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December 2005

Department of Redundancy Department

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

I will keep the main weblog at, with assorted site feeds and

I will mirror the main weblog at, with associated site feed

In addition, I will mirror another copy on my office machine. The address original weblog--is now an empty frame enclosing, but I will still copy posts over to the machine with associated feed

Why Wouldn't They Go to the FISA Court?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Self-Esteem Problem

Pharyngula watches Gregg Easterbrook attack Richard Dawkins:

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

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

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

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

Pharyngula goes on to write:

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

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

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

Radio Silence from the Washington Post Ombudsman...

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

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

Do you mind putting your questions either in an email or a letter

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

This is funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impeach Attorney General Gonzales for Lying to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

And immediately afterwards:

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

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

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

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Criminals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protest and Murder in Dongzhou

The Asia Pundit writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Liebman-MacGuineas-Samwick Nonpartisan Social Security Reform Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Workers' Wages and Salaries Stagnating?

Macroblog writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Sanchez and Paul Krugman Think About Wal-Mart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Interior Secretaries Attack!

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

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

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

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

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051217

If I had infinite hours in the day: Mark Kleiman examines the hole that we are digging for ourselves: "Worst-case scenario: We can't leave Iraq because, if we did, the country might fall into the grip of a bunch of religious fanatics who deal with their opponents by pulling out their fingernails. Oh, wait..." An example of value added in the New York Times? No. A false alarm. Jason Zengerle says that John Burns of the New York Times is "always excellent" and has written a "very good mini-profile" of insane moonbat ex-Johnson Attorney General Ramsey Clark. But then Zengerle goes on to say that somehow this always excellent reporter's very good mini-profile "doesn't get at the riddle of what caused Clark" to become an insane moonbat. For that, Zengerle says, you need to read John Judis in the New Republic in 1991. Ummm... May I say that the question of why Ramsey Clark became an insane moonbat is the most interesting question a profile of him should address? That even an adequate profile written by a workmanlike reporter should nail this to the wall? That there is a great cognitive dissonance between claiming on the one hand that John Burns is "always excellent" and his profile is "very good" and noting on the other hand that his profile ducks the most interesting question everyone wants to know about Ramsey Clark?

