« November 2005 | Main

December 21, 2005

Blasts From the Past!--The 1950s, to Be Exact

National Review has web archives! http://store.nationalreview.com/archives/

You, too, can now learn what ex-Trot James Burnham has to teach us about the true nature of anti-McCarthyism:

The McCarthy issue was used by the American Communists as their channel back into the stream of Popular Frontism. The Communists, in fact, invented the term "McCarthyism," and devised most of the ideology that went with it.... The liberals, on a roaring civil rights jag... lowered their guard and the Communists closed.... "[A]nti-McCarthyism" as a movement... was a united front, the broadest and most successful the Communists have ever catalyzed in this country....

What Wilmoore Kendell has to teach us about the true nature of liberalism--you know, that doctrine of Harry Truman:

As this columnist never misses a chance to say, it isn't that the Liberals aren't anti-Communist; they are merely anti-Communist in a peculiar sort of way... [that] automatically exclude[s] effective anti-Communist action. And they cannot go along when the community sets out to do something about its Communists.

The magazine on Eisenhower's 1957 sending the 82nd Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect civil rights:

By what right, according to what law, do these heavily armed combat teams of the first nuclear age "pentomic" division remain and act in Arkansas? Where is the statute... that entitles these soldiers... to quarter themselves on the municipal property of the Little Rock school system? to obstruct traffic...?... to forbid citizens to assemble together?... to club and stab citizens slow to respond to shouted orders? What law authorized the rude braggadocio of General Walker?... The truth is... [t]here is no law, the bayonets have displaced the law in Little Rock.... General Walker is in Little Rock as the commander of an army of occupation... enforcing unconditional surrender. No sensible person will excluce the possibility of a domestic crisis so extreme.... [W]ould it not be prudent to reflect that when guns are released from control by law, we can never be sure what direction they will point in?

The magazine's doubts about the Fifteenth Amendment:

Although the states qualify voters, Art. I, Sec. 4 of the Constitution grants to Congress the power to make or alter... regulations concerning elections for senators and representatives. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the denial or abridgement of the right to vote "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."... [H]onest men may differ as to the wisdom and expediency of these grants [of power to the federal government.]...

And Frank S. Meyer on the virtues of McCarthyism:

The peculiar horror of this presidentiad of Eisenhower... [is that] everything merges into one dull blur.... It cannot grasp as real the looming threat of dehumanization that proceeds from the iron tyranny of Soviet Communism or from the soft blandishments of the Welfare States and World Government.... [T]he Era of Moderation could be fairly launched only after the censure and destruction of McCarthy. So long as there was a voice so powerful... insisting that the contemporary world presented an absolute choice between good and evil... the anesthesia could be only imperfectly administered.... What Joe McCarthy was... can[not]... be judged by weighing in the balance the niceness of his discriminations or that tactical acuity of his actions.... His was not a common role. It comes to few men to play it--sometimes to a poet, sometimes to a politician sometimes to someone of no particular position.... Joe McCarthy, who bore witness against the denial of truth that is called moderation, and died for it: "He was a prophet."...

Posted by DeLong at 05:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Impeach Treasury Secretary John Snow

Yes. I know that blatant mendacious stupidity is not an impeachable offense. But in this case I'm willing to make an exception. Kevin Drum writes:

The Washington Monthly : BLACK IS WHITE, UP IS DOWN....Via the Carpetbagger, Treasury Secretary John Snow explains why a president who has vastly increased the federal deficit is more fiscally responsible than a president who vastly reduced it:

Sipping a latte at a Starbucks coffee shop with reporters in Washington two days ago, he said that "the president's legacy will be one of having significantly reduced the deficit in his time," and said Clinton's budget was a "mirage" and "wasn't a real surplus."

Snow said the Clinton surplus was inflated by a stock-price bubble and that Bush will be remembered for cutting the gap from a record $412 billion in the 2004 fiscal year.

You can't make this stuff up. Consensus reality just doesn't exist for these guys anymore.

OK now: Bob Kimmitt, Mark Warshawsky, anybody else in the Bush Treasury who wants to retain ties to the reality-based community, or to avoid losing their own reputations to the Clown Show--now is time to start thinking about whether you want to bail out.

Posted by DeLong at 05:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Platonic Dialogue on Journalistic Fairness, the Internet, Judy Miller Sourcing Ethics, Cross-Potomac White-Collar Outsourcing, and Other Topics

Capitalisticus: So what's this about Michael Froomkin's younger brother Dan?

Academicus: You won't believe me.

Capitalisticus: I won't believe you?

Academicus: Nope.

Capitalisticus: Try me.

Academicus: Well, you're aware that he writes this column--a combination of the Defense Early Bird and the White House Watch that Ryan Lizza currently does for the New Republic--called White House Briefing for the Washington Post's website? Anyway, the Washington Post Ombudsman took a strafing run at Dan's column, saying that it was inappropriate to call it "White House Briefing," that its name should be changed, and that the Washington Post's political reporters did not like it because it was "opinionated" and "liberal."

Capitalisticus: What a minute--did you say "the Ombudsman"?

Academicus: Yep.

Capitalisticus: Deborah Howell, the person who is supposed to handle complaints from readers about reporters and editors?

Academicus: Yep.

Capitalisticus: She based her column on complaints from readers?

Academicus: Nope. Readers seem pretty pleased. The column's principal aim was to try to tell people that the print Washington Post is a very different thing than the WPNI--Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive--operation that is http://washingtonpost.com. To the extent that the column had a base, it seemed to be based on complaints from unnamed Washington Post print newsroom reporters. And on a big complaint from Washington Post national political editor John Harris.

Capitalisticus: That would seem a broadminded view of her role--that is is supposed to include airing complaints from editors about reporters, for example.

Academicus: Yep.

Capitalisticus: What did John Harris say?

Academicus: That Froomkin's column was "an obstacle to our work." That it "dilute[d] [the Post's] only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters. That he found claims that Dan Froomkin was a "second-rate hack" to be "not far-fetched".

Capitalisticus: What?

Academicus: When New York University's Jay Rosen of PressThink asked him to document his complaints about Dan, John Harris responded by sending Rosen a webpage address-- http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/03/dan_froomkin_se.php--as part of his answer: "Does Dan present a liberal worldview? Not always, but cumulatively I think a great many people would say yes—-enough that I don’t want them thinking he works for the news side of the Post. Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me." The title of the web page was "Dan Froomkin: Second-Rate Hack."

Capitalisticus: Were the arguments on the webpage cogent?

Academicus: Didn't seem so to me--some of the things Froomkin wrote that were called "biased" were pro-liberal, some were pro-libertarian, some were pro-consistency, and most seemed pro-transparency. More important, I think, is that the author of the web page was Patrick Ruffini, Bush-Cheney 2004 Webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee.

Capitalisticus: Harris thinks journalism is bad if Republican operatives don't like it?

Academicus: It sure looks like it. One theory--held by Jay Rosen--is that what is really going on is a Washington Post that is terrified, terrified of offending the White House.

Capitalisticus: And Harris holds out this Ruffini character and his "not far-fetched" arguments as evidence that Froomkin shouldn't be writing a column called "White House Briefing"?

Academicus: Not quite. You see, Harris didn't call Ruffini "Bush-Cheney 2004 Webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee." He called him "this conservative blogger."

Capitalisticus: Harris got played? He didn't know what Ruffini's day job was?

Academicus: Nope. Harris was the player--or tried to be: When asked "[W]ill you fess up to what exactly you know/knew about Patrick Ruffini and when exactly you knew it?" Harris answered: "I'll address the matter here. I did know that some people raising questions about Froomkin are Republicans..."

Capitalisticus: So he tried to sell Republican operative Patrick Ruffini to Jay Rosen and his readers as a grassroots conservative weblogger?

Academicus: Yep.

Capitalisticus: Why?

Academicus: Well, wouldn't people have laughed at him if he'd told Rosen, "I think Froomkin has a liberal bias because Patrick Ruffini, Bush-Cheney 2004 Webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee, says so"?

Capitalisticus: But people must be laughing at him now?

Academicus: Yep.

Capitalisticus: And he didn't anticipate that anybody would fact-check him? This is just not credible. I don't believe you.

Thrasymachus: Remember: he comes out of print daily news journalism. In daily print news journalism, it's easy to be sleazy. If you want to you can make your hit unanswered and then be gone. Your target writes a letter to the editor, it maybe gets published five days later, without context, and if the target is lucky the letter to the editor repairs a tenth of the damage. Can either of you think of an example of a daily print news journalistic hit in the past in which the target managed to effectively respond?

Capitalisticus: Ummm... I still don't believe you.

Academicus: Back when Max Frankel set Fox Butterfield to slime the victim in the William Kennedy-Smith rape case in the New York Times. There was substantial push back then--a lot of New York cocktail party chatter on how it was near-criminal how eager the New York Times was to go into the tank for the Kennedy clan.

Thrasymachus: That's one example--one exception that tests the rule. Are there any others?

Academicus: Ummm...

Thrasymachus: That's the daily news print for you. You can slime. It's in print. You're gone. And they can never catch up. The fact that the web works differently--that you can be fact-checked and the fact-checking can be as widely distributed as your initial slime--that was... not a thing that Harris thought about when he decided to call Pat Ruffini "this conservative weblogger" rather than "Bush-Cheney 2004 Webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee."

Capitalisticus: But his only asset is his credibility as an objective news reporter. He put that at risk...

Academicus: But identifying Pat Ruffini as a conservative weblogger is like identifying Jim Carville as the spouse of a Republican strategist...

Capitalisticus: Or like Judy Miller's promising to identify Scooter Libby as an ex-Capitol Hill staffer...

Academicus: John Harris has a book about Clinton out, The Survivor. He can't afford--he professionally can't afford--to exhibit Judy Miller sourcing ethics...

Thrasymachus: Did I say that Harris was particularly smart, or thoughtful, or understood his own best interests?

Platon: You have to laugh.

Academicus: You do indeed.

Capitalisticus: You realize that I don't believe you? That this is simply not sane?

Academicus: I told you so.

Glaucon: Yes, you do have to laugh. But has all this done Dan Froomkin any damage?

Academicus: I don't think so. WPNI boss Jim Brady appears to like the work that Froomkin does. And Brady says that he's not thinking of changing the name of the column. The Post's New York Bureau Chief, Michael Howell, has weighed on in the side of approving of what people like Dan Froomkin and Jefferson Morley do:

I’ve been following the latest battle between blogistan and the print world and I had a few thoughts. I am a fan of Dan Froomkin and Jeff Morley, among other bloggers on our website. I admire the loose-limbed free associative quality of their writing.... A few of my esteemed (and I’m not being facetious in my use of that adjective) colleagues have dismissed Froomkin and Morley as clip jobbers. That’s unfair and a bit foolish. They are terrific bloggers, who read widely and compare and contrast and draw connections—-often obvious—-that reporters sometimes shy from for fear of appearing less than objective. (Aspiring to objectivity as opposed to, say, fairness, always has struck me as a desultory intellectual cul de sac.)... That said, I can see the argument for tweaking Froomkin’s labelling. When Froomkin’s column first appeared, I assumed we had added a reporter to our corps in the White House (I would note in my clueless self defense that I am based in New York City and so lag on my awareness of newsroom hires).... [I]t would be terrific if the Web triumphalists, who seem never to have experienced a moment’s doubt, could acknowledge that this just might, possibly, be honestly felt. As political editor John Harris notes, there’s a long and proud tradition of the journalist as independent and removed observer.... [P]rint reporting is a “cool” medium; blogistan is often as hot as Hades. There are perfectly good and honest reasons that some of our best reporters are wary of turning into some version of the mindless babblers who hold forth on television (and, in fairness, on a few blogs) and so they put their toes one at a time into the Web waters.... [M]any of us suspect that the Post maintains a separate web operation for another more prosaic reason. Our dot.com operation is a non-union shop...

Glaucon: I'm surprised. I would have said "clip jobber" is exactly what Froomkin and Morley do--but that to do a good job of clip jobbing, of synthesis and analysis in real time, is a very difficult task and the ability to do it is a very valuable skill. There are more people who can summarize Scott McClellan's briefing in three hours than who can figure out what today's news means and what pieces of it are important in three hours.

Academicus: Did Harris or Howell say what they wanted the name of the column changed to?

Glaucon: Michael Froomkin recommends: "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'."

Platon: Still, nothing here seems to explain the energy and the animus that you can feel coming out of Howell and especially Harris, in waves...

Academicus: Yes. What's really going on over there the Washington Post anyway?

Glaucon: I think it's a matter of Froomkin's not having paid his appropriate dues. Dan Froomkin says that he's just providing a bunch of links and commentary so that you can easily keep up with that day's news about the White House. And he is. But he's also being Walter Lippmann--he's telling you where the real news is, and what the day's news really means.

Capitalisticus: And everyone in the Washington Post newsroom thinks that you only get to be Walter Lippmann after paying your dues, when you finally--after decades of loyal service--get promoted from objective news reporter to columnist.

Glaucon: You are not supposed to sneak in the side door, webmaster one day and author of "White House Briefing" the next.

Platon: May I point out that the fact that the Post and the Times choose their "Lippmanns" as a reward for long-time loyal service rather than on the basis of their intelligence or synthesizing ability is a reason that their mindshare is low, and falling? I mean Herbert... Tierney... Broder... Cohen... ye Gods, give me strength!

Academicus: The most heartfelt criticisms of Froomkin's "White House Briefing" I have heard coming from within the print Post aren't objections to Dan Froomkin's being "opinionated" or "liberal"--but rather print journalists' cries that one of us ought to be doing this, or we ought to be rotating it among ourselves, rather than outsourcing it to somebody who doesn't live in the print newsroom.

Televisticus: I think you all are missing the real source of energy here...

Glaucon: You do?

Televisticus: Yes. You have to pick up on Powell's "non-union" comment. I think that this is key: the employees of WPNI--Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive--are not in the print Washington Post's newsroom. They are across the river, in Arlington, Virginia. They are not members of the Newspaper Guild. Print reporters look at shrinking print advertising and growing online advertising revenues, think of how as more and more homes acquire more and more computers it makes more sense to take advantage of the efficiency of electronic distribution, think about how declining print runs and rising page views will shift the distribution of revenue sources for the entire Post operation, and think hard about what's going to happen to them in five years.

Academicus: And that is?

Televisticus: That as print circulation shrinks, and online circulation grows, the Washington Post Company is going to take advantage of this by shifting its beat reporters out from under the aegis of the print Washington Post and onto the books of WPNI. The print reporters will find that their jobs are being eliminated, but that they are welcome to apply to new jobs being created in Arlington. New jobs that do exactly what their old jobs did, but for the web rather than the print edition. New non-union jobs. New jobs that pay half of what their old jobs did.

Academicus: Ah. I see.

Televisticus: And that, I think, is the principal, although perhaps not entirely conscious, source of John Harris's imperative need to throw mud at the WPNI operation. He and his people must establish, and establish immediately, a large quality and reputational difference between Washington Post and WPNI in readers' minds, if they are to have any chance of keeping the Washington Post Company from halving their salaries and making them work in northern Virginia in the long run.

Academicus: Ah. So this is really a cross-Potomac white-collar outsourcing issue?

Televisticus: I think so.

Thrasymachus: You are naive.

Televisticus: Well, yes, I agree that I am naive. But in what way do you think I'm naive?

Thrasymachus: You said that Post corporate headquarters will transfer jobs from the Washington print newsroom to the Arlington web newsroom, in the process destroying the Newspaper Guild and halving journalists' salaries.

Televisticus: I did.

Thrasymachus: Why should they transfer jobs? Why shouldn't Post corporate headquarters wake up to the fact that its three White House print beat reporters spend a large chunk of the day trapped in the White House briefing room (or similar locales) on assassination watch, in the equivalent of a news isolation chamber where their only source of "information" is Scott McClellan? Post corporate headquarters will say:

Wait a minute. This is really expensive. Someone like Dan Froomkin--blogging in his bathrobe from his basement, running off of the wire services and the press releases and the think-tank reports and his own network of policy- and political-relevant sources--can pull together something that is as interesting and as informative as what the beat reporters do, and do it much cheaper. It won't be real White House reporting, but then reporting what Scott McClellan said today isn't real reporting either. And what Froomkin does is just as satisfying to the readers.

The print newsroom jobs won't be moved from Washington to Arlington. The print newsroom jobs will vanish. The White House Briefing Room will be empty--save for the AP and UPI and Knight-Ridder staffs. And, from the print reporters' perspective, their entire profession will have been replaced by something cheap and inferior.

Academicus: Ah.

Thrasymachus: And the only lever the print reporters have to stop this process is to try to make readers think that the work product of the Froomkins and the Morleys is vastly inferior and shoddy so that Washington Post Corporate won't dare undertake such a shift.

Glaucon: Vastly inferior compared to the work product of the Harrises?

Capitalisticus: The guys with the Judy Miller sourcing ethics?

Academicus: The guys who are easily browbeaten by Republican political operatives?

Thrasymachus: Did I say that John Harris and company were effective at making their case?

Posted by DeLong at 05:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do It Now

Peter Baker and Charles Babbington of the *Washington Post* bury their lead in paragraphs 13 through 17: Deputy Director of Intelligence Michael Hayden says that the Bush administration broke the law because it would have been "inefficient" to follow it: following the law "'involves marshaling arguments' and 'looping paperwork around'." Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that the Bush administration did not dare ask Congress to authorize the program, yet claims to believe that Congress did.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Bush Addresses Uproar Over Spying: Nor did [Bush] explain why the current system is not quick enough to meet the needs of the fight against terrorism. Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the NSA in urgent situations can already eavesdrop on international telephone calls for 72 hours without a warrant, as long as it goes to a secret intelligence court by the end of that period for retroactive permission. Since the law was passed in 1978 after intelligence scandals, the court has rejected just five of 18,748 requests for wiretaps and search warrants, according to the government.

Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was NSA director when the surveillance began and now serves as Bush's deputy director of national intelligence, said the secret-court process was intended for long-term surveillance of agents of an enemy power, not the current hunt for elusive terrorist cells.

"The whole key here is agility," he said at a White House briefing before Bush's news conference. According to Hayden, most warrantless surveillance conducted under Bush's authorization lasts just days or weeks, and requires only the approval of a shift supervisor. Hayden said getting retroactive court approval is inefficient because it "involves marshaling arguments" and "looping paperwork around."

In asserting the legality of the program, Bush cited his power under Article II of the Constitution as well as the resolution authorizing force passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks. The resolution never mentions such surveillance, but Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said it is implicit and cited last year's Supreme Court decision in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld , which found that the force resolution effectively authorized Bush to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants. But the same ruling held that detainees are entitled to challenge their imprisonment in court.

"This is not a backdoor approach," Gonzales said at the White House. "We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance." He acknowledged that the administration discussed introducing legislation explicitly permitting such domestic spying but decided against it because it "would be difficult, if not impossible" to pass.

Posted by DeLong at 05:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bulletins from the Shopping Front...

I'm clearly not fit for this world.

The elevator from the parking garage up to the main floor of Barnes and Noble has broken down under the weight of Christmas shoppers.

I walked past Wolf Camera three times without noticing its existence. (Of course, the fact that the only sign saying "Wolf Camera" was not visible from the footpath provides some sort of excuse.)

"What are all these people doing here?"

"They're Christians. They're buying Christmas presents."

"If they are Christians, shouldn't they be processing, wearing robes, holding candles and singing advent carols? Should they be driving SUVs at excessive speed through parking lots?"

"Don't ask vain questions!"

"O come, o come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
Who mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of God appear..."

"Hush! You're making a spectacle of yourself!"

"Rejoice! Rejoice!"

"People are looking!"

"Emmanuel shall come to thee..."

"Shut up and shop!"

Posted by DeLong at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dan Gross Is Unhappy with Ed Prescott

Dan Gross is offended by Edward Prescott on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. So am I. Prescott is capable of much better work than this regurgitation of misleading Bushie talking points.

Dan Gross writes:

Daniel Gross: December 18, 2005 - December 24, 2005 Archives: [There's good stuff but] there's also a fair amount of junk in there.... [I]n the last couple of years, a huge differential has opened in the taxation between short-term gains and long-term capital gains. If investors were wealth-seeking machines that were highly influenced by differential taxation rates -- as Prescott argues -- then you would think that the opening of this differential would have a huge impact on investing and trading behavior. People would avoid taking short-term capital gains at all costs, and seek only to take long-term capital gains. Of course, precisely the opposite has happened in the two years since the tax regime on capital gains changed.... Prescott also slips into the intellectual dishonesty so common to this page, writing:

And this isn't about giving tax breaks to the rich. The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, who noted that "nearly 60% of those paying capital gains taxes earn less than $50,000 a year, and 85% of capital gains taxpayers earn less than $100,000." In addition, he wrote that lower tax rates on savings and investment benefited 24 million families to the tune of about $950 on their 2004 taxes."

That's a nice way of playing with numbers. It may well be that 85 percent of the households that pay a capital gains tax of some sort earn less than $100,000. But that doesn't mean the benefits of capital gains tax cuts don't flow disproportionately to the ultra-rich. The real question to ask is: what percentage of capital gains taxes paid are paid by those earning less than $100,000. The answer: a heck of a lot less than 85 percent.... [P]eople making more than $100,000 probably pay 90 percent or more of the capital gains taxes.... Next, he's on to the deficits.

But shouldn't we worry about federal deficits? Isn't it true that we need to raise the capital gains and dividends rate to capture more revenue and thus help close the widening deficit maw? The plain fact is that last fiscal year the debt-to-GDP ratio (broadly defined) went up only 0.2%. If the forecasted deficits over the next five years are correct, it will begin declining. Tax revenues will rise as economic activity continues to grow -- indeed, this has been the case in 2005. Besides, to raise tax rates and thereby dampen economic activity seems a perverse way to improve our economic situation, including our level of tax receipts -- 15% of something is better than 20% of nothing.

Now we're into serious doublespeak. We don't have to worry about extending tax cuts due to expire, Prescott argues, because if the current forecasts on deficits for the next five years are correct, the deficits will begin declining. Of course, the reason the current forecasts call for deficits to start declining in the out years is precisely because they presume the temporary tax cuts will disappear....

Sigh.

Not good. Not good at all. An economist's job is to teach people what is going on--not to make misleading assertions about the incidence of tax law changes by regurgitating Don Evans's talking points. Don Evans can speak his own talking points perfectly well.

Posted by DeLong at 05:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another National Review Edition)

At National Review, he writes:

Larry Kudlow on Federal Reserve on NRO Financial : I still can't forgive the [Federal Reserve] for decimating and deflating the bullish stock market economy five years ago, a move that temporarily ended the great productivity surge of the Internet revolution.

Productivity growth in the American economy, nonfarm business sector:

1996 2.7%
1997 1.6%
1998 2.7%
1999 2.8%
2000 2.8%
2001 2.5%
2002 4.4%
2003 4.4%
2004 4.2%

I can't stand it. I really just cannot stand it.

Posted by DeLong at 05:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Musings on Assessing "Irrational Exuberance"

Back in 1996 Yale economist Robert Shiller wrote:

Price Earnings Ratios as Forecasters of Returns: The theory that the stock market is approximately a random walk does not look right at all: Figure 1... show[s]... the ratio of the real Standard and Poor Index ten years later to the real index today (on the y axis) versus... the ratio of the real Standard and Poor Composite Index for the first year of the ten year interval, divided by a lagged thirty year moving average of real earnings.... If real stock prices were a random walk, they should be unforecastable, and there should really be no relation here between y and x. There certainly appears to be a distinct negative relation here. The January 1996 value for the ratio shown on the horizontal axis is 29.72, shown on the figure with a vertical line. Looking at the diagram, it is hard to come away without a feeling that the market is quite likely to decline substantially in value over the succeeding ten years; it appears that long run investors should stay out of the market for the next decade...

In 1996 Yale economist Robert Shiller looked around, considered the historical record on the performance of the stock market, and concluded that the American stock market was overvalued. Prices on the broad index of the S&P 500 stood at 29 times the average of the past three decades' earnings. In the past, whenever price-earnings ratios had been high future long-run stock returns had turned out to be low. On the basis of econometric regression studies carried out by him and by Harvard's John Campbell, Shiller predicted in 1996 that the S&P 500 would be a bad investment over the next decade. In the decade up to January 2006, he predicted, the real value of the S&P 500 would fall, and even including dividends his estimate of the likely real inflation-adjusted returns to be earned by investors holding the S&P 500 was zero--a far cry below the 6% per year or so real return that we have come to think typical of the American stock market.

Robert Shiller's arguments were convincing. They convinced Alan Greenspan enough so that in December of 1996 he gave his "irrational exuberance" speech to the American Enterprise Institute. They certainly convinced me.

But Robert Shiller's arguments were wrong--at least, wrong ex post. Unless the American stock market collapses before the end of January, the past decade has seen the stock market offer returns a little bit higher than the historical averages--much, much greater than zero. Those who invested and reinvested their money in America's stock market over the past decade have nearly doubled it, even after taking account of inflation.

Why was Shiller wrong? In an arithmetic sense, we can point to three factors, each of which can take roughly one-third the credit for real American stock returns of 6% per year over the past decade rather than zero:

None of these three factors were obvious as of 1996 (although there were signs of the first and inklings of the third for those smart or lucky enough to read them). As of 1996, betting on Shiller's regression studies was a reasonable thing to do, perhaps an intelligent thing to do--but it was also an overhelmingly risky thing to do, as anybody who followed the portfolio strategy implicit in Shiller's analysis now painfully feels in his wallet or her purse.

Economists muse about just why it is that stock markets around the world are subject to fits of "irrational exuberance" and "excessive pessimism." Why don't rational and informed investors take more steps to bet heavily on fundamentals and against the enthusiasms of the uninformed crowd? The past decade gives us two reasons. First--if we grant that Shiller's regression analyses had correctly identified long-run fundamentals a decade ago--betting on fundamentals for the long term is overwhelmingly risky: lots of good news can happen over a decade, enough to bankrupt an even slightly leveraged bear when stocks look high; and lots of bad news can happen over a decade enough to bankrupt an even slightly leveraged bull when stocks look low. Thus even in extreme situations--like the peak of the dot-com bubble in late 1999 and early 2000--it is very difficult for even those who believe they know what fundamentals are to make large long-run bets on them. And it is even more difficult for those who claim they know what long-run fundamental values are and want to make large long-run contrarian bets to convince others to trust them with their money. As J.P. Morgan said when asked to predict what stocks would do: "They will fluctuate."

Perhaps this is how it should be: if it were easy to pierce the veils of time and ignorance and to assess long-run fundamental values with a high degree of confidence, it would be easy and safe to make large contrarian long-run bets on fundamentals. In this case the smart money would smooth out the enthusiasms--positive and negative--of the overenthusiastic crowd. And stocks would fluctuate less. And there wouldn't be teasing evidence at the edge of statistical significance of large-scale deviations of stock market prices from fundamental values.

Posted by DeLong at 05:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Condi Rice Complains to Customer Service!

Not even Fafblog can deal with the Bush administration at the appropriate level. However, it is trying.

Here Fafnir interviews Condi Rice:

RICE: First of all, we don't send prisoners off to be tortured, Fafnir. We just transport prisoners to countries where torture happens to be legal and where they happen to end up getting tortured.

FB: Well that explains everything then! It's all just a wacky misunderstanding, like that episode a Three's Company where Jack sends Janet off to Uzbekistan to get boiled alive by the secret police.

RICE: I'd also like to point out that whenever we send a prisoner to a country that routinely tortures prisoners, that country promises us NOT to torture them.

FB: And then they get tortured anyway!

RICE: Yes, they do! It's very strange.

FB: Over and over again, every time! That's gotta be so frustrating.

RICE: Oh it is, it is.

FB: So the first time you kidnap a prisoner an send him to Saudi Arabia you're like "don't torture this guy" an they're all "we totally won't" an then they go an torture him an you're all "ooh Saudi Arabia I told you not to torture him!" an they're all "oh we're sorry, we promise next time" an then you go "well you better" an you send em the next guy an they torture him too an you go "oh man Saudi Arabia you did it AGAIN!"

RICE: The president believes in the value of patience, Fafnir. He's not going to let a few dozen innocent torture victims come between him and his favorite third-world dictators.

FB: See after the first coupla hundred times that happened I woulda registered a complaint with customer service.

Posted by DeLong at 05:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

The New York Times Will Not Comment on the Meeting

Kudos to Jonathan Alter--and to whoever leaked him this story:

Bush's Snoopgate: WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY By Jonathan Alter WPNI Updated: 6:17 p.m. ET Dec. 19, 2005: Bush came out swinging on Snoopgate—-he made it seem as if those who didn’t agree with him wanted to leave us vulnerable to Al Qaeda-—but it will not work. We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator.... No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.... [O]n December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed... that “the fact that we are discussing this program is helping the enemy.” But there is simply no evidence, or even reasonable presumption, that this is so. And rather than the leaking being a “shameful act,” it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab.

No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—-which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—-because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

What is especially perplexing about this story is that the 1978 law set up a special court to approve eavesdropping in hours, even minutes, if necessary. In fact, the law allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact. Since 1979, the FISA court has approved tens of thousands of eavesdropping requests and rejected only four. There was no indication the existing system was slow—-as the president seemed to claim in his press conference-—or in any way required extra-constitutional action....

[T]he president knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story.

Posted by DeLong at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dan Froomkin Writes to Jay Rosen

Dan Froomkin writes about what he thinks he is doing with WPNI's Dan Froomkin's "Cooking with Walnuts" column. I think that there is always sufficient "lack of transparency" inside any White House to leave plenty of room for a White House Watch column informed by "the same passion for answers and accountability" that Dan brings:

PressThink: Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One : Jay asked me yesterday -- back when it was a little more relevant -- to weigh in on whether or not I am an ideologue. I apologize for not responding with blogger speed.

