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February 2006

How Close Are We to Full Employment?

General Glut argues--based on a chart of the employment-to-population ratio for the male noninstitutional population 25-64--that we are still far below any reasonable definition of full employment.

I agree. But I worry about early retirements--men in their late fifties and early sixties who really don't want to work anymore. So I prefer to look at the male non-institutional population 25-54:

MEtP

It took two full decades--from 1980 to 2000--for "full employment" for this group to drop from 91% to 89%. It strains credulity to argue that in the last five years "full employment" for this group has dropped down to 87%.


John Dickerson: "You Can't Have a Press That Works, or Functions, without Anonymous Sources"

Now comes Media Matters for America, bringing the following paragraph from Time of October 13, 2003, and asking why Time did not include something like the boldfaced sentence I have added to the end of the paragraph:

TIME Magazine Archive Article -- Leaking With A Vengeance: What shook up the intelligence community also roiled the capital and set in motion the now familiar chain of scapegoating and backstabbing that has poisoned the past two presidencies. Having fumbled around in the drawer for months looking for a weapon to use against Bush, the Democrats saw an opening. On top of a moody economy, a messy war, a swelling budget deficit and a deeply polarized electorate, the leak charges came as Bush's poll numbers had sunk to the lowest point in his tenure. Indeed, with the presidential election a little more than a year away, only 37% of Americans believe the country is on the right track, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll. When word spread last week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was launching a full criminal probe into who had leaked Plame's identity, Democrats immediately raised a public alarm: How could Justice credibly investigate so secretive an Administration, especially when the investigators are led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose former paid political consultant Karl Rove was initially accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak? A TIME review of federal and state election records reveals that Ashcroft paid Rove's Texas firm $746,000 for direct-mail services in two gubernatorial campaigns and one Senate race from 1984 through 1994. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said accusations of Rove's peddling information are "ridiculous." Says McClellan: "There is simply no truth to that suggestion." But Time reporters have good reason to believe that McClellan's denials are not accurate.

The paragraph without the boldfaced sentence at the end--the paragraph, that is, that Time actually published--is, Media Matters asserts and I agree, misleading. At least three people who worked on the Time story--Michael Duffy, Matthew Cooper, John Dickerson, and quite possibly more--knew that McClellan's statement was false. Yet the words of the paragraph Time published don't say or hint that it was false.

Now comes Media Matters once again, giving us John Dickerson's attempt to explain to Al Franken why it would have been unethical for Time to set its readers straight by adding that last, boldfaced, sentence to the paragraph.

I think Dickerson's explanation is completely unsuccessful:

Media Matters:

FRANKEN: [T]here [were] things like quoting Scott McClellan saying the White House had nothing to do with this, that kind of thing, where you guys knew that he was not telling -- that what he was saying wasn't true. And that you allowed it to stand without saying, "We know this not to be true."... [T]here are some people a little peeved....

DICKERSON: Yes, there are some people peeved about that.... [T]he reason you can't just come out and say, "They're big liars, they're big liars," is because you end up giving up a source....

FRANKEN: Do you really give up the source, or do you just go, "They're big liars, they're big liars, but we won't say who"--

DICKERSON: Well, you can't do that, because you can't, for one of two reasons. One, you've got to show your proof, you can't just say "They're big liars, and we know something you don't, and that's--but we're not going to say any more." And if you say we do know they're liars, when they're talking about whether Karl Rove was involved or not, the only way--

FRANKEN: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, why can't you say, "They're big liars, they're big liars," and not show your proof? Because you don't show your proof all the time.

DICKERSON: Well, but you can't, you can't say, in that instance, it's--if you say, "We're certain we know," there's only one way you could be, or in this case, when you're talking about Karl Rove, there are only ways, you know there's, if you know, you know it's Karl. I mean, you can't--

FRANKEN: Well, you're in an odd position, because you guys are--

DICKERSON: You are in an odd position, I guess, but the larger point is this: You have a source, and you make an agreement with that source not to blow their identity. That, you have to keep that agreement. And the reason you do that, even in a situation where some people may, for all those people who may hate Karl Rove and this White House and want them to be outed, you've got to remember that the same protections are the ones that protected the people who came forth about the NSA wiretapping. And people come forward about things all the time knowing their cover isn't going to get blown. Sometimes it's in an instance that people would like, because it uncovers an NSA wiretapping scheme that they don't think is appropriate, and in some cases it protects people that they hate and would like to see run out on a rail. But you can't pick and chose....

FRANKEN: Can't you just, like, hint--

DICKERSON: You can't have a, you can't have a, you can't have a situation, you can't have a press that works, or that functions, without anonymous sources.

FRANKEN: I understand.

DICKERSON: I mean, maybe in a perfect world, we'd like no anonymous sources ever--

FRANKEN: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

DICKERSON: --and it's all, but you can't, if one person decides, well, I'm going to break this because in this instance it's compelled, now, of course, I mean, if it's a murder, or some other--situation, perhaps you have a situation where you're saving lives by breaking a confidence, that's another matter. But in this, but in, in order for the system to stay whole, you have to keep your promises.

Dickerson says that the system will break down if reporters don't keep their promises to confidential sources, and that those promises prohibit them from hinting that McClellan's false statements are in fact false. But it's not that easy. The system also breaks down when readers think reporters are misleading them.

In fact, I think the system has already broken down.

Can I ever read another article by Dickerson without a voice whispering in the back of my brain: "Is Dickerson's dance with his sources leading him to mislead me?"?


Physics and Iridescent Contract Theory

In biology, Intelligent Design. In linguistics, Wrathful Dispersionism. And now in physics, Iridescent Contract Theory.

In comments, Derek writes:

Wrathful Dispersionism: Meanwhile, physicists are trying to stop Iridescent Contract Theory from being a required part of the Optics syllabus. IC theory says that the complex colours of the rainbow cannot be explained by something as simple as refraction, but is more likely to be the record of an agreement made by some entity (nature unknown) with some other entity to do something. Critics of IC say it's just God's Covenant With Noah [about the rainbow] with the names crossed out...


We Need a Professional Linguist, Stat!

Yet another thing that is funny *because* it is so sad: it is very clear that we need a different word than "reporter" for people who write words that appear in the standard Washington DC press.

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei writes:

Lobbyist Told Reporter of Nearly a Dozen Contacts With Bush: President Bush met lobbyist Jack Abramoff almost a dozen times over the past five years and invited him to Crawford, Tex., in the summer of 2003, according to an e-mail Abramoff wrote to a reporter.... Bush "has one of the best memories of any politicians I have ever met," Abramoff wrote to Kim Eisler of Washingtonian magazine. "The guys saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids."... Eisler confirmed the contents of the e-mail and said he recently provided portions of it to the liberal Web log ThinkProgress because he thought he was dealing with a fellow reporter. The blog posted the contents of the Abramoff-Eisler communication.

In the e-mail, Abramoff scoffs at Bush's public statements that he does not recall ever meeting the disgraced lobbyist and former top Bush fundraiser. "Of course he can't recall that he has a great memory!" Abramoff wrote. Eisler, an editor for Washingtonian, said in the interview that the lobbyist was the source of his exclusive report last month that at least five photographs of Bush with Abramoff exist. Abramoff showed him the pictures, Eisler said....

Bush has said he does not recall ever meeting Abramoff or posing for pictures with the Republican lobbyist at official events or parties. The White House has refused to release the pictures or detail Abramoff's contacts with top White House officials over the past five years. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that "what the president said still stands."... McClellan said that... it would not be unusual for the president to not recall meeting Abramoff."Perhaps he has forgotten everything," Abramoff wrote in the e-mail. "Who knows?"

Eisler said Abramoff did not grant him permission to release the contents of their e-mail and Abramoff is upset that Eisler did. Eisler, who described himself as sympathetic to Abramoff's situation, was trying to show the ThinkProgress reporter that Abramoff was not exaggerating his relationship with Bush.... Eisler's wife, Judy Sarasohn, covers lobbying issues for The Washington Post.

So, let's summarize: Eisler showed the emails to the ThinkProgress reporter, and is now upset because the reporter reported on them. Eisler assumed--based on his past experience with reporters--that the ThinkProgress reporter would not report what he saw, but would at most hint and shade his paragraphs in a pro-Abramoff direction. Moreover, reporter Jim VandeHei does not find this at all strange--that Eisler and Abramoff feel betrayed because a reporter actually reported, and thus violated their expectations (based on lots of experience) that you can show something very interesting to a reporter and count on that reporter not reporting it.

I'm out of my depth here: we need a professional linguistic consultant immediately. Clearly we can't keep calling them "reporters" if the default expectation in their community is well-represented by Jim VandeHei. What should we call them?

But it is funny.


Fearless Freelance Intellectual John Podhoretz Speaks!

A correspondent writes: "Irony, thou art completely, completely dead." And she then points us to John Podhoretz, who writes:

The Corner on National Review Online: PUNDITS VS. CONSULTANTS [John Podhoretz]: It's a very good point, Jonah, about the cable nets improperly pairing off opinion journalists who stand on one side of the political divide and political consultants who actually work for the other side. Ten years ago I made a blanket rule that I would not appear on TV opposite professional Democrats because I am not a professional Republican but rather a working journalist. I don't speak for the GOP, even though my political and ideological views have placed me in close alignment with the Republican party. But a Democratic consultant does speak for his or her party for a paycheck, and viewers have no reason to know that there's a difference.

Wow.

Isn't it interesting how John Podhoretz's political and ideological views have changed over time? In 2000 Podhoretz thought it essential to maintain the federal budget in surplus; in 2006 Podhoretz thinks the large current and projected federal budget deficits aren't a very big problem. In 2000 Podhoretz thought that the Clinton administration had made a bad error in deploying U.S. troops in "nation building" exercises half the world away; in 2006 Podhoretz thinks that it would be a bad error not to deploy U.S. troops in "nation building" exercises half the world away. In 2000 Podhoretz thought that the federal government needed to be restrained lest it violate individual liberties; in 2006 Podhoretz thinks that individual liberties need to be restrained lest they hobble the federal government.

How fortunate is Podhoretz, working journalist, to have found a political party whose positions of the day change in exact synchrony with his own evolving views!

How in the Holy Name of the Lord has he managed it? I certainly have had no such luck.


Eddie Lazear Is About to Take on a Really Hard Job...

Eddie Lazear is taking his place in the hot seat as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers--a job placed in the executive branch by the post-World War II Employment Act to make sure that economic expertise would always have a voice in White House decision making.

From what Max Sawicky reports of George W. Bush's recent speeches, Eddie will more than earn his pay:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: THE SECOND GREATEST IDEA SINCE SLICED BREAD : George W. Bush

"One of the interesting things that I hope you realize when it comes to cutting taxes is this tax relief not only has helped our economy, but it's helped the federal budget. In 2004, tax revenues to the Treasury grew about 5.5 percent. That's kind of counter-intuitive, isn't it? At least it is for some in Washington. You cut [personal income] taxes and the tax revenues increase. See, some people are going to say, well, you cut taxes, you're going to have less revenue. No, that's not what happened. What happened was we cut taxes and in 2004, revenues increased 5.5 percent.... And the reason why is cutting taxes caused the economy to grow, and as the economy grows there is more revenue generated in the private sector, which yields more tax revenues."

Quoth Historical Tables, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2007, Table 2-1, "Receipts by Source," page 30: Individual Income Taxes: Fiscal Year 2003: $793,699 million. Fiscal Year 2004: $808,959 million.

By advanced fuzzy-mathematical techniques, year-over-year [nominal] rate of growth: 1.9 percent [a full percentage point lower than inflation plus labor force growth, and a full four percentage points lower than inflation plus labor force plus productivity growth].

Now to be fair, total receipts for '04 did increase by 5.5 percent, but these consisted in great part of taxes that were not cut, and of the shifting of tax liability in the corporate income tax due to the jive bonus depreciation shenanigans.

So here's my second greatest idea since sliced bread:

Since not cutting taxes other than the income tax caused total revenues to increase, not cutting the individual income tax as well ought to cause even bigger increases. Imagine, don't cut taxes, and revenues will go up.

[Applause] Thank you, thank you.


Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Eric Umansky writes:

Eric Umansky: Because Car Safety = Communist: TNR on another fine presidential appointee: Nicole Nason will head the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. As TNR puts it, "that means Nason will be car-crash prevention czar in a country where around 50,000 people die annually in auto accidents":

So what are the 35-year-old Nason's qualifications? According to her official bio she's currently the Transportation Department's liason to Congress and other agencies, which is a largely political job; previously she did the same thing at the Customs Department. Before that she was a flack--a press aide to GOP Congressman Porter Goss and earlier still a spokesperson for the House GOP's Clinton impeachment operation. Not exactly Ralph Nader, is she? But to the extent that Nason is versed in some highway-safety issues, that might not be such a desirable thing. Per The Washington Post:

Nason, as assistant secretary of transportation, acted primarily as a lobbyist for the Bush administration in opposing safety proposals that the agency now has the responsibility to enforce...

