Kevin Drum - January 2011

No More Oil

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 10:18 AM PST

Reuters reports:

OPEC will hold an emergency meeting only if oil climbs above $100 a barrel and stays at that level, a Gulf delegate said on Thursday. A second Gulf delegate said the price strength would probably not last and customers were not asking for extra oil.

Over at NRO, Kevin Williamson gloats:

Good news for Generic Republican, who already has established himself as a legitimate contender for the White House in 2012: OPEC is not bailing us out. The oil cartel is making it known that it is cool with $100 oil and will not act unless prices move significantly higher and stay there....Oil producers have a real good to sell, one with intrinsic value. They do not want to be paid in devalued currencies. Neither do producers selling precious metals, fertilizer, farm products, etc., which is one reason why wholesale food prices are going zoom, zoom, zoom.

Please. How many times does OPEC have to play this game for guys like Williamson to catch on to the con? OPEC isn't sitting on its hands because they don't want to take our yucky devalued dollars. In the short term they can hedge against the dollar just like anyone else if they want to, and in the long term they can invest the surpluses in their sovereign wealth funds in any instrument they feel like. The reason for their apparently lackadaisical attitude is much simpler: they're already pumping at near their maximum production capacity. Iraq will probably be able to produce more someday if they manage to avoid another civil war, and Saudi Arabia claims to be working on plans to increase their pumping capacity too. Target date is somewhere around 2014, I think. But right now? What you see is what you get. The only thing an OPEC meeting would produce is yet another tortured explanation about why OPEC isn't increasing its production quotas, explanations that usually range from the hilarious to the pathetic in their effort to avoid saying the obvious: there's no more oil to pump, so quotas are going to stay where they are no matter how much anyone wishes otherwise.

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Bye Bye, Silvio

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 9:36 AM PST

Now this is a corruption probe:

Silvio Berlusconi has been formally placed under investigation on suspicion of paying for sex with a 17-year old girl, according to a statement issued today by prosecutors in Milan.

He was further accused of abusing his position as Italy's prime minister by bringing pressure to bear on the police to cover up his alleged relationship with the girl, who was working as a prostitute. The two alleged offences carry sentences totalling 15 years in jail.

I can hardly think of a politician more deserving of 15 years in the hole than Berlusconi. I keep thinking that it's too bad Darrell Issa doesn't live in Italy. He'd have some real meat to work with instead of having to continually try to manufacture idiocies against one of the most squeaky clean presidents of modern times.

Poll Result of the Day: Raising the Debt Ceiling

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 5:51 PM PST

Here's an....interesting....poll result from Ipsos Public Affairs:

So 71% of the public doesn't want to raise the debt ceiling. When they hear that this will wreck our credit rating, damage our credibility, and jack up interest rates, this changes to....71% of the public. Urk.

Tough Talk in Doha

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 12:20 PM PST

While Barack Obama was in Tucson urging everyone to tone down their rhetoric, his Secretary of State was in Qatar ramping up the rhetoric:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blasted Arab governments for corruption and stalled political reforms Thursday and warned that extremist groups were exploiting this lack of democratic development to promote radical agendas in the Middle East and North Africa.

...."While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order," Mrs. Clinton told the Forum for the Future, a regional conference established to promote democracy and good governance. "The region's foundations are sinking into the sand."

Tough words. And with Tunisia and Algeria in something like open revolt, timely too. But no names were named, and it's not clear if they were named in any of her private meetings either. For the moment, it still doesn't appear that Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Israel or any other country increasingly being taken over by extremist groups has much to fear from the United States.

When the Political is Personal

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 10:57 AM PST

Conor Friedersdorf nominates me for combat duty:

Folks on the right think leftists don’t confront the indefensible speech uttered by their side. And vice-versa.

So why don’t the folks at The Corner enter into a bargain with a prominent blogger on the left?

What do you say, Matt Yglesias or Kevin Drum or Jonathan Chait? Here’s how it would work. Every day for a week, Monday through Friday, The Corner’s designated blogger could draft one post for publication on the left-leaning blog. The catch? They’d be limited to offering five direct quotations per day of lefties engaged in indefensible rhetoric, however they define it (in context, of course).

In return, the liberal interlocutor could publish the equivalent post at The Corner. And every day for a week, the participants would have to read one another’s five examples for that day, and decide whether to acknowledge that they’re indefensible and assert that the source should apologize if he or she hasn’t done so... or else defend the remark(s).

Maybe I’m wrong. But I suspect that Yglesias, Drum, and Chait would all be game for this sort of exchange. And that it wouldn’t be approved at The Corner in a million years.

Not a chance. On the list of things I don't want to spend my time on, this ranks very, very high. But if Chait takes him up on this I promise to read every day just for the entertainment value.

On a slightly more serious note, the real problem is that I don't think individual quotes here and there really prove anything. There are a lot of people in America, and that means that every day there are lots of people saying stupid things. Big deal. What matters is the overall tone, and here I think Harold Meyerson basically has it right:

A fabricated specter of impending governmental totalitarianism haunts the right's dreams. One month after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Beck hosted a show that gamed out how militias in Southern and Western states might rise up against an oppressive government. The number of self-proclaimed right-wing militias tripled — from 42 to 127, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — in 2009 (and that doesn't count those that are entirely underground).

As much of the right sees it, the government is planning to incarcerate its enemies [], socialize the economy and take away everyone's guns. At the fringe, we have figures like Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, who told a rally in Washington last April that, "We're in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it. They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of socialists."