But as it happens, Jay has already expressed my position on this issue more skillfully than I could. For instance, there was his post on http://washingtonpost.com's Achenblog, in which he wrote:

First, Froomkin has an argument. His (in my paraphrase) is: You actually don't think I'm liberal; what you mean is that I am anti-Bush. But you're wrong. I am not anti-Bush, but I do have a kind of agenda as a writer and observer, and it often places me in conflict with this White House. I am for "discourse accountability" in presidents. I try to insist that the president engage in real dialogue, and refrain from demagoguery. I think speeches should be fact-checked, and statements intensely scrutinized. When presidents refuse to answer their critics they do democracy a disservice. When they refuse even to be questioned they pretend they're kings and this we cannot allow.

Froomkin further says: I have an agenda, but not an ideology in the conventional sense. I stand up for these things but I do not take political stands the way a Richard Cohen or George Will might. You can argue with my agenda, but why are you calling me a liberal when I would apply the same standards to a president named Kerry, Clinton, Biden or Obama? (I believe he would, too.)

Amen, Jay (and the many, many readers who said similar things.) (And re: the whole imperial presidency meme, see today's column.)

So I'll just add a few thoughts.

I think one reason some people see the column as having a political bias may be a misreading of my enthusiasm. The fact is that, like most good reporters, I am delighted when I get wind of what I consider a great story -- and I am outraged when I see the public's right to know being stymied. Reporters have traditionally been encouraged to suppress that sort of passion or outrage in their work product. But I have long felt that the Internet audience demands voice. Nobody wants to read a bored blogger. So I wear my passion on my sleeve.

But it's journalistic passion, not partisan passion. And what disturbs me is the suggestion that enthusiastically scrutinizing a Republican president is somehow de facto biased and liberal -- and therefore inadvisable for a reporter in a mainstream newsroom. I think that's toxic for the industry, and for democracy.

Incidentally, I think this also speaks to a larger issue going forward. As more reporters start blogging (and they should) they'll either write boring blogs that fail -- or they'll write with a bit of attitude and succeed by connecting with readers. What will happen then? Here's one scenario: Newsroom leaders will become less fixated on detachment and balance -- two attributes that I think are hurting us more than helping us these days -- and will instead focus on the values at the core of our industry, such as fairness and accuracy.

Finally: There's been much speculation over whether my column would take the same approach with a Democrat in the White House. My answer is that the same passion for answers and accountability would inform the column no matter who is president. But a better question, really, is would the column take the same approach with another president -- either Democratic or Republican -- who was more forthcoming? And the answer is: I don't know. It's possible that in some ways the current incarnation of White House Briefing is a uniquely appropriate response to a unique presidency with a unique lack of transparency.


Meanwhile, in email the lurkers--highly, highly respected journalist lurkers, both inside and outside the Washington Post newsroom--tend to agree with Dan, and also are irate because they typically believe that this passion for accountability and answers has been by and large absent from the print Washington Post's coverage of George W. Bush. Here are some not-atypical excerpts:

I think the [core] problem here is... [national political editor John] Harris doesn't care for heat from the White House.... [T]he White House has been treated so gently by the Post, for the most part, that anyone there complaining about Froomkin should blush. Of course they never blush...

The Post has many more columnists with full blown conservative than liberal biases...

The tension between the Post newsroom and the website is hardly new.... Post management has refused... to meld the two... operations because... the web folks would be covered by the Newspaper Guild contract.... Don't expect any melding... soon. It would cost the Washington Post Company too much money...

Froomkin is a columnist, not a reporter.... The folks at the White House obviously know this and Harris should remind them of it whenever they complain...

The print Post has always blurred the line in allowing reporters to be columnists. Howard Kurtz writes news stories for the Post, writes a weekly column, and writes still more columns for the website...

Post reporters [write news stories]... opinion pieces that appear in... Outlook... "News Analysis" stories which often have lots of opinions, [and] when an analysis piece get too obviously into opinions, it carries a "Commentary" label.

Posted by DeLong at 02:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Department of Redundancy Department

In the aftermath of the Great Typepad Meltdown of 2005, it seems to me that it is time to increase the redundancy of my weblog.

I will keep the main weblog at http://delong.typepad.com/, with assorted site feeds http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/atom.xml and http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/index.rdf.

I will mirror the main weblog at http://braddelong.blogspot.com/, with associated site feed http://braddelong.blogspot.com/atom.xml.

In addition, I will mirror another copy on my office machine. The address http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/--the original weblog--is now an empty frame enclosing http://delong.typepad.com/, but I will still copy posts over to the machine http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/ with associated feed http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/index.rdf

Posted by DeLong at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Wouldn't They Go to the FISA Court?

Laura Rozen thinks that Noah Schachtman is right: the NSA domestic intercept program that the Bush administration set up to evade oversight by the FISA court is the result of improvements in technology followed by utter stupidity in its application:

War and Piece: I think Noah Shachtman is onto something. Wonder if some new data mining or other technology meant that the way they got "probable cause" was through what the courts would deem illegal search and seizure? Is this about some technological application that has an implicit policy change the administration never declared? So you start by mining every single communication to and from Afghanistan and you mine some significant patterns and work backwards? But why even at that point -- when let's say they had a list of targeted phone numbers or specific individuals in the US they then wanted to surveil -- would they not then go to the FISA court, which surely would be sympathetic to their security argument, and one would then have, with a court-approved wiretap, potentially legally admissable evidence? Why stick with a program that could never be used in court?

I don't think we can understand this warrantless NSA spying on Americans story without its connection to the whole secret extra legal other decisions the Bush administration has made mostly in secret - the torture, the extraordinary renditions, Gitmo, secret prisons, declaring unilaterally US citizens like Padilla and Hamdi enemy combatants, instantly denied the rights of US citizens, because clearly, the Bush administration never meant to try any of the people picked up by this program in a court of law.

And for such vast, extra legal search and seizure of captured communications, why do they seem to have so very little to show for it? And why did they not consider creating some oversight mechanism, that would give the program some pretense to legitimacy? Why was this policy change all done in secret, with those authorizing the program the same ones who allegedly "oversaw" it, answerable to nobody, a perfect circle absolutely ripe for abuse?

And I think there's a whole new set of hurdles to Alito's nomination that just appeared, that may make even Republican Senators resist putting someone on the Supreme Court who would deem such secret executive powers at the cost of those of Congress.

Let me sharpen that: after this, I cannot see how Alito can be confirmed. If the Bushies are smart, they will withdraw Alito's nomination now.

As to why they didn't create some oversight checks-and-balances--why they weren't worried about handing such powers to a future left-wing president--there are two possible answers: (a) They are really stupid. (b) They are really evil--they do not intend for there to be a left-wing president ever again. I vote for (a) myself. I wish I could suppress the still small voices in my head that are whispering (b).

I hate the way this administration has turned me into a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Posted by DeLong at 12:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Self-Esteem Problem

Pharyngula watches Gregg Easterbrook attack Richard Dawkins:

Pharyngula : Easterbrook... is outraged at the arrogance of the damned atheist.

Don't take this personally, but if you are an American adult there is a one in two chance that Richard Dawkins, a renowned professor of science at Oxford, thinks you are "ignorant, stupid or insane," unless you are "wicked." These are the adjectives Dawkins chooses to describe the roughly 100 million Americans adults who, if public opinion polls are right, believe Homo sapiens was created directly by God, rather than gradually by evolution. Ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked. Not much to choose from there!

...The important point, of course, is that contrary to Easterbrook's claim that there isn't much to choose from, that list actually covers the whole wide range of possibilities. Dawkins himself goes on to explain that the stupid, insane or wicked are the minority possibilities, but let's be honest and face the facts: if you are a creationist, you are almost certainly deeply ignorant of biology. Easterbrook seems to have actually gotten the quote from Dawkins' defense of the statement, but doesn't seem to have comprehended any of the surrounding words.

The gist of Easterbrook's complaint is that Dawkins is "arrogant", which seems to mean that he forcefully and plainly states the facts and evidence and logic of his case, and that those facts don't leave much wiggle room for the evolution deniers....

Pharyngula goes on to write:

While Easterbrook is doing his rabble-rousing best to rile up his readers into hating that arrogant bastard Dawkins, he also doesn't bother to consider this revealing passage from the article he cites.

Not only is ignorance no crime, it is also, fortunately, remediable. In the same Times review, I went on to recount my experiences of going on radio phone-in talk shows around the United States. Opinion polls had led me to expect hostile cross-examination from creationist zealots. I encountered little of that kind. I got creationist opinions in plenty, but these were founded on honest ignorance, as was freely confessed. When I politely and patiently explained what Darwinism actually is, they listened not only with equal politeness, but with interest and even enthusiasm. "Gee, that's real neat, I never heard that before! Wow!" These people were not stupid (or insane, or wicked). They didn't believe in evolution, but this was because nobody had ever told them what evolution is. And because plenty of people had told them (wrongly, according to educated theologians) that evolution is against their cherished religion.

This is exactly right. We're all ignorant to different degrees about different things. Dawkins tends to be more right than wrong on the subject of evolution, but is probably more wrong than right on the subject of automobile repair. It's a strange attitude that some people have that pointing out their ignorance of certain subjects is a terrible insult, as if everyone is expected to be omniscient and infallible polymaths...

Posted by DeLong at 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Right-Wing Class War

Ah. Distributional implications of current tax-cut packages:

Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Reconciliation Tax-Cut Packages Flawed, Rev 11/29/05: Who Benefits from the House and Senate Tax-Cut Packages?... Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate tax-cut packages would primarily benefit upper-income taxpayers. Under both bills, more than three-quarters of the gains from the major provisions in the bill would go to people with incomes over $100,000 a year.... [T]he House package is substantially more skewed to the very highest-income taxpayers than the Senate measure. Some... 40 percent of the benefits of the Ways and Means Committee package would go to people with incomes [of a million dollars a year or more].... The primary reason for the House measure’s far more skewed distribution is that it extends capital gains and dividend tax cuts but not AMT relief....

The House bill’s concentration of tax-cut benefits among households with incomes over $1 million undercuts the claims of many supporters of capital gains and dividend tax cuts who have misleadingly sought to characterize these tax cuts as providing benefits that are widely distributed. Those making these claims point to the number of taxpayers who receive a benefit of any amount from the capital gains and dividend tax cuts. These claims ignore the fact that many of the middle-income taxpayers who are affected receive very small tax-cut benefits while a highly disproportionate share of the benefits go to households at extremely high income levels.... [A]bout 26 million households will receive some benefit from the extension of capital gains and dividend tax cuts in 2009, or about 17 percent of all households.... [But] households with income of less than $50,000 would receive an average tax cut in 2009 of less than $11 from the capital gains and dividend measures, according to the Tax Policy Center. Households with incomes of less than $100,000 would receive an average tax cut of $29. In contrast, the average tax cut for households with income of more than $1 million would be $32,000 in 2009...

Posted by DeLong at 12:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Radio Silence from the Washington Post Ombudsman...

There is one and only one person at the Washington Post who will not return my phone calls. One and only one person I have called with questions about John Harris and company's view of Dan Froomkin's "Cooking with Walnuts" column who maintains radio silence.

All I get back are messages like this from her (unnamed) assistant:

Do you mind putting your questions either in an email or a letter ombudsman@washpost.com?...

Deborah Howell, ombudsman of the Washington Post, is the only one I have called who won't call me back.

This is funny.

Posted by DeLong at 12:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Future of Latin America: Another Such Victory and We Are Lost

"Another such victory and I am lost," said Pyrrhus of Epirus after beating Rome's legions. Juan Ferrero writes about another such victory--this time for the left in Bolivia:

Who Will Bring Water to the Bolivian Poor? - New York Times: COCHABAMBA, Bolivia - The people of this high Andean city were ecstatic when they won the "water war." After days of protests and martial law, Bechtel - the American multinational that had increased rates when it began running the waterworks - was forced out... its executives fled... protest leaders pledged to improve service... celebrated the ouster as a major victory.... Today, five years later, water is again as cheap as ever, and a group of community leaders runs the water utility, Semapa. But half of Cochabamba's 600,000 people remain without water, and those who do have service have it only intermittently - for some, as little as two hours a day, for the fortunate, no more than 14.

"I would have to say we were not ready to build new alternatives," said Oscar Olivera, who led the movement that forced Bechtel out.... [W]hile a potent left has won many battles in Latin America... it still struggles to come up with practical, realistic solutions to resolve the deep discontent that gave the movement force.... [I]n Bolivia... protests against the introduction of stronger market forces have toppled two presidents.... Frustrated that the economic restructuring prescribed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund failed to translate into sustained growth and reduced poverty, country after country in Latin America has either discarded or is questioning much of the conventional wisdom about relying more on market forces....

Bolivia's back-tracking, more a product of roiling protests than government policy, began after the country became among the first in Latin America to apply market prescriptions wholeheartedly.... Bolivia's economy, though, grew at a dismal pace.... The fund and other institutions... blame grinding corruption, poor infrastructure and high pension costs... note that Bolivia, like other countries that seek help, come only when they are wracked by economic troubles that require tough choices.... But to Bolivians, the experiment was marked by failure.... In the end, market changes... fueled anger that severely weakened governments and gave rise to Mr. Morales... [who] has in the last four years used his outsider status, his... very poor origin... and his Indian roots....

That is why Mr. Morales is pushing for a "nationalization" of the gas industry that... will increase taxes and royalties on foreign energy companies.... He also wants to tighten borders to keep out cheap products and focus the government's attention on cooperatives.... "We will have an economy based on solidarity and reciprocity," Mr. Morales said in an interview. "We do not dismiss the presence of foreign investment, but we want it to be real, fresh investment to industrialize our hydrocarbons, all under state control."

The proposals, to be sure, are vague. Mr. Morales, who did not finish high school, is guided on economic matters by Carlos Villegas, a left-leaning economist, and by his running mate, Álvaro García, a socialist intellectual, professor of sociology and former guerrilla who articulates the party's position.

Much of the anger that has given Mr. Morales momentum began here in his home city, Cochabamba. The arrival of Bechtel quickly prompted heated protests when the water company increased rates, arguing that it needed more money to finance investment and expand service.... It also became clear that Bechtel would not expand service to the impoverished south, where the company had no profits to gain from an expensive expansion. The ouster of the company meant the return of Semapa.... Semapa has expanded service... to 303,000 people, from 248,000.... But Semapa still grapples with petty graft and inefficiencies... [and] a lack of money. The company cannot secure big international loans, and it cannot raise rates.... For a wide-scale expansion that would include a new dam and aqueducts, $300 million is needed, an enormous amount for a company whose capital budget is just shy of $5 million.

"I don't think you'll find people in Cochabamba who will say they're happy with service," said Franz Taquichiri, one of the community-elected directors of Semapa and a veteran of the water war.... [W]ater filtration installation is split into an obsolete series of 80-year-old tanks and a 29-year-old section that uses gravity to move mountain water from one tank to another.... "We're trying to be realistic, and we're looking for aid from Canada and other countries," explained Mr. Camargo, who has worked at Semapa 20 years....

At Rafael Rodríguez's home and small restaurant, a spigot in the yard provides water three hours a day from a community well. He has little good to say about Bechtel, but he noted that Semapa's pipes were far from reaching the neighborhood.... Edwin Villa, 35, lives in a neighborhood that gets its water through deliveries made two or three times a week by freelance water dealers. The deliveries are sporadic, he said, and sometimes the water contains tiny worms. His children ask for piped water, but there is not much he can tell them. "Our hope is that someday Semapa will reach this far," he said. "It would just be magnificent."

Posted by DeLong at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Criminals?

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake points out that the administration's claims that its domestic spying needed to bypass the FISA surveillance court are specious:

firedoglake: 12/01/2005 - 12/31/2005: Before the administration disciplines themselves into talking points they clearly do not have yet:

Condi: FISA, which came out of 1978 at a time when the principal concern was, frankly, the activities of people on behalf of foreign governments, rather stable targets, very different from the kind of urgency of detection and thereby protection of a country that is needed today. And so the president has drawn on additional authorities that he has under the Constitution and under other statutes.

Redd: FISA provisions already provide for emergency surveillance measures. Under 36 USC 1805, the Attorney General may authorize emergency surveillance (including wiretapping and other regulated surveillance methods) for up to 72 hours, so long as application for approval by the FISA supervisory court is made before that time expires. The Administration already had all the emergency measures it needed to do surveillance without illegal encroachment on American civil liberties.

In other words, Condi's argument -- that such flexibility is needed to go after fast, slippery characters like terrorists -- is completely specious, in an emergency situation a warrant can be applied for up to 72 hours after the wiretap is already in place. According to Redd this is done all the time, and anyone in law enforcement would know that Condi's line of bullshit is just that.

Although Russert did a better job than usual and Condi was clearly waffling, it would be nice to see someone pose this particular question. Because according to the AP:

[S]ome NSA officials were so concerned about the legality of the program that they refused to participate, the Times said. Questions about the legality of the program led the administration to temporarily suspend it last year and impose new restrictions.

Their protestations to the contrary, they knew they were on thin ice with this one.

What have they done that they did not believe the FISA court would approve?

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Posted by DeLong at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Impeach Attorney General Gonzales for Lying to Congress

Impeach Alberto Gonzales for lying to Congress. Impeach him now:

Think Progress: According to President Bush's radio address today, as White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales personally approved Bush's program for warrantless domestic wiretaps. By circumventing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, those wiretaps violated federal law.... During his confirmation hearings for Attorney General in January 2005, Sen. Russ Feingold asked Gonzales about this precise issue:

SEN. FEINGOLD: I -- Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he -- does he have that power?

After trying to dodge the question for a time, Gonzales issued this denial:

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not -- I -- it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

In fact, that was precisely the policy of the President.

And immediately afterwards:

SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it?

MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir.

Is there any reason for Alberto Gonzales to continue to serve as Attorney General?

Posted by DeLong at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Protest and Murder in Dongzhou

The Asia Pundit writes:

asiapundit: Ms Liu Hezhen : China's netizens are still discussing the Dongzhou massacre, in spite of a widely reported crackdown on the media and online expression. The Washington Post reports:

"In Memory of Ms. Liu Hezhen," which Lu Xun wrote in 1926 after warlord forces opened fire on protesters in Beijing and killed one of his students, is a classic of Chinese literature. But why did thousands of people read or post notes in an online forum devoted to the essay last week?

A close look suggests an answer that China's governing Communist Party might find disturbing: They were using Lu's essay about the 1926 massacre as a pretext to discuss a more current and politically sensitive event -- the Dec. 6 police shooting of rural protesters in the southern town of Dongzhou in Guangdong province.

In the 10 days since the shooting, which witnesses said resulted in the deaths of as many as 20 farmers protesting land seizures, the Chinese government has tried to maintain a blackout on the news, barring almost all newspapers and broadcasters from reporting it and ordering major Internet sites to censor any mention of it. Most Chinese still know nothing of the incident.

But it is also clear that many Chinese have already learned about the violence and are finding ways to spread and discuss the news on the Internet, circumventing state controls with e-mail and instant messaging, blogs and bulletin board forums.

The government maintains enough control over the flow of information to prevent an event like the Dongzhou shooting from causing a major public backlash or triggering more demonstrations. But the Internet appears to be weakening a key pillar of the party's rule -- its ability to control news and public opinion.

"I learned about it on the 7th," one bulletin board user wrote Monday of the Dongzhou shooting. "Some day, I believe, this incident will be exposed and condemned. Let us pay tribute to the villagers . . . and silently mourn the dead."

At Kdnet, a large bulletin board site based in Hainan province, users flooded forums with more than 30,000 messages of protest and sorrow in the days after the shooting. The site deleted almost all of the messages Sunday night, but a top editor felt compelled to post a note pleading for forgiveness.

"Please understand, what other Web sites cannot do, Kdnet also cannot do," he wrote to the site's users, promising to convey their anger over the shooting to "the authorities in charge."

The party relies on private Internet firms to monitor and censor their own sites, and can shut down those that don't. But officials at these companies often look the other way or drag their feet when they think they can get away with it, because they know customers are drawn to Web sites with less censorship.

Posted by DeLong at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Liebman-MacGuineas-Samwick Nonpartisan Social Security Reform Plan

Not my ideal for Social Security. But certainly a vast improvement over what we have--or what we are likely to get if the current configuration of politics continues. Kuods to Liebman, MacGuineas, and Samwick. Where do I sign on?

Vox Baby: Nonpartisan Social Security Reform Plan : Along with Jeff Liebman of Harvard University and Maya MacGuineas of the New America Foundation, I am pleased to announce the "Nonpartisan Social Security Reform Plan." Jeff was a Special Assistant to President Clinton's National Economic Council, where he worked on Social Security, and Maya was a Social Security adviser to Senator McCain's 2000 presidential campaign. Combined with my experience on the staff of the CEA in the Bush administration, we cover the political spectrum of recent years.We've all spent plenty of time worrying about the looming fiscal crisis associated with the demographic shift toward an aging population, of which Social Security is the tip of the iceberg. Push finally came to shove, and we bound ourselves together via months of conference calls, and this is the plan that emerged. It's not what any one of us would have come up with on our own, but those sorts of plans never become legislation anyway.

What is unique about the plan is that it is designed around the broad areas of likely compromise across the political landscape on how to restore solvency to the system. What makes the plan important is that the Office of the Chief Actuary has evaluated it and certified that it would "easily satisfy the criteria for attaining sustainable solvency."

The plan contains four primary elements: a gradual reduction in future benefits; an increase in the payroll tax cap; an increase in the retirement age; and the establishment of personal retirement accounts. The plan puts great emphasis on fiscal responsibility -- there are no transfers from general revenues to achieve sustainable solvency. Specifically:

1) Pay-as-you-go benefits would be gradually reduced to keep the costs of the traditional system to what can be afforded by the 12.4 percent payroll tax. The cuts are structured such that cuts are larger for high earners than for low earners.

2) The plan would establish mandatory personal retirement accounts (PRA) in the amount of 3 percent of taxable payroll. The accounts would be funded by a combination of diverting 1.5 percent of taxable payroll from the Social Security trust fund and requiring workers to contribute an additional 1.5 percent of payroll into their PRAs.

3) The funds diverted from the trust fund would be replaced, once the Social Security surplus was not adequate, by raising the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax so that 90 percent of earnings were taxed. Workers would receive no incremental benefits for paying these additional taxes.

4) The plan would gradually increase the normal retirement age (currently scheduled to reach 67 in 2017) to 68 and the earliest age at which retirees could collect Social Security benefits from its current 62 to 65. People would be able to tap into their PRA assets beginning at age 62.

5) In order to minimize risks and administrative costs, accounts would be tightly regulated and full annuitization of account balances would be required.

6) Total replacement rates from the remaining traditional benefits and the new PRAs are comparable for most workers to those promised but currently underfunded in present law.

I invite your comments and questions on the plan, and I will be blogging more about the plan in the days and weeks to come. It was a fascinating experiment--we were trying to walk the very thin line between compromising our principles, which serves no one, and the principle of compromise, which is essential to moving public policy forward. It is a plan that respects political differences but not entrenched political interests. We believe that we have staked out the center of the political spectrum--the challenge now is to capture enough of the people just left and right of center to build the necessary coalition to see it through.

Posted by DeLong at 12:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Julian Sanchez and Paul Krugman Think About Wal-Mart

Julian Sanchez doesn't like Wal-Mart that much: it cheats its workers, and gets away with it because it has too much local monopsony power:

Reason: Balls to the Wal: Big-boxing a mega-retailer's ears : There are some solid points in the film, providing genuine grounds for criticism of Wal-Mart. Former managers allege that time sheets were routinely and systematically altered to deprive workers of overtime pay, and that race and gender discrimination were endemic—though with thousands of Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. alone, it's difficult to get a sense of how representative the anecdotes cited really are. Almost as execrable is the company's unapologetic grubbing for subsidies....

But he dislikes Robert Greenwald's anti-Wal-Mart movie even more:

Robert Greenwald.... No matter what you think is wrong with the world—environmental degradation, street crime, poverty, outsourcing, racial prejudice, failing public schools—-Greenwald knows something that's making the problem worse: Wal-Mart. In Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price [Greenwald] flings an ample supply of feces at the world's largest retailer and hopes that some of it will stick. Some of it does. But a far larger pile, alas, sails from the screen, falls short of its target, and lands with an unceremonious plop on your coffee table.... The single sin for which Wal-Mart catches the most flak is undoubtedly the low wages it pays. And they are low—-but critics seem determined to depict them as uniquely awful. Usually, that's done by picking higher-paid grocery workers rather than all retail workers as the point of comparison. (Wal-Mart, on the other hand, engages in a bit of its own distortion by publicizing its high "average" associate wage, which is skewed up by the inclusion of managers.)...

An interesting counterpoint to the dire portrait painted in the film proper comes in a "making of" featurette. Producer Jim Gilliam is explaining that, due to Wal-Mart's "culture of fear," employees were even more reluctant than insiders at Fox News to talk to the documentary crew. "Their jobs were far more important to these people," said Gilliam, "because there was nothing else." Perhaps the obscene profits that drive Wal-Mart's expansion are helping to create still more such opportunities for other prospective workers who have "nothing else." But if that thought occurred to the filmmakers, they don't give any hint of it....

At times the film's indictment of Wal-Mart passes from strained to simply bizarre. At one point, text scrolling over a black-and-white image of a vacant superstore, to somber music, informs us that there are 26,699,678 square feet of empty Wal-Mart in the U.S., "enough room to build 29,666 classrooms and educate 593,326 kids." The argument, insofar as it's possible to extract one, seems to be that subsidies and infrastructure spending on Wal-Mart divert funds from other public services, and that there's no guarantee that the retailer will stick around. But the strange floor-space metric the film invokes is brazenly, even heroically irrelevant to that point....

The anti-Wal-Mart movement is, in the end, both more and less than the sum of its parts. It is less, in that it seems likely that most critics of the company are—-at least initially-—motivated not by the full bill of indictment, but by one or two pet issues: An affection for small shops, or a distaste for outsourcing. It is more, in that Wal-Mart has by now, perhaps as a function of its sheer size, taken on a symbolic role as an emblem of necrotizing corporate power...

Paul Krugman has similarly conflicted views on WalMart, as found through Mark Thoma:

Economist's View: Paul Krugman: Wal-Mart's Excuse : Big Box Balderdash: I think I've just seen the worst economic argument of 2005.... A union-supported group, Wake Up Wal-Mart, has released a TV ad accusing Wal-Mart of violating religious values.... You may think that this particular campaign - which has, inevitably, been dubbed "Where would Jesus shop?" - is a bit over the top. But it's clear why those concerned about the state of American workers focus their criticism on Wal-Mart. The company isn't just America's largest private employer. It's also a symbol of the state of our economy, which delivers rising G.D.P. but stagnant or falling living standards for working Americans.... So how did Wal-Mart respond to this latest critique?

Wal-Mart can claim, with considerable justice, that its business practices make America as a whole richer.... [I]ts low prices aren't solely or even mainly the result of the low wages it pays. Wal-Mart has been able to reduce prices largely because it has brought genuine technological and organizational innovation to the retail business. It's harder for Wal-Mart to defend its pay and benefits policies. Still, the company could try to argue that... it cannot defy the iron laws of supply and demand.... But instead of resting its case on these honest or at least defensible answers to criticism, Wal-Mart has decided to insult our intelligence by claiming to be, of all things, an engine of job creation....

A recent study by David Neumark of the University of California at Irvine and two associates at the Public Policy Institute of California, "The Effects of Wal-Mart on Local Labor Markets," uses sophisticated statistical analysis to estimate the effects on jobs and wages.... The authors find that retail employment did, indeed, fall when Wal-Mart arrived in a new county. It's not clear... whether overall employment... rose or fell... But it's clear that average wages fell: "residents of local labor markets," the study reports, "earn less following the opening of Wal-Mart stores." So Wal-Mart has chosen to defend itself with a really poor argument...

I suggest a convergence on a simple position: efficient production and distribution, good; using local monopoly power to sleaze and cheat your own workers, bad!

Posted by DeLong at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are Workers' Wages and Salaries Stagnating?

Macroblog writes:

Are Workers Losing Ground? : Steve Reardon thinks so: "This is another problem for the Bush Administration. Since the start of 2005 the real wage rate has been declining and in the last two months the real wage has dipped below its November 2001 level. In other words, the real wage (the hourly wage put out by the BLS adjusted for inflation) is lower now than it was 4 years ago."...

[But] very president since Gerald Ford ends up looking pretty bad, the exception being the Clinton administration -- but only during the second term. (In the first four years of the Clinton administration, real average weekly earnings rose by about 4 cents. In the first four years of the current administration, they increased by about 17 cents.)

What's going on here? I'd argue the problem is that hourly wages or earnings are an inadequate measure of labor compensation, primarily because they exclude nonwage forms of compensation -- health care benefits, employers' share of social security contributions, and the like. These forms of compensation are an increasingly important part of what workers receive from employers in exchange for the sweat of their brows...

Two points: First, from 1973-1995 the rate of productivity growth in the American economy was very low--roughly 1% per year--and so we would expect real wage growth to be low. Since 2000 the rate of productivity growth has been 3.5% per year--and we would expect real wage growth to be much higher. It hasn't.

Second, as best we can tell (and we can't tell very well) the distribution of benefits is much more unequal than the distribution of wages. The rate of growth of average compensation is probably doing much better than the rate of growth of average wages and salaries; the rate of growth of median compensation is probably about on a par with the rate of growth of median wages and salaries.

There is reason to be worried about this apparent stagnation of real wages since the last business cycle peak.

Posted by DeLong at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

When Interior Secretaries Attack!

Dana Milbank on life as a journalist: here he describes being the subject of a fangs-bared leap by attack gerbil Gail Norton:

Post Politics Hour : Q: Washington, D.C.: Dana,Loved your column on Gail Norton telling those who would ask how long ANWR would supply the country, "it doesn't work that way." My question is, did she exhibit any shame when making this comment? Any shame at all?

Dana Milbank: No. In fact, she seemed quite indignant when the questioner (me) posed the question. I wasn't asking it as a loaded matter. She had said the ANWR oil would keep California fueled for 16 years and New Hampshire fueled for 300-something years, so I thought it natural to ask how long it would keep the whole country going. When she refused to answer and suggested that my question had certain hostile assumptions, I knew the number must be very low. And, indeed, it was not quite a year and a half.