The president's job is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," not to appoint subordinates who have no interest in executing the laws. Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.


In Today's Mail: Books and Articles

Four books that arrived today to add to the pile. They are all well worth reading, IMHO at least:

  1. Tobias Buckell (2006), Crystal Rain (New York: Tor: 0765312271) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0765312271/braddelong00.
  2. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (2006), Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University: 0521855268) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0521855268/braddelong00.
  3. Chris Roush (2004), Show Me the Money (Lawrence Erlbaum: 0805849556) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0805849556/braddelong00.
  4. Edward Luttwak (1969), Coup d'Etat (New York: Knopf: 0674175476) http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0674175476/braddelong00

And this morning's mail includes the recent collected reprints of Mark Roe: "Delaware's Politics" from HLR, "Regulatory Competition in Making Corporate Law" from the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, "Can Culture Constrain the Economic Model of Corporate Law" from UCLR, and two book chapters--"Institutions of Corporate Governance" and "On Sacrificing Profits in the Public Interest." And it includes next Monday's seminar paper: Alfonso Herranz-Loncan from the University of Barcelona on "Did Spain Gain so Much from the Railroads? The Contribution of Railroad Technology to Spanish Economic Growth 1848-1913."

And Eudora has singled out an email message telling me to go read Greg Ip's lecture, "The Enigma of Alan Greenspan" http://journalism.wlu.edu/Reynolds/ip.html.

It's a very good thing that I like to read...


Berkeley Economic History Seminar: Economics 211: Spring 2006

BERKELEY ECONOMIC HISTORY SEMINAR, SPRING 2006

ECONOMICS 211

Meetings in Evans 639, 2-3:30, Mondays, unless otherwise noted

January 23: Organizational Meeting

January 30: Job Market Seminar: Tavneet Suri, "Selection and Comparative Advantage in Technology Adoption" 608-7 4-5:30

February 8 (Wed): Orley Ashenfelter (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

February 13: Alfonso Herranz-Loncan (Davis), "Did Spain Gain So Much from the Railroads? The Contribution of the Railroad Technology to Spanish Economic Growth (1850-1914)"

February 22 (Wed): Francois Bouguignon (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

February 27: 4 PM: IES Seminar Room (Moses Hall): Michael North (Greifswald), "Cultural Consumption and Identity in Eighteenth Century Germany

March 8 (Wed): Richard Thaler (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

March 13: FREE

March 22 (Wed): Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti (Berkeley) (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

April 5 (Wed): William Easterly (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

April 10: Ian McLean (Adelaide), "Might Australia Have Failed?"

Aprl 12 (Wed): Jonas Scherner (Mannheim and Yale), "The End of a Myth: Albert Speer and the So-Called Armaments Miracle" (IES Seminar Room, Moses Hall, 4-5:30)

April 17: Marty Weitzman (Departmental Seminar, Evans 608-7, 4-5:30)

April 24: Raj Arunachalam and Trevon Logan (Berkeley and Ohio State), "Dowry: Bequest or Price?"

May 1: Elise Andrea Couper (Berkeley), "The Dissolution of the Monasteries in the City of York"


The Ostrich Administration: Apres Bush le Deluge

Paul Krugman writes:

The Vanishing Future: [W]e've had six years to grow accustomed to Bush budget chicanery... the sheer childishness of the administration's denials and deceptions.... [I]n 2001... Bush... insisted that its tax-cut plans wouldn't endanger the budget surplus.... [T]he Senate demanded a cap on the tax cut.... The administration met this requirement... by "sunsetting" the tax cut, making the whole thing expire at the end of 2010.

This was obviously silly... the law as written... no federal tax on the estates of wealthy people who die in 2010... estate tax will return in 2011.... I suggested, back in 2001, that the legislation be renamed the Throw Momma From the Train Act.

It was also obvious that the administration... would try to eliminate the sunset clause and make the tax cuts permanent. But it quickly became clear that the budget forecasts... were wildly overoptimistic.... Making the tax cut permanent would greatly worsen those future deficits. What were budget officials to do? You almost have to admire their brazenness: they made the future disappear. Clinton-era budgets offered 10-year projections of spending and revenues. But the Bush administration slashed the budget horizon to five years... since budget analyses no longer covered the years after 2010, the revenue losses from extending the tax cut became invisible.

But now it's 2006, and even a five-year projection covers the period from 2007 to 2011, which means including a year in which making the Bush tax cuts permanent will cost a lot of revenue -- $119.7 billion... a standard table titled "Impact of Budget Policy"... this year, that table is missing....

The administration has no idea how to make its tax cuts feasible in the long run. Yet it has never, as far as I can tell, allowed unfavorable facts to affect its determination... it has devoted all its efforts to hiding those awkward facts from public view. (Any resemblance to, say, its Iraq strategy is no coincidence.)

At this point the administration's budget strategy seems to be simply to ignore reality. The 2007 budget makes it clear, once and for all, that the tax cuts can't be offset with spending cuts. But Bush officials have decided to ignore that unpleasant fact, and let some future administration deal with the mess they have created.


Virtual Blogroll Post of the Week

If you want to understand the Valerie Plame Wilson affair--well, not to understand it, but to have your not-understanding of it be at a sophisticated and subtle level--so foul and fair a mystery I have not seen--then you need to read three and only three sources. Our virtual blogroll post of the week is thus composed of these three Wyrd Sisters--actually, the metaphor breaks down quickly and doesn't make any sense in the first place--of:

  1. Tom "Minuteman" Maguire: http://justoneminute.typepad.com/ "I come, Greymalkin!"
  2. firedoglake: http://firedoglake.blogspot.com/ "Paddock calls!"
  3. Murray Waas: http://whateveralready.blogspot.com/ "Anon!"

"Fair is foul and foul is fair! Hover through the fog and filthy air!"


Grand Opera

Is there a better passage in the classical opera repertoire than "Signore, ascolta!"-"Non piangere, Liu"-"Per l'ultima volta!" in Puccini's "Turandot"?


Wrathful Dispersionism

"Intelligent Designers" invade the Linguistics curriculum:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/q_pheevr/33337.html Linguists here in Canada have been following closely, with a mixture of amusement, bemusement, and, it must be admitted, a little trepidation, the deliberations of our neighbours to the south, who are currently considering, in a courtroom in Pennsylvania, whether "Wrathful Dispersion Theory," as it is called, should be taught in the public schools alongside evolutionary theories of historical linguistics.

It is an emotionally charged question, for linguistics is widely and justifiably seen as the centrepiece of the high-school science curriculum--a hard science, but not a difficult one to do in the classroom; an area of study that teaches students the essentials of scientific reasoning, but that at the same time touches on the spiritual essence of what it means to be human, for it is of course language that separates us from our cousins the apes.

The opponents of Wrathful Dispersion maintain that it is really just Babelism, rechristened so that it might fly under the radar of those who insist that religion has no place in the state-funded classroom. Babelism was clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9); it held that the whole array of modern languages was created by God at a single stroke, for the immediate purpose of disrupting humanity's hubristic attempt to build a tower that would reach to heaven: "Let us go down," God says to Himself, "and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."

Wrathful Dispersion is couched in more cautiously neutral language; rather than tying linguistic diversity to a specific biblical event, it merely argues that the differences among modern languages are too perverse to have arisen spontaneously, and must therefore be the work of some wrathful (and powerful) disperser who deliberately set out to accomplish a confusion of tongues.


That "Analytical Perspectives" Volume Will Trip You Up Every Time...

Max Sawicky notes that the White House's political appointees were unable to read the Analytical Pespectives volume of the budget, hence they failed to vet it. Probably fell asleep in the preface, poor sods:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE WATCH : The Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Years 2007-2016, main volume, Expanding Economic Opportunity, p. 7:

We are also seeing the sustained job growth expected from a strong economy. Employment is up by 4.6 million jobs since May of 2003. The unemployment rate, which peaked at 6.3 percent in June of 2003, fell to 4.9 percent by the end of 2005, a level consistent with strong growth and low inflation. This unemployment rate is lower than the average unemployment rates of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and it is significantly lower than the unemployment rates of many of our major trading partners...

The Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Years 2007-2016, Analytical Perspectives, p. 171:

The extraordinary fall-off in labor force participation, from 67.1 percent of the U.S. population in 1997-2000 to 66.0 percent in 2000-2005, appears to be at least partly cyclical in nature, and most forecasters are assuming some rebound in labor force participation as the expansion continues. Since the official unemployment rate does not include workers who have left the labor force, the conventional measures of potential GDP, incomes, and Government receipts understate the extent to which potential work hours have been under-utilized in the current expansion to date because of the decline in labor force participation.


Another Decade of Development Failure

Dani Rodrik looks back on a decade of failure--not of the failure of economic development, for worldwide the past fifteen or so years have been unbelievably wonderful ones for world development, but of the failure of economists to give useful and helpful development advice:

Life used to be relatively simple for the peddlers of policy advice in the tropics. Observing the endless list of policy follies to which poor nations had succumbed, any well trained and well-intentioned economist could feel justified in uttering the obvious truths of the profession: get your macro balances in order, take the state out of business, give markets free rein. “Stabilize, privatize, and liberalize” became the mantra of a generation of technocrats who cut their teeth in the developing world, and of the political leaders they counseled.

Codified in John Williamson’s (1990) well-known "Washington Consensus," this advice inspired a wave of reforms in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa which fundamentally transformed the policy landscape in these developing areas. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, former socialist countries similarly made a bold leap towards markets. There was more privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization in Latin America and Eastern Europe than probably anywhere else at any point in economic history. In Sub-Saharan Africa governments moved with less conviction and speed, but there too a substantial portion of the new policy agenda was adopted: state marketing boards were dismantled, inflation reduced, trade opened up, and significant amounts of privatization undertaken.

Such was the enthusiasm for reform in many of these countries that Williamson’s original list of do’s and don’ts came to look remarkably tame and innocuous by comparison. In particular, financial liberalization and opening up to international capital flows went much farther than what Williamson had anticipated (or thought prudent) from the vantage point of the late 1980s. Williamson’s (2000) protestations notwithstanding, the reform agenda eventually came to be perceived, at least by its critics, as an overtly ideological effort to impose “neoliberalism” and “market fundamentalism” on developing nations.

The one thing that is generally agreed on about the consequences of these reforms is that things have not quite worked out the way they were intended. Even their most ardent supporters now concede that growth has been below expectations in Latin America (and the “transition crisis” deeper and more sustained than expected in former socialist economies). Not only were success stories in Sub-Saharan Africa few and far in between, but the market-oriented reforms of the 1990s proved ill-suited to deal with the growing public health emergency in which the continent became embroiled. The critics, meanwhile, feel that the disappointing outcomes have vindicated their concerns about the inappropriateness of the standard reform agenda. While the lessons drawn by proponents and skeptics differ, it is fair to say that nobody really believes in the "Washington Consensus" anymore. The question now is not whether the "Washington Consensus" is dead or alive; it is what will replace it...


Gosh! We Democrats Sure Are Powerful!

Daniel Gross reads the best comics page in America today:

Daniel Gross: February 05, 2006 - February 11, 2006 Archives : ALL POWERFUL DEMOCRATS: Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, desperately seeking to spin the absurd budget proposal, engages in tremendous contortions to focus the blame for the deficit and fiscal profligacy where it really belong: on the Democrats. Never mind that Republicans have controlled the White House for the past five years, and that they've essentially controlled Congress for the past five years, they can't really be blamed for continuing to pass laws that don't align receipts with outlays.

The only thing worse than Mr. Bush's spending record is the clucking on Capitol Hill deploring it. The Members have voted to spend every dime, and Democrats especially have resisted every attempt to restrain spending growth. Only last week, not one Democrats in the House voted for a bill to slow entitlement spending by a mere $40 billion over five years.

You see, Democrats don't play any actual role in taxing or spending decisions. But they're responsible for them anyway...


Yet Another Thing to Add to the Travel Bag

Ah. Yet another thing to add to the travel bag. From tidbits.com:

Adam wrote from the friendly skies...

Hmm. Maybe I should start traveling with a power strip purely so I can use - and then share with my fellow power-hungry travelers - any outlet I can find. If I'm arrested for theft of services, promise you'll all send me cookies in prison.

I started carrying an extension cord with multiple connections after one airport experience in which another traveler got snotty about needing BOTH plugs at an outlet.

But it's a two-prong extension cord, which I realized was a problem on my last trip, since I fairly recently started using the PowerBook's adapter with the three-prong cord attached, instead of the little two-prong block. Guess I should start carrying the two-prong block for emergencies.

