Wednesday, July 17, 2002

PERMALINKS BROKEN, POSTS GONE MISSING, PUBLISHING UNAVAILABLE, I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore. The new, Moveable Type-powered site is here: www.MatthewYglesias.com please change your links, bookmarks, etc. and if you're a blogger yourself you might want to consider mentioning the switch and helping me out.
JONAH GOLDBERG DOES SOME NICE lightly-humorous France bashing but then says that the real trouble is the enemy within — France-loving left-wing American intellectuals:
I've grown tired of these French-bashing columns because there's not much left to say about a nation of 200 cheeses and one kind of toilet paper. Besides, the real threat isn't the frogs across the pond. The real threat is their fellow hoppers here at home.
I, for one, love the French for all their flaws but frankly don't have much good to say about the goofy radical professors stalking the humanities departments at Harvard except to note that there aren't really as many of them as you'd be led to believe.
JASON RYLANDER (PERMALINKS FUBAR) discusses plans to divide the 9th Circuit:
The Ninth Circuit, which serves some 54 million people, is immense--almost 60 percent larger than the next biggest circuit. There may be legitimate arguments for dividing the court. But as Murkowski's statement makes clear, this proposal isn't about balancing workloads or improving efficiency. It's about punishing the judiciary for voting the way it did on the Pledge of Allegiance. That's unconscionable.
Well, based on this it sounds to me like there is a legitimate argument for dividing the court — it's almost 60 percent larger than the next biggest circuit. I agree that being upset about the Pledge decision (which was totally correct in my book) is the wrong reason to do it, but in politics, especially when you're dealing with a boring procedural issue like the size of judicial circuits, bad reasons are often the only reasons you can get. If a good idea happens to come to the forefront for any reason, I say seize on it.
THE BUSH PLAN TO DEAL WITH corporate accountability — pretend to favor tough measures and get the House Republican goon squad to water down the bill. This is a common tactic we've seen Bush employ when faced with popular legislation like the Patients' Bill of Rights or McCain-Feingold — work, work, work behind the scenes to get friendly legislators to kill the thing and then sign it if it gets through.
DEMOSTHENES IS SKEPTICAL of the merits of populism and I tend to agree. There's a difference between finding policies that will really benefit the weak and the underprivileged and finding policies that will appeal to the various resentments out there in the world.
JOSH MARSHALL READS NEWSWEEK's interview with Halliburton CEO David Lesar and says Cheney is toast. To think, this was supposed to be the guy who gave the administration gravitas.
THE IRA SAYS THEY'RE SORRY for all those dead civilians. It's sort of easy to mock this as too little too late, but it is progress and it shows both that Clinton's peacemaking efforts and Bush's stigmatization of terrorism are paying some dividends. I think it's unfortunate that partisanship has tended to create a dichotomy between the foreign policy orientations of our two most recent presidents when I think a combination of Bush's tough moral line and Clinton's intensive engagement in global problem-solving would be both possible and highly desireable.
THE RITTENHOUSE REVIEW QUOTES Alan Greenspan at length on the evils of sloppy fiscal policy and points out that times of war, with their attendant increased government expenditures, have traditionally resulted in either tax increases or else the horrors of the 1970s:
For decades Republicans have chastised the long-since-buried former President Lyndon B. Johnson for his failure to raise taxes to support the Great Society programs and the Vietnam War. Actually, they usually criticize Johnson for failing to fund the Great Society specifically, ignoring the war (apparently a self-funding endeavor) and forgetting, at least for a moment, that money is a fungible asset.

And now, facing an expensive war on terrorism of indefinite, perhaps permanent, duration, not only will no one raise the verboten issue of tax increases, no one will consider the idea of rolling back even the most reckless elements of the tax cuts enacted last year -- namely the eventual repeal of the estate tax. (Surely the 10,000 families benefitting from the repeal could be asked to sacrifice just a little.)

