Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not Just Another Monica

It was the show everybody in Washington had been waiting for: the testimony of the former Justice Department official Monica Goodling before the House committee investigating the United States attorney firings. So, was it worth wait? The blog consensus: in terms of new information, no; but in terms of political theater, you betcha.

Here are the facts, in the eyes of The Times’s editorial board: “Ms. Goodling admitted to politicizing the Justice Department in ways that certainly seem illegal; she made clear that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied at a critical point in the investigation; and she gave Congress all the reason it needs to compel Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, to testify about what they know.”

Now, the fun stuff. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, no friend to the Bush administration, certainly didn’t see the “odd witness” who “strained to present every fact in the most favorable light” that The Times did. “It’s not just that Goodling comes across as better, smarter, and more honest than Gonzales, Sampson, and McNulty put together, although she does,” writes Lithwick. “It’s that the committee, in expecting to question the Great Exploding Idiot Barbie today, is completely underprepared and overmatched.”

Byron York at National Journal feels that while there were serious issues under discussion, “they weren’t enough to capture the attention of some committee Democrats, for whom there were more important questions to consider. Questions like: Where did Monica go to law school?” The answer is that Goodling is a graduate of Regent Law School in Virginia, which The Los Angeles Times pointed out on Wednesday has a “Christian-based mission” and “claims 150 past and present members of the Bush administration among its alumni.”

This was a red flag to Rep. Stephen Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee. Let York set the scene:

Cohen pressed. Hasn’t the Justice Department hired an unusually large number of graduates of Regent?

“I think we have a lot more people from Harvard and Yale,” said Goodling.

“That’s refreshing,” said Cohen, a graduate of the University of Memphis School of Law. “Is it a fact are you aware of the fact that in your graduating class 50 to 60 percent of the students failed the bar the first time?”

At that point, hisses and hoots began to be rise from the Republican side of the dais, and, for just a moment at least, 2141 Rayburn sounded a bit like the House of Commons. Goodling assured Cohen that she had passed the bar the first time around.

A bizarre aside? Actually, as York notes, law school credentials continued to be a focus: “Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was very concerned that Goodling had asked about the political leanings of a job seeker named Seth Adam Meinero, ‘a graduate of Howard University, one of the top, outstanding law schools in the nation.’ (Rep. Cohen did not protest, even though Howard’s bar-passing statistics don’t measure up to Regent’s.)”

Adam Gershowitz at Prawfsblog also found Goodling more impressive in person than on her resume:

I can’t help but notice how inept the questioning is across the board. Those congressmen actually asking questions seem incapable of going beyond their prepared scripts. And when Goodling gives an answer that offers some humility, a mea culpa, or some cagey evasiveness, the questioners don’t seem to know how to follow-up at all. At the end of the day, we are not likely to know much more about why the 8 (or 9) US Attorneys were selected for firing than we did yesterday. What we do know is that the insinuation that Goodling is inept because she went to a “4th Tier” law school must surely be wrong.

Dick Polman, however, wasn’t buying Goodling’s act. “Here’s the gist of Monica Goodling’s advice: Even if you think that maybe you might be breaking the law, you’re still blameless as long as you think you didn’t really ‘mean’ to do it,” he writes. “And even if you essentially have to admit that you did break the law, you’re still O.K. as long as you think your motives were pure, and as long as you think of yourself as (in her words) ‘a fairly quiet girl who tries to do the right thing and tries to treat people kindly along the way.’ ”

Well, “quiet” she may be, but her words will be echoing throughout the blogosphere for quite a while to come, I bet.

– Tobin Harshaw


Banking on the Democrats

Who’s going to be the big winner in the ‘08 presidential election? Your bank account — if you follow Greg Mankiw’s advice, that is.

A reader tipped Mankiw off to the fact that ”for the 2008 elections, [’s Intrade site] has approximately a 40 percent chance of Hillary being president and a 50 percent chance of her being the democratic nominee. With the Democrats having about a 57 percent chance of winning the election and with Obama and Gore having above 50 percent chances of winning, the 80 percent (40/50) that Hillary has looks awfully suspect and I assume someone is manipulating the 40 percent number to make Hillary look better. With the efficient market hypothesis in mind, is this at all possible or is an arbitrage opportunity available?”

Mankiw tells us how to use this anomaly to our advantage:

Sell Clinton (bid is now 38.3), Obama (16.5), Gore (7.3), and Edwards (3.6) for a total of 65.7. Buy a contract for a generic Democratic win (ask is now 56.8). You pocket the difference (65.7-56.8=8.9). You have to pay out on the first contract if one of these four candidates wins, but in that case you are covered by the second contract. The only contingency in which you lose is if Clinton, Obama, Gore, or Edwards end up president as an independent or Republican candidate, which seems completely unlikely.

So why am I giving away this arbitrage opportunity for free? I must be either unsure of my analysis, or motivated by the search for truth rather than money. Your call.

  • Want a hybrid but feel that the Prius is a bit wimpy? Here’s your answer.

  • An article on reported Monday that Texas State University is having trouble finding a site for its planned “body farm,” — a leafy glen where decomposing bodies will be studied in the wild. The article quotes Jason Byrd, “a well-known forensic entomologist,” saying that a rise in stranger-on-stranger crime, where clues from family and social ties do not exist, has made this sort of research more crucial to crime solving. But Dr. Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, writes on her blog that she finds the need for this sort of research a “troubling” sign of the times.

    She quotes a 1996 article from EmergencyNet News Service that pointed out that in 1995, statistics showed that 45 percent of murder victims knew their killers, a drop from 71 percent in the 1960s — a statistic she sees, go figure, as a factor in the current popularity of “CSI”:

    Perhaps this increase in stranger killings is why people feel more fearful of being the victim of a random violent act now more than ever before and why shows like CSI are so popular. It is harder to find an unknown killer and advanced forensics can make the difference in whether or not the killer is caught. So CSI may act as a therapeutic measure for some people albeit a false one since many times, CSI has advanced techniques that the police and experts are not equipped to carry out.

  • — Tobin Harshaw

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