November 04, 2008
What I Told The Singaporeans About Obama and McCain
On Monday, I and an ally gave 10-minute speeches to an audience at a Singapore public library against two McCain speakers. I'm really happy about how it went -- the kids were nodding throughout my speech and looking kind of skeptically at the McCain people. I took foreign policy and the financial crisis, leaving other domestic stuff to my partner. Here's what I said.
To better understand how Barack Obama and John McCain would use the awesome power of the American presidency, we should look back at their judgment on the most significant and fateful foreign policy decision of our time -- the decision to start the Iraq War.
By now, a large majority of Americans realize that going to war was a bad decision. The Iraq War has killed over 4,000 Americans, more than Osama Bin Laden killed on September 11. The total cost to America comes to around $3 trillion. Violence in the wake of the war has forced over four million Iraqis to flee their homes, and killed tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqi civilians.
It's a war that Barack Obama opposed from the beginning, understanding that the costs of occupying the country would be tremendous. And it's a war that John McCain supported from the beginning, largely because he made no effort to understand the region he'd be invading. This issue, like many others, shows the difference between Obama's foresight and McCain's failure to understand the world. Barack Obama will achieve our national goals peacefully whenever possible, while McCain is likely to drag America into more foolish wars.
Six years ago, in the same hour that President Bush and Congress announced an agreement on the resolution to invade Iraq, Obama gave a speech opposing the war. He explained three things he knew about Iraq. These are things that most Americans know today, and that most of us wish with all our hearts that our leaders had known six years ago.
The first of these things was "that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."
Obama was exactly right. The efforts of the international community were successfully keeping Saddam Hussein from developing his army or having nuclear weapons. Saddam wasn't involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. It would've been simple to contain him using peaceful means, and save our resources for going after Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
To understand how big a point this is in Obama's favor, consider the political climate in America at the time. It was barely a year after the 9/11 attacks, and the Bush Administration was using all its power to mislead America about weapons of mass destruction and terrify everyone into supporting the war. Half of the Democrats in the Senate were frightened into supporting the Iraq War. Obama, however, didn't panic. He correctly evaluated the situation and opposed a war that has cost so much in money and blood. That's the sort of leader that I want guiding my country.
Here's the second thing Obama said, and it's the one I want to focus on the most: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."
At the time, many Americans thought the occupation would be easy, because that's what our Republican leadership told them. In 2003, John McCain said, "There’s no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone, we will be welcomed as liberators." His prediction was disastrously wrong. Instead of being welcomed as liberators, Americans found themselves in the middle of a civil war between Sunni and Shia muslims. 89% of the US military deaths in Iraq came after the capture of Saddam.
Why was McCain so wrong about how the occupation would go? Partly because of complete ignorance about the area he wanted to invade. In 2003, McCain rejected the idea that religious strife would make the occupation difficult, saying "There's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along." Just twenty years before, Sunni-led Iraq and Shiite Iran were locked in a brutal war that killed half a million people.
During the occupation of Iraq, the violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq was horrific. The reporter Dexter Filkins has described how you could tell whether a dead Iraqi was a Sunni or a Shia. If he had no head, he was probably a Shia killed by Sunnis, because Sunni extremists preferred to behead their victims. But if his body was full of holes, he was probably a Sunni killed by the Shia, since Shia militiamen preferred to torture their victims before they died with electric drills. These, again, are the people that John McCain said would "probably get along."
With McCain's penchant for militarism and his poor understanding of the world, he's very likely to start foolish wars. Who knows how many American soldiers or foreign civilians will die for no good reason under a McCain administration, because McCain attacked some other country without understanding the consequences?
I should add that this situation becomes absolutely ludicrous if Sarah Palin, who has referred to the Iraq War as "part of God's plan" and a "task from God", becomes president. She hadn't travelled outside North America until last year, and has very little knowledge of foreign policy beyond the ability to read notes given to her by John McCain's staff, sometimes while winking at the camera. This is not the kind of person who should be given command of the most powerful military in the world.
Let's look at something else that Obama pointed out -- the immense financial cost of the occupation. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that when you include additional costs like damage to military equipment and treating disabled soldiers for the rest of their lives, the total cost of the Iraq War comes to $3 trillion. This is enough money to buy every household in America a new Toyota Prius. It's enough to buy everything on the Japanese stock market. It's enough to buy 2 iPhones for every human being on earth. Because of John McCain and the Republicans, we wasted it on getting our soldiers and lots of Iraqis killed.