It's not quite the same since we seem to be at a different point in the economic cycle than the country was during the mid-1960s, so I think you could make the case that actually raising taxes to pay for the war would be a bad idea, but it seems like cancelling the planned Bush tax cuts would be the way to go.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

I'M ALL WITH OLIVER WILLIS on this issue:
The most ridiculous argument from the right in light of these corporate scandals has been that the market is "correcting itself". Here's the deal, slappy: The market is a great and beautiful thing if we play by the damn rules. These people aren't playing by the rules.
I would add, though, that the sentiment that the market is great and beatiful if and only if we play by the rules only holds on the assumption that the rules we're playing with are good ones. One of the things we've all learned over the past few months is that in many cases they're not. Thus, if it turns out that everything Bush, Cheney, White, et. al. did in their corporate lives was totally legal, that doesn't go to show that there's nothing to object to in them. Of course, if they're willing to back reforms that'll make the rules right, I can forgive them for having stuck to the letter of the law before, but that means they would have to admit to some kind of wrongdoing.

A good analogy, I think, is campaign finance. Obviously, all politicians working today have been working within the campaign finance system we currently have. There's nothing unacceptable with them doing that even though there's everything wrong with the system. But reform is necessary, and a politician who argues that everything he's done was totally kosher simply because it was legal is never going to push for reforms. That's what makes John McCaine's honesty about the corrupting influence of money on his own campaigns so refreshing.

I'M REALLY INTO THE TEXT OF THE open letter of support to the people of Iran. In fact, I'm so into it that I kind of wonder why the same sentiments can't be expressed toward the people of Syria, China, Saudi Arabia, Zaire, Myanmar, and the rest of the dictatorship-plagued world.
CHARLES KUFFNER POINTS OUT that a majority of Texans support universal health care and thinks it bodes poorly for the Republicans. Now I agree that health care is a major Republican vulnerability, but I wouldn't get my hopes up yet. I studied public opinion on health care in a class last semester and pretty consistently a majority of people support universal health care in the abstract, but there are a number of different ways to institute universal coverage and health care supporters disagree about the correct implementation. Since most people believe (probably correctly) that once we have a national insurance system it will be very hard to reform it in any fundamental way, there's always a majority of people who either think universal coverage is a bad idea or think the proposal on the table right now is a bad idea who combine to block it.
WITH SLATE ASKING is pornography good for women's rights? I think I should say that I'm pretty damn sure it doesn't. All the Volokh post that prompted the headline shows (and, to its credit, all that it claims) is that toleration for pornography correlates with women's rights. Typically the relationship between correlation and causation is hard to figure out, but in this case it just seems obvious to me that it's an underlying respect for individual freedom over "traditional" morality that's causes both lax attitudes towards porn and women's rights. The association of anti-porn politics with feminism is also, I think, a pretty serious misrepresentation. It's doubtful to me whether the MacKinnon/Dworkin line that porn should be restricted in the name of women's rights was ever endorsed by most feminist thinkers, and it certainly isn't today. One way or another, the political base of support for the pornography restriction movement of the 1980s came almost exclusively from the puritanical right which has always been a much more influential group in America than radical anti-liberal feminism.
WE'VE ALL HEARD ABOUT PRESIDENT BUSH's sky-high approval ratings, but less discussed is his poor showing on the question of would you vote for him? (link via TAPPED) I would suggest that post-9/11, the "approve" question has taken on a new meaning. Whereas previously it was understood that the question was implicitly asking whether you approved of the president's performance relative to the expected performance of the opposition party, now it's thought of as asking whether you approve of his performance as opposed to that of Osama bin Laden or Chomskyesque war critics. Apparently about a quarter of the American public "approves" of Bush, but isn't sure about four more years. Of course, Bush could easily win those undecideds over, but it's far from a sure thing that he will.
TED BARLOW extracts an interesting point from Justice Scalia's tirade against democracy — the deep conservative/libertarian divide. I didn't used to think much about libertarians until I started blogging and noticing them all over the place. The reason I didn't notice them, I think, is that ordinary people with more-or-less libertarian views seem to just meld seamlessly into the Republican coalition. I wouldn't presume to speak for a group of people whose ideology I don't share, but I'm not quite sure why this is so. Libertarians, obviously, agree with conservatives about some things and with liberals about others, but it seems to me that their points of agreement with liberals tend to come on the more important issues, like whether the government should have a secular or religious basis and whether or not the government should seek to legislate the most intimate details of personal life.

Compared to this, the question of how much income tax you should pay and whether or not the government should seek to legislate the details of consumer product safety don't strike me as being that big a deal. Perhaps as a liberal I can't appreciate how deeply it's possible for people to care about these economic freedoms, but given the fact that most libertarians are willing to accept some taxes in exchange for some government services it seems like the liberal/libertarian debate arrays itself along a spectrum within which reasonable discussion about priorities and tradeoffs is possible, whereas conservatives and libertarians, though they may have some points of agreement on individual policy question are basically coming from two very different approaches to politics.

RICHARD COHEN DISCUSSION OF A POSSIBLE switch to put Colin Powell on the ticket as Vice-President misses the point:
As for conservative Republicans who don't like Powell's pro-choice, pro-affirmative action stance, they might, of course, stay home. But they would surely not vote for any Democrat currently being mentioned as a presidential candidate.
Not only would conservatives be upset about Powell's domestic policy, they'd also be outraged by his foreign policy, since right-wing publications have adopted the strange method of praising the President for whatever they like about the administration's foreign policy and blaming Powell for whatever they don't like. Powell as VP would be a total non-starter with the base and would also impede the administration's effort to reach out to the substantial portion of the electorate that didn't vote for Bush but that now likes his hawkishness. The Condi Rice pick — already discussed ad nauseum in the blogosphere — seems much more likely to me.

UPDATE: See fire Colin Powell for an (unrelated) example of conservative anti-Powell wrath.

I CAN'T BUT HAVE THE FEELING that any piece of legislation that passes the Senate 97-0 must not be posing much of a threat to any of the vested interests in this country and therefore probably doesn't go far enough. It's hard to think of something worth doing that wouldn't be worth someone's while to try and stop.
NO LONGER FLUORESCENT The newly redesigned Libertarian Samizdata is looking better than ever and no longer lists me as a "haven of fluorescent idiocy" along with assorted neo-Nazi and hard-line anti-capitalist sites. Of course, that's largely because there no longer is a haven of fluorescent idiocy section on their links list. Oh well.
KRUGMAN'S THROWING FIRE yet again. I like Krugman and I'm sure others don't, but it seems to me that one way or another his true calling was writing press releases for the DNC.
THERE'S NOTHING I LIKE LESS than conservative southern democrats, but there's nothing I like more than the prospect of a black democrat as Senator from Texas so, all things considered, I'm psyched:
"This is a very surprising race in a very surprising place, the political equivalent for Democrats of found money," wrote Charles E. Cook Jr. in the most recent issue of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan chronicle of electoral politics.
Of course, if the Republicans keep floundering around on the economy, there's no telling how many "suprising" races there may be.

Monday, July 15, 2002

ALEX FRANTZ ISN'T FEELING quite as upset as he used to about Harkengate:
A story in the LA Times today gives new information on Bush's sale of Harken stock. The story does seem to clear up some questions that I've been wondering about - one key point is that it seems clear the decision to drop the case was made by lower level investigators and not by Bush appointees.
I don't think this matters — those lower-level employees knew perfectly well who the president was, and there's every reason to think that their desire to please their bosses effected their handling of the case. After all, if I were in charge of an organization I would expect my subordinates not to need to come ask me before they figure out that I don't want my son brought up on criminal charges.
EUROPE ON THE MARCH: This article about the Euro passing the one dollar mark makes the whole question of whether or not the Euro can remain stronger than the dollar over the long-term seem to be just a pointless question of symbolism. In reality, however, the fact that the US dollar is the "safe" currency of choice for foreign governments, drug smugglers, and scared grannies keeping cash under the bed has real benefits to the US government and the American people, so if everyone decides to switch to Euros that would actually be bad for us.
MARTIN PERETZ IS ON TO THE vast corruption-oil-terrorism nexus surrounding Harken Energy, Robert Johnson, James Baker, the House of Bush, and the House of Saud:
Bush's personal attorney at the time, the man who defended him against the SEC, was a man named Robert W. Jordan, formerly a partner at Baker Botts LLP. The Baker referred to therein is none other than James Baker, secretary of state to Bush père and the tactician behind W.'s extra-legal victory in Florida. At W.'s inaugural, Baker Botts threw a private party for, among others, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Later that year Jordan, who knows almost nothing about the Middle East, was appointed U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

