TAPPED

KNOW WHEN TO...

KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM. One idea I've seen kicking around the past couple of days is that talk of military strikes against Iran may be part of some kind of clever gamesmanship designed to achieve a diplomatic resolution. I think people need to think harder about that. Airstrikes would, at best, delay Iranian acquisition of nukes. Giving in to the United States would, of course, entail abandoning the quest for them entirely. So the structure of Bush's offer, under this theory, would be "either give up your nukes or else I'll slightly delay the point at which you can get them." That, I think, isn't quite in "offer they can't refuse" territory. Indeed, they'd have no reason whatsoever to accept that offer. It's a pointless threat. The only way to make this work would be to put carrots on the table. "Give up your nukes and we'll lift our sanctions and grant you diplomatic recognition, or else I'll use force to slightly delay the point at which you can go nuclear." This will work, of course...

ROBERT SHRUM DISPUTES...

ROBERT SHRUM DISPUTES JOE KLEIN'S ACCOUNT OF KERRY CAMPAIGN. Robert Shrum , the chief strategist for John Kerry 's presidential campaign, is disputing some aspects of a forthcoming account by Joe Klein of the 2004 campaign, saying Klein's version is "inaccurate" and "misleading." In his latest Time magazine column, Klein published an excerpt of the book, one which offers a scathing look at the inner dynamics of Kerry's campaign. In the piece, Klein asserts that Kerry allowed himself "to be smothered by his consultants," and cites as a key example the campaign's handling of the Abu Gharib scandal: Perhaps the worst moment came with the Bush Administration torture scandal: How to respond to Abu Ghraib? Hold a focus group. But the civilians who volunteered for an Arkansas focus group were conflicted; ultimately, they believed the Bush Administration should do whatever was necessary to extract information from the "terrorists." The consultants were unanimous in their recommendation to the...

A SQUEAKER IN...

A SQUEAKER IN ITALY. It looks like Romani Prodi 's center-left coalition will eke out a very narrow victory against hilarious crook-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi . If so, Italian society may soon prove less divided than it seems. Even the narrowest of margins for Prodi's coalition would allow him to remedy the current situation where some television stations are owned by Berlusconi, and the other television stations are owned by Berlusconi's government. Everyone likes to complain about media bias, but the situation the Italian left's been dealing with is truly off the charts. --Matthew Yglesias

OVERTHROW ME ONCE,...

OVERTHROW ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU... Over at The Times , Floyd Norris makes an interesting point on France's surprisingly rapid abandonment of their proposed economic reforms: One reason for the reluctance of the French and the Italians to stick by what the politicians see as needed changes is the longtime insecurity of governments, in contrast to relatively stable political situations in countries like the United States and Britain. In Italy, there has been a history of short-lived governments in much of the time since the end of World War II, albeit many of these governments were populated by the same politicians. Mr. Berlusconi has been an exception, managing to last a full parliamentary term. In France, change has been much slower in one way � Mr. Chirac has been in office for more than a decade � but French governments seem to be less confident in their mandate. French history is full of violent changes in government, not least the French Revolution, and current politicians can...

K STREET GIVETH......

K STREET GIVETH... Two amusing K Street-related notes regarding Tom DeLay 's imminent retirement: First, see Jesse Lee for the latest on lobbyists getting a wee bit testy about DeLay converting the re-election campaign contributions they raised for him into funds for his legal expenses. �If I wanted to give to a legal fund, I would�ve done it directly,� Roll Call quotes one lobbyist; says another, "That all this money will go to the legal defense fund, it sickens me." Meanwhile, former DeLay (and Dennis Hastert ) aide John Feehery 's Sunday Washington Post op-ed is worth a read for the dirt it dishes on DeLay's rogue minions, Ed Buckham , Mike Scanlon , and Tony Rudy . Do be wary of the good-man-wronged-by-perfidious-underlings narrative Feehery is aiming for, however. Given the prominence of the K Street Project in discussions of DeLay's legacy (see Michael Barone 's delightfully forthright defense of the gambit from last week), it's worth noting that Feehery himself is a direct and...

JUST POSTED ON...

JUST POSTED ON TAP: A MASSACHUSETTS MIRACLE. Robert Kuttner explains how advocates of universal health care should respond to the new legislation out of Massachusetts. Now onto a different matter: Does anyone else miss those desperate pleas for more subscribers? I certainly do. --Alec Oveis

MEANWHILE IN CRAZY...

MEANWHILE IN CRAZY LAND. I have no idea what the provenance of the documents Bill Kristol is quoting here is exactly supposed to be, but they definitely don't show what he seems to think they show. What's going on here, plainly, is that Saddam Hussein was making plans for irregular warfare, possibly including terrorism, as contingency plans to be used in response to an American invasion , not that Saddam was plotting unprovoked terrorist attacks on the United States. --Matthew Yglesias

THE VIRTUES OF...

THE VIRTUES OF OBSTRUCTION . Over e-mail, Midterm Madness contributor Ben Adler has a smart response to my earlier post on Sebastian Mallaby : In addition to Ezra �s sharp fact-check on the A-Pox-on-Both-Their-Houses section of Sebastian Mallaby�s column, it�s worth noting the common, but silly, assumption underlying Mallaby�s analysis. He accuses the congressional Democratic leadership of �hav[ing] mastered the art of obstructionism but [being] light on policy proposals.� That assumes that Democrats and Republicans share broad agreement about what problems the nation faces in most areas. But, on many issues, the parties disagree not merely about means but about ends. Republicans think the tax code is too progressive, Democrats think it�s too regressive. So yes, Democrats attempt to �obstruct� efforts to make the estate tax repeal permanent and offer no �alternative.� But what�s wrong with that? The Dems are simply holding their principles. Anyway, obstructionism or lack of ideas is...

