Kevin Drum - November 2012

Quote of the Day: War Doesn't Work Very Well

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 2:19 AM EST

From John Quiggin:

If we started any analysis of international relations with the assumption that war will end badly for all concerned, and that the threat of war will probably lead to war sooner or later, we would be right most of the time.

Any foreign policy types care to weigh in on this? Over, say, the last 50 years, how often would you say that U.S. wars have achieved their desired outcomes?

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The Accidental Investigation That Ruined David Petraeus

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 1:53 AM EST

I have to say that today's New York Times piece about the FBI's investigation of David Petraeus's affair with Paula Broadwell is pretty fascinating. Apparently it all began with Jill Kelley, a friend of the Petraeus family:

The involvement of the F.B.I., according to government officials, began when Ms. Kelley, alarmed by about half a dozen anonymous e-mails accusing her of inappropriate flirtatious behavior with Mr. Petraeus, complained to an F.B.I. agent who is also a personal friend. That agent, who has not been identified, helped get a preliminary inquiry started. Agents working with federal prosecutors in a local United States attorney’s office began trying to figure out whether the e-mails constituted criminal cyber-stalking.

Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques — including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address — to identify who was writing the e-mails.

Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.

[The investigation proceeds, and the FBI interviews both Broadwell and Petraeus.]

....Meanwhile, the F.B.I. agent who had helped get a preliminary inquiry started, and learned of Mr. Petraeus’s affair and the initial concerns about security breaches, became frustrated. Apparently unaware that those concerns were largely resolved, the agent alerted the office of Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, the House majority leader, about the inquiry in late October. Mr. Cantor passed on the agent’s concerns to Mr. Mueller.

You know, I'm pretty sure that the FBI doesn't routinely put a lot of investigative muscle into a complaint about half a dozen anonymous emails. My guess is that they mostly get filed and forgotten. So why did they do it this time? And how did they "obtain access" to Broadwell's email account? Unless they had a warrant, I sure hope that's not legal. And if they did get a warrant, that suggests that someone was really, really a lot more serious about this investigation than the FBI would normally be.

And then we have our junior J. Edgar Hoover getting so distraught that he decided to compromise the investigation by alerting Eric Cantor. Why Eric Cantor? He's not even on the intelligence committee. And do FBI agents normally alert members of Congress because an investigation hasn't finished up in three months? What the hell?

On a different note, the same story tells us that members of Congress are upset they weren't notified about the investigation earlier. Color me unsympathetic. It was a criminal investigation, and the last thing the FBI should have done is jeopardize it by briefing loudmouth members of Congress. There was also no need to politicize it until and unless they were certain they weren't just chasing ghosts. I'd sure like to know just why the FBI put so much effort into a complaint from someone about receiving a few anonymous emails, but I couldn't care less that they held back on briefing Congress until they were sure they had a case. That's the way things should work.

The Fever Swamp Explodes Over David Petraeus

| Sat Nov. 10, 2012 8:21 PM EST

A friend emails to keep me up to date on how the wingnut wing of the Republican Party is spinning the story of David Petraeus's affair:

The Fox fever swamp is sure and certain this is all related to Benghazi, even if they struggle to figure out a plausible connection. One theory is that Petraeus was more or less "outed" in order to keep him from testifying at the congressional hearings next week.

A competing and more popular theory has it that — let's see if I can get this right — he knew he was being investigated and therefore promoted the Obama administration's "lie" about the YouTube video under threat of being outed. Must be true, see, because the CIA station chief in Tripoli said less than 24 hours after the attack that it was AQ or AQ-linked militias that done the deed, and yet Petraeus several days later was still talking about the video in a closed congressional hearing.

Got that?

Oh yeah, I got it. You can see more along these lines from Laura IngrahamPatterico, Ace of Spades, Allahpundit, Monica Crowley, and (of course) Ben Shapiro. If only Glenn Beck were still around with his whiteboard, maybe someone would put all the pieces together and really explain what's going on here.

There are times when I think the conservative movement is literally going to explode. Their whole Benghazi obsession long ago left reality behind, reduced to a desperate search for impeachable malfeasance even though all the evidence points to nothing more than a fairly routine level of confusion and (at worst) minor ass covering. Now, they're desperate to somehow tie Petraeus to Benghazi because....well, why not? Benghazi is obviously a coverup, and Petraeus obviously must have known about it, and therefore (obviously) Eric Holder must have been ordered to dig up some dirt that would keep him on a tight leash. It's the murder of Vince Foster all over again.

When do the adults in the Republican Party take a stand against this insanity? Wouldn't now be a pretty good time?

