many).

    :: posted by Joe at 19:18 ::
    :: ::


    More from Dean this weekend in Iowa (video here):
    When I go to the South -- you know how I plan to win in the South? It's a hard place for Democrats to win. I'm going to say to our African-American base, "We support you, we need you, and we're going to talk to your issues." But then I'm going to say to Souther whites, "You've been voting Republican for 30 years. What do you have to show for it? There are 103,000 uninsured kids in South Carolina; most of those kids are white. Has your job gone to Indonesia? Have you had a raise in the last five years? Are you satisfied with the quality of your public schools? Because if you don't like the answer to that question, you ought to think about voting Democratic again. Because when white people and black people vote together in this country, this country moves forward."

    :: posted by Joe at 13:01 ::
    :: ::


    An excerpt from Howard Dean's remarks at the "Hear it from the Heartland" forum in Iowa this past weekend (video here):
    A lot of people say, "Well how's this guy from Vermont gonna win? He wants to get rid of the president's tax cuts! How's he gonna win in the South?" Here's what you do: we're not gonna say, "Oh, let's get rid of the president's tax cut -- all the money went to the wealthy." I don't think class warfare works. What we're gonna say is: You have a choice, Americans. You can have the president's tax cut or you can have health care that can never be taken away. You can have the president's tax cut or you can fully fund special education so class size can go down and your property taxes can go down. You can have the president's tax cut or you can have the 20% of the federal highway grants that the president cut to every state this year because he couldn't manage the money. Now, if you put it that way, most people are gonna say, "Well, I want to have the roads, the education, and the health care," -- because they didn't get the president's tax cut.

    :: posted by Joe at 12:51 ::
    :: ::


    In apparent belief that Americans could stand to know even less about the Middle East, Fox News and CNN have sent two news actors to cover the region. Fox has sent Laurie Dhue, best known for being hot, who will presumably deploy her extensive TelePrompTer-reading experience to help Americans understand the complexity and gravity of the conflict there.

    Her competition, Kelly Wallace of CNN, is a former junior White House correspondent whose official bio notes her hard-hitting coverage of "White House reaction to the ... Elian Gonzales custody case." You will recognize her as the woman with the pink sweater tied jauntily 'round her shoulders and the tight-skinned face that looks as if she's just "chosen poorly" in the skin-melting Indian Jones and the Holy Grail sense (note the especially skeletal hand in her publicity photo).

    I suppose their deployment means that the foundering peace process is expected to take up more air time, which would seem to be a good thing. But while more attention does need to be paid to the globally-significant continuing violence in Israel/Palestine, I'm skeptical that these non-experts with zero foreign reporting experience and no language skills can do anything but reinforce stereotypes and tow the Bush administration's line.

    :: posted by Joe at 12:37 ::
    :: ::


    :: Sunday, May 18 ::

    C-SPAN watchers are in for even less interesting committee hearings now that Rep. Doug Ose is retiring. I don't have any evidence of this, statistical or anecdotal, but I assure you that Ose is one of the dumbest guys on the planet. He scores some points for not fitting the cunning, cynical manipulator profile of your average Congressman; if he were slightly less dumb he might be a sort of benign joke. As it stands, he's a terrible caricature of of a TV attorney when questioning witnesses at a hearing. He's unbearable and it's scary (and inspiring in a backhanded way) that he could have been elected to Congress.

    Come to think of it, some circumstantial evidence does support my dumb thesis. (Wait a minute....) First, there is something unjustifiably dumb-sounding about the name "Doug Ose". And then there's the photo. You make the call.

    :: posted by Joe at 10:01 ::
    :: ::


    :: Saturday, May 17 ::

    It's been an emotional wander through Blogistan today. Atrios is usually a good place to drum up some rage and Politics, Law and Autism can usually be counted on for some autism-related sorrow, but today the two streams converged like the tandem floodlights needed to produce a clear bat-signal. Today the call is for an asshole's destruction.

    So this guy Michael Savage -- whose show I have never seen but who I somehow know is, in reality, named Michael Weiner -- has reportedly characterized increasing autism rates as a "way to drum up business" (for whom? non-profit schools for autistic children that survive on donations?) and questioned whether autism is a disease at all.

