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December 2005

Over at Wonkette, They Are Losing It...

Over at Wonkette, DCeiver reads Washington Post reporters Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei on George W. Bush in 2005, and succumbs to shrill unholy madness:

The Year in Accidental Tourism - Wonkette: With a few inches of petroleum jelly lathered on their critical lens and a couple tumblers filled with the crystal waters of the River Lethe by their sides, Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei perfect the art of the pulled punch in their look back at the past year of the Bush Presidency. The resulting article is a piece of gorgeous goggle-eyed wonderment.... [T]he pair say that one of the lessons learned this year is: "Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war." Yeah, or: Unworkable solutions to Social Security are unworkable at any time whatsoever.... [M]ost fascinatingly of all, [they] spare a moment of pity over the way Hurricane Katrina brought Bush's vacation "to an abrupt halt." Funny: we don't remember the end of that vacation being quite so abrupt. There are probably people who could speak with considerably more authority on the concept of abruptness and Hurricane Katrina, but, in Baker and VandeHei's defense, bloated corpses floating face down in sewage are notoriously hard to interview.

Me. I'm just astonished at how Baker and VandeHei can write Bush's "recent political progress" with straight faces when Republican stalwarts like Bob Barr, Norm Ornstein, and Barrons are saying that Bush has committed impeachable offenses.

A Hundred-Year Storm Just East of San Francisco

Well, well, well. So this is what a hundred-year storm looks like...

I don't think we're going to lose the road--although the three-foot culvert underneath it is full right now, the water has backed up and is lapping at its edges, and each molecule of that water does lose 200 vertical feet x 32 feet/second/second of gravitational potential energy in the quarter mile approaching the culvert...

And we only have fifty cubic feet of mud in back of the garage, and another fifty cubic feet on the backside of the house--everything else has been swept past the house into the... culvert...

UPDATE: The culvert was full because it was blocked with boards--so not a hundred year storm after all.

Harry Jaffa, Willmoore Kendall, the Crisis of the House Divided, and the Party of Abraham Lincoln

Andrew Sullivan compliments me for writing: - Daily Dish : "Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place--when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber that he does. But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong."

Thank you Andrew.

Immediately below the mention of me I find: - Daily Dish: YGLESIAS AWARD WINNER 2005: "Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From 'The Conservative Mind' to 'Savage Nation'; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman - all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress." - Andy Ferguson, Weekly Standard.

Let me enthusiastically agree with Andy Ferguson's high praise of the very interesting Harry Jaffa. But Willmoore Kendall? Those with access to National Review's electronic archives can read Willmoore Kendall's review of Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided, with Kendall's attack on Jaffa's argument that the Declaration and the Constitution are together living documents dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. As Kendall (unfairly) summarizes Jaffa's argument:

As for the "all men are created equal" clause, Jaffa's Lincoln... sees it as the indispensible presupposition of the entire American political experience.... Jaffa's Lincoln sees the great task of the nineteenth century as that of affirming the cherished accomplishment of the Fathers by transcending it. Concretely, this means to construe the equality clause as having an allegedly unavoidable meaning with which it was always pregnant, but which the Fathers apprehended only dimly.... [T]he Civil War... had to be fought in the interest of freedom for all mankind... once the South had gone beyond slaveholding... to assert the "positive goodness" of slavery, and so to deny the... equality-clause standard as the basic axiom of our poltical system. [Jaffa] insists that [the Civil War] had to be fought lest the possibility of self-goernment perish from the earth

And what does Kendall think of Jaffa's argument? That it is OK as long as it is kept a hundred years past and dead. But Kendall believes that "all men are created equal" is not fine, not fine at all if it is going to have implications here in the present. Let me quote the ultimate paragraph of Willmoore Kendall, on November 7, 1959, in National Review, reviewing Harry V. Jaffa (1959), Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (New York: Doubleday)

The idea of natural right is not so easily reducible to the equality clause, and there are better ways of demonstrating the possibility of self-government than imposing one's views concerning natural right upon others. In this light it would seem that it was the Southerners who were the anti-Caesars of pre-Civil War days, and that Lincoln was the Caesar Lincoln claimed to be trying to prevent; and that the Caesarism we all need to fear is the contemporary Liberal movement, dedicated like Lincoln to egalitarian reforms sanctioned by mandates emanating from national majorities, a [Civil Rights] movement which is Lincoln's legitimate offspring. In a word, it would seem that we had best learn to live up to the Framers before we seek to transcend them.

Kendall writes in code. Where Kendall writes "Caesar" read "illegitimate tyrant." Where he writes "egalitarian reforms" think "letting African-Americans vote." Where he writes "a movement which is Lincoln's legitimate offspring" read "post-WWII civil rights movement." Where he writes "live up to the Framers" read "abandon any attempt by federal courts or the national legislature to interfere with the peculiar institutions of the American South as they stood in 1950."

Abraham Lincoln--and Harry Jaffa--would agree that there are better ways of demonstrating the possibility of self-government than imposing one's views concerning natural right upon others. That's why they objected to Southerners' holding African-Americans as slaves: what could possibly be a greater "imposition"? For a Union army under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant to say to rich white Southerners that they cannot hold African-Americans as slaves would seem to everyone a lesser imposition than for the Mississippi militia under the command of Jefferson Davis to say to poor African-Americans that they are slaves. Well, it seems like a lesser imposition to almost everyone. It seems a greater imposition to Willmoore Kendall.

Oh. And the "transcending" that Kendall italicizes in the first of my quotations from him above? That's also code. That's code for "under Jaffa's interpretation, Abraham Lincoln is, at best, a fellow traveler of the communists."

Is this really any better than Sean Hannity? More sophisticated and more polite in form, yes. But better?

A Tropical Storm? On December 30?

A tropical storm? On December 30?

1100 AM EST FRI DEC 30 2005



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

As I've noted before, what got Washington Post national political editor John Harris really mad was when I said that it looked to me as though many of his Washington Post reporters spent a good deal of their time as simply stenographers for their sources--repeating the line the sources wanted without maintaining any critical distance.

Today Jane Hamsher comes up with a fine example of this. Here's Washington Post reporter "Steno" Sue Schmidt and Jim Grimaldi giving the Tom DeLay line of the day on today's page A1:

Sue Schmidt and Jim Grimaldi: DeLay, a Christian conservative, did not quite know what to make of Abramoff, who wore a beard and a yarmulke. They forged political ties, but the two men never became personally close, according to associates of both men.

And here is Michael Isikoff last April 18 giving the Jack Abramoff "if I'm going down, you're going down with me" line.

Michael Isikoff: "Everybody is lying," Abramoff told a former colleague. There are e-mails and records that will implicate others, he said. He was noticeably caustic about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. For years, nobody on Washington's K Street corridor was closer to DeLay than Abramoff. They were an unlikely duo. DeLay, a conservative Christian, and Abramoff, an Orthodox Jew, traveled the world together and golfed the finest courses. Abramoff raised hundreds of thousands for DeLay's political causes and hired DeLay's aides, or kicked them business, when they left his employ. But now DeLay, too, has problems--in part because of overseas trips allegedly paid for by Abramoff's clients. In response, DeLay and his aides have said repeatedly they were unaware of Abramoff's behind-the-scenes financing role. "Those S.O.B.s," Abramoff said last week about DeLay and his staffers, according to his luncheon companion. "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details."

It is a Washington melodrama that has played out many times before. When political figures get into trouble and their worlds collapse, they look to save themselves by fingering others higher in the food chain. Will Abramoff attempt to bargain with federal prosecutors by offering up DeLay%u2014and does he really have the goods to do so? Abramoff has at times hinted he wanted to bargain%u2014possibly by naming members who sought campaign cash for legislative favors, says a source familiar with the probe. But Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, says, "There have been no negotiations with the Justice Department." Lowell cryptically acknowledges that Abramoff has been "disappointed" and "hurt" by the public statements of some former friends, but insists his client is currently "not upset or angry with Tom DeLay." Still, if Abramoff's lunch-table claims are true, he could hand DeLay his worst troubles yet.

In light of episodes like this, I am dumbfounded by claims, like John Harris's, that the Washington Post's only asset is its credibility as an objective news reporter. No. The Post sold that asset long ago in exchange for "insider" access. Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing I don't know--but I do know that it cannot be a good thing if the Post continues to pretend that it did not do it.

Friedrich Hayek as Ideologue

The highly intelligent Peter Boettke protests that Austrian economists like Friedrich Hayek were not dogmatic ideologues:

The Austrian Economists: Economics and Ideology : Perhaps no charge has been leveled against Austrian economists more than any other to dismiss their scientific contribution as the claim that they are dogmatic ideologues. This is, of course, ironic because the Austrians from Menger on insisted on their "value-freedom" in a Weberian sense of means-ends analysis. In fact, Gunnar Myrdal in his analysis of the political influences on economic theory points out that the Austrians are the least guilty. But the debates with both Keynesianism and market socialism, and the staunch stance that both Mises and Hayek held, led to the impression that dogmatic ideologue was the best label for these two and their followers...

But what, then, is one to make of Friedrich Hayek's statement in 1956 that Clement Attlee's social democratic government had destroyed the "rule of law" in Britain?

More on Hayek...: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal: Of course, six years of socialist government in England have not produced anything resembling a totalitarian state. But those who argue that this has disproved the thesis of The Road to Serfdom have really missed one of its main points: that "the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people." This is necessarily a slow affair... attitude[s] toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of... political institutions under which it lives.... [T]he change undergone... not merely under its Labour government but in the course of the much longer period during which it has been enjoying the blessings of a paternalistic welfare state, can hardly be mistaken.... Certainly German Social Democrats... never approached as closely to totalitarian planning as the British Labour government has done.... The most serious development is the growth of a measure of arbitrary administrative coercion and the progressive destruction of the cherished foundation of British liberty, the Rule of Law.... [E]conomic planning under the Labour government [has] carried it to a point which makes it doubtful whether it can be said that the Rule of Law still prevails in Britain...

Private property rights were much narrower than Hayek would have wished, and government ownership of the commanding heights of the economy was much greater than he (or I) would have wished. But destruction of the rule of law? Nonsense.

This is important. For if right-wing ideologues claim that Clement Attlee has destroyed the rule of law through nationalizations, unemployment insurance, public health programs, and zoning, then right-wing ideologues can take one step further to justify the crimes of a Franco or a Pinochet.

Michael Rosten's John Yoo Report

Michael Rosten reports on John Yoo. Can anybody tell me how somebody who claims to be unable to use the standard tools of legal research was tenured at Berkeley's Boalt Hall? Isn't an ability to use Westlaw a core competence of a law professor?

Looking for Someone to Lie to Me: Yoo can't be serious: Professor John Yoo has received ample opportunities to defend himself in various media outlets. For a man whose job it has been to defend the indefensible, he sure is good at finding new and innovative ways to stuff the turkey. Here's a recent example quoted in the Washington Post:

Yoo thinks his critics should understand that he offered legal advice, while others made policy. "I think people don't understand how difficult was the work we did, how difficult the questions, how recent the 9/11 attacks were," he said. "There was no book at the time you could open and say, 'under American law, this is what torture means.'"

Um, sorry Professor Yoo. Either you didn't want to find out "under American law...what torture means," or you just didn't do your job and go looking for the book that says what torture was under American law hard enough. It's easy enough to find - just go to, and look for the 1999 US report to the Committee Against Torture on America's work to implement the Convention Against Torture. The report's first section starts out with reference to the fact that "Within the federal government, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is the primary institution responsible for enforcing federal civil rights statutes... Examples of recent activity relevant to the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the Torture Convention include" 18 particular cases, all of which had to define whether or not acts used against detainees or prisoners within the United States were acts that in severity amounted to torture.

But that's only part one. Part two speaks more to how the US had worked specifically to implement Article 1 of the CAT, which explicity defines torture. A few examples of what actually constitutes torture are outlined:

The intentional infliction of "mental" pain and suffering is appropriately included in the definition of "torture" to reflect the increasing and deplorable use by States of various psychological forms of torture and ill-treatment such as mock executions, sensory deprivations, use of drugs, and confinement to mental hospitals.... in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from: (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.

The report goes on to note that "Perhaps the strongest and clearest protection against torture [in US law] is afforded by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits 'cruel and unusual punishments.'" It then goes on to refer to no fewer than 16 federal cases in which the definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" was evaluated by American courts.