I would have thought it would have been two years. After all, California is about 1/8 the country, and New Hampshire is about 1/150.

Posted by DeLong at 12:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051217

If I had infinite hours in the day:

http://www.markarkleiman.com/archives/the_war_in_iraq_/2005/12/worstcase_scenario.php Mark Kleiman examines the hole that we are digging for ourselves: "Worst-case scenario: We can't leave Iraq because, if we did, the country might fall into the grip of a bunch of religious fanatics who deal with their opponents by pulling out their fingernails. Oh, wait..."

http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank?pid=4091 An example of value added in the New York Times? No. A false alarm. Jason Zengerle says that John Burns of the New York Times is "always excellent" and has written a "very good mini-profile" of insane moonbat ex-Johnson Attorney General Ramsey Clark. But then Zengerle goes on to say that somehow this always excellent reporter's very good mini-profile "doesn't get at the riddle of what caused Clark" to become an insane moonbat. For that, Zengerle says, you need to read John Judis in the New Republic in 1991. Ummm... May I say that the question of why Ramsey Clark became an insane moonbat is the most interesting question a profile of him should address? That even an adequate profile written by a workmanlike reporter should nail this to the wall? That there is a great cognitive dissonance between claiming on the one hand that John Burns is "always excellent" and his profile is "very good" and noting on the other hand that his profile ducks the most interesting question everyone wants to know about Ramsey Clark?

Here, by contrast, is a genuine example of value added by the New York Times: Floyd Norris: "The Bush administration... is highlighting the jobs numbers, which have shown steady gains since hitting a low in May 2003. The chart shown with this article is part of that campaign.... By invoking historical averages, President Bush may have invited comparisons that do not make the recovery look so good. In terms of job creation, the recovery from the 2001 recession has been one of the slowest since World War II.... [T]here is nothing wrong with a slow start. But the current recovery so far is far from impressive.... Were job growth... measured from the end of the recession, this recovery is the slowest ever.... Any analysis of the recovery after the 2001 recession must ask why huge tax cuts that began in 2001 had so little - and so long delayed - effect. That is not a discussion the Bush administration embarked upon this week...

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=310 Wilczek Goes Anthropic: "The main idea about anthropics he was trying to push is that anthropic calculations were "just conditional probability", making much of the equation f(p)=fprior(p)fselec(p) for the probability of observing some particular value p of parameters, given some underlying theory in which they are only determined probabilistically by some probability distribution fprior(p). The second factor fselec(p) is supposed to represent "selection effects", and it is here that anthropic calculations supposedly have their role. In the paper the authors argue that "Including selection effects is no more optional than the correct use of logic". The standard way physics has traditionally been done, one hopes that the underlying theory determines p (i.e. fprior(p) is a delta-function), making selection effects irrelevant in this context. The authors attack this point of view, writing: "to elevate this hope into an assumption would, ironically, be to push the anthropic principle to a hedonistic extreme, suggesting that nature must be devised so as to make mathematical physicists happy."...

http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/2005/12/all-we-know-of-heaven-problem-of-susan.html Abigail Nussbaum finds Andrew Rilstone http://andrewrilstone.blogspot.com/2005/11/lipstick-on-my-scholar.html justifying C.S. Lewis's worst literary crime: the Damnation of Susan Pevensie: "God help me, but Andrew Rilstone has very nearly convinced me to forgive C.S. Lewis for what he did to Susan in The Last Battle. He's a dangerous one, that Andrew. He can be very quiet for long periods of time, and you pass by his blog with a forlorn expression, hoping for something new. And then, out of the blue, he'll spring a post on you that's so clever, so insightful, and so fantastically well-written that you'll be nodding your head in stupefied wonder before you even comprehend what you've agreed to..."

http://calton.typepad.com/: A live webcam http://205.188.130.53/ngm/wildcamafrica/wildcam.html put up by the National Geographic Society, pointing at a watering hole in Botswana called Pete's Pond. Live video feed of wild African animals coming down to drink at the watering hole. People I know, including Liz, rave about the monkeys, zebras, antelope, and elephants they keep seeing. Of course, all I've ever seen is a flock of turkey-like guinea fowl and a couple of warthogs...

http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2005/08/limitations_of.html Jim Hamilton is very unhappy with the peak oilers: "I'm sure that most of my economist readers are shaking their heads in disbelief at this point, but for the benefit of anyone who is not, let me spell out exactly what the problem is with this kind of analysis. How much oil is demanded at any given time depends, among other things, on the price. A very, very large quantity would be demanded if the price were $1 a barrel and practically none would be demanded if the price were $10,000 a barrel. The quantity that is profitable to bring to the market also depends on the price. The reason economists want to pay so much attention to the price is because it is the one variable that is guaranteed to adjust and adapt to any and all unforeseen circumstances that may develop so as to ensure that demand always equals supply. Supply equals demand today, supply will equal demand in 2025, and supply will equal demand in 2050. Whatever Hirsch means by 'peaking of world conventional oil production', it certainly isn't the condition that 'production will no longer satisfy demand'..."

http://crookedtimber.org/2005/12/12/survey-shows-majority-of-iraqis-disapprove-of-invasion/ Chris Bertram gets snarky: "I'm roused by a post on Normblog entitled At variance with certain depictions in which Geras claims that a new survey of Iraqi opinion gives a more positive view of life there than we get from unspecified sources of whom he clearly disapproves.... I'm sure that any selection of material by Geras was intended to be in line with the standards of balance and accuracy normally to be found on his site, but I fear he's slipped up in failing to notice the responses to the following question: "From today's perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in Spring 2003? Today 50.3 per cent of Iraqis polled answered that the invasion was somewhat or absolutely wrong. That's an increase from 39.1 per cent in last year's survey...

http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/6056.html Carpetbagger Report: "About three months ago, the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina was an international fiasco. Bush's handling, in particular, was widely derided, his competence further came into question, and his approval rating fell even further. Time magazine reported a couple of weeks after the storm hit that the Bush gang had crafted a 'Three-Part Comeback Plan.' Part One of the plan.... Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. 'Nothing can salve the wounds like money', said an official who helped develop the strategy. 'You'll see a much more aggressively engaged President, traveling to the Gulf Coast a lot and sending a lot of people down there.' That was then. Now, Bush hasn't seen the Gulf Coast since Oct. 11. The massive Marshall Plan-style rebuilding hasn't happened" and White House "strategists" say "'Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen in terms of public concern.' It's a fascinating juxtaposition.... It's not the situation on the Gulf Coast has improved; it's that the situation now lacks political significance.... It's the politics of incompetence followed by the politics of limited attention spans..."

http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2005/12/my_hadley_consp.html The Next Hurrah tells us: "Once again, I miss out on all the fun because I don't watch teevee. Jane tells us that Jim VandeHei, Luskin's mouthpiece of choice lately, announced on Hardball that Hadley told Rove of Plame's identity. For the record, I think VdH was telegraphing testimony to Hadley (and that perhaps VdH's editors have become hip to the way this cabal telegraphs their testimony through news reports, after they were the only ones who fell for Libby's bait all those months ago)...

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2005_12_11.php#007235 Josh Marshall finds this from Howard Fineman to be "a stunning remark, coming as it does from within the highest echelon of the beltway journalistic establishment.... 'Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a "court stenographer" for the Bush administration. Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider "burning the beltway"with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, " an official court stenographer of the Bush administration." "He's a great reporter," Fineman said of Woodward, "but he's become a great reporter of official history." They must have changed something in the water down there.'

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/12/martin_feldstei.html Marginal Revolution finds Martin Feldstein talking about why capital taxation should be low...

http://americaabroad.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/11/211130/86: "So I read Condoleezza Rice's Post oped.... I just don't get it. No, I'm not talking about how Rice, who only six years ago wrote the perfect realist treatise, has now become the principal exponent of democratic idealism. People change. No, I'm talking about... 'a balance of power that favors freedom'... I still have no idea what it means.... Rice's emphatic statement about the threat posed by weak and failing states.... She argues that "the danger they now pose is unparalleled." Compared to what -- Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union? Hirohito's Japan?.... One final contradiction.... [W]hatever you think of the Middle Eastern autocracies, they're hardly weak states. The problem, rather, is their strength and, yes, their undemocratic character. As I said, I just don't get it..."

http://leftcenterleft.typepad.com/blog/2005/12/umass_and_publi.html: "While tuition remains relatively low, steep increases in student fees (which cover everything from sports to health benefits to course fees) and room and board have put a UMass-Amherst education out of reach for many lower-income families..."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/12/AR2005121201251.html Can we please get Richard Cohen to shut up and go away? He writes: "To read George Packer's 'The Assassin's Gate' is to be reminded that the Iraq war... [was] made... not for oil or for empire but to end the horror of Saddam Hussein and, yes, reorder the Middle East. They were inept. They were duplicitous. They were awesomely incompetent, and, in the case of Bush, they were monumentally ignorant and incurious.... [M]any liberals, myself included, originally supported the war. It... seemed... well, right -- a just cause." War is a horrible and weighty thing to undertake if your cause is just and if your leadership is skilled, honest, competent, and knowledgeable. What kind of a nutjob would say that he knew that the Republican leadership were "inept... duplicitous... awesomely incompetent... monumentally ignorant... incurious" and think that war was worthwhile? Answer: Richard Cohen

A Fantasy Realm Too Vile for Hobbits - New York Times : "In the vast continent of Westeros, the alliance of the Seven Kingdoms is disintegrating. King Robert Baratheon has been murdered. A strange winter is descending on the countryside. Could this be another ice age? Meanwhile, Queen Cersei is sleeping with her twin brother, Jaime, while their other brother, the cynical dwarf Tyrion Lannister, has gone into hiding. And the woman warrior, Brienne of Tarth, is searching for Sansa, who was married to Tyrion, and is a member of the House of Stark, daughter of Eddard, Lord of Winterfell. And... well, to keep track of it all it helps to have the 63-page list of characters at the back of George R. R. Martin's "Feast for Crows," the fourth and latest installment in his fantasy series, "A Song of Ice and Fire." Published last month by Bantam Spectra, the novel almost immediately hit No. 1 on the New York Times's fiction best-seller list. On Sunday it ranked No. 9 on the list. Reviewing "Crows" in Time magazine, Lev Grossman called Mr. Martin "the American Tolkien," only better: "'A Feast for Crows' isn't pretty elves against gnarly orcs," Mr. Grossman wrote. "It's men and women slugging it out in the muck, for money and power and lust and love."

Posted by DeLong at 12:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is the Washington Post Newsroom Insane? (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Department)

Those who watched Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell's initial attack on the online operation, WPNI, and on Dan Frookin's "White House Briefing" column:

The Two Washington Posts: Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal...

followed up by a truly remarkable and bizarre sequence of adjectives uttered by Washington Post national political news editor John F. Harris over a five-day period:

"[Froomkin] invites confusion... dilutes our... credibility... we would never allow a White House reporter... a problem... a liberal prism... not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions... we do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't... an obstacle to our work... tendentious and unfair... no regard for the tradition of objective journalism... my reservations about "White House Briefing" are not in theory but in practice... Froomkin’s... pompous suggestion... [false claim to be] high priest and arbiter of good journalism... total bullshit... [Froomkin's] comment... a smear on Washington Post reporters... I'm not trying to make this a bigger matter than it is... on-line crankosphere...

have one overriding question: Is the print Post's newsroom insane?

Those outsiders I have talked to who hold that it is not just insane--that "though this be madness, yet there is method in't"--divide into two groups.

The first group holds that what is really going on is a struggle between the print and the web factions within the Washington Post, and that claims of liberal bias and low standards are merely weapons used in a dirty internal bureaucratic war that has erupted into public view. They point to the fact that when Jay Rosen of PressThink asked John F. Harris for an example of Froomkin's bias, what he came up with was an attack by Patrick Ruffini, Bush-Cheney 2004 Webmaster and currently eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee, entitled "Dan Froomkin, Second-Rate Hack"--which Harris wrote "does not seem far-fetched to me." Is it possible, they ask, that the Washington Post's national political editor really thinks that the Washington Post should be responsive to a claim of liberal bias made by the RNC's eCampaign Director? Is it possible, they ask, that the Washington Post's national political editor really thinks that the idea that Dan Froomkin is a second-rate hack "does not seem far-fetched"?

For those things to be true would mean, they say, that the Post's newsroom is insane. The real issue, they say, must therefore be whether the current print or the current web people will have the upper hand of the world of five years from now in which print advertising revenue has collapsed and eDistribution is the dominant mode of transmission. Claims of bias, they say, play the same role in this internal bureaucratic war for dominance as did the blank sheets of paper Joe McCarthy held up that he said listed the names of Communists coddled by Truman's cabinet members.

The second group holds that what is really going on is that the print version of the Washington Post is scared of offending the Bush administration, and is willing to go several extra miles to keep the Bushies happy--or at least quiet. Executive editor Len Downie himself, they say, told Editor and Publisher that the key point was to disassociate the print newsroom from things that upset the White House, to "make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column." It is five years too late, members of this group say, for the print paper to be launching attacks on the web operation. The print reporters and editors desperately need the enthusiastic approval and support of the online operation. Something like Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" column has much greater reach if it is also featured on the front page of http://washingtonpost.com/ than if it appears in the print edition alone. Launching attacks on the online operation is not a way for the print operation to make those who control the pixels on the online front page happier campers and more supportive partners. Attacks on the ethics, standards, and procedures of the online version would, members of this group say, be insane unless there was some overriding need--a need to keep the Bush administration from being offended.

I find both sets of arguments fully persuasive. Thus I can't choose an interpretation of what is going on. But not everybody is like Buridan's ass here. The very smart and highly observant Jay Rosen of NYU and PressThink is plumping for the "the Bush administration has successfully 'worked the ref' and intimidated the print newsroom" interpretation. He writes:

PressThink: Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One : For me the most interesting moment... came... [when] Leonard Downie, big boss at the Washington Post, stated his concerns.... "We want to make sure people in the Administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."...

Across the Potomac, the other boss, Jim Brady, said he... didn't buy the charge that confused readers thought Froomkin was a White House beat reporter. "The column has been on the site for two years and that is not something we have heard," Brady told E & P. White House Briefing is extremely popular with users, he said, "and it is not going anywhere.".... [W]ith Dan Froomkin, Columnist, at the top of the page next to his picture, and "Special to the Washington Post" [actually "Special to washingtonpost.com] under his name (instead of "Washington Post Staff Writer," which is what it says for reporters)... it's pretty clear that he's a columnist....

[T]he words White House and "briefing." Do they mislead us by suggesting that Froomkin is actually stationed at the White House? Post White House reporter Peter Baker says so: "I have heard concerns that people might think he is a reporter in the White House briefing room." What people?... Downie seemed most worried about Bush supporters and their perceptions of the Post. Listen again: "We want to make sure people in the Administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion." John Harris told me: "I have heard from Republicans in informal ways making clear they think his work is tendentious and unfair." Also: "To the extent that some people believe Dan represents the voice and values of the Washington Post newsroom, that seems to me to be leading with our chin."

From Froomkin's column "people" might get the impression the Washington Post newsroom is biased against Bush. That is what they're saying. They want to put as much distance as possible between the Post's White House reporting, and Froomkin's White House Briefing. A title change (recommended also by the ombudsman) is supposed to accomplish that.

Which means there's news in the headline from Editor & Publisher: "Online Chief Says No." Under the surface this was the web side of the Post saying "NO" to political pressure from the Republicans--the griping about an effective Bush critic, Dan Froomkin, by sources in (and friends of) the White House. The beat reporters felt they could't ignore it. Brady, I believe, felt they should ignore it. And if they wouldn't, he would...

UPDATE: And the equally smart and observant Jeff Jarvis disagrees with Jay Rosen.

Posted by DeLong at 12:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times Edition)

Todd Gitlin asks why the New York Times continues to give air to David Brooks. It's a very good question.

TPMCafe || Letter Unprinted by the New York Times : By Todd Gitlin
From: Media
To the Editor:
Re: "Multiple Reality Syndrome," by David Brooks (Dec. 4):

Mr. Brooks writes that earlier in the Iraq war "Sometimes I'd come away from off-the-record conversations and background briefings [with administration officials] feeling my intelligence had been insulted, because even in private, officials would ignore realities that were on newspaper front pages."

I have just reread Mr. Brooks' dozens of columns on Iraq. He wrote that "senior members of his administration are capable of looking honestly at their mistakes" (Dec. 9, 2003). He described the Bush administration as "drunk on truth serum," practicing "honesty and candor." (Dec. 13, 2003). He proclaimed that Mr. Bush has "exceptional moral qualities" (Nov. 23, 2004), and that "two years from now...Bush's [inaugural] speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day." (Jan. 22, 2005).

But he never informed his readers that Bush and his team insulted his intelligence. Thanks to Mr. Brooks, 27 months into his column, for finally getting around to telling us.

Todd Gitlin

Posted by DeLong at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dan Froomkin's "Cooking with Walnuts"

Dan Froomkin's brother Michael writes about:

Discourse.net: The Blogs Are Cooking With Dan : [T]he great attraction of the readers' suggestion that Dan's [White House Briefing] column be re-named "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'"...

There is an interesting question here. As long as Dan Froomkin's work is sold under the title "White House Briefing" or Dana Milbank's under the title "Washington Sketch" or Ana Marie Cox's under the title "Wonkette", should they leave their organizations they could be easily replaced, and the titles and audiences would remain. If the title is "Ana Marie Cox, special to Gawker Media" or "Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch" or "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'," the writer can leave and (unless he or she has sold his or her name to the company) pull a great deal of the audience along with the move. This matters at salary negotiation time. It also matters for long-run career development. And it matters for the economics of the media.

Posted by DeLong at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I *Hate* the Way This Administration Makes Me into a Nutbar Conspiracy Theorist

Dan Eggen of the Washington Post writes:

Bush Authorized Domestic Spying: President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying.... The super-secretive NSA... has monitored the e-mail, telephone calls and other communications of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people under the program.... Authorities, including a former NSA director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, were worried that vital information could be lost in the time it took to secure a warrant from a special surveillance court, sources said....

The Patriot Act granted the FBI new powers to conduct secret searches and surveillance... overseen by a secret court that meets at Justice Department headquarters and must approve applications for wiretaps, searches and other operations. The NSA's operation is outside that court's purview... The law governing clandestine surveillance in the United States, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was "engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction," according to the law.... The NSA activities were justified by a classified Justice Department legal opinion authored by John C. Yoo, a former deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel who argued that congressional approval of the war on al Qaeda gave broad authority to the president...

I am assured that the "time it took to secure a warrant" reason is pure bs--that FISA allows for special actions in emergencies. I am also assured that every warrant asked for under FISA has been granted.

So what's the purpose of violating the law if the FISA court approves of everything you ask? Either total stupidity on the part of the Bush administration (a likely possibility), or the Bush administration was looking forward into a future in which they would want wiretaps of which the FISA secret court would not approve. I wonder what those wiretaps are.

Posted by DeLong at 12:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hilary Bok Joins Those Seeking Impeachment

She writes:

The Washington Monthly: [A]bout the report that Bush signed an order allowing the NSA to spy on US citizens without a warrant. This is against the law... the law forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens, and it provides procedures to be followed in emergencies that do not leave enough time for federal agents to get a warrant. If the NY Times report is correct, the government did not follow these procedures. It therefore acted illegally.

Bush's order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases.... But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria.... [I]t's not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside.

And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law. If the New York Times report is true, then Bush should be impeached.

She is right. Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Posted by DeLong at 12:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dana Milbank Is Bored...

In his latest "Washington Sketch," he finds no news in Bush's latest Iraq speech. (And why can I never find Dana Milbank's "Washington Sketch" on the washingtonpost.com home page?)

Repetitious, Yes, but They Didn't Cut and Run: Lawmakers, diplomats and assorted military types settled into their seats... to watch President Bush's fourth speech on Iraq in a fortnight.... In the end, everybody agreed: They had seen this movie before.For the 22nd time in a speech as president, Bush said we would not "cut and run" in Iraq. For the 28th time, he said Iraq was "the central front" in the war on terrorism. And, for the 100th time, Bush promised that "we will prevail" against the terrorists.

The lack of new material in Bush's speech complicated the second act in yesterday's double feature. Jack Murtha (Pa.), the Democratic congressman who has been rebutting each of the four Iraq speeches, had little to work with. "He keeps saying the same thing over and over," Murtha protested during his regular televised rebuttal.... Murtha opted to rebut the location of Bush's speech. "Let me take a few minutes to remark about the irony of President Bush speaking today in the Ronald Reagan Building," he said. Given "the sorry state of our Army, the erosion of the U.S. credibility in the world, and the deficits far as the eye can see, you've got to believe President Reagan is turning over in his grave."...

After four engagements, the Bush-Murtha act was getting stale. When Murtha, a hawkish retired Marine, first called for a pullout from Iraq last month, it was standing-room only. Yesterday, only six reporters showed up to see Murtha, who arrived early and stood, silently, at the lectern. Behind him in the House television gallery, titles on a bookshelf were visible: "A History of the American People," "Constitutional Law," and, appropriately for the dyspeptic Murtha, "Diseases of the Stomach."

By contrast, Bush's setting left nothing to chance: 24 flags behind him, four poinsettias in front, and top Cabinet members and supportive lawmakers planted in the audience. Yet... the president's delivery was muted.... His four Iraq speeches... were full of numbing repetition. Washingtonpost.com's Adrian Holovaty did a computer analysis of the four Iraq speeches and found dozens of phrases repeated in all four. Bush invoked "democracy" 83 times, "freedom" 68 times and "security" 75 times....

Even the White House was not pretending to cover new ground..... John Roberts asked White House spokesman Scott McClellan about Bush's statement that "I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."

"I don't think that's new," the press secretary cautioned. Not much was...

Posted by DeLong at 12:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Things That Go Straight to the Top of the To-Read Pile This Morning

There are two of them:

G. Tuchman (1972), "Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An Examination of Newsmen’s Notions of Objectivity," American Journal of Sociology 77: 660–679 (recommended by Jay Rosen).

Henry Aaron, William Schwartz, and Melissa Cox (2005), Can We Say 'No'? the Challenge of Rationing Health Care (Washington: Brookings: 0815701217) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0815701217/braddelong00.

Posted by DeLong at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Procrastination

What can I do now instead of doing my grading?

I can say that Diet Snapple Peach Iced Tea really tastes better than Snapple Peach Iced Tea--one of the very few things for which this is true.

And I can put media criticism posts up at TPMCafe:

Astroturf vs. Grassroots

http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/14/163536/70

Over at the Mothership, Josh Micah Marshall asks: "The War against Froomkin started with Pat Ruffini, webmaster for Bush-Cheney 2004 and official BC04 blogger?"

Yes, it is true. Washington Post national political editor John Harris hastens to assure us that "we do not want to spike [Daniel Froomkin's] column--or at least I don't," but rather that he merely "perceive[s] a good bit of [Dan Froomkin's] commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions," and so the Post Online needs to change the title of Froomkin's White House Briefing "to make it clear that it is not "the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news." (If you are scratching your head and wondering how having a piece in "Opinions" called "White House Briefing" is supposed to create confusion, you are not alone.)

When Harris was pressed by Jay Rosen to point to an example of somebody who thought that Washington Post-Online's White House Briefing column written by Dan Froomkin was "biased", the only example he came up with was Pat Ruffini, a smart and prolific guy, but also a Bush-can-do-no-wrong Republican operative. It's not a grassroots perception of bias that John Harris pointed to. It was Republican operatives working the ref.

Now this does have implications. First of all, John Harris's beef with Froomkin was, according to Ombudsman Deborah Howell, that:

'Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing," which is highly opinionated and liberal. They're afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter. John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, "The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset -- our credibility" as objective news reporters.'

It would be one thing if the great mass of readers were confused, or angry. But if the only person who Harris points to who is confused and angry is an RNC operative--well, put it this way: should the touchstone of the Washington Post be making RNC operatives happy?

But wait, there's more. When John Harris points to Patrick Ruffini, he does so in a way that downplays Ruffini's true identity. Harris calls him a "conservative weblogger." He doesn't call him "the former head webmaster for Bush-Cheney 2004" or "the current eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee." Now Ruffini is a conservative weblogger. But this is the Judy Miller mode of sourcing: Pat Ruffini is a conservative weblogger, just as Scooter Libby is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. The fact that this identification is totally misleading--that the right way to identify Scooter Libby is as Cheney's Chief-of-Staff, and the right way to identify Pat Ruffini is as a RNC operative--doesn't matter to Harris. He doesn't want to admit that Ruffini is astroturf. He wants to claim that Ruffini is the grassroots. And when the ethics of sourcing accurately collide with the imperatives of pulling the wool over some readers' eyes...

If it is the credibility of the Post's national political desk as an objective reporter of the news that is at issue, it's not Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing that is the threat.


This Morning: Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei Cook with Walnuts

http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/15/125054/77

Our story so far: In the foreground, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell and national political director John Harris say that they...

The Two Washington Posts: ...don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing"... highly opinionated and liberal.... The title... dilutes our only asset -- our credibility as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column that we would never allow a White House reporter to write.... The Web site should remove the "White House Briefing" label from Froomkin's column...

...and retitle the column, "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'."

In the background, Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie has his eye on the essentials:

Len Downie: We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion."

But what's going on off in the wings? This morning, enter Peter Baker, one of the three opinion-free White House correspondents of the Washington Post, snarking on page A1 about George Bush's "two answers," and expressing his opinion that Bush's Iraq policy is incoherent:

In Four Speeches, Two Answers on War's End: By Peter Baker. Thursday, December 15, 2005; A01: As President Bush wrapped up a series of speeches on the war yesterday, he once again gave a clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "We will not leave until victory has been achieved." And he also gave this clear answer to when U.S. troops would come home from Iraq: "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." What he did not do was reconcile those two ideas.... The vow to "settle for nothing less than complete victory" satisfies Bush's desire to project Churchillian resolve.... The "stand up, stand down" formulation, by contrast, is intended to signal that the United States will not remain forever enmeshed in a bloody overseas conflict fueled by sectarian enmity...

And enter the second White House correspondent Jim VandeHei--last seen earlier this week reprinting the possibly-true possibly-false spin of Karl Rove lawyer Robert Luskin--on page A7, actually doing some in-line fact-checking as a snarky way of expressing his opinion that George W. Bush doesn't know what he is talking about, and worse:

Jim Vandehei: Bush said.... "Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties." According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed money to Democrats but substantially more to Republicans....

As the extremely intelligent Michael Kinsley said, ""The biggest problem [posed for journalism by the Bush administration] is -- and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle -- is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie." Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei are solving this problem.

Very good stories, both of them--and not despite, but because they stretch news conventions in a way that will trigger more angry phone calls to Len Downie from the White House.

Posted by DeLong at 11:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Snapple Iced Tea

Snapple Peach Iced Tea is one of those drinks that is as close to what the gods drink on Olympos as human taste buds can sense.

Snapple Lemonade Iced Tea is not. It's really skanky.

Memo to self: Do not buy Snapple Iced Tea variety packs. They are conspiracies to snake... snaek... sneak Lemonade and (shudder) Plum-i-Granite Iced Tea into the house.

Posted by DeLong at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Computer Help Catechism

Dad?

Yes?

Can you help me with the computer?

What's wrong?... Oh, spinning beachball of death I see.... What are you trying to do?

Print.

Print a document from Microsoft Word?

Uh-huh.

Did you save it before you tried to print?

I'm not sure.

What's the first rule of using Microsoft Word?

That it does not like me. That it is not my friend?

And so before doing anything major to your document, you?

Save.

Before you print?

Save.

Before you print preview?

Save.

Before you globally change margins?

Save.

Before you reformat all the paragraphs?

Save.

Before you save?

Save--there's something wrong there, Dad.

OK. I'm going to have to kill Word. Let's hope you saved your document...

Posted by DeLong at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Astroturf vs Grassroots (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Grassroots vs. Astroturf

I talked to John Harris, national political editor of the print Washington Post this morning. It didn't go very well:

Wednesday December 14, 2005. 9:07 PST

Q: Thanks for calling. My name is Brad DeLong. I'm a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley. You've actually been on my to-call list since last August, when Gene Sperling, the New York Fed's Tim Geithner, and I had a very good long conversation about your very interesting Clinton book while playing hooky from a Fed conference session. You see, Orville Schell and Susan Rasky have been persuading me to co-teach a course at Berkeley's Journalism School next semester--where I get to be the ivory tower intellectual explaining how you should cover the economy, and she gets to be the practical nuts-and-bolts person on how you can cover the economy without getting fired. And I'm trying to put together a syllabus. But the impetus for this call is different: yesterday, I read you telling Jay Rosen http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ that Dan Froomkin critic Patrick Ruffini http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/03/dan_froomkin_se.php was a grassroots conservative weblogger. And my jaw dropped because he is eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee. A matter not of conservative grassroots complaints about liberal bias but rather Bush-can-do-no-wrong paid Republican operatives working the ref. So why did you characterize Ruffini in this way?

A: He wasn't at the time working for the Republicans, he wasn't when he wrote that piece [about Froomkin last March]...

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn't tell that to Jay Rosen?

A: [Ramble of which I caught only scattered phrases] But assuming you aren't posting this at least immediately... A good relationship between the print Washington Post and WPNI... Happy to answer privately... Really don't want to be quoted on the record... If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that's fine...

A: No I want your response.

A; [stream continues] But I shouldn't respond... I've promised people I won't respond... We need to cool this down... It's a really a very narrow issue: are there people confused about Froomkin's role...

[We go off the record for a while]

[We go back on the record]

Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/10/same_fight.php--of people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrickk Ruffini had been a Republican campaign operative in 2004?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrick Ruffini was now eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

My belief--but since he won't answer the questions, I do not know--is that John Harris knew full well that Patrick Ruffini was a onetime Republican operative when he characterized him as a "conservative weblogger" to Jay Rosen, but was trying to pull a fast one. That John Harris had not done his homework and did not know that Ruffini is going back to work as eCampaign Director for the RNC. And that he doesn't have evidence of serious confusion about the purpose of Dan Froomkin's column--that Harris has just been pounded on by a bunch of Bush-loyalist Republicans working the ref.

