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Saturday, February 28, 2004

Moderate 

The Times has a story today debunking (largely) the right's attacks on Kerry's anti-Vietnam testimony:

Mr. Kerry concluded his 1971 testimony by demanding, "Where are the leaders of our country?" and his spokeswoman, Ms. Cutter, said: "Clearly, in his testimony, he defended these soldiers and their actions as the fault of the war, not the warriors."

Moreover:

But when Mr. Kerry was involved, contemporaries recount, he often took steps to moderate the group's actions, believing it was better — for it, and him — to work within the political system that he ultimately sought to join. When he organized the mass march on Washington that resulted in his Senate testimony, Ms. Fonda was nowhere to be seen.

Look, Kerry fought bravely, he saw some terrible things, and when he came back, he helped organize a movement to end an unjust war. That's called patriotism. And he was, generally speaking, one of the more moderate antiwar protestors. Those atrocities he talked about in the Senate hearing? He was trying to show how evil the war was, not how evil his fellow soldiers were.
Honestly, though, I'd love for the Republicans to come after Kerry on this. I really think he's in the mainstream on this, at least among members of his generation. Most people think the war was wrong, and respect people who spoke out against it, but they also respect people who answered the call of duty. For the record, Bush did neither.
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Liar! 

Via Atrios we learn that Bush told Rep. Musgrave that he'd support her amendment back in November. This isn't surprising, of course. But it does prove once again that Bush isn't just reacting to recent events in San Francisco and elsewhere, and that he really, really wanted to avoid an amendment but those crazy gays just wouldn't let him.
(It is worth noting that he supposedly told Musgrave this on Nov. 24, which is technically after the Massachusetts SJC ruling; but he didn't publically support an amendment until after San Fran/NM/etc.)
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Anonymous sources 

The Times has joined several other papers in codifying its policy on anonymous sources. The basic policy looks pretty good. A few excerpts:

The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy. When we use such sources, we accept an obligation not only to convince a reader of their reliability but also to convey what we can learn of their motivation as much as we can supply to let a reader know whether the sources have a clear point of view on the issue under discussion.
*snip*
* Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source in particular, whether the source has firsthand knowledge of the facts.
* In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story.
*snip*
Confidential sources must have direct knowledge of the information they are giving us or they must be the authorized representatives of an authority, known to us, who has such knowledge.
We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation, unless the very act of speculating is newsworthy and can be clearly labeled for what it is.

This is all good, and it's certainly good that the Times and other papers have begun taking a closer look at the use of anyonymous sources. But it's worth noting the difference in tone between the Times' policy and the Washinton Post's (scroll down on same page):

Sources often insist that we agree not to name them in the newspaper before they agree to talk with us. We must be reluctant to grant their wish. When we use an unnamed source, we are asking our readers to take an extra step to trust the credibility of the information we are providing. We must be certain in our own minds that the benefit to readers is worth the cost in credibility.
*snip*
Named sources are vastly to be preferred to unnamed sources. Reporters should press to have sources go on the record. We have learned over the years that persistently pushing sources to identify themselves actually works - not always, of course, but more often than many reporters initially expect. If a particular source refuses to allow us to identify him or her, the reporter should consider seeking the information elsewhere.

The Times, unlike the Post, never explicitly urges its reporters to push sources to go on the record. And the Post is much clearer about not letting sources use their anonimity as a shield to let them attack political opponents.
Obviously, the real issue here is not what the policy says, but how it is used. Written policies mean little if business continues as usual. But based on the policies alone, it sure looks like the Post is taking a tougher stand than the Times.
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Blogroll 

I realize I've been reading and linking to a couple blogs recently that aren't on my blogroll, so I've added them. Welcome to: Crooked Timber and Calpundit.
(and yes, I recognize that both these blogs get far, far more traffic than I do and won't care in the least that I've linked to them)
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It's alive! 

Over at Crooked Timber they're writing a horror movie about the Constitution as a literal living document. An excerpt:

Night. CONSTITUTION escapes from display case in Library of Congress. Seen lurking in alleyway off of Mass Ave. Shadows. Attacks and eats Cato Institute INTERN.
Day. The NATIONAL GUARD attempt to capture the Constitution on the Mall. Suddenly, ARTICLE III is invoked in a novel way. The GUARDSMEN find themselves guilty of treason and are forced to arrest themselves.