The DOJ memo that superseded the memo authored by Yoo, in which he could not find the book that defined torture according to American law, explained that there are also quite a few cases under the Torture Victims Protection Act which defined what was and was not torture. Why exactly did it take two more years for the Justice Department to complete the kind of trailblazing legal research into TVPA jurisprudence that any second-year law student with a Westlaw password could probably wrap up in a few weeks time?

Like victims of waterboarding, Yoo's suggestion that it was hard to figure out what is and is not torture just doesn't hold water. Any simple review of the key materials that established America's commitment to the Convention Against Torture would show that there are plenty of acts that do not amount to organ failure that constitute torture. The only reason you can't find reference to the 1999 CAT Report in the Yoo memo is that it would have been inconvenient. They were trying to build the case for committing torture and inhumane acts, and their memo sought to create a legal defense for those who might commit these acts. Boalt Hall really should ask how much longer it benefits from having a war criminal on its faculty.

The Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

Doug Muir tells us that central Europe is dense with history. Incredibly dense:

Halfway down the Danube: Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach : "Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach" is rather ungainly, isn't it. But it's important to distinguish it from the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg, the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen, the Principality of Saxe-Gotha, and the tiny Principality of Saxe-Coburg[-Gotha]... that last, of course, being the ancestral home of the current British Royal Family. I couldn't make this stuff up. Anyway, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was by far the biggest and most important of all of these; it was not just a Duchy, but a Grand Duchy. It was nearly as big as Rhode Island, and by the mid-1800s it was home to around a quarter of a million people....

Where were we... oh, yes, Bavaria. The Dukes and Grand Dukes of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach tended to be plump, conservative, strongly Protestant, and Prussophile. The Kings of Bavaria tended to be skinny, liberal, Catholic, Francophile, and Prussophobe. (Excepting the ones who were barking, raving mad. Story for another time.)

One example. Back in the day, King Maximilian of Bavaria was Napoleon's most loyal ally. He stuck with the little Corsican for years, even through the disastrous Russian campaign. Didn't turn his coat until the eve of the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. And when he did, he sold his loyalty high: he demanded that Bavaria be treated as a full member of the anti-Napoleonic alliance, and not have to give up any territory or pay any indemnities. To countries like Britain and Austria, who'd been fighting Napoleon nonstop for a decade or more, this was pretty galling. They needed Bavaria to switch sides, so they agreed. But it left a rather bad taste.

This was far from the first time. The Bavarians had a long, long history of this kind of thing, going all the way back to the 15th century when they first grabbed Franconia for no better reason than that they wanted it, and could. So, the plump solid Protestant Dukes of Saxe-whatever had no reason to like or trust their sly, Catholic neighbors to the south.

Which brings us back to the slightly oversized architecture of Ostheim. Here we have a town of less than 3,000 people. In the 1600s, it was more like 1,000 people. But it already had a huge town hall -- big enough for a small city -- an enormous fortified church, and a castle sitting on a hill just a mile away, looking down over it all.

Why? Because this was the Dukes' way of saying to the Bavarians, "Don't even try it, creeps." The Ostheim enclave might be small, but it was heavily fortified, and it sat right on the best invasion route. It could even, in a pinch, appeal to Franconian separatism against the Bavarian crown. In a war, that big town hall could end up being a military headquarters for a surprisingly large region. It happened, more than once.

Ah. It Wasn't So Hard to Amend FISA in the Fall of 2001

The Bush administration's argument that it was not possible to amend FISA in the fall of 2001 looks... odd. Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

Think Progress: Reality Check: We Did Amend FISA After 9/11: Defenders of President Bush's secret spying program argue that it would have been impractical for the administration to seek amendments to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the weeks after 9/11.... "Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed?" The fact is the administration sought, and received, major amendments to FISA just weeks after 9/11 through the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, Section 218 of the PATRIOT Act loosened the requirements of FISA.... The Bush administration argued then, and continues to argues today, that this change was essential for national security. We now know it's all a ruse. Time spent in Congress debating Section 218 of the PATRIOT Act was a charade. President Bush ignores FISA completely when it suits his purposes.

Eating Fruit Is a Mentally Taxing Activity

You don't have to be particularly smart to hunt. You do have to be particularly smart to eat fruit. The Economist says that eating fruit is a mentally-taxing activity:

If this is a man | : Many primates, monkeys in particular, are fruit-eaters. Eating fruit is mentally taxing in two ways. The first is that fruiting trees are patchily distributed in both space and time (though in the tropics, where almost all monkeys live, there are always trees in fruit somewhere). An individual tree will provide a bonanza, but you have to find it at the right moment. Animals with a good memory for which trees are where, and when they last came into fruit, are likely to do better than those who rely on chance. Also, fruit (which are a rare example of something that actually wants to be eaten, so that the seeds inside will be scattered) signal to their consumers when they are ready to munch by changing colour. It is probably no coincidence, therefore, that primates have better colour vision than most other mammals. But that, too, is heavy on the brain. The size of the visual cortex in a monkey brain helps to explain why monkeys have larger brains than their weight seems to warrant.

The intelligence rocket's second stage was almost certainly a way of dealing with the groups that fruit-eating brought into existence. Because trees in the tropics come into fruit at random, an animal needs a lot of fruit trees in its range if it is to avoid starving. Such a large range is difficult for a lone animal to defend. On the other hand, a tree in fruit can feed a whole troop. For both these reasons, fruit-eating primates tend to live in groups.

But if you have to live in a group, you might as well make the most of it. That means avoiding conflict with your rivals and collaborating with your friends%u2014which, in turn, means keeping track of your fellow critters to know who is your enemy and who your ally. That, in turn, demands a lot of brain power.

One of the leading proponents of this sort of explanation for intelligent minds is Robin Dunbar, of Liverpool University in England. A few years ago, he showed that the size of a primate's brain, adjusted for the size of its body, is directly related to the size of group it lives in. (Subsequent work has shown that the same relationship holds true for other social mammals, such as wolves and their kin.) Humans, with the biggest brain/body ratio of all, tend to live in groups of about 150. That is the size of a clan of hunter-gathers. Although the members of such a clan meet only from time to time, since individual families forage separately, they all agree on who they are. Indeed, as Dr Dunbar and several other researchers have noticed, many organisations in the modern world, such as villages and infantry companies, are about this size.

Living in collaborative groups certainly brings advantages, and those may well offset the expense of growing and maintaining a large brain. But even more advantage can be gained if an animal can manipulate the behaviour of others, a phenomenon dubbed Machiavellian intelligence

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051227

If I had infinite hours in the day...

First, I hereby apologize to every left-winger whom I have spanked over the years for saying something like "you know the neoconservatives are really fascists." They really are fascists: Matthew Yglesias writes: "THE RULE OF LAW. Bill Kristol doesn't really care: 'Now, General Hayden is by all accounts a serious, experienced, nonpolitical military officer. You would think that a statement like this, by a man in his position, would at least slow down the glib assertions of politicians, op--ed writers, and journalists.... Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high--speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed? The questions answer themselves.' This is honestly just dumb. The story we're all talking about isn't a story about how, in September and October 2001, the president authorized some kind of illegal program on a temporary emergency basis before getting things sorted out. That would arguably be forgivable, depending on the details of the hypothetical. The story we're talking about is that today, on December 27, 2005, more than four years after 9/11, the president is still authorizing some sort of illegal, secret surveillance program. The administration has had ample time to make his case.... If the program is really so wonderful, there's every reason to assume Congress will approve it. If the White House really has no intention of abusing whatever it is they've implemented, then they have nothing to fear from the implementation of some oversight or safeguards..." Ezra Klein: "THAT'S...NOVEL. This argument, being rapidly replicated across the right but here coming from David Rivkin and Lee Casey, is very odd: 'Although the administration could have sought such warrants, it chose not to for good reasons. The procedures under the surveillance act are streamlined, but nevertheless involve a number of bureaucratic steps. Furthermore, the FISA court is not a rubber stamp and may well decline to issue warrants even when wartime necessity compels surveillance. More to the point, the surveillance act was designed for the intricate "spy versus spy" world of the cold war, where move and countermove could be counted in days and hours, rather than minutes and seconds. It was not drafted to deal with the collection of intelligence involving the enemy's military operations in wartime, when information must be put to immediate use.' Put another way, although the administration could've followed the law, it chose not to because the law is cumbersome and dusty. So, of course, is the Constitution (which was fully ratified in 1790, when they didn't even have e-mail!) and any number of largely uncontroversial statutes. The question here is whether the Bush administration is really prepared to brandish a theory of law that renders legislation optional when it requires procedural steps and was enacted 30 or more years prior..."

Next, I'd ask what the "Iraqi army" that we are training is going to do--besides fight itself: The Mighty Middle: "Peshmerga Don't Need No Stinkin' Training. Knight Ridder is the little engine that could on Iraq news. While the New York Times was getting it wrong on WMD, Knight-Ridder was getting it mostly right. But on this story, let's hope they're wrong: 'KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan. Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted. "It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion," said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk will be ours"...'"

And last, I would stand dumbstruck like a deer stuck in the headlights at the stupidity of Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell: The Sideshow December 2005 Archive: "Deborah Howell is deep in the right-wing, to the point that any minute I expect to see her writing things like 'Democrat Party'. This week's article could only have been written by someone who is completely in thrall to the right-wing machine. Observe: 'Ann Scott Tyson, a respected military reporter just back from Iraq, wrote in a front-page story Nov. 4 that "newly released Pentagon demographic data show that the military is leaning heavily for recruits on economically depressed rural areas where youths' need for jobs may outweigh the risks of going to war." The story said that more than 44 percent of military recruits come from rural areas, most from the South and West. "Many . . . are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income."' Now, you'd think this one fell into the category of 'not even news'... But in winger-land, this kind of analysis sets all the alarm bells ringing, apparently. [Howell:] 'In looking at the story, I talked to Curt Gilroy, who, as director of accession policy for the secretary of defense, has oversight of all active-duty recruiting; Tim Kane, a Heritage researcher; Betty Maxfield, demographer of the Army; Bruce Orvis, director of the Manpower and Training Program at the Rand Corp.'s Arroyo Center, and Robert Brandewei, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center in Monterey, Calif.' We have noted before that Ms. Howell thinks that right-wing "think tanks" that make up excuses are equivalent to mainstream think tanks (original usage) that do actual research - and that she regards the latter as "liberal".... Howell doesn't tell us, by the way, why she felt the need to research this particular story... the facts presented in the article are pretty uncontroversial..."

More High-Quality Thought From National Review's Electronic Archives

National Review on Martin Luther King, Jr., back in 1959. Did you know that in the pages of National Review Martin Luther King was a really lousy public speaker?

The soberly-dressed "clerky" little man... seemed oddly unsuited to his unmentioned but implicit role of propagandist.... Let me say at once, for the benefit of the wicked, fearful South, that Martin Luther King wil never rouse a rabble; in fact, I doubt very much if he could keep a rabble awake... past its bedtime... lecture... delivered with all the force and fervor of the five-year-old who nightly recites: "Our Father, Who art in New Haven, Harold be Thy name."...

The history of Negro freedom in the United States... according to Dr. King, is actually a history of Supreme Court decisions... in each of these decisions "the Supreme Court gave validity to the prevailing mores of the times." (That's how they decide, you see? They look up the prevailing mores--probably in the Sunday New York Times.)...

In the future, [according to King] the reactionary white south will try.... Nevertheless, victory is inevitable for the Good Guys.... The Negro must... expect suffering and sacrifice, which he must resist without sacrifice, for this kind of resistance will leqve the violent segregationist "glutted with his own barbarity. Forced to stand before the world and his God splattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of his Negro brother, he will call an end to his self-defeating massacre." (I don't think [King had] really examined that one, do you?)...

In the words of an editorial from next morning's Yale Daily News, "a bearded white listener rose, then a whole row, and then a standing ovation." Did you ever see a standing ovation rise? It's most interesting! Anyway, I rose and applauded heartily. I was applauding Dr. King for not saying "the trusth shall make you free," because actually it took the Supreme Court, in this case, didn't it?...

