Monthly Archives: April 2010

2010 Is Equal To Or Greater Than 1994

Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right:

I might be setting myself for a healthy serving of crow on November 3rd, but I get a distinct feeling that the GOP may be headed toward to a seat gain in the House of epic proportions — somewhere over 50 seats and well above the historical high point for recent wave elections (the 50-55 seats we experienced in elections like 1946 and 1994).

All in all, I don’t think a 70 seat gain is out of the question.

I’ll admit that a lot of this is prediction is pure gut. I probably sounded crazy when I said Marco Rubio kinda had a shot against Crist a year ago, and that Scott Brown kinda had a shot against Coakley, but if anything I wished I’d been even bolder in those predictions given the roller-coaster volatility of this political environment.

Not all elections are created equal. In most elections, most incumbents have an impregnable advantage and elections are fought between the 40-yard-lines.

This is not one of those elections.

It’s true that people are pissed, etc. etc. It’s true that Republicans benefit from an enthusiasm gap, etc. etc. But when you see numbers like dissatisfied independents lining up 66 to 13 percent behind the Republican candidate for Congress, and Republicans leading by 20 among very enthusiastic voters, all the momentum — not most of it — is in one direction. That last bastion of political stability — incumbent advantage — is inoperative in this political environment as incumbency has been become tantamount to a four letter word. Just 49 percent would re-elect their Congressman, compared to 40 percent who would throw the bum out. That’s significant. Usually, people want to throw Congress over the ledge while toasting their Congressman.

Andrew Sullivan:

Just begging for that Von Hoffmann Award are we, Patrick? So much can happen between now and then. This is a volatile electorate and a core part of the Democratic base – Hispanics – have just been put on notice by the GOP.

Michael Barone at The Examiner:

Lest you write off his projection that a 70-seat Republican gain (which would leave Republicans with a 248-187 majority, larger than any they have won since 1928) keep in mind that Ruffini was one of the very first to predict that Marco Rubio could become the leader in the Florida Senate race and that Scott Brown had a very real chance to win in Massachusetts. Here I should add the usual caveats about how opinion can change and the balance of enthusiasm could change even faster. But the Democrats’ current tactic of prioritizing legislation to weaken Republicans’ standings (among all voters on financial regulation, among Hispanics on immigration, among young voters on cap-and-trade and the environment) doesn’t really address their current problem, which is that the Democrats’ standing among voters is at a record low and that they’re getting pasted in polls despite the fact that the Republicans’ standing among voters is not particularly high.

Ruffini seems to be thinking along the same lines as Democrat William Galston who, as I noted in a blogpost earlier this morning, believes that the Democrats’ political prioritizing could “turn all-but-certain Democratic losses into a rout of historic proportions.” Historic indeed: not even David Broder has a living memory of the 1928 election.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Democrats should read this, and weep. The midterm elections may not be as bad as Ruffini predicts — but they will very, very bad. Virtually every bit of polling data points to an epic loss by Democrats.

Mr. Obama may indeed be a political miracle worker — but for Republicans, not Democrats.

James Joyner:

Even in a “normal” year, we’d expect a lot of Republican gains.  First, it’s an off-year election and the president’s party almost always loses seats.  Second, there are a bunch of Democrats holding seats that were specifically drawn to elect Republicans.

The main thing holding me back from jumping on Patrick’s bandwagon here is that we don’t have a Newt Gingrich this year.  Further, there’s no pro-Republican wave to ride.  So, essentially, he’s counting on the GOP to pick up 70 seats — a full 16 percent of all the seats and 28 percent of the seats currently held by Democrats — on the virtue of sheer anger at the status quo.

Again, I’ll emphasize that I didn’t predict the magnitude of 1994 or 2006, either.  I tend to be overly conservative in my estimates of outcomes, taking the steady state as the default position absent compelling polling data to the contrary.    And even I think the Republicans have an outside chance — but just an outside chance — of taking back both the House and Senate.   But 70 seats?  With this gang leading the charge?  I’ll believe it when I see it.

Daniel Larison:

Four years ago, a presidential party in the sixth year of a deeply unpopular President’s administration lost just 30 seats. This year, the presidential party is coming off of two elections in which they won over 50% of the vote, and we are headed into the first midterm election during the administration of a President whose RCP average approval rating is currently 48%. It would be extremely odd for a presidential party to lose more than 30 seats with Presidential approval that high, especially when that average rating has never dipped below 46% since inauguration. Indeed, it has remained remarkably stable over the last five months. In 1993-94, Clinton’s Gallup approval rating dropped into the mid-30s on occasion before recovering to 46% by the time of the election, and Obama’s Gallup approval rating currently stands at 51% and has never dropped below 45%. If that 51% rating were to hold, the average loss for a presidential party with a presidential approval rating of 50-59% is 12 seats. Obviouly, economic weakness and political issues specific to this Congress are going to make things worse for the Democrats than that, but it is still something of a reach under these circumstances to project a 30-seat loss, to say nothing of 50 or the absurd 70.

My view is that a 30-seat prediction is at least reasonable, but Republican gains of more than 25 seats still seem unlikely. Depending on how toss-up seats fall, my guess is that Democrats will lose between 18-23 House seats and probably five seats in the Senate. It is difficult to find the actual districts where this 40-seat takeover is going to happen. Yes, things could change, we could continue to have a recovery without any decrease in unemployment, and the majority could foolishly pursue an immigration bill this year that could seriously harm them. It is also possible that enough voters will remember how the Republicans governed when they were in power and recoil from them as the year goes on much as people in Britain have started recoiling from Labour as polling day approaches.

Republican pundits and analysts who have been enthusing over the impending mega-victory they are going to win have already made sure that they will lose the expectations game. Not content with aggressive predictions of winning control of the House, which has already potentially set them up for the appearance of failure, some have been pushing the expectations of Republican gains beyond what any modern American political party can possibly deliver under present circumstances. Between Marco Rubio’s “single greatest pushback in American history” hype, increasingly unrealistic claims about Democratic weakness, and wild predictions of unprecedented postwar midterm gains, anything short of a resounding Republican triumph will be seen as a missed opportunity at best and a disaster at worst.

Something Ruffini does not address in his post is the extent to the which the public continues to blame Bush for both deficit and economic woes. That doesn’t mean that Democrats can rely on anti-Bush sentiment for a third straight election, but it has to weaken the appeal of the GOP when the party’s prominent figures continue to try to rehabilitate and praise Bush and effectively reinforce the identification between the current party and the Bush era. According to the new ABC/Post poll, the GOP itself continues to have very poor favorability ratings, its Congressional leadership loses in match-ups against Obama on most issues, and it continues to trail Democrats on being trusted to handle “the main problems” the country faces. Even in the generic ballot, respondents have been moving back to the Democrats (a three-point GOP lead has turned into a five-point deficit since February in the ABC poll), and the generic ballot average now gives Republicans just a 1-point advantage. Perhaps I am missing something, but this does not seem to have the makings of an unprecedentedly large Republican blowout win. Instead, it looks like things are shaping up for a modest and perhaps even below-average performance for the non-presidential party.

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Filed under History, Politics

And Now The Caplan Has Been Cloned!

Bryan Caplan:

Now that I’m finishing up Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, another controversial passage is on the chopping block.  In the current draft, this paragraph concludes my discussion of cloning:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally.  Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet.  Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.  Seriously.  I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share.  I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.  I’m not pushing others to clone themselves.  I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream.  I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone.  Is that too much to ask?

My reasons to keep it, as before, are: (a) it makes a good point, and (b) angry reactions would confirm my broader thesis that many people senselessly oppose assisted reproductive technology.  The downside, of course, is alienating otherwise sympathetic readers.  The upside of the downside is that controversy is excellent publicity.  Should my cloning confession make the final cut?

Advise me.

Tyler Cowen:

If you don’t like his proposal for a cloned son, I will ask why you think your preferred degree of genetic similarity — between you and your next kid — is right and Bryan’s is wrong.

More Cowen:

I don’t have the same preference as Bryan, far from it.  I think most of us desire children who are “too similar to us” and there are obvious Darwinian reasons why this is the case.  Nonetheless we should try to overcome this attitude and there are many successful instances of adopted children or various other “mixed” arrangements, such as foster parents.  We can only hope there will be more and that means we need a greater flexibility of intuitions about parenting and inheritance.

As a proud step-parent, I find it increasingly odd how many of you insist on the “fifty percent solution.”  Ew!  What if it — heaven forbid — looks like you?  What if you’re both economists named Keynes?  But there’s more: the rest of your daughter looks just like the woman you chose to marry?  Yuck!!!!!  And so on.  Maybe you all think that fifty percent is great but one hundred percent is unacceptable, when it comes to the genes.  Good luck arguing that one with a committed nominalist.  And I bet most of you don’t find it repugnant if a father wants a son rather than a daughter, but similarity of gender is pretty important too.