    If you aren't sure that he's completely fucking wrong, you need to get a clue. For more about autism you can click here for some links to various resources or visit the autism links at P.L.A. (at the left). Dwight Meredith of P.L.A. offered an example of his personal experience with autism in his response to the Savage news:
    After my son fell into an autistic shell, he would spend hours sitting on the floor just staring at his latest obsession. We did not yet know enough about autism to know how to break his obsession and gain his attention. For more than two years, I would come home from work each day and greet Bobby with a cheery “dad’s home.” Each day, Bobby would completely ignore me, refuse to even look in my direction and simply continue staring at whatever he was locked into at the moment. To gain Bobby’s attention I had to physically place myself between Bobby and the object on which he was focused. As we gained knowledge and skill, we worked very hard to teach Bobby how to make eye contact and how to attend to people. One day as I came home from work and greeted Bobby, I noticed that he shifted his eyes slightly in my direction. We rejoiced.

    Over time, after much more effort, Bobby would turn his head and acknowledge that I was there. Later, he began to come toward me to show me the object of his focus. Today, when I get home, Bobby will see me and smile, pleased with my presence. He will approach me for a hug and a quick spin. He may even pull up his shirt in an effort to get tickled. If I tickle him, he will be sent into spasms of laughter and joy. It took us more than five years to go from a complete disregard of my presence to an interactive game in which he expresses joy in human interaction. What exactly does Mr. Savage find in that behavior that calls out for mocking?

    Bobby will be eight years old next month. He is non-verbal. Through many years of speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis and other techniques, my wife and I, Bobby’s teachers and therapists, and Bobby have all worked endless hours to get Bobby to talk. We have been unable break through the autism to attain speech. Last month, Bobby brought me his shoes and my car keys. That is way of asking if we can take a ride in the car. As Bobby and I approached the car, Bobby in tones clear as a very fuzzy bell said, “ride in car.”

    My heart leaped. Fighting the urge to run back into the house to tell my wife (which would have provided negative reinforcement for Bobby's success by delaying the reward of a ride), I started saying “good talking Bobby, very good talking Bobby.” When Bobby asks for a ride in car with words, Bobby gets to ride in the car.” With a quick hug I put him in the car for a ride. During the ride I tried to prompt Bobby to say it again. “What is Bobby doing?” Is Bobby riding in the car?” Does Bobby like to ride in the car?” Twice more on the trip, he responded by saying “ride in car.”

    After Bobby showed no sign of saying anything further I returned home and rushed into the house to tell Deb the news. As she was lavishing praise and hugs on Bobby for his “good talking,” tears of pride and joy were running down her cheeks and mine.

    Our toil is long and difficult, our triumphs rare and Bobby’s progress may seem to others to be marginal. Bobby’s progress is the reward of his hard work and ours. We revel in the successes and try to think of the failures as part of the journey to success.
    Two of my nieces are autistic. There is no question that the disease is real. Nor is there any doubt as to the utterly heroic -- there isn't another word -- effort necessary to overcome it. Donate to Ascent: A School for Individuals With Autism and/or beat the shit out of Michael Weiner if you see him.

    :: posted by Joe at 19:04 ::
    :: ::


    I didn't comment on the Jayson Blair fiasco at the Times mostly because I find the substanceless vignette journalism in which he engaged -- whether truth or fiction -- to be a boring waste of time. When I want news, give me some imageless facts and ugly graphs in The Economist over a "moving" portrait any day. Save the rest of it for the New York Review or Granta where literary nonfiction belongs.

    The piece below, which came in a McSweeney's email this morning, is the most interesting treatment of the episode that I have seen so far. If you're not subscribing to McSweeney's, a quarterly of fiction and journalism, you're not subscribing to McSweeney's. And that's bad.

    A S O M E W H A T L I K E L Y C O N V E R S A T I O N
    F E A T U R I N G T W O , A N D P O S S I B L Y T H R E E ,
    S H A M E D J O U R N A L I S T S .