[A] discussion period for undergraduates followed the lecture.... Here was no trace of the sing-song "culluh'd preachuh" chant, the incongruously gaudy phrases.... Martin Luther King... relies almost entirely on force of one kind or another to accomplish integration.... [I]t seems curiously inconsistent to hear him, time after time, suggest power, or force--the force of labor, of legislation, of federal strength--as the solution....

Ben Friedman's, "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth"

My review of Ben Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth is up at Harvard Magazine

Growth is Good: An economist's take on the moral consequences of material progress; by J. Bradfold Delong

Economists have always been very good at detailing the material consequences of modern economic growth. It makes us taller: we are perhaps seven inches taller than our preindustrial ancestors. It makes us healthier: babies today have life expectancies in the seventies, not the twenties (and more than half that improvement is not directly related to better medical technology, narrowly defined). It provides us with leisure: eight-hour workdays (rather than “Man’s work is from sun to sun, and woman’s work is never done.”) It provides us with enough clothing that we are not cold, enough shelter that we are not wet, and enough food that we are not hungry. It provides us with amusements and diversions, so that there is more to do in the evenings than huddle around the village campfire and listen yet again to that blind poet from the other side of the Aegean tell the only long story he knows—the one about Achilles and Agamemnon. As time passes, what were luxuries become, first, conveniences, and then necessities; what were utopian dreams become first luxuries and then conveniences; and what was unimagined even in wild fantasy becomes first utopian dreams and then luxuries.

Economists have been less good at detailing the moral consequences of economic growth. There are occasional apothegms: John Maynard Keynes observed that it is better for a man to tyrannize over his bank balance than his fellows (a rich society has an upper class that focuses on its wealth as power-over-nature, rather than on its power as power-over-people). Adam Smith wrote about how wealth made it attractive for the British aristocracy to abandon their feudal armies and private wars and move to London to take up positions in society and at court. Voltaire (who not even I can claim was an economist) observed that people who in other circumstances would try to kill each other for worshipping the wrong god (or the right god in the wrong way) were perfectly polite and civil when they met each other as potential trading partners on the floor of the London Exchange. Albert Hirschman (who is an economist) wrote a brilliant little book, The Passions and the Interests, about the eighteenth-century idea that commercial society made humans “sweet”: polite, courteous, and civilized, viewing one another as potential partners in mutually beneficial market exchanges, rather than as clan members to be helped, clan enemies to be killed, or strangers to be robbed. But focus on the moral consequences of economic growth has—from the economists’ side, at least—been rare.

Benjamin M. Friedman ’66, Jf ’71, Ph.D. ’71, Maier professor of political economy, now fills in this gap: he makes a powerful argument that—politically and sociologically—modern society is a bicycle, with economic growth being the forward momentum that keeps the wheels spinning. As long as the wheels of a bicycle are spinning rapidly, it is a very stable vehicle indeed. But, he argues, when the wheels stop—even as the result of economic stagnation, rather than a downturn or a depression—political democracy, individual liberty, and social tolerance are then greatly at risk even in countries where the absolute level of material prosperity remains high....

Continue reading "Ben Friedman's, "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth"" »

Ah. FISA Is Not Quite a Rubber Stamp

Ah. The FISA court is not quite a rubber stamp:

United Press International - NewsTrack - Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them : U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate. A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation. But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court's history.

But this has me even more worried: FISA rejected the communications interceptions and they went and did them anyway?

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

Andrei Illarionov Resigns from Russia's Government

Congratulations to Andrei Illarionov, a good man, for speaking truth to power within the Kremlin for so long: / World / Europe - Putin adviser quits, saying Russia "no longer free" : by Neil Buckley in Moscow December 27 2005 17:04: Andrei Illarionov, President Vladimir Putin's chief economic adviser but also an acerbic critic of the Kremlin's grab for economic power, offered his resignation on Tuesday, saying Russia was "no longer free." Mr Illarionov famously described Russia's partial renationalisation of the Yukos oil company 12 months ago as the "scam of the year"; days later he was stripped by Mr Putin of his role as Russia's "sherpa", or representative, to the Group of Eight industrialised nations.Still, he survived in his post as economic adviser another year despite evermore blunt outbursts, prompting some analysts to consider him him a "court jester" kept on to promote the appearance of plurality and tolerance within the Kremlin.The resignation of one of the most prominent champions of liberal economic reform occurred days before Russia takes over the presidency of the G8 amid scrutiny of its record on democracy and freedom of speech. It came as Russia's upper house on Tuesday approved controversial controls on charities and human rights groups....

Mr Illarionov added he had considered it important to remain in his job "as long as I had the opportunity to do at least something including speaking out", implying he no longer had that freedom.His announcement came a week after a press conference in which he said Russia was moving to a "corporatist" model, dominated by state-controlled companies chaired by government representatives which did not always function according to economic criteria.... "In six years, the situation in the Russian economy has changed radically," Mr Illarionov said. "There is no longer any possibility of conducting a policy of economic freedom."

The Republican Leadership Says:Let's Make More Americans Really Poor!

The Republican Leadership says: "Let's make more Americans deeply poor!":

Conference Agreement Imposes Expensive New TANF Requirements On States And Will Result In Loss Of Child Care For Working Poor, Rev 12/19/05 : The conference agreement on the spending reconciliation bill (S. 1932) includes a major restructuring of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work participation requirements, imposing expensive and unfunded new requirements on states and severely limiting the flexibility they were afforded under the 1996 law that created the TANF block grant. While some have suggested that the TANF changes represent only minor changes from current law, that is incorrect. In fact, a new Congressional Budget Office analysis shows that the work requirements would be even more expensive for states to meet than those included in the controversial House-passed bill.

States would have to meet much higher work participation rates in 2007 — starting just ten months from now — or else face fiscal penalties. The participation rate measures the percentage of TANF recipients enrolled in federally-prescribed work activities for a federally-prescribed number of hours. The new requirements would be effective in FY 2007.... The number of children in deep poverty is likely to rise, as CBO expects states to try to cope with the federal mandates by increasing the number of families that are sanctioned off the program and by imposing new barriers to poor families seeking assistance.... The number of children living below one-half of the poverty line increased by nearly 1.5 million between 2000 and 2004.... There already is significant research showing that families sanctioned off TANF programs are disproportionately those with the most severe barriers to employment....

Some states already have instituted policies and procedures that have resulted in a sharp decline in the proportion of eligible poor families that actually receive aid through TANF. In the mid-1990s, about 80 percent of families with children who were poor enough to qualify for cash assistance through the former AFDC program received aid through that program. Data from HHS shows that in 2002, fewer than half of families poor enough to meet the TANF eligibility requirements in their states received income assistance through TANF.[3] This marked drop in participation is one of the reasons that the number and percentage of children and families who live in deep poverty has risen significantly in recent years. The expensive and unfunded work requirements in the conference agreement provide states with a strong incentive to restrict access to assistance which could exacerbate this already disturbing trend....

The conference agreement sharply restricts states’ flexibility to set policies in state-funded programs, undoing a basic tenet of the 1996 welfare law.... The conference report imposes unrealistic work requirements on two-parent families. Under current law, states are required to meet a 90 percent work participation rate for two-parent families. Researchers and state officials have long recognized that such a participation requirement is not attainable because of the many legitimate reasons that parents may be unable to fulfill the full participation requirements each month. If a parent is ill, is needed to care for an ill child, or is simply waiting for a work program to begin, the parent will fail to meet the hourly requirements and the state will not be able to “count” them toward the work participation rates. Recognizing that the federal law was wholly unworkable, states placed many two-parent families into separate state programs to ensure that if they failed to meet the 90 percent standard, the state did not face fiscal penalties.... Under the conference agreement, the 90 percent work participation rate... requirement means that any state that provides assistance to two-parent families will almost certainly fail to meet the work participation requirements and will face fiscal penalties. This could serve as a strong disincentive to states to provide aid to two-parent families and, ironically, take many states back to the old AFDC days when only single-parent families could get assistance...

Veni Emmanuel

Veni, Emmanuel:

O Come O Come Emmanuel:

O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In Ancient times once gave the law
In cloud, and majesty and awe.


Oh, come, strong branch of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satans tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.


Oh, come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home:
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery.

O Come Thou Dayspring, from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.


O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.


O come desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace.


How Fast Can India Grow?

The New Economist notes that India's higher education system has enormous problems:

New Economist: Indian higher education in disarray : Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee warns that substandard higher education may thwart India's call-center dream:

To maintain its global share of 65 percent in information technology and 46 percent in business-process outsourcing, the country will need 2.3 million professionals by 2010. According to McKinsey's calculations, India may face a deficit of as many as 500,000 workers. As much as 70 percent of the shortage will crop up in call centers and other back-office businesses, where proficiency in English is the No. 1 prerequisite for landing a job.

People within the Indian outsourcing industry are aware of the problem: A number of executives cite high employee attrition and galloping wages as signs that the labor market for undergraduates in India is getting tighter.

It isn't obvious why that should be so. In a country where millions of educated young people are unemployed, why do call centers feel compelled to give pay raises of 10 percent to 15 percent a year? Why don't they boot out the highly paid workers and grab the eager aspirants? And why do they offer their employees free dance lessons on top of a $4,000 annual wage -- worth $36,000 when adjusted for purchasing power in the local currency -- when they can't pass on the increase in costs to the U.S. bank or the European insurance company that is paying for the call centers' services? The answers may have a lot to do with India's education system... only about "10-15 percent of general college graduates are suitable for employment" in the outsourcing industry.... About 8 million students in India begin their undergraduate studies each year.... Mukherjee... discusses the well known problems of affilated colleges:

The globally renowned Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management are islands of excellence; they produce India's technological and managerial elite. The foot soldiers of India's knowledge economy are produced in lesser institutions, the so-called affiliated colleges.... A typical Indian university has scores of -- sometimes several hundred -- related colleges. The university administers examinations and distributes degrees. Other than that, "the entire higher education in India takes place only in the ill-equipped, understaffed, affiliated colleges" that produce 89 percent of India's undergraduates, Kulandaiswamy wrote in May in India's Hindu newspaper. Large, single-campus universities that have economies of scale must replace the affiliated colleges, most of which don't even have decent libraries.... [A]ll university students in India should be able to pick up the minimum English language skills required for call-center employment. That doesn't happen now.