Please, For the Love of God, Stop Talking About Raising the Retirement Age

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 3:02 PM EST

I guess there's no avoiding the fiscal cliff. I feel like I want to scream the next time I hear the phrase, but that cuts no ice with either the media or my editors, who want me to write a fiscal cliff piece of my very own. I'm going to put that off until my head feels a little less explode-y, but maybe everyone will get to hear my pearls of wisdom next week.

In the meantime, I gather that our newly reelected president is talking this morning about....the fiscal cliff. I don't have the TV on, but Digby informs me via Twitter that this is the state of things:

This just drives me nuts. I've said repeatedly that I think liberals should try to cut a deal on Social Security. This hasn't done my popularity any good, but I continue to think it's a good idea. It could be done fairly easily with a combination of benefit cuts and revenue increases that are quite small and would be phased in over a couple of decades, and it would get the issue off the table so we can focus on other, more important things. It would also be a proof of concept that Congress can actually get something done.

But I continue to be gobsmacked by the insane preoccupation with increasing the retirement age. I get that it's easy to understand, and that makes it an obvious target. But it's probably about the worst possible way of cutting benefits. It's regressive, it's unfair, it's blunt, and it's stupid. That might not matter if it were the only solution, but it's not. There are dozens of other ways of shaving benefits a bit, and virtually all of them are better and fairer than taking a meat axe to the retirement age.

(Which, by the way, was already raised to age 67 for younger cohorts way back in 1983. Does anyone in the media know this?)

If you don't like the idea of any benefit cuts, no matter how small or how slowly phased in they are, then you just don't want to cut a deal. That's fine. I disagree, but that's fine. Ditto for all of you who oppose any revenue increases, no matter how small or how slowly phased in they are.

But for the rest of us, who think there's at least the chance of a productive conversation on these topics, can we all just shut up about the retirement age? Pick some other way of shaving benefits. It might take you an extra few seconds to explain, but who cares? Take the extra few seconds. It'll make all of us a little bit smarter.

Ohio: Not That Big a Deal After All

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 1:18 PM EST

Just in case you haven't read this yet, here's a remarkable statistic: even if Romney had won Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, he still would have lost. This makes it all the weirder that he and his team were so sure they were going to win all the way to the end. After all, it's plausible that if turnout had been slightly different he could have reeled in those three states, which he lost by only two or three points. But which state would have been the fourth? Pennsylvania? He lost it by 5 points. Colorado? 5 points. New Hampshire? 6 points. Iowa? 6 points. Nevada? 7 points. Wisconsin? 7 points. What possible turnout models could they have been cooking up in their back rooms that convinced them any of those states were truly in play?

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Global Warming Even Worse Than We Thought

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 12:54 PM EST

How bad is global warming likely to be? Some models say bad, other models say really bad. So a couple of climate scientists lined up all the models and compared how they did on one specific metric that could be easily measured: relative humidity over the past ten years. Which model did the best?

Looking back at 10 years of atmospheric humidity data from NASA satellites, the pair examined two dozen of the world’s most sophisticated climate simulations. They found the simulations that most closely matched humidity measurements were also the ones that predicted the most extreme global warming.

....“The models at the higher end of temperature predictions uniformly did a better job,” Fasullo said. The simulations that fared worse — the ones predicting smaller temperature rises — “should be outright discounted,” he said.

The most accurate climate simulations were run by the United Kingdom’s Met Office, a consortium in Japan and a facility at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Who knows. Maybe humidity is just a weird outlier. Anything's possible, especially if you're bound and determined to insist that climate change is no big deal. But if this research is right—and it's hardly the first to suggest that global warming is likely to be worse than we think—you can forget the idea of the world warming by 2 degrees C by the end of the century. Try 5 degrees instead. And then kiss your ass goodbye.

Mitt Romney for Treasury Secretary!

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 12:13 PM EST

Wouldn't it be kind of fascinating if President Obama offered the job of Treasury Secretary to Mitt Romney? I mean, what's the harm? How much friendlier toward banks could he be than Tim Geithner?

I know, not gonna happen. But it would certainly put a whole new gloss on reaching across the aisle, wouldn't it?

The GOP's Immigration Problem Goes Way Beyond Immigration

| Fri Nov. 9, 2012 3:02 AM EST

Losing a couple of elections in a row to a radical socialist can apparently make your life flash before your eyes. Here is Sean Hannity on immigration:

We’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don’t say you’ve got to go home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it’s first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, and it’s done.