A small grounded power strip would be a good idea; I think we have some of those at work. But I should keep the extension cord in my bag for the occasions when I happen upon a two-prong outlet.

Much of the problem is that most airports were designed 10-50 years ago with the power needs of the occasional vacuum cleaner in mind, not the relatively recent explosion of recharging needs of the traveling public. Most of the gate areas of the airport buildings are little more than metal and glass walls, so there's no place to add an outlet, and no wiring in the relevant places to add it to. Retrofitting them would be a non-trivial task, but as new facilities are built and old ones are renovated, there are almost always more outlets being added.


Who Are You and What Have You Done with Chris Matthews?

Who are you and what have you done with Chris Matthews of Hardball? Something very strange has happened--replacement by hive-mind aliens is the most likely possibility, I'm just sayin':

Antonia Zerbisias - Toronto Star Blog: Sow's Purse:

MATTHEWS: Do you think Iraq was a threat to the United States?

CLARKE: I do. Because we live if a world in which individuals, not massive armies, navies, air forces, individual can do great catastrophic harm and there are different players in that world and Iraq was one of the centerpieces of destabilization, of mixing and mingling with terrorists of all sizes and shapes.

They had demonstrated their ability and desire to use weapons of mass destruction in the past, they had demonstrated their intent. It was the right decision at the time. But back to your question.

MATTHEWS: I have heard this argument so long and I think that argument, at the time, could have been used against Pakistan, it could be used against Saudi Arabia.

There are so many governments in that part of the world who do us harm by the way they let their children be educated, by the kind of culture they instill in people, the hatred that they allow, not just against Israel but against the west.

There‘s so many forces out there. Former Soviet engineers with a tremendous capability to sell, out of economic desperation, weaponry that can be used by terrorists. I think Iraq would have been the least likely source of nuclear technology for someone who wanted to get their hands on it. Least likely source, and I don‘t hear the argument to the contrary.

All the arguments about W.M.D. have been shot down. No evidence of an African deal, no evidence involving aluminum tubes. All the arguments that your side put up to get us into this war have been shot down, especially the argument that we were going to be received by people who are going to be happy to see us. They are fighting us. They are not happy to see us. That the oil in America was going to be cheaper. That the oil was going to pay for the war itself.

You‘re crowd made every argument in the world to get us in that war, and then they all quit. What I can‘t understand is how an administration packed with hawks, they are all gone. Scooter is facing jail. Wolfowitz is gone. I don‘t know what else is gone, but all the hawks seem to be gone now.

You‘re not there now backing the war.

CLARKE: Eighteen things in that two minute rant. So let‘s address a few pieces of it. Let‘s address a few important pieces of this and let‘s go back to the original point about public support. But let‘s go back to what happened.

Colossal, humongous, terrible Intel failure. Now, you can change your opinion now. You can say those arguments don‘t hold up now, but back then the debate was not about whether or not they had weapons of mass destruction. It was what to do about it.

MATTHEWS: The casualties are real. The hatred against us around the world for going to war are real. All the arguments to get us in the war have been shot down Torie.

CLARKE: No.

MATTHEWS: It was a great sales job. And it worked and we got into the war. And people now know that the arguments used to get us in the war, the carrot and the stick, were not true.

CLARKE: No, I disagree completely.

MATTHEWS: Where was I wrong in my rant?


Over at My Journalism Class Weblog

Over at my journalism class weblog:

Covering the January 27 GDP Release: There's news--lots of news--lots of bad news--in the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis's "advance" release on GDP and the state of the economy in the fourth quarter of 2005. So I'm going to want to spend class on Tuesday, January 31 looking at (a) what the Thursday morning economic news was, and (b) how it was reported

Readings for February 7, 2006 : Loose ends, real wages, and Peter Gosselin of the LA Times on income insecurity

The Bush Administration Federal Budget Proposal: Jonathan Weisman's Tuesday budget story... Stan Collender's Wednesday budget story... National Journal 2007 budget proposal special report.... David Sanger's Tuesday budget story.... There are three kinds of federal budget proposals: (a) those that describe the policies that a powerful president expects to get through congress this year; (b) those that describe a weaker president's opening bid, that is to say what he hopes but does not expect to get through congress; and (c) those that are not policy but political documents, crafted to get the maximum amount of favorable press. This year we have a budget of type (c). How is it being covered?

Budget: What Do You Do When Officials Lie? : Class Afterthoughts: What can a working journalist do when official sources and documents tell lies? That was a difficult part of what those journalists covering the budget this year had to do. We have this same question coming up in another context: Daniel Froomkin writes: "It is now clear that several reporters and editors at Time knew very well that McClellan's statement was false.... [W]hat should Time have done?...


Covering the Economy: Budget: What Do You Do When Officials Lie?

What can a working journalist do when official sources and documents tell lies? That was, we all thought on Wednesday, a difficult part of what those journalists covering the budget this year had to do.

We have this same question coming up in another context: Daniel Froomkin writes:

The Captive President: Media Matters, the liberal media watchdog Web site, raises an interesting point about Time Magazine's coverage of the Valerie Plame affair. Back in this October 2003 story, the magazine reported: "White House spokesman Scott McClellan said accusations of Rove's peddling information are 'ridiculous.' Says McClellan: 'There is simply no truth to that suggestion.'" It is now clear that several reporters and editors at Time knew very well that McClellan's statement was false.... Is there any excuse for a news organization to print a statement that they know is untrue, without at least trying to clue their readers into the truth? That seems to defeat the central purpose of journalism. So what should Time have done?...

Here's Time reporter Michael Duffy's paragraph in context:

[T]he Democrats saw an opening.... Democrats immediately raised a public alarm: How could Justice credibly investigate so secretive an Administration, especially when the investigators are led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose former paid political consultant Karl Rove was initially accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak?.... White House spokesman Scott McClellan said accusations of Rove's peddling information are "ridiculous." Says McClellan: "There is simply no truth to that suggestion." Recalling the torture inflicted on Bush's predecessor by a squad of special prosecutors, congressional Democrats demanded that a special counsel be appointed in this case. By Wednesday some had christened the scandal Intimigate and were trying to link it to every political issue in sight...

So I called Michael Duffy, who strongly disagrees. He thinks that it would have been unprofessional of him to send any signal in that story that McClellan's statements were false. He had a duty to his readers. He had a duty to Time's confidential sources to protect their identity. And the duty to the sources trumps. Sending a signal that Time knew that McClellan was wrong when he said that Rove was involved--"remember, he still has not been charged," Duffy said--would have revealed that Rove was one of Time's confidential sources.

There is, I think, a certain tension and inconsistency in Duffy's position. On the one hand, Duffy points to all the pictures of Karl Rove in the issue of Time and talks about how Rove's involvement was an open secret, talks about how everyone knows how limited is the truth value of statements from the White House podium. "This wasn't the first story about Plame we had written." He is sure that Time's readers were definitely not misled by McClellan's denials.

But if that is so, how can Time be protecting Rove's confidential status>

On the other hand, Duffy says that Time will go all the way up to the Supreme Court, at great expense, to protect the confidentiality of its sources.

But if that is so, how can Time justify all the big pictures of Karl Rove that Duffy implies--"look at the images in that issue? What's on the spread?"--said nudge nudge, wink wink, we all know that most of what Scott McClellan says is so is not in fact so?

Not that it's bad that there's a certain tension and inconsistency in Michael Duffy's position. There is extraordinary tension in Duffy's situation. I think that the tension should be diminished by a greater willingness to blow sources sky-high when the alternative is to mislead your readers and the stakes get high enough. Source confidentiality is a tool to be used to better inform your readers, not a value in itself that conflicts with it.

Michael Duffy thinks not.

I suspect that the most important element of this mishegass is that Time believes that its readers know more of the "open secrets" of the Washington insider political journalistic community than they (or, indeed, I) in fact do.


China's Leadership Cadre

Blood and Treasure points us to interesting stuff:

Blood & Treasure: after Hu : Willy Lam on the next generation of CCP leaders:

In general, however, the two Lis as well as other Hu protégés have conformed to the CCP tradition of quietly waiting in the wings and keeping a low profile so as not to be seen as upstaging their superiors in the Politburo Standing Committee. Diplomatic analysts agree that it is almost a foregone conclusion that Hu will largely achieve his objectives at the 17th Congress. After all, the other major faction in CCP politics, the so-called Shanghai Clique once led by ex-president Jiang, has been fading fast since the latter’s retirement from his last significant position of commander-in-chief in 2004. Moreover, Hu has been adept at building bridges to other important factions such as the “gang of princelings”—-a reference to the offspring of party elders or retired generals—by elevating a significant number of these high-born cadres to senior party, government and military slots.

The Shanghai Faction. The Gang of Princelings. God, I love this stuff. But then I’m a China politics geek. Anyway, here’s a bit of Kremlinology. Chinese leaders usually summarise their opinions or policies in lists, like human powerpoint presentations. As the “third generation” of the CPC leadership, Jiang Zemin used to summarise in threes -- with the three represents, for instance. Hu Jintao puts everything in fours, because he’s the fourth generation. So if you see some modest looking fellow speaking in fives, then there’s your future main geezer.


Time for the Washington Post to Retire Robert Samuelson (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

People at the Washington Post periodically ask me why I don't presume that the employees of the Washington Post are people of good will, trying hard, who occasionally make mistakes.

Here's one reason why: Robert Samuelson this morning regurgitates a piece of mendacious Republican spin that I'm tired of. I've finally had enough.

He needs to be retired, and the sooner the better:

Getting Past Budget Blab: It's the Bill Clinton Delusion: that the Democrats are now the party of "fiscal responsibility," because Clinton engineered the first budget surpluses (1998-2001) since 1969. The reality is that those surpluses stemmed more from good luck than from Clinton's policies.... [F]ederal spending as a share of GDP dropped from 22.1 percent in 1992 to 18.5 percent in 2001. How can anyone doubt Clinton's achievement? Easy. He didn't plan or predict those surpluses. They resulted mostly from an unanticipated surge in taxes flowing from the economic boom -- something that Clinton didn't create. As for lower spending, that mainly stemmed from the ending of the Cold War -- something else Clinton didn't cause. From 1992 to 2001 defense outlays dropped from 4.8 percent of GDP to 3 percent. Once budget surpluses occurred, interest payments fell from 3 percent of GDP in 1996 to 2 percent in 2001. Elsewhere in the budget, there was little spending restraint. Indeed, Clinton didn't originally promise to balance the budget. In his early years, he merely pledged "deficit reduction" -- Bush's present policy...

The best way to do the math is to start out with the fact that the federal budget was in deficit of 4.7% of GDP in 1992, and projected (as of April 1993) to rise to a deficit of 5.5% of GDP by 2000. Instead, it swung to a surplus of 2.4% in 2000--a swing of 7.9 percentage points. Of this:

  1. Approximately 2.0% is due to a booming economy.
  2. An extra 1.0% to the high value of capital gains taxes paid in 2000 because of the high value of the stock market.
  3. 3.0% to the effects of the Clinton-Mitchell-Foley 1993 deficit-reduction package.
  4. 1.8% to the effects of the 1990 Bush-Mitchell-Foley deficit reduction package (overwhelmingly the effects of the 1990 discretionary spending caps on defense spending).

Some proportion of the booming economy was the result of good fiscal policy: deficit reduction allowed the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates lower than otherwise, and enabled businesses to more easily undertake the high-tech investments that produced so much American productivity growth in the 1990s.

Note that Samuelson is careful not to talk about how Clinton policies deserve credit for the reductions in the deficit that came from higher taxes. He is careful not to give credit to Clinton policies for reductions in the deficit that came from the fact that earlier deficit reduction reduced the outstanding debt on which interest had to be paid. He is careful not to give credit to Clinton policies for the effects of sane fiscal policy that allowed for lower interest rates and thus lower interest payments on outstanding debt. He is careful not to give credit to Clinton policies for deficit reduction produced by the caps on domestic discretionary spending.

Note Samuelson's phrase: those surpluses [of the 1990s] stemmed more from good luck than from Clinton's policies. That's "truthiness": without the stock market bubble and the economic boom, the U.S. would probably have had a trivial deficit in 2000. In that sense, that there were surpluses--rather than small deficits--is "mostly" from the economic boom. But that's not the truth: Clinton did a great deal of heavy lifting to massively improve America's fiscal situation in the 1990s. Whatever else you think of Clinton, this was a real accomplishment for which Clinton deserves credit.

Note that Samuelson doesn't quite say Clinton policies had little to do with the improvement in America's fiscal balance in the 1990s. But that's what he wants his readers to think: that Clinton policies did little.

