Kevin Drum - September 2008

Mad About Cows

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 10:46 AM PDT

MAD ABOUT COWS....Four years ago I first reported about the travails of Creekstone Farms, a Kansas beef producer that wanted to initiate 100% testing of its cattle for mad cow disease so that it could sell into the Japanese market. It was the free market at work: a plucky little company taking advantage of emerging technology to maintain its share in a foreign market and help improve our trade deficit. Just the kind of thing George Bush talks about all the time.

Except that George Bush wouldn't let them do it. Might upset the big producers, you see, who were afraid consumer pressure might force them to eventually perform 100% testing too. Today, via Dean Baker, I see that the DC Circuit Court has finally ruled in the Bush administration's favor. America's meat processing industry — which, coincidentally I'm sure, favors the GOP in its campaign contributions by more than 3:1 over Democrats — can breathe a sigh of relief.

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Focus Group Hell

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 10:26 AM PDT

FOCUS GROUP HELL....I confess that I've always been sort of weirdly fascinated with Joe Klein's periodic reports on Frank Luntz's focus groups. I can't really say why, since I don't have any idea whether the data they produce is at all reliable, but the fascination persists. Today, Klein reports that Luntz's latest batch of independents was deeply unimpressed with prospective vice president Sarah Palin:

Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin...a fact that was reinforced when they were given hand-dials and asked to react to Palin's speech at her first appearance with McCain on Friday — the dials remained totally neutral as Palin went through her heart-warming(?) biography, and only blipped upwards when she said she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere — which wasn't quite the truth, as we now know.

Klein also reports that far from neutralizing McCain's age issue, his choice of Palin actually intensifies it — something I anticipated months ago when people were talking up the even younger Bobby Jindal as a potential running mate. Luntz apparently thinks this debacle can be salvaged with a good convention speech, but I think Klein's take is the more clear-eyed one: "They really saw this pick as a gimmick — and one that reflected badly on John McCain's judgment."

Cuba

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 10:14 AM PDT

CUBA....Paul Richter reports on the latest round of neo-Cold War warnings from unnamed "officials" in the Bush administration:

Amid rising tensions over Georgia, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that Russia is moving to rebuild one of the most dangerous features of the old Soviet Union's security structure — its alliance with Cuba.

....Russia "has strategic ties to Cuba again, or at least, that's where they're going," a senior U.S. official said recently, speaking, like others, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive implications of the assessments...."It is very Cold War retro," said a government official. "The topic could be reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, and that is a chapter that people don't want to revisit."

Could anything be more inane? I mean, ignore the fact that this stuff is probably just generic BS being trotted out to a gullible press. Even if it's true, we all know there's a fast and painless way to put the kibosh on it: deep six the lunatic Cuba policy that's held our political classes hostage for the past 50 years. Tell Raul Castro that we don't like the way he governs his country, but that we think it's time to open up constructive relations anyway. Trade, diplomatic relations, investment, cultural exchanges, etc. etc. All the stuff we do with nearly every other country in the world, including the ones we don't like much. (Like, for example, Russia itself these days.)

Yeah, I'm dreaming. Bush won't do it, and for that matter even Barack Obama won't do it. John McCain would rather have his big toe cut off than do it. And Florida is still a swing state. Sigh.

The Return of the Mayberry Machiavellis

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 9:32 AM PDT

THE RETURN OF THE MAYBERRY MACHIAVELLIS....Marc Ambinder reports this morning about the vetting — or, rather, lack of vetting — that John McCain and his team carried out on Sarah Palin before announcing her to the world on Friday. Despite the fact that legions of bloggers figured this stuff out within 48 hours, apparently they didn't know that Palin had actually supported, not opposed, the Bridge to Nowhere; that the true scope of the "Troopergate" scandal she's enmeshed in is a wee bit larger than she fessed up to; that she raised taxes and public debt substantially as mayor of Wasilla; that she supported a windfall profits tax on oil companies as governor of Alaska; and that she's skeptical about human contributions to global warming. McCain's team talked to very few people in Alaska who knew Palin, didn't do much (any?) archival research on her, and McCain himself had barely even met her before he offered her the job.

So why did she get the nod? Hard to say. George Bush met with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours back in 2001 and immediately announced that "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." McCain, likewise, after campaigning with Sarah Palin for a few hours on Saturday, went on TV the next day to announce, "She's a partner and a soulmate."

So sure: this is vintage McCain at work. His choice of Palin was naive, cynical, reckless, and impulsive. But what about his staff? Why did they go along?

Well, in case you've ever wondered what John DiIulio meant when he described the Bush White House as "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis," I think this is it. DiIulio was talking about an executive staff that cared almost nothing for substantive policy, and was instead obsessed with junior high school levels of political cleverness. How will this play with the base? How will it put Democrats into a corner? How can we twist the real intent of legislation so that nobody knows what's really going on? What are the political angles? What congressional districts will this put in play?

I'd guess that the same thing is going on here. You can almost hear the McCain staff cackling in the background, can't you? Palin will draw off disaffected Hillary supporters! Her Down syndrome baby will totally sucker the base into falling in love with McCain! Joe Biden is going to have to walk on eggshells to avoid looking like a bully during the vice presidential debate! If anyone even remotely close to the Obama campaign says anything we can even remotely pretend is sexist, we'll trumpet it to the skies and the press will eat it up! Sure, maybe Palin isn't prepared for the actual job itself, but just look at the box it puts Democrats in! Politically it's genius!