I do wonder how Harris found Mr. Ruffini's website. It's not that easy to do. It ranks 498th or so in the TTLB weblog ecosystem directories. I don't see how it is possible to wind up there if one is looking on the web to sound out grassroots conservative opinion.

I remember Lloyd Bentsen once cursing that American journalists had no ability to distinguish between "grassroots" and "astroturf." I think this is a point of data that many of them, at least, know full well the difference: the problem is not one of lack of ability to distinguish.

Posted by DeLong at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bad Trade Deficit News

This is a much bigger piece of news than one usually gets with a monthly release--and it's not good news. Each month the trade deficit gets bigger makes it more and more likely that we will have serious macroeconomic trouble when America's savings and investment flows start to come back into balance:

Oct trade gap widens to record $68.9 billion - Dec. 14, 2005 : REUTERS: The U.S. trade deficit widened unexpectedly in October to a record $68.9 billion despite a drop in the cost of imported oil, as the deficits with China, Canada, the European Union, Mexico and OPEC all hit records, government data showed Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected the trade gap to shrink in October to $62.8 billion, and the surprising growth in the imbalance suggests fourth-quarter economic growth will likely be even weaker than first thought.

The Commerce Department said the deficit widened 4.4 percent from September after growing 11.9 percent the previous month. Imports of goods and services rose 2.7 percent to a record $176.4 billion while exports increased a smaller 1.7 percent to $107.5 billion. While oil import prices declined in the month to an average $56.29 per barrel, the volume of crude imports surged 9.3 percent, driving the value to $17.1 billion, the second-highest on record. Imports of energy-related petroleum products, a wider category that includes propane and butane, hit a record $26.2 billion.

Posted by DeLong at 11:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Management by Stupidity (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps Washington Post Edition?)

Ah. This is amusing. John Harris, national politics editor of the Washington Post, makes his play for the Stupidest Man AliveTM crown.

When Jay Rosen of PressThink asks him:

PressThink : You also said, "I perceive a good bit of [Dan Froomkin's] commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions." But you don't give any examples or links to past columns.... Could you help me out here? What issues does [Dan Froomkin's] W[hite ]H[ouse ]B[riefing] tend to view through a liberal prism?...

John Harris replies:

Does Dan present a liberal worldview? Not always, but cumulatively I think a great many people would say yes--enough that I don't want them thinking he works for the news side of the Post. Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me...

Who is the "conservative blogger" that John Harris cites? His name is Patrick Ruffini http://www.patrickruffini.com/. More interesting, Patrick Ruffini is eCampaign Director at the Republican National Committee http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/10/same_fight.php.

Shouldn't John Harris have told Jay Rosen that Patrick Ruffini is not some grassroots "conservative blogger" outraged at Froomkin's bias but rather a Republican operative engaged in working the ref?


What things does Ruffini think are examples of Froomkin's hackdom http://www.patrickruffini.com/archives/2005/03/dan_froomkin_se.php?

Here is Ruffini's first example of "bias": Froomkin's writing:

For a guy who's so resolute, President Bush is apparently of two minds when it comes to the Terri Schiavo case. First he dramatically rushes back to the White House in an effort to intervene, then he retreats into silence. So what's going on? Is he caught in the rift between the social conservative and libertarian wings of his party? Is it a political reaction to bad polling numbers? Was he dragged against his will into intervening in the first place? And what's Karl Rove's role in all this?

Here is Ruffini's last example of "pure Froomkin bias":

It is flatly un-American for people to be hauled out of a public event with the president of the United States because of, say, a political bumper sticker on their car.

But is it too much to ask the White House to say so?

Apparently.

To note an internal tug-of-war within the White House over what PR position to take on Terry Schiavo, to assert that it is un-American to throw people out of a public event for having the wrong bumpersticker--these are the things that John Harris (indirectly) points to as Dan Froomkin's "bias."

Posted by DeLong at 11:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Changing Shape of the Labor Force: A Peek into the Future

Robert Reich on the changing shape of the workforce. I'm not sure the categories he sets up make that much sense: "personal services" are extraordinarily heterogeneous. I also think he's reading the future into the present--the changes he talks about are not that far advanced, but they will be.

The New Rich-Rich Gap : Almost 15 years ago, in "The Work of Nations," I described a three-tiered work force found in most advanced economies. At the bottom were workers who offer personal service.... In the middle were production workers in factories or offices, performing simple, repetitive tasks. At the top were "symbolic analysts," like engineers or lawyers, who manipulate information... the knowledge workers of the new economy. I predicted that advances in technology, and globalization, would widen the gaps in income and opportunity between these tiers. I was, sadly, prescient.... What I didn't predict was that the three tiers would change shape so dramatically. The top and bottom tiers are growing, and the middle shrinking, much faster than I expected....

Two different groups of symbolic analysts are emerging: national and global. Most symbolic analysts still work within a national economy, manipulating various kinds of symbols with the aid of computers... accountants, engineers, lawyers, journalists.... Yet a new group is emerging at the very top. They're CEOs and CFOs of global corporations, and partners and executives in global investment banks, law firms and consultancies. Unlike most national symbolic analysts, these global symbolic analysts conduct almost all their work in English, and share with one another an increasingly similar cosmopolitan culture....

There's a good economic reason that this group of global symbolic analysts emerged. Global commerce is now occurring on a scale and with a complexity that no commercial contract can adequately cover and no single legal system can sufficiently enforce. Hence, global dealmakers must rely to an ever greater extent on an extended network of people whom they trust....

Meanwhile, the ranks of production workers have fallen... between 1995 and 2002 more than 22 million factory jobs vanished. The United States wasn't even the biggest loser. America lost about 11 percent of its manufacturing jobs, while Japan lost 16 percent and Brazil lost 20 percent. The biggest surprise: China, which is fast becoming the manufacturing capital of the world, lost 15 percent of its manufacturing jobs.

What's going on? In two words: higher productivity. Factories are becoming more efficient, with new equipment and technology, and in nations like China, market reforms are replacing old state-run plans with modern ones. As a result, even as China produces more manufactured goods than ever before, millions of its factory workers have been laid off.

Routine office jobs are disappearing almost as fast as routine factory jobs. Almost any office task—claims adjusting, mortgage processing—can be done more cheaply and accurately these days by specialized software. Jobs that can't be turned into software are heading to low-wage countries as fast as telecom systems can reach them....

Yet unless the advanced economies invest more in education and basic R&D, they could lose their global lead in science, engineering and high-value-added production within a few decades. China and India are now graduating more engineers and computer scientists than are emerging from American and European universities. At some point, national symbolic analysts in advanced economies will lose ground. Their global brethren, meanwhile, will continue to dominate global commerce. The income and wealth gap between them will widen into a chasm. They will live, literally, in different cultures.

Posted by DeLong at 11:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jim Hamilton on the Gold Standard and the Great Depression

Jim Hamilton writes on the gold standard and the Great Depression. He takes the standard modern-macro line, and he expresses it very well. If your government doesn't have monetary-policy credibility, attempting to establish that credibility by going on the Gold Standard is a recipe for disaster. If your government does have monetary-policy credibility, going on the Gold Standard doesn't gain you anything:

Econbrowser: The gold standard and the Great Depression : There always seem to be voices raising the possibility that a return to a monetary gold standard could solve all our problems.... Under a pure gold standard, the government would stand ready to trade dollars for gold at a fixed rate. Under such a monetary rule, it seems the dollar is "as good as gold." Except that it really isn't--the dollar is only as good as the government's credibility to stick with the standard. If a government can go on a gold standard, it can go off, and historically countries have done exactly that all the time. The fact that speculators know this means that any currency adhering to a gold standard (or, in more modern times, a fixed exchange rate) may be subject to a speculative attack.

After suspending gold convertibility in World War I, many countries stayed off gold and experienced chaotic fiscal and monetary policies in the early 1920's. Many observers reasoned then, just as many observers reason today, that the only way to restore fiscal and monetary responsibility would be to go back on gold, and by the end of the 1920's, most countries had returned to the gold standard. I argued in a paper titled, "The Role of the International Gold Standard in Propagating the Great Depression," published in Contemporary Policy Issues in 1988, that counting on a gold standard to enforce monetary and fiscal discipline in an environment in which speculators had great doubts about governments' ability to adhere to that discipline was a recipe for disaster. International capital flows became more erratic, not less, as doubts were raised about whether first the pound would be devalued and then the dollar. Britain gave in to the speculative attacks and abandoned gold in 1931, whereas the U.S. toughed it out by deliberately raising interest rates in 1931 at a time when the economy was already near free fall.

Because of this uncertainty, there was a big increase in demand for gold, the one safe asset in this setting, which meant the relative price of gold must rise. If everybody is trying to hoard more gold, you're going to have to pay more potatoes to get an ounce of gold. Since the U.S. insisted on holding the dollar price of gold fixed, this meant that the dollar price of potatoes had to fall. The longer a country stayed on the gold standard, the more overall deflation it experienced. Many of us are persuaded that this deflation greatly added to the economic difficulties of those countries that insisted on sticking with a fixed value of their currency in terms of gold.

Ben Bernanke and Harold James, in a paper called "The Gold Standard, Deflation, and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison" published in 1991 (NBER working paper version here), noted that 13 other countries besides the U.K. had decided to abandon their currencies' gold parity in 1931. Bernanke and James' data for the average growth rate of industrial production for these countries (plotted in the top panel above) was positive in every year from 1932 on. Countries that stayed on gold, by contrast, experienced an average output decline of 15% in 1932. The U.S. abandoned gold in 1933, after which its dramatic recovery immediately began. The same happened after Italy dropped the gold standard in 1934, and for Belgium when it went off in 1935. On the other hand, the three countries that stuck with gold through 1936 (France, Netherlands, and Poland) saw a 6% drop in industrial production in 1935, while the rest of the world was experiencing solid growth.

A gold standard only works when everybody believes in the overall fiscal and monetary responsibility of the major world governments and the relative price of gold is fairly stable. And yet a lack of such faith was the precise reason the world returned to gold in the late 1920's and the reason many argue for a return to gold today. Saying you're on a gold standard does not suddenly make you credible. But it does set you up for some ferocious problems if people still doubt whether you've set your house in order...

Posted by DeLong at 11:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Future of the Washington Post

Washington Post national political editor John Harris launches a creepy assault on Dan Froomkin's Post Online White House Briefing column http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2005/12/12/BL2005121200655_pf.html.

Harris assures us that he doesn't want to kill Froomkin's column--but hints that there are others, who belong to a group he describes as "we," who do. Harris says that Froomkin is biased--or, rather, he says that Froomkin is "not trying very hard" to avoid "perceptions" of bias. Harris says that the first issue is that there is "confusion" about whether or not Froomkin is one of the Washington Post's three White House reporters--but clearing up this "confusion" is not important enough to Harris for him to mention the name of even one of his White House reporters (they are: Michael Fletcher, Peter Baker, and Jim VandeHei).

Harris hints he doesn't believe Dan Froomkin when Dan says that he would be writing a similar "irreverent and adversarial" column if John Kerry were president (as it happens, I do believe Dan: I've known him since he was five, and he has always specialized in bluntly speaking uncomfortable truths to the most powerful person in the room). And there are further hints that Harris thinks there's something especially wrong about an "adversarial" approach to a Republican than to a Democratic administration(1)--that the fact that some Democratic partisans would be unhappy at what Froomkin would do to a Kerry administration justifies Harris's being unhappy at what Froomkin is doing to the Bush administration.

As I said, creepy:

John Harris: The first issue is whether many readers believe Dan's column is written by one of the Washington Post's three White House reporters. It seems to me--based on many, many examples--beyond any doubt that a large share of readers do believe that. No doubt there are some who enjoy the column for precisely this reason. If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a feature titled "White House Briefing" was written by one of the newspaper's White House reporters.

[Dan Froomkin] is a problem. I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does? If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate: http://washingtonpost.com should change the name of his column to more accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin's take on the news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news.

People in the newsroom want to end this confusion. We do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't. It might be the case that he would be writing similarly about John Kerry if he were president. But I guarantee that many people who posted here would not be Froomkin enthusiasts--or be so indifferent to the concerns I raise--in that case...

Let me say that I never thought and never imagined that White House Briefing was written by one of the print Washington Post's White House reporters. I've thought that the print Washington Post would be doing itself a big favor if it printed greatest hits from the past week's White House Briefing on Sunday. But I've never thought that Dan worked for the print version.

The job that Dan Froomkin created for himself is not a reporter's job. It is something different. When I've talked to Dan about what he is doing, he has pointed to the Defense Department's Early Bird http://ebird.afis.mil/: "A daily concise compilation of current published news articles and commentary concerning the most significant defense and defense-related national security issues. Available by 0515 hrs." The whole idea of the White House Briefing is to extend all of our range by having a smart person--Dan Froomkin, in this case--serve as doorman for the news. He doesn't report. He doesn't have time (OK, he does report a little.) What he does do is blow the whistle and point us to the particular taxicab that is the piece of genuine reporter-produced news that we are likely to find of most interest. In so doing he gives all of us a power and capability that only those like Senators with dedicated staffs had in the past. And he gives it to us for free (for now at least).

For example, consider this morning's White House Briefing http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/linkset/2005/04/11/LI2005041100879.html: Dan links to:

http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2005/12/13/audience_hits_bush_with_tough_questions_on_progress/, a Boston Globe article on Bush's surprising taking of questions after his speech in Philadelphia yesterday.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/12/20051212-4.html the transcript of Bush in Philadelphia.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2005/12/06/BL2005120600822.html his own writing about Bush's not taking questions last week.
http://news.google.com/news?sourceid=navclient&ie=ISO-8859-1&rls=GGLD,GGLD:2003-44,GGLD:en&q=bush+30,000&tab=wn the headlines made by Bush's answers.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/12/AR2005121200124.html Peter Baker's print Washington Post article about the Q-and-A session and about Bush's first-time announcement that he thinks 30,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq.
http://www.brendan-nyhan.com/blog/2005/12/unintentionally.html Brendan Nyhan's pointing out that Bush said "extenuated" when he meant "exacerbated."
http://www.statesman.com/search/content/news/stories/nation/12/13bush.html Ken Herman of Cox's focus on Bush's belief that more "regime change" will be needed in the Middle East.
http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/2005/12/12/bush/index.html A favorable appraisal of Bush unscripted from the left-wing Salon.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/01/opinion/01thur1.html?ex=1291093200&en=0aea6c0bf19fe7d8&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss The New York Times editorial page's worry that Bush has trapped himself in a bubble, and lost touch with reality.
http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/6064.html The Carpetbagger Report's similar praise of Bush for taking questions.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3720360/site/newsweek/?p=edew Newsweek's cover story on Bush the Bubble Boy.
http://www.merlotdemocrats.com/2005/12/13/bush-reckons-there’s-probably-around-30000-dead-iraqis-due-to-war/ Jason Kellett's carping at Bush's body language.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-12-12-bush-iraq_x.htm Oren Darrell of USA Today's belief that Bush's 30,000 number comes from Iraq Body Count http://www.iraqbodycount.org/.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10439994/ NBC anchor Brian Williams's interview with Bush.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/politics/13detain.html?ex=1292130000&en=222ad815aa657ab1&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss David Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times's piece on McCain and the fight over torture in the Senate.
http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticleSearch.aspx?storyID=27074+13-Dec-2005+RTRS&srch=torture Reuters on how former Deputy Assistant to Bush Robert Blackwill appears to be pro-torture.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/politics/13bush.html?ei=5090&en=02b44c2fecc7e5b1&ex=1292130000&adxnnl=1&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1134474438-BLRiXx9RfWNWfQn8l6n9kw Richard Stevenson of the New York Times reiterating that we will rebuild New Orleans.
Plus a host of others: http://www.wonkette.com/politics/brian-williams/brian-williams-a-day-not-in-the-life-of-a-white-house-correspondent-142605.php http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=1397403 http://abcnews.go.com/International/PollVault/story?id=1389228 http://politicalwire.com/archives/2005/12/12/another_poll_shows_bush_rebounding.html http://www.cookpolitical.com/races/report_pdfs/2005_poll_tl_dec12.pdf http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-12-12-bush-approval_x.htm http://www.usatoday.com/news/polls/2005-12-12-poll.htm, all ending with the Manchester Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1665837,00.html:

Five years ago today Al Gore phoned George Bush to formally concede the presidency. Since then the United States has suffered its worst ever terrorist attack, become embroiled in a disastrous foreign war and bungled the response to a natural catastrophe. So what is the Bush legacy after half a decade? Is he a ruthless Machiavellian or a bumbling puppet? A devout idealist or a cynical opportunist? A disaster or a mild disappointment? Here, six top American commentators - from the left and the right - deliver their verdicts.... R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator: "One thing is certain. He will leave the White House with many Americans furious with him, much as Truman did. Most of those who seethed at Truman were Republicans from the Old Order, with a few conservative Democrats along for the wrathful ride. Those who seethe at Bush are from America's present Old Order - to wit, Democrats, who have been steadily losing power nationwide and who now hold power mainly in the media and the universities."

I look at what Dan Froomkin has done today and I find John Harris's complaints incomprehensible. Liberal bias? There is a bias, but it is toward the snarky, not the liberal. The quality of the work? As a doorman directing customers to good daily news taxis, Dan Froomkin is superb: http://washingtonpost.com is extremely lucky to have him. Confusion with the print Washington Post's news operation? John Harris should be so lucky.

I had thought that the print Washington Post valued what Dan was doing: providing a single place where somebody looking for coverage of the Executive Branch could find an overview of what was truly newsworthy about the news, and links so that they can explore and learn further. This is going to be a growth sector--the fact that people who could afford it were eager in the past to have people do for them what Dan does for all of us tells us so. And it provides a place for readers to gain perspective on an issue that John Harris's own reporters simply cannot provide.

For example... the only one of Harris's three I can find this morning is Peter Baker, who writes:

Bush Estimates Iraqi Death Toll in War at 30,000 : By Peter Baker: PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 12 -- President Bush estimated Monday that 30,000 Iraqis have died in the war since U.S.-led forces invaded in March 2003, but he offered no second thoughts about ordering the attack and said the threat of terrorism against the United States has subsided as a result. "Knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again," Bush told a questioner after a speech here. "Removing Saddam Hussein makes this world a better place and America a safer country."

The estimate marked the first time Bush has personally provided an assessment of the Iraqi death toll, a highly sensitive subject that his administration largely avoids discussing... military officers have said they do not count Iraqi dead.... The comments came during a rare audience question-and-answer session.... The first person he called on... asked him how many Iraqis have died in the war. Unlike aides who have been asked that question, Bush gave a direct answer. "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis," he said.... Bush moved on to the next question without identifying how he arrived at the figure.... Aides later said it was not a government estimate but a reflection of figures in news media reports. Still, Bush offered it without qualification, in effect accepting it as a reasonable approximation....

A group of British researchers and antiwar activists called Iraq Body Count estimates civilian casualties between 27,383 and 30,892.... Iraqi authorities have said that roughly 800 people die a month.... An epidemiological study published in the British journal the Lancet last year estimated 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months since the invasion based on door-to-door interviews in selected neighborhoods extrapolated across the country, an estimate that other experts and human rights groups considered inflated....

This is, I think, somewhat depressing. Baker wants to be adversarial--in a way that Harris would call "liberal" and "biased," and would not like. Baker is outraged at the way in which the White House has pretended ignorance as a way of avoiding answering questions about the impact of the war on civilian Iraqis. Baker wants to use the fact that Bush has a "30,000 civilian Iraqis dead" number in his head as a knife to pry open this particular oyster.

The problem, however, is that Baker is underbriefed. He knows that the Lancet published an article last year but he doesn't really know what the study said. He doesn't make the point that the Iraqi Body Count estimate that tabulates only reported casualties is--if the individual reports are accurate--to understate total casualties because there are, inevitably, unreported casualties. He doesn't say who the "Iraqi authorities" who report 800 a month are, or why anybody should trust their estimates.

He can't write the story that he wants to write. One reason he can't is that being White House correspondent is, in many ways, a lousy job. You spend an awful lot of time sitting in the press pool with no outside stimulation--on the assassination watch, so to speak. You spend an awful lot of time fencing with White House briefers who are trying to tell you less than nothing. You have little ability to do detailed legwork outside the White House Briefing Room. You have the disabilities of a beat reporter: you must constantly walk the line between telling the story and keeping your sources happy (for if you don't keep your sources happy you have no chance of ever telling the story). Peter Baker is a good reporter stuck in a situation where he can't do nearly as much as he would like.

In this context, Peter--and John Harris--should welcome Dan Froomkin, who at his news-doorman job has the ability to direct traffic to things that will put the stories that Peter Baker and company can write into their proper context. If John Harris is lucky, the fact that Dan Froomkin is very good at the job he has created for himself will rub off on the print operation: print White House reporters will be less bitter if they know there is somebody in the organization backing them up by putting their articles in the broader context. And somebody who works for Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive will tend to think more like Post print reporters and cite them more often.

If I were running the Washington Post, I would want John Harris to say that Dan Froomkin is performing a very valuable function, in some ways analogous to what Time did during World War II as a doorman for the news, but raised to a higher power by being much more timely and interactive. I would want to say that it is very clear that what Dan Froomkin does is not reporting--that a doorman is no use without taxis--but that it is valuable, and we are proud to be associated with it.

But that's not what John Harris seems to think.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen at PressThink http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/. He interviews John Harris:

John Harris: What irked me about Froomkin’s reply to the ombudsman was his pompous suggestion that he is a lonely truth-teller at the Washington Post and the way he held himself up as a high priest and arbiter of good journalism: "The journalists who cover Washington and the White House should be holding the president accountable. When they do, I bear witness to their work. And the answer is for more of them to do so — not for me to be dismissed as highly opinionated and liberal because I do." Many readers responding to his blog—the ones that prompted my response—hailed what Dan does as courageous reporting and denounced other reporters as stenographers. To be blunt: that is total bullshit. First, Dan is not principally a reporter. He is a commentator on what other people report. I took his comment to be by implication a smear on Washington Post reporters...

Please, Mr. Harris: I call bullshit. Remember: I've dealt with Jonathan Weisman. There are Washington Post reporters who are not stenographers--Dana Milbank, Dana Priest, and Walter Pincus come immediately to mind. There are those who would not be stenographers if only they could get some backup from editors. And there are those who are enthusiastic stenographers--cf. Howard Fineman's view of Bob Woodward. Or take your Jim VandeHei, who appears to have decided to be a stenographer for Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin: http://firedoglake.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_firedoglake_archive.html#113442242607540843.

Since January 2001, there has been a large disjunction between the picture of the Bush White House painted in the pages of the Washington Post and the picture told me on the phone and over coffee by senior and not-so-senior Republican officials. The Washington Post's coverage has been--with substantial and honorable exceptions--strongly subpar. I know this. You know this.


(1) Contrast what Harris wrote about Froomkin with his comments on his own reporting of the Clinton White House:

1997 was in its own way a very sullen, snippy, disagreeable year in the relationship between the White House and the press. Most news organizations -- the Washington Post included -- were devoting lots of resources, lots of coverage, to the campaign fund-raising scandal which grew out of the '96 campaign, and there were a lot of very tantalizing leads in those initial controversies. In the end they didn't seem to lead anyplace all that great.But there were tons of questions raised that certainly, to my mind, merited aggressive coverage...

Posted by DeLong at 11:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars (Or Is George W. Bush Really That Uninformed? Edition)

Hilzoy writes:

Obsidian Wings: Liar, Liar: Take 3: In Which George W. Bush Reveals That He Lives In An Alternate Universe: Today President Bush said this: "We do not render to countries that torture. That has been our policy, and that policy will remain the same." Sometimes it is possible to find some peculiar way of interpreting this administration's claims about torture and detention that makes them technically true. Do they say that it is not US policy to condone torture? Well, maybe if your definition of torture is strict enough that it doesn't include waterboarding, beatings not serious enough to cause as much pain as the failure of a major organ, and so on.

Of course, almost no one outside the administration defines torture this way, but hey: why quibble?

Do they say that we abide by all US and international laws? Well, given their interpretation of those laws as not governing CIA activities carried out outside the US, and their view that the President's war powers allow him to legally set aside laws and treaties, maybe this comes out true as well -- at least if you disregard such niggling details as the fact that neither the US Supreme Court nor other signatories to those treaties agree with this interpretation.

But there is no interpretation of the claim that we do not render suspects to countries that torture that makes that claim true. None at all.

Posted by DeLong at 11:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Three Cheers for Senator Feingold!

Russ Feingold is a senator:

GOTV: Restoring the Bill of Rights : [T]he Patriot Act conference report that was announced last week after the House and Senate conferees met doesn't do enough to protect the rights and liberties we all hold dear. None of the Democratic conferees signed the report. They deserve great credit for that. In addition, I'm very proud to be working closely with five of my colleagues, three Republicans and two other Democrats, to stop a conference report that doesn't make the changes to the Patriot Act that we believe are critical and justified.

Posted by DeLong at 11:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars (Or Is George W. Bush Really That Uninformed? Edition)

Hilzoy writes:

Obsidian Wings: Liar, Liar: Take 3: In Which George W. Bush Reveals That He Lives In An Alternate Universe: Today President Bush said this: "We do not render to countries that torture. That has been our policy, and that policy will remain the same." Sometimes it is possible to find some peculiar way of interpreting this administration's claims about torture and detention that makes them technically true. Do they say that it is not US policy to condone torture? Well, maybe if your definition of torture is strict enough that it doesn't include waterboarding, beatings not serious enough to cause as much pain as the failure of a major organ, and so on.

Of course, almost no one outside the administration defines torture this way, but hey: why quibble?

Do they say that we abide by all US and international laws? Well, given their interpretation of those laws as not governing CIA activities carried out outside the US, and their view that the President's war powers allow him to legally set aside laws and treaties, maybe this comes out true as well -- at least if you disregard such niggling details as the fact that neither the US Supreme Court nor other signatories to those treaties agree with this interpretation.

But there is no interpretation of the claim that we do not render suspects to countries that torture that makes that claim true. None at all.

Posted by DeLong at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Three Cheers for Senator Feingold!

Russ Feingold is a senator:

GOTV: Restoring the Bill of Rights : [T]he Patriot Act conference report that was announced last week after the House and Senate conferees met doesn't do enough to protect the rights and liberties we all hold dear. None of the Democratic conferees signed the report. They deserve great credit for that. In addition, I'm very proud to be working closely with five of my colleagues, three Republicans and two other Democrats, to stop a conference report that doesn't make the changes to the Patriot Act that we believe are critical and justified.

Posted by DeLong at 11:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Analyzing Republican Economic Policy at the Appropriate Level

Only Fafglof... Fafbllog... Fafablog... "No more blooging while drunk!!"... Fafblog can analyze the economic policy of the Republican leadership at the appropriate level:

Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog. : Nature's Harmonious Money Cycle: So you can't afford to heat your house and somebody went and cut your Medicaid and food stamps. "Oh no!" you say burnin a spare child for warmth. "Whatever will I do." Don't worry poor people! Hope is on the way in the form a multi-billion dollar tax cuts! "Oh but Fafnir those tax cuts won't help me," you say, "the vast majority are going to super-wealthy investors." Sure they will! When we help out the richest one percent we help out everybody! It's all on accounta the mysterious beauty of Nature's Money Cycle. Money starts out in Congress where it rains from Senatorial clouds in the form of torrential tax cuts. It collects in rivers and flows downhill into billionaires and large corporations where it is evaporated by lobbyists and rises into the air in the form a campaign contributions which condense in the atmosphere which turn into Congress again, which rain the tax cuts and start it all over again and the wheel of life rolls on. The Money Cycle is all around us every day! Can you find yourself in the Money Cycle? That's right! You're the tiny microscopic planktony thing about to get eaten by the octopus! You're right next to the leprechaun with the magical pot of pixie gold who's gonna pay down the national debt. So if you're feelin cold, sick and hungry this winter while Larry Ellison buys an extra boat, don't feel sad! We're all part of Nature's Money Cycle, and someday some a that boat's gonna trickle down to you! Maybe a piece of the bowsprit, after Larry throws it out to buy a better boat. I hear that's delicious in a lemon marinade.

Posted by DeLong at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051211

If I had infinite hours in the day

http://tls.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25549-1898046,00.html TLS on pineapple: "In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke asserts the impossibility of knowing the taste of pineapple before you have actually tasted it. This is not just a throwaway remark; he returns to the point in several drafts and in several places.... For Locke, who had never tasted a pineapple himself... only first-hand sensory experience could give knowledge of the taste -- the quiddity -- of pineapple. Locke's choice of the pineapple to make his point was not random.... The pineapple... was the ultimate in inaccessible luxury fruit. Unless you were close to royalty, or a traveller to the West Indies, you were very unlikely to have been anywhere near one. Moreover, those who had tasted its yellow flesh, described it as peculiarly complex and elusive.... Some thought it musky. Others thought it combined all that is 'most delicate in the Peach, the Strawberry, the Muscadine Grape and the Pippin'..."

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA011894211033.aspx Microsoft Quality Software: William Kennedy, General Manager, Outlook Product Development: "Outlook does not allow you to receive attachments... such as an .exe file.... The vast majority of users don't have reasons to send these potentially dangerous files around, and those who do can use other methods.... Outlook does not block documents such as .xls, .doc, .ppt, and .txt files..."

http://www.physicsweb.org/articles/world/18/12/2/1 Gerard 't Hooft: "Nature provides us with... the unnatural, tiny value of the cosmological constant... the universe has a propensity to stay flat. Why this happens is a mystery that cannot be explained in any theory in which gravitation is subject to quantum mechanics.... There might be another example, which is the preservation of the symmetry between the quarks in the subatomic world, called charge-parity (CP) symmetry - a symmetry that one would have expected to be destroyed by their strong interactions. The problem of the cosmological constant has always been a problem of quantum gravity. I am convinced that the small value... cannot be reconciled with the standard paradigms of quantized fields and general relativity. It is obvious that drastic modifications in our way of thinking, such as the ones hinted at in this text, are required to solve the problems addressed here..."

http://www.danielgross.net/archives/2005/12/11-week/index.html#000429 Daniel Gross writes: "CRAM-DOWN NATION, VOL. XVI, PART 48: Milt Freudenheim and Mary Williams Walsh write in the New York Times on the great cram-down soon to be felt by millions of public-sector employees. The reason: government leaders -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, appointed and elected alike -- have never really bothered to tally up the costs of the reitrement health care promises they made to workers..."

