Kevin Drum

Nonconventional Warfare

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 3:07 PM EST

NONCONVENTIONAL WARFARE....Speculating on what might happen if Robert Gates stays on for a while as Secretary of Defense seems a little frivolous when we don't even know if Gates is truly in contention for the job, but let's do a bit of it anyway. Gates has taken the position that the Army should focus almost exclusively on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare in the future, something that Michele Flournoy, who's heading Obama's defense transition team, has criticized:

She said the document appropriately emphasizes irregular warfare — focused on terrorists and rogue regimes bent on using insurgency or weapons of mass destruction — but might go too far. "I think irregular warfare is very important, particularly in contrast to preparing solely for conventional warfighting, but it shouldn't be our only focus," Flournoy said, adding that countries such as China likely are preparing for "high-end" warfare and attacks involving anti-satellite technologies and cyberspace.

Barron YoungSmith thinks this is going to cause some tension:

If Gates ends up staying on at the Pentagon, he and Petraeus will almost certainly be able to impose these counterinsurgency-oriented priorities on what Flournoy, who has long-standing plans to revamp DoD, hoped would be a top-down review starting from scratch.

I'll take the other side of this issue. My guess is that the Army's institutional culture is so dedicated to conventional warfare that even a massive push from Gates and Petraeus in the other direction will turn the battleship only a few degrees. Especially if all this stuff is part of a top-down review (which it will be, since the QDR process will be starting up in 2009), a clear and concentrated focus from the start on nonconventional warfare is probably the only way we'll make any progress at all. I think I might be on Gates's side on this.

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You Are What You Blog

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 2:27 PM EST

YOU ARE WHAT YOU BLOG....Via Andrew Sullivan, this is just scary. The Typealyzer sucks in the contents of your blog and spits out your Myers-Briggs personality type about two seconds later. Like pretty much everyone of a certain age who's worked in the business world, I've taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple of times, and the typealyzer got my personality type exactly right. (Though my recollection is that it was a close call on the Sensing/Intuition scale.) This is especially impressive considering that upwards of a third of the text on the blog is excerpts from news articles and other blogs.

Methinks the web is getting too smart for its own good. Granted, my personality type probably isn't too hard to figure out even from a 30-second conversation, but it's a little unnerving that some heap of silicon can do it. If they can already do this, how long will it be before our robot overlords take over completely?

Business and Labor

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 1:44 PM EST

BUSINESS AND LABOR....At the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council yesterday, the one where Rahm Emanuel told business leaders that the Obama administration would "throw long and deep," he also took a question about the Employee Free Choice Act:

He was asked his views on the push by labor unions to allow workplaces to be organized with the signing of cards attesting to union support rather than a secret ballot. Mr. Emanuel declined to say whether the White House would support the legislation, but he said the unions are addressing the concerns of a middle class that has seen U.S. median income slide over the past eight years, while health care, energy and education costs have soared.

Does this mean Obama won't actually push for passage of EFCA, even though he said during the campaign he would? Who knows. But apropos of my comment the other day about anti-unionism being at the core of Main Street conservatism, what it does show is that Emanuel felt pretty comfortable telling the gathered CEOs that Obama would push for global warming controls, healthcare reform, lots of deficit spending on an economic stimulus package, and a comprehensive new set of financial regulations. That's all socialism, of course, but he knew the titans of American industry wouldn't fuss about it too much.

But a proposal that might end up increasing private sector union density from its current 7.5% to, say, 8.5%? (Or, if you're really optimistic, maybe 9.5%.) That, he knew, would send the place into a frenzy. Like I said on Monday, there's nothing that gets business leaders more panicked than the idea of workers organizing for higher wages. Nothing.

On a related note, here's a prediction: Obama will need a few votes from Senate Republicans to pass his legislative program. I'll bet he'll get it on global warming controls, healthcare reform, economic stimulus, and financial regulation. But on EFCA, he'll have trouble getting even a single Republican vote. That will be considered the make-or-break vote from the business community. Just wait and see.

Parking

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 12:21 PM EST

PARKING....Matt Yglesias suggests that conservatives ought to apply free market thinking to issues of urban development:

To my way of thinking an enormous amount of good could be done if conservatives were more interested in applying really basic free market principles to transportation policy. For example, why not allow developers to build as much or as little parking as they want to build when they launch a new development? Why not charge market rates for curbside parking on public streets? How about fewer restrictions on the permitted density of development? Why not reduce congestion on the most-trafficked roads through market pricing of access?