    A N E W W O R K B Y B E N G R E E N M A N

    What follows is an alleged transcript of a conference call between writer Ben Greenman and two other journalists who have recently made headlines: Stephen Glass, who was fired from The New Republic in 1998 after the discovery that several of his pieces were fabricated and has recently written a novel, The Fabulist, based on his experiences; and Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who was cashiered last week following revelations of extensive plagiarism and falsification.

    Mr. Greenman claims to have contacted both men while on assignment in Washington, D.C., researching the possibility of a previously unknown naked room in the basement of a Congressional building. As he is a journalist, we have no reason to trust him.


    BLAIR: Before we begin, I wanted to remind you that Stephen and agreed to speak with you only on the condition that this be off the record.

    Q: I know.

    GLASS: That means that nothing we say here can be used in print. You understand that?

    Q: You're reminding me about fundamental journalistic principles?

    GLASS: I just need to be sure that we're all on the same page.

    Q: Got it. Off the record. Let's start with Stephen. While you were a journalist, paid to create nonfiction, you wrote fiction. Then you took a large advance to write a work of fiction and ended up writing a nonfiction, or at least heavily autobiographical fiction. Does this sum up the paradoxical nature of your career thus far?

    GLASS: Yes.

    Q: And yet, the risk and invention that characterized your nonfiction pieces if largely absent from your novel, which offers up a somewhat traditional narrative that mixes romantic comedy and fuzzy confessional? Through most of the book, you, or your main character Stephen Glass, is paralyzed as a result of his misdeed, doesn't know what course to take, and just wishes that someone would love him: It's like Bridget Jones's Aporia.

    GLASS: Well, I wanted to create a trustworthy narrator. That was my main objective. That meant toning down the lying considerably. I think I accomplished that.

    Q: I don't know. You may have. I didn't read the book. Okay, now let's turn to Jayson. Before I ask you this first question, Jayson, I should mention that I'm standing on a wooden porch in rural American somewhere. Let's say Georgia. Next to me is Linda Polk, a woman whose nephew was killed in the first Gulf War. Later she became a peace activist. Very moving. It's picturesque here.

    BLAIR: I know. I've been there. Say hello to Mrs. Polk for me.

    Q: Jayson, why did you do what you did? In its unprecedented correction, the Times painted a picture of an eager young reporter who fell off the rails, who was both disorganized and lazy, and who spent much of his time working on a book proposal while pretending to fly around the country conducting interviews. Is this accurate?

    BLAIR: I would have told the story quite differently.

    Q: How so?

    BLAIR: It might have been set on a wooden porch in rural American somewhere. Let's say Georgia. Next to me there would have been someone sad who represented a national tragedy. I don't know, maybe a woman whose nephew was killed in the first Gulf War and who later became a peace activist. The whole thing would have been picturesque and very moving.

    Q: You just stole that from me!

    BLAIR: Your word against mine.

    Q: But you have no credibility left.

    BLAIR: This isn't just about me. As you know, Stephen and I have hurt the credibility of all journalists by violating the trust between reporters and readers. Some people will believe you; some will believe me.

    Q: That's what's most interesting about these two cases -- everyone wants to talk about how the two of you have eroded the foundation of American journalism, but have you? Both of you were caught and drummed out in dramatic fashion. Do you think that there's an element of scapegoating, and that you're being selectively prosecuted for large-level deceits that happen all the time, albeit to lesser degrees?

    GLASS: Hadn't really thought about it. Mostly I've been trying to forgive and/or promote myself.

    BLAIR: Same here. Remember, we're opportunistic narcissists, not philosophers.

    Q: You know what? Rather than bother with reporting, I think what I'm going to do is make up some comically exaggerated dialogue for the two of you so that I can recast this as a piece of satire.

    GLASS: What do you mean?

    Q: I'll show you. Did you consider any other titles for your book?

    GLASS: I wanted to call it Empty Glass, after the great album by Pete Townshend, but he said he didn't want to be associated with me. Can you imagine? A guy who was caught with kiddie porn on his computer doesn't want to be associated with me?