Doug Henwood writes: "Sorry I missed this one.... [A] friend who went to Alberto Gonzales's appearance before the Council in Foreign Relations the other day said that the men in gray suits went after him hard on torture - Pete Peterson (Nixon's Commerce Secretary, big cheese investment banker at Blackstone, whose name adorns the room the event probably took place in at the CFR) among them..."

http://atrios.blogspot.com/2005_12_04_atrios_archive.html#113406697004304415 Duncan Black gets into the Wayback Machine and finds yet more right-wing media bias: "When [Howard] Dean made his 'gaffe' that capturing Saddam Hussein didn't make the country any safer a few Washington types expressed a version of 'he's absolutely right but he still shouldn't have said it because we're going to attack him for it anyway!' I give you Sam Donaldson: 'DONALDSON: Let me tell you something. I think Howard Dean deserves the bad press. And I'm not against him. I'm not making a case against him. That one phase, "America is not safer because of Saddam's capture," in context you know what he's saying, which is the war on terrorism is a wide-ranging war in the future and this will not really affect that. But someone on his staff should have said, "Don't use that phrase because every headline and writer, every Donaldson, everybody on television will stick it out, and it's just the wrong message..."'"

http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written/browse_thread/thread/a8d50a821745a5ac/b14a24ba205f4560?hl=en#b14a24ba205f4560 Charlie Stross writes, apropos of Vernor Vinge (2006), Rainbows End (New York: Tor: 0312856849) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0312856849/braddelong00 (which is not a "Zones of Thought" book in spite of what amazon says): "Dunno if they'll use it, but [here's my blurb]: 'Welcome to 2040. They've cured Alzheimer's and you're going back to school. Bad news: so are the terrorists.'... I'm voting this for best novel Hugo of 2006. And it'll take something truly spectacular to shove it off the throne." Let me concur: there are a few too many whos doing whats to whoms in the big mishegass near the end (which could stand being rewritten), but the book as a whole is at least as good as Vinge's previous best, A Deepness in the Sky...

http://www.slate.com/id/2132036/fr/rss/ Timothy Noah writes: "...al-Qaida's suspiciously large number of members holding the organization's No. 3 position. I said there were four... I'd forgotten No. 1 Son-In-Law Mohammed Atef, reportedly killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan way back in Nov. 2001.... So, make that five No. 3s in al-Qaida over the past four years. Which... would be a turnover more rapid even than that for Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts.... In the meantime, Michael Tortorello of the Minneapolis alternative weekly City Pages has been keeping tabs on the number of "lieutenants" or "key aides" or "key associates" there are to Iraq's most notorious bad-guy insurgent, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If you guessed 10, guess again. According to Tortorello, the latest count is 17..."

http://prairieweather.typepad.com/big_blue_stem/2005/12/sheer_bloody_ch.html "Found in New York Magazine: "Bush administration officials... threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on... would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal.... Bush officials informed organizers of their intention to pull out... late Thursday afternoon, when the Associated Press ran a story saying that Clinton had been added.... [B]arely minutes after the news leaked, conference organizers called Clinton aides and told them that Bush administration officials were displeased. 'The organizers said the Bush people were threatening to pull out of the deal,' the source said.... Clinton... immediately said, 'There’s no way that I’m gonna let petty politics get in the way of the deal. So I'm not gonna come.'... At around 8:30 p.m., organizers called Clinton aides and said that they'd successfully called the bluff of Bush officials..."

http://www.markarkleiman.com/archives/vote_fraud_/2005/12/law_v_polics_voting_rights_department.php Mark Kleiman writes: "The career staff of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department unanimously recommended rejection of the DeLay redistricting of Texas as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The political management of the Department overruled the staff, just as it had in accepting Georgia's virtual poll tax.... I'm sorry to be late on this one, but the capacity of the Bush Administration to execute outrages is outrunning may capacity to comment on them..."

http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2005/12/ny_times_and_th.html Prawfsblawg is amused at the "subtle hint of bias in the [New York Times] reporter's judgment" in coverage of the challenge to the SEC's power to regulate hedge funds: "The lawyers and judges... focused largely on statutory interpretation rather than broad financial policy questions, and in so doing, shifted the battle to a more friendly terrain for a business that is barely regulated.... "You can't come in and say we will make 'client' whoever you want it to be," Judge Edwards said impatiently and dismissively to Mr. Stillman. Mr. Stillman... unfazed by the questions... carefully guided the judges through the history and purposes of the complex regulatory regime.... The panel's third member, Judge Thomas B. Griffith... suggested that the squabbling over legislative interpretation was less important than giving the agency the tools necessary to detect financial chicanery. He also suggested that the agency and Congress should set policy, not the courts. 'What's more important', Judge Griffith asked Mr. Bartz, 'the concept of client or for them to root out fraud?'..."

Posted by DeLong at 11:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Representative Murtha Asks a Very Good Question

Representative Murtha, via Froomkin, via Anderson:

Thus Blogged Anderson: No respect: Dan Froomkin gives us this great growl from newly-famous Rep. Murtha:

Murtha took questions:

QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, what do you say to Senator Lieberman whom yesterday said Democrats need to acknowledge that this president is commander in chief for three more years, that undermining his credibility....

MURTHA: Undermining his credibility? What has [Bush] said that would give him credibility? He said there was Al Qaida connection. He said there was a connection with nuclear weapons. He said there's biological, chemical weapons there. He said there's progress now. I'm showing you that I don't see the kind of progress he sees...

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Posted by DeLong at 11:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Malignant Incompetents Anyway?

Steve Clemons writes:

The Washington Note Archives: Get this now. [Khaled] El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent... kidnapped while vacationing by American intelligence... "questioned" -- allegedly roughly -- by American authorities in Afghanistan.... [I]nvestigators finally figured out he was innocent and reported back to CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet had him held ANYWAY for another two months. And then... you might ask, could it get worse? Well, yes.

We dumped him blindfolded in the deep forest, mountainous triangle area between Albania, Serbia and Macedonia. He had to walk out with no money, no identification. He got to a border guard station -- and because of his inability to identify himself and because of how "outlandish" his story sounded to the border guards he met, he feared that the entire process would begin.

We dumped him blindfolded in a forest in one of the roughest regions nearby. Were U.S. authorities hoping he'd just be shot by someone else? What were they thinking?...

If you are fighting a dirty war in which you kidnap people and torture them, you are going to make mistakes. What do you do when you figure out that you made a mistake? Do you:

  1. Take him back to his home, apologize profusely, give him lots of cash, tell him that these are desperate times and that while we would appreciate it if he didn't talk we have no wish to constrain him further?

  2. Dump him in the mountains without money, without ID?

  3. Kill him and bury him secretly--underneath a newly-constructed runway, like we used to do in the 1980s?

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful that the CIA appears to be doing (2) rather than (3).

But impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now. Impeach Richard Cheney to.

Posted by DeLong at 11:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It Takes a Potemkin Village

Mark Thoma emails us that the New York Times is worth reading for the excellent Frank Rich:

It Takes a Potemkin Village - New York Times : WHEN a government substitutes propaganda for governing, the Potemkin village is all. Since we don't get honest information from this White House, we must instead, as the Soviets once did, decode our rulers' fictions to discern what's really happening. What we're seeing now is the wheels coming off: As the administration's stagecraft becomes more baroque, its credibility tanks further both at home and abroad. The propaganda techniques may be echt Goebbels, but they increasingly come off as pure Ali G.

The latest desperate shifts in White House showmanship say at least as much about our progress (or lack of same) in Iraq over the past 32 months as reports from the ground. When President Bush announced the end of "major combat operations" in May 2003, his Imagineers felt the need for only a single elegant banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." Cut to Nov. 30, 2005: the latest White House bumper sticker, "Plan for Victory," multiplied by Orwellian mitosis over nearly every square inch of the rather "Queer Eye" stage set from which Mr. Bush delivered his oration at the Naval Academy.

And to no avail. Despite the insistently redundant graphics - and despite the repetition of the word "victory" 15 times in the speech itself - Americans believed "Plan for Victory" far less than they once did "Mission Accomplished."... Mr. Bush's "Plan for Victory" speech was, of course, the usual unadulterated nonsense.... The specifics were phony.... Once again inflating the readiness of Iraqi troops, Mr. Bush claimed that the recent assault on Tal Afar "was primarily led by Iraqi security forces" - a fairy tale... Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, promptly released a 59-page report documenting his own military's inadequate leadership, equipment and training.

But this variety of Bush balderdash is such old news that everyone except that ga-ga 25 percent instantaneously tunes it out.... What raised the "Plan for Victory" show to new heights of disinformation was the subsequent revelation that the administration's main stated motive for the address - the release of a 35-page document laying out a "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" - was as much a theatrical prop as the stunt turkey the president posed with during his one furtive visit to Baghdad two Thanksgivings ago.

As breathlessly heralded by Scott McClellan, this glossy brochure was "an unclassified version" of the strategy in place since the war's inception in "early 2003." But Scott Shane of The New York Times... turned up... the document's originating author: Peter Feaver, a Duke political scientist who started advising the National Security Council only this June.... an expert on public opinion about war, not war.... [W]hat Mr. McClellan billed as a 2003 strategy for military victory is in fact a P.R. strategy in place for no more than six months. That solves the mystery of why Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey of the Army, who is in charge of training Iraqi troops, told reporters that he had never seen this "National Strategy" before its public release last month....

The Pentagon earmarks more than $100 million in taxpayers' money for various Lincoln Group operations, and it can't get any facts? Though the 30-year-old prime mover in the shadowy outfit, one Christian Bailey, fled from Andrea Mitchell... facts are proving not at all elusive... cash payoffs, trading in commercial Iraqi real estate and murky bidding procedures for lucrative U.S. government contracts.... The more we learn about such sleaze in the propaganda war, the more we see it's failing for the same reason as the real war: incompetence. Much as the disastrous Bremer regime botched the occupation of Iraq with bad decisions made by its array of administration cronies and relatives (among them Ari Fleischer's brother), so the White House doesn't exactly get the biggest bang for the bucks it shells out to cronies for fake news. Until he was unmasked as an administration shill, Armstrong Williams was less known for journalism than for striking a deal to dismiss a messy sexual-harassment suit against him in 1999....

Posted by DeLong at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Robert Waldmann's Dark Night of the Soul

Robert Waldmann writes:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts : The problems with intelligent design are based on the joint hypothesis (a) that the Designer is intelligent and (b) that the Designer is not principally motivated by a sick sense of humor.

Frankly, I find the sick sense of humor theory very attractive. I try to cling to my atheism but I ask myself, "Can the creation of Richard Cheney be due to bad luck alone?"

Posted by DeLong at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Signs of Something Very Wrong with Brad DeLong, Part CXXXIV

While watching the Johnny Cash movie, "Walk the Line," he spends a substantial part of the movie spinning increasingly ridiculous and implausible scenarios as to how a man who committed felony murder in Nevada (Reno) could have wound up incarcerated in a California state penitentiary (Folsom Prison).

I mean, federalism.

Posted by DeLong at 11:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

There Are Feral Hogs in San Francisco County?

I would have thought that the City & County of San Francisco would be feral hog free, if anyplace were feral hog free...

Anyone got a recipe for feral hogs? | CorrenteWire : Frazier has a labored explanation for why California, in which 57 of 58 counties have feral hogs, still votes Democratic. I'd like to think that, as so often, California is just ahead of the rest of the country...

Posted by DeLong at 11:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Special Joementum Edition: I'll Stop Calling This Crew "Orwellian" When They Stop Using 1984 as an Operations Manual

Senator Joe Lieberman stars in the clown show. Yes, it's Joe Lieberman, pwned by Joe Lieberman. Duncan Black http://atrios.blogspot.com reports on:

The Lieberman of yesterday:

It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.

The Lieberman of 2004:

In our democracy, a president does not rule, he governs. He remains always answerable to us, the people. And right now, the president’s conduct of our foreign policy is giving the country too many reasons to question his leadership. It’s not just about 16 words in a speech, it is about distorting intelligence and diminishing credibility.

And the Lieberman of 2003:

In the day's sharpest attack, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) accused Bush of deceiving Americans over everything from national security to helping the poor. "There has been one value repeatedly missing from this presidency, and that value is integrity," Lieberman said. "By deception and disarray, this White House has betrayed the just cause of fighting terrorism and tyranny around the world." Leaking the CIA employee's name "was the politics of personal destruction at its worst," he said.

Posted by DeLong at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Moral Hazard, Soft Budget Constraints, and Health Care

Marginal Revolution quotes Austan Goolsbee on health care, and says:

Marginal Revolution: Austan Goolsbee is smart. Try this:

... [C]ompanies are particularly likely to raise prices when the government is footing the bill. Economists Mark Duggan at the University of Maryland and Fiona Scott Morton at Yale studied the prices of the top 200 drugs... drug makers gamed the government procurement rules that forbid companies from billing Medicaid more for a drug than they bill private consumers. When private-sector demand for a drug is small compared with the demand of Medicaid patients (as is the case, for example, with antipsychotics), drug companies massively inflate the price of the drug for private buyers. Sure, they lose some business from that part of the market. But they more than make up for that loss by being able to bill the government at a vastly higher price for the Medicaid patients....

And this:

As the moral-hazard problem for medical expenses becomes a corporate rather than individual matter... Health Savings Accounts will fail to rein in costs... they change the incentives of individuals, not companies. Indeed, as more people get HSAs, we may very well see the [drug] companies raise prices even further to capture the tax-free savings in people's accounts. That... has happened with "529" college savings programs... "supposed to be an enormous federal tax subsidy for education." But the small number of financial firms... approved to manage the 529 accounts have... rais[ed] their investment fees to levels well above those in the regular investment market.

I believe the argument, although it remains a puzzle why these markets do not behave in a more competitive fashion...

Posted by DeLong at 11:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The State of the Business Cycle

Barry Ritholz thinks the state of the business cycle is weaker than commonly thought. He sees a bunch of people ignoring their transversality constraints--thinking that they can stay suspended in midair forever. He mentions households and the government. I would add all those--private and public--who are holding U.S. long-term bonds:

The Big Picture: Goldilocks Economy? Hardly.... In one camp, the "Realists," and on the other side, the folks who call the realists the "Pouting Pundits of Pessimism." One has to wonder what leads people to take their intellectual cues from the philosophy of Spiro Agnew....

In a typical healthy recovery, Government spending often leads the way.... Pent up consumer demand then takes over.... Businesses ramps up their CapEx Spending and Hiring... a virtuous cycle... overheating, which begets Fed rate hikes, which (typically) go too far and cause the next recession. Then the cycle starts over again....

[T]he sectors contributing to GDP growth are rather atypical at this stage of a recovery. Personal consumption continues to increase - despite a decrease in real income and a negative savings rate.... Business Fixed Investment also decreased last quarter.... 4 years into this recovery, GDP growth it is not a function of increasing corporate CapEx. GDP strength is coming largely from real estate driven consumer borrowing and spending, and from Government deficit spending....

The public hasn't bought into the happy talk either.... Michael Mussa, who served on Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers from 1986 to 1988, noted : "If you ask the classic Ronald Reagan question 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago?,' a large number of Americans are in fact not better off.'

The American public is hardly a pessimistic lot; they are, however, deeply aware of their own financial situations.

Lastly, a word about Agnew: all his complaints about the "Nattering Nebobs of Negativity" -- Agnew's phrase (via speechwriter Safire) for the critics of his time -- proved completely unfounded. The criticism of the Viet Nam War, President Nixon and Watergate turned out, ironically, to be well founded. Agnew resigned in a bribery scandal....

Posted by DeLong at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2005

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (Marine Corps PR Department Edition)

TBogg writes:

TBogg : Why did the U.S. military mislead the media and the families of ten Marines killed near the Iraqi city of Falluja while "on patrol" last week about how they were killed? The military announced on Tuesday that it actually happened at a "promotion" ceremony and they were not on foot patrol as initially reported. Families of the victims immediately raised questions about the incident and it was unclear whether the site had been properly swept for explosive devices. The Marines were in a disused flour mill on the outskirts of the city to celebrate the promotion of three soldiers, a military statement said on Tuesday As the ceremony ended, the Marines dispersed and one of them is thought to have stepped on a buried pressure plate linked to explosives that caused the devastating blast. But CNN, for example, reported four days ago, based on military reports, that the dead Marines "were conducting a nighttime foot patrol when a roadside bomb fashioned with large artillery shells detonated."...

Posted by DeLong at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Liars? (George W. Bush Edition)

Paul Krugman writes about the Promiser-in-Chief:

donkey o.d. too: The Promiser in Chief by Paul Krugman : A few months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush promised to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy. He - or, at any rate, his speechwriters - understood that reconstruction was important not just for its own sake, but as a way to deprive the growing insurgency of support.... But for a long time, Iraqi reconstruction was more of a public relations exercise than a real effort. Remember when visiting congressmen were taken on tours of newly painted schools? Both supporters and opponents of the war now argue that by moving so slowly on reconstruction, the Bush administration missed a crucial window of opportunity. By the time reconstruction spending began in earnest, it was in a losing race with a deteriorating security situation. As a result, the electricity and jobs that were supposed to make the killers desperate never arrived. Iraq produced less electricity last month than in October 2003. The Iraqi government estimates the unemployment rate at 27 percent, but the real number is probably much higher.

Now we're losing another window of opportunity for reconstruction. But this time it's at home.Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush made an elaborately staged appearance in New Orleans, where he promised big things. "The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region," he said, "will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." Such an effort would be the right thing to do. We can argue about details - about which levees should be restored and how strong to make them - but it's clearly in the nation's interests as well as local residents' to rebuild much of the regional economy.

But Mr. Bush seems to have forgotten about his promise. More than three months after Katrina, a major reconstruction effort isn't even in the planning stage, let alone under way. "To an extent almost inconceivable a few months ago," a Los Angeles Times report about New Orleans says, "the only real actors in the rebuilding drama at the moment are the city's homeowners and business owners."

It's worth noting in passing that Mr. Bush hasn't even appointed a new team to fix the dysfunctional Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most of the agency's key positions, including the director's job - left vacant by the departure of Michael "heck of a job" Brown - are filled on an acting basis, by temporary place holders. The chief of staff is still a political loyalist with no prior disaster management experience. One FEMA program has, however, been revamped. The Recovery Channel is a satellite and Internet network that used to provide practical information to disaster victims. Now it features public relations segments telling viewers what a great job FEMA and the Bush administration are doing.

But back to reconstruction. By letting the gulf region languish, Mr. Bush is allowing a window of opportunity to close, just as he did in Iraq.To see why, you need to understand a point emphasized by [Peter Gosselin's] report in The Los Angeles Times: the private sector can't rebuild the region on its own. The reason goes beyond the need for flood protection and basic infrastructure, which only the government can provide. Rebuilding is also blocked by a vicious circle of uncertainty. Business owners are reluctant to return to the gulf region because they aren't sure whether their customers and workers will return, too. And families are reluctant to return because they aren't sure whether businesses will be there to provide jobs and basic amenities. A credible reconstruction plan could turn that vicious circle into a virtuous circle, in which everyone expects a regional recovery and, by acting on that expectation, helps that recovery come to pass. But as the months go by with no plan and no money, businesses and families will make permanent decisions to relocate elsewhere, and the loss of faith in a gulf region recovery will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Funny, isn't it? Back during the 2000 campaign Mr. Bush promised to avoid "nation building." And so he has. He failed to rebuild Iraq because he waited too long to get started. And now he's doing the same thing here at home.

Posted by DeLong at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051207

If I had infinite hours in the day:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2005/12/08/BL2005120801034_pf.html Dan Froomkin writes: "Some American journalists intent on fact-checking President Bush's vision of [progress in] Iraq are finding it too dangerous to inspect the areas Bush yesterday cited as models of success. Which sort of tells you the story right there..."

http://www.danielgross.net/archives/2005/12/04-week/index.html#000420 Daniel Gross points out that when Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal editorial page writes "dividend payments to shareholders have doubled in two years" what he really means is that dividend payments to shareholders have risen by 25%. Once again: trust nothing, believe nothing on the Wall Street Journal editorial page...

http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/understandingeconomics Aaron Swartz really understands economic jargon...

http://neweconomist.blogs.com/new_economist/2005/12/almost_everythi.html The New Economist admires the "Nordic Model," but doesn't think anybody else should try to replicate it: "Can the Nordic model be replicated? Perhaps, but not easily.... Nordic countries have small populations, are very homogenous, 'with a preference for equality, inclusion and collective action'. Most also have a long history of political dominance by social democratic parties. Those cultural and political characteristics, and the institutional complementarities that go with the Nordic economic and social model, will make it harder to export key elements elsewhere, particularly in anglo-saxon countries...

http://edcone.typepad.com/wordup/2005/12/death_knell_for.html Ed Cone writes: "When the Wall Street Journal editorial page gives prime real estate to a piece about Tom DeLay's serious legal problems, you know The Hammer's problems are, well, serious...

http://www.ericumansky.com/2005/12/knight_ridders_.html Eric Umansky watches Knight-Ridder report on the White House's "mounting an aggressive effort to counter a Knight Ridder story that described Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a committed judicial conservative"...

http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2005/12/06/4742 Jim Henley thanks the Democratic Party for keeping "this churl" Robert Bork off the Supreme Court...

http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2005/12/censors_for_fre_1.shtml#011881 Jacob Sollum of Reason watches the latest clown show at National Review: Robert Bork writing that censorship is liberty. Next week in National Review: freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and war is peace.... Oh. You say they've already done those?

http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110007648 A new contestant for the Stupidest Woman Alive: Peggy Noonan says: Because it was legal for my Irish ancestors to cross the border in 1920, moving here makes them the blessed salt of the earth. Because it is illegal for Mexicans to cross the border today, moving them makes them a despicable and dangerous criminal underclass...

http://chrissilvey.com/weblog/?p=112 Chris Silvey reads GM CEO Richard Wagoner on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and freaks out: "Huh? Is he actually are touting manufacturing productivity as a strength of GM? He can't seriously be taking this line of argument!... It certainly doesn't sound like GM has a competitive advantage.... It takes them nearly six hours longer per vehicle to produce a vehicle. That's 75% of a regular time shift on a production line. If that extra time was spent making the GM car a more attractive, safer, more economical, and/or a more reliable car then it would be time well spent. However, I don't know a single person that thinks GM is better at any one of those things.... If GM sold its average car for the same price as Toyota (an addition of $5,855 per car) they would eliminate their marginal operating loss and make a profit of $3,544. This would more then cover the large executive bonuses and employee health-care liabilities..."

http://www.sunherald.com/mld/sunherald/news/politics/13352163.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp More Republican Family Values: "Barbour's niece by marriage big FEMA winner... lucrative FEMA contracts awarded to a firm owned by a woman with family ties to Gov. Haley Barbour.... Alcatec LLC, which is owned by Rosemary Ramirez Barbour - a Guatemalan immigrant married to the governor's nephew and Hinds County Supervisor Charles Barbour - received nearly $6.4 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. The bulk of the contracts were awarded in September and October without competitive bidding, according to federal records. Rosemary Barbour said Wednesday that Alcatec is a listed as disadvantaged business through the Small Business Administration, and that helps her company gain government favor..."

http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2005/11/the_other_id.php Incompetent Design theorist Don Wise speaks: "No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us. All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging... the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution's way of modifying something or else it's just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student. Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn't count accurately above 20? Look at the bones in your face. They're the same as the other mammals' but they're just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!... fewer teeth... fewer bones in our face, so that it could drain properly... straighten up the pelvis... take out the appendix... the tonsils, too.... Some guy from Texas... said, 'Actually I would write more, but I have to go pee in Morse code, because some idiot designed my aging prostate'..."


Lisa Randall (2005), Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (New York: Harper Collins: 0060531088).

Posted by DeLong at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mark Thoma Catches Greg Ip Writing on Ben Bernanke

Mark Thoma directs us to a very nice article by the extremely, extremely good Greg Ip about Ben Bernanke and his thinking:

Economist's View: Greg Ip of the WSJ has been doing some research on Ben Bernanke:

Lessons of the '30s: Long Study of Great Depression Has Shaped Bernanke's Views, by Greg Ip, WSJ: As a child of six or seven, he visited his maternal grandmother... and sat on her front porch as she described life as a young mother during the 1930s.... Mrs. Friedman, whose husband taught Hebrew and worked in a furniture store, was proud they could buy new shoes for their children each year. But many neighborhood children had to go to school in tattered shoes or barefoot. "Why didn't their parents just buy them new shoes?" young Ben asked. Because their fathers had lost their jobs when the shoe factories closed, she said. "Why did the factories close down?" She replied, "Because nobody had any money to buy shoes." The circularity of her logic, which he later recounted in a textbook, bothered him yet illustrated a key puzzle of the Depression: Why was there so much idle capacity when there were so many unmet needs?...

In "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960," [Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz ] argued that the Depression was far from inevitable, but brought about by an "inept" Federal Reserve.... Mr. Bernanke read the book as a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s. "I was hooked, and I have been a student of monetary economics and economic history ever since."... In 1979, Mr. Bernanke went to Stanford to teach economics.... The 1970s' high unemployment and inflation had diminished the Fed's reputation, and new economic theories of "rational expectations" and the "real business cycle" held that the central bank could do little to affect growth and jobs. Mr. Bernanke nonetheless threw himself into studying the role of monetary policy in the Depression.... While the Friedman-Schwartz theory had revolutionized thinking about the Depression, it couldn't fully explain the downturn's length or depth. Theoretically, neither deflation nor inflation ought to affect long-run growth or employment. After a while, people and businesses get used to changing prices....

Mr. Bernanke published his first major paper on the Depression in 1983.... "My theory seems capable, unlike the major alternatives, of explaining the unusual length and depth of the Great Depression." The statement reflected an intellectual boldness that verged on cockiness. Messrs. Bernanke and Gertler began a lengthy collaboration refining what became known as the "financial accelerator" because it explained how the financial system could compound an economic downturn. The two had complementary roles, with Mr. Bernanke usually pushing for a bold statement and Mr. Gertler, he recalls, "telling him what's wrong with the statement."... Mr. Bernanke's Depression research soon found a U.S. role. Some analysts had called on the Fed to rein in the galloping stock market in the late 1990s. But... Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Gertler said the Fed should raise rates if rising asset prices fuel inflation, but not to prick a bubble. "A bubble, once pricked, can easily degenerate into a panic," they said. When the bubble eventually collapses on its own, the Fed should cut interest rates to limit the damage to the financial system and the broad economy.... As Fed chairman, Mr. Bernanke probably will not be talking much about the Depression, but it is unlikely to be far from his mind...

Note: this does not--repeat not--mean that Ben Bernanke is more kindly disposed toward large full-employment government budget deficits than the next central banker.

Posted by DeLong at 11:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More McCarthyism in the National Review

Ah. William F. Buckley first says that he defended McCarthy only when McCarthy made baseless attacks on Democratic cabinet members like Secretary George Marshall and his Defense Department, not when Buckley made baseless attacks on Republican cabinet members like Secretary Charlie Wilson and his Defense Department:

William F. Buckley Jr. on Edward R. Murrow, Sen. Joe McCarthy, and Good Night, and Good Luck on National Review Online: [M]y own study of McCarthy ended with his activity in September 1953, that his fight with the Army, which was what the fracas was about in 1954 — which got him censured, and which loosed Edward R. Murrow — was something else, that McCarthy had thrown restraint to one side, that he was deep in booze in those days and did some flatly inexcusable things, for instance his attack on General Ralph Zwicker.....

And then compares Joe "inexcusable things" McCarthy to St. Francis of Assisi:

If there were five million feet of film on St. Francis of Assisi, you could probably find a shot of him running away naked from his father’s house (he did), and Ed Murrow could prove he was an exhibitionist and a poseur (he affected to talk to the birds!)...

Somehow, Buckley also manages to reverse his field, and say--somehow--that Murrow was--somehow--cowardly and--somehow--smeared that Tail-Gunner Joe whom Buckley has just said did "inexcusable things":

Murrow had uniquely the skill to wrest the highest dramatic content out of any situation. There were the bad boys and the good boys; and he was the good boys’ best boy on TV. But more than just that, he did develop a form, he and Fred Friendly, that hadn’t been fully developed theretofore. It went like this: PAN ON FULL FACE OF SENATOR MCCARTHY. He is perspiring and weaving a little in front of a microphone, preparing to speak. No music. Total silence. Then the Senator lets out a long burp. SHIFT TO ED MURROW. “Ladies and gentlemen, this evening we’ll take a look at Senator McCarthy...” That half-hour on McCarthy was Murrow’s most important show. All the obituary writers mentioned it, and the great courage it took to attack Senator McCarthy — which certainly indicated that this is a nation whose people are courageous, since everybody was doing it, or at least everybody who counts. Everybody moral. And Edward R. Murrow was the most moral man on television, because he had the guts to show up Senator McCarthy for what he was...

Cowardly Murrow is thus sharply contrasted with William F. Buckley, who thought in 1954 that McCarthy was doing "inexcusable things," and yet kept quiet, very quiet indeed...


UPDATE: How big a risk were Murrow and Friendly taking in taking on McCarthy? Certainly their boss, Paley, was scared.