Great stuff. I'll add a couple of my own:

A shower. BUXOM WOMAN sings to herself while washing. Hearing something, she turns around just in time to see the CONSTITUTION decide that there is, in fact, no right to privacy.

The Oval Office. The PRESIDENT meets with members of his CABINET to discuss the growing crisis. He orders an attack on the CONSTITUTION. Cut to: Day. A formation of bombers attempts to destroy CONSTITUTION but the attack is foiled when the document literally interprets itself to mean that only Congress can declare war.
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Super preview 

John Edwards is insisting that he doesn't have to win a single state Tuesday in order to remain viable. No one is taking him seriously on that, so I won't bother rebutting it. But it's not just that Edwards has to win a state or two. He has to win lots of states, and he has to win them convincingly.
Taking a closer look:
Kerry currently has 754 delegates to Edwards' 220 (Dean has 175; list here). A candidate needs 2,162 (nice round number) to be the nominee. 1,152 of those delegates are up for grabs on Tuesday.
Now, if Kerry and Edwards essentially split the vote in every state, they'd each get around 600 more delegates (yes, Dean could get a delegate or two, and so could Kucinich, but we're dealing with generalities here anyway), and Kerry would still be ahead by a convincing 500 delegates.
But they won't split all the states evenly. Edwards isn't even contesting the four New England states that hold their primaries on Tuesday, so Kerry's bound to win them by sizable margins. Kerry's killing Edwards in California, where Edwards doesn't have the money to buy TV time, and there aren't any states where Edwards is leading (at least not in any polls I've seen). It's close in Georgia, but even there Kerry has an edge right now.
So let's say Kerry wins 60% of the delegates on Tuesday. In that case, he'll be leading Edwards by something like 750 delegates, and he'll be only around 700 delegates shy of the nomination. And what about that big, 465-delegate, four-state southern contest the next week? Even if Edwards beats Kerry in all four by a 60-40 margin (extremely unlikely, especially if Kerry has momentum coming out of Super Tuesday), he'll gain less than 100 delegates on Kerry.
Long (long, long, I know) story short? Edwards has to win at least half the states, at least a few of them by substantial margins, and he needs to stay close everywhere outside of New England.
And if he doesn't? Then he needs to drop out, endorse Kerry, and accept the VP nomination. If he gets killed on Tuesday and stays in the race, he'll seriously undermine his chances of being on the ticket in any capacity.
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Edwards in the fray 

TNR's Ryan Lizza asks the question today: Why is Edwards struggling now that he's gotten his much-desired two-man race?
The answer Lizza gives is that Edwards' above-the-fray attitude doesn't work so well when there's no fray to be above. And Kerry has had months of practice fighting off attacks (mostly from Howard Dean), while Edwards is only now learning how to fight.
It's a good thesis, and one that fits with something I've thought for a while: Edwards' good-guy, positive, upbeat message won't work once he's in a race with someone who's willing to take the offensive against him. And if he can't handle Kerry, how is he ever going to handle Bush?
It also raises questions about Edwards as a VP candidate. Traditionally, VP candidates serve as attack dogs, taking the offensive while allowing the guy at the top of the ticket to look presidential. I'm not saying Edwards wouldn't make a good VP choice--if I were Kerry, I'd pick him in a heartbeat--but it does raise questions as to who would be the fighter on the ticket.
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Gospel truth 

Andrew Sullivan has been very good recently on the subject of The Passion. Here he is today:

I repeat that there is something deeply disturbed about this film. Its extreme and un-Biblical fascination with human torture reflects, to my mind, not devotion to the message of the Cross but a kind of psycho-sexual obsession with extreme violence that Gibson has indulged in many of his other movies and is now trying to insinuate into Christianity itself.