Why? I don't know why he wants to misrepresent fiscal policy in the 1990s. I can't even call Robert Samuelson a right-wing hack. The real right-wingers I know openly and aggressively say that Clinton's fiscal policies were vastly, vastly preferable to Bush's. Republican hack? Establishment hack? Tell me what I should call Samuelson, and why he is doing what he is doing.

I do know that if the Washington Post wants to reduce its reputation as a swamp of mendacious Republican-biased spin, retiring Robert Samuelson would be a good start.


Ken Macleod on the Liberalism of Fools

Crooked Timber directs us to Ken Macleod's (why isn't the "L" capitalized?) thoughts on the Liberalism of Fools:

The Early Days of a Better Nation : Anti-semitism, said Bebel and Engels, is the socialism of fools. The rage of the small property holder - the peasant, the artisan, the stall-keeper - against his inexorable ruin by the competition of bigger capital is given a face and a race to hate: a physical particularity that stands in thought for the abstractions of 'finance' and 'the market' and 'the banks'. 'The Jew' becomes the concrete embodiment (in fantasy) of exchange value. So goes the Marxist tale, anyway, though it has many more subtle twists than that.

Is there another hatred that might be called 'the liberalism of fools'? The progressivism of fools? The libertarianism of fools? If anti-semitism is, in an important aspect, a rage against the machine, against progress, is there an opposite rage: a rage against reaction, a fury at the recalcitrance of the concrete and the stubbornness of tradition? A rage against what is sacred and refuses to be profaned, against what is solid and doesn't melt into air, against ways of life that resist commodification, against use-value that refuses to become exchange-value? And might that rage too need a fantasy object?

In the 1930s and 40s, a number of progressive intellectuals found that object in the Roman Catholic Church. Granted all the good reasons there were, in that age of the dictators, for identifying the RC Church with militant reaction, the fury seems oddly disproportionate. H. G. Wells's wartime Penguin Special Crux Ansata starts with the cry 'Bomb Rome!' and goes on from there.... [T]here it was: a religion identified with reaction, and progressives with a blind spot about a powerful state that they saw as that religion's most formidable foe....

[A]nti-Catholicism is gone as a burning-glass of progressive rage. One wonders what new lens might focus that rage now. Is there some religion or people that has come to represent all that is backward in the world, and in need of a sound and salutary thrashing from the forces of progress? Orthodoxy, perhaps? Zoroastrianism? Tibetan Buddhism? Hinduism? None of them seem to quite fit the bill. There must be one out there somewhere. Because the rage still burns.


Bruce Bartlett's New Book Is Out

Daniel Gross has a copy:

Daniel Gross: February 05, 2006 - February 11, 2006 Archives : Bruce Bartlett's new book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, has arrived. There's not a lot of new material in here, but it's quite good nonetheless. Bartlett, a former official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, coherently synthesizes the profligacy, incompetence, and mendacity of the last five years of fiscal and economic policy. The interesting wrinkle is that he does so by quoting almost exclusively from critics on the right. George Will is cited in the index seven times; Paul Krugman, once. You may not agree with his solutions to the problems Bush has created--a VAT--but you have to give him credit for speaking truth to power. The National Center for Policy Analysis, where he worked for six years, fired him for writing the book.


Our New Majority Leader

Ah. Our new majority leader:

First Draft: Nice reform-oriented Majority Leader you got yourselves there, Republicans [via Kos]. "Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was elected House majority leader last week, is renting his Capitol Hill apartment from a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee."


Covering the Economy: Federal Budget Proposals: February 8, 2006

For Wednesday February 8 class:

Jonathan Weisman's Tuesday budget story at the Washington Post: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2006/02/jonathan_weisma.html
Stan Collender's Wednesday budget story at the National Journal: http://nationaljournal.com/collender.htm
National Journal 2007 budget proposal special report: http://nationaljournal.com/members/pubfeatures/pdf/2006/budget07/
David Sanger's Tuesday budget story for the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/07/politics/07budget.html

There are three kinds of federal budget proposals: (a) those that describe the policies that a powerful president expects to get through congress this year; (b) those that describe a weaker president's opening bid, that is to say what he hopes but does not expect to get through congress; and (c) those that are not policy but political documents, crafted to get the maximum amount of favorable press by leaving out things like, say, additional expenditures for the war in Iraq and the costs of fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax.

A good budget story should--Brad says--do all of the following:

  1. Tell readers what the government is doing on their behalf.
  2. Tell readers how the president wants to change policies in order to make the government do something different from what it has been or is projected to be doing.
  3. Tell readers how congress is likely to alter the president's budget proposals.
  4. Tell readers what kind of budget--a, b, or c--the president has submitted.

How well do each of these perform these four missions? Are these the missions that a budget story should perform? What alternative missions or goals would you suggest for a budget story?


Stupidest Man Alive: Special "Truthiness" Edition

I confess that I have misjudged Jonah Goldberg. I did not think he had the mojo to make a *serious* play for the Stupidest Man AliveTM crown. But he does.

We all know why Jonah claimed that America's Great Plains used to be a great forest until the American Indians burned it down. At some point, Jonah Goldberg dozed through an American history lecture, part of which was on Changes in the Land--a book about the ecology of New England in the centuries before my Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors arrived. The lecturer said that the Massachusetts tribes set fires to reduce underbrush and to create more meadows where deer could feed. But in poor Jonah Goldberg's brain, Wampanoag = Souix, Massasoit = Sitting Bull, coastal Massachusetts = South Dakota, and so the statement that Massachusetts tribes set fires to create more meadows where deer could live turned inside Jonah's brain into the statement that the Indians burnt the giant forest of the Great Plains to the ground to hunt buffalo--all Injuns looking alike to Jonah.

It's quite funny. It's somewhat sad. But the claim that the Indians turned the Giant Forest into the Great Plains is not something that anyone would dare in the light of day defend, is it?

Surprise, surprise, Jonah Goldberg does, and so digs himself in deeper:

The Corner on National Review Online : As for... "The great plains used to be a giant forest. The Indians burnt it to the ground to hunt buffalo"... it's a basically sound point.... I suggest DeLong pick up a copy of The Ecological Indian, Myth and History by Shepard Krech. He writes, "The evidence that Indians lit fires that then were allowed to burn destructively and without regard to ecological consequences is abundant." He has a whole chapter simply called "Fire." "By the time Europeans arrived, North American was a manipulated continent," Krech continues. "Indians had long since altered the landscape by burning or clearing woodland for farming and fuel. Despite European images of an untouched Eden, this nature was cultural not virgin, anthropogenic not primeval, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Indian use of fire."

Well, I have Shepard Krech III of Brown University right here in email. He writes:

Brad, The best source for me is The Ecological Indian, pp. 101-22 [chapter on fire]. The plains and prairies are discussed in several places, especially pp 115-16. The following are excerpts:

Prior to the suppression of fires in the nineteenth century, many of North America's forest and grassland ecosystems were fire-succession ecosystems; that is, fires produced and maintained them. Forest and fire ecologists appreciate the association between regular fire and ecological types and successions in ponderosa pine, chaparral, longleaf pine, and grassland habitats. Native people, keen observers of the environment, surely understood the associations long before. Not only were these ecosystems pyrogenic (produced by fire) but they were anthropogenic (produced by man) to the degree that the fires which ran through them were also. Through their fires, North American Indians probably played some role in the creation of, and more certainly maintained, a number of fire-succession ecosystems....[113]

Some assert that with their fires, Indians were responsible for the formation of the vast grasslands ecosystem of the Great Plains, others that they did not form it but probably helped maintain it, and still others that they did neither because their technology could not possibly have played such a formative role in an ecosystem so large. Whatever the influence of Indian fires, there are strong climatic and environmental reasons for doubting that fires were the only or even the major formative one. In the central and western Plains, compared to eastern portions, there is less moisture from rain and snow, lower humidity, higher winds, and more periodic drought. Singly or in combination, these conditions prevent forest formation and growth and would lead to extensive grasslands without help from fire. Yet increased precipitation as one moves east makes tree growth far more a reality in the eastern and northern high-grass portions of the Plains, where fire played a greater role maintaining grasslands: for centuries observers remarked on the charred stumps or extensive root systems of mature trees ravaged by regular fires, their remnants enhancing deep grassland soils. In the east and north, fires--some lightning-caused, others anthropogenic--were important in checking natural succession of grassland by forest. When fires were checked, aspens, oaks, and willows proliferated. In the north aspen groves expanded, and in the east oak openings closed as groves of trees broke up the grasslands and in places, forest eventually consumed them.

The effect of grassland fires depends on the same factors as elsewhere: the season of the burn, time of the last burn, heat of the fire, wind, temperature, terrain, soil, moisture, and so on. Grassland fires move with extraordinary speed when grasses are dry and wind is up, but they also move irregularly over uneven terrain, sometimes skip over areas, and rarely consume plants so completely that their roots are burned. After the fires pass, burned areas cool quickly. Productivity often increases following grassland fires because surface litter is removed. Tall-grass prairie needs at least three years to return to its pre-burn state, though grazing animals like buffalo return immediately to tender young plants growing after the burn. But not all grassland fires are benign and restorative. When they are too frequent or hot, when moisture is low, or when heavy rains follow fires and cause erosion, plants may not easily recover....[115-16]

I also discuss the Willamette Valley grasslands. The endnotes are extensive. You can easily arrive at your own conclusions from my text. Needless to say, many whose politics range across the spectrum misread the book.

best,

shep krech

Funny how Shepard Krech's "whatever the influence of Indian fires [on the Great Plains], there are strong climatic and environmental reasons for doubting that fires were the only or even the major formative [cause]" doesn't make it into Goldberg's summary, isn't it? Goldberg claims he wants people to read The Ecological Indian, but I think that's the last thing he really wants anybody to do.

Normally, I would say here that this would be really funny if it weren't so sad, and really sad if it weren't so funny. But this time this is really funny because it is really sad. Here we have an extraordinary example of Stephen Colbert's concept of "truthiness"--that in Goldberg's world, everybody is not only entitled to their own opinion, but also entitled to make up their own facts. In this case Jonah Goldberg makes up his own facts about what Shep Krech wrote in The Ecological Indian. The idea is not to say anything about pre-1492 America--not to write true sentences--but to write "truthy" sentences that make the readers of National Review feel good.

But Kate G. and Tim Burke say this better than I can. Here's Kate:

Kate G.: I'm not sure what a "neurotic" post looks like. Does it wash its hands a lot? Does it look hunted and scared of things? Does it cry a lot? My keyboard, alas, is dry and my withers are unwrung.

In my opinion great ad hominem invective is, of course, its own raison d'etre--that's a feature, not a bug, so I take the compliment.

But to get back to our case at hand, allow me to wring out my neurotic handkerchief and add this. Any defense of Jonah's remark which does not take into account his specific history, his education, and his employment simply misses the mark. In other words, I'd argue that even taking Jonah seriously enough to rebut his "facts" is a waste of time. If Jonah's point were to explore the historical issues surrounding Native American use of the environment I would definitely urge everyone to read up on this subject. For example, I second everyone else's fact based criticism and urge everyone to read Cronon's two books (because they are both excellent) and also a wonderful book called Reflections on Bullough's Pond (or else its Bullock) which explores the ecological and technological history of New England. It wouldn't be relevant to the specifics of Jonah's so called argument but I'd argue that that hardly matters. Not to me, that is, but to Jonah. As an anthropologist and a social scientist I have a special love of facts and information about societies, and hold no brief for any romanticized notion of "indigenous" societies (Nor do I live in a Jonaesque/RNC world in which determining that one people are "bad" means that some other people somewhere must be "good.") But I do have a lot of respect for subject expertiese. Jonah's own essays and comments don't fall under that heading. They are not really "about" a subject, like Indians or whatever. The proof of that is that he will be on to something else tomorrow, and he'll be pursuing it just as shallowly. Jonah's essays and comments have, instead, an *object*--which is purely political.

Jonah's arguments are simply bought and paid for (gee, I must have been channelling Krugman, or maybe we are both simply right) to advance a particular politico/economic goal. That goal is de-legitimizing, parodying, and truncating other histories and other arguments about society and politics. If you read Jonah, or other fellow travellers like Jeff Jacoby, Mallard Fillmore, or the RNC alerts circulated to the faithful you see the promulgation not only of the same messages (over and over) but the same tenous and tendentious links to "real" science and "real" history and "real" pop culture. Jonah uses words like "history" and "indians" and even "prarie" or "fire" but to paraphrase others in the blogosphere in reference to the Princess Bride [those] words don't mean what you are supposed to think he means by them. You'd actually have to know, or care, about history, indians, praries, fires and etc...to use them as true scholars would use them. My god, just look at Juan Cole's magisterial slap down of Jonah last year, and at Jonah's pathetic response, to begin to see how little Jonah cares about the topics on which he bloviates.

