What if the 'surge' works?

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 2 2007 6:19 AM

What if the 'Surge' Works?

Are foes of Bush's plan taking a political risk?

Peretz on Gore: "He's got enough hair and enough hair in the right places not to use blow-dryer. Honest." 7:44 P.M.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Do "hate crime" laws lower racial tensions or raise them? I'm not sure it isn't the latter. In Long Beach, some black teenagers were convicted of beating three white women on Halloween "with a hate crime enhancement," according to the LAT.  This would be an inflammatory case anyway (despite the initial let's-not-cover-the-news efforts of the Times) even if it were prosecuted as a simple assault.  But adding the hate-crime inquiry makes the race issue central to the trial, and makes it more likely to degenerate into a divisive festival of competitive racial victimization, no? ... 1:19 P.M.

More on Sen. Hagel and the "surge" from an erstwhile antiwar fan of his:

I am a little disappointed in the way he's opposed it.  Not just the level of emotionalism ... [snip] ... but what really disappoints me is, what I've hear, his failure to kind of articulate really solid logic for being sure this is going to fail ... [E.A.]

Don't look at me!   I didn't say it. 2:50 A.M.

Hon. Loretta Sanchez has quit the House Hispanic Caucus, claiming its chairman called her a "whore." A shocking affront to Congressional dignity! ... Wait. ... Loretta Sanchez ... Loretta Sanchez ... wasn't she the distinguished lawmaker who sent out a Christmas card showing her ... er, cat on fire? I think she was!  ... P.S.:Wonkette is on the case, sort of. But instead of the scandalous flaming "cat" card they chose one with a modest surfing theme! ... 2:32 A.M.

Cynic's Scorecard: 7 Outs and Counting: Are Senators who vote for the Warner anti-surge resolution taking any political risk, or are they just protecting themselves against anti-war sentiment? Inother words, on the off chance that the surge works, would they be embarrassed? Bob Wright says yes. But Senators in this situation have been known to leave themselves escape hatches.

The fewer escape hatches, of course, the greater the political consequences of getting it wrong, and the more support for the anti-surge resolution should actually reflect a senator's judgment that the chances of an embarrassing surge success are small. The more escape hatches, the more the Warner resolution seems simply a convenient way for pols to hedge their bets against any outcome:

After reading Senator Warner's resolution, I'm reinforced in my suspicion that the bet-hedging scenario is a plausible description of what's really going on.

The resolution says, in the first of 12 clauses::

(1) the Senate disagrees with the "plan" to augment our forces by 21,500, and urges the President instead to consider all options and alternatives for achieving the strategic goals set forth below;

Now, I'm not very imaginative, but I can think of at least seven "outs" a Senator who votes for Warner's resolution could try to use if the surge is ultimately judged beneficial: 1) 'I wanted more troops than the 21,500!' I strongly believe we shouldn't risk troops unless we have an overwhelming force advantage;' 2)  'We were trying to get the attention of this president, to change course. I didn't agree with all the provisions in the resolution.' Oh wait. Hillary's already said that3) I just wanted the president to consider all options and alternatives;' 4) Under my alternative plan, we could have acheived the same result without putting that many extra American soldiers at risk (e.g., 'We could have done the job with 20,500 troops!');  5) Gen. Petraeus is a genius; he took a flawed policy and somehow made it work;  6) 'The plan they actually implemented wasn't the plan we condemned--in the wake of the resolution, I think you'll see they modified the plan, which made it work much better; 7) 'The resolution itself was what scared the Iraqi government and made the plan work, so I actually take some credit for its success.' ...

I'm sure more experiences politicos can come up with other, better, 'outs,' ** The most important "out," of course, is this: Should Bush's surge happen to succeed, angry voters aren't very likely to run around punishing politicians who voiced doubts (especially since most voters harbored those same doubts). Voters just won't be riled up the way they'll be if the surge fails. They'll base their vote on other issues (e.g., health care, taxes). Isn't the rational course for a self-protective Senator, then, to err on the side of pessimism and vote as if the surge had a lower chance of success than you actually think it does (or than you would think it does if you actually analyzed it fully)? ...

**--Update: Anti-surgers could  always "huff, snort, nit-pick" about the inevitable "messy details," suggests Victor Davis Hanson--though I imagine that would be easier for previously antiwar Dems than previously prowar GOPs. [Via Insta]...  2:12 A.M.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

You were supposed to clear the decks for me, dammit! Hillary Clinton hasn't gotten nearly enough grief for declaring, of the Iraq War:

"The President has said this is going to be left to his successor. I think it's the height of irresponsibility, and I really resent it. ... This was his decision to go to war; he went with an ill-conceived plan, an incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office." [E.A.]

Imagine if Eisenhower had said that about Korea. This is the presidency, not a dream date! Presidents are supposed to deal with the problems the face.  JPod riffs, Lee Harris ruminates ... P.S.: Hillary's "evil men" joke  was funny, though. ... 11:21 A.M.

It's true. This cat is looking into the abyss, man. ... 11:08 A.M.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sloppy Joe: Everybody's piling on Joe Biden's loose-cannon Observer interview. Biden is a loose cannon, and the praise lavished on Sen. Hagel for "letting it rip" in front of Biden at the recent Foreign Relations committee hearing might not have been the best influence on him. But Biden's sharp critiques of his Democratic rivals' Iraq plans--especially Hillary Clinton's--are not so easily dismissed.

"From the part of Hillary's proposal, the part that really baffles me is, 'We're going to teach the Iraqis a lesson.' We're not going to equip them? O.K. Cap our troops and withdraw support from the Iraqis? That's a real good idea."

The result of Mrs. Clinton's position on Iraq, Mr. Biden says, would be "nothing but disaster."

It would be highly informative to see her try to answer. Let's hope Biden makes it to the debates (and not only the ones in front of the proven fools in Iowa). ... 11:03 A.M.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hagel Bravery Update: A political reporter emails:

It seems to me, at least, that he didn't start making quite so much noise about the war until after Sam Brownback came out against the surge, putting Hagel's position as the only 2008 antiwar GOP candidate in jeopardy.  I've been wondering, since the end of the November election, when Hagel would choose his moment to become the Antiwar Republican Presidential Candidate, because I thought he was risking the possibility that someone else would come out first if he kept waiting.  And hey, somebody did (sort of).

Hesaid it, not me! ... 9:09 P.M.

Here's CW foghorn Tim Russert--I was going to say he's the new Johnny Apple but that would be an insult to Apple's reporting skills--talking to Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News last week:

WILLIAMS: Now on the domestic side, Tim, was there a topic in that speech tonight that garnered more talk in Washington today than, say, some of the others?

RUSSERT: There was, Brian. Health care and energy are very complicated and difficult to do in one legislative session. However, immigration was debated thoroughly last year. People know where they stand on that issue, and the Democrats are much closer to President Bush. They have told him if he can deliver half of the Republicans in his party in both houses of Congress, they can put forward a comprehensive immigration bill, but they want to put--the Democrats want to put some pressure on the Bush White House to bring some Republicans along so it's simply not a Democratic immigration bill. [E.A.]

Hmm. ... First, do we really think immigration "garnered more talk in Washington" the day after the state of the union than Bush's new health care and energy proposals--or is it just the issue Russert wanted to bring up? Why the BS artifice? ... More important, why would the Democrats want to make sure the bill is "not a Democratic bill"? The obvious answer is that the bill is potentially unpopular--maybe even among Democratic voters--and Democratic legislators are scared of taking responsibility for it themselves. They want Republicans to share the blame. ... Doesn't this suggest that a "comprehensive immigration bill" might not be so easy to pass? ... Can you imgaine Dems being similarly skittish about passing, say, a minimum wage hike with only Democratic votes? No. Because voters actually want a minimum wage increase. ...