Now for the third thing Obama said: "I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda." American intelligence agencies now agree with Obama. As a National Intelligence Estimate from 2006 claims, the Iraq War has made the overall terrorism problem worse, providing new recruits for violent Islamic movements. At the same time, it put our soldiers exactly where these recruits could blow them up.
McCain's supporters often talk about his greater experience. But the point of having experience is that it'll help you make better decisions. And McCain made an absolutely catastrophic decision on the greatest foreign policy question of our time. Obama, meanwhile, had the good judgment necessary to make the right decision. And that's why I want him running our country.
McCain's foreign policy incompetence has continued. When asked about Iran policy, he started singing an old Beach Boys song, replacing the lyrics with "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran." He still is confused about which Muslim groups are Sunni and which are Shiite. His resistance to diplomacy is so strong that he refused to commit to a meeting with the president of our NATO ally Spain.
Meanwhile, Obama has been producing well-thought out solutions to America's problems. He wants us to gradually withdraw troops from Iraq and send some of them to defeat Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of my favorite Obama proposals was a bill that allocated money to buy heavy conventional weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles that could shoot down jet planes, off the international black market, so that they won't be available to terrorists. Obama's bill passed the Senate last year.
Before I close, I want to address another crisis situation -- the financial crisis we're facing right now. Several decades of deregulation in America allowed large banks to engage in very risky deals. Now, with the banking system weakened, there's the danger of a credit freeze where businesses could fail because banks are afraid to risk failure by making any more loans.
Barack Obama and the leaders of the Democratic Party found the solution early on in the process: give the banks money in exchange for their stock. It's a deal that could make lots of money for taxpayers, since bank stocks are very cheap now and may go up over the next several years. Recently, Gordon Brown in the UK took exactly this solution. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, despite being a Republican who initially objected to this idea on ideological grounds, has now realized that it's the only solution.
On the other hand, we have John McCain, who was officially criticized by the Senate 20 years ago for taking $112,000 in contributions from a corrupt banker, and then intimidating regulators so they wouldn't investigate the banker for fraud. (The banker was eventually sent to prison for five years, and the failure of the bank cost the government $3 billion.)
Rather than seek to understand the crisis and how to fix it, McCain has just offered a bunch of ideas that help his campaign contributors without addressing the crisis. He's proposed buying up the banks' bad mortgage investments at full value, rewarding longtime Republican contributors in the financial industry by giving them extra taxpayer money. He's also proposed reducing taxes on investment profits for the next two years. This doesn't do anything to alleviate the immediate crisis -- failing banks don't have net investment profits. It only helps rich people who have lots of old stock gains that they can cash in.
None of us can tell what new crises America will face in the next four years. But I'm convinced that Obama's ability to understand situations and propose the right policies is far superior to John McCain's. And that's one of the many reasons I'm happy to support him for president.
December 09, 2007
This post is mainly for those of you on RSS readers, as the homepage should, quite soon, be redirecting everyone. But so you know, this blog has moved to:
For those using RSS, the new feed is:
Copy that address into your reader and you'll get all the great Ezra Klein content you've come to love (or loathe), but with fewer calories.
Tomorrow, this blog moves to The American Prospect. It's a big deal for me. I remember setting up on Typepad, terrified that my decision to leave Pandagon was an insane mistake that would destroy my audience and doom any hope I had of making this into a career. I remember how hard the first few days were, looking at a Sitemeter that was a bare fraction of what I was used to, and seeing big zeros where the number of comments should have gone.
But this site allowed me to find my voice as a writer. My first explorations into health policy were here. So were the links to my first published pieces, and the announcement that I'd been hired by The American Prospect. My first appearances on Hardball came because of this site, as did my first op-eds in The Los Angeles Times. Indeed, I owe just about everything to this little blog, and the wonderful audience and commenting community that grew up around it.
And now, it's time to pack up my boxes and move once again. I've long wanted to bring the site to The Prospect, for reasons ranging from work-life balance, to a deep belief in the magazine's mission and my responsibility to further it, to a simple desire to feel like less of a delinquent employee. On Monday, after a lot of technological headaches and hassles (all of them borne with grace, cheer, and grim determination by this prince of a man), the new site will open. There are no planned changes in content or tone or orientation -- I will still have complete and sole editorial control over the site. It will simply be over there, instead of over here. And there will be more red.