I don't want to wade too deeply into the debate on this film, especially since I haven't seen it. But one thing gets me: the media keeps talking about how this is "a highly literal interpretation of the Gospels." Well, it isn't. As Sullivan also points out, the Gospels say Jesus was flogged, and that he was crucified, and that's more or less it. Different Gospels give different degrees of detail, but none dwells on the torture as much as Gibson (reportedly) does. Could it have happened that way? Sure, and it's Gibson's right to portray it that way. But can we stop acting as if Mel Gibson is the final arbiter of what the Bible says?
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Friday, February 27, 2004

Anti-semitism in France 

Working my way through the Times magazine here, there a long story on anti-semitism in France.
It's an important subject, especially given all the discussion recently of France's ban on head scarves in schools. I still don't think the ban is a good idea, but the article provides some important context.
The Bush administration has come out against the head scarf ban, but they have yet to deal with the underlying issues: the growth of anti-semitism, anti-Islamic sentiment, and the widening divide over the issue of Israel. We can invade all the countries we want, but until we address these issues, the problem is only going to get worse.
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Pet peeve 

From ESPN.com:

Brown's arsenal includes a 95-mph fastball, a 90-plus splitter and slider. But his real gift is a sinking, two-seam fastball, which literally devoured right-handed hitters last year with the Dodgers

It "literally devoured right-handed hitters" did it? As in, it opened up its mouth and ate them? That's what it did? That's a pretty impressive fastball.
Note to writers everywhere: "literally" means "according to the dictionary definition of the word." It is the opposite of the word "figuratively." It is does not mean "really," "practically," "virtually," or "seemed to." Those are all perfectly good words that actually mean what you want to say. Use them.

::end random grammar rant::
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Legacies and affirmative action 

Writing in the NYTimes magazine, James Traub argues against both affirmative action and legacy preferences, though he notes at the end that he doesn't expect either one will go away any time soon.
Far too much has been written about affirmative action for me to add much new to the debate (disclaimer: this doesn't mean I won't write about it in the future), so suffice it to say that I support it and leave it at that.
But legacies are a different issue. On a gut level, the legacy preference feels wrong. The people it benefits aren't just overwhelmingly white, they're also overwhelmingly wealthy. Why do these people need a boost?
The answer, of course, is that they don't. But the truth is, alumni are more likely to give money to their alma maters if they continue to feel a connection to the old school. Colleges have made creating that sense of connection an art form, through newsletters and homecomings and free seminars and clubs and all sorts of other things. But nothing works better than the legacy preference. Going to Harvard, or Michigan, or wherever, becomes a family tradition, and so the family gives money.
Why should we care? Because a big chunk of that money goes to scholarships. Without large endowments, it doesn't matter how much preference colleges give to minorities, because the people who most deserve the help--the poor--won't be able to afford to go. In other words, there's a strong argument to be made that legacies are a necessary evil. Obviously, if affirmative action goes, legacies should go too. But as long as we have the one, it makes sense to keep the other.
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Shrill 

Anyone who thinks this Krugman column advocating free trade, but also fair trade, is shrill simply has no interest in informed debate. Free trade, in general, is good, but it does hurt people. We should follow policies that encourage trade, but that minimize the damage. Both Kerry and Edwards seem to be following that basic line of reasoning, which is encouraging.
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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Privacy denied 

Andrew Sullivan has a very scary
post up (and not scary for the usual reasons) in which he quotes from an e-mail from a Republican lawyer who claims the FMA is really a trojan horse effort to undermine the idea (opposed by Scalia and others) of a Constitutional right to privacy:

By including a provision regulating the most intimate of relationships into the Constitution, the traditional analysis that the court has used to limit government power will be fundamentally changed and the right to privacy, if it is not destroyed completely, will be severely curtailed. As a result, decisions like Roe v. Wade, (Abortion), Griswold v. Connecticut (Birth Control), Lawrence v. Texas (Private Sexual Acts), will all be fair game for re-analysis under this new jurisprudential regime as the Constitutional foundation for those decisions will have been altered. A brilliant strategy really, with one amendment the religious right could wipe out access to birth control, abortion, and even non-procreative sex (as Senator Santorum so eagerly wants to do).