How do I know Jonah is a tool and not a true scholar? Because he will write about the next pop cultural or coffee table book image/factoid with the same authority tomorrow even if it outright contradicts his point today. That is because the object of his writing is simply to score points again and again against his enemies.

But you knew that.

Posted by: Kate G. February 07, 2006 at 11:06 AM

And here's Tim:

Tim Burke: Goldberg is making a bad and lazy gloss of an argument that's been made in a number of works published in the last decade, most incisively Shepherd Krech's book The Ecological Indian.

Krech and others have observed that Native Americans as a whole were not more notably inclined towards premodern versions of environmentalism than any other human society in history, and that the tendency to view them as such is something of a fiction created slowly and complicatedly in American culture over the last 150 years, especially in the last 50.

Krech synthesizes work on a variety of pre-Columbian Native American cultures that suggests, among other things, that some Southwest cultures outstripped their available resources, in part through intensive and misguided infrastructure (this is the same research that Diamond cites in his two recent books); that some Native Americans in the Rockies and Sierras used fire fairly extensively to produce the mix fo meadow and old-growth forest that was later regarded as pristine and natural wilderness; and that some Plains Native American societies may have used wasteful hunting methods such as driving large herds of buffalo off cliffs. And so on.

So very distantly, Goldberg is correctly summarizing several important arguments--that Native Americans were not uniformly or automatically deeply committed to spiritual or practical analogues of contemporary environmentalism, and that what some 19th Century Americans moving into the West took to be pristine, untouched wilderness environments were actually environments that were significantly altered by human presence.

That's all. The material on the buffalo and the plains and all that is simply his fantasy: it's not in any of the work that he might plausibly mean to refer to.

This is a basic problem with a lot of public discourse on the right, and sometimes the left: people who spout off to score a quick point who are profoundly careless.

Posted by: Timothy Burke | February 07, 2006 at 11:15 AM


Fafblog!

The Ethical Werewolf sings the praises of Fafblog:

The Ethical Werewolf: I present five of my favorite Fafblog quotes:


Giblets against John Edwards:
He is a trial lawyer! As a trial lawyer Edwards repeatedly stole money from poor corporations to give to greedy children crippled by their products! Do we really need a vice president who is a lackey of Big Children? Giblets thinks not!

Fafnir on interacting with Republicans in NYC:
Show your Republican that your home an culture are nothin to be afraid of. Take him to the park or to a Yankees game! Remember to bring lots of umbrellas an sunscreen because your Republican is not used to the harsh light of open nature. He has been raised in dark squalid caves filled with toxic poisons where he hunts bats an small elves for sustenance. Do not take your Republican to a museum! He comes from a "Red State" where all art is banned an has been replaced by very large engines eternally pumpin greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for no reason whatsoever.

Fafnir on extraordinary rendition:
maybe the torture jobs we send overseas will help build up the foreign torture markets so overseas torturers can get better salaries an buy more goods an help their economies in developin countries an such. Global torture lifts everybody's boat and we all win the end! Or just turn into monsters.

Fafnir on the election:
“Eleven States voted to Define Marriage tonight,” says Lester Holt, “and they have Defined it as a slow-moving, thick-skulled poison-spitting reptile that hates queers. America has spoken.”

Giblets on pigs and academic advice:
Giblets is proud of his beloved pet pig and has decided to reward it with a delicious treat. A treat like dynamite!

"You really shouldn't feed dynamite to your pig," says Juan Cole, mideast expert and professor of pig studies. "Dynamite has never been a safe feed for pigs and has only resulted in disaster for pigs and the pig community."

Oh what do you know Juan Cole! Your expertise in the fields of pig history and pig theory just means you have swallowed the standard academic dogma regarding the pig-dynamite dynamic! Giblets has reason to believe his pig will receive fantastic dynapig powers, but Cole has been too heavily indoctrinated by pigs and Arabists to see the truth.

"Dynamite is explosive," says Juan Cole. "If you feed it to your pig, your pig will explode."


Things I at One Time Wanted to Blog About...

Things I at one time wanted to blog about:

Arms and influence: The last throes : Vice President Cheney's statement that the Iraqi insurgency was in its final throes was so odd that it raises the question of why he said it. The signs are all there that the various insurgent groups are not being crushed: the number and lethality of attacks; the estimated size of the insurgent organizations; the continued inability of the Iraqi army to operate on its own against them; continued security measures based on the supposition that the insurgents have infiltrated the police, army, and other parts of the government.... Why did Cheney say what he did? Frankly, I don't know.... I don't think his motives are necessarily the important issue.... His statements complicate the work of others.... Cheney's comment distorts the decision-making process, making a hard job even harder.

PressThink: Transparency at the Post: Q & A with Jim Brady of Washingtonpost.com : "So if you're a responsible reporter and you call up the RNC spokesman and get the response to Gore's speech, you're just going to have to accept that when the spokesman tells you something kinda sorta plausible but fundamentally untrue you're going to attribute it, quote it accurately, and run it. Now you're involved in the propaganda machine yourself, but it happened as a result of trying to be balanced and responsible and 'avoid the impression of...' -- Jay." Unless, of course, you write the follow-up paragraph, based on a little research easily accessed in these days of digital databanks, which says, basically, "The RNC response is fundamentally untrue." Now, I grant you, nine out of 10 reporters don't do that -- even though it is not that hard to take that extra step. I learned that woeful fact in 2004, running Campaign Desk, the predecessor to CJR Daily. And every time we saw it, we called them on it -- usually to no avail. But my point is, that is the way out of what you describe as Downie's dilemma ... or Sue Schmidt's dilemma ... or Harris's dilemma ... or Howell's dilemma. What's depressing is that none of them get it. Posted by: Steve Lovelady at January 22, 2006 07:40 PM | Permalink

TPMCafe || Politics, Ideas & Lots Of Caffeine: It may not be readily apparent to people why an image of an 18th century coffeehouse is appropriate adornment for a new media enterprise. The intended reference, I believe, is to the ideas expressed in Jurgen Habermas' The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgois Society. Before checking it out with Google I was under the impression that this was an essay I'd read in school. It seems, though, that it's a whole book I must have read excerpts of.... The most important feature of the public sphere as it existed in the eighteenth century was the public use of reason in rational-critical debate. This checked domination by the state, or the illegitimate use of power. Rational-critical debate occurred within the bourgeois reading public, in response to literature, and in institutions such as salons and coffee-houses. Habermas sees the public sphere as developing out of the private institution of the family, and from what he calls the 'literary public sphere', where discussion of art and literature became possible for the first time. The public sphere was by definition inclusive, but entry depended on one's education and qualification as a property owner. Habermas emphasizes the role of the public sphere as a way for civil society to articulate its interests. Good stuff. Eventually, though, things took a turn for the worse.... The key feature of the public sphere - rational-critical debate - was replaced by leisure.... Habermas argues that the world of the mass media is cheap and powerful. He says that it attempts to manipulate and create a public where none exists.... We still need a strong public sphere to check domination by the state and non-governmental organizations. Habermas holds out some hope that power and domination may not be permanent features. A serious problem indeed. TPM Cafe, one hopes, is part of the solution.... [T]he site does involve a system for quality-rating comments, so maybe things will get ugly...

Limbo: Roberts%u2019 Rules of Guile : According to the Portland Oregonian, last August Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) had a conversation with then-Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr., after which Wyden pronounced himself convinced that %u201Cin cases dealing with end-of-life care, [Roberts] would "start with the supposition that one has the right to be left alone." This was important, because Oregon is the only state in the Union that permits physician-assisted suicide.... A final decision on the issue came down just yesterday, with the high court ruling 6-3 in favor of Oregon, upholding its 1994 Death With Dignity law.... So, how did the new chief justice--whom a reassured Wyden eventually chose to confirm--vote in this landmark case of individual rights versus government intrusion? Well, he was one of the three dissenters, joining ultraconservatives Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in arguing that Ashcroft's efforts to criminalize the dispensing of life-ending drugs was legally appropriate.... Trusting George W. Bush's nominees can prove to be as difficult as trusting the prez himself.

The Big Picture: The Psychology Behind Common Investor Mistakes : Behavioral finance, a relatively new area of financial research, has been receiving more and more attention from both individual and institutional investors. Behavioral finance combines results from psychological studies of decision-making with the more conventional decision-making models of standard finance theory. By combining psychology and finance, researchers hope to better explain certain features of securities markets and investor behavior that appear irrational.... Six common errors of perception and judgment.... Overconfidence.... What, if anything, can investors do about the general tendency toward overconfidence?.... Trade less.... Fear of Regret.... Cognitive Dissonance.... How can you adjust for the tendency to avoid or deny new, conflicting information?... investment discipline.... Anchoring.... Representativeness.... Myopic Risk Aversion...

KR Washington Bureau | 01/11/2006 | Knight Ridder's Alito story: Factual and fair : On Dec. 1, Knight Ridder's Washington bureau sent a story analyzing the record of Judge Samuel Alito to our 32 daily newspapers and to the more than 300 papers that subscribe to the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Written by Stephen Henderson, Knight Ridder's Supreme Court correspondent, and Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News, the story began: "During his 15 years on the federal bench, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has worked quietly but resolutely to weave a conservative legal agenda into the fabric of the nation's laws."... Henderson and Mintz cataloged the cases by category - employment discrimination, criminal justice, immigration and so on - and analyzed each one with help from attorneys who participated on both sides of the cases and experts in those fields of law. They interviewed legal scholars and other judges, many of them admirers of Alito. They concluded that, "although Alito's opinions are rarely written with obvious ideology, he's seldom sided with a criminal defendant, a foreign national facing deportation, an employee alleging discrimination or consumers suing big business." You might find this neither surprising nor controversial. Alito, after all, was nominated by a president who said that his ideal Supreme Court justices were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the high court's most reliably conservative members. You'd be wrong. Within days, the Senate Republican Conference circulated a lengthy memo headlined, "Knight Ridder Misrepresents Judge Alito's 15-year record."... Fact-based reporting is the lifeblood of a democracy. It gives people shared information on which to make political choices. But as people in new democracies risk their lives to gather such information, in this country fact-based reporting is under more relentless assault than at any time in my more than 40 years in Washington.... I invite you to reach your own conclusion about Knight Ridder's Alito story...

battlepanda: Why are our Intro to Econ classes failing us?: How is it possible for a guy like RJ to, for all intents and purposes, not believe in economics? He certainly is intelligent, and more importantly intellectually curious. He was even curious enough about economics at one point to take an intro to Econ class at college. Amherst College, which is among the best schools in this country... this class, Econ 11, was tailored precisely to function as a freestanding introduction to economics...

Singularity! - A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds

It's hard to talk about what "liberalism" is as a philosophical doctrine because there are at least four:

  1. There's the "let's not celebrate St. Bartholomew's Day this year" liberalism--the liberalism of fear.
  2. There's the "let's try lots of different things on an individual and a group level and then learn from each other's mistakes" liberalism--the liberalism of uncertainty, and of the consequent value of social diversification.
  3. There's the "this liberal order stuff has worked *much* better than anything else we've tried" liberalism--the liberalism of conservativism.
  4. There's "stairmaster liberalism"--the liberalism of John Stuart Mill in which adulthood is reached only by exercising your mental decision-making muscles, which can only be properly done in a liberal order.


Medicare Part D...

Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy is an unhappy camper:

Obsidian Wings: Medicare Part D: The Clown Show Continues : From yesterday's Chicago Tribune:

A top Bush administration official acknowledged Thursday that the Medicare prescription program is too complicated for many of its intended beneficiaries to understand and said simplifying it is a top priority. "Simplification is absolutely the next step in this process, now that we've got the benefit in place," Medicare administrator Mark McClellan said at a Senate hearing into the program that kicked off on Jan. 1."

Most people think that it's a good idea to figure out how a program will work, and then pass legislation to put it in place. Plan first; then execute. But that's pre-9/11 thinking! In the brave new world of the Bush administration, you pass the law before you figure out how to run the program, to "get the benefit in place", and then you figure out how it ought to operate. Nifty, huh? I'll bet they buy cars before figuring out what kind they want, and build buildings before hiring an architect -- just to get the structure in place before they get to work on the design. Why didn't we think of it before?

Besides, it's just a Medicare prescription drug program. It's not as though people are being denied life-saving medications, or being forced into nursing homes, or being told they just can't have any antipsychotic drugs anymore, or anything.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the number of people who are being victimized by the negligence of the people who drafted this legislation continues to grow. The latest group? Independent pharmacists:

More than a month after filling thousands of unpaid prescriptions for poor, sick customers, many of America's small and independent pharmacists, particularly those in low-income and rural areas, are facing a cash crunch as they await repayment from Medicare's private drug plans.