    Q: See. That's made up. You never said that. But you could have.

    BLAIR: This is an outrage. You can't do this!

    GLASS: Please, Jayson. Isn't it time we showed some generosity toward another person?

    BLAIR: Even another journalist?

    GLASS: Yes. Even another journalist.

    BLAIR: Now that has to be made up.

    Q: No, that's one's legit. He actually said that.

    BLAIR: Wow. That's messed up. Steve, you're one conflicted dude.

    Q: One final question and then I'll let you go. Did one of you invent the other one?

    [Long pause]

    Q: Come on. If you did, you should confess. It's good for the soul, remember?

    [Long pause]

    GLASS: Okay, I admit it. I invented Jayson.

    BLAIR: And I admit it. I invented Stephen. I hope that clears the air. You can read all about it in my forthcoming book. I'm thinking of calling it The Fabulist.


    Ben Greenman's collection Superbad is available in hardcover from McSweeney's Books. The paperback will be published in January, 2004, and will include a reasonable amount of new material.

    :: posted by Joe at 05:37 ::
    :: ::


    :: Friday, May 16 ::

    Taking time off from his pursuit of exclusively female companionship, Matt Yglesias wonders about how other democracies handle judicial appointments:
    So do other liberal democracies have these interminable bitter fights about appointing judges? My impression is that they don't. If not, why not. And if we know how other countries can avoid this sort of mess, is there any way we can imitate them?

    The only case I have any familiarity with is Canada, where there seems to be nothing besides a strong norm preventing the Prime Minister from abusing his appointment powers in pretty much any way he sees fit. The norm seems to have held up well so far, which is good for them, but not really something we can decide to imitate.
    Contrary to the implication that our system is broken, I think that "this sort of mess" is exactly the right way to do it. As the Times wrote in a recent editorial (to which Matt linked approvingly), "Senators who demand that federal judges have a record of standing up for equality for women and minorities are not obstructing — they are doing their jobs."

    There is no "crisis" in the judicial nomination process. The present stalemate on two nominees has not prevented the confirmation of many others at a pace similar to that of recent history. That these two nominees (Estrada and Owen) are being held up is the result of a breakdown of political norms, not of the rules of the game.

    Matt is right that political norms aren't enough of a safeguard against abuse of power (in any instance, including the appointment of judges). But checks and balances must work in tandem with political norms that run against trying to subvert those rules. As we see presently, the Senate power of advice and consent isn't worth a damn as far as getting seats filled -- it relies on a president being willing to select mutually palatable candidates for judicial vacancies.

    If Matt's analysis of Canada's system is correct, a Prime Minister Bush could do bad things. Thankfully we've got checks and balances here that formally restrain those who would disregard political norms for short-term political gain. Where only norms guard against abuse, things can become desperate for the minority party. Regrettably, Texas legislators had to improvise this week when Bush/Rove/DeLay decided to disregard the political norm of only redistricting when there is a new census.

    It seems that outside the Anglophone world, established liberal democracies tend to be more consensus-based. Britain addresses this consensus deficit with a fantastically confrontational parliament; the prime minister takes a drubbing in the Commons with some regularity. One of the major faults of the American system is that it lacks both the consensus-building incentive of a multi-party system and the lack of accountability in the executive that is the hallmark of the British system. So we end up with a president not interested in the norms of judicial nominations or redistricting, but who won't be held to account in a direct debate with his main opponent until some fifteen months from now.

    If there is to be a change in the system, I think it should be that the president be required to hold weekly press conferences and a monthly televised debate with some opposition figure. It wouldn't build consensus, but it would bring some much-needed accountability.

    :: posted by Joe at 08:05 ::
    :: ::


    :: Thursday, May 15 ::

    Matt Yglesias, whose sexual practices are not undermining the American family, writes that he's been meaning to blog about endorsements for a while, and then goes right ahead and does:
    One can't help but think that endorsements from Bill Clinton or Al Gore would be extremely valuable commodities in the 2004 primaries. Those guys have better name recognition and more street cred than anyone in the race, and as a certified expert on the topic of getting elected, Clinton's views on the important (to me, at least) question of electability carry a lot of weight. I assume, though, that for the sake of party unity Clinton won't endorse anyone and will just get behind the nominee when the time comes. Al Gore, on the other hand, has an obvious candidate to endorse, namely Joe Lieberman. It seems like only yesterday that Al Gore's position was that Al Gore should be president of the United States and that Joe Lieberman should be second in line for the job. Now Gore's out of the running, so that seems to leave Lieberman.