There were, however, lots of Republicans at the time who hoped that Murrow and company would succeed. Joe McCarthy thought that he was doing well (for himself) by attracting press coverage for doing good (for the country) by uncovering "security risks" in government. And Taft, Eisenhower, Nixon, and the other heads of the Republican Party thought that claiming to have found "security risks" in government was a fine thing to do as long as the government was run by Democrats, and as long as it was politically advisable to paint as somehow "soft on Communism" Truman and his advisors--the people who had constructed the Western Alliance and mobilized the U.S. for the two-generation long struggle of Containment.

However, Taft, Eisenhower, Nixon, and the other heads of the Republican Party also thought that claiming to have found "security risks" in government was a bad thing once the government was run by Republicans. They were unwilling to attack McCarthy themselves: that would have made their cynical political calculation too obvious. But they were happy to watch Murrow and company from the sidelines. Were they perhaps also willing to send Nixon to tell the right-wing slime machine not to attack Murrow and company, and instead to let McCarthy twist slowly, slowly in the wind? I don't know.

Certainly nobody told McCarthy that the game had changed: certainly William F. Buckley never told him that the game had changed.

Posted by DeLong at 11:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Private Provision of Public Goods

Preston McAfee of CalTech has written an open-source introductory economics textbook: Introductory Economic Analysis

Posted by DeLong at 11:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Vicar of Bray

Ah. I've been looking for this...

The Vicar of Bray :

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.

And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

When Royal James possest the crown,
And popery grew in fashion;
The Penal Law I shouted down,
And read the Declaration:
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my Constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.
And this is Law, &c.

When William our Deliverer came,
To heal the Nation's Grievance,
I turn'd the Cat in Pan again,
And swore to him Allegiance:
Old Principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
Passive Obedience is a Joke,
A Jest is non-resistance.
And this is Law, &c.

When Royal Ann became our Queen,
Then Church of England's Glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory:
Occasional Conformists base
I Damn'd, and Moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was,
From such Prevarication.
And this is Law, &c.

When George in Pudding time came o'er,
And Moderate Men looked big, Sir,
My Principles I chang'd once more,
And so became a Whig, Sir.
And thus Preferment I procur'd,
From our Faith's great Defender,
And almost every day abjur'd
The Pope, and the Pretender.
And this is Law, &c.

The Illustrious House of Hannover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I lustily will swear,
Whilst they can keep possession:
For in my Faith, and Loyalty,
I never once will faulter,
But George, my lawful king shall be,
Except the Times shou'd alter.
And this is Law, &c.

The British Musical Miscellany, Volume I, 1734. Text as found in R. S. Crane, A Collection of English Poems 1660-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1932. Back to Russ Hunt's Web Site...

Posted by DeLong at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Theory Really Ahead of Measurement

Lisa Randall (2005), Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (New York: Harper Collins: 0060531088). Highly recommended. Theory is really ahead of measurement in modern particle physics. There is the sense of thousands of people around the globe holding their breath as they wait for the Large Hadron Collider to come on line, all of them hoping to see a lot of new physics in the 250-1000 GeV range...

Just think of what we would know if since 1970s we had diverted NASA's manned space flight budget into building bigger and bigger atom smashers...

Posted by DeLong at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Whose Home Bias Are We Talking About Here?

Brad Setser gets a little cognitive dissonance from listening to Alan Greenspan:

RGE - Alan Greenspan, financial globalization, home bias and central bank reserves: I kind of liked the message of [the speech's last] paragraph.... Concerns about "the pernicious drift toward fiscal instability in the United States and elsewhere is not arrested" and warnings that "the adjustment process could be quite painful for the world economy" appeal to my inner bear.

Alas, I thought the warnings in the last paragraph were a bit at odds with the rather rosy tone of the rest of Greenspan's speech... arguing that deep fundamental forces in the global economy explained the widening of the US current account deficit, will allow relatively large deficits to be sustained, and will facilitate gradual adjustment.... Among those fundamental forces: a fall in home bias - the propensity of folks to use their savings to finance investment at home, not in the world at large.... Greenspan is tempted to conclude that since the US household deficit is small relative to the pool of global savings, there is little to worry about. But he is not quite willing to go that far....

I think Greenspan's core argument more or less goes like this:

["]Modern finance means that you do not have to save to spend. If households want to run a deficit, and firms a surplus, the financial system will intermediate between firms excess savings and households borrowing needs. Plus, a fall in home bias means that the borrowing needs of key US sectors can be financed globally, not locally. Those in need of financing can tap global markets. US household deficits can be financed by the surplus of Japanese, Chinese, or European firms. And a surge in US productivity (all those platform companies?) made the US an attractive place to invest. That is why a fall in "home bias" is leading to large net flows to the US. After all, if US investors lost their home bias and say European investors lost their home bias, US investment in Europe would be offset by European investment in the States, and there would be no net flow of capital. Everyone would just hold a more diverse portfolio....["]

What of the future? How well does Greenspan's story explain the current pattern of capital flows? Not very well, I would argue. Yes, productivity growth in the US is up. But the current world is not marked by large net flows from sclerotic Europe to the dynamic US, but rather by large net flows from the dynamic emerging world to the dynamic US. I am not sure productivity differentials explain why capital is flowing from China to the US, rather than from the US to China.

Private capital certainly is not fleeing China. Far from it. It is banging on the door trying to get in. Net private capital flows into China are quite large. Think close to $60 b plus of FDI, and $50 b, if not more, of "other" inflows.... [P]rivate investors have regained their appetite for financing high growth, high-risk emerging economies....

What explains the large (net) flow of funds from emerging economies to the US then? Not the decisions of private investors, but rather the decisions of foreign governments. There actually hasn't been a fall in home bias among private savers in China, one of the world's big net lenders right now.... Right now, private Chinese savers are running down their offshore accounts to increase their RMB holdings. They want RMB assets, not dollar assets. Hardly a reduction in home bias.

What explains the net flow of funds from China to the US then? Simple: the People's Bank of China is willing to transform Chinese demand for RMB assets (and foreign demand for RMB assets) into Chinese demand for dollar assets. It no longer holds domestic bonds (at least not many) against the money it issues; rather, backs the renminbi in circulation with dollars and euros - and... issues more and more sterilization bills.... Chinese savings is invested abroad, but the investment is not exactly done through the market....

OK, call me reserve obsessed. But I don't think you can explain the current global flow of capital - or the recent fall in home bias among savers in emerging economies - without talking about the actions of the world's central banks, or the actions of the governments of the world's oil exporters.

Posted by DeLong at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Republican Bias Edition)

Hilzoy writes about pro-Republican bias at the Washington Post

Obsidian Wings: Media Bias Strikes Again: Chris Cillizza... at the Washington Post, wrote up a 'scorecard' on corruption scandals in politics. He said at the outset that he was going to limit himself to currently serving politicians, but stuck in Rep. Frank Ballance, who resigned in 2004.... Ballance was a Democrat. Without him, the scorecard would have included 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats.... Today... Cillizza... [wrote]:

Cillizza: This was an editorial mixup. In my original post, Ballance was not included.... After an edit, Ballance was unnecessarily included for, frankly, balance. I did not read the final edit and therefore was unaware that Ballance had been added.... I apologize for my editor's error (he's been flogged)....

OK, Media: let's take this slowly. What is journalistic objectivity? -- It is the attempt to present the facts neutrally and fairly.... Why do we care about journalistic objectivity? -- Because if journalists allow their own preconceptions to distort their presentation of the facts, then their readers cannot trust what they read.... Does journalistic objectivity require making it look as though both sides have a point? -- No. It requires presenting the facts impartially.... Isn't the attempt to make reality look evenhanded actually the antithesis of journalistic objectivity? -- Yes.... It is just as bad to create an illusion of balance where none exists as to create an illusion of one-sidedness where none exists.... If there are eight Republicans and two Democrats currently embroiled in scandals... [and] an editor decides that this is an 'imbalance' that needs to be 'corrected' by including on a list Democrats who do not meet the criteria for inclusion, s/he is basically saying... I am going to fiddle with the facts until I get things to look the way I think they should....

I'm glad Cillizza (or someone) flogged his editor, and Cillizza deserves credit for talking about this openly. Because this is just plain wrong... [for] editors want to make the Republican party look as though it has less of a corruption problem...

So who is this editor at the Washington Post?

Posted by DeLong at 11:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better ThinkTanks? (Bush Uses the Council on Foreign Relations as a Backdrop Edition)

http://thinkprogress.org/2005/12/08/bush-evite/ Bush uses the Council on Foreign Relations as a backdrop for one of his no-questions-allowed exercises in dissimulation. ThinkProgress reports:

"Only a few hundred members showed up for the hastily organized event at a Washington hotel and empty chairs were removed from the back of the ballroom before Bush arrived."... We were forwarded this desperate plea the Council sent out late Tuesday, asking people who were planning on coming to bring a friend. Bush broke Council tradition by refusing to accept questions after his speech. Apparently, most people aren't that excited about being used as a presidential prop. This may explain why Bush has preferred giving his speeches in front of military audiences, who are required to attend.

CFR President Richard N. Haass should know that twelve out of sixteen social-science professors surveyed think that he has taken significant reputational damage from his complicity in this... media event...

Posted by DeLong at 11:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Till We Have Faces II

SPOILERS: Porlock Junior <http://porlockjr.blogspot.com/> shows up with the best comment--a comment on C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces that corrects my claim that Lewis makes his God deus absconditus:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Till We Have Faces...: Times have perhaps not changed so much as Auros thinks. Until recently (at least) people have occasionally shown up on alt.books.cs-lewis with questions about why some religious schools were banning The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. Possibly that trend has been weakening, but I don't know who's keeping good statistics. I'm much interested to see how this will play out as the movie comes out. I suspect that the "Ban the Lion" movement, which has always been marginal (Christians who don't like C. S. Lewis are a special breed, or rather several incompatible special breeds), will drag on, but with many conservative types now feeling freer to treat them with scorn.

As to faith versus reason, there's an aspect of Till We Have Faces that everyone seems to have missed, though it struck me strongly because of my deeply ingrained rationalism.

(Alert: I am writing this without any regard for spoilers.) It's true that the god is invisible, and so is his palace and all. Psyche is obviously crazy and hallucinating. Her sister, who is telling the tale (and by the way is not malicious in this version, but loves Psyche more than anyone else does), is wrong about this, we know; but who is to say that she's wrong? She is following the evidence and reason; and yet, by the nature of the story, she must be wrong in more than a casual and accidental way--tragic flaws and all that, you know.

Is she to abandon all sense without even some mystical ecstatic experience to lead her to mystical conclusions? Just follow the superstitions of the priests? (Malicious priestesses in this case, who condemned Psyche to be abadoned to the Monster because they hated her.) Sure, if you believe that Lewis wanted all reason abandoned in favor of blind faith in priests' tales. But since he plainly did not, what's up?

Well, actually, Psyche, who is living in the wild with no food, no shelter, and next to no clothing on top of a mountain, is in extraordinary good health and more beautiful than ever.(1) Her sister notices this, but, Watson-like, fails to draw any conclusion, such as, Somehing is bloody well wrong here! The evidence that her neat logical story (Psyche's madness) does not explain everything is staring her in the face; reason demands trying another hypothesis; but she never sees it. It costs her, even more than it costs Psyche.

(1) About that pro-beauty bias; take it up with the evolutionists. Even the evolutionary psychology folks aren't wrong 100% of the time, and outside of 19th-century perversions about dying romantically of consumption, there have been strong correlations between health and beauty.

Sorry that's so long. I was going to scribble something last night about this, but got lazy. Then the comments thread got me going, and I couldn't stop.

Very remarkable book, anyway. The second time I read it, I was amazed at how much good stuff Lewis had put in since my first reading, considering he'd been dead for 20-30 years.

Posted by DeLong at 11:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Till We Have Faces...

Let me endorse the quality of Garence Franke-Ruta's judgment in her high praise for C.S. Lewis's brilliant version of Cupid and Psyche: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. It is, I think, the best thing Lewis ever wrote.

In one of the alternative branches of the multiverse in which I went to graduate school in English Literature rather than in Economics, I wrote an essay about the meaning of the big change Lewis made in the myth. In the myth, the works of the God Cupid are manifest and visible, and Psyche's sisters convince her that Cupid is a monster because they are evil and spiteful. In Lewis's book, Cupid is deus absconditus: his works are hidden, and invisible to Psyche's sisters. It makes a very big difference.

Posted by DeLong at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Andrew Samwick Worries About Fiscal Policy

Andrew Samwick is not happy with the fiscal situation:

Vox Baby: A Forecast and a Budget: Last Thursday, the Administration released its economic forecast that will be used as the basis for its FY 2007 Budget, to be released early in 2006. See the actual forecast summary here, and a transcript of a conference call with CEA Member Matt Slaughter here....

Yesterday, the President was on the road to promote continued extension of some of the soon-to-sunset tax cuts. The ones in question pertain to the tax rates on dividends and capital gains. I find this whole discussion to be disheartening. The first order issue with tax policy is that we are not raising enough revenue to match our expenditures. Making the lower tax rates permanent just makes sure that we will permanently not have enough revenue to match our expenditures, unless we decide to lower expenditures by even more.

That brings us back to the FY 2007 budget. I would be much happier if the President spoke about which expenditures he will cut in that budget with the same specificity that he talks about which tax cuts he'd like to make permanent. Yesterday's road show was not a high point. Consider this:

Bush fell back on campaign-style rhetoric yesterday: "When you hear people say that we don't need to make the tax relief permanent, what they're really saying is, they're going to raise your taxes."

I'm prepared to be very unhappy come budget time.

I'm already unhappy. I think I can unhappy enough for at least five of us, all by myself. Andrew can, if he wants, spend budget time enjoying Winter Carnival...

And thanks to Matthew Slaughter for being willing to sit in the hot seat this fall and winter. It is appreciated.

Posted by DeLong at 10:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rick Perlstein on the Conservative Movement Today

Rick Perlstein on the downfall of American conservatism:

The Conservative Movement Now | The Huffington Post: I'm working on the sequel to my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus now. It's going to be called Nixonland.... Douglas Caddy... the co-founder of the effort to draft Goldwater for vice-president in 1960 and YAF's first president... was the man the White House called on to represent the Watergate burglars in 1972.... [T]he guy inaugurated as YAF's chair in the 1965... Tom Charles Huston... an architect of Watergate. It is a thread one finds throughout the annals of the Nixon presidency. The notion that what they were doing was moral, the eggs that need be broken in the act of redeeming a crumbling West. Jeb Magruder told the Senate Watergate Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause." That message came straight from the top. "Just remember you're doing the right thing," the president told Bob Haldeman on Easter Sunday, 1973. "That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi." Then he briefed him on how to suborn perjury from an aide concerning the blackmailing of the Watergate burglars....

[M]y thesis [is] that the Republicans are less the party of Goldwater, and more the party of Watergate--and this not despite the operational ascendecy of the conservative movement in its councils but in some sense because of it.... This past year, I interviewed Richard Viguerie.... With a couple of hours' research I was able to find a mailer from an organization that was then one of his direct-mail clients that said "babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood."

Why not cut corners like this, if you believe you are defending the unchanging ground of our changing experience? This is what many Americans of good faith seem to be hearing conservatives telling them.... Is this allergy to transparency a constitutive part of conservatism? A friend of mine suggests an answer, imagining Hillary Clinton reading conservative con law professor John Yoo's assertion that "in the exercise of his plenary power to use military force, the Preisdent's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable": "President Hillary thanks you."...

Tom Charles Huston often signed his memos to Richard Nixon "Cato the Younger," after the statesman of the late Roman Republic famous for both his stubborn inflexibility and incorruptibility. What does it mean that the member of Nixon's staff who was closest to the conservative movement, who was best-versed in its literature and its habits, was not merely the most ruthless malefactor on Richard Nixon's staff but the one most convinced he was acting on principle?... [T]he stations of the cross of a conservatism in power include not merely Sharon, Connecticut, but Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; not merely Mont Pelerin, but the competing Indian casinos whose money was laundered by conservative groups on Jack Abramoff's behalf. Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson's ties to Bobby Baker.... Ask yourself, What would Barry Goldwater say?

A big difference between me and Rick is that he likes the Goldwaterites--or at least likes who they were when they were young, idealistic, and out of power.

I don't.

I see them--or most of them--as sleazy: pretending that "states' rights" meant something other than "states have the right to control their Negroes however they wish." I see them as corrupt: eager to call for the abolition of Communism and the unleashing of Chang Kai-Shek, but also eager to wash their hands when people in Hungary thought they were serious about replacing containment with rollback. I see them as stupid: seeing Social Security in particular and social insurance in general as infringements on rather than supports to individual freedom and independence.

Posted by DeLong at 10:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Productivity News Good, Real Wage News Bad

Kevin Drum watches the two-class economy roll forward:

The Washington Monthly: Great economy we have going here:

Productivity rose [at a] 4.7 percent [annual rate] in the non-farm business sector of the economy from July to September.... Real hourly compensation, which adjusts wages and other benefits for inflation, fell [at a] 1.4 percent [annual rate]....

So if productivity is skyrocketing, but labor compensation is going down, where's all that extra money going? Yes, you in the back?...

And Mark Thoma watches as Greg Mankiw tries to say that it's somehow Donald Rumsfeld's fault:

Economist's View: Greg Mankiw: People are Confusing the Economy with Iraq : Here's former Bush administration economic adviser Greg Mankiw's offering an alternative... explanation of why people aren't overly excited about the economy:

Bush Begins Effort to Allay Concerns on the Economy, Bloomberg: The war in Iraq also makes it tougher for Bush to reassure Americans, said Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005. "The perception that things are going badly in Iraq often makes people think that this economy is doing badly even when it's not true," he said...

Posted by DeLong at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Family Planning, Fewer Unwanted Children, Less Crime

Steve Levitt and John Donahue are unconvinced by the critics of their "more wanted and fewer unwanted children means happier families and less crime" hypothesis. In large part what is going on is "normal science"--Foote and Goetz are inducing Levitt and Donahue to focus and improve their arguments by finding better data. It's not (at least not in anything I've seen) that Foote and Goetz are coming up with empirical results that tightly estimate the effect of abortion availability on crime to be small. The most their empirical results showed was that Levitt and Donahue had not proved their case (and that their Table 7 was badly mislabeled):

Freakonomics: Back to the drawing board for our latest critics%u2026and also the Wall Street Journal and (Oops!) the Economist.... [A] working paper by Chris Foote and Chris Goetz that is sharply critical of John Donohue and me has gotten an enormous amount of attention.... Foote and Goetz criticized the analysis underlying one of the tables in our original article that suggested a link between legalized abortion and crime. (It is worth remembering that the approach they criticize was one of four distinct pieces of evidence we presented in that paper they offer no criticisms of the other three approaches.)

Foote and Goetz... correctly noted that the text of our article stated that we had included state-year interactions in our regression specifications, when indeed the table that got published did not include these state-year interactions... correctly argue that without controlling for changes in cohort size, the original analysis we performed provided a test of whether cohorts exposed to high rates of legalized abortion did less crime, but did not directly afford a test of whether "unwantedness" was one of the channels through which this crime reduction operated.... They found that once you made those changes, the results in our original Table 7 essentially disappear.

There is, however, a fundamental problem with the Foote and Goetz analysis. The abortion data... are... noisy. As one adds more and more control variables... the meaningful variation in abortion rates gets eaten away [while the noise remains].... That will lead the measured impact of abortions on crime to dwindle.... In light of this, it seems uncontroversial that one would want to do the best one could in measuring abortion when carrying out such an exercise....

What John Donohue and I have done (with fantastic research assistance from Ethan Lieber) is... the following [four corrections].... 4) The standard solution to measurement error is to perform instrumenal variables in which one uses one noisy proxy of the phenomenon that is poorly measured as an instrument for another noisy proxy. (I recognize that most readers of this blog will not understand what I mean by this.) In this setting, the CDC's independently generated measure of legalized abortions is likely to be an excellent instrument.... I think that just about any empirical economist would tend to believe that each of these four corrections we make to the abortion measure will lead us closer to capturing a true impact of legalized abortion on crime. So, the question becomes, what happens when we replicate the specifications reported in Foote and Goetz, but with this improved abortion proxy?...

Foote and Goetz... We are able to replicate their results.... [But] with our more thoughtfully constructed abortion measure... the estimated abortion impacts increase... are now statistically significant[ly different from zero at the .05 level] in all of the Foote and Goetz specifications.... The only difference between what Foote and Goetz did and what we report in row 2 is that we have done a better job of really measuring abortion....

[T]he results of instrumental variables estimates using the CDC abortion measure as an instrument... [produces] results... a little bigger, but are more imprecisely estimated....

The simple fact is that when you do a better job of measuring abortion, the results get much stronger. This is exactly what you expect of a theory that is true: doing empirical work closer to the theory should yield better results than empirical work much more loosely reflecting the theory.... The results we show in this new table are consistent with the impact of abortion on crime that we find in our three other types of analyses we presented in the original paper using different sources of variation. These results are consistent with the unwantedness hypothesis.

No doubt there will be future research that attempts to overturn our evidence on legalized abortion. Perhaps they will even succeed. But this one does not.

Posted by DeLong at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John Snow Has Not Good News, But an Expectation That He Will Have Good News--Soon

Daniel Gross watches Treasury Secretary John Snow say that--up until some moment that is not yet here but is coming soon--the economy has not been generating good news about real wages:

Daniel Gross: SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS: Yesterday, John Snow said U.S. workers could expect pay increases in 2006.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Treasury Secretary John Snow said on Monday that a steadily expanding U.S. economy has reached a point where it should start generating good news about incomes and jobs. "We're about at a tipping-point here where we're going to see much improvement in wage rates and compensation," Snow said during an interview on CNBC television....

Notice the double conditional -- "about at a tipping point."

Posted by DeLong at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hacker and Pierson

For months now I have had Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center by my bedside, and every night I think I should say something intelligent about it. But so far no luck. Here's what they say about their book:

TPMCafe || OFF CENTER...: This is a remarkable -- and deeply troubling -- moment to discuss American politics. In this first post we would like to introduce the book and flag a few issues that we hope to toss around with the commentators and the TPM community during the coming week. We wrote Off Center to demonstrate and explain three broad developments in American politics over the past quarter-century. The first is that the Republican Party -- especially its leaders, activists, and most important affiliated groups -- have moved WAY to the right. The second is that there is no evidence of a similar change in the basic opinions of American citizens on the issues they identify as most important. The third development is the most puzzling. Despite the large and growing gap between the views of the GOP and the views of the electorate, Republicans have had remarkable (though hardly unlimited) success, both in advancing a quite radical agenda and in winning elections....

[W]e need to understand not only the various forces that have pulled the GOP to the right (rising inequality, the transformed political role of the South, the growing clout and radicalism of the GOP "base", the rise of safe seats and attendant growth in importance of extremist-dominated primaries), but also the extensive protections that have insulated this radicalized GOP from political backlash. The GOP has moved off-center... because it can get away with it... in large part because it has constructed the most coordinated, unified party in modern American history. This unity and coordination allows Republican leaders to provide various forms of "backlash insurance", undercutting the checks and balances traditionally offered by the media, the opposition, and more moderate members of the majority party...

And:

Prairie Weather: Interview [by Terry Gross] with Hacker and Pierson about the Republican agenda and the corruption of Congress

Posted by DeLong at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051206

If I had infinite hours in the day:

http://chrissilvey.com/weblog/?p=110 Another person who has my view of Comcast Internet: "To add insult to injury, after I waited through the inane advertisement, they tell me that the department is closed on the weekend and I need to call back during the week. I did. When I went through the entire process a second time and finally was able to talk to a human I was extremely happy to say the words 'I would like to cancel my internet service.'..."

http://crookedtimber.org/2005/12/06/dept-of-redundancy-dept/ Kieran Healy backs up: "I've also signed up for a basic account with http://strongspace.com/, part of Dean Allen et al's Textdrive outfit. With the assistance of a helpful tutorial from MagpieBrain... I now have secure, automated, passwordless, incremental, daily remote backups of the important stuff on my Mac. Strongspace starts at eight bucks a month for just over 4GB of space (and unlimited bandwidth). I recommend it...

http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2005/12/true-meaning-of-spirit-of-war-on.htmlFafblog! reminds us: Christmas is a sacred, religious time.... Every year Santa and his heraldic winged reindeer emerge from their manufacturing facilities in the frozen north to sell overpriced gadgets, processed snack foods, and proprietary game software... for Santa so loves the world that he exploits his overseas workforce, that whosoever would purchase his products would not pay exorbitant fees, but save on a fine selection of high quality goods every day...

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001614034 The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a big "setback" in the last six months, with the army and other forces being increasingly used to settle scores and make other political gains, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer said Monday. Al-Yawer disputed contentions by U.S. officials, including President Bush, that the training of security forces was gathering speed, resulting in more professional troops...

http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2005/12/labor-force-participation-among-women.html http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2005/12/bartlett-on-taxes.html http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2005/12/best-of-times.html http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2005/12/view-from-right.html http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2005/12/al-not-glenn-hubbard-addresses-press.html Over at Angry Bear, and well worth reading.

http://www.steelypips.org/principles/2005_11_27_principlearchive.php#113335650256091972 Multiplication Problems: One of the many tasks I need to complete... is to develop a lab for our junior-level lab course.... The key question in all of this is what is the appropriate time multiplier. There are time multipliers all over the place in academia, to account for the difference between trained academics and college students. The most common multiplier is the exam multiplier, which is widely known to be a factor of three...

http://www.danielgross.net/archives/2005/11/27-week/index.html#000382 It's a dirty job. Let's thank Daniel Gross for doing it--reading the clown show that is the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that is...

http://thehousingbubble2.blogspot.com/2005/12/more-rate-hikes-to-come-feds-yellen.html Janet Yellen says more interest-rate hikes to come...

http://alicublog.blogspot.com/2005_12_04_alicublog_archive.html#113389058108210348 It's low-hanging fruit day. I mean, who really wants to follow the "You take back what you said about Uncle Irving" thread at The Corner? It's like Long Day's Journey Into Night as performed by the Willowbrook 1972 Dramatic Society...

http://www.theamericanscene.com/2005/12/quote-for-day-in-latest-paul-krugman.php Ross Douthat continues to trash himself...

http://worstattitude.blogspot.com/2005/12/not-in-venice.html This [New York Times] article about my beloved Dorsoduro sestiere in Venice depresses me... superficial and full of elementary errors.... The photos in the attached slide show are good, but I have better.... Worst of all is the thought, of course, that I could have done better, even now, even at this distance in time and space, without half trying...

http://www.danielgross.net/archives/2005/12/04-week/index.html#a000410 Daniel Gross: STOP THE PRESSES! An intelligent, decently-reasoned article found its way onto the Wall Street Journal op-ed page this morning: John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis argues for scrapping the Medicare prescription drug plan...

http://www.earlymodernweb.org.uk/emn/index.php/archives/2005/12/documents-dinner/ REGISTER of the names of those who personally appeared, as required under the Test Act, at the Quarter Sessions for co. Denbigh from 15 July 1673 to 15 Jan. 1688/9, to deliver certificates of receiving the Sacrament according to the usage of the Church of England, to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, and to make a declaration against Transubstantiation. (Roll; parts destroyed by vermin)...

Posted by DeLong at 10:37 AM

Donald Luskin: Stupidest Man Alive

A correspondent asks me if it isn't time to surf on over again to Donald Luskin's "Poor and Stupid" website, find some egregious offense against intelligent thought, and lay down another marker saying that Luskin is indeed the Stupidest Man AliveTM, just in case there's somebody out on the internet searching for information on Luskin who doesn't already know.

Sigh. OK. It's painful, though... Here's the very first item

Ah. Donald Luskin has taken down the post I was pointing to to show that he is indeed the stupidest man in the world. Well, here's another example. Here Luskin is outraged that http://Sportsbook.com/ is unwilling to lose lots of money by taking the sucker side of bets:

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid: GREED? MARKET EFFICIENCY? SAME THING! Betting in futures contracts on an online "prediction market" has been shut down, apparently because insiders who know the outcomes are heavily trading the contracts. Isn't this the whole point of prediction markets? To make predictions? Based on what knowledgeable people know?

Sadly, Donald, no. The point of running a gambling website is to entertain and so make money--not to lose money by taking the sucker side of bets against the better informed.


And here's what Paul Kedrosky has to say on the subject:

Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed: Online Betting is Too Accurate : Sportsbook.com shut off betting Friday on both Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year, and Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Why? Because it looked like the betting was tilting rapidly toward two candidates, quarterback Tom Brady and Mother Nature, respectively. So what, right? If the betting market is working, it is only to be expected it would tilt toward a smart choice. Maybe, but in this case some of the biggest action Friday was coming from folks who had email addresses at Time-Warner's (the owner of both magazines) PR agency. I have only one question: What insider could conceivably be so dumb as to make a heavy bet on such a prominent topic, and do it using their work email address? Truly amazing.

And here's the original item that he deleted:

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid : HMMM... Our friend John Grauel says:

You consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2112 deaths, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000.

The rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000(1). That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of Washington D.C.

If Donald Luskin were not the Stupidest Man AliveTM, he would know that the DC figure of 80.6 is an annual figure, while the 60 figure is a monthly figure. 2112 deaths divided by 160,000 soldiers divided by 22/12 years gives an annual death rate of not 60 per 100,000 but 720 per 100,000.

But what is a factor of twelve to the Stupidest Man AliveTM?

(1) Note: This "80.6" itself appears to be about twice as large as the real number. But why am I not surprised?


But what I really want to do is to pull an item out of my archives--an item in which Luskin's stupidity provides us with an opportunity to teach some really important things:

I continue to shake my head in amazement as I consider the most bats--- ignorant thing I read all last summer: Donald Luskin's claim in National Review that in order to get a picture of income distribution and mobility in America:

Intellectual Garbage Pickup: you'd have to track hundreds of millions of individuals.... [N]one of this is reliable... the Panel Study of Income Dynamics... tracks only 8,000 families out of a U.S. population of 295 million individuals...