At Rose Drugs in central Tampa, Fla., many customers are poor people with HIV infections and elderly people on fixed incomes. When their drug coverage switched from Medicaid to Medicare on Jan. 1, store owner Rose Ferlita doled out medicines to combat their ailments even though she couldn't always verify their enrollment in the new Medicare drug benefit.

"What are you going to do?" Ferlita asked. "My friends are my customers and my customers are my friends. You've got to give them something."

As weeks passed and the enrollment problems mounted, Ferlita took out a $40,000 loan to help pay the drug wholesalers who wanted their bills paid now, not when the hoped-for Medicare payments came in.

"Two capsules here, three capsules there. It sounds like nothing, but when they're HIV meds, they're expensive. So I'm praying to God it's going to even out," Ferlita said. "Everyone had an expectation that this was going to be a smooth transition, but it hasn't been. Not even close."

Faced with the prospect of elderly and disabled customers going without life-sustaining drugs, many pharmacists have given out tens of thousands of dollars in medication. As the bills for those drugs came in from their wholesalers, pharmacies have had to pay them while waiting for the plans to reimburse them."

Republicans: the party that cares about small business.

Ha. Ha. Ha.


Jonathan Weisman Has a Good Budget Article This Morning...

Robert Waldmann points out that Jonathan Weisman has a very good budget article on page A10:

Budget Plan Assumes Too Much, Demands Too Little : President Bush's budget blueprint would bring the federal government's budget deficit under control by decade's end. But to do that without raising taxes, the White House would need a sweeping tax reform that it has avoided proposing and a swift end to the war in Iraq.

The budget plan for fiscal 2007 underscores what budget analysts of all political stripes have been saying for years: The goals of balancing the budget, waging a global fight against terrorism and making Bush's first-term tax cuts permanent may be fundamentally at odds.

Under the budget plan, the deficit would jump from $318 billion last year to $423 billion in 2006, then slide back down to $183 billion in 2010. In 2011, the last year of the White House's projection, the deficit would again begin to rise, to $205 billion, reflecting the cost of extending Bush's tax cuts beyond their 2010 expiration date and enacting a proposed Social Security restructuring that would cost $57 billion in that year alone.

But even getting there requires some heroic assumptions.

The president's budget acknowledges the cost of Bush's call to make his tax cuts permanent -- $1.35 trillion over the next decade and nearly $120 billion in 2011 alone. But beyond 2007, the budget assumes no military expenditures in Iraq or Afghanistan and no effort to address the unintended effects of the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax system that was designed to hit the rich but has instead increasingly pinched the middle class. It also assumes Congress will cut domestic spending every year after 2007.Those factors led Goldman Sachs economists to tell clients yesterday that the deficit forecasts are "unrealistic."

White House Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten said that something must be done about the AMT. But beyond 2007, when Bush assumes a one-year provision to mitigate the AMT's impact on the middle class, Bolten said any fix should be part of a broader "revenue-neutral" restructuring of the tax system. Such a revision, once viewed as a priority of the president's, has disappeared from Bush's political agenda.

"In the absence of even mentioning tax reform in his State of the Union address, it may be presumptuous to assume a revenue-neutral AMT fix after 2007," said Brian M. Riedl, a federal budget expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration, for the first time, has spelled out anticipated spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a formal budget document. Previously, the administration submitted requests for supplemental or emergency spending to cover costs. But the $50 billion in war funding for next year falls well short of the $120 billion that was requested for 2006. And no further war spending is included in future deficit projections."This budget is not going to happen," said Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget analyst at Financial Dynamics Business Communications. "Of all the budgets I've seen recently, this is the one going nowhere the fastest."

What is included may prove equally unrealistic, Collender and other budget experts said. The budget includes a crackdown on tax cheats that is supposed to net more than $1.5 billion over the next five years and $3.6 billion over the next decade. But if such a crackdown is in the offing, the Internal Revenue Service has said very little about it.

The president assumes that Congress will cut discretionary spending unrelated to national security from $492 billion in 2007 to $455 billion in 2011, and that lawmakers will hold the line on defense spending. Total discretionary spending -- including defense, homeland security and domestic government programs -- would fall under the president's budget from $1.03 trillion this year to $994 billion in 2011.

"Nearly all of their savings comes from this cut to total discretionary spending," Riedl said. "That does nothing for the real long-term problem," which the Bush administration acknowledges to be entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.

Many of the tough cuts the president did include were rejected just days ago, when Congress gave final approval to a major budget-cutting measure. Lawmakers left out the White House's proposals to cut agricultural price supports and food stamps, and to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

After a difficult political struggle that badly divided congressional Republicans, lawmakers muscled through savings from Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, federal child support enforcement and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Before Bush has even signed that legislation, he is coming back for more. His budget proposes to wring out $4.9 billion more in savings from Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, $17 million from child support enforcement and $16.7 billion from the federal pension insurance program through 2011.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the recently retired director of the Congressional Budget Office, gave credit to Bush for putting entitlement cuts on the table. But the problems with the budget -- especially in not confronting the effects of the AMT and the war in Iraq -- have cropped up time and again, Holtz-Eakin said.

"There's lots of this we've seen before, and that's what Bolten said today: 'We're going to take our priorities and stick with them,' " said Holtz-Eakin, a former Bush White House economist. "This seems familiar because it is familiar."


The Economist Finds Its Snark

For a surprisingly large part of the time over the past six years, the Economist has been like Austin Powers without his mojo--has spent far too much time on its belly making craven and pathetic excuses for the incompetent, inept, mendacious, and malevolent George W. Bush administration.

Now it looks like it may have its snark back:

Bush's bulging deficits | Economist.com : POLITICAL speech is always full of slippery locutions, but George Bush's state-of-the-union address last week may have set a new standard for involuted meaning when he urged Congress to “act responsibly, and make the tax cuts permanent”. At that time, the official White House projection of the budget deficit for the 2006 fiscal year was $341 billion, a substantial portion of which could have been erased by rolling back the tax cuts so dear to Mr Bush’s heart. On Monday February 6th, the use of the word “responsibly” suddenly looked even more idiosyncratic, as the administration released a $2.7 trillion proposed budget, and announced that the 2006 deficit projection had grown to $423 billion, or 3.2% of America’s GDP.

The Bush administration claims it is trying to reduce spending to match the hefty tax cuts the president passed during his first term.... [S]uch fiddling is the fiscal equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. After shrinking surprisingly quickly in the 2005 fiscal year, the budget deficit is once again expanding, thanks to big bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. If a Republican Congress and president can only manage to cut their least favourite programmes by a paltry amount when faced with a budget deficit soaring towards the half-trillion mark, then it is time to concede defeat and raise taxes. Mr Bush’s Democratic critics do not, of course, want him to trim spending at all.... [E]ven many of Mr Bush’s natural political allies are unenthused. The health-care cuts, after all, are projected to save only $3.2 billion next year, a drop in America’s sea of red ink.

Moreover, all this assumes that Congress will actually pass all of Mr Bush’s proposed spending cuts into law.... And even if Congress does oblige, the budget projections require some rather heroic assumptions about the future course of spending. Military spending is currently supposed to fall off sharply after 2007, the last year in which extra spending for Iraq and Afghanistan is budgeted. This seems hugely optimistic, considering the problems still faced in both countries.

The projections also receive a boost from assuming that America’s tax code will not change much in coming years. The Office of Management and Budget has assumed no alteration to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a special levy designed to catch wealthy people who had moved most of their income out of the taxman’s reach. Thanks to bracket creep, the AMT will soon threaten to catch the middle class in its net; most experts agree that it will probably be necessary to reform it soon, to refocus it on rich tax avoiders.

America’s gigantic budget deficit is not merely a concern for the generation of Americans currently in nappies, who are likely to be on the hook when the debt comes due. Many economists worry that the growing fiscal gap is one of the main forces driving the expansion of America’s current-account deficit, which was over 6% in the third quarter of 2005, the most recent for which figures are available. And that current-account deficit is a big global problem.

Since the worldwide economic slowdown of 2001, America’s gluttonous appetite for imports has been one of the mainstays of the global economy, allowing other countries to export their way back to a modicum of economic health. China, in particular, has deliberately fuelled its economic growth by keeping its currency cheap against the dollar, making its goods attractive to American consumers.... The federal budget deficit, economists worry, is essentially being financed overseas, particularly by central banks like China’s, who buy dollars to raise their price against the local currency, and then park those dollars in US Treasuries. Should the banks' appetite for American debt wane, American borrowers, including the government, would face sharply higher interest rates. This would be a nasty shock not only to the American economy, but to all those countries that depend on American demand to keep their own economies rolling along.

Many economists are urging the government to put the books in order now so as to lessen the potential blow of a disorderly correction. Even those who are not convinced that federal borrowing is driving America’s current-account deficit wider (such as Ben Bernanke, who has just replaced Alan Greenspan at the head of the Federal Reserve) are calling on the government to get its finances under control in order to improve the national savings rate and lower the bill that Congress hands to future generations.

But not even rescinding all of Mr Bush’s tax cuts would close the gap; much of the budget deficit is the result of new spending, on expensive projects, such as the Iraq war and a new prescription-drug benefit for Medicare, and the unexpected decline in tax revenues that occurred after the stockmarket bubble crashed. Bringing the budget back to balance will require a politically unpalatable combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

But for all their rhetoric, so far the Republicans have barely touched domestic discretionary spending. Even if they did find the gumption to make real cuts, this would be insufficient, since mandatory spending—which covers things like Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt—accounts for the lion’s share of federal outlays. That share will only grow as America piles up debt and the baby-boom generation retires. Mr Bush’s modest changes to Medicare rules are certainly not enough to alter that ruthless arithmetic. But neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have the stomach for any serious reforms to the popular programme—most of the political debate over Medicare has focused on how the government can spend more to help the elderly buy drugs. Perhaps Mr Bush’s successors will be able to find a creative new definition of “bankrupt”.


In the Bush Administration, You See, They Fire the Competent People...

OMB Director Josh Bolten--quite possibly the worst OMB director ever--is asked a question:

Working for Bush means never having to say you're sorry : Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten held a relatively uneventful press briefing yesterday on the new White House budget, but one sharp reporter asked a question that needed to be asked.

Q: Several years ago, [Former Army Gen. and Chief of Staff Eric] Shinseki was chastised for suggesting that the war in Iraq might cost upwards of $200 [billion]. [Former White House Economic Advisor] Larry Lindsey got in some hot water, too. Now with the cost of the war up around $300 billion or so, is it time to apologize to these guys for being, if anything, conservative in their estimates?

Bolten: I'll leave that to others. I don't think so. The costs of the war are what they are.

What a predictably cavalier attitude. The people who were right were fired, and the people who were wrong were promoted. And as the cost of the war, not even counting the immeasurable loss of human lives, is passing $300 billion, the White House isn't even including the price tag in Bush's latest budget. I suppose it's possible to find a less responsible presidential administration, but it's hard to see how.


Edmund Andrews on the Bush Budget Submission

He does a good job of laying out what is going on:

In Calculating the Shortfall, Likely Costs Are Left Out - New York Times : WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 -- On paper, President Bush's budget seems to meet his promise of cutting the federal deficit in half by the time he leaves office. But in practice, the budget is much less realistic than it appears because it omits nearly a half-trillion dollars in costs that are likely to be incurred over the next five years. The omissions include any costs for the war in Iraq after 2007, any additional reconstruction costs for New Orleans after 2006 and any plan for preventing a huge expansion in the alternative minimum tax after the end of this year.

And because Mr. Bush's blueprint is limited to the next five years, it offers little guidance on how he would restrain the soaring costs of Medicare and Social Security as the nation's 70 million-plus baby boomers begin to retire in 2008.

If all of the White House proposals and projections are taken at face value, the budget deficit will climb to $423 billion this fiscal year and then shrink to $208 billion by 2009. That would fulfill Mr. Bush's promise to halve the deficit, but only if he manages to avoid the gremlins that have bedeviled his previous plans. The most obvious omission involves the costs of the war in Iraq, which have averaged nearly $100 billion a year since 2003. White House officials said Monday that they planned to ask Congress for an additional $70 billion this fiscal year, on top of the $50 billion it has already approved, and $50 billion for 2007....

Far more significant, however, is Mr. Bush's refusal to deal with an explosion in the alternative minimum tax. Created in 1969 to stop the nation's richest citizens from taking too much advantage of tax breaks, the alternative minimum tax is set to engulf tens of millions of additional families over the next few years. Mr. Bush and Congressional leaders from both parties have promised to prevent that from happening, but Mr. Bush's budget still assumes that the government will reap hundreds of billions of extra dollars from the tax over the next five years....