P.S.: If passing a "comprehensive" (i.e. semi-amnesty) immigration bill is the key to winning the burgeoning Latino vote of the future, as pro-"comprehensive" advocates in both parties claim, why wouldn't the Dems want sole credit? One answer: They are thinking short term, not long term. Another answer: They can think short term because they know millions of new Latino immigrant voters will tend to be Democrats no matter who gets credit for passing an immigration bill in 2007. ... 8:10 P.M. link

Half-defense: I don't quite understand why it's offensive to call Sen. Obama a "halfrican." It's a useful word! It efficiently describes a real phenomenon. It isn't, on its face, pejorative--and even if it were, it wouldn't be pejorative for long if it were simply used descriptively to mean people with one parent from Africa. ... Update: A reader emails to point out the word is distressingly close to "half-breed." That does seem like a hard connotation to shake. ...5:38 P.M. link

Calame: From Laughingstock to Menace! It's bad enough that NYT ombudsman Byron Calame is so embarrassingly, life-sappingly pedanticthat he may have convinced the paper to abolish his position. Now he's doing actual damage to the public dialogue, preventing knowledgeable Times reporters from expressing their views on issues within their areas of expertise.   It seems Michael Gordon, author of the highly critical Iraq War history Cobra II, was asked on Charlie Rose his opinion of the "surge." Gordon responded:

"So I think, you know, as a purely personal view, I think it's worth it [sic] one last effort for sure to try to get this right, because my personal view is we've never really tried to win. We've simply been managing our way to defeat. And I think that if it's done right, I think that there is the chance to accomplish something."

Too hot for Charlie Rose! Calame "raised reader concerns about Mr. Gordon's voicing of personal opinions with top editors" of the Times, with the result that Gordon was dressed down by his bureau chief and forced into a ritual self-criticism, admitting "his comments on the show went too far." ... Three obvious points:

1) Would Gordon have been smacked down if he hadn't heretically supported the surge? Is the Times now like a leftish web site where Kos-like readers take down any discordant comments?

2) Does anyone think that just because Gordon is forbidden from voicing his views that he won't have those views? Isn't it better if they're out in the open, where readers can see and judge them? Calame and the Times censors are enforcing appearance over substance; and

3) Isn't it good for democracy if citizens hear the moral conclusions of highly experienced reporters like Gordon? It's one thing to report on what's happening in the surge. It's another to try to figure out its chances of success and whether the likely consequences are worth the likely cost. They're both important calculations. If Gordon's done both, don't you, as a citizen, want to hear both results of both before Congress votes on the issue? "Should we do the surge" is certainly about the first question you'd ask Gordon if you ran into him on the street. Do Times editors really think their readers can't handle an answer?

[Thanks to reader D.S.]4:57 P.M. link

Don't Cook Tonight ... : In 1969, as a senior in high school, I worked briefly as a delivery boy at the Beverly Hills franchise of Chicken Delight. We wore white dress shirts and bow ties with the word "Chicken" down one tassel and "Delight" down the other. Most famous client: Burt Bacharach! The boss was a grouchy/lovable character who--according to possibly apocryphal legend--would occasionally pick up the phone and, instead of answering "Chicken Delight, may I help you," say "Chicken Delight, fuck you!"... Anyway, one of my coworkers was a high school classmate, Paul Diamond, who (this being Beverly Hills) made a movie of the experience--The Chicken Chronicles. This "lost classic" receives a rare screening on Showtime in the coveted time slot of 6:30 A.M. Eastern Time, Thursday morning, Feb. 1.  Phil Silvers plays the boss. I remember brilliant social commentary during a chase scene through pretentious Beverly Hills back yards. The film also launched the career of Steve Guttenberg. ... 4:16 P.M.

Monday, January 29, 2007

How Is Chuck Hagel Brave? Why, exactly, is Sen. Chuck Hagel showing "courage" in conspicuously denouncing the Iraq War now that virtually the entire American establishment has reached that same conclusion--now that Hagel is virtually assured of getting hero treatment from Brian Williams and Tim Russert  and long favorable profiles in the newsweeklies? .

OK, maybe Hagel's not so courageous. Maybe he's just right. Except that he chose, as the moment to make his flamboyant speech, not the vote on the imprudent war itself--he voted for it--but a vote to withdraw support for a last-ditch surge strategy that even the NYT's estimable, on-the-scene pessimist Sabrina Tavernese thinks "may have a chance to work."   Was this the right time--it certainly wasn't the courageous time--for a speech like Hagel's? Was he serving the nation or himself?

Saying "the war was wrong but the surge is worth a try"--that would be courageous. There's no ready-made constituency eager to cheer a pol who says that.

Bucking your party to actively fight against the war when it would have made a difference--that would have been courageous.**

Hagel hasn't done either of those things. Instead, he let loose at the precise moment when letting loose was least brave and least timely. Lest the MSM miss the point, his eruption took the form, not of arguing that his Republican colleagues were wrong, but of denouncing them for, in effect, being cowards, unlike you-know-who:

If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes. ... Don't hide anymore; none of us.

Never mind that the anti-surge resolution Hagel has cosponsored is all abouthiding. It has no binding effect. But it does provide Senators who supported the war a convenient bit of late-inning skepticism they can point to when trying to save their skins.

Hagel also deployed the hoary I've-been-in combat-so-I-know-these-are-real-men-and-women-"fighting and dying" pitch--as if his fellow senators didn't realize they were real men and women. The I've-Been-There meme is to Hagel (and John Kerry) what the "mommy" meme is to Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer--a guilt-tripping, self-glorifying unique selling proposition that attempts to confer on the speaker a special capacity for insight that renders actual persuasive argument unnecessary.

And gee, after getting huge MSM play for lecturing the Senate on how courageous he is, and how he has special understanding as a combat veteran, Hagel is considering a run for the White House! Funny how that happens.

**--There's a tension here between two favorite MSM angles: 1) That Hagel is courageous, and 2) that Hagel's defection is a dramatic new blow to Bush's war effort. It wouldn't have been very courageous for Hagel to have supported the war in public while expressing grave doubts safely in private, of course--and pro-Hagel profiles  tend to emphasize his early public skepticism (except, of course, when it came to actually voting for the thing). But if Hagel has been publicly criticizing the war since 2003, it's not much of a surprise that he's still against the war in 2007. ...

I'd say both MSM memes are wrong. Before the war, Hagel was already widely disdained within his party as a pol who reveled in the "strange new respect" the liberal press typically lavishes on GOP apostates. It's not like he threw away massive Republican backing. And if Hagel really thought the war was a disaster, sending those real men and women into a pointless "meat grinder," there were many things he could have done, aside from giving snippy quotes on Meet the Press, to oppose it. He could have given speeches like the one he gave last week, for example. He could have challenged Bush in 2004. But that might have ended his career! Instead, it looks to me as if he sniped and quipped up to the point where it could do him fatal damage if the war went well. At the same time, given the sniping and quipping, the MSM's surprise that 'even Republican Senator Hagel' opposes Bush is entirely inauthentic. ...

Update: Even a liberal HuffPo blogger thinks the MSM is overdoing the Hagel hype! ...

Backfill: At The Corner, Kate O'Beirne  suggests a more ... courageous (and effective) way Hagel could register his opposition to Bush's war strategy--by campaigning against Gen. Petraeus' confirmation. ... 6:46 P.M. link

Deborah Orin-Eilbeck: I'm stunned by Deborah Orin-Eilbeck's death. I didn't know she was fighting cancer. She sent me an email only a couple of months ago cheerfully and sensibly disputing something I'd written arguing that Gov. Vilsack's candidacy would let Hillary skip the Iowa caucuses. (She wrote: "If Vilsack is running at the bottom of the Iowa Poll, as he was, he isn't a replay of Tom Harkin and doesn't give anyone a pass out of Iowa, methinks. ... And besides, Hillary being Hillary won't get a pass anywhere.") Orin was almost certainly right, as usual--where did Hillary spend last weekend, again? ...

I only met Orin-Eilbeck a few times--mainly through the hospitality of her friend Mary Louise Oates, in whose house she was surrounded by Democratic friends. I'd heard she had a rep as a driven, badger-her-sources reporter, but everytime I met her she was funny and warm and sharp. Also: beautiful dark eyes!  Her New York Post writing was almost hygienically unaffected by whatever wishful, respectable (and typically liberal) CW was blowing around Washington. Her pieces were also typically short, pointed and (therefore) fun. Like most good political reporters, she pursued the latest political intelligence with a relentlessness hidden to the outside world, including to most bloggers. I was just thinking Orin would be the perfect person to ask a prickly question I've been avoiding--did the immigration issue really hurt the GOP in 2006? If she'd have said yes, the answer is yes.