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051226

If I had infinite hours in the day: Firedoglake watches Howard Kurtz call Bob Barr a "liberal": "Howard Kurtz: 'Some liberals, meanwhile, attacked the paper for holding the story for more than a year after earlier meetings with administration officials. (snip) Some liberals criticized The Post for withholding the location of the prisons at the administration's request.' And in one fell swoop the whole matter of illegal wiretaps is now reduced to a partisan squabble instead of a justifiable concern about government overreach, invasion of privacy and complete disregard for the Constitution. Someone should hip Bob Barr to the fact that he is now a Fellow Traveler: 'What's wrong with it is several-fold. One, it's bad policy for our government to be spying on American citizens through the National Security Agency. Secondly, it's bad to be spying on Americans without court oversight. And thirdly, it's bad to be spying on Americans apparently in violation of federal laws against doing it without court order.'... Meanwhile in between recipes for the perfect Molotov cocktail and love poems to Kim Jong-il that librul rag Barrons says that Bush's willful disregard for the law 'is potentially an impeachable offense'. Someone check Richard Morin for sharp objects..." Archbishop Raymond Burke attempts to gain "control of the parish's $9.5 million in assets. The parish's property and finances have been managed by a lay board of directors for more than a century. Archbishop Burke has sought to make the parish conform to the same legal structure as other parishes in the diocese" by removing "both the parish's priests in 2004." Now Archbishop Burke has excommunicated the parish's Board of Directors as well as "Father Bozek, a Pole who came to the United States five years ago, said he agonized about leaving his previous parish but wanted to help a church that had been deprived of the sacraments for 17 months," and declared that going to church as St. Stanislaus Kostka "would be a mortal sin." But "1,500 people attended Christmas Eve Mass.... Catholics and others from as far as Oregon and Washington, D.C., filled the church. An overflow crowd viewed the Mass by closed-circuit television in an adjoining parish center. 'I'm not worried about mortal sin,' said Matt Morrison, 50, a worshiper. 'I'll take a stand for what I believe is right'." One has to wonder whether Archbishop Burke is an atheist: it is, after all, the only religion that could possibly be any comfort to him. Orin Kerr: "Was the secret NSA surveillance program legal? Was it constitutional? Did it violate federal statutory law? It turns out these are hard questions, but I wanted to try my best to answer them. My answer is pretty tentative, but here it goes: Although it hinges somewhat on technical details we don't know, it seems that the program was probably constitutional but probably violated the federal law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. My answer is extra-cautious for two reasons. First, there is some wiggle room in FISA, depending on technical details we don't know of how the surveillance was done. Second, there is at least a colorable argument -- if, I think in the end, an unpersuasive one -- that the surveillance was authorized by the Authorization to Use Miltary Force as construed in the Hamdi opinion." Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense & Education Fund: Ex Parte Mulligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall) 2, 120 (1866): "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government." "WHERE DOES DISINFORMATION COME FROM: Where does disinformation come from? Consider Bart Gellman's short report atop page 12 in this morning's Post. Here's the headline... 'Carter, Clinton Authorized Spying, RNC Says.'... Gellman knew how bogus that claim really is. But you had to read all [of Gellman]... 'The RNC's quotation of Clinton's order left out the stated requirement, in the same sentence, that a warrantless search not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." Carter's order, also in the same sentence quoted, said warrantless eavesdropping could not include "any communication to which a United States person is a party."'... Carter and Clinton didn't 'authorize spying' on U.S. citizens.... Why did Gellman write this report as he did? Why did the Post put this headline atop it? We don't know, but we do know this: Cheers rang out at the RNC when they saw their bunk at the top of page 12, with readers required to read very carefully to discern that the claim is pure hokum." "Thanks to my readers Movie Guy, Joe Rotger, and Spencer (as well as Dave Altig in personal email communication) for helping to clarify a misunderstanding I may have helped promote with my post earlier this week on wages and total compensation. The two BLS series I plotted there, average hourly earnings and total compensation, are not strictly comparable, because they apply in part to different groups of people. Average hourly earnings only refers to production workers, construction workers, and nonsupervisory workers, whereas the BLS compensation series includes all wage and salary workers as well as a compensation imputation to proprietors. Thus the divergent trends between falling wages and rising compensation in part reflects the phenomenon I referred to (an increased share of compensation going to nonwage income), and in part reflects the growing wage gap between nonsupervisory workers on the one hand and supervisors or proprietors on the other. The answer to the question I posed-- should we worry about the declining trend in real wages-- should I think be a stronger "yes" than I originally suggested." Moulitsas Zuniga lays down ten requirements for places he would like to live. And Glenn Reynolds and Steve Bartin make their play for the Stupidest Men AliveTM crown by recommending... Houston, which flunks five of the ten. Steve Clemons writes: "Powell was apparently the guy in the room who mattered when he was there because he would usually bring up the part of the picture that others had conveniently neglected as they tried to sell their plans to the President. The problem was that Powell had to be in the room.... Rice... today... looks like a Colin Powell cautious incrementalist -- doing what she can here and there, nearly in an ad hoc fashion to promote global stability, encourage and nudge forward self-determination, and doing deals with some of the world's real bad guys -- particularly in North Korea and Syria.... But she... has the 'latitude' to do what she is doing both because she has a personal relationship with the President... and because she does not have a Condi Rice at the National Security Council shutting her down. Rice's biggest failure as NSC Advisor to the President is that she got swept up in the strong Cheney-Rumsfeld current following 9/11 and tilted the President and the national security decision-making process away from judicious analysis and consideration of all options and all consequences. Rice deferred to "the cabal" and made Bush's decision making easier and less complex than it should have been because she filtered out much of what should have been before the President. In the past, Rice shut down Powell and his team..." In other words, there are two kinds of National Security Advisers: those who make sure the president hears what he needs to hear, and those who make sure the president doesn't hear what he doesn't want to hear. Condi Rice was the second. On Mel Torme: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas... Matt Taibbi writes: 'I actually worried that gopher-faced administration spokescreature Scott McClellan might be physically attacked by reporters, who appeared ready to give official notice of having had Enough....In fact the room at one point seemed on the verge of a Blazing Saddles-style chair-throwing brawl when McClellan refused to answer the cheeky question of why, if we weren't planning on torturing war-on-terror detainees in foreign prisons, we couldn't just bring them back to be incarcerated in the United States.... The room broke out into hoots and howls; even the usually dignified Bill Plante of CBS started openly calling McClellan out. "The question you're currently evading is not about an intelligence matter," he hissed. I looked around. "Man," I thought. "This place sure looks better on television." On TV, the whole package -- the deep-blue curtains, the solemn great seal -- suggests majesty, power, drama. For years I'd dreamed of coming here, the Graceland of politics. But in real life the White House briefing room is a grimy little closet that's peeling and cracking in every corner and looks like it hasn't seen a bottle of Windex in ten years. The first chair in the fifth row is broken; the fold-up seat doesn't fold up and in fact dangles on its hinge, so that you'd slide off if you tried to sit on it. No science exists that could determine the original color of these hideous carpets. Reporters throw their coats and coffee cups wherever; the place is a fucking sty. It's a raggedy-ass old stage, and the act that plays on it isn't getting any fresher, either. All partisan sniping aside, this latest counteroffensive from the White House says just about everything you need to know about George Bush and the men who work for him...' The Washington Monthly: "The opinion was written by conservative darling Michael Luttig, who until today was considered a possible contender for a spot on the Supreme Court. Now, probably not. In fact, he's probably not even a conservative darling anymore. It's worth reading Luttig's whole opinion. It's not very long and it pretty clearly indicates that Luttig and his colleagues were seriously pissed. They want to know why the government claimed it was absolutely essential to national security that Padilla be detained indefinitely, and then suddenly changed their minds without so much as an explanation. They want to know why this change of heart came only two business days before Padilla's appeal was scheduled to be filed with the Supreme Court. And that's not all. They also want to know why the government provided them with a completely different set of facts than they provided to the civilian court in Miami. They want to know why the government provided more information about the case to the media than they did to the court. And finally, they want to know why the government did all these things even though they must have known that these actions rather obviously undermined their own public arguments about the importance of the war on terror..." The Reality-Based Community: "I wonder how long the Bush boosters will continue to peddle the fairytale that the Iraqi elections were a success? The folks nearer the action don't seem to think so. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is trying to put a good face on the Iraqi election results, but he doesn't seem to be willing to just make stuff up. He's pointing with pride to the process... but he's not happy about the outcome: 'It looks like people preferred to vote for their ethnic or sectarian identity. But for Iraq to succeed, there has to be cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic cooperation. At this point, it seems sectarian and ethnic identity has played a dominant role in the vote.' The really bad sign is that the losers aren't taking the results at all cheerfully.... [The] language is not the language of a politician in a country where democracy is likely to work..."

Fafblog: Special "Whoville Changed Everything" Edition

Once again, only Fafblog can deal with America's right-wing wingnuts on the appropriate level:

Fafblog! War on Chistmas Edition: "I hear they got Rudolph today," says me.

"No!" says Giblets. "Not Rudolph! With his unmatched dogfighting skills and his nose so bright he was invincible!"

"It's true," says me. "Zombie Judah Maccabee shot im down over the Island of Misfit Toys with his dreidel of doom."

"Damn you Hannukah!" says Giblets. "Will your eight days of madness never end!"

"Do you think Santa really has a secret plan to take the Kwanzaan capital an win the war?" says me.

"Of course he does!" says Giblets. "And once Christmas spreads to Kwanzaa it will inspire Hannukhan dissidents to rise up and overthrow their oppressive anti-Christmanian leadership, and from there Christmas will spread to Eid and New Years and Halloween and Arbor Day until every day is Christmas!"

"Work will become obsolete in the new Christmas-based economy," says me. "All resources will be directly mined from wells of infinite jollity."

"Secularists do not believe in jollity," says Giblets. "They believe in a series of random chemical processes which over millions of years have created the appearance of jollity."

"Secularists don't decorate Christmas trees," says me. "They decorate Secularmas trees, which are big holes dug in the ground to demonstrate the absence of trees."

"On Secularmas, they do not exchange presents," says Giblets. "They exchange identical cardboard boxes filled with rocks and mold and broken childhood dreams and nothing!"

"But even so," says me, "maybe we can make peace with the secularists by comin to understand their strange but unique culture."

"Never!" says Giblets. "That would only embolden them to steal Christmas again! Whoville changed everything!"

"There was never a convincing link between Hannukah and the Grinch, Giblets," says me.

"Well Giblets can't let them win now!" says Giblets. "Not after what they did to Frosty!"

"Giblets, you can't keep blamin yourself for Frosty," says me. "There were menorahs fallin everywhere. You hadda save yourself."

"Giblets should have gone back for him!" says Giblets. "And by the time we did all that was left was an old top hat and a button nose!"

"Giblets, you gotta let Frosty go," says me.

"Tell that to the eyes of coal that haunt Giblets every night!" says Giblets. It's quiet in the trenches tonight. We can hear Suzy Snowflake playin a harmonica down along the wire."Some day this war's gonna end," says Giblets.

"Maybe on Boxing Day," says me.

Yes, Virginia, There Is a New Economy

Daniel Gross writes:

What Makes a Nation More Productive? It's Not Just Technology - New York Times : Today, as bubble-era books like "Dow 36,000" collect dust on library shelves, evidence is mounting that there may be a new economy after all. In the late 1990's, growth in labor productivity - the amount of output per hour per worker - kicked into a higher gear. From 1996 through 1999, it grew at a blistering annual rate of 2.5 percent, compared with 1.4 percent from 1972 to 1995.... As the technology investment boom of the 1990's gave way to bust in 2000, many analysts feared that the productivity gains would dissipate. Instead, productivity since 2000 has grown at a substantially higher pace than it did in the late 1990's.... "The I.T.-producing industry itself, with its extraordinarily rapid pace of change, certainly has contributed to overall productivity growth," said Martin Baily, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, based in Washington. "But now we're getting a bigger share from the rest of the economy."... In the late 1990's, McKinsey found that six of the economy's 59 sectors accounted for virtually all productivity growth... new-economy industries like telecommunications, computer manufacturing and semiconductors. But from 2000 to 2003, the top seven sectors accounted for only 75 percent of the productivity increase. And five of the top contributors were service industries, including retail trade, wholesale trade and financial services.... To be sure, service industries have become more productive in recent years by continuing to invest in information technology. Yet there are also other factors at work. "I.T. is a particularly effective enabling tool," Ms. Farrell said. "But without the competitive intensity that drives people to adopt innovation, we wouldn't see these kinds of gains."

To compete with Wal-Mart, for example, retailers of all stripes have been working furiously to gain scale, to manage supply chains and logistics more effectively, and to negotiate better terms with suppliers and workers. A similar dynamic has played out in the finance sector, where there has also been a huge gain in productivity.... One mystery of recent years has been the enduring gap in productivity growth between the United States and Europe. In this case, another structural force - regulation - may be at work. "In economies with less regulation, companies can use information communications technology that link sectors to one another in ways that create joint productivity," said Gail Fosler, executive vice president and chief economist at the Conference Board. Because domestic retailers don't face the same sorts of restrictions on working hours and road use that European retailers do, for example, the Americans have been better able to use technology to manage trucking fleets, deliveries and inventory...

A Word from the National Security Agency

A word from the National Security Agency:

Responsible Citizen: Americans expect NSA to conduct its missions within the law. But given the inherently secret nature of those missions, how can Americans be sure that the Agency does not invade their privacy? The 4th Amendment of the Constitution demands it... oversight committees within all three branches of the U.S. government ensure it... and NSA employees, as U.S. citizens, have a vested interest in upholding it. Respecting the law is only a part of gaining Americans' trust. The American people need to know, within the bounds of operational security, what NSA does and why they do it, and how they work within the Intelligence community and the Department of Defense to protect the Nation's freedom...

Thou Hast Conquered, Galilean! Or Maybe Not.

Thou has conquered, Galilean! Or maybe not. Ross Douthat wants to re-Christianize America's public life: - Daily Dish: [S]erious Christians who worry about the naked public square don't rejoice when a Ten Commandments display... passes muster as "ceremonial deism."... [W]hen Christians cede control of their symbols to the mass culture, it's only a short jog to ceding control of Christianity itself to what you might call the American heresy - the gospel of success.... This could be an argument for withdrawal and quietism - for Christians to abandon the public square entirely, and focus on cultivating an orthodox subculture in a more materialist sea. But that's the counsel of despair. If the mass culture is really so bad for Christianity, maybe Christians ought to be doing more to change it, instead of letting it change them - which is what that whole "salt of the earth" thing was supposed to be about, I think. Changing the culture is hard to do, of course - a lot harder than winning Pledge of Allegiance battles, or even elections. But people (right or left, but the left has understood this better for some time) who think that culture wars are mainly about politics are kidding themselves...

