Kevin Drum

Eric Holder

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 8:40 PM EST

ERIC HOLDER....I've been scanning a bunch of stuff about Eric Holder, Obama's apparent pick for attorney general, and the conventional wisdom appears to be pretty simple:

  1. He's basically a decent guy: sound views, hard worker, smart, honest, and generally well thought of.

  2. Conservatives are going to try their damnedest to work everyone into a lather over his rather modest involvement in the Marc Rich pardon eight years ago.

From what I can tell, though, conservatives would be smarter to lay off. Holder really does appear to be honest, well briefed, straight shooting, and temperamentally moderate. They're going to get a liberal AG whether they like it or not, and they could do a lot worse than Holder if they somehow manage to torpedo his nomination.

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Pizza on Demand

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 5:44 PM EST

PIZZA ON DEMAND....Via Hit & Run, my cat's pizza company, in partnership with TiVo, engages in some hyperbole:

"This is the first time in history that the 'on-demand' generation will be able to fully experience couch commerce by ordering pizza directly through their television set. You'll see a television ad for Domino's and you'll click 'I want it' through your remote. In about 30 minutes, your pizza will show up at your door."

Oh please. I worked for a video-on-demand company back in 2002, and even then "pizza on demand" was a cliche. It turns out that just about the first thing every shiny new broadband offering offers is....pizza delivery via your TV. I think the first time was 1994. It never went anywhere, though, because it turned out that ordering pizza by phone isn't really much of a hassle.

But hey — everything old is new again. Maybe this is finally PoD's time. After dozens of tries, it's bound to catch on sometime.

Housing Bust Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 3:23 PM EST

HOUSING BUST UPDATE....The latest from ground zero of the housing bubble:

For the first time in the current housing downturn, the majority of Southern California homes sold in October — 51% — had been foreclosed, a real estate information service reported today. The median sales price for homes fell to $300,000, a level not seen since 2003 and a 41% drop from the peak price set in the spring and summer of 2007.

A 41% drop in 18 months. Jeebus.

Advice for Pinch

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:02 PM EST

ADVICE FOR PINCH....George Packer says the New York Times should fire Bill Kristol when his one-year probationary period is up in December:

In his year on the Op-Ed page, not one memorable sentence, not one provocative thought, not one valuable piece of information appeared under his name.....Kristol's performance on the Op-Ed page during the most interesting election in a generation is a historical symptom, not merely a personal failure. He wrote badly because his world view had become problematic at best, untenable at worst, and he had spent too many years turning out Party propaganda to summon the intellectual resources that a difficult situation required. Now the Times owes it to its readers to find someone better.

After a couple of months I stopped reading Kristol's columns. It wasn't because I disagreed with him, it was because he was boring. Whatever the meme of the week was in the few days prior to his Monday appearance, you could be almost sure that's what he'd write about. Not only were his subjects often stale by then, but he almost never offered anything more than the tritest conservative conventional wisdom on the subject at hand. Snooze city.

So: who should take his place? Since this is a liberal site, and the Times is looking for a conservative columnist, the answer is probably going to be whoever infuriates you the most reliably. (Kristol didn't. He just put me to sleep.) Consider this an open thread.

Holy Joe Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:05 PM EST

HOLY JOE UPDATE....I see that Senate Democrats have voted to allow Joe Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship. I guess they really showed him, didn't they? No Democrat will ever dare to support a Republican candidate for president, speak at the Republican national convention in prime time, and bad mouth the Democratic Party's candidate ever again.

Clintonites

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:03 PM EST

CLINTONITES....Just a quick comment on a common meme: Why is Barack Obama surrounding himself with so many Clinton retreads? That's not change we can believe in!

Sure, sure, but look: anybody who's been active in liberal governance for more than eight years is likely to be a Clintonite. It was the only game in town during the 90s. And anybody who's been active less than eight years probably doesn't have the experience to get a top level position. So there's really no way around this. There are some fresh faces around for Obama to tap, but for the most part, when you're staffing highly visible and responsible positions, you want someone who has at least some experience to fall back on. And since Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to hold the presidency in the past 28 years, that means someone who served in the Clinton administration.

I suppose this doesn't bother me as much as it does some people since I never expected Obama to be a huge left-wing break from Democratic tradition in the first place. He's a little farther to the left than Clinton, but not a lot, and it's only natural that he'd find a fair number of Clintonites who hold views similar to his own. What's more, as his campaign showed, he's obviously a guy who values experience and deep knowledge. He'll do fine, Clintonites or not.