SO DO SOMETHING...

SO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. There's little more annoying in modern punditry than on-the-other-handism, that irksome little quirk that causes professional pundits to sully perfectly sound columns by ending their focused critiques with indiscriminate, incoherent sprays of blame. Today's example? Sebastian Mallaby , who concisely dismantles the modern GOP's contempt for governance and then, out of nowhere, ruins it with a meaningless, inaccurate shot at the Democrats. The Republicans' dismal performance could shake their grip on power -- much as the gold-ingot episode upset Japan's politics. But the top congressional Democrats seem barely more attractive than the Republicans; they have mastered the art of obstructionism but are light on policy proposals. In Japan in the 1990s, the collapse of the cronyistic ruling party was expected to usher in economic change that would pull the country out of its financial swamp. Instead, reform proceeded at a glacial pace, and it took a full decade for...

SILVIO, HE GOTTA...

SILVIO, HE GOTTA GO. If these exit polls prove correct, it looks like Romano Prodi �s center-left coalition has defeated Silvio Berlusconi in Italy�s general election. On the one hand, this election could be considered a setback for the xenophobic right to whom Berlusconi pandered in the campaign�s waning days. But as far as I can tell, the biggest loser of this election might well be the editors of The Economist , who look like they are about to lose their favo(u)rite whipping boy of the last decade or so. To be sure, Berlusconi is an easy target, but Bill Emmett and co. elevated their Berlusconi coverage to an art form. For the sake of sarcasm and wit in political reporting, here�s hoping Berlusconi doesn�t fade from the political scene. Sure, he might be a pernicious influence on Italian democracy, but he is just so irrepressibly entertaining for foreign observers like me, that it would be sad to see him go. Well, almost. -- Mark Leon Goldberg

LIFE DECLINES TO...

LIFE DECLINES TO IMITATE ART. Reading the West Wing piece Mike linked to, I stumbled across this tidbit I'd not known: On that score, Mr. Sheen was offered an opportunity to see how his character's appeal would play in a real-life campaign. Not long ago, he said, he was approached by Democratic Party representatives from his native state, Ohio, to see if he would be interested in running for the United States Senate after he left the show. Though he would have had little trouble drafting a campaign platform � he is a fierce opponent of nuclear power and the war in Iraq, and a champion of human rights � he turned them down. So Paul Hackett wouldn't have been the only telegenic neophyte punching his way through the primary. Intuitively appealing as a Bartlett candidacy might be, though, Sheen made the right decision turning them down. It's one thing for a party to court celebrity when they've a dearth of good candidates -- see California's decimated Republican Party and Arnold...

THE EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION...

THE EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION RACKET. Direct compensation for top CEO's went up by "only" 16 percent in 2005 after a more robust 41 percent in 2004. By comparison, median wages increased 3.2 percent in 2005 and somewhat less than that in 2004. Obviously, this is due to a dramatic acceleration in CEO productivity, catapulting the value of the top suits to ever-higher multiples of the value of the rest of us. Maybe. Well, actually, definitely not. Check out Gretchen Morgensen 's fantastic New York Times article on the executive compensation racket and the not-so-independent independent consultants and compensation boards who make it happen. --Matthew Yglesias

HALFWAY HOME. As...

HALFWAY HOME. As I had predicted, Matt Santos won the presidency last night on The West Wing , eking out a surprise win in Nevada. Now the stage is set for the completion of my prediction, the more interesting second part: Santos, in the wake of Leo McGarry �s death, names Arnold Vinick as his national unity vice-president. Is there any question about this now? Indeed, the only question is that it seems so ludicrously obvious that they might not do it just to throw us a curve. Incredibly, Jacques Steinberg �s piece in today�s Times about how the writers flipped from a Vinick win to a Santos victory after the real-life John Spencer died didn�t even go into the veepstakes scenarios. The episode, by the way, was great. And even though Santos won South Carolina and Vinick Vermont, it otherwise was rich in verisimilitude, with no hint that the fate of the nation was hanging on the results from Berkshire County. --Michael Tomasky

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES....

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES. We learn in today's Washington Post that the military is running a covert propaganda campaign aimed at exaggerating the importance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in particular and al Qaeda in general in Iraq. In theory this is supposed to be aimed at Iraqis (which is legal), but in practice it seems to have been partially aimed at Americans (which is illegal), and as we saw with the last covert propaganda story, the distinction is pretty meaningless in the contemporary world. There's a lot that could be said about this issue, but how about this one for starters -- information operations are always a part of war, but it should give you some pause when your main information operations are aimed at misleading people as to the fundamental nature of the conflict you're dealing with. Basically, the administration is trying to create an entirely fictional war in which the USA has over 100,000 troops stationed in Iraq because they're fighting al Qaeda. That simply isn't what...

THE NERD PATROL...

THE NERD PATROL GETS RICH. This isn't necessarily surprising, but it's nice nonetheless. A recent study analyzing government funding for scientific research found higher returns than previously thought, with grateful scientists filing patents and founding start-ups at a surprisingly rapid clip. That's instructive, as the primary driver of this bit of economic growth is the National Institute of Heath, which has seen its funding stagnate during the Bush era, in stark contrast to the 250 percent increase of the Clinton years. But funding for scientific research really shouldn't be a partisan issue. These grants don't interfere with the market so much as kickstart it: 70 percent of scientists filed their patents through their university's technology transfer office (the arm that commercializes university research). The rest went the entrepreneurial route, resulting in a full quarter of scientists who've received patents reporting that they've founded businesses. The taxpayer dollars fund...

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