Kevin Drum

Netroots Nation

| Sun Aug. 9, 2009 1:09 AM EDT

Quick housekeeping note.  I'll be at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday of next week.  It's always nice to meet people who read the blog, so if you'll be there too and happen to see me wandering the hallways, be sure to stop me and say hi.

I'll also be moderating the noon keynote panel on Saturday, "Building a 21st Century Economy."  The panelists, who will be doing most of the actual talking, are Jon Corzine, governor of New Jersey; Anna Burger, chair of the Change to Win labor coalition; and Dean Baker, the economist who's been warning us about the housing bubble longer than just about anyone.  Should be a good session.  If you have any questions you'd like tossed at these guys, leave 'em in comments.

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The DNI's Testimony

| Sat Aug. 8, 2009 2:55 PM EDT

I was browsing through the testimony of DNI Dennis Blair to the Senate Intelligence Committee last April and came across a question about the Afghan insurgency.  Specifically, how big would the Afghan army need to be to extend security throughout the country, and how much would it cost?  Here's the answer:

Answer: (U) The most recent edition of the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Handbook suggests a ratio of 25 counterinsurgents to every 1,000 residents within an area of operations. The CIA World Factbook puts the 2009 estimated population of Afghanistan at 32,738,376.  Using this ratio leads to a need for roughly 818,000 security personnel to secure Afghanistan. However, most of the insurgents are in Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, and Pashtuns make up approximately 40% of the population — about 13 million.  Applying the 25-per-1,000 ratio to the Pashtun population equals roughly 325,000 security forces to extend security through the Pashtun areas.

(U) The Afghan defense operating budget (taken from the Afghanistan National Yearly Budget Report) for the Fiscal Year 2008 was projected at $242 million dollars.  Since there are currently 83,094 soldiers in the Army, we assume that this amount of $242 million equates to $2,912 dollars per soldier.  If the ANA were to increase the number of soldiers to 325,000, then Afghanistan would need to budget $946 million dollars per annum....

Really?  That's it?  I realize this is the unclassified version of his testimony.  I also realize that counterinsurgency is mostly the Pentagon's bailiwick, not the intelligence community's.  Still.  This is the level of analysis that a blogger might provide with about five minutes of googling.  Does the Senate really accept testimony this shallow from the DNI?  Is there really, literally, nothing more sophisticated they can offer up for unclassified public consumption?

Steven Aftergood adds that "some of the DNI’s statements are surprisingly flimsy."  For example, Blair claims that Russia prepared for a military exercise to disrupt U.S. satellites:

It turns out that the DNI’s statement was simply lifted, almost word for word, from a news story that appeared in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on May 14, 2003.  (It was also picked up by the online Newsmax.com on May 18, 2003.)  The Russian story lazily attributed its claim regarding the anti-satellite exercise to “certain reports.” The DNI repeated the Nezavisimaya Gazeta item nearly verbatim, presenting it as an established fact, with no attribution at all.

In fairness, there were some interesting bits and pieces in Blair's testimony, too.  Still, even in an unclassified setting the intelligence community owes the American public better than this.

Birthers and Bill Clinton

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 6:37 PM EDT

Hey it's Laura, dropping off the latest Kevin and David Week in Review podcast. This week: When will the Birther insanity end? Where will Bill Clinton go next? Who will win the battle for August's health care reform town halls? Plus: Rush Limbaugh and Kevin's take on liberal vs. conservative derangement. Listen to the podcast here.
 
Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Friday Cat Blogging - 8 August 2009

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 2:59 PM EDT

On the left, Inkblot is pretending to be in kitty jail.  Pretty nicely decorated jail, though.  On the right, Domino is Queen of the Printer.

My new food rationing plan is working well, by the way.  It's way too early to know if anyone has lost any weight, of course, but my interim Metric for Success™ is that no one starts yowling in the middle of the night because they're hungry and want me to come downstairs and feed them.  I never do, but in the past that hasn't stopped the yowling if they're feeling mistreated.  So far, though, half a cup of dry food before bedtime is enough to last them through the night until I wake up naturally.  Peace reigns throughout the house.

Bill Bratton's Future

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 2:34 PM EDT

Superstar police chief Bill Bratton has announced he'll be leaving the LAPD at the end of October.  Mark Kleiman would like to see him move up in the world:

As for Bratton's own future, here's hoping that his move to Altegrity is a just a quick cash-in on his way back to public service. The FBI would be a stretch: agents aren't really cops, counter-terrorism isn't policing, and any fight to change Hooverville would run into serious resistance from the Ba'athist dead-enders at on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue. So I wouldn't put the same sort of odds-on bet on Bratton's success at the Bureau that I would if he took over another police department. Still, given the stakes, it's a gamble I'd like to see happen.

Well, Mueller's term is up in 2011, so that would give Bratton a couple of years to earn some private sector dough before returning to the trenches.  He'd certainly be an interesting choice.

Quote of the Day

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 1:31 PM EDT

From Andrew Sullivan:

Killing the leader of the group that protected bin Laden seems like a big deal to me. Think for a minute about the attempt to paint Obama as Carter. Now think of three real-time operations — the killing of the Somali pirates, the release of the NoKo hostages, and now the targeted killing of the Taliban's leader. Does that sound like Jimmy Carter to you? Now how about getting Osama? Wouldn't that be a coup? I suspect he's working hard on it.