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Quote of the Day - 11.18.08

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 11:17 AM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From maritime energy security specialist Candyce Kelshall, responding to the unprecedented seizure of an oil tanker 450 miles off the coast of Somalia:

"If it was an LNG tanker seized, we're looking at something potentially catastrophic. An LNG tanker going up is like 50 Hiroshimas."

I just thought I'd start off the morning with a cheery thought. You may now go about your business.

From Kurdistan to K-Street

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:50 AM EST

FROM KURDISTAN TO K-STREET....Over on our home page today, Laura Rozen tells the story of Shlomi Michaels: former Israeli counterterrorism commando, owner of a coffee/chocolate shop franchise, lobbyist and contractor for Iraqi Kurds, and, it turns out, friend of intelligence service chiefs from Moscow to Tokyo to Washington DC. It is definitely not set in the foreign affairs world that we normally see on TV:

This is a story of the other world, the one whose real power players never show up in the CNN headline crawl. It's the story of a man with a habit of popping up, Zelig-like, at the nexus of foreign policy and the kinds of businesses that thrive in times of war — security contracting, infrastructure development and postwar reconstruction, influence and intelligence brokering.

It's also the story of how this entrepreneur and middleman, in the shadowy environment created by the 9/11 attacks and Washington's advance on Iraq, seized the opportunity to propel himself from small-time businessman into global player. The trajectory of Shlomi Michaels is testament not only to one man's driven intensity, but also to the opportunities the war on terror has presented to those with the information, connections, and ambition to seize them.

The eternal search for WMD programs in Iraq makes an appearance too. The whole story is here.

Conservatives and Unions

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 9:18 PM EST

CONSERVATIVES AND UNIONS....Tim Fernholz shakes his head over the current conservative obsession with supposed liberal efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and then asks a question:

The problem, of course, is that most folks on the left could care less about the Fairness Doctrine and don't see bringing it back as necessary or important, as The Los Angeles Times chronicles. But, obviously, a good number of conservatives are worked up about this fake issue. Which is weird, but also got me to thinking: Are liberals worked up about a similarly fake conservative project?

Sure. A few years ago there was a boomlet in liberals claiming that Bush was going to reinstate the draft. It was always a ridiculous notion, but it had a certain amount of currency in the blogosphere for a while. I think I even succumbed to it once myself during the 2004 campaign season.

But what else? Fernholz decided to ask some conservatives, and James Poulos gave this answer:

I suppose I have a less controversial and a more controversial answer for you. The less controversial answer is that [it] doesn't seem right to me to claim that conservatives are out to destroy the unions....The more controversial answer is that I don't think "overturning Roe vs. Wade" really accurately describes "a conservative project" anymore.

I'd say this is exactly backward. Overturning Roe v. Wade is obviously still a conservative project, but I'd at least give a hearing to the argument that there are plenty of conservatives who (a) don't really care about Roe and (b) believe that overturning it is a hopeless cause. Sure, they're all willing to keep it in the GOP platform and support pro-life judges (as long as they're also pro-business judges), but you can certainly make the case that a serious obsession with Roe is a minority position even within the conservative movement.

So even though I'd still disagree with Poulos on this point, I'd call it the less controversial claim. Union busting, conversely, strikes me as being so deeply embedded in conservative DNA that it's virtually impossible to imagine an American conservative movement that didn't have anti-unionism as one of its core planks. In the last 30 years conservatives have made virtually no only modest inroads on their pro-life agenda, but they've made steady progress on the anti-union front ever since the end of World War II — via legislation, executive orders, new agency rules, NLRB appointments, and judicial nominations at both the state and federal level. This is no coincidence. The prospect of unionization rouses panic among Main Street conservatives more than any other single issue — more than taxes, more than deregulation — and whether James Dobson likes it or not, the GOP is a business party first and a social conservative party second.

Overturning Roe is certainly a conservative priority, but it's only been on the list for about 30 years. Fighting labor has been on the list for more like 130 years. If it's not central to the conservative identity in America, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: Edited slightly. As JR points out in comments, in conservative regions of the country pro-life forces have won a fair number of battles at the state and local level.

Hillary at State

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 7:06 PM EST

HILLARY AT STATE....The latest on the Hillary front:

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

....Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the secretary of state job.

I don't know what sources the Guardian bases this on, but there are no weasel words in that first sentence. If this really turns out to be true, color me gobsmacked.