In this endeavor, however, he has a big problem. His eager foot soldiers in the re-Christianization campaign turn out to be people like... well, like... Thomas Sowell who, to put it as politely as I can, certainly doesn't seem to know the True Meaning of Christmas:

Thomas Sowell: It was just a small thing but I was taken aback when I received a memo saying that the offices at work would be shut down during "winter closure." Then it dawned on me that "winter closure" was what we used to call "Christmas vacation."... The idea is that any mention of Christmas might offend people who are not Christians —- and that this should be avoided at all costs.... Christmas is now one of many things that make us walk on eggshells during this supposedly liberated era. Are we all wimps? Over the years, we have gotten used to the American Civil Liberties Union launching legalistic jihads against recognitions of Christmas, in between coming to the rescue of murderers and terrorists....

Note, first, that the "offices at work" to which Sowell refers to are the offices of Stanford's Hoover Institution for War, Revolution, and Peace, famed right-wing think tank--I recall one Stanford mainline economics professor saying, "Well, if he's a right wing nut I could get him a job at the Hoover Institution." If even the bosses of the Hoover Institution don't think it's worth pandering to Sowell's sensitivities...

Note, second, that when Thomas Sowell thinks of Christmas, his mind jumps to the ideas that (i) it is important not to be a wimp and (ii) it is important to HATE the ACLU, which is always "coming to the rescue of murderers and terrorists." This is not attractive. This is not even Christian--or should not be Christian. This is not even sane: one has to pray that someone will adjust Sowell's meds so that he can find a measure of peace.

Ross would not like what he would see if he accomplished his task. Not at all. As long as Thomas Sowell and company are his Christian soldiers in the public sphere, nobody sane can much care for it. As Ross knows very well: he shudders at the prospect of "more Christians making the case against same-sex marriage, or pushing all their chips into the battle over courthouse displays in Alabama."

Vastly preferable to a re-Christianization of the American public sphere spearheaded by the likes of Thomas Sowell is the further spread of the ethics of, say, Hollywood, as expressed in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to each other! Party on, dudes!" Those are sentiments Jesus would have a much easier time getting behind than those of our troubled Brother Thomas (see Mark 2:19, Luke 6:27).

So here is a story that we tell in order to make us less likely to behave like Thomas Sowell, and more likely to behave like Bill and Ted:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes and dudettes. Merry Christmas, everyone.

That Was Scary!

So I innocently clicked on a link and found myself reading Donald Luskin. That hasn't happened before. Memo to self: be sure to check the "status" bar before you click.

It was a near-run thing. After reading a paragraph and a half, the Stupidity Rays emanating from the LCD screen had nearly paralyzed me. I was barely able to press the "back" button before unconsciousness overtook me...

Here's what I found: a defense of the corrupt Peter Ferrara and Doug Bandow:

Donald Luskin: Peter Ferrara and Doug Bandow for taking money from indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, allegedly in exchange for writing op-ed columns favorable to Abramoff's clients. Yes, the immediate intuition is that these men's ethics were compromised here. But, really, this is a little issue. Where's the beef? Everyone -- think-tankers, op-ed writers, etc. -- gets paid by someone. And those who pay, naturally, choose to pay scholars and journalists who tend to already agree with them. It seems unlikely, then, that Ferrara or Bandow would have written anything different whether or not Abramoff paid them.

Luskin genuinely does not seem to understand -- I am not kidding, he genuinely does not seem to understand -- that the big issue is Ferrara's and Bandow's hiding who was paying them. If Ferrara and Bandow (and the others) had written, at the bottom of the op-eds they sent to newspapers, "this op-ed was commissioned and paid for by Abramoff Associates as part of its paid lobbying effort for client X," there would be no problem here--and Bandow wouldn't have been fired from Cato, and Ferrara's Institute for Policy Innovation might have a reputation that was not flushed down the toilet.

Luskin does not seem to understand -- I am not kidding, he genuinely does not seem to understand -- that Abramoff pays for results. If Ferraro and Bandow would have written the same things without Abramoff paying them, he wouldn't have paid them.

And Luskin does not seem to understand -- I am not kidding, he genuinely does not seem to understand -- how things work over here in the reality-based community. Here in the U.C. Berkeley Economics Department we've looked at fifty files for the assistant professors we're going to be hiring over the next couple of months. The one question we never ask is "Does he or she agree with us?" The two questions we always ask are "How interesting is the topic?" and "How good is the work?" We want people who will help us teach and will help teach us--whether they are students of Joseph Stiglitz or Martin Feldstein or Larry Katz or James Heckman. I know I'm proud to have played a (alas, very small) part in the education of Randy Kroszner and Robin Hanson, both far to my right. I know that Hal Varian is proud to have played a part in the education of Dean Baker, far to his left. The key for us is something it never occurs to Luskin we might care about: the quality of the work, not the allegiance to a particular group of politicians--for, as Max Sawicky wrote yesterday, "If you don't think the Democratic Party doesn't have the same potential for lyin, cheatin, and stealin [as the current Republican Leadership], you are gravely misinformed. The only constraint on the abuse of power -- besides an opposition lurking in the wings -- is an engaged, informed public..."

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (WPNI Edition)

People like Washington Post national political editor John Harris get really upset when you tell them that although their reporters--some of their reporters--have credibility, the Washington Post operation as a whole has none. Here's an example not from the print but the web side of the operation:

Eleanor Clift writes a story called "The Biggest Political Lies of 2005" and the liars are... "the White House declaration that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had nothing to do with leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent... the White House... “everybody saw the same intelligence we did”... Bush .. “We do not torture”... Cheney... “the insurgency is in its last throes”... The revelation that President Bush authorized spying on American citizens without warrants... Bush says he bypassed the law because of the need for speed...the facts say otherwise... Bush’s explanation is riddled with lies... Alito wants us to believe he was a callow young thirtysomething who advocated far-right positions to curry favor for a job. The White House is telling senators that Alito didn’t mean all those things he wrote about disregarding privacy rights and overturning Roe v. Wade—another big lie. No wonder this year’s list was so easy to put together..."

What headline does WPNI put on the story? "Who told the worst political untruth of 2005? It's a shame the list of contenders is so long." What is Clift's list of contenders: Bush, Cheney, and Alito. That's not a long list at all. "But maybe," some editor or headline writer at WPNI thought, "we can get all the people who simply scan the headlines to think that Eleanor Clift is saying something very different from what she actually says."

Continue reading "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (WPNI Edition)" »

Diffusion and Technology-Education Complementarity

Mark Thoma tells us that we should go read the San Francisco Fed's Mark Doms:

Economist's View: Technological Diffusion : The San Francisco Fed's Mark Doms discusses his work with Ethan Lewis on the adoption of technology, in this case the use of personal computers. An interesting result is that higher average educational attainment for a region results in more intensive adoption of personal computers and faster growth in wages:

The Diffusion of Personal Computers across the U.S., FRBSF Economic Letter.... Doms and Lewis examine how the personal computer diffused throughout the U.S. economy from 1990 to 2002. Using a data set that reports technology use for hundreds of thousands of business establishments, the authors document the extent to which the intensity of use of personal computers (as measured by personal computers per 100 employees) varied across 160 metropolitan areas around the country....

The study found that in 1990, the San Francisco Bay Area was the most computer-intensive area in the country. Because the Bay Area is also home to many IT producers, this finding raises the question of whether one area may be more computer-intensive than another primarily because of the industries located in that area. For instance, the finance and high-tech industries are the most IT-intensive, regardless of location. Therefore, if an area has a large financial industry (like New York) or a high-tech center (like the Bay Area...), then that area might also be more computer-intensive than an area such as Hickory, N.C., where a larger share of the economy is based on furniture manufacturing (an industry that is not very IT-intensive).

The authors calculate computer-intensity measures that account for industry composition and still find very large and persistent differences across metropolitan areas in their computer usage in 1990 and again in 2002. Among others, the San Francisco Bay Area ranks very high, even after controlling for the industries located there.... The results... raise the question of why San Francisco might be out in front of most regions while others are so far behind. ...[T]wo factors ... appear to be particularly important: the human capital of an area (as measured by education) and the degree to which the area is an IT center and therefore generates spillovers to other industries in the area.... Doms and Lewis address the question of causation: Does computer adoption affect the education level of the workforce or does the education level of the workforce affect computer adoption? Using several approaches, Doms and Lewis find strong evidence that the education level of the workforce results in higher rates of computer adoption... cities with a higher share of the workforce that has completed 16 years or more of education... in 1990 are also cities that had high rates of computer adoption by 2002.

Another reason for differences between metropolitan areas... is that some benefit from the presence of a strong IT-producing sector... "spillover effects."... [T]he importance of these spillovers seems to be much less important in explaining cross-area differences in computer adoption than the overall level of education.... [A]reas that successfully adopt technologies tend to have superior economic performance. Consistent with this, Doms and Lewis find that areas that were computer-intensive in 1990 were also areas that enjoyed faster real wage growth for college-educated workers, and, to a lesser degree, for workers with less than a college education...

MaxSpeak and Atrios on the Place of Substantive Policy Analysis

Max Sawicky and Duncan Black on the place of substantive policy analysis:

Max Sawicky writes:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: WONK THIS WAY: Some people are saying that in an adverse political environment, research or policy are not very important.... [M]aybe I can still convince you this is a mistaken belief.... People don't like unnecessary wars and Congressional corruption, but they aren't crazy about moving to an ample, generous welfare state either. There is no mass outrage over our unsustainable fiscal policy, or the ginormous trade deficits. Concern for poverty in the wake of Katrina has vanished faster than a sunshower. The Bushists may lie like the dickens, but at bottom in many cases their messages are founded on certain commonsensical notions. And not infrequently, Democratic politicians talk absolute rubbish. The Repubs' messages are highly debatable, and from my standpoint invariably wrong, to be sure, but they are not hollow.

For some to discount facts is understandable since they often fail to appreciate how difficult it is to ascertain and document important facts. They dismiss policy analysis and research because they don't do it, don't know how to do it, and don't understand what role it plays in the political process. I know you are begging for some examples, if you are still reading. What was the most important social policy fight this year? It was Social Security. The Bush initiative did not fail because people ran around screaming that investing in stocks is risky. Of course any fool knows that investing is risky, and any fool with enough money is going to invest. I do. So why did privatization go down?

I think in this case the most credit goes to Peter Orszag of Brookings, Jason Furman, currently at New York University, and Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Orszag's work had an impact on AARP, and AARP's voice is significant. Furman did yeoman work as well. Dean had already written a book that anticipated the entire debate. EPI did a raft of papers that I think had an impact on our main audience -- journalists and Hill staff. The fruits of all this sort of work made their way into blogs and mass media, but there were informed sources. It wasn't some tricky advertising guru or dude in pajamas.... When good research gets into Congressional offices, it has an impact, even if you never hear about it. A knowledgeable staffer can look at something he or she disagrees with and still appreciate that it can present a political problem if it circulates....

[T]o give the public something substantive that it can take to heart is the basis for progressive transformation of society.... Otherwise we're looking a rotating bands of miscreants, alternatively taking office, raiding the till, and getting thrown out by the next cohort of miscreants-to-be. If you don't think the Democratic Party doesn't have the same potential for lyin, cheatin, and stealin, you are gravely misinformed. The only constraint on the abuse of power -- besides an opposition lurking in the wings -- is an engaged, informed public. Being angry and stupid isn't good enough...

And DuncanBlack chimes in:

Just to add to the earlier discussion, it wasn't all that long ago that Left Blogistan was dominated by boring boring repetitive wonky wonkery of the most wonkish kind - during the Social Security Bamboozlepalooza tour. The president was lying, the Trustees' various reports were based on contradictory internal assumptions, and journamalists didn't know what the hell was going. We came, we wonk'd, and we kicked some ass.

