Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I don't like how this Politico story casts "being George Allen'd" as a passive phenomena, something that just happens to politicians. Campaign consultants are "devising tactics to avoid a fate similar to that of the former Virginia senator"? How about the tactic of not saying racist shit at campaign events?

Goats & the military

Researching a story on military policy, I came across this information on the Web site of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under the heading "Army's Use of Goats for MEDIC Training":
While goats are not biologically identical to humans, caprines have characteristics in common with human beings that enable the student medic to learn basic medical principles. For example, the Soldier learns to properly diagnose and stabilize injuries related to airways, bleeding and associated hemodynamics.
Whatever works I guess. At least they're doing something other than staring at the goats.

Monday, January 29, 2007

About that partition

From the testimony of Ambassador Dennis Ross to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week:
One alternative would be what is called or referred to as a "soft partition." This is Sen. Biden's [and] Les Gelb['s plan]. Michael O'Hanlon's talked about it. In the past, those who were critics of the soft partition, the Bosnia kind of option, were critics of it because they said, while in Iraq you can see areas in some places that are clearly distinct from a sectarian standpoint, there are plenty of areas in this mosaic that are mixed. And to produce soft partition, you're going to have to separate sets of ethnic cleansing and it's going to be so ugly and so bloody that it simply is too painful to try to go down that path.

The problem is that we're seeing about 100,000 Iraqis displaced per month, which means the reality of the soft partition is beginning to emerge. Even though Prime Minister Maliki himself is now talking about having people allowed to go back to their homes, again I think people are voting with their feet, either because they're forced to, they're coerced to -- the death squads are acting in a way that leaves them no choice. They're not likely to return, so the question is whether a soft partition, the Bosnia approach, is an alternative if they're not prepared to forge the kind of political compromises that they haven't been willing to take up until this point.
Libby trial so far rounded up by Josh Gerstein in The Politico.

UPDATE [1/29 4:13pm] ... See also this NYT story about Ari Fleischer's very damaging testimony today.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Nice essay about painter and pop art godfather Jasper Johns in the Post. There's a new exhibit of paintings by Johns at the National Gallery, I must make it there post haste.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton controls the media

My roommate Matt Lynch of the good and noble Jay the Joke blog has worked in PR, and he is of the opinion that the "Will blacks vote for Obama?" stories that have suddenly begun appearing all over the place are a product of the awesome and massive HRC media machine. One does pick up on a certain common threads. This Politico story is of the same genre and even has some savage blind quotes from HRC aides.

They could be planted stories and still be true, I suppose. But I am not really buying it. The key question for every poll you see showing Clinton ahead of Obama is: Was the poll adjusted for name recognition?

Let's see what the numbers look like once campaigning begins.

Bush to Pelosi

"I'm not finished with you yet"? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan won't bow to U.S. pressure to spray his country's poppies with a corrosive herbicide that would decimate farms and harm people. Good for him, and probably politically necessary for his government...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My story on that Armed Services Committee hearing, at which McCain and Levin had a little spat, now up on the Medill DC site.

Bill Nelson's street cred

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at this morning's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:
"Gen. Shinseki asked for more troops before the war, and he was 'dissed,' as we say on the street."
New book review up at Stop Smiling, a review of The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, which I quite liked.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Big Daddy

There's nothing very groundbreaking about this Politico feature, but I hadn't seen this video of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd's "Big Daddy" speech, in which he explains what it really means to be the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee:
I saw Byrd get sworn in earlier this month, and he made everyone laugh by shouting, "Yeah man! Yeah man! Hallelujah!" I guess it's wrong to engage in the unrepentant pork-barrellism we see here, but I can't help but like the guy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Re: State of the Union: Yawn.

UPDATE [1/24 8:57am] ... I watched from the newsroom, though a lot of my classmates went up to Capitol Hill to see it in person. To me there wasn't a lot of news, really, although I guess it is something that the president said the words "the serious problem of global climate change." Something, but not much. His healthcare proposal is a nonstarter. The one to watch is immigration. Democrats stood and applauded his call for "comprehensive immigration reform"; Republicans pointedly did not.

Americans for Drug-Free Youth targets...soft drink brand-names

A press release I just received informs me that the group is
asking Congress to introduce and pass a law that would stop immoral and scandalous trademarks to be used when marketing a product.
Their target? The enemies of the state who produce this scandalous and immoral product.

At least they aren't wasting anyone's time with pointless, wheel-spinning initiatives...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Re: Obama's endorsement of Daley: Knew it was coming. Don't have to like it. Expect Steve Rhodes to launch a massive fatwa tomorrow morning.


