Monday, April 28, 2008

Winning isn't Everything; It is the Only Thing

Via Matthew Yglesias, we have Fred Kagan, Iraq War Proponent, outlining how he's a hopeless fool.

How We'll Know When We've Won: "Virtually everyone who wants to win this war agrees: Success will have been achieved when Iraq is a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia. This has been said over and over. Why won't war critics hear it? Is it because they reject the notion that such success is achievable and therefore see the definition as dishonest or delusional? Is it because George Bush has used versions of it and thus discredited it in the eyes of those who hate him? Or is it because it does not offer easily verifiable benchmarks to tell us whether or not we are succeeding? There could be other reasons . . . "

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Accountability Moment?

United States Economy - Economic Trends - Politics - Democrats - Republicans - New York Times: "This year looks unusual . . ., with slow growth likely despite the infusion of substantial tax rebates from an election-year stimulus plan. If that slow growth produces a Republican defeat in November, it will be a rare instance of economic accountability for a party with a long history of delivering meager income gains for most American families."

Hat tip to Mark Thoma, who comments: "No matter how much it might help Democrats, I'm not hoping for a recession. But if problems must occur, accountability would be nice."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Early Nominees for Words of the Year

Calculated Risk: Early Nominees for Word(s) of the Year: "Reader Matt suggests 'perfect storm' for 2008. He has seen the words perfect storm used to describe the results of 'airlines, food, oil, foreclosures, condo sales, and credit problems'."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Concern in the Twilight

dissent in comments: "My concern for this country is that we don't have the social cohesiveness to manage this decline in a manner that is both wise and fair. Our democracy is deeply wounded, our working class in a downward spiral, and our elites corrupted and disengaged from the wider polity."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"It's a perfect storm."

digby at Hullabaloo: "The GOP is imploding and while their candidate is formidable, the zeitgeist has passed him by. After eight years of Republican rule, massive numbers of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, the economy is in recession and we have an extremely unpopular Republican war. And the Democrats are using new technologies to raise massive sums of money and bring voters and activists into the system in huge numbers, efficiently dispatching them to campaign and get out the vote. Meanwhile, completely on their own, citizens are participating through blogs, youtubes and social networking sites completely outside the system. The right has nothing like this.

"This election will not be a cakewalk --- the Republicans have 25 years of internalized philosophy and some primitive prejudices to work with. But in 2008, after Bush, that just not going to be enough. The forces of change in this election run far deeper than the presidential campaigns."

Losing an unprovoked war, combined with rampant corruption and economic collapse, will bring about a political reaction.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

even if John McCain becomes president

Frank Rich of the NY Times watches the Iraq-Petraeus hearings: ". . . by week’s end, I became more convinced than ever that in January we’ll have a new policy that includes serious withdrawals and serious conversations with Mr. Maliki’s pals in Iran, even if John McCain becomes president."

The emphasis, of course, is mine. How stupid and complacent does Frank Rich have to be to keep his job? I guess this complacent. For years, the moron pundits told us the Bush would be leaving Iraq, real soon. The Friedman Unit -- the war will be won or lost in the next six months -- is now such a joke that no one will utter it. Now, we are assurred that even John "100 years in Iraq" McCain will withdraw. (Last week, Frank was telling us the Democrats should not be drawing attention to the McCain "100 years" statement -- he didn't meant that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

17 of 23

CongressionalDaily via Daily Kos: "In a briefing for reporters, Schumer said Democrats are leading in Senate races in Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and Alaska. He listed Oregon, Maine and Minnesota as 'within reach,' noting that Democrat Al Franken is polling evenly with Republican Sen. Norm Coleman in Minnesota.
All told, Schumer optimistically proclaimed Democrats were competitive in 17 of 23 elections for seats now held by Republicans."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The U.S. establishment media in a nutshell - Glenn Greenwald -

The dam, which has held back the political storm has been constructed by a corrupt plutocracy, and it is their corporate Media. Not just Fox, but also CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour and Washington Week in Review, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times . . . and on and on.