Here, by contrast, is a genuine example of value added by the New York Times: Floyd Norris: "The Bush administration... is highlighting the jobs numbers, which have shown steady gains since hitting a low in May 2003. The chart shown with this article is part of that campaign.... By invoking historical averages, President Bush may have invited comparisons that do not make the recovery look so good. In terms of job creation, the recovery from the 2001 recession has been one of the slowest since World War II.... [T]here is nothing wrong with a slow start. But the current recovery so far is far from impressive.... Were job growth... measured from the end of the recession, this recovery is the slowest ever.... Any analysis of the recovery after the 2001 recession must ask why huge tax cuts that began in 2001 had so little - and so long delayed - effect. That is not a discussion the Bush administration embarked upon this week... Wilczek Goes Anthropic: "The main idea about anthropics he was trying to push is that anthropic calculations were "just conditional probability", making much of the equation f(p)=fprior(p)fselec(p) for the probability of observing some particular value p of parameters, given some underlying theory in which they are only determined probabilistically by some probability distribution fprior(p). The second factor fselec(p) is supposed to represent "selection effects", and it is here that anthropic calculations supposedly have their role. In the paper the authors argue that "Including selection effects is no more optional than the correct use of logic". The standard way physics has traditionally been done, one hopes that the underlying theory determines p (i.e. fprior(p) is a delta-function), making selection effects irrelevant in this context. The authors attack this point of view, writing: "to elevate this hope into an assumption would, ironically, be to push the anthropic principle to a hedonistic extreme, suggesting that nature must be devised so as to make mathematical physicists happy."... Abigail Nussbaum finds Andrew Rilstone justifying C.S. Lewis's worst literary crime: the Damnation of Susan Pevensie: "God help me, but Andrew Rilstone has very nearly convinced me to forgive C.S. Lewis for what he did to Susan in The Last Battle. He's a dangerous one, that Andrew. He can be very quiet for long periods of time, and you pass by his blog with a forlorn expression, hoping for something new. And then, out of the blue, he'll spring a post on you that's so clever, so insightful, and so fantastically well-written that you'll be nodding your head in stupefied wonder before you even comprehend what you've agreed to..." A live webcam put up by the National Geographic Society, pointing at a watering hole in Botswana called Pete's Pond. Live video feed of wild African animals coming down to drink at the watering hole. People I know, including Liz, rave about the monkeys, zebras, antelope, and elephants they keep seeing. Of course, all I've ever seen is a flock of turkey-like guinea fowl and a couple of warthogs... Jim Hamilton is very unhappy with the peak oilers: "I'm sure that most of my economist readers are shaking their heads in disbelief at this point, but for the benefit of anyone who is not, let me spell out exactly what the problem is with this kind of analysis. How much oil is demanded at any given time depends, among other things, on the price. A very, very large quantity would be demanded if the price were $1 a barrel and practically none would be demanded if the price were $10,000 a barrel. The quantity that is profitable to bring to the market also depends on the price. The reason economists want to pay so much attention to the price is because it is the one variable that is guaranteed to adjust and adapt to any and all unforeseen circumstances that may develop so as to ensure that demand always equals supply. Supply equals demand today, supply will equal demand in 2025, and supply will equal demand in 2050. Whatever Hirsch means by 'peaking of world conventional oil production', it certainly isn't the condition that 'production will no longer satisfy demand'..." Chris Bertram gets snarky: "I'm roused by a post on Normblog entitled At variance with certain depictions in which Geras claims that a new survey of Iraqi opinion gives a more positive view of life there than we get from unspecified sources of whom he clearly disapproves.... I'm sure that any selection of material by Geras was intended to be in line with the standards of balance and accuracy normally to be found on his site, but I fear he's slipped up in failing to notice the responses to the following question: "From today's perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right, somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that US-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in Spring 2003? Today 50.3 per cent of Iraqis polled answered that the invasion was somewhat or absolutely wrong. That's an increase from 39.1 per cent in last year's survey... Carpetbagger Report: "About three months ago, the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina was an international fiasco. Bush's handling, in particular, was widely derided, his competence further came into question, and his approval rating fell even further. Time magazine reported a couple of weeks after the storm hit that the Bush gang had crafted a 'Three-Part Comeback Plan.' Part One of the plan.... Spend freely, and worry about the tab and the consequences later. 'Nothing can salve the wounds like money', said an official who helped develop the strategy. 'You'll see a much more aggressively engaged President, traveling to the Gulf Coast a lot and sending a lot of people down there.' That was then. Now, Bush hasn't seen the Gulf Coast since Oct. 11. The massive Marshall Plan-style rebuilding hasn't happened" and White House "strategists" say "'Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen in terms of public concern.' It's a fascinating juxtaposition.... It's not the situation on the Gulf Coast has improved; it's that the situation now lacks political significance.... It's the politics of incompetence followed by the politics of limited attention spans..." The Next Hurrah tells us: "Once again, I miss out on all the fun because I don't watch teevee. Jane tells us that Jim VandeHei, Luskin's mouthpiece of choice lately, announced on Hardball that Hadley told Rove of Plame's identity. For the record, I think VdH was telegraphing testimony to Hadley (and that perhaps VdH's editors have become hip to the way this cabal telegraphs their testimony through news reports, after they were the only ones who fell for Libby's bait all those months ago)... Josh Marshall finds this from Howard Fineman to be "a stunning remark, coming as it does from within the highest echelon of the beltway journalistic establishment.... 'Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a "court stenographer" for the Bush administration. Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider "burning the beltway"with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, " an official court stenographer of the Bush administration." "He's a great reporter," Fineman said of Woodward, "but he's become a great reporter of official history." They must have changed something in the water down there.' Marginal Revolution finds Martin Feldstein talking about why capital taxation should be low... "So I read Condoleezza Rice's Post oped.... I just don't get it. No, I'm not talking about how Rice, who only six years ago wrote the perfect realist treatise, has now become the principal exponent of democratic idealism. People change. No, I'm talking about... 'a balance of power that favors freedom'... I still have no idea what it means.... Rice's emphatic statement about the threat posed by weak and failing states.... She argues that "the danger they now pose is unparalleled." Compared to what -- Nazi Germany? The Soviet Union? Hirohito's Japan?.... One final contradiction.... [W]hatever you think of the Middle Eastern autocracies, they're hardly weak states. The problem, rather, is their strength and, yes, their undemocratic character. As I said, I just don't get it..." "While tuition remains relatively low, steep increases in student fees (which cover everything from sports to health benefits to course fees) and room and board have put a UMass-Amherst education out of reach for many lower-income families..." Can we please get Richard Cohen to shut up and go away? He writes: "To read George Packer's 'The Assassin's Gate' is to be reminded that the Iraq war... [was] made... not for oil or for empire but to end the horror of Saddam Hussein and, yes, reorder the Middle East. They were inept. They were duplicitous. They were awesomely incompetent, and, in the case of Bush, they were monumentally ignorant and incurious.... [M]any liberals, myself included, originally supported the war. It... seemed... well, right -- a just cause." War is a horrible and weighty thing to undertake if your cause is just and if your leadership is skilled, honest, competent, and knowledgeable. What kind of a nutjob would say that he knew that the Republican leadership were "inept... duplicitous... awesomely incompetent... monumentally ignorant... incurious" and think that war was worthwhile? Answer: Richard Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd Gitlin

