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IS WAL-MART THE...

IS WAL-MART THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS? I think I'll throw my lot in with Michelle Cottle and Wal-Mart (sigh) on this one. There aren't very many industries I'd wish the Beast of Bentonville on. I'd have preferred they kept out of the unionized, value-oriented grocery sector, for instance. But insofar as I would like to unleash Sam Walton 's creation on anyone, the banking industry, which Cottle correctly characterized as operating off a "screw-the-consumer business model," is pretty high up there. Not only are the current banking behemoths grossly ripping consumers off through transaction and ATM fees, but geographical inequities abound, with large swaths of the (poor) populace lacking access to any sort of accredited, serious financial institution, and turning instead to sharkish corner stores and money order merchants. Were Wal-Mart to enter the game, many of those inequities would instantly vanish, millions of poorer folks would have access to a serious banking alternative, and some...

FRED HIATT REFUSES...

FRED HIATT REFUSES ACCOUNTABILITY; BILL KELLER ACCEPTS IT. The big news organizations need to come to terms with their role in spreading White House misinformation -- and their failure to dig out the truth -- in the run-up to the Iraq war. Because if they don't, they risk making the same catastrophic mistakes again in the run-up to the possible conflict with Iran -- and those mistakes could have even graver consequences. Bill Keller understands this. Fred Hiatt doesn't. The fact that some powerful media figures still won't accept accountability for their pre-war blunders is awfully discouraging -- it suggests that they're fully prepared to commit those blunders all over again. Case in point: Today's Washington City Paper has an extraordinary interview with Hiatt, in which reporter Eric Wemple notes that the Post editorial board hasn't yet apologized for its role in spreading the Bush administration's pre-war deceptions, and asks Hiatt if they'll ever issue a mea culpa. Says the piece...

OF LEGACIES AND...

OF LEGACIES AND LEADERS. Mike Crowley notices Sy Hersh 's ascribing Bush 's enthusiasm for an attack on Iran to the "legacy thing": Bush wants to be remembered for saving Iran, not merely wrecking Iraq. Which reminds me, anybody else remember the press's obsession with Bill Clinton 's second-term legacy-building? I can't recall Clinton ever mentioning it, but the media's spin on every single one of his late initiatives, no matter how innocuous or broadly supportable, was that that self-interested ego-hound was deploying American capital, treasure, and spirit to ensure himself some piece of political immortality. Meanwhile, Bush tried to restructure Social Security, is hinting at a grand bargain to fully rebuild our country's Big Three entitlement programs, and now seems to be hungrily eyeing Iran, and not a moment of consideration is ever given to the guy's motives. --Ezra Klein

IRAN REALITY. One...

IRAN REALITY. One thing that makes the Iran issue difficult is that one side is led by a religious fanatic suffering delusions of grandeur with a taste for demagogic posturing and the other country has, well, about the same. Thus, it seems that American and Iranian officials alike are exaggerating the successes of the Iranian nuclear program, each for their own reasons, needlessly boiling the pot. The good news, as Andrew Sabl points out is that the American people are now -- rightfully -- disinclined to trust Bush on the question of war with Iran. That means effective political leadership from the opposition party ought to be able to put real constraints on the White House's freedom to mess things up. But as TAP founder Bob Kuttner pointed out in his speech on "American Foreign Policy as Political Failure" earlier this weak, effective leadership from the opposition has been sadly lacking in recent years. With the surprising (but heartening) exception of Jane Harman , I haven't seen...

BILL KELLER AND...

BILL KELLER AND THE BLOGS. Bill Keller is answering questions at The New York Times 's site this week, and at one point he offered a somewhat testy view of the blogosphere in responding to a couple of readers who wrote in asking about the Judith Miller affair. Keller responded: Sigh. I can't imagine that there is anything to say about the Judy Miller episode that I have not already said, publicly and to The Times staff, over and over. At The Times, as in most of the media-watching world, we have registered the Miller saga as an important cautionary tale, and moved on. But the story has an afterlife in the impending trial of Scooter Libby, and, as our Q&A mailbag demonstrates, the subject has settled into some quarters of the blogosphere as a partisan obsession and an object of grassy-knoll conspiracy theories. The hard-core enthusiasts feed on blogs that have little to offer but harebrained speculation. (And they think Judy Miller was credulous!) ... [T]he experience last year has...