None of us will know her thinking on that or any other issue in the coming two-year presidential fight. That's a narrow concern, I know. But it will be hard to make sense of it all without her.

Lucianne has a tribute thread. 1:34 A.M. link

Unionism Is Too the Problem: Labor costs--and specifically work rules--are part of what's killing all the unionized auto manufacturers while their non-unionized competitors thrive building cars in the U.S., according to CNN Money. The famous $1,400/car health care burden is only a piece of it:

Other labor costs add to the bill. Contract issues like work rules, line relief and holiday pay amount to $630 per vehicle - costs that the Japanese don't have. And paying UAW members for not working when plants are shut costs another $350 per vehicle.

Sorry, Comrade Kuttner! [via Autoblog ] ... P.S.: I guess we need to abolish secret ballots--requiring only a card check--in order to help bring Detroit-style productivity and business success to America's other industries. It can't be that workers look at how the UAW--a relatively clean, democratic union--has poisoned its industry and decide they don't want to organize. It must be "employer coercion." ... 2:17 A.M.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I didn't realize that Andrew Sullivan also broadcast his misinformation about that British video--i.e. that it showed Iraqi troops beating "civilians"--on the Chris Matthews Show,on national television. ... P.S.: The Matthews producers seem to think that gathering five journalists who all agree about Bush, the "surge," and pretty much every other topic makes for a lively dialogue. ... 7:05 P.M.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

U.S soldiers watching as their Iraqi Army colleagues - Shia - brutally beat Sunni civilians to near-death, as U.S. soldiers hoop and holler in support.

The video shows Iraqi troops beating three men who'd been caught with a bag full of mortars in their car. I don't defend the beatings, which at least one American tries fecklessly to stop, but calling people captured with mortars "civilians" is a bit of a distortion, no? Nor do they appear to be beaten "to near death"--that's just a Sullivanian embellishment.** Does he even watch the videos he hosts? ...

**--Nor can the Iraqi soldiers hear the Americans hooping and hollering in their vehicle many yards away--a non-trivial distinction, when you think about it. When I first read Sullivan's description I thought the American's were actually spurring the Iraqis on (as opposed to keeping their distance, doing nothing, and hooping amongst themselves, which may be bad enough). The one American who we're told actually has contact with the Iraqis appears to be the one who tries to get them to stop.

Update 1/27: Sullivan's response--Civilians, insurgents. Unarmed, mortars. Minor details! ("The insurgents are civilians inasumuch as they are not in the Iraqi Army ..." Huh?) I've missed the point:

The whole point of the video and the posting, however, was that it illustrated how almost exclusively Shiite forces are ... clearing Sunni neighborhoods, with tacit U.S. support."

Except the video doesn't show that. It shows Shiite forces capturing and roughing up armed Sunnis, of the sort who are terrorizing civilians in other parts of town. It doesn't show soldiers chasing Sunni residents from their homes. ...

P.S.: Sullivan declares, of the beating victims, "they are residents of the neighborhood." But of course he doesn't know that. They were in a car, after all (with mortars!)--that's all the video shows. Sullivan also writes that one of them was thrown "into an airless car trunk." The "airless" is another little Sullivan enhancement.  I don't know how much air gets into a HumVee trunk--but neither does Sullivan. The man can't help himself. ...

P.P.S.: Sullivan says that I'm not "much concerned with Iraq." This is not a charge that can be levelled at him, unfortunately. To see Sullivan abjectly apologize for his thoughtless, bullying cheerleading for the Iraq war, see this video. ...

P.P.P.S.: Actually, he doesn't apologize for the "bullying." I added that! ...

More: Is there a structural problem with the use of YouTube clips or rather a problem when you have an "excitable embedder." Leigh Hunt sees both. I see only one. ... 1:51 A.M. link

Friday, January 26, 2007

What Liberal Alterman? Neo-neoliberal Eric Alterman takes on a pro-teachers'-union blogger  who accused him of opposing New York teachers' unions on a "lefter than thou" basis (i.e., because they sometimes endorse Republicans):

[M]y displeasure with the teachers union has nothing whatever to do with political policies. Rather, it is as the parent of a New York City public school child who finds the union's frequent inflexibility and resistance toward what looks to my admittedly non-expert eyes to be common-sense reforms self-defeating in the extreme, as well as a significant barrier to badly needed improvements. This explains why the author is so confused about the citation of my views by the DLC fellow.** I do agree more with the DLC than with the union. [E.A.]

Alterman opposes teachers' unions. ... He's agreeing with the DLC. .. He's  turned against race-based affirmative action. ... Next he'll be for means-testing Social Security! ... Make him a contributing editor of The New Republic. ...

P.S.: Why does the pro-teachers' union blog read like something a General Motors executive might have written in, say, 1985? Our cars are as good as any in the world! The critics all have evil motives! ...

**--The "DLC fellow" would be Eduwonk, who mischievously provoked the dispute. ... 5:11 P.M. link

Will Blacks Vote for Obama, Part II: Bob Wright makes a good point about Obama and blacks  in our most recent bloggingheads session: Black voters who are lukewarm on Obama may not be responding to his unconventional biography--Kenyan father, no slavery or Jim Crow or civil-rights fights in his background--but rather that he seems "culturally kind of white." After all, Wright argues, you wouldn't expect ordinary voters to be all that familiar with the details of Obama's life. ... To the extent Wright is right, Obama's black problem might be harder to overcome (when it's learned that his cultural affect is reinforced by his life story). Or it might be easier to overcome (if black voters only care about the affect, which can be modified, and not the life story, which can't).  But I'm not sure Wright's right: Black voters who know about Obama might well know the basics of his story by now, and they also know if their local opinion leaders--who almost certainly know the details--are talking him up. ... And aren't there plenty of black leaders whose cultural affect is mainstream--Julian Bond, Andrew Young, Harold Ford--who have no problems obtaining black support? ...

Update: kausfiles  Tuesday, WaPo Thursday!** The Post's Michael Fletcher suggests a) black voters get to issues of both heritage and cultural authenticity very quickly, and b) that Obama nevertheless succeeded in establishing a base of African-American support in his "mostly" black South Side Chicago constituency. ...

**-- OK, Salon Monday. ... 1:34 P.M. link

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bold , Decisive Disasters: The conventional view of Tuesday's State of the Union speech  is this: Bush's invasion of Iraq has turned nightmarish. He got beat in the midterms. He's reacted by changing his approach on the domestic front--reaching across the aisle to make bipartisan, centrist compromises on domestic issues like "comprehensive immigration reform."

But it seems to me the invasion of Iraq and "comprehensive immigration reform" actually have more in common than you might think. Far from being a sensible centrist departure from the sort of grandiose, wishful, rigid thinking that led Bush into Iraq, "comprehensive immigration reform" is of a piece with that thinking. And it's likely to lead to a similar outcome. Here are ten similarities:

1. They're both ideas Bush had when he came into office. Bush speechwriter David Frum has written of his first Oval Office meeting with Bush, a few weeks into his presidency, at which the president explained his "determination to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq." At about the same time, Bush was meeting with Mexican president Vicente Fox to try to hammer out an immigration deal that would combine a guest worker program with some legalization of existing illegal Mexican immigrants. (Plans for such a broad deal were put on hold only after 9/11 made immigration a national security issue--but Bush diligently resumed pursuit of the deal, just as he diligently resumed pursuit of his pre-election plans for Social Security.)

2. They both have an idealistic basis. Bush was sympathetic to the way Middle East democrats had been frustrated by "realist" foreign policies, and he's clearly sympathetic to the problems of poor immigrants who come to the U.S. to work and feed their families only to be forced to live "in the shadows."

3. They both seek, in one swoop, to achieve a grand solution to a persistent, difficult problem. No "smallball"! The Iraq Project would begin the transformation of the Middle East, an area that had frustrated president after president. "Comprehensive" immigration reform would, as the name suggests, resolve in one bold bill the centuries-old immigration issue--including a) devising a way to keep out illegal workers while b) providing business with legal immigrant workers, plus c) deciding what to do with illegals who are already here. It would, as Bush said Tuesday, be "conclusive."