Dan Froomkin's "Cooking with Walnuts"

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

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

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

Dan Eggen of the Washington Post writes:

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

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

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

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

Hilary Bok Joins Those Seeking Impeachment

She writes:

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

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

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

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

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

Dana Milbank Is Bored...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two of them:

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

Henry Aaron, William Schwartz, and Melissa Cox (2005), Can We Say 'No'? the Challenge of Rationing Health Care (Washington: Brookings: 0815701217)


What can I do now instead of doing my grading?

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

And I can put media criticism posts up at TPMCafe:

Astroturf vs. Grassroots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Morning: Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei Cook with Walnuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapple Iced Tea

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

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

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

The Computer Help Catechism



Can you help me with the computer?

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


Print a document from Microsoft Word?


Did you save it before you tried to print?

I'm not sure.

What's the first rule of using Microsoft Word?

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

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


Before you print?


Before you print preview?


Before you globally change margins?


Before you reformat all the paragraphs?


Before you save?

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

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

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

Grassroots vs. Astroturf

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

Wednesday December 14, 2005. 9:07 PST

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

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

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

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

A: No I want your response.

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

[We go off the record for a while]

[We go back on the record]

Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Trade Deficit News

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

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

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

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

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

When Jay Rosen of PressThink asks him:

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

John Harris replies:

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

Who is the "conservative blogger" that John Harris cites? His name is Patrick Ruffini More interesting, Patrick Ruffini is eCampaign Director at the Republican National Committee

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

What things does Ruffini think are examples of Froomkin's hackdom

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Hamilton on the Gold Standard and the Great Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of the Washington Post

Washington Post national political editor John Harris launches a creepy assault on Dan Froomkin's Post Online White House Briefing column

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

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

As I said, creepy:

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

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

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

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

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

For example, consider this morning's White House Briefing Dan links to:, a Boston Globe article on Bush's surprising taking of questions after his speech in Philadelphia yesterday. the transcript of Bush in Philadelphia. his own writing about Bush's not taking questions last week.,GGLD:2003-44,GGLD:en&q=bush+30,000&tab=wn the headlines made by Bush's answers. Peter Baker's print Washington Post article about the Q-and-A session and about Bush's first-time announcement that he thinks 30,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq. Brendan Nyhan's pointing out that Bush said "extenuated" when he meant "exacerbated." Ken Herman of Cox's focus on Bush's belief that more "regime change" will be needed in the Middle East. A favorable appraisal of Bush unscripted from the left-wing Salon. The New York Times editorial page's worry that Bush has trapped himself in a bubble, and lost touch with reality. The Carpetbagger Report's similar praise of Bush for taking questions. Newsweek's cover story on Bush the Bubble Boy.’s-probably-around-30000-dead-iraqis-due-to-war/ Jason Kellett's carping at Bush's body language. Oren Darrell of USA Today's belief that Bush's 30,000 number comes from Iraq Body Count NBC anchor Brian Williams's interview with Bush. David Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times's piece on McCain and the fight over torture in the Senate. Reuters on how former Deputy Assistant to Bush Robert Blackwill appears to be pro-torture. Richard Stevenson of the New York Times reiterating that we will rebuild New Orleans.
Plus a host of others:, all ending with the Manchester Guardian,12271,1665837,00.html:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Jay Rosen at PressThink He interviews John Harris:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilzoy writes:

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

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

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

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

Three Cheers for Senator Feingold!

