Kevin Drum

The U-Turn on the Photos

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 12:32 AM EDT

Why did Barack Obama reverse course a couple of weeks ago and decide not to hand over those additional detainee abuse photos that the ACLU is fighting to get released?  Conventional wisdom says it was because of pressure from the Pentagon, but McClatchy reports today that it was actually because of pressure from Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki:

When U.S. officials told Maliki, "he went pale in the face," said a U.S. military official, who along with others requested anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

The official said Maliki warned that releasing the photos would lead to more violence that could delay the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from cities by June 30 and that Iraqis wouldn't make a distinction between old and new photos. The public outrage and increase in violence could lead Iraqis to demand a referendum on the security agreement and refuse to permit U.S. forces to stay until the end of 2011.

Maliki said, "Baghdad will burn" if the photos are released, said a second U.S. military official.

A U.S. official who's knowledgeable about the photographs told McClatchy that at least two of them depict nudity; one is of a woman suggestively holding a broomstick; one shows a detainee with bruises but offered no explanation how he got them; and another is of hooded detainees with weapons pointed at their heads.

If the ACLU wins its suit, they better hope this is just a bunch of spin from administration sources trying to make the boss look good.

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The Triumph of Narrative

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 8:28 PM EDT

Ta-Nehisi Coates isn't too happy with a new HBO documentary that tries to puncture the mythology surrounding Muhammad Ali:

The core problem with this doc, as it is with most correctives, is that it subscribes to the same sort of moralistic, heavy-handed, simple-minded logic that it allegedly seeks to debunk. Thus while the public image of Ali as this gleaming unvarnished hero is ridiculous, Thrilla's answer is to offer an equally ridiculous image of Ali as a scheming villain who didn't really win the two fights against Frazier, and robbed him of his rightful place as the greatest of all time.

I have a long post in mind about our (seemingly) increasing addiction to simplistic narratives and the (seemingly) increasing difficulty in finding writers who even try to avoid it these days.  But since I haven't written it yet, you won't have to suffer through it right now.  Maybe someday, though.

Oprah and America

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 4:43 PM EDT

Ezra sez:

I didn't exactly wake up this morning thinking, "what I need to read is a brutal, almost overwhelming, takedown of the pseudoscience and snake oil that has come to define a large chunk of Oprah Winfrey's show and brand." But I'm sure glad I did.

Really?  I've popped out of bed on many mornings thinking exactly that.  And this week's cover story in Newsweek delivers.

In fairness to Oprah, she's not really any worse than the thousands of other purveyors of freak show voyeurism, inane pop psychology, and pseudoscientific nonsense that practically define the modern media universe.  But she's by far the most influential.  Anyone who's responsible for foisting even more of Jenny McCarthy on the world deserves whatever Newsweek can dish out.

Sotomayor's Record on Race

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 1:13 PM EDT

Is Sonia Sotomayor a bitter closet racist unable to control deep-rooted feelings of race solidarity in her judicial opinions?  Of course not.  Frankly, I feel stupid for even lowering myself to blog about this idiocy.

But just in case you need some expert opinion on this, Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSBlog has reviewed Sotomayor's entire canon of race-related opinions.  The post isn't very long, and his conclusion is clear:

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred. (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.)  She participated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims. Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Absurd, yes.  But that won't stop the screamers.  Nothing ever does.

Chart of the Day

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 12:38 PM EDT

This isn't really big news or anything, but Gallup's latest poll shows just how big a hole the Republican Party has dug itself into: they now have virtually no appeal to anyone non-white.  They're almost exclusively a party of white men and women, which explains why their base has convinced them to haul out racial fears as their main line of attack against Sonia Sotomayor.  I just hope they aren't surprised when their meager 11% non-white base declines even further after this is all over.

War and Peace

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 12:24 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias makes a point that's bugged me for a long time too:

Nobody takes the views of someone who’s a pacifist in general seriously on a specific question of war and peace. But if you’re Bill Kristol, and every time an issue comes up your idea is that we should launch a war, then you get to [be] a Washington Post columnist and a constant TV presence. Here he is with Brit Hume calling for “targeted air strikes” against North Korean missiles:

Why is this kind of stuff taken seriously?  Everyone knows perfectly well why we haven't launched any kind of attack on North Korea: they have lots of troops and lots of missiles and could destroy Seoul and kill millions of people if they decided to.  Kristol knows this perfectly well.  But his endless knee jerk talk of military force as the answer to all problems is given a respectful hearing anyway.  Can't we just put a stuffed doll with a tape recording in his chair instead?  It would save Fox some money and the analysis would be the same.