I don't know if I buy this, but then, I'm not a lawyer, and the right to privacy is already hardly on stable ground in the Supreme Court. If this guy's right, it's pretty scary.
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Signifying nothing 

A few days ago, Campaign Desk busted the Times for reporting that John Edwards had admitted that his proposed changes to NAFTA "would not significantly cut the flow of jobs abroad." (article here)
Turns out, Edwards didn't say that. He said his plan wouldn't stop the flow, but "would slow it." Would it slow it significantly? Insignificantly? He didn't say.
Well, the folks at NPR obviously read the Times, but not CJR. In a story I heard on All Things Considered on the way home today, NPR (I forget which correspondent it was) reported that Edwards had "backed off" (quotes are approximate) his earlier claims about NAFTA, concedint to the Times that his proposals would not "significantly" cut the flow of jobs abroad.
Note to NPR: Nest time read the quotes, not the reporter's paraphrasing.
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Bugging at the UN 

Clare Short's allegations that British intelligence agents bugged Kofi Annan's offices have been all over the BBC (and elsewhere, of course) today. To be honest, I can't get excited about it. Sure, it's probably illegal, but it's also pretty much standard practice as far as I can tell. Every UN employee I've ever heard asked about this kind of thing has said basically "we all know our phones our tapped and our offices are bugged; it's just part of the job." And realistically, I don't think anyone expects intelligence agencies to obey privacy laws. If they were spying on private citizens, that would be a much bigger deal, of course, but they weren't. I'm not saying it's a good thing, exactly. I just don't think it's that big a deal.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders All Citizens To Gay Marry 

I guess those conservatives were right after all.
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Rumors, rumors 

CJR's (always excellent) Campaign Desk today shoots down the rumor that Wes Clark was the source of the (untrue) rumors about Kerry that circulated a couple weeks back. I always had my doubts, given that Clark endorsed Kerry on the same day the rumor hit Drudge. It's much more believable that Chris Lehane spread the rumor, but I'll leave that for another day.
What's remarkable here is that CJR managed to shoot down the Clark-as-source rumor in under an hour by making a handful of phone calls to reporters who covered Clark. Yet Newsweek and other sources continue to print the rumor (about Clark, not, fortunately, about Kerry) at will.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

McRecover 

Via Atrios, a fabulous
letter from Rep. John Dingell to Gregory Mankiw:

I am sure the 163,000 factory workers who have lost their jobs in Michigan will find it heartening to know that a world of opportunity awaits them in high growth manufacturing careers like spatula operator, napkin restocking, and lunch tray removal.

It gets better.

(light blogging today due to a long day at work, but I should be back tomorrow)
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Axis of Evil 

From the Times:

But [Bush's] message that his party was taking the high road was undercut by a member of his cabinet, Rod Paige, the education secretary. In remarks to the nation's governors at the White House earlier in the day, Mr. Paige called the National Education Association, a longtime ally of the Democrats, a "terrorist organization" for resisting provisions of the education bill Mr. Bush signed into law in 2001.

Cute. Real cute. But this is from the same party that equated a triple-amputee veteran to Osama bin Laden.
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Monday, February 23, 2004

La difference 

Via Campaign Desk, a wonderful response to the (obviously ridiculous) question of why the media reported on rumors of Bush's being AWOL but not on rumors of Kerry's infidelity. They quote the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood telling Howard Kurtz the following:

"[W]hat could the press look into?" Harwood asked. "There's nothing -- nothing to look into. Nobody has alleged anything."

Of course, everyone is acting as if, had the rumors about Kerry been true, it would have made sense to report them. There may be a few situations in which that would be true (one story had the woman as a minor when the affair occurred, which obviously would have been news), but by and large, I don't see why Kerry's marital infidelity should matter to the public at large.
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Democracy flowers in the mideast 

Gosh, I sure am glad all those utopian visions of what would happen after we liberated Iraq are coming true.

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Are they dumb, or what? 