The White House budget outlines plans to shave about $65 billion from programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps education and housing assistance for low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. But Mr. Bush would extend virtually all of the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, add new tax breaks to subsidize the purchase of health care, and extend dozens of other expiring tax cuts for businesses and investors. Extending Mr. Bush's basic tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, most of which expire around 2010, would cost about $178 billion over the next five years and $1.35 trillion over the next decade.

Adding on all the other proposals in the budget, including renewing existing tax breaks and expanding tax breaks for programs like health savings accounts, the five-year tally of costs climbs to nearly $300 billion and the 10-year total passes $1.5 trillion...

If I were Edmund, I would have pointed out that it is Bush's *choice* to submit only a five-year budget--Clinton budgets had ten-year projections in them.

I do remember October of 2000, debating one Bush spokesman and asking about the AMT: Would the administration keep the AMT small--in which case its estimates of the revenue costs of its tax cuts were bogus, because the costs were calculated assuming that the AMT would snarf back the lion's share of the tax cuts? Or would the administration allow the AMT to grow--in which case its revenue cost projections were reasonable but its claims of the magnitudes of the tax cuts that upper middle calss people would get were highly bogus?

I didn't get a good answer.


Primary Deficits and Our Budget Problems

My learned and esteemed friend Max Sawicky talks about how the projected primary deficit of the U.S. federal government remains relatively small until the second half of this century:

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: DON'T PANIC, CONT'D : Starting on page 186, we get deficit projections.... The gap presented is overstated. If you closed it, you would end up with [large] budget surpluses. A more instructive presentation would be limited to what's known as the primary deficit, which is program spending (not including net interest) minus revenues.... My favorite page in the budget books has always been Table 13-2, p. 185, Analytical Perspectives: the long-run budget projections. In keeping with my observation above about the salience of the primary deficit, let's look at the latest Bushie numbers. They suggest that if the emperor is not quite nekkid, he's down to his speedo and maybe one sock. The chart below, exclusive to MaxSpeak, shows primary deficits according to George B. in the l-o-o-n-g run.

Wonder of wonders, even with the Bush tax cuts, we have primary surpluses in 2010 and 2020. The primary deficit by 2060 is only two percent of GDP (well under the cost of the Bush tax cuts).... My take on the numbers is, the long-run Federal spending problem is one of allocation and structural reform of health care, not one of excessive growth in the public sector as a whole. Through 2060, which is more than far enough ahead for my planning, covering projected expenses is not difficult economically. The policy imperative is to focus on getting the best use out of health care dollars, both public and private, and having the benefit of better choices as to where to allocate possible savings in health care spending.

There is no budget crisis. There is a basic problem in governance that trends in health care spending, defense, taxes, and the trade deficit will not long indulge. That problem is: we are ruled by boneheads.

The implied political imperative is that all cuts in Medicare and Medicaid should be rejected if proposed by the current regime. There is absolutely no need to indulge any venture whatsoever in so-called fiscal responsibility suggested by those in power. Not today, and not for the next twenty years.

My response is that I both agree and disagree with Max. I agree: the small size of primary deficits for the next fifty or so years means that the U.S. does not face an inevitable destructive fiscal crisis as long as we can keep borrowing to pay the interest on our outstanding debt at low interest rates. We will be able to keep borrowing at low rates to pay the interest on our outstanding debt as long as speculators are confident that the credit of the U.S. is good--that there will be no destructive fiscal crisis.

But I also disagree: suppose speculators decide that there may be a destructive fiscal crisis, and begin demanding high interest rates to roll over and finance the payment of interest on outstanding U.S. debt? Then the primary surplus becomes irrelevant. And a destructive fiscal crisis becomes inevitable.

We are already in the red zone. Only the confidence of speculators--including the two biggest speculators in the world, the central banks of China and Japan--that in the long run, somehow, the credit of the U.S. government will be good keeps the fiscal crisis and panic from coming... next month.

As Alan Greenspan said back at the start of 2004:

The fiscal issues that we face pose long-term challenges, but federal budget deficits could cause difficulties even in the relatively near term.... [S]hould investors become significantly more doubtful that the Congress will take the necessary fiscal measures, an appreciable backup in long-term interest rates is possible.... Such a development could constrain investment... undermine the private capital formation that is a key element in our economy's growth prospects. Addressing the federal budget deficit is even more important in view of the widening U.S. current account deficit.... Taking steps to increase our national saving through fiscal action to lower federal budget deficits would help diminish the risks that a further reduction in the rate of purchase of dollar assets by foreign investors could severely crimp the business investment that is crucial for our long-term growth...

Good advice then. Good advice now.


Budget Smoke and Mirrors

Stan Collender gives the straight poop on the Bush 2007 budget:

BUDGET BATTLES FY 2007 Budget: One Hand Clapping: President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget is far more likely to be the fiscal equivalent of a tree falling in the woods when there is no one there to hear it.... [T]he Bush 2006 budget was submitted shortly after the president had been re-elected and a Republican majority... returned.... [T]he president thought he had more than enough political capital to tackle some very big and extremely controversial ideas, and put Social Security and the tax code on its reform agenda.... Bush tried, and failed. And because of Iraq, Afghanistan, the tsunami, and Katrina, the deficit got worse....

So the White House took a different tack with its fiscal 2007 budget... small changes are in. That’s why the Bush fiscal 2007 proposal includes about a 3 percent reduction from a very small part (less than 20 percent) of the budget—domestic appropriations. It also includes a relatively small reduction ($35 billion over 5 years) in Medicare.... Even these limited proposals are highly likely to be rejected, however. The domestic programs the president is proposing... are... ones with the most political support in Congress.... If these changes had been easy to make, they would have been made years ago....

The Medicare reductions will be even harder to get enacted. Virtually every health care group... will vigorously oppose the president.... Congress may not be able to pass a... reconciliation bill... election year.

That doesn’t leave much... except for those things that will increase the deficit. Military, homeland security, interest on the debt, and entitlements will be higher in 2007 than they were in 2006. And, even though the proposals were not included in the Bush fiscal 2007 budget, we already know that additional spending for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Katrina will continue to be needed.

Why would the White House send Congress a 2007 budget that includes so much that won’t happen?

First, and most important, President Bush has put together a political platform.... Second, unrealistic proposals allow the White House to say that it is on target to cutting the deficit in half by the end of 2009...

Let's see how the Washington daily press corps does in its coverage:

Continue reading "Budget Smoke and Mirrors" »


Stupidest Man Alive Contest

Correspondents ask, "Is everybody who writes for National Review as stupid as Donald Luskin?"

The answer appears to be: It sure looks like it, and in Jonah Goldberg's case--definitely:

First Draft - Oy.....: Jonah Goldberg spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last night.... "Some say that Native Americans were great environmentalists don't know history. Some think that Indians were like a Disney movie, with Indians talking to bunnies. The great plains used to be a giant forest. The Indians burnt it to the ground to hunt buffalo."


Douglas Holz-Eakin Lectures the Politicians

He writes about our long-run fiscal problems:

Out on A Limb: Government forecasts predict that budget deficits will narrow as revenues rise from the current level, which is below the post-World War II average of 18 cents on the dollar, to a level near the postwar peak of 20 cents. Is that realistic? Historically, when taxes reach that level, U.S. politics drive them back down.

Moreover, the rise in tax revenues would primarily come from the expiration of the tax cuts passed between 2001 through 2005. President Bush has asked Congress to make the current rates permanent, but if he fails it will mean a return to higher top marginal tax rates and higher tax rates on capital gains and dividends, the elimination of the 10 percent tax bracket, scaled-back child credits and an increase in the marriage penalty. Will the U.S. public tolerate that?

Most Americans also expect the administration and Congress to do something about the alternative minimum tax (AMT). As it stands, forecasts assume that as economic growth raises incomes, more and more taxpayers will move into the AMT's higher tax rates. This assumption collides with a strong sentiment in this country: that the middle class should not be expected to carry more of the nation's tax burden, especially if its members don't feel any richer than they were before. But nothing's been changed yet.

In short, it's easy to see why the current level of taxes will fail to cover the type of government Americans have grown used to. That's bad news because despite the GOP's rhetoric, the government will not be getting any smaller. If anything, current budget forecasts underestimate future spending. The forecasts assume that government will remain roughly the same size as a proportion of GDP. To do that, spending on items other than relentlessly expanding mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare must remain fixed in inflation-adjusted terms for a decade. Quite simply, that's never happened.... While everyone is in favor of eliminating waste, Americans want to protect defense, education, environment, transportation and a myriad of other programs. Congress expended a tremendous effort last week and just barely adopted $39 billion in cuts from projected spending -- less than 7/100ths of 1 percent of GDP....

Amid all this... will come a rise in mandatory spending.... Fixing the budget is not an issue that either party is engaging now. The Democrats want to avoid offending their constituencies and so have mostly sidestepped initiatives on trimming big entitlement programs. The Republicans have chosen to stand by low taxes and big security spending, and even introduced a new Medicare prescription drug benefit. This combination falls short of a cohesive package that would ensure a limited but balanced government in the future.

Fifteen years ago, the federal government faced up to its fiscal duress and Congress and the first Bush administration reached a giant compromise on spending and taxes. Many people suggest running the 1990 playbook again.... In 1990, the baby boomers were 15 years further away from retirement; even gradualist, slow-acting medicine in old-age programs had time to work. In 1990 it was possible to imagine a peace dividend.... In 1990 attempts to control big government or improve federal efficiency could focus on domestic discretionary spending....

It is safe to say that things will change, because they must. I'd rather not raise taxes, but unless government remains at its traditional size, I don't see any way around it. On the other hand, just getting rid of the 2001 tax cuts won't solve the problem either; they're just not big enough.... A serious approach should embrace strategies for growth that ensure that the economic pie is as large as possible. It should rethink the package of support for old-age medical care, long-term care services and retirement income. And it should balance the other demands on the Treasury against the virtues of low, efficient taxes. But most of all, a serious approach should make sure that the budget adds up.

Note the phrase "fifteen years ago... congress and the first Bush administration reached a giant compromise on spending and taxes." This is code for: where are the grownup Republicans? I don't know where they have been hiding since January 21, 1993. But it's time that somebody found them.


Who Does Reuters Write For?

Matthew Yglesias thinks he detects overclass media bias:

TPMCafe || Overclass Media Bias : Reuters: "Average hourly earnings rose to $16.41 in January from $16.34 in December. In the 12 months through January, earnings have risen by 3.3 percent, the largest for any 12-month period in nearly three years, since February 2003." I can think of a few things one might want to follow that up with. Perhaps one would observe that this will boost the Republican Party's contention that after some troubles the economy is back on track. Or maybe one would observe that despite this bit of good news, wage growth throughout this recovery has been pathetic by historical standards notwithstanding strong profit growth.

Or maybe a quick and easy "hooray!" would be in order.

But no: "The wage data is likely to fan concerns that steady job growth is pushing up demands for wage rises and that could help foster broader inflation." If your wages had been slowly dropping for years and just recently started inching back up, I doubt this would be your primary worry.

Ah. You see, Reuters writes for bond traders. When the Fed raises interest rates, the value of the bonds they hold go down. So anything, anything at all that threatens to raise inflation and so induce the Fed to raise interest rates will be reported as bad news.


Covering the Economy: Readings for February 7, 2006

Loose ends

Tim Duy's Federal Reserve Watch: http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2006/01/fed_watch_now_i.html

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times attempts to enter a new space: http://ftblogs.typepad.com/martin_wolf/2006/01/global_imbalanc.html and http://ftblogs.typepad.com/martin_wolf/

Real Wages

Peter Gosselin of the LA Times on income insecurity:

  1. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-newdeal30dec30,0,5157802.story
  2. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-newdeal-methodology,1,3241472.story
  3. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-riskshift3oct10,1,4792299.story
  4. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-poor12dec12,1,5929236.story
  5. Also:
    1. http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2005-3_archives/000077.html
    2. http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2005-3_archives/000113.html

BLS Employment Situation Report: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/news.release/empsit.txt

Economist Larry Katz and company on growing wage inequality: http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2006/02/the_polarizatio.html

Floyd Norris: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/04/business/04charts.html?ei=5090&en=7286ff0309ded7bd&ex=1296709200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

Jim Hagerty on America's fastest-growing employment category: real estate agents: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB113917841809065454-search.html?KEYWORDS=hagerty&COLLECTION=wsjie/6month

Daniel Gross on income risk and Social Security: http://select.nytimes.com/search/restricted/article?res=F5061EFC3A580C738EDDAA0894DD404482

Louis Uchitelle on people in grey flannel suits: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/03/business/yourmoney/03standard.html?ei=5088&en=cc9ef8559a486f52&ex=1278043200&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=print


Rhiannon of the Birds, Rhiannon of the Horses...