Stephen Colbert: Are you a Democrat?
Thomas Schaller: Of course.
Colbert: Why "of course"? Because you have those little oval glasses?


Let's not get ahead of ourselves

Speaking at the March for Life rally, freshman Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan said:
I want to thank the people of Michigan for taking a risk against an incumbent to send me here for life.
Jeez, I thought it was only for a two-year term.

Painted truck at March for Life

I should note that the rally attendees I was interviewing strongly condemned the messages on this truck as we walked past it.

UPDATE [1/23 12:20am] ... My friend Katherine emails me to ask, "Wait, the Bible has a passage that says, 'America has forsaken God'?" This prompts me to actually look up the chapter. Well, friends, Jeremiah 19 is pretty rough stuff:
And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof.

And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege...
I hope God doesn't do that to DC while I'm here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Journalists still can't do math

This from Patrick Healy's assessment of Hillary Clinton's chances in the Sunday New York Times:
[Clinton's] new campaign wasted no time yesterday sending an e-mail message about a new Washington Post-ABC poll giving Mrs. Clinton a 41 percentage point lead over her closest rival, Mr. Obama, who had 17 points.
A forty-one point lead, wow. And the support of, what would that be, 58 percent of the primary voters to boot.

Except: Here's that polling data Healy referred to, and it shows Clinton at 41 points, and Obama her nearest rival at 17. A substantial lead, to be sure! But where I come from that's a 24 percentage point lead, not 41. Just saying.

UPDATE [1/21 8:51pm] ... It's fixed now. No correction printed on the page though...

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I just listened to some recent podcasts of This American Life and Act One of this episode, "The Super," has got to be one of the most surprising and best radio stories I have heard in ages. Jack Hitt begins the piece with tales of the ridiculously colorful super in his building in New York City in the early 80s. Those stories are entertaining in themselves, but they are followed by dramatic and unexpected twists the likes of which I wouldn't want to spoil here. You'll have to go listen to the whole thing...

P.S. ... For folks who've heard the episode, let's discuss in comments how wild and bizarre Hitt's story is...
You know I don't like to brag but I am all over the 2007 farm bill.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Easy-to-digest (yet thorough!) summary of the past and future of House Democrats' 100 Hours agenda by moi and Steven Johnson is now up at the Medill DC site...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What's confusing about "don't escalate the Iraq war"?

Dana Milbank is doing a too-cool-for-school Washington journalist thing in today's Washington Post column about Congress and the Iraq war:
For all the bills introduced yesterday, none is likely to force President Bush to change course in Iraq. Proposals such as Biden's are "nonbinding" and others don't have enough votes to pass. "There is very little chance in the short run that we are going to pass any legislation," Clinton confided during her news conference. Asked to elaborate, she explained: "I can count."

If anything, the competing proposals could strengthen Bush's hand. Though largely united in opposition to Bush's plan, members of Congress, carved up by the presidential ambitions of Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden and others, can't unite around an alternative.
Biden's proposal may be nonbinding, but the political message still matters. Democrats and Republicans in Congress oppose the troop increase, and most of the country thinks it's a terrible idea. The president will always be commander in chief, but the idea here is to use public opinion and congressional oversight to box President Bush in, to shorten his leash to the extent that it's possible.

Milbank is straight wrong about his speculation that the resolutions could "strengthen Bush's hand." If the proposals are nonbinding/political anyway, then there's no real difference between a Congress in which a handful of different bills condemning the escalation are introduced and one in which a single alternative is proposed. The alternative to increasing troop levels in Iraq is not increasing troop levels in Iraq.

The public has had no problem absorbing the message that Bush wants more war and Democrats (and now some Republicans) want less. They're not going to start getting confused now.

UPDATE [1/18 2:04pm] ... I'm not the only one who thinks so. Greg Sargent also adds some key facts and quotes Milbank (intentionally?) omits.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My story on the just-passed House bill to reduce student loan interest rates can be found here, with special emphasis on the way it affects northwestern Missouri...
The Rezko indictment must've really put the fear of God into Gov. Blagojevich. I'll wait to learn more of the details, but my first impression is that the new computer-based state hiring system seems like a pretty effective anti-machine politics reform. Incremental improvements, folks...
Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program is dead. Surveillance will be conducted with warrants from FISA courts, meaning in one respect at least the executive is back under the rule of law.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Re: American Idol: It's more fun, in my opinion, once the show gets going, when you've had a chance to get to know the contestants, when you're rooting for some and against others. These early shows are fine and all but they're not really the point.

Also, did Randy reveal a real mean streak tonight or was that just me?