    In that context, failing to get behind Lieberman is something of a rejection, even if the stated reason is simply that Gore isn't going to endorse anyone. A Gore endorsement, on the other hand, could help Lieberman out with what is by far his biggest problem, namely the fact that the party base doesn't trust him.
    I actually hadn't been meaning to blog about endorsements, because I already did. Indeed, so did Matt; readers who click that archive link will receive the added bonus of a link to a now-404ed Yglesias post on the same subject. In addition to the surreal experience of an archived Blogger post out-living something published with Moveable Type, readers will find an excerpt from that piece in which Matt said pretty much the same thing he said today:
    I think, though, that Gore will have to endorse Lieberman, since it wouldn't make Gore look particularly good to turn on him. The question then becomes whether it's a tepid, reluctant endorsement or a serious one. One's also got to wonder if Bill Clinton will decide to involve himself at some point.
    In the spirit of repetitive camaraderie, I'll just re-post a version of what I've already said:

    I disagree with Matt. I would be surprised if Gore makes an early endorsement. Indeed, it would seem distasteful for him to speak up for Lieberman. His position in the party seems comparable to DNC chair; I can imagine him campaigning for the eventual nominee, but would be surprised if he endorses Lieberman explicitly.

    And really, why does Gore owe Lieberman anything? Crystal clear hindsight reveals that Lieberman turned out to be a far worse choice of running mate than Bob Graham, who would have delivered Florida, and possibly even John Edwards, who might have helped Gore in the South. Lieberman was dead weight during the recount in 2000 and even caved into GOP agitprop on Meet the Press. (Military ballots are somehow intrinsically more valid than absentee ballots? Come on, Joe.)

    Also, it's not like Lieberman wasn't preparing to run for president while waiting for Gore to decide. He was in New Hampshire and Iowa. He was interviewing staff and building a donor network. Indeed, his coyly vocal conditional candidacy made his one of the first names out there as the candidate field developed. His "I defer to Al" pledge was essentially a self-serving attempt to create the presumption that if Gore was re-nominated (a likely prospect if he had run) Lieberman would be the number two again.

    Now that he's out, Gore should stay above the fray, if for no other reason than choosing the wrong horse could be fatal. You've got to expect to see Gore in 2008 if the president is re-elected. He's carrying about as much "loser" baggage as he can afford. Endorsing a losing candidate in the primary -- for whatever reason -- won't ease that load.

    And -- digressing -- Lieberman should lose. He's a reactive candidate; he is positioning himself relative to the others in the field (more hawkish, more moralist, more business-friendly) without elucidating just what any of that means for a Democrat other than simply supporting President Bush more of the time.

    For all his posturing, I see Lieberman as convictionless. The Third Way has two distinct variations: candidates like Bill Clinton and Howard Dean, who run on a balanced budget and new ideas, are New Democrats. Candidates like Joe Lieberman and several losers of Senate races in 2002, who mimic conservative rhetoric and abandon traditional Democratic values like greater access to health care and better education, are Scared Democrats.

    Lieberman's campaign will be as his record has been: lacking a coherent ideal and proposing no clear agenda. Lieberman perfectly represents certain no-vision Democrats on a slow, opportunistic trickle toward a place with a very coherent ideal and a crystal clear agenda: the Republican Party.

    :: posted by Joe at 12:11 ::
    :: ::


    :: Tuesday, May 13 ::

    Joe Lieberman, take note: Howard Dean is doing the right kind of moralizing when he calls providing access to affordable health care "a moral imperative". He realizes that there are more important moral issues -- poverty, poor education, sick children -- for government to concern itself with than the puritanical revival tent sex-police priorities of the Republican Party.