James Baker now has a very influential friend and full-time interlocutor in Riyadh whenever he goes there (which he does often) on behalf of the banking consortium called the Carlyle Group. As it happens, George H.W. is also a highly remunerated senior Carlyle trustee with special responsibilities for Arab and especially Saudi Arab clients. In fact, Bush père traveled to Saudi Arabia shortly after the 2000 election. Prominent among H.W.'s clients was the family of Osama bin Laden, the money of whom was quickly disentangled from Carlyle for purposes of public decency shortly after September 11. Which raises a few questions: Why were Osama's many siblings and cousins who were in the States on September 11 apparently allowed to slip out of the country so quickly and without questioning? Did Ambassador Jordan do anything to facilitate their sudden and surprising departure? Did Jordan call his old partner Jim Baker to facilitate the mass getaway? Or did he go to the pater-familias, who had his own interest in the bin Ladens not suffering any embarrassments? Or did Jordan simply talk directly to his boss? Maybe no one talked to anybody. Which leads back to the original question: Why were the bin Ladens not detained?

I've really been struck by the fact that conservative pundits and bloggers, all of whom seem to grasp the truth about Saudi Arabia, don't seem to be able to see that it's George Bush — not some PC liberals — who's been maintaining the Big Lie of the War on Terrorism. Not only does Bush not recognize that Saudi Arabia is an enemy (indeed, perhaps the most dangerous enemy) of the United States, he insists it's a friend.
DO I SMELL SOME DANGEROUS jingoistic unilateralist nationalism in Brendan O'Neill's intemperate rejoined to critics of his criticism of blogging?
CHARLES DODGSON IS DISTURBED that Antonin Scalia thinks his powers come from God, not the constitution. This strikes me as an odd stance for a "strict constructionist" of the constitution to take, but it certainly would explain the ruling in Bush v. Gore.
PRIVATEER RAISES THE QUESTION: are assassins terrorists? A question made newly-relevant, of course, by the attempt on Jacques Chirac's life. It seems to me that this sort of thing has a lot in common with what was known as "terrorism" in the first half of the twentieth century, when it was practiced by, say, the Russian SRs, Michael Collins and the original IRA, or Menachim Begin in the Irgun. Back then it was understood that the targets of terrorism would be government officials — typically soldiers or policemen killed while off-duty or otherwise unprepared for battle. That sort of thing, it seems to me, is more justifiable (if the underlying cause is reasonable) and is basically an urban version of guerrilla warfare. The relevant distinction being between killing people for what they do and killing them for who they are. There's probably not a hard-and-fast line to be drawn here since old-school terrorist attacks have a tendency to do a great deal of collateral damage (the King David Hotel bombing being an example I'm familiar with) and also because once these things are expanded beyond strictly military targets to police and other manifestations of the occupation you get on a slippery slope that ends with the killing of doctors, teachers, etc. Nevertheless I would certainly look differently on a "terrorist" group that observed some self-imposed limits on their violence, if only because observing such limits would indicate to me that their goals were also limited and that, therefore, some kind of negotiated settlement might be workable.

Of course, in the Chirac case I hardly think there's anything good to be said about the underlying cause being served so the question of tactics is sort of moot.