Russ Feingold is a senator:

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

Analyzing Republican Economic Policy at the Appropriate Level

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

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

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051211

If I had infinite hours in the day,,25549-1898046,00.html TLS on pineapple: "In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke asserts the impossibility of knowing the taste of pineapple before you have actually tasted it. This is not just a throwaway remark; he returns to the point in several drafts and in several places.... For Locke, who had never tasted a pineapple himself... only first-hand sensory experience could give knowledge of the taste -- the quiddity -- of pineapple. Locke's choice of the pineapple to make his point was not random.... The pineapple... was the ultimate in inaccessible luxury fruit. Unless you were close to royalty, or a traveller to the West Indies, you were very unlikely to have been anywhere near one. Moreover, those who had tasted its yellow flesh, described it as peculiarly complex and elusive.... Some thought it musky. Others thought it combined all that is 'most delicate in the Peach, the Strawberry, the Muscadine Grape and the Pippin'..." Microsoft Quality Software: William Kennedy, General Manager, Outlook Product Development: "Outlook does not allow you to receive attachments... such as an .exe file.... The vast majority of users don't have reasons to send these potentially dangerous files around, and those who do can use other methods.... Outlook does not block documents such as .xls, .doc, .ppt, and .txt files..." Gerard 't Hooft: "Nature provides us with... the unnatural, tiny value of the cosmological constant... the universe has a propensity to stay flat. Why this happens is a mystery that cannot be explained in any theory in which gravitation is subject to quantum mechanics.... There might be another example, which is the preservation of the symmetry between the quarks in the subatomic world, called charge-parity (CP) symmetry - a symmetry that one would have expected to be destroyed by their strong interactions. The problem of the cosmological constant has always been a problem of quantum gravity. I am convinced that the small value... cannot be reconciled with the standard paradigms of quantized fields and general relativity. It is obvious that drastic modifications in our way of thinking, such as the ones hinted at in this text, are required to solve the problems addressed here..." Daniel Gross writes: "CRAM-DOWN NATION, VOL. XVI, PART 48: Milt Freudenheim and Mary Williams Walsh write in the New York Times on the great cram-down soon to be felt by millions of public-sector employees. The reason: government leaders -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, appointed and elected alike -- have never really bothered to tally up the costs of the reitrement health care promises they made to workers..."

Doug Henwood writes: "Sorry I missed this one.... [A] friend who went to Alberto Gonzales's appearance before the Council in Foreign Relations the other day said that the men in gray suits went after him hard on torture - Pete Peterson (Nixon's Commerce Secretary, big cheese investment banker at Blackstone, whose name adorns the room the event probably took place in at the CFR) among them..." Duncan Black gets into the Wayback Machine and finds yet more right-wing media bias: "When [Howard] Dean made his 'gaffe' that capturing Saddam Hussein didn't make the country any safer a few Washington types expressed a version of 'he's absolutely right but he still shouldn't have said it because we're going to attack him for it anyway!' I give you Sam Donaldson: 'DONALDSON: Let me tell you something. I think Howard Dean deserves the bad press. And I'm not against him. I'm not making a case against him. That one phase, "America is not safer because of Saddam's capture," in context you know what he's saying, which is the war on terrorism is a wide-ranging war in the future and this will not really affect that. But someone on his staff should have said, "Don't use that phrase because every headline and writer, every Donaldson, everybody on television will stick it out, and it's just the wrong message..."'" Charlie Stross writes, apropos of Vernor Vinge (2006), Rainbows End (New York: Tor: 0312856849) (which is not a "Zones of Thought" book in spite of what amazon says): "Dunno if they'll use it, but [here's my blurb]: 'Welcome to 2040. They've cured Alzheimer's and you're going back to school. Bad news: so are the terrorists.'... I'm voting this for best novel Hugo of 2006. And it'll take something truly spectacular to shove it off the throne." Let me concur: there are a few too many whos doing whats to whoms in the big mishegass near the end (which could stand being rewritten), but the book as a whole is at least as good as Vinge's previous best, A Deepness in the Sky... Timothy Noah writes: "'s suspiciously large number of members holding the organization's No. 3 position. I said there were four... I'd forgotten No. 1 Son-In-Law Mohammed Atef, reportedly killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan way back in Nov. 2001.... So, make that five No. 3s in al-Qaida over the past four years. Which... would be a turnover more rapid even than that for Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts.... In the meantime, Michael Tortorello of the Minneapolis alternative weekly City Pages has been keeping tabs on the number of "lieutenants" or "key aides" or "key associates" there are to Iraq's most notorious bad-guy insurgent, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If you guessed 10, guess again. According to Tortorello, the latest count is 17..." "Found in New York Magazine: "Bush administration officials... threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might’ve been for the United States to sign on... would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal.... Bush officials informed organizers of their intention to pull out... late Thursday afternoon, when the Associated Press ran a story saying that Clinton had been added.... [B]arely minutes after the news leaked, conference organizers called Clinton aides and told them that Bush administration officials were displeased. 'The organizers said the Bush people were threatening to pull out of the deal,' the source said.... Clinton... immediately said, 'There’s no way that I’m gonna let petty politics get in the way of the deal. So I'm not gonna come.'... At around 8:30 p.m., organizers called Clinton aides and said that they'd successfully called the bluff of Bush officials..." Mark Kleiman writes: "The career staff of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department unanimously recommended rejection of the DeLay redistricting of Texas as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The political management of the Department overruled the staff, just as it had in accepting Georgia's virtual poll tax.... I'm sorry to be late on this one, but the capacity of the Bush Administration to execute outrages is outrunning may capacity to comment on them..." Prawfsblawg is amused at the "subtle hint of bias in the [New York Times] reporter's judgment" in coverage of the challenge to the SEC's power to regulate hedge funds: "The lawyers and judges... focused largely on statutory interpretation rather than broad financial policy questions, and in so doing, shifted the battle to a more friendly terrain for a business that is barely regulated.... "You can't come in and say we will make 'client' whoever you want it to be," Judge Edwards said impatiently and dismissively to Mr. Stillman. Mr. Stillman... unfazed by the questions... carefully guided the judges through the history and purposes of the complex regulatory regime.... The panel's third member, Judge Thomas B. Griffith... suggested that the squabbling over legislative interpretation was less important than giving the agency the tools necessary to detect financial chicanery. He also suggested that the agency and Congress should set policy, not the courts. 'What's more important', Judge Griffith asked Mr. Bartz, 'the concept of client or for them to root out fraud?'..."

Representative Murtha Asks a Very Good Question

Representative Murtha, via Froomkin, via Anderson:

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

Murtha took questions:

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

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

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

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

Steve Clemons writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Potemkin Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Waldmann's Dark Night of the Soul

Robert Waldmann writes:

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

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

Signs of Something Very Wrong with Brad DeLong, Part CXXXIV

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

I mean, federalism.

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

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

The Lieberman of yesterday:

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

The Lieberman of 2004:

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

And the Lieberman of 2003:

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

Moral Hazard, Soft Budget Constraints, and Health Care

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

Marginal Revolution: Austan Goolsbee is smart. Try this:

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

And this:

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

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

Right-Wing Class War

Ah. Distributional implications of current tax-cut packages:

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

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

The State of the Business Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBogg writes:

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

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

Paul Krugman writes about the Promiser-in-Chief:

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I Had Infinite Hours in the Day: 20051207

