Kevin Drum

A Stunning Series of Screw-Ups Led to October's US Strike on an Afghan Hospital

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 3:29 PM EST

The Pentagon has completed its investigation of the US attack on a hospital in Afghanistan operated by Doctors Without Borders, and it paints a grim picture. Gen. John Campbell, the top commander in Afghanistan, delivered a summary of the investigation today:

According to the military's investigation, the special operations gunship had sought to attack a building suspected of being used as a base by Taliban insurgents, but the plane's onboard targeting system identified the coordinates as an open field. The crew decided to open fire on a nearby large building, not knowing that it was the Doctors Without Borders hospital.

....When the gunship flew closer, its targeting system "correctly aligned" with the intelligence building, not the hospital, but the crew ignored the system, he said. The AC-130 aircraft had launched more than an hour early "without conducting a normal mission brief" or receiving a list of locations that it was barred from attacking, including the hospital, he said.

....A minute before the gunship started firing, the crew transmitted the coordinates of their target to their headquarters at Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul, giving the accurate location of the hospital, Campbell said. The headquarters "did not realize that the grid coordinates for the target matched a location on the no-strike list," he said.

In summary: the gunship crew left without getting briefed. Their targeting system malfunctioned, so they decided to open fire on the nearest large building instead. When the targeting system later found the right building, the crew ignored it. And when they sent coordinates to headquarters, nobody there matched it up with their no-strike list.

If this is the whole truth, it's a pretty stunning series of screw-ups. If it's not the whole truth, then something even worse happened. We may never know which.

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Why Did Democrats Lose the White South?

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 1:48 PM EST

Modern conservatives are oddly fond of pointing out that it was Democrats who were the party of racism and racists until half a century ago. There's always an implied "Aha!" whenever a conservative mentions this, as though they think it's some little-known quirk of history that Democrats try to keep hidden because it's so embarrassing.

It's not, of course. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and Republicans were the face of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Because of this, the South became solidly Democratic and stayed that way until World War II. But in the 1940s, southerners gradually began defecting to the Republican Party, and then began defecting en masse during the fight over the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But wait: the 1940s? If Southern whites began defecting to the GOP that early, racism couldn't have been their motivation. Aha!

But it was. The Civil Rights movement didn't spring out of nothing in 1964, after all. Eleanor Roosevelt was a tireless champion of civil rights, and famously resigned from the DAR when they refused to allow singer Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall in 1939. FDR was far more constrained by his need for Southern votes in Congress—and it showed in most New Deal programs—but the WPA gave blacks a fair shake and Harold Ickes poured a lot of money into black schools and hospitals in the South. In 1941 FDR signed a nondiscrimination order for the national defense industry—the first of its kind—and he generally provided African-Americans with more visibility in his administration than they had ever enjoyed before. After decades of getting little back from Republicans despite their loyal support, this was enough to make blacks a key part of the New Deal Coalition and turn them into an increasingly solid voting bloc for the Democratic Party.

From a Southern white perspective, this made the Democratic Party a less welcoming home, and it continued to get less welcoming in the two decades that followed. Harry Truman integrated the military in 1948, and Hubert Humphrey famously delivered a stemwinding civil rights speech at the Democratic convention that year. LBJ was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957, while Republican Dwight Eisenhower was widely viewed—rightly or wrongly—as unsympathetic to civil rights during the 1950s.

In other words, Southern whites who wanted to keep Jim Crow intact had plenty of reasons to steadily desert the Democratic Party and join the GOP starting around World War II. By the early 60s they were primed and ready to begin a massive exodus from the increasingly black-friendly Democratic Party, and exit they did. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee, refused to support the Civil Rights Act that year, and influential conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley were decidedly unfriendly toward black equality. This made the Republican Party more and more appealing to Southern white racists, and by 1968 Richard Nixon decided to explicitly reach out to them with a campaign based on states' rights and "law and order." Over the next two decades, the Democratic Party became ever less tolerant of racist sentiment and the exodus continued. By 1994, when Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich won a landslide victory in the midterm elections, the transition of the white South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican was basically complete.

This history is what makes the conservative habit of pointing out that Democrats were the original racists so peculiar. It's true, but it makes the transformation of the party even more admirable. Losing the South was a huge electoral risk, but Democrats took that risk anyway. That made it far more meaningful and courageous than if there had been no price to pay.