An interesting debate going on over at Atrios (and on his comments) over whether Bush and Co's recent missteps are a sign they're not as good as everyone thought they were (politically, of course), or whether they're just gearing up for the real fight.
It's fun to speculate, but I stand by the position I've held for a while that this election will be determined based on two factors, neither of them in either party's direct control. They are:
1. How the war goes between now and November; and
2. How the economy does between now and November.
(well, and 3. Whether there's another terrorist attack, but I'd rather not think about that).
If both do well, Bush will be reelected; if neither does, he won't. Only if there's a split decision will anything else (other issues, political skill, etc.) matter. And even then, I think all else will be subsidiary to the big two.
That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch the game unfold, and I'll certainly be commenting on it, but it's worth keeping it all in perspective.
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That didn't last long 

Ok, one more Nader post, and then I really am ignoring him.
Matt Yglesias quotes this Nation editorial calling on Nader not to run:

The context for an independent presidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was a real base for a protest candidate. The overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values--who are essential to all efforts to build a force that can change the direction of the country--have only one focus this year: to beat Bush.

Matt disagrees:

The context is almost identical. Back in 2000, the "overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values" voted for Al Gore, and rightly so. We were trying to beat Bush.

But this is misleading for two reasons. First, yes, while the "overwhelming mass" of progressive voters backed Gore last time, a not insignificant chunk supported Nader. That, I hope, isn't true this year. And second, while progressive voters certainly wanted Bush to lose last time, they didn't want it with nearly the vehemence they do now. Back then, I, and many others like me, though Bush was bad, but not that bad, and that it was time to send a message to the Democrats that we couldn't be taken for granted. Now that we know how bad Bush is, beating him has become far, far more important. Put more simply, last time around Nader supporters could reasonably argue that it was more important to send a message than to beat Bush. This year, thta argument is far more difficult, if not impossible, to make.
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Sovereignty 

So we all know that the Bush administration is determined to declare Iraqi sovereignty on June 30, regardless of the state of the country. What we're now learning is that--surprise surprise!--when we say "sovereignty" we don't really mean "independence" or "self-rule."
It doesn't say it in so many words, butthis Times story is essentially about how the Americans are angry that the Iraqi governing council won't negotiate the details of American involvement after June 30 because the issue should be left up to the sovereign government of Iraq. The Americans had wanted to hammer out the details before handing over sovereignty. As the Times says:

The delay could put the Americans in the position of negotiating an agreement with leaders they did not appoint on such sensitive issues as when the use of force would be allowed.

Well, yeah. That's the whole idea of independence, isn't it? The freedom to negotiate in the best interests of your people?
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I'm a man! 

One of Atrios' commenters linked to Gender Genie, which purports to be able to tell you, based on your writing style, whether you are a man or a woman. I plugged in a couple of my longer blog posts and indeed, I am a man.
Procrastinate away!
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Ahnuld for president 

Good lord.
Actually, the difficult thing here is that I agree with Arnold on this one. I see no reason immigrants shouldn't be able to run for president. Well, actually, Arnold just gave me one reason.
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Ignore Nader 

CalPundit suggests we should all just ignore Nader's candidacy, and I think he's right. For my part, this will be a Nader-free zone (unless, of course, it isn't--I make no warantees).
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Crossing Over 

The Times has a story today on people who voted for Bush in 2000 who are now planning on voting for the Democrat in November.
Anyone who's been paying attention for the past six months or so knows this has been going on for a while. But what's significant, in my mind, is that the phenomenon has now crossed into the mainstream media. This could mark the beginning of the end of the "popular president" meme, which is a big step for a media that often seems able to handle only one story line at a time. Sure, he's not exactly "embattled" or "struggling" yet, but it's a start.
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Haiti 

As the unrest continues in Haiti, this is as good a time as any to reflect on what this can teach us about U.S. foreign policy. I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of whether it was a good idea to (re)install Aristide in 1994, but it's pretty clear now that things didn't work out the way they were meant to. Could we have known that at the time? Not necessarily. But that's the thing with military interventions: they almost always have unintended consequences.
Does that mean we should never intervene? No. Sometimes the situation on the ground is bad enough that short-term stability is worth the long-term consequences. Maybe that was true in Haiti; maybe, even, that was true in Iraq (though I doubt it). But anyone who says we can intervene and create long-term stability with a minimum of long-term commitment is either lying or blind.
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Gay marriage 