The whole purpose of the science of statistics is to tell us that this is simply not true. As long as you can take a random sample of your population, you can find out an enormous amount about the population from a relatively small number of observations. You can find out what proportion of rich people had poor paretns, or what proportion of twenty year olds think they will graduate from college, or pretty much any other average proportion that you want.

Now the "random sample" part of this is very important. But if your sample is random--if the fact that the yes-no pattern of observations so far makes it no more (or less) likely that you next observation will be a "yes"--then the law of large numbers tells us that the sample average you compute will converge to the true population average at a frighteningly rapid speed.

The standard demonstration of this is to repeatedly flip a coin and count the excess proportion of heads over tails. We know that--with a coin flipped and caught in the air by a human being at least--the population average taking all coins that have ever been flipped of the excess proportion of heads is zero. How many observations do we have to take--how many coin flips--before the sample average converges to this population average of 0% excess heads?

Let's see. Here's one run of 1,000 "flips" from Excel's internal random number generator:

Here are ten more:

Impressive, no?

Try some yourself.

You could have a population of 295 million flipped coins. Yet you don't need to look at "hundreds of millions" of them to determine what is going on. Looking at 1,000 will do.

This is the principal insight of the science of statistics. it is an important insight. It is a powerful insight. It is also not an obvious insight--that's what makes it powerful and important.

Posted by DeLong at 10:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Very Good Long Article About New Orleans by Peter Gosselin

Peter Gosselin writes:

On Their Own in Battered New Orleans - Los Angeles Times: What Bush said would be one of the largest public reconstruction efforts ever is becoming a private affair, leaving the tough choices to residents as their risks increase. Laurie Vignaud faces a double dilemma: If she rebuilds her wrecked ranch house at 1249 Granada Drive in the great suburban expanse south of Lake Pontchartrain, will her neighbors do the same? And even if they do, will that guarantee their Gentilly neighborhood does not end up an isolated pocket in a diminished, post-Katrina New Orleans?

Nothing in Vignaud's 46 years, not even her job as affordable housing vice president with Hibernia Bank, the region's biggest financial institution, prepared her for this problem. From her relocated offices in Houston, she recently confessed, "It's scary. I don't know when I'll ever go home." Double dilemmas abound in this deeply damaged city, and represent considerably more than the start of the slog back from disaster. Lost amid continued talk of billions in federal aid is the fact that most homeowners and businesses are being left to make the toughest calls on their own. Lost is that New Orleans' recovery -- which President Bush once suggested would be one of the largest public reconstruction efforts the world had ever seen -- is quickly becoming a private market affair.

"My constituents have pretty much concluded that it's up to us to put our neighborhood back together and get on with our lives," said Republican city council member Jay Batt, who represents the Lakeview neighborhood just west of Vignaud's. To market advocates, this is the way it should be. Rugged individuals settled the American West in the 19th century and can resettle the Crescent City in the 21st. But the risks that individual New Orleanians must shoulder in such an on-your-own recovery appear staggeringly large.

"There is no market solution to New Orleans," said Thomas C. Schelling of the University of Maryland, who won this year's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of the complicated bargaining behavior that underpins everything from simple sales to nuclear confrontations. "It essentially is a problem of coordinating expectations," Schelling said of the task that Vignaud and her neighbors must grapple with. "If we all expect each other to come back, we will. If we don't, we won't. But achieving this coordination in the circumstances of New Orleans,'' he said, "seems impossible."

Posted by DeLong at 10:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Challenge Franklin Foer to a Battle of Wits: Fishwrap at Ten Paces...

Franklin Foer rides to the defense of "important institutions... The New York TImes and The Washington Post."

The Plank: But the reckless, sweeping assault on important institutions--especially The New York Times and The Washington Post--that emanates from large swaths of the liberal blogosphere will have a devastating long-term effect. These are irreplaceable institutions. As Massing points out:

Even the bloggers who so hate the "mainstream media" get much of their raw material from it. If the leading newspapers lose their capacity to report and conduct inquiries, the American public will become even more susceptible to the manipulations and deceptions of those in power.

I just wish that more of the MSB had a modicum of awareness of this fact.

Is that really true? I would say that Joshua Micah Marshall gets some but not much of his raw material from the "mainstream media." Ditto for Pandagon and Andrew Sullivan. Wonkette, Crooked Timber, Billmon, Orcinus, OxBlog, Volokh Conspiracy, and Outside the Beltway get material from the "mainstream media," but in the sense that it is their lawful prey. Daniel Drezner, Marginal Revolution, and ThinkProgress are much more likely to be sources that the mainstream media draw on than otherwise. Baghdad Burning owes nothing to the mainstream media.

Among those I read most regularly, I would say that Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias are the ones that get "much of their raw material" from the mainstream media.

And the quality of the "mainstream media" is low, quite low.... Let's surf on over to http://nytimes.com/ and look at the articles it regards as the most important and puts on the home page. They are:

  1. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-delay.html?ei=5094&en=7a8d29dd736ac712&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Judge Upholds Most Serious Charges Against DeLay. By DAVID STOUT.
  2. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/middleeast/05cnd-saddam.html?hp&ex=1133845200&en=75afe8c0f4752111&ei=5094&partner=homepage Hussein Is Fiery Again in Unruly Court Session. By ROBERT F. WORTH.
  3. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-rice.html?ei=5094&en=e5ada7f574851bfc&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Rice Chides Europeans on Detention Center Complaints. By JOEL BRINKLEY.
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/05/business/media/05cnd-abc.html?hp=&pagewanted=print ABC Names Anchors of 'World News Tonight'. By JACQUES STEINBERG.
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/asia/05highway.html?pagewanted=print In Today's India, Status Comes With Four Wheels. By AMY WALDMAN.
  6. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/business/05cnd-guidant.html?ei=5094&en=585e4d423ba26c7d&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Troubled Maker of Heart Devices Gains New Suitor. By VIKAS BAJAJ and BARNABY FEDER.
  7. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/middleeast/05cnd-mideast.html?ei=5094&en=7fb486cebe501b3e&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Bomber Kills 5 Outside Shopping Mall in Israel. By GREG MYRE.
  8. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-panel.html?ei=5094&en=f0e33be2a4ff9caa&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print 9/11 Panel Calls U.S. Response 'Disappointing'. By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS.

There we have a sample of 8. Let's pick one at random. I pick 5....

Oh my God.

This is far worse than I expected to find.

Story number 5 begins:

On the dark highway, the car showroom glowed in the night like an American drive-in. Inside, it looked more like a game-show set: bright lights, white floors, huge windows, high ceilings and ad posters of beaming consumers far paler than most Indians. For 36-year-old Ram Reddy, the price was right enough to make a down payment on his fifth family car.

He and his brother already had one car "for the children," two "for the ladies," and so on. Now they were buying the Toyota Innova, a big-as-a-boat luxury van that retails for a minimum of $23,000, 46 times India's per capita income of about $500.

The Innova is a new plaything of the moneyed here, one being peddled, like so many products in India today, by a Bollywood star. It is yet another symbol of the kid-in-a-candy-store psyche that has seized India's growing consuming class, once denied capitalism's choices and now flooded with them.

Fifteen years after India began its transition from a state-run to a free-market economy, a new culture of money - making it, and even more, spending it - is afoot.

This domestic hunger for goods has become an important engine for an economy that still lags in exports. So intense is the advertising onslaught, so giddy the media coverage of the new affluence, that it is almost easy to forget that India remains home to the world's largest number of poor people, according to the World Bank.

Still, India's middle class has grown to an estimated 250 million in the past decade, and the number of super-rich has grown sharply as well.

And, after more decades of socialist deprivation, when consumer goods were so limited that refrigerators were given pride of place in living rooms, they have ever more wares to spend it on: cellphones, air-conditioners and washing machines; Botox, sushi and Louis Vuitton bags; and, perhaps the biggest status symbol of all, cars.

India has become one of the world's fastest-growing car markets, with about a million being sold each year. It once had only two kinds, Fiats and Ambassadors. Now dozens of models ride the roads, from the humble, Indian-made Maruti to the Rolls-Royce, which has re-entered India's market some 50 years after leaving in the British wake....

One million cars sold a year.... That means that at most one out of 200 Indian families buys a car. Only one in 40 families in India has anything we would call a car.

India's "superrich".... At current exchange rate, the income of the 20,000th richest Indian family is roughly $250,000 a year. Maybe 3000 Indian families are "superrich" in the sense of making more than $1,000,000 a year.

India's "250 million strong middle class."... The income of the family that contains the 250 millionth richest Indian is about $2,500 a year at the current exchange rate--and about $15,000 a year at purchasing power parity. The PPP estimate is probably more relevant, because what most of India's "250 million strong middle class" buy are the necessities that are so very cheap in India because the wages of unskilled labor are so very low. India's "250 million strong middle class" has a material standard of living that we in the United States associate with the working poor.

Average hourly wages in India? Perhaps $0.50 measured at current exchange rates. It is not easy to forget that India remains the country that is home to the world's largest number of poor people. It is not easy to forget that at all.

I receive mammoth value added from the Financial Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg. I receive substantial value added from Knight-Ridder, from the (increasingly uneven) Economist, from the inside-baseball-political news (but not the substantive policy analysis) of the National Journal, and from the news (but definitely not the editorial) pages of the Wall Street Journal.

But value added from the New York Times? A few reporters are good. Others are liars--the kind of people who would agree to claim that a senior administration official is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. Most don't know enough about substance to write the stories they are tasked with writing.

So let me ask Franklin Foer a question: in the New York Times of December 5, 2005, where does he see any value added? I see value added (but not to me) in Paul Krugman's musings about the strange shape of the current economic recovery. Where else?

Posted by DeLong at 10:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dani Rodrik on South Korea and Taiwan

I assigned this piece of Dani Rodrik's this year, and I find I have to think more to figure out what I believe is going on here:

Getting Interventions Right: How South Korea and Taiwan Grew Rich : by Dani Rodrik: NBER Working Paper No. 4964:

Abstract: Most explanations of Korea's and Taiwan's economic growth since the early 1960s place heavy emphasis on export orientation. However, it is difficult to see how export orientation could have played a significant causal role in these countries' growth. The measured increase in the relative profitability of exports during the 1960s is too insignificant to account for the phenomenal export boom that ensued. Moreover, exports were initially too small to have a significant effect on aggregate economic performance. A more plausible story focuses on the investment boom that took place in both countries. In the early 1960s both economies had an extremely well- educated labor force relative to their physical capital stock, rendering the latent return to capital quite high. By subsidizing and coordinating investment decisions, government policy managed to engineer a significant increase in the private return to capital. An exceptional degree of equality in income and wealth helped by rendering government intervention effective and keeping it free of rent seeking. The outward orientation of the economy was the result of the increase in demand for imported capital goods.

Posted by DeLong at 10:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (White House Briefing Room Edition)

Dan Froomkin on press inquiries about Bush's "plan" to bomb Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar:

The al-Jazeera Dodge: For some reason, the White House refuses to provide a straight answer to this question: Did President Bush raise the idea of bombing the headquarters of the al-Jazeera television network in an April 2004 conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- and if so, was he serious or was he joking?

Reporters who have asked press secretary Scott McClellan to respond to the claim first published in the British Daily Mirror almost two weeks ago have gotten two crude non-denial denials. The first one.... "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."... The next day, I predicted in my column that "nothing arouses White House reporters more these days than a non-denial denial." But I apparently overestimated the mainstream press corps' baloney detectors.

Since then, McClellan has been publicly asked about the al-Jazeera story precisely once... he played dumb.... "MR. McCLELLAN: Can I assure them what?"... "MR. McCLELLAN: Make what comments?"... "MR. McCLELLAN: Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd."... "MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what comments you're referring to. I haven't seen any comments quoted."... "MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just repeat for you, Connie. Any such notion that America would do something like that is absurd."... "MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Whose offices? The terrorist offices."... "MR. McCLELLAN: And the military talked about that. What are you suggesting? I hope you're not suggesting that they're targeting civilians, because that's just flat-out wrong."... [W]here were the follow-up questions? Nobody in the briefing room pursued the issue any further, and nobody even said one word about al-Jazeera at yesterday's briefing .

By contrast, the corps was downright dogged yesterday when it came to rooting out the details of Bush's summons to jury duty in Crawford. Now there's a big story.

Posted by DeLong at 10:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Special George Will Edition)

This is above and beyond the call of duty. Daniel Gross reads George Will on Mitch Daniels:

Daniel Gross: November 27, 2005 - December 03, 2005 Archives: FAILURE OF THE WILL: Talk about willful ignorance. Can George Will really be this clueless?

Answer: Yes.

And doesn't he have an editor?

Answer: No:

In Sunday's Washington Post, he rhapsodizes about the brilliance of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and his budget-cutting ways. "Ending bottled water for employees of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (annual savings, $35,000). Ending notification of drivers that their licenses are expiring; letting them be responsible for noticing (saving $200,000). Buying rather than renting floor mats for BMV offices (saving $267,000 this year). Initiating the sale of 2,096 surplus state vehicles (so far, $1.95 million in revenue from 1,514 sales). Changing the state lottery's newsletter from semimonthly and in color to a monthly and black-and-white (annual savings, $21,670). And so on, and on, agency by agency.

Such matters might be dismissed by liberals who think government spending is an index of government "caring," and perhaps by a new sect called "national greatness conservatives" who regard Daniels's kind of parsimony as a small-minded, cheeseparing exercise unworthy of government's great and stately missions. But it seems to be an Indiana approach.

What is it about Indiana? In this annus horribilis for conservatives, one of their few reasons for rejoicing has been the ascent to influence in the U.S. House of Representatives of the Republican Study Committee, more than 100 parsimonious members under the leadership of Mike Pence, a third-term Hoosier from a few miles east of here. The RSC's doctrine, a response to a one-third increase in federal spending during the current president's first four years, might be called Danielsism, which is: There is more to limited government than limiting its spending, but there will be nothing limited about government unless its spending is strenuously limited.

So "Danielsism" means responding to the "one-third increase in federal spending during the current president's first four years"?

People who were awake during the first part of this decade may have a different definition of "Danielsism." People who were awake then might recall that Mitch Daniels was the head of the Office of Management and Budget, through June, 2003. They might also remember that while he was nicknamed "the Blade," he did nothing to cut federal spending, and in fact was a key player in the events that led to the "one-third increase in federal spending during the current president's first four years."

Oh, and one of the first things Daniels did upon taking office was to call for increasing marginal tax rates on the wealthy.

"Danielsism" a sounds an awful lot like Fiorello LaGuardiaism.

Posted by DeLong at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Fourth Amendment Problem

Can this really be as represented? I know that some of my friends think that I am too-prone to jump to the conclusion that Republicans are malevolent sadistic f----. But is there another interpretation possible?

Digby directs us to the scene of Samuel Alito's criminal opinion:

Hullabaloo : Samuel Alito is a real piece 'o work:

'84 Alito Memo Backed Police Who Shot Unarmed Suspect - Los Angeles Times : Alito wrote that he saw no constitutional problem with a police officer shooting and killing an unarmed teenager who was fleeing after a $10 home burglary.

"I think the shooting [in this case] can be justified as reasonable," Alito wrote in a 1984 memo to Justice Department officials. Because the officer could not know for sure why a suspect was fleeing, the courts should not set a rule forbidding the use of deadly force, he said. "I do not think the Constitution provides an answer to the officer's dilemma," Alito advised.

A year later, however, the Supreme Court used the same case to set a firm national rule against the routine use of "deadly force" against fleeing suspects who pose no danger. "It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape," wrote Justice Byron White for a 6-3 majority in Tennessee vs. Garner. "Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so."

The 4th Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government, and the high court said that killing an unarmed suspect who was subject to arrest amounted to an "unreasonable seizure." Said White: "A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead."

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Posted by DeLong at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Big-Deficit Tax Reform Does Not Seem to Be a Winner

Tax reform falls off the agenda:

Bush to Delay Major Push for Tax Overhaul, People Familiar Say: Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush will delay a major push for revamping the tax code because administration officials concluded the changes are too tough to sell to the public and lawmakers, two people familiar with the matter said.... Bush hasn't mentioned tax code changes since his Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform issued a 272-page report Nov. 1 recommending two ways to overhaul the tax code. The proposals would reduce or eliminate many popular deductions such as those for mortgage interest and state and local taxes while reducing taxes on investment and abolishing the alternative minimum tax.

The silence stands in contrast to the fanfare with which the president announced the panel's creation in January. Then, Bush introduced panel Chairman Connie Mack, a former Republican Senator, and Vice Chairman John Breaux, a former Democratic Senator, in a ceremony at the White House.... Surveys and focus groups conducted for the Bush administration on overhauling the tax code found some enthusiasm until details such as altering the mortgage deduction were mentioned and began to draw objections, according to the person who has worked with the administration...

This was a group hand-picked to be friendly to the Bush agenda--whatever it turns out to be. The people who understand fiscal policy seem to want to spend their time putting pressure on the government to fix the deficit. The people who don't understand fiscal policy are scared of the reduction in the mortgage interest deduction.

Posted by DeLong at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Economist's View: Greenspan: Social Security and Medicare Must Be Cut to Solve the Budget Deficit Problem

Mark Thoma finds Alan Greenspan wanting the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act PAYGO restrictions back:

Economist's View: Budget Deficit Legerdemain....

The positive short-term economic outlook is playing out against a backdrop of concern about the prospects for the federal budget over the longer run. ...[T]he latest projections... suggest our budget position will substantially worsen in the coming years unless major deficit-reducing actions are taken. As I recently testified, the necessary choices will be especially difficult to implement without the restoration of procedural restraints on the budget-making process.... Reinstating a structure like the one formerly provided by the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 would signal a renewed commitment to fiscal restraint and help restore discipline to the annual budgeting process.... I do not mean to suggest that the nation's budget problems will be solved simply by adopting a new set of budgeting rules. The fundamental fiscal issue is the need to make difficult choices among budget priorities....

Posted by DeLong at 10:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: December 5, 2005

If I had infinite hours in the day:

http://crookedtimber.org/2005/12/05/the-assassins-gate/ Henry Farrell reviews George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: "[I]t really does a terrific job of setting out the complexities of politics in Iraq. Pro-war leftists and liberals should read this book too, and reflect carefully on Packer's documentation of how badly "democracy-building" was implemented in practice.... Packer sets out his indictment of the Bush administration: '...a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence. Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame. The Iraq War was always winnable; it still is. For this very reason, the recklessness of its authors is all the harder to forgive'.... Jay Conner in comments... [points] me towards this interview with Packer in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. Packer qualifies his statement that 'the Iraq War was always winnable; it still is'... by saying that he 'would not have written that line in the present tense' given recent developments...

http://www.dashes.com/anil/2005/12/05/the_march_of_pr Anil Dash looks at the end of Macromedia, and thus at even less competition in software...

http://globblog.blogspot.com/2005/12/magic-of-negative-savings.html http://globblog.blogspot.com/2005/12/when-global-capital-markets-prevent.html http://globblog.blogspot.com/2005/12/dont-look-at-rmb-sell-us-airplanes.html General Glut is back...

http://www.wonkette.com/politics/guantanamo/one-mans-satire-is-anothers-openended-detainment-without-charges-140962.php Wonkette: "We're a bit late on this item because, frankly, the implications are terrifying. Afghani brothers Badr Zaman Badr and Abdurrahim Muslim Dost were released at the end of October from three years' detention in Guantanamo. The activity that drew the attention of military interrogators was a satirical piece that Dost wrote in reply to Bill Clinton's 1998 $5 million bounty for the capture of Osama bin Laden in the wake of the US embassy bombing in Tanzania and Kenya. Dost counterproposal: Offer up 5 million Afghanis--valued at roughly $113--in return for the capture of Bill Clinton.... 'Again and again, they were asking questions about this article', Dost told Newsday reporter James Rupert. 'We had to explain this was a satire. It was really pathetic'. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico--who on the basis of his name alone appears to be a satirical charcter himself--insists the brothers' detention 'was directly related to their combat activities [or support] as determined by an appropriate Department of Defense official.'... Americans 'have freedom to criticize their government, and this is very good,' Badr told Rupert. 'We know that America's laws say that a person is innocent until proven guilty' except of course that 'for us it was the opposite.' You know, maybe the DoD really does understand satire, after all."

http://www.wonkette.com/politics/condaleeza-rice/condi-to-europe-lucca-brazzi-sleeps-with-the-fishes-141025.php Wonkette: "And of course, the secretary, who delivered her remarks most inappositely moments before boarding a plane for a goodwill tour of Europe, admitted complicity in the only way the Bush administration knows how: with arrogant belligerence."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/blog/2005/12/05/BL2005120501074_pf.html Dan Froomkin: "...according to an e-mail from a White House staffer five days later, the letter never arrived. Margaret Grant sent an e-mail to Blanco's office Sept. 7 asking that the Sept. 2 letter be resent. 'We found it on the governor's Web site but we need "an original," for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making,' Grant wrote."

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/week_2005_12_04.php#007174 Josh Micah Marshall: "Neil Bush traveling through Asia with Rev. Moon to raise money for an underwater tunnel between Russia and Alaska."

http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/judgment_call/ P.Z. Myers is nervous: "Here's the question. Was this a sincere review, or an example of hard-to-discern sarcasm? Stuff like 'non-biological animals' is so ridiculous that I'm tempted to say it's gotta be a put-on, but then I've read [Intelligent Designers] Ham and Hovind and Dembski and Gish and Wells, and it's become awfully hard to distinguish snark from stupidity any more. Bonus question: 18 of 128 people found the review helpful. What the heck does that mean? 14% of the browsers on Amazon that this was a valid criticism, or do Amazon browsers just approve of funny reviews?"

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2005/12/cato_unbound.html Marginal Revolution links to James Buchanan at http://www.cato-unbound.org/2005/12/05/james-m-buchanan/three-amendments/ Cato Unbound. I say there's something wrong about a discussion of fiscal responsibility that blames deficits on "now-discredited Keynesian economics while excusing Reaganites' "distraction by supply-side arguments" while failing to mention the controls on deficits introduced in the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act at all. Not a good start.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/05_12_04_corner-archive.asp#083887 John Derbyshire thinks National Review is a family website...

http://www.liberalsagainstterrorism.com/drupal/?q=node/1968 All the things John Yoo doesn't know: "a) whether... information obtained under torture is inherently unreliable... b) whether torture... have aided U.S. forces in saving even a single life... c) whether torture... causes the loss of more lives than it saves by creating an atmosphere of sheer hatred of Americans..."

Matthew Yglesias is annoyed: "Also annoying, I would think, would be... you're kidnapped off the streets by the American government and held, without evidence or trial, for a period of five months. And then in turns out the Americans have the wrong guy! 'I have very bad feelings,' concludes the victim, to no one's surprise at all.... I'm being a bit flip because it's hard to get serious about this business without becoming completely depressed about what our country's become...

http://feeds.feedburner.com/EconomistsView?m=911 Economist's View: Does Monetary Economics Ignore Rust Belts?

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/business/yourmoney/04view.html?ei=5088&en=617ccbbd2814674d&ex=1291352400&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=print Edmund Andrews on the Alternative Minimum Tax...

http://stygius.typepad.com/stygius/2005/12/alito_in_though.htm Stygius on Judge Alito...

Stygius on Judge Alito...

http://yglesias.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/12/4/18858/9884 More high-quality anti-press snark from Matthew Yglesias: "Reading Jeffrey Birnbaum's article on American automakers[' hoping]... 'for the government to provide catastrophic health care coverage.' One person who floated this proposal was, of course, John Kerry who made it the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda. Tragically, political reporters for major newspapers and television networks chose to devote approximately zero percent of their campaign coverage to this idea or its (significant) merits..."

>

Posted by DeLong at 10:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Falling Income Tax Revenue (as a Share of GDP)

Kash Mansouri has a graph:

rev_spen_exss3

Angry Bear: The Budget Deficit in Context: Even I, someone extremely familiar with the details of the US's budget problems, was slightly astonished by this picture.... The truly remarkable thing about the graph is just how far [non-Social Security] federal revenues have fallen over the past fifty years. It appears that successive tax cuts, especially those by Reagan and Bush, have driven down federal revenues in a permanent way. Equally important, it is clear that those tax cuts have NOT driven down federal spending; the only substantial decline in federal spending happened during the 1990s, following a major tax increase in 1993. Yet more evidence that the "starve the beast" theory has the empirical validity of the Ptolomaic solar system.

[Non-Social Security] revenues have trended strongly down over the past fifty years, while spending has remained roughly constant (with the exception of the Clinton-era downsizing of the federal government). That, in a nutshell, is the reason for the US's present and future deep structural budget deficit.


Note: The projection for the rest of the decade is from the CBO. This CBO forecast assumes that Bush's tax cuts are made permanent, that AMT is mostly fixed, that spending in Iraq and Afghanistan tapers off gradually over the next decade, and that non-defense non-homeland security (NDNHS) discretionary spending is sharply curtailed. Unlike the referenced CBO document, however, I do not assume that Bush's social security privatization scheme is enacted into law.

And let me rise to the defense of Claudius Ptolemy: his theory works for predicting the motions of the planets. The "starve the beast" theory does not work. Please Don't slander Claudius Ptolemy.

Posted by DeLong at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Consequences of Our Weak Labor Market

Paul Krugman on the current weirdnesses of the American economy:

The Joyless Economy: 63 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, and by 58 to 36 percent people say economic conditions are getting worse, not better. Yet... gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren't people pleased with the economy's performance? Like everything these days, this is a political as well as factual question. The Bush administration seems genuinely puzzled that it isn't getting more credit for what it thinks is a booming economy. So let me be helpful here and explain what's going on....

[T]he economic numbers, especially the job numbers, aren't as good as the Bush people imagine. President Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden to hail the latest jobs report, yet a gain of 215,000 jobs would have been considered... subpar - during the Clinton years... total number of hours worked actually fell last month.

But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.... [F]amily income data for 2004... showed a remarkable disconnect between overall economic growth and the economic fortunes of most American families.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income - the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation - fell for the fifth year in a row. And one key source of economic insecurity got worse, as the number of Americans without health insurance continued to rise... data for 2005... will be similar. G.D.P. growth has remained solid, but most families are probably losing ground as their earnings fail to keep up with inflation.

Behind the disconnect between economic growth and family incomes lies the extremely lopsided nature of the economic recovery that officially began in late 2001. The growth in corporate profits has, as I said, been spectacular. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits have risen more than 50 percent since the last quarter of 2001. But real wage and salary income is up less than 7 percent... [M]uch of the wage and salary growth that did take place happened at the high end.... Americans don't feel good about the economy because it hasn't been good for them. Never mind the G.D.P. numbers: most people are falling behind.

It's much harder to explain why. The disconnect between G.D.P. growth and the economic fortunes of most American families can't be dismissed as a normal occurrence. Wages and median family income often lag behind profits in the early stages of an economic expansion, but not this far behind, and not for so long. Nor, I should say, is there any easy way to place more than a small fraction of the blame on Bush administration policies. At this point the joylessness of the economic expansion for most Americans is a mystery.

What's clear, however, is that... the problem isn't that people don't understand how good things are. It's that they know, from personal experience, that things really aren't that good.

Posted by DeLong at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is This Wise?

Certainly Jonah Goldberg is well-intentioned when he writes:

Jonah Goldberg : It does't help if a conservative says "Merry Christmas" when he really means "Eat yuletide, you atheistic bastard!" If you're putting up a Christmas tree in order to tick off the ACLU, you've really missed the point....

He is performing a mitzvah. And any signs of intelligence from the National Review crowd are very welcome. But is it wise for him to mock all his yahoo friends in this way?

I mean, Jonah does know that "Yuletide" is the profoundly unChristian Saxon solstice festival, doesn't he?


Yule - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia : Though there are numerous references to Yule in the Icelandic sagas, there are few accounts of how Yule was actually celebrated, beyond the fact that it was a time for feasting.... It is, however, known to have included the sacrifice of a pig for the god Freyr.... [C]onfraternities of artisans of the 9th century, which developed into the medieval guilds, were denounced... for their "conjurations" when they swore to support one another in coming adversity and in business ventures... on December 26, the "feast day of the pagan god Jul, when it was possible to couple with the spirits of the dead and with demons that returned to the surface of the earth...." [T]he burning of the Yule log, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe, etc. are apparently derived from traditional northern European Yule celebrations....

So let's all get ready to celebrate the Twelve Days of Marduk!

Posted by DeLong at 10:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New Republic Contraversializing-the-Teaching Edition)

Ah. The neoconservative New Republic joins the Republican War and Science by giving its space to Gertrude Himmelfarb, who argues that it is important that we get the science wrong, and respect Intelligent Design, which she mischaracterizes as:

TNR Online | Monkey and Morals (1 of 3) (print) : [a] quarrel... not with evolution itself but rather with natural selection conceived as a purely mechanistic and entirely sufficient explanation for evolution. For them, intelligent design is nothing more or less than teleology, the recognition of a purposiveness or direction in nature, with or without a Creator in the orthodox sense of God....

The kicker is that it is more likely than not that Gertrude Himmelfarb herself doesn't believe in Intelligent Design, or in the Fundamentalist Protestant God that hides behind the mask of the Intelligent Designer. In the circles in which she primarily travels, the Fundamentalist Protestantisms that fuel Intelligent Design are good things for the simple to believe in because (a) it keeps them in line, and (b) it increases the likelihood that the U.S. government will tolerate the policies of Likud (the belief, you see, is that Israel must reconquer the entire territory of the Davidic Kingdom before God can bring about the Day of Judgment and unleash his wrath upon the Idolatrous Jews (and the Idolatrous Others).

All in all, better than in the days when Andrew Sullivan and Marty Peretz gave space to the Blacks-are-genetically-inferior-in-what-counts-even-though-they-can-jump crowd. But not by much.

Whether the New Republic will survive the technological changes of the next decade is an open question. If Peter Beinart wants to keep its only edge--its reputation for publishing smart things--he needs to seize control over the back of the magazine.