Sadly, my remarkable weekend writers will not be coming with me. They will be starting their own group blog. But I'll leave that for their goodbye posts (which are below this one), and simply say that I've been honored to have such a whip-smart group of writers pitch-in, elevating the site's quality and giving me something resembling weekends. I can't thank them enough, and I'm genuinely excited to be able to read them all week long, and in one place.
Logistically speaking, on Sunday, this post will be raised to the top of the site. That evening, the transfer will take place, this page will redirect to the new site, and all the other technical aspects of the move will take place. I hope you folks will all follow over to TAP, change your bookmarks, update your feeds, and all the rest. After all, without you, I'm just some crazy guy, listening to my own voice echo through the tubes.
Oops. By Stephen of Cogitamus.
I'm usually not that good with titles; the one for this post, however, encapsulates perfectly what I feel and what I owe
- To Ezra, of course, for the opportunity to be associated with one so talented and to write for such a large audience. Last February, when Ezra was looking to add some more weekenders, I joked with him that if he was desperate he could always add me to the team. I was shocked to find out that he was apparently that desperate and had been intending to invite me.
- To the readers and especially the commenters, for holding me to the same high standards of research and accuracy to which you hold Ezra and the other weekenders. You've chastised, encouraged, discussed and overall made reading and writing for this blog into an amazing experience.
I would, of course, like to invite all of you over to Cogitamus. It can be difficult to think of adding another blog to your reading schedule, but in addition to Ezra's Reservoir Bloggers we've added some fascinating voices and we are committed to making it worth your while to invest time with us.
Faithful readers know Nicholas, Litbrit, Stephen, Ankush, John, and myself from our weekend posts on this blog. (While you've known me as 'Neil the Ethical Werewolf' here, I've decided to switch back to my human name for the new blog, at least while the moon remains in an oblong shape.) But there are three new writers we're bringing onto Cogitamus to whom you should be introduced.
The first, and probably the bearer of the most impressive resume among us all, is Lisa Simeone, who is now adding the humble practice of blogging to the long list of media she's worked in -- radio, TV, and all forms of high-profile print media.
The identity of the second is secret. He goes by Sir Charles, and does something very important and progressive in a capital city somewhere. I'm sure that he'll reveal more about himself as time passes, but I don't want to say any more, lest I accidentally tip off his enemies to his real name or his occupation or the location of his secret underground lair.
The third, Sara Anderson, is the one whom I've been reading for the longest time. Her blog, f-words, gets its name from some of the topics she writes on -- food, fact, fiction, and feminism, all of which I have positive feelings of different kinds towards. I've always found her writing completely wonderful. It's not a flashy kind of wonderful -- it's the subtle kind of wonderful where she writes a sentence that balances five different thoughts to get a complicated issue exactly right, and then she does that in the next sentence, and the next one, and the one after that, and at the end you're just nodding and going 'Yeah' because that's exactly what needed to be said. I'm overjoyed that we have her, and you can see her latest post at the new blog here.
This Has Been The Most Awesome Thing Ever
It's been an awesome two and a half years guestblogging for Ezra. I've never stopped appreciating the awesomeness of being able to write for an audience of thousands, and I have him to thank both for the long and wonderful opportunity he's given me in the past, and for setting me up to do so on a new and awesome blog in the future.
Even the most politically significant philosophers usually don't have much of an impact before they die, and I'm blessed to be an exception to that rule. I wish Ezra all the best in his future endeavors, and I expect my already-great pride in having been associated with him to grow even greater as he moves on to bigger and better things.
December 08, 2007
So Long; Fare Well
By Deborah Newell Tornello
I cannot let the evening close without thanking you for your support and wishing you every success in your already-brilliant career. It has been an honor, as well as a great pleasure, to write for your site.
Oscar Wilde said that "journalism is unreadable and literature is not read", but I believe that between the two, there is a little-known middle ground upon which a lucky few can find balanced footing--that it's possible to draw inspiration and even fuel from each discipline. Thus the informative becomes artful; the esoteric, nourishing.
And people tend to read it. As they have here, and as they will continue to do at TAPPED.
On behalf of my family, all of whom are now Hardball watchers on Thursdays, I send a hearty congratulations and a heartfelt and loud Bravo.