SOME RECOVERY. ...

SOME RECOVERY. Brad Plumer , wielding a fearsome EPI study, does a nice job debunking the claim that stagnating wages are merely the inevitable effect of rising health costs. As he notes, between 2004 and 2005 the bottom 20 percent saw their wages drop nearly 2%, but only 24% of this quintile receives employer-based health care. Had health costs leapt up 39%, they might be the explanation. Instead, they went up 9.2%, and likely less for these folks, who tend to receive substandard benefits. So while my sympathies go out to all those Gilded Age apologists out there, you just can't explain away the central economic problem of our time -- accelerating, unchecked inequality so pervasive that we're seeing an economic "recovery" with continuing wage slippage and poverty increases -- by claiming that the poor receive too much health care. --Ezra Klein

NOW THAT'S BRAND...

NOW THAT'S BRAND LOYALTY. Imagine if Coca-Cola, tired of seeing "New Coke" used as a universal signifier of a remarkably bad idea, blasted out a press release demanding that folks cease smearing the trademark of what was merely a sugared up soft drink concocted in accordance with a national survey of soda taste preferences. Oh the internets would laugh, and laugh, and laugh. So prepare to emit a chuckle in Grover Norquist 's direction . Because Grover, finally fed up with all the unfair smears aimed at his innocuous project to browbeat lobbying firms into hiring more conservatives and fewer Democrats, is seeking to patent the name "K Street Project," rescue it from its association with Jack Abramoff , and make a quick buck along the way: �Some people say Kleenex when they mean tissue,� Norquist said. �We will jealously guard the real phrasing the way Kleenex and Coca-Cola do. We will sue anyone who says it wrong and make lots of money.� Ah Grover, what would we do without you? --Ezra...

HARDBALL. It's...

HARDBALL. It's a bit Machiavellian, but what a move . Turns out that a hefty chunk of congressional Republicans wanted to delete James Sensenbrenner 's provision turning all illegal immigrants into felons. Too explosive, they thought, to unite behind a bill that would render 1.6 million children serious criminals hiding on the lam. The Bush administration asked Sensenbrenner to soften the offense of lacking a visa to a misdemeanor and so he did, offering an amendment to that effect. The amendment failed, 164-257, with 191 Democrats voting to retain the harsh penalties: "From a strategic point of view, Democrats were not going to help Republicans pass the bad Sensenbrenner bill," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "With the felony provision in there, it is a poison pill, as we've seen from all the rallies around the country." Crider said that Republicans were the majority party in the House, and if they truly wanted to change the...

PROFILES IN COURAGE....

PROFILES IN COURAGE. This is pretty disappointing stuff. A Senate bill, cosponsored by a variety of leading Democrats, to force call centers to identify their country of origin at the beginning of the call. Exactly why the United States Senate has to force the dude handling your tech support to mention that he's in New Delhi isn't really explained, but I assume it's just such a nice merging of protectionism and Clintonian incrementalism that opportunistic senators simply couldn't resist. In the end, though, a bill like this doesn't penalize outsourcing, it doesn't help the unexpectedly unemployed, and it doesn't do anything about globalization -- it just whips up some resentment again foreigners. If Democrats want to seriously address the downsides of free trade, they should (it'd be damn well about time). Instead, they want to look like they're addressing the downsides of free trade, while not actually making any of the hard decisions or substantive trade offs a coherent policy...

WHERE DO YOU...