Despite all this, conservatives still like to argue that the surge in Southern white support for the Republican Party was driven not by racism, but by other factors: economic growth; migration from other regions; and by the evolution of Democratic views on redistribution, free speech, abortion, and other issues. Unfortunately, it's hard to find quantitative data that can settle this dispute.

But a couple of researchers recently found some: Gallup poll data starting in the late 50s that asks if you'd be willing to vote for a qualified presidential candidate who happened to be black. Respondents who answered no were coded (quite reasonably) as racially conservative. They then looked at differences between the Democratic Party ID of Southern whites who were and weren't racially conservative. Here's their conclusion:

We find that except for issues involving racial integration and discrimination, whites in the South and elsewhere have indistinguishable preferences on both domestic and foreign policy in the 1950s....We find no evidence that white Southerners who have negative views of women, Catholics or Jews differentially leave the Democratic party in 1963; the exodus is specific to those who are racially conservative. Finally, we find no role for Southern economic development in explaining dealignment.

The charts on the right show one specific data point: JFK's televised civil rights speech of June 11, 1963. Among Southern whites, approval of JFK plummets right at that moment (top chart). And in the Gallup polls, racially conservative Southern whites leave the party in droves (bottom chart). This is not a steady decline. It's a sharp, sudden exodus at a specific moment in time.

So: why did Democrats lose the white South? For the reason common sense and all the evidence suggests: because the party became too liberal on civil rights, and racist white Southerners didn't like it. Southern white flight from the party began in the 1940s, took a sharp dive in the early 60s, and continued to decline for several decades after as Democrats became ever more committed to black equality. This might not be the only reason for Southern realignment, but it's surely the most important by a long stretch.

For more on both this study and the Southern Strategy of the Nixon era, Wonkblog's Max Ehrenfreund has you covered.

Marco Rubio Sure Does Have a Lot of (Very, Very) Secret Admirers

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 12:37 PM EST

We all know that dark money is this year's hotness, right? So who's the king of dark money? It turns out the answer is Marco Rubio. Other candidates all have their Super PACs, but Super PACs disclose their donors. Rubio has the Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) that doesn't. And as Andrew Prokop points out, CSP has been responsible for virtually all of the TV ads so far promoting Rubio.

Wait—allow me to revise and extend. 501(c)(4) groups aren't allowed to promote candidates, so of course CSP isn't doing so. It's doing "issue education." Like this, for example:

Can you feel the education? Sure you can! So far Rubio's buddies who run CSP have spent $8.4 million educating us about the problems facing America and the types of fresh, young, Cuban-American men who are leading the charge to solve them. For some reason though, none of the worthies involved in this issue education care to make their largesse public. I wonder what they've got to hide?

Russia Is Paying a Price for Vladimir Putin's Napoleon Complex

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 12:05 PM EST

Russia says its pilot received no warning before Turkey shot down one of its fighters on Tuesday. Turkey says it gave plenty of warning. Here's the New York Times today:

A United States military spokesman, Col. Steven Warren, confirmed on Tuesday that Turkish pilots had warned the Russian pilot 10 times, but that the Russian jet ignored the warnings....At the emergency NATO meeting, Turkish officials played recordings of the warnings Turkish F-16 pilots had issued to the Russian aircraft. The Russian pilots did not reply.

The fact that the US says this doesn't automatically make it true. On the other hand, I wouldn't believe Vladimir Putin without checking for myself if he told me the sky was blue. So while it's entirely likely that both sides have been testing each other for the past couple of weeks, my best guess at this point is that Russia has flown over the Hatay peninsula repeatedly and been warned about it, but continued doing it anyway. This kind of provocation is pretty common in Putin's Russia. This time, though, he did it to a country headed by a guy much like himself, and he paid the price for it.

So what happens now? "We're not going to war against Turkey," the Russian foreign minister said today, but Russia will probably announce some kind of symbolic reprisal soon. And that will be that. Putin is discovering to his sorrow that Syria is not quite the same as Crimea or South Ossetia. It's all great when you can show off your shiny new cruise missiles on the nightly news, but this isn't a war that will be over in a few weeks because there's nobody to fight back. It's a never-ending quagmire, and there's not really much in it for Russia.

President Obama Has a Different Job Than President Hollande

| Wed Nov. 25, 2015 10:53 AM EST

Dana Milbank was unimpressed by the contrast Barack Obama made yesterday during his press conference with French president François Hollande. Hollande was animated and can-do about destroying ISIS, while Obama was....a little more realistic about things:

Tough talk won’t defeat terrorists — but it will rally a nation. It’s no mere coincidence that the unpopular Hollande’s support has increased during his forceful response to the attacks, while Obama’s poll numbers are down.