It's not exactly groundbreaking, but Michael Lewis' piece in Portfolio magazine is fairly impressive when you consider that he and the magazine are basically arguing that a decent chunk of their readership is full of crap. The odds of you or your stockbroker or your money manager "beating" the market are pretty much zero, as Lewis explains, which is why index funds are such a safe bet.
So what is going on with all this investment advice in magazines and on cable? Eugene Fama, one of the key proponents of the efficient markets hypothesis, and Weston Wellington, a principal at a firm that purchases what are more or less index funds, have some pretty compelling explanations:
"You can tell a story every day about stocks," [Fama] concludes. "That’s what the media are all about. They tell a story every day about today’s stock returns. It’s businessman’s pornography."
[Wellington] punctuates the porn show with some general lessons. One is that the financial press isn't in the business of supplying useful information; it’s in the business of feeding people’s lust for predictions. "You keep buying the magazine regardless of how the forecasts turn out," Wellington says, "and they’ll keep supplying the forecasts."
That strikes me as basically correct, at least as applied to magazines (like SmartMoney) and shows (like MadMoney) that are in the business of providing people with investment advice as opposed to straight-up financial news. A lot of the folks behind these things are in the precarious position of having to dress things up -- convincing us that they have some unique insights -- so as not to quickly render themselves obsolete. This whole sector of the media is essentially a gigantic hype machine, perpetuating what is basically a myth -- out of incompetence, self-interest, self-delusion, or some combination of the three.
Saturday night at the movies
(Posted by John.)
So the girlfriend and I went to go see The Golden Compass tonight. There's a bit of weird layering here, as my fears about The Golden Compass being made in to a movie was one of the reasons I started blogging almost exactly three years ago today. Seriously. (Yes, George Bush had just been re-elected, but what really made me want to spill pixels was fears of an emasculated film based on a children's book. Priorities, people!)
And then there's the big move to Cogitamus, weirdly also happening at the same time. Obviously, I'm excited to keep blogging with such quality writers, and immensely grateful to Ezra for the opportunity he's given me. Not that you'll need it Ezra, but best of luck.
So there's a bunch of things going on. But let's get back to the movie. Happily, the fundamentalist rage didn't manage to ruin the movie. Sadly, the movie was still ruined.
I think Stephanie Zacharek more or less nailed the movie's flaws, and its few virtues, with her review. But I had a curious sensation watching this movie, trying to figure out where I'd last seen a movie which had such a dissonant mix of good actors and high production values on the one hand, but absolutely atrocious writing on the other.
Oh yeah... The Chronicles of Riddick. Except this time, Vin Diesel is a polar bear.
And if you haven't seen it, Riddick really is a weird movie. You've got Thandie Newton, Colm Feore, and Dame friggin' Judi Dench, but somehow they've all been transported to this alternate universe where they're delivering some of the worst dialogue ever, within a truly atrocious story. But it's also got some of the most impressive and interesting use of CGI that I've seen in a film recently -- frankly, more in some ways than the Star Wars prequels. But: Dame friggin' Judi Dench. Still, all in all, a forgettable film.
So let's just say that when I'm comparing it with Golden Compass, it's not a compliment.All done!
Wedgies for Huckabee
I've got a couple more things to talk with y'all about before it's time to bid Ezra's blog farewell, and one is Mike Huckabee, who's now leading the GOP Iowa polls. He's a good bet to win the state -- his straw poll success was a good test of his organization, and he has the most appeal to Iowa religious conservatives. For a long time, I've regarded him as the most dangerous general election opponent. Like most Democrats, I remember how easily a red-state Republican cast himself as a 'compassionate conservative' in 2000, and I'm worried about seeing it again.
But the more I think about Huckabee, the less I worry. I think people underestimate the extent to which his brand of social conservatism is a real liability in a general election. Bush's success doesn't have any positive implications for Huckabee, as Bush always blurred the lines on social issues before elections. For example, here he is in October 2004, saying that civil unions are okay if states want them. And we all remember Bush's cryptic "Dred Scott" reference in the debate. That's the kind of dog-whistle politics you engage in when you're afraid to come out and say that you want to overturn Roe.
Having made his religious views such a big part of his public image, I doubt that Huckabee will be able to hide himself nearly as well. He's stuck with extreme positions like opposition to civil unions even in states that want them and support for a Constitutional Amendment banning abortion. And if you want to see something really crazy, take a look at this, from 1996:
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas today refused to authorize a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather has been charged with incest, despite a Federal judge's order that such payments were required by Federal law.
Yeah. He blocked federal Medicaid funds so that an incest victim would have to bear her stepfather's child. Maybe Scott Lemieux or somebody can weigh in on the legal reasoning that Huckabee cites in the article, but it looks really thin to me. In any case, the dude is nuts.
We've seen Republican presidential candidates get stung by right-wing social views before -- think of Pat Buchanan's 1992 speech at the GOP convention, which hurt the elder Bush's re-election campaign. The main reason that social issues are regarded as difficult for Democrats today is that the younger Bush managed to triangulate away from our wedge issues. But if the focus returns to birth control, Constitutional Amendments to ban abortion, and civil unions, we're back in favorable territory.
It's a lot like it is on foreign policy -- if Democrats just show the same kind of confidence on social issues that they do on economic issues, they can come up with a way to defend progressive positions and win. Rather than making a big deal about extreme they aren't, they need to show how extreme their opponents are. It was hard to do that with Bush, because he was very effective at blurring the lines. Huckabee is going to be a lot easier.All done!
Reporting That Makes Me Sad
The Stranger's Eli Sanders retells a conversation with an Iowa bartender [emphasis mine]:
To think that the rest of the country is going to elect someone who’s in the minority in religion and in race just doesn’t seem realistic to me.
This is why it doesn't matter if the Washington Post's 'Obama Muslim Rumors have Truthiness and Lots of Believers' article was an intentional smear or not. It does tremendous damage either way, making it flatly irresponsible to reprint these rumors without adjudicating their truth value (the rumors, of course, are false). I'm glad several Post writers have come out and said they're unhappy with the piece. Hopefully the forces of light will prevail before the next truthy article hits the press.
Make Up For Missing Friday Saturday Frank: Solo from The Torture Never Stops; Barcelona; 1988
By Deborah Newell Tornello
The title of this Frank Zappa masterpiece seems perfect for the moment, what with the week's revelation that our intelligence personnel destroyed valuable videotaped evidence of U.S. agents torturing "enemy combatants".
If no-one knows that it's even going on in the first place, of course the torture never stops.
Change, on the other hand, continues apace. In fact, it seems to me, lately, that the only real constant is change, and as someone who's had enough real-life moving this fall to last her a while, I'm glad this weekend's efforts are confined to the virtual kind. It's a big old blog-moving day today: Ezra Klein, the blog (as well as Ezra, our gracious host) will now be part of the American Prospect website starting on Monday, and the weekend writers at Ezra's, including Yours Truly, are joining together to bring you Cogitamus, a blog featuring the opinions, outrages, musings and indulgences of a group of modern thinkers. Our very talented writers hail from the arts, the halls of academia, the courthouse corridors, and the drawing boards of design. And of course, for those of us loco parentis sorts, the kitchens and car-lines of Greater Domestica, where much writerly inspiration seems to occur, usually when there are no keyboards within reach and someone has absconded with all the crayons.
Writers who are seldom in complete agreement, who are always passionate, progressive, and articulate--that's us.
So, come visit, and bookmark, our first clubhouse--Neil and Nicholas should have taken down the No Girlz Alowed sign by now (you guys did get the injunction this morning, yes?!), and while it's definitely a linoleum-tiled, beige-curtained starter home at the moment, we're going to work wonders with the place. You'll see.
There Are Some Things In This Life That Never Change
It's fitting that our time with Ezra comes to an end right before a special election for the US House in Ohio. Just over two years ago, in my second weekend stint at Ezra's, I produced a nice post-game wrap-up of Paul Hackett's special election in OH-2. Here we are again. I really should have done this earlier, but I didn't pay much attention to the OH-5 race given the heavy Republican tilt in the CQ district ratings. But this race is definitely winnable.
It's true that Bush won this district by a big margin in 2004, and that Weirauch only got 43% against the previous incumbent. But since 2004, the district has been the fastest blue-trending district in Ohio, which has been one of the most blue-trending states in the country. The voters in the Ohio 5th have really soured on Bushism.
Though Bush won the district with something like 61% of the vote, Sherrod Brown (D) fought Mike DeWine (R) to a near 50-50 draw, losing by less than two thousand votes out of a quarter million If you believe that the Brown-DeWine contest was essentially a generic D versus generic R contest, then Weirauch's chances look pretty good. So there is real reason to hope for a win on Tuesday. Turnout will be key, but keep your finger crossed.All done!