    Whining about Hollywood and calling yourself "pro-family" -- what does that mean, anyway? that you don't want to be single? -- are cop-out moral stands for Republicans, and Democrats aren't going to get elected by imitating them. Phony outrage against rap music and bare butts on TV take the place of what should be real outrage over the fact that in the wealthiest, most powerful country in history millions of people still live in poverty, still can't see a doctor when they need to, and still aren't provided a decent education.

    This is exactly what Republicans want. They want government in your bedroom when you're having sex, but not when you're home sick in bed. They would rather pay for you to be in jail for having a certain type of sex than pay for you to be in the hospital for a broken leg.

    Howard Dean is right. Health care for everyone is a moral imperative. And he's out there telling Republicans that they should be ashamed of themselves for not supporting it. That's a real moral stand -- and a winning message for Democrats, too.

    Also up at the unofficial DeanBlog for those who care about such things.

    :: posted by Joe at 13:29 ::
    :: ::


    Dean gave a great speech (pdf) and the plan is everything I hoped it would be -- that is, it makes affordable insurance available to virtually everyone, costs less than Dick Gephardt's, and actually covers me.

    When you take a look at the details, Dean's plan is better for everyone from kids (which means me, since he covers everyone up to age 25) to businesses (Gephardt's plans creates huge new costs for them that drain the economy), and a whole lot better than President Bush's plan to do nothing but ignore the problem and bankrupt the country.

    :: posted by Joe at 11:26 ::
    :: ::


    Tim Judah, in Baghdad, shows once again why he's one of the best in the business.

    :: posted by Joe at 10:16 ::
    :: ::


    Lots of bloggers track their evolution in the Truth Laid Bear's Blog Ecosystem. It crawls the web and finds links to a given blog, and then ranks them. That Other Blog, for instance, started out like all blogs as an Insignificant Microbe but has evolved into a Flappy Bird. No Men Matt, who maintains a much bigger blog than this one, ranks much higher, coming in at Mortal Human, just on the cusp of Higher Being.

    Ezra Klein noted his evolutionary progress in a recent post (congrats, Ezra). I noted in comments that one way to move up the food chain faster than normal is to contribute to another blog and constantly refer to your own site in posts there. (Ezra had made a three-self-referral post at the unofficial DeanBlog on that same day.) This potential to game the system was news to Ezra.

    Of course, when playing God with the ecosystem one can be good or evil. The evil tends to get annoying (any more than two or three unnecessary referrals to yourself in a DeanBlog post gets on readers' nerves). But one can do substantial good. For instance, one can give Matthew Yglesias a couple of gratuitous links that have nothing to do with what you're talking about.

    This gives Matt a boost in the ecosystem and will help him eventually overtake Little Green Footballs (no link for them), a really, really, really nasty site and the USS Clueless (also unworthy), a monster of verbose stupidity that is for some reason widely read despite its Star Trek theme. This is clearly a Good Thing.

    It's important to note that linking to the same post over and over again -- as we do here to the post where Matt lets us know he know that it's girls he likes -- doesn't help him in the ecosystem (we plan to keep it up anyway).

    :: posted by Joe at 03:50 ::
    :: ::


    :: Monday, May 12 ::

    The New York Review also offers up a more shrill version of the piece excerpted in the post immediately below this one. Russell Smith, a columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, gets pretty mad for a Canadian:
    CNN was more irritating than the gleefully patriotic Fox News channel because CNN has a pretense of objectivity. It pretends to be run by journalists. And yet it dutifully uses all the language chosen by people in charge of "media relations" at the Pentagon. It describes the exploding of Iraqi soldiers in their bunkers as "softening up"; it describes slaughtered Iraqi units as being "degraded"; some announcers have even repeated the egregious Pentagon neologism "attrited" (to mean "we are slowly killing as many of them as we can"). I don't know if I'm more offended by the insidiousness of this euphemism or by the absurdity of its grammar.