Posted by DeLong at 10:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Labor Productivity Growth in America

The underlying growth trend of the American economy continues to be very strong indeed:

20051204_Labor_Pdty_Growth

Posted by DeLong at 10:08 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: December 4, 2005

If I had infinite hours in the day:

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/4222/1475/1600/Hurricane%20Chart.jpg Hurricanes and Atlantic water temperature.
http://economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=5213951 The Economist writes about Rich Lyons's studies of order flow and currency movements.
http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/005595.html Jane Galt on Nazi economic ideology.
http://donkeyodtoo.blogspot.com/2005/12/all-presidents-flacks-by-frank-rich.html Frank Rich on Bob Woodward--and on how Woodward's first priority is not to inform his readers but to make his sources look good.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1903373,00.html Condi Rice is "offensive"...
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1423 Joan Didion on Bob Woodward...
http://duckofminerva.blogspot.com/2005/12/summing-up-my-feelings-on-victory.html The Duck of Minerva on Bush's "Victory Strategy."
http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/12/mountain-of-skulls-ocean-of-blood-maos.html RJ Rummel has retabulated the totals for democide for The People's Republic of China under "The Geat Helmsman" Mao Zedong: 77,000,000 dead.
http://www.steelypips.org/principles/2005_12_04_principlearchive.php#113370662866862217 Chad Orzel fears that George R.R. Martin is turning into Robert Jordan.
http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2005/12/best_and_worst_.html Scott Adams pities the poor "third highest ranking al-Qaida leader"...
http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2005/12/oops_our_bad.html Hilzoy on "extraordinary erroneous rendition."
http://mikethemadbiologist.blogspot.com/2005/12/are-we-in-tin-foil-helmet-territory.html Meanwhile, in tinfoil helmet territory...
http://radio.weblogs.com/0100187/2005/12/03.html#a2982 Torture: a short user's guide.

Posted by DeLong at 10:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Smarter Living Through Chemistry!

Coffee. Now why does something that evolved as a nerve poison for bugs have such wonderful effects?

New Scientist Breaking News - Coffee's effects revealed in brain scans : Gaia Vince: Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, according to a new study.... “Caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on distinct areas of the brain,” explains Florian Koppelstätter, who carried out the research with colleagues at the Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria.... During the memory tests, participants were shown a fast sequence of capital letters, then flashed a single letter on a screen and told to decide quickly whether this letter was the same as the one which appeared second-to-last in the earlier sequence. They had to respond by pressing a “Y” for yes or “N” for no.

“The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the brain," Koppelstätter explains. "But those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in 'executive memory', attention, concentration, planning and monitoring." “This type of memory is used when, for example, you look up a telephone number in a book and then mentally store it before dialling,” he adds. Koppelstätter stresses that the study is preliminary and that he has yet to discover how long the memory effects last or what other effects coffee has on brain function. He adds that the long-term impact of caffeine use is also an important consideration.

But he says the study shows that coffee has an effect on specific brain regions involved in memory and concentration that tallies with anecdotal evidence of the drink's “pick-me-up” effect. Caffeine is known to influence adenosine receptors which are found throughout the brain on nerve cells and blood vessels. It is thought that the drug inhibits these receptors and that this excites the nerve cells in the brain. “This may be the mechanism involved,” suggests Koppelstätter.

Posted by DeLong at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Bush Administration: Worse Than You Imagine Possible...

Daniel Gross provides yet another example of how the Bush administration is worse than you imagine possible, even after you take account of the fact that it is worse than you imagine possible:

Daniel Gross: November 27, 2005 - December 03, 2005 Archives: DEBT BE NOT PROUD: This is scary. Allan Hubbard, President Bush's top economic adviser, professes not to know the size of the national debt. From yesterday's White House press briefing.

Q Al, can I ask you one? I can't remember the last time the President spoke about the national debt, which is now over $8 trillion. Is that something you guys worry about?

DIRECTOR HUBBARD: Well, I don't know where your $8 trillion comes from, but we --

Q The public website.

DIRECTOR HUBBARD: Well, I guess it really depends on what you're including, but let me -- again, the President is most concerned about the economy and the budget. And a key component of that, as I have spoken earlier, is the budget deficit. And, you know, that's what contributes to the overall budget debt, the country's debt, and that's why it's so important to reduce the budget deficit and, hopefully, ultimately, eliminate the budget deficit.

Q Does the magnitude of the national debt disturb you?

DIRECTOR HUBBARD: Actually, again, I don't know what numbers you're using, but the current budget debt is not a problem, but we do not want it to grow as a percentage of the GDP. That's the way you want to look at it, is the debt as a percentage of GDP. And our budget debt is lower than many other developed countries. The President is committed to keeping it low; that's why he wants to cut the budget deficit in half by 2009. . . . .

Q Check the Bureau of Public Debt website, you'll see the number there.

DIRECTOR HUBBARD: Okay, thank you.

Is the ignorance here calculating -- i.e. Hubbard really knows what the national debt is but acts like he doesn't because it's embarrassing to talk about? Or is it genuine -- i.e. Hubbard really doesn't have any clue what the national debt is? (I vote for the latter.)

In case, he's still looking, the link is right here. http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdpdodt.htm And the [gross] debt [including money owed by the Treasury to Social Security and other trust funds] is actually now more than $8.1 trillion.

I vote for genuine ignorance as well.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Posted by DeLong at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

When Ex-CEA Chairs Attack...

Ex-Bush CEA Chair Greg Mankiw attacks reporter Daniel Altman. Lord knows that I typically find media coverage of economic policy issues to be abysmal. But this one I score for Altman.

Mankiw's principal beef with Altman is that Altman wrote:

Back in 2003, the choice of N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard professor, to head the council initially provoked some wonderment from economists. He had condemned supporters of some Reagan-era tax cuts as "charlatans and cranks" in the first edition of his basic economics textbook.... But it's possible that the administration had few other options....

[T]he role of the council's chair can take on a decidedly political tilt.... Professor Mankiw, who has returned to Harvard, sounded more like Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, than an economic adviser. "The president is very focused on putting people back to work, at creating jobs," he said. "The president has said that he wants to make the tax cuts permanent. He believes that is important for economic growth."...

But I can't see what Mankiw's objection is. Mankiw writes:

On the issue of my previous views, Altman makes a common error. In the past, I have been critical of supply siders who say that tax cuts generate so much growth as to increase tax revenue. That is different than being critical of tax cuts. I believe that tax cuts increase growth and, therefore, are partly self-financing. I think it is overoptimistic to say they are fully self-financing. That is why spending restraint must go hand in hand with tax cuts. For some reason, some Times reporters think that being critical of one argument for tax cuts is to be critical of tax cuts themselves...

I had always assumed that Greg Mankiw was critical of the Bush tax cut for these reasons:

  1. Major Premise: All serious economists are critical of tax cuts that are not accompanied by spending restraint because they are likely to produce large long-run deficits which may well cause big trouble.
  2. Minor Premise: The Bush tax cut are not accompanied by spending restraint and so are likely to produce large long-run deficits.
  3. Conclusion: All serious economists are critical of the Bush tax cut.

And:

  1. Major Premise: All serious economists are critical of the Bush tax cut.
  2. Minor Premise: Greg Mankiw is a serious economist.
  3. Conclusion: Greg Mankiw is critical of the Bush tax cut.

That Mankiw is in fact critical of tax cuts unaccompanied by spending restraint--like those of the deficits-don't-matter tax-cuts-raise-revenue big-government conservative administration of George W. Bush--is made manifest in his statement in the paragraph I quoted that "spending restraint must go hand in hand with tax cuts" for tax cuts to be a good thing.

So what is Mankiw's beef with Altman?

Mankiw also appears to have a beef with Bill Niskanen. Altman quotes:

"Bush has centralized policy decision-making much more than any president in years," [Niskanen] said. "The Council of Economic Advisers has been somewhat bypassed." Mr. Niskanen said that there were now fewer meetings between members of the council and members of the president's cabinet than there were during his term. The council's offices have even been moved to a building farther from the White House.

All of these tensions may have resulted in a sort of Catch-22. The president's inability to move forward with much of his second-term economic agenda - dealing with Social Security, the tax system, immigration and tort rules - may have dulled economists' eagerness to work with him. Yet he may need them in order to start the wheels moving. "John Snow has talked about turning the tax commission report into legislation," Mr. Niskanen said of the Treasury secretary, "but he does not have the skills on board to do that."

In response, Mankiw writes:

Sadly, this is the kind of "reporting" that I have come to expect from the Times, substituting rumor and innuendo for fact.... Bill Niskanen... assert[s]... the CEA has less access now than when Bill was at the CEA twenty years earlier. There is no way that Bill can possibly know whether this is true (has he had access to Hubbard's, my, Rosen's, or Bernanke's meeting schedule?).

Altman should know that this assertion of fact is baseless and self-serving (it makes the person making the assertion seem more important). But Altman is happy to quote the claim because it is consistent with his preconceived notions of how this administration works...

First, I don't think Bill Niskanen is saying things for I-want-to-look-important reasons. I think Bill Niskanen is saying things for I-have-good-information-sources-and-from-my-perch-in-Washington-they-seem-to-be-true reasons.

Second, the highlights of Bush administration economic policy during Mankiw's tenure were:

  1. A Medicare drug bill that Mankiw's predecessor, Glenn Hubbard, terms "unwise."
  2. Further worsening of the long-run budget deficit as the administration continued to push for tax cuts and spending increases--a worsening that has led Alan Greenspan to publicly call for a restoration of the procedural restrictions on deficits provided by the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act.
  3. No progress at all on the Doha Round of world trade expansions.
  4. A poorly-thought out attempt at Social Security reform that fell far short of the mark on both economic and political dimensions.

Now most of us don't assign Mankiw any of the responsibility for these policy mistakes. We see him as having been, largely, on the side of the angels. We had some hope when Mankiw joined the administration that he could be part of a faction that would shift Bush economic policy away from the big-government conservatism idiocy. But it didn't work. We see Mankiw as having been dealt a weak hand--with his staff exiled from the OEOB to space outside the Executive Office of the President proper, and with little access to High Politicians who have less concern than usual with the substance of economic policy--and yet as having played that hand relatively well.

Mankiw is, I think, unique today in seeking to claim that he had much rather than little influence on White House decision making in 2003 and 2004. Even Donald Rumsfeld is whispering these days that he had less--that he was out of the White House loop: had little to do with Bush's decision to attack Iraq, and in fact never advised Bush to do so.

Posted by DeLong at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dana Milbank on Specter and Warner

I had always thought that Senate Committee Chairs were powerful actors. Here we have Dana Milbank bemused as Chairs Warner and Specter act like errand boys, or assistant White House press secretaries:

Oversight for Sore Eyes : It sounded on Thursday as if Senate committee chairmen were about to flex their oversight muscles. An angry Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) summoned Pentagon officials for a briefing on the military's paying for favorable coverage in Iraqi newspapers. And a concerned Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) ordered President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel A. Alito Jr., to explain documents he wrote expressing his opposition to Roe v. Wade.

But the senators, looking for answers, emerged instead from their meetings yesterday with questions.

"We can't verify this question of payments to the journalists," Warner reported to journalists.... "More facts are needed." Does he see evidence of illegality? "We simply do not have all of the facts." Does the practice need to be stopped? "I wouldn't want to render judgment to stop something until I have all the facts." Was the distinction between propaganda and factual information blurred? "I don't have enough facts." What's the most important unanswered question that you have? "Well, seriously, there's so many questions that are unanswered," he replied. Part of the problem, Warner explained, is that pieces of the program in question are classified, "to protect the interests of our troops."This started a new line of questioning. If the purpose of the military project is to "get the truth and the facts out," as Warner put it, why is it classified? "That's the ultimate question you've got to answer," explained Warner, who had apparently not answered it himself. "And, at this moment, I can't give you any facts to help you on that. . . . I have only but a bare initial understanding of why classification is needed."

Specter fared little better... when he sat down with Alito to talk about the judge's 1985 statement that he did not believe that the Constitution protected a right to abortion, and the legal arguments he later made against the Roe decision but did not mention in his response to a questionnaire from the Judiciary Committee. Specter... gave an account of his hour-long meeting.... "With respect to his personal views on a woman's right to choose," Specter reported, "he says that that is not a matter to be considered in the deliberation on a constitutional issue of a woman's right to choose." A reporter raised some doubt about whether stating that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" is really a personal opinion rather than a legal opinion. "He identifies that as a personal opinion, as I said before," Specter repeated. "And he said that his personal opinion would not be a factor in his judicial decision." Well, does he still hold this "personal" opinion? "He did not indicate," Specter said.

The audience was growing more skeptical. "Senator, I'm curious," one of the reporters asked. "Are you here simply to report objectively on what his answers were to you today? Or are you here to say that you were satisfied, even reassured, by the answers he gave you?"

"I'm here to report on his answers," said Specter, who finally acknowledged that he did not share Alito's view that this was a matter of personal opinion. "Judge Alito categorizes it as a personal opinion; I don't," the senator said....

In fairness, they had tough tasks: The Pentagon gave Warner little information, and Alito left Specter with the difficult argument that his belief that a right to abortion is not protected by the Constitution is not a judicial opinion. Both men dutifully read from handwritten notes.... Though lacking answers to crucial questions, the chairmen were certain that nobody was hiding anything. Warner reported that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "has been 100 percent cooperative," and he added: "I don't detect any effort on the part of Defense... of trying to cover up anything. They are working diligently to get the facts out." Specter, likewise, vouched that "there has not been a coverup" of Alito's abortion views. True, Alito did not include, in his response to the Senate questionnaire seeking any briefs he had worked on, his memo on a prominent abortion case. But, the chairman said, "I think it's a fair conclusion that there's no effort to make any concealment." Still, Specter couldn't pretend to be satisfied with Alito's answers. "I'm going to reserve judgment on the question as to whether Judge Alito can fairly judge an abortion case until he testifies," Specter said. "It will give considerably greater opportunity for discussion than I had with him today."

Posted by DeLong at 09:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bullet Points Over Baghdad

When I first met Paul Krugman, he was the antithesis of shrillness. He was calm. He attributed the best of motives to everybody. He took all arguments seriously.

But now:

Bullet Points Over Baghdad by PAUL KRUGMAN : Bullets haven't subdued the insurgents in Iraq, but the administration hopes that bullet points will subdue the critics at home.... It's an embarrassing piece of work. Yet it's also an important test for the news media. The Bush administration has lost none of its confidence that it can get away with fuzzy math and fuzzy facts -- that it won't be called to account for obvious efforts to mislead the public....

Here's an example of how the White House attempts to mislead: the new document assures us that Iraq's economy is doing really well. "Oil production increased from an average of 1.58 million barrels per day in 2003, to an average of 2.25 million barrels per day in 2004." The document goes on to concede a "slight decrease" in production since then.... [W]e're not supposed to understand that the real story of Iraq's oil industry is one of unexpected failure: instead of achieving the surge predicted by some of the war's advocates, Iraqi production has rarely matched its prewar level, and has been on a downward trend for the past year.

What about the security situation? During much of 2004, the document tells us: "Fallujah, Najaf, and Samara were under enemy control. Today, these cities are under Iraqi government control." Najaf was never controlled by the "enemy," if that means the people we're currently fighting. It was briefly controlled by Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The United States once vowed to destroy that militia, but these days it's as strong as ever. And according to The New York Times, Mr. Sadr has now become a "kingmaker in Iraqi politics." So what sort of victory did we win, exactly, in Najaf? Moreover, in what sense is Najaf now under government control? According to The Christian Science Monitor, "Sadr supporters and many Najaf residents say an armed Badr Brigade" -- the militia of a Shiite group that opposes Mr. Sadr and his supporters -- "still exists as the Najaf police force."

Meanwhile, this is the third time that coalition forces have driven the insurgents out of Samara. On the two previous occasions, the insurgents came back after the Americans left... it's stretching things to say that the city is under Iraqi government control... only 100 of the city's 700 policemen show up for work on most days.

There's a lot more like that in the document. Refuting some of the upbeat assertions about Iraq requires specialized knowledge, but many of them can be quickly debunked by anyone with an Internet connection.

The point isn't just that the administration is trying, yet again, to deceive the public. It's the fact that this attempt at deception shows such contempt - contempt for the public, and especially contempt for the news media. And why not? The truth is that the level of misrepresentation in this new document is no worse than that in a typical speech by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet for much of the past five years, many major news organizations failed to provide the public with effective fact-checking. So Mr. Bush's new public relations offensive on Iraq is a test. Are the news media still too cowed, too addicted to articles that contain little more than dueling quotes to tell the public when the administration is saying things that aren't true?...

Posted by DeLong at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mothers' Labor Force Participation

Dean Baker says that Heather Boushey believes that the fall in labor force participation since 2000 is not, repeat not, due to a cultural shift making mothers more likely to stay home with their kids:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: MOTHERS OPTING OUT OF WORK: BUSH MYTH # 96742 : One popular explanation for the weak employment growth of the last five years is that mothers are increasingly opting out of the labor force. The argument is that in a post-9-11 world, people have come to recognize that family is what really matters. Therefore, women now want to be at home with their kids rather than pursuing a career. The evidence to support this view usually amounts to accounts of the experiences of a few friends or neighbors.

My colleague, Heather Boushey, decided to examine the data, and says it ain't so... the impact of motherhood on labor force participation is actually lower today than it was five years ago. You can read the paper on the CEPR http://cepr.net website...

Posted by DeLong at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Midnight Thuds and Screams from the Topkapi Palace

How angry is Bush at Cheney? The current rumor mill says:

Insight : The role of Vice President Dick Cheney as the administration's point man in security policy appears over, according to administration sources. Over the last two months Mr. Cheney has been granted decreasing access to the Oval Office, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. The two men still meet, but the close staff work between the president and vice president has ended.... The sources said the indictment and resignation of Lewis "Scooter" Libby marked the final straw in the deterioration of relations between President Bush and Mr. Cheney. They said Bush aides expect that any trial of Mr. Libby, Mr. Cheney's long-time chief of staff, would open a closet of skeletons regarding such issues as Iraq, the CIA and the conduct of White House aides. "There's a lack of trust that the president has in Cheney and it's connected with Iraq," a source said.

The sources said Mr. Bush has privately blamed Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. They said the president has told his senior aides that the vice president and defense secretary provided misleading assessments on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as well as the capabilities of the regime of Saddam Hussein. As a result, the sources said, Mr. Cheney has been ousted from his role as the administration's point man in the area of national security. They said presidential staffers have kept Mr. Cheney out of the loop on discussions on policy as the White House has struggled with the political and intelligence fallout from the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush is not expected to replace Mr. Cheney unless the vice president follows the fate of his former chief of staff. The sources also said Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to remain in his post until U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

Posted by DeLong at 09:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The November Employment Report

Andrew Samwick reads the November employment report:

Vox Baby: November Employment : The top line numbers for this morning's November employment report are net 215,000 payroll jobs added... only some fortunate rounding prevented the [unemployment rate] number from ticking up by a tenth (4.95 to 5.04 percent).... Over the past 12 months, the economy has added about 2 million payroll jobs. The 215,000 number doesn't excite me this month, because the private workweek fell by 0.1 hour. As I've noted in past discussions, that reduction in the workweek offsets the added labor input of about 300,000 new workers (134 million total x 80% in private production or non-supervisory jobs x 0.1 hour reduction / 33.8 hours on average). So overall, the economy didn't appear to increase its demand for labor input to production in November. The reduction in the workweek changed a small increase in hourly wages to a small decrease in average weekly earnings, even measured in nominal rather than real terms.

The most interesting feature of this month's report is the information from some special questions in the household survey on persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina... split evenly between those now in the same residence as in August and those in a different residence than in August. The employment-to-population ratios are 46.1 and 41.6 percent for the two groups, respectively, compared to a national figure (not seasonally adjusted) of 62.9 percent. If the national figure is a reasonable proxy for what the Gulf Coast might be experiencing absent the hurricanes, that suggest continued unused labor capacity of about 30 percent (1 - ((46.1+41.6)/2)/62.9) among those people evacuated.

Falling real labor earnings are *not* a sign of an economy near full employment.

Posted by DeLong at 09:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'll Stop Calling This Crew "Orwellian" When They Stop Using "1984" as an Operations Manual

Scott McLemee watches David Horowitz in action:

Inside Higher Ed :: Piled Higher and Deeper : David Horowitz makes clear that he is not a liar just because he told a national television audience something that he knew was not true.... In February, while the Ward Churchill debate was heating up, Horowitz appeared on Bill O'Reilly's program. It came up that Horowitz, like Churchill, had been invited to lecture at Hamilton College at some point. But he was not, he said, "a speaker paid by and invited by the faculty." As we all know, university faculties are hotbeds of left-wing extremism.... [W]henever Horowitz appears on campus, it's because some plucky youngsters invite him. He was at Hamilton because he had been asked by "the conservative kids."

That came as a surprise to Maurice Isserman, a left-of-center historian who teaches at Hamilton College.... [H]e's been called all sorts of things... but "conservative kid" is not one of them. And when Horowitz spoke at Hamilton a few years ago, it was as a guest lecturer in Isserman's class on the 1960s.... "Horowitz was, in fact, an official guest of Hamilton College in fall 2002, invited by a faculty member, introduced at his talk by the dean of the faculty, and generously compensated for his time."

I will leave to you the pleasure and edification of watching Horowitz explain himself.... [H]e could not tell the truth because that would have been a lie, so he had to say something untrue in order to speak a Higher Truth.

And here's Horowitz:

Academe/November-December 2005/Letters to the Editor : When I was asked if it wasn't to Hamilton's credit to have invited me, I had two seconds to decide.... I thought that if I just say, yes, Hamilton should be praised, that would be a really big lie about the reality of my experience at Hamilton and on university campuses. So I said I was invited by conservative students, which was true of my most recent visit to Hamilton, but obviously not the whole truth.... Professors like Maurice Isserman ought to be concerned about the one-party culture they have created in institutions that once honored intellectual pluralism and fairness. Considering this, my only conclusion can be that Isserman must regret bringing David Horowitz to Hamilton. That's the truth I was driving at.

Posted by DeLong at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Communities of Technological Practice

Virginia Postrel writes about what I think of as AnnaLee Saxenian's key insight--that Silicon Valley's unique success and power arises not out of the hunger of its entrepreneurs and capitalists but out of its footloose, job-hopping, talkative engineers. The key productive resource--the rapid spread of news and information--is a sociological and not an economic factor:

In Silicon Valley, Job Hopping Contributes to Innovation - New York Times : By VIRGINIA POSTREL: FOR four decades, through booms, busts and bubbles, Silicon Valley has maintained an amazingly innovative business environment. Companies and technologies rise and fall. Hot start-ups morph into giant corporations. Cutting-edge products become mature commodities. Business models change. Through it all, the area remains creative and resilient - and more successful than other technology centers, notably the Route 128 area around Boston.

What makes Silicon Valley special? Thanks to some new data, economists have finally been able to test statistically some popular explanations. In her influential 1994 book "Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128" (Harvard University Press), AnnaLee Saxenian, an economic development scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, argued that Silicon Valley's innovative edge comes from two unusual characteristics. First, talented employees move easily and often to new employers, far more so than people elsewhere. "The joke is that you can change jobs and not change parking lots," one of her interview subjects said. Second, instead of vertically integrating, Silicon Valley computer makers rely on networks of suppliers. They also design open systems that can flexibly accommodate all sorts of new components. "The system's decentralization encourages the pursuit of multiple technical opportunities through spontaneous regroupings of skill, technology and capital," she wrote.

Many people, especially in Silicon Valley, found Professor Saxenian's argument convincing. But while her research was careful, it depended on interviews and had no large-scale statistical backing. Perhaps her subjects' impressions were unreliable. After all, the argument that Silicon Valley's job hopping fosters innovation contradicts economists' common assumptions. "It didn't feel right to me," James B. Rebitzer, an economist at Case Western Reserve University, said in an interview. When employees jump from company to company, they take their knowledge with them. "The innovation from one firm will tend to bleed over into other firms," Professor Rebitzer explained. For a given company, "it's hard to capture the returns on your innovation," he went on. "From an economics perspective, that should hamper innovation."...

In a forthcoming article in The Review of Economics and Statistics, Rebitzer and two economists at the Federal Reserve Board, Bruce C. Fallick and Charles A. Fleischman, empirically test the claim that Silicon Valley employees move more often than computer industry employees in other places. (The article, "Job Hopping in Silicon Valley," is available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/research/staff/fallickbrucex.htm

The two Fed economists... use data from the Current Population Survey.... To Professor Rebitzer's surprise (though not his co-authors'), it turns out that Silicon Valley employees really do move around more often than other people. The researchers looked at job changes by male college graduates from 1994 to 2001. During that period, an average of 2.41 percent of respondents changed jobs in any given month. But, they write, "living in Silicon Valley increases the rate of employer-to-employer job change by 0.8 percentage point." "This effect is both statistically and behaviorally significant - suggesting employer-to-employer mobility rates are 40 percent higher than the sample average."...

Posted by DeLong at 09:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

When Microsoft Office Attacks!

Ahh...

macosxhints - 10.4: Avoid an Office 2004 save problem: The new version of Word has a problem when saving documents to network folders. Users with network home directories have a problem with Save or Autosave from Word 2004 11.2 (Office Service Pack 2) on OSX 10.4.2, and see an error message saying "Word cannot save this document due to a naming or permissions error on the destination volume." The first attempt to save succeeds; subsequent attempts to save, or autosave, will fail with the above error message.

The fault occurs unless a folder called .TemporaryItems has been created at the root level of any mounted volume containing the saved file; so if the user's home directory is contained in an AFP share called Homes, then there has to be a directory called .TemporaryItems in the Homes folder on the server. If the home directory is on another local volume called UserData, there has to be a directory called .TemporaryItems at the root of that volume....

This seems to fix the problem, not just for Word, but PowerPoint and the other Office apps.

Posted by DeLong at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Looking Forward to an Inverted Yield Curve

Macroblog looks at the forthcoming likely inversion of the yield curve:

macroblog: Fed Funds Probabilities: A Peek At March: It's Monday, and that means it's time to report the Carlson-Craig-Melick estimates of what the folks who make their livings in the market for options on federal funds futures think the Federal Open Market Committee is soon to do. At this point, there's not much question about the December meeting... [the market is forecasting a post-meeting Federal Funds rate of 4.25%]

...and scant more for the January meeting: [the market is forecasting a post-meeting Federal Funds rate of 4.25%]

So, we'll have to find what excitement we can in the March meeting. [the market is forecasting a post-meeting Federal Funds rate of a bit more than 4.5%]

That may not actually seem that exciting, but today the 10-year Treasury note closed at 4.4%. If that doesn't change, and the market prediction for the federal funds rate holds true, that could at least be interesting.

Historically, an inverted yield curve--long-term rates lower than short rates--is a sign that the market views a recession likely, and looks forward to the associated steep and rapid rate cuts as the Fed tries to fight unemployment and restore growth.

Posted by DeLong at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ghosts That Haunt General Motors

Mark Thoma finds Robert Samuelson thinking about General Motors:

Economist's View: Robert Samuelson: Ghosts That Still Haunt GM : Robert Samuelson acknowledges that labor costs at GM have been high. But he believes the source of GM's troubles is poor management:

Ghosts That Still Haunt GM, by Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post: ...General Motors ... recently announced it would close 12 facilities and cut 30,000 jobs by 2008. Granted, GM is burdened with costly labor contracts and huge numbers of retirees... But GM also inherits a self-defeating management style formed during its glory days. It presumed that superior managers could always anticipate and control change. By contrast, many top managers in younger companies accept that they will face disruptive surprises that could, unless successfully countered, destroy them. The... latest downsizing is the company's third since the early 1980s. With each, GM has struggled to catch up with changes that it badly misjudged -- the demand for smaller cars in the late 1970s; the superior quality and production techniques of Japanese manufacturers in the 1980s; and now the demand for snazzier cars and... better fuel efficiency....

GM overtook Ford because "the old master [Henry Ford] had failed to master change," [Alfred P.] Sloan wrote. Ford stuck too long with the Model T... even as the car market shifted.... Sloan had to fashion a huge industrial enterprise... this problem by decentralizing operations... among separate divisions while centralizing policy matters.... "Management" became an exercise in ensuring stability. GM's market power made it less sensitive to... labor costs, because these could usually be recovered in higher prices....

GM [today] does not have the vehicles that command good prices. To move in volume, they require steep discounts. This is a management failing that can't be blamed on unions or retirees, and it's now compounded by the impact of high gasoline prices on SUV sales.... GM's deliberate management style has produced mediocre vehicles that fare poorly in today's hyper-competitive market. Since its peak, GM's market share has fallen by half....

As I see it, GM has three big problems:

  1. It paid its workers in the 1980s and 1990s in backloaded pension and health care benefits so that now workers have cash-flow rights but no control rights over the corporation, and this is an unstable and dangerous corporate control situations.
  2. Oligopoly profits have been built into GM's wages for a long time, and these oligopoly profit components are very "sticky"--they remain even though the oligopoly profits are long gone.
  3. GM management has bet very heavily on a low price of oil and a high price of SUVs.

Samuelson thinks that these are less important than (4): a culture of management that focuses on maintaining stability rather than taking advantage of change. He may be right.

Posted by DeLong at 09:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Sebastian Mallaby Edition)

Did this really happen?

Mike the Mad Biologist: I Can't Believe Mallaby Just Said This : I was jus skimming through the Washington Post op-eds and Sebastian Mallaby writes (italics mine):

Wal-Mart's critics allege that the retailer is bad for poor Americans. This claim is backward: As Jason Furman of New York University puts it, Wal-Mart is "a progressive success story." Furman advised John "Benedict Arnold" Kerry in the 2004 campaign....

Posted by DeLong at 09:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The New Economist Weblog

I am remiss in not having already talked about the excellent New Economist weblog:

New Economist : New economic research, data, events and analysis from a London-based macroeconomist.

And here is its list of economics-relevant weblogs:

Posted by DeLong at 09:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The New Economist Weblog

I am remiss in not having already talked about the excellent New Economist weblog:

New Economist : New economic research, data, events and analysis from a London-based macroeconomist.

And here is its list of economics-relevant weblogs:

Posted by DeLong at 09:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack