Kevin Drum

Heads I Win....

The conservative game plan on the economy.

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 7:39 PM EST

Rich Lowry's "smart friend" just sent him an email warning that the economy is improving and conservatives need to prepare for this frightening possibility. How should they do this? By making sure that the media turns economic success into a narrative of liberal failure:

Republican candidates and conservative media commentators must prepare the American people for this phony boom with terrible long-term consequences. The news story here is: the revival of the economy by central bank money-printing and enormous government deficits to be paid for by our children.  Also, triumphalism about the weak economy should stop. Otherwise, Republican and conservative triumphalists will be sandbagged and look foolish in a mere six months, maybe sooner.

Since the economy and jobs are the central issues now, the focus must be on the Obama deficits, the Obama tax hikes on the middle class, and the Obama economic policy which makes government employees richer and the American working people poorer.

Well, at least we've been prepared. If the economy sucks, it's Obama's fault. If the economy prospers, it's a dangerous mirage brought about by Obama's failed policies. What do you think are the odds that the media will buy this?

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The Taliban Fog

Things may or may not be what they seem.

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 2:49 PM EST

Matt Steinglass highlights a passage from the New York Times today about the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top military commander. According to the Times, Baradar's capture "could come at the expense of the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai and complicate reconciliation efforts his government has begun":

An American intelligence official in Europe conceded as much, while also acknowledging Mullah Baradar’s key role in the reconciliation process. “I know that our people had been in touch with people around him and were negotiating with him,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue.

....“He was the only person intent on or willing for peace negotiations,” said Hajji Agha Lalai, former head of the government-led reconciliation process in the city of Kandahar, who has dealt with members of the Taliban leadership council for several years.

He and other officials in Afghanistan who are familiar with the Taliban leadership said Mullah Baradar’s arrest by Pakistani intelligence, and his interrogation by Pakistani intelligence officers and American agents, could play out in two ways. Mullah Baradar might be able to persuade other Taliban to give up the fight. Or if he is perceived to be mistreated, that could end any hopes of wooing other Taliban.

Naturally, this is all completely opaque. Apparently Pakistan is miffed that they've been left out of negotiations with the Taliban, and they want back in. Getting Baradar out of the picture might have simply been a chess move on their part to eliminate someone they didn't have any control over.

Or not. Maybe Baradar's capture means that Pakistan is getting serious about fighting the Taliban on their own soil, which has been the standard narrative up until now. There's no telling, really. But it's worthwhile at least keeping in mind that there are multiple, competing storylines here.

Healthcare Reform On the Edge

Take out the Glenn Beck set, and the country is still on the fence about healthcare reform.

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 1:50 PM EST

Chris Hayes calls this the "Most important piece of polling data I've seen in months." I don't know if I'd go that far, but politically it's pretty important. What it shows is about what you'd expect: opposition to healthcare reform comes overwhelmingly from people who would never consider voting for a Democrat in the first place. Among that group, opposition to HCR is 94%-1%, and obviously no Democrat risks losing any of their votes by passing healthcare reform.

But among those in the middle, those who might vote for a Democrat but aren't sure bets, support is about evenly split. These people are obviously persuadable, but they're only persuadable if Dems actually pass healthcare reform first and then campaign on it as if they actually believed in it. This is still a winnable campaign issue. Full poll results here.

Quote of the Day: Iraq

Is Iraq about to relive its past?

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 1:25 PM EST

From a "senior U.S. military official" in Iraq, commenting on the increased sectarian violence in Baghdad a few weeks before the upcoming election:

All we're doing is setting the clock back to 2005. The militias are fully armed, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to move back from the west. These are the conditions now, and we're sitting back looking at PowerPoint slides and whitewashing.

I don't think there's any way to sugar coat this: this was always a possibility, no matter how long we stayed in Iraq. The Four S's (Surge, Sadr, Sectarian cleansing, Sunni awakening) gave Iraq a bit of breathing room, but they didn't change its culture overnight. We still have a bit of influence, and our troops are still available as backups, but at this point the future of Iraq is up to the Iraqis. Surge or no surge, there's no guarantee it will have a happy ending.

Crank Economics, Part 375

No, you can't just exit the eurozone and then come back later. Sheesh.

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 1:02 PM EST

Greece problems would be a lot less severe if it still had its own currency. The exchange rate of the drachma would adjust, exports would get cheaper and imports dearer, and Greece's economy would stumble around a bit but then recover. Unfortunately, Greece is part of the eurozone, so they don't have this option. They don't control their own currency.

Now, if you were, say, a miscellaneous blogger who didn't know much of anything about how this stuff works, you might have an idea: why doesn't Greece leave the eurozone? Readopt the drachma, let it float, and watch as all their problems neatly sort themselves out. Then, later, when their economy has recovered, they can adopt the euro again. Problem solved.

If you wrote a post suggesting this, it would take about five minutes to get a dozen comments explaining why it's impossible. But hey — you're just a hypothetical blogger. Nobody expects you to know anything about this stuff. Live and learn.