...adding, I wrote this before reading Max's post but he is of course absolutely right. It was something I left out of the earlier post but shouldn't have. While I don't see wonkery as an especially important part of the day to day public discourse - by pundits, bloggers, columnists, and even politicians - that doesn't mean that the Wonks in Exile shouldn't be toiling away in their wonky dungeons doing the FSM's work. Research should be done, policy proposals written, etc... I just don't think that, in general, such things are an especially important feature of our public debate at the moment. There are exceptions and having the wonky tools in place when they arise is crucial. But even the social security debate was basically a defensive one. Such wonkery is necessary when those moments arise, but there's little point in having public debates about detailed policies which can't possibly pass, etc...

The Intellectual Bankruptcy of the Republican Leadership

Another good Paul Krugman column:

The Tax-Cut Zombies - New York Times : Since the 1970's, conservatives have used two theories to justify cutting taxes. One theory, supply-side economics, has always been hokum for the yokels. Conservative insiders adopted the supply-siders as mascots because they were useful to the cause, but never took them seriously.

The insiders' theory - what we might call the true tax-cut theory - was memorably described by David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director, as "starving the beast." Proponents of this theory argue that conservatives should seek tax cuts not because they won't create budget deficits, but because they will. Starve-the-beasters believe that budget deficits will lead to spending cuts that will eventually achieve their true aim: shrinking the government's role back to what it was under Calvin Coolidge.

True to form, the insiders aren't buying the supply-siders' claim that a partial recovery in federal tax receipts from their plunge between 2000 and 2003 shows that all's well on the fiscal front. (Revenue remains lower, and the federal budget deeper in deficit, than anyone expected a few years ago.) Instead, conservative heavyweights are using the budget deficit to call for cuts in key government programs. For example, in 2001 Alan Greenspan urged Congress to cut taxes to avoid running an excessively large budget surplus. Now he issues dire warnings about "fiscal instability." But rather than urging Congress to reverse the tax cuts he helped sell, he talks of the need to cut future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Yet at this point starve-the-beast theory looks as silly as supply-side economics. Although a disciplined conservative movement has controlled Congress and the White House for five years - and presided over record deficits - public opposition has prevented any significant cuts in the big social-insurance programs that dominate domestic spending.

In fact, two years ago the Bush administration actually pushed through a major expansion in Medicare. True, the prescription drug bill clearly wasn't written by liberals. To a significant extent it's a giveaway to drug companies rather than a benefit for retirees. But all that corporate welfare makes the program more expensive, not less.

Conservative intellectuals had high hopes that this year President Bush would make up for this betrayal of their doctrine by dealing a death blow to Social Security as we know it. Indeed, he tried. His proposed "reform" would, over time, have essentially phased out the program. And he seemed to have everything going for him: momentum from an election victory, control of Congress and a highly sympathetic punditocracy. Yet the drive for privatization quickly degenerated from a juggernaut into a farce.

Medicaid, whose recipients are less likely to vote than the average person getting Social Security or Medicare, is the softest target among major federal social-insurance programs. But even members of Congress, it seems, have consciences. (Well, some of them.) It took intense arm-twisting from the Republican leadership, and that tie-breaking vote by Mr. Cheney, to ram through even modest cuts in aid to the neediest.

In other words, the starve-the-beast theory - like missile defense - has been tested under the most favorable possible circumstances, and failed. So there is no longer any coherent justification for further tax cuts. Yet... even as Congressional leaders struggled to pass a tiny package of mean-spirited spending cuts, they pushed forward with a much larger package of tax cuts. The benefits of those cuts, as always, will go disproportionately to the wealthy.

Here's how I see it: Republicans have turned into tax-cut zombies. They can't remember why they originally wanted to cut taxes, they can't explain how they plan to make up for the lost revenue, and they don't care. Instead, they just keep shambling forward, always hungry for more.

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

Eric Umansky finds Marty Lederman explaining what is going on:

Marty Lederman : The rhetoric of "inherent" presidential power is obscuring what's at issue here. Perhaps he would have had the power to authorize some of this conduct (hard to tell how much -- we don't know enough about it) had federal law never addressed the issue. But this is not a case in which the President acted with Congress's consent, where his authority is at its apex; nor where he acted unilaterally, in the face of congressional silence. Instead, this is a case in which the American public had a comprehensive, contentious, and long public debate, borne of a serious history of government abuse, and our elected representatives -- both Executive and Legislature -- regulated this subject matter in great detail (going so far as to enact a specific exigency-in-war provision), and flatly prohibited the conduct in question -- a consensus resolution that all three branches and the public came to rely upon and take for granted as common ground for almost 30 years.

Instead of moving to change that, the Administration simply decided to circumvent what the Legislature had already decided to do. And they did so without even telling the legislature about it, let alone the public. Indeed, they kept acting as if all was just as it had been for 25+ years. And then when they were found out, their explanation was that the legislature had, unknowingly, effected a radical change in the law when they voted to allow the use of force against Al Qaeda -- i.e, they blamed it on Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a form of argument ("we know better than you what you intended") that seems to have really set off many folks on the Hill (and on the FISA court, whose judges were also played for dupes).

This is, in other words, a classic Youngstown Category III case of an imperial Executive, not acting unilaterally, as Lincoln did, or in conformity with legislative will (as Lincoln claimed to be doing -- he agreed to abide by whatever limitations the Congress enacted), but instead in direct violation of the decisions that were reached in the democratic process. I hope that would be, and will be viewed as, deeply problematic, regardless of one's views on the merits of whether we ought to have a system of data mining...

Wessel the Amazing Makes Four Predictions

David Wessel makes four predictions for 2006. Hasn't anyone told him that you predict either a number (or an event) or a date, but not both? - Capital : Making predictions in a column requires balance between the provocative (and implausible) and the plausible (and dull). With that goal, here are four educated guesses about 2006.

Ben Bernanke's first interest-rate move as U.S. Federal Reserve chairman will be to cut rates.... Mr. Bernanke aced his confirmation hearings. Now come... Avoiding quips that unintentionally move markets.... And... moving rates the right way.... The next call is Mr. Bernanke's.... with oil prices receding, and with wages rising (painfully) slowly while productivity climbs (encouragingly) briskly, inflation is barely stirring.... Mr. Bernanke may... leave [interest rates] alone until a weakening economy some day causes him to cut rates.

A big bankruptcy will rattle the U.S., and shake political support for unfettered global trade. Maybe it will be General Motors, maybe Ford Motor, maybe some other old, unionized industrial company... bankruptcy court... is a way to shed not only debt, but also union contracts and health and pension benefits.... The workers who get hurt are those who played by all the rules. That doesn't sit well with the public, even with consumers who cheerfully buy Japanese cars or Chinese sweaters.... An epochal bankruptcy could push Congress to impose tariffs or to force the Bush administration to do more than jawbone China on exchange rates or to block approval of new free-trade pacts.

Health care will emerge as a big issue in the 2006 U.S. congressional elections, forcing 2008 presidential candidates to promise action. In 1991, neophyte politician Harris Wofford became the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania in about 30 years by arguing that every American should have the right to health care.... now big companies, which helped thwart the Clintons and shunned John Kerry's health-care proposals, are really worried. When the public and big business agree on an issue, it finds its way onto the national agenda....

The gap between winners and losers in the U.S. will keep widening. In a 1998 book, a colleague and I predicted technology would propel faster economic growth and a growing supply of educated workers would narrow the gap between high- and low-paid workers over the ensuing 20 years. We were right on the first, and only temporarily (in the late 1990s) right on the second. Next year won't help our case. By nearly every measure... inequality is growing.... The politicians in charge believe resisting these forces is counterproductive.... Mr. Greenspan, a card-carrying conservative, sees a need to do more than we are. "Equal opportunity requires equal access to knowledge," he has said. "We cannot expect everyone to be equally skilled. But we need to pursue equality of opportunity to ensure that our economic system works at maximum efficiency and is perceived as just."

Francisco Franco Is Still Dead

Francisco Franco is still dead. Except in the archives of National Review, that is, where he is the glorious hero with a righteous cause who saved the day--an integral part of Western civilization--the man to whom Spain looks for leadership.

Yes, National Review praises military coups, the overthrow of democratic governments, the imperative need to side with neither Churchill nor Hitler, and that integral part of Western civilization that was Francisco Franco. You can sense William F. Buckley more than half-wishing he could have played his part in Franco's righteous fight against the grotesque democratic regime of Republican Spain--perhaps by piloting a Ju-87 in the Condor Legion?

October 26, 1957: General Franco is an authentic national hero... [with the] talents, the perseverance, and the sense of the righteousness of his cause, that were required to wrest Spain from the hands of the visionaries, ideologues, Marxists, and nihilists that were imposing... a regime so grotesque as to do violence to the Spanish soul, to deny, even, Spain's historical destiny. He saved the day.... The need was imperative... for a national policy [to]... make this concession to Churchill this morning, that one to Hitler this afternoon.... Franco reigns... supreme. He is not an oppressive dictator.... only as oppressive as is necessary to maintain total power...

March 9, 1957: Franco is a part, and an integral part, of Western civilization... [the] convergence of the multifarious political philosophical, religious, and cultural tendencies that have shaped Spanish history... the man to whom the Spanish people look--as the Chinese have looked to Chiang [Kaishek], for all his faults--for leadership.

Charles Krauthammer's Future Columns...

The New York Times has Times-Select, which grants you access to its op-ed columnists. The Washington Post has Post-Future-Select, which grants you access to its op-ed columnists future writings. Here we have Charles Krauthammer's column from March 23, 2008, with some strange parallels to his column of December 23, 2005:

TERM LIMITS NONSENSE: By Charles Krauthammer: March 23, 2008: The past seven years have already been the age of the demagogue, having been dominated by the endlessly echoed falsehoods that the president has "violated the Constitution." But today brings yet another round of demagoguery. Administration critics, political and media, charge that by running for a third term, the president has so trampled the Constitution that impeachment should now be considered. (Barbara Boxer, Jonathan Alter, John Dean and various luminaries of the left have already begun floating the idea.) The braying herds have already concluded, Tenet-, Powell-, Hegel-, Sununu-, and Kerry-like, that the president's running for a third term is slam-dunk illegal and unconstitutional. It takes a superior mix of partisanship, animus and ignorance to say that.

Is the president constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term? Law professor Alberto Gonzales (one critic calls him the man who "literally wrote the book on today's legal struggles") finds "pretty decent arguments" on both sides, but his own conclusion is that Bush's actions are "probably constitutional." It is true that Congress and the States tried to restrict the ability of presidents to run for a third term with the Twenty-Second amendment but, as Attorney General Harriet Miers wrote, "No president has denied that he retained inherent power to run for a third term and, if elected, to reassume office" if the dire necessity of war demanded it. It is true that no president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has chosen, so far, to run for a third term. But can it possibly be the case that in these perilous times a president has less power than FDR did? And the unwritten prohibition that Roosevelt broke in deciding to run for a third term because of the necessity of World War II was a stronger law--hallowed by the example of Washington, Jackson, and Lincoln--than a dubious amendment that has never been tested.

President Bush's circumvention of the so-called Twenty-Second Amendment is a classic separation-of-powers dispute in the area in which these powers are most in dispute. For the past four decades, presidents have adhered to the Twenty-Second Amendment for reasons of prudence, to avoid a constitutional fight with Congress, and because the times were not so dire as to require, say, a third term for Ronald Reagan. The fact that past presidents have acquiesced in the Twenty-Second Amendment in no way binds future executives to obey its silly restrictions, so dangerous to our country in circumstances like these.

Attorney General Harriet Miers argues that Bush's use of presidential necessity to override the so-called Twenty-Second Amendment with its illegal and unconstitutional restrictions on presidential terms is firmly established by Justice Yoo's decision in Kollar-Kotelly v. NSA. In that opinion, John Yoo deemed legal the NSA "vacuum cleaner" scanning of all electronic communications whatsoever, and allowed the transfer of Judge Kollar-Kotelly to Guantanamo to be held as an "enemy combatant." "The Fourth Amendment cannot stand against the necessities of wartime," Justice Yoo wrote, "and who is a more effective combatant for the enemy than one who tries to hobble America's ability to kill terrorists through pointless legalisms?" It follows logically that the Twenty-Second Amendment cannot stand either if necessity is opposed--and who can doubt that it is, that only George W. Bush is it to helm the ship of state?

This is a war, dammit!