In the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay, even the mortal humans are of Faerie:

From Guy Gavriel Kay (2004), The Last Light of the Sun (New York: Roc: 0451459857), pp. 46-7:

"Needful as warmed wine in winter," someone Alun couldn't see offered from down the room. Approval for that, a nicely phrased offering. Winter memory in midsummer, the phrase near to poetry. The hostess turned to Dai, politely, beyond her husband and the cleric, to let the other Cadyri prince have a turn.

"Needful as night's end," Dai said gravely, without a pause, which was very good, actually. An image of darkness, the fear of it, a dream of dawn, when the god returned from his journey under the world.

As the real applause for this faded, as they waited for someone to throw the third leg of the triad, a young woman entered the room.

She moved quietly, clad in green, belted in gold, with gold in the brooch at her shoulder and on her fingers, to the empty place beside Enid at the high table--which would have told Alun who this was, if the look and manner of her hadn't immediately done so. He stared, knew he was doing so, didn't stop.

As she seated herself, aware--very obviously aware--that all eyes were upon her, including those of an indulgent father, she looked down the table, taking in the company, and Alun was made intensely conscious of dark eyes (like her mother's), very black hair under the soft green cap, and skin whiter than... any easy phrase that came to mind.

And then he heard her murmur, voice rich, husky for one so young, unsettling: "Needful as night, I think many women would rather say."

And because this was Rhiannon mer Brynn, through that crowded hall men felt that they knew exactly what she was saying, and wished that the words had been for their ears alone, whispered close at candle-time, not in company at table. And they thought that they could kill or do great deeds that it might be made so.

Alun could see his brother's face as this green-gold woman-girl turned to Dai, whose phrase she had just echoed and challenged. And because he knew his brother better than he knew anyone else on the god's earth, Alun saw the world change for Dai in that crossing of glances...


The Cloud Minders of Stratos Visit "The Valve"

Over at the Valve, Ray Davis cites Jeffrey J. Williams with approval:

The Valve - A Literary Organ | Paid with Interest : Paid with Interest: [A] new issue of American Literary History is available. In "The Post-Welfare State University", Jeffrey J. Williams "follows the money trail."... He ends with a cause I would gladly rally to:

The death of the humanities and the disciplines that promote "thought"--the majors in which have declined in real terms to less than 10% of college majors, with business expanding to 22%--results not from a loss of interest in the humanities but from the material interests that confront students.

The policy of debt is a pernicious social policy because it places a heavy tax on those who wish a franchise in the normal channels of contemporary American life. It is also pernicious because it is counterproductive in the long term, cutting off many possibilities and domains of human production. Finally, it is a pernicious social policy because it perverts the aims of education, from enlightenment to constraint. Especially as teachers who have a special obligation to our students, debt is a policy that we cannot abide...

As an economist, I have to look at student loans differently. College educations are expensive things--colleges are expensive to run. A generation ago your average college-educated American earned an average salary 30% more than that of those with just a high-school diploma. Today this college-high school wage-and-salary gap is 80%.

A policy of no debt--a policy of publicly-funded college education for all--thus looks to us economists like a policy of taking from the relatively poor (the working classes who don't go to college do pay taxes) and giving to the relatively rich (the middle classes who do go to college) who earn much higher relative wages now than they did a generation ago.

To say that a policy of funding a lot of higher education via student loans is a "pernicious social policy because it perverts the aims of education, from enlightenment to constraint" seems to us to lose track of where the constraints really are: to raise taxes on the relatively poor to enhance the freedom from constraint of the relatively rich.... To refuse to recognize the humanity--nay, to refuse to even consider the existence--of those on whom the burden of paying for public universities will land if more of that burden is shifted away from students...

Does anybody know where I can find David Gerrold's original treatment for the Star Trek show that became episode #74, "The Cloud Minders"? As performed, it's a quick technological fix for deep social injustice. As originally written, it was much more... Dickensian.


Somebody Is Unclear on the Concept...

Ah. Once again Tim Lambert directs us to:

The Reform Club: In Defense of Opinion Journalism : Kathy Hutchins said: "Iain [Murray] modestly refrains from recounting many of the accusations I'm sure he himself has had to endure; I know when I worked at CEI the greater part of any joint panel appearance with a leftie would consist of listening to a litany of all the filthy corporate pigs that had bought my soul with their ill-gotten lucre. What was so infurating is that I'd get back to the office and get an earful from a donor because I'd written something pro-market that he didn't like. It takes a rare talent to piss off all of the people all of the time."

Somebody is very unclear on the concept. Either the donors don't understand that what they have purchased with their contributions is Kathy Hutchins's brain to think about the issues and not pieces that propagandize for their interests, or Kathy Hutchins doesn't understand that her bosses have promised the donors that she will write pieces that propagandize for their interests.

I wonder who?

I must say that listening to stories about Washington think-tank discussions with donors has made me much more aware of the value of academic freedom, and extremely grateful for the job U.C. Berkeley's high officials do in creating the conditions under which we aren't under pressure to shade our views to avoid nasty phone calls and meetings with donors who feel they have been cheated.


Why Are There Any Republican Scientists at All?

The real question is not why are there so few Republican scientists and academics, but why there are any at all:

Pharyngula quotes :

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

Deutsch is 24 years old, having just graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism a few years ago. As a reward for being a loyal Republican party apparatchik, he has been generously appointed to be a Political Officer enforcing doctrine over a bunch of high-falutin' rocket scientists. Shades of Lysenko! It must have been a heady feeling to have the power to dictate ideology to a lot of scientists with Ph.D.s.


Scooter Libby: What May Be Going on...

I will not say that this makes anything in the Scooter Libby case clearer. But it does increase the likelihood of one possible scenario:

Glaukon: Why did Pat Fitzgerald charge Scooter Libby with perjury and false statement charges, rather than more substantive violations concerning damage to national security?

Thrasymahkhos: If Libby were charged with substantive violations, then Libby's lawyers would demand to see classified documents as part of preparing his defense, the judge would have no choice but to agree, the White House would cite national security and refuse to turn the documents over, and the judge would dismiss the charges.

Glaukon: Ah.

Thrasymakhos: Charging Libby with substantive violations is--with a White House in cahoots with Libby's defense--a fast way to get the charges dropped.

Aristodemos: Ah. But what about Libby's actual trial? Isn't perjury about private talks between Libby and reporters a "he said, he said" kind of offense that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt?

Thrasymakhos: Normally, yes. But look at Fitzgerald's list of people who say that Libby is lying:

  1. An Under Secretary of State
  2. A senior officer of the Central Intelligence Agency
  3. The Vice President of the United States
  4. Libby's own notes of his meeting with the Vice President.
  5. A briefer from the Central Intelligence Agency.
  6. Libby's then-principal deputy.
  7. Judith Miller.
  8. Tim Russert.
  9. The White House Press Secretary.
  10. The Counsel to the Vice President.
  11. The Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs.
  12. "White House Officlal A".
  13. Matthew Cooper.

Glaukon: Recollections differ. Memories are fallible. People forget. But I cannot see how any conceivable jury could fail to find Libby guilty on the perjury and false statement charges, if the witnesses testify as the indictment suggests they will.

Aristodemos: So what did Libby think he was doing?

Thrasymakhos: There are two possible answers. Answer 1: Libby is certifiable.

Glaukon: Probably true, but even so not sufficient reason for him to do something so stupid as to lie repeatedly to Fitzgerald.

Thrasymakhos: Well how about answer 2: Libby is erecting a perjury firebreak to keep Patrick Fitzgerald from knowing that he, Cheney, Rove, and possibly others knew very well that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert operative and thought that blowing her cover would be a nice way to warn the CIA not to leak information that contradicted what Cheney and company had said?

Aristodemos: That certainly sounds more plausible.

Thrasymakhos: In a normal case, right now Fitzgerald would be offering Libby the choice between spending a long time in prison or giving up Rove or Cheney or somebody even more interesting.

Glaukon: But what if Libby can't give up anybody more interesting?

Thrasymakhos: That's his tough luck. If Libby cannot sing--if Libby is in fact the prime mover--than Libby has tough luck and spends a long time in prison.

Aristodemos: Is that fair? To be especially harshly punished just because the prosecutor wants to see if he can induce you to give up somebody more interesting?

Thrasymakhos: It's how our legal system works: we don't torture--well, we do torture now--instead of torture we threaten people we think have interesting things to say with long prison terms. It's more humane than crushing their hands.

Glaukon: Am I supposed to like this?

Thrasymakhos: It's running code.

Aristodemos: Oh.

Thrasymakhos: As I was saying, if this were a normal case, then if Libby can't or doesn't want to sing, he spends a long time in prison. If Libby tries to give up Rove or Cheney but just has one-on-one conversations to relate, than once again Libby has tough luck and spends a long time in prison: no prosecutor would think that he can convict on the word of a confessed perjurer without corroborating evidence. Only if Libby wants to sing and can point Fitzgerald to corroborating evidence that gives Fitzgerald a conviction of somebody more interesting would he be able to avoid spending a long time in prison. That's what would be happening now if this were a normal case.

Sokrates: But I expect to hear that this is not a normal case.

Thrasymakhos: Indeed, it is not. In the present circumstances, things are complicated by the existence of the presidential pardon power.

Glaukon: Pardon power?

Thrasymakhos: Fitzgerald can threaten to try to put Libby away for a long time. Cheney can promise Libby a presidential pardon on January 20, 2009. Libby's perjury firebreak protecting Cheney will hold.

Glaukon: But isn't that illegal? For a president to promise he will pardon somebody as long as he keeps his mouth shut?

Thrasymakhos: Article II, §2, clause 1: "Section. 2. Clause 1: The President shall... have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." The president's power to pardon is unreviewable and uncontrollable. But there is a question I want to ask a real lawyer: What kinds of discussions among whom about the exercise of the presidential pardon power rise to the level of conspiracy to obstruct justice?


Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Morons?

The science-free and expertise-free Bush administration.

Matthew Yglesias:

TPMCafe || Stopped Clock : How come the Bush administration never seems to have any good domestic policy ideas? Well, because policymaking has been near-totally outsourced to the business lobby. Sometimes, though, he dreams up a decent initiative like increasing science funding. How does that happen? Turns out "President Bush's proposal to accelerate spending on basic scientific research came after technology industry executives made the case for such a move in a series of meetings with White House officials, executives involved said Wednesday." Probably a good result this time around, but a pretty pathetic approach to running the country.

Kevin Drum:

The Washington Monthly : SWITCHGRASS FOLLOWUP....So where did the president's "switchgrass" reference in Tuesday's State of the Union address come from? David Roberts at Grist writes:You may be interested in what David Bransby, professor of energy crops at Auburn University, said Wednesday on NPR's All Things Considered. He has called and emailed regularly with the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). One of the last emails claimed, in Bransby's words, that switchgrass "was a last minute inclusion in the speech, and it was Senator Sessions that helped get it into there." Sessions' spokesflack later confirmed that Sessions had a heart-to-heart with Al Hubbard, the chairman of Bush's National Economic Council, last Friday.There you have it. Apparently the path was Sessions to Hubbard to Bush. Too bad there were no actual scientists involved.

Is there anybody, anybody at all who has worked for the Bush administration and emerged with their reputation intact?

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


Credibility Gaps (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Tim Lambert catches this one:

Deltoid : Iain Murray, comes out with an article in the American Spectator in favour of pundit payola:

An opinion piece -- whether an individual op-ed or a column -- exists to promote a point of view by argument. It does not seek to establish a fact, but to win people over to a particular viewpoint or opinion. Therefore, the strength of the argument is the key factor in determining the effectiveness of the piece. A sloppily constructed, poorly thought-out argument will convince no one -- while a tightly constructed, coherent, and well-written argument can sway minds. That is why opinion pieces are considered intellectual ammunition in the war of ideas.

The only valid response to a persuasive argument is an equally persuasive argument towards a different conclusion. Yet the witch hunters' central argument has nothing to do with the virtues of the arguments presented by Bandow and others. Their argument is, essentially, that because the writer has not disclosed information about his income, he is essentially untrustworthy and his opinions should not be given the time of day. This argument is flawed enough to make it invalid. In logic, that's called a fallacy.

Say, rather, that there are (i) people who write what they believe; (ii) people who write what they are paid to write; and (iii) people who write what they are paid to write but who want you to think they write what they believe. People in category (iii) are--by their own actions--less credible and less trustworthy than people in categories (i) and (ii). Evaluating their arguments is difficult, time consuming, and requires constant research and fact checking.

Given that there are many too many good people working hard in categories (i) and (ii) to read, is there ever any reason to ever read anybody in category (iii)? I can't think of one.

A more interesting question: is there ever any reason to read anybody, like Iain Murray, who tells us that it doesn't matter which category--(i), (ii), or (iii)--people are in? Once again, I can't think of one.