Well, sure. Actually, though, I think conservatives are generally fairly open to the idea of letting developers do whatever they want just on general pandering-to-business-interests grounds. The problem is that the public tends to be rabidly opposed to this kind of thing, and nobody who proposes it has a chance of getting elected (or reelected). So discretion ends up becoming the better part of valor.

Of course, there's also a chicken and egg problem here. You really can't build enormous apartment complexes with little or no parking if everyone who lives in the area owns a car. Nobody will rent your apartments if they can't park their cars, after all. Mass transit is the obvious answer to this, but it's still the case that no one will rent your apartment unless transit is so good that they can ditch their car entirely and therefore don't need a parking place. But in most places mass transit is nowhere near that good, so parking spaces continue to be needed. But as long parking spaces are freely available, the pressure to improve mass transit remains minimal.

What to do? Cities have some pretty good options for improving transit, along with a populace that's less car crazy than the rest of the country, but they usually have huge budgetary constraints. Suburbs and rural areas, conversely, sometimes have the money but seem hopelessly distant from any kind of reasonable solution in anything but the longest term. Here in Orange County, for example, you'd almost literally have to bulldoze the entire place and build anew to get even close to the density you'd need for a decent mass transit system to work.

Maybe motor scooters are the answer. If we all owned one car and one little Vespa out here in suburbia, instead of two cars, we could start cutting back on parking spaces gradually and save gasoline in the process. An electric Vespa with 30 or 40 miles of range on a charge would be even better. Maybe development of a Volt-based scooter ought to be a condition for a GM bailout.

Might not be very popular outside the warm weather south, though. Any other ideas?

Waxman Wins

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 12:19 PM EST

WAXMAN WINS....The news keeps getting better and better. The House Democratic caucus just voted 137-122 to replace John Dingell (D–General Motors) as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The new chair will be Henry Waxman, who cares deeply about global warming and will be a huge ally in the fight to get serious carbon legislation passed next year. This is change we can believe in.

Gutting the Trout

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 12:12 PM EST

GUTTING THE TROUT....Ezra informs us today that the healthcare insurance industry has blinked. But it's sort of a Sarah Palin blink:

The big news of the day is that the insurance industry has offered a deal: In return for a mandate in which every American must purchase health care coverage, they will stop refusing to sell insurance to those with preexisting conditions. Some deal. They're basically saying that if we legislate that every American must purchase insurance coverage, they will sell insurance coverage, at some price, to every American.

Needless to say, this is a deal that every industry in America would love. Take GM, for example. Why bother bailing them out with taxpayer cash? Just pass a law instead mandating that every American has to buy a Chevy, let GM set the price, and they'd be back in business!

Of course, it's actually worse than that. At least if you mandated car purchases, the car companies would still compete for business by lowering prices. Healthcare companies, conversely, don't want your business if you have a preexisting condition. Why would they? So they'd actually do just the opposite, jacking up prices steadily to ensure that someone else will end up getting your business if you happen to be a diabetic or have a family history of coronary trouble.

Ezra explains all this in more detail, but for now I'll just observe that a blink is a blink, even if the deal on the table is patently ridiculous. It means the health insurance industry is scared that we might actually do something in 2009 and they want to be seen as something other than completely obstructionist. That means only one thing: they've shown fear, and now it's time to bore in for the kill and gut them like trouts. Let's get to it.

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Newt Explains It All For You

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 11:45 AM EST

NEWT EXPLAINS IT ALL FOR YOU....In the Wall Street Journal today, Newt Gingrich and Peter Ferrara tell us why median wages have sucked so badly during the Bush era:

Marginal tax rates for middle-income families in the 25% tax bracket are too high. Add in effective payroll tax rates of 15% and state income taxes, and these workers are laboring under marginal tax rates of close to 50%. No wonder middle-income wage growth has slowed sharply.

Yep, that explains it: George Bush has kept taxes too damn high and no one wants to work anymore. It's analysis like this that has made Newt the conservative visionary he is.

Oogedy-Boogedy

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 6:17 PM EST

OOGEDY-BOOGEDY....Kathleen Parker blames the demise of the Republican Party on its "evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch," and Jonah Goldberg is annoyed:

What aspects of the Christian Right amount to oogedy-boogedyism? I take oogedy-boogedy to be a perjorative reference to absurd superstition and irrational nonsense. So where has the GOP embraced to its detriment oogedy-boogedyism? With the possible exception of some variants of creationism (which is hardly a major issue at the national level in the GOP, as much as some on the left and a few on the right try to make it one), I'm at a loss as to what Kathleen is referring to. Opposition to abortion? Opposition to gay marriage? Euthanasia? Support for prayer in school?