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)  Furthermore I think his intuitions about similarity, and child-rearing, will change once (some of) his kids start rebelling against him.

Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them.  It’s not so different from how some people find gay people, and also “what they do,” to be disgusting.  They also don’t want gay people to be adopting children because they see that as offensive too.  It’s not, least of all for the child.

That all said, I guess he shouldn’t put the passage in his book.

Brad DeLong:

Before, all he wanted was to claim that women in the 1880s were “more free” than women today–than, for example, the character Carrie Bradshaw played by Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”

Now–well, read for yourself


He wants to take the genes of the mother of his children out of the baby she is carrying and substitute his own genes in their place.

Wow. Just wow.

Steve Sailer:

Unfortunately, Professor Caplan doesn’t inform us what his wife thinks about his desire to create a child untainted by her genes. Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan bear his clone for him? Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan pick up after his clone for 21 years? Will Mrs. Caplan appreciate it when she and her husband’s immature clone get into an argument and Professor Caplan sides with his clone against his wife? Will she be concerned that he might favor his clone in his will over their mutual children?

Of course, that’s assuming that Bryan’s assumption that he and his clone would be Best Friends Forever is correct. More likely, the opposite would be true.
Generally speaking, people who would like to clone themselves tend to be arrogant and lacking in common sense. Their children will tend to also be arrogant and lacking in common sense. The interpersonal dynamics between cloner and clonee would likely be disastrous.
Are families in which the sons are exactly like the fathers happier? I don’t see a lot of evidence for that. In fact, I see a lot of evidence from memoirs and fiction that strong-willed fathers tend to have strong-willed sons, and the two clash relentlessly over who will be dominant. Too much similarity does not always make for happiness within a family.

Both Sailer and DeLong via Andrew Sullivan

More Sullivan

Jim Henley:

Caplan’s paragraph isn’t creepy because he wants to rear his own clone, but Caplan’s paragraph is creepy. Wanting to rear your own clone is eccentric, sure, and more than a little narcissistic, but I have a “Keep the Blogosphere Weird” bumper sticker across my Macbook screen, and man does it make blogging harder. To this day, I’m glad that Kim du Toit wrote the hilarious “Pussification of the Western Male” because, ridiculous as the essay was, it was exactly the kind of eccentricity – total, fucking eccentricity – DARPANet knew the country needed if it was going to survive a nuclear attack by the Russians.

The creepy part is compounded of his certainty that he and his clone-son will share a “sublime bond” and his avidity for it.

Tyler Cowen is right that it’s a bit narcissistic when we men prefer at least one son to only daughters. Caplan’s narcissism is so much greater and denser than that that I suspect it has an event horizon. But it’s worse than that.

For one thing: Let’s consider the Cap-Clone as a person in his own right for a second. That’s a hell of a lot of expectation to burden a kid with. Returning to Tyler’s “50-percent solution” parents again, we already know the minor and major tragedies that can ensue when parents have too-specific, too-intense hopes for their children. Caplan’s rebounding conviction that “he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me,” is every overbearing Dad’s determination that Junior become the same great athlete dad was/heir to the family business/doctor he could never be collected together and crushed down until the electrons all collapse into their nuclei. And Caplan is old enough that he should realize this.

For another thing: no, it’s not misogynist as such, but wanting to cut your wife out of the breeding program in hopes of a super-special dad-son relationship of a kind your actual existing children can’t provide strikes me as, at the very least, something better kept to yourself.

And, then, what if the joke’s on Caplan? Meaning, why is he so certain his bond will be all that sublime? Those of us who read Gide’s La Symphonie Pastorale in French class are surely thinking, “Thank heavens there was a movie version, even if it had subtitles.” But also: “Man, sometimes these things don’t work out so well.” cf. “Pygmalion.” (Why can’t a baby / be more like a professor?) Our protegées have a distressing habit of not being us, and resenting us for not being cool with that. The Google tells me that there’s no evidence that twins suffer higher degrees of sibling rivalry than singleton kids, and the anecdotal literature includes, yes! some sublime bonding (that causes its own problems). But monozygotic twins don’t just share chromosomes. They share environments, experiences and generational context. They are peers. Bryan Caplan and the Cap-Clone will be different ages, from different eras. Whatever experiences they share, one of them will experience it as a naive, only partially matured intellectual, emotional and moral being, and the other as a little kid. (STOP MAKING ME SAY THESE THINGS, DAVID HOROWITZ!) Plus, the Cap-Clone’s music will be just noise.

Jason Kuznicki at The League:

Bryan, I’m right with you about the stupidity of anti-cloning arguments. Most of them are just plain silly and not even worth discussing (“Will clones be less than human?” Only if you treat them that way…). Many anti-cloning arguments were trotted out not so long ago about IVF, and before that they had an equally dismal run against the smallpox vaccine. Hooray for cloning!

But here’s where you’re wrong. You are deluding yourself when you say you will experience a “sublime bond” with your cloned son. The bond will be no more, and possibly a good bit less, than the bond shared between identical twins. Romanticizing cloning is just as silly as demonizing it. And the more you insist on the reality of that sublime bond, the more your cloned son is going to rebel against you. Perhaps he will even end up as a Marxist. It would serve you right, frankly.

I also have to say I am always puzzled when people — it seems to be exclusively straight people — valorize their own genes so much. Your genes are nothing special. They are shared by thousands of other people, in different combinations, all across the world. What you do or don’t do with them will scarcely affect your genes’ chances of survival at all. This is thanks to the thousands of others who also carry precisely the same genes — the same genes for brown hair, or pale skin, or hemoglobin, or whatever. Will your genes survive? It depends vastly more on what they do, and hardly at all on what you do.

Your genes are not little avatars of your Self. They are not post-theistic souls on which to pin your dashed hopes for immortality. They are not even alive, for crying out loud. Want to save your genes for all eternity? Build a fifty-foot granite monument and inscribe them. It would work about as well for your purposes.

More Caplan:

I’m touched to see Tyler publicly defending me and my clone, and think I ought to respond to his only reservation:

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)
I probably haven’t addressed these issues because my views are conventional.  On adoption: I think that adoption is a noble, generous act, and admire those who do it.  But I personally don’t want to adopt.  On raising a biological child very different from myself: Of course I’d still love and raise him/her.  My post on “parenthood as the trump of all past regret” is predicated on this endowment effect.  Still, I’m honest enough to admit that I’d be happier if my child and I had a lot in common.

More Kuznicki:

I am astonished that someone writing a book about children can have such prejudiced views about adoption. I see these views all the time among friends and family, but never, as a rule, among experts in the field.

I wonder how many adoptive parents Bryan talked to in his research. How many books and articles did he read about adoption? Did he talk to any social workers, child psychologists, or even — call me crazy — actual adopted kids? Or did he just recycle the same glurge I always get from casual acquaintances when I tell them that I adopted a daughter? (“Oh wow, that’s so great of you. Tell me though, why didn’t you get a surrogate mom?”)

Overwhelmingly, parents adopt for exactly the same reasons that lead others to have kids in the biological way. The “mode” adoptive parent in the United States is heterosexual, married, and infertile. But they want kids just like anyone else, and for the very same reasons. The only catch is that they aren’t able to have kids in the cheap, fun, and conventional way.

Adopting is a pain — it means tons of paperwork, hours of interviews, repeated hearings before various officials, thousands of dollars in fees, criminal background checks, home safety inspections, financial reviews, invasive medical tests, and possibly years of waiting. (All for good reasons, I’d add.)

Compare all that to an evening of sexual intercourse, and it’s obvious why adoption is a second choice — as a method.[1] But that doesn’t mean that adopted kids are a second choice. If anything, it may mean that adoptive parents are more committed to parenting than many “natural” parents. It’s not like we end up here on accident. Which quite a few bio-parents do, of course. And many infertile couples — those among them least committed to parenting — don’t ever adopt.

Perhaps all this is what brought Bryan to think of adoption as noble. But saying that adopting a child is “generous” is both an insult and an undeserved, patronizing compliment.

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Filed under Books, Families, Science

She Works Hard For The Money, So Hard For The Money

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine:

Palin knew there were ways to solve her money problems, and then some. Planning quickly got under way for a book. And just weeks after the campaign ended, reality-show producer Mark Burnett called Palin personally and pitched her on starring in her own show. Then, in May 2009, she signed a $7 million book deal with HarperCollins. Two former Palin-campaign aides—Jason Recher and Doug McMarlin—were hired to plan a book tour with all the trappings of a national political campaign. But there was a hitch: With Alaska’s strict ethics rules, Palin worried that her day job would get in the way. In March, she petitioned the Alaska attorney general’s office, which responded with a lengthy list of conditions. “There was no way she could go on a book tour while being governor” is how one member of her Alaska staff put it.

On Friday morning, July 3, Palin called her cameraman to her house in Wasilla and asked him to be on hand to record a prepared speech. Around noon, in front of a throng of national reporters, she announced that she was stepping down as governor. To many, it seemed a mysterious move, defying the logic of a potential presidential candidate, and possibly reflecting some hidden scandal—but in fact the choice may have been as easy as balancing a checkbook.