Glenn Greenwald: "In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to "domestic military operations" within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

"Yoo and torture" - 102

"Mukasey and 9/11" -- 73

"Yoo and Fourth Amendment" -- 16

"Obama and bowling" -- 1,043

"Obama and Wright" -- More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

"Obama and patriotism" - 1,607

"Clinton and Lewinsky" -- 1,079 "

Media Matters - Myth: Americans tuned out Iraq Fact: The press tuned out Iraq:

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Coverage Index, reports about the situation in Iraq accounted for just 2 percent of total news coverage from January through March. Eight months ago, Iraq reporting accounted for 15 percent of the total news coverage. Yes, consumer interest in Iraq has crept downward since last summer, but it certainly hasn't plummeted by 87 percent, the way the news coverage has.

The level of commitment to war reporting has been, at times, insulting for a nation at war. For instance, during the week of January 21-27, actor Heath Ledger's death received twice as much coverage as did the unfolding events in Iraq.

Oddly enough, there have actually been weeks this year when a sizable portion of the American public selected the situation in Iraq as the news story they were following most closely, despite the dearth of reporting coming out of Iraq. For the week of January 28-February 3, 13 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey said Iraq was the most important story of the week, making it the week's third most-selected topic. What percentage of the total news coverage did the Iraq story actually represent that week? Two percent.

That Americans are able to remain informed about Iraq at all is somewhat remarkable given the paucity of reporting these days. After all, only a few major-market newspapers put news of the 4,000th U.S. fatality in Iraq above the fold on Page One.

In fact, what started all the recent media chatter about Americans suddenly not being interested in Iraq was a Pew poll released March 12 that showed 28 percent of Americans could correctly identify the number of casualties the U.S. military has suffered in Iraq. In all previous surveys Pew had conducted asking the same question, the percent answering correctly routinely hovered around 50 percent. Therefore, according to Pew, awareness of the fatalities had "plummeted."

The survey received widespread attention, including mentions on NBC's Today and National Public Radio and in The New York Times, The Des Moines Register, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Almost all the outlets pointed to the polling data to suggest Americans were suddenly no longer engaged in the still-unfolding war. The BBC, for instance, reported that "only about a quarter of Americans [knew] roughly how many of their own soldiers had died."

It's true the percentage went down to 28, but I think most of the media's dour interpretations of the poll were misleading. If you look at the actual data, the truth is that combined, 86 percent of Americans knew that between 3,000 and 5,000 members of the U.S. military had died in Iraq. It seems misleading to report that most Americans don't know "roughly" how many of our troops have died in Iraq. I'd suggest 86 percent know "roughly" how many have died, which indicates Americans are still very much engaged in the unfolding war story.

Secondly, and more important, it seems perfectly obvious that one of the reasons fewer Americans could pick the actual number is that news reporting from Iraq has essentially vanished; it's disappeared. How else are news consumers supposed to get that information, osmosis?

Glenn Greenwald continues:
"Media critic" Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post today devoted pages of his column to Obama's bowling and eating habits and how that shows he's not a regular guy but an Arrogant Elitist, compiling an endless string of similar chatter about this from Karl Rove, Maureen Dowd, Walter Shapiro and Ann Althouse. Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson devoted her whole column this week to arguing that, along with Wright, Obama's bowling was his biggest mistake, a "real doozy."

Obama's bowling has provided almost a full week of programming on MSNBC. Gail Collins, in The New York Times, today observed that Obama went bowling "with disastrous consequences." And, as always, they take their personality-based fixations from the Right, who have been promoting the Obama is an Arrogant, Exotic, Elitist Freak narrative for some time. In a typically cliched and slimy article, Time's Joe Klein this week explored what the headline called Obama's "Patriotism Problem," where we learn that "this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what's wrong with America than what's right." He trotted it all out -- the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama's angry, America-hating wife, "his Islamic-sounding name."