Fight terrorism: legalize drugs

In Slate, Anne Applebaum talks sense about poppies in Afghanistan:
At the moment, Afghanistan's opium exports account for somewhere between two-thirds and one-third of the country's GDP, depending on whether you believe the United Nations or the United States. The biggest producers are in the southern provinces where the Taliban is at its strongest. Every time a poppy field is destroyed, a poor person becomes poorer—and more likely to support the Taliban against the Western forces who wrecked his crops.
See also, in Applebaum's piece, the fact that legalizing poppy production worked in Turkey in the 70s, boosting the country's (legal) economy and increasing overall stability. Would work in Afghanistan, too, where it would dramatically reduce the Taliban's influence...
Obama's in. Announces exploratory committee here.

UPDATE [1/16 4:52pm] ... One of my professors here in DC just wandered by saying he thought Obama had received bad advice, that he's too young, that he shouldn't run this year. "He's two years removed from the state senate," he said, and, "He could run 20 years from now." I told him he'd been inside the beltway too long. "You Washington people don't know what it's like out there in the real America," I said.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Posner's pro-disenfranchisement ruling

Despite writing that it "will deter some people from voting," Judge Richard Posner has ruled in favor of Indiana's law requiring a state-issued ID card in order to vote:
On one side of the balance in this case is the effect of requiring a photo ID in inducing eligible voters to disfranchise themselves. That effect, so far as the record reveals, is slight. The principal evidence on which the plaintiffs relied to show that many voters would be disfranchised was declared by the district judge to be "totally unreliable" because of a number of methodological flaws; and we accept her finding.
On the other side of the ledger, Posner writes, is voter fraud. Though he faults opponents of the law for lacking hard evidence of disenfranchisement, he proceeds to argue his case on the grounds that voter fraud is theoretically easy to accomplish. Bit of a pot-kettle problem...

The flaw in Posner's reasoning, as usual I guess, is a failure of empathy. To Posner, an ID requirement is a mild hassle. But to many people, especially people of a lower socioeconomic class than Posner's, being forced to show an ID to a state official just to be allowed to enter a voting booth is intimidating. So on his own terms Posner's math is off: he undercounts the disenfranchisement cost.

More to the point, he willfully ignores the political motivation behind Indiana's voter-ID requirement. This is where Judge Terence Evans's crisp dissenting opinion (p. 11) slays Posner:
Let’s not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.

...The fig leaf of respectability providing the motive behind this law is that it is necessary to prevent voter fraud--a person showing up at the polls pretending to be someone else. But where is the evidence of that kind of voter fraud in this record? Voting fraud is a crime (punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 in Indiana) and, at oral argument, the defenders of this law candidly acknowledged that no one--in the history of Indiana--had ever been charged with violating that law.
So it's not exactly a serious problem crying out for a regulatory solution. More like, it's a self-serving way for Republicans to suppress Democratic voter turnout.

(via Daily Harold, who also has worthwhile thoughts on the opinion...)

Friday, January 12, 2007

The video of Ald. Troutman's press conference is full of heckling (by and at Troutman's aldermanic challenger David Neely), planted questions from supporters ("Does it seem like these indictments that are being handed down are politically motivated?") and an old lady getting shouted down by the crowd. In short it's a must-view.

You know, in a lot of cities, the things Troutman is accused of doing (and keeping in her house) would be a political liability...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Chicago people: What do you think of WBEZ's new schedule? Do you miss the boring jazz? Is it sweet to have Eight Forty-Eight rebroadcast at night? I am curious cuz I am out of earshot of the station.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush's terrible speech promoting a terrible idea

How bad an idea is it to increase troop levels? The Joint Chiefs of Staff are against it; the foreign policy establishment is against it; both houses of Congress are against it.

And the American people? Well they're really against it, as Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's political blog The Fix notes:
Two new surveys suggest that the landscape on which Bush will deliver his remarks tonight is tilted heavily against him. Both polls were conducted in the first days of 2007. The USA Today/Gallup poll was in the field from Jan. 5-7, testing 1,004 adults. The poll had a 3.1 percent margin of error. The CBS News survey spanned Jan. 1-3 and sampled 993 adults. ...

The surveys show that not only have Americans soured on the Iraq war, they have also experienced a major loss of faith in Bush's ability to make the sound choices about the conflict. Just 26 percent of the CBS News sample expressed "confidence" in the president's "ability to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq," while 72 percent pronounced themselves "uneasy." Though Democrats' distrust of Bush (7 percent "confidence"/92 percent "distrust") is nothing new, Independents (19 confidence/79 distrust) and even Republicans (63 confidence/37 distrust) have grown more and more skeptical that Bush has a plan to win the war. Should the erosion among Independents and Republicans continue, GOPers seeking office in 2007 and 2008 have real reason to worry.
(Emphasis added; original links.) Percentage of Americans who want to see troop levels increased? According to CBS News, 18 percent. According USA Today/Gallup, 12 percent.
The aldermen doth protest too much, methinks...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My story about the House minimum wage and stem cell bills posted here. And check out the hot new Medill DC site...