HAPPY NEWS: disgusted by the mounting quantity of Blogger/Blogspot service difficulties, I've invested in some server space of my own and acquired MoveableType. I'll start posting at the new address www.MatthewYglesias.com in a few days when DNS Propagation (isn't that a cool term?) should be complete.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD nicely skewers the "puzzled" officials investigating the LAX shooting. Note the speed with which French investigators determined that their would-be assassin was motivated by the politics of the far right and compare with the head-scratching of the FBI when faced with an anti-semitic, anti-Israel, anti-American, Arab immigrant who shoots up an Israeli airpline on the 4th of July.
SEBASTIAN MALLABY'S GOOD COLUMN on why corporate compensation is out of control is virtually identical to this story from The Economist which I guess is okay because they're both just summaries of what's in this paper soon to be published in the Chicago Law Review, though the Post annoyingly had no link.
SULLY ON PAT TILLMAN:
Better still, he won't even give an interview about his decision. Real men don't gab to the press. They don't spin, they act. In an age when we read of CEO's robbing their own shareholders for obscene pay-offs, when the last president of the United States declared as ethical only what you could get away with, and when large swathes of the intelligentsia can find reasons to undermine a war to protect a free people from weapons of mass destruction, Tillman is a hero. And a man.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Tillman's done something very admirable here, as are all of the other men and women serving in our nation's armed forces, and it's unfortunate that his efforts are being hijacked to fuel Andrew Sullivan's strange slander campaign against Bill Clinton and "the intelligentsia."
IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE THE DEMOCRATS are finally getting it together on foreign policy and finding criticisms of the administration other than the nebulous charge of "unilateralism." They're going to need to work hard to avoid falling into the trap of parroting the Euroleft/New York Times point of view that the problem here is that we haven't been nice enough to "moderate" Arabs or sufficiently appeased Palestinian violence, and stick with the emerging line of criticism in the wake of the failure of the Tora Bora campaign and the assassination of two high-level Afghan officials that Bush hasn't been doing enough.
IN THE WEEKS SINCE BUSH'S BIG SPEECH on the Middle East, Ariel Sharon has done what everyone said couldn't be done — found a military solution to the suicide bombing problem. It seems to have come as such a shock to our friends across the Atlantic that everyone shut up for a while, but never fear the bitching and moaning from close NATO ally, and "moderate" Arab tyrant alike are back in full force. Gotta have some negotiations, you see?

Sunday, July 14, 2002

INTERESTING TIDBIT IN THIS week's edition of the always delightful punditwatch:
Fox’s Tony Snow showed three contrasting clips of network reporting on Klayman. He was always “conservative” when filing suits against Clinton; he was a “watchdog” filing against Cheney.
I've noticed this change in labeling too and I've heard other conservatives complain about it. When you think about it, though, the change has really been to the detriment of the Democrats in this case. After all, these lawsuits against Cheney would seem more credible if the media were going around saying things like "even conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch says..."

On the other hand, Clinton did benefit from the public perception that all his persecutors were ideologically-motivated and it would appear based on Klayman's behavior of late that that wasn't the whole truth in his case.

GOOD NEWS FROM CORPORATE AMERICA: Coca-Cola — America's greatest achievement since the separation of powers — has decided to admit what neither the Republican nor Democratic Parties can: Stock options are an expense.
JASON RYLANDER LOOKS AT the latest revelations and sees payback time for the Democrats:
Defenders will claim it's old news, but hey, so was Whitewater. That's nothing that $70 million and an independent counsel couldn't fix.
The Independent Counsel statute, of course, is no longer on the books and rightly so. I imagine that as more information comes out that some people will be calling to bring it back. That would be a very bad idea — I think the arguments that the statute was unconstitutional (first made, I think, by the Reagan administration) were solid and that Ken Starr proved definitively that the office was an open invitation to abuse of power.

That said, some investigating is going to have to be done, and the Senate Democrats are going to have to do it. It is, after all, the Congress's responsibility to check the executive branch. During the Independent Counsel era, Congressional majorities of both parties used the law as a way to dodge the statute. By appointing an IC they got to reap the benefits of any scandals unearthed while avoiding taking the heat when it turned out nothing was wrong. Paul Sarbanes and the Banking Committee ought to step up to the plate and launch an investigation of their own.