Needless to say, these serious and accomplished political journalists are only focusing on these stupid and trivial matters because this is what the Regular Folk care about. They speak for the Regular People, and what the Regular People care about is not Iraq or the looming recession or health care or lobbyist control of our government or anything that would strain the brain of these reporters. What those nice little Regular Folk care about is whether Obama is Regular Folk just like them, whether he can bowl and wants to gorge himself with junk food.

Our nation's coddled, insulated journalist class reaches these conclusions about what Regular Folk think using the most self-referential, self-absorbed thought process imaginable. The proof that the Regular People are interested in these things is that . . . the journalists themselves chatter about it endlessly. In Great American Hypocrites, I described the process as follows in the context of examining the three-week-long media obsession with John Edwards' haircut (to the exclusion of a whole array of revelations about what the government was doing or planning to do) and how they justified that coverage:

Most certainly, the press will pretend to be above it all ("this is not something that we, the sophisticated political journalists, care about, of course"). But they yammer about Drudge-promoted gossip endlessly, and then insist that their own chattering is proof that it is an important story that people care about. And because they conclude that "people" (i.e., them) are concerned with the story, they keep chirping about it, which in turn fuels their belief that the story is important. It is an endless loop of self-referential narcissism -- whatever they endlessly sputter is what "the people" care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance.
They don't need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.

Every day, it becomes more difficult to blame George Bush, Dick Cheney and comrades for their seven years (and counting) of crimes, corruption and destruction of our political values. Think about it this way: if you were a high government official and watched as -- all in a couple of weeks time -- it is revealed, right out in the open, that you suspended the Fourth Amendment, authorized torture, proclaimed yourself empowered to break the law, and sent the nation's top law enforcement officer to lie blatantly about how and why the 9/11 attacks happened so that you could acquire still more unchecked spying power and get rid of lawsuits that would expose what you did, and the political press in this country basically ignored all of that and blathered on about Obama's bowling score and how he eats chocolate, wouldn't you also conclude that you could do anything you want, without limits, and know there will be no consequences? What would be the incentive to stop doing all of that?

I know I should edit more, and quote less, but what am I to leave out?

Jay Rosen writing a Pressthink column cannot quite figure out whether to ridicule the liberal blogosphere for its outrageThe Love Affair Between McCain and the Press Sprains the Brain of the Liberal Blogosphere

Friday, April 4, 2008

EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect

Dani Rodrik: "It is the most telling picture about the U.S. political economy I have ever seen."

What Professor Rodrik is referring to is a chart from Princeton Professor Larry Bartels, which (in Rodrik's words)shows what:
"is the difference that the President's party affiliation makes to the distribution of income during the four years of the president's term. (The distributional outcomes are shown with one year's lag.) When a Republican president is in power, people at the top of the income distribution experience much larger real income gains than those at the bottom--a difference of 1.5 percent per year going from the bottom to the top quintile in the income distribution. The situation is reversed when a Democrat is in power: those who benefit the most are the lower income groups. If you are in the bottom quintile, the difference between having a Democratic or a Republican president in office is an income gain (or loss) of more than 2 percent per year! Strikingly, compared to Republicans, Democratic presidents generate higher income gains for all income groups (although the difference is statistically significant only for lower income groups).

Bartels shows in his book that this difference is not a statistical artifact or a fluke. It is not the result of Democrats coming to power during better economic times, or of Republicans reining in the unsustainable excesses of Democratic administrations they replace. (It turns out that the same pattern prevails even when a Republican president is succeeded by another Republican.) These numbers are real and they are the outcome of partisan differences in policy. So if you are one of those who have bought the story that income distribution is the result of pure market forces and technological changes, with politics playing no role--think again."

For Rodrik, the puzzle is why the Democrats don't always win. Puzzles me, too. But, interestingly to me, some on the Left are surprised! But, not simply by the fact that Republicans get elected, or that electing Republicans matters to economic performance. They are surprised that the statistics are as stark as they are.