Less than a year later, Sarah Palin is a singular national industry. She didn’t invent her new role out of whole cloth. Other politicians have cashed out, used the revolving door, doing well in business after doing good in public service. Entertainment figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and even Ronald Reagan have worked the opposite angle, leveraging their celebrity to make their way in politics. And family dramas have been a staple of politics from the Kennedys—or the Tudors—on down. But no one else has rolled politics and entertainment into the same scintillating, infuriating, spectacularly lucrative package the way Palin has or marketed herself over multiple platforms with the sophistication and sheer ambitiousness that Palin has shown, all while maintaining a viable presence as a prospective presidential candidate in 2012.

The numbers are staggering. Over the past year, Palin has amassed a $12 million fortune and shows no sign of slowing down. Her memoir has so far sold more than 2.2 million copies, and Palin is planning a second book with HarperCollins. This January, she signed a three-year contributor deal with Fox News worth $1 million a year, according to people familiar with the deal. In March, Palin and Burnett sold her cable show to TLC for a reported $1 million per episode, of which Palin is said to take in about $250,000 for each of the eight installments.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

But what’s more intriguing than that raw number is the underlying dynamic here: the mutual business relationship between Palin and the East Coast elites whom she rails against with populist invective and who scorn her as dumber than a moose. Money can soften any edge.

David Weigel:

Gabriel Sherman’s sprawling New York magazine cover story on “Palin, Inc.” is actually a fast and breezy read. It being an article about Sarah Palin, there’s no policy to slow it down. We get a brief explanation of how bitter Palin was serving as governor of Alaska while journalist Kaylene Johnson got rich (“I can’t believe that woman is making so much money off my name,” said Palin), especially after Palin realized that her gubernatorial duties would complicate her national book tour. So she quit, and we’re off.

Read it all, but take note of these points.

– According to Sherman, Palin writes her own Facebook posts. That shouldn’t be news, but Palin hired a ghostwriter to finish “Going Rogue”– and some of her early posts, festooned with footnotes, don’t sound like her. According to Sherman, said ghostwriter considered suing over an article by Max Blumenthal that made hay of her collaboration with conservative reporter Robert Stacy McCain.

– Discovery Communications bought Palin’s TV show as the “centerpiece of a strategy that TLC executives see as positioning the network as the anti-Bravo, whose shows like Top Chef, the Real Housewives franchise, and America’s Next Top Model are programmed to a liberal urban audience.” Bodes poorly for boycotters.

Robert Stacy McCain:

A friend wonders why I said nothing about this part of Sherman’s story:

The only real blip concerned her ghostwriter, Lynn Vincent, a writer for the Evangelical World magazine, whom Palin chose from a short list of candidates presented to her by HarperCollins. After news of Vincent’s selection leaked, critics seized on a January 2009 pro-life piece she had written for World titled “Black Genocide” — as well as her association with the co-writer of her 2006 book Donkey Cons, former Washington Times writer Robert Stacy McCain (no relation), who had a history of racially charged statements and associations — to claim that Vincent was racist. Vincent, who had collaborated on a New York Times best seller about racial reconciliation, told me that she was deeply hurt by the racism allegation and considered suing the Daily Beast for a piece by writer Max Blumenthal headlined “Palin’s Noxious Ghostwriter.” But when the media shifted its focus to Palin’s next adventure, Vincent dropped the lawsuit idea.

The problem with suing for libel (and as a journalist, I thank God for this) is that under the Sullivan precedent, it’s almost impossible for a “public figure” to win a libel suit. Like politicians and entertainers, an author is more or less automatically a public figure, thus requiring proof of actual malice. And as opposed to, say, a false accusation of criminal behavior, the charge of “racism” is damnably hard to disprove, which is why it is slung around so frequently in political discourse.

So there was no percentage in Lynn suing the Daily Beast, besides which going to court over what was clearly a third-hand guilt-by-association smear wouldn’t help Palin — and helping Palin was what Lynn was hired to do, after all.

And shame on those people who keep spreading malicious rumors that Max Blumenthal was arrested in a raid on a so-called “ladyboy” brothel in Phuket!

Josh Green at The Atlantic:

The article is chock full of Palin porn: her speaking fee ($100,000 a pop, plus diva treatment); her preferred mode of travel (Lear jet); her next headache (Levi Johnston is “writing” a book about her); and, my favorite detail, her three-level, 6000-square-foot, no doubt tastefully decorated new home that was already under construction when Gabe paid a visit. Among other things, the article makes clear that the desire for money, not an imminent scandal, led Palin to quit her governorship.

This all has significant political implications that tend to be downplayed or ignored when discussing Sarah Palin. Toward the end of the piece, Gabe goes right to the heart of the matter:

Why Palin would want to trade the presidency [of right-wing America]–and the salary–for a candidacy that faces possibly insurmountable political hurdles is a question to ponder.
Why indeed? Palin’s prospects in the Republican Party are a good deal dimmer than her star wattage suggests. She’s tallied middling performances in early straw polls and shows no inclination to embark on the grassroots work required of a presidential candidate. More to the point, this article makes clear that, were there any doubt, her preoccupying concern is “building her brand”–less in a political sense than a financial one. Palin may yet make a bid for the White House. But all evidence suggests that when the time comes to choose between earning money and running for president, Palin will choose money.

And she’s hardly alone. The other surprise figure to emerge from the 2008 race, with almost as bright a political future as Palin, was Mike Huckabee. But he, too, is earning serious coin on the book, TV, and lecture circuit, and signaling that he won’t run again. The candidate running the hardest for the White House, Mitt Romney, is also the only one who has secured a fortune. There seems to be developing an inverse correlation between the difficulty of running for president and the easy life that awaits those who fall just short. It’s never been harder to grab the brass ring; and it’s never been easier to quit trying.

Andrew Sullivan on Green:

The political parties are weaker than they once were. The elites cannot control grass-roots Internet-driven phenomena. Look at Obama. He seems a natural president now, but Washington dismissed his chances – as they are now dismissing Palin’s – right up to the Iowa caucuses. And because Palin is such a terrifying – truly terrifying – prospect for the US and the world, I think such complacency, rooted in cynicism about Palin’s mercenary nature, is far too reckless.

Look: what we have seen this past year is the collapse of the RNC as it once was and the emergence of a highly lucrative media-ideological-industrial complex. This complex has no interest in traditional journalistic vetting, skepticism, scrutiny of those in power, or asking the tough questions. It has no interest in governing a country. It has an interest in promoting personalities and ideologies and false images of a past America that both flatter and engage its audience. For most in this business, this is about money. Roger Ailes, who runs a news business, has been frank about what his fundamental criterion is for broadcasting: ratings not truth. Obviously all media has an eye on the bottom line – but in most news organizations, there is also an ethical editorial concern to get things right. I see no such inclination in Fox News or the hugely popular talkshow demagogues (Limbaugh, Levin, Beck et al.), which now effectively control the GOP. And when huge media organizations have no interest in any facts that cannot be deployed for a specific message, they are a political party in themselves.

Add Palin to the mix and you have a whole new machine in American politics – one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order. Beltway types roll their eyes. But she’s not Obama, they say. She doesn’t know anything, polarizes too many people, has lied constantly and still may have dozens of skeletons in her unvetted closets.

To which the answer must be: where the fuck have you been this past year?

It doesn’t matter whether she’s uneducated, unprincipled, unaware and unscrupulous. The more she’s proven incapable of the presidency, the more her supporters believe she is destined for it. It’s a brilliant little gig she’s devised. She may be ignorant, but she is not stupid. She has the smarts of all accomplished pathological liars and phonies. And this time, she will not even bother to go on any television outlets other than Fox News. She will be the first presidential nominee never to have had a press conference. She will give statements by Facebook. She will speak directly to the cocoon that is, at least, twenty percent of Americans. The press, already a rank failure in exposing her fraudulence, will be so starstruck by the chance to make money that we will never have a Couric-style interview again. it will be Oprah all the time. Because Palin lives in an imaginary world, the entire media world will be required to echo it or be shut out.

Green responds to Sullivan:

Well, I think Andrew is profoundly wrong and borderline nuts on this subject–and if he’s right, and Palin launches a bid for the White House, his nightmare of a Palin presidency is unlikely to be realized. It’s not impossible. Just unlikely. The point of my original post, riffing off this New York magazine piece on Palin’s newfound wealth, was that Palin seems more interested in money than politics. The conventional wisdom in Washington–which Andrew has backward–is that Palin will probably run, though this is less a matter of conviction than a vague sense that she craves the spotlight and won’t pass it up. My mildly contrarian suggestion was that avarice might lead her instead to become a Glenn Beck-like political-entertainment figure, which would furnish her with a platform, a lifestyle, and a way of avoiding the hard work of running for president (a lot tougher than serving a half term as governor).