    To recite from a Pentagon press release that an Iraqi division has been "degraded by 70 percent" is an astounding abdication of journalistic responsibility. A journalist these days must not just report the facts, but also explain the news, give it color and significance. The graphic reality of "degradation" is a large pile of dismembered bodies. Surely some picture or explanation of what the wiping out of an entire division with high explosives actually looks like is called for.

    Many readers and watchers of the news were baffled as the battle for Baghdad came suddenly upon us without any large-scale engagement with the dreaded Republican Guard. What happened to those three or five divisions that were supposedly ringing the city? The facts of their destruction were grudgingly mentioned almost in passing. They were destroyed from the air. This did not make a glamorous or even central story to anyone's coverage of this war, because there were no embedded reporters with the Iraqi troops. It's hard to get a TV camera into a line of trenches that is being puréed by bombs. Instead of reporting that this peripeteia in the war's narrative was happening, and that it entailed thousands of deaths leading to the rapid collapse of the Iraqi regime, the television and the press simply downsized the story. No pictures, no story. This is the real meaning of "degradation."
    This shorter, feistier article is -- like it's longer, more detailed counterpart -- required reading for any American whose war media diet was exclusively home-grown.

    :: posted by Joe at 18:00 ::
    :: ::


    The same article mentioned in the last post, by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books, has some damning and absolutely dead-on criticism of how the media handled the war:
    So stingy is Centcom with information that, at the daily briefings, the questions asked were often more revealing than the answers given. Those posed by European and Arab journalists tended to be more pointed and probing than those from the Americans. The Europeans and Arabs would ask about the accuracy of US missiles, the use of weapons containing depleted uranium, the extent of civilian casualties. The Americans would ask questions such as: "Why hasn't Iraqi broadcasting been taken out?" "Is Iraq using weapons prohibited by the UN?" "Can you offer more details on the rescue of Jessica Lynch?" One US network correspondent told me that she was worried that, if she pushed too hard at the briefings, she would no longer be called on. Jim Wilkinson was known to rebuke reporters whose copy he deemed insufficiently supportive of the war; he darkly warned one correspondent that he was on a "list" along with two other reporters at his paper.

    After each briefing, correspondents for the major satellite networks would stand up in back and give a live report before a camera. Sometimes I took a seat nearby and listened. The British correspondents invariably included some analysis in their reports. After one briefing, for instance, James Forlong of Sky News observed that Tommy Franks had left the briefing to his "fourth in command" (i.e., Brooks), and that "very little detail had been provided." Referring to a question about a friendly-fire incident, Forlong noted that Brooks had little to say other than that the incident was "under investigation." CNN's Tom Mintier, by contrast, would faithfully recite Brooks's main points, often with signs of approval. "They showed some amazing footage of a raid on a palace," he said when introducing a clip that had been shown at the briefing, one of many that CNN aired.

    Such differences in style were apparent in the broadcasts themselves. Switching stations in my hotel, I often found myself drawn to the BBC. With two hundred reporters, producers, and technicians in the field, its largest deployment ever, the network offered no-nonsense anchors, tenacious correspondents, perceptive features, and a host of commentators steeped in knowledge of the Middle East, in contrast to the retired generals and colonels we saw on American TV. Reporters were not afraid to challenge the coalition's claims. When an anchor asked Paul Adams, a BBC defense correspondent, whether Iraqi fighters were using "quasi-terrorist tactics"—a common Centcom charge—he said it was more appropriate to speak of "asymmetrical warfare," i.e., the use of unconventional tactics by forces that were badly outgunned. At the same time, the BBC presented many stories about the horrors of Saddam's rule. In one chilling piece, it had an interview with an Iraqi woman in London whose family members had been murdered, raped, or tortured by the regime.

    At times, the BBC seemed relatively slow and ponderous. When the tape of Saddam's appearance in the streets of Baghdad was shown on al-Jazeera, the BBC took ten minutes longer than other networks to air it. A feature about Günter Grass and his visceral hatred for America seemed to be repeated endlessly. All in all, though, the BBC maintained a consistent standard of skepticism toward all sides. "We're very conscious that our audience is not just a coalition audience but an international one," Jonathan Marcus, a correspondent for BBC Radio, told me. "Tone, style, and terminology are all employed with that very much in mind. That has sharpened our journalism enormously."

