I like this

Brad DeLong apparently called Elizabeth "Are you a liberal?!?!?" Bumiller about one of her asinine articles the other day. The piece in question is kind of a 'meta' example of Bumiller's postmodern project of creating a perfectly relativistic world, where no truth exists, only spin, in that it pitted Condi Rice and Cheney against each other in their accidental disagreement over how to smear Dick Clarke, instead of the usual administration vs. everyone else. Not that she settled the dispute or conveyed any facts, goodness no, but it is sort of theoretically interesting to watch them parse untruths like that. And even though she pulled a McClellan on Brad, evading or just pretending not to hear his questions, I think this sets a fine precedent for guerilla tactics forcing the news media to do their job.



David Brooks conservative-propaganda-masquerading-as-civil-society-mush threat level is elevated today, i.e., a "yellow" bullshit warning.

D is on about school prayer today, and the trick, you see, will be to lure liberals in with talk about Martin Luther King. As far as I can tell, today's journey into the irrelevant goes something like so: Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, in case you didn't know, were actually quite influenced by religion. That's right, you atheist lefties, Dr. King was a preacher. Stings, don't it? That's where D brings in the kicker:

If you believe that the separation of church and state means that people should not bring their religious values into politics, then, if Chappell is right, you have to say goodbye to the civil rights movement. It would not have succeeded as a secular force. (Chappell is the author of a new book examining the civil rights movement through the lens of religious revival)

Brooks' craftiness for the day is the eliding of "politics" with "culture" with "state coercion". All one and the same, you see. Liberals have a simple choice here, banish religion from the face of the earth, or let the state require religious prayer in school.

But again, says D, we are being too narrowminded about this. Religion helps us to be better people so religion in school would actually be a boon for all of us: The lesson I draw from all this is that prayer should not be permitted in public schools, but maybe theology should be mandatory. Students should be introduced to the prophets, to the Old and New Testaments, to the Koran, to a few of the commentators who argue about these texts.

Hmmm. Mandatory theology. Well, since just about nothing in school is mandatory anymore, I don't know if that's going to happen, but I do seem to remember most high schools having a world religions elective. Or "The Bible as literature." Etc. People don't have a problem with studying and learning from the teachings of the world's religions in school. That's not the issue. But Brooks is predictably evasive about the question, refusing to contend with the fact that required behavior or recitation, outside of the open dialogue of the classroom, is not the same thing, and should be open to constitutional scrutiny.

Classic Brooks. Coopt a liberal sacred cow for the neoconservative cause of the moment, confuse the fine points of the debate to make the opposition look petty and inconsistent, then sweep it all under the rug and wave the banners of "culture" and "tradition" to foist yourself above the particular issue you brought up in the first place. Hmmm, this would be a great evasive maneuver for the White House if school prayer comes up in the campaign. Wonder if they're reading.

New toy

If you haven't visited already, by all means check out www.fundrace.org, the new website where you can get instant campaign contribution info by name, or even better, by location! They have national maps by party donations and really, really interesting maps for the top ten cities broken down by building. It is much faster and more interactive than the FEC website, where you can do the same thing, but you have to REALLY want it. The advantage of the FEC website, however, is that it goes back a few years and shows all federal elections, not just president. But it dosen't have the maps like Fundrace, and that is the real fun.

Things that I learned: (1) if you had any doubts in your mind, the Upper East Side is really, really Republican (although the biggest Dem contributor building in the city is at 770 Park, around the corner from my office), (2) there are way more Republicans in Chicago than I thought--this must have something to do with the growing asshole quotient I notice on my trips back there (3) Jennifer Garner gives a lot of money to the Democrats (perhaps this is why she is doing those CIA training videos).

Now, Fundrace can be used for evil, and may tell you things you didn't want to know. Mark Schmitt has an interesting appraisal of the effectiveness of contribution disclosure principles here. That said, it is still the best time I've had on the Internet in a good long while.

Bonus online prying tool...if you work in the nonprofit sector, and especially in the New York nonprofit sector, check out Guidestar.com. All nonprofits have public 501 (c) 3 records online here, which include the salaries of their top 5 executives. Ever wondered how much they pay the director of the Public Theatre? The Ford Foundation? Let's just say they're not doing so poorly compared to their corporate brethren and sisteren.


More Bushco disregard for smart policy

Check out Bruce Reed's article at the Washington Monthly about the administration's willingness to make all expertise subservient to political considerations. It puts this oft-noted aspect of the administration into some useful perspective.

I often find it helpful, when considering how groups of people with lots of power and lots of responsibility can make such terrible messes, to apply the "what if it was your office?" test. The theory being that all offices are fundamentally the same, regardless of whether your executive is the President of the United States, the President of Goldman Sachs, or the President of Johnson Office Supply. The movie business provides a good example. Sometimes you come across a movie that is such a dreadful loser, its very existence, much less the tens of hundreds of millions of dollars it cost, seems inexplicable. Rather than chalking it up to Hollywood being depraved or crazy, I think a better explanation is simply office inertia. Someone with clout, at some point, mentioned such and such movie would be a good idea, the underlings didn't feel like wasting the time or capital to point out that was stupid, the people working on the movie are just trying to get paid, and many millions of dollars later, you get "The Air Up There" (that movie where Kevin Bacon teaches people in Africa to play basketball. It was on in a bar the other week.) It's just plain old office inertia, only difference is, when it happens at your office, all posterity isn't subjected to it.

Same goes for Bushco's disregard for expertise and common sense as regards policymaking. The political operation in this White House is obviously where you want to be. Those are the office cool kids, the movers and shakers who get rewarded, whose work is respected, and if you're in that office, you're a bit envious and intimidated by their status. Even though you may know that your work and the work of people close to you is just as important and vital to the office's success, you're more likely to be quietly bitter about it than to jeopardize what everyone with clout thinks is really important. You'll go about your business, try not to contradict too much, nurse those wounds in private and think about quitting. Of course, dysfunction at most offices doesn't end up fucking the whole country for the next twenty years.


As if

I totally take back what I said about Tommy Thompson not allowing himself to get played for a fool by the WH. After seeing the Daily Show's clip of Thompson's role in the 'fake' Medicare stories, I am forced to admit he is allowing himself to be played for, in fact, a wretchedly inane fool.

Have I mentioned how incredible the Daily Show is lately? If you don't have cable, find a friend who does, at least for a night. It's your head but on TV. It's brilliant.


It's snowing in New York now, and as much as I want to hate it, it's really quite beautiful. One wants to wrap oneself in the falling melancholy flakes indefinitely. It's the familiar, bittersweet pull of late season weather--snow in March, or humidity in November--while the mind is obsessed with going forward, we are confronted with delight in what is past. The joys of life in a temperate climate


More Medicare shenanigans

Good for Tommy Thompson. He's going to have enough trouble making the case for the new Medicare law without being made a fool by the White House.


Well that's one point of view...

Matthew Yglesias asks, "What's the point in quoting a budget office spokesman if the things he says aren't true?" in response to Ed Andrews' ever so even-handed piece about the tax-cut blaming CBO report released yesterday. See the point I made the other day about the administration's dangerous disrespect for nonpartisan government analysis, as exemplified by their intimidation of John Foster, chief Medicare actuary, over correct estimates for the prescription drug bill--none of this behavior would be possible without the help of the media. Besides performing objective analysis once in a while, good journalists are supposed to make choices for their readers about when different sources are more credible than others. Lucky for them, the government has thought to provide such a service, lest politicians get a bit carried away with letting their agendas influence their analyses.

God, I'm getting tired of this sarcasm.

Let's get ready to rumble

Krugman vs. Brooks op-ed cage match today.

Brooks: The Spanish electorate are engaging in al Qaeda appeasement with their shameful exercise of democracy last week and have signed Europe's death warrant by fanatical Islam.

Krugman: Maybe we should have *actually* hunted down al Qaeda over the last three years.

The pundits' war

Read Steven Heydemann's piece in the Chicago Tribune Sunday on conservative efforts to impose political constraints on federal funding for Middle Eastern studies centers. Reading this article about how threatened people have been by the often critical work of Middle Eastern scholars seemed to go hand in hand with Andrew Sullivan's posts about the al Qaeda bombings in Spain:

What the Europeans refuse to understand is that there is no proximate cause for this violence. It is structural; it is aimed at the very existence of other faiths; it wishes to purge the entire Muslim world of infidels (which means the annihilation of the Jews), and eventually to reconquer Europe. You can no more negotiate with these people than you could negotiate with Hitler. And by negotiation, I don't just mean direct talks. I mean attempts to placate by occasional withdrawal of troops from, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, or withdrawal of troops from Saudi Arabia or abandonment of Israel. All such tactical shifts are regarded purely as weakness. They are invitations for more massacres. How many more will die in London and Rome and Berlin and Paris before the old continent fights to defend itself?

Comparing how the Bush administration and war proponents have systematically discounted every one in this country that knows about the Middle East with a dissenting view, academics and foreign service professionals alike, to Andrew Sullivan's theories and rhetoric, which adhere pretty closely to the official line, gives you an idea of how facile much of the intellectual work justifying the global war on terror really is. In many ways, our foreign policy is being driven by ideas which have just enough validity to look really coherent in 750 words or less.

And while the right deserves blame for this specific content, this is really a larger critique about the dangers of a media and policy culture that responds to itself far too quickly to allow for the kind of critical, long term, expertise driven thought that has must be at the heart of successful foreign policy choices. Say what you will about that foreign policy culture being insular, or too attached to the status quo, etc. Smart foreign policymaking is simply too specific and complicated to be dictated by popular fashion.


Information on nuclear weapons

On the subject of my continuing obsession with the history of nuclear weapons (since reading Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, see left), here are a few sites to check out. The first is a photography book called 100 Suns, featuring images collected by Michael Light of American atomic bomb tests. The haunting, indescribable beauty of these images will both astound you and make you sick to your stomach. The second is from the Department of Energy, which has begun declassifying many of the internal films made for the military during the heyday of nuclear testing. You can order the full versions or watch clips online (although the online quality is very poor). The content, however, is stunning. In addition to footage of the shots themselves, there is film from cameras stationed on navy ships near detonations, the effects on dummies, as well as film of the 'cleanup' efforts on Enewetak atoll, where many of the largest U.S. tests were conducted. The final site is the Nuclear Weapons Archive, which contains a comprehensive accounting of U.S. as well as other nations' tests, as well as many photographs.


Oh the humanity

Via the Progress Report, seems Knight Ridder obtained an email sent by John Foster, the top actuary for Medicare, back in June, where Foster disclosed to colleagues that he would be fired if he made public his office's estimate of the Medicare drug bill. That estimate was around $551 billion, i.e. the cost of the bill finally revealed by Josh Bolten in January and a wee $150 billion difference with the WH's estimate used when the bill was passed. Here's the Boston Globe coverage.

As if we needed more proof of just how bad the legislative process was perverted to pass the Medicare bill. And for what? Cash for the drug and insurance industries? Election year ammo? Granted, this latest revelation is a bit different than the regular bullying and arm-twisting which, if this administration has raised to an art form, is nonetheless part and parcel of the rough and tumble Congressional politics.

The lengths this administration has gone to in order to suppress financial realities is the graver threat to good governance. It is sometimes hard to imagine just what government must have been like before nonpartisan budget analysis became a fact of life. The functions performed by the agencies like the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office are utterly indispensable for maintaining the integrity of a democracy controlling massive amounts of public funds and vastly complicated bureaucracies. Trust in these offices, and a willingness on the part of politicians to accept their conclusions is one of the most important lines separating our federal government from a free for all. The proud independent actuarial tradition of the Social Security program is surely one of the best arguments for its continued existence. These offices have long distinguished histories, in no small part because politicians and the public have respected them, understanding the vital functions they serve. Surely, once these numbers are in the public realm, politicians will spin them any way they see fit, but citizens and lawmakers must be able to rely on a single source of information regarding the truth about what the government is doing with all that money.

This case is different. This is blatant suppression of information the public has a right to know (although you can imagine someone is working up a contingency plan about how there is a national security interest here). It is beyond shameful, and, as Stan Collender proposed in February, deducing that the information must have been withheld, Bolten, Snow, and Scully should be lining up in their orange jumpsuits right next to Jeff Fastow.


Career Senators sure do want to destroy the CIA

Someone at work today pointed to a fine example of the rapidly diverging standards of journalism on view today. On the one hand you have this article from the Times today, an 'even-handed' discussion of how Kerry and Bush have been sparring so early in this general election battle, which asks questions like "Will voters be turned off by negativity?" and "Will candidates will run out of things to attack each other on?" Then comes this piece in Slate by Fred Kaplan, in which Kaplan delves into, you know, one of the ACTUAL charges that has been proffered against Kerry by the Bush campaign, namely, that Kerry tried to 'gut' the intelligence budget in a bill he sponsored in 1995, and finds the Bush charge to be a laughable sham.

The discreet universes these two articles manage to exist within while both ostensibly talking about the exact same subject is a measure of the curious state of the media today. Surely, all Kaplan had to do to research his article was a Lexis search of congressional bills and news coverage from 1995. But that sort of "investigative" reporting is off limits to the arbiters of the establishment media.


That's what they call synergy

Even though no real connection has come out yet, it's kind of hard to believe that David Brooks doesn't have some kind of hookup to the vast oppo research army now moving into place to whittle away at John Kerry in the long months until August. Brooks' column yesterday was some nonsensical crap about monkeys and rich politicians--basically a shell by which to list the extent of Kerry and his wife's fortune. Brooks pays two lines of lip service to the fact that Bush isn't doing so badly for himself either, and then spends the rest of his 750 words on Kerry's houses, his Boston Brahmin accent, etc.

The point of course, is not whether Bush or Kerry has more money, or access, or quid pro quo...that would get pretty silly pretty quickly since both men are probably in the top .00001 percent on the income distribution. Rather, it is a question of style, i.e.: Kerry has a lot of big houses in snooty places, Bush has a big house in a Texas backwater; Kerry has a snooty wife who's an 'heiress' (who thanks you for cutting the estate tax, BTW), Bush has a wife who's a really dull 'librarian'; Kerry went to boarding school in Switzerland, Bush has never even been to Switzerland.

This 'patrician' school of attacks on Kerry may turn out to be the most damaging in the long run. Bush has to be careful about calling him a flip-flopper, or unpatriotic, or funded by the special interests, as these charges will invariably put Bush vulnerabilities in the news, too. But 'style' criticisms like the patrician charge are pretty safe, considering how hard Bush has worked to solidify his regular guy millionaire image. You can bet he'll be damned if he lets Kerry play the same trick.

And now today, Josh Marshall posts about a new ad being run by a group called Citizens United, apparently staffed by a bunch of ex-Clinton hitmen that uses an uncannily similar script to Brooks' column. You'd think Brooks could work just a little harder to downplay the similarities between his columns and the GOP '04 playbook.


There's an article in the Times this morning that is pretty dang scary. Basically, an Eisenhower era program was sending many tons of highly enriched uranium around the world for research and energy purposes through the late 80s, and we never got it back. It's potentially enough weapons grade material for 1,000 bomb cores.

This stuff reminds you just how shockingly sloppy the nuclear establishment is in this country. You can plainly see it in the facility and waste issues which no one is willing to deal with, but less obvious are instances like this, what we might call proliferation by negligence. Instead of stepping up our nuclear material production, as the Bush administration has suggested, we need to get this under control now. And work on Russia while we're at it by fully funding the Nunn-Lugar program.

Despite rogue nuclear weapons being the single greatest threat to America today, we have still not made a commitment to ensuring that a bomb detonated on American soil could never contain fissile material or equipment from the U.S. or its allies. And right now, one can come up with an unnerving number of scenarios for how that could happen.


9/11 exploitation

Read this chilling letter in Salon from a 9/11 widow to Bush regarding his Ground Zero laden new campaign ads.


Lousy Brooks

Mark Schmitt has a great takedown of Brooks' latest trifle. In the column, Brooks fabricates a magical John Edwards who thinks giving cash to the poor is the only way to alleviate poverty. Brooks pities his theoretical Edwards: for being stuck in a Democratic party time warp, unable by virtue of his liberal-robot commitment to income transfer programs to understand the enlightened ideas Republicans have come up with for fixing poverty over the years. How can you just offer the poor cash without job training programs, educational opportunity, or day care, without encouraging work and breaking dependency? Cruel Edwards, do you not know the harm you cause?

First of all, as Schmitt points out, it is kind of naive of Brooks to think Edward was only talking about the technically poor and the government programs that pertained to them. Maybe Brooks has missed this since he's been spending all that time in the exurbs, but the 'working poor' is a big problem these days, and I'm thinking that's why Edwards message about those two Americas resonated so strongly .

But maybe I heard wrong. Maybe he was talking about the 34.6 million officially poor people. In that case, I seem to remember it was a certain Democratic president who finally moved welfare reform ahead, in a way that tried to honestly reform the program, rather than destroy it (despite the final problematic compromise), and created broad public enthusiasm for all those 'support programs' that Brooks wails just aren't there. Republicans, on the other hand, have spent the last 20+ years injecting venom and misinformation into poverty reduction issues, and only marginally because a sizable group (no matter what 'compassion' meister Brooks thinks) literally want to get rid of every program for the poor. The bigger reason has been strategic: Republicans made poor-bashing good politics, and it paid pretty handsome dividends right up until Bill Clinton actually engaged the issue.


Bring it on, indeed

Despite some apprehension earlier, I really got excited listening to John Kerry's 'acceptance' speech last night. A lot of people will be saying that Kerry and the Democrats at large will destroy themselves with 'negativity' while Bush and his happy-go-lucky deceptions will coast to victory, painting Kerry as bitter, aloof, patrician, blah, blah, blah. But Kerry is skillfully turning his condemnation of Bush's record into a question of values. Josh Marshall says it best:

...it plays to what should, and I believe will, be a central theme of this election: that the Bush administration has been a for-the-moment and for-itself operation, burning through the resources of tomorrow and the hard-acquired inheritance of the past to service the political needs -- its political needs -- of the present.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but, if Kerry is successful with this kind of message, it may go a long way towards rehabilitating the term 'liberal' in American political discourse, i.e., reviving the powerful formulation that word enjoyed earlier in the century, when 'liberal' denoted a public figure who understood the real meaning of being a 'uniter', who favored common sense and an unflinching commitment to discovering the facts over partisanship and blind ideology, who detested the cronyism, secrecy, and callous greed bred by abuse of government but simultaneously understood the power and benefit of a progressive, active state. These are values that anyone can understand, because they are at root universal American values. You don't have to believe in a certain God or chain yourself to certain laws to cherish these values, unlike the 'values' the far-right is interested in. And I suspect there are a critical mass of people out there who, if Kerry's message is able to break through, will find these ideas very appealing.


Thank you, Gregg

Gregg Easterbrook posts about the biggest confusion I've had over the "Passion of the Christ" juggernaut (besides why people started thinking Mel Gibson had any talent whatsoever). Maybe the church I went to as a child was too enlightened, but I thought the central theological point of the Passion story is that all of humanity is responsible for Jesus' death, that it is a result of the petty and cruel and wicked in man, hence the resurrection and redemption which imparts divine absolution to everyone. That whole bit doesn't really jibe with getting to 'blame' someone else for the crucifixion. Are there really people out there thinking "Oh man, those lousy Jews in 30 AD, why'd they have to go and ruin everything? Jesus would still be around today."

I haven't seen the movie, so I won't criticize that directly, but it seems there should be more good Christians speaking out against the very suggestion that this backwards interpretation of the Bible is a legitimate question, instead of the conservative line basically sniping that Jews are too sensitive (except for Richard Perle, he's quite wounded by the cruel anti-semitism he and Bill Kristol have been enduring).