Max Sawicky's Economy Talking Points

The official Economic Policy Institute talking points on the economy:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: TALKING POINTS ON THE ECONOMY: From my fearless leaders Larry Mishel and Ross Eisenbrey:

  1. Profits are up, but the wages and the incomes of average Americans are down.

    • Inflation-adjusted hourly and weekly wages are still below where they were at the start of the recovery in November 2001. Yet, productivity--the growth of the economic pie--is up by 13.5%.
    • Wage growth has been shortchanged because 35% of the growth of total income in the corporate sector has been distributed as corporate profits, far more than the 22% in previous periods.
    • Consequently, median household income (inflation-adjusted) has fallen five years in a row and was 4% lower in 2004 than in 1999, falling from $46,129 to $44,389.
  2. More and more people are deeper and deeper in debt.

    • The indebtedness of U.S. households, after adjusting for inflation, has risen 35.7% over the last four years.
    • The level of debt as a percent of after-tax income is the highest ever measured in our history. Mortgage and consumer debt is now 115% of after-tax income, twice the level of 30 years ago.
    • The debt-service ratio (the percent of after-tax income that goes to pay off debts) is at an all-time high of 13.6%.
    • The personal savings rate is negative for the first time since WWII.
  3. Job creation has not kept up with population growth, and the employment rate has fallen sharply.

    • The United States has only 1.3% more jobs today (excluding the effects of Hurricane Katrina) than in March 2001 (the start of the recession). Private sector jobs are up only 0.8%. At this stage of previous business cycles, jobs had grown by an average of 8.8% and never less than 6.0%.
    • The unemployment rate is relatively low at 5%, but still higher than the 4% in 2000. Plus, the percent of the population that has a job has never recovered since the recession and is still 1.3% lower than in March 2001. If the employment rate had returned to pre-recession levels, 3 million more people would be employed.
  4. More than 3 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since January 2000.

  5. Poverty is on the rise.

    • The poverty rate rose from 11.7% in 2001 to 12.7% in 2004.
    • The number of people living in poverty has increased by 5.4 million since 2000.
    • More children are living in poverty: the child poverty rate increased from 16.3% in 2001 to 17.8% in 2004.
  6. Rising health care costs are eroding families' already declining income.

    • Households are spending more on health care. Family health costs rose 43-45% for married couples with children, single mothers, and young singles from 2000 to 2003.
    • Employers are cutting back on health insurance. Last year, the percent of people with employer-provided health insurance fell for the fourth year in a row. Nearly 3.7 million fewer people had employer-provided insurance in 2004 than in 2000. Taking population growth into account, 11 million more people would have had employer-provided health insurance in 2004 if the coverage rate had remained at the 2000 level.

I'm not sure (5) is right--the measured poverty rate is up, but I'm not sure we know more than that. And I'd say in (1) that real wages and incomes have been flat while productivity has raced ahead, rather than that real wages and incomes are down. But otherwise I'll get out the rubber stamp and the inkpad...

Things Are Not So Great

And here we have Matthew Yglesias reminding us that a world in which Fred Barnes is able to blather in print or in electrons is an ugly, ugly thing:

TPMCafe || Things Are Great!: Several conservative writers seem concerned recently that the American people don't believe the economy is strong even though, allegedly, it's really super-strong. So they offer the White House advice on how to improve its communications strategy. Today, Fred Barnes:

Yet there's a strong case Bush and his aides can make for impressive economic gains at the individual level. True, rising healthcare costs have cut into the gains, but tax reductions have helped. By citing micro numbers or fleshing out macro numbers, the administration would convey this message: it's not just you who's doing well. Most Americans are. The country is. For instance, there's the growth in per capita disposable personal income from $26,424 in 2003 to $27,001 in 2004 and $27,365 in 2005. That's not all. In November, hourly wages were up 3.2 percent. And people are able to spend more. Real personal consumption spending has risen nearly 3 percent in the past year. True, these last two numbers are macro, but they're ones people can understand.

Sadly, per capita numbers don't really tell you anything about how "most" people are doing. But here on the White House Economic Statistic Briefing Room website we have a link to median household income data. Median household income in 2004 was $44,389 which is a lot by world standards. But in 2003 it was $44,482 which was more. In 2002 it was $44,546 which was even more. In 2001 it was $45,062 which was even more. In 2000 it was $46,058 which was even more. In 1999 it was $46,129 which was even more. In 1998 it was $45,003 which was less, but still higher than today's median. And if you go all the way back to 1997, it was $43,430 -- lower than it is today.

That's the sort of thing that probably lies behind dour economic sentiments. Lots of people -- most, really -- haven't been doing all that well. Now at the same time, it would be foolish to pretend we're living through some kind of economic catastrophe. America is still a very rich country, GDP is growing a lot, there's a lot of productivity growth, and thanks to a rise in asset prices people have been able to keep ramping up consumption even while incomes fall slightly. In other words, there's an interesting story to tell here and a bit of a puzzle. Presumably, we'd all like median incomes to go up, rather than down; to understand this trend and wonder what can be done about it. Wouldn't it be more worthwhile to let the White House write its own propaganda and spend some time thinking about that?

A Hard Walnut to Crack: Why Do Reporters Still Go to Scott McClellan's Briefings?

Today in "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'" we learn that walnuts are a perfectly effective substitute for pine nuts in making pesto sauce... No, that's not it, today Dan Froomkin tries to figure out why any reporter who is not a nutcase would sit quietly through Scott McClellan briefings, rather than spend his time doing something else that he might learn something from. The question is a very hard nut to crack. I do know that those times I have sat quietly in the corner of the Starbucks across the street from the White House compound with my ears open listening to the low-level staffers talk while they wait in the latte line--well, that you can learn more there in half an hour than in two whole days spent in the White House Briefing Room.

Briefing Room Follies: Mark Leibovich opens his Style section profile of Scott McClellan with this absolutely priceless anecdote: "President Bush bounded... into the Roosevelt Room.... 'Is Scotty here? Where's Scotty?' Bush asked, half-grinning.... 'I want to especially thank Scotty,' the president said, looking at his aide. 'I want to thank Scotty for saying' -- and he paused for effect..." 'Nothing.'"

Leibovich's story... suggests that [McClellan's] penchant for robotic repetition of meaningless stock phrases is just a matter of following orders. "'We've come to understand that no matter how we slice and dice something, Scott's going to stick to the recipe,' says Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox News Service. 'I can't think of any topic where on the sixth or seventh iteration of a question we get something different from the original answer. By somebody's measure, that's the definition of doing the job well. Certainly not ours.'..."

It has diminished the daily briefing to a playacting spectacle in which he recites lines while reporters play the part of exasperated inquisitors.... Yesterday's briefing provides an illustration. At mid-day, the Senate an the White House still appeared on a collision course on the Patriot Act....

Q: Scott, would the President veto a three-month extension of the Patriot Act? Is that something you can accept?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we need to talk about what's going on here. What's going on here is pure obstructionist politics. A minority in the Senate, led by Senate Democrats, are putting politics above our nation's security. This bill has been thoroughly debated. It enjoys majority support. They need to give it an up or down vote and quit playing politics with our nation's security.
Q: So would the President veto a three-month extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has already made his views known on that -- I expressed his views last week -- and nothing has changed in terms of our views. That's why it's important for them to go ahead and get this passed now.
Q: So you would veto a three-month extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our view last week; nothing has changed.
Q: Can you tell me what that was again?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can see what I expressed last week. You know very well what it was....
Q: Will you use the word 'veto'? Why are you not using the word 'veto'?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our views on that last week -- Q: But if you still stand by them, why won't you reiterate it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, what I said last week still stands.
Q: Which is what?

It's like giving a direct answer would cause him pain or something....

Powell in the Oval Office

From George Packer (2005), The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq (New York: FSG: 0374299633) Colin Powell's account of his last meeting with George W. Bush, as told by Colin Powell to George Packer:

In the same week of early January... Colin Powell was summoned to the White House for his farewell conversation with the president. All along, Powell had been the dutifully quiet dissenter on Iraq, concerned about the damage to alliances, skeptical (but not enough) of the administration's more fevered claims about weapons and terrorism, realistic about the difficulties of postwar. But his prestige was badly tarnished when his prewar speech to the UN about Iraqi weapons was proved mostly false. Though Iraq became more and more the responsibility of his agency, Powell had lost almost eery major fight back when the crucial decisions were made. His tenure as secretary of state was a great disappointment.... Now, sooner than he wanted, he was being replaced by Condoleezza Rice, a shrewder bureaucratic survivor.

After a few awkward minutes in the Oval Office, Powell realized that Bush had no idea what his secretary of state was doing there. The White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, was summoned, but he, too, was clueless. Who had called for the meeting? It began to seem entirely possible that the phantom vice president had arranged one more parting humiliation for his old colleague and more recent nemesis. Powell drew himself up and informed the president that he had come not for their weekly meeting but to say goodbye. Finding himself alone with Bush for perhaps the last time, Powell decided to speak his mind without constraint. The Defense Department had too much power in shaping foreign policy, he argued, and when Bush asked for an example, Powell offered not Rumsfeld, the secretary who had mastered him bureaucratically, not Wolfowitz, the point man on Iraq, but the department's number three official, Douglas Feith, whom Powell called a card-carrying member of the Likud Party. Warming to his talk, Powell moved on to negotiations with North Korea, and then homed in on Iraq. If, by April 1, the situation there had not improved significantly, the president would need a new strategy and new people to implement it. Bush looked taken aback: No one ever spoke this way in the Oval Office. But because it was the last time, Powell ignored every cue of displeasure and kept going until he said what he had to say, what he perhaps should have said long before.

At least, that's what Powell told Packer he said in his last meeting in the Oval Office. Is it accurate? I don't know: I do know that since his UN speech Powell's word trades at a very high discount indeed.