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The 14x Plan

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 2:01 AM EDT

A few months ago I wrote a brief post about a plan from a guy named Edward Mazria.  His basic idea was that we could get a huge bang for our stimulus buck by refinancing mortgages at low rates if homeowners agreed to renovate their homes to increase energy efficiency.  This would reduce energy consumption, lower mortgage payments, and stimulate the flagging construction industry all at once — as well as providing an enormous multiplier for every stimulus dollar spent.

Well, Mazria's plan is starting to get a little more attention.  For more, take a look at Mike Mechanic's piece on our main site.  It's intriguing stuff.

The Conservative Soul

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 1:49 AM EDT

On Friday it looked as though the conservative movement was suffering from a personality disorder.  The insane half wanted to brand Sonia Sotomayor as a dull-witted affirmative action hire whose seething racist bitterness would soon turn the Supreme Court into a cesspool of radical retribution against whitey.  The adult half thought that although she was obviously well qualified, her generally liberal record ought to be challenged and her judicial philosophy debated.  Which side would carry the day?

It's starting to look like we've got an answer.  Republican senators have been fairly restrained up until now, but by Sunday they were starting to defect en masse to the insane wing of the party:

Several of those same GOP senators said Sunday that they would now make race a focus of the Sotomayor nomination fight — and they were far less eager to criticize conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for their racially tinged critiques.

Fanning out across network television talk shows, the senators in essence pledged to ask a fundamental question: Can a woman who says her views are shaped by her Puerto Rican heritage and humble beginnings make fair decisions when it comes to all races and social classes?

"We need to know, for example, whether she's going to be a justice for all of us or just a justice for a few of us," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, speaking on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

....Cornyn's comments were echoed in appearances by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), another member of the panel that will conduct hearings.

....The GOP senators' new tone underscored a sense in the party that Sotomayor's history of speaking about her Puerto Rican heritage had emerged as a surprisingly effective line of attack — particularly as President Obama and other Democrats try to shore up their support among working-class white voters.

Oddly enough, Cornyn has never expressed any concerns about whether a white male judge who rules against affirmative action can be a justice for all of us or just a justice for a few of us.  I suppose it just slipped his mind.

In any case, they say that if you want to know what someone is really like, watch how they react under pressure.  That's probably true of political parties too, and the Republican Party under pressure is finding — once again — that when nothing else works, appeals to racial paranoia are a "surprisingly effective line of attack."  Imagine that.

Quote of the Day

| Sun May 31, 2009 2:12 PM EDT

From Alex Knapp, who says that being imprisoned for a crime you didn't commit isn't the worst injustice you can suffer after all:

Now I’ve learned that there is something worse that can happen. You can be accused of a crime you didn’t commit, then have the government that imprisoned you acknowledge that yes, you are innocent — but they’re going to keep you in prison anyway.

He's talking about the 17 Uighurs who continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay despite the fact that they were clearly brought there in error and have never conspired against the United States in any way.  The Obama administration acknowledges this, but continues to argue in court that it has no obligation to release them anyway.  Not exactly a profile in courage.

Mighty Suburbia

| Sun May 31, 2009 1:54 PM EDT

As a replacement for race-based affirmative action, Texas started a program ten years ago that guaranteed admission to the University of Texas to the top ten percent of all high school classes.  As a result, more kids from rural and inner city schools were admitted to UT Austin, the system's flagship campus.  Hooray!  But not everyone was thrilled by this:

For six years [] an odd coalition of lawmakers from the inner cities and rural towns had beaten back efforts to weaken the program....That coalition finally cracked this year under pressure from suburban factions in the Legislature and after heavy lobbying by university officials, who vowed to recruit minorities aggressively.

....Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, [] fought the change....The bill, Mr. Ellis said, was a victory for suburban students.

“The very people who make the most noise about this are the parents of kids who have had all the advantages in life,” he said. “They are the same people who don’t give a tinker’s damn about the people in the quote other schools unquote.”

But Senator Florence Shapiro, a Republican from Plano who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said students from good suburban high schools had a legitimate complaint. Only class rank is taken into account, not extracurricular activities or other talents. Many students have been attending colleges out of state.

“The pressure for this bill,” Ms. Shapiro said, “really comes from the suburban counties where the youngsters do really well and many times are in the top 13 percent and cannot go to the university. They really go all over the country when they don’t have opportunity here.”

Never underestimate the power of suburban parents.  They never give up and they never surrender.

(Via Matt Yglesias.)