If I had infinite hours in the day: Dan Froomkin writes: "Some American journalists intent on fact-checking President Bush's vision of [progress in] Iraq are finding it too dangerous to inspect the areas Bush yesterday cited as models of success. Which sort of tells you the story right there..." Daniel Gross points out that when Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal editorial page writes "dividend payments to shareholders have doubled in two years" what he really means is that dividend payments to shareholders have risen by 25%. Once again: trust nothing, believe nothing on the Wall Street Journal editorial page... Aaron Swartz really understands economic jargon... The New Economist admires the "Nordic Model," but doesn't think anybody else should try to replicate it: "Can the Nordic model be replicated? Perhaps, but not easily.... Nordic countries have small populations, are very homogenous, 'with a preference for equality, inclusion and collective action'. Most also have a long history of political dominance by social democratic parties. Those cultural and political characteristics, and the institutional complementarities that go with the Nordic economic and social model, will make it harder to export key elements elsewhere, particularly in anglo-saxon countries... Ed Cone writes: "When the Wall Street Journal editorial page gives prime real estate to a piece about Tom DeLay's serious legal problems, you know The Hammer's problems are, well, serious... Eric Umansky watches Knight-Ridder report on the White House's "mounting an aggressive effort to counter a Knight Ridder story that described Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a committed judicial conservative"... Jim Henley thanks the Democratic Party for keeping "this churl" Robert Bork off the Supreme Court... Jacob Sollum of Reason watches the latest clown show at National Review: Robert Bork writing that censorship is liberty. Next week in National Review: freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and war is peace.... Oh. You say they've already done those? A new contestant for the Stupidest Woman Alive: Peggy Noonan says: Because it was legal for my Irish ancestors to cross the border in 1920, moving here makes them the blessed salt of the earth. Because it is illegal for Mexicans to cross the border today, moving them makes them a despicable and dangerous criminal underclass... Chris Silvey reads GM CEO Richard Wagoner on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and freaks out: "Huh? Is he actually are touting manufacturing productivity as a strength of GM? He can't seriously be taking this line of argument!... It certainly doesn't sound like GM has a competitive advantage.... It takes them nearly six hours longer per vehicle to produce a vehicle. That's 75% of a regular time shift on a production line. If that extra time was spent making the GM car a more attractive, safer, more economical, and/or a more reliable car then it would be time well spent. However, I don't know a single person that thinks GM is better at any one of those things.... If GM sold its average car for the same price as Toyota (an addition of $5,855 per car) they would eliminate their marginal operating loss and make a profit of $3,544. This would more then cover the large executive bonuses and employee health-care liabilities..." More Republican Family Values: "Barbour's niece by marriage big FEMA winner... lucrative FEMA contracts awarded to a firm owned by a woman with family ties to Gov. Haley Barbour.... Alcatec LLC, which is owned by Rosemary Ramirez Barbour - a Guatemalan immigrant married to the governor's nephew and Hinds County Supervisor Charles Barbour - received nearly $6.4 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. The bulk of the contracts were awarded in September and October without competitive bidding, according to federal records. Rosemary Barbour said Wednesday that Alcatec is a listed as disadvantaged business through the Small Business Administration, and that helps her company gain government favor..." Incompetent Design theorist Don Wise speaks: "No self-respecting engineering student would make the kinds of dumb mistakes that are built into us. All of our pelvises slope forward for convenient knuckle-dragging... the only reason you stand erect is because of this incredible sharp bend at the base of your spine, which is either evolution's way of modifying something or else it's just a design that would flunk a first-year engineering student. Look at the teeth in your mouth. Basically, most of us have too many teeth for the size of our mouth. Well, is this evolution flattening a mammalian muzzle and jamming it into a face or is it a design that couldn't count accurately above 20? Look at the bones in your face. They're the same as the other mammals' but they're just squashed and contorted by jamming the jaw into a face with your brain expanding over it, so the potential drainage system in there is so convoluted that no plumber would admit to having done it!... fewer teeth... fewer bones in our face, so that it could drain properly... straighten up the pelvis... take out the appendix... the tonsils, too.... Some guy from Texas... said, 'Actually I would write more, but I have to go pee in Morse code, because some idiot designed my aging prostate'..."

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

Mark Thoma Catches Greg Ip Writing on Ben Bernanke

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

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

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

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

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

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

More McCarthyism in the National Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vicar of Bray

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

The Vicar of Bray :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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