    The BBC got some stiff competition from Sky News. With a much smaller staff than the BBC, this London-based channel (partly owned by Rupert Murdoch) seemed far more nimble. One of its correspondents, Geoff Meade, became known at the media center for his sharp, if sometimes grandiloquent, questions. When Baghdad was about to fall without the discovery of any weapons of mass destruction, he asked, "Is this war going to make history by being the first to end before its cause could be found?" Among Sky's regular commentators, Con Coughlin, a biographer of Saddam and a Daily Telegraph editor, explained how Baath Party loyalists would likely have been recruited to play a part in Saddam's allegedly spontaneous street appearances.

    After watching the British reports, I found the American ones jarring. In my hotel, MSNBC always seemed to be on, and I was shocked by its mawkishness and breathless boosterism. Its anchors mostly recounted tales of American bravery and derring-do. After the US attacks on the Palestine Hotel and the offices of al-Jazeera in Baghdad, MSNBC brought on its resident terrorism expert, Steve Emerson, who insisted—before any of the facts were in—that the attacks were accidental. MSNBC's "embedded" reporters, meanwhile, seemed utterly intoxicated by the war. In one tendentious account, Dr. Bob Arnot—normally assigned to the health beat—excitedly followed his cameraman into an unlighted building where two captured Iraqi fighters were being held near the entrance while a group of women and children could be seen in back. "They're fighting outside," Arnot said with indignation. "Here in the front are RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] used to kill Marines, and in the back are these women and children—civilian hostages. And they're terrified." But terrified of what? The captured men in the front room? The fighting outside? Were they being held against their will? Arnot never asked.

    Before arriving in Doha, I had spent hours watching CNN back home, and I was sadly reminded of the network's steady decline in recent years. Paula Zahn looked and talked like a cheerleader for the US forces; Aaron Brown kept reaching for the profound remark without ever finding it; Wolf Blitzer politely interviewed Washington's high and mighty, seldom asking a pointed question. None of them, however, appeared on the broadcasts I saw in Doha. Instead, there were Jim Clancy, a tough-minded veteran American correspondent, Michael Holmes, a soft-spoken Australian, and Becky Anderson, a sharp and inquisitive British anchor. This was CNN International, the edition broadcast to the world at large, and it was far more serious and informed than the American version.

    The difference was not accidental. Six months before the war began, I was told, executives at CNN headquarters in Atlanta met regularly to plan separate broadcasts for America and the world. Those executives knew that Zahn's girl-next-door manner and Brown's spacey monologues would not go down well with the British, French, or Germans, much less the Egyptians or Turks, and so the network, at huge expense, fielded two parallel but separate teams to cover the war. And while there was plenty of overlap, especially in the reports from the field, and in the use of such knowledgeable journalists as Christiane Amanpour, the international edition was refreshingly free of the self-congratulatory talk of its domestic one. In one telling moment, Becky Anderson, listening to one of Walter Rodgers's excited reports about US advances in the field, admonished him: "Let's not give the impression that there's been no resistance." Rodgers conceded that she was right.

    CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition—a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.
    That's only a fifth or so of the larger piece, which everyone should go read right now.

    :: posted by Joe at 17:23 ::
    :: ::


    I had missed this tidbit during the war:
    The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush's adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him. Nonetheless, the center had all the earmarks of a political campaign, with press officers always "on message." Many journalists, accustomed to the smoothly purring Bush political machine, were struck by the heavy-handedness of the Doha operation. A week into the war, journalists began writing their own "media pieces," as they called them, comparing the briefings to the infamous "Five O'Clock Follies" of the Vietnam War.
    Turns out the Bush administration is even more Bolshevik than I had been aware. Good comrades will have recognized Wilkinson's name from the People's Monument in Miami that commemorates the day the oppressed masses of white Republican Congressional staffers rose up, left their cubicles for Florida, and set about physically intimidated local election officials in a patriotic defense of democracy.

    :: posted by Joe at 16:58 ::
    :: ::


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