That's a mighty quick evolution! But Matt Yglesias wrote a sharp column yesterday pointing out that a quick pivot on immigration won't be enough to solve the GOP's problem with Hispanics:

The reality is that the rot cuts much deeper. The GOP doesn’t have a problem with Latino voters per se. Rather, it has a problem with a broad spectrum of voters who simply don’t feel that it’s speaking to their economic concerns. The GOP has an economic agenda tilted strongly to the benefit of elites, and it has preserved support for that agenda—even though it disserves the majority of GOP voters—with implicit racial politics.

Consider the GOP’s deeply racialized campaign against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. What was so surprising about this—and I know I’m not the only fair-skinned English-dominant person with a Spanish surname who was genuinely shocked—was that conservatives could have easily opposed her purely on policy grounds. Sotomayor is a fairly conventional Democrat on constitutional issues, and that would have been ample reason for conservatives to criticize her. Indeed, Justice Elena Kagan was attacked on precisely those grounds. But rather than tempering opposition with at least some recognition that Sotomayor’s life story might be a great example for immigrant parents trying to raise children in difficult circumstances, the country was treated to a mass racial panic in which Anglo America was about to be stomped by the boot of Sotomayor’s ethnic prejudice. The graduate of Princeton and Yale Law, former prosecutor, and longtime federal judge was somehow not just too liberal for conservatives’ taste but a “lightweight” who’d been coasting her whole life on the enormous privilege of growing up poor in the South Bronx.

I know they don't want to hear this, and I know that a lot of Republicans are deeply invested in a belief that liberals, not conservatives, are the real racial scaremongers. And I also know that it's almost impossible to talk about this because even the slightest suggestion of racial hostility is instantly toxic.

But as Bernie Goldberg admitted earlier this year, "There is a strain of bigotry — and that's the word I want to use — running through conservative America....That has to leave the conservative movement....I am sick of it." He's right. Lightening up on immigration won't be enough. Like it or not, conservatives are going to need a much more thorough housecleaning if they want to survive in an increasingly diverse future. No more gratuitous ethnic mockery. No more pretense that reverse racism is the real racism. No more suggestions that minorities just want a handout. No more screeching about the incipient threat of Sharia law. No more saturation coverage of the pathetic New Black Panthers. No more complaining that blacks get to use the N word but whites don't. No more summers of hate on Fox News. No more tolerance for Dinesh D'Souza and his "roots of Obama's rage" schtick; or for Glenn Beck saying Obama has a "deep-seated hatred of white people"; or for Rush Limbaugh claiming that "Obama's entire economic program is reparations." No more jeering at the mere concept of "diversity." And no more too-clever-by-half attempts to say all this stuff without really saying it, and then pretending to be shocked when you're called on it. Pretending might make you feel virtuous, but it doesn't fool anyone and it won't win you any new supporters.

That's just a start. One way or another, the Republican Party simply has to stamp this out. And not just because they need to do it to survive, but because it's the right thing to do. That still counts, doesn't it?

The Triumph of the Zinger

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 7:22 PM EST

Here is the most depressing thing I've read today:

Seven minutes into the first presidential debate, the mood turned from tense to grim inside the room at the University of Denver where Obama staff members were following the encounter....“We are getting bombed on Twitter,” announced Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager, while tracking the early postings by political analysts and journalists whom the Obama campaign viewed as critical in setting debate perceptions.

....Mr. Obama, who had dismissed warnings about being caught off guard in the debate, told his advisers that he would now accept and deploy the prewritten attack lines that he had sniffed at earlier. “If I give up a couple of points of likability and come across as snarky, so be it,” Mr. Obama told his staff.

I understand the political realities as well as anyone. But the idea that the President of the United States was forced to respond to poor reviews on Twitter (!) by promising to memorize attack zingers is pretty deflating. I know this is actually perfectly rational under the circumstances, but I still hate having my nose rubbed in how dumb our political discourse makes us sometimes.

And speaking of that, have I mentioned before that I've always felt kind of sorry for Mitt Romney? Aside from the fact that he's rather more comfortable with transparent lies than I am, he actually seems like a decent guy with decent instincts. Sure, he wanted to be president really, really badly, but lots of people want to be president a little too eagerly for comfort. It's an occupational hazard of the office. Unfortunately for Romney, he happened to want to be president in an era when the Republican base forced him to embrace lunacy in order to win their support. So he did what any good businessman would do: he gave the customers what they wanted. And lost.

But you know what? It was a close election. Obama really was vulnerable. And even granting that Romney is a pretty stiff campaigner, I'll bet that if he'd run as the same center-right guy who was governor of Massachusetts for four years, he would have won. After all, there were obviously a lot of people out there who were looking for a moderate, competent alternative to Obama, and if Romney had been allowed to campaign as that kind of candidate for four years instead of just the final four weeks, does anyone really think he wouldn't have been able to attract another percentage point or two in the key swing states?