My point was limited to Palin’s own motivations and desires. But Andrew’s rant doesn’t address that–I don’t think his worldview allows for the possibility that she might not run. He concerns himself instead with lots of black-helicopter sounding stuff about cynical elites and the “media-ideological-industrial complex” and basically stops just short of accusing Palin of fluoridating the water. But after all that, what Andrew has described is not a force powerful enough to elect a president. He’s described (pretty accurately, I might add) elite Washington’s view of the Fox News viewership and then imbued it with a lot more importance than it merits. “Add Palin to the mix,” he writes, “and you have a whole new machine in American politics–one with the capacity, as much as Obama’s, to upend the established order.”

No, you don’t. As Andrew himself points out, the established order of the GOP has already been upended–you wouldn’t have a goofball like Michael Steele as your party chairman if the grownups were still in charge!

DiA at The Economist:

Mr Green is right; she is building a brand. But just so she can be a television hostess? How long would that brand shine if she rebuffed those who will (with very real passion) beg her to run? Yes, she’s uniquely successful at infuriating or terrifying liberals—but that’s because they think that she might still just become president. How does that 2013 contract look when she’s refused to enter the fight? This is hunch-blogging at its most speculative, I confess, but I think she’s in. So over to you. I don’t see someone who’s preparing for a book-writing and lecture-circuit career. What do you see in the estimable Sarah Palin?

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The profile reduces my probability that Palin will make a serious run (as opposed to a pro forma one) for the highest office in 2012.* It also leaves me impressed by how quickly and efficiently she’s leveraged her celebrity and gone from moderately upper middle class** in income (and in serious debt due to legal bills after the 2008 campaign) to wealthy. Some Republicans are apparently worried about her becoming the “face of the party,” something that crops up now and then in the media, but it doesn’t seem like they really have to worry that much unless the party has no real substance and is rooted only in style and the need to get elected. As for Sarah Palin, whatever you think of her politics or personality, she’s offering a concrete product distributed through the private sector. The article mentions that her book was a major reason that Random House generated a profit last year! Whatever criticisms one might lodge, she’s not getting rich by being a rent-seeker, as so many of our public and private sector elites have become. In fact the article points to a whole industry of liberal critique which has emerged around her, so she’s not even capturing all the wealth that she’s responsible for (spillover effects).

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What We’ve Built Today

Good updates, everybody!

Come On, 1070, Light My Fire

Close Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow

Greece Is Melting, Euro Is Falling, Germany Is Angering…

“You Know, I’ve Learned Something Today”

Don’t Drink The Water

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In A Bad Mood About Moody’s, Part II

Paul Krugman in NYT:

The bad news is that most of the headlines were about the wrong e-mails. When Goldman Sachs employees bragged about the money they had made by shorting the housing market, it was ugly, but that didn’t amount to wrongdoing.

No, the e-mail messages you should be focusing on are the ones from employees at the credit rating agencies, which bestowed AAA ratings on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of dubious assets, nearly all of which have since turned out to be toxic waste. And no, that’s not hyperbole: of AAA-rated subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006, 93 percent — 93 percent! — have now been downgraded to junk status.

What those e-mails reveal is a deeply corrupt system. And it’s a system that financial reform, as currently proposed, wouldn’t fix.

The rating agencies began as market researchers, selling assessments of corporate debt to people considering whether to buy that debt. Eventually, however, they morphed into something quite different: companies that were hired by the people selling debt to give that debt a seal of approval.

Those seals of approval came to play a central role in our whole financial system, especially for institutional investors like pension funds, which would buy your bonds if and only if they received that coveted AAA rating.

It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt — which increasingly meant Wall Street firms selling securities they created by slicing and dicing claims on things like subprime mortgages — could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job. It’s all too obvious, in retrospect, how this could have corrupted the process.

And it did. The Senate subcommittee has focused its investigations on the two biggest credit rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s; what it has found confirms our worst suspicions. In one e-mail message, an S.& P. employee explains that a meeting is necessary to “discuss adjusting criteria” for assessing housing-backed securities “because of the ongoing threat of losing deals.” Another message complains of having to use resources “to massage the sub-prime and alt-A numbers to preserve market share.” Clearly, the rating agencies skewed their assessments to please their clients.

These skewed assessments, in turn, helped the financial system take on far more risk than it could safely handle. Paul McCulley of Pimco, the bond investor (who coined the term “shadow banks” for the unregulated institutions at the heart of the crisis), recently described it this way: “explosive growth of shadow banking was about the invisible hand having a party, a non-regulated drinking party, with rating agencies handing out fake IDs.”

Tim Fernholz at Tapped:

The financial-reform bill in the Senate does not do a ton to solve this problem. That’s in part because it’s a difficult problem to solve. Ratings agencies are paid by the people selling debt — an obvious conflict of interest — but no one else wants to pay for them. Someone buying debt has a better incentive to pay for a rating but that creates a free-rider problem where one buyer funds ratings for an entire universe of potential purchasers. The whole thing is a strange phenomenon of the market.

In the meantime, what we’ll get is tinkering around the edges: A new office in the SEC, new examination authorities, disclosures of methodology from the raters, some internal firewalls between sales staff and raters. But you still have sellers paying for ratings. Paul Krugman thinks this proposal to have the SEC essentially run the process and act as a middle-man between sellers and raters might be a better idea.

The other possible solution, mentioned in that proposal and hinted at in the legislation, is to introduce actual competition among the ratings agencies. The current legislation would stop regulators from relying on these agencies when they make decisions in order to take away their legal weight and create better incentives; currently, ratings agencies seem as responsible for the quality of these securities as the companies issuing them. However, as another proposal suggests, further steps to lower the regulatory barriers of entry to potential competitors of the existing agencies might be an even better answer.

This may be a weird case where smart deregulation could bring greater safety to the market.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

A reader calls my attention to Paul Krugman’s column. Krugman gets his share of criticism around here, so it’s only fair to point out when, as the reader put, he “actually makes sense.”


This at least seems to be an area worth exploring in greater depth. But as Krugman points out, the current legislation doesn’t do much about this issue. (”The only provision that might have teeth is one that would make it easier to sue rating agencies if they engaged in ‘knowing or reckless failure’ to do the right thing. But that surely isn’t enough, given the money at stake — and the fact that Wall Street can afford to hire very, very good lawyers.”)

One problem with huge reform efforts is that they usually focus on the wrong problem. In this case, the frenzy to eliminate risk — an impossibility if one wants to preserve entrepreneurial dynamism — has obscured more productive activities, including reduction or elimination of conflicts of interest, which is a worthy legislation goal. But “increasing rating companies’ independence” doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as “going after Wall Street greed.” So we never quite get around to it.

Lawrence Wright at Roosevelt Institute:

The three large US-based credit rating agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch – provided excessively optimistic ratings of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) in the middle years of this decade, actions that played a central role in the financial debacle of the past two years.  The strong political sentiment for heightened regulation of the rating agencies – as expressed in legislative proposals by the Obama Administration in July 2009, specific provisions in the financial regulatory reform legislation (H.R. 4173) that was passed by the House of Representatives in December, and recent regulations that have been promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – is understandable, given this context and history.  The hope, of course, is to forestall future such debacles.

The advocates of such regulation want to grab the rating agencies by the lapels, shake them, and shout “Do a better job!”  But while the urge for expanded regulation is well-intentioned, its results are potentially quite harmful.  Expanded regulation of the rating agencies is likely to:

  • Raise barriers to entry into the bond information business;
  • Rigidify a regulation-specified set of structures and procedures for bond rating;
  • Discourage innovation in new way of gathering and assessing bond information, new technologies, new methodologies, and new models (including new business models).

As a result, ironically, the incumbent credit rating agencies will be even more central to the bond markets, but are unlikely to produce better ratings.

Matthew Yglesias:

The term “deregulation” is normally associated with the right, but there’s a long tradition of progressive deregulation in this country aimed at bolstering competition and forcing firms to be disciplined by each other rather than by captured regulators. Ted Kennedy, for example, played a key role in bringing price competition to air travel and trucking. And via Tim Fernholz, here’s a proposal in that spirit from Lawrence Wright at the Roosevelt Institute to unravel the regulatory cartel that keeps the ratings agencies in business no matter how badly they screw up.

I’m not sure this is the be-all and end-all of the issue. Ultimately, I think some kind of ratings agency “public option” (to coin a phrase) could be a good idea. But as a first step, deregulation makes sense to me. The way it works right now, for many purposes you have to rely on one of the established agencies. Consequently, there’s no real market discipline on their myriad conflicts of interest. It’s a recipe for disaster, it was a disaster last time around, and while there are good ideas in the main regulatory reform bill I don’t think it addresses the ratings agencies in any kind of satisfactory way.