OK, maybe "oogedy-boogedy" wasn't the most felicitous phrase to use. Sway to the music all you want and no one will mind. But I think conservatives do themselves a disservice if they pretend not to know what Parker is talking about.

There will always be plenty of votes for a culturally conservative party. That's not the problem. The problem is the venomous, spittle-flecked, hardcore cultural conservatism that's become the public face of the evangelical wing of the GOP. It's the wing that doesn't just support more stringent immigration laws, but that turns the issue into a hate fest against La Raza, losing 3 million Latino votes in the process. It's the wing that isn't just a little skittish about gay marriage, but that turns homophobia into a virtual litmus test, losing 6 million young voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just religious, but that treats belief as a precondition to righteousness, losing 2 million secular voters in the process. It's the wing that isn't just nostalgic for old traditions, but that fetishizes the heartland as the only real America, losing 7 million urban voters in the process. It's the wing that goes into a legislative frenzy over Terri Schiavo but six months later can barely rouse itself into more than a yawn over the destruction of New Orleans.

Now, the GOP didn't lose all those votes solely because of their embrace of cultural victimhood. It was a Democratic year, after all, and the economy worked against them too. Still, exit polls suggest they had already lost most of this ground by 2006, and the economy had nothing to do with it back then. Conservative gains after 9/11 may have masked the problem for a while, but fundamentally these are voters who saw the Republican Party turn into a party of rabid identity politics and turned away in disgust. It's probably cost them (so far) about 10 million votes, and in an era where 53-47 is considered a big victory, that's a helluva deficit to make up elsewhere.

A party that merely wants to move more slowly and more deliberately than liberals in the cultural sphere wouldn't have lost all those votes. But the real-life GOP, a party whose primary association in much of the public mind is with revulsion toward gays, immigrants, urban elites, and the non-churchgoing, did. That's oogedy-boogedy.

Putting the Noise Machine in its Place

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 5:41 PM EST

PUTTING THE NOISE MACHINE IN ITS PLACE....Ezra Klein isn't sure that Barack Obama made the right choice by tapping Eric Holder as his nominee for attorney general:

It's hard for me to believe that Obama couldn't find anyone for the post who wasn't the workhorse behind Bill Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Holder, obviously, was just doing his job, but appearances matter in this town. Republicans will have no problem attacking the choice, and your average voter will be rather confused as to why Obama made it. Whatever Holder's merits — and I grant that they are many — it's a nomination that recalls the worst of the Clinton era, and it's not clear why that needed to be done.

Leaving Holder's broader merits (or lack thereof) to one side, I'd offer a different take on this: do we really want to hamstring ourselves by worrying too much about what kind of temper tantrum the Republican Party is likely to throw over Obama's nominees? I don't doubt they'll do their best to smear Holder, but the Rich pardon happened eight years ago and Holder's role in it was fairly modest. Obviously it's not a good idea to give Republicans too many free shots early in his term, but if Obama truly thinks Holder is the best man for the job, then I think he's done the right thing. Let the talk show clowns wail and the congressional leadership send out their streams of faux outraged press releases. This is a pretty good chance to show that this stuff just doesn't work anymore, and I'll bet Obama realizes it.

Team of Rivals?

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 2:58 PM EST

TEAM OF RIVALS?....Is Barack Obama really assembling a "team of rivals," as Abraham Lincoln did in Doris Kearns Goodwin's account of Lincoln's presidency? Goodwin's book was a little too hagiographic for my taste (even Lincoln's obvious mistakes routinely get spun into accidental acts of genius), but there's no question that Lincoln really did surround himself with a contentious bunch of personalities. Obama, conversely, doesn't really seem to be doing that. Hillary Clinton and the other SecState candidates are the only real "rivals" he's considering for his cabinet, and one cabinet spot hardly counts as a team, does it?

Still, Dan Drezner thinks the Goodwin analogy is serving Obama well:

That said, it's pretty smart for Obama and his staff to spread this meme around. First, it flatters all of his cabinet officers to think that they're like Seward, Salmon Chase et al. Second, by invoking the metaphor, Obama gets to frame his administration as evoking both the great challenges of the Civil War period and the greatness of Lincoln.

So maybe Obama isn't assembling a team of rivals after all, but he's still a pretty smart cookie for faking us into thinking he is. Nice move from the former gym rat.