The importance of language was very clear at the White House on Tuesday, even in translation. There was little difference in their strategies for fighting the Islamic State, but Hollande was upbeat and can-do, while Obama was discouraging and lawyerly. It was as if the smoke-’em-out spirit of George W. Bush had been transplanted into the body of a short, pudgy, bespectacled French socialist with wrinkled suit-pants.

....Hollande spoke of a new era. “There is a new mind-set now,” Hollande said. “And those who believed that we could wait” now realize “the risk is everywhere . . . . We, therefore, must act.”

Then came President Oh-bummer. “Syria has broken down,” he said. “And it is going to be a difficult, long, methodical process to bring back together various factions within Syria to maintain a Syrian state.”

Maybe you can motivate people when you sound so discouraging. But it’s hard.

Aside from the fact that Milbank is cherry picking a bit here, I think he misses a few things. First is the most obvious: France is the country that was just attacked. Of course its president is the more emotional one. Hollande would seem more emotional than pretty much anyone he was paired up with. Have you ever seen Angela Merkel at a press conference?

Second, let's face facts: over the past year France has probably conducted a few hundred airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. It only started strikes against ISIS in Syria last month. When Hollande says "we must act," he's basically asking the United States to act.

Third and most important: Obama isn't trying to rally a nation. Just the opposite, maybe. He's been down this road before, and he's well aware that revving up the public for a splendid little war requires no effort at all—especially during campaign season. When reporters demand to know why we can't just "take out the bastards," it's obvious that Obama has a different job than Hollande. He's not trying to rally a nation, he's trying to keep everyone grounded about exactly what we can do. And for that I say: good for him. It's harder and less satisfying than preaching fire and brimstone, but in the long run it's better for the country.

The Case For Donald Trump Being a Liar Is Overwhelming

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 10:06 PM EST

I've gotten some pushback on my post about calling Donald Trump's serial tall tales lying. The main objection is an obvious one: something is only a lie if you tell it knowingly. Trump tells lots of whoppers, but maybe he's just misinformed. Or, in cases like the Jersey City Muslims, maybe he's convinced himself that he really saw them cheering on 9/11. There's no way to know for sure.

This is true: we can't know for sure. But in Trump's case we can be pretty damn sure. After all, this hasn't happened once or twice or three times. It's happened dozens of times on practically a daily basis. He doesn't just tell these stories until somebody corrects him. He blithely keeps on telling them long after he must know they're untrue. And while memory can fail, Trump has, by my count, told at least seven separate stories based on his own memory for which there is either (a) no evidence or (b) directly contradictory evidence.1 Some of them are for things that had happened only a few days or weeks before.

If you're waiting for absolute, watertight, 100 percent proof of a knowing lie, you'll probably never get it. But the case in favor of Trump being a serial liar is overwhelming—and in the fallen world in which we live, this is how adults have to make judgments about people. Given the evidence at hand, there's simply no reasonable conclusion except one: Donald Trump is a serial liar.

1On my list of Trump fabrications, they are numbers 1, 6, 8, 13, 18, 19, and 26.

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Quote of the Day: Here's What the Republican Primary Has Come To

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 9:28 PM EST

Gideon Resnick shows us what the Republican primary has come to:

A Carson campaign official told CBS News on Sunday that the candidate has considered taking a trip to Asia, Africa, or Australia in order to do something “eye-opening” prior to the Iowa caucus in February....(Australia was likely in the mix because Carson says he spent time working there at Charles Gairdner Hospital in 1983, according to his autobiography Gifted Hands. The Daily Beast has reached out to the hospital to confirm.)

A leading presidential candidate makes a simple, entirely plausible statement in his autobiography and yet a reporter feels like maybe he ought to make a call to double check it. Just in case. And I can't say that I blame him.

(Fine: I'm being snarky. For the record, I believe that Carson really was there.)

The Big Problem With Electric Cars: They're Too Reliable

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 5:11 PM EST

Matt Richtel has an intriguing article today in the New York Times about electric cars. The question is: why aren't they selling better? Is it because they have weak performance? Because they can only go a hundred miles on a charge? Because they're expensive?