Dean Baker at The Center For Economic And Policy Research:

The obvious way to fix the conflict is to take away the hiring decision from the issuer. The issuer would still pay the rating agency but a neutral party — the SEC, the stock exchange on which the company is listed, the local baseball team — would make the decision as to which agency gets hired.

Some of us have been pushing this one for a while (e.g. here and also Plunder and Blunder), but Congress has preferred much more complex regulations that would have no impact on the basic conflict of interest. However, Paul Krugman comes to the rescue in his column today. Maybe now someone in Congress will be able to think clearly on this issue.

Kevin Drum:

I guess this is my question: if you do this, the ratings agencies no longer have any incentives to do much of anything. There are three of them, and presumably each one would get a third of the business at a price set by the SEC. So their incentive would be to hire the cheapest possible analysts and cut costs to the bone. The result would be ratings agencies even less able to cope with complex modern securities than the current ones.

This is what stonkers me about the ratings dilemma: there just doesn’t seem to be any good answer. Turning the ratings agencies into regulated utilities might be better than the current situation, but not by much. And if you’re going to do that, why bother with ratings agencies at all? Why not just have the SEC provide ratings?

I’ve read other proposed solutions too. Open up the business to more firms, for example, or pay the agencies based on the accuracy of their ratings. But the first doesn’t really get at the conflict of interest, and the second is difficult because it often takes years before you know if a rating is accurate.

I remember once someone telling me that after every financial crisis ever, the ratings agencies are always rolled out as sacrificial lambs. They had always been too optimistic, or too stupid, or too corrupt, or something. And then there’d be a hue and cry about “fixing” them, even though the real problem was that every single person on Wall Street, buyers and sellers alike, had wanted them to do exactly what they did: help inflate a bubble that made everyone truckloads of money. The hue and cry, he suggested, was more a way of deflecting blame from the real villains than it was a serious attempt to address an underlying problem.

I don’t remember who told me that, and I don’t even know for sure if it’s true. It’s stuck with me, though. I’m just not sure what the answer is here.

Ezra Klein:

The ratings agency business has two apparent settings: Hopeless conflict of interest or heavily regulated utility with an incentive to cut costs. But they play a very important role in the system. So why not make them — or some basic version of them — public? It would be better for both accountability and incentives.

The obvious problem is that a public rating agency might be too conservative, but on the one hand, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, and on the other hand, the market could always ignore the rating. It’s much more dangerous for the ratings agencies to be paid to tell the market what it wants to hear rather than for them to be erring on the side of conservatism and forcing the market to think hard about whether the thing it wants to hear is really true.

EARLIER: In A Bad Mood About Moody’s

UPDATE: More Yglesias

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You’re An Independent Candidate, Charlie Crist

Howard Fineman at Newsweek:

Is there a middle in American politics? Charlie Crist’s decision to run as an independent will test that proposition in the ultimate testing ground of American politics: the I-4 corridor in Central Florida. The Congress Crist is seeking to enter is more divided along partisan lines than at least a century. In the states, the parties (especially the Republicans) are being pulled in opposite directions by grassroots anger and ideology. Even President Obama—who ran on a theme of unity, colorblindness, and a new harmony in Washington—is talking in partisan, pointillist terms about rallying his base (and not much else) this fall.

The consensus among people I talked to in Florida is that Crist had NO hope of winning the GOP primary against conservative tyro Marco Rubio. “This is the only way Crist has any kind of shot,” said Mitch Ceasar, a lawyer and well-connected Democratic activist in Palm Beach County.

It’s clear that Crist, while nominally a Republican, has prospered in recent weeks by moves designed to appeal to Democrats and independents. The chief one, of course, was his veto of an education bill that teachers in Florida saw as anathema. “That veto was tantamount to announcing his third-way candidacy,” Ceaser said. It paid off. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, Crist’s job-approval rating has jumped 11 points in the last month, and now stands at 56 percent—a positive number that is the envy of most other politicians in the time of virulent anti-incumbency.

David Frum at FrumForum:

Thank God for Kendrick Meek is all I can say. If the Dems had recruited a top-tier candidate in Florida, the Crist-Rubio revenge drama would have already thrown away a Senate seat that ought to be an easy Republican hold. As is, things will be difficult enough.

The Crist-Rubio contest is a tough one for modern-minded Republicans. As Eli Lehrer has noted here, Crist is no paragon of good government. On the other hand, what has got Crist in trouble is not his beach-house bailout, but his willingness to cut a deal with the feds to rescue his state finances – kind of a governor’s job. It’s unnerving too that it is so hard to predict how Crist would behave as a U.S. senator. With Rubio, you have a more certain idea of what you’ll get.

But here’s where I come down: The center right has got to hold together. We cannot afford more NY-23s. In all but the most extreme circumstances, the rule has to be that those who participate in a party contest abide by the results of that process. It’s one thing if the race is Lieberman v. Lamont, and what’s at issue is success or failure in war. I used that comparison in a tweet today, but it does not stand up to scrutiny: the differences between Crist and Rubio are much more differences in tone, temperament, and personality. Had Crist prevailed in the Florida Republican primary, he would have had every valid reason to expect Rubio to support the outcome. The reverse should have held true.

Marc Ambinder:

Charlie Crist, soon to be independent Senate candidate from Florida, tried to reach White House chief of staff Emanuel through intermediates. WH refuses to take the call. Dems plan big talent/money blitz for Kendrick Meek. BTW: Obama’s approval rating in FL is in high 40s, per internal Dem polling.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

What’s Crist up to? Might he be interested in cutting a deal to caucus with the Democrats if they chase Meek from the field?

Who knows? But the most plausible path to victory for Crist is if Meek backs him. That’s a real possibility, I think, later in the game if Rubio and Crist are each getting about 40% in the polls and Meek is getting about 20%. But, as voters get to know the lesser-known Rubio and Meek, it’s probably more likely they emerge as the frontrunners and Crist fades as election day approaches.

And then does Crist throw his support to Meek in hopes of getting a nice ambassadorship? Again, who knows? In a three-way race things could get a little crazy (maybe starting with the speculation about how crazy things could get).

Ed Morrissey:

We should make clear that a Democratic White House really has no business supporting an independent against a credible Democratic candidate, so this isn’t a knock on Rahm.  Had he decided to pick up the phone and offer Crist help, that would have all but ended Meek’s bid, with little hope of success for Crist to overtake Marco Rubio in a general election anyway.  Rahm’s smart enough to know when to let the phone keep ringing.

However, this demonstrates the desperation and the naiveté of Crist and his team (assuming, of course, that Ambinder got this right).  Did they really expect to get a friendly ear from Obama’s team?  Obama used Crist to get what he wanted — but Crist was using Obama, too.  Obama had just won Florida for Democrats for the first time in a few presidential cycles, and Crist wanted to climb aboard Obama’s bandwagon.  That’s one of the reasons why Crist finds himself over twenty points behind Rubio now.

That also shows how desperate Crist has become.  It was Crist’s embrace of Obama that torpedoed his bid for the GOP nomination.  The hair of the dog is about the last remedy anyone with any sense would prescribe, but it may be all Crist has left when his donors abandon him and the center sticks with Rubio.

More Ambinder:

Put yourself in the mind of Marco Rubio. You want to paint Crist and Meek as two peas in an Obama pod. But Obama isn’t unpopular in Florida. So Meek takes the challenge: you bet I’m an Obama Democrat, he says. If Meek gets 80 to 85% of the Democratic vote, that’s about 40% of the electorate — a floor of about 30-32% of the overall vote.

The independent vote will be fairly small — half of it is worth about 10 points of the statewide vote. As Steve Schale, Obama’s campaign manager in Florida put it, “Even on its best day in November, NPA and minor party voters will probably only make up 18% of the electorate, so even if Crist gets 50% of the vote, he only nets 9 points of total statewide vote.”

At the same time, if Meek swings too far to the left, he collects very few independents, and can’t build on his base. If Rubio swings too far to the right, he gets stuck in the low thirties. Crist could win by pulling 15-20% of Democrats and Republicans from Meek and Rubio and 75% of independents.

So — the math has changed the political strategy. Meek and Rubio will be working to keep as many moderate independent leaners in their coalition as possible while keeping their bases enthusiastic. Crist will build on his geographic strength: St. Pete/Tampa, his popularity with African Americans and Jewish voters, the possibility that Puerto Rican-Americans don’t cotton to Rubio, and can begin to peel away voters.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Poll data suggest that Crist could be competitive in a three-way race as an independent. I’m skeptical, but let’s not take any chances. This kind of disloyalty to the Republican Party can’t be rewarded. And if he wins this Senate race, Rubio should be a leader of the conservative movement for many years to come. Go here or here to donate to Rubio’s campaign.

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First They Went For Hatfill, Then They Went For Ivins…

David Freed at The Atlantic:

The first anthrax attacks came days after the jetliner assaults of September 11, 2001. Postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, and believed to have been sent from a mailbox near Princeton University, the initial mailings went to NBC News, the New York Post, and the Florida-based publisher of several supermarket tabloids, including The Sun and The National Enquirer. Three weeks later, two more envelopes containing anthrax arrived at the Senate offices of Democrats Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, each bearing the handwritten return address of a nonexistent “Greendale School” in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Government mail service quickly shut down.

The letters accompanying the anthrax read like the work of a jihadist, suggesting that their author was an Arab extremist—or someone masquerading as one—yet also advised recipients to take antibiotics, implying that whoever had mailed them never really intended to harm anyone. But at least 17 people would fall ill and five would die—a photo editor at The Sun; two postal employees at a Washington, D.C., mail-processing center; a hospital stockroom clerk in Manhattan whose exposure to anthrax could never be fully explained; and a 94-year-old Connecticut widow whose mail apparently crossed paths with an anthrax letter somewhere in the labyrinth of the postal system. The attacks spawned a spate of hoax letters nationwide. Police were swamped with calls from citizens suddenly suspicious of their own mail.


Surveying the publicly available evidence, as well as documents sent to him by the FBI, Foster surmised that the killer was an American posing as an Islamic jihadist. Only a limited number of American scientists would have had a working knowledge of anthrax. One of those scientists, Foster concluded, was a man named Steven Hatfill, a medical doctor who had once worked at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which had stocks of anthrax.

On the day al-Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with hijacked jetliners, Hatfill was recovering from nasal surgery in his apartment outside the gates of Fort Detrick, Maryland, where USAMRIID is housed. We’re at war, he remembers thinking as he watched the news that day—but he had no idea that it was a war in which he himself would soon become collateral damage, as the FBI came to regard him as a homegrown bioterrorist, likely responsible for some of the most unsettling multiple murders in recent American history. His story provides a cautionary tale about how federal authorities, fueled by the general panic over terrorism, embraced conjecture and coincidence as evidence, and blindly pursued one suspect while the real anthrax killer roamed free for more than six years. Hatfill’s experience is also the wrenching saga of how an American citizen who saw himself as a patriot came to be vilified and presumed guilty, as his country turned against him.

“It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” Hatfill, who is now 56, says today. “There’s a sheer feeling of hopelessness. You can’t fight back. You have to just sit there and take it, day after day, the constant drip-drip-drip of innuendo, a punching bag for the government and the press. And the thing was, I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I mean, I was one of the good guys.”

Don Foster, the Vassar professor, was among those who set the wheels of injustice in motion. Scouring the Internet, Foster found an interview that Hatfill had given while working at the National Institutes of Health, in which he described how bubonic plague could be made with simple equipment and used in a bioterror attack. Foster later tracked down an unpublished novel Hatfill had written, depicting a fictional bioterror attack on Washington. He discovered that Hatfill had been in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) during an anthrax outbreak there in the late 1970s, and that he’d attended medical school near a Rhodesian suburb called Greendale—the name of the invented school in the return address of the anthrax letters mailed to the Senate. The deeper Foster dug, the more Hatfill looked to him like a viable suspect.

“When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats,” Foster later wrote, “those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.”

In February 2002, Foster tried to interest the FBI in Hatfill, but says he was told that Hatfill had a good alibi. “A month later, when I pressed the issue,” Foster wrote, “I was told, ‘Look, Don, maybe you’re spending too much time on this.’”


With Hatfill’s face splashed all over the news, strangers on the street stared. Some asked for his autograph. Hatfill was humiliated. Embarrassed to be recognized, he stopped going to the gym. He stopped visiting friends, concerned that the FBI would harass them, too. Soon, he stopped going out in public altogether. Once an energetic and ambitious professional who reveled in 14-hour workdays, Hatfill now found himself staring at the walls all day. Television became his steady companion.

“I’d never really watched the news before,” Hatfill says, “and now I’m seeing my name all over the place and all these idiots like Geraldo Rivera asking, ‘Is this the anthrax animal? Is this the guy who murdered innocent people?’ You might as well have hooked me up to a battery. It was sanctioned torture.”

Hatfill decided to redecorate Boo’s condo as a distraction from the news. He repainted, hung wallpaper, learned to install crown molding. He also began drinking.


By early 2007, after fresh investigators were brought in to reexamine evidence collected in the anthrax case, the FBI came to believe what Hatfill had been saying all along: he’d never had access to the anthrax at USAMRIID; he was a virus guy. The FBI, meanwhile, began to focus on someone who had enjoyed complete access: senior microbiologist Bruce Edward Ivins.

Ivins had spent most of his career at USAMRIID, working with anthrax. Agents had even sought his advice and scientific expertise early in their investigation of Hatfill. Now they subjected Ivins to the same harsh treatment they’d given Hatfill, placing Ivins under 24-hour surveillance, digging into his past, and telling him he was a murder suspect. Soon Ivins was banned from the labs where he had labored for 28 years. In July 2008, following a voluntary two-week stay in a psychiatric clinic for treatment of depression and anxiety, Ivins went home and downed a fatal dose of Tylenol. He was 62.

Less than two weeks later, the Justice Department officially exonerated Steven Hatfill. Six years had passed since he was first named a person of interest.

As it had done with Hatfill, the press dissected the pathology of Ivins’s life, linking him, however speculatively, to the murders. Ivins was a devout Catholic, which could’ve explained why anthrax was sent to two pro-choice senators, Daschle and Leahy. Reports said that Ivins harbored homicidal urges, especially toward women. He had purportedly been obsessed with a particular sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, ever since being rebuffed by one of its members while attending the University of Cincinnati, which could’ve explained why the anthrax letters were mailed from a box near a storage facility used by the sorority’s Princeton chapter. Ivins, of course, was no longer alive to defend himself. But in him, the FBI had found a suspect against whom tangible evidence existed.

Ivins had been the sole custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores genetically linked to those found in the letters. He had allegedly submitted purposely misleading lab data to the FBI in an attempt to hide the fact that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was a genetic match with the anthrax in his possession. He had been unable to provide a good explanation for the many late nights he’d put in at the lab, working alone, just before the attacks. Agents found that he had been under intense pressure at USAMRIID to produce an anthrax vaccine for U.S. troops. A few days after the anthrax letters were postmarked, Ivins, according to the FBI, had sent an e-mail to a former colleague, who has never been publicly identified, warning: “Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas,” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.” The language was similar to the anthrax letters that warned, “We have this anthrax … Death to America … Death to Israel.”

Following his suicide, some of Ivins’s friends insisted that the FBI had pressured him into doing what Hatfill would not. Ivins’s own attorney, Paul F. Kemp, disagrees. “Dr. Ivins had a host of psychological problems that he was grappling with, that existed long before the anthrax letters were mailed, and long after,” Kemp told me.

Though Hatfill’s apartment in Frederick was less than a quarter mile from Ivins’s modest home on Military Road, and both men worked at Fort Detrick at the same time, Hatfill says the two never met. Hatfill was surprised when the FBI ultimately pinned the anthrax murders on a fellow American scientist.

“I thought it would eventually be proven that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks,” he says.

Scott Shane at NYT:

A former Army microbiologist who worked for years with Bruce E. Ivins, whom the F.B.I. has blamed for the anthrax letter attacks that killed five people in 2001, told a National Academy of Sciences panel on Thursday that he believed it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory, as the F.B.I. asserts.

Asked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, the microbiologist, Henry S. Heine, replied, “Absolutely not.” At the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Maryland, where Dr. Ivins and Dr. Heine worked, he said, “among the senior scientists, no one believes it.”

Dr. Heine told the 16-member panel, which is reviewing the F.B.I.’s scientific work on the investigation, that producing the quantity of spores in the letters would have taken at least a year of intensive work using the equipment at the army lab. Such an effort would not have escaped colleagues’ notice, he added later, and lab technicians who worked closely with Dr. Ivins have told him they saw no such work.

He told the panel that biological containment measures where Dr. Ivins worked were inadequate to prevent the spores from floating out of the laboratory into animal cages and offices. “You’d have had dead animals or dead people,” he said.

The public remarks from Dr. Heine, two months after the Justice Department officially closed the case, represent a major public challenge to its conclusion in one of the largest, most politically delicate and scientifically complex cases in F.B.I. history.

Gary Matsumoto at ProPublica:

Heine, one of the few scientists at the Army lab with the skills to grow large batches of anthrax, told ProPublica it would have taken around “100 liters of liquid anthrax culture,” or more than 26 gallons, to grow all the dried spores that killed five Americans and infected 17 others.

“He couldn’t have done that without us knowing it,” said Heine.

Other biodefense scientists who didn’t work with Ivins have done the same calculations and reached the same conclusion as Heine.

The FBI declined to comment on this latest challenge to its decision to end one of the most expensive manhunts [2] in the bureau’s 102-year history. In closing the case, the agency said Ivins alone was responsible for the anthrax letters. Ivins committed suicide in 2008.