Hmmm.  I hadn't quite thought of it that way.  But it's an interesting point.  Obama hasn't yet had a substantive foreign policy success on the scale of Jimmy Carter's Camp David Accords (or even on the scale of returning the Panama Canal, for that matter), but on the little things he's been remarkably successful.  Or remarkably lucky.  Or both.  Either way, though, these little successes breed a sense of competence and self-possession that can help make things go better on the larger stage too.  Maybe Obama really does lead a charmed life.

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Permanently Unemployed?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 1:09 PM EDT

Today's unemployment news was generally good: we're still losing jobs, but we're not losing them as fast as we have been.  For now, at least, it looks like the stimulus is having an effect and the economy might be getting ready to improve.

But there are still some disturbing signs, and CBPP shows one of them in the chart on the right: job losses may be slowing, but the number of long-term unemployed is at a record high, way above even the peak it hit during the 1981 recession.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but for some reason it reminded me of this article on the front page of the New York Times today:

Digging out of debt keeps getting harder for the unemployed as more companies use detailed credit checks to screen job prospects.

....Once reserved for government jobs or payroll positions that could involve significant sums of money, credit checks are now fast, cheap and used for all manner of work. Employers, often winnowing a big pool of job applicants in days of nearly 10 percent unemployment, view the credit check as a valuable tool for assessing someone’s judgment.

But job counselors worry that the practice of shunning those with poor credit may be unfair and trap the unemployed — who may be battling foreclosure, living off credit cards and confronting personal bankruptcy — in a financial death spiral: the worse their debts, the harder it is to get a job to pay them off.

This is, admittedly, the equivalent of a single anecdote in the broader economic picture, but I continue to worry that a cluster of trends are converging to produce a larger class of the permanently unemployed than we've had in the past.  It's possible that I'm just worrying too much.  But this recession has affected the poorly educated way worse than high school and college grads; it's hit men worse than women; things like poor credit or a felony conviction seem to have become nearly permanent black marks; and unskilled jobs are continuing to dwindle despite a big drop in the illegal immigrant population.

I don't want to push this theme too far because I haven't yet done the work to really get a reliable sense of what's going on.  But I wonder, when this recession is finally over, if we're going to find ourselves in a European-esque mode with a large and growing population that's almost continually unemployed or, at best, underemployed.  More later.

The Lies of August

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 12:37 PM EDT

Hey, I thought MSM columnists weren't allowed to use the word "lie"?  Either (a) Steven Pearlstein didn't get the memo, (b) the rules are different for Pulitzer Prize winners, or (c) Republican lies about healthcare reform have caused his brain to explode:

There is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie

....Health reform will cost taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. Another lie.

....The Republican lies about the economics of health reform are also heavily laced with hypocrisy. While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers.

And he didn't even get around to mentioning the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme or the "Obama wants you to snitch on your neighbor" meme or the "liberals want to provide spa vacations to illegal immigrants" meme.  I guess his column wasn't long enough.

Crime and Punishment

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 12:08 PM EDT

Good news, Californians!  Our state may be a shambles, debt-ridden and stuck in an endless political quagmire, but Arnold Schwarzenegger has just signed a bill that makes it safe to organize March Madness pools in your workplace:

The new law changes the penalty for participation in a non-commercial or an office "sports betting pool" from a misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $1,000, to an infraction, punishable by a fine not to exceed $250.

Since we're so fond of naming laws after people, I think we should call this one Margaret's Law, after Margaret Hamblin, the 76-year-old grandmother who was busted in 2006 for running a $50 football pool at an Elks Lodge.  She was fined $130 and had her fingerprints and mug shot taken after she was cited for running a betting pool.

But no longer!  We're free of the jackbooted tyranny of the office pool gestapo!  Surely marijuana legalization can't be far behind?

No More Coups in Pakistan?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 11:31 AM EDT

Juan Cole says the possible death of Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Pakistan's Taliban Movement and likely mastermind of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, is only the second most important news out of Pakistan:

The really big news out of Pakistan in the last week was the  finding of the restored Supreme Court that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency decree of November, 2007, was unconstitutional. The ruling has larger implications, in perhaps suggesting that all of Pakistan's military coups have been unconstitutional. This is the first time that the Pakistani Supreme Court has so forcefully stood up to the military.

If the American press and political establishment was serious about supporting democracy in Pakistan and the Muslim World, we'd have seen an avalanche of comment praising the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for democracy. I did a keyword search at Lexis under television transcripts and could not find any evidence that anyone in national television or radio except Julie McCarthy at NPR even mentioned the epochal Pakistani Supreme Court ruling!

Consider it reported.  I confess to some skepticism about how seriously to take a court decree that military coups are unconstitutional, since military coup leaders don't generally pay a lot of attention to the niceties of judicial review in the first place.  But Prof. Cole calls it "a bigger turning point in Pakistani history than any we have seen since 1947," so it's worth knowing about.