Matthew Yglesias: "That's striking stuff. Indeed, it's almost too striking. The president's control over domestic policy is pretty circumscribed and public policy has only a limited influence over the economy, so it's surprising to see such a strong effect."

Paul Krugman: "I’ve known about this result for quite a while. But I’ve never written it up. Why? Because I can’t figure out a plausible mechanism. Even though I believe that politics has a big effect on income distribution, this is just too strong — and too immediate — for me to see how it can be done. Sure, Republicans want an oligarchic society — but how can they do that?"

EzraKlein riffing off Krugman:
"nor can I. To some degree, there are a lot of outside variables here. Economic growth is not really under the president's control, and you wouldn't necessarily expect policy to take effect quite so quickly."

"But it reminded me of a quote by Justice Louis Brandeis: "Our government... teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." And when it favors the rich, so too does the culture. Distribution is affected by a thousand little decisions every day. Whether a boss feels he needs to give a raise, or whether he imagines he can keep excess profits for himself. Whether a corporation decides to unionbust, or whether they decide they'd rather not get into a fight with the National Labor Relations Board. Whether a Congress decides to raise the minimum wage, or whether they block its increase. The causality here is, of course, complicated. It may be that the election of Democratic executives happens, in general, in times when the culture is trending in a more egalitarian direction, and so the Democrat is being elected for the same reason distribution is improving. And, conversely, it can be the example set by presidents -- as when Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers to usher in the era of unionbusting, or Bush cut taxes for the rich and opposed increases in the minimum wage -- that help steel the will of the greedy and lower the working class's expectations and estimation of their own power.

"So the bottom line is that, like Krugman, I don't really know why the graph is as stark as it is, and how much of it is the result of Democratic governance."

It does not surprise me that the statistics are as stark as they are. In fairness, I think Democrats benefit a bit from the luck of the draw, in that they did not succeed in selling the kind of policies that might have dampened growth a bit. If Carter-Mondale had had a 12 year run, or if Gore had been elected, the Democratic preference for energy conservation had been the nation's choice, economic growth would have been slower for a time. That still would have been a wiser set of choices than the ones made by Reagan-Bush and George W. Bush. The Savings & Loans would not have been wiped out, and we would not be in Iraq, and the economy would not be sucked dry by the expense of paying for massive imports of foreign oil.

But, the larger point is that politics is about choices. Democrats don't want what Republicans want.

And, Government is massive and pervasive. Ezra Klein comes closer I think to understanding the truth. The full array of government policy choices is pretty broad -- there's a lot more besides taxes, spending and the National Labor Relations Board -- but there's also a social and cultural multiplier as people and companies take directive cues that affect everything from labor relations to corporate fraud to whether a boss gives a raise.

But, while we're watching fools like Chris Matthews (a multimillionaire) babble on about bowling, we should fight to remember that policy matters.

The Perfect political storm comes because bad policy has bad results. Blow wind, blow.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wrong Track

Weak Economy Sours Public’s View of Future, New Poll Finds - New York Times:
"Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.
In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2003.

"Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

"A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say that the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.

"The dissatisfaction is especially striking because public opinion usually hits its low point only in the months and years after an economic downturn, not at the beginning of one. Today, however, Americans report being deeply worried about the country even though many say their own personal finances are still in fairly good shape.

"Only 21 percent of respondents said that the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, nearly two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.

"This unhappiness presents clear risks for Republicans in this year’s elections, given the continued unpopularity of President Bush. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they approved of the job he was doing, a number that has barely changed since last summer. But Democrats, who have controlled the House and Senate since last year, also face the risk that unhappy voters will punish Congressional incumbents."

The Perfect Storm is upon us.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Problem with Moral Authority

Phillippe Sands, Vanity Fair: “I asked [former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Doug Feith], whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority. He was not.”
Doug Feith: “The problem with moral authority, [was] people who should know better, . . ., siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.”