December 07, 2007
Obama v. Krugman
Something's really gone off the rails when the Obama campaign decides to release an oppo document on Paul Krugman. It's not only the actual attacks that are weak (most of them rely on misinterpreting one comment, then misinterpreting the next, then pretending there's a contradiction), but, seriously, it's Paul Krugman. Arguably the most progressive voice in American media. When I argued that the campaign should take the gloves off, I really didn't expect their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism. What in hell is going on over there?
Update: To say a bit more on this, the campaign's attack on Krugman raises the question they don't want to answer: What changed? When Obama's plan came out, Krugman, and me, and Jon Cohn, and all the usual suspects criticized it for lacking an individual mandate, but said that, on the overall, it was pretty good, and Obama had passed the bar. Suddenly, we're all up in arms. Why?
Well, it was one thing when Obama simply didn't have a mechanism to achieve universality. It became a whole other when he began criticizing mechanisms to achieve universality. Previously, he'd gotten some flack for buying into the conservative argument that Social Security was in crisis. Now he was constructing a conservative argument against far-reaching reform proposals. And he kept doing it. And now his campaign is misrepresenting Krugman's comments in order to imply contradiction. But Krugman hasn't contradicted himself. Where his original comments focused on Obama's plan, his newer arguments are attempting to beat back Obama's rhetoric. And Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact.
Another Word on Man Dates
Jon Cohn, as is his wont, offers the single most comprehensive look at the policy questions and the relevant evidence.
Hating on the NIE
Ilan Goldenberg devastates the attempts of conservatives to undermine the National Intelligence Estimate here. As he says, the first fact to keep in mind is that "none of these people have access to the actual intelligence. They are sitting at think tanks outside of the intelligence community and simply haven't seen the data. This was a report that shows the basic consensus of the nation's 16 intelligence and it was produced on the Bush Administration's watch and ultimately approved by the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, who is a Bush Administration appointee."
But let me make the obvious point: This isn't about the intelligence. Do you remember Daniel Pletka or Norman Podhoretz counseling extreme skepticism of the intelligence surrounding the Iraq weapons program? And that intelligence actually was wrong. Worse, from this perspective, is to recall their opposition or, in the best cases, silence, to a thoroughgoing investigation of our intelligence failures in the lead-up to the Iraq war. In other words: This sudden outpouring of concern has nothing to do with methodological concerns with the NIE. It's an attempt to discredit the NIE due to ideological concerns with its conclusions.
Title of a press release I just got from The New America Foundation:
PRESS RELEASE: CRFB Urges Adherence to PAYGO on AMT Reform
Well okay then. (Slightly more seriously, the "clean" AMT bill is really crap, and it's all thanks to Republican Party's almost cosmic commitment to fiscal irresponsibility. I could write a long, outraged, blog post about it, but Kevin Drum already has, and the world only needs so many long blog posts about the tax code.)
My Commenters Is Smarter Than I: Romney Edition
It remains to be seen whether or not the speech worked. It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as "bad" PR -- but this is surely not the case in politics. I thought Romney was doing pretty well, all things considered. This looks to me like a pretty clear case of rookie overreaction 101. The well-financed, hitherto disciplined, on-message Romney campaign has nearly a month before Iowa to soften up Huckabee's numbers, and they've got plenty of issues with with to work, such as the latter's failure to hate immigrants, and his preference for financing government in real time rather than leaving it to future generations. I don't think it was necessary to go nuclear on the religion issue. Especially when their rival has better ICBMs.
Now, people are talking even more about an "issue" -- Romney's Mormonism -- that really wasn't an issue even to most GOP voters, never mind the electorate as a whole.
We shall see. Maybe all of this helps Romney. But maybe not. And if not, I think it opens the door a bit more widely for a McCain resurrection. I think four or five days ago at least one poll had the Arizona senator in second place in New Hampshire. That's pre-speech.
That all seems pretty plausible, too. It's certainly the case that Romney's speech did the opposite of deflecting attention from his religion. It put him back at the center of the conversation, but when the sneak mailers go out and the push polls begin, voters will have already been alerted that there's something here that Romney is embarrassed about.
Annals of Good Reporting
Someone give Justin Fox a medal.
Update: Fox went to ask Arthur Laffer, who made the enormous mistake of thinking the conservative movement wouldn't go too nuts of a graph on the back of a napkin, and asked him whether tax cuts increase revenue. "I don't know," he said. Fox also found out:
The idea that high tax rates brought diminishing returns was not controversial or even new--Laffer traces it to 14th century Muslim philosopher Ibn Khaldun.