Atrios argues that this Boston Globe poll is actually good news. I think that's a stretch, because whatever else the poll shows, it does indicate that support for gay marriage has eroded since November. But Atrios is right in saying we shouldn't get too concerned about this. When the SJC handed down its ruling in November, most people hadn't thought much about the issue, so opinion was understandably fluid. Since then, the Catholic Church and other anti-marriage groups have put on a full-court press against gay marriage. A 10 percent drop in support is hardly momentous, especially since it's still hovering around 35 - 40 percent.
What is very clear from the poll is that the pro-marriage people need to start getting their (our) voice out much more than they (we) have been. There has been no pro-marriage campaign with anywhere near the level of organization and fervor of the anti-marriage one. That has to change. The good news is that, barring something unforseen (not impossible with Finneran as speaker), we still have two and a half years before this goes before voters. But we have to act now, before people get too set in their opinions.
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Trackback (or, "Yet another way to see that no one reads your blog") 

Many thanks to Atrios for pointing out that Haloscan now provides a trackback feature. I've set it up here, despite the fact that it's highly unlikely anyone will bother to track back here (especially given the sporadic posting of late).
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Jobless 

Today's Times has an interesting story on the different economic pictures painted by the two major employment indicators: the payroll survey (based on statistics provided by employers) and the household survey (based on a sample of the employees, or non-employees, themselves).
The payroll survey is the one that shows that Bush has lost some two million jobs since 2001, while the household survey shows an increase of half a million jobs--a pretty major difference. As you might expect, the White House likes to highlight the household survey.
But though the Times story takes a while getting there, in the end it gives us the real story:

Unfortunately for the optimists, the Federal Reserve has just thrown cold water on the household data. It concludes that the gloomy payroll data is essentially accurate and that the household survey is probably off base.
"I wish I could say the household survey were the more accurate,'' Alan Greenspan, the Fed chairman, said in his testimony at a House hearing on Feb. 11. "Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow.''

In other words, we really have been losing jobs. Anyone else think Greenspan won't be asked back for another term is Bush wins in November?

Atrios has more.
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Ralph 

Is running. No surprise there.
He has an
open letter on his website explaining why liberals should vote for him, and it includes all the usual arguments: neither major party is addressing this country's real problems, we shouldn't limit ourselves to two options, etc., etc. He also has an argument as to why he shouldn't be blamed for Gore's loss four years ago.
Here's the thing: I agree with him. I agree, in principal if not always in tone, with almost everything he says in his letter. But I'm still mad as hell that he's running.
Four years ago, we were at peace, the economy was ok (struggling, but not in the tank), and we thought we were choosing between a relatively moderate Republican and a relatively moderate Democrat. Sure, I wanted Gore to beat Bush, but the stakes didn't seem that high.
And you know what? I don't blame Nader for running four years ago, and I don't blame him for Gore's loss. If Gore had run a halfway decent campaign, if he hadn't spent his whole time talking about a "lock box," if he hadn't come across as such a stiff in the debates, he would have won. Sure, he might have won Florida without Nader, but there are lots of ways he could have done that on his own, too.
But this isn't 2000. Bush didn't turn out to be a "compassionate conservative," or even really a conservative in any meaningful sense of that word. All the problems Ralph points out in his letter have gotten worse under Bush, and they're going to get worse still if he wins another term. Simply put, we can't afford another four years of this guy.
Will Ralph make a difference? It's possible. In 2000, we learned how much every vote really does count. It won't take much for Nader to screw this one up.
And one last thing: In the past six months, Howard Dean has uncovered the lie that is central to Ralph's candidacy: that the Democrats will only change if challenged from the outside. Nader ran in 2000, and Gore, despite some vaguely populist rhetoric, ran a moderate campaign. Dean ran as a Democrat this year, and suddenly all the candidates were challenging Bush on the war, the economy, and everything else. Will the eventual nominee move back toward the center for the general election? Of course. But Dean has shown the strength of the liberal wing of the party, and that's a message the Dems won't soon forget.
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