MATT WELCH RESURFACES ONCE AGAIN with an LA Daily News story slamming the FBI for it's see no terrorism approach to the LAX shooting. The key point, I think, is this:
It does not take a particularly agile mind to figure out that there is nothing contradictory about the terms "isolated incident" and "terrorism" -- what was Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City massacre, if not an isolated act of terrorism?

But Hahn and his crisis-team pals surely knew how this false opposition would play out in the trigger-happy media: like a soothing (if temporary) reassurance that we weren't under attack by terrorist neighbors on Independence Day.

The subtext here beyond Hahn is the Bush administration's desire to claim that their counterterrorism strategy is working. The easiest way to do that, of course, is to simply deny that terrorist attacks that they failed to prevent were terrorist attacks at all. Now I don't really see what the government could have done to prevent what went down on July 4, but if we're going to be faced with occassional terrorist attacks that can't be stopped (which I think we are), then the government needs to be frank about that fact and needs to be clear to would-be attackers (whether formally affiliated with terrorist groups or not) that we have no intention of altering our policies to suit the whims of random shooters.
I AND THE REST OF THE BLOGOSPHERE LEFT have been giving Kaus a hard time since his MWO-as-terrorists post, but today's musings about this Atlanta Journal Constitution story on interracial dating are interesting even if you don't subscribe to the welfare-reform-solved-everything worldview. Nevertheless, I couldn't help wondering while reading the story what kind of people would agree to have their relationship dissected by a newspaper reporter and then used as the basis for a discussion of wide-ranging social trends.
PASHTUN BIAS WATCH: This Economist article about America losing the peace in Afghanistan refers to the Pashtuns as a "majority ethnic group." Readers of yesterday's post on the subject will recall that only 38% of Afghans are Pashtun — making the people of the Burkha Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, but far from a majority. Reader John also noted in yesterday's comments that the destruction of Kabul in 1996 is typically attributed to unnamed "warlords," implying that the same "warlords" who make up the Northern Alliance were responsible whereas, in fact, it was Pashtun leader Hekmatyar. The root cause of all this, I think, is probably distorted briefings from US intelligence sources who still bear a grudge against the Tajiks and the Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum for having insufficient anti-Communist ardor back in the 1980s.
ANDREW KOHUT GIVES US THE SKINNY on public opinion and the 2002 Congressional elections.
Little wonder that when voters consider the subjects they want their local candidates to debate come the fall, about as many mention the economy as mention terrorism. One in five voters in Pew's latest survey say they want this fall's candidates to talk about terrorism and national security. But economic and education issues are cited just as often, and 13 percent mention health care.

[...]

A focus on the domestic agenda, and new revelations about corporate wrongdoing, would most likely help Democratic candidates. However, there's no guarantee that Democrats would be able to play the populist card effectively with voters, just as the Republicans have rarely been able to play the moralism card effectively.

It sounds to me like the result of this will be an election where Republicans try to convince people that terrorism is the really important issue and that they should ignore the economy and that Democrats will try to do the reverse and just talk about the economy all the time. I think that would be really unfortunate. These are both important issues and the public is not well-served when politicians try to win elections by defining them as being "about" their party's strong issues instead of engaging in substantive debates with their opponents.
JACQUES CHIRAC WAS THE TARGET of an assassination attempt by a far right-winger. Are we gonna hear now from Kaus about the threat of right-wing political violence and the danger posed by flinging around Coulter/Sullivan/Kaus-style accusations of violent, treasonous fifth-columnists in our minds?
ORDINARY INVESTORS ARE losing hope in the markets, but George W. Bush is still bullish, since when you have insider information companies' real financial situations then you don't really need to be able to trust accountants' reports.
ROB HUMENIK (WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM DAVID BRODER) JUMPS on the Howard Dean bandwagon. It appears that the combination of being from a rural state and being pro-gun (or at least not-anti-gun) does cause people to look at you in a different way even if on the big issues of taxes and spending you're more-or-less preaching the party orthodoxy.