Many of Ivins’ colleagues and some federal lawmakers protested that the FBI was premature in closing the books on Ivins before the academy had completed its review of the science undergirding the bureau’s case. “To this day, it is still far from clear that Mr. Ivins had either the know-how or access to the equipment needed to produce the material,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in written remarks published in March [3].

The day Heine and his Fort Detrick colleagues learned of Ivins’ suicide in July 2008, Heine said they conferred and feared the F.B.I. would then blame the attacks on someone who could no longer speak in his own defense. “And the very next day, the bureau named Bruce the mailer,” Heine recalled.

Because of an FBI gag order, Heine said he was unable to discuss these details until he left his job at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick, where Ivins also worked developing anthrax vaccines. Heine left in February and is now senior scientist at the Ordway Research Institute, Inc. Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infections in Albany, N.Y.

Heine said his expertise in growing anthrax made him a suspect like Ivins. He said FBI agents gave him a polygraph exam and took statements from him several times between 2001 and 2003. The FBI was never far away, he said. A former scoutmaster, Heine said that on campouts his Boy Scout troop used to keep a “black Suburban watch,” looking for the vehicles driven by the agents keeping Heine under surveillance.

“The FBI went after our weakest link,” Heine said, referring to Ivins and other scientists at Fort Detrick, in Maryland. He called Ivins “fragile” and especially vulnerable to bureau attempts to extract a confession from him.

Andrew Sullivan

Glenn Greenwald:

Andrew Sullivan rightly recommends this new Atlantic article by David Freed, which details how the FBI and a mindless, stenographic American media combined to destroy the life of Steven Hatfill.  Hatfill is the former U.S. Government scientist who for years was publicly depicted as the anthrax attacker and subjected to Government investigations so invasive and relentless that they forced him into almost total seclusion, paralysis and mental instability, only to have the Government years later (in 2008) acknowledge that he had nothing to do with those attacks and to pay him $5.8 million to settle the lawsuit he brought.  There are two crucial lessons that ought to be learned from this horrible — though far-from-rare — travesty:

(1) It requires an extreme level of irrationality to read what happened to Hatfill and simultaneously to have faith that the “real anthrax attacker” has now been identified as a result of the FBI’s wholly untested and uninvestigated case against Bruce Ivins.  The parallels are so overwhelming as to be self-evident.

Just as was true for the case against Hatfill, the FBI’s case against Ivins is riddled with scientific and evidentiary holes.  Much of the public case against Ivins, as was true for Hatfill, was made by subservient establishment reporters mindlessly passing on dubious claims leaked by their anonymous government sources.  So unconvincing is the case against Ivins that even the most establishment, government-trusting voices — including key members of Congress, leading scientific journals and biological weapons experts, and the editorial pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall St. Journal — have all expressed serious doubts over the FBI’s case and have called for further, independent investigations.

Yet just as was true for years with the Hatfill accusations, no independent investigations are taking place.  That’s true for three reasons.  First, the FBI drove Ivins to suicide, thus creating an unwarranted public assumption of guilt and ensuring the FBI’s case would never be subjected to the critical scrutiny of a trial — exactly what would have happened with Hatfill had he, like Ivins, succumbed to that temptation, as Freed describes:

The next morning, driving through Georgetown on the way to visit one of his friends in suburban Maryland, I ask Hatfill how close he came to suicide. The muscles in his jaw tighten.

“That was never an option,” Hatfill says, staring straight ahead. “If I would’ve killed myself, I would’ve been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty.”

Second, the American media — with some notable exceptions — continued to do to Ivins what it did to Hatfill and what it does in general:  uncritically disseminate government claims rather than questioning or investigating them for accuracy.  As a result, many Americans continue to blindly assume any accusations that come from the Government must be true.

emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Remember how one piece of evidence the FBI used to argue that Bruce Ivins was a killer was the purported death threat he made? Eventually, they got his therapist to report on it. But it turns out the purported death threat was against Heine–and the Government asked him, but he refused, to get a restraining order against Ivins. That, plus Heine’s comment about the FBI believing Ivins was “the weakest link,” suggests that Heine really believes they pushed Ivins at a time when he was losing it psychologically.

In any case, the guy they wanted to use to buttress their case that Ivins was dangerous is now out there arguing that he could not be the killer.

John Ballard at Newshoggers:

It’s hard to believe those days will soon be nine years past. Young adults today were still in elementary school at the time and a few years from now a population of voters and community leaders will be in charge who were not even born as these events unfolded. For that reason it is important that Hatfill’s story not simply slip into a pile of footnotes in an otherwise overwhelming narrative of 9/11, because his story is yet another example of how overweening diligence and perverted good intentions can lead to official malfeasance on a scale which leaves innocent survivors with scars for the rest of their lives.

Armchair Generalist:

My two cents, the FBI screwed up because they focused on the technical aspects of the bioterrorism case – what skills might be required, and who stood out in the government as different. That was the wrong approach, and Hatfield paid the price. Using solid detective work that focused on the particular aspects of the criminal case worked – and that led them to Ivins. Hopefully they’ve figured this lesson for future cases – assuming that there’s ever another potential terrorist running around in a US bioresearch laboratory.

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Don’t Phone Us, E.T., And We Won’t Phone You

Jonathan Leake at The Times:

THE aliens are out there and Earth had better watch out, at least according to Stephen Hawking. He has suggested that extraterrestrials are almost certain to exist — but that instead of seeking them out, humanity should be doing all it that can to avoid any contact.

The suggestions come in a new documentary series in which Hawking, one of the world’s leading scientists, will set out his latest thinking on some of the universe’s greatest mysteries.

Alien life, he will suggest, is almost certain to exist in many other parts of the universe: not just in planets, but perhaps in the centre of stars or even floating in interplanetary space.

Hawking’s logic on aliens is, for him, unusually simple. The universe, he points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.


Fausta Wertz

Unlike Carl Sagan, who actually sent a message to any (space) aliens out there, Stephen Hawkin would rather we don’t

Daniel Drezner:

Hmmm… this is undeniably true, but dare I say that Hawking is being a bit simplistic?  Oh, hell, who am I kidding, I’m a blogger.  Of course I’ll say that Hawking is being simplistic.

Critics might accuse me of being soft in the Theoretical War Against Aliens, embracing the mushy-headed liberalism of Contact over the hard-headed realpolitik of, say, Independence Day.  And the risk-averse approach suggested by Hawking is certainly a viable policy option.  But let’s dig a bit deeper and consider four thought-provoking questions from an interplanetary security perspective.

1)  In space, does anybody understand the security dilemma? In international relations, there is at least full information about who the other actors are and where they are located.  Clearly, we lack this kind of information about the known universe.  

What Hawking is suggesting, however, is that efforts to collect such information would in and of themselves be dangerous, because they would announce our presence to others.  He might be right.  But shoiuldn’t that risk be weighed against the cost of possessing a less robust early warning system?  Isn’t it in Earth’s interests to enhance its intelligence-gathering activities?

2)  Carried to its logical extreme, isn’t Hawking making an argument for rapidly exhausting our natural resources? If Hawking is correct, then the sooner we run out of whatever might be valuable to aliens, the less interest we are to them.  Of course, this does beg the question of which resources aliens would consider to be valuable.  If aliens crave either sea water or bulls**t, then the human race as we know it is seriously screwed.

3) Why would aliens go after the inhabited planetsCeteris paribus, I’m assuming that aliens would prefer to strip-mine an uninhabited planet abundant with natural resources than an inhabited one.  Three hundred planets have already been discovered in the Milky Way, and there are “likely many billions.”  Even rapacious aliens might try some of them first before looking at Earth, since we are mostly harmless.

There is a counterargument, of course.  Over at Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh tries to assuage fears of aliens by observing, “Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?”  This cuts both ways, however.  If those jellyfish fail to notice us but notice our abundant amounts of salinated water, they could decide to come without a care in the world for the bipedal inhabitants of Earth.

4)  How do we know that some human aren’t already trying to contact aliensStephen Walt and others assume that the presence of aliens would cause humans to form a natural balancing coalition.   I’m not so sure.  My research into other apocalyptic scenarios suggests that some humans — that’s right, I’m looking at you, Switzerland! — would bandwagon with the aliens.  Indeed, for all we know, some humans are already trying to welcome their future alien overlords.  Which begs the question —  wouldn’t Hawking’s isolationist policy allow the quislings to monopolize the galactic message emanating from Earth?

I look forward to a healthy exchange of diverse viewpoints in the comments — remember, the future of mankind may depend on it.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

We’ll have to wait for the show, but Hawking’s extended comments suggest he’s paying more attention to Independence Day than to Stanislaw Lem. Without any apparent help, this planet has already produced such inscrutable creatures as the platypus, the coelacanth, and chupacabra. The third solution to Fermi’s paradox suggests platform neutrality is not as widespread elsewhere in the Alpha Quadrant as it is here on Earth. Why would a race of superintelligent jellyfish or blue whales even take notice of us, let alone want to conquer us?