So long, Chicken Man

Okay, this is a weird one, but today while I was sitting outside Rep. Sam Graves's office waiting for an interview I read this story in the Washington Times about a guy who teaches cockfighting. He's closing up his school and he's sad:
"I've been hooked on cockfighting since I was a little boy," Mr. Ratliff said, recalling how he watched at age 5 as hatchlings pecked each other bloody. "There is no one to take my place."
Ah, the old days, when you could take your son to the cockfighting ring without having to worry about a bunch of intrusive government legislation...
Lotta more Troutman commentary at the Beachwood Reporter, where Steve Rhodes has a little fun with the Sun-Times' sudden discovery of the alderman's bad judgment:
The Sun-Times editorial page, which endorsed Todd Stroger, says Troutman's arrest "just adds to city cynicism."

The Sun-Times editorial page also says "Since her appointment to the City Council in 1990, Troutman has distinguished herself mostly for her lack of good judgement."

Gee, is that why the paper has endorsed her four each of her four elections? Let's review. ...

Check me out

AMillionMonkeys profiled by Centerstage Chicago. Welcome, Jessica Herman readers...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Feds arrest Ald. Arenda Troutman

Ald. Arenda Troutman, Daley appointee and alleged Black Disciple girlfriend, arrested by feds on corruption charges.

UPDATE [1/8 5:14pm] ... The Tribune has posted the 27-page affadavit [pdf] of FBI agent Joan Marie Hyde. The case sketched by the affadavit is a pretty standard-issue bribes-for-zoning-permits scheme on S. Halsted St. More interesting are the details revealed along the way, like in this scene:
During interviews with agents, CW2 [Cooperating Witness #2] stated that a few months after the July 23, 2003 closing, CW2 asked Troutman for a cash loan needed to pay a plumbing contractor. Thereafter, CW2 met Troutman in the basement of her Kimbark home, where Troutman retrieved a box containing stacks of cash; removed $10,000 of it; then gave the cash to CW2.
Need ten Gs? No problem, I'll just grab it out of the box of cash I keep in my basement. (Q. Think she kept it in her freezer?)

Or behold the self-pity and self-rationalization heard in Troutman's own words, as reported in the affadavit: "Everyone needs me," Troutman says, "shit, what about me, I need something too."

In the end, her own summary of her profession seems most apt:
"Well, the thing is, most aldermen, most politicians are hos."
UPDATE #2 [1/8 5:53pm] ... More on Troutman from Levois at Illinoize...
The Politico, the soon-to-launch web publication described in this NYT story, has advertisements all over the Metro stations around here. Seems promising, but I guess we'll found out soon enough...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My story on the Supreme Court oral arguments in Stenberg v. Carhart, a partial-birth abortion case, can be found here. I only just today noticed that it had been posted.
I don't know if this is that new, but here's an interesting interview with Jamie Lidell from The Believer...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pynchon and predestination

The American Prospect has an interesting review by Eric Rauchway of the new Thomas Pynchon novel Against the Day. Rauchway fits the book into the rest of Pynchon's work, charting the new, (slightly) less deterministic worldview advanced in Against the Day.

Even though I was only about halfway through the book and enjoying it very much, I had to leave my copy back in Chicago. That 1,100-page hardback was too heavy to pack.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Will he play in St. Joseph?

Saw Barack Obama at yesterday's swearing-in reception for Claire McCaskill, freshman senator from Missouri. He was posing for pictures, pressing flesh. Think he can win in Missouri in '08? The state voted for Bush twice, but before that it voted for Clinton twice...
Many mazel tovs to Jeremy & Lindsay on the birth of their daughter Olivia! I think it's sweet that they decided to name their firstborn child after one of our cats.

Quick hits

I've been getting acclimated to DC and battling an uncooperative wireless signal all week, so posting has been light, but that is about to change with a quickness. By way of catch-up here are a few quick snacks:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I am in DC

Today I wasn't available when the radio producer called me because I was riding the secret subway underneath Capitol Hill. I am allowed to ride it because I am credentialed. Would've liked to speak to that radio producer, though.

In the press rooms in the Capitol Building there are long rows of phone booths that no one uses anymore. It's easy to imagine the reporters there 20 or 50 years ago, tilting their fedoras and smoking cigarettes while dictating copy to somebody's secretary. Today everyone walks through the hallways typing with their thumbs.

I want to say more but I am kind of beat. I miss my wife and cats. Many more stories to come.