Which raises an interesting question: Would Mitt Romney consider Ibn Khaldun for a position in his cabinet? Which is stronger: His desire to pander by discriminating against Muslims, or his fealty to the anti-tax forces in the Republican Party?
Dani Rodrik is a National Treasure
Trade was good for me. Was it good for you too?
You say it left you feeling really sore and that I did not even say a proper goodbye (let alone pay you for my share of dinner)? Well, I don't really care. I enjoyed it so much that we must have been both better off in aggregate. So we have to keep doing it. And in any case, if we stop you are likely to find some other way of hurting yourself.
Italics mine. That's a scarily accurate reflection of how trade is often thought about, though rarely spoken about. That's no surprise, though. It just so happens that those who tend to do the speaking on trade are those at the top of the distributional pyramid, and they hardly notice that their great gains aren't necessarily being matched. After all, the bad lover in Rodrik's example is rarely so self-conscious as to realize that what was good for him was not good for her. And he's even less likely to ask.
This, by Eugene Robinson, is a good point:
Clinton's decision to concentrate her fire on Obama threatens to turn him into the anti-Clinton. No candidate with negative ratings as high as Clinton's has an interest in signaling to voters who don't like her that there's one candidate to whom they might want to rally.
There was a lot of talk in recent weeks as to why Obama wouldn't take the gloves off. What happened, however, is that Hullary took them off first, letting Obama counterpunch without sullying his reputation for high-mindedness. Well-played by the Obama folks, but not so much by the Clinton people. So far as I can tell, what actually happened is that Hillary felt the heat from Edwards' attacks but responded against Obama, who was moving up in the polls and posed more of a threat to her nomination. That made sense looking at the numbers, but it's played out pretty poorly.
Your World in Powerpoints: Cap-and-Trade Edition
Via Dave Roberts comes a pretty fantastic Powerpoint presentation explaining how cap-and-trade systems work to reduce carbon emissions. It can be a bit of a glaze-your-eyes-over sort of topic, so the use of a musical chairs analogy, while a bit hokey, actually clarifies things considerably. Below, I've posted the short version using SlideShare, so you don't actually have to download the Powerpoint. There's also a long version if you want it, but for most, this guy will do just fine. Now, if we could only get Tom Friedman to watch it...
It's really not comforting news that the CIA has been destroying interrogation tapes in order to ensure their more brutal interrogation methods are never exposed to oversight. It's even worse when you hear "the tapes were made to...serve as an internal check on how the interrogations were conducted," and yet the interrogations were such that the tapes had to be erased in order to protect those involved.
What's really weird about all this is that a cadre of senior Democrats knew about the tapes and their destruction, and didn't say anything, didn't leak anything, didn't exercise any oversight whatsoever. But you can be sure they'll be releasing anguished press releases later today. I don't feel surefooted enough on this issue to offer much comment, but Spencer Ackerman is providing full court coverage of all this over at TPM Muckraker.
The Perfect Pander
Like Matt, I found Romney's speech pretty terrible. But it was certainly a brilliant political move. Today, everyone's talking about Mitt Romney. A week ago, everyone was talking about Mike Huckabee. So the speech worked.
But beneath it's immediate purpose of reversing Romney's slide in Iowa, the speech accurately played the national media. As I argued yesterday, there were really two speeches within it. The first 846 words, which were a Kennedy-esque denunciation of elevating religion into political litmus test, and then the rest of the speech, in which Romney elevated his religion into a litmus test, said his faith, and belief in Christ, ensured that he passed it, and then warned the Christian Right to focus on their real enemy: the secular left.
On Hardball yesterday, this showed itself to be a good strategy. The program kept playing the clip of Romney saying, "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin." Most viewers will experience only the first portion of the speech. Theyll only hear Romney playing Kennedy. But the bits from the second part will undoubtedly receive prominent play within the evangelical community. The speech they will experience is the one in which Romney declares "freedom requires religion." They will hear Romney playing religious warrior, and promising to further destroy the walls between church and state.
Give it up for the guy. After months of clumsy pandering during which he made himself look foolish by trying to have it both ways, Romney succeeded, in his highest profile moment, in having it both ways.
December 06, 2007
Open Link Thread
The internets are big, and I am small.