But why does Martin Feldstein, one of the world's preeminent economists, seem to think this would be a good idea? And why does the Financial Times give him space to suggest it? Paul Krugman is — uncharacteristically — too polite to actually ask this, but he's pretty obviously shaking his head over it as well. What's the deal, FT?

Chart of the Day: The Stimulus

Without the stimulus bill, things would have been a lot worse than they were.

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 12:16 PM EST

In the New York Times today, David Leonhardt writes what should be obvious: last year's stimulus bill, though not perfect, has been a smashing success:

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

....Around the world over the last century, the typical financial crisis caused the jobless rate to rise for almost five years, according to work by the economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. On that timeline, our rate would still be rising in early 2012. Even that may be optimistic, given that the recent crisis was so bad. As Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson (Republicans both) and many others warned in 2008, this recession had the potential to become a depression.

For partisan political reasons, Republicans find it in their interest to insist that the stimulus was just a boondoggle that hasn't created a single job. The fact that this frequently gets reported with a straight face is a black mark for the press, which ought to insist on its sources being a wee bit more reality-based if they want to be quoted without being immediately debunked in the following paragraph.

The chart below from Organizing For America tells the real story. We still have a long way to go before job growth is back to normal, but the stimulus is getting us there a lot faster than we would have gotten there otherwise.

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DADT and the Troops

Enlisted troops don't really care all that much about gays in the military.

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 8:55 PM EST

McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reports that, for the most part, the issue of allowing gays to serve openly in the military mostly just elicits yawns from those who are actually in the military:

Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was nearing the end of a 25-minute question and answer session with troops serving here when he raised a topic of his own: "No one's asked me about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said....Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Darryl E. Robinson, who's the operations coordinator for defense attache's office at the U.S. Embassy here, explained why after the session. "The U.S. military was always at the forefront of social change," he said. "We didn't wait for laws to change."

....Indeed, since Mullen appeared on Capitol Hill earlier this month and told a stunned Congress that in his personal view, gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve, the response among members of the military has been little more than a shrug.

After Tuesday's question-and-answer session, Mullen told McClatchy that although he's held three town hall sessions with troops since his testimony, not a single service member has asked him about the issue.

Among the senior officer corps, which trends more conservative and comes from an older generation, there might still be a fair amount of anxiety about ending DADT. But among the enlisted troops, I'll bet that even those who say they oppose repeal of DADT don't really feel very strongly about it. They grew up in an environment where it's just not that big a deal anymore, and when DADT is finally repealed, it won't be that big a deal in the military either.

Who's Outlandish Now?

Dana Milbank misses his target.

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 8:27 PM EST

Have environmentalists who focus on climate change really "undermined the cause with claims bordering on the outlandish," as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank said a couple of days ago? Apparently not. The Wonk Room took a look at those claims and found that (a) they were true, (b) many of them didn't have anything to do with global warming, and (c) they weren't made by environmentalists anyway.

This is what happens when you take stenography from the Heritage Foundation. Any reporter past his senior year in high school ought to know better.

Quote of the Day: On Justifying Selfishness

Some things never go out of style.

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 3:18 PM EST

From Matt Yglesias, on the question of whether broader access to health insurance would save lives:

To be even having this conversation is for the right-wing point of view to win the argument. It’s like the fake climate change “debate” — the point is not so much to actually persuade anyone of anything but simply to shift the rhetoric around. A lot of people have perfectly good selfish reasons to want to resist comprehensive climate legislation, but few people are comfortable self-consciously espousing selfish political beliefs. So it’s comforting and useful if they’re able to instead anchor themselves to the idea of some “controversy” over whether or not uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions are harmful.

And you see something similar here. There’s obviously a lot of discomfort with the idea of a highly moralized debate about the values implicated in the decision to support or resist efforts to expand access to affordable health insurance, so creating an air of technical controversy around the fact that the exact degree to which lack of insurance is harmful helps resterilize things.

Or to put it another way, "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." Some things never change.

Defending Torture the Old Fashioned Way

By lying, that is.

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 2:21 PM EST

Here is torture defender — and newly minted Washington Post columnist — Marc Thiessen explaining last year how the barbaric treatment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed yielded valuable information:

Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast.

That was in the Washington Post. Here is Tim Noah, writing in the Post's Slate subsidiary the next day:

What clinches the falsity of Thiessen's claim [...] is chronology. In a White House press briefing, Bush's counterterrorism chief, Frances Fragos Townsend, told reporters that the cell leader was arrested in February 2002....But Sheikh Mohammed wasn't captured until March 2003.

How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration "broke up" that attack during the previous year? It couldn't, of course.

And Jonathan Bernstein, this morning:

I just saw torture apologist Marc Thiessen on CSPAN repeating, first of all, his argument that the Obama Administration is foolishly killing, rather than torturing, too many terrorists (today's news apparently notwithstanding; I turned it on too late to hear his explanation if any on that part of it), but more to the point his claim that torture and only torture prevented the Library Plot in Los Angeles from working.

I guess it's easy to see why the Post wants this guy writing for them on a weekly basis. He never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.