Those are all issues.1 But it turns out that people who want to buy an electric car anyway have a hard time getting dealerships to sell them one:

Kyle Gray, a BMW salesman, said he was personally enthusiastic about the technology, but...the sales process takes more time because the technology is new, cutting into commissions....Marc Detsch, Nissan’s business development manager for electric vehicles said some salespeople just can’t rationalize the time it takes to sell the cars. A salesperson “can sell two gas burners in less than it takes to sell a Leaf,” he said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”

He also pointed to the potential loss of service revenue. “There’s nothing much to go wrong,” Mr. Deutsch said of electric cars. “There’s no transmission to go bad.”....Jared Allen, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said there wasn’t sufficient data to prove that electric cars would require less maintenance. But he acknowledged that service was crucial to dealer profits and that dealers didn’t want to push consumers into electric cars that might make them less inclined to return for service.

I suppose this makes sense. And to all this, you can add the fact that none of these cars can fly. There are so many hurdles to overcome before we make it into the Jetson's future we were all promised.

1We are, of course, talking about the non-Tesla market here.

Donald Trump Is a Pathological Liar. It's Time to Stop Tiptoeing Around This.

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:35 PM EST

Let's take a look at a few headlines about Donald Trump lately:

CNN: Does Donald Trump transcend the truth?

New York Times: Donald Trump’s shortcuts and salesmanlike stretches

ABC News: Donald Trump gaining strength despite questionable comments

The Atlantic: Donald Trump's fact-free weekend

Washington Post: Donald Trump is leading an increasingly fact-free 2016 campaign

NBC News: Amid outcry, Trump continues campaign of controversy

BBC: Trump 'wrong' in claiming US Arabs cheered 9/11 attacks

CBS New York: Evidence supporting Trump’s claim of Jersey City Muslims cheering on 9/11 is hard to come by

Business Insider: Donald Trump declares massive victory on his widely disputed claim about 9/11

Los Angeles Times: When it comes to Syrian refugees and fighting Islamic State, Trump wings it

USA Today: Trump defends tweet with faulty crime stats as 'a retweet'

Fox News: Trump tweet on black crime sets off firestorm

It's way past time for this stuff. You can call Trump's statements lies or fabrications or even falsehoods if you insist on being delicate about it. But you can't call them questionable or controversial or salesmanlike or disputed or even faulty. The man is a serial, pathological liar. Isn't it about time for the journalistic community to work up the courage to report this with clear eyes?

Who's the Most Humble? We Are!

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 2:03 PM EST

People For the American Way emails to highlight something from last Friday's pre-Thanksgiving celebration of Christian virtue in Iowa. Here is Carly Fiorina:

"I do think it's worth saying," Fiorina declared, "that people of faith make better leaders because faith gives us humility, faith teaches us that no one of us is greater than any other one of us, that each of us are gifted by God. Faith gives us empathy; we know that all of us can fall and every one of us can be redeemed. And faith gives us optimism, it gives us the belief that there is something better, that there is someone bigger than all of us."

PFAW is doing the Lord's work here—so to speak—but I can't get too worked up about this. It's annoying, but what do you expect at a big gathering of evangelical Christians in Iowa? But then there's this from omnipresent messaging guru Frank Luntz:

Luntz then followed up on Fiorina's statement by declaring that "I can back that up statistically," asserting that "every single positive factor that you can describe is directly correlated to someone's relationship with faith, with God, and all the pathologies that you would criticize are directly related to a rejection of God."

You know, I've got nothing against organized religion. It provides an important part of life for a lot of people and does a lot of good charitable work. It also does some harm, but what human organization doesn't?

<rant volume=7>

But it sure does get tiresome to hear Christians like Fiorina constantly preening about how great they are and then in their next breath boasting about their humility. Fiorina also explicitly suggests that nonbelievers are second-rate leaders and then immediately congratulates believers like herself for their empathy. As for optimism, I have rarely come across a community more convinced that the entire country has become a grim and ghastly abomination than evangelical Christians. Generally speaking, I'd say that evangelical Christians—the ones who blather in public anyway—are among the least humble, least empathetic, and least optimistic people in the country.

Still, you can just chalk all this up to political hyperbole and let it go. But then Luntz steps in to bring the Science™. It's not just Fiorina's opinion that believers are better than nonbelievers. By God, Luntz can prove that every single bad thing in the world is due to unbelievers. Who needs faith when you have dial tests? So there you have it: Revel in your overwhelming superiority, Christians. What better way to win sympathy for your views?


Have a nice Thanksgiving, everyone. Eat with a few sinners and publicans this year, OK?