WHERE DO YOU COME FROM, WHERE DO YA GO? After Monday's immigration marches, The National Review 's Cliff May crept forth with a dark, ominous post wondering about the shadowy groups organizing these demonstrations and the nature of their true "agenda." Well May can take that extra layer of tin foil off his hat, because the answers are out , and they're pretty innocuous. According to the AP, the story goes something like this: After James Sensenbrenner brought his endearingly medieval outlook to the issue, a hastily called confab of unions, civil rights groups, and religious organizations met in California. The consortium decided to sponsor some rallies with a simple purpose: against Sensenbrenner's legislation, for some undefined path to citizenship. Outreach was conducted primarily through Hispanic radio, e-mail, and churches, with the Service Employees International Union and the Catholic Church eventually taking the lead, particularly on funding. The rallies tapped into the...

DEAN CALLS FOR...

DEAN CALLS FOR DECLASSIFICATION RE WASHPOST PIECE. DNC Chairman Howard Dean this morning called on the Bush administration to declassify a 2003 Defense Intelligence Agency-sponsored report that undercuts a key administration claim about Saddam Hussein -era Iraqi weapons. As reported in this morning�s Washington Post , the DIA sent a team of experts to Iraq in May 2003 to examine trailers that were suspected of carrying equipment needed to make biological weapons. The team determined that the trailers did not contain such material, and reported that finding to Washington on May 27, 2003. Two days later, President Bush said, �We have found the weapons of mass destruction.� Dean, at this morning�s Prospect breakfast meeting with roughly two dozen journalists, said, "We are going to call, probably today, for the declassification of the report.� He wouldn�t say whether he had already spoken to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi about this strategy, but one source said that such conversations...

PSA. For the...

PSA. For the past few months, spammers have bombarded our comments section. It came to a point where, for a brief period yesterday morning, they had brought down all of TAP Online . We had to temporarily deactivate the comments section to look into this problem more carefully, but it should all be resolved later today. Sorry for the inconvenience. --Alec Oveis

ABOUT THAT SCLEROSIS....

ABOUT THAT SCLEROSIS. The economic performance of the large continental European economies -- France, Italy, and Germany -- really does leave a great deal to be desired. That said, the American press seems dogmatically determined to vastly overstate the extent of the problems. This editorial in my morning paper argues that "European governments seem unable to summon the strength even to address the economic sclerosis eating away their prosperity -- much less challenge American power." Mixed metaphor aside, Europe isn't becoming less prosperous . Rather, it's becoming more prosperous at a slow rate . If Europeans were actually getting poorer, then I think you'd see much more electoral support for dramatic changes. As things stand, it's always worth noting that European economic growth could be boosted rather easily if the European Central Bank would loosen monetary policy. My understanding is that they've been maintaining a tighter-than-necessary monetary policy in order to...

BOOING CHENEY. This...

BOOING CHENEY. This is bizarre. Dick Cheney was selected to throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener yesterday and got booed as he took the mound because he's ridiculously unpopular . This, as Jane Hamsher notes , was reported by The Washington Post thusly: The first pitch of the Washington Nationals� second season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was low and away, bouncing in the dirt before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider. For that, Vice President Cheney received a round of boos from the home crowd this afternoon. By all other accounts in the press and rather plainly on the Post 's video , Cheney was getting booed from the beginning just as you would expect. --Matthew Yglesias

ITALY'S STABLE INSTABILITY....

ITALY'S STABLE INSTABILITY. Earlier today, Ezra linked to an article suggesting that Italy's history of unstable governments is a contributor to the difficulty of introducing economic reforms. A National Review editorial makes a similar claim: Prodi's coalition is a gamut of nine parties � running from two Communist parties at one extreme to liberals and Catholics at another � all of them unable to agree either on political ends or on means. It should be child's play for Berlusconi or any opposition to bring down such a government and return to the routine of the last 50 years, in which Italian prime ministers have come and gone in rapid succession as though through revolving doors. The famous fact is that during the immediate post-WWII era, Italy had something like fifty governments in fifty years (The Donnas beat that pace by a wide margin) which seems excessive. This "instability," however, masked a great deal of underlying sameness. A single political party was the dominant force...

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