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051218

If I had infinite hours in the day: Digby writes: "Richard Morion pollster for the Washington Post actually had the temerity to write this drivel yesterday in an online chat: 'Naperville, Ill.: Why haven't you polled on public support for the impeachment of George W. Bush? Richard Morin: This question makes me mad... Seattle, Wash.: How come ABC News/Post poll has not yet polled on impeachment?Richard Morin: Getting madder... Haymarket, Va.: With all the recent scandals and illegal/unconstitutional actions of the President, why hasn't ABC News / Washington Post polled whether the President should be impeached? Richard Morin: Madder still.... [W]e do not ask about impeachment because it is not a serious option or a topic of considered discussion....' Jane points to this Media Matters report: 'A January 1998 Post poll conducted just days after the first revelations of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky asked the following questions: "If this affair did happen and if Clinton did not resign, is this something for which Clinton should be impeached, or not?"... Morin was the Post's polling director at the time.'... The Washington Post ate it up with a spoon, sending out their pollster post-haste to take the public's temperature on [Lewinsky].... Today, the same pollster gets mad when people bring up the idea of impeachment in the context of a hugely unpopular president lying about national security.... Media Matters asks: 'Please explain WHY a question asking if President Bush should be impeached if he lied to the country about war is "biased". Please also explain how this is consistent with polls the Post ran -- under your direction, I might add -- in 1998 asking whether then-President Clinton should be impeached if he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Do you now believe those questions you asked -- and reported on -- throughout 1998 were "biased"?... Why does The Post think it is appropriate to raise the spectre of impeachment when there is a Democratic president, but not when there is a Republican in office?...'" Dahlia Lithwick: "Why won't the Bush administration obey the law?.... It now appears, however, that while the American people thought they were bargaining in good faith with their president, he was nodding and smiling and taking what he wanted in secret. At the start of this "war," Congress thought it was authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan. But now we've learned that in so doing it also gave the president limitless powers to break the law. Congress thought it was passing the Patriot Act. But it was actually giving the government broad and seemingly open-ended new surveillance authority. We believed the executive branch to be bound by the rule of law--by the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions and the ancient writ of habeas corpus. But the president was redefining torture, disregarding international conventions, and granting himself broad discretion to name and imprison enemy combatants for years on end. Americans believed they were bargaining in good faith with their government over the original deal struck in 1978 when Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA was supposed to represent a compromise between security and civil liberties, by making it illegal to spy on Americans without judicial oversight but setting the bar for such oversight quite low. Even as amended by the Patriot Act--which further lowered the standards for a FISA warrant--the statute still purported to adhere to the fundamental bargain: Americans would not be spied upon by their government without basic constitutional checks in place..." "Seriously, when I first read this AP report on Dr. Frist.... These guys have slipped the bonds of normal corruption so completely.... 'WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's AIDS charity paid nearly a half-million dollars in consulting fees to members of his political inner circle...'" "Also, Two Wrongs are the New Right - Wonkette: In the wake of revelations that the Bush administration conducted a campaign of illegal wiretaps pursuant to matters that are widely claimed to be vital to the national interest yet simultaneously devoid of any evidence that the legal avenues available to the President were insufficient to the pursuit thereof, it's possible to imagine that dull-witted, tranked-up press corps failing to ask any number of questions. Like: Why, Mr. President, are you so angry about the Patriot Act filibuster when you seem jolly well disposed to conferring whatever powers you like upon yourself? Like: What part of "You have seventy-two hours to seek a warrant after the initiation of a wiretap" don't you understand? Like: Why can't you and the idea of separation of powers just hug it out, bitch? Nevertheless, some hopeful and naive part of us still wonders why no one is questioning one of the central planks in the Administration's defense of their actions, namely: "Hey, it's totally okay that we are wiretapping American citizens without legal authority because we totally briefed some Democrats that we were going to be doing it." That's an extraordinarily bizarre justification! Since when does briefing members of the opposition party have boo-boo-poopy to do with something being legal or not? You'd think that the Bush administration could more fully harness their crazy-ass "let's brief the Democrats" power by gathering the gang of four and telling them you were going to save the taxpayers some scratch by knocking over a few jewelry stores. We wish we could avail ourselves of this executive privilege, unfortunately, down here in the real world where we common folk live, the po-po have a name for what Bush suggests gives him legal cover: criminal conspiracy." "Compromise Reached at As per the request of the Print Post, Froomkin's column is clearly marked opinion. This distinguishes it from the "[news] analysis" by Peter Baker. This makes it easy for non-cognoscenti to learn the difference between analysis (which is ok for reporters) and opinion (which is not). For example, in opinion you can write that the president is lying, but in analysis you have to write that "most everywhere in Washington outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" thinks the President was lying.... I guess one might imagine [that there might be] someone who wasn't sure that Mr Baker counts himself among "most everyone." As punishment for being liberal and being thought to be a Post White House reporter by [Republican operative] Patrick Ruffini and a liberal to be named later, Froomkin gets moved from the lower left hand corner of the web page where to see his name you have to scroll (or buy a huge monitor) up to front and center..." Kevin Drum: "TAKING TERRORISM SERIOUSLY.... Part 1 of a multi-zillion word story about the trials and tribulations of the Department of Homeland Security is running in the Washington Post today, and a lot of it is pretty much what you'd expect: a huge new agency trying desperately to deal with turf wars, lack of leadership, and budget issues. But they also had to deal with political cronyism, as Tom Ridge and Christine Todd Whitman discovered: 'One stark example was the White House's blockade of a Ridge-supported plan to secure large chemical plants. After Sept. 11, Whitman had worked with Ridge on a modest effort to require high-risk plants -- especially the 123 factories where a toxic release could endanger at least 1 million people -- to enhance security. But industry groups warned Bush political adviser Karl Rove that giving new regulatory power to the Environmental Protection Agency would be a disaster.... In an interagency meeting shortly before DHS's birth, White House budget official Philip J. Perry, who also happens to be Cheney's son-in-law, declared the Ridge-Whitman plan dead. "Tom and I would just throw our hands up in frustration over that issue,' Whitman recalled. This is the most infuriating aspect of George Bush's approach to terrorism: that he treats it as a partisan weapon instead of a genuinely serious business. Chemical plants really are a prime target for terrorists, but Dick Cheney doesn't want to annoy his corporate pals, so EPA's plans to address it get shelved. WMD counterproliferation really is important, but it's not very sexy and doesn't serve any partisan ends since Democrats support it too. So it's ignored and underfunded. Detention of enemy combatants when the enemy is an amorphous group like al-Qaeda is a genuinely vexing issue that deserves a serious bipartisan airing, but the Justice Department treats it like a child's game, inviting barely concealed rage from a conservative judge who thought this was supposed to be life-and-death stuff." Matthew Yglesias writes: "The Bush administration has taken to likening revelations of its illegal activities to the time The Washington Times allegedly messed up surveillance of Osama bin Laden by reporting that he was using a satellite phone to communicate with the outside world. That was certainly the story the Clinton administration always told, and Daniel Benjamin -- Clinton NSC veteran and TPMCafer -- repeats the story while disputing the analogy. Glenn Kessler, writing in today's Washington Post, says the whole thing is an urban legend. Apparently Time reported that bin Laden used a satellite phone in 1996, citing Taliban sources, and Peter Bergen reported that bin Laden used a satellite phone on CNN in 1997 citing... Osama bin Laden as his source. The Times article, meanwhile, didn't say that the US government was tracking bin Laden through the phone, it just said he used a satellite phone, which several media outlets had previously reported. And whether or not it had been previously reported, presumably this is something bin Laden would have already known anyway. So... what's going on? "Sen. Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that Americans can be protected against terrorism without violating the law or ignoring civil rights.... 'We are a nation of laws. You cannot avoid or dismiss a law.' At issue, Hagel said, is whether the decision to order such surveillance violates a 1978 law requiring approval by a secret U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance court.... Asked about Vice President Dick Cheney's warning that Bush’s critics could pay a heavy political price, Hagel said: 'My oath is to the Constitution, not to a vice president, a president or a political party.' Hagel said he's determined to 'do what I think is right for the people I represent and the country I serve.'..." Abu Aardvark: "Michael Rubin's review of George Packer's Assassin's Gate is a thing of such rare beauty that one hardly dares look at it directly for fear of spoiling it. Shorter George Packer: 'the neo-conservatives told us magical stories of fairies and unicorns who would shower us with hugs and puppies, which we really wanted to believe but in retrospect probably shouldn't have. Doh!' Shorter Michael Rubin: 'Packer dishonestly fails to tell us about the fairies and unicorns we found in Iraq, or how they showered us with hugs and puppies.' Coming soon - Rubin's expose about how the State Department, egged on by Juan Cole and John Kerry, mercilessly murdered all the fairies and unicorns just before they could shower us with hugs and puppies. Also, his detailed analytical account of Ahmed Chalabi's triumphant sweep through this December's Parliamentary elections, which only he accurately predicted - with a detailed dissection of the literally thousands of Iraqi National Congress votes that he'd just like to see so-called Iraq experts explain away!"

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Chalabi Suck-Up Edition)

Tony Karon watches as Ahmed Chalabi's faction gets perhaps no seats in the new Iraqi parliament:

Another Flesh Wound for Chalabi: Remember that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail... the Black Knight loses three limbs... insis[s] that he's suffered only a flesh wound, and insisting that he will smite his assailant, King Arthur?... A few weeks ago, no less an esteemed outlet than the Washington Post would have had us believe that Ahmed Chalabi was a serious contender for prime minister of Iraq -- and this after almost everything of consequence that Chalabi had told the U.S. media had proven to be bogus.... "Highly placed sources say he has become the choice of many U.S. officials to lead the country," the Post reported... [S]omehow the Washington Post and a number of other titles that really should know better have not yet fully grasped the reality that the U.S. rarely gets its way on the ground in Iraq. Chalabi, for the record, garnered so few votes in the December 15 elections that his list may not get a single seat in parliament....

And here's the Washington Post last month, on Chalabi:

A Lightning Rod's Striking Return: By Sally Quinn: Washington Post Staff Write: Anticipation is high in the steamy standing-room-only crowd of journalists and cameras at the American Enterprise Institute. "Hollywood," "big deal," "who knew?" is the buzz around the room. Of course every news organization wants to be there for the return of Iraqi lightning rod Ahmed Chalabi. Outside on the street, a small crowd of placard-carrying protesters are shouting "Liar." Chalabi strides to the podium after a flattering introduction by the head of the institute. "He has been defamed, undermined and attacked..." says Chris Muth. "He permits himself to exhibit no sign of bitterness." Chalabi's dark eyes dart around the room. He wears an ambiguous smile. He begins to speak.

One hour later, after a comprehensive summary of the situation in Iraq without a note or hesitation, he takes questions. Some are more like accusations.... He refers them to the Robb-Silberman report on prewar intelligence. "Page 128," he offers helpfully. When the questions are over, he disappears, leaving his smile behind him....

On the heels of his week-long visit to the United States, few want to be quoted by name saying anything positive. Yet suddenly many have positive things to say. It was only a year and a half ago that his Baghdad office and home were raided and trashed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. He had gone from being the darling of the neo-cons to a pariah. Many thought he was dead politically. But today he is a strong contender for prime minister in next month's elections, and highly placed sources say he has become the choice of many U.S. officials to lead the country....

One top White House official, in listing the possible leaders who could emerge in Iraq after next month's elections, put Chalabi's name first. Chalabi's two biggest enemies in the administration, Colin Powell and George Tenet, are now gone. One of his biggest supporters, Vice President Cheney, is still there, and met with him this week. Ask about Chalabi among members of the administration, and off the record there is general agreement. "Very astute fellow," says one very high government official. "Extremely bright and competent," says a senior military man. Another top military officer who has worked with Chalabi was effusive. He says that most of the Iraqis he has dealt with are inexperienced and indecisive, whereas Chalabi "is decisive, personally very courageous, is incredibly energetic, knows Western ways.... He is the only one of the deputy prime ministers willing to take on the touchy issues." More important, this man says, "he delivers, he cuts through the bureaucracy."

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, describes Chalabi to colleagues and reporters as the most effective of the Iraqi leaders, the go-to guy. And Chalabi furthered his reputation at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations and at a private lunch at the home of financier Henry Kravis in New York on Saturday. Among the guests were Henry Kissinger, Lesley Stahl and Jim Hoge, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. "He is smart as he can be," Hoge said. "My God, he's somebody who can get something done." Hoge could understand why people might like Chalabi to run things in Iraq, given "our desperation to get somebody to help pull us out of this mess." "He did extremely well," another guest said. "His tenacity and wiliness are extraordinary. If he pulls this off, he will be the Talleyrand of the century."...

The accusations swirl around Chalabi, but they always seem impossible to nail down. The Los Angeles Times reported that he cooked up this trip to the United States, that a U.S. official called it "his idea, not ours." But the spokesman for Treasury Secretary John Snow says, "There was an invitation." It would stand to reason. Chalabi is chairman of Iraq's Energy Committee. "He wanted to talk to me about oil," Chalabi explains. After that meeting was set up, Chalabi says, he received an invitation to meet with national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Chalabi himself initiated meetings with the secretaries of agriculture and commerce....

Chalabi's detractors say that the idea he might ever become prime minister is ludicrous. They say he made a huge mistake in breaking away from the Shia-Sunni alliance and going out on his own. They say that he has no support at all and will be lucky to win even a few delegates. He grins. He knows that the Prime minister will be chosen in a smoke-filled room. And he is gambling that, once things settle out, he will emerge as the most viable candidate after all....

Yesterday Chalabi met with Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who wrote the Republican version of the resolution calling for concrete steps toward U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Chalabi requested the meeting. Warner agreed, having seen the schedule of Chalabi's other meetings. "I was somewhat taken by surprise," Warner said, adding that the road map is clear when somebody sees the secretaries of state and defense, the national security adviser and the vice president. He said Chalabi told him the newly elected Iraqi government would be up and functioning 30 days after the election. "We have to deal with people the Iraqis have put in those positions," Warner said. "How he got there, I don't know. But there he is. . . . I have the impression he will be around."...

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

National Review has web 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."...

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.

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 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-- 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 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?

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.

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!"

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....


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.

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.

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:

  • 2% per year because the acceleration of productivity growth produced by the high-tech revolutions behind the very real "new economy" has made American companies much more productive.
  • 2% per year because of shifts in the distribution of income away from labor and toward capital that have boosted corporate profits as a share of production.
  • 2% per year because the argument of Glasman and Hassett in Dow 36000 turned out to be only nineteen-twentieths wrong: they argued that increasing risk tolerance on the part of stock market investors would raise long-run price-earnings ratios by 400%; it actually appears that increasing risk tolerance has raised long-run price-earnings ratios by 20% or so.

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.

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.

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'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.