4. In both cases, they envision a complicated, triple-bank shot chain of events happening just as Bush wishes it to happen. Iraqis were going to be grateful to their American liberators, come together in peace and give us a stable "ally in the war on terror." Hispanics, in the happy Rovian scenario behind Bush's immigration plan, would be grateful to Republicans for bringing them out of the shadows, etc., ensuring a large and growing GOP Latino vote for decades to come.

5. Both have an obvious weak spot, depending crucially on pulling off a very difficult administrative feat. In Iraq, we had to build a nation in the chaotic vacuum of sectarian post-Saddam Iraq--which came to mean training a national army and police force from scratch with recruits who were often sectarian loyalists or insurgent infiltrators. "Comprehensive" immigration reform requires the government to set up an enforcement mechanism that can prevent millions of impoverished foreigners from sneaking across thousands of miles of unprotected borders--and prevent America's millions of self-interested employers from hiring them.

6. In both cases, the solution has failed before. We had failed to "stand up" a democracy in Vietnam. We failed to establish a stable, trans-factional governing structures in Lebanon and Somalia. Similarly, the grand, bipartisan Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform of 1986 had promised, and failed, to establish an effective immigration enforcement mechanism.

7. Both were promoted by Bill Kristol!  

8. In both cases, some Bush plan enthusiasts may not really mind a chaotic end result.  Iraq war foes argue that some important neocon supporters of the Iraq war weren't really bothered by the prospect of Sunni-vs.-Shiite warfare--even seeing divide-and-conquer advantages. (That might help explain the lack of attention paid to planning the post-war occupation.) Similarly, Kristol has said he isn't really bothered that the enforcement parts of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli law failed:

I'm not cavalier about illegal immigrants. ...[snip]... What damage have they done that's so great in 20 years? The anti-immigration forces said 20 years ago, there was an amnesty, which there sort of was, the Simpson- Mazzoli bill, which was pushed by the anti-immigration people, that Ronald Reagan signed. What's happened that's so terrible in the last 20 years? Is the crime rate up in the United States in the last 20 years? Is unemployment up in the United States in the last 20 years?...[snip] ... I am pro-immigration, and I am even soft on illegal immigration.

9. In both cases, less grand--and less risky--alternatives are available. Bush could have kept "Saddam" boxed up while he planned regime change through other means, built alliances and pursued the more manageable war in Afghanistan. ("Smallball" in 2002. Sounds good now!) Similarly, Bush could put "enforcement" mechanisms in place, and make sure they work, before he potentially stimulates a huge new wave of illegal immigrants by rewarding those illegals who already made it across the border. As a stopgap measure, he could establish modest "guest worker" program and even enlarge the quota of legal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

10. In both cases the consequences of losing Bush's big bet are severe. On Tuesday, Bush described the "nightmare scenario" his Iraq plan's failure (on point #5) has made plausible: The Iraqi government "overrun by extremists on all sides. ... an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaida. ... A contagion of violence could spill out across the country. And in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict." Plus Al Qaida would have a "safe haven" in Iraq that it hadn't had before. 

The equivalent disaster scenario in immigration would go something like this: "Comprehensive" reform passes. The "earned legalization" provisions work as planned--millions of previously undocumented workers become legal Americans. But the untested "enforcement" provisions (point #5) prove no more effective than they've been in the past--or else they are crippled by ACLU-style lawsuits and lobbying (as in the past). Legal guest workers enter the country to work, but so do millions of new illegal workers, drawn by the prospect that they too, may some day be considered too numerous to deport and therefore candidates for the next amnesty.  Hey, "stuff happens!" The current 12 million illegal immigrants become legal--and soon we have another 12 million illegals. Or 20 million. As a result, wages for unskilled, low-income legal American and immigrant workers are depressed. Visible contrasts of wealth and poverty reach near-Latin American proportions in parts of Los Angeles. And the majority of these illegal (and legal) immigrants, like the majority in many parts of the country, are from one nation: Mexico. America for the first time has a potential Quebec problem,** in which a neighboring country has a continuing claim on the loyalties of millions of residents and citizens.

In one sense, this second grand Bush plan failure wouldn't be nearly as disastrous as the first--tens of thousands of people wouldn't die. In another sense, it would be worse. We can retreat from Iraq. We won't be able to retreat from the failure of immigration reform--no "surge" will save us--because it will change who "we" are.

**--Worse than a Quebec problem, maybe. At least France isn't on Canada's border. 12:06 A.M. link

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Car name of the day: They're unleashing the  Melling Hellcat! ... 2:57 A.M.

Note: A giant, case-reinforcing update has been added to the "Will Blacks Vote for Obama?" post below. ... 12:28 A.M.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NBC--House of Bland CW Hackery: Conor Friedersdorf disputes the "imperious" Tom Brokaw's "indisputable" points  about immigration, the residue of Brokaw's recent skiing tri ...sorry, hard-hitting Murrowesque documentary on illegals in, er, Aspen and Vail. ... 9:52 P.M.

SOTU points:

1) Shaping? "It is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle." Modest! Yes, the President also said "let us... turn events toward victory." But turning things toward victory isn't the same as .. victory. Rhetorically, was Bush setting the stage for a sloppy outcome--with the "surge" only making that outcome a bit better than it otherwise would be? Just asking! ...

2) Stealth? When Sen. Obama was queried by Anderson Cooper about the areas where the Dems and Bush might cooperate productively, Obama ticked off energy and health care. He did not mention "comprehensive immigration reform." Perhaps this is a sign that "comprehensive immigration reform" is less popular among Democrats--at least Democratic voters, or Democratic primary voters--than some have assumed. ... That doesn't mean Bush's "comprehensive reform" (i.e.. semi-amnesty) won't pass. Democratic leaders may still want a Bush-style bill. It does suggest that publicity--actually reminding voters what is on the table-- will be the enemy of Bush-style reform. Its best chance for passage would seem to be quietly, in the dead of night. The more the MSM hypes immigration as a wonderful area of bipartisan cooperation, the less chance there is of that cooperation succeeding. It will be interesting to see if respectable, Tancredo-scorning, pro-comprehensive reporters and editors get with the program and start downplaying the immigration issue. ...

3) The Clash: Still too much talk about the "decisive ideological struggle ... generational struggle ... the defining struggle of our time" against the "Islamist radical movement." I would think Bush's best strategy for shoring up war support would be to calm things down while Gen. Petraeus does his work, not to remind voters he hears an apocalyptic tocsin they don't. Certainly this isn't new rhetoric. If voters even notice the "struggle of our time" save-get phrase anymore, I suspect it will rightly alarm them, starting with Peggy Noonan. ...

7:58 P.M. link

Tom Maguire of JustOneMinute flags the First Plame Bombshell--at least what passes for a bombshell in mediacentric circles. ... NBC's David Gregory, whose appeal has always escaped me--he never says anything!**--could have some 'splainin' to do. ...

**--Maybe he's good on Imus. I haven't heard him there.But on the Nightly News and Chris Matthews he's an opinionless Prof. of the Obvious. ... 3:20 P.M. 

Can Barack Obama Appeal to Blacks? I wanted to write an item a few weeks ago predicting--after Stanley Crouch wrote a widely-derided Barack's-not-black-like-me column--that Obama would in fact have trouble appealing to many African-Americans in the primaries because he's not a "native" African American who can trace his roots through slavery, the South, emancipation, Jim Crow, civil rights, etc.. He's an African African American. His family journey from Kenya to Harvard was recent and shortcutted a lot of American black culture and politics. ... I got zero positive feedback for this thought from my friends and dropped it. But there's at least some possible support for the theory in  this Newsday report on the ABC-WaPo poll:

Clinton now holds a commanding 41-17 percent lead over the Illinois senator among Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken before her announcement, and after Obama's Jan. 16 campaign kickoff.

Strikingly, Clinton did even better among black Democratic voters, amassing a 26-point lead over Obama. [E.A.]

In other words, Obama does better among whites than blacks. Maybe Crouch was on to something. ... There are other possible explanations for the discrepancy, of course--e.g. black Democrats are especially loyal to Hillary's husband, they have fewer doubts that she can win, etc. Still  ...

Update: Several emailers note that the difference between the Hillary-Obama margin among blacks and among whites would seem to be within the ABC-WaPo poll's margin of error. That may be true, but you'd expect Obama to be actually winning among blacks, no? However, I've looked further into the issue, and the case for differential black hesitance about Obama isn't as strong as I'd thought. It's stronger! For one,  as Mystery Pollster has noted, Hillary's differential advantage among blacks is larger than my original post suggests. Here are the numbers from the full ABC release:

Hillary over Obama among whites: 35 to 17

Hillary over Obama among blacks: 53 to 27**

In other words, Hillary's 26 point lead among blacks compares with a mere 18 point lead among whites. More important, the ABC result has now been confirmed in a second, CBS poll, which included an "oversample" of blacks to minimize error. The CBS result: Obama's losing by 14 points among whites but by 24 points among blacks. ...

Mystery Pollster favors a relatively mundane explanation for Obama's failure, so far, to capture the black Democratic vote: loyalty to Hillary plus lack of knowledge of Obama. MP speaks from experience:

Having polled for one of Obama's primary opponents in 2004, I can tell you that whatever doubts Illnois African-Americans may have had about Obama prior to the 2004 primary race, they faded fast as he began to run television advertising, move in the polls and receive routine coverage on media outlets (read local TV news) that reached real voters. The same could happen nationally should he score an early victory in Iowa or New Hampshire.

For a contrary view, see Debra Dickerson's tumultuous and near-profound Obama-isn't-black essay, which makes about a half dozen fresh, difficult points while seeming to try to have it both ways on whether black leeriness of Obama is a good or bad thing:

Obama isn't black.

"Black," in our political and social reality, means those descended from West African slaves. Voluntary immigrants of African descent (even those descended from West Indian slaves) are just that, voluntary immigrants of African descent with markedly different outlooks on the role of race in their lives and in politics. At a minimum, it can't be assumed that a Nigerian cabdriver and a third-generation Harlemite have more in common than the fact a cop won't bother to make the distinction.

Dickerson has great fun mocking the civil-rights establishment's forthcoming attempt to put Obama in their debt. ("Never having been 'black for a living' with protest politics or any form of racial oppositionality, he'll need to assure the black powers that be that he won't dis the politics of blackness (and, hence, them) ... "). She only veers off the rails when, after explaining how Obama's lack of slave ancestry hurts him among blacks, she tries to flip the blame and "point out the continuing significance of the slave experience to the white American psyche; it's not we who can't get over it. It's you." How's that?

Ben Smith has a nice, nasty anti-Obama quote from an unnamed "Clinton adviser" that dovetails with Dickerson on a shallower level: "He's not built to be the black candidate. ... His youth and inexperience play against him in that world -- he's the young whippersnapper who didn't pay his dues." [E.A.]

See also this 2004 NYT piece on the divide between African-Americans and African-Americans. ...  [Thanks to readers EV, JS1, JS2, TM]  3:54 A.M.  link

Raise the Titaaron: Aaron Sorkin seems to have responded to critics of his now-rejiggered Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with the same wit and class he  displayed responding to Rick Cleveland. ... 2:55 A.M.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Not Another Mommy: Anne Kornblut on Hillary--

Instead of campaign rhetoric, Clinton focused on the specific theme of health care for children, locking hands with a little girl who joined her onstage. In so doing, she signaled that she will use her uniqueness as a woman -- and more specifically as a mother -- to stake out her ground in the crowded presidential field at a time when Democrats across the board are putting children at the center of their imagery and message.

It's not clear that Mommyism is the best antidote to Hillary's image as a scold who knows what's good for us and is willing to use government to make us do it. Is state maternalism any less annoying or demeaning than paternalism? ... Update: Dean Barnett blames George Lakoff. ... My own attack on Lakoff's conflation of politics and parenting is here. ... [via Driscoll2:07 A.M.

The Cafe Milano Candidate: Would he make a good pick for the VP slot? Bill Richardson skirts the issue! ... Update: Steve Clemons brings up a "touchy" subject. ..  1:33 A.M.

Big problem for pollsters: The rapid growth of cell-phone-only households. ... It's less clear that, if polls are increasingly suspect, it's a problem for the rest of us. ...1:05 A.M.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Former U.S. senator George Smathers died on Saturday at age 93. Wasn't there a rather famous non-public photo of Smathers and JFK on a fishing boat somewhere? Do we ever get to see it? WaPo might ask Ben Bradlee. ... All the A.P. obit  says is:

 He and Kennedy, who was elected the same year, shared similar affluent backgrounds, wartime experiences and a passion for golf -- and women.

Monkey business? ... 2:08 P.M.

Missing from the Kremlin Wall: Andrew Sullivan, in a typical self-deprecating post that leaves you convinced you've gotten the full story, discloses his departure from Time for The Atlantic. He sucks up to everyone in sight at both magazines--except Ana Marie Cox. ... Hmmm. ... 12:30 P.M.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mohammed of Iraq the Model thinks the surge has a chance, and he lives there. But some of his suggestions** might not please the Iraqi chapter of the National Rifle Association. ...

**--"Yes, having a weapon for defensive use is a justified need at this time but registering those weapons is of great importance to security." 4:16 P.M.

Doesn't Bill Kristol know that at this point he's a negative brand? That is, if he endorses something that makes other people less likely to endorse it. The headline of his latest co-bylined editorial--"All We Are Saying ... Is Give Petraeus a Chance"--roughly reflects what I think. But I'll be damned if I'm going to agree with someone who's been so wrong** and caused so much damage! And not just on the war. ... It would help Kristol's causes if he just stopped writing for a couple of years. Maybe a world cruise? The next subscriber-fleecing Weekly Standard voyage, just leave him on board and pick him up in 2008. ... P.S.: If the goal is to remove Kristol from the public eye, and if he can't quit completely, signing him to write a column for Time seems like a plausible Plan B. ...

**--See, e.g., this 2003 NPR interview at the 9:18 mark. ... 2:15 P.M.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Time to cash out of the Bush administration?  Jenna's doing it. The owner of Impeachbush.com is doing it. One more and it's a trend. In a few months, after all, people might not care. ... 10:54 P.M.

Too Good to Check: Rent-a-demonstrator. ... Update: Alert reader T. claims this is nothing new. ... But now it's online! ... And these European demonstrators are "good looking," identifying themselves by

skin color and "appearance type," which can be for example "European," "African," "South American," or "Asian."

according to Spiegel Online. ... They're not cheap, though, by U.S. protest-rental standards. ... 9:39 P.M.

" Oklahoma Professor Calls for Immigrant Voting Rights," which apparently includes both documented and "undocumented" immigrants. This from the  Aztlan News Network, which promises to be a reliable provider of backlash-inducing pro-immigrant immoderation in the months ahead. If you are Tom Tancredo, you want to bookmark this site. ... 3:10 P.M.

Those Iranian Election Results in Full: NY Post columnist Amir Taheri doesn't seem to be reporting on the same local Iranian elections  we read about last month in the U.S. press. Yes, they were a rebuke of President Ahmadinejad, but the resemblance ends there:

Dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad was partly reflected in the recent local government elections and elections for the Assembly of Experts, where candidates closely identified with the president did poorly.

Overall, however, the radical factions of the Khomeinist movement (of which Ahmadinejad is a product) did very well. In the local elections, the radicals ended up with 83 percent of the votes; they also did well in the Assembly of Experts' voting.

In other words, although Ahmadinejad's personal brand of radicalism suffered a setback, the Khomeinist movement as a whole remains in radical mode. [E.A.]

P.S.: Here's how a NYT editorial ("Saner Voices in Iran") characterized those same results:

The main gainers came from two very different opposition groups, one aligned with former President Ali Rafsanjani, an establishment conservative, and the other with remnants of the cautious reform movement led by former President Mohammad Khatami.

Someone would seem to be cocooning, or spinning. 12:32 P.M.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

More on Barbara & Condi & Laura: Compare Barbara Boxer's line of attack on Condoleezza Rice last week with Charles Peters' seemingly similar Washington Monthly attack  on the insulation of the powerful. First, Peters:

Many of those making between $100,000 and $500,000, especially those who live in large cities, worry far more about getting their children into the right private schools or into an elite university than  they do about fixing the public schools. And almost all of them, like the congressmen, have generous health insurance of their own that means health care for others doesn't tend to be one of their imperatives. Finally, because their sons and daughters, with rare exceptions, are not in the armed forces, they could support sending other people's children into the war in Iraq. [E.A.]

And here's Boxer:

"Now, the issue is who pays the price. Who pays the price?  I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family.  So who pays the price? The American military and their families."

See the problem? As Peters points out, even those who have sons and daughters are usually insulated from the costs of war because we have a volunteer military. Boxer's riffing about her children and grandchildren (and Rice's lack of "immediate family") isn't relevant to whether, as Boxer later put it, those who make Iraq policy "will pay the price for this escalation" because people who have military-age children don't pay the price for war either unless those children volunteer. And most don't.

So why did Boxer bring up her irrelevant children and grandchildren? Why not simply point to the insulating effect of the volunteer army? I don't know. But if I were a) allergic to poll-tested liberal rhetoric, and b) slightly paranoid--two small "ifs"--I might note that Boxer's illogical detour allowed her to not-so-subtly advertise her motherhood in line with the reigning mommy-rhetoric of the Pelosi Era, in which "the gavel" is in "the hands of America's children."

The "it's all about children" meme must focus-group really well, because Democrats keep trotting it out (most famously to justify welfare payments for "children," even though it's adults who get the checks). I don't remember Mommyism winning any national elections, though--especially during a war.

Boxer also managed to leave the implication that if only her children were of the right age, they would of course be volunteering to serve their country in the military.  I don't know Boxer's childen, but I'm skeptical.

Verdict: Guilty, guilty, guilty!

P.S.: In my earlier post, I also characterized Laura Bush as unfeminst for asserting that "[y]ou need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job" [of President], after Bush noted that Rice "is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child." Technically, of course, Bush was suggesting that both single women and single men would have a hard time being president. That may still be objectionable. It may also contain a germ of truth. But isn't it possible for singles--even single only children, and even single only children whose parents are deceased--to build networks of "friends" that do the work of a family? I know people who've managed that. The snarkiest dimension of Laura Bush's comment, then, isn't the reasonable argument that it helps to have a network at your back, but the apparent assertion that Rice has no "supportive friends." ... 12:21 A.M. link

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What Liberal Liberalism? Eric Alterman comes out against race-based affirmative action. (He'd base preferences on class, Kahlenberg-style). If Alterman, a man of the left, author of What Liberal Media?, blogger  for "progressive" site Media Matters, is now against race preferences, who's for them again? Aside from the entire establishment, I mean. ... P.S.: Alterman even suggests that Martin Luther King would have settled on class-based preferences  had he lived. ... 12:47 A.M. link

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pelosi=Amnesty Update: 

"The new Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to give President Bush the immigration legislation he wants, congressional leaders of both parties said."

That's from the Chicago Sun-Times.** Meanwhile, the border fence that Congress passed last year is in jeopardy, according to the CQ Midday Update email:

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the House will reconsider a plan to build a fence along the southwestern border between Mexico and the United States.

"I think the fence will be revisited," Hoyer told reporters today.

**--In fact, Hoyer didn't quite say this in the Fox interview cited. Do Democrats who just won seats in marginal or populist districts really want legalization of illegals (in exchange for untested border controls) to be the new Dem majority's signal achievement? ... 3:13 P.M.

Scooter-Scoop Reminder: As the Libby trial opens, the major drama of course is watching to see a) if kausfiles' big scoop about what "Scooter" Libby told Tim Russert gets vindicated, and b) if it's vindicated, how will the MSM handle the touchy subject matter (charges of anti-Semitism)? ... Early indicators: You won't even find Russert listed in MSNBC's interactive roster of key "players," though he is one. ...And the Washington Post publishes the following:

The plainspoken Russert will be a star government witness. He has told Fitzgerald that Libby fabricated parts of a conversation with him. He has said that when he spoke with Libby in mid-July, Plame never came up as Libby complained that MSNBC host Chris Matthews had an antiwar slant. [E.A.]

Er, no. Not "anti-war," unless "anti-war" and "anti-Semitic" are now synonymous (if reporting on the prestigious kausfiles blog is to be believed). No doubt the "plainspoken Russert" will eschew such controversy-avoiding euphemisms. ...

P.S.: Everyone expects Tom Maguire to be the  Go-To-Blogger on Libby. Those sorts of expectations can be a burden. What if he's gotten tired of Plamegate? Update: Not to worry. ...  

P.P.S.: I second Maguire's transpartisan (even trans-Plame) statement of support and best wishes  for relentless firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher, who's about to undergo cancer surgery. ... 2:50 P.M. link

Paparazzi catch hot Buick wearing see-through bra! ... 12:25 A.M.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Dr. Rice, who I think would be a really good candidate [for President], is not interested. Probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job."

Yikes. Single women can't be president! Move over, Barbara. ... P.S.: Does Laura Bush's intra-party sneer  get Sen. Barbara Boxer off the hook? Or--by suggesting some powerful subconscious urge of married mothers to condescend to single women--does it make it even clearer that Boxer is guilty? Bush's comment certainly doesn't make the Boxer incident seem like a better episode for feminism. ... 1:04 A.M.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Against the War, For the Surge: I was throwing out some newspapers and came across something I'd forgotten:  Michael Gordon's November 15 NYT piece describing how General Anthony Zinni, a trenchant and consistent critic of the decision to go to war in Iraq and of the prosecution of the war, supports something that looks an awful lot like President Bush's surge:

Anthony Zinni, who used to head the U.S. Central Command and was among the retired generals who called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, argued that the reduction of American forces was more likely to accelerate the slide to civil war than avert it.

''The logic of this is you put pressure on Maliki and force him to stand up to this,'' Zinni said in an interview, referring to Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. ''Well, you can't put pressure on a wounded guy.'

'There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used.

''I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence."

Instead of taking troops out, Zinni said, it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to ''regain momentum'' as part of a broader effort to create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces.

Logic says we should be able to separate support for the war from support for or opposition to the surge, as H. Kurtz has noted. But politics seems to often dictate surge-bashing as a sort of emotional and political make-up call for failure to oppose the decision to go to war in the first place. (Just watch Hillary!) I find Michael O'Hanlon persuasive on the surge issue:

Critics rightly argue that it may well be too little, way too late. But for a skeptical Congress and nation, it is still the right thing to try -- as long as we do not count on it succeeding and we start working on backup plans even as we grant Bush his request.

P.S.: I wonder how much of the blame for the "too late" part will turn out to fall on Karl Rove. It seems highly likely that Bush knew many months ago that a new Iraq plan was needed, but delayed for fear of disrupting his overconfident Republican strategist's flat-footed midterm election strategy--even though, it seems clear now, declaring this new initiative seven months ago might have saved the Republicans in the election. ... 10:43 P.M. link

Friday, January 12, 2007

It's the Hassle:Washington Monthly's Charles Peters mocks the "new proletariat" of Americans in the "$100,000-$500,000 income range," especially their agitation against the Alternative Minimum Tax. ... My impression is the main complaint against the AMT is not the extra tax it extracts but the extra paperwork hassle it imposes on those who essentially have to calculate their tax two times, using different sets of rules (or, almost as annoying, pay an accountant to do it for them)  ... I would think the anti-bureaucratic Wash. Monthly would join in the fraternal struggle against unnecessary government-imposed complications--realizing that Washington could probably collect a lot more tax money, indeed more money from the complaining top 20%, and if only it did so with less hassle. ... Similarly, I think the hassle factor--the hassle of figuring out which insurance company is going to screw you in what way, of reading the fine print and artfully filling out forms and switching plans and negotiating with gatekeepers and getting pre-op approval and worrying about treatments that won't be covered--is why even the well-insured 'new proleteriat' will ultimately care about universal health coverage (contrary to what Peters suggests in his last item). ...

Update: Ann Althouse, who uses Turbo Tax, says it's the money, not the hassle. ... Instapundit wonders "if Turbo Tax isn't a friend of Big Government." [link omitted] ... I wonder a) if the AMT effectively eliminates the tax benefits of the home mortgage deduction and b) more and more affluent Americans are going to be subject to the unindexed AMT, then c) the resulting decline in utility of the tax deduction will produce a corresponding fall in the price of high-income homes. ... Update/Correction: AMT payers still get the mortgage deduction if it's for buying, building or improving a home. But they don't get to take it for home equity loans. [Thanks to reader J.L.]

P.S.: My anti-hassle argument is simply that we shouldn't have to do two tax calculations. I'm not saying there's not a good argument that, of the two, we should keep the AMT and ditch the deduction-riddled regular tax code. That may be where we are headed already--as more Americans are obviously going to have to pay the AMT, they eventually may not bother with the regular tax code calculation at all, no? Result: Back-door slow-motion tax reform. ...  10:26 P.M.

Hagel's Hyperbole: Like most people--including, perhaps, most supporters of the "surge"--I don't expect it to work.  But (assuming we don't initiate a new war with Iran or Syria) I don't quite understand why, if it fails, the U.S. will  be in all that much worse a strategic position than it is now in Iraq. This doesn't seem like a doubling down. It seems more like raising the bet 15%. So when Sen. Chuck Hagel calls Bush's latest plan

"the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out"

that seems a bit odd. If the surge fails, surely the 'most dangerous foreign policy blunder' will be not the surge but the initial invasion of Iraq. Hagel voted for that, remember. ... Perhaps not just publicity-seeking political ambition but guilt is at work behind Hagel's hyperbole. ... P.S.: On Charlie Rose, Hagel equivocates, Kerry/2004 style,  not quite being able to bring himself to say he was wrong on the Iraq war vote. He also defends his hyperbole, citing both the strains of increased troop deployment and the possibility of conflict with Iran and Syria. But note that Hagel's own plan, as he outlines it, would involve putting our troops on Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, which might not exactly reduce the possibility of conflict ... 8:08 P.M.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Auto Snow: Not So Fast, Comrade Kuttner! [Note: It may actually save you time to watch the accelerated video version of this rant.]

The shift lever falls readily to hand for one R. Kuttner, who road tests the Pontiac G6. He doesn't like the door-lock releases. Or the steering. Kuttner concludes the problem wiith GM isn't its workers--or unions--it's GM's incompetent designers and executives:

You might blame GM's woes on poor American workmanship or the cost of American labor. But Japanese total labor costs are comparable, even with Detroit's higher health insurance costs. Increasingly, Japanese cars are being assembled in the USA, and the quality holds up just fine.

So what's wrong with GM? The cars. GM is famous for being run by bean counters and ad men. Toyota is run by engineers.'

This is a common viewpoint, I've found, among my Democratic friends--Jon Alter, this means you!***--who would never actually buy a Detroit product but who want to believe the UAW can't be blamed. The argument seems to be roughtly this: a) American cars are now reliable enough, having closed the gap with the Japanese brands, so b) the workers are doing their job; therefore c) if Detroit cars like the G6 are still obviously inferior--tacky and cheap, with mediocre handling--it must be because they're designed badly by white collar professionals, not because they're built badly by blue collar union members.

The trouble with this comforting liberal argument is labor costs. When Kuttner says "Japanese total labor costs are comparable, even with Detroit's higher health insurance costs," he is--as is so often the case--talking through his hat. Look at this chart. GM pays $31.35 an hour. Toyota pays $27 an hour. Not such a big difference. But--thanks in part to union work rules that prevent the thousands of little changes that boost productivity--it takes GM, on average, 34.3 hours to build a car, while it takes Toyota only 27.9 hours. ** Multiply those two numbers together and it comes out that GM spends 43% more on labor per car. And that's before health care costs (where GM has a $1,300/vehicle disadvantage). 

If you're GM or Ford, how do you make up for a 43% disadvantage? Well, you concentrate on vehicle types where you don't have competition from Toyota--e.g. big SUVs in the 1980s and 1990s. Or you build cars that strike an iconic, patriotic chord--like pickup trucks, or the Mustang and Camaro. Or--and this is the most common technique--you skimp on the quality and expense of materials. Indeed, you have special teams that go over a design to "sweat" out the cost. Unfortunately, these cost-cutting measures (needed to make up for the UAW disadvantage) are all too apparent to buyers. Cost-cutting can even affect handling--does GM spend the extra money for this or that steel support to stabilize the steering, etc. As Robert Cumberford of Automobile magazine has noted, Detroit designers design great cars--but those aren't what gets built, after the cost-cutters are through with them.

Look at the big  Ford Five Hundred--a beautiful car on the outside, based on the equally attractive Volvo S80. But thanks to Ford's cost-cutters it debuted with a tinny, depressing interior that would lose a comparison with a subcompact Toyota Scion. Ford wants $30,000  for the Five Hundred. Forget it!

Is it really an accident that all the UAW-organized auto companies are in deep trouble while all the non-union Japanese "transplants" building cars in America are doing fine? Detroit's designs are inferior for a reason, even when they're well built. And that reason probably as more to do with the impediments to productivity imposed by the UAW--or, rather, by legalistic, Wagner-Act unionism--than with slick and unhip Detroit corporate "culture."

P.S.: If Detroit can only be competititive when the UAW makes grudging concessions, isn't it likely the UAW will only concede enough to make GM and Ford survive, but never enough to let them actually beat the Japanese manufactures? I try to make this point here.

Update: But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is right about Ford's botch of the Taurus. ...

**--Non-union Toyota's productivity, in terms of hours per car, has actually been growing faster than GM's, according to the Harbour report cited by NPR. So--thanks in part to Toyota's lack of work-rule bottlenecks?--GM is not catching up. It's falling further behind.

***--Update:Alter denies the charge that he'd never buy a Detroit product. He says he "had a Taurus a few years ago." And he doesn't remember the conversation--about the relative culpability of the UAW vs. Detroit design--that I remember. ... 1:57 P.M. link

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Who's Surge Is It, Anyway? In this video from AEI, Frederick Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane,  originators of the "surge" strategy, make it as clear as can be that they do not intend for surging U.S. or Iraqi troops to go after on Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite Mahdi Army or to attempt to enter and clear out the vast Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City.**  Yet in his speech tonight, President Bush said (without mentioning Sadr's name) that Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki had given U.S. forces the "green light" to do just that--and news accounts played up the anti-Sadr angle. ... Either Bush's surge is some other kind of surge from the Kagan/Keane surge, or there's some Kabuki goin' on (e.g., al-Maliki doesn't really mean it, and perhaps the Bush administration knows al-Maliki doesn't really mean it, but wants a) Iraqi Sunnis, b) Americans, c) Sadr or d) himself to think he means it). ...

P.S.: Kagan and Keane also wrote:

It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.

Bush is sending "roughly 20,000" additional U.S. troops, according to the NYT. ...

Update: Juan Cole has an idea what the Kabuki is:

  I would suggest that PM Nuri al-Maliki's warning to the Mahdi Militia to disarm or face the US military is in fact code. He is telling the Sadrists to lie low while the US mops up the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sadr's militia became relatively quiescent for a whole year after the Marines defeated it at Najaf in August, 2004. But since it is rooted in an enormous social movement, the militia is fairly easy to reconstitute after it goes into hiding.

But if this is the case, is that a problem for the U.S. strategy, or the key to its implementation--i.e., if "lie low" means the Mahdi Army stops sectarian killings without the U.S. having to attack it?

**--Kagan and Keane want the troops to patrol "Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods," in part to convince Shiites they don't need Sadr's militias, which is different from taking them on.  Attacking Sadr in Sadr City, Kagan says, would be a "very bloody opertation" that would "look something like Fallujah." (See video  at 9:58.) While we would "win," he argues that it would have the political effect of "driving all of the Shia parties together to oppose us." 11:27 P.M. link

The old Pelosi is back: How do you go in a week from appearing to be a moon-faced 45-year old  to looking your age  (66). I'm still mystified. ... 10:24 P.M.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

"It's Over:" Kate Hudson's people must be paying US Weekly to feature her breakup on the cover. I contend nobody actually cares about Kate Hudson's romantic life. Do you? She's no Ron Burkle! ... 5:21 P.M.

Looking in a crowd for friends: Supporters of welfare reform have seen caseloads drop dramatically and a employment rise, but we're still looking for unmistakable signs of a dramatic improvement in the culture of ghetto poverty, especially for black men. Jill Leovy's Salon piece on the murder rates for black men seems to offer a potentially significant bit of evidence:

The reality is that blacks in 1976 were almost twice as likely to die from homicide as blacks in 2004, and the disparity between black and white rates was 20 percent higher than today.

What's more, Leovy notes, "[s]ignificant progress has happened very recently. Over the last dozen years or so, the nation has seen a startling crime drops ... and black rates have dropped especially steeply." Hmm. What happened a "dozen years or so" ago? I can't remember. ... Leovy doesn't discuss the possible welfare-reform explanation,** though maybe she should. ...

**--In fact, she credits the continuing breakup of the black family with a decline in the murder of men by "battered wives, trapped and desperate," although she notes that this can't account for the whole drop. ... 4:58 P.M.

Give me 15 more inches of BarryAchenbachStein: Ezra Dyer's auto-show blogging comes in on the good end of Hearty Hack. ... 2:12 P.M.

Catching Up With ... NCLB! The estimable Eduwonk notes  that today's NYT coverage of the debate over the No Child Left Behind Act sees the story through the hack pre-neoliberal prism: "more money, less money, Republicans against Democrats." In fact, Eduwonk notes,

the NCLB tension evidenced in this story is less Republican and Democrat than differences between the Democratic committee chairs on the House and Senate education committees and their leadership. The money issue can be resolved in the context of a deal, the bigger problem is that while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks NCLB is punitive, George Miller and Ted Kennedy don't. [E.A.]

Does Sen. Kennedy mind that the Times cluelessly ignores his non-hack, non-anti-Bush role? Probably not, since the perception that he's in there fighting Bush for more money is what gives him the street cred** to play his non-hack role of warding off the education bureaucracies, including unions, that want to to water down the law's standards. ...

P.S.: Meanwhile. former NCLB enthusiast Mike Petrilli thinks the bold, risky Bush push into education is FUBAR and advocates withdrawal to the Kurdish stronghold. ...

P.P.S.: As a non-eduwonk, I would think if the NCLB were working we'd see the results by now in positive test scores--and if it isn't working, we should abandon the perestroika-like attempt to whip the education bureaucracy into shape with testing and "sanctions"--and move on to the dissolution of that bureaucracy through a proliferation of charter schools. But Eduwonk says, via email, that it's too soon to tell whether the NCLB will improve test scores, since the " law was passed in January of '02, states only had the testing really implemented last year and this year ..." ... .

More: For some broader Eduwonk takes--but still not the one-stop what-to-think-about-NCLB piece concerned citizens demand--see here and here. ... Also note this comment on the power of the anti-NCLB teachers' unions to reshape (i.e. gut) the law:

A Democratic majority doesn't hurt them but doesn't help them all that much either because there are bad feelings on both sides of the aisles about how the unions, especially the NEA, have approached the law since its passage. ...[snip] ... But if things start to look scary for Dems in 2008, the unions stock goes up.

**--that would be the "liberal street," otherwise known as Iowa. 1:29 P.M. link

Monday, January 8, 2007

NPR seems to have a new feature: "Pointless Stories from the Civil Rights Era." Apparently they've run out of the good ones.  Enjoy! 2:39 P.M.

Stupidest sentence in the LAT's big Gates Foundation takedown: After noting that Gates invests in oil companies in the Niger Delta, the Times team declares--

Indeed, local leaders blame oil development for fostering some of the very afflictions that the foundation combats.

Oil workers, for example, and soldiers protecting them are a magnet for prostitution, contributing to a surge in HIV and teenage pregnancy, both targets in the Gates Foundation's efforts to ease the ills of society, especially among the poor. [E.A.]

Presumably it helps Nigeria's economy to have an oil industry, and it helps Nigeria's workers to have jobs in that industry. If the oil workers (or soldiers) then see prostitutes, what exactly are the oil companies the Gates Foundation invests in supposed to do to stop it that they are not doing, short of pulling out of Nigeria? ... Maybe there is something, but the Times doesn't say, leaving the impression it's ready to blame Gates for ills that are an indirect byproduct of the sort of ordinary economic development most people would regard as legitimate and beneficial. ... [Many conflicts here: Gates' Microsoft used to own Slate. Former Slate editor Mike Kinsley, a friend, is married to a Gates Foundation official, etc. Still! ] 12:12 A.M.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Great Moments in Public Employee Unionism: Two L.A. traffic engineers have been charged with "sabotaging intersection signal lights" on "the eve of a two-day job action by members of the Engineers and Architects Assn., which represents 7,500 city workers," according to the LAT.  The Times says the two allegedly rigged computers to disrupt** signal lights at "four busy intersections."

Union officials were unavailable for comment Friday. Robert Aquino, executive director of the Engineers and Architects Assn., did not return repeated calls. But in an Aug. 21 interview with The Times about the pending two-day strike, Aquino noted: "Los Angeles is not going to be a fun place to drive." [E.A.]

P.S.: There is some logic to paying private sector employees according to how much disruption they can cause during a strike (which is roughly what U.S.-style collective bargaining does). There's a lot less logic to paying government employees according to how much disruption they can cause--that disruption is often immense, even when strikers don't resort to extralegal means. ... [via L.A. Observed]

**--Correction: Text originally said "disconnect." The Times now reports:

They didn't shut the lights off, city transportation sources said. Rather, the engineers allegedly programmed them so that red lights would be extremely long on the most congested approaches to the intersections, causing gridlock for several days ... [E.A.]

9:57 P.M.

Nancy is to Hillary as Arnold is to ______: Just as Hillary Clinton should maybe be worried that a poor performance by Speaker Pelosi will sour voters on women leaders,** should "maverick" Republican presidential candidates like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani worry that Arnold Schwarzenegger's example will sour GOP primary voters on maverick Republicans? ... In Pelosi's case, the worry (for Hillary) would be that she would flop. In Schwarzenegger's case, the worry (for McCain and Giuliani) would be that he'd be successful at implementing non-conservative reforms like his plan to provide guaranteed health care to all children in California including immigrant children in the country illegally. The message, for those conservatives who might be tempted to overlook McCain's semi-Democratic domestic ideas (like his pro-legalization immigration plan and campaign-finance schemes) for the sake of his muscular foreign policy, would be that a maverick Republican is much more likely to get those semi-Democratic ideas enacted than an actual Democrat. ... To Be Sure: This alarmist message might be distorted (the California legislature Schwarzenegger deals with is much more liberal than Congress) and wrong (Schwarzenegger's centrist health initiative, aside from the illegal immigrant part, seems worthy). But that doesn't mean Republican primary voters won't be alarmed. ... [Thanks to alert reader S.A.K.]

**--CW today, but not last October! 9:27 P.M. link

Page C5: The NYT sells moneymaking TV stations  to refocus on "synergies" between its struggling newspapers and "digitial businesses." .... "Synergies." Where' did I hear that word recently, in a media context? ... Now I remember. ...  P.S.:  Stock down 14%. Sell off of profitable assets. We're only just beginning to glimpse Pinch's visionary plan for victory! ... 8:22 P.M.

Naked cars: We read Autoblog for the pictures. The writing is hackwork--even worse than Road and Track, which is saying something. Today, Autoblog  sneers at the new Ford Focus, without bothering to explain why it "falls short." ... Maybe they're upset that it's built on the old Focus chassis and not the newer "C1" platform  used in Europe and shared with Mazda. But the tinny old American Ford Focus ZX3 hatch is fun to drive. The C1-based Mazda 3 isn't, at least at normal speeds (I think because so much of the design's weight is way up at the front).  ... 7:22 P.M.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

What You Mean "They," Kemo Sabe? Sen. McCain woos the GOP base!

"I'll build the goddamned fence if they want it."

[Thanks to reader R.H.] ... 1:58 P.M. 

82_horizontal_rule

Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]

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