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

In what I have to imagine will be one of the better headlines you are going to read today, scientist Stephen Hawking offers some sage advice on how to deal with an alien encounter — the real kind, not the Arizona kind. Truth be told, fter all the dim, earthbound news of late, close encounters of the third kind offers a nice change of newsy pace.

Rod Dreher

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“She Was Just A Sort Of Bigoted Woman”

Much of this already rounded up by Andrew Sullivan.

Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s the full transcript, revealing the fakeness of Brown and his contempt for the voters:

Duffy: We had it drummed in when I was a child with mine … it was education, health service and looking after the people who are vulnerable. But there’s too many people now who are vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim, can’t get it.

Brown: But they shouldn’t be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you’ve got to go back to work. It’s six months.

Duffy: You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?

Later, as he was leaving

Brown: Very good to meet you, and you’re wearing the right colour today. Ha, ha, ha: How many grandchildren do you have?

Duffy: Two. They’ve just got back from Australia where they got stuck for 10 days. They couldn’t get back with this ash crisis.

Brown: We’ve been trying to get people back quickly. Are they going to university. Is that the plan?

Duffy: I hope so. They’re only 12 and 10.

Brown: Are they’re doing well at school? [pats Duffy on the back] A good family, good to see you. It’s very nice to see you.

In the car

Brown: That was a disaster. Well I just … should never have put me in that woman. Whose idea was that?

Aide: I don’t know, I didn’t see.

Brown: It was Sue [Nye] I think. It was just ridiculous.

Aide: I’m not sure if they [the media] will go with that.

Brown: They will go with that.

Aide: What did she say?

Brown: Oh everything, she was just a sort of bigoted woman. She said she used be Labour. I mean it’s just ridiculous.

Andrew Rawnsley at The Guardian:

Brown’s problem is that this episode shows him acting not out of character, but entirely in it. It will be rightly taken as evidence of the less attractive dimensions of his personality. Note that it happens because he stresses over the trivial and becomes infuriated by anything or anybody that disturbs his idea of himself as a man in iron control. Mrs Duffy was far from the most tricky customer ever to confront a politician. In fact, he dealt with the initial encounter reasonably well. She even said she was going to vote Labour. Calling it “a disaster” was an over-reaction to a fairly humdrum moment on the campaign trail.

We see also a glimpse of Brown’s tendency to instantly assign fault for a setback to someone else. “You should never have put me with that woman,” he complains to his aides. “Whose idea was that?” This too fits a pattern common to many of the temper episodes that I revealed in The End of the Party. When he was accused of plagiarising Al Gore and Bill Clinton, he turned on his advisers. “How could you do this to me?” he raged. When Revenue & Customs lost the notorious data disks, the prime minister instantly saw himself as the victim. He grabbed his startled deputy chief of staff by the lapels and snarled: “They’re out to get me!”

One of the most unattractive aspects of Brown’s premiership has been a blame culture at the heart of government. One target was Alistair Darling, who was on the receiving end of the “forces from hell” when he was more candid about the economy than his next-door neighbour could stand.

Fraser Nelson at The Spectator:

We have just witnessed the biggest moment of the 2010 election campaign. It wasn’t that Brown let off steam: it was that he instinctively described as “bigoted” a woman who represents what should be Labour’s core vote. Sure, she mentioned immigration – but just said “where are they coming from”? Her main concern was the national debt, and what her grandchildren will have to pay. Neither Cameron or Clegg would have thought these points bigoted – and neither would Tony Blair. The thought would not have crossed his mind. Nor that of Kinnock, Foot or Callaghan. Labour’s campaign is led by a man who dislikes campaigning, having to get down and dirty with ordinary voters. He doesn’t like standing for election. “Whose idea was that?” He asked when inside the car. Whose idea was what? Democracy? Meeting angry voters is what elections are about. If Brown doesn’t like it, he’s in the wrong business.

Andrew Swift at Foreign Policy:

The episode brings to light President Barack Obama’s infamous “bitter” remarks regarding small-town voters before the Pennsylvania democratic presidential primary in 2008. But Obama was merely guilty of poor word choice, not outright hostility — and the substantive point he made was largely accurate. Brown, on the other hand, has been caught disparaging a voter immediately after hearing her policy concerns.

British journalists are claiming this will cripple Brown, as voters with similar concerns will now wonder whether the prime minister thinks they’re bigots as well. But to be fair, if Duffy’s comment  wasn’t bigoted, it was certainly quite close to crossing that line.

Brown has now personally apologized to Duffy (it is said it went quite well), and reporters are camped on her front stoop, waiting for her response. More to come.

UPDATE: It’s pointed out on Andrew Sparrow’s live blog for the Guardian that Brown’s exact quote was “sort of a bigoted woman,” which is somewhat less harsh.

Alex Smith at Labor List:

Gordon Brown has sent the following email to Labour supporters:

As you may know, I have apologised to Mrs Duffy for remarks I made in the back of the car after meeting her on the campaign trail in Rochdale today. I would also like to apologise to you.

I know how hard you all work to fight for me and the Labour Party, and to ensure we get our case over to the public. So when the mistake I made today has so dominated the news, doubtless with some impact on your own campaigning activities, I want you to know I doubly appreciate the efforts you make.

Many of you know me personally. You know I have strengths as well as weaknesses. We all do. You also know that sometimes we say and do things we regret. I profoundly regret what I said this morning.

I am under no illusions as to how much scorn some in the media will want to heap upon me in the days ahead.

But you, like I, know what is at stake in the days ahead and so we must redouble our campaigning efforts to stop Britain returning to a Tory Party that would do so much damage to our economy, our society and our schools and NHS, not least in places like Rochdale.

The worst thing about today is the hurt I caused to Mrs Duffy, the kind of person I came into politics to serve. It is those people I will have in my mind as I look ahead to the rest of the campaign.

You will have seen me in one context on the TV today. I hope tomorrow you see once more someone not just proud to be your leader, but also someone who understands the economic challenges we face, how to meet them, and how that improves the lives of ordinary families all around Britain.



Alex Massie:

Two other things: Brown comes out of this looking petty, spiteful and small, blaming his advisors for not “vetting” an ordinary voter and, worse coming across as a candidate too weak or too afraid to engage voters on the issues that most concern them.

In this instance this seems to have been immigration and, specifically, immigration from within the EU. Apparently Mrs Duffy doesn’t like all those eastern europeans coming over here to work. Doubtless many voters – hell, many blog commenters – share her views. (Never mind that many of these workers have since gone home.) But rather than debate her or defend the government’s policy Brown offers platitudes in public before castigating Duffy in private. This is not the way Big Men behave. Nor do they presume, on little evidence, that those who disagree with them are “bigots”.

From what we know of her opinions – and the tabloids will ensure we hear what Mrs Duffy thinks about everything – I’d say that “bigot” is much too strong a term. Nevertheless, Brown ducked the argument and this in turn reinforces his image as a “bottler”.

This despite the fact that, as readers know, I think opening the British labour market to the new EU-member countries was one of the best, even noble, things this government has done. If you believe that Britons should be able to work across the EU it’s logical to believe that Poles and Lats should be able to as well. And if you believe in the free movement of goods and capital then there’s a certain logic to believing in the free movement of labour too. And you can also believe that the accession of the eastern european states has been one of the greatest advances in liberty (at least in some sense of the term) since 1989.

You don’t have to agree with this argument and it’s not disreputable not to but Gordon could still have made this argument, he could have made a case for himself and his party’s record. But he chose not to. This too is feeble. And, alas, all too typical.

So, really, whatever way you look at it this is a terrible moment for Gordon, made worse by his determination to prolong the agony by returning to Rochdale to apologise to Mrs Duffy in person. As though this will make any difference or persuade anyone of anything.

Kevin Drum:

Poor Gordon. I mean, at some point you almost have to feel sorry for a guy so badly suited to politics. Nick Clegg must practically be cackling. You can watch the whole debacle on the right. The insults come at around the 4:30 mark.

Rod Dreher:

I should add that as entertaining as this sort of thing is, I do feel sorry for politicians and other famous people, who always, always, always have to assume that they’re “on.” Can you imagine having to live as if there were constantly a microphone around, recording your words? I actually defended Jesse Jackson on this point when a hot mike caught him saying some discreditable things about Barack Obama. What he said was awful, and I wasn’t sorry to see him suffer for it. But it’s still queasy-making, I think, the way we all hover around, waiting for somebody famous to say something stupid, and then blow it up. Which, come to think of it, is what I’m doing with this blog entry.

Ben Smith and David Weigel at Bloggingheads

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What We’ve Built Today

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Updates:

Soon, Steve Jobs Will Come Out With iArteries And We’ll Be Able To Eat This For Breakfast, Lunch And Dinner

A Stew Of Acronyms With A Big Meatball Of Human Rights

“You Know, I’ve Learned Something Today”

Across The Desert, Listening To The Supremes

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