This is obviously a lot harder to quantify. Are the fever dreams of the right worse than the fever dreams of the left? I'd say they obviously are, but that's a matter for evidence and argument, not listicles. But nobody on the right is ever going to acknowledge this anyway. They really do think of carbon taxes as tantamount to Stalinism and they really do think of national healthcare as a socialist experiment in starting up death panels for old people. I'm not even sure how you have a conversation about this stuff.

....Noodling some more about this, there are, of course, doom merchants on both the left and right. There were people on the left who were afraid that Bush had turned us into a fascist country and that his national security apparatus was turning us into a police state. So what's the difference? I think the distinction I always come back to is that for right-wingers this stuff is so much more personal.

What I mean by this is that, generally speaking, lefties weren't afraid that they personally were going to be rounded up in terror sweeps or sent off to war. They may have had strong views about these things, but (obviously with exceptions) their views were still fairly abstract: fascism is bad and police states are bad, but they themselves weren't really the ones who would suffer from it. It was others. And no matter how dedicated you are, you're never as passionate about other groups as you are about yourself.

Conservatives, by contrast, take this stuff very personally indeed. The government is coming for their guns, the government wants to kill their grandmother, the government wants to confiscate their money. Needless to say, this provokes a whole different level of frenzy. When you conceive of your political opposites as literally coming after you, it makes a lot more sense to take a very apocalyptic view of things. Thus, the popularity of Glenn Beck.

Sarah Palin Unplugged

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 9:43 AM PST

I haven't paid a ton of attention to the Giffords coverage over the past two days, but hoo boy —  was Sarah Palin's video response yesterday one of the most ill-conceived political speeches ever? I'm not even talking about the "blood libel" thing. For all I know, she doesn't even understand what the phrase means — though I'll bet we'll soon get some kind of snarky, defensive tweet claiming that she does too know what it means and then concocting some absurd explanation about why it was appropriate.

No, I mean the whole thing. I happen to think Palin was treated unfairly over her "bullseye" map: if it was over the top, it was only slightly over the top, and it's hardly the kind of thing we don't see and hear all the time in political campaigns. But you know what? Unfair or not, the Giffords shooting isn't about how badly the world treats Sarah Palin. Sometimes you just have to let things go, rise above your critics, and appeal to everyone's better natures. But not Sarah. She's been wronged, and that's the only thing that ever matters in Sarah land. Her narcissism was practically off the Richter scale yesterday.

I think Doyle McManus is right: "The Arizona shootings and their aftermath will probably be remembered as the end of Palin's chances of being taken seriously as a Republican presidential candidate. She had an opportunity to rise to an occasion, and she whiffed." In any case, I hope McManus is right. If Palin can't handle a few days of partisan invective from the lefty blogosphere, it beggars the imagination to wonder how she'd do against some real critics.

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The Problem With Regulations

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 9:11 AM PST

Ezra Klein on regulations:

Michael Mandel is waging a one-man war against the government's tendency to pile on regulations during economic downturns. I worry his approach is a little indiscriminate: Genetically modified crops can still contaminate non-genetically-modified crops even if the economy is weak. So there either need to be standards for how to handle that problem or GMO producers will be laden with legal threats and uncertainty over regulations they they know will come eventually, but whose content they can't yet predict. That's a much worse position for a young industry.

I'd put this a little differently. To a fair approximation, regulations on corporate behavior can only be enacted when a Democrat is president, so if you want any new regulations at all, they can only occur when a Democrat happens to be in office. Sometimes that's during an economic downturn, but them's the breaks. Besides, rulemaking is a very, very long process, so any rules started up, say, in Barack Obama's first year, are only likely to win final approval around 2014 or so. If then. So trying to time these things to the economic cycle is a mug's game anyway.

It would be nice if both parties supported moderate and effective levels of business regulation, and could therefore agree to things like temporary halts during recessions or neutral reviews of possibly outdated rules. But they don't. The Republican Party these days is basically a ward of its corporate base, and this makes them dedicated to mindlessly declaring all regulations "job killers" and getting rid of everything they can, regardless of whether they're effective or not. That makes it pretty hard to come up with some kind of efficient, bipartisan approach to streamlining the regulatory state.

More Housekeeping

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 9:18 AM PST

Sorry about this, but I'm taking another day off. My arm is better, but still sore, and I want to see how it responds to another day of total rest. If that doesn't work, it might be time for the unthinkable: a trip to the doctor. See you tomorrow.

Housekeeping Note

| Tue Jan. 11, 2011 11:48 AM PST

It's obvious that the blogosphere is going to be all Giffords all the time for a while, and I just don't have a lot more to say about this. Besides, my arm is so sore it feels like it's about to fall off. I'm going to go take a handful of Tylenol and stay away from the computer for the rest of the day. See you tomorrow.

Quote of the Day: No, Both Sides Aren't Equally Guilty

| Tue Jan. 11, 2011 10:21 AM PST

From George Packer, who notes (correctly) that he called out the left for its ugly rhetoric in the runup to the Iraq War, on where today's ugly rhetoric mostly comes from:

In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

This is too obviously true to need much defense. I don't really blame conservatives for being upset at liberals trying pin the blame for the Giffords shooting on them, but the furious defensiveness of their counterattack says all that needs to be said about how uncomfortable they are with their own recent history. The big difference between right and left, as I and others have noted repeatedly, isn't just in the amount of violent rhetoric, but its source. On the liberal side, it only occasionally comes from movement leaders. On the right, it regularly does. It comes from opinion leaders, political leaders, and media leaders, and the more heated they get, the more popular they get. As David Corn says, "Republicans have institutionalized their side's craziness." This is the big difference between the two sides, and the right